Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Thoughts on "Farnham's Freehold"

Originally posted Jan. 16, 2009

I just flew through the book at top speed and was excited to read
everyone's comments thus far because after I read some subjects lines
about twists and turns toward the end I stopping reading comments
about the book ahead of time.

Anyway SPOILERS below here:

Hopefully I am coherent, the heat in my apartment didn't come on today
and it's eight below outside so I'm pretty frazzled.

I see that a lot of people said they didn't like the book or didn't
like characters. Others said it was "hard to get through"

I didn't have this trouble at all. I liked some of the characters, I
liked Hugh, even though he was a very thinly veiled stand in for
Heinlein himself IMHO. He was intelligent and offer all a good guy, I thought who was always trying to do the best he could for his family. He cared about his son, stocked cloths and supplies for him in the shelter, even though they didn't really get along and he tried to help his wife, a women most men would have divorced. (myself included).

I liked Barbara too, except that I thought it odd how she fell madly in love with Hugh so quickly and their sex scene on my page 33, has to be one of the worst written passages ever.

Joe seemed like the most good-natured character of the bunch while this were in the wilderness. However, when they are assimilated into the future society he becomes evil. I got the feeling that this was about absolute power corrupting absolutely. Even a nice guy like Joe can turn if given too much power too quickly.

I could not stand Grace or Duke for the beginning. Grace was worthless and Duke was a momma's boy.

As I said before it was awfully strange that a woman in her 20s was so attracted to a man in his 50s but I accepted it A) because it was a survival situation and Hugh proved himself to be the best at surviving. B) I got the feeling that Heinlein was living out a sort of fantasy so of course every woman was crazy about the character he identified with. The incest line that was skirted in this story was uncomfortable to say the least, especially the bizarre conversation Karen had with Hugh about wanting to marry him. But at least that was all it was, talk. It skirted the line but didn't cross it. I think it can be interpreted as Karen saying that she would want to be Hugh's
wife. Not Karen saying she wanted to have sex with her father.

But enough about that there are much more interesting things to discuss.

Like Double Star, which I felt was two book ideas patched together, this book came off to me as several ideas together. There was the atomic bomb story in the beginning, the survivalist story in the middle, the story of a futuristic society in the middle eight, and I time travel story tagged on as an epilogue. In my opinion with the exception of the ending transition which I didn't think quite worked I though the storied transitioned effectively.

I didn't think it was odd that they were forced to go outside shortly after the bomb hit. This was explained, the bomb shelter was designed to keep them alive indefinitely but the fan that filtered air for outside broke so that they were forced to go outside of suffocate.

I found each of the different stories to be interesting in their own right. Never having been in a bomb shelter it was fascinating to think how they worked and what would have to go in them and what people would forget. Then the survivalist story was fun because though they all had modern knowledge they soon realized how incomplete that knowledge is because they never had to learn very basic things like how to properly gut an animal or how to farm. This knowledge is all well known, but society is so fragile because no one can know everything.

The futuristic society I found most interesting of all. Though they have superior technology it seems to not influence their everyday lives too much. Instead of enjoying a better life than people today, this future more closely resembles court life in Turkey or somewhere around the times of the crusades. And yet when you look at it from Ponse's side you do believe he has the best interest of his people in mind, until you learn that he is a cannibal. I looked at the society
with different eyes at that point and hoped that it could one day be brought down my the Underground. However, a culture as stagnant as the one portrayed ie, no original scientific discovers could not survive for long.

I did think it was interesting that like Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Stranger in a Strange Land this book explored alternate societies. What was it that made Heinlein so interested in that sort of thing?

The ending where they sent Hugh and Barbara back I felt was way out of character. I felt there was no way Ponse would let Hugh live after his escape attempt. Why did he send all 4 of them back in time. Surely he knew that if he gave Hugh exactly what he wanted, he would get nothing
in return. I think it would have been much more likely that Ponse would have sent Hugh back in time alone and claimed to be able to recall Hugh back to the future somehow if Hugh did exactly as instructed. He might even promise to let him and Barbara go after the experiment was a success. Then Hugh would have left the watch in place at the bank and Ponse would have proof of time travel and could have invaded history. Man is it a good thing none of that happened. And
also how do Ponses scientist come up with time travel when it was made clear that technology has become stagnant.

Well those are my thoughts. Still no heat here.


p.s. I forgot to mention that another thing that I liked was the Bridge theme going all through the book. Some of my friends and I love Bridge. We used to play when I was in college and now we all live far away from each other, but whenever we meet up in NYC or Baltimore we'll play for hours. I even play with one of my friends online about once a week to stay sharp. But I understand that if you don't know Bridge parts of the book might make less sense.

Does anyone know if Heinlein played?

Spectacular Spider-Man 1-16

Originally posted Dec. 13, 2008

Spectacular Spider-man. I've always thought of these as B-Sides compared to ASM. But PFJ inadvertently caused me to start reading my copy of Spectacular Spider-man Essentials Vol. 1. So here are my thoughts

The first issue features the Tarantula, it is sort of an unremarkable start. Tarantula and Kraven team up in issue two and it was kind of fun to see them bicker. And there is a new villain named Lightmaster in issue 3. I guessed who Lightmaster was from the start.

I thought Issue 4 was a great issue, maybe my favorite of this whole bunch. The villain is the Vulture. Issue 5 has the Vulture again but also a Punisherish character named the Hit man who I didn't think much of, but Issue 5's Cockrum's cover is great.
Issue 6 is a reprint of a Spidey and Torch team-up against Morbius story from MT-U 3. Which turns out to be a warm up for a new Morbius story in 7 and 8, where Morbius has been taken over by an Empathoid from another dimension or something. These two are okay. The art is great, the story is just kind of flat. How many times can a super villain just happen to capture one of Spidey's close friends? (this time Glory Grant) I do like that Spidey beats the Empathoid with quick thinking.

Considering I was reading an Essential, I love the irony of the cover of issue 9 which says brags that it's the first time the White Tiger has been seen in color!

Anyway the story in this one made very little sense to me. The President of the university is this racist guy that shuts down ESU's night school and the African American and Latino community protests. However, they come off as just as racist when Hector Ayala tells Peter Parker the protest isn't his concern because he's white. So all white people are rich and don't need night school?

Then they talk about the Erskine Manuscripts. The school got a bid for a million dollars to sell them. I guess someone thinks the secret to the super soldier formula is in them. Anyway the important part is that the manuscripts plural suddenly become one book when the White Tiger fights Peter Parker (he forgot to change to Spidey)and steals the lone volume.

Then the story becomes more convoluted at the end when it is revealed that an Ethics Studies professor impersonated the White Tiger and stole the volume. Then how did he trash Parker without Super-strength?

Issue 11 is by far the worst of this bunch. I expected much more from Chris Claremont considering his ggreat run on MT-U. This issue is all downhill after the trippy splash page. Spidey needs some kind of serum to help a man that saved Pete and Mary Jane from being hit by a Rand/Meachum truck outside of Central Park. How this guy's reaction time is better than Spider-man's who knows?

The serum is apparently very complicated so it was made somewhere else and was coming to the hospital in an ambulance. That makes sense until you find out the somewhere else was somewhere in the vicinity of Coney Island! Have you ever been to Coney Island? Not a scientific Mecca by any stretch of the imagination. Spidey goes to check on the ambulance just in case. Turns out the ambulance was attacked by Medusa. She stole the serum and Spidey and her fight in and around Coney Island. Spidey keeps pleading someone is going to die unless I have that serum. but Medusa doesn't seem to care. Finally Medusa reaches the rest of the Inhumans, it turns out they needed the serum to save the whole world by disarming an anti-matter warhead. But of course there turns out to be enough serum to save the guy in the hospital too.

One of those issues where if the characters just stopped fighting and talked, the issue would have been 3 pages long!

Issue 12-15 is a four part story featuring Flash Thompson. (who is so far the only real recurring supportive character for Spidey in these issues) The four parts are all good because the story keeps changing, first Spidey is fighting Brother Power and Sister Sun, then Razorback who turns out to be an ally, than it turns out the real villain is the Hate Monger. Then it turns out to actually be Man-Beast.

Issue 16 turns out to be a surprise gem by fill-in writer Elliot Maggin. The story concerns a risk taking cop Macone. the story shows that he is a true hero too, but it seems to come with a price as his wife is seen possibly leaving him at the end of the story because he continues to "take too many risks." The story is so good, you almost forget how lame a villain the Beetle is.

