Saturday, September 20, 2014
There's probably not much reason for this to be a two-part story. Between this issue and the setup in the previous issue, it still feels a little slight. If they had the page count--if an issue of Journey Into Mystery was only one story about Thor--Stan & Jack would most likely have a pretty exciting issue. But dividing it half kind of lessens it. The last issue was mainly Thor pining over Jane and throwing a fit; this issue really contains most of the actual meat of the story, but because of the shorter page count, the whole thing is resolved really quickly instead of really giving us a chance to explore this strange future we're in.
That's really a shame, because Kirby's art is so fantastic in this issue.
Also, they fight this amazing robotic octopus.
Zarrko and Thor confront the Master Machine, which tries to defend itself with something called a C-bomb, which kind of bugs me. Here, it's C for cell; the "bomb" bursts open and forms an unbreakable prison around its target. Back in Zarrko's first appearance in Journey Into Mystery #86, the C-bomb was the experimental cobalt bomb that Zarrko stole from the 20th century so that he could rule over the 23rd. It's a needlessly confusing repetition, although I'm sure Stan either thought no one would notice or, more likely, that he didn't notice himself and just used the term again. There's no reason to get all continuity on it, really, it just sort of broke up the story a little for me.
In the end, Thor technically keeps his word by helping Zarrko reach the Master Machine, so he's then free to turn on Zarrko and capture him before security men arrive to take Zarrko away. They say they'll keep Zarrko in a maximum security area, though in a future with no weapons I have no idea what the value of that is.
Thor returns to 1964 by swinging his hammer at "exactly twice the speed of light," and Odin, watching, is pleased with his son's victory, realizing that Thor only seemed to surrender to Zarrko in order to achieve victory.
:: Hey, did they ever team up Zarrko with Rama-Tut, the Living Pharaoh? Because they practically have the same origin.
:: The inks in this issue are by Charles "Chic" Stone, one of my favorite Kirby inkers. His career goes back to the Golden Age of Comics, where he worked on Captain Marvel at Fawcett and Blonde Phantom at Timely, the company that eventually became Marvel. In the 50s, he worked on commercial art and even TV commercial storyboards, as well as serving as art director for the magazine Modern Teen. On returning to comics, he ghosted for Bob Kane on Batman and inked Superman covers at DC before becoming one of Kirby's main inkers for a while, both on interiors and covers.
I love Stone's work, and the art in this story is really wonderful.
This "Boyhood of Thor" entry shows us how Thor, at the age of 18, lifted the hammer for the first time, when he swore to rescue Lady Sif from Hela, the Goddess of Death. His nobility and his willingness to sacrifice his own life make him worthy of the hammer, as well as Hela's respect; when he offers to take Sif's place in the afterworld, Hela cannot take his life and frees them both.
It's not one of the better "Tales of Asgard" stories, I think. Balder, Sif, Hela and the Norns (here called the Fates) are given surprisingly cursory introductions, pushed aside a bit in favor of showing Thor in action fighting Storm Giants. This is a story that would have benefited from having more room to breathe.
At the time, I suppose Stan Lee didn't plan on these characters having much to do with Thor's supporting cast.
Next time: Sgt. Fury deals with the Desert Fox and bigotry in North Africa.
Friday, September 19, 2014
So I decline, and then she gets all angry at me.
Gee, sorry, Professor Umbridge.
For some reason, seeing her, the manifestation of the game, get all pissy that I didn't choose to spend real world money to match up hunks of cheese together makes me laugh every time.
Thursday, September 18, 2014
I feel like this is becoming some sort of trope in the Marvel Universe now, but I don't know if there's a name for this. Weird things are happening out in the streets of New York City--a giant top spins in Times Square, the streets turn into a high-walled maze, and dozens of giant toy soldiers march openly. But it turns out to be an alien with weird reality-warping powers who is just sort of playing. Turns out, as fearsome as this alien is, he's actually just a child.
I love how Sue discovers this, by the way.
