Well, I Couldn’t Leave You Hanging…


O Wow Whippee!

Things Once Seen, Never Unseen

So, in my current status of At Liberty, it is my job to pick up The Boy from school at 3:00. This is the same school my wife runs, but by removing The Boy from those environs, it gives her a bit of peace as she stays after school and continues her quest to work herself to death.

Once we arrive at home, it is usually his turn to put in some time on City of Heroes, while I discover there is nothing on TV. Well, today’s random surfing proved me wrong, as I watched a Korean children’s show called, if the online guide is to be believed, Captain Poong Poong. The tile character seems to split his time between being a cartoon and a diminutive person in a suit. Poong Poong and his human sidekick were teaching Korean children how to play ice hockey while singing and dancing.

This is not particularly noteworthy. What is particular noteworthy is that Captain Poong Poong apparently can achieve anything by the awesome power of his magical farts. Yes. Computer generated and enhanced farts.

I can only weep that YouTube has failed me here. If there was anything that site was meant for, it was giving me the means to regale you with a demented cartoon character and its glittering flatulence.

It does, however, via other clips, suggest that “poong” may translate as “wind”, which makes sense under the circumstances. It also, due to the Other Related Searches, remind me of how much I miss Bob Keeshan and Captain Kangaroo.

This came up, of course, from the proximity of “Captain” and something the search engine could interpret as “ping pong”.

There’s been a grass roots movement to put out some Captain DVDs, but they’ve met with no cheer. Captain Kangaroo, as I recall, used a lot of different media on his show, and I imagine just getting the rights for all the childrens’ books he read would be a nightmare.

But my last question is, if I can own a DVD set with the entirety of UPA’s less-than-glorious Dick Tracy cartoon from my childhood, where is this being hidden:

Scarecrow, Scarecrooooooow…

I’ve had this song running through my head for the last month. Your turn.

Rest In Peace, Mr. McGoohan. You done good.

Tough Week

Well, it was a rough month plus for aging fanboys like me. Back in December we lost Forrest J. Ackerman, Bettie Page, Beverly Garland, Eartha Kitt. For the theatrically minded, there was Harold Pinter and Dale Wasserman. Probably several more that slip my mind. Sorry.

So this week, thus far: Ricardo Montalban and Patrick McGoohan. McGoohan is especially poignant for me, right now; I asked for and (barely) received for Christmas the Walt Disney Treasures edition of Dr. Syn, the Scarecrow of Romney Marsh, which, to borrow a phrase from my pal Parker, Looms Large in My Legend.

In early 1964, I was in the hospital on one of my deathbed visits – not the most serious one, the one where the docs advised my mother I would not survive, or if I did, I would be a vegetable for the rest of my days, that would wait a couple of years – but one of the most memorable things about that stay was the initial TV appearance of The Scarecrow, broken up into three consecutive weeks.

I don’t think I was in the hospital that time for three whole weeks, but I like to say that I refused to die, because I wanted to see how the story played out. That is also pure bullshit, but damn, it makes a great anecdote. I do remember asking my mother to make me a Scarecrow costume for that Halloween… which I never got.

So I felt I had a special claim to this DVD. I say I “barely” got it, because apparently Disney is quite serious – and infamous – for taking the “limited” in “Limited Edition” entirely too seriously, and the thing was out of print the week it shipped, or something. My poor wife was frazzled trying to track a copy down, and it finally came down to recruiting me for the search. I love the hunt. I find a copy misfiled as “Drama” at my local Fry’s (where I swear every time I walk in I’m going to reorganize the movie section for @#$%! free), and my Christmas is Merry one.

I had looked to reviewing it for 50 Foot DVD, when I found out about its unavailable status… but now, with the review almost completely written, it seems a bit foolish to just toss it away.

Anyway.

Ran out of unemployment compensation this week. Registered for the emergency stuff. A job I applied for in October called me in for an interview in December – a good one – and said they’d be Making their decision in January. I write and e-mail once a week to keep my name on their desk. I hate this.

Anyway.

