Archive: October 2004

Who Fred? Links-a-Plenty!
October 31st, 2004
...from the Vampire, the Witch, the Ghost, and (shudder)....
...the CLOWN!!

Yup, it's good ol' Julie, back when she was adorable! Not that she still isn't, mind you, but somehow, when teenagers merely open their mouths, they oft times manage to destroy the illusion, dig?

The many faces of our daughter, ages three through six. I was searching around for some later pics of her subsequent October 31st get-ups, but they all seem to be residing safely hidden away on about a dozen or so rolls of yet undeveloped film, rolls that've been mounting up, unattended to for years and years now. Sigh. We're nothing if not disorganized in these parts, sad to say. My vow is to get them all taken care of, if only to have something to run here NEXT year!

It'll be a tradition, y'know? Like re-reading a LITTLE LULU HALLOWEEN Giant, listening to the soundtrack to "The Bride of Frankenstein", and putting "The Monster Mash" track on repeat in the CD player, literally driving our motley group of Trick or Treaters out the door and on their way!

And speaking of traditions, howsabout we try re-reading THIS wacky little holiday tale each and every year on this special day? You folks new to the site might want to check it out, too--it's a true life tale of homo-eroticism between cartoonists who are, all the while, wearing gaudy costumes! Told in the best of taste, naturally...

A final word:
October 30th, 2004
Although this is probably a topic for an entirely different entry, the plain truth is that I hardly read new comics any more. At all.

Oh, I kept up the pretense of ordering quite a number of titles over the last three or four years, hoping that someday, when both the time appeared and the desire returned, I'd dive happily headlong into the piles (and piles and piles) of amassed and unopened books--but a few short months ago, a painful truth finally hit me:

It ain't gonna happen. I'd have to live as long as Vandal Savage to put a dent in the books I already have, much less the ones that continue to flood the market, so my regular order of standard size books has shrunk to less than a dozen a month. Yes, that's not exactly going cold turkey, but from someone who was collecting—and slogging through as best he could--nearly ALL the books Marvel and DC were publishing each month as recently as a decade ago, that's still a significant reduction.

Now, as you might've caught from that earlier Flashy reference, I haven't turned my back ENTIRELY on the form. Far from it. I love reading ABOUT comics—old ones, anyway--and there are plenty of magazines and books out there serving that particular need. Plus, the ever-increasing library of DC Archives, and other fancy-shmancey reprints, always make for a decidedly pleasant read, as do many of those wonderful old books nestled away downstairs in one long box after another.
Which is all by way of a long-winded introduction to an explanation as to why I own a near complete collection of Batton Lash's wonderful SUPERNATURAL LAW series (and it's several limited series offshoots as well), but haven't read but the first handful. Hey, Bat ol' buddy, don't feel TOO insulted—y'know those celebrated ABC Comics written and created by Alan Moore? Got 'em all, each and every one. Read two. Issues, NOT series. Blissfully, you share good company in my ignorance...

I DID read Batton's delightful ARCHIE MEETS THE PUNISHER book years back, and have publicly declared it my favorite Punisher story of all time—which, despite sounding like faint praise, doesn't detract one iota from the sheer good fun I experienced when I was sitting down to read that oddest of team-ups. That achievement alone qualified Mr. Lash to be a creator well worth following. Or, as they way things ultimately played out, collecting...
Now, I happen to know Bat reads this blog upon occasion, and he's even very kindly sent me some of his comics over the years. But, being self-trained in the fine art of anal retentiveness, I just couldn't bring myself to read those recent issues of SUPERNATURAL LAW that came my way several months back without first going back and plowing through all the ones I'd been squirrelling away, unopened. And folks, sad to say, THAT weren't happenin', believe you me...

But then, yesterday, I walked out to the mailbox, and found a package waiting for me from Exhibit A Press. When I opened it up, I found two issues of SUPERNATURAL LAW inside, and I must shamefacedly admit to having been more than mildly confused at first—one had a large “101” under the regular logo, and my first thought was, “”Wow—they're past the century mark? I really HAVEN'T been paying close attention, have I?...” I soon realized my mistake—I had in my hands a special issue, one that revealed previously unrecorded aspects of main characters Alanna Wolf and Jeff Byrd's backstory, set during the days when they first met while attending law school. “101”, y'see, was meant to indicate the nature of the setting, NOT the number of amassed issues, even if this stand alone story was published to celebrate the series tenth anniversary. Heh. A quick peek at the OTHER comic enclosed—SUPERNATURAL LAW #40—would've quickly told the tale, if I hadn't been so easily confused. Simple math would've indicated that there were sixty intermediate issues between these two in hand curiously uncounted for, and THAT sure didn't make any sense, did it?

Neither, I finally decided, did my reluctance to read these comics just because I'd fallen a bit, ah, behind in following this worthy series. Hey, if I could throw off years and years of ingrained notions about collecting (at least, to some extent), then maybe I could do the same regarding my set-in-stone reading habits. Besides, it was two days before Halloween—what BETTER time to sit down and enjoy a pair of SUPERNATURAL LAW issues? So I did—and I'm here to report that I'm sure glad I did!
These are VERY good comic books, people. Utilizing the unlikely premise of a pair of lawyers using the legal system to defend the likes of vampires. ghosts, ghouls, and assorted monsters, writer/artist Lash tells stories imbued with gentle humor, well-constructed plots, and surprisingly sympathetic and involving characters—even the ones that tend to act up a tad under the shining light of a full moon.

The “101” special is a perfect introduction for the new (or, ahem, lapsed) reader, nicely bringing the two lead characters together to find justice for a pair of spirit-filled spirits, lifting a curse put on the couple by one “Jay Taycee”! (Bat knows his comics, and sprinkles his scripts with sly pop culture wink-wink, nudge-nudges that never get in the way but always bring a quiet smile to the knowledgeable reader).
The fortieth issue, while replete with references to recent events of past issues, nonetheless was structured to work entirely on its own. Even though I was unfamiliar with the background of certain characters, I was still able to fully understand and enjoy the episode—not bad, considering it was narrated by a BUILDING!?! Yup, in a very Eisnerish move, Batton has “13 Court Street” (also the tales title) tell the story. Fact is, one can quickly pick up on a very distinct Will Eisner influence merely by perusing these two issues. Lash's storytelling echoes some of the Master's more recent work with its easy yet clear and precise breakdowns. Some of the characters even look like they might've stepped out of one of Eisner's post-Spirit productions, but at no time is the art a slavish imitation of the legendary trendsetting cartoonist. No, instead, Lash has clearly learned from Eisner, applying lessons learned to great success in his own work—and this goes for his writing as well.

Yeah, SUPERNATURAL LAW is one fine comic all right. And if I were in the habit of reading new comics on any sort of regular basis, well, this would most certainly be up near the top of the list. In the meantime, I DO have all those back issues waiting for me, but if YOU have the time and inclination to be reading the new stuff as it comes out, I'd thoroughly recommend you give the offbeat adventures of Wolf and Byrd a try if by some inexplicable error in judgement you haven't already.

In the meantime, I'm waiting for that highly anticipated SUPERNATURAL LAW/PUNISHER team-up that I just KNOW will knock the electrodes out've my neck!...
October 29th, 2004
There we all are: Julie the Scarecrow, Fred the Tin Man, Lynn as Dorothy, and, of course, Bert Lahr in the role of the Cowardly Lion...

This fantastical photo op was just a small part of a fun-filled Halloween celebration thrown by my wife's local IBM branch last night, and I thought I'd take the opportunity to share it with you, all as part of a prelude to today's REAL entry: a not-so-happy Halloween tale that I decided to install over in the Life Story section of this site. You might want to go take a look, if only to view one of the few existing pictures of Mom, Dad, and Little Freddy Hembeck, circa 1980.

If nothing else, it'll help take your mind off of the bogey man--aka Osama Bin Laden.

Geez, NICE timing....
October 28th, 2004
Congratulations to the World Champion Boston Red Sox!

With their dominating four game sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals successfully completed last night, they've FINALLY thrown off the stifling weight of that 86 year-old monkey known as "The Curse of the Bambino". Yup, the sale of the legendary Babe Ruth to the rival New York Yankees back in 1920 has FINALLY lifted it's mystical mojo, allowing star-crossed Bosox fans some small amount of happiness for the first time in literally generations.

But even high falutin' hoodoo doesn't operate in a vacuum, y'know, so where exactly did all that supernatural energy go to anyway?

Simple: into the cozy confines of the House That Ruth Built, of course! Friends, welcome to advent of "The Curse Of A Rod"!!

Alex Rodriguez is this era's Ruth, baseball's all around best player (or so this National League fan has been told--over and over and over again in years past, without actually viewing his American League based heroics on anything resembling a regular basis...). Last winter, eagerly hoping to escape the Texas Rangers' customary second-tier finishes, a blockbuster deal was fashioned that would've turned the Hall of Fame-bound shortstop into a Fenway Park regular. But, when you're a super-duper star like A Rod, moving your obscenely massive contract from one venue to another isn't the easiest of tasks. So, negotiations between the two teams--as well as the Player's Union and the Commissioner's office--dragged on for literally over a month, as all of New England held their collective breath, wishing, hoping, and praying that their new savior would sashay in and provide the organization with the spark that would FINALLY land the Bosox at the top of the baseball pile.

And then, due to complicated financial concerns, the deal fell through. Dead. Done. Finito. A Rod was still a Texas Ranger, and all indications were that'd be the way he'd stay.

Until the Yankees third baseman, Aaron Boone, fessed up to damaging his ankle playing a pick-up basketball game over the winter, necessitating surgery that'd bench him for the entire upcoming 2004 season, and suddenly the Mighty Yanks had a glaring hole in their nigh invincible batting order.

So, George Steinbrenner did what he always does--opens his checkbook, and buys himself a new slugger, in this case, the otherwise elusive A Rod. The dropping jaws--and sinking hearts--of Red Sox Nation was clearly indicative of the stunning, sheer speed with which the turtlenecked owner put HIS deal together! So close to being a potential Yankee slayer, A Rod was now a damned Yankee! And playing at an unfamiliar position, to boot! Oh, the woe, the woe!

But you know what? After A Rod left the Seattle Mariners, they got better. After he left the Rangers, they too improved. and after he "left" the Red Sox--well, you read the morning papers, today, didn't you?

Don't misunderstand--by all accounts, Rodriguez is a decent, likable individual. His first season in pinstripes was, by his mile-high standards, decent, if not outstanding. And he played well in the first round of playoffs against the Minnesota Twins. But against the Sox, well...

After inadvertantly reigniting the Red Sox mid-season during a meeting between the hated rivals by starting a bench clearing brawl with catcher Jason Varitek, he extinguished the Yankees' final, real chance at salvaging their pride--and escaping Steinbrenner's wrath--when he killed their late rally in game six of the ALCS with his infamous--and ill-advised--attempt to slap the ball out of Boston pitcher Arrayo's glove as he raced him down the line to first base. For a brief, blood-chilling moment there, the call went against the Bosox, and audible groans could be heard all across the Eastern Seaboard. It looked as if The Curse still lived, and another inglorious finish awaited the jinxed team.

But then, a miracle occurred--the umpires conferred, and reversed the call of safe. A Rod was out, not standing down on second representing the tying run, and Derek Jeter was sent back to first, not sitting happily in the dugout, having just scored. And perhaps most importantly, there were two outs, not one.

The Curse lived, all right, but I contend it was the new-fangled Curse of A Rod, not of the ancient one hosted by the Bambino. That very eve, the torch had finally been passed.

Only time will tell if I'm right. Only time will tell if the Yankees will be denied another World's Championship due to their association with A Rod. Only time will tell what the fates have in store for the Bronx Bombers, but if the Big Man above (and I'm NOT talkin' Steinbrenner here) has any sense of irony at all, it'll be quite awhile before the Yanks ride down the canyons of Manhattan in one of those once-annual victory parades that always messed up my stories when the pre-empted local afternoon programming.

