Saturday, May 10, 2014

Roosevelt Franklin Counts

Man, I love Roosevelt Franklin. This clip is interesting. It's from 1970, only the 68th episode (second season) of Sesame Street. This is before Matt Robinson softened and stylized Roosevelt's voice, so here he sounds smooth and baritone. Man, they never should have dumped this character (which prompted Robinson's departure from the show). This is the same tune (by Robinson & Joe Raposo) as "Roosevelt Franklin's Alphabet." The song also appears as the opening track to the fantastic album The Year of Roosevelt Franklin.

TV Report, Cancellations, Etc.

Well, this is a first. So far it looks like none of the shows I actually watch and enjoy are getting canceled. Maybe. I think. The fates of Parenthood and Nashville are up in the air, but, honestly, if Nashville got canceled, I wouldn't miss it. I liked it when it was a fun, silly soap opera with good music and the occasional, surprising emotional sincerity. The last third of this season has been so histrionic, all over the place, and desperate to go as over the top as possible that it wouldn't surprise me if next week's season finale involved Richard Mulligan getting abducted by aliens.

So, just renew Parenthood, NBC, and we'll be fine.

(And, honestly, even if Parenthood doesn't get renewed, it had a nice finale and I guess I'd be okay with it, particularly after last season's uneven quality. Maybe it should really be a 13-episodes-a-season show. It seemed more focused that way.)

UPDATE 1:08 PM: Nashville was just renewed for 22-episode third season. I'd rather have Parenthood, but this is nice. Still... your move, NBC.

:: One site listed Cosmos as "unlikely to be renewed." Was there a possibility of that happening? I thought it was supposed to be a limited series. Granted, my only disappointment with Cosmos is that it's not going to be one 55 episode season, but still, I thought it was just a one-shot deal, like the original, which is why I thought "unlikely to be renewed" was kind of amusing.

:: Speaking of stuff involving Seth McFarlane, have you seen the commercials for his new movie A Million Ways to Die in the West? Is the entire movie just going to be Seth McFarlane having broad, unfunny reaction shots to other things happening? That seems lazy even for him. Right now, it looks like Cuba Gooding Jr mugging his way through Lightning Jack. I guess you'll have to let me know, internet, since I don't plan on actually watching it ever.

:: I saw the pilot of NBC's Believe and I'm kind of amazed it made it to a second episode.

:: I feel a little bad for the people lamenting the cancellation of Almost Human. Why do science fiction fans keep going back to Fox and then reacting with surprise when genre shows are cancelled after a season or two? It's why I don't watch anything on Fox anymore. (Except Gordon Ramsey shows, which will run forever, because they're presumably cheap and easy to make. Hell's Kitchen... let's just say it's been on for a couple of months and I still can't remember to DVR it. Oh, and speaking of Hell's Kitchen, a recent episode featured an appearance in the dining room--a reaction interview to the food, really--by one of the contestants of last year's MasterChef Junior. I was surprised she wasn't identified as such; she's one of the only ones I remember, because they used her "Whip like a man!" moment on the promos so heavily. Did that show make so little impact that Hell's Kitchen couldn't bother to point it out?)

:: I'm glad to see Parks and Recreation got renewed for another final season. You watch, this is the year people will finally stop saying this is likely to be it's final season, and then it really will be.

:: Network TV also left me with Modern Family, Hannibal, Bob's Burgers, 2 Broke Girls, and two shows I watch pretty half-heartedly, Mom (still can't decide if I like it or just recognize aspects of it) and The Big Bang Theory, which, let's not get into it. Wow... is that really it for me and network TV? Huh.

And of course Agents of SHIELD. Boy, it's nice to see Bill Paxton in an enjoyable show after Big Love turned him into so much of an annoying weenie that I wasn't sure I ever wanted to see him in anything again. I'm also thrilled that Agent Carter got picked up. The important question here: how much is Dum-Dum Dugan going to be involved in it? Hm, and can they use any Invaders characters? Wouldn't mind seeing the original Human Torch on an episode. Can they use Betty Dean, or are those part of the Sub-Mariner rights over at Universal or wherever?

:: Have you seen the promos for Crossbones, the show about Blackbeard starring John Malkovich? Is the first episode going to be all about how he doesn't have a black beard? Or about how Blackbeard probably didn't make it to 40 before he was killed, and Malkovich is way too old for the role? Are we addressing that? Is it too early to start mockingly calling him Lackbeard without having seen one episode that might explain this premise? Will I watch it at all, since it's about pirates and from Luther creator Neil Cross? Stay tuned. Or don't. I have no idea yet.

:: Enjoying Bad Teacher. Judge me all you want.

EDIT 5/11: Cancelled. Not surprising. But I do get to lust after Ryan Hansen for a few more weeks.

