One of the extra perks of the weekly comics run is usually the presence of a cute boy or two slaving away at the comic store, providing friendly service and a dose or two of eye candy. Sadly, the last of my favorite cute boys has left my usual shop, but luckily the eye candy is still served up elsewhere. For instance, if I’m picking up my comics downtown I sometimes enjoy handing my credit card over to Jeff from Forbidden Planet, who runs the store with both aplomb and a pretty set of peepers. I wish the store had a little more elbow room to make it easier to shop there, but thank goodness they're still able to serve up something pleasant to look at when I do.
Jeff, someday Google or another magical internet thingamabob may lead you to this site. When you do, don't panic. I’m perfectly harmless, so take this compliment in the spirit with which it is intended and don't panic next time I flash you the pearly whites as I pay for my Fantastic Fours.
In case you hadn't noticed, lately I’ve been on a classic-heroines kick. While stuck in bed with a bad cold a couple of weekends ago, I was hunting down a few images for something I wanted to write about Spider-Woman, and then one thing led to another and I eventually bought a huge pile of old comics off eBay. Since I was following a train of thought, they all fell into a similar category: ass-kicking women I loved as a kid. (Plus some crazy, gorgeous Jack Kirby stuff, but I'll save that for another time.)
Luckily, there is much to love in all those old issues. For all my nostalgia about the comics I grew up with, I’m the first to admit that re-reading them often makes me want to scratch my eyes out. The writing and the artwork and the production of modern comics is usually so sophisticated compared to last century that it can be tough to put yourself back in ther mind-set of what made those older stories so magical. It turns out, though, that those early Dazzler issues had great art by John Romita, Jr., and John Byrne hadn't spiralled into total megalomania yet and Wonder Woman still had a fun contrast of 70s feminism and the timeless objectfication of hot chicks.
I’ve really been most surprised by the pre-Crisis Wonder Woman stuff. There's plenty of the goofiness that came with decades of accumulated plot developments: the Amazons with their advanced spacecrafts and magic bracelets, the invisible robot plane controlled by WW's tiara, the Greek gods dressing pretty much like golden-age superheroes. I expected (and looked forward to) all that, but I guess all the traces of feminism and radical politics and anger-at-man's-world stuff mostly flew past me when I was young. Check out this sequence from Wonder Woman #263 (January, 1980):
All this, of course, is forgotten once Wonder Woman has to battle "The Gaucho, A Real Man!" from the Argentinian pampas who looks like an escapee from Epcot Center and rides a horse with rocket hooves.
OK, picture it. It's 1979 and you're living in pre-Crisis Greenwich Village. You're a dancer who is, perhaps, a little light in the loafers. Oh, surely no one knows for sure, but there's something in the way you wear those purple slacks and those neck chains with such flair. Your boyf...er, your "roommate," Thomas, notices that you have a new neighbor. She's tall, athletic, and has a gorgeous head of hair like some kind of Greek goddess or something. It's shame she wears those dowdy glasses and seems to lose her temper if she can't find those clunky wristbands of hers, but clearly she has some pizazz. What, she used to be a NASA astronaut trainee but just moved back to New York for some glamorous job at the U.N.? Girl, don't tell me that bitch has brains as well as a body like that! And single? Jackpot!
Now, how hard would this rock? Wouldn't you want to lure her into your web of fabulousness and make her your new best friend? Seriously — everyone knows what Thomas is up to when he goes for those "walks" down by the piers, so why shouldn't you find yourself some sassy lassy to gossip with when you go for a cocktail? Those other queens will be so jealous they'll scratch your eyes out when you waltz into Studio 54 with this glamazon on your arm! If only she weren't always disappearing when you least expect it. Doesn't she know hard many twinky chorus boys you had to flirt with to get those tickets to "A Chorus Line"?
(This moment between Diana and Lance taken from Wonder Woman #260, 1979)
The only really awful aspect of my current state of self-employment is that I currently pay for all my health insurance by myself. Until enough time passes that I can switch over to a discounted plan offered through one or the other of my professional associations, I’m paying the full cost of what I got through my old job (under the auspices of the COBRA program). You know, you never appreciate the full scope of that particular benefit until you have to cough up the full cost of that particular kit and its associated caboodle. It turns out I was earning about five grand more than I thought I was.
During my exit interview, after I recovered from the sticker shock of my new insurance payments (shock which I very gracefully hid, thank you), I was warned that my monthly fee would go up a bit come January. Well, in the curious, arcane parlance of the human resources world, "a bit" is actually the layman's term for "over 25 percent." So, yes, I’m especially eager to find a new plan now that I pay more for health unsurance than I pay for rent. In a twisted way, it almost makes me happy that condition at least ensures that I get at least some of my money's worth each month (on top of the increasing copayments and whatnot, of course). I’m not much of a gambler, so if I’m going to lay my money down on the felt each month, I at least know there's a bit of a return.
