Friday, June 13, 2014

Marvels: Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos #4

"Lord Ha-Ha's Last Laugh!" by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & George Roussos
(November 1963)

Lord Ha-Ha is Percy Hawley, a member of the British aristocracy who is broadcasting anti-British propaganda from a radio station in Berlin. A Nazi collaborator, he specifically taunts the Howling Commandos in every broadcast at the behest of the SS. Their aim is to get Fury and his men so damn angry that they'll attempt to infiltrate Germany, where they can be captured. And it nearly works, too...

The actual reason Fury's squad heads after Lord Ha-Ha is that his father, Lord Peter Hawley, believes that his son has been brainwashed into helping the enemy, and entreats the US Army to get his son back.

My disappointment this issue is that after the Howlers parachute into Germany, they disguise themselves as circus performers, and it only lasts for two pages. Two wonderful pages, but I would have loved to see an entire issue of this. What can I say? I love the circus. (Dum-Dum must love it, too; this is the first issue so far where he doesn't make a single crack about his wife. Figure he must be in a good mood.)

When Fury and his men recover Percy Hawley, it turns out he's not brainwashed at all, but a true believer in the Nazi cause. While the Commandos are holed up in a seaside house at Bremerhaven, waiting for their extraction rendezvous, Percy attempts to signal a passing Nazi tank brigade, but is killed in the confusion. There's a firefight, and a man goes down.

Junior Juniper is cut down in battle. And he's dead. This isn't a Marvel death, this is for real. It's interesting how his death is treated. On the one hand, you can tell the men feel terrible about the loss. Junior was the youngest and the most innocent member of their squad. On the other hand, he went down fighting against the Nazis, and that's heroic. There's a moment to mourn and a moment to celebrate, before Izzy Cohen brings us back to reality and the dangers of wartime with a bitter "We're all expendable!"

On his return to Britain, Nick Fury finds himself in the position of delivering the news of Percy's death to his sister, Pamela Hawley. Earlier in the issue, Nick and Pamela had met during an air raid; she's a Red Cross nurse. They're clearly developing feelings for one another, so Nick decides to lie and tell her that her brother died a hero. Better a pleasing lie than a hurtful truth.

Stray observations:

:: This issue's bold inker is George Roussos, credited here as G. Bell. He started in comics in 1939, and assisted Jerry Robinson on Batman inks. He worked all over the Golden Age map, from National to Timely to Lev Gleason, Avon, Hillman, Fiction House and EC. Marvel's colorists aren't being credited at this time, but he's said he often colored the issues he inked. I don't know Marvel's history of coloring; was it in-house at the time? Do we have Roussos to thank for giving us the first issue of Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos where Gabe Jones is African-American the whole way through? He became Marvel's full-time colorist in 1972.

:: Lord Ha-Ha is based on a series of propagandists who broadcast out of Hamburg during World War II. They were all called Lord Haw Haw.

:: Nick Fury's one weakness...
...social gatherings.

A breezy issue of Sgt. Fury. It's not quite the rollicking riot the first three issues were, but it's found its routine and is now, it seems, going to explore the characters a tiny bit. At least, they've given Nick Fury a love interest, and we've experienced a painful death. How those will affect the book going forward, I guess we'll see. And I can't wait for more. In the current Marvel stable, I'd say this is my third favorite series after Fantastic Four and The Amazing Spider-Man.

Next: the returns of Dr. Strange and... Captain America?

Thursday, June 12, 2014

V Is for Volatile

I had an honest-to-goodness breakthrough with my therapy this week. It's a mixed bag, honestly. I feel both good and bad about it.

It happened because I've been doing group therapy on Mondays. It's a group to develop awareness, which is supposed to teach me various methods to calm myself and be more present-focused, and it's been very interesting. I'm surprised by what works for me and what doesn't. But doing guided mediation and being more calm made me realize exactly how and when all of my issues started, and probably the most surface reason that I can't ever relax.

