Saturday, December 14, 2013

50 Shades of Smartass: Chapter 6

In this chapter, Anastasia rides in a helicopter.

For pages.

That's honestly about 75% of this chapter. The helicopter ride.

It's, uh... it's actually as boring and dull as that sounds.

Look, I don't mean to be a dick here, but... when do they start fucking? I'm just going to come right out with it. I thought this book was supposed to be about fucking. Yet here we are, by the end of this chapter, 97 pages in, and there's still no fucking. There's a lot of talking around the idea of fucking, and there's a lot of gross bits where Ana's all tingly with desire she's never felt in her cloistered life, I guess, but no fucking. Not a single exciting or erotic thing has actually happened.

And I'm not being prurient here! I'm sure EL James writes about fucking with the same shrugging vagueness that she brings to writing about business or describing hotel rooms and office buildings. I'm sure it's not going to be good. I am a hundred percent certain that when they fuck, it's going to be completely ridiculous. I just want something to happen, already. James can't tease, she can't make things sexy, and she can't build anticipation. You know why? Because she's not a writer. Can we just agree on that? On the idea that just because you wrote something down it doesn't make you a writer? She has no authorial voice; this is someone blogging their bizarre Robert Pattinson fantasy.

So, if you can't make the build-up interesting at all, could you please, for crying out loud, in the name of all that was once good in this world and could be again, get to the god damn point?

Well, first there's a helicopter ride.

We start right where the last chapter ended, because these two self-absorbed fucks are so goddamn interesting that we need to follow their every single movement lest we lose track of whatever the hell the plot is supposed to be by this goddamn point. Ana can't get over that kiss; "As time ticks on, I assign it mythical, Arthurian legend, Lost City of Atlantis status." I really wish I was her English teacher so I could flunk her out of college. Jesus Christ, lady, it's been a couple of minutes, can you tone it down?

"The car interior is filled with the sweetest, most magical music of two women singing. Oh wow... all my sense are in disarray, so this is doubly affecting." Jeez, he just turned on the radio and she heard opera for apparently the first time. She is so fascinated with her own reactions to everything.

Oh, oh... wait. You know what needs to happen? Someone needs to do an audio version of this with June Diane Raphael as Anastasia and Jason Mantzoukas as Christian Grey. I need that to happen. That would be funny as hell. You wouldn't even have to change any dialogue, it was just be in the delivery and inflection of this utter shit. Read that last thing I quoted, but picture it in June Diane's voice but with an upspeak. (You know? Where every sentence goes up at the end? Like it's a question?) That might actually make this sound smarter.

Anyway, they have one of those annoying conversations about music that you always have with young white people, where Christian Grey says his taste in music is "eclectic." You know who says their music taste is eclectic? People whose music tastes are not eclectic. Exclusively. You ever have people tell you that? You know what my first three questions are when people tell me that? 1. Do you like rap? 2. Do you like country? 3. Do you like jazz? The answers to those questions are, without fail, "no." Every time. What they usually mean is they like what's new and popular and Classical Music's Greatest Hits and some musicals and the Beatles and then they have an old Pasty Cline compilation or something so they think that's "eclectic." They usually use that word. Or, "Oh, I like everything," which really means "Everything but rap, country, jazz, blues, hip-hop, R&B, and any classical music I didn't hear on Looney Tunes growing up." But, hey, Christian put on a Kings of Leon song while lecturing Ana about who Thomas Tallis is, so that's totally eclectic, right?

Yeah, I'm in the redline on annoyance with these two.

I want you to just stop for a moment, okay? Just for one second. And I need you to absorb the full force of what I'm going to say now, knowing who I am and that I devoted a whole series on this blog to dismantling the damn thing. But you need to know this:

Compared to this novel, Twilight is a lost Dickensian masterpiece.

Just... just let that sink in. I gave Stephenie Meyer a lot of shit back in 2009, but I miss her comparatively deft touch.

I'm losing my mind.

This is all happening while Christian is driving Ana back to her apartment. He keeps calling her by her full first name (Anastasia), and she asks "Why do you insist on calling me Anastasia?" "Because it's your name." "I prefer Ana." "Do you now?" I think that all sort of indicates a lack of personal respect. I actually wrote a column about this recently at Hobo Trashcan: that we all have the right to demand to be addressed by the name we've chosen to be addressed by. But he doesn't care; she's his slave and he gets to name her. She hears him on a vague business call and thinks he's too controlling with his employees; meanwhile, he's controlling her every second and she doesn't bat an eye.

