Saturday, May 03, 2014

50 Shades of Smartass: Chapter 26

Well, here we are, half a year later: the final chapter. We're finally in the home stretch of this inane bullshit. And for her final trick, EL James puts us in a psychological minefield that she has no idea how to navigate.

After being all lovey-dovey in the last chapter, this one opens at 5:30 in the morning with Christian doing his broody Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera thing at the piano, playing Chopin and just begging with his demeanor and shirtlessness to be redeemed by the love of an understanding woman. Ana wants to talk. Christian wants sex. Are we surprised anymore?

Christian talks about banging her on the piano instead of the keys, but doesn't say it in as romantical a way as I just did, ladies and curious gentlemen. She's internally blown away by the naughtiness of the idea. I don't know why we went to all the bother of making Christian so troubled and handsome and rich and powerful anymore. I mean, no offense here, but if making love on the piano is a girl's idea of brain-meltingly naughty, I feel like maybe you don't have to work so hard to be creative.

Ana brings up the contract and Christian tells her he considers the contract moot. After all, they've been doing all the sex and punishment, anyway, and their relationship is different now because of all the "more." But, he still wants the Rules to apply. You remember the Rules, don't you? I mean, have you forgotten them at all, despite their mention in pretty much every one of the preceding chapters? Well, just in case you have, EL James spams us with them one more time. They agreed she didn't have to follow the one about food. Exciting! That's just the give and take compromise of being in a relationship, I guess. You have to exercise and see my doctor regularly and do whatever I tell you and remember your every behavior reflects on me even when you're alone and I'm going to beat the shit out of you if I've determined you've ever crossed me, but at least if you want to take a night off and sit in front of the TV eating Doritos, I can't complain about it. Christian must just feel impotent over that concession.

So, then things take a dark and stupid turn.

I feel like Snoopy there.

It was a dark and stupid night morning.

Christian and Ana are getting all playful again, and he's chasing her around telling her he's going to spank her for rolling her eyes at him again, and she's running away, but they're playing it all cute, you know. Just laughing and lunging and being all couple-y.

And then Ana says "I feel about punishment the way you feel about me touching you."

And Christian stops. He stops and his entire demeanor changes. Fun's over; now it's time for sad. And, I mean, it actually is kind of sad, but only because I recognize this feeling so intensely.

Let's unpack this.

This relationship is something different for Christian, and he was tentative about revealing more of himself, but now that he is where he is, he likes it there. He's in love, and probably he feels somewhat understood and accepted more than usual, maybe even in ways he never even thought possible. The BDSM still comes into play, but it's not what his entire relationship with Ana is built around, and he seems to find it surprisingly freeing. Just a few paragraphs ago, he's told Ana that he wants to still do stuff in the playroom, but that's just for the playroom and not all the time. And he thinks Ana's okay with this and feels the same way as he does and is as happy as he is.

But wait: she's not.

And that's devastating. And worse, it's validating in the wrong way. Now he realizes he hasn't been in a relationship like he thought; she doesn't like the pain and the punishment, which means he's just been hurting and torturing this poor girl, which means there's something wrong with him, which seems to be what his deepest insecurity really is: that he's not worthy of being loved by another person. That's what this whole thing is. This is his way of getting close to people in a way that he has total control of.

And hey, she doesn't have any obligation to like BDSM. I've been saying this whole time it was stupid of her to just go ahead and do it and hope for the best. And I've been saying, too, that it was stupid of him to just put her through that and figure she'd find the pleasure aspect of it. This chapter is like the payoff of all this bad judgment.

So, yes, Christian is very hurt, and Ana has clearly been trying to not let it get to this point, because she doesn't want him to feel horrible about this whole thing. But that's just put all of this stress on her, too. This is what happens when no one is honest about their feelings. Now that she finally has been, she feels like she's done the wrong thing. She even tries to back off from what she's said and downgrades her feelings about punishment from "adamantly hate it" to "totally ambivalent, whatever." She trusts him in the playroom, because it's "what he needs." Ana says she's afraid Christian is going to physically hurt her. Christian's response? "I want to hurt you. But not beyond anything that you couldn't take."

Oh, boy.