Our place is filled with the comforting smells of Christmas baking — a warm mix of butter, spice, chocolate, and sugar. As soon as the tree gets hauled in and set up in it's stand, a little fresh pine will be added to the mix. that’s the kind of holiday atmosphere I can appreciate. However, someone across the street thinks that what we really need is the tinny sound of bad Christmas music being blared all down the block from some shitty speakers in his apartment window. Yes, that’s exactly what I need to fill my heart with love this season. That and a BB gun, maybe.
A few selections from What If? #34, a special issue from August 1982 that I consider a class of the genre...
Wednesday, of course, is new-comic day, and an opportunity for me to rattle off some pithy quickies instead of strain myself by trying to articulate anything insightful:
Identity Crisis #7 (of 7): Meh. At least this one had a cover I really liked. This series started off with a pretty powerful emotional kick, but just couldn't hold its momentum across all these months. It might work better as a trade, but I tried rereading a few issues in a batch, and I couldn't get through it without wondering about if it was gonna rain the next day or do we have any cake or is there some Gilmore Girls on the Tivo or something. For a big finale, this wrapped things up tidily, but it's hard to care. Especially when they reveal the killer right at the beginnning and then follow it with blah blah blah blah blah. Oh well. I bought them all, so I guess DC's fiendish plan worked in the end.
Ex Machina #7: Ah, such bliss. I love this book more and more every month, and that’s after I started loving it completely when I read the first issue. I love the overall concept, I love how the characters are written so well, and I really want to see where they go with the new twists they're adding to the story now. Just brilliant.
Space Ghost #1: Ooooh, pretty! Oooooh, not so much fun. If they were gonna make Space Ghost all serious science fiction, I would have preferred the more inventive touch of Warren Ellis or someone.
Birds of Prey #77: This is another series I wish I’d discovered much, much earlier. It's really wonderful. That being said, this issue was a little weak, but I think they're just getting going with a different story arc, so we'll see. Like Joss Whedon, Gail Simone doesn't go too crazy with the plot devices (even though lots of good ideas come into play), instead getting most of the power of each issue from the development of the main characters. That aspect doesn't taper off, even when the action part of the story doesn't kick in so much.
And since the subject came up again recently, I finally bought the first trade collection of Alias, and I feel like a goddam idiot for not paying more attention to it when it was underway. Incredible! Totally, totally incredible. I’m actually really glad that Bendis didn't intend to use Jessica Drew for the main character (as is often thought), because I wouldn't want her taken in this direction, but I think it's even more brilliant for developing a brand new character as if she were an embittered has-been. It's a great story, and surprisingly emotionally resonant. And just funny enough just often enough to keep it really punchy between the grim parts. And don't even get me started on how gorgeous all the covers (by "total snack" David Mack) were. I kinda noticed those right before the series ended, when I decided not to get involved so far into a story. Now, of course, I have to get them all. Curses!
Did anybody else get their 2-CD set of the Kiki and Herb Carnegie Hall Show yet? I just ripped open the package and threw it on, and it's amazing! I’m quivering in delight. I’ve been anxiously awaiting it — especially since I kept running into its producer, who kept giving me updates, and one day even taunted me with the knowledge that he was carrying the only master copy in his bag at that moment. Jerk.
But he was right, it turned out really well, and it was a great decision to turn the microphones on the crowd a lot. I’ve never heard a live recording that quite captures the thunder of an adoring, devoted crowd quite like this. If you were there, you might feel chills all over again. If you weren't there, you'll wish you were. If you don't get it, you probably never will.
But here's a taste:
Total Eclipse of the Heart — Kiki and Herb, Live at Carnegie Hall, September 19, 2004
My discovery of the Dazzler collection distracted me from the post I had originally been writing in praise of Spider-Woman, who ranks up there with my beloved Kitty Pryde as perhaps my favorite all-time comic-book character ever. It pleases me mightily to see her show up in so many comments about beloved, overlooked heroines of the Bronze Age.
There's more than a touch of nostalgia to my love for Spider-Woman, since I haven't seen much of her since the end of her own series back in 1983. (Yes, I loved her before I became distracted by puberty, New Wave, and skater boys.) From what I’ve unearthed about her subsequent appearances, she hasn't quite had the modern redemption that Kitty has had in the last few years (aside from a few appearances in Alias, from what I hear), really fleshing her out as a substantial character apart from the original gimmicks. I’m hoping that Brian Michael Bendis finally gives her some juicy storylines once the New Avengers gets underway.