The re-reading of Cerebus is a dicey thing in this first volume, where most of the stories are self-contained, and, in my current state of Marvel Overdose, reading pastiches of Roy Thomas/Barry Smith Conan stores with an aardvark as the main character is still a little too close to Marvel. It is very fun, though, as I progress, to see Sim finding his feet, for the art to tighten up and slowly leave the Smith influence. The story and character work still lean toward the lampoonish, but the parody is becoming better executed, as Sim starts to actually embrace the satire for what it is, not simply as a tool to deflate barbarian comics standards. I just finished the two issue arc concerning The Cockroach, Sim’s first parody of superheroes, and the writer/artist is obviously starting to have real fun.

And one last thing for a rambling post. I mentioned I recently re-read Rick Veitch’s The One, one of the first revisionist superhero books, and in the back of my collected volume is a Round Table discussion by Tom Veitch, Neil Gaiman, and Stephen Bissette about said revisionist superhero books. In it, Gaiman asks, “I wonder, in the wake of the Batman movie, how long it will be before some idiot puts on a cape and goes out to fight crime?” The collection, and the discussion are dated 1989, so Gaiman is talking about the Tim Burton/Michael Keaton Batman. It took twenty years and five more Batman movies, but they walk among you.

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More Stuff Myself and Three Other People Care About

Well, I really should do something beside read, apply for jobs I’ll never get, play Chrono Trigger (thank you, Santa Wifey) and try to get interested in watching a movie for review. I know, I’ll write in that blog I started once upon a time, knowing that it was a mistake then.

Reading, of course, should never be considered a waste of time. Though what I’ve been reading would likely cause some to turn their noses up, say something disparaging, and then the pig will get up and slowly walk away. The only thing that can be legitimately called a book I’ve read during my unemployment is Jonathan Barnes’ The Somnambulist, which reads rather too much like a self-conscious attempt to make a cult classic movie. No, I’ve been re-reading that collection of graphic novels – for which read funny books collected into book form – which I’ve accumulated over the years.

This mania started when a friend mentioned he had finally read Watchmen, doubtless in preparation for the movie. It had been several years since my last reading, so I settled down in my new reading chair – well, new to me, it was cast off by neighbors to my wife’s school who had abandoned it – and got impressed all over again. Much of what Alan Moore did in that series has been ripped off so much in the intervening years (for instance, the first season of the TV series Heroes) that it has entered the realm of the cliche… but when it was coming out one issue at a time, it was electric.

After a brief detour to Watchmen‘s contemporary, Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, I went back to Moore for The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: volume one, good, volume two, near perfection, volume three… intensely problematic. Then on to the complete run of Neal Gaimen’s The Sandman.

Then, a deep breath before diving once more into Alan Moore’s exhaustively researched From Hell. Harkened back to other limited series from the dawn of creator-owned comics, like Rick Veitch’s The One, or experiments from the Big Two like the maxi-series Camelot 3000.

In and about all these, I started digging through those Marvel Essentials I had picked up when I had disposable income. These are phone booked-sized black and white reprints of Marvel comics from back in the day, and I had resisted them for years because of the lack of color. Then I bought one at Half Price Books, found that color was the least of the charms of these stories, and set to picking them up against future boredom.

I positively devoured The Fantastic Four, which is arguably where you see the blueprint laid for what would come to be known as The Marvel Universe. A universe which is, in my not-so-humble opinion, currently in a shambled, smoking ruin… but that’s a fanboy talking, innit?

Finally, after multiple volumes of Fantastic Four, Avengers, Defenders (Steve Gerber, how he is missed), Dr. Strange, Iron Man, X-Men and Luke Cage – Power Man (Sweet sister!), I feel a bit Marvelled out. I feel more comfortable in the overbearing soap opera of the early Marvel than I do in the stories of the contemporaneous DC Showcase Presents reprints. Even though Mr. Fantastic’s barking to Sue Storm of “Don’t go all female on me now!” may grate, it’s an individual voice. The DC Heroes all seem to speak with the same voice, which becomes bothersome when they all get together in The Justice League of America. When Wonder Woman sounds the same as Batman, it’s hard to get involved on any level but the scholarly, or even archeological.

The older DC stuff – which let’s face it, was skewed to a much younger crowd than a 51-year-old fanboy, or the collegiate crowd Marvel hoped for – is also intensely formulaic. This house-mandated “this is the way comics ought to be” chased comics mainstay (perhaps even god) Jack Kirby into the arms of Marvel in the late 50s, according to Mark Evanier’s biography Kirby, King of Comics (okay, maybe I read two books), whereby hangs a history. There are far fewer Showcase books on my shelf than Essentials.