Reed dubs this guy the Infant Terrible (yes, after the french enfant terrible), and gets the others worried about what this irrational, non-communicative child could do to the world with his powers. Reed's big worry is that the Infant Terrible will get the idea to bring down the sun, destroying the planet. Why he goes there, I'm not sure, but we're all on Reed Logic here, which is to either assume the most outlandish disaster possible and then be prepared when it actually happens, or to watch something even more outlandish occur and chastise himself for not deducing its inevitability, despite the total lack of evidence. I don't know, I'm not a genius, so I don't understand how it works, I guess.
Anyway, Reed's not the only one who figures all of this out. Some gangster called Big Joe also works out the Infant Terrible's status, and tries to trick the alien into helping him commit robberies. It doesn't go well; the Infant Terrible thinks it's funny to turn the money into mud and birds, and Big Joe really loses it and the Infant Terrible throws another tantrum, which becomes a rampage, and there's a riot that Alicia Masters nearly gets crushed in, and then, as anticipated, the alien baby decides to pull the sun into the Earth.
But then the kid's parents show up and take him home.
Yes, Reed sent a message into space and, thankfully, the alien spaceship he contacted turned out to be the kid's parents, and they take him home and politely don't destroy the Earth.
:: My spell check does not recognize "hellacious."
:: While demonstrating their powers for the press, no one wants to pay any attention to poor Ben, but keep snapping pictures of Sue turning invisible. Guys, she's invisible. What are you taking pictures of? A room with a person not standing in it? C'mon, Ben just crumpled every phone book into a ball!
:: I love that the way to the Infant Terrible's heart is always ice cream and candy.
:: The alien spaceship is rather familiar, isn't it?
:: In the letters page, Paul Gambaccini laments that Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos is a serious war comic, and not the parody he took it as. Stan Lee gives an interesting response: "A parody of WHAT, Paul? War itself is insane--senseless. How do you parody something which is like a mad nightmare to begin with?"
In general, the letters especially praise Stan & Jack for having the guts to go with the big reveal in "The Hate-Monger." There's also a letter from Don Glut, who I really hope is filmmaker, science fiction author and comic book and cartoon writer Donald F. Glut, who wrote the novelization of The Empire Strikes Back and wrote the great Dinosaur Dictionary. Since he made an amateur film about Spider-Man in the late sixties, I'm going to say it is, and that makes me happy.
:: The reason I called this plot setup a trope earlier is that "weird but kind of silly rampage" is becoming common in the Marvel Universe. The best examples are the times Loki ravaged New York, which mainly consisted of pranks and turning things into candy. Sue references the power of the Molecule Man for comparison, but I notice she doesn't mention the Impossible Man. Readers really hated him that much. But what's funny is, this is more or less the same story, just with more action and higher stakes. But it's just as silly as the earlier story.
Ultimately, I'm not sure this attempt to do the story this way entirely works. I get the whole sort of Twilight Zone vibe they're going for with the twists of the alien being an infant and the solar system nearly being destroyed, but I'm not entirely feeling it. It's a little too heavy on coincidences and Reed somehow just knowing what's going to ultimately happen.
Next time: Back to the 23rd century with Thor.
Wednesday, September 17, 2014
Anyway, Johnny Fiama is a crooner in the style of Tony Bennett. He has a monkey assistant/bodyguard named Sal Minella who gets hot-tempered with anyone he thinks is in Johnny's way. Here are the two in a commercial for Johnny's album, Johnny. We Hardly Heard Ya.
Johnny is a lampoon of a certain old-fashioned, sexist attitude from the past. In this clip, he proclaims 1996 "The Year of the Chick" and tries to romance an audience member. Unfortunately for him, she hates his music...
You know, I think part of the reason I find Johnny so funny is that he reminds me of my wife's Italian-American family, particularly her grandmother, who is from the generation Johnny seems stuck in. (My wife, for what it's worth, loves this character and misses him.) He also seems like an answer to the brief resurgence in the mid-nineties of swing music and those guys who went around using Rat Pack slang and wearing trilby hats and rings.
