Archive - February 2003
February 27th, 2003


Readers, I appeal to you!!

(...and of course, I realize that some of you are saying to yourselves, in your very best Lou Costello voice, "No you don't."--but please!! This is NO laughing matter!)

Let me explain. Y'see, to my way of thinking, Tuesday night is the best night for network television, week in and week out. It's also the busiest. Thanks to an array of VCRs, I'm able to transform myself into the human Tivo and capture all my favorites for later viewing at my convenience. Needing to be out most of the evening this past Tuesday, I programmed those darlin' little gadgets, and happily went on my way. I'm usually very good at this. For a fella with virtually NO mechanical aptitude, I'm surprisingly adroit with cassette recorder. Errors are extremely rare on my part, but--and I think by now you can see where I'm going with this-- that was not the case on the evening of February 25th.

The first thing I watched upon returning home was Fox's "24". Another splendid installment, even with the by now requisite torture scene included (what's with THAT, anyway?!?...). And though I haven't had time to screen them yet, I was happy to confirm that the latest episodes of "Gilmore Girls" and "Smallville" had taped successfully. But then I came to my third and final tape. Though I popped it out of my daughter's machine (I once pooh-poohed the notion, but now I'm relieved I later relented on her getting one for Christmas, since TV traffic has increased dramatically on Tuesdays) only so as to enjoy my breakfast while watching the previous night's "Jimmy Kimmel Live" (the topic of a whole 'nother rant, for a whole 'nother time), I was suddenly distressed upon glancing at the tape. By all rights, it should have been past the halfway mark, but it didn't look to be any further along than the point it was at when I inserted it the day before!?! No, I wasn't concerned about missing Jimmy. THAT I could live with. It was the absence of the program that should have directly preceded it that brought about a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I'm talking about "Buffy the Vampire Slayer", folks.

"Buffy" is a GREAT show, but it's also a tough sell to those of you who don't watch it. With a name like that, it's hard to convince non-watchers just how good it is. Sorta the Shmuckers of the video world, y'know? There are only a handful of like-minded people in my little Nielsen area, and two of 'em are dependant on ME for passing the tape along so that they too can enjoy the latest antics in Sunnydale, U.S.A! And now word is out that the series will conclude in May! Done! Finished! Over! Friends, I've never missed me an episode before, and with the whole magilla building to an apocalyptic finale, I sure don't want to start NOW!?! Seeing how sweeps are finally behind us, and a rerun is slotted for next week--and most likely several more after that--I have a smidgen of breathing room, time in which to track down that wayward hour. And that, my friends out there in cyberville, is where YOU come in...

Simply put, CAN ANYONE OUT THERE SUPPLY ME WITH A COPY OF FEBRUARY 25TH"S "BUFFY"??? Would it help if I said "PLEASE!!"? Because I will. Several times, if need be. And I'll be more than happy to not only reimburse you for the price of the tape and the postage needed to send it here, but I'm sure I'll be so grateful that I'll express my overwhelming gratitude in some as yet unspecified manner, okay? Please contact me, fellow Buffyphiles, if you can aid me in my hour of need, at the address listed on the contact page. It will be immensely appreciated! But check with me first before sending anything, as I'll obviously only need a single copy. (…and if anyone has that "Jimmy Kimmel", why don't you just hold onto it, hmm? I've already seen more than enough of co-host Don King's loud mouth blaring over everyone else's attempts to speak this week--and there are still two more episodes to go!?! Only in America, only in America!!...)

By the way, I KNOW I programmed Julie's VCR correctly, and I know she didn't use it while I was out. She rarely does--mostly, she just watches her TV. When I took the tape out, it appeared that I never actually turned off the power, which is the method in which this particular machine's timer is activated. I coulda swore I did, but when I realized my mistake, gang, believe me, that's when the swearing REALLY began!?!

Of course, you readers have ALREADY proven to be helpful in the past, and I think now would be as good a time as any to round up some recent comments and corrections that have been pouring in (...okay, okay, trickling...).

Mike Leuszler offers up Rex Smith as the first actor to play Daredevil, a role he assumed for a Hulk teleflick. Mike points out that he's probably best known for playing the Scarlet Pimpernel. Thanks Mike!! I had Shaun Cassidy in mind, but I KNEW that was wrong! Wasn't Rex Smith in "The Pirates of Penzance"??

Also regarding my Daredevil review, and my indignation at the supposed slight to Gene Colan, Randall Kirby write, "Jack Murdock has some dialog about fighting Colan back in the day." In this business, you just gotta trust a guy named Kirby--thanks Randall, I must've missed that one!!

Concerning my new found enthusiasm for the work of composer Philip Glass, John E. Petty checked in to point me towards the score Glass provided for a recent reissue of Tod Browning's 1931 Bela Lugosi classic, "Dracula". While I was unable to locate the DVD, I did manage to scare up the CD. I can happily report that, should you find yourself in need of the proper music to suck blood by, you couldn't go wrong with this as accompaniment!! Nice tip, John!!

Good buddy Rocco Nigro also lent me some Glassworks. Included was an opera that he had no creative involvement with, merely lending his name to the proceedings as a sponsor. The subject? Oh, nothing all that unusual--just a little group known as the Manson Family!?! Mm. I gots me some good--or at least PECULIAR-listening to look forward to!!

The Roc also weighs in on one of the more indefensible points put forth in my Howard the Duck overview: "How can too much Gene Colan be bad??", he rightly admonishes me. How indeed? I don't understand it myself, but it's the way I felt way back when. I never said I always--or even occasionally-- make sense, pal! However, Mr. N makes a great deal of sense in a later email reacting to my Mort Weisinger spiel. Essentially agreeing with me that Mort's achievement's have been somewhat downplayed, he goes on to point out that a lot of what made the Superman Family great were concepts--and creators--"borrowed" from Fawcett's Marvel Family!?! Quite a little trick, that--put your stiffest competition out of business in the courts, and THEN hire your pick of the suddenly unemployed creative staff!?! Otto Binder and Kurt Schaffenberger had an awful lot to do with the unfolding mythos Mort established as the sixties beckoned, just as they had earlier expanded the world of Captain Marvel and family!! Okay, so Supes never had a talking animal for a buddy, but nice call nonetheless, Rocco!!

And don't worry, Roc--I'm working on that "Buffy" problem--SOMEONE'LL get a copy to us! Someone...(dramatic pause, sniffling sound, barely audible sobbing)...HAS to?!?...has

February 26th, 2003

It was like a voice from beyond the grave!

Maybe that sounds a bit overly dramatic, but when I read the transcript of a recently unearthed panel discussion that was recorded at the 1965 New York Comicon in the 20th issue of ALTER EGO, that's just how it seemed to me when legendary Super-editor Mort Weisinger took his turn at the mike!! And if the whole thing made ME feel somehow uneasy, imagine how poor Roy Thomas felt upon actually HEARING the gruff tones ex-employer he'd left under less than amicable conditions mere weeks before this long-lost tape was recorded? Brrr.

Of course, printing interviews with creators who are no longer with us is hardly a unique situation in the publishing field. It's done all the time. Didn't a Roy Crane Q&A see print fairly recently? And another Gil Kane chatfest? Fact is, the other three gents up at the podium alongside Mort--celebrated Golden and Silver Age scripters Otto Binder, Bill Finger, and Gardner Fox--have all long moved on themselves, so why the fixation on Weisinger, you ask?

Well, for one thing, I don't believe I've ever seen an interview with the man, save perhaps something that came out of an official DC Comics source. And I'd certainly not seen him interacting with not only fellow professionals, but with fans as well!! What I do know about the man are the comics he shepherded and the reputation he earned. The Superman Family of titles were responsible for interesting me in the world of comics, and are woefully overlooked for the number of innovations they initiated--in a lot of ways, one could consider Stan Lee's original conception of the Marvel Universe to be a hipper, slightly more adult version of Weisinger's interconnected Superman Family mythos. An unfortunate combination of juvenile silliness and mean-spirited sexism obscured Weisinger's very real achievements in most critics eyes, mine included. But peel away the goofy stuff, and there's a truckload of creativity to be found, most of it coming, apparently, from Mort. As he informs all in attendance, he doesn't leave a paltry matter like a tale's plot to his writers--why over-burden them? Nope. HE gives 'em the ideas, THEY flesh 'em out. And that's probably at the root of that OTHER thing I know about Mr. Weisinger--he was, shall we say, difficult to work with, and far--VERY far-- from well liked. Which is why, reading these words spoken oh so long ago?...

