Archive - June 2003
June 30th, 2003
To paraphrase the longtime Mets announcer, Bob Murphy, there will be no happy recaps today.
I've just come out of ten days of Baseball Hell. Ten games, nine losses for the New York Mets, six of them--the entire season's series worth--to the crosstown rival Yankees. Seven if you count that game halted because of rain in the fourth inning. The Yankees were leading in that one, too, and though the stats were wiped off the books because they didn't make it to the fifth inning, I'm counting it since I can't quite as easily wipe it from my memory, having had to suffer the physic damage of watching the Mets repeatedly be humbled by their smug superiors. Argh.
Don't worry, I'm not going chapter and verse on you here. You couldn't stand it, and I sure couldn't either. The two losses that hurt the most, I suppose, were the single instance where my team was actually leading as the contest drew to a conclusion, and, paradoxically, the one that seemed least likely within their grasp to win.
Game two, a week ago Sunday. A one run lead going into the ninth. The Mets bring in their closer to finish the game. Instead, he walks four Yankees--four!!--the first three on the minimum four pitches apiece. Just for drama, I suppose, the fellow who forced in the tying run had to sweat out a three and two count. That didn't lose the game, however, merely prolonged the agony. Another pitcher walked in the go-ahead run in the eleventh. At least the teammates were on the same wavelength, which is something, I suppose...
Then there was the second game of this Saturday's day-night, two stadium doubleheader (necessitated by the aforementioned rain-out) in which the Mets were down nine zip going into the fifth. They managed a homer, then another couple of runs, but the Yanks were still clearly in charge, 9-3, going into the eighth.That's when something truly amazin' happened--the Mets rallied, they had the Yankees on the ropes, forcing them to change pitchers three times, until they had their best guy on the mound. With the base loaded, the Met at the plate accomplished an astounding feat--by hitting a double all the way to the wall, he cleared the bases, brought the score to 9-8, AND then, by running too far past second base, getting caught between second and third and subsequently tagged out, he for all intents and purposes deflated what looked to be one of the Mets patented miracle comebacks. So yes, it would appear it IS possible to be the game's hero AND goat simultaneously, a rare feat that's nonetheless within the grasp of this sad group of Mets.
And fool that I am, I sat there transfixed, hanging on each and every pitch, watching attentitively, my misery mounting with every loss. But now it's finally over and I can go back to simply monitoring the games, doing something--ANYTHING!--while they're on. A more constructive use of my time, if you will. Hey, I know it's compulsive the way I follow these Subway Series games, but in the past, they've been a boatload of fun. Not this year, not with the way the Good Ship Mets is rapidly sinking.
Well, the good news I suppose is that I'm not going to have to put my life on hold come the fall to watch the playoff games, now am I?...
An Alarming Addendum: before I actually had a chance to post this piece, I went to put a tape in for tonight's game, and then recalled that a notification came from the cable company a few weeks back saying that they were preparing to relocate several channels late in June. Sure enough, when I cued up channel 68, instead of the Fox SportsChannel, Turner Classic Movies was there in it's stead. Okay, I'll just have to find where they've hidden my Metsies. Ah, according to the on-screen guide, they're at number 87, right next to MSG (Madison Square Garden network, not the Chinese cooking channel), and the Yankee owned YES Network. All fine and dandy--until minutes ago when I went to double check 'em, only to find that NONE of them were being broadcast over my service any longer!!
Y'see, for years it was Mets on Fox Sports Channel for about two thirds of the season, the rest on the local WB outlet. The Yanks were on MSG, but that channel was scrambled--you needed to up your cable package to receive the mighty Bombers, but the Mets were free. No skin off my nose--except Senor Steinbrenner then took his darlin' boys away from MSG and deposited them on his very own YES channel. What was MSG to do? Why, horn in on the Mets, of course. Starting with the 2002 season, the schedule went like this: barring the odd national telecast on either ESPN or the Fox Network Saturday game, the Mets were seen on FSC on Monday, Thursday, and Friday. Poor, bereft MSG had 'em each and every Tuesday and Wednesday. And folks without cable could watch 'em on WB 11 on the weekends. Suddenly, I'm alarmed to discover, the latter group includes ME!?!
I mean, they're not even coming in scrambled anymore!?! Oh, they'd changed things so that we were getting MSG unscrambled about midway during last season, but just on the one set that has a special cable-tuner box, which also happens to be in the bedroom where Lynn does most of her tubing (It's all very complicated...) Believe me, Lynn does NOT want to watch baseball!! Luckily, MSG repeated their games again the following noon in a three hour format (sometimes you lost an inning or two so as to fit into the strict time allotment, but such is the price one pays to maintain martial accord...), and I was more than happy to fall into that day-after routine. But now it's just dawning on me that, unless I want to plunk down even MORE cash, my greedy cable crooks are gonna keep me from following my long-time, long-suffering, sports heroes! And as much as it disturbs me to be denied my inalienable right to watch the Mets lose, folks, I ain't paying!?!
Free at last, brothers and sisters, free at last!! (Now if someone could just figure out a way to keep me from getting my grimy little paws on all those comic books that pile up around here!?!...)
June 29th, 2003
One of the most fascinating thing about amassing a large collection of old and yellowing magazines is, if you take the time to review them upon the odd occasion, they generally maintain the ability to throw a fresh surprise out at you just when you least expect it. Take the official publication of Marvel Comic's frenetic fan club of the sizzlin' seventies, FOOM Magazine. Who knew the celebrity-in-waiting therein that I'd stumble across when I grabbed the twenty odd issues from their safe and undisturbed sanctuary downstairs late last week on a dark and rainy day.
Believe it or not, I DO have better things to do than page through my ancient Friends Of Ol' Marvel newsletters, folks! In point of actual fact, I was answering an email plea from an old, old pal of mine, whom for the purposes of this tale we'll call "Beezy" (Most assuredly not his given name, but inexplicably, nonetheless the moniker he's gone by ever since we met way back when in kindergarten class) Seems he was attempting to sell his Spider-Man Medallion Coin on eBay, and he had a few questions about it. Knowing that I myself owned one, and was in fact the guy who conned him into purchasing his back in the early seventies, when, briefly during our college years, I somehow managed to convince him to become a comics fan (I went to my first comics convention with Beezy, in fact, but that's a story for another time), he contacted me for additional info to aid his listing. Well, mine's been packed away ever since we moved to this house a few years back, I'm afraid to say, but I figured all the necessary stats would be included in one of the many ads Marvel ran for their nifty little trinkets back when they originally marketed them. Instead of fishing around looking for a half page ad in a four-color comic, I pulled out my FOOMs, and sure enough, found a full page ad trumpeting the glories of the Spider-Man, Hulk and Conan Medallion Coins. So I scanned it and sent it off to Beezy. Computers sure are something, aren't they?...
Mission accomplished. But then, there were all those old FOOM mags, just sitting there. I sure had a lot of fun with those things when they first came out. And did I mention it was raining? A lot? Well, then, why not stop for a minute and take a look? Y'know, just for old times sake? It'll be fun. Oh, I'm not expecting anything to jump out and grab me. After all, the most memorable material that turned up in this professionally sanctioned news and fan periodical had been indelibly burned into my memory long, long ago (hey, that's just the kind of guy I am...) For instance, FOOM was the first place that printed Jack Kirby's alternate cover to FANTASTIC FOUR ANNUAL#1 as well as Gene Colan's initial stab at the DAREDEVIL cover Kirby himself instead wound up doing featuring DD's tussle with the Star Spangled Avenger himself, Captain America. And I'd long since scoured the entries and names included in the almost forgotten Create A Character Contest from FOOM's earliest days, coming across such gems as a drawing, rather crude, from the future Dude, Steve Rude!?! So what else could there be?...
When I hit number 18, a 1977 issue focusing on John Romita (senior, folks), I found out. As I casually--and rapidly--paged through the issue, I stopped cold when confronted by a two page article concerning Marvels European publishing arms . The byline was credited, in standard Marvel nomenclature, to one "Nifty Neil Tennant", and a quick perusal of the piece's purple prose proves that the scribe with the suspiciously familiar sounding name had the Marvel parlance down pat. But just WHY did that name strike such a chord with me? Was it a long forgotten someone who had one of those in-and-out moments back in the comics biz of the seventies? Was it the true identity of Leon Lazarus? Or was it--
And then it hit me! Neil Tennant wasn't famed for his work in the four-color field. Oh no, his reach went further than that. LOT'S further. Neil Tennant was a Pet Shop Boy! And while I'm sure a certain percentage of you are scratching your heads trying to figure out just what THAT is, be assured, it's a wee bit more impressive than writing for FOOM magazine!(but just a tad...) The Pet Shop Boys were--and are--a musical and performing duo responsible for a whole buncha hits over the years, commencing back in the early eighties, "West End Girls", "It's A Sin", and a quirky take on Elvis Presley's "Always On My Mind" amongst them. With Tennant handling the vocals and partner Chris Lowe on keyboards and synthesizers, they've been described as an "Intelligent and classy electro-pop disco rock duo, with perfectionist production and social comment lyrics their forte" ( M.C. Strong, "The Great Rock Discography") They've released over a half dozen albums in the last two decades, including last years aptly titled "Release"
But how could this be? How exactly could one go from toiling for FOOM to becoming a world-wide pop sensation? Well, who better to ask than That Seventies Editor himself, Jim Salicrup. True, David Anthony Kraft topped the masthead in FOOM's later days, but listed right below is trusted right-hand man and aide-de-camp Salicrup (no relation, I assure you, to Rosemary DeCamp...). And since I have Jim's ear--and his email address--I thought I'd share my little discovery with Mister Salicrup and ask him just what he knows of this marginal matter of Mighty Marvel Minutia. Here's what he chimed in with...
Yep, Freddie, ol' bean, that erstwhile Marvel British Weeklies editor is indeed Neil Francis Tennant of Pet Shop Boys fame. He had worked for some music rags and was hired to edit the mighty Marvel mags way back in the swingin' seventies. It was his day job as he sought to become an honest to Sir Paul McCartney rock star. Meanwhile, I was the Yank editor shipping the books off to him every week. You see, long before I edited any American Marvel Comics, I edited the British weeklies.
I remember one night, way back then, listening to Allison Steele (AKA "the Night Bird") on WNEW FM and hearing her play a single by Mike (Tubular Bells) Oldfield, called Don Alfonso. I thought it was great fun and had to have it, but it was only available in the UK. Well, I simply asked Nifty Neil to pick me a copy and to slip it into the next courier pouch from Marvel UK. And he did. Life is good.
I believe there's a book about the history of Marvel UK in the works which will reveal all, so, hang loose, True Believer, the best Brit bits is yet to come!
Thanks Jim! Always a pleasure to have your insight. Let us know when that book hits the shelves--it should prove to be quite a history!
And yes, for the record, I'm a Pet Shop Boys fan. Appropriately enough, I spun their first disc, "Please", while cobbling up this little report. I don't rank the fellas up there with my all time favorites, but I have enough of their recorded output that you'd have to say they're definitely bubbling under the top on my own personal pantheon! And all this BEFORE I realized their lead warbler was a fellow FOOMster!?!
Maybe it is a bright and sunny day out today, but if you'll excuse me, I think I'm gonna go down below and yank out my pile of AMAZING WORLD OF DC COMICS magazines, give 'em the old once-again over. Who knows what further review will turn up? Contributors like, well, how about Corey Hart? Thomas Dolby? Maybe Adam Ant? Or Katrina, with or without the Waves? At the very least, I can check out the stats for Superman Underoos in case good old Beezy takes a notion to sell his pair of THOSE as well!?!...(Just kiddin' buddy--I know you'll never part with 'em!...)
June 25th, 2003
This is a tale of two pools, and it all began when we moved to this area just as Julie was entering the first grade.
There were kids from two other families being picked up at the same bus stop as our little girl. One family boasted four kids, all but one a girl. They were all nice enough, but inasmuch as they were all older than Julie, ultimately they didn't have much interest in hanging around with a (then) 6 year old. The other group consisted of an older sister, maybe 10 at the time, and a 5 year old girl with two even younger brothers. At that age, it's not always easy to get kids together--so-called play dates are always much more a scheduling problem for the adults arranging them than they are for their progeny--but by the time Julie's 7th birthday rolled around, Amy (not her real name, Dragnet fans!) had begun what were to be her not infrequent visits to our house.
All fine and good. Julie's at her happiest when she has other kids around, and when Julie's happy, believe me, Lynn and I are happy too! Like our daughter, I myself grew up as an only child as well. But while I was social enough in the hours following school and on weekends, I managed to quietly entertain myself during the slow periods (did I ever mention that I used to read comics?...) Julie, however, wants to keep the party going 24/7. So we were happy to have Amy visit as often as possible. And she did. Often. The only drawback was the sometimes dicey matter of reciprocation--you know? The old, "You've invited my kid over to your house, now I'll invite yours over to mine so as to be fair"? It's a dream we as parents have always had, and sometimes that dream does indeed come true. Other times? The word "nightmare" instead comes to mind...
Over an 18 month period we played host to Julie's friend--and occasionally, her older sister (but never the little guys--they were too young at the time) approximately 20 times. Now, that doesn't sound like a lot, and compared to the frequency of various visitor's visiting at later ages, it isn't. At the time, though, it was the benchmark. And more importantly, there was this little nugget--in all that time, our Julie visited Amy's twice. Two times. But hey, who's counting?...