So he drops her back home, notices how satisfied and wanton Kate is (gross), Kate's hostile to Christian (as if it matters in the narrative at all), Christian tucks back a stray strand of Ana's hair (because god forbid he's not constantly shaping/training/grooming her), blah blah blah, Kate and Ana talk, blabby blabby bloobity bloo, Ana goes to work adding nothing at all to the plot, not even a little bit, nanny nanny neener neener, Ana hates having to be all feminine, wah wah wah waddy-diddy-doo-wah, then Christian picks her up at work and they talk about nothing that actually matters in any way to anyone or anything in the history of ever, and they're being driven to the helicopter, and she still can only think of the kiss, and bop a lop a shama lama ding dong diddily dang dong crap, she's all hot for hurr durr hurr huh murr and then there's a helicopter ride.

Aside: Ana on Kate: "For some strange reason, she doesn't trust [Christian], maybe because he's so stiff and formal." Or maybe it's because he's a sexual predator and he's not even bothering to hide it.

So, now there's this fucking helicopter and they ride in it for a fucking year.

Well, it feels like a year. It's actually only 5 pages, but consider that everything I've described up to this point--all of which adds nothing to the proceedings--has been going on for 8. 8 pages of this nonsense. Then 5 pages of helicopter riding. What's weird about the helicopter ride is that there are a lot of oddly specific details. It's a real shock, because up until now, EL James doesn't seem to know anything about anything. She doesn't know anything about college students, about how college newspapers work, about the world of business, about clubs, about what it's like to get drunk, about hotel suites, about offices, about how people interact, about anything, but suddenly now she's full of details about helicopters and riding in them and flight communications and what the harnesses are like? Wait, did she actually research something? Or is she actually--and this would be weird, considering what the general half-assed tone has been so far--draw from life experience?

It makes all of Ana's clenching and squirming and "erotic reverie" such as "I'd like to run my tongue along his jaw"--this from a girl who has to pause, take a deep breath and blush when she says the word "sex"--a little less disgusting, just because, for a few pages, it actually takes place in the real world. A few very long pages, but still.

Christian is piloting, because of course he is. He also says "I've never brought a girl up here." She's the first, because she's just so goddamn fucking special. She's impressed by him: "You're just so... competent."

The worst part, though, is he says he loves flying helicopters because "it requires control and concentration." Alright, we get it, he's got a control thing. You've been hitting us over the head with it since I first started reading this book what feels like 40 years ago. He also says--because remember, he's weirdly not human somehow--that his favorite is soaring: "Gliding to the layperson." Thanks for the side order of smug condescension, you prick.

I wish I could make this book manifest itself in human form so I could punch it right in its smarmy face.

This ride is turning her on so much she's going to faint. That's what she says. I did not make that up.

Then they get to Christian's apartment, another in a long line of vaguely described nice places, with typical features like floor and fireplace and door and kitchen area and wood and glass and stainless steel and a piano, which he says he can play very well. "Is there anything you can't do well?" she asks. WE FUCKING GET IT ALREADY FOR THE SAKE OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOR JEEBUS Q. KAZOO HE'S A FUCKING DEMIGOD AMONG THE VAST SWATHS OF LESSER MEN NOW WILL YOU PLEASE TELL ME WHY IN THE WIDE WORLD OF SPORTS I'M SUPPOSED TO GIVE ONE SCINTILLA OF FECAL MATTER ABOUT THIS DICKSPLASH?

She asks him about the books, he flirts with a literary reference. "I could hold you to some impossibly high ideal like Angel Clare or debase you completely like Alec d'Urberville."

"If those are the only two choices, I'll take the debasement." And he gasps, which, again, I just always take literally as this cartoonish, sputtering intake.

"Anastasia, stop biting your lip, please. It's very distracting."

