Saturday, April 12, 2014

50 Shades of Smartass: Chapter 23

Well, turns out Kate's mother (Clara Adams; I'm not sure why we're only learning her name now) is also an asshole.

Christian's there in town and comes up and dazzles Clara with how amazingly, stunningly gorgeous he is, and you can see where Ana gets her cartoonish overreacting from. It's actually embarrassing to read about Clara simpering and staring and her jaw dropping. It's supposed to be embarrassing, but it's not embarrassing in the narrative way EL James thinks it is. Ana is embarrassed by her mom acting like as big a dipshit as she always does. But it's really more embarrassing because at this point, you know, we get how attractive he supposedly is, and having yet another character get all flustered by his knowledge of wines on page 419 is just overkill.

The worst thing about Clara Adams is that she's not even a character. She literally only exists so that she can push Ana at Christian some more. Clara gives Ana just one good piece of advice: talk to him. That's the only good takeaway. Everything else is just pushing Ana to go talk to Christian, go give him a chance, go be with him, he obviously loves you, and you obviously love him, you should go to him and tell him how you feel and just be with him because love and blah blah blah fucking blah. It makes me want to vomit. Look, there's obviously an infatuation going on, but everyone in this book needs to stop telling her that this is what love is and she should just be with Christian, because infatuation =/= love, and what matters more are Ana's feelings. Stop pressuring her to just suck it up and give herself to Christian just because he has feelings and stalks her all the time. Stop reinforcing this idea that how a man feels and what he wants somehow takes primacy over how the woman feels.

What makes this so cringe-inducing is that she is clearly having second thoughts. See, for a moment, when Clara's in the bathroom or whatever plot device James needs to get her out of the way for a page or two, Ana and Christian have been having a fight about Mrs. Robinson. Ana says in no uncertain terms that Mrs. Robinson abused and molested Christian, which is not how he feels and he doesn't react well to it. This is complicated; far too complicated for a hack like EL James to parse out, and it's embarrassing that she's trying to do this, because she doesn't seem to realize just how in over her head she is. Yes, Mrs. Robinson did abuse Christian. But Christian doesn't feel that's what happened, and just yelling at him that he was is not going to just make him come around. Christian defends his abuser, and Ana pushing him on it just makes him defend her even more. Ana: you are not a mental health specialist. Stop doing this.

The irony that Ana and James both seem to be missing is that Christian has been abusing her, and she's always defending him to everyone and rationalizing his behavior for herself and for others. We just don't understand the situation, she keeps protesting. That's the part that really makes me angry. She's angry on behalf of Christian that these things happened to him when he was a kid, and I understand that. That's empathy. But she internalizes the exact same behavior from him. And then James invites us, probably unconsciously, to consider this idea of different levels of abuse. See, when Mrs. Robinson does it, it's bad, because Christian was underage. When Christian does it, it's because it's the only way he knows how to show affection, I guess, and we should all feel sympathetic to him because, I don't know, he rapes her out of love or something? It's sickening.

Look, everyone deserves help. Everyone. I don't care who they are. But being in obvious need of help does not excuse hurting other people.

So we end up in the bar, with Clara pushing and pushing and pushing Ana to just go up to Christian's room and get this relationship sorted out. And Ana keeps protesting, but Clara keeps pushing. And I don't have time for a mother who can't see just how obviously her daughter is afraid and is having second thoughts. And it's even worse because we know from Ana's narration that she's been worried this whole time about whether Christian is mad at her for what she's said, because she's always so afraid of making him angry.

No, no, go be with him, he flew all the way here and he's so hot, he clearly loves you.


Fuck this book.

So then there's more boring IKEA sex between the two, because their every attempt to interact with the truth must be preceded by fucking or these two will crumble and fall under the sheer weight of their ridiculousness. She doesn't even do anything; she keeps making Christian undress her and touch her places and all kinds of shit, because "I'm lost without him," because she's so co-dependent and so sold on this bullshit idea that you need a man to make you feel good sexually that she now apparently just needs him to direct her even when they're having sex. And then there's the ridiculous scene with a tampon.

