Saturday, December 30, 2006

New Indiana Jones Film Coming

I was planning on hanging up the blogging hat for the year following my last post, but then I noticed that I had 59 posts for the month of December, so I decided to go for 60, setting a personal record that will most likely stand for months, even years, to come.
Speaking of 60, does anyone really want to see a 65 year old Indiana Jones being chased by aging Nazis? Well, Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford think that you do, as they're prepared to begin filming the long anticipated, and therefore most likely destined to totally suck, fourth Indiana Jones flick sometime during the coming year, for a release in 2008. No title for the new film has been announced yet, but here's some suggestions: Indiana Jones and the All you Can Eat Buffet; Indiana Jones and the Tuesday Night Bingo Game; Indiana Jones Deposits His Social Security Check; or Indiana Jones and the Retirement Community of Doom.

When Legends Meet

In the past week or so, I've written here, in separate entries, about Marvel Comics maven Stan Lee and game show legend Bill Cullen. Mark Evanier, on his blog, News From Me, has done me one better by posting a video from YouTube showing those two Pop Culture icons sharing the same stage. Bill is one of the celebrity panelists on To Tell The Truth attempting to divine which of the three strangers in front of him is the real Stan Lee.
The video perfectly illustrates points I made in my earlier entries about the genial likability of Bill Cullen and Stan Lee's uncanny gift for self-promotion, plus it gave me an opportunity to see this classic game show for the first time in many years.
Click here to check it's a treat for game show and comics fans.

Friday, December 29, 2006

McPhee Gets 2nd Billing To Giant Frog on New Year's

According to this story I found on the Columbus Dispatch's web-site, American Idol runner-up (aka "loser") Katharine McPhee will be in the Tournament of Roses parade riding on a float featuring a giant mechanical frog. I'll bet the float's builders were going to get real Idol winner Taylor Hicks, but decided against it to avoid jokes about how the frog probably was a better singer than Hicks.

Top 5 Non-Stories of 2006

And now, the Top 5 Not News Stories of 2006:

These are stories that mattered to no one except the people directly involved in them, yet somehow managed to get covered on formerly respectable network newscasts along the economic and war news.
5. Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn Break-Up: C'mon! They met while filming a movie called The Break Up. Did anyone really think it was gonna last?
4. Tom Cruise: Anything about Tom Cruise is of no interest to me. His craziness, his feud with the producers of South Park, his wedding, his baby, his latest lameass movie. I don't give half a crap about any of it.
3. Michael Richards' "Rascist Meltdown": Washed up second banana from over rated sitcom goes has an onstage breakdown and begins a second career of apologizing. Big Deal.
2. Mel Gibson's Drunk Driving Stop: Mel Gibson doesn't like Jews? This is a surprise? Not so much. We've known this at least since The Passion of the Christ.
1. Ohio State/Michigan Game: Here in Columbus, Ohio,this would top the list every year, but this year, because the teams were ranked first and second by whoever ranks college football teams, the national media picked up on the madness. I'd call it a "Perfect Storm," but I really hate that overused cliche, so I'll just call it utter nonsense.

Runners Up for the WORD's Story of 2006

Call me superstitious, but I will not name The Word From On High's 2nd Biggest Story of 2006 until the year is officially over. After all, something big still could happen in the next two days, and if I jump the gun it probably will.
Now, I say the 2nd biggest story because the biggest story of the past twelve months, and likely for several more years to come, is the war in Iraq, but that's a story that's hard for me to write about with in my trademark flip, irreverent style, especially with a nephew in the Army and in the middle of that mess.
Barring any unforeseen breaking news before midnight on Sunday, however, I have already picked out my candidate for 2006's 2nd Biggest News Story, and will tell the world on Tuesday.
When TIME magazine named its first Man of the Year in 1927, the goal was not just to fill the mag in a slow news week, but also to correct what TIME's editors and readers considered a major oversight. The year's top newsmaker, Charles Lindbergh, had not appeared on TIME's cover at the time he made his historic trans-Atlantic flight earlier that year. Similarly, my 2nd Biggest Story of 2006 is something that I have previously not written about on this blog.
Meanwhile, here is a list of the Top 5 Runners-Up for 2nd Biggest Story of the Year:
5. Dick Cheney's Hunting "Accident": People he doesn't like, he just tells to "F*** off!" but his friends, he shoots in the face.
4. The Cartoon Riots: What outrages me is not that these cartoons dared to depict the prophet Mohammed, but that, for the most part, they were pretty lame.
3. Democrats Take Back Both Houses of Congress: A story that is, in very large part, an offshoot of the Biggest Story of the year.
2. Where's Fidel? Cuban leader Fidel Castro is reportedly very, very ill and has not been seen or heard from for months, leaving little bro Raul in charge. I'm beginning to suspect that Fidel has, in actuality, been dead since at least August.
1. Men Stuck In Chimneys. 2006 saw a strange rash of people getting stuck in their chimneys, and in two of the three cases I've reported on this year, when the guys were freed they were not wearing their pants. I blame Global Warming.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Clones: Them's Good Eatin'

At first, I wasn't sure what I was going to write today, as nothing really noteworthy seemed to have happened in the world of Pop Culture, or as I call it, the world. But fortunately, I bought a newspaper and found, right on the front page, a story that I could make a dumb joke about.
So the Food and Drug Administration has said that meat or dairy products from cloned animals is safe to eat. Okay. But doesn't that now pose an ethical dilemma for cannibals: Is it morally wrong to eat a clone of yourself?

Happy Birthday, Stan Lee

As we near the end of 2006, I was thinking back on the more than three hundred posts I've uploaded this since February 6, among them quite a few tributes to deceased celebrities, from Don Knotts to Jerry Ford, and I was thinking that I might like to write something nice about someone who's still breathing.
Born Stanley Martin Lieber, Stan Lee entered the comics industry in the early 1940's, working for cousin-in-law Martin Goodman's Timely Comics, which you might know better as Marvel. He stayed at Timely through thick and thin for two decades, until, as he tells it, he was fed up and ready to quit in order to pursue his dream of becoming a novelist. Thus, when tasked by Goodman to create a new super-hero team to compete with DC's Justice League, he, with encouragement from his wife, decided to create the kind of comic he'd always wanted to write. After all, he reasoned, he was going to quit anyway. The comic he wrote was Fantastic Four and from there, he, along with artists Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and others, went on to create what we now call the Marvel Universe.
At least, that's Stan's version. It has been quite rightly noted that, whatever his talents as a comics writer, Stan Lee's real gift was for self-promotion and his greatest creation was Stan Lee himself, and it has been shown by Jordan Raphael and Tom Spurgeon in their book Stan Lee and The Rise and Fall of the American Comic Book that quite a few of the stories he tells of his early years are merely part of the myth that he has built up around himself.
That is part of the reason I so admire Stan. It is his gift for self promotion and hype and for creating, both on the comics page and in his own life, larger than life mythologies that makes him a quintessential expression of the American character and one of the most significant Pop Culture figures of the Twentieth Century.
Very much alive and kicking, Stan Lee today celebrates his 84th birthday.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

X-Pres Gerald Ford Now Eligible to Appear on Money

Had Gerald Rudolph Ford's life taken the path that I imagine he probably thought it would, I would not be writing this piece today, for the death of a fairly obscure and relatively undistinguished former Congressional Minority Leader from Michigan would garner no special notice from the world's media. But Fate, Destiny, or Kismet, whatever you wish to call if you believe in such forces, had other plans for the Hon. Mr. Ford. The term "Accidental President" has been used to describe Vice-Presidents who ascend to the presidency when the President is unable to finish his term, usually because he has died, ever since John Tyler, the first to do so, assumed the office following the death of William Henry Harrison, but in Ford's case the term is particularly apt, for no presidency was more accidental than his. Named to replace disgraced former Vice-President Spiro Agnew in 1973, Ford found himself sitting in the Oval Office following President Richard Nixon's resignation as a result of the Watergate scandal on August 9, 1974.
While Ford was not exactly a great President, nor was he the buffoon that his occassional public clumsiness and the infamous WIN buttons led comics to portray him as. He was a gentle, honest, and soft-spoken man pulled by the tide of history into waters that were way above his head, but he managed to avoid drowning and emerged as one of America's most respected ex-Presidents and elder statesmen.
True, his was, for the most part, a "placeholder" presidency, and he was really just keeping the seat warm until the next "real" President showed up, but after the "long national nightmare" of Watergate, not to mention Vietnam and pretty much the entire preceding decade, that's probably precisely what this country needed in order to begin the long process of recovering.
These days, in the post-Watergate era, it seems as if the highest praise you can pay a former Chief Executive is that he did nothing to disgrace the office of the President of the United States or himself. By that yardstick, Gerald R. Ford may, in fact, be one of the great Presidents of my lifetime.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

