Saturday, September 14, 2013

Marvels: Fantastic Four #9

"The End of the Fantastic Four!" by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers
(December 1962)

There is a lot of stuff going on in this issue, so this is probably going to be a lengthy post!

Right away in the splash page, a TV newsman announces that the Fantastic Four have gone bankrupt! Not a problem you see in a lot of superhero books. (I have been a critic of Batman's limitless money supply in the past, you might recall.) Things are so bad that the FF are selling off a lot of their equipment. Interestingly, Reed takes the blame on himself (as he often takes the blame on himself for Ben's unhappiness); apparently, he invested in some bad stocks and lost all of their money. The Fantastic Four, he concludes, must officially disband.

I actually had a question as to why Reed's not making any money from patents, but the Thing answers that one for me right away:

Man, you don't see Reed this angry very often.

Ben is the one taking this the hardest, perhaps because he worries he doesn't fit in anywhere outside of the Fantastic Four. He's especially angry about having to sell off their pogo plane, which he (as a test pilot) seems to have had a big hand in designing. Ben, as will happen in the pages of Fantastic Four, stalks off and leaves, but what's different now is that he's got Alicia to cheer him up. I love their little half-page together. In just three panels, we can feel the depth of their relationship. She's made him a White Knight puppet that represents him, and then this:

No one nails the expressive Ben Grimm like Jack Kirby. No one.

But, then: salvation! Something called SM Studios wants the Fantastic Four to come out to Hollywood and film a movie, which should take care of all of their financial problems. It would have been nicer if there had been some plane tickets involved or something, as the FF are actually so broke that they have to hitchhike to California!

But perhaps it's an extra bit of humiliation, as the head of SM Studios turns out to be: Sub-Mariner!

Hollywood Subby comes complete with cigarette holder, ascot, smoking jacket, and air of casual luxury.

Apparently Namor has access to the wealth of history from sunken pirate and trading ships, and "out of boredom" (jeez, I love this character) he decided to buy a movie studio and hire the FF to make a movie. He starts doling out money right away. Everyone goes out to buy some nice new threads, and of course Johnny buys a car while Ben hangs out on the beach. But Sue is torn between her love for Reed and her growing attraction to Namor. When he's handing out the first part of the FF's payment, she actually gasps to herself over how masterful and confident he is, and then has dinner with him at "a fashionable Hollywood nightclub."

To Namor's credit, he doesn't push Sue to make up her mind. He's simply out on a date with the woman he hopes will choose him.

But then, of course, Namor's real plan starts to fall into place, as he tricks the men of the FF one by one.

First, of course, is his rival, Mr. Fantastic. Namor sends Reed off to Hidden Isle, where he is to fight a giant mechanical figure of the Cyclops of Greek myth. In actuality, though, the Cyclops is the actual, immortal Cyclops, and Namor simply leaves Reed on the island to die in combat. He then abandons the Human Torch to an African tribe that drinks a magic potion that makes them somehow immune to fire.

But it's Namor's battle with the Thing that's truly epic. Namor takes Ben out on the beach, where their respective strengths will be easily matched (since simply standing in the water enhances Namor's already superhuman strength). Sub-Mariner pummels the Thing to the point where you really are starting to wonder if the Thing's had it, but then Ben realizes the water is strengthening Namor and drags his opponent out of the surf. For a single panel, it looks like Ben has the upper hand and is about to land a final blow, but then, out of nowhere, Ben is struck by lightning! (That wasn't just dramatic lighting, after all; there was a storm blowing in.) The lightning transforms the Thing back into plain Ben Grimm, and in the confusion Namor knocks Ben unconscious with a final punch--though he admits to himself that if that hadn't done the job, that would have been it; all of Namor's strength was used up in the fight.

