Archive - January 2003

January 30th, 2003

It's kind of a special day around these parts. We're nearing the end of our first month online, and as a way of celebrating, we're finally activating a hitherto inert portion of the site, the life story section. Oboy!! The excitement is palpable, isn't it? Anyway, should you evince even the least bit of curiosity regarding that area of your hosts past, click over there now. Planned to feature a collection of non-chronological incidents, anecdotes, and occurrences from my first half-century, I've decided to start it all off with a little ditty portentously titled "The Secret Origin of Fred Hembeck". While, yes, that title is meant to suggest my life-long love of those crazy costumed crime fighters, if you take a look at the piece, you'll realize that there's a deeper meaning to it than first appears. And what I realized when writing it was, hey, this is a whole lot cheaper than therapy--and I don't even have to lie down on the couch whilst my fingers dance across the computer keyboard?!? Can't beat THAT folks!!

That's another thing I've discovered these past 30 days--I like writing these essays on the typewriter, despite my decidedly limited abilities as a typist. For years and years I'd compose long-winded rants and raves, and then be compelled to squeeze them into, usually, a single page of cartooning, carefully hand lettering every word and every punctuation mark!?! There was a certain amount of fun in meeting the challenge of making it all fit just right, and the actual calligraphy itself could be strangely relaxing, but this whole new-fangled concept where the words travel down from the head, out through the fingers, and somehow miraculously almost instantaneously up there on your screen--well, if that don't beat all!?! Now I know how Jethro Bodine felt the first time he spied a cee-ment pond! I like it--I like it a LOT!! I wound up pecking away a whole bunch more than I ever expected to, and don't see the literary fervor diminishing anytime soon! Conversely, however, I haven't been spending as much time at the drawing board as I planned. As time goes on, I'll strive for a happy balance, for as much as I'm getting off stringing the words together, I realize there's a substantial contingent visiting here primarily to view the pretty pictures.

Which brings us to our KIDZ/Boffo ongoing epic--I promised to hopefully deliver a half dozen new pages a week for your reading pleasure. Well, so far nothing. But the good news is I have an additional 12 pages completed. The bad news? There's been a toner shortage down at my local Staples, and until their roving band of maintenance men show their faces locally and return the fleet of copiers to prime working condition order, I'll be unable to shrink my 10" by 15'" originals down to crisp and clear duplicates of a scanable size. But soon, folks, soon. And I fully intend to post new pages on a loosely regular basis.

Look for the addition of some graphics in "Fred Sez" beginning in February. I hope to initiate the "More" section before too long as well. Plus, I've gotten some great ideas spying on other folks websites, and as imitation is well known to be the sincerest form of flattery, I have some sincerely cool things I'd like to attempt in the near future! About the only thing I'm NOT looking forward to is transcribing a tedious list of my past dubious achievements in our as yet unrealized " Checklist" section. Oh well, someday. In the meantime, it serves nicely as home to our "Under Construction" illo.

Let me take this opportunity to thank everyone who's contacted us here at We appreciate your well wishes and encouragement! And a special tip of the top hat to those folks willing to dig deep into their pockets and shell out their hard earned cash for either a specially commissioned drawing or an already completed piece from our sales gallery!! Thank you, my wise and valued patrons! Your largesse allows me to keep all my plates spinning, here in the outermost reaches of cyberspace!! And if I may be so bold, let me humbly request that those of you squinting at your screens right now alert your friends, family and business associates to the existence of this site!! Spread the word if you can, and if you're able to link up, all the better!! Let's give that Drudge guy a run for his money!!

I'll end this combined speech to the Academy slash infomercial with a word about my wife, Lynn. None of this would be possible without her. None. Since I've only recently learned how to actually turn on the computer, you wouldn't be seeing ANY of this was it left up to me, I assure you! And it's not like Lynn doesn't have anything else to do, so I'm sincerely indebted to the tireless devotion she's shown to making this a fun and exciting going concern for everyone, leastways me!! Thanx, honey--we ALL love ya!! Hugs!!

January 28th, 2003

Remember that comic book I told you about the other day? The one I read? And remember how I said I had the subsequent quartet of issues before me and that I'd get back to you when I finally managed to read them, too? Well, I'm here to tell you that, yes, I've completed my homework, and that, oh boy, those were indeed four fantastic comics!! Uh huh, you heard me right--four fantastic FANTASTIC FOUR issues!?!

Okay, okay, I'm trying, y'know? Sometimes this wordplay stuff can be cute, maybe even clever, and then sometimes it can be, well, sorta like this. A kind word might be "lame". I don't know-- I sorta liked it when I thought of it driving back from the grocery store last night...

All attempts at humor aside--well, maybe not ALL--Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo lived up to the expectations their initial stab at the FF raised for me. The one aspect of FF#60 that bugged me--a very juvenile portrayal of Johnny Storm, the Human Torch--actually turned out to be an apparently well planned plot element, one that's driven the larger back story over the following four issues. The slash page--or perhaps I should say, "splat page"? --of FANTASTIC FOUR# 61 was well worth the price of admission alone! Of all the alleged tricks the ever mischievous Yancy Street Gang have ever played on our ever lovin' pal, the Thing, this one may've been the most perfectly realized visual presentation of aforesaid gag!! And I say "alleged" because, well, in a very clever twist, we find out some startling information behind the taunts and tortures of poor Benjamin J. Grimm!?! Without giving too much away, let's just say that a pie in the box indirectly leads to a hothead in the boardroom and leave it at that! I've thoroughly enjoyed my long overdue return to the Baxter Building (although the group no longer resides in that famous Marvel landmark, now do they? Shows what I know. Hey, I didn't even realize the Richards' had a second kid!! HOW'D that happen? Wait--I know how--I mean--aw, geez, I've been gone WAY too long...). I'd recommend this new/old Fantastic Four to any reader, new OR old. Y'know, maybe this comics thing isn't totally played out after all?…

