Thursday, April 24, 2014
September of 1963 has been a momentous month for Marvel, and it rounds out with the debut of, according to the cover, the Strangest Super-Heroes of All. What really hooked me into Marvel Comics when I was a kid was a specific period of time in the X-Men comics. This is not that time. Actually, because I loved that period of time in X-Men so intensely, I kind of want nothing to do with it now. It has become the most convoluted thing in the world, and I'm going to try really hard not to let that completely overshadow my reading (sometimes re-reading) of these early issues.
That said, I found this one a little dull.
It's a first issue. You either get a comic where the concept and characters are there right away, or you get one like this, where those things don't feel formed yet, but you can sense the creators are trying.
Above you see the original X-Men: Cyclops (addressed as "Slim" Summers through this issue), the Angel (Warren Worthington III), Iceman (Bobby Drake) and the Beast (Hank McCoy), led by their teacher, Professor X (Charles Xavier). So far, they don't really have personalities, and I guess that's part of what drags the issue for me. They're more like generic teenagers. I don't identify with them the way I do with Peter Parker, or find them recognizable the way I do Johnny Storm, or just sympathize with them the way I do Rick Jones. They're in broad strokes so far, and introducing so many characters at once means that we do get moments where they showcase their various powers, but not their various personalities. It's basically just that Slim and Warren are more or less competing for alpha male status, Bobby's the younger kid, and Hank is sort of the all-American athlete (his status as the intelligent bookworm isn't there yet).
Into this comes new student Jean Grey, who has telekinetic powers. She's a pretty redhead, so much of the dynamic immediately becomes that all the guys want to date her. She takes the code name Marvel Girl, and mostly it's just training exercises.
The concept here is that these six people are all mutants: human beings born with an extra gene that gives them some kind of special, extrahuman ability. Professor Xavier has set up a private school, Xavier's Home for Gifted Youngsters, to teach these youths to use their powers for good. He seems to want to ease humanity into the idea of co-existing with mutants.
I'm going to be honest and say that this never made a whole lot of sense to me. Think of where we are now in the world of Marvel. 20 years ago, they had Captain America, the Sub-Mariner, and the Human Torch running around, among others. Those guys were the heroes of World War II. Then they disappeared. Now they've got the Fantastic Four--who are celebrated and honored--as well as Ant-Man, Thor, Spider-Man, Iron Man, and the Wasp. The only protagonist in the Marvel Universe who is feared at all at this point is the Hulk. But ordinary citizens have also seen this sudden increase in costumed villains, evil sorcerers, gods of mischief, alien invasions, and that time Atlantis nearly conquered mankind.
So, all of this weirdness is going on, and we're going to discriminate against mutants simply because they were born the way they are instead of getting their powers in an accident, making a transistor-powered suit, or literally being a god?
Is the whole thing just that it's supposed to make no sense because it's hate-based? Because I just don't see, at this point, Professor X's idea that, in a world of superpowered characters running all over the place benefiting and saving humankind, these kids are going to be any more feared than, say, what Thor might prove or disprove about Christianity.
He also wants to protect humankind from the evil mutants, who apparently are out there in droves. To make that point, we're introduced to another of Marvel's most iconic villains: Magneto!
Professor X sends in the X-Men to stop Magneto, and they chase him off. It's not really spectacular; mostly the scene is another excuse to showcase the X-Men's individual powers and teamwork. Mostly this issue is just about setting the stage for stories to come, and it does that just fine. It's not a must-read yet, but it has a lot of potential. I just hope Stan Lee and Jack Kirby can find it. I'm still not over losing The Incredible Hulk...
:: Professor X is intense. No, wait: INTENSE. He's a little remote and not very likable. He says he lost his legs in a childhood accident, but was born with his psychic abilities. He specifically says that it's because both of his parents worked on "the first A-bomb project," and names himself as possibly the first mutant. Also this month, Stan Lee considered Namor possibly the first mutant, so I guess it's a toss-up. Actually, this might create a timeline issue here... the Manhattan Project started in 1942 and disbanded in 1947. Even if we're charitable and say that Xavier's mother was pregnant at the time she started working on it, that still puts Charles Xavier--at the possible oldest--at 21 years old. That seems... wrong. Although it does make it less creepy that Xavier has the same sexual/romantic interest in Jean that everyone else does. (He's not a demonstrative prick about it, unlike the others.)