Tell you what--check back here in say, oh, 86 years or so, and we'll see how my prescient li'l prediction made out, okay?...
October 27th, 2004

John Stanley is generally associated with creepy things like witches, ghouls, and ghosts (clothed or not) due to his masterminding (laying out and writing) a series of fondly remembered Halloween specials starring the pint-sized cast of Marge's “Little Lulu” and issued by Dell Comics (and then, later, Gold Key) during the late fifties and early sixties. You might, in fact, recall the revealing peek of same I gave you all yesterday...

But beyond that, Stanley was responsible for perhaps the only genuine horror comics to be afforded four-color printing in that otherwise free-wheeling, happening decade known as the sixties. That he achieved this feat by working within the confines set by his otherwise squeaky cleanminded “Lulu” masters is nothing short of remarkable. Dell, you'll recall, haughtily pronounced themselves exempt from and all but above the stifling Comics Code Authority restrictions that were otherwise universally—and yes, somewhat cravenly—accepted field wide in the mid-fifties.

But there was never any real concern that the firm might step over the line—at least, not until 1962, when the company issued their TALES FROM THE TOMB giant one-shot, as well as the first issue of the ongoing GHOST STORIES title. Stanley, amping up the macabre imagination that made his evocative Witch Hazel stories-within-the-stories so memorable in little Ms. Moppet's title over the years, managed, even without the overt gore that was the downfall of the fifties terror boom, to nonetheless instill genuine goosebumps in readers lulled into complacency by the bland creature features they were accustomed to find within the pages of contemporary HOUSE OF MYSTERY issues and the like.

I wasn't one of those readers.

Nope, I totally missed both books when they first took up rack space. And it's a good thing, too—Stanley's frenzied fables might've been just a wee bit too much for this easily frightened nine year old! I DID manage to read both comics many, many years later, however (thanks to my good pal, Rocco Nigro), at which time I had absolutely no trouble understanding the legend that had built up around them over time. With nary a drop of blood in sight, Stanley still instilled a constant sense of uneasiness in his audience. Not so simple a task, as a comparison with some of the later, decidedly tepid issues of GHOST STORIES will painfully demonstrate (to the best of my knowledge, Stanley only worked on that epochal first issue). To be sure, there are many creepy tales to be found in these two books, but one in particular that stands out is “The Monster of Dread End...”

But, rather than attempt some overheated, hyberbole-laden recap, I suggest that, if I've at all peaked your interest in our subject de jour, you simply go off and read the tale for yourself. That's right—this entire classic is available for your personal panting perusal, accompanying as it does the October 31st, 2002 entry over at Scott Shaw's delightful Oddball Comics site! Go. Read. And if you're not totally inured to the quiet thrill of a gore-free dose of the heebie-jeebies, you'll have a fine old time!
But, if you DO like your scares a tad bit more gruesome, there IS a fascinating alternative: artist Pete Von Sholly, a devoted John Stanley booster if there ever was one, has created his very own version entitled “Dread End”--done by remarkably utilizing photographs, skillfully manipulated to set reality and fantasy on a mind-bendingly unique collision course!

While he sticks to the gist of his revered source material, it isn't a straight panel-by-panel aping of the original. True, several of the later sequences involving the monster spectacularly mirror their hand-drawn inspiration, but his lead up to the lead character's cornered conflict with the awful beast is more concise (and features a grisly visit from a dead relative that Stanley didn't dare attempt four decades back), while giving the reader a more ambiguous, far less comfortable ending Plus, where the tale's potential victim was armed with a whistle back in '62, his twenty-first century stand-in is equipped instead with a cell-phone! Not surprisingly, neither object is of any actual use in cutting short either of the poor guy's dangerous dilemmas.

Von Sholly's work on this updated reinterpretation is a lot of fun, especially to those of us familiar with the original (which by now, should be everybody, right?), so let me heartily recommend this fearsomely glitzed up fumetti.

What's that? WHERE exactly can you find this gem, you ask? Well, I was getting to that, worry not. That's almost a topic in and of itself, y'see, as it appeared in the 12th issue of a superb magazine focusing on the shadowy side of comics history, FROM THE TOMB.
With the absolute overabundance of comics-themed periodicals, I'd unfairly ignored FROM THE TOMB until I saw a special issue devoted to the illustrious EC Comics group listed in my monthly Diamond Previews catalog. So, I decided to throw caution to the wind (as well as $5.95, minus the standard MEC Comics 30% discount) and order a copy. It took only a quick glance through the Gaines-oriented issue—number 11—to immediately assure me that it was indeed money well spent, and I guarantee you that I don't plan to miss any future issues, that's for sure!
FROM THE TOMB is a handsome magazine published in the U. K., the brainchild of monster maven Peter Normanton. The trio of issues that I own weigh in at 52 magazine size pages each, with inner and outer color covers, and an eight page color insert in the middle. Reams of informatively opinionated text—small, like in those superior British music mags I love so much—share space with scads of well chosen cover and panel reproductions, drawn from the entire history of four-color fear, but with a special emphasis on the gore glut of the early fifties. Throw in the related excesses of that era's crime and romance comics, and brother, you've got MY attention! I've always been intrigued by those wild pre-code days, and any time a bright light is thrown on some of the smaller, more delightfully disreputable publishers, I'm there in a heartbeat!
In the latest, 13th issue, for instance, there's a marvelously morbid article rounding up a score of hapless villains and heroes alike depicted on covers and interior panels meeting their flaming finishes sitting on the hot seat (otherwise known as the electric chair)! Then, perhaps to slow down your palpitating heart just a tad, there's a detailed overview of celebrated artist Matt Baker's latter day romance art. And just to get that blood flowing again, there's a short piece on cat-fights, showcasing seven prime cover examples, all in color—and animal lovers, please note that I'm NOT talkin' felines here! Plus, there's some reviews, brief articles on the Warren line and artist Hank Chapman, and a short original horror story. You may not love 'em all, but there's more than enough variety to please most anybody--and for the price, you're sure to get your money's worth, no doubt about it!
So, HOW do you get it? Well, your better comic shops hopefully order it through good ol' Diamond Distributors, but issues, both past, present, and future, are available from the publisher across the pond as well. The address is 619 Whitworth Road, Lower Healey, Rochdale, Lanes, England, OL12 0TB, or you can email head honcho for more details. Tell 'im Fred sent you!

As for that other Pete, well, just yesterday he announced a brand new project, one totally opposite in mood and tenor from his Stanley scarefest—his very own riotously ribald super hero, one who answers to the attention drawing name of “The Flying F---”!

(And as a side note to my old college, comics lovin' buddy, Charlie Johnson, no, you're fanciful creation, The Flying Frog, HASN'T finally come to life, pal!)

But from what little I've seen of Pete's new protagonist, he surely bears watching. Just like little Iggy down there bares, well, you know...
October 26th, 2004

Looks like they're having ANOTHER raucous Halloween party at the Neverland ranch.
October 25th, 2004
With but a single week left in the campaign, it's getting near time that I finally make a choice between the two candidates, isn't it?

For the longest time, I just naturally assumed that my vote would be cast for John Kerry, but that was before I received some startling news--ANOTHER hat (or shrunken head, more likely) had been belatedly thrown into the ring.

That's right, citizens--Brother Voodoo is running for President, and he has the requisite website to prove it! How can I, of all people, turn my back on my old friend Jericho Drumm during his dramatic ascension into the horror fraught field of American politics? After all, isn't it about time we don't have a President we want to stick pins in, but instead one who'll confidentially be the one to DO the sticking? Brother Voodoo--the Loa and order candidate!

(Okay, okay--I'm not gonna go all Nader on you. I'll vote for Kerry, sure, but it still couldn't hurt to take a minute to examine the Bro's platform, y'know?...)
Onto other seasonal topics.

You might recall my detailed recitation of the myriad problems we recently encountered while having a new waterline attached to our house (and as an aside, the news continues to be grim: earlier today, we were bummed to discover that the oil company would be unable to rehook up our old, underground tank without a massive--and costly--effort to uncaulk the old line, so we WON'T be able to burn off the fuel in it as we had hoped soon after we realized--but had already at that point installed a new tank in the garage-that it WASN'T in the way of the prospective waterline repairs. So, we eat that oil--though, not literally, I hope!...).

Anyway, with our lawn all torn asunder, daughter Julie got the bright idea to transform the upturned soil into a makeshift graveyard in honor of Halloween! So, the other day, I drove Julie and her good pal, Lisa, to the local dollar store, and for less than five bucks, came home with a trio of Barbie doll knockoffs. Once in their laboratory--aka sitting at our dining room table--the little darlin's gleefully dismembered the perky plastic figurines, and then went out front, proceeding to bury the various limbs, torsos, and heads amongst the loose dirt, turning three pint-sized debutantes into an army of clawing, desperate zombies, grasping for air as they dig their way out of their apparently premature mass grave!

Oh, and we have a pumpkin, too.

And one last note--the other day, I ran some pages from a vintage DC romance comic featuring some vintage celebrities. Site watcher Jim Salicrup had this to say about an unlikely pairing of two of said notables:

I still haven't seen Ron Ely's Doc Savage (except for a few bits and pieces), but I remember liking his Tarzan TV show as a kid.  Surprisingly, I never would've been able to connect Lainie Kazan to comics (like to see her team up with Ron Ely as Ka-Zar?) until now. 

Kazan and Ka-Zar, get it? Because Ely played Tarzan, and Ka-Zar was a jungle man rip-off, and...

Uh oh--I think I hear the voodoo drums. Time to go...
October 24th, 2004
Although John Stanley 's LITTLE LULU were the comics more rightfully identified with the 31st of October, with half a dozen Dell Giant Halloween Specials issued during the late fifties and early sixties, the talented team of Fred Toole (words) and Al Wiseman (pictures) proved with their seasonal entry in 1965's triple-sized DENNIS THE MENACE ALL YEAR 'ROUND collection (page one pictured above) that, given the opportunity, they could cook up just as tasty an All Hallow's Eve Treat themselves--and friends, that's no trick!

As you might've read, poor ol' Mrs. Wilson inexplicably forgot to load up on candy to pass out on for every kid's favorite night, but it's her hubby's overly grumpy reaction to this unfortunate turn of events that places him squarely in line for a little Halloween mischief. Dennis, y'see, informs his peeps that, due to the Wilson's stiffing them, they're then duty bound to pull a trick on them--even though it'll be a first for the group.

Reluctant at first, the gang soon warms up to the notion of replicating one of dad Henry Mitchell's legendary childhood antics--specifically, they plan to disengage the Wilson's wooden front gate from their fence and subsequently place it up on candy bereft couple's roof! Dressed as they are, the little devils seem decidedly ill-equipped to pull off their planned prank--until Dennis comes up with the bright idea of borrowing the necessary screwdriver, ladder, and rope from none other than good ol' Mr. Wilson himself!

Wrongly assuming the pint-sized pest is gathering these items for some chore to be undertaken by the elder Mitchell, the long-suffering next door neighbor begrudgingly--and unknowingly--assists his nemesis in the hoisting of his own petard. Or, more literally,of his own front gate! Well, Martha soon hears a suspicious noise on the roof, and when she sends George goes out to investigate, he curiously pulls on the rope that hangs lazily over the side of the roof.

Yup, it ALL comes tumbling down, practically decapitating the stunned old geezer in the process--and totally ruining the gate in any event! He's plenty steamed, and righteously so, but his ever calm spouse has an answer for him
Not surprisingly, that explanation doesn't even begin to settle the cranky coot down, and before you know it, HE'S unhinging the Mitchell's gate and putting it up on THEIR roof!! Mr. Wilson, despite outward appearances, apparently is in pretty good shape for a fellow his age.

Anyway, Henry and Alice catch him sitting up on their roof, and manage to quell his anger at their offspring by pointedly asking if HE'D ever played a Halloween trick when he was a kid.

Sure enough, he had, and the story ends with the three adults happily sitting at the kitchen table, drinking coffee as Mr. Wilson regales the Mitchells with the tale of how he and his punk pals once painted a guy's house SIX DIFFERENT COLORS! Knowing how impressionable her trouble-prone child is, Alice laughs nervously and says, "Oh NO! I hope Dennis never hears of THAT!"

But of course, unseen to the conversing trio, you-know-who is standing right outside the doorway, taking in every word, a look of delightful anticipation playing across his not quite innocent visage in this, the stories concluding panel!