Look, I hate to be the one to break it to you, but if you're really as socially awkward and unattractive and unappealing as you say you are, the only reason Christian has such a hard on for you is that he's found someone pliant that he knows he can train, turn into his toy, use until he tires of her, and then cast aside. That's the only reason. I know EL James is trying to frame it like Ana's amazingly special and the perfect partner for him and oh-so-unique, and he just can't help himself around her, but it doesn't come across that way, because he's so inhumanly remote and she's so tiresome and dull. All we heard about her for entire chapters was that she was undesirable and awkward and ugly, and now we're supposed to believe there's something so singularly amazing about her that this cock stain can hardly keep from wetting his pants just to be near her, but I have absolutely no idea what that could be. Ana is at once flush with desire and blase. Like it's no big deal, but also a really huge deal, you guys. All we get to see is how horny she is and how down on herself she is, so I have no idea--literally none--what Christian could see in her other than someone it's been really easy to manipulate and that he's finally maneuvered into his home and hopefully onto his dick.

That's it.

That's all.

It's not a romance.

It's not erotic.

It's barely even a story.

He makes her sign a nondisclosure agreement, which she signs without even reading, because "I wouldn't talk about us to anyone anyway." I'm sure inside he's just exploding with glee over how easy this is turning out to be.

Then she asks, breathlessly, "Does this mean you're going to make love to me tonight, Christian?" and they're both actually shocked that she says it out loud, and that just cuts right to the heart of why I find this whole thing incredibly asinine: EL James can't ever figure out if her heroine is sophisticated or not. Really, not just Anastasia, but the entire book is like that. James wants to write a sophisticated, adult novel about eroticism, but also can't get over this weirdly parochial timidity, where writing about bondage is naughty, adult fun, but actually saying words like "make love" and "sex" is shocking. This is teenager stuff masquerading as eroticism for people too inexperienced to know better.

His answer is the stuff of stupidity: "No, Anastasia, it doesn't. First, I don't make love. I fuck... hard. Second, there's a lot more paperwork to do. And third, you don't know what you're in for."

And all she can think is "Holy shit, that sounds so... hot."

Which I guess it might if you had only just admitted to yourself that morning that you felt sexual desire for the first time in your life.

I feel gross now. Just, so totally gross, reading about these slimy imbeciles and their ridiculous attempts at sex. More paperwork? What the fuck? If he really needs all of this just to get close to another human being, he has problems that just aren't going to be fixed by being the lead character in an erotic novel that's roughly as sexy as a local carpet commercial.

So then he tells her "You can leave anytime" (even though he's whisked her away in a helicopter and done his best to make her feel totally isolated from the rest of the world) and takes her to what he calls, awfully, "the playroom."

"And it feels like I've time-traveled back to the sixteenth century and the Spanish Inquisition. Holy fuck."

And the chapter ends there.

Join us next time, when I'm sure EL James will still be unable to let herself just get to the fucking already.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Happy Birthday and Merry Christmas, Beautiful

So, today is Taylor Swift's birthday, and it's nearly Christmas, which makes me think she probably got a lot of combo gifts growing up. I've been thinking about that, because my first niece is due to be born any day now, and I keep thinking how she is probably going to get a lot of combo gifts, too. (A fate just barely avoided by her mother, whose birthday is 17 days after Christmas.)

I don't do a lot for birthdays or holidays or anything for both financial and psychological reasons, but I keep thinking that maybe I should calculate the niece's half-birthday every year and send her something for that. I haven't talked to my sister about that, but it's also the kind of thing I like to spring on her to keep her on her toes.

I lucked out getting born on July 17. Practically the middle of the year. Evenly removed from the Christmas bonanza on each side.

Xmas: Tumblr Finds II

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Marvels: Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos #1

"Seven Against the Nazis!" by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers
(May 1963)

This is the first series that I'm reading for these posts that I've actually never read before. All of the others so far, I've read through in the past or at least read issues of here or there over the years. But I had never once read an issue of Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos before. I've never been that into war comics (although I dig me some Sgt. Rock), and in fact I had considered just skipping this series entirely, even though Nick Fury is obviously an integral part of the Marvel Universe.

Oh my goodness gracious, what fun I nearly missed.

This comic is just pure fun. It's a World War II adventure comic, with cartoon Nazis and a cigar-chomping manly swagger that's got its tongue firmly in its cheek. It doesn't make light of the dramatic aspects--it doesn't reduce the entirety of World War II to cliches--and it knows when to be serious and not clown around about the sacrifices that were made and the deaths that mounted. Stan and Jack never let you forget that Fury and his men are going up against an army and a leader that killed millions. But he does it in a way that raises the dramatic stakes and--even though there's a lot of humor and adventure here--gives the characters a shade of emotional realism.

