Archive - November 2003

November 29th, 2003
It's been two years since, sadly, we last lost a Beatle.

When word came that George Harrison had succumbed, there wasn't the sense of shock that accompanied John Lennon's brutally inexplicable slaying nearly 21 years earlier. No, we all knew that the guitarist had been in failing health for quite some time up to that point. Still, it's tough to let go of a legend, thus making the finality of his passing jarring nonetheless.
Lynn heard the news first. When she told me, my immediate reaction was, "Aw, that's a shame, but not a surprise... " Still, that wasn't the headline I wanted to awaken to that particularly gloomy November morn. Naturally, bouts of inevitable sadness and unheeded personal reflection followed as the morning wore on. Oddly, the thing I'll always remember about that day was that Harrison's death gave us, as a people, the first real opportunity to take a much-needed breather from the then freshly declared War on Terror.

Coming as it did only two-and-a-half months after the September 11th attacks, the news that the spiritual Beatle had died was the first major story--other than repercussions from the horrific destruction wreaked on America that infamously dark day--to wrest center stage away from non-stop War reports found on the three 24 hour cable news networks. I know this firsthand, as I fell into the habit of turning on one of the three outlets--usually, MSNBC--when I first got up each day, leaving it tuned in as I sat at the drawing board, hoping NOT to hear anything too upsetting in those jumpiest of days, fresh in the wake of 9/11--but not wanting to MISS anything, either. For six weeks, there WAS no other news, apparently. And then, George left us...

Quickly dispensing with the obviously sad aspect of his obituary, as the day went on, the focus turned towards the celebratory, with Harrison's contribution to society--and the Beatle's in general--being roundly and near unanimously applauded. Somehow, in the midst of all this world-wide psychic strife, the news that the man who had so famously authored "All Things Must Pass" himself had indeed passed, provided his multitude of admirers, after a moment of initial grief, a much-needed sense of peace, and the memory of all it's myriad--if unfulfilled--possibilities.

Even Julie, who enjoys playfully provoking me with disparaging comments directed at the Four Fabs knew better than to say anything to diminish the mournful events of that particular day. Guess there's hope for her yet...

And now, the star-studded musical memorial from last November, the aptly titled "Concert For George", is available on both DVD and CD. If all goes as planned, I'll take a few hours and watch it tonight. While I'm sorry that there ever came a need to stage such an event, I'm thankful it was preserved for posterity.

We miss you, mate...

November 28th, 2003


Now HERE'S something you don't see every day!
Julie was rooting around in our typically unorganized mass of snapshot-stuffed envelopes, looking for candid shots of our various cats, past and present (a whole 'nother subject), when she stumbled across a packet from way, way back in 1980 filled with photos from that long-ago years' initial FantaCon event.

FantaCon was a comics convention located in Albany, New York, that ran for several years in the early eighties. Put on primarily by Tom Skulan, head honcho of Fantaco Enterprises--basically a store with a publishing arm, said arm ultimately being responsible for issuing 7 of my now-yellowing cartoon collections--I was, then, an obvious choice to attend. As the weekend's festivities wore on, soon ALL the featured artists were induced to contribute their own special magic to a jam drawing, a less-than-perfect photo of which hovers above. Undoubtedly, it was eventually auctioned off for the benefit of some charity or other--that's what happens with these things, don'tcha know--but where it is today, I couldn't even begin to lend you a clue. You might try eBay, but until it turns up there, this is your best bet to gaze upon this once-in-a-lifetime mingling of talents, likely and unlikely...

There's the massive brute rendered by the not-nearly-as-massive and only-slightly-brutish Berni Wrightson. Riding the creature's back is something out of Dr. Seuss's worst nightmare, provided by jocular Joe Staton, with two of Wendy Pini's beloved Elfquest characters down front spouting some undoubtedly (but unfortunately illegible) wise-guy dialog. Taking up center stage, manning the mic, we find an announcer delineated by the late Raoul Vezina, creator of Fantaco's rodent mascot, Smilin' Ed. The funny little guy next to him is the work of renowned gag cartoonist, John Caldwell, who, at the time was just breaking into the pages of NATIONAL LAMPOON, but nowadays can be counted on as a reliable font of yuks in such prestigious publications as MAD and PLAYBOY (which we all read JUST to enjoy John's cartoons, right gang? RIGHT GANG?...) And, ahem, oh, yes, there in the foreground, we have a lovely if slightly under dressed typically enigmatic beauty from the pen of the legendary Jeff Jones. Behind her, we find a distressed hipster courtesy of Dave Simons, a long-time inker--and sometime penciller--found in many Marvel and DC comics over the past two decades (and whose current whereabouts, I'll confess, are a complete mystery to me...)

Then there's that lame looking Merlin-wannabe standing meekly in the back! Yup, MY contribution. Hey, YOU try adding your two cents, artistically speaking, to an illo already adorned by drawings from half of the folks featured in the groundbreaking "Studio" hardcover book--not to mention the co-creator of the delightful E-Man!?! But I did, and there's the result. Alakazam, indeed.

Understand, this disparate group was assembled primarily due to a shared proximity to the convention hall (the so-called "Egg", the term a true reflection of it's odd shape). The following years would find artists from further locales being summarily shipped in, but as this jam-tastic concoction makes plainly evident, one needn't've looked too far from the State Capitol Building to find talent in those days--even if the old wizard wishes he could wave his wand and, if nothing else, opt for a thicker line weight!?!...

A programming note: several weeks back I went on and on about "Cat Ballou", the mid-sixties western spoof starring the lovely Ms. Jane Fonda, and if anyone cares to take a look at one of her signature roles--made pre-baggage--be advised that the Turner Classic Movie Channel is running it tomorrow, November 29th, at 2 in the afternoon (EST--check your local listings). I haven't seen it in decades, but you can bet I've already got the tape machine set!...

November 27th, 2003
Gobble gobble, y'all!

And in the spirit of the day, I'd like to offer up my very own Thanksgiving turkey for you all to enjoy! (...or choke on, depending on your personal reaction to moldy leftovers...) Bon appetit!

Also, while we're giving thanks, let me take the opportunity to pass along my personal gratitude to a pair of individuals who, in recent weeks, have done a fine job expanding the ever-growing (as I'm ever-hoping) Hembeck.com audience, Dirk Deppey and Rich Johnson!
Dirk plugged my sordid but silly saga of Halloween past over at the Journalista! weblog--a site maintained by the ever estimable Comics Journal--as well as adding this here "BlogĒ (as the kids call 'em) to their regular sidebar menu! Thanks, Dirk! If you folks have never checked out the site, I'd highly recommend you do, as Dirk consistently rounds up a varied group of comics-related links from hither and yon each and every weekday, and there's ALWAYS something worth investigating included therein, believe you me!

Rich Johnson writes the weekly "Lying In the Gutters" column over at Newsarama on the Comic Book Resources site (also home to the wonderful "Oddball Comics" page authored by Scott Shaw!...), and he was kind enough to not only plug the aforementioned October 31st tale, but even more recently, pointed his readers straight in the direction of the "Destroying A Universe:The UNTOLD Story" section of this very site, and for that I thank him! You could call his column an oxymoron--it's a collection of reliable gossip--and if I ever manage to get myself back into the comics mainstream proper, Rich will probably know about it BEFORE I do!?! Like he NEEDS the plug, but, hey, if you don't already check out his scalding hot scoops each Monday, take a peak! And tell him Fred sent you!

That's it, pilgrims! Good luck getting your Christmas shopping done!...


November 24th, 2003


1964.

The year the Beatles invaded America, Julie Schwartz rescued the Caped Crusader, and Chic Stone wound up inking virtually every classic Marvel Comic that the legendary Jack Kirby pencilled in those twelve months--and folks, he pencilled quite a few!

Despite my sincere admiration for the exemplary work of long-time embellishers, Joe Sinnott and Mike Royer--as well as his less frequent but Hall Of Fame worthy collaborators, Al Williamson, Wally Wood, and Steve Ditko--to this day, my favorite Kirby inker remains Chic Stone!

Sure, a large part of it is based upon a nostalgia for that particularly memorable year, a year in which I remain convinced Marvel reached their absolute peak with a steady stream of exciting yet concise stories, featuring casual crossovers across the board, a practice that would sadly diminish as things got more complicated--and serious--in the Marvel Universe. I'm that rare fan who preferred Gideon to Galactus, and someday I'll expound at further length on that unpopular stance, but for today, suffice it to say, beyond the bold and expressive line Stone's varied brushwork brought to Jack's power-packed pencils, the sheer fact that, by years end he was inking the King on FANTASTIC FOUR, AVENGERS, X-MEN, and the Thor and Captain America features in their respective home titles gave the entire line a warm and homey sense of visual cohesiveness that it's never quite managed to achieve since.
But as much as I wound up loving the guy's work, it sure didn't start out that way. Already familiar with the stories he both pencilled and inked for the tiny ACG Comics Group, I'll have to admit I had no strong feelings about his work one way or the other. The very first Marvel super-hero story that he inked over Jack--the second half of a Tomorrow Man tale in JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #102 (cover dated March 1964), the first part of which was finished by George Roussos--caused me to have grave doubts as soon as I opened up to the splash page (Sol Brodsky handed the cover finishes, by the way). Now, I'd long forgotten about the initial qualms I'd had with with Chic's tenure as the King's Earl of Inks, but it all came flooding back to me the other night thanks to, well--wouldja believe the Beatles??...
Stay with me here--things are about to get (surprise!) convoluted. Y'see, I was watching the recent DVD release of the first episode of four complete Ed Sullivan shows featuring those lovable Moptops (about which, again, more anon), when it came time for Frank Gorshin to do his act. Yes, THAT Frank Gorshin, Bat-fans--the Riddler. But in those pre-camp days, he specialized in celebrity impressions. The premise of his bit in this particular instance revolved around the notion of Hollywood stars taking up residence in some of our various political institutions (what a CRAZY idea, huh?...), and I was fascinated by his chameleon like-facility going from Broderick Crawford to Dean Martin to Boris Karloff to Burt Lancaster to Kirk Douglas to Marlon Brando to--

....Marlon Brando?...

Suddenly, at this point, I'm out of the moment. I'm no longer concentrating on Gorshin's act. My mind wanders, sparked by the faux appearance of that great method acting legend, Marlon Brando. And where exactly does it go? Off to thoughts of "On The Waterfront"? "The Godfather"? "Mutiny On The Bounty"? "A Streetcar Named Desire"? "Last Tango In Paris"?

Nope. In my mind, this quasi-Brando sighting brings forth but one name: Chic Stone!

Why? Well, I ran a small reproduction of that initial Kirby/Stone splash up above, but look just a little bit closer at this specially enlarged detail from that selfsame piece of art if you would. Take a good long gander...
Do you see it? Do you see what I saw four decades back when I first gazed upon the God of Thunders face--enslaved though he may've unfortunately been at the time by the scheming Zarrko--MARLON BRANDO!!!
Yup, I open up the latest issue of JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY only to find that not only has Jack Kirby got some new guy inking him, this new guy has made Thor look like the spitting image of Marlon Brando--and believe me when I say I didn't WANT Thor to look like Marlon Brando!! (Years and years later, I didn't want Jor-El to look like Marlon Brando, either, but that was one battle I wound up losing...)

When you get right down to it, those large lips, squinty eyes, and tentative eyebrows don't make Thor look like Marlon Brando as much as they make him look like the CARICATURE of Marlon Brando that Wally Wood provided MAD with for their parody of "The Wild One", which I had only then recently stumbled across in a paperback reprint. That was all fine in its place, but I wasn't at all happy with the faint whiff of humorous cartooniness--or my misguided perception thereof--lurking in my very serious, very important super-hero comic. We''ll have none of that here, thank you very much. And since it couldn't possibly have been the beloved Kirby's misstep, I chose to blame the new guy. I figured I was going to have to watch this Chic Stone character very, very closely...
Well, things only went onwards and upwards from there, but to this day I cannot look at that splash page without seeing the surly screen star somehow dressed in an Asgardian God's raiment! It's funny what sticks in your head (and folks, my head's funnier than most!...)
Though just try and imagine Thor and the God of Mischief doing that famous scene in the back of the cab: " Loki, Loki--you were my BROTHER!..."