Y'know, it's a darn shame Dennis and his crew were never given the chance to be the focal point of a full-blown Halloween extravaganza, as I'm certain Toole and Wiseman would've excelled in building an extended series of inter-related tales involving the trials and travails of a posse of young children--and their poor put-upon parents--roaming the suburban streets on Trick or Treat evening. If this story was any indication--with Toole building an escalating series of improbable but somehow believable events skillfully around Mr. Wilson's comedic bluster, aided by Wiseman's meticulous reproduction of a typical outer facade of a standard middle-class edifice of the era, all the while keenly maintaining the situation's inherent humor by joyously rendering the character's facial expressions and tell-tale body language perfectly--well, then we readers would surely have been in for quite a holiday treat! (Or have I used the "treat" reference one too many times already, ya think?...)

Of course, what the pair WERE duly noted for was a series of much beloved Christmas themed specials utilizing Hank Ketcham's blonde-haired brainchild, a subject I spoke about at length back last winter. You newcomers to the site might want to take a look at the piece, as it sheds some much needed light on a couple of creators who've been mostly--and unfairly--overlooked for far too many years. One of the fun things about maintaining a site like this is, you just never know who'll be reading it, and when! (Which is why you'll NEVER catch me saying anything bad about my neighbors!...). Case in point: the following recently received email...
Hello, Fred:

What a great tribute to Al Wiseman and Fred Toole…and long overdue from the industry.

I just happened to find your website as I was “Googling” Dennis The Menace.

Once I started reading your remembrances of the early DTM comic books, I had to forward your tribute to RON FERDINAND, the current Dennis Sunday artist, and to DOTTIE ROBERSON, Hank Ketcham’s secretary who still keeps the Ketcham office in Monterey, CA, running smoothly. Ron was impressed with your commentary on Fred and Al, and said it was a shame that “they” couldn’t read your kind, insightful comments about their work.

I, myself, took over the daily reigns from Mr. Ketcham back in ’94, after seeing him on TV saying that he would like to retire from the daily deadlines and commit more time to doing some oils and watercolor pieces.

I called him and said that if he were serious about retiring, I would love to have the opportunity to draw Dennis. I had been a freelance illustrator for magazines/book covers for 20 years, and computer graphics had put my career on the skids.

So when I saw the opportunity, I jumped on it.

Hank trained me, with daily critiques over the fax machine, to eventually take over the drawing of the dailies when he would retire. What a creative genius he was…and a diligent taskmaster. He had me drawing every panel over and over, before he would accept the finished piece. But what a thrill to be tutored by one of the all-time greats in “comicdom”. And the opportunity to take over his creation, and carry on the legacy of DTM is a blessing beyond description. And, Ron has a similar story of how his path crossed Hank’s, and his opportunity to take over the Sunday Dennis…pretty amazing!

Anyhow, I just wanted you to know that Ron and I both share your appreciation for the inspired writing of Fred Toole, and the brilliant, detailed illustrations of Al Wiseman.

Keep up the interesting perspective on cartooning and comic art!

Best regards,

Marcus Hamilton
Wow! Getting that note from one of Dennis's present day caretakers was quite a thrill! Who SAYS Googling is bad for you?

And then, sure enough, the following followed shortly thereafter...
Hi,Fred...Marcus passed along your note and I wanted to add my own applause to your great Toole/Wiseman piece. I started working for Hank in '81 and Fred Toole was still on board. I,along with Karen Donovan and Brian Lum, worked on the Dennis Marvel comic for its one year run. I came in about mid-year. Fred was a fantastic guy with lots of great stories about the business. I never met Al Wiseman, but living in Monterey,  met many people who knew him. He was truly a genius! I was also a huge Owen Fitzgerald fan, who,of course was the antithesis of Wiseman. I loved Fitzgerald's loose energetic boldness. They both seemed to represent the two ingredients of Hank own style. I, too,wish good ol' Fred could've seen your insightful appreciation of the Dennis comics. Actually, I get the feeling he's smiling down in gratitude for your introducing a whole new generation to his great work. Best, ron ferdinand
Both of these guys do a great job in carrying on in the Ketcham tradition, which you can easily see for yourself by going here. There's even some talk of a Dennis website in the near future, which would indeed be a welcome addition to the Internet.

Funny thing--I ALMOST met Ron Ferdinand about a year ago. My buddy, Joe Staton, was hosting an event gathering cartoonists together for the benefit of the then-recently established MoCCA organization in his home, and knowing my affection for the Dennis strip, told me that the feature's current Sunday page artist was going to be in attendance, and he'd have to introduce the two of us! Sounded like a good idea, no doubt about it, but you know how these things go sometimes--a house full of ink stained wretches, scarfing down free vittles and swilling complementary booze, all the while sharing industry gossip and/or complaints with any available sympathetic ear--it's easy to overlook such niceties as this prospective introduction. And it was. Oh well, maybe NEXT time, Ron...

One MoCCA man who WASN'T there was my old pal, Jim Salicrup, but he figures--however peripherally--in on my own single, fleeting chance to work on the celebrated Mitchell menace. Harken back if you will to the early nineties, back when Hollywood was poised to release a big budget Dennis the Menace movie, one with the esteemed Walter Matthau in the role of grumpy old Mr. Wilson (and NOT the straight to video sequel featuring the unlikely casting of Don Rickles in the role). I had only recently finished teaming up with Bret Blevins (pencils) and Terry Austin (inks) on a story that I wrote for the short-lived ARCHIE'S SUPER TEENS title that, happily, served as my heartfelt tribute to the great Bob Bolling Little Archie stories that I cherished in my youth (and ever since, truthfully).

I'm not sure whose idea it was, but all three of us--Bret, Terry, and myself--absolutely loved the work of Toole and Wiseman on those Silver Age Dennis comics, and with the movie imminent, we thought, hey, how about a comics tie-in? And since Marvel was the last company to hold the license, it only seemed logical to contact them about it. Who better to query but my then current editor (on MARVEL AGE and other assorted odds and ends), Jim Salicrup?

So I called him, suggested the notion of cashing in on the upcoming big screen release, and told him not to worry--the team of Hembeck, Blevins and Austin was ready and raring to go! The idea held some appeal to him, though he was concerned that we were maybe a bit too close to opening night to get a deal done, much less a full-blown comic. But he said he'd look into it, and so, for a while there, I nurtured the fantasy of being the latest--if not by any means the greatest--Fred to dream up comic book scenarios for the Mitchell clan...

But then reality hit. Nope, the Marvel bigwigs weren't interested. There'll be no new DENNIS THE MENACE comics coming from them, and sadly, by extension, from us. Sigh. It WAS a nice dream while it lasted...

Anyway, it hit me not long afterwards that had we indeed gone through with the project, they wouldn't have let us conjure up our own take on those beloved old Toole/Wiseman comics, but rather would've expected us to adapt the screenplay from the movie to the comics page, and, um, truth is, it wasn't all that great a story (Terry and I actually went to see it together in a mostly empty theater opening weekend, and we both grimaced when Christopher Lloyd took center stage as the queasily inappropriate Switchblade Sam. Writing dialog for that character would've been more a nightmare than a dream, lemme tell ya...)

(And speaking of dreams, wouldn't it've been neat if the great Jack Kirby could've been around to bring Don Rickles to life as Mr. Wilson for the sequels adaptation?...)

Dennis ultimately escaped Switchblade Sam's clutches--and mine as well--but he seems to be in fine hands currently thanks to Ron and Marcus. Now, if only someone somewhere could somehow mount a decent series luxuriously reprinting the best of the Toole/Wiseman era, well, THAT my friends would be a true delight!!

(What? You thought I was going to say "treat" again? Hah! Tricked you!...)
October 23rd, 2004
Back in the early sixties, it was monsters, monsters, monsters!

It was a fiendish frenzy created by the renewed popularity of the uber-classic Universal horror films of the thirties and forties, finding a new home on the small screen. One of the many off-shoots of this creature craze was TALES CALCULATED TO DRIVE YOU BATS (BATS for short), a short-lived--and unlikely--series from Archie Publications that commenced in mid-1961. I was there to buy all seven issues off the rack even though, at that point, I was much more into Archie Comics than I was into monsters.

Both illos in this pre-Halloween post come from the talented pen of Orlando Busino. Along with writer George Gladir, the artist had his name prominently displayed on the contents page of the first several issues, highly unusual for the time. While scripter Gladir remained a Riverdale based stalwart for decades to come, Busino's comic book work appears to be far more limited, being noted more for his gag cartoons in various and sundry magazines instead. As this bi-monthly mix of satire and shivers wore on, more and more of Goldwater's regulars turned up in its pages, including, not surprisingly,the legendary Dan DeCarlo.

An odd fact concerning BATS: while the rest of the four-color field was blatantly denied the use of vampires, werewolves and the undead due to the highly restrictive directives of the Comics Code Authority, BATS, no doubt due primarily to the obviously tongue in cheek manner in which they treated these otherwise undesirable characters, managed to get a pass and fill their pages with these hairy, toothsome, gauze-wrapped protagonists.

Personally, I just really adored this book, back in the days before I'd ever read a single issue of MAD magazine or viewed even one Universal flick. True, it devolved in its later issues to an uncomfortable mix of quasi-horror stories with little or no satirical elements, but the initial three issues do a note-perfect job in setting out to fulfill a distinctly unique goal and then doing so beautifully. A minor title, perhaps, but a good one...

Funnybooks weren't the only medium hopping on the hunchedback of the era's pervasive monster madness, as the pop music industry knew full well a good gimmick when they saw one. Decades later, Bobby "Boris" Pickett's "Monster Mash" is just about all that's remembered by most people, but that certainly wasn't the extent of the fiendish fad's influence on black vinyl . Nope, not hardly. Though mostly forgotten today, there came scads and scads of noxious novelty discs flooding the airwaves in the wake of the "Mash"s overwhelming sales success. Few made any real impact, true, but when listened to now, they provide a warmly nostalgic window back to a day when four chords and a bad Hungarian accent could get even an untalented group a record deal.

But you don't have to take my word for it, nosirree Bela! Just go to this website and download--for free, no less!--the following collection of oddities, rarities, and just plain insane little ditties!

1.Tarantula Ghoul and The Gravediggers - Graveyard Rock
2.Don Hinson and The Rigamorticians -
     Riboflavin-Flavored, Non-Carbonated, Polyunsatured Blood
3.Movie Trailer - Vampire Playgirls
4.Bobby Bare - Vampira
5.The Crewnecks - Rockin' Zombie
6.Griz Green - Jam At The Mortuary
7.Movie Trailer - Monsters Crash the Pajama Party
8.The MSR Singers - Monster Man
9.The Abominable Surfmen - Monster Surfer
10.Bobby 'Boris' Jones - Surfer Smash
11.Jupiter Jones - The Spook Spoke
12.Bob Mcfadden and Dor - I Dig You Baby
13.Movie Trailer - The Mind of Mr. Soanes
14.Albert DeSalvo - Strangler In The Night
15.Kenny and The Fiends - House on haunted hill
16.Winchell's Donut House Halloween Record -
     Hear The Monsters (Spooky Sounds and A Spooky Tale)
17.Buddy Morrow and His Orchestra - The Raven
18.The Modernaires - The Rockin' Ghost
19.Bob Rosengarden and Phil Kraus - Satan Takes a Holiday
20.Boris Karloff and Friends - Ha Ha Ha/The Bride Of Frankenstein
21.Movie Trailer - Brain Eaters
22.Groovie Goolies - Goolie Garden
23.Hap Palmer - Haunted House
24.Bruce Haack and Norman Bridwel - The Witch's Vacation
25.Sounds of Terror! - Burned at the Stake
26.Louise Heubner - Intro Orgies, A Tool Of Witchcraft
27.Marty Manning and His Orchestra - Night On Bald Mountain
28.Criswell - Someone Walked Over My Grave


1,Billy DeMarcus - Drac's Back
2.Movie Trailer - Ghost In The Invisible Bikini
3.Peter Pan Singers - Theme to Casper the Friendly Ghost
4.The Creatures - Mostly Ghostly
5.Tyrone A' Saurus and his Cro-Magnons - The Monster Twist
6.Mann Drake - Vampire's Ball
7 Movie Trailer - The Return of Count Yorga
8.The Hamburger Brothers - Omar The Vampire
9.The Zanies - The Mad Scientist
10.The Cool Ghoul - You Can't Ghoul Me
11.Ted Cassidy (music by Gary Paxton) - The Lurch
12.The Detergents - Igor's Cellar
13.The Milton the Monster Show - Theme Song
14.Movie Trailer - Graveyard Tramps
15.Cathy Mills - Monster Hop
16.Glen Ryle - Wolf Gal
17.Movie Trailer - Dr. Jeckyl and Sister Hyde
18.Ralph Marterie and his Marlboro Men -
     Alfred Hitchcock Presents
19.Lois Prante Ellis and Mary Ann Parker -
     Troll At The General Meeting
20.Jimmy Cross - I Want My Baby Back
21.Count Baltes and The Egors - Opening The Coffin
22.Sounds of Terror! - The Exorcism
23.Al Zanino - The Vampire Speaks
Now, I haven't had a chance to listen to each and every one of these tracks quite yet, but if they're all nearly as blissfully bizarre as "Graveyard Rock" or the promo for "Monsters Crash The Pajama Party" (was there ever, truly, even such a movie, I wonder?), then you all owe it to yourselves to get out your CDR's and burn, baby, burn!