So, to summarize the situation: Christian and Ana are in love with each other. She apparently begged him in her sleep not to leave her. Christian wants to keep up with the Rules and the punishments and etc. Ana doesn't like the punishments but will still do the playroom because it's what Christian "needs." He won't explain why he needs it and why he doesn't like being touched because he's afraid it will make her leave him, and he desperately doesn't want her to leave. He's in this thing in his mind now where she's going to leave him if she knows any more about him, but he's so unwilling to talk about it that he won't do it even if it makes her leave him.

Yeah, we go through the rationalization process a lot in therapy.

So we're finally, finally at the point where they can no longer accommodate one another. This is the crossroads. Time to pack it up and go home, right?

Wait.

It gets worse.

So, so much worse.

Ana "realizes" that Christian is afraid and in deep, deep need. So she decides to make a last ditch effort to save their relationship by going all in on the pain thing. Deep breath. "Show me how much it can hurt."

This... is not a good decision.

She wants to see how bad it can get, and if she can take it, maybe he'll let her touch him.

You can tell this is going to end badly because there are only 10 more pages left in this book.

Oh, and also because this is a stupid fucking decision.

He bends her, naked, over a bench, and she's thinking "Why the hell doesn't he just get on with it? He always makes such a meal of punishing me."

Now, that right there. That's how you know this is not going to work out between them. Because she doesn't get that for him it's as much about the ritual as it is anything else, and she just wants it all to be over as quickly as possible. She doesn't get the fundamental aspects of this, and he's not exactly explaining them, so there's just not going to be any understanding on this.

He beats her ass hard, six times, with a belt. Not holding back at all.

And of course it's horrible. And of course it's emotionally devastating. Because heaven forbid you two try to work out your issues together, like people who are in love and supportive. Instead, they make these constant demands of each other for surrender that neither one is comfortable with. He's not going to let you touch him, Ana, and you should not be letting him beat the shit out of you, either.

Can we all just take a second to remember that this "relationship" has only been going on for, at the most, a few weeks? A month, maybe? There's this weariness to this chapter, as though this has been a long time in coming, but honestly, they're still in that courtship phase. Think about that. If this is the stuff that's coming out at the beginning of this relationship, what's coming later on?

Ana is pissed after that beating. Pissed. Like, have to go lay down alone and cry and really think this over pissed. She takes the time to yell at Christian about how fucked up he is and how he needs to sort his shit out, which... I mean, I get it, but also... you know, that sort of reaction is what he was afraid of and why he never wanted to open himself up. That's kind of sad. I recognize that, too. That feeling that you're so bad and rotting inside that you can never open yourself up to people because they'll think you're fucked up, and then when you do, someone flat out tells you how fucked up you are, and the last thing you ever want to do is open up to a person ever again. You think, well, I really am bad and rotting inside, so I'll just keep rotting and be quiet about it.

I'm sure I'm reading into that a bit. It's part of being in therapy; you see yourself in a lot of characters that you don't really want to. But, on the other hand, being empathetic is never really a bad thing, because it gives you a better understanding of the world and how people relate to one another and why. I'm still not saying that excuses any of the ways anyone hurts anyone else--and hell, it's hard to argue that Ana overreacted to a pretty savage beating--just that I understand. I understand both sides.

The thing is, it's never going to work and they are under no obligation to try and force it to. And that's where EL James really goes wrong in this chapter. Hey, the bad judgment of the characters, that's all pretty organic and believable. The problem with this is that, for the last several pages, Ana is just waffling and waffling between whether she should stay with Christian or leave him. It's perfectly natural to be emotional about this, but James is once again hitting that button that too much of pop culture likes to lay down on: that if you break up with someone, you might never, ever find love again, because you'll probably only have one true love. BULLSHIT! She's young. She just graduated from college a couple of days ago, she's just starting her life. She'll meet other people and fall in love again.

Christian doesn't want her to leave, but he also just doesn't understand how Ana could even be in love with him because he's so bad, and that's painfully recognizable, too. But, in the end, Ana finally realizes it's not her job to save him. And it's not. What he really needs is therapy. And she does, too, frankly. They both need the kind of therapy that EL James is incapable of writing about, if Ana's mother's shitty advice is any indication.