Spectacular Spider-man # 17-31

Originally posted Dec. 16, 2008

Like everyone promised me, I think PPSSM really started to find itself in these issues and I really enjoyed the majority of the stories.

One of the things I noticed is that in the beginning it seemed like PPSSM couldn't figure out if it was something new or a second Marvel Team-Up. For instance issue 17 and 18, which resolved the Champions storyline had absolutely nothing to do with ongoing storylines and come off as Angel team up issues.

The series gets back on track with issue 19 which is nostalgic because it features the Enforcers. There were so many great bits in this issue, like the new Ox saying "Take away your fancy costume and then what are you?" and Spidey quipping, "I don't know naked?"

At the end of the issue Lightmaster sees Hector Ayala coming out of the diner after the fight and assumes he's Spider-man. I was happy to see Lightmaster return. I was afraid he was a one shot villain. Issue 20 was great, Lightmaster captures Ayala and his identity as the White Tiger ends up revealed to the public. This was a twist I was very surprised by. It seems like Bill Mantlo used the White Tiger as a parallel to Spider-man. By seeing what happens to the White Tiger when his identity is revealed we kind of see what would happen if Spider-man's identity was revealed. I kept waiting for an old villain of the Tiger's to put one of Ayala's family in danger, but it didn't happen in this volume.

Issue 21 was a Scorpion stand alone story with fantastic art by Jim Mooney. I find it kind of sad that after more than 10 years of issues the Scorpion still hasn't told the world why he hates JJJ.

The next two issues are again reminiscent of a MT-U issue as both feature Moon Knight, before he had his own series.

Issue 24 is definitely the clunker of this bunch. Peter Parker goes to a disco and fights the Hypno-Hustler. I looked at the cover and knew it wasn't gonna be pretty. The guest art by Frank Springer was great. The first few pages where Peter nabs some muggers on the subway were amusing. It started making no sense when you meet the villain who has some sort of Hypno powers, but also has three back up singers with the same powers. Spidey beats him by making him listen to his own back up singers.

But fear not from here on out it's top notch issues.

Issue 25 starts the Carrion/Maggia saga. The reader is left to wonder who this new villain Carrion is, all we know is that he hates Spider-Man. Then the Maggia and their leader the Masked Marauder rob a bank and when Spider-man tries to stop them he gets blasted by a opti-blast, which makes him blind. This all leads to an awesome team up with Daredevil, where Spidey bitches and moans about being blind and worthless never suspecting that his pal Daredevil has been blind all along. I kept wishing that Daredevil would take Spidey down to meet Stick who could teach him to listen to his senses, but alas Stick had not yet been created. Issue 27 and 28 feature art by Frank Miller!

At the end of issue 28 we find that Carrion definitely knows Peter's secret identity and the reader is in great suspense as to how he knows.

Issues 29-30 feature a lot of action. Carrion is an excellent villain because he has interesting and different powers. He can kill with a touch but he is so insane that he endlessly toys with Spidey. The stakes of the battle are high since he knows Parker is Spider-man and could reveal it to the world at anytime. The only thing I didn't like about these issues is that Carrion constantly calls Spider-man Parker, but the White Tiger never seems to hear that even when they're in the same room. I guess he was too busy fighting Carrion's lackey, Darter.

Issue 31 ends the Carrion saga. The spider Amoeba thing he creates is just kind of odd. To me this issue wasn't as good as the build up.

Spectacular Spider-Man 32-42 and Annuals

Originally posted Feb. 19, 2009

Issue 32-34

Coming off the great Carrion storyline (despite a lackluster final issue) Bill Mantlo starts from the beginning again, in that he sets this series up with a whole new cast of supporting characters. This issue does a great job of setting that up, we see all the old characters Flash, Sha-Shan, Glory, Hector, etc. so at least they get a nice send off.

Once again the primary focus of the title is the ESU College. However, Peter Parker is starting graduate school and is now a Teacher’s assistant and so the new cast is the other TAs, the Grad secretary Debra Whitman and Grad professors Sloan and Curt Connors. (It’s about time he officially joined the supporting cast.) All of these characters help to give Spectacular a distinctive feel.

The first storyline is about the Iguana! The Iguana is a regular iguana until he gets zapped with Curt Connors’ “Enervartor.” (Reminds me of the Interocitor from “This Island Earth”) The Iguana turns into a man-lizard with a healthy dose of Connor’s memories and the Lizard’s hatred of mankind. The story really picks up when Iggy goes after Connor’s family and Connors decides that the only way to stop the Iguana is to become the Lizard again.

This seems reasonable as long as you don’t think about it too much. The more I thought about it, it’s just as likely the Lizard would say “I hate Spider-Man and I don’t like the Iguana, but I’ll go take over the world and kill whichever of them survives.” But instead the Lizard attacks the Iguana and Spidey goes to Connor’s lab and builds a backpack Enervartor that saves the day! Overall this is a solid arc and probably the best of this bunch.

Issue 35

The cover says off-beat that’s code for guest writer. The issue isn’t so bad, it concerns the Mindworm, who takes Spider-man through some kind of adventure in dreamland. In the end, Mindworm turns out to not be an evil guy, hooray!

Issue 36-37

This is a cool storyline. Prof. Sloan accidentally recreates the villain Swarm. It’s interesting because it’s one of the first times I remember in which Spider-man spars with a villain and almost immediately goes, “okay, this guy is out of my league, can someone get the FF?” I mean Spider-Man goes up against the Hulk every once and a while and doesn’t give up. But the fact that he feels so outclassed makes it even cooler that in the end Spider-man faces Swarm alone and wins.

ASM Annual 13

Okay admit it, when you read the note on the bottom of the cover page that says “Don’t dare peek at the surprise ending” you couldn’t help but peek could you? I know I peeked. I peeked after I realized where they must have been going, I knew they couldn’t have someone out there with Spider-Man’s secret identity.

Anyway, the thing that I really liked about this issue is how Peter goes undercover as a hood. It’s something I’ve seen both Daredevil and Batman and even Sherlock Holmes do from time to time, but I don’t recall Spider-Man ever doing that before. And it was perfect how Doc Ock comes in and immediately recognizes Parker, but just assumes he’s working for the paper.

I loved the villain gallery pages at the end of the annual. I guess a lot of the big name villains like the Green Goblin or Doc Ock were in the gallery of previous annuals and so would have been redundant. So we get Molten Man, The Looter, the Rhino, the Shocker, etc. The one thing that struck me was that the Rhino is thought of as a Spider-Man villain and yet at this point he’d appeared in 2 Spider-Man issues, but 8 Hulk issues. Sounds like a Hulk villain to me. (My comments on the Looter will be saved for his appearance in SSP 41)

SSM Annual 1

Can someone explain to me why Doc Ock is all gold on the cover? I wouldn’t have even known reading the issue in glorious B+W, except that it appears in color on the back cover. The story has to do with a nuclear submarine not gold.

Do you think Bill Mantlo and Rich Buckler who did this Annual talked to Marv Wolfman and John Byrne who did the other Annual? I wonder if it was just, “Okay Marv you write a Doc Ock story where his arm is torn off, but he gets away and Bill, you write one where Spider-Man beats him.” Or do you think it was more collaborative?

I really liked the scene where Peter Parker takes Doc Ock’s arm to the lab at ESU and then it starts beating the tar out of him when the doc starts to give it mental directions again.

The Doc’s Octosphere had a picture of an Octopus on it and that gave me pause for a minute. I was thinking, “That’s more of a DC thing, like something the Penguin would do.” However, then I realized that in the Master Planner storyline of ASM 30-33 Ock had an underwater base. I’d never put two and two together that Ock had a whole underwater theme going on. Shows you how much I pay attention sometimes. Also I want to state for the record that the Doc only has 6 arms and so Marvel isn’t helping children learn to count by associating him with an octopus.

I liked the ending where it really looked like Doc Ock died. He didn’t appear in Spider-Man for 2 years after this so I’m sure a lot of folks at the time may have believed he was gone. I think it’s a good strategy to not overuse the guy that might Spidey’s arch-foe. Keep him in reserve so all his appearances seem more significant.