So, Marvelled out for the moment, what remains on my shelf, in terms of Grand Sweeps of History (comic)? Alas, I have already used the word problematic in this post, for what awaits me is a near-complete run of Dave Sim’s Cerebus.

Apparently, the name Dave Sim is supposed to be fronted by the adjective “controversial” whenever he is mentioned, the reason for which – it seems – won’t even be apparent until, like, Volume 9 or so. Something about gender politics. I guess I’ll find out when I get there.

You see, likely the reason I even busted out this blog post, was the serendipitous discovery of another blog as I prepared to dive into the Simiverse: Cerebus: A Diablog, in which writers Leigh Walton and Laura Hudson intend to examine the comic on an arc-by-arc if not issue-by-issue basis.

Now, this might have gotten off to a rockier start with me had I just weighed in on Laura’s initial post, which begins:

Ah, winter 1977. Sadly, neither of us Cerebloggers had yet been born, and so we cannot nostalgically recall what it was like when Cerebus first came out, only that it was a long, long time ago. I say this not to make anybody feel old, but to emphasize the scope of Sim’s accomplishment: Cerebus would subsequently go on to run for 26 years, a marathon that Sim refers to as “the longest sustained narrative in human history.”

Well, a little too damn late for the old part, as I do remember seeing that first issue in the wild. I was going through the wire rack at Roy’s Memory Shop on Westheimer, during one of my road trips to Houston from my college digs in Huntsville, looking for new issues of underground and “ground level” comics like Star Reach. I saw this first issue, and dismissed it another @#$%! funny animal comic. You see – if you are one of the uninitiated – Cerebus is an aardvark in an otherwise human-populated Conan universe.

This was the time of Howard the Duck (and have I mentioned how missed is Steve Gerber?). There were funny animal comics everywhere… hell, there was even a ground-level comic called No Ducks!… and I wasn’t in the market for another “trapped in a world he never made!” series. Many months later, my brother would show me an issue which featured Lord Julius, in whom Sim managed to flawlessly insert Groucho Marx into this world, and I got hooked.

Sim made it known that the saga of Cerebus the Aardvark would cover 300 issues. The amazing thing is, it actually does. He did it. All 300 issues. Yep, took him 26 years, just like Laura said. I also begin to wonder how many people who started out, like me, back in the late 70s actually stuck with him all through that. I know I didn’t.

Now, Cerebus, I hasten to add, is one of the things that got me through some very difficult times in the 80s, when I was just feeling my way through young adulthood and getting my nose rubbed in all manner of unpleasant realities. There were, generally speaking, maybe three continuing comic series that I looked forward to each month with anticipation, and one for a great length of time was Cerebus.

Sim started putting his work out in bound volumes which were very much the predecessors to the Essentials and Showcases – big, square phonebooks of comics goodness. The first four volumes – Cerebus, High Society, Church and State I & II – cover the years of my extreme fanboy-itude. They contain some of the keenest social satire I had seen since Walt Kelly’s Pogo, and is stuff I wholeheartedly recommend.

Ah, but it’s Volume 5 – Jaka’s Story – and beyond where things get, shall we say, interesting. Yes. Interesting it is. Sim stepped away from the political satire for a while to concentrate on story-telling, and the Earth Pig Born fell to supporting character status for a long, long stretch. About this time I decided it would be far better to invest in the collections than the comic, since I would lose the narrative thread in the time between issues. Of course, it also made it easier to just put these books on a shelf and ignore them, since – like, I suspect, a lot of readers, I longed for a return to the days of Lord Julius, Red Sophia and Elrod of Melnibone, the last member of a race of albino sorcerer kings, who talked, I say, who always talked like Foghorn Leghorn, son.

Or maybe I was simply young and callow. I shall likely find out in the weeks ahead, and it will be nice to have Hudson and Walton weighing on these matters in a much more scholarly, incisive manner than I myself can muster. Turns out I stopped buying the Cerebus phonebooks just four books shy of the complete set. Hopefully, by the time I reach that point, I will not only be able to afford those last four books, but will actually want to buy them.