Now THERE'S a comic you couldn't refuse!?!...

November 23rd, 2003


Thirty years ago, on a particularly boring Friday night, a bunch of my buddies roped me into seeing a movie called "Executive Action" with them. Although Leonard Maltin's "Movie and VideoGuide" bestows one of its rare "Bomb" ratings on this Burt Lancaster starrer (also featuring Robert Ryan and "Grampa Walton", Will Geer), calling it an "excruciatingly dull thriller (that) promised to clear the air about JFK's assassination, but was more successful at clearing theaters", it nonetheless left a lasting impression on me. If I'd any doubts about the events that had transpired exactly a decade earlier, that horrific day when old Hans the janitor rushed in, feverishly spouting the grim news as I sat, feigning interest in some book or other, in my 5th grade reading class, well, now I finally KNEW--it was all a big, nasty conspiracy!!

I have virtually no memory whatsoever of the actual movie itself at this late date, except that it was clearly low-budget and definitely very talky. Which, in this specific instance was more than okay, since I was extremely interested in what all the talk was about. But the one thing that made the greatest impression on me was some chilling information that ran across the screen AFTER the film proper had concluded: documentation of the highly suspicious demises of witness after witness, seemingly just about anybody who might've shed some light on what REALLY happened in Dealy Plaza that fateful November afternoon. Hey, please understand--after living through Nixon, Viet Nam, and Watergate, it didn't take all that much to nudge me over into Conspiracy Corner...

Maybe I didn't read every book (I was still more partial to Lois, not Mark, Lane, fellow second gunman buffs...), but I still kept abreast of all the facts that were being uncovered and the various theories as they were developing exponentially over the years--and I was always ready to challenge the official line if for no other reason than, hey, it WAS the official line after all! And then, in 1991, Oliver Stone came out with HIS movie--one Maltin and his staff was moved to award 3 and a half stars to, albeit with several caveats regarding its documentation--and the whole debate about the president's death was stirred up yet again, this time on a far grander scale than with the release of the decidedly more modest "Executive Action" (which, despite my forking over good American currency to see it, was hardly a box-office success--truthfully, a box-office blip was more like it...) I'll admit it--when I left the theater that night after viewing "JFK", I'd bought into Stone's hypothesis, big time.

But time, of course, marches on, and other things have come along to keep my mind from wandering back to details of the myriad conspiracy theories I once could recite just as easily as, well, Jack Kirby's inkers on the FANTASTIC FOUR (THAT I can still do, worry not...). As the 40th Anniversary of that dreadful day approached--and as the media is wont to do commemorating anniversaries that end either with a zero or a five--there would surely be a plethora of solemn retrospectives to be found littering the video landscape (and there probably would've been far more if it weren't for a certain arrest coming out of LA earlier in the week...). One such program was aired last Thursday, but, ritualistic geek that I am, I made a point of not watching it until the evening of the actual anniversary, Saturday night. It was called "Peter Jennings Reporting: The Kennedy Assassination Beyond Conspiracy", and I'll admit that going in, I didn't expect to learn a whole lot from this two hour ABC program. I wound up, however, learning a whole lot more than I ever bargained for...

Let's just cut to the chase, shall we? I'm now convinced Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. Similarly, I'm convinced HIS assassin, Jack Ruby, also acted alone. The report skillfully presented a portrait of each of these disturbed individuals as, sadly, just the sort of people capable of committing these heinous acts. Both shootings were presented as nearly impulsive, unplanned acts on both their parts--while Oswald had unsuccessfully tried to shoot a right-wing big-wig in the politico's very own home several months earlier, subsequently, it seemed to be only happenstance that landed him his job in the Texas Book Depository five weeks prior to Kennedy's visit to Dallas. Having failed at his first attempt at immortality, what must Oswald have thought when the local newspapers published the route of the President's motorcade just 3 days before Kennedy was scheduled to visit Texas--AND IT WENT RIGHT PAST HIS BUILDING?? What must he have thought, except, well, if at first you don't succeed...

And Ruby. He showed up 20 minutes late to view the transfer of Oswald from one police facility to another. Why the delay? He was running an errand for one of the women who worked at his nightclub, a stripper. THIS was a master plan? The bad luck Oswald had in this particular instance was that HE was running 21 minutes late, leaving just enough time to let Jack Ruby make the most ill-advised decision of his entire life. And folks, if Ruby was a hit-man sent by the mob to silence Oswald, where then was the hit-man sent to silence Ruby? And the one to silence HIM? And so on and so on and so on...

Beyond that, with the use of highly sophisticated computer simulations--not available even a decade ago, best I can tell--skilled technicians were able to put to rest any doubts about a fourth shot from the grassy knoll, the so-called magic bullet, and other once-seemingly viable concepts, now wilting under the unrelenting scrutiny of ever-advancing scientific methods of investigation, carefully applied to the several pieces of surviving filmed evidence. The producers even took the time towards the end to put a lie to some of the key misstatements Stone wrongheadedly built his seductive scenario around, most notably that ex-Marine sharpshooter Oswald was a mediocre marksman at best, and would've never been able to get off the number of shots he did in the short time allotted using the weapon found at the scene. To prove, beyond a doubt that it could be indeed be done, they had an expert--an 89 year old expert, at that!--demonstrate the viability of someone getting off three shots, a notion Stone's screenplay conveniently (but not realistically) scoffed at ...

There's more, a LOT more, but I've already gone on about all this in far greater detail than I'd originally planned (so what else is new?...). I still don't know why all those folks listed at the end of "Executive Action" failed to make it very far past the Camelot Era (the Jennings people didn't feel a need to challenge the findings of THAT cinematic expose, apparently...), but I'm prepared now, once and for all, to give up my conspiracy mind-set. Not that it's not tempting to hold onto, but after 40 long years, would EVERYONE involved in a conspiracy of this magnitude manage to either keep quiet--or BE quieted? Hard to believe that'd be the case, sad to say. No, time to accept facts--it was just one miserable loser who killed the Leader of the Free World. Just one stupid punk.

At least, that's what Peter Jennings has convinced me is the truth, the Canadian Jennings and his ABC Network, a network owned by the monolithic Disney Corporation.

Say, you don't suppose I just went all Goofy in the head and just bought me a primo parcel of Fantasyland, do you?...

Nah.

November 22nd, 2003
40 years ago today, that watershed recording over yonder was released in Great Britain. Inasmuch as we folks in the U. S. had more immediate concerns on that particular day, not a single individual over here took even the slightest notice of the issuance of a second LP from an oddly named English pop group called the Beatles. But, we would, we most surely would...
Two and a half months later, most EVERYONE in my age group had themselves a copy of the retitled and modified American debut album from the Liverpool quartet, "Meet the Beatles", and I certainly was no exception.

Not to downplay the awful tragedy that took place half a world away in Dallas that very same day, but ever since I learned of the actual release date of "With the Beatles" several years back, I've been intrigued by what some might call the karmic balance of the two events. JFK's assassination was arguably the single darkest cloud to hover over our nation in that troubled and turbulent decade, and the first real rays of sunshine to peek through that oppressive cloud were provided by much of the music on this very recording.

So, go ahead, turn on your TV and watch those anniversary remembrances of that rueful day we all lost a President to a burst of hitherto unimagined violence. Take a moment and ponder, if you would, those long-ago events, events whose ramifications are still being felt to this very day. But then stop, stop and consider that the very same day the world lost a great leader, it gained back at least some small measure of timeless joy in the songs of Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, and Starr.

No, I'm not saying it was any sort of even trade-off. I wouldn't ever think of making such a crass value judgment. But if you'd care to look around for a positive on this mournful day, this is it. And, as they say, you know that can't be bad!...

November 19th, 2003


As you well know by now, we love our pop culture big time around these here parts. And in this family in particular, Tuesday, November 18th was shaping up to be a very interesting day, one that, due to, shall we say, some widely publicized outside developments, managed to become even more memorable?...

If you've been monitoring these entries for any substantial amount of time now, you well know that earlier this year, my 13 year old daughter, Julie, became totally obsessed with Michael Jackson virtually overnight. How exactly that happened is too long a story to reiterate here--and besides, I don't completely understand it in any event. What I DO know is it was approximately 39 and a half years ago that I initially contracted a life-long case of raging Beatlemania, but yesterday, in a rare confluence of events, these two mighty musical--or should I say, marketing--forces came together, each camp sending forth a new release.

While I'd been there to greet each and every fresh Fab Four melodic masterpiece as they were issued from early 1964 on, this was in fact the very first chance for Julie to drop shekels in her new idols coffers on debut day, and she was nearly as excited as her dad at the prospect of happily going home with newly minted product from her personal fave-rave. Of course, the key words in the preceding sentence would have to be, "new" and "product", of which the former was questionable, and the latter undeniable...

The Beatles were set to issue "Let It Be...Naked", a stripped down version of what had been their swan-song release way back in 1970. Paul McCartney in particular had always been bothered by what he felt were heavy-handed production embellishments troweled on after the band had left the building (and without Macca's knowledge or permission) by legendary Wall of Sound maestro (and a man with his own set of current legal woes), Phil Spector, and longed to present the project as originally conceived--no overdubs, no sweetening, just five guys sitting around a studio, playing basic rock and roll. (Guest organist Billy Preston figures prominently on several of the cuts--no folks, I WASN'T referring to a late career cameo by the immortal Murray the K!!...) Throw in a second CD of snatches of dialog and rehearsal jams caught on tape during the non-stop recording of the band for what was eventually to be the group's coda, the "Let It Be" film, and the folks at Apple have cooked up an irresistible package--AND a sure-fire way of getting die hard fans (and, I'm sure they hope, many, many others as well) to fork over cash for an album they essentially already have! Hey, I was MORE than ready to dip into the ol' wallet, and I already own myself an extensive bootleg set of these extensively documented sessions! (As wonderful a song as it may well be, YOU just try listening to 14 consecutive takes of "The Long And Winding Road", the redundancy leavened only by a brief stab at "Lady Madonna" mid-way through the inescapably monotonous series of rehearsals !?! This new CD has, if nothing else, the virtue of conciseness going for it...)

The self-proclaimed King Of Pop? Well, he and the friendly suits at Sony apparently felt the need to release a self-explanatorily titled collection of past hits called "Number Ones" (spurred on, perhaps, by the Beatles own phenomenally successful "1" assemblage several years back, hmm?...) Although he'd already released a two-disc retrospective called "HIStory" almost a decade ago (devoting fully half of it's running time to fresh material), Jackson offers up but one new composition on THIS greatest hits collection as enticement for his most rabid fans (read:Julie), accompanied, as always, by such indisputable milestones as "Billie Jean", "Beat It", and "Thriller". Somewhat suspiciously, however, his duet with one-time mic mate, Macca, "The Girl Is Mine", is inexplicably absent, while several songs from his less than enthusiastically received recent "Invincible" album instead DO make the final cut!?! Huh? As we were driving home, I asked Julie to read the track listing to me, and when she came to such relatively obscure titles as "You Rock My World" and "Break Of Dawn", I just HAD to wonder--where exactly were these cuts Number Ones? At the Neverland Ranch? (Tellingly, the liner notes provide absolutely no Billboard--or other similarly sourced--chart position information, unlike, say, that aforementioned completely annotated Beatles disc, or the two expertly vetted Elvis collections released in the wake of the Fabs' initial success in their precedent setting money-making adventures in the rich realm of musical recycling...)

