Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Marvel Solicits - May 1984

This time around Marvel is touting a 14 issue subscription for six bucks. But the big deal is that when you order two titles at that rate you can subscribe to a third book for just $5 more!

Regardless of the deal, thou
gh, this is one weird looking Hulk. His head is frighteningly small for the body it's resting atop, and his face is kind of a caricature of itself -- looking more Cro-Magnon than gamma-irradiated. That same theme seems to be carried throughout the rest of the figure because based on the perspective of the drawing, his knuckles must drag on the ground when his arms rest at his sides. And what about his feet?! Good lord! His feet are as big as his legs are long!

This is the third subscription solicit I've featured so far that's signed by the artist (here next to Hulk's left foot). It looks like an "SEV" but I'm not certain. I'm guessing that Marvel had an intern in late 1983 who was the nephew of Jim Shooter, and he was able to convince his then-editor-in-chief uncle that he could draw. ("Listen Uncle Jim, I swear, I've been practicing! I can do this!") And in a moment of weakness, nepotism carried the day, "SEV" got his shot at the big time, and we got Baby New Year Hulk.

Giant diaper? Check.

Oversized safety pin? Check.
Year-emblazoned sash? Check.

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Book List 2008

I have kept a Word document called "Book List" since 2002 where I track what I've been reading by year. I log every book I read on that list in the order I read them (although I did separate the list by type for clarity here). I tend to read more non-fiction than fiction, and this year was no exception. Only three books this year were fiction, and all of them were read in the last half of the year. But combined, I averaged about a book-and-a-half per month.

The list doesn't include all the monthly comic books I read in a year, but the number of comic book trade paperbacks and hardcover collected editions are the most numerous. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that I averaged one collection per week, but seeing it laid out like this is still kind of amazing. I discovered a lot of great new stuff thanks to John (Invincible), Matt (a lot of the Batman and DC stuff), and others. In all, a good, fun year of reading.

  1. Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography - David Michaelis
  2. The Grizzly Maze: Timothy Treadwell's Fatal Obsession with Alaskan Bears - Nick Jans
  3. The Heroin Diaries: A Year in the Life of a Shattered Rock Star - Nikki Sixx
  4. Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life - Steve Martin
  5. The Franchise: LeBron James and the Remaking of the Cleveland Cavaliers - Terry Pluto and Brian Windhorst
  6. DisneyWar - James B. Stewart
  7. All the Way Home: Building a Family in a Falling-Down House - David Giffels
  8. Silent Bob Speaks: The Collected Writings of Kevin Smith - Kevin Smith
  9. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft - Stephen King (Can't believe I'd never read this before! What a fantastic book for writers of every stripe.)
  10. Collect All 21! Memoirs of a Star Wars Geek - The First 30 Years - John Booth
  11. 13 Seconds: A Look Back at the Kent State Shootings - Philip Caputo
  12. The Marvel Comics Guide to New York City - Peter Sanderson
  13. My Incredibly Wonderful, Miserable Life: An Anti-Memoir - Adam Nimoy
  14. The Dead Travel Fast: Stalking Vampires from Nosferatu to Count Chocula - Eric Nuzum (So disappointed I missed Eric's talk at the Akron Summit County Public Library in October.)
  1. The Book of Lies - Brad Meltzer
  2. Star Wars: The Force Unleashed - Sean Williams (Fun read. But I'll likely skip the video game.)
  3. Devil May Care - Sebastian Faulks writing as Ian Fleming (Sort of the opposite approach of the new Bond movies where they have updated the character and set him in the present day. This new book puts 007 firmly back in the '60s with entertaining success.)
Trade Paperbacks and Hardcover Collected Editions
  1. G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, Vol. 1 - Larry Hama
  2. G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, Vol. 2 - Larry Hama
  3. G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, Vol. 3 - Larry Hama
  4. G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, Vol. 4 - Larry Hama
  5. G.I. Joe: Declassified - Larry Hama
  6. Invincible: Ultimate Collection, Vol. 1 - Robert Kirkman, Cory Walker
  7. Secret War - Brian Michael Bendis
  8. Invincible: Ultimate Collection, Vol. 2 - Robert Kirkman, Cory Walker
  9. Daredevil - Visionaries: Frank Miller, Volume 1 - Frank Miller
  10. Thor - Visionaries: Walter Simonson, Volume 1 - Walter Simonson
  11. Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 - David Petersen (Read with the kiddo. Good stuff!)
  12. Sub-Mariner: Revolution - Matt Cherniss and Peter Johnson
  13. Powers: The Definitive Hardcover Collection, Volume 1 - Brian Michael Bendis, Mike Avon Oeming
  14. Giant-Size Marvel - Various
  15. Marvels - Kurt Buseik, Alex Ross
  16. Star Wars: A Long Time Ago... Volume 3 - Resurrection of Evil - Various
  17. Pride of Baghdad - Brian K. Vaughan
  18. Runaways, Volume 1 - Brian K. Vaughan
  19. Ares: God of War - Mike Avon Oeming
  20. Iron Man: Extremis - Warren Ellis
  21. Captain America Omnibus - Ed Brubaker, Steve Epting, Mike Perkins (Simply stunning.)
  22. Star Wars: Heir to the Empire - Mike Baron (Meh. Skip these and stick to the Timothy Zahn books.)
  23. Star Wars: Dark Force Rising - Mike Baron
  24. Star Wars: The Last Command - Mike Baron
  25. Star Wars: Mara Jade - By the Emperor's Hand - Timothy Zahn, Michael A. Stackpole
  26. WE3 - Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely (Interesting, graphic, sad little tale.)
  27. Mystic Arcana - David Sexton, Louise Simonson, Roy Thomas, Jeff Parker, C.B. Cebulski
  28. Classic Transformers, Volume 1 - Various
  29. Marvel 1602 - Neil Gaiman
  30. Doctor Strange: The Oath - Brian K. Vaughan (Can BKV do no wrong?!)
  31. Runaways, Volume 2 - Brian K. Vaughan
  32. The Hood: Blod from Stones - Brian K. Vaughan
  33. Fantastic Four - Visionaries: John Byrne, Volume 2 - John Byrne
  34. Wolverine - Chris Claremont, Frank Miller
  35. Kitty Pryde and Wolverine - Chris Claremont
  36. Fantastic Four - Visionaries: John Byrne, Volume 3 - John Byrne
  37. The Sensational She-Hulk - John Byrne
  38. The Death of Captain Marvel - Jim Starlin
  39. Avengers: Defenders War - Steve Englehart
  40. Civil War: Front Line, Volume 1 - Paul Jenkins
  41. Civil War: Front Line, Volume 2 - Paul Jenkins
  42. The Immortal Iron Fist: The Seven Capital Cities of Heaven - Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction
  43. Annihilation, Book One - various
  44. Young Avengers, Volume 1: Sidekicks - Allan Heinberg, Jim Cheung
  45. Annihilation, Book Two - Various
  46. Annihilation, Book Three - Various
  47. Civil War: Young Avengers & Runaways - Zeb Wells, Stefano Caselli
  48. Power Pack & Cloak and Dagger: Shelter from the Storm - Bill Mantlo
  49. Fantastic Four: Books of Doom - Ed Brubaker
  50. DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore - Alan Moore (In this collection are the first two Batman comics I've ever read: 1987 Annual #11, "Mortal Clay" and the legendary "Killing Joke" story.)
  51. Batman: The Long Halloween - Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale (This would then, I guess, be the third Batman story I've ever read, and it blew me away.)
  52. Runaways, Volume 3 - Brian K. Vaughan

