Friday, August 31, 2012

The Sensational She-Hulk 31: The Real Issue 9?

Somehow writer/artist John Byrne was convinced to return to She-Hulk.  He immediately picks up where he left off with She-Hulk waking up from a weird dream (presumably issues 9-30).  The metafictional approach to storytelling is back, and the comic is even better than the last couple of Byrne issues.  The silly villain this time is Spragg The Living Hill, one of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's pre-superhero Marvel monsters.  Basically, it's a hill with eyes and a mouth.  It's hard to look at without laughing.  However, how would you like to fight a hill?  Not so funny now, huh, tough guy?

Here are some random thoughts on this issue:

*Renee Witterstaetter has no assistant editor.  I've always wondered why Marvel had so many editors in the first place.  And why did they need assistants?  How hard is it to hire people to draw a comic book and make sure the letterer, who one has to hire as well, doesn't mix up "it's" and "its"?

*Byrne keeps She-Hulk's flying car, which she received from Al The Alien and U.S. during her outer space adventure.  It's sort of a jauntier version of Wonder Woman's invisible plane.  Like She-Hulk herself, the car is green.

*Byrne kills off a Milli Vanilli knockoff called Milo Vinyl.  Byrne just made the two lip syncers one person and white and then dead.  Byrne is a vicious music critic.

*With the metafiction back in the story, it disappears from the letters page, which is now answered by the editor (or Byrne pretending to be the editor, which apparently happened a lot when he worked on corporate comics).

*I have all the Byrne She-Hulks.  When I was getting ready to reread the series, I realized I missed one.  It took a while to track it down (which is why this is the next to last series in my collection), but my buddy Bob helped me out and found it for me.  Once my collection was complete, I realized nirvana.  For five minutes.  Then I felt the pang of desire again.  I got hungry.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Sensational She-Hulk 23: The Phantom Blonde!

23 is the last Steve Gerber issue that I have, and it's apparently also the last issue Gerber wrote.  The end of his run is much stronger than the beginning.  Unfortunately, co-writer Buzz Dixon may be the reason why.  This issue sees the wrapup of the Las Vegas storyline and the debut of a new Blonde Phantom, Weezi's daughter, who calls herself The Phantom Blonde.  The Phantom Blonde wouldn't go on to become a breakout comic character, but she fits in well with the zaniness of the She-Hulk series.

Here are some random thoughts on this issue:

*The Bullpen Bulletins, a Marvel hypepage, notes that two former creators associated with She-Hulk, Stan Lee and John Byrne, were working together on a series called Marvel World Of Tomorrow.  It never quite came together, but bits of it developed into the Marvel 2099 titles, a look at the future of the Marvel universe, and Byrne's 2112 and Next Men creator-owned sci-fi series.

*The Abominatrix punches She-Hulk through Vegas Vic, the famous neon cowboy sign of Las Vegas.  Gerber seems to delight in destroying his town.

*The Byrne corner picture gets replaced.  Ironic then that Byrne would be returning in a few issues when new editor Renee Witterstaetter invited him back.  We don't have to wait so long though as Byrne's return is the next issue I have.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Sensational She-Hulk 21: The Abominatrix Arrives!

21 is pretty fun.  Writer Steve Gerber comes up with a female version of the classic Hulk villain The Abomination:  The Abominatrix.  She likes to watch soap operas and smash things.  The rest of the issue is devoted to She-Hulk romping through Gerber's adopted hometown of Las Vegas.

Here are some random thoughts on this issue:

*Gerber co-wrote this issue with one of his animation industry buddies Buzz Dixon.  It's likely that Dixon scripted it from Gerber's plot.  Gerber had a track record of getting behind on deadlines, and Dixon helped him out on Destroyer Duck before as well.

*The plot springs into motion based on a case from The Blonde Phantom's past, a case marked "Rosebud", a reference to Citizen Kane, of course.

*The satire this issue is aimed at the savings and loan scandal and its posterchild Charles Keating, complete with Keating's somewhat ironic obsession with fighting smut, at least in its pornographic form (ripping off people for their money apparently didn't bother him so much--say what you will about pornographers but at least they give people a good time in return for their money), and crazy, large scale real estate ventures.

*One of the issues I missed, 18, sounds fun.  Apparently it starred Dr. Doom.  That's Dr. Bob Doom, a dentist, and not The Fantastic Four's archfoe.  The next time New Dimension Comics in Ellwood City, Pennsylvania USA opens up their dollar comic vault (imagine a huge basement filled with back issues of comics, all in alphabetical order and all for a dollar each), I might have to pick that one up.  It's a bit sad that I can pay less for a copy of She-Hulk today than someone would have in 1990, and that's including twentysome years of inflation.  In a related note, presidential candidate Ron Paul likes to claim that inflation went wild once Nixon took the USA off the gold standard in the early 1970s.  Based on the price of comic books, Paul's claim might have some merit.  Comics started out as a dime in the 1930s.  They shrunk in size, but were still only 15 or 20 cents in the early 1970s.  Today, the average price is $2.99.  True, today they're printed on better paper and sold in a different distribution system, but in their first few decades the comics went up a nickel or a dime, but since the 1970s the price has jumped more than tenfold.  I don't know if that means we should go back on the gold standard, but it does give new meaning to the phrase "the Golden Age of comics."  And, in regard to the Golden Age, next issue apparently features She-Hulk traveling back in time to the 1940s to team with Captain America and the rest of The All Winners Squad.  I might have to pick up that issue sometime as well.  Our next stop though is 23, my last Gerber She-Hulk.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Sensational She-Hulk 17: It Gets Sillier

The grand finale of "The Cosmic Squish Principle" gets even sillier (it also somehow stretched back to four issues long, of which I missed the third).  Don't worry though, She-Hulk, Howard The Duck, The Blonde Phantom, and The Terror manage to get the universe back into shape.  17 is not quite as good as issue 15, but it is still a lot of fun.

Here are some random thoughts on this issue:

*Before comic shops commonly had UPC scanners, comics would drop the UPC code for the direct market and replace it with a little piece of artwork.  On this issue, that space is used to announce the story title.  The cover also has dialogue on it, something that became rarer and rarer in comics throughout the 1990s and beyond.

*Writer Steve Gerber has She-Hulk and the gang pass over St. Louis, his hometown, in their flying car.  He also mentions Henderson, Nevada, a suburb of Las Vegas, where he lived at the time (it's described in the story as one of "the dullest places in all of what currently comprise existence").  Underneath all the weirdness, Gerber did use a lot of autobiographical elements in his work.  It's probably safe to say that Howard is mostly a duck version of Gerber.

*She-Hulk passes through some zany universes on the way to saving the day including a universe populated solely by versions of dictator of Panama Manuel Noriega and then president of the USA George H. W. Bush.  Gerber satirizes a lot of late 1980s/early 1990s American culture here.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Sensational She-Hulk 15: Gerber Makes Good!

