Friday, September 30, 2005

Beware my power... Green Lantern's light!

In the interests of balance, today's Comic Art Friday is sponsored by the color yellow.

The words have been an integral part of comic book lore for decades:
By brightest day
In blackest night
No evil shall escape my sight!
Let all who worship evil's might
Beware my power...
Green Lantern's light!
More than perhaps any other superhero in comics history, Green Lantern is less a character than a concept: a guy with a powerful ring that can do almost anything he can imagine. In fact, the concept of Green Lantern has been embodied by numerous characters, although most fans would associate the name with these five:
  • Alan Scott, the original Green Lantern of the 1940s. Alan's ring, unlike those of his successors, possessed mystical rather than scientifically generated powers.
  • Hal Jordan, the most familiar Green Lantern to longtime comics aficionados, took up the title in the late 1950s as part of DC Comics' superhero revival that began with the redesigned Flash.
  • John Stewart, an African American, was introduced as a Green Lantern in the early 1970s. John is the Green Lantern known to viewers of Cartoon Network's various DC Universe animated series, most notably Justice League.
  • Guy Gardner, the pugnacious dimwit with the cereal-bowl haircut, is most generally known by his own name rather than as Green Lantern, even though he wears the ring and uniform of the Green Lantern Corps.
  • Kyle Rayner, a young comic book artist, surfaced during a mid-'90s attempt by DC to give Green Lantern more youthful appeal.
Assembled today for Comic Art Friday are three of the stalwart defenders of the cosmos mentioned above. First, the original Green Lantern, Alan Scott, teams up with Saturn Girl of the Legion of Super-Heroes to do battle with some creepy alien cephalopod, ripped from the imagination and pencil point of pinup artist Anthony Carpenter.

Alan Scott's costume spawned, several decades later, a running joke in the superhero parody film Mystery Men. In the movie, a character called the Blue Raja is repeatedly teased by his comrades-in-arms because, despite his name, the Raja's ensemble contains almost nothing blue. As you can see in the color picture below, the Golden Age Green Lantern's sole concession to his namesake color is a pair of green trousers. His tunic and boots were red accented with yellow, while his cape was purple with a yellow (though it looks chartreuse here) lining. In fact, it's fair to say that the Green Lantern of the 1940s wore perhaps the most gaudily mismatched (not to mention impractical) fighting togs in all of superheroism.

When Hal Jordan assumed the mantle of the Green Lantern in the 1950s, he brought a sleeker design sense to the party, if not a great deal more green. Hal's black-and-white unitard provided a stylish look for an intergalactic crimefighter, as drawn here by artist Jamal Igle.

DC Comics has, over the past 20 years or so, demonstrated a hatred for the company's classic characters that borders on the pathological. Supergirl and the Silver Age Flash (Barry Allen) were killed off during the Crisis on Infinite Earths in the mid-'80s. Superman was brutally beaten to death by an ugly monstrosity named Doomsday. Sue Dibny, the wife of the gently humorous Elongated Man, was raped and murdered.

Perhaps no DC character suffered more heaping-on of abuse than did Hal Jordan, who went insane, became a traitor against his longtime colleagues in the Justice League, and darn near wiped out the entire universe before being killed. Hal was then resurrected (sort of) as the latest guise of DC's ghostly guardian, the Spectre, easily the most bloodthirsty "hero" in comics history. Fortunately, most of Hal's ignominious past has been erased in recent months, and he's now starring in a fun new Green Lantern series that recalls the flavor of Hal's Silver Age heyday.

Finally, we look at the most recent addition to Earth's cadre of Green Lanterns, Kyle Rayner, who became Green Lantern in 1994. Kyle teams up here with Marvel Comics' Nighthawk (aka Kyle Richmond); the duo is drawn by the dynamic Kyle Hotz. Yes, friends, it's a triple-Kyle Comic Art Friday.

By the way, should you ever run afoul of a Green Lantern, simply enshroud yourself in something yellow. Due to an imperfection in the material from which the Green Lanterns' power rings are made, the rings can't affect anything that's yellow.

(Don't ask me. I thought kryptonite was a silly idea, too.)

Thursday, September 29, 2005

At least we quit calling them stewardesses

The Association of Professional Flight Attendants is up in arms over the new Jodie Foster action flick Flightplan. According to the flight attendants, the film portrays members of their noble profession as "rude and unsympathetic."

Memo to the APFA:

1. It's just a movie. Get over it.

2. Shut up and bring me another bag of peanuts.

And add to your virtue, genocide

Bill Bennett, the former Secretary of Education who gambled away most of the tidy living he raked in as a Republican pundit and author of The Book of Virtues, just can't keep his trap shut.

Read with amazement the latest morsel of wisdom from the flapping lips of Bingo Bill:
I do know that it's true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could, if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down.
Here's what I know, Bill: If we retroactively aborted every racist, right-wing yahoo in America, not only would the crime rate go down, but the collective IQ of the nation would increase exponentially.

Of course, in Bennett's own words, that would be "an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do."

But I'm just saying.

Speaking of racist yahoos, what's up with the pinhead who mailed a death threat to New York Yankees star Derek Jeter, telling the Yankee captain to stop dating white women or "he'll be shot or set on fire"?

Clearly, the writer of the letter should invest a little time in finding a woman of his own, rather than worrying so much about the women Derek Jeter is dating. Then again, most women of quality, given the choice between dating a millionaire superstar athlete bound for the Hall of Fame or dating some pathetic, anonymous loser with an inferiority complex, would opt for Derek Jeter every time.

Incidentally, when the death-threatener calls Jeter "a traitor to his race," to which race does he refer? Jeter's mother is Caucasian, his father African-American.

I guess it's conceivable that the race the writer meant was the human race. But if he's looking for traitors to that race, he might start his search in the bathroom mirror.

Or at Bill Bennett's house.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Process that indictment without DeLay

Here at SSTOL, though we enjoy poking well-intentioned fun at the famous and infamous, we try not to make it a regular practice to rejoice at the misfortunes of others.

We are, however, willing to make an exception of Congressman Tom DeLay.

When I first hung out my freelance shingle three years ago, I received literally dozens of phone calls from dupes in Tom DeLay's office wanting to honor me with some bogus award as a leading example of American small business. At the time I was receiving these calls, I had yet to land a paying client. My entire business consisted of a Web site and a telephone number.

All this folderol amounted to a transparent ploy on the part of DeLay — who, as a Congressman from Texas, doesn't even represent me as a northern Californian — to coopt small businesses into becoming campaign contributors. No doubt, all those long-distance phone calls from Texas to me were paid for by the tax monies of the hard-working citizens in DeLay's Congressional district, who deserve more from their Representative than having him waste his staff's time hustling favors from out-of-state small-timers who aren't even members of his party.

In the words of the Mighty Thor, Congressman, I say thee nay.

Tom DeLay is a self-righteous, self-serving fraud who has been misusing his position as House Majority Leader for his own nefarious purposes for far too long. I don't wish ill on anyone, but as a justice-loving American, I hope DeLay goes down, and goes down hard.

Get off your Duff

Hilary Duff is officially legal.

