Archive - February 2007
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February 28th, 2007
Here's something we learned earlier today: one can fill in the wrong date for one's birthday on an official document and STILL pass one's driver's test!

Yup--second time's the charm! Daughter Julie is now a licensed driver! Congrats, kid! About one month after her first try--and two weeks after take two was originally snowed out--she made good and passed Motor Vehicle muster. And considering that I've rarely--if ever--seen her as nervous as she was today, I'm telling ya--I sure wouldn't have bet on a positive out come when I finally got out of the car and watched her drive off with her DMV judge...

HOW nervous was she, you ask? Well, at the outset, when the man from the DMV handed her his sign-in sheet to fill-out, Julie got her birthday wrong! But--stay with me here--there's an almost logical explanation. Y'see, the kid just before her wrote in his birthdate as 11-25-90. Julie saw that and thought, gee, look at that--he has the same birthday as me! Well, no--Julie's is 8-25-90, but hey, close enough to confuse a girl who was practically hyper-ventilating only a few minutes earlier, y'know? Luckily, the DMV fella noticed Julie's condition (and cake-day error), so he told her to take a couple of deep breaths, and after she calmed down enough to pull away from the curb, turns out she did a pretty good job--even with the always tricky parallel parking portion of the examination.

So, my days as a chauffeur-on-demand are--barring some special circumstances--pretty much over. My days of wondering "Where the heck is she? Did she get where she was going safely? And when's she coming back?"--THOSE days are just beginning!

NOW who's hyper-ventilating, huh?....
February 26th, 2007
I hope you're all still in your gowns and tuxes, cuz it's time for my fifth annual Oscar telecast recap!

I've never had any strong feelings about host Ellen DeGeneres one way or the other, but I thought she acquitted herself well. The monolog was a bit on the relaxed side, but mostly effective--especially the quip about Jennifer Hudson not getting the votes on "American Idol",, and look, here she is, then turning to Al Gore, who DID get the votes and, well, the audience clearly loved it. (Al was also funny later when he began to make a big announcement, only to be played off by the orchestra before he could get to because he'd been talking to long--Gore's double-take was a tad bit amateurish, though...). Ellen's bits out in the audience with Martin Scorcese (foisting a screenplay she'd written on him) and Clint Eastwood (having Steven Spielberg take--and retake--her picture with the crusty silver screen icon for her MySpace page) were both quite amusing.

Funniest of all though--and the night's highlight for me--was Will Ferrell singing about the sad state of affairs for comic actors on Oscar night (hilarious AND true--I still say this man should've won a little golden statue for "Elf"!...). Joined by Jack Black and John C. Reilly, the extremely clever number culminated with the trio lustily serenading Helen Mirren, sitting in the audience, looking absolutely delighted at the attention. Great bit--and Will? LOVE the hair!

The opening montage of nominees addressing the camera against a stark white background was alternately funny and confusing (who ARE these people and what do they do?), and definitely overlong, but points for trying a new approach. Oscar telecasts always feature clip sequences--get used to it folks; that ain't EVER gonna change--but they also always seem to offer at least one too many. The one showcasing writers as portrayed on film? Very nicely assembled. Fifty years of foreign film winners? An intriguing--if fleeting--glimpse at a roster of films that I'd only ever known via their names. Michael Mann's America? Huh? Third times definitely not the charm here (or, as Ellen might say, the eighth either--sorry, Peter O' Toole....). And why was a very static shot of the Man of Steel (look--his cape won't bend!) from "Superman Returns" included when there's way plenty of Chris Reeve footage available?

I'll give the Academy props for not including Anna Nicole Smith in their In Memorium montage--though James Doohan's inclusion seemed a little suspect, because as much as we may love the guy, wasn't his big screen career limited to getting even less face time in the Star Trek movies than he did on the original show? And, as Gary Sassaman pointed out as he blogged along live, Robert Altman went from last year's honorary Oscar recipient to this year's capper on the roll-call of the dead! Geez, life's crazy sometimes, ain't it?...

And speaking of honorary Oscars, composer Ennio Morricone was given a well-deserved one, but sorry, that segment stopped the show cold. First off, it's tough to create a reasonably short montage of motion pictures scores, and secondly, having Clint Eastwood (after fumbling the intro--as Tom The Dog noted in his love Oscar-blogging, it's not an insult to rehearse, Clint!...) translate the Italian composer''s acceptance speech--delivered in halting stops and starts--probably had most viewers wistfully longing for the stilted delivery of Sherry Lansing, the night's other, earlier honorary winner.

Biggest surprise? Besides Alan Arkin, you mean? How about "Pan's Labyrinth" after already winning three awards--and being nominated for several more later in the evening--NOT winning Best Foreign Language Film? I forget who opened the envelope, but I DO recall a slight hesitation, caused most likely by the shock that "Pan's Labyrinth" had been beaten by a German film! And hey, did you see the German director literally leap out of his seat, letting out a loud whoop, and then embrace the stunned director of "Pan's Labyrinth", who was seated right in front of him, and who gamely tried to keep a smile on his face? Yeah, it's phony show biz drama like that that keeps us coming back year after year, folks!...

