Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Coretta Scott King (1927-2006)

Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King: Two titans both gone within months of one another.

When I heard this morning that the widow of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had died, I immediately thought of comedian DL Hughley's riff about why Mrs. King never married again: How could any other man measure up to MLK? "My first man has his own holiday that you have to work on."

Mrs. King's true place in history derives not merely from her steadfast resolve at her husband's side during his all-too-brief career, but more that she was not content simply to be "the widow King" for 38 years. She remained an active spokesperson for the cause of civil rights until her public voice was stilled by a stroke last year. In the face of attacks on her late husband's character and legacy, she demonstrated uncommon grace and dignity.

She will be remembered.

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Oscar and his invites

No real excitement in the Academy Award nominations released this morning. Most of the names on the list we've already seen nominated at the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild awards.

A few observations:
  • I'm sure some people will be shocked that Keira Knightley was tabbed for Actress in a Leading Role for Pride and Prejudice, but there's genuine talent behind that preternaturally lovely face. She won't win, but this probably won't be her last shot at an Oscar.

  • There are only three nominees for Original Song this year, but I'll be on the edge of my chair to see the production number they come up with for "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp" from Hustle & Flow. I'm fairly certain this is the first Academy Award-nominated song about pimps. Doggone it, it's about time pimps get some love on Oscar night. I'm sure they've supplied plenty over the years.

  • I'm pleasantly surprised to see that Wally Pfister was nominated for Achievement in Cinematography for Batman Begins. That truly is a gorgeously photographed film.

  • That's an intriguing triad of films contending for the Animated Feature Film Oscar: Hayao Miyazaki's Howl's Moving Castle, Tim Burton's Corpse Bride, and Wallace & Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit. Intriguing because we have traditional ink-and-paint animation (Howl) pitted against two stop-motion films (Bride and W&G). Not a single all-CGI picture in the bunch. Maybe there's still hope for the old-school styles of animation after all.

  • As tickled as I am to see George Lucas's latest bilgefest shut out of the Visual Effects prize, I'm stunned that Spielberg's War of the Worlds remake was nominated in that category. WotW was easily the worst big-budget film I saw this year, and frankly, I didn't find the special effects any more impressive than the rest of the movie.
We'll see how it all shakes out on Oscar night, March 5.


Monday, January 30, 2006

What's Up With That? #29: Hey, babe... care to see my Whopper?

First Hootie, now Hooters.

This just in, by way of The Superficial: That creepy Burger King and actress-model-Hooters spokeperson Brooke Burke have apparently made a love connection.

I'm warning you — the first one who makes a wisecrack incorporating the phrase "hot beef" is going to get a time-out.

You know, of course, that these human-mascot relationships never work out. But it could be even stranger. The Burger King could be hitting on Darius Rucker in his Brokeback Mountain cowboy outfit.

I just wonder...

Does the King let Brooke have it her way?

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Sunday, January 29, 2006

Gung hay fat choy, dawg

Happy New Year to all of our readers of Chinese origin or extraction, as well as those who just enjoy Chinese cuisine. Save some prawns in lobster sauce and a couple of fried won ton for me.

By the Chinese calendar, this is 4703, the Year of the Dog. Which should make my personal assistant Abby quite pleased.

Speaking of dogs, here's an odd bit of trivia to arise from the morass that is the week before the Super Bowl: Cleveland, the home of the Dawg Pound, is the only NFL city never to either play in or host a Super Bowl.

My only question: This surprised someone why, exactly?

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Friday, January 27, 2006

Who's next?

Today's Comic Art Friday is dedicated to the memory of the astronauts of Space Shuttle Challenger, who lost their lives in horrifyingly spectacular fashion 20 years ago tomorrow. We still remember.

Many years ago, Dave Marsh's entertaining tome entitled The Book of Rock Lists included a catalog of performers who had been dubbed, at one point in their careers, "the next Bob Dylan." (Several of the names on the list were actually Dylan's own, thanks to his many reinventions and recreations of himself.) The point of the exercise is that one of the worst things that can happen to anyone's career is an unrealistic comparison.

Take, for example, the case of baseball player Chili Davis. When Davis, then a flashy young Jamaican-born outfielder for the San Francisco Giants, began his major league career in the spring of 1981, he was immediately dubbed by some in the sportswriting community, "the next Willie Mays." The reality quickly set in that Chili was not, in fact, the next Willie Mays. When you get right down to it, Willie Mays was a unique entity unto himself, with a singular assemblage of skills that may never be recreated in another baseball player. Thus, there likely will never be another Willie Mays. What got lost in the furor was the fact that, although he was not the next Willie Mays, Chili Davis turned out to be a pretty darn good Chili Davis.

Which brings us to Ty Romsa, whom some call "the next Adam Hughes."

Frankly, I don't believe Ty Romsa is the next Adam Hughes. But then, I don't think any of the dozen other guys being touted in various corners as "the next Adam Hughes" are the next Adam Hughes either. I'm not sure we need a next Adam Hughes. The current Adam Hughes is doing just fine, thank you very much.

I do, however, think that Ty Romsa is turning into a pretty darn good Ty Romsa.

And that, really, should be enough for anyone.

Including Ty Romsa.

(Indeed, my interaction with Ty during the creation of the art on display here revealed him to be a very modest, unpretentious, down-to-earth young man. I know he doesn't consider himself the next Adam Hughes. I don't even believe he wants to be.)


Thursday, January 26, 2006


My friend Jim died yesterday.

Unlike most of those who find themselves eulogized here at SSTOL, Jim was not rich, or renowned, or beautiful. At least, not in the worldly senses of those words. He was rich in faith and compassion and goodness. He was renowned and honored by every human being who knew him. And within his stocky, grizzled, and at the end, cancer-wracked body, he carried a beautiful soul, and the heart of a lion.

