Friday, April 28, 2006

Journey to the dark side

I began last week's Comic Art Friday by listing five things that made me happy about comics. This week, let's consider five things about comics that really make me grumpy...
  1. Iconic covers. Back in the day, the purpose of a comic book cover was to give the potential buyer some idea of what was going on inside. You could pick up a comic, look at the cover, and get a pretty fair sense of what the story would be about. Today, many covers present a generic pinup of the main hero or heroes that conveys nothing about the story. A few months ago, Marvel Comics published an issue of New Avengers with an eye-catching, splashy image of several characters posing together... and not one of those characters actually appeared in the story. What's up with that?
  2. Variant covers. Comics companies these days are fond of publishing the same issue with several different covers. The idea is that a real collector will pick up one of each variation, even though the story inside is identical in each. But for someone like me, who just wants to read the book, variant covers only create confusion: I don't recognize that cover. Have I already read this? (The current Red Sonja series by Dynamite Entertainment — an excellent read, by the way — does this to me every month.) The day I accidentally buy two copies of a book because of a variant cover, some editor will be receiving a scathing e-mail from yours truly.
  3. Senseless graphic violence. I'm not opposed to violent behavior in superhero comics — after all, these are stories about powerful beings walloping the tar out of each other. But unnecessary gore irks me. DC's Infinite Crisis, which I am otherwise enjoying a great deal, is a chronic offender. So far, we've been treated to seeing a female character named Pantha getting whacked in the head so hard that her skull exploded, and a villain known as the Psycho-Pirate having his mask and eyeballs punched through the back of his head via the eye sockets. I could have lived very comfortably without either of those images, thank you very much.
  4. Books that can't maintain a schedule. The time was that you knew exactly when the next issue of a particular series would appear on your local store's rack. Today, so many books run behind schedule — usually due to an artist who can't meet deadlines — that a series that's supposed to be monthly might go for seven or eight weeks without a new issue. Get it together, people. Time's a'wastin'.
  5. Great artists on the sidelines. Every week, when I open a new comic filled with embarrassingly lackluster artwork, I'm angered that so many fantastic artists aren't working on regular series right now. That such talents as Geof Isherwood, Darryl Banks, Al Rio, Keith Pollard, Arvell Jones, and Ron Wilson (just to pick half a dozen names) aren't penciling a new comic every month, or that Bob McLeod and Bob Almond aren't inking a new book every month, makes your Uncle Swan cry.
Since we're clearly in a bit of a dark mood today, let's look at a couple of artworks that make tremendous use of shadows. Here's a striking portrait of Supergirl, drawn and inked by the Brazilian artist Renato Italo.

In my opinion, Italo is still feeling his way as an artist — his design sense is sometimes a little awkward, as you can see even in this outstanding effort — but I love the power and heft of his inks. This piece is unusual, in that we rarely see Supergirl portrayed in this way — she's one of the sunnier characters in the DC Comics pantheon, even despite her tragic death in Crisis on Infinite Earths 20 years ago. (She's back now, and doing well, thanks.) It's refreshing to see a moodier, more reflective take on her.

Now, let's view the work of a master. Dan Adkins is probably one of the 15 or 20 best inkers who ever worked in comics, and this dramatic pinup of Dynamo, one of the heroes from the classic 1960s series T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents (on which Adkins was both an artist and writer) proves that he still has the touch.

By the way, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents is a property in desperate need of resurrection. Created by the legendary Wally Wood, along with Adkins and others, for Tower Comics in the mid-'60s, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents remains a fond memory for those of us who were reading comics way back when. Although T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents and its related series lasted only about a year and a half, they set the standard for exciting art and fun superhero stories that didn't take themselves too seriously. I'd love to see Dynamo and his cohorts cavorting through the pages of a monthly comic again.

And that's your Comic Art Friday.


Thursday, April 27, 2006

One large pepperoni pizza, hold the cadaver

This just in from The Smoking Gun:

A Domino's pizza delivery guy in Pennsylvania, busted for a suspended license and expired registration tags, was discovered by police to be using the same car in which he transported pizzas to ferry corpses for a local funeral home.

Just think: The next combo pie that rolls up to your front door may just have been sharing car space with someone's late Uncle Fred.

Bon appetit!

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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Hit me (with a) baby one more time

Britney Spears is reportedly expecting again.

According to Us Weekly, the Britster is four months into her second pregnancy, just seven months after the birth of her first child.

