Saturday, May 24, 2014

Marvels: Avengers #2

"The Space Phantom" by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Paul Reinman
(November 1963)

I don't know if it's actually supposed to be the point of the issue, but it turns out that without a strong threat like Loki to battle, the Avengers will just turn on each other. Too many strong personalities in the room, perhaps? Or when all of these guys get together, do they just kind of... turn into assholes?

It starts right on the splash page, with haughty Thor making a disdainful comment about the Hulk's "repulsive" clothes. The tension is already there. Iron Man and Thor clearly don't care for the Hulk at all, and I'm not altogether sure that Iron Man even likes Thor: he keeps calling him "long hair" like a real capitalist square. Hilariously, the point of this meeting is for the Avengers to "get to know each other."

Meanwhile, in comes this issue's villain: the Space Phantom.

I love the design of the Space Phantom. Another one of Kirby's John Carradine types. He's here to destroy the Avengers, even though they can't really have much of a reputation yet and barely exist as a team. Let's just go with it. He has the ability to imitate the form of any Earthling, but since "two identical bodies cannot co-exist," he has to send the original version into limbo. Somehow, he knows that Tony Stark is Iron Man and that the Avengers are meeting right now in Stark's mansion, so he just copies a body and heads over there, walking right in because apparently one of the richest industrialists in the world who seems to be the constant target of communist agents doesn't feel he needs security.

The Hulk checks out the intruder, only for the Space Phantom to swap bodies, copying the Hulk and sending the real Hulk into limbo. Now he can infiltrate the Avengers as their most powerful member. Now the Phantom-Hulk just starts picking fights with Iron Man and Thor. The thing is, it's not that hard. They already don't trust Hulk--Thor even seems to have a tendency to order him around. That's the real point here; all of the tension and paranoia and uncertainty of this venture has been directed at the team member who was already the least trusted. So when the Hulk starts to push people around, no one thinks, whoa, the Hulk's acting weird. They just think he's a savage brute that can't be controlled. (And remember, the Avengers were founded because Loki made it look like the Hulk was on a rampage, so it's just that much easier for them to believe it.)

As the Phantom-Hulk stalks out, a wrench is thrown into his plans: Rick Jones. Finally catching up with the Hulk, Rick tries to convince him to come back to his desert lab, but the Phantom-Hulk drops Rick out in the middle of nowhere, menaces him with the truth (Hulk is in limbo), and then decides to speed up his plan. The Phantom-Hulk finds a Stark Industries plant and destroys a missile gun, baiting Iron Man to face him. It works like a charm; Iron Man is quick to distrust the Hulk. So quick that even the Space Phantom can't believe how easy it is to play off of.

Still Iron Man is stronger than the Space Phantom anticipated (he uses the suit to send an electrical charge through Phantom-Hulk), so the Space Phantom swaps the Hulk's body for a nearby wasp, which leaves Iron Man fighting the actual Hulk. The fight only barely gets broken up by Giant-Man (he and the Wasp are called in by Rick Jones' Teen Brigade), but it's telling that Iron Man warns Giant-Man that "Hulk's had this coming for a long time." This team is falling apart at the seams.

The Wasp is attacked by the actual wasp that Space Phantom is mimicking, and he uses her fear impulses to lure in Giant-Man, then copies his body (sending the real Giant-Man to limbo), and gets right back to wrecking things. The Wasp and the Hulk even see what happened, but Space Phantom doesn't care anymore. He and the Hulk, inside a Stark Industries factory, just start throwing vehicles and lab equipment at each other. Iron Man gets caught in the crossfire, and the Space Phantom copies him this time, but the Hulk and Giant-Man immediately know what's going on.

The Wasp, meanwhile, decides to find Thor so he can settle this battle. I guess Dr. Don Blake is Thor's emergency contact or whatever, so she goes to Blake's office, he secretly turns into Thor, and they rush in to save the day. Phantom-Iron Man is making short work of the Hulk and Giant-Man with his attached air jet discs. One nice detail is that the Wasp plays an integral role in the victory: she finds a way into the jet discs, finds the main control cables, and simply rips them out. Phantom-Iron Man is able to use his magnetic repulsor to deflect Thor's hammer, but he's powerless against the torrential rainstorm that Thor conjures up. The sudden, heavy rain rusts Iron Man's armor into uselessness. (Which seems to be a serious design flaw that Tony should work on, really.) Phantom-Iron Man is frozen still.

