Saturday, November 15, 2014

Tamara

A beautiful student animation film about a little girl who wants to dance. The twist at the end really got me.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Alright, Let's Do Doctor Who Again

I've been limiting the number of times I have anything to say about Doctor Who to just a couple a year, because I don't want it to be me just complaining over and over again. One day, someone will take over the show from Steven Moffat and maybe it will be good again. It might take longer than I want, but, well... that's being a Doctor Who fan. You're not going to love every era of the show.

Last year was the big 50th anniversary, but I didn't talk too much about it. I said a few times that I was disappointed in the episode, "The Day of the Doctor," and I still am. I didn't much care for "The Time of the Doctor," either. I'll finally get into that a bit here, since I never ended up talking about them.

I'll just go through them in order.

:: The best thing I can say about "The Day of the Doctor" is that I felt like it made sense. I know there were people who felt saying that Gallifrey was never destroyed was a retcon, but I didn't feel like it was. It was just that the Doctor didn't know that Gallifrey had simply been moved and not destroyed. I think that worked without erasing the pathos of the Doctor as the last of his kind. He believed he was. He believed he had actually destroyed Gallifrey. Now he knows the truth. I don't have a problem with that at all.

I talked to some people who were confused about the chronology of "The End of Time" and "The Day of the Doctor," but I felt the dialogue made it clear that what Rassillon and the Time Lord Council had attempted to do in "The End of Time"--using the Master to harness the Earth to move Gallifrey out of the Time War and save it from destruction--had already happened before that final battle at Arcadia. Possibly just before. Again, I don't think there's an issue.

I thought the Moment was an interesting weapon, in that it manifests itself as someone you care about and argues with you whether or not you should use it. I did not, however, like that it took the form of Rose Tyler, nor that Rose was basically written as an expy of River Song. I thought that was a bizarre use of the character (or, more accurately, the character's image). John Hurt was quite good as the War Doctor.

There was so much more that I disliked about it. I thought the Zygons were terrible. I want to like Kate Stewart, but I don't. I fucking hated that Osgood character with her scarf, who was just a pandering caricature of Who fangirls. David Tennant is always good, but the Tenth Doctor wasn't used well, and him marrying Queen Elizabeth I is one of the stupidest things I've ever seen on Doctor Who. It's exactly the sort of thing Moffat thinks is aw, shucks cute.

And then there was Tom Baker's weird, doddering cameo, which was just uncomfortable. It also telegraphs that there are future Doctors and that there was no way Matt Smith was going to be the last Doctor, even though Steven Moffat always wants to build suspense by claiming something is a big deal that can't possibly happen given the realities of television. I've complained about this before, particularly in the previous episode, "The Name of the Doctor": acting like a big mystery is going to be uncovered when, in actuality, it's nothing important. Moffat's like a huckster who thinks he's a magician. What I liked about the Russell T. Davies era is that he would gradually lay down clues in such a way that you didn't even realize you were seeing clues, until, suddenly, you began to realize you were hearing the same things and it seemed to be forming a picture. You didn't have any information before the characters did; it unfolded and you watched it actively. With Moffat, he tells you in advance that something big is happening, then gives you a piece of the puzzle that the characters never see, and then a bunch of stuff happens and the Doctor says no, it wasn't this thing we were all focusing on, it was this other thing the whole time, and look, here's the completed puzzle, it was a donkey the whole time, ha ha, I finished it while you were looking at this other thing, aren't I clever clever clever smarty smart smartingson?

:: "The Time of the Doctor" did one important thing: it got rid of the Eleventh Doctor. Typical to Moffat, everything that happens to the Eleventh Doctor is the most important thing that's ever happened to the Doctor and to the entire universe itself, because the Doctor isn't a traveler anymore, he's the nexus of all of existence and reality. It did bother me that Moffat decided to count that half-human Doctor as a regeneration. I mean, the War Doctor counts, but not the Valeyard? Remember the Valeyard? Shouldn't the Valeyard make it fourteen incarnations?

