Saturday, March 29, 2014

50 Shades of Smartass: Chapter 21

This is another chapter that feels like it could have mostly been omitted. Chapters like this are the worst, because they just illustrate the depths of EL James' terrible writing. Part of me really just wants to rewrite and edit this whole thing down into a better novel with an undoubtedly better ending. We don't need to spend every moment of Ana's life watching Ana do stuff, and especially not in such incredible detail.

It boils down to this: blah blah blah, fumfuh fumfuh fumfuh, shuck and jive, shuck and jive, shuck and jive, boring scene of fucking, controlling weirdness, self-doubt blah blah blah, job interview scene that doesn't need to be dramatized at all, blah blah blah, cry cry cry, boring email exchange that goes on and on, buh guh ho-hum, the end.

Some things that caught my notice:

:: I get that Ana hasn't made up her mind. That's all she thinks about every second she's away from Christian. It's gone from central theme to space-filling whininess. She needs to make a decision yesterday, because it is fucking boring to read.

:: Ana's morning sex romp with Christian, conversely, is boring fucking to read.

:: Christian has a blond housekeeper named Ms. Jones, and Ana wonders if they have a thang goin' on, but Christian later says he would never employ an ex-sub, except for Ana of course, because she's so spwecial.

:: Boy, Ana and Christian sure sleep together a lot for a guy who doesn't do that.

:: "A slow, sexy smile spreads across his beautiful face, and I’m rendered speechless as my insides melt. He is without a doubt the most beautiful man on the planet, too beautiful for the little people below, too beautiful for me." I am so fucking sick of this shit. There's self-doubt, and then there's an operational emotional disorder. It's gotten old. Blah blah this abusive asshole is the hottest thing on Edward Cullen's Earth.

:: Yep, sometimes the paper this is printed on is better used to scribble meaningful Phil Collins lyrics on.

One day when I'm famous maybe I'll sell this as Aaron R. Davis' annotated copy of 50 Shades of Grey.

:: Christian being possessive. He's possessive now in ways that don't even make sense anymore. Ana frets about it, but it almost feels like even EL James doesn't know what the fuck is going on and has given up trying to understand. Every chapter feels like it's half warm-up, you know? Like the first half has nothing to do with anything and is just James getting into a sort of groove, and then it's only in the last half where the story advances the tiny bit that it does. It's like someone published daily writer's exercises. Trying to Find Your Plot: The Book.

:: Also, Christian is talking about Darfur again on the phone. Please don't co-opt a real tragedy to make this pile of human garbage look like he has hidden depths.

:: "He smells so good; clean and freshly laundered, so Christian." Christian's been freshly laundered? That's some machine. Maybe he just rolls around in fabric softener to mask the scent of douchebag. (Can I say "scent of douchebag"? I just assume Axe Body Spray must have that trademarked.)

:: Ana, via narration: "I cry out a wordless, passionate plea as I touch the sun and burn, falling around him, falling down, back to a breathless, bright summit on Earth." Christian, via dialogue: "Come on, baby, give it up for me." Truly transformative.

:: "No, I don't get it. I look to my subconscious. She's whistling with her hands behind her back and looking anywhere but at me. She hasn't got a clue, and my inner goddess is basking in a remnant of postcoital [sic] glow. No--we're all clueless." Somewhere there's a version of this book that is just Anastasia Steele having a delusional psychotic break.

:: Christian is controlling about her breakfast and tries to bully her into taking his private jet to Georgia. He also jokes/threatens about tracking her phone to figure out where she's interviewing today, since she won't tell him where. God forbid she does anything for herself or in her own way, asshole.

"Oh, boys and their toys," Ana thinks. You're one of his toys, dumbass!

:: Ana interviews for an internship with Seattle Independent Publishing. The guy she interviews with is a Mr. J. Hyde, which is hilarious. I kind of feel right now like the only books EL James has ever read were Tess of the d'Urbervilles, probably Pride and Prejudice, and every Twilight book. Ana wants to work there because it's "quirky." The receptionist is African-American. She is literally the third person of color so far in the book, and she has zero lines or even a name.

The woman who is also interviewing Ana has "long, black, pre-Raphaelite hair" and "the same bohemian, floaty look as the receptionist. She could be in her late thirties, maybe in her forties. It’s so difficult to tell with older women." What the fuck does any of that even mean? This is one of those passages where it sounds like fifty-year-old James is trying desperately to not sound like a fifty-year-old writing about someone much younger. I mean, it's not as obvious as when she improbably told us that Ana had never used email before, but it's pretty silly. "Pre-Raphaelite hair?" "Bohemian?" I can't remember the last time I heard anyone under 35 use the word "bohemian" to describe a hipster.