He tells of how he requested the help of his old friend Otto when he first attempted to write a comics story, of how he'll run ideas past Bill and Gardner out in the halls of DC to get their take, how he cherishes the fans input, using it to gauge the success of this work, and how he only wished he was blessed with the expertise of moderator Jerry Bails on a regular basis so that he could advise him on just what it is he's doing right and what it is he's doing wrong!? In addition, he promotes the notion of an esprit de corps amongst comics professionals, and calls the encroaching Stan Lee--and it's interesting to read the comments by the various individuals about the man and his Marvel line at a time when DC finally begins to appear to be taking their newly-minted competition seriously--he calls Stan a sweet and down-to earth man!! In other words, in addition to his many other talents, Mort could sling it with the best of them!! Some folks tend to doubt the veracity of Smilin' Stan's pronouncements, but at least with the ever effervescent Mr. Lee, what spews forth appears, at worst, to be mere exaggeration. Outright lies were, it seems, the province of others.

In all, it's a fascinating piece, and anyone with any appreciation for comics history should be grateful that the afore-mentioned Mr. Bails recently stumbled across the old reel to reel tape that housed this lost treasure. I didn't make it to a New York Comicon until 1973, so reading about the goings on at the second--but first truly substantial--fan gathering back in 1965 held a great deal of interest to me. And beyond the transcript, there's a wealth of additional information regarding that seminal event--and a half issue more on other topics to boot!! Honestly, it's amazing how editor Thomas continuously fills his now-almost monthly magazine so jam-packed with rare art and obscure yet enlightening facts!! If you loved comics back when you could still buy 'em with a handful of change, you've gotta love ALTER EGO!! I'd happily give each and every issue my highest recommendation, but this latest one hit a bit closer to home than most. Wanna see why Roy bailed and happily wound up working for that sweet, down-to-earth man, Stan Lee, after only two weeks of experiencing Weisinger's concept of esprit de corps? Well, while there are no definitive reasons listed here, those amongst you skilled at reading between lines will soon figure out just why Mort wasn't the ideal boss!! After all, you didn't see Professor Bails giving up his day job for the privilege of providing Weisinger with his wise guidance, now did you?...

February 25th, 2003

It all began with a game called Strat-O-Matic.

For those of you who don't know, that's the name of a glorified card game dependent on the real life statistics of major league baseball players for it's play-action. Up until then--early 1966-- I'd successfully managed to avoid any and all interest in professional sports. Even a visit to Shea Stadium two years earlier, the then-brand-new-home of the New York Mets, did little to spark my interest. But when one of my pals--incidentally, the very same one who got me entangled in the whole comics thing--became obsessed with this faux version of the so-called National Pasttime, I soon found myself being drawn into the world of balls and strikes.

The 1966 New York Mets were my inaugural team, and as teams went, they were pretty bad. Which, it turns out, was an improvement--previously, they'd been jaw-droppingly horrible, legendarily terrible, and pitifully, well, pitiful. But they were my guys, and I loved 'em! In that manly way sports fans love their idols, of course. Nothing wrong with that, right? ...heh...

You got yourself a favorite team, you gotta have yourself a favorite player, comprende? I actually had two on that particular squad: second baseman Ron Hunt, and pitcher Dennis Ribant. Hunt was the Mets first homegrown star, a feisty infielder who'd come in as runner-up to Pete Rose in the Rookie of the Year voting two seasons prior. Ribant was a young righthander who finished the '66 campaign with a record of 11 wins, 9 losses, 10 complete games and an Earned Run Average of 3.20. While these may not seem like astounding statistics to some, considering the team he was hurling for, they're pretty doggone impressive, I assure you! If memory serves, I believe Ribant was the first starter in Mets history to record double-digit victories AND come out on the winning side. And on top of all this, after residing in the cellar since their inception in 1962, the Mets eked their way up a notch into 9th place for the very first time in 1966!! With the eternal optimism of a mindless fan, I was feeling pretty good about my boys chances for the next go-round as I anxiously waited for spring training to open up following the '66 season's completion. That's when I received my first harsh lesson in corporate loyalty: before Guy Lombardo could welcome in the New Year, both of my favorite Met players were summarily traded, Mets no more!?! Geez, I sure didn't see THAT coming!?!...

I was angry, I was depressed, I was bummed--yes, I was acting like a true sports fan! Doesn't take long to pick up the cues. I pledged to myself to follow the exploits of my two banished buddies as there careers progressed in unfamiliar climes. Ron Hunt went on to have a fairly long and impressive run in the majors, setting the record for--of all things-- most times being hit by a pitch!?! Ouch! It ain't the Hall of Fame, but anything to get in the record book, I guess... Dennis Ribant's life after New York was far less notable. In a mere total of six seasons, he eventually compiled a lifetime record of 24-29, with a 3.87 ERA while playing for six different teams. Apparently, he'd peaked with the Mets in 1966, and what I didn't know during the months leading up to the 1967 season, the Mets knew they had a kid by the name of Tom Seaver heading toward training camp, on the road to his own, genuine Hall Of Fame career. This allowed Mets officials to comfortably trade their best pitcher, even though the fellow they got in return--centerfielder Don Bosch--turned out too be a complete and unmitigated bust, banished to the minors before mid-season, never to be heard from again. At least I didn't make the mistake of adopting HIM as my new hero. Instead, I soon became a Seaver acolyte, and the pain of Ribant's dismissal faded. Still, he was the object of my devotion that first year--again, the macho kind, you understand--and that's not something you ever forget. Ever. Which is why when his name turned up in the news the other day, I felt motivated to take this little stroll down memory lane with you folks.

No, this is not a eulogy. He's not dead. He's been arrested. Tax fraud, with a bribe charge thrown in for good measure. You really think an auditor is gonna clam up for $4000.00 in cash? Allegedly, Ribant did. Bad pitch selection. Now, at age 61, a life insurance salesman, he finds himself in hot water with the IRS. And he thought pitching to Willie Mays with the sacks juiced was tough!! Hoo Boy!! The next time he wants to play ball, it's gonna be with the D.A.! All I can do is wish my old childhood hero the best of luck in beating the Feds, but it won't be easy--they've got a tough team.

Y'know, I haven't seen a Strat-O-Matic set in decades. They update 'em every year, I understand-all new stats in every hitting, fielding, and pitching category. But I gotta wonder-- given the times, do you think maybe there's a place on those little cards that list felonies, misdemeanors, and convictions alongside the more traditional batting averages, won-loss records, and strikeouts? Sadly, it would somehow make a certain amount of sense, wouldn't it?...

February 24th, 2003


I have fond memories of Howard the Duck's inception--hatching, if you will. Before I got into the comics biz, I frequented many a New York City Comics event, whether it was a then-monthly one-day affair or the less frequent larger full-blown Conventions. Aside from tracking down old--and even new--comics, the lure of these gatherings was the proximity it allowed me to the folks who toiled away in my (hopefully) chosen field. Here, one could casually chat with the writers and artists responsible for the books that populated the local newsstand each and every month. There were a handful of regular attendees I always enjoyed jawing with (and isn't THAT a quintessential Stan Lee-type term?), but undoubtedly, my favorite was a scribe by the name of Steve Gerber!