The Space Phantom has another move to play, though: he tries to copy Thor's body. But he can't! Because Thor is a god, not a human! I guess! It comes out of nowhere, but it works. And because Space Phantom has opened the limbo portal, he goes into limbo instead, and everyone's fine.

Well, everyone but the Hulk. Stinging at how easy it was for everyone to believe he was the evil one.

Poor Hulk! One issue as an Avenger and he is done. Will the Hulk ever find a place where he won't have to be feared and hated? It certainly won't be as an Avenger.

Stray observations:

:: Stan and Jack are clearly still overworked here. Jack's art feels rushed, especially compared to that great first issue, and there aren't many great poses or establishing panels. He even draws the Hulk with three toes instead of his usual five. Stan, meanwhile, mistakenly says that the Hulk's secret identity is Don Blake instead of Bruce Banner. It's pretty easy to imagine Stan not getting much sleep during this time period. He is writing a lot of books, and all the books he's not writing, he's plotting.

:: The Avengers still don't know the identities of their teammates, but Ant-Man and the Wasp both appear to the rest in their natural forms, which is something that heretofore seemed to be something of a no-no. There's really no point pretending to be naturally ant-sized anymore, since Hank Pym comes to the first meeting as Ant-Man, then grows to his natural human size, and then spends the rest of the issue as Giant-Man.

:: I remember reading once that Stan Lee had a hierarchy of powers set down, listing who was the most powerful being in the Marvel Universe. At the top of the list was Thor, since he was a god. So it makes a lot of sense that the Wasp would think to bring Thor into the battle in order to win.

:: Speaking of Thor, I'm starting to see some of the evolution of his more flowery speak, with lines like "On to the factory of Stark!"

:: Speaking of the Wasp... even in the face of battle, she's only got one thing on her mind.

Jan, no.

Jan, stop.

Please, Jan.

Jan, come on, staaaaaaahp.

God damn it, Jan.

Despite the burnt-out feeling that's evident but not overwhelming, this is a great issue. The Avengers should always feel epic; there should always be something that justifies the teaming of these heroes, and this issue is epic, indeed. I also like that this issue gives each member of the team something to do, some way to contribute, to show why they're each an essential component of the Avengers.

Of course, then they use that to force out the Hulk, but... well, the Hulk's not done with the Avengers just yet.

Next Marvels: Let's go back to the alphabetical listing we've been on and look at Amazing Spider-Man #6 and another classic Spidey villain!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Billy Joel Is 65 (and a Couple of Weeks)

Roger pointed out to me that Billy Joel turned 65 earlier this month, and asked me to do a list of my favorite Billy Joel songs if I hadn't already. I did write about Billy back in March, but it seemed like fun to make a proper list. Haven't done one in a while.

Now, back on that post, I pointed out that my love for Billy Joel has never been taken seriously by many people, probably because people find him cheesy. Kelly made an interesting comment that summed up the problem: "There's a certain tragedy in his music, in that a lot of his best songs are SO good they've become karaoke standards and thus have had an air of parody thrust upon them. Perfect example is 'Piano Man', which is really an amazing slice-of-life portraying the varieties of desperation in the lives of the people at the same bar."

That's the problem with making a list like this. Sure, "Piano Man" is a great song. It's arguably his masterpiece (and I say "arguably" because people have also argued to me that his masterpiece is "New York State of Mind"). But would I put it on a list of my favorite Billy Joel songs? Probably not. The song is still so overly familiar that I don't think of it as being a truly great song. When I listen to it, I know it's a great song. One of the greatest. But ask me my favorite Billy Joel song and, well, I've got at least 12 songs I'll think of first and entirely for personal reasons. (Like Klostermann said, all Billy Joel has ever made me see is myself. It's music that feels like it understands me.)