Man, that K-Fed doesn't waste time, does he? Of course, it's easy when your job is, basically, being Mr. Britney Spears. What else does he have to do except provide stud service for the Brood Mare of Pop? It's not as though he had, say, a successful recording career as a hip-hop artist or anything.

Maybe Brit and K-Fed will manage not to drop the new baby on its head like the last one. And maybe Brit won't drive her car with Infant #2 in her lap.

Yes, Virginia, and maybe there really is a Santa Claus.

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This Judge is a real Payne

In case you don't get your fill of pop culture snark right here at SSTOL — and Lord knows, we try — there's a new Judge in town dishing the dirt on all things Hollywood. If you like what we do here, you'll doubtless appreciate the work of the merciless Judge Payne at Cinematic Justice.

You can tell him your Uncle Swan sent you.

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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Isn't she lovely?

Regretfully, we missed reporting on the victory of Miss Kentucky in the 55th annual Miss USA pageant last Friday evening.

To make up for this unfortunate omission, we present the winner of the 27th annual Most Beautiful Bulldog pageant, held yesterday at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. (When you live in Des Moines, Iowa, this is the sort of thing that passes for excitement.)

Hannah, a vision in white speckled with brown, stood head and jowls above the rest of the field of 50 squat, bowlegged pooches to claim the crown. Hannah's owners, Curtis Jackson and Amanda Millard, described themselves as "stunned" and dumbfounded" to be the custodians of such a remarkable specimen of canine attractiveness. Hannah will spend the next year as the official mascot of Drake University sports.

Coming in second place behind Hannah was Porterhouse, a construction worker from Minneapolis and a burning hunk of doggy love in his own right.

Miss USA was unavailable for comment.

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Police in Phoenix yesterday shot and killed a man who hijacked a Krispy Kreme delivery truck.

Let this be a lesson to you criminal types out there:

Don't. Mess. With the doughnuts.

You use a gun, you go to prison. You steal Krispy Kremes in front of cops, you die. And that, as Baretta used to say, is da name o' dat tune.

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The Verdict Is In: Aeon Flux

Tuesday is New DVD Release Day, the day each week when fresh DVD product hits the shelves at a fine retailer (or a Wal-Mart) near you. One of the hot properties on today's release slate is Aeon Flux, a science fiction adventure starring Academy Award winner Charlize Theron in the title role.

Aeon Flux generated a firestorm of controversy in the fan community, as the live-action motion picture takes wholesale liberties with the animated series on which it is based. Peter Chung, the animator who created the original Aeon Flux short films and subsequent series for MTV back in the 1990s, has been vocal in his condemnation of the movie version. (Although, as I noted in my review, Chung's hostility toward the film project apparently didn't prevent him from accepting the royalty checks.)

Whether you are or aren't a fan of Aeon Flux the animated series, my review of Aeon Flux the motion picture should help you determine whether the film might appeal to you. Hey, it's Charlize Theron in spandex — what's not to like?

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Monday, April 24, 2006

He's our Guy

Congratulations to my homeboy Guy Fieri on being named The Next Food Network Star. Guy, who owns three restaurants and a catering business here in Sonoma County, edged out seven other hopefuls from around the country to win a contract for a six-episode cooking series on the Food Network.

I had Guy pegged to win from the first week of the competition. He has the kind of big personality that’s tailor-made for television — loud, funny, and quirky without being grating or obnoxious. I predict his show will be a hit, if they give him a decent time slot.

Guy’s food is pretty darned good, too. I’ve never eaten at any of his restaurants, but I’ve attended a couple of events his company catered, and I’ve sampled the fare at his Johnny Garlic's concession booth at the county fair over the years. Tasty.

Perhaps the mention here will net me a free dinner or something. Will blog for food.

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Saturday, April 22, 2006

The Verdict Is In: Faith

No, my latest review for DVD Verdict doesn't have anything to do with the classic 1987 pop album by George Michael. Considering the trouble old George has gotten himself into of late, that's probably a good thing. (That was a pretty decent album, though, even if what we've learned about Mr. Michael's predilections in the intervening years does cast songs like "Father Figure" and "I Want Your Sex" in a wholly different light.)

Not a particularly good thing is the veddy British political intrigue miniseries Faith. Although a few of the characters do have something in common with George Michael, if you know what I mean, and I think you do. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

Please check out the review anyway. The staff of DVD Verdict thanks you.

