Sunday, November 29, 2009

Juxtaposition papers

Am I a bad person for finding comedy in the random pile-up of news and culture magazines laying on the floor of my office pictured above?

“I’m a Big Boy Now”

What a difference a little (better late than never) potty-training can make.

The Boy walks with a distinct swagger these days, like a young John Travolta showing off his new white suit for the first time.

Well, you can tell by the way I use my walk
I’m potty-trained, no time to talk…

He has a running commentary for almost every occasion now and has taken to reminding us that the old rules no longer apply. He helped himself to the refrigerator door yesterday unsupervised – a strict no-no – and when he was reprimanded explained, as if he were addressing a roomful of people with short-term memory disorder, that no, now he’s a Big Boy.

Since my last post on the subject, we haven’t had an accident worth mentioning. We’ve run out of toys to reward him with which led to a serious talk yesterday about how no further toy rewards would be forthcoming. He wasn’t on board with the idea until I explained to him that for Big Boys, hitting the can on time and on target was its own reward.

This Big-Boy bullshit runs both ways.

He still requires assistance and that’s fine. It’s only been a week, ten days, tops.

He’ll come running into my office with a stricken look on his face and blurt, “DaddyI’vegottagopoointhepotty!” So we race into the bathroom and get him seated on his custom throne and then the fun begins. He’s still not completely comfortable with the process yet, and the expressions on his face and his body language — during the process — are hilarious. And when he’s done, by God he’s done. He doesn’t want to sit there one moment longer than necessary and isn’t happy again until the paperwork is completed.

He may be only a few posts away from graduating from The Boy to The Little Man. (Pull yourself together, Fang. Mustn’t exhibit weakness in front of the pack...)

He even picked out the kickin’ pair of shades he’s wearing in the photo above. Previous efforts to get him to wear sunglasses have met with utter failure, but yesterday in the store, he marched up with said spectacles and insisted he needed them. Again with the Big Boy argument. So we bought him the shades and he put them right on. Even wore then for a while, then I got to show him how to hang them off of his t-shirt collar. He looked pretty cool that way, too.

Every inch the Big Boy that he is becoming.

Of course, every silver lining has a cloud… this one’s is as follows: The (Big) Boy is about to move from the day care he’s been at since he was 16 months old to a preschool in about a week, and the preschool lady warned us about potty-training regression which is typical when such transitions occur. So I’m a little apprehensive about that. I’m hoping we beat the odds. I am so over potty-training, I swear to gawd…

Plus the transition promises to be tough in other ways, too. The Missus is taking it particularly hard. The lady who runs the day care, Serena, has become almost like family over the years, like a particularly well-compensated local grandmother. On days when The Boy would arrive early, she’d take him from the converted-garage day care room into her comfortably-appointed home and fill him full of home-cooked Indian food. It took us a while to figure out why he was daily eschewing our breakfast (and often lunch) efforts till we learned the day care lady was making him a better offer.

We tried to pull him out once before, maybe a year ago, and she literally wept as she begged us not to remove him. We eventually relented at that time, but he is unquestionably aged-out now. He’s the oldest child there and has taken to calling the younger children “his kids.” At his new school he’ll be a littler fish in a bigger pond, which will be much better preparation for the casual cruelties life serves up on a daily basis than Serena’s oasis of peace and good-will.

He’s got to learn some time that with Big Boy powers come Big Boy responsibilities and I reckon now’s as good a time as any to start. Welcome to real world, son. It oughtta come with a warning label.

(And don’t even get me started on how much we’re already missing our Little Boy, and our Toddler and our Baby… I think this is probably the point where most people go crazy and decide to have another kid. Fortunately for us, I got most of the crazy out of my system long before I decided to breed.)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Children’s Music Hour

The Boy fell asleep in my lap tonight. The Missus was watching Grey’s Anatomy in the front room and when he got bored with all the gore and romantic intrigue, he wandered back close to his bedtime to see what I was up to in my office.

I was up to the Weekend Update segment on last night’s SNL, but I know topical humor isn’t really his thing, so I asked him if he’d like to watch what I was watching or listen to music. He chose the music option, so I put on a DVD of Leonard Cohen in concert from his tour earlier this year.

