Friday, November 07, 2014

Marvels: Tales to Astonish #54

"No Place to Hide!" by Stan Lee & Don Heck
(April 1964)

You know, I don't relish getting to the end of each month and reading Tales to Astonish. It's not that there haven't been fun issues, but when it doesn't fire, it really doesn't fire. Even at only 13 pages, there's a lot of filler in this story, which isn't really that exciting to begin with.

It's a missed opportunity, too, because the whole thing starts with Jan wanting to take a vacation, and ends up on an island where an adventure happens. That was the setup of one of my favorite Ant-Man stories from the short-lived spy-fi era, "...When Cyclops Walks the Earth." But that was a story that had more adult characters, and Don Heck was given time to establish local color and flavor before diving into the adventure. Here, we have Stan Lee writing that childish, flirty Jan that he's so fond of and there's so much filler before we get into the story that there's no time for Heck to really establish the setting... not that Stan really seems to care much. Really, the whole thing is filler and it just takes place in yet another Cuba expy.

Here, it's the island of Santo Rico (not to be confused with Santo Marco, which just appeared in X-Men #4, but which is more or less the same thing). A strongman named El Toro was elected in what turns out to be an election rigged by communist agents, and the CIA sends Giant-Man and the Wasp down to try and gather proof. And they do. That's pretty much it. El Toro's gimmick is that he wears what appears to be a wrestling cap with bull horns on it.

The bulk of the story tries to give us some suspense by having Giant-Man get cut off from his size pills, so that he's stuck in his giant size, but it's basically like what happened when Hank fought the Human Top: he just runs into power lines and trips over awnings and stuff like that. He only manages to escape El Toro's forces by hopping onto a freight train and riding it out into the country. It's an interesting effort, but Hank still mainly comes off like a buffoon to me, and El Toro is never really much of a threat.

It's so forgettable that I'm bored recounting it. Honestly, I expected to like this character a lot more than I do.

Stray notes:

:: Hank and Jan actually get into a physical tussle over the vacation issue, and, insultingly, it all turns out to be a ruse. Jan has no idea where she wants to go on vacation, but figures this fight will soften him up for the next time she asks.

:: We waste almost an entire page on Hank's fan club, which busts in on him. And that turns out to be Jan getting back at him for the fight she started. Stan, I know she's supposed to be young, but she's not 10. If this were 2014 instead of 1964, she'd be making fake Twitter accounts and bullying Hank. Jan, I know you're better than this. (Also, once again, why does Hank have a fan club, why do they keep pestering him, and why does Hank greet them without a mask? Does he even have a secret identity anymore? Remember when he didn't even want anyone to know that Ant-Man could become human-sized?)

:: Interesting that Hank can still communicate with ants while he's giant-sized. I never thought about the cybernetics in his helmet. Do they expand also, or do they still work while remaining the same size?

Next: Spider-Man unmasked!

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Star Wars Rebels

Back in April, I talked a bit about the end of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, a TV series I loved and that really ended up being one of my favorite parts of Star Wars. I thought the series ended in a good place--despite some lingering threads--but I really didn't want to say goodbye to it. I wasn't ready for a new show, even if most of the same people were working on it, because I didn't want to leave the Prequel Era behind. Clone Wars had so deepened and fleshed out the world of the Jedi Council and made some of the characters so fascinating, and had explored so much about the nature of the Force, that I wasn't so interested in, well... a lighter show from the new Disney-owned Lucasfilm.

Five episodes in, I'm completely hooked.

See? That's why I don't bother to complain about so many things sight unseen, the way I used to, because then you look like an ass when you end up digging it. Make a note, internet.

This show takes place during the roughly 20-year (I think?) gap between Revenge of the Sith and the first Star Wars. It did start off as a lighter, funnier, breezier show, but I can see now that all of that was just to introduce the characters and set up the world of the show. Things are already starting to get a little deeper, and the connections to the rest of Star Wars are becoming more obvious without having to force aspects of continuity onto the show. An appearance by C-3P0 and R2-D2 played a little more like a fun throwaway (it feels weird to have a major SW story without Artoo, my favorite character in all of Star Wars) to tie things in, but, to my surprise, we're already talking about the Jedi.