So this was a harder list for me to make, but I've been brutal and narrowed it down to this: My 12 Favorite Billy Joel Songs (That Aren't "Piano Man").

12. "All About Soul"
This is probably the cheesiest song on this list, if we continue--as we should--to define "cheesy" as "genuine emotion delivered through a filter you think is uncool." The production is just so 1993, isn't it? But it's deceptive, as is usually the case with Billy Joel songs, because even though the lyrics are simple, what they convey is lovely. The second verse, where he sings about the way you become intuitive about your partner's feelings in a long-term relationship, is something I would've dismissed as fantasy 20 years ago. The way Becca has supported me and the way she "gives me all the love I need to keep my faith alive" is what this song makes me think about, and it takes the edge of potential silliness off this one for me. I feel these feelings every day.

11. "Summer, Highland Falls" (live)
I've got three tracks from Songs in the Attic, my favorite Billy Joel album, on this list. Every song on this live album is superior to his earlier recorded versions, which is unusual for me in a live album. I love that this sounds like a happy song, but is lyrically conflicted about whether the singer's happiness is genuine. He questions whether his relationship is the best or the worst thing that's ever happened. I'm always stunned by the lyric "Perhaps we don't fulfill each other's fantasies/So we stand upon the ledges of our lives/With our respective similarities." Imagine being trapped there. I've been. The girl I dated before Becca was as emotionally abusive as it comes.

10. "And So It Goes"
I bought the album Storm Front as soon as it came out in 1989, put the cassette in my Walkman, and listened to the first side on the bus on the way to school. It was autumn and I was in 8th grade. When I got back on the bus to go home, the second side unveiled, and I was walking home, I heard this song, the album's closer. This was probably the worst time in my life--no friends, the fat kid, bullied and teased relentlessly, my parents divorcing, feeling like the most insignificant and reviled non-person... many of these feelings are still with me, dictating my behavior and my self-worth. This song came out of nowhere and hit me right in the heart. Here was a man laying his soul bare in a spare arrangement, saying that love was so worth taking a chance on that he would willingly--yet tentatively--offer his heart to someone, even knowing he might be emotionally destroyed. It's complex. It takes as much responsibility for the potential of heartbreak as it assigns to the other person, and acknowledges that simply not saying anything is just as painful as getting hurt. I still think it's one of the bravest statements I've ever heard. My fear usually gets the better of my yearning.

9. "She's Right On Time"
So many of these songs hit me because... well, I loved them when I was a kid, and I would dream about having someone to share love with. I wondered if it really felt like it did in these songs that I listened to when I felt bad. And then, I met Becca, and these songs stopped being comforting fantasies and actually became reflections of my reality. This song always makes me think about how really fantastically good my life is when I stop feeling guilty about what I'm not doing and just appreciate what is. I may not have money, I may not always be well, but I'm what I really always wanted to be when I was a teenager: someone that somebody loves. I'd rather be Becca's husband than anything else in the world, and I'd rather be here with her than anywhere else without her.

8. "She's Got a Way" (live)
This one... well, this one's just incredibly pretty.

7. "My Life"
In a way, this is the Billy Joel song I've loved the longest, since a cover was used as the theme song on Bosom Buddies, a sitcom that I found hysterical when I was about 4. But it's such a great "fuck you" to the jerks, which is always valuable. "I don't care what you say anymore this is my life." The lyric "You can speak your mind/But not on my time" is kind of a blogger's mantra sometimes, isn't it?

6. "Pressure"
Very, very easy for me to relate to, even as a kid. I too often find myself feeling like I'm "in the ninth/two men out and three men on." That someone can take that feeling and elevate it into a little piece of art is kind of amazing.

5. "Tell Her About It"
I dig the style of this song so hard. This is Billy Joel's Motown girl group homage, which is spectacular music to do something in the style of. I like how uncomplicated it is, too; it's a simple message, but a good one: be honest about your feelings.

