Monday, October 31, 2005

Bats and black cats? We Gotham right here

Allow me to be the first to drop a tasty morsel into your trick-or-treat bag...

A scrumptious comic art image. (And it's not even Friday.)

What says "Halloween" better than black cats and bats? Thank comic artists Al Rio and Geof Isherwood for bringing the two together — personified by Batman and his nemesis/seductress Catwoman — in this eerie urban tableau.

This compelling creation began life as a rough pencil sketch by Al Rio, the amazing Brazilian talent. SSTOL perennial Geof Isherwood then took Al's drawing and, in the words of Emeril Lagasse, kicked it up a few notches. To illustrate (no pun intended) the incredible contributions Geof added to the artwork, here's Al's pencil original.

A tip of the witch's hat to Al Rio's U.S. art representative, Terry Maltos, who not only gave me a nice deal on the original art, but was also kind enough to ship the drawing directly to Geof Isherwood in Montreal so that Geof could do that voodoo that he do so well.

Have a safe Halloween, and remember... the goblins will get you if you don't watch out.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Just one more song meme

SSTOL regulars know that I greet memes with roughly the same alacrity as I would, say, urinary catheterization. However, since almost every blogger I read has taken on this musical list, I figured I'd doodle it in as I waited for decent cards to fall my way in an online hold 'em tournament.

As have others, I edited out several artists with whose music I am utterly unfamiliar, or with whom I have so little convergence that citing "favorite songs" from their catalogs would be an exercise in futility. And I added a few here and there, just because I can.

Favorite Beatles song:
From the early raw period — either "You Can't Do That" or "I Saw Her Standing There."
From the late experimental period — "I Will."
From the category of "Beatles song everyone else hates" — "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da."

Favorite solo song by a former Beatle: "Photograph," Ringo Starr.
Which is funny, because I’m still not sure Ringo has any talent.

Favorite Bob Dylan song: "Gotta Serve Somebody."
Yeah, I know, all the ex-hippies got bent out of shape when Bobby Z. found religion. But this is still one of his most perceptive — and entertaining — lyrics, from his quasi-Christian period.

Favorite Dylan cover: "Quinn the Eskimo," Manfred Mann.
You'll not see nothin' like the mighty Quinn. Eventually the basis for a fun movie starring Denzel Washington. (No, Denzel does not play an Eskimo.)

Favorite Prince song: "Nothing Compares 2 U."
One of the most emotionally powerful pop songs ever written.

Favorite Michael Jackson song: "Black or White."
Even at his most self-servingly preachy — after all, this song really isn't about race relations; it's about public perception of Michael's image — the Thriller can still work it when he wants to.

Favorite song that most of your friends haven't heard: "Gone," The House Jacks.
Possibly the best unknown song in popular music history.

Favorite Police song: "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic."
Quite a few reasonable choices, but this one always leaps out at me.

Favorite song from a movie: "Over the Rainbow," The Wizard of Oz.
Picking just one favorite movie song is about as futile an exercise as picking just one favorite movie, but if you were going to pick just one, this would be a good one to pick.

Favorite Blondie song: "The Tide is High."
By a peroxide whisker over "Heart of Glass" and "Rapture." I love me some Debbie Harry.

Favorite Genesis song: "That's All."
Tough call. I like a lot of Genesis stuff, but almost nothing rabidly enough to put the "favorite" tag on it.

Favorite song by an ex-Genesis member:
"In the Air Tonight," Phil Collins.
Although if I'd said either "Sledgehammer" or "Solsbury Hill" by Peter Gabriel, I wouldn't argue with myself.

Favorite Led Zeppelin song:
"Rock and Roll."
"Black Dog" is right up there.

Favorite INXS song: "Suicide Blonde."
Not a fan, really, but I liked this song.

Favorite Weird Al song: "I Lost on Jeopardy!"
Does that surprise you?

Favorite Pink Floyd song: "Money."
Love that seductive bass line.

Favorite U2 song: "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For."
Story of my life.

Favorite disco song: "On the Radio," Donna Summer.
All of the anti-disco backlash tended to bury the fact that, given the right material, Ms. Summer was Whitney Houston before there was a Whitney Houston.

Favorite The Who song: "Baba O'Riley."
When I was between colleges, I worked in a drug store for a manager who started every day by playing "Baba O'Riley" at maximum volume on one of the stereos in the electronics department. I still love it anyway.

Favorite Elton John song: "Your Song."
Thirty-five years later, Sir Elton still hasn't recorded anything superior to his very first hit.

Favorite Clash song: "Rock the Casbah."
By default — it's the only Clash song I know.

Favorite David Bowie song: "Golden Years."
Became the theme song for a really bizarre TV series of the same name, in which an elderly man — the beneficiary/victim of a top-secret government experiment — retrogressed in age.

Favorite Johnny Cash song: "Flesh and Blood."
My antipathy for country music is legendary, but I always loved Johnny Cash. This pick could just as easily have been "I Walk the Line," "Ring of Fire," "Man in Black," or even "Daddy Sang Bass."

Favorite Elvis song: "A Little Less Conversation."
Hearing this at the start of each week's episode of Las Vegas makes me smile.

Favorite Billy Joel song:
"She's Always a Woman."
Not Joel's biggest hit, but a seriously underappreciated ballad.

Favorite Bruce Springsteen song: "I'm On Fire."

Favorite Bruce Springsteen cover: "Fire," the Pointer Sisters.

Favorite cover by Bruce Springsteen: His blistering live version of Edwin Starr's "War."

Favorite Squeeze song: "Tempted."

Favorite non-Squeeze song by the guy who sang lead vocals on "Tempted": "I Need You," Paul Carrack.

Favorite Beach Boys song: "God Only Knows."
Only Brian Wilson's descent into madness prevented the Beach Boys from truly becoming America’s version of the Beatles. As it is, they were darned close.

Favorite Dire Straits song: "Sultans of Swing."
Especially the album track, which includes the best verse in the song — the one edited out of the radio single.

Favorite Elvis Costello song: "Alison."
My aim is true.

Favorite song by a singer whose band used to back Elvis Costello: "Hope You Love Me Like You Say You Do," Huey Lewis and the News. (Most of the members of the News had been members of Clover, which was Costello's backup band before he put together the Attractions.)

Favorite cover by Huey Lewis and the News: "When I Write the Book."
An absolutely masterful rendition of Nick Lowe's wickedly retrospective tune.

Favorite Guns N' Roses song: "Sweet Child O' Mine."
I'm a mite surprised that I even have a favorite GNR song, but I do. In fact, I think Appetite for Destruction was one of the few truly great rock albums of the 1980s.

Favorite Jimi Hendrix song: "The Wind Cries Mary."
I can hear Jimi.

Favorite John Mellencamp song: "Jack and Diane."
I saw this guy open for Heart back when he was still known as John Cougar. His live band at the time sucked, but you could tell that he was onto something.

Favorite Paul Simon song: "Loves Me Like a Rock."
Could just as easily be "Graceland" or "Kodachrome."

Favorite Simon & Garfunkel song: "Bridge Over Troubled Water."
Lightning in a bottle.

Favorite Queen song: "Fat Bottomed Girls."
But you knew that by now.

Favorite Sting song: "Fragile."

