Archive - June 2004
|June 29th, 2004|
|Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Professor Daniel Fingeroth and Professor
James Salicrup, flanking their esteemed, learned--and not to mention, AGED--colleague,
the world-famous Professor Irwin Corey!
...I've gotta start going to these MoCCA events. Maybe Sid Greene won't be showing up any time soon, but from all indications, don't anyone count out SHECKY Greene!?!...
June 27th, 2004
Today, I've written a follow-up to some of the interesting things that went on during our Anniversary celebration a few days back, but it's a tale that, for reasons that'll soon become obvious, is better told over on my parallel Beatles Blog, so go take a look, okay?
In the meantime, if thing's don't start improving soon on the old computer,
there'll be only one thing left to do—take Maxwell's Silver Hammer to it,
entry is short and to the point...
Fred sez, I love you...
adoring "Aaaawwwwww" in unison from the assembled audience--and to be
fair, acknowledge the not insubstantial number of involuntary gagging
sounds from some of our less...romantic readers. Hey, if you think THIS
bordered on sappy, just wait'll you see what I have planned for our
FIFTIETH Wedding Anniversary!?!...)
(And if you're at all curious regarding the tale of just how we seemingly bamboozled the world famous Eliot Landy--official photographer of 1969's celebrated Woodstock Music and Arts Festival--into, among other things, snapping shots of the pair of us chowing down on a giant cake, well, most of the details can be found here...)
So, happy 25th, sweetie--and tomorrow, I promise, I'll spare you any further embarrassment and go back to talking about comics, okay?...
There's always that implicit danger when you sit down and watch a baseball game on the tube. As a matter of course, the announcer de jour, in an attempt to maintain viewers interest during the countless lulls riddling your typical nine-inning contest, will invariably launch into an intriguing topic of conversation with his partner in the booth, only to then have the game suddenly get in the way of their dialog via something exciting actually happening on the field! A prime example of this anecdotus interruptus occurred just the other day during a Mets-Tigers telecast.
As the game casually moseyed along, Dave O'Brien turned to fellow commentator (AND Hall of Fame hurler, don't you forget it!), Tom Seaver, and queried the ex-Met as to whether or not he'd heard the mildly explosive assertions superstar slugger Barry Bonds had made regarding the city of Boston, brought on no doubt by this current round of inter-league play, with Bonds' San Francisco Giants squaring off against the Red Sox earlier that week. When Seaver admitted he hadn't, O'Brien began to explain that the always irascible Bonds had declared that he'd never, ever want to play for the city of Boston, and---
It's a long fly ball, and it's slicing away from Mets left fielder, Cliff Floyd, sure to fall in for an extra base hit and score the Detroit runner from first ba---
The New York outfielder, no Gold Glover he, stabs at the ball in desperation, and--miracle of miracles--makes a tremendous catch as the ball was swiftly arcing downward, certain to hit the ground momentarily! Well! THAT certainly got Messrs. Seaver and O'Brien's attention--and the multiple replays of the crucial catch from this angle and that, all breathlessly annotated by the pair of mic-jockeys, washed away any chance whatsoever of the time-killing Bonds/Bosox tangent from ever coming up again. Which, of course, it never did...
Floyd made a great play. It kept the Mets in the game, one that, happily, they later went on to win. Still, what ABOUT Barry and Boston? What's got in his craw? Was it the park? The fans? The BEANS? Feh--topics are always being introduced like that, only to suddenly vanish into the ether in the heat of the moment--it can be extremely frustrating, especially if they seem more interesting than the game at hand (NOT an uncommon occurrence.). But this latest example is only a minor mishap compared to the all-time greatest piece of unfinished bit of sports announcing business that I ever had the misfortune of witnessing, a tragically truncated monolog whose haunting memory I've been carrying around with me for, oh geez, over a quarter century now! I was reminded of it by that aforementioned story without an end, and now, get ready, cuz I'm gonna inflict it on you people...
You don't really need to be a baseball fan to appreciate this tale. Not surprisingly, it too concerns the New York Mets, my long-time favorite diamond doggies, a team who, from their very outset in 1962 and on through into the mid-seventies, employed merely the same three announcers to handle all their broadcasts, both radio and television, 162 games a year. Then, somewhere circa 1977 or '78, Lindsey Nelson decided to call it a day, and return to his home in the San Francisco area. This left Ralph Kiner and Bob Murphy without a third partner, which was crucial. Nowadays, with cable to contend with, the Mets use a different set of commentators for free TV, for cable, for radio, even for Spanish language transmissions, with several swing men who appear only intermittently. In all, 10 men currently share the task of bringing the Mets into listeners living rooms. But not back then. Three guys. That was it. Everything was scheduled precisely. And that schedule plays a significant role in leading to the dubious denouement of this soon-to-begin story...
To replace Lindsey Nelson, the Mets hired Steve Albert, younger brother of the famous--and later, infamous--Marv Albert. I didn't see altogether very many games that year, but I don't particularly recall Marv's sibling setting the airwaves on fire. Turns out, I wasn't the only one who was underwhelmed: during that season, the notorious NEW YORK DAILY NEWS ran a regular feature in it's expansive sports section entitled "The Nose".
"The Nose" was designed to mirror the sort of bitchy gossip column one usually found in either the entertainment or the society sections of the popular tabloid, but instead of the hoi poloi, focused on local athletes, and those folks associated with them--like, for instance, sportscasters. Okay, that doesn't seem all that radical a notion nowadays, true--gossip undeniably permeates our culture--but back then, the mere idea upset any number of staid applecarts. Especially since the column's author hid safely behind the nom de proboscis of "The Nose", his--or her--identity safely sheltered from the very subjects his--or her--comments would invariably manage to enrage. Subjects like--you guessed it--neophyte mic-man, Steve Albert..,
What exactly were The Nose's criticisms of the younger Albert? Hey, who can honestly recall after all this time? Be assured, though, that it certainly wasn't complimentary, and given the format, probably wasn't delivered in anything close to a fair and balanced manner, either. This approach apparently riled the Mets newest announcer, but he kept quiet about it, saying nothing in response. Nothing, that is, until the very last game of the season...
Albert was assigned the first six innings. Murphy probably paired off with him for the first three, then turned things over to Kiner for the next three. Ralph would stay in the booth for the final three frames, rejoined by his long-time partner to finish things up. (Whoever wasn't on the tube would be handling the radio side solo, y'see.) The game was, as many were for the Mets during the latter part of that decade, an unremarkable one. Albert was dutifully doing his job, calling the plays and offering insights when called upon. Nothing unusual there. But when the bottom of the sixth arrived, all the usual decorum was quickly jettisoned. Albert was mad, he wasn't gonna take it anymore, and now was his time to settle some seething scores...
As the Mets came up to bat, with Kiner handling the nuts and bolts of the play by play, Steve Albert gravely announced that he had some choice words for his anonymous tormentor, The Nose. There was a palpable bitterness in his voice that couldn't be missed. He was approaching his subject deliberately, but the rising tenor of his words clearly denoted a long suppressed rage.
Meanwhile, the first batter had quickly flied out, while the second had knocked a hard hit single past the shortstop, arriving safely at first base. Or something like that. The important thing was, one out, one on, events reported to us by the ever-professional Kiner, who seemed to want nothing to do with his junior partner's impending rant.
And impending it was, as Albert's preface had been successfully delivered, and now he was ready--anxious, more likely--to challenge The Nose's allegedly unfair smears with some righteous bile of his own. But, before he could get another word out---
"It's a one-hopper to the second baseman. He shovels it over to the shortstop for one out, and then back to the first baseman for an inning ending double play," Kiner exclaimed. "Bob Murphy will join me for the play by play in the seventh inning, right after this commercial message..."
And THAT, friends, was the end of Steve Albert's rage-filled rebuttal to the DAILY NEWS gossip-monger, at least as far as us television viewers knew. It's entirely conceivable that he might well've spent his last three innings of radio time complaining about the unfair treatment afforded him by the gimmicky columnist. Unfortunately, there's no way I'll ever know for sure. All I know is that, there I was, sitting in front of my set, on the verge of witnessing the rare and wondrous sight of a big-time (almost) announcer losing it completely on live TV, only to have the potentially riveting moment snatched away from me forever by a criminally quick half-inning. Just what WAS Steve Albert going to spit out in response to The Nose's criticisms? We'll never know, but silly as it may sound, that unfulfilled moment has somehow stayed with me far more vividly than any other post-1973 Mets memory from that admittedly unremarkable decade...
