Saturday, November 23, 2013

50 Shades of Smartass: Chapter 3

Last week, New York Erratic and I talked a bit in the comments about reading a book written from the point of view of the neurotic. I've been thinking about what it is that makes me hate Anastasia Steele so much. Shouldn't I at least be a little sympathetic? After all, we seem to share a lot of the same anxiety disorders. And it's not like there haven't been great novels with narcissistic narrators before (The Catcher in the Rye's a big one). What is it about this particular narrator that grates on me so?

I think it's down to EL James' writing. She's no JD Salinger. When I first read Catcher in high school, I spent the first several chapters thinking, okay, I can identify with a lot of this guy's frustration with society and phonies and the world in general. It drew me into his way of thinking before it became apparent that his frustrations were something more, something that prevented him from functioning normally in the real world. It was brilliant; I know lots of people have different views of the novel, but for me it was about a spoiled brat who was confused when his sense of entitlement hit a brick wall against a world who didn't take him at his word that he was special because it had no reason to. He couldn't deal with it. But by getting to know him and understand him as a person before really catching on to his neurosis, the book had made me care about a person I would otherwise choose not to spend time with. In its way, American Psycho did that. So did The Bell Jar.

The problem with Ana is that there's nothing else to her but her neuroses. That's why I keep saying it's like reading some college girl's Tumblr, because I used to see a lot of it on Tumblr until I stopped following those people. It's hard to feel sympathy for people who are constantly telling you everything that's wrong with them. I'm not saying people can't complain. But when you don't know anything about a person beyond "I like anime" and "Here's everything that's wrong with me," it's hard to take them seriously as people, because they're so caught up in themselves that you wonder why you're even in the conversation. It's the awkwardness which is a serious problem for some people, but which is right now being so overly-romanticized. It's not romantic to be a lonely shut-in; it's not a choice you've made. It's because you're so wrapped up in your fear of others or of social situations or of the world at large or even of just being afraid; it twists you around and around so you really feel you can't go outside. I know. I've got it. I fight it every day, and some days I fail at it spectacularly. It can ruin your life. But that's not romantic. That's a tragedy.

But in Ana there's this annoying, self-serving dichotomy of a girl telling you how boring and uninteresting she is, and then consistently being fascinated with herself and only herself, and going on and on about her reactions to everything without giving them any context or connection. She's always in the moment, alternately whining about herself or talking about the sensations she's experiencing without analyzing them in any way. So... I just have a hard time being in the mind of this character who is always reacting to something without really attempting to understand it (or help us understand why we should care).

Everything else about Ana is just extraneous details that don't matter to the story. You're not automatically deep because you like Jane Austen novels or "thumping indie rock" or because you drive a VW bug. Tell us how those things make you feel. Show us that they have personal significance and aren't just trappings. Everything about Ana is [college student stereotype] + [only child stereotype] + OMG HOLY CRAP CRAPPIN' DOUBLE CRAP I'M SO AWKWARD AND DID I MENTION I'M A VIRGIN HARD TO BELIEVE AMIRITE / 1920s slang.

There's no there there.

Christian Grey: also a stereotype. But he's not the one we're supposed to be rooting for. He's just vague authority and vague business speak and basically he could be a vampire or an alien or her stepdad and it would be the same story, because she's basically just describing Michael Fassbender over and over again, but as a cool, confident man who's really a troubled little boy underneath, because another thing pop culture needs to stop doing is romanticizing vain, maniacal assholes as troubled just because they're cute. (See anything that any fangirl has ever written about Loki without also mentioning that he's petty, spoiled, selfish, and technically a mass murderer, but omg cute hair and eyes.)

Gosh... I always hope the next thing installment is going to be shorter....

Do you make notes when you're reading something critically? I do.

There is so much extraneous detail and bits of narrative that could be chopped off wholesale and never missed. I don't care how many cars you had to take so you and Kate and Jose and Jose's gofer (not "gopher," as James styles it) could go to the hotel to shoot Christian Grey. (With a camera, unfortunately.) I don't care about what kind of music you were listening to. I don't care what roads you took to get there. None of this matters. You are not weaving a rich tapestry, you are padding your word count.