"Godfather of Soul" Dies

In the entertainment world, one message of a person's importance and influence is the number of nicknames he accumulates. "The Godfather of Soul" and "The Hardest Working Man in Show Business" are just two of the epithets coined to describe James Brown, the dynamic soul singer perhaps better known for his energetic on stage antics, especially after Eddy Murphy's dead on imitation of him on Saturday Night Live back in the 1980's when Murphy was still funny, than for his singing. He certainly didn't move like a 73 year old man, which is what he was when he died yesterday in Atlanta.
His energy was infectious. It's hard for me to hear a James Brown song and remain seated, or even standing still. You've just got to dance and shout along with him. "HEH! I feel GOOD!"
Although James Brown is gone, he will continue, through the music he left behind, to make people "feel GOOD" for a long time to come.

Frontline Dispatch From The War On Christmas

The latest from the War On Christmas:
Anti-Christmas forces suffered a major setback this week when the annual celebration of the birth of Christian icon Jesus Christ took place as scheduled on Monday. The loosely organized band of pointy headed liberals and Godless atheists vowed to redouble their efforts to undermine the fundamental values on which the United States was founded during the coming year. Leaders of the sinister cabal plan to meet in secret to discuss their strategy for 2007 early in the new year, just as soon as they've recovered from their New Year's spree of sin and debauchery, which actually began sometime last week.

New Book on Hero Ghost Rider is Complete Waste of Paper

We have Nicholas Cage to blame for, among countless other transgressions, the utterly useless new book Ghost Rider: The Visual Guide, for without his upcoming Ghost Rider movie this hastily produced pile of public relations pablum would never have even been conceived, much less actually published. This type of slickly produced, expensive, hardcover volume has become common in recent, though usually reserved for heavyweight heroes of the Superman/Spider-man class rather than third-rate, third-tier, twice-cancelled losers like Ghost Rider.
None of these "ultimate guide" style books are worth the twenty or more dollars that the money grubbing publishers expect gullible fanboys to shell out for them, but Ghost Rider: The Visual Guide is especially worthless. To one, such as myself, who has wisely avoided reading the Ghost Rider comics, this book is an incoherent mess, and I suspect that even those die-hard fans who've followed the character through his various incarnations over the past thirty-plus years would be hard pressed to make heads or tails of this morass.
The book is heavily illustrated with panels from the Ghost Rider comics, but taken out of the context of the stories of which they were but a small fraction, they make no sense whatsoever. The jumbled clumps of text interspersed amid the pictures provide none of the needed context, failing to gel into any sort of coherent timeline of the character's muddled history.
One can only hope that the movie that Ghost Rider: The Visual Guide is meant to promote ends up making more sense than this piece of crap.

"Complete Dennis the Menace" Reveals Genius of Hank Ketcham

I have always loved Dennis the Menace, but after reading the first three volumes of Hank Ketcham's Complete Dennis The Menace, a series of compact hardcovers published by Fantagraphics Books reprinting, in order, every Dennis panel, I've gained an even deeper appreciation of Hank Ketcham's cartooning genius.
One thing I had not realized before reading the third volume, covering the years 1955 and '56, is that Ketcham possessed a gift for caricature that rivaled the late, great Al Hirschfeld. The October 14, 1955 panel features a rendition of then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower that captures the war hero turned politician perfectly. He is shown holding a telephone and saying, "You have a collect call from whom? Dennis who?"
While a comparison to Hirschfeld is natural, likening Ketcham to Norman Rockwell may seem odd, but is, I feel and I'll explain why, quite apt. Both artists depicted somewhat idealized versions of ordinary American life. Furthermore, both Ketcham and Rockwell were masters of relating entire, richly detailed stories with a single image, and used a mastery of facial expression to aid in the telling of that story. Where, however, Rockwell used layers of paint, Ketcham needed only a few well chosen and carefully placed ink lines to convey an amazing range of mood and emotion.
Of course, Ketcham, unlike Rockwell, had the luxury of captions to help him tell his story. Comics critic and historian R.C. Harvey theorizes that comics reach the lofty level of "art" when words and pictures combine in such a way to produce an effect that neither alone could. Here, again, Ketcham excelled. As an example, let us consider the Dennis panel of October 19, 1955.
Dennis' mom, Alice, and three friends are playing bridge (I assume its bridge, because that's what suburban housewives played in the idealized 1950's America that the Mitchells lived in, isn't it? Besides, no poker chips are in evidence as they are when Henry, Dennis' dad, is shown playing cards). One of the ladies has her shoes off, and Dennis says to her, "I don't see how you got your big feet in those tiny shoes." This is funny in and of itself, but the expressions on the women's faces tell the rest of the story. The woman Dennis address is appalled. The woman to her left smiles in silent agreement. A third woman wears a look that seems to say that she wishes she could say stuff like that and get away with it. Alice, meanwhile, remains placid, she is used to Dennis behavior and is unfazed by it.
The very same panel also epitomizes the primary appeal of Ketcham's creation: the character of Dennis Mitchell his own bad self. Unlike the wise beyond their years protagonists of Charles Schulz's Peanuts, 5-year-old Dennis is all kid. Anyone who has, has had, or even knows a small child can identify both with Henry and Alice's frustrations and Dennis' antics, which, to be perfectly honest, were always more merely mischievous than even moderately menacing. The latter is also the source of Dennis the Menace's appeal to small kids themselves, not to mention those of us who small children when we first encountered that Mitchell boy.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Christmas Greetings from THE WORD

Y'know, ol' Eb was so cool in the first chapter, before the ghosts got to him and turned him into such a wuss:
"If I could work my will," said Scrooge, indignantly, "every idiot who goes about with 'Merry Christmas' on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!"
--What else but A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
(I wanted to check the book so I got the quote exactly right, but I could not locate my copy, so I went to the library and discovered, unsurprisingly, that is extremely difficult to find an available copy of A Christmas Carol this close to Christmas.)
Merry Christmas, World!

Title of Final Potter Book Announced

It has previously been reported that J.K Rowling will be killing off at least one of her beloved characters in the upcoming seventh and final book in the best selling Harry Potter series. While she says she's still working on the book, she has recently announced the title.
And that title itself would certainly seem to be enough to confirm the rumours that someone is buying the farm this time out.
The title is: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Pretty ominous, huh?

The New Heroes: Bad News for DC and Marvel?

It occurred to me a while back that the recent surge in popularity of the super-hero genre in other media outside it traditional comic book environs, such as movies and TV, may not turn out to be such a good thing for the main purveyors of the genre, DC and Marvel Comics, as it would seem to be.
Up to now, the big hit super hero films have been based on existing Marvel and DC properties like Batman, Superman, Spider-Man and The X-Men. The comics companies, however, have repeatedly failed to convert this mainstream exposure into new readers or increased sales.
Meanwhile, this year, two of the highest profile super-hero related Hollywood projects, the wanted-to-be summer blockbuster Zoom and NBC's serialized drama Heroes, have not been based on pre-existing properties. While the Tim Allen vehicle, Zoom, didn't exactly zoom to the top of the box office charts, Heroes has recieved good ratings and much acclaim as the best new show of the 2006 fall TV season.
This would seem to indicate that film makers are no longer dependent on the comics publishers for their source material. If more and more super-hero films or TV series prove successful, leading to the development of even more, it seems clear to me that Hollywood will turn increasing to its own writers, rather than the comic books, for new ideas. And that will leave the comics publishers, especially Marvel, which seems to regard their charactes and comics as simply fodder for outside licensing deals, in second place; lagging behind Hollywood in the genre they pioneered.