:: None of the new network pick-ups sound especially interesting to me yet, except for the Casey Wilson sitcom because Casey Wilson, but it's so hard to tell from the always-terribly-written network write-ups. I'll wait until I start seeing some promos in the late summer.

Not much else to say, so... here's a picture of an elephant holding a flower.

And also a reminder that you can Ask Me Anything. The first answer post will come next Saturday.

Peace, love and Vanessa Hudgens.

Friday, May 09, 2014

Marvels: Tales of Suspense #46

"Iron Man Faces the Crimson Dynamo!" by Stan Lee, Robert Bernstein & Don Heck
(October 1963)

I don't know much about the Crimson Dynamo. Is he Iron Man's arch-villain? (Remember, I've not read much in the way of Iron Man.) I ask because, throughout the 80s and 90s and onward, there seemed to always be talk of an Iron Man movie. (Remember back when Tom Cruise was going to play Iron Man?) Crimson Dynamo was the villain I most heard people bring up as the probable villain for the movie, after everyone dismissed the Mandarin for being too problematic.

So this is the first appearance of the Crimson Dynamo, the Soviet Union's answer to Iron Man. It's an interesting idea to give Tony Stark a villain who is basically the opposite version of Stark. (We know it's an interesting idea because each Iron Man movie did this--Obadiah Stane, Justin Hammer and Aldrich Killian were all like Tony with less brilliance and more greed.) This is Professor Anton Vanko, who has created an electric-powered version of the Iron Man suit and, after demonstrating its capabilities to the reader and to a very nervous, paranoid Nikita Khrushchev, heads to the US to begin sabotaging Stark Industries.

To make a short story shorter, Vanko does so great a job of secretly sabotaging Stark (for weeks, according to the narration) that rumors start in Washington, DC, that Stark is working with a communist spy ring to deliberately wreck America's defense experiments. Tony is certainly in danger of losing all of his government contracts. When he's at the end of his rope, the Crimson Dynamo drops in and, for the first time in the history of this character, it's armor vs. armor.

Unfortunately, the Crimson Dynamo's electrified armor sounds better than it is. If he wants to melt tanks and destroy rockets, it's great, but Iron Man counters it pretty simply with an electric force field and then simply dangles Dynamo over the water and threatens to drop him in. So, the Crimson Dynamo built a suit that could electrocute itself... imagine if it had rained!

Iron Man then plays a recording for Dynamo: it's Khrushchev, ordering Vanko's execution upon his return to the USSR. Then and there, Vanko agrees to defect to America and work for Stark. He doesn't even question the recording--which, it turns out, is merely Stark imitating Khrushchev's voice--"because he knows how treacherous communists are!"

The funny thing is, the story had already set up that Khrushchev was suspicious and wary of Vanko's power in the suit, and Vanko has thought that, as a national hero, he could perhaps replace Khrushchev as Soviet premier. So, those feelings were already there... but rather than play on those, Bernstein decides to go for pure jingoism and have Vanko realize the error of his ways.

It was 1963, man.

Stray notes:

:: Khrushchev isn't named, though he appears for four pages and in the final panel (vowing revenge on Iron Man). I did enjoy the way Bernstein's script asked if we recognized "the Mr. Big of the Iron Curtain."

Khrushchev is getting to be quite a fixture in the Marvel Universe.

:: Seriously, how do people not know that Tony Stark is Iron Man? The USSR wants Vanko to both destroy Iron Man and sabotage Stark Industries. Even in Russia, they're associating Stark and Iron Man. And after that business with the Actor, they probably have good reason to. When Vanko decides it's time to fight Iron Man, he goes right to Stark's main plant. Enough with the mystery.

:: Happy: "I gave up the ring because I didn't want to hurt anybody!" Pepper: "Anybody named Happy Hogan, you mean!"

:: According to Marvel Wiki, the unnamed politician who suspects Stark is a communist agent is Senator Harrington Byrd in his first appearance. That name doesn't register with me, but I suppose we'll see where this goes.

This was an alright issue. I mean, it's still not doing much for me, but I thought the cartoonish depiction of Khrushchev was funny and the Crimson Dynamo was interesting (and looked neat). There was a lot of potential there for a villain who was very similar to Iron Man himself, but I feel like this is another instance where giving Iron Man an entire issue rather than 13 pages would have really helped.

Next time: Ant-Man stops fighting scientists, geniuses, mystics, aliens, and thieves and finally gets a real super-villain.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Why Not Ask Me Anything?

Alright, well... I'm going to do an Ask Me Anything. Since I'm not reading Fifty Shades anymore and, well, I'm not doing anything, really, I'm going to just put this out here: Ask Me Anything.

Roger got the ball rolling on this post, so I'm just going to call for questions. Ask me anything, people. Anything you want. Anything you ever wanted to know about me, were curious about, or demand an answer for, go ahead and leave your question here in the comments of this post or email me at samuraifrog@yahoo.com with the subject line "Ask Me Anything." Let me know in the email if you'd like to remain anonymous or anything like that.