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Friday, April 21, 2006

A Flash of Crystal

Today's Comic Art Friday is brought to you by five things about comics that made me happy this week.
  1. Seeing Ralph Dibny, the Elongated Man, on page one of Justice #5. Ralph reminds me of the days when superheroes didn't have to be cranky and vicious. May his tribe increase.
  2. Mike Deodato Jr.'s spectacular art in New Avengers #18. Back when Deodato was just another guy imitating Jim Lee, I wasn't a big fan of his work. Now that he has evolved into his own clear, dramatic style, I'll read almost anything he draws. And I really like Joe Pimentel's inking over Deodato's pencils.
  3. Kurt Busiek's gorgeously lyrical scripting, on display yet again in Conan #27. I am really going to miss Busiek when he leaves the book in a couple of months, to be replaced by Timothy Truman (who drew this most recent issue). Every time I read a Busiek Conan adaptation, it's like rediscovering Robert E. Howard, to whose work I was addicted in the early '70s.
  4. Having Ms. Marvel back in her own title. I just wish the rest of the book lived up to the promise of the amazing Frank Cho covers. And I wish Carol would switch back to her original red and blue fighting togs — I've never warmed to the dark blue bodysuit with the lightning bolt down the front.
  5. My local comic book shop. Every time I walk into the Comic Book Box, owner Kathy and her faithful lieutenants Ted and R.J. make me feel right at home. The racks are always perfectly (if somewhat idiosyncratically) organized, and on those occasions when I struggle to locate something, Kathy and crew are ready to assist. They also make sure that, if a title I read sells out before I arrive, it's restocked quickly. Kathy, Ted, and R.J. genuinely enjoy chatting about comics with the people who shop in the store — I learn a lot about the latest doings in various storylines just by eavesdropping. Every comic book reader should have as pleasant a place in which to spend his or her cash.
But you came here to see some art, didn't you? All righty then. Let's crack into the archives and find a couple of classic commissions from my "Common Elements" gallery. Here's a snazzy juxtaposition by industry veteran Christopher Ivy.

That's the Flash on the left, and behind him (because everyone's always behind the Flash), the Crimson Avenger. They're paired here because of the color red, which the Flash mostly wears, and which the Crimson Avenger is named for, even though his costume contained very little actual crimson for most of his lengthy career. (I suspect that the Crimson Avenger served as the inspiration for the character Blue Raja in Mystery Men — a hero who, despite his name, doesn't wear much blue.)

The Flash was one of my favorite DC Comics characters when I was younger. I enjoyed his adventures even though he duked it out with some of the silliest supervillains in comics history — losers like Captain Cold, Mirror Master, Weather Wizard, and Gorilla Grodd. (You had to be alliterative to fight the Flash back in the day.) Most of these bad guys became so thoroughly identified as Flash villains that they came to be known as his "rogues' gallery," and he battled them over and over again.

I was delighted when, in the fall of 1990, the Flash starred in his own live-action, prime-time TV series. The TV Flash wore the name of Barry Allen, the Flash of my youth, but had powers more consistent with those of Wally West, who's been the Flash since Barry died in 1985. At the time, the show was the most expensive hour of television produced weekly, due mostly to the special effects (pretty decent for their time) used to show the Flash in action. Most of the scripts were reasonably well-written (longtime comics creator Howard Chaykin was the show's lead scripter) and remained true to the tone of the comics. The whole series was recently released on DVD — if you were thinking about buying me a present anytime soon, that Flash box set would be a worthy choice.

Another Common Elements duo: Kole, who spent a brief time as a member of the Teen Titans in the early '80s, and Crystal, who at various times has been a member of three Marvel Comics superteams — the Inhumans, the Fantastic Four, and the Avengers, with whom she was soldiering when she wore the costume depicted here by artist Michael McDaniel.

Like the aforementioned Barry Allen Flash, Kole was among the characters DC Comics killed off during 1985's Crisis On Infinite Earths. Unlike many of the Crisis victims, Kole has pretty much stayed dead — a duplicate Kole popped up briefly in a Titans story a few years ago, but that's been it. Too bad — she's a beautifully designed character who had a good deal of potential. But nothing's forever in comics.

