Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Award Crazies....

I've been involved with theatre for over twenty years now, and about 15 on a "professional" level. I've been through high school theatre, college, community theatres and small and large city's non-union "professional" communities. In that time I have learned one thing...

Awards, on pretty much every level, make people insane.

Doesn't matter if you're at a community theatre annual awards night, with people acting like they're at the Oscars, or just watching the folks ranting about who didn't get nominated, or why more people of a certain sex or race got nominated, or whatever. It. Makes. People. Crazy.

In the interest of fairness, I'm gonna disclose this....I have never won an award for anything I have ever done on stage. Never even been nominated. Well, except for "best hair" at the theatre honorary gala in college. I wasn't nominated at all, kind of a "surprise winner" thing...

In other words, it was all a joke. I also looked something like this:



No, that's not an actual picture of me, but no photos actually exist of my luxurious mane as it was in 1994, so...just imagine. (Plus, I have recently been pegged as a Kip Winger lookalike, so....whatever)

So, the only time I've ever won anything was when my united theatre department wanted to mock my 80's-style hair during the time of grunge. This is where I am coming from. The guy who's never been singled out...even for a nomination...as "award worthy."

I'll admit, this has bothered me, from time to time, over the years. I have suffered the self-loathing that comes with this job, and, many times, it stemmed from the fact that no one, who hasn't had to, has ever told me I was exceptional. I was kinda trudging along, doing what I did, and feeling like all I would ever be was...a ham and egger. Or worse, I was just kidding myself, and that I really sucked. The collegiate experience didn't help, because my limitations were made really clear to me, on multiple occasions, during that half-decade.

The good thing that came out of this was that I really don't care anymore. I had to learn to find my reward for my work from within myself. My work, at the best of times (yes, I can have moments of weakness, we all do), is between myself and the character. The audience is there to watch, and I certainly want them to have an emotional connection to the story. I don't need them to "like" me, and the last damn thing I need is to be worried about how the theatre community thinks I'm doing.

This goes back to something I've talked about before. We are all far, far too concerned with what other theatre people think. The people we need to reach are the people out there who want to see a compelling story, who want to be entertained. Our expressive form is dying because we, the people who do it, are the only ones who care. Speaking bluntly, giving ourselves awards, and the energy we expend on that, doesn't help. It just intensifies the self-reflective, snake-eating-it's-own-tail nature of the community we've set up.

Which is not to bag on the idea of honoring our own. That's noble, and I understand the value in it. If someone was to give me an award, hey great. I'm not saying it wouldn't be nice, or it wouldn't be an honor. I'd show up, I'd thank the proper people, and I'd probably display the damn thing. However, I tend to see certain things said when The Jeff Committee announces nominees and/or winners that make me feel like people have lost sight of the fact that it's really just somebody's opinion.

Just because your show got a nomination in one area doesn't mean it deserves one in every area. Sometimes all the best new play nominees are male playwrights. Why? Because it's simply the opinion of a bunch of people in a room making a decision based on how they feel about it, period. A bunch of people we've empowered to make those calls with our attention to them.

I can't help but feel it's silly to get upset about it. Or to complain about it. It's as silly as getting upset or complaining when your uncle likes John Wayne more than Clint Eastwood. Of course he's wrong, but that's how he feels about it. Getting upset about it just enforces the power of his opinion, and undermines your own.

Maybe I can say this because I don't think anyone will ever actually give me an award, but, at the end of the day, the only person we need to impress is ourselves. You love your show? You love your performance? It's something you'll remember forever?

You've already got your award.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Monday With the Boss - Part 2: The Wild, The Innocent and the E-Street Shuffle

Ah, here we are with my long, long delayed second entry in this "weekly" series.

God, I am a slacker.

As in previous entries, we'll look a specific Springsteen album, in this case The Wild, the Innocent and the E-Street Shuffle, originally released September 11, 1973. An album that also happens to be my favorite in the Springsteen catalog.



It was with this album that Bruce really started to get the idea of what his music was, and how to best present it. It wasn't quite all the way there. This isn't the pointed statement of purpose that Born to Run turned out to be. The myriad influences of the Jersey shore and his own life are bubbling at all times on this disk.

We start with "The E-Street Shuffle," which is clearly reminiscent of Greetings From Asbury Park. Really, the whole album feels cut from the same cloth as the first record, production is again by Mike Appel and Jim Cretecos, but with a greater sense of what the band could do and accomplish. I really don't think "New York City Serenade" would exist if Bruce wasn't as fully comfortable with David Sancious' piano.

The E-Street Band, as it was then (which still wasn't the Born to Run era "classic" line-up), really comes into it's own here. I think it's no coincidence that this is the record that bears the band's name within the title. Certainly, I think Bruce found the power of the piano here, which may be why so much of Born to Run was written on the keys, not guitar.

On the songwriting level, the album is a treasure trove, with 3 certified classics, "Fourth of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)," "Incident on 57th Street," and "Rosalita (Come Out tonight)." Add to this a jazzy turn, "Kitty's Back," and a tune oozing with boardwalk swagger, "The E-Street Shuffle." Plus, two left-turn tracks that ramble and showcase Springsteen the storyteller in all his glory, "Wild Billy's Circus Story" and "New York City Serenade." This is, literally, an album I cannot stop listening to once I've started. The construction of each song is so compelling.

What I really think sets this disk off from the rest of the catalog, for me, personally, is that there's a depth of feeling to it. Greetings was a kid trying to prove himself, from Born to Run on he had a mission and a message that he needed to get out. The later albums all had very specific and pointed targets.

The Wild, the Innocent and the E-Street Shuffle feels like a day at the Jersey Shore, and all the things you might see passing by, or feel as you made your way into the night. Springsteen has always been honest, even in his most aggressively iconic periods, but this feels like the end of his time as a simple chronicler of the events around him. In the future he would find meaning in the stories he saw around him, but at this point, he was content to just tell the tales.

When our narrator calls out to Rosalita, he's simply concerned with being with the girl he loves. On Born to Run, when our guy coaxes Mary and her waving dress off the porch during "Thunder Road," there's a full and undeniable sense that it was about more than two people, more than a porch, it was all of us. Both are compelling, true and full of honesty, but there's something really compelling to me about the kid doing something that he never really see's the grandness of. The kids on E-Street Shuffle haven't realized just yet what's coming. Springsteen hasn't realized it yet.

It's the simplicity that I think works for me so much. It's Springsteen's last statement of, well...innocence, before his rise to larger things.

Friday, August 27, 2010

So, You Think You're a "Man?"

A couple of fine folks I follow on Twitter posted this:

RZCrow Maybe it's just my immediate bubble but it seems like there's been a lot of men proclaiming and protecting their man rights lately.

To which was responded:

halcyontony @RZCrow the plight of the pseudo-emasculated man is a powerful trope for many. (Mamet, Laute, Rapp have made careers on it.)

Now, many of you know me as a rabid David Mamet fan. It's true, even if the tide of "hipster theatre" has turned against me, I love Mamet. Sure, his new plays aren't the level of brilliant of his earlier work, but who can maintain that level forever? No one, that's who. American Buffalo will always be my favorite, but Glengarry Glen Ross is a dream directing project for me.

So, yeah, I like "masculine" theatre. I like stories about men. I'm not going to apologize for that, nor should I have to. There's an audience for that type of work, just as there is for almost any type of work. I have, on occasion, detected a sense that works of a masculine spin are looked down upon by many in our community.

I blame the writers. I love Mamet, but I also blame him for it. He wrote such compelling and interesting works, many, many people who should not be tackling this subject matter tried to. They tried to, and failed miserably. I do not like stories where men get so wrapped up in the nature of manhood that it becomes silly. Too many playwrights, and we're talking male playwrights here, have decided to use their scripts to perfom half-assed psychotherapy on themselves.

40 year old men shouldn't be caught up in "I feel inferior to that guy because he has muscles" or a gun, or a better job, or whatever. If your characters are 17, I'll buy it, but grown men have moved on from that. Sure, you can make it work, but you have to acknowledge that your characters are emotionally stunted to an insane degree.

Now, before you go saying, "but Mark, you're six-foot-three and 200+ pounds, and work out, and generally look like an Alpha-Male," let me explain something...

I was a fat kid. Really fat. I was picked on, terrorized, and generally tormented for years and years during my childhood and adolescence. I know EXACTLY what it feels like to be an Omega-Male, or whatever we want to call it. The bottom of the barrel, weak, helpless.