I don't anticipate much response to this. But any topic is fair game. My disorders, my beliefs, my politics, my fetishes, my favorite Muppet: it's all up for discussion. Polite questions would be nice, but we'll see what happens. I'll answer them. If I get a good amount, I'll start answering questions as thoughtfully as I can on May 17, a week from Saturday. This way you guys can have time to think of something, anything, and I can consider them thoughtfully and not get reactionary and defensive.

Let's see how this goes.

And hey, if you can't think of anything to ask or just aren't into it, no worries. Just trying this thing out.

Cicada Princess

Lyrical and haunting, this animated short talks of cicadas and their short lives in a sweeping, grand, romantic way. Narrated by Stephen Fry, directed by Mauricio Baiocchi.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Q Is for Qualms, Queasiness and Questions

I've seen him tell this story in other places, but I like the way he tells it here. It's like he still can't believe he got to meet his hero.


I like what he says right at the end there, about his responsibility to be similarly encouraging to students. That means a lot to me.

I have qualms about meeting my heroes, or really any kind of celebrity, or, honestly, any person at all.

What got me in mind of this was this Buzzfeed post comparing the meet-and-greets of Rihanna and Avril Lavigne. Now, I don't think paying to meet someone famous entitles you to touch them or is a guarantee that you're even going to be treated in a personable manner. But that's kind of why I would never pay $400 just to meet a person.

I don't place a premium on meeting celebrities for a number of reasons. First and foremost is probably that schema of mine that I'm always, every time, bothering a person or imposing on them. I don't like to do that. I've had a number of nice celebrity encounters. I've talked before about how surprisingly warm and conversational Claudia Christian and Cynthia Rothrock were when I met them at conventions. You know who's really nice? Harlan Ellison. That was different from what I was told to expect. He's sharp and cantankerous, but when I met him at a convention, he was very cool with everyone as long as you didn't purposely try to antagonize him by purposely asking something stupid.

When I met Brinke Stevens, I was too dazzled by being in the presence of Brinke freaking Stevens to try and talk to her. (One person in her line actually hugged her; I have no idea where that kind of thing comes from.)

What I'm saying is, some people are nice in these situations. Lots of them are. I've seen Clive Barker, exhausted, make sure to shake everyone's hand as they pass by. I've seen Ted Raimi, beyond burned out, not stop until everyone in the room has gotten his autograph. There are people who go above and beyond.

But I have qualms a lot of the times. I had a friend who was surprised when I expressed no interest in meeting Hayden Panettiere, who I like on TV, at a convention. Why? Because all I could think was, damn, if I meet her and she's bitchy or indifferent, I'll assume she was having a bad day (unless she's outright rude), but I'll also feel bad and awkward and I'll never watch my season 1 DVDs of Heroes again because, well, that's what I'm going to remember. And who needs that?

(And for what it's worth, I did see a picture of her at that convention shaking hands with a fan and then frantically wiping Purell on her hands. I thought that was a little unfair; if you're touching a lot of strange hands in one day, you need Purell. I was constantly using that stuff when I was teaching. But because I jump right to "I'm a disgusting excuse for a human being," that's what I thought of first.)

Like I said, I have qualms about meeting anyone new. It makes me queasy. So queasy that sometimes I have to lock myself in a bathroom. I talked back in August about how I was so nervous meeting Carl's then-fiancee (now wife) Kate that I was having a panic attack on the way to have dinner with them. I had no rational reason for feeling that way; I'd never even met her before. But Carl's been my best friend since I was a kid, and me being me, all I could think of was that she'd just hate me upon meeting me. Like I said at the time: that's an unfair judgment, because that's based a hundred percent on my anxiety. (And Kate is super sweet and we got along great and they inspired me to write, if I do say so myself, one hell of a wedding toast. She's pretty amazing. Carl's my brother, so Kate's my sister now, and I'm very happy about that.)

That's my schema to deal with: that my existence is at best irrelevant to people and at worst a true annoyance.

I always want to do one of those Ask Me Anything series that Jaquandor and Roger do every year, but I figure no one cares to know anything and I'll get no questions, which I'll irrationally take more or less as confirmation that people just aren't interested. Keep in mind, I know that there are going to be people that just won't have anything to ask or won't be able to think of anything. I know this because when Jaquandor and Roger do theirs, I can almost never think of anything to ask them. I'm that bad at conversation. But I also "know," if you take my meaning, that no one's into it. That's my bias against myself combined with the fact that fewer people are reading blogs. Read about it here.

I have qualms about meeting people. It makes me queasy. And I have qualms about the queasiness itself, which makes me queasy all over again, which is basically the cycle of anxiety. So the questions go unasked and unasked for.