The main character, Ezra Bridger, is a street kid who is Force-sensitive. He falls in with a crew of smugglers led by Kanan Jarrus, a Padawan who survived the implementation of Order 66 and has taken it upon himself to train Ezra as a Jedi.

A couple of weeks ago, ABC re-aired the hour-long premiere episode with an opening scene featuring Darth Vader, voiced by James Earl Jones, ordering a downright scary character to hunt down "the children of the Force."

This is the Inquisitor, a Pau'an Jedi hunter, who is tasked by Vader with hunting down and killing Force-sensitive kids before they can become Jedi. This answers a lot of questions I had about how Vader and the Emperor stopped new Jedi from emerging after Order 66.

This was followed a day later by the episode "Rise of the Old Masters," in which the Inquisitor laid a trap for Kanan and Ezra by making them think Master Luminara Unduli had survived the destruction of the Jedi Order. When it was revealed she hadn't, my heart sank; she wasn't even one of my favorite characters on Clone Wars, but it really hit me just how much I was attached to that era of Star Wars. Tying the two shows together like that deepened this whole enterprise for me. I may be more excited about Rebels then I am about Episode VII, but this show really eased me into the idea that I might like non-George Lucas incarnations of Star Wars. (No, I'm not an Expanded Universe, fan. Just not my Star Wars.)

So now you can see this larger framework going up, and I'm really enjoying that. Just the fleeting appearances of both Darth Vader (Original Trilogy era) and Luminara (Prequel Trilogy Era) combined somehow made this series more than just the fun throwaway I expected. It really is bridging the gap and contextualizing Luke Skywalker's story as part of a historical struggle. As I've said before, I don't see the projected three trilogies as rise of the Empire/fall of the Empire/??? I see it as Corruption of the Republic/Restoration of the Republic/Redemption of the Republic, and this show is starting to feel like an important bridge in that sequence.

And, you know, it also makes me excited wondering if other characters will show up. Does this mean Ahsoka Tano could potentially come into it? And do I want her to? Because she's one of my favorite characters in all of this, but her exit was kind of perfect...

I love the new Star Wars.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Q Is for Quongo

Quongo the Wild Mountain Gorilla hasn't gotten a lot of screen time, but hey, it's "q" this week and there's really no one else to choose from. Plus, I've never forgotten this guy. Something about that distinctive mouth with the teeth combined with those crazy eyes and that wild hair has always made him stand out for me, even though he's barely a character. Mostly he's just one of those characters in the background, particularly when the Muppets had a jungle sketch, or even something on a beach. Heck, you can still see this guy in the background in The Muppets and Muppets Most Wanted.

He first appeared on The Muppet Show in the second season, the fantastic Peter Sellers episode, in this Muppet Labs sketch.

Mostly Quongo was performed by Jerry Nelson, except in the fifth season Debbie Harry episode. There, Quongo (finally named onscreen) wrestles Gonzo, and he's performed by Richard Hunt.

There are two musical sketches where Quongo is the star. The first is his rendition of Randy Newman's "It's Lonely at the Top," spoofing King Kong with some nice visual trickery.

And the second--and probably Quongo's finest hour--is a jaunty run through "I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts." Richard Hunt plays the showman, and Louise Gold plays the showman's wife.

Quongo also made it onto Muppets Tonight, though he didn't get any songs (or dialogue) to himself. The puppet was also repurposed as Miss Corner on one episode of the British series Mopatop's Shop. He's got a great design, he just never really went anywhere on his own. But he left us a couple of nice songs for a cold morning.