These aren't superheroes Stan and Jack are dealing in this time. These are men with a real good shot at dying, trying to survive and, if they have to die, take as many Nazis with them as they can. It's every boy's fantasy of playing war, with just the right amount of peril. Never get too sure that people can't be killed. This is war, son!

God damn it, comics used to be great.

So, to our story. Pierre Labrave, the leader of the French Resistance, is captured by Nazis. The US Army, afraid that Pierre will give up the plans for the D-Day invasion under torture, assigns Able Company the job of rescuing Pierre from Nazi territory. Captain "Happy Sam" Sawyer picks his top man for the job: Sgt. Nick Fury, leader of Able's First Attack Squad, better known as the Howling Commandos.

The Howlers are immediately identifiable and distinct. Right now, that's merely so they'll be easy to tell apart in all the action. Time will tell if we get into the depths of each character, the way Stan and Jack have done in Fantastic Four.

From left to right: Corporal Dum-Dum Dugan, former circus strongman; Robert "Rebel" Ralston, ex-jockey from Kentucky; Izzy Cohen, master mechanic (and, although Stan doesn't use the word, Jewish, which puts another personal spin on his desire to fight the Nazis); "Junior" Juniper, the eager new kid; Fury himself, and on the other side that's Gabriel Jones with his trumpet and handsome would-be actor Dino Manelli.

Every mission is fraught with danger; they can't even get to their drop without Nazi planes attacking their C-48. Possibly my favorite moment in the whole issue: as the Commandos parachute away, Dum-Dum takes out a Nazi fighter plane with a single grenade.

The rest of the issue takes place in Nazi-occupied France, with the Commandos making their way through a village under attack by a Nazi division. There's a lot of great action here, with the men getting in wisecracks (Dino doesn't want any French gals seeing him with mussed hair) as well as some righteous anger (Fury's angry at the idea that the Nazis are slaughtering civilians because of a Resistance presence).

The way Stan and Jack portray the Nazis is stereotypical and cartoonish without truly trying to be offensive. This isn't the propaganda cartoons of the early 1940s, when Captain America fought barbaric huns and the original Human Torch was always facing Japanese soldiers with yellow skin and pointed teeth. We haven't seen very sensitive portrayals of other races in Marvel Comics so far--I'm thinking of every Asian character we've seen with yellow skin and speaking in pidgin English--but mostly it's ignorance and not being very thoughtful rather than a deliberate attempt to dehumanize. It's easy to deal in stereotypes in comics, but that's also what teaches and perpetuates stereotyping, and I hope the comics get better about that, because it can derail everything.

The Nazi soldiers are dangerous, but also clownish, with their written-out accents (lots of "ve vill" and "iss" and German swears) and the occasional balding man with a monocle, because Stan Lee has apparently seen Grand Illusion. It's a cartoon take on the Nazis, one familiar from a lot of movies and other comics.

Also there's Hitler, who Stan and Jack delight in making ridiculous and petty. Seems justified. Interesting to think that, when this comic came out, Hitler had only been dead for 18 years. 18 years is only the amount of time since my youngest sister was born.

The Commandos are helped out by the timely intervention of French Resistance soldiers, who offer to lead Fury and his men to the villa where the Nazis are holed up. First, the Commandos head outside town to rescue the villagers the Nazis plan to execute, and then it's time to sneak back into town, led by Marie Labrave, Pierre's daughter, bravely carrying a rifle (and stylishly decked out in a jaunty beret).

Sneaking back into the town, Fury blows up the arsenal and the ammo dump, but is caught in the explosion, spurring his loyal men to fight on. But, overwhelmed by superior numbers, the Commandos are caught and taken to the courtyard to be executed, along with Pierre and Marie. But wouldn't you know it? Fury's alive! He frees himself from the rubble, surprising the Nazis, and giving the rest of the Commandos a shot at fighting back. They leap into action with their battle cry, "WAH-HOO!," and make their way out of town, with Pierre rescued and a captured Nazi general for good measure.

One little detail I love here is that Dum-Dum and Fury are constantly fighting, almost coming to blows on one occasion, but of course he's the first one to give the sarge a big bear hug when he turns up not dead.

In a flash-forward, we see that, of course, the Allies carried through with the D-Day invasion, and that the Howling Commandos were right there on the beach, "but that's a tale for another time."