And no, you deve, that doesn't mean you can feel better about yourself drooling over her now.

I think I would be safe in supposing that Lindsay Lohan did not buy Hilary a birthday gift this year. And if she did, Hilary would be wise to have it inspected by her local bomb squad before attempting to open it.

Just checking in on other members of the universal Hilary gestalt:

Hilary Swank is 31.

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton is 58.

Sir Edmund Hillary is 86.

Hilary, the online women's magazine, is 10.

All of the above mentioned Hilarys (and Hillarys) have proven themselves talents worthy of note.

Unlike Hilary Duff.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Today's blue plate special: Meat Loaf

Meat Loaf turns 58 today.

No, not the dish. The singer. (Although I've eaten some meat loaf in my time that could have passed for 58.)

Though he has become a familiar face as a character actor — appearing in such films as The Rocky Horror Picture Show (in which his initial appearance onscreen inspires this exchange from the audience: "What's for dinner?" "Meat Loaf!"), Fight Club, and one of my personal guilty pleasures, Leap of Faith — those who hit adolescence in the 1970s still revere the man called Loaf for recording one of the seminal albums of the decade, and, indeed, of all time: Bat Out of Hell.

Although this will sound blasphemous to partisans of the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band or the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds, Bat Out of Hell may well be the most perfectly developed concept album in the rock era — the most complete synthesis of performer (the Loaf himself, pouring out his soul in every anguished note), producer (Todd Rundgren would never generate anything this consequential on his solo albums), songwriter (Jim Steinman at his bombastic best — did anyone else ever cram as much of the dictionary into a rock lyric as Steinman?), even packaging (who, having once seen it, can forget that incredible cover painting by comic artist Richard Corben?).

And the songs...oh, my goodness, the songs...
  • Bat Out of Hell: A biker, a babe, a breakup, and flaming death in a heap of twisted metal.
    Nothing ever grows in this rotten old hole
    And everything is stunted and lost
    And nothing really rocks
    And nothing really rolls
    And nothing's ever worth the cost
    And I know that I'm damned if I never get out
    And maybe I'm damned if I do
    But with every other beat I got left in my heart
    You know I’d rather be damned with you
    Wasn't everyone's adolescent experience fraught with angst like this? Well, maybe not, except maybe those goth kids with the dyed-black hair and chrome handlebars through their noses. And that's probably a good thing.

  • You Took The Words Right Out of My Mouth (Hot Summer Night): Probably the weakest track on the album, but even the one clinker is a diamond in the rough.
    While you were lickin' your lips
    And your lipstick shinin'
    I was dyin' just to ask for a taste
    Oh, we were lyin' together in a silver linin'
    By the light of the moon
    You know there's not another moment
    Not another moment
    Not another moment to waste
    Then again, I've never been partial to lipstick. And what was that wacked-out spoken-word intro all about?

  • Heaven Can Wait: One of the truly transcendent rock and roll love ballads. Simply orchestrated with a piano and Meat Loaf's matchless voice wringing every drop of pathos out of the lyrics.
    Give me all of your dreams and
    Let me go along on your way
    Give me all of your prayers to sing and I'll
    Turn the night into the skylight of day
    I got a taste of paradise
    I'm never gonna let it slip away
    I got a taste of paradise
    It's all I really need to make me stay —
    Just like a child again

    Heaven can wait
    And all I got is time until the end of time
    I won't look back
    I won't look back
    Let the altars shine
    I'm not the most sentimental cuss on God's green earth, and especially not about the misbegotten poetry of rock song lyrics, but this one chokes me up just a little every time. If there were a barbershop arrangement of "Heaven Can Wait," I'd make the quartet learn it.

  • All Revved Up With No Place to Go: Right up there with Elton John's "Saturday Night's All Right For Fighting" and Sam Cooke's "Another Saturday Night" among the quintessential weekend anthems.
    I was nothing but a lonely all-American boy
    Looking out for something to do
    And you were nothing but a lonely all-American girl
    But you were something like a dream come true
    I was a varsity tackle and a hell of a block
    And when I played my guitar, I made the canyons rock
    But every Saturday night
    I felt the fever grow
    All revved up with no place to go
    Brings back memories of midnight movies at the United Artists theater in downtown Santa Rosa, and vanilla Cokes at the Swenson's ice cream parlor next door.

  • Two Out of Three Ain't Bad: Perhaps the most cynically honest song a guy ever sang to a girl.
    I want you
    I need you
    But there ain't no way I'm ever gonna love you
    Now don't be sad
    'Cause two out of three ain't bad
    Truer words were never sung. Except maybe in this next number...

  • Paradise By the Dashboard Light: The soundtrack of high school summer in America. A boy, a girl, the front seat of a car, and the push-pull of raging hormones, complete with play-by-play carefully constructed out of baseball metaphor and delivered by the Scooter himself, Phil Rizzuto. Heard on the soundtrack of about a gazillion motion pictures.
    Ain't no doubt about it
    We were doubly blessed
    'Cause we were barely seventeen
    And we were barely dressed
    Don't get all goody-two-shoes on me. You know you've lived that song. Or got slapped trying.

  • For Crying Out Loud:
    For taking in the rain when I'm feeling so dry
    For giving me the answers when I'm asking you why
    And my, oh my
    For that, I thank you

    For taking in the sun when I'm feeling so cold
    For giving me a child when my body is old
    And don't you know
    For that, I need you

    For coming to my room when you know I'm alone
    For finding me a highway and driving me home
    And you gotta know
    For that, I serve you

    For pulling me away when I'm starting to fall
    For revving me up when I'm starting to stall
    And all in all
    For that, I want you

    For taking and for giving and for playing the game
    For praying for my future in the days that remain
    Oh Lord
    For that, I hold you

    Ah, but most of all
    For cryin' out loud
    For that, I love you
    Pretty much says it all, doesn't it?
As the legend goes, Meat Loaf destroyed his voice touring to promote Bat Out of Hell and took years to recover. If you're curious to know what the sequel to Bat would have been like, Jim Steinman recorded the set of songs he wrote for the followup as a solo project entitled Bad For Good. Steinman couldn't sing worth a Fig Newton, but he managed to eke out a minor hit ("Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through") before moving on to write and produce for other artists (notably Bonnie Tyler's "Holding Out for a Hero" from the Footloose soundtrack).

The Loaf eventually crawled back into the studio in the early '80s with a dreadful collection of Steinman castoff numbers (Dead Ringer), followed by a string of increasingly tedious records that resulted in little chart or critical success until Loaf and Steinman rejoined for Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell in 1993. These days, Loaf (whose real name, by the way, is Marvin Lee Aday — the nickname was allegedly bestowed by a high school football coach) mostly appears in films and tours on occasion.

But for crying out loud, Meat, you know we love you.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Sorry about that, Chief

The Cone of Silence has descended for the final time.

Don Adams, known to my generation as ineffectual superspy Maxwell Smart on the '60s TV comedy Get Smart, and known to my daughter's generation as the voice of the animated cyborg detective Inspector Gadget, is dead at age 82.

Would you believe 79?