And speaking of played out, there's a new disc in my CD player, and it hasn't nearly played out it's welcome there yet!! (How's that for a snappy transition, eh gang?) It's a bit of a surprising one, even to me, but at the risk of sounding like some sort of a dilettante, allow me to give a hearty thumbs up to Philip Glass's newly refurbished and expanded soundtrack recording for the film "Koyaanisqatsi". No, you probably didn't see this 1983 avant garde non-linear film on HBO any time recently--or even on Starz--but viewing this admittedly obscure flick isn't at all necessary to fully appreciate the hypnotic, trance-like score the composer provided for it. Modern day classical music--even really old classical music--is far from being something I can claim to have any sort of expertise in, I'll confess. I'd heard Glass's name over the years, even seen several vaguely threatening looking photos of the man, but I'd never heard any of his music. At least, not until the millennium stepped in. Remember the millennium? It seems so long ago, doesn't it? And yet it was only up until recently folks were slapping the M word on a wide variety of goods in an attempt to pawn 'em off on cash carrying calendar-crazed consumers. During this frenzy, Columbia Records issued a series of discs meant to encapsulate the best music of the past, well, millennium, I suppose, though most of the material was actually recorded in the last one hundred years. Something about limited sound equipment during that famous violin solo Nero was said to have played some time back. Long story short (yeah, right)--there was a Glass piece on the Classical compilation, and it caught my attention, sparking my interest in his work. When my friends at the CD club offered up "Koyaanisqatsi" (a Hopi Indian term meaning " life out of balance", by the way), I figured, why not take a chance? And now I'm glad I did. I just keep playing it and playing it--it's almost...well, hypnotic would be a good way to describe it, I suppose. Don't let the appearance of the avant garde scare you off--I'm a guy who loves a good melody, and there's plenty to wrap your ears around as the piece builds and builds, ultimately giving way to a "bright, rapid arpeggiated passages for keyboard (that) cuts fiercely into the action"! Tim Page, the fella who wrote the liner notes, said that, and I couldn't have said it better myself! Actually, I couldn't have said that AT ALL without Tim's help, but hey, that's beside the point. Don't take a pass on Glass--buy this CD, folks!! If nothing else, it finally dislodged that infectious new Shania Twain song-cycle from my music machine!?!

State of the Union Address tonight. Sure hope the Boss doesn't do something that'll set World War Three into motion. I mean, here I FINALLY get the website up and running and all!?!...It'd be a total bummer, lemme tell ya.

January 24, 2003

This is a rather obvious statement to make, but I've never committed suicide. Not so obviously, I've never attempted it, either. Why, I never even thought about it! Well, okay, I've thought about it, but not like THAT, uh uh. More along the lines of like, WHY in the world would anyone wanna kill themselves? Truth is, when I was younger, and maybe things weren't going all that well for me-- a dire love life, a bad job, trouble with mom and pop--as bad as things ever got, I'd always stop and remind myself of one key fact: if I offed myself, smart guy, there'd be no way to find out what was gonna happen in next month's issue of the FANTASTIC FOUR!!

(Yup, we're gonna talk comics here! What? You thought we were getting all heavy or something? Hey, everything I said is true. Anticipating the new FF helped me through a lot--you got a problem with that?...)

As I've recounted many times, I'd been faithfully following Marvel Comic's flagship title since I stumbled across its fourth issue way back in 1962. What I've never told is the tale of how it all came to an end between the FF and me. Of course, I didn't realize it was the end at the time. Still, because of the unique circumstances, I remember it vividly. Our daughter Julie was only a few months old and not yet sleeping through the night. One night, it came to be my turn to stay up with her, and to help me make it to sun up, I had several comics as well as the always reliable TV. One of said comics was FANTASTIC FOUR #354, the last issue of a nice run turned in by the acclaimed writer/artist Walt Simonson. In between the wails, the whimpers, and the wet diapers, there were two things I learned that evening: at 4AM, Tony Robbins infomercial pitches start to make an awful lot of sense, and Walt Simonson's comics DON'T!?! Yeah, I know that's totally backwards, but it was all Lynn could do the next morning to keep me from calling in to enroll in the Personal Power training course!! Luckily, very soon afterwards, Julie began snoozing all night long, or we might've wound up with Salad Spinners, George Foreman Grills, Pocket Fishermen, and all sorts of Zirconium trinkets!?!...

I had no intention of abandoning the FF, but after a couple of interim fill-in issues, the new scripter helming the title was Tom DeFalco. I can't honestly say I've ever been a big fan of Tom's stuff, so I didn't instantly nor eagerly dive in to his attempts to try to live up to the long outdated appellation, " The World's Greatest Comics' Magazine" when the mail periodically brought me my complimentary bundle of Marvels. I figured I'd get to it eventually. Right about then, the new baby was keeping us all busy, so busy that she taught how NOT to read comics!! Before Julie's arrival, I felt obsessively compelled to soak up everything good ol' Marvel released. The kid helped me get my priorities straightened out. The comp copies kept piling up, and piling up, and I soon realized that I didn't really miss reading the FF all that much. And neither was it cause for me to end it all. I'd discovered there was something else besides my monthly trip to the Baxter Building to live for, and that collective "awwww" I sense coming across cyberspace tells me you all know what I'm talking about! (And don't think I didn't hear that gagging noise from you insensitive types over in the corner. Please. A little couth, if you will.)

Fast forward a few years. I'm still reading a fair amount of comics, but now they were more out of choice than compulsion, a choice usually based on the track record of the creative team. And when both Marvel and DC Comics jettisoned me from their comp lists in the mid-nineties-- apparently coming to the overdue realization that, oops I was no longer working for them--I had to reach deep into my own pockets to pay for their ever more expensive product. Such niceties as "maintaining a run" had to go out the window. If there was absolutely no chance I was ever going to actually READ a book I was buying, it had to go. Reluctantly, I bid adieu to Johnny, Reed, Sue and Ben.

Oh, for the record, I DID make two brief return visits to the foursomes' world: when Marvel turned over several of their core titles, including the FF, to a group of Image Comics creators to do with as they wanted, well, I had to be there to witness THAT, right!?! Hey, I'm human--I stop to glare at car wrecks just like the rest of you!! However, the perverse fascination with their skewed reinterpretation of Marvel lore soon wore off, and I was gone yet again. So too were the Imageineers, as Marvel took back control of their own books (what a NOVEL idea!...). Starting up again directly afterwards with what amounted to a third FANTASTIC FOUR #1, I figured, hey, the slate is clean--I'll give 'em another shot. I lasted about three issues. I have fond memories of the X-MEN books Chris Claremont wrote with John Byrne, Dave Cockrum, Paul Smith and his British cousin, Barry Windsor, but I quickly determined his FF wasn't doing it for me, would NEVER do it for me, and I bailed once again. After all, I still had all the old classic issues by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby if I wanted to see my old friends--wasn't that enough?