5 Is Too Much

One is adequate.
Two is okay.
I like three best.
Five is just unnecessary.
I'm talking about razor blades.

I recently received a free sample of Gillette's five bladed Fusion "shaving system" (translation to non-ad agency English: "razor") At first I afraid to even touch the damned thing, afraid that with that many blades, I cut myself just by picking it up. Eventually, I overcame my anxieties and tried the thing, and I must say that I'm not overly impressed.
It would seem that there is eventually a point of diminishing returns that is reached in the quest for ever more advanced multi-blade razors and five blades appears to me to be well past that point. I have really noticed no significant improvements in closeness or smoothness of shave over the triple bladed disposables that I've been using for the past year or so. Therefore, I probably won't be spending the extra money to keep using the Fusion.

I Love Annie Duke

There, I've said it and I'm glad I said it.
In fact, I'll say it again.
I am totally in love with Annie Duke.

I'll be expecting the restraining order to be delivered to my door any minute now.
Seriously, though, not only is she a beautiful, strong and independent minded woman, she is also a genius.
At the poker tables, she's earned World Series of Poker championship bracelets in Omaha/8, a game that I'm afraid to even attempt to play because I can't quite figure out what a good starting hand is, and Texas Hold'em, at the 2004 WSOP Tournament of Champions where she outlasted a field that included Doyle Brunson, Phil Hellmuth and her brother, Howard Lederer.
Speaking of Howard, apparently Annie comes from a pretty smart family. In addition to "The Professor," theres's her sister, author and poet Katy Lederer, and her father, Richard Lederer, who has written dozens of books on language. Annie has even co-written her own book with David Diamond: Annie Duke: How I Raised, Folded, Bluffed, Flirted, Cursed, and Won Millions at the World Series of Poker.
She is also smart enough to have nearly gotten her PhD in psycholiguistics, or the study of how the human brain aquires language (huh???), a field so esoteric that most people have never even heard of it. She did, however, abandoned her quest for an advanced degree at the last moment to become a full time poker pro. (Get the book; the story's all there.)
The latest evidence of her mental prowess is that, as a member of The Mob, she has survived through three episodes of the game show 1 vs 100, answering thirty-three questions correctly and outlasting at least four contestants and a couple of hundred fellow Mob-sters. While 1 vs. 100 is pre-empted by the inferior Identity tonight, Annie's streak will, hopefully, continue when the game returns for a special episode on Christmas night.

B&B Seeing You (Conclusion)

Part V—I’ll B&B Back
Following Bob Haney’s unceremonius departure from THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD, the title continued under a system of rotating writers, with Mike W. Barr being the most prominent, until it was removed from DC’s schedule in 1982 to make way for Barr’s BATMAN & THE OUTSIDERS. Since then, DC has twice revived the B&B name for six-issue miniseries, neither of which featured the Batman. The first, in 1992, written by Mike Grell and Mike Baron, teamed frequent original B&B guest star Green Arrow with The Question and Baron creation The Butcher. In 1999, a second B&B revival explored the early years of the friendship between The Flash and Green Lantern, neither of whom had a particularly strong connection to the original series. The next year, Bob Haney made a brief return to DC to write a B&B one-shot teaming Batman with perennial original B&B co-stars The Metal Men as part of DC’s “The Silver Age” special event.
During his brief tenure as writer for the revived GREEN ARROW series, film maker Kevin Smith announced plans for a B&B revival which never came to fruition. Recently, DC has revealed plans to bring the title back as an ongoing series beginning in February of 2007. While the Batman will star in the first issue, with Green Lantern, perhaps in a nod to Batman’s first team-up appearance in the original B&B, he will not be the title’s permanent co-star. Rather, B&B will return to teaming two entirely different heroes in each story, which writer Mark Waid terms the “classic” B&B format. I would disagree, however, with that characterization. That approach lasted only twenty-two issues (50-73, not counting Metamorpho’s first appearance in issues 57 and 58) before Batman officially nabbed the lead spot, and of those twenty-two, Batman co-starred in seven. Furthermore, in an interview published posthumously in two recent issues of THE COMICS JOURNAL (#276-278), Haney claimed that it had been his intention from the beginning of the team-up format for Batman to be the permanent co-star, though his first choice was Superman whom that character’s editors had declared unavailable to him.
With or without Batman, it’s good to see B&B, or any team-up title, back in the comic shops, as the format has been absent from the new releases shelf for almost two decades, since ACTION COMICS converted to its short-lived weekly anthology format following an equally short lived run as a Superman team-up book.
If, however, it is truly classic B&B that you seek, then you should check out the January release of Showcase Presents The Brave & The Bold: The Batman Team-Ups, a 500 page trade paperback compiling, in black and white, the earliest B&B appearances of Batman from issues 59, 64, 67-71, and 74-86, which team the Caped Crusader with such heroes as Green Lantern, Green Arrow, Deadman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Sgt. Rock and others. Allof these tales, except #86’s adventure co-starring Deadman, were written by Bob Haney, and feature a wide selection of best of B&B’s pre- Aparo era artists, including Mike Sekowsky, Carmine Infantino, Ross Andru, and Neal Adams.
Prior to Neal Adams’ eight issue run, the art chores on B&B rotated from issue to issue. After Adams, Nick Cardy illustrated several issues until Jim Aparo appeared on the scene with #98 and settled in permanently as of #100. I should also note that while the checklist in the back of B&B #150 credits Haney with writing #86, the recent hardcover collection, Batman Illustrated by Neal Adams Volime II, part of a three part series reprinting every story and cover Adams rendered featuring the character, credits authorship of that issue to Adams, who had written co-star Deadman’s regular series. Having recently re-read that story, and found the portrayal of Batman to be more in line with that of stories Adams collaborated on with writer Dennis O’Neil than the Haney norm, I would tend to credit the citation of Adams as writer of “You Can’t Hide From A Deadman.”
This volume is especially welcome and anticipated by me, as B&B remains the favorite and most fondly remembered comic of my childhood and Bob Haney one of my favorite comics writers of all time.

Upcoming (or not) DVDs

Bosom Buddies coming to DVD
Sure, that's good news and all...(really, I actually liked that show)...but what I want to know is when is somebody gonna get around to releasing Herman's Head on DVD.
Hey, get back here! I'm serious!
Over the years since its cancellation, this early-90's FOX sitcom has gotten a bad rap; its name becoming synonymous with cheesy, "high concept" sitcoms. True, this show, which revealed the thoughts and feelings of the protagonist, Herman, through cutaways to four characters supposedly living inside his head who represented his emotions, reason, anxieties, etc. , was what TV programming execs call "high concept." but its execution was not cheesy. To the contrary, Head was well written, well performed and funny, and deserves a chance to be seen again. Hell, if crap (yea, I said CRAP) like Family Guy warrants a new life on DVD (which led to its revival), then Herman's Head certainly does.
Another early and undeservedly short lived FOX sitcom that deserves a shot at a DVD release is Flying Blind, which I once described, in a column on this very same topic for The Atomic Tomorrow, as "a funny version of Dharma and Greg." Like D&G, Flying Blind concerned an uptight establishment type young professional falling for a free spirited artistic type, played in this case by the lovely Tea Leoni. One of the things that killed this show was probably its Sunday at 10:30 p.m. timeslot, shared with the equally ill-fated The Ben Stiller Show, which, it is significant to note, FOX never bothered to try to program after that season.
Among the best of shows that actually have been released on DVD recently are the inaugural seasons of Saturday Night Live and St. Elsewhere.
TV GUIDE once named St. Elsewhere the best drama in the history of television and they were not wrong. This innovative and involving series transcended the limits of the "hospital drama" genre to become something truly unique, and its release on DVD is long overdue.
The SNL set is the first time that an entire season, featuring episodes in their entirety, has been released on DVD. Previous SNL discs have been compilations of sketches grouped around the "best of" a particular cast member or frequent guest host, or a theme such as commercial parodies. While probably not every season deserves to be preserved on DVD or even remembered at all, the first five years and the work of the original Not Ready For Primetime Players certainly do.
Another classic series headed for DVD is The Odd Couple, which forever inextricably linked Tony Randall and Jack Klugman with Neil Simon's mismatched pair of divorced best friends.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Vanishing Game Show Host

