Offensive, harrassing or baiting comments will not be tolerated and will be deleted at my discretion.
Comment spam will be deleted.
Please leave a name and either a valid web-site or e-mail address with comments. Comments left without either a valid web-site or e-mail address may be deleted. Atom Feed LiveJournal SyndicationLOLcats feed
Thursday, November 30, 2006
A New Day Dawns
I'm changing the focus of the site. From now on, I'm just going to post cute pictures of animals with funny captions.
Or maybe not.
A recent discussion with some friends eventually got around to cartoons that messed up kids. The usual suspects were brought up. Watership Down (Holly's story of the destruction of the warren is still chilling). The Mouse and His Child (despite my insanely obsessive love of animated films, this was one I could never watch, as it depressed me too much). The bunyip sequence from Dot and the Kangaroo (which still kinda creeps me out a little). One of the films that always stuck with me as a kid, despite only seeing it once, was the animated musical version of John Gardner's existential novel Grendel. I'm not quite sure what, exactly, my parents were thinking when they took me to see Grendel Grendel Grendel, as the film is titled. It was probably that I had been enthusiastic about every single animated film and fantasy film I'd seen before, and here was an animated fantasy. Sounds like perfect entertainment for a young boy. Well, no. I'm not sure how much credence to give this review, which sounds as if it missed a lot of the point of the work, but my recollection of the film was that it was murky and morally ambiguous and full of candy-colored dread.
In short, it kinda messed with my head at an age where I was probably far too young to deal with the themes of the work. Which has, in an odd way, led to me having a tendency to sympathize with the "monstrous" figures of literature.
There's precious little on the film to be found on-line, though a rather nice performance by the Mountain Goats of the song "Grendel's Mother" is available.
So, what beloved child-hood classics traumitzied all of you?
Ah, the 70s...where seeing hidden and sinister meanings everywhere could get you a book deal. How else to make sense of Wilson Key and his Media Sexploitation. In it, he details the many ways that advertisers and artists are secretly manipulating your mind in order to hypnotize you into doing things contrary to your self-interest. I mean, just look at the kind of filth they tried to get away with in ads!
Why, Jesus is making faces at that ladies crotch! That makes me want to, I don't know, join the Episcopalian church, or something. I guess... Well, you sort of see where Key's theory starts to fall apart. He insists that the imagery and hidden meanings are there, but his claims are so patently ridiculous, if there really were all this blatant subliminal imagery in everything, no one would ever buy anything, because we'd all be too busy laughing at the desperation of advertisers.
I mean, Key seems to seriously believe that crackers are baked in such a way as to cause the word "sex" to be embossed on each one.
And, it's not just advertising, oh no. Did you know that all men's nudie magazines are part of a secret homosexual plot to effeminize American men?
This is the image he's talking about:
Oh, how could we have been so blind as to not realize that pin-up models are all actually guys in drag!
Even comic strips are loaded with vile Freudian meanings:
A particularly eye-opening chapter explores how American pop music was all about sex and death, until the Beatles came along, and then every song ever played on the radio was about drugs.
Or, you know, it's a distinctive sounding name that doesn't mess with the song's rhyme or rhythm. And I'm not playfully exaggerating Key's hypothesis there. That is his argument, in a nutshell.
For a fan of cultural studies and critical theory books, a work like this is fascinating on multiple levels. On one hand, it's an object lesson on the dangers of reading too deeply into works. And there actually is, buried deep within the book, some good analytical writing. The chapter on symbolism and cinematic technique in the film version of The Exorcist is really very good and insightful, if not undermined by Key's insistence that director William Friedkin only used montage shots, dubbed over sounds, deaths head motifs and the complicated cultural symbolism of the rose to brainwash audiences into pedophiles. But the book is also an invaluable glimpse into what the "talking heads" class of commentators and writers were preoccupied with back in the day. I've got more than a passing notion that the current mania for "liberals are evil traitors" books will look as embarrassingly quaint and stupid thirty years from now as this book does today.
But, seriously, stuff like this says more about Key than any advertising executive:
Which I'm taking as further proof that your average comic book fan simply isn't happy unless they have something to complain about. Yes, the name is an odd choice. Yes, perhaps having more female creators involved in the launch titles would have been good. But this is exactly the kind of "new reader" outreach and audience that blogger pundits have been arguing should be pursued by major publishers for years. On the whole, this is a good thing.