Somehow, about two and a half years back, that attitude spread beyond the Fantastic Four and insidiously crept it's way into my thinking regarding ALL new comics! One day, for no reason in particular, I got tired of reading them and just stopped. Stopped cold. It wasn't planned, it just... happened. When I felt like a funnybook fix, I'd merely dip into one of the many hardcover reprint editions that have found their way onto my bookshelves over the years. Or maybe I'd take a trip down memory lane with one of the books I'd pulled out of its cardboard box home to do a cover redo of. But aside from a truncated attempt about six months back when I tentatively ventured forth to sample approximately two dozen then-recent releases, no, no new comics for me. Oh, I was still buying some, though in ever decreasing numbers. There was always that chance the day might come when I wanted to hop back on board, and I sure didn't wanna miss any of the really good stuff. But with little desire to act upon that nebulous notion, mostly these new purchase just sat there by my drawing board, sadly neglected. That is, until now.

A lot of comics fans come by this site (at least, I HOPE they do). There's a lotta chatter to be found concerning the good old days over at the Classic Cover Redo department, but I came to realize that that might not be enough. Fans wanna be on top of what's happening in the exciting world of today's comics, and I obviously wasn't serving my constituency properly in that important area. Oh, it's fine to talk about what I saw on TV last night, or what CD I just bought, or even how the ever delightful Julie dominates a lot of my life still to this very day, but I know there's a substantial group amongst you out there who want me to speak my mind about today's comics. Well, to do that .I'd have to actually READ one of today's comics, wouldn't I? Proving the lengths I'm willing to go for you, my loyal readers, last night I did just that!! Anybody care to take a stab at exactly WHICH title I chose to sample, hmm?...

(That's right. This was just a preamble leading up to a comic review. What? Are you in a hurry or something? Anxious to get to that Carmen Electra swimsuit site are ya? Well, go ahead. We'll be here when you get back. Then you can find out how this thrilling little monolog comes out. And now, for the rest of you...)

I sifted through the mountains of unread treasures residing there in the corner of what amounts to my studio. I solicited the advice of my good pal, Rocco Nigro, who's been urging me for months to do what I finally felt ready to do last night. In the end, it would be my choice, and my choice would be...the FANTASTIC FOUR! Oh, right. You already figured that out. Well, let me explain the reason WHY it was the FANTASTIC FOUR...

Recently, Marvel changed creative teams in an attempt at yet another re-launch of their oldest title. This time however, they didn't change the numbering, allowing this revamp to appear as #60 (and they've very thoughtfully included a smaller designation of 489 next to it, denoting the issue it would be designated had they not tampered with the numbering several years earlier--AND letting us old-timers ponder exactly how long it is we've been collecting these blamed things!!) In order to lure in new (and wayward) readers, Marvel not only turned the book over to a pair of proven talents--scribe Mark Waid, scribbler Mike Wieringo--but they sold it at the all-time low price of 9 cents!?! Who could pass up a bargain like that? (Of course, the next month, the fee goes back to the now-standard $2.25, but at least the cheap price tag allows for the uncertain consumer to sample the goods without much financial risk.) My motivation, however, was based primarily on writer Waid's past credentials. His run on CAPTAIN AMERICA, for instance, was one of my all-time favorites, leading me to believe he might very well be a perfect fit for his newest assignment. It didn't hurt that I think Wieringo is a wonderfully inventive artist with a smoothly appealing style, but it didn't help overmuch, either--if I bought every current comic series that featured outstanding artwork, I'd go broke!?! Somehow, these artists seem to just get better and better every year, which, for a guy whose big claim to fame is squiggles on the knees, can be an awfully depressing realization!...But it's the stories that are the key. You find a writer who writes good, you stick by him (and if you find one who writes well, all the better...)

So I start to read "Inside Out", as the tale is titled. Ingeniously designed so as to clearly introduce the four main characters to even the most clueless of readers, I begin getting a little nervous on page three. The comedic bickering between the Thing and the Torch, a long established tradition dating back to the Lee/Kirby era, is getting a mite too juvenile for my tastes. Johnny Storm, in particular, is acting about eight years old. This doesn't bode well for my reentry into the once glorious Marvel Universe. There are two big pitfalls today's scripters seem to fall into when given the opportunity to work on established characters: they either want to rewrite the stories they warmly recall reading when they were growing up, or they want the books to grow up with them and wind up introducing all sorts of often unsavory adult elements into what had originally been conceived as a kid's comic. I was afraid Mark was committing the former sin, but before I had a chance to dwell overmuch on this perceived misstep, the adventure barreled happily right along. Concerning Reed Richards curiously out-of-character decision to hire a publicity flack so as to raise the team's profile within the context of a celebrity-crazed world, the story ultimately--and very cleverly--redefined who the Fantastic Four are and what they stand for, all the while staying true to the series origins and never breaking the other no-no elucidated above. In other words, I shouldn't have been worried! It was a fine piece of work by all concerned, and while I stand by my mild criticism of the Torch's behavior, I can plainly see that, finally, after all these years, the FF are in good hands again!! The four subsequent issues are sitting here, right beside my keyboard, and first chance I get to squeeze them into my always busy day, I'm gonna read 'em!! Yeah!! I'll let you know when I do, but it's certainly a pleasure to realize that, once again, I have ample reason to go on. Oh sure, there's the joy of watching my daughter grow and blossom, and there's surely a lot to be said for the continuous pleasure of wife Lynn's company, but HALLELUJAH!! Now there's the FANTASTIC FOUR to live for again! Put away those razor blades, folks-- flush those pills down the toilet, gang-- and, oboy, lock those firearms away, bunkies--Waid and Wieringo are in town!!

(...gee, I wonder if there are any OTHER good comics out there? Guess I'll just have to go find out...)