Anyway, if Xavier were very young, that would definitely make Namor (at 42 years old, as per the math available from Fantastic Four Annual #1) the first mutant in the Marvel Universe, although his mutation came about through interspecies romance rather than exposure to radiation.
:: Also, I do think it's an interesting idea to tackle concerns about radiation in this way, by creating mutants. It's very much the Marvel Universe of this time.
:: Their powers, briefly: Cyclops has concussive rays that are always coming out of his eyes; he has to wear a visor or special glasses over them to hold them back. He must always have a headache. That would explain a lot, actually. The Angel has wings and... that's it. Iceman is basically the Human Torch but with ice. The Beast is like an ape, with large hands and feet and superhuman agility, etc. Marvel Girl is telekinetic.
During training, the Angel is dodging giant clamps and Iceman is deflecting bowling balls. Marvel Girl floats a book. It's like that. She also calls it "teleportation" because Stan Lee is overworked.
:: I'm not entirely thrilled with the depiction of Marvel Girl especially. Before we even see her, Professor X introduces her as "a most attractive young lady." They do have a scene where she twirls Hank around to show us she can take care of herself, but most of the interest in her revolves around her looks. The guys come on so strong, even peeking around the corner to watch her change into her uniform, which is treated more as just bad manners than anything else. It's tiresome. It's bad enough no one really has a personality--they have a group dynamic, but not personalities.
:: I think the "snowman" version of Iceman is kind of fun. Bobby even lampshades it.
:: Magneto's "Surrender, Dorothy" moment:
:: A couple of neat demonstrations of Magneto's control of magnetic forces: he causes one guard's trigger to lock in place, and another one's gun to weigh too much to be lifted. It's neat variations like that that make his power more interesting than just pulling metal around.
:: Hated and feared...
:: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby are obviously a bit overworked on this one. In addition to the comics they worked on that I went through this month, Stan Lee also wrote five other comics I didn't even mention (Kid Colt, Outlaw #112, Millie the Model #116, Modeling with Millie #25, Two-Gun Kid #65, and possibly Patsy Walker #109). Paul Reinman does a fine job inking Kirby's pencils, but with the grand exception of the book's best sequence (in my opinion)--Magneto's conquest of the military base--the artwork feels like it was rushed. I think part of the problem, for me, is that the book doesn't feel completely finished. There was a lot of stuff going on at this time, in particular getting out Avengers #1 and that epic Fantastic Four Annual and the longer story in Strange Tales Annual. Jack Kirby clearly had a lot of demands on his time.
Now, add that to some of the story problems and some of the concepts and characters that just aren't as fleshed out as they could be... well, like I said, the potential is there. But right now it's just not grabbing me.
But there's a lot more to come.
Next time: Doctor Doom tries to get the better of Spider-Man!
Wednesday, April 23, 2014
Last week, I told my therapist that I would be alone all day on Easter, because Becca goes over to her mother's on most holidays and I don't really do holidays. She asked me about that, and I told her that I had a number of reasons (my agoraphobia included), but what it really comes down to is: cigarettes.
My mother-in-law smokes constantly.
The last time I was over at her house, she smoked so much that it made me sick. It got all over my clothes and in my hair, and I had to take a rather vigorous shower that night to get the smell off me. I couldn't stand it. I already have breathing problems, but the smoke was overwhelming. It even gets in the food, and the worst part is, you can't complain about it, because she doesn't taste it and thinks you're being oversensitive or something. Of course she doesn't taste it; her taste buds are dead from decades of constant chain smoking.
Look, I'm not one of those people who looks down on others for smoking, like it's some kind of moral decision they're making. I just don't want it around me. I dislike this social idea from when I was a kid that it's polite to ignore it. I don't make a big deal about it. I won't start loudly coughing to make a point. I'm not going to judge you for smoking. I'm not going to come into your house and tell you not to do it. I'm just going to choose not to subject myself to it or let it into my home, because it makes me sick. And friends and relatives who smoke in their homes can expect to not see me over.