We weren't destined to find out the following spring, either. Steve, y'see, was no longer part of the team. He was replaced instead by short-lived booth-man number three, Lorne Brown (who I always felt was somehow a long-lost relative to the more celebrated Lorne Greene...), so Albert wasn't able to open his initial Spring Training announcing stint with, "As I was saying..."
(Ironically, "The Nose" was cut off as well, his--or her--catty comments apparently not going over all that well with the DAILY NEWS readership. So one can suppose Marv's younger brother probably derived some small satisfaction from THAT little turn of events...)
Hey, you don't think maybe The Nose has subsequently relocated to Beantown, and that's WHY Bonds wants no part of Boston, do you?
Or maybe it's Steve Albert who's keeping Barry away, hmm?...
Just over a year ago, I asked the question, "Who was Leon Lazarus?"
Well, who could've ever expected that my stupid question would be provided a snappy answer from none other than Al Jaffee himself!
Let me explain (cue flashback dissolve)...
|If you check out the
June 2003 "Fred Sez"
Archives--specifically the entries for the 10th and the
13th--you'll find the original piece (and its follow-up) wherein I
examine the handful of writers who, along with younger brother, Larry
Lieber, scripted Marvel super hero tales between the advent of
FANTASTIC FOUR #1 in 1961, and Roy Thomas's early 1966 debut, which
heralded a fresh infusion of writing talent into the new-fangled
enterprise, for editor Stan Lee. Most of these gents worked under
pseudonyms, and one of the main points of my reflective look back was
an attempt to try and determine, with the help of you readers, just WHO
these folks actually were.
Some I knew already, but by the time it was all over, I'd learned the secret identities of the once-anonymous H.E. Huntley (Ernie Hart) and N. Korok (Don Rico). In fact, together, we'd sussed out the true noms behind ALL the plumes--all save one, that is: the aforementioned Leon Lazarus! Because, with a name like Leon Lazarus, you just KNEW it had to be a fake, right?
|To refresh your memories, the mysterious Leon chalked up but a single scripting credit for Stan's Marvel line: "When Attuma Strikes", the 12 page lead Giant-Man feature in the February, 1965 issue of TALES TO ASTONISH, number 64. A month before donning his last-gasp bulky blue body armor to become the NEW Giant-Man, Lazarus presided over a meeting of Hank Pym and Sub-Mariner's arch-enemy, Attuma. Who knew then that, a few short months hence, there'd be far more blue-skinned Atlanteans sharing Attuma's pigmentation swarming the pages of TTA than any Goliath-sized superheroes? But in any event, there's be no Leon, not here, there, or ANYwhere--this was the sole instance of his name showing up in a Marvel publication during their groundbreaking sixties run. All of which led me to believe, hey, this guy CAN'T be for real, now can he?...|
|But none of you out there seemed to know the true poop, despite my repeated queries (not to mention pathetically geeky tone), though some enterprising (if sadly forgotten) correspondent ventured that it could've well been the King of Pen Names himself, ACG's editor/writer, Richard Hughes (A/K/A Shane O'Shea, Zev Zimmer, Ace Aqulia, and Laficdio Lee, to name the first handful that pop into my head) hiding behind yet another false front. I can easily see where this notion originated: the alliterative initials for one thing, and maybe the fact that ACG occasionally used an artist named Harry Lazarus, made this an appealing, if wholly undocumented, and mildly confused, theory. However, knowing that, in late 1964, ACG was still several years away from shutting down shop, and that there were some arcane business ties to rival National Periodicals (DC Comics, folks) ultimately made the idea of Hughes ghosting for Marvel seem highly unlikely. So, I reluctantly scratched Lazarus off of Richard E. Hughes long, long list of alternate identities. I still didn't know who Leon Lazarus was, but it suddenly hit me regarding who best to ask: Roy Thomas.|
emailed Roy, who very graciously took the time to answer my left-field
query. Unfortunately, he confessed to having absolutely NO clue
whatsoever as to who Leon might've been. Should he ever find out,
though, he'd be sure and let me know. And, as it turned out, in a
manner of speaking, that's exactly what he did...
|So there I was, a
few nights ago, casually reading a very enjoyable, very in-depth
interview with cartoonist Al Jaffee in a recent--albeit not the
current--issue of Roy's fine ALTER EGO magazine, #35 (April 2004). Al
is justifiably world renowned for his long-running, cleverly
constructed MAD Fold-Ins (as well as one of THIS fan's all-time
favorite recurring laff-incurring features, "Snappy Answers To Stupid
Questions"), but years before he hooked himself up to the Gaines gravy
train, he was a cartoonist specializing in funny animals and teen
oriented titles for Timely Comics (one of Marvel's earliest
incarnations, for all you newcomers out there) in the late forties and
early fifties. And not only did he write most of his own material, for
several years there as the forties came to a close, he edited their
entire teen line as well. It was at this point in Jim Amash's thorough
overview of Al's time toiling for Timely that yours truly, reading
pleasantly along, lips moving only slightly, nearly fell out of his
chair. As Al's fascinating reminiscences of those long-gone bullpen
days flowed out unabated, bolstered by details aplenty, suddenly the
name of Jaffee's assistant in the teen arena just slipped out.
|Uh huh. Leon Lazarus.
My good golly gosh--there really WAS a Leon Lazarus! That improbable sounding name WASN'T an alias! Well, you can just imagine my unmitigated excitement at learning this salient fact, nearly forty years after I had encountered for the first--and only--time the name Leon Lazarus! (Yeah, I'll admit it--it doesn't take much to float my boat, 'tis true...). Heart pounding MADly (...okay, that was lame--sorry...), I read eagerly on, hoping to learn more about one of the few "L.L.s" in sixties comics that wasn't in some way connected to Superman (...or WAS he?...), and though his name came up at least a half dozen times in the next few pages, here's all that I managed to learn:
Leon had his assistant position before Al got his editorial post; Leon read through all the submissions, weeding out the junk and only passing on the worthwhile material to Jaffee; and Leon had mastered the ability to improve a six pager with just a few judicious edits. Plus, Al really liked the guy. Basically, Jaffee found him indispensable. But beyond that, nothing is revealed.
What did he do before and after working with Al? How'd he even get involved with the field? What else did he work on? How long did he stay in comics? And when did he leave, not counting his 1964 cameo? Now that his existence has indeed been confirmed, I still want more, lots more--I want his entire history, in fact, and Jim Amash, you're just the man to ferret out the facts!
In any event, it's not too difficult to guess what Stan was thinking back in the early sixties. He obviously gave old hands like Ernie Hart and Don Rico--both Timely editors working under Lee during the same period as Jaffee--a shot at scripting the latest trend coming out of their mutual alma mater, and Leon Lazarus was just another valued past employee getting a turn. However, Lazarus's sole tale--coincidentally, one of the few Marvel Age tales pencilled by Golden Age stalwart, Carl Burgos, and inked by another early comics sensation, Paul Reinman--wound up representing a last gasp of sorts for Stan's Timely associates, as he must have eventually determined that these new sorts of comics needed new sorts of writers, and folks, this was one Lazarus who WASN'T about to rise again any time soon, at least not in the pages of a Marvel comic book. Not with the Roys, the Dennys, and the Garys of the world all waiting patiently for their call to learn, implement, and finally, refine this newly instituted Marvel approach...
|You mean, young, hungry neophytes
somehow managed to work their way into the system, all the while
displacing the more seasoned, experienced professionals--how could that
Well, folks, believe me--that's ONE stupid question even Al Jaffee doesn't have a snappy answer for. I think we all know by now, it's just the way things go.
And if you doubt me, just ask Leon Lazarus.
If you can find him...
|June 20th, 2004|
|It's TODAY, Dennis,
Geez, a guy make's ONE mistake by not checking the calendar, and suddenly every pint-sized, tousled-haired cartoon cut-up is ragging on him!
Why don't you go bother Mr. Wilson, or do something useful like teach Joey a couple of swear words or something, huh kid? Now that it's finally here, let a guy enjoy his day, willya?
Speaking of which, thanks very much to the lovely Lynn and dutiful daughter Julie for the swell Father's Day breakfast! They DIDN'T forget! (Given the circumstances of last Sunday's wacky mix-up, though, how COULD they have?...)
So, Happy Father's Day to all, and say a silent prayer when you have a moment to the patron Saint of sufferin' dads everywhere, good ol' Henry Mitchell--and remember, HIS kid stayed five forever!
Not that CERTAIN teenagers don't possess the uncanny ability to instantly revert back to age inappropriate behavior at the mere mention of that shortest of words...
