Friday, December 31, 2010

HULK IS THE STRONGEST ONE THERE IS!!!!!! : The Abomination - What an Asshole

So, the Abomination's back. To stay? Well yeah, probably. If it even is Abomination. Greg Pak made some comments in a CBR interview hinting it's possible that someone else is posing as Blonsky, though that also might have been a red herring to divert attention from the "surprise" Hulk villain that everyone knew would pop up sooner or later in Chaos War (and if you've read Incredible Hulks #619, you know who I mean).

Regardless, I figured it was a good opportunity to find an answer to a question I've wondered for a while. Namely, who the hell is the Abomination?

I don't mean that in a literal sense. I know the Abomination is former Soviet spy Emil Blonsky. And I don't mean it in a literary sense either. I'm not trying to figure out what the Abomination says about society or government or anything that could give me college credit.

I just mean who the hell is the guy? In spite of the fact that Abomination never adopted the Banner/Hulk duality, the dude's had some drastic personality changes. I started reading Incredible Hulk during the latter half of Bill Mantlo's run on the book, and my first experience with Abomination was when he turned yellow at the mention of the Hulk's name. He wouldn't show up again until after John Byrne's brief first tenure, at which point Tyrannus controlled Abomination's body. Eventually, he went back to being a monosyllabic bruiser, soon changed to a sewer-dwelling brood machine, then to a babbling psychotic, then a Hulk-ified version of a pretentious coffeehouse douchebag, and finally to the Abomination we have today. Again, if he even is Abomination.

For those of us who care about continuity, I think we tend to think of it the same way some elderly people think about their youth. Everything was better and everyone got along and everyone did their share "in my day." Likewise, we tend to think that back in the '60s and '70s and '80s the writers and editors were fierce guard dogs of continuity and never let anything slip, while today all the writers are just going wild and completely ignoring everything. The truth is, at least judging by the evidence of the Abomination, continuity was something as malleable back then as it is today. Writers have been drastically altering Abomination's personality pretty much as soon as someone other than Stan Lee wrote the character.


Stan Lee wrote the Abomination's first four appearances. Emil Blonsky started his life as an opportunistic Russian spy in the Hulk half of Tales to Astonish #90. Influenced by the enigmatic Stranger, the Hulk goes on a rampage. When he transforms back into Banner at Gamma Base, Banner decides the only way to stop Hulk's destruction is to kill himself. For some reason, his chosen method of suicide is a gamma ray gun, but he's captured by Thunderbolt Ross's soldiers before he can go all the way Hemingway.

Blonsky - ignorant of the situation with The Stranger or Banner's desire to off himself - watches all this from the shadows. He figures it would be a good idea to figure out what Banner was trying to do.

Of course, if a guy as intelligent as Bruce Banner had chosen a more mundane method of suicide like a gun or a bottle of pills, he could've saved himself a lot of trouble. In fact, if Blonsky reacted the same, it could've led to a really funny scene, with Blonsky thinking, "Hmm, Banner is the greatest scientist of them all! I wonder why he had the barrel of this gun shoved in his nostril. Maybe if I try..."

But, as predicted...

It's kind of funny that Abomination considers himself "master of the universe" because he's "as strong as the Hulk!!" The fact that the Hulk isn't master of the universe would seem enough proof that he needs more than muscles to conquer all creation. Some robots. Maybe a satellite with a laser on it. But we can forgive him, I guess. He's in the throes of passion that anyone would feel in those first few moments of turning super.

Except that this characterizes the Abomination under the rest of Stan Lee's care: he's a super-powerful megalomaniac who wants to rule the world, but without anything resembling a plan. Doctor Doom if Doctor Doom were really dumb. In his two-part Tales to Astonish story, Blonsky manages to kick the Hulk's butt and capture Betty Ross before Banner sucks out half his power, turns back into the Hulk and beats his ass. Hulk's heroism convinces The Stranger to stop messing with Hulk, and instead he kidnaps the Abomination.

Blonskers shows up next 4 years later in Silver Surfer #12 (4 years real time, about 12 1/2 minutes Marvel time), and it's pretty much the same. Abomination has big dreams, but doesn't really bother using his imagination. He's brought back to Earth by a bunch of wanna-be Doctor Stranges who think they're summoning a bad-ass demon to beat up Silver Surfer. Instead, Abomination tells the wizards to go to hell and stomps off to conquer the world.

Abomination's strategy? He goes to the next town and starts breaking stuff. Silver Surfer takes some time out of his busy schedule of feeling sorry for himself and bemoaning humanity to smack the Abomination around, and later orders the magicians to send Abomination back to The Stranger.

Stan Lee writes Abomination one last time in Thor #178. When The Stranger briefly leaves his space base, Abomination uses Stranger's technology to capture Thor. He lies to the thunder god, telling him that The Stranger brought him there, Thor and the Stranger fight, and some other stuff happens though none of it ends up mattering because Thor uses his hammer to turn back time (I didn't even know he could do that).

Lee's vision of the Abomination doesn't seem to have been particularly grand. He wanted a bad-guy-Hulk - a green, strong guy whose evil was punctuated by the fact that, unlike Hulk, he never changed back to his human form. Stan Lee's Abomination was ambitious, but dumb, though he didn't sound dumb grammar-wise. That's something that becomes important later on in Bommy's history.


Next time up at bat, Abomination stopped cheating on Hulkster with thunder gods and surfers. It was the classic Hulk team of Roy Thomas and Herb Trimpe who brought the bad guy back in a two part story spanning Incredible Hulk #s 136-137. It's a story that always stokes some backward nostalgia for me. The nostalgia is "backward" because I first met the strange cast of characters featured in these issues much later when Bill Mantlo brought them back in Incredible Hulk #s 306-307. They all died at the end of Mantlo's story. Though, of course, they were all supposed to be dead at the end of the earlier story too, so whatever.

In the Thomas/Trimpe story, the Hulk attacks a Godzilla-sized monster named Klaatu that materializes in the middle of New York City. Though the Hulk can't harm the beast, the goliath catches the attention of Xeron the Star-Slayer - the head laser-harpoon guy of the spaceship The Andromeda. Witnessing Hulk's strength, Xeron chases Hulk around New York in a flying rowboat and captures him. When Hulk awakens on board the Andromeda, he learns the ship's First Mate is an old friend of his.

Of course, I am not being completely serious by calling him a "friend" because in fact they pretty much always punch each other.

Like right after that picture in fact. They punch each other a lot but Xeron stops them because there's no fighting allowed on the low-tech spaceship (don't argue - it has oars) on a suicide mission to kill a giant monster. The Hulk doesn't like the idea of being enslaved by Xeron and his boss, but he has no choice. There's nothing outside to greet Hulk but space, and since the fact that Hulk can survive in space (and, I'd argue, beat it in a fight) has yet to be established, the green guy's stuck until they dock at the nearest sensual massage base.

Abomination bides his time until he spots the Hulk alone on the deck, looking back at Earth, probably able to see at least 1500 sensual massage parlors from his vantage point. He clocks Hulkster upside the head while Hulk's back is to him, knocking him overboard. Xeron saves Hulk though, and at first it seems like Abomination is in big trouble. But then Captain Cybor summons the three of them to his quarters and tells them why they're hunting Klaatu, and more importantly why he doesn't care about their petty BS. He needs every hand available to get revenge on the giant monster that crippled him. It's at this point that if you've ever read Moby Dick, or seen any of the movies based on it, or even any of the 162 Star Trek stories that directly reference it, you pretty much "get it" or you're dumb.

By the time the final battle against Klaatu comes, the Hulk transforms back to Banner. In the confusion of the battle, Abomination tries to kill Banner but the stress of a giant green monster trying to kill him turns Banner into a giant green monster. While floating in space, Hulk and Abomination fight. Hulk wins, though one might call it an empty victory since they both end up rocketing out of Earth's orbit and into the Earth itself. Klaatu and Captain Cybor both float into the Sun, presumably dead (nope). The Andromeda is forever trapped (not really) in orbit around the Sun, its crew waiting to (not exactly) die.

The Abomination wakes up two years later in Incredible Hulk #159. Literally.

Trimpe's still on art duties but Steve Englehart is writing this time around. The issue opens with Banner in a spaceship-thingee with the Rhino and it has something to do with the Leader (I skipped the beginning, it had nothing to do with Abomination and I had a lot of back issues to re-read so bite me). Thunderbolt Ross, never really liking the Hulk that much, tries to shoot the ship out of the sky with rockets. No one knows at this point that Abomination has been unconscious for two years ever since Hulk punched him out of orbit. A rocket explodes directly above where Blonsky is buried and the monster awakens. He doesn't realize how long he's been asleep. His misconception that he was only out for a few moments is confirmed when he spots the Hulk (who Banner transformed into after one of Ross's rockets knocked his ship out of the sky), falling out of the sky, just as he would've been doing had the two of them just been fought in orbit. On the lookout for a trashed Hulk, Ross's troops spot the giant green Abomination, mistake him for the Hulk (racists think all green people look alike), capture him, and bring him back to base.