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Marvel Solicits - November 1984

Even today, Aurora from Alpha Flight still makes me a little uncomfortable in that "adolescent boy just discovering girls" kind of way. But if there was any sure-fire way to get me to pony up for a Marvel Comics subscription as an early teenager, I suppose the tingly hint of four-color sex was the way to do it. And late summer 1984 would have been right around the time I was re-upping my subscriptions to titles like G.I. Joe and Uncanny X-Men.

There is something to be said for the way Marvel has always positioned itself in relation to its customers. Just like the Bullpen Bulletins used to make us feel like insiders wandering the hallowed House of Ideas halls, using a quartet from the pages of John Byrne's Canadian team to frame this as a "Special Subscriber's Club" is well within the grand tradition of all things Marvel. Here, your 26 quarters and the completed "Enrollment Certificate" will practically buy you a membership into the greatest comic book club on the planet along with that 16 issue subscription!

I came across this Byrne-drawn ad (signed just below Sasquatch's right shin) in the back of issue #2 of Tom DeFalco's Machine Man four-issue limited series (and run again in the December 1984 issue #3). Around the time of this subscription solicit, Sasquatch and Aurora were struggling to find their way in a relationship while dealing with Aurora's multiple personality disorder, but it's obvious from that grin on Sasquatch's mug that things are good here as he hoists his best girl and teammate Marrina above his head. And check out that authentic Canadian flair the ad copy gives Puck. Good stuff all around, eh?

Friday, December 26, 2008

Jack of Hearts Revisited

Jack of Hearts is one of those characters that snuck up on me back in the day. In my original collecting window, he could be seen in the background on a couple of panels in the January 1983 "Everybody Loves a Parade, Right?" story on the pages of Incredible Hulk #279, and then co-featured with Spidey in the "The Boy's Night Out!" story from October 1983 for Marvel Team-Up #134. Then came the Jack of Hearts four-issue limited series in 1984. I remember loving this saga as a 13-year-old then, and I had a blast rereading it 25 years later. According to Comic Book Database, the character then sort of fell off the Marvel Universe map until the '90s.

I rediscovered him when I read the trade paperback of Avengers Disassembled, where he is the catalyst Wanda Maximoff uses to signal the beginning of the end for her sanity and the Avengers. I don't know what happened to Jack Hart between 1984 and Avengers Disassembled, but the Bill Mantlo limited series holds up fantastic.

I love the way the first issue of the miniseries is so firmly rooted in and interwoven with the Marvel Universe. Mantlo does a great job taking a somewhat fringe character and making him a part of the mainstream continuity by immediately involving S.H.E.I.L.D. and Nick Fury. Series editor Bob Budiansky calls out references to Spectacular Spider-Man and that great Marvel Team-Up, along with the Vision and the Scarlet Witch miniseries in the first issue alone! And that issue sets the table for some great origin story retcon for Jack, turning him from a hero-by-accident into a Cosmic Marvel character.

Turns out Jack Hart's mom was a Contraxian who was sent out into the universe to find a habitable planet that doesn't currently have life on it. You see, Contraxia's sun is a dying star, so they have to find a new home, but their honor code forbids them from displacing or destroying an existing life to save their own. Hart's mother came to Earth and was monitoring Hart's father's work on the Zero-Fluid in the hopes that it might save her planet's dying sun. She fell in love with him and they had Jack. Years later, Jack falls into a vat of Zero-Fluid giving him his powers, or so we thought. In this version, though, the Zero-Fluid doesn't grant him his powers, but rather activates his dormant Contraxian abilities.

Now as an adult, not only is the Jack of Hearts being unknowingly monitored by Kaina, a Contraxian love interest in the human form of Marcy Kane, but also by the morally ambiguous Survivalist sect of Contraxia. This sets up some great lessons on right and wrong, the good of the many versus the good of one, a redemption arc for one of the villains, and a heartbreaking ending.

I love that Marvel was granting characters like the Jack of Hearts, Rocket Raccoon, Machine Man, and others a chance to shine in their own limited series back in the day. I don't know what's happened to Jack since Avengers Disassembled, but it was worth digging this limited series out of my collection for some Retconned Cosmic Marvel '80s fun!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Marvel Solicits - March 1984

March 1984 was a great time to be a comic book fan. We'd just survived Assistant Editors' Month in January, G.I. Joe was just finishing its second year of publication, John Byrne was hitting on all cylinders with Alpha Flight, Fantastic Four, and The Thing, The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe was wrapping up, and limited series were everywhere: X-Men/Micronauts, Magik: Storm and Illyana, and Jack of Hearts.