Also, Ana thinks it's weird when Mr. Hyde asks her "What extracurricular activities did you indulge in at WSU" because she thinks "indulge" is an odd word choice. I have no idea why. But she makes a big deal out of it.

By the way, this entire interview scene could be completely cut out. Unless it's setting something up for the last 140 pages (fuck me...), there's no reason to go into this much detail. I really hope it's not.

Seriously, "Jack Hyde"? You really do think you're writing psychological romance fiction, don't you? This is like a bondage book written at the 5th grade level.

:: Kate continues to be a bitch. I really can't stand her. Wah, I was just trying to help you! Wah, Christian's a control freak! Wah, I was trying to make him jealous so he'd deal with his commitment issues! Wah, I refer to sex as "sexing" like a gross little internet troll and truly believe that if sex is good that's, like, half of your relationship solved! Wah, I give the worst advice ever! You are a fucking fool if you're taking relationship advice from me, but since I'm obviously trying to derail your relationship for my own personal satisfaction, keep buying it! Glorp! Tell me all of your problems, there's no possible way I'd use that information against you in the future! I mean, again! Probably! Glorp glorp! Readers can't tell if I'm just a shitty, inept friend or if I'm actively trying to push you into an abusive, one-sided relationship because I'm jealous! Bad writing or meticulous plotting? Who can even tell! This novel is best skimmed! Glorp ga-lorp a-zorp! Well, here's some Chinese food, I'm off to Barbados to be more well-adjusted than you! GLOOOOOOOOOOORP!!!

I'm not saying that I want Kate's plane to crash on the way to Barbados, I'm just saying I wouldn't feel bad if it happened.

For her part, Ana's wising up to it. She already feels like she shouldn't tell Kate too much because who knows at what inappropriate time Kate will regurgitate that information. Way to isolate her even further, Kate, you fucking monster.

:: Boring email exchange that is always supposed to seem like flirting but is just dull. They argue over language and whether "weirding" is a legitimate word.

:: When Ana gets to the airport, she's been upgraded to first class by Christian, because he's not going to let her do jack for herself, of course. There's always that part of me that just thinks "Oh, wah, your rich boyfriend upgraded your flight, cry me a river." But that's an oversimplification. Really, she just wants to do something for herself that he's not involved in, and there he is. It's like he doesn't have faith in her to take care of herself. She's not an infant, so stop treating her like one and let her do things for herself.

Except, of course, if she discovers she can, she might make unreasonable demands, like being treated as though her feelings matter, and we're back to the terrified abuser...

Meh, meh, the meh of it all, a thousand times, meh!

Jim Henson Doesn't Leave Home Without It

Here's an American Express commercial from... some time. The description on YouTube says early 80s, but to me it looks like the time of the first season of The Muppet Show, because Nigel, Gloat, and a generic pig who isn't Julius Strangepork yet (but will be) are so prominent with Scooter and Floyd. Just a neat little commercial with Jim.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Marvels: Fantastic Four Annual #1

"Sub-Mariner Versus the Human Race!" by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers
(September 1963)

Well: as you can see, things have certainly changed for Namor since we last saw him. He has at last found his people, the Atlanteans, and they have restored him to his throne. And so begins one of the greatest stories in the entire Marvel Universe!

This annual is epic; the main story itself is 37 pages long, longer than a typical Fantastic Four issue. And the story that goes with it justifies every bit of that length.

There is much rejoicing in New Atlantis, but not everyone is happy to see Namor return.

That's Lady Dorma, Namor's distant cousin and the woman who loves him. She's betrothed to Krang, the warlord, but will not be held to it now that Namor has finally returned. (Since we're still in real time and not on Marvel time yet, I assume Namor's been missing for eight years, just based on his comic ceasing publication in 1955 and his return happening in 1962.)

Dorma, by the way, is another Golden Age character returned to the comics, like Namor is.

She first appeared in Marvel Comics #1 in 1939, but her relationship with Namor then was more platonic. Anyway, he was in love with Betty Dean and not Dorma. And now he's in love with Sue Storm. He's got a thing for blonde surface dwellers, what can I say?

(Krang is not a returning Golden Age character, though the name is a reuse from one of Marvel's many monsters; a giant ant called Krang appeared in Tales to Astonish #14 in 1960.)

