Monday, November 12, 2018

Excelsior Ad Infinitum

I'd made peace with the fact that this day would come, but it still made me sad when I heard the news. I could go on and on for a thousand words about all the ways Stan Lee's larger-then-life persona did, in fact, loom large for me as a young fan and aspiring storyteller. But the main takeaway was this: he had a voice, a distinctive and inimitable way of expressing himself in printed words that I would argue will be his enduring legacy. Bigger than the ideas he brought forth as a young and hungry creator, bigger than the goofy up-for-whatever grandpa persona he happily inhabited in his elder statesman days, he made his mark as a wordsmith. When you read something penned by Stan the Man, you knew it was penned by none other.

RIP.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Social Media Saturday

Usually I don't think these kind of memes work out as well or are as clever as their originators and propagators seem to think, but dangit if "Lorraine Slipped A Disc" doesn't sound like something I would suggest for a band name.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Watershed Days Revisited

I believe everybody, more or less, has two distinct conceptions of themselves: the self-as-child and the self-as-self. Holding those two separate personhoods in mind allows us to assign certain aspects of our life to 'the folly of youth', which is a useful if not downright necessary coping mechanism, though of course it's not limited to embarrassing indiscretions and attitudes. There can be positive things associated with ourselves-as-children, too, with fond nostalgia or bittersweet regret. It's all part of how we reckon with the passage of time.

And of course it's different for every person, because it's all subjective. The self-as-self doesn't axiomatically begin the day you turn 13, or 18, or 21, or 25, or 30. Some people may have memories of themselves at seven years old which they effectively recollect as 'me, but shorter'. Some people may go through some transformative event in their early 40's which becomes the only before/after line of demarcation in their personal timeline that matters. IDIC.

I'm also clearly oversimplifying things by setting up a binary in the first place, because we all exist along many different multi-faceted axes. When I think, for example, about my general attitude towards eating vegetables in terms of 'when I was a kid' (hated anything green and basically survived on meat and potatoes and Flintstones chewables) and 'as an adult' (eat just about anything, have hot takes on specific preparations of brussels sprouts and cauliflower) that's something that gradually shifted when I went away to college. On the other hand, when I think about my tendency to be a conflict-averse people-pleaser, that's always been true, but it was much more pronounced in my younger days, in this case meaning before I got divorced and picked up the pieces of my life in my mid-to-late 20's.

And then there's the fact that some things never end! I literally cannot remember not being aware of, drawn to, and fascinated by super-heroes. I'm still into them, while fully acknowledging that they are in numerous ways (fairly and unfairly) childish things.

So I'm all over the map. Aren't we all? Here's yet another personal example: pop music. I grew up in a pretty pro-music environment. The radio or the tape player was always in use on long family car trips, and my dad had his old stereo in the garage to crank up on weekends when he was doing yard work or fixit projects, and the newer and nicer stereo in the living room got a fair amount of use as well. We had cable tv and were allowed to watch MTV from day one. Rock and roll was all right, from Buddy Holly and the Beatles right up through the Clash, Van Halen, the Go-Gos, Michael Jackson, ZZ Top, you name it ... but my dad drew the line at heavy metal. He's deeply Catholic, it was the 80s, it was a whole thing. (A whole super weird thing, though, because there I was still going to Sunday school as an adolescent and being warned about the dangers of satanic messages in music, from such acts as Judas Priest and AC/DC and Queen and the Rolling Stones. AC/DC and Queen were 'satanic' for glorifying not just sex but unacceptable unholy perverted bisexuality and homosexuality right there in the names of the bands, which ... is a bit of a stretch particularly in making the case to a pre-sexual tween. The Rolling Stones trafficked in obvious Luciferian imagery from 'Goat Soup' to 'Sympathy for the Devil' to 'Their Satanic Majesties Request' which made much more straightforward sense, but I was also well aware that my dad was a HUGE Rolling Stones fan. But I digress.)