January 20, 2003

"Would you like to buy some Girl Scout Cookies, mister?..."

As she had been doing all afternoon, that was the question my daughter posed to the kindly looking little old man as we went about our annual sales ritual. He responded as an awful lotta folks do-- there's apparently something intrinsically endearing about sweet little girls putting the bite on complete strangers, inducing them to purchase overpriced yet undeniably tasty baked goods--and the warm tone in his voice as he turned to speak to his wife told me we had all but racked up another sale. But before pen could be put to paper, the lady of the house weighed in strongly and loudly:

"Not interested."

"But Rita...?" the old gent queried, as he invited Julie into his home, all the while trying to reason with his partner.


I stood out in the driveway of the mobile home, keeping a discreet distance so as to let my little Scout do the bulk of the work while still making my presence known to all potential customers. Far away as I was, I could still hear the protestations of the unseen Rita loud and clear. Julie, half in and half out the door, looked at me, confusion written across her face. I motioned for her to leave despite the fact that at least one of the tenants there was eager to sign up for future delivery of some swell sugared wafers. As Rita made her feelings emphatically known one last time, our host realized defeat was inevitable, and he reluctantly let my daughter go, and we proceeded on to the next domicile, where the process would be repeated yet one more time, hopefully with more success--or at least, less distress.

Welcome to my world. I'm a Girl Scout dad. But for some quick maneuvering by the ladies of the house, that almost came to an end this year, and I would've been denied my yearly trek out on what is invariably the coldest day of the winter, a supporting act for a cracker shill. Darn. Life just wouldn't've been the same without the opportunity to peek in on the likes of Rita and her man.

Y'see, Julie's been a member of Troop 366 since the first grade. For the first few years, the kids met after school for a couple hours on a biweekly basis. By the fourth grade, the troop split in half, with the younger girls starting a group of their own. Julie's gang was down from about twenty girls to no more than a dozen. The Group Leader was the next to abandon the festivities as her daughter outgrew the rest of the girls. The co-leader stepped in and kept the ship from sinking, holding meetings in her home once a month, but the number of girls signed up was shrinking fast. Since a helper is mandated by the organization's bylaws, Julie's mom--and my wife, for all you latecomers-- Lynn stepped in to help out. By last fall Troop 366 had been reduced to a meager four members, and word this past spring was that the leader's daughter and her buddy--and by extension, the adult supervisor--were all bowing out due to disinterest. Things looked dire for the rapidly vanishing Troop 366. But Julie is never one to say die easily--believe me, this kid can be as stubborn as they come!! She didn't want to give up spending those summer weeks at Girl Scout Camp that she so enjoyed the past two years--and frankly, neither did we!! Hey, we love the little scamp, but there's something to be said for the occasional bouts of peace and quiet, y'know!?! She wasn't giving up on the Scouts without a fight!

First order of business, the troop needed a new leader. That was easy enough. Lynn was in prime position to take over the reins, and after the necessary paperwork was attended to, she found herself ascending to the lofty position of Group Leader. Now she just needed someone to LEAD!!. Luckily, the sole remaining original member of Troop 366 was Deanna, Julie's oldest buddy. Between the two of them, they surveyed all their friends--some mutual, some brand new--and found enough interested in joining up so that Troop 366 has been totally made over and is more a vital concern than it has been in years! With a rotating array of moms stepping into the helper's seat, a meeting is held once a month around our dining room table. I'm usually not far away, busily working at my drawing board (believe me, there's NO way I'd be able to get any writing done!). Admittedly, things get a little rambunctious at times with 8 girls running about. In Julie's mind it's hard not to think of these monthly two-hour gatherings as a big party in her honor, but Lynn does a swell job keeping everything moving smoothly while simultaneously making it fun for all the kids to participate. My two favorite gals should rightly be proud of what they've accomplished. Once on life support, Troop 366 is better than ever!!

Which allows me to once again chaperone my offspring as she ambles from house to house in frigid temperatures, searching for that next big sale and maybe that unforgettable encounter. Okay, maybe there's not a story behind EVERY door, but there's always more than a few memorable moments that stand out each season. Like just the other day when the woman answering Julie's knock very concernedly told her that the lady of the house couldn't come to the door right then because she was having her nails done. Could we come back later, she wondered? Since it was on the return route to our car, Julie said sure, made a note of the house number, and off we went, soon to encounter Rita and mate, plus a whole lot more. Almost two hours later, we'd both had enough of the arctic-like conditions we were enduring, and with 44 guaranteed sales on our cookie sheet, we headed for home. Ah, but not before one more stop. The women's nails must be dry by now, common sense told us. All the better for her to check off her choices on the order form...

Knock knock. The door opens. "Would you like to buy some Girl Scout Cookies?" It's a perfunctory question, but hey, we all know the answ--

"No thank you"

The door closes. Our jaws drop. All of a sudden, I feel like we're the straight men in some ancient vaudeville routine...

Sigh. THAT was worth a second go-round, don'tcha think? Maybe, just maybe, next year, we'll sell our wares on eBay...

January 15, 2003
I'm a sucker for gimmicks. Not being a football fan didn't prevent me from tuning in, glasses at the ready, to view (or at least make the attempt) that lame 3-D halftime show several Super Bowl Sundays back. The opportunity to listen to the same songs with three different musical sheens applied to them-country, pop, r and b-- somehow transformed me into a fan of Shania Twain, a performer I couldn't have distinguished from Lee Ann Womack or Patty Loveless before she released her "Up" disc(s) not long ago. And while I've been able to maintain a safe distance from this whole reality TV phenomenon, I almost broke down and started watching "Joe Millionaire", due its brilliantly devious (albeit nasty and exploitative) premise. Almost. But one program whose gimmick did successfully suck me in was Fox's "24", now in it's second season-or day, if you will.

For those of you not in the know, "24" focuses on the exploits of Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland), top agent for the Los Angeles based Counter Terrorism Unit, or as it's commonly known as, CTU. What differentiates it from all other law enforcement themed television series that have hit he airwaves prior to it's debut is that each episode chronicles, in real time, one hour in the life of the stories heroes (of which there are a few) and villains (of which there are many). My initial reaction upon hearing of this provocative concept was, geez, HOW are they gonna do this? Right there I was hooked.