Namor's goal now is to lead his Atlantean army to victory over the surface world, in revenge for their unknowing destruction of the original Atlantis via nuclear tests.

Cutting over to the Fantastic Four themselves, Stan & Jack get in a few more pages than usual of the FF fighting with each other; Ben and Johnny get so out of control that Ben sprays a fire hose all over the living quarters (poor Sue's designer dresses are ruined) and Reed has to use experimental asbestos netting to cut the fight short. Tensions are running high and everyone needs a vacation. Reed's solution? Work, of course! Oh, that is so like you, Reed. His suggestion is to take an Atlantic cruise that goes past an area where sightings of sea monsters are being reported. Everyone agrees--even Ben's girlfriend Alicia--because hey, it's still a cruise, and I think everyone knows that it just wouldn't be a vacation for Reed if it didn't involve science, a mystery, and the probability of peril.

And peril comes! They're not at sea for very long when a sea monster appears (ruining Johnny's action, at that), and the Four are captured and brought down to Namor. He demands that the FF go to the United Nations and deliver a message: that Namor has declared dominion over all the seas and the skies above them, and that no surface ships may trespass. Immediately, Reed and Sue know that this will mean war between homo sapiens and homo mermanus (Stan Lee's term), and even Reed is worried that New Atlantis' technological advancements could mean the end of human domination of the planet. Namor sends the FF back to the Baxter Building.

An emergency session of the United Nations is called, and Reed addresses the assembly, admitting that he believes Namor is more than capable of carrying out his threat. He then calls on a Professor GW Falton, an expert on undersea life, to explain the origins of the Atlanteans and Namor himself. And now we get the origin of the Sub-Mariner...

Homo mermanus, it is explained, is a race of humans that returned to the ocean in prehistoric times, where they lived similar to Cro-Magnon. Their development paralleled our own--use of tools, domestication of helpful animals, building of cities, wars, civilization, sciences, only underwater. First contact came in 1920, when an icebreaker in the South Pole captained by Leonard McKenzie used depth charges to break up an iceberg. The blast took out some undersea buildings, and the King of Atlantis ordered his daughter, Princess Fen, to send a search team to investigate the source of the explosion. Highly curious and seeking adventure, Fen went on her own, where she made contact with Captain McKenzie and the two learned about each other. They fell in love and married, but the King sent troops to get his daughter back. Captain McKenzie was killed, but Fen gave birth to their son--"possibly the first known mutant of our time"--Namor.

(Aside: Namor McKenzie has never sounded right to me, but what do I know? Also, given this timeline, that puts Namor at 18 in his first appearance, and 42 now. I like that; it makes Namor's physicality and adventurousness plausible. It also makes Dorma a little tragic, since she's waited so long for Namor. I think age is something more comic books need to take into account in their characters. And no, I'm not saying a man in his sixties can't be Liam Neeson, I'm just saying that it makes it a little more believable that this amnesiac homeless man from 1962 could turn out to be a Golden Age superhero because, realistically, we're not that far removed from it. The gap between Namor's first appearance and his first Silver Age appearance is 23 years; the gap between his first Silver Age appearance and right now is 44 years. Characters who age are so much more interesting to me.)

Reed's conclusion: we must fight Sub-Mariner until he can fight back no more! Professor Falton reveals himself to be Namor in disguise, and in front of the entire assembly of the UN, declares war on the human race! His troops at the ready, his forces invade New York City within minutes and take control of it without a single casualty on either side. Soon, Atlanteans are attacking all over the globe, with only the Fantastic Four putting up a serious fight as Namor's troops try to hole them up inside the Baxter Building. Namor's conquest is peaceful, but forceful; the US Army doesn't even know how to retaliate, since any move against New York City could mean death to its citizens.

But the Fantastic Four aren't out of the fight; the Thing captures an Atlantean soldier, and Reed is able to discern that Namor is the only Atlantean who can breathe in the air. His troops all wear helmets with water inside of them. He ends up creating a machine that, when turned on, causes the water inside the Atlantean helmets to evaporate, and every Atlantean immediately retreats back into the ocean.