And, remember, because of the timing of these books' release, we were in the throes of the holiday season. And my most favorite Marvel subscription ad of this era shows up here: the Inhumans' Black Bolt, Medusa, and Lockjaw hawking the yuletide savings from the House of Ideas. This is one of the few solicit ads I've come across from back in the day that's actually signed (just to the right of the chimney), but unfortunately I can't discern whose signature it is.

The Inhumans were one of those groups that were sort of on the fringes of the Marvel Universe, always there but rarely front-and-center. They showed up on the pages of the Avengers, Fantastic Four, and The Thing, both Vision and the Scarlet Witch miniseries, and even in "The Origin of the Vision" Marvel Illustrated Book I had. But in 1984, Black Bolt and Medusa got married in Fantastic Four Annual #18. I was reading FF at the time because She-Hulk was filling in for The Thing, and I have always been a fan of that line-up. So it was cool of Marvel to put the newlyweds out in front of their holiday subscription campaign.

Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Attaboy, Clarence.

When I was growing up in the '70s and '80s, It's a Wonderful Life wasn't on TV as often as it is now. VCRs were just starting to creep into households, and cable didn't come to our little town until the mid-'80s. So the closest thing I had seen to It's a Wonderful Life was the gender-reversal Marlo Thomas made-for-TV remake, It Happened One Christmas. I haven't seen that in years, but it debuted in 1977 on ABC and costarred Orson Wells (who was selling no wine before its time), Wayne Rogers (Trapper John!), Cloris Leachman (who received an Emmy nomination for her role as angel Clara Oddbody), Doris Roberts (long before Remington Steele and Everybody Loves Raymond), C. Thomas Howell (Ponyboy!), and Christopher Guest ("These go to eleven.").

I have seen snippets of the original Jimmy Steward-Donna Reed classic over the years here and there, but never the whole thing. Until now. Now I can say I've finally seen It's a Wonderful Life. I mean the whole movie, start-to-finish in one sitting. And, just to up the ante, I saw it on the big screen.

We met my parents at the Akron Civic Theatre on a bitter cold Sunday afternoon, and took in a holiday classic. What a great movie. I suppose I shouldn't have been shocked at just how fantastic this movie is. After all, it's directed by the legendary Frank Capra -- who was behind two of my all-time favorite movies: It Happened One Night (1934) and Lost Horizon (1937). I can't count how many times I've watched those two movies over the years. But somehow It's a Wonderful Life got by me.

And Jimmy Stewart. Good lord. I have loved him in everything from The Philadelphia Story ("C. K. Dexter Haven you have unsuspected depth!") to Harvey to all of his fantastic work with Hitchcock... Rope, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Vertigo, and the genius turn as L. B. Jefferies in Rear Window. And he is mesmerizing in his "everyman" persona here as George Bailey.

Donna Reed's performance as Mary Hatch Bailey is simply gorgeous. The scene where Mary and George first set eyes on each other as young adults at the high school dance... Man! What an amazing scene that the Stewart and Reed telegraph beautifully, then transition perfectly into the comedy of the gym floor opening to the swimming pool! All the way to the final, emotionally moving scene, I was completely sucked in to this movie. And at the end, there was nothing left to do but surrender to the emotion of it all and, yeah, I was more than a little choked up.

It was amazing to see this classic movie on the big screen. And I hope it's memories like these that the kiddo remembers years from now. Among family, entertained by the famed Mighty Wurlitzer theatre organ beforehand while the atmospheric clouds drifted by and the stars twinkled overhead, there was no better way I can imagine being introduced to this film.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Marvel Solicits - February 1985

Comic books are released with cover dates that are months in advance. For example, last week I picked up Mighty Avengers #20, dated February 2009. This was the case even back in the days of the Original Collection. Case in point: the February 1985 issue of Fantastic Four (#275, my all-time favorite) contains a holiday festive subscription solicitation because it would have been at my corner convenience store in December 1984.

The deal here is less robust than others I've highlighted. Here we are only offered a baker's dozen for the discounted price of admission, but they do try to work the gift-giving angle with the postscript by telling us to "Give Marvel comics as a gift." The available title list reveals this was really in my heyday of comic book reading: Alpha Flight, Amazing Spider-Man, Avengers, G.I. Joe, Marvel Team-Up, The Thing, X-Men.

This is another one of those ads that has stuck with me over the years. I remember wondering why Iron Man's Santa getup was obviously made of metal... rivets and all! I think it's great that whoever drew it took the time to include joint-like details at the elbows, shoulders, and along the lapel so that Santa Shellhead could enjoy some flexibility in the jacket. I do wonder who is under that armor, though. After all, in his own title at this time (Iron Man #191, February 1985), James "Rhodey" Rhodes was sporting the iron hardware and Tony Stark had just recreated his original Iron Man suit. Regardless of who's under that mask, though, it's still a pretty memorable ad.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Marvel Solicits - December 1983

Continuing my look at the Marvel subscription solicits of the '80s, I came across this one in issues cover dated December 1983: Doctor Strange summoned to spread the word of the return of the "4 Extra Issues" promo seen a little over a year earlier. And, by the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth! Even though the cost of an individual issue didn't change between '82 and '83, the subscription price has gone up by 50 cents, but the benefits and terms of the deal remain.

I like the idea that with his right hand he is magically unfurling the newspaper of choice for Marvel's Sorcerer Supreme: Conjurer's Courier (wonder how often that goes to press?). Notice how he is promoting this limited time offer with his words, but he also seems to be actually communicating through the mystic arts with his other hand as well.

In the list of titles Marvel was publishing at the time, US 1 is the only one I didn't recognize. After some interweb digging, here's what I was able to find out about it: It was a 12-issue series created by Al Milgrom and G.I. Joe's Herb Trimpe. If not cut from the same cloth, it certainly seems to be a spiritual brother to Marvel's motorcycle themed Team America that ended its 12-issue run the same month US 1 debuted. Other than that, the title seems pretty forgettable to all except those whose corner convenience stores carried it.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Cat's in the Cradle

My kiddo made a cloth-bound book for my wife and me in his second grade class that he gave to us last night. The book is titled The Important Thing about My Mom and Dad. It's four pages long: title page, page about mom, page about dad, about the author page. Here's the page about me:

And yeah, that's the Hulk he drew.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Hercules Revisited

I had half of the issues of Bob Layton's Hercules: Prince of Power miniseries from '82 and '84 in the Original Collection, but my wife and I were at a local comic book show recently and I found both four-issue limited series for a buck each, so I figured it was time to fill that hole in the collection and in my Herc history.

