Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Credit Cards Are Evil

No, I'm not badly in debt.

In fact, to most people, I'm completely out of debt. I have a little bit on my Guitar Center account, still under a no interest for 12 months plan. I have two other cards with less than that on them. Problem is, I've been trying to pay them off for about 2 months.

Stupid thing is, I keep using them. I have a couple of pre-orders from Amazon set for the next couple of months, and a list of things I'd like to buy...guitar TAB books, movies, etc. My no interest plan is up in December, so I need to get cracking on that too.

The point, I guess, is that, even when you have your cards relatively under control, the start to take over your life. I have become almost obsessed with trying to avoid paying interest. Which, y'know, is a good thing, but I also shouldn't get so damn uptight about a $2 interest charge on a couple of hundred dollars, right? It's silly, and it's relatively ridiculous to get obsessive about it, right?

Like everyone else, in college I let it get REALLY out of hand, and through the efforts and guidance of my lovely bride, I was released from that debt burden. Now, I just get completely freaked about it. I have two cards, and my Guitar Center account, and I wonder all the time if that's too much.

But I am, relatively stable, with a total debt that's not even $1000. What the hell am I worried about?

Oh, hell...really I'm just writing this to try to give myself permission to buy that Rush TAB book, and the new Neil Peart book.  The items sitting in my amazon shopping cart...STARING at me.

And, really...if I have to talk myself into it...It's not something to do.


Plus, y'know...I have to put away cash for SDCC nest year.

Responsibility sucks.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

God, I Love That Show

All the videos of the original show credits don't allow embedding. So, you get a Sci-Fi Channel promo.

Yeah, the show was sexist as hell, and it steered awfully close to cheese-tastic, but, damn...Steve Austin was the man. I mean, seriously, that's the best "hero name" of all time.

I so need to get me the DVD set. I have bootleg set, the the quality is so very, very poor.

I loved that show, and I'm enjoying Dynamite Comics new series, The Bionic Man, based on Kevin Smith's screenplay attempt. Though, why they just didn't negotiate to use the title of the original novel, by Martin Cadin, Cyborg, I'll never know.

I still say this property is so ripe for a big-screen treatment. I hope somebody get ahold of it with more imagination that turning it into a comedy vehicle for Jim Carrey or Chris Rock. This could be a really kick-ass action/adventure/spy thriller.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Captain America is Not on Steroids

Except that he is, kinda.

The other day, I saw a post that said something to the effect of Captain America: The First Avenger being a commercial for steroid use. My first reaction was that the poster missed the entire point, and, frankly, I still feel that way.

But there is a point to explore, there.

Professor Erkstein's Super-Soldier Serum, and Vita-Rays, are, yes, a super-steroid. They take a weak, asthmatic man and turn him into a beyond Olympic level athlete. With photographic memory and amazing eyesight, to boot. There's really no way to not call them a steroid.

But I also think that it's selling the whole concept, and the character, short to think that way about it. Steve Rogers is not, by any reach of imagination, a "take the easy path" type of person. The comics make that abundantly clear, and I think the film does as well.

We see Steve, weak, frail Steve, work with every fiber of his being to keep up with those around him in boot camp. We see him think laterally, look for options that others may have missed. We see him act, instinctively, for others, not for himself. The film takes pains to show us that a great man, a good man, as Erkstein calls him, lives within a body that betrays him.

The Super-Soldier Serum, and the Vita-Rays represent the classic hero myth trope of the transformative catalyst. Steve Rogers, as we meet him at the beginning of his story, is very similar to Luke Skywalker when we meet him in the first reel of Star Wars (or, Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope if you're a stickler). He is already a hero, waiting to be awoken. The elements are all there, they just need to be activated.

For Luke, it's receiving his father's lightsaber. For Steve, it's undergoing a dangerous and painful experimental medical procedure. Honestly, I'd take Obi-Wan handing me a lightsaber over whatever's happening to Steve inside that capsule, screaming in pain, such to make onlookers want to halt the process, then pleading to continue, because "he can do this." The subtext is that what Steve is enduring is not, at all, easy.

The process we are seeing is iconic, and, in a word, magical. Yes, yes, Marvel (and especially Marvel Studios' film universe) likes to wrap it in super-science, but it's inherently a magical transformation. Just as much as Perseus receiving the magical weapons from the Gods of Olympus, to fight the Gorgon. Would you, upon watching Clash of the Titans (the ORIGINAL one - please, people) think "oh this is just telling me to take possibly dangerous gifts from strange people?"

Now, that's being a bit facetious on my part, because, yes, there is a direct correlation between the Super-Soldier Serum and steroids. I have a feeling that, if the origin consisted simply with bathing Steve in Vita-Rays, this would never even come up. No one thinks The Hulk, who's great strength comes from exposure to Gamma Rays, has anything to do with steroids (even if you can draw "Roid Rage" comparisons easily). It's the act that Steve Rogers is being injected with a chemical formula that makes the equation.