You'd better believe Namor is pissed, his conquest so easily turned back. The Avenging Son flies straight to the Baxter Building and begins beating the shit out of Reed, who has been weakened by an accident (his machine fell on him). Namor wants vengeance, which gives us this amazing sequence:

Johnny and Ben try to defend Reed, but Namor manages to rip the gas cap off of one of Reed's experimental jets, and the explosion that follows when it hits the Human Torch's flame is enough distraction for Namor to disappear. For good measure, he's captured Sue and taken her with him. Stealing her away in his imperial command craft, the FF have to come out to the sea to meet him and rescue Sue. The Torch finds them right away, and it becomes a rematch between the Sub-Mariner and the Human Torch!

The fight only lasts a little more than a page, but in 1963, that's more than enough for an epic duel. Jack Kirby is a real artist; he doesn't draw a dozen splash pages because he doesn't feel like telling a story. Namor nearly defeats the Torch, but Ben and Reed show up in an experimental U-Car, and the fight gets even bigger.

He eventually sets three gigantic hammerhead sharks on the U-Car. The Sub-Mariner clearly has the upper hand; the U-Car is disabled, and they're too far out to sea for Mr. Fantastic to stretch to land. Even the Human Torch, now doused with water and exhausted, can't do anything.

But down in the command craft, things get very interesting. Sue pleads with Krang to stop the battle before anyone gets seriously hurt or worse. Krang is surprised that she's so concerned for Namor's safety, to which she replies "He isn't bad--he's just fighting for what he believes in, the same as we humans are!" Krang realizes pretty quickly that Sue has been captured for a reason: Namor is in love with her, and the two of them have some sort of bond. Lady Dorma is mortally offended by the notion of Namor loving a human. Though Krang immediately sees the positive--if Namor's heart belongs to another, he and Dorma can be wed--Dorma rejects Krang out of hand and smashes a portal, letting in the water so that Sue will drown.

Atop the U-Car, the battle continues. Interestingly, Namor is sort of begging the men to surrender, saying he has no desire to take a human life. The Thing, however, isn't holding back anymore, but as the two men fight in the ocean, they see Sue's limp, unconscious body tangled in clump of kelp. Namor gets her to the surface, but she's unresponsive.

Namor quickly orders everyone out of his imperial command craft so that he can get Sue to a hospital as quickly as possible. Of course Dorma is horrified by this idea, but now even Krang is offended that Namor would do something to aid the enemy. Nonetheless, they do as he commands; even the men of the Fantastic Four let Namor take off with Sue, knowing it's the only way. By the time they repair the U-Car and catch up to her, she's safe and sound in a hospital bed. She and Reed look at one another with love in their eyes. But what of Namor?

The Prince of Atlantis walks through the streets of New York, jeered at and threatened, until he reaches the water. But on his return home to New Atlantis, he finds it totally deserted. His people feel he has betrayed them by falling in love with a human, and have now abandoned him to himself. The loneliness stings; having finally found his people, they have left him behind. And, once again, our story ends in sadness for the Sub-Mariner, who is both human and Atlantean, a son of two worlds, belonging to neither.

Stray observations on this story:

:: Jack Kirby really outdoes himself with this issue. I feel like maybe I haven't been giving him enough credit lately, but his work here is amazing.

:: "Ben! Don't! That fire-proof vault door cost a small fortune!" "Who cares?!! We'll charge it to the Diner's Club!"

:: "Sea monsters are for comic books!" Meta! Also, shut up, Johnny: you fought a sea monster back in Fantastic Four #4!

:: The team's passage on the cruise is free; the captain is certain that with these celebrities aboard, the trip will be a sellout! (Aside: is the captain able to make that kind of decision? Shouldn't he have checked with the company that runs these cruises? Oh, wait: maybe the cruise line okayed it and the captain's just taking the credit to make himself look like a big man in front of the Fantastic Four. That's it. Okay, where's my No-Prize?)

:: Sue always looks so stylish.

I've said before that I love how every time Sue changes her hair, Kirby keeps it that way until her style gets updated. I love that; it's so much more interesting than what I usually see in comics, which is the default to long, straight hair. But also the way she dresses and even poses is so modern that sometimes she could be in a New Wave flick from the time period. That's part of what keeps these sometimes-dorky sometimes-goofy comics from being too square: they take place NOW. Really, every woman Kirby draws in Fantastic Four has a very hip, modern, 1963 style. I dig it.

:: Once again, we get to see neat fish and Namor's stunning technology. This guy's pretty cool. He's the one that spied the FF aboard the cruise ship.

There's also a fish that spits an air bubble at the FF, which envelops them and pulls them under the sea, so they can still breathe a pocket of air while being captured.