It strikes me as somewhat ironic that, despite the current revival in the popularity of the game show genre, the game show host remains a dieing breed.
Of course, these new shows all have hosts, but they dilletantes; people who've made their names as actors, comedians, or even iconoclastic stage magicians, and will return to their main career after their game show fades in the ratings and withers and dies. The breed of entertainers that I refer to by the label "game show hosts" are something different altogether. They are people who were primarily known for, and whose entire life in the public eye was spent, hosting game shows, and who fronted many such shows of over the course of their careers. With the upcoming retirement of The Price Is Right's Bob Barker, about the only old school game show host left is Alex Trebek. Before becoming world renowned as host of Jeopardy!, Trebek emceed The Wizard of Odds, High Rollers and Classic Concentration, among others.
The venerable Chuck Woolery may still be doing Lingo on Game Show Network. At first I didn't put Pat Sajak in this category for, even though he is known to the world primarily as host of Wheel of Fortune and has presided over that show for a quarter of a century now, Wheel is the only game he's ever hosted. However, that really only means that Sajak was lucky enough to land his signature big hit right out of the box, rather than toiling for years in the game show minor leagues, and really doesn't make him any less a seasoned game show host than Trebek or Woolery.
The quintessential game show host was the late, great Bill Cullen. In a career that spanned four decades in both radio and television, Cullen served as host or celebrity panelist on dozens of game shows, including the original The Price Is Right, To Tell The Truth, The Joker's Wild, The $25,000 Pyramid, Blockbusters, Hot Potato, and far too many more for me to list in the time I have left on this computer at the public library.
Like all the great hosts, of which he was the greatest, Cullen was genial and funny, but not too funny, recognizing that the contestants and the game itself were the real stars of the show and he was there to make sure things ran smoothly. Conversely, it seems that the real appeal of many of the current crop of prime time game shows, most notably Bill Shatner's Show Me The Money (which appears to have been canceled, as it did not air last night despite being listed in TV Guide and I can find no mention of it on ABC's site), is the pre-existing fame of their hosts. The one current host who most fits the classic model epitomized by Cullen is 1 vs 100's Bob Saget.
My aunt Ann grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, as did Cullen, and she once claimed to have attended school with him. Given the number of celebrities Cullen worked with over his lifetime, it would probably take only one or two more "degrees" to get to Kevin Bacon.

B&B Seeing You--Part 4

Part IV—Crisis On Indeterminate Earths
To die-hard afficionados of the super-hero genre, continuity, a concept best understood as an internal consistency between the worlds of the many characters who inhabit one publisher’s fictional universe, is very, you might even say disportionately, important. Readers of THE BRAVE & THE BOLD during Bob Haney’s reign as writer where often perplexed and frustrated by Haney’s open disregard for that which the held so sacred. What many considered Haney’s most egregrious offense against continuity involved the B&B tales that teamed the Batman with the heroes known as Wildcat and The Spectre.
In the days prior to the 1985 publication of CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS, the epic twelve issues series whose stated purpose was to clarify and, more importantly, simplify the history of DC’s super-hero universe, said universe, in fact, was actually what DC’s writer came to call a “multiverse,” consisting of several universes, each containing their own unique set of super-heroes.
The two main universes were designated Earth-One and Earth-Two, with Earth-One being the setting for the adventures of the then current incarnations of DC’s heroes as presented in the majority of the company’s ongoing titles, while Earth-Two housed the heroes as published by DC during the Golden Age of the 1930’s and 40’s, most notably the members of the seminal super-hero team, The Justice Society of America. (Yes. Having the original heroes on Earth-Two did, in fact, strike many as being bass-ackward.)
Thus the problem many readers, and later B&B editors, had with Haney’s pairing of Batman with Wildcat and The Spectre is that those two members of the JSA dwelt upon Earth-Two, whereas the stories presented in B&B ostensibly took place across the dimensional divide on Earth-One, yet Haney’s scripts made no allowance for this fact, instead treating the characters as if they existed on the same world.
Additionally, many characters behaved quite differently once they entered Haney’s realm from the way that they were portrayed in other comics of the time. The Batman himself, as I noted earlier, was considerably less grim than in his flagship titles, BATMAN and DETECTIVE COMICS. Jim Aparo was one of the few, if not the only, Batman artist of the 1970’s to have the opportunity to draw Gotham’s guardian with a smile on his face.
Two other characters who acted notably out of character in Haney’s B&B scripts were Green Arrow and Plastic Man. Haney’s Plas was given to wallowing in self-pity as he lamented his status as a “freak,” and Green Arrow, after losing his millionaire status as shown in JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA and GREEN LANTERN/GREEN ARROW, was often portrayed as reckless, often becoming involved in risky get rich quick schemes that inevitably backfire, forcing the Batman to intervene in order to save his friend from the consequences of his own greed and foolhardiness.
I have always felt that continuity should never get in the way of telling a good story, and Bob Haney appears to have held that same opinion, and, more often than not, a good story is precisely what what he delivered. Each issue was packed with action, mystery, surprising plot twists and humor.
Haney had a knack for weaving themes from Pop Culture, contemporary trends and fads and current events into his stories. When the disappearance of ships and planes in the so-called Devil’s Triangle had captured the public’s collective imagination in the 1970’s, Haney crafted the tale which appeared in B&B #127, teaming Batman and Wildcat to uncover the secrets of the “Deadman’s Quadrangle.” For the two part tale in issues #129 and #130, Haney apparently drew inspiration from The Maltese Falcon, and perhaps the legend of the curse of the Hope Diamond, for the story of a supposedly curse artifact that falls into Green Arrow’s hands.
Haney was especially adept at bringing Batman and his co-stars together in ways that rarely felt forced, teaming the down to Earth Caped Crusader with such diverse characters as supernatural heroes The Spectre, Deadman and The Phantom Stranger; ocean dwelling Aquaman, and science-fictional heroes like Green Lantern, Hawkman, and even Kamandi, the Last Boy on Earth, who dwelt in a post apocalyptic world of the future, and somehow making it seem perfectly natural.
Unfortunately, it was Haney’s cavalier attitude toward continuity and his unwillingness or inability to adapt to editorial pressure to change his ways that led to his exit from B&B following issue #157. The once prolific Haney was thereafter left to write only THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER, on which he continued until that title’s cancellation in 1982, at which point his nearly three decade association with DC Comics came to an end.

Bechdel's FUN HOME Name "Best Book of '06" by TIME

Alison Bechdel's graphic memoir Fun Home has been named by TIME magazine, in its Person of the Year double issue, as the best book of 2006.
While this should certainly be seen as encouraging by those, myself included, who have long advocated the potential of the sequential art, or comic book, medium, the writers of the list, Lev Grossman and Richard Lacayo, treat Fun Home as some sort of fluke, calling it "The most unlikely literary success of 2006..." They write, "Oh, and it's a comic book," as if before reading Bechdel's work they'd never considered that such a lowly, degenerated medium could be capable of conveying anything beyond the endless fight scenes of super-hero comics or the lame, warmed over daily gags of most newspaper strips, and even now don't quite believe it.
Nonetheless, Fun Home's perch atop a list that includes volumes by Cormac McCarthy and Dave Eggers is quite a public relations coup for this least respected of art forms, and, together with the article earlier this in PLAYBOY on the rise of the graphic novel, represents a great leap forward in the graphic novel's slow march to respectability.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

B&B Seeing You--Part 3

Part III-Bob Haney
The lion’s share (103 of a total 149) of the team-ups in THE BRAVE & THE BOLD, with or without Batman, sprang forth from the imagination and typewriter of the late Bob Haney (March 15, 1926-November 24, 2004) In 1948, following military service with the Navy during the Second World War and completion of a Master’s degree in French history at New York City’s Columbia University, a cash strapped Haney sought employment in the then still young comic book industry. Publishers of comic books proliferated during the 1930’s and 40’s, the era dubbed the Golden Age of Comics, and Haney produced work for several of them, including Quality, Fawcett, Fox, Hillman, and Ziff-Davis, before landing at industry leader National Periodical Publications, as DC Comics was officially known until the mid-1970’s, in 1954. He began at the company as writer of war stories, as well as a contributor to THE BRAVE & THE BOLD during its early, high-adventure phase, working under editor Robert Kanigher.
Haney penned the initial installment of the long-running World War II set series, SGT. ROCK, and would go on to create or co-create many of the quirkier characters in DC’s Silver Age stable, including Metamorpho, B’Wana Beast, Eclipso, The Doom Patrol, and The Super-Sons, who were teenaged offspring of Superman and Batman with unnamed mothers. Among his other assignments were the Superman/Batman adventures in WORLD’S FINEST COMICS, Aquaman, Green Arrow, and The Unknown Soldier. Today, he is primarily remembered for creating and writing the original Teen Titans, and, of course, for B&B.
I find it unfortunate, however, that what appears to most remembered about Haney’s tenure on B&B is the controversy and confusion that his stories often generated among readers.

