Saturday, November 16, 2013

50 Shades of Smartass: Chapter 2

Here's the biggest problem I have so far with this novel: I cannot respect Anastasia Steele.

I just don't respect her. At all. I think she's a fool and an idiot, and the novel is so poorly written that after the first chapter, all I know about her is that she's awkward, has no confidence, is dissatisfied with her social life (those damn "friends" and their "obligations" and "favors"), drives a VW bug, like British literature, falls down a lot, is overbearingly judgmental, and is almost embarrassingly unable to hold in her attraction to Christian Grey. This is not someone I'm rooting for. This isn't even someone I want to have a casual conversation with. I'm beginning to think the only reason she's so attracted to Christian--despite his being as warm as a robot and as friendly as an extraterrestrial--is that he's the first thing she's ever been preoccupied with that wasn't herself.

The second chapter picks up right off, with Ana rushing to the parking lot and her friend's car, so overwhelmed by her attraction to Christian that she has to force herself to do things like walk, stand, and breathe correctly. It takes her a while to calm down again. It's... it's not a pleasure to read. I don't know why. Again, I hope I'm not having a sexist reaction to her, but jeez, you met a guy and he's hot, keep it together. These "Oh, I'm so attracted to him--yet I can't admit it to myself yet--that I can't even stand because of the loud thumping of my heart and all of the oxygen leaving my brain" histrionics are just absolutely grating. I'm trying not to grind my teeth here. But... well, why am I supposed to root for this idiot, again?

Then, after she calms down enough to get in the car... she continues to calm herself down and try to figure out why she's acting this way and panicking about how embarrassed she feels about her crappy interview. Honey, it's okay: he made you horny. You don't have to be so fascinated over it. But as far as I can tell, Ana never had a feeling or an idea or a greasy fart that she wasn't completely fascinated and taken with. She sure does love to think deep thoughts about herself. Before running from them in panicked embarrassment, I mean.

"Again, I'm irritated that Kate didn't give me a brief biography." It's called a basic Google search, you dolt. But no, no, blame your friend for this. After all, you're just such a good friend that you had to fill in for Kate, but that didn't mean you had to, like, do it well, right? You have no one to blame but yourself for being underprepared. Ask your professors if you don't believe me, college girl, they'll tell you the same thing.

Ana then heads down Interstate 5 listening to "thumping indie rock music." It still puzzles me how EL James will get so specifically detailed about some things, and then just shrug and put something generic in elsewhere. It's like she's just waiting to fill in the information later. "Just write 'thumping indie rock music' for now, and then when you think of one, plug it in during the second draft." (I am convinced there was no second draft. I know this started out as Twilight fanfiction--which is hilarious, because compared to this, Twilight reads like Anna Karenina--but after just plugging in new names and writing 'generic business stuff,' it seems like no one made a second pass at this book, ever.)

So, Ana's driving in [car] and heading back to [school] on [road] and listening to [thumping indie rock music] and trying to tell herself she's not as horny as a 14 year-old boy who just discovered the scrambled cable porn, but she totally is.

(Hey, I grew up in the eighties, I know it's a dated reference.)

(Aside: Ana tells us "I pay peanuts for rent." "I pay peanuts for rent"? "I'm a monkey's uncle"? Why does she talk like it's 1927? I keep waiting for her to tell us that that big cheese Christian Grey is the bee's knees. And how! Not that this Dumb Dora's figured out just how ducky she finds that Dapper Dan. She keeps getting the heebie jeebies at the thought of that kisser. Too bad there's nobody home upstairs, or she might realize that swell is a drugstore cowboy in an egg's glad rags who's feeding her lines to get at her chassis. But that would require the two of them to be on the level and have a real bull session about wanting to neck. This whole story don't know from nothing, I tells ya. It's applesauce. Applesauce!

Alright, alright, I'll dry up and get a wiggle on.)