Issue 15 is a fun comic, the first of writer Steve Gerber's that I've read which equals the John Byrne issues in quality.  The story is a continuation of last issue's Howard The Duck/She-Hulk team up, in which Howard, somewhat unwillingly, helps She-Hulk find a place to imprison herself because she's been losing her mind and might hurt innocent people.

Here are some random thoughts on this issue:

*Originally, the Howard/She-Hulk story, "The Cosmic Squish Principle" was billed as four issues long, but by this issue, the second of it, it was now being billed as three issues long.  Perhaps something changed in the plan or Gerber planned it that way along ("squish" is in the title after all); with Gerber, it's hard to know.

*The cliffhanger from last issue ended with She-Hulk losing her superpowers and changing into Jen Walters again, as a result of entering the baloney dimension (literally, a universe populated by lunchmeat--yes, Gerber could still outweird most other writers).  This sets up an interesting plot conflict, which most She-Hulk writers chose not to exploit.  One of the great tensions in Hulk stories is Bruce Banner struggling to control his anger and not turn into his brutish alter ego.  Gerber has Jen Walters transform back into She-Hulk when she is attacked by some strange creatures who eat the baloney in the baloney dimension (after devouring enough baloney, they attempt to eat Jen).  At first, it appears that she has changed back into her alter ego because she got angry, but Gerber ties her transformation into an ancient piece of Hulklore.  In the earliest Hulk stories, Banner would change into The Hulk at nightfall, and this motif provided some good story conflicts as Banner, like a werewolf, would have to race against time to get himself safely stowed somewhere (usually locked up in a cave--yes, I know most caves don't have doors, but it's Marvel Comics, so Banner just built one) before nightfall.  This now happens to Jen; furthermore she changes into a brutish gray Hulk (in the first Hulk story, he was colored gray; Peter David would build on this as well about this time in his Hulk stories).  Presumably at some point, Stan Lee, the co-creator of The Hulk, decided that green made for a better color and that having Banner change into The Hulk out of anger and not the absence of sunlight resulted in more potential stories.  Gerber in this issue decides to do the opposite of Lee.

*Howard is still present, but doesn't do much except go along for the ride.  He gets in enough funny lines though that that's ok.

*In a subplot, Gerber brings back an obscure Golden Age Marvel hero called The Terror.  He is currently living in a nursing home and has to use a wheelchair, but he changes back into his alter ego (some sort of vampirelike creature except he's a good guy) and kills a couple of yuppies who were threatening to close down the nursing home and build condos on the land.  This could be a parody of Byrne bringing back The  Blonde Phantom or just Gerber being weird.

*Gerber also emulates Byrne in bringing back silly villains created by Steve Gerber.  This time it's the team of Doctor Angst, Black Hole, Sitting Bullseye, Tillie The Hun, and, get ready, The Spanker!

*The story is entitled "Secret Warts", which actually relates to the story.  Gerber does make fun of creating a new universe, a reference to Secret Wars writer and former Marvel editor in chief Jim Shooter, who developed a line of "New Universe" comics while he was at Marvel.  The New Universe emerged when The Beyonder, basically God as a comic book character, died at the end of Secret Wars II and created a new universe.  In this universe, there were no super powers until a mysterious event called The White Event happened and some people developed superpowers.  It was basically the Marvel universe starting over in 1986.  Some of the comics were pretty good such as Star Brand and DP7, but some were pretty bad.  The line ultimately failed, but, according to Shooter, the comics weren't given much support at Marvel, which was already getting fairly conservative (count the number of new characters introduced successfully in the 1980s when compared with the 1970s and 1960s--of course, the 1960s and 1970s characters were so successful they did tend to crowd out newcomers; also, creators such as Gerber losing legal control of their creations pretty much guaranteed that most creators would save their best ideas for their own creator-owned work and not Marvel work for hire), so that wasn't a surprise.  It also was an odd way to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Marvel Universe, which is how it was billed.  Byrne hated Shooter so much that when he took over Star Brand after Shooter left the company he nuked Pittsburgh, Shooter's hometown and the setting of Star Brand, which was written by Shooter, in the storyline (I apologize for the mangled syntax of that last sentence, but hey, it had a lot going on; for example, Pittsburgh just got nuked).  Gerber had his own reasons to dislike Shooter (Shooter was the one who fired him from Howard The Duck--Gerber was often late on deadlines; one time he even wrote an issue on a cross country road trip and phoned it in right before deadline,  Admittedly, it was a good issue, but you can easily see why Shooter would get worried.  In those newsstand days, a comic couldn't ship late--that's why they did fill-in stories in advance or republished old material in case the old "deadline doom" loomed).  Shooter had also poked fun at Gerber in the first issue of Secret Wars II where a television screenwriter gets superpowers from The Beyonder and becomes Thundersword where he takes arms against all the things in America that annoy him.  Despite his name in the comic, that's Steve Gerber.  This issue of She-Hulk appears to be his response.  It's fairly mild, so he obviously disliked Shooter less than Byrne did.  Personally, I liked Shooter.  Marvel Comics were pretty good under him.  But, then again, I didn't have to work for him.

*Byrne appears to have been right about the sales drop on the title after he left.  In the U.S. Postal Service Statement (a legal requirement that periodicals have to publish once a year or so to get cheaper postage or something), average sales of the previous 12 issues were 234,540 while the most recent issue only sold 172,400.  Today, of course, even selling only 172,400 comics would likely make the title the bestselling comic, as the average Marvel comic probably only sells 30,000 copies or so.  Comic readers, at least of the print pamphlet variety, are getting older and dying off.  For the most part, kids today are playing video games and not reading comic books.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Sensational She-Hulk 14: The Return Of Howard The Duck!

I missed issue 13, but I picked up 14, which features the return of Howard The Duck, one of my favorite comic characters.  Created by Steve Gerber, Howard is a working class duck from a world where ducks are the dominant life form.  He fell into a dimensional nexus and ended up on Earth living among us "hairless apes", as Howard calls us.  Basically, this story is a Marvel Team-Up featuring Howard and She-Hulk.

Here are some random thoughts on this issue:

*Fabio appears in a video-game ad dressed as a barbarian.  He doesn't make a very good barbarian.  Even with the long hair, he's too well-groomed.

*Writer Steve Gerber introduces a new race of extraterrestrials called The Critics.  They're a funny takeoff on Marvel's Watchers extraterrestrials, who sit around observing the universe.  The Critics are similar, except they critique the universe too.

*A giant plunger fixes a black hole out in space.  Gerber did some research on physics and was obviously having fun with it.  Between that and the return of Howard (Gerber hadn't written his creation since the 1970s), Gerber came up with a more inspired issue than his previous She-Hulks.  The comic still isn't very good, but it's a step forward from the previous Gerber issues I've read.