ABC Wednesday

Film Week

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

Oh, the things you see when you nostalgically watch Disney Channel during Halloween. (And I do, every year, because I love the Halloweentown trilogy. No, there was no fourth movie, that's a common misconception.) I imagine this would be cute for kids under seven or so. I have no real criticisms, because it's clearly for little kids. Here's what amused me: this is based on the second in a series of kid's books. The first was made into a movie in 2008. They're about a kid who sees two ghosts, a brother and sister, who are trying to find the ghosts of their parents. What I found hilarious is that there is exactly one cast member from the first movie in this one: Disney Channel's Madison Pettis, the precocious little girl from the short-lived Cory in the House. This movie is supposed to take place a year later, and she plays the unchanging sister ghost, except in reality she's 16 now and not 10. I found that kind of hilarious. I really hope they do another one of these that takes place a year later when she's 30, but still pretending to be a 10 year-old, because I find stupid things funny. Anyway, it's harmlessly disposable but it's for little kids. For me it's like *1/2. Makes good use of Bella Thorne in miniskirts.

I know this was incredibly acclaimed, but I found it tedious, dull, overly worshipful of its subject (boxer James J. Braddock), and sappy. This is one of those biopics where you know it's going to end in triumph, so none of the struggles really mean anything. There's no conflict, because it's just moist-eyed reverence. It just comes out of a kit that you plug different actors and period details into. The actors all seem to be enjoying their cartoon accents, though. **

Melodramatic but oddly riveting story about Native Americans in the days before World War I. The film--based on a Zane Grey novel--sees the history of our continent as a series of conquests. It's a mix of tones. On the one hand, the message often comes across that Native Americans need to assimilate and accept that their ways are over. On the other hand, the Native American characters here are dignified and sacrifice much, while most of the representatives of the US government are shown as greedy and crooked or, at best, inefficient. But while there is definite respect there, it's tempered by the time period, so there is this white privilege that permeates throughout, where all of the white characters are more advanced and civilized, and none of the Native Americans speak in grammatical English and most are played by white actors like star Richard Dix. It's a lot to think about. It's not perfect, but it's very well made and engrossing, and I'll go ****.

Excellent musical remake of The Philadelphia Story starring Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, and Frank Sinatra. This is another "indicative of its time" movies, because I do cringe a bit at some of the sentiment in movies like this that seem to argue that headstrong women just need to be taken down a peg and then they'll realize they're happy. (Something I didn't mention last week in my review of the execrable Leap Year was just how much that movie seemed to be about just taking Amy Adams down a peg or three--Matthew Goode insults her a lot, and she falls in love with him--because women can only be happy in traditional roles. Maybe there was some kind of satire intended that everyone involved didn't bother selling?) But it's well-acted, it looks fantastic, and it took me out of my anxiety for a couple of hours the other afternoon. Louis Armstrong (playing himself) is worth the price of admission alone. ****

SADIE McKEE (1934)
Joan Crawford is beautiful and strong in this vehicle. Not a great film, but she's very good in it. I see this referred to as a pre-Code movie; the Hays Code may not have been in fullest effect, but it's not exactly frank, either. You can see some of the things they had to do, some of the things they can't get away with saying. It's soapy, but I liked the theme running through of it of personal responsibility and trying to make amends for mistakes. I also liked seeing a movie this old that treated alcoholism (although, true to the Code, they never use the actual word) as a serious disease rather than simply a comic device. Some of the stuff Crawford's character goes through is hard to take, and a lot of her happiness has to be implied for other code reasons, but Crawford is just so damn good. ***

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

The Meme Meddler

Huh, this is only the third questionnaire I've done this year. I used to do these more. I ganked this one from Roger's post about Proust. ("Prowst," as one of my assistant managers at Barnes & Noble used to say...)

Let's see if I can keep my answers succinct for a change.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

Suicidal despair. Been going through that again.

Where would you like to live?

Some place where it doesn't snow.

What is your idea of earthly happiness?

Honestly, just days when my wife is home.

To what faults do you feel most indulgent?


Who are your favorite heroes of fiction?

The Hulk and Spider-Man.

Who are your favorite characters in history?

Theodore Roosevelt, W.E.B. DuBois, Jim Henson.