Crystal, on the other hand, never disappears for long, even though she's never been a real mainstay in the Marvel lineup. She's one of those heroes best suited to plying her trade as a second-stringer rather than as a headliner. Her stint with the Avengers marked the first time in her career that she occasionally got to step out into the spotlight (she was even featured on a few covers during her Avengers tenure) and attract some attention. She's currently married to Pietro Maximoff, better known as Quicksilver — Marvel's answer to the Flash.

See? I can find a common element anywhere.

Have a safe weekend, speed demons.


Thursday, April 20, 2006

Love-A-Teen Day

According to this Web site, today is "Love-A-Teen Day."

Observing this dubious holiday is illegal in my home state of California. The laws may, however, be different if you live in certain rural areas of the American South.

Unless the teen in question is eighteen or nineteen. Then I'm pretty sure it's legal everywhere.

Assuming the teen consents.

And assuming you're not older than, say, twenty-two. If you are, it's just creepy. Especially if your name is Rob Lowe. Or R. Kelly. And you're stupid enough to videotape.

Maybe we should all just keep our love to ourselves, and leave the teens alone.

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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

I'm too sexy for this list

Apparently disproving the shopworn notion that everyone's attractive to someone, the Boston Phoenix independent newspaper has proclaimed comedian Gilbert Goffried, he of the perpetual squint and sandpaper voice, as the world's unsexiest man.

Others honored (if that's the right word) in the Phoenix's bottom five of masculine pulchritude include baseball pitcher Randy "The Big Unit" Johnson, film critic Roger Ebert, television shrink Dr. Phil McGraw, and news-talk maven Alan Colmes.

The Phoenix list goes all the way to 100. Therefore, there's plenty of room for such gentlemen of obviously questionable attraction as Wallace Shawn (#12), Carrot Top (#16), Rush Limbaugh (#42), Andy Dick (#47), and Ralph Nader (#94). Brad Pitt makes the list at #100, thanks to his allegedly poor personal hygiene.

I'm just grateful they missed me.

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Tuesday, April 18, 2006

At least they didn't name her "TomKat"

Congratulations are in order for Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, who welcomed a baby girl into their not-yet-household today.

The seven-pound, seven-ounce tyke — who, given her genetics, can't help but be as cute as the Dickens, and I don't mean Charles — was given the name Suri, which reportedly means either "princess" in Hebrew or "red rose" in Persian.

Tom and Katie apparently were not aware that in Peru, Suri is a breed of alpaca, which is a kind of hairy, humpless mountain camel.

But I wouldn't want to be the first to tell them.

Would you?



One hundred years ago today, a powerful earthquake and subsequent fire destroyed much of what then comprised the city of San Francisco.

What are you looking at me for?

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Monday, April 17, 2006

Reality TV: Who Wants to Be Elvira?

Actress Cassandra Peterson, who parlayed both her talents into a lengthy career as TV scream queen Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, is promoting a potential new reality series in which contestants would vie for the honor of assuming Elvira's mantle, along with her trademark fright wig and bosom-baring costume.

Prerequisites for future Elvira wannabes include:
  • A penchant for exhibitionism.
  • Access to a top-notch plastic surgeon.
  • Experience in the adult entertainment industry.
  • High tolerance for low-calorie American beer; i.e., Coors Light.
  • Willingness to spout endless horror film clichés.
  • A complete lack of shame.
Dennis Rodman need not apply.

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Friday, April 14, 2006

The Verdict Is In: Extreme Dating

Over at DVD Verdict, we usually review the truly awful films every Friday. My latest review examines a film so sucky that it was the featured review on today's Crappy Movie Friday. (Not to be confused with Comic Art Friday, which is never sucky.)

You'll enjoy reading about Extreme Dating a lot more than you'd enjoy watching it. I did, so you didn't have to. Go feel my pain.

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You're a wonder, Wonder Woman

Today's Comic Art Friday is dedicated to my good friend Donna, who's celebrating her (muffled) birthday today in the Land of Large Lobster. You go, girl!

Since Donna has always reminded me of the mighty Princess Diana, better known as Wonder Woman (not only do they have similar first names, but they share a certain physical resemblance too — both are tall, sturdily constructed brunettes), I thought a few selections from my WW pinup gallery would serve as an appropriate tribute.

First up, a sleek convention sketch by the whimsically named Casey Jones. (Yes, I'm sure he's endured enough "ridin' in the cabin" jokes to last a lifetime.) Casey's clean, light, animation-influenced penciling style brings a fresh look to our favorite Amazon.