I knew Jim only for about the last five years of his seventy-something sojourn on earth. He was, however, one of those people who, no matter how long or short a time you knew him, made you feel as though you'd been close friends with him all your life. When he and his wife Nancy joined our little church family, it was as though they'd been there forever — even as they were making a fundamental, character-changing impact on all of us.

Jim served ably and stalwartly as one of our congregation's elders for more than three years. As a shepherd, he exuded a quiet command, and led far more by example than he ever did by executive order. He was a sound and perceptive student of the Bible, and even though we disagreed on occasion, he was as agreeable in disagreement as anyone I've ever met.

I always felt that when I was in Jim's company, I came away from each encounter a better person, and wiser for the experience. Even the last extended time we spent together, when I sat with him for several hours last Friday morning while Nancy went to a chiropractic appointment, I gained power just from observing his calm in the face of onrushing death. That morning, we watched on television — or rather, I watched as Jim mostly dozed — the films The Great Santini and The Green Berets. Jim was neither as brash and boisterous as Robert Duvall's Lt. Col. Bull Meechum, nor as mountainous and laconic as John Wayne's Col. Mike Kirby, but he was a greater hero than either.

Although clearly weakening, Jim made the journey to worship last Sunday morning. He had a handshake or hug and an encouraging word for every individual present. If you didn't know, you might not have guessed that he was so near the end of his life. That's the way Jim was — he was more concerned that others were worried for him than he was worried for himself.

Words are often cheapened by overuse. The word saint is one such. But if you turn to the "S" section in the dictionary of my mind, and trace your finger down to that word, you'll find a picture of my friend Jim.

I miss him already.


Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Sayonara, Nice Guy Eddie

It's always sad when someone dies. It's a little creepy when someone dies who's younger than you are.

So I was both sad and a little bit creeped out tonight when I heard about the sudden death of actor Chris Penn, the 43-year-old brother of Academy Award winner Sean Penn.

Chris Penn was one of those character players who always got cast as the best friend of the handsome lead. As a younger actor, he was the best friend of Tom Cruise's high school football star in All the Right Moves, the best friend of Kevin Bacon's rebel with a cause in Footloose, and the best friend of Eric Stoltz's sincere romantic in The Wild Life. (Ironically, the latter was screenwriter Cameron Crowe's follow-up to the film that made Chris Penn's brother a star — Fast Times at Ridgemont High.)

As he got older and bulkier, Chris Penn played a lot of tough-guy roles, including his memorable turn as Nice Guy Eddie Cabot in Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs. Many of his tough guys were lawmen, as when he played one of the members of Nick Nolte's rogue "Hat Squad" in Mulholland Falls. He even starred as the voice of a cop in the video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. He wasn't his brother's equal as an actor — not many people are — but Chris always gave solid performances with a hint of flawed humanity.

My condolences to his family.

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The mouse buys a desk lamp

The sale of Pixar Animation to the Walt Disney Company megalith should have come as not surprise to any inveterate Disney watcher. Disney has wanted to own Pixar and its properties outright since the little computer animation engine that could released its first feature, Toy Story, more than a decade ago.

The sticking point was always the two CEOs, Michael Eisner of Disney and Steve Jobs of Pixar, whose affinity for one another was roughly equivalent to the relationship between Mufasa and Scar, to borrow a Disney metaphor. But with Eisner out the Mouse House door last year, and the more user-friendly Robert Iger assuming his position, it was only a matter of time before the deal got done.

One can only hope that the merger combines the best of Disney marketing and brand exploitation with the best of Pixar creativity, rather than the worst of each.

Time will tell.


Tonight on The CW: More of the same

Just this morning, I was drinking my coffee at my desk and thinking, "You know what this world needs? Another lousy broadcast television network."

Doggoned if my prayers weren't answered.

CBS and Time Warner finally decided to throw in the towel on their struggling syndicates, UPN and The WB, by throwing them together to create a new network, dubbed "The CW." And no, I guess that doesn't stand for "Country Western," which comes as a great relief to the folks over at CMT (Country Music Television, new TV home of the Miss Redneck Miss America pageant), but as a great disappointment to trailer park denizens across the nation.

Presumably, The CW will compile its fall schedule by glomming onto the better quality flotsam left behind by its predecessors — the WB's Smallville and Gilmore Girls, UPN's Everybody Hates Chris and Veronica Mars — and dumping the rest of the bilgewater these two networks have been floating (Living With Fran, anyone? South Beach?)

It will be interesting to see what happens to the odd station out, in markets where both The WB and UPN have affiliates (most of which, as is the case here in the Bay Area, were local independents before the mini-nets existed). Overall, it means that bad TV shows will have one less place to go to die.


Monday, January 23, 2006

Skate your love

Thanks to her stint on the lame Fox reality show Skating with Celebrities — basically Dancing with the Stars, only colder, and with a lot more falling down — '80s pop diva turned Playboy pop tart Deborah "Don't Call Me Debbie" Gibson has decided that she loves ice skating.

At least she's not pregnant with Mojo Nixon's two-headed love child again.

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Where the deer and the ferretlopes play

One of my favorite bloggers, The Ferrett, just premiered a new webcomic entitled Home on the Strange.

Visit Home On The Strange!

A continuing humor comic is tough to sustain, but if anyone can do it, The Ferrett and his artistic collaborator, Veronica Pare, can. I'll be intrigued to see how the strip progresses.

If you're not already a regular reader of Ferrett's blog, The Watchtower of Destruction, then by jingo, you ought to be. When he's not infiltrating the blogosphere with his incisive take on postmodern life in the guise of a weasel-like mammal with a misspelled name, The Ferrett is really William Steinmetz, a published author and all-around tech geek.

So give Home on the Strange a try, and if you like it, you can tell The Ferrett that SwanShadow sent you. (If HotS doesn't rock your world, we'll pretend I never mentioned it.)