The real centerpiece, though, is when Namor sends the FF back to deliver his message to the UN. Namor calls it a transparent water rocket. Using concentrated water pressure rather than fuel, the rocket launches into sub-orbital space, enveloping the FF with water to protect them inside the capsule, then re-enters the atmosphere and ejects a membrane that acts as a parachute. The capsule lands softly atop the Baxter Building, then opens and evaporates. That's basically a whole page, but it's just so damn fascinating how Stan & Jack have really thought about this thing.

Later, Namor fights the Human Torch with the aid of sprocket fish (which shoot out a gummy substance to try and douse the Torch's flame) and some kind of weird giant lamprey or something that nearly sucks the Torch into it like a vacuum cleaner.

:: Though Namor tells Sue she will always be under his royal protection, she rejects it, choosing to stand or fall as a member of the Fantastic Four.

:: This is actually Nikita Khrushchev's third appearance in the Marvel Universe, but...
...it's the first appearance in which he bangs his shoe on a table, as the real Khrushchev infamously did during a UN assembly in 1960.

:: Namor's command craft is pretty damn cool.

Does Marvel still have the film rights to the Sub-Mariner, or are those at Fox with the FF rights? I wouldn't mind seeing some of this stuff in the MCU.

:: I just noticed that Namor is the only one who treats Johnny like a man. Sue begs Namor not to fight Johnny, pleading that he's only a boy. Reed's always calling him a kid, and Ben's always treating him like a pesky nuisance child, but Namor considers Johnny a worthy adversary. In a way, his not going easy on Johnny is a kind of respect. That's an interesting story point I'd never really thought about.

:: I may have mentioned this before, but I always picture Namor having Michael Ansara's voice.

:: After this excellent story, there are some excellent pin-up pages featuring villains the FF have faced: The Mole Man, the Skrulls, the Miracle Man, and the Sub-Mariner, all from the first four issues of the series. Except for Sub-Mariner, none of these villains have returned yet.

:: Then, a two page spread follows giving us some info on the Fantastic Four themselves. The hair at Reed's temples turned white during World War II when he was aiding Allied prisoners who were escaping the Nazis. His stretching limit is about a hundred yards in peak condition. Johnny Storm is 16, but in his senior year of high school. He can fly at 50 mph for about a half hour. Also, he loves sports cars, jazz records and girls, "though not necessarily in that order." Sue can turn any part of herself invisible, but is not intangible. And no one--not even Sue herself--knows for certain if her heart lies with Reed or with Namor. Stan says for certain that the Hulk is stronger than the Thing, and that Ben is too scared to propose to Alicia!

:: After that, a great Kirby diagram of the Baxter Building, and then some more pin-ups: Doctor Doom, Kurrgo, and the Puppet Master. And then our next story...

"The Fabulous Fantastic Four Meet Spider-Man" by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Steve Ditko

Only four issues in, The Amazing Spider-Man has been exploding in popularity, so why not take this moment to sell him to any potential FF readers who haven't given the new book a chance? Or, conversely, why not make Spider-Man's appearance a little incentive for Spidey fans who may not be reading FF? Either way, that's some added value to this whole package, right?

This is basically a retelling of the first part of the second story in Amazing Spider-Man #1, where Spider-Man dropped in on the FF and tangled with them in an attempt to get a job with them--only to find out that they were a non-profit organization and didn't draw a salary. This expands some of the fighting and the interaction between Spidey and the FF, but it's also a chance to show off what Spider-Man's webbing can do. He nets up the Thing with it (and then plugs it into a wall socket, electrifying it!), webs up a gigantic fan, catches Mr. Fantastic in it and even manages to stop him with a web pillar when he steamrolls at Spidey, uses it as a thick shield to stop a laserblast, and even makes himself a web baseball bat to beat back the Human Torch's flame missiles. It's a fun little diversion.

Stray observations on this story:

:: The story is inked by Steve Ditko, possibly to cover for some reused panels from the original story. I'm not a hundred percent sure, but it looks like it, plus the Kirby version of Spidey is significantly different from Ditko's (Kirby's is more muscular and robust), and Ditko's FF is different, particularly the Thing.

:: After this, more of Kirby's pin-ups: the Impossible Man, the Hulk, the Red Ghost and His Indescribable Super Apes, and the Mad Thinker and His Awesome Android.

:: The issue is then rounded out with "Origin of the Fantastic Four!"--a reprint of the first chapter of Fantastic Four #1 for the benefit of new readers.

