Saturday, July 20, 2013

Marvels: Incredible Hulk #1

"The Hulk" by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Paul Reinman
(May 1962)

A major new player arrives in the Marvel Universe, but it will be a few years, I think, before they really figure this guy out: the Hulk!

Unlike Fantastic Four #1, which gave us a glimpse of the characters before delving into who they were, Incredible Hulk #1 is a more straightforward origin issue.

We start with Dr. Bruce Banner, a scientist working for the military on experimental weapons (a very common job at this point in the Marvel Universe; geniuses are the people who make weapons). The first thing the issue wants to hammer home about Bruce is that he's a weakling with no guts who is afraid to act. And then he immediately saves the life of an innocent bystander, like cowards do.

Okay, seriously, Stan. This is how it goes down: page 1, Bruce has created an experimental gamma bomb with the potential for a massive amount of destruction, but he has qualms about testing it because of a possible miscalculation, and according to his CO, General "Thunderbolt" Ross (whose daughter Betty is hanging around for literally no reason), this makes him a milksop. Page 2: Bruce notices a car parked in the testing area with a person inside. Page 3: Bruce runs to the occupant, pulls him out the car, shoves him in a ditch, and then takes a gamma blast full on in the face. So, just to get this straight: one of the things we're going to keep hearing about Bruce Banner is that he's a cowardly wimp, and literally the first action we see him take is to throw himself on a bomb in order to save a stranger. Doesn't really hold up.

The teenage boy in the car is, of course, Rick Jones, the Snapper Carr of the Marvel Universe. He becomes Banner's stalwart sidekick; he owes Banner his life. He's the guy that shares in Banner's secret: that, after the sun goes down, Banner changes into the Hulk! At least in this issue.

In this issue, the Hulk is gray (coloring error) and he only takes over Banner's body at night. The first few years of this character are all over the place, with various writers and artists trying to come up with something that makes the character work. One minute, he's only the Hulk at night. The next, he's using a machine to make the transformation. Then, they decide it's anger or basically just whenever the hell the plot requires it to be. There's no consistency.

One thing they establish here and don't deviate from, though, is that the Hulk hates Bruce Banner and doesn't want to give up control. He, too, thinks teenager-rescuing Bruce Banner is a puny weakling. The Hulk is the part of Banner who wants to be powerful and assertive enough to be in control of the situation, but with all of that comes a compulsion to destroy. The Hulk is pure emotion that manifests itself as a dangerous rage, while Banner is meant to be the opposite pole: the intellect that can be overly cautious. It's a mix that should be really interesting (it's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, after all), but which Stan Lee and Jack Kirby seem to have a hard time finding.

As for the rest of the issue, Banner's scientist colleague turns out to be a commie spy--the guy named Ivan, go figure--and then a deformed Soviet scientist called the Gargoyle kidnaps the Hulk to use as a weapon, only to discover he's really Bruce Banner, and then Banner cures the Gargoyle and makes him normal, so in gratitude the Gargoyle helps Banner escape the Iron Curtain, sacrificing himself to do so. It is an interesting switch to turn a stereotypical red villain into a complex personality who turns on his government after experiencing kindness (Bruce offers to help the Gargoyle instead of having to be forced into it; so once again, we see that Bruce is just a good man, not some weakling). It's a nice ending. But overall, it's kind of a mediocre story. The first of many for this character.

Some stray observations:

:: Was the Hulk's design actually based on Boris Karloff as Frankenstein's Monster? Because he really looks like it.

:: I understand they do this to make Bruce Banner look even more like a man of inaction, but General "Thunderbolt" Ross is such a stereotype of war-grizzled manliness, screaming at the top of his lungs and saying yelling things like "Keep out of this, Betty! THIS IS MAN TALK!"

:: At this point, the Hulk speaks normally. I'm not sure when he becomes a dope. Right now, he's just a brute with a nasty, abusive personality.

:: The Soviets refer to Bruce Banner as America's top atomic scientist. But to General Ross, he's just a coward. What the hell, guys?

:: Also, the gamma bomb explosion that turns Bruce Banner into the Hulk only happens because Igor doesn't delay the countdown. It's a move to get Banner out of the picture. Pretty cold, bro.

Like I said, it's kind of a mediocre issue, pretty standard origin stuff, which is a shame because it introduces a character who is basically my favorite in Marvel Comics. I don't know why it's so hard to tell great stories about him, but it will be for a while. A long while.