Apparently, to look online, this is something really notorious and naughty, but he just pulls out her tampon and throws it in the toilet, then fucks her. While she has her period. WHO. CARES? GROW. UP. Is that really the existential transgression that people keep saying it is? Women menstruate: process it. I was more annoyed that he threw the tampon in the toilet. Please don't throw your tampons or pads in the toilet. It just clogs the thing, and the people who get paid to clean hotel bathrooms don't get paid enough to deal with it.

So blah blah blah, they fuck for a few very boring pages, and then they talk seriously for a little while. Ana can tell from his scars that someone stubbed out cigarettes on Christian's chest when he was little, and she thinks it's Mrs. Robinson, but it was actually his birth mother. We're always seeing these ways Christian was abused at a very early age as though it somehow excuses the way he acts now. Ana has some kind of savior complex, or something.

There's a weird attempt during these conversational passages (which are punctuated by still more sex, because intimacy is hard and scary, you guys) to try and make the way Christian acts okay by saying that being controlling is a form of therapy for him. I get that, but there are a couple of things here. First, Ana's not a therapist. And second, he wants to control her every second of the day, and not just as, being too charitable, a therapeutic exercise.

The thing is, Christian does see a therapist. And he also sees Mrs. Robinson and apparently talks to her to try and understand his confusing infatuation with Ana. This is all wrong. And hypocritical. Remember, Ana can't talk to anyone about their relationship or seek advice by the terms of both her NDA and her contract. So he gets to talk to professionals and friends who understand, but she has to remain isolated? That's bullshit.

He keeps saying he's making the effort to meet her halfway, but I still see her making more concessions than he is. At least he's realized she's not a good sub at all. She's willing to go back to the playroom, but doesn't think she could do it for a whole weekend the way he wants. This should be totally acceptable. Jesus, why do you even need this dumbass contract?

You know what these two should be doing? If he's serious about making an effort to have a "vanilla" relationship with her and be a couple, they should be seeing his therapist together. And she can meet him halfway by doing the Dom/sub thing one day a week. Make Saturday play day. But you have to let her talk to people who don't have an interest in just reinforcing that Christian is god and abuse is love and her feelings don't matter, and you have to help her process the stuff she finds so confusing about it.

But she's realized she's irreversibly in love with him: "I love this man. I love his passion, the effect I have on him. I love that he's flown so far to see me. I love that he cares about me... he cares. It's so unexpected, so fulfilling. He is mine and I am his."

So... I guess her agreeing to go back to "the Red Room of Pain" is enough? We're done talking about Mrs. Robinson and therapy and our feelings and our serious issues with boundaries?

Alright, then.

Three more chapters.

Just three.




Friday, April 11, 2014

Marvels: Strange Tales #112

"The Threat of the Living Bomb!" by Stan Lee, Jerry Siegel & Dick Ayers
(September 1963)

This story's a bit of a mixed bag, honestly, but it's overall a winner with me.

Our story starts with the Human Torch hot dogging it over Glenville, showing off his flashy powers and genuinely confused as to why he's not getting the adulation and attention he thinks he deserves. It turns out that one Ted Braddock, a TV news commentator, has been turning everyone against the Torch, calling him a "glory-hungry nuisance" and accusing him of making "a mockery of law and order" by undermining the police with his flashy powers. I don't know why he's going after the Torch specifically and not the Fantastic Four as a whole, but it lends a surprising amount of realism and pathos to Johnny Storm.