I just got back from dropping Julie off at the End-Of-The-Year, Thank-God-It's Over, Eighth-Grade Spring Formal Dance. No, no boyfriend yet--she went instead with her good pal Lisa, planning to meet some other friends there later as well. Still, it's hard to deny what this seemingly simple event actually portends...
My little girl is growing up.
Gee, you suppose that means I'M gonna haveta, also?
(And while we all ponder THAT quirky conundrum, you might well want to take a quick look at some more of my insightfully innocuous blatherings on yet ANOTHER favored childhood obsession, the lads from Liverpool, as I take a closer look at one of Sir Paul's most recent gabfests, revelling in the revelations and observing the obscenities...)
...I wonder if they'll play "Twist and Shout" at the dance tonight? Doubt it...
|June 17th, 2004
Very, very hectic around these parts lately. And why not? That's the way things always play out the last week of school.
Yup, Junior High is over and done, save for some finals that are scheduled for after the last official day of classes--which would be, incidentally, TODAY. Lynn and I are going to Julie's Moving Up ceremony later this afternoon, so in lieu of some of the topics I'm hoping to write up and post soon, I'm presenting you instead with this stall memo!
Oh, and two new additions to the Best of Dateline:@#$% gallery as well--after you split here, go marvel at them, okay? (And yeah, those words were chosen specifically to reflect the subject matter contained therein--what can I say? I'm an inveterate punster...)
HAPPY FLAGG DAY!!!
(...yeah, don't worry, THIS time I checked the calendar...)
|What? You were expecting maybe Captain America?...|
|June 13th, 2004
HAPPY FATHER'S DAY!!!
|(...and you think
things are gonna be strained at YOUR dinner table tonight? Geez...)
...Ah, y'know, I was sorta wondering why no one had wished me a Happy Father's Day earlier this morning, and I admit to've been holding out some meager hope for a nifty gift when Lynn and Julie came home from shopping later, but--YIKES!--I just happened to take a quick peek at the calendar, and I shamefacedly discovered Ye Oldde Dad's Day is actually NEXT Sunday!?! Oops. Sorry about that. File this gag away in the back of your mind, if you would, and then dig it out again seven days hence, okay?
And I sure hope this doesn't happen to me on the 4th of July!! Now, THAT would really be embarrassing!!...
I was driving Julie and her pal Deanna home from the local Galleria yesterday. It was around 5:30 in the afternoon, and they were chattering excitedly in the back seat about the new outfits they had just purchased for several various and impending end-of-the-year school functions. This worked to my advantage in that, being as engrossed as they were in their own conversation, they didn't think to pester me to change the radio station to the one they generally prefer. You know, the one with all of today's hits, the non-stop ca-chunka-chunka beat, and nearly every third or fourth word bleeped out? Yeah, THAT one.
Well, since they weren't paying me any attention, I flipped over to WDST, home to an amazingly free form musical format--particularly for these times--broadcasting out of the legendary burg of Woodstock, just a couple of towns over. You never really know what's gonna turn up when you tune in, but I certainly can't say I expected what I heard when I pushed that button--
"Georgia On My Mind" by Ray Charles.
|It'd been quite some
time since THAT one had found itself being piped over my radio
speakers. As I casually listened, I remember thinking, "Well, they sure
don't write songs like that anymore", and before I'd had much of a
chance to pursue that thought any further, the aching longing of Ray's
voice segued effortlessly into the red-hot "What'd I Say"--parts 1 AND
2!!--probably one of the most ingratiatingly propulsive musical
workouts ever committed to vinyl! It was all I could do NOT to give in
and respond vocally to Brother Ray's calls as the track relentlessly
played on. Maybe if the kids weren't in the car...
Even so, under my breath, and loudly in my mind, I was harmonizing with each and every Raylette, and yes, I was swinging and swaying behind the wheel. Oh, I maintained control of the road, never fear, but the music was so infectious, so joyous, it was hard not to be effected in SOME manner. I made a mental note to cue that number up in the CD changer at home sometime soon, crank it way, WAY up, and just "Uhhh" and ""Ahhh" to my li'l heart's content. Still. in the periphery of my mind, I did find it odd that they were playing two such generally neglected--if undeniably classic--tracks back to back, but hey, I figured, that's WDST for you...
girls started talking to me again, diverting my attention, causing me
to miss the final stanza or two, and--importantly, as it would turn
out--the DJ's comments following it's completion. Five minutes later,
we were home, and once inside, I did what I usually do after leaving
the premises for any extended period of time--I checked my email. I
only had a single message, but reading its subject line explained a
It was from my friend, Larry Shell, and it said, simply, "Sad News--Ray Charles RIP". Well, sure, I thought--WHY else would they be playing his music on the radio? Because it was GOOD? Feh--THAT'D be far too simple. I should've known...
Larry wrote a short but heartfelt tribute to the man in the body of his letter, and I guess this is mine. I can't honestly say that Ray was one of my favorite recording artists--when it comes to soul, my tastes lean more to the sweet than the gruff. Smokey, not Ray, Al, not Otis. But that's just a personal preference. I certainly was well aware of the massive impact Ray Charles made on popular music, particularly in the fifties and sixties, and when you stop and think about it, you've just gotta be in awe of his contributions. With songs like the aforementioned pair--as well as "Busted", "Let's Go Get Stoned", "I Can't Stop Loving You", and most especially "Hit The Road Jack"--even someone not as well versed as they should be in his back catalog such as myself has GOT to appreciate the immense talent necessary to create those masterpieces.
It's a little hard to believe he's gone. And it's a little hard to believe he was only 73 when he left us, because it seems like Ray Charles has ALWAYS been around! Sure, as the years wore on, he somehow became more famous to a whole new generation for appearing in Pepsi commercials, but early on, he even predated my own blossoming interest in music, which flared up in the initial months of 1964. In fact, there was actually a big, big hit that spring called "Love Me With All Your Heart", and it was credited to the Ray Charles Singers. It sounded far more like the MOR stylings of the Ray CONIFF Singers than any moonlighting Raylettes, and even the thick-headed kid who once thought Betty Grable was somehow related to Clark Gable HAD to instantly realize that there definitely were TWO Ray Charles in the music biz, because, folks, no way could the fellow responsible for "What'd I Say" be in any way the SAME fellow responsible for THAT song!?!
But truth to tell, there actually was only ONE Ray Charles--and now that he's finally hit that last, long road, not even that, Jack...
|June 10, 2004|
|Hembeck hears a Who!
And all over Who-ville, they whooped up a racket.
They rattled tin kettles!
They beat on brass pans. on garbage pail tops, and old cranberry cans!
Screeching guitars and thundering basses, they weren't ever going to be fooled agains!
They rattled and shook the whole sky, and MOJO stopped a minute to examine this special Who.
"Huh, forty years", they pondered.
abject apologies to the wonderful Dr. Seuss and his (hopefully)
forgiving estate, but, if like me, you're ANY sort of fan of Pete and
the boys, you NEED this exemplary MOJO special publication! It's on
sale now, so, if you're interested, get out there quickly before the
Who sell out!...
And on a related musical note, if you're the least bit curious to learn exactly which 8 new songs Paul McCartney has added to his set-list on his current European tour--as well as my cogent comments on these fresh selections--well, just click here, and before you know it, said info will be coming up on your computer screen!
(Like--dare I say it?--a flower!!)
(...yeah, I dare...)
War, famine, horrendous natural disasters...
Rampant injustice, corrupt and downright evil leaders, man's all too standard inhumanity to his fellow man...
Yeah, there's never any shortage of outrages for us hapless human beings to wring our collective hands over. It's a nasty world out there, no question, with an awful lot to get justifiably steamed about. And if we have any empathy at all, we do. But eventually, the many miseries of mankind produces an unavoidable overload that tends to overwhelm even the most sympathetically massive of hearts, and a funny thing happens--the importance of these concerns diminishes and that of undeniable trivialities expands. Hey, it's just human nature.
Which is merely my long-winded and quasi-philosophical way of informing you that, yes, I'm well aware that the situation I'm about to complain at length about is, in the overall scheme of things, about as insignificant a problem as you can find. Doesn't matter. It stuck in my proverbial craw when I initially became aware of it back in 1988, and sixteen years later, it STILL annoys the @#$% out of me.
I'm talking about the fourth volume in the original run of that ritzy hardcover collection series, MARVEL MASTERWORKS, featuring the first ten classic issues of THE AVENGERS. These things retailed for $29.95 back then--nowadays they're nearing the fifty buck mark--so these books weren't cheap. But they promised to be a fitting home for some of the most memorably influential comics ever published, bound between fine stiff covers, printed on the best quality thick shiny paper, and afforded only the highest of production values. Or, so you would think...