Along with that other Steve--Englehart, gang--Gerber was responsible for the comics that most inspired me during that period. He had a slightly twisted way of looking at things, and mixed with a sincere appreciation of the Marvel mythos, it made his Defenders and Man-Thing stories a joy for this Marvel maniac to read. And in person, the guy was as down to earth and friendly as they came. I never felt uncomfortable talking with him, and although I never actually told him my name--that seemed presumptuous somehow--I felt a certain level of kinship with him. That's why I was so happy for Steve, when, over the course of the better part of a year, Howard's almost accidental appearance in a Man-Thing episode sparked a vigorous interest in Gerber's work and the tentative plans to spotlight his unorthodox creation. I vividly recall being in the audience when Steve announced from the podium that the Duck was slotted for a back-up tale of his own, one to be illustrated by none other than Neal Adams himself!? Whoa!! The crowd went wild, and why the duck not? Something truly unique was slipping out of Marvel Comics, and it all seemed to benefit a truly talented--and truly nice--guy! Of course, nothing's ever THAT easy, and before you could say " Hey look! A Steranko effect!", the terminally tardy Mr. Adams had been replaced by the young up and coming Frank Brunner. But just getting something as outré as Howard into print seemed like a victory in and of itself, and hard-core fans everywhere were thrilled to pieces when the 9 page "Frog Death" appeared in 1975's GIANT-SIZE MAN-THING #4 (please, no more jokes about that title--they've all been done, and I've done more than my share...)! Who knew then that after but one more back-of-the-book appearance, Marvel would be issuing a regular HOWARD THE DUCK comic book, and not only would it be successful, it'd become a publicity magnet!! Wow!! This sure was a swell turn of events!! Or...was it?...

HOWARD THE DUCK #1 has the unfortunate distinction of ushering in an era allowing unscrupulous comics dealers to practice their price gouging on not only old comics, but on brand new ones as well. There were many an outlet that refused to sell you a HTD#1 for cover price, even in it's first week of release. I know--I went to a few. And, I should add, didn't go back. Now, obviously, Mr. G didn't have any control over these sad turns of events, but they might've served as a wary warning of what was yet to come.

The first casualty was artist Brunner, who jumped ship after only two issues. Following the requisite John Buscema fill-in, Marvel mainstay Gene Colan took hold of the pencilling reins with HTD#4, a position he'd command for a majority of the Duck's first run. Concurrently producing his greatest work on the TOMB OF DRACULA series, and with his long, on-again/off-again DAREDEVIL tenure fresh in everyone's mind, he seemed a bold choice for the assignment. By all accounts, he enjoyed the opportunity to try for the humor/horror/action trifecta, but as much as I love the man's work, it just didn't work for me. It's not that there was anything really wrong with his actual art, it's just that--crazy as this sounds--there was just TOO MUCH of it!?! Howard needed an individualistic look, something Brunner, though not nearly the genius Colan was (and is), brought to the table. Gene was pumping out so many pages for Marvel in those days, and wonderful as they may've been, the sheer volume worked to Howard's disadvantage. HTD looked like just another Marvel book as a result, albeit a beautifully drawn one. An odd complaint, I know, but folks, it was an odd book. Which brings me to the matter of the stories...

Admittedly, I haven't read them since they first came out a quarter century back, but after the several initial stand alone episodes, the book succumbed to the continuously continuing stories so prevalent in the Marvel Comics of that era (and, gee, every era that's followed since!?).That approach worked for SPIDER-MAN and THOR, but it made Howard into just another protracted serial. Paging through the recently released massive ESSENTIAL HOWARD THE DUCK Volume 1, I'm afraid I was unable to recall much of what was going on in the stories, save for those first few tales. And I think that's because, without actually realizing it until now, I'd always liked the IDEA of Howard the Duck far better than I liked the actual execution of Howard the Duck, no cheap gag intended. The concept of a funny animal character inhabiting a world populated by costumed adventurers was a novel, even brilliant one for the mid-seventies. Donald Duck meets Superman--who wouldn't want to see that? But after that first rush wore off, what to do? The closest thing the mainstream had to the groundbreaking underground comics had a lot of artistic baggage riding on it, and after all the publicity subsided, it became primarily a vehicle for Gerber's not always subtle satiric swipes. Somehow, the skewed sensibility that made many a DEFENDERS epic so much offbeat fun wasn't quite as effective when no holds were barred anywhere along the way.

We all know what came next--a losing battle against Marvel for control of his creation, that infamous movie, and a Gerberless black and white magazine notable only for some gorgeous Mike Golden art and as evidence that no one else had the ability to write Howard with any clearer idea than his originator did, either. And then, last year, the long awaited reunion of Gerber, the Duck, and Marvel Comics in a six-issue mini-series. Better late than never? Now out in trade paperback, I finally got around to reading the comics version last week. It pains me to say so folks, but, well, I didn't much care for the update.

Problems? Artist Phil Winslade is okay, but wouldn't be my first choice for the assignment. Or my second, or even third, y'know? And while sending it out under the MAX Comics label would seem to make a certain amount of sense, does it REALLY improve things story-wise to enable Howard the luxury of repeatedly spitting out the "F" word? And how about the graphic depiction of a shower scene that contains wacky, accidental sexual contact between our star and his long-suffering lady friend Beverly?? Forget "Waauugh"--that deserves a "Ewwwww", don'tcha think?? Okay, there were some cute swipes at DC's Vertigo line--where swearing was first made safe for the titans of our childhood-- followed up by the almost obligatory rants against Big Corporations, Big Religion, and Big Ol' Oprah! But by far and away the biggest misstep Gerber and company made was the choice to transform Howard into a mouse (or rat, as most of the other characters perceived him) throughout a majority of the series!?! Why? WHAT were they thinking? It can't still be that old Disney bugaboo, can it? Or was this Mr. G's way of saying "@#$% you, Marvel! Here's yer HOWARD THE DUCK comic, only there ain't gonna be any Howard the Duck in it!! (…to speak of, anyway...)" Or was it someone's notion of being wackily nonconformist?? Woo hoo, indeed. It might've made for a cute gag for an issue or even two, but the blatant overuse diluted whatever impact Howard's return justly merited. Say what you will about a character being more than just an outer shell, ladies and gents. In comics, the fans pay their money to SEE that outer shell!! And it was especially disappointing not to see feathered fowl turn up on any of Glenn Fabry's well-executed covers, easily the most successful artistic aspect of this entire endeavor. My tepid reaction to this return of a seventies icon doesn't bode well for the MASTER OF KUNG FU redux authored by log ago faves Moench and Gulacy awaiting me from atop my must read pile. At least if I don't like the KILLRAVEN, and CAGE comebacks I can always blame new personnel for mucking things up. With Howard--and potentially, MOKF--the culprits are the keepers of the flame, making a miss doubly troubling. I'll have to get back to you on that Shang Chi saga...

Steve Gerber's work meant a tremendous amount to me when I was in my twenties. The lead story in GIANT-SIZE MAN-THING #4 (again, please try to stifle the cracks), "The Kid's Night Out", remains one of my all time most memorable reading experiences. And the Vertigo book he concocted with artist Winslade's help--NEVADA; y'know, the one about the showgirl and her pet ostrich?--I enjoyed the creative duo's work on that project immensely!! I hesitate to bad mouth his most famous creation, but I went into this vowing to share my honest reaction to the revival of Howard the Duck with you, and this, I'm afraid, is it.

I never ran into Steve again once Howard had picked up a head of steam, and we've never crossed paths since I've achieved my desire to work in the funnybook field, but if I ever did bump into him, you know what I'd ask? Not Chico Marx's immortal query "Why a duck?", but rather the more appropriate "Why NOT a duck??" Why not, indeed...

February 16th, 2003

Under the pretense that I was serving you, my loyal audience, I packed up my happy little family and dragged them off to the local mall for a matinee viewing of the brand spanking new "Daredevil' flick. What follows isn't exactly a full-blown review--you'll certainly be able to find your fair share of those things floating around--but more a series of impressions, asides, and quirky comments. You know, the usual. And while it's not my intention to spoil anything for those of you who haven't seen it yet, be advised, I intend to reveal small, insignificant, and petty points of interest in my reflections. Nothing big, though. I promise not to say anything about Orson Welles' sled, honest...