Unsurprisingly, it's all left over from my sister's death. Ellen died in 2006 at the age of 13 after a yearlong fight with bone cancer. I've never really gotten comfortable with that. I honestly thought I had, but I really realize now that I just forced myself to think that. I have a lot of feelings of guilt from it that I've never faced.

The biggest issue for me is that ever since I was a child I've believed the "fact" of my own insignificance. I live my life with the deep, ingrained belief that people don't like me, even--or maybe especially--those closest to me. When those beliefs are challenged to harshly, I get angry and scared. And what comes down to is my inability to reconcile the fact that she's dead and that I'm not. Why should I be alive--insignificant me--and she not be? Her death was the last in a series; within a six-year period, I lost my grandmother, three aunts, an uncle, and then Ellen. It just got harder and harder to take. And after that, I was burying my feelings and running from them, and that feeling of guilt added to all of the other issues in there and made it impossible for me to slow down or to let myself feel good for very long.

There's a lot going on with me. In my mind, there's a big ol' mountain that's just my issues. This thing is really the looming, volatile storm cloud hovering at the top. Realizing this didn't give me closure or cause those feelings to go away, but those feelings are at last truly acknowledged and ready to be examined, and just that step has helped me immensely. So I still feel bad because I haven't worked through it, but I'm happy that I was finally able to stop running from this and recognize it.

You know what kind of scares me? Looking back at my life, it seems kind of... obvious. If that's the top layer, what's further along that I can't really remember?

The reason I didn't write this yesterday is that I suddenly got very, very sick and had a panic attack. This one was scary, because I'm not really sure what triggered it. There is a lot going on right now.

1. My therapist is leaving the mental health center I go to. She started as my case manager and then, in January, when my original therapist left the center, she became my therapist. Now I have to transition again, for the second time in a year, and I'm nervous about it because I've never even met this person before. I don't want it to set me back; I know how I can shut down and I'm trying hard to process this. When my first therapist left, I thought I was okay with it, but then I had a violent panic attack on my final day with her that was debilitating. I can't do that again, and even though I'm aware of the possibility, I'm scared of it happening. (Which is part of what anxiety is: fear of the feelings associated with fear.)

2. That whole thing this week with Feedly not working. I know the issues, but it threw off my whole day yesterday. Technology not working the way it's supposed to is a surprisingly huge trigger for my anxiety, but I was okay with it. This morning I was just annoyed and started looking into other RSS readers, but for the most part I've been patient with it. A couple of pissy posts on Facebook rather than yelling about it.

3. I'm worried about having a giant spin-out in the next month or two because of my terror over my student loans. I haven't started paying them back. I can't work. My weekly salary is zero dollars with no benefits. I can't defer them anymore, though, so I'm a little overwhelmed at the thought of going into default. There seem to be programs available to help, and I'm terrible at tackling things like that, so my case manager is going to meet with me tomorrow so we can go through them together. I'm feeling a bit better about it already; at least someone will be able to explain what I can't understand because of my focus problems.

4. Also, I just had to work out a giant thing with my W-2's from when I was a substitute teacher. There's someone out there with the same name as me, and I've had problems with him before. Well, turns out that my W-2's had his social security number on them and not mine because of a clerical error. No one noticed, including me, him, payroll, social security or the IRS, because it was never enough money to turn heads. I paid taxes on them, yes, so everything's square, but social security needs me records. It was just a big... thing, but it got taken care of and I'm not mad about it. It's actually kind of funny.

So I'm not sure why I panicked so badly yesterday, but it was huge. My wife and I were just watching an I Love Lucy rerun and eating dinner, and then I couldn't stop eating for some reason. I didn't feel full, but I was tired of eating, but I couldn't stop, and then it started to hurt, and then I was crying and crying. I took a Xanax and talked about what I was feeling, but I don't know what triggered it, and that kind of bothers me. It's that thing I said before--what's down there that I don't know about? Did something just hit me the wrong way? Was it just this feeling of unease that I have? More far-fetched, did sitting there and watching old reruns the way I always did as a kid just somehow re-create the feelings of being neglected, abused and terrorized from back when I was a child?