I offered to pick up the Michael Jackson CD for her when I stopped at Best Buy on my way over to play volleyball with the gang, but Julie insisted she wanted to be present for this momentous occasion, and realizing full well the novelty of the situation, we went on to formulate other plans. It was agreed that I'd pick her up directly from school, zip over and do our bit for good ol' American consumerism, and then I'd drop her off at home, following which, off on my merry, merry way I'd go. But the planned events took on a slightly different tone when I happened to turn on MSNBC after eating lunch with Lynn, who was working at home Tuesday afternoon. A quick glimpse at what was up on the screen (MSNBC's ill-conceived "Flash News" screen blurb sounds more like what they might label breaking stories on The Bizarro News Network than a worthy replacement for the standard phrase, "News Flash", incidentally...), and suddenly I found myself literally running over to the other side of the house, shouting "Michael Jackson! Micheal Jackson!!" in much the same manner a certain OTHER member of the Hembeck household has been known to do, as I was eager to switch the tube on nearest to Lynn and share whatever this latest development was with her! Well, unless you've had your head buried in the sand for the last 24 hours or so, you pretty much know what's going on. Those allegations--AGAIN. And, wouldn't you know it--they surface oh-so-coincidentally on the very day the Peter Pan-wannabe has a new recording hitting the stores! (Well, SORTA new, but we've already covered that...) They SAY there's no such thing as bad publicity, friends, and if ever there was a true test of THAT long-held bromide, this is it!...

Okay, okay--I'll cop to a certain amount of misguided glee as Julie got into my car and I breathlessly informed her of the latest chapter in the HIStory of that bad, dangerous, and definitely off the wall fella. (Invincible? We'll have to wait and see on THAT one...) Please understand, though she seemingly talks constantly about MJ (her affectionate term for the erstwhile Wacko Jacko), her relentless yammerings are, strangely enough, divided almost equally between a highly unusual combination of blind adoration and a-not-always-good-natured-mocking of his (many, many) eccentricities. That would include what could only be termed his more disturbing--albeit, up to this point, merely alleged--proclivities.

Lynn and I have attempted, upon numerous occasions, to communicate the enormity of these awful accusations to her, but she just doesn't get it. Intellectually, she says she understands, but then she and some of friends get to talking about it, and suddenly it becomes a ready source for a series of darkly humorous comments. None of 'em quite get it. The subject winds up being no more weighty to her than the many quips Jay Leno has spewed out, rather irresponsibly, on this particularly sensitive subject over the last decade, so we adults just sigh, and move on. Hey, I never said maturity ran in this family...

So Julie received the news with a dollop of shock weirdly mixed in with a sort of embarrassed amusement. In the days leading up to "Number Ones", she'd talked up the impending release with everyone--and I mean, EVERYONE--at her school! What were they gonna think of Michael--of HER, for that matter--now? But, trouper that she is, she managed to swiftly sweep those minor concerns aside. By now, we were pulling into the Best Buy parking lot, and barring a formally issued restraining order, we had us some tunes to buy!...

Once inside, we went straight to the new releases section. Sure enough, there were multiple copies of both CDs, each on sale for the initial week's price of $11.99. (Usually, the very best price to be had on a new CD or DVD is within the product's first 7 days of shelf-life, and I've come to understand that I can save anywhere from two to ten dollars--and sometimes, even more, in special cases--if I pony up the bucks while the ink is still wet on the packaging, metaphorically speaking (which, frankly, is a tough lingo to master...) Such was the case again in this instance.) I hastily grabbed a Beatles CD, but Julie was faced with a more daunting task--deciding which of the four covers she'd most like to take home with her (collector's though we Hembeck's may be, we still have enough good sense not to fall for the now-tired multiple covers gambit--at least, um, not anymore...) It's a good thing I brought her along, dig, because if I HAD picked one of the four out, don't you know it would've been the WRONG one? (Even if it wasn't...) Finally, after some initial indecision, Julie made her choice, but now we had us a NEW problem--she was completely convinced everybody in the store was a gawking at her, contemptuous of her potential purchase!...

This paranoid reaction probably resulted from an amusing anecdote (to me, anyway) I'd shared with her a while back concerning the events surrounding my purchase of a copy of "Invincible" for her birthday. In that instance, I strolled up to the cashier at the local Media Play outlet, a handful of CDs to pay for, which he summarily and pleasantly began to ring up--UNTIL he came upon our pal, MJ. He mock dropped it on the counter in much the same manner a vampire would rid itself of an unwanted crucifix, hot potato-like!! Although adopting a breezily light tone of voice, he went on to make several disparaging comments about the singer, leaving me to defensively offer up the information that the disc was intended as a birthday gift for my soon-to-be-13 year old daughter. Hearing this, the lady standing behind me in line had her own nugget of advice to impart--don't let her anywhere near that Neverland ranch, she exclaimed! I forced a chuckle, even though insulting your customer's taste may not be the BEST way to rack up massive retail sales on behalf of our "helpful" cashier, I later reasoned. Subsequently, I shared the details of this amusing encounter with the birthday girl. Fine--except NOW she expects every cashier in every store to react in a similar manner!?! And ESPECIALLY on a day when Michael finds himself all over the cable news networks--and NOT for breaking any sales records, either. More like just plain breaking some LAWS...

I assured her no one really gave a hoot what she was buying, but before we went up to the check -out counter, there were several other items I wanted to look for. Sale prices, remember. Unfortunately, the DVD of last year's star-studded "Concert For George" (Harrison) was already sold out, but I did manage to grab the far deeper stocked 4 DVD edition of the second installment of "The Lord Of The Rings", as well as a third sale CD. As we ambled on up to the front of the store to pay for our disc-shaped delights, Julie became more and more uncomfortable at the impending prospect of the cashier's reaction to her MJ CD...

After the blatantly bored teenage girl had blithely rung us up and sent us on our way, Julie still wasn't convinced: "Do you think she thought we were crazy for buying that Michael Jackson CD?"

"Kid", I said, "considering we also bought something called "Come Poop With Me", I doubt very much that your CD seemed all that unusual!..."

(Yeah, the debut CD from Triumph, The Insult Comic Dog, was popularly priced, so I grabbed a copy. One of the most surreally amusing moments in my long consumer history occurred as the Best Buy girl ran the UPC symbol through the computer, and the words "Come Poop With Me" gloriously appeared in green digital letters, metaphorically leaving some doggy droppings right there on that small black display screen!?! And, let me understand--Michael Jackson was going to seem sillier than this HOW??....)

Once in the car, my no longer reserved Jackson acolyte viciously tore the wrapping off her new prize (I knew I'd have to wait until my drive across the river to volleyball later on to hear mine--hey, we parents are trained to be martyrs, y'know?), and she eagerly shoved it into our cars CD player, going directly to the spanking-new track (though maybe, under the circumstances, that's not the BEST way to put it ?...), a little trifle called "One More Chance" (...a prophetic title, perhaps?...) (written by--get this--R. Kelly, a singer with a similar rap-sheet ) Within the tracks first 20 seconds, our boy attempts to say the word "best", but for the life of me, his reading of the lyrics sounded all the world to the both of us like "breast" instead!?! THAT caused my less-than-sophisticated girlie-girl to erupt into endless paroxysms of laughter, the hilarity seemingly growing exponentially each time she re-cued the track, which, much to my chagrin, she did repeatedly! Like I said, her special brand of worshipful mocking is unique in my experience!...

Delivering Julie home--whereupon she immediately called fellow devotee, Courtney, playing Michael's musical malaprop over the phone at a necessarily loud volume--I scooped up my kneepads and was off, finally breaking free from my own private Neverland! I then opened MY reconfigured gem, anxious to visit the Liverpool of my mind yet one more time, inserted the new/old audio document into the slot, and drove off. Considering that several reviews I'd read preceding the release of the now-naked recording made it seem as if the changes were minimal at best, I was pleasantly surprised by what I heard coming out of the speakers. To my ears, those early reports seemed a bit off base...

For one thing, the sequence of songs had been completely overhauled, with "Get Back" more appropriately leading things off, as opposed to closing out what was once side two (that honor, again more fittingly, is left instead to the title track). And while several cuts are clearly the same takes as the ones featured on the original LP (such as the never crisper sounding Harrison composition, "For You Blue"), several others seem to be altogether previously unissued alternate takes (of which, as I've already noted, there were clearly a plethora to chose from). The addition of "Don't Let Me Down" to the package was a belatedly overdue but welcome decision that's made all the more appealing by including a fresh take of this tasty Lennon lament. And I was probably most surprised by the version of "The Long And Winding Road" that wound up on this far-from-standard-reissue. Since Paul had already stripped the Spectorian strings from what he saw as a sadly mistreated tune, finally including it as he envisioned it originally on the third installment of the Beatles Anthology series, I had wondered about the necessity of going through all this again if indeed that was his primary motivation and his biggest beef. But lo and behold, we have here a brand new take to enjoy! And as with much of the music to be found on this new pressing, Fab Number Five, organist/referee/calming influence Billy Preston, perhaps benefits most from this Capitol cash-cow, as he's suddenly--and clearly!(the sound quality is stunningly immaculate)--all over this record!! You can also enjoy his keyboard runs on the majestic title track, which sounds, after but a single listen, to be yet another fresh--and fine--take! The more I delved into things on the drive over, the more I realized that the boys were giving me considerably more for MY $11.99 than that OTHER fellow was giving my darlin' daughter for HERS?!?...

Quibbles? Yeah, I have a few. I find it particularly jarring that "Get Back" just sort of peters out, neither finishing up with the delayed ending included on the well-known single release, nor the jokingly ironic bit of Lennon dialog regarding mock hopes of passing auditions, as famously included on the 1970 album. And while I like the idea of entirely dispensing with the studio chatter between songs altogether--as well as song fragments "Dig It" and "Maggie Mae"--including them instead on the 20-plus minute aural documentary second disc, aptly entitled, "Fly On The Wall", I find the absence of that specific snippet of good natured sarcasm to be, well, inexplicable. And that, gang, is why I'm holding on to my ORIGINAL "Let It Be" CD and not selling it on eBay, I suppose...

Otherwise, nice job. It'll be interesting to see just how well it sells, especially compared to MJ's compilation. Will having a warrant out for one's arrest spur or stifle sales? Another hitherto uncharted territory Julie's boy gets to explore. Of course, I found it somewhat note-worthy that Julie entirely ignored the very hottest release of the week, the newest set of songs from a singer whose first two CDs were quickly snapped up around here in years past, the all-but-forgotten (in THIS household, anyway) Ms. Brittany Spears! (If MJ ever considers recording a set of cover songs, might I suggest, "Oops! I Did It Again!" as being somehow perversely suitable?...)

That, then, was our day. Julie plunking down her pennies for the regurgitated recordings from the alleged child molester, and me whipping out the ol' Visa card for a revamped release stripped of all it's after-the-fact sonic embellishment's put there by an accused murderer!!

Pop music--and someone actually WANTS to be King of it?...

November 18th, 2003
Once upon a time, back through the mists of the ages, way, way back in the early nineties, there were regular artists get-togethers not at all unlike the little shindig Cindy Dill threw recently. For several intensely social years there, these so-called "First Fridays" usually took place on the second Saturday (don't ask...) of nearly every month. They were, in principle, meant to be a rotating series of events, but if this wide-ranging group managed, say, nine meetings in a given year, there was a very good chance that Berni and Michelle Wrightson hosted four or five of them (including their legendary annual Halloween spook-fests, naturally). The Statons and the Starlins were usually good for at least one party apiece each year, and then the responsibility for the remainder of these social whirls trickled down to the rest of us--Cindy, Ron Marz, Steve Hickman, Jim Gurney (the "Dinotopia" guy), and several others. Why, WE even hosted the proceedings once!

When the Wrightson's went their separate ways mid-decade, well, that just somehow deflated the entire enterprise, and save for the scattered party in the years since, no one has overtly tried to bring the old tradition back from it's cold and mustering grave (Sorry--I was just reminiscing about those way-cool Horrorween gatherings, I guess...) until Ms. Dill gave it a valiant shot. Fittingly, among the people we encountered the other night were a couple we first met over ten years ago at one of the original get-togethers, Karen O'Neil, and her husband, Peter Clapper.