It sucks.

I changed myself. I made myself better, and it changed the way I looked at myself and the world. I have too many things on my plate now, too many obligations, commitments, too many responsibilities, to worry if that guy can do more push-ups than me. I don't know anyone in my age bracket who has time to think of that crap anymore.

So, when I read a play where the whole point is a grown, adult male struggling with his masculinity, I just think "bullshit." Life doesn't afford you the time to worry about such things, you're too busy dealing with the crap being thrown your way.

Which is why I love Mamet.

Look at Glengarry Glen Ross. I'd tell you right here and now, I honestly think it's all about "what it means to be a man." Mamet, however, understands that asking that question immediately undercuts it. Shelly, Roma, Moss and the others have no time to think about how their situation powerfully dramatizes the end of the patriarchy in America. They're just trying to do their job, which has been the meter of their self-worth for decades, in the face of a company that no longer cares, and is concerned with only making as many sales...as much money as possible.

The crap they're dealing with is what's stripping away their manhood, and that's why we care.

The imperative isn't "I feel emasculated," it's "I need to keep my job," "I need to pay for my daughter's operation," "I need to get the upper hand on the others." It's through those problems, which a grown man would deal with and struggle with, that we see how their situation has left them a shell of what a man is supposed to be. These are men who defined themselves by their jobs, by providing for their family, and we see, powerfully, in the story of Shelly Levine, how that is all stripped away from them.

This is a real thing, it's something that's happening, so I take some task with Tony's "pseudo-emasculated" description. There's a cultural sense that the problems of a white male in America are not worthy of being discussed. No one wants to look at how the traditional roles we're told we should fulfill are really no longer there for us to fulfill. There are no middle-class sole breadwinners anymore, and I have friends who are still convinced that they're supposed to be.

There are many, many stories that can be told about this, but, in the great tradition of political theatre, it's so much easier to just preach about it, right? Why actually try to sweat out a story that makes your points, when you can let a character whine a wheedle about being too skinny, or not being able to fire a gun, or whatever...

So, we're back to my mantra...Tell a freakin' STORY, don't exorcise your demons via your word processor.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Sword - Warp Riders

You can be forgiven for now recognizing the name The Sword. They're an Austin, TX metal/stoner metal band that seemed to rise to prominence because the track "Freya" from their Age of Winters album was pretty popular on one of the Guitar Hero games. I'd heard about them a couple of times prior from some of my more metal-centric friends.

I had thought to give them a listen, but never really made the effort until I knew I was going to see them as an opening act on Metallica's Death Magnetic tour. I downloaded Age of Winters, and was fairly impressed with their performance on the tour. They certainly came off better than Machine Head.

Generally speaking, I liked the album. It was a very throwback-metal kind of thing. Lots of Nordic mythology imagery in the lyrics, and big, droning guitars that would turn on a dime to metal riffing. I was also taken with the guitarist/vocalist J. D. Cronise, who's vocal style really does call to mind classic Ozzy Osbourne, but in an unaffected, natural way. However, I have to admit, it's not an album I listen to all the way through. It's got ebbs and flows, and sometimes the result is electric, "Freya" is a really good example, and sometimes it just becomes kinda dull.

The second album, Gods of the Earth, fared even worse with me. It felt rushed and too much like a carbon-copy of the previous record. I really only have one standout track, "Maiden, Mother, and Crone."

I hadn't thought too much about the impending release of their third set, Warp Riders, until I caught the video for the first single, "Tres Brujas," and it blew my mind. Something about the style and lyrics, as well as the mythology they were building, which felt miles from their usual Nordic stuff. I resolved to download the album, figuring $7.99 was worth a risk.

Boy, am I glad I did.



Take a look at that cover. If you sort of chuckle and say, "oh, that's the kind of album it is," then I'd advise you to go out and buy it, because that's EXACTLY what kind of album it is. It's a throwback, an album that feels like something from the 70's when metal could be heavy as hell, and yet still embrace catchy hooks and melody.

Not only that, it's a concept record, and one that's not so obscure as to be difficult to follow. I mean, yeah, it's sci-fi hokum and fantasy nonsense, but I, personally, REALLY DIG that stuff. From the website:

Warp Riders tells the tale of Ereth, an archer banished from his tribe on the planet Acheron. A hardscrabble planet that has undergone a tidal lock, which has caused one side to be scorched by three suns, and the other enshrouded in perpetual darkness, it is the background for a tale of strife and fantasy, the battle between pure good and pure evil. How it’s told – through the dueling lead guitars of J.D. Cronise and Kyle Shutt, and the concussive rhythm section of bassist Bryan Ritchie and drummer Trivett Wingo – underscores the narrative with molten steel and unreal precision.


I've listened through the album about three times in 24 hours. It's not that long, again, like a 70's album, brevity aids the finished product. The musicianship and precise riffing is still on display, but there's also a constantly-changing feel to the songs. The riffs changes 2-3 time in a track, and it doesn't feel messy or over-packed, just dense. It draws a listener in.

I can't talk enough about the track "Night City." I'm just in love with it. It's supremely catchy, yet doesn't loose the hard edge. It makes me want to have a band just so we could cover it, if that makes any sense.

I also like the fact that the band looks like a gathering of normal dudes. Not overly tattooed, or swathed in black and leather. Just a bunch of guys laying down music they like.



I'm really getting the "Them Crooked Vultures" vibe on this album, if you recall my rabid love of that disk. Not in style or sound, but in my immediate reaction to it. I'm really, really taken with it, and it does somewhat share the retro-vibe I felt from the Vultures. This one, however, kinda blindsided me, I completely did not expect to like it this much.

I see The Sword will performing at Metro, here in Chicago, on Saturday, Oct. 23rd. I'm dropping by the box office tonight to grab some tickets.

Can I dare hope they'll just play Warp Riders in it's entirety?

Top Tracks:

  • Tres Brujas
  • The Chronomancer I: Hubris
  • Warp Riders
  • Night City

New Comic Day 8.25.2010

A day late: Mea Culpa....I took a day off to work on lines for my show, and generally try to get my mind in order for the next couple weeks of theatre-intensive action. I tried to stay locked up in the bedroom as much as possible to just work the dialogue.

That said, I did actually pick up my books yesterday...I actually picked up my comics on New Comic Day...fancy that!

Batman #702


Written by GRANT MORRISON
Art and cover by TONY DANIEL

Grant Morrison and Tony Daniel continue their captivating untold tale of Bruce Wayne and his adventures between BATMAN R.I.P. and FINAL CRISIS! Discover the shocking secrets that point toward THE RETURN OF BRUCE WAYNE that we couldn't show you until now!

Interesting enough story, I guess...but I am dreading where these titles are going before the end of the year. With this Batman, Inc. series coming out, that appears to be about Batman franchising the cape and cowl around the world. I have to admit it sounds to me like the single dumbest idea, ever.

I think it's time for Morrison to step away from Batman...I really do.

Detective Comics #868

Written by DAVID HINE
Art by SCOTT MCDANIEL and ANDY OWENS
Cover by PETER NGUYEN

A warped variation of the Joker drug has caused those who use it to suffer mental breakdowns and embrace anarchy and chaos. With riots cropping up throughout Gotham City, the citizens find themselves divided into two gangs: one led by a Batman impostor whose mission is to bring law and order back to the streets, and the other led by a Joker impostor whose purpose is to punish the innocent and set Gotham ablaze. And in the middle of it all is The Dark Knight – but can Batman stop an entire city?

This is a decent story, an old-fashioned Batman crime tale, with a gang of Joker-impostors running wild. Well written, nice art. It's a good antidote to Morrison's high-concept mucking about. However, I do wish that they wouldn't double up the core Batman titles into one week.

Justice League of America #48

Written by JAMES ROBINSON
Art by MARK BAGLEY,
ROB HUNTER and NORM RAPMUND
Cover by MARK BAGLEY and JESUS MERINO
1:10 White Lantern Variant cover by RYAN SOOK,
FERNANDO PASARIN and JOEL GOMEZ

The BRIGHTEST DAY continues with a shocking connection to the White Light in part five of the JLA/JSA crossover!

It's the grand finale of this team-up, and it's chock-full of revelations as the greatest threat to the Earth may not be Alan Scott or the chaotic energy of the Starheart, but one of the other members!

Plus, don't miss the second feature starring Cyborg, whose goal of restoring Red Tornado's body becomes a battle to save the android's sanity as the madness of the Starheart engulfs them.