The first part of the chapter is just Ana at work gushing to Kate over the phone about how Christian came to see her and he's going to do the photos and how hot he is, etc. Even Kate tells her that it's not a coincidence, but Ana insists that it is, because of course she does. Here's another example of a problem I have with Ana as narrator--it's obvious to anyone whose spinal cord is connected to their brain that Christian came here just to see her, but she keeps insisting that it's a coincidence because of her low self-esteem and whatever. I get that, sure. It's realistic to someone with this kind of personality disorder. But then she keeps on in her insistence long past the point where it's necessary to the narrative, so instead of just looking insecure, she looks incredibly stupid. We can all see him sizing you up, figuring out the easiest way to seduce and dominate you, but you keep crying "coincidence" and "I'm not good enough," and it just makes you look dumb because you're denying what's apparent.

Kate's clunky reaction to Christian giving Ana his cell phone number: "The richest, most elusive, most enigmatic bachelor in Washington State just gave you his cell phone number?"

Say what you will about EL James as a writer, but she's sure got an ear for the way people really talk. I know that I always like to spell out exactly what the situation is at convenient moments, in case someone is trying to follow the narrative arc of my afternoon.

I want to hit somebody for this one, though: "I hug myself with quiet glee, rocking from side to side, entertaining the possibility that he might like me." Oh, man. Do you think he likes you or like likes you? Ugh. I just rolled my eyes so hard they locked for ten seconds. Ana seems to think she's in a young adult book for 8 year-olds. Honey, your first orgasm is going to be so confusing. You are not well-adjusted.

Also, when Kate says she has a "relationship" with Christian Grey, Ana's response is: "'Relationship?' I squeak at her, my voice rising several octaves."

Ugh, can you imagine knowing this person? RELATIONSHIP?????!!?! SQUEE OMG WHAT!! I OVERREACT TO EVERYTHING WITH THE CUTESY CARTOONISHNESS OF AN ANIME CHARACTER! WHY DOES NO ONE WANT TO BE AROUND ME WHILE I WATCH PIRATED EPISODES OF NEW GIRL ON MY LAPTOP?? [insert a thousand emojis]

Maybe I'm just old before my time, but ugh.

To me, the most shocking moment happens when she hangs up the phone and the boss's brother, Paul, asks her out, as he apparently always does when he's home from school. She plays it off by telling us that she thinks it's a bad idea to date the boss's brother, but also says "Paul is cute in a wholesome all-American boy-next-door kind of way, but he's no literary hero, not by any stretch of the imagination."

See, Ana is just like Bella Swan, in that she's constantly telling us how awkward she is, but then everyone falls all over themselves to be around her. Her friend Jose, the boss's brother Paul, Christian Grey the Richest Most Elusive Most Enigmatic Bachelor in Washington State... men just can't get enough of even just being around her because she's so fucking fascinating to people, even though she's awkward and ugly and clumsy and all the other things she keeps reminding us are wrong with her.

But here, for one second--and I have to assume it's either an accident or something the narcissism of both character and author didn't notice--it's like Ana is admitting that she's just waiting for the one person to come along who is just as amazingly, supernaturally special as she considers herself to be. She's not going to give herself to just some guy who's cute and nice to her and has a real interest in her. No, no. It's got to be Edward Cullen Dracula the Doctor Loki Christian Grey.

(Which, of course, is why it's so grating that she keeps downplaying his interest in her as not real, because it's so clearly what she wants.)

(Side note: I hate it when people use the phrase "not by any stretch of the imagination." It sounds unnecessarily insulting.)

She can't even talk on the phone to set up the meeting without gushing and forgetting how to breathe and falling under his spell. It's like he's got that ring Ming the Merciless had that made Melody Anderson all horny. It's so cartoony. Can we just move along, please? And then she has the temerity to get all mad at Kate for making her call and making her go to the photo session, because Kate just made it possible for you to do the one thing you want which is see Christian again OH MY GOD WHAT A BITCH.

(This is the same child who keeps reminding us what a great, self-sacrificing friend she reluctantly is.)

(She also, at the hotel, gets snippy with Kate for being so domineering, which is really only there to let us know that Miss Princess likes to be bossed around.)

At the hotel -- "The rooms are elegant, understated, and opulently furnished" she mentions blandly with her usual shrug for the generic--Ana can barely keep it together upon seeing Christian. "Holy crap! He's wearing a white shirt, open at the collar, and gray flannel pants that hang from his hips. His unruly hair is still damp from a shower. My mouth goes dry looking at him...he's so freaking hot." Virginia Woolf must be glad that she doesn't have to compete with this eloquence.