I recognize the names of the comic book writers and artists of my youth, sure, but I'm pretty ignorant when it comes to recognizing their specific styles. But I do know I enjoyed Layton's work here when I viewed it through the nostalgic lens of a 12 year-old. Layton's irreverence plays perfectly with this over-the-top character.

The first series kicks off with Herc's father, Zeus, banishing him from Olympus until he learns true humility. This premise sets up a couple of fun single-issue adventures for Herc after picking up a Rigellian Recorder early in the first issue to document his exploits. I think the four issues are woven together perfectly and conclude with Galactus and Herc having a drink together, Galactus letting his hair down, and Herc bedding Frankie Raye. Good times!

The second series picks up with Herc still in exile and now permanently ditching the green-and-orange sash outfit for the black-and-red number. His Rigellian Recorder is still with him, but early on he picks up a Skrull outcast named Skyppi to the detriment of the story. The green-skinned shape-shifter is whiny, arrogant, childish, and played for laughs.

The up-side to this miniseries is the Thanos/Captain Marvel element, along with the use of Mentor and Eros on Titan (marred only by a Skyppi/Eros mistaken identity subplot that falls horribly flat). The last book draws the entire eight issue arc to a brawling father-son conclusion that I thought carried the appropriate weight, if a little bit too easy. But it does harken back to the beginning of the arc that began in the '82 series, and is ultimately satisfying.

So, to recap, the first series boils down to a little bit of sex, a lot of scrapin', and the search for a good drink. The second series brings Herc home with his lesson learned, but only after making us suffer through the unfortunate antics of a sidekick Skrull. "Embrace change," indeed.

But it was all worth the ride. So, dig 'em out of your collection if you've got 'em, or check out your quarter bins for some Mount Olympus-sized '80s fun!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Marvel Solicits - September 1982

I have been doubling back on the Original Collection lately and reading a lot of the old Marvel Comics miniseries from the '80s. Stuff like X-Men and the Micronauts, Magik, the Hercules sagas, and the Falcon. They take me back to my youth, but what really makes me feel like I'm 12 years-old again is all the peripheral noise around the stories. Rereading these as they were originally presented -- with all the great ads and Bullpen Bulletins and solicits -- kicks wide open the doors of childhood, replacing the stale air of memory with a fresh breeze of nostalgia. The Marvel subscription solicits are particularly fun. And I thought I'd scan and share some of them here in the coming days and weeks.

First up is Doctor Doom. This one from the first issue of the Bob Layton Hercules: Prince of Power limited series, cover dated September 1982. It holds particular sentimental value to me because the first comic book subscription I ever purch
ased was using one of the Doctor Doom solicits. I got 16 glorious issues of G.I. Joe for the price of 12, starting with issue #7 and running through issue #22. I didn’t need Doom to convince me that was a good deal, but I’m sure it didn’t hurt.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Breakfast and a Movie

In the mid-'90s my wife collected the Disney animated classics "Collector Series" cups from Burger King and Coca-Cola (this was before we met). There were eight total in the series, and she had them all. They are plastic, 16 ounce tumblers with a full color movie poster-type image of the movie on one side and a short description of the movie on the opposite side.

A couple years ago, my wife was going through the stuff she had stored in her parents' basement, came across these cups, a
nd brought them into our home. Now, these aren't the kind of cups you display or put out for company. I think I'm the only one in the family who uses the cups regularly: I drink my morning glass of orange juice from one of them every day. Because of that, I've read the backs of each of these cups many, many times and -- I guess the word is "impresses" -- what impresses me about them is those movie summaries. Whoever wrote them is a master of word economy.

Reducing a 90 minute movie down to a paragraph is no mean feat. And to be able to do that and still communicate the key plot points and mention all the main characters is pretty remarkable. Take Aladdin, for example...
It's the magic carpet ride of a lifetime as Aladdin, with his pet monkey, Abu, takes to the streets of Agrabah for survival, fun and adventure. Aladdin falls in love with the free-spirited Princess Jasmine. But he believes she would never love a street rat like him. Aladdin's luck changes with one rub of a magic lamp, releasing the shape-shifting, fun-loving, wish-giving, all-powerful Genie, who turns him into a Prince. In the final battle, Aladdin must overcome the evil sorcerer, Jafar, in order to win Jasmine's heart!
I mean, they even worked the monkey into the synopsis! Double points! Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Disney's first masterpiece can be reduced to a mere 93 words...
"Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the fairest of them all?" When the Magic Mirror responded that Snow White was the fairest in the land, her jealous stepmother, the Queen, vowed to cast a spell on her. Fleeing from the castle, Snow White made her home deep in the forest with the Seven Dwarfs. But not even Snow White's seven friends could protect her from the Queen's evil curse which only true love could break. Fortunately, the Prince of her dreams awakens her with love's first kiss, and they live happily ever after.
On the other hand, perhaps the descriptions just further illustrate how vacant Disney's animated classics really are, in that they can be accurately and completely summed up in 100 words or less.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Bond 22

I was a huge Clive Owen proponent -- what, three years ago, now? -- to replace Pierce Brosnan as 007. I ignorantly thought they made a colossal mistake by casting Daniel Craig, an actor I had never seen in anything prior to his Bond debut. Then I actually saw Casino Royale. Wow. What a stunning reboot of the character and film franchise.

We saw Quantum of Solace this weekend, the second Craig Bond film, and enjoyed it immensely. Where Casino Royale has striking main titles and an utterly forgettable song, Quantum of Solace has some pretty dull main titles and an amazing song by comparison. (Although neither a Jack White nor Alicia Keys fan, I love this theme song. It blends some great throwback horns and classic themes with new millennial sensibilities.) The location graphics, on the other hand, are fantastic in Quantum of Solace, stylized based on the location it's referencing and beautifully integrated into the beginning of the scene to orient the viewer.