Although falling into a genre I generally avoid-most of my viewing leans towards comedy, or drama of either the fantastic or mundane stripe (for example, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "er", respectively)-I was intrigued enough by the conceit to give it a peek. And while the violence may've been a bit more than I'm generally comfortable with (so I don't find wholesale slaughter all that entertaining-so sue me!), once on board, there was no way I was hopping off THIS top-notch thrill ride!! Oh sure, there were liberties taken-I've never been anywhere near California, but even I know you can't get from place to place as quickly as the folks did on "24"! Apparently, they were all driving Magic Cars! And forget about anybody sleeping-eating and washroom visits never seemed to be an issue for anyone, either! Minor quibbles, though. More majorly, folks had problems with the occasional leaps in logic, and the outright stupid moves made by characters (particularly Jack's teenaged daughter, Kim (Elisha Cuthbert), a favorite target of scorn for even the show's most ardent supporters), moves seemingly made for no other reason than to keep the plot rolling forward at all costs. Perhaps the biggest mistake the producers made last year was to pretty much end the story after the 13th hour, only to have to restart it when word came from the Fox programming geniuses that they were picking up the rookie series for the full season despite it's pulling in less than stellar ratings. The creators compounded this faux pas by publicly admitting that they were making it all up as they went along anyway, so some of the surprising revelations at season's end had more than a few devoted viewers scratching their head saying, "...hey, how could that be, because I remember back when…." In fact, several friends who stuck with the Jack Bauer Power Hour (as it's affectionately known at various "24" sites) bailed on this year's second go-round for pretty much that very reason, especially when the head honchos once again all but admitted that it's a work in progress, not the carefully mapped out piece of work you might expect it to be. Fine. I'd like consistency as well, really I would. But while I don't think it's the best show currently on the tube-the dialog's not going to give Shakespeare-or Aaron Sorkin-any competition, trust me-it is by far the most exciting, and the one thing currently coming across the cable that gets my heart-a pumping!

So far, day 2 seems to be better planned. About 18 months after preventing the assassination of a presidential candidate (Dennis Haysbert, probably the show's best actor) only to then fail from stopping a traitorous agent from murdering his wife, Jack is called out of his grief induced sabbatical and back into duty by now- President Palmer to squash a terrorist plot concerning a nuclear bomb set to ignite in L. A sometime that very day!! Whoa!! Talk about your tough assignments-- made all the tougher by the desperate necessity of having to work with, Nina Myers (Sarah Clarke), his beloved's killer!?! The first hour got off to roaring start, and then settled into a deceptively calm groove for several weeks as the story and it's multitude of characters were carefully established, but things are back up to double speed with the last three installments. Ten hours in, the twists and turns aren't even halfway done! Sometimes you expect 'em and sometimes you don't, as on the most recent episode, airing January 14th. On it, two female characters finally revealed their true colors, one of which was hardly a surprise to long time viewers, while the other caught me totally off guard! About the only thing you CAN count on is for Kim to do something stupid, almost on an hourly basis! To be fair, the brilliant plan intended to free them from police custody on last night's episode was hatched by her kung fu kickin' boyfriend, proving once and for all that the darlin' little gal doesn't date outside her I.Q. range!!(I'm being deliberately coy here, by the way, so as not to spoil any of the shocks, socks, spills, and thrills for any of you who haven't yet seen it but might very well do so sometime in the future. That means you, Rocco-you said you'd consider another day's worth of shows if Bill and I could honestly give it the thumbs up, and so far, so good.)

"24" won't be on the next couple of Tuesday's. First we get an expanded "American Idol" season premiere, and then we're treated to the State of the Union address. Unless that Joe Millionaire guy is involved in either one or the other event, I ain't watching!! But I sure will be three weeks from now when "24" returns, and if you'd care to take this as a gentle suggestion, I'd advise you give it a look see as well.

(Apropos of nothing, I had this nutty little idea over the holidays. There's this compulsion of mine that has me viewing as many Christmas episodes as are telecast during the festive season, even of shows I'd never watched before-and'll never go near again-and it somehow occurred to me that the ultimate Christmas show, the all-time greatest holiday episode would be a "24" storyline that commenced on December 24th-but unlike all the others that are scheduled for winter airing, THIS seasonal treat would begin in September and end in May!?! Twas the Night Before Christmas-for an entire television season!?! Of course, this being "24", there'd probably be a Massacre on 34th Street, the elves would be packing Uzis, and Mrs. Claus would be revealed, in the penultimate episode, to be working for a Blitzen Squad of terrorists from the SOUTH Pole!! (...And Kim? The poor kid would undoubtedly start crying when she found out Santa wasn't real, just an undercover agent for CTU!?!…). Well, that scenario will never see the light of day, gang, but as they say on "Pappyland", it sure is fun to use your imagination!…)

January 14, 2003

It's been a rough week for the Elder Statesmen of British Rock. First we lose a Bee Gee, and then along comes Pete Townsend and his troubles!?!...Depressing events both, and while we all have to accept that Maurice Gibb has gone on to that big arena in the sky (at the all-too-young age of 53) I continue to hold out hope that this whole matter of the Who's frontman being arrested for possessing indecent images of children can be explained away in some sort of logical manner. A tough order, true, but initial reports indicate Townsend himself suffered abuse as a child and that he was researching material for an upcoming autobiography. Foolish, perhaps, but quite possibly the truth. I sure hope so. Right after the Beatles and Beach Boys on my own private musical pantheon ranks the Who. Paul McCartney, Brian Wilson, Pete Townsend--they're the big three in my book. This isn't the sort of news you want to hear about someone you've long admired, so I'll respectfully skip the opportunity to make any and all sorts of Who related quips at their guitarists' expense and, as a fan, hope for the best.