But no, Moffat always has to have something incredibly important happening rather than just telling a story, and basically he just gets new regenerations by magic, which is exactly what everyone figured was going to happen, anyway. But at least we had an exciting episode of just watching the Doctor sit in a chair and get older and older. (Oh, and that idiot bit about Clara and nudity in the beginning.) I've forgotten so much of it because it was so, so forgettable.

:: Then we got to the new series opener, "Deep Breath," which was actually worse than I feared it would be. At this point, Vastra and Jenny are just tiresome. First off, they're pandering queerbait. Second, they're just indicative of the only two type of women Moffat (who wrote or co-wrote almost every episode this series, so it's fair to blame him) is interested in: the controlling, ball-busting, inappropriately sexual action hero and the one whose life is in service to someone stronger. You know, like all of Moffat's companions, who aren't women, but are problems to be solved, which is why they have titles like The Girl Who Waited and The Impossible Girl in place of personalities. I guess mysteries are easier to relate to than people. I could not stand Vastra hammering Clara about how she must be disappointed that the Doctor's not young and cute anymore, much to Clara's bewilderment.

(Note: to be fair, he also likes writing women who are crazy.)

The overriding thing that bugged me is that Clara didn't seem to have any idea how regenerations worked, which is particularly stupid because back in "The Name of the Doctor," Clara went through the Doctor's entire timeline and saw all of his incarnations. She knows how it works. She's meant to stand in for an audience of fangirls that Moffat apparently thinks never saw the show before he took it over, and he has to condescendingly explain to the audience that even though Peter Capaldi is older, it's okay, because he's still the Doctor. Jeez, they even get Matt Smith to call Clara and tell her basically that. It was stupid to an insulting degree.

I like Peter Capaldi, but I feel like he and Moffat and the various creatives never really found the character this series. Like they were hoping it would just emerge in the performance. Capaldi is a neat actor, and I think he'd make a neat Doctor, but he deserves better than Moffat's ugly version of Doctor Who. I think he and Jenna Coleman had some chemistry, too, but, well, there's a whole host of problems with how Clara was played this series...

:: I actually hated "Into the Dalek" even more than "Deep Breath." This season, the show tried to explore the idea that the Doctor is really, in some way, a soldier, no matter how much he denies it. That opened up all kinds of themes that the show never bothered to go into, instead just making the Doctor seem like a crotchety old bigot with an irrational hatred of soldiers. All those years knowing the Brigadier and he has such a low opinion of soldiers? That didn't sit right with me, especially since it was never really deepened.

:: And then, suddenly, I loved "Robot of Sherwood." It was a silly episode, but silly like an old-fashioned Doctor Who episode. Finally, the show relaxed enough to have some damn fun.

:: I talked about it before, but "Listen" was wonderful, my favorite episode in years. I felt like that one episode did everything--and better, and more succinctly, and more poetically--that Moffat tried and failed to do with Matt Smith over three seasons. This and "Robot of Sherwood" actually made me like Clara, too. And I liked her relationship with Danny Pink, a former soldier and fellow teacher. About the only thing I didn't like--and this happened throughout the series--is that the Doctor was constantly putting Clara down over her appearance. Other than Moffat really seems to hate women, what the hell was that all about?

:: "Time Heist" was dull. I didn't end up paying it much attention. I thought the Teller was a well-executed creature, though.

:: I loved "The Caretaker." I thought it was fun and emotional, and I liked how Danny Pink was let in on the Doctor's identity. Unfortunately, it also created one of my least favorite arcs of the season, which was Clara feeling like she needed to lie to Danny about traveling with the Doctor in order to keep dating him. That was so unfair. He placed a value on honesty, and she never gave him enough credit for trusting that she knew what she was capable of. That was an undertone that marred the season.