We watched Casino Royale on the home theater the night before going to see Quantum of Solace, and we were glad we did. Quantum of Solace picks up, literally, right where Casino Royale ends, becoming more of a second act to the first film. The movie leverages many of the same characters across both films, including Jeffrey Wright's Felix Leiter, Giancarlo Giannini's René Mathis, and Jesper Christensen's Mr. White. Also, because of the direct ties to the first film, there are many references to Eva Green's Vesper Lynd and Mads Mikkelson's Le Chiffre.

The Bond Girl, Olga Kurylenko's Camille Montes, isn't nearly as strong a character as Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale. In fact, I found Gemma Arterton's brief role as a cleverly named British consulate (Strawberry Fields) more interesting a character than the female lead here. That aside, they have really gone to lengths to build Judi Dench's M in the Daniel Craig Bond movies, and with winning results. Building off of her start in the Brosnan films, Dench may have finally surpassed Bernard Lee's role-defining turn as the character.

No complaints about Mathieu Amalric as Dominic Greene, head of Quantum and an engaging Bond villain. I'd love to see the next film continue to explore and use the Quantum organization as an ongoing MI6 antagonist in the same way SPECTRE was used in the earlier films and novels.

In all, we had a great time on this fun ride. Marc Foster (Monster's Ball, Finding Neverland), who takes over the director's chair from Casino Royale's Martin Campbell (Goldeneye), does a fine job with Quantum of Solace. He and Craig keep Bond moving forward and on par with the 21st century sensibilities of movies like Matt Damon's Bourne franchise.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Open Season

We've been going to the annual Lock 3 tree lighting in downtown Akron since it started five years ago. At that time we lived just around the corner on Merriman in Highland Square. Since our flight to the suburbs a couple years ago, the trip to downtown has gone from a five minute drive to a 15 or 20 minute drive, but it's worth it, because this is what Akron is all about.

This year was the best yet. As usual, the Cleveland NBC affiliate simulcast the festivities and Santa arrived by train, sang, and lit up the Akron U. Polsky Building and the Christmas Tree by shooting sparks across downtown, then started the fireworks display the same way!

The fireworks launched from the art deco YMCA building were spectacular this year, lighting up the sky with reds and greens and whites. It's this feeling of small town mixed with city that keeps us here in Akron -- a part of the community.

We wandered the Chriskindl Market, our senses assaulted by the smells of fresh waffles, roasted almonds, hot chocolate, brightly colored ornaments and finely detailed clocks and carvings, and holiday music in the air. And we watched the ice rink fill up with skaters and families crowd into the heated German food tent. Across the street, the Peanut Shoppe, an Akron landmark, was jammed with holiday revelers and had a line out the door.

And as we were walking from our car to Main Street when we arrived, they were playing "Deck the Halls" in what my wife and I swear was the version played over the opening credits of A Christmas Story. Another perfect day after Thanksgiving in northeast Ohio.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Monday, November 24, 2008

Ten Thousand Watts of Holy Light

Boston is one of those classic rock groups I've always dug. And, after being out of my collection for far too long, I recently reacquired the first three albums: Boston, Don't Look Back, and Third Stage. Solid albums with some great songs. And something struck me while listening to their self-titled debut from August 1976: Both Boston and the Michael Stanley Band both have industry-insider, autobiographical songs, "Rock and Roll Band" and "Midwest Midnight", respectively. Hardly a life-altering revelation, but interesting when you consider the points of view each songwriter takes.

Tom Scholz's song, "Rock and Roll Band", is a decidedly positive take on the music biz. Scholz writes about being "just another band out of Boston", getting better while gigging around the Northeast, "Livin' on rock-n-roll music / Never worry 'bout the things we were missing." Then finally getting their big break when a Cadillac-driving, cigar-smoking music industry man offers them a contract. I assume the man Scholz is describing there at the end is Steve Popovich, who was the Vice President of A&R with Epic Records at from 1974 to 1976.

Stanley, who was also on the Epic label at the time, takes a decidedly anti-music biz approach to his ode to the road and success. The leadoff track from MSB's Stagepass live album, "Midwest Midnight" is about playing "six sets of glory a night in some bar," and lamenting songs that meet a "slow death of silence" at the hands of the music biz machine. The bridge puts the listener on the receiving end of the music industry's arrogance and Stanley's frustration when he says:
I hear 'em callin':
"Boy, you should be grateful

To get your foot inside the door.

You know there's thousands out there

Who would take your place...

This attitude of yours, my son,

Well, it lacks the due respect...

You bite the hand that feeds you --

Even if you're never fed."

Stanley cynically tells us that "Chasing the fame keeps 'em all in the game / But money's still the way they keep score." His irritation finally boils over when "New York's calling just to see if you've heard / 'Bout the great English band / They just signed." But despite all this, he can't resist the lure of his muse and the promise of hearing his own songs transcend into "ten thousand watts of holy light" on the radio.

This compare-and-contrast between Scholz's Boston hit and Stanley's MSB staple is interesting enough, I suppose, on its own. But I think what adds a new dimension to the discussion is the back-story on that line about "the great English band."

I had numerous conversations with many people associated with Michael Stanley's career while researching my Pop Conference paper a few years ago -- everyone from Hank LoConti (the owner of the Cleveland Agora where Stagepass was recorded) to David Spero (Stanley's first manager) to Michael himself, and everyone in-between I could track down. In my first conversation with Spero, a riveting marathon discussion that lasted for many entertaining hours, he relayed the following story:

While Michael and I were up there [in NYC] at a previous meeting with Popovich, he was playing us this, we were in this meeting talking about our careers, you know. And he'd go, "Aw, I gotta play you something!" And he puts on this record. Turned out it was really a Boston record, although Michael referred to it as "that great English band we just signed" -- it worked better for the song. This was all [Popovich] wanted us to hear was this Boston record, and we don't really care. I mean, it's nice. Cool record. I bet it sells... That's what it was like at those times.
And out of that came "Midwest Midnight", a song Spero describes as "a real positive song in a negative way" expressing the conviction that "all these things that are keeping us down, that dream of 'doing Elvis in front of the mirror,' that's stronger than anything this label can throw at us."