Though my emotional investment in the Bee Gees was nowhere near that of what I felt towards the Who, I was saddened to hear we'd lost a Gibb brother. Like most everyone else my age, I'd been well aware of their music for decades. I remember buying their first album way back in 1968 for the oddest of reasons--a review in my high school newspaper!! Y'see, back in the days before ROLLING STONE magazine, one found informed writing on rock where one could, and when some long forgotten student scribe declared that "Bee Gee's 1st" was the finest record released in 1967, not the more obvious " Sgt. Pepper", well, I was intrigued enough to dig deep into my pocket and fish out some of my not-expansive resources to see if this audacious declaration came within a country mile of the truth. Well, no, it didn't, but it wasn't a bad disc. Any record featuring the tune "To Love Somebody"--the rare rock-era composition that's become a well-covered standard--would be worth noting. I didn't purchase Bee Gees music anytime soon after that, but I didn't have to--it was all over the airwaves!! " I Started A Joke", " I've Gotta Get A Message To You", "Massachusetts"--the list does go on.

And that was all well before "Saturday Night Fever" reinvented them. Their reign as Disco Kings led to an undeserved backlash when the whole dance movement fell into disfavor with the ever-fickle public, but the boys persevered and slogged on, eventually turning questionably motivated derision into hard won respect. Reading a revelatory piece in the May, 2001 edition of MOJO, I was moved to seek out their then current--and now, unfortunately, final--CD, "This Is Where I Came In". The eminently catchy tunes included therein cover a surprisingly wide range of styles and approaches, and while it too is no "Sgt' Pepper"' it's a very solid set that invites and rewards repeated listenings. I don't make this claim lightly, as I proceeded to then venture out and grab up a few of their previous studio offerings, and folks, I'd be lying if I didn't admit that they sounded pretty much exactly what you'd expect a generic Bee Gees effort to sound like. But if this is the way the trio has to go out, at least they went out strong. Along with the superb 2001 double disc greatest hits collection, "The Record", "This Is Where I Came In" is getting a lot of time in the CD changer hereabouts these past few days. If you can get past the occasional whininess, and bury those white suited images deep into your subconsciousness, these two collections would be a fine way to recall a fine musician. Regrettably, none of us will be stayin' alive forever, but with tunes like " How Can You Mend A Broken Heart" and a score of others, Maurice Gibb leaves behind a melodic legacy that'll outlast us all.

January 8th, 2003

Congratulations to Gary Carter for finally making it into the Baseball Hall of Fame in his sixth year of eligibility!! I'll admit to having an almost zero interest in all sports other than baseball, but when it comes to Abner Doubleday's game it's more than an interest, it's a passion! The Kid, as he was affectionately known, provided us New York Mets fans with quite a few thrills during the five year stay he spent in Gotham. Commencing in 1985, the excitement of course reached its zenith when Gary proved to be an integral part of the 1986 World Championship team. Fact was, Lynn and I were in the stands as the All-Star catcher, after ten seasons as a Montreal Expo, played his first game as a Met on a cold April day in the cavernous confines of Shea Stadium. The temperatures continued to drop, and we were all anxious to go home, but wouldn't you know it, the contest crawled into extra innings!?! Always eager to please, Gary sent us all home happy as he hit a game winning-and what is now known as a walk off-home run in his inaugural appearance before his new legion of fans!! Quite a day, that!! And when the newest Met hero subsequently guested on malaprop-prone announcer-and Hall of Famer-Ralph Kiner's Post Game Kiner's Korner program, the former slugger was so excited introducing the star of the game that he referred to him as "Gary Cooper"!?! I don't know exactly when the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies are scheduled to begin this upcoming July, but might I suggest…high noon?? (Another former Met, Eddie Murray (known to Ralph as, yes, "Eddie Murphy"-I'm NOT making this stuff up, sports fans!?!), also was elected to the Hall, and though it was a mere two years out of a twenty one year career, books were written about the early nineties seasons the big first baseman spent hereabouts. Well, A book. It was called " The Worst Team Money Could Buy". I don't think it was his Mets credentials that got him into Cooperstown, but congrats in any event….)

Several correspondents -Pedro Bouca, Dan J. Albert, and D. Eric Carpenter amongst them-have emailed with the vaguely disturbing news that the SciFi Channel is developing a Brother Voodoo one-hour TV series!! Yes, you heard me right-Brother Voodoo!! For those of you who don't know, Brother Voodoo was a perfectly fine character that had the misfortune to debut at the very end of what was a horror comics explosion during the mid-seventies at Marvel. When the craze crashed, it took the Brother down with it, limiting his number of appearances to a mere handful. Sometime thereafter, I got the bright idea that he'd make a good butt for my jokes, and proceeded to use him as a running gag for years. It was all done good-naturedly, though, and I once went into detail about the genesis of the whole situation. It essentially boiled down to once hearing the character facetiously linked to a DC Comics feature that only managed two trips to the nation's newsstands and really WAS silly, Brother Power, the Geek!! From that point on, anybody posting the word "Brother "at the outset of his name became fair game in my mind!! But really, folks, it's not a particularly goofy concept when you examine it closely. Quite the contrary. It might even make for a fine series. What was funny about BV to me was his " Here I am-Now I'm gone" history. If Jericho Drumm somehow makes it big on the tube, well, who's gonna look silly THEN?? On the other hand, a quick cancellation COULD renew a fertile source of humor for yours truly!? Hmmm. Either way, you KNOW I'll be watching…