Friday, January 20, 2006

Brothers' beam bash

We're dedicating today's Comic Art Friday to the late, great Wilson Pickett.

I don't know whether the Wicked One was a comic art fan, but I'd like to think that if he was, he'd have appreciated this splendid contribution to my Common Elements gallery by MD "Doc" Bright.

Bright entitled this masterwork "Brothers' Beam Bash," as it pits two great African American heroes, War Machine and Green Lantern John Stewart, against one another in a battle of repulsor rays versus power ring.

What these two mighty champions share in common, aside from ethnicity, is the fact that both followed in the footsteps of other heroes who preceded them.

War Machine — real name, James "Rhodey" Rhodes — was originally the personal pilot of industrialist Tony Stark, better known as Iron Man. On several occasions, when Stark was either absent, injured, or fighting his ongoing battle with alcoholism, Rhodes donned the armor and identity of the Golden Avenger. In time, Rhodes — who ultimately advanced to a top management position with Stark Enterprises — established his own superhero persona in the armor of War Machine.

John Stewart first appeared in 1971 as a backup Green Lantern behind Hal Jordan. An educated professional — an architect by trade — Stewart nevertheless assumed the stereotypical posture of the "angry black superhero" that became a staple of '70s comics. Fortunately, subsequent appearances found Stewart maturing into a confident and competent character worthy of the Green Lantern mantle. Today, Stewart is familiar to TV animation fans as the Green Lantern who appears in the Cartoon Network series Justice League and Justice League Unlimited.

And that's the truth, Ruth.


The Verdict Is In: Smell of Camphor, Fragrance of Jasmine

Over at DVD Verdict today, you're invited to savor the aroma of my review of the Iranian film Smell of Camphor, Fragrance of Jasmine. It's a fascinating film by Bahman Farmanara, a director who, for 20 years, was prevented by government censorship from making a motion picture in Iran.

I hate to put on airs, but my editor at DVD Verdict said that this review "kicks [insert reference to long-eared horselike animal here]." Uncle Swan says check it out.

Wicked no more

KJ and I were driving into San Francisco yesterday when we learned from the radio news about the death of Wilson Pickett. Immediately, I found myself humming the tunes to his two best known soul classics, "In the Midnight Hour" and "Mustang Sally."

I also immediately found myself thinking about the Wicked Pickett's importance in the plot of the film The Commitments. In case you've never seen the movie — and if you haven't, you should — a group of roughhewn Irish kids from the north side of Dublin form a soul band. When Wilson Pickett tours Ireland, they make a valiant attempt to engineer an appearance by the legendary singer at the club where they're playing, so that he can hear them perform. Unfortunately, a fight breaks out between the members of the group, and they miss their opportunity to meet the great man.

When Pickett was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991, there was a great deal of controversy about the fact that he hadn't been elected earlier. Regardless, no one with even the least amount of understanding of the history of American popular music in the latter half of the 20th century could deny Pickett's pervasive influence. His powerful style, both on the stage and off, left its mark on countless rock, soul, and R&B vocalists.

Pickett was so cool that he could cover a tune by the Archies, of all people ("Sugar, Sugar"), and have a top 25 hit with it. The Wicked One got name-checked by John Belushi in The Blues Brothers, and appeared as himself in the unfortunate sequel Blues Brothers 2000.

Personally, I thought Pickett deserved a great deal of credit just for introducing the phrase "ride, Sally, ride" into the American vernacular a good fifteen years before anyone knew who Sally Ride actually was.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

The Verdict Is In: The Sports Pages

While you're twiddling your thumbs waiting for Comic Art Friday to arrive, pop over to DVD Verdict and check out my review of The Sports Pages. Not much of a disc, but the review should give you a moment's diversion.

Uncle Swan says check it out.

21 pays 3 to 2

KJ and I are off celebrating our 21st wedding anniversary today.

Anyone who can put up with my eccentricities and madness for that long deserves more than a medal — she deserves her own wing in the Spousal Tolerance Hall of Fame.

Thanks for sticking it out with me, kid.

I love you.

The rest of you — get back to work, already.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be former child stars

Leif Garrett, who was famous for about three weeks during the '70s as a Tiger Beat pinup boy, got busted in L.A. for sneaking onto public transportation without purchasing a ticket.

Oh, how the legend has fallen.

Not long ago, I happened to channel-surf upon an episode of the reality show elimiDATE in which Garrett was fixed up with four enthusiastic potential paramours. Wearing a battered cowboy hat and thrift-store duds, Leif looked as though he had just fallen off the wagon on the ride back from rehab and been dragged behind it for several blocks. Garrett is only a month and a half older than I am, but he could easily have scammed a senior discount at Denny's. (But then, you should see that portrait of me that's hiding in the overhead crawlspace.)

Here's a quick test for you trivia buffs: What vehicle brought Leif Garrett to fame back in the day? The original Walking Tall and its sequels, in which tender young Leif played the son of club-toting Southern lawman Buford Pusser (Joe Don Baker).

In an attempt to capitalize on Leif's prepubescent appeal, in 1975 CBS cast him in Three for the Road, a short-lived family drama starring Leif and future tennis has-been and poker commentator Vincent Van Patten as the sons of a journalist (Alex Rocco) who traveled around the country in a Winnebago. When Three for the Road was canned after half a season, 60 Minutes inherited its 7 p.m. Sunday time slot, where it remains 30 years later.

Garrett's post-heartthrob celebrity has mostly derived from occasional run-ins with the law, usually on drug-related offenses. Now he's hopping subway gates to beat the fare.