Naturally, the comments section rapidly devolves into a forum for anti-choice propaganda.
Likewise, this IMDB thread, "Was Don Knotts a Christian?". Because the man's personal religious beliefs are of course the most important things to discuss in a forum devoted to his film and television work...
Why, it's almost enough to make comicsmessageboards seem like bastions of sane, polite and rational discourse.
Songs Ruined by Commercials It wasn't exactly a song, but the list reminded me of the brief period when William Burroughs was a spokesperson for Nike. "Just do it!" "Do what Bill? Drugs, underage boys or manslaughter?"
Camp Records, a mid-60s novelty song label. It's a really interesting insight into underground gay humor of the era.
Kids Incorporated, the spiritual forebears to those annoying "KidsBop" albums I see advertised on TV all the damn time, singing a song that, well...probably really wasn't an appropriate choice, Olivia Newton John's "Physical."
I'm always both appalled, and not at all surprised, to discover that some enterprising music executive has decided that it would be "cute" to have little kids sing songs based on the title, and never thinking about what the song is actually about. Aaron Carter's cover of "I Want Candy" comes immediately to mind on that score. (And yes, I know that the girl with the screechy voice from the Black Eyed Peas is in that video.)
American Splendor #s 2 & 3, by Harvey Pekar and others, published by DC/Vertigo I am not the right audience for autobiographical comics. The memoir genre, as a whole, holds little interest for me. There's a fine line between self-examination and navel-gazing, and most works fall on the wrong side of it. Pekar's work is probably the best example of the genre you can find, and I can't deny the quality of the writing in these comics. It's interesting and compelling work, and the art is, on the whole, excellent, though occasionally somewhat of a odd fit for the kind of story being told. The best pairings, art-wise, are the pieces illustrated by Dean Haspiel, who has the strongest sense of what makes Pekar's writing work and an ability to translate that to the page.
Elephantmen # 4, by Richard Starkings and Moritat, published by Image This is a very quiet issue for this series, mostly consisting of flashbacks to the early days of the Elephantmen, revealing some of the experimentation conducted on them, and a conversation between Ebony and the cab-driver from last issue, Miki, in which the place of the genetically modified former soldiers in a world at peace is explained. As usual, the art is exquisite, and the story, despite being a tad heavy on the exposition side, does a good job of filling in details on the world it takes place in, while very deftly injecting some pathos into the tale so far. A very strong sense of the tragedy of the Elephantmen is portrayed here, which is a strong credit towards the writing on this series.
Jonah Hex # 13, by Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti and Jordi Bernet, published by DC/Vertigo This issue marks the beginning of a multi-part tale depicting the origin of the titular bounty hunter. It's a tricky proposition, as the mystery of the character's past has always worked better when it trickles out in dark hints and suggestions. As a consequence, the story somewhat fails to live up to reader expectations, which is a shame, as in general I quite enjoy Gray and Palmiotti's take on the character and this series so far. To be precise, the story isn't as spectacular as it's import would suggest. Bernet's art, as usual, is excellent. His normal style appears somewhat modified, taking on a slight resemblance to period woodcuts; rougher and blockier than is typical of what I've seen of his work.
Planetary Brigade: Origins #1 by Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis and Julia Bax, published by Boom! Studios Giffen and DeMatteis pull off a neat trick in their latest spin-off from Hero Squared; producing a comic that is at once a faithful recreation of classic "Marvel style" comics, and a parody of the same. The mocking tone never quite manages to overpower the superheroics, but it's a strong enough thread of metatextual commentary through the story as to form the backbone of the comic. Or, to put it another way, it's a far more subtle take on the "funny superhero book" than has been the standard of late. Or, to put it another way again, it's chattier than a Chris Claremont comic, while being funny on purpose.
Tony Loco #1 by Mark Teague and Derek McCaw, published by Illusive Arts This new series from the publishers of Dorothy focuses on the mute inmate of a mental hospital. The staff is uncaring, save for one social worker recently assigned, and Tony's vision of the world around him is tinged by surreal symbolism. Teague's art is wonderfully expressive in a caricature style, with a sharp eye for portraying personality and characterization. There's a strong sense of mood and foreboding to the story as well, but unfortunately this first issue does little beyond establishing a sense of place. It does this very well, in fact, but too little story actually occurs in this first issue to really give any sense of what the series is about. Based on this first issue I'm expecting a psychological horror story, but promotional artwork leads me to expect a super-hero tale. It's a very notable flaw in an issue which is intended to introduce a reader to the series, and an especially frustrating one because otherwise the comic is very good. Some preview materials are available on the publisher's web-site. (Edited to correct artist misidentification.)