Now Namor has a free path to Sue, or so he thinks. His arrogance returned, he tells Sue the truth: that all of this was a deception that he came up with in order to prove himself master of the Fantastic Four so that she would be his bride. I love Sue's honorable reaction: she refuses the Sub-Mariner and decides to show him that as long as she's able to fight, he hasn't mastered the Fantastic Four at all. It's an excellent, dramatic way for her to not only remind an increasingly skeptical readership that she's an integral element to the team, but it also strengthens her character as a superhero and as a woman. She even says she might have agreed to marry him if he'd been honest with her from the outset, but instead he lied to gain their trust and then betrayed them all.

Sue puts up a decent fight, too. Namor has to use some of the powers of other sea creatures to beat her, like the electric eel and the cave fish's radar sight. It's actually kind of a let-down that the rest of the FF rush in to save her, because I think it would have been an even stronger finish if she had defeated Namor herself.

Still, I do like the moment when she stands between Namor and the FF, unwilling to let them gang up on the Sub-Mariner unfairly. And then Namor accepts his defeat, agrees that the movie will be produced and released, agrees to pay them the rest of the money he agreed to, and returns to the sea.

It's like the end of a Godzilla movie. Mixed emotions. Stan and Jack really do know how to give that guy wounded dignity.

Namor, a man of honor, keeps his word, too, and the film is released and the infusion of cash allows the Fantastic Four to keep going.

This is a great issue. It has a bizarre premise that seems silly by today's standards, but damn if Stan Lee and Jack Kirby didn't work some great action showcases and genuine emotions into this one. We've had a couple of real high points, but this is certainly my favorite issue so far. One year later, Fantastic Four continues to be the crown jewel of the Marvel Universe.

Stray notes:

:: Is this TV newsman supposed to look like Richard Nixon, or is it just coincidence?

:: I love seeing Hollywood caricatures in old comics. Some great stuff on this page. (Click to make it bigger.)

Namor's studio must have established itself as the real deal pretty quickly in order to have someone like Hitchcock working there.

:: There's a feature page in this issue that shows how the Human Torch's powers allow him to fly (the heat makes his molecules lighter than air) and the limits of his powers. Again, I just love how Stan and Jack have decided to really try to make this plausible science fiction in some way.

:: The letters page features a couple of things I wanted to mention. First, Stan addresses my own lingering concern about the effects of the hostility ray in issue 7; he says the effects wore off when Kurrgo's robot left the Earth. I'll take it.

Second, we get the first in a series of hate letters from Paul Gambaccini, whose letters become a bit of a focal point over several issues. (Here, he calls the letters page "asinine," Kirby's artwork "horrible," and feels the emotions are fake and unrealistic. Stay tuned.)

Third, Stan acknowledges the growing amount of letters coming from neighborhood fan clubs devoted to the magazine. It's interesting to see Stan thinking about the fan community and offering to print in a future issue the various rolls. He even openly wonders if they should divide the groups into chapters of some kind of official club, which seems like the beginnings of the Merry Marvel Marching Society.

Fourth, Stan points out that the fans seem to consider Fantastic Four the Marvel Comics HQ (though we're still not calling it Marvel Comics yet) and that they get a lot of letters to this mag commenting on Ant-Man, Thor, Hulk, etc. On the one hand, I think of the comics I've gone through up to now the same way: FF is the wellspring, and then there are other comics that are not exactly ancillaries, but not exactly their own books, either. (I probably feel this way because the other books don't really have the same quality as Fantastic Four, because the characters and their worlds don't feel fully realized yet.) But on the other hand, where else are they going to write? Strange Tales, Journey Into Mystery and Tales to Astonish don't have letters pages, and even though no one knows it yet, The Incredible Hulk is only getting two more issues before it's canceled.

Still, those heroes are going to grow and get better.

In the next (25th!) installment of Marvels: Thor faces more communists.


Friday, September 13, 2013

35 Years and 11,000,000,000 Miles On

That's an image of Voyager 1's radio signal from 21 February.

Yesterday, NASA confirmed that the Voyager 1 became the first man-made object to leave our solar system and enter interstellar space.