Issue 38

Another Morbius issue. I know there are people that like Morbius, but I don’t. I think he’s a cheap Marvel Universe attempt to cash in on the popularity of Dracula and Vampires. Oh and it just so happens to be a Halloween issue too; get it, vampires on Halloween. Arg!!

The best thing I can say about this issue is that it sets up the next issue where Spider-Man faces his friend Chip Martin that has turned into the Schizoid-Man. Oh also it’s great that Morbius is turned back human, too bad he doesn’t stay that way.

Issue 39

Kind of a weird issue, it spends so much time setting up the next issue’s Spider-Lizard storyline, previewing the Frightful Four storyline, and explaining how Chip Martin became the Schizoid Man, that it doesn’t have much time to get off the ground. Plus Spider-Man is acting a bit out of character because of the influence of the Lizard DNA. So all in all an okay issue, but one that is really rushed. If they’d taken more time with it Chip might have made a more interesting villain instead of a throw-away.

Issue 40

Spider-Man has become a Spider-Lizard and he stalks the city. This is more like a 50’s Marvel Monster story or an issue of the Hulk then an issue of Spider-Man but it works because Doctor Connors who we so often see turning into the Lizard and being saved by Spider-Man anchors the issue and is given his chance to be a hero and save Spider-Man for once.

When Spider-Man is changed back he hides his face from Connors and asks about his mask. This makes Connors looks really dumb because he should be able to recognize Peter Parker’s voice by now. Then Spider-Man webs his face, making a web mask. This mask is interesting because sometimes it seems like you can see all of the features of Peter’s face making the mask useless, Other times it seems that you can’t see anything through the mask, which leads me to wonder how Spider-Man can see through it. Plus, the fact that at one point Spider-Man lifts the web mask just over his lips so that he can give Connor’s mouth-to-mouth. Wouldn’t a web mask be really sticky and hard to take off?

Issue 41

Another fill-in story. This one belongs firmly in Marvel Team-Ups since it features Spider-Man teaming up with Giant-Man aka Black Goliath aka William Foster.

The villain is The Looter aka Meteor Man. He’s the one Ditko era villain that really never got off the ground. He’s kind of the one that got away. Like Calendar Man for Batman or Miracle Man for the FF.

The issue starts off with Spider-Man sneaking into one of his professor’s office and slipping his late paper into the prof’s pile. (Of course the paper is still stick with webbing) This goofy scene fits in fine with the wacky theme of the rest of the issue.

I thought about this issue about a day after I read it because I realized that Meteor Man really is insane. He got super-strength from a meteor and all he can think about is finding other meteors so he can get stronger.

What about using the strength you already have to do something? How strong will be strong enough? Do you have any other goals to speak of? What kind of a life’s goal is finding more strength from more meteors? When does the cycle end?

I do like the scene where Spider-Man and Giant Man look at Meteor Man’s equations and immediately says, “this guy’s math is crazy.” It’s not every super-hero that has Graduate or Doctoral degrees.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Terminator Salvation


Terminator Salvation despite a horrible title, returns the Terminator franchise back in its rightful place as a great action series.

Audiences were finally given what they really wanted; the movie finally focuses on the post "Judgement Day" story. In a way it's been a 3 movie long tease. All we got before this were brief glimpses of the post apocalyptic future and the war of man vs. machine.

Some fans were worried that director McG would do the franchise a disservice and make the movie into some kind of Charlie's Angels meets Terminator disaster. Thankfully this did not come to pass. Salvation was gritty and dirty and thankfully absent was the rapid-fire editing (a technique I can't stand) that has lately become omnipresent in recent action movies.

Some people might be upset that after all the controversy, (his onset freak-out and his arrest for assaulting his mom and sister) Christian Bale, the marque name draw for the movie, isn't really the focus of the film. His character, John Connor is still the machine's public enemy number one, but Bale's one note , angry soldier characterization isn't the movie's central story.

Instead, it is Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), the death-row inmate turned sleeper-agent -Terminator who is the true protagonist of the film. This is the story of his redemption; Skynet may have created him as the ultimate double agent, but the whole point of the movie is that though he was programmed to be evil and though he was a "bad guy" in his first life; Skynet failed to get rid of whatever it is that makes us human. Connor at the end of the movie calls it the human heart. I think the heart just pumps blood, but I can accept it as a metaphor for the human soul.

Now for all the things that don't make sense, and there were quite a few:

In the first movie Skynet sends a Terminator back in time to kill Sarah Connor because the machines have lost the war and their last hope is make it so John Connor, the leader of the human resistance never existed. Second movie, same thing only John is now a young teen. Third movie, same thing only John is now an older teen or a 20 something.

However, in this movie Connor is just a soldier. He still has his radio broadcasts where he speaks in corny platitudes like "if you can hear this you are the resistance." And he is regarded by some human survivors as a prophet and by others as a nut-case. He's somewhat mid-level in the food chain of military command, high enough to be granted an audience with the big-wigs on the super secret submarine, but they make it clear to him that he is not in charge.

So my question is- why is Connor Number one on Skynet's hit list already? And why is Kyle Reese (the teen who will be John's father) also a target? Skynet has no knowledge of the past/future at this point and should be unaware of their importance. And yet Skynet says something like, "we've been trying to kill John Connor for a long time"

Point two- Why does the Resistance's central command allow Connor free reign with his radio system? Any real military would have taken over and made Connor a powerless figurehead if his name had cache they needed. But instead they give him complete control and they are surprised when he usurps their power by countering their orders over the airwaves.

-The only other comments I have are:

Connor seems awfully dumb pouring over his mom's recordings for hidden truths. All she says is that you have to send Kyle back in time if you want to exist. It isn't that complicated and doesn't need to be examined like a sacred text.

It made me unbelievably happy to see the Governator in a "Cameo" appearance. Even if it was, as I found out later, just his face CGIed onto some other guy's body. It wouldn't be the Terminator without him.

Report on Big Apple Comic Con 2008 Part 5

First Posted Nov. 18, 2008

As I’m leaving the Jack Kirby Tribute Panel, I ask a guy I’m walking next to, “did you find Chris Claremont?”

“Sure,” he said. “I’m going over that way, I’ll show you.” So my guide walked me through the maze that was the convention and showed me where Claremont was hiding in plain sight. Or to be more specific, he showed me where there was a sign that said Chris Claremont. Below the sign was a table with some Sharpie’s and a pad on it and there was a chair with a coat and briefcase next to the table. I asked the guy at the next table. “Is that Claremont’s stuff?”

“Yes,” he said, “He’ll be right back, nature called.” So I waited for a few minutes. Near Claremont’s table sat Jim Salicrup who was basically doing stylized stick figure drawings for $5. Finally Chris Claremont came back and he signed Marvel Team-Up 63, 64, 100 and Uncanny X-men 200 for me.



Then since no one else was waiting in line to see him, I attempted conversation. I said in Marvel Team-Up 100 there’s a back-up story with Storm and the Black Panther that you wrote. “Did you ever think the two of them would get married?”

He said something like, “I never really thought about it.” Then he started looking at the story from back to front, but he didn’t say anything about it. I felt like all the air had left the room because I was so uncomfortable that he wasn’t saying anything, but I was determined so I tried again. “You wrote the X-men for 20 years, do you think someone will ever be able to match that? I don’t.”

“I don’t know,” he said. “You never can tell, can you?”

Then I asked him how he kept having fresh ideas and he said that he just did. By then I was so uncomfortable, that I wanted to get the hell out of there, I stuck my right hand out to shake his, but he shook it oddly with his left hand. When I left Claremont still had no one on his line. I don’t know why our interaction was so awkward. I really still want to give him the benefit of the doubt. It was the end of the day, I was standing there waiting for him, maybe he didn’t like that. Anyone else ever meet Claremont?

After my experience with Claremont I wandered around again still looking for Walt Simonson and Peter David. Suddenly I saw a sign that said “Peter David” and a guy was sitting under it. So I put my bag on the ground, squatted down, and searched for the Peter David issues I had (the two Spectacular Spider-man issues Buckler had signed earlier). But when I looked up and took a good look at the guy, I realized it wasn’t Peter David. It was just some guy sitting in David’s seat sketching pictures because David never showed. And it was on that note that I left the convention.

However, as I walked to the escalator Peter Mayhew walked past me and I thought “Jim Shooter is tall, but maybe not that tall.” Then as I was riding down the escalator, I looked over and Gloria Hendry was riding up the other escalator. We looked at each other and she smiled at me. Damn! She looks even better now then she did in that movie.