Oh, International Licensing Fees, Why Do You Torment Me?
My original plan for tonight was to catch up on some reviews. But then I remembered that the second series of Black Books was recently released on DVD, so I went out and bought it and spent the evening watching that instead.
It's a wonderfully misanthropic show about an alcoholic bookstore owner who makes life miserable for his friends and customers. It's filled with lots of "I wish I could have gotten away with doing that" moments that anyone who ever worked retail can relate to. There was a superbly brilliant bit, which I lack the technology to record and upload to YouTube, violating all kinds of copyright laws, but here's a short taste of the second series.
So, I was of course reminded of the many British comedy shows I derive stupid amounts of pleasure from, which are inexplicably unavailable on DVD in the U.S. First is Spaced, starring Simon Pegg. You'd think with the success of Shaun of the Dead, the upcoming Hot Fuzz, and the fact that it's already been shown on U.S. channels that a DVD of the two series would have turned up, but no. Pegg's series about slacker-ish twentysomethings has yet to receive the wider release in the U.S. that it deserves. It's a smart, well observed comedy, that still makes room for moments of pure surrealism.
And thinking of Spaced always puts me in mind of Big Train, an earlier sketch comedy show with Pegg which focused almost exclusively on absurdist non-sequiters.
Big Train also deserves special recognition for finally answering the age-old question; what would it have been like if Chairman Mao sang a Roxy Music song.
The Fast Show was another peculiar sketch show. I'm not sure anything on it ever made sense. I was always in tears by the end of an episode, however.
I was sufficiently brainwashed by professors with an interest in post-colonial theory to eventually develop my own interest in cultural productions by members of the southern Asia expatriate and immigrant communities. Goodness Gracious Me was brilliant and incisive political satire disguised cleverly as a sketch show. The cast mined their own communities for material, and a frequent focus was on the sexism of their culture, but they were just as quick to exploit the racism of British society for a laugh as well. I've seen enough similarly boorish behavior ("What do you mean you don't have anything with beef in it? What kind of restaurant is this?") in Indian restaurants in America to appreciate the joke in this sketch.
At last, Civil War is over! Well, apart from the four titles with the words "Civil War" in their title and the many tie-ins still trickling out. Annihilation is over too. Apart from the Heralds of Galactus post-mini mini.
It may just be me, but this Daredevil cover is actually pretty clever. Or, at least an amusing, ironic joke.
Marvel Legacy: The 1990s Handbook is scheduled to come out. Finally, you can learn all you ever wanted to know about Vengenance! And Sleepwalker! And Lunatik! And a bunch of other characters only appearing in this book so that Marvel can renew the trademark.
This not at all homoerotic cover is to a Baron Zemo mini spinning off of the end of Civil War. It also seems to be an attempt to not make the same mistake as the last drastic change in tone and style to Thunderbolts. The one that drove the entire audience for the book away. This way, fans of the book as it exists now get something to tide them over until the next "bold new direction" hits the regular book, or Warren Ellis gets bored with it. Whichever comes first.
I count eleven X-Men titles. No witty comment there, just an observation.
The prospect of an evil Katie Power is almost enough to get me to pick up Spider-Man and Power Pack. It won't be enough. But it almost is.
On the Marvel trade front, Annihilation gets a "volume 1" hardcover, collecting two of the mini lead-ins, while two books collecting Civil War cross-overs get hard-cover trades as well. There's also another Civil War trade collecting "prologue" stories. We're never going to see the days when a cross-over can fit in one trade again, are we?
$20 for the first six issues of the superlative All Star Superman in hard-cover format sounds like a good deal to me.
This cover to Superman #661 is also very pretty.
Although the idea of a special 3-D supplement to that month's Action is perhaps the return of one gimmick too many.
Superman/Batman: The Greatest Stories Ever Told reprints the recent Superman/Batman Annual. Seriously? Because it was a cute story, but pretty damn far from one of the "greatest" stories featuring those two.
All-New Atom #8 contains what I think may be a first for a DC comic: exposed penis on the cover.
I mean, it's been awhile since I cracked open a book on human anatomy, but I'm fairly familiar with the things, and that looks like half of one to me.
Expect some careful text placement on the final cover.