Simple enough. Captain America, making his Marvel debut in the fourth issue of THE AVENGERS--and essentially dominating the six subsequent editions--has his historic reintroduction to the sixties comics market preserved for all posterity with HIS EARS COLORED BLUE IN 182 OF THE 183 INTERIOR PANELS IN WHICH THEY'RE DECIAPHERABLE!!! (For some reason, the pink ears slip by on the splash for number ten. Must've been an error...)
That's right, people, I'm bitter about a coloring mistake, bitter and resentful. Still.
it's not just ANY coloring mistake, okay? It's Captain America's EARS,
fer gosh sakes! At the time when this book originally shipped, I'd
probably read virtually every comic the so-called Sentinel of Liberty
had appeared in following his 1964 defrosting on up to that point, and
I don't recall a SINGLE instance of his fleshy pink ears ever being
miscolored blue!! Not once! Maybe it happened, but if it did, it was
but a stray error hidden off in some mercifully secluded panel. In this
pricey, carefully assembled collection (HAH!), however, it's the rule,
NOT the exception.
|And just what IS the exception? The covers. Yes, all seven of the Cap-featured covers have the ears their proper hue. SOMEBODY, then, must've been checking the source material--how is it that the very prominent Cap-ears on the outside front covers of, say, either issues number nine or ten, don't give a certain someone a helpful--and needed--hint as to the correct way to color those things?!? After all, Cap's ears have been the very same color as his granite-like jaw since back in the days when he was first knocking Hitler on his Nazi-loving-keister!?! The mind boggles...|
|The culprit? Well, the hues are credited to a very nice young woman by the name of Janet Jackson. No, not THAT Janet Jackson (though she might well've done as swell a job--if not better--slopping the tints on our WW2 Legend, even with LaToya's rehearsal wailing distracting her in the background...).|
|THIS Janet Jackson was someone
who, if memory serves, went on to be closely associated with several of
Jim Shooter's latter ventures, post-Marvel. Fact is, I recall meeting
her at some comics convention or another, and she was certainly a
pleasant enough individual. Obviously, our meeting occurred BEFORE this
MASTERWORKS debacle took place because, gentleman or no gentleman, it
would've been pretty darn difficult to contain myself otherwise, lemme
But you know what? I don't blame her, really I don't. She was just the colorist, a freelancer, a brush for hire. Take a look instead at THESE names proudly and prominently displayed on the title page:
Special Projects Editor: Bob Budiansky
Editor: Craig Anderson
Assistant Editors: David Wohl, A.A. Perry, Susan Flaxman
|I count six names there, and okay, I'll grant it's unrealistic to pin this one on DeFalco--as head honcho, he had plenty else to worry about--but shouldn't at least ONE of those five other people have caught this glaring boo-boo? Or did they simply make sure the pages were printed in the right order, and then happily leave the Bullpen offices with their paychecks? (Unlike, come to think of it, the folks who oversaw that first companion FANTASTIC FOUR volume, apparently, as I seem to recall some wacky mix-up with a few pages therein. Hey, annoying as THAT was, you've only to discern the proper order yourself and then make the correction mentally, proceeding in proper sequence on your own. Those blue ears, though--THOSE you can't just wish away...)|
|Yeah, yeah--I'm making a lot of noise about a minor infraction, granted. Hey, I already admitted as much. But, by golly, the ol' Avenger has pretty much been my favorite costumed character since he first turned up in that landmark fourth issue of THE AVENGERS.|
|And if Marvel--then
or now--wants me to part with significant coinage for one of their
overpriced, gussied-up reprints, then the least I could--and
can--expect from them is a decent job overseeing the assembling of said
In other words, here's your FIRST clue--Daredevil: red ears, yes. Captain America: blue ears, no. A thousand times (or at least 182 times) NO!!
|Obviously, this all came back to me whence dipping into the hardback for reasons alluded to in recent days, and the old, long-suppressed blue-eared bile rose to the top, gurgling over one more time. Years ago, I was so incensed, I even managed to grouse about it in one of my MARVEL AGE pages, much, I'm sure, to editor Jim Salicrup's everlasting delight! (Having fun reading about this tired old topic AGAIN, Jim?...)|
|The primary reason for unearthing
it this time around is scattered all about--THIS time, friends, I can
share the excruciating evidence with my loyal and sure to be similarly
outraged readers! Take a look folks, take a real close look, and then
you'll HAVE to agree--it's an abomination, an absolute abomination!...
Well, so much for THAT rant. Now, time to go back to worrying about some REAL problems, like global terrorism, debilitating diseases, and just WHY exactly isn't the second season of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" out on DVD yet?...
(Look, I'm ONLY human, okay?...)
| June 8, 2004
I'd like to contribute a couple of words of my own concerning the late Ronald Reagan:
Remember that panel with the Fantastic Four in it that I ran the other day? The one I challenged you folks out there to decipher the origin of, as well as the personal significance it held for me? Well, it was hardly a major-league stumper for the likes of the well-read individuals who haunt THIS site, lemme tell ya, but the very first one to chime in with the correct answer(s) was one Jonathan Miller!
|He recognized the
vintage Kirby/Ayers composition as not from an issue of FANTASTIC FOUR,
as you might think--Hah! Trick question!--but instead from the debut
issue of THE AVENGERS (September, 1963, the self-same month that the
F.F.'s 18th issue hit the stands). Now, truth to tell, I hadn't cracked
open this classic in several decades for anything more than a cursory
skim, but felt the necessity to afford it a closer read-through after
good ol' Tom Brevoort assigned me the delightful task of coming with a
short salute to the book's early days to be included in the assemblage
of the 500th anniversary issue of THE AVENGERS (I'm working on it, Tom,
I'm working on it--never fear!). Y'know, I had TOTALLY forgotten the
small but telling cameo that the World's Greatest Comics Team made in
the book's opening pages...
As so many of you seemed to recall--and thanks to all who took the time to venture their guesses--Thor's evil half-bro, Loki, worked his black magic in such a way as to trick his semi-sibling into believing the Hulk was responsible for a trumped up near-disaster that the Asgardian, in fact, had actually caused, hoping in turn to incite the pair into throwing down for a battle royale. However, Banner-buddy Rick Jones, gets wind of the Hulk's uncharacteristic actions, and naturally, attempts to contact the F.F. for help. Who else, right?
|Well, this surely
wouldn't do, as the God of Mischief swiftly realizes, so he diverts the
pleading radio transmissions of Jones' Teen Brigade off elsewhere,
including--natch--the offices of Dr. Don Blake, the Thunder God's
mortal identity. By the time the pleading messages DO make it to the
Baxter Building, help is already on the way, and it's only a matter of
time--and 16 pages--before The Avengers are formed for real!...
Now, while I can't ENTIRELY discount Charles Minsker and Jim Salicrup's supposition that I was perhaps, um, overly enamored of that ginchy hairstyle Sue Storm sported in the previously posted panel, it was MAINLY something else that originally grabbed my attention. Specifically, the quietly startling and altogether warmly received confirmation that, reading those panels for the first time 41 years back, THIS new-fangled comics company recently dubbed "Marvel" was going to be different. This wasn't gonna be like DC, where Aquaman and Lori Lemaris both shared the same editor, but not the same undersea dominion of Atlantis--OR even the same lower body, for that matter! (Uh, well, Lori and Aquaman wouldn't, in any event, I suppose, but those of you familiar with Ms. Lemaris's tail will know what I mean!) (...Though maybe THAT'S not the best way to phrase things either, is it?...)
|The point is, there
really WAS a cohesive Marvel Universe, and this small but entirely
logical appearance by Reed Richards and associates--the other
two-thirds of which you'll find nearby-- clearly indicated that. What
can I say? It made a strong impression on me, fanning the flames of my
devotion to the emerging House of Ideas to a white-hot level, stoking
the fires of my life-long geekdom. And then, seeing that panel the
other day, well, it brought it ALL back.
It wasn't really much of a mystery was it? (Though bonus points to smarty-pants-Salicrup for identifying the source of my scan as the first AVENGERS MASTERWORKS volume, due to a coloring mistake he alone spotted, and NOT the actual comic itself. And friends, when it comes to coloring flubs and THAT particular hardcover collection, well, THAT'S a rant for another day, and I promise you, it's coming!! But not now, not today...)
saw that neat little cross-over, and felt the sudden urge to plaster it
up there on the screen for all to see. The same folks who were
responsible for the then-recently published Dr.Doom/Ant-Man two-part
escapade in F.F.'s 16 and 17 were now shoehorning my favorite
characters very naturally--but quite uniquely, for the era--into the
first issue of their JLA-like hero roundup, and that was, back when I
was a wide-eyed 10 year old in 1963, a GOOD thing, a VERY good thing.