To further sour the situation, the two of them never got along all that well. I don't want to heap all the blame on Amy, but she always seemed far more interested in playing with Julie's things than she was in playing with Julie. It happens, I guess. Everything doesn't automatically fall into place when you get two kids together , and relationships based on neighborly proximity can definitely be more artificial than most. Still, at the time, she was pretty much the only game in town, so we all did our best to promote the friendship. Which meant, of course, swimming in our pool during the summer months...
Nothing memorable comes to mind about the several visits Amy (and yes, her older sister) made to our pool over the post 1st and 2nd grade summers, but I'll never forget the circumstances surrounding the initial dip Julie and the girls took while 3rd grade was winding down for our daughter. It was Memorial Day Monday, and apparently Julie had promised Amy that that was the day the pool would initially be ready for their swimming enjoyment that particular season. Only, when that day finally arrived, Julie wasn't around to host her eager neighbor buddies. Seems she was on an overnight visit to her grandmother--an hour's drive away--and wasn't scheduled to return home until late mid-afternoon that holiday. This information didn't discourage the two sisters from riding their bikes up and down the street in front of our house, however, stopping in numerous times to repeatedly ask Lynn (who was outside gardening) if Julie had gotten home yet.
Sure, you can't blame kids for getting excited at the prospect of the season's first dip, but any number of negative things had gone down between the pair in the last few months--I'm showing admirable restraint in not enumerating them for you, chapter and verse, but if you think this sounds petty NOW, well just be thankful I'm sparing you the goriest of details (another time, perhaps?...)--I wasn't much interested in getting involved in this whole sad sideshow. It wasn't exactly summer-like weather at the time, please understand. Fact is, it was overcast and barely 70 degrees. But still they waited, circling, ever circling. Ah well, I thought, at least we shouldn't have to put up with this sorta nonsense the entire summer. It seems Amy's family had decided to have their own pool installed, and the ground work for it was being dug up at that very time . After being the lifeguard for their kids the last few summers, I figured maybe they could take a turn or two looking after our girl on occasion.
Julie arrived home to a warm if totally transparent welcome. Like I said, I was just too annoyed at what had been building up over the previous months that I flat out refused to watch them swim. Instead, I dumped that chore on my (just barely) more tolerant wife, Lynn. After the trio had had their dip--a quick one as it turned out--and the sisters happily headed for home, I turned to Julie, checking to see if she'd had a good time. Not surprisingly, she had. Then, off handedly, I commented, "Well, at least this summer you can go swim down at Amy's a few times, huh kid?..."
She looked up at me and said, "Uh uh, daddy. Amy's parents told her the new pool is just for their family. No one else can swim in it."
I'll admit to knowing my fair share of swear words. More than several were used at this juncture, I assure you. Forget that unwritten policy of parental play-date reciprocation--we were clearly being used as the local "Y" by Amy's family, while they were busy building themselves an exclusive country club, for which Julie would never meet membership qualifications!?!...
Well, that was pretty much it for THOSE neighbors. I think Amy came over all of three times after that. Of course, Julie would see her and her little brothers at the bus stop the next couple of years, but even that cordiality was strained by an incident on said bus one morning. Maybe I'll tell you about it some time, but suffice to say, we've become non-people with Amy and her family (except the littlest brother, who still says hi to me if he sees me on the street) It's an odd feeling when someone you once splashed around with in your pool looks right through you blankly as if they never met you, but that's the way it is when Lynn or I happen upon Amy or her sister. It's their choice--we continued to acknowledge them until it became blatantly obvious we'd get nothing in return. Well, at least I take comfort in knowing they're getting their swimming in...
Like I said, some kids just click, some don't, and it's hard to mix oil and water (especially when said water is for, harummph, family only). The happy postscript to this little tale of woe is that, mid-way through the third grade, another pair of sisters moved in right next door to us. Christina's two years younger than Julie, Elizabeth one--and yes, that's their real names! Their mom has been great as well and you couldn't ask for better neighbors. Oh sure, things haven't always gone smoothly--any kids who live that close together and see each other as much as those three have over the last four-plus years are bound to have their ups and downs--but mostly, it's been good. Thankfully.
Hey, the girls still make eye contact when they see me--and as I've come to learn the hard way, what more could you possibly ask from a kid?
June 23rd, 2003
|Some of you might recognize those fellas
in the above photograph. Yup, it's the legendary
rock group, The Band, as pictured on the
cover of their second--and most would agree,
best--album, the one simply titled "The
Band". What, you may ask, has this got
to do with anything? Well, I couldn't rightly
tell you where those five gents were twenty
four years ago today, but I CAN tell you
with some authority exactly where the shutterbug
who snapped that iconic pic was on June 23rd,
1979--he was serving as official photographer
for the Hembeck/Moss nuptials!?!...
Yup, that's right--Elliot Landy, renowned for his portraits of Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and designated the official photographer of 1969's landmark Woodstock Music and Arts Festival--HE was the guy behind the lens at our wedding!
How did this unlikely pairing occur, and why am I telling you about it today?
Well, the "why" is simple enough--today is our 24th Wedding Anniversary, and after making a big deal marking such dubious occasions as Macca Day, Bob Hope's centennial, and the conclusion of Julie's Soccer season, well, I just figured skipping over our very special day would be kinda insulting to certain other members of our family (no names, please). On the other hand, I was warned by my beloved to not get all mushy and embarrass her. Not sure exactly which tack to take to commemorate the event, I was nudged along this track whilst paging through a recent MOJO magazine and saw a short squib about a Dylan retrospective of Landy's that was being mounted in England. "Hey--that's the guy who took the pictures at our wedding! I'll tell the folks about that! Forget the lovey-dovey stuff--name dropping's way more fun!!" (For the record, next year will be the magical 25th, and THAT'S when I'll unleash with the sonnets! You've been duly warned.)
HOW did we manage to snare this world famous lensman to immortalize our union, you ask? Well, I myself wasn't totally aware of the actual behind-the-scenes maneuvering until just a few years ago, but the simple answer is "Woodstock". Mr. Landy, just like Mr. Dylan, Mr. Robertson, Mr. Helm, Mr. Manuel, Mr. Hudson and Mr. Danko were all based in that now-famous small arts community located about a hundred miles upstate from the metropolitan environs of New York City. As it turns out, so were Mr. Larry Moss and Mrs. Terry Moss and their two children, Robert and Lynn. In fact, they'd lived for many years in a house on Zena Road, the very same thoroughfare Bob Dylan spun out of control on his motorcycle at the peak of his fame in 1966, causing him to retreat from the public eye for over a year! As far as I can tell, the accident didn't occur right in front of the Moss residence--or anywhere particularly close for that matter--but it still makes for a teensy bit of interesting Moss minutia.
Lynn's mom Terry worked in a real estate office in the town of Woodstock in those days, and when the subject of her daughter's wedding came up in conversation amongst the folks employed there, eventually the matter of snaring a photographer was broached. Somebody mentioned a local fella, well known but looking for work. This was, after all, 1979--Jimi and Janis were long dead, if the Band hadn't broken up yet, well, it was only a matter of time, and the second--and third--Woodstock Festivals were years off on the event horizon. Even a big deal shutterbug's gotta eat, so he was more than ready to take on a simple wedding gig to amass some cash.
Mom Moss probably had no idea he was the fella who took the portrait that adorns the cover of Dylan's "Nashville Skyline" LP, but his price and terms were reasonable, extremely so considering what we received in return. While I've always gotten the impression that professional wedding lensmen take only a specific, limited amount of photos, Landy snapped away continuously, filling up roll after roll. True, he didn't plan things quite as well as he might've, running out mid-way through the reception, but the sheer mass of images we do have are definitely impressive. For instance, there's a wealth of pictures taken of the wedding party hours before the ceremony out in back of Lynn's house. They have none of the stiff, posed qualities one usually associates with wedding photography. Everyone looks natural, everyone looks great. So what if the uppermost top of my head is cut off in some of the photos? Believe me, despite that small oversight, I've never looked better. And Lynn? Wowser! Okay, it's not Helmut Newton, but she's looking mighty swell, mighty swell!...
You might be wondering what I thought of the situation at the time, and was I aware of the gent's impressive list of credentials? The answer to the second part of that query is "But of course!" While I may've ably and often demonstrated an obsessive memory for comic book trivia here at Hembeck.com, let me assure you I possess, for better or worse, a similar facility for the minutia of the sixties and seventies Rock Pantheon! So yeah, I knew exactly who was clicking away that long-ago day. The thing that strikes me odd now is that I have virtually NO memory of the man himself at the event in question. I suppose I must have spoken with him, but absolutely nothing comes to mind. Despite his obvious fame, I apparently had my mind on OTHER matters that particular afternoon! I was, after all, getting hitched! And no, in case you're wondering, there were no jitters whatsoever. Fact is, I clearly remember it as one of the happiest days of my entire life! (Okay, all in unison now--"Awwwww....")
Literally hundreds of photos were delivered to us in the form of slides, and after carefully reviewing all the images, we culled the best and most representative, chose proper sizes and made up our very own wedding album. I just looked at it for the first time in quite awhile before I sat down at the keyboard, and I gotta tell ya, it's one nifty document! And boy oh boy, did we ever look young! Of course, it being 24 years ago, that shouldn't come as any sort of surprise I suppose... Anyway, talking about all this with my sweetie might very well motivate us to finally put all the remaining pics--still on slides--on one of those new fangled CD ROMs. It'd sure be fun to see them again without having to sit in a darkened room, listening to the incessant clickity clickity clickity as we go from slide to slide...
I know what you're thinking--"Why don't you show us some or shut up?" Well, no. Sorry. I realize it's a bit of a cheat, but as of yet, this site doesn't sport any photos of yours truly. Doesn't mean it never will, just that their introduction into the proceedings must be carefully planned. Besides, I kinda like hiding behind the little caricature you're all so familiar with. Seeing the real me would probably just be a disappointment. For now, we'll maintain the mystery, but when I do post photos, well, you can be sure a generous selection of Mr. L's will be included...(And getting me to shut up is virtually impossible--my darlin' wife'll be the first to tell you THAT!?!...)
I was asking Lynn the other day if there were any other conditions put upon us regarding the photos. She said, yeah, he reserved the right to keep any of the photos from our nuptials for his own purposes. Hearing this, I brightened, wondering if we fell anywhere in the Landy canon, amidst the likes of Lennon and Townsend, McCartney and Slick. "Did he?" I asked hopefully...
"I think he kept a picture of one of my cats..."
Oh well. I guess that's something. Still, after a quick perusal of the over 500 images available for viewing over at his Landy Vision web-site, nary a glimpse of good ol' Blanche was to be seen. I DID spot Hermione Gingold, however!...
(Say, did I mention that the ceremony itself was officiated by the judge who had some months earlier joined Lucie Arnaz and Lawrence Luckenbill in Holy Hollywood matrimony? No? Well, that's the extent of THAT story. Gotta go now--only have a little over 360 days to get those love poems into shape, y'know. I wonder--do limericks count?...)
June 22nd, 2003
Your attention please--the entry originally scheduled for this edition of "Fred Sez" has, at the suggestion of Web-Mistress Lynn, instead been relocated over in the "More" section of Hembeck.com.
Y'see, I wrote up this whole typically rambling reminiscence, and in the course of it, peripherally referred to a particular strip I once had published in the pages of MARVEL TALES, a scan of which I intended to set up comfortably with a permanent home in the "More" area, sending you folks over to it via one of those magical link things that makes all his Internet stuff so much fun! Good plan? Well, my darlin' dear of a wife thought keeping the background piece together with the art so as not to confuse future visitors to this site--even though a majority of the tale doesn't directly concern the strip in question--rather than, as I originally planned, send 'em to these here environs for the behind-the-scenes scoop, as by next month, it'll be a more difficult to locate archived piece. Okay, it wouldn't be all THAT hard, but I want to make things as easy as possible for my loyal readers, so instead, I'm briefing you and then sending you off, comprende? And if, after all that, you head isn't spinning nearly as much as mine is, go take a gander! It's an odd little tale, and an even odder little strip--and (oh yeah)it's all TRUE!!
And while we're talking about links--which I imagine they do a lot over at the Hormel site--let me tell you about one you might very well be interested in. Bill Sherman is a writer whose critiques and commentary I've enjoyed quite a bit over the years, and when he answered my patently pathetic plea for new signees in my Guestbook a few days back, I felt the least I owed the guy was a quick peek at his web-site, Pop Culture Gadabout.
Well, folks, it wasn't all that quick, lemme tell ya! I only managed to scroll down and read what he had up currently, not even attempting to delve in his chockfullanutty stuffed archives!! THAT for a rainy day. What I DID review was great--and wide-ranging! Besides most of the things I ramble about, Mr Sherman also shares his thoughts on all the movies I haven't seen, all the comics I don't have time to read, all the tv series I don't watch, and an awful lot of the records I have happily sitting in my musical collection!! Bill offers perceptive comments on them all!!
I was particularly struck by his June 7th entry wherein he uses a review of the HULK MARVEL MASTERWORKS to offer an overview of the Jade Giants earliest days in comics. Notably, forty years after reading the Lee/Kirby origin tale, Bill has somehow managed to come along and ruin it for me!?! Yipes! Aw, that's okay--it was never a big favorite of mine anyway! Y'see, he points out a massively fatal flaw in the story that I never noticed before (NOT scientist Bruce Banner employing a Russian assistant with the always suspicious name of "Igor" to help him develop a new bomb for the military at the height of the Cold War--that's MY own observation!..).