Seriously, everything I have from her smells like smoke. Becca took laundry over there on Easter, and she always tries to get the clean clothes right into the car, but it's not really enough. Now I have ostensibly clean towels that smell like cigarettes. She gets us extra food from the food bank, and sometimes we just have to throw it away. Last night, my wife threw out a box of candy--one where the candy was sealed in a plastic bag inside the box--because the candy tasted like smoke.
It permeates everything. I don't get why we're supposed to pretend it doesn't.
Like I said, I don't think it's a moral choice when you live alone and choose to smoke. I don't think you're a lesser person. And I feel bad saying all of this because, despite our rocky beginnings, I like my mother-in-law. She's nice. We're friendly.
I just don't want to go and visit.
A review of the films I've seen this past week.
SORORITY SURROGATE (2013)
Just... no. No, Lifetime. No. *
A FAMILY AFFAIR (1937)
The first of the Andy Hardy series of movies. I've never seen any of them, and just happened to be flipping around when it was playing on TCM the other day as part of the Mickey Rooney tribute. It was better than I thought it'd be; not so saccharine, but a nice, quirky-without-being-cutesy flick about a small town judge fighting against impeachment over his delay of a public works program. Lionel Barrymore, who I almost always like, plays Judge Hardy. Rooney is his son Andy, who falls in puppy love with a local girl in a subplot that feels more or less unnecessary. The movie doesn't urgently make a case for itself, but it was a pleasant 69 minutes with a little more of a hint of darkness than I expected. I'd watch another one. ***
THE SIN OF MADELON CLAUDET (1931)
I tend to get impatient with these movies where a woman suffers for the crime of being a woman and then continues to suffer and suffer until the end and we're supposed to be uplifted by the sacrifices she's been forced to make. Here, Helen Hayes plays Madelon, who is abandoned in France by her American lover, has his child, gives up the child, is imprisoned for a crime she didn't commit, and turns to prostitution to pay for her son's education. The movie is mercifully short at 75 minutes; this just isn't really my kind of story, especially given how stagy and melodramatic it can be. Hayes is excellent for what the movie requires of her, but 80+ years later it's predictable, treacly, and mainly of historical interest. **1/2
THE WAY, WAY BACK (2013)
Really, really likable coming-of-age movie about a 14 year-old boy (Liam James) who is spending the summer at a beach house with his divorced mother (Toni Collette) and his mother's new boyfriend (Steve Carell). He bonds with the girl next door (AnnaSophia Robb, cute as a bug's ear), also a child of divorce, and forms a sort of friendship with Sam Rockwell, who runs the local water park. I'm not sure I can define what it is that separates this movie from a hundred other coming-of-age movies, except for perhaps its tone and the easy way I related to it. The movie adeptly taps into that language of reticence and self-awareness punctuated by moments of emotional outburst that you develop when your parents divorce just as you're beginning adolescence. It also is eerily good at creating the way the world can shut you out at that age. When I was 14, I felt like everyone was trying to get me to act like an adult without really trusting me to be one; I felt adrift because I felt too old to ask for help and too young to understand how I was supposed to act, and with my parents wrapped up in their own divorce, there wasn't always someone for me to talk to. That was probably the worst feeling of my entire life; the film re-creates it well, getting the feeling of sullen, resigned confusion that you have when everyone is having a good time except you, but no one is going out of their way to make you feel a part of it. The movie also knows the singular hell of being forced to play a board game no one wants to play in a room full of rising tensions. It's that combination of being very specific but broadly universal that really won me over, inviting me to relive some of the hardest moments of my life but also letting me look at them from a safe distance and find the sweetness and humor that could develop out of them. I just... I don't know, it felt like the movie was giving me an encouraging hug without being condescending, and I love it for that. The performances are also great, especially Sam Rockwell's; he nearly runs away with the entire movie. I also loved Allison Janney in a small role as the tipsy divorcee next door, playing every neighbor I really, really wished I had back when I was a pervy, troubled 14 year-old. And likable Steve Carell is surprisingly good at playing a prick. Great stuff. Great, great stuff. ****
Monday, April 21, 2014
ME: *singing "Zou Bisou Bisou"*
BECCA: Now all I can think of is Ben Vereen and that big frog and... what was the other one? A hippo?