Think about that for a minute. Look what we've been able to do when we put our minds and dedicate our hearts to it. We now have an emissary in the vastness of the cosmos, in the cold vacuum of space, completely outside of our solar system.

That's amazing. That's inspiring.

Voyager 1 launched in 1977. I remember seeing photos from Voyager as a very young child, and it was one of the many things that fostered my fascination with the stars and the planets. I dreamed--as others have dreamed--of a future where outer space was a common part of our daily lives. Who knew what we would put up there? Would we colonize the moon? Would be send manned ships to Mars? Would there be a time in my life when I could, conceivably, go into outer space?

Progress has been slow, but it's been there. We've been slower to shed our materialism and a near-constant cycle of warring as quickly as it once seemed like maybe we could. But things like this give me real hope.

What will we see of Voyager 1 in the future? Will we see anything at all? It's predicted that its Data Tape Recorder will terminate operations next year, and its gyroscopic operations the year after. In 2020 its scientific instruments will start to shut down, and by 2030 it will no longer be able to power any of its instruments at all.

I wonder what will happen to it. Will future generations be able to retrieve it somehow? Will it collide with something? Will it come into contact with another civilization? It's headed out towards nothing in particular, but will come within 1.6 light years of the star Gliese 445, in the Camelopardalis constellation in 40,000 years, assuming it continues on its current course.

I wonder what things on Earth will be like in 40,000 years.

I wonder if there will be anyone here to wonder about the ultimate fate of Voyager 1.

Marvels: Tales to Astonish #37

"Trapped by the Protector!" by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers
(November 1962)

Boy, that panel kind of sums up how I feel about the usefulness of the Ant-Man at this point in Marvel history...

Now that Henry Pym has had his requisite "fighting commie spies" adventure, it's time to get down to the business of fighting crime. In this issue, Dr. Pym investigates the mystery of the Protector, an "inhumanly powerful criminal" who has been shaking down the local jewelry stores for protection money. Simple enough, but there's a skiffy twist: the Protector carries an electronic disintegrator ray gun that turns a jewelry store's inventory to dust if someone doesn't pay up.

A jeweler named Marsh breathlessly relates this story to Ant-Man, who is repeatedly stymied by the Protector. Usually in comic books they like to let the hero lose a couple of times to establish the villain as a genuine threat. But here it doesn't feel like the Protector is really a difficult villain; it feels more like he's just thinking clearly and realizing how lame Ant-Man is. I mean, the first time he nearly defeats Ant-Man, it's by splashing him with water that nearly carries Ant-Man into the sewer, which I don't think will kill a guy who often seems to forget he can just inhale a gas canister and return to human size. I think he panics just because falling into a sewer would be really gross. Later, the Protector just sucks Ant-Man into a vacuum cleaner, which Pym again panics over, but is really just a minor inconvenience, since he can easily punch his way out of it with his proportional human strength.

It's just a lot of filling pages and waiting--literally. At one point, Dr. Pym just rents a jewelry store (???) and waits for the Protector to come to him. And the Protector turns out to be that original jeweler, Marsh, and once again, Ant-Man knew it all along. Sure you did, Ant-Man. Sure you did. And also, riding an ant off into the distance is really cool and mysterious, what with the top speed of an ant being comparable to a horse, and all.

Just picture me rolling my eyes here.

Stray observations:

:: The Protector's disintegrator ray gun doesn't even work. It just spits out dust and sand to cover the Protector while he steals the jewels himself to create the illusion of disintegration. Which is just... so, so stupid. Marsh is an older man. No one hears him exerting himself or stumbling around in the sand?

:: Apparently Ant-Man can send a bunch of ants to the nearest police precinct and have them literally stand in a way that spells out a message to the police of where they should go. Because, as we've previously established, ants understand the concept of human numbers, letters, and directions. It all translates. Duh.

