Saturday, July 06, 2013

Marvels: Tales to Astonish #27

"The Man in the Ant Hill!" by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers
(January 1962)

I've never known for sure if this was meant to be a sort of "pilot story" for a new superhero series, or if it was another sci-fi horror story in the pages of one of Marvel's anthology books that Stan Lee later decided to turn into a superhero feature. Does anyone know which it is?

It's a pretty neat idea for a story, but it's kind of slight, too, which is why it's a good thing it only lasts seven pages (including the title splash page). Right now it's really only a neat idea for a horror tale: Dr. Henry Pym, testing a reducing serum (that will potentially allow entire armies to be shrunk, transported on one plane, and then re-enlarged), tests it on himself and shrinks to the size of an ant.

The fact that he then can't reach his enlarging serum because he forgot to not leave it up on the windowsill makes me question just how brilliant a scientist he really is. I mean, how did he think he was going to get up to the damn thing?

So he winds up in an ant hill and barely escapes with his life, aided only by a well-placed match, a sympathetic ant, and, um, his knowledge of judo. Dr. Pym fighting an ant with judo is not as exciting as it sounds. If it sounds exciting in the first place.

So, when Pym gets back to his lab (again, thanks to the ant, not really thanks to him), he destroys his serums because he apparently has decided that his own absent-mindedness is proof that his serums are "far too dangerous to ever be used by any human again." That's right: his own dumbass mistake of not putting the enlarging serum at floor level is proof positive that his experiment is a failure, and then he just gives up on it, because that's what scientists do when they fail one time.

Brilliant. Scientist.

Of course, he will return to the drawing board and work out his serums 8 issues from now in order to become one of the Marvel Universe's first heroes. And he'll still kind of suck, actually. Ant-Man's kind of lame. But we'll get to that in Tales to Astonish #35.

For now... neat idea, like I said. Not much of a story, but neat idea.

Next time: the Fantastic Four face the first of many, many, many, many extraterrestrial threats to mankind.

Friday, July 05, 2013

Kevin Clash, Briefly

The Kevin Clash story can never have a happy ending. It just can't.

I read on Wednesday that three of the sexual abuse cases were thrown out because they exceeded the statute of limitations. This is just... I feel sick thinking about it.

First and most important of all, I think: there's a statute of limitations on molesting children? The official language is that the claims were filed "more than six years after each plaintiff reasonably should have become aware of the defendant’s alleged violations." What? Doesn't that seem... I mean, there's a lot of shame and avoidance that comes with having been abused as a child that makes telling anyone difficult, especially since you're not necessarily mature enough to go about addressing being abused legally. Some people don't want to tell anyone because they're afraid it's their fault, or because they think no one will believe them, or a myriad of reasons. Some people try to bury the trauma. How can there be a statute of limitations on something so psychologically scarring?

Second: as much as I want to believe Kevin Clash is incapable of doing these things, getting the cases thrown out on a technicality is not the same thing as actually being found not guilty, and it's pissing me off how Clash's lawyer is acting like it is.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Film Week

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

The two new Mickey Mouse shorts. I like this new series of design-oriented cartoons. I know there's a lot of criticism of them for being flash-animated instead of fully-animated, but when it comes right down to it, I think they're funny and charming. It's nice to see Mickey Mouse doing something besides playing Dora the Explorer on Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. Both shorts ****.

So, apparently this was written by Rita Mae Brown as a parody of slasher films, but the filmmakers decided to direct it straight. Missed opportunity? There are attempts to deconstruct the gender politics of slasher movies that get missed because of the serious tone; it's also unintentionally hilarious. It's not a great movie, but it's kind of a fun-stupid one that I'll probably never need to see again. Unless it's for Brinke Stevens' scenes, because I have always been and will always be in love with her. **1/2

This movie seems to have compromise written all over it. I would like to think that director Mary Harron wanted to take an honest look at the sad weirdness of Anna Nicole Smith's life--the AV Club described it perfectly when they said the movie paints her as someone whose biggest flaw was an almost suicidal passivity--but Lifetime wanted more of a bizarre train wreck. But Harron is just sympathetic enough to Anna Nicole as a human being that it's impossible to laugh at. I think there's a much better movie that could have been made with Harron's approach, but probably not one that Lifetime was totally interested in making, so there's no meat here. It's so off-putting in the beginning with its strange device of little Vicki Lynn seeing visions of her future self as Anna Nicole, and then it just becomes shallow and fleeting, and finally it's just a collection of sadness and tragedy that becomes really hard to watch. It's not Liz & Dick silliness, but it's not substantial, either, so it just sort of sits there, the elements of something with a point of view trapped inside, just making you feel bad. Could've been something, I really feel that way. **1/2

Oh, fuck off, Lifetime. *

Three selfish, self-destructive bitches (Kirsten Dunst, Lizzy Caplan, Isla Fisher) act selfishly, self-destructively, and bitchy when their fat friend (Rebel Wilson) dares to find happiness and get engaged before they do, but then are given magical, unearned redemption because there's a third act and that's just how movies end. Good performances, actually. The humor is sort of bracingly honest to the point of being harsh, which is hard to take, but which would be understandable if it were going anywhere other than predictable sentiment that literally seems to come out of nowhere. At least it's not too apologetic about what unlikable assholes nearly all of its characters are. **1/2

Beautiful footage of chimpanzees in the wild. DisneyNature comes under fire for shaping a narrative in its films, which doesn't necessarily bother me on its own. I quite liked African Cats. But there's just too much of it here, too much of an attempt to anthropomorphize the animals, and Tim Allen's narration is just pitched at a level that is less documentary and more telling children a story. It just didn't work for me... until I turned the sound off. I watched this on cable. You know what would be nice? If the DVDs of these movies had an option to watch the movie without the narration. I can follow it fine without being talked down to. Worth watching without sound just for the incredible photography. **1/2

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Marvels: Fantastic Four #1

I've been reading through the history of the Marvel Universe for a while, going back and re-reading where it all started in the 1960s. And, since I'm not doing much on this blog except for occasional bursts of energy, I'm going to be the umpteenth person to uselessly reblog it. It's just for myself, really, and there's no schedule, so it'll be either frequent or infrequent.