God. Please make it stop. I gave them until issue #50...things are not looking good.

Superman: Secret Origin #6 (of 6)

Written by GEOFF JOHNS
Art and cover by GARY FRANK and JON SIBAL
Variant cover by GARY FRANK

The reimagining of Superman's early days concludes as he faces his toughest foe yet – his childhood friend Lex Luthor! The victor will be Metropolis's hero. If you think you know how this plays out, then you underestimate how much Luthor wants that title…

I kept wondering if I had somehow missed the last issue of this series. Nope, just another annoying delay. Really, it's been since April 7th. That's when issue #5 of this "monthly" series was released. Over five months!

I'm quite fond of this series. I think Johns did a great job on the story, and Frank may be THE Superman artist right now. Although, his clear use of Christopher Reeve's likeness (I hope something's going to the Christopher Reeve Foundation for that) may be biasing me. It's a lovely final issue, it just took too long to get here. Honestly, I lay that more on the editors than anyone else. Unless Frank sustained a hand injury or something, the scheduling should've been thought out more.

Fill in artists are not a bad thing, and I think the publishers need to realize that again.

Captain America #609

COVER BY: MARKO DJURDJEVIC
WRITER: ED BRUBAKER,
SEAN MCKEEVER
PENCILS: FILIPE DANIEL MORENO DE ANDRADE
MARKO DJURDJEVIC, BUTCH GUICE
INKS: FILIPE DANIEL, MORENO DE ANDRADE
RICHARD MAGYAR
COLORED BY: CHRISTOPHER SOTOMAYOR|DEAN V. WHITE
LETTERED BY: NEUROTIC CARTOONIST, INC|NEUROTIC CARTOONIST, INC

Bucky must return to the place where his life once ended as Baron Zemo continues to rip his life apart. It's the hardest hitting arc of Captain America ever by the awesome team of Ed Brubaker and Butch Guice.

Decent story. Well executed. When's Steve gonna be back in the costume? I mean, other than next summer, when the movie'll be out, and you KNOW Marvel can't pass that up.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Sometimes the Right Song Makes Many Things Clear

"The Trees"

There is unrest in the forest

There is trouble with the trees

For the maples want more sunlight

And the oaks ignore their pleas


The trouble with the maples

(And they're quite convinced they're right)

They say the oaks are just too lofty

And they grab up all the light

But the oaks can't help their feelings

If they like the way they're made

And they wonder why the maples

Can't be happy in their shade


There is trouble in the forest

And the creatures all have fled

As the maples scream 'Oppression!'

And the oaks just shake their heads


So the maples formed a union

And demanded equal rights
'The oaks are just too greedy
We will make them give us light'

Now there's no more oak oppression

For they passed a noble law
And the trees are all kept equal
By hatchet, axe and saw

The Expendables

Oh, Sly.

As I've said, I want to like your films, I want to support your work, but sometimes you do make it hard. It seems hard for me to understand how you can be so open an honest with yourself when writing scripts about Rocky Balboa, and then so crass and empty with, well...just about everything else. I see that you try, I really do, but somehow putting pen to paper about that big lug from Philly allows a door to open inside you that lets you unflinchingly write about yourself.

Rocky, Rocky II and Rocky Balboa all feel like honest looks deep into your heart. Rocky III wasn't as good as those, but you seemed so open about how you had lost touch with yourself. Even Rocky V, I could see the shades of yourself, in the Rocky that had fallen from the top.

Let's just forget Rocky IV ever happened, OK...Great villain, but I don't want Rocky to be involved with jingoism.

There's other places where I can see the best of Stallone. Cop Land, Nighthawks, F.I.S.T., even First Blood, the guy can act. Thing is he keeps running back to the lowest common denominator. Rambo, from a few years ago, was trash. Pure trash, that used the Burmese situation to justify filling the screen with gore, in hopes of bringing in the crowds that had been expected to flock to Grindhouse. (Thing is, it worked out better for Stallone than it did for Tarantino and Rodriguez.)

The Rambo films were never about gore. Violence? Oh hell yeah, but there was also a point of respectful distance from reality. We do not go to these movies to see reality, we go to see a simple morality play wherein our guy does what is right, and kills those who do wrong. Yes, there are subtextual psychological elements you can pull apart for years, but, much like comic books, the idea is broad stroke morality.

Good guys stand up for the weak, the oppressed. They can deal violence, but do not revel in it, they are sickened by brutality. That line is hard to hold when the film, and the filmmaker, seems to be reveling in the brutality they can put on screen.

I write all this as preface for my thoughts, now having seen The Expendables.



First off, I really think the ad campaign for this is awful. They're selling it like a modern The Seven Samurai or The Magnificent Seven. First off...Look at that poster. There's nine guys on there. Only six of them are really "Expendables," and one of those is sidelined for the majority of the picture. Of those five, you've heard of three of them. The film is kinda like watching The Magnificent Seven, staring Yul Brenner, Steve McQueen, and five versions of Horst Buchholz. (Look it up.)

Then there's the much talked about scene with Stallone, Schwarzenegger, and Willis sharing the screen. Well, it's "blink and you'll miss it" stuff. The Governator has all of 6 lines, maybe. Most of them are bad in-jokes. The real problem with this scene is kind of indicative of the problem with the entire film. There's clever jabs at your image, and then there's pandering.

There's a great moment of homoerotic humor between Schwarzenegger and Stallone that made me laugh out loud. That's a clever jab at one's image. Then there's a groaner about Schwarzenegger's character (who's last name is "Lugar," I think?...Ummm) wanting to be President. Pandering. Much to obvious a joke, relying on pushing your brain out of the movie to work.

Plus, and here's where I get into technical storytelling problems, this scene pretty much sets up the rest of the film. Lots of exposition, but we're being asked to wade through all the "hey, look at us all together" stuff, to process it. Willis, as "Mr. Church," is laying out the whole deal, and you're snickering because Arnie looks like he can't walk straight anymore.

Yet, that's the only real scene where Stallone actually has what he's selling. It's three ICONS of 80's action cinema on screen together. The rest of the time, it's just big muscled guys slamming into each other. I mean, at points it feels like Sly's just spinning a wheel for match-ups. Ok, Statham and Rourke challenge each other to knife throwing, then it's Lundgren vs. Lee, then Stallone vs. Austin, then Lee vs. Lundgren 2, then Couture vs. Austin. The plot revolves around a petty dictator and his rouge CIA handler on a South American island, but really it's just about who can fight who next.

There is some sense that Stallone is trying to make some of these lesser-known guys into stars. However, stars like this aren't really made, in my opinion. They emerge with a presence almost immediately, and then either grow as an actor, or not. That's the difference between direct-to-DVD stars and somebody like, say, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. Giving Couture a painful monologue about his cauliflower ear ain't gonna do it.

Worst of all, the filmmaking is not crisp. It's not well shot, with scenes near the end with a ton of CGI fire effects just looking truly cheap and awful, and it's not well cut. The final assault/ battle is simply murky and confusing. I found myself sitting in the theater, thinking about Avatar. Love or hate that movie, James Cameron is a master of conveying battlefield geography. When you watch the final battle of Avatar, you know where all the characters are, and who's trying to target, or defend each landmark. You also understand how those things relate to each other.

The Expendables just becomes random shots of people running around, punctuated by shots of very large guns being fired. I kept trying to figure out if the team was inside or outside the Presidential Palace, and when it turned out they weren't, I wondered what other, huge building, not obvious in the establishing shots, they were supposed to be in.

So, in essence, you're watching actors/characters you have little connection to do things you can't quite understand.

Someone asked me if the movie was "fun." I certainly understand the question. There are truly awful movies I love because they are just enjoyable to watch. Yes, I did get a kick out of some of this movie, but I think "fun" would be overstating it. There is a sequence where Terry Crews unleashes a fully automatic shotgun that is full-on 80's action gold, and contains the best shot in the film. I laughed out loud. Statham is highly watchable, and is arguably the best actor among the Expendables, proper. Hence, he gets the romantic subplot.

So, yeah...it was "fun," to a point. However, not so much that I can recommend running out to see it.

Monday, August 23, 2010

39

Who would've ever guessed?

thanks to the folks at Garcias last night, and who ate most of the cake, so I won't get too fat.

First off-book run-thru of The Sound of a Yellow Flower tonight. Pray for me.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Volbeat - Bottom Lounge - 8.19.2010

Took my first trip to the Bottom Lounge in Chicago last night to see Danish Metal band Volbeat.



