Saturday, June 07, 2014

Marvels: Fantastic Four #20

"The Mysterious Molecule Man!" by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers
(November 1963)

Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later, but the Molecule Man is the first Fantastic Four villain that I don't find particularly menacing or interesting. I can't quite put my finger on what it is about this issue that doesn't work for me. It's a solid issue of a great comic, and Stan & Jack aren't holding back; the quality of their workmanship is as high as we've come to expect. But for some reason I can't really identify, the issue just feels a little... routine.

Am I just complaining about getting too much of a good thing? Have Stan & Jack set the bar so high that just meeting the bar is no longer enough for me? I'm not sure. I'm tempted to blame how boring I find the Molecule Man, but I'm not entirely sure it's just that. I wasn't a big fan of the Mad Thinker, either, but for the most part I enjoyed that issue.

Stan & Jack really try hard to sell us on the grave threat of the Molecule Man, too. So dire a threat to the survival of the universe is he that the Watcher, though forbidden is he to interfere in the affairs of other planets, actually contacts the Fantastic Four to warn them. (Note that this is the second time we've seen the Watcher, and the second time he's interfered.)

He tells them that the Molecule Man was a lab technician who was injured in a nuclear accident. (Funny how "injure" is not usually among the list of words you hear associated with a nuclear accident. Or "survivor," for that matter.) After his accident, the Molecule Man was left with the ability to "control every molecule in the universe."

At least, that's how they try to build this guy up. And he cuts a menacing figure at first, standing at the front of the Baxter Building as he makes it float over Times Square, declaring himself ruler of humankind. He can bend the molecules of everything around him to his will, rearranging the molecules in them to handily defeat the Fantastic Four in battle, sending them into retreat. But he's not done there: he wants the FF brought to him so badly that he encases all of New York City in glass, demanding that the FF be found.

The thing about all of this is, we've seen it before. This is pretty much the same stuff that the Impossible Man did back in Fantastic Four #11, only played as a menace rather than for laughs. The fans generally hated the Impossible Man (personally, I love the guy), and I can't help but feel that Stan has taken the seed of the idea (guy with reality-bending powers) and turned it into something serious. Honestly, maybe a little too serious.

The way the Fantastic Four defeat the Molecule Man only leaves me with questions, too. They make their way to Alicia Masters' apartment and pretend to be statues, luring in the Molecule Man and defeating him because, apparently, the Molecule Man can't control organic molecules. Maybe I've been listening to too much Star Talk Radio lately, but that doesn't sound right to me. I mean, if he can control all molecules, does it matter if they're part of an organic compound or not? You're talking about a guy with the power to reshape matter here. And then the Molecule Man seems to just not realize that there are other substances all over the apartment that he could manipulate to defend himself. I mean, earlier in the issue we saw him make ice out of air.

And really, all Reed does is knock the guy over and take his wand, disarming him so that the Watcher can pop in, grab the Molecule Man, and drag him away. So, the Fantastic Four didn't really defeat the Molecule Man so much as distract him so that a superior being could pull him into some kind of vortex.

And is the wand the real source of the Molecule Man's power? Without it, he seems defenseless. But if the nuclear accident gave him those powers, why does he need a wand at all? Or, if he has a wand that can reshape matter, why have him get in a nuclear accident, when he could have accidentally invented it? And if that's so dangerous, why does the Watcher leave the wand with Reed?

I haven't been this weirded out and frustrated by the end of a Fantastic Four issue since Reed hypnotized the Skrull agents into believing they were cows.

Stray observations:

:: Reed is excited to find a dehydrated acorn in a meteorite he's studying: "This proves some form of life must exist in outer space!" You mean like the Watcher? Or the Impossible Man? Or the Skrulls? Let's not go pissing ourselves over this acorn thing just yet.

:: The first fight between the FF and the Molecule Man is engagingly weird, though, particularly a scene where the Thing ducks into a sewer and the Molecule Man wraps him up by bending and re-shaping sewer pipes.

:: The NYPD gives up faster than the FF do. The Molecule Man raises a shield of bulletproof glass up out of nothing one time, and a cop immediately goes to "Our own weapons are useless to us!"

:: The Fantastic Four have been brought so low that they have to ride the subway.

This is the kind of goofy touch that makes me truly love this comic.

:: While hiding in New York, the FF are helped by members of the Yancy Street Gang. (Shadowed, of course.)