BECCA: Zoobilee Zoo.
ME: That's not Zoobilee Zoo. With the guy in the big frog suit, and the hippo and the owl?
BECCA: Well, what is that? That's not Zoobilee Zoo?
ME: No, that's New Zoo Revue.
BECCA: Wait, was Zoobilee Zoo the one where the animals were all jumbled up and they were, like, two animals in one animal?
ME: That's The Wuzzles.
BECCA: Then what the hell was Zoobilee Zoo?
ME: Zoobilee Zoo was the one with Ben Vereen and other actors in animal make-up.
BECCA: Oh. So I got Ben Vereen right, though. Jeez, sorry I'm not up on zoo-related children's programming, Aaron. If you want that, you married the wrong woman.
ME: I feel like we should talk about the difference between the Shirt Tales and the Get-Along Gang.
BECCA: Sadly, I do know those.
ME: The way in which they're the same is that they both blow.
BECCA: But not as bad as those Chichimons.
ME: What did this have to do with French pop music?
Sunday, April 20, 2014
I’m sitting here in my living room, spending Easter alone. Barely anyone is home in my apartment complex, so all I can hear are the birds and the psychedelic rock I’m listening to. I’m drinking coffee and feeling the breeze from the open patio door. I’m only wearing underwear because my wife took all of my pants to her mom’s to do laundry. Last night I had hot dogs steamed in beer and learned how to make my own vanilla Cokes. Syrup is surprisingly easy to make.
Tomorrow I’m starting my first ever group therapy. It’s a mindfulness group: yoga stretches, walking, breathing exercises, meditation. Should help keep me calm and in the present more often. Spring is my element and I’m finally in it.
I just want to be happy again. I feel damn good today. It’s a start.
Have a nice Sunday, everyone. Suette!
Songs for Becca #10. For some reason, I remember 2005 as being an especially optimistic year. I guess it's a demarcation for me; still carefree in a lot of ways, still had plans for the future, and it was a lot brighter than that horrible 2006 turned out to be from pretty much the beginning. 2005 was the year I started this blog.
In all that time, I've apparently never posted anything from my favorite album of that year: Sufjan Stevens' Illinois. This is my favorite song on the album, in part because it's inspired by the Superman statue in Metropolis, Illinois, but also in part because it's just so pretty. It's one of those deceptively pretty songs I like; it's lovely and has lyrics I love like "We celebrate our sense of each other," but it's also partly about an accidental drowning. And it's like a modern version of baroque pop. You'll notice that a number of my favorite albums of the 60s fall under the baroque pop umbrella.
This song doesn't remind me of Becca so much as it does a time when we were really happy. I don't know what it was about 2005, exactly. But we were both doing well, then. It's where I'm trying to go now.
Saturday, April 19, 2014
Somehow, this is singularly the most boring chapter in the book. Unless you're actually caught up in this shitty excuse for romance, in which case I imagine it makes your insides tingle. See a doctor about that.
Ana wants to pay for breakfast, since she could actually afford it, but Christian refuses her nice gesture, calling it "emasculating."
So Christian drops off Ana at home, and then some more of their stupid email flirting, and then Christian tells Ana she talks in her sleep, and the rest of the chapter is going to be her fretting herself into insanity about what he must have heard her say, because we need to manufacture more drama for the last two chapters. Then Christian has to go back to Seattle to deal with some kind of situation, again for the sake of drama.
Oh, and Ana gets a call from pre-Raphaelite lady and she gets the job as assistant to "Mr. Jack Hyde," which will probably be an endless source of drama in the next book. Will Christian and Mr. Hyde have to wage in a battle of wills over Ana's very soul? Who will win? The representation of "the classics" or the representation of modern lit? Christian or Jack? Edward of Jacob? Are you on Team I Don't Give a Shit or Team You Couldn't Pay Me Enough to Read Another of These? Drama, drama, drama. So dramatic I need Dramamine.
Anyway, this was probably the best chapter in the book, if only because it was so pointless and brimming with things that a real editor would have recommended trimming down that it was easy to skim through.
Almost over... almost over...