Ana decides to leave Christian and leave the things he bought for her and go on with her life. But, again, James is handling it wrong. First, she makes it clear that Ana is devastated because Christian is so perfect and now she can't have him, as though Ana is in the wrong here, and the world is coming to an end because there's love right there and Ana can't have it because, I don't know, she wants to be treated like a person too much? Second, she stops just a little too close to implying that because Ana feels liberated now, the beating she took was ultimately empowering in and of itself (as opposed to, say, the thing that gave her the emotional resolve to guide her own life--the knowledge that she can being the thing that should be empowering). And third, she plays Ana discovering what she wants for herself as though it's the worst thing that ever happened to her, because now she's so sad.

This is the right ending, but it's coming at the wrong time and in the wrong way. EL James wants this to be a tragedy, but it isn't. Ana feeling bad about it is very human, and the right tone, but it ends with this thought: "the physical pain from the bite of a belt is nothing, nothing compared to this devastation." So, are we supposed to believe Ana made the wrong choice? She curls up and cries: "surrender myself to grief." That's literally the last sentence of the book. That's where this thing ends. With Ana in deep emotional pain because she chose to walk away from a relationship rather than stay with an abusive guy.

So, that seems to be the real message here: you only have one chance at love, so stick with it, even if the guy gets physical with you, because it's the only way he can show you that he loves you, and expecting to be treated with respect and dignity will only make you unhappy and hey, it's better than being alone and sad all the time, right? Leaving someone who hurts you isn't empowering at all: it's devastating. Particularly if he's hot.

Fuck this idiot book for idiots. This is depressing garbage.

Look, let's just walk away from this book, which should have been 250 pages shorter and a whole hell of a lot smarter. There are some rumblings of something big happening because of whatever Christian's mysterious business-related "situation" is. There's that dangling plot thread, and we know there are two more books. But let's let them go. Let's stop doing this. This is just pornography for people who are addicted to drama. This was an unhealthy read. Don't look back. Keep walking away. You'll read other, better books and remember what it was like to be happy, and fall in love with the novel form again. We've all been abused by this one; let us resolve to read more often, and let that resolve empower us to seek out the great books we deserve to spend our time on.

Let's end with a video of Rowlf the Dog singing "What a Wonderful World" to remind you that there's still good in the world and we're all better people than terrible authors try to make us.

Friday, May 02, 2014

Marvels: Journey Into Mystery #97

"The Lava Man" by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Don Heck
(October 1963)

Thor's latest villain, the Lava Man, is one of a race of ancient creatures living in dormant volcanoes across the Earth. This one, released by Loki to cause havoc, is actually a credible threat to Thor (who has dealt with some pretty lame villains in his title) and potentially very interesting. He wants the planet for the Lava Men alone, even as Thor tries to convince him that the universe is very large and there is a place for everyone to live in peace.

The Lava Man, however, really only exists as something for Thor to really sink his frustrations into. The real story here is about Donald Blake and his unrequited love for Jane. With Stan Lee back on scripting duties, he wants to re-establish that as a motivation for Dr. Blake, and this time he comes close to telling Jane he loves her. He still can't tell her the truth about also being Thor, as per Odin's edict, but he can express his love as Blake. Unfortunately, he loses his nerve at the last second. Thor even asks Odin again for permission to marry Jane, which is denied. For at least one panel, Blake even considers just giving up his life as Thor in order to marry Jane.

Jane's feelings are pretty clear--she's been in love with him this whole time--and now that she's been rejected, she's going to work for one of Dr. Blake's rivals, Dr. Bruce Andrews. It's kind of a weird move--Blake characterizes Andrews as a wolf who's been trying to get Jane out for a date, so I don't know why you'd want to work for that guy--but she's got to move on.

(Also: overworked Stan originally gives this guy the name "Basil Andrews," but then switches it to "Bruce" with no explanation. Oops.)

So when the Lava Man shows up, Thor is certainly ready to fight. The fight itself is pretty spectacular, and Thor re-imprisons the Lava Man inside a dormant volcano. But after all of that, the sting of losing Jane makes his victory a hollow one.

Stray observations:

:: Thor is really wary about letting people crowd around him, lest they discover his secret identity. Since his secret identity is literally that of a separate human being, I'm not really sure how they could... Still not digging this secret identity deal for Thor.

:: The art this issue is credited to Kirby as penciler and Don Heck as inker, but looking through the story, I'd say that Kirby just laid down a few poses and Heck did most of the art himself, especially the romance stuff. Hell, Kirby's pretty damn busy. And Heck's art looks pretty darn good here, too.