*The connection between Howard and She-Hulk would occasionally be picked up by later writers (Gerber likely just shoved Howard into the series so he could write him again) and the two characters would be teammates in a mini-series called Fear Itself:  Fearsome Four.

*Gerber had fought Marvel for ownership of Howard, but more or less lost the legal struggle.  However, he did retain some rights in the settlement which ended the ordeal.  One of them can be found on the splash page of the issue where he is credited with the creation of the character.

*When the story opens, Howard is still living in Cleveland, Ohio USA.  Gerber had no connection to the city.  He made it the setting of Howard so he could use Cleveland jokes, popular in the 1970s (it was the era of "The Mistake On The Lake", the river catching on fire, the mayor's hair catching on fire, the mayor's wife turning down the president's invitation to visit the White House because it was her bowling night, the city going bankrupt, the sports teams all sucking, yuk, yuk, yuk), in the series.

*The title of the story, "A Baloney Place Of Dying", is a parody of the then recent Batman story in which Robin died, "A Lonely Place Of Dying".  In a notorious incident, fans voted on 900 telephone lines whether The Joker should kill Robin or not.  They voted to kill him.  Don't worry, it's comics; he got better eventually.  He wasn't the original Robin anyway.

*More Howard next issue too!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Sensational She-Hulk 12: A Fabulous Fill-In!

This issue is a fill-in issue by writer Peter David, and it's actually better than a number of issues by the regular creators.  David apparently had an affinity for the character (which is probably not surprising since he was the regular writer of her cousin The Hulk at the time); in fact, he would be the last ongoing writer of She-Hulk when her title was brought back in the 2000s (yes, this title gets canceled, but not for another fifty issues or so).  The plot of the issue concerns She-Hulk being invited to Hollywood to visit the set of a movie about her.  David keeps the metafiction approach of earlier writer John Byrne and the result is an entertaining and funny story.

Here are some random thoughts on the issue:

*The joke use of X-Men on the cover was probably an attempt to boost sales, but it did tie into the story (Hollywood, as usual, takes license with the truth and has She-Hulk join the X-Men in her bio movie, though she never actually did that).  According to John Byrne, the sales declined from 300,000 copies per month when he left to 40,000 at the time he returned to the title a couple of years later (one would think that Steve Gerber's first ongoing title in a decade would have had better sales, but terrible stories such as the two previous issues apparently made for a quick honeymoon), so the title probably needed all the help it could get to halt the slide.  The X-Men were red-hot at the time and Marvel was slapping "X" on everything to cash in.  The following year, 1991, the first issue of an X-Men comic would sell over eight million copies, likely the bestselling single comic book of all time.

*With Bobbie Chase as editor and Trina Robbins and Glynis Oliver as part of the art team, She-Hulk probably came the closest to an all-female creative team as she ever would in her regular title.  I don't believe that She-Hulk's ever had a female writer as her ongoing writer.  That would have been interesting.

*David makes fun of the terrible Marvel Comics movies of the times such as Fantastic Four, Captain America, and Punisher, albeit subtly.  At the time, movies of Marvel characters were terrible while DC's Batman movie was not only good, but the biggest film of the year (1989).

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Sensational She-Hulk 11: Enter The 1990s

The first 1990s issue of She-Hulk was rather underwhelming.  She dukes it out with Pseudoman, a Steve Gerber badguy used to make fun of the superficialness of American culture.  Unfortunately, the comic itself is very superficial so the social commentary is a bit of a wash.  I have no random thoughts about this issue other than that it is pretty bad.  It is interesting to note that She-Hulk was Marvel's only female character at the time to have her own title, sort of the Marvel equivalent to Wonder Woman.  That's probably because it's difficult to fight crime while wearing high heels.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Sensational She-Hulk: Steve Gerber Arrives . . . Yawn!

After John Byrne left, issue 9 was apparently a quickie fill-in issue.  I've never read it.  I did pick up some of Steve Gerber's run on the title since I really enjoy his Howard The Duck series (Howard is Cleveland, Ohio USA's only official "superhero" since Superman, though created here, guards the fictional city of Metropolis--by the way, Superman's fictional as well).  Alas, Gerber's She-Hulk work wasn't among his best, and this issue is pretty bad.

Here are some random thoughts on this issue:

*British artist Bryan Hitch would go on to become much more successful, but this is one of his early American comics and his art isn't too appealing, especially coming after Byrne.

*Many of the pages have 3 or 4 panels on them; much more story could have been fit into this comic.  I only paid a quarter or fifty cents for it, but if I had paid $1.50 in 1989, then I would have dropped the title immediately.

*Aside from She-Hulk continuing to answer letters on the letters page, the metafictional approach that made the series so interesting has been dropped.  The result is a pedestrian Marvel comic.  Gerber was innovative in the 1970s, but, like Stan Lee, his writing never seemed to evolve with the industry or medium, so what was groundbreaking a decade earlier is pretty ho-hum and behind the times here.

*Gerber does mix in some social commentary (one of his greatest strengths as a writer), but it still wasn't enough to make the story interesting. 

*Gerber picks up on one of Byrne's subplots by using the Lex Luthor standin, but he's given a ponytail and essentially a new personality, so the parody is more or less pointless to continue.  Most of Byrne's other storypoints are dropped (for example, She-Hulk gets fired from the district attorney's office), but Gerber does keep Weezi (The Blonde Phantom) as a supporting character (though it's unclear how she can still spend so much time with She-Hulk when she still works at the district attorney's office herself). 

*I bought a bunch of the Gerber She-Hulks out of a quarter bin all at once.  I should have saved my money and just bought one.  They are underwhelming.  The good news is that Howard The Duck does indeed show up in a few issues.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Sensational She-Hulk 8: She-Hulk Teams Up With Santa Claus

This was John Byrne's final issue on the title for a couple of years.  He would return, but after this issue he got into a fight with the editor and moved on, which is too bad since he had introduced some interesting subplots that wouldn't get to be followed up on.  This issue wasn't the strongest swan song.  It mainly consisted on Santa Claus hitting on She-Hulk.  Byrne was definitely channeling his inner R. Crumb on this series.

Here are some random thoughts on this issue:

*The credits for the comic's creators are cleverly introduced on mail that She-Hulk retrieves from her apartment.

*She-Hulk gets back into practicing law in this issue.  A six foot plus tall green female would probably be an interesting lawyer to have.

*Fun, but a bit half-baked.  Maybe it was time for Byrne to leave the title.  Fortunately, he would return refreshed. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Sensational She-Hulk 7: Len Wein And Teddy Bears

The story doesn't match the great title, but it has its share of amusing moments.  It's probably Byrne's worst issue on the title though.  Much of it is a typical Marvel Comics slugfest in which She-Hulk beats the villain Xemnu.  Fortunately, there's a bit more to the issue than that, but the metafictional elements are certainly subdued here.