Fun stuff. Just an awful damn lot of fun stuff.

Stray observations:

:: Is it a coloring error, or what? On the cover, and in the two-page spread that introduces our cast, Gabe Jones is colored as a Caucasian man, even though he's clearly African-American through much of it. This coloring error comes and goes. It's weird.

:: Of all the Howlers, Dum-Dum is my obvious favorite.

He's basically the Ben Grimm of Able Company. I dig the humor of these little moments; just the perfect tone for the book, but also a bit of character before getting into the story, like in FF. (When I read these, I picture Dum-Dum with the same voice Peter Cullen used for Leatherneck on G.I. Joe.)

:: Speaking of G.I. Joe, these issues have a "Weapons of War" section where Kirby draws a bunch of weapons from the time and details what they are, and I recognize a lot of them from my G.I. Joe figures. They did a good job making those toys realistic. You know, for a while. (Hell, even when it became science-fantasy, it was still the best action figure line of all time.)

By the way, you can also see George Lucas' fascination with the era when you look at some of these weapons and realize that Han Solo's blaster is basically a modified German Mauser M 98.

This whole issue is a fantastic introduction to the characters; the premise doesn't really need an introduction. I'm so glad I decided not to skip these fun adventures!

Next Marvels: Johnny Storm's next menace: painting!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Xmas: "It Feels Like Christmas"

SamuraiFrog's Essential Christmas Songs #19.

I have a deep personal relationship with The Muppet Christmas Carol.

I saw this for the first time just about a week before Christmas at Carl's house in 1994. That year, I had graduated from high school, turned 18, and had a genuine religious experience in Atlanta. Just a day or two earlier, I had broken up with my first serious girlfriend. Here's the thing: even though she was emotionally and psychologically abusive, I felt absolutely terrible about breaking up with her. She had cried; I had hurt her so badly, and it took me a few days to get over making someone feel like that. I would just cry sometimes, even after all of the pain and mind games.

Earlier that day, I had told Becca--who I knew from work--that I wanted to be with her. She said she wanted that, too. We had spent three days of a weekend on the phone with one another, just talking. Not in a romantic way, but in a friend way. We talked all night, until the morning sun, for three nights in a row--Friday, Saturday and Sunday. And we both fell in love. For me, it was just finding someone who could be my friend as well as a girlfriend. We were just right on each others' wavelength. And we had so many interests--comic books, Star Trek, mythology--that I had put aside in order to be with my previous girlfriend. And we both loved Muppets.

I had never seen The Muppet Christmas Carol. I missed in the theater and had trepidations because Jim Henson had died and I wasn't sure anything could recapture that amazing feeling. But this movie sure did. Carl showed me exactly the movie I needed to see that day. I cried several times through it--I know he doesn't care for that--but it was so cathartic. A Christmas Carol is already one of my favorite stories, and the Muppet version is surprisingly thankful and just the right amount of dark.

This is my favorite song in the movie, and one of my favorite songs ever. This always stands out as my favorite scene in the movie, when the Ghost of Christmas Present--played by the late Jerry Nelson, as wonderful as ever--sings this fantastic Paul Williams-penned song that says everything I love about and believe in about Christmas. Because I can't do much for anyone, but as the song says, even doing a little is enough: it's all the ways that we show love that feel like Christmas.

This movie, and this song, still bring tears to my eyes. It makes me feel all of the important feelings of my life. And it reminds me that in one day, I had the best best friend I could ever have, and that I had met my soul mate, and that there's love in the world and, sometimes, I can actually make myself feel like I deserve it. And that's why I treasure this song.

Thank you, Paul Williams. Thank you, Jerry Nelson. Thank you, Muppets. Thank you, Charles Dickens. Thank you, Carl. Thank you, Becca. Thank you, universe.

I'm alone tonight and I'm anxious and I'm freezing, but damn, it feels like Christmas.