The Boy’s face lit up when the opening menu came on and he saw Leonard’s ancient visage. “Oh, I like him! The man with the hat!”

And as he crawled up on my lap in the medium-sized chair in my office, it occurred to me, my son has to have some of the coolest taste in music of any 4-year-old in his pod.

The first year-and-a-half of his life, he woke up every morning to “The Johnny Cash Show” on bootleg DVD. Whenever a guest artist would start to sing, he’d get agitated and point at the TV and demand “Cash! Cash!” – one of his first words.

As soon as he began to walk, we learned he loved dancing to Rush. (There are YouTube clips to attest to this.) He still likes them to this day. Last week I went to see KISS in concert and I played the whole first Rush album in my office beforehand, and he stayed and danced to the whole thing.

Bruce came next. He released, and we purchased, a DVD of his Seeger Sessions tour at an impressionable time in The Boy’s life. Again, the music was great for dancing to, and as an added bonus, it gave me a chance to talk to him about America. And like a Cash tune, he can spot a Bruce tune a mile away now, even an unfamiliar one. “Bruce?” he’ll ask. Except when it’s Cash, he announces it confidently. “That’s Cash!”

I don’t know what kind of crap he’s being exposed to at day care – although the fact that he knows the Barney theme song is suspicious and unsettling – but it’s a thrill to see him groove to the same tunes as I do at such an early age. I just hope he doesn’t break my heart some day and come home with this ‘awesome’ new music he just discovered and slip “Kind of Blue” onto whatever we’re listening to music on by then.

Saturday, November 21, 2009


[PARENTAL WARNING: This post is full of crap. Not safe for work, or people who haven’t personally raised children.]

After four-plus under-performing years, I’d had it with my mostly hands-off approach to The Boy’s potty-training. I kept relying on all manner of professionals, and The Missus, to solve the problem for me, but once again, at another pivotal juncture in The Boy’s life, I decided I had to put my foot down. It was time for Potty-Training Boot Camp.

He was at the point where he knew perfectly well what we wanted, but was so comfortable with downloading his dumpage directly into his pull-ups that he just wasn’t taking the next step to making in the toilet.

So I kept him home Tuesday to work on the problem. A “neither one of us is leaving this house till we’re both crapping in the toilet instead of our drawers” mindset prevailed. Even though even on a good Tuesday it’s my roughest day of the work week, theoretically, this is exactly the type of opportunity working from home affords me.

And this was not a good work-day Tuesday. [tedious job-related complaints omitted here]

It would have been a huge stress-out/self-pity day except that I had The Boy home too, and he kept me too distracted with both the ridiculous and the sublime to submit to wallowing in feeling sorry for myself.

The Missus came back from her parents with a well-intentioned plan of her Dad’s to gain The Boy’s cooperation by earning poker chips for every poop he made. Turns out, The Boy literally didn’t give a crap about the poker chips (to a 4-year-old it’s just a piece of plastic that doesn’t light up or make noises or do anything), but the Jeep that Transformers® into Captain America that I picked up from Toys R Us, that was a hell of a motivator.

So I coupled my cooler bribe with another idea of her dad’s that I really liked – buy lots of underpants and let him get tired of crapping in them. He even gave us cash with which to do it. So I went to Target Monday night and picked up a score of Pixar character-festooned underpants his size. (Thanks, Pops!)

After a whole morning of fruitless but good faith efforts to produce excreta on the potty, The Boy proceeded to crank out about a quart of the A-quality sludge in his brand-new underpants around noon – in the kitchen – at the exact moment two of the colleagues I’d been desperately waiting to hear back from all morning called me simultaneously. I literally had my hands full of shit, a son who was caked in poopy goo all down his legs and crying to be cleaned and the goddamned dog standing outside the bathroom, waiting for his chance to eat my son’s poopy undrpants.

It was INsane.

But he and I talked about it all day. I whipped out that Captain America toy and let him hold it while he sat on the potty, picking at the packaging, talking about it, about the colors, about heroes, about America… Every time he sat down on the potty that day, he played with the Cap transformer box. I woulda taken a picture but I have to start thinking about his dignity sometime. Anyhow, I don’t think it’s an image I’ll soon forget, even without a photo.