Best speech? Forest Whitaker. Mid-way through it, the look of rapt attention on the faces of his now vanquished opponents in the audience (save for O'Toole, who cameras never cut to after the award was announced) seemed to indicate that, given a second chance, even they woulda voted for the guy! And Ryan Gosling, well aware that he had NO shot whatsoever, clearly seemed to enjoy just being there! Same with that guy who directed "United 93"--I'm relieved Scorcese FINALLY got his Oscar, saving us all from yet another year of exceedingly tiresome "WHEN will Marty win?" stories. Nice quip about double checking the envelope, by the way.

Didn't spot Mickey Rooney in the bleachers this year, but Larry David was in the house. Why? Maybe in support of old pal Jerry Seinfeld who, in presenting the Best Documentary Award (amusingly--and correctly---introducing them as "five depressing films"), did a short monolog of his own that was pretty darn funny. Y'know, HE should host the show sometime--and who knows? Maybe this was his audition?.

Maybe Tom Hanks should take a stab at it as well. The genial actor was responsible for my single favorite small moment of the night. Chris Connelly was roaming around backstage, talking to the camera, breathlessly hyping the show's upcoming segment.. Coming off from onstage where they'd just given out an award, Tom Hanks and Helen Mirren cross behind him. Connelly concludes his spiel by looking over his shoulder at Tom, saying, "More fun to come, right?". Hanks replies, with good-natured mock enthusiasm, "You bet, Chris, more fun!!", as if to say to the viewer at home, "Yeah, I know this guy is a clown, but really, tonight in our fancy clothes and with our self-important awards, aren't we ALL?". The entire exchange took mere seconds, but it kept me smiling for a long, long time afterwards.

I was unfamiliar with all five of the nominated songs, and while I'm not really much of a Melissa Etheridge fan, based on what I heard last night, I liked hers best. Apparently it was an upset of sorts, but good for her--it certainly seemed the most distinctive of the bunch.

The shadow dancers? Thumbs up. Kind of amazing stuff (though who ever figured out that would be a good act to put together in the first place I wanna know), and always short and to the point. Certainly preferable to any long drawn out dance sequences in my mind. I also liked the way the screenplays were introed, with the presenter readings short bits of stage directions, leading directly into a snippet of dialog--it gave the home viewer a bit more of an idea what it takes to write a movie. And the folks who went on maybe a little too long with their speeches received their warnings with the delicate tinkling of a piano (save for Gore's comedy bit), which i thought was a more humane way than having the full orchestra come and try and drown them out as in past years--everyone got the message, and hurried off stage, dignity still (mostly) intact--I liked that.

As usual, I've seen none of the nominated films, though there is interest in these parts for both "Little Miss Sunshine" and, to a lesser degree, "Dreamgirls" ("Pan's Labyrinth" looks fairly interesting as well.). Not the best show, not the worst--it was, pretty much, a typical Oscar telecast, and now it's done for another year.

So, that's it for now. Join us back here NEXT year to see if Eddie Murphy can get "Norbitt" nominated in the intervening twelve months! Maybe a buddy movie with Peter O'Toole would be an even better idea, y'know?...
February 22nd, 2007
Y'know, it's been quite a few years now since I last followed, with anything approaching regularity, the adventures of the costumed crimefighters I once grew up reading so avidly. Sometimes I sorta miss the experience of keeping up to date with the latest escapades of the super-powered community....

And then, a lot of times I don't.

Wanna know WHY I find it so easy to turn my back on my old four color friends these days? Then check out episode 92 of The Fred Hembeck Show for a prime--and simply mind-rending--example. You'll see then why it wasn't all that difficult for me to spurn long-time faves (and please note, I said "spurn"...).

(On a technical note, this week's edition features an all new cartoon, drawn with my standard rapidograph approach. Initially, I'd planned to do up multiple panels (ala last week's Sharpie-illoed chat with Superman), but once I realized that the concept in question wasn't as all-encompassing as I'd mistakenly thought originally--AND since it featured Spider-Man, and I didn't relish scrawling all those webs--I reduced my gag to a mere single picture (but with multiple balloons and additional text at the bottom). Either way, if, like me, you haven't been paying close attention lately, you'll soon learn about quite the...unique...plot twist. But I'll say no more--go!)
February 20th, 2007
Hey everybody, it's SM week over at Neato Coolville!

No, no, no--NOT S&M week (THAT'S somewhere else--but you'll have to find your own link!...), SM as in Stretch Monster!

Okay, I'll be honest--I wasn't actually familiar with the Stretch Monster until the proprietor of said site, Todd Franklin, commissioned me to do a drawing of the popular (but after my time) toy. Apparently, ol' SM was quite the guy, enough to prompt Todd to devote an entire week's worth of entries over at his site to the grimacing green-scaled guy. And today he's posted not only my original black and white take on Stretchy, but a groovy colorized version provided by Mr. F himself as well! Go take a look at my art, and then stick around to discover what other treasures Todd has offered up! You'll soon find--as I did--Neato Coolville is an entirely apt description!