Favorite cover of "Fragile": The Los Angeles a cappella jazz ensemble Sixth Wave.

Favorite Tracy Chapman song: "Give Me One Reason."
Give me one reason why not.

Favorite Van Morrison song: "Moondance."
I saw Morrison live once, at San Francisco State University when I was a student there. Not much of a live performer, but his music dazzles.

Favorite XTC song: "Rook."
The second-best song ever written about a blackbird.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Holy tights, Batgirl!

This pre-Halloween edition of Comic Art Friday is brought to you by Count Chocula, Frankenberry, and Boo-Berry. And if you actually eat that garbage, you deserve what you get.

I was puzzling over how I was going to accomplish a tie-in between Halloween and my comic art collection. Horror comics certainly have a long and storied history, going back to the infamous EC Comics of the 1950s (you remember, the ones that almost got the comic book industry shut down entirely) and continuing through the Warren Publications magazines that began in the late 1960s (Creepy, Eerie, and Vampirella), the major comics publishers' horror renaissance of the 1970s (Marvel's Tomb of Dracula, Werewolf By Night, and Man-Thing, and DC's Swamp Thing, Weird War, and numerous other titles), Todd McFarlane's Spawn (an amalgam of the horror and superhero genres) and its innumerable imitators in the 1990s, and the proliferation of graphic gorefests that pervade the independent comics industry to this day.

Just one problem: I don't collect any of the above. My gallery focuses on superhero pinup art.

So, back to square one.

Fortunately, Halloween conjures up several specific images that coincide with the superhero genre. Witches? There's a Scarlet Witch, who happens to be a favorite character of mine. Ghosts? Plenty of superheroes use the ghost motif as part of their crimefighting identities, from the Spectre to Space Ghost. Black cats? There have been a couple of prominent heroines who've gone by that moniker.

And then there are bats. Oh my, are there ever bats. Thanks to the ever-booming popularity of Batman — who today far outstrips Superman as the linchpin character in the DC Comics line — comics never run short of bat-imagery.

Which brings us to our subject for today: Batgirl.

Much in the same way as did Isis, our cover girl last Comic Art Friday, Batgirl entered the comic world through the window of television. At the height of the freakishly popular Batman TV series of the mid-'60s, the producers of the show hit on the idea of adding an attractive female counterpart to the Dynamic Duo, both in the show and in the comics. In collaboration with editors at DC, the character of Batgirl emerged.

The original Batgirl (actually the second Bat-Girl, as a little-used character of that name had appeared in Batman comics a half-dozen years earlier) was Barbara Gordon, daughter of Batman's police ally Commissioner James Gordon. The flame-haired librarian donned a distaff version of Batman's cowl, cape, and tights (the latter of which were famously snagged on the cover of Detective Comics #371, drawn by DC stalwarts Carmine Infantino and Murphy Anderson) and leapt into the fray against evil alongside the Caped Crusader and the Boy Wonder. On television, Barbara/Batgirl was portrayed by the pixieish and fetching Yvonne Craig.

In DC's convoluted and ever-evolving continuity, several other young women have taken up the Batgirl identity since Barbara Gordon retired. (Barbara was later shot by the Joker, rendering her a paraplegic. Today, she supports various DC Universe heroes as the master information-gatherer Oracle.) But when I think of Batgirl, it's always Barbara I envision behind the cowl. Consequently, the Batgirl images in my collection are exclusively those of the Barbara Gordon iteration of this classic heroine.

Here's Batgirl in playful mode, as rendered by longtime Legion of Super-Heroes artist Jeffrey Moy:

Next, Dave Hoover — one of the finest "good girl" artists working today — presents a more pensive and languid Batgirl, surveying the skyline of Gotham City from her rooftop perch:

Last, but by no means least, the stylish Joyce Chin gives us Batgirl in full-out Halloween drama, complete with bats fluttering in the light of the full moon:

Have a safe and spooky Halloween, kiddies!

Oh, Scoot!

If that official-looking manila envelope says
On the label-label-label
There's an indictment-dictment-dictment
On your table-table-table.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

New month on the calendar: Out-tober

There must be something in the air this fall.

First, WNBA Most Valuable Player Sheryl Swoopes came out as a lesbian earlier this week.

Then today, George Takei — Mr. Sulu from the original Star Trek TV series and movies — came out as a gay man.

A superstar athlete and a beloved television personality, gay? Who's next, for crying out loud — Mike Piazza? Anderson Cooper?

Oh, wait...

Never mind.

That could never happen.

For the record, your Uncle Swan is resolutely heterosexual. He does, however, enjoy both basketball and Star Trek.

Go figure.

I can name that ballpark in three letters

With the impending merger of communications giants SBC and AT&T into a new and more monopolistic AT&T (wasn't this why the company was broken up to begin with?), the San Francisco Giants' friendly confines will soon gain its third new name in only six years.

Originally dubbed Pacific Bell Park, way back in 2000 when the local telephone megalith was known by that handle, the ballyard was rechristened SBC Park in 2004 after PacBell's reabsorption into its former fellow Baby Bell. (Wasn't this why the company was broken up to begin with? But I repeat myself.)

Now, says an SBC spokesman, the combined entity will reposition itself under the AT&T brand. Presumably, this means the China Basin playing field at McCovey Cove will transform once more — this time into AT&T Park — before next baseball season begins.

Since Giants fans will already be forced to adjust to yet another corporate cognomen when they want to watch their favorite team, why not simply change the ballpark's name every year, to plump the fortunes of a different Bay Area business? If adopted, my plan might result in Giants broadcasters welcoming listeners and viewers to the following locales in upcoming seasons:

  • I'm surprised Giants honcho Peter Magowan didn't think of this already: Safeway Park (Magowan made his fortune as CEO of the supermarket giant)

  • Games will be visually spectacular and technically brilliant, but ultimately empty of genuine emotion: Lucasfilms Park

  • For nostalgia fanatics: Doggie Diner Park

  • Now that's good eats: Big Nate's Barbecue Park (owned by former Golden State Warriors star Nate Thurmond)

  • Change the uniforms to denim: Levi Strauss Park

  • Monster Park (no, wait... that's already taken)

  • In honor of another local playing field: Golden Gate Park Park

  • Because if I don't suggest it, Steve Jobs will: Apple iPark

  • You'll never have trouble searching for it: Google Park

  • Because we mentioned the competition: Yahoo! Park

  • At least the players would be animated: Pixar Park

  • It's a man's world: Mitchell Brothers O'Farrell Theater Park

  • Larry Ellison owns darn near everything else anyway: Oracle Park

  • Auction off future naming rights to the highest bidder: eBay Park

  • Replay the games when you want to watch them: TiVo Park

Harriet, we hardly knew ye

The main upshot from White House Counsel Harriet Miers's self-withdrawal from Supreme Court consideration is that the right wing idealogues will likely win the Court. The President, in an effort to mollify the conservatives who led the "Dump Harriet" movement, will be pressured to choose another candidate from the far right, in the mold of current Supremes Antonin "Adolf" Scalia and Clarence "Coke Can" Thomas.

Too bad, really.

I wonder whether Judge Judy would be interested in the job. Or Judge Joe Brown. Or maybe even Judge Reinhold.