:: I still can't decide if I liked "Kill the Moon" or not, but probably I didn't. The twist was so obvious that I spent 10 or so minutes hoping it wouldn't actually be the twist. Then the Doctor basically runs and hides so that three women can settle for all humankind the question of abortion (allegorically), and then their decisions don't actually end up mattering because they don't carry them through. I don't know, it felt like it thought it was very clever, but didn't actually do much. Always nice to see Hermione Norris, though.

:: I did love "Mummy on the Orient Express," however. And at least this one touched more on the ideas of soldiery, duty, loyalty and protection.

:: "Flatline" had some neat ideas, like the two-dimensional aliens and the shrunken TARDIS, but it didn't entirely work for me. Great scares, and Clara in the leadership role was a treat, to my surprise, but this whole inability to resolve her feelings for Danny versus her thirst for adventure got on my nerves.

:: "In the Forest of the Night" was straight stupid. A real mess that had a big concept that it totally failed to make plausible or even, really, care that much about. It mostly fell on the Danny-Clara relationship and the (admittedly cute) interactions of the Doctor with a bunch of children. But for something that wanted to pretend it was big, it sure felt small and paltry. Nothing about it worked.

:: And into the two-part finale, which took all of the goodwill this series had built up for me and threw it against the wall, breaking it into a hundred bloody pieces. First, let's kill Danny Pink right away. That's an absolute disservice to the character, but it's typical that Moff just turns people into living plot devices. Then, let's have Clara betray the Doctor and somehow expect me to ever like or respect her again. All she did was lie to Danny, and now his death drives her mad with grief? And then the Doctor thinks the afterlife is something you can just travel to in a time machine? Yeah, I know, it's not really the afterlife, but I feel like the Doctor would have figured that out pretty early. Like, before he came up with the idea. Almost everything that happens in this episode is totally superfluous up until the last 10 or so minutes. Oh, and then there's the crazy woman that's been popping in all season, which is such a Moffat type of character that I was annoyed whenever she appeared. Yeah, she's the Master. I'm sure he thought that was a clever twist and not completely obvious. 15 minutes in, I was done with the whole series. After Clara's big betrayal, I didn't care what happened anymore.

Honestly, Moffat could have communicated more clearly that this whole afterlife deal was a scientific scheme and not actually some sort of limbo, but he just doesn't care. It's typical Moffat: he loves to come up with big concepts and scenarios, and never knows where to take them to make the whole thing interesting, so they just fizzle out.

:: "Death in Heaven" was even more dipshitted, however. The big plan is to seed the planet so that the organic remains of the dead all become Cybermen. So... the Cybermen's armor is organic, then? And their circuitry? I thought the whole point of the Cybermen was that they were better than the weakness of organics. Does anyone running this show even care about anything anymore?

I wish Moffat's Doctor Who didn't try to be so grand. The Doctor as the President of Earth was itself pretty stupid, but the whole thing just comes down to some people on a plane and a very drawn out confrontation in a graveyard. We can pretend it's on an epic scale, but there's no effort to make it look that way. It looks so small scale.

Again, there was a chance to explore the Doctor as soldier. I've pointed out since the Russell T. Davies era that, with the exception of Matt Smith's sudden violent streak during the last Amy Pond episodes, the show bends itself into pretzels to dispatch the villain in such a way that the Doctor doesn't have to ever actually kill anyone. Danny Pink's line about the Doctor as an officer, keeping his hands clean while others do his killing for him, is a valid criticism that deserves real weight and consideration, but it doesn't really land. And even if it had, the episode takes it away by leaving the killing of the Master to another character. Once again, the Doctor doesn't have to make the hard decisions because someone else does it for him. It felt very anticlimactic.

Oh, and apparently the Brigadier is a Cyberman now and we just have to live with that.

God, I hope this is the last we see of Clara. I'm very annoyed that the show finally got me invested in her and then just had her go crazy at the end. Which is, honestly, what I expect from Moffat, because, in the end, he'll always forego character development in favor of twists and showing off how clever he is. I think the next companion should be a girl called Quirky Cleverton, the quirkiest clever and the cleverest quirk from Cleverhampton, where the clevers quirk so cleverly and the quirks clever so quirkily.