Next up, this striking ink portrait by Wellington Diaz. I love the detail in this one, especially the Greek columns in the background. Diaz captures Diana's essential strength in his bold lines.

I don't collect much color art, but when I saw Dan Veesenmeyer's classic pinup with Diana in her early Silver Age costume, I just had to add it to my collection.

As anyone who knows me well could tell you, I'm terrible at remembering numbers, and dates are no exception to that rule. The only reason I can remember Donna's birthday each year is because it falls on the day the RMS Titanic hit that ill-placed iceberg in the North Atlantic. Unlike that famous ship, however, Donna has time and again proven herself unsinkable. If you cross paths with her today, bid her a fond birthday greeting.


Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Killer Queen

Having endured the indignity of listening to this season's American Idol cast butchering the songs of one of the greatest rock bands of all time — Queen, featuring the talents of guitar hero Brian May, percussionist extraordinaire Roger Taylor, bassist John Deacon, and the inimitable Freddie Mercury on lead vocals and piano — I feel the urgent need to compile my list of all-time favorites from the Queen catalogue.

Get on your bikes and ride...
  1. Fat Bottomed Girls. If I have to explain to you why I love this song, (a) you don't know me — or my predilections — very well, and (b) any explanation won't help.

  2. Keep Yourself Alive. Back in my disc jockey days, those words were my customary signoff. Queen's first single, and still one of their most enjoyable rockers. Fun, energetic vocals by Freddie.

  3. You're My Best Friend. One of several Queen hits written by bassist John Deacon, it's unusual in that it features Deacon on electric piano (an instrument keyboardist Freddie despised and refused to play).

  4. Don't Stop Me Now. If I ever got the chance to direct a motion picture about a superhero, this song would be on the soundtrack. It just has that anthemic feel.

  5. Another One Bites the Dust. The least Queen-like number in my Top Ten, but I like it anyway. Another John Deacon original. Remember Weird Al Yankovic's parody, "Another One Rides the Bus"? I thought of that before I ever heard of Weird Al.

  6. Bicycle Race. Freddie Mercury's paean to the Tour de France — only with hot naked chicks instead of Lance Armstrong. Maybe the only hit song in the history of rock to use a bicycle bell as a percussion instrument. On the single, it's the A-side to "Fat Bottomed Girls" — which strikes me as being entirely backwards.

  7. Somebody to Love. One of the most amazing choral arrangements in popular music — somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 vocal overdubs of Freddie, Brian, and Roger — as well as one of the greatest power ballads in rock history.

  8. Tie Your Mother Down. Built around one of Brian May's most distinctive guitar riffs, this was one of the highlights of Queen's live show. The title started as a joke — Brian intended to write a new lyric to replace it, but Freddie talked him into leaving it in.

  9. Seven Seas of Rhye. Queen's first UK hit, it stands as a monument to the band's straight-ahead early sound. Supposedly, Freddie wrote it about a fantasy land he made up when he was a child.

  10. I Want to Break Free. I'm not as much a fan of Queen's '80s material as I am of their songs from the '70s, but this 1984 number is as good as it gets. Even if it did end up as a Coke commercial.
I know what you're thinking: Where's "Bohemian Rhapsody"? You know me — I never take the road most traveled.

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Tuesday, April 11, 2006

A chimp among men

Here's a belated birthday shout-out to Cheeta the chimpanzee, who celebrated his 74th birthday yesterday.

Cheeta, who appeared in a dozen Tarzan films back in the 1930s and '40s, is now retired, living in Palm Springs, and listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest chimp on earth. He enjoys painting, automobile rides, and sugar-free cake.

Lord Greystoke himself was unavailable for comment.

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The Verdicts Are In: G and How to Lose Your Lover

Today I have two new reviews posted at DVD Verdict. Why? Because it's Twosday, that's why.

G is a modern-day take on F.Scott Fitzgerald's classic novel The Great Gatsby, with a predominantly African American cast. Everyone in this film is way too good-looking.

How to Lose Your Lover was originally titled 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover. I'm guessing that Paul Simon wanted beaucoup bucks for the use of his trademark. Kind of like Kodak did when Simon wrote his hit song "Kodachrome." What goes around comes around, eh, Paul?

Head on over to the Verdict and grab yourself a double shot of my ever-popular DVD reviews, as well as great stuff by the rest of our talented team of critics. You can tell the bailiff I sent you.