Too bad, really. I'm sure that somewhere in that subway station were at least a couple of nostalgic fortyish ladies who would gladly have ponied up a few bucks in exchange for a Leif Garrett autograph.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Golden Global warming

I just spent an evening flipping back and forth between the Golden Globe Awards and the third and fourth episodes of 24, and boy, is my remote control thumb exhausted.

About 24: I'll merely observe that the season is off to a spectacular start. Jack Bauer is already in midseason form, and it's only 11 a.m.

About the Golden Globes: I managed to catch most of the significant moments. Here's what leapt out at me during the three-hour lovefest...
  • Not a great night for the Sutherlands: Three nominations, no statues. Dad Donald was up for two awards (Best Actor in a Mini-Series or Made-for-TV Movie for Human Trafficking; Best Supporting Actor in a TV Series for Commander in Chief); son Kiefer was nominated for the fourth time (he won in 2002) for Best Actor in a Drama Series. You could almost sense Kiefer thinking, "Why aren't you people watching 24? You're killing my ratings!"

  • Nice to see Geena Davis — an underrated actress — win for playing the first female POTUS in Commander in Chief. Man, she is one gigantic woman. (In a good way.)

  • Nice also to see Hugh Laurie win for House, an excellent show I'm only recently catching up with in reruns. His acceptance gag — choosing three allegedly random names from a fistful of slips of paper crammed into his pants pocket, so he didn't have to thank everyone involved with the show — was priceless.

  • More love for S. Epatha Merkerson, who already won an Emmy for her performance in Lackawanna Blues and now has a Golden Globe to match it. One of the least heralded talents in weekly television, getting some long-overdue recognition. You go, Lt. Van Buren.

  • I didn't see Jonathan Rhys-Meyers play Elvis, but he must have been incredible to beat out superlative actors like Kenneth Branagh (brilliant as FDR in Warm Springs) and Ed Harris (brilliant also in Empire Falls).

  • Since most of the nominated feature films aren't yet released on DVD, I haven't seen those, including Brokeback Mountain. But I did feel a flicker of vicarious vindication for Ang Lee, whose previous film, Hulk, was a ton better than most people (including most comics fans, which still leaves me scratching my head) acknowledged.

  • I'm always pleased to see genuine acting talents like Felicity Huffman get respect, so good on her for winning — not for her role in Desperate Housewives — but for her starring turn in the film Transamerica. Although... as was the case when Hilary Swank won big some years back for Boys Don't Cry, a woman winning praise for playing a transgendered role is getting a sort of backhanded compliment. After all, it takes certain physical and facial characteristics to even be considered to portray a preoperative transsexual. No one's inviting, say, Nicole Kidman or Halle Berry to play those parts. I hope that realization doesn't detract from the joy Ms. Huffman deserves to feel for her victory.

  • Then again, I find Felicity Huffman the most attractive woman on Desperate Housewives, so I'm not sure what that says about me. If anything.

  • Seeing the ever-stylish Denzel Washington stride onto the stage to hand out the final award of the evening, I thought, in the immortal words of Johnny Bravo, "You're a good-lookin' sack o' man, brother."

  • What's Up With That Dress? Award: Charlize Theron. Did someone just wrap her in black gauze and shove her out of the limo?

  • What's Up With That Suit? Award: Harold Perrineau. You'll get our first call when we cast the remake of Superfly, Harold.

  • What Time Is It? Award: Johnny Depp. Dude, did we wake you? Depp looked as though he just rolled out of bed and into the auditorium, without benefit of either a comb or coffee.

  • Giving New Meaning to the Term "Golden Globes": Drew Barrymore. Enough said.

The Verdict Is In: The Escapist

My latest review for DVD Verdict breaks out The Escapist, a prison revenge drama starring Andy Serkis — the man behind the CGI of both the new King Kong and Gollum in The Lord of the Rings.

Uncle Swan says check it out.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Worst. Birthday. Ever.

Today is Clarence Ray Allen's 76th birthday.

How is he spending his special day?

Preparing to be executed by lethal injection one minute after it's over.

As a birthday gift, Allen received a denial of clemency from the United States Supreme Court.

Happy birthday, Clarence. (Looks like we'll be skipping the "Many happy returns," though.)

The Verdict Is In: Journey: Live In Houston 1981: The Escape Tour

For the past year and a half, I've been a total slacker in my role as a critic for the Internet's most comprehensive DVD review site, DVD Verdict.

I've been a Judge (as we refer to our staff writers) for the Verdict for nearly four years, and was an associate editor about a year. When life got a little hectic a while back, I took an extended hiatus — far more extended than I ever planned for it to be — from the review bench.

No more. One of my commitments to myself for 2006 was to get back to reviewing — perhaps my favorite writing assignment among all the varied things I do.

To kick the year off right, I've banged out four new reviews for publication this week. The first of these, a thorough dissection of the Columbia Music Video release Journey: Live In Houston 1981: The Escape Tour, debuts at DVD Verdict today. Go check it out, then let me know what you think.

If you've never visited DVD Verdict, I hope you'll peruse not only my body of review work, but also the contributions of the other 44 members of the 'Net's most talented film and television criticism collective. You'll not find more enlightening and perceptive reviews (8,379 and counting) of the latest in DVD entertainment anywhere on the World Wide Web.

If you're already a Verdict regular, go check out the snazzy new site design that's making its premiere today. Kudos to the DVD Verdict design team — Chief Justice Mike Jackson and Appellate Judges Michael Stailey and Rob Lineberger — for creating an eye-catching and efficient interface.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Shelley Winters (1920-2006)

All right, I'll 'fess up on this one.

When I first heard today that actress Shelley Winters had passed away, my first thought was, "I thought she was already dead."

But no — what my befogged brain apparently recalled was that Ms. Winters had suffered a not-immediately-fatal heart attack last October. Sorry, Shelley.