But still, I think looking at what happens to this character, and saying "oh my God, STEROIDS!!" says more about the person making that judgement than the character or story. It's making a decision to ignore everything that both the film and the comics have spent much time trying to impart to you. The very simple fact that Steve Rogers is special, a man of deep heart and bravery, who will do the right thing. That he's proven worthy of the power given to him.

I think that makes a lot of people uncomfortable. The idea that how you live your life may, in fact, determine your success or failure.

I see it over and over, movie stars, musicians, politicians, anyone in the public eye. There is a faction of our society who, when confronted with a figure, real or fictional, who represents either a commitment or ability to achieve, will automatically feel threatened. The immediate reaction is to TEAR THEM DOWN. Even a cursory scan of the internet will show you that this faction is large, and very, very vocal.

Yet, you take a character like Iron Man, an industrialist, a weapons manufacturer, one of the wealthy elite, who's origin requires him to be brought low. Requires him to be shown that his wealth and station do not absolve him from responsibility for his creations, and his fellow man. Well, we rally around that, we talk about how "interesting" and "unique" that character is. (In no small part thanks to Robert Downey Jr's indelible performance, for certain) Likewise, Thor, and honest-to-goodness God (or something along those lines, in the Marvel Studios film world), is only a hero after he's realized that these mere humans are worthy of his respect and comradeship.

Why? Because these characters only require us to accept that those who already have power need to be taught to respect that power. To learn that they are no better than those who don't have it. No wonder they go over without comment in a world where, it seems, so many people have a problem when those who work toward a reward, who make sacrifices to achieve, earn it.

I'm certain that more than a few people reading this are going to start to draw conclusions about me, at this point. I vote Democrat, OK? That said, I also feel like the "everyone has the right to achieve" message (which I firmly believe in), in practice, tends to become "everyone has the right to achieve, as long as they don't get more than I have" (which I most certainly don't). A fair shake doesn't mean everyone wins, it means everyone gets the chance to apply themselves, and see how far they can go.

Which is an interesting place to end up, when you're talking about a pulp superhero character.

Yet, this is what these characters are for. They're folk heroes, mythology, and legend. They're the hero myth, and their job is to help us see the proper way to live and treat each other. To fight that which is unjust and wrong, and protect those weaker than ourselves. It is good for those with power to know they're no better than those without, but it's also good for the powerless to see that valor and courage can be the path to greatness. No, no one may present you with a lightsaber, or give you a magic formula, but you can carry the beliefs and values that would make you worthy of those things into your everyday life.

That's the point. If you want to make it about injecting a scrawny guy with steroids, that's your problem.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Oh My God...I'm 40.

When you're young, you really don't have any concept of age, y'know? Time passes, and it passes so, so very slowly...God, I remember when getting through the 4 months from my birthday to Christmas seemed like a decade. A week of school? Torture.

Of course, old was OLD. Thirty seemed like a million years, and forty? Hell, my Grandfather was FORTY!!

You never even suspect that you'll be that old, ever. I don't know what we all think is going to happen, but the concept, the idea of spending four decades on this ball of mud just seems...unthinkable. It's weird how easy it is to live in the moment when you're young, and and how impossible it is when you even get a little old.

I make a lot of jokes, I do, but I'm not OLD. Yet, I'm not young, anymore, either. That's for sure. Just ask my body every night when I get home from The Double.




Yeah, that's life. I've probably been rougher on my body than most. "Oh, throw myself across the stage? Sure. You need me to drop to my knees 45 times during this rehearsal, and we don't have pads? OK." I've tended to throw caution to the wind, and rely on my ability to recuperate, and to work through the pain.

But that doesn't last forever, oh no, it does not. I suppose it's a bit of a cruel, cosmic joke, having my 40th coincide with the most physical show I've done in a long while. The real pain of it is...I love being physical. I love getting rough and tumble, mixing it up.

And, let's be honest...It's only going to get worse. There's no magic wand or surgery to make me feel 20 again.

But that's not the worst part.

And, please know, I'm not writing that in a "oh, woe is me, I never did the things I wanted to" voice. I'm OK with my life. I have regrets like everyone, that's impossible to avoid. That said, I have done well, I married a good woman that I love very deeply, I have made my effort to live my live in the most creative way I could. I have tried to create, and leave a little bit of myself for others to enjoy/think about/reject. I set out to live my life so that I could be artistic and creative, and I have succeeded.


Yeah, it will always nag at you. It comes down to...Is this all there is? When you're 20, 25, 30...You have your list of  things you'll "have time for later?"

You won't. You'll put things off. You'll decide something's "too hard," or is too much of a burden, too much of a sacrifice, to give yourself over to, and years later realize you should've just done it. Even something as simple as going to SDCC. I first went when I was 35, but I wanted to go when I was in my teens. If I'd focused myself, controlled myself, and made choices that were directed at my goal...I could've been going for 20 years, rather than 6. That's just a stupid convention.

Why haven't I gotten the tattoo I keep talking about? How simple is that to get done? It's always some show, or some other stupid damn thing.