(And it also goes to prove the range of my commissions is wider than even I realized it to be! So, if anybody out there wants a Hembeckized version of the Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots, Mr. Monopoly, or--best of all--a lump of Silly Putty, well, don't hesitate to contact me! But please--no requests for Barbie S&M illos--at least not THIS week...)
February 19th, 2007
Back in 1961, when I first began buying DC Comics off the stands, even if was a while before I learned his name, I was quick to recognize the artwork of Bob Oksner. Oh sure, he's long been renowned for his expert rendering of the female form, but to this eight year old, he was the guy who had the enviable task of drawing, month in and month out, the four color antics of three of the funniest men alive: Bob Hope, Jerry Lewis, and Maynard G. Krebs!

(And yeah, eventually I noticed that he drew real purty ladies as well!...)

Sad to hear that Bob passed away yesterday, but the loss is leavened somewhat by all the wonderful memories--not to mention scads of delightful pages--he left behind.
February 15th, 2007
Y'know, I've been doing this online stuff for just over four years now, and in all that time, I've never done a comic strip specifically for the 'net--until now!

Episode 91 of The Fred Hembeck Show features some all-new banter between my squiggle-enhanced alter ego, Cartoon Fred, and the world famous--and a similarly curly-cued--Man of Steel. Truth is, I've been meaning to do something like this for a long, long time, but just never quite got around to it. Partially, it had to do with finding the proper approach--a lushly illustrated piece, fully colored using Photoshop, was long the way I'd wanted to go. And that was pretty much the reason why I never DID pass "go" on this long envisioned project! So, finally, I decided to try another way.

Not to get overly technical here, but my standard way of drawing entails inking with a set of rapidographs of varying widths. When I finish an illo, I very anally go back over it, connecting any lines that may not've met one another, and fill in every little tiny nook and cranny in all the black areas. As you can imagine, despite my rather simple style, going over things as thoroughly as that makes the whole process fairly time consuming. That's okay--I kinda like the way things turn out, at least generally. Still, some of the looseness that comes across in my preliminary layouts is definitely lost. I've been looking for a way to get that vibrancy across for a while now, and I think I finally found it when I first picked up a Sharpie last November while doing sketches at the Big Apple Con in NYC.

So here's what I did--after writing up the dialog and pencilling some thumbnail layouts, I roughed in the two figures (each on a separate sheet of typing paper), and then quickly drew our Dubious Duo with the aforementioned Sharpie. Occasionally, there's a detail (or two--or maybe even three) that's off, but I'm hoping that you'll be able to see more energy than sloppiness in the thirteen panels I churned out! Clearly, it's an experiment, but I'll admit I liked the results enough that I plan to try it again in the near future--hope you folks like it, too!

As to the subject matter, the behind-the-scenes story there is simply that it was based on a casual telephone conversation I was having with my buddy Terry Austin a few weeks back. We were talking about the old George Reeves Superman TV show DVDs, and I asked him what he thought about a specific episode, "The Stolen Costume". I'll say no more, as it's all there in black and white (sorry, gang--no Photoshopped color), except to thank Terry for the inspiration! Remember, the next time I call, it may be for more than idle chatter--I need ideas, man, I need ideas!

Following up on yesterday's blog, Julie and i went out to shovel the driveway around noon today, and even though the snow was only about a half a foot deep (if that), I realized immediately that this was going to be the toughest shoveling job I'd ever faced. Y'see, because there was about an hour of sleet mixed in between otherwise fluffy snowfalls, it was soon apparent that each and every shovelful was going to have to be dug out with the same effort usually (and thankfully) reserved for that small portion of the driveway down at the end where town plows have piled up their residue. Having re-watched the first Superman movie only yesterday, visions of myself sharing Pa Kent's dire fate quickly came to mind, but luckily, didn't have the chance to come to pass, as a fellow in pick-up truck brandishing a plow on the front spotted my forlorn look from yards and yards away, slowed up, and offered his services.

Was I gonna say no? No! And his price--$35--was entirely reasonable (we've had folks charge twice that a few times in the past when simple deepness called for an alternate solution to yours truly and his magic shovel)--and so relieved was I not to have to to chance a heart attack I gave the guy two twenties and told him to keep the change! That's the kind of guy I am--one that's so happy not to be dead, he'll gladly dole out that extra five spot! There was still a small portion in front of the garage that, because of the angle of the plow, our savior was unable to clear away, so it was left to Julie and me to finish up, and whew--THAT was more than enough, lemme tell ya!

Once inside--after a shower and lunch, in that order--it was Scrabble time. Guess what? Eighth time's the charm--I WON! Ha! And to think, they all laughed the night before when I tried to start game seven using all my letters to spell "canidate"!

Then it was time for "Superman Two"--seems as if Julie was more receptive to the first film than I'd originally gleaned, and was mildly anxious to watch the sequel. As much as I wanted to see the Richard Donner version, I felt it might be better to screen the version that hit the theaters back in 1980 first. Thing is, I haven't seen the film again in the over fully one quarter century that has elapsed in the time since. After it first came out, I went back and saw it again a few weeks later--not because I liked it, but because I DIDN'T. Y'see, I'd loved the original so, so very much, it was so hard for me to conceive not digging the follow-up that I HAD to go back. Maybe I was having a bad day, y'know?