Would that I could claim rights to the discovery of this gem of a (grave)site, but truthfully, all due kudos go to liltin' Larry Shell, himself a one-time terror-maven as publisher and guiding force behind one of the eighties creepiest comics, THE BARN OF FEAR! Appreciate the heads up, Larry--we're all that much richer thanks to your keen eye!

And now, if you're done with it, why don't you put it back in that jar of formaldehyde up on the shelf where it belongs,, hmm? Best to keep it fresh until it's needed again, don'tcha think?....

(How DOES one cackle maniacally in print, I wonder? Well, just use your imagination, okay people? And enjoy the tomb tunes!...)
October 22nd, 2004
Is there a more trivial scrap of Silver Age minutia than the fact that, back in the years when he was merely a struggling stand-up, future film legend Woody Allen made a featured appearance in the third and last of an ultimately failed try-out for a satirical sixties rock group called “The Maniaks” in a 1967 issue of DC Comics' SHOWCASE title, number 71?

Yes. Yes, there is.

As obscure a nugget as that may be, I'd venture to say that there are, spread out over this whole wide world, literally hundreds of people weighted down with such negligible knowledge. But the FOLLOWING revelation is one I doubt that more than a dozen of you (if that!) are aware of—and up until a few short days ago, I'd have to number myself steadfastly in the ranks of the blissfully ignorant.

Turns out Woody must've had some strong supporters up there in the DC Editorial offices—maybe folks intent on prepping him as a potential replacement for the then waning ADVENTURES OF BOB HOPE and ADVENTURES OF JERRY LEWIS titles--as just a few short months after his supporting role in The Maniaks' SHOWCASE swan song, he showed up, unannounced, with a cameo in yet another DC publication: HEART THROBS#112 (Feb/Mar. 1968).

Yup, a love comic.

As I mentioned just the other day, I steered WAY clear of romance comics growing up, and given the repeated short-shift the genre is afforded in one funnybook historical overview after another, I certainly wasn't alone. But a lot of us who avoided these books like the plague in our early years are now seeking them out, if for no other reason than they feature some swell art by a passel of the Silver Age's most celebrated cartoonists. The prospect of an unseen Gene Colan, John Romita, or Mike Sekowsky job is reason enough for collector pals like Rocco Nigro and Terry Austin to buy up these undiscovered treasures whenever the opportunity avails itself (and being the cheap fellow that I am, I happily—and cost effectively--look over whatever delightful discoveries they invariably turn up).

We have, in this instance, the talented Mr. Austin—the world's greatest inker, some would say--to thank for bringing this unknown Woody Allen cameo to our collective attention, and for allowing me to scan in the pertinent panels so that all of you can see that this is indeed the real thing, and not some demented dream (Don Rickles, I assure you, is nowhere in sight)!

Before we get to the pages in question, a bit of background: as part of the 11th episode of the cover featured serial, “3 Girls—Their Lives--Their Loves”, Woody and several other showbiz personalities appear at a party given by granite-jawed Tod Stone to impress—and win, all as part of a cash money bet with rival wealthy ne'er do well, Bud Troy—the celebrated fashion model (and one of the aforementioned 3 Girls) Sandy Simms. What say we look in on the festivities, hmm?...
Of course, being an ongoing story, there was no firm resolution to this plot within the pages of the single comic Terry so kindly lent me, but one can't help but wonder just how things came out. My bet is that, at the most inopportune moment, our Ms. Simms finds out about the despicable wager, and storms out, leaving both of her potential suitors—including the one who came to, natch, truly love her, cash prize or no cash prize—in the lurch, high and dry. But, that's just a guess...

As for who did the art, well, that'd have to be a guess as well, but I'm venturing it's the sleek stylings of legendary smooch-fest veteran, Jay Scott Pike. Anybody with a better idea of the penciller's identity, please feel free to share. Whoever was responsible did a pretty good Woody Allen, a fairly decent Lainie Kazan, and an almost anonymous Ron Ely. Those back cover ads for the Tarzan Aurora model kits of the era caught a better likeness...

So, anybody with a pipeline to the fine folks over at “The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide”, feel free to inform them of Terry's surprising discovery. I'm sure the presence of Woody Allen in HEART THROBS #112 will increase the price of the book by at least ten bucks.

(Of course, that Joan Rivers walk-on might well kick it down fifteen or twenty smackeroos as well, but sometimes you've gotta take the good with the bad, y'know?...)
October 21st, 2004
As a lifelong Mets fan, last night's victory by the Boston Red Sox over the New York Yankees in the seventh--and deciding--game of the 2004 American League Championship Series was surely the most satisfying win I'd ever witnessed that didn't actually involve my beloved team.

For the past several decades, more often than not, the Mets have been completely overshadowed by George Steinbrennner's squad, made to feel like third-rate citizens in their own hometown. "Yankees Win! Yankees Win!"--geez, you just don't know how tiresome that mantra can get, year after year, season after season.

Unless, I suppose, you're from Boston...

But now the Sox are the Champs, and they're the ones heading off to the World Series come this weekend, not the Yankees, an organization that brings the notion of privileged entitlement to an entirely new and obscene level. And if that weren't enough to warm the cockles of this Met-rooter's heart, the way this unlikely scenario ultimately played out was the oh-so-delicious icing on the cake.

The Red Sox lost the first three games--including a 19-8 battering in front of their hometown fans in the third contest--and were thus written off as dead by, well, EVERYBODY! That's because--for those of you not in the know--no team in baseball history who'd ever had the misfortune to lose the first three games of a playoff series has ever come back to win the next four straight. EVER. In fact, in the 25 or so previous instances where this has happened in the past (excuse me if I rely solely on memory here), only half a dozen had so much as forced a game six. Before Monday night, no team had ever even gotten their opponents to suit up for a deciding seventh game. But that's exactly what the Red Sox did, after a pair of thrilling extra inning victories, both of which wavered precariously on the edge of season-ending losses for the New Englanders. Throw in a gutsy-beyond-reason performance by a literally bloodied Curt Schilling on the mound for game six, and the stage was set for last night's historic contest at Yankee Stadium.

With all due respect to the victors, who accomplished something unprecedented in the sport, for my own admittedly mean-spirited purposes, I prefer to sit back and relish the fact that the Yankees, too, set a new Major League record last eve. For, just as no team has ever overcome a 3-0 hole, conversely, no team has ever faltered so dramatically after being up 3 games to none-- not until the 2004 New York Yankees came along, that is!! And against their bitter rivals, the once cursed but now blessed Bosox! This wasn't the Twins or the Angels who gave the Bombers a much overdue spanking, people--oh no, it was the perennially frustrated runner-ups from up Beantown way, Babe Ruth's former mates, thus making it all the sweeter.

To some of you--most of you, even--this whole rant is going to seem pretty doggone petty, and I can't argue with that perception. It is. My apologies. I'm not a bad person, really I'm not. I don't generally bask in the misery of others, but in this one particular instance, an exception must be made. Must. Just the knowledge that somewhere today, smoke is quite literally streaming out of the ears of Boss Steinbrenner, the man who once bullied his team with the maxim, "Winning is second only to breathing", makes me grin with a contentment henceforth felt only when the Mets swept the Yankees in a three game series this past July.

While I don't profess to have a strong emotional tie to the Sox, at this point, I'm rooting for them to go all the way, if only so we can finally--FINALLY!--stop hearing about the so-called "curse" that's prevented the organization from winning a World Series since way, way back in 1918--AND so they can come bounding proudly into Yankee Stadium next season billed as "The World Championship Boston Red Sox!" Wrap your tonsil around THAT, Bob Sheppard!...

Great job, fellas! That's one down, with TWO more important victories ahead for the state of Massachusetts in the upcoming weeks! Let's hope Johnny Damon and the all the rest have started a winning trend here that extends BEYOND the baseball diamond, and bounces a certain ex-MLB owner out of the White House!...
October 17th, 2004
Irv Novick passed away recently at age 88. A concise recitation of his long and fruitful career in comics can be found over at Mark Evanier's News From ME site. I couldn't even begin to hope to do a better job than Mark regarding Mr. Novick's history, so instead, I'll just share a few memories of my own concerning the man's work with you.

Truth is, he never was one of my big, all-out favorites—but then, he never was near someone I ever disliked, even a smidgen, either. Fact is, the man's art actually played a pivotal role at two different points in my early comics reading--one of a highly personal nature, the other having a more far-reaching effect on pulp paper aficionados of the era in general.

Y'see, as often as I tediously go on and on about how those early Mort Weisinger “Superman Family” titles got me hooked on funnybooks, the reality is, two full months before I ever plunked down a single dime for my initial ACTION or ADVENTURE COMICS, the very first DC Comic that I ever bought off the stands was the May, 1961 issue of OUR ARMY AT WAR (#106). The other kids at school were big into playing army, y'see, and feeling a bit left out, I thought I'd grab me a copy of the comic regularly featuring their hard-bitten hero, the unforgettably named Sgt. Rock.
Now, as anybody possessing a modicum of knowledge concerning the immortal sergeant's lengthy four-color run knows full well that most of his battle-torn adventures featured the grandiose and gritty artwork of the great Joe Kubert.


But not the one I picked up back in 1961—it was drawn by, uh huh, Irv Novick.
It certainly was a nice enough job in retrospect (yes, friends, I still own that original—albeit now coverless—copy), but it still managed to confuse me on several levels. For instance, the title of the main story was “Meet Lt. Rock” ( with the “Sgt.” crossed out), and while at eight years old, I knew what a sergeant was (thanks in large part to, um, Sgt. Bilko), I had NO idea what an “ell tee” was—and especially WHY the Rock suddenly became one! Plus, though his head was clearly shown hovering up in the corner, I was somehow disturbed by the fact that the ostensible star of this little enterprise had his back to us readers on the all-important splash page. Yeah, yeah—it sounds like an illogical concern now, but when it's your first encounter with a new-to-you genre, you invariably notice the most trivial of things.

I won't say it scared me away, but it was probably a year before I bought another DC war title. The National battle line was never a favorite of mine—playing soldier wasn't ever a long-range aspiration for me, even as a young kid—but I'd dip into the various books from time to time over the early sixties, amassing a decent, if hardly complete collection of the varied titles. Maybe my nostalgic reflection's on artist Novick's work would be a tad bit warmer if it weren't for the fact that Kanigher's kombat komics were the only place to find his cartooning back then (I never went anywhere NEAR the romance line in those days, though word has it Irv would occasionally turn up there). His Johnny Cloud series in ALL AMERICAN MEN OF WAR was of mild interest to me, but it was his work on the CAPTAIN STORM title that I particularly liked. A P.T. Boat Captain with a wooden leg—I was just young and naïve enough not to figure out the rather blatant connection editor/author Bob Kanigher's scenario had to “Moby Dick”...