Why don't I lose weight? Hell, if I just stopped shoveling nuts down my throat after rehearsal, and just went to bed, I'd probably lose 10 pounds. I'm proud of the commitment I've made to staying active and exercising, but I know I have to commit to changing how I eat, too.

No, I'm not beating up on myself, I'm not. It's just unavoidable. You live four decades, and the regrets will pile up. The trick is to keep them in the right perspective. I've done plenty to be proud of, but I also feel like I can do more. Push farther, reach deeper, and generally give more of myself.

When I stop feeling that way, then I'll worry....

Monday, August 22, 2011

Stuck In My Head 8.22.2011

Over My Head
by King's X

Over my head I hear music in the air
Over my head I hear music over my head
It's loud and clear
It's going to my head
Music music i hear music
Music i hear music music music
Oh! oh! oh! lord music over my head 
I! I! I! hear it so clear
I! I! I! hear it so dear
I know
I know
I know
I'm not crazy
It's going to my head
Grandma used to sing
Grandma used to sing
Every night while she was prayin' 
Over my head
Over my head i hear music oh lord

Friday, August 19, 2011

Blade Runner: Coming Around Again

This is gonna be a pretty geeky blog. I advise those who've never seen Blade Runner to skip it, for two reasons. One, I'm likely to let fly big spoilers, and, two, I kinda doubt most of what I write will make much sense if you haven't seen the film. That said...Blade Runner is a modern classic, and a fantastic Sci-Fi Noir. True Sci-Fi, full of ideas and concepts, and not just about blowing crap up.

There's a truly, truly excellent 5-Disk Collector's Edition that gives you the Original Theatrical cut, the Workprint cut, the Director's Cut and the Final Cut all in one package, along with what is one of the best making-of documentaries I've ever seen. Very, very much worth it.

So, here goes...

I have a friend that likes to bemoan the "Hollywood Recyclery," and how all we seem to see are sequels, "reboots" and remakes. It's a fair jab, but it also leads to a rather negative way of looking at things that MIGHT, just MIGHT, be good.

I don't think anyone expected The Rise of the Planet of the Apes to be any good, yet...A lot of people seem to think it's quite good. Including my anti-remake friend. (I am dying to see it, but haven't had the chance yet.) I've always said, I'm game for any project, emerging from any source, if it's made with some sense of artistic merit. If the people making it have some stake in giving a new spin to the concept, above and beyond a paycheck.

So, I'm not anti-revisiting older concepts. Not at all.

Yet the news that Sir Ridley Scott is signed (which, granted, doesn't mean it'll actually happen) to revisit at least the world of his 1982 film, Blade Runner, doesn't really make me jump up and down. It's not that I think the original material doesn't offer lots of places and ideas to explore, because it sure as shooting does. It was deep, dark, and Scott's original film was filled with an ambiguity that was like catnip.

The ORIGINAL film.

Scott has mucked around with this film a lot. Some of it warranted, when the workprint version was released, I was very happy. Excising the voice-over narration (no matter how much that was a nod to the Noir style that the film obviously was designed that both Scott and star Harrison Ford loathed, and re-inserting more violent moments to make the "retirement" of the Replicants hurt a bit more, the workprint represented the film Scott was working toward. I loved it.

Problem is, the "Deckard is a Replicant" crowd got more and more pervasive, and, while I feel like that concept is obviously there, as subtext, in the theatrical and workprint versions (the "Replicant eye glow" seen on Deckard is awesome, subtle, and plants the seed) , Scott suddenly felt the need to add more and more to this subtext, until it almost upends the concept.

I think the concept of the film comes down to the Tyrell Corporation marketing line: "More Human Than Human." The question of how "human" Deckard is is central to the whole enterprise. Notice, I said "the question."

Me, I'm of the belief that Deckard is human, but desensitized and dehumanized by the world he lives in, 2015 Los Angeles. The Replicants are "more human than human" because they actually feel things, they love life, and strive, constantly, to hold onto it. With only four years to experience, well, anything...they push themselves to enjoy, experience, to live as much as they can. The Deckard we meet at the beginning of the film is a shell of a person, lost and empty. When, in the final reel, he runs with Rachel, it's a man learning to embrace life and take whatever joy he can from it, no matter how short-lived.

You can take all of that, and make it mean almost the same thing if Deckard is, in fact, a Replicant. Yet, I also feel it begins to strip away more and more of the society within the film having any humanity, whatsoever. There's an deleted scene where we discover that Tyrell, the head of the robotics corporation that builds the Replicants, is, in fact, a Replicant. There's a point, if you follow all of this stuff to the endpoint, where you begin to wonder "is ANYONE on Earth not a Replicant?" Which might make a fine film, but I'd also argue it's a vastly different film from what Blade Runner is.

If you go that way, I also tend to wonder about Gaff (Edward James Olmos), rival Blade Runner. Much of the Decakrd as Replicant theory makes use of the "being a Blade Runner, an executioner, is a horrible job, so they give it to Replicants" idea. Makes sense, actually...but why then is Gaff clearly NOT a Replicant?