But Thunderbolt Ross isn't a racist. He doesn't want to kill all green people, just a select few. So he makes a deal with the Abomination. He offers to cure Abomination and release him if he can capture the Hulk.

Now if the fact that in his previous appearance the Abomination went from wanting be be "master of the universe" to "first mate of a spaceship with oars" wasn't enough proof that the character had drastically changed, the fact that Abomination sees Ross's promise of a cure desirable definitely is. Scroll back up to that first panel when Blonsky transforms. "Too late to stop!! Hah!! Don't want to stop!! I'm different...more powerful!!"

You also start noticing in the Ross/Abomination scene that Abomination's dialogue style is changing. He speaks more informally and low-brow than usual, saying things like, "I say: T'bolt, old pal -- you've got yourself a deal!"

Regardless, Thunderbolt's deal with Abomination is almost nixed when Abomination spots a calendar.

SPOILER ALERT: Shortly afterward, Hulk and Abomination fight.

At the end of what I'd say is one of their more brutal pre-eye-popping battles, Abomination realizes how long he was unconscious. Blonsky gets a little Coo-coo-for-Coa-coa-Puffs at the realization and, in what I've always thought is just a cruelly hilarious scene, Hulk clocks Abomination upside the head while he isn't looking.

Abomination returns with the Rhino as a partner in Incredible Hulk #171. Trimpe is the artist once again, Gerry Conway's writing, and for some reason the Abomination is gray.

Not much to this story. Basically, Rhino and Abomination want revenge on the Hulk so they go to try and beat him up. They hit him a lot, but he hits them better. The fight ends when Rhino and Abomination charge Hulk from opposite directions and the Hulk moves just in time so they both run into each other instead of him. This is a device that was never used before, has never been used again, and probably never will be used again. I have a bridge for sale in the Brooklyn area, but you have to act quickly.

I called the Abomination of these three stories "The Abomination who hated the Hulk" (even though, obviously, you can apply that to just about any incarnation of the character) because that's kind of the one defining characteristic he has left. He hates the Hulk and wants revenge on him. His ambitions to rule all the world, the universe, Cleveland, are all gone.


It's 3 years before Blonsky returns on the last page of Incredible Hulk #194 (which also happens to be the first issue drawn by the guy whose Hulk is the default Hulk in my head - Sal Buscema).

Len Wein is the writer and his choice of dialogue style is interesting. For anyone who read Bruce Jones's Incredible Hulk run; do you remember how Jones arbitrarily changed Crusher Creel from a monosyllabic dullard to a very polysyllabic genius? Wein does the opposite with Abomination. He spouts lines like "Don't give me much choice, do ya? Okay I'll do whatever ya tell me to--But I owe you creeps one--" One of the Abomination's funnier lines involves mention of his "short scales."

The "short scales" (ew) to which Blonsky is referring is a ticking bomb in his head. Ross, Doc Samson, and co. are once again trying the really bad idea of sending Abomination to capture Hulk, and this time they've put a bomb in his skull as an insurance policy. Abomination fights Hulk in an amusement park, and tries a tactic on Hulk we've never seen from him. Feeling victimized by the government for putting a bomb in his head, he suddenly considers Hulk some kind of brother-in-arms. After some fisticuffs, Abomination convinces Hulk that all people suck. Hulk and Abomination team up, kick some military butt, but their partnership quickly devolves after Blonsky makes the mistake of punching a monitor displaying Betty's face.


The mid '70s leave and the early '80s arrive before Buscema and Bill Mantlo bring Abomination back in Incredible Hulk #270. In more than one way, the reptilian villain resembles Stan Lee's original version of the character more than any other.

Not only is his dialogue style more like Lee's version - not particularly high brow but not as extremely low brow as Wein's version - but his original power is returned. When the Abomination was originally gamma-rayed, he was much stronger than the Hulk. But Bruce Banner managed to decrease his power by sucking out some of his gamma radiation (ew). In Incredible Hulk #270, Abomination's new boss, The Galaxy Master, has restored Blonsky to his original power levels. The Hulk's increasing anger gives him the strength to defeat both Abomination and Galaxy Master however, and the next time we see Blonsky, he's nothing like Lee's version, this version, or any version before or after.


When Modok gets the Abomination out of the army's deep-freeze a year later in Incredible Hulk #288, the gamma-spawned villain he finds isn't the one he wants to find. Defeated again and again by the Hulk, the Abomination is absolutely terrified at the thought of fighting him. Modok terrorizes and tortures Abomination until, with no other choice left to him, Abomination heads to Bruce Banner's observatory. Frankly, Abomination's so pathetic that you almost want him to get over his crap and beat up the Hulk just so he'll stop whining.

Obviously, this is another drastic shift in Abomination's personality. It's also the first time such a shift is explained by the story, as well as the first time a change like this occurs between two Abomination stories written by the same writer.

The Abomination tries and fails to defeat the Hulk, and his punishment is fatal (not really). Modok vaporizes him, which kills him long enough to keep him out of Secret Wars, but not long enough to sit out the Reagan years entirely.


The next change in personality is the most literal kind, and takes place in 1986, in Incredible Hulk Annual #15. Somewhere out in space the floating remains of the dead (not really) Abomination collide with the floating remains of the dead (not really) Tyrannus, and back to Earth comes the body of Abomination with Tyrannus in control. The result is a big green guy who talks more like the mad genius class of villain and has some kind of freaky hypnosis power. The vain Tyrannus likes the Abomination's power, but doesn't appreciate the big green ugly that comes with it. He tries to force Bruce Banner to help and gets his ass handed to him by the freshly grayed Hulk. The Tyrannus/Abomination (Abominanus, or maybe Tyranination) lasts for a few years and doesn't do much. He tussles with Wonder Man in West Coast Avengers #25 and Tyrannus and Abomination are separated in Amazing Spider-Man Annual #25 as part of 1989's Atlantis Attacks! crossover event. Blonsky is re-united with his greener, scalier half in the process, though Abomination is mindless when he dukes it out with Spider-Man and She-Hulk.


Later that year, Peter David brought the Abomination into his epic run for the first time for his "Countdown" story arc in Incredible Hulk #364. Unaware of the larger role he's playing in the plot against the Hulk, the Abomination is hired to attack the science facility where Bruce Banner is working as a janitor. It's the Blonsky Abomination facing a much craftier and more sadistic gray Hulk, and the gray Hulk ends the fight by dousing Blonsky with toxic waste. The result isn't pretty.

The toxic waste doesn't kill him though (and even if it did, it wouldn't kill him kill him). Two issues later Hulk catches up with the scarred Abomination to get information out of him, but we don't see him again until '91, with the emergence of the merged or so-called "Professor" Hulk.

When Blonsky returns again in Incredible Hulk #s 382-384, he's a changed animal. His power-drunk ambition is gone and while his hatred for the Hulk is still very much alive, it doesn't seem to be much of a priority. The Abomination has become a scarred, overcoated stalker living in the sewers. The Hulk chases him down when he learns Blonsky is after his former wife Nadia (and as far as I know, this is the first mention of her). Abomination refuses to accept the fact that Nadia, who is now a world-famous stage actress, is gone from his life. He stalks her, kidnaps her, and the Hulk's efforts to save her are initially interrupted by the events of Infinity Gauntlet.

Doctor Strange teleports Hulk to the gathering of heroes just as he's in the middle of beating up Abomination, though strangely in the Infinity Gauntlet limited series as well as a Silver Surfer tie-in, the Hulk is depicted arguing with the other heroes before he allows Strange to recruit him.

Hulk returns to the sewers in Incredible Hulk #384, still shrunken to the size of a smurf from the battle with Thanos in Infinity Gauntlet #4. Taking a cue from Real Genius, David has the shrunken Hulk stand on Abomination's shoulder, speak into his ear, and convince him that he's actually the voice of God. Rather than fight Blonsky in his Pym-ified state, Hulk talks Abomination into letting Nadia go. It's a great story and I've always wondered whether it was the Infinity Gauntlet team's idea to shrink Hulk and David wrote the story around it, or if David had the idea for the story first and asked if Hulk could get shrunk in Infinity Gauntlet to facilitate the concept.