Welcome To The 21st Century

It is ironic that in the article "Clash of the Time Lords" in the December edition of HARPER'S magazine, which concerns a conflict among scientists over methods of recording and measuring time, writer Michelle Stacey doesn't seem to know what year it is. Stacey actually makes a present tense reference to "the Soviets": "GPS was inaugurated in 1978; now the Soviets have their own satellite..."
There have been no Soviets for nearly a decade and half; since the collapse of the USSR, the federation of nations held together by the tyranny of the Communist Party. I'm sure Stacey means the Russians, but the two terms are not perfectly synonymous. Russia was the dominant state in the Soviet Union, but not the only one; all Russians were Soviets, but not all Soviets were Russians.
Though the article is otherwise fascinating, informative and entertaining, its author's seeming ignorance of certain basic current geopolitical realities calls the veracity of the whole piece into question.

Old Jokes

I've just finished reading yet another book on the debacle that was the merger of America Online and Time Warner, Kara Swisher's There Must Be A Pony In Here Somewhere. Both Swisher's book and Alec Klein's Stealing Time begin with brief histories of AOL. In each case, when I reached the part of the saga where the on-line service ditched its practice of charging users by the hour and went to a flat monthly fee in 1996, causing a massive influx of users to overload the system and create service slowdowns and difficulty logging on, I am reminded of a joke I made at the time: "If this keeps up, it looks like they'll have to change their initials to SOL."
Well, my older sister thought it was funny. (Which, quite truthfully, should have told me something about how funny it really was.)

I Am the Message...or something like that

TIME magazine's Person of the Year cover feature on "Web 2.0" makes no mention of the late media theoretician and visionary Marshall McLuhan, though it certainly should. In his 1967 book, The Medium Is The Massage, McLuhan declares, "Xerography...heralds the age of instant publishing. Anybody can now become both author and publisher." In this pronouncement, as in almost all things, McLuhan was years, even decades, ahead of his time.
While it is certainly correct that the invention of the photocopier allowed those with access to one the ability to publish their writings, the results were seldom on a par with commercial media products and distribution was limited. It would not be until the advent of the Internet, bringing with such innovations as blogs and music and video sharing sites, that the "age of instant publishing" could truly be said to have arrived. Now, not only can anyone "become both author and publisher," but actor, film maker, or rock star, as well.
It is now possible for anyone to create content as slick and professional in appearance as that generated by true media professionals and distribute it instantly on a worldwide scale with the push of a button or click of a mouse.
Back in 1990, when I worked at WKZA, an AM oldies radio station, my friend and co-worker who went by the on-air moniker of Marty Anton and I had a series of running jokes between us. One of them involved my feigning alarm at something that Marty had just said by gasping, "Alert the media!!" Marty would respond by reminding me, "Ray, we ARE the media." Thanks to Web 2.0, the barriers to entry in that formerly elite fraternity have been, for all intents and purposes, obliterated, and we are all the media.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

TIME Names 2006 Person of the Year and it's ME!!!

TIME magazine began its annual tradition of naming a "Person (nee "Man") of the Year" in December of 1927, when, as recounted in Isaiah Wilner's The Man Time Forgot (p. 199), the editors found themselves confronted by a slow news week and stuck for an idea for a cover story. The first person recognized was Charles Lindbergh, who had become a national hero and media darling following his celebrated and groundbreaking trans-Atlantic flight earlier that year, yet had not previously graced TIME's cover.
From its perhaps inauspicious beginning as simply a way to fill space in the magazine, Person of the Year has grown into an institution that has endured for eighty years. Many have come to think of Person of the Year as an accolade, but the basic idea was, and remains, to "highlight...the individual who most influenced events in the past year"(Wilner, p. 199) whether for good or ill. With that mandate, past Persons of the Year have included such villains as the Ayatollah Khomeini, Adolph Hitler and the Personal Computer.
TIME's 2006 Person of the Year, as revealed in their December 25 cover-dated issue, is: You. You and me and everyone we know, for, as the cover copy declares: "You Control The Information Age."
Specifically, TIME means the millions of us who post videos to You Tube, spend hours on MySpace, and blog, contributing to what is termed Web 2.0 and changing the way we get news and information, interact with others and view the world around us.
Therefore, as a blogger of absolutely no note, I--Ray Tomczak--am a Person of the Year. With that accomplishment under my belt, if I could get the editors of PEOPLE magazine to stop passing me over for "Sexiest Man Alive" year after year, I'd be a truly happy man. (C'mon, look at that pic over there on the right side of the screen. That, my friends, is a photograph of a very sexy, sexy man if ever there was one.)

B&B Seeing You--Part 2

Part II—History
THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD began life with the issue cover-dated August/September 1955 as a much different publication than the one remembered fondly by fans today. That inaugural issue contained a trio of high adventures stories in the Hal Foster/Prince Valiant vein starring heroes with such names as The Viking Prince, The Silent Knight, and The Golden Gladiator. Super-heroes were, at that point in time, prior to the Flash revival in SHOWCASE, out of favor in the comics industry and only a handful of titles still featured them. The Gladiator gave way to Robin Hood after a small handful of appearances and this revised line-up would last until the magazine’s 24th issue. With the very next issue, the series switched gears to a “tryout” format, similar to SHOWCASE, where new concepts were tried out prior to being launched in seres of their own. Other than the Justice League of America and the revival of Hawkman, however, none of the features introduced in B&B graduated to their own titles. (Although, “Suicide Squad,” the very first B&B try-out feature, would be revived and revamped in the mid-1980’s by writer John Ostrander and become a long running, fan favorite series.)
The fiftieth issue of THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD unshered in the team-up format, though this was still not B&B’s ultimate form. Whereas, B&B would eventually become another starring vehicle for the Batman, the first issues of the fledgling team-up format featured two or more different heroes every issue, with no permanent co-star. The first outing teamed Green Arrow and The Martian Manhunter. Issue #54 brought together sidekicks Robin, Kid Flash and Aqualad, three-quarters of the team that would become the original Teen Titans, with Wonder Girl, as well as the name Teen Titans, being added for the group’s second appearance in #60.
In issues #57 and #58, the new format was briefly set aside for a return to the try-out concept in a pair of stories that introduced Metamorpho The Element Man.Batman made his first team-up appearance in an adventure with Green Lantern in #59, appearing half a dozen more times before officially attaining permanent co-star status as of #74. With Batman firmly entrenched as its star, B&B continued as a team-up title until its 200th and final issue in 1982. That issue featured a preview of Barr and Aparo’s BATMAN & THE OUTSIDERS, the title which would take B&B’s spot on DC’s schedule.

"Identity" Lacks One of Its Own

In NBC's newest game show, Identity, contestants are presented with twelve people whom they must match with twelve descriptions, such as "shark attack victim","Scientologist", or "creator of Spider-Man" (Yes, it appears that Smilin' Stan "The Man" Lee will be showing up at sometime during the week-long "event".) in order to potentially win a half million dollars.
Though it does not require knowledge of arcane trivia or celebrity gossip, Identity is very similar to earlier game shows 1 vs 100 and even Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. All feature escalating cash values for each correct answer, three "helps", an option to take the money accumulated so far and go away, as well as stentorian music and annoying flashing lights.
Though host Penn Jillette is infinitely cool and always fun to watch in whatever he does, the similarities to past shows give Identity a "been there/done that" kind of feel.
The current resurgence in popularity of the game show genre will not last if networks and producers insist on simply giving us endless remakes of the same basic show.