Although most people today probably think of her as the portly hausfrau who sacrifices her life to save a small group of tsunami survivors in The Poseidon Adventure, or as shrewish mothers in Lolita and her two Oscar-winning roles, The Diary of Anne Frank and A Patch of Blue, Shelley Winters was quite the hottie in her day. She boasted in her memoirs about having had affairs with some of the biggest names in Hollywood, from Clark Gable to Marlon Brando. Later in her career, she was a hit on the talk-show circuit, where she could always be counted on for strong opinions, vociferously expressed, and a salacious story or two.

Winters was perhaps the first actress of her era to make a successful transition from sexy starlet to genuine character roles, and truly shine in the latter. She was unafraid to look homely, even dumpy, on camera — a rare trait in the movie business, especially among actresses — and she knew how to milk a small character part (like, for example, her drug-running crime lord in Cleopatra Jones) for all it was worth.

She was an amazing talent, and a genuine Hollywood legend.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Ghost Riders in the sky

Today's Comic Art Friday the 13th is dedicated to American Idol's William Hung, who celebrates his 23rd birthday today. To quote an exchange from that classic film comedy, Blazing Saddles:
Charlie: "You shifty [racial slur deleted]! They said you was Hung!"
Sheriff Bart: "And they was right."
You go, William.

Since we've already mentioned two scary things — Friday the 13th and William Hung — I thought this drawing would make an appropriate feature for today.

The familiar fellow at upper left is, of course, Space Ghost, the only superhero ever to make a successful transition from battling evildoers in outer space to hosting his own cable television talk show. At bottom right, we have the original Ghost Rider — not the motorcycle-riding character played by Nicolas Cage in the upcoming film, but the Western hero who made his comics debut back in 1949.

This entry in my Common Elements collection is unique, in that it's the only entry in the series to date that wasn't my own original concept. (For those newbies among us, Common Elements is an ongoing series of commissioned comic style artwork featuring unrelated superheroes who share some element in common — a "ghost" theme, for example.) The idea for this piece sprang from the mind of Suzanne Hiza-Rosema, a talented stained glass artist and the wife of comic book creator Scott Rosema, who transformed Suzy's concept into glorious reality with his masterful pencil work, seen here.

As Scott was creating a previous Common Elements piece for me (the Iron Man/Iron Fist duel seen here), he and Suzy apparently spent an evening kicking around ideas for other interesting pairings, some of which Scott passed along to me. I liked this particular concept for two reasons: (1) Scott is probably best known in the comics industry for his work on the Space Ghost series published by Archie Comics a few years back, and I've always liked his authentic take on the character; and (2) the Ghost Rider is one of my favorite Western heroes. As you can see, Scott did a beautiful job with the artwork.

My daughter KM likes it because it has a horse in it.

Space Ghost, incidentally, is a favorite character of many comic book artists (even though the character originated in a Hanna-Barbera TV cartoon), thanks to the wonderful design by comic art legend Alex Toth. Steve Rude, cocreator of Nexus, has long acknowledged his fondness for Space Ghost. The booming-voiced hero (courtesy of the dulcet pipes of Laugh-In announcer Gary Owens) was a staple of my Saturday mornings for years also.

Thanks to Scott and Suzy Rosema for this special contribution to my collection, and to Comic Art Friday.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Holy 40th Anniversary, Batman!

Twoscore and zero years ago, our founding father William Dozier brought forth upon the ABC television network a new series that forever changed the landscape of the medium: Batman.

Although I tend to take my superheroes seriously, I don't take them so seriously that I didn't flat-out love Batman. I still get a kick out of the show when I stumble upon it in reruns today. I even recall seeing the feature film version of the series on the big screen (years after its 1966 theatrical release) several times at Saturday afternoon matinees.

The appeal of Batman: The Series is nearly impossible to explain from a 21st century perspective. The show's aggressively campy approach to the character — cheesy sound effect ("BIFF!" "POW!") graphics, hilariously bad acting on the part of stars Adam West and Burt Ward (quite possibly the most inept thespians ever to headline a network series, at least until Emeril Lagasse's short-lived sitcom), loopy dialogue ("I just happened to bring along my Alphabet Soup Bat-Container!") — seems dated and hokey today. You had to be a child of the '60s to understand how well it worked, at least in small doses.

Of course, as a healthy preadolescent male, the outstanding feature of Batman for me was the addition of Batgirl, played by Yvonne Craig, in the show's final season. But my favorite episode remains one of the pre-Batgirl shows, in which the Green Hornet (Van Williams) and Kato (the soon-to-be-legendary martial arts master, Bruce Lee) dropped by from their own less campy and ultimately less successful Dozier-produced series to first battle, then team up with, the Dynamic Duo.

That legal hassles (stemming from the fact that competing studios possess the creative rights to Batman — Warner Bros., corporate sibling of DC Comics, owns the character, while 20th Century Fox owns the TV series) have kept the show off home video to date is a shame. A highly publicized DVD release would mean big bank for the rightsholders and potentially draw a younger audience to comics.

The sad fact is that DC has done everything it can to bury the memory of the show, which — as many outside the comics-reading fraternity remain blissfully unaware — is 180 degrees from the grim, tortured, borderline psychotic Caped Crusader of modern comics. A few months ago, when writer-artist Michael Allred wanted to portray a Batusi-dancing Batman on the cover of Solo, DC angrily forbade the notion.

So, in celebration of TV Batman's 40th birthday, here's a swingin' shot of the Darknight Damsel from the pulse-pounding pencil of Robb Phipps. "BIFF!" "POW!"

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Mr. and Mrs. and Baby Smith

Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt are expecting a new arrival to the household they don't yet share, thanks to the relationship they long pretended didn't even exist.

Unlike the pregnancy of Tom Cruise's fiancee Katie Holmes, no one's going to have a problem imagining how Angelina and Brad generated new life.