Or — now here's an idea — Sylvester Stallone, who has some experience after playing Judge Dredd in the film of the same name. Sly could begin each court session by bellowing from the bench, "I AM THE LAW!"

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

2001: A Death Odyssey

The U.S. armed forces have now lost 2001 American men and women since the Iraq conflict began.

I'm thinking "Mission Accomplished" really didn't mean what people at the White House and in the Pentagon thought it meant back on May 1, 2003.

Another thing that puzzles me: The proliferation of yellow ribbon-shaped "Support the Troops" bumper magnets on automobiles. Isn't that rather a pointless message? Does anyone not support the troops? Are there really people out there in the heartland of America saying, "Curse you, you stupid troops! Curse you and your kind!"? Not that I've heard.

I have yet to encounter a single soul who doesn't desire that all of our deployed servicemen and servicewomen return home safely — which is, it seems to me, the essence of supporting the troops. So for whom is the "Support the Troops" message intended?

Now, if what you really mean is, "Support the Bush Administration," why not get a bumper magnet that says what you mean?

You wouldn't even need to change the color.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

So long, and thanks for all the Niblets

Not as socially momentous, perhaps, as yesterday's passing of Rosa Parks, but nonetheless sad, is the news of the death of singer and voice actor Len Dresslar.

You may not recognize Mr. Dresslar's name or face, but if you've watched TV commercials anytime in the past 40 years — or eaten canned vegetables during the same period — you certainly know his voice. Dresslar provided the familiar "Ho! Ho! Ho!" of the Jolly Green Giant throughout his lengthy career.

More significantly to me as a fan and performer of a cappella music, Dresslar was the bass vocalist in the phenomenal vocal ensemble Singers Unlimited. The Singers were a four-voice recording unit assembled by legendary singer and arranger Gene Puerling in 1967, primarily to record advertising jingles. In addition to Dresslar and Puerling, tenor Don Shelton (who, along with Puerling, had been a member of the '50s vocal quartet The Hi-Lo's) provided the third male voice, while the amazing Bonnie Herman sang all of the female voice parts. Innovators in studio multitracking, Puerling and the Singers Unlimited combined countless overdubs to create an incredibly vast ensemble sound that belied the fact that only four singers were involved.

In addition to their advertising work, the Singers Unlimited recorded several popular albums, four of which — including their seminal Christmas album, appropriately titled Christmas — contained no instrumental accompaniment. While the bulk of the Singers' music is available today only in the compilation package Magic Voices, the Christmas album still turns up in the holiday music section of many CD retailers. If you love lush harmonies and perfect vocal blend, it's worth hunting down.

Only two shopping months until Christmas!

The nation's retailers thank you for your patronage, and ask that you consume conspicuously.

She sat down, that we might stand up

Today, America mourns a giant.

Rosa Parks, whose act of defiance on a Montgomery, Alabama city bus in 1955 ignited the civil rights movement, became more than merely a symbol of racial inequality and injustice. She served as a reminder to all of us — regardless of color, ethnicity, or gender — that what we do as individuals matters; that the actions of a single human being can alter the course of history.

In the words of the Neville Brothers song:
Sister Rosa Parks was tired one day
After a hard day on her job.
When all she wanted was a well deserved rest
Not a scene from an angry mob.
A bus driver said, "Lady, you got to get up
'Cause a white person wants that seat."
But Miss Rosa said, "No, not no more.
I'm gonna sit here and rest my feet."

Now, the police came without fail
And took Sister Rosa off to jail.
Fourteen dollars was her fine,
Brother Martin Luther King knew it was our time.
The people of Montgomery sit down to talk
It was decided all God's children should walk
Until segregation was brought to its knees
And we obtain freedom and equality.

Thank you, Miss Rosa
You are the spark,
You started our freedom movement
Thank you, Sister Rosa Parks.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Raindrops on noses, and blisters on kittens

Just because today is United Nations Day, these are a few of SwanShadow's favorite things:

Favorite politician for whom I don't actually get to vote: Sen. Arlen Specter, Republican from Pennsylvania. Not because I agree with his politics — the man's a Republican, for pity's sake — but because his last name sounds like a superhero. (Don't know that I necessarily want to see the Senator bare-chested in a green cowl and cape, though.)

Favorite place to play free online poker: You'll often find me at the Sit and Go hold 'em tournament tables, polishing my skills for a future assault on the World Series of Poker. Since my chances of having a spare ten grand lying around for the WSOP buy-in are roughly equivalent to the odds of Donald Trump adopting me as his long-lost love child, I'll have to play my way in through an online satellite.

Favorite beverage: Cream soda. Because you can never have too much vanilla. Thomas Kemper makes a fine product.

Favorite drum riff in a rock song: This one's a tie, between Phil Collins's monster slam at the climax of "In the Air Tonight" and Roger Taylor's pell-mell scramble across the toms before the last chorus of Queen's "Fat Bottomed Girls."

Favorite junior assistant district attorney on Law & Order: Paul Robinette (Richard Brooks). How come Paul never got a chance to try a case in court?

Favorite ride at Disneyland: Pirates of the Caribbean. Yes, even after they tweaked the animatronics so the pirates aren't attempting to molest the wenches any more. Lacks the flash and dash of the Indiana Jones experience around the corner, but remains unmatched for story continuity and classic Disney feel.

Favorite movie by a director whose films I usually dislike: Panic Room. "Wretched excess" is the phrase that comes most readily to mind when I think of David Fincher's cinematic oeuvre. Se7en, the concept of which is actually rather clever, devolves into a nauseating exercise in grotesquerie. Fight Club may well be the most infuriatingly and undeservedly self-important motion picture I've ever sat through. But Panic Room is a straightforward, cracking good thriller that never steps falsely. Jodie Foster (a last-minute stand-in for the injured Nicole Kidman, who would have weakened the film considerably) and Forest Whitaker are both as exceptional here as they've ever been, and that's saying something.

Favorite fast food indulgence: Fish tacos at Rubio's. Mmmm... fish tacos.

Favorite contemporary mystery writer whose name isn't Robert B. Parker: Harlan Coben. I usually only read series characters, but even though Coben appears to have abandoned his continuing protagonist — sports agent extraordinaire Myron Bolitar — for the best-selling joys of one-shot suspense potboilers, I can't put his stuff down.

Favorite name to appear on a major league baseball lineup card: Rusty Kuntz. Seriously. You could look it up. Me, I'd have changed it. Maybe even to Urban Shocker, which sounds more like a Wes Craven film or a hip-hop artist than a baseball player.

Favorite place to spend a one-of-a-kind night: The Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo, California. The world's most bizarre motel, its eclectic conglomeration of 108 themed guest rooms runs the gamut from kitschy to just plain weird. You'll never forget the experience. (And no, I don't know if Madonna ever slept there. But if she did, she probably chose this room.)

Favorite Saturday morning viewing, nostalgia division: The Herculoids. Think Tarzan of the Aliens. Just a guy, his babealicious wife, and their preadolescent son, running around in loincloths on a far-distant planet with their five giant monsters: a laser-shooting dragon, a granite gorilla, a triceratops equipped with a grenade launcher, and a couple of animated Jell-O molds. With characters designed by the great Alex Toth, cartoon adventure didn't get any cooler than this.