Joe Barbera Dies

The world of animation has lost a giant.
Joseph Barbera, who died yesterday at age 95, was the last of the great pioneers of the field.
Barbera first teamed with lifelong friend and business partner William Hanna in 1937 to create the long running Tom and Jerry series of theatrical cartoon shorts for MGM. In 1957, after the studio shuttered its animation division, the duo went into business for themselves to produce cartoons for the new medium of television. Their first effort was The Ruff and Reddy Show, and from their they would go on to dominate the field of TV animation with such hits as Yogi Bear, The Flintstones, The Huckleberry Hound Show, Jonny Quest, Hong Kong Phoey and dozens more. They also venture into feature animation with 1973's Charlotte's Web.
Huckleberry Hound became the first animated series to win an Emmy, and The Flintstones was the first animated show to air in prime time. (Fred and Wilma Flintstone were also the first married couple in TV history to be shown sleeping in the same bed.)
Barbera even became a cartoon character himself at least once, appearing with Bill Hanna at the wedding of Pebbles Flintstone and Bamm-Bamm Rubble in the 1993 animated TV movie I Yabba-Dabba Do!

Monday, December 18, 2006

B&B Seeing You--Part 1

The following is the first part of a lengthy essay on the DC Comics series THE BRAVE & THE BOLD and its writer Bob Haney, which will appear in several parts over the next few days:
Part I—Influence
Writing in the December 2004 edition of BACK ISSUE magazine, editor Michael Eury named THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD (B&B), published by DC Comics from 1955 to 1982, as the most influential comics magazine put out by DC during the periods known as the Silver and Bronze Ages of Comics. (Opinions amongst comics historians vary, but most agree that the Silver Age began with DC’s publication of SHOWCASE #4, featuring a revival of The Flash, with most placing its end at approximately 1970, and most place the Bronze Age as spanning the years from 1975, kicked off by the first appearance of the new X-Men in GIANT SIZED X-MEN #1, to about 1985.) While Eury goes on to admit that his claim may be somewhat overblown, the evidence that he offers up in support of his theorem, in the form of a listing of important characters and concepts that first saw the light of day in B&B, is nonetheless compelling.
B&B originated the concept of the team-up comic, in which a different set of heroes joined forces in each issue, and was the first venue for the adventures of such superstars and fan favorites as Metamorpho the Element Man, the Silver Age version of Hawkman , the Justice League of America, and the Teen Titans. (Certainly, Cartoon Network would seem to owe B&B a deep debt of gratitude.) In B&B #85’s tale, “The Senator’s Been Shot,” long standing second tier hero Green Arrow was given a new look, costume and attitude, beginning the character’s metamorphosis from a rather bland Batman rip-off into the lovable, liberal hothead familiar to readers of his current monthly series.
Eury also cites in passing the oft-repeated, though quite possibly apocryphal, legend of the golf game between the publisher of DC Comics and Martin Goodman, head of the rival comics house that would shortly become known as Marvel Comics, during which the DC honcho boasted of the success of the Justice League of America, spurring Goodman to urge his editor to create a superteam for his company.
That editor, still legally known as Stanly Martin Lieber but already better known to his readers by the name which he signed to his comics scripts, Stan Lee, has oft been quoted as saying that he had, by this time- the early 1960’s- decided to leave the comics industry in which he had toiled thanklessly for the previous two decades and pursue his dream of becoming a “real” writer. Therefore, with the encouragement of his wife, he vowed to take this seemingly one last opportunity to write a super-hero comic in the manner in which he had always they should be written, eschewing many of the accepted conventions of the genre. The comic that Lee and artist/co-creator Jack Kirby produced was, of course, THE FANTASTIC FOUR, the success of which led to the creation of what we now call the Marvel Universe, and, by extension, the entire modern concept of the super-hero as we today understand it.
It was also in B&B that two artists who would eventually become closely associated with the Batman were allowed their first opportunity to make their mark on the character. Following his acclaimed eight issue stint as B&B artist, Neal Adams went on to team with writer Dennis O’Neil for a series of Batman stories that moved the character away from the perceived silliness of the recent Adam West TV series toward a darker, more mysterious millieu, a movement that reached its apotheosis in the mid-1980’s with the work of Frank Miller, “Batman: Year One” and The Dark Knight Returns. Jim Aparo, who illustrated more issues of B&B than any other artist, first drew the feature with #98, which teamed Batman with the Phantom Stranger, a character on whose title Aparo was the regular artist, and would stay with the B&B for most of the rest of its run. After B&B’s cancellation, Aparo would go on to draw BATMAN & THE OUTSIDERS, which he co-created with latter day B&B scribe Mike W. Barr, and to delineate the solo adventures of the Caped Crusader in the two periodicals that are, to this day, the mainstays of the Batman line, DETECTIVE COMICS and BATMAN.
THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD’s greatest significance to a great many readers, myself among them, was an introduction, through the well known character of the Batman, to the wider world of the DC Comics universe. It was through B&B that I was first exposed to the exploits of such characters as the Atom, the Creeper, the Metal Men, Mr. Miracle, the Metal Men, Black Canary, and Green Arrow. It would also be fair to say that it was in B&B that I saw the Batman for the first time. Prior to reading my first issue of B&B, I had really only known Batman from the aforementioned mid-1960’s TV show and TV cartoons such as Superfriends. The Batman of B&B, especially Aparo’s artistic rendition of him with his long pointy bat-ears and flowing cape, was a revelation to me. Though writer Bob Haney’s characterization of Batman was never as grim as that which prevailed in the other Batman books of the 1970’s, his tough talking Darknight Detective was still a far cry from the character posing as Batman on Superfriends.

Bullwinkle, Do-Right Writer Chris Hayward Dead at 81

According to Keith Scott, writing in his book The Moose That Roared, a history of Jay Ward Productions and their most famous creation, Bullwinkle J. Moose, Chris Hayward started out as a singer who described himself as "...the New York State champion impersonator of Frank Sinatra," before becoming a writer working in the animation field.
His early credits include Time For Beany, Mr. Magoo, Tom and Jerry, and Huckleberry Hound. After writing most episodes of a late 1950's revival of Crusader Rabbit, which had originally been produced by Jay Ward, Hayward wound up working for Ward himself on The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, becoming one of the chief guiding hands behind the Dudley Do-Right of the Mounties series. Hayward's wife, Linda, also worked for Ward as his secretary.
According to the Associated Press, Hayward went on to co-create The Munsters, (he also co-created My Mother the Car, though the article doesn't mention that. Hayward probably didn't brag about it too much) as well as write for Get Smart and Barney Miller.
Hayward's death on November 20 at age 81 was announced today.

A Classic Christmas Special That Never Was

This time of year, the airwaves and cable bandwidth are saturated with holiday specials and movies, many of them based on popular and well know seasonal tunes, for example Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman. As I listening to The Waitresses' Christmas Wrapping, I wondered why no one has ever turned that song, with its tale of a series of romantic "near misses" culminating in a chance encounter at the grocery store on Christmas Eve, into a TV movie. It would make a great light romantic comedy perfect for, say, Lifetime. The story's all right there in the lyrics, just waiting for a good writer to add some details.
Honestly, I'm really surprised no one has thought of it in the two and half decades since that song was recorded.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Where M'Peeps At?

So, I've been on a bit of a spree as far as posting here at The Word From On High this past week, throwing up 20 entries since Monday, not counting this here one, and passing the 300 mark in total posts just yesterday with the last in my series of posts on the book The Man Time Forgot. So, I'm kind of wondering if anybody actually reading any of this. It's been a while since there've been any comments on the blog. Where are my loyal, regular readers? Jack? Larned? Eric? Dave? Kathleen? Owen?
I know I'm sounding all desperate and needy here, but how about showing me some love and posting a few comments, thus making all the work I've put into this thing this week seem somewhat worthwhile. C'mon, Guys--let me know you're still out there, if, in fact, you are. New friends and readers are, of course, welcome and encouraged to throw their two cents in as well.
While anonymous comments are allowed, I would appreciate it if you'd leave a name. Especially if you're going to say something negative, you should have the balls to tell me who you are.