First off, did I like it? Yeah, and more than I expected to, I must admit. Ever since that horrible third Batbomb, I've approached any movie based on a comic book property rather trepidatiously--if I approached them at all! (my thoughts on George Clooney as the Darknight Detective? Couldn't tell you. Didn't see the fourth film. Didn't want to. Still don't.) "X-Men' cautiously drew me back in, and "Spider-Man" proved to me that "Superman the Movie" wasn't a one-time fluke. Still, would lightning strike twice? I mean, that getup didn't look all that impressive in the still photos I'd seen, and a bad outfit can kill the best of intentions in something like this. But you know what? Somehow, on film, it worked. The subdued lighting, the quick cuts, the way Affleck carried himself--all these things contributed to putting over the crimson duds, a battlesuit that appeared believably functional without being unnecessarily garish. And no plastic nipples! I missed the double D symbol, true, but it popped up often enough in other guises to satisfy any unfulfilled craving I may've had for it. One such guise was particularly inventive--in fact, you might say it was a gas!...

The stars? They all did a nice job. Understand that I don't watch "Alias', and I believe this is the first time I've actually seen Affleck in a movie, having previously seen him exclusively during one of his many talk show visits. I don't think you could ask for a better Elektra than Jennifer Garner, who was not only able to convincingly go from tough to tender as the story dictated, but handed the physical demands of the role admirably. As for Affleck, well, in all honesty, Ben seems to be a bit of a stiff, but then, Matt Murdock was never the most scintillating character in the Marvel pantheon, was he? So who knows? Maybe that was just acting. At least he had the decency to keep the dark glasses on half the time, which is more than I can say for the last actor to portray the blind barrister. That vain thespian, whose name sadly escapes me at the moment, eschewed the eyewear whilst guest starring in the last telefilm produced utilizing the Ferrigno/Bixby Hulk.

I liked the fellow who portrayed Franklin Nelson (NEVER "Foggy", you'll notice...)--where have I seen him before? David Keith did a nice job as Jack "The Devil (Formerly Battling)" Murdock, and the big guy, Michael Clarke Duncan, made for a convincing Kingpin. Prior to the film's release, I heard some murmurs of dissatisfaction that a black actor was hired to fill the role, thus going against the established caucasionability of the original comics character, but c'mon people, who ELSE you gonna get? George Wendt just wouldn't have been nearly as effective--you know that as well as I do!! And Joey Pants as reporter Ben Urich? He did okay with a mostly reactive role, but I've gotta ask--does he EVER take that @#$% beret off??? He wears it every time he drops by to chat with Regis, Conan, Jay and all the rest--seeing him in it here made me think he was going off to do the Letterman show as soon as the director yelled "Cut!"!?! Did he have that on his head--back when he had a head--on "The Sopranos", too? (…Someday, I've gotta see that show...) Ditch it pal--it's spoiling the illusion.

And Colin Farrell? Well, everyone else is raving about his turn as Bullseye--why should I be any different? Unlike his two brethren in over-the-top performances, Willem Dafoe as the Green Goblin and Jack Nicholson as the Joker, I never found myself tiring of THIS homicidal maniac! Of course, as a sort of supporting villain, Bullseye didn't have to carry the film the way the other pair did, but I found him so entertaining to watch that I surely hope they expand his role in the inevitable sequel! (Oh, and if you haven't seen "Daredevil" yet, don't leave the venue too soon--there's an amusing little tag to Farrell's story buried a short ways into the end credits scroll.)

As for the story and the direction, well, I found both suitably dark. The origin was wrapped up efficiently, with several reasonable modifications on the comic's version. The main story relied heavily on the groundbreaking Frank Miller stories, with visual images at times perfectly mirroring images long burned into the minds of us aging comics geeks. Daredevil grasping a cross atop a cathedral and Elektra's final encounter with Bullseye are two outstanding examples of the influence Miller's work had on this production. There wasn't much of the fun that was found in the Webhead's cinematic debut, but this story had a more consistent tone to it, which ultimately worked to its advantage. Not as easy to love as "Spider-Man", but hard not to respect in it's refusal to succumb to the light and breezy aura expected of comics' derived productions.

Flaws? Uh huh. One blatant misinterpretation? Matt never seemed to make ANY attempt to hide his enhanced abilities while in his sightless shyster suit. The preposterous, if endearingly cute, encounter with the Lady Garner on the playground was probably the most unbelievable scene in the scenario--and this is a flick about a blind fella who dresses up in red leather to fight the bad guys, remember!?! I was also disturbed by the sequence with DD and a thug named Quesada. Admittedly, I haven't read the comic in years, but the crime fighter I grew up with would've never let that particular situation develop to it's unnecessarily gruesome conclusion. Perhaps we fans would've found that bit easier to swallow if the unfortunate crook had been referred to as "Jemas", hmm?...

Yeah, the in-jokes were fun, fast, and furious, but still a bit distracting--if you even caught them!! I didn't realize that the priest Matt confessed to was a "Father Everett" until I read about it in a magazine article after I got home. A tip of the cowl to co-creator Bill Everett was swell, as were the other familiar cartoonists names sprinkled throughout, but then making absolutely no nod to Gene Colan was criminal under the circumstances. Perhaps they're saving it for DD2? Or maybe I just missed it. And what a unique opportunity we were given to assess the acting range of three former Daredevil scribes: Kevin Smith had several lines in a fairly substantial scene, Stan Lee got to move around somewhat and react silently, and Frank Miller? Well, to say his performance was stiff would be paying him a compliment...

And as an aside, here's an interesting correlation between Marvels two recent crime fighting cinematic manifestations: in both cases, the comics series original leading ladies--Betty Brant in "Spider-Man", Karen Page in "Daredevil"--are reduced to a single scene as receptionists, left unnamed, save for the oft-overlooked final credits, callously shoved aside in favor of showier female characters that strutted along years later. Sorta like when Margot Kidder played hardball with the "Superman" producers-- and lost-- prompting the arrival of Lana Lang on the scene in that series third entry...

So go see it. It's not bad. That's my review. As for the rest of the posse, though she liked it, Lynn rightfully thought it was a bit too violent--what isn't these days?--and Julie begrudgingly gave it a thumbs up, though she'd rather have been have been taking in an Adam Sandler opus with her buddies--when doesn't she these days?--but judging from the coming attractions preceding our feature presentation, we'll all be going back to the theater again before too long. Y'see, they ran trailers for three--yup, three-- comics related films: "X-Men2", naturally, "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" (distilled, rather crudely, down to an "LXG" abbreviation, apparently in hopes of tricking some clueless kids into believing they're seeing some sorta rap flick and not an adventure yarn set in the Victorian era...), and the new Steve Martin starrer, "Bringing Down The House". What's that? You've seen the ads and don't recall any comic's connection to that film? Well, frankly neither did I--until the unseen announcer introduced Steve's character as a "Peter Sanderson"!! Wow! It sure was a nice surprise to discover that someone financed a tale dealing with the wacky real life antics of the comics' field all time top researcher!! Good for you, Pete!! Can't wait to see Steve Martin tear into that almost raw steak, while at the same time, effortlessly quoting the wisdom of E.C Segar!! I ask you, can a Hembeck film be that far behind?…

February 14th, 2003


The Oscar race has begun. This year, I'm pulling for Felix.


War with Iraq? It just might be worth it if we could get Bob Hope out there in front of the troops one last time.


My good buddy, the oh-so-talented cartoonist Bill Alger, occasionally emails me his thoughts on recent broadcasts of mutually beloved television programs. Allow me to share with you his concise commentary. Bill?...

"My current TV show reviews:

24-Still great (I thought Reza was going to last a while. Poor guy...)
Angel-Very good.
Buffy-Good but not amazing.
X Files-They seem to be repeating themselves this season."

Thanks, guy!! While his first three analyses may be open to debate, you gotta admit, he nailed that last one right on the head, didn't he?...


During the nineties, Marvel employed a colorist by the name of Steve Dutro, and call me crazy, but every time I'd open one of their books and scanned the credits, my heart would skip a beat, momentarily laboring under the false impression that Spider-Man's co-creator, Steve Ditko, had FINALLY come home!?! And then, just as regularly, the realization of my error would sink in, and it was like that day AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #38 came out all over again!?! The pain, the pain...


Back when I still actually went to the movies, I recall being befuddled by a trailer for an upcoming romantic comedy. The source of my confusion came from the puzzling array of names associated with the film. First off, the title character was saddled with the ambigously gender specific name of "Maxie" ( it was gal, folks) Then, to compound this situation, the two stars, though well-known now, had a hard time opening a flick in 1985. Hey, would YOU'VE coughed up the price of a ticket to see a love story played out between a leading lady named Glenn and a leading man named Mandy?!? Maybe NOW, but back then, Close and Patinkin didn't mean nearly enough to overcome the public's understandable gender confusion. The movie bombed.