Here are some random thoughts on the issue:

*She-Hulk has a romantic daydream about her Avengers colleague Hercules.  Perhaps Byrne was foreshadowing something here, but he would leave the title after one more issue, so nothing would come of it.

*There's a funny scene wherein She-Hulk and the other characters all have a conversation hanging upside down, which Byrne draws using all headshots.

*Xemnu attempts to mate with She-Hulk but finds her not furry enough, so he rigs up a machine to make her grow fur.  If Xemnu were real, then he could make a lot of money at furry conventions.

*Byrne does some strange parody of comics editor Len Wein by making him a giant child named "Enilwen" who has a teddy bear collection.  Xemnu ends up being given to Enilwen.  I suppose even if one isn't in on the Len Wein joke, the scene is weird enough on its own to be memorable.

*And just when the comic couldn't get much stranger, the next issue gueststars Santa Claus.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Sensational She-Hulk 6: Cosmic Trucking!

Though not as fun as the previous issue, this issue still is a good time.  In it, Razorback hijacks a faster than light space shuttle and She-Hulk tries to stop him.  The result is one of those 1970s trucking movies set in the Star Wars universe.  No, I don't know if John Byrne did a lot of drugs in the late 1980s; I think he's probably just wonderfully high on his own creativity.

Here are some random thoughts on this issue:

*Mister Fantastic gueststars, reminding readers that She-Hulk used to be a more "normal" superhero and a former member of The Fantastic Four.  Now she uses her old teammate as a bouncy ball to launch herself into space.  This comic never won any awards for realism.

*Mixing Razorback in wasn't enough for Byrne; he also works in US 1, a strange toy tie-in comic that wasn't quite as successful as G.I. Joe.  I only read one issue as a kid, but it was about a trucker with a CB Radio in his head or something.  Apparently, Byrne now has him being a trucker in outer space.  Don't ask.  Really, don't ask.  Just read the comic.

*On the two-page cosmic spread done when She-Hulk complains about his art, it appears that Byrne has pasted in a photo of a volleyball.

*Xemnu, a Lee and Kirby monster creation, appears in a cliffhanger at the end.  Byrne didn't even need the cliffhanger though; he had me with the next issue's title:  "I Have No Mouth And I Am Mean!!"

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Sensational She-Hulk 5: Even The Advertisements Get The Fourth Wall Broken

In this issue, John Byrne has She-Hulk escape a villain's trap by cutting through some fake advertising pages, specifically a sale for comic book back issues complete with caustic and amusing commentary.  The more I read these She-Hulks, the more I'm beginning to think that She-Hulk might just be Byrne's unheralded career high point.  Forget The X-Men and The Fantastic Four!  This was another fun issue!

Here are some random thoughts on the issue.

*It features the return of Dr. Bong, the great Howard The Duck villain.  Steve Gerber, creator of HTD would take over She-Hulk after Byrne's departure, which makes a lot of sense since Byrne seemed to delight in using many of Gerber's silly villains.

*The issue features many disturbing parodies of Saturday morning cartoons.  For example, the Mighty Mouse standin gets eaten by a cat when he becomes just a mouse with a cape tied around the neck.  The Yogi Bear parody featuring a grizzly wearing a tie attacking picnickers was particularly vivid.

*Byrne goofs on many fellow comics creators including Gerber and Frank Miller.  Most likely, these were good-natured swipes, but with Byrne it's hard to tell. 

*The comic has an ad for a Morning Funnies breakfast cereal which featured comics on the box.  Apparently, it didn't last long.  Neither would Byrne on this title.  It's easy to see why.  This is like Marvel publishing an underground comic.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Sensational She-Hulk 4: Comic Book Characters Have Feelings Too!

This issue sees John Byrne getting even weirder with the metafictional approach to the comic, which makes this issue a lot of fun.  She-Hulk changes clothes between panels, uses Byrne to get her across town quickly, gets upset at Byrne when her love interest turns out to be married with children, and realizes that the plotlines of her comic seem to be based on Lee and Kirby's Fantastic Four.

Here are some random thoughts on this issue:

*Razorback shows up in a subplot.  Perhaps one of Marvel's silliest superheroes, he's basically a trucker who wears a dead boar on his head.  He was only topped in sublime ridiculousness by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon's Dogwelder, who welds dead dogs to evildoers.

*Some of the characters in She-Hulk realize they are comic book characters, and some do not, which makes for some amusing interchanges between characters.

*Despite the silliness, Byrne manages to eke out some pathos from all the postmodernism when he reintroduces The Blonde Phantom, a Golden Age Timely character, who explains to She-Hulk that she wanted to get into comics again so she'd stay the same age (a running joke in comics is that superheroes always remain about 29 years old no matter how many decades they've been around for).  The Phantom's husband died after they retired from comics since time proceeded normally then, so she wants a gig as a supporting character in She-Hulk to stay alive.

*The stupid villain this month is Stunt-Man, and Byrne gets a lot of mileage out of drawing panels only showing his legs.  A funny scene also ensues wherein She-Hulk gets punched in the head by a subway train (don't worry, she's invulnerable, not to mention a comic book character).

*A Lex Luthor standin shows up at the end.

*It is enjoyable to read a comic book that is just a comic book and works as a nice short story.  Too many of today's comics are written with the trade paperback republication in mind and seem to be chopped up into six-parts randomly.  The comic book form works best as a comic book, not just one part of a serialized story.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Sensational She-Hulk 3: Spidey And Shulk

Spider-Man gueststars in this issue in what John Byrne points out is a cheezy attempt to boost sales.

Random thoughts on this issue:

*Spider-Man calls She-Hulk "Shulk".  The nickname never got on, but it is a fun word to say.  Try it yourself.

*After the cliffhanger from last issue, She-Hulk does indeed get her head cut off, but it gets washed away in one of those ridiculous and convoluted explanations that only superhero comics can get away with.  In the meantime, Byrne has fun with a few panels where She-Hulk is only a head.

*Spider-Man punches a villain's head off.  Fairly gory for a code approved comic.  They must have been snoozing when this one went through review. 

*One of the villains gets his head transplanted onto She-Hulk's body, but being a male chauvinist, he demands a new body.  The gender politics in this series is quite humorous.

*All in all, the comics felt like a better issue of 1970s Marvel Team-Up.

*She-Hulk answers a letter in the letter column.

*Great art!

*She-Hulk demands they skip some boring scenes and cut straight to the chase scene.  Byrne was really having fun mocking comic book conventions.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Sensational She-Hulk 2: Cockney Midgets In Toad-Men Suits

John Byrne gets more metafictional in the second issue.  There's a funny scene where She-Hulk and the villains she is fighting take a break while waiting for Byrne to finish a subplot scene.  She also complains to Byrne about his choice of villains for her.  The issue is also filled with postit notes from the editors and creators arguing about the comic. 