January 7th, 2003
Another day, another time I'll extol the (many) virtues of the British music magazine, MOJO. Today I'd just like to discuss a curious item I stumbled across in their January, 2000 issue, and a subsequent event that only further amplified this odd bit of trivia. We're talking Andy Williams here folks. You know, the old style crooner who anchored a long-running variety show on NBC back in the sixties? The man who made the Osmonds famous? Whose big, big song was "Moon River"? Yup, THAT Andy Williams. Well, the old smoothie may've seen his career cool down stateside, but apparently things are going great guns for him over across the pond! Finding several (mostly) positive reviews in the British music press would appear to bear this out, as would adverts (as the Brits say) for a seemingly endless round of Williams dates in the Isles might indicate. So, he's popular in England. Fine. That's probably why MOJO chose him as one of the celebrities for a feature that asks a stock set of questions each month--what was the first record you ever bought, what's your favorite record, what do you sing in the shower, that kinda stuff. Well, most of the answers were what you might've expected from an entertainer from his generation, with the requisite mentions of Sinatra, Benny Goodman, et al, but then we come to this query: "What is your favorite Saturday night record?" To quote amiable Andy in his entirety, he came back with this rather jarring reply: " Either "Dark Side of the Moon" by Pink Floyd or "Born To Run" by Bruce Springsteen. I love both those records. They are such artistic triumphs of modern music. The Floyd's preciseness--every note thought out completely. And then Bruce's rawness and unbelievable energy. Whenever I need a lift, this is definitely the CD I put on"!?! Excuse me? Did he just use the phrase, "the Floyd"?? He did, didn't he? Andy Williams just referred to the archetypical space band in the same manner one of their more devoted--and heavily medicated-- followers might!?! Pardon me for dropping my jaw, but what's next? Charo extolling the virtues of " Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols"?? The image of Andy spending a Saturday evening, blasting "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" out of his stereo, or stranger still, getting mellow with "Us and Them' dreamingly piping in through a set of headphones...?? It wasn't a disturbing image, exactly, but it wasn't one ! was going to forget anytime soon, either. Which leads me to the second part of my story...
Flash forward to the wee hours of Labor Day, 2003. As every year on that date, I'm sitting in front of the tube, glued to the Jerry Lewis Telethon. It's after midnight, and Jerry, who's not been in the best of health recently, is relieved of his duties for the evening. The nerve center of the event switches over from Jerry's Las Vegas location to the Moon River Theater in Branson, Missouri. Said theater is owned and operated by our Mr. Williams, who takes on the mantle of host for the telethon's next several hours. Since this is the first real chance I've had to observe Andy since he made his comments to MOJO, I watch with more than a bit of curiosity. Now please don't get me wrong--by no means am I anti-crooner. Despite being a rock and roll devotee, I've come to appreciate the sweet sounds of der Bingle, old Blue Eyes, and Dino, among others. Andy Williams, despite a distinctive voice and obvious talent, never quite distinguished himself enough in my eyes (and ears) to stand out much in that bunch. But here he was, looking a bit wizened--hey, none of us are getting any younger!--but sounding strong despite his advancing years. Acting as emcee, he brings out Yakov Smirnoff, the Lennon Sisters, several others, and then participates in a pleasant duet with "youngster" Glen Campbell, eventually singing a few predictable numbers exhumed from the Great American Songbook. Nice, but hardly noteworthy. It was getting late. Time for bed soon. But I think I'll sit through one more pitch and see what happens afterwards. And man, am I ever glad I did! If I was getting bleary eyed, if I was in any danger of nodding off, any chance at all of that happening instantly vanished as the rumbling bass line that introduced the next number came ominously out of my television's speakers! Good golly Miss Molly, was I hearing what I THOUGHT I was hearing? Before my mind was able to totally process the information being fed it, after the number's dramatic introduction, Andy sang the tune's first words and my suspicion's were confirmed: he was indeed singing "Every Breath You Take", the biggest selling song the Police ever recorded (and incidentally, my particular favorite of theirs). A large laugh erupted from deep within me as the title phrase escaped from his lips, not so much because I thought it was funny, but because of the sheer audacity of it all! Of course, I admit to expecting the worse. The guy's a crooner, fer gawshsakes--this has GOTTA be outta his league, right? Right? But I sat there, transfixed. Maybe this guy really DID listen to the Floyd and Bruce in his spare time? And as surprised as I may've been to realize he may not've just been shoveling MOJO what he thought it's readers wanted to hear, I was even MORE surprised at what was happening right there in front of me: he was singing the @#$% outta the song!! Who'd a thought? Backed by a surprisingly hot band and a soulful backup trio, when he reached the number's climax and began to wildly scat his way to a cataclysmic finish-- WHOA!! I sat there, stunned by the spectacle that I'd just witnessed. The man who once made the world safe for cardigan sweaters had just wrung out every iota of emotion from Sting's twisted ode to a stalker!?! Even Puff Daddy would've been impressed! Who could sleep NOW? Luckily, I had captured this eye opening performance on tape, or no one would've believed me--I'm not sure I would've believed me without the evidence to back it up!! But there it was, proof of a musical moment one's not likely to see repeated again anytime soon!(..and as to WHY I was taping the Jerry Lewis Telethon, well that's a whole 'nother topic, one I'm sure we'll get into some fine day. Just know that, yes, some of the ways of Hembeck are a bit...unusual.) I wanted to tell everyone what I'd seen, to share this knowledge with an unaware public. And now I can--and have. Though it happened months ago, still I hear the strains of Mr. Williams majestic interpretation rattling around in my noggin, leading me to ask but one question: anybody out there got any Branson bootlegs?? Hey, you know how to get a hold of me...

Some of you with way too much spare time may've been peeking at the entries in my guestbook and may've been a bit taken aback by the message left by Crossgen scribe Ron Marz. Please, don't feel any ill will towards him for the seemingly rude salutation--any OTHER reasons you might have for the ol' ill will, fine, be my guest, just don't use this one!! Y'see, Ron usta reside hereabouts before he relocated to sunny Florida at Crossgen's behest, and we were buddies. Well, you know how guys can be. That greeting the Marz man so sublimely set into type for all to see became, after a while, a running gag between us. And now, thanks to Kyle Rayner's illegitimate step-dad, it's entered into cyberspace!?! Know this, Ron, ol' buddy, ol' pal--though I'm attempting to keep things friendly for all ages at my happy little site, in the deep dark recesses of my mind, I assure you, I'm thinking it right back atcha!! Thanks for checking in, compadre!