Abomination shows up again in 1994's Incredible Hulk Annual #20, and he doesn't fight the Hulk or any other heroes. He's continued living underground and is both friend and protector to a community of homeless people living in the sewers. He tells a story to the children meant to mirror his history with the Hulk, and his own take on his life as the Abomination is interesting, though a little pathetic. Forgetting his lust for power, Blonsky sees himself as a victim whose only purpose in life has been to make a monster - the Hulk - seem less monstrous by comparison. He fights the Hulk and a group of police in Incredible Hulk #s 431-432, and I remember that when I first read it, I couldn't help but wonder if Marvel was considering marketing Abomination as a dark hero. He certainly wasn't an Avengers candidate, but he wasn't all villain either.

Hulk and Bommer's last meeting during David's run is close to its end - in Incredible Hulk #459, when a sick Hulk beats up Abomination thinking he's actually beating up earlier versions of himself.

The Abomination was never as sympathetic a character as he was during David's tenure on Incredible Hulk. Writing this column has made me change my mind about this version of him. At first, I didn't like him. I thought the character was more interesting, but at the same time I thought he was more interesting in a way that was kind of tired - i.e., a villain reformed. But after reading so many Abomination stories, it's clear that David's Abomination was as good as it got. He was more complex, and unlike most Incredible Hulk writers both before and after his own tenure, David actually acknowledged the versions of Abomination that came before his own and attempted to explain the changes.


Apparently driven mad by loneliness, his toxic waste scars healed, a ranting Abomination rampaged through the town of Constellation in Incredible Hulk #s 472-474, ending the brief run of Joe Casey. We learn it was the Abomination, not the Hulk, who killed Betty Banner by poisoning her blood, and in spite of this, the Hulk fails to fight Abomination or take any kind of revenge on him, instead blaming himself. The second volume of Incredible Hulk ends here, with a whimper and a sigh.


Apparently taking his lead from David's Incredible Hulk Annual #20, Paul Jenkins saw his version of the Abomination as a storyteller. Draped in hood, cloak, gloves and mask, Emil Blonsky showed up in 2001's Incredible Hulk #24 as a teacher for a public library's writing workshop.

Abomination obviously thinks very highly of his writing skills, responding to his workshop's members like Doctor Doom silencing a stammering subordinate. It becomes clear in his conversation with his students that Blonsky has come define himself through his writing and intellect. The character never sounds as high-brow or intellectual as he does under Jenkins's care, save perhaps when the Abomination's body was under control of the villain Tyrannus. In the absolutely brutal fight between Hulk and Abomination in the following issue, Abomination's dialogue makes it clear he takes pride in his intellectual superiority, calling Hulk things like "ignoramus" and "child."

Jenkins's version of Abomination is such a pretentious coffeehouse douchebag, that I remember when these issues were first released, I theorized that Jenkins researched the Abomination by reading the Tyrannus/Abomination issues and either forgot that it was Tyrannus, not Blonsky, controlling Abomination's actions and dialogue, or just didn't read enough of the issues to find out. I don't think that's the case anymore. I think Jenkins was exercising some artistic license, no more or less than the writers before him, but I think my misconception speaks to how startlingly high Jenkins pushed Blonsky's scaly brow.

This is more or less the version Bruce Jones gives us in Incredible Hulk #s 50-54. The Hulk/Abomination battle in Incredible Hulk #54 is one of the biggest, bloodiest fistfights during Jones's tenure. It is, really, one of the only fistfights during his tenure. It's clear Jones read the Jenkins issues, though it's also clear he didn't read much else.

In case you didn't know, the Abomination was nowhere near Betty Banner when she died. This dialogue really makes no sense, and it was something that pissed off a lot of Hulk fans. Myself included.

The death of Betty Banner was one of the more emotionally powerful moments in the Hulk's history. The fact that the Incredible Hulk creative team allowed for a misrepresented re-telling of her death to act as the emotional climax of a 5-issue story does not feel like a mistake. It doesn't feel like an oversight, and it doesn't feel like they knew it was wrong, but let it go anyway because it just worked for the story. It felt like a middle finger, a knee to the crotch, an ear-popping FUCK YOU from Marvel to longtime Hulk fans. It felt like they did it on purpose, and considering the usual response to fan criticism that came from people like Bill Jemas and Joe Quesada during this particular Marvel era, I don't think it's out of the question. I don't know. I can't say. I don't read minds, but that's what it felt like.

THE ABOMINATION #10: ???????

We learned in Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness's Hulk #1 that the Red Hulk killed Emil Blonsky. However, as mentioned in the beginning of the column, the Abomination has apparently been recruited by the Chaos King for Chaos War. The new Abomination is physically more powerful. He's stronger, he has fire powers, and his claws are sharp enough to pierce the Hulk's skin. Of course, as I mentioned earlier, he may not actually be the "real" Abomination. We'll see.


So who is the Abomination? Too many answers and too few. I know that seems like a lame answer, and one you could say about any number of comic book characters that have been around for decades, but it's true.

And it seems particularly true of this character. There are usually at least a couple of years between his appearances, and more often than not his personality has been wildly altered.

As a Hulk fan, there's something depressing about that. The Abomination is considered one of the Hulk's most popular villains, yet apparently he doesn't leave enough of an impression for writers to be consistent with his character. I'm not criticizing the Incredible Hulk writers, mind you. I'm saying if Abomination were popular enough or memorable enough, the writers would never be able to use the kind of license they do. I think the fact is that all that's really important about his character is that he's green, he's strong, and he's a bad guy. Everything else is negotiable.



Whoever the resurrected version of the Abomination turns out to be, I'd say there's at least a moderate chance, at the end of Chaos War, he's going to end up in space. Why?

Well, it wasn't until I read all these Abomination stories back-to-back that I realized just how often Abomination is blasted into, or out of, space. Here's a bit of a brief montage of Abomination, Major-Tom Style.

Abomination getting yoinked into space by The Stranger - Tales to Astonish #91.

Hulk and Abomination falling out of orbit and some dumb kid waxing poetic about it - Incredible Hulk #137.

The Abomination's escape rocket blows up in orbit - Incredible Hulk #196.

The Abomination sucked into space by the Galaxy Master - Incredible Hulk #270.

Abomination/Tyrannus speed back toward Earth - Incredible Hulk Annual #15.


And finally, though it has nothing to do with Abomination, I thought Hulk fans might enjoy this. This is a video of my nephews from Christmas Eve as they disagree over who would win in a battle between the Incredible Hulk and Captain Underpants.

Don't worry, Aidan got all his own presents.

This time...

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Review - The King's Speech

The Duke of York (Colin Firth) is a stutterer, which is destined to make public life difficult. His wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) searches for a speech therapist, encountering some quacks along the way, and finally finds Lionel Loque (Geoffrey Rush), an eccentric wanna-be actor who demands more commitment and trust than this royal couple is willing to give. He insists on doing therapy in his office instead of going to the royals' home for discretion, demands the Duke call him by his first name, and refuses to refer to the Duke with any name other than "Bertie." Eventually King George V (Michael Gambon) dies, the Duke's older brother King Edward VIII (Guy Pearce) is forced to step down amidst scandal, and the Duke of York ascends to the throne. Now King George VI, who can barely speak without stuttering, must deliver an address to his people to help them prepare for the coming storm of World War II.

Most of the acting in The King's Speech is superb. Firth is simultaneously as regal and intimidating as you might expect a king to be, and as vulnerable and self-conscious as a man with a pronounced speech impediment. Carter does wonderfully as Queen Elizabeth, and frankly it's just refreshing to see her in a role where she not only isn't a psycho/killer/slut, but the very picture of royal refinement. Rush is very believable as the animated failed thespian Lionel Loque. The only performance that really bothered me was Timothy Spall (perhaps best known as Wormtail in the Harry Potter movies) as Winston Churchill. Spall's Churchill is a complete caricature. Luckily he's not in the film much.

The story is a bit predictable at times, but you definitely end up caring about George VI and Loque and root for them. It's uplifting and you may even tear up a little bit. But it is certainly not a perfect movie. I agree with a lot of what my friend Kate Laity wrote about the film, particularly with what she wrote about the camera angles taking you "out of the narrative." As I watched the film, I struggled to figure out why those camera angles were being used, if there was something the filmmakers were trying to convey, and all I'm left with is that they were trying to tell us, "We're so artistic, man! Look at our freaky camera angles!"

I had the same thought Kate did about Loque calling George VI the "bravest man" he'd ever known, and kind of along those lines I think there's something that, for me, defused any emotional impact of The King's Speech's climax. George VI's speech was made at the dawn of World War II - a terrible conflict that was probably the closest thing our world has ever seen to a man-made apocalypse. It touched every corner of the world. It killed millions and millions of soldiers and civilians. It saw Hitler's holocaust. It saw the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, not to mention the ruthless carpet bombing of European and Japanese cities, the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Bataan Death March, the firebombing of Dresden, the Luftwaffe's merciless assault on Britain and too many pictures of Hell to list here.

And at the end of The King's Speech, what we as an audience are celebrating is the fact that a guy didn't stutter all that much when he talked on the radio.