It's funny--I can still distinctly recall the evening we first met them. The location had shifted to Alex Bialy's house. Alex has long been an associate of the celebrated Barry Windsor-Smith--and has been equally long a part of our ever-aging weekly volleyball game--but, funny thing, in all my time in and around the Hudson Valley Region, I've never ever seen hide nor hair of good ol' BWS. Odd. Well, while he surely wasn't there that night, Lynn and I indeed were, as was the infant Julie. Her big new-found joy that memorable evening was practicing a skill she had just learned and was evidently attempting to master --crawling up and down various stairs!! She did this continuously on the route up and down to the second floor that night at Alex's. And of course, we had to be spotting her every precipitous step--or crawl--of the way. In the course of keeping a close eye on our toddlin' toddler, we had the opportunity to meet this nice young(er) couple, Peter and Karen.

They were both painters of the fine art variety, it turned out, and were employed at the time (I believe) as instructors at the Woodstock School of Art. While not mired in the whole comics world like a goodly portion of that night's attendees, it did eventually come out that Peter was a massive Jack Kirby fan, and in fact, still had quite a lot of the Marvel Comics he purchased back in the sixties!

(The portrait of the New Gods Orion you see above was done by, yup, Peter! He produced it using various strips of colored paper, and even some cloth! As cool as it looks on your screen, just imagine the texture and three-dimensional quality that's missing due to the unavoidably flat reproduction herein! It's great piece, and I'm happy to show off Peter's thoughtful gift to the world! Or at least the dozen or so of you who show up here semi-regularly.)

We went on to spend a fair amount of time talking with them, as they seemed like very pleasant folks. But all too soon, the night would come to an end, and it was time for us ALL to crawl on home. Which we did, but not before grabbing a flyer giving specific instructions as to just when, where, and how one was to get to the NEXT event...

A month, maybe two later, then. Not more than ten minutes across town, the very next party was hosted by our neighbors, the lovely Joe and Hilarie Staton. If I have my sequence of events correctly in order up in the ol' grey matter storage files, two things stand out about that evening. First, let me ask you this rhetorical query: anybody out there remember the night the whole nation sat transfixed in front of their TV sets as O. J. Simpson led a whole battalion of Los Angeles patrol cars in his infamous white Bronco on what has come to be universally known as the Slow-Speed Chase? Well, that was ALSO the night the Statons generously opened up their house to a myriad of guests, but neglected to ever once turn on their television set!?! I couldn't quite figure out what was happening when we got back home later that evening and I flicked the tube on--all the stations were fixed on an overhead shot of a static station wagon parked in a driveway, with commentators offering grave commentary regarding the likelihood as to whether or not the driver--O.J.--was ever going to come out of that vehicle alive! Yup, we had all missed a little bit of history that star-crossed night-- but hey, the food was good!...

The other thing? Karen and Peter were again in attendance, and amazingly, without any prompting whatsoever, they warmly greeted us--and (stunning development) even remembered our names!?! Now, this may sound like no big thing on the face of it, but by this juncture in time, I'd become, shall we say, somewhat cynical about certain aspects of these gatherings. Initially, y'see,I went into things all gung ho, trying my darndest to ingratiate myself as best I could with the various new folks who'd perpetually turn up at these near-monthly events. And despite my effusive efforts to be outgoing, more often than not, these new "pals" of mine wouldn't actually wind up recalling my name from month to month! Okay, okay, perhaps I exaggerate--a bit. Ultimately, the best of the bunch might see fit to spare me a pleasant greeting upon each and every subsequent run-in across the buffet table, so after awhile, I returned to my more naturally reserved manner around those I did not know well, and mostly took joy from the opportunity to spend some time with the dozen or so bona-fide good buddies that also attended these events regularly. But, in a startling reversal of the usual protocol , this particular couple not only remembered us, they additionally re-engaged us happily in conversation! Wow! This, frankly, was a novel event, but a delightfully welcome one!

Well, over the handful of years since, Karen and Peter have gone on to become quite good friends of ours--the sort of friends that, if only O.J. had had ones similar to them, he wouldn't be in all the trouble he is today. (Oh, wait. That's right--he wasn't convicted. I forgot. Okay, but friends like Karen and Peter could've been a great help to him in his search for the REAL killers, if nothing else, y'know?...) Unfortunately, since we live about two hours apart as the crow flies (although we usually find it easier just to drive over in our white Toyota Camry...), we don't see each other near as often as we may like. When we do, however, we always have a great time, especially now that their four year old son, George, has been added to the mix. Believe it or not--and you CAN believe it, trust me--good ol' Julie has already taught the little guy how to say "Wacko Jacko"!!...

I think I've already mentioned how the pair are both talented painters. Fact is, we have several of their swell still lifes proudly hanging in both our dining and living room areas. Generally, the very first thing a newcomer to our happy little home does is compliment Karen's exquisite oil painting and Peter's equally handsome pastel piece that are adjacent to the dining room table. The SECOND thing they always seem to do is remark on the inordinate amount of comics and CDs that overflow the environs--and the THIRD thing? Well, they rarely say it out loud, but I'm sure they're wondering when and if anybody EVER straightens up around here!! (Answer: occasionally, okay? Sheesh...) Our heartfelt thanks, then, go out to both Karen and Peter for not only brightening up our living space with their amiable art, but for delaying, if only for a moment, those latter two inevitable inquiries!..

But you don't have to take my word for it, ladies and gents, because now you can see for yourselves! No, no, NOT the mess around our house--if you collect comics at all, I'm sure you're intimately acquainted with the very concept of clutter--I'm referring instead to Karen's paintings, as she's only recently launched her very own web-site! (You'll have to wait a bit on Peter, but word is he'll be up on the net before all too long as well.) Go! Don't be shy--take a look.

Now, I realize, Karen's "painterly realism" (as it's known in the art world) may not be the sort of work you rabid fantasy fans are used to appreciating. There are, after all, no pristinely rendered space-crafts, no corpses clawing their way out of their maggot-laden coffins, no impossibly built models with rippling musculature. Nope. There's merely good art, evocative in its simplicity, and beautiful in its execution.

Think about it this way--one of Karen's swell little canvas's might well make the perfect Holiday gift for that special someone, the one that's getting awfully tired of looking at that framed "Barb Wire" poster you've insisted on hanging in the hallway near the coat rack nigh onto the last decade now, fella! Hey, it can't hurt to take a peek, gang. It never hurts to open oneself up to new avenues and fresh experiences, after all.

Unless, of course--well, make up your OWN O.J. gag here, friends! And then, if you haven't already, you'd better go check out Karen's site! Don't make me send the Juice after you, sports fans!!...

November 14th, 2003


Recently, Lynn, Julie, and I attended a party at our friend Cindy Dill's house. Happily, we encountered many old friends, and even managed to make a few new ones before the night was over. The festive fun-time event brought forth several intriguing ideas for entries right here at the site's so-called blog, hopefully all of which we'll get to in the very near future, but first and foremost, it occurs to me that there hasn't been nearly enough talk hereabouts concerning my long-time pal--and celebrated cartoonist--Joe Staton!

You comics fans know all about Joe, don't you? Co-creator of the fondly recalled E-Man, penciller on a long and significant run of DC's GREEN LANTERN title, Art Director for the ground-breaking Chicago based First Comics, embellisher of many 1970's Marvel titles--why, I'm sure if you tied Joe to a chair and threatened him with the ol' Chinese water torture, he'd even own up to scribbling out a run chronicling the exciting exploits of those wacky teens-of-times-yet-to-come, the Legion Of Super-Heroes!! The guy has done it ALL, friends--and, currently, next to Shaggy himself, he might very well be the most important man in Scooby Doo's life!! (Yup, he pencils that book for DC--check it out, fan-folks!) But there IS one thing you probably DON'T know about the ever versatile Joe--if there's ever any question as to whether or not your tiny toddler fully comprehends the very words being spoken to the wee lad or lassie, well, Mr. Staton here is just the fellow to help clear up THAT minor mystery! (Cue the flashback...)

Before we moved to our current location, Lynn and I lived in the same town as Joe and Hilarie for over a decade. Naturally, the Statons were around when Julie was born in 1990, and watched with great interest her growth and development back in those, her earliest years. Of course, they had plenty occasion to, as I was a frequent visitor, usually with my infant daughter in tow. Joe, you see, was the proud owner of a state of the art copy machine, and I was forever stopping by to mooch off it's space-age capabilities! Oh sure, I tossed a ream of paper or two at him often enough to somewhat salve my guilty conscience, but he generously put up with my continuous intrusions despite seemingly never-ending requests for access to his copier! Simply put, the man was a prince!!

(And just WHAT was I so hot to have copied, you wonder? Why, my unfinished--yes, even to this very day!!--epic, "KIDZ"!! As you can no doubt tell, Joe, THAT was time well spent!...)

But of course, it wasn't ALL business. We'd always spend a good while jabbering away, usually about--surprise!--comics. But we'd also discuss events outside that rarefied realm, events that mayhaps occurred in our very own lives. Like the time Julie had gotten a particularly nasty splinter stuck in one of her fingers...

She was just a toddler, please understand. She barely spoke--at least coherently--and, pretty much up to that point, understood very little of what was being said to her. Shortly after yanking what amounted to merely a small but nonetheless irritating sliver of wood from her fingertip, we stopped by the Statons. Making small talk, Joe inquired as to what was new, and I quickly informed him of Julie's most recent trial and tribulation. When I breathlessly finished recounting all the gory details for him, Joe, smiling broadly, turned to Julie, and said in his ever-best soothingly sing-song like voice--the likes of which you can usually utilize to say ANY old thing to a small, small child, and it'll sound just peachy to them--he said...

"Well, Julie, that's too bad about your finger. If your mommy hadn't gotten that mean old splinter out, I may've had to get my big, sharp saw from the garage and cut that troublesome little finger of yours right off, you know?..."

Julie immediately froze, her eyes suddenly locked with his, both pupils now opened wide to their utmost diameter. There was a short but significant pause as all was momentarily silent there in the Staton dining room--and THEN Julie let out a loud and sustained wail, the type children of her vintage are well renowned for! Tears were flying from ducts aplenty, and the same thought occurred simultaneously to both Joe and I: Hey, fancy that--she UNDERSTANDS what we're saying! She really does! And I had none other than the co-creator of The New Guardians to thank for that note-worthy discovery!!

Okay, okay, maybe I wasn't TOTALLY surprised--I did live with the kid, after all. But take my word for it, Joe got more of a reaction than he'd bargained for!! He swiftly joined in with me on an ultimately successful attempt to calm the poor little child down: "It was only a joke, sweetie--just a big ha ha!! (...heh, heh.)" Eventually, Julie realized this, and she bore no further ill will toward the Kingston Saw Menacer. And if any of you are sitting out there on your high horses "tsk tsk-ing", well, DON'T. That was just Jolly Joe's slightly demented sense of humor at work, is all. Clearly, he meant no harm. And besides, he was fully aware that his gag wasn't all that far removed from some of the ditzy things her dear ol' dad had come up with--and would continue to foist upon her in the years ahead! Like, for instance...

Think back about a decade, folks. Remember Amy Fisher? The teen-age sensation dubbed "The Long Island Lolita" by the tabloids because the (barely) underage gal had shot, wounded, but luckily, neglected to kill, her much older married boyfriend's wife? Remember her? Kinda hard to forget if you were at all conscious at the time. There were, in point of fact, not one, not two, but an amazing THREE TV schlocku-dramas made about the torrid but tawdry affair, and the whole ugly incident was on everyone's lips. Even, as it turned out, on the lips of a sweet tiny toddler known as Julie Hembeck...