This Jane looks like a combination of both artists, though. I just really like this image and wanted to point it out. Jane has especially pretty hair.

And now, a second story:

"Tales of Asgard" by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & George Roussos

This is actually the first installment of the Tales of Asgard series, in which Stan & Jack will retell legends of Norse mythology, which definitively exists in the Marvel Universe. This one is mainly an introduction, five brief pages explaining the beginning of Asgard and the eternal struggle between the Aesir and the Frost Giants, starting with the births of Ymir and Buri, father of Borr, father of Odin.

Like I said, it's an intro, but the beginning of one of my favorite things in the Marvel Universe. Stan Lee gets all flowery and grand with the language, and Jack Kirby gets to let the art go a little bit more, starting to define the cosmology of the Marvel Universe.

There's going to be so much more, and it's going to be pretty amazing.

Next Marvels: Johnny Storm deals with puppy love and plants.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Marvels: Fantastic Four #19

"Prisoners of the Pharaoh!" by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers
(October 1963)

Just a few issues ago, Ben told Reed to stop trying to turn him back to "normal" and spend his time trying to restore Alicia's sight instead. In this issue, Reed's attempt to do so drives the plot. Gotta appreciate the guy's sense of duty to his loved ones.

While on a trip to a museum, Reed has interpreted some hieroglyphs to mean that a pharaoh from a relatively unrecorded Ancient Egyptian dynasty had his own blindness repaired by some sort of radioactive substance. Reed likes to make big leaps like that, just go with it. His big idea is for the Fantastic Four to go back in time using Doctor Doom's time machine. (Remember, the one that sent them back to Blackbeard's time, only to discover that Blackbeard was actually Ben Grimm all along? That one.)

The FF land in Giza, near the Great Sphinx, and are set upon by the local troops. There's a spectacular fight scene, but the Fantastic Four soon find themselves mysteriously weakened and unable to fight. Brought before Pharaoh Rama-Tut, they're surprised that he not only speaks English, but knows who the Fantastic Four are! Further, he's the one who sapped their resiliency with an ultra-diode ray from the year 3000. Rama-Tut is from the future!

Rama-Tut (whatever his real name may be) hated the peaceful, progressive, technologically advanced year 3000. Craving action and adventure, he visited the ruins of "an amazing ancestor of mine" and came upon plans and diagrams for a time machine. Building one in the shape of an ancient idol--the Great Sphinx itself--Rama-Tut came back to Ancient Egypt to make himself a ruler with his advanced scientific knowledge. Originally, he had planned to loot the riches of history from his Ancient Egyptian base, but his time machine was damaged upon landing. Rama-Tut had to settle for only making himself a pharaoh instead.

Reed, however, was right about the pharaoh whose eyes were repaired; Rama-Tut had been blinded by radiation from his damaged time machine, but his new subjects obtained a rare herb that helped restore his vision.

Rama-Tut has no intention of freeing the FF; he's bathed them in rays that have weakened their wills, and makes them slaves. Weirdly, the only way to reverse the effect of the rays is to be bathed in them a second time. Rama-Tut has the Thing chained to the oar as a galley slave, makes the Human Torch his jester, and puts Mr. Fantastic to work as an observer helping to clear the way for his armies. As for the Invisible Girl? What do you think you're reading and from what era? Sue is to become Rama-Tut's bride.

What happens next feels like a little bit of a cheat, but the story's so fun that I wasn't let down by it. Somehow, under the hot sun (hotter than our 20th century sun, apparently), the Thing reverts back into Ben Grimm. Since Ben was hit with the rays while he was the Thing, they now have no effect on him. (Okay?). Slipping out of his chains, Ben swims back to the palace and grabs Rama-Tut's ray gun, shooting Sue with it and freeing her just before he turns back into the Thing. Sue turns invisible, takes the gun, and gives Ben and Johnny their wills back as Rama-Tut flees through an escape chamber. Suddenly all hell breaks loose. (And it's fun as hell watching the Thing fight basically the entire populace of Giza with a broken column.)

