Saturday, August 13, 2011

Hey, Jim Shooter Has a Blog

Here, check it out.

I've been reading through the back pages this week (it only goes back through March), and he has a lot of interesting stories from behind the scenes of Marvel Comics in the 70s and 80s. I know Shooter's been a controversial figure over the years, and some of his blog is telling his side of the story. But none of it comes across as self-serving to me. What I get from his blog is stories from a guy who passionately loves comic books and has a tremendous talent. Now that we're so far removed from the controversies of his tenure at Marvel, it's interesting, even important, to get his perspective on it, too.

My recommendation is to maybe steer clear of the comments section, though. Some people are still very passionate about some of those dust-ups (particularly the controversy over the return of Jack Kirby's art, which Shooter seems to be unfairly blamed for) and refuse to let go of their own versions of the stories.

Anyway, it's been an interesting flashback week for me. Not only did I finally sit down to read Shooter's blog, but I also discovered that the Hy-Vee has a generic strawberry soda. I used to love generic strawberry soda when I was a kid. I used to get the store brand at Jewel when I was a kid. The cans were so incredibly cheap that we'd just get a bunch of them and get to drink them with special dinners or whatever because it made me and my sister Jayne feel grown-up. (I think my Dad didn't want us getting hooked on Pepsi like he was. Sorry about that, Dad, but some things run in the genes.)

Anyway, my young heart was broken a bit when Jewel stopped carrying strawberry soda. They still had all of their other flavors, but strawberry was replaced by a fruit punch flavor. I think I was 12 or 13 at the time, so in 1988 or 1989. It was just in the last year or two when I stopped casually checking the soda aisle at Jewel to see if it was still there. And no, never. It never was.

So I saw a cheap 2-liter at the new Hy-Vee (78 cents) and decided to take a chance on this generic strawberry soda. And, wonderfully, it tastes almost exactly the same. Enough to almost transport me back to the late 80s.

One of my favorite memories from my kid-hood is going grocery shopping at Jewel with my Mom. We'd go on Friday nights and usually I'd sit near the comic book spinner rack and read comics. I'm sure the employees loved it, but whatever. I was still new to superhero comics back then--until I was 10, I pretty much exclusively read Disney comics, Marvel's Star line for kids (Peter Porker, Muppet Babies, etc), G.I. Joe, Transformers, and the Marvel Star Wars comic. If Jewel didn't have the new Mad or Muppet Magazine, I'd just start reading random comics. At the time, I still wasn't into DC (they seemed too "adult" to me somehow), so I'd read random Marvels, especially any Spider-Man books, since I knew Spidey from cartoons.

For some reason, Shooter and the soda and all the talk of the 80s on his blog made me remember a specific memory. That was the memory of the comic that was my real gateway into the Marvel Universe. A book with a cover that just jumped right out at me and a thickness that demanded to be sat and read.

Amazing Spider-Man #300.

When I saw this, I just had to read it. I knew Spidey had a black costume because I'd read earlier comics on and off (my friend Shane had the "Kraven's Last Hunt" story, and the annual where Peter and Mary Jane got married, all of which I'd read), but the Todd McFarlane art was so different from anything else I'd seen.

My Mom bought me this comic. As soon as I got home, I went down to our finished basement with the vinyl couch and the track lighting and the paneled walls and sat down in front of the television. I didn't turn it on, though. I sat on the couch and put Amazing Spider-Man #300 on the coffee table where I played with my Masters of the Universe and MASK figures and Legos and opened my can of strawberry soda and a Rolo, and I sat and read this comic. I was sucked right into the story of Eddie Brock and the alien costume's revenge on Spider-Man. That was a comic book that you read. And you remembered it. It made an impression.

At least it did on me when I was a kid. It pulled me into the world of the Marvel Universe at last. It sent me to the library to find Origins of Marvel Comics and Son of Origins of Marvel Comics. It made me want to learn about the history of Marvel as a publisher. It made me well and truly a Marvel fan, and then a comic book fan in general. It wasn't like now, where stories in comic books tend to be so poorly told that you blow through them in two minutes and immediately forget them. There were comics then--and back issues I read at the time--that I still remember to this day because they were stories worth telling.

God, did I love comics.

I remember that night, sitting in the basement alone, completely rapt in Spidey's story, eating my Rolo and sipping my strawberry soda and having the most special night. And after that, I watched the movie Critters on WGN--a movie I just watched this week for pretty much the first time since then (I plan to do an 80s Revisited about it).

This has been quite a week of pleasant memories. And for that, I thank Jim Shooter. And Hy-Vee. And Marvel Comics.

And my Mom. I mean, she bought me all of that stuff.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Happy 31st Birthday, Dominique Swain, Wherever You Are

I hope you enjoy your thirties as much as I enjoyed your twenties.