In fact, she's the only reason I’m really ging the New Avengers a chance, what with the way my whole excitement for them was crushed by the gigantic mess of the Avengers Disassembled arc. Did any of you read that? What a mess, and the start of the new series only showed the tiniest bit of promise. But I like Bendis a lot, and he seems to pulled together characters he already cares about, so maybe he will make me proud with his handling of Spider-Woman. Hell, I don't even know if she still wears the same costume, so even that detail would make me happy.
Even though she has mostly been developed as an independent character, I always felt a little bad that she got a lot of her big breaks because of the tangential relationship to Spider-Man (in name and basic concept, but that’s about it). Her own book and the cartoon series never really took off, and I always suspected that the reason had a lot to do with people discovering how little she actually had to do with the web crawler, and then wondering what her deal was. I was never disappointed, though. She has a backstory with plenty to offer on its own: mutated, aged in suspended animation (much like a fine cheese), raised by a talking humanoid cow, HYDRA agent, private eye, girlfriend of the ghost of an Arthurian wizard. We should all have such a colorful background!
Personally, I’d just like the healing ability. Or maybe the venom blasts, in case someone badgers me on a grumpy day.
Hey, kids, sick of the holiday craziness? Worn out from facing the horror of last-minute shopping when you're already burnt out from work? Dreading another get-together with that branch of the family you never liked? Allergic to egg nog? Sick of hauling out the holly or listening to the Dreidel Song? Of course you are!
that’s why you should be sure to get down to P.S. 122 on Tuesday night for Happy Goddamn Holidays. — a Very Musical WYSIWYG. All musical acts, all-fun, all exactly what you need to make through to the end of the season without a meltdown!
In one of those occasional cross-overs of nelly/nerdy impulses, I just bought the entire run of Dazzler, including another 4-issue Beast/Dazzler mini-series that I hadn't know about before. I read Dazzler for quite a while in my formative years, without it even occurring to me why I might be drawn to a disco-singing mutant who just wanted to be left alone to be a glamorous roller-skating pop star without all the hassle of being different. (Who knew?) As if that weren't gay enough, she was constantly plagued by a blonde Asgardian bitch who was jealous of her career. It was totally the disco Dynasty of the Marvel Universe.
But since the poor dear apparently isn't considered such a hot ticket with the typical comic-book set, the whole thing cost about as much as a couple of trades of Wolverine of something suitably macho. Once the box of the original issues arrives, expect more exciting ads to appear in the sidebars.
While we're on the subject of Iron Man (who I never really loved that much before, either, until Warren Ellis started to make him interesting and Adi Granov made Tony Stark look pretty hot), I stumbled across this post from Blackbeltjones, who caught Ellis' riff on O'Reilly's Emerging Technology conference in the first issue of the new Iron Man. Mr. Jones uses this as a launching point to talk about his own disappointment about the lack of truly new ideas at the conference — Stark's gripe in the comic itself — but this idea is the one that grabbed me the most when I read this issue.
Since I haven't really followed Iron Man before, I’m not sure whether or not this conundrum has shown up before. I always liked the idea, though, that the Marvel universe acknowledges that it has a few giants of scientific invention — Tony Stark, Reed Richards, Henry Pym (sorry, I know there's a pun in that one) — and it looks like this new Iron Man series is going to grapple with how one of them actually uses that genius. Is it for the good of the military, or himself, or society? And of for society, what kind of benefit do they get? This Iron Man series starts out updating his origin wih a criticism of how Stark built his fortune on munitions with incredible destructive power. Stark insists that all those inventions had other applications, as well, and that he used the money to do ther things, but I think we're going to see more of the gritty reality of all that. Poor, boozy Stark has always been portrayed as a troubled hero, but I don't know how much his overall ethics have ever been thrown into the mix before. I may not know Iron man that well, but so far I really dig where this is going.
It seems, though, that it's going to tell the story of Stark's conflict about helping the military. I really would love to see a story somewhere that gets into what would happen if Stark or Reed Richards started tossing off inventions that led to great heaping mounds of fun, useless consumer crap. It's been a longtime staple of the Fantastic Four for Reed to periodically rebuild the Four's fortune with a slew of patents on ideas he's had lying around, but we rarely see what they're for. Clearly the Marvel universe's Prada isn't making clothes out of unstable molecules, so where do all these patents go, and what do they change about everyday life? How would Richards' or Stark's altruism handle a world full of people knocking over convenience stores to buy futuristic cellphones or sneakers based on their ideas? The military, after all, isn't the only place where good ideas can go horribly, horribly wrong when you look at the big picture.