That's not to say George VI's personal victory isn't meaningful. It is. But in the shadow of World War II it seems silly and I don't think the filmmakers do much to make me think otherwise. As I watched the end of the film, I felt good for George VI and his victory over his impediment. But beforehand as he suffered over whether or not he would succeed, he never seemed to worry about his people or the firestorm that was coming. He was just worried he'd humiliate himself. On one hand that's a very human, believable reaction. On the other, I feel like I'm meant to not recognize the inherent pettiness and just root for Good ol' George.

Overall, I think The King's Speech is a good movie with some great acting, but I'm not sure it deserves all of the accolades it's received.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Mick, 2011 - My New Year Resolutions


I want to have a Best Graphic Novels of the Year list in 2011. Even when I've been at my most active with comics blogging, I've never managed to read enough graphic novels in any specific year to feel that I could put together an informed Best Of list. I want 2011 to be the year that changes.

It's a financially challenging proposition. For years, I've allowed my financial situation to cripple my blogging. I think it's about time I stop feeling ashamed for spending money on something I enjoy. I'm not going to jeopardize rent to get the latest Hulk tpb, but I'm not going to be such a stranger at the comic store either.

Of course, there's always the library, but it generally takes a while for GNs to show up there. When they do show up, they're usually in high demand and unfortunately a lot of them don't last long. They turn up as "Missing Inventory" quite often.

Still, I'm excited about the prospect in spite of having very little idea about what's coming out in 2011.


I have novels and short stories in my head. I have for years. I want to get off my ass and write them.

At first I thought relaunching Superheroes, etc. would work against that; that I'd spend too much time blogging about other writers' creative work and not enough making my own. I don't think that has to be true, though. It's difficult working a full-time job and blogging every day, and the idea of working on a novel at the same time seems exhausting, but I think maybe for now it actually should be this way. Maybe? I think blogging is teaching me a work ethic that I'll need to finish a novel.

I need to regain my passion for writing, and for that I need to regain my passion. It's there, but I restrain myself. I worry. I'm not sure what the hell I'm worried about, but I'm worried about something. I end up not caring as much about what I write, or at least convincing myself I don't care as much.


One of the reasons I think blogging is important to my writing is that it speaks to how seriously I take my writing, and ultimately how seriously I take myself as a writer.

It's been difficult for me to take my blogging seriously. After all it's, you know, blogging. I don't need anyone's permission to do it, no one's paying me to do it, and if I stop doing it no one can punish me for stopping. And frankly, for now at least, there really aren't that many people reading.

This is why when I relaunched Superheroes, etc. I made a commitment to blog every weekday for six months - to see if I could take this seriously.

I'm starting to remember things with regret. I remember working on comic book reviews for hours and later regretting the time and effort because it was just blogging. I remember feeling ashamed for shirking other responsibilities for the sake of blogging. I remember once talking to a girl I was dating and bitching about how I was having trouble editing a piece. She said something along the lines of "Really? You actually put a lot of work into these things?" I laughed and said something dismissive about how I just copy edited a little.

That pisses me off. I'm proud of a lot of the pieces I've written on Superheroes, etc. and for other websites, and I think it's time I stop pretending it's something I don't care about.


I want to lose weight. I kind of covered that yesterday.


In 2011, I will read enough graphic novels to write an informed Best Graphic Novels of 2011 list.

In 2011, I will write a novel.

In 2011, I will blog every weekday at Superheroes, etc. until, at least, Friday July 1st, 2011.

(That isn't to say I will stop blogging on July 1st, just that I may not blog every single weekday after that point - though I might just commit to another 6 months, who knows?)

In 2011, I will lose weight.


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

My New Wii Fit, Why It Pissed Me Off, and What I'm Going to Do About It

My parents, at my request, bought me and my girlfriend Maryann a Wii Fit for Christmas this year. They gave it to us on Christmas Eve, along with some other great gifts including a bottle of Carolan's (basically a less expensive Bailey's, though just as tasty in my opinion). I had a few too many tumblers of Carolan's that night and I spent all day Christmas feeling like I just woke up.

So it was Sunday before I set up the Wii Fit. After some confusion (that I wish I could blame on cream liqueur) I got the Fit board synced with the Wii console, and started the Wii Fit Plus game that came in the package.

Now this isn't like Grand Theft Auto. You can't just flip it on and start playing (there's also, I'm fairly certain, very little hooker-killing). You have to choose your avatar, tell the Wii your age and height, and then you stand on the Fit board so it can measure your weight. This way, it can map your progress.

Unfortunately, when I got to the weight-measuring portion of the set up, something went wrong. It kept telling me it couldn't read the measurement, and then the game would reset. I re-entered my height and age and again stood on the board. It kept resetting. I thought maybe the board and the Wii console were out of sync.

There was another possibility I considered, but it was the kind of thing that most people - were I to say it out loud - would tsk-tsk me for saying. They would tell me it was a product of negative thinking or low self-esteem.

It may have been those things, but it was also correct. After resetting 4 times, my new Wii Fit told me I weighed too much to use Wii Fit. I looked in the manual and found the maximum weight - 330 pounds.

Humiliating doesn't really cover what I felt, but it's a start. After some grumbled curses about how I guessed the only people who could use the Wii Fit were people who didn't need it, I took a quick spiritual dive into dark places. The fact that this video game tray deemed me too fat for salvation was all the currency I needed to pay for a quick tour of every failure in my life I could remember. That I am not precisely the man I want to be became the sole fault of this one, soul-crushing moment a TV screen told me not even a soulless, mindless computerized program whose only purpose was to help people get skinnier was willing to help me.

I joined Weight Watchers in October 2009. For my first weigh-in, I clocked in at 393 pounds. Before I canceled my membership this October, I was down to 308. I knew I'd regained some weight since then, but I'd also regained my fear of the scale, so I didn't know how much.

There are a lot of reasons I quit Weight Watchers. Forty dollars a month is not as negligible as it sounds. I used to tell myself, "If it works, it's worth it." I wasn't wrong.

The weekly meetings were difficult to endure. There were the women at the counter who weighed me before each meeting who, if I happened to gain weight that week, would whisper "Looks like you gained a little" in the kind of whisper usually reserved for when you talk about someone who was just diagnosed with something that will slowly and painfully kill them. There were the other members with the backhanded compliments like "You lost HOW MUCH? Wow! But then again, losing weight is so easy for men..." There were the meeting leaders with the dumb thematic costumes and the songs and the cheers. I eventually chose Tuesday night meetings because the Tuesday night meeting leader was the only one who didn't sing and one of the few who didn't single me out as the only man in the meeting every time I spoke.

Regardless, the meetings served their purpose. I kept going without, at first, realizing why. It doesn't take long before the meetings just start covering old ground, but that wasn't the point. Eventually I figured out that the point was that for 30-45 minutes out of the week, I was thinking, talking, and listening to other people talk about absolutely nothing but weight loss. It didn't matter if we kept on walking over the same ground. The point wasn't to learn new things, though that happened. The point was to stay focused.

And that, I think, was my biggest reason for quitting. I was tired of the focus. I was tired of keeping track of everything I ate. First I carried around notebooks. Once I bought a Blackberry, I was able to use Weight Watchers' mobile site to do it, but still it was frustrating. Going out to a restaurant, to a party or to a friends' for dinner could be a goddamn nightmare. When people are generous enough to invite you into their homes and give you free food, you feel obliged to not pester them about their dishes' precise nutritional values. Once, I went to a winter party at Maryann's friend's house and literally didn't eat all day. I had planned on doing my best to estimate points, but after I saw our host making the mashed potatoes and dumping a pile of shredded cheese bigger than my head in the pot, I decided it would be better if I just miserably sat in the living room and silently prayed for vegetables.

I was tired of having to fit my way of eating with the rest of the world. I didn't want to become a food nazi. I didn't want to become That Guy: That Guy who ruins everyone's fun by turning up his nose to whatever delicious crap everyone in the office/party/whatever was enjoying; That Guy who bores people by talking about Weight Watchers; That Guy who sends back the salad because they didn't put the dressing on the side.

Your life is never more about food than when you're trying to make your life less about food. If I could, I would pay someone to just make all my food, every day, as long as it's all healthy and generally unlike poo taste-wise. Occasionally I would make modest requests like "no fish," but would otherwise give them complete autonomy.

It isn't that I'm a pig. It isn't that I only care about what tastes good. It's that when I wake up and make my breakfast, I want to make my breakfast. I don't want to have to consult a Weight Watchers guide or their website. I want to be able to just grab something and shove it in my goddamn face. I'm not against shoving broccoli or low-fat yogurt, as opposed to Doritos or beer, in my face. As long as I don't have to check it and cross-check it and measure it and research it and catalog it digitally and register it with the fucking Library of Congress, I don't care.