(This is, incidentally, the same problem I had with the awful third season of Sherlock, where Mary Watson was similarly disserviced and where we're seriously asked to believe that the most dangerous and powerful blackmailer in England is a man who can produce no physical proof but just has a really good memory. Okay, sure.)

And hey, the Christmas episode has Nick Frost as Santa Claus, so I guess Santa Claus exists, unless there's some idiotic clever-clever twist there. Maybe Moffat can finally reveal that the Doctor has been Jesus this whole time and just get it over with.

At least Osgood got killed and there'll be no more of her. Don't worry, he'll come up with more pandering caricatures.

Forgot to mention: love the new opening.

Also: the BBC released a weirdly intense and unnecessarily aggressive clip from the Christmas episode that features Clara, so, yay, more of her.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Marvels: Fantastic Four #26

"The Avengers Take Over!" by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & George Roussos
(May 1964)

This is the big one. The biggest cast of characters yet gathered in a single issue of a Marvel comic.

Picking up where we left off last issue: the Hulk is rampaging through New York City, headed for Tony Stark's mansion and, he hopes, a showdown with Captain America and the Avengers. Reed has fallen into a coma after being exposed to a virus; Sue and Johnny have proven no match for the Hulk; and the only one left to slow him down is the Thing.

Still, as we found out a year ago in Fantastic Four #12, the Thing will ultimately be overpowered by the Hulk. They batter each other for a few pages, and even with an assist from the Human Torch, it's no use. The Army's response is futile; the Hulk literally catches the shell fired at him in midair and throws it back. And remember, as big as the Hulk is, he's incredibly fast and agile, so he manages to slip away and finally makes it to Stark's mansion.

When he gets there, the Avengers are waiting for him, and despite Rick Jones' protests to hear out the Hulk, everyone piles on him at once. It's too hard to fight in such close quarters, though, and the Hulk is too powerful for everyone. He grabs Rick and takes off with him.

Meanwhile, Reed is able to recover and lead the Fantastic Four back into the fight, just as Captain America catches up with the Hulk.

I love that Stan & Jack have chosen to make Cap a real match for the Hulk. It's kind of a surprise; remember, this is only the second time we've seen Captain America in the new Marvel Universe, so we're not totally sure how powerful he is. Here, he's lithe and acrobatic, and a seasoned veteran who know how to use Hulk's power against him.

In fact, he's doing so well against the Hulk that an outside complication has to be introduced in order to prolong the fight, and that comes in the form of Cap's new teammates and the arrival of the Fantastic Four. They're all so eager to take down the Hulk that they keep getting in each other's way, in some cases literally tripping over one another until the Hulk simply picks Rick back up and leaps off.

The main problem, once again, is that no one is taking the time to listen. I mean, sure, the Avengers and the FF take time to patch things up and agree to work with one another, but no one wants to listen to the Hulk and, obviously, the Hulk doesn't want to listen to Rick. The Hulk feels betrayed; Rick knows all of the Hulk's secrets, but now he's run off to team up with Captain America. The Hulk has Rick at the top of a skyscraper under construction, and before anyone can say what needs to be said, the heroes show up and the fight resumes.

The Hulk actually manages to get the best of the Thing, and I believe the only thing that stops him from just straight up murdering Benjamin J. Grimm is the intervention of Captain America. Cap is actually able to use Hulk's leverage against him and flip him!

But to my great surprise, it's actually Hank Pym who defeats the Hulk. Actually using his powers creatively for a change, Hank keeps changing between his three sizes but, realizing that the Hulk is inexhaustible, he gets his ants up to the building and has them crawl all over the Hulk, who becomes so distracted by his itching that Rick is able to shove a gamma pill in the Hulk's mouth just before Hulk falls into the Hudson River. Only we, the readers, see Bruce Banner pop up from the water and, unconscious, float away...