4. "Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)" (live)
The kind of story-song that I always love, telling us about a future apocalypse in New York and the survivor spirit that follows it. I love how snotty and punky this song is; the idea of kicking back against tragedy by spitting at it and just letting it happen. It's a great narrative device, too, the way the singer is telling a story from further in the future, giving us this wistful sense of looking back at what was good, rather than looking ahead to what's scary. I guess that's why I find this little masterpiece comforting rather than terrifying. (The live version is so damn energetic, too, and the crowd is just eating it up. It's five minutes and seven seconds of perfect.)

3. "Tomorrow Is Today"
Setting your (in this case, literal) suicide note to music is an act of bravery. Setting it to hopeful music in an effort to exorcise those feelings is goddamn heroic. This is the one that's been on my iPod forever because it makes me feel understood and hopeful.

2. "Vienna"
This has always been one of my comfort songs, mainly because the song's reminder to slow down was always something I needed to keep in mind. Honestly, part of the reason I end up doing nothing is because there's so much I want to do RIGHT NOW that I end up overwhelmed and discouraged. I didn't know until recently what the song represents to Billy Joel himself, which is the idea that you don't have to do everything right goddamn now because you'll still be useful as you get old. And that's a comforting thought, too. I talked to my Dad yesterday and told him that sometimes I feel guilty over all the things I haven't done. My Dad, who turned 59 this year, said to me "You're only 37. You talk like you're 75." Something to keep in mind.

1. "The Longest Time"
It's been my favorite Billy Joel song since 1983, and I guess it will be forever. There's a triumphant sound to it, and I've been lifted by it since I was 7. Yeah, it's doo-wop, and it seems kinda dorky, but I just don't care. I love it. It's just a bass guitar, snaps, hand claps, and Billy Joel singing 14 vocal parts including the lead. And it's all about how absolutely wonderful it is to just be in love. Not worried about anything else, even knowing how scary it is to put yourself out there, and just being in love, damn it. It's abandon. In doo-wop form.

Happy Belated Birthday, Billy. And thanks for all of this and more.

Answers, Part III

James has a question: if you could have one job, or one career, where money essentially became a moot point, what would you choose to do?

This is an interesting question philosophically, but a hard one for me to answer. Well, the short answer is: writer. I've always been a writer, and I've always wanted to do it more seriously. I've started novels in the past and never finished them, because of confidence problems, anxiety problems, time management issues (which generally stem from anxiety and depression in my case). One thing I've been discovering about myself in therapy is that if I'm doing something well enough that people start to notice it, I feel like I don't deserve any credit and begin to pull back or find ways to sabotage myself without really realizing that's what I'm doing.

But I also have this thing, too, where my lack of confidence and my deep-rooted belief in my insignificance holds me back. I'm a low-motivated individual, and I think I finally understand why: it's because, deep down in my heart, I just can't picture myself as actually being very good at anything. So I can't picture myself doing anything, because I just don't have this picture of myself as being able to succeed. I guess that's a big part of why I feel so stuck.

If I could overcome that and the financial issues... well, I'd really like to write comic books. Or be a Muppet performer. I couldn't decide between those as a kid, and I guess I still can't.

New York Erratic asks: If you could have the superpowers of any character, which character and why?

I think I've always wanted to be Superman. I love Superman because of the choices he makes. He chooses to be us. He chooses to be better. He chooses not to be a victim. He chooses to stand up for people and help them. I'd like to be able to make those choices.

Conversely, also from NYE: Have you ever wanted to be a villain? Which villain(s)?

I've played the villain with friends, back when you're at that age where you take sticks and pretend you're fighting with swords or lightsabers, and let me tell you, they were always scared of me. They always said there was some sort of look in my eye, like they thought I might really hurt them, but I never felt like I was going to. I just thought I was getting into playing, like acting.

The thing is, I do have the potential in me to hurt someone physically. I know this, because I've come close. I used to have a lot less control of my anger, which I've talked about before. I was basically like the Hulk. It scared the hell out of me, and I'm scared of physical confrontation because I really don't want to be in the position of hurting someone. That would be hard for me to live with.

I guess I want to be the hero but I'm kind of afraid that I'm actually the villain because of misunderstandings or something I have no control over.