I'll just start at the beginning, then.

"The Fantastic Four!" by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, George Klein & Christopher Rule
(November 1961)

Pretty much the template for first issues in what will be the Marvel Universe. I had forgotten how initially the FF were sort of a shadowy group of mystery men (and one woman), sort of lurking a bit and trying not to draw attention (although the Thing does demolish a car just for getting in his way). Lee & Kirby set up a good format by first introducing us to the characters through their superpowers, then giving us the origin of these fantastic figures, and finally showing us their first mission as a team.

It's very much what I think of in 1960s science fiction, and in a very good way. The tropes of comic books are long-established, and here they're reinterpreted, modernized, and given a science fiction sheen. It's still superpowered heroes fighting monsters, but there are a couple of things that are different, the most important of which is that the characters are all flawed. That approach makes them more recognizably human. One of the constant complaints about Superman, for example, is that it's hard to relate to someone who, for all intents and purposes, is a god. (Not an argument I like, actually, but I've talked about that before.) The FF are easier to relate to because we can relate to their most basic problems.

As far as the characters go, Ben Grimm is easily my favorite. He remains to this day one of my favorite characters in the Marvel Universe. I can certainly relate to him: he's short-tempered and he's sensitive, he's quick to anger and he hates the predicament he finds himself in of being an ugly monster. I always imagined him as someone who felt a little alienated from society, and now that the gamma radiation has made him physically alienated as well, he's turned further inward.

Johnny Storm, the Human Torch, is a young, cocky hotshot. Reed Richards is very much in the B-science fiction movie professor sort of vein, right down to the pipe; he's a bit self-aggrandizing and pompous. And Sue Storm is... the girl. That really is kind of it for her in these early issues; it was only a little bit later when fans started calling for her to be removed from the book that Stan and Jack really took the time to showcase her as a character and give her moments when she proved invaluable to the team.

The first villain the FF face is the Mole Man (stylized Moleman here), a... well, they never say what he was, exactly. He was shunned by society for being ugly and unsettling (a fairly simplistic motivation), and he's supposed to be brilliant, but they never say if he was a scientist, but I kind of assumed he was... Was he a scientist? He's moved to Monster Isle and made himself king of the monsters there and intends to rule the world by crippling its defensive capabilities and its energy by wrecking every atomic plant. He's grandiose, but still in that sort of Flash Gordon serial tradition of being an angry megalomaniac.

Jack Kirby's art is great; the value of clarity in comic book art has been diminished over the years, especially by the awful 1990s trend of splash pages everywhere and cool poses over storytelling. It's always nice to go back and see Kirby from this time period just to remember that it used to be important. Stan Lee's dialogue is just the right shade of hyperbolic; it's hard to read the narration and not hear it in his excited voice.

Some other observations:

:: I absolutely hate the way all of the characters call each other by name except for Ben. Everyone is always calling him "Thing." Gee, wonder why he has such a chip on his shoulder... They even take his damn name away from him.

:: Something else silly: the cab driver who hears Sue talking but doesn't see her because she's invisible, and thinks his cab is haunted. Stan and Jack seem to get a kick out of it, because it happens a few times in the first couple of years of the mag.

:: Interesting call here to not have the FF in costume; they're just wearing their street clothes. It's interesting because we get to know them as people first. It's the opposite of DC, where the street clothes are the disguise and the costumes are the reality. The Marvel approach from the beginning seems to be that these are people first and superheroes second. People with extraordinary powers.

:: One way you can tell it's 1961: the reason the foursome fly a rocket into outer space--thus encountering gamma radiation that alters their bodies and gives them their powers--is to beat "the Commies" into space. Also, the gamma rays are just referred to as "cosmic rays." At the time, only one man had been into space--Yuri Gagarin--and there was genuine concern in 1961 about what effects being in outer space could have on the human body. So gamma rays were something science was concerned with at the time, though that fear later proved to be groundless.

:: The sequence in which we see Reed, Sue, Ben and Johnny first experience the changes of the radiation is genuinely horrific.

:: I wish I could say that Sue did something useful in the fight with Moleman, but she doesn't.

:: I do like how the Moleman blows up Monster Isle on his own, sealing his own doom as the Fantastic Four escape. The FF are science heroes, not killers.

All in all, though, it is a great introduction that, intentionally or no, cements the approach to the characters of the Marvel Universe, and tells us what kinds of stories to expect in the future. Though tweaks will come, the issue is bursting with confidence and the characters are almost fully-formed from the get-go. Damn good stuff.

Next time: the Ant-Man, sort of.

Monday, July 01, 2013

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Jim Kelly 1946-2013

Song of the Week: "Breaking Us in Two"

Just another song I've always liked from the early 80s. Having an up and down day today, so why not bust this song out?