:: The letters page is full of praise for Doctor Doom. There's another letter from Richard Cohen, and once again I wonder if it's Richard Cohen from the Washington Post. That's two letters now. Someone find him and ask if he had letters published in Fantastic Four #20 and Amazing Spider-Man #5. One letter is from a Fantastic Four fan club and signed by its secretary, future Marvel Comics writer, artist and Editor-in-Chief Mark Gruenwald!

Okay, then.

There's also a letter from Bayonne, New Jersey's own George R.R. Martin, who dryly, sardonically appreciates FF #17.

:: In the special announcements, Stan hawks every one of the Marvel books, particularly a surprise appearance by Golden Age character Captain America (with a twist), announces the first-time teaming of Steve Ditko and Don Heck on the next Iron Man story, and promises a special guest star in the next issue of Fantastic Four. And it's a darn good one, too.

I feel like a right bastard calling this my least favorite issue of Fantastic Four so far, but something about it doesn't quite connect with me. Nonetheless, it's better than just about any of the current Marvel books (although I think Amazing Spider-Man has it equaled.)

Next Marvels: Thor is still angry, still needs things to punch.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

I Miss Roger Ebert

This trailer for the upcoming documentary Life Itself makes me miss him a little more. Can't wait to see the movie.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

U Is for Ugly

When I was being tormented by the other kids, they used to tell me how ugly I was. Nothing annoys a bully more than not having an effect on you, so when I would sing this song back at them, they were beautifully frustrated.

The Muppets have an answer for everything.

ABC Wednesday

Film Week

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

It's a pretty, nice fantasy film. There are a lot of great aspects to it, and Angelina Jolie is really good and into the role, but as I was watching it, I was restructuring the story and thinking of ways it could have been done better. I don't hate it at all, and I'll probably watch it a dozen times on cable, but it's done in such a straightforward manner that the audience pretty much knows everything that's going to happen long before it does. It doesn't unfold in an interesting way that's as engaging as it could be. Good aspects? Love the creatures, love Jolie's performance and makeup, Sam Riley is very likable, the effects are great, the story's sweet even if it's not especially compelling, some of the messages of the film (don't make decisions in anger, don't harm innocent people just to hurt someone who did something wrong, be careful who you trust, true love is much more than instant infatuation) are valuable messages. Also, Elle Fanning is beautiful and this is the closest I've gotten yet to her making a dark, weird, creature-laden Henson movie. Bad aspects? Sharlto Copely is a good, intense actor whose character becomes one-note as quickly as possible, the three pixies disappear into the film and aren't that interesting to begin with, the narration is ridiculous and unnecessary, and nothing that happens is much of a surprise. It's a mixed bag, but not an unpleasant one. And there's a dark rape metaphor that happens that the movie is very brave not to shy away from. But the conflict isn't there the way it could be, and everything is just a foregone conclusion, so it's like the movie just doesn't try very hard. There's no real dramatic tension. It could have been so much more, but it settled for what it is. Which, as I said, is nice. For what it is. ***

I was expecting a retread of what had been a surprisingly smart, clever and enjoyable first movie, but this one is almost as engaging. Where it really hits, though, is in the creativity of its designs and its living food-monsters. Charming as hell. ***1/2

Captivating, weird film about a man on vacation with his family at Walt Disney World. On the morning of the last day, he loses his job, and then begins experiencing disturbing visions and events. The big news about this movie was that it was shot guerrilla style at the actual theme park, which looks great in the black and white. It's really bizarre all the things that happen to the guy with the Happiest Place on Earth as a backdrop, and really adds to the strange feeling of the film. It's hard to describe, honestly, and I'm not sure it entirely works, but it's hard to look away from and definitely worth your time. Vivid and genuinely strange. ***1/2

Joss Whedon shot this in his home with some friends. As with most Shakespeare adaptations, I was more interested in the staging and the actors than in the story itself. In fact, I think it's probably to the detriment of the story that the setting is so modernized, because the sexual and marriage politics are so beyond outdated that it becomes kind of a drag watching nice people get in such a tizzy over someone's virginity. But it's well-shot and most of the actors are quite good. Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof, as Beatrice and Benedick, are both especially good in the roles. They're natural comics, but they give their words the weight of experience. Nathan Fillion is reliably funny as Dogberry; I loved his genuine woundedness at being called an ass. And Clark Gregg is impossible not to like. ***


Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Answers, Part VII

Here's the final round of answers. Before I begin, I want to thank everyone who asked a question. Thanks for everything!

The Pretentious Know It All asks: If you could greenlight a movie with endless resources and money, what movie would you greenlight? Basically--what do you want to see?