Loved the venue, actually. It's nice to know where a full-on rock club exists in the city, outside of Metro, which can feel a little to "Wrigleyville" for me at times. The Bottom Lounge is in the far west loop. A nice, roomy venue.

I gotta admit, I'm not as familiar with Volbeat as maybe I should've been. I have their Guitar Gangsters and Cadillac Blood album, and I quite like it. Like it a whole lot, actually. Particularly fond of the tracks "Hallelujah Goat" (amazing, insistant riff), "Mary Ann's Place" and "Still Counting" (all of which were played last night). The band is definitely metal, but also has a rockabilly vibe. Dedicating a number to both Johnny Cash AND Ronnie James Dio last night.

Michael Poulsen is an effective frontman, very much in the latter-era James Hetfield "Hot Rod" style. Some may not dig that, but I, frankly do. With English being a second language, his stage patter was pretty limited, but he clearly was getting what he wanted from the crowd.

The crowd was eating it up, too. Lots of energy out on the floor, in a very hot room. The word of the night was "sweat." The mosh pit took a few songs to get going, but, once it did, it was constant. Even during some slow numbers and sections, which, frankly...I don't get.

I'm really over moshing, honestly. I mean, that may have a lot to do with getting older, but I just want to stand and WATCH THE BAND. I don't see how some yahoos can't respect that. There's always some butthead who thinks it's his job to drag the entire floor into the pit, and just becomes obnoxious about it. Same sort of crap happened at the Them Crooked Vultures show. The pit, back in the old days, always felt like a communal place, and you were all in there together. Last night, it looked like a lot of people were trying to make it a competition.

Didn't really take away from the show, however. The band was on, nice playing all around. Thomas Bredahl played his first show on this US tour last night, after the band did several shows as a three-piece. Apparently there was some immigration issues over a stolen barstool in Bredhal's youth.

US Immigration...keeping all safe from barstool theft.

The whole show was incredibly fun in an old-school, metal show way. It's been a long time since I've gone into that world. Most of the smaller club gigs I see are for King's X, a much more sedate crowd.

Very happy I went, although I admit my neck's a bit sore from the headbanging. Thanks to SheaB for the ticket.

Setlist

  • The Human Instrument
  • Radio Girl
  • Sad Man's Tongue
  • Hallelujah Goat
  • Mary Ann's Place
  • Fallen
  • I Only Want to Be With You (Dusty Springfield Cover)
  • Boa
  • Pool of Booze, Booze, Booza
  • Rebel Monster
  • Caroline Leaving
  • Guitar Gangsters & Cadillac Blood
  • River Queen
**Encore Break**
  • Angelfuck (Misfits cover)
  • The Garden's Tale
  • Still Counting
  • Outro

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Hill to Climb...

So, I just found out my director wants me off book for our run on Monday.

I'm a little stressed by this.

It's not like I haven't started, I have. I actually did scene one last night off book, with a few stumbles. It's simply a matter of looking at the calendar, and then looking at what I have to get in my head. When you first approach it, it always feels and looks like a huge job.

The other problem is, I've been feeling woefully out of practice with this sort of thing. Like I've said, the last year and a half to two years has not been kind to me, in terms of shows and casting. I haven't had to do this anywhere near as much as I did three or four years ago. It's hard to explain, but it does make you rusty.

And...

Well, I am getting older, and there are times when I cannot remember like I used to. Now, I'm not saying I've got Alzheimer or something, but it is harder than it was just a few years ago. Things used to slip in to my head pretty easily, hell, in college I never "studied" lines...I'd just know 'em from rehearsing.

...Of course, I never had a role of any appreciable size in college.

The last show I did Sun, Stand Thou Still, I had moments of sheer panic on stage because I literally couldn't remember what was coming next. It usually worked out OK, but...not perfect. Not something I am proud of. Nothing in the world worse than being in front of an audience and knowing you don't know what you're supposed to say. Horrendous, the feeling. I hate it. I hate it more than anything.

It's not just that I look like an ass, it's that I've let down the whole team, and the audience. What's really horrifying is that it's a thing you can't really control. Every, single actor has lost their lines, "gone up," on stage. At some point, or another, it's happened to all of us. You never see it coming, either, because (at least if you're doing it right) you're living in the moment, and not thinking about what comes next, but listening and reacting.

We all know that question, "how do you remember all those lines?" The truth is, we don't, but we still do. It's an amazing, mystical thing. A work of faith and preparation. You literally try to create Pavlovian responses to the words you are hearing. Not only just with the words you say back, but in the emotional responses, as well.

But when it works...there really is no high like it. "Taking Flight," as Jeff Green used to call it. I'm struck by what an apt description that truly is. When a scene, a show is truly going well, I have a palpable sense of leaving the ground. Of stepping outside myself. I can see what I am doing and saying, I feel completely connected to it, but my conscious mind, "Mark," has released his control. The character is in charge, and I'm just riding along.

But that takes a lot of prep work...

So, between now and Monday...You see a lot of me with my nose in my script.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

New Comic Day 8.18.2010

Ah, come an partake of a nice, light, all-DC week for the final NCD before people definitely have to stop giving me crap when I say I'm "pushing 40."

Batman: Streets of Gotham #15

Written by PAUL DINI
Co-feature written by IVAN BRANDON
Art by DUSTIN NGUYEN and DEREK FRIDOLFS
]Co-feature art by RAMON BACHS and JOHN LUCAS
Cover by DUSTIN NGUYEN

Tommy Elliot's life-and-death experience in the present sheds light on some interesting secrets about Thomas and Martha Wayne in the past. What is the mysterious connection? Guest-starring Catwoman!

And in the new Two-Face co-feature, Harvey Dent faces off against the Falcone family. Will any of them survive the encounter?

I have to fess up. The last issue of this title is sitting in that pile of books I need to get to. So, I really have no idea what's going on with it. However, a back-up feature starring my favorite of Batman's rogues gallery is more than enough to make me happy to read it...

When I get to it.

Brightest Day #8

Written by GEOFF JOHNS and PETER J. TOMASI
Art by IVAN REIS, PATRICK GLEASON,
ARDIAN SYAF, SCOTT CLARK and JOE PRADO
Cover by DAVID FINCH
1:10 White Lantern Variant covers by RYAN SOOK,
FERNANDO PASARIN and JOEL GOMEZ

Don't miss the hottest event in comics as BRIGHTEST DAY continues!

There can be only one who wields the White Lantern...but is it truly Deadman? And what will happen when he attempts to charge the white ring? Meanwhile, Ronnie Raymond risks everything for Firestorm, Martian Manhunter uncovers more clues about the bizarre string of murders stretching across the country, Aquaman searches for the key to the ocean's survival and the Hawks come face-to-face with the evil that lurks within the strange land known only as Hawkworld!

Right now, I am depressed. I had believed this to be the final issue of Brightest Day, that we'd see the storyline wrap up, and we could move on. That was incorrect, as...right there on the DC Comics website...we see two more solicited covers. So at least 10 issues, for a story that could've wrapped up in 6, I think.

I've been reading the trade paperbacks I picked up as SDCC, and frankly when I read a Justice League International storyline that puts the world in imminent danger, introduces about 7 new characters effectively, makes me excited to turn the page, gets me laughing out loud, and does it all in TWO ISSUES, I really think maybe editorial at both DC and Marvel need to re-assess something.

The Spirit #5

Written by DAVID HINE
Co-Feature written by DAVID LAPHAM
Art by MORITAT
Co-feature art by MICHAEL WM. KALUTA
Cover by LADRĂ–NN

"Frostbite" continues with The Spirit on thin ice – literally! As Central City is engulfed in a whiteout blizzard, Ebony's on the brink of death and The Spirit must carry her across town to save her life – with every hood in town baying for their blood!


And in the co-feature, THE SPIRIT: BLACK and WHITE, Stray Bullets and YOUNG LIARS scribe David Lapham teams with MADAME XANADU master Michael Wm. Kaluta to tell the tale of the deadliest New Year's ever! It's "666 in 10… 9… 8…"

The last issue of this series is another one in that pile. You shouldn't read that as criticism of either of the titles I've mentioned are in that state. I'm in rehearsal, and time can be a premium. I'll say what I've said all along; I wish Darwyn Cooke was still working on this character, but, after a few missteps ending the last series, this new run has maintained some style and class that makes it well worth reading.