That's a lot of pressure for a kid, having two of the world's most beautiful people as parents. What if the baby is homely? Genetics is, after all, an unpredictable and inexact science.

Plus, when the child is old enough to date, his or her suitors will always be hitting on Mom and Dad.
Daughter's boyfriend: "So, Ms. Jolie, is Hephzibah home? No? Well, umm... can I come over anyway?"

Son's girlfriend: "So, Mr. Pitt, do you need any babysitting services? Yes, I know Brad Jr. is 17. I meant for yourself."

Ahnold, what is best in life? Apparently, not a driver's license

First, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (sorry... I always have to stop to laugh whenever I type that) cracks up his Harley, ramming it into a car on a residential street Sunday afternoon.

Second, we had to endure photos of the Governator's stitched-up lip on the morning news, while we attempted not to choke on our Folger's.

Third, we learn that Ahnold doesn't even have a license to drive a motorcycle. I guess maybe he thought that having ridden one in the movies somehow earned him a waiver.

And we Californians wonder why people in other parts of the country think we're all crazy.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Forkballs to Cooperstown

Congratulations to relief pitcher Bruce Sutter on his election today to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

A deserving choice, and an interesting one, as the first pitcher elected to the Hall who never started a game in his major league career. Sutter skated in with 76.9% of the vote, just a shade over the 75% required for election.

Sutter was best known — aside from his 300 career saves, six All-Star Game appearances, 1979 National League Cy Young Award, and lumberjack beard — for his mastery of the forkball. In Sutter's time (the late '70s through the mid-'80s), not many other hurlers used the unusual grip, which requires both a large hand (you have to be able to fit a baseball between your index and middle fingers) and a resilient arm to be successful. Today it's the money pitch for many top pitchers, though most now refer to the pitch as a split-finger fastball rather than as a forkball.

Longtime Boston Red Sox outfielder Jim Rice missed the Cooperstown cut for the 12th year in a row with just under 68%, although that's a better showing than he made last year. With three years of eligibility left, that upswing is a good sign that Rice might yet get elected before he comes off the ballot. I've long been on record as saying that Jim Rice deserves to be in the Hall, especially since the primary reason he isn't in already is that a lot of sportswriters didn't like him personally. That's just stupid to me. If Ty Cobb — as reprehensible a human being as ever walked the planet, much less played major league baseball — can be elected to the Hall of Fame based on his accomplishments on the field, then certainly Jim Rice — by all accounts an unpleasant and prickly fellow, but certainly no criminal — ought to be elected based on his.

As I am every year, I'm more baffled by some of the guys who accumulated votes than I am by the players who didn't get elected. Seriously — Rick Aguilera picked up three votes? Doug Jones and Gregg Jefferies got two votes each? Some professional baseball journalist actually thought Walt Weiss ought to be in the Hall of Fame? What's up with that? I mean, I used to work with John Wetteland's mother, who's a very sweet lady, and for whom I wish all the best, but the four writers who thought John belonged in the Hall of Fame were smoking herb. Great guy, good pitcher, but not Hall of Fame caliber. Hal Morris got five votes? Please.

For the record, if I'd had a Hall of Fame ballot this year, there would have been five names marked on it: Bruce Sutter, Jim Rice, Andre "The Hawk" Dawson, Lee Smith, and Jack Morris. Morris was consistently the American League's best starting pitcher throughout the decade of the 1980s. That he doesn't get more votes at Hall of Fame election time always baffles me. (Morris garnered 214 votes — 41.2% — in this year's balloting.) Interestingly, Jack Morris, like Sutter, was a pioneering forkball specialist.


Monday, January 09, 2006

Ahead, warped factor one

The most shocking thing about Howard Stern's new show on the Sirius satellite radio service?

Not that Stern opened the broadcast with an episode of phone sex with Playboy centerfold Heidi Cortez.

Not that one of the first words out of Stern's mouth was the four-letter expletive he couldn't legally say on his previous over-the-airwaves program.

Not that one of Stern's debut guests was a fellow shock jock who legally changed his name to Bubba the Love Sponge.

Not even that taste-impaired mouth-breathers in trailer parks across the nation will actually pay $13 per month to listen to a talentless schmuck like Howard Stern, who pretty much hijacked his entire shtick from a legend of New York and San Francisco radio named Alex Bennett, who now — ironically enough — shares airspace with Stern at Sirius.

No, the biggest shock is that George Takei, the erstwhile Mr. Sulu from the Star Trek franchise of television series and films, has signed on to serve as Stern's announcer and on-air foil.

I thought that man had class.

Takei. Not Stern.

New on the DVD rack: Serenity

I finally had an opportunity to watch Serenity, which has been gathering dust on my DVD rack for the last couple of weeks.

An interesting experience. I'll admit right up front that I've had limited previous interface with writer-director Joss Whedon's oeuvre. Although my daughter is a rabid Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan, I can't say that I've watched more than a couple of episodes from end to end. I've only seen brief snatches of the Buffy companion series Angel. And I never did get around to watching Firefly, the "science-fiction Western" television series on which Serenity is based. So, although I'd heard a lot of good things about Serenity, I went into the film without a lot of anticipatory expectations.

Given that, I was pleased with what I discovered. It took me a few minutes to figure out who the players were and what was going on, but Whedon handled the introductions quite well without a great deal of expository dialogue. (It would have been helpful, however, to have some supplemental feature on the DVD that explained the characters and their relationships, and gave some background about the series, so that newcomers like myself would have an easier time getting into the film.) After the first few scenes, the plot unfolded smoothly, even for someone like myself who was new to this particular universe.