January 4th, 2003
I've been hearing a lot of chatter about the Rawhide Kid lately. For those of you not in the know, Marvel Comics has decided to revive their long-running-but long defunct-cowboy star in a brand new limited series, the hook for this re-launch being the revelation that the leather-clad ranny is gay. Yup, and always has been. Well, this has gotten some old time readers in a bit of an uproar, but it's certainly succeeded in the publicity arena. When was the last time a Marvel property, sans a big bucks movie behind it, made Jay Leno's monolog three days running? If you said "never" you'd win that oft desired cigar (a Cuban, perhaps?). So, as a stunt, it's succeeded wonderfully, and as a comic, well, we'll just have to wait and see (though the joy of seeing the magnificent work of John Severin one more time will probably be enough to placate most of us first generation fans), but I'm curious as to just how exactly well it's gonna SELL? After all, the core audience for comics remains, for better or worse, teenage boys. Does that generally unenlightened segment of our sprawling population really want to plunk down their cash to follow the adventures of a homosexual hero? Not that there's anything wrong with that, mind you, but isn't Marvel just a shade off the mark with their product? After all, had they utilized several OTHER long-comatose characters and tweaked the concept just a BIT, they'd have themselves a big seller AND a much talked about publicity stunt!! Show me a teenage boy who wouldn't eagerly slap his dollar bills down for a one shot entitled PATSY AND HEDY'S LESBIAN SUMMER FUN?? Except for maybe one who was REALLY looking forward to that RAWHIDE KID book…

We've been up and running for several days now, and I'm happy to say that the initial response to this website has been extremely gratifying!! Thanks to all of you who wrote, either via email, or by signing my guestbook. It means a lot. Y'know, after a certain point, most New Year's Eve's seem pretty much the same as the one that preceded it, especially if, like us, it's been years since you dared venture outside the safe confines of your home. But this year was different. It wasn't just another day, it was our self imposed deadline to get on line, and thanks to some frantic last minute scrambling, Lynn and I were up to the challenge, if only barely! It was a thrill to wake up on New Year's Day-only mildly hung over from splitting the requisite bottle of bubbly with the Webmistress, mind you-and finding a generous plug over at POVonline, Mark Evanier's delightful webpage!! Thanks Mark!! You made me feel happier than the Rose Bowl queen-and I didn't even have to shave my legs!! 2003 rang in with a bang for us, and we humbly request you stick around folks, because as Al Jolson once said-or was it that fellow who fronts Limp Bizkit??-you ain't seen nothing yet!!

On a sad note, I'm afraid I have to make note of my first comics' field obituary. Details can be found over at the aforementioned POVonline, but I'd just like to pass on my condolences at the passing of Jack Keller, long time artist for Marvels' KID COLT, OUTLAW. The very first Marvel comic that found it's way into my collection-and one I still own today-was a KID COLT. Jack's art had a pleasing crispness to it, and sorta reminded me of a stripped down John Severin. It was a tiny talent pool at the Goodman ranch back in 1961-Kirby, Ditko, Heck, Ayers, and maybe Reinman seemed to produce all the art, along with Jack Keller. And yet, while the others may've taken on all sorts of assignments-horror, war, western, super-hero-I never saw Jack anywhere but within the pages of the Kid's comic, certainly not cavorting in the nascent Marvel Universe of Gods and godlike characters. But every month, there was Jack Keller, bringing the Wild West to life one more time. Kid Colt's time ran out over a quarter century back, and now, inevitably, so has that of his most closely identified illustrator. Jack Keller, gone, but leastways in these parts, not forgotten.

December 31st, 2002
"A normal person is just someone you haven't gotten to know very well yet!" I stumbled across that pithy bit of philosophy when I was out driving yesterday-it was on the bumper sticker of a car in front of me! Despite the location, it somehow rung true. We all have things that motivate us, interest us, excite us, and if we told the person standing next to us exactly what they were, they'd more than likely look at us like we were crazy!?! Yeah, we're all different, and yet, so much alike (okay, so that doesn't make nearly as good a slogan to slap on your car's bumper as the aforementioned did, but you get my gist). I guess it resonated with me because I knew I'd soon be launching this website and, for better or worse, revealing a substantial chunk herein of what interests me. Essentially, it boils down to showbiz. Oh, I know I seem to be fixated on comics, but that's just cuz it's my chosen corner of the spotlight. Had I had more talent, I may've leaned towards a career in music; had I more nerve, maybe I'd've gotten up on the stage. As it turned out, I could draw a little, and the writing just naturally followed. It ain't much, but welcome to my life of fame and fortune in the comics biz! Hey, at least it beats those fellows who follow the elephants at the circus, shovel ever at the ready!?!…

There's two particular kindred spirits I feel I have to mention at the outset, since there'd probably be no without their inspiration. Firstly, much thanks to Neil Polowin, the man whose website, The Hembeck Files, kept the flame burning for me on the Internet until I could arrive here in person. Totally unbeknownst to me, Neil started his site several years back. Taking the short 2-3 panel gag cartoons I did for DC Comic's Daily Planet promo page from 1979-1981 as the basis for his project, he beautifully re-colors each strip and uses it's subject as a jumping off point for his own witty and incisive essays. Oh, I'm mentioned upon occasion, but it's hardly the slavish faan site it's name might indicate (not that there would, um, be anything wrong with that…). Neil's writing is as good as his design skills-they're both top notch! You won't be seeing any of those little gags here at They're Neil's now. Go check 'em out, and stay for the verbiage! You'll be glad you did!

Then there's Mark Evanier's POVonline, the virtual template I modeled this site after! Sorry Mark, but your site is just about everything I'd want in a net destination-bright colors, flashy yet classic layout, far ranging topics careening all across the pop culture map, snappy writing, and an overall sense of fun!! So I wanted to try and duplicate that-so sue me!! While there's plenty of topics that obviously enthrall the two of us, Mark can also write about stuff that I have virtually no interest in, and yet keep me hanging on his every word!?! That's why POVonline is pretty much my favorite site, and if I can make my puny little portion of the web half as entertaining, well, I'll be happy!! (Of course, it doesn't hurt that Mark resides out in L.A., and besides writing the occasional comic book, toils in the glamorous world of REAL showbiz, and has the requisite stories to prove it. Me? I went to college with a guy whose mother once knew the mother of funnyman/impressionist John Byner. Really…)

I couldn't close this inaugural edition of " Fred Sez" without a few words about the woman who, in so many ways, makes it all possible, my best friend for the last quarter century--and my wife for nearly as long--Lynn Moss. Not to be too mushy or anything , but meeting her back in my college days changed my life--and definitely for the better! She performed almost all the tech duties in building this site, and those she didn't, she patiently explained over and over to the world's slowest learning student (me, in case you haven't figured it out) We're all indebted to her, because although it says in the masthead, none of this material would be gathered here without a Moss!! Mucho gracias, Webmistress Lynn!! Smoochies, et al!!

HOME | FredSez