A couple years later, while I may've been a bit older, I still proved to be naïve in my own thickheaded way. It was 1968, and word hit the fanzines (a wondrous subculture I'd only just recently gotten involved with) that DC's new Editorial Director, Carmine Infantino, was planning a line wide artistic shake-up. Penciller's who'd never, ever strayed from under the specific aegis of one particular editor or another in any of my previous seven years of buying DC books were now suddenly being reassigned to features in the unlikeliest corners of the once fiercely segregated universe. Chief amongst this initial round of artistic musical chairs was the news that Irv Novick was to be the new regular penciller on BATMAN.

“B-but,” I wondered, somewhat nervously (and TOTALLY cluelessly), “...Can he even draw super-heroes? He's only a war comics artist, after all?...”

Not that I was rooting against him, please understand. Far from it. Not long before, shortly after buying the 200th anniversary issue of BATMAN, I'd finally had enough. Watching decent (if unspectacular) cartoonists like Sheldon Moldoff, Joe Giella, Sid Greene, Chic Stone, and nameless others pointlessly try to emulate the decidedly mediocre style of (ahem) “creator” Bob Kane, well, it was disheartening. And a mere four years after the revolution that was the vaunted “New Look”, the gauche ghosting no longer held any slight appeal to this jaundiced reader. So, I stopped buying the venerable title in disgust right after it reached its second century mark--but I wasn't gone for long.

BATMAN #204, August 1968. Wow. Suddenly, the Caped Crusader exuded excitement again.
Looking at it with the benefit of additional knowledge accrued over the subsequent decades, it's all too clear that this stark cover scene was primarily the product of head honcho Infantino, but Novick nevertheless finished his bosses' layout with elan. And inside the pages of that landmark issue, he more than acquitted himself nicely, bringing a much needed dose of fresh new blood to the rundown Gotham City landscape. Novick seemed to follow a template that the sensational youngster, Neal Adams, had already blocked out in the then few instances that the innovative trendsetter had handled the Darknight Detective--and while his work would, by any measure, have to take a back seat to Adams indelible take, Novick's tenure with the character was nonetheless far more extensive and an immeasurable improvement over the faux Kane material that predated his welcome reassignment from khakis to Spandex. Look, as far as I was concerned, back in 1968, Irv Novick did nothing less than save Batman.

He went to have an even more inspired run on the Flash. If his work--aside from that one, shining moment when he took over the Dynamic Duo—was hardly cutting edge, it was always dependable. Best as I can recall, he remained one of those handful of artists who never wound up doing any work for the modern Marvel Comics line. He didn't need to—the folks at DC knew what they had, and they kept him happily busy for years upon years. He kept readers pretty sanguine, too—even those of us who weren't anywhere close to being WWII fanciers.

At 88, you've gotta say the man had a nice run, both in the comics field and in life itself, but that doesn't mean Irv Novick won't be missed, because he will. Luckily, he won't soon be forgotten, though, and I've got the comics downstairs to prove it.
October 16th, 2004
(In the nearly two years has been up and operating, I've never begun a piece with the following phrase, partially due to the very real fear that I'd lose just about every one of you--save maybe Rick Veitch--but due to some special circumstances that'll eventually become clear, today I'm going to take that chance. Cut me a little slack this one time, okay gang?...)

I had a dream last night.

The beginning and the end aren't especially important, just one small portion in the middle somewhere. It's mostly fuzzy anyway. Apparently, I was back in our old Kingston house, only I'd unexpectedly found this entirely unfamiliar wing. Besides several half filled spinner racks, I also came across these two guys who were proudly displaying the contents of two long boxes filled with some vintage Silver Age comics. One set of books in particular caught my eye.

Remember those pair of wacky issues Jack Kirby unleased on an unsuspecting public of SUPERMAN'S PAL, JIMMY OLSEN that featured the infamous insult comedian, Don Rickles? Well, my nameless new found buds were more than happy to show me what I immediately recognized as rare and hitherto unknown treasures: one of those selfsame early seventies Kirby oddities, only in place of the long familiar cover, the boys had issues with not one, not two, but FIVE alternate covers--all drawn by Neal Adams! Not only that, but they each utilized the exact same color scheme--black, white, with light blue modeling skillfully adding dramatic highlights. The five illustrations varied little in approach--all seemed to spotlight the same sedentary scene featuring the three principals--Jimmy, Supes, Don--but each from different angles. The linework was striking--Adams at his best--and given the stark choice of hues, made all the more memorable.

Now, before you jump to any conclusions, I'm not one who ever remembers very much of what he dreams, and even when I do--surprise!--it rarely concerns comics. But the thing that makes this particular shut-eyed scenario stick in my mind--and in fact, the very reason I'm sharing this with you folks--is the heretofore unprecedented bit of business that happened next:

Duly impressed with these five stunning Adams' covers, I excitedly turned to their current custodians and asked--pleaded, actually--if I might borrow these treasures so that I might scan them and then share them with the world on my website!!

That's right--I didn't want to buy them, I didn't want to read them, I just wanted to have them in my possession long enough so that I could post them for all of you to see! Marking, I should add, the very first time that I can ever recall dreaming about this blog and, by extension, you, my loyal--and at this point hopefully, tolerant--audience!

And so, motivated by that unique turn of (non)events, I decided to share.

Look, I'll do my best to keep any further nocturnal flights of fancy to myself, okay? ESPECIALLY any concerning that nice Lady Blackhawk person...
October 15th, 2004
Just to finish up the preceding story...

The plumber showed up at 8:30 AM along with the back hoe operator. They dug. And they dug some more, for a long time. A hole was drilled into the side of the house's foundation and soon a new water pipeline was installed. It rained twice during the day-long endeavor, once quasi-torrentially--but never long enough to slow things down too much, thankfully.

Julie came home from school at 3:30, and, at the sight of a four foot deep trench snaking about a hundred feet across our front yard, instantaneously became as giddy as, well, a school girl! I mean, admittedly, it DID look sorta cool, and she quickly ran inside to get ahold of our digital camera. She began eagerly snapping away, much to the delight of the corps of grizzled workers charged with the task of shovelling the dirt back in over our brand new pipeline. I guess it's not everyday they get their pictures taken. Expect to see some of those photos here someday soon.

At one point, late in the afternoon, 14 year-old Julie turned to me and confided, "Y'know, dad, this is ONE time I'm glad I'm still a kid. I sure wouldn't want to have to PAY for this!..."

You got that right, kiddo--but being the adults and all, when the job's completion finally rolled around at 6 o'clock, we pretty much had to. Luckily, we still had enough money leftover to buy some fund-raising candy from Christina, the girl next door. Barely...

Later, I went to sleep three and a half hours earlier than I had the night before, and slept for an astonishing ten straight hours (slightly less than the previous three night's combined!). For the first time in over a month I wasn't worried about the prospect of a puddle expanding inexorably downstairs while I piled up the ZZZs, and it was a comforting feeling.

Hopefully, this'll mark the end of any further bank-balance draining repairs for now. If not, well, you'll be the second to know--after that friendly loan-officer fella down at our local credit union, natch!...

October 12th, 2004

Remember that plumbing situation I complained about back in my September 28th entry? Well, you'd think it'd be resolved by now, wouldn't you? You'd be wrong...

Go back and read the piece if you haven't already. Look, I'm tired—please save me the trouble of repeating myself, okay?...

Anyway, we last left things with us having a new oil tank installed inside our garage on that particular Tuesday. The next day, true to their word, the water department came out, fixed the valve at the outer end of our water line, and marked the pipe's path across our lawn and right on up to the house using some bright blue paint. Then, we had to wait until Friday to have our now lame duck underground oil tank located by the folks who'd eventually close it up. Good news here—it was barely buried, just under some shale and shrubbery alongside—but NOT beneath—our driveway. This meant two positive things—we wouldn't have to tear up the asphalt to find it; and it clearly seemed far enough away from the troublesome water pipe that we'd probably be able to put off closing it (and paying for it) until the spring, with the added benefit of rehooking it up to utilize the oil we'd previously assumed we'd just have to bite the bullet and dump, unused. Wouldn't you know it--we were feeling pretty good about things at that point.

Big mistake.Never, ever let yourselves be lulled into a false sense of security when dealing with plumbing problems, friends...

An hour later that very same fateful Friday afternoon, the fellow with the geiger counter-like machine whose job it was to determine just exactly where the buried electrical cable was proceeded to the task at hand. This portion of agenda always seemed to us to be but a mere formality, no big deal, hardly anything to be overly concerned with.


He soon marked HIS territory with streaks of red paint and some small crimson flags, and guess what? The were along the EXACT SAME PATH as the water line!! Yup, forty years back, somebody dug themselves a five foot ditch out across the yard, dropped in the pipe, and, about three feet directly above it, laid in the electric line, thus saving the trouble of digging out two trenches. Fine for them, sure, but for us it meant but one thing—no back hoe. You certainly can't bring in the big machine if the electric cable is parallel to the pipe you're digging for. To get at the pipe, then, it'd have to be dug out by hand—and the leak could be anywhere from right up by the house on out to the street, some 100 feet away! Five feet down, dug by hand. All the while, avoiding a cable, one that in turn had to be supported in place while the quest for the pipe beneath went inexorably on. Obviously, this complicated things somewhat.

And how!

We called to tell our plumber the sobering news, but it was late, and he didn't get back to us until the following Monday. He came out to look things over on Tuesday, and offered an alternate solution—put in an entirely NEW water line on the other side of the lawn! This would be a bit more expensive than the hand dug option, but would alleviate any future worries that the old pipe could spring yet another leak sometime in the near future, setting this nightmarish scenario in motion again. Plus, by drilling a new entry way into the house at the base of the foundation on the OTHER side of our front door, the necessity of tearing up the cement sidewalk near where the current pipe enters wouldn't be an issue. Sure, the lawn is gonna get torn up no matter what, but at least a sidewalk reduced to rubble won't be a concern. But before we commit to that, he had to bring his back hoe guy out to look things over. That was LAST Wednesday morning, three full weeks since my original call to the plumber...

They came, they looked, and the plumber promised to get back to us with a written estimate. He did—the next day. It was steep, but after some soul searching regarding the possibility of seeking out a second estimate, we decided things were just too far along, and we needed to give the thumbs up so that we'd get us an early date on the back hoe guy's schedule for the following week. So we called and said yup, sign us up. The lady in the office said she'd call back as soon as she knew when we'd be in line for the work.

She called back Friday and informed us the earliest available day would be the following Thursday, October 14th , almost a week later!! Which wouldn't be all that much of a problem except that that puddle, the one that started this whole trauma, has been slowly gaining momentum. Originally, it was safe to wait 12 hours or so between using the wetvac to suck up the unwanted moisture in the furnace room. Any longer, and it would snake across the cement floor and under the wall and into the finished portion of the downstairs, and folks, we do not want THAT!

A week ago Sunday, we drove to Lynn's mom's house in Woodstock for dinner, and I fretted the whole time about the accumulating water. Back home after 6 hours, the wall had nearly been breached. Still, it remained manageable. But as the week wore on, things sped up ever so slightly—currently, three hours plus seems to be the comfortable limit between puddle suck ups. Which is generally fine—I'm home most of the time, anyway, and I can still get out to run my errands in plenty of time if need be. There's only one drawback.


Or rather, NOT sleeping. My current schedule has me staying up until 3 AM or so, with the alarm set to wake me up at 5:30AM to perform a late, late night—or is that early, early morning?--cleanup, and then Lynn gets up around 8 with Julie, and takes a shot at it while I catch some ZZZZs. This actually was sorta fun at first—it reminded me of my younger, night-owl days (midnight is generally my bedtime these nowadays), but I think today it finally caught up with me, as I've been feeling pretty spacey all afternoon (yes, in answer to the inevitable wise-guy query, even MORE spacey than usual!...). Hopefully, the end is in sight, as I'm not sure how many more of these evening of snooze-us interruptus I can abide.