:: Off-topic a bit, but I noticed in one of the back-up stories, "The Star Raiders" by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, there's a planet called Zenn inhabited by a race of giants. I wonder if Stan Lee consciously or unconsciously recycled the name as "Zenn-La," the homeworld of the Silver Surfer.

Ant-Man is super lame.

Next up: the Fantastic Four face eviction!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Maybe I Can't Take Medication for My Disorders...

I've been on this buspirone since Sunday, and I'm not sure this is working for me.

Last week, even with all of my wedding nervousness, I was able to get through it with self-talk, breathing techniques, and a couple of Xanax when I knew I was going to get out of control. (And a tiny, tiny bit of drinking.)

This week, I've had absolutely nothing that's incredibly stressful come up, but I'm tired, sometimes uncoordinated, sometimes lightheaded, a little irritable and I'm having those long, drawn-out, meticulous, exhausting stress dreams every night.

No stress dreams last week, even with a massive amount of stress.

Am I just destined to not get any comfort from regular medication?

Is it because of the fears I have of going into another period of numb indifference like when I was on Lexapro?

I mean, last week I was doing so much better primarily because I just upped my exercise and kept going. This week, I feel too tired to really get going on it. In the middle of exercising, I'll lose count or I'll just kind of get bored and drift off.

I think I'm going to stop taking this.

Maybe the only real solution is to stay clear-headed but active.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Film Week

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

Terrence Malick directed this film in much the same style as The New World (which I loved) and The Tree of Life (which I did not). This one made me wonder if I should see Tree of Life again and really give it another chance; I love what Malick does in this film (and in The New World), which is to unshackle himself from the demands of a narrative by attempting to evoke the feeling of a relationship at various stages rather than assign characters to a plot. It's hard to describe without sounding precious, I admit. But what Malick does here is attempt to convey emotions through imagery, through the tiniest bits of dialogue and inner monologue, as though we're watching some sort of dream. It looks beneath the surface and tries to see the place where our relationships to one another deteriorate, even as our environment deteriorates, and the things we look to in order to fill our days with meaning--love, family, religion, motivation--sometimes remain maddeningly elusive. Perhaps you have to be truly depressed to understand. I did. ****

Enjoyable, well-paced, quirky movie about a struggling young couple (Juno Temple and Michael Angarano, lots of chemistry) who come into possession of a magic teapot that spits out money when they hurt themselves. It moves on from physical pain to witnessing/inflicting pain in others to emotional destruction, as we see what these two kids will do to one another and themselves simply to try and get a little ahead. Fun little movie, and I can't help it, I adore Juno Temple. ***


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Wedding, Then

(Meant to get to this yesterday, but was still enjoying the wind-down.)

I'm just going to kind of ramble incoherently about the process and the people involved here, rather than just tell a complete story.

:: First, Carl and Kate. As I've been saying, Carl and I have been best friends now for exactly 25 years. The two of them did a wonderful job of making me feel included, like I was a small but integral part of their wedding experience. Like I've said, it goes against the way I've sort of trained myself to believe, which is that no one wants me around or needs to include me, but I really tried to push those misgivings aside so that I wasn't constantly deflecting their compliments, encouragement, or gratitude for being the best man. It was important to Kate because it was important to Carl, and that was both flattering and touching.

The two of them are a great couple and had such a happy day. I'm not a wedding guy--obviously, considering Becca and I eloped to the court house and didn't tell anyone about it for weeks--but they're wedding people and theirs went off perfectly and reflected their personalities.

I can't thank both of them enough.

:: The rehearsal dinner was at a place I'd never been to on the edge of Willowbrook, a little Irish pub called the Kerry Piper. It was mainly the wedding party, the parents, and some relatives. I never once was made to feel excluded or out of place. Everyone acted like I was returning family, as though I'd just moved away and didn't keep in touch enough.

Carl's mom Lois didn't even recognize me at first, which is funny given how much time I spent at her house. Entire weekends for years, from junior high through all of high school. She saw how heavy I'd gotten and asked "What happened here?" (but not in a mean way), and I answered "Well, I just filled out a bit and forgot to stop."