Film Week

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

I have to admit, I didn't have much enthusiasm about this movie based on the trailers, and I might not have been interested in seeing it if it weren't directed by Guillermo del Toro. Also, not much of a mecha fan. But I do love kaiju, and this was just a hell of a fun movie. Enjoyable as all hell, with a few actors I really dig and a lot of room for just the right amount of silliness. I wish they'd played up some of the humor a bit in the trailers; the reason I didn't end up going to see this is that I didn't want to devote the time to yet another dark, humorless, overly serious, "edgy," ponderous, overlong action flick. This was just pure fun with a good grasp of character and a love of giant monsters pounding giant robot suits. And a great bit of Ron Perlman. ****

The final part of Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Edgar Wright's Cornetto Trilogy is frankly the best Doctor Who episode I've seen in years. What starts as a flick about five old friends meeting up 20 years later to finish the Golden Mile--the pub crawl they failed at as students--takes a sudden turn into science fiction territory that feels just so perfectly right. I love that this movie is a meditation on friendship and growing up, a comedy about reconnecting with people who might not remember you fondly, a commentary on the homogenization of communities, and a science fiction adventure comedy that feels like at times like Douglas Adams. Terrific stuff. ****

I don't think Monsters, Inc. necessarily needed a prequel, but I genuinely enjoyed this flick about Mike and Sully's college days. It's a campus comedy that builds some emotional beats about friendship and doing your best, with fantastic character design. And I love the color of it. This is the kind of movie that reminds me how drab movies tend to be today. Like I said, not a necessity, but very fun and well-animated. I dug it more than any of Pixar's movies since Up. ***1/2

Wow, this was a tiresome movie. Well-animated and well-designed (particularly the creatures and landscapes, which look gorgeous), but just generally annoying. It's about a family of Neanderthals who are forced to leave their cave during the continental shift, and who basically force a Cro-Magnon called Guy to lead them to safety. Lots of obvious jokes that don't land. The Neanderthals are basic and have no subtext or imagination, and Guy's the only one who gets to have any subtlety or thought, because he's more modern, I guess, except he's played by Ryan Reynolds, so he still comes across as a dummy. Most of the voice acting is pretty bad, but Nicolas Cage tries in a role that requires a lot of predictable beats. There was probably something here that might've made a comedy of manners or just a decent adventure flick, but it's just not fun to watch. I hate to see good animation design wasted on something like this. **

An emotionally sincere movie about three teenagers who run away from home one summer and build themselves a house in the woods. It makes no apologies about being a coming-of-age film, and even if it isn't as profound as it wants to be and even if it does occasionally pull its punches with montages and lighter comedy than it needs, the moments where it's genuine and honest come through and carry the movie. I want to see more by these people. Some really good performances, particularly Moises Arias as a kid who's very weird without being too much of a cartoon. So far, my favorite film of 2013. ****

We Got a Ton of Snow Last Night; This Is Me Today


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Marvels: Journey Into Mystery #92

"The Day Loki Stole Thor's Magic Hammer" by Stan Lee, Robert Bernstein & Joe Sinnott
(May 1963)

Although I enjoyed this one, I feel like it takes forever to just get to the story. That's probably not a good thing for a story that's just 13 pages long (12, if you don't count the splash page/teaser); the Thor stories themselves sometimes feel like filler as one-third of an anthology book, but to have pages inside that story that feel like filler within the filler makes me wonder why anyone's even telling this story.

For example, the first page, taking place in Asgard, is only there so that Neri (handmaiden of Queen Fricka) can ask Heimdall for permission to use the Bifrost, only so Heimdall can remind the audience that Loki is still a prisoner in Asgard after what happened last issue. Loki is currently chained to a rock with chains made of the same unbreakable uru metal that Thor's hammer is.

The next three pages are taken up with a little episode that has nothing at all to do with the story, and basically reuses an earlier plot (Donald Blake gets accosted by gangsters who force the doctor to take a bullet out of their boss, just like in "The Thunder God and the Thug!"). This time, Thor foils them by taping them to a gurney and tying it to his hammer, and then throwing the hammer towards the nearest jail. What it loses to dorkiness it makes up for with also being totally unnecessary. I mean, he could've done it himself. Why go to the effort of all that taping and throwing and then standing, waiting for the hammer to return? Didn't feel like walking or anything today? Lots of effort for that stunt of laziness.

Then, Thor heads to Norway to provide special effects for a film that's being shot there. Yeah, that's kind of silly, but hey, why not? It's not as silly as the gangster thing. Plus, the director's making a Viking picture, so it's cool to see Thor fight a dragon, even if the dragon is fake. It's also charming how naive Marvel's been about how films are made. I don't think they were making full-scale, operational dragons just to blow them up in 1963. That's the same year Jason and the Argonauts came out, so you do the math. But it's cute. The director also has a round underwater sub for underwater filming, and asks Thor to destroy a mountain just for a cool special effect, which seems like the kind of thing directors get sued by nearby communities for doing.