It scared me. I spent the next hour willing myself not to vomit. It worked. I calmed down soon enough, but I felt grim for a while. And my stomach ached for hours.

I haven't felt this volatile in a while, and I hate it happening now, during my favorite time of year (the late spring and early summer, before July rolls around and my irrational guilty feelings about my birthday resurface).

Therapy is a mixed bag. It takes a long time to understand why you're holding yourself back and when you finally do, it's not easy to face. And this is just one aspect. It's better than feeling that way the rest of your life. But the hardest thing I've ever done is getting to know who I am, and why.

ABC Wednesday

Pinnipèdes

A wonderful animated short featuring a couple of elephant seals. I'd love to see more like this with other animals from these same people. No narrative, no songs, just a series of behavioral vignettes. This is nicely done.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Film Week

I'm really having a hard time today mentally/emotionally, so here are the basics.

GENTLEMAN'S AGREEMENT (1947) ***1/2

EAU DE MINNIE (2014) Love that it was branded in the Minnie Mouse series. ****

THE SECRET SEX LIFE OF A SINGLE MOM (2014) Loved that it was so sex-positive, and very surprised as it was a Lifetime movie. Understands the emotional and psychological dynamics of the Dom/sub relationship far, far better than Fifty Shades of Grey. ***

Sorry to truncate this, but it is a rough day today. Here's a sexy picture of Joe Manganiello.

Later.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Marvels: Journey Into Mystery #98

"Challenged by the Human Cobra" by Stan Lee & Don Heck
(November 1963)

This one picks up right after the last issue, when Jane Foster left Dr. Don Blake to go work for a rival, out of frustration for, apparently, Blake's unwillingness to sexually harass her and use his position of authority over her to intimidate her into a date. I know, I know, different times. Anyway, Blake is devastated, and has turned into Thor so he can take out his frustrations on the office, beating the shit out of a file cabinet with his magic hammer. He's so pissed, he somehow loses facial integrity and turns into Nicolas Cage.

Oh, welcome new penciler-inker Don Heck. (Sorry, that was meant to be jokey and sounded mean.)

Odin is so touched by Thor's temper tantrum that he calls Thor to Asgard and tries to talk to him gently, but at Odin's suggestion that Thor try to forget Jane, Thor angrily turns his back and walks away. As Dr. Blake, he decides it's time to take a vacation to ease his mind, and books a flight to Bombay, India.

But let's be honest: Thor doesn't need a vacation. What Thor needs is a villain to pummel, and Stan provides us with one: Dr. Klaus Voorhees. He's working in India as the assistant to Professor Shecktor. Jealous that Shecktor is getting all the credit for their discoveries, he attempts to kill Shecktor with a cobra and make it look like an accident. His plan is to let the cobra bite him, too, and then take the snakebite cure he and Shecktor have just invented so that he lives and Shecktor dies.

As chance has it, Shecktor and Blake are old friends, so Blake decides to investigate his accident as Thor. Shecktor explains that he had been experimenting on the cobra, which means that he and Klaus Voorhees were both bitten by a radioactive cobra. Klaus took the antidote, so somehow the combination of all those factors have given him cobra powers. Just like Spider-Man, but somehow more convoluted and arbitrary!

Thor rushes back to America, where Klaus, now calling himself the Cobra, has gone. He's had time to make himself not only a costume, but weapons, including a dart launcher that fires envenomed darts, smoke bombs filled with deadly "cobra gas," and an unbreakable "cobra-cord" that he can wrap around his villains, emulating a completely different kind of snake. So far, the Cobra's "powers" are a bunch of weapons that he's designed and implemented in an astoundingly short amount of time. Also, he can stick to walls, like Spider-Man and has super-speed.