And that’s the story of the convention.

P.S.- Just because I forgot to post them before. Here are a couple of pictures of a bizarre photo shoot that was going on at the convention; obviously something to do with Marvel Zombies, Arthur Suydam the Marvel Zombies artist was the “Guest of Honor.”



Report on Big Apple Comic Con 2008 Part 4

First Posted Nov. 18, 2008

The Jack Kirby Tribute Panel was composed of Mark Evanier, Roy Thomas, Joe Sinnott, and Stan Goldberg (Marvel Colorist). Again Dick Ayers was invited, but did not attend.

Evanier was there before anyone else and he spoke casually to the audience before the panel began. He told a story about calling up his and Kirby’s friend Sergio Aragonés and apologizing that no picture of him was included in “Kirby: King of Comics.” Apparently there was supposed to be, but somehow it didn’t make it. Anyway Sergio bet Evanier $25 thousand dollars that there was a picture of him in the book and apparently in one picture there’s a tiny picture of Sergio hanging on the wall in the background.

Evanier also talked about why he does these tribute panels for Kirby. He said that even though Kirby has been gone for 14 years he is still so popular that people come up to him and say, “Can I shake your hand because you shook Jack’s?” And he says that when you get an audience together for a Jack Kirby tribute, he knows that it’s a group of the smartest and coolest people at the convention.


When everyone else got there Evanier started off the panel by asking Roy Thomas (Pictured above) if he ever saw Stan Lee jump on his desk and pose in heroic poses for Kirby?

Thomas said that must have been before his time, but that he was present for the infamous Herald Tribune argument, which he called “the nails in the coffin of their relationship”

Thomas also said that he remembers Stan Lee calling him into his office and saying, “Look at this crazy character Kirby put in this Galactus story,” the character was of course the Silver Surfer.

Thomas went on the record as saying his favorite artists are Gene Colan, John Buscema and Jack Kirby.

Thomas also said that Stan Lee was a great teacher, but that he didn’t know why he had clicked with Lee and ended up becoming a sort of heir to the throne at Marvel that it just happened that way. Thomas also said that he didn’t think Kirby was interested in teaching other artists because he didn’t want to teach them to be Jack Kirby; he wanted them to find their own way.

Evanier explained that Jack Kirby didn’t think like most people, “He had a mind that instead of going from A to B to C would go from A to Z to R to S to B.” He said that Stan and Jack would talk about the Fantastic Four and that Jack would go home and draw an issue of Thor. He said that when you asked either of them they would both inevitably say that they had each done 90% of the work on any given issue.


It was fascinating to hear Joe Sinnott (pictured above) talking about his work because Evanier asked him if he was ever late turning in issues. (This is especially relevant today when inkers are being blamed for the current FF comics being several months late.) Sinnott replied that he was never late with an issue and that one time he had to work on Christmas day in order to not be late on a Steranko Captain America issue. (I wish Marvel still had that work ethic today!)

Sinnott said that he was always in awe of Kirby’s work and that he couldn’t wait to see the new pages of the FF each month and that his excitement never waned. He also recalls seeing Fantastic Four # 5 and thinking to himself “Gee, there’s something special here.” Sinnott dropped the bombshell revelation that he never read an issue of the Fantastic Four, “Jack told everything with pictures,” he said.

Sinnott mentioned again that Kirby and him never talked while they were working on the Fantastic Four

Sinnott said that at first he’d want to correct certain details in Kirby’s work like strange looking ears, or muscles that didn’t exist in real life, but that he realized that if he did that it just wasn’t Kirby anymore. (I couldn’t help but think of Cap’s feet on the cover of Avenger 4)

Sinnott said that when he worked with a brush inking that he could do 3 pages a day. Sinnott explained that you always ink from the bottom of the page up so that you don’t smear any ink. He said that he’d start with page 2 because he wanted to get into the story and that he’d do the splash page last. He also said that he thought Kirby’s splash pages were better than his covers.

Evanier talked about how Kirby liked doing covers least of all because he couldn’t do them before he drew the story because he wasn’t sure what it was about yet and he couldn’t draw it in the middle when he’d figured out what the story was about because it broke up his concentration and he didn’t like to do the cover when he was done with the story because he wanted to move on to the next thing. He also said that if Kirby worked on something in the morning he might not even remember it in the afternoon. He said that Kirby was actually happy when other artists did the covers for issues he penciled.

Evanier also explained that the way Kirby’s mind worked he always saw the completed panel in his head before he drew it so he never used his eraser to change the way an arm was posed or something, he only used an eraser to change a panel in it’s entirety. He said that this was a problem at DC comics because they started asking for rough cover drafts for approval first. Evanier said Kirby would draw the actually cover first and then do the rough cover second.

“This is the man who decided to make the Hulk green.” Evanier said when he introduced Stan Goldberg, longtime Marvel colorist.

Goldberg said that he though Kirby’s comic about growing up in New York featured in one of Evanier’s books was breathtaking and better than any history book.

Goldberg said that his friend even after all these years still don’t understand what he did, they’ll ask him, “Are you still drawing Joke books?”

When asked about the Hulk’s coloring changing to green after the first issue he said that colors like gray or brown just aren’t dynamic for the lead character in a comic. He said, “That’s the color of most of the backgrounds.” When asked if there were similar reasons for the changes in Ironman’s look he quipped, “Have you ever seen a yellow piece of iron?” Goldberg said that when he was working he could color two books in one day. He also said that part of the reason why there are coloring errors from time to time is that they only ever received proofs of the covers before printing not the interior pages.

Evanier talked about how Kirby in the 70s was having trouble with the “Marvel method” because he wanted to write and draw. When asked about Kirby’s style changing over the years Evanier said that Kirby thought his style was always the same, but he admitted that Kirby started to have eye problems in the 70’s that interfered with his work.

The panel also talked about the change from 12” by 18” size page flats to 10” by 15” so that the printers could do 4 pages at once instead of two and save money. Evanier said that this change, which occurred in 1968, could best be seen in ASM Annual 5 in which the first half used the old size and the second half the new size.

“When he went to the small pages,” said Sinnott, “It ruined some of his style. I felt like his work was never the same.”

Someone in the audience asked if Kirby ever said anything about Darth Vader being so similar to both Doctor Doom and Darkseid. Evanier said that he remembers Kiby felt like “I found gold and someone else exploited it.” However, he said that Kirby wasn’t angry and that he liked the movie. “It’s not the artist that really gets upset when something like that happens it’s the artist’s wives.”

Report on Big Apple Comic Con 2008 Part 3

First Posted Nov. 18, 2008

Warning: This article is of a serious nature.


After this first panel I left to get some lunch so I missed most of Neal Adam’s panel (Adams is pictured above), but I did catch the end of it. Adams was talking about a cause he supports. Dina Gottliebova Babbitt was a prisoner at the Auschwitz concentration camp. In exchange for her own life and her mother’s life she drew a mural of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves that the Jewish children looked at right before they were murdered. Dr. Josef Mengele wanted the children to be calm. Mengele also forced Babbitt to paint portraits of various victims because he believed photographs didn’t show the “inferior skin tones of the Jews, that proved they were subhuman.” She even did portraits of Mengele himself.

Today, the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum refuses to give Babbitt back her work. They argue that if they open the door to this kind of thing they will lose their whole museum right down to the gate, which they say will be taken by the man who originally made it.

Neal Adams believes that the man who made the gates was paid for his work and that Babbitt was forced by pain of death to make these paintings and “They belong to her you fuc$ing idiot!”

He told this story because Marvel and Darkhorse are getting involved and printing a special comic to help her cause. He said that in the Marvel one there will be a story about fictional Auschwitz survivor Magneto. (I couldn’t help but wonder with Marvel’s constantly sliding timescale how Magneto could still be a Holocaust survivor, while I think now Ben Grimm and Reed Richards are now Vietnam vets when they used to be Korean War vets, or WWII vets, but that’s a detail for another time.)

Here is a link to a NY Times article about this controversy


In this article there is a link to the online version of the 6 page comic about Babbit penciled by Neal Adams, inked by Joe Kubert and supposedly containing an introduction by Stan Lee.

Part 4 returns to happier subjects. I’ll report on a Jack Kirby Tribute Panel.