But finally, Loki acts and the story begins. He uses his sorcery to magnetize his uru chains, and when Thor throws his hammer, the hammer is drawn to Asgard and to the chains, shattering them and letting Loki loose. He just leaves the hammer in the pile of chains, too. I mean, he knows he can't lift it, and Thor's screwed if he doesn't get it back, so win-win for a change.

Thor prays to Odin for help, and Odin simply picks up Thor and carries him through space to Asgard.

That's just wonderfully goofy. Also: time stands still when Odin appears on Earth, so Thor doesn't change back to Blake. When he's in Asgard, he doesn't change at all.

This is the best part of this story, and I would've liked to have seen the story jettison the pages wasted with gangsters and instead shown us more of Asgard. One of the things I really want as a reader of these stories is more and more of Asgard and less and less of doctors, supervillains and Jane Foster.

Thor goes off in search of his hammer (alone, for as Odin says, the others are busy with "thousands of tasks of our own," which just made me kind of giggle with its grand self-importance). First, Thor fights the obedient trees of Loki's forest. He cuts a tree down with a single chop of his hand and makes a giant wooden hammer to smash them to pieces with. It's actually pretty bad ass. Loki, watching from the shadows, magically burns the hammer, which is unfortunate, because it's actually the first thing that makes Thor think Loki must be behind this whole episode. Which... really? I mean, it's always Loki, dude. Even last issue, when Sandu started getting all weird, the first thing he did was suspect Loki.

Loki next turns the clouds themselves into flying dragons and sets them on Thor, so Thor rigs himself another hammer, this time literally poking the outline of a hammer into the side of a rock with his finger and scooping out a hammer. It's goofy, but in a charming way. Silliness at its best.

It's not until he's beaten the dragons that he realizes the rock he used for his makeshift hammer was uru, which raises all kind of questions for my fanboy side. Uru is unbreakable, but Thor can gouge pieces of it out of a rock? Does it need to be tempered first? Enchanted first? Is that the difference? For as much as I appreciate this issue explaining why Thor doesn't turn into Donald Blake with the hammer missing, this is one I kind of wish they'd thrown in a stray line about. Still, this is the climax, so let's get it on.

Thor's makeshift rock hammer is also attracted to Loki's magnetized chains, and that's how Thor finds his own hammer. (They're still not using the name Mjolnir yet.) Then Odin steps in and recaptures Thor, and all's well that ends well, let's cut to the usual stinger where Jane makes a comment and Blake winks to the reader.

Stray note:

:: Odin's design never strays much in these early issues, but here we have yet another take on Heimdall.

I wonder where Neri's going? Hot date in Nidavellir? (Wow, I immediately want that to be the title of a weird mythological noir.)

:: One more note: after Loki is captured, Thor opines to his father, "If Loki ever really breaks free, all the hammers in the world might not stop him." You think so? Because usually all he does is make signs come to life and turn cars into candy and make bombs not explode and generally play pranks and make Thor look silly until he tires himself out. He's not a real villain yet. He's more like a fun foil.

I think that's one of the elements missing from Robert Bernstein's stories featuring Loki. In Larry Lieber's hands, Loki and his pranks were a great foil for the noble dignity of Thor. He really only wanted to humiliate Thor for a while. Bernstein is trying to make Loki more evil, but instead he kind of comes across as this frustrated sorcerer who isn't very good at what he does. I liked this one better than the last one (in particular due to its Asgard setting), but Loki still doesn't really qualify as a God of Evil. He's still the God of Mischief, and I'd like to see that continue for a bit longer, at least until the Thor stories get a little more gravity to them.

Loki and Thor both need to step up their games.

Next Marvels: WAH-HOO!

Monday, December 09, 2013

Xmas: Peanuts, 1967

Only one strip in 1967, but it's a nice one.

Kristen Bell Mondays

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Song of the Week: "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)"

SamuraiFrog's Essential Christmas Songs #18. Today being the anniversary of John Lennon's murder, I thought this song would be appropriate. I think it's one of the best songs he recorded, Christmas or otherwise.