Her first words were barely out of her cute little mouth when I came up with a rather silly notion. You're all most likely familiar with that Fabio-endorsed food product, I Can't Believe It's Not Butter, right? Well, I thought it would be funny as all get-out to teach my blithely impressionable little child a twist on that by-now well known phrase. When Daddy would say to her, "I can't believe it's not...", she'd finish my sentence NOT by saying "butter", but instead filling in the blank with (...wait for it...) "Buttafuoco"!!

"I can't believe it's not...?"

"Buttafuoco!"

Oh, the laughs--and the LOOKS--we'd get!! Y'know, I figured, as long as we shied away from any Child Services venues, we could've cleaned up by taking our act out on the road! My friends--being, as they were, after all, MY friends--found the last name of Amy Fisher's paramour, Joey, pouring out of such a pint-sized package on command to be, well, downright hilarious! OTHER people, however...

Well, there was that time when I had Julie do her Stupid Baby Trick for the instructors at her pre-pre-pre K group, and the reaction was one more of horror than hilarity!! Live and learn, I guess--not everybody hears the inherent humor in the very lilt of the name "Buttafuoco", apparently. (Thinking back, there were several other parents present as well, including a fellow who purported to be a carpenter. I couldn't say if he was a very good one or not, but obviously, he mustn't have been a very cautious one, because, as I clearly recall, he had not one, but TWO fingers missing!! Say, you don't suppose Joe...?) (Nah...) (I...gulp...HOPE!...)

Well, yours truly milked that "I can't believe it's not Buttafuoco" gag for years and years, playing it for all it was worth, and then some. Nowadays, however, on the rare occasion when I attempt to feed her that long-cherished straight line, she just shoots me a look. And oh, WHAT a look! Which, I suppose, is far better than I deserve. After all, there's always that FINGER Joe Staton was once so eager to relieve her of! There are times when my darlin' dear one seems more than willing to give it to ME, dig?!?...


November 13th, 2003


Besides the fact that the name was already in use, there are several pertinent reasons why this site isn't called The Grand Comic Book Database, chief amongst them would be the following evidence. Despite the best intentions of Ye Olde Host and his man on the scene, Jim Salicrup, faithful correspondent Scott Rowland felt it his duty to offer up this missive after reading a recent "Fred Sez" entry...

A slight correction to Jim Salicrup's story: Venus wasn't brought back in the Byrne She-Hulk series, the Blonde Phantom was. BP was an attractive blonde (duh!) who fought crime in a red evening gown in the latter days of Timely comics.

John Byrne revived her, but she hadn't been trapped in an iceberg or wandering around with amnesia. She had been living a regular life -- and was correspondingly older. She went on to become the main supporting character in the She-Hulk series in her civilian ID.

As for Venus, I think she last appeared in a Marvel Valentine's Day special several years ago, drawn by the great Dan DeCarlo.

I believe the correct terminology used by journalists when officially retracting false information is, "Oops".(Incidentally, I'm nominally certain that my good buddy, Terry--purveyor of the Terry Austin Art Book (Makes a fine Holiday gift!!)--inked that Dan DeCarlo story mentioned there at the end...) I subsequently presented Jim with Scott's letter, and this is what he had to say...

See, whenever I start out with "If memory serves..." I know I'm in trouble! Having most of my comics boxed up in storage doesn't help much either. But I love Scott Rowland's "A slight correction to Jim Salicrup's story..."! Yeah, aside from me being totally wrong, I guess I got most of the facts right!

So, Fred, while I try to persuade John Byrne to return to Marvel just to do a new story that proves that the Blonde Phantom and Venus are in reality one and the same, please offer Mr. Rowland his pick of nonexistent No-Prizes from the ultra-exclusive Goddess of Love collection.

Jim S.
Hanging with the Space Phantom on Mars


I LOVE that we're now giving out No-Prizes here!! Who'd a thot? Hey, maybe I should start making mistakes on a regular basis, y'know? Or do you think the unintentional ones will keep us happily supplied for a long, long while? Probably...

This whole thing reminds me of something that happened to me during my college days, something I've always been inordinately proud of, even though my ignorance plays a key role in this agonizing anecdote. Y'see, besides all them classes with the drawing of pictures and stuff, I was also obligated to take a certain amount of non-art courses. Okay, fine. Narrowing down an extensive list of options (and jettisoning any and all that dealt with numbers or scientific symbols), I finally decided to sign up for an English History class. Jolly good! I'm thinking, Beatles, Winston Churchill, the Duke of Windsor--what's not to like? Well, I soon found out, guv'nor...

Everything we studied happened centuries and centuries ago, even several centuries before the Revolutionary War took place!! Blimey! Begging your pardon, old chap, but I must admit that I just couldn't keep any of it straight! England, apparently, was always at war with SOMEBODY way back then, and for a whole myriad of once-seemingly important reasons! Meaning no disrespect to any of you historical scholars out there--those of you who mistakenly came here thinking this was indeed The Grand Comic Book Database--but for me, this potentially fascinating class ultimately proved to be a grinding snoozefest.

Eventually, the day came for the big final exam. There was, as you might expect, an extensive essay portion included on the test. A fairly significant question asked the student--that would be me, folks--to explain the causes, results, and ramifications of a long ago war between Britain and (say) France in (oh, I don't know--) 1587. So I sat down at my desk, did my best, and turned my paper in. Several days later, the corrected exam was returned to me. C minus. Next to my lengthy, almost two-page, essay answer (yes, I was long-winded even then) was a note from my instructor. Something along the lines of saying he'd quite enjoyed what I'd written, and that he would've given me an even better grade for it, IF ONLY I HADN'T GOTTEN THE OUTCOME OF THE WAR IN QUESTION EXACTLY WRONG, TRANSPOSING THE VICTOR WITH THE VANQUISED, AND VICE-VERSA!?! Imagine--deducting points for a little thing like THAT? But, hey, I passed, and that was the important thing, right mates?...

My thanks, then, to Scott for catching Jim--and ME--in our "tiny" slip-up. YOU get an "A", fella, but for the team of Salicrup and Hembeck, I'm afraid we're deserving of nothing more than the proverbial "C minus"!!

(And Jim? It WAS Frankie Avalon who had the big hit with "Venus" back in the early days of Rock and Roll, but at this point, I surely don't blame you for your uncertainty regarding just how Paul Anka fits into this whole equation, no doubt accounting for your reluctance to follow all this up with a tune inspired gag! Perhaps Mr. Anka once recorded a song about a Blonde Phantom, ya think?...)

November 12th, 2003


They say that young Edward Norton fella is a pretty good actor. I don't think I've ever actually seen any of his movies, so I couldn't say that myself with any real authority. Still, I hear tell that the kid almost won himself an Academy Award a few years back, so there's obviously something to the critical scuttlebutt.

Hey--you know who DID win an Oscar? The REAL Ed Norton! That's right--Art Carney! He grabbed the golden statue for a little thing called "Harry and Tonto" back in 1974. Saw it when it came out--nice flick. When you get right down to it, though, prestigious accolades or no, Carney's performance in that film has to take backseat to the undisputedly indelible impression he left on TV viewers of generation after generation as Ralph Kramden's unforgettable accomplice in ineptitude, the first and--sorry, sonny, I realize it's your name, too, but--the ONLY Ed Norton!

Sadly, Art Carney passed away several days ago at the age of 85, but thanks to the ever evolving technology of this miraculous modern age of ours, his greatest role will live on forever, whether through broadcast transmissions, videotapes, DVDs, or whatever--heaven help my wallet--comes next. Okay, maybe that's a pretty big leap of faith there, but if there's any show from the nascent days of television--besides "I Love Lucy", of course--that still has a decent chance of being eagerly viewed a hundred years from now, it's "The Honeymooners". And I contend that the key to the show's universal longevity is Carney's unsurpassed performance--at once antic, slightly dim, but always sweet--as the most famous sewer worker from all of Bensonhurst, Queens, real or fictional.

Yes, yes, I know--Jackie Gleason was "The Great One", the egomaniacal genius behind the creation and subsequent production of the saga of the Kramdens and the Nortons. But, while giving him all due credit for his vision, even as a kid, I found Gleason's characterization of Ralph Kramden to be, on far more occasions than I would've cared for, much too abrasive and blustery. What rescued the proceedings from degenerating into little more than a juvenile round of high decibel slapstick was the presence of the always sympathetic Norton. Gleason's Ralph, in the course of attempting to execute any one of his many hare-brained schemes, did a lot of thoughtless things to either his long-suffering wife, his clueless co-workers, or his loyal but put-upon best pal, and while he always got this comeuppance in the end, he didn't always win me over to his side, no matter how pathetically he quivered his lip and assumed a hang-dog expression by episodes fade-out. But I was always, ALWAYS rooting for Norton!

Barney Fife, George Costanza, Sgt. Carter--I've just named three of the greatest second bananas in all of television history. Ed Norton? In a class by himself. Simply put, THE greatest of them all. Case closed. No rebuttal necessary. Watching Art Carney effortlessly slip into that lovable character, donning those distinctive duds, bringing a warmth and vibrancy to the screen every single time he entered one of those delightfully threadbare sets, well, it's STILL a joy unlike any other in the long and not always distinguished history of situation comedies, folks. As TV characters go, Ed Norton has got to be right up there near the top of my list of all-time favorites--if not right at the very top!?! (I haven't given the matter QUITE that much thought as of yet--let me get back to you with specific rankings at some later date, okay?..).

You gotta understand, when I was a kid, WPIX (channel 11 in New York) ran what are now known as "The Classic 39" daily, over and over and OVER!! With the limited broadcast outlets available to us glassy-eyed baby boomers, there was little we could do but watch and watch and WATCH!! It was comedy of the ingrained sort. And then, one day, they were gone! Alice, Ralph, Trixie, and Ed--vanished! Off the schedule! Nowhere to be seen in those dark days, pre-VCR. Well, it seemed like an eternity--it may've even been only several years, though it felt far longer--but eventually, they came back! And when they did, I eagerly sat down and watched 'em all over again (...AND again and again and, well, you get the idea..), vowing never to take the adventures of Ed and Ralph for granted again. No problem--WPIX has been showing them continuously ever since.

And when news of the "Lost Honeymooners" episodes broke in the mid-eighties, we specifically signed up for Showtime just so I could watch (and tape) those rare gems. When they ran out, so did my interest in that particular cable channel--we haven't subscribed for years. And like the later hour-long musical versions that turned up on the Gleason variety show in the early sixties (now being shown once a week on the Goodtime cable network, I believe), these old kinescopes added shades of luster to the legend, but never quite managed to overshadow the single magical season that was captured on tape for the long-defunct DuMont network. The glory of the 39 will last forever.

Fact is, last week, every last one of those classic episodes were issued in a reasonably priced set of 5 DVDs. I stood there, holding it in my hands, deciding what exactly to buy that day--but ultimately put it back down, figuring, hey, it'll keep for another week. And then of course, when I went into my local Best Buy store this very morning, not 24 hours after news of the beloved actor's demise had broken, they were sold out! Gone! Vanished! Another week, indeed...

But you know what? Driving home, I realized I didn't really need the DVD set--want it, yes; need it, no. All I needed was the presence of mind to conjure up various and sundry images in my video-saturated noggin--THEY'D bring a smile to my face, and they all certainly came easily enough: Norton grabbing one of the cookies baked by Bert Weidermeier's wife on his way out the door--"one for the road", as he so aptly put it; Norton's part in the whole Chef of the Future debacle; being handcuffed to Ralph whilst stuck uncomfortably in a pair of sleeping berths on a moving train; frantically being credited with the authorship of "Swanee River" by a totally flustered contestant Kramden on a TV quiz show! AND the one that never fails to bring a chuckle to my lips, even now as I type this: teaching the gaudily garbed--AND desperate--Ralph how to golf in the expansiveness of the Kramden kitchen. Endlessly swiveling his hips, Norton finally pauses and instructs his impatient student to address the ball--and I'm sure we can ALL clearly hear the unmistakably goofy tenor in Art Carney's voice rattling around in our collective heads as we grin, remembering two words that've never, ever sounded funnier together...