(For those counting out of irritation, like me, she only says "crap" six times in this chapter, so maybe she's bought a thesaurus.)

So, Christian doesn't like Jose--he clearly doesn't like any potential young man who could get between him and his prey, Anastasia Rose Steele (because of course that's her name)--but they get through their little picture session, and then Christian asks Ana to have coffee. Kate doesn't like this. Yes, Kate, who has been pushing them together and trying to get Ana interested in someone other than herself for once, is suddenly full of warnings about how Christian is dangerous for "someone like you." Someone like her? "An innocent like you, Ana." It's so arch and painful. This horrible warning, full of implications, delivered like Kate's supposed to be a witch in a bad B-movie about British history. Look, you can't be genteel with Ana, you have to spell it out. "Girl, he's trying to fuck you, and you're too stupid to figure it out, so guard your panties" would have been much easier for her to decipher.

Ana's all like, guh, it's just coffee, come on, which is what a thousand girls say before they end up with their pants around their ankles. Not that I care, really, because this is (ostensibly) a grown woman making her own stupid choices, so why not just go for it instead of having to attach Big Themes and Deep Meanings to it? Quit letting him manipulate you emotionally into his bed and just get some dick and get fucking over yourself.

Sorry, this is really getting to me.

People: it's just sex. Calm. Down.

But, of course, it's a little dream date for her. There's a couple making out in the elevator, he holds her hand all the way to the coffee shop, she gets her precious English breakfast tea because she hates coffee because there's no cliche on the list of Giddy Virgin on Her First Trip to London characteristics she's not gonna check off, and then they have a deep, meaningful discussion where he tries to get to know her and she's totally confused by that.

This conversation is so stupid. She's so unnerved by his personal probing, when he's just observant and interested. Well, not "just." There's a point to every question, as there always is with sexual predators.

He asks her about whether she has a boyfriend, then tells her "You seem nervous around men." She answers this by blushing and gasping. Then he praises her for not being intimidated by him, corrects her posture, then flatters her by calling her a mystery and observing that she's "self-contained," which is an odd way to mispronounce "self-centered." To crown that one, she asks why he hasn't asked her to call him by his first name--acknowledging that she feels she needs permission to--and he says "The only people who use my given name are my family and a few close friends" before changing the subject.

And as usual, she just doesn't see the way he's manipulating her. He makes a personal, penetrative observation ("You seem nervous around men.") to make her self-conscious and vulnerable, but then he builds her up, casually asserts his power over her (telling her to straighten up and look at him), then throws in some flattery to make her question herself, and then once again sets her up to desire his approval and acceptance. What she really appears to be hearing is "I--and only I--think you're fascinating, but I'm not going to put myself on the same level with you until you prove yourself worthy of it."

She plays it off as his being a control freak, which she thinks is some deep, psychological insight, because she's the kind of person who latches on to one personality trait and thinks she has a person all figured out. You simp: he's dominating you, and you're playing into it. He's abusing you, and you're eating it up, and you are absolutely fooling yourself if you think you're in control of this situation. (Or that he has any respect for you.)

So now he starts asking her questions about her parents. She's an only child, her dad died when she was a baby, and her mom remarried three times. His stomach must be all tingly with glee at how many daddy issues she must have. That'll make it easier for him to get her to do whatever he wants. Oh, I'm sorry, did you think he was asking about her parents because he's interested in her as a person?

For some reason, they make a big deal about how mom moved to Texas to live with unnamed Husband Number Three, and then when she came back, she was divorced, and now she never ever talks about Husband Number Three. A perverse part of me who just wants Christian to be as evil as possible because I am starting to hate everyone who ever thought this was a sexy romance novel hopes that Christian is actually Husband Number Three and this is some really sick game he's playing. Hell, if there's one thing Tumblr has taught me, it's that no fictional character can ever be considered abusive or evil as long as he has long, messy hair and bedroom eyes.

Anyway, this interminable conversation cavalcade of cliches and uninteresting personal details finally ends with him casually insulting her clothing ("Do you always wear jeans?"--you watch, she'll be in a dress the next time she meets him), telling her "I don't do the girlfriend thing" (ooh, maybe she'll beg for his acceptance some more; come on, Ana, I'm sure you can be the one to change this supernatural creature), and the clumsy, clunky, artless foreshadowing of "I feel like I've been interviewed for a job, but I'm not sure what for."