(As is often the case with actors born before the Information Age, there's some question as to the year of Adams's birth. Some sources say 1926, others 1923. Usually the oldest date is correct. Since the Internet Movie Datebase shows Adams as being born in '23, that what we'll run with.)

Like the recently departed Bob Denver, Adams (whose real name was Donald James Yarmy — supposedly he adopted the surname Adams because he kept getting called last for auditions when he called himself Don Yarmy) spent most of the past few decades struggling to overcome the typecasting associated with a memorable character. Max Smart's original incarnation brought laughs because in him we all saw someone we knew — that person who isn't as sharp or debonair or capable as he or she thinks. Often, that person is the one we see in the mirror.

But it seemed a little sad to watch Adams trying to resurrect Agent 86 to miserable effect in the wretched 1980 theatrical flick The Nude Bomb (the premise involved an explosive device that made people's clothing disappear — hilarious, huh?) and the even more desperate TV revivals of Get Smart in 1989 and 1995. (The latter costarred comic Andy Dick as the stumblebum son of Max and his wife, Agent 99. That should tell you everything you need to know about how awful it was.)

I was intrigued to read in one of Adams's obituaries that he developed that familiar, often-imitated staccato speech pattern while a drill instructor in the U.S. Marines, and that he was a survivor of the Battle of Guadalcanal. I would never have envisioned Maxwell Smart as a Marine d.i. Just goes to show how fully Adams embodied the character that made him famous.

My fondest memories of Don Adams, though, are of his work as the voice of Tennessee Tuxedo, the smart-aleck penguin featured in the classic early '60s cartoon series, Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales. The indomitable Tennessee (his trademark catchphrase was "Tennessee Tuxedo will not fail!" delivered in the adenoidal, clipped notes Adams would later use as Maxwell Smart) and his not-too-bright walrus friend Chumley frequently sought helpful advice from a scientist named Phineas J. Whoopie (try to get away with naming a character "Mr. Whoopie" on a kids' show today), who showed them short educational films on his three-dimensional blackboard (the 3DBB, as it was known).

Tennessee Tuxedo, like other cartoons of the day such as Underdog and the various works of Jay Ward (Rocky and Bullwinkle, George of the Jungle), never talked down to its audience, and could be enjoyed (and even learned from) by viewers of all ages.

We'll miss Don that much.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Only three shopping months until Christmas!

Just in case you were keeping track.


Friday, September 23, 2005

"Thor is not a homo"

Nobody leaves this Comic Art Friday without singing the blues.

At first glance, Thor, the Norse god of thunder, seems a peculiar subject for a superhero comic book. That is, until one considers that the gods and demigods of ancient mythology really were the first superheroes. The labors of Hercules, the quest of Jason and the Argonauts, the magical voyage of Odysseus — all the nascent stuff of adventure fantasy that one finds in the pages of comics began with mythology.

Not so strange, then, that when Stan Lee went to Jack Kirby — or Jack went to Stan; you know they never could agree on who came up with what idea first — and said, "You know, we could do Thor," that the answer came back, "Yea, verily and forsooth."

Thus heroes are born.

Although I wasn't a huge fan of Marvel Comics' Mighty Thor in my comics-reading heyday, I always had a soft spot for the long-haired galoot with the winged helmet and flying hammer. I think I liked Thor because he didn't talk like a superhero. Instead of uttering the usual pompous blowhardisms (Superman) or self-referential wisecracks (Spider-Man) that constituted most superheroes' dialogue, Thor spoke with the unique flavor of a guy who had been marooned on a deserted island for twenty years with a King James Bible and The Complete Works of Shakespeare, and just sort of made up his own version of the King's English. The incongruity of a Norwegian semi-deity speaking in a bastardization of Elizabethan syntax mattered not to my preadolescent brain. (If the guy spoke English at all, instead of the more logical Old Norse, where on Earth would he pick up a version of it that made him sound like a cast extra from the Renaissance Faire?) Thor just sounded cool, with phrases like "I say thee nay!" streaming from his lips.

The other fascinating element about Thor was that he came complete with a whole host of supporting characters who were nearly as majestic and heroic as he was. Most superhero sidekicks were kids like Batman's Robin the Boy Wonder, or nerds like Superman's Jimmy Olsen, or bald-faced comic relief like the Spirit's Ebony White. Thor hung out with bad Asgardian mammajammas like Balder the Brave, and the Warriors Three — Hogun, Volstagg, and Fandral. These guys kicked serious butt. Period. Even Thor's girlfriend, the Lady Sif, was no Lois Lane damsel-in-distress, at least not all the time. Sif could swing a sword when she had occasion, and swing it with aplomb.

Because he was never really Marvel's most popular hero — it's tough for kids to identify with a hammer-toting hippie in a Viking helmet — Thor got jerked around a lot. There was the whole business of his secret identity as Dr. Don Blake, the pathetic cripple (a false front at long last dumped entirely by Marvel writers), then a spate of time wherein Thor kept getting replaced by giant frogs and horse-faced space aliens and dorky Thunder God wannabes like Eric Masterson aka Thunderstrike, and finally the ignominy of losing his self-titled monthly comic.

I was thrilled, therefore, to read the first issue of the new miniseries Thor: Blood Oath, and see that Thor is back to being Thor. Writer Michael Avon Oeming doesn't quite have the knack for Thor's peculiar speech pattern than Stan Lee did — Oeming's Thunder God drops his accent more often than Kevin Costner in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves; Thor should never use contractions or modern slang — but he gets close enough, enough of the time. Artist Scott Kolins adds an appropriately vigorous rendering style. The first installment was great fun, and I look forward to reading the remainder of the series.

But I hear you shouting, "Nay, enough of this, mortal villain! We demand comic art, and we demand it anon!" And by Odin's beard, you shall have it.

Below, we feature a classically styled rendition of the Asgardian Avenger, created by longtime comics stalwart Bob McLeod.

And for a more stylized take on our thunder-making hero, here's a dramatic showdown between Thor and hammer-wielding wannabe Steel, drawn by the incredibly talented Trevor Von Eeden and embellished by veteran inker Josef Rubinstein.

Need I encumber these power-packed artworks with additional explanatory blather? I say thee nay!

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Frey? I'll bet he's boiling

This just in from the trailer park:

Amber Frey, the massage therapist and part-time mistress whose testimony helped send Scott Peterson to Death Row, has been collecting child support for nearly four years from a man she wrongly accused of fathering her daughter.

According to this Associated Press story, DNA tests show that hairdresser Anthony Flores, who has been forking over $175 every month in support of Frey's four-year-old girl, is not the child's biological father. That dubious honor goes to a fellow named Christopher Funch, owner of a popular Fresno barbecue eatery and musical venue.

Now I ask you: Who better to have knocked up Amber Frey than the guy who owns Porky's Rib House?

Class, as they used to say, will out.

Bonds's stock rises for 2006

Here's what everyone in the San Francisco Giants organization is thinking, but won't say for public consumption:

Barry Bonds waited until last week to return to active duty so that he could put the screws to Giants management next season.

Bonds ended the 2004 major league campaign with 703 career home runs. That's 11 short of the mark of 714 set by Babe Ruth, which stood as the all-time record until Henry Aaron smacked number 715 off the Dodgers' Al Downing on April 8, 1974.