MAYBE

Justice Society of America #42

Written by JAMES ROBINSON
Art by MARK BAGLEY and NORM RAPMUND
Cover by MARK BAGLEY and JESUS MERINO
1:10 White Lantern Variant cover by RYAN SOOK,
FERNANDO PASARIN and JOEL GOMEZ

In part 4 of the JLA/JSA crossover, everything's going dark for the two greatest Super Hero teams in all of comics as the Starheart makes its final bid to obliterate the good in Green Lantern's life – and all of reality – forcing both teams to seek help in the Shade!

The only reason this in on the "maybe" list is because of the crossover with JLA. Which, in turn, is on life-support with me. So...prognosis is not great, here.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

I Haven't Heard a Single Note of This...

But color me intrigued.



Black Country Communion

Black Country Communion is a devastating head-on collision between American and British rock influences—a true supergroup that delivers a titanic rock experience greater than the sum of its supremely talented parts.

The seed for Black Country Communion was planted when legendary frontman and bass guitarist Glenn Hughes (Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Trapeze) and master blues-rock guitarist Joe Bonamassa combined forces on stage in Los Angeles in November 2009 for an explosive performance at Guitar Center’s King of the Blues event.

The brainchild of producer Kevin Shirley (Black Crowes, Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin), the band added to its rock lineage with powerhouse drummer Jason Bonham (Led Zeppelin, Foreigner) and keyboardist Derek Sherinian (Dream Theatre, Billy Idol, Alice Cooper). Named after the industrial area in Britain where both Hughes and Bonham were born and raised, Black Country Communion began rehearsing and recording tracks written by both Bonamassa and Hughes at Shangri-La Studios in early 2010. Their new Album, which has yet to be named, will debut in September 2010. The band is planning a tour of select venues in 2011.

You can download a free track, One Last Soul, on their website. I'll be doing that tonight, probably.

Yup. It's Tuesday.

Have a film audition tonight. Might prove to be interesting.

I have come to the decision that there are a number of things I have to get done in the relatively near future;

  1. Learn my lines for Sound of a Yellow Flower.
  2. Read the pile of comic books I haven't yet gotten to from the last two weeks.
  3. Work on some music. I've been putting it off way too long. That drum track is just...sitting there.
  4. Work on the play script I've had "in process" for the last 6 months.
  5. Work on the plot for the comic project that I was contacted about.
  6. Start on the script for Steel City Serenade #2.

Sometimes I'm astounded by how much of a procrastinator I can be. I ENJOY doing all of these things, yet I'll find reasons not to. It's not like working out, which I seem to be able to do every morning. I guess I work better on schedules.

I am really, really excited to work on music again, honestly...So why do I get all "Man, do I have to set this all up?" when I want to work?

It's silly. I need to focus.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Weekend Distractions

I took in quite a bit of media this weekend.

On Saturday, I downloaded the first Alter Bridge album, One Day Remains.



I enjoyed it quite a bit. In my previous post about their second album, Blackbird, I had spoken about how I had felt, when first exposed to a few tracks from this record, that it sounded like Creed with a better singer. I can't say that's not true, because it is Creed with a better singer. However, I have really grown to be a big fan of Blackbird, and I figured I should give the first album another shot.

It's another solid hard rock album, driven by excellent musicianship, and great vocals. Tracks 2 and 3, One Day Remains and Open Your Eyes, are a really solid 1-2 punch. Heavy and catchy, with a real sense of melody. You can pretty much say that about the whole album.

I dig it.

Then on Sunday, we had to make a Target run. I got some jeans, a shirt, yadda yadda...

Swung by the electronics department and saw this:



Yep, The Black Crowes have re-recorded a bunch of tracks in a more acoustic-driven style, and called the result Croweology. This album is awesome. The tracks are well recorded and very lively. There's a real sense of getting something new and interesting, which is a real danger on projects like this. Chris Robinson sounds fantastic on these numbers, and the whole band seems elevated by the "retro" concept. It's just great stuff. I think it's the best album I've heard this year, but I've had it just a little over 24 hours, so I reserve the right to change my mind.

It's still one of the best, for sure.

After errands and such, Colene and I went to the movies, seeing (and paying for) two films.

The Kids Are All Right



Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful movie.

A snapshot of a modern family life. Funny and touching in equal turns with great performances all around. I'm a big Mark Ruffalo fan, and his turn here as Paul is the sort of great, honest work he's known for. Really, the heart of the film is Annette Bening and Julianne Moore as Nic and Jules, a long-term lesbian couple, who happened to use Paul's deposit at a sperm bank to bear two, now teen aged, children.

The plot gets rolling when the kids, Joni and Laser, decide they want to find their biological father. Paul's entrance into this family ends up revealing not only the fissures in their relationships, but also changes him. It sounds very Lifetime movie, but it's so very well done. I was especially happy that Paul is not presented as a total loser, which the trailers kind of edged toward. He's a businessman, albeit a non-traditional one. Also, it's nice to see Nic and Jules dealing with the same sorts of "traditional spouse role" problems that plague heterosexual couples.

It's a movie with lots to say about family values, and traditional roles, and gender politics. The joy is that those things are part and parcel of the story being told, rather than something the movie stops for speechifying about.

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World



Ahh, Scott Pilgrim.

First off, the film is pretty freakin' entertaining, and, if you grew up playing Nintendo-era video games, there's enough Easter Egg material to choke a goat. Fun stuff, and the cast is across the board fine. Yeah, Michael Cera is a bit to passive for the Scott Pilgrim from the comics, but I accepted him as the movie Scott just fine.

My problem is with the sheer density of the material, this film encompasses all 6 graphic novels. Literally hundreds of pages of material, and it clocks in at under 2 hours. I understand the hyperkenetic style of the piece was intentional, but I repeatedly found myself wishing everything could slow down for a second. The books are filled with many wonderful, quiet moments, and the film just sorta blasts them to smithereens.

Of course, that's playing the "the book was better" card, which is hardly fair to anyone. The movie can't be the book, and if it tries to be too hard you end up with Watchmen. Something that looks great, you know was painstakingly crafted, and feels pretty inert. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World never, ever feels inert. It blasts through it's running time, and you come out the other side with a bit of a silly grin. Really, for a summer evening at the movies, that's a pretty great thing.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Coming Up For Air

Sometimes I feel like I'm drowning.

There are times when I feel like the whole of my life is pushing in on me, and threatening to pull me under. Pull me into a place where I start to forget what's important, and how every part of my life feeds into what's important. As I have said before, my goal right now is to lead a creative life. To know that, when I pass on, something will be left behind to mark how I thought and felt while I was there.

I'd love to make a living doing that, but I've learned, through experience, that many times the things that will pay you are not the things you want to hang your soul, and your fullest efforts, upon. That, maybe, in order to give of yourself fully, in a creative sense, you have to accept that there will always be the things you MUST do, as well.

I also have become very aware that acting in the theatre is really a silly way to accomplish my goal. It's perhaps the most transitory of forms, gone before you even realize what it meant. Your greatest moments of honesty and connection will come and go without even a moment to savor them. To be able to savor them would mean they were never as true and connected as they felt.

Yet, I do love it, and I am fully aware it's the creative act I'm (probably) best at. Of all the things I have tried my hand at, it is the one that feel natural and instinctive more often than not. When things happen without conscious effort or planning. When you can set yourself riding on a flow of honesty.

I enjoy writing and playing music almost as much, as creative releases, but those are such solitary endeavors, lacking the moment when you look into the eyes of a partner and feel a whole world existing between you. Music could be like that, I suppose, but since my path has taken me away from a "band" situation for so long, it's become an craft of solitude for me. Not to mention that they do feel like WORK. I believe myself to be talented in each, but not even close to the facility I find in myself in the best moments on stage.

I make no secret of the fact that, on the acting front, the last year and a half has been immensely frustrating for me. Projects I was deeply invested in being a part of were lost, or denied, and the projects I did become involved with, while fun or challenging in nearly every case, never really connected with me deep down. I felt rudderless and adrift, auditions came and went, scripts were read, and nothing excited me. Or, if it did, I was let know, in one way or another, that "they" weren't excited about me.

My energy drifted away from me on the projects that I was excited about, in a haze of seeming apathy, and lack of support, from people around me. Even within my home theatre company I felt pigeonholed and typecast, looked at more for my physical size than anything having to do with craft or talent.

It was like fucking college all over again.

My work suffered. I was easily distracted, I lost focus. My skills seemed to slip away from me. I found myself unable to simply remember my damn lines, at times.

