Archive for August 2009

Iron Goofy, Incredible Duck, and the Amazing Spider-Mouse

August 31, 2009

This may be the biggest pop culture business story of the decade: The Walt Disney Company is buying Marvel Entertainment for $4 billion.

Already, the fanboys — and, to be fair, the occasional fangirl — are burning up the ‘Net with their prediction of what will happen when the House of Ideas collides with the House of Mouse.

The truth is simple: We’ll see.

Disney is now, and pretty much has been throughout recent memory, all about licensing. There’s no question that the reason they want Marvel isn’t because they crave a niche in the rapidly shrinking world of comics publishing. Heck, Disney can’t be bothered to publish comic books starring the characters they already own — they summarily dumped the last vestige of this connection, the hugely popular Disney Adventures magazine, a while back, with hardly a fare-thee-well — much less floppies about people running around in brightly colored underwear.

What intrigues Disney’s beancounters is the tremendous stable of familiar characters that Marvel represents — characters ripe for exploitation on toys, T-shirts, and oodles of memorabilia. A quick stroll around Anaheim’s Disneyland Resort will clue you in to how thoroughly and aggressively the Mouse House has co-opted the characters from their last mega-acquisition, Pixar Animation Studios. The mind boggles at the fun Disney will have — and the kajillions they’ll profit — marketing Spidey, Wolverine, and the rest of the Merry Marvel Marching Society.

What does it all mean for Marvel in terms of its comics line? Who knows? Comics are a dying industry. Movies and video games, on the other hand, have never been hotter, and Marvel offers a veritable cornucopia of product to churn through. I don’t know how much longer comics will last, regardless of who holds the reigns. With Disney pulling the strings, however, it seems likely that Marvel’s signature superheroes will plow ahead in one form or another for the foreseeable future, and perhaps beyond.

As for the worriers who believe that suddenly Marvel’s going to get all family-friendly because Disney takes over: (a) I’m not sure that would be an awful thing if it happened, and (b) remember, this is the company whose ABC Television Network brings you Desperate Housewives and Grey’s Anatomy.

In the words of the immortal Stan Lee…


Things that make me say, “Huh?”

August 29, 2009

“Huh?” Inducer #1: Andy Lee, the punter for the San Francisco 49ers, hit the scoreboard at the new Cowboy Stadium in Dallas with a punted football in warmups prior to tonight’s game between the Niners and the Cowboys. Apparently, a similar feat was achieved by the punter for the University of Tennessee in a game last week.

Let me get this straight: The Cowboys spent $1.2 billion on a stadium, and nobody thought to check whether the scoreboard was high enough?

“Huh?” Inducer #2: Cinematic schlockmeister Rob Zombie is remaking the 1958 horror classic The Blob. However, says Zombie:

My intention is not to have a big red blobby thing. That’s the first thing I want to change. That gigantic Jello-looking thing might have been scary to audiences in the 1950s, but people would laugh now.

Let me get this straight: Zombie’s going to remake The Blobwithout the Blob? (Memo to RZ: Someone already beat you to thisover a decade ago. How about, you know, an original idea for a change?)

“Huh?” Inducer #3: My cell phone service provider frequently leaves recorded messages on my office voice mail to alert me to special offers on wireless minutes, hardware upgrades, and such like. This week, they left me a recorded message to tell me that after September 1, new FCC regulations will prohibit their leaving me any future recorded messages.

Let me get this straight: WHAT?

Immortal beloved

August 28, 2009

People approach me often and ask…

“Where do you get all of these crazy ideas for your Common Elements commissions? How does it enter into your brain to match Vixen and Comet, because they both share names with Santa’s reindeer? Or Deadman and the Huntress, because their first names are state capitals?”

I simply stare at such people with calm reserve and say to them, “Stay thirsty, my friends.”

Although I can’t explain my arcane thought processes, I do recall the genesis of the Common Elements concept featured in today’s Comic Art Friday artwork. I was surfing the cable box one evening a couple of years ago when I happened upon a showing of the 1994 film Immortal Beloved on one of the movie channels. In case you haven’t seen the film, it stars Gary Oldman as the legendary composer Ludwig van Beethoven (or “Lud,” as I like to call him). In the summer of 1812, Beethoven wrote a series of letters to an unidentified woman whom he addressed as “Immortal Beloved.” The movie portrays the investigation conducted by Beethoven’s secretary after the composer’s death, attempting to ferret out the secret identity of “Immortal Beloved.” (I’ll not spoil the picture for you, but suffice it to say that the mystery woman’s name does not turn out to be Rosebud.)