Speaking of language, something else that annoys me: James uses a lot of hack writer arch sentence structure, like "He doesn't talk like a man of twentysomething" or "She arches a perfect eyebrow at me" or "We talk no more of Christian Grey that evening," and then peppers it with other phrases like "He's pretty damn bright" or "Damn, he's handsome." It's like someone learning English for the first time, completely unsure if they're getting it right, so it's overly formal but also throws in a lot of colloquialisms. It's really unintentionally funny.

Also--sorry, I know I keep stopping the flow of the, er, story, but there's so much here that just gets to me. So, also, I don't find it believable that Christian Grey is 27. Just don't. It's like EL James wanted to write something "naughty" about an older, remote, asexual man and a younger, awkward, narcissistic woman that would have lots of naughty sex in it, but some kind of parochialism stopped her from making him any more than just a few years older than her. Dude, no one cares if you're in your senior year of college and you start dating a guy who's probably like five years older than you. It's not forbidden, or something. Not in your twenties. James wants to make this guy seem like an authority figure to her, so she makes him a businessman despite knowing nothing about business or industry or money, which is a total miscalculation because she can't make Christian's dialogue seem realistic. She couldn't have just made him a literature professor or something? Then at least they'd have something to talk about. Was she too worried that there might be an actual chance of Christian respecting her thoughts on something?

Anyway. Anyway. Let's move on with this story.

Lots of skippable stuff, honestly. There are a few paragraphs devoted to her telling us about her job (clerk at Clayton's, the largest independent hardware store in Portland, because now's suddenly the time to get specific, when it adds absolutely nothing to the narrative) and going in to work and saying hi to someone. Literally no impact at all on the book. Then she seriously panics because Kate keeps asking her questions about what Christian Grey was like and whether she found him attractive and... why? I mean, if you're attracted to an attractive guy and you tell your friend, it's not like you get stoned in the town square or something. Jesus, take a course on meditation or something. Ana seriously needs therapy.

Then there are a couple of pages that could be skipped. You would literally miss nothing if you didn't hear Ana go on and on about how she's doing a paper on Tess of the d'Urbervilles ("Damn, that woman was in the wrong place at the wrong time in the wrong century" is what passes for cogent analysis on that one), or she sleeps in a white iron bed with her mother's quilt, or how she calls her mother and her stepdad to say hello, or how her mother makes candles and is on her fourth "much older" husband. None of this has anything to do with anything (although it's worth pointing out she probably has daddy issues), because James never bothers to make any connections with how Ana's feeling or how these things in her life inform her experience of life. They're just there, in a little list of stuff that exists.

Then we meet her friend Jose, who stops by to tell her and Kate that a gallery is exhibiting some of his photos. This scene only exists to set up what I assume will be an obvious development in chapter 3. Also, we're told in painful detail how Jose is just a good friend, and how Ana's never been in love. "Katherine often teases me that I'm missing the need-a-boyfriend gene, but the truth is I just haven't met anyone who... well, whom I'm attracted to, even though part of me longs for the fabled trembling knees, heart-in-my-mouth, butterflies-in-my-belly moments." While ignoring the fact that these are things that happened to her and that she literally described just a couple of pages ago after interviewing Christian Grey when she was practically creaming her jeans in the parking lot.

Oh, don't worry, Ana! These kind of books only exist to justify your social awkwardness! It's not something wrong with you, you just haven't met anyone extraordinary enough to be your magical boyfriend yet, because the mundane men you meet in your life aren't good enough for someone as special as you! That's why you're so fucking awkward! So that you don't seem totally arrogant about how special you are, because you don't even know you're special yet, because the right man hasn't made you understand you are! I have to go vomit now!

(By the way, do you see how terribly this book is written. This is the prose of EL James. A moment of your pity, please.)

"Perhaps I've spent too long in the company of my literary romantic heroes, and consequently my ideals and expectations are far too high."

Guys, seriously. I'm an English teacher. This is murdering my brain and my appreciation of the English language.