I wasn't.

Twenty-seven years later, while I found a few good things to focus on, most of the things I didn't like back then I still didn't like. I'm not gonna go into detail, though--let me save that until after I take in the Donner cut (hopefully, in the next several days), and then, those of you who are just DYING to share with me your thoughts--and your spoilers--can safely do so! But for now, hold onto that info for later, okay?

Except to say, considering how Lois, Clark, Lex, and Miss Teshmacher so effortlessly managed to cross the Arctic wastes in their street clothes, maybe I was a bit hasty in questioning Ace and Connie's judgement regarding proper mountain-scaling garb, hmm?....
February 14th, 2007
Hope everyone had a swell St.Valentine's Day/Jack Benny's Birthday Celebration today!

We had our first significant snow event of the season--we've had two dustings and one two-inch snowfall in the last month but this is the first time things around town had to shut down. Well,MOST things--while all the local schools were closed (even though our daughter was off from hers for winter break this week) and six to eight inches was swiftly piling up by mid-day, with an inch or so of icy sleet coming down around noon, when we called to see if Julie's 3PM road test was canceled, the folks at the Motor Vehicles Department informed us that we had the option of opting out! That's right--it was sleeting relentlessly, but they still had someone out in the streets judging the expertise of inexperienced drivers who were nonetheless willing to brave nature's onslaught!

"Um, I know I slid through that red light and smashed into a parked car, but it wasn't my fault, mister, honest--I think the icy glaze on the street was mostly to blame! You're not gonna FAIL me, are you?..."

Insane. We chose to reschedule, so two weeks from today on the 28th--barring another storm--Julie will try again. Without the icy sheen.

We instead stayed inside--tomorrow for shoveling--and played three games of Scrabble. Julie's become enamored with the game ever since we hauled it out of mothballs last weekend when her grandmother--the ex-English teacher--came by for a visit. So far we've played seven games, and so far, I've lost seven games. Where's Spellcheck when you need it?

I took advantage of the wintery conditions to sit my offspring down and have her watch one of my all-time favorite films, the first "Superman" movie. I've never been someone to pay repeatedly to see a film on the big screen, but I bought a ticket at least four times to see Chris Reeve's debut wearing the red cape--and then later watched it on the tube at least a half-dozen times after that. Amazingly, though, I haven't had a chance to sit down and watch it again in all the years since Julie was born, and the time was well past due. Since she enjoyed the recent "Superman Returns" (which we saw at an iMax theater), I thought she might dig this.

Well, the effects were a bit on the primitive side, comparatively speaking, and as we all know, it takes a while to get Kal into his shiny blue suit (heck, it takes a while just to get through the credits, a fact Julie couldn't resist commenting on), but once things get cooking, she seemed to enjoy the film--and Reeve--albeit not nearly as much as her dad did. Yeah, I still loved it--we watched the expanded version, the one with the Noel Neil and Kirk Alyn cameos that aired only once on broadcast TV a year or so before we bought our first VCR, so interspersed with scenes I could practically recite along with the actors were jarringly unfamiliar interludes, including a single dialog piece between a caped Chris Reeve and a ghostly Marlon Brando as dad Jor-El. Jeff East as the young Kent provides the emotional backboned of the story with his largely unsung performance, but Reeve remains the master of believably transforming the klutzy Kent into a truly convincing Man of Steel--and I STILL marvel (you should pardon the expression) at the scene where our hero flies off from Lois's balcony only to show at her door in his reporter guise, all without the tracking camera ever leaving the dazzled Ms. Lane--how'd they DO that?

Even Otis, who always used to annoy me, seemed somehow less bothersome this time around. Maybe its all the dark and darker super-hero movies I've had to endure in the years since the Krypton Kid's first feature film hit that made Ned Beatty's oafish comedy relief more palatable. But, despite the emotional wallop, the ending where Superman reverses the Earth's rotation in order to bring his beloved Lois back to life still doesn't make a whole lot of sense, another point Julie was quick to comment on. Kid, if you think THAT doesn't make much sense, wait'll you see some of the doozies in "Superman 2"! Although maybe some of the questionable logic in the sequel has been tidied up in the recently issued Richard Donner version, which I'm anxious to finally see!

But first, got me some snow to shovel. More later, friends!
February 11th, 2007
I was sorry to learn of the recent passing of the creator of "Li'l Jinx"--the long-running Archie Comics feature--Joe Edwards. While rarely a headliner, the character was always a perennially dependable back-up--exclusively written and drawn by the aforementioned Edwards, an impressive feat in and of itself. Mike Lynch has an illuminating anecdote to share about the man who was literally in on the creation of America's Typical Teenager (as well as a recent photo of the artist, surrounded by a pair of other ink-stained stalwarts, Sy Barry and Joe Giella)--I strongly suggest you take a look.