After a series of knee surgeries sidelined Bonds during this past off-season, Giants fans and baseball pundits wondered whether the slugger would return to the field at any point in 2005. The Giants reactivated Bonds last Monday, with just under a month left in the season. He responded by stepping right back into his familiar groove, just missing a home run on a double to the center field wall in his first at-bat. He has smacked home runs in each of his last four games, including tonight's contest against the Washington Nationals, to elevate his career total to 707. With 11 games remaining on the Giants' schedule, it is entirely possible that Bonds could add another three or four dingers, pulling within spitting distance of the Bambino to start next season.

Don't think that's a coincidence.

Barry Bonds is a smart guy. He knows that with roughly $18 million in salary coming to him next season, the Giants would have been tempted to deal him to an American League club — most likely the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim — if any question remained about his fitness to resume play next year because he sat out all of this season at age 41. As appealing as the prospect of riding the pine as a designated hitter might be to a middle-aged man with a surgically refurbished knee, Bonds — a Gold Glove-caliber fielder for most of his career — doesn't really want to be half a ballplayer, even at his advanced age.

By coming back just late enough that he doesn't stand a realistic chance of surpassing Ruth this year — although he's pulled off feats far more incredible in his illustrious career — but with sufficient opportunity to get close enough to Ruth that there could be no doubt that Bonds will blow past the Sultan of Swat early next season, Bonds has pinned the Giants behind the eight ball. There's no chance that lead partner Peter Magowan and general manager Brian Sabean will trade Bonds now, knowing that unless he drops dead before next spring, Barry will pass Ruth while wearing the Orange and Black. That's a historic moment the Giants brass has been salivating after for nearly a decade, and they aren't going to let a Southland rival steal that thunder from them now.

For his part, Bonds will be able to leverage from the team any concessions his heart desires. Don't be surprised to look into the Giants' dugout in April and see Magowan fanning Bonds with a palm frond while Sabean hand-feeds him peeled seedless grapes.

And do you know what?

Barry will have earned it.

Monday, September 19, 2005

From the Visuals I Didn't Need Department...

...Morgan Freeman in a thong.

I'm sorry. I'm going to have to go lie down in a cool, dark, quiet place for a while.

Please talk among yourselves.

Dead men tell no tales!

Aye, Talk Like a Pirate Day it be, ye landlubbers.

Time for all ye salty dogs and buxom wenches to put a hint of gravel in yer pipes, squinch up yer eye (or, better yet, cover it with a patch), and throw out an "Arrrr!" now and again. (Of course, here at SSTOL, it be Talk Like a Pirate Day whenever we get darn good and ready. Like once a month, maybe.)

Might even be a good day to slap Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl on the old DVD player. Savvy?

And it be an especially good day to munch on some Pirate's Booty, if ye be findin' a rumble in yer scurvy belly. (For safety's sake, ye might might ask the pirate if he minds before ye munch down too hard.)

So keep yer sails in the wind and yer cutlass a'swingin', if ye know what be good for ye.


Wake me when the Emmys are over

Ah, the Emmys.

Almost always, the Emmys are the biggest snoozefest among the major entertainment awards shows, lacking the high drama of the Oscars and the goofy dinner-party atmosphere of the Golden Globes. Perhaps because of their strict television orientation, the Emmys always seem to aim for a bland, lowest-common-denominator approach that will offend almost no one and bore practically everyone.

Emmy 2005 was no different.

The ennui began with host Ellen DeGeneres, who holds for me all the appeal of lukewarm rice pudding. Has there ever been a comedian as prominent in the industry as Ellen who was consistently less funny? Okay... Jerry Seinfeld. But other than that? Ellen's dorky, deer-in-headlights stage persona simply turns me off, and last night, her comedic inserts into the broadcast seemed especially forced and desperate.

Then came a roster of presenters that couldn’t have been more poorly chosen — uniformly lifeless and ill at ease. At the Academy Awards, the folks handing out the statues may be nervous, even clumsy, but at least they seem a little awestruck by the spectacle. At the Golden Globes, most of the presenters have tossed back a libation or three by the time the show starts, so they come off more loosey-goosey and natural. Last night's Emmy-passer-outers all looked as though they might break into the Pepto-Bismol dance at any moment.

And whose misbegotten idea was that "Emmy Idol" business, which kept interrupting the show with god-awful renditions of TV theme songs performed by people who either had no business singing on stage (is there anyone in America who enjoyed having their eardrums subjected to Donald Trump and Megan Mullaly croaking out "Green Acres"?) or were clearly embarrassed by their assigned material (Gary Dourdan from CSI duetting "Movin" On Up" from The Jeffersons with Macy Gray — a song that had to be pitched so low to accommodate Dourdan's baritone tessitura that it was barely recognizable)? Frederica von Stade is one of the world's premier opera singers, but she had to be cursing the agent who got her the gig warbling the theme from Star Trek as William Shatner leered at (and practically drooled on) her.

But the Emmycast offered a handful of cool moments, too. Fr'instance:
  • Jon Stewart's crack about the writing staff of The Daily Show being "only 80 percent Ivy league-educated Jews." Easily the best joke of the night.

  • The bolt of lightning that galvanized Felicity Huffman when she won Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series. She clearly thought one of her Desperate Housewives costars and conominees, Marcia Cross or Teri Hatcher, would get the nod. Huffman's an excellent actress who deserves more notice. She's also a striking woman-next-door standout among her overhyped glamour girl confederates on Housewives.

  • S. Epatha Merkerson from Law & Order losing her speech notes down the front of her evening gown. Merkerson, who won Outstanding Lead Actress in a Movie or Miniseries for Lackawanna Blues, is another fine actress who rarely gets the attention her talent warrants. Maybe they'll give her more to do on L&O this season now that she's won an Emmy.

  • James Spader repeating as Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series. Has anyone ever before won back-to-back Emmys for playing the same character, but on two different series (The Practice and Boston Legal)? I doubt it. And for all his talent, is Spader the creepiest guy in Hollywood, or what? Give him another ten years, and he'll be a stocky Christopher Walken.

  • The classy tributes to the late Johnny Carson (delivered by a surprisingly subdued David Letterman — did they load him up with Valium before he took the stage?) and the triumvirate of network news anchors who left their desks this year — Tom Brokaw and Dan Rather due to retirement, Peter Jennings due to his death from lung cancer.

  • Knowing that Everybody Loves Raymond won't be around to win anything ever again.
(This article is cross-posted to my film/television blog at DVD Verdict.)

Friday, September 16, 2005

Everybody was kung fu fighting

This week, Comic Art Friday honors the memory of the late, great Bruce Lee, the star of one of my Top Ten favorite films of all time, Enter the Dragon. The quotes sprinkled liberally throughout this post are taken from the script of that landmark motion picture, the seminal translation of the martial arts to the silver screen.
"It is like a finger pointing away to the moon. Don't concentrate on the finger...or you will miss all that heavenly glory."
Mr. Lee (Bruce Lee), describing his intuitive approach to kung fu to a young acolyte
Ah yes, the martial arts craze of the early 1970s. I remember it well. In the words of the abysmal, yet unexplicably catchy, Number One hit by Carl Douglas, everybody (including yours truly) was kung fu fighting.