Random thoughts about this issue:

*She-Hulk reads The Incredible Hulk 2 on the cover.  Note that she rolls it.  Doesn't she know that comic's valuable?

*The Hulk fought The Toad-Men in that issue.  She-Hulk does the same, except they're really Cockney midgets in costume.  Was this Byrne's commentary on the British writers such as Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, and Grant Morrison (whose Animal Man was breaking the fourth wall before Byrne's She-Hulk, though the idea was common at the time, even featured in television shows such as Moonlighting) who were usurping his crown as the king of comics (with apologies to Jack Kirby, who was still living at the time)?

*The issue ends with a good cliffhanger, She-Hulk about to get her head chopped off by a buzzsaw.  Gosh, do you think she'll survive?  If not, her second series will be quite short-lived.  Tune in tomorrow to find out!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Sensational She-Hulk 1: Superheroes Go Metafictional

After She-Hulk's first series folded, she bounced around the Marvel universe, joining The Avengers and The Fantastic Four.  Writers such as Jim Shooter, Roger Stern, and John Byrne developed her character further.  Unlike many Marvel characters, She-Hulk enjoyed having her powers and preferred staying as her large, green self more than her normal self (her cousin The Hulk/Bruce Banner was always trying to rid himself of his powers, which he regarded as a curse), which made her appealing to many readers, many of whom likely fantasized about having superpowers themselves.  In the late 1980s, writer/artist John Byrne, one of the most popular creators in comics at the time, returned to Marvel after revamping Superman and rebooted the She-Hulk series.  He changed the adjective from "Savage" to "Sensational" and took a postmodern, metafictional approach to the storytelling in which She-Hulk knows that she's a character in a comic book and often addresses the reader directly.  The result is a lot of fun.

Here are some random thoughts on this issue:

*Byrne makes sure to stress that The Hulk's name is Bruce Banner, as the television series was long off the air (though it returned for a few made for television movies around this time).  He has a tendency to be obsessed with getting even minor continuity details right (whereas Stan Lee created so many characters with alliterative names such as Bruce Banner because otherwise he'd forget what he called the characters).

*Byrne delights in having She-Hulk fight ridiculous villains such as The Ringmaster and The Headmen from past Marvel comics.

*It is much better than the first issue of the original series, provided one didn't mind all the silliness such as She-Hulk working out by lifting circus elephants and fighting a gorilla.

*Female superheroes are often underclad, and She-Hulk is no exception.  She runs around in a swimsuit for most of the issue.  Apparently, they weren't going for a female audience here.

*I didn't buy this when it first came out since I was a poor college student, but She-Hulk didn't rip up all my X-Men comics.  Perhaps she knew I'd pick it up in a quarter bin down the road.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Savage She-Hulk 1: Stan Lee Goes Feminist

During the 1970s, Marvel Comics got caught up in second wave feminism and launched quite a few new female superheroes (or heroines) such as Ms. Marvel.  In the late 1970s after writing his book The Superhero Women, Stan Lee, the co-creator of such characters as The Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, and The Hulk, was apparently inspired enough to write a comic again, which he hadn't done for a few years, and create his first female superheroine to star in her own book:  The Savage She-Hulk.

He probably also wanted to cash in on the then television popularity of The Hulk and make sure that no one else would create a female version of The Hulk.  Spider-Woman was likely created for similar reasons.

In any case, the result was 1980's The Savage She-Hulk. It probably represents Lee's last significant contribution to the Marvel universe.  He only stuck around for the first issue before moving on, probably sensing that the character was a bit ridiculous (when Alan Moore wants to make fun of the term "graphic novel" he often uses the example of a She-Hulk graphic novel).

It wouldn't be until later She-Hulk comics that writers embraced the inherent ridiculousness of She-Hulk that the character and her comics really found her potential.

However, there is a bit of misogyny in finding the She-Hulk an inherently ridiculous character.  The Hulk is fairly ridiculous himself, but he never gets the grief She-Hulk gets.  Some people would say that this is because the She-Hulk is a knockoff character of the original, but it probably has more to do with the fact that she's a strong female.  It's similar to how words associated with women such as "douchebaggery" catch on as negative slang terms in the culture where a male equivalent such as "usedcondomery" doesn't.

But back to the comic.  Here are some random thoughts about it:

*It's a "#1 Collectors' Item Issue".  This was before comics came out with new number ones all the time, but clearly Marvel was trying to get people to buy the comic just because it was a first issue by implying that it would be worth money someday.  Apparently, they were right since I've seen a copy of eBay sell for $85.  Then again, one also sold for 99 cents.  Still, with a 40 cent cover price and ignoring inflation, that's like doubling your money!

*Lee skips over the whole is The Hulk's alter ego named "David Banner" (as in the tv show) or Bruce Banner (as in the comics) question by just calling him "Doc".

*Jennifer Walters, the alter ego of The She-Hulk is a lawyer and "Doc" Banner's cousin.  When gangsters shoot her, he gives her a blood transfusion that saves her life but also gives her Hulk powers.  It's amazing that most people live their lives uneventfully, yet in a Marvel comic bank robberies and other horrific life-altering events seem to happen around every corner.

*She-Hulk lives in Los Angeles and not New York.  Lee had apparently decided that New York was too crowded with superheroes, and, unlike Spider-Man, She-Hulk doesn't need tall buildings to swing around on. 

*The comic actually has advertising.  Today, not too many companies advertise in comic books.

*When The She-Hulk hulks up, she rips her clothes, just like her cousin, but her naughty bits somehow remain covered except for a bit of cleavage.

*The story is conventional Stan Lee fare, but probably wasn't as well-received as his 1960s work since comics had advanced a bit during the 1970s and Lee's writing hadn't.  At this stage, She-Hulk is pretty much just a female version of The Hulk.  Fortunately, the character would be developed much further by other writers. 

*I don't remember how I ended up with this comic, but I never bought any other ones of the series, which came to a quiet end a couple of years later.

Monday, August 13, 2012

She-Hulk And Palookaville

As I noted in a recent post, I've been rereading and unloading my comic book collection over the past decade.  I'm down to two piles.  The first is a conventional superhero series, the sort of thing that most people think of when they think of comic books.  The second is an alternative series, the sort of thing that people who argue that comics is an art form love to hold up as an example.

I'm fond of them both.

The first is a bunch of She-Hulk comics.

No, I didn't leave them until the end because I'm ashamed of them.  I actually left them until the end since I was still trying to get a couple of back issues. She-Hulk sounds like an easy comic to make fun of, but her comics have actually been quite interesting over the years.

The second is Palookaville, by the Canadian cartoonist who goes by the name of Seth.  I saved this series for the end because Seth is in the middle of an unfinished storyline and the issue with the conclusion is supposed to come out this month.

I've only been waiting since 1998 for him to finish the thing.