Favorite Saturday morning viewing, contemporary division: America's Test Kitchen. Geeky foodie magazine editor Christopher Kimball (Cook's Illustrated) hovers about while his two culinary experts, Julia Collin and Bridget Lancaster, prepare simple but exceedingly tasty-looking fare. Unlike most TV cooking shows, the dishes are mostly made from ingredients you might actually buy, and the recipes actually work in your home kitchen. (We've proven it.) In the middle of each episode, one of Chris's equally geeky friends drops by to reveal the results of either a taste test of some food product, or a trial of some handy kitchen gadget. Julia and Bridget can come over and cook dinner for me anytime. Just leave Chris and the geeks at home.

Favorite comic strip: Setting aside Peanuts — which transcends the realm of comics into that of cultural icons — without question the greatest daily strip of my lifetime was the late and much-missed Calvin and Hobbes. For ten wonderful years, cartoonist Bill Watterson opened our eyes to the universe, as seen through the unique perspective of a six-year-old boy named Calvin, and his stuffed tiger companion who lived only in Calvin's imagination. If a mysterious benefactor with a chunk of spare change wanted to win my undying admiration, said benefactor could deposit a copy of the newly released Complete Calvin and Hobbes bound collection on my bookshelf. (It lists for $150, but I hear tell that Costco is selling it for $80, and Amazon for $95.)

Favorite place to stand in San Francisco: The north end of Pier 39, looking out over the Bay toward Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge, with the sea lions barking the daily news into my ear and the tang of salt water and decaying seaweed assaulting my nose. If I'm in a good mood, I might even drop a dollar in the street performers' hat.

All right, so it didn't have anything to do with United Nations Day. But it was fun while it lasted.

Friday, October 21, 2005

"O mighty Isis...!"

Today's Comic Art Friday is brought to you by Luxor Las Vegas, the world's only 30-story, pyramid-shaped hotel. (At least that's what it says right here on the side of my official Luxor coffee mug.) It's exactly like ancient Egypt, only with a zillion slot machines, an interminable check-in line, gift shops, and a decent buffet.

Comic book superheroes don't always originate in the comics. Sometimes, they debut in other media, then transition to the four-color page.

Take, for example, the mighty Isis, costar of that icon of '70s Saturday morning television, The Shazam!/Isis Hour. You remember, Shazam! was the show in which a Tiger Beat pinup version of Billy Batson tooled around the country with a meddlesome old geezer in a Winnebago, and Captain Marvel magically transformed into a different actor halfway through the series run. (One of these Comic Art Fridays, we'll have to discuss the reasons why every show and comic featuring Captain Marvel is entitled Shazam! and not, well, Captain Marvel. But not today.)

But for many of us viewers, Shazam! was merely the opening act to the real entertainment: The Secrets of Isis, later shortened simply to Isis. Starring the lovely and talented JoAnna Cameron as sort of a kinder, gentler, and less hormonally threatening precursor to Kate Jackson's beautiful-but-brainy Sabrina Duncan on Charlie's Angels, The Secrets of Isis presented the superheroic adventures of high school science teacher Andrea Thomas, whose enchanted amulet transformed her — Captain Marvel-style — into a reincarnated Egyptian goddess whenever she uttered the incantation, "O mighty Isis...!"

As stated in the show's ponderous opening narration, Isis could "soar as the falcon soars... run with the speed of gazelles... and command the elements of sky and earth." Accompanied by her pet raven Tut (who never quoth "Nevermore," or anything else, on the show — and who apparently was much despised by his human costar), Isis busted bad guys, defended the defenseless, and taught her teenaged students valuable lifeskills, usually summarized in an awkward sermonette at the end of each episode.

The show's production values were bargain-basement, and its scripts trite and cheesier than a Velveeta avalanche (hey, it was Saturday morning kidvid, not the Royal Shakespeare Company), but JoAnna Cameron was a reasonably competent actress (not to mention easy on the eyes) who lent an air of realism and class to Isis that seemed terminally lacking in Shazam!.

During the latter stages of the Isis series, DC Comics published a short-lived title based on the TV character. Ironically, the reason Isis existed at all was a licensing dispute that arose between DC and Filmation, the production company that developed Shazam! After the success of Shazam!'s first season, Filmation wanted to produce a companion series featuring Mary Marvel, the good Captain's sister in the comics. DC quoted a higher licensing fee than Filmation was willing to fork over, so the TV people created their own character with similar powers — essentially, Mary Marvel in faux Egyptian drag.

Since you Comic Art Friday regulars already know how near and dear to my heart Mary Marvel is, you'll realize it's only natural that Isis should find a happy home in my art collection too. And indeed, she does.

I commissioned my first Isis image from the artist who signs his work "Shade." (I don't think he'll mind my telling you that his real name is Scott Jones.) Shade's deft pencil work here makes for a striking presentation.

More recently, one of my favorite commission artists, Michael Dooney (best known for his work on various Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles projects), added this stunning portrait to my Isis gallery.

A seriously underrated talent in my not-often-humble estimation, Michael has a knack for "good girl" stylings that's matched by few other artists active in the industry today. He combines an illustrator's linecraft and a classically inspired sense of design with just the right touch of whimsy to create truly magical art.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I have to get back to deciphering the Rosetta Stone.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Sweet dreams are made of this

Last night, my bedroom activities were monitored by an unseen stranger.

I thought that would get your attention.

Alas, it wasn't as spicy as it sounds. The bedroom was located in a physician's office. The unseen stranger was a medical technologist. My activities consisted of nothing more than sleeping, with an assortment of data-gathering instrumentation attached to my body.

Like millions of my fellow Americans, I suffer from a sleep disorder. Specifically, I have obstructive sleep apnea, a condition that causes me — due to a collapsing airway — to stop breathing when I fall asleep. Left to my own devices, I experience hundreds of momentary airflow interruptions during an average night, resulting in extreme fatigue (not to mention sleepiness, muddled cognitive function, and symptoms of depression) during my waking hours. To prevent this untoward battery of complaints, I spend my nighttimes hooked up to a continuous positive air pressure device (called a CPAP — say it "see-pap"); essentially, an automated pump that blows air down my throat to keep my windpipe open while I sleep.

I haven't had a thorough evaluation of my apnea since I was first diagnosed about seven years ago. Thus, I was long overdue for a new sleep study. As it happens, I recently wrote a new set of informational and marketing materials for a local sleep medicine clinic, and was quite impressed with their approach to patient care. So I scheduled an appointment.

Having been through two sleep studies previously, and having taken the grand tour of the sleep nedicine clinic while on assignment, I knew pretty well what to expect. I arrived at the office at 10 p.m., where I was met by the medical technologist who would conduct my study. As I sat in a chair very much like those in a barbershop — minus the accompaniment of a singing quartet — the technologist glued a series of sensory electrodes to my face and body. By the time she was finished, I felt as through I was about to be plugged into the Matrix. (Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.)

The technologist then escorted me to one of six bedrooms. (This may be one of the few occasions when one can use the words "escorted" and "bedroom" in the same sentence, and not need a shower or a shot of penicillin afterward.) My various dangling electrical wires were connected to the monitoring equipment, and I trundled off to Sandman City under the watchful eye of a video camera. (Somehow, I doubt the video record of my snooze will generate the same public enthusiasm as, say, the Paris Hilton tape.)