For all that's happened, Captain America feels sorry for the Hulk, noting that "It's a tragic thing to lose a partner! Perhaps I, more than anyone else, realize what a loss it can be--how it can affect a man of action!"

I'll buy that, but I won't buy into Reed's protestation that neither the Fantastic Four nor the Avengers are Hulk's enemies, that it's too bad the Hulk doesn't realize that, and "we want to save him from himself!" They all just seem to hate the Hulk so much. I understand the Hulk is dangerous and hard to reason with, but it's not like anyone's exactly trying anymore.

All of their great minds, and no one's tried to just talk to the Hulk.

Stray notes:

:: I almost feel bad that I find it so satisfying when the Hulk bashes his own head into Iron Man's chest, nearly knocking Tony unconscious. Sorry, Tony, I'm on Team Hulk here, and you've always been a dick about it.

:: Literally the only thing the Wasp does in the fight with the Hulk is to get up to his ear and just annoy him long enough for Captain America to take over.

:: In the letters page, Stan says that the Thing isn't bulletproof, but his rocky skin is thick enough to stop a .22 caliber bullet. Readers want the Hulk back in his own book, and Stan says they're going to redesign the Wasp's costume, but I have no idea why, because her costume is pure sci-fi goodness.

Oh, and apparently the next issue of Fantastic Four will feature the return of the Sub-Mariner and Doctor Strange in his first crossover with the rest of the Marvel Universe! They're going to have a hard time topping this epic, that's for sure.

Next Marvels: the story of the Hulk continues as the Lava Men invade the surface in Avengers #5!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

R Is for Roosevelt Franklin

I've talked about this guy before, but I wasn't going to miss the opportunity to once again call him by his first name first and his second name second: I love Roosevelt Franklin. Unfortunately, I never actually got to experience him as a cast member of Sesame Street as he was off the show before I was even born.

Roosevelt Franklin was created in the first season of Sesame Street (which premiered 45 years ago this week!) by Matt Robinson, a writer and producer on the show who was also the first actor to play Gordon (and, incidentally, the first Sesame Street character to speak on camera in the first episode). Robinson's vision for Gordon was a strong male figure, particularly for African-American kids, saying later that "Somewhere around four or five, a black kid is going to learn he's black. He's going to learn that's positive or negative. What I want is to project a positive image."

Although Roosevelt Franklin is never explicitly said to be Black, it's easy to infer. In every sketch of his I've seen, he's a great and compelling character, easy to like. He loves to scat, rhyme and sing the blues, he plays sports, and he has a great relationship with his mother. Most of his sketches take place at Roosevelt Franklin Elementary School and involve him and his classmates (like Smart Tina, Suzanne Something and Hardhead Henry Harris) learning about concepts like here and there, or up and down, traffic safety, poetry, acceptance, respect, family and, er, not drinking poison.

In this sketch, he teaches the class a lesson about pride by rhyming the story of a duck who wanted to be a chicken:


Here, Roosevelt teaches his class about how Africa isn't just one big jungle like it is in the movies:


And in this delightful sketch, Roosevelt tells the story of Morty Moot Mope, who needs to find some rhymes:


This guy is just so much fun. I'm not sure (no one seems to be) who performed the actual Roosevelt Franklin puppet, but Matt Robinson performed the voice and wrote most of the sketches featuring him, including some wonderful songs. Here are probably Roosevelt Franklin's three best sketches on Sesame Street, all featuring songs written by Robinson and the great Joe Raposo:

"Roosevelt Franklin Counts"


"Roosevelt Franklin's Alphabet"


and "Roosevelt Franklin's Days of the Week"


Incidentally, Roosevelt Franklin's Mother is voiced by Loretta Long, the actress who plays Susan. Here's a picture of the four of them together.

Long once said that Jim Henson performed Roosevelt Franklin's Mother, leaving it up in the air as to who performed Roosevelt himself. Frank Oz seems to be a popular opinion, but it's hard to tell.