The truth I'd like to avoid is that if I want to lose weight, if I don't want to gain weight, if I want my clothes to stop tightening, if I want to be able to one day sleep without a plastic mask strapped to my face, then I just have to goddamn deal with it. I need to not just shove things into my face. Maybe one day I'll lose enough weight that I won't have to take keep track of things as much, but for now I need to be strict about it. And maybe I'll have to become That Guy. I don't want to, but it's a price I'm willing to pay. And I guess we're probably all That Guy in one way or another. That Guy who drives like an idiot, or That Guy who talks at the movies, or That Guy who makes noises when he eats and eventually you just have to live with the fact that no one's perfect. The guy who talks at movies should probably just shut the fuck up though.

I signed up for Weight Watchers Online Sunday night. I had been planning to wait until January 1st. They changed our insurance at my job and one of the benefits is a small discount to Weight Watchers Online, but the discount is only $10. That isn't enough to justify waiting another week.

I had to weigh myself before I signed up. It was scary, but I lived through it. I weigh 342 pounds. I lost 85 pounds before I quit Weight Watchers and afterward I regained 34 pounds. I can deal with that. I don't like it. It doesn't make me want a parade. It doesn't make me want to run into the street and roughly kiss a nurse. But it's okay. It's manageable.

Weight Watchers Online is less expensive than the plan that includes meetings. It gives me access to the tracker, the points calculator, a bunch of recipes and I'm sure a bunch of other things that are helpful or at least that would like to be helpful. Without the meetings, I'll need something new to focus myself every week. There are message boards that could be helpful, and in fact I guess that has the potential to be more helpful than the weekly meetings because it isn't limited to a schedule. I'm considering doing something here at the blog, something chronicling my weight loss, but I'm not sure. I don't even know if I could come up with material for something like that on any kind of regular basis. I'm not sure how many times I could write "Yeah, so...I really wanted a doughnut. Didn't have one. SEE YOU NEXT WEEK!" I don't know.

I almost want to do it just because I have a really good idea for a feature name. And a banner.

Well, in case I eventually decide to do a regular feature, and at some future date I want a before-and-after comparison, here's what I look like now.

Okay, just kidding. Here's what I look like now.

No, seriously, here's what I look like today.

No, this time I'm--wait, wait. Okay, yeah that last one was right.

Monday, December 27, 2010


The best place for a bookmark is not quite three-quarters of the way into the volume. More than half. Not quite three-quarters.

A bookmark placed in the very beginning, say in the first 30 or 40 pages of a 300 page book, looks pathetic. It’s pitiable. Like a man with giant thumbs trying to defuse a time bomb. Like in junior high when you and the rest of the class silently groaned because the teacher chose that one kid to read from the text out loud – the kid who could barely read, stumbled over every other word, mispronounced half of them and just plowed on if he wasn’t corrected. Said "sub-tully" when he read "subtly." If you sit on a bench with your volume resting next to you and your bookmark is placed in such a manner, and an attractive woman who may or may not be hunting for a place to sit down and a promising man to sit next to walks by; she will see this limp, flaccid placement of your bookmark and think, "Pitiful! Men can never commit."

If it is maybe a bit further in, maybe halfway or more between the beginning and midway point of your book, then this is not bad. It is not as good as not quite three-quarters of the way through, but not as bad as just the very beginning. The same hungry woman may see this book next to you on the bench and think, "Hmm, effort. Potential."

To put the bookmark halfway into the book, particularly if it’s exactly halfway through the book, is just stupid. It’s worse than having it in the very beginning. It doesn’t look real. Who reads to exactly halfway through a book and just takes a break? The sultry minx won’t even bother to glance at you or to pause in her progress. She’ll think, "Oh, he just put that there," and stomp on for more genuine prospects.

Having it at the three-quarters point or beyond is not very good either. It’s not as bad as halfway through or just in the beginning, but it is still not optimal. If you are so close to the end, why not keep reading until you’re done? Are you busy? You’re just sitting on a park bench. Are you waiting for instructions from some kind of emergency management government organization? Is an asteroid the size of Australia bearing down upon North America, and is your expertise – which must be ready to be conveyed at a moment’s notice – all that stands between a world that’s made of somewhere around 3-quarters water to one that is nothing but water? The woman who sees this will think you are an apathetic, self-serving lover. You would probably not perform cunnilingus if urged in even the most seductive manner.

But not quite three-quarters of the way through is just right. A perfect spot. You may as well just tell the passing goddess to sit down and show you where she would most enjoy your hands. You are not quite close to the end, and so you have more to enjoy. But you have gone well beyond the halfway point and have shown obvious commitment to prod on until the very last page. You have things going on in your life. You are active and involved with the world. You are comfortable with the size of your penis and she will be as well. You accept your mortality and perhaps claim enough of a healthy fear of death to boast sanity, but not so much that you will let it stop you from relaxing idly on a park bench where you could be mugged or killed or crushed by a huge asteroid. And sure, you’ve got a book with you in plain view that you’re not reading. So? What business is it of anyone else’s? You’re sniffing the air, enjoying the relatively quiet sounds of traffic beyond the park’s borders. Maybe you fed some fucking pigeons or something. You are not quite three-quarters of the way through and you love life. She will sit down and ask you your name.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Holiday Break

With my recent illness doing some damage to the blog's schedule, I'm taking advantage of Christmas week to take a break and get ahead of the game.

Also, I've decided The Whole Story is not going to be a weekly feature anymore. The main reason is time. Reading and reviewing an entire series has proven more time-consuming than I originally realized. I enjoy doing it, but with only a week in-between articles, I find myself doing things I don't like. For example, before I decided to take a break this week, my plan was to write about Dan Slott's Thing precisely because it was only 8 issues long. There's nothing wrong with the convenience of a shorter series, but I don't want the series' length to be the reason I choose them.

So, from here on in, I'm not going to have a set schedule for The Whole Story. I'm going to try to do one at least every two weeks, but if I need longer, then I need longer.

Have a Merry Whatever and a Happy Take-Your-Pick. See you guys next Monday!

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Last Justice League Story

(The Monitor Room inside the JLA Watchtower. SUPERMAN stands a lonely vigil over the countless images flashing before him as MARTIAN MANHUNTER approaches.)

MARTIAN MANHUNTER: Superman, could I have a moment of your time?

SUPERMAN: Absolutely, J'onn. What's troubling you?

MARTIAN MANHUNTER: For one, Plastic Man is still missing.

SUPERMAN: When was our last contact with him?

MARTIAN MANHUNTER: Two weeks ago. We sent him to check out reports of a large rampaging beast in New Mexico. We haven't heard from him since he called from Taos.

SUPERMAN: That's not good.

MARTIAN MANHUNTER: Also, I believe something is wrong with Wonder Woman. She is acting strange lately. Did you notice how undercooked dinner was last night?

SUPERMAN: Now that you mention it--

MARTIAN MANHUNTER: And she let the dishes soak until morning.

SUPERMAN: She had breakfast out on time.

MARTIAN MANHUNTER: The point is she broke an established pattern and that could be a sign of things to come.


MARTIAN MANHUNTER: The morning scalp massages seem much more rushed than usual. As well as the compulsory weekly stripteases. It's as if there's some part of her duties she finds tedious or unpleasant. I attempted to broach the subject while she was mopping the kitchen floor, but she ignored me.

SUPERMAN: Okay. I'll get in touch with the JSA and the Titans to help look for Plastic Man. As far as Diana's concerned, wait until she's cleaning the toilets. She's usually so emotionally exhausted by then she'll agree to anything.

(Later, in the JLA Conference room. Seated at the conference table are SUPERMAN, WONDER WOMAN, AQUAMAN, FLASH, GREEN LANTERN, ATOM, GREEN ARROW and MARTIAN MANHUNTER.)

SUPERMAN: we all agree any future non-Caucasian members have to take a loyalty oath? Great. Now, onto other business. Let's see. Volcano in Tokyo, but they were pretty ungrateful last time and they're still putting out that manga crap, so they can help themselves. Objections? No? Good. Okay. Floods in Thailand, lots of people dying, but again last time we tussled with Gorilla Grodd we didn't get so much as a single Thank--

MARTIAN MANHUNTER: Actually, I did get a thank you card from a nice young boy whose name was. Well. It just sounded silly.

SUPERMAN: (sighs) Okay, uh, Atom. Why don't you take care of that?

ATOM: But I just get small. How can I fight a flood?

SUPERMAN: Right. Okay. Green Arrow, go with him.

GREEN ARROW: Uh, what about Aquaman? Isn't this kind of his thing?

SUPERMAN: Yes, and that's exactly who the flood would expect us to send, dumb ass. Hello? Element of surprise, much?