For the most part, the night proved uneventful. After monitoring a couple of hours of my untreated sleep state, the technologist came in and connected me to a CPAP for the balance of the study. The only other time I recall awakening, a cramp in my left... umm... hip muscle — no doubt brought on by lying in the same position for longer than normal — jolted me from slumber. At about 6:30 a.m., the technologist concluded the study, disassembled my Frankensteinian jumble of electrical gadgetry, and sent me on my way.

Sleep apnea is much more common than most people realize. The majority of sufferers don't even know they have a treatable medical condition. Even worse, most don't recognize how potentially hazardous sleep apnea can be. (If you're male, overweight, and experience daytime sleepiness and/or nighttime snoring or restless sleep, do yourself a colossal favor and take this sleep apnea self-assessment quiz. You'll be glad you did.)

The danger was hammered home to me once again last December, when former NFL superstar Reggie White died of cardiac arrest. According to numerous published reports, White's coronary condition may have been exacerbated by untreated sleep apnea.

Reggie White and I were born on the same day.

Yeah, I'd say that's a wakeup call.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Holy Toledo!

San Francisco Bay Area residents who heard Bill King on the radio during his five-decade career would have thought nothing on earth could silence the eloquent broadcaster's voice.

Nothing but death, that is.

I was driving home from a meeting today when I heard about the passing of Bill King at the age of 78, from complications following hip surgery. For nearly 50 years, King's unmistakable pipes delivered the play-by-play of Bay Area professional sports into our homes and automobiles. At one time or another, King served on the broadcast team of almost every local franchise. The radio voice of the Oakland Athletics since 1981, King was also the longtime lead broadcaster for the Oakland Raiders, and even held down a brief stint in the San Francisco Giants' booth a few decades ago.

But I remember Bill King best as the familiar voice of the Golden State Warriors, back when I first began following NBA basketball in the mid-'70s. King would never have been considered a "homer," but he had no qualms about laying into the officials when a call didn't go the way he thought it should. For Warriors fans, King was as much a part of the franchise as any player or coach. When he and the Warriors parted company in the early '80s, it was the end of an era. It might be coincidence that the W's have rarely been any good since King's departure... but it might not be.

In an era where most broadcasters are indistinguishable from one another, King was a true original. From his legendary handlebar moustache and goatee to his polysyllabic vocabulary, Bill King walked his own path and cut his own stamp into the games he covered.

Holy Toledo, we'll miss him.

Monday, October 17, 2005

From the "For Pity's Sake, Let It Go" File

Sylvester Stallone has signed a deal to write, direct, and star in a sixth Rocky movie. The storyline will involve "an aging, widowed Rocky who is reluctant to get back in the ring, but ends up doing it 'just to compete, not to win.'"

Please, Sly, for the love of all that's good and decent...

Just say no.

You are almost 60 years old, man. Yogi Berra was wrong. When it's over, it's over.

Rocket's red glare

If you're much under 40, the name Charles Rocket probably doesn't mean much to you. In fact, if you're over 40, it probably doesn't mean much to you either.

All right, when it comes right down to it, unless either you're a bottomless pit of pop culture knowledge — which I, of course, am — or you knew the man personally — which I did not, I'm afraid — Charles Rocket may not even be a blip on your informational radar screen.

That is, unless you read the news today, and saw that Charles Rocket has committed suicide.

A quarter-century ago, Charles Rocket expended his 15 minutes of fame in a sunburst of profane glory when he dropped an F-bomb live on network television. At the time, Rocket was a member of the cast of NBC's after-hours hit, Saturday Night Live. But not just any member, and not just any cast. Charles Rocket received the double whammy from the fickle finger of television fate: He was the designated heir apparent to one of America's most beloved comedic actors — Chevy Chase, who had shot to stardom as the original anchor of SNL's mock newscast, Weekend Update — and he was one of those chosen to succeed perhaps the most legendary improvisational comedy troupe of all time — the original Not Ready for Prime Time Players, whose ranks included budding stars John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray (Chase's replacement in the cast, but not at the Weekend Update desk), Jane Curtin, and Gilda Radner.

When the five-year contracts of the SNL cast expired at the end of the 1979-80 season (Chase, who had only signed a one-year deal, had bolted four years previously), NBC brought in another collection of fresh-faced talents to repopulate the show. The early favorite as the breakout star of the group, Charles Rocket, possessed the same kind of all-American good looks and wry-bordering-on-smug comic delivery that had made Chevy Chase a household name, and which none of the other original cast members — incredible talents though they were — had quite been able to duplicate. Rocket was installed as the new Weekend Update anchor, replacing the tag team of Dan Aykroyd and Jane Curtin, who had made "Jane, you ignorant slut" a national catchphrase.

Talk about being set up for failure.

The problems were numerous. As the original cast departed, so had most of the show's premier comedy writing talent. Executive producer Lorne Michaels was shunted aside in favor of Jean Doumanian, whose prior screen credits numbered exactly zero. And most of the cast, with the exception of a brash young comic named Eddie Murphy, simply wasn't very funny. (Denny Dillon, anyone? Ann Risley? Gail Matthius? Or, Lord help us, Gilbert Gottfried?)

The critics were scathing. The ratings tanked. The audience abandoned ship. Advertisers and network executives fumed. Cast members felt clammy beads of flop sweat pooling upon their collective brow.

Then came the night when Charles Rocket, in the middle of a sketch spoofing the then-popular primetime soap opera Dallas, let slip the one Anglo-Saxonism you can never, ever say on the broadcast airwaves. It was never clear whether the faux pas was planned, or entirely accidental. But clearly, the frustration of unfulfilled expectations and mounting pressures had taken a hand.

Rocket wasn't asked back the following season. (I was going to say, "Rocket was fired," but it seemed inappropriate.) Neither were most of his castmates — Eddie Murphy, Joe Piscopo (no, I can't explain it, either), and Robin Duke being the notable exceptions.

Charles Rocket (whose real name, incidentally, was Charles Claverie) worked steadily in television after the SNL debacle, with recurring roles on Moonlighting and Touched by an Angel and guest shots on dozens of other series and low-budget films. But he never became the comedy superstar many thought he might.

I have no way of knowing what drove Charles Rocket to take his own life — the state of his career, family issues, personal problems, or some combination thereof. Maybe no one does.

But this I know: A person who commits suicide by overdosing on pills or slashing his or her wrists is crying out for help. A person who slits his own throat may well be beyond help.

As the man used to say at the conclusion of his Weekend Update stints: "I'm Charles Rocket. Good night, and watch out."

Friday, October 14, 2005

Blue skies up above, superheroes in love...

This week's Comic Art Friday is being composed in four-part harmony. If every man, woman, and child across the globe began every morning by blowing a B-flat — the universal frequency — on a pitch pipe and gently humming that note, this old world would be a happier place.

Most hardcore comics geeks won't admit this, but superhero comics are really just a variation of soap opera. A soap opera in which the players wear colorful spandex costumes and occasionally whale the living tar out of one another, but a soap opera nonetheless.

As happens in any soap opera, characters in superhero comics occasionally fall in love.