THAT'S the feeling I got seeing those old panels, and sentimental old softie that I am, I just felt the need to share the thrill--however trivial it may actually be in the grand scheme of things--with you folks.
And speaking of sharing, today's a particularly special day for a good friend of the family, and you might be interested in taking a quick look at a brand-new NEW illo done by moi especially to commemorate the event.
Memories, old and new--that's what we specialize in here at Hembeck.com!...
(Cue up "The Way We Were" in your head, people--it's only right!...)
(Yeah, we'll get back to comics another time, but for now, I want to record the afternoon's events while they're still fresh...)
12 girls signed up, 12 girls paid their $10, 12 girls showed up, meaning--shock of shocks--we actually had an extra player to substitute into each game. I say "each" because we played four, each 18 minutes long apiece, each against a different opponent. Because 9 teams were competing in our age group, the schedule went something like this: we played our first contest at 1:20, took 20 minutes off, played our second at 2;OO, followed by another 20 minute break, then our third go-round at 2:40, and then--an hour off?
Well, that was the plan, but for some reason, things got pushed back ANOTHER 20 minutes, meaning we didn't commence our fourth and final game until at 4:20--and did I mention rain was in the forecast? The good news is that the raindrops were sporadic at best, and any of the several times the drizzle began to pick up speed, the moisture would each time stop entirely soon after. So, despite the threatening forecast, overall, the weather wasn't nearly the disaster it looked to be going in.
And I'm happy to report, neither were we.
No, we didn't pull off some "Rocky"-like miracle and win all four games, but we didn't embarrass ourselves either. First game we played the team we weekly share a practice field--and a regular scrimmage--with. They beat us 1-0 back in the fall, so I thought we might have a chance. We did. Final score, 0-0 tie.
time out was against a very accomplished squad. Man, did they ever know
what they were doing! We never really made a serious go at their goal,
but maybe, just maybe, if the ball wasn't wet (this was the rainiest
portion of the day), our goalie catches the ball and it doesn't slip
out of her hands. We lose, 1-0, but oh, it could've been worse, much
Our third adversaries, another superior group, kicked one in during the opening minutes, but we managed to stifle them after that, playing hard for another 1-0 loss. Daughter Julie got kicked on the hand early on, but kept playing without letting anyone know. However, she certainly let us know at the game's completion, brandishing a nasty bruise on the top of her hand, and making some squawks about going off to the emergency room. She was totally convinced that it was broken, dislocated at least. Luckily, we had that one-hour-plus gap between games, and wouldn't you know it? When it was finally time for us to go back on the field, Julie was sore, sure, but ready and willing nonetheless. (And no, we never did make it the local hospital, I'm happy to say...)
We were up against a team we faced in both the fall and the spring, losing games to them both times by the identical scores of 3-2 (which, for us, were among the season's brightest highlights!...). They had a good team, but we were matching them, kick for kick, and as the allotted 18 minute contest neared completion, this day's activities looked to be a mirror of last year's tournament action when, with a substantially different group of girls, we also chalked up a pair of 1-0 losses and a couple of 0-0 ties as well, which is exactly what this last game was shaping up to finish as...
Then, as the clock was running out, one of our girls went down hard, having been knocked flat by a player on the other team. Nothing illegal, mind you, but enough to bring a few tears to her eyes, and the need of some assistance getting off the field. She's one of our hardier players, so if she reacted this way, I knew she'd been hit good. After we helped her to the sidelines, I turned around only to see that all the players from both squads were coming off the field. The referee said we were actually about 40 seconds over the limit when the action had stopped for the injury, so we might as well just call it. Fine. Too bad my player had to get hurt as we went into some unscheduled overtime, but happily,she was already recovering over on the sideline. Her foot hurt a little, no question, but she'd be okay, that much was obvious. And that, it seemed, would be that.
The other coach approached, and just before we did the customary line-up where each team high fives their opponents, muttering "good game" with all the enthusiasm of Ted Kennedy applauding during a George Bush State of the Union speech, he suggested we decide this game once and for all with a shoot out. His girls had proposed the idea, and it wasn't hard to see that they all seemed absolutely giddy at the notion. I turned to my girls and asked what they thought. Almost to a girl they said "no!", but in a rare instance of inspired leadership, I thought about it for a second or two, and said, okay, sure, we'll do it--why not?
Hey, my kids had played tough all day long--I didn't want them going off the field ducking an opportunity like this. So I agreed to the shoot out. And then I figured the NEXT order of business was to ask the ref exactly what a shoot out WAS!?!...
Oh sure, I had some vague idea, but in Julie's 6 years playing soccer, we'd never before been involved in one. Seems each team takes 5 turns--utilizing 5 different players--taking shots on the goal from a prescribed distance, with only the goalie on defense. Our goalie, Kelli, is pretty good and definitely fearless, so I knew we had that working for us, and I quickly picked 3 of our strongest kickers (our fourth, Christina, was the one who got hurt), and then 2 others, pretty much at random. But shortly thereafter, perhaps motivated by a thirst for a little taste of revenge, Christina pronounced herself able and ready to take a kick herself, the very LAST kick. Okay, I agreed, and I substituted her for one of my other choices, with the team's blessing...
We took the first shot. A miss. Their turn. Bingo--a goal. They're up, 1-0. Next, we miss again. Luckily, they miss their second shot as well. My best kicker, Kristin, powerfully propels one past their goalie, and we're even, 1-1. Their third shot hits the goal post and ricochets foul. We miss our fourth shot. Our goalie catches their fourth. Now, it's time for our fifth and final shot, but by this time, Christina realizes her foot is too sore to do the job properly. She turns to another player--ALSO named Christina, and asks her to take her place.
Let me tell you a little bit about our original Christina. Along with Julie and one other girl, she's been on my team for all four of my years coaching. She's a really sweet kid, always tries hard, and has never given me a minute of trouble. However, with no slight intended, she's never been one of my strongest players, at least early on. Still, I HAVE detected a noticeable improvement in her game recently, particularly in her defensive skills. She's not at all scared to get in there, get the ball, and kick it. And kick it, I've noticed, surprisingly high and hard...
So when she stepped up to the ball, I was hoping for maybe a little of that power I've spied lately, and--BOOM!--Christina ran up to the ball, and lifted it straight up and over the goalkeeper's outstretched arms but within the netting!!
Pandemonium erupts! My girls go crazy! And everyone seems to have forgotten that the other team still had one shot left. Uh oh...
Kelli crouches in between the posts. The kick is taken--
--and Kelli jumps up, fends it off with her hands, and, yup, we win, 2-1!!
Now the girls could REALLY celebrate our first actual victory of the year, and I gotta tell ya, I felt happiest for Christina, a great kid who's worked hard to turn herself into a solidly dependable player, and who, given the rare chance to be the hero of the day, came through brilliantly! It's been a rough, rough season, but moments like that are what keep you going. It was swell to win, but it was particularly gratifying exactly HOW we won.
The other team? The ones oh-so-eager to challenge us to that shooting match? Well, they had some of the longest faces I've seen in a long while as we did our delayed obligatory hand-to-hand congrats, and y'know, maybe we were a bit TOO happy, but hey, it's been a long coupla months--let the kids enjoy themselves, okay?
Our day was over, save for the presentation of the standard--if somewhat chintzy--trophies each member of our team was to receive for their afternoon's efforts--AND their ten spots! No, we didn't get the biggest ones, but--hip hooray!--we didn't get the SMALLEST ones either! We came in third, third out of four teams, and while that may not be enough to satisfy the George Steinbrenner's of the world, for one afternoon, anyway, it was enough for us.
And that's the way I'll always remember the day we all learned that Ronald Reagan had died...
|June 4th, 2004|
The Fantastic Four. (Okay, okay--three of them, anyway...)
THIS is a prime--if otherwise long fogotten until, while doing some research for an upcoming (off-site) project, happily stumbled upon--example of just WHY I loved Marvel Comics so devoutly back when we were both young and (sorta) innocent...
And if you're the first to identify just WHERE this panel originally appeared and venture a reasonable theory as to WHY I treasure it so, well, I'll throw proper credit your way when I follow up on this happy little mystery a few days hence, okay?
Okay, so I made a mistake. So what else is new?