After evading Thor, the Cobra ends up at the offices of Dr. Bruce Andrews, where Jane Foster has started working. This twist is so obvious that Stan even lampshades it in the captions with "Yes, you guessed it! Of all the doctors in the sprawling city of New York..." He needs serums for something or other. Dr. Andrews, terrified, does what the Cobra says, leading Jane to denounce him as a coward and laud Dr. Blake, who "although he is lame and un-glamorous," is a better man than this guy, who is (it should be noted) practicing medicine while wearing a tuxedo.

Thor shows up and saves Jane from the Cobra, but the Cobra escapes. The important thing, though, is that Jane leaves Dr. Andrews' employ and returns to Dr. Blake's office. "We're together again, and that's all that matters!"

Okay, then.

Stray observations:

:: I like how big Don Heck draws the wings on Thor's helmet. Very Fritz Lang.

:: Yet another new outfit for clotheshorse Odin:

He looks like he just got back from the Battle of Verdun.

:: Professor Shecktor looks exactly like the Porcupine.

Makes sense: they were both drawn by Don Heck at about the same time. But I kind of wish they'd used that to cross the characters over or deepen the Porcupine. (Interestingly, the Porcupine, if you remember, had the same motivation: he was frustrated that he didn't get credit for his inventions. I'm surprised the Cobra didn't use the Marvel villain go-to and start using his powers to rob banks.)

:: The Cobra can slither up walls and on ceilings, but for some reason he seems to leave a slime trail after him. Snakes aren't slimy, you guys!

:: "By the beard of noble Odin, oh trusty hammer--STRIKE!" Closer and closer to that flowery Thorspeak.

Not the best story we've read. I'm still not feeling like Stan Lee taking over the title has really helped these stories, but it's not like they're worse than they were under Robert Bernstein. But the short page length works against a lot of Stan's set-ups; there's just not enough room for the story to develop, so we get a lot of coincidences and sudden conclusions. In this one, Thor basically just lets the Cobra go, possibly because he's just run out of pages.

But we do get the second of these...

"Tales of Asgard: Odin Battles Ymir, King of the Ice Giants" by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Don Heck

Like the first Tales of Asgard, this is a short story, just depicting a lot of action straight out of Norse myth. In this one, Odin leads the battle against the Ice Giants, showing up on a flying chariot drawn by winged horses and throwing meteor bolts at his enemies. He then uses his sword to split a mountain in half, creating a chasm that the Ice Giants fall into, and imprisons Ymir in an eternal circle of flame. It's pretty amazing. Let's see those old bible comics compete with Tales of Asgard.

These tales are uncomplicated, but magnificent, and lend a real richness to the nascent cosmology of the Marvel Universe. And they're better than the main Thor stories.

Next issue: the Howling Commandos head to Berlin!

Monday, June 09, 2014

Rik Mayall 1958-2014

Sad news this morning that Rik Mayall has passed away at the age of 56. Thank you for those weekday mornings watching The Young Ones with Becca in the dark. Some of my best times; one of my favorite shows.

Happy Birthday, Donald Duck!

Donald made his first appearance in the cartoon The Wise Little Hen, which was released on June 9, 1934. So that means that, as of today, Donald is 80 years old. He's been my favorite Disney character since before I can remember, and today seems like a good day to watch a few of my favorites.

Kristen Bell Mondays

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Song of the Week: "Live to Party"

Songs for Becca #13. You know, I caught some episodes of the Disney Channel sitcom Jonas recently, and it still makes me laugh. The first season of that show was just uncomplicated, goofy, joke-oriented old-fashioned sitcom reshaped for kids, and it delighted me the same way old Archie comics do. I don't care if that makes me unhip or childish or whatever. As much as I enjoyed the show, Becca enjoyed it--and the music--a LOT. Makes her happy. And it makes me happy, too. It reminds me of a recent time when my life was less complicated and more fun. Trying to get back there.