Who are your favorite heroines in real life?

Eleanor Roosevelt, Sally Ride, Taylor Swift (yes, really).

Who are your favorite heroines of fiction?

Ayla from Clan of the Cave Bear, Leslie Knope.

Your favorite painter?

Winslow Homer.

Your favorite musician?

David Bowie.

The quality you most admire in a man?


The quality you most admire in a woman?


Your favorite virtue?


Your favorite occupation?

I don't know.

Who would you have liked to be?

Walt Disney.

Your most marked characteristic?

My desire to make people feel good.

What do you most value in your friends?


What is your principle defect?


What is your dream of happiness?

I just want to get to a time when things are a little easier.

What to your mind would be the greatest of misfortunes?

Stealing Roger's answer, to be mistreated as a child. To modify, having been mistreated as a child.

What would you like to be?


In what country would you like to live?

A better version of the United States.

What is your favorite color?


What is your favorite flower?

Hibiscus. Or marigold.

What is your favorite bird?


Who are your favorite prose writers?

Isaac Asimov, Harlan Ellison, Carl Sagan, Julian Barnes.

Who are your favorite poets?

Tolkien, Milton, Shakespeare, Robert E. Howard.

Who are your favorite composers?

Richard Wagner, Stravinsky, Gershwin, Bob Dylan, Brian Wilson, Vince Guaraldi, Debussy.

What are your favorite names?


What is it you most dislike?

Fear-based ignorance, like homophobia, racism and misogyny.

What historical figures do you most despise?

The Koch Brothers and Ayn Rand.

What event in military history do you most admire?


What reform do you most admire?

The New Deal.

What natural gift would you most like to possess?

I wish I had a photographic memory, instead of one full of holes.

How would you like to die?

Helping somebody.

What is your present state of mind?

Riddled with anxiety and depression.

What is your motto?

"If you don't have anything to say, don't feel obliged to pretend that you do." -- Wim Wenders

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Actually being able to relax. Doesn't happen every day. Or week.

What is your most marked characteristic?

I like Roger's answer: "iconoclasm." It doesn't get me many friends, but still, it's important.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Being married to Becca is probably the only worthwhile thing I've ever done.

What is your greatest fear?

Being rejected.

What historical figure do you most identify with?

Theodore Roosevelt.

Which living person do you most admire?

Brian Wilson.

Who are your heroes in real life?

People who help others.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

Being so fearful.

What is your favorite journey?

The train ride from here to Chicago.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

Honesty that's used to mask cruelty and meanness.

Which word or phrases do you most overuse?


What is your greatest regret?

Any time I've hurt Becca with my selfishness, or not taken her feelings in good faith because my anxiety is always telling me no one could ever love me, or just making her life harder sometimes.

If you could change one thing about your family, what would it be?

I guess it would be nice to not feel so removed and apart.

What is your most treasured possession?

I suppose just my family photos and the Kermit the Frog doll I've had since I was a little kid.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

Suicidal despair. Like I said before.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Heidi Klum Is the Queen of Halloween

I always make it a special point to look for pictures of Heidi Klum on Halloween. Every year, she does something elaborate with extensive makeup, and once again she did not disappoint. I'm not generally interested in what celebrities wear to Halloween celebrations, but Heidi Klum is always a treat in her wonderful creature costumes. Gotta respect her Halloween game.

Song of the Week: "Nightcall" (Dustin N'Guyen Remix)

Songs for Becca #27. This 2010 Kavinsky track was used in the opening credits of Drive, one of my favorite movies of 2011. Becca never saw the movie, but about half of the soundtrack was on my iPod for a year or so. (I actually just took off "Real Hero" this week.) Since then, I've found out there were several remixes of this one, featuring Brazilian singer Lovefoxxx and co-produced by Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo from Daft Punk. Becca absolutely loves Daft Punk, and this faster-paced remix fits right in with the kind of electro house sound that she loves. In fact, she was just playing this one this morning before ducking out to the grocery store, so it seems like a good fit for this cold and cloudy day.