I'll say this: doing these posts is a great way to analyze yourself.

My point before was this: when you meet someone, you have the power to put them at ease, or at least be polite. That's something people will remember forever. But you also have the power to make them feel awkward and annoying, and they'll remember that, too. That's happened to me. That's happened to everyone.

So, you know... you don't have to hug anyone. But that Avril Lavigne thing didn't surprise me, because I've heard a lot of stories from people who met her--at events specifically set up for fans to meet her--that were a lot worse than just awkward photos.

Be kind. To yourselves, and to each other.

But I might need time to build up courage to meet you.

If I'm dying and can get one of those Make-a-Wish things, though--which I probably can't, because I'm 37, and dying kids deserve all of the wishes--I just want to meet Kermit the Frog. Or Taylor Swift. They're both good people.

ABC Wednesday

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Marvels: Strange Tales #113

"The Coming of Plantman!" by Stan Lee, Jerry Siegel & Dick Ayers
(October 1963)

Jerry Siegel's second and final issue of Strange Tales dumps the incredible amount of dialogue of the previous story in favor of a simpler set-up, a lot of plant puns, and teen angst. This issue's villain is Plantman, a former gardener who has invented a device to amplify the IQ of plants; when the device is hit by lightning, he is able to bring plants to sentience and turn them into his slaves. Mainly he uses them to rob his former employer and annoy the Human Torch.

Plantman's former employer, however, is the rich father of Johnny Storm's new girlfriend, which is more or less how they cross paths. The story balances out the superheroics with Johnny's burgeoning relationship with Doris Evans.

Doris is an unusual girl for Johnny to take an interest in. She's haughty and snooty, but she's also completely unimpressed by his career as the Human Torch. That alone makes it surprising that he would date her at all, because the one thing we know for a fact that Johnny craves is adoration. She doesn't want him flaming on around her, and--indignity of indignities--she even makes him drive the speed limit! Johnny doesn't know if she really likes him for him, or is putting on a show "so I'll think she's different from the other babes."

Nevertheless, he intervenes when Plantman frames Doris' father as a thief. He finds Plantman causing, the author assures us, pandemonium in Central Park. (Actually, he's just making a tree throw a cop around and causing poison ivy to jump out at people.) The fight scene is... well, here's a brief play by play:

Plantman whirls a bunch of leafs at Johnny to annoy him, then makes a tree uproot itself to fall on Johnny (it misses), then puts out his flame with damp seaweed (in the middle of Central Park), drops a bunch of acorns on him, and then attempts to dump a vat of water (that appears out of nowhere) on Johnny, which is apparently his big finishing move. Guys, it's not like Johnny's allergic to water. It's not like acid. He can still fight if he's wet, he just can't burst into flames. (Oh, Johnny: take a self-defense class, okay? Also, you're made of flames and you're fighting a guy who controls kindling. Think it through, man.)

Johnny sends up one last fireball, which makes the plants start to dry out, so they revolt and break Plantman's little device, no longer sentient or under his control. Plantman escapes and vows revenge, which is almost... I mean, it was kind of adorable that he really thought he was some kind of a super villain because he could throw acorns and leaves at the Human frigging Torch.

Come back, Paste Pot Pete! All is forgiven!

Other observations:

:: In this issue, we're asked to believe that a plant leaf can enter a keyhole, take the shape of the key, and turn the lock, all without ripping itself to shreds. Also, be careful, because if you open your wall-safe in front of a flower too many times, it will remember your combination and be able to open the safe itself.

:: After Johnny's first confrontation with Plantman--in which he makes tree roots grab the Torch and hold him down--Johnny decides it would be better not to tell anyone (including, ostensibly, his super-scientist friend Reed Richards, who does shit like this as a hobby) because they might think he's crazy. Johnny, baby... have you been paying attention to your own career? I mean, what's weirder--sentient plants or a Super-Skrull?

:: Plantman is really, really optimistic about what he's going to be able to do with his new power. There are billions and billions of plants, so "Today, Earth! Tomorrow, the stars!!" That's... wow, that's delusional. I mean, the first time an army comes in with a flamethrower and a plow, what's your next play? Ain't no plants on the moon, pard!

:: This issue's artist--and the artist or inker on many of the 87 issues of Marvel Comics I've talked about before (and many others besides and yet to come) is Dick Ayers. Sadly, Mr. Ayers passed away two days ago. Craig Yoe and Steven Thompson have a nice tribute to him here. I've been enjoying his work immensely for the last few months, and I thank him for that.

Next time: the Soviets' own version of Iron Man.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Song of the Week: "DuckTales"

Saturday Morning Slow Jams with a nice and easy rendition of probably my favorite cartoon theme song of all time. Seriously, I sometimes gauge future friendships by how much of a Duck fan you are. POW!GRL on vocals. Love this. Love it.