I can go on and on about this, but I think I've made the point. So, I'll beg off.

Either interpretation is valid, and it has fueled many an on-line, and late night geek-fest, debates. The brilliance of the film was that it was constructed in such a way that Deckard's nature was ambivalent, but, either way, the story means the same thing. Live life, man...because you never know how much of it you have.

So, what do we care is Deckard is a Replicant? If you swing either way, you're gonna make some of your fanbase question your concept. The original release version, and the workprint, walked the fine line beautifully.

Then Ridley got unicorn happy...

Through his 1992 "Director's Cut" and 2007 "Final Cut," Ridley has moved the "Deckard is a Replicant" concept further and further from subtext to text. I'm a defender of a filmmaker's right to tinker with his work, but where George Lucas, with all of his endless tinkering, tends to just throw extra (and, ultimately, unneeded) stuff on top of what's there, Ridley seems to have been pointedly working to demystify Blade Runner. I'd argue the mystery, the ambiguity, is at the core of what the damn film is about.

Most of this revolves around a vision/memory Deckard has of a unicorn (which looks quite like an outtake from Scott's Legend), and then Gaff leaves a origami unicorn for him as he's sneaking Rachel (oh, yeah...also a Replicant) out of his apartment. The inference is "I've seen your memories."

Ok, but where the hell did a memory of a unicorn come from? I mean, really, here's a guy who lives in an urban wasteland, where most animals are extinct (except doves, apparently...he heh). Even if they're implanted memories...a unicorn? Why on Earth would you implant a memory of a mythological creature?


What worries me most about Ridley Scott returning to Blade Runner, in any form, even if it isn't a sequel or prequel, and I'm not alone, is that he seems hell-bent to make everyone damn straight sure that Deckard is a Replicant. Not stopping to think that maybe the idea that he MIGHT be, the question, was part of what made the movie so compelling in the first place. Believe me, there weren't many of us who cared, at all, in 1982. The film was a bomb, with a capital B, but the cult of the film grew from that...the questions it raised.

Whatever film may, or may not, come out of this, I will see. I love the property too much to not check in, and form my own opinion. However...even with the director who brought it all together to start with, I just think this is a story better left alone.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Trap of an Amazon Wish List

Like almost everyone in the world, I have an Amazon wish list.

Yeah, I know..."his birthday's next week, so he's drawing attention to the wish list." That, my friends, is really not the case.  I was just looking over my wish list, and thinking about the way I use it, and how vaguely insidious it is.

Most of the time, I use it to remind myself about things to buy for myself. I see a game, or a movie, or whatever, that's coming out in a few months, and I slap it in there, so I can always find it. Yeah, occasionally, I'll pre-order things a week or two before, but never 9 or 12 months in advance...Well, Ok, some things.

Yet, I also have a bad habit of just shoving things in there. Yeah, it's all stuff I'd like to have, but any time the list gets over 2 pages, I start to feel antsy. Yes, antsy...the reality that I'll never actually buy all this stuff starts to get to me. Which, I suppose, is better than actually buying it, and living in poverty. Yet, then there's the stuff that I can't bear to take off, because I know I want it...eventually, yet I never get around to buying...

Freaks and Geeks, anyone?

God, being a mass media/pop culture whore is difficult.

Still the good, let's be honest, outweighs the bad.  I mean, before Amazon I'd have had to WRITE DOWN LISTS...and REMEMBER WHERE THEY WERE. Surely, this alone is proof of the advance of our civilization. Let would I know that there's a Lemmy autobiography available without Amazon and it's wonderful suggestions?

Seriously, the thing is a millstone at times. Add things, then, crap, I'm over two pages. Yet, I keep dropping crap in there. Maybe someday I'll be independently wealthy, and it'll be a useless thing...I'll just buy what I want, right then and there.

Woah! I need this!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Mighty Talent of Shane Black

You may not know the name Shane Black right off the top of your head, but if you were around in the 80's you saw movies he wrote. The guy was the master of the 80's action film. No, not the testosterone bubble of those Stallone and Schwarzenegger vehicles, but but films that mixed wit and style with their ass kicking.

Lethal Weapon, The Long Kiss Goodnight, The Last Boy Scout and, a bit of joy from my childhood, The Monster Squad (with Fred Dekker). Yeah, he was brought in to try to fix The Last Action Hero, too, but that thing was a disaster from concept on out...and the concept wasn't Black's.

Black understood the proper way to construct and action film, how to make the characters people you care about, which, in turn, makes the action stakes that much higher. Black didn't write supermen, he wrote people who had skills, and used them effectively. It's probably why he couldn't really fix The Last Action Hero. There are no real people in that movie.

I always think about Lethal Weapon, where he writes the suicidal side Martin Riggs without backing down from it, yet still makes Riggs playful and fun to watch. Mel Gibson's marvelous performance brings it all to life, but few writers , especially in that genre, could so effectively play both sides of the personality full out.