I want to see The Last Unicorn made in live action, but I wanted to see it with Christopher Lee in the role of King Haggard, and I'm not sure if he can still do it now. (I love that man, but considering his entire role in the first Hobbit was just sitting, it seems his health may have taken him out of the running.) If it were possible, that's what I'd love to see.

Kelly asks: Someone from some other place comes to you and says, "Take me to see the most awesome thing in Chicago." What do you take them to see?

I agonized over this one for a while. It's tempting to say Millennium Park, or Wrigley Field, or the Field Museum or my beloved Brookfield Zoo. But I think I'd have to go with something I did as a kid: the Chicago Architecture Cruise. You get on a boat and head up the north and south branches of the Chicago River and get a look at some of Chicago's magnificent architecture. My contention is that Chicago has America's prettiest buildings, so it's neat to see the place from the river and just gawk at the incredible architecture. The Lyric Opera building alone is amazing.

Roger asks: If you had a record of 30 years of not picking the Playmate of the Year, then finally picking one - see Dustbury - would you continue on or retire with the victory. And what's your record on these picks, if it's easily retrievable?

I think I'd retire with my win. I never predicted the outcomes here, but I did rank each year's Playmates just for myself for no real reason. Well, except that I used to love Playboy. I haven't done it the last few years because I don't read the magazine anymore. 2011 was the last year I did it. And I said later that I felt my 2010 rankings were wrong and I really should have put Claire Sinclair at the top.

(Incidentally, I also once ranked My 100 Favorite Playmates.)

Here are a pair of questions from New York Erratic. First: What is the worst movie you've ever seen? Really terrible; they'd-force-you-to-watch-it-on-repeat-in-Gitmo bad. What's the best "bad movie" - super awful but wonderfully awful. Piranhas II awful.

The worse movie I've ever seen is Peter Jackson's The Lovely Bones, which is just a bizarre and sick movie about how great it is to be dead, I guess? And how God's plan includes evil and the victims of tragic evil are happier now, or something? I don't usually find movies flat-out offensive, but I was offended by that one and by how the movie wanted us to feel that something poetic and deep was going on.

Honorable mention: that 1959 Mexican Santa Claus that they did on Mystery Science Theater 3000. I saw the movie before I saw the MST3K episode--someone actually loaned me the DVD and told me I should watch it because it was so bizarre--and it's not even bad in a way that you can laugh it. It is literally the death of all joy in the universe.

The best bad movie? That one is harder. There are a lot of movies that consistently make lists of the worst movies ever made that I actually really, really like. I don't consider them bad movies. I love them, even if they're silly. I'm trying to think of a movie that I enjoy because it's sublimely bad. Like the way people seem to love The Room (which I've never seen). Or, honestly, like how I dig High School Musical 2 even though because it's really bad. (Or basically the reason I watch Lifetime movies.)

Probably my favorite awful movie is The Crush with Alicia Silverstone and Cary Elwes. There's really no defending it: it's a bad, poorly made, terribly sexist movie about a crazy girl with a crush on an older man who gets all manipulative and possessive, and it is absolutely hilarious. It's just everything that is wrong with pop culture of the early 90s, and it is always, always hilarious. When I first moved here, it was on Encore constantly, and I watched it way too many times because it just cracks me up so hard with its over-the-top histrionics.

One more from NYE: What is your dream vacation? No rules on place/ time/ whether it's real.

It's still Disneyland. Everyone tells me Walt Disney World, but I want to see Walt's original. (Or, you know, what's left of it.) Trivia: Disneyland opened on my birthday, just 21 years earlier.

And another one more from NYE: What is the best thing that has happened to you in the past year?

Being the best man at my friends Carl and Kate's wedding. That was something that challenged me, that honestly scared me, and that I have to give myself some credit and say that I came through really, really well. It was a rewarding, enriching experience and I'm so glad that I did it. And I'm grateful to them for going out of their way to make me a part of it.

Well, that's it for the Answers posts! Thanks again for asking, and maybe we'll do this again next year!

Monday, June 02, 2014

David Lynch's Return of the Jedi

I've been watching Twin Peaks on Netflix. This just came around at the perfect time.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Song of the Week: "Summertime"

This time of year--specifically the month from late-May to late-June--is what I tend to think of as my favorite time of the year. Not sure why. Maybe I still associate it with those first weeks of freedom after school lets out. We used to go to visit the family in Des Moines and just relax. In fact, it was during one of those trips that I first heard this song. This video was on all the time for a bit, and it just creates this feeling of family, fun, and relaxation that I crave. Here's something that makes me feel old: this single was originally released 24 years ago, almost to the day. (It was May 20.) That means I was 14 when this came out. Damn.