Some time around seventh or eighth grade I was first exposed to Metallica and was immediately hooked. And setting aside what exactly it was about the screaming primal energy of the thrash style or the baroque lyrical imagery that hit me right in the most receptive brainspots at that age and stage of my life, it really always stands out in my mind as a radical act of independence, a true line of demarcation. Before that, I would learn about new bands through my father. He was the gatekeeper who controlled the FM dial in the house or car, or who brought home new vinyl singles from his weekly record store trips. MTV evened the playing field a bit, although it was still most often the case that if I heard something first, when my father caught up on it he would approve. We both liked the same kind of music, which covered a lot of common ground. The suddenly there was this particular subgenre of music, embodied in one particular band, for which I was ALL IN, and my father was DECIDEDLY NOT. To his immense credit, he never really went beyond passive-aggressive shade-throwing. Metallica wasn't banned from our house, I never got grounded or even so much as yelled at for listening to it. My dad made it clear he didn't like it, and wished I didn't like it, but in hindsight I suppose he realized I was old enough to make my own decisions and that trying to control something like musical taste was pointless. So I was left with something which was mine, neither received through my parents nor positively approved of by them, and that was a big deal.

My parents' tolerance for it went so far as to allow me to go to my first concert at age 14 to see Metallica, at a giant arena with a group of maybe a half-dozen other kids from school. I remember that show being a very huge deal to me (and now that I have kids of my own I imagine it was a big deal to my folks, too), the culmination of my newly discovered fandom. After endlessly replaying the Kill 'Em All and Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets albums through the back half of middle school, the release of ... And Justice For All dropped and was a revelation, and catching the ensuing tour put an auditory exclamation point on it all. I certainly don't think of Metallica as my favorite band now, and I can't say for sure if there was ever a period, even a week, when I would have referred to them as my absolute all-time favorite band back then, but they have this looming liminal personal significance, is what I'm trying to convey. In the diagetic soundtrack of my life, there's all this radio-friendly rock and roll in my childhood, and then there's Kirk Hammett's guitar and Lars Ulrich's drums and James Hetfield's voice kicking in and, boom, I'm just not a kid anymore. Part of that just happens to be the timing, the natural progression from pre-pubescent to post-. But part of it is inherent to the music itself and the blazing bright line it created in my memory.

Significantly, nowadays when people talk about how long ago some pop culture phenomenon was, if it dates back to my childhood the intervening number of years usually doesn't phase me. Star Wars is over forty? Yeah, well, so am I, and Star Wars has always been a part of my life, so that tracks. The first GI Joe cartoon miniseries debuted thirty-five years ago? Again, I can't say that surprises me because I am a grown-ass adult and remember living for GI Joe as a little kid. Lotta water under the bridge since then. But I was driving the little guy to school today and listening to the local classic rock station, and the DJ mentioned the thirtieth anniversary of ... And Justice For All (the exact date of which apparently came and went last month, on August 25th) and I was momentarily stunned. That's not just something that happened a long time ago, but still within my lifetime, but only if you include the life of me-as-a-child to extend the lifetime reach of me-as-myself. That's an event me-as-myself can remember, as clearly as if it were yesterday, and yet was not one or two but three whole decades ago. Sweet satanic majesty I am OLD.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Earth Days of Future Past

Happy Earth Day! In honor of the green occasion, I'm going to RECYCLE! By which I mean I am going to take a post I made in a Facebook group this week and reproduce it here:

I'm a bourbon drinker, and I went to college in the U.S. south, so I've had my share of mint juleps. I quite enjoy them, honestly. My dad briefly spent time working in London, opening a UK office for his then employer, and I happened to visit him there when his co-workers, all of whom were Englishmen or Scots or Irish, threw a picnic and made sure to have mint juleps in real julep cups because, to them, that was a quintessentially American thing. And that further entrenched the beverage in my heart.