Audiences packed theaters to watch the incredible Bruce Lee administer his signature, self-styled brand of martial art — jeet kune do, "the way of the intercepting fist" — in such films as Fists of Fury, The Chinese Connection, and his masterwork, Enter the Dragon. When Lee died suddenly (and, in the minds of many, mysteriously) of cerebral edema just a month before Enter the Dragon's U.S. premiere, the world mourned.
"Never take your eyes off your opponent. Even when you bow."
Mr. Lee, offering invaluable advice
At that same time, millions were crowding before their television sets every week to catch David Carradine as the soft-spoken, quick-kicking wanderer of the West name Kwai Chang Caine in the ABC series Kung Fu.

Ironically, the role of Caine was conceived with Lee in mind. Skittish network executives, however, were convinced that the American public wouldn't tune in to a show with an Asian star — not even the San Francisco-born Lee, already familiar to TV audiences from his co-starring roles on The Green Hornet and Longstreet — so the Caucasian Carradine was tapped. Kung Fu ran for three seasons on ABC and a lifetime in syndicated reruns; Lee had been dead for two years when the show left the air.
"Man, you come right out of a comic book."
Mr. Williams (Jim Kelly), addressing the sinister Han (Kien Shih)
Of course, the major comics publishers rushed to cash in on the chop-socky craze. Marvel unleashed Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu on the world in the fall of 1973. Shang-Chi, presented by writer Steve Englehart and artist Jim Starlin as the noble son of Sax Rohmer's pulp villain Fu Manchu, was an instant hit. DC countered with Richard Dragon, Kung Fu Fighter in early '75.

It's worth noting that both of the Big Two publishers had been beaten to the punch (no pun intended) by Charlton Comics' Judomaster — a hero who debuted years ahead of the fad in 1966, and was already long forgotten by the time martial arts caught fire in the States.
"You have offended my family, and you have offended the Shaolin Temple."
Mr. Lee's last words to Han before the climactic showdown in Han's hall of mirrors
Here, rendered by the incomparable Ernie Chan, Shang-Chi matches his flying fists and feet of fury against the Bronze Tiger, Richard Dragon's longtime comrade-in-arms, and later a key character in DC's cult hit series, Suicide Squad.

"A woman like that could teach you a lot about yourself."
Mr. Roper (John Saxon), observing the seductive Tania (Ahna Capri)
Interestingly, before the kung fu boom of the '70s, some of comics' premier martial artists were, in fact, women. Back in comics' Golden Age, the Black Cat — the first costumed heroine to headline her own comic book — and the Black Canary — DC Comics' thinly disguised Black Cat imitator — were both masters (mistresses?) of hand-to-hand fighting techniques, including karate and judo.

Both the Cat and the Canary were drawn during the late 1940s by a legendary talent named Lee Elias. Former Legion of Super-Heroes penciler Jeffrey Moy unites these two dynamic damsels for us in the power-packed pinup below.

"Why doesn't somebody pull a .45 and — bang! — settle it?"
Mr. Lee, proposing a simple yet elegant solution to the sticky problem of international crime
Comic book heroes being what they are, some who have perfected their unarmed fighting skills still like to take a weapon in hand every now and then, just for variety. Witness these two warrior women, Silver Sable and the Black Widow, for example.

Both Silver and Natasha are superlative hand-to-hand combatants, as befits former spies and mercenaries. Yet, as beautifully delineated above by up-and-coming superstar Ty Romsa, these lethal ladies also know how to handle themselves with choice selections from the armory. It's always good to have a Plan B.
"Boards don't hit back."
Mr. Lee, explaining the difference between kung fu for show and kung fu for dough
Comic Art Friday, on the other hand, will hit back in seven days. Be here, true believer!

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Oops, I did it Caesarean

Future Trailer Park Denizens of America welcomed its newest member today:

Britney Spears gave birth to a man-child.

Teenyboppers and NASCAR fans everywhere rejoiced.

The pop singer (and I use the word "singer" in the accommodative sense) delivered her son, reportedly named Preston Michael Spears Federline, by Caesarean section. The Los Angeles Police Department, always conscientious guardians of the taxpayers' hard-earned simoleons, provided Brit the Twit with a police escort to the hospital.

From somewhere in the wilderness of Maine, my friend DL chimed in with this:
She's such a cheater by taking the Caesarean way out... Honey, childbirth is a simple comparison of spitting out a watermelon seed, except the seed's still inside the watermelon! I've had three children, all naturally; the last one without any drug intervention. Personally, the little drug intervention I did have with the first two children was like getting Novocain. The nurse said it would take the "edge" off the pain. In the words of Stevie Wonder, "You haven't done nothing!"
Spears and her husband, Kato Kaelin... I mean, Kevin Federline... can now compare baby photos with supermodel Heidi Klum and "Kiss from a Rose" crooner Seal, who welcomed a son, Henry Gunther Ademola Dashtu Samuel, to their family environs earlier this week.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Where do they get such wonderful toys?

Old and busted: The Humvee.

New hotness: The ULTRA Armored Patrol Vehicle.

I gotta get me one of these.

I pity the fool who thought of this

1980s icon Mr. T has signed with Lions Gate Television to star in a reality pilot for the TV Land cable channel.

On I Pity the Fool, the one-time star of The A-Team and such feature films as Rocky III and D.C. Cab will dispense friendly advice and help people with their problems.

Think Dr. Phil, only with a Mohawk, 18-inch biceps, and a boatload of bling.

I can't speak for you, but I know that when I'm in a quandary and seek the benefit of wise counsel, Mr. T is the first person I think of.
"Mr. T, my boss is always getting on my case."
"Go in his office and bust him in the head."

"Mr. T, how can I pay for my daughter's college education?"
"She don't need no college. There's always jobs for people with skills. Teach her to bust people in the head."

"Mr. T, should I choose paper or plastic?"
"You choose whatever you want. And if the bagboy gives you any lip, bust him in the head."
I actually recall the first time I saw Mr. T on television. Before he became ubiquitous, he won an early reality-style contest called America's Toughest Bouncer, which was a little like Fear Factor, only with more mayhem and less gross stuff to eat. At the time, Mr. T worked security in various nightclubs in his native Chicago. On America's Toughest Bouncer, he fairly waxed the floor with his competitors.

Will Mr. T make a successful on-air advice columnist? I don't know, but I pity the fool who tells him he won't.

What's Up With That? #25: Matt 'n' Heath, sittin' in a tree...

Here's a screen shot from the San Francisco Chronicle's excellent Web site,, and its celebrity gossip blog, The Daily Dish.

Note the headline: "Damon Asks Barroso to Marry Him."

Now note the accompanying photograph: That's Heath Ledger, Matt Damon's costar in Terry Gilliam's The Brothers Grimm, at the actor's side, not Damon's fiancée Luciana Barroso.

Was the online copy editor at the Chron asleep at the switch today? This was the only picture of Matt Damon the newspaper had on file? Yes, they added a caption to correct the obvious misperception, but why create the misperception in the first place?

This, people, is how rumors get started.