If you remember, one of the things that I think is so interesting about Spider-Man is how he essentially creates his own problems by being so casually arrogant, like the universe is just smacking him down for his attitude. Here, the universe is doing essentially the same thing to Johnny Storm. What's worse is, he can't even defend himself against charges of grandstanding, since he spent the first two pages of this story doing just that! And even though the Chief of Police comes by during the broadcast just to tell Johnny that the Glenville Police really do appreciate his help, Johnny's stung by Braddock's criticism. He even goes to the TV station to talk to Braddock, but he gets so flustered and angry that he flames on in the studio, making himself look disrespectful and dangerous!

Every teenager--hell, every person has been caught up in moments like this before: being misunderstood, being derided, and everything you say to protest only makes you seem more the thing people think you are. You ever try to tell someone who thinks you're angry that you're not angry? You just look angry. It's frustrating, and you can just feel Johnny's frustration in this story.

Now, on top of that, the villain of the piece: the Eel.

I'm not sure why he's called the Eel, honestly. No visual motif. His hideout is in an aquarium, and he does have an electric charge that he can use if anyone grabs him. Also, he's slippery: some kind of goo on his costume. (This is the exact scientific nomenclature used in this story: "goo.")

As you can see, he's stolen Project X from a Professor Lawson. Project X is a miniature radioactive atomic pile. You know, just laying around in a science lab, like you always saw in 1963. The Eel has essentially armed a device which will explode, because science works in mysterious ways. It seems like he was irradiated, too, but then later it seems like he wasn't, but hey, it's 1963, no one knows that asbestos (which covers everything Johnny owns, wears, or sleeps on) causes cancer. People seem horrifyingly unaware of how radiation works in these comics.

When Johnny tracks down the Eel, they fight. It's exciting, but the Torch wins handily; the Eel has hidden the atomic pile device, but he gives up its location and Johnny manages to get it into the sky before it explodes. In order to stop the radioactive fallout, Johnny has to use his powers to absorb the explosion and literally draw it upwards into the upper atmosphere, where he basically goes nova and nearly kills himself.

What's really surprising about all of this is that there's genuine suspense. The creatives even manage to create suspense about whether Johnny lives or dies, mainly because everyone's reaction to his sacrifice and concern over his survival--from the townspeople's to the Fantastic Four's to Ted Braddock's, who takes back everything he said about the Torch--are played so sincerely. They treat it seriously, so it doesn't feel cheap or gimmicky. We really haven't seen stuff like this in these early Marvels so far.

It's a strangely powerful and affecting coda. And in Strange Tales, of all books!

Stray observations:

:: The script is credited to "Joe Carter," which is a pseudonym of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel. The story reads a lot like a Superman story, too. Some of the dialogue is just excruciating, but Siegel's understanding of the Human Torch as a character is spot-on. I'm trying not to read too much into whether he may or may not have identified with Johnny's dilemma in this issue of being ridiculed and derided by the people he tries to protect. But he certainly was a laughingstock for a while when he tried to assert his rights over Superman, and having read Brad Ricca's Super Boys last year, it's on my mind while reading this.

:: Sample scientific dialogue from Professor Lawson:

Because what scientist worth his accreditation would pass up the chance to name it a "Transmito Device"?

All the dialogue is like that, by the way. So very many word balloons in this story, and how large they are! It makes the issue feel packed, though; it's only a 13-pager, but there's a lot of exposition and dialogue. Except for how hoary it all is, it doesn't actually detract from the visuals overly much.

Still, this kind of thing:

That is a lot of dialogue for one panel.

:: Dick Ayers, inking his own pencils, does some neat, dynamic work in this issue.

Like I said, a mixed bag, but overall a winner with me. Even some of the clunkier dialogue feels like a throwback to Siegel's earlier work, which I love (particularly the old Superman newspaper strips). Siegel's going to be around for just one more issue!