Lois is wonderful. She calls me her "other son" and tells me she's my "other mother" because of all the time I spent at their house growing up. She really took me in a lot and was never anything but warm, concerned and welcoming. It was a hard time, because Carl and I were both going through that angry teenager phase, and I didn't want to be at either of my parents' homes on the weekend (because I felt out of place at both of them), but Carl and his mother were having a lot of personality clashes, too, and I didn't like hearing him say bad things about her, because she was so nice to me. Lois and I even used to talk on the phone for an hour or more if I called and he wasn't there. I think some of that was because she couldn't talk to Carl because he was being a sullen teenager. (Hey, I was being a sullen teenager with my mom, too.)

So it was wonderful to see Lois again. I'm sorry I haven't kept in touch with her better. When I agreed to be the best man, she called to thank me and I recognized her number on my phone right away.

Skipping ahead briefly: Carl and Lois seem to have long ago worked out that phase, and seeing them dance the mother/son dance (Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World") made me tear up. That's my brother and my other mother.

I did talk to Lois a bit between the ceremony and the reception about my disorders and she was very sympathetic. Apparently she has a relative with similar problems who couldn't come to the wedding for that reason.

:: Carl and Kate gave gifts to the parents and the wedding party at the rehearsal dinner and gave me the first volume of the new Fantagraphics Pogo reprints. Does he know me or what? I love comic strips, and Pogo is in the top five.

:: Standing next to me as Carl's groomswoman was his other best friend, Kari. I met Kari exactly one time in 1998 while working on one of Carl's student films, but it was a memorable day. She's in engineering now. She remembered that day, too, and we easily fell into a friendly rhythm, as though our friendship with Carl also made us old friends. She's a lot like me, and we have similar senses of humor. I remember when I first met her I thought she was fantastic, and she still is. She was there with her husband, Greg, who was a really cool guy.

Also cool: Kate's matron of honor, her best friend Lisa, and Lisa's husband Jeff. Like Kari and Greg, they treated me warmly. It was like we were all already friends somehow. It was... well, it was kind of amazing. Again, being included and being made to feel like a part of what was going on and like I belonged there... that's not how I expect to be treated, and being taken in that way really made me feel more confident and made me feel good to be there.

:: It was so nice and cool the night of the rehearsal dinner, and so hot and humid the day of the wedding. It was actually pouring down rain in DeKalb when we left, but by the time we got to Naperville we could tell it hadn't rained there at all. It was 93 degrees and thickly humid, though. I had to sit down a bit, but didn't grumble during pictures or the drive around Naperville for more pictures. I didn't want to be that guy who was only here begrudgingly and had to tell everyone how uncomfortable I am. It's not their fault I weigh 441 pounds and get tired easily.

Speaking of, I'm just not used to that much standing. I had terrible charlie horse cramps overnight on Friday, and was eating ibuprofen for most of the day. I was sure I'd have the cramps again Saturday night, since I'd obviously stood and walked around much more that day, but my mom gave Becca some sort of spray that relaxes the muscles and I didn't get cramps at all. Not bad. Makes me more confident about how I've been pushing myself harder lately while exercising.

:: I still wish I'd looked better in that tuxedo. Lots of people said I looked nice, though. It's just.... it's not how I see myself or want to be seen, being this fat. I've got to work harder and harder on that.

:: How about this trolley?

So now I've not only ridden a trolley/bus, but I've ridden one with no seat belts and a tenuous wooden seat on the expressway, all while noticing that its doors didn't securely close all the way.

Well, you know the anxiety of being a passenger for me. I sucked it up. After a while, it was pretty darn neat. That was for the wedding party and parents. It was interesting, too, when we passed through Woodridge, the town I grew up in, and I was noticing what had changed and what hadn't. I can't remember exactly when I was there last...