By the way, those three songs and more feature on the 1971 album The Year of Roosevelt Franklin, which is my favorite Sesame Street album. (If you're interested, one YouTube user has the entire album posted.)

What I like about Roosevelt Franklin is that as a character he's not just about teaching the basic skills (though he does that quite well), but teaches the importance of accepting yourself for who you are. I think that's some powerful stuff for kids. I grew up not being comfortable with myself, internalizing the negative ways in which others saw me, and that's made being an adult pretty hard. On one track of The Year of Roosevelt Franklin--"The Skin I'm In"--Roosevelt's brother Baby Ray sings about his skin: "Way back in the old days, we used to be ashamed, but then we found out we were beautiful, and we've never been the same." That's important and it's positive.

What bothers me about Roosevelt Franklin is that, despite being considered a main character on Sesame Street, he was rather unceremoniously dropped after the seventh season in response to complaints that he embodied negative African-American stereotypes--particularly in his style of speech--and that his rowdy classroom set a bad example. (If you're really interested in going into the issue of Black linguistics--something Robinson was passionate about retaining as much as possible--and Sesame Street, there's an interesting criticism from 1973 here.)

Roosevelt Franklin appeared in Sesame Street books well into the 1980s, but after 1975, he didn't appear on the show itself. Despite his popularity--enough that he had his own record--he just disappeared.

Except for writing for and voicing Roosevelt Franklin, Matt Robinson had left Sesame Street in 1972 and continued to write scripts and produce. He was involved in two more of my favorite shows: he wrote episodes of Sanford and Son and served as story editor and, for a while, head writer of The Cosby Show, even appearing onscreen in the episode "Cliff's Nightmare," which features the Muppets! Diagnosed with Parkinson's in 1982, Robinson fought the disease for 20 years, passing away in 2002. His daughter is the actress Holly Robinson Peete.

I'm glad all of these sketches survive and that we can still enjoy Roosevelt Franklin. I think they've never had a character quite like him since, and he falls into the same category for me as Prairie Dawn, as a main character who is unjustly forgotten and who added something that the show doesn't really have anymore.

To me, Roosevelt Franklin will always be a main character.

ABC Wednesday

Film Week

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

ABOVE SUSPICION (1943)
Joan Crawford and Fred MacMurray are newlyweds who spy on the Nazis for the British government during their honeymoon. I'm surprised how forgotten this movie seems to be, as I found it to be absolutely delightful. It's a serious spy thriller, but Joan and Fred are playing it like low-level Thin Man stuff, and somehow the two tones mix together perfectly. Filmed in the middle of World War II, it doesn't turn the Nazis into cartoon villains, but it does manage to find moments of lightness. I loved it. Basil Rathbone co-stars; Conrad Veidt's final film. It ends with a great, pithy final line. ****

THE FOG (1980)
I'd never bothered to see this John Carpenter film because I'd always seen it dismissed as boring. I didn't find it boring at all. It's deliberately paced, but it's very moody and builds up its suspense. I think it's a minor work of Carpenter's, but one that draws interesting characters and tries to put a modern spin on Gothic thrills. (Carpenter seems to be influenced here as much by Jaws as he is by haunting films.) It makes a lot of its low budget with great locations and wide lenses. ***