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Monday, April 10, 2006

Stuff 'n' nonsense

Your Uncle Swan takes you around the pop culture world in 80 synapses, or something to that effect...
  • Gwyneth Paltrow and her husband Chris Martin named their new baby Moses. I'm predicting right now that the little tyke's first spoken words will be "Let my people go."

  • I know you'll be as heartbroken to hear this as I was, but rapper Bow Wow and singer Ciara have ended their year-long romance. According to Ciara's publicist, the breakup was not amicable. This should come as no surprise. Relationships never work out between men named after animal sounds and women named after Oldsmobiles.

  • Kiefer Sutherland signs a new contract for another three seasons of 24. There is apparently no truth to the rumor that Keifer will change the title of the series to $40 Million.

  • Speaking of stars making the long green, Teri Hatcher is about to become the most highly paid actress on television. I'm guessing she's not spending much of that money on sandwiches.

  • A woman who investigates child abuse complaints for Palm Beach County, Florida, is in hot water for stripping off — twice — as a guest on Howard Stern's radio program. Not sure what the big deal is: It's radio. Who can tell if she was really naked? If anything, fire her for having the poor taste to associate with Howard Stern.

  • Disney, which owns — in addition to half the planet — the ABC television network, is planning to make four ABC series (Desperate Housewives, Lost, Commander in Chief, and Alias) available for free download on the 'Net. Now if only there was something on ABC I actually wanted to watch.

  • According to the latest scuttlebutt on the Jeopardy! message board, the show's latest Tournament of Champions began taping today for airing in May. Best of luck to this year's participants.

  • Goodyear is sponsoring a contest to name its newest blimp. In case you were thinking about suggesting that they name it after yours truly: 'tain't funny, McGee.

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Friday, April 07, 2006

The Eisners and the Comics Hall of Fame

Let's kick off today's Comic Art Friday post by congratulating all the nominees for the 2006 Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards. The Eisners are comics' equivalent of the Oscars, recognizing excellence in the field of sequential art. As usual, I haven't read most of the nominated works — only so many hours in the week, plus, not a lot of superhero books make the list — but I have no doubt that all of the nominees are deserving of plaudits.

I always look closely at the Eisners' Comics Hall of Fame nominations, because most of the names are people whose work I know and admire. This year's candidate pool (voters can choose as many as four) contains an august group of worthies. I could make a plausible case for almost every nominee. But if I had a ballot, I'd be throwing my support behind:
  • Matt Baker. His career was relatively brief, and his body of output small in comparison to some others. But in the 1950s, Baker's name was synonymous with what came to be known as "good girl" art. He drew some of the most beautiful female forms and faces that ever graced a comic book page. Every pinup artist working today owes a debt of gratitude to him. Baker was also the first prominent African American artist to work in mainstream comics, though most of those who admired his work during his heyday had no idea that he was black.

  • Ramona Fradon. One of the relative handful of female artists who have lent their talents to the superhero genre, Fradon was, like Matt Baker, a pioneer. Her smooth, no-frills style helped define the character of Aquaman for a generation. She also cocreated Metamorpho, the Element Man, and for a decade worked on the Brenda Starr newspaper strip. Hearing Fradon interviewed by fellow artist Scott Shaw! was, for me, one of the highlights of this year's WonderCon.

  • Mort Meskin. A phenomenally talented illustrator mostly active during the 1940s and '50s, Meskin could draw anything from superheroes to war stories to jungle adventures to romances. As a result, he never became identified with a single character or series specifically. Meskin's eye for light and shadow was truly amazing. He was also one of the best panel designers of his time.

  • Robert Kanigher. One of DC Comics' most prolific writer-editors, he helped shape pretty much every character in the DC Universe into the forms we recognize today, and created or cocreated dozens of familiar heroes and heroines. He wrote the story that introduced the new Flash (Showcase #4, September 1956), ushering in the Silver Age of Comics. Not limited to the superhero genre, Kanigher was also well known for his work in war comics.
Seeing as this is Comic Art Friday, let's admire a couple of works by artists whose names might well appear on the list of Eisner Hall of Fame nominees someday.

Dan Adkins was one of comics' premier inkers beginning in the 1960s and continuing through the '80s. He started his career as an assistant to the legendary Wally Wood, then developed into a stalwart on his own. Adkins's hallmark is a clean, fluid line.