Stray observations on the issue as a whole:

:: This is the template for great Marvel annuals, and there will be some great ones. (I absolutely can't wait for Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1, which features another of my all time favorite Marvel stories.) There's almost no filler here; I mean, even the filler is excellent: you have the great Sub-Mariner story, a Spider-Man story, a reprint of the origin, info pages, a great Kirby diagram, and all those pin-ups with surprisingly few ad pages (five! and two of those are house ads!) for 25 cents. A regular issue of FF or any of Marvel's other mags at this point costs you 12. That's great value for a quarter.

There'll be one more Marvel annual for 1963: Strange Tales Annual #2, coming in just a few installments.

:: It's just so cool that this was my 75th installment of Marvels.

Thanks for sticking with this one, if you made it this far. This was a long one, but this issue is just so good; easily my favorite issue of Marvel Comics so far!

For next time: it's the Fantastic Four again, as they battle the Super-Skrull!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

K Is for Kermit

Since I saw and loved Muppets Most Wanted this week, I thought I'd take a snapshot with my favorite Kermit. (I say that because I have three stuffed Kermits... so far.)

This guy was made by Fisher-Price back in 1977 and has Velcro on his hands and feet so you can pose him a bit. I've had him as far back as I can remember. He's a little faded in the eyes, but he still sits in the cabinet in my headboard, and he's never going away. He was my childhood companion, and even though I know the scale is wrong, I still have a tendency to picture Kermit small like this.

When I was in second grade, I had a friend named Darren who also loved Muppets. In fact, he had Fisher-Price's handsome Rowlf doll. He also had a Gobo Fraggle. I had a Wembley Fraggle. Of course we were friends. We both loved the Muppets.

We used those stuffed animals and others in a play that we wrote and performed for the class that year simply (and generically) titled The Adventures of Gobo Fraggle. In true Muppet tradition, it was hosted by Kermit the Frog. That Kermit up there in the picture.

Just remembering that today and feeling good.

You can't go wrong with a frog.

ABC Wednesday

Film Week

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

PARTY CENTRAL (2013)
Pixar short featuring the cast of Monsters University. It's cute, but--like a lot of Pixar shorts featuring characters from their films--it feels like nothing more than a pleasant outtake. Great sound, though. I really dug the sound editing and how sound itself is used to create humor. Have you ever noticed how great the sound often is in Pixar movies? ***

MUPPETS MOST WANTED (2014)
I enjoyed this one even more than The Muppets. Now, don't get me wrong: you know I loved that movie. But the difference with this one is that the Muppets take the central role. The Muppets decided to reintroduce the characters, so they sometimes fell into the background while the central love story between Jason Segel and Amy Adams took center stage--much in the same way the Marx Brothers would chaotically drift through the central love stories of their MGM movies. Here, they're the stars, Kermit and Piggy are the leads, and it feels more like an old-fashioned Muppet movie. I loved it. The guest stars--Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey, and Ty Burrell--are all hilarious, and the film's villain, evil Kermit lookalike Constantine, is a great character. I love what Matt Vogel does with the character and with his performance. Constantine is this film's great creation. (Also, further props to Vogel, whose performance as Floyd Pepper has gotten so much better.) (And really, props to all the Muppet performers, who are doing a great job; I love Bill Barretta's Rowlf, but I'd still like more of Pepe and Bobo, and Eric Jacobson's Piggy and Fozzie continue to be wonderful.) Great songs, once again by Bret McKenzie. I just had a great time all around. My favorite line of the movie: "Goodnight, Danny Trejo." It makes sense in context. ****

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Marvels: Avengers #1

"The Coming of the Avengers!" by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers
(September 1963)

The Avengers is really where the rest of the Marvel Universe finally starts to take shape. I think that right now, in 1963, Marvel has two excellent books--Fantastic Four and The Amazing Spider-Man--and a whole bunch of short stories of varying quality. The short amount of space that various creative teams get to spend on each character has made it hard to really find those characters, so we've really had to make do with variations on the concept of each character. That's led to stories of varying degrees of quality, and I think none have suffered from this more than Thor and Iron Man.

But now, with a full-length team book, this is where each of these characters will really start to develop and take shape. Now, these characters get to play off of one another and find their own dynamic, and this shared universe can really start to grow.

I'm going to just go through the entire story here, so this will be a longer entry.