Retro trades this month include another volume of Crisis on Multiple Earths: The Team-Ups, a Showcase Presents volume for Hawkman, and a second volume for House of Mystery.
Mark Waid and George Perez launch a new version of The Brave and The Bold, with the promise of crossing over as many different DC characters as possible now. In a discussion with someone the other day, I mentioned that lately DC seems to be all about "playing in the sandbox with all the toys." There seems to be a concentrated effort to use as many different characters in as many different contexts as they can manage. Stuff like this is emblematic of that approach to comics publishing.
I'm not usually one to complain about the costumes of female super-heroes. I have one rule of thumb, which is this: if I can tell she uses a depilatory, she probably needs more fabric on her costume, especially between her waist and her knees. Alex Ross apparently does not feel the same way:
And people thought Supergirl flying around in a mini-skirt was pushing the good taste envelope on costumes. "Cyclone" isn't even bothering to wear panties. Lord, I hope she's not a flyer. Ross has done this sort of thing before, try to sneak a "naughty" image onto a cover. It never really seems "clever" to me, which is what I think he thinks he's going for.
The long awaited Jeff Smith Shazam series comes out, Monster Society of Evil.
And how do typical comics fans react? They complain about the price point. I don't know, given that most other companies are charging about eight bucks are so for perfect bound books of the same page count with ads, $6 doesn't seem unreasonable to me. Especially given that DC is probably under-pricing it, knowing that the real sales on something like this are going to be on the hard-cover, soft-cover, and Absolute Edition collections. Especially when bookstore buyers and book fairs, the places where Smith's Bone has been a big seller, get ahold of it.
This is a very pretty cover for Wonder Woman #5.
And if you think for a moment that it will ship in February, I've got a bridge you might like to buy.
I'm a sucker for these "everybody on one team match up and fight their ideological opposite on the other team" types of covers.
Y'know, for a character who is supposed to be evil now, Batgirl keeps showing up in her costume an awful lot.
CMX has two new titles, Time Guardian, which sounds like a slightly girlier version of xxxHolic, and Go Go Heaven, about a girl given 49 extra days of life by the king of Hell, who spies on her from her dollhouse. That sounds just twisted enough to possibly be good.
Midnighter versus creepy Nazi kids.
Of course, I'm not sure there's such a thing as un-creepy Nazi kids...
This will be mine. Oh yes. Possibly many of these will be mine.
DC's Beefcake of the Month
Uhm, yeah, it wasn't a good month for pictures of guys at DC. They're too busy not drawing drawers on teenage girl heroes to indulge in any other kind of fan service.
There's really only about three ways I think of movies. There are those I'd be willing to pay full price to see in a theater, obnoxious crowd in the auditorium and all. There are those films I'd consider seeing, but only as some form of rental, where I don't have to deal with other people and can stop the film if it turns out to be drek. And there are those films that I'll only watch if, by some strange set of events, I've been forced to, in which case I'll probably be begging for my captors to carve out my eyes to make the pain stop.
Pay Full Price
Reno: 911 Miami: Even if this wasn't the closest thing I'm going to get to a reunion of The State, I'm loyal enough a viewer of the show to place this on my "must see" list for this winter. It's a near-perfect mix of very sly satire and shock humor that just works, and is all the more impressive for its improvisational nature. And I'll be dragging Pete to this one, and he hate this kind of thing.
Hot Fuzz: I've been a fan of Simon Pegg since Big Train, so this is another automatic viewing. Plus, you know, cop humor...apparently it's a "thing" with me.
The Holiday: Is the world ready for Jack Black as a romantic lead? Probably not, no. But it looks sort of sappily sweet and dumb, and sometimes that's all you can really expect out of a romantic comedy. This has "take your mom to the movies" written all over it.
The Simpsons: This thirty-second clip? Funnier than the last three seasons combined. Granted, that isn't saying much. Because this thirty-second clip? Not particularly funny.
Eragon: This is based on the book that a little kid wrote, right? Well, more power to him, but I think I've read this same novel about two or three dozen times already, under various titles, and I'm not entirely sure I needed to see yet another iteration of it made into a film. Somehow, I suspect Peter Jackson is to blame for this.
Premonition: Sandra Bullock in a time-travel/psychic thriller, trying to determine if her husband is dead or if he's going to die. This could really go either way in terms of quality. Could be good, could be a typical Sandra Bullock movie.