So Michael Stanley might not have made it as big as a lot of Northeast Ohioans would have predicted, but he did pen one of the greatest rock songs ever recorded: "Midwest Midnight". And I'll take that over "Rock and Roll Band" any day of the week.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Sirius-ly Flawed

I didn't know what to expect when Sirius and XM officially integrated their channel lineups on Wednesday, November 12, but I have been more and more disappointed as the days have passed. We have had XM Satellite Radio for four years and loved it. When I was commuting from Downtown Akron to Downtown Cleveland daily, it was a godsend. I could get news, music, talk... whatever I was in the mood for.

Although Sirius has done its best to broadcast their like-stations on the same channel as their now-gone XM counterparts, their offerings are underwhelming. XM's iconic history of alternative music station, Fred, has been replaced by Sirius' 1st Wave channel. Where Fred was mostly deep cuts, 1st Wave is more mainstream alternative hits. Sirius' '80s on 8 channel is the same handful of artists and songs over and over. When XM was broadcasting, it seemed to be a much broader selection.

Then there are stations like UPOP, which has been left out in the cold by the merger. The station is no longer available on your satellite radio receiver, but apparently you can still listen to their programming via XM online radio and through DirecTV. Frustrating.

The other big complaint is DJs. If I want to hear a DJ babble on my music channels, I'll listen to terrestrial radio. I can understand the novelty of using the original MTV VJs on the '80s channel. I get that. But the amount of interruptions and chatter by DJs on other channels, like 1st Wave, is frustrating and annoying. Where once upon a time we would tune to an XM channel and just let it play in the background during parties for continuous music, we will now be relying on iTunes playlists in those situations.

And all those artist-specific channels! Do we really need an all-AC/DC channel? Or an all-Elvis channel? How about all-Jimmy Buffett, all-Springsteen, all-Led Zeppelin, and all-Grateful Dead channels? Yep. They're all there. Some only for a limited time, but they are still taking up space.

I'm not saying we're cancelling our service yet. I'm curious about a couple of new channels we didn't have with XM, like The Catholic Channel and NPR Now, and am looking forward to checking them out. We're going to give this whole XM-Sirius hybrid a fair shake and see if it grows on us, but we are certainly not ruling out walking away from satellite radio until competition returns and quality improves.

Friday, November 14, 2008

This Is Goth Spinal Tap

The Sisters of Mercy
13 November 2008: House of Blues, Cleveland, Ohio

My concert-going experiences with Jeff generally tend to be somewhat hit-or-miss. Until now, one of my worst concert episodes was the night Jeff, his wife, and I went to see Bob Mould at the Grog Shop a few years ago. Kristin Hersh, former lead singer of Throwing Muses, opened for him, and she was horrible. Not only was her acoustic set hard to listen to, her facial expressions and complete lack of rapport with the crowd was painful to watch. Her performance was followed by a nearly interminable wait between acts. When Mould finally took the stage, he ended up playing "Wishing Well" and "See a Little Light" just a few songs into the set, and so we left. On the other hand, seeing Erasure last year was one of the most fun shows I have ever witnessed, and that was with Jeff, his wife, and my wife. Like I said, hit-or-miss. Fast-forward to Thursday night, and the opportunity to cross The Sisters of Mercy off the "'80s Alternative Bands from Our Youth We've Never Seen Live" list.

I knew something was up when we walked into the lobby of the House of Blues and there was more staff manning the doors, box office, security, merchandise table, and ticket scanners than customers waiting to get in. A glace at the merch table for curiosity's sake revealed $20 knit hats, $30 t-shirts, and $45 hoodies. Really? I mean, this is a group that hasn't put out an album of all new material in nearly 20 years.

So we head inside the concert hall, and again we know something is wrong. Hypernova, the opening act, is on-stage, but the house is far from full. Hell, the house is far from half-full. We decide to head to the lower level first to see what's going on in General Admission and listen to Hypernova a bit. This Iranian quartet sounded great. Jeff turned to me after the first song completed and said, "Man, that could be a hit once upon a time." They have a great sound, and their lead singer's baritone falls somewhere between Peter Murphy and Julian Cope. Good stuff.

After some beer, we headed to the balcony and our seats. The upstairs was a ghost town and things were not boding well for us. We take our seats and wait for Andrew Eldritch, the singular force behind the band for 28 years, and whatever group of musicians he's cobbled together under the Sisters of Mercy banner for this go-round. When I saw the roadies testing the fog machines on stage, combined with the crowd turnout, I realized this concert had Spinal Tap potential. No sooner had I shared this thought with Jeff and the fog machines began pumping in earnest, and the show began.

There was some guy with a Mohawk and sunglasses playing guitar in the haze on one side, and another guitarist opposite him on stage. Then out came Eldritch. It was totally disconcerting to see this former black-haired Goth shaved bald on top, but that was the least of our concerns after a few moments. You see, his vocals were buried in the mix. You couldn't hear him at all! So you had to wait for the Mohawk-bedecked guitarist to come in out of sync on the chorus to figure out what song they were playing. We did eventually recognize "Detonation Boulevard", "Flood I", "Dominion/Mother Russia", and "This Corrosion". Of course, "This Corrosion", an epic song that clocks in at nearly 11 minutes on the Floodland album, couldn't have been longer than three or four minutes live. And played near the mid-point of the set. Wouldn't you expect this to be stretched to a 15 minute sing-along rocker to bring the house down in an encore?! Apparently that would be far too predictable for Mr. Eldritch, and instead he went with the radio edit.

At one point, Jeff wandered downstairs to see if the audio was any better there (it wasn't), and saw the set list taped up next to the soundboard. There were a lot of songs on that list, but "More" wasn't one of them. The Sisters of Mercy song that sat atop the Billboard Magazine Modern Rock Tracks chart for five weeks in 1990. And they didn't even consider playing it. Seriously.