And then, just to seal the deal, when she's out on the street with him... she trips! Because of course she does! Because that's apparently endearing! He catches her, and then they're pressed together and breathing and staring into one another's eyes and he's touching her lip and it's like they're going to fuck right there on the street in front of everyone because a clumsy girl is like an aphrodisiac. (Imagine if she'd broken a bone and it became exposed, he'd probably blow his load right there, because hot chicks falling down is sexy according to every romantic comedy ever. Oh, how I wish I could find a girl with vertigo and an inner ear defect!)

Then he's getting closer, and closer, and "For the first time in twenty-one years, I want to be kissed."

Which I guess is supposed to be revelatory and not sad?

I do know one thing for sure: whether he kisses her or not, she's going to be obsessed over what happened, but not actually make an effort to understand her feelings, because that's not as important as getting histrionic over them. Way to be avoidant, Ana.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Marvels: Journey Into Mystery #91

"Sandu, Master of the Supernatural!" by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber & Joe Sinnott
(April 1963)

I can't say I'm that big a fan of Joe Sinnott's Thor yet. He's more suited than Al Hartley was, but Jack Kirby just defined the look and feel so much that any change is somewhat jarring. (In these stories, at least; by contrast, Don Heck's artwork suits Ant-Man so well that I don't miss Kirby over there at all.)

Sinnott's not helped by a mediocre story, even by Thor standards, that manages to waste Loki, having him merely act through a proxy that is truly one of Thor's lamest villains: Sandu, Master of the Supernatural.

Sandu is a carnival magician whom Loki (still a prisoner in Asgard) imbues with the powers of an actual sorcerer. Once Sandu gains powers, he embarks on a series of super-crimes, where he holds up banks--literally floating it into the air, taking the money, wiping the memories of the people inside, returning them to the outside world, and then literally using his mental powers to blink the empty buildings to the moon, because I guess if the cops don't have the building they can't prosecute or something?--menaces the Air Force, shakes the UN building into the air and even steals the Taj Mahal. But, at Loki's bidding, Sandu also has to defeat Thor.

Apparently, iron girders are enough to knock Thor unconscious. Then Sandu puts Thor in chains in a hole in the ground and floats a building on top of him. It's not really that exciting. Then Odin decides to return Thor's belt of strength (Megingjord in Norse mythology), which helps him break free.

Where Sandu overreaches is by attempting to wield Thor's hammer. He manages to separate Thor from the hammer by transporting it to another dimension, but then tries to lift the hammer himself, which of course he can't. He tries to do it with his mental powers, but instead short circuits himself mentally (somehow), returning to our dimension, where Thor picks up the hammer before the sixty seconds are up and he would have turned back into Donald Blake. (This manages to generate absolutely no suspense.)

Loki's so disgusted by this that he takes Sandu's powers away so the police can arrest him, vowing revenge on Thor one day. And then it's over, filler accomplished.

Stray observations:

:: I kept accidentally typing "Sandy" instead of "Sandu." Not sure it matters. Sandu is so lame he never actually returns. Compare that to some of the other incredibly lame villains who kept coming back in the Marvel Universe, and you get an idea of how generic and unmemorable Sandu is.

(Also, I'm very tired today and have been making spelling errors constantly, so forgive me if words not read good.)

:: Joe Sinnott draws Thor's hammer with a much longer handle than Kirby did. Not like it ruins the story or anything, just something I noticed. I think Kirby's changed sizes a couple of times, too. There's no real standard yet.

:: This is the first time we see Valkyries.

This is not at all a good or memorable Thor story, but it's nice that both the belt and the Valkyries get introduced here. I love it when they add more and more of the mythology to the comic. (Only five more months until the "Tales of Asgard" stories start! Those are the best!)

:: When Donald Blake and Jane Foster go to see Sandu at the carnival before he gets his powers, Sandu announces that Dr. Blake is in love with a girl whose initials are "J.F." Blake plays it off like it ain't no thang, and of course Jane is insulted and thinks disparaging thoughts in that Jane way.

:: When Thor first sees a building floating in mid-air, he assumes it's some kind of publicity stunt. That cynicism is how you know you're a real New Yorker.