But first, next time: Iron Man gains an actual supporting cast.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Marvels: Strange Tales Annual #2

"On the Trail of the Amazing Spider-Man!" by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Steve Ditko
(September 1963)

There's not much to this story, but it's cute, and the creatives try to make this one a fun number. It all begins with Johnny Storm throwing a bit of a tantrum about how Spider-Man is getting much more press than the Human Torch is. (I don't know why Johnny's jealous of Spidey's media attention; most of it is J. Jonah Jameson screaming about what a menace Spidey's supposed to be!) He wants a chance to prove that Spider-Man isn't so great, and he gets his chance when a thief called the Fox steals a priceless Da Vinci painting and frames Spidey for the crime.

Spider-Man decides his best chance is to head to Glenville and ask the Human Torch for help, figuring he'll be open to teaming up since they're both teenagers. Of course, they're also both arrogant and hot-headed, so the two end up in that great tradition of superhero meetings: they fight each other. It looks good, what with the extra room (20 pages for this story instead of the usual 13), so Stan & Jack can really showcase the two.

They fight, and the Torch chases Spidey off. Then Spidey's able to stop the Torch and try to talk to him, but the Torch ain't listening and Spidey takes off. It's not until Inspector Rudd lets Johnny go through some mugshots that he decides Spider-Man may be telling the truth, and the two finally team up to track down the Fox. Which they do. And they capture him.

Like I said, it's a fun story but there's not much to say about it. It's slight, but the banter's enjoyable and it sets the tone for what will end up being decades of Spider-Man team-ups.

Stray observations:

:: This is technically only the second time the Torch and Spider-Man have met (the first was in Amazing Spider-Man #1), and the first time they've worked together. Stan's trying to establish a rivalry between the two, what with the both of them being teenage boys who sometimes act exactly as childishly as teenage boys do. They did actually meet briefly in Amazing Spider-Man #3 when Johnny Storm spoke at Peter Parker's high school, but Peter only spoke to Johnny out of costume. (In that issue, Peter clearly admired Johnny.)

:: The story treats Inspector Rudd of the Glenville Police as someone that the Human Torch knows and has probably worked with before, as though he's Commissioner Gordon to the Torch's Batman. Neat idea; too bad this is his only appearance. Same with the Fox; he's never heard from again. The second Johnny pulls his mugshot out of the box, he says "The Fox! Why didn't I think of him before?!! This has all the trademarks of one of his capers!" But we've never seen him before and we'll never see him again, so... well, I'll take your word for it, Johnny.

:: Spidey uses his spider-sense to track down the location of the Fox's hideout, again using it as though it were a radar, like in Amazing Spider-Man #1. I'm not really a fan of that.

I'm also not really a fan of the spider-signal, but that's a dynamic panel.

What a showman!

:: The Fox tries to zip away from Spidey and the Torch on a set of rocket skates, but Spider-Man's too fast. He tells the amazed Fox, "They don't call me Spider-Man for nothin', chum!" Not sure what that's supposed to mean, exactly, but all's well that ends well.

:: There's been a growing consensus in the letters pages of various comics that Jack Kirby doesn't draw Spider-Man as well as Steve Ditko, and that Ditko doesn't draw the Fantastic Four as well as Kirby. I figure that must be part of the decision to have Ditko ink this story; trying to preserve both styles. For what it's worth, I think Dick Ayers also draws a great Human Torch. But I do think no one else at Marvel in 1963 had a handle on Spidey the way Ditko did.

:: I am a little sorry that there's no Doctor Strange story in here, what with the extra room.

:: That said, wow, 76 pages for a quarter! This issue reprints no less than 10 shorts as a follow-up to the main event, only one of which is even from an issue of Strange Tales. The other 9 are from some of the company's late 1950s anthology science fiction books, Strange Worlds and World of Fantasy. My favorite is "I Am Robot," from 1958's Strange Worlds #1, which is a little derivative of Asimov, but the kind of story I'm a sucker for. According to the Grand Comics Database, the story was penciled by Bob Powell and inked by Joe Sinnott, but they don't know who the writer is.

This was a fun issue, and part of what's been a very good month (for the most part).