Perhaps I was spoiled. I had come off several shows in a row that I felt pushed me, and made an impact. Maybe they didn't sell like gangbusters, or garner awards, but I would remember them, and they would change me for the better. I was moving forward, career-wise, or in my personal development, and that made me feel very good.

Then, it stopped.

...And here I have been ever since. Projects thwarted, ideas rejected, feeling the sense that my "career," such as it is, was going to swallow me whole. That it would drown me.

Sometime during the middle of all this, my friends LeighB and DustinS came to me with a script Dustin had written called The Sound of a Yellow Flower. Leigh was directing a reading of the piece, and Dustin had, apparently, specifically wanted me to read the role of Nikolai. The script was based on t short one-act Dustin had done for the Loopshop Festival his company, Strangeloop Theatre, does every year. The original one-act didn't feature Nikolai, at all.

I'm going to be honest, I said yes more out of a desire to do SOMETHING at a point when I didn't feel I could pay someone to cast me. The character seemed more of the same, the big, thuggy guy. The heavy, the antagonist, the authority figure, the scary dude. I've done that. I've done it A LOT. I can't say that the reading changed my mind about it.

So when Dustin contacted me in, I think it was April, about reprising the role in a full production this Fall, I was a little hesitant. There's something to be said about beggars not being choosers, but there's also something to be said about an actor having only one power, the ability to say "no." Really, the only other thing on the radar was my company's Fall show, which featured...Yeah, you guessed it, another big, antagonist character. Rock and a hard place, is what it felt like.

Y'see, I hadn't even read the full production re-write Dustin sent to me. I hadn't read the new scenes, the changes, the way that Nikolai had changed and evolved. He'd become something new, and far deeper than what I'd read before. I hadn't expected the open hearts and minds from Dustin, and Director LetitiaG, to the ideas I had about him, and the play. I'm embarrassed to say I didn't expect to be challenged, and enjoy the role as much as I am.

I guess what I can say, at least on a professional level, is that, right now, I feel myself swimming for the surface. I think I can see the light from above. I think The Sound of a Yellow Flower is going to be a damn fine show, the cast is great, the people behind the scenes are great, and, if you live in Chicago, you'd be a damn fool to miss it.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

A Few Words About "The Expendables"

I can see a lot of people out there rolling their eyes right now...

As a child of the 80's, Sylvester Stallone seems to think he made this movie for me. Which, I suppose, is a valid enough thing. I'd also say that the film he set out to make is a film I'd run, screaming to the theatre to see. The one he actually made....I'll see, but I'm not rushing.

I'd have to call myself a Stallone fan. I root for the guy. There's something about, well there's something about his performance as Rocky, which was brilliant no matter how you look at it, that makes him want to do well.

Rocky, and it's first and last sequels, I consider to be wonderfully entertaining films, with the first being a truly great one. Rocky suffers in the same way Jaws does, too many weak sequels have made the pure joy, and genius, of the originals suspect. Rocky is an American classic. Rocky II and Rocky Balboa are absolutely worthy follow-ups.

First Blood is a nice piece of action cinema, re-watching it has revealed a level of cheese I never saw when i was 16, but the film works. It's also got a bit to say about the Vet experience, without forgetting it's a popcorn flick. Rambo: First Blood Part II is a fine sequel, ramping up the cartoony aspects. Rambo III is OK, and Rambo...well, I dislike it. These films were never meant to be gore-fest, splatter, "grindhouse" fare, and that's what Stallone made his 2008 revisit to the character, and it unsettled me.


So, Stallone continues this latest comeback with The Expendables. Like I said, I think the film he wanted to make would've been really exciting for me. The idea seems to have been to round up as many of the old 80's action stars to make a Dirty Dozen-style romp. I know Stallone approached Kurt Russell and Jean Claude Van Damme about being part of it. I would assume offers went out to guys like Chuck Norris and Steven Seagal, as well. Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger actually do appear in the worst kept "secret cameo" scene, ever, but that's only about 5 minutes of screen time.

I guess those guys wanted more cash, or better screen time than what the team, reportedly, ultimately gets in the film. What we've ended up with only really includes one truly 80's-vintage action dude, Dolph Lundgren. There are stars, to be sure, Jason Statham and Jet Li, but they're hardly what I would call contemporaries of Stallone, both rising in the early 00's, I'd say. The rest? Wrestlers and UFC fighters...big whoop.

What seems to have been in mind was a convergence of actors that already had their personae in place, and would convey something just by being there. I mean, seeing Stallone, Van Damme and Norris try to out bad-ass each other would be entertaining on principle. I mean, watch The Magnificent Seven sometime, half the fun is about seeing all those guys try to upstage each other. Seeing the same thing with Randy Couture, who I'd have no earthly knowledge of without the internet? Not the same.

I know it's my caveman self talking, but I'm disappointed.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Never Trust the Internet, Especially if it Tells You What You Want to Hear

I'm sure you've all seen this, by this point;

Girl Quits Job on Dry Erase Board

Cute girl in a series of photos e-mailed to her office spells out a message on a dry erase board to embarrass her boss, and quit.





Yeah, she's cute, and the message was so easy to get excited about. Who doesn't want to quit a truly lousy job, and take revenge on an awful boss, all in one fell swoop?

Look, I don't wanna be too smug, but from the second I saw this, I thought "something's fishy." The girl is too cute, a little too animated, a little too "actory." Plus, this would be a seriously dumb move if you really wanted to be a Broker.

well....

Hey, what do you know, it's a hoax!

She's an actor, Elyse Porterfield, and here's her Facebook fan page. Her previous claim to fame was being an Angelina Jolie look-a-like on people.com, and she was hired to do the photo shoot by John and Leo Resig. I think it's a pretty decent joke, and it says a lot about corporate culture, and a lot of the pressures a lot of people find themselves under.

But it's a scam, a hoax, you have been duped. Now, it's for a relatively innocent purpose, so, no harm, no foul.

But, I always find it really unsettling when I see comments like this:

I think this proves that all allegations of sexism and examples of chauvanistic, insensitive bosses are fake. Men never call women HOPA's. Or play farmville. Or have bad breath. Case closed.

This statement is, in it's hyperbolic/sarcastic way, absolutely true, but really...are you that invested in this joke that you want to try to attach an important meaning to it? Are you prepared to defend an outright and admitted lie just because it supports a political/social agenda you concur with? Are you so upset with your own work situation that you're willing to not only embrace, but defend a fabrication, based on blatantly trying to fool as many people as possible, because it makes you feel better?

All I'm gonna say is, the next time you find yourself reading any internet story where you say to yourself, "that's EXACTLY right!" Stop for a second, and maybe nose around for a bit more information. The truth is rarely as black and white as we like to make it these days. Going to bat for something that's incorrect, manipulated, not the full story, and sometimes absolutely false, isn't a place from which to support any sort of lasting change.

No one is always right, nor is anyone always wrong. There are people all over the internet writing things because they count on preaching to the choir, that the reader won't think too much, because they like what's being said. Be informed, be aware, and accept that your version of "right" isn't always the whole truth.

New Comic Day 8.11.2010

It's a light week for me, thank God, because I haven't managed to get to my shop to pick up last weeks books yet. Since that was a pretty big week, this is a bit of a relief.

Booster Gold #35

Written by KEITH GIFFEN and J.M. DEMATTEIS
Art by CHRIS BATISTA and RICH PEROTTA
Cover by KEVIN MAGUIRE

Back in the past, Booster Gold is mistaken for himself and embarks on an untold journey in space with Blue Beetle to obtain a rare and secret artifact. Needless to say, their mission goes horribly, horribly wrong…

I love that this book is first on the list, because, as far as superhero fare, I will hazard to say this is the most fun I am having with a book right now. Giffen and DeMatteis re-visit the land of Justice League International, literally, using our time-traveling hero Booster Gold. It's sheer joy, funny and exciting in equal measure.

When I was at SDCC, I picked up three volumes of Justice League International trade paperbacks, mainly because this series has made me remember why I loved them so much. They also represent a sense of fun and truly unleashed imagination. Keith and J.M. just let themselves go with this stuff, crafting really entertaining reading on a monthly basis. They aren't worried about being the "coolest" thing on the market, only giving their readers a full $2.99 of fun and entertainment.

Dan Didio and Jim Lee ought to be looking at this sort of stuff, and, while not every series should be this goofy, it should be this much fun to read.