Speaking of amour, Happy Valentine's Day, all!! There are many ways to celebrate this glorious day, but I'd sincerely advise against the Chicago Prohibition Gangster method. It gets plenty messy, and in the end, just leads to buying more and more flowers...

February 12th, 2003

I've been told I have odd tastes. Repeatedly. I suppose considering Bob Hope one of my favorite singers falls under that heading. That's right, singer. Oh, I like him just fine as a comedian, too, but as a crooner, well, while I wouldn't call him unparalleled, I do find his voice warmly appealing.

Which is why I seem to be building up a substantial collection of musical Hope CDs. Mostly, they're duets, many with various leading ladies, and quite a few find him teamed with his old Paramount buddy, Bing Crosby. Their amusing performance of the of "The Road To Morocco" never fails to get my toes a-tapping and my face a-smiling. Novelty numbers, the occasional ballad, cowboy songs--that was primarily ol' ski-nose's recorded legacy, or so I thought. The other day, "A Date With Bob Hope", a 1999 compilation from EMI/Capitol arrived in my mailbox, and besides including further examples of the aforementioned genres, the Hope oeuvre was shockingly expanded by one--yes folks, I'm here to inform you that, once, long, long ago, Bob Hope actually sang a rock and roll tune!?!

Oh, but it wasn't at all like his traveling companions stab at "Hey Jude"--unlike Der Bingle's attempt at covering a known quantity, Bob had his very own rock ditty written especially for him. Specifically, it was composed as the title tune for the 1963 Hope vehicle, "Call Me Bwana". Anybody out there see that one? Anybody? No? Me neither. As big a fan as I am of Bob's, I know well enough to avoid most of his flicks after the mid-fifties, this one being no exception to that rule. Oh, I was aware of it --with a title like that, how could you not be? But I wanna tell ya... My Maltin Guide says it concerns our boy on an African safari vacation, and costars the lovelies Anita Ekberg and Edie Adams, with dramatics provided by that noted thespian, Arnold Palmer(!?) But what Leonard isn't telling you is that Bob "Rockin'" Hope emotes the opening number like he was in serious running to replace Elvis whilst the King did his service time!?!

How then to describe the swinging sounds mine privileged ears funneled into my crazy cranium? Well, let's see now-- how many of you out there have heard the classic 1960 recording by the immortal Sam Cooke, "Chain Gang"? Y'know--"Ooo Ahh, Ooo Ahh"? Apparently, you weren't the alone, since that was not ONLY the sound of the men working on the chain gang; it was ALSO the sound of the ersatz natives backing up Bob as his tribal chorus!! Unfortunately, no composing credits are included with this CD. Otherwise I'd be able to share with you the name(s) of the purveyors of this little bit of melodic larceny. Instrumentally, the track is heavy on percussion, brass, and, oh yes, echo. It sounds every bit like what you'd expect from a middle-aged record producer who thinks he's FINALLY figured out what this rock and roll nonsense is all about back in 1963. In other words, pure pap for then people. Still, it does a fairly nice job approximating an actual rock song, and, by the way, did I happen to mention the vocal performance?...

You wouldn't believe your ears, people! Bob sings the lyrics with a breathy, almost hiccupping delivery that tends to give each syllable it's own musical note--except in those sections where, conversely, he's called upon to cram a whole lotta words into a short snippet of time!? Mr. Hope had obviously been studying his Conway Twitty platters (and probably the Platter's platters, too!!)! And oh those deathless lyrics!! Perhaps my favorite snatch of words is this stanza: "All the village maidens fall at my feet, (Chorus) Ca-awll Me Buh-wah-ana, Then they start twisting primitively Americana". Almost as much fun is when Bob starts scatting nonsense such as "Oh zombie mungo mango, ee teenie wango walla ooka wallie woo" And then, after lasciviously leering into the microphone to intone, "Girls, watch your step--big bwana's in town", Bob delivers one of his trademark wolf growls as the number heads inexorably toward the fadeout!! To my way of thinking, it was a mistake not to utilize this verbal leer earlier and more prominently in the recording, as just a year later, the legendary Roy Orbison pilfered it, making it a distinctive part of his most successful ever 45rpm, "Oh, Pretty Woman". I love that song, and in fact actually bought the single when it came out in '64, but am I the only one who thinks of Bob Hope every time he hears Orbison growl? Yeah, I know-- probably.

In any event, to the best of my knowledge, "Call Me Bwana" saw no action whatsoever on the charts. Hey, what a surprise, huh? Can you just imagine what the genius who hatched this idea said to his colleagues when he first presented them with the notion? "Fellas, the kids are tired of singers like Elvis, Frankie Avalon and Fabian--they want something new, and yet, somebody who's a real pro!! I tell ya, how could they not love a rockin' Bob Hope--but we'll throw a Twist reference t in, just to cover our backsides. Can't fail! Can not fail!" Folks, that man went on to great things. I believe he soon became one of McDonald's original fry cooks.

And yeah, the audience was hungering for a new sound in '63, but that's where the Beatles came in. Bob Hope had to make do with his perpetually ongoing comedy career and leave the rockin' to those better qualified. But I'm here to testify, after getting past the initial shock--I first spun this disc in the car, and while I didn't quite come near to driving off the road, it's only because past experience has prepared me for just about anything, even this--I have to honestly say the funnyman with the under-appreciated vocal chops acquitted himself far better than you might ever have expected. Still, as much praise as I'm heaping on this oddity, there's every good reason why "Call Me Bwana" didn't come close to replacing Bob's traditional theme song, "Thanks For The Memories" in his act. For one thing, transporting that group of native backup singers around to gigs would've started adding up pretty darn quickly. But believe you me, the next time that two-star feature (thanks for the tip, Len) shows up on the late show, I'm setting the VCR!! After all, I'd be teed off if I missed Arnold Palmer's acting debut yet again!?!..

February 11th, 2003

Time for a little update concerning the current goings on with several selected members of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The most recent issue of ROLLING STONE, #916, featured a succinct and persuasive piece concerning Pete Townsend and his recent troubles. Evidence points to foolishness on his part, but seems to indicate that the whole " I'm writing a book" alibi isn't just a lame story, rather it is indeed the truth. Still, he appears quite aware that he screwed up badly, and I for one hope the Who guitarist isn't unfairly judged by a hasty, ill-informed public for anything worse than gross stupidity. I've noticed Leno has stopped making with the bad jokes, so maybe that's a good sign.

The very same edition of RS plastered perennial favorites, the Fab Four, on their cover, trumpeting the news of the recovery of hours upon hours of long-lost tapes from the ill-fated "Let It Be" project. Always good to see the boys displayed so prominently, but I'm not sure how excited I can get at the notion of a stripped down version of the original album being released at this late date. After all, with the trove of bootleg recordings in my collection emanating from those sessions, I have to wonder just what's going to hook me into plunking down some more coinage for it? Probably the fact that it's a quote, new Beatles album, unquote, will be enough. Sigh. We devoted fans can be real suckers, you know. Oh well, at least Sir Paul can finally realize his lifelong dream of having " The Long And Winding Road" released without Phil Spector's eleventh hour addition of strings slapped onto it. The entire recording, in fact, is to be de-Spectorized. And...

...the way things appear to be going, so will the whole recording industry soon enough. Now, I know this all from the alleged file, but c'mon. I'm familiar enough with the one-time wunderkind producer's history to know that, in the category of "Least Likely To Shoot and Kill a B-Movie Actress" they're still lining up out around the block to stand in front of Phil! A well documented fascination with guns, lotsa booze, and strange, reclusive behavior--gee, do you think he did it? Maybe? The guy made some great records back in the early sixties, though. That Christmas disc is a stone cold classic. He's the genius who invented the Wall Of Sound--now his lawyers are working on perfecting the Wall Of Silence! You gotta wonder, though, what crossed Macca's mind when the news of his one-time (and one time only) musical collaborator's troubles hit the newswires last week. Perhaps The Cute One didn't even notice, too taken was he by the British airing of the widely watched documentary concerning another sour note from his musical past, broadcast Stateside a few nights later under the title " Living With Michael Jackson"...