(SUPERMAN presses a button on the conference table. ATOM and GREEN ARROW disappear in shimmering curtains of light.)

FLASH: Slackers.

GREEN LANTERN: I'm tired of babysitting those creeps.

AQUAMAN: Bubble. Glub. Bubble bubble.

SUPERMAN: Okay, onto more important news. Plastic Man is still missing and we need to find him. Lantern, you're with me. Aquaman, check the coastlines. Flash, sweep the globe. J'onn, continue your telepathic scans. Wonder Woman, tidy up around here, take a gander or two at the monitor if you get a chance, scrub the showers--oh! Make sure you Tivo Sopranos. They're showing the one where they kill that chick with the ass.

WONDER WOMAN: What if there's trouble on the monitor?

SUPERMAN: Call the Avengers or something. Just make sure you record that show. Everyone ready? Once Wonder Woman has our lunches packed, we'll move out!

BATMAN: That won't be necessary.

SUPERMAN: (gasps) BATMAN! You wonderfully mysterious bastard!

(BATMAN enters the conference room with HULK. HULK is wearing Plastic Man's goggles.)

BATMAN: As you can see, I was able to locate Plastic Man.

WONDER WOMAN: Where is he then? And who the hell is that?

BATMAN: Who's who?

WONDER WOMAN: THAT! That big green thing behind you!

BATMAN: You mean Plastic Man?

WONDER WOMAN: That is NOT Plastic Man!

FLASH: Does PMS cause hallucinations?

WONDER WOMAN: Shut up! That is obviously not Plastic Man! He's big, muscular, and green. He looks nothing like Plastic Man.

BATMAN: Ahem, well, Diana you DID notice of course that he's wearing Plastic Man's goggles?

WONDER WOMAN: He probably just killed Plastic Man and took his goggles!

BATMAN: Are you trying to tell me that someone could hide their identity with nothing but a pair of glasses?

SUPERMAN: That'll be the day.

WONDER WOMAN: By Hera, have you all lost your senses? Look at him! He's--

HULK: Hulk thinks stupid bird-tit woman thinks too much.


GREEN LANTERN: Yeah, you know Diana, your ass looks great when you think too much.

AQUAMAN: Glub glub, bubble.


(WONDER WOMAN punches GREEN LANTERN in the head. Her fist goes clean through his skull. GREEN LANTERN's lifeless body crumples to the floor.)

FLASH: Holy shit!


BATMAN: That's the same way Robin #12 bought it.

SUPERMAN: Ah, Christ. It looks like we're going to need a new Green Lantern.

HULK: Hulk like Green-Face's ring, Hulk take--

(The next day. SUPERMAN, BATMAN, FLASH and MARTIAN MANHUNTER enter the JLA conference room to find HULK standing over the lifeless body of AQUAMAN.)

SUPERMAN: Uh, Plastic Man, is that Aquaman?

HULK: Yes, S-man, is stupid Fish Man.

SUPERMAN: Is he dead?

HULK: BAH! How should Hulk know? Hulk made big green fist come out of pretty ring and used it to play with Fish-Man. Hulk played a lot. Then Fish-Man got tired and stopped playing.

SUPERMAN: Oh, man. So. OH! Did you take care of that thing with the space shuttle? Those astronauts who needed help?

HULK: Yes, S-Man. Hulk smashed stupid spaceship.

SUPERMAN: Great! I mean, wait. Uh oh. See, you were supposed to save the ship--

HULK: Yes, S-man, like Hulk said! Hulk smashed stupid spaceship!

SUPERMAN: Oh geez.

MARTIAN MANHUNTER: Well, on the other hand, it's not a problem anymore.

SUPERMAN: But those poor guys. Floating through space for all time--

BATMAN: Just like Robin #33.

SUPERMAN: Maybe Wonder Woman had a point about all this "not really Plastic Man" thing. Where is she anyway?

BATMAN: I sent her to Thailand to recover the bloated, lifeless bodies of Green Arrow and Atom.

SUPERMAN: Please do not tell me--

BATMAN: Nope, I remembered to give her the grocery list.

SUPERMAN: Thank God.

FLASH: You know, we're getting pretty low on members.

SUPERMAN: Yeah, I've got someone coming in later today for an interview.

(Later that day in the conference room. SUPERMAN sits across the conference table from RORSCHACH.)

SUPERMAN: So, you don't have any super powers at all?


SUPERMAN: No magical items or anything?


SUPERMAN: Do you have any special combat or detective skills that would be of benefit to the Justice League?


SUPERMAN: Anything?

RORSCHACH: I like pushing my prey under subways and ejaculating on their mangled corpses.

(Later, SUPERMAN, MARTIAN MANHUNTER, BATMAN, WONDER WOMAN, HULK and RORSCHACH sit around the conference table.)

SUPERMAN: Okay, so Rorschach here is going to be our new Green Lantern. Plastic Man, I take it Flash told you about this earlier?

HULK: Yes, Wing-Head told Hulk. Tried to take Hulk's pretty ring.

SUPERMAN: So, I take it you didn't give it to him.

HULK: Pretty ring belongs to Hulk! So Hulk smashed stupid Wing-Head.

MARTIAN MANHUNTER: Another dead Leaguer?

SUPERMAN: Aw, geez.

BATMAN: Just like Robin #4.

WONDER WOMAN: Don't you all realize what's going on? HE'S NOT PLASTIC MAN! He keeps calling himself "HULK!" He's killed Aquaman AND Flash! He's probably killed the REAL Plastic Man, too! He's--

BATMAN: With all due respect, Wonder Woman, what we need right now is some level-headed thinking, not a bunch of womanly hysterics brought on by PMS! And besides, the timer just went off, our cookies are done, so if you'll just--

WONDER WOMAN: This is NOT my time of the month!

BATMAN: (sniffs in the air) Wanna bet?


(WONDER WOMAN rips BATMAN's upper body from his lower body and hurls it into the wall.)

SUPERMAN: Okay, okay. I think that about does it. Wonder Woman, I'm afraid we're going to have to take you into custody for the murders of Green Lantern and Batman--

WONDER WOMAN: What about him! He killed--

SUPERMAN: And since my powers and Martian Manhunter's powers are too similar to keep reader interest, I think we should officially disband the JLA.

(Later, HULK and RORSCHACH sit alone in the conference room, eating beans.)

RORSCHACH: I like to get a bunch of dogs together, bring them to a rooftop, and keep dropping them off the roof until one of them bounces more than twice.

HULK: HA! Blot-Face Man is funny! Hulk and Blot-Face Man will have fun in new JLA!

RORSCHACH: Want me to see if there's anything on TV?

HULK: Ooooohhh!!!! Turn on HBO, Blot-Face Man! Sopranos is on! This is the one where they kill the chick with the ass!


Friday, December 17, 2010

HULK IS THE STRONGEST ONE THERE IS!!!!!! : Hulk I Want for Christmas

Originally, I had other plans for this week's edition of Hulk Is The Strongest One There Is, but then this idea of a kind of Hulk Holiday Gift Guide occurred to me. Since my Hulk columns are on Fridays and next Friday is Christmas Eve, if I waited until then it would be too late for anyone to take advantage of my...knowledge? Begging? Slobbering?

What follows is a list of the top 10 Hulk-related gifts people would get me, you know, if they really cared (no pressure).

10. Hulk PC mod

This is an actual, and apparently functional, PC mod some dude made out of a Hulk action figure, a micro motherboard, and a bunch of wires and junk. I imagine it's possible its unique design might make things difficult if you ever needed to fix anything with it, but I'm not so sure I'd care. Which is kind of pathetic, yes.

9. Hulk USB Gamma Decoration Kit

My friend Rodger sent me a link to this on Facebook yesterday. There's a screen saver, some thingee you put on the top of your monitor, but the best part are the Hulk lights you string around your monitor. It's cheap, and I might be wrong, but the lights seem multi-functional. You could use them if you need a Hulk landing strip. Or as Hulk beads if you're ever at a Hulk Mardi Gras (though from what I hear you don't need much to get She-Hulk to take off her top).

8. Hulk Vs. Thing Bookends

These are designed by the guy who, as far as I'm concerned, is pretty much the god of superhero sculptures - Randy Bowen. They've been around for a while and I actually bought them some years ago for cheap because I bought the ceramic bookends instead of the resin ones.

Unfortunately, I paid for my cheapness, though in a way that was fitting. I actually tried to use my Hulk/Thing bookends as, you know, bookends and since they were lighter than the resin versions, one day the books proved too heavy for Ben Grimm. He fell off the shelf and broke in half. I still have the Hulk half of the pair, and again it is strangely satisfying to know Hulk could survive what the Thing could not, but without Hulk's punching bag it feels like an empty victory.