As I watched the movie, it occurred to me that there are at least two “immortal beloveds” in the comics pantheon — that is, immortal women who are the lovers of superheroes. Unlike Beethoven’s unknown paramour, there’s no secret about the identity of either of these. On the left is Sif — frequently referred to as The Lady Sif — the Asgardian warrior woman loved by the mighty Thor. On the right is Clea, apprentice and consort to the Marvelverse’s Sorcerer Supreme, Dr. Strange.

Sif and Clea, pencils by comics artist Mitch Foust

I chose Mitch Foust, who specializes in drawings of impressively beautiful women, to craft this pairing of immortal beloveds. Mitch drew the piece at his booth during this year’s San Diego Comic-Con. According to Mitch, the artwork engendered a considerable amount of fanboy discussion as to which of the two, Sif or Clea, would make the superior girlfriend, and which would make a better companion in battle.

From my perspective, this question — Sif or Clea? — is merely another variation on what I like to call the Eternal Question. You might be familiar with one or more of its other manifestations:

Ginger or Mary Ann?

Betty or Veronica?

Gwen or MJ?

Julie or Eartha?

Or, if you want to get all Biblical about the thing…

Leah or Rachel?

If you want my opinion — and of course you do, or you’d be reading some other blog right now — it’s Sif all the way. Oh, sure, there’s a certain je ne sais quoi about a woman who can do magic, like Clea here. But if you’ve ever seen, say, The Wizard of Oz or Sleeping Beauty, you know that those conjuring chicks can turn nasty on you in a heartbeat. Give me the broad with the sword (hah! pun!) every time. At least you can see her coming.

Also, if you’re keeping score, it’s Mary Ann, Betty, MJ, Julie — by a whisker, mostly because when I think of Eartha today, I think of her terrifying roles in Boomerang and The Emperor’s New Groove — and of course, Leah. (In the latter case, Jacob preferred Rachel for her beauty, while the homely Leah had greater domestic talents; i.e., fertility. As the late, great Flip Wilson once explained it: If you go for the homely girl, you know exactly what you’re getting. Besides, the pretty girl will get homely eventually anyway.)

Feel welcome to add your own answers to the Eternal Question in the comments section. Ladies’ perspectives (and alternative pairings) gladly welcomed — we’re all about gender equality here at SSTOL.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Up from the rabbit hole

August 27, 2009

Eighteen years ago, 11-year-old Jaycee Lee Dugard was kidnapped near her home in South Lake Tahoe by an unknown man and woman.

Yesterday, the woman who had been Jaycee Dugard turned up alive, in reasonably good health, using the name Allissa Garrido — the 29-year-old mother of two daughters apparently fathered by her male kidnapper. She has lived for most of the past two decades in a warren of tents and shelters in the East Bay backyard of Philip and Nancy Garrido, the husband-and-wife team who snatched her in 1991. The vehicle in which she was abducted remains on the property.

I couldn’t make that up if I tried.

Jaycee Dugard’s kidnapping occurred during a rash of similar — and for the most part, unrelated — crimes against children in northern California during the late 1980s and early 1990s. If you were living here then, and especially if you were a parent, you remember the names: Steven Collins, Ilene Misheloff, Amber Swartz-Garcia, Michaela Garecht, and yes, Jaycee Dugard.

Even the most glass-half-full person on the planet could not have supposed that one of these children would resurface intact — physically, at any rate — nearly 20 years later.

By all accounts, Phillip Garrido is a strange creature — a convicted felon who espouses cultish religious practices on his website, and claims that he speaks to angels and possesses psychic powers. What resulted in his capture, and Jaycee’s resurfacing, is the combination of these elements: Garrido, accompanied by his and Jaycee’s two young daughters, was handing out literature on the UC Berkeley campus without a permit. When campus police discovered that he was a registered sex offender in the company of children, they turned him in to the parole board. An interview with corrections officials — attended by Jaycee and her daughters — quickly revealed the unbelievable situation.

I’m sure that in the days and weeks to come, we’ll learn more about what happened to Jaycee Dugard over the course of her absence — especially how her kidnappers conducted their lives in plain sight, Jaycee and her children living openly with them, and no one ever deduced the circumstances behind the scenes. I’ll be particularly interested to hear how Jaycee lived during the late 1990s while Phillip Garrido was in prison. How did her kidnapping remain hidden even then?

There will, I’m equally sure, be much conversation about the fact that though Jaycee lived an odd and somewhat secluded life — she apparently did not attend school after her capture — she also lived without apparent restraint. She was well-known, at least by sight, by others in the community where the Garridos lived and conducted business. Yet she did not at any point contact the family from whom she was taken, a family whom — according to police interviews — she remembers perfectly well. We’ll hear quite a bit about Stockholm syndrome and related mental phenomena, wherein people who have been kidnapped or taken hostage attach themselves to and identify with their captors.