"Helloooo, ball!"

I'm gonna get me that DVD set, sooner or later, and I'm gonna watch me those episodes again. And--yup--again. AND you can bet I'm gonna laugh again. Because, evidence to the contrary, gang--there IS only one Ed Norton. And all apologies to the lovely Alice Kramden, but baby, HE was the greatest!!

We'll miss you, Art.

November 11th, 2003

While it may well be Veteran's Day--and we here at Hembeck.com gratefully salute all those who've selflessly served in our nation's armed forces on this annual remembrance--the time has come to wrap up once and for all a topic perhaps better suited for Valentine's Day!

Yes, it's time for one last look into the history of Marvel's Goddess of Love, this nugget of information zapping it's way in under the subject line of "Venus (and Mars are alright tonight)" from our ace correspondent and punctuation policeman, the salient Jim Salicrup:

If memory serves, I recall seeing good ol' John Byrne making copies of his latest SHE-HULK pages at the copying machine at mighty Marvel many moons ago. While chatting with John, while admiring his latest efforts, he mentioned that events in his early SHE-HULK issues seemed to echo the stories of the early issues of the FANTASTIC FOUR or AVENGERS -- y'know, an origin issue, fighting aliens, that kinda thing. So, I just playfully asked which Golden Age Marvel character he planned to bring back with his fourth issue? Like how Captain America and the Sub-Mariner were revived, for example. John hadn't planned to bring back any old characters, but now, perhaps feeling some sense of obligation to a forgotten Marvel tradition or just thinking it would be cool, the seeds were planted for the return of VENUS!

Just thought you'd like to know...


Jim adds, in a subsequent email, that he believes John once described this very incident in a letter-column later in his SHE-HULK run, and credited Roger Stern as being the one to actually suggest the lovely Venus as the lucky Timely titan to be liberated from her lodging in limbo.

Which, as best I can figure, is where she soon enough returned--AND where I intend to stash this done-to-death topic from here on in!...

(But thanks for the final salvo, Jim--your expertise is ALWAYS appreciated!!...)


November 8th, 2003


Not all that long ago, while fishing around for something to run that could broadly be considered Halloween-themed, I posted one of the few horror comic cover reinterpretations that I've done, VENUS #17, over in the Classic Cover Redo section of this site. All well and good, true, but for one little problem--what to do when it came time to write up some commentary to accompany the artwork, since I didn't actually OWN any of that late forties, early fifties Timely title and knew little about it? (I'd borrowed the issue in question from my pal, Rocco, so as to take a crack at one of his very favorite artists, the great Bill Everett, on his behalf, y'see...) So what did I do? Well, faked my way through it as best I could, mostly! By garnering what little information I could regarding a title that was continually morphing genres, mostly by eye-balling the stamp-sized cover repros included in the wonderful Gerber PHOTO-JOURNAL GUIDES, I was able to come up with SOMETHING! And I was happy to manage that with the scant information I had at hand, lemme tell ya! But friends, what should arrive at my front door not three days ago? Why, ALTER EGO #29, of course, featuring a thoroughly researched, heavily illustrated, and lovingly written article about, yes, none other than the entire run of VENUS!

Wouldn't you know it? First generation Venus fan, the celebrated cartoonist and author, Trina Robbins, recounts the schizophrenic history of the mythical Goddess of Love in the pages of the latest issue of Roy Thomas' indispensable Comics Fanzine, the theme this time around being--what else?--"Haunted Halloween"? So if anybody out there had their curiosity sparked by my woefully underwhelming rundown over yonder across site concerning the adventures of the golden-tressed leading lady, let me now point you in the direction of a copy of AE #29 to get the FULL story!!

Heck, I've said it before, but I think it bears periodic repeating--if you're at all interested in comics history, then you owe it to yourself to not only buy this issue but EVERY issue of Roy's zine!! Besides Trina's piece, this one alone features the first part of a series on Marvel prototypes, a feature on an aborted attempt by late-sixties underground artists to take up the mantle of EC Comics, and interviews with creators as varied as Frank Brunner, George Gladir, Orlando Busino, John Benson, and--believe it or not!--Bill Fraccio!! Yes, Tony Tallarico's old partner in crime, and probably not a big favorite of very many of you out there, but c'mon--if you read comics back in the sixties, his artwork has undoubtedly insinuated it's way into your decaying grey matter same as it has mine, and wouldn't you like to know HIS story? Well, thanks to editor Thomas and the fine folks at TwoMorrows Publishing, now you can!! And as far as I'm concerned, you most definitely SHOULD!

There's any number of ways to acquire said magazine--your local handy-dandy comics shop, subscribing by mail, via the TwoMorrows website--but I got mine shipped via the local UPS truck with my monthly shipment of comics from Robert Pilk and the fine folks over at MEC Comics!! It's been awhile since I've mentioned Robert and his fine organization, but if getting your books in a no-fuss, no-muss manner appeals to you, then let me HIGHLY recommend the MEC Comics service.

It's easy. Every 30 days, you get the latest issue of Diamond PREVIEWS sent your way, and after paging (and paging AND paging!) through it, you simply fill out the accompanying order form, make out a check, and mail it in. Several months later, those very books will appear almost as of by magic on your doorstep, and voila!--you're all set for another month, until you once again start over and repeat this simple but effective process.

Oh, and did I mention that after you total up your order, YOU SHAVE 30 PER CENT OFF THE RETAIL PRICE BEFORE YOU MAKE YOUR PAYMENT!!! Hey, good deal, no lie!

And if reliability means anything to you, you can count on it from MEC Comics. I've been a steady customer of theirs since 1987 or thereabouts, so you can well imagine I've been more than satisfied by the friendly and expert service afforded me over the years. So if you want home delivery of all your comics needs--AND save a pretty piece of change at the same time--contact my pal Robert via email at Oberon13@chartertn.net for further details. I couldn't possibly give my friends down there in Bristol, Tennessee more of a whole-hearted thumbs up if I had Roger Ebert and that other guy sitting here right next to me! Because remember folks, as I always say when sending in my order, "The more you buy, the more you save!!"...

Finally, since this has somehow turned into one massive plug-athon--worthy subjects though they all may be--I just couldn't let things slip by without saying a few words about perhaps my most favorite one of all--ME!!

That's right, gang--as ever, ol' Fred is blushingly ready and willing to happily accept any and all donations you may care to make via the ever popular PayPal route, so don't hold back, folks--I promise NOT to be embarrassed by your largesse!! And for those of you who actually WANT something for your money, well, need I remind you that we're always selling original art over there in the aptly named Sales Gallery--and if any of THOSE beauties don't swirl your curl, you can instead take a shot at playing the boss of me and order up the Commission of your choice, the details of which you can find by--aw, you know how by now, don't you? We encourage your patronage, and I thank you in advance!

You keep reading, and I'll keep writing!


November 7th, 2003


Several days ago, in discussing the current imbroglio between and betwixt DC Comics and Tony Isabella over his creation, Black Lightning, I quoted a side comment Tony had made about the company's first, glaringly preposterous, attempt at creating an African-American super-hero. The small smidgen of details available in Tony's fleeting mention caused me to opine that the it HAD to be the legendary Bob Kanigher behind this long-lost brainstorm--and wouldn't you know it, folks? I was RIGHT!!

A number of emails trickled in offering evidence to back up my educated guess, and in the spirit of sharing knowledge--no matter how trivial--I'd now like to take some time to quote several salient passages so as to better shed a light on this practically forgotten chapter in the (mostly) distinguished annals of DC Comics (I don't, for instance, recall mention of it in the Les Daniels tome...).

First up, Marvel editor supreme, Tom Brevoort, was good enough to take a little time out of his undoubtedly hectic schedule to pass along these facts (though he cautions that he has no actual first hand knowledge of the series genesis, just stories passed down over the years and some scant printed comments by Kanigher himself, most notably in an extensive interview published in THE COMICS JOURNAL #85, October 1983...)(..which I KNOW that I must've read, further proof that the memory is starting to go with my ever advancing age!...):

You see, the Black Bomber is a bigoted white steelworker in the Archie Bunker mold--this was conceived when All in the Family was a big hit. While he was off serving his country in Vietnam, the Bomber had been exposed to Agent Orange. And now, at certain key moments of stress, he transforms into a super-powered black man, attired in a costume that can only be described as basketball-player-like. Each identity is amnesiatic about the other, so in his white civilian guise, the Bomber is even his own Jonah Jameson, railing against the supposed deeds of the black super hero.

Along with Sextet, this is one of the two strangest DC comics never completed.

Interesting. Thanks, Tom. Next up, a reader who goes by the name of "Bob" supplies us with a pertinent quote from the man himself in the aforementioned interview:

"A white Archie Bunker by day, a longshoreman with all the racial and social prejudices, with a white girlfriend; and a black super-hero at night, with a black girlfriend. A white and black Jekyll and Hyde. I took great care in a quasi-scientific explanation for the change in pigmentation. Naturally, neither side of the character was aware of the other. It was during Conway's brief tenure as editor. It would have been DCís first black super-hero. I wanted to call it Black and White."

Well, which is it, guys? The Black Bomber, or Black and White? Doesn't matter, I suppose. After all, you know the old saying: "A rose by any other name is still a rose"--or in this instance, "Rose and the Thorn by any other name is still Rose and the Thorn", as Kanigher's proposed project eerily mirrors his OTHER amnesiac dual identity character, then running as a back-up feature filling out the pages of LOIS LANE roundabouts the same time...

One final twist on this sticky situation is put forth by a fella signing himself only as "Doug" (Hmm--Bob and Doug. Say, you don't suppose these two communiques BOTH came in from the Great White North, do you, and that the MacKenzie brothers are in reality a pair of partying panelologists, eh? Nah, probably not...):

...on top of the innate tackiness of the concept, the character (in either form) wouldn't be aware of his transformation; the only ones who knew the secret were the characters' girlfriends--apparently each identity had its own girlfriend. (Which makes me wonder even more how anyone could have thought they could have got away with this...) Neither the white bigot nor the "angry black man" was aware of their connection to the other, which was apparently supposed to supply irony or something.

Oboy, let's see if I understand this correctly--the white guy's gal pal and the black fella's lady BOTH know the lowdown about the whole multiple identity thing, and they're FINE with it?? Him having two regular sweeties, that is? Man, what a torridly twisted threesome THAT'D be! (Or would it be more accurately termed a frantically flustered foursome??...) Forget the obvious pigmentation aspect--DC would've had enough other headaches fending off the likes of Gloria Steinham had this little gem made it safely to the nation's newsstands!...

But it didn't, and I think we call all agree that--whew!!--it was for the best--the best for the ever-delicate nature of race relations in this country, the best for the comics industry itself, and yes, the best for Robert Kanigher as well. The man had an undeniable impact on the field over the four-plus decades he spent toiling in it, and naturally--unavoidably, actually--his writing had an impact on me, as well...

Two particular books, both produced in tandem with artists Ross Andru and Mike Esposito, and both issued very early on in my comics reading history, pretty much clued me into not only his strengths but his weaknesses as well.

SHOWCASE #37, featuring the initial appearance of the Metal Men--and famously whipped up over a single weekend when the scheduled feature didn't pan out at the 11th hour (does anybody have ANY idea what that MIA feature was, by the way? Tom?...)--contained more raw emotion than I'd ever seen in a comic up to that point, far more certainly than in any other DC title. (This being mere months before I'd fatefully pick up my first Marvel comic, please understand...) I was entranced as, one by one, inevitably, each of the gallant Metal Men sacrificed their very lives to save the Earth from the giant flying sting ray that was menacing all mankind. I really felt a sense of loss at tale's end that I can still vividly recall when the last one had "died".