After getting Reed back, the FF head into Rama-Tut's time machine, where Rama-Tut tries to kill them with his various booby traps. But, like Doctor Doom, Rama-Tut has one last escape clause: the Sphinx is merely a shell, and Rama-Tut has repaired the time machine inside, so he simply takes off in his small time ship and leaves the FF behind. (He says that all memory of his rule will simply disappear without him there, which, okay, why not, I guess? There are a lot of logic leaps/plot devices masquerading as science in this one.) But at least Reed finds the optic nerve restorative they came for! It was subtly marked, but Reed was somehow able to figure out where it was located!

Well, maybe it wasn't that subtle.

Still, it doesn't help. When the FF get safely back to 1963, the restorative is gone. Didn't make the trip. Apparently, Doom's time machine won't transport anything with radioactive properties. (Um, aren't the FF themselves full of radioactive properties? Isn't it radiation that gave them their powers?) Reed "should have guessed." (How? HOW? That is obvious to no one, Reed!)

It's a fun and action-packed issue, but as you may be able to tell from my not-so-lively description, the formula is starting to creep into the book. Formula can be a crutch, but taking into account how heavily worked Stan & Jack are right now, I think they'll pull out of it. It's still pretty high quality and still the flagship title of the Marvel Universe.

Stray notes:

:: Apparently, Ben's fans send him cigars. Is Stan trying to tell the fans what he'd like? (Alicia, for her part, worries they're exploding cigars from the Yancy Street Gang.)

:: Johnny remarks at one point that the FF have gone back in time a thousand years. I know he's just generalizing, but that doesn't stop the pedantic historian in me from pointing out that a thousand years before, 963, was the time when the Abbisad Caliphate ruled Egypt, just before they lost Egypt to the Fatimid Caliphate. So that was already Islamic, Arab Egypt. Also, the Great Sphinx of Giza was Rama-Tut's time machine. The Great Sphinx is most commonly thought to have been erected in the Old Kingdom under Pharaoh Khafra, some time between 2558 and 2532 BCE. So this is some Old Kingdom stuff and Johnny's off by a few thousand years.

:: Now, I don't know much about Rama-Tut, so I find the clue about his "amazing ancestor" tantalizing. Are Stan and Jack implying that Rama-Tut is a descendant of Doctor Doom? Or even Reed himself? Do you think Rama-Tut would have mentioned that, or kept that information close? And what does that mean that he decided to take Sue for himself? Depends on which fictional time travel theory you subscribe to, I guess.

:: In the letters page, Stan cops to Ben accidentally calling Alicia by Sue's name in FF #16 as a mistake: "so many characters to keep track of." When another reader calls him on a scene in Journey Into Mystery #93 where Thor's hammer doesn't return to him, Stan explains that Thor's hammer won't return if Thor orders it not to, then jokes "It's easy to explain these things when we make up our own rules!" Stan is xazzed to get a fan letter from Australia; Mrs. Jo Shelby of Wisconsin explains that her four year-old daughter has a hard time grasping the concept of the Thing and cosmic rays; and future Marvel writer (and Howard the Duck creator) Steve Gerber has a letter in which he lauds Thor, asks that the Sub-Mariner be a hero again, and hates on Fantastic Four #13 and #15. (Have to disagree, Steve; that Red Ghost story is a classic!)

Also, Stan announces the results of the fan poll to keep Reed Richards the leader of the FF (6,043 for, 422 against) and teases the return of Dr. Strange to Strange Tales, which I'm very much looking forward to.

Good issue; can't wait for more.

But first, next time: beginning one of my all time favorite Marvel features, Tales of Asgard!

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

P Is for Popcorn

I'm unsure of what to write about today, and if you can't make up your mind, you can never go wrong with Muppets. So, just for the hell of it on this gloomy day, here's the Swedish Chef in Pöpcørn, the last in a series of Muppet Studios virals that went from 2008-2010. I actually like that old Hot Butter song (I have it on a 1970s boxed set), but this is more fun. (They also have some fun with the captions.) I wish I knew who directed this so I could credit them... I feel like I once read that Kirk Thatcher directed some of these, but now I can't find any info.

Enjoy!


ABC Wednesday

Bob Hoskins 1942-2014

He's one of my favorite actors ever. Even in bad movies, he was usually the bright spot. Even in movies where he didn't have a very large role, he was one of the best things about them. God, I loved Bob Hoskins. I'm sorry to hear he's passed on. I knew it was inevitable since he announced his retirement in 2012. But still, it makes me sad.