Amid all of the discussion, we’ll never know the answer to the question of how one human being could do to another what Phillip and Nancy Garrido did to Jaycee Dugard, her mother and stepfather (since divorced — her stepfather, who reported having witnessed Jaycee’s abduction, was long considered a suspect by investigators), and by extension, her children.

We may never know what happened to the other children who never came home.

The lion sleeps tonight

August 26, 2009

The first vote I ever cast for President in a national election, I cast for Senator Edward Kennedy.

The year was 1980. As much as it pained me — because I thought he was a decent guy who simply got in way over his head — I couldn’t bring myself to vote to reelect President Carter. You know darn well I wasn’t voting for the cowboy from Death Valley Days. As for John Anderson… you’re saying right now, “Who?” To which I can only reply, “Exactly.”

So I wrote in a vote for Ted.

It’s the only time I’ve ever exercised the write-in option in any election, for any office, ever. It might be the only time I ever exercise it. But I still believe that, in that particular election, it was the right move.

Ted Kennedy did more in service to this country during his storied tenure in the Senate than any dozen of his colleagues — of either party, or of both parties — that you’d care to name. I’m sorry that he didn’t live to see the health care reform for which he fought so hard in the waning days of his life. But I’m glad that he lived to see Barack Obama elected President.

Was Ted Kennedy a perfect man? He was not. (For the record, neither am I.) I don’t even know whether he was a good man, because I didn’t know him personally. But he was a great Senator. I remain convinced that he would have made a great President.

I’m proud that, the one time when the opportunity presented itself, I voted for him.

Thanks for everything, Senator.

Conflict of interest

August 25, 2009

Because we just can’t get enough of bizarre crime stories around these parts…

Today, two suspects were arrested in relation to a string of four armored car robberies that have occurred here in the North Bay during the past two years.

The ringleader is former Santa Rosa and Sonoma State University police officer Robert Starling.

Among the charges pending against Starling is filing a false report of an emergency. He allegedly placed the call last March that resulted in the evacuation of my (and my daughter KM’s) high school alma mater, in order to distract police during a planned robbery that — for unknown reasons — was called off at the last minute.

Years ago, MAD Magazine published an article designed to explain terms commonly heard on the evening news, using analogies that kids would understand. One of MAD‘s definitions went like this:

Conflict of interest: You’re appointed as hall monitor to keep people from stealing stuff out of lockers, but you’re the main one who’s stealing stuff out of lockers.

I believe Officer Starling just became the poster boy for conflict of interest.

Associated note: Starling’s cousin, an FBI agent named Clarice, was unavailable for comment. She was reportedly seen dining on liver, fava beans, and a nice Sonoma County Chianti.

What’s Up With That? #81: Dude, the chainsaw seems like overkill

August 24, 2009

If you live outside the greater San Francisco Bay Area, you might not have heard about the 17-year-old yahoo (no relation) who attempted to blow up a local high school this morning.

Armed with 1o pipe bombs strapped to a tactical vest, a two-foot samurai sword, and a chainsaw — just in case he decided to hack up some firewood in the midst of the mayhem, I guess — the former student at San Mateo’s Hillsdale High managed to avoid doing any harm or serious property damage, despite setting off a pair of his homemade firecrackers in a corridor.

Law enforcement descended on the school en masse, swiftly capturing the teenage suspect and hauling his stupid butt off to the hoosegow.

The school was evacuated for the remainder of the day. Classes are expected to resume tomorrow.

I went searching for the stereotypical quote in the afternoon stories on the local news sites. I didn’t have to look any further than the Chronicle:

“He was just a really quiet kid. Not many friends. He kept to himself,” said April De Guzman, who lives nearby and has known the suspect since middle school.

Didn’t you just know that someone was going to say those exact words?

Here’s an idea: We should proactively round up all the quiet, friendless loners in America, and lock them up somewhere. They’re the ones who always seem to be pulling these insane stunts.

I believe Alcatraz is available.

Comic Art Friday: This is not a blonde joke

August 21, 2009

Growing up, I read so many comics that my memories of specific stories and issues — and where I was when I read them — run together. A handful of landmark issues stand out for me, however. One such issue was Ms. Marvel #1.

Ms. Marvel, pencils by comics artist MC Wyman

I was already a fan of the Marvel Comics version of Captain Marvel — a completely different character from the Captain Marvel of whom you’re probably thinking if you’re not a major comics geek — when his distaff surrogate first appeared. What drew me to Ms. Marvel, though, was the fact that she was the first Marvel heroine with A-level superpowers.