HIGH SCHOOL POSSESSION (2014)
Lifetime movie about dumbass kids being dumbasses. Jennifer Stone (from Wizards of Waverly Place) is a high school girl whose parents are breaking up and is going through a rough time. We're supposed to believe that this is a horror thriller and something supernatural might be occurring, but everything that happens to her is really just an unnecessarily overblown (by the film) version of being a teenager going through a really rough time (and possibly going through some kind of psychotic breakdown or schizophrenic episode; she's disassociating, but to be fair, it doesn't help that everyone keeps abandoning her or getting frustrated that, for example, they took her to one meeting with a therapist and "it didn't work"). This was a dumb, frustrating movie. Stone's best friend (my darling little Janel Parrish from Pretty Little Liars), who has been reconnecting with church, is fully convinced that Stone is possessed by a demon and needs an exorcism. This movie seems to be under the bizarre impression that exorcisms are not only perfectly legal, but are pretty well-regulated (the priest who performs them references confidentiality laws), a matter of regular occurrence, and a completely legitimate option for people who have lost their way a bit. The movie spends so much time seemingly arguing that any normal expression of teenage sexuality, autonomy and freedom is actually the unhappy and bizarre result of demonic possession, that the twist that comes in the last 20 minutes or so is completely unexpected. Unfortunately, everyone has to act like a total dumbshit (including the supposedly brilliant Parrish, who is the star journalist of the school paper) to get there. And then the ending seems more interested in setting everything up for a sequel than in resolving anything. It's... it's kind of infuriating. Bad, but not in that fun way we hope for from Lifetime movies. No stars.

THE GHOST GOES WEST (1935)
Fun comedy directed by Rene Clair with Robert Donat in a dual role as an impoverished Scottish lord who sells his castle to an American family, and as the ghost of that castle who is forced to roam each night until he can restore his family's honor. You can see the seams a little bit, but Donat is great and he has a lot of chemistry with Jean Parker, and it's just so damn likable. Great romantic mood, too. I loved it. ****

THE CAT AND THE CANARY (1939)
Another movie that creates a great mood, although I didn't quite enjoy this one as much as I wanted to. Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard are a great team, and the production value is high, but this is the third version of this play I've seen on film, and even though it is the best one, it's just not that moving a story. Great action climax, though, and I love all of the secret passages and intrigue. That black cat is really wonderful, too. ***

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Marvels: Amazing Spider-Man #12

"Unmasked by Doctor Octopus!" by Stan Lee & Steve Ditko
(May 1964)

This issue is probably the best issue of Amazing Spider-Man so far. And it nicely bookends the previous issue, which ended sadly, with Betty Brant losing her brother and Peter unable to share his secret with her. Still, now that the two are back in New York, they seem to be picking up where they left off. Betty has her old job back and the two are in love. Except that Peter's coming down with the flu, everything seems great.

But there's also the question of Doctor Octopus. Having escaped the police last issue, Doc Ock is on a bit of a crime spree, trying to stay in the public eye so that Spider-Man will show up to do battle, so Ock can have his revenge. Frustrated at the lack of response, Doctor Octopus tracks Betty down at the Daily Bugle and storms through J. Jonah Jameson's office window, taking her prisoner and demanding that Jameson put a notice in the paper telling Spider-Man to come rescue the girl at Coney Island.

Jameson orders Peter to go to Coney Island and hide so he can get some pictures but, second-guessing him, also secretly goes himself. This would be a momentous enough battle even if Peter weren't ailing, but he's so sick that his powers are coming and going. He can't stick to walls and his super-strength fails. When he shows up at the amusement park to save Betty, Ock is actually frustrated: "Don't water down my revenge by making it too easy!"

And then, it happens. As promised by the issue's cover: not a dream, not an imaginary tale. Spider-Man is unmasked!

This is one of my favorite moments in the history of this character. Spider-Man is unmasked in front of Betty, Jameson, and the police, but because his powers are being suppressed by illness, no one--not even Doctor Octopus--believes Peter Parker could ever be Spider-Man. They all think he was just pretending to be Spidey to save Betty. Ock is so upset by this that he races off into the night. This comic is pure soapy greatness sometimes; Archie with superpowers. (That's a compliment, son.)

After a fitful night of sleep, Peter wakes up feeling like his old spider-self, "the ol' zingaroo" back in his jump. And after reading about what Peter did in the papers, Liz Allan suddenly thinks Peter's the most romantic teenager alive and keeps ditching Flash to try to hang out with him.

And then Doctor Octopus releases all the animals from the Central Park Zoo.