Even if it's not finished, I'm still finished with my collection.

Don't worry though, I still read comics. 

I just don't hang onto them for decades anymore.

During the course of the project, I always wanted to do a daily blog about it (I read most of the collection one comic a day so it wouldn't become overwhelming, but I did speed that pace up the last couple of years since I didn't want to be collecting Social Security and still be reading back issues of the Uncanny X-Men that I bought when I was thirteen), but I never did so.

Well, for the grand finale of the project.  I will be blogging daily about it.

So get ready for a lot of She-Hulk.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

6-Word Memoirs On Bottlecaps

Recently, I bought a bottle of mint tea at a gas station.  I was amused to find that it had a "6-Word Memoir" on the inside of the bottlecap: "I want to be Tina Fey" by Elle McPherson.  Apparently, the memoirs are a marketing gimmick by Honest Tea.  The marketing copy claims that the idea came from "Ernest Hemingway's legendary six-word novel ('For sale:  baby shoes, never worn')".

I did some research, and it doesn't appear that Hemingway ever wrote that story.  Playwright John de Groot did however in a play about Hemingway.

It's also not really a story and certainly not a novel.

I posted about this a few years ago, and a more in-depth article will be appearing in The Journal Of Popular Culture soon.

Still, the concept certainly has caught on, and there is no denying it's one of the few literary forms that will fit on a bottlecap!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Skylight Books

During my trip to Los Angeles, I visited several bookstores.  My favorite was Skylight Books because they carried The Pornographic Flabbergasted Emus (they also had a great book selection, and their annex a couple of doors down carried graphic novels and zines).  Having watched a few bad Hollywood movies lately (for example, 30 Minutes Or Less, someone dies tragically, and Hollywood turns it into a bad comedy), I suppose that movie producers must be hard up for material.  Folks, why not take a walk up Vermont Avenue and buy a copy of some good source material?

Friday, August 10, 2012

Song: "Drone Reds, Whites, And Blues"

Yeah, yeah, I know that fighting terrorism is tough, but I still think that having little robot planes blow up people is creepy, especially when those flying the planes are thousands of miles away and don't really know whom they might be blowing up.  It's also creepy that the president of the USA thinks he can legally just kill American citizens or whomever else he wants to.  If you're interested in the politics, then check out these articles:  "The Rise Of The Killer Drones:  How America Goes To War In Secret", "Is There A Drone In Your Backyard?", and "Court Upholds Domestic Drone Use In Arrest Of American Citizen".  And I know the easy critical response to the song's chorus is "I hope they do", but there might soon come a time when drones patrol America and not just some third world country such as Afghanistan that we can push around  and even those critics will be singing like all those under the gaze of a drone that "I hope they don't bomb the shit out of me." The MP3 recording can be found here.  I play guitar and harmonica on it, just like Bob Dylan (though he'd do it better).  I also sing and smack a toy microphone into a folding chair for the bomb beat.  Really, this stuff is much more fun and cheaper than therapy.  The lyrics are below.  It's the same deal as always.  If you like a song, then feel free to cover it if you're in a band or whatnot.  I love to hear covers of my songs, so please let me know about your version.  If you start making money, then send me a check/we can work out a deal.  Similarly, if you want to use a song for your Youtube video or whatnot, then just let me know.  It's usually fine by me unless it's a commercial product or whatnot.  Find out first though.  Write me at wredfright ATATAT yahoo DOTT com.

There's a drone in the sky.
I wave just to say hi.
And it shoots a missile at me.
Wow!  How unfriendly!

Somehow the missile missed.
Now, I'm a little pissed.
Here's my tax dollars at work
In the hands of some jerk!

I hope they don't bomb the shit out of me.

The government must be quite insane.
A million dollars for a remote control plane?
They should have gone to Radio Shack.
We could have gotten some change back.

The president wears a fancy tie
As he decides who gets to live and who gets to die.
They act like they're playing a video game.
Push a button and kill and maim.

Whatever happened to the land of the free?
Now it's mechanical peeping Toms over every tree.
I just want to walk down the street
Without somebody else staring at my feet.

The president wears a little flag pin.
Doesn't he know what country he's in?
Well, apparently neither does the drone.
I wish they would all leave us alone.

Written May 2012
Recorded July 2012

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Los Angeles Professional Wrestling Is Delightfully Weird

During a recent visit to Los Angeles, California USA, I stumbled across postcards promoting upcoming professional wrestling events.  Now "normal" professional wrestling is strange enough, but what they have going on in L.A. appears to be even weirder.  The first event is tonight.  It's called Lucha VaVoom and features Mexican wrestling, strippers, comedians, drag queens, midgets, and the guy who does the voice of  SpongeBob SquarePants.

I imagine that will be quite a show.

Unfortunately, I wasn't staying in town long enough to see it.  I'll miss the other show as well.  It's called Comic Book Vixens and will feature women wrestlers dressed as DC and Marvel characters facing off in the old squared circle.  According to the postcard, Catwoman will wrestle The Punisher (I was unaware that The Punisher was female, but who am I to argue with "LA's Only All-Girl Wrestling And Burlesque Show"), as well as Rogue vs. PowerGirl, Joker vs. Venom, and Zatanna vs. She-Hulk.

I'm sure the kind of comic book fans who like to debate about whether Superman is stronger than The Hulk will be in attendance.

If Jake from Blog Love Omega Glee were in L.A., I'm sure he'd attend both shows!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

PulpFest 2012

I just heard about a convention being held in Columbus, Ohio USA this weekend.  It's called PulpFest 2012, and it sounds pretty interesting.  I've attended comic book conventions before, but I've never attended a pulp magazine convention.  I probably won't attend this one either.  I have an interest in pulps, but that interest doesn't measure up to a four hour car ride plus spending a bunch of money for gas, registration, and whatnot.  I did enjoy reading some pulpy fiction growing up and enjoyed reading Frank Gruber's The Pulp Jungle, an account of working as a writer in the field (pictured above)   If the convention were nearer, then I might attend just to see all the nifty pulp magazines on display.

If you're not familiar with pulp magazines, they were printed on the cheapest paper possible (thus their collectibility today since those magazines that survived World War II paper drives often decayed over the decades if they weren't cared for) and usually featured lurid stories from such genres as fantasy, mystery, romance, science fiction, and western.  Though often looked upon as garbage for sub-literates during their flourishing in the early twentieth century, some pulp fiction has garnered respect over the years.  The Library of America has even published collections of pulp writers such as H. P. Lovecraft.