Sometimes, these star-crossed relationships turn out well. Reed and Susan Richards of the Fantastic Four got hitched way back in 1965, in Fantastic Four Annual #3 (the very first comic book I ever read, by the way, though my copy was third-hand, coverless, and a year or more old by the time it fell into my possession). Despite the usual marital ups and downs, Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman are still happily wed.

Other times, relationships end tragically. Peter Parker, aka Spider-Man, still wrestles with the death of his long-ago lady love, Gwen Stacy, some 32 years later.

Other times, much like the majority of relationships in real life, superhero romances simply end — the Scarlet Witch and the Vision, for example, or the multi-identitied Henry Pym (known at various times in his crimefighting career as Ant-Man, Giant-Man, Goliath, and Yellowjacket) and his erstwhile wife Janet Van Dyne, the winsome Wasp (though Hank and Jan periodically make overtures at getting back together).

One of the great ongoing love stories in comics thrives between the aforementioned Peter Parker and his flame-haired bride, the former Mary Jane Watson. Since the moment the gorgeous redhead first entered Peter's life — uttering the now-famous line, "Face it, tiger... you just hit the jackpot!" — the oddly matched pairing of studious, easygoing scientist and photographer Peter and brash, outspoken actress and model MJ has been a staple of Marvel Comics' universe, as well as a couple of hit motion pictures. Although never entirely free from the spectre of Gwen Stacy, Peter and MJ share a love that has weathered the test of time, not to mention the occasional supervillain.

When I decided to add a testament to this classic relationship to my gallery, I turned to one of comics' finest and most consistent inkers of the past 30 years, Bob McLeod.

Like another of my favorite inkers, Josef Rubinstein, Bob toiled in his early days as a member of Neal Adams' Continuity Studios, an entity that kickstarted the careers of numerous artists, inking specialists in particular. The Adams studio often took on inking assignments from the major comics publishers in which every artist on the staff put in a hand (or a pen, or a brush). These collective works were usually credited to "the Crusty Bunkers," as Adams's men referred to themselves.

A hallmark of the inkers who came out of the Crusty Bunkers is their talent for drawing. Those uneducated about comic art often suppose that the inker does little more than trace what the pencil artist has already drawn. In fact, the best inkers lend an entirely new perspective and depth of detail to the work they finish. And, as Bob McLeod pointed out to me recently, "back in the day" practically every inker had solid drawing skills.

Case in point: Both McLeod and Rubinstein are brilliant pencilers, even though most comics readers think of them primarily as inkers. McLeod, in particular, has done a ton of penciled work in comics, that people for whatever reason tend to forget: various Spider-Man titles, Star Wars, two years of Superman in Action Comics, in addition to being the co-creator and original artist of Marvel's New Mutants. (Outside the realm of comic art, McLeod and Rubinstein are also accomplished painters. People with talent can be so... talented.)

When I commissioned this artwork, I asked Bob — one of the finest Spider-Man interpreters in the character's 40-plus-year history, in my estimation — to create something that expressed his view of the joy and fun of Peter and Mary Jane's lengthy yet still effervescent courtship. If a picture speaks a thousand words, this one recites an entire romance novel.

Comics fans have always enjoyed speculating about what would happen if certain favorite characters "hooked up." Two of the three "pillars" of the DC Universe, Superman and Wonder Woman, are frequent subjects of these fantasies. Adding his unique spin to this concept, we feature popular penciler Mike Wieringo, here ably inked by Richard Case.

Wieringo's unmistakable style is a throwback to the days when comic book art was more cartoony and less gritty and/or photorealistic. In Ringo's pencil, there's a healthy dash of the classic "bigfoot" cartoon style immortalized by such artists as Elzie Segar (the creator of Popeye) and underground legend Robert Crumb. There's also more than a soupçon of the looser, lighter approach typical of manga (Japanese comic books; anime is the animated equivalent). Although I'm not a fan of manga, and generally speaking, I prefer the less stylized character of traditional American superhero comic art, I'm a huge fan of Ringo's. I'm delighted that he's starting a new Spider-Man series (Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man) that will keep us fans enjoying his work on the Web-Slinger for the next several months.

That's your Comic Art Friday, friends and lovers. I'm going to go ring a few chords with my quartet this weekend. Maybe we'll dedicate a romantic ballad or three to you and your sweet babboo. (Assuming you have a sweet babboo. Which, if you spend all your time reading comic books, you may not.)

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Be fruitful and multiply

When I read the headline, "Arkansas Mother Gives Birth to 16th Child," my first thought was:

Haven't they all?

Asked whether the family was ready to pull the plug on its one-house population explosion, proud papa Jim Bob Duggar (didn't you just know his name would be Jim Bob?) said:
We both just love children and we consider each a blessing from the Lord. I have asked Michelle if she wants more and she said yes, if the Lord wants to give us some she will accept them.
That's a little like standing in the middle of the track at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on the Sunday before Memorial Day and saying, "If the Lord wants me to get submarined by a race car going 220 miles per hour, I will accept it."

And to think, this guy used to be an Arkansas state representative. But then, that kind of makes sense, when one thinks about politicians from Arkansas.

I note with interest that all 16 of the Duggar children have first names beginning with the letter "J." Not surprisingly, none of the kids is named "Jimmie." (If you didn't get that joke, this may help.)

The Duggars and their need to breed remind me of that legendary moment in broadcasting history when a certain Mrs. Story appeared as a contestant on Groucho Marx's radio program, You Bet Your Life. Upon hearing that Mrs. Story was the mother of 19 children, Groucho asked her, "Why do you have so many children? That's a big responsibility and a big burden."

Mrs. Story answered, "Well, I love my husband, Groucho."

To which the great comedian responded, "Lady, I love my cigar, too, but I take it out of my mouth once in a while."

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Hey, that's not a Scooter Pie!

A recent post over at Courting Destiny (Pia Savage's blog is always well worth a peek, if you haven't already stumbled across it via Blog Explosion) reminded me of something that's been gnawing at me for weeks:

The scariest fact about the Valerie Plame CIA exposure scandal is that there is an adult man thisclose to the reins of power who calls himself Scooter.

Proof once again that the United States government as presently constituted is under the dubious control of the Dukes of Hazzard.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Beautiful vs. sexy: the battle continues

Jessica Biel: The Sexiest Woman Alive.


Apparently the editors of Esquire Magazine think so. I can't say that I agree. When I look at Jessica Biel, I see sweet-faced Mary Camden on 7th Heaven. Sexy? Ummm... I'm thinking no.

Part of the problem, as I see it, is that "sexy" and "beautiful" have become synonymous in modern usage, and they shouldn't be. Beautiful is strictly an aesthetic assessment. Sexy is visceral, emotional, hormonal. Beautiful is a look. Sexy is a vibe, an attitude. Not every woman who's beautiful is sexy — in fact, many beautiful women are not especially sexy. Not every woman who's sexy is beautiful — I'd go so far as to say that many of the world's sexiest women are not especially beautiful. (The same may be true for men, too, but someone else — specifically, our straight female and gay male readers — will have to confirm or deny.)

Beautiful implies a certain degree of artifice; beauty can be imposed where it does not exist in nature — ask any cosmetologist or plastic surgeon. Sexy implies an innate quality; you either have it or don't.

Jessica Biel is a nice-looking young woman. Beautiful? I guess so. Not my type, exactly, but okay, sure. Sexy? Perhaps she is in real life; I've never met her, so I can't evaluate. She certainly doesn't come across that way on screen.