:: This is the first time I haven't enjoyed a Loki story, god damn it. That should never happen. Loki, Doctor Doom, and Sub-Mariner should never, ever be boring.

All this time later, and I'm still just not feeling these Thor stories. I've liked a few of them for sure--most notably the Loki stories "Trapped by Loki, the God of Mischief" and "The Vengeance of Loki," as well as "On the Trail of the Tomorrow Man"--but so far all of the elements haven't gelled for me. I think part of it is just that Donald Blake and his whole drama aren't really that interesting yet, and Thor is being wasted on mundane adventures with gangsters and communist armies. There's so much potential here which is being squandered.

It's not a permanent problem--there's some really good stuff just a couple of months away--but it's not there yet. At least the stories are still short, and whatever happens so far it hasn't felt as increasingly desperate as Incredible Hulk did.

We'll get there.

Next Marvels: the Human Torch vs. the Sub-Mariner!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Full Muppets Most Wanted Trailer Has Arrived

And someone was listening when I demanded a return appearance by Hobo Joe and more Pepe!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Film Week

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

TAKEN 2 (2012)
The first film was surprisingly satisfying. This is a cash-in; a video game where pieces move around but it never adds up to anything. It doesn't even really manage to hold the attention very often. Also... Maggie Grace is 30 years old, guys. 30 years old. Why does this film insist on treating her character like she's 17? It's weirdly creepy. Meh. *1/2

ACTION JACKSON (1988)
So-so very 80s action thriller with Carl Weathers as a cop fighting some kind of criminal or other played by Craig T. Nelson. The most fun I had, other than the occasional nude appearance by Vanity, was occasionally humming a dark and dramatic version of the Coach theme song, because you kind of have to make fun of it to enjoy it. Of course my wife, the Tango & Cash fan, dug it, but I'm just not into it. Carl Weathers is always pretty awesome, though. **1/2

DISCO GODFATHER (1979)
Basically, it's like disco. At first it's fun, then you realize it's been going on forever, and then you just can't wait for it to be over. Fantastic disco freak-out scene in the beginning, though. **

THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF (1961)
I don't usually care for werewolf flicks, but I liked Oliver Reed in this one and the moody Hammer atmosphere. I was surprised by how quickly it moved; lots of backstory, then something weird is going on, then Oliver Reed rampages as a wolfman, and then it's over. It seemed like it ended a little abruptly. But I had fun. Great makeup. ***

SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE (1973)
Captivating film about a married couple who seem to have the perfect marriage; but it begins to deteriorate, even as their love continues on some level, as though having been so intimate and touched one another so deeply, they can never truly separate, even through affairs, distance, and a divorce. Ingmar Bergman seems to be saying that even with time spent apart and involvement in new lives, a couple remains married in their souls and will always return to one another. The need for solace and intimacy remains. Excellent film, one of the most interesting films about love I've ever seen. Liv Ullman is typically powerful. ****

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Becca Just Thinks She's So Funny

Becca has a few different jobs, going out and putting out magazine, book, and candy stock at various stores in the area. On Mondays, she works overnight putting out books, so she gets home late (or, early, I guess), and then sleeps in. When I woke up this morning at 7:30 and walked out into the living room, this is what was waiting for me.



No, Becca. No. You stay classy.

This is like the time, last year, when I sat down on the toilet and suddenly noticed she'd drawn mad eyebrows, a goatee, horns and a devil tail on the baby on the Angel Soft package, along with a word balloon saying "Heh, heh, I can see you wiping your butt, Aaron."

This is what comes of living with an artist with a bizarre sense of humor.

Marvels: Fantastic Four #13

"The Fantastic Four Versus the Red Ghost and His Indescribable Super-Apes!" by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Steve Ditko
(April 1963)

Now this one's a doozy!

There's a lot of action in this story, so it starts off right away, setting a fast pace, first with a lab explosion, and then Reed's breathless description of his new experiment: a rocket fuel composed of energy matter found in a meteor crater that's so powerful it might win the space race for America. Reed being Reed, he plans to make the test flight himself rather than ask the others to come along--which, considering how things went the first time, makes sense. (I like that, despite all the good they've done, Reed still feels guilty about turning his friends into the Fantastic Four. You almost get the sense that he urged them to become science heroes and fight monsters so that they'd feel positive about their powers instead of falling into despair.) Ben, of course, won't hear of it, and the Fantastic Four are off into space! (With a ship shielded against the cosmic rays this time!)