No One's on Team Lopo

After George Lopez's abrupt cancellation from TBS this week, I'm wondering if Conan O'Brien is next.

Last year, during all the "Team Coco" nonsense, I remember saying here that I was surprised TBS would just push George Lopez back an hour to make room for Conan. It seemed like, in a conversation about who stole whose time slot, kind of a shitty move for Conan O'Brien to come back from having his time slot taken away by taking away someone else's time slot. It seemed very gracious of George Lopez to take the hit, even though his show was doing surprisingly well where it was. I had it explained to me by a number of white hipster Conan fans that it didn't matter because George Lopez wasn't funny--at least not to white hipsters--but whatever, it's impossible to have a conversation with a white hipster that doesn't come across as completely self-serving and disingenuous because, well, that's what pretending to be hip is all about now.

The thing is, Lopez was averaging over a million viewers a night in his old time slot. Now, pushed back an hour later, he's been getting about 400,000. Not enough to keep a show going. What I do find interesting is that Conan O'Brien, the savior of white hipster comedy, is actually getting less viewers per night than unfunny George Lopez did in the same time slot. Conan's averaging around 800,000. It's a lot more expensive to produce a show only 800,000 people watch nightly than it is to just throw on some My Name Is Earl reruns and sell the ad space.

Whatever happens, it does sort of reinforce what I said last year, which is that Team Coco would do whatever it took to save Conan O'Brien's talk show career except actually watch his show. Being indignant on the internet and going to comedy concerts is hip; watching a hoary old commercial format that is rapidly becoming outdated isn't.

I don't know why networks--and TBS--even bother with it anymore.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Film Week

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

Eh, I thought it was funny. It's basically a fun, 80s-style fantasy adventure with a bunch of stoner humor and dick jokes. Your mileage may vary, but for me it was hysterical. Good special effects, funny performances, Natalie Portman looking more delicious than ever, and I always love Danny McBride, especially when he's one of the writers. ***1/2

PAUL (2011)
Critics really punished this one; I think critics (AND fans) are going to always punish Simon Pegg for not making Shaun of the Dead over and over again; I'll just be happy if he never makes another How to Lose Friends & Alienate People. Besides, he and Nick Frost wrote it, it's much funnier than I thought it would be, and Paul is actually an interesting character (Seth Rogen is reining it in a little here). It's a love letter to a specific generation of science fiction fan which I'm a part of, and I enjoyed it a lot. Call this only the second movie ever where Kristen Wiig didn't irritate me. ***1/2 stars.

Too bad they've never released this in America, because after Conan the Barbarian it's the only other good Robert E. Howard movie. James Purefoy is a great Kane, especially in the early, very Howardian pirate scenes. Good special effects, though they do take one a bit out of what's a very convincing non-specific period piece. It reminded me a lot of Highlander--a low budget fantasy movie that ended up being much more than I expected. ***1/2 stars.

MIRANDA (1948)
Cute flick with Glynis Johns as a mermaid who comes onto land to experience society and makes everyone fall in love with her. One of them is David Tomlinson, which I found charming. Insubstantial and light, but nice, and it has Margaret Rutherford (always a good thing). *** stars.

This follow-up to Miranda features Glynis Johns in three roles, including Miranda, but is a lot more bubble-headed than its cute predecessor and not nearly as fun. Just men falling all over Miranda until she finds the right one. But it is nice that Margaret Rutherford is back. ** stars.

An epic quest where all the characters are owls. I was surprised at the emotional conviction with which director Zack Snyder approaches the story. He doesn't demand that you take the story seriously, but he does take the characters seriously, which makes this surprisingly dark story about slavery, justice, racial purity, and war more palatable. Well-animated, well-voiced, and surprisingly strong considering it's a movie about helmeted owls fighting a war based on racism. Interesting and surprisingly involving, though not really essential. *** stars.

Very meta. The adventures of five girls attempting to break out of a brothel is heavily symbolic, punctuated by over-the-top video game-style action scenes that are comments on both the nature of geek sexism and the nature of heroics. There's a lot going on, but in a story sense, there's very little going on. It's a balancing act that you'll either enjoy or won't; I loved it, my wife hated it. That seems to be 98% of the reaction I've seen to this flick. Zack Snyder hasn't once let me down, and he doesn't here. Sucker Punch is, however, so widely open to interpretation that the point will either seem clear or maddeningly vague. An exercise in audience frustration--even audience trolling at times. I dug the experience and felt it had something to say; others didn't. So, since all criticism is totally subjective, I'll just say ***1/2 stars for me, and for you... eh, see it yourself, what do I care?

Monday, August 08, 2011

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Song of the Week: "Ricky"

I just had Weird Al up a month ago, but this seemed fitting, it's a funny video, and you can never have too much Weird Al, anyway.