I love all things sci-fi and fantasy and I'm particularly fond of imaginary vegetation, from Ents to Audrey II. It's not for nothing that of all the mythic/folkloric traditions I could have based my Kellan Oakes character on, I gave him a druid background and a dryad receptionist. Tree-people are kind of my jam.

HOW DID I NEVER KNOW BEFORE THAT MARVEL'S KILLRAVEN SERIES HAD A PLANT-HUMAN HYBRID CHARACTER NAMED MINT JULEP??? I gots me some backreading to do.


It was one of those revelations where I craved instant feedback gratification, hence turning it into a Facebook post. And sure enough, other members of the group were quick to assure me that, oh yes, the Killraven series was a hidden gem with loads of wild supporting characters and I should definitely track it down and read it, and once I did I was in for a treat, and so forth.

I really wish I could remember the exact sequence of events that got me there, but basically I was just messing around on teh interwebs and found myself on the Wikipedia page for Killraven, which is where I made the quite accidental discovery of the character above. I think it was something like going through my usual daily comics blog consumption, wherein one writer made an offhand reference to Logan's Run, which at one point was adapted as a comic book, which got me thinking about other 1970's science fiction comics which might be ripe for a reboot, which led me down the wormhole to Killraven, a series I've always been peripherally aware of (it was a bit before my time, and back in the day if comics were before your time they had likely vanished into inaccessibility by the time you tried to hunt them down) but had never read. Hence the capacity for surprise and wonder upon digging into its details.

So here's the interesting thing about Killraven: he was an original character who debuted in the Marvel-published Amazing Adventures comics, in May of 1973. But he was created as the protagonist of a kind of loose sequel to The War of the Worlds. I say loose because the premise for the comic series is that the H.G. Wells novel ended quite differently, and the Martians successfully conquered Earth. The human race is totally subjugated, Killraven himself is a former gladiator turned freedom fighter, about a hundred years after the source material was set. Between the alternate outcome of the backstory and the future setting, numerous other embellishments ensued, but it was very much intended to be Wells's aliens as the bad guys, including prominent use of the iconic imagery of giant mechanical tripods shooting death rays. Which, honestly, is pretty shrewd considering that the Martian tripods are (1) so famous that they have evocative power with near total cultural awareness saturation, regardless of whether or not a person has read the novel, and (2) totally rad looking. So it's a real best-of-breed approach, combining a recognizable IP touchstone (which just happens to be free and clear in the public domain) with something fresh and imaginative.

It's interesting to me because I spend a lot of time thinking about the creative process as both pure art and a commercial enterprise, trying to understand both sides of the equation. I'm well aware of general sentiments along the lines of there being no new ideas these days. Everything is a reboot, or a continuation of an existing megafranchise. And on the one hand, if someone were to make a KILLRAVEN movie, how would you classify it along those lines? Would it be part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, since its origins go back to that publisher? (Killraven did meet Spider-Man at one point, but that involved some interdimensional time travel shenanigans, because clearly Martians did not conquer the Earth Spider-Man calls home in 1897. This is not a dealbreaker, though. The MCU Doctor Strange movie also introduced at least the concept of interdimensional time travel shenanigans.) Or would it be considered part of the overall War of the Worlds franchise, however you might define the parameters of such a creative entity? You'd be hard pressed to convince me that it should be considered a reboot, since it's one of the few War of the Worlds stories that doesn't take the events of the novel and transpose them to a different setting in time and place. A spin-off, then? Well, the comics were a spin-off of the novel. The movie adaptation would probably change some things (I've said this before, it's basically mandatory that you change source material when moving into a different medium) to make it more resonant to modern audiences.