In Muppets Tonight episode 6 (which you can find on YouTube in three parts), Johnny gets to meet his hero, the one and only Tony Bennett.
In this sketch, Johnny attempts to open a theater of his own, with typically Muppet-y results.
And I also have to include this sketch where Johnny and Sal attempt to help Dr. Bunsen Honeydew zhoozh up his image, which is especially wonderful just for Johnny singing "Pretty Bunsen" on the soundtrack.
Johnny's Muppets Tonight stardom culminated in the final episode of the show (which is also on YouTube), "Johnny Fiama Leaves Home," where Johnny and his beloved mother have a fight so big that he tries to move out and live at KMUP, the studio where Muppets Tonight is put on. Fellow crooner Johnny Mathis even gets into things by serenading Mama Fiama.
Barretta's characters were generally the ones that connected most (Pepe seems like an integral member of the gang now, for which I'm glad), and Johnny continued to make appearances in projects. He had a fun appearance alongside Sal on Larry King Live, and then appeared in Muppets from Space and It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie. He even appeared in tie-ins, like the video game Muppet RaceMania and in the line of Palisades Toys action figures. (Yes, I have a Johnny Fiama action figure.)
I think the last time I saw Johnny was probably in the comics. When Boom! Studios did their all-too-brief line of wonderful Muppet comics, Johnny played Prince John in Muppet Robin Hood.
A review of the films I've seen this past week.
MOVIE 43 (2013)
This movie is so bad that it made me intensely, irrationally angry at everyone involved in it. You should all be ashamed of yourselves. No stars. No anything. No acknowledgement of its existence from now on. Go to hell, movie.
DRINKING BUDDIES (2013)
Interesting mumblecore flick about two best friends (Jake Johnson and Olivia Wilde) who work in a brewery together, but who are also attracted to one another. He has a fiance (Anna Kendrick), she has a boyfriend (Ron Livingston), and for 90 minutes we just watch them interact. I think the dialogue was mainly improvised. Consequently, it's a movie about adults and how adults relate to one another, but also one that reminds you that adults can be even more passive-aggressive and precious than kids. I did find it very interesting how almost no one ended up just coming out and saying what they wanted, even when they got their feelings hurt over it. And I also found it interesting that so much was left open to emotion and interpretation... a lot of things I feel are elements of the story aren't ever explicitly stated or even shown. So much is left up to how you feel about what's happening, which makes your experience and intuition a narrative element. Fascinating how that's done. ***
THE STORY (1969)
Nice little short film by Homer Groening, Matt Groening's father. It mixes home movies with a voice over of Matt's sister Lisa telling a bedtime story to their youngest sister Maggie. Charming, soft and sweet. ***1/2
Tuesday, September 16, 2014
This is a momentous issue, as issue of The Avengers should be, so I'm going to go straight through this one.
Our story picks up right where Avengers #3 left off, with Sub-Mariner and Hulk's defeat at Gibraltar. Sub-Mariner, having escaped defeat at the hands of the Avengers, swims off, still searching for his people, who abandoned him after the events of Fantastic Four Annual #1. Angry and brooding, Namor laments his fate, then resurfaces to walk across the ice. He comes across an Eskimo tribe kneeling before a figure frozen in the ice. They think it's an idol, and their superstition irritates Namor, who menaces the Eskimos (they know who he is) and throws their "idol" into the sea. Namor's just so angry that he's lashing out. The "idol" drifts into warmer waters, where the ice surrounding this mystery person begins to melt...
The Avengers are making their way back to America in the submarine they took to Gibraltar, and Thor spots the floating figure. Giant-Man pulls him in, they lay him out, and...
But how can Captain America, hero of World War II, stand before the Avengers so young 20 years later? Can this be some sort of trick? As a test, Cap tumbles with the others. He can nimbly dodge Thor's hammer. He can shove Iron Man aside and flip Giant-Man over. In typical, eye-rolling Stan Lee fashion, Cap stops when the Wasp springs to full size in front of him, and he's confused at the idea of fighting a girl. Jeez, Stan.