Then there's the untimely demise of Big Jinx ,aka Anna Nicole Smith.

There I was Thursday afternoon about to donate blood for the very first time in my life (shamed into doing so by my daughter after chickening out a few months back, at which time she'd make her initial donation), figuring my 1:45 appointment would serve as a worthy blog subject. Well, as it turned out, it was no big deal (if you've ever hesitated cuz you're a big baby like me, don't--it's practically painless), and, ironically enough because she was just getting over a cold, daughter Julie was unable to contribute anything this time around. Hardly much of a story there.

But, after doing some shopping, we soon arrived home to learn something ELSE was happening at 1:45 that very afternoon, as that was precisely when the body of the troubled blonde bombshell was discovered. Guess the gifting of my corpuscle's really does come in a distant second to THAT...

Days later, what else is there to say that that the cable news networks haven't yammered on and on endlessly for hours about already? I'm sorry it happened, but I can't say I've ever been an admirer of the woman (at times fascinated, yes--against my better judgement--at her over the top antics, I'll reluctantly admit). I remember seeing her appear--just a few scant days before her aged billionaire husband expired, as it turned out--on the "Late Night With Conan O''Brien" program, and her general incoherence seemed to bewilder the usually unflappable host. After that, the tragic train-wreck that her life increasingly became was something I attempted to avoid staring at--not always successfully. And now, while her role in this sad show is finally over, if the press coverage over the past several days is any indication, there's an act--or two--still to be played out. And like it or not, we're a captive audience...

On to happier topics. Congrats to Mag and H over at The Comic Treadmill for notching up their third anniversary online, which they celebrated in style--they wisely commissioned yours truly to provide the decorations! You can see my finely crafted illo here. I never told the guys this, but last November, I was lazily surfing the net after Thanksgiving dinner, and came across their entry reviewing DC Comics first ROBIN ARCHIVES volume. I was only about two paragraphs into their rave review when I suddenly stopped reading and immediately went downstairs to fish out my own copy of the still-sealed tome to read for myself! The late-forties adventures of Batman's junior partner turned out to be as much fun as promised (after I eventually went back and finished The Comic Treadmill's overview following my reading of the actual stories, natch), so for that, if nothing else, thanks guys! Keep up the good work--and here's to many, many more years of Treading!

Speaking of blogs, Blake Bell--he of the Steve Ditko webpage--has recently launched one, and already there's plenty food for thought to be found there. And two other often overlooked blogs that I'd recommend to anyone with an interest in old funny books would be Silver Age Comics and Lady, That's My Skull! I always enjoy stopping in on those pages whenever I get the chance, and you well might, too--the only way to know for sure is to go look!

So GO! We're done here for now, don'tcha know--see ya soon!
February 8th 2007
I'm really, REALLY excited about the 90th episode of The Fred Hembeck Show!

No, not because of anything I did. Fact is, it's a fairly short piece, but its main purpose is to serve as an introduction to a strip that'll soon be listed over on the "Stuff I Had NOTHING To Do With" section of this site (which, to be totally accurate, is a sub-heading of the catch-all "More" page).

I may well have had nothing to do with this particular story, but in a way it had EVERYTHING to do with me! Simply put, it was one of several key strips that inspired me to take the quirky approach to making comics that I did. And unless you have a healthy collection of late sixties, early seventies fanzines, I guarantee that you've NEVER seen the story in question before.

But you should--and now you CAN!!

Sorry--I know I'm overselling. It can't possibly be THAT good, can it? Well, maybe not, but damn, it's close! Enough chatter--do you like Silver Age Comics? Do you like crossovers--GOOD crossovers? Then go check out my latest episode, and soon after find your way on over to a truly lost gem of a story. I doubt you'll be disappointed.

And if you are, well than I really DID oversell it, didn't I? Oops...
February 6th, 2007
WARNING: Spoilers ahead!

"24", Day Six, Hour Seven, in which Stretch Cunningham shows his true colors and Evil Opie's cell phone is disconnected, permanently!

Okay, I suppose I shouldn't have been all that surprised to discover that Dad Bauer is actually the brains behind everything--when he asked for some time alone with his bound son as the clock showed less than five minutes remaining in the episode, it didn't take a rocket scientist to figure which way THAT little discussion was going to go! Still, I was mildly disappointed--I really liked Paul McCrane as the bad, bad, brother, but alas, his story is over now. We'll just have to wait and see what other past transgressions Jack's blood is responsible for in the weeks to come, I suppose.

My question of logic this time around is this--were the two guards who took Jack and his dad off ostensibly to be killed in on the double-cross? After eliminating Jack, would they have them turned to the elder Bauer, saying, "Anything else we can do for you, sir?". Cuz if so, they sure didn't appear to be aware of the overall plan, both of 'em getting killed like that (the second one via a bullet from dad after the Bauers had the upper hand, so apparently he WAS trying to keep the whole flip-flop thingie quiet from his son).

Hey, I'm thinking too much--this is "24"! Sorry.