Maybe you read my little rant about Fox's "24" a few days back? Well, David Rutman sure did, and he was more than happy to drop me a line and point out that I--well, let HIM explain...
"You totally missed what happened to Chase. Jack chopped his hand off at the wrist, then slid the device over the stump. He didn't cut off the arm up near the elbow!"
Remember that three point deconstruction of the whole sorry situation in my previous post? Well, this little kernel of information renders points two and three of said argument totally moot (and, okay, just to make it a clean sweep, I'm willing to accept that maybe--just maybe--you CAN go from having your hand sliced off with an axe and into an operating table in roughly eight minutes. Maybe.)
However, I'm not about to let the folks at "24" entirely off the hook. Turns out there was one glaring plot thread that was left dangling at season's end that I'd totally forgotten about. Jeff over at Otto's Coffee Shop pointed it out in his post mortem, which I read shortly after hoisting mine up for all of you to see. (Yes, I realize I sent you over there at the end of my previous post, but I did it site unread. Based on earlier entries, I was confident it would be worth your attention, but I didn't want to read it myself until I'd gotten my own thoughts down, unfettered by any outside influences. Now that I have, though...)
Remember that deadly virus? That highly contagious virus? And how it was unleashed into an large LA hotel overnight? Killing lots and lots of people? Well, what I forgot about was this one guy. Y'see, he was in the hotel with a women he'd met only hours earlier, because, well, you know. And being that he's married and all, he very quietly slips out on his erstwhile lady friend in the middle of the night--AFTER the contagion had been let loose into the air ducts, but BEFORE CTU agents had a chance to seal off the immediate area. By the time his absence is noted, he's already back home, sneaking into his apartment, lame excuses slipping off his lips--and soon enough, blood flowing out of his nose! Yeah, he's got it alright, and before long, he's stopping by the local pharmacy, vainly looking for a cure for his strangely unrelenting nosebleed. Well sir, CTU eventually locates the poor sap in a local ER, but by that point, he's probably infected at least a dozen people, maybe more, and the way the virus was engineered to rapidly spread, well, most of LA would be grabbing for their nose hankies in no time flat if something isn't done, and done fast! But, we last see Typhoid Murray several hours before this season's day is finally out, and there's absolutely no mention of the potential disaster this adultering SOB represents to the LA area--and the country as a whole--as this edition of "24" wraps up!?!
And what do we learn from all this? Simple. Don't ever cheat on your wife--it'll KILL ya!
At least, so I've been told. (You wouldn't fib to me, now wouldja Lynnie?...)
Thanks David--appreciate you clearing up my all too typical confusion!
And speaking of correspondents, I asked my old pal, Jim Salicrup, if he had anything to share regarding yesterday's piece on that wild Stan Lee painting, the one that fronted the 17th issue of a magazine Jim was instrumental in assembling back in '76, FOOM...
|Well, I don't
believe I have anything particularly interesting to add. In fact, the
poster itself is what's truly fascinating. And I certainly remember
that poster -- except I didn't have one!?! I believe Stan had it in his
office. So, back when David Anthony Kraft was editing FOOM, I somehow
came up with a way for us to finally have a full-color cover on FOOM
(that was the first one!) and a way to get a copy of that poster,
albeit as a magazine cover, for myself. It was simply a matter of
creative accounting -- since the artwork already existed, as well as
the film, all we needed was permission to make copies of the film and
the cover was ours. So, the cost of a full-color cover was less
expensive than commissioning new art and two-color separations. Marvel
was willing to do almost anything if you could show 'em how to do it
for the painting itself, how could I not love it!?! There was Stan the
Man, becoming one with his super-hero stable of superstars! Also, to
nitpick ever so slightly, Howard the Duck wasn't the only non-Stan Lee
co-created character represented -- lest we forget, Captain America was
created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. Furthermore, I do consider the
Silver Surfer a Lee/Kirby creation.
But I still love that poster! I made sure that image was used yet again on the Stan Lee trading card many years later. As for Arnie Sawyer, he runs a design studio that handled lots of work for Marvel/Fleer and Topps during the big trading card boom. I saw him not too long ago at one of the Big Apple conventions.
Another poster I love, along slightly similar lines, is the great piece Herb Trimpe did for the infamous Stan Lee at Carnegie Hall. It was composed of 9 or 12 or more, I can't remember, cropped portions of various Marvel super-heroes' famous faces -- forming, puzzle-like, one powerful portrait of a composite Marvel super-hero. It may be in Les Daniel's Marvel book.
And, hey, I even loved those Bullpen Portraits published by Marvelmania way back when -- the self-portraits of various Marvel artists at their drawing boards surrounded by their characters.
Well, I better stop before I get even more carried away.
Jim! And yeah, I knew full well about Captain America's true origins--I
just skipped over it in an attempt to not get too bogged down in
explanations (a first for me, apparently), but I really shouldn't have
been so cavalier with the facts. Sorry. Consider me shamefaced and
repentant, and I assure you it won't happen again.
I looked all through the Les Daniels book, but came up empty on that nifty Carnegie Hall poster you mention. However, Arnie's personable portraiture IS included--in trading card form, no less! You should be proud Jim, SO proud! I DID manage to find one of those Merry Marvel Madman self-portraits you refer to--John Romita, the elder, as it turns out--and have thusly included a portion of it nearby. Those of you who enjoy the more generous selection of illustrations featured on this blog in recent months have Jim to thank, as it was mostly at his urging that I jazzed things up, visually speaking.
Of course, he had NOTHING whatsoever to do with that dopey flesh-hued Silver Surfer from a few days back--that was my own lame idea. Hey, Salicrup's shadow editing can only do so much, y'know...
Odin help me, but I have absolutely ADORED this crazy painting of Marvel mogul, Stan Lee, from the very first moment I laid my poor li'l ol' eyes on it!!
would've been way back at one of those small, monthly mini-cons the
late Phil Seuling regularly held in New York City during the seventies,
most probably '74 or '75. This FOOM issue, sporting the piece as its
cover, came out in late '76, but I clearly recall having had Arnold
Sawyer's masterpiece proudly hanging on my walls for a considerable
amount of time already by then. And, believe it or not, I STILL do!?!
Yup, along with Neal Adams magnificent theatrical poster for the legendary sci-fi extravaganza, "WARP", this remains my most beloved piece of wall art, and as I was loading up the VCR downstairs last night, it happened to catch my eye, prompting me to think back to our very first encounter. And I also remembered that not everyone shares my exceedingly high opinion of the piece. Far from it--and, as it turned out, THAT was readily apparent right from day one...
Like I said, when I first saw it from across a crowded dealers room, I made a bee-line to the table selling it and almost immediately forked over the cash that would allow me to take home with me my very own copy of this--yes!--Pop Art Masterpiece! Hey, what's not to like? Combined with a very skillfully done likeness of lovable ol' Smilin' Stan is the cleverly colorful integration of nearly a dozen of his most famous creations--AND Howard the Duck. Hey, it was the seventies, after all, and Gerber's fowl was getting all the publicity, so it makes a certain sort of sense that his diminutive hat was included in the mix. As for the rest of 'em, I'll bet you can all easily name each and every one of them--meaning, of course, you've--uh huh--spent far too much time reading @#%$ing comic books!?! Hey, join the club...
Over the ensuing years, I'd always sooner or later ask any folks who'd visit whichever room currently housed this poster just what they thought of it. The results, I'm sad to say, generally weren't pretty. Most seemed to find it either garish, creepy, a mish-mash, or just plain ugly--and these sentiments emanated from comics fanatics and non-fans alike! Luckily, since painter Sawyer wasn't actually involved in the comics biz, but was instead a long-time neighbor of Stan's who did this piece to express his admiration for the Man ( AND to pocket a few bucks as well!! Hey, artists gotta eat too, y'know!...), he didn't have to endure the slings and arrows of fourteen-year old experts. Well, not usually...
Y'see, the poor guy wasn't immune to ALL criticism. Flash back with me one last time to that long-ago mini-con. I hadn't started up my cartooning as of yet, so I was just another nameless fan wandering endlessly through the aisles. On maybe my 17th time circling the dealer's room, I again found myself near the table where I'd earlier bought my rolled-up treasure. I noticed that now, sitting behind the table with its original proprietor was none other than Howard Chaykin. Well, folks, I already was a big fan of Howie's by that point, enjoying not only his stylish artwork, but his highly individualistic approach to scripting as well. And, whenever it snuck in, his bitingly sarcastic sense of humor, too. (I subsequently met Howie on several occasions in later years, and am pleased--and somewhat relieved--to report that, yes, he was always indeed a swell guy to me! Fact is, I continue to enjoy his efforts right up to this very day--but, anecdote-wise, that's neither here nor there....)