So then we get to retconning. Captain America's appearances after World War II (including a very brief revival in the 1950s) are wiped out of continuity, and this is the new official version: 20 years ago, Captain America and his young sidekick, Bucky, tried to stop an explosives-filled drone plane from taking off at a base in the European Theater of Operations. Bucky reached the plane in time, but Cap couldn't hold on; when the plane exploded, Cap fell into the sea where he was knocked unconscious and frozen. Bucky died in the explosion. And a shadowy villain gloated over his victory... more on him in a future issue. Ever since, Cap has been frozen in ice, in a state of suspended animation.
Upon returning to the New York City harbor, the Avengers are greeted by the press, who know the Avengers went out after the Hulk and want the story. But as one flash-bulb goes off, Iron Man, Giant-Man, the Wasp and Thor are suddenly turned to stone. When the smoke clears and four stone statues are standing there, the press chalk it up to some kind of prank or trick by the Avengers to avoid interviews. Eh, it's better than the "this joint's haunted!" thing that Stan goes to way too often.
When Captain America comes out of the sub, he sees an empty harbor and four statues. He assumes that they must be statues in honor of the Avengers and walks around for awhile, looking at a world that has advanced 20 years without him. There's an especially evocative moment where he looks at the United Nations building and wonders what it could be.
No, it's Rick Jones, who is apparently very reminiscent of Bucky; "You're like his twin brother! Your voice--your face--everything! You could be Bucky's double!"
Rick has followed Captain America's trail, because he was the last one to see the Avengers and now no one can find them. Rick needs to talk with them about what happened during their encounter with the Hulk; Rick is still trying to track down the man who he feels he owes his life to. (Honestly, I am glad that storyline has carried over into Avengers, because I just want to know what happens to Bruce Banner. I don't want this comic to always be about fighting the Hulk--and this is actually the first issue of the comic in which the Hulk hasn't appeared--but I do like that we haven't just abandoned the Hulk to history.)
Captain America offers to help Rick find the Avengers, After analyzing some of the photos taken at the harbor, Cap notices one man who is holding some sort of strange gun. Rick sets the Teen Brigade to action trying to track down the man in the photo.
When they do find him, the man is in an apartment building with a number of gunmen. It's not really clear why the guy has gunmen, but it's really just an excuse to watch Captain America spring into action like he hasn't missed a day. I like how Cap's power isn't all in his upper body and delivering punches; he's quite acrobatic and has powerful legs, leaping onto his enemies and knocking them to the ground. We also get our first shield throw.
When Cap finally confronts the man in the photograph, he finds an alien!
Why did the alien turn the Avengers to stone? At the behest of the Sub-Mariner, who recently told the alien he would pull his spaceship out of the ocean in exchange for getting rid of the Avengers. Instead, Cap offers the help of the Avengers; if the alien reverses the effects of the ray and restores his fellow heroes, the Avengers will get the alien's ship back.
Now, Captain America and the Sub-Mariner used to fight side-by-side against the Nazis and the Japanese Empire in World War II, alongside the original Human Torch. So it's interesting that Captain America hears the name Sub-Mariner and only says "I seem to remember that name from the dim past!" And when Namor's plans are foiled, he's angry at "the one who calls himself Captain America." You'd expect them to remember each other, so I wonder what the explanation is for that. I'm sure they'll touch on some official explanation, it's just interesting to speculate, since these two are definitely the same characters as the Golden Age Cap and Namor. If I had to guess, the most obvious explanation is probably that Namor had amnesia all that time before Johnny Storm found him in Fantastic Four #4, and after the trauma of the explosion and his time frozen in the ice, Captain America's memories are probably a little messed up, too.
But for now, back to angry Sub-Mariner, robbed of his victory over the Avengers. At that moment, he runs into a contingent of his Atlantean royal guard, who have remained loyal and have been searching for Prince Namor. And now, armed with troops, revenge is at hand...