Review of Taylor Hicks Disc

In order to review Taylor Hicks' new CD, I'm gonna have to actually listen to it, which I have yet to do. Fortunately others have and have put their thoughts in print. I do intend to check this disc out eventually and I'll give you my own impressions as they become available.

The OJ Debacle Rears Its Ugly Head Again

So, Monday I heard on the TV news that bootleg copies of O.J. Simpson's scuttled book, If I Did It, reportedly detailing how he might have killed his wife and her friend and gotten away with it if he had done it, which he still says he didn't, turned up for sale on a few web-sites, including e-bay, last weekend, but were pulled by site administrators out of "respect for the victims."
The only dead people just about anybody, especially those with a business to run, respect anymore are Ulysses S. Grant and Benjamen Franklin. If NewsCorp head Rupert Murdoch, who nixed the book and accompanying TV special on his FOX network, thought for one second that he could make more dough selling the book than he stood to lose by offending a goodly portion of the US citizenry, then you know that book would be staring out at us from bookstore windows all over the nation right this minute, just in time for holiday gift-giving---and the same applies to the "respectful" webmasters.
Y'know, if you think O.J. writing a book called If I Did It caused an uproar, just think if he'd gone with his working title: Yeah, I Did It. Whatcha Gonna Do 'Bout It, Bitches? subtitled NYAH! NYAH! NYAH! Double Jeopardy, Suckahs! NYAH!NYAH!NYAH!

(STRAY THOUGHTS) Topic: Christmas Blessings

One of the very few things that I actually like about the Christmas season is that it is the only time of year that you get to hear a song by 1980's New Wave group The Waitresses played on the radio.
I'm grateful that the band had the foresight to record their holiday classic "Christmas Wrapping" before their slide into wholly undeserved obscurity.

Him? "Cool?" You're Joking, Right?

While reading the cover story of Comic Shop News this week, I came across this quote from Brian Reed, the co-writer, with Brian Michael Bendis, of the soon to be released Marvel Comics limited series New Avengers: the Illuminati, concerning his and Bendis' plans for upcoming issues: "...(W)e're walking into one of the biggest challenges in the Marvel Universe: making the Beyonder cool again."
Hello? Again? Did I read that right? Did he say "again?"
When, I must ask you, Mr. Reed, just exactly when was the Beyonder ever "cool?" I've read both Secret Wars limited series (Oh My God!! I'm having a Secret Wars II flashback!! The HORROR!! The HORROR!!!) and I can unequivocally proclaim that the answer to my query is, unfortunately: NEVER. At no time. Not once, not even for a second.
Of course, if any one currently writing for Marvel could make the Beyonder cool--for the very first time--it would be Reed's partner, Brian Bendis.

The Other Paper Regrets The Error (But Not So Much)

Nearly every Thursday, you can open up The Other Paper, Columbus, Ohio's leading alternative newsweekly, and find, in a little gray box at the bottom of page 3, a correction. These aren't usually trivial little boo-boos like spelling errors, either, but major omissions or misstatements of basic facts that affect the very meaning of the story, often slanting it toward the paper's official editorial viewpoint on the issue being covered.
This week, for example, The Other Paper points out that there are indeed five members of the Downtown Streetcar Working Group with previous experience in matters of public transportation, rather than, as reported in last week's front page story, none. This "error," combined with the overall tone of the piece, served to leave readers with the impression that a streetcar line in downtown Columbus is an impractical pipedream doomed to fail and waste millions of municipal dollars in the process.
It appears that The Other Paper's writers (one hesitates to call them journalists) aren't about to let little things like facts or truth interfere with their predetermined notions.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Golden Age Green Lantern Creator Martin Nodell Dies at 91

USA Today reported on Tuesday that Martin Nodell, known to fans of the super-hero genre in comic books as the creator of the original (Alan Scott) version of the hero Green Lantern died on Saturday at the ager of 91. Nodell's creation first appeared in the sixteenth issue of All-American Comics and went on to be given his own title and become a founding member of comics' first super-hero team, The Justice Society of America. When the JSA was revived in the pages of their successor team, The Justice League of America's magazine, Green Lantern was there, crossing over from Earth-Two to Earth-One with the rest of the team, and has continued to appear in the comics along his teammates in the JSA to this very day. Furthermore, Nodell's original GL inspired the Silver Age incarnation of Green Lantern, who also appears regularly, both alongside the Justice League and solo in his own monthly title.
I had the distinct pleasure of meeting of seeing Mr. Nodell at Mid-Ohio Con a few years ago, and found him to be a very nice gentlemen and I'm glad that I got to meet him, however briefly.


Y'know, I was thinking, as I typed in Monday's post about "Weird" Al Yankovic, that, in recent years, at least, it must really suck to be "Weird" Al. After all, in order to parody popular music, you actually have to listen to the crap.

In This Week's TV Guide....

Reactions to a couple of things in the latest issue of TV Guide:

First, in her "Is It Just Me?" column, Rochell Thomas chides frequent Oprah! guest for Dr. Mehmet Oz for appearing on the show in scrubs rather than a suit, going so far as to refer to Winfrey's show as "...the Church of O."
Get real, lady. Oprah Winfrey's set is no church, nor is it the Oval Office, and Winfrey is not the President and she sure as hell ain't God. It's just television, and a talk show, one of the lowest forms of television, at that and Oprah's just another talk show host, no different really from Jerry Springer.
Elsewhere, the Guide gives a Cheer " 30 Rock for improving..." and a Jeer " Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip for completely falling apart..." after what TV Guide called their "promising" pilots. I, as you must suspect, disagree. I didn't finc either pilot all that rich in promise, especially considering each show's impressive creative pedigree. However, 30 Rock has remained unimpressive to me, while Studio 60 has been somewhat neven in quality but most episodes have been quite good and much better than the pilot.

The "Pop-Culturization" of Modern Life

Another insight occurred to me while thinking on the story of TIME magazine founder Briton Hadden as related in Isaiah Wilner's book The Man Time Forgot. In reviving this blog as The Word From On High earlier this year, I took as my self-appointed mission to cover and comment upon Pop Culture. However, as you can tell from my tagline, "All Culture Is Pop Culture," I define the term quite broadly, if not loosely. It has long been my contention that in the age of information overload and fierce competition for even a tiny share of the world's ever dwindling attention span, all media content, including politics and the news, must be packaged and presented in as entertaining and attention grabbing manner as possible in order to appeal to the widest possible audience.
It seems to me that the first tentative steps along this road began with Hadden and his creation of TIME in 1923. Hadden had as his stated mission in founding the magazine to make the news accessible and understandable to a mass audience. He did this with a light, breezy, personality oriented style of prose that came to be known as TIMEstyle, that entertained even as it informed and was soon widely imitated.
Thus, it seems to me that credit--or blame, depending on just how you feel about the matter--for the "Pop-Culturization" of modern society can be laid squarely at the feet of TIME magazine and Briton Hadden.

A Seasonal Top 5

TOP 5:
Christmas Songs That Really Aren't All That Christmasy
In fact, none of the listed songs even mention the holiday.
5. Winter Wonderland
4. Let It Snow
These two songs are simply odes to the joys of foul weather, actually more appropriate for the middle of January.
3. Frosty the Snowman
Y'know, I think that a snowman suddenly coming to life and starting to dance around would actually scare the holy living crap out of most small children, and what's so Christmasy about that?
2. My Favortite Things
Unlike the other songs on this list, this one isn't even about winter.
1. Jingle Bells
This may seem like the quintessential Christmas song, or as Lucy says in A Charlie Brown Christmas, "I mean 'Jingle Bells.' You know, Santa Claus and HO! HO! HO! and mistletoe and presents to pretty girls." However, the truth is that this ditty about the supposed fun of freezing your tuchus while galavanting about the wilderness in an "open sleigh" references precisely none of those things, or anything else even remotely specific to the Christmas holiday.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Secrets of Small Press Comics: Bob Corby

For those of you in the small press comics community who have long asked yourselves the burning question, "What does Bob Corby, writer and artist of Bunny Blues, publisher of OH! Comics, and organizer of the Small Press and Alternative Comics Expo (SPACE) eat for lunch?": Now, at long last, it can be revealed!!!
My sources at the Clintonville Wendy's, where Bob takes his midday meal on Wednesday's after visiting local comics shop The Laughing Ogre to get the week's new releases, tell me that today Bob dined a Single combo (no cheese) and a Diet Coke, and I hear that he favors consistancy, ordering the same thing every week.
In my next in-depth investigation, I'll delve into which brand of kitty litter Accidentals creator Mike Carroll prefers. (Just kidding, Mike, really.)