I could never be the intellectual villain because... well, come on, you have the genius and money of Lex Luthor and you don't spend your time finding cures for cancer and building homes for the homeless and creating jobs and spearheading alternative energy ventures and ruining the auto industry by building better, electric cars and devoting yourself to making space exploration cheaper? Jeez, I just will never understand that kind of greed. I may lack motivation, but if money was no object, motivation wouldn't be the issue. Feeling like you can make a difference is a big part of making a difference.

If I were Lex Luthor I'd be helping Superman out in any way he needed so that he'd do me a favor and help me build wells in Africa. Make the world better. That lack of imagination really makes it hard to appreciate Lex Luthor's supposedly massive intellect.

And let's end this round with The Pretentious Know It All, who asks: If you could be friends with any fictional character, who would it be and why?

This is a hard question, actually, because ever since I was tiny I've wanted to be friends with Artoo Detoo... But I think I'd really like to be friends with Spock. I think he would compliment my emotional nature nicely, and would have a lot to teach me about being thoughtful, mindful, calm, and occasionally serene. I'm pretty much a Dr. McCoy already. I guess that's why I've always been so much more interested in Spock.

Also, it would be bizarre hanging around with someone I've dressed as for Halloween.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

S Is for Spring Weather

Last night was pretty intense. Here's a picture of the hail that came with a powerful storm yesterday evening. (Picture via.) Hail's not rare here, but the intensity of it was a surprise. It came down in sizes ranging from marble to golf ball, with the occasional baseball-sized chunk hitting the pavement. I've been in a lot of weather, but never a full on hailstorm, with hail falling for several minutes at a time. It was like being in a box while someone pours rock salt over it; just all these loud pebble-smacks on the roof that made the building shake. (My rabbit did not have the best time with it.)

Coupled with some incredible wind and a lot of thunder and rain, it made for an exciting half-hour or so last night. The power went out twice, but not for more than 20 minutes. I don't think there was a tornado near here, but we've had a bit of flooding, and apparently there was a house fire as a result of some lightning.

The weather here has been so weird and annoying. Last week, it was nice and temperate, until the temperature suddenly dropped back into the 50s and 60s, culminating in a blast of snow on Friday. Then it suddenly got hot and humid, and now we've had the hardest hailstorm I've ever experienced. It's been an odd week around here. I expect storms in May, but snow?

All I'm waiting for is swimming pool weather.

ABC Wednesday

Film Week

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

I didn't have very strong feelings about this miniseries version of Ira Levin's novel. The novel is fantastic, Roman Polanski's movie is excellent. This was... there, mainly. It was just there. None of the additions to the story or resetting it in Paris or anything really bugged me, there just didn't seem to be any reason for it to exist. And especially at four hours. I appreciated some of the attempts to make it really perverse and weird, but they're halfhearted; it came across more as an attempt to turn the novel into a Dario Argento movie without really understanding why Dario Argento movies work. There was no style or sure hand, and although Zoe Saldana had some good moments, most of the casting doesn't have much personality. The first part aired on a Sunday (Mother's Day, ho, ho) and the second didn't air until Thursday. Took me forever to even remember that I had watched the first one and to bother watching the second. **

I never had any interest in these flicks, but my wife wanted to see them (especially since all roads lead to the Rock), so we sat down and watched them all on Sunday. This first one was a fun little flick; I'm not going to claim these are smart, obviously, but I was surprised how enjoyable it was just as a cars-and-crime flick. Totally superficial, but it glories in it, which I appreciate. (I tend to get more annoyed with movies that try to pretend they're not what they are--in this case an expolitationer gearhead action movie--than with movies that just enjoy what they are.) I don't know, that all sounds like pretentious snob-speak I'm using to justify having enjoyed a dumb-but-fun action movie. But hey, I enjoyed it. I expected it to be glossy and slick, so my only real complaint is that the cops keep talking about OTR truckers--who are being hijacked on the road--threatening to take the law into their own hands. You have no idea how badly I wanted this thing to become a war between angry truckers and a bunch of street racers. ***