And it's another rocky island that we go to, where the Avengers are doing what they can to free the alien spaceship from the sea floor. Thor is the one who manages to do it, using the magnetic forces generated by his enchanted hammer. I wonder if the hammer's still at half-strength? If so, that's pretty damn impressive. It's hard to tell with the order, since this issue starts with the Avengers on their way home from the previous issue, two months ago, and there's already a story that's happened in Journey Into Mystery where we've seen the Avengers without Captain America. This is the problem with establishing continuity in a shared universe, really. It doesn't break the reality, but it does raise these questions.
Anyway, Namor and his men attack! The battle between Iron Man and Sub-Mariner goes pretty much the same way it did before. Never forget that the Sub-Mariner is more powerful than Iron Man's armor; that just makes Sub-Mariner that much more impressive. And hey, the Wasp actually gets to do something in a battle! She shrinks down and flies around Namor's head, temporarily blinding him, and probably saving Tony Stark's life. (Unfortunately, then she's basically tired out, and like the last time they fought Sub-Mariner, she just hides for the rest of the battle.)
Captain America, meanwhile, is watching the battle, trying to get a sense of this modern world and it's strange characters. Even Namor impresses him as a foe, thinking to himself "If there had been such men in my day, what epic battles we might have fought!" See my earlier comments about whether both men's time as amnesiacs and trauma victims have done a number on their memories. You guys used to be allies, Cap!
After Namor tries and fails to lift Thor's hammer, he reveals his ace in the hole: the Atlanteans have Rick Jones prisoner. Cap won't tolerate that, and leaps into the battle. Namor is easily stronger than Captain America--Cap makes note of that--but Captain America seems more agile. For now, though, it's a moot point, as there's a sudden earthquake and the Atlanteans retreat, expecting the earthquake to finish off the Avengers for them.
But it's not an earthquake at all; it's the launching of the alien spaceship. Captain America has kept his word, and the alien is finally free to return to his home. With the danger passed, the Avengers offer Captain America a place on the team, which he wholeheartedly accepts.
Rick, however, is troubled. Already, he admires Captain America more than anyone he's ever met. But he's torn by his loyalty to the Hulk. And so, for some reason, Stan decides to end this issue with the set-up that one day Captain America and the Hulk will have to face off against each other for the friendship of a 16 year-old boy.
:: Captain America's return had, of course, been tested in Strange Tales #114, where the Human Torch fought the Acrobat in disguise as Captain America. I touched on the publishing fate of Captain America in that entry, too.
:: Everyone's seen the iconic cover, but I feel like this entry would be incomplete without including it.
Most of the stray observations I would've made were in the run-through of the issue itself. There are some lingering plot threads here--what of the Hulk? and the shadowy villain who witnessed the "death" of Captain America 20 years ago?--that come into play soon enough. But this was truly an epic, one of, as promised, the milestones of the Marvel Age. With the addition of Captain America, this title adds an essential component that I think was missing from the first three issues (as titanic as they were), and the team really feels whole. I can't wait for whatever comes next.
But for now, in the next Marvels, another strange alien harries the Fantastic Four.
Monday, September 15, 2014
I guess I'm just documenting the roll out into the Halloween season now. I saw this commercial tonight, which has been airing (depending on who you ask, apparently) since either 2010 or 2011. Do regular non-seasonal Kit Kat commercials even use this music variation anymore? Who cares, it's Halloween! I kind of like it when brands do one Halloween-themed commercial and then just keep running it for years. It takes on the sheen of a tradition, making you nostalgic for other Halloween memories from slightly earlier seasons. I think my Halloween season probably wouldn't be complete without a few repeats. I almost feel like when I first see the Party City "Thriller" commercial, it'll really be Halloween.
UPDATE 9/16: Taking my first walk this morning, I noticed that my downstairs neighbor has decorative police tape over his or her front door. The tape is black and says "Zombie Crossing" and has an outline of a zombie. For me personally, it's too early for Halloween decorations, but I love that people are already in the spirit.