The way she talks about Jose in this little bit... is he going to die or something? She talks about him the same way you talk about the last time you remember your dog before he got really sick.

The rest of the chapter takes place at Clayton's, which is a nightmare on Saturday night, apparently, and who is suddenly standing in front of Anastasia but Christian Grey, "looking all outdoorsy with his tousled hair and in his cream, chunky-knit sweater, jeans, and walking boots" because EL James apparently only knows men through images in the 1987 JC Penny catalog. Rather than tease him for being a rich poser in cliched outdoorsman drag, she immediately gets all flustered and starts coming apart at the seams. It's just... it's always so embarrassing to read. Stop taking us inside it so much, because the uncomfortable embarrassment of it just makes me really, truly hate spending any time with this girl.

Christian, for his part, is a major asshole. He's not just coming out and saying he wants to get it on, either. He's perfectly aware of the effect he's having on her, and he's reveling in it, always with a look of smug bemusement on his face, because he's a condescending prick.

"His voice is warm and husky like dark melted chocolate fudge caramel... or something." At least commit to your silly metaphor instead of playing it off to apologize for it in case it's silly. Have a point of view and stop apologizing for yourself, bunkie!

He's clearly there to see her and heat her up some more, despite some half-intelligible business reason for being in town on business for the purposes of businessing. Ana even realizes right away that he's only in the store to see her, but then puts that out of her mind because she's so unworthy of attention or whatever her psychosis is. But he makes her lead him around the store, finding seemingly random items that... oh.

Oh oh oh.

And that's all I could say was oh.

I just realized it.

He's getting cable ties. And masking tape. And filament rope.

This is supposed to be S&M stuff, isn't it? This is a ham-fisted attempt at foreshadowing, as well as a ham-fisted attempt at flirting.

The flirting is awful. It's the kind of stuff that sexually immature people recommend while saying idiotic things like "this is how you get out of the friend zone and into the bone zone." So, any issue of Maxim at random, really. (Apt comparison, since this novel, like Maxim, is for sexually regressive people too scared to buy actual porn.) First, he intimidates her. Then, he puts himself in the position to see her on her home turf, but without easing off the intimidation, thus commanding her where she should be comfortable and at ease, so she doesn't feel safe and understands he's more powerful than her. Next, he's condescendingly amused by her attempts to be smart with him, and indulges her like a child. Then he takes a genuine, though remote, interest in her, drops a little bit of manly info about himself (his supposed interest in DIY), and then flusters her completely by saying something that makes her picture him naked. She almost doesn't recover from that. Somewhere, a frustrated 29 year-old virgin is gasping "Compliment her hair! She'll blow you right there in the aisle!" and climaxing into a tube sock. Jesus wept.

It's just sad.

Like, it actually makes me feel bad reading this novel.

As so many others have pointed out, this is not an interested man falling in love with an interested woman. This is a sexual predator sizing up and priming his prey. It's a mind game leading to a bigger mind game. And that it's so obviously working is disheartening and disgusting.

The next step, of course, is to arrange a function where he's in control and with the possibility of removing oneself from it and becoming intimate, so when she openly wonders if he could maybe do a photo shoot for Kate's newspaper profile of him, he agrees to it, because it's more of a chance to get his icky vibe in her hair. (This is the clumsy foreshadowing, because Ana wonders where she'll ever find a photographer, despite her just having told us that her best male friend is a photographer.) This is all turning out great for Christian. She's such easy prey, he could have set up a duck blind in her living room and she'd never have noticed it was there until it was too late.

Seriously, how am I supposed to care about what happens to these self-absorbed fuckwits?

Then, this stupid thing happens where the brother of the store owner gets all overly familiar with Ana, and Christian is just standing there, staring at him "like a hawk, his eyes hooded and speculative, his mouth a hard, impassive line." He's all business after that, and then, after he's made his purchase and is about to leave, turns and tells our heroine "I'm glad Miss Kavanagh couldn't do the interview."