There's this top secret bomb test, right? So there must be security, right? You'd figure the area would be swarming, just swarming with soldier types, right? Right? So how then does clueless teen-ager Rick Jones amble up into the testing area in his broken down jalopy without ANY of these uniformed fellas noticing? And how is it that the only guy who DOES notice is Banner? And when he runs off to save the kid, no one seems to miss HIM despite his sudden disappearance just as the test is commencing? There's more, but I think those nasty little incongruities will be enough to keep you old-time Marvelites awake at night. You want more, well, you know where to go! Nice job, Bill--and thanks for answering my shameless plea!
...And speaking of shameless pleas, I think it's time I once again point out to all and sundry that we indeed employ a PayPal button for those of you who might be inclined to contribute some small token of largesse to the site. And for those folks who want bang for your buck, well, we're still selling classic cover redos as well as taking on commissions. All info over in sales. Take a look and make a disillusioned old comics fan happy, won't you? (...maybe Rick was working with Igor the spy? It's the ONLY explanation that makes any sense?...)
June 21st, 2003
Well, the girls intramural spring soccer season ended this morning, and not with a whimper--certainly not with a bang--but much the way it started back on April 26th--with a drizzle. Which was ultimately both a surprise and a blessing, as a downpour erupted soon after we finished our early bird special at 9:30 instead of long beforehand as originally predicted. But then, why should today be any different than what's been going on relentlessly the last couple of months here on the east coast? Rain, rain, and more rain! Yeesh!
This has been the most moisture saturated season I've yet to endure by far in the six years Julie's been kicking up her cleats. To make it doubly distressing, this group of girls has provided me with the worst game day participation in all the three years I've been coaching!! While it was never 100% attendance in the fall's slate of games, it's become dramatically worse since the winter snow finally melted. Indulge me this post mortem--I'm gonna toss the woeful statistics out at you. First, though, bear in mind, the under 12 age group has an optimum of 11 girls taking the field at any given time (since competitive standings and such aren't compiled, the general rule is to play down to the number of players the lesser manned--or, in this case, girled--team is able to muster, but generally, there's an excess, not the opposite situation) Also, note that we usually start in early to mid-April and play 9 or 10 games. Well, here's how things stacked up for the Blue Thunderbolts this spring...
We had 9 games scheduled, the first totally wiped out since the fields weren't deemed ready in time to play it. When all was said and done, there were 7 dates actually played (including the 4 mini-games at the tournament, a day we narrowly escaped torrential rains by about 90 minutes). 1 of those games was played in a cold relentless rain (the opener), 1 was played in a steady drizzle, and 1 was played in an off and on, light and hard rain (today). And dig this--1 wasn't played at all even though it was a warm and dry sunny Saturday, the reason being that the amassed rainfall from two previous days left the field riddled with intractable puddles!
And as far as the declining level of participation, well, we managed one over the minimum with 12 players for the tournament (with a pool--no pun intended--of 16 players to draw from), and also played standard 60 minute contests with 10 players, 9 players, 8 players (today), and, as our all time nadir, 6 measly players!?! Actually, we didn't field just 6--the opposing coach "lent" us an additional 3 participants from his overflowing bounty of kickin' kids!?! That was a first for me, and yes, unsurprisingly, we lost that one, 3-0. It wasn't because of any sort of sabotage by our split-loyalists, however. We just didn't have the proper mix in the 6 who did show their faces on that drizzly morn. And you know what? Ironically, the one time we did have 14 show up--not 16, but doggone close-- the opposing club only had 7 available to mount an offense. So, all my girls only played half a game. And as I may've mentioned the last time I babbled on endlessly about my soccer trials and tribulations, yes, we still lost, 2-1. Not an easy thing to do, I assure you, but we did it.
In fact, that lonely little goal was the last one our team scored, way back on May 17th, just over a month ago, until--thankfully!--today. You might recall the subsequent week's tournament featured two 0-0 ties and two 1-0 losses. That was followed up by the 3-0 loss featuring opposition players helping us out, and then that sunny Saturday we were able only to contemplate the puddles. Given that it had rained the last few days (surprise, surprise!), and that the forecast called for non-stop rain Saturday beginning Friday overnight, I honestly never expected to play today, but when I awoke to find a clear, if not sunny, morning, I was dumbfounded if somewhat relieved. Y'see, beyond being the last gathering of this particular squad (or, as it turned out, a portion thereof), it was also the day the commemorative trophies are given out to one and all, and if there was no rounding up folks for a game, dispensing said chachkis would just be all the more of a headache for me in the days to come. Now I just hoped we'd have enough girls to play....
Julie wasn't going to be one of them, though. She was sick--again!?!--with a nasty cold. True, she was finally on the downside of it, but I really didn't want her sloshing around in what was sure to be a wet field or risk getting caught in an imminent shower. (I myself had just started to manifest cold symptoms of my very own, but despite feeling lousy--which I did--the coach couldn't be a no-show, so off I went, a handful of Kleenex stuffed in my jacket pocket...) Knowing this might well be my last game as a coach, at least as a solo, I admit to feeling a pang of regret leaving my daughter home to miss it. I did ask her if she wanted to get up and accompany me, but she mumbled that she was too tired, so I took that as a sign that this was for the best, considering the weather and all, but still...(And in true Julie fashion, when I got home, and she was finally waking up more fully, she asked me why I didn't try to rouse her more intensely, filling me with waves of guilt!?! However, a friend of hers soon came over and all was forgotten. It WAS the right move, but that doesn't mean the little squirt doesn't know how to push all my buttons, because, boy does she ever!?!...)
When 8:25AM rolled around and we had but 2 players and the red-garbed group numbered in the double digits, well, I seriously contemplated calling Lynn and having her drag Julie out of bed and get her down there to the field--soggy or not--soon as possible! But, as if on cue, 6 more players rolled in at just about the last possible moment, and we were in business. Even better--for the first time in I don't know how long, we had our 6 best players all on the field at the very same time! The remaining two were not #s 7 and 8 in the countdown parade, true, but I'd easily put them in the middle of the pack, with our 4 weakest players absent. That made for a formidable squad, and as play began, the girls quickly scored their first goal in over 30 days! And then--oh boy!--another! Our opponents came back and tied it up by the end of the first half, but we soon surged ahead to a 4-2 lead. Unfortunately, we couldn't hold it and the game ended in a 4-4 tie. The funny thing is, because of their come-from-behind momentum, you'd almost've thought the OTHER team won the game!?! Well, at least it wasn't quite as bad as that 3-3 tie we had back in early May when the third goal that tied the proceedings was scored with literally seconds left to play!! (And no, we didn't actually WIN any games this spring, having to merely settle for the aforementioned ties...)
Where was everybody, you ask? Hey, that was MY question! On the plus side, my three best players didn't miss a game all year, fall and spring, save one girl once due to sickness (and they were regulars at what became increasingly sparsely attended practice sessions on Thursdays as well), but players that I've designated #s 4 and 5 played a full slate of softball, which always and unfailingly took precedence over our games, and #6 had dance lessons Saturday mornings, conflicting with most of our games (ironically, she could've played last week when we had a rare 2:30 start, but it was called off--puddles, y'know.) Number 4 kept me appraised of her outside activities, but the other two never bothered to inform me of their other interests. I only finally heard about them from some of the other players when, in frustration, I wondered out loud last game just where oh where could they be. Since softball and dance had, by this weekend, closed up shop, they were able to rejoin their erstwhile teammates. Nice. It just seems to me you shouldn't bite off more than you can chew--pick one or the other, ladies, but you do a disservice to the rest of the girls who want to field a team if you continuously choose your other activity over soccer, leaving us strapped for players week in and week out. But, y'see, this isn't something you have to try out for--pay your $60 and you're in for the year, no questions asked. I can't MAKE them show up--it's not my place. And I sure can't "punish" them by NOT playing them when they do, because that just makes my problems worse. I guess I just have to grit my teeth, smile. and do the best I can with the hand dealt to me--but in THIS game, you need more than 4 Queens!?!...
Not there aren't any legitimate reasons for being absent, because there certainly are. Being sick, for instance, which not only laid Julie low, but several others over these past few miserable weeks. And then there's my three kids who attend a parochial school together. I've had 'em with me all three seasons, and they're great girls, fair to better-than-average players. The last two years, though, they've had school sponsored weekend trips smack dab in the middle of June, causing them to miss the final contests. Certainly understandable, but regrettable nonetheless.
And then there are the ones who just...vanish. One girl backed out of the Tournament cuz it was too long an event for her folks to attend, and she hasn't been seen nor heard from since. Odd, because she definitely seemed to be enjoying herself earlier in the year. Not so a second girl, who all the world looked to be doing this solely because her parents wanted her to. She had no enthusiasm whatsoever for the sport, and while she came to at least half the games--such as the previous one, though not the tournament, nor today's finale--you never knew from week to week if she was gonna show or not. And occasionally you have someone who just spaces out and forgets to come. That happened to one of my better players the last two weeks, and I know that cuz Julie is good pal's with her older sister! I shoulda had Julie leave a message...
For all this aggravation, we coaches don't get paid a red cent. Or any other color, for that matter. That's okay. It's fun .I've enjoyed doing it these last few years. Considering I'm mostly ignorant of the intricacies of soccer, I think things went reasonably well. Winning a game now and then would be nice, sure, but hey, you can't have everything, y'know! (And is this where I say, "You get what you pay for"?...)
On a related note, when I inadvertently flaunted my ignorance the other day in matters pertaining to the world of professional soccer, well, I swiftly heard from several of you out there eager to correct my egregious error. It was not the future Mrs, Nomar Garciaparra (superstar shortstop for the Boston Red Sox, for those of you not in the know), Mia Hamm, who peeled off her jersey top in giddy excitement upon scoring the winning goal on a penalty kick for WUSA in the 1999 World Cup, no not at all. It was the far more appropriately named Brandi Chastain who did the deed, because hey, if THAT doesn't sound like the name of a stripper, I don't know what does!! My thanks go out to Noah Smith, Brian, and the enigmatically named tyg for passing along this helpful information! Who would ever guess we had so many women's soccer buffs out there--or was it the unique combination of scoring and disrobing that got your attention, hmm, fellas?
Ponder that, and then wish the Mets luck tomorrow, okay? (They lost 5-0 to those darn Yankees Friday night, and trailing 4-3 in the fourth inning earlier today, the second game was called -did I mention it's been raining a lot? Yeah, well, at least THEIR players tend to show up for games!?!....)
June 20th, 2003
Not long ago, with wide sweeping hyperbole, I concluded that a careful review on my part of several years worth of issues of DC's DETECTIVE COMICS leading up to Julie Schwartz's much-needed "New Look" revamp of Batman in number 327 contained but only a single noteworthy panel, which I generously included for the edification of all. Well, in this addled addendum, I'd like to admit I was egregiously exaggerating. Actually, I found TWO panels of interest, and today I'm gonna happily clue you in regarding the second one!
Let the record show that it appeared in DETECTIVE #307, the September 1962 edition of that long-running title. The story, "Alpha, the Experimental Man" dealt with, well, this fella named Alpha who was some kinda experimental man, y'know? More to the point, as he's more clearly identified on the tale's second page, he's actually an ARTIFICIAL man. Yes, panelologists, several years before Roy Thomas and John Buscema would produce a certified comics classic over in the pages of AVENGERS treading much the same ground with the debut of their Vision character, the people who almost drove Batman to cancellation concocted a surprisingly effective treatment of a similar theme. Who'd a thunk it? (As a side note, one is almost obliged to credit the art to the standard team of Sheldon Moldoff and Charles Paris after giving the story a cursory once over--and I have no doubt they're involved in SOME fashion--but a closer look finds more of a spark than usually associated with the work of those artists during that less-than-stellar period, and, though buried deep beneath the house style, I can almost detect the hand of someone else, with my first guess being Pete Costanza? Anybody care to take a close look and offer their opinion?...) (Perhaps a better question might be, "Anybody care?", period? Anyway...)
Worry not--I don't intend to recap this story in detail, excruciating or otherwise. It's one of those rare early sixties DC episodes in which emotions play a role, ANY role! That alone makes it memorable, as does our erstwhile star's noble sacrifice at tale's conclusion. But what REALLY made this episode stand out in my mind after all these years was the method Alpha's scientist creator, aided and abetted by the Dynamic Duo, chose to teach his blank slate of a being human emotions--
Why, what BETTER way? Just unspool a Jerry Lewis flick for the poor artificial sap--THAT'S all he needs to know about us humans, ain't it?!...
|And if you don't believe me, well, there's the panel in question! Alpha seems confused by what he's seeing and who can really blame him? YOU try being hatched full-blown, and practically the first thing they shove in your face is "The Disorderly Orderly"?!?|
|The funny thing is, despite running a caricature
of the frenetic funnyman on an all-encompassing
house ad on the inside front cover of that
very issue, someone in editorial apparently
got cold feet concerning their unsolicited
crossover. Why else then the big glasses?
(And no, he ISN'T also sporting a 'stache
and goatee--those are merely shadows, though
they look for all the world at first glance
as extra hair follicles...)