Stick around. There are five more tedious issues to come.

Next time: DOOM.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Another Great Example of Why I Ultimately Feel So Helpless

I was looking at this story about how Republicans are "tackling" SNAP benefits, basically by trying to cut food stamps down. In fact, the GOP seems to be divided on just how much to cut. Oh, they're going to get their cut to SNAP, but they just haven't decided yet how deep it should be. The amendment they're trying to add to the farm bill cuts it by 3 percent. Some Republicans think that's not enough.

Seriously, it's a fucking recession. There is massive unemployment. And the GOP thinks this is the perfect time to place work requirements on access to food. To food, for fuck's sake. Sure, unemployment is rampant, but let's attach food access to how much someone works.

Fuck. You.

Fuck.

You.

I am on food stamps. I am dependent on those benefits.

I already don't get health care. The company my wife worked for went out of business a couple of years ago. She got no severance from it. She now works three part time jobs. I barely work at all because of a fucking mental illness. And we long ago used up our unemployment insurance. I'm very lucky to not have to pay for the state mental treatment program I'm in, otherwise I'd be a basket case or dead by now. I can't go to the doctor unless I save up the $90 payment just to get in that place, and when I do, I'm treated like a criminal. Like I'm trying to get something for nothing by not having insurance. My credit cards are maxed out. I am drowning in over $50,000 of student loan debt that I won't be able to put off much longer and will probably never be able to pay back. Given everything that's happened to me in the past 8 years, I absolutely wish I had never gone to college in the first place.

I just feel like there's no support for me because, according to a certain amount of lawmakers, I am some kind of criminal, some kind of lazy sponge who made the "choice" to be poor. They've taken everything they can from me, and now they want to pass new laws to take more.

Why does my government despise me so much for having, through no choice of my own, to be poor in the midst of a shitty economy their policies created?

I'm not saying this to be dramatic: sometimes it honestly feels like Republicans are just openly trying to kill us off because our mere existence offends them.

I used to say I was one illness away from losing everything. I feel like I'm past that point now. Last Friday, we had an unexpected $48 expense. That small an amount of money nearly put us in the red for the week. Without SNAP, we might not have eaten. My Dad gave me some money. Otherwise... who knows?

Do you see why I sometimes think suicide is all but inevitable?

I feel like, one day, I won't have any other choice.

I hate this fucking country.

Marvels: Fantastic Four #4

"The Coming of... Sub-Mariner!" by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Sol Brodsky
(May 1962)

Jumping back in where we left off in the previous issue: the Fantastic Four seem to be falling apart at the seams without Johnny around. Tensions are running high, with Sue a mess and Reed and Ben at each other's throats. It's almost too intense, until the three split up to track down Johnny and Stan and Jack show us invisible Sue being mistaken by an onlooker for some kind of ghost, which is a cheesy gag but the boys seem to dig it. (Second time they've used it.)

Of course, Johnny's just hanging out with his hot rod buddies, working on engines, and of course it's Ben who finds him first, leading to another of their fights. Ben's so angry he actually brandishes a car at the Torch, and you'd be forgiven for worrying that Ben's just going to go ahead and kill him. The Thing's anger in this issue is so palpable it's actually scary. And then Ben actually turns human again in yet another of those brief instances that are so depressing. This poor guy! God damn it, it's just... it's not fair, man.

I just want to cry every time it happens! That's three times in four issues now. Look how sad he is. That's an emotion Jack Kirby is crushingly good at conveying.

The big news for this issue, of course, is the return of Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner!

The Sub-Mariner, created by Bill Everett, first appeared in the very first Timely Comics publication, Marvel Comics #1, where the company will eventually adopt as its name. (Technically at this point, FF is being published by Canam Publishers Sales Corp, one of 59 shell companies for Atlas. Technically, Marvel Comics as the actual company didn't start until 1973, true believer. Bully has an interesting write-up of the whole thing here.) Namor began as a villain, often facing the original Human Torch (the android one), and then began aiding the Allies during World War II. He starred in his own comic throughout the forties and into the fifties and was quite popular. Here, he's going to be a villain once more, but a complex one with a lot of shading to him.