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #13

COVER BY: DAVID LAFUENTE GARCIA
WRITER: BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS
PENCILS: DAVID LAFUENTE GARCIA
INKS: DAVID LAFUENTE GARCIA
COLORED BY: JAYPO LLC
LETTERED BY: NEUROTIC CARTOONIST, INC

There’s no other way to say it: In this issue...Spider-Man’s entire life is completely destroyed. Read the series that has fans and critics hooked as Brian Michael Bendis and David Lafuente rock out another unbelievable issue!


Here's another one. Brian Bendis, who in his SDCC panel told a aspiring writer that using his middle name made him sound like an "asshole, " and he regretted it, when working in the mainstream Marvel Universe, has kinda drank the kool-aid on the "coolness factor" as well. Thing is, out here in his little, Queens-centered, corner of the Marvel Ultimate Universe, he's just cranking out fun, entertaining stories.

The subject matter here probably is a factor. I don't think Bendis is really all that suited to the bombastic world of The Avengers. I think these little stories about teenagers dealing with superpowers, and life in general, is far more conducive to his impressive skill set. His Peter and MJ and Gwen, and the rest always feel like real kids, and, more importantly, real human beings. This series, and Powers, will be his masterpiece, I think.

MAYBE PICKING UP:

Superman #702

Written by J. MICHAEL STRACZYNSKI
Art by EDDY BARROWS and J.P. MAYER
Cover by JOHN CASSADAY
1:25 Variant cover by KEVIN NOWLAN

"Grounded" continues as Superman enters a small town in Ohio where, like many towns, a number of its residents are from other places. But when The Man of Steel discovers that there are also a number of residents secretly from other worlds, he unravels a mystery that may have grave consequences for Earth.

Wow, my morning Diet Mountain Dew was working well, until I saw that cover. What is the deal with dull-ass covers for this series? Look, I know everyone wants to draw an "iconic" Superman cover, but that doesn't mean stagnant. I like a dynamic cover, and I think most readers (and buyers) do too. I mean, Neal Adams can do both:



I mean how about something from the actual story? Y'know, it's not like it's just about Superman walking, or something...

Er. Well...

Look, I got a good vibe from at least the last couple of pages of Superman #701 (my good buddy KenG, the biggest Superman fan I know, absolutely does not agree), so I thought I might give Straczynski a few issues to see what he's doing. I still kinda feel that way, but I can't quite get over the "12 issues of this?" feeling.

I want to like a Superman title, I want to be reading a Superman title, but I can't tell if this is the one. I can say in JMS' defense, he's not going for the "cool" here. This is a meditative story, and clearly he is trying to establish a connection with Superman as an idea, and the real world, both in and out of comics. I think that's a great goal, but I don't know if this is what's going to do it.

DROPPING:

Ultimate Comics Avengers 3 #1

COVER BY: LEINIL FRANCIS YU
WRITER: MARK MILLAR
PENCILS: STEVE DILLON
INKS: ANDY LANNING

Blade is back in a bad way and that can only mean one thing: vampires are afoot! Somebody is leaving behind a bloody trail of bite marks and Blade’s stake-ready to take them on. Could the mysterious figure donned in an iron suit have something to do with it? And who exactly is the new figure leaping around down in a devil costume? As the Avengers get deeper into black ops, there’s no telling who’ll be thirsting for blood and who’ll be next on the menu! Bite into the next exhilarating series of ULTIMATE COMICS AVENGERS by superstar creators MARK MILLAR (CIVIL WAR, KICK-ASS) and STEVE DILLON (PUNISHERMAX)!

Oh, no...Millar, you are a cheap hack, and no tease of a "new Daredevil" is gonna get me to drop another $3.99 (yeah, no kidding...no back-up feature, or anything) on this garbage. Take some time off, count your movie money, and see if you can't come up with a story and characters that will make me care again.

ON THE PERSONAL SIDE:

When I pick up my books this week (likely Saturday), I'll be dropping off some copies of Steel City Serenade #0, by myself, Mark Pracht, and Zach Bosteel, at Chicago Comics for consignment sale. I'm thinking $1.50 for the 12-page zero issue. If you want to swing by and pick one up, please do.



It's also available digitally, for free, at the Steel City Serenade page on Zach's website.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Thinking About Zakk Wylde

I know many of my readers aren't big on "Heavy Metal." I mean, yeah, occasionally a metal band will break out and make an impact on the larger pop culture. Mastodon would be the most recent I can remember. I admit I'm very taken with their latest album, Crack the Skye. Even among those who are fans of metal and hard rock, I feel like things have turned to a much more extreme form of the music than I can really get into. I read about bands on blabbermouth.net, and half the time it's a trip down memory lane to the hair bands that I remember from the 80's. Half the time it's some deathcore band that's all about sludgy guitars and screaming.

I really like heavy metal, but I feel like the genre has kinda passed me by. When I started listening to it, I felt like there were musicians involved who's experience was wider than simply listening to Black Sabbath albums over and over again. The modern crop of metal, it seems like all they've ever listened to is Slayer and Metallica. It makes for a rather limited range of experience about what music is, and how it can be developed in many directions.

Which brings me to Zakk Wylde, the former guitarist with Ozzy Osbourne's band. He first came onto my radar in 1991 with the release of Ozzy's No More Tears, which I really liked. It seemed to me that Ozzy had stopped trying to keep up with everyone else, and simply crafted an album of good songs. Zakk wrote a lot of that material, and it belied a breadth of influence far beyond most metal guitarists at the time. There were country and pop influences all over that record, and I dug it.

Now, today brings the release of Order of the Black, which is the latest release from Wylde's post-Ozzy/side project The Black Label Society.



Now, I'm gonna fess up here. I've never bought or listened to a full Black Label Society album. I heard a couple of tracks from earlier albums, and some preview material, finding them to be kinda standard head-banging material. I'm still very taken with him as a guitarist, but there was no spark that made me think, "gotta get that!"

Which was absolutely not the case in 1994, when I first heard tracks from Zakk's first Ozzy side project, Pride & Glory. The self-titled album was pretty freaking amazing when I first heard it.



Truth is, the album still is exciting to me. It's a record I return to on a regular basis. It's a pure southern-rock album, but with a metal edge. It was very clear that Zakk had not only heard bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd, but had a deep appreciation for them. Heck, the first instument you hear on Pride & Glory is not drums or a guitar, but a banjo.

I was also surprised that Wylde could actually sing pretty darn well. He had a rough-edged, somewhat growly voice that felt very suited to this southern metal sound. I head someone compare his voice to Eddie Vedder, but...that guy must've been high.

Two years later, Zakk followed up Pride & Glory with a true solo album, Book of Shadows.



I think I'll always see Book of Shadows as Zakk Wylde's masterpiece. It's a disk of dark numbers, dominated by acoustic guitar and piano. It was impressive to me then, and still is, that a guitarist know for over-the-top shredding and bombastic songwriting with Ozzy would put out such an album. The songs are muscular, yet delicate, it's almost like Wylde is walking a tightrope, and he rarely falters. A completely solid collection of tunes.

I've shard this album with a number of people, and no one has come back to me dissatisfied. I rarely tell people who Zakk Wylde is, I admit, and I think that gets a more open-minded listen than if I said "it's Ozzy's guitarist." I stand behind this as a great record.

I have to admit, I would've rather seen Zakk continue along a Pride & Glory/Book of Shadows style, rather than the somewhat predictable metal of the Black Label Society albums. Although, I've been told that earlier BLS can run toward the Pride & Glory sound. That may be true, but I haven't heard it.

I do respect Zakk a lot, and with Amazon offering a $4.99 download of Order of the Black, I may give BLS another shot. I don't hold much hope for it hitting me the way Wylde's fist two albums did, but that is to be expected. No artist should be the same forever, and shouldn't try to appeal to everyone all the time.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Monday Thinking

I find myself sitting here with very little to say. It was an extremely busy weekend.

Took a road trip out to Dyersville, IA for a wedding on Saturday night, and then zipped out to the Field of Dreams movie site Sunday morning before we drove back.

The movie site is pretty cool, and I'm really glad we went. The movie has such magic, and hits right at the heart of the father/son dynamic that seems to get me every time. One thing I will caution is that, if you expect to really feel something out there on that baseball diamond, you will be disappointed.

It's a beautiful spot, especially right now when the corn is high, and that is very much worth a stop. There were some folks trying to get a pick-up game together, and so I got to take a couple of pitches, and that was nice. Don't expect to spend more than about a half hour.