I am sick of reading fans screaming at each other over everything, but especially Doctor Who. It's rather pointless to argue about it, and most criticism of the show is totally worthless. It's mainly divided into camps now of people who adore the show so much that they've lost the capacity to talk about it constructively, and people whose hatred of the show had made them so angry that all they want to do is slag everything about it, and neither of those sides seems capable of communicating with each other. It's all just defensive, precious opinioneering, and I'm sick of engaging with it.
Remember how much I used to love Doctor Who? Well, I haven't for years. Is that interesting to read about? Probably not. I could as easily stop watching the show altogether. No one's forcing me. As it is, up until this season, I was saving it on my TiVo and watching it in one-day chunks and talking about that. There is nothing worse in this world than a person who hates a television show, but keeps engaging with it because he's so enamored of being self-righteously offended by not enjoying something that he hammers on and on every week about what the show owes him and why he's so hurt by it.
(Some of you doubtlessly recognize this as the reason why it's so tiresome to talk about Star Wars online. Yes, yes, I get it. Wake me when it gets interesting again.)
Anyway, as much as I disliked the first two episodes of this new season, I am enjoying the show now. The last two episodes were surprising. I'm not going to claim that "Robots of Sherwood" was a great episode of the show, but it was the first one since sometime in the fifth season that I found myself really, truly enjoying. Just a bouncy little adventure that was a lot of fun.
But this week's episode, "Listen," was quite special. It was honestly the first time I'd found myself so engaged by Doctor Who since "Vincent and the Doctor."
I'm sure a great deal of it had to do with my own struggles with anxiety and fear. A great deal of it also had to do with the fact that Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman are just quite good in their roles. (Once Clara stopped being The Most Important Companion In the History of Ever and started being a character, I was onboard, and the interplay between the two actors is fun.)
But I felt like, for once, Steven Moffat put aside his boring insistence that the Doctor is the complete nexus of space and time and the linchpin on which all of existence hangs and stopped examining the subtext as text and stopped making the show about itself and its various themes and just told a story about characters. Seriously, every theme and context and trope that Moffat spent all those years with Matt Smith commenting on and examining and tearing apart and smugly being oh-so-clever about... it felt like, in one episode, Moffat actually managed to tell a story about characters that played those themes in an interesting context by using those tropes in a way that was genuine. For once, it was about people instead of itself.
It was unexpected to really love an episode of the show again, and that was nice. So I thank Steven Moffat for that. Frankly, that one episode can replace the entirety of the Matt Smith era for me (with the exception of "Vincent and the Doctor").
But, you know, that's part of Doctor Who fandom, right? There's so much there you can skip the stuff you don't like, instead of harping on about it week after week.
See earlier talk re: why I don't talk about Doctor Who anymore.
Sunday, September 14, 2014
Songs for Becca #22. Here's a mash-up/medley from Ben E. King's 1970 album Rough Edges. It contains one of the most soulful versions of "Lay Lady Lay" I've ever heard. Bob Dylan's original is one of my favorite songs, but wow, my wife hates it so much. She loves this one, though. It's just Bob Dylan's voice that turns her off. Give it to someone like Ben E. King, slow it down and give it some soul, and she loves it. And it's pretty fantastic. Soul music is the best music.
I've really been enjoying the Cookie's Crumby Pictures parodies from Sesame Street. The new season of the show (its 45th) starts tomorrow, and they've put some clips online in advance of it. Here's this season's first Crumby Picture, meant to teach us about self-control. That is one adorable cookie.
I hope some kind of cast list turns up for this thing, because it's driving me a little crazy. Groda sounds so much like Frank Oz, who does still drop in from time to time to perform or just dub a voice. If it's not him, Eric Jacobson's Grover has gotten really, really good. (No surprise; his Cookie Monster, Fozzie, and especially Miss Piggy are wonderful, I just don't see Grover as much these days, since I don't really watch Sesame Street anymore. Notice I didn't question whether Frank Oz was voicing Cookie, although I suppose he could be, couldn't he?)
Also, that's definitely Peter Linz, the performer of Walter, doing Luke Piewalker, right?