And what would "24" be without some gut-wrenching torture scenes? Gotta admit though, the quality of the acting last night was exemplary, especially on the part of Kiefer Sutherland. His reaction to discovering the astonishing depth of his sibling's atrocities was very convincing, as was his subsequent snapping. Too bad Graem's a goner, but at least the writers didn't stint on the dramatics while ushering him out the door.

And the wife--what does she know? To Jack, she acted convincingly innocent, but on the way out to the CTU van, she quietly but coldly told her father-in-law to keep grandson Josh out of it. Out of what? She knows something, people--mark my word, we haven't seen the last of her.

This week's biggest surprise--at least for slow Fred--was finding out that Morris was the engineer the terrorists were searching for to arm their nukes, a fact that was disclosed on the CTU agent's computer monitor mere minutes after he'd left the premises to visit his dying brother in a local hospital, an errand of mercy that of course turns out to be a clever ruse courtesy of the baddies! Yeah, the timing of Morris's photo coming up on that screen was incredibly cliche--if only he hadn't just gone out the door!-- but hey, that's half the fun of this show! As I've said before, I stopped taking this show so seriously after the first season, and embraced it as the best roller coaster ride on television!

And next week, we get TWO hours of episodes! Thank you February sweeps!

Now I think I'll go see what Gary (Innocent Bystander) Sassaman has to say about last night's episode--and if you're still with me, I'm betting you're a big enough "24" freak to dig Gary's Ka-Chunking posts too! Hey, we gotta find SOMETHING to occupy our time until next Monday, right? You could do worse--check it out, "24"-files!
February 5th, 2007
With hour seven of day six coming up later tonight, I suppose I should say a few words about my second annual "24" birthday marathon back last Tuesday (I wonder if the Vice President, a fellow fan--and a fellow birthday boy--was doing the same?...). The fact that Fox has opted the last few years to debut the series in double doses over a Sunday and Monday not long before the thirtieth means that, if I can just wait, as in this case, a mere 17 days, I can actually watch a full one-quarter of the season in one mind-rending sitting! So, THAT'S my birthday treat to myself, folks! It's true--my life isn't all that exciting. Luckily, "24" IS...

Now, you can't just roll out of bed and watch "24", so I began my day instead with an episode of "Gomer Pyle USMC". It wasn't one of the better ones, but it DID feature a mustachioed Gavin Macleod--sporting a full head of hair, to boot--as a crooked dance teacher. Well goll-lee indeed. Once the warm-up was out of the way--and both Lynn and Julie were out of the house--I settled in for the main event.

I began by slipping a disc from the fifth season DVD set into the DVD player, so as to watch this season's prequel. These things haven't added much in the past, but still I bite--this time around it begins with a card saying that the following is being brought to you by Toyota, and brother, I'll say it was! Essentially, after some mood-setting, unfettered by broadcast standards torture, Jack is busted out of his Chinese prison cell, and participates in a high speed chase, one that showcases--you guessed it--some swell Toyota vehicles! Well, our hero is recaptured, and is brought back to his cell, where he'll languish for the months leading up to day six proper--i.e., status quo is maintained. However, inasmuch as we begin the day with a recently released Jack getting off a plane, the prequel, if nothing else, gives us our only glimpse of Bauer's imprisonment--if not our only glimpse of a Toyota!

The next six hours? Well, lemme tell ya, about an hour or so in, you begin thinking, "Wow, that's LOT of TV to take in in one sitting? Am I gonna make it?", but later, as the minutes begin ticking away during the final episode, I'm thinking, "MORE!! More! I wanna see more!" If only I had the resolve to wait until the following December to buy the DVD and watch "24" all at once, but not only do I lack the discipline (17 days is about all I'm good for), but I'd never be able to avoid learning key plot points that would inevitably diminish the storyline's impact for me (and if you're of a mind to avoid such spoilers, now might be a good time to go elsewhere).

As it was, thanks to it being a slow news day over at MSNBC following the show's premiere, I already knew a nuke was gonna detonate right outside of L.A.; and paging through a recent issue of ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY, I also learned that Curtis Manning wasn't gonna make it out of the four hour maxi-premiere alive, either (seeing as how his billed credit was downgraded from regular to guest star would've been a tip-off in any event), but hey, you call THOSE surprises? For "24"? A nuclear bomb being dropped? Jack shooting and killing one of his friends--and regulars--for the greater good? Feh. Nothing TOO out of the ordinary there, not to this old "24" vet.

But you know what DID blow me away? The return of actor Paul McCrane during hour five. McCrane--Ron Howard's evil look-a-like who memorably portrayed the annoying Dr. Romano on "ER" for several seasons, until a helicopter was dropped on him not unlike a house on the Wicked Witch of the East--was last seen during the tail end of last season mysteriously-and safely--manipulating President Logan via his omnipresent cell phone. When we first see him THIS time around, we learn one new, particularly salient fact about him:

He's Jack Bauer's brother!

To quote a certain marine, "Surprise, surprise, surprise!"