Pan's Labyrinth: It's certainly very pretty looking. But I've seen too many of Del Toro's films to expect any niceties. Such as "plot" or "an ending that makes the slightest bit of sense."
The Invisible: Now, this has possibilities. A teenage boy trying to solve his own murder while in a disembodied state, it's a bit like the WB (or, the CW now, I guess) version of a few other ghost stories that have cropped up over the years. But there's enough of a sense of style and tension on display in the trailer to make it worth a look.
The Quiet: Ah, the "disabled girl hero" returns to the thriller genre. The Lolita-esque aspects of the film are (hopefully) intentionally creepy, and there's something inherently compelling in a protagonist who knows a terrible secret but is unable to act on it. It will all depend on the execution. I sat through enough "naughty teenage girl" movies to know that the potential to be excruciatingly bad is inherent in the format.
Spider-Man 3: Let's review, shall we? Star Wars? Decent. Empire Strikes Back? Pretty Good. Return of the Jedi? Crap. Star Trek? Okay. Star Trek 2? Not bad. Star Trek 3? Crap. Batman? All right. Batman Returns? Not terrible. Batman Forever? Crap. X-Men? Pretty good. X-Men 2? Not terrible. X-Men 3? Utter crap. Why does anyone think this movie is going to break that pattern? Especially when it's repeating the same "villain overkill" mistakes that the Batman franchise made. (And please, don't cite Lord of the Rings as a refutation of the pattern. That was essentially one long film broken into three parts. Not quite the same thing.) That being said, while this film is only going to be worth a rental, I know that I'll be in line opening day. I'm sure that will be the trade-off for making Pete see Reno 911.
Mr. Woodcock: A self-help guru returns home to discover his mother is dating the gym teacher who made his life miserable. Surprisingly, the self-help guy is NOT played by Ben Stiller. I guess he's finally getting a bit long in the tooth for these kinds of roles. Wow, I bet there's some kind of touching realization at the 80 minute mark where the whiny male lead realizes that he's been wrong about his old teacher all along, and we're supposed to suddenly sympathize with the sadist. Why do so many people I like have to be in this?
Tideland: In typical Gilliam style, it looks visually stunning. And, typically, it looks incredibly depressing, as a girl retreats into a fantasy world to avoid dealing with her reality as the neglected daughter of a junkie. The trick will be if Gilliam's usual inability to tell a coherent story are on display here or not.
Please, Take My Eyes
Gone: Yeah, I'm already over this "mysterious stranger plays a twisted game of cat and mouse with innocents in a geographically isolated yet scenic location" genre.
Meet the Robinsons: Well, that was just remarkably unpleasant and unfunny. I really do feel bad for kid's today. The movies they get foisted on them are so bland and dull, as if poop jokes can substitute for story and character.
The Good German: What is it about contemporary films in black and white that just screams "pretentious" at me. Now, I like Clooney, and I like Steven Soderbergh, but this? No, no, this just looks to be a mess. And, I'm sorry, but I don't buy Tobey Maguire as a noir-ish tough guy. Hell, I don't even buy Maguire as Peter Parker, the whiniest and most emo of all super-heroes. I can only assume that both Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio were too busy on other projects to be slotted into that role.
300: SCREAM! SCREAM FOR SPARTA! YAAAR! WE ARE SCREAMING! Not even the acres of manflesh could get me to this. And yet, somehow, I also get the feeling that Peter Jackson is to blame for this one.
Charlotte's Web: I'm really learning to associate the word "Nickelodeon" in front of a movie as "This will not be good." It's not that this looks bad, per se. It's just that I know it's going to be bad. It's an inescapable reality. Clue one: Julia Roberts. Oh, and Steve Buscemi is in no way, shape or form a substitute for Paul Lynde.
Bug: Great, more body mutilation horror. I'll be glad when this genre runs it's course as well.
Unaccompanied Minors: Wow. Lewis Black must really need money. Like "owes the mob" needs money. I can't think of any other reason for him to be in...this.
The History Boys: Now, I have no doubt that this is a very good film. The play it is based on is reputedly quite good, and it's all the same cast, so they can't go too far wrong. I just have no romantic idealization of teachers, so this holds no interest for me.
Deja Vu: When the most interesting thing about the trailer for your time-travel movie is an editing joke, that's probably not a good sign.