I really like the way he's re-introduced. Johnny, wandering through the Bowery and staying at a transient men's hotel for the night, finds an old Sub-Mariner comic from the '40s. (Once again, one of my favorite things about the Marvel Universe is how Marvel Comics exist within it.) Johnny, a fan, wonders whatever happened to the Sub-Mariner and finds an old bum living in the place who, like the Sub-Mariner, also has superhuman strength. After applying a bit of fire to the bum's hair and beard (no burns--he's good with that thing), it turns out the transient is the Sub-Mariner, but with pretty bad amnesia. So, Johnny simply flies Namor over the water, drops him in the drink, and Namor's memory and vigor is restored. That's how it works, right?

But, in a '60s sci-fi touch, Namor excitedly returns to his undersea kingdom, only to discover his people gone and the city in radioactive ruins, unknowingly destroyed by undersea atomic bomb tests! Namor is instantly filled with hatred and anger, holding the surface world responsible for the loss of his people, and uses an ancient trumpet to raise a monster called Giganto to go on a rampage, declaring war on mankind.

Good work, Johnny!

The real drama of the issue comes, though, when Sue tries to steal the trumpet and Namor instantly falls in love with her, offering to call off his rampage if she'll only return to the ocean with him and be his bride. The fun thing here is that you can tell she's really conflicted about her answer.

Here's the thing about Namor: he's an old-fashioned sexist. He basically demands right away that Sue be his bride, and if she doesn't, he vows to drive humanity back to the caves. When she does agree to a marriage in order to save everyone, Namor's offended that she's not honored to be in the position she's in. I mean, what kind of guy just forces that choice on someone? Right now, he's not in love with Sue the person, the way he is later. Right now, she's a consolation prize for losing his kingdom, his people, and years of his life. She's an object. I know my wife is Team Namor (because, let's face it, Reed's a jerk), but you can see why she feels like she's making a huge sacrifice: she is!

Namor's so offended that he can't go through with it, vowing now to take the world and the girl (he says it like that), pissing an already volatile Johnny off so bad that we see the strongest use of his powers yet: he creates a powerful tornado (air pressure and heat) that blows Namor back into the ocean. The trumpet is lost in the flight, so Namor can only swear to return. And he will, of course, having become the first great villain of both the Fantastic Four and the embryonic Marvel Universe!

Other observations:

:: Mr. Fantastic is a pretty high-handed jerk in this issue, more so than in the previous three. At one point, he wants to asking a passing motorcyclist if he's seen the Human Torch, so rather than flag the poor guy down, Reed merely reaches out and plucks him off his moving bike. He also simply grabs a passing helicopter by its wheel to question its occupants. Thanks, jerk!

:: Giganto, by the way, is one of my favorite Kirby monsters. He looks like a giant sperm whale with arms and legs. I also love the way they fight and kill Giganto: the Thing straps a giant nuclear bomb to his back, walks down Giganto's throat, and sets it off. That's just charmingly audacious. (Also, the Thing can apparently survive a nuclear blast.)

:: In the letters page, Stan offers $5 to anyone who can explain an error that a reader pointed out back in issue #2. Like a precursor to the No-Prize.

Also, this letter threw me off:

Lousy printers: I thought the reader was asking for BLOGS. How weird would that have been to find, eh?

:: This is the first issue explicitly set in New York City. This is also the first time Johnny Storm yells "Flame on!"

:: This was the Sub-Mariner's first appearance in a comic book since the final issue of Sub-Mariner Comics in 1955. What I love about his reappearance here is that it gives the Marvel Universe a larger sense of history. So now we know for sure, from a continuity standpoint, that the Fantastic Four are not the first superpowered beings in this fictional world. There's the Sub-Mariner and any character he was involved with, including the original Human Torch. And this, of course, sets the stage for the eventual return of Timely's most popular character of the '40s, Captain America. On the one hand, this is Atlas using a character it already owns and reinvigorating him; on the other hand, this is a great way to enlarge the universe we're seeing, making it more than just the Fantastic Four. (Ant-Man isn't even official yet!)

This issue of Fantastic Four is the best one yet, offering the FF a real threat that will pay off for years to come. It's actually--no pun intended--pretty fantastic.

Next: the answer to the question plastered all over this issue:

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Happy Birthday, Beautiful

KB is 33.

We should celebrate our birthdays together some year.

(I say that every year.)

(But a man can dream. Oh, yes. A man can dream.)