There are a couple of fun pages of Spidey gathering up zoo animals (including a lively little fight with a gorilla) before Ock and Spider-Man face off once more. There's an epic fight across the rooftops of New York City--Spider-Man, all too aware of how powerful Octopus' arms are, tries to go in for direct attacks instead of merely outmaneuvering him this time--before the two crash into a deserted sculptor's studio, giving Steve Ditko the opportunity to draw gigantic stone faces for Spidey and Ock to grapple around.

What ends the fight is fire. Somehow--let's not get too into it, because it's really just plot contrivance, but it makes for an exciting ending--their fight starts a fire, and Stan & Steve are more interested in how Peter survives.

Doctor Octopus is captured by police, no one is hurt, Peter's belt-camera was taking pictures, and he even gets the satisfaction of turning Liz down for a date so he can go meet Betty.

After last issue's sad walk-away, Peter Parker sure needed a happy ending. You've earned it, pal.

Stray observations:

:: There are always empty flagpoles around whenever a Marvel superhero needs them. Spider-Man uses flagpoles for momentum a few times in this issue, leading to the remark "If I'm ever elected President, I'm gonna declare a National Be Kind to Flagpoles Week!!"

:: Reading this issue again just makes me want to watch Spider-Man 2, since some of that film's story comes from it. Definitely my favorite issue of this comic so far.

:: Fans in the letters page (including future pro Dave Cockrum!) have lots of praise for Amazing Spider-Man #9--"The Man Called Electro!"--but are more split on Amazing Spider-Man #8, particularly the Human Torch story. Consensus seems to be that Spidey came off like a jerk in that one.

Next issue, another of Spider-Man's classic villains is introduced, but this issue set a high bar for the future. But first, we're going to do the next two issues in reverse order. Going alphabetically, Avengers #5 is next, but it actually takes place after the one after that, which also features an appearance by the Avengers, so... this explanation is sounding complicated, so...

Next time: the Hulk is still rampaging! The Thing is still trying to stop him! And the Avengers get involved! It's almost everybody versus the jade giant in Fantastic Four #26!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Muppet Monday

Not that I'll ever need an excuse to post the Muppets, but Muppet Monday is now a thing.

Kristen Bell Mondays

A Couple of Lucasfilm Things That Made Me Way Too Happy

First, have you seen John Tyler Christopher's variant cover to Marvel's upcoming Star Wars #1?

That's a wonderful homage to the old Marvel Star Wars series. I'm very sure they won't be letting ol' Jaxxon in... or Plif and the Hoojibs, or Dani or the Lahsbees or the Iskalonians or any of the silly old Marvel stuff that still looms so large in my own personal Star Wars universe. But that's a nice little callback. Nice to see some of the stuff I loved as a kid still getting shout-outs. Honestly, sometimes the wonderful thing about being an adult is just having things from your childhood validated. Maybe I'll check this comic out, anyway.

Speaking of validation, how's this?

Like a lot of guys my age, I've pretty much been in love with Lea Thompson since I was 9. And I've said many times that I love the movie Howard the Duck, damn the popular perception of it. And then, outside the Dancing with the Stars rehearsal studio, this happened:

Honestly, my heart almost couldn't take that.

Some good geek references this morning. Hopefully that's a sign of a nice day to come...

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Song of the Week: "Johannesburg"

A few weeks ago, NBC aired a cut down version of the 1975 Richard Pryor episode of Saturday Night Live that, unfortunately, didn't include Gil Scott-Heron's performance of this great song. So I just needed to hear it again and, hey, why not share it for Song of the Week, since I've never had anything up by the man. Which is just a major omission on my part, because I love soul, jazz-funk and jazz-fusion. You can trace a line right from his music to dance music and eventually hip hop. And as always, I love the idea of a laid back, even bouncy tune packed with love and truth that is actually a protest song. This is the opening track from Scott-Heron's 1976 album From South Africa to South Carolina. Have a peaceful day.