We all know Matt prefers brunets.


He's ba-a-a-a-ck!

Bonds. Barry Bonds.

And is it just me, or are the Giants' Latin-friendly alternate home unis with "GIGANTES" emblazoned on the chest the coolest baseball togs ever?

Monday, September 12, 2005

What can Brown do for you? Nothing, apparently

Michael Brown, currently the front-running candidate for Most Hated Man in America, quit today as head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Color me shocked.

Never mind the fact that Brown had just been relieved of most of his official duties in the wake of (a) FEMA's monumental mishandling of the Hurricane Katrina aftermath, and (b) the recent revelation by Time Magazine that Brown's only previous experience in disaster oversight was in an intern-level position in Edmond, Oklahoma.

The week this guy was having, you'd have thought his first name was Charlie.

Hey, Mike: That swishing sound you just heard was the door not hitting you in the backside on the way out.

Hey! Hey! Hey! Cybersquatting's not okay!

The United Nations' World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) today struck a blow in the name of trademark justice, awarding entertainer Bill Cosby the rights to the Internet domain name Cybersquatter Sterling Davenport of Loretto, Tennessee, who had registered the domain, was found by a WIPO arbitrator to have "no rights or legitimate interests in the domain name." Davenport apparently used the ID to divert traffic to a Web site selling adult paraphernalia.

Cosby introduced Fat Albert in his standup comedy routines in the early 1960s. The character later spawned a successful Saturday morning cartoon series and, more recently, a live-action feature film starring Kenan Thompson as the rotund one.

My favorite Fat Albert character was always Weird Harold. Not because the guy was all that interesting, but just because I like the sound of the name Weird Harold. The only Harold I ever knew was a kid in high school named Harold Rosenthal, who — now that I think about it — actually was a little weird. He used to call me "Reggie," allegedly because he thought I resembled baseball slugger Reggie Jackson. I don't, really, but if it pleased Harold to think so, it was okay with me.

I did, however, enjoy Reggie candy bars. Pitcher Ken Holtzman, a teammate of Jackson's with both the Oakland Athletics and the New York Yankees, once observed that you didn't even have to eat a Reggie Bar to know whether it was tasty — when you unwrapped it, the Reggie Bar would tell you how good it was.

Where was I going with this post?

I forget.

(This article is cross-posted to my film/television blog at DVD Verdict.)

Sunday, September 11, 2005

And the Lord said, "Thou shalt go about in thy birthday suit, and thy children with thee"

Why Religion Gets a Bad Name, Case Number 5619:

A woman in St. Petersburg, Florida, was arrested after she and her five children, ages 5 to 15, were spied walking the city's streets naked and carrying Bibles.

The woman told police that God had told her that morning that she and her brood should stroll about in public in the buff.

Reminds me of the old joke about the minister who pays a house call upon a member of his church. Despite the fact that the minister can hear someone moving about inside the house, no one answers his repeated knocking at the door. Finally, the preacher leaves his business card tucked inside the door jamb, having written on the reverse, "Revelation 3:20." (In the New King James Version, the passage reads, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.")

The following Sunday, the minister was counting out the collection and discovered, to his surprise, his business card in among the checks and currency. On the back, underneath his "Revelation 3:20," a woman's hand had written, "Genesis 3:10." ("I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.")

Chris Schenkel, 1923-2005

Longtime ABC Sports broadcaster Chris Schenkel died today at the age of 82.

Schenkel played a key role in my childhood as the play-by-play voice on ABC's Saturday afternoon telecasts of the Professional Bowlers' Tour — a staple of my weekend viewing regimen. Partnered first with Bowling Hall of Famer Billy Welu, and later with Nelson "Bo" Burton, Jr., the angular Schenkel lent an air of sophistication and class to a game largely populated by beer-swilling, overweight guys wearing ugly shoes. He was also a staple of ABC's coverage of the Olympic Games, beginning in 1968.

Chris popped up occasionally in movies, usually in a cameo as himself broadcasting some fictional sporting event. Fans of the Farrelly brothers and their films (and there are such folks, proving once again that there's simply no accounting for the tastes of the American public) will recall Schenkel's play-by-play appearance in Kingpin, the movie in which Randy Quaid plays an Amish yokel being trained as a pro bowler by the prosthetic-handed Woody Harrelson. (Don't blame me — I didn't make it up.)

My condolences to the Schenkel family.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Now I know why John Handclock wrote his name so darn big

This is just too cool for school:

The Handclock

Thanks to Steve Graydon, the world's greatest graphic designer (he pays me to say that) and father of the universally-famous SwanShadow logo, for tipping me to this, which I will be staring at glassy-eyed for the rest of the evening.

In your satin tights, fighting for our rights

Today's Comic Art Friday is brought to you by Amazon... for reasons that will immediately become apparent.

Perhaps no superhero in comics history sprang from as bizarre a source as did Wonder Woman. The Amazing Amazon was conceived deep within the twisted, fetishistic recesses of the mind of psychologist William Moulton Marston, a Harvard Ph.D. whose research pioneered the development of the polygraph. Marston also practiced polyamory with two "wives" (one of whom was a former student of his), wrote an intriguing variety of proto-feminist propaganda, and dabbled in bondage and sadomasochistic imagery in funnybooks intended for kids.

Doesn't make his crowning creation any less cool.

It's been a while since I selected from my burgeoning Wonder Woman gallery for your Comic Art Friday viewing pleasure. So let's enter the Temple of Diana and see what we encounter, eh what?

Here's a stylish pinup by the artist known only as "The Extreme." Yes, I said "The Extreme."

Now, I'm not certain exactly how "extreme" one can be when one's art is being sold on eBay by one's mother-in-law. But such is the case here.

When I bought this drawing, the poor scan provided by the seller made the signature difficult to read. Noting influences ranging from Rob Liefeld to Mike Deodato, I inquired as to the name of the artist whose work I had just acquired. Came the reply, "My son-in-law is the artist, he signs 'The Extreme.'"

Further inquiry determined that the Artist Presently Known as "The Extreme" prefers for whatever reason to remain Extremely anonymous. Which is his right. After all, William Moulton Marston wrote Wonder Woman scripts for years under the nom de plume Charles Moulton. If a guy wants to be known as "The Extreme," who am I to quibble?

Doesn't make his artwork any less cool.

And what could be more apropos than a portrait of the world's greatest superheroine as depicted by a woman artist? Here's a stunning take on Princess Diana by rising young star Veronica Hebard:

The name Veronica, of course, derives from the Latin vera icon, or "true image." I can't think of a more perfect name for an artist, especially one as talented as Ms. Hebard.

Just makes her artwork even more cool.

One final thought appropriate to Comic Art Friday: Thanks to my daughter KM who first pointed it out to me, today I discovered a new comic book shop right across the street from the high school. (Truth to tell, the shop isn't entirely new; it's just recently relocated here from the next town to the south.)

Nice clean space, tons o' fresh comics, a exceptionally friendly owner and assistant, and no creepy gamer geeks like in the shop I usually frequent. Huzzah! Now I have someplace to look forward to going every Wednesday.