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Happy Birthday to Me

37 years old today. I'm actually enjoying myself today. Therapy is helping me to enjoy things again. Well, it's more accurate to say that therapy is making me feel less selfish about enjoying things again. It's... different.

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

THE CALL (2013)
Not a bad little thriller. Movies like these, if they're just shy of being too exploitative, can be like the movie equivalent of junk food. This one's solid and involving and not a great flick, but a fun one. I think the ending miscalculates, though. The extra revenge-y tag at the end just left me cold, and kind of ruined what had been a fun little thriller. Too bad. **1/2. I'd honestly give it two-and-three-quarters if I felt like that was a thing, because it's so close to just being this stupid-but-enjoyable inconsequential movie, but that bit at the very end was such a turn-off.

WARM BODIES (2013)
I was pretty prepared to hate this movie, because I'm so sick of all the zombie shit. But this one was a new take and maybe in some places it's a little obvious, but the leads had such chemistry and the story seemed more genuine than gimmicky. I think for someone like me with anxiety disorders and deep-rooted trauma, it had a lot to say about the fear of connection and the need for understanding. It's such a hipster movie, but it's clever and it's not smug. It maybe gives itself over to more action scenes than I would like, but I really, really enjoyed this. ***1/2

TOKYO GO (2013)
Another winning Mickey Mouse cartoon, this one with bullet trains and a sweet Walt (and his train) cameo. ****

NIGHT OF THE CREEPS (1986)
How am I just seeing this now? Fantastic, hilarious, arch, tongue-in-cheek B skiffy flick about a college being visited by an invading alien disease. It's a funny, loving valentine to old grade-Z horror, by Fred Dekker, who also made The Monster Squad and House, two more of my faves. Absolutely loved every moment of this one. Damn me for a fool for taking this long. ***1/2

TERRORVISION (1986)
Well, I didn't love it, but it was probably the most fun I've ever had with a Charles Band movie. A gonzo-weird commentary on 80s consumer culture and militarism, it's nicely tongue-in-cheek and has a couple of hilarious performances (particularly Gerrit Graham and Mary Woronov, both actors I always dig). And holy fuck did I like Jennifer Richards as Medusa. **1/2

THE BABY (1973)
Truly bizarre flick about a family with a grown son who has the mental capacity of an infant and is treated as such, and the social worker who takes an intense interest in him. Watching it with my wife, there was a lot of "What the fuck is this movie?" comments. Weird ending, but the only one this movie could've had. I don't really feel like I wasted my time with this one, but... wow, this is just a bizarre flick. **1/2

THE GREEN ROOM (1978)
Francois Truffaut (who also directed) as a World War I vet obsessed with death and with remembering and enshrining all of the dead who meant anything to him. It's an interesting meditation on the meaning of death and what we do or don't owe to the memories of those who have passed on. Does the way we live our lives in the present alter the meaning of the past, or is Truffaut's character simply afraid of being forgotten himself? Interesting work. Slow, but interesting and intensely meaningful. ***1/2

SEVEN CHANCES (1925)
Spectacular for the chase scene alone. Few filmmakers just make me happier watching them than Buster Keaton. ****

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Dennis Burkley 1945-2013

I'm genuinely saddened to hear about Dennis Burkley's death. I've seen him in a ton of character roles, and he always made a good impression on me. I think because he reminded me a fair bit of my Uncle Ralph, and I used to see him so often on practically every TV show I watched as a kid. More recently, he was the voice of Principal Moss on King of the Hill, a show I still watch practically every night. I'm sorry to hear he's died.

East of the Sun and West of the Moon

Here's a clip from The Muppet Show that I haven't seen in some time: Christopher Reeve and Miss Piggy singing together. Honestly, just watching Christopher Reeve suavely play the piano is enough, but when he and Piggy start singing it goes from silly comedy to pure sweetness and then into that wonderful Muppety mix of both. It really does bring a tear to my eye sometimes. God, I loved Christopher Reeve. This is a fantastic clip.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Self-Portrait with Television

This is all I really aspire to, let's be honest. What's relaxation like?

Kristen Bell Mondays

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Song of the Week: "Heaven Help Us All"

I know I just had Stevie up a couple of weeks ago, but this is pretty much exactly how I felt last night after the verdict. So there it is. Stevie Wonder, 1970. Typically beautiful.