2 FAST 2 FURIOUS (2003)
I found myself enjoying this one a little bit more than the first movie, probably because I found Tyrese hilarious and likable (where was this personality in those awful Transformers movies?) and because John Singleton brings this late-70s "no idea too stupid" boldness to the silly plot. I also enjoyed Eva Mendes because, well, you know my weakness for Latin ladies. This series really delivers on that front. Dumb, but fun and funny as hell. And I always enjoy Ludacris in stuff. ***

This spin-off flick is the one I just outright found boring. As much flack as these flicks get for having wooden leads, at least Paul Walker and Vin Diesel have the bearing and sensibilities to make their preposterous stories work. The boy in the lead here is like Alyssa Edwards after a head injury, just impossible to take seriously and not fun enough to make the whole thing enjoyable in spite of that. The bright spots here were Sonny Chiba as one of the villains and Sung Kang as Han Seoul-Oh, who actually gets the tone and makes his character something like the Obi-Wan Kenobi of exploitative drag race flicks. Otherwise, it's like one of those Bring It On sequels they keep making--same premise, no personality. (Bring It On: All or Nothing being the exception, because it knows how ridiculous it is and enjoys it. Hey: I never claimed to have exemplary taste in movies.) **

Something like a serious reset, bringing back the four leads from the original, kind of, except someone gets killed off early. There's also a Sung Kang cameo, which is a nice nod, despite Tokyo Drift being lame. I still have no idea how Paul Walker's character could get into the DEA after the events of the first two movies, but whatever. It's not like the movie has believability on its side here. I liked the addition of Gal Gadot; I'd never heard of her before her recent casting as Wonder Woman. I didn't like this one as much as the first two--I found some of the drug dealer/revenge plot a bit dull and occasionally turgid, and I'm not invested in the Paul Walker/Jordana Brewster relationship here, which tries to make something more dramatic out of what really amounted to a tiny subplot in the first movie. Also: is there a point to hijacking trucks on the open road? I mean, I know this Road Warrior stuff looks good on film, but isn't it a lot less trouble to just steal a guy's rig when he's stopped at a truck stop for a bathroom break, or something? **1/2

FAST FIVE (2011)
This one also feels a bit like a series reset, even though it's more or less a direct sequel to the previous film. It's also the best one so far. It brings in the original cast minus Michelle Rodriguez, adds in every character from the previous films you could want in it (Sung Kang, Gal Gadot, Ludacris, Tyrese), turns it into a heist and adds Dwayne fucking Johnson. (And Elsa Pataky. I know that's not a big deal to most people, but Jesus Christ, am I in weird, intense love with Elsa Pataky.) This is a great action flick. It's wonderfully, ludicrously, gloriously over-the-top and fun as hell. Not much more to say, but this is a stylish, thrilling movie. ***1/2

FAST & FURIOUS 6 (2013)
And then Michelle Rodriguez came back. And then they started killing off characters. Which is a shame, but it's another fun-as-hell action movie with the same characters as the previous, a tank chase, and what is apparently the world's longest runway. Remember when they were just hijacking truckers? This is so gonzo in comparison, but wonderfully so, and the Rock just makes everything better. I'd gladly watch another, even though we're apparently going back to the Tokyo Drift world. Yeesh. But we're doing it with the Rock, right? Okay, good. And not Elsa Pataky? Ugh, fine. Boy, this whole experience was a little bittersweet since Paul Walker died last year... ***1/2

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Marvels: Tales to Astonish #49

"The Birth of Giant-Man!" by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Don Heck
(November 1963)

Well, the Ant-Man stories had finally become something comfortable and fun, so I guess that means it's time to change things again!

Though the cover and the splash page (and the title) are very excited to announce that Hank Pym is leaving the Ant-Man persona behind and becoming Giant-Man, most of the first half of this story is concerned with Hank doing various experiments with his size. He's figured out how to turn his enlarging and reducing gases into pills with varying effects; depending on which pill he takes, he can change his size. He can be as small as an inch, or as large as 12 feet. (In the opening scenes he nearly falls prey to the law of conservation of mass by growing too large, determining that he can never go over 12 feet in height.)