I'm so glad for the legacy of great films and great acting. The Long Good Friday and Mona Lisa are two of my favorite films. Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Brazil. Mrs. Henderson Presents. I could go on and on, and like I said, even the bad movies he was in are often worth it just for his performance. (Super Mario Bros. notwithstanding, of course.)

Sorry to hear it. So sorry to hear it.

Film Week

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

THE GUILT TRIP (2012)
Seth Rogen as a salesman making a cross-country trip with his mother, Barbra Streisand. They advertised this like it was a relentlessly wacky comedy, but it's actually pretty gentle, and plays the mother-son dynamic for more sweetness than laughs. I liked parts of it, but I didn't buy that Seth Rogen was so bad at selling his cleaning product that he never thought to actually demonstrate the goddamn thing to store reps. Barbra's good, because she's Barbra. It never really picks up steam, but like I said, it has sweet moments. **1/2

DON JON (2013)
As a director, Joseph Gordon-Levitt has a nice sense of style, and as a writer, he's got a great grasp of character. It's an interesting character study of a porn addict who falls in love for the first time (with Scarlett Johansson, sexier than I've ever seen her, and I'm saying this about Scarlett freaking Johansson... what is it about the trashy accent that does it for me?). It's not a really deep movie, but it's not a shallow one, either. And it's surprisingly sex-positive, given the premise; Jon's addiction to porn never makes him pitiable, and the movie never treats him like he's sick in some way. Sort of a "modern condition" movie that never sells out its character to make some kind of obvious point as though it's revalatory. It impressed me. ***1/2

PEEPLES (2013)
Predictable but cute comedy with Craig Robinson as a man in love who follows the woman he intends to propose to (Kerry Washington) and crashes her family's vacation, hoping to impress her judgmental, hardass father (David Alan Grier). I like all three of the leads here, and the likable cast keeps it breezy. It's nothing you haven't seen in a dozen other comedies recently, but the chemistry of the cast makes it a pleasant time-waster. ***

STUCK IN LOVE (2012)
It's a likable enough movie at its core, but it's so predictable and played out. Greg Kinnear is a writer, pining for his ex-wife (Jennifer Connelly) to the point of stalking her. Their daughter (Lily Collins) is also a writer, about to publish her first novel, who is desperately opposed to being in a relationship--which means, of course, that she finds herself in one, redefining her as a person. Their son (Nat Wolff), also a writer, is painfully in love with a troubled girl in her class, so of course he gets to be with her and tries to "save" her from her drug and alcohol problems. It's like What White People Dream Being a Writer Is: The Movie. And like I said, it's sometimes likable, it's just that the whole thing comes out of a kit, doesn't earn any of its big moments, and ends on the most false, wish-fulfilling note imaginable. The actors are all pretty good, which helps, but they can't quite sell it. I find Kinnear easy to like. I've never seen Lily Collins in anything before, but she's pretty good. I've seen Nat Wolff in two movies now and liked him; I'd love to see him get something substantive or at least really funny. Kristen Bell stole the movie for me with just three scenes, because of course she did, because I'm me and she's her and she's magic. **1/2

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Still a Better Ending

Marvels: Amazing Spider-Man #5

"Marked for Destruction by Dr. Doom!" by Stan Lee & Steve Ditko
(October 1963)

Dr. Doom made his first appearance as the Marvel Universe's greatest villain back in Fantastic Four #5. So I guess it's kind of fitting that he's making an appearance here in Spider-Man's fifth issue, too. At first it seems like Doom is too grand and menacing a villain to set against Marvel's wisecracking teen hero, but this issue proves it's a great pairing. I still think the best Spider-Man stories pit him against a villain--like Doctor Octopus or Sandman--who are capable of killing him. Spidey seems to do his best creative thinking when his life is really on the line.

But how did Dr. Doom survive his fall out of the floating lab back in Fantastic Four #17? Easily; he simply got below the clouds, out of sight of the FF, and glided away on his jet-powered flying belt. Doom always has a way out. I like to imagine that Stan never knows how he's going to bring Doom back from seeming death, and has to come up with the answer later. So far, it's never disappointed.