By the time Jeff returned upstairs to our seats, the house lights had come up. Now, the show was not over, in fact they'd only been playing for about a half-hour at this point. But the fog being spewed from the stage was so thick that there were times you couldn't see the performers at all, and that smoke was billowing out into the crowd to the point where it was hard to see much of anything. Shortly after that, the smoke detector strobe light alarms began pulsating throughout the concert hall, and continued for the rest of the show.

At this point, Jeff and I had had enough and gave up on the concert mid-set. We knew from the set list we'd seen that we were walking out on "Lucretia My Reflection", "Flood II", "Vision Thing" and others, but it just wasn't worth it at that point. On the way out, I saw Raam, the lead singer of Hypernova, manning the merchandise table in the lobby. So I went over and shook his hand and told him how much I enjoyed their set and wished them well. Nice guy. Good music. That was all I was looking for.
Instead I ended up with another inauspicious entry in Adam & Jeff's '80s Alternative Rewind Adventure.

We ended up down the block at Cadillac Ranch for more beer and watched the fourth quarter of the Cavs win over Dallas. The bar was hopping. There were probably more people in that establishment than there were down the street for the Sisters of Mercy show even before the post-game revelers started pouring into the bar in droves. Nice way to end the night, but man, can I get my money back, Mr. Eldritch?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Marvel Unbound - Avengers/Defenders War

Avengers/Defenders War is one of those legendary Marvel events that didn't make it onto my radar the first time around. It predates my original comic book reading and collecting by a good ten years, but when I came upon the Premiere Hardcover Collection edition of it in the half-price box at a local comic book show, I couldn't pass it up!

Beyond what the title reveals, I didn't know what to expect with this one, but what unfolded on the pages within was like a giant-sized Giant-Size Marvel epic. The prologue and 12 chapters are sprawled across eight issues of both Avengers and Defenders titles. At the time of its original printing, it was one of Marvel's first experiments in bi-weekly storytelling in the medium. And while I can't speak to how it played upon its original release in 1973, it holds up beautifully as a collected edition.

I have a handful of Steve Englehart's work in the Original Collection -- a couple of Vision and the Scarlet Witch and West Coast Avengers issues, along with an Avengers or two. I'm going to have to go back and revisit those issues, because I really enjoyed the writing in this Avengers/Defenders War event. As much as I love the comics of my youth, there is a certain lack of sophistication detectable in the storytelling when held up against today's writers. But Englehart's tale is coherent, intelligent, and fun!

In terms of comic books, the premise is simple: Dormammu, Lord of the Dark Dimension, pushes Loki, Prince of Evil, to join him in his quest to -- what else? -- conquer Earth by gaining possession of the Evil Eye. Dormammu uses his grudge against Doctor Strange as motivation to trick the Defenders into recovering the six pieces of the Evil Eye dispersed across the planet. When the Evil Eye is assembled, it will unite Dormammu's dimension with Earth's dimension, allowing him to take it over.

Sometime Avenger and sometime Defender the Black Knight has been turned to stone, and Dormammu tricks Doctor Strange by impersonating the essence of the Black Knight, telling him they must assemble the pieces of the Evil Eye to save their friend. Loki simultaneously tricks the Avengers, who believe the Black Knight has been captured by Doctor Strange, into going up against the Defenders when he realizes that Dormammu will never uphold his end of the bargain and restore Loki's sight.

Playing off the idea of the Defenders non-team team being outsiders, the war itself is based on a misunderstanding! It's quaint. It's provincial. And I love this sort of old school setup, and Englehart knocks it out of the park. The chapter conceit works great here, allowing Englehart room to stretch with a prologue to setup the villains, and chapter-by-chapter battles as the story progresses.

Great, key one-on-one (or sometimes one-on-two) skirmishes include Silver Surfer versus Vision and the Scarlet Witch, Iron Man versus Hawkeye, Doctor Strange versus the Black Panther and Mantis, Swordsman versus the Valkrie, Captain America versus Sub-Mariner, and the Hulk versus Thor! Bob Brown and Sal Buscema do a fantastic job rendering these clashes. This is bold, primary color stuff that pops off the page! The Premier Hardcover Collection edition notes "select art reconstruction" and "select color reconstruction," but I have to believe the originals were just as amazing.

The book is comprehensive, in that it includes six full issues, plus a prologue and first chapter pulled from the end of Avengers #115 and Defenders #8. The extras are pretty standard for Marvel's Premier Hardcover Collection offerings from my experience. The most important extra being a thoughtful introduction by a key participant -- in this case, Englehart himself. This insightful essay provides great background on what Marvel was doing at the time as a company, how the event idea came about and was pitched, and even how penciler Brown was brought on board. Avengers/Defenders War also has all the relevant original covers, including the covers for Avengers #115 and Defenders #8, and the 2002 trade paperback cover for completeness. This is one of the few Premiere Hardcover Collection books I've felt compelled to buy, and although I didn't know it at the time, the storytelling, art, and presentation are worth a full-price admission ticket.

And in light of the events from New Avengers #46, now is a great time to read this book, and maybe reread Brian K. Vaughan's collection, The Hood: Blood from Stones.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

"...a new dawn of American leadership is at hand."

"With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."

- Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address, 04 March 1865

Friday, October 31, 2008

Four Years

On November 04, 2004, two days after George W. Bush was elected to his second term, I sat down and wrote this open letter. And it took those two days for the numbness to subside before I could finally get directly at the emotion of the moment. I circulated the letter among my like-minded friends who were also feeling the sting of another election lost and submitted it as editorial commentary to a couple of the local papers at the time.

Looking back, I realize now that my vote in 2004 was more a vote against Bush than a vote for John Kerry, but I can honestly say that this year I am casting my vote for a candidate I believe in.

I dug this letter out and am posting it now because I don't want to forget that experience four years ago, and maybe someone who wasn't going to vote will read it and remember what it felt like and be motivated to vote this year.

I am disappointed. Disappointed in my state and disappointed in my country with the outcome of this election.