We begin with Loki, who has been exiled to the Isle of Silence after that whole business with the UN back in Journey Into Mystery #94. He can't leave Asgard, but he can use his magic. Doesn't it seem kind of pointless holding him prisoner if he can still do mischief? And, of course, all he wants is his revenge on Thor.

Loki turns to Earth and sets his eyes on the Hulk, bounding through the desert. The Hulk will now be the instrument of Loki's revenge. He uses his magic to make Hulk see a bomb on a set of train tracks, right at a bridge. Hulk, attempting to grab the bomb that isn't there, lands so hard that he punches through the tracks, destroying the bridge. And--wouldn't you know it?--a train is about to hit the destruction. Hulk holds up the ruined tracks long enough for the train to pass safely, saving the lives of everyone on board. But, of course, everyone on board thinks they were attacked by the Hulk, and once again, the Hulk is misunderstood. Poor Hulk.

Rick Jones sees a newspaper report about the incident and believes the Hulk must be innocent, so he and the Teen Brigade send out a radio message to the Fantastic Four for help. Loki doesn't care about the Fantastic Four--he wants Thor, so he diverts the message so that Donald Blake will hear it and spring into action as Thor. However, unplanned by the God of Mischief, the message is also intercepted separately by Hank Pym and Tony Stark, so Ant-Man and the Wasp fly out to meet the Teen Brigade, followed by Iron Man.

The Teen Brigade is amazed to have all of these heroes in one place, but Loki only wants Thor, so he projects a mental image of the Hulk, drawing Thor outside. It only takes Thor a moment to realize the Hulk isn't real and haul back to Asgard to confront Loki--exactly what Loki wants. But Thor seems to have run off without telling anyone else what was going on, so Iron Man, Ant-Man and the Wasp continue their search for the Hulk.

Say, where is the Hulk?

He's with a circus, pretending to be a super-powerful giant robot, as you do. Actually, I kind of love this. The Hulk, misunderstood, does what a lot of sad kids wanted to do: run away and join the circus. Ah, Hulk. I get you. I so get you.

Well, an ant sees the Hulk at the circus and narcs on him to Ant-Man, so it's time to stop this guy from juggling animals. As usual, rather than just approach the Hulk and talk to him, they attack. Ant-Man has his ants weaken the ground beneath Hulk. This pattern never works, but they keep trying it: they attack Hulk, and then they try to get the Hulk to stop and be reasonable. Ant-Man and the Wasp do it, then Iron Man does it, and of course the Hulk tries to run away. He actually twists in midair and punches Iron Man so hard that he breaks Iron Man's propulsion battery just so that Iron Man will stop chasing him. Jeez, guys.

Meanwhile, in Asgard, Thor gains Odin's permission to cross the Sea of Mists to the Isle of Silence and confront Loki. He knows that Loki will have set traps, and Thor's journey is fraught with peril: he braves tangleroots, a volcano, and a troll to get to Loki. Honestly, as glad as I am to see the Hulk again, this is the best stuff in the issue. I always want to see more and more of Asgard, and this is some really great stuff. Kirby's art here is fantastic; I love it when he gets weird.

Thor fights a bunch of Loki's mental projections of himself, until Thor knocks the real Loki over a cliff. Loki is holding on for dear life and decides to let himself fall rather than let Thor get the better of him. Thor counters by rubbing his enchanted hammer on the ground, absorbing the magnetic currents from the nearby volcano, and uses his hammer as a magnet to pull Loki to him. Hey, it's magic, it does whatever people say it does.

Back on Earth, Iron Man has followed Hulk into a car factory in Detroit, where the fighting continues. Iron Man shows off his strength by shaping a steel rod into a giant grapple, and then pins Hulk to a wall with it. The Hulk is so powerful that the impact of being pinned knocks the wall over. It's at this moment that Thor returns to Earth with Loki to explain why they're all really fighting and that the Hulk is innocent.

But Loki makes himself radioactive and threatens to fight all three of them. But just then, Ant-Man and the Wasp finally show up, and some ants activate a trapdoor that sends Loki down a chute and into a lead-lined tank. Ant-Man closes the door, capturing Loki, and the day is won. And then everyone decides to form a team and call themselves the Avengers.

And Marvel history is made.

Stray observations:

:: I love the effect of Loki watching the Earth.

I don't know if it's intentional or not, but I love how the lines make it look like reality itself is bending just so Loki can look through it.

:: Stan, through Loki, reminds the audience again that the Hulk is not flying, he's taking giant leaps.