This moment of apparent jealousy followed by a hint of vulnerability is what finally gets Ana to admit to herself that she likes Christian and is excited to see him again. Of course, it's just a lost cause (right) and it was "just a coincidence" that he came into her store (uh-huh), but she likes him.

No, no, no, Anastasia Steele. Let me tell you, as a man and as a guy who has had conversations with men and as a teacher who has heard boys talk about girls, what actually happened.

You threw his seduction off track by getting overly familiar to the point of near-handsiness with another man, which made Christian a little angry, because he doesn't want a scavenger getting between this Alpha Male and his chosen prey. Then he got remote and short because he wanted to punish you and to make you feel like you'd done something wrong by taking your attention off of him so you know not to do it again. And then he threw in a moment of appreciation to re-establish the personal connection and let you know that, yes, you did something wrong, but there's still a chance to gain his approval.

And that's the seed he planted back at the interview: by condescending to you and pointing out how you don't have a career plan and how lazy and clumsy you are--and being openly amused by it--he's set up in you the need for his approval, and the only way he's going to let you have it is if you pay for it with your body. That's why you're so obsessed and so in denial; because you want to be good enough for him. Every "I'm glad Miss Kavanagh couldn't do the interview" is a little rush, and you want more, because you thought this guy was so arrogant and controlling that there would never be any way he could notice you. But he did. And it makes you feel warm "somewhere dark and unexpected, deep in my belly."

He's manipulating you, and you're falling for it and calling it romance.

50 Shades of Dysfunction.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Marvels: Tales to Astonish #41

"Prisoner of the Slave World!" by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber & Don Heck
(March 1963)

Here's the story: a bunch of prominent scientists are disappearing without explanation. Henry tries to figure out where they've gone, and then a window-washer douses him with some kind of fluid, sending him to another dimension where an alien warlord named Kulla is holding the scientists prisoner in order to make an atomic death ray to use on his enemies. Henry becomes Ant-Man, figures out how to command the local insects, tells the insects to use the death ray on Kulla, and then a bunch of freedom fighters come in and defeat their oppressors. The Earth scientists go home and then one of them wonders how the heck Ant-Man was even there in the first place. Wink at the viewer, and that's another Ant-Man story in the can.

There's just not much to Ant-Man yet. Lots of potential, but it's just not working. I know I said I was tired of Ant-Man fighting spies and gangsters and would-be racketeers, but having him go to another dimension to outwit aliens is just too far in the opposite direction. There's no middle yet.

The story's rendered even more pointless by the fact that it feels very routine. Thor and the Human Torch have already had very similar adventures, and at least the Torch's featured an alien princess and swamp demons.

That said, I like Don Heck's art for the character. It's breezy without feeling unfinished, and he seems to enjoy getting to ink himself. Good lines, but not showing off. It's the best thing about this forgettable story.

Next time: enter the Watcher!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Night of the Doctor

Well, this was surprising. Is this how Steven Moffat gets around the limited regenerations thing?

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week and didn't put up yesterday because I was busy.

Boy, I loved this. I would honestly put this second after The Avengers in my list of favorite movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I really love what they've done with Thor in these movies, basically turning him into an alien instead of a god and going so space opera with it. This is the kind of fun, exciting adventure picture I still live for: Flash Gordon with superheroes. And Kat Dennings. That's always important. I thought it had some lovely stuff about family, and all of the Easter Eggs they throw in linking it to the rest of the MCU and teasing future pictures just enhances the fun for an old comic book nerd like me. Also, it's always nice to be in the Marvel Universe where the nihilists aren't the heroes. Dug it, dug it, dug it. ****