Of course, I also think that Black didn't create his masterpiece until he'd taken several years away from film, and re-emerged in 2005 as the Writer and Director of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. This movie is almost the definition of pure entertainment. Robert Downey Jr, before the return to superstardom in Iron Man, but sober and bringing his entire bag of talent to the party. Val Kilmer in a role where his oddness not only doesn't overwhelm the film, but actually adds depth to the proceedings.

Black crafted not only a sly look at Noir conventions, but also a sly look at the "buddy action/comedy" that he, himself laid the foundation for, as a genre. It's endlessly witty, endlessly entertaining, and never, not once, treats the audience like it's stupid. I think everyone should see this film, it's brilliant.

Of course, it was also pretty much a bomb when released. So much so that Black has been unable to put anything in to production since.

Which is why I'm so happy that Black is re-teaming with Robert Downey Jr. to direct Iron Man 3, or at least he's slated to. It'll be nice to see Black tackle a big, tentpole film. He's got the chops for it, and I hope he takes a swing at the script, too.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Jeff Bridges SINGS!!!!

Downloaded Jeff Bridges Self-Titled Album this morning, and, since it's a pretty short one, I listened to all of it on the way to work.

I kinda love it.

Now, to be fair, I was very, very taken with Bridges performance in Crazy Heart (as I am with almost every acting job he does) , and really loved his musical performances in that film, and on the soundtrack (which is phenomenal, BTW). No, he doesn't have a perfect voice, or tremendous vocal range, but his voice was authentic, and felt right for an artist like "Bad" Blake in the film. The same can be said for this album.

If you watched Crazy Heart, and just kept saying to yourself, "he can't sing," well...First, I think you're dead wrong, and second, don't even bother with this album.

It should also be said that Bridges has a long history with music. He and his brother, Beau, have apparently been writing songs together for years. Bridges has songwriting credit for two tracks on this set.

Bridges, as a music artist, is clearly in the vein of the old-time country troubadours, your Johnny Cash, your Waylon Jennings. Now, I am NOT saying he's as good as those legends, but that's clearly the vein in which Bridges, and producer T-Bone Burnett are working in. I also felt a very strong similarity to the work of Tom Waits. There's a very loose, shambling feel to a lot of the numbers that is in that Waits realm, and Bridges voice tends toward that growling baritone.

the Waits similarity is really pronounced in the Bridges-penned tracks, especially "Tumbling Vine." It really struck me several times that I'd like to hear Bridges take a shot at Waits' "Grapefruit Moon," or "Rosie." There's that same sort of world-weary, but sharp vibe. The big difference between the two is that Bridges wins on the sincerity scale. I LOVE Tom Waits, but you do often get the feeling that the whole thing is an act, a bit of a joke on his audience. I love him for that, the sense that he's a puzzle to be deconstructed, but Bridges, almost to a fault, makes you feel like you're getting something real.

Maybe that's because he's a genius-level actor. Who knows? I do know that I felt like I was getting material that either came from, or touched, in the case of songs written by others, Bridges' heart.Of particular note is "The Quest," which really hit me as I rode the train to work today. It's a wonder that someone as accomplished, and successful, as Bridges could connect with me on the constant need to accomplish...something. He did, however, in spades. It's a great song, but it is Bridges rough voice that brings it to life.

The first track, and the first single, "What a Little Bit of Love Can Do," is the most "commercial" track here. It moves, and it's bouncy and fun. Ryan Bingham provides backing vocals. Here's the video:

I really enjoyed this record.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Stuck In My Head 8.15.2011


By Rush

He's got a road map of Jupiter
A radar fix on the stars
All along the highway
She's got a liquid-crystal compass
A picture book of the rivers
Under the Sahara

They travel in the time of the prophets
On a desert highway straight to the heart of the sun
Like lovers and heroes, and the restless part of everyone
We're only at home when we're on the run
On the run

He's got a star map of Hollywood
A list of cheap motels
All along the freeway
She's got a sister out in Vegas
The promise of a decent job
Far away from her hometown

They travel on the road to redemption
A highway out of yesterday -- that tomorrow will bring
Like lovers and heroes, birds in the last days of spring
We're only at home when we're on the wing
On the wing

When we are young
Wandering the face of the Earth
Wondering what our dreams might be worth
Learning that we're only immortal
For a limited time

Time is a gypsy caravan
Steals away in the night
To leave you stranded in Dreamland
Distance is a long-range filter
Memory a flickering light
Left behind in the heartland

We travel in the dark of the new moon
A starry highway traced on the map of the sky
Like lovers and heroes, lonely as the eagle's cry
We're only at home when we're on the fly
On the fly

When we are young
Wandering the face of the Earth
Wondering what our dreams might be worth
Learning that we're only immortal
For a limited time

We travel on the road to adventure
On a desert highway straight to the heart of the sun
Like lovers and hereos, and the restless part of everyone
We're only at home when we're on the run
On the run...

Thursday, August 11, 2011

My Needs Are Important, Or, The Lando Calrissian Factor

I've written about my feeling that the time had come to be more selfish about my commitments, and my time.