I add the quotation marks because, well, as we all saw a mere two months later, you can't REALLY kill a robot, just disable them for a time. Which is what happened to the Metal Men--time and time again, as it turned out, always with ever-diminishing results vis a vis a strong, caring emotional reaction on my part. But still, I had never seen the good-guys bite the bullet before, and regardless of what happened afterwards, I have nothing but warm feelings for that first outing of Doc Magnus and his merry band of metals. The OTHER Kanigher komic I allude to, however, is firmly lodged in my cerebellum for other, far less flattering reasons...

WONDER WOMAN #124 from early 1961 was not only the first issue of the Amazon Princess's title that I plunked down a dime for, it was also probably among the very first half-dozen or so DC super-hero comics that I ever bought--and all things considered, it's a wonder (no pun intended--really!) it didn't scare me off the entire genre forever!?! I'm not talking perceived quality here, I'm talking clear and understandable storytelling--which, pointedly, this issue gleefully lacked!

I say "gleefully" because this happened to be the very month that writer/editor Kanigher chose to initiate an ongoing series of "Impossible Adventures". They were impossible, y'see, because they featured the adult Wonder Woman, the teen-age Wonder Girl, and the toddler Wonder Tot all working together--which was flat out impossible, since previously they were clearly established as three entirely different stages of Diana's life and were, naturally, NEVER meant to co-exist!?! And yet...they DID!?! With absolutely NO logic given to explain this awkward assemblage, coy questioning along the lines of "Gosh, HOW can this be happening anyway?" were sprinkled throughout the copy in these insufferable--excuse me, I mean "impossible"--stories instead!

Look, I was just 8 years old, but I was still quick to grasp the concept behind Mort Weisinger's series of "Imaginary Stories" over in the Superman Family titles, as they always at least held to some sort of internal logic despite whatever crazy twist they may've added to the Kryptonian Mythos for the plot du jour's contrived convenience. But it's now forty years down the road, and I STILL don't understand the purpose behind these "Impossible Stories"!?! The most they ever said to me was simply, "Hey, they're just comics--they don't HAVE to make any sense!!..."

Bob Kanigher infused his stories with a tangible emotional content that was almost totally lacking in the field when I first started reading comics, and in fact was responsible for writing a lot of fine stories. On the flip side, a major problem I eventually had with his stuff was that he seemed to be continually re-writing all those fine stories--and some not-so-fine ones as well--so my appreciation of his overall oeuvre was ultimately dulled. But, hey, the man was a pioneer, and he deserves our respect for that alone.

And if Tony Isabella helped in ANY way to prevent this prolific scribe from notching up one particularly egregious series from appearing on his final resume, hey, HE deserves our respect as well!!

November 5th, 2003


Shakespeare, Ron Silver, and porn--America says "NO!"

Yup, breaking news has it that Fox's pulled the plug on their highly-touted reworking of "Romeo and Juliet", "Skin". Y'know--the one utilizing the world of L.A.'s adult film industry as it's backdrop? A mere three episodes had aired. The move caught me by surprise, even though I had read that the ratings were embarrassingly low for the program's uber-promoed debut. But unlike, say, NBC's "Coupling", which the critics gleefully savaged--and which bit the dust after only four broadcasts--"Skin" had received mostly positive press. And did I mention mucho plugs?...

I watched an awful lot of post-season baseball on Fox this past September, and it sure seemed like every other inning, they were relentlessly enticing viewers to sample their randy reworking of one of the Bard's most famous plays! Things reached such a fever pitch that, when the cameras found Ron Silver and several of his younger, basically unknown cast members (which, apparently, is how they're destined to stay, unfortunately...) sitting in what could only be called "The Fox Box" at Yankee Stadium during the latter stages of this year's World Series, announcer Joe Buck, doing his level best to perform his distasteful but necessary duties as network flack (while still trying to maintain some shred of dignity as a baseball play-by-play man, no easy task, I assure you) said something along the lines of, "And there's actor Ron Silver, along with several of his fellow cast members of Fox's exciting new drama, "Skin"--slight pause--"as I'm sure EVERYBODY must know by now!!" Everybody did, Joe, everybody sure did--and my guess is that in this particular case, over-familiarity bred contempt, big-time!

(As a side note, I find this practice of filling valuable seats with various gaggles of TV personalities solely as a means of shilling upcoming Fox shows to be among the most distasteful practices currently allowed by the Commissioner of Baseball--forget steroids and the designated hitter! And bad enough we Barcalounge batters have to suffer through shots of soon-to-be-unemployed actors taking up priceless air space that could've--and should've--gone to REAL fans, but this year again saw several cast members of "That Seventies Show" frolicking at the Fall Classic! Why? What's the point? This show has been on for, what, six years now? The seventh is coming up--it's a HIT, you knuckleheads at Fox! Better you should've given the choice cameo to poor ol' Luis Guzman, as the former star of the unsurprisingly already canceled "Luis"'ll probably NEVER get another shot at headlining his own show--unless, of course, he somehow manages to team up with Tom Welling to co-star in "The REALLY New Adventures of Luis and Clark"...)

Despite the massive push, despite the scandalous setting, and despite the acclaimed acting chops of the durable Mr. Silver, "Skin" tanked, and tanked quickly and loudly. Me, I don't quite get it. Okay, I'll admit to being lured into it's seductive web (...mostly to enhance my appreciation of Willie the Shake, please understand), and I found it to be solidly acted, well-cast (the Romeo and Juliet stand-ins were more than up to carrying the love story underpinnings, and were swell to look at besides...), and the overall storyline had enough intrigue, double-dealing, and flares of violence to keep the most jaded of soap fans happy, because basically, that's what "Skin" was--a soap. Not the best one ever to air, most likely, nor the most unusual (that'd HAVE to be "Twin Peaks", hands down...), but I've seen far worse tripe on TV, stuff that somehow lasts for years and years AND years! But "Skin"--three weeks, no ratings, and POOF--gone.

Hey, I thought America wanted sexy shows, but with the premature cancellation of "Coupling" (which I have to say I never bothered to watch, either in it's original British form or it's short-lived NBSeeYa version...) and this saga of the lovable porn billionaire and the nasty District Attorney who constantly dogs him, I'm not so sure. Maybe there wasn't ENOUGH adult content to satisfy curious viewers who tuned in looking for--hoping for--something more, um, exciting than Dennis Franz's bare backside? And instead, found themselves having to sit through lots and lots of earnestly romantic yet depressingly tasteful loveydovey scenes between two crazy, mixed-up teens? Or maybe Fox just oversold the whole shebang to the point where people were sick of "Skin"--and "Coupling", for that matter--before it (they) ever hit the airwaves? Or perhaps we're going all Puritanical again? You think?...

Well, it's one less hour yours truly will feel obligated to sit, stock-still, slack-jawed, eyes glazed, in front of the tube, so, yeah, I guess that's a GOOD thing, right? And after only three hours, any emotional investment I may've had with the casts' various characters hadn't set in yet, at least, not TOO deeply. Still, there ARE 5 episodes completed but as yet unseen by the public, albeit only a small portion of which appears to be interested. Gee, you'd've thought Fox would've tried scheduling it on another night, at another time. Hey, "Luis" is gone--how about Friday? Because, you know, I really AM a bit curious as to whether or not the Judge is going to figure out that her hubby the D.A. is cheating on her with his campaign manager? And what about Clarence Williams III? The once and always Linc was last seen behind bars, plotting deadly revenge against his former associate, Silver--how nasty was THAT gonna turn out? And what about that sweet, fresh-faced thing from the Midwest who wanted ever so badly to join the ranks of the aforementioned Mr. Silver's roster of Sexy Superstars? How was her first day on the job gonna shape up?...

Sigh, now we'll never know. What a waste...

Almost--but not quite--as much of a waste as the waste of perfectly good World Series tickets that goes on year after year! Next Fall, have Bruce Willis get that Ashton Kutcher guy some seats of his own, and let someone like Steve Bartman into the ritzy boxes instead! Just make sure to keep him away from the railings, is all...

November 4th, 2003


It's Election Day--what say we talk politics, okay?

WAIT! WAIT! Get your itchy little index finger away from that mouse--it's not what you think. Yes, we most assuredly have our own political biases here at Hembeck.com, true, but--well, how shall I put this? Probably the overriding one is that all--or, okay, to be fair, merely most--of the folks who take up the political profession as their life's work seem to spend most of it beholden to the various moneyed concerns who provided the necessary finances to propel their candidacies in the first place, while our dear friends, the politicians, in turn try their doggone darnedest to convince the public that--gee whiz!--it's actually the little people's best interests that they actually have at heart. Uh huh. Cynical? Yup, you betcha, but hey, after all these years, just try convincing me otherwise. Partisan though I may be at times, that's still the way I feel deep down inside even about "my" guy, whoever he--or she--happens to be at the time.

What kind of attitude would you expect, after all, from some poor sap whose very first exposure to national politics had him totally convinced that if Richard Nixon DIDN'T win the right to kick his loafers off in the Oval Office, this future voter--and his entire family--was assured a horrible, gruesome death?!?...

Understand that we're hearkening back--WAY back--to the initial run Eisenhower's Veep made for the White House in the1960 Presidential campaign. America had just cruised through 8 years of Republican rule thanks to the former World War Two hero, General Dwight D. Me? Well, I have absolutely no memories of the old soldier's term in office, but Mom and Dad Hembeck sure did. Hitting the seven year mark several months before the odometer on the decade turned over, I eventually became superficially aware of the constant campaigning by the two candidates for the Big Job--Nixon, of course, and his Democratic opponent, some guy named John F. Kennedy (who was, for reasons I then couldn't fathom, also called "Jack"...). The glitzy looking campaign buttons--red, white, and blue, of course--that we picked up at a mid-summer's outing at a local fair did an inordinate amount towards informing my nascent political sensibilities. My parents, lifelong blue-collar workers who nonetheless stayed firmly and loyally on the Republican side of the aisle, naturally scooped up a handful of pro-Nixon paraphernalia, and I'll be darned if Little Freddy himself wasn't tremendously impressed by it! That man on the button seemed to have such a nice, pleasant smile! Fact was, he sorta reminded me of that OTHER man I liked, y'know, the funny one with the similar looking proboscis? Bob Hope, I think his name was...

Everything would've been just swell during the final months of this hard fought political contest in my insulated little corner of the world if only it weren't for a chance remark I accidentally overheard one of my dad's friends offer up whilst they were engaging in a discussion at our kitchen table one fateful night. But before we get to the specifics of the curious comment, allow me to tell you a little bit about the speaker in question...

His name was Turbish. That's what everyone called him--Turbish, just Turbish. Years later, I finally found out that his first name was "Rowland"--which may well explain things. Anyway, he worked alongside my dad in the kitchen of the Suffolk County Infirmary, and was around my house, on and off, pretty much my entire young life. Even in the days after my dad passed on and I had the family manse dropped unceremoniously into my hands, Turbish would drop by unannounced. He was a nice enough fella, I suppose, though, frankly, he never really related to me as a kid. Nonetheless, I always found him sort of amusing. He spoke rapidly, always as if he were out of breath, AND in a high pitched voice! Picture, if you would, a cross between Ed Norton (NOT the actor, young people, but the patron saint of all sewer workers..,) and Barney Fife, and THAT'D be a decent approximation of good ol' Turbish! And for someone who long ago had let go of the notion of employing a first name, he had this amusing affectation of referring to my dad as "Mr. Fred"! He was prone to exaggeration, but on that early fall day back in 1960, I was too young, too naive--and dare I say it?--too STUPID to know the difference between hyperbole and reality. And friends, it cost me. The price? My peace of mind (small as it may've been...)

Y'see, there they sat, yammering on and on about the upcoming election, and as usual, Turbish was doing the vast majority of the lip-flapping. Dad would occasionally interject a comment or two, generally to lower the exasperation level of the conversation, if for no other reason. He well knew his colleague's proclivities, and always had a bucketful of salt at the ready. But to me, this fast talking, shrill, bespeckled man was an adult, and at that point in my social development, I took everything an adult said as gospel. Everything...