My appreciation of Robert Altman films is pretty sporadic, so I put off this film for years and years. Finally I sat down with it this week and watched it, and I thought it was a generally excellent film from an era of generally excellent films. Warren Beatty and Julie Christie star as the title characters, who become business partners in a whorehouse in the Old West. Beatty is an opportunist looking for his next big payday, but when a mining company comes in sniffing around, he pushes back a little too hard, setting a chain of events in motion that are horrifyingly inevitable. The Leonard Cohen songs are a great, moody touch; the final sequence, set in the snow-filled town, are slow but gripping, and beautifully shot by Vilmos Zsigmond. I'd call this Altman's best film, personally. ****

Fascinating documentaries about the political tension in Chile in the early seventies and the counter revolution against the democratically elected Salvador Allende. I saw both parts on TCM, and was a little frustrated to discover that there's also a third part, so I'm getting only two thirds of the story, but the footage is amazing. It starts out with the filmmakers asking people about their hopes for the upcoming elections; at the time, the CIA was heavily involved with Chile and Allende and the Popular Unity movement were attempting to nationalize the industries and introduce social democracy. As demonstrations mount, the opposition begins to get violent, and the first film ends with the military moving in, taking aim at the cameraman filming him, and shooting him dead. The second film--which helpfully points out Pinochet among the opposition generals--begins with right wing violence and an attempted military coup that's unsuccessful, but mainly deals with industrial strikes (backed by the CIA) and the systematic dismantling of the government by the right wing opposition, who take control and force most of the Popular Unity politicians out through dubious legal means. What the CIA was trying to preserve, I have no idea, but they were able to end 48 years of democracy in Chile and give the people there 17 years of military dictatorship under Pinochet. The films I saw were powerful documents rather than pro-socialist propaganda, the last gasp of hope for freedom being crushed by opportunists. ****

Interesting, involving road picture by Wim Wenders. It's about a German man trying to fly home from America; he meets a woman in a similar predicament and befriends her, only for her to take off and leave her young daughter, Alice, in his care. He takes her home to Germany, now stuck with her, and takes her from city to city in an attempt to find her grandmother. She's not sure where grandmother lives, though, having only a picture of her door. It's a hard film to forget; it's quiet and observant, and doesn't labor any points while still giving us a sense of the exhaustion of a world that's becoming more modern and more homogeneous. They can't find the girl's home because every place is too much the same and indistinct, and the man's creativity is being stifled by a culture that demands art be conventional. ****

XALA (1975)
A couple of weeks ago I saw Ousmane Sembene's Sengalese film Black Girl, which was a damning, well-observed comment on colonialism in Africa. This film, about a polygamist Senegalese official who takes a third wife, only to discover that he's suffering from erectile dysfunction, is a commentary on the post-colonial African governments, which were corrupt, Western-influenced, and ineffective. Sembene is wry and insightful in his condemnation of his government's inability to get away from Western money and greed, and the way it turned its back on Senegalese tradition. There are a lot of folk elements in here that get the point across without being preachy or obvious. Interesting picture. ***

I watched this last night (it's only on Netflix until tomorrow), and I haven't been able to stop thinking about it. It's about three families and their guide on the Oregon Trail in 1845, making their way through the Cascade Mountains together. The film is slow-moving; it's really just observing these people against a vast wilderness, cut off from the world they were born into, unsure of how long it's going to take to get somewhere else. It has its own rhythm; it doesn't look like any other Western. It's shot in the Academy 1.37:1 ratio, giving the film a cramped look, giving us the impression of a group of people hewing close to one another, trying to find strength in their isolation, but really sort of trapped in this monotonous hardship. It takes a long time for it to become clear that they're lost and their guide is merely pushing ahead blindly, the water running out. The director, Kelly Reichardt (who also directed Wendy and Lucy, another film about people trying to leave somewhere, their efforts frustrated by their lack of resources), wants you to feel their experience, and does so by making their isolation, their fear at being so removed from society, with a sense of almost encroaching madness. She plays with the sound--she keeps us with the women in the group, straining to hear the distant men making decisions together, and at other times the sounds of the wagons on the dirt are so loud they sound like thunderstorms. These aren't people confidently overtaking the land for conquest; these are people subservient to the landscape, completely at its mercy, losing their way. This is like Aguirre, the Wrath of God; the terrain makes the suspicion and anger of these people and their societal breakdown increasingly irrelevant with its monotony. Reichardt really puts you there. And she leaves you there, too. It's not for everyone, but I found it fascinating and hard to let go of. ****

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Marvels: Tales of Suspense #39

"Iron Man Is Born!" by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber & Don Heck
(March 1963)

Confession time: I've never been that much of an Iron Man fan.