Report on Big Apple comic Con 2008 Part 2

First Posted Nov. 17, 2008

Then I went to the first Panel… Now, They added and changed panels around in the last few weeks. I logged onto the site two nights ago to printout the schedule and found that they just added a Neal Adams panel, but they also changed it all around the day of. So at 1pm I saw “A Day in the Life of the Marvel Bullpen” with Roy Thomas, Joe Sinnott, Rich Buckler, and John Romita. Dick Ayers was invited, but didn’t attend.

I don’t know how much of this stuff is news to some of you guys, but I’ll tell you all the things I found interesting:


Romita (in above photo) said Stan conned him into doing Daredevil. He just wanted to ink, but Stan asked him to “Fill In” on Daredevil. Stan gave him no script, he just said “You’ll know what to do. Romita said he thinks Daredevil is Marvel’s greatest character and that he regrets not ever being able to go back and do some more Daredevils (Hey Marvel, are you listening?) Romita said he worked at Marvel for 30 years on a handshake with no contract and that he lived month-to-month and script-to-script and that it was “exhilarating and exhausting.”

Romita also talked about Stan asking him to fill in on one of Ditko’s books. “I thought he was coming back,” he said

But Romita said the proudest moment of his life was when they did a study that found that the “Spidey-Super Stories” he’d worked on for five years had “Triggered the reading habits of an entire generation.” (I know I grew up with them).

Sinnott said that in the early days he’s go down and turn his pages in at the Marvel office in person. He said his wife would come with him and she’d go to Macy’s or somewhere and he’d say I’ll meet you there in a few hours. One day he came in and Stan Lee gave him so much work to do that he was hours late getting back to his wife, so from then on he mailed his pages in. “They didn’t see me for 25 years,” he said.

He said that the next time anyone saw him in person was at a 1975 convention, a bunch of comic guys were on a panel and Stan was one of them, he came up to Sinnott and said “Jack Keller how have you been?” Joe thought Stan must have been joking, but Stan apologized profusely later when he realized who Joe was.

Sinnott said that Jack Kirby and him didn’t speak to each other once the entire time they were producing the FF together. Mark Evanier said on a later panel when this was brought up again that he’d asked Kirby about that and he’d said, “I don’t have to tell Joe anything, he does everything right.”

When asked about regrets, Sinnott said he wanted to work with Gene Colan on Captain America more, but said Colan wanted a different sort of inker. He also said he wanted to do more Surfers with John Buscema, but that Buscema wanted his brother to ink them. He also said he wished he’d worked with John Severin, that he really liked his stuff.

Roy Thomas said that his favorite things that he’s done were in order of preference: All Star Squadron, Conan, the Avengers and the Justice League. He didn’t let anyone else do Conan because, “they might have found out someone else could write it,” he said. And he told a story about Harlan Ellison wanted to write Conan 100, but he told him “You can do 101 or something, but I did the first 99 and I want to do number 100 myself.”

Roy Thomas talked about being Editor-in-Chief at Marvel and said it was the sort of job you thought you wanted but then didn’t.


Rich Buckler (in above photo) said that he didn’t stay at one comic for long because he always wanted to try something new. I liked to keep things fresh, he said. “I just had all these characters in my mind and they seemed like real people to me.”

Buckler said that his favorite work was with Donald McGregor on the Black Panther (Jungle Action). He said that they were good stories about real issues. He said that McGregor would give him the stories in pieces a page here a page there to keep him is suspense. Another of his favorite experiences was working on Deathlok (Astonishing Tales). He commented that he didn’t think anyone has appreciated the complexities of the Deathlok character since the original run.

Part 3 tomorrow is about Neal Adam’s role as an activist.

Report on Big Apple Comic Con 2008 Part 1

First Posted Nov. 17, 2008

(Here’s the beginning of my narrative on the convention. I’ll be posting more as I have time.)

I went to the Big Apple Comic Book, Art, Toy, and Sci-fi Expo, or as they call it on their program, “The National.”

I saw lots of big names, you guys saw the list here weeks ago: Roy Thomas, Joe Sinnott, Dick Ayers, Chris Claremont, John Romita Sr. and so on.

I was at a small convention in Albany last month, but this was my first big convention and let me tell you it was amazing. I don’t have a lot of money right now so I didn’t look much in the bins for deals, but there were hundreds and hundreds of vendors.

The place was like a huge maze. They had most of the artists and writers in one place on the second floor, but they were spread out in different rows. There was no directory so for the entire day I was walking around asking people: “Have you found Chris Claremont? Have you found Jim Shooter?” I wasn’t the only one either because lots of people would ask me the same questions. To make matters more confusing lots of the “big names” were in another spot downstairs and Neal Adams was in an area in the lobby because he brought all kinds of merchandise like hardcover collections and painted models. His stuff took up about three tables. Anyway you can picture me walking around like an idiot back and forth between all the different areas.

In the end I had much success. My first stop was Dick Ayers, he signed the cover of my Fantastic Four Masterworks vol. 2. He signed under where Stan and Jack’s name was printed. It was great to see him; he’s 76 and still going strong.


Then I got online to have Joe Sinnott sign some things and while I’m waiting John Romita Sr. comes and sits right next to Sinnott and so I’m practically first in line. Now I’m gonna get major groans especially from collectors like Punk Funk, but I didn’t have much for him to sign. He signed a reprint of ASM 50, so now I have the grandest reprint ever. I also got him to sign his story in ASM 365 and Romita actually said as he was signing it that that splash page with MJ combing her hair is his favorite out of anything he’s ever done.

Then I got back in line for Sinnott and talked too a guy on the line all about the old days and how great comics were in the 60s and I told him to come to Comicboards, so hopefully he will.

Sinnott was doing some great sketches a guy ahead of me got a great looking Thor. The guy right before me had Sinnott sign over 42 comics, most of them FFs. He paid Sinnott about $30 bucks for his trouble, but still I thought it was a bit excessive. I had him sign FF 148, 158, 159. Sinnott was in a great mood and I told him I just saw him up at Albany last month and he said, “Thanks for coming again. Good to see you.”

Then I went downstairs and found my brother because I had his ticket and we saw Stormtroopers and Wookiees outside on the street.



Then I got Neal Adams to sign two Batman tpbs I have and I got Rich Buckler to sign FF 158, 159 and Spectacular Spider-man 103 and 108. Both of them were friendly but not talkative with me anyway.

I saw, Steranko and Infantino, but I didn’t have anything for them to sign.

And I walked past Peter Mayhew aka Chewbacca’s booth, and George Lazenby’s and Bond Girl Gloria Hendry’s too, but I was there for the comic guys!

Then I went downstairs because after walking around and around someone clued me in that there was a “Big names” section down there. That’s where I met Roy Thomas who signed copies of FF 158, 159. Meaning I now had them signed by writer, artist and inker. I thought that was pretty cool.


I also had Thomas sign Avengers 41, and 54. Roy was a really great guy; he was very talkative and enthusiastic. I told him Avengers 54 was one of my favorite Avengers and he kind of paged though it and said he guessed it was pretty good. Then he read a line or two: “You are younger than I expected Black Knight.” “Should I have phoned your mother?” And he said, “I stole that line from a movie, no one noticed though. I did that all the time.”

Than I looked around upstairs and downstairs, that’s the theme of the day. Then my brother asked me who I was still looking for and I said “Chris Claremont, Jim Shooter, Larry Hama…” “Larry Hama, I saw him downstairs, you should have told me who we were looking for.” So we went downstairs, but my brother had only seen Larry Hama’s nameplate which was sitting on an empty table. But while we were downstairs in walks Jim Shooter. My brother spotted him, thank God he was wearing his nametag cause neither of us would have known him from Adam. By the way, as I said, I had just seen Peter Mayhew, Jim Shooter might be just as tall. The man is huge! I had Shooter sign Adventure Comics 346, the first comic he did when he was 13. He didn’t think much of it, “Yeah you could tell how young I was when I did that.” Then he signed Adventure Comics 352 and he said “I was just starting to really get it when I did this one.” He signed Avengers 161 for me next and he said, “ Someone in the business told me the other day this was their favorite Avengers. That made me feel pretty good.” “It’s definitely my favorite too,” I said. Then he signed Avengers 171.