Next time: a Human Torch story by Jerry Siegel!

The X-Men Movie I'd Much Rather Watch


Wednesday, April 09, 2014

M Is for Muscles

The first thing I saw on my newsfeed when I got on the computer this morning was that the Ultimate Warrior had died.

When I was a kid, I loved wrestling. For kids of my generation, it was kind of like live action superheroes. I got into the then-WWF back in '85, I think, when Hulk Hogan's Rock 'n' Wrestling was airing as a Saturday morning cartoon. Wrestling was one of those things my sister and I used to watch with our Dad on Sunday afternoon television (when we weren't watching kung fu movies, Godzilla flicks, or the Three Stooges). It was just a lot of fun, and I watched it every week and watched old Wrestlemania tapes. For a while, I wanted to be a wrestler. But as an adult, I went in whatever the opposite direction of bodybuilding was.

It's interesting thinking of how incredibly popular the WWE is now... when I was a kid, openly liking wrestling was so uncool. If someone found out you were a wrestling fan, you would just be teased mercilessly. And if you went to go see it live, which I did once, that was something to get ripped for, too. I admit, to this day there's still part of me that gets a little miffed seeing the things I once loved get so openly popular and "cool" now, just because of what I had to go through. But, you know... can't change the past.

My favorite wrestler was "Macho Man" Randy Savage. The Ultimate Warrior came into the WWF in 1987, and was sort of emblematic of the new "extreme" route entertainment for boys was going. I mean, look at him: he's like the inspiration for a dozen Rob Liefeld characters. In fact, he's always been emblematic for me personally of the time my interest in wrestling started to wane. Nothing against him; I dug the Ultimate Warrior and his crazy speeches and his intense eyes and that animal-like way he'd violently shake the ropes to get himself all pumped up. It was definitely something new and exciting for a kid who was so into wrestling. But by that time, I was getting into high school and getting less interested and just didn't watch it so much anymore. I watched him win the title in 1990 in Wrestlemania VI. I think the last time I saw him was that match in Wrestlemania VIII where he rushed in to aid Hulk Hogan.

I guess the Ultimate Warrior--who I think of as the wrestling superstar of the 90s, although I guess by the time I stopped watching it I was already seeing the Undertaker get his start--hadn't been doing much wrestling at all. He appeared in makeup two nights ago to be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, and died last night at age 54 after collapsing in a parking lot.

It made me sad to see him go so suddenly and out of nowhere, especially after such a long absence. And it also made me wistful for a certain time in my life that certainly had its share of ups, but also more than its share of downs. It's a time I'm getting further and further removed from. I wonder if I'll ever get used to it.

ABC Wednesday

Film Week

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

Lifetime movie about the search for a man who killed several women in Los Angeles between 1987 and 2007. I was a little annoyed that the victims and their families were black, but the whole thing is filtered through the experiences of the white plucky girl reporter and the white cop who were investigating the whole thing. I was much more curious about the stories of the victims' survivors, and the schism between the black community and the LAPD who apparently didn't feel the need for a long time to even tell the families that their loved ones may have been murdered by a serial killer. I know it's a true story, but I felt it was the wrong point of view, but unsurprising, I guess. I'd rather watch a documentary about it. **

THE HEAT (2013)
Mismatched buddy cop action comedy. This isn't a genre that's particularly well done, anymore, but it was cute and had its moments. Melissa McCarthy was funny, though I'm getting a bit tired of always seeing her play this one character in movies. I like her, but I'm getting this sinking feeling that it's going to be all the kinds of comedies I find annoying in the future. ***

Overblown and incoherent and... ugh, why even bother criticizing it? Leonardo DiCaprio is kind of the perfect actor for this in my head, too, but he was wasted on a shallow movie by a shallow director. 1/2 star.