And there's the additional point I wanted to make: sometimes the blanket dismissal of all current entertainments as nothing but reboots and sequels seems to indict adaptations as well, but that's certainly not a new phenomenon by any stretch. War of the Worlds was written in the nineteenth century and turned into a radio drama in 1938. Hollywood has been putting books on film for movies' entire existence. Shoot, Shakespeare was riffing on old stories everyone knew, and Homer was formalizing oral history. Killraven, with its weird remix of elements from a Victorian invasion novel and later sci-fi dystopian ideas and comic book tropes, came out almost half a decade before Star Wars ushered in the modern Death of Originality, or however it's supposed to work. So, if someone were in fact to option Killraven as movie material, I would not find it distressing or indicative of a general dearth of imagination in current entertainment. I would consider it part of a long and glorious tradition, albeit a weird obscure outlier part, and I'd be grateful to live in a time where those kinds of things could have a $100MM budget tossed their way. I can dream.

Anyway, as you may or may not have noticed in the artwork up above, there's a reference to the year 2015 in Mint Julep's backstory. According to Wikipedia, the adventures of Killraven as depicted in the 70's comics were supposed to take place during the impossibly far-off years of 2018 to 2020. What was future to the various Marvel bullpen talents who brought Killraven into being is rapidly becoming the past. Marvel is of course also the home of the X-Men, the mutant superheroes who battled their destinies in a classic storyline entitled "Days of Future Past" which became both a recurring reference in the X-comics and also the subtitle of a film adaptation in 2014. The fact that I was able to combine a mainstream Marvel reference with today's holiday to set up a relevant discussion of a far more obscure Marvel comics vegetable transhuman character pretty much makes the title of this post one of my bar-none proudest blogging moments EVAR.





Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Bloodsucking Friends

If you have kids in the Disney Junior demo, you might be aware of the recent addition of Vampirina to the lineup. She's a feisty little girl with some quirky interests, and the premise of the show is that her family recently relocated so she gets to demonstrate lessons about fitting in, making friends, how they do things differently in her new neighborhood than her old one and that's okay, we can all learn from each other.

She and her parents are also 100% vampires! It seems as if the show creators made the "fantasy creature" choice so that they could talk about immigration/assimilation issues in a whimsical way, which is cool, and the only thought they put into vampires specifically was that they could rhyme "Transylvania" with "Pennsylvania" in the opening theme song that summarizes the premise, which is ... weird? It totally glosses over the fact that vampires are unholy monstrosities who feed on the blood of the living, and that Vampirina and her mom and her dad are definitely going to murder everyone on their block eventually.

Surprisingly, our kids hate it when we point this out! They get very agitated when we modify the lyrics to include more references to flesh-eating and terror in the night. You'd think they'd be more appreciative that we've followed things to their logical conclusion. Ingrates.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Say it out loud

Earlier this week I was picking up the kids from daycare and I noticed a birth announcement hung in the window of one of the classrooms. Specifically, it belonged to what I over the past nine years or so have come to recognize as the sub-category of "daycare birth announcement" where it's not an actual glossy photo printed on cardstock and suitable to mail to grandparents and be subsequently hung on the fridge for all to admire. Rather, it's a snapshot of the newborn blown up and photocopied in black and white with some handwritten details added on top. Which is fine! I have no beef whatsoever with this practice, which seems both practical, effort-efficient and appropriate for the care provider setting.

This announcement had two messages scrawled on either side of the grayscaled, very babyish-looking baby. On one side it read "Congratulations Jones Family!". I will pause here to note that, in the interest of preserving privacy (not to mention the fact that I legit do not remember the family surname because that's really not the point of this story), 'Jones' was not really the middle word. However, this next part is, I swear, faithfully reproduced verbatim: "Welcome Baby Hughie!"

Baby Hughie.

Baby.

HUGHIE.

Not a thing in the world wrong with the name Hugh. Nothing particularly bad about indulging in the diminutive version Hughie, especially in reference to a newborn. And certainly I've been known to refer to infants (and, to be honest, all the way through toddlerhood) as Baby So-and-so. But put them all together ...

I mean, did they not hear it in their head?

Or did they just not know this was a thing?

Maybe they just didn't know it was a thing. Cultural literacy is a precious and rapidly vanishing commodity.