Time to sit back and unwind. DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince.

Answers, Part VI

Roger has a question about politics: How would you define your politics, and what circumstances or which people most had an impact on this?

Considering how much I used to write about politics on this blog, I'm not really sure what they are anymore. I discussed my aversion to groups on a previous post, and it certainly holds true with political groupings. I used to consider myself a nascent social democrat, but Third Way policies really feel like just liberal capitalism to me. Really I'm more of a Bernie Sanders-style socialist.

There really aren't a lot of people I can point to who've had an impact on my politics specifically, although certainly fights for equality, civil rights movements, those have made an impression. When I see disenfranchisement and inequity, to me that's the same as bullying, which is the one thing I cannot abide. I also think a lot of the short-term-profit-driven policies we've got in place now are asinine and destructive.

What's really had the biggest impact on this is growing up bullied and seeing how people are treated. I grew up around casual racism, sexism and homophobia. I used to live in a fairly affluent area as a child; now I've lived in a barely-scraping-by sort of poverty--and this with mental disorders that have become a problem in the past couple of years--for some time. And in farm country, to boot. I know firsthand how our debt system is attempting to turn an entire generation of Americans into debt slaves with little hope of prosperity, and abandoning the elderly and needy. It's disgusting, and it makes me very angry at both our government and the amazing amount of complacency your average citizen has in favor of a limited amount of comfort.

It's hard for me to talk about, because I have a tendency to catastrophize everything as being "too late to really do anything about it."

Kelly also has a political question: Even given the fact that the Congressional opposition has made enacting his agenda far more difficult than it's been for most Presidents, how disappointed are you in President Obama? (I remember you were never particularly enamored of him.)

Yes, and that's what ultimately drove me away from the Democrats. I point out that Obama thinks unions are special interest groups and I find that problematic, and people start accusing me of being anti-Obama, because, you know, let's only criticize conservatives.

Even with the given of our obstructionist, do-nothing-to-prove-a-point crybaby Congress, I'm disappointed that President Obama has continued a lot of the Bush-era policies, particularly where foreign relations and war are concerned. Between his drone program, the warrentless wiretapping, and his treatment of whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning, I don't think he has his priorities straight. That's the nicest way I can say that. And I really don't want to say it nicely, but it's Sunday morning.

I am indebted for Obamacare, though. I was not for it initially, if you remember. I bought into a lot of the rhetoric about the economic impact, and that turned out to be wrong. And, of course, I still think it doesn't go far enough. But it's been nothing but a help to me for the last five months, and it's helped enormously to get my life somewhat back on track. Every time I hear some politician vowing to repeal it, I bristle. Some of us aren't going to be able to survive without it.

It's a mixed bag. That's the best I can say. I know Obama's better than the alternative, but to me, saying something could be worse is not saying something's actually good. But I didn't have huge expectations of him to now be disappointed by. I wasn't ever really pro-Obama as much as I was anti-McCain and anti-Romney.

One more question from Kelly, this one not about politics: Do you feel we're making progress in getting people to see depression as a real thing, as opposed to just something you can just "choose happy!" your way out of?

When I first started with therapy, it took me a very, very long time to get over the stigma of it. I grew up feeling like depression and anxiety weren't a real thing, and that really messed me up, because when I had issues with them, I really felt like something was just wrong with me as a human being. That I was bad. And I really felt like a lot of people in my life wouldn't be very understanding about it because this was probably the sort of thing you should keep to yourself. (Especially me, because of my belief of being insignificant; I felt guilty asking for help, having problems, or even acknowledging them.)

I was wrong on a lot of counts. My Mom actually understood pretty well. My Dad is very, very supportive, and I had actually expected him to be in the "depression's not real" camp. Looking back, I'm not sure why. I guess I've just always assumed I must be a disappointment.

I have dealt with the occasional "You're agoraphobic? You should go out more!" type of comment, which is well-meaning but not helpful. I think sometimes people want to be sympathetic but aren't sure of what to say. I think maybe having Obamacare in a lot of states now will potentially make it easier for people to seek help or even just become more educated. And I think the internet is doing a good job of making people understand what depression and anxiety are like. Also, the influx of veterans of our most recent military efforts seem to be more open about their experiences, rather than "manfully suffering in silence." There's more attention to mental disorders, and that demystifies them. So yes, I do think we're really making progress, especially among my generation and younger.

What I am disturbed by, however, is the increasing need among young people to romanticize these things. I always find it disconcerting. These are the same people who are Hannibal fans and trying to turn sociopathy and mental illnesses into fetishes. That's... that's messed up.