Back to our story, then. As I hovered around the area, hoping to overhear some memorable bon mots from one of my favorite pros, a pair of teenage boys sauntered along, eventually stopping in front of the table in question, and looked up at the poster plastered across the wall behind the sales till. They considered it for a few seconds, and then one turned to the other and muttered, "That's just about the ugliest thing I've EVER seen!.."
Our man Howie apparently caught enough of this exchange to cause him to lean forward, and request that our junior art-critic repeat his assessment.
"I said, that's gotta be the ugliest thing I've ever seen."
"Well, don't tell me, " Chaykin said, a sly smile starting to play across his face as he pointed to the fellow sitting over in the next chair, "Tell him--HE'S the one who painted it, after all!"
At which point, our roving critic virtually shrunk to Ant-Man-like proportions, his skin turning redder than that of the Vision's. I'm not all too sure Arnold himself was all that comfortable either, but it WAS a funny exchange, in a sort of nasty, Chaykinesque manner.
Proving once again, ALWAYS be careful what you say when you're out in public--you just never know when Howie might be listening!
|June 1st 2004|
|Y'know, chopping off your partner's forearm in a desperate attempt to save millions of innocent people from a quick but decidedly painful death, well, that may sound like a slam-bang finale to a season-long exercise in operatic video violence, but I'm telling ya, folks, it's all in what you do with it...|
|Yeah, I'm talking
Fox's "24", and oh yeah, there are all sorts of spoilers included in
this opinionated overview of the program's third season--although, um,
I may've already been a tad bit LATE in warning you regarding that.
You all know the premise by now, I'm sure--each and every episode purports to document one single solitary hour in the self-same 24 hour day, a day that, so far on all three occasions, has proven to be anything but of the ordinary variety. It's this tantalizing gimmick that initially peaked my curiosity, as this sort of affair isn't generally the sort of thing that I aggressively seek out for my viewing pleasure. But hey, once I started watching, I became hopelessly hooked.
hardly a showcase for any advanced displays of thespianism, the cast
generally does a fine job selling even the most extreme excesses the
high-pitched material contains; the production values are impeccable;
the staging is convincing; and the scripts, direction, and editing all
keep the storyline barreling along at a--no
exaggeration--pulse-pounding pace. Simply put, I'm addicted to "24".
But that DOESN'T mean I'm blind to its peculiar flaws, which are
becoming more and more magnified as the producers continuously up the
intensity ante, all the while they ever more casually toss any pretense
towards a grounded reality right out the window...
The unique format of "24" brings with it unique problems, understand. Look, just about every hour-long drama on the tube these days--at least, the handful that I watch--have, if not season-long story arcs per se, then at the very least, plot threads that weave in and out, advancing irrevocably during the months from September all the way up through May sweeps. "Smallville", "er", "Gilmore Girls", "West Wing", all the Joss Whedon shows and even the many "Star Trek" spin-offs--each week's episode may stand on its own (however wobbly) for the casual viewer, but ultimately, they're merely a single portion of a greater whole. "24", by very definition, HAS to be comprised of seamlessly interlocking parts. On "Angel", the gang may well find themselves ensconced within the confines of the evil law firm, Wolfram and Hart, at season's outset, their time working in the figurative belly of their long-time antagonists providing them with a journey of self-discovery, one that culminated with the series finale ending in a thrilling blaze of glory. Nice. But everything is built up slowly, carefully, deliberately. When one sits down to watch the latest episode of "Angel"--or, really, any of the fine series listed above--you might find yourself recalling perhaps several key details from a previous installment or two, but believe me, the whole blasted season doesn't necessarily flash before your glazed peepers!
Conversely, EVERYTHING that happens on "24" is informed with the knowledge that, for all these characters, the events that might occur in a March broadcast are supposedly only a handful of hours removed from an episode that aired several months earlier, way back in, say, November. Thus, if you're like me--and if you are, good luck, pal--you sit there, mentally indexing past plot points, trying to make them jibe with what's flashing across the screen right at that very moment. And, truth be told, that's not an easy assignment--nor an easy one to overlook, either--and its becoming more difficult to cheerfully swallow some of the more overtly preposterous turns the storyline took this season on what seemed to be an almost weekly basis...
Why, this year alone, Counter Terrorist Unit (CTU) uber-agent Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) began his day by busting a Mexican drug lord out of a maximum security California institution via a very real--NOT staged--prison riot, all so as to regain the confidence he once enjoyed before his undercover investigation resulted in said baddie's incarceration--and Jack's very real--ALSO not staged--drug addiction! All in the service of the mother country, y'see. This elaborate ruse--initially known to only three people--was concocted in the hopes of CTU getting their hands on a wayward biological contagion, a devastating virus, one that they knew Senor Drug Lord would have access to, if only they could get him home safely home to Mexico and in a position to make a bid on the deadly dust. Except, no one told Jack's partner, Chase, about this elaborate act, so thinking his beloved mentor--and potential father-in-law (but that's a whole 'NOTHER plot thread!...) has gone bad, he hunts him down and almost gets the pair of them killed in the process! I swear, it was like Toody and Muldoon, only with live ammo!...
Oh, the things that happen! Chase, poor sap, winds up being tortured by the baddies, Tony Almeda (the acting head of the local CTU unit) takes a bullet in the neck, Nina, the woman who murdered Jack's wife at the end of the show's first season suddenly comes back into the picture as a representative of ANOTHER potential buyer--and that's all without going into the various travails, both personal and political, that President David Palmer is made to endure as he's simultaneously kept abreast of the unfolding threat the transfer of this plague into unfriendly hands represents to America.
Suffice it to say, Jack and Chase are flying safely home to the USA by mid-day, with virtually the entire contingent of Latino characters that dominated the action early on dead by gunfire, either from one another's pistols, CTU field agents' machine guns, or simply blown up by a double-dealing supplier who, wouldn't you know it, never had any intention of parting with his gruesome goods in the first place. In fact, by the time the last episode wrapped up last week, pretty much anybody who had any real chance of facing hard time was much more expediently dealt with via the ever-popular bullet-to-the-head-equals-justice method! On this show, EVERYBODY dies! Even some of the good guys, which has to be one of the series greatest appeals--true unpredictableness. Nina, Sherry (the Prez's scheming ex), Ryan Chappelle (annoying CTU head ordered offed by the meglomaniacal mastermind, mostly to shock viewers when Jack is given--AND performs--the unsavory task), two suicides, and a prison guard who comes up short in a round of Russian roulette! Of course, Tony's out of the hospital within mere hours, and continues to run CTU, a small gauze bandage on the side of his neck the only evidence of HIS brush (off) with death! (Chase has but a few tiny scars on his lip and over his eyebrows to remind us that, yup, he was almost tortured to death earlier in the day, long before he teamed up alongside Jack, scouring LA for the bad guys) Lotsa folks blithely offed, several folks unbelievably still on their feet. Shocking. Except, go to that well often enough, and friends, it gets harder and harder to surprise viewers...
Y'know, just once, I'd like to see the braintrust behind "24" settle in on one main villain and stick with him (or her) for the duration of the entire day. It hasn't happened yet. Yes, the overall storyline generally deals with a single threat, but it somehow manages to almost magically get passed about as if from baton to baton, as, invariably, the arch-fiend that Jack is hunting when the clock first starts ticking is never ever the arch-fiend he's dealing with as the 24th hour closes out his day. Case in point--those Mexican drug lord siblings were both long dead by the time we all learned that the ultimate threat was in fact a rogue former British M1 agent by the name of Stephen Saunders bent on avenging a perceived slight by the government he once proudly worked for (okay,okay--so they abandoned him to die while on a mission--it happens. Geez, no need to overreact...) by unleashing the contagious disease in a score of American cities should his terms not be met. (He gave everyone a taste of his horrific intentions by slipping a package of the deadly powder into the air circulation system of a large LA hotel, and even though CTU got there in time to contain the damage to the outside environs, thousands died inside its walls, including several key agents...) (But not Tony's wife, agent Michelle. Luckily, she had herself--yup--a rare immunity to the germs. Who'd a thot?...)