The Captain America movies are my favorite individual components of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, honestly, and this one really raised the bar. For everything that I knew would happen in this movie, there were a number of things that took me by surprise. (I just didn't expect a movie that's part of an overall franchise universe to go that far in changing one of its main elements.) Chris Evans is great as Captain America, and Scarlett Johansson continues to be the secret weapon of the SHIELD-related movies. It was also nice seeing Samuel L. Jackson in a larger capacity than we have before. This is what I would like more superhero movies to be: optimistic and inspirational while still being realistic and honest about how the world has always been. (None of that "Greatest Generation" hero worship.) I like how Cap's presence stops the movie from being a debate about the moral acceptability of "collateral damage" and edges it further into ideals and what they stand for. I loved Anthony Mackie as the Falcon; we need more of him in the MCU. Very interesting the way they played his status as a returning Afghan War vet against Captain America's status as a man out of time. The Winter Soldier is a character from when I wasn't reading Marvel comics, so I don't know much about him, but I love the way they did it in the movie. Lots of sequel hooks being left around here, and I'm just ready for more. If you really think about all of the plot threads, it's something of a minor miracle that the film is as coherent and easy to follow as it is. Beautiful work. ****

FROZEN (2013)
I didn't really expect to like this film, much less love it as much as I did. I found a lot in there about anxiety that was really easy to relate to and that was very touching, and the cartoonier bits didn't come off as annoying in the film itself as they did in the trailers. Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel are wonderful (of course), and the songs are great. Like most Disney films, I actually think it could have used a few more, particularly in the third act. But I really liked it. Very well animated, particularly the snow, which surprised me. Remember when CG artists had a hard time rendering water? ****

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Marvels: Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos #3

"Midnight on Massacre Mountain!" by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers
(September 1963)

This issue follows the formula established by the first two issues: Fury and his men complete a mission, have some funny banter on the base, get their assignment, travel to their assignment, and carry out their assignment with some twists, turns, one-liners, and heavy battle scenes. I'm not knocking the formula--it's a good formula, and this issue is as fun as the first two--but it's not leaving me with a lot to say about it.

This issue's mission is to land in Italy and lead a trapped division down from Massacre Mountain (where the Nazis have them holed up) and through a tunnel escape route. At one point, they have to meet up with the OSS for some intel and that's the issue's big cameo: Major Reed Richards.

It lasts about a page and it's really little more than a throwaway (Richards' character could be any person) and a continuity nod (it was established that Reed was in the OSS and fought behind the lines with the French Resistance in Fantastic Four #11), but it does us the favor of definitively establishing that this series takes place in the Marvel Universe. I like, too, that Lee and Kirby--themselves veterans of World War II--put in this extra touch about Reed Richards. It adds a couple of shades to his character. I think later writers sometimes had a tendency to turn Reed into a nerd who was too smart to relate to people normally. But showing him as a vet goes a little way to explaining why he's so driven to create things that improve the quality of life, which increases chances at peace. I just dig that.

The Howlers meet up with the division, but end up walking into a trap. Fury discovers that a reporter embedded with the division is actually a spy for the Waffen SS and everyone manages to fight their way out. While the division is awarded medals, we leave Fury and his crew floating in a rubber raft on a rainy sea, just waiting for their pickup. Such is the commando life.

Stray notes:

:: Gabriel Jones is still given Caucasian skin coloring half the time. Sometimes he just looks ashen gray like they've tried to fix the coloring mistake. Guys, he's black, I know it's 1963, but figure it out.

:: This sergeants's face is magnificent.

Speaking of facial expressions, I also love Fury's in this panel:

Note Dum-Dum making another crack about his wife. What is it with you and girls, Stan?

:: The MP's need to call in a tank to bring in the Howlers after they get in a bar brawl with infantrymen. "Those wild men made Dunkirk seem like a high school prom!"