Let's Go To Prison: This could almost be worth seeing as a sociological experiment. I could go and count the number of times a joke is made about prison rape. I could glance nervously at the audience of (undoubtedly) heterosexual white males between the ages of 16 and 30 filling the theater, while they laugh uproariously at the thought of rape. I could measure how much more misanthropic I am after viewing the film than I was before.
The Messengers: Oh, God, where to start? Okay, first, making your movie's web-site only available during certain hours of the day is not enhancing your film's mystique. It's telling your audience that you were too preoccupied with coming up with a clever marketing gimmick to focus on making a good film. Second, recycling your special effects from The Grudge, a film that really wasn't good to begin with, is not value for money; it's lazy. And third, teenage daughter bonds with resented little brother while living in spooky house because the adults refuse to believe it's haunted? That trick never works.
Rocky Balboa: Really, another one? That's so...sad. It's like Stallone is having his mid-life crisis, only it's on a movie screen. "Hey, remember when I was relevant? Remember? Anybody?"
The Hoax: Ah, a film for the three people who not only remember who Howard Hughes was, but remember that someone forged his memoir.
For Your Consideration: A film narcisstically musing on the foibles of fame and celebrity? It's been, what, a month since one of those came out, right?
Norbit: Remember when Eddie Murphy was funny? Me neither. It's been too long.
Deck the Halls: I wish I had a web-cam. I'm sure the look of utterly horrified revulsion on my face as I watched this trailer was entertaining. I'm just utterly at a loss as to how anyone could think there's an audience for a film about two boorish, middle aged men fighting over something as petty and inconsequential as Christmas lights.
Spotted this old Dungeons and Dragons ad at GayGamer. It's interesting in a "oh, God, I can't stop looking at the hair!" sort of way. Nice to know that they always had the target audience for the game pegged down as "geek." And white, but really, outside of ads for fast food, it's not like you saw non-white people in ads very much back then anyway. The presence of the girls in the ad intrigues me, because I'm not sure if the intent there was to tell girls "hey you might like this game too" or to tell guys "hey girls will play this."
Yes, I noticed that Neil Patrick Harris came out. Good for him. Though, honestly, I'm not that in the loop on which actors are gay, and I was still sort of surprised that people didn't know he was. I'm also amused that he outed himself after his publicist tried to "in" him. Oops.
But, c'mon, what precisely did people think the joke here was?
Hit the swap meet today. Got some nice stuff. A few 50s romance comics, and this:
I don't even like Nancy. I just got it to rub Mike's face in it.
I also picked up a deck of playing cards from the late forties. Here's the utterly brilliant and amazing back of the deck.
I'd show you the front of the cards, but they're a bit naughty.
An e-mail exchange with a friend the other day got me to thinking about sailors, and why they hold a place in my imagination, particularly an erotic place. As a child, growing up in Wyoming and then on Navy bases, it's perhaps understandable that first cowboys and then sailors would come to dominate my early conceptions of masculinity. Cowboys enthralled me as a toddler. It was probably a combination of being surrounded by the trappings of the Western lifestyle in Wyoming and the fact that my heroes were the Lone Ranger and Zorro. But as I grew older, and more adults not related to me came into world, most of those men were sailors.
The result of this was that, as I was becoming aware of sexual feelings within myself, the men I found myself looking at were, more often than not, sailors. That image of the sailor was not only becoming my conception of "what a man looks like" and "what a man acts like" but was also leading to a discovery that what I liked looking at was men. At this point the entire notion of homosexuality was completely foreign to me. I seriously doubt I'd ever even heard of a "gay man" at this point. As far as I could tell, I was the only boy in the world who really enjoyed looking at men and couldn't understand what was so special about looking at girls. Well, me and one other boy in the neighborhood, but that's not a story for here.
My first exposure to the concept of homosexuality was actually in health class. Someone, apparently, had decided that we should have this AIDS business explained to us, because it had been in the news and didn't seem to be going away any time soon. AIDS, we were told, is a disease you catch by being a gay man. A gay man is a man who has sex with other men, instead of with women. So as long as you're not gay, you don't have to worry about AIDS, we were told. As the rest of the class nodded at the sagacity and logic of our teacher, I was deep in thought over something that had never occurred to me: men could have sex with men!