|Just trying to explain all this is tiring me out. Suffice to say, for 23 weeks, some startling event would occur mere minutes--and sometimes, seconds--before the hour turned over, propelling the storyline ever ahead in some shocking and/or unexpected direction. As things devolved more and more into a glossied-up "Perils of Pauline"-type mindset, any half-hearted allegiance to the real-time format or semblance of a well-thought out over-view simply evaporated into the smoke caused by all that gunfire. Fact is, I read an interview with one of the show's creator's mid-season where he blatantly admitted that they didn't even consider planning out the entire storyline ahead of time, mainly because they wanted to have the flexibility of dumping characters that they perceive as not working.|
that would first and foremost include the doctor/slash/girlfriend who
breaks up with President Palmer abruptly midway through the season (not
until after her blackmailing ex-hubby commits suicide right in front of
her, of course), and is never seen nor heard from again for the balance
of the tale. This is particularly galling, since she was obviously
introduced into the plot to keep an eye on the Prez after he was dosed
with a mysterious powder himself during the final seconds of the second
season's last episode. Setting the third day (season) several years
after last May's finale, the entire matter was inconclusively sloughed
over briefly during the the premiere episode back in the fall, and
never addressed again. The only lasting carry-over was some pills
Palmer needed to pop, and the comely physician he'd subsequently become
involved with as a result. Until, it seems, she was declared dull by
the head-honchos (in fairness, they weren't wrong) and given the
unceremonious boot out the door! (At least, she left the scenario
upright...) And worse yet--our Chief Exec soon went off his meds!! Much
like Jack's withdrawal from heavy drug use, Palmer's malady apparently
got better on its very own, as it was never referred to again...
To me, the manner in which the second season concluded with a totally unnecessary cliffhanger--and then the third began without anything near to an acceptable resolution is the single most glaring misstep "24" has yet to take. But there were plenty other areas where things went awry, and one of the most egregious was in this year's extended storyline's final minutes, if not moments. Didn't I mention something earlier about an axe to you folks?...
Let me set this up. At the end of the 22nd hour, virus-meister Stephen Saunders is taken into custody. CTU then coerces the arch-villain into giving up the identities of all his various couriers across the country during the 23rd hour--something about threatening the life of his otherwise innocent daughter did that little trick--and all his agents of death are quickly kiboshed before they unleash their deadly cargo into the air. All, that is, except one. The one in LA, of course. Where Jack is (of course). Where the president is (OF COURSE!). Where credibility faces its greatest test during this season's 24th and final hour (and things almost go off course as a result)...
The fugitive de jour (or is that "de hour"?..) is finally tracked down and flees into a bustling middle school. The CTU agents soon pour into this erstwhile institution of learning, scaring students and teachers alike with their armaments and aggressive attitudes. Chase is the one who corners the creep in an empty classroom and, yes, fisticuffs ensue. Plenty of 'em. Eventually realizing that the crook has gotten the better of him, Chase grabs the valise and clamps it onto his wrist, making it virtually impossible for the evil emissary to take it away from him. For some unknown reason, this action motivates the courier to activate the devices' timer, and then aims his pistol at the helpless CTU agent's noggin, but just before he can pull the trigger--BAM!--Jack arrives and shoots him dead.
That taken care off, there's still that minor matter of preventing the deadly infectious disease from becoming airborne. Jack puts in a call to a group of his fellow agents, ones who've already successfully disarmed similar death-dealing machines earlier. Don't even bother to try taking it off the arm, Jack's told--it's made of titanium, man! But even though there are less than three itsy bitsy minutes left 'til detonation, not to worry. Just clip the red wire, Jack is instructed. Check--but it's still ticking! No prob--it'll stop for good once you clip the green wire, they assure agent Bauer.
Only thing is, there IS no green wire on their very own, apparently personalized bio-bomb!?!
And with time slipping precipitously away, both beleaguered CTU agents spy the axe hanging on the wall next to the fire extinguisher. Well, we ALL know what happens next--despite some initial misgivings, Jack does what has to be done at his partner's behest, and then runs madly down the hallway, only seconds away from certain doom. Wouldn't you know it though--luck is with ol' Jack as he conveniently winds up in an empty teacher's lounge, thrusting the device into a transparent--and air-tight--refrigerator with mere seconds before it all goes "pfffht".
Which it does. The time comes up digitally on the TV screen: 12:46:33 PM.
After a commercial, and a brief conversation between several other characters at another location, we're back with Jack again. He's standing--believe it or not--in a hospital corridor. The time is--again, believe it or not--12:53:21 PM. Jack's taking a call from President Palmer, and in the course of their discussion, we learn that Chase is already in surgery (!), and while the doctor's can't say for sure yet, there's a swell chance that they'll be able to save his hand (!!).
Okay, have you got all that? While the multi-tasking Jack WAS shown calling for medical assistance earlier as he sped down the hallway with the as-yet-unsecured-virus, this turn of events is SO jaw-droppingly impossible that you find yourself recoiling at its logic not once, not twice, but a stunning THREE times!!
First off, arm severed at 12:45, in surgery by 12:53--EIGHT MINUTES LATER!?! Look, we're all more than happy to let the tenuous veil of reality blow in the breeze when it comes to the various characters zipping from one place to the another--no one's tuning in to watch Federal agents in gridlock, even with the added attraction of possible road rage. But we're to believe that Chase was loaded into an ambulance, driven to a hospital, wheeled into an operating room, and put under the knife--all in (I repeat) EIGHT MINUTES!?!...
But just for arguments sake, let's pretend we buy that. Okay, fine. But swallowing that, I still began to wonder, what about that titanium device that was shackled to his dismembered member? How'd they get THAT off in (yes) EIGHT MINUTES?!? The only quasi-reasonable explanation that I could come up with is that, the hand being detached as it was, the thing just (ewwww) slid off. Unlikely, but, like, maybe, y'know?..
But we STILL got us some problems, some BIG ones. The hand was in the fridge when the deadly powder safely let loose in the air-tight environment. How then did the Hazmat brigade manage to both decontaminate the area AND get the appendage out in EVEN LESS THAN EIGHT MINUTES?!? And even if by some miracle they did, wouldn't the plague-like powder have worked its way into the obviously open wound, infecting the blood stream? I'm no doctor--I don't even play one on the Internet--but given those facts, that just makes the notion of even considering reattaching the hand to Chase's arm just...plain...WRONG...
There was only a few precious minutes left to the season, however, and I guess they felt folks would prefer a tidy--as opposed to logical--ending. At least, it gave that final shot of Jack weeping alone in his car added resonance. Sure, storywise, it was clearly meant to represent the culmination of a harrowing day finally getting to him. Me, I'd like to think it was also a reflection of Kiefer Sutherland's initial reaction upon reading the script's impossibly contrived ending! Hey, I felt like weeping, too, lemme tell you!...
But with all that, I STILL find myself totally enamored with this crazy show, just not in quite the way I was originally. Mid-way through the first season, y'see, I'd eagerly go the the official "24" message board after each episode, lapping up the theories and commentaries of other mesmerized viewers with great relish and interest. Well, I haven't done that since the second or third week of season two, mainly because there's just no point in trying to figure out events that presumably haven't even been figured out by the show's writers as of yet. Realizing it's all being made up on the fly has definitely diminished my enjoyment of the show--and I know several friends who've abandoned it entirely primarily due to this disheartening little fact--but it still works for me purely on the level of a first-rate visual thrill ride.
I'm alternately excited and exasperated at Fox's plans for the show's upcoming fourth season. Rumor has it that all of Jack's fellow CTU agents have been let go, save for daughter Kim, who had an unusually quiet year, only ending 3 episodes in peril this time around, none of which caused her all that much grief. Additionally, Fox isn't going to bring it back onto the schedule until January of 2005. January!?! That's seven months from now! But hey, the GOOD news is, once it's in place, there'll be absolutely NO weeks skipped as the 24 episodes of "24" plow on through--and, in fact, in order to end during May sweeps, three weeks will boast double episodes!! No more Christmas breaks, or the seemingly endless five weeks off during the months of February and March like they tortured us with this year!
On the other hand, playing all 24 "24"s so close together, well, who knows--maybe viewers will notice a few, um, inconsistencies. Hey, COULD happen, y'know?...
(As a postscript, I should mention that between writing the first draft of this piece and tidying it up for posting, I forced myself to watch the final two episodes of this year's season long "Star Trek: Enterprise" story arc, and people, after seeing our pre-Federation friends stop the nasty Reptilians from launching their Earth-shattering mega-weapon, only to be thrust back into time, with the situation set up for an upcoming battle next Fall with--NAZIS?! Nazis AND aliens?
...I take back ALL my complaints about "24"...)
(And for more on CTU's past season, check out this well-reasoned overview in the May 25th entry down at Otto's Coffee Shop--and try the Latte, it's tre' tasty!...)
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