I don't know how well I've lived up to that. Maybe better than I feel I have. I've certainly just...not done things that I didn't want to do.Yet, I still feel the weight of expectation, and commitment, to things I really find myself just not being all that excited about. Or that I find frustrating, and don't see a lot of benefit coming back from.

Cassius It's Over by Outsider
Every relationship is a contract. Your contract means to give something to get something. Well, see, the way I've tried to work since I wrote those blogs above is that, if I'm not getting something, then I'm not overly interested in giving something. I don't even expect to get a lot, but I expect to receive something rewarding. Something that will excite me, remind me why I entered into the contract, and why I'm giving what I am.

So, what do you do when it's absolutely, crystal clear that, as far as direct, personal benefit, you're not going to be seeing anything for the foreseeable future? How's that going to affect your attitude about providing your part of the "contract."

The answer is; not very happy.

Of course, there are intangibles. We're talking about a business contract here, but personal feelings can't be excluded. Maybe, despite the fact you're not getting much in the way of tangibles from the relationship, maybe you do, truly, like working with the people you're involved with. That can keep you rolling for quite a while.

But not forever.

That only goes so far. It's tough to weigh personal warmth and friendship against personal satisfaction and fulfillment. It leads to a lot of self-evaluation and reflection.

What else can I say but, I'm looking some things in my life, and thinking "no one's getting anything worthwhile out of this." So, the question is...are the intangibles good enough for me to keep working on a relationship that appears, to hold little direct benefit for me? Is it right for me to become careless about my responsibilities because I'm seeing little reward?

Yes, this deal IS getting worse all the time.

Monday, August 8, 2011

One Of Those Days

That's from the cover of Marvel's Secret Wars #4. The bad guys dropped a mountain on the heroes, and The Hulk caught it. 

What can you do, right?

Saw Crazy, Stupid Love over the weekend. What a great film.

Seriously. Yeah, I love my sci-fi, my comic books, my superheroes, but I really do love a good romantic comedy, and I think Crazy, Stupid Love is about the best I've seen since Love, Actually (which is just unassailable, in my opinion, as the best romantic comedy since...I don't know, Annie Hall?). The cast is flat-out terrific, anchored by Steve Carrell and Mr. "so talented I hate him" Ryan Gosling.

Gosling, it appears to me, anyway, seems to be doing a riff on what the Hollywood system would like him to be, while Carrell is...well, doing that thing we all love him for. He's the hapless, good hearted guy who gets his heart stomped, makes a lot of mistakes, and still ends up a decent human being. They're matched very well by Emma Stone and Julianne Moore, respectively.

I liked how the film is just determined to play nice. No one's overly an asshole, and everyone has good qualities. It helps to drive home how easy it is to fall in love, and how hard it is to stay there. The supporting cast is all great, and the film provides a few twists that, I admit, I never saw coming.

Good time, a good date movie. Well made. When you see the trailer for New Years Eve (from the people who brought you Valentine's Day...because they somehow escaped our wrath) before the film, you realize how little thought an effort usually goes into this genre. I'll always champion an example that shows effort and talent.

Friday, August 5, 2011

A "Moment" While Browsing in Borders

Decided to take a spin through Borders over lunch, and I came across this book.

Comic-Con: Episode IV: A Fan's Hope is written by Morgan Spurlock, with some really stunning photography by Alba Tull. I knew Spurlock, he of Super-Size Me and Pom Presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold fame, was putting together a San Diego Comic-Con movie, but I had no idea that there was to be a book, as well.

I actually got an ad by e-mail earlier today for a "Special Edition" of this book. (Because there always has to be a "Special Edition," right?) I just ignored it, I get that stuff all the time, and usually these things aren't worth the time, let alone the money.

But, something happened as I thumbed through the book...A sweeping sense of place and belonging. I've been to a lot of sci-fi and comic conventions, but there is nothing like being in San Diego.

There's a true sense that the entire world, or at least the entire world of geekdom is converging in this one place. The truly beautiful portraits and photos chronicling the crowds were rich and sharp. I could hear the constant rumble of humanity, the smell of unwashed masses and bad food. The frustrations of the long lines, and the ecstatic joy when you can shake the hand of a writer or artist you admire

It was a "sense memory" moment that was almost overwhelming.

No, SDCC is never, ever a "perfect" experience. There's always that one panel you couldn't get into, the damn line you waited in for 3 hours for a panel that ended up being lame, causing you to miss 3 other panels that would've been awesome. The crowds are nightmarish at times, and every moment you stop to catch your breath, there's a nagging sense that you're...missing...something!!

But, I wouldn't have missed it for anything.

Captain America: Super Soldier for XBox 360

Little video game review action today.

This morning I finished the story portion of Captain America: Super Soldier on the XBox. It took me a little over nine hours to complete, which, based on the reviews I'm reading, is really slow. They say about six. Whatever.

Superhero and movie-based games each have a poor, poor history, and when you combine them...Hoo Boy! To this day, I blame my Three Rings of Death experience on the fact I was playing the Iron Man game at the time. The flying controls, alone, in that game were enough to make you want to kill someone, and not a vido game avatar, either.