Why this shyness on DC's part at making Alpha another one of Jerry's kids, albeit an adult if unformed one? At this late date, who's to say for sure, but I'd have to guess it might concern their trepidation in the unlikely but unfortunate event that the high-strung Mr. Lewis might accidentally open up that very copy of DETECTIVE, see an unpaid-for likeness of his distinctive noggin, and proceed to scream what for DC Comics would no doubt be that most unwelcome of exclamations:
June 19th, 2003
It's Mets versus Yankees, 2003, round one coming up, and I couldn't be more excited!! (Well, actually, I probably could, but let's just go with that slightly overblown sentiment for now, shall we?...)
It's hard to explain to those who didn't grow up in or near the New York metropolitan area, but there's been an intense rivalry between the two teams practically since the Mets made their entrance into the National League way back in 1962. Okay, okay--it's been more a rivalry between the two teams FANS, but whatever it is, there's excitement in the air when the two squads get together on the same baseball diamond! (And, dare I say it, yawns of disinterest throughout the rest of the country, nay the world? Even Rocco doesn't care! Still, it's MY web-site, so let's proceed as if you're all hanging on my every word, shall we?...)
Ahem. As I was saying...This new-fangled inter-league play has been going on for, what? Six or seven years now? Prior to it's inception, the only time teams from the American League--like the Yankees--matched up with teams from the National League--like the Mets--was in the World Series. Of course, to get to that point, you'd have to beat all the OTHER teams in your League in order to get a shot at the champ of the opposing league. I'll begrudgingly admit that the Yankees seemed able to pull off this trick with a disconcerting regularity, but hey, the Metsies have managed a few championships of their own as well, y'know?!? That the baseball gods looked down and smiled on we New Yorkers, allowing for a dream match-up in the 2000 Subway Series, was but a pleasant aberration we Mets rooters knew better than to expect each and every year. Regularly scheduled inter-league play allowed us fans to see how the two teams stacked up against one another in games that counted, not just the spring training and mid-season Mayor's Trophy Game exhibitions of old. These were exhilarating contests!
Initially, they started off with a single three game series per year, alternating between Yankee Stadium one season, going over to Shea Stadium--the Mets home park--the next. Demand soon caused the schedule makers to rethink this equation, and for the last several years, we've been treated to a pair of three game stints per season, one in each yard, smack dab in the middle of summer, with a few short weeks in between, giving everyone--players, fans and the media alike--a chance to catch their breath! And tomorrow the frenzy is starting all over again!!
Now, I've mentioned that I'm a big Mets fan in the past, but mostly that's in a passive if still compulsive sense. Yes, I videotape all the games, but mostly play 'em back at my leisure while I'm either drawing, writing, or reading, paying scant more attention than I would to background music. Hey, if anything monumental happens--or even mildly interesting--the escalating pitch of the announcer's voice alerts me and I can always roll back the tape, comprende? But this mode of viewing goes right out the window when my boys line up against those pin-striped prima donnas! (Juvenile name calling is all part and parcel for situation at hand, please understand...) I hang on each and every pitch and watch the Friday and Sunday night games live as they're being broadcast. Generally, though, the traditional Saturday afternoon game winds up being taped, and that's resulted in several rather unusual late nights in year's past.
Anybody remember the day the American Soccer Ladies had that big win? The time Mia Hamm, I believe it was, deliriously peeled off her top in victorious celebration? (Ah, NOW you're starting to remember, aren't you?...) Well, while everyone else with the slightest interest in sports was all abuzz about that improbable win, I was belatedly watching that very afternoon's Mets/Yankees thriller. It was close to eleven before I had a chance to begin viewing the game--we'd had a full day of summer activities, as I recall--and I spent all day avoiding news of the game's outcome. (Nothing kills the fun of watching baseball on tape more than knowing the outcome going in--especially if it's a loss!...) The Shea-situated contest was one of those rare slugfests that saw the lead continuously seesaw back and forth between the two teams until, finally, almost four hours after the first pitch was thrown, in the bottom portion of the last inning, trailing and looking for all the world to be defeated, the Mets nonetheless pulled out a stunning victory against the Yankees premiere relief pitcher, much to the delight of Mets fans everywhere! Lemme tell ya, games just don't get more exciting than that, and even though it was closing in on 3AM, I let out several spontaneous victory whoops and yelps that woke my poor wife and child from a deep and peaceful slumber even though they were way over on the other side of the house! And yes, inspired by Ms. Hamm, I happily ripped off my top in exultation as well! Ah, if only there had been cameras there to capture the moment!...
In the short history of inter-league play, neither team has ever swept the other, the series always splitting 2 games to 1, regardless of where the games are played. The first year they played 6, each team won half the contests. Otherwise, it's been tilted towards the Yankees. I could probably tell you the stats, but frankly, I've blocked 'em outta my head. Doesn't matter. For us Mets fans, there's always hope. And even if we're in last place and the Yanks are in first (um, kinda like now...), if we can beat the Big Bad Bronx Bombers, well, it'll make the rest of the season all that more bearable. Barely. Hey, just knowing we've irritated that big goof who owns the Yankees--you know, the guy from "Seinfeld"?--that's satisfying enough for us Mets fans! Hey, why dream big, when pettiness can be so enjoyable?...
Play ball, New Yorkers, and may the Mets win! At least one, okay?...
June 15th, 2003
Those of us who are hopelessly infected with this inordinate love of comic books can say all we want to justify our peculiar interests. We can go on and on about the intrinsic yet barely explored storytelling possibilities inherent to the medium and all that other pseudo-intellectual gibberish. And believe me, at one time or another, we all have. But you know what? When you get right down to it, a whole lot of the doe-eyed appreciation we generously heap on these cheaply produced four-color pamphlets has a lot less to do with their content than it has to do with the emotions they stir in each of us. It all boils down to their uncanny--and magical-- ability to transport us on a joyful trip back through the years--OUR years--in their own private and personal way-back machine!
It happened to me recently. Preparing to research a strip focusing on J'onn J'onnz, the Martian Manhunter, for an upcoming issue of Jon Cooke's fine publication, COMIC BOOK ARTIST, I went downstairs and yanked out all the DETECTIVE COMICS I owned pre-dating the Green Guys switch over to HOUSE OF MYSTERY in 1964 (I pulled those out as well, though that's off point...).Now, over the years, I've thumbed through most of my old Superman, Flash, JLA, early Marvel titles, et al, time and time again, sometimes in the course of duty, and sometimes just for fun. Whatever nostalgic power they may've had over me has been diminished by viewing the material repeatedly, but I experienced an unexpected jolt of childhood consciousness flipping through those DETECTIVEs. Why? Well, probably because I hadn't cracked open their covers in decades, much less years. And frankly, the reason for that seemingly undue neglect is pretty straightforward--the unadorned truth is that I've always thought they were pretty much, well, AWFUL!
Now, I fully realize Bob Kane's primary ghost artist from that period, Sheldon Moldoff, is still out there, active among the many fans who grew up on--and loved--his version of the Caped Crusader. Good for him--and good for his fans, but I sincerely hope he doesn't come across this particular commentary--which, in any event, is merely just the opinion of one man--but darn it all, I never liked his work! Never. Uh uh. Didn't like it when Charles Paris inked him and he attempted an ersatz Dick Tracy cartoony style with his characters, and I didn't like it still when Joe Giella finished his pencils when he attempted a more realistic approach during the "New Look" era several years later. Given those prejudices, WHY I even liked Batman at all was a mystery to me in some ways, though I believe there were several mitigating factors that account for my initial appreciation...
Dick Sprang. Lew Schwartz. Jim Mooney. But mainly, Dick Sprang. He'd mostly retired by the time I began buying my own comics in 1961, but the twice yearly BATMAN ANNUALS that commenced publication that very summer were generously packed full with reprints of his fabulous work. Those Annuals are REALLY what kept my interest up until which time Julie Schwartz came along and provided the Gotham City regulars which a long overdue change in administration, but more on THAT happy little topic in the days ahead...
The OTHER pertinent reason I may well've latched onto Batman at an early age? Simple--he was friends with my main guy, Superman himself!! They shared an adventure in each and every issue of WORLD'S FINEST COMICS, a situation I was made well aware of by the second grade buddy who introduced me to the wonders of the Weisinger mythos in the first place (events which are told in easy-to-read-cartoon form over in the "Little Freddy" section of this very site, minus the extraneous Batman details, revealed here for the very first time!!). Why, I even managed to wrangle an issue of WF from him featuring the saga of the ill-fated Caveman from Krypton (drawn by Sprang, I'll have you know!) Finally breaking down and digging into my own pockets to purchase the sort of amazing adventure comics I'd seen bandied about amongst my pals in the spring of 1961, there was no stopping me! After grabbing one each from the then-extensive Superman Family selection, I decided to take a chance on Supes grey-garbed chum, and wound up with an issue of his home away from home. Specifically, I'm talking about DETECTIVE COMICS#292, dated June of that year.
I looked through it the other night for the first time in, as I said, no exaggeration, decades, and my gosh! The memories that came vividly flooding back!?! Oh, sure, in the course of my investigation into the world of J'onn J'onnz, I perused the next thirty plus issues as well, and while there may've been the occasional small jolt of recognition here and there, nothing came close to rivaling that initial encounter with the Cowled Crimefighter, back when every move he made was entirely fresh and unique to my single digit sensibilities! Suddenly, as if I had yelled something silly like "Shazam!" and been mystically transformed, I was eight years old again! I HAD to pause and reread the doggone thing , I just had to! Hey, how could I NOT?? "The Colossus of Gotham City"! A classic in my own mind! The first thing that popped into my head was that this was where I first stumbled across the word "colossus"! You sure could build yourself a decent vocabulary from reading comics back in those days, I gotta admit! You could always tell who were the funny-book fans in the third grade--they were the ones who could define, and maybe even spell, "invulnerable"!?!...
The story--drawn by, you guessed it, Moldoff and Paris--concerns our hero accidentally transforming his six foot plus sized frame into that of one with the stature of a giant (How? Don't ask. Something about inhaling experimental gases or some such--don'tcha just HATE when that happens?...) and the myriad of problems his unwanted growth spurt subsequently causes in crimping his crime-fighting efforts. Mostly--and this was TOTALLY in step with what I was learning over in the many mags presided over by the Metropolis Marvel--it caused him grief maintaining that ever-important secret identity of his!?! When boy wonder (and fibber-in-training) Robin phones a rightly suspicious Kathy Kane (a/k/a Batwoman) to cancel a date for his ward, Bruce Wayne, spouting some lame trumped up reason for his sudden unavailability, well, an early lesson for Little Freddy was that the two most important things about super-heroing was stopping immaculately dressed bad guys, and preventing your snoopy gal pal from figuring out a secret that appears all too obvious to even an unsophisticated eight year old kid reading his very first Batman comic!?!
There are some stark images in that tale that are forever emblazoned in my cerebellum, mostly having to do with an enormous Batman attempting to cope with his outsized condition. Catching a small commuter plane that's about to crash with his bare--make that gloved--hands is a good one. How about knocking over a billboard with a sneeze, the overwhelming "ah-choo" brought about by the baddie rather ludicrously tossing a barrel of pepper at big ol' Bats? Then there's taking up residence at night in a cave for real, and best of all, having his lunch delivered to him by a procession of trucks stacked with massive quantities of food in Gotham Stadium! The panel where he uses a hose as a straw to drink milk directly out of the top of a milk truck--why, that tops 'em ALL!!! It sure wasn't something you saw every day! In fact, in the many years of stories that inevitably followed, that was probably the ONLY time I saw the Dark Knight Detective concern himself with the easily overlooked matter of food! I guess a big man just naturally has a big appetite, and in this instance, he certainly was BIG...
But the real clincher once again concerned the face under the mask. While he was able to blow off that dinner date with Kathy easily enough, she was well aware--as were the stories sneaky writers--that an appearance by featured speaker Bruce Wayne at a charity function the very next evening wouldn't be nearly as simple to squirm out of! But lo and behold, when the standard sized millionaire shows up to glad hand Commissioner Gordon on page 8 of our 13 page saga, Ms. Kane seems shaken, startled and shocked to see him!! We readers are just as much in the dark, because in panels just below the elegant affair, we witness the still gigantic Batman captured by a motley group of thugs, helplessly trussed up in chains, and ultimately--gasp!--unmasked!?! Surprise--that ain't Bruce Wayne, either!! According to the thought balloon hovering over the unrecognizable Batman's enormous and exposed noggin, he earlier disguised his face just in case this unlikely eventuality presented itself. Why, after over forty years, I STILL haven't figured out. WHY a ten-story tall crimefighter would consider his hidden identity more at risk at that inflated size rather than in his everyday stature I just couldn't tell ya. At least we discover he's merely feigning unconsciousness while patiently waiting for as many underworld minions as possible to show their ugly mugs so that he might then easily bust out of his chains and capture the whole nasty lot of 'em! Nice plan, Big Guy!