I was impressed with the film's characterizations. It's easy to see why people became so enthusiastically fond of this particular show. Serenity, which features all nine of the primary actors from the Firefly series, is brilliantly cast with actors, who, though unfamiliar to me before the this film, grew on me quickly. I liked the interplay between Captain Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) and his crew, in particular, his first mate Zoe (Gina Torres) and resident tough guy Jayne (Adam "don't call me Alec, Daniel, or Stephen" Baldwin). For me, though, the most effective character was the villain -- the shadowy figure known only as the Operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor). Easily the best "bad guy" I've seen in any subgenre of action film in quite some time, the Operative presented a fascinating juxtaposition of evil and nobility, making him an excellent adversary for Mal and his team.

I was also quite taken with the Whedon-crafted dialogue. The script avoided the temptation, so prevalent in science-fiction movies, to have all the characters sound exactly like 21st-century North Americans. The Serenity crew talks in oddly modulated speech patterns, peppered with unusual slang and even interpolations of Chinese. I have no clue how people will speak 500 years from now, but I'm reasonably certain they won't sound exactly like the anchors on today's evening news. Serenity does a brilliant job of conveying an authentically futuristic language, without making the characters speak in gibberish.

For a DVD as eagerly anticipated by a hard-core fandom as this one was, the supplementary content is pretty lightweight, aside from a solid commentary by Joss Whedon himself. As noted earlier, some biographical information about the characters would have been a valuable addition. And I was rather surprised that there wasn't more detail about the universe in which Serenity and Firefly are set. But all in all, it's an acceptable package.

I can't say how devoted fans of Firefly reacted to the film version. For this newcomer, however, Serenity made for an enjoyable ride. I'm intrigued enough now to want to revisit the rest of the TV series on DVD.

Think your job sucks? Imagine being this guy

Luis Hernandez works for the City of San Francisco's Department of Public Health. He spends his day calling the sexual partners of HIV-positive individuals to notify them that they may have been exposed to the virus that causes AIDS.

How do you end a phone call like that? "Have a nice day" just wouldn't cut it.

And can you imagine the conversation at Luis's dinner table?
"What did you do today, honey?"
"Not much. Told a couple of dozen people they may have contracted an incurable disease. How about you?"
I'm grateful that Luis is on the job, along with others who do the kind of work he does. I'm sure the people he serves are (eventually) grateful also.

But man... that's gotta get old in a hurry.

Friday, January 06, 2006

You'll never find another singer like Lou

It's a hurtin' thing...

Three-time Grammy winner Lou Rawls has died.

The man could flat-out sing, with a rich, resonant, glass-smooth tone that few vocalists could match. Even though most people today probably think of him as the longtime voice of Budweiser and pitchman for Colonial Penn Insurance, among other commercial interests, Rawls was one of the premier soul singers of this or any era. His appeal spanned genres, generations, and ethnicities.

I wish I had a fourth of the pipe he had.

Rawls was also legendary in the African American community for his tireless fundraising for the United Negro College Fund. Ironically, his last UNCF telethon was scheduled to be broadcast this weekend.

Lou Rawls was one for the ages. His loss will be deeply felt.

Make a hawk a dove, stop a war with love

It's the first Comic Art Friday of the year, and for no particular reason, it's brought to you courtesy of the World Poker Tour. In 2006, may all your cards be live, and all your pots be monsters.

Last year, as I delved more deeply into current comics than I have in at least a decade, one of the series I most enjoyed reading was Wonder Woman. Writer Greg Rucka showed a marvelous grasp of his lead character, investing her with intelligence, dignity, and grace. Rucka's artistic collaborator for most of 2005 was penciler Rags Morales, whose dynamic and detailed stylings gave great power to the book, before he moved on to the pages of JSA. The incomparable J.G. Jones added consistently splendid cover paintings.

So of course, because I dug Wonder Woman so much, DC decided to cancel it.

To be fair, mighty Diana isn't going away entirely. Her monthly title is being rebooted as All-Star Wonder Woman, which when it debuts later this year will feature the work of superstar artist Adam Hughes. ASWW will present the first sequential artwork by Hughes in quite some time — Adam has specialized in covers in recent years, for such series as Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Catwoman, and of course, Wonder Woman.

Is there any better way to open a fresh year of Comic Art Friday than with a trio of dazzling images of everyone's favorite Amazon? I asked myself this question, and the answer came back a resounding "Of course not — what are you, insane?" And then I asked, wouldn't it be awesome if we had a little foretaste of Adam Hughes Wonder Woman goodness to kick off the set?

Just say AH!

Aww, that was too easy. Adam Hughes has drawn so many images of our Diana that you can find one almost anywhere. Suppose we wanted something a little more unique — perhaps by a prodigiously talented, but less heralded, artist? Could we deliver?

James E. "Doodle" Lyle, I believe that's your cue.

Now, that was tasty. But is it yet enough Wonder Woman? I think not.

Given that 2006 here in the Bay Area began with a deluge, how about another image of Diana, this time nearly hip-deep in water, as we were here on New Year's Eve?

Howard Porter, will you do the honors, please?

If only we really could stop a war with love. That would be even sweeter than an all-Wonder Woman Comic Art Friday.

I can even think of a war we could start with.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Lindsay Lo-Class tells all

In an interview published in the February issue of Vanity Fair, Lindsay Lohan admits that she has used drugs "a little."

I think those are the exact same words used by Robert Downey Jr. and Whitney Houston. I also recall something about Charlie Sheen visiting the working girls of Heidi Fleiss "a little."

Hey, Lindsay: When Disney hired you to star in Herbie: Fully Loaded, they weren't asking you to star in Herbie, fully loaded.

There's a difference.

In a shocking revelation, America's favorite freckle-faced moppet also 'fesses up to bulemia. "I knew I had a problem and I couldn’t admit it," she told Vanity Fair. Yeah, like no one figured that one out, Miss Cellophane.

One advantage Lindsay has over the rest of us, though...

We have to pony up nine bucks for a ticket to one of her films in order to throw up.