Michael, Michael, Michael!!! My gosh, people, did you SEE that thing?? Yeah, I know it was like a train wreck, and I'm not proud, but I couldn't NOT watch. Hey, I had my day as a fan--boy, those early Jackson 5 hits still sizzle, and I too got caught up in the whole "Thriller" craze (lured in, initially, as were a lot of aging white boys, by his rather sappy duet with, yes, Paul McCartney). I remember running out to get "Off the Wall" after repeated listenings to "Billie Jean" and "Beat It" made me insatiable for Michael Jackson product. But, y'know, it proved to be all too much, and by the time "Bad" was released several years later, I was off the bandwagon. But those were two very fine albums. It's just too bad I can't bring myself to listen to them anymore. The guy just got too weird as the years went on, and then this whole thing with the kids just sealed the deal for me. It's one thing to listen to someone who's maybe a little bit nuts but essentially harmless like a Prince--it's a whole 'nother thing to try and hum along to the tunes of a man accused of doing what Jackson's been accused of doing. And you sit there, listening to him try and defend his peculiar views on adult/child sleepovers, and you think, for maybe a moment, " Could he be telling the truth? Is this all just an innocent eccentricity of a sheltered, grotesquely rich entertainer? I mean, he certainly seems sincere in what he's saying..." And just when you might find yourself willing to cut the guy some slack, he just as forcefully insists that he's only ever had a mere two plastic surgeries!?! HE believes that, but folks, a raise of hands among the rest of you who willingly swallowed that line. Hmm. I thought so. (You can put your hand down now, LaToya...) It's a sad case, an unfortunate situation, no doubt about it.

To underscore the amount of damage that interview did to Michael's public perception, let me point out that on Sunday, daughter Julie, who only caught snippets of the program's finale, spent the day with her friend mocking Jacko. (No, they're not familiar with the music, nor do they care to be.) First they built a snowman out front, named it Michael Jackson, and then proceeded to perform repeated plastic surgeries on its nose! Perhaps as a foreshadowing of the real Jackson's ultimate fate, after too much invasive sculpting, Snow Jacko collapsed!! Coming inside from the cold, the girls then chose to amuse themselves by pretending to interview each other as the aptly named Wacko Jacko. Motown's Peter Pan contends that he loves all children, but I doubt he would've warmly welcomed the girls somewhat cruel but nonetheless understandable play acting had he witnessed it. One thing I will say after viewing this travesty--I'm convinced, Michael, totally and forever: Billie Jean was NOT your lover, and the kid is not your son. If he was, he'd most assuredly have a hankie over his head...

Ending on a high note, it was announced recently that a new Ringo Starr CD, "Ringo Rama", will be released at the end of March. Yes, that's the kind of guy I am--I can still get excited at the prospect of a new Ringo album hitting the shops. Actually, that's not as nutty as it may seem, as the legendary drummer's last two studio projects--"Vertical Man" and the holiday themed " I Want To Be Santa Claus"--were sharp returns to form, no doubt helped along by some splendid production work on behalf of Mark Hudson, late of the Hudson Brothers. I am so there when this thing drops, and friends, look for my review to follow shortly after!!

Until then, my best advice to you all is to just...."Act Naturally'...

...unless of course, you happen to be a member of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in which case it'd probably just get you in hot water!...

February 10th, 2003

A few weeks back, I explained how I had lost my interest in the current comics scene and had all but given up reading the recent releases. I then proceeded to dip my toe into the water and promised I'd consider, oh, I don't know--going in up to my waist, perhaps? Well, I took another plunge, and this time the currents weren't quite so favorable. No, this isn't all leading up to some sorta Aquaman overview--we're talking Dark Knight Detective here, fans. You know--Batman?

Truth is, before I even considered abandoning my almost ritualistic need to keep up with the latest happenings in the field, I'd turned my back on ol' pointy-ears. It came about sometime during the rather dubious "No Man's Land" extended crossover event. Four Bat-titles, one ill-conceived all encompassing story arc, and no apparent end in sight!?! Yeah, there were some gritty, effective episodes buried deep within that morass, but I found the linchpin concept to be so fundamentally flawed that I just couldn't suspend my generally oh-so-suspendable belief to appreciate all the hard work the various authors and artists invested in their individual chapters. As I faintly recall the situation, Gotham City has been separated from the rest of the country by, what? An earthquake? Doesn't really matter. The salient point was that once cut off from the rest of the denizens of the DC universe, said denizens blew a collective--and heartless-- raspberry at the suffering Gothamites, deciding en masse to offer absolutely no aid to their erstwhile neighbors.!?! "You're on your own, fellas--good luck handling those escapees from Arkham Asylum!!" Yeah, right. We're supposed to believe that Batman's pals in the Justice League of America would just casually sit by and do nothing, allowing all sorts of lawless havoc to run rampant!?! Sorry, but it made absolutely no sense to me. Now, I believe I heard later that the whole matter of the JLA was dealt with somewhere down the line, but I'd bailed on Bats long before I managed to get anywhere near that chapter. So, outside of the titles inspired by the nifty animated series, I'd all but turned my back on the Caped Crusader until I liberated my copy of BATMAN BLACK&WHITE VOLUME TWO (hereafter known as BM: B&W2) from it's cellophane shrink wrap a few days back.

Remember the slogan the comics biz flaunted during Batman's earliest days, "All in color for a dime"? Well, howsabout trying this one on for size--"All in artsy black and white for a nickel short of forty bucks"!?! Oh, sure, it's a beautifully produced, slightly oversize hardcover edition as opposed to the four color pulp paper product of the past, but don't start thinking you're getting any sort of a bargain just quite yet. The book clocks in at a not-overly-impressive 176 pages, and while 21 stories may sound impressive, here's the kicker--16 of 'em are reprints!?! Recent ones! Yup, these tales previously appeared in the first 16 issues of the latest ongoing Bat-off, GOTHAM KNIGHTS. If, like a good little Bat-consumer, you bought that title faithfully (happily, I didn't), you now found yourself in the position of shelling out a hefty forty smackeroos merely to gain access to the 5 never-before-seen stories DC cynically included to exploit the hapless Batmania prevalent in a small but significant portion of the comics buying audience--and don't even THINK about skimming those freshly minted episodes down at the local comics shop!! You really think they shrink-wrapped these babies to keep 'em in pristine condition? Think again, bunkie!! Forty dollar comics. Geez, who'd a thought it'd ever come to this? But there is a way out for those of you seeking relief from the inflated price tags of today's comical books, and if you just stick around a bit, I'll be happy to clue you in. But first, as the saying goes, other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, did you enjoy the play?...

One thing about BM: B&W2 can't be denied: there's an awful lot of good artwork. The black and white format, properly utilized, can produce results that would only be inhibited by the addition of hues. Several European cartoonists, well schooled in this technique, contribute gems to this collection, including Daniel Torres, Eduardo Risso and Jordi Bernet, whose zaftig Catwoman I'll not soon forget. Animation artist Ronnie Del Carmen turns in an admirable piece of work, Kyle Baker adds the mastery of gray tones to his already impressive resume, and Jose Luis Garcia Lopez remains Jose Luis Garcia Lopez, which, from where I sit, is more than enough. Top-notch work by Marie Severin, the storied team of Gene Colan and Tom Palmer, and the neo team of Steve Rude and Mark Buckingham stand out amongst some remarkably stiff competition. Alex Ross, John Byrne, Jim Lee, Paul Rivoche, Gene Ha, and Dave Gibbons all contribute work that's up to their usual high personal standards, certain to satisfy even the toughest critic. Not all is happy in the art department, however. Generally, you'd find no bigger Tim Sale fan than I, but I found his entry here to be a bit too sketchy and a tad bit sloppy as well. Still, it seemed the soul of precision compared to the jobs turned in by Tony Salmons and John Paul Leon, a pair of illustrators I've seen far better defined work from in times past. Herein, they both fell into the trap of overusing black ink to contrast their scratchily rendered figures, making for a blotchy, confusing look. And then we have the late John Buscema's (first?) (only?) Batman job. It's not bad by any means, but it isn't particularly special either. Not that that's all Big John's fault--he didn't have much of a story to work with, and that's, friends, is where this compendium truly falters.