When the gargantuan effect finally wears off and all the crooks are grabbed by Robin, Batwoman (who was conveniently on hand to witness the bogus revelation), and the now standard issue Gotham Guardian, all loose ends are tied up--except one: HOW exactly did Bruce Wayne attend that dinner (food again!!) whilst a giant? How? Well, the very LAST panel clears up that particular mystery, and I include it nearby for your edification.
|SEE? SEE? I TOLD you he was friends with Superman? What I can't believe is that I actually FORGOT this surprise little twist that put the finishing touches on this, the very first solo Batman story I ever did read!|
|Everyone of you that's been inexorably sucked
into this fantasy-filled little realm has
their own personal experience that defines
that magic moment that accounts for them
being won over by the comic book medium--and
folks, I can easily boast a score of them!--here's
a crucial one that's been neglected far more
than most! Reliving it again all these many
years later made for a pleasant if wistfully
happy/sad experience! On the one hand, it's
fun thinking back to what it was like to
be eight years old again when everything--even
a silly old Batman comic--was new. On the
other, try as you might, you never ARE going
to be eight again, are you?...
So, anyway--yeah, how could I NOT stick with Batman after THAT? He's tight with the Man of Steel! Like me--or so I hoped! What I DIDN'T know at the time was that Supes would NEVER make another appearance between the covers of a BATMAN or DETECTIVE comic again for the duration of the sixties!?! I may be wrong on that point--yes, I humbly admit it's possible--but in this instance, I don't think so. Now, good old Mort Weisinger wasn't at all shy about dropping the Dynamic Duo willy nilly into one of his brilliantly convoluted Superman Family scenarios, and of course, the threesome always met up for their contractually mandated teamings in WORLD'S FINEST, but this here was IT for the Kryptonian crossing over into the stomping grounds of the, well, fill in your OWN favorite nickname here, okay? I'm running low on alternatives...
One other note about that particular issue. The long-running "Roy Raymond TV Detective'" feature put in it's final appearance that month, never to flicker across a comics page again. Was it me? Like Superman, did I do something to scare him off as well? Too bad, because that Ruben Moriera artwork was always of a high caliber, higher by far than, ahem, well, you know... Outside of a few images--a centaur in the Raymond tale, and a criminal dressed appropriately enough to warrant the name Human Squirrel--really!--scaling a building in the J'onn J'onnz offering--the backups had little to offer in jogtastic memory jolts. But what I DID encounter was such a trip it clearly made me realize a lot of why I loved this stuff so in the first place! I mean, hey--a giant guy in a mask drinking milk out of a truck! A man in a rodent outfit making off with a leather bag full of loot! You just didn't get that anywhere else in 1961! Part of the reason that comics aren't as popular as they once were is because nowadays you simply DON'T need them!! Forget the prohibitive prices and the impenetrable storylines found in today's books--what REALLY does 'em in is that you can get the sorta thrills you get in comics in all sorta OTHER media these days, usually faster and (it would often appear) better. Believe me, that WASN'T the case back when I was a kid, so I'm happy to still have most of my beloved old comics around to remind me of a simpler time, and yes, of a simpler me!!
(...Which begs the question, "Is such a thing even possible?"...)
June 13th, 2003
A few days ago, I asked some questions about the identities of the men who, largely unheralded, provided stop-gap scripts for the early Marvel Comics, back before Roy Thomas came on board, took an enormous load off his boss's shoulders, and became Stan Lee's obvious successor. Well, now I have me some answers, and I'd be remiss if I didn't share them with you, my loyal readers, wouldn't I?
Actually, as John E. Petty over at Heritagecomics.com, as well Chris Elam, both pointed out to me, the solution to my trumped up Marvel mysteries was but a mouse click away! Yes, the ever knowledgeable Mark Evanier has ALREADY answered my queries in a section of his wonderful site devoted to a series of what he terms "Incessantly Asked Questions" (Known around these parts as "Redundantly Asked Questions", since I must shamefacedly admit that I indeed read that particularly intriguing little entry about a year back, letting it casually and carelessly slip right out of my head in the intervening time. Oops--and I always thought that the wax would keep it lodged safely inside?...), and if you click here, you can read first how "H.E. Huntley" was in actuality one Ernie Hart! "N. Korok", wouldn't you know it, was really Don Rico! Jerry Bails and Hames Ware's invaluable "Who's Who In American Comic Books" identifies Hart as an artist/writer who worked on Marvel's funny animal books in the forties, as well as for Quality Comics that same decade, with further credits listed for Gilberton (Classics Illustrated) and Charlton running right up through 1964. And my apparently faulty memory seems to recall his credit line on some of Marvel's Star books in the eighties, but that could be entirely wrong. Anyone care to confirm that?
As for Mr. Rico, Mark, as you'll read, got word from the Golden Age great himself that he cloaked his identity because he didn't want the publisher he was then currently writing novels for to find out he was taking on other, lower paying work (Comics? Low paying? Hey, you learn something new everyday, don't you?...) I guess by the time that Doc Strange job came around--the one I misidentified as his sole contribution to the Marvel U--he realized that since he surely wasn't in it for the money, he may as well grab the glory!
Since correspondent Petty is currently involved with Larry Lieber in preparation for some upcoming Heritage Auctions, he was happy--nay, enthusiastic!!--to share some information about Stan's sibling with us. John?...
As for Larry Lieber, I can shed some light on his background, as I've spent
some time with him recently preparing for our latest auction (we're offering
a really cool selection of his art)
After coming back from Korea, where he had distinguished himself as an
artist, Larry went to work for big brother Stan, basically doing whatever he
could to help. If that meant scripting a story, that's what he'd do. If it
meant pencilling a page, that's what he'd do. It was, apparently, an
incredibly loose working structure back then, but Larry really enjoyed the
"writing lessons" he was getting from Stan.
Larry's biggest problem, and one that apparently still plagues him to this
day, is that he is not fast. Very much the perfectionist, Larry will worry
over what, to many of us, would seem to be slight details. He is very, very
meticulous, and always wants to do his very, very best. That certainly
hampered him, especially with Stan looking over his shoulder.
However, far from being merely "content" with the weird stuff and the
Western titles, this was real meat to Larry. He loved doing RAWHIDE KID
because, as writer, penciller and inker, no one bothered him. He could
basically do what he wanted, especially as these weren't spotlight books. I
suspect that other inkers came in to work with him later on due to his lack
Later, Larry worked in Marvel's foreign department, where he did covers for
overseas editions. He also did a long run on the HULK newspaper strip and,
of course, the Spidey strip (do you know he holds the distinction of drawing
Spidey longer than any other artist?) He's a great guy, and will finally get
his due and the recognition he deserves at San Diego this year.
I hope this helps. It's always fun to talk about someone as great as Larry.
Appreciate your insight. John. I always used to enjoy Larry's RAWHIDE KID stories. It was easy to tell he put a lot of work into them, and it certainly made for some great gunslingin' action!
As for my side query as to the whereabouts of Marvel's Incredible Indexer, none other than the man with legal briefs like no other, the talented creator of SUPERNATURAL LAW himself, Batton Lash weighed in with the following update...
I've been enjoying your blogger (and the goodies on the site, of
course!), and I was content to just lurk, but felt a need to pipe up
after reading your June 10th entry-- namely, what ever happened to
Well, George is alive and well and living in San Diego. He's still
indexing, particularly professional and technical books. He did do a
comics related project recently- he proofread the 1998 Dark Horse book,
COMICS BETWEEN THE PANELS, which was edited by my wife, Jackie Estrada.
Small world, no? It's been a while since I've seen George and his
lovely wife Andrea, but I can't wait to tell him to check out your site!
Thanks, Batton, and if George tells a friend, and George's friend tells a friend, and he tells a friend!?--well, you get the idea! I always encourage folks to spread the word about Hembeck.com, and since he so kindly volunteered to do so, it's only fair that I point all my cyberpals towards Mr. Lash's own glorious website, Exhibit A Press! You'll find all sorts of great stuff if you check it out! Batton is rightly renowned for many, many things, but to me, he'll always have a soft spot in my heart as the brilliant fella who wrote my all time favorite Frank Castle epic, the immortal ARCHIE MEETS THE PUNISHER!?! No joke, Jack--I LOVE that there comic! Why, I put it right behind only the original SUPERMAN VS. SPIDER-MAN tabloid team-up as the most enjoyable cross company teaming ever! Lemme tell ya, if Kurt and George wanna try and top it with their upcoming JLA/AVENGERS spectacular, well, good luck, boys, but it ain't gonna be EASY!...
That leaves us only with "Leon Lazarus" unaccounted for. We still don't know the true story behind the man responsible for the sole Giant-Man/Attuma match-up that found it's way between the covers of a comic book (unless, of course, there's since been an "Ultimate" version. I wouldn't...sniff... know about THAT...) So Leon, if you're out there, we're still waiting! Perhaps you might consider signing my guestbook? ( I wish SOMEONE would?!?...)
June 11th, 2003
Took the first dip of the season in the pool yesterday. That's about two weeks later than in past years. More often than not, we'd made it in by Memorial Day, and if not, then soon after. But this year it's been rainy, it's been cold, it's been nasty. And I've been in the house, staying dry and warm. (And, yes, typing!...)
Man, I never in my wildest dreams ever imagined I'd live anywhere with a built-in pool! Forty feet by twenty feet is what we're talking here. Lynn and I certainly weren't searching for one when we were looking to relocate back in 1996, but the one house we liked the most by far--this one, natch--came with it's own water park already installed! And since it didn't inflate the price of the transaction all that much, we said hey, sure, why not? Julie was six then, and c'mon--what kid doesn't like to swim in a nice big pool during the summer?
I know I sure did, but where I grew up on Long Island, there was but a single in-ground swimming pool amongst all my friends and acquaintances, and gang, it sure wasn't at MY house!! The kid who presided over it--and believe me, that's an apt choice of words--wasn't a particularly close friend, but on a scorching summer afternoon, I was among many who longed to be his best buddy!! The alternative's? Well, the local lake was pretty muddy, and while the ocean beaches were great, you were always at the whims of grownups to get yourself out there and into the surf and the sand. No, you just can't beat the convenience of having a pool right there in your own back yard!
That's where it is right now, and y'know, except for all the time put in vacuuming it to keep it clean, all the chemicals purchased and added to keep it balanced and algae free, and all the money spent hiring a pool service to open and close it at the beginning and end of each season, it's a joy to own!! And just imagine how fond of it I'd be if I could actually SWIM?!?...
I contend you really don't have to be able to swim to fully enjoy a pool. Standing--or floating on a gaily colored tube, as is my wont--during a summer heat wave in cool, clear refreshing water should be enough for anyone. The ability to swim is helpful mostly, I've found, in not drowning. That very topic, in actual fact, was a bit of an issue when we first arrived here...
Moving in to our new home the last few days of August '96, we were naturally anxious to stop unpacking for a minute or two so as to try out our nifty new pool. The way the depth was configured was to have a small portion of the pool area go from 3 to 3 and a half feet deep, after which there was a steep precipitous drop into a 9 foot deep cavernous hole, over which a rickety looking diving board loomed. Inviting, huh? And inasmuch as I never truly learned to swim properly, Lynn has a bad knee, and Julie was, as stated earlier, a mere child of six, there was some concern. Should there be any trouble, who's gonna help who? We (correctly) assumed that Julie was bound to attract friends on a hot day (though pools are fairly prevalent in this area, especially compared to my childhood haunts). Now, I'm the obvious choice to play lifeguard if a neighbor child was in trouble and needs saving, but then the question quickly becomes, who's gonna save ME?!?...
We swam maybe all of three times that fall as we slowly settled into our new digs. We alway stayed way clear of that drop. What we were going to do about the situation, we didn't rightly know. Perhaps it would be best if we just left things to divine intervention. Seemed as good an idea as any. And, boys and girls, that's when Mother Nature--aided and abetted by the Good Hands people--stepped in and solved our problem for us!
April 1st of 1997 saw one of the most truly prodigious winter storms in decades descend on these environs. Driving winds and pounding snow--it came in with a fury! When it was all over, we were left without power for days, stuck in 3 feet of the white stuff--AND blessed with a large tree toppled into our pool, obligingly puncturing the protective liner!?! When the weather returned to normal, the insurance folks sauntered in and rewarded us with a hefty check with which to repair our damaged pool as we saw fit. And what we saw fit to do was change some of the pool's vital statistics...
Hiring a reputable firm, we had them resculpt the bottom using bag upon bag of sand. The new specifications now allowed for a 3 foot deep area at one end that gradually--and I do mean gradually--sloped down to a maximum depth of 5 feet. That's right, I said 5 feet. Hardly the ideal place to train the Mark Spitz's of tomorrow--especially when we yanked the diving board out as well--but suddenly it became a far less likely area in need of hastily called paramedics! Can't beat that! Yes, certainly, kids must always be monitored when they're swimming in the pool--my job, usually--but believe me when I tell you the reduced depth has only increased our peace of mind!
Cuz, folks, over the past 5 summers, there've been a whole LOTTA kids doggy-paddling their way across our water wonderland, and you know what? We haven't lost one yet! But that doesn't mean casting a watchful eye over our water-logged guests hasn't been without it's memorable moments! Nothing dangerous or life-threatening, mind you, but I think, from time to time, I'll go crank up the Beach Boys on the old stereo, and plunk out a few of the better tales for you on the ol' keyboard! C'mon back soon for the good vibrations, the fun fun fun, and--oh, yeah--the heroes and villains!...
June 10th, 2003
Welcome to the Wild, Wacky and Woolly World of Meaninglessly Magnificent Mighty Marvel Minutia!!
I've got questions. Yes, questions. Questions about the earliest days of Marvel Comics. Questions specifically about the small, mostly faceless group of men--and women?-- who shored up the company's foundation for an otherwise engaged and overworked Stan Lee, the scripters who charted the course of Marvel's secondary characters in those long ago days between Larry and Roy.