Whoa--THAT I didn't see coming, not by a long shot! (Conversely, when we later meet his wife--and the sister-in-law Jack once had a thing for--I knew immediately that the blonde-haired pre-teen boy introduced as brother Graem's son was, in hoary soap opera tradition, really Jack's. No, that hasn't been revealed yet, but mark my word--I haven't been watching "All My Children" all these years without picking something up along the way!...)

Overall, I'm liking the storyline. The first hour was a little slow, but once Jack realized that he needed to escape since his life was being traded in to stop the wrong terrorist and so, hands still shackled behind his back, he lunged for his guard's neck and ripped open his jugular, well, THAT' S when things began cooking! (I know, I know--that sounds awful, and frankly, hardly describes 99% of the sort of entertainment I seek out for myself, but there's just something about "24" that actually lets me ENJOY such scenarios! I guess we've ALL got a little Dick Cheney in us somewhere...)

I'm glad the producers chose to make Dr. Bashir (from my personal favorite of all the "Star Trek" shows, "Deep Space 9") the GOOD terrorist, the one who wants to reform and become a statesman, cuz I don't think i coulda accepted him as an all-out baddie. (And hey, when he and Jack first went off on the run together, did you catch that scene where our agent Bauer excused himself briefly? Could that have been the very first potty break Jack's ever taken in the history of this show? Who SAYS this show ain't realistic?)

I'm liking DB Woodside as the new prez, but golly, wasn't he introduced as a slightly shifty character back a few seasons ago when when he took on the job as brother David's Presidential advisor? I guess seeing your brother assassinated'll change a person.

Milo's back. Apparently, the crisis's on days two through five just happened to occur on his off days. So far, he's spent way too much time verbally sparring with Chloe's ex, Morris, whose sarcasm isn't nearly as much fun as Chloe's deadpan lack of social graces used to be. But it's early yet--maybe one of these two will do something worthy--or even more likely, get killed.

Two quibbles: why did the suicide bomber that bordered the subway train sit all the way in back end of the last car? So Jack could safely push him out the rear door as he exploded, sure, I get that--but logically, wouldn't he want to situate himself in the middle car of the train to do the most damage? Not logical, but minor.

Less minor was the resignation of presidential advisor Karen Hayes because of blackmail material Thomas Lennox (Peter MacNicol, this year's new governmental baddie) is holding over her. I mean, think about it--less than two hours earlier, a nuke was dropped right outside of L.A.--is that any time for a top ranking White House official to go to her boss and say, sorry Mr. Prez, but I am out of here, offering no real explanation--and after a tepid attempt to get her to stay, he ACCEPTS her resignation?? Hey lady, we got us a big, BIG problem here--no time for you to be quitting! And MacNicol--I'm surprised at you too--couldn't this petty palace intrigue of yours wait, maybe just a little bit? But at least now lovebirds Karen and Bill can be reunited in the corridors of CTU...

Which leaves us with what looks to be the backbone of this year's story--Bauer versus Bauer, with pops Bauer tossed in for good measure! Too bad they couldn't get Kiefer's REAL dad to essay the part, but I suppose Oscar winner James Cromwell (who, despite earning that lofty distinction, will always be Archie Bunker's Ed Norton-like buddy, Stretch Cunningham, to me) isn't all that shabby a second choice. Some have said this dysfunctional family direction that the show is taking reduces it to a "Dallas"-like night-time soaper, but I disagree. "24" has ALWAYS had its share of soapy elements, but aside from a long dead wife (since the end of season one) and an annoying--and then thankfully disappearing--daughter, we know precious little about Jack Bauer. Bringing his crazy family into the mix looks to be, if nothing else, a fresh direction for the show. And happily, after only two episodes, brother Graem's true nature was dramatically revealed to both father and brother at the end of the sixth hour, leaving me gasping for more, more, MORE!!

I've had to make due with my season one "Gomer Pyle" DVDs since then, but--oboy!--that all changes tonight!
February 2nd, 2007
Recently, the folks over at The Hero Initiative enlisted the talents of yours truly for an upcoming fund-raiser. Astonishingly, due to that long-ago "Assistant Editor's Month" stunt Marvel perpetrated, I'M considered a member of a semi-select group--living, bona fide Spider-Man artists! To raise some cash for their worthy cause, the HI gang are auctioning off near one-hundred copies of ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #100, each with a different Spidey alumnus providing a custom drawn cover (and since the book was printed with both a blank front and back cover, some are wraparounds as well!).

You can read more about the actual auction here.

You can view a gallery of most all of the artistic contributions here (there's folks from Alan Davis, to George Perez, to Frank Springer, to The Phantom Eagle's main man himself--I like to call him The Phantom Lunch Companion--Herb Trimpe!)

And while you can see mine over there as well, here's a link to a larger version of the above, situated right here on my own site.

There's some real nifty stuff to be found in the mix, but I'm proud to say, while mine may not be the best, it sure does feature the MOST characters! AND, as I'm the ONLY cartoonist EVER to draw the adventures of Spider-Man, Spider-Ham, AND Petey ("The Adventures of Peter Parker LOOOONNNG Before He Became Spider-Man" as the series overlong tagline would have it), I ever so proudly included all three of them on my cover! Quick--someone alert the Guinness folks!