Pulps have important connections to comic books and zines.  Comic books started off as outgrowths of pulps.  Some pulps already featured illustrations, and the cover images were meant to pop off the newsstand, so it was natural for many pulp companies to enter the comics field once comics appeared to be lucrative in the late 1930s.  Some pulps also courted controversy with their content, so some companies were happy to move over to comics, where the content, albeit similar, was a bit toned down since children were the initial target market.  Of course, it wouldn't take long before the content of comics also attracted controversy, but in the 1930s they probably seemed the less risky publishing endeavor.  Zines meanwhile got their start when Hugo Gernsback, the editor/publisher of science fiction pulps, published letters from readers and included the addresses.  Fans started writing to one another and then started putting together their own fan magazines, which would soon get called "fanzines" to distinguish them from the "prozines" published by Gernsback and the other pulp publishers.

Pulps never really went away, even when the magazines declined in popularity and many ceased publishing.  Essentially, the format changed.  Pulp characters such as Tarzan and Conan found homes in paperback books, newspaper comic strips, radio, movies, television, comic books, videogames, and will likely find another home in whatever the next medium will be (3D cosplay virtual reality?).  Furthermore, a great deal of Hollywood products today is essentially pulp fiction with a bigger budget.

But the origins of all this are in cheap magazines, many of which will be gathered in Columbus this weekend.

How many will be there?

Only The Shadow knows.  

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Swaggy Slang

When I ordered Radiohead tickets, Ticketmaster threw in a free Rolling Stone subscription (the two companies must be desperate--RS for readers and Ticketmaster to interest me in more concerts).  I've read RS off and on over the years; the journalism is always very good, but the subjects are often uninteresting.  A perfect example of this is the recent article on Justin Bieber.  I'm surprised I even read it, but I suppose it's useful to know what the kids are into these days.

Bieber himself seemed very boring (sorry, tweens of the world!), but I did find interesting his use of the word "swaggy".  I hadn't heard that word before.  The way Bieber used it in the interview, it seemed to mean something akin to cool or awesome.  Apparently, he also uses the word in his song "Boyfriend" but I couldn't stand to listen to it (yes, I have my limits).

I'm not sure where the word comes from.  Perhaps even from Bieber himself but I suspect that's doubtful.  "Swaggy" already exists in English, but it's an older word, which means basically sagging from weight, likely unrelated to the new version.  Pirate culture and associated words have been popular in the past few years, so the word could be an adjective variant of "swag" meaning treasure.  "Swag" has certainly been used in recent years to describe getting free stuff from a convention or whatever.  The word could also come from hip-hop, which seems to delight in wordplay.  Perhaps Bieber picked it up from one of the rappers he occasionally collaborates with.  It could even stem from Canadian English slang since Bieber is Canadian, but that seems unlikely, eh?  The Bieber article also describes one of Bieber's associates as his "swagger coach" so "swaggy" could be related more to "swagger" than it is to "swag".  Bieber and his friends also use the word "swag" to mean cool.  There might be more possibilities of the word's origin, but I'd better "chillax" on the etymology before I catch a case of "Bieber fever".

We'll see if "swaggy" has any staying power or if it will be a fad like Bieber himself will likely be.

Monday, August 6, 2012

TARP Continues To Be A Mess

If you were doubtful about the wisdom of the government bailing out the banks, then a new book suggests you were right.  Neil Barofsky, who worked in the program, points out its shortcomings (all $70 billion of them, the amount the government is expected to lose on the $700 billion invested) in his book Bailout: An Inside Account Of How Washington Abandoned Main Street While Rescuing Wall Street.

Not surprisingly, his book has proven to be controversial.  The New York Times, of course, defends Wall Street a bit in its review.

I haven't read the book yet, but when I saw the name "Herbert Allison" in the Times review, I have little doubt that Barofsky's version of events is probably the truth.

I have encountered Mr. Allison before.

I haven't been impressed with him.

An employer of mine threw me into TIAA-CREF's retirement plans.

That was nice of them.

I refused to put in any of my own money though after I started reading what ridiculous amounts TIAA-CREF pays its executives.

All Wall Street appears to be insane in terms of salaries and bonuses, but with TIAA-CREF the excessive compensation is especially galling since the company claims to be a non-profit organization, nobly investing  the pension funds of teachers and professors.  In 2008, Allison retired as CEO of TIAA-CREF.  He worked until April of that year and for that he was paid around $13 million dollars.  He also made sure to line up a host of retirement benefits, including an office from TIAA-CREF.  His retirement compensation is described in Wall Streetese, but it looks as if he gets at least a million dollars a year in retirement.  Not bad for a few years of work, eh?

Well!  TIAA-CREF certainly did a great job in helping Allison retire in comfort.  I don't know if the same can be said for me or any of its other average investors (Allison's compensation has to come from somewhere--guess where?).  But Allison's ability to provide for himself at TIAA-CREF has always been noted, even from the beginning of his tenure with the company.

Apparently, the way it works at TIAA-CREF is that the Board of Trustees get paid more a year than I (and probably you as well) do to work what is probably a few days a year and in return they hand out excessive salaries to the executives.

I lost track of Mr. Allison after he left TIAA-CREF, but apparently he unretired and went to work for the government.

He headed up Fannie Mae, and he was in charge of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), the program the government used to bail out the banks after the financial crisis of 2008.

Now let me be charitable:  perhaps Mr. Allison felt he could afford to do some public service, and he certainly has a skill-set that would allow him to deal with large financial organizations, but I wouldn't trust him to sit my cat.

I couldn't afford him anyway.

By contrast, Bush and Obama trusted him with billions of dollars.

Wall Street and Washington really are other worlds.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

YIP!: Rhapsody

Obviously, I like music.  Therefore, I really like a service that lets me listen to pretty much anything I want for only $5 a month, and that's Rhapsody.  I never liked the whole peer to peer piracy phenomenon because I could connect the dots ("But if bands don't make money, then how can they afford to stay together?" "No, man, it's cool, dude; music wants to be free!").  With such low prices, Rhapsody obviously isn't paying much, but at least they're legal and paying record companies and artists something.  Not everything's on there, of course.  Stuff that's out of print isn't, and some bands such as AC/DC have done the math and figured that they're better off just selling cds the old-fashioned way.  So I still buy records.  But a lot of stuff I only listen to once or twice just to see if I really like it, so Rhapsody is ideal for that.  In general, I like most music, but I only really like a bit of music a lot (this year, only Bobby Conn's "Govt" has done it for me).  So hooray for Rhapsody, which helps me find those rare nuggets!  

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Everyone's A Zinester Today!

When I first started researching zines in the 1990s, one of the questions I would ask zine publishers was "What would happen if everyone did a zine in the future?"  I got some thoughtful answers along with some amusing ones ("Xerox stocks would rise" and "There would be no more forests"). 