That's Larry Lieber and Roy Thomas for those of you who wandered into the wrong web-site. As best can be discerned from perusing the periodicals in question, at the outset of the Marvel revolution, Managing Editor Lee relied on his younger brother Larry to provide dialog over his plots for a handful of seemingly secondary features. Several years later, having managed to amazingly write nearly every single book Marvel was publishing for between late 1963 and late 1965, Stan finally found in Roy someone he could safely turn his babies over to with complete confidence. But what about those folks who filled the gaps up until that time? Who were they? What did they contribute? And why do I care? (Answer to that last question: I just do, okay? Let's not make a big thing out of it...)
I got to wondering about this the other day when I dragged out my set of yellowing MARVEL COMICS INDEXES produced in the seventies by uberfan George Olshevsky (a side query might be what ever happened to George as well, but I stray from the topic at hand--sorry...) and researched the whereabouts of the two scripts I half remembered that the late Al Hartley contributed to the Marvel Universe. In the course of scanning page after page of credits, I stumbled across some names I hadn't seen in years, and it brought back not only memories but a passel of questions that I've always had about the make-up of that initial Marvel Bullpen. So indulge me as I lay out the particulars for you, and hope that SOMEONE out there can help me fill in the blanks, okay?
Let's start with Larry. He had an impressive, mostly overlooked run during the earliest days of the still-unnamed Marvel line .Commencing with the October 1962 issue of STRANGE TALES, number 101 (the third Marvel comic I ever personally bought, a tidbit I include for no other reason than the fact that I could...) younger sibling Larry wrote the first 7 Human Torch solo stories. For Thor, he scripted the Thunder God's origin in JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY#83 (August 1962), followed by the next 8 episodes of the monthly series. Additionally, not counting the prototype tale penned several months earlier, he was at the typewriter for the first 9 Ant-Man adventures, starting out in TALES TO ASTONISH #35. And while he only scripted a single Iron Man story, significantly, it was the not-yet-Golden, not-yet-Avenger's debut in TALES OF SUSPENSE #39 (March 1963). While all tales carried the credit line, "Plotted by Stan Lee", that's nonetheless an impressive total of 26 stories turned in for four different series. Interestingly, once Larry stopped scripting a series, he never went back. Others came in to help Stan out, but save for a partial credit on a later AVENGERS issue (about which more anon), Larry had to content himself with both writing and pencilling the soon to be extinct 5 page fantasy back-ups in the former anthology titles as well as commandeering the rootin' tootin' antics of the (still-closeted) RAWHIDE KID over in his own book.
The next most prodigious phantom contributor to the post-Atlas line of spankin' new costumed cut-ups was the veteran Robert Bernstein, working under the pen name, "R. Berns". If he was trying to hide his work from Mort Weisinger, for whom he concurrently concocted Superman family follies, or the fine folks over at Archie, for whom he was providing frequent collaborator John Rosenberger with scripts for the firms sole pair of sooper doopers, The Fly and The Jaguar, well, he couldn't have been any less indiscreet, now could he? "R. Berns" ain't exactly gonna stump even your garden variety Sherlock, if you catch my drift, dig? In any event, our man with the unimaginative nom de plume contributed 14 stories total spread across three series, following Little Larry Lieber in each and every instance. He wrote 4 Thor episodes (JIM#92-96, May-September 1963), and 7 Iron Mans (TOS#40-46, March-October 1963). Significantly, he introduced supporting stalwarts Pepper Potts and Happy Hogan to the nascent Marvel Universe, as well as perennial Paul McCartney fave rave, that star of story and song, The Crimson Dynamo. All this in the two issues just before he up and left. Our man R also scribbled up two Torch escapades (ST#s 108, 109--May and June of 1963). And then he too was gone.
A fellow sporting the far more effective pseudonym of "Joe Carter' scripted the Torch stories in STRANGE TALES #s112 and 113 (September and October 1963), introducing long-time (but vastly unimportant) love interest Doris Evans to the Hothead's life. I have it on good authority that the mysterious Mr. Carter was in actuality none other than Jerry Siegel, Superman's poppa! Guess he was more concerned about Mort discovering HIS moonlighting--as limited as it turned out to be--than fellow freelancer Bernstein, given the nondescript name he chose to script under. It probably didn't matter all that much--his pair of Johnny Storm starrers were the extant of what he contributed to Stan Lee's blossoming little enterprise (..although he did return as the seventies beckoned, working briefly for Marvel under his very own name. But that doesn't fall under the purview of our topic, so...)
Golden age artist/writer/editor/all-around-whiz-kid Don Rico authored a single Dr. Strange installment, STRANGE TALES#129's tussle with Tiboro, cover dated February 1965. This was much further down the line than the aforementioned jobs, and by this time, each book had their own letter columns. Stan used the one in ST#129 to herald the return of a highly regarded and apparently much beloved past contributor back into the fold. Didn't stick, though. That was the last glimpse Marvel's sixties' readers would get of the enthusiastically praised Golden Age sensation.
As detailed a few days back, PATSY WALKER penciller Al Hartley helped Stan out later in the game by scripting an Iron Man episode (TOS #68, August 1965) and the last solo Giant-Man and Wasp feature prior to Namor's ascension into their vacated slot (TTA#69, July 1965). Larry Ivie also got in on some of this eleventh hour pinch-hitting by handling the Torch and Thing feature in May 1965's STRANGE TALES, #132. More quizzically, the fellow since associated with everything from DC's Atom, Warren's CREEPY, and Tower's T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents jumped in to write AVENGERS#14 (March 1965), the story in which the wonderful Wasp almost bites the dust, sharing credits with Larry Lieber while appearing in them under the name of "Paul Laiken". The letter column revealed his true identity to be Larry Ivie, but that begs the question--didn't a Paul Laiken edit CRAZY, Marvel's MAD rip-off that ran for over a hundred issues from the seventies and into the eighties? Does that then mean that Larry Ivie was in fact the man behind that substantial run of so-so satire? Or is there really a separate Paul Laiken? Geez, it seems every time you throw Mr. I into the comics history mix, things have a way of getting mighty confusing and my head starts hurting!?!...
Okay, so I've pretty much answered my own queries in regards to the aforementioned gents. Now here comes the three that continue to puzzle me to this very day. Anybody who can shed some light on matters concerning this mysterious trio, please contact me! I want to able to sleep peacefully at night again, understand me!?!
Who is H.E. Huntley?? While Chet Huntley was a household name at the time, I doubt very much that the heralded NBC news commentator and partner of David Brinkley much needed to supplement his generous salary by taking on scripting assignments from Stan Lee!?! So, it must've been someone else. But who, I ask you? Well, whoever he was, he chalked up 7 stories for Mr. Lee: 2 Torch tales (ST#s 110 and 111,July and August 1963), as well as 5 Ant-Man episodes, commencing with the one that introduced Hank Pym's new partner, the Wasp (TTA#44, June 1963,and on up through #48, dated October 1963) . A side observation--Stan mustn't have liked Janet Van Dyne all that much--he had H.E. Huntley write her debut, let the two Larrys almost croak the poor girl over in that Avengers epic, and assigned the unhappy task of sending her and her big boy companion off into comics' limbo to Al Hartley?!?..
Someone named N. Korok wrote the Iron Man stories in TALES OF SUSPENSE #s 52 and 53 which introduced readers to the Black Widow, back when she still wore skirts and heels, not body molded spandex. Another interesting note here being that they were cover dated April and May of 1964, thus standing alone as the sole pair of non-Stan stories published in a 1964 issued Marvel title (save for Larry's back-ups) that grand and glorious year! It was also the first and only time within this group of once-secondary features where Stan took up the reins and then relinquished them again for as long as two consecutive issues. Y'see, Stan wrote the Iron Man stories in TOS 47-51 (Nov 63/Mar 64) and then again after this Korok individual left. He took over the Torch stories from ST114 on (November 1963) (commencing with the fake Captain America installment), Thor from JIM 97 on (October 1963, with NO further interruptions), and Giant-Man from TTA 49 on (November 1963) ( featuring the transformation from Ant-Man to Giant-Man, meaning, interestingly enough, Stan NEVER wrote an Ant-Man adventure proper, the closest being the little guy's cross-over into FANTASTIC FOUR#16!?! Guess it wasn't just the Wasp that failed to float his boat...)
Lastly,,and most bewilderingly, just who the devil was behind the obvious nom de comix, "Leon Lazarus"? This shady scripter was responsible for Giant-Man's battle with Sub-Mariner's arch-foe, Attuma, found in the pages of February 1965's TALES TO ASTONISH# 64? Who was he, I ask--WHO?? WHO??? ( ...and no, he did NOT create Daredevil's antsy antagonist, The Owl! That was Stan, that's who!)
So there you have it. Up until the time in late 1965 when the likes of Roy, Gary Friedrich. and Denny O'Neil finally shuffled into sight--writers who would indeed stick and expand the woefully undermanned scripting portion of the Marvel Bullpen--a total of 57 non-Stan Lee dialogged sagas found their way into the developing Marvel Universe. Of those, 49 carried cover dates of 1962 and 1963, while a mere two came out with 1964 on the masthead. That left a balance of six to find their way to the nation's newsstands in 1965, before Roy's cover-dated debut in January 1966's TALES OF SUSPENSE#75-Iron Man segment ( sharing credit with, amongst others, Fabulous Flo Steinberg) trumpeted the next phase of Marvel development.
Some of these guys made important and lasting contributions. Mostly, they didn't. Still, that doesn't diminish the fact that they were present at the dawn of a whole new era for the comics industry, and for that alone they should be remembered, even celebrated. We might be able to do that, if only we knew who some of them WERE?! Hello--is Will Murray out there? Some of the articles he's written about early Marvel for COMIC BOOK MARKETPLACE have been among the most incredibly informative I've ever come across, and if anyone has the answers, very well he might--anybody out there know how to get a hold of him? Or I should I just forward this to Roy himself, via his A/E email? Frankly, the guy is so busy putting out issue after issue of his indispensable ALTER EGO mag, I'd really hate to bother him. Maybe good ol' Mark Evanier has a clue or two?...
Anyway, now the subject is out there, the questions put forth. Leon Lazarus--if you're reading this, PLEASE write! We miss you! (You too, N. Korok...)
June 9th, 2003
Happy Birthday, Bob Bolling!! The immensely talented cartoonist who brought us the antics of Little Archie and his gang starting in the early fifties and running right on up through recent times marks his 75th today, and I for one want to take this opportunity to wish him nothing but the best!!
Created to cash in on the phenomenal world-wide success of Hank Ketcham's "Dennis the Menace" feature during the Elvis Era, the fledgling Bolling happily took the assignment to produce a diminuitization of the firm's teenage breadwinner, turning what could easily have been a watered down version of the not-so-old redhead and instead gifted readers with a finely crafted strip full of warmth, humor, and heart. And when I was barely seven years old, I became one of those lucky readers.
LITTLE ARCHIE was issued quarterly with almost three times the amount of pages found in a standard sized comic, all for the lofty sum of 25 cents! Believe me, those books were worth every single penny, and then some! I was fond of the "Archie" line overall, but while the regular books consisted mostly of occasionally repetitive, usually amusing, and rarely connected 5 and 6 page vignettes, Bob Bolling's best Little Archie stories--and there were an awful lot of 'em that fit snugly into THAT category--far surpassed those modest goals! Even though they were just kids, the familiar group--Jughead, Reggie, Betty, Veronica, Moose and the rest--seemed to possess more depth in Bolling's hands than their teenage counterparts ever did guided by other creators. Maybe having the focus veer away from the necessarily overriding dating theme promulgated in the standard scenarios freed up Bolling to explore avenues the high schoolers rarely, if ever, approached. Or maybe it was simply because Bolling was a darn fine cartoonist blessed with an uncanny and enviable ability to recreate the wonder and wistfulness of childhood on the paneled page with his words and pictures.
Bob could produce very funny stories, filling them with some of the most groan inducing puns as you're ever likely to encounter. Then, Bob could turn right around and masterfully deliver convincing adventure tales utilizing his pint-sized characters, as well as inspired flights of fancies wherein visitors from outer space comfortably managed to coexist with the predominantly Riverdale based cast. But for all this praiseworthy versatility amply demonstrated by Bolling, I think I'm most impressed by his almost unique ability to sell the reader a sort of sentimental poignancy unseen most anywhere else. Amidst these giant editions chock full of yocks and yuks, thrills and spills, were these tender tales dealing with the plights of bullies, the all too common fear of rejection, and how treating others badly ultimately just tends to diminish one's own self. Heavy stuff produced with a light touch. THESE are the stories that really gnawed their way into my head and took up a permanent, life-long residence! And these are the stories that have made Bob Bolling one of my all-time favorite cartoonists, right up there with Hall Of Famers like Kirby, Ditko, Eisner, Steranko, and other far more familiar names. Mr. B's work is sadly undervalued, but I'm here today to suggest if you do get a chance to sample any of his stuff, by all means do so. I doubt very much you'll be disappointed.
I was lucky enough to speak with Bob at length over the phone several years back. He's as pleasant a fellow as his work might suggest, and far humbler concerning his talents than need be, though this self-depreciating attitude is somehow appropriate. I only hope that, in the course of our little chat, I made him aware just how wonderful I've long found his work to be. Bob, I don't imagine you're surfing the net on this, a milestone of a day in your life, but on the off chance you are, let me sincerely thank you for all the enjoyment you've given me over the years and let me wish you many more of your own!