:: As Major Richards heads back to his work, Sgt. Fury thinks Richards is going to really make something of himself, and Stan reminds that, of course, he's Mr. Fantastic now. Crossovers are a great way to bring attention to a book someone might not be reading. Fury himself will return the favor in a couple of months by appearing (in a much more substantial role) in Fantastic Four #21.

:: Dum-Dum: "Why don't we lob a few grenades at 'em, just so's they don't feel so neglected?" Sometimes you can just hear Stan saying the dialogue.

:: Dino is Italian by birth, and especially incensed at what the Nazis have done to the countryside. He kills the exposed spy "for what he and his kind have done to the land of my birth."

Another strong, fun issue of Sgt. Fury. I didn't have a lot to say about it--there were a lot of intense battle scenes in this one--but that doesn't mean I didn't love it!

Next time: get ready for another crossover, as the Human Torch teams up with Spider-Man!

Monday, April 07, 2014

Mickey Rooney 1920-2014

I just always liked him, even when I was a kid and would see him in movies like The Black Stallion or hear him in animated movies. It made me happy as an adult to see him suddenly turn up in flicks like Night at the Museum and The Muppets. And over the years I've seen him in tons of movies, thanks to TCM. I guess I just sort of figured he wasn't going to die at this point. I took him for granted. Just wanted to say that I always liked the guy on film.

John Pinette 1964-2014

I was really sad to hear that comedian John Pinette died over the weekend. Back in those high school days of being withdrawn and spending most of my time indoors, I used to love the stand-up comedy shows on VH1 and other channels. I used to see a lot of guys on those shows that I still see: Henry Cho, Jeff Dunham, Ray Romano... John Pinette was one of those guys. I always thought he was pretty remarkable. Like me, he had a weight problem. I let the bullying and ridicule turn me into a victim. I lived in fear of getting picked on. This guy, he turned it into laughter. And I dug that about him. He laughed at himself before anyone else could, and I totally got it. His album Show Me the Buffet is one of my favorite comedy albums. Last time I saw him, on the WGN news, he had lost 200 pounds, and that was pretty inspiring. So, so sorry to see he died.

Kristen Bell Mondays

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Song of the Week: "Kiss Them for Me"

Songs for Becca #8. Here's another story about musical connection between me and her.

When this song came out in 1991, I had never heard of Siouxsie & the Banshees. I had no idea of their connection to punk rock and post-punk, and at that point (14 years old) I didn't even know what goth music was. I'd never heard of it; I was a square kid in a well-off suburb. It was still in the first year of having moved into a condo with my Mom and sister after my parents had finalized their divorce. It wasn't really a happy time period for me.

I guess my music taste back then was pretty square; the Downers Grove Library hadn't really gotten fully into music yet, and I didn't have much money, so it was hard for me to really explore music I liked on my own. Let's see... at that time, my Mom was into Basia and Lisa Stansfield and Enya and Seal and that's the kind of stuff I mainly heard. I was into film scores and Classical music pretty exclusively during that time. And I didn't watch MTV anymore. When I was a kid, my friends and I used to leave MTV on all day as a sort of background radio. But MTV was all house music and rap now, and I didn't care for a lot of it, so I would watch the still-relatively-new VH1.

This video was pretty popular for a good, long while on VH1, and I really dug it. (Actually, it's their most successful single in the US). I didn't know who Siouxsie & the Banshees were, but I thought she was gorgeous and the song was fantastic. I had no idea the song is about Jayne Mansfield. I just got caught up in the music. It really does sound like a song from 1991, but in a good way. I usually don't mean that in a good way. To this day, the early 90s are just not my favorite period of music.

Anyway, I dug this song, and they had a great song on the Batman Returns soundtrack, and then that seemed to be it for me. I never heard anything else by them.