Old, old, old

While doing research for 50 Foot DVD, on the long-gone vistas of 1967, I started thinking about a few things that had some impact on the then ten-year-old me.  Of course, YouTube has it:

Yes, I owned a toy sniper rifle in its own case. There was a lot of incredibly un-fun crap going on in the late 60’s, but goddamn how I miss them sometimes.

Somehow made more poignant by last night, when my ten-year-old finally prevailed upon me to watch Alien vs Predator: Requiem, a viewing which was fraught with multiple pronouncements of “Awesome!” from him.

Here, let me spare you the incredibly spastic nature of the YouTube comments by embedding this here:

It wasn’t as awful as I’d been led to believe, but then few things are.  It was pretty much standard action movie mediocrity wrapped in a fairly large budget, and continued the first AvP movie’s pattern of a large cast of undeveloped characters about whom the viewer could not be bothered to care. The more I think about this movie, the more  I think this course of affairs deserves closer examination in that old, venerable project of mine, The Bad Movie Report… but that would also mean watching this, the first one, and Alien 3 and 4 again, and that could get ooky.

I have joked that since my son professes the original Alien vs Predator to be his favorite movie (it edged out The Empire Strikes Back), I may have to disinherit him… but then, he’s ten. And I have to ponder how my parents felt, forty years back, when yours truly watched that psychedelic Levis commercial raptly, over and over again… on a black and white set.

Filmnerd Attack, Film at 11

After Return of the King, I found myself unable to face another 3 1/2 hour plus movie; apparently I’m getting old. Luckily, Seven Samurai comes with a pre-planned, even necessary intermission, which provides a good place to break for the night and return for the second half.

As I said earlier, I think it’s been five years or more since I’ve watched Seven Samurai, extraordinary enough as it’s a movie I’ve singled out for most of my life as not only my favorite, but also my choice for Greatest Movie Ever Made. Some will agree, some won’t, but most film freaks will at least place it in the top ten.

When my family moved to Bryan, Texas in the early 70s and I started discovering the marvels of PBS, Seven Samurai was one of the first subtitled foreign films I’d ever seen. As I recall, the year previous I had been captivated by a series showing classics of the silent screen, which showed Orphans of the Storm, The Thief of Baghdad and Hunchback of Notre Dame. The next year was World Cinema, and I was exposed to Seven Samurai, Yojimbo, M, and Grand Illusion. Educational channel, indeed.

Back in the 80s, Houston’s River Oaks Theater was still a single-screen repertory house, given to themed double features; it broke with its usual two-and-three day runs to give over two weeks to Seven Samurai, and I was there four or five times, each time dragging a new person with me.

I was one of those guys with a laserdic player. I still have the laserdiscs, in fact. First one I bought? You guessed it. Criterion Collection, too, though I didn’t go for the ultra-deluxe CAV version with the $99.99 price tag.

My Criterion DVD went for a third of that. Ah, these times, these times.

This latest viewing brought home to me just how spoiled I have become. Criterion tracks down the best elements it can for its discs, but this print could really use some clean-up. Even more churlishly, I miss the old subtitles of the Janus print I saw in the 70s and the 80s, even though they had at least one subtitle in a disastrously wrong place. The translation was more formal, but…

Okay, best example. The Samurai and the villagers are preparing for the final battle with the bandits. In the town square, Kikuchiyo (Toshiro Mifune), the false samurai who has finally been accepted by the others, is sticking all the swords taken from dead bandits into the central mound. The day before, his recklessness led to the death of several villagers and one of the samurai. When asked what he is doing, Kikuchiyo replies – in the 70s – “Today I must kill many.”

Today, he replies, “Can’t kill a lot with just one sword!”

Both work. The more modern version actually sounds like the Kikuchiyo we’ve seen all through the movie – bluff, sarcastic, trying too hard. The old version, though spoke reams about an essential change in the character, finally taking responsibility and a desire for atonement.

What a minor, minor cavil, though. There is a reason this movie is considered a classic, and why it keeps getting ripped off. I hear there is a remake in the works. The Magnificent Seven, Battle Beyond the Stars and A Bug’s Life (and, yes, Message from Space) at least had the decency to place the conceit in different venues, thus proving its viability and durability. A remake… well, insert all the Internet cliches you usually see at these junctures, ’cause I ain’t gonna be watching it, and I’m not going to waste any time coming up with a semi-clever version of “this is going to suck”.

Then, it would almost certainly have to be better than:

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