The Growth of A Media Monster

As I read Isaiah Wilner's biography of TIME magazine founder Briton Hadden, The Man Time Forgot, and followed it up with Alec Klein's recounting of the tempestuous merger of America Online and Time Warner, Stealing Time, it was fascinating to compare wher Time Inc. began and what it has become some nine decades hence.
Wilkins' book tells the story of Briton Hadden's vision of creating a new type of magazine that would make the news accessible to the masses, and his efforts, with partner Henry R. Luce, to bring that dream into reality despite much skepticism from investors and the journalistic establishment, and the struggles to keep the magazine alive during its early months. Klein, on the other hand, presents Time Warner as the giant, globe spanning media conglomerate that it would become, with its fingers in many pies, including not just magazines, but also movies studios, record companies, book publishers, TV stations and cable networks, even comic book publishing, and much, much, much more.
To give you an idea of how huge Hadden and Luce's company had become by the beginning of the twenty-first century, peruse following listing of Time Warner holdings proffered by Eric Alterman's 2003 book What Liberal Media?:
"Consider the following: When AOL took over Time Warner, it also tooks over: Warner Brothers Pictures, Morgan Creek, New Regency, Warner Brothers Animation, a partial stake in Savoy Pictures, Little Brown & Co., Bullfinch, Back Bay, Time-Life Books, Oxmoor House, Sunset Books, Warner Books, the Book-of-the-Month Club, Warner/Chappell Music, Atlantic Records, Warner Audio Books, Elektra, Warner Brothers Records, Time-Life Music, Columbia House, a 40 percent stake in Seattle's Sub-Pop records, Time magazine, Fortune, Life, Sports Illustrated, Vibe, People, Entertainment Weekly, Money, In Style, Martha Stewart Living, Sunset, Asia Week, Parenting, Weight Watchers, Cooking Light, DC Comics, 49 percent of the Six Flags theme parks, Movie World and Warner Brothers parks, HBO, Cinemax, Warner Brothers Television, partial ownership of Comedy Central, E!. Black Entertainment Television, Court TV, the Sega Channel, the Home Shopping Network, the Atlanta Braves and Atlanta Hawks, World Championship Wrestling, Hanna-Barbera Cartoons, New Line Cinema, Fine Line Cinema,Turner Classic Movies, Turner Pictures, Castle Rock Productions, CNN, CNN Headline News, CNN International, CNN/SI, CNN Airport Network, CNNfi, CNN radio, TNT, WTBS, and the Cartoon Network." (WHEW!)
Naturally, operating in a time before the emergence of true mass media, when movies and radio were in their developmental phase, Hadden and Luce could not have foreseen or even imagined the power, reach and influence their upstart little magazine company would someday wield.

Unhappy New "Year"

I misprogrammed my VCR Monday night and managed to record only the first hour of NBC's remake of The Year Without A Santa Claus. After watching it, I could see my mistake for the blessing in disguise that it truly was. This overblown, cynical, embarassingly awful live action updating of the beloved classic children's animated holiday special that led to thousands of red headed boys being saddled with the nickname "Heat Miser" is simply unworthy of even that much of my time.
There's really barely enough substance to Year's story to fill even the original's one hour running time, let alone twice that, which is likely what led to introduction of the new character "Sparky," played by the insufferable Chris Kattan. As for the rest of the cast, putting Eddie Griffin in anything is almost always a mistake, and Ethan Suplee essentially plays a pointy-eared version of his My Name Is Earl character as elf Jingle (or maybe he's Jangle, not that I really care). Had her role been better written, Delta Burke would actually have made a fine Mrs. Claus, and John Goodman is actually a great choice as Santa. I hope he gets the chance someday to play the part in a better film. The only small bright spot was Michael McKean's re-creation of Snow Miser's introductory song, which, unfortunately, was accompanied by Harvey Fierstein's ridiculous butchering of Heat Miser's companion piece.
All in all, this was one of the most unnecessary and unoriginal remakes I have ever suffered through half of.

Peter Boyle Dead

Best known in recent years as Frank, the cantankerous father of New York sportswriter Ray Barone, on the CBS sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond, Peter Boyle, who still can be seen on movie screens in The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause, died yesterday at the age of 71.
His Internet Movie Data Base page lists over 90 film and TV roles, some of the most memorable, to me at least, being the monster in Young Frankenstein, a performance highlighted by his singing, with co-star Gene Wilder, of "Puttin' On The Ritz" (which puts the 80's hit version by the man who called himself Taco to shame), and attorney Carl Lazlo, a character loosely based on real life attorney Oscar Acosta, in Where The Buffalo Roam, which also starred Bill Murray as gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Forgotten Founders of TIME and AOL

Upon embarking on a reading of Stealing Time, journalist Alec Klein's 2003 detailed dissection of the ill fated merger of America Online and Time Warner, immediately following completion of The Man Time Forgot, Isaiah Wilner's account of the formative years of TIME magazine, I noted an interesting parallel between the histories of the two companies involved in the the at the time record setting corporate marriage: Lurking deep within the misty memories of of each was the figure of the forgotten founder, a man who started the company upon its path to greatness yet is remembered today by only a handful.
In the case of TIME magazine, it is Briton Hadden, whose boyhood vision of a magazine "which will tell the truth" (Wilner, p. 16) gave birth to a publication so original that a new word, "newsmagazine," had to be coined to categorize it. AOL had William Van Meister, who, in 1983, launched a company then called Control Video, Inc in order to provide a service he dubbed GameLine, which promised to deliver video games to home Atari consoles via telephone lines with the aid of a new fangled contraption called a "modem." Even at that early stage of the game, Klein tells us, Van Meister saw the potential of computers as a powerful medium of communication and spoke of one day expanding Control Video into a provider of all manner of on-line information, from news and sports to stock prices.
There is, as well, in each case a usurper, whose business acumen would take the company to undreamt of heights after the departure of the founding father and would claim the founder's accomplishments as their own. At TIME, it was Henry R. Luce, Hadden's friend, business partner, and, at least in Luce's eyes, rival. Following Haddens untimely death in 1929, at age 31, Luce contrived to gain control of TIME Inc., had Hadden's name removed from the magazine's masthead and publicly presented himself for decades afterward as TIME's sole founder. AOL's Steve Case initially was hired at Control Video as a part time consultant at the urging of his then more successful older brother Dan, a major investor in the struggling start up. Case would eventually rise to CEO and Chairman of AOL, and Klein says that he would introduce himself to new employees as the founder and claim to been with the company "when we started in 1985." (Klein, p. 26)
It is ironic to me that while Klein brings to light William Van Mesister's role in the founding of AOL and invokes his name throughout Stealing Time, he perpetuates the Luce propagated myth of Henry Luce as TIME magazine's sole progenitor, making no mention of Briton Hadden in his brief discussion of Time Warners early history.
Van Meister, however, was no Briton Hadden. Where Hadden dedicated his life to the creation of his newsmagazine, Van Meister was a serial entreprenuer for whom Control Video was but the latest in a string of business ventures. Hadden served as TIME's primary editor during its first years of publication, shaping the magazine into a reflection of his personality and worldview, while Van Meister was forced out of a Control Video on the verge of bankruptcy by its board of directors long before any of his big talk about providing information on-line had come to fruition. Thus, the company that AOL eventually became did not bear its founders imprint in the way that TIME magazine, despite Henry Luce's best efforts, would for many years following Hadden's death.