Wonder what those coal miners did...

In August 2005, televangelist Pat Robertson said on his TV show, The 700 Club, that the United States should assassinate the president of Venezuela for his outspoken opposition to American foreign policy.

In November 2005, Robertson told the residents of a Pennsylvania city that God would rain disaster upon them because they ousted school board members who approved the teaching of creationism.

In January 2006, Robertson opined that the life-threatening stroke that befell Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon was God's retribution for Sharon's "dividing God's land" with the Palestinians. Robertson also proposed the same cause for the 1995 assassination of Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.

New year. Same blasphemous idiot.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Old man, look at my life

I am now officially middle-aged.

Yesterday my general practitioner prescribed a new medication for my blood pressure. Before just a couple of months ago, I had lived for nearly 44 years on this planet without the need for chronic medication of any kind. Now, I'm a pill-popping fiend.

Then today, my optometrist told me that I need reading glasses — an eventuality I already suspected, as evidenced by the magnifying glass on my workstation next to my monitor.

Drugged up and blind. Getting old sucks. Another six years, and AARP, here I come.

If this keeps up, SSTOL regular Joel will have me behind the wheel of a Honda Civic.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Hot over 40, if 40 is degrees Celsius

Today at lunchtime, as I took a momentary break to merely think about eating carbohydrates (the fallout from a physician office visit this morning) and watch more raindrops fall on my backyard, I caught the last three-quarters of The Greatest: The 40 Hottest Over 40 on VH1.

Two questions came to mind as I watched.

Question One: What is it about Teri Hatcher (#3 on the list) that everyone else sees, but I don't?

Age aside — and I'm on record as appreciating the attributes of women in my own post-40 age bracket — Teri Hatcher is not an attractive woman. She's not even a sort-of-pleasant-looking woman. She's a 40-ish Paris Hilton, and that isn't a compliment. (Sidebar question: What the heck do people see in Paris Hilton? But that's another post.)

Teri Hatcher is frightening, to be blunt about it. She needs to join Jared at a local Subway, and eat until closing time. Her smile can best be described as "ghoulish," and I don't mean that Hungarian stew with paprika. When she grins, she looks like an anorexic jack o'lantern in haute couture.

Of the so-called Desperate Housewives, Teri Hatcher is the one I'd have to be the most desperate to commit housewifery with, if you know what mean, and I think you do. And yet, some TV producer thinks she's the third-most-attractive Hollywood personage over the age of 40.

What am I missing here?

Question Two: What do people mean when they say, in reference to an example of masculine pulchritude, "Even straight men want to [coital reference deleted] him"?

Speaking as a straight man...

Umm, no.

I think I'm capable of judging, more or less accurately, when a man is handsome. George Clooney is a good-looking guy. So is Denzel Washington. Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, the male principals on CSI... all good-looking guys. I make these observations strictly from a detached, non-experiential point of view. I've just known enough women and gay men to identify, based on their collective commentary, what makes a man sexually attractive.

That's a markedly different kettle of fish, however, from being sexually attracted to a man.

I'm not making a value judgment here about men being attracted to men, by the way. I'm simply saying that's a whole other train, on which I don't have a ticket, and can't pretend to have one.

Quality transcends personal taste. I can understand that Garth Brooks is a talented country singer, even though I dislike country music and have no desire to be within earshot when Garth exercises his talent. In the same way, I ought to be able to recognize that Brad Pitt is a well-put-together hunk o' man, without going all Brokeback Mountain over the deal.

But then, as I've already observed, I wouldn't want to go all Desperate Housewives with Teri Hatcher, either.

I'm probably just grumpy because I didn't make the list.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Get your kicks on Route 2006

A selection of random thoughts that occurred to me as 2006 ushered itself in...
  • Was it a good idea for ABC to trot out Dick Clark — poor stammering, mumbling Dick Clark — for New Year's Rockin' Eve? Hard to say. On the one hand, you have to root for a guy coming back from what was obviously a much more severe stroke than Clark's publicity people have let on for the last year. Clark gave it the old college try — even if he did sound as though the old college was Gallaudet University (oh, stop... you know you thought it was funny) — and you have to applaud his effort. On the other hand, what a sad sight to see America's Oldest Living Teenager in such sorry shape. Maybe it would have been better for us all to remember him as he used to be. Maybe better for him, too.

  • Those US Army Reserve commercials in which they offer, as recruitment bonuses, sports watches and boonie hats drive me bananas. If you're willing to face insurgent snipers and suicide bombers in Iraq for a sports watch or boonie hat, I pity you, fool.

  • I finally understood the real meaning of Roy Scheider's famous line from Jaws, "We're going to need a bigger boat." With the biggest storm in 20 years raging, a nearby creek overflowing its banks, and our storm drains impacted, our neighborhood became flooded early in the morning on New Year's Eve. The water never got higher than the middle of our driveway — just beneath the tailpipe of my Mazda minivan — but that was plenty high enough.

  • We're halfway through the first decade of the new millennium, and we still don't all agree on how the years ought to be pronounced. Some people on the New Year's Eve bashes were calling this new year two-thousand-six, others were calling it twenty-oh-six. And don't even get me started on what we're supposed to call the decade.

  • This year, instead of making a list of resolutions I know I'm not going to keep, I decided instead I would make a list of resolutions that I know I can't keep. Taking a cue from Joe Walsh's classic 1982 song "Waffle Stomp," my resolutions for 2006 are as follows:

    • Have doughnuts and coffee with Colonel Qaddafi.
    • Write a new novel that's perfectly awful.
    • Book myself on a flight to the moon.
    • Volunteer for a brain operation.
    • Go overseas and speak Japanese.
    • Do the Watusi.
    • Watch I Love Lucy, too. (No, wait -- I actually could do that. If I were so inclined, that is. Which I'm not.)