Then I wandered around again and browsed back issues and came back downstairs about ten minutes before the first panel because Roy Thomas had said that he didn’t know where the panel was, but that someone was coming to get him and that I could follow him over. But before the panel I saw that Larry Hama had just arrived. He was drawing a GI- Joe character holding a bow for someone in front of me and he talked at great length about the finer points of Japanese archery, such as how you can hold your next two arrows in-between two of your fingers so you can fire them quicker and that you couldn’t do that with a British bow. “This guys puts Hawkeye to shame,” I thought. I had him sign Avengers 329, 332, 333. (Hawkeye isn’t in any of those) “I forgot I wrote these,” he said. “Actually I really liked 332,” I said. He thumbed through it and said, “Oh, yeah I remember this Doom is in it… They have a big party and Rage brings the cookies.” (yes nitpickers when I looked it up later it was Cupcakes he brought). I didn’t really know who Hama was too well, but he was intelligent and engaging and made me want to pick up a lot more of his stuff. Him and storyteller Roy Thomas were the best guys I met all day.


Part two of the Convention is still to come. I'll report on two panels and post lots more pictures.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Spectacular Spider-Man 42-53 and Annual 2

(Originally posted March 9, 2009)

Spectacular Spider-Man 42 and Fantastic Four 218

FF 218 was a favorite of mine when I was younger but I’d never read SS-M 42, so it was a real treat discovering this lost treasure after so many years.

Is that Bill Mantlo depicted on page 3 of SS-M 42 thinking about deadlines?

Poor Deb Whitman, she really opens up to Peter about her feelings of inferiority and he has to run off without an explanation. You really feel sorry for this shy girl, I want to give her a hug.

The Frightful Four’s plan of making Spidey think he’s meeting The Human Torch at the Statue of Liberty is a good one, and for once a villain’s plan is also well executed. If only the second half of their plan had gone as well.

It really makes me laugh how the Trapster glues Spidey’s mouth and then they realize they can’t take his mask off.

The second issue starts off with a real tour-de-force performance by my namesake. The Trapster disguised as Spider-Man single-handedly defeats The Human Torch and the Thing. Of course his zenith and his nadir are very close together as at the end of the issue he passes out when confronted by a battle ready Human Torch, Thing and Invisible Woman.

I’ve always loved the scene where Sue, in her nightgown instinctively turns invisible when she is attacked but realizes too late that the nightgown isn’t made of unstable molecules. Whoops!

I think it is no accident that Sandman is sucked into a vacuum cleaner just like his first appearance in ASM 4 and Electro is brought down my a fire hose just like his first appearance in ASM 8. Everything old is new again! But you would think Sandman could just expand his body until the vacuum broke, guess Reed’s vacuums are made of unstable molecules too.

Spectacular Spider-Man 43

The first issue of the Belladonna Saga’s art is kind of poorly reproduced in the Essential. It’s very dark and sketch-like. Is the art in the actual issue better?

This is the first appearance of Roderick Kingsley and it’s kind of hard to believe this jerk ends up being Hobgoblin. Does the Goblin serum also subliminally teach you a course in Super Villain studies? Because this guy just doesn’t strike me as the type to know anything about a life of crime.

Spectacular Spider-Man 44 and 45

I was disappointed with the Vulture saga. The art by Steve Leialoha and Alan Gordon in the first issue is ok, but I thought the Vulture’s reveal on the final page looked really odd. The proportions are off and the face doesn’t look like the Vulture at all to me.

The art in the second issue is better, but something about Marie Severin’s art bothered me for her whole run. It was serviceable art, but uninspired, cartoony and mundane, it lacked that certain something that makes comic art great.

I was especially disappointed with the scene of a chained up Spider-Man in a coffin, slowly traveling down a conveyor belt towards a furnace. I immediately started humming the 60’s Batman theme. To make matters worse for some odd reason there was a trap door of some kind so that Vulture and everyone else doesn’t see Spider-Man escape. This sequence is so hackneyed it’s completely cliché, but not in the cool Quentin Tarantino way where it ends up being retro-chic. It’s cliché in the way that having the butler be the murderer in a mystery is cliché; it just shouldn’t be done!

SS-M Annual 2

This clunker is quite possible the worst issue of Spider-Man ever. The art by Jim Mooney is not up to his usual standards and the story by Ralph Macchio is atrocious.

The story is about a guy that seems like a super-hero named the Rapier. He’s a Zorro-like hero who fights with a… you guessed it… a rapier. He’s also wired the sword so that it shoots an electro-stun.

Anyway Spider-Man and him fight some hoodlums at a dock and part as pals.

The scene changes to, the Bugle even though Peter’s been working at the Globe in SS-M. At the Bugle is Silvermane even though in the last SS-M issue he’s dead and Vulture is carving up the mob. Anyway, it is kind of neat that Silvermane threatens JJJ, but he refuses to back down.

Then we see the Rapier again and he’s fencing. Fencers use foils, not rapiers. Foils don’t have sharp tips.

Since I used to be a photojournalist. It’s kind of neat to actually see one of the Bugle’s photo spreads on p 17.

Then it turns out that the Rapier used to be Silvermane’s partner and he was betrayed and he’s been plotting his revenge all these years. Instead of leaving his life of crime behind the Rapier still has not learned. Even though he found happiness with a woman Clarissa he still craves power and prominence. He is no hero.

Spider-Man defeats the Rapier and he starts to run away, but Silverman shoots him in the back as he escapes and the Rapier limps away into the night claiming he will seek revenge again later.

After reading the story I was left wondering why did they write a Spider-Man story where a really crappy Super-Villain is the focus instead of Spider-Man?

Spectacular Spider-Man 46

After recently reading all those Cobra and Mister Hyde team-ups in the early days of Thor it was fun to see the Cobra escape and leave a pleading Hyde behind.

The art by Mike Zeck in this issue is great and so is Roger Stern’s script. The issue is a fun nostalgic stand-alone.

Spectacular Spider-Man 47-48

The Belladonna storyline is picked up again after a 3-issue gap. I hate to belabor the point but I still don’t like the Marie Severin art.

Does Mrs. Vaugh-Pope look like Cybill Shepard to anyone else?

I like that Hobie Brown was brought back and it was fun that a villain stole his costume, but the blah art makes the whole thing seem pedestrian.

The cover to issue 48 by Frank Miller is actually really cool, very film noir, a real winner. It looks better in black and white though.

I loved the sequence in Peter’s apartment where he ends up burning the large teddy bear. Not sure why some weirdo ends up taking it out of the garbage. One man’s trash is another’s treasure I guess.

This issue has further proof that Kingsley is hardly Hobgoblin material he falls for the oldest trick in the book when he shoots a Spider-Man mannequin as it falls from his skylight. Something as light as a mannequin falling wouldn’t look anything like a man.

Spectacular Spider-Man 49

This issue is at first glance nothing special, but it does have lots of fun moments, like Spider-Man throwing a spider-tracer at a car only it hits a bird instead.

Spider-Man is on top of a speeding van and he’s about to tear the roof off. However, his spider-sense goes off, someone is firing a machine gun from a helicopter. Instinctively Spider-Man jumps off the van and onto the entrance of the Holland Tunnel. I shout at the comic, “You moron if you’d stayed on, they couldn’t have fired at you once you were in the tunnel.” Of course Spider-Man thinks the very same thing to himself in the next panel so all is forgiven.

The last classic scene is Spider-Man traveling to Brooklyn on top of a subway with a hoodlum over his back. Two transit workers see them but don’t want to believe it.

The last thing I’ll say is that this super-villain the Smuggler is a lot of fun because Spidey beat the tar out of him, but the guy just keeps coming due to invulnerability. Finally Spidey just webs him up and holds him over his head.

This issue is the start of a White Tiger solo back up feature which runs for 3 issues before the solo story is resolved in the main feature of Spectacular Spider-Man 52. The art by Denys Cowan has a really great noir feel. These first 6 pages are mostly taken up by exposition, but we learn that a villain murdered the White Tiger’s whole family. I always had a feeling that the Tiger was going to be used as a dark parallel to Spider-Man, but knowing still doesn’t prepare you for the reality of how sad it is to see a good man’s life unraveling

Spectacular Spider-Man 50-51

This anniversary issue reaches way back and reveals the truth behind one of Spider-Man oldest adversaries. I wonder how long Roger Stern had this story in mind. Did he read ASM 2 when it first came out and wonder if the aliens were real?