Of course, simply knowing about the existence of gay men didn't make me any more astute necessarily about what I was. Simply knowing that there were such things as homosexuals didn't make me able to spot them. Which is where the sailors come in again. At this time, we were living in Italy, in a small city north of Naples. A good chunk, perhaps even a majority, of the population were American military families and expats from other English speaking nations. Two doors down from our house was a small house that two enlisted men rented. We didn't mix much. They were too old for me to be really concerned with them, and as my dad was an officer, being needlessly social with them wasn't really done. Both men had apparent girlfriends, two young women also in the service, but they only ever seemed to be over about once a month, when the men would throw parties for a small group of enlisted men and women. Eventually one of the men was transferred to another base and the other moved out of the house.
It had never occurred to me at the time, but it now of course seems patently obvious that the sailors were gay, and furthermore a couple. That the "girlfriends" were more likely than not lesbians who also found themselves in need of a convenient cover. And that the parties had such a limited and select guest list out of a sense of self-preservation rather than exclusion. And I don't come to those conclusions out of any desire to sentimentalize my childhood or create some sort of proto-gay role models out of whole cloth. I simply never realized until later that the men had to have been gay. Shortly after they moved out, me and...another boy in the neighborhood, in searching through their empty house and discarded boxes and trash (as we did, often...the sheer number of empty, half-constructed and ruined buildings made our neighborhood into a wonderland for boys in early adolescence), discovered a small garbage bag containing pornographic magazines, all consisting of pictures of naked men and men having sex with other men. It didn't mean anything to me at the time, nor to my friend I would guess, other than that it was porn. Porn of any kind, because of its forbidden nature, was immensely cool. If anything we were pleasantly surprised to discover that there was porn featuring naked men. That the only kind of man who would own gay porn is a gay man never occurred to me until I was older.
Some time after my father retired from the Navy, we talked briefly about the time we lived in Italy. He told me that one of his specific job duties was the investigation of servicemen suspected to be gay. It was not, he told me, a job he enjoyed doing. He'd have much rather the Navy spent time and money discharging stupid people than gay people (a particular favorite example of his was the pilot who kept crashing his plane into trees, refusing to believe the radar operators who told him he was flying too low). From time to time I think about those men. I don't remember their names. I don't even really have a clear memory of what they looked like. When I think of them, I wonder if my father knew what the real story behind them and their girlfriends and parties was. I wonder how my life would have been different if I'd have been aware enough of the world around me to realize that I wasn't the only gay person in the word. Would I have been less frightened of myself, and of the world? Would I have been more confidant as a teen? Would the other boy and I have felt less guilt, shame and terror over the things we were doing?
I often think of those men on those days when I get damn sick and tired of my very existence being used by politicians to exploit the prejudices of their voting base. I think of the unlikelihood of those men finding each other in the first place. I think of those men having to hide the truth of their lives. And I think of what it must have been like for them when they learned that one of them was being transferred. And I marvel that the world is just as petty and stupid now as it was then.
DC announced trades to be published in March and April. There's a couple of real gems there. A Showcase Presents volume devoted to Hawkman, new volumes for Superman and House of Mystery as well as (urgh) Teen Titans. A $20 hard-cover collecting the first six issues of All Star Superman. And, look, see here, DC finally fills a notable gap in their series of Golden and Silver Age reprints:
WONDER WOMAN: THE GREATEST STORIES EVER TOLD TP Writers: William Moulton Marston, Robert Kanigher, Dennis O'Neil, George Perez and Phil Jimenez Artists: H.G. Peter, Ross Andru, George Perez, Phil Jimenez and others Cover artist: Alex Ross Price: $19.99 US/$23.99 CAN Page count: 192 pages
I think an "about damn time" is warranted here.
Wonder Woman versus Heidi Hitler
Of course it's from Germany...
(It's remotely possible that the only purpose of this post is to point out a couple of links to GayProf...)
American Virgin: Head by Steven T. Seagle, Becky Cloonan and Jim Rugg, published by DC/Vertigo While Becky Cloonan's art in this book, collecting the first four issues of the Vertigo series American Virgin, is quite nice to work with, it's a shame it's attached to a story that manages to be both smug and insincere. It's as if Seagle wants to talk about the hypocrisy and short-sightedness of the American Evangelical movement, but he's afraid to make his main character either unlikeable or too obviously a pawn of others. And then the issue is dodged by transplanting the story rather hurriedly to Africa, where it becomes a revenge story with unimaginative anti-American terrorists as villains. The end result is a muddled, and frankly dull, book that wants you to think it's as important as it thinks it is.
Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall by Bill Willingham and others, published by DC/Vertigo Of the current crop of adult fantasy comics, Fables is my favorite, and arguably the best. This new hardcover of original stories is set in the early days of the Fabletown community whose story the monthly comic chronicles, and in it Snow White, held captive by a villainous sultan who plans to murder her, staves off her execution by relating stories from the pasts of the various characters making up the cast of the regular comic, in a parallel to the story of Scheherazade. The stories range in tone from tragedy to comedy, and most of them relate either the "origins", if you will, of the characters, or relate how they came to Fabletown. The centerpieces of the book are two stories about Snow White herself. The first provides several significant clues about one of the running jokes in the comic, namely why you should never mention the dwarves to Snow White, while the second tells how Snow and her sister Rose Red first met the wicked witch, Frau Totenkinder, which itself contains a lengthy flashback to the witch's history, revealing her to be a far more significant element of the Fables world than had previously been suggested. The art styles for each story range from classical illustrations to more contemporary styles, by a large variety of some of the best artists working in the comics field today. There isn't a bad bit of art or an unentertaining story in this volume, and at $20 for an original hardcover, the package as a whole feels like an excellent value for either fans of Fables or of beautiful comics illustrations.
Mad #471, by various, published by DC Comics I try very hard not to over-sentimentalize the things I enjoyed as a child. So, when reading through the latest issue of this long running humor magazine, I tried to avoid direct comparisons to the version of the magazine I read as a kid. Viewed on it's own, the current Mad is something of a disappointment. It's not that the humor is too transgressive, or too kid oriented. No, it's more like the humor is something that an adult thinks a kid would find transgressive. Flipping through it, I don't see very many things that kids would relate to. But, at the same time, the jokes are a little too dumbed down to really be appreciated by adults. When I compare it to the Mad I used to read, the current edition is even more of a mixed bag. In general I would say that the quality of the art has improved, while the quality of the writing has gone down. This new version seems to do a lot of talking down to its audience, something I don't really remember the magazine ever doing in the past. The features also seem very short, and many pages are crowded together with multiple features on the page. It bespeaks a presumption of a short attention span in the audience. About the only thing that's consistent between the two versions is a creepy preoccupation with borderline homophobic gay jokes.
Rock Bottom by Joy Casey and Charlie Adlard, published by AIT/Planet Lar Joe Casey's story of a man slowly turning to stone is his best work yet. Thomas Dare is a musician going through a messy and complicated divorce, while dodging the phone calls of his now pregnant mistress. He soon discovers that, through some unknown, but apparently hereditary process, he is slowly and painfully turning to stone. His condition tests his friendships and relationships, while exposing him to a kind of freakish fame he never wanted. Soon, everyone wants a piece of him, literally, and it his story becomes one of a man seeking nothing else but to die with dignity. It's a moving and emotional examination of mortality, friendship and the human spirit. It's remarkable that Casey is able to pare down the story and touch on all the major themes he raises in such a compact and quickly moving story. Charlie Adlard is one of those artists I've always thought to be criminally underrated. He works in a stark black and white here, the only tones being the gray of Thomas Dare as he slowly succumbs to his illness. It makes for a visually arresting experience that highlights the story that Casey is telling in an exceptional way.
Seven Sons by Alexander Grecian and Riley Rossmo, published by AIT/Planet Lar This retelling of the Chinese legend of seven brothers, each with remarkable powers, moves the story to the American west during the Gold Rush. The events of the story play out more or less in the same pattern as in the traditional folk tale, but the new context that Grecian and Rossmo put that story into allows them to play with additional themes, such as racism and xenophobia, as well as good old fashioned fear-mongering. It makes for an interesting read, and a nice example of a stated theme within the book itself, that the best stories grow and change. The art in the book is a slight distraction. It has a visually distinctive style, but it often looks too rough and a little unfinished or broadly inked, and in some sequences that makes it difficult to easily determine what is meant to be happening. It is by no means bad art, but slightly more clarity could have assisted in the storytelling.
Tag #2, by Keith Giffen, Mike Lieb, Kody Chamberlin & Chee, published by Boom Studios The second issue of this zombie comic builds on the premise set-up in the first issue: that becoming a zombie is a strange curse bestowed on you during a supernatural game of tag. The history and "rules" of the curse are investigated in this issue. The premise works remarkably well. There's a creepy internal logic that's compelling. The art, done in moody gray and green tones adds a lot as well, accentuating the surreal nature of the predicament the characters find themselves in.