It's not for lack of trying. I've read a number of Iron Man comics over the years, but I've never really gotten much into the character. I would say I'm easily a bigger fan of Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man than I am of the actual comic book character. It's not like with Ant-Man, where I just think Ant-Man is impossibly lame and dripping with unrealized potential. I just don't really find anything in Iron Man stories that capture my interest.

I think part of that, here in his first appearance and origin story, is that I've never been very interested in science fiction that's very technological. I think this story qualifies as a kind of harder SF than I really get into. It's honestly just because I've never been mechanically inclined, and when Anthony Stark goes on about transistors and magnets, I can't really, entirely, truly grasp how these things all work together.

The comic sure does try to make you dig Stark, though. He's a scientist, a businessman, a billionaire playboy. Like all scientists in the Marvel Universe, he's developing new tech for the military; this issue focuses on small transistors he's built which, when used with magnets, can rip thick, heavy, iron doors off their hinges. Don't ask me if the science is plausible; I already explained that I have no idea. But, to someone as uneducated in science as I am, it sounds like it could be plausible.

(Side note: even into college--and remember I didn't start college until I was 25--I had the hardest time with science, even as it completely fascinated me. I actually failed one science class in college, and to my utter shame it was planetary science. Dr. Sagan, why hast thou forsaken me?)

Stark (who is not yet called Tony, just as Henry Pym is not yet called Hank and Donald Blake is not yet called Don--all of these formal doctors) thinks his new transistors could help the military solve its "Vietnam problem." The actual mention of Vietnam in a 1963 comic was a shock the first time I read it. But, of course, this is before it all escalated for America, and I don't expect to see it mentioned again any time soon.

Even more, Anthony actually goes to Vietnam to oversee the implementation of his transistors. But he's immediately captured in an exploding booby trap and taken to Wong Chu, "the red guerrilla tyrant." Wong's characterization is indicative of the arrogance the US had towards Vietnam. He's almost no different from the way Marvel has been depicting Chinese communists--fat, evil, barbaric, and colored pale yellow--except that he's somehow less tech savvy (because Vietnam is primitive, I guess) and likes to wrestle his prisoners in order to humiliate them. He's a caricature who speaks in that same comic book pidgin English where apparently Asian men only know so many pronouns and articles, but to Larry Lieber's credit, it's only part of the time. I got the feeling reading this that Larry's heart just wasn't in demonizing people by infantilizing their speech patterns.

(You know, you can also make the case that this was an early example of showing how the US might pay for underestimating Vietnam; Stark just walks right in with bluster and overconfidence and is immediately trapped, bombed, captured and thrown into prison. I don't know if that was the intention, but it's ahead of its time if it was.)

Because of the explosion, Stark now has shrapnel stuck in his body, slowly making its way to his heart, where it will kill him. Wong promises Stark a doctor if he first uses the tools and scrap iron at hand to make him a weapon. (How isn't defined--there doesn't seem to be anything that can be weaponized at hand, which makes sense since Stark's a prisoner--but Wong Chu just wants a weapon.) Anthony agrees, but deduces immediately that Wong doesn't have a doctor who can save him--if he did, he'd just do it now and then force Stark to work for him. So Stark--along with Professor Yinsen, a great physicist of international renown whom Anthony admires and who is also a prisoner--gets the idea to build himself a suit of iron that will be both savior and weapon.