There have been exceptions. Batman: Arkham Asylum being the best of the lot, and, as I've written about, my pick for the best video game, ever. The sequel is set for release in October. Of course, that game had nothing to do with a movie. Still, the development team got all the elements in place, and well executed, to make you really FEEL like you are Batman.

I bring that up because Captain America: Super Soldier was clearly developed by a team that spent a lot of time looking at Arkham Asylum. A third-person action game with a super hero character in a confined (if sprawling) location. Instead of Arkham, Cap is exploring Castle Zemo, the family home of classic Cap villain Baron Zemo.

The pros are pretty extensive. The combat system is really responsive, and intuitive. Again, the clear inspiration is Arkham Asylum, but that system is spectacular, so why not? I only had problems with shield-slinging, when you do a "quick throw" the shield will occasionally fly off in the...well in not the direction you wanted to throw it. There's a "aimed throw" process that works pretty damn well.

The character models are pretty sharp, and there's two unlockable alternate skins for Cap, the "Ultimate Universe" (WWII) version:

And the "Classic" uniform:

Of course, the default uniform is the one seen in the Captain America: The First Avenger movie.

The villains/bosses and Hydra soldiers all look good, as well. The character animations and cutscenes are all exactly what I expected, solid, but not spectacular. I've read a number of reviews that docked points for the backgrounds not being very detailed. I'll admit that I didn't have my eyes popped out of my head by them, but neither did they diminish my enjoyment of the game.

The vocal performances, with Chris Evans and most of the cast reprising their roles from the film, were really decent. The cast seemed committed, and frankly I've seen too many of these games where the vocal work (if they can get the actual cast) comes off as exactly what it is, a contractual obligation. Evans gets to do more speechifying than in the actual movie, and, I think, it proves what a solid handle on Steve Rogers he has. The villain cast, sadly, is not the original actors. For the amount of actual time the Red Skull is in the game, you think they could've talked Hugo Weaving into doing it. Alas...

Arnim Zola movie/game-style
That does, however, bring up a...well, I wouldn't call it a complaint, but a disappointment. You never actually clash with Herr Skull. Oh, there's a whole passel of classic Captain America baddies you do get to smash in the jaw, but the Skull remains elusive. Baron Strucker, Madame Hydra and Iron Cross all appear.

The ultimate battle is with Arnim Zola, in a very nicely realized "movie version" of his robotic, "face in his torso" look, which was nice to see after Toby Jones remained human for the entirety of the film. Alas, Jones doesn't provide the voice for the game, either.

I was a bit surprised that I didn't ultimately square off with Baron Zemo, given the location, but the game, via hidden "Zemo diaries" (Think the "Chronicles of Arkham" from Arkham Aslyum), ultimately paints a noble and somewhat sympathetic portrait of the Baron.

Oh, and they bring The Sleeper into it, which make my inner fanboy happy.

There's extras, once you finish the story, some challenge levels, etc. Stuff I haven't really dug into at all yet. I think it'll have more replay value for me, being a Captain America fan, over a strict gamer, and I'm probably overlooking some faults for that reason, as well. Still, I had fun with this one, and I picked it up for significantly less than a full-price new game (thanks, Amazon!, so I'm happy.

The game is good, but not REALLY good. There's an undeniable thrill to tossing the shield and seeing it ricochet around and nail 5 guys, and it provides that thrill. At the end of the day it's an Arkham Asylum clone, and, no matter how well executed,  it does pale against the original. It is, in my humble opinion, in the top-tier of the superhero/movie/video game genre. It's certainly a hell of a lot more playable than Iron Man, which just frustrated me too much to even deal with.

So, there you go. Your mileage may vary.

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Sad Tale of Jack Kirby

Now, before we go anywhere with this, I have nothing but the highest respect for Jack Kirby, and the characters he created, or co-created, and how they changed the face of comic books. There are very, very few figures that stand as tall as "The King" in the medium.

That said, I understand why the recent ruling in his heirs bid to gain control of the Marvel characters he co-created (and some he didn't, but we'll get to that) fell against them. I also think that, likely, that ruling is fair. It's fair, in my mind, only because the family isn't just seeking compensation, but ownership of the Marvel stable of characters.

There can be no argument that Jack, along with Stan Lee, was at the heart of the eruption of creativity that put Marvel Comics, as we know it, into motion. From Jack's pencil came The Fantastic Four, Thor, Iron Man, etc... It's a noble and extensive legacy, and one that should be studied, honored, and heralded.

The legal question at the heart is, did Jack co-create this work under a "Work For Hire" contract with Marvel, wherein all creations would be the property of the company?

The answer is simple. Of course he did, that was the way the entire industry operated. Jack had to have known and understood that, as, in 1954, Jack and partner Joe Simon (With whom he'd created Captain America in 1945) created The Fighting American. The character was a pretty close shave to Captain America, but with a 50's setting, and Commie-smashing antics. Ultimately, they turned him into a bit of a parody of the Communist scare attitudes.