7. Hulk: The Incredible Guide by Tom Defalco

I've wanted this for a while. It first came out in 2003 and was updated in 2008 (and thankfully they gave it a new cover, the original featured a picture that was used for a lot of Hulk merchandise at the time and it was really horrible). It's very comprehensive, listing characters and stories that would seem obscure to most readers. It's desirable now, but it's something that would have been particularly satisfying to own in 2003. Back then, the Bill Jemas/Joe Quesada Marvel regime still felt that, as far as continuity was concerned, if it happened before 2001, it didn't fucking happen. I recall Marvel releasing some kind of Hulk encyclopedia in which they ignored Peter David's 12-year run on Incredible Hulk. They even refused to mention Sal Buscema though he had penciled the book through more writers' runs than anyone else as far as I can remember. Considering all that, just knowing a guide like this one was released felt good at the time.

6. Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction

I didn't own a game console when this was released, though I have since gotten an XBox 360. I have a great Incredible Hulk game based on the movie, though Ultimate Destruction was the first Hulk game to make pretty much everything in the game SMASH-able and it has some classic villains as well as secret Hulk-skins that I really would like to check out.

5. Incredible Hulk Omnibus, Vol. 1

This has been on my Amazon wish list pretty much ever since I heard about its release. It collects Incredible Hulk #s 1-6, Tales to Astonish #s 59-101, and Incredible Hulk #102. Basically, the very first Hulk stories.

I have all of those and more collected in the black-and-white Essential Incredible Hulk volumes, in fact I have one volume signed by Herb Trimpe, but so much is lost without the color.

I just hope they keep making Hulk omnibus--Omnibusses? Omnibuses? Omnibusi? Omnibusum? What the hell is the plural of Omnibus?

4. Marvel Masterworks: The Defenders

You don't want to know about the strange things that happened in my pants when I learned these things existed. I have long hoped that Defenders would get the Masterworks treatment, but I wasn't holding my breath. They aren't the most popular super-team even though they're my favorite and most people, I think, by now, realize I'm right about most things. If it weren't so close to Christmas, I probably would've bought the first two volumes myself.

3. Hulk Visionaries: Peter David

I have the first 5 volumes, and I imagine it won't be too long before I have the sixth and seventh. I sincerely hope Marvel will eventually collect the entire Peter David run in this manner, though so far it seems a little slow-going. According to Amazon, the eighth volume is scheduled to be released in August 2011, and that won't even crack Incredible Hulk #400. Still, better late than never.

2. Retro Trimpe Hulk Posters

My friend Arthur sent me a link to a bunch of Herb Trimpe panels made into posters on AllPosters a while ago. Just go there and run a search on "Hulk" and you'll find them. If I recall, Arthur said he wasn't even a fan of the Hulk and he wanted one. You can even get one that covers an entire wall, though I think my girlfriend might have words to say about something like that.

1. Hulk Vs. Silver Surfer statue

This may very well be the single most perfect Hulk gift, short of something like a copy of Incredible Hulk #1 or a quick dose of Hulkifying radiation. Not only is it a beautiful statue diorama of the Hulk inspired by a cover that came from Planet Hulk, one of the character's most well-loved storylines, but it's one that features the Hulk about to beat the crap out of another superhero.

I know pretty much no one will be willing to buy me this, particularly since it goes for $250-$275 minimum on Ebay, but if they did I would totally help them move. Or clean their car. Or raise their children.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Top 10 Review Blurbs for the Novel I Haven't Written

(I have been sick and am steadily getting sicker. I had meant to post a review of the graphic novel Swordsmith Assassin, but I'm just too groggy to think and think it's best if I rest. Rather than break my promise of having content here 5 days a week, I have re-posted what I think was one of my funnier lists from my old Top 10 list blog, List SMASH! This list is also fitting, I think, because it's a list about a novel I haven't written to replace a review I haven't written, and in fact it's also about reviews. Freaking genius.)

Top 10 Review Blurbs for the Novel I Haven't Written

10. "Martin weaves the mythic elements of his story with the mundane and personal so seamlessly, it makes me want to shit." -Publishers Weekly

9. "I'm glad I don't have to read this out loud because I can't pronounce his name." -Newsweek

8. "This book is so good, we might just let him in if he stops doing that shit with those hookers who dress up like Cheetara." -Jesus

7. "Before reading this novel, I would never have thought so many references to Hitler, breasts, and the Incredible Hulk could say anything meaningful about childhood hunger. But Martin makes it work. God knows how, but he makes it work." -Booklist

6. "The book is so phenomenal, I bet every woman Mick ever wanted to have sex with who DIDN'T have sex with him - or dumped him - feels really, really sorry about it. They should probably write Mick a letter saying so. With nude pictures in a vain attempt to correct their error. And little wet marks where their stupid tears rained down on the paper." -Kirkus Reviews

5. "The world Martin creates - using both familiar pop culture icons and more autobiographical elements - says something about America that is important, timely, and yet ironically dealt with such matter-of-fact apathy that the reader must work that much harder to see beyond the more romantic elements which, while satisfactorily distracting, are like a big and ugly noise drowning out a prophetic songbird." -Dog the Bounty Hunter

4. "Glub. Bubble. Glub Glub." -Aquaman

3. "Mick Martin? Pfft. More like Mick MOTHERFUCKING Martin!" -Christian Science Monitor

2. "Monkeys. Heavy Metal. Fishnet Stockings. Macaroni and Cheese. Genius? Maybe. Maybe not. But someone published it, and that says something." -Christopher Lee

1. "I could've been fucking. But instead I read this book." -William Shatner

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Review - Defendor

Defendor is a darkly humorous drama about Arthur Poppington (Woody Harrelson), aka Defendor. Poppington lives in a fantasy world. In the light of day he's a mentally disabled man who directs traffic for a road construction crew, but at night he throws on black tights to become the homemade superhero Defendor. With pouches of marbles, baby food jars stuffed with angry wasps, and his dead grandfather's trench club, Defendor fights crime and searches for Captain Industry - the fictional criminal mastermind he blames for his mother's death. Poppington finds himself in over his head after he beats up a crooked cop (Elias Koteas) and befriends Kat the hooker (Kat Dennings) who at first gets a sadistic kick out of making Poppington believe the drug/human traffic peddler Radovan Kristic (Alan C. Peterson) is the supervillain Poppingon has been searching for.

Most of Defendor is told in flashback. Poppington is imprisoned when the movie begins and tells his story to his court-ordered psychiatrist (Sandra Oh), and at first you're not sure what direction the story's going to go. He beats up the corrupt cop Chuck Dooney, mistakenly believing him to be raping Kat, and is arrested when - immediately afterwards - without bothering to change his clothes or wipe off his painted on "mask," Poppington gets an early breakfast at a nearby diner. He is initially released because of Dooney's embarrassment, but regardless stages a fake escape when no one is looking, using chewing gum as plastique to not-really blow away the lock on the unlocked door between him and freedom. His crime-fighting efforts aren't stymied at all and the following night he's beaten to a pulp by thugs partnered with Dooney. The hooker Kat brings him home both to help him and to get a warm bed. Though he refuses her particular form of "payment," he lets her stay and soon she has him convinced that the crook she was forced to service is the same Captain Industry Poppington is searching for.

Defendor feels like a bleaker, more realistic superhero parody with echoes of much more lighthearted movies like Mystery Men and Blankman, and Poppington sometimes seems like a less brutal version of Watchmen's Rorschach. While you're never led to believe that Poppington is anything but delusional, eventually his actions force the situation into the kind of classic superhero story he wants to be acting in. Magoo-like, Poppington stumbles his way into the machinations of one of the city's worst criminals. Eventually, radio jocks start praising his name and the city rallies behind him.

Harrelson is believable and funny as Arthur Poppington, whose story is tragic and touching in the ways that all movies about people with mental disabilities are tragic and touching. Koteas stands out as a genuinely pathetic specimen of cop and Denning is convincing as a young runaway just trying to keep herself alive.

Unfortunately, overall Defendor fell flat for me. Though it's a comedy, there's little that's laugh-out-loud funny. Poppington is too believable to laugh at that much. And it feels very much as if there's some kind of big, important message I'm supposed to get about heroism or courage or being who you want to be that doesn't have the impact writer/director Peter Stebbings, I think, wanted it to have. My impression is that Stebbings's goal was to create a superhero in the "real" world and to make a "see, you really can make a difference" message. If that's the case, then Defendor is a clear failure, though the failure is in the concept itself. Poppington, after all, may be a more realistic superhero in a more real world, but the word "real" only works in comparison. The guy still recovers a bit too quickly from taking severe beatings, being stabbed with switchblades, or even shot. He's a little too adept at somehow managing to gather up very cooperative wasps into the sides of trucks or baby food jars. It works the other way too. For someone who likes to crack people upside the head with a heavy wooden stick, Defendor has a surprisingly low body count among his enemies.