I assume that the idea of a transistor-and-magnet driven chestpiece that will keep the shrapnel away from Stark's heart is inspired by the iron lung; something to keep Stark's heart beating mechanically when it stops being able to do so on its own. It's a neat idea for a science fiction story. There's a whole page (this is an anthology book, so the story's only 13 pages) devoted to the building of the machine, with Stark and Yinsen discussing how the gears and transistors and lubrication will work, and, well, I'm just going with it. Nothing sounds too far-fetched here to my science-class-failing brain. I'm more interested in the personal drama of the two men working against the clock to save Stark's life with their invention.

By the way, Professor Yinsen doesn't speak in pidgin English at all, I guess because he's educated. He doesn't escape that insulting yellow coloring, though. Sadly, he's forced to buy Stark time to power the suit up with his life. But, soon enough, Iron Man is able to make his escape.

The first thing Iron Man does? Trip over his suit. Hey, it's heavy and bulky, what do you want?

But Iron Man wrestles Wong Chu, defeats his men, and eventually blows him up as he's running to murder his own prisoners. Seriously, Iron Man straight up ices the guy in an explosion and watches the flames. I mean, Wong Chu was going to murder a bunch of POWs, but it's unusual for a Marvel origin story to end in a death. Death, Vietnam... this one's got some surprises.

One of the things I don't like about Iron Man at this stage is that everything sort of takes forever to accomplish. I admit this is because I'm reading this story in 2013. Fifty years ago, it was closer to the cutting edge of what was technologically available. Magnet-based tech has already been used in Fantastic Four, but Iron Man's transistors are changing the face of technology and seem to have limitless possibilities. Heck, they're used as such a catch-all here that they stop just short of being magic. (Remember how on Star Trek: Voyager literally any problem could be solved just by throwing nanites at it? This doesn't get that bad.)

But every time Iron Man wants to do something like repel bullets or saw through a door or jam a transmission, he's got to put on some kind of attachment while he's explaining to you the reader exactly what he's doing, because this is all such a new leap in what science is capable of. So, the suit can do a lot of things, but many of them take the form of explanation-filled attachment gadgetry, so it's like the story is taking a lot of little pauses, and it breaks the flow of the action.

But hey, like I said, it's 1963, and it's not like the suit could be computerized. It's big, it's bulky, and the fact that Stark can even move in it is amazing enough. I have no idea how this played to a pre-home computer audience; I've grown up with the things, so I can't say that a mechanical suit that has less capability than an iPhone is really exciting to me. This is just a matter of technology becoming dated; when the technology that's the centerpiece of the story seems like such a relic, it's hard to get into a story that's mainly about how that relic is the wonder of the age. Add that to the racist caricaturing and the whole story feels outdated.

Still, it'll be interesting to see where Stark goes from here, now forced to wear the iron chestpiece all the time. It's going to cut down on his womanizing, that's for sure.


:: According to Marvel Wiki, Wong Chu comes back in an issue of Iron Man in 2000. But that comes across like more retcon continuity wank to me; it's pretty clear here that Stark kills him.

:: Don Heck based Stark's look on Errol Flynn, which makes sense and which is a great look for Stark the playboy. The helmet was also purposely designed to look like a human skull. In an upcoming issue, a woman says she's afraid of Iron Man because of the way he looks, so I guess that's part of the skull aspect.

:: One of the stories in this issue features art by Gene Colan. I don't remember seeing his art in any of the anthology series before now, but until Ant-Man and Thor started, I had mainly only read Amazing Adult Fantasy, which was all Steve Ditko. But it's nice to know Colan is at Marvel.

Next time: Ant-Man crosses dimensions to battle aliens.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

I Don't Know Why I Just Remembered This

Barnes & Noble receiving room, 1996.

MARK: So, with all of these Roald Dahl movies they're suddenly doing, what do you think the next one will be?

ME: I read that someone was working on The BFG. Maybe with John Cleese as the Big, Friendly Giant.