I've just got one question, though--since your carrot-topped star was basically the same height as his pre-teen pals and gals, why was he always referred to as "LITTLE Archie" by everyone but the rest of the group merely answered to the standard "Juggie", "Reggie", "Ronnie", and "Betty"s, hmm?...
June 6th, 2003
Another small portion of the foundation of the original Marvel Comics crumbled the other day with the passing of Al Hartley.
So totally enamored was I by the early releases emanating from the House of Ideas, that, back in '63, at the tender age of 10, I risked the ridicule of my peers to to purchase PATSY WALKER and PATSY & HEDY comics on a semi-regular basis! Hey, they were written by Stan Lee--THAT was my standard defense if anybody scorned me for reading "girl" comics. And while it was certainly true that Stan invested his appealingly breezy style into the antics of that pair of rival teenage cuties, let's not underestimate what artist Al Hartley brought to the page!
Looking nothing like the style successfully employed by the rival Archie Comics firm, Hartley nonetheless had the uncanny ability to present his young ladies in an entirely wholesome light while still not losing the necessary amount of sexiness that made the whole enterprise work. The flowing locks he gave the redheaded Patsy, the pert nose, the wide eyes, the full lips--did I happen to mention that Hartley made his gals undeniably appealing? Well, he did, and he should be long appreciated for his good work.
Beyond that, he had a number of cameos in the overall more serious Marvel Universe, the most memorable--for all the wrong reasons, unfortunately--was when he illustrated the eighth Thor episode. The first one not drawn by the King, Jack Kirby, Hartley's sole foray into the Marvel adventure arena appeared in the 90th issue of JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY back in early 1963. Obviously chosen in a pinch to help out in a tight, tight deadline, Stan made one of his few editorial gaffes when he enlisted Al to scribble up this tale about a Carbon-Copy Man from outer space. For whatever reason, Hartley made no attempt to alter his teen comics style for this assignment, and when the best thing you can say about a story is, "Boy, the Thunder God's hair never looked better", well, you KNOW you've got troubles!! But to be fair, for all the heat this story has taken over the years, does anybody ever stop and mention that cover, which has got to be one of the WORST the legendary Kirby was ever responsible for!! A massive pink crystalline creature looms clumsily in the foreground, gesturing at an even more ill-posed Thor, himself half-encased in a block of ice with a ridiculous looking coating of snow covering generous portions of his torso!?! Yuck! That book's trouble in every way! It's just too bad that folks who never availed themselves of the many charms of Patsy and her friends have but this to go on when they think of Al Hartley...
In actuality, there were two further Hartley appearances in the burgeoning Marvel Universe, though both times he was situated more safely and less obtrusively behind a typewriter, again obviously helping Lee out in a tight squeeze. He scripted "Oh, Wasp, Where Is Thy Sting?" in the July 1965 issue of TALES TO ASTONISH, number 69, notable for being the final appearance of the Giant-Man feature in that title; and a month later, he authored the Iron Man epic, "If a Man Be Mad" in TALES OF SUSPENSE#68. Clearly, Stan had something distracting him from his typewriter for a few weeks there, but luckily, he knew he could count on Al to ably fill in for him.
Al Hartley went on to work for Archie Comics as well as some religiously oriented funnybooks, but I wasn't following those publications at the time of their release. I've since seen a few examples of his later work, and it was as bright and energetic as anything he ever produced for Marvel, I'm happy to report. He's just one of those guys who, while they didn't make a tremendous impression on me, still managed to lodge themselves firmly in my noggin, and I'm the better for it. We all are. Bye, Al--I'm glad I defied my so-called friends taunts and plunked down my pennies for Patsy! What a sweetie!
June 5th, 2003
All indications pointed to yet another rainy Saturday. Hey, why should this one be any different? It's been a wet and dreary spring here in the northeast this year, and a day doesn't go by without seemingly a threat of at least a sprinkle. Who am I to argue with Mother Nature, anyway? Generally, I don't, but when my team has its' once yearly soccer tournament lined up for a specific date, well, I tend to fret about the weather, y'know?...
As those of you with the better memories might dimly recall from information supplied in a previous entry, I coach a group of under 12 girls in a local soccer league. The ladies go by the name "Blue Thunderbolts" when they're being formal, but basically, family and friends mostly just shout out "Go Blue!" from the sidelines during a match. This spring half of the season has not been kind to the T-bolts, echoing the dubious weather. We launched it with that disastrous 7-1 loss played in a driving rain against a team riddled, it's generally believed, with the more professional travel caliber players that I whined to you about some weeks past. Well, we had an even worst game the very next week, falling 7-0 to a team that was no better than ours. Okay, they were that day, that's for certain, but only 9 of our 16 young ladies showed up, and my carefully constructed game plan just went out the window with key elements absent. Mistakenly surmising our best goalie could take care of herself, I very stupidly let our two of our more inexperienced players serve as her primary defense just because the girls I was planning on didn't show up while they did. Didn't work. Not at all. The opposition scored six--six!!-- goals on one of our sturdiest players by half time!?! Conversely, they only managed one off a far less experienced goaltender in the second half, who just coincidentally had the benefit of one of our strongest players acting as her guardian.
Previously, I'd always used my more skilled players up front, or in mid-field, where they're required to go both up and down the field following the flow of the ball. Hey, it USED to work. Not lately, though, so I slowly began to modify my approach. The results? A 3-3 tie, which would have been far more gratifying if the third goal scored against us hadn't occurred with only seconds left on the clock! That was followed by a 2-1 loss to a depleted team that had a mere 7 girls to field (the norm is 11), while I was overloaded with 14 attendees that morning. We played 'em 7 on 7, with two completely different teams of T-bolts playing in alternating quarters. You'd think we'd have run them ragged, sending out fresher players, but the results didn't reflect that assumption. My only explanation was that since I had to spread players of various abilities out over two separate squads, while they may've indeed been rested, we never did manage to have our strongest combination out there between the chalk lines at the very same time. Or something lame like that.
But my girls are game if nothing else, and after participating in our first-ever round-robin tournament last season. my carry-over players were eager to try it again. I'd enjoyed it myself as well, so, after polling the kids and their parents to make sure we had enough interested parties to qualify, I signed us up. The financial cost would be ten bucks a girl--that to cover the commemorative trophy, awarded to each and everyone who showed up, although the grandest ones are awarded to the ones who make the best showing--and the date would be May 31st. However, the time--morning or afternoon--and specific game schedules weren't nailed down until the last few days. Trying to confirm my squad, I spent close to an hour on the phone last Tuesday night informing folks the whole sporting affair would run from 8am until 1pm, with us playing six 30 minute games, alternating half an hour on the field, half an hour off. Of course, as soon as I finished dutifully doling out this info, an additional e-mail shows up, specifically detailing the schedule's smallest details--turns out we're playing four 18 minute games between 8:20 and 10:20!?! Well, I sure wasn't about to go through all THAT again, and decided the best way to handle things was to type up all the pertinent facts, print 'em up, and hand it out at Thursday's upcoming practice.
This then was the point where commitments began wavering. Several girls who said they would instead decided they wouldn't. A trio of my players were invited to a sleep-over birthday party commencing the Friday night before the games, and, knowing from experience, what a big deal these sleepless shindig's were, I was reluctant to spoil their good times. In the end, one opted to bow out of the tournament entirely, another skipped the sleep-over portion of the event, while a the third opted for the overnight bit--sleeping was the least of it, natch--and ultimately showed up bleary eyed but ready to play. At weeks outset, I had received "yeas" from 14 of my 16 players, but suddenly found myself winnowed down to a mere 11. Luckily, a girl who had switched teams earlier back in the fall was eager to rejoin us, if only for that one day, giving me the luxury of one whole substitute! Hey, I'll take it. Lemme tell ya, organizing these things is no picnic. For kids, May seems to be the busiest of months, and people are all over the place with their multitude of activities. Fact is, only two of our town's six teams participated, primarily due to the difficulty in mustering up a team of sufficient number. I had, though only barely. Now, if only the weather would cooperate we'd be home free...
I've never been a morning person--NOBODY around here is. Nonetheless, everyone was up before seven on a--surprise!--bright and sunny Saturday morning. After some typical drama getting Julie out of bed and into her uniform, we drove off to the site of the soccer matches. Paying our fees and gathering the troops, we stood on the sidelines awaiting our call. We weren't the only ones playing that day, mind you. Boys and girls of all age groups were primed to get out there and kick the ball around. And when the airhorn blasted at 8 am sharp, that's just what happened. Being designated Team 5, we watched as Team 1 played Team 2, and Team 3 took on Team 4 (we were initially going up against--who else?--Team 6). As I stood there with 10 girls, awaiting a go at a squad assembled from the same talent pool that handed us our initial 7-1 defeat, I was hoping a new approach was going to be more successful for us. Basically, I planned to take our quartet of exceptional players, and instead of locating them at mid-field positions, I'd have two play upfield so as to better be able to score goals, and station the two others in the backfield, hoping they'd prevent our mostly inexperienced goalies from having to do much actual goaltending. The four would then swap positions each game, giving them ample opportunity to perform heroically in the different areas of engagement.
The 8:20 horn blared, and suddenly, I had two concerns. First, my two party girls hadn't shown up yet, and even worst, I'd felt a rain drop!?! A rain drop!?! Wam bam, Mia Hamm--they'd NEVER be able to properly reschedule this massive undertaking!?! But, then, things brightened when the sky almost immediately cleared and my pair of wayward players wandered along a few minutes into the game. Midway through, I was able to get them onto the field, a good thing. The bad thing? I had to wait until a goal was scored against us to do so. I was right about these challengers--just like their sister squad, they were highly polished, far more so than any other opponent we were to later confront. They expertly kept the ball in our half of the field for most of the contest's 18 minute duration, with our players only getting the ball down towards their goal fleetingly. As you might surmise from that dour description, we indeed lost the first game, but only 1-0. Given the skill of our adversaries, I considered that a job reasonably well done. My defensive alignment was working, and I had to be happy about that. And the fact that I never felt the hint of another drop of rain for the rest of the tournament pleased me no end!
After twenty minutes off--time to catch our collective breath, down some drinks and scarf some snacks--the girls went back out for round two. This time, the second T-bolt goalie never even got a ball kicked near her eager little paws, rewarding her with the easiest job of the day! And this time, we kept the ball in the other team's home area throughout. That there's the good news. The bad? Well, apparently their best player was playing in the goal, because despite numerous shots taken, none got past her. Zip. Zilch. Zero. resulting in what? Yup, you guessed it--a zero-zero tie. Okay. Fine. Good defense. At least it's not a loss.
Another twenty minute break was to be followed by our last two games, the pair to be played non-stop back to back. Our bleary eyed party girl reluctantly pulled the goalie shirt on over her head, and actually wound up making some terrific plays to prevent multiple scoring. Still, one slipped by her, and that's all it took. 1-0 loss.
The horn blared for us one final time as the girls faced off against a group clad in only a slightly darker shade of blue, confusing many, including parents harboring separate loyalties who weren't sure WHAT to scream once "Go Blue!" had been invalidated! There were some close calls, but T-bolt goalie number 4--aka party girl number two--determinedly kept the ball from getting past her. But then, as before, so did her opposite. Uh huh. ANOTHER zero-zero stalemate.
Final tally: two ties, two losses. Two goals scored against us, none by us. Disappointing in it's way, but waiting around for the last games to conclude, we witnessed our first, skilled opponents run up four goals against our second, hapless opponents. So, it could've been worse, far worse. Believe me, in soccer, a loss is NOT just a loss. Dropping a game 1-0 is a lot easier to swallow than a drubbing of 4 or more goals being amassed against us, Sure, it could've been lots better, too, but look at it this way--at least it didn't take us all that long to receive our trophies, inasmuch as they were awarded in, um, reverse order...
We were home before noon, and by one o'clock, guess what--it was pouring, and continued to do so the remainder of the day!?! I had fun, mostly. All the girls played hard including my Julie, and at least we didn't do anything to embarrass ourselves. You know--like drop a game 7-0 or something?? As I've noted in the past, I really don't have much business being a coach, having been pressed into duty primarily by necessity. Turns out I may not be doing it much longer, in any event, as the coach I took over for, a fella who REALLY knows his stuff, is returning to the fold next year. Seems his son is joining a travel team, freeing up some of his time and allowing him to steer the girls squad again. As for me, well if they need me--and they very well might, since there always seems to folks falling to the wayside after each campaign--I'll re-up cuz I enjoy working with the kids. Should no one else drop out, however, I'll go back to where I started and once again be Coach Pat's assistant--only THIS time I'm gonna pay far closer attention to what he says and does in case I ever go solo again!?!
And in the meantime, should these final three weeks prove to be my last in coaching, well, I've had a blast doing something I never in my wildest dreams ever imagined I'd be doing, and I only have but one final wish--I'd like the girls to score at least one more goal!! And not to be greedy, but a win might be nice, too!....
Whatever.It's been fun! In fact, you might even say it's been a kick!...