I thought about that question recently and realized that with the ease of epublishing, even something as simple as a post on Facebook, pretty much everyone does do a zine now.  In the past, one's desire to communicate had to be pretty strong to put up with the hassles of photocopying, stapling, and mailing a zine.  Now, computer technology makes it so easy to publish that almost everyone does so, though they may not be thinking of it as such.  How else can we explain someone sharing with us what they had for lunch on Twitter, or telling us on Facebook that Amishmade pepperoni bread isn't quite as good as Italianmade pepperoni bread, or complaining on a blog that the Dylan Dog movie would have been better if they had actually written a script for it?  Those are all things that we might have shared with friends in the past, but it's unlikely that we would have had such strong feelings about them that we would have published them in print.  Today, no one seems to hold back much before clicking the post or publish button.

Some people might complain that we live in a world of too much information, but if you have a twinge of Freudian thought in you or if you love freedom of speech, then all this babble can only be regarded as fairly healthy for both individuals and society.  Talking is therapeutic, after all.  And, in a democracy, the best way to figure out the right things to do is to argue about them.  There certainly is little repression out there anymore.  And, despite the news splash mass shootings and other violent crimes make, we actually live in a less violent world, according to Steven Pinker in The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.  Maybe people are working out their emotions in a healthier way online.  As a result, on the Internet these days, we all seem to bob around a bit in everyone's consciousness, and that's probably a good thing.

On the other hand, with so many people talking at once, is anyone listening?

Maybe those who really want to have what they say stand out might end up turning to the zine again.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Memo To Future Writers Of Captain America

I just finished reading a stack of Captain America comics (hey, it was July, and I was feeling patriotic!). They were a lot of fun, but the writers seemed to keep running variations of the same plot. So, future Cap writers, please no more plots about something from World War II being secreted away for years and then suddenly popping up in the 21st Century to hassle Cap! I mean I can't get a computer today to read a disk I had from 1992, and you're expecting me to believe that some technology from seventy years ago will suddenly go operational and work perfectly?

If you need an idea, then please try these instead:
1) Cap decides at age 90 that it's finally time to quit running from fatherhood and knocks up Agent 13.
2) Cap tries to bond with the hipsters infesting his hometown of Brooklyn.
3) Cap goes to Pakistan and takes out a couple of American drones that were about to blow up some civilians.
4) Cap goes to a bar and hangs out with Captain Canuck, Union Jack, Captain Chihuahua, and so on, and they watch the Olympics and complain about how hard it is to wear a flagish outfit since they can't go out in the rain without overly patriotic types complaining.
5) Tired of birthers, Cap investigates Obama's birth certificate for himself and is shocked to discover the president prefers Spider-Man.
6) Cap gets people from Occupy and the Tea Party to bond over how much they both hate the government.
7) Cap and The Falcon wear tight pants and go planking in a hopeless attempt to understand the youth of today.
8) Cap beats up lobbyists in Washington D.C.
9) Cap reads too much Ayn Rand and gets brainwashed into raving about the magic of the marketplace (a "plot" of The Red Skull, of course!).
and 10) Cap struggles with going on Social Security and Medicare while he's still healthier than most teenagers.

 I really hope I don't have to resort to writing fan fiction.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

That Film Was Delicious!

A film, or maybe not a film, is coming to The Cleveland Cinematheque next month, and, like many of the films shown at the Cinematheque, it sounds interesting.  However, this one sounds even more interesting than the others.  Making any work of art is a struggle, even if it's kind of fun at the same time, but making a movie has to be a particular pain in the wazoo.  There is sound, there is lighting, there is equipment, there are actors, there is the weather, blah, blah, blah.  Now imagine how much harder it gets when your government bans you from making your art.  That's what happened to filmmaker Jafar Panahi from Iran.  Thankfully, he didn't let them stop him from using his freedom of expression (it's a natural right--it doesn't not exist just because some creepy government officials deny it exists).  Panahi, with a lot of help, even got his film shown at the big deal Cannes International Film Festival, though he had to smuggle it out of Iran in a cake.

That's right.  A cake.

His film is called This Is Not A Film.

It's sad that artists around the world still have to fight for things that the Enlightenment should have settled a few centuries ago, but they do.  It's not just religious nutjobs such as the rulers in Iran either.  One can find similar cases in the good old USA.  I'm most familiar with the case of zinester/comics artist Mike Diana, whom the state of Florida forbid to draw or write anything they didn't approve of (he was subject to unannounced searches in his home).  Diana's art is fairly extreme and disturbing, but it's always the extremes where ideas such as freedom of expression get tested.  Nobody ever has a problem with art they like.  It's only with art that is despised.

I'm very happy that I can write and create what I want.  I hope someday that the same can be true for everyone.

Here's the trailer for Panahi's film, er, not a film.      

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The "College Crisis" As Represented In The Pornographic Flabbergasted Emus And Blog Love Omega Glee

As August begins, summer begins to end.  You have probably already seen multiple back to school advertisements and articles.  What's different this year is that among the excitement is a greater than usual amount of worry and dread, particularly centering around those headed off to college.  We're told that we're on the edge of a student loan bubble, that students might be better off skipping college if all they're motivated by is money, and that, due to a variety of factors, the quality of a college education is not quite what it used to be.

While preparing ebooks of Blog Love Omega Glee and The Pornographic Flabbergasted Emus recently, I was struck by how the two novels reflect these issues.  In Emus, the band is enrolled in college whereas in Blog Love Omega Glee, the main characters are college graduates who are underemployed (by the way, five thousand janitors in the USA have PhDs or an equivalent degree).

In fact, Emus might be set in the tail end of the Golden Age of College in the USA.  Even then though, one character drops out of school, deciding that college isn't worth it.  However, his bandmates still seem to be getting some learning out of college as well as having a good time.  Today, it appears that college students are so stressed by the high cost of college that they're working more to pay for college and, as a result, studying less and getting less out of the experience in terms of both learning and fun.  Documenting this phenomenon pretty well is Rebekah Nathan's book My Freshman Year: What A Professor Learned By Becoming A Student.

This situation certainly is a shame.  I had a wonderful college experience, and I hope those days aren't over for today's college students, but I suspect they probably are.  Colleges should hold down costs wherever they can to keep higher education affordable.  That might help.  By the way, it's not faculty salaries causing the costs to rise, as Joe Biden and some others like to claim.  I've taught full time at colleges for years, and I make substantially less than the average high school teacher in the school district I live in makes (and I'm not the only professor underachieving economically.  Many of my fellow PhD graduates are fine scholars and teachers, but are eking out sustenance level livings as adjunct instructors, are unemployed due to the glut of English PhDs, or are employed at marginal institutions on the edge of folding).

The growth in college costs mainly stems from the growth in administration (most of which is probably beneficial, just not necessary), rising healthcare and technology costs (colleges get socked with rising healthcare insurance costs just like every other business, and colleges in the 1960s didn't have computers in every office), declining government subsidies (aside from loans that one can't ever be free of), and having a slightly outdated and inefficient business model (lots of classrooms are empty even on Fridays, not to mention June, July, and August).

With all these academic worries, what would Funnybear do?

Probably just drink another beer.

Some things about college will never change.