As we like to say here at SSTOL: Support your independent local comics retailer.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

All we are saying is give peace a dance

Because my blissful little corner of heaven — California north of the Golden Gate — is the entertainment capital of the civilized universe, I simply had to share with you the spectacle that is:

Earthdance 2005.

All right, I'll level with you — I'm not really all that familiar with this particular example of bohemian rhapsody. However, knowing my fellow northern Californians as I do, I can predict with unassailable confidence that the following will occur during the Earthdance festivities in Laytonville next weekend:
  • Birkenstocks will be worn. Some of them on actual feet.

  • Copious quantities of doobage will meet a fiery end.

  • Dreadlocks will be on display. Only an infinitesimal minority of same will be displayed by non-Caucasians.

  • Ample leg and underarm hair will be on display. Only an infinitesimal minority of same will be displayed by men.

  • The commingled fragrance of patchouli oil, jasmine incense, and unadulterated human body odor will waft through the Laytonville air.

  • Free love will be practiced.

  • Love for financial consideration will be practiced.

  • Polyamory will be practiced.

  • "The love that dares not speak its name" will be practiced.

  • Bestiality may not actually be practiced, but someone will contemplate it.

  • Songs without discernable tune or coherent lyrics will be played in abundance.

  • Persons without discernable rhythm will attempt to cavort in time to heavily rhythmic music, without success.

  • Various body parts will be painted, tattooed, and inscribed with henna.

  • Foodstuffs intended to imitate meat, but which contain no actual zoological DNA, will be consumed.

  • Wine will be swirled, sniffed, snorted, and otherwise connoisseured.

  • Tie-dyed garments will be worn without embarrassment.

  • Halter tops, peasant blouses, and other brassiere-unencumbered apparel will be worn without embarrassment by individuals who should, in fact, be embarrassed.

  • Hatha yoga, astrology, transcendental meditation, necromancy, and other New Age claptrap will be touted as the pathway to enlightenment by people who would not recognize enlightenment if it sank its gleaming teeth firmly into their buttocks.

  • Did I mention copious quantities of doobage?

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Another satisfied customer

You know, there's nothing your Uncle Swan loves more than fan mail. It's those momentary flashes of connection with the little people out there that make the blood, sweat, and tears I pour into this blog every day worthwhile. Or maybe I just blog while listening to Blood, Sweat and Tears.

Speaking of "And When I Die," reader Pat Crandall of Jacksonville, Florida apparently wishes that I would.

Commenting on this long-ago post, reader Crandall (I'm not certain whether Pat is male or female — sort of like those old Saturday Night Live sketches with Julia Sweeney) writes:
Could you be MORE pretentious — please?!

After reading your tripe on the name, I must say (to paraphrase an old adage): it is better to keep silent and be thought a fool, than to write a blog and prove it. That was not one of your better 'thoughts'. And you say you are a professional? Really? No evidence here to convict you.
First of all, welcome to the party, Pat. I always adore hearing from my adoring minions. (Perhaps you know them? Ernest and Edna Minion? They winter in Jacksonville, if I recall correctly. If you bump into them at a social function, please wish them my best.)

To do your commentary justice, I'll address your cogent points in the order you present them.
  • Could you be MORE pretentious — please?! Yes, of course, Pat, I could be more pretentious with a soupçon of effort. You, however, exhausted SSTOL's daily quotient of pretentiousness by using capitals for emphasis (we stick with the more reader-friendly italics here) and the paired question mark and exclamation point — a combination often observed in comic strips, but rarely in critical prose. (Try an interrobang — ‽ — next time.) So perhaps tomorrow, I'll reload the pretentiousness cannon and really let fly.

  • After reading your tripe on the name... Clearly, Pat, you have no appreciation for truly fine tripe. You must be frequenting the wrong butcher shop. Remind me to share my menudo recipe with you sometime. (By the way, a few words you might want to look up sometime: satire; irony; joke.)

  • I must say (to paraphrase an old adage): it is better to keep silent and be thought a fool, than to write a blog and prove it. Ah, but you see, Pat, while I was still silent, no one thought me a fool, given my regal bearing and piercing intellectual gaze. It was incumbent upon me to start a blog so that my innate foolishness could rise to the surface, like scum on pond water, for all perceptive folk — such as yourself — to see.

  • That was not one of your better 'thoughts'. Alas, you're right, Pat. I wouldn't include the "Massacre High" post on my list of SSTOL's greatest hits. I would, however, note that it is nicely punctuated, without the incorrect (at least, in American style) use of single quotation marks where one should use dual quotes, or the location of terminal punctuation outside the quotes rather than inside, where it rightly belongs. I mean... since we're being critical and all.

  • And you say you are a professional? Really? No evidence here to convict you. Well... I didn't say professional what, did I? No, wait, I did: "professional writer." My CPA would be delighted to present the evidence that I do, in fact, get paid (at times, even handsomely) for writing. It's on my tax returns and everything. He wouldn't lie to the Internal Revenue Service, would he?
You know what they say (to paraphrase another old adage), Pat: Those who can, do. Those who can't, blog. I'll humbly take my place in the latter camp. And if you can take a bit of good-natured ribbing, join me here again, won't you?

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

The three-hour tour is officially over

This just in: Gilligan has left the island.

Comic actor Bob Denver, best known to three generations of TV viewers as twerpy sailor Gilligan on the 1960s sitcom Gilligan's Island, is dead at the age of 70.

I guess now we'll never know for sure whether he and Mary Ann had a thing on the side.

Denver first made his mark in television playing beatnik Maynard G. Krebs on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis in the early '60s. Post-Gilligan, he starred in the less successful The Good Guys (the theme song from which is lodged in my skull every bit as firmly as the one from Gilligan's Island) and Dusty's Trail, as well as the Saturday morning cult favorite Far Out Space Nuts.

Incidentally, Gilligan's first name was Willie. The character was always addressed by his last name (or as "Little Buddy") on the show, but his given name appeared in the pilot episode script.

And for the one or two of you sitting there thinking, "I thought Bob Denver died in 1997," that was John Denver. Or maybe Denver Pyle. (But not Gomer Pyle. He's still alive.)

Monday, September 05, 2005

Seven of Nine (of Six, really, but who's counting?)

I know, I know...I said I'd never do the meme thing again.

But SSTOL regular Joel — from over at Words, Weights, Whatever — asked very politely, so I'm making an exception this time. It's amazing, the things I'll do for my friends.

Seven things I plan to do before I die:
  • Finish the novel I've been working on for 20-plus years.

  • See my daughter graduate from college.

  • Return to Crete, where I lived for two years in the early 1970s.

  • Pitch a script to a major comic book publisher.

  • Play in the World Series of Poker.

  • Sing in the International barbershop quartet contest.

  • Win on Jeopardy! (Wait... I already did that. Several times.)

Seven things I can do:
  • Be spontaneously brilliant.

  • Command an audience’s attention.

  • Give unconditional love.

  • Sing a line the same way repeatedly.

  • Compose limericks in my head, on the fly.

  • Read 550 words per minute.

  • Quote every line of Bruce Lee’s dialogue from Enter the Dragon.

Seven things I cannot do:
  • Nap without ruining the rest of the day.