Stan Lee takes a little extra time in this one--five extra pages--to establish the premise, and then drops Hank into another dimension, so he can face the Eraser. The Eraser has a kind of horrifying power, or seems to at first.

That just looks horrific! It turns out, though, that what the Eraser is doing is slowly transporting people to Dimension Z. The Supremacy of Dimension Z has been kidnapping Earth scientists and demands that they make him atomic weapons so that he can attack our own dimension. I can't really blame Stan for going back to this old saw--seriously, every hero has had this story, including Ant-Man--since this story is really just an excuse to show off Giant-Man. I do like the idea that Hank can change sizes, which he does a couple of times in this issue, and Giant-Man's a neat idea, but I'm not a fan of the idea of Hank just being Giant-Man. I like going back and forth.

I'm torn on the costume, too. I dig the look, but I miss the helmet. Doesn't make sense to have it anymore--and the cybernetics are all in the new mask, apparently--but I just thought it was neat. That's a meaningless criticism.

Oh, and Hank finds the scientists and brings them back to Earth and defeats the Eraser and all of that. It's not much of a story. It's an effective introduction to Giant-Man, but not much else. It's another retool, and maybe this one will stick. I liked the last one better, but those days are over. Let's see what comes next!

Stray observations:

These two. Good God. If it's not her being soppy and flirty and obsessed with material things, it's him being a condescending misogynist. "Honey, you're just in love with the idea of being in love! Now button those ruby lips until we finish this job!" During a battle, Jan tells Hank he'd make a bossy husband.

You know, as lame as her flirty behavior got while Ernie Hart was writing, at least he remembered that the Wasp was a superhero in her own right. When Stan Lee writes the Wasp, she's a hundred percent man-hungry. I guess he doesn't have time for a second character trait. It gets to be a real drag sometimes.

:: This story establishes that Pym's home and lab are in New Jersey.

:: A gardener is the first one to see Giant-Man; he runs to the nearest police station, where he's dismissed as a loony. Officers, after all this world has seen in the last year, you're really going to dismiss people as attention-seeking crazies? Where were you when the Atlanteans invaded?

:: The art in this issue is credited to Jack Kirby on pencils and Don Heck on inks, but it looks 98% like Heck's work. There are a couple of Giant-Man poses that seem Kirbyesque, and the costume is Kirby's design (it's just Ant-Man's old costume with a new mask), but this is really Heck's work. Still looks good, too.

:: I decided to jump right to this one instead of waiting to get here alphabetically because Giant-Man also appears in this month's Avengers #2. And, on that note...

Next time: we'll save the new Amazing Spider-Man for another entry and jump right to the Avengers fighting among themselves! Nobody loves the Hulk!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Answers, Part II

Time for some more answers!

This one seemed appropriate for today: someone who asks to remain anonymous asks simply: Why did you decide to keep doing Kristen Bell Mondays? I seem to remember a post some time where you declared you wouldn't be doing it anymore. Did you just change your mind?

The answer is pretty simple: I'm a petty jerk. I really have no idea if anyone likes any of the things I like, but I sometimes announce changes to the website just because they're changes. (I used to have a lot more readers, so I'm just in the habit of saying why I'm going to stop or start doing things.) I can't remember exactly when I made that declaration, but it was during a time when Kristen Bell didn't seem to have much going on and I wasn't seeing any new pictures and I just sort of decided, eh, well, I'll stop making it a regular thing.

Now, I didn't expect anyone to message me and say "No, please! Don't stop doing it!" I didn't really expect anyone to care. But instead I had two people tell me they were glad I was discontinuing it. One of them said something like they didn't care (obviously, since they decided to spend the time to mention it), it was just one less thing they'd have to scroll past with disinterest. The other said they were just sick of it and thank goodness I was ending it.