Meanwhile, in the Soviet Union, the villainous Ivan Kragoff, Soviet scientist, is also going to go into space. He's taking with him three apes--a gorilla, a baboon and an orangutan--that have been trained to push buttons, pull levers... er, fire tommy guns... and can run the operations of his rocket for him, apparently so that he doesn't have to take anyone into space with him. Where Reed is trying to protect himself from the cosmic rays, Kragoff wants to bathe himself in the radiation so that he can gain superpowers like the Fantastic Four did. In fact, he's built his ship out of transparent ceramic plastic to make himself more vulnerable to the radiation.

The FF see Kragoff's rocket headed toward the moon from their own, and send Johnny to investigate. Reed has invented an "atmo-web suit," which chemically creates an atmosphere around Johnny for a limited time, allowing him to flame on and fly around in the vacuum of space, presumably until he burns out all of the oxygen inside of it. Okay, okay; Johnny remembered that there's no air in space, so I guess I have to stop making fun of him about that. (Though he does stay out in it too long, nearly choking himself, but I'll be a pal and chalk that up to it being experimental.)

What Johnny sees through that transparent rocket is Kragoff and his three apes, all of whom have been altered by the rays and given powers. The gorilla is super strong; the baboon can shape shift; and the orangutan can control magnetics, using magnetic rays to repel the Human Torch. Kragoff himself can become invisible and intangible, and now calls himself the Red Ghost. So it's a race to the inevitable showdown on the moon.

Both ships land in the "blue area" of the moon, which turns out to be the ruins of a long-dead civilization (and there's breathable oxygen) and one ultra-modern house that's currently in use. But by whom?

THE WATCHER!

The Watcher is a giant being, remote and stern, with powers which aren't clearly defined--and shouldn't be. The element of mystery only makes him more fascinating. The Watcher explains that he's from a race that lives on a planet that is in fact a vast computer. He and his fellow Watchers travel the galaxy, simply observing the histories of civilizations on other planets. They never interfere, they only watch. He doesn't say exactly why they do this--for knowledge, for observational experimentation, to record the history of the universe--but his mission reminds me of DC's Oan Guardians or like a less sinister Brainiac. (I guess there's some of this later when Jack Kirby goes back to DC and creates Metron, isn't there?)

The Watcher has only been moved to interfere now because the Fantastic Four and the Red Ghost are right outside his home, fighting almost literally on his doorstep, and has decided that they will now fight each other over who gets the moon.

The ensuing battle is pretty neat; Stan and Jack make sure to get really scientific with this one instead of just trading blows. (Although the super strong gorilla simply tossing the Thing over his shoulder is pretty magnificent. Let's face it, superheroes fighting apes are always gold. Always.) I love how Johnny and the Thing use some of the technological ruins to create a simple rocket that's powered by the Human Torch himself, generating enough heat to keep it floating and propel it. You won't see that in any other comic, folks!

I could do without Sue always being the one to express fear. I mean, I understand that part of what sets Marvel heroes apart is that they react to situations like people, but it doesn't always have to be the woman who becomes fearful, does it? And though she does (surprise, surprise) end up getting captured, at least it puts her in position to stop everyone from getting killed by the Red Ghost's disintegrator ray--the thing is set with an electric eye to detect movement, meaning she stops everyone from walking into a trap because it can't detect her: she's below the visible spectrum. (She also arranges her own escape, thank you, by disabling the cables of the Red Ghost's force field, which also allows his super apes to escape, which will become important in a moment.)

Sue's heroism and quick thinking go a ways towards making up for last issue's "Well, you're not very useful, but you can be pretty and keep morale up for the real heroes" condescending head-pat.

In the end, it's assistance from the Watcher that helps the FF win the day. When the Red Ghost dares to enter the Watcher's home, the Watcher demonstrates his powers by sending Kragoff far into the past and far into the future, then dismissing him as a flea, and in the confusion, Reed leaps out and zaps the Red Ghost with something he's made from the ruins of the ancient civilization's tech: a paralysis ray. The Watcher congratulates Reed on his victory, but removes himself from the moon to watch from further away, while the super apes, the Red Ghost's mental control over them broken, come for revenge of their own. We last see him fleeing, while the FF return home.