Simon and Kirby owned The Fighting American. In the face of industry convention, the two comic men held on to the ownership of this character. What does that mean? It means that, ten years prior to his groundbreaking work  at Marvel, Jack Kirby must've understood the difference between owning a character, and work for hire.

Now, of course it's not that simple. Marvel's policy at the time was, apparently, that every paycheck was stamped with a "contract" indicating that the work for which this payment was intended was work for hire, and the property of Marvel Comics. When you endorsed the check to cash it, you were also signing the contract. Now, that is a bit sketchy, but I wonder if other publishers used the same process? In an environment where work for hire was the norm, it would seem a rational way to eliminate a lot of paperwork, and the need for an additional contract for every, single job.

Again, not optimal, not cut-and-dried, but I tend to think far less insidious than the Kirby heirs would have us believe. It seems the "contract" on the checks just re-iterated the well-known industry policies. Maybe not, I don't know...I wasn't there, but I don't think there's anything here that indicate that Jack had any reason to expect anything other than "Standard Industry Practice." (If that's fair, or not, is a whole 'nother issue.)

Then there's the Stan Lee factor.

Stan is co-creator, with Jack, of Fantastic Four, The Hulk, Iron Man, etc, etc. Stan wrote, Jack drew. Jack also, and Stan's pretty upfront about it, did a lot of plotting. All the Marvel artists did, it was the "Marvel Method." Stan would give the artists a very short concept, sent them off to draw the thing, and then dialogue it when the pages came back. Stan's take on this is, as not only the writer, but also editor of the Marvel line, he didn't have time to plot out every issue, and left it to his collaborators.

Now Stan was one of the creative, but also management. He had a family connection to publisher Martin Goodman, and he was running the show. He was writing, and Editor-in-Chief, which isn't unusual for the industry, either.

Thing is, Stan has become the fulcrum for all the terrible things that Kirby had to endure. Stan got credit for creating the Marvel heroes, when Jack did not. Stan has a generous pension from Marvel, and receives a payment when the characters are exploited in other media.

Jack should get that. Jack should get exactly what Stan gets.

Stan, however, doesn't own the characters.

Stan also stayed with Marvel Comics until 1981, when he went to Hollywood, as a representative of Marvel, to try to sell TV and movie projects. Stan WAS Marvel, he was the face, the voice, the cheerleader, the figurehead, from 1961, when Fantastic Four #1 was published, until 2000, when he struck out with his own ill-fated Stan Lee Media. Stan was a company man, and I don't think anyone can say he wasn't dedicated, or didn't work hard to promote Marvel Comics.

Who doesn't get a pension after 39 years of service?

Jack left Marvel in 1971, and went to DC Comics. There he created the "Fourth World" books introducing Darkseid, the New Gods, and other material that DC exploits to this very day. These books are beloved by fans, but I'll go on record that, while they have the grandiosity that we expected from the Marvel days, they lack the wit and loose energy that Stan brought to the scripting.

Nor did Stan (outside of Spider-Man) ever reach the levels he did with Jack.

The short of it is, Stan and Jack complimented each other, and brought out the best in each other. It's a shame that relationship fractured. It's also a shame that Jack left Marvel, whereas, prior to that move, Jack was part of the "Marvel Bullpen" that Stan promoted incessantly. He wanted fans to know the people who created the books, and Jack had a central role in that.

I believe it was even Stan Lee that bestowed the moniker of "King" on Kirby. I may be wrong about that, and I'm sure someone will correct me if I am, but "King Kirby" just sounds like Stan Lee. Kirby was "The King of Comics" forevermore.

Yet, Jack left Marvel. Is any company going to promote a man now working at the "Distinguished Competition?" Lee was there, Lee was a company man, and so, he became the focal point. Yes, Jack's contribution was marginalized from that point on, but, even in 1975, when Kirby returned to Marvel, Stan was calling him the "co-creator" of the Marvel characters.

Now, over the years, there was a lot of ugly stuff that went down. Issues about the return of Jack's (now very valuable) original art, wrangling over credit, etc. I'm not here to say, in any way, that Jack wasn't jerked around by Marvel. It's clear he was, but that has little bearing on the issue of ownership of the characters. It seems, from the material in the judges decision, that much of the Kirby family's evidence consisted of people talking about what a rat bastard Stan Lee was. Maybe he was, but that's irrelevant to the core issue...Did Jack know what he was doing for Marvel was work-for-hire?

I think the answer is yes, and, unfortunately, Jack isn't with us anymore to ask.

Again, I think Jack should've gotten exactly what Stan did, the pension, payments when the characters are used, etc. Also again...Stan Lee doesn't own the characters. Stan made a deal, and continued to re-negotiate that deal, with the understanding that the characters were Marvel's. Stan is a huckster, a storyteller, and his memory is (admittedly) not the greatest, but I can't find any interview where he doesn't give personal credit to the artists he worked with, and especially Jack Kirby, for the Marvel books. This is why it's so disturbing to me that it seems much of the Kirby family's case was built around tearing down