The issue starts off where the last one let off. Spider-Man has lifted the webbed up villain the Smuggler over his head and is thinking what a pain it is going to be to drag this guy all the way back to Manhattan. After a rematch with the Smuggler’s hoods in which the Smuggler’s incapacitated body is repeatedly used as a projectile and punching bag, Spider-Man carries the Smuggler to the subway station and hops onto the roof of a train going back to Manhattan. On the way, the Smuggler tears through the webbing but ends up being electrocuted by the third rail. Then Spidey leaves the unconscious Smuggler behind because the transit workers we met last issue say they radioed the police. This left me to wonder, how well equipped are the NYPD in the Marvel Universe? Is every police station prepared to take on a Super-Villain prisoner or is there a special unit or department? Given the hard time the Smuggler gave Spider-Man I can’t help but think the cops are going to have a hard time with this guy.

The next morning Peter and Deb go to see Aunt May who now has a fiancée. They all go out to lunch and then get attacked by the aliens Spider-Man fought way back in ASM 2. The aliens want Aunt May, but Peter claims that he has what they want so they just take him. Then on the last page the aliens are revealed to be working with Mysterio.

In the second installment of the White Tiger, he and Blackbyrd interrogate a hoodlum who ultimately reveals the hideout of the men who killed the Tiger’s family. It of course turns out to be a trap and the comic ends with the White tiger being held down and about to be killed by a man calling himself Gideon Mace.

Issue 51 has another great Frank Miller cover. In this one, Spider-Man is punching Mysterio so hard his globe flies off.

In the issue Mysterio tortures Peter Parker with images of Aunt May in a fire and Spider-Man yelling at him. Peter pretends to pass out and they throw him in a cell. Peter breaks out, puts on his Spider-Man costume, and goes looking for trouble. What he finds out is that the aliens aren’t really aliens, they’ve always just been guys in rubber suits. It was all the special effects magic of Mysterio, who it turns out was the man responsible for the original fake out in ASM 2.

Mysterio has captured Deb Whitman but Spidey finds his way into Mysterio’s control room and uses the special effects against Mysterio. While Mysterio is busy fighting multiple imaginary Spider-Man, Deb manages to turn the tables on him and hit him over the head (dome) with some sort of model. Then it’s the real Spider-Man’s turn to get some licks in.

Meanwhile in the pages of the White Tiger, the Tiger manages to briefly turn the tables on Gideon Mace and his men, but just when it looks like he is going to be able to escape, he finds out the hard way that Gideon has bricked up the windows in the room and Gideon fires a machine gun at the Tiger hitting him several times.

Spectacular Spider-Man 52

This issue has a much darker tone then most Spider-Man issues, I mean just look at the Frank Miller cover which features the White Tiger getting shot by multiple guns.

The White Tiger who was shot multiple times by Gideon Mace in the last issue is thrown out of a car in front of the Daily Bugle, just as Peter Parker is walking by. Peter accompanies him to the hospital via an ambulance and while the Tiger fights for his life Spider-Man picks up the case.

Gideon it turns out is a military man who wants to kill all super-heroes. Spider-Man invades his secret base and single-handedly beats up everyone. These guys throw everything at Spider-Man including machine guns and flame-throwers but, he just keeps coming. Spidey at one point seems to throw a rock right at a land mine from just a few feet away, but somehow Spidey is fine.

Spider-Man briefly fights Gideon, but when his men rush into the room where they are fighting Gideon orders them to shoot at Spider-Man even if he is in the way. Spidey ducks and Gideon doesn’t so Gideon is the only one that ends up dying. Then Spider-Man shouts You IDIOTS! Are you as mad as he was? There’ll be no more killing tonight, do you hear? NO MORE KILLING!” This is one of the only times I remember Spider-Man really getting angry.

Hector aka the White Tiger survives the surgery, but he decides to give up his amulets and stop being the White Tiger. Hector and his girlfriend Holly get on a bus and start a new life somewhere far away.

Spectacular Spider-Man 53

The Last issue in vol 2 of the SS-M essentials is the return of writer Bill Mantlo. This is a stand-alone story which features the Tinkerer a his various deadly creations.

At the end of the issue, it turns out that the big black guy, named Toy who seemed to be the Tinkerer’s henchman was really just another of his robot creations

Spider-Man seems to leave the Tinkerer crying over his destroyed creation. He thinks, “ I don’t know whether to call a paddy wagon or a head shrinker.” This left me to wonder whether or not Spider-Man called anyone at all. Did he just let the Tinkerer go?

Thoughts on "Dune Messiah"

I didn't reread Dune this month because I've read it twice in recent years.

Instead, I listened to the book on cd of the second book, Dune Messiah. I have a crappy new job and almost zero time to read now :(

Anyhow the second book is like the first one, confusing. Herbert has created a very complicated universe that I never quite feel like he takes the time to explain. For example, he's imagined thousands of years of previous history, with previous jihads, and emperors but I couldn't tell you what went on.

Herbert like Melville, Dickens, or Hemingway writes literature where he spends lots of time describing the scene or some other detail. Where as someone like Clarke or Asimov give only the slightest time towards descriptions and just let the story drive the novel. This isn't necessarily a negative, I like authors to just get to the point, but I'm probably in the minority.

If the first story in about Paul's rise to power the second book is about his downfall. It's like the Godfather I and II. I the first movie the Corleones are on top of the world and in the second one they fall apart.

Paul as an adult is quite an impressive figure. He is a mentat. A human capable of computer like computations of probability and logic. He is a Bene Gesserit, which gives him any number of strange powers like the Voice. And he also has Prescience, the ability to see into the future.

Despite his powers a group of villains attempt to dethrone him. One of them is a space guild navigator and who also has prescience and thinks he is able to block Paul's powers.

They also use a Ghola of Duncan Idaho, who died in the first book. A ghola is kind of a reanimated zombie.

The theme of the book seems to be that even though Paul sees all the dangers that these villains are set to enact upon him, he is unable to prevent them because. A) he feels guilty about all the billions of deaths the jihad in his name caused and B) he sees that the results of all of these events will allow his child Leto II to be the next Emperor.

This makes sense but it makes for a pretty boring novel when the protagonist just stands around going "woe is me" for the entire book.

The other somewhat main character in the book is Alia, Paul's sister who is a Reverend Mother and though only a teenager has the memories of many adult woman including her own mother. So she remembers her father as her lover and her brother as her son. She is a fascinating character but for most of the book, she is struggling to figure out if she needs to help her brother or if he has everything well in hand, so she also does nothing for most of the novel.

The novel also hints at the idea of brother and sister producing an heir together, it seems at different times that the two are physically attracted to each other. However, this incest thankfully never occurs.

I wish that this book didn't take place almost entirely on Dune because I am very curious about the rest of the universe. Tleilaxu for instance produces such wonders as Mentats and Gholas, and Face Dancers, but what is the culture there like. Does a typical citizen look human? And that's just one planet of thousands.

I want to read the third book, but my library doesn't have the book on CD, so I may be out of luck for the near future.

Thoughts on "the Time Machine"

The first notes I have are about the audio book specifically. It's the 1999 Blackstone Audiobooks version. The cover features some kind of black circular warship flying in the air and fighting a red machine that has some sort of clusters of spheres as armor. Does anyone know where this image came from, it has nothing to do with the contents of "The Time Machine," all I can think of is "War of the Worlds" but there are no black flying battleships in that book either.

The other thing about the audiobook itself is the narrator sounds like a weenie. Bernard Mayes is the gentleman's name and I'm sure he's a nice guy, but he sounds like a feeble old man. His voice cracks, creaks and brings to mind an ancient science teacher one year from retirement. I found it distracting, but perhaps Blackstone thought it was a good fit, though I don't picture the Time
Traveller (When did we take an L out of the word?) in my mind's eye as more than middle-aged.

Many of the ideas expressed in the novel got my brain working overtime.

1) The novel opens with a gathering of men circa 1895. The narrator whose profession is not identified makes a big deal over everyone else's; one man is a psychologist one is a medical man another is in politics. Then the true protagonist of the novel comes in and demonstrates a working model of a time machine. The narrator calls the protagonist "The Time Traveller." I suppose he is some kind of scientist, though it seems more like he is some kind of Tinkerer. Anyway my main question with this whole scene is: Why it was so important to the Traveller to prove himself to these men of society? And, who is this chorus of professionals supposed to represent, the reader? Skeptics? Is it all just a convenient way to get out some exposition about the theories of time travel?