The original pinup above, featuring a nameless young woman packing a pistol, demonstrates Adkins's flawless draftsmanship as well as his expert inking.

George Tuska, whose career in comics began in the late 1930s, was one of the first artists I learned to recognize by sight when I started reading comics. His distinctive and dynamic style has a look all its own.

Tuska is best remembered as the main artist on Iron Man in the early 1970s, though he worked on numerous other series also. Here he pits old Shellhead against his former fellow Avenger, the rampaging Hulk.

I may never be elected to the Bloggers' Hall of Fame, but give me this, friend reader: I make Comic Art Friday happen for you, week after week. That's worth something, isn't it?


Thursday, April 06, 2006

Meredith goes commando

I don't watch either the Today Show or the CBS Evening News, so I'm not all that revved up about Katie Couric's big move from early mornings to the dinner hour, replacing Dan Rather in the Big Eye's anchor chair. (Technically, she's replacing Bob Scheiffer, but Bob's really just been keeping the seat warm until a permanent host was found.) Nor am I excited about Meredith Vieira taking Katie's place on Today.

But I definitely could have lived in perfect contentment without ever knowing that Meredith doesn't wear underwear.

I'll never look at Who Wants to Be a Millionaire quite the same way again.

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Headline of the day

There simply had to be a better way to put this.

The crime is compounded by the fact that the story is classified as "breaking news."


Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Hello, Jocasta

Sometimes the present casts a peculiar light on the past.

In the 1987 romantic comedy Cross My Heart, Annette O'Toole delivers this line to Martin Short during a love scene between their characters:
"I don't like to mention another man in bed, but you're like Superman."
In 2006, Annette O'Toole plays Superman's mother on Smallville.


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Television game show newshound Steve Beverly, who operates a delightfully informative site called, recently published one of those lists that's certain to inspire conversation among game show aficionados: the 16 worst (or at least, the 16 most dreadfully miscast) hosts in game show history.

Of those on the list whose performances I saw and remember, I have to agree that Steve has them pegged exactly right. Anyone who witnessed Jon "Bowser" Bauman's disastrous run as host of Hollywood Squares (coming on the heels of his trademark stint as the bass singer in the '50s revival band Sha Na Na), or endured soap opera star Doug Davidson's stumbing and fumbling at the helm of a short-lived syndicated version of The Price Is Right knows whereof Mr. Beverly speaks.

There's one name on Steve's list, however, that conjures up some personal memories for yours truly.

In 1990, two years after my five-game undefeated run on Jeopardy!, I was one of 36 former J! champions invited to appear in a special tournament on ABC called Super Jeopardy! Although the particulars of my Super J! performance are best relegated to the mists of history (suffice it to say, I sucked harder than a Dyson Animal), I recall the experience — and the $5,000 I pocketed just for showing up — with great fondness. Any excuse to hang out with other J! legends and semi-legends (I'll rank myself near the tag end of the latter category) works for me.

The reason Super Jeopardy! happened at all was that Merv Griffin, creator of Jeopardy! (as well as Wheel of Fortune) and its executive producer at the time (he sold the show to what is now Sony Pictures a decade or so ago), was eager to sell ABC on another game show he'd devised, based on the popular board game Monopoly. Merv's idea was that Monopoly could run on Saturday nights during the summer, a graveyard for TV programming usually cluttered with stale reruns and failed series destined for the chopping block.

ABC executives were less than thrilled with the Monopoly idea, which the major syndicated programming distributors had already rejected. (If you're wondering how it would be possible to condense into 30 minutes — less credits and commercials — a game that in its original form plays for hours without end, you're already understanding the problem.) The original pilot, which featured former Press Your Luck host Peter Tomarken (who died in a plane crash just a few weeks ago, I was sorry to hear) and a dwarf dressed up in a top hat and tuxedo in the mode of Monopoly icon Rich Uncle Pennybags, was reported to be abysmal.

Still, Merv was convinced that the bugs could be worked out of the concept, and that the TV version of Monopoly would be a smash. Dragging their heels like football fanatics being led to the ballet, ABC agreed to book 13 weeks of the show only if Merv would couple it with a special, big-money Jeopardy! spinoff. That's where Super J!, and not coincidentally I, came in.

But I digress.

For whatever reason, Merv decided not to hire Tomarken for the network run of Monopoly. That, or perhaps the savvy Tomarken decided not to shipwreck his future marketability as a game show host by being attached to a certain bomb. Whatever the case, legend has it that Griffin planned to host the show himself, but realized as the retooled Monopoly was in development that advancing age (Merv was 65 at the time) just wasn't going to permit him to pull it off.