The woman who drove the trolley was very nice and didn't drive in a way that freaked me out any further. She gave us some Naperville history that I found interesting; Carl once produced a documentary about the founding of Naperville that I narrated. (Carl is the operations supervisor at Naperville's public television; the executive director apparently had heard my voice in something of his and wanted me to narrate. That was in 2006, I believe. She was at the wedding and came over and raved to me about how good my narration was then! My mom was sitting right there and she told my mom all about it!)

:: I've never worn cuff links before. Kind of neat, but a pain in the ass when I was sitting down to dinner, just because I like to rest my forearms on the table.

:: Boy, dress shoes are not comfortable. No support. My feet still hurt a little.

:: The pre-service music was all from film scores. That's perfect. Also, Carl and Kate's first dance was to "The Rainbow Connection."

:: Two members of the wedding party were, I believe, Kate's younger sisters. They were flirty on the shuttle ride from the hotel to the reception hall. It was just the three of us. That was nice and cute. Not serious flirty, just fun flirty.

:: Yes, I was terrified about my wedding toast. Here it is, if anyone wants to read it. I was so nervous about it, but people applauded and Carl and Kate both loved it. Kari told me that during dinner she could hear people talking about how much they liked it, and during dinner four different people came up to me and shook my hand and said they were really moved by it. So I guess I did okay. I tried not to be my usual self. Where my instinct is usually to say "Really? It was okay?" I was able to say "Thank you so much for saying that." Trying to accept compliments and a sense of accomplishment, like my therapist keeps telling me to do.

:: Also at dinner: excellent champagne. I don't usually like alcohol, but the champagne was really nice and smooth. (Dinner itself was great. God, I love beef. I don't even care. I love beef.)

:: When we got home Saturday night, I was more tired than I've been in years, but in a physical way, not an emotional way. I did have a couple of Xanax during the day, but a lot of it was self-reasoning and breathing techniques. It showed me not only what I can do when I want to do it, but also showed me that I can stay moment-focused instead of just pushing my way through something to get it over with.

I had a wonderful time. I felt included. I felt like I belonged there. And I showed myself: I can do this.

:: A little tag.

The day before the rehearsal dinner, when I was on the phone with Carl at Mens' Wearhouse, he knew I had lingering fear about the whole thing (he reads this blog: hey, dude!), and he told me this to shore me up: "Remember when we were kids and you talked me into driving down the road while you held on to the back of the car on your skateboard? If there's one thing I know about you, it's that when you decide you're going to do something, you throw yourself into it."

I had forgotten about that awful event: I had to let go of the car, the board came out from under me, and I landed on my head and rolled several times. I had just healed from a terrible sprain in my ankle I'd gotten in gym class. And then I cried about how stupid I am.

"Carl, that ended horribly," I said. "That's not a good example."

"Yeah, but you did it," he said. "Like I said, when you decide you're going to do something, you do it, and damn the consequences."

I paused for a second. "That's the nicest way anyone's ever told me that I have terrible impulse control."

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Song of the Week: "You Only Live Twice"

One of my favorite of the Bond themes. I actually haven't been able to get this song out of my head all week, and I think part of that was because concentrating on song sometimes make me feel calmer and more even. I love the lush orchestrations in this song. Nancy Sinatra, 1967, of course.

Winding Down

I figure I'll write a longer post tomorrow about my experiences at the wedding, but suffice to say I did pretty well and didn't break down or screw up. It was a long couple of days, and I am mentally, emotionally and especially physically exhausted. But everything's worked out, and I'm feeling pretty good. I'm really glad I did it.

I'll fill you in a bit tomorrow. Actually, it'll probably be a damn long post. But today's just going to be winding down and relaxing.

Thanks everyone who has commented recently with messages of support and well-wishing. It means a lot to have people take the time to say things like that, and every one of your comments just helped me build that certainty in my mind that I could go out and do what I did.

I feel pretty darn good.


But darn good.