2) Listening to the book got me thinking about science fiction in a very broad scale. It seems to me that most science fiction whether it is generally Space cowboy or Dystopian. This is not a hard fast rule but it seems to me that most Science Fiction writers agree with Stephen Hawkings, the human race is either going to spread to other planets or it is going to eventually collapse due to a natural disaster or our own technology (nuclear war). Some authors overlap the
genres such as Asimov's Foundation series, which shows that even a vast empire of thousands of planets is just as vulnerable to the ebb and flow of civilization as one planet is.

In my mind Dystopian novels like "1984," "Brave New World," "Gather Darkness," were almost not true science fiction, because I thought rather then exploring theoretical advances in science and technology they explored theoretical "advances" or declines in governmental systems and economic ideologies.

However, reading "the Time Machine," though I was familiar with the story (and had read abridged versions growing up), made me realize how linked all these genres really are. The only true difference between Space Cowboy or Dystopian novels is how long humans will enjoy dominance over Earth or the universe and how long will we continue to advance our civilization, before we fall into a harsh decline.

3) The Time Machine, I thought was somewhat unique in the sense that it supposed that in the year 802,701, human civilization had long ago fell into decline, but according to the evidence presented never got off the planet.

802,701 seems like farther into the future then most science fiction. That probably not true though. Can anyone figure out when Dune or The Foundation Series take place in relation to today?

An episode of Doctor Who ("Utopia") took place in the year 100 trillion, the theoretical end of the universe. As does Douglas Adams' "Restaurant at the End of the Universe."

4) One of the things that bothered me about this novel was that the Time Traveller never sees anything futuristic in 802,701. Nothing on the Eden like landscape of future England or in the huge dwellings of the Eloi, under the surface of the earth or most noticeably in the museum; except one brief mentioning of machines the Time Traveller didn't immediately understand.

My own guesses for this lack are that A) Wells thought that the one huge suspension of disbelief that someone could travel though time would be all the readers of the time could except or B) Wells didn't want the book to seem dated if he predicted technology that didn't come to pass the way he imagined. C) That wasn't what the book was about.

I found it disappointing because I was so impressed to find that in Jules Verne's long unpublished novel Paris in the Twentieth Century, (which I haven't read but want to) Vernes predicts such technology as air conditioning machines, skyscrapers, gasoline-powered automobiles, high-speed trains, calculators, The Internet (a worldwide "telegraphic" communications network), electric chairs (criminals "executed by electric charge"), televisions, elevators, and fax machines. I want to read the book in order to find out what technologies he incorrectly predicted.

I can't help but wonder what Wells the other great Victorian science fiction author, would have predicted for our near future.

5) The end of the book really lost me. After the great adventure in 802,701 I thought the Time Traveller would return to his present day, but no he makes a brief journey to an even more futuristic earth where the Sun is now Red. Now Wells gets points for being right that a Red Giant is the next step for Sol, but Earth will be swallowed when that happens and long before that happens all water on the planet will boil due to increased temperatures and the Earth's atmosphere will disappear. Also even if Earth was somehow spared there is no way Mercury, which the Time Traveller states causes an eclipse would be spared from the Sun's expansion. How come we didn't know all that back in 1895?

Also, more in general, I didn't understand what the point of this sequence was? It was really brief and didn't seem to add anything interesting. I read on Wikipedia that in the original draft the Time Traveller finds some sort of "rabbit-like hopping herbivores" in this future and only after stunning or killing it realizes that it might be humans after further thousands of years of
decline. Without this deleted part, I would have just cut the whole sequence.

It reminded me of reading "Gulliver's Travels" unabridged for the first time and being stunned that Gulliver went to lots of other islands in addition to the three well known ones. But in "Gulliver's," while those adventures are shorter they are all significant because each one expressed a different idea about government and human nature.

6) The last thought I had was: if as the book supposes, time travel technology was possible using Victorian era science, then why doesn't the Time Traveller run into other time travelers from the 20 or 21st century? Maybe he was saving that for the sequel.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Thoughts on "A Scanner Darkly"


I listened to the audio book of "A Scanner Darkly" by Philip K. Dick and as always I wanted to share my thoughts.

First off, I have to tip my hat to Paul Giamatti who narrates the book masterfully. Each character has their own voice in his narration which enhances the experience and makes the whole thing seem more real. My favorite was the gravelly voice of Charles Freck.

The novel itself is not really much of a science fiction novel. Written in 1977, Dick set the story in a sort of dystopian 1994 where America's drug problem, at least in California's Orange County, is at a high level. There are a few new technologies:

Scramble suits- a special clothing that allows the wearer to remain completely anonymous since it masks, features, voice, and even the tone of voice of the wearer. Instead of seeing the the wearer any observer sees hundreds or thousands of different people flashing by faster than the eye can register. This is merely the plot device that allows Bob Arctor's (the protagonist) superiors to not know his identity.

Holo-Scanners- Video recorded in 3 dimensions.

Substance D- a psychotropic drug similar to LSD.

Other than that it's just a straight-up novel about drug use, drug culture and the relationship between drug dealers and narcotics officers.

At one point in the novel Arctor tells a story about how narcotics officers end up dealing drugs as a cover and find out how lucrative it is. Suddenly they are making more money from drug dealing then being a narcotics officer and they begin phasing out their police duties and increasing their drug dealing. Where as on the same side of the coin drug dealers that turn informant start to narc on more and more people until they begin to phase out their drug dealing and end up becoming almost bonafide police officers.

My favorite part of the novel was the random tangents the characters would go into such as when Charles Freck attempts to commit suicide but ends up having a vision of hell in which a demon reads to him out loud every sin he's ever committed in chronological order.

The tangent that really stuck with me and got me thinking was when one of the characters imagined that time was a loop and that Judgement Day and the day of Jesus's crucifixion will turn out to both be the same day. This thought totally blew my mind! Someone needs to write a short story about this one.

At first I didn't really understand what Bob Arctor's attraction to Donna was all about. She never seemed very interesting as a character, except that Ernie Luckman told some increasingly unbelievable stories about her and some friends committing various crimes such as robbing a Coke truck and enjoying months worth of free soda. However, after giving it more and more thought I decided that to Arctor and probably Dick, Donna represents "The one that got away" Dick makes it a point of stating over and over again that Arctor never got the chance to "ball" Donna to use Arctor's own phrasiology. I know that in my own life, though I am recently happily married, there are one or two women from my past that I still think about every once in a while and think to myself I wonder what being with them would have been like. Where as, I don't think about my ex-girlfriends because I had that experience. For some reason it seems to be human nature for things left undone to linger in our mind and become all the more exciting in our imagination.

The other great character in the novel is Jim Barris. Giamatti reads his every line with a sort of stuck-up nasally voice. Barris is one of those guys that talks down to everyone and acts like they are an expert on everything. It is especially satisfying as the novel goes on to realize that Barris isn't nearly as smart as he would have everyone believe.

I haven't seen the 2006 movie adaptation though I want to. I purposefully didn't want to know who played what character in the movie until I had finished reading the book, otherwise I might have fallen into the trap of associating such and such an actor with such and such a character. Now that I have looked up who plays who, I'm not too excited about seeing Keenau Reeves as Bob Arctor, but Robert Downey Jr. will be an interesting choice for Jim Barris.

Edit: (February 12, 2011) About a year and nine months later, I finally saw the movie. Though it wasn’t nearly an equal experience to listening to the audiobook, I did really enjoy it. I mean while many of the scenes in the book were absolutely laugh out loud funny, to see these same scenes acted out are somehow less humorous. The ridiculousness of the characters and the situations that were hysterical in my mind’s eye somehow seemed tragic and pathetic when I saw and heard them.

I liked that for the most part the movie was very faithful to the novel. The one glaring exception is that at the end of the movie Donna turns out to be Bob Arctor’s handler Hank. I felt like this was done just to add another surprise to the ending.

I thought the use of rotoscoping (The actors filmed the movie and then animators painted over the film to make it look like a cartoon) really enhanced the movie visually. It made the idea of the scramble suit work better then CGI would have.

Woody Harrelson (Ernie Luckman) and Robert Downey Jr. both gave really excellent performances.