Doom's newest idea is to team up with Spider-Man. He manages to call Spider-Man to him by tapping into the same wavelength spiders use to sense danger, which, why the hell not? I mean, if Ant-Man can tap into the ants, why not this? It works, and Spidey is kind of amused by the offer, but opts out. He escapes Doom (and one of his Doombots, although they're not calling them that yet), and Doom's new plan is to use Spider-Man as bait to draw out the Fantastic Four. And that's when this issue's fun complication sets in.

See, Flash Thompson gets himself a Spider-Man costume and the plan is for him to hide, then jump out and scare Peter Parker on the way home from school. Dr. Doom, meanwhile, has created an instrument that will track Peter's spider-sense (okay) so that he can learn Spider-Man's secret identity; it will take him right to Spider-Man. So, of course, he follows the tracker and sees Flash in the Spidey costume and, assuming he's the real Spider-Man, gasses him and captures him thinking he's captured the real deal. Pete just walks on home, completely unaware of a prank gone wrong.

Dr. Doom immediately takes control of the television airwaves and gives the Fantastic Four one hour to face him before he kills Spider-Man. Peter Parker has no idea what's going on until Liz Allan calls him for help, asking if he's seen Flash and telling him about the planned prank.

Peter's reaction is a typical teenager's reaction.

That is unfettered glee! Ah, Peter. You always do the right thing. You consider not doing the right thing, because that's what happens when you get bullied, but you make the right choice in the end. I get it. It's why I relate.

Peter has to pull the master fuse to get Aunt May to let him out of the house, but he rushes to Flash's aid (using his spider-sense as a sonar again), and there's a great fight between Spidey and Doom. We're talking web columns and lasers and magnetic iron balls and heat rays and electrified floor traps (hey, it turns out Spidey's webbing conducts electricity really well) a Doombot and a disintegrator ray and some kind of blinding metal flakes and then finally just good old-fashioned punching before the Fantasticar shows up and Doom, not ready to face both Spider-Man and the FF, flees the scene.

Spider-Man rushes off, too, and a very scared Flash is left to try and explain something to the Fantastic Four. Doesn't stop him from spinning his own tale about fighting Dr. Doom at school the next day, much to Peter's chagrin.

Ah, don't worry, Peter. Flash is at his peak. He's got a long, unfulfilling life to look forward to.

Great panel. Great story.

Stray observations:

:: J. Jonah Jameson has taken his hatred of Spider-Man back to television, sponsoring an editorial special about Spider-Man and "the menace that he is."

:: Important development: Peter and Jonah's secretary, Betty Brant, are pretty clearly attracted to one another. Let's see where this leads, shall we?

:: I love the banter Spidey keeps up with Doom, which is clearly pissing Doom off the entire time.

Doom: "You didn't expect a trap-door to open beneath your feet, did you?"
Spider-Man: "Say, I'll be you'd be a wow at a Coney Island fun house!"

He also calls Doom "rattle-trap" and, of course, "laughing boy." Even when fighting Dr. freakin' Doom, Spidey keeps it up. I know your mileage may vary on Spidey's wisecracking, but I've always liked it. It's a teenager trying to make light of the situation he's in so that he doesn't feel his terror too deeply and give in to it. Plus, it really irritates a guy like Doom and makes him more prone to making mistakes out of frustration.

:: On page 12, just before Spidey finds where Doom is hiding Flash, Stan admits: "Let's face it! You've struggled through one of the longest introductions you've ever read! But we think you'll find it well worth it, because now the fireworks begin in earnest!" I love the way Stan keeps convincing the reader he's on their side.

I'm afraid I side with the fans who don't care for Ditko's take on the Fantastic Four, but I do really dig his Doom.

:: Dear spell check programs: it is 2014. This comic book came out 50 years ago. There has been a lot of science fiction since then. It is long past time for you to just standardize the spelling of "disintegrator" and recognize it as a word.

:: One of the letters is from Richard Cohen. That's not Richard Cohen from the Washington Post, is it? He's about the right age, and also from New York... be interesting to know that. There's also another letter from Jeddak editor Paul Moslander (his second issue in a row), and another from Steve Perrin, the future creator of RuneQuest; he suggests a love interest for Spidey who is related to J. Jonah Jameson (a daughter). David Coleman wants to start a Spider-Man Fan Club, which Stan gives his blessing to.