  • Stay angry for more than an hour or two.

  • Play chess worth a darn.

  • Type with all my fingers.

  • Understand the appeal of Carrot Top.

  • Tolerate heights, bigotry, or hardcore country music.

  • Dunk a basketball, unless the backboard is really, really low.

Seven things that attract me to the opposite sex:
  • Curious intelligence.

  • Laughing eyes and a ready smile.

  • Generous hips, and the sexual self-confidence to carry them with panache. (A bit of a tummy is cute, too.)

  • Eyeglasses, worn at least some of the time.

  • A clever, flirtatious sense of humor.

  • A powerful personality — passion and compassion in equal measure.

  • A sensual voice.

Seven things that I say most often:
  • "What’s up with that?"

  • "What did I do with my pen?"

  • "I forgot."

  • "Yeah, right."

  • "Where’s the gizmo?" (usually used in reference to one of the many remote controls)

  • "What did I do now?"

  • "I need coffee."

Seven celebrity crushes:
  • Linda Fiorentino

  • Diane Lane

  • Annette O’Toole

  • Melanie Lynskey

  • Ann Wilson, the lead singer of Heart

  • Marcy Walker

  • Martha Quinn

Friday, September 02, 2005

The master of understatement

President Bush today assessed the federal government's response to the Hurricane Katrina disaster, saying, "The results are not acceptable."

That's a little like your doctor, observing that you have terminal cancer that's going to devour your insides in about two days, telling you, "The outcome appears less than favorable."

Gee whillikers, George: People are dying in the flooded streets of a major American city, 80 percent of whose land area is underwater. After four days, these folks have no food, no drinking water, no toilet or bathing facilities, no medical care, and no clean dry place to sleep. The National Guard, the people who usually help out in times like these, are unable to act effectively because half of them are in another hemisphere, chasing phantoms through Iraqi back alleys. And to you, that's "not acceptable."

I'm sure the residents of New Orleans are relieved to see that you're on top of the situation.

Join the expedition — watch out for flying werewolves

So why do they call it Labor Day when most people have the day off?

Just one of the many questions I'm pondering on this pre-Labor Day Comic Art Friday, dedicated to all the men and women out there in big beautiful America who work for a living.

And speaking of big and beautiful...

My comic art collection takes an odd turn now and then. SSTOL regulars know that the cornerstone of my collection is what I refer to as my "Common Elements" series; an ever-expanding gallery of two-character artworks that pair otherwise unrelated superheroes who share some feature in common. You've also seen numerous iterations of several characters whose images I specifically collect: Wonder Woman, the Black Panther, Mary Marvel, the Scarlet Witch, and Captain America. Each of these heroes and heroines holds some special sentimental value to me personally, and I never tire of adding new likenesses of them to my collection.

The other day, I was leafing through my collection and noting with surprise the sizable number of Lara Croft (also known as Tomb Raider) images I own. Surprise, because unlike the quintet mentioned above, I never set out to build a gallery of Lara Croft portraits. I've never played the Tomb Raider video game, nor any of its innumerable sequels. I've never read an issue of the long-running Lara Croft, Tomb Raider comic book. Although I found the two Lara Croft, Tomb Raider films starring Angelina Jolie entertaining enough (the second flick especially), I wouldn't call myself a fan of the series.

So why do I have all these Lara Croft pictures?

I suppose the bottom line reason is simple: I enjoy seeing comic artists doing what they do best, and what many in the current crop of artists do best is draw attractive female characters. This is, to my observation, a relatively recent phenomenon. Although "good girl" art (also called cheesecake or "headlights" art) has a long and storied history in the comics — perhaps best exemplified by the work of artist Matt Baker for Fiction House and other publishers in the 1950s — many of the greatest artists in the superhero genre didn't render women particularly well. Jack Kirby, perhaps the most revered superhero artist of all time, couldn't draw good-looking women to save his life. (I'm already anticipating a flood of hostile commentary from Kirby fanatics. You're all entitled to your opinion, even if it's wrong.) Gil Kane, another giant of the field, was a master at depicting male anatomy, but his figures of women always looked awkward and somehow unfinished.

In the past 20 years or so, however, a whole cottage industry of good girl art has appeared on the comics scene. There's even a subgenre called "bad girl" art, in which the lead characters are even more sexualized and, usually, less heroic. Many of the superstar artists today, such as Adam Hughes, make their living almost entirely on their drawings of gorgeous females. (In fact, I think I can count on my fingers the Hughes cover images I've seen that featured male characters.) Young artists seeking to ape the Big Name Artists' styles therefore focus on learning to draw women.

And because Hughes spent several years as the primary cover artist on Dark Horse Comics' Lara Croft, Tomb Raider books (he has since moved on to the covers of DC's Catwoman), there are a ton of very nice images of Lara floating around out there — images that quite often represent the best efforts of these young good girl artists. Some of these images have wended their way into my collection.

(I apologize in advance for posting links instead of actual pictures. My DSL provider is experiencing technical difficulties, and I can’t upload files of any decent size. I’ll reconfigure this post when order is restored to my online universe.)

Take, for instance, this wicked cool scenario by Filipino artist Noah Salonga, in which Lady Croft is being threatened by some manner of tentacled beast not normally found in ancient tombs.

Or this one by Salonga’s countrymen Ariel Padilla and Ernest Jocson, wherein our heroine finds herself at the mercy of a horde of nasty lycanthropes. (And no, I do not understand why in the fictional archaeologists constantly find themselves up against monsters. I’ve visited a dig or two in my day, and never seen anything more frightening than a desiccated cricket.)

And, just so you don’t feel that I’ve completely abandoned you to linksville, here’s one worth repeating: the Tomb Raider all by her bad self, as penciled by her longtime scripter Dan Jurgens, and inked by Joe Rubinstein, who has applied his skillful touch to practically every comic book hero known to humankind.

That’s our Comic Art Friday. As Lady Croft always says, don’t take any wooden artifacts.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Not walking on sunshine

I know I'm not going to be the first to say this, but it needs to be said:

Katrina sucked.

That applies equally whether the Katrina in question is Katrina Leskanich, the lead singer of one-hit wonder Katrina and the Waves, whose infernally perky "Walking on Sunshine" still keeps popping up in commercials and such like 20 years after its release, or the same-named hurricane that devastated southern Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama earlier this week.

Yes, I know that the phrase "devastated southern Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama" seems a trifle dedundant. But let's show a modicum of respect for our suffering fellow citizens in their hour of extreme need.

Of course, not all of those citizens are showing much respect themselves. It's the eternal paradox of human tragedy: Some people rise to it; others sink beneath it. That some right in the middle of Katrina's destruction are seizing the opportunity to commit inhumanity against their neighbors is appalling. But that's people for you.

Let's you and I be better than that.

I'm inviting every SSTOL reader outside Katrina's wake to find a worthy charitable organization working in the disaster zone and contribute whatever makes sense to your compassion and budget. Even if what you can do is only a little bit, at least do something. Let's show the best of ourselves in an hour when some are showing the worst.

And to those within the path of the storm, may you get the help you need to rebuild your lives. Our thoughts and prayers are with you.