Eventually around 3:30 The Boy wore out and went down for a nap.

Got him up about 5 and we continued to work on The Task. I handed him off briefly to his mother when she got home but placed myself back on the front line the next time he wanted to try again. He was asking me now if he could try again, he wanted that Captain America Transformer so bad. So I sat in the bathroom with him again and talked him through it. Unsuccessfully.

Eventually, at around his bedtime, we went in and tried again and lo and behold, he expelled a miniscule but undeniable amount of defecation into the toilet. The ratio of celebration to quantity of poo was way out of proportion, but we’d all earned a good celebration.

Since it wasn’t a massive dump, he didn’t get the big toy, but he did get a very cool smaller Captain America toy (inset). And since we’d discussed the parameters of the agreement all day, he was very happy to have the little toy. It was hard getting him to get off the toilet, he was so determined to make a big deposit and win the top prize.

Kept him home again the next day to significantly lesser success. He no longer evinced any interest in the big Transformer toy. All day long he resisted any bathroom entreaties and ended the day sans BM.

The next day The Missus stayed home too and we tag-teamed all day to no success. Now two consecutive days without dropping a deuce. There was no way he was gonna last three but he had to go to day care on Friday.

We went to bed Thursday night, The Missus and me, very discouraged. I was worried that the brusque, brutish day care lady was going to be shepherding my son through his next traumatic massive undies-unload.

Friday early afternoon, I get a call from the A-List day care lady (whew!) with the happy news that The Boy had successfully hit the head in time with his smelly load. I grabbed an unopened Batman action figure, ran out of the house and raced through the slushy rain to the day care facility. We had a big celebration and he told me all about it (“It was like a volcano of poo!”).

The big question was, would he perform as well ever again, or was this just a wild, once-in-a-lifetime fluke? Well, I’m happy to report that, after more than four years, potty-training confidence is finally high. He hit the center ring again today, with no mess to clean up and finally earned his kick-ass Captain America Transformer.

The Boy didn’t become a man today, but I think he might have advanced at least as far as Little Man. Congratulations, son. Mommy and Daddy couldn’t be prouder of you. Or more relieved.

Addendum: And now I’m off to Target, to pick up another giant bribe for tomorrow. Thank God weekends only come twice a week or we’d never be able to afford to housetrain him!

Sci-Fi TV Goes Mainstream

Really, really mainstream. Like, without a paddle… Oh wherefore art thou, Lost? Your imitators are stinking up my new TV season.

Flash-Forward is arguably the best of the freshman bunch. It is literally Lost done by the geniuses who ran the Star Trek TV franchise into the ground, from the producers running the show all the way to casting two Lost actors in principal roles. Its (story) gimmick is that the whole world simultaneously fell asleep for 2+ minutes one day and all woke up having had visions of their lives 6 months from that day. The show follows around the FBI guys and gals tasked with figuring out WTF.

Joseph Fiennes, the brother of the actor who played the Nazi death-camp commander in Schindler’s List is the lead here, a British actor doing a tortured generic American accent. The result being, he comes off terse, monotonal and uninvolving. He’s the wrong lead man for this role. For God’s sake, I’m sure Hollywood is littered with toothsome young domestic actors whose whole performance wouldn’t boil down to nailing the accent every take.

Or hire a Brit who can pull it off like Damian Lewis (inset) from last year’s late, lamented Life, cancelled to make room for Jay Leno’s current 10pm yuch-fest. Or Hugh Laurie on House or Jake Weber from Medium. Or how about the British babe Sonya Walger, Penelope from Lost, also in this new show. She nails the accent effortlessly. The TV landscape is lousy with foreigners convincingly playing Americans, why didn’t Flash-Forward hire one of them for its male lead?

Seriously, little Joey Fiennes’ from-nowhere-in-America American accent takes me out of every scene he’s in, which is most of the scenes every episode.