So imagine if you will my alarmed reaction when I chanced to hear THIS prime bon mot:

"Mr. Fred, I'm telling you, if Kennedy and the democrats get into the White House, the Russians'll drop the bomb on us all by Thanksgiving!!"

The bomb? That would be one of the atomic variety, the likes of which we'd long practiced avoiding by--good plan!--crawling down under our desks at school. And the Russians? Communists, and America's sworn enemy. We always seemed to be on the brink of total annihilation back in them good ol' days, so, by golly, the high-pitched words of doom and devastation emanating from Mr. Turbish's lips (kids still addressed adults as "Mr." in those long gone times, for those of you who came in late... ) didn't sound all that absurd. Not by a long shot.

Of course, they had no clue I'd been eavesdropping, and being the sort of family we were--i.e., minimal communication, if that--I certainly didn't ask for further clarification from anyone. Nope, I just kept it to myself and worried. And rooted desperately--DESPERATELY, I tell ya!--for the man destined to one day be known as "Tricky Dick" to win, win, WIN! Barring that, I consoled myself with the notion that, even with the awful possibility of imminent destruction awaiting us everyone just before the Thanksgiving turkey could be carved, I WAS, at least, guaranteed one last, glorious Halloween!...

Okay, so maybe I didn't lose any actual sleep over the loose-lipped remark my shell-like ears had chanced upon, but even forty years later, I can still recall the overriding sense of dread I carried with me for over a month, as I internalized my own private countdown to doomsday. I did share my concerns with a close friend, who told me the whole thing was just a bunch of hooey (kids still said stuff like that in those days...). Of course, HIS parents were Democrats, so how could I truly trust anything they said? Weren't they the problem, after all?...

No, the problem turned out to be my own gullibility. I went out Trick or Treating that Halloween and partied like it was, well, 1959, and then I held my breath as the adults went to the polls on the first Tuesday of November. The election? It was a close one, mighty close, but I think you all remember how it turned out. Yup, Nixon lost. No turkey for me--or anyone else in our soon-to-be-demolished democracy. But...

Then Thanksgiving DID come after all! AND it was followed in rapid succession by not only Christmas, New Year's Eve and Day, the JFK Inauguration, but perhaps MOST importantly of all, my very own Birthday towards the end of January 1961! Glory be--I'd made it to age eight! Heck, we'd ALL made it!! Who'd a thot? I thereby learned a great and valuable lesson--political pundits, whether they're smartly dressed on a Sunday morning talk show or sitting around your kitchen in their work clothes, the general rule of thumb is that they don't actually know what they're talking about, they just SOUND like they do!!

Well, as fate would have it, I soon became a big JFK fan--how could I not? Mort Weisinger seemed to feature him in just about every other issue of one of those fabulous Superman Family comics I had only recently started buying and collecting. And a few years later, when things really DID go sour--a little thing known as the Cuban Missile Crisis, history buffs--I remained blissfully and steadfastly unconcerned. After all, I'd already been through this drill, hadn't I? You people weren't gonna fool me TWICE! Little did I realize just HOW close the sky actually came to falling that particular time, but by then I was fully convinced of Kennedy's extraordinary governing abilities. Even my parents and the excitable Mr. Rowland--G.O.P. lifers all--gravitated toward the charismatic young chief executive in those so-called days of Camelot.

As for Mr. Dick, the man I so desperately wished to be1960's winner--if only to assure my further existence on this happy little planet--well, come 1968, let's just say my attitudes had, um, changed somewhat. At THAT point it was my equally desperate wish was for Nixon to LOSE, again so as to guarantee my remaining existence on this not-always-so-happy little planet for the then foreseeable future.

But that, folks, is ANOTHER story!...

Vote! Because, hey, you might as well.

November 3rd, 2003


Back in the seventies, Tony Isabella created DC Comics first headlining African-American super-hero, Black Lightning. Since that time, the character has slipped in and out of DC's own land of limbo, occasionally being put through his paces by his originator, though more often than not, not. Apparently, there's been some ongoing conflict between the company and the creator over the years concerning the handling of Jefferson Pierce, a/k/a Black Lightning. Fact is, Tony issued a rather lengthy statement recently regarding what he considers to be DC's latest botched take on their pre-eminent black hero. You can read it by petting your mouse here.

Now, I wouldn't really know all about this brouhaha--though I can certainly sympathize with Tony's distress at seeing his baby mistreated so cavalierly. It's been a while now since I was truly up on what's been transpiring in the DC Universe, and maybe even longer since I truly cared, to be honest with you. So the status of Black Lightning is not something I'm prepared to take a pop quiz on. But I AM fascinated with the History of Comics--which to me means pretty much everything that's happened up to and (maybe) including WATCHMEN and DARK KNIGHT--so when I came across THIS intriguing little tidbit slipped unceremoniously into Tony's manifesto, regarding heretofore uncharted details concerning DC's initial plans to launch a much different black costumed character, well, my eyebrows raised themselves up to their utmost height--and then some!...

"I created Black Lightning because DC couldn't. Their idea of a black super-hero was a white bigot who took part in experiments to help him blend into the jungle better and who turned into a black man in times of stress. I talked them out of publishing that book and created Black Lightning."

Wow!! And I'd always thought rejected model sheets of the clumsily monikered "Coal Tiger", striped pants legs and all, were tremendously lame. Reading the above however, gives me a new-found respect for Jack Kirby's precursor to the more dignified Black Panther! Geez, compared to DC's prospective attempt at an African-American hero (who wouldn't actually be, y'know, AFRICAN...), Marvel's Coal Tiger would've easily been in line for a prestigious award from the NAACP!

And just WHO, I wonder, dreamt up the above conflict-ridden--but problem-laden--scenario? Well, I certainly can't say for certain, but there IS one name that, unavoidably, comes screaming to mind: Bob Kanigher!! Tell me I'm wrong Tony!! (...Bob Haney, maybe?...)

In fact, I'm dying to hear all about this preposterous proposal, but maybe Tony would be wise to hold off on filling in any more of the details--at least for now. Seems to me, this might provide Mr. I with a pretty formidable bargaining chip. Either DC consults with him before using Black Lightning, or Tony could choose to go to the public--or better yet, to the Reverend Al Sharpton!!--with a full and dubious disclosure concerning the cockeyed concoction alluded to above!

Okay, so maybe that approach WON'T work--the idea of shaming a large corporation is, sadly, an outdated and outmoded one. Still, a little payback is good for the soul (so says a fellow by the name of Satan, speaking of souls...), AND you would be filling in a fascinating and as yet unwritten chapter in the History of Comics, y'know? So Tony, feel free to spill the WHOLE story of DC's almost-first black super-hero, okay? And if you want to do it here, hey, all the better!

We'd all love to hear it, WHATEVER the forum.

...heh heh...


November 2nd, 2003


Here's the Fright Night wrap-up:

Julie's friend, Courtney, came home on the bus with her Friday afternoon, and about 45 minutes later, Lisa and her pal Samantha arrived at 4 o'clock, with Deanna following not long after. I was dispatched shortly thereafter to pick up some pies for the girls at the local Pizza Hut, and before you could Count from "Dracula" to "Yorga", we were all happily chowing down on them. The kids didn't actually eat all that much, though, as they were undoubtedly more excited at the prospect of darkness falling than their tummies filling...

Courtney wore a black cape, with white and red face make-up the focus of her vampiress outfit. Similarly, black hues predominated Deanna's Gothic Princess and Sam's Daughter of Satan's get-ups. Lisa, however, took the exact opposite tack as a colorfully clothed Hawaiian Hula Girl. Julie? Well, she donned a red jacket, a black hat, one glove, and a whole lotta white face make-up in an effort to approximate the look of, yes, the seemingly omnipresent Michael Jackson. After documenting their assumed roles with both video and still cameras, Lynn and I sent the girls off into the night at the rather surprisingly early hour of 5:15 (while they were unable to co-ordinate things with the neighboring sisters, Christina and Elizabeth, we all did manage to see them before the evening was over).

This unprecedented start-up time had a lot to do with the sheer exuberance of having the opportunity to head out Trick or Treating with a formidable conglomeration of peers, with the nexus of all the antic activities, natch, originating at our house. It didn't hurt the situation that this was a the mildest Halloween in memory, with temperatures reaching into the upper 60s during the daylight hours, a veritable heat wave for our bucolic little upstate New York area this time of year, believe you me. Why, we even managed to keep the outer door open all night, leaving only the screen between us and our creepily costumed visitors, a first for any of the October 31sts we've spent at this particular address.

Our total of Halloweeners was way up from last year. We had 32 knock at our door, spread over 12 different groups (though two kids were apparently out solo) (which to me is a really sad notion, but let's not get into that...), with the first two checking in at 6:10, and the last three hours later at 9:42. Meanwhile, Julie's coven found their way through the darkened streets several blocks away down to the nearby trailer park, and amassed large quantities of candy working their way around a small, centralized area. I wish we'd thought of this tack back in the days when I was still actively involved, but this detour was in fact a recent brainstorm that had grown out of selling Girl Scout cookies the last two years in this self-same area--just AFTER I'd been "retired" from hitting the road on Halloween nights. Oh well. The important thing is that when the girls came back to our house around 7 o'clock, each one was dragging in an overflowing bag full of goodies. They then all proceeded to empty out their hard-earned sweets, grab a drink, maybe hit the powder room, and--most amazingly, since these were mere 13 year olds, after all--each greedily took a turn plopping their weary feet into the heated, swirling, water-filled foot massager I'd gotten Lynn as a gift some years back! To hear these girls moan and complain about their sore, fatigued little piggies makes one wonder just how they'll sound when they're REALLY old?!? Y'know--like maybe MY age?!?...

Anyway, back out they went at 7:30 to haunt the streets for another fear-filled hour of fun, stopping in again one last time for a pit-stop at 8:30. Ten minutes later, they were off for a last hurrah--or was that, BOO-rah?-- eventually slinking back to our house roundabouts 9:15. By all indications, the five girls had had a terror-ific evening! Hey, look--any Halloween that ends WITHOUT being escorted home by the local police has got to be considered successful, and this one was all that and more!! I drove three of the girls who lived nearby home a short time later, while Courtney's dad came to pick her up soon thereafter.

Y'know, as much as I'd missed going out Trick or Treating with Julie the previous year, I was much more at peace with staying in and letting her have her own fun this year. After all, Halloween's even more thrilling when your friends are around to share it with, and that's clearly what happened this October. Besides, I really couldn't see myself tagging along with THIS group! Dad's place, it seems, is now and forevermore, in the home, no doubt about it. But the most important thing was, Julie and her bewitched buddies had, in their own words, "the best Halloween ever!!"--and who am I to quibble with sentiments like that?

But the Fall festivities weren't QUITE over when Julie finally hit the sack at 11 o'clock that night. After getting up to play an away game with our soccer team the next morning--we lost, 3-0, with many of the players suffering from what I could only term as a "Halloween Hangover"--we readied ourselves for a Girl Scout field trip out to a local farm to see the animals, shoot apples at a crudely painted picture of Saddam Hussein (...don't ask...), and most importantly, wander aimlessly around in their large cow-shaped corn maze for several hours, well past sundown. Oboy--more walking! All 7 members of the troop went, in addition to 3 moms, one little sister, and Lynn and I. It might've been more effective an outing a week earlier--they had costumed teens jumping out and scaring folks in those pre-31st days, but no longer--though it still proved to be a whole lot of fun for all. And when it was all over and we were back home, comfortably in front of the good ol' tube at 9:30 Saturday evening, I was more than ready to exhale, a well-deserved "Whew!" escaping from my lips. The shriek-season was over.

Now, finally, it's time to put Halloween to rest for another year. Give me a couple of weeks to catch my breath, okay?

THEN, folks, it's on to Christmas!!

HO HO HO!!!...

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