And I say hopefully for a pair of reasons. First off, the secretary told me on Friday that the plumber would be calling either later that day or on Monday to arrange a visit to the basement a few days early so as to get some preliminary work on the new line done before the back hoe arrives on Thursday. Well, it's Tuesday, and of course he never called (I finally tried getting in touch with HIM around 4 today, but only managed to leave a message on his answering service). My other concern was that he'd mentioned that just about the only thing that would put the kibosh on the whole, one day affair would be a downpour.

Thursday's forecast? A downpour.

More rain on Friday, too, but of a lesser intensity. I could live with a one day delay, y'know, but struggling through another weekend? No, PLEASE no!!

And of course, it could get worse. The water could start flowing in at an even faster pace—or maybe even spring so big a leak outside the house in the ground that no water whatsoever would get into the house, leaving us high and dry (but at least, I suppose, well rested). But no—I think I'd prefer access to water instead of a good night's sleep, given the choice.

I know, I know—compared to what those unfortunate folks who found themselves in the path of those devastating hurricanes down south had to to deal with, I sound like a whining baby! Hey, I'm not denying it—I AM a whining baby! Not a big surprise, after all—my current sleep patterns mirror a newborns a bit too closely!

(At least we still have running water should I need changing...)

Stay tuned for the final chapter, coming (we can only hope) soon--if not nearly soon enough...
October 11th, 2004
The late seventies wasn't the best of times to be a comics fan. The books themselves were mired in a particularly fallow period, and aside of the small screen niche successes of tele-versions of Wonder Woman and the Hulk, costumed characters were hardly a prominent part of the nation's consciousness--and that was especially true on the BIG screen.

I can attest to that sorry fact, having sat quietly in a theater along with a paltry two other customers, watching George Pal's DOA Doc Savage film wither away right before our eyes.
And then came the announcement of plans for a big budget Superman movie. State of the arts effects were promised, legendary actors were hired to fill out even the smallest roles in the cast, celebrated writers were brought in to work on the screenplay--but the fellow given the make-or-break responsibility of donning the tights? A virtual unknown.

And it was easily the best decision the film's producer's ever made. Christopher Reeve not only made the role of the orphaned Kryptonian crusader his own, he almost--almost--made us believe a pair of black horned rim glasses and a slicked back lock of hair could make even his closest friends overlook the painfully obvious similarities between reporter Clark Kent and the gaudily garbed Man of Steel. Now THAT, friends, was acting!

But when life dealt the actor one of the lousiest hands ever given to a Hollywood personality, Reeve immediately turned his personal tragedy into a public crusade. It was an amazing transformation, turning sympathy into service.

The Salkinds had plucked a young, talented actor out of obscurity, put him in a world famous costume, and made him an immortal hero of the silver screen.

Fate threw him off that horse, and then--THEN--he made himself into a real-life hero. As skilled as he was at portraying heroism while wearing the cape, it turned out he was even better at being heroic while being Chris Reeve.

A man who gained fame by portraying an American icon, became, in the end, and icon himself, and his passing has made this a sad day for comics fans and the country at large alike.

We'll miss you, Chris...

October 6th, 2004

Despite his constant protestations to the contrary, I for one have always had a LOT of respect for Rodney Dangerfield.

Yeah, yeah, I know—it's an obvious line. Obvious, but true. I've been a devotee ever since I first saw the bug-eyed comic nervously yanking at his tie while doing his stand-up routine on the Ed Sullivan Show during the tail end of the sixties.

The way he delivered a one-liner with that distinctive voice of his would never fail to make me laugh. It didn't hurt that his material was not only top-notch, but based upon a universally appealing theme—the little guy who's continually screwed over by just about everyone else. And I contend that he also chose for himself the funniest, most character-appropriate stage name in the history of comedy.

"Rodney Dangerfield". Just say it out loud, and you can't help but smile. (For comparisons sake, try "Tom Arnold". Nowhere near the same, is it?...)

To be perfectly honest, I don't recall much of what he did during the seventies—lots of stand-up spots on the tube, no doubt—but I was one of many sitting in a darkened theater when he totally reinvigorated his career and overnight became an unlikely icon with the younger generation due to his triumphant appearance in “Caddyshack” (1980). At an age when a vast majority of his comic contemporaries were either nearly forgotten, or, at best, considered old news, Rodney improbably was winning over the youth of America. Through a series of subsequent films-- some more successful than others, true--he never quite lost his grip on that segment of the audience, even right on up to the days just before his passing yesterday at age 82.

Y'know, I never actually went to see any of those other movies, but I always made it a point to track down and watch any appearance Rodney made on the small screen. That included his many stints with Jay Leno and an array of other late-night hosts, the occasional hour long special he'd headline, and even a format-busting hour that found him sitting on the Jerry Springer Show stage as the main attraction a few years back! Host Jerry was such a big fan of the comedian's that he totally—and happily-- subverted the expectations of his viewers in order to spotlight the life of a performer that he had such respect for (there's that word again!). Plus, it's rumored that he guaranteed Rodney that all the chairs in the studio would be nailed firmly to the floor for his appearance...

Rodney took on one other, even odder TV gig, one that, while I have crystal clear memories of it, I've yet to encounter anyone else who'll admit to having seen it besides me! It was an unsold half-hour sitcom pilot from the late eighties that, I believe, aired on NBC, back in those days when networks would still occasionally foist their mistakes on the viewing public under the pretense that they're doing them a huge favor by sharing these “special presentations” with them. Dangerfield at this point had amassed a huge youthful following, so what better idea that to put him in a high school setting, right?

But not as a teacher or somesuch—no, THAT would be too easy. In “Where's Rodney?”, the sad sack teen-aged hero of the piece would inevitably encounter a pronounced lack of—uh huh--respect from his peers, so he'd go off by himself, and—poof!--inexplicably conjure up Rodney Dangerfield himself! This jumbo Jiminy Cricket would then step out of some broom closet (or the like) and offer the kid a quick dose of advice in the form of a series of his patented hang-dog one-liners—and just as mysteriously as he arrived, would then suddenly vanish again!!

Essentially, it was your standard teen comedy, peppered with intermittant—and unexplained--cameos by Rodney Dangerfield!! It was a crazy, nutty, wacky concept, but one that was just so way out that it's stayed with me all these years. (...And yeah, the video tape I made of it has stayed with me all these years as well, but even if you asked me to locate it, it'd take me weeks to wade through my not very well organized—and constantly mounting—VHS tape collection of the odd, the strange, and the unusual—all of which “Where's Rodney?” definitely was. Too bad—if the show was a failure, it certainly was a unique one...)

The last time I saw Rodney on the tube, it was in mid-August, back when we were visiting our friend Naomi in North Carolina. I was exhausted after a long and full day of sight-seeing, and was determined to get to bed at a decent hour so as to be fresh for the next day's adventures. I tuned in “Jimmy Kimmel Live” at midnight with the intention of merely watching his opening monolog and then hitting the sack, but when I heard that Dangerfield was his featured guest, well, after I thought about it a second, I decided there was absolutely no way I could go to sleep until I heard what he had to say to Kimmel (that rival Leno had long been the comic's usual venue only intrigued me more about the upcoming spot).

The comedian was plugging his recently released autobiography, and it made for an entirely unorthodox segment compared to most of the previous ones I'd seen him sit for in the past. Instead of rat-a-tat-tatting out a series of gags under the wink-wink pretense of engaging in an actual conversation, the frail but game comic actually took the time to tell some stories of his earliest days in a straight forward, unadorned manner. Even when given the “This Is Your Life” treatment by Springer, he didn't come across as quite this honest, and I was immediately glad that I'd stuck it out because this was the Dangerfield one never saw on TV—this was the one familiar to anyone who'd ever read a print profile of the much-beloved comedian. This was the unhappy, not particularly funny Dangerfield...

I've always thought it a shame that a man who's brought so much laughter to others could be so perpetually miserable in his own skin, even with all his success. Although I didn't know it at the time, it made for a bittersweet coda for a performer who'd provided me—and oh so many others—with a lot of chuckles, smiles, and guffaws over the past several decades.

Where's Rodney? In a better place, let's hope—one where he's being given all the respect he's unquestionably earned...

October 5th, 2004

A few more words about “Smile”, which has been in the general circulation—and consciousness--for an entire week now...

Obviously, I was extremely excited at the prospect of FINALLY hearing that legendary lost Beach Boys album (newly recorded by Brian Wilson and an ace group of associate musicians), so I made a special trip out to the mall to buy the disc on the very day of its initial release.

Given the homeowner angst we were going through at the time (and continue to suffer with—more on THAT for another time...), finding the proper opportunity to give “Smile” a first listen proved to be far more problematic than I would've expected. After all, one doesn't wait 37 years to experience as fabled a recording as “Smile” only to spin it while one is cooking dinner, y'know! No, there'd have to be absolutely no interruptions, no kids calling out for assistance, no cats meowing at the door to come in. My first listen had to be totally distraction free. And the only way I figured to manage that was to wait until both Lynn and Julie went to sleep and then don the headphones to enjoy some (potential) melodic bliss. Only thing was, after dealing with various contractors during the day and the inevitable stress that accompanies such dealings, I was plumb dead tired last Tuesday night, so I reluctantly passed on taking a pass at “Smile” that night. After all, I'd already waited 37 years—what's another day, give or take, right?...

Except Wednesday was pretty much more of the same, and by the time 11:30 rolled around, I'd pretty much decided to push back “Smile” again one more day. Then, Lynn came in with the news of what she'd just heard them announce at the tag end of the local NBC 11 o'clock newscast--among Jay's guests that very night would be “the music of Brian Wilson”. Well, I knew what THAT meant—staying up until 12:29 or so just to see the former Beach Boy end the show with a number from his new/old CD. So, I sighed, took a deep breath, and prepared myself to tune in at the tail end of the Leno show...

I'll admit that I wasn't exactly looking forward to the spectacle. Moreso than any other surviving musical legend from the sixties, watching Brian Wilson and listening to Brian Wilson are two distinctly different experiences. Certainly, one has to give the man all sorts of credit for overcoming his very real personal demons, enabling him against all odds to mount a series of successful tours during this late stage in his career, but viewing him as he performs before an audience can nonetheless be decidedly disconcerting. Aside from his awkward attempts at fan-friendly patter, one can't help but see all those troubled years written blatantly across his generally unemotional visage. At times, it's akin to watching a deer caught in headlights vocalizing some of the most beloved songs of one's long faded youth--NOT the most pleasant of sensations, I assure you. Conversely, all that unwanted baggage instantly disappears—or is at least substantially reduced--by merely listening to Wilson's CDs. But, this was an important moment for Brian—like it or not, I HAD to watch.

There he was, seated uncomfortably at the keyboards, surrounded by an impressive contingent of musicians-- a dozen, at the very least—as the familiar opening notes of “Heroes and Villains” suddenly echoed throughout the “Tonight Show” studio. But, as I was soon to learn, this arrangement of the tune was clearly unlike any I'd ever heard before. Spotlighting an eclectic array of instrumentation, the song veered from one unlikely direction off into another, and while that sort of thing may easily be taken for granted while listening to a CD--figuring it to be the studied result of production trickery--it was honestly quite dazzling to see it all come to life right in from of my eyes on Jay's stage that night. Brian was the solid anchor at the center of this inspired musical maelstrom, and by the time the number had come to a seemingly abrupt conclusion (Wilson, in his endearingly amateurish manner, simply announcing, “That's all...”), I knew for certain I wasn't going to sleep anytime soon that night!...

Stifling yawns and fighting mightily to keep my eyelids open, I sat in the dark, headphones cranked up as the rest of the house slept, gleefully wallowing in the “Smile” experience for the very first time, and as I wrote the very next day, it was GOOD. Real, REAL good!

After posting my impressions, though, I had to stop for a second and wonder—what did my other Brian-centric buddies think of this epochal event? I specifically wondered how the disc went over with my pal Kevin Ferrara-Schnaper. Kevin is an accomplished artist and a talented musician (or is it “a talented artist and an accomplished musician”? I can't quite recall for sure. Why not check out his website and make up your own mind?...), as well as being a long-time Wilson advocate. Admittedly, Kevin can be substantially tougher in his criticism than I—he had little good to say about Brian's recently released “Gettin' In Over My Head” CD, for instance. While I found enough to admire in that collection of new tunes and previously unreleased retreads, tellingly, it never DID motivate me to sit down and type out a few words on its behalf. So, given Kevin's tougher critical stance, I emailed him with news that I had posted a review of sorts herein, and was curious to hear what HE thought of the CD.