The traffic on the trip back was nightmarish, but we made it. All good. I had intended to head down to Market Days on Halstead last night to catch Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, but I was so tired, I just collapsed in front of the TV after playing the guitar a bit.

Friday night was rehearsal for Sound of a Yellow Flower with Strangeloop Theatre in Evanston. well the rehearsals are in Evanston, the show is going up at Trap Door Theatre in Chicago, proper. That probably means nothing to my readers outside of Chicago, but Yellow Flower is rehearsing, mainly, in Evanston, which is a northern suburb of Chicago. Generally speaking, it's about 45 minutes to an hour by L train to get up there.

I get off work at 6:00, and rehearsal starts about 7:00.

So, yeah. It's pretty quick, and not a lot of room for messing around, or, y'know, food. Getting up to Evanston isn't the problem, really, it's the coming back at night. I get in really late pretty much no matter what I do.

...But that's the job, y'know. Hi-Diddley-Dee, and all that fun stuff.

This, however, is starting to compound, I think. Rehearsal is pretty much always a good time for me, Yellow Flower is absolutely no exception (Strangeloop is good people), but I have to admit, I am feeling run-down these days. I'm not sleeping well, lots of odd nightmares and waking up feeling disoriented during the night. Lot of things weighing on me right now, I think.

(No, it's nothing personal...CByrd and I are fine)

I guess I'm angry about a lot of things, and, where many times this would only motivate me to try to "make them better," I feel completely removed from them now. I just wonder if I even care anymore. If I don't care, why do I keep going through the motions?

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Best Thing Lee and Kirby Ever Came Up With

There was a time, in the 80's when I was a full-out Marvel Zombie. Marvel comics, and the Marvel Universe were the be-all and end-all for me. Sure, Batman was always my favorite, but Superman and the rest had slipped into a pool of mediocrity. It took Crisis on Infinite Earth, and major reboots for the entire line to get DC cooking on all burners.

Example: The Flash is my second-favorite superhero character. That would absolutely not have been true before Crisis on Infinite Earths, which features the death of the original Silver-Age Flash, Barry Allen, and the ascension of former Kid-Flash, Wally West, to the mantle. Wally's youth, and his clear feelings of inferiority in regards to his mentor and taking over his role were what hooked me on the character.

It was that sort of thing, the sense that change, though it might not be permanent (nothing in comics is), would be explored to the fullest, that got me hooked on DC over Marvel. Wally remained the Flash for over 20 years, Barry returning only recently.

However, Marvel does have great characters. No one can deny it, and the original characters, the ones that laid the foundation of the "House of Ideas," are still able to enthrall me if used correctly. Stan Lee's work with Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko is a monument of creativity and pushing the medium forward. If only Spider-Man (with Ditko) had arose out of that period, it would've been extraordinary.

But it wasn't just Peter Parker, with his teen-age angst and money problems. Lee and Kirby, in Fantastic Four #1, gave us a creation that will always strike me as a true diamond in the Marvel universe. A character that was just as much an "everyman" as Peter Parker, but from a completely different angle.

I'm talking about Benjamin J. Grimm



The Ever-Lovin', Blue-Eyed Thing.

There are few characters that can provide so much grounding to any story you put them in. Ben Grimm is one of those characters, and it's no accident that he was the linchpin for one of Marvel's long-running team-up books, Marvel Two-in-One. His blue-collar, kid-from-the-streets sensibility allows him to provide a human grounding to even the most fantastical stories, and his membership in the Fantastic Four, who aren't so much super-heroes as explorers, allows him to feel at home in those fantastical stories.

Literally, you can make a case for Ben fitting in any story, from a gritty tale of street life to a galaxy-spanning hunt for a cosmic maguffin. When he's entered the story, he's a character we can always identify with. For, you see, Ben Grimm represents all of us, in a way that is far more primal, and less cliche' than Peter Parker's soap opera girl problems.

The Thing is a monster, at least we're told he is. It's how he refers to himself constantly, and more than a few little old ladies have fainted upon sight of him. He's a man trapped within his physical form, and I can't think of a single person who's never felt that way. Unlike Marvel's other monster-heroes, such as The Hulk or the Man-Thing, he's trapped in this form forever, and he knows it.

Burce Banner is not always the Hulk, he gets regular respites away from the beastly creature, and he remembers nothing of what has happened. The Hulk is, literally, an alter ego. An entirely different persona that Banner knows is there, and is haunted by, but does not have to directly confront (usually). The Man-Thing, as we are repeatedly told, does not think. It's an instinctual creature, more a force of nature than anything else.

Ben Grimm is a man, a common man in many ways (grown up on Yancy Street as a tough New York kid), and uncommon in others (a test pilot), but a man who is now trapped in this rocky form. Trapped by the actions of his best friend, no less. Always apart from the world around him, unable to travel and feel as the rest of us do, buried under that orange hide. Like many of us, when we feel trapped inside physical forms that are not as wonderful or perfect as we might like, we can rage and feel sorry for ourselves.

Ben is no exception.



Even lashing out at his closest friends



I should point out that "Alicia" is Ben's long-time girlfriend, who's blind. Yeah, yeah, Lee and Kirby didn't work in subtleties. It's melodrama folks, in the absolute best sense of the word, and originality isn't the most important thing.

So, yes, Ben is a tragic figure. However, he's also a character who never allows that to wholly define him. The joy that rises up within this character is infectious and allows us to see him as even more of a hero for not allowing his tragic state to be the entirety of his being. The Thing is a trigger for comedy on many levels, and rarely at the character's expense, but in his joy for life.



(these two are in sequence - click for larger)


(Click for larger version)

In the best sense of those who put aside their own baggage to get the job done, The Thing is always the first to leap into danger for others. His self-sacrifice is almost without bounds. One of the things that the makers of the recent Fantastic Four movies, particularly the first one, is that Ben is the emotional core of the group. The choice he's often given, just like in the movie, is between the chance to be human again, and the lives of his friends.



Side note: There are a lot of problems with the two films they made, but Michael Chiklis' Ben Grimm (and Chris Evans' Johnny Storm) is not one of them. If only the other half of the team had been cast so well...Not to mention the stunningly bad version of Doctor Doom they came up with.

He's always tempted, because Grimm is nothing if not painfully human, but his love for his family (and the Fantastic Four is a family, not a team) always wins out. Ben would rather die than see any harm come to them, and the deep love they return is some of the greatest moments you'll find in the Fantastic Four book.


(Click for bigger)

Of course, the love Alicia gives Ben is just as selfless, no matter how much he want's to believe it's just because she can't see him. Alicia, and the readers, know it's the selfless, pure sould that lies within that she's really in love with.



Ben is known for moments of self-sacrifice that rival even Peter Parker's. Spider-Man tends to hit us flat in the gut with the weight Peter carries, with constant references to the people he's letting down, and how Aunt May would never be able to handle learning that Peter died as Spider-Man. The Thing, on the other hand, always seems to have a grumpy wisecrack, and gets the job done.


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...Maybe that's what I relate to.

I guess what it comes down to, is that the Marvel Universe, which was built on the basis of heroes that just felt more human than what you would find at DC or the other companies, has no character that feels more human to me than Ben Grimm. Grumpy, loudmouthed, angry, sweet, gentle, honorable, steadfast Ben Grimm. When I read that character, written well (because any character can be awful if you don't use them well), he reminds be of the best of humanity. Humanity at it's weakest and strongest, it's most noble and self-centered. He is, truly, a great creation.

If you're looking for great Thing/Ben Grimm stories, this list from the Comics Should Be Good website is a great place to start.

Personally, I'd recommend:

The Thing series form 2006, with Dan Slott writing, and the majority of art by the fantastic Andrea Di Vito. It was canceled after only eight wonderful issues. It's a crime it's not still going, as I, personally, believe it to be the best thing Marvel has put out in 20 years. There's a collected edition, but I believe it's out of print, as well. But you can find it around.

There's also the Essential Fantastic Four collections, which are in black and white, but a tremendous value with 20+ issues for less than $20.

The same is available for Marvel Two-in-One, and those are great "80's Marvel" fun.

One last thing.

(No pun intended)

I want to share a page from the Fantastic Four vs. The X-Men mini-series. Not a terrific series, but I find this a great moment. The set-up is this, Rogue, an X-Man with the ability to "steal" powers, attempts to do so to Ben. Part of Rogue's deal is that in stealing powers as she does, she also takes a bit of the victim's personality, memories and emotions. With The Thing, she gets a bit more than she expected.


(click for bigger - it gets REALLY big)