MARK: Oh, is that what that stands for? I always thought it stood for Big Fucking Guy.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Song of the Week: "Like a Rocket Man"

A new track from David Bowie, showing off his Beatles influence. I am in love with this track.

Marvels: Strange Tales #106

"The Threat of the Torrid Twosome!" by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Dick Ayers & John Duffy
(March 1963)

This whole story demonstrates two things that have already been well-established. One, that Johnny Storm can be quite determined when his self-respect is at stake. And two, he's not always so bright. Not the best combination for a hot-headed teenager, especially when that teenager is the Human Torch.

For example: Stan and his brother Larry finally tackle the issue of the Torch's "secret identity."

Johnny, as the fans have been complaining, everyone knows who the Human Torch is. The Fantastic Four are international celebrities! They've been feted by the United Nations and honored by Congress! You guys were in a movie where you played yourselves! I know that--and no, I'll never let this go--you once forget there was no oxygen in space, but dude, come on.

Apparently, according to Sue, everyone in Glenville was just being polite and giving Johnny his privacy since he never brought it up. That's pretty big of Glenville, since Johnny never tires of talking about how amazing he is. It also shows that Johnny wasn't giving folks enough credit; they knew he was the Torch and never mobbed him and just minded their own business. That's a twist I dig.

That man speaking to Johnny is Carl Zante, the world's greatest acrobat, who has decided to go into the crimefighting business under the name, wait for it: The Acrobat! Simple, obvious, yet elegant, I suppose. This guy is one suave character. So much so that you don't care that he's obviously going to turn out to be the villain. He's just so smoove.

Kevin Kline's gonna play him in the movie, right?

Well, in another example of Johnny not being very bright, the Acrobat plays up to Johnny's pride and convinces him--quite easily--that he's the real star of the Fantastic Four and Reed Richards keeps all of the reward money from their adventures and puts it back into scientific research only to aggrandize himself. As usual, Johnny's pretty quick to believe that he's being held back and that he deserves all the glory, so he quits the Fantastic Four, joins with the Acrobat as the Torrid Twosome, and then proceeds to get duped.

The Acrobat manages to fool the Torch into helping him rob a bank, then douses him with liquid asbestos (how big are his tumors by now?), shoots him and leaves him for dead. Making his escape, though, he runs into the Thing, Mr. Fantastic, and the Invisible Woman. But it's Johnny who has to make up for his stupid mistake by capturing the Acrobat, despite having been shot in the arm, which throws off his balance and makes it hard for him to fly. Somehow, though, acrobatics and ego are no match for flame and heat, and Johnny stops the Acrobat from getting away by melting the tar in the road so his feet get stuck. Then he re-joins the FF and all's well that ends well. Or at least ends.


:: I really like Dick Ayers' pencil work in this issue, taking over from inking Kirby's usual work. Anyone know why Kirby is so absent this month? He skipped the final issue of Incredible Hulk and didn't draw this month's Thor or Human Torch stories, and won't for a while. Same with Ant-Man and this month's debut of Iron Man. The only explanation I can think of is that he was working on the premiere issue of Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos, which comes out in May '63, but I'm sure there are much bigger fans than I who might know why he's missing. (He did do an exceptional job on this month's Fantastic Four #12, though, one of the best Marvel issues so far.) (According to Marvel Wiki, he also penciled this month's Two-Gun Kid. That's a fun book, too, even though I'm not doing it as part of the Marvels series.)

My wife wonders if he was already working on the Fantastic Four annual, which will be out in September and which, as you know, is epic.

:: Johnny shows off his ability to control any flame near him, even when he can't flame on. Has that been established before? If it has, I've forgotten. Neat power, though. I like that he can pull the flame out of Reed's pipe just to humiliate the Thing with another prank.

This was a fun story, elevated by a dashing villain and the way Stan and Larry fixed a continuity error with good humor.

Next time: Iron Man!