After reading the following reply, I subsequently asked him if I could post it here at the site, and he graciously agreed. So, Kevin?...
Hey there Freddy m'boy!!

I LOVE SMILE!!! Its amazing and glorious and a MIRACLE!! And i'm the guy who fast forwarded all of "Gettin' in Over my Head" in your car while holding my nose. Although, at least I didn't say about that half-hearted effort what one SMiLE rave-reviewer said; that it sounded like it was "sung from a crypt". But boy what a great great relief that this damn holy ghost really has the goods. I mean, you know me, I love the BW as much as any die-hard fanatic of his canon, but I am one tough bastard to please any way you slice it. And considering the shakiness of "Gettin' In Over My Head" can you blame me for pre-coining the new SMiLE attempt "Already Underwater".

But all the worries are moot now, you were right to have faith. I wish I weren't such a jurist purist. SMiLE is an absolute masterpiece and a total bliss-out. Kudos to Brian, Darian, Van Dyke and the whole gang. Stunningly beautiful, expertly done, soaring, silly and triumphant. I simply cannot believe this event has come to pass, let alone at this level of quality. Its up there with Pet Sounds and Sunflower but an order of magnitude above either in scope and ambition. I've listened to it five times already. I love how you can listen to it like you listen to waves crashing into a shoreline, in ebbs and flows of sonic shimmering invention. It just seems to carry you along, (though mostly mouth agape, rather than turned up at the ends in the toothy prescription advertised).

I particularly love the second suite...

Listening to Wonderful right now, blissing to the sweet and fresh high counterpoint melody that appears out of the blue over the lyrics "through the recess, chalk and numbers". Its a new melody. Don't knowhow it got there. From '67? Doesn't appear anywhere else except over those lyrics. Love it. Love the way the word "one" in Wonderful becomes the first note of Song for Children. So mysterious and subtle a modulation of the emotion.

Sophisticated is right

Listening repeatedly to CIFOTM chorus. Trying to figure out what the heck is going on in the left ear with all those "father of the man's" dovetailing around each other. Brian himself is singing a very strange series of downward chromatic notes in the middle of the cusp-of-cacophony that sends the whole thing over. So goddam powerful. To write a chorus like this requires not just inspiration. But seven different lightning epiphanies that occur sequentially and intermesh together like a vortex of perfectly meshing gears -- this ability, this energy level, so so very few minds possess it - ever possessed it. An almost viciously beautiful capture. Harmony notes coming in and out so fast. Reminds me of the Good Vibrations chorus in its violently mellifluous compositional style. A roaring invention of adrenaline, ambition, spirituality, java and love.

Speaking of GV, I love the hum-be-dah-whoah-ohs counterpoint to "gotta keep those lovin' good vibrations a happenin' with you" and I especially love the re-emphasis of the theremin in the rubato/diminution part after the second chorus finishes but before "I don't know where but she sends me there". That theremin melody is completely lost on any of the CD versions I've ever heard of it. (Lucky enough to have a nice vinyl copy of the original version wherein that part is quite apparent and moody).

He always said something was missing from Surf's Up. Now, "Columnated Ruins Domino" is so sublime with all those voices rushing in like an angelic intervention. And with the more articulated "my god, my god" background vox in the verses the whole "teenage symphony to god" theme is so much more pronounced and affecting.

I love how even the silly stuff seems more tuneful and in place now.

Christ with all these BW-influenced boppers buzzing in and out of cultural favor (Wilco, Polyphonic Spree, High Llamas, and Superchair (or whatever the heck that band is called)) producing sterling but sterile flavored echoes of one or two of Brian's great productions, this shocker is so well-timed. Brian is the one true real deal and here he's proven it...

Of course only Brian would put out his masterpiece AFTER he's been inducted into the songwriters hall of fame. What a krazy kook! That'll show them pre-emptive strikers!

And now... this thing actually has a chance to chart! Wouldn't that be great to have the high healing power of hit record brought to bear on his fragile psyche (this prior line is to be said somewhat ecumenically if you are reading this email aloud at home to your family and want a cheap laugh). And wouldn't that also be great because our hapless fin de siecle (roughly translates to 'Just about had it in a really old European way') culture needs his great and honest talent engaged and influencing it. Don't get me wrong, Britney Spears' Toxic is a fantastic song (it is!) but its just so damn cynical. Would Brian ever talk of a lover as "toxic"? Sad these hobbitses -- cynical before ever having had a chance to be naive. What the world really needs now is Brian SMiLE power.

This whole thang is sorta what every Brian fan hopes for and has hoped for ever since realizing how great he is and how deserving he is of some kind of recognition of his monumental world-shaking greatness, not to mention the celebration of his giving heart. And how certainly with all the joy he's bestowed upon the masses (for pennies a head, really) how astronomically unfair it is that he lives his life in a tortured emotional state. But Brian had to get the ball rolling himself. He had to agree to put himself through all this. And boy, its the all time musical gut-check. Here's a man at the end of his tether on a permanent basis, with a whopper of an albatross of expectation hanging round his neck... and he pulls an elephant out of his hat. Now that's a trick!

I hope everybody buys it and then there'll be, like, world peace.

Or at least less Ja Rule.

This whole damn album seems like divine intervention. I am in utter shock.

Sometimes Roy Hobbes returns.

See ya at volleyball!
Yeah, I'll see you on the court—if we can ever battle our way through this school board induced imbroglio we're currently mired in! (Again, a tale for a later time...) Thanks for your insights--they're keen, Kev!

Then there's my old college buddy, Charlie Johnson. Charlie's the one, y'see, who's most responsible for me becoming the dyed in the wool Beach Boys (and/or Brian Wilson) fan that I am and remain as to this very day.

Of course, even before meeting Charlie back in 1972, I'd already developed some small affection for the group and their signature sound. “I Get Around”/”Don't Worry Baby” was chief amongst the first three non-Beatles 45rpm singles that I ever purchased as an eleven-year old back in 1964 (for the record, the other two were “Ronnie” by the Four Seasons, and “A World Without Love” by Peter and Gordon). Within the following year, I'd also bought their Christmas album and the “Beach Boys Today!” LP, but I then put them pretty much completely aside until “Surf's Up”came out in '71. The truth is, in high school, I had a buddy who LOVED the Beach Boys—but primarily and almost exclusively, he adored their car oriented songs! Since he had his license before the rest of us, for a period there, he did most all the driving when we went anywhere, and when he drove, he played a tape of the group's greatest hits incessantly on his 8 track tape deck. Which might not've been all that bad a thing--except that every time the Boys got anywhere close to crooning a ballad, his fingers quickly pushed a button on the console, assuring us all yet ANOTHER earful of “409” or “Little Honda”!?! In other words, this guy almost ruined the Beach Boys for me. Almost...

But good ol' Charlie rescued 'em for me. The first time I visited his house, he eagerly played me a selection of some of their more unfamiliar and outre stuff, culminating in a spin of the then-hard-to-find final single the band had released on Capitol before moving over to the Warners label, the still sublime “Breakaway”!! Well, that pretty much did it! And when the group's new label released all their old discs as two-record sets (at reduced prices), I quickly scarfed 'em all up, and I've been a convert ever since! Why, I find I can even get some mild enjoyment out of listening to “409” at this late date!! Thanks for the tip pal—and I hope you liked “Smile” near as much as I did!...

Well, that just about wraps up things here, except to note that the always cogent Bill Sherman has just posted his very own perceptive take on said disc, so if you've found you haven't as yet gotten near enough on the topic, I heartily suggest you go take a look at what HE has to say.

As for me? Well, maybe it's time I should get to work on that long past due review of “Gettin' In Over My Head”, y'know?...

And the NEXT time we talk about heroes and villains here, perhaps it'll even be in relation to comics, hmm? Hey, it COULD happen...

October 4th, 2004

Generally, when you're nowhere near qualifying for the playoffs—and in fact, languish in a position closer to last place than to first—the last day of the regular season is hardly a memorable one for any baseball team or its suffering fans.

But that wasn't quite the case when the New York Mets played their 162nd game of the 2004 campaign against the Montreal Expos yesterday. Hey, at least the Mets'll get to put on their own familiar uniforms again come spring 2005—the long struggling Canadian franchise completely ceased to exist after the last out was recorded (admittedly poised to rise, phoenix-like, clothed in new colors with a new name in a new city—Washington, D.C.--when the first pitch is delivered next season, but it won't be quite the same, obviously...).

Yup, it was the last game ever for the Expos, and in a cosmic bit of scheduling, they played it in the very same venue that they played their very FIRST one in back in 1969—Shea Stadium. And, by beating the Mets in the first two games of the weekend series, the Expos, made for an even more improbable statistic going into the finale...

Y'see, before Sunday's first pitch was unleashed , the all-time Mets versus Expos record stood at, astonishingly, 298 wins for the Mets—AND 298 wins for the Expos!?! Man, when I saw that stat come up on the screen, I almost couldn't believe it. But that's baseball—strange and wondrous things can happen at pretty much any time. As I was soon about to witness first hand...

Todd Zeile, as it happened, was playing in his final game, after a long and distinguished career. Somehow, he'd managed to play with eleven different teams over the past two decades, but the Mets were they only ones he's stopped at twice. Coming into the season, he declared from the very first day of spring training that this would indeed be his last year, no matter how things went. The initial plan was to have Todd as an infield reserve, coming off the bench and getting some spot starts at first and third, but when numerous injuries mounted, derailing the team's fanciful chances by mid-season, Todd found himself playing far more than he'd ever expected to. Fact is, in recent weeks, after the Mets had all but ignobly sunk to the bottom of the standings, the only real rooting focus was on Todd knocking his 2000th career hit, a milestone he finally achieved about two weeks back.

Once he had that special hit officially in the books, he sat on the bench for a while as the team looked at some of its late-season rookie call-ups, but as things wound down inexorably toward the final weekend, Todd once again found himself back in the starting lineup for all three games with Montreal (which were, coincidentally, the team he was playing for LAST September, organization number ten on his personal scorecard). Nothing particularly noteworthy occurred in either Friday or Saturday's games for Zeile—he may well have gone hitless, I don't really remember—but come Sunday, boyoboy!...

Todd started his career as a catcher, you should know, but after a year squatting in front of the home plate umpire, he was persuaded to switch on over to an infield position in an effort to hopefully prolong his career (guess it worked!..). But apparently, he missed his days as a catcher, so he persuaded manager Art Howe to let him get behind the plate again, just once more before he retired. This he did—after going some 15 odd years between catching appearances, the second longest span in baseball history—the night he got his 1999th hit. Zeile did a admirable job behind the plate for a rusty old guy that evening, and Howe must have thought so too, because after a foul ball off the foot of regular catcher Jason Phillips made him questionable for the Sunday contest, the lame duck manager (the Mets brass were planning on firing him come season's end, and word of this decision leaked out two weeks earlier in New York's tabloids, and after some consternation after getting confirmation of their intent, Howe agreed to stay on for the final 17 games at the owner's request, well aware that his fate was sealed, a fairly unusual situation in the sport), Zeile found himself pencilled in to start his last game back where it had all started for him as a St. Louis Cardinal all those years ago--behind the dish.

Again, he acquitted himself admirably at the position, despite the long, long layoff. As far as the bat goes, well, his first two trips to the plate produced one walk and one out, hardly anything to write home about (although he certainly had no need to, as most of his family was seated in the Shea stands), but then came his third at bat in the sixth inning. Two men on, the Mets with a 4-1 lead, and—yup—Zeile hits one over the fence!

This usually undemonstrative player couldn't help but pump his fist in the air as he rounded first base, and the unusually large crowd of 33 thousand (in attendance, no doubt, to see all sorts of history made) responded ecstatically! It was a sweet moment, a misty-eyed moment, and the Mets now owned a comfortable 7-1 advantage.