That issue was packed, but never confusing or cumbersome. I'm not a huge fan of the Red Ghost (though superpowered apes are always good news), but the character work was great (especially on Sue) and the introduction of the Watcher is appropriately momentous.

Stray observations:

:: Though he doesn't reference it by name, Reed's idea to mine a meteor crater for energy is inspired by the Tunguska event, one of the twentieth century's most fascinating mysteries. (I recently read a novel where the Tunguska event was a cataclysmic side effect of one of Tesla's energy experiments; one of my favorite things about it is the fiction it inspires.)

:: I love how FF always has something like this:

Fan letters are usually split on whether or not they like it when Steve Ditko inks Jack Kirby, but except for that one time Rick Jones looked creepy, I dig it. (For the record, my favorite inker for Kirby so far in the Marvel Universe is Dick Ayers, but I think my all-time fave Kirby inker is Vince Colletta.)

:: Before leaving the moon, the Watcher tells Reed "Space is your heritage--see that you prove worthy of such a glorious gift." He also reminds Reed that there are Watchers in the universe, and that "no matter how far you travel, you will never be alone."

Pal, so far in the Marvel Universe, we've seen Skrulls, the Toad-Men, the Stone Men from Saturn, Kurrgo (the Master of Planet X), the Impossible Man from Planet Poppup, the Metal Master from Astra, and the Xartans. And those are just the ones from other planets and not, say, the future, other dimensions, or deep inside our own planet. Alone? It's more like a traffic jam up there!

Becca wonders if the Watcher was meant to be a recurring character from the start, or if this was just a one-off appearance meant to herald the arrival of humanity to the stars. It is a nicely hopeful moment, despite my snarking, with an appropriate majesty to it. (Confession: when I read the Watcher, I hear Carl Sagan's voice.)

:: This month in the letters page, there's a letter from a fan from Rockford, Illinois, which isn't too far from where I'm currently sitting. Also, Stan teases the return of Doctor Doom (who will next be seen in Fantastic Four #16), and Mike Tuohey of Detroit inquires about original art being for sale and particularly praises Joe Sinnott's inks in Fantastic Four #5. Also, the fan poll regarding adding another member to the team is three to one against.

Stan also gets into a bit of an argument with Wayne Orlicki of San Diego about whether the Torch could really burn flame without heat.

Science! I guess. I'm a science idiot, remember?

And I think Marty Ross of New York speaks for a lot of readers when he changes his mind about Sue Storm. That's a nice letter.

I love that the fans are taking these characters seriously as people.

And then there's a letter from that sourball Paul Gambaccini, who does that irritating thing of asking a disbelieving question with three or seven or ten question marks after it, which... look, I see that online all the time, and just... just don't do that, okay, because it automatically makes you an asshole. It makes me think you're just being a histrionic dick to be as condescending as possible and it makes me not want to take you seriously. He does ask for a solo book for the Sub-Mariner, which I'm all for. (Gambaccini, by the way, became a contributing editor for Rolling Stone, and then a BBC presenter and pop culture historian. You can read about him here and here. Fascinating guy with quite a bibliography to his name.) (Also, I agree with his letter here that giving space over to little nitpicking letters--and there is one in this issue, pointing out that Doctor Doom fires from the wrong finger in a previous issue--is silly and boring.)

Another indispensable issue of Fantastic Four from Stan and Jack! This is still the flagship title for the line, and what Stan and Jack are pulling out of these characters and their science adventures is just pure joy.

Next Marvels: Thor gets a new power and tangles with mischief, magic, and the United Nations building.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Song of the Week: "Sweet Soul Revue"

I can't believe in the seven years I've been doing Song of the Week, I've never had Pizzicato Five up before. When they hit over here back in the mid-nineties with "Twiggy Twiggy Twiggy," the Made in USA compilation came out and Becca and I played the hell out of that thing. This is kind of one of our songs, and just hearing it right now makes me incredibly happy. Damn it, the late nineties were good.

I've been locked in this late nineties nostalgia mood because that was a really happy time in my life, when my wife and I were first dating and the responsibilities and burdens weren't so crushing yet. That was the last time in my life when, despite all the responsibilities and burdens I did have, I felt truly carefree.