At eight pages a pop, the wordsmiths employed between the stiff covers of BM: B&W2 have room for sharing little more than a vignette. Far too many resort to the rather standard slam-bang, action-packed incident that invariably throws a penetrating light on the title character's inherent--and, by now, all too boring--darkness. That's what they gave Buscema to draw, folks. Yawn. Is anybody else as tired of the worn out Creature of the Night persona that once, oh-so-long ago, seemed fresh when Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams imbued Batman with it thirty years past? Am I the only one longing for the return of the Carmine Infantino Bats of 1964? Probably, but in the meantime, I'd gladly settle for a little variety. Oh, there were some good scripts in BM: B&W2--anytime you get Paul Dini and his two gal pals, Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy, in a story together, you're pretty much guaranteed fun. Dave Gibbons took an admirable stab at creating a forties style villain tied in with the colorless format, replete with some awful(ly good) puns, and Howie Chaykin's WW2 encounter with home-front Nazis in Gotham City was minor fun. Alan Brennert offered up a smoothly written piece of fan-pleasing folderol concerning the original Green Lantern and his caped successor as Gotham's protector, while Byrne's contribution was pleasantly retro. Ty Templeton's parody piece actually induced a chuckle or two, as did the Harlan Ellison tale, with it's wildly out-of-character dialog spilling unapologetically from the lips of Commissioner Gordon and his most peculiar dressed deputy, the whole thing leading up to a silly but effective punch line. The late Bob Kanigher's eight page opus was plenty nutty, too, but as always with Kanigher, a lot of the times, you just don't know if that's on purpose or not!?! Well, there's no way of knowing THIS time... And while I have to give Chris Claremont credit for trying something different, I find the concept behind "No Man's Land " easier to digest than the notion that Bruce Wayne would ever agree to be someone godparent!?! Maybe this was one of Kanigher's leftover ideas?... As for the rest of the episodes, well, saying nothing is in this case the better part of discretion, dig?

The wide variety of sophisticated art styles made for a feast for the eyes. The sameness of all too many of the scripts made for a sadness of the soul. The beauty of the book's production made for a worthy addition to any connoisseur's library. The heftiness of the price tag made for a rapidly shrinking bank balance. So, should you buy it? Depends. Can you afford it? Do you prefer great art to a good story? Do you still like that whole Dark Knight shtick? (Did I mention I thought it was getting old? Oh. I did. Right. Well, it is, you know...). Hey, I'll always be more of a Superman guy than a Batman man, but I didn't regret taking another quick peek into the Batcave after all this time. And best of all, I didn't fork over forty George Washington's for the privilege!! Sadly, while I'm no longer included on the DC comp list, I am perhaps the NEXT best thing--a MEC Comics subscriber!! And you can be one, too!! Oboy!!

For over a decade and a half now I've had my comics shipped up to me from the Southland once each month from the fine folks at MEC Comics!! Friendly, dependable, and efficient, Robert Pilk and his happy little crew obtain whatever you desire from each issue of the Diamond PREVIEWS catalog, and--here comes the BEST part--they provide this service to you for 30% off the cover price of the items ordered!! That's right! Thirty per cent!! For example, this overpriced Batman tome, instead of shelling out the outrageous amount of $40, you'd instead pay the still-substantial price of $28--hey, it's a savings, right? Don't blame Robert for the over-the-top list price--just be thankful you no longer have to pay it all!! And just think of the savings you could amass on the many still reasonably priced items? If you're at all interested, even the slightest bit curious, I urge you to contact MEC Comics at, and tell 'em Fred sent you!! (...And if Robert says "Fred who?", I swear, I'm taking back this entire heart-felt recommendation!!) But that's not likely to happen, gang, so sign up today and let the saving start!! Remember my words to live by--"The more you spend, the more you save." In the words of a certain Boy Wonder, "Holy substantial savings, Batman--that's one heckuva good deal!! Unlike that forty dollar comic DC stuck us in..."

February 4, 2003

What's the deal with word searches??

Y'know, those puzzles that consist of a square block of letters, inside of which any number of words are allegedly hidden? You see whole magazines devoted to them down at the newsstand, and honestly, I'd always considered them as word games for folks who weren't quite up to the challenge a good old-fashioned crossword puzzle represented. I developed this regrettably elitist attitude despite--or perhaps because--my dear old mom devoted a lot of time in her declining years to those mild brain twisters. But I never did one myself. I'm not one for games or puzzles, if you must know the truth. Crosswords vexed me, and I avoided them whenever possible. In my student days, I occasionally found myself assigned a crossword puzzle as homework. Under such dire circumstances, I struggled through as best I could, gritting my teeth the entire time. No such worries regarding word searches, as they apparently hadn't even been invented way back when I attended classes. Y'know, although I never gave it any serious thought, I probably figured I could get through all my days here on planet Earth without ever attempting--much less finishing--a word search. A comforting thought. Then we had a kid.

Watch out!! Here come those word searches!! Yup, all of a sudden, looking for words sideways, diagonally, backwards and every which way except upside down--and don't rule that out as a future possibility--these searches have somehow been officially sanctioned by the teaching community as an acceptable form of homework for the nation's youth. Okay, in the second, third, fourth, even fifth grade I can see these cute little time wasters being instructive, if only barely. But my darlin' little Julie is a seventh-grader in Junior High School now, and STILL she's bringing home these questionable learning tools as homework assignments!?! Maybe--MAYBE--there's something intuitively working it's way into the kid's soft little noggins as they fish around trying to find vocabulary words, whether in English or their chosen foreign language elective--and I repeat, only maybe-- but WHY history, science, and math teachers continue to send these glorified pieces of busy work home for my girl to toil over is beyond me!?! Why? How does the ability to spot the name of Thomas Jefferson at a sideways angle increase one's understanding of the Revolutionary War? Excuse me for asking, but the trick to reading "Nathan Hale" backwards helps you exactly HOW? Much as I sometimes question my whereabouts, no, this ISN'T the Bizarro World!?! Not yet, anyway...

Julie is a good student. She does all her homework (eventually). But word searches frustrate her. They sap energy from other, far more important assignments. So I readily help her complete them, feeling no guilt whatsoever. I may not be a licensed educator, but to my eyes, they're clearly a waste of her precious time. And mine as well, because y'know what? They're not as easy as they look, especially with this whole backwards notion going on. But I contend that while they may be more intrinsically difficult than they appear at first glance--sorry for ever doubting you, ma--that doesn't necessarily make them effective learning tools! I don't know how many of you other parents have to put up with this sort of nonsense, but it's slowly driving me nuts!! It may not seem like a big issue, but consider: maybe Johnny can't read because of the conflicting training we're affording him. Straight across seems wrong to him. Up, down, sideways and backwards--THAT'S what he's comfortable with!! Now, if someone could just find a way to integrate the works of Shakespeare into a massive word search, we'd have us something!?! I mean, talk about your " Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou?" ?...

February 3, 2003


That's right, folks--DRAGNET is back. But for some of us, it never really went away...

I've always been fascinated by the fifties. Oh, I was alive during 'em, but I didn't become totally aware of my surroundings until about 1960. So there was a lot of good stuff that got past me, and sometimes it seems I've spent a lifetime attempting to catch up on my close brush with that so-called fabulous decade. And when it comes to pop culture icons originating a half-century back, group, right up there alongside Elvis, Marilyn, the Ricardos and the Kramdens is the unmistakable mug of Jack Webb and that unforgettable theme song. But unlike the incessant accessibility afforded these other trendsetters once their first-run time in the sun had concluded, Sgt. Joe Friday seemingly went into seclusion. Oh, there's sufficient evidence to indicate that DRAGNET had a healthy afterlife in television syndication, but somehow those repeated airings eluded Little Freddy. That's right--I never saw an original black and white broadcast of the retitled for rebroadcast BADGE 714 during my Wonder years! Nonetheless, one couldn't avoid the looming shadow DRAGNET cast over the cultural landscape in the early sixties. Most effectively, representations of Webb and associates found their way deep into my subconsciousness through Bill Elder's wickedly grotesque MAD parodies, preserved in paperback collections for all us latecomers to appreciate. And then of course, there's the ever popular and pervasive DUM DE DUM DUM!