Go take a look! Bid! And then, could someone please explain to me just WHAT an ultimate Spider-Man is? I mean, wasn't that the old Lee-Ditko run?...
February 1st, 2007
Given how long we've boith been around, it's sorta surprising to realize I've only ever had two personal encounters with Roy Thomas, and they've both been incredibly brief, but--due to the peculiar circumstances--unusually memorable.

I've told this particular story before, so I'll try and keep it brief: it was the mid-seventies, I was a college student at the time, attending a New York City comics convention put on by the Marvel folks themselves. On several occasions, I approached tables where some of the popular, younger writers and artists were sitting, and engaged them in pleasant--if geeky--conversation. More than once, an attractive young woman--mid-thirties, I'm guessing--and her young teen-age son came up behind me, and--from what I could surmise from overhearing them--he knew comics and she didn't, but she wanted to learn more, so she casually insinuated herself into the proceedings, and all it took was for me to pause to take a breath, and--WHAM--she'd swoop in and suddenly my audience was over! Hey, I really couldn't blame the guys--I'd had my chance, after all, and this woman WAS way better looking than I was! But like I said, this same scenario played out three separate times, and it soon got to be more than a bit frustrating.

Finally, mid-day, word was that Roy had arrived from the West Coast, and I eagerly headed in the direction of where I was told he was stationed. Sure enough, I caught a glimpse of his familiar visage. I was pretty excited at the prospect of meeting him in person, but as I approached the table he was sitting behind, I heard a now all too familiar female voice ask her son just who the blonde fellow everyone was making a beeline towards was!

Sometimes, you've just gotta know when you're beaten. I stopped, turned heel, and didn't even attempt it. I figured I'd catch Mr. T later.

I didn't.

Unless you count an interval of a half-dozen or so years "later"...

It was the early eighties. I was now attending cons as a guest, not as a fan, but oh, WHAT a con--in more ways than one! It was down in Houston, and it was a cross-media event unlike any ever seen--or so I was told. They DID manage to lure in most of the original "Star Trek" cast members--and not just to sit behind tables signing autographs, either, but to actually perform a stage production written by Chekov ( the ensign, not the playwright)! I skipped that show, but was happy to instead spend most of my time sitting at a table adjacent to Wendy and Richard Pini on one side and Jack and Roz Kirby on the other! In a lot of ways, it was a truly wonderful experience, but there WAS one thing that put a damper on the weekend--the fellow who organized the whole thing ran off with all the money he raked in the night before the show opened!!

He not only sold tickets to the con and to the big "Trek" show, but also weekend packages that included admissions to a half-dozen or so of Houston's surrounding tourist attractions--only, of course, they didn't. That the con managed to take place at all was due to the hard-working staffers--dupes all--ponying up their own cash to keep things afloat. I'll always remember the image of a jet-lagged Caroline Munro, fresh from an overseas flight, looking bewildered in the lobby, wondering why the room she had been promised was suddenly so hard to come by.

We all DID get our accommodations--though there WAS that iffy moment on Saturday when the hotel slipped notes under the doors of all the con guests threatening to evict us if the bills weren't paid, and promptly! Luckily, the good-hearted people who were in charge of the nuts and bolts of the event bailed out us--and their long-gone felonious leader (whatever happened to him, I wonder?...)--and we made it through the three days relatively unscathed.

Roy, still situated out in California, again came in a little late to the party, only THIS time, he arrived at the very height of the chaos. It was late Saturday afternoon before he made an appearance in the dealer's room, and as soon as I spotted him, I made a point to go over and introduce myself. Which I did, but I didn't have time to do more than swap a quick hello with Roy, as clearly, this WASN'T the event he'd bargained for, and he didn't look at all happy! I could only imagine what HE'D walked into, so I didn't linger, and in the end, neither did he--Roy left quickly, and I never did spot him again that weekend. Given the circumstances, I couldn't say as I blamed him.

And THOSE are the only two times I've come face to face with Roy Thomas, but it WASN'T the first time the two of us encountered one another. THAT happened in the now-yellowing pages of several fanzines years earlier, when Roy was still in New York and I was still a know-it-all teenager! Y'know, the whole thing COULDA played out like a comics' version of Rosie versus The Donald--except that we were BOTH too mature to let it get to that! Instead--

But hey, why am I telling this all to you HERE? "When Teen Fred met Roy the Boy, lettercol edition" is the focus of the 89th episode of The Fred Hembeck Show! The above is just meant to whet your appetite (and frankly, is intro material I belatedly realized I should've included in the piece's text. Oh well...). Thanks in particular to Roy's points to me regarding the King, I was able to fully enjoy my one and only chance to spend time with Jack Kirby (and the delightful Roz) that crazy weekend in Texas, and for that reason alone, I'm grateful he wrote what he did!

WHAT did he write? Hey, it's all there folks--you know how to use links: GO!!

And lastly, thanks muchly to my buddy, young Roger Green, for writing so kindly in his blog about yours truly a few days back. Enjoy those last lingering days of your 53rd year, Rog--54'll arrive before you know it...

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