The biggest announcement in the letters page is that The Amazing Spider-Man is now a monthly title, which is excellent news. This and Fantastic Four are the ones I look forward to the most, so now I've got both of them monthly. I know I spend a lot of time on each issue, but hey, those comics are special.

(Also, there's an announcement that the next issue, Amazing Spider-Man #6, which is cover-dated November, will be on sale approximately August 8th. So just to give you some idea of the lag time between when the issues are printed and released, and the actual cover dates. So this "October" issue actually seems to have hit the stands in July!)

And speaking of the FF: next Marvels, they go back in time. Again. But to a different time period and of their own volition.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Martian

It hasn't all been bad news on the literary front. I mean, sure, I've been slogging through Fifty Shades of Grey in weekly installments since before Christmas, but I've also managed to read my share of good stuff.

One of those is Andy Weir's The Martian.

I just finished tearing through this a couple of hours ago. It's one hell of a suspenseful book, and a very readable one; it hooked me immediately and didn't let me go until the ride was over. Here's the opening:

I'm pretty much fucked.
That's my considered opinion.
Fucked.
Six days into what should be the greatest two months of my life, and it's turned into a nightmare.
I don't even know who'll read this. I guess someone will find it eventually. Maybe a hundred years from now.
For the record . . . I didn't die on Sol 6. Certainly the rest of the crew thought I did, and I can't blame them. Maybe there'll be a day of national mourning for me, and my Wikipedia page will say, "Mark Watney is the only human being to have died on Mars."
And it'll be right, probably. 'Cause I'll surely die here. Just not on Sol 6 when everyone thinks I did.
From there on, it's a race against time and depleting resources as Mark Watney, left behind by a NASA mission to Mars, tries to keep himself alive.

I've said this here before: science fascinates me, but I just don't have a head for it. Never have, never will. I've failed so many science courses in my life. When Neil deGrasse Tyson or Carl Sagan or Isaac Asimov is explaining it, I can follow along just fine, but I just can't work through a lot of it. (This is yet another reason why my childhood ambition to be an astronaut would never have worked out.) What I especially give Andy Weir credit for here is taking a hard science fiction premise that throws a lot of technical info at you and engages you as a reader. I didn't feel daunted reading about the details of orbital mechanics or rocket propellants or molecular processes. There's a lot of calculating being thrown at you here, but the combination of compelling story and conversational narrative compliment the intricacy of the science. The science drives the story; the character makes you give a damn about the science. (And hey, even Chris Hadfield praised the technical accuracy.)

I like that I'm seeing and now reading more space adventures that emphasize the realism of outer space itself. It's thrilling. It's not a deep novel about the existential meaning of our journey to the stars, and that's okay. It's a smart, exciting novel about what's involved in getting up there and, once we're there, surviving it.

It's outstanding fun. I dug it.

Song of the Week: "It's My Time to Fly"

Well, according to my records, the last time I had a song up from the Titan AE soundtrack was 2007, so I guess it's time for another one.

Songs for Becca #11. This seems to fit, because I absolutely love the movie Titan AE, and... well, actually, I have no idea if Becca likes the movie, also, or not... I'm never a hundred percent sure, probably because I just don't tend to expect people to dig the same things I do (and the internet is usually there with a troll or a hateboy to reinforce that). But I do know she really digs this song by the Urge, and I haven't heard it in a long time, so here it is.

She's out at C2E2 today, selling art and meeting Jamie Murray and putting a lot of effort into her art career. I'm really proud of her and what she's doing; I've never really been that good at pursuing anything I wanted to pursue. I admire her resolve, because I see her every day and I know it's not always easy for her. That's a major part of why I'm in therapy: so I can get better and support her better, because really I'd rather make it as easy as possible for her to run down her dreams than do anything else. That's why I'm trying really hard--and actually succeeding--at containing a lot of anxiety reactions this weekend. I have problems, stemming from childhood neglect and my anxiety disorder, being alone here for very long periods of time. This weekend (including Friday), she's left before I get up and gotten home around 10 at night. That's a long time to be alone for me. But I'm actually dealing with it. I'm doing okay. And I feel good about it, because Becca doesn't have to come home after a long, good, successful day to a basket case in her living room.

So this song is for both of us, because we're both doing so great this weekend. Father, be with me tonight... I'm right on target... keep the dream alive. Both of us.