I don't know. It's possible I'm missing the point, but if so then I can't help but lay that on the filmmakers' doorstep. I was very excited at the prospect of a superhero movie that wasn't based on a comic book franchise, and one that looked as different as Defendor did seemed promising. Defendor comes off as another Blankman or Mystery Men, but more depressing while trying and failing to feel more authentic. Defendor is not, by any means, a bad movie but it isn't a particularly good one either.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Whole Story - Immortal Iron Fist

A fiery-fisted champion slicing through the bullet-strewn cityscape, weaving and chopping through a horde of green jumpsuits. A tired, scarred veteran pinwheeling through the air, blasting away concrete pillars with glowing guns. A rebel superhero naming anonymous drones with the silly titles of the well-practiced kung-fu strikes he uses to knock them down. Decades old rivals finally charging and making a second sun out of their impact. A giant wearing fat like a castle wall and wielding lightning like a whip. A pale waif whose bosom belches all the spiders you could ever imagine in the deepest hell. A green ghost raining unseen blows down on a purple-clad bully.

All good reasons to read Immortal Iron Fist.

And the story's not bad.

Well, it's not horrible. Immortal Iron Fist follows, or at least should follow, the adventures of Danny Rand. Rand won the privilege of wielding the power of the Iron Fist by defeating the dragon Shou-Lao the Undying. The book is, at its best, pure fucking kung-fu awesome.

In the beginning of his most recent ongoing series, Rand finds himself in the middle of a conspiracy involving Hydra, his old enemy Davos the Steel Serpent, ancient foes he didn't even know were his to fight, and supernatural forces he doesn't understand; and frankly that I still don't completely understand.

There's a lot of pieces to Immortal Iron Fist and when you're immersed in the book and reading it, it's just fine, but when you step back and look at it as a whole, it falls apart. A big problem is that the writers who began the series, Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction, forgot that Iron Fist isn't Batman. Danny Rand has spent a good part of his fictional life in whatever room Marvel puts heroes like Captain Ultra and the Stuntmaster when they've become so unpopular that Captain America doesn't even bother putting them on his Evite list to fight the Beyonder or Thanos. But we get very little introduction to Danny Rand and don't really know a lot about him. Having now read all five trade paperback reprints that chronicle the series, I still don't know very much about him. I don't expect the kind of literary characterization that would send feminist theorists and Marxist theorists and the rest scrambling to submit their cultural studies profiles of the Immortal Iron Fist to whatever peer-reviewed journal would take them, but after investing three-plus years in a comic book series and - believe me, in spite of the tone of this article so far - falling head-over-heels for it, I do expect to be able to know enough to describe the guy when asked; to be able to say more than "Blond. Kung-fu. Rich. Not evil."

In spite of the fact that it was co-writer Ed Brubaker's involvement in the book that attracted me to it (he had already hooked me on Captain America and Daredevil, two books I hadn't cared about until he wrote them), artist David Aja is the reason why Immortal Iron Fist, Vol. 1: The Last Iron Fist Story is one of my most often thumbed-through graphic novels.

Before reading Immortal Iron Fist, I never understood why readers would call for the revival of martial arts books like Iron Fist and Shang-Chi. It seemed to me that the success of martial arts films depended on the viewers being able to experience the motion, speed, and skill of the actors' choreographed battles, and that the relatively static medium of comics just wouldn't serve that genre well. Now that I think back on it, I wonder why I thought this specifically about martial arts comics and not about every other kind of action comic, but no matter from where my dumb-assery sprang, David Aja cured me of it.

David Aja is the main artist for the first two volumes of the series - Immortal Iron Fist, Vol. 1: The Last Iron Fist Story and Immortal Iron Fist, Vol. 2: The Seven Capital Cities of Heaven - and his work is stunning. I lay most of what is great about Immortal Iron Fist at his doorstep. He takes the kind of action sequences that usually bore me to tears, like ones of the hero fighting overwhelming hordes of cannon fodder that never seem very suspenseful because cannon fodder is cannon fodder precisely because they suck at fighting good guys, and turn them into wonderfully dramatic superhero fun. What convinced me he may very well be the perfect superhero artist is that he does the calm exposition scenes just as involved and interesting as his action scenes. Scenes like Danny Rand and Luke Cage eating Chinese food while Rand licks his wounds or Rand's CFO Jeryn Hogarth explaining to Danny that his corporation is being gobbled up by a rival one are just as fun to flip through as scenes with Rand and Orson Randall cutting through Hydra hordes in the New York sewers or Iron Fist fighting a giant robot spider. As I said to my girlfriend as I was explaining the series to her yesterday, there are a number of pages in The Last Iron Fist Story that are pure exposition - Iron Fist jumping rooftops as his thoughts narrate - and if Marvel released a comic that was nothing but those scenes, as long as Aja was drawing it, I'd pay the stupid $4 an issue for the thing.

Besides Aja, another fun part of Immortal Iron Fist is something I think has become more standard practice at Marvel since this series. While Aja is the main artist for the first two volumes, other artists' work litter the book, in most cases to draw the many flashbacks and past sequences. Daniel Rand is not the first Iron Fist, but the most recent of 66 men and women who have enjoyed the mantle. One of the things that differentiates Immortal Iron Fist from previous treatments of the character is how deeply the writers delved into this history, and in most cases when they show us the bits and pieces of the other Iron Fists, artists other than Aja draw the scenes to more concretely separate past from present. One two-page flashback in The Last Iron Fist Story set off all my good geek alarms because they actually got the guy who drew most of the Marvel comics I remember as a little Hulkling - Sal Buscema - to draw it.

The Iron Fist history was both one of Immortal Iron Fist's selling points, and one of the things that dragged it down. Most issues (if not, in fact, every single issue) feature at least one scene from the past, either from a previous Iron Fist or chronicling the trials of Danny Rand's father Wendell Rand. The third trade paperback collection, Immortal Iron Fist, Vol. 3: The Book of the Iron Fist, is almost nothing but stories like these. They were so popular that out of the series' 27 issues; 3 forgot the present and instead were cover-to-cover tales of past Iron Fists; a fourth actually told the story of a future Iron Fist; the series spawned two one-shots - Orson Randall and the Green Mist of Death and Orson Randall and the Death Queen of California - which dealt with Rand's immediate predecessor; and the mini-series that followed Immortal Iron Fist's conclusion, Immortal Weapons, was mainly retrospective stories of Iron Fist's allies, though there was a new Iron Fist story serialized as back-ups.

Unfortunately the writers invested too heavily in Danny Rand's past and not enough in his present. If pressed I can tell you more about previous Fists like Orson Randall, Wu Ao-Shi, Bei Bang-Wen, or Li Park than I can about Danny Rand. I can't say how heavily this factored into the series' cancellation, but regardless of what influenced Marvel's bottom line it certainly helped the series' decline in quality. That isn't to say the retrospective stories aren't good, they are. They're a lot of fun and Immortal Weapons was, I thought, an excellent mini-series. I was just never given a reason to give one holy crap about the guy whose name is on the cover.

The final two volumes - Immortal Iron Fist, Vol. 4: The Mortal Iron Fist and Immortal Iron Fist, Vol. 5: Escape from the Eighth City - are not great. Brubaker and Fraction are replaced by writer Duane Swierczynski and Travel Foreman, who did quite a few of the past sequences in the first two volumes, takes over main art duties.

Foreman's art isn't very appealing for a superhero book. Particularly in The Mortal Iron Fist, he's got a lot of crazy body proportions going on that sometimes look interesting but tend to confuse things in the action sequences. He eases up on the crazy proportions in Escape from the Eighth City, but it's still not as fun or satisfying as Aja's work.

Swierczynski's writing on the book doesn't particularly stand out and he doesn't really go anywhere more interesting with Rand than Brubaker and Fraction did. He keeps the Immortal Weapons - allies Rand brought back to Earth at the end of The Seven Capital Cities of Heaven - in the series but doesn't really do anything with them. Besides Fat Cobra who gets a few funny lines, none of them really stand out from one another and no chemistry between them develops. The series ends with a sigh, with Rand and Luke Cage talking in a bar. Cage makes the empty, generic statement, "You've always thought your greatest power was in those fists of yours. But actually, it's in your heart." It's a testament to the failure that all of the series' writers share at giving us any real picture of Danny Rand that this predictable final thought is as good as anything else they could've ended it with.

Check out Immortal Iron Fist, Vol.1: The Last Iron Fist Story, Immortal Iron Fist, Vol. 2: The Seven Capital Cities of Heaven, and if you like the past sequences think about grabbing Immortal Iron Fist, Vol. 3: The Book of the Iron Fist, but leave it at that. And don't expect to become a fan of a new character, just sit back and enjoy the kung-fu.