Cut to 1994, when I met Becca. And in another of those stunning twists, Siouxsie & the Banshees were actually her favorite band. Her favorite ever. She loved goth music. She introduced me to goth, to industrial, to a lot of music genres I didn't even know existed. (Yes, she was still a goth kid when I met her.) I was being exposed to music that I had no experience with. Some of it I didn't like... some of it I flat-out hated. But it was always fascinating getting mix tapes from her and knowing I wouldn't have heard a great deal of it. The fact is, her being into music as much as I was--even though it was totally different from what I grew up listening to--was one of the things that drew us so close so quickly.

This is still my favorite Siouxsie song. It's one of the few really good things for me from that nightmare year of depression and anger. But it's a bridge between my past self and the self that was really born when I met Becca. It carries a happy and important expectation with it; a way I can look back at my past self watching this video on VH1 and actually smiling and say to him: "Hold on, guy. She's coming soon. It won't be much longer. Just get through this high school nightmare and the love of your life is going to be at the other end."

Marvels: Journey Into Mystery #96

"Defying the Magic of... Mad Merlin!" by Stan Lee, Robert Bernstein & Joe Sinnott
(September 1963)

This is such a great month for Marvel Comics that it kind of pains me to get to such a low point.

The stakes here are that archaeologists have discovered the crypt of Merlin. Apparently, Merlin was a historical figure? With a crypt? That people could just find? Anyway, much like King Hatap in last month's Tales of Suspense (also scripted by Robert Bernstein), Merlin is not actually dead but hibernating, and gets up and starts plotting conquest. After causing a missile test to go awry, Merlin heads off to Washington, DC. Hey, cameo!

This is the first time (only time?) we actually see President Kennedy (and Caroline!) in an issue. Previously, we've seen the top of his head. (I'm a bit ahead of this point in my reading, and I know the actual month vs. cover date lag is a little tricky, but I find it interesting that even in the "real time" Marvel Universe, the Kennedy assassination is never mentioned. Adds a bit of a bittersweet twinge that this story doesn't truly deserve, as this is his final appearance while the real Kennedy was still alive.)

After being pointed in the right direction by Loki, Thor fights Merlin all over DC. Merlin's big move is that he tries to crush Thor with the Washington Monument (why do they love smashing up landmarks in this title?), but Thor digs a ditch quickly to evade it, which isn't even that spectacular because Thor basically did the same thing when Sandu tried to drop a building on him back in Journey #91. Merlin also tries to make the Abraham Lincoln statue at the Lincoln Memorial come to life to fight Thor, but Thor uses a gust of wind to make him sit back down, which apparently breaks Merlin's magical hold on him? I don't know, there's not even a full shot. Should've gone right to Abe instead of spending two pages on a floating Washington Monument.

Finally, Thor turns into Donald Blake and somehow convinces Merlin that he can change himself into anything. I mean, you just saw me turn into a normal guy with a bad leg, right? So Merlin agrees to just go back into his crypt to sleep for another thousand years, because Blake gives him his word that Thor won't just kill him. The end.

Guys... Merlin is a dick.

Not a fan of that.

Super lame story, by the way.

Stray notes:

:: Jane Foster really takes Don Blake to task over being kind of a shitty doctor; he's out of the office so much that patients are just up and leaving! Too bad Blake can't just tell her, "Well, jeez, Miss Foster, I'm also Thor and I was busy saving a bus full of kids from drowning!" Thanks, Odin.

Right after he does it he says to himself "I'd better be rushing back before Jane threatens to quit... for the millionth time!" Asgardian whine.

:: Thankfully, this is Bernstein's final Thor story. Stan Lee takes over next month. It's not that Bernstein's even a bad comic writer, really, it's just that his style of silly one-offs doesn't really fit with Stan Lee's larger aims of creating a believable universe of humanistic characters and real continuity. Not that Stan always gets it right, either--sometimes he gets it spectacularly wrong. But the tone is just so off, and the characters don't really get explored, especially in such a limited space. Bernstein's going to stay with Iron Man for a while, but Stan is retaking Thor and he's going to take it to some interesting places.

Next Marvels: Nick Fury meets Reed Richards!