Last year's Esquire honoree, Angelina Jolie, illustrates the contrast. Angelina Jolie is a sexy woman. Is she beautiful? Not particularly. In fact, I find her rather homely; her features have the same cobbled-together-from-spare-parts appearance as a Mr. Potato Head doll. But does she give off that ephemeral je ne sais quoi that screams "sexy"? Yes, she does, and in spades.

Let's see whether we can come up with some other beautiful vs. sexy comparisons that work:
  • Beautiful: The Taj Mahal.
  • Sexy: The Grand Canyon.

  • Beautiful: Ginger.
    Sexy: Mary Ann.

  • Beautiful: Miss America.
    Sexy: Miss Congeniality.

  • Beautiful: The Venus de Milo.
    Sexy: Venus Williams.

  • Beautiful: The Victoria's Secret catalog.
    Sexy: Jennifer Beals's sweatshirt in Flashdance.

  • Beautiful: Jennifer Aniston.
    Sexy: Jennifer Lopez.

  • Beautiful: Princess Diana.
    Sexy: The Duchess of York.

  • Beautiful: Amanda Jones (Lea Thompson) in Some Kind of Wonderful.
  • Sexy: Watts the drummer girl (Mary Stuart Masterson) in the same movie.
To sum up, it's like the fine distinction between nude and naked. You may not know exactly what it is, but you know it when you see it.

Nude — like the nudes one might observe in a fine arts museum — is not sexy, at least not in and of itself.

Naked, on the other hand, is.

Blond... James Blond.

According to published reports, Daniel Craig has been handed Licence to Kill #007.

If that's true, I'm disappointed. Being a fan of the Fleming books as much as I am of the Bond films, I'd hoped that Eon Productions would cast an actor more in the mold of Fleming's original conception — Clive Owen, for example. And a blond as Bond? Not working for me, sorry.

I can't say that I'm all that familiar with Craig's oeuvre. Scanning the list of films in which he has appeared, I've seen two (Lara Croft, Tomb Raider and Elizabeth) and don't recall Craig's performance in either. (His recent crime caper Layer Cake is high on my want-to-see-on-DVD list.)

So I'm neither shaken nor stirred by Craig's landing the part, if indeed he has.

That said, I'm willing to give Mr. Craig the benefit of the doubt. After all, my favorite Bond film, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, starred the least likely actor ever to play the role: Australian male model George Lazenby. And as skeptical as I was originally about the sleek and effete Pierce Brosnan taking over from the grittier Timothy Dalton (a talented actor with the right blend of appearance and tone who got sandbagged by substandard scripts and poor directing in his two outings as 007), the former Remington Steele eventually won me over.

Whoever its star may be, I'm pleased that Casino Royale is getting a proper remake. The supposedly comedic version from the '60s is one of my least favorite films of all time.

Monday, October 10, 2005

It came upon an October night clear

It's, like, HolidayFest™ in North America today.

Here in the States, it's the Monday Holiday version of Columbus Day. Younger readers may be shocked to learn that this celebration does not, in fact, mark the birthday of the man who directed the first two Harry Potter films.

We here at SSTOL prefer — after the model of the late, great comedic genius Flip Wilson — to memorialize this date as Not Having Been Discovered Yet Day.

While we in the former Colonies sing Columbus Day carols (my personal favorites are "O Come, All Ye Europeans" and "O Little Isle of San Salvador") and burn the traditional effigies of the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria, our neighbors in the Great White North are enjoying Thanksgiving Day — the Canadians not yet having become hip to the fact that Thanksgiving is actually in November.

Perhaps they figure that, now that U.S.-based teams have won the last eleven consecutive Stanley Cups, the only way they can get one up on us is to beat us to the Thanksgiving punch.

Or maybe they're just eager to express their gratitude for our taking William Shatner off their hands.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Towers of Power

Today, Comic Art Friday reminds you that October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. As the husband of a five-year breast cancer survivor, I can't stress enough how desperately the world needs a cure for this pernicious disease. If you have a few extra dollars burning a hole in your pocket this week, consider making a donation to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation — good people doing good work in support of women.

Of every eight American women, one will develop breast cancer in her lifetime. That one could be your wife, mother, daughter, grandmother, friend, lover… or yourself. Learn to self-examine. Discuss your personal risk factors with your doctor. And urge all the women in your life to do likewise.

Speaking of breasts...

When the conversation turns to the subject of breasts in comics, sooner or later the focus points (no pun intended) to Power Girl.

In today's post-Comics Code industry, female characters with imposing grillwork appear at almost every turn. But in the kinder, gentler days of comics' Bronze Age — the 1970s — most superheroines sported a sleeker, nothing-above-a-C-cup look. Power Girl was a noteworthy exception. From her debut in the pages of DC Comics' mid-'70s revival of the original superteam, the Justice Society of America, unto this very day, Power Girl has always been drawn with a set of mammary appendages that would make a porn starlet jealous.

Credit for PG's most prominent design feature goes to Wally Wood, one of comics' greatest artists and co-creator of Power Girl (along with writer Gerry Conway — now one of the producers of Law & Order: Criminal Intent — and pencil artist Ric Estrada). Wood, a man possessed of both a talent for depicting the feminine figure and a wicked sense of humor, decided that he would give his creation increasingly abundant bosoms every time she appeared, until someone on the DC editorial staff took notice and ordered him to stop. According to legend, several issues passed before Wood's editor finally said, "Woody, what the heck are you doing to Power Girl?"

But Power Girl's Brobdingnagian breasts remained.

The twin towers of Karen Starr (Power Girl's secret identity) are fully in evidence in this pinup by longtime Legion of Super-Heroes artist Jeffrey Moy. She's teamed here with the man who gave Nicolas Cage his name: Luke Cage, Power Man.

Give a group of knowledgeable fanboys the task of naming the artists who draw the cutest girls in comics, and Jeff Moy will likely appear on many of the resulting lists. Although he mostly works in the video game industry today, Moy's long run on the Legion saga remains a fond memory for aficionados of that venerable supergroup.

Here's Karen again, this time rendered by the charming pencils of up-and-coming talent Brian Shearer, creator of the delightfully clever GravyBoy series.

I like the way Brian manages to lend Power Girl a certain buxom quality without robbing her of her athleticism or making her look disproportionately top-heavy, as many artists are wont to do. Brian's subtly whimsical style works nicely with a character whose appearance started as an artist's inside joke.

We round out our Power-fest with this gorgeous portrait by Robb Phipps, here borrowing a page from the sketchbook of the reigning king of "good girl" artists, Adam Hughes.

It's worth mentioning that Power Girl was originally intended to be an alternate-universe version of Supergirl. Over the years, PG's backstory has suffered from the mucking about of a host of writers, such that it's now completely unclear who she really is or what her origins are. Fortunately for Power Girl fans, writer Geoff Johns and artists Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti are making an entertaining attempt to resolve poor Karen's continuity problems in the current storyline of JSA Classified, a comic I recommend with enthusiasm to fans of Power Girl, and of classically styled superhero stories in general.

That's your Comic Art Friday. Remember: October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Spread the news to the women you love.