Well, Todd took his bow and got back into his catcher's gear. Soon it was the top of the eighth inning, and the Expos had one man on, and two men out. Time now for the day's next sentimental moment...
New York native John Franco has pitched outstanding relief in the majors for the past 20 years, about the last two-thirds with his favorite childhood team, the Mets. Five years older than the 39 year old Zeile—but not quite able to declare his intentions to retire just yet—it's widely believed that even if he does come back next year (the consensus seems to feel that he won't), it'll be with another team and not the Mets, who are committed to moving in another, younger direction. To further complicate matters, Franco had last pitched on September 4th, shut down for several weeks with a wonky elbow. But again, Howe promised him one last hurrah, and as he came out of the Mets bullpen for likely the very last time, the crowd was on its feet, with nary a dry eye in the house.
Franco's had his ups and downs over the years, and I was especially curious as to how Zeile would handle his odd assortment of out-of-the-strike-zone breaking balls. After a few pitches, the Mets Captain's first batter blooped a soft hit into the outfield, but before this could devolve into an ugly situation that might tarnish his grand exit, the next batter quickly lifted a foul popup, and Zeile, of all people, was the one to catch it, recording the last out of the inning, and likely the last out of Johnny Franco's illustrious career.

The catcher handed the ball to his battery mate, big smiles on both their faces as they jogged into the dugout. As the pitcher who's personified this franchise for several decades received congratulatory handshakes and heartfelt hugs from his teammates, Zeile doffed his gear, grabbed a bat, and prepared to lead off the bottom of the eighth inning. When his name was announced over the public address system, the crowd let out an even louder roar than they did when he came up to bat before his three run homer. And that, it seems, was entirely the point, because manager Howe then made ANOTHER move—he sent up Danny Garcia to pinch-hit for Zeile! Y'see, after given the opportunity to bask in the wave of well-earned applause, Howe pulled him back so that his career wouldn't end on some undistinguished ground out or some such, but with a three run blast—and, just coincidentally, recording that very last foul out of the previous inning in the field.

Hey, you can't MAKE UP stuff like this!!

The scenario sure got to this old fan. It played out like something in a child's fairy tale, and when it was all over—the Mets added another run along the way, winning 8-1—Zeile was retired, Franco likely was, Howe was unemployed, and Montreal no longer had themselves a baseball team to call their own.

And oh yes—final total, Mets 299, Expos 298. Hah!

It was a disappointing season for the Mets, no denying that. Still, teams play 162 games between April and October, and even the worst years produce games that fans will long remember, games they'll cherish, games to become emotional about. And sometimes, teams save the very best for last, like the Mets did yesterday.

Good luck, Todd! You too, Johnny—and Art, I know these past two years weren't ALL your fault. You certainly went out on a high note, given the circumstances.

And now it's time for the playoffs, and for what most Mets fans find themselves (sigh...) reduced to doing in late October—rooting against the Yankees!!

Go Red Sox!

October 2nd, 2004

With her long lustrously flowing blonde tresses and tight dark blue leather outfit, Zinda Blake—that's Lady Blackhawk to you and me, bub—was undeniably one of the sexiest characters to be found in the comics field during the otherwise still distinctly repressed early sixties.

As a young pre-pubescent reader, I always found myself looking forward to her never-frequent-enough appearances in the title DC had earlier inherited from the recently defunct Quality Comics line, BLACKHAWK, even if I didn't quite know WHY yet. While in all honesty, I've never considered the art team of Dick Dillin and Chuck Cuidera to be of more than middling interest to me, they nonetheless managed to excel when given the plumb job of portraying the lovely Lady Blackhawk. With those long, long legs of her, sporting high boots on one end and a decidedly short skirt on the other, well, I guess it's a wonder I didn't somehow develop a leather fetish, y'know? (I didn't—honest. Just a comic book one...)

Apparently, though, I wasn't the only budding cartoonist who was taken with the military garbed maid's all too obvious allure back in those halcyon days. The first clue that zesty Zinda had herself another ink-stained fan out there came back in 1981 when a copy of the U.K. fanzine “BEM” arrived unsolicited in my mailbox. Editor/publisher Martin Lock very kindly sent along a copy of the 34th issue, apparently because there was a short piece concerning yours truly included within, but while that article has been long forgotten—even by me—the cover certainly hasn't. ESPECIALLY by me!...

There, in all her gorgeous glory, is good ol' Lady B, magnificently delineated by a young British artist--then practically unknown (but not for long!) on these shores--the massively talented and always meticulous Brian Bolland. As the cover illustration has absolutely no connection with ANYTHING within “BEM”s interior pages, one has to naturally conclude that our friend Mr. Bolland was given free reign to draw anything or anybody his li'l heart desired, and well, take a look below at the results for yourself....
Yowsah! That's one smokin' drawing—and I'm NOT talkin' about the pistol that mama was packin', folks!

But that's not the end of the story gang, not by a long shot. Truth is, it's merely a necessary prelude to what I REALLY brought you all here to see. Y'see, a few short years hence, Bolland had become the toast of the comics field on this side of the Atlantic as well due to his justly heralded work on CAMELOT 3000. So when the DC braintrust doled out assignments to draw the various members of their extensive roster of costumed characters for inclusion in a series of well-produced WHO'S WHO volumes in the late eighties, just who do you think was amongst the select group chosen by the then-recently minted fan-fave Brit?

Yup—Lady Blackhawk.

Included in the third issue of the WHO'S WHO '87 UPDATE, the initially overlooked Zinda Blake was finally given proper due with the following entry...
Nice drawing, eh? Yeah, that was my initial reaction as well. But y'know, as I sat there, mesmerized by the artist's lovingly rendered depiction of the distaff Blackhawk—studying it, appreciating it, and just plain spending far too long a time staring at it—I noticed something, something almost imperceptible, true, but something downright, well, STARTLING nonetheless...

No, not the main figure—that straight-forward statuesque portrayal is delightful, but hold no secrets. Instead, concern yourself with one of the smaller vignettes printed in a monotone (red in this case) behind the dominating display pose. Specifically, the one I've spotlighted below, wherein good ol' Lady Blackhawk is shown parachuting down onto the wilds of Blackhawk Island much to the apparent delight of her leather-clad male colleagues...
An innocent enough scene, right? Don't be so sure. Take a closer look—are the boys merely happy that reinforcements have arrived, or are those gargantuan grins instead the result of the fact that, from their ground-based vantage point, each and every member of the so-called Magnificent 7 has a clear and unobstructed view up their junior partner's SKIRT, clearly shown by bad boy Bolland to be billowing upwards, revealing Paris, France, and any other kind of girlie underpants that the Comics Code has sadly left only to our overactive imaginations?

Try telling me this carefully designed pose was merely an accident, friends, and I'll just laugh at you. Ha! Now, what most likely WAS an unintended piece of jaw-dropping quasi-soft core porn appeared on this long-ago Lady Blackhawk splash page (which I treated to one of my silly redos). I didn't encounter this demented scenario until about five years ago, but who knows--perhaps the young Bolland had it seep ever so deep into his consciousness back during his formative years. Comics—you know, maybe they CAN rot your mind?

Anyway, I've been chortling over Brian Bolland's naughty little gag for decades now, and it just recently occurred to me that, thanks to the amazing technology currently at my frenzied li'l fingertips—WOW!--I can finally share it with others!

Lucky you, eh?...
October 1st, 2004

Hurray for truth in advertising!

I just got finished listening to Brian Wilson's latest release, and sure enough, it DID indeed make me “Smile”!...

By now, anybody who cares knows the story—a long, long time ago, the head Beach Boy was preparing a musical masterpiece for the group to record to be entitled “Smile”--originally set for release a few short months before the Beatles would forever legitimize rock music as a respectable genre once and for all with their “Sgt. Pepper” LP--but never fully completed as the emotionally fragile composer sunk into a series of decades long debilitating bouts fighting drug addictions and mental illness, brought on in part, some would conjecture, by bearing the pressure of carting the weight of rock's most legendary unissued album on his back during those subsequent lost years.

But now, a mere 37 years later, a freshly assembled recording of the songs once intended to revolutionize the pop scene has finally been released--and much to the surprise and delight of most everyone, it's NOT a disaster! In fact, I'd wager it's far more dazzling than a majority of folks—myself shamefacedly included— could've in good conscience ever expected this blatantly overdue disc to be! While admittedly no longer quite as strong as it was in the glory days leading up to his first attempt at “Smile”, Brian's voice—like Wilson's existence in general—has been impressively rehabilitated over the past 15 years or so, and both his life and his vocalizations are far stronger than we longtime Beach Boy geeks could've ever expected them to be at this late date.

Speaking of which, while there's nary another surviving Beach Boy in site, with such an ace assemblage of vocalists working under Wilson's inspired direction, their absence is actually of little consequence. The singer's performance, strong as it might be, is secondary to the songs and their imaginative arrangements. Wilson may be the featured vocalist herein, but more so than on any of his other solo releases, his voice is merely heading up what is essentially a vocal orchestra. And an amazingly rich one at that.

As a long time follower of Wilson and his past associates (I place the Beach Boys just below the Beatles in my own personal musical pantheon), I found myself surprised at the realization of just how many of these newly refurbished “Smile” songs had actually trickled out over the years--akin to some sort of cosmic consolation prizes for the faithful, ! suppose--interspersed amongst a series of enjoyable but somewhat uneven Beach Boy LPs, ones comprised mostly of tracks written either by brothers Carl or Dennis, Mike Love or Al Jardine, or even Bruce Johnston. Don't misunderstand me—there's a lot for rabid Beach Boy fanatics to enjoy on albums like “20/20” and “Surf's Up”, but during that extended period when the group was lucky to get their emotionally distraught genius to contribute a single bass line to their latest endeavor, they were, in retrospect, doing their leader's lost magnum opus no real favors by exhuming lost "Smile" tracks willy nilly and plopping them smack down amongst their own contributions to the group oeurve.

“Wind Chimes”, “Wonderful”, “Cabin Essence”, even the playful “Vega-Tables”--all seemed to be trifles to me upon their original release, despite meticulous performances. “Surf's Up”, “Heroes And Villains”, and, of course, “Good Vibrations” may've made more lasting impressions, but the crowning accomplishment of this belated “Smile” collection is the masterful way in which composer Wilson weaves his disparate collection of tunes into a series of three well executed suites. NOW a seemingly insignificant little ditty like the aforementioned “Wind Chimes”, existing in a larger context, finally comes to life. One suddenly understands that these tunes were never meant to be heard in musical isolation. Simply put, with “Smile”, the whole is indeed greater than the sum of its many parts. Look, I don't know if I'll ever be able to decipher some of lyricist Van Dyke Parks more obscure passages, but that really doesn't matter—they're of a piece with Wilson's musical vision, and their occasional eccentric nature only manages to contribute to the overall evocativeness of this so-called “Teenage symphony to God”.

Sure, I had my doubts. Anyone who's been following this saga for any length of time would have to. How could we not? After all, it HAS been 37 years, y'know. And like I said, a lot of these songs have been available for almost that long a period of time—not to mention the unending influx of bootleg recordings that have snuck out into the marketplace as the decades mounted. Well, truth to tell, I have a few of those boots myself, and all the officially issued songs from the scotched-”Smile” sessions, and people, I have never REALLY heard “Smile” until I put the disc in the CD player late last night. Only time will tell if this turns out to be the immortal masterwork it has long been rumored to be, but based on my first impressions, I'd say it has an amazingly good chance.

A monumental achievement.

But still, it makes one wonder—if this album (or one essentially like it) had indeed preceded "Sgt. Pepper" into the stores all those years ago, how might that've affected the direction popular music ultimately took? Would "Smile" have been happily embraced by the culture 37 years ago, maybe even usurping the Liverpool Lads pre-eminent position as melodic innovators, or instead coldly stared at blankly and without understanding? Given its decidedly avant garde nature, it COULD'VE easily been a big bust, y'know.

Well, I'm just happy we have it now. If you've ever, in the past 37 years, had any small smidgen of curiosity about this legendary project, I heartily recommend you run right out and grab yourself a copy. I'm reasonably certain you won't be disappointed with its undeniably good vibrations!...

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