Has there ever been--will there ever be?-- a more instantly recognizable snippet of melody composed specifically for an entertainment property? And it's gone beyond merely reminding one of the original source material-- it's become universally accepted as musical shorthand indicative of trouble, BIG trouble!?! Admit it--you've used it yourself, haven't you? Forget to bring in your homework? DUM DE DUM DUM. Received word your mother-in-law is coming for a visit--a LONG visit?? DUM DE DUM DUM! "Isn't that your wife's car pulling into the driveway?" your girlfriend asks as she steps out of the shower--DUM DE DUM DUM!!! Bear in mind, none of these scenarios have ever actually occurred in MY life, but you get the idea. Due to this musical cue, DRAGNET has insinuated itself into the cerebellums of several generations, whether they're aware of it or not. My first chance to get up close and personal with the Sarge himself came in 1967 when NBC revived the series for the swingin' sixties viewers.

I began watching these restaged cases torn from the files of the Los Angeles Police Department as a short-haired, law-abiding, impressionable pre-teen, totally in step with Friday's world view. The first-run episodes came to an end in 1970 with me a long-haired, counter-culture sympathizing (but still law-abiding), surly teen who more often than not laughed at Friday's lame attempts to stay relevant while lecturing the audience on any number of social concerns. In other words, DRAGNET had become a comedy show, even if the folks who were putting it together hadn't a clue to this change in perception. And it wasn't just the sledgehammer approach taken towards the mores of the day; it was the peculiar staccato-reading-off-cue-cards acting method star/producer Webb insisted on. Combine that with a budget that allowed the viewers to see every last penny up there on the screen--but most assuredly, no dollar bills-- and you had the makings of a camp classic. Let's not forget the main man himself--has there ever been a more unlikely looking leading man? Those ears, that buzz cut, and--uh huh--that paunch! Whenever his prime was, Webb was clearly past it by 1970. Still, he had a voice, and as I've discovered only recently, that was key to his success. That, and a vision.

But as the years rolled on, DRAGNET subsided from my day to day concerns, and except for a period of enjoying rebroadcasts of the sixties revival on Nick At Nite during the mid-nineties--where it was clearly marketed as a laff-fest--I've shied away from all things connected with Badge 714. I've never seen the Dan Aykroyd flick, or the short-lived 1990 syndicated spin-off. Fact is I've never been one for cop shows. There's a whole list of very famous, long-running series I've yet to see a single episode of. About the only exception to that rule was HILL STREET BLUES, but to me, that was always a whole 'nother can of fish. There was no real reason to believe my interest in all things Webb would ever come out of hibernation, but that's when technology stepped in. When I discovered that DVD machines not only played discs, but also were capable of transmitting material transcribed on Mp3s, I was intrigued. Y'see, folks were selling old radio shows converted to this new-to-me-format on the net, with each disc housing up to a hundred episodes each!?! After splurging on an expansive collection of Jack Benny broadcasts--natch--I saw a four disc set boasting the entire 270 show run of the radio DRAGNET (1949-1955) going for a mere twenty five bucks!?! Well, how could I possibly pass up a deal like THAT?? I'm not THAT DUM DE DUM DUM!?!..

That's right, gang--for all the fame it gained as television's first great crime show, all of DRAGNET's key elements were evident in its audio incarnation. Having thus far listened to over fifty episodes while toiling away at my drawing board, I can honestly say I have a newfound respect for what Jack Webb created. Innovative in it's day thanks to Webb's prescient notion that the public might be interested in a more realistic portrayal of a lawman's job than was currently being offered up in the fanciful detective sagas of the day, these radio plays maintain the ability to paint a vivid picture in the mind's eye. But still I wondered--what was the original TV show like? And how could I have gotten this far in my life without ever actually viewing an episode? Ah, but now there was a solution to my dilemma--it's called eBay. Within weeks, I welcomed the arrival of six vintage episodes preserved on videotape to my mailbox. Now I had but to pop them in the VCR...

Oddly enough, the first one that made its way onto my screen was a remake of the last radio episode I had only the day before listened to!?! A very fine book entitled "His Name's Friday" by Michael J. Hayde, read recently whilst in the throes of my own personal DRAGNETMANIA, cautioned me to the fact that many--most?--TV episodes were little more than reworked radio scripts, but geez, what were the odds that the first one I'd see would be derived from the last one I listened to?? If I had this kinda luck more often, I might try buying a lottery ticket now and then!?! Anyhoo, the story was essentially the same, except for the substitution of an ultimately irrelevant scene wherein Friday and his partner interrogate a blond Carolyn Jones. When the increasingly flirtatious future Morticia Addams visibly flusters straight arrow cop Friday, well, we were veering uncomfortably into unintentional comedy territory once again, even if we were going backwards in time to do it. In fact, while Webb was leaner and more convincing in his role, the show still looked cheap and played static. A treasure in its day, it somehow didn't look to be the landmark series it clearly was.

Another episode concerned a female hitchhiker. She roughed up and robbed the men who offered her a lift, the good Samaritans being primarily motivated by her girlish charms. Turned out that the perp was a man in drag, and well, on the radio, Friday's final confrontation with the still-womanly attired culprit in his/her apartment, culminating with a shoot out that, besides a shoulder wound, managed to dislodge our sham-she's wig in the tale's closing seconds--THAT made for exciting listening! However, seeing virtually the same story told on the tube, with the same climactic denouement, well, you can just imagine. This fella who was convincingly fooling numerous marks with his false femininity on the radio turned out to be just another schlub from Webb's repertory company in a dress on the idiot box, and WE'D have to be idiots to believe this joker fooled ANYBODY into thinking he was a beautiful babe!! So I suppose the conclusion I've come to regarding DRAGNET is simply this: it was better to be heard and not seen. But now, ABC wants us to see this latest version, one they debuted last night...

Dick Wolf, the man behind the successful LAW&ORDER franchise--a series I've only seen once, for what that's worth--is behind this latest update. Ed O'Neil, known to some of you as MARRIED WITH CHILDREN's Al Bundy (another show I've mostly avoided) ably steps into the Joe Friday role. Another unlikely looking leading man, he brings superior acting chops to the proceedings, and nicely handles the requisite voiceovers. As partner Frank Smith though, Ethan Embry looks more like he should be playing Friday's son--and with that haircut, harkens uncomfortably back to the days of BEVERLY HILLS 90210. And no small time graft, pickpockets, or insurance fraud for these nineties law officers--the first episode dealt with nothing less than the attempted copy-cat crime spree of a nutcase intent on celebrating the 25th anniversary of the real-life Hillside Strangler(s) by duplicating it and leaving silver spray paint behind on his victims as a Martha Stuart approved method of commemorating the benchmark!! Geez, that's nice, but was this REALLY inspired by a true case drawn from the files of the LAPD?!? And after serial killers, where do they go next with this rejuvenated series? Guess I'll just have to tune in to find out, because while I can't cop to being totally won over, the performance of O'Neil and the overriding spirit of DRAGNET is enough to sustain me through another few cases. One has to wonder though--will this revival catch on with a public who doesn't know Joe Friday from Robinson Crusoe's man Friday?? Is this DRAGNET for a new millennium heading for a quick cancellation? And if that distressing news ever does come down, will the network executive who green-lighted this update fear for his job? Will he go into a corner of his office, and ever so quietly hum to himself....

DUM DE DUM DUM!?!?....

On a more serious note, my heart goes out to the families of the crew lost in the Columbia disaster. When big risks are taken, it's only inevitable that a tragedy like this is going to happen on occasion. That makes it no less painful for everyone, but let's remember that a price must be paid for progress. I'm sincerely saddened that these folks had to be the ones who wound up paying it, but I salute them for having courage and bravery I can barely imagine possessing. I offer my condolences and respect for our fallen heroes. Exploration ain't for the timid, y'know...

HOME | Fred Sez | January 2003