So, you know, I decided then and there to keep doing it when I had something to post, because fuck that attitude. That just seemed so small to me. Hey, if you want to ignore something I post, be my guest. That's up to you. But to take the time to email me and say "I hated that thing you did and I'm glad my nightmare is over now"? Well, I guess it's time to put Kristen Bell on my header and you can just fucking live with it, because I don't care how long you've been reading this blog, this blog is for me before it's for anyone else.

Is that a shitty attitude? Screw it, I'll live with myself. I don't do it just to piss anyone off. Well, not for this long, anyway. If I didn't love Kristen Bell, I wouldn't still be doing it years later. And I do love her. It's nice, because with Frozen and the Veronica Mars Kickstarter, she seems to have been everywhere for the last year with no signs of slowing down. Makes me happy as hell in my Marshmallow heart.

So, yeah, it's basically for three reasons. One, I love KB. Two, there are a lot more pictures of her these days. And three, because fuck people who think they can make you feel bad about the things you love.

Speaking of Kristen, Yasmin asks: Have you read the VM novel? What did you think? (I listened to it because Kristen Bell narrated it, which was really great)

I haven't yet. I was a little disappointed to find out that Veronica doesn't narrate the book. I don't know why, it just seems off, since the series and the movie had so much of her narration. I did find out Kristen does the audio book, and I very much want to listen to it. I can listen to it on Audible if I do a free trial; you can get two free books with the trial, and I'm thinking of waiting until the second book comes out, too, and then doing them both. I feel like a little bit of a weasel waiting to get them for free, but it's what I can afford, you know?

Sam G asks: Have you seen "Orphan Black"?

I gave it a try, but after three or four episodes, I just wasn't feeling it. I couldn't get into it.

Nik also has a TV-related question: You can revive ONE classic TV show for one episode.. What and why?

The Muppet Show. Actually, I could write a whole post describing a dream season of a revived Muppet Show. But if I just did one episode... Do you remember that fantastic episode of The Muppet Show were Mark Hamill was the guest but also played an exaggerated version of his "cousin" Luke Skywalker? And then there were appearances by See Threepio, Artoo Detoo and Chewbacca? I would love to do that, but with the cast of The Avengers. In character, out of character, what have you; maybe the joke is that the Muppets want the Avengers to be real and the actors keep having to convince them that it's only a movie--I think that would be sublimely silly and weirdly wonderful. You probably couldn't do the Hulk, but that could be part of the joke: imagine Scooter turning into a Muppet version of the Hulk. Or Bunsen trying to make his own Iron Man suit. I just like to think it would make a very funny special episode, and it would be pretty easy to do, since Disney owns both Marvel and the Muppets. Then after the credits Samuel L. Jackson shows up as Nick Fury and tries to recruit Lew Zealand into the Avengers.

I'm getting excited thinking about something that won't happen. Ah, well, that's what daydreams are for.

More to come!

Yours in Kristen Bell,

Kristen Bell Mondays

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Song of the Week: "Twiggy Twiggy"

Songs for Becca #12. Pizzicato Five was one of the bands that started the Shibuya-kei pop movement, which is this great mix between synthpop and jazz that has this 1960s bent and is heavy on sampling. Their music came over here on a couple of compilation albums in 1994, and am I ever glad it did.

1994 was a year in music when I didn't know what the heck was going on. I wasn't interested in a lot of what I was actually hearing, so I stuck with the older stuff I'd been listening to. At the time I remember specifically being into a LOT of music from the 60s and not much else, except my usual go-tos of film scores, Classical, jazz and musicals. But 1994 was also the year I met Becca, and after that, I got exposed to a lot of stuff I'd never heard before.

She had friends who were into the club scene, so her radio was usually on B96, which played club music. This one, "Twiggy Twiggy/Twiggy vs. James Bond" used to come up a lot. It was this weird little novelty that people just kind of adored in an ironic way. I loved it the first time I heard it. Becca used to do this cute little dance when it was on that I thought was adorable. I was surprised how much I liked this style, since I just wasn't into the pop music of the time at all.

It's hard to describe, I guess. I love this, but what I connect with more is how it made me feel at the time. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: meeting Becca was like someone turning a light on in a dark hallway that I had been in for years. This song is nothing but happy. At the time, so was I.