:: We haven't seen the Hulk since Incredible Hulk #6 back in March. I'd love to know what's been happening to the Hulk since then. When we last saw Bruce Banner, he was still bathing himself in gamma radiation to change into the Hulk, and even though the Hulk and Banner were closer to one being--the Hulk then had Banner's intelligence but the Hulk's anger--it was still a volatile situation. I wonder when he became the Hulk again? How long has he been the Hulk now? There's a bit of an implication that Rick Jones hasn't seen the Hulk in some time. I wonder how they got separated?

:: Ant-Man arranges for flying ants to carry he and the Wasp out to the Southwest; Jan huffs that she can use her own wings, but Hank doesn't want her to get tired, since they're traveling thousands of miles. I need Neil DeGrasse Tyson to get back to me about the velocity of flying ants. How long would it take them to travel from New York City to New Mexico? Once again, what is even the point of being Ant-Man? They could probably travel faster by train. Or they could borrow the Fantastic Four's pogo plane. Anything, really, other than shrinking down to insect size and gradually flying their way out there. Oy, guys, just... jeez, Ant-Man. And they were finally making it work in Tales to Astonish...

:: Iron Man also takes forever getting to the Southwest; he uses his solar batteries to glide so he doesn't use up the power on his transistor rockets. Can you imagine? I feel like Thor could've gotten there and wrapped all this up by the time Ant-Man, Wasp and Iron Man straggle in. No wonder Hulk took a job with the circus; it was probably a week or more before everyone got out there.

Speaking of Iron Man, boy am I glad that Jack Kirby isn't the artist on his main stories anymore.

That's what I was talking about in my entry for Tales of Suspense #44; he looks huge, clumsy, and unwieldy, whereas Don Heck is great about making the armor look like more supple and flexible. Plus, half the time Jack Kirby makes him look like he has this creepy smile... I can't wait until Iron Man gets new armor. (We're about four months out from that.)

:: The first thing the Wasp says on arriving is how handsome Thor is. Come on, Stan.

:: Another version of Odin, and a cool one, at that.

I keep pointing out to my wife how Odin looks different in every story, while Thor always wears the same outfit. Later, the Asgardians will generally stick to the same looks, but they still haven't been settled on. I like my wife's explanation, though: "Well, Odin's a clotheshorse. He's King of Asgard, after all, he's got to dazzle."

:: Loki says the legend of the Old Man of the Sea was inspired by the trolls of the Isle of Silence. I remember Stan joking in a letters page that the Old Man of the Sea was a visitor from the planet Poppup. Not that dad jokes are canon, it's just something I remembered.

:: Thor says that the room where Loki gets trapped in the tank is "where the trucks which carry radioactive wastes from atomic tests dump their loads for eventual disposal in the ocean." In 2014, that sounds horrifyingly careless of us. How could anyone say that now in so matter-of-fact a manner? *brrr*

:: The Wasp, as the team's girl, doesn't contribute much, which is the same problem Stan's having with Sue Storm over in Fantastic Four. She does actually face the Hulk back in the circus ring for three panels, and she gives the Avengers their name, but for the first few issues, she doesn't even feel like a full team member. It's a step down from what she's been doing in Tales to Astonish, where she makes significant contributions to her partnership with Ant-Man.

In a way, The Avengers is the backbone of the Marvel Universe, giving an interaction and a dynamism and a lot of development to the solo characters who only appear in short stories. It's a way of taking these characters who don't get deeply explored in their usual 13 pages and seeing how they bounce off of one another, and it's not always going to be easy, but it is always going to be entertaining.

Next Marvels: the Sub-Mariner returns! Oh, boy, does he return! Be here for Fantastic Four Annual #1!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Sunday, March 23, 2014

James Rebhorn 1948-2014

I'm sorry to hear about the passing of character actor James Rebhorn. Though I'd seen him before, I think when I really started to take notice of him was in 1991 when he played William Wheaton in Sarah, Plain and Tall. I just really liked him in it; I was glad when he had a bigger role in the sequel, Skylark. That was about the time I started to really pay attention to the actors I liked and got serious about movies. (I was 14 when Sarah aired.) Most recently, I've really liked him as Carrie's father on Homeland. He played a lot of officious guys, but he had a few endearing characterizations, too.

Song of the Week: "How to Rent a Room"

Songs for Becca #7. Just because she likes Silver Jews and thinks I don't, for some reason. This is my favorite song of theirs, from their second album, The Natural Bridge (1996). "Grant me just one wish: life should mean a lot less than this."