I tried to be cautious in my optimism about John Kerry's chances at election. I really did, but deep down inside I think I was more confident than I wanted to admit. Like so many (although apparently not a majority of) Americans, I am embarrassed and disgusted by the Bush administration's bizarre mix of jingoistic foreign policy, messianic governance, and cowboy bravado. Somewhere along the way, despite the pain of the 2000 election fiasco, despite the squandered good will from around the world following September 11, 2001, despite the lies that led us into Iraq, despite the jobs lost across Ohio and the country, despite the economy in shambles, despite the fear- and war-mongering, the country turned a blind eye to this and decided to sign up for another four years.

My heart sank watching the election results being reported on November 02. I was hopeful for a reality-based electorate... one that would vote based on policies rather than made-for-TV values, and that John Kerry would prevail in our state and in our country. However, in a curious turn, instead of the war on terror and homeland security dominating the voter's mind, exit polls reported that one-fifth of the electorate thought moral issues were the dominant issue of the day. These code words from the Right point to the gay marriage bans that passed across the country. It represents the anti-abortion stance of Bush's future Supreme Court. It points to the zealous faith worn on the sleeve of a president aligned with the Religious Right of the South.

We seem to have no regard for the world beyond our borders. The Middle East is a mess. Our occupation of Iraq is looking more and more like the Vietnam War-coined "quagmire" the peaceniks on the Left were predicting. Our faith-driven president has naively and foolishly referred to the war on terror as a Crusade. Do the president and his handlers not realize how offensive that must be to the Muslim community? Or does the administration just not care? I can only imagine what the Arab nations think of our decision to reelect Bush -- perhaps it appears to them that the American people now share Bush's views, which could help garner support and legitimize their attacks on American interests.

And then there is Europe, which has, to this point, always been careful to distinguish its dislike for our president from their feelings about our citizens. But now, in convincingly reelecting Bush, it is likely their anti-Bush sentiment will now turn anti-American.

So where does the Democratic Party go from here? Or does it even survive this? If anything could have motivated the base, shouldn't the mess of the 2000 election have been enough -- let alone the mishandling of foreign and domestic policy across the board by this administration? Shouldn't, by all accounts, losing all three debates and waltzing through choreographed campaign stops have chipped away at the incumbent's veneer? We heard all along that undecideds break for the challenger, that more people were registering to vote than ever before, that election turnout would set records. And yet, apparently those who were content with the president's first four years did decide to vote. And vote in droves. They were the ones standing in line for hours right beside all those young voters who deified Howard Dean and then had to half-heartedly channel their efforts behind the Kerry campaign. And the 18 to 29 year-old demographic -- all those kids with their Michael Moore-promised Fruit-of-the-Looms and ramen noodles -- still proportionally represented the exact same percentage (17%) of the electorate that they did four years ago. How does the Democratic Party keep those kids from feeling like they don't make a difference and that they shouldn't give up on the value of politics just because their first experience was a negative one?

I think to survive the Democratic Party needs to take back a state in the South or in the West. They need to target an Arkansas or Missouri or Colorado or Nevada, and pour vast amounts of time, energy, and resources into it. I think to survive the Democratic Party needs to find a personality it can throw its efforts behind. Be it Obama or Hillary or Ken Salazar in Colorado or Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas -- there needs to be an emergence of identity. I think to survive the Democratic Party needs to learn from the Republican Machine that successfully demonized the word "liberal" and effectively uses the media to destroy its opponents with seemingly no consequences whatsoever from the American public. Too often the Democrats have rolled over when they should have gotten their hands dirty.

I suppose the disappointment and sadness that the results of this election have evoked are really as much for my son and his generation as they are for me. Because his generation is the one which will be paying for this decision for years to come with the Supreme Court appointments, an incredible deficit, and a near-universal animosity towards America outside of our borders. Incredibly, the administration got what it wanted. Unfortunately, the people of Ohio got what they deserved. The Bush Backers will say I am whining and a sore loser and should suck it up or move to France, but I think we're all better off to not surrender the country and continue to work towards a better future. Besides, someone is going to have to keep them from finding a way to elect Bush to a third term.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Friday, October 24, 2008

Same As It Ever Was

David Byrne - The Songs of David Byrne and Brian Eno
23 October 2008: Allen Theatre at Playhouse Square, Cleveland, Ohio

Before samples were called, well... samples, David Byrne and Brian Eno took what they referred to as "found voices" and pieced together the My Life in the Bush of Ghosts experimental sound collage. Almost 30 years later, they have gotten back together, this time producing Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, an album with a self-described "electronic Gospel" tone. On the back of the new collection of songs, Byrne is touring, and he's pulling from both of their collaborative albums, along with their Twyla Tharp dance project soundtrack The Catherine Wheel, and the three Talking Heads albums Eno produced: More Songs about Buildings and Food, Fear of Music, and Remain in Light.

Songs like "Strange Overtones", "The River", "Home", and the fantastic title track worked beautifully alongside Talking Heads classics like "Heaven", "Crosseyed & Painless", "Once in a Lifetime", "Life During Wartime", "Take Me to the River", and my personal favorite, "I, Zimbra!" Before closing the final encore with a great rendition of "Everything That Happens Will Happen Today", Byrne surprised the crowd with the non-Eno Talking Heads hit, "Burning Down the House".

If there is one thing David Byrne knows, it's how to put on a show. Stop Making Sense is the single greatest concert video ever produced. As it unfolds, it logically moves from one song to the next, weaving unrelated songs into a coherent image. And Byrne's influence was obvious last night in the Allen Theatre at Playhouse Square. The performers, all dressed in white from head to toe, were choreographed to the colored lights and spotlights.

Being in Cleveland's theatre district was appropriate, given the theatricality of the show Byrne offered up. The stage would go dark after each song, like the end of a scene. And like all great theatre, this show was most definitely participatory! Outgoing souls were dancing in the aisles throughout most of the show, but it was the multiple encores where the Allen was rockin'! Everyone was grooving from the front row to the rafters. And just shy of two hours after Byrne's troupe of musicians and dancers took the stage, they departed, leaving the audience satisfyingly spent and dancing out into the cold Cleveland night.

Also, be sure to check out Dave Purcell's great comments on both the Devo and David Byrne shows at Radio Free Newport and Byrne's first-hand account of his day in Cleveland.