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Wednesday, October 05, 2005

"Joel, get off the babysitter!"

In April, they were just dating.

Since June, they've been engaged.

Now, in October, Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes are expecting a baby.

I guess now we know what they've been engaged in.

Off the topic, but still interesting nonetheless:

The babysitter who occasioned the famous line in Risky Business was played, in an uncredited cameo, by actress Anne Lockhart, best remembered by drooling fanboys as perky Lt. Sheba on the original Battlestar Galactica series.

Lockhart, the daughter of June Lockhart, the wholesome matron on Lassie and Lost In Space, has carved out a nice little career for herself popping up in uncredited roles in feature films. Among the many popular movies in which Lockhart makes a blink-and-you'll-miss-her screen appearance: E.T., City Slickers, Basic Instinct, and The Last Boy Scout. She's also a much-in-demand voice actor, specializing in post-production dialogue recording.

And, back in the day, Anne Lockhart was every bit as cute as Katie Holmes is now. (She may still be — I don't have access to a recent photo.)

Which explains the business with Joel and the babysitter.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The mask of Zorro

I have only this to say about Harriet Miers, President Bush's choice to succeed Justice Sandra Day O'Connor on the U.S. Supreme Court:

Harriet —


The mascara.



The Goth look is not working for you, grandma.

How are you going to interpret the Constitution and laws of the United States if you can't even handle an eyeliner brush?

Able to leap tall Oscars in a single bound

Like father, like son...

Since Nicolas Cage had already adopted his own stage name from a comic book superhero (the former Nicolas Coppola, to avoid garnering charges of nepotism against his film director uncle Francis Ford Coppola, retitled himself after Marvel Comics' Luke Cage, Hero for Hire, later known as Power Man and now simply as Cage), it was only natural that he would name his son Kal-El — the Kryptonian birth name of Superman.

This leaves many other wicked cool superhero identities just begging to be tapped for future Cage man-child nomenclature:
  • Namor McKenzie Cage
  • Erik Magnus Lehnsherr Cage
  • J'onn J'onzz Cage
  • T'Challa Cage
  • Pietro Maximoff Cage
  • Blackagar Boltagon Cage
  • Katar Hol Cage
  • Norrin Radd Cage
  • Brin Londo Cage
  • Shang-Chi Cage
  • and the twins: Adam Strange Cage and Stephen Strange Cage
  • If the next child's a girl: Shalla Bal Cage.
The real question, though, is why Cage chose the name of a superhero he's never portrayed (although Cage was for some time attached to the upcoming Superman film, the Man of Steel role ultimately went to Brandon Routh) instead of the one he's currently playing — Ghost Rider.

Wouldn't Johnny Blaze Cage have made a great name for a baby?

Monday, October 03, 2005

Here lies the Poet Laureate of Television

We'll miss our old pal Nipsey Russell,
A comedian, yes, but a poet;
He could whip off a rhyme in a split-second's time --
If you'd ever watched Match Game, you'd know it.

Shana tova!

Happy Rosh Hashanah to all of our readers to whom that greeting has significance.

And, when you think about it, isn't that all of us, really?

Sunday, October 02, 2005

August Wilson (1945-2005)

I'm saddened to hear of the passing of one of America's greatest playwrights, August Wilson, at the seems-too-young age of 60. Wilson had announced just a month or so ago that he was dying of inoperable liver cancer.

Wilson's plays, most notably the Pulitzer Prize-winning Fences and The Piano Lesson, are genuine treasures of the American stage. His writing reflected a warmth and sensitivity, particularly in recording the African American experience and the universal human experience of family relationships, rarely seen anywhere. Wilson's dialogue contained the music of poetry without calling undue attention to itself.

Ten years ago, Hallmark Hall of Fame produced a marvelous version of The Piano Lesson for television, starring a talented cast that included Charles S. Dutton, Alfre Woodard, Courtney B. Vance, and Carl Gordon. It's available on DVD (I have a copy I videotaped at the time of its original airing). Share it with your family some evening soon.

Our condolences to Mr. Wilson's family and friends. He'll be missed, but his stories and characters live on.

T. G. I. O. (Thankfully for the Giants, It's October)

Man, that was one long, depressing baseball season.

Herewith, the highlights and lowlights for the 2005 San Francisco Giants.

The good (not much, but there was some):
  • Randy Winn. Oh, my goodness, Randy Winn. In September, the outfielder who came to the G-Men from Seattle at the July 30 trading deadline smacked 51 hits — the most in a single month by a Giants in 30 years — batted .447, racked up an .877 slugging percentage, and bombed 11 home runs, all statistics that led the major leagues for the month. Imagine if we'd had a whole season of this guy.

  • Moises Alou. The aging right fielder got off to a sluggish start, but turned in a solid performance the last two-thirds of the season, finishing with a .318 average and a team-second 62 RBI.

  • Mike Matheny. The veteran catcher's first campaign with the Giants netted a .404 slugging percentage, 59 RBI, and a year of rock-steady management of an erratic pitching staff.

  • Pedro Feliz. Turned in a team-high 81 RBI despite never knowing from day to day where he'd play.

  • Tyler Walker. Ran out of gas halfway through the year, but for a seriously overmatched youngster thrown to the late-inning wolves when closer Armando Benitez when down at the beginning of the year, he held his own as valiantly as anyone could have asked.

  • Omar Vizquel. Day in, day out, still one of the best fielding shortstops in the game, even though he's, like, 102.

  • Ray Durham. You forget Ray-Ray is there sometimes — and when the ball is hit to second base, you often wish he wasn't — but the man delivers: .290 average, .429 slugging, and 62 RBI from a non-offensive position isn't anything to sneeze at. And wonder of wonders, Ray got into 142 games this season, which for him is almost two seasons' worth.
The bad (and we'll try to keep this reasonably short, to avoid piling on):
  • Pitching. In a word: Yikes. Maybe the worst the Giants' staff has looked since those nightmarish seasons in the mid-'80s when the G-Men were trotting losers like Atlee Hammaker out there every day. The big guns on the staff spent much of the year on the disabled list (Armando Benitez) or pitching like they ought to be on it (Jason Schmidt, Brett Tomko). (To be fair to Benitez, what we saw of him late in the year wasn't half-bad; next year, if he stays healthy, he might save 50 games.) My homeboy from Pepperdine, Noah Lowry, was the cream of a sorry crop — and he finished the season 13-13.

  • The absence of Barry Bonds. Three knee surgeries sidelined the future Hall of Famer for all but the last three weeks of the season, wherein he provided a big enough jolt to the offense to kindle a truckload of if-onlys.

  • Felipe Alou. Felipe, you know I love you, man, but it's time to hang up the clipboard. Half the time you looked clueless. The other half, the team won in spite of your often inexplicable lineup shuffling and mishandling of an admittedly bankrupt pitching corps. You've earned the comfortable retirement. Go take it. Please.

  • Edgardo Alfonzo. Two home runs and 43 RBI in a mere 109 games played ain't a season, Fonz.

  • The Giants' pathetically depleted minor league system. With the possible exception of pitcher Matt Cain, no one the Giants called up from their farm clubs this year looked like much. That doesn't bode well for the future, especially for a team whose ownership is loath to spend top dollar for big-name free agents.

  • Did I mention the pitching? Yikes.