But a former Jeopardy! contestant who (as the story was related to me) was one of the test players brought in to participate in the Monopoly dress rehearsals struck Merv as possessing exactly the qualities of a budding game show host. After a few trial games, Merv offered the job to Mike Reilly, an unemployed actor making his living waiting tables, like so many Hollywood wannabes.

The rest, as they say, is the stuff of myth. Or bad TV. You decide.

Reilly, to put it as politely as possible, stank on ice. Now, to be fair to the man, a genetically engineered construct combining the best game show hosting qualities of Alex Trebek, Bob Barker, Bill Cullen, and Chuck Woolery couldn't have saved Monopoly. The game played like the proverbial camel — a horse designed by committee. The rules were incomprehensible, the play impossible to follow, the theme music annoying and juvenile (the lyrics consisted of repeated spelling of the word "Monopoly" as though the show were a segment of Sesame Street), the set needlessly tricked out with everything from dizzying lights to bosomy models rolling gigantic dice (fortunately, the little person in the tux and top hat didn't last beyond the botched pilot). Worst of all, the game had little to do with the real Monopoly, aside from the graphic design elements.

But Reilly only made things worse.

The rookie host looked perpetually petrified, and didn't become more relaxed or gain visible confidence as the summer progressed. Reilly often appeared completely at sea about what to do next. He was so stiff, so uncomfortable, so robotically awkward that viewers watching him felt as though they had crawled naked into a barrel filled with termites. One could only wonder what Merv saw in this guy to throw him into the shark-infested waters of network prime time without any experience, or training, or discernable personality.

Between them, Monopoly and Reilly were so embarrassingly wretched that ABC didn't even bother to air the season-ending episode. The show was simply allowed to vanish unnoticed into the annals of TV gone wrong. Reilly doubtless returned to the heady task of asking people, "Soup or salad?"

Super Jeopardy! sure was fun, though.

Back to the list for a moment. I'm surprised that Steve Beverly doesn't mention my all-time favorite inept game show host. (Yes, there was someone even more clueless than Mike Reilly.)

Ironically, this was another Merv Griffin fiasco. When Pat Sajak left the NBC daytime version of Wheel of Fortune in 1989 to launch his ill-fated late-night talk-variety show, Merv replaced him with Rolf Benirschke, the former placekicker for the NFL's San Diego Chargers. I happened to be at home ill on the day when Rolf made his debut, and he spent the half-hour looking far sicker than I felt. I have never seen a man appear more tremblingly, lamb-to-the-slaughter nervous on television. The flop sweat beaded so heavily on his brow he'd have melted the Wicked Witch of the West with a shake of his head.

Before enough weeks of terror had passed to damage Benirschke for life, he was replaced by a more experienced host, Bob Goen, who later moved on to the coanchor spot on Entertainment Tonight alongside Mary Hart.

That Alex Trebek sure does one heck of a job, though.

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Monday, April 03, 2006

It's Bye-Bye Baby, 2006 Edition

Best wishes to my San Francisco Giants, who begin the 2006 baseball season today in San Diego versus the Padres. After the horrors of last season, almost anything would be an improvement.

Much of the Giants' fortune — or lack thereof — will depend upon the health of relief stopper Armando Benitez, who was placed on the disabled list this past weekend with bursitis in his left knee, and 41-year-old left fielder Barry Bonds, who will attempt to squeeze another season out of his rapidly aging joints on his way to the Hall of Fame.

The bright spots for the G-Men include the starting rotation, which looks as good as any fivesome the Giants have fielded in years. If ace Jason Schmidt pitches like he has in previous seasons (as opposed to last year when he was stinking up the joint more often than not), and if my fellow former Pepperdine Wave Noah Lowry earns the fat four-year deal he just inked, prospects are good. If these guys tank, it'll be a long summer.

On the field, a full year of last year's late-season hero Randy Winn should help. With guys like Steve Finley, Jose Vizcaino (in his second tour of duty in San Francisco), and Mark Sweeney on the bench, the Giants are loaded and deep.

But ultimately, as it always is with the Giants, it's Barry. If he's back to any semblance of his customary form, excellent. If he's hurt most of this season as he was last year... as I said, it'll be a long summer.

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