June 3rd, 2003
After being inaugurated into the wild and wacky world of super-heroes by Superman, Batman, and their assorted DC Comics cohorts way back in the year of 1961, the very next group of costumed do-gooders that crossed my path weren't the nascent Marvel characters as one might suspect, but a powerful pair published by the purveyors of America's favorite carrot-topped teen, the ageless Archie. That's right--after making the acquaintance of the various Justice Leaguers, next up for me were none other than the Fly and the Jaguar! Which meant my tender artistic sensibilities were being subliminally shaped by the likes of Curt Swan, Kurt Schaffenberger, Carmine Infantino, Gil Kane--and John Rosenberger!?!
John Rosenberger? To paraphrase the key laugh line delivered by the distaff member of "Saturday Night Live's" ongoing parody of Regis and Kelly's popular morning chatfest, "I don't even know WHO that is, Fred?!?" Not surprising, since John R., as his credit sometimes read, passed away in 1977, a quarter century ago now. Truth is, outside of what I saw of his work, I didn't know much anything about who Rosenberger was either. Not until I read Roger Hill's thoroughly researched article concerning the man in a recent issue of Roy Thomas' ALTER EGO, that is. ( Number 23, for those of you keeping score at home.).
Featuring an extensive interview with Golden Age MLJ artist Bob Fujitani, and a shorter but still informative chat with editor Victor Gorelick, that issue's spotlight shines on the firm that evolved over time into the company we all know--and some of us love--as Archie Comics. Interesting as these pieces are, I was most fascinated with Hill's investigation into the career of the oft-overlooked Rosenberger. Let's face it--illoing the entire meager Archie Adventure line (2 titles), then sliding over to do fillers for ACG, followed by a steady but typically ignored tenure as a DC romance stalwart, finally winding up his comic book career responsible for bringing the antics of several of DC's lady crimebusters ably to life--well, it's the sort of career trajectory that doesn't exactly guarantee one a first ballot election into the Comic Book Hall of Fame, y'know? But as the heavily illustrated ALTER EGO retrospective clearly demonstrates, it certainly doesn't make him a bad artist. Quite the contrary.
If anything, the well selected examples show Rosenberger to be a masterful illustrator, albeit one who was more comfortable with "civilian" subjects than those dressed in tight gaudy outfits. Unless of course, the meta-humans in question happen to be of the female persuasion! Years before "In Living Color" took to the airwaves, Rosenberger made sure that even then, the term "Fly Girl" was synonymous with "hot"!?! And the Jaguar's troublesome nemesis Cat Girl? The only word that comes to mind is "Meow"!?! By the time I eventually saw the original female feline over in the pages of a Batman book, Catwoman seemed more like the MOTHER of the Radio Comics (as they were sometimes referred to as) sweetheart than any kind of competing glamour gal! Sorry, Ms.Kyle!
Charitably speaking, the Robert Bernstein penned stories (an oft time collaborator of J.R.s) were slight and silly, modeled after the Weisinger/Schiff model so successful for DC at decade's dawn. Rosenberger's monsters and menaces were hardly of the inspired variety, and yet, and yet...The guy could sure draw, specializing in sexy ladies and men with befuddled looks on their faces (...and given the nature of the era, the emotional confusion was usually brought about by encounters with the aforementioned hard to handle honeys!)
I'm always enthralled when given a chance to peek behind the curtain and observe the working methods of a cartoonist, particularly one who was on the job when I first blew into town. Thanks to carte blanche access being afforded him by Rosenberger's widow, Peggy, Hill is allowed to sift through the late artist's papers, sharing several delightful yet obscure nuggets with lucky AE readers. My favorites are samples of a pair of unsold syndicated strips done in tandem with Bernstein, "Christopher Crown, Psychiatrist" and "Chris Cross", the exciting escapades of a sports commentator! Woo hoo! As expertly drawn as these strips were, apparently these two offbeat occupations did little to set the typical newspaper editor's heart a fluttering--or maybe they just couldn't handle all that aggravating alliteration? Who can truly say?
John Rosenberger was never one of my absolute favorite artists, to be totally honest. In fact, I can vividly recall actively scorning the infamous BRAVE AND THE BOLD team-up he illustrated featuring Supergirl and Wonder Woman. The spandexed lovelies were presented at their pre-feminist worst back there in my adolescent days, but having outgrown my adolescence--barely--I now realize the high quality of his work on that particular story. If I'm gonna blame ANYONE for that travesty, it should be the writer and the editor, not the poor, hard-working pencil-pusher, who, after all, is just looking to score a little work, right? I'm grateful Roger Hill invested the time , effort, and interest into contacting Peggy Rosenberger before she too passed on, enabling him the opportunity to assemble this superb overview.
And I'm grateful Roy Thomas--AND the fine folks at TwoMorrows Publishing--are there to share it with the rest of us. I've said it before, and I'll say it again--if you have ANY interest in the comics field that harkens back to a time when you could hand over a dollar bill to a clerk for your pulp paper purchase and still receive SOME small amount of change back, well, you really oughta be buying ALTER EGO! Where else are any of us possibly gonna see John R.s rejected SHAZAM! samples anyway? Keep delving deeper, Roy--it's much appreciated in these quarters! Oh, and in case you're taking requests, hows about a feature on Joe Certa, the man who drew all 131 Silver Age installments of the "J'onn J'onnz, Martian Manhunter" strip over an astonishing 11 year period? Or John Forte--there's GOTTA be some sorta amazing background story behind THAT guy's peculiar style, about that there can be no doubting , Thomas!...
June 1st, 2003
Late on the evening of May 31st, almost two weeks after the fact, Lynn and I FINALLY got around to watching the last ever episode of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"!
For reasons far too boring to go into here--though you may not be so lucky in the future--occasionally programs that both the missus and I take in together, well, sometimes they have an alarming tendency to pile up, particularly as the TV season comes to a wham bam all stops pulled out close. A weekend ago, for instance, along with daughter Julie, we spent two swell evenings viewing the last four episodes of this year's run of "Gilmore Girls", a fine, fine program. Next up on the agenda: the final quartet of "Buffys", eked out one day at time (and skipped entirely on May 29th because, well, I think you know WHY by now...)
We've been watching the Slayer since day one--another long story you've dodged, if only for the moment--and have considered it almost from the get go amongst the best the tube had to offer. Joss Whedon's supernatural scenarios could be funny, scary, exciting, romantic, thought provoking, and mythologically majestic--all in--YES!-- the very same episode! I know, I know--I'm hardly first wag to make that by-now clichéd observation. But it's true. Still, it remains a tough sell to non-watchers, but those of us who DO indulge, well, we're all too aware of the series exceptional quality. So when the prospect of it shutting down was announced? Sad. But the notion also elicited a certain amount of dread. After all, how many great TV shows actually manage to pull off a conclusion worthy of their legend? And frankly, things weren't looking all that optimistic for the Sunnydale gang as the weeks wound down...
Trudging through the second half of this seventh and final season wasn't all that easy, I've gotta reluctantly admit. A lotta folks seemed to consider last year's sustained story arc to have achieved the heights of tedium, but for my money, it was far more entertaining than the lugubrious wind-up afforded this year's saga of the First. Saving the First for last--not such a good idea. For weeks and weeks on end, we saw little more than a skittish group of teenage Slayer wannabes huddled in Buffy's house, alternately cowering and then glowering, with nothing really substantial being accomplished. Then, when, almost inexplicably, the newbies, the Scooby gang itself, Giles the deposed Watcher, and sister Dawn all in unison turned on their long-time leader in lieu of reformed renegade Slayer Faith, all because they considered the Buffster's battle plan to be somehow faulty, I just had to shake my head. What was THAT all about? They're turning on her NOW? With three weeks to go? And for what I'd charitably identify as less than compelling reasons? Dramatically speaking, it just seemed so...manufactured.
And it was, because the gang was soon back on the same page next installment, but not before we learned that, hey, it's tough to be the Slayer, y'know? As Lynn and I sat there watching the penultimate episode, we both had pretty much the same thought at roundabout the same time. Lynn was the one who voiced it (I don't believe in talking during my prime tubing, y'see) "This is boring", she said succinctly. Sadly, I couldn't disagree. Mostly these final hours seemed to be wallowing in long scenes of people talking, yakkata yakkata yakkata, mostly about... feelings and other deep stuff. Quips were, unfortunately, at a premium. Bursts of improbably choreographed battles filled out each chapter as the overall story ever so slowly crept along. While the show's hand to hand combat ballets have always been filmed in an unrealistic manner--does anybody REALLY do back flips when they're involved in a punch 'em up, much less in slow motion?--it seemed more superfluous than entertaining this far down the demon-ravaged road. So we didn't exactly go into the big wrap-up with the highest of hopes...
Oh ye of little faith--or should that be "Faith"?… Written and directed by creator Whedon--unlike the other recent episodes, which were left to subordinates--it proved to be a satisfying if not entirely classic end to the tale of a girl and her stake. But it more than sufficed. For one thing, the jokes were back! My favorite had several characters awaiting the apocalypse by playing Dungeons and Dragons, with the stuffy Giles being trumped by ubernerd Andrew during the contest's course. Sure, the solution to the whole wrap up was rather glib--we've been fighting this seemingly unstoppable foe all season long, the First evil ever, and it just takes one flip of the light bulb switch to light over Buffy's noggin, and presto-- she comes up with the perfect plan--but that's okay. Par for the course with these fantasy shows. At least, in these last 42 minutes, there was a renewed sense of fun in the getting there. To my way of thinking, the main obstacle had been the overly protracted lead up to crossing the finish line. Also, I was disappointed by the never delivered upon promise that this First entity hinted at during it's debut at season's outset. How thrilling it was when this baddest of Big Bads morphed into several past menaces--The Master, Adam, Glory, Mayor Wilkins--at the tail end of that opening salvo. Truly, a force to be reckoned with--or so it seemed. But aside from an appropriate return to the form of the malevolent Mayor of Sunnydale for the benefit of one time henchgirl Faith, little more was done with this intriguing ability to take on the likenesses of long deceased characters. Mostly, the First wandered around in the form of (the once deceased) Buffy, which may've been a great deal of thespian fun for Sarah Michelle Gellar, but I've gotta ask--would it've killed 'em to feature a wee bit more of blond bad girl Glory!?!
When all is said and done, the final episode of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" had the feel less of an end than a necessary pause, a time to breath deeply, step back, take things in, and consider which move comes next. And why not? The so-called Buffyverse is alive and well over on the "Angel" soundstages. Sure, there was some small concern that the spin-off may not've been picked up for a new slate of episodes, but ultimately, the folks over at the WB came to their senses and reupped the world's most noble vampire. Fact is, the word is already out that several "Buffy" characters--including possibly Gellar herself--could turn up on "Angel" next year. While I won't be holding my breath for Mrs. Prinze, Jr., I have no doubt some other folks will make the trip out to L.A. And despite sacrificing himself to save the world in the grand finale, the world's SECOND most noble vampire, James Marsters as platinum tressed Spike, has already signed up to be a regular on the sinister sister show! Spin-offs are certainly nothing new--"Cheers" begat "Frasier","MASH" begat "AfterMASH", "Hill Street Blues" begat "Beverly Hills Bunz"--but in most cases, when an original show calls it quits, there's no guarantee that the follow-up will last through the next November sweeps. Just check out the above examples as a testament to that little reality. But the "Buffy" folks knew that they had "Angel" solidly in place, with much talk of an inevitable additional spin-off pretty much a done deal happening not far off in the future. So when this final episode drew to an unusually sun-drenched conclusion, with a group of triumphant and newly powered Slayerettes lined up behind their one time leader, it didn't have the feel of finality usually associated with landmark last episodes. Now that the equation has been forevermore changed, with Buffy no longer the only one harboring special powers and abilities, when from the rear comes the inevitable query, "What's next?", a satisfied yet enigmatic smile plays across our spunky Slayer's face. Then, role credits and go to black!
Brilliant! This isn't the end, folks, not at all--it's merely the beginning of a whole new chapter! And as ambiguous as that smile was--the Mona Lisa ain't got nothin' on Sarah Michelle, gang!--we all know, somewhere down the line, there'll be a big payoff. Inasmuch as all the little girls with Slayer potential--the big ones, too--got themselves a flash of power during Willow's world saving spell, I have to wonder if any of these newly infused sweeties will show their stuff over at the "Angel" arena, since they do, after all, operate in the same universe, right? Guess we'll just have to wait and see, I suppose. In the meantime, I'm just happy Whedon defied expectations and produced a mostly positive conclusion to his epic serial, losing only one major character in the cataclysmic process (not counting the sure to be resurrected Spike, of course). And the fact that Andrew, TVs greatest geek since Urkel, survived--well, that surprised EVERYONE, even him! His camcorder episode was one of the few highlights of these last few months, so I for one was happy to see him make it out alive.
Plainly, as much as I treasured this marvelous program, it was time to wrap things up for Buffy. The road getting there of late may've been riddled with potholes, but happily the arrival at journey's end proved to be a high note. If you've never watched the show, hey, shame on you! There are a passel of DVDs featuring the earlier, more carefree seasons for sale, back before one prominent storyline would dominate an entire year of shows. A good way to get started for the neophyte. When big story arcs did become the de rigueur method of things these last four years or so, a better balance was maintained between stand-alone stories and ones that propelled the overall arc ahead. Regrettably, that wasn't always the case this year, but in the end, all is forgiven! To all those responsible for producing one of the wittiest and most creative shows in television history, what can I possibly say but yes, thanks for the memories!?! (And in Angel and Spike, we had a pair of leading men even older than, well, YOU KNOW!...)
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