Essentially, Carol Danvers (who’d actually been a popular Marvel supporting character for several years before she gained superpowers) was both of DC’s signature heroines, Wonder Woman (the powerful and wise mother figure) and Supergirl (the powerful but cute blonde), rolled into one.

"Danvers Dolls," a Common Elements commission by Christopher Rich-McKelvey

The similarities between Supergirl and Ms. Marvel didn’t end with their strength, invulnerability, disdain for gravity, connection to a prototypical male hero, or flaxen tresses. Supergirl’s civilian identity at one point in her complex history was also Danvers — she used the first name Linda — which couldn’t possibly have been a coincidence, though the facts remain shrouded in mystery.

One other factor that Ms. Marvel and Supergirl have in common is that I collect images of both of them. (You can browse my Supergirl collection here and here, and my Ms. Marvel collection here and here.)

Supergirl, pencils by comics artist Christopher Rich-McKelvey

The Ms. Marvel pinup above was drawn by MC Wyman, one of Marvel’s best artists throughout the 1990s. Both the Supergirl solo drawing and the Common Elements commission pairing these two heroines come from the pencil of Christopher Rich-McKelvey, owner of Bald Guy Studios and creator of the independent comic Footman 15.

I don’t often have two artworks featuring the same character by the same artist in my collection, but I’m particularly fond of Supergirl’s costume from the mid-’70s, as seen in the solo pic here. So is Chris, apparently.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Tick… tick… tick…

August 19, 2009

I awakened this morning to the news about Don Hewitt, the pioneering newsman who passed away today at the age of 86.

Although most of Hewitt’s obituaries will lead with the fact that he created 60 Minutes — the show that continues to define investigative reporting, for better or worse — that’s really just the tip of Hewitt’s iceberg of influence. From his days as a CBS News producer in the earliest days of network television, Hewitt was a pivotal figure in shaping broadcast journalism as we know it — not merely the way the news is presented on TV, but how we think about the news we receive via that medium.

Back in the days when I thought I wanted to be a broadcast journalist — somewhere at the bottom of my underwear drawer lies a university degree that attests to that long-evaporated ambition — Don Hewitt was one of my heroes. It’s been sad in recent years to see the quagmire that TV journalism has become in this era of TMZ and FOX News. I’m sure that Hewitt looked at a lot of what passes for news these days — even on the network for which he toiled for more than five decades — and just shook his head in disbelief.

That’s not to say that Hewitt himself was above stunt journalism. Like much else in TV news, he pretty much invented it. Hewitt’s genius was in understanding that to cut through on the “cool” medium of television — if I can get all Marshall McLuhan for just a moment — news stories needed to be direct, personal, and in the viewer’s face. Certainly, the confrontational style of 60 Minutes reflected that.

Thanks, Don, for all the great stories.

The prince of darkness

August 18, 2009

Generally speaking, when I write about celebrity deaths in this space — and as regulars here know, I do that quite frequently — I attempt to find something positive to say about the decedent. Heck, I was even nice to William F. Buckley, a man with whom I would likely have disagreed about the benefits of oxygen.

Today, Robert Novak is dead.

I got nothing.

My path in life never crossed Novak’s, but I spent countless hours in his electronic presence by way of the many talk programs on which the archconservative commentator appeared. I can’t say how much of Novak’s on-camera persona was genuine and how much was an act, but by most accounts, he presented the same dour, bulldog face in everyday affairs that he showed on The McLaughlin Group or The Capital Gang. Novak seemed to be one of those jerky people who revel in their jerkiness, and in making other people feel small and uncomfortable.

I don’t find much laudable in people like that.

Although he broke numerous Washington stories over his lengthy career, Novak will be forever remembered as the journalist who, in a fit of politically motivated pique, broke the cover of CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson. Some considered that act tantamount to treason. I’m not sure I’d go quite that far — treason, like racism, is not an accusation to be hurled lightly — but it was without doubt a stupid and reprehensible act that lowered Novak even in the eyes of many conservatives who had previously lionized him.

For some of us, it simply proved that Novak was exactly what we’d always thought him to be. I’ll let you fill in that blank for yourself, loath as I am to speak ill of the newly departed.

Jon Friedman of MarketWatch expressed it as well as I could:

To me, [Novak] was, as a journalist, a shameful bully. He demonstrated the worst instincts of a professional pundit.

It was always an impression I had about him. I suspected that if the highly paranoid and divisive Richard Nixon had actually been a newspaperman, he would have resembled Novak.

Early in his career, a colleague hung the moniker “Prince of Darkness” on Novak, because of his aggressively pessimistic disposition. Novak enjoyed that image, and even used the nickname as the title of his 2007 autobiography.

Now it’s dark for sure.