A number of characters get their own storylines and legitimately interesting fate-vs-free-will questions are posed, mostly dealing with “can we change the future?” (I’m guessing if this show survives long enough to answer the question, it will come back ‘No.’) But it also features almost exclusively boring, stock characters like the suicidal terminal cancer patient (ooh, who’s also a doctor and looks good in scrubs!), the pair of recovering alcoholics whose sobriety is tested weekly, etc.… yawn.

The storyline moves quickly but feels slow, even though it serves up lots of pay-offs per episode. And most of the ‘reveals’ it throws at the audience every week are more likely to elicit shoulder shrugs than Lost’s “Holy shits”s. The whole show seems desperate to please and desperation is never the classy affair the show’s production values seek to instill in it. With every episode I grow less keen to continue watching.

The Hobbit Charlie from Lost also has a role and he’s the most interesting, convincing thing about this program. I’m very close to bailing altogether but I may stick around if his role is enlarged.

Also new this year is V, a retooling of the cheesey 80s TV show of the same name. File this one also under “why bother?” It’s still a cool idea, still lamely executed.

‘V’ stands for ‘Visitor,’ as in extraterrestrial. In this case, bi-ped lizards in human suits.

I kid you not.

Juliette from Lost is the lead here and makes an unconvincing FBI agent. Again, all the TV tropes are trotted out: Juliette has a rebellious teenage son who defies her by hanging out with the highly-placed hot blonde ‘V’ chick… a priest suffering a crisis of faith brought on by a UFO development his Bible never warned him about, they-look-just-like-us-so-no-one-can-be-trusted angst across the board… it’s the new cookie cutter.

And I have to mention the actor playing the priest, Joel Gretsch, formerly of basic cable’s late 4400 show. He looks and seems less like a priest than any Hollywood interpretation I’ve seen before. An unshaven Edward G. Robinson would have been more convincing in this role except he’d dead. As a recovering Catholic I can assure you, this guy just isn’t pulling off the parish-priest vibe. He seems less like the conflicted man of God he’s supposed to be and more like the B-List actor who can’t believe he’s in the A-List production that he is.

After re-reading this mini-review, I think I may have already watched my last V episode. If you’re not convinced yet of the mundanity of this show, here’s a line of dialog I wrote down from this week’s episode that encapsulates it perfectly: “Visitors walking around everywhere, angry protesters are getting pissed off!”

It’s Heroes-level writing. Need I say more? Speaking of non-freshmen efforts…

Fringe debuted last year, aiming to be this generation’s X-Files, and in its sophomore season is beginning to move closer to that goal. (Full disclosure, I was never a big X-Files fan. I saw a few that I liked but I arrived late to the party and never got into the show’s mythology.)

I sampled a few first-season episodes of Fringe last year and was casually intrigued but not necessarily impressed. This season has been much more consistent. Without abandoning their overarching mythology, they’ve crafted a number of compelling individual episodes this season. Cool sci-fi shit can be counted upon to happen in cool ways every week.

The cast is also strong, with the exception of the guy playing the mad scientist’s son. I don’t hate him, but I’m not interested in him either. But the mad scientist guy, John Noble, is terrific, as is the Fringe FBI agents’ boss, Lance Riddick, late of The Wire and, you guessed it, Lost. The head FBI agent is played by Aussie Anna Torv with another only-slightly wandering accent that might be distracting if her acting wasn’t so intense and she wasn’t so easy on the eyes. And the rest of the show so well done.

It’s probably no coincidence that Fringe is exec-produced by JJ Abrams, also of Lost fame, as well as the director responsible for resuscitating the Star Trek movie franchise.

Oh yeah, and Leonard Nimoy occasionally drops in to play a mysterious dude from a parallel earth whose twin towers are still standing. The first shot of Nimoy’s character in his office high in one of the towers was shocking, but not in a way that felt exploitative.

It’s a damned smart show. This week it began to reveal the secret of who the mysterious bald white guy was who kept popping up in the background of episodes last season. SPOLIER ALERT: The bald guy is one of a bunch of bald guys who function, basically, as the Time Police. They’re called Observers and they’ve gotta be an homage to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s The Watcher character from Marvel comics, Uatu (see inset). He was another bald white dude who showed up at pivitol moments in human history, except he dressed like Caesar, not a stockbroker from Wall Street.

My only complaint is that the actual broadcast is cut up into too many segments. I haven’t done the math, but I’d swear they have more commercial breaks, more frequently, than other prime-time scripted dramas. It’s giving me a bad case of TiVo Thumb. Boy, do I hate those bastards over at Fox.

One final word about sci-fi/fantasy/superhero television, concerning the long-in-the-tooth young-Superman show Smallville.

End it! End it this season! “Young” Clark Kent is now in his thirties. The series has been creatively dormant for at least the last 5 years if not lots longer. It’s time for Clark to slip into his red and blue peejays and Hero the fuck Up! This show has been cynically milked well past its sell-by date.

In the plus column, less TV-time means more time to blog!

Friday, November 20, 2009

My wife keeps blogging about her job

I never do.

Better 30 years late than never…

I remember thinking as a kid, in the mid-70s, that all the good music in the world must have already been made and wasn’t being made anymore because all I had access to was AM radio. There was Hall & Oates and Seals & Croft, Michael Murphy and the Starlight Vocal Band, Kenny Rogers… you get the picture. In my little corner of teenage hell, there was shitty music or there was nothing.

Even the albums my kid sister and I had inherited from our older siblings inspired scant confidence, stuff like Herman’s Hermits and The Buckinghams. My Mom played the piano but all the music she played was old, too. Some of it was pretty cool, like the Claire de Lune, but she also favored show tunes.

And even then I knew Johnny Cash was cool (I had the “Boy Named Sue” 45 at the time of its release in the late 60s, but liked the “San Quentin” song on the B-side better. It sounded like genuine trouble rumbling, just waiting to happen); but alas, Cash too was old. And in a career slump — his no-bullshit style did not mesh well either with radio formats at the time or the evolving country/western music scene.

I literally had given up on music till KISS came along. Lord almighty, looking back on it now, I can’t imagine going through the disco era that was to come without KISS.

KISS provided the necessary link from a.m. radio to album rock and led to later Colombia House Record Club-based experimentation with more genuinely dangerous bands like Rush, Zepplin, Pink Floyd, Springsteen, Warren Zevon… you know, the harder stuff.

KISS was I guess what you’d call a gateway band.

(I could name the friend who turned me on to KISS, but he’s a big-shot lawyer in the fetid, blistering hellhole I escaped from and we didn’t part on such great terms. We’ll call him BS Lawyer. Thanks, BS Lawyer. That’s one I owe ya.)

I instantly liked everything about KISS. I knew I was not listening to any kind of musical geniuses (Mom also covered the classics; Beethoven, Bach, complicated church chorale stuff) but they appealed to every part of my teen-aged self. I was into comics, they looked like they’d come out of one. I was angry and lonely and agitated and so was their music and its lyrics. I blew shit up and set fire to it and so did they.

Oh, and my Mom just hated them with a particular vigor. That sealed the deal.

Since then, I’ve been to about a million concerts, but smehow never saw the band that initially turned my head from top-40 despair to AOR ecstacy… until now. On their “Milking It Till Your Wallets Are Empty Tour XXXV,” coming soon to an arena near you, KISS graced Christmas Island with their presence last night and I had tenth-row floor seats with The Last Boy Scout (thanks to a resourceful Mrs. TLBS, wise in the ways of Ticketbastard).

It’s been a long time since I’ve lost both my hearing and my voice at a concert, but I definitely did last night.

TLBS said he especially enjoyed watching me jump like a little girl at all the pyro, which is probably an accurate interpretation, in retrospect. We were very close and it was very loud. And since this was my first KISS show, I didn’t know where to expect the ear-shattering explosions. But TLBS did and he directed my attention in the appropriate direction on a couple of occasions. Did I mention TLBS is KISS Fan Number One? He is. He even loaned me one of his vintage, glow-in-the-dark t-shirts for the event.

Everybody at the show was cool. Lots of face paint and a few folks who really went the distance. Which made for a funny moment about ¾ of the way through the show. One doughty guy completely dressed-out as Gene Simmons, sitting slumped in his crappy almost-obstructed view seat with his frowny face resting on his hands while everyone around him was standing and rocking in place like they should have been.

The opening band Buckcherry exceeded expectations, which in this case could have meant nobody died while onstage. But still... The songs were mostly agreeable arena-ready rock anthems and the band did indeed kick some serious arena-rock ass.

Plus we were close and it was loud.

Their lead singer was tattooed and skinny and lithe and made a great frontman, but was somewhat derivative in terms of style. As I told TLBS after the show, while we searched and searched for our damned missing car, Buckcherry’s singer ought to write Axl Rose a check after every show, except maybe only 50¢ on the dollar as he didn’t have any of Axl’s upper range.

Then came KISS, after more than 30 years of following their career (admittedly not that closely for long stretches at a time), there was Gene Simmons doing his Demon thing, right there in front of me. They played a boat-load of hits, the early stuff, the stuff the mostly post-boomer generation crowd came to hear.

There were a lot of people there younger than me with their kids older than mine. The tall, hefty guy in front of me (I have lots of photos of his blindingly white left arm if anyone needs any) and his maybe 10-year-old son were both wearing face paint, and Dad kept taking cell phone pictures of his kid. It made me so warm and fuzzy on the inside I didn’t actually mind that his massive limb ruined at least 30 percent of the photos I took.

That’s probably also because I got at least one good one of each major player and a few nice ones of the whole stage. Thirty years ago I never would have been able to sneak in a proper camera!

Their set was a tight two hours, but it had everything you go to a KISS concert for; Gene Simmons breathing fire and puking blood, platforms rising and musicians flying, Paul Stanley bitching repeatedly about how poorly attended the evening’s performance was during his between-song banter… even some things I didn’t expect but should have, like Stanley introducing early hit “Cold Gin” with a warning not to drink and drive, apparently sincere.

Anyhow, it was great. I’m glad I didn’t wait too long. These guys have to be pushing 60 now. They can’t keep it up at this pace forever. Stanley has to be dying his trademark chest hair black by now. But they can still kick out the jams and put on a hell of a show. I went expecting a nostalgia show and instead got rocked off my ass.

Plus we were close and it was loud.

Here’s a couple of the few photos that came out well. (My new camera is too fucking smart for my own good. It kept compensating for shit and ruining shots. “Jesus Christ, H.A.L., just stop thinking about it and open the Goddamned pod bay doors”)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Tom Waits and Kool Keith walk into a bar...

Friday, November 13, 2009

A farewell to Lou Dobbs

So long, take it easy, go fuck yourself.


In case you missed it, the immigrant-bashing, not-sure-where-Obama-was-born coulda-been rocket scientist Mr. Dobbs bailed on his CNN gig at the top of his eponymous show a couple days back. I’m so happy to see him go, I’m including his entire farewell speech below without any snarky embellishments. This way you know you’re getting it straight from the horse’s ass:

My guess is this douschebag is hoping to ride the wave of xenophobia and fear-mongering he was so helpful in whipping up to political office in some backwater hellhole bastion of hard-right crazies. What state does he live in?

Was he fired? I don’t know how to work the Twitter and I don’t listen to PBS so I’m in the dark here. (Although this story from August seems to suggest he may have been shown the door after all.)

I hope he was fired. I glanced at a Hufington Post opinion piece on Dobbs’ abrupt departure from CNN and it brought up a good point. CNN is supposed to be the middle-of-the-road, straight-news outlet. Not left-wing hollering like MSNBC or the vile crud that pukes forth from Fox News. That’s why it runs on the TVs in the terminals in a lot of America’s airports. For years now, CNN had irresponsibly exposed this captive audience to the deranged ravings of a lunatic mind, with a decidedly race-baiting twist.

I’m sure he quit. He’s gonna hitch his wagon to the same group of goofballs who hold ‘tea parties’ and compare Obama to (sigh) Hitler. Fox News would be his most obvious next gig, but over there he’d just be another nut in the Hallelujah Chorus of right-wing looney-tunes. At least on CNN, he was pretty much the lone voice calling out for intolerance, suspicion and hatred of The Other. At Fox, he’d just be one more off-note in an already sour chord.

Frankly, I don’t care what his Grand Scheme is. He’s just not particularly charismatic or compelling, he’s a born middle-of-the-roader; not as loud or crazy as Rush Limbaugh or as crazy sexy as Michele Malkin. He’s just one more angry, aging white guy who’s yanked his platform out from underneath him. I think he’s just taken the first step on his long, unrewarding path to historical footnote.

CNN, this is your chance to reclaim the middle. We need at least one national news network that only aims to report the news, not make it. Do the right thing and don’t look for some other fringe crank racist to replace the one you just lost. Take it as the omen that it is.

American news consumers need an Honest Broker, now more than ever, and shedding yourself of Lou Dobbs is an excellent first step to reclaiming that mantle.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Pan-Generational Geek Nirvana

I have an embarrassing moment every week when I go to the comic book store to buy the latest issues. I’m half-way between 45 and 50 years old. When comics books first started, guys were lucky to live to my age; I don’t think very many of them were still buying comics.

And I don’t know how many are now. Because I live in a small town, the two independent comic stores nearby rarely order everything, and if your requirements aren’t already on file at the shop, you’re likely to miss out on getting your hands on the more obscure books if you’re not on-site when the store opens its doors. Consequently, there’s hardly ever anyone there, young or old, when I do my shopping.

Just one harried clerk, peevishly unpacking UPS boxes while I peer over his shoulder and shuffle through the careful stacks he’s trying to make. Who cares? I already have a friend.

And if there are people there, they’re usually youngsters playing some inexplicable fantasy-related card game together at long, thin tables, the kind the parish used to pull out from storage when they had BINGO in the rec center. I lamented to the counter help the other day that comics used to be a refuge from the stress of human, peer-to-peer interaction and that now the industry seemed to promote it. These card-playing kids seemed almost completely lacking any outward evidence of suffering the ill effects of social stigmatization.

What was the point? They might as well have been playing soccer.

I should put a dollar in a drawer ever time I have to type this: But I digress…

Anyhow, even though I look a little younger than I am, I'm still an old fart buying funny books. That’s how I feel and how these kids must be seeing me. I remember being a kid and seeing older guys in the comic stores and feeling sorry for them.

And I swear, I would have quit by now. I would have! If comics had remained the same as when I was growing up, I would have grown right out of them. I look back at most comics from my childhood now and they seem so quaint. Kind of the way episodes of “All In The Family” look precocious next to “Family Guy.”

Times have changed and comics have kept up with them. They have artists now, and drawing and printing tools now, light years more sophisticated than existed even a decade ago. And the characters have become increasingly three-dimensional, with storylines thought-out and cooked up by guys who must be smoking stuff better than Tommy Chong’s private stash. The two main companies, Marvel and DC, are currently locked in an ever-escalating cycle of “Event” mega-series that tie together every piece-of-shit book in the company to a single over-riding storyline, which inevitably leads into the next storyline. It’s like an unbroken string of multiple, rolling orgasms. The fun never ends.

And of course, most of it is driven by financial imperatives. For instance, as soon as the “Iron Man” movie hit big at the box office, the creative team (writer and artist) on his regular book got bumped up to the A-List. It’s been one of the best reads for months now, and it’s all leading up to the un-death of Captain America in a couple months and the reformation of the Holy Trinity of original Avengers, Thor, Captain America and Iron Man.

And that’s just the comic books. In movie theaters, plans are afoot for another “Iron Man” movie next summer, a Kenneth Branagh-helmed “Thor” film in 2011, a “Captain America: The Original Avenger” flick in 2012 (an election year – that could be really cool!) and then an “Avengers” film the summer after, featuring all the onscreen talent from the individual franchises.

Print may be dead, but as long as film thrives, it looks like the four-color versions will continue to exist if only to keep the characters in the public consciousness during the brief windows between the films’ theatrical and video premieres.

And if Chris Nolan makes another “Batman” film… I kind of hope he doesn’t. I can’t imagine topping “The Dark Knight.” I’d hate to see him soil the franchise by milking it past its expiration date. Marvel, on the other hand, has a plan, and if the films on-deck measure up to “Iron Man” and “Spider-Man” levels of quality and box office success, they’ve got a license to print money for the next five years. Money, and comic books!

But I digress.

As a result of the boom in the industry overall, the dream team-ups I fantasized about in my youth are the bread and butter of today’s four-color funny industry. The one pictured at the top of this post came out this week.

It features 1930s-40s pulp hero Doc Savage and Batman. Now, my dad grew up reading the original Doc Savage pulps, and when they were re-issued in paperback form in the 60s and 70s, he introduced me to them. The paperback covers always featured the buff ‘Man Of Bronze’ in a ripped dress shirt in front of some apocalyptic background, prompting derisive howls of alleged homoeroticism from The Missus to this day:

I just don’t see it.

I keep telling her, “No, if it was Doc’s sexy female cousin Pat Savage in peril and a ripped shirt on the cover, surrounded by a bunch of other shirtless guys, that would be sexy. All these covers say to me is ‘Doc’s a lot tougher than his shirts are,’ and isn’t that something you want in an action hero?

Anyhow, the comic pictured at top – which could have been complete shit and I would have bought it anyhow – turned out to be great! It mixes and matches elements from Doc’s 30s/40s milieu, like the dirigibles in the sky and the auto-gyro on the cover, with more recent tropes like delivering exposition through the use of TV broadcasts. But by not dwelling on the melding of the disparate eras, they get away with it and the new world comes alive, thanks in no small part to the art of Phill Noto, who somehow marries the Art Deco glamour of Doc Savage’s New York with the film noir nihilism of Batman’s Gotham. It’s frankly a brilliant effort.

Now, Doc has been rendered in comic book form before: least one time I can recall in the mid-70s to coincide with the release of a supremely lame movie version at the same time:

But regrettably, the comics were pretty standard-issue stuff at the time. No effort was expended to keep the flavor of the character from the original pulps intact and the whole sorry enterprise was gratefully short-lived and completely forgettable.

[A word of disclaimer: I’ve come across some of the aging 1960s Bantam reprints of the original pulps and the writing is laugh-out-loud bad. Conan should have William Shatner do dramatic readings of them on “The Tonight Show.” I don’t even know how to write a properly constructed sentence myself, but I can spot a howler when I see one. If you want a good laugh, go to and order yourself up a “Doc Savage” paperback or two.]

But if you want a crackling adventure yarn, well-written and beautifully illustrated (by Brian Azzarello and Phil Noto, respectively) featuring a young Batman still learning the ropes and The Man Of Bronze at the peak of his Man-Of-Broniziest, race down to your local comic book joint today. I haven’t enjoyed such a pleasant four-color surprise in quite a long time.

Longer than some of you young punks playing card games have been alive. Now get off my lawn before I call the police!!

Monday, November 02, 2009

Why it’s more fun to be me than to be around me [example 346.02]

(And let me assure you, it’s no day at the beach being me, either.)

Sometimes it’s the little things in life…

So we’re having an election tomorrow. No big deal, no celebrity politicians on the bill, mostly measures and propositions and other stuff that turns the paying-attention part of my brain to the “Off” position.

I’m driving through town this afternoon to pick The Boy up at daycare and one of the propositions has sign-bearers on literally every street corner. “No on P!” their giant signs exhort in big red block letters as their bearers attempt to engage passersby.

I didn’t bother to acquaint myself with the details but assume it deals with some NIMBY-type issue – a perhaps well-meaning idea that everybody thinks is great in theory but damned well doesn’t want in their own neighborhood.

I pull up to a curved-off right turn at a busy 4-way intersection. Red light. While I’m waiting for a break in traffic, the protest lady on the corner is waving her big “No on P!” sign and trying to catch my eye.

Since there’s no way to convincingly pretend I don’t see her, I roll down the passenger-side window, lean over, and with a perfectly innocent countenance ask — after a brief pause to make sure I have her undivided attention — “Where do you stand on poo?”

Some days, there is just nothing finer than a little well-placed potty-training humor.