Friday, March 27, 2009

A Valiant effort

The last time I was truly excited about modern comics was in 91-92 with the birth of the Valiant Comics Group. A brief history on Valiant is that it was a start up comics company that was formed largely through a partnership of Jim Shooter and Steven Massarsky. Shooter had originally come into comics as a teenage wunderkind who wrote comics that were published by DC when he was 13 years old, most notably Adventure Comics which featured the Legion of Super-Heroes.

In 1987 Shooter had been fired from Marvel Comics where he was editor in chief. He later got some financial backers and made an attempt to buy Marvel which was unsuccessful. He was introduced to Massarsky, who had a somewhat successful career as an agent representing rock groups, and they in turn got the financial backing to start Valiant.

Because money in the beginning was in short supply, Shooter used the Stan Lee Marvel Comics model in Valiant's infancy of introducing a new book every few months and emphasizing story, characterization, and continuity.
He had obtained the rights to the old gold key characters: Dr Solar, Turok, and also Magnus Robot Fighter which was published as Valiant's first super-hero comic. Money was so tight that Shooter, an admitted rank amateur artist, drew early issues under the pseudonym of "Paul Creddick".

A lot of negative things have been said about Shooter by other people in the comics industry accusing him of being an overbearing, controlling, ego maniac; but make no mistake, the man was an expert, maybe even a genius in his craft. His work as writer and editor of every Valiant book in these first two years was and remains the pinnacle of his career. He used story telling techniques that had not been used by the big two; Marvel and DC, in decades. Comic Book artists had become like rock stars and were making huge salaries and the result was that a large group of them started their own company called "Image Comics" where they would own all the rights to their comic book creations.

The difference between the two young companies was that "Image Comics" was all about flamboyant art and not so much about content. Shooter's "Valiant" produced an extremely crisp comic that was told in old fashioned six panel grids. Again using the Marvel model he had characters crossing over into other characters books and was able to maintain subplots with incredibly tight continuity. These books were simply just a great read; every one of them. The artwork was mostly produced by newcomers in the industry and they were drawn in clear, concise layouts that perfectly illustrated Shooter's plots. No guessing if you were looking at somebody's head or an elbow because of pretentious and self indulgent artwork that was popular at the time. The stories were told in clear concise panels. Shooter also had an astute command of science and was able to write it in a way that entertained and did not come across to his readers as implausible.

Valiant was catching on and took off after a cover story by Wizard Magazine. Early back issues skyrocketed in price. Just as it seemed that Shooter could sit back and bask in the glow of what he created...he was fired. The upshot of it, is that Shooter's partners were in the business to make a company, then sell it for a big profit. When he resisted signing a new deal with more backers that he thought would give him less control over his comic books he was forced out. Just like that it was over.

Valiant sold more books after Shooter left because of the popularity of the characters that he infused such life into, and also because Valiant was an instigator of the the comic speculator boom in the early 90's. As their comics became more and more like the rest of the industry with flashy art in three and four panel pages the content of the stories became less and less important. What made Valiant stand out from the pack was that quality story telling was the nucleus of every book. Valiant sadly replaced great content with gimmicks like foil embossed and variant covers.

Shooter railed against gimmicks but he actually started it all off with the "0" issue which could only be obtained by purchasing enough issues that included coupons which could be mailed in and redeemed with a comic that wasn't sold in the comic shops. Soon every comic company was producing a "0" issue with enhanced variant covers that speculators who weren't really fans bought and bought and bought. The boom predictably crashed which almost ended the whole industry. All of the duplicate books that had variant covers or were shipped in plastic bags that speculators and fans bought multiples of were actually worthless and quickly filled up the quarter boxes in the shops.

The fans of the early Shooter produced Valiant books clamored for copies that had now dropped low enough in price where they could be obtained and enjoyed over and over. Valiant was eventually sold to a company called "Acclaim" that wanted to use the characters as video games. The Gold Key characters: Magnus, Solar, Turok reverted back to their original copy write owners. Jim Shooter would go on a couple of more times to start a new universe of comics, but wasn't able to duplicate the same magic as Valiant and failed. Shooter most recently finished a run on the Legion of Super-Heroes where he started his career.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Swedish Vampirism

Just watched the Swedish film "Let The Right One In" on Blue-Ray. It's a pretty interesting movie. I wish I had thought of changing the settings from the overdubbing to sub-titles. Dubbing is always more distracting to me than subtitles.

Oskar is a friendless boy 12 years old who is almost a willing victim for three school bullies. Oskar "never fights back" but dreams of getting his revenge. Ali is a 12 year old girl who moves in next door. She is a vampire who is feeding on the neighborhood. They become friends because they have their isolation and loneliness in common. They both grow to genuinely care for each other. There is a twist that is revealed in the book the movie was made from, but was still somewhat ambiguous in the film. It was for me anyway.

The violence and gore have more of a melancholy feel than horror. It's disturbing but not frightening and not done just to shock. This is a movie about friendship and how you can always count on a real friend. There is the traditional vampire lore and homage to the classic Dracula films and for the first time I found out why vampires cannot enter a room without being invited to come in. What makes "Let the Right One In" an above average movie is that the vampire lore isn't over the top or romanticized like the silly "Twilight". I give this film 3 and a half out of 4 stars.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Swim - Ear

Here's the situation. I have had some water trapped in my ear for a week or so. Got it from taking a shower I reckon and it's been driving me up the wall. I bought something called "Swim-EAR Ear Drying Aid" to relieve me from this annoyance. The non explicit directions are as follows: "Drop 4 to 5 drops in each affected ear" and that's it. I went on the internet to see if I could find some more application information and ran across this account by some dude named Durban Bud which hilariously describes my experience exactly.

Swimmer's Ear

I went to the beach a couple weekends ago. It was that weekend when I wore my lime green bathing suit. It was also the same weekend that Ira forced me to drink a lot without letting me have dinner. You know, when you go to happy hour at 6pm and then realize at 11pm that you probably should have eaten something because you begin to fall asleep while standing up? Yeah, that weekend. Anyway, while I was frolicking like a little kid in the water I got hit by a surprise wave. My ear got clogged. Most of the water came out but there was still a little left in it. And it's still in there.

It's not so bad that I can't hear out of the ear, it's just annoying cuz when I turn my head a certain way I can feel it. I decided to do something about it. I asked Encyclopedia Tos what the best remedy would be. He told me they have stuff for "Swimmer's Ear" that I can pick up at any CVS. He said it's basically alcohol and then proceeded to give me a demonstration on how alcohol and water interact with one another. Apparently, someone watched a lot of Bill Nye, The Science Guy when he was a wee lad.

I went to CVS and picked up something called Swim-EAR. I was so excited to get rid of this little annoyance. I get home and read the directions. Here they are: "Apply 4 to 5 drops in each affected ear." Okay, then what? Am I supposed to tilt my ear up so it soaks in? Am I supposed to tilt my ear down so it runs out? How long do I leave it in before I should move my head? Do I shake my head? Do I do the hokey-pokey? WTF DO I DO?!? I looked for one of those 800 numbers on the label to call for assistance. No such luck.

I decide to proceed along with their instructions, modified with some of mine. I tilt my head to the side and put 4-5 drops in my ear. I don't know how anyone is supposed to do this because you cannot see inside you ear cavity how many freakin' drops you are putting in. Instead, I start "listening" for 4-5 drops. I think I have put 4 or 5 drops in but I may have put in 7, or 3 or even 12. I don't know because I can't see in there!

I let it soak in. I tilt my head back up and a bunch of the alcohol fluid drips out of my ear. That's not good. I tilt my head back. I let it soak in some more. I tilt my head back up. I can't hear out of the ear anymore. I shake my head about. I tilt my ear down trying to get the fluid to drain out. Still can't hear. I stick my finger in and try to pull out the fluid. Nothing. I can't hear out of my freakin' ear anymore! Now I have salt water AND alcohol stuck in my ear. My problem has been exacerbated. I can't hear and I now speak like Marlee Matlin. Thanks Swim-EAR! If anyone has any other suggestions, do let me know.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Watchmen hype

If you don't read or haven't been into comics you're probably saying; "what hype?" it's just another comic book movie. The hype comes from comic fanboys who hold the graphic novel as the "holy grail" of comic books. Time magazine ranks it as one of the 100 best novels in English literature. It takes place in the 80's and Richard Nixon has served five terms as President. One note about the portrayal of Nixon; the actor playing RMN has a seriously ludicrous looking make up job. The prosthetic nose makes him look more like Cyrano de Bergerac or maybe even Bob Hope. Nixon's appearance is very exaggerated; which is obviously by design, and the character is supposed to be a caricature of Nixon rather than a realistic portrayal.

"Watchmen" was originally released as a 12 issue maxi series by DC Comics in 1985, and honestly, I didn't care much for it. It was way too dense and complex for a comic book. I've always viewed comics as cheap and quick entertainment because I don't have to put in the time and effort to read them like a novel. The story works much better as a graphic novel, which is how it should have been issued in the first place. I have recently re-read the story in graphic novel form and enjoyed it much more.

The story is about the murder of one of the members of the "Watchmen" superhero crime fighting group several years after they have been disbanded by the government. Who is behind the murder and why is the crux of the film. Like in the novel, the characterizations and back stories are what drive the film. It tries to answer the question, "what if real people were actually super-heroes?"

The casting of the movie is what works the best about it. The actors are largely not high profile and look amazingly like the characters in the graphic novel. All the performances are very good but Jackie Earle Haley's portrayal of the sociopathic Rorschach stands out from the rest. Zach Snyder, the director of "300", produces a visually stimulating film that is very loyal to the novel, which, for me took away any real tension in the film. I think this may be a film I will enjoy much more as time goes by. I give it a B+. Here is the trailer for "Watchmen".

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Prank War

Okay, here's the deal. This guy Streeter from and his buddy Amir have been pulling these pranks on each other, sometimes a year or so apart from the last one. Since this is the 7th prank you'd think that they would be suspicious and ready for anything, but this is set up so beautifully with Amir thinking he's hit a blindfolded half court shot at half time of a Maryland game. Amir is out of his mind ecstatic thinking that he's just won 500 grand. Don't miss the look on Amir's face when finds out he's been had. Utterly hilarious.

Polymer Clay Art

I discovered this art form a little over a year ago. It captured my interest because clay jewelry, or more precisely polymer clay, combines sculpting and painting into almost unlimited shapes and designs.It is very colorful, durable, and light weight.

Some of the coolest themes that I have personally seen include a musical instrument design of earrings and pendants adorned by images of banjo, saxophone, guitar, fiddle, or mandolin. Another favorite set is based on Vincent Van Gogh's "Starry Night".

It's called clay only because it is malleable and sculptable. It is actually a material based on the polymer polyvinyl chlroride (PVC). This is the same type of plastic used in plumbing pipes. It usually contains no clay minerals, and its texture and working properties resemble those of mineral clay. People should definitely be checking out polymer clay jewelry as it is stylish, attention grabbing, and inexpensive.

Jewelry making can range from the simple to the extravagant. While some artists create a wide variety of different types of jewelry, there are others that hone their skills and focus on a specialty. Some polymer clay artists are so talented that their finished work, so intricately and finely detailed, can look like it was done by a machine. Developing a personal style is what gives this jewelry its attraction and differentiates it from all other polymer clay pieces. So when people are looking for particular theme they will begin to associate it with the artist who has developed a niche for that theme. Dan Mudd - Author

Wednesday, March 04, 2009


I get my weekly fix of the TV show LOST tonight. This season is just slammin for the devotees of the show. LOST hasn't had a dud episode yet this season. It has been chock full of revelations, new twists and turns, not to mention great acting except for the outrageously hambone performances of Fionnula Flanagan as Mrs. Hawkings. It's sad that a lot of the people who were hooked the first season fell by the wayside in season two and three as the show meandered along with trying not to run out of ideas. The problem was that trying to run as a continuing series until who knows when wasn't working for the concept behind LOST. Now with a finite end to LOST, as next season will be the final season, the ones who have hung in there are being handsomely rewarded. Many of those folks who initially watched faithfully every week and gave up on it like my wife, now find the show inaccessible because the don't know what is going on. Well too bad for them I guess unless they buy the DVD's. That wouldn't be a bad idea though to watch the episodes in succession where you can remember all the character's back stories, flash forwards, time jumps, and all the easter eggs that are fun to look for.

I'm not going to try and catch anyone up here because there are other blogs that are dedicated to doing that all the time. If you are a LOST fan you must read three sites without fail. The first one is Nik At Nite. Nikki catches all the little details that I usually miss and breaks it all down. Then she discusses it all with other fans who read her blog. She rewatches it and has updates with anything else that we might have missed. The 2nd site is Everything you wanted to know about LOST but were afraid to ask. The 3rd essential LOST guru you have to read is Jeff Jensen and his weekly columns at He goes by Doc Jensen. Why? Beats the heck outta me. Anyway he researches all the obscure literary references that the LOST writers drop on the viewers. He gets a little whacked out with his existential theories and whatnot but it's always entertaining, plus he has interviews with the producers and actors to try and get spoilers. Not major spoilers. They're more like little teases.

Speaking of teasers, here's one on tonight's episode.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

1956 -The Silver Age of Comics

I was born in 1956. Stamps cost 3 cents; a gallon of gas - 23 cents; a gallon of milk - 97 cents.

Among the more notable events besides my birth was the introduction of play-doh but that was hardly the most memorable. Elvis Presley blasted into the national consciousness with "Heartbreak Hotel, Hound Dog, and Love Me Tender". Even bigger than those hits was Elvis' first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show and changed the course of popular music forever.

It was also, and as it happens the topic of this post, the dawn of the Silver Age of Comics. The Superman TV show was going strong but comic book super-heroes had all but disappeared. The mainstays of Superman and Batman sold well but were pretty much in a formulaic rut. Comics were more commonly referred to as "Funny Books". Then Showcase #4 nonchalantly appeared on the news stands and racks. Some character in a bright red suit was on the cover and he was called "The Flash". That particular comic reinvented and re-defined the super-heroes from the 40's that faded away.

If you grew up in that period it's doubtless that your images of Superman, Flash, Green Lantern, and today's popular films of superheroes; i.e, Batman, Spider-Man, The Hulk, Iron Man, The X-Men, and the Fantastic Four were forever defined.

Comics were 10 cents then 12 cents, and you could get annuals of reprints for a mere 25 cents. It was hours of cheap, colorful, and imaginative entertainment. There was no color TV not to mention cable and satellite with hundreds of stations, video games, or DVD's. It was a black and white world. Kids could only live their fantasies in a 4 color medium through Walt Disney who was systematically releasing all of his classic films once a year. Far more accessible were comic books which screamed "look at me" "buy me" with their fantastical characters and vivid eye catching colors from the covers.

You will find jillions of sites on comic books but the best one that I have found is devoted to this period and frequently posts engaging synposes of full comics, and loads of information on the creators, editors, artists, writers and publishers. It's mostly DC and Marvel stuff natch, but reminds us that there were other companies out there like Harvey, Charlton, and Dell putting out entertaining books.

Silver Age Comics is updated three or four times a week with new posts and I hardly ever miss visiting it at least once or twice a week. Here is an image from a comic reviewed on this site. Check it out.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Paul McCartney aka The Fireman

Paul released an album at the end of 2008 but I am now just listening to it. It's Paul revisiting himself as a different artist a la The Beatles as Sgt Pepper. I guess the reason for this is that he could experiment away and he could excuse it if people hate it. Paul is never one to not make it known he should be appreciated for all the great music he's made, most of which was with our favorite band, so I never pay much attention to the substandard music he has put out for a while; mostly, out of boredom it would seem. Then it occurred to me that maybe we should just be happy he's still making music. I had heard that "Electric Arguments" was the best album he's done in decades. It may be but it will depend on how varied your taste in music is.

I have listened to "Electric Arguments" twice all the way through, and I am not as disappointed with it as I thought I would be. I'm not going to break it down song by song just simply state that there are five outstanding songs on this album: "Sing the Changes, Highway, Light From Your Lighthouse, Sun is Shining, and Dance Till We're High". These songs are the old McCartney magic and showcase his almost unparalleled strength for melodies and "hooks". "Nothing Too Much Just Out of" is a rocker and his voice is pretty impressive but it only just kinda grabs me. It always annoys the hell outta me when I read how bad Macca's voice is compared to the good old days. Well, Duh! The guy is 66 and people want him to sound the way he did at 24? Paul McCartney has influenced countless musicians and it's a testament to this that I can hear dashes of Billy Joel, Bono, and Bruce Springsteen in this album's songs. Ironic the artists that were influenced by Paul are now leaving marks on his songs.

I also have to give Paul credit for branching out a bit and experimenting with Sonic Youth. Fans of electronica, techno beats, and all that kind of spacey new agey vibe will appreciate "Electric Arguments" probably more than I did. Although you could say that the Beatles were the first group ever to experiment with electronica by way of backward tape loops, slowing down and speeding up different tracks in their 66 and 67 period of psychedelia. One very interesting song I can't quite put in as great with the five I mentioned is "Traveling Light". It's Paul embracing his Irish heritage with this very celtic sound. It's nice and it may get better with age or it could get boring. We'll find out.

Where's the hope?

Tennesseans lost 30,000 more jobs in January. 1 in 10 Californians are unemployed. This new administration ran on a platform of positive change and hope. Say what? Well, I fart in their general direction. In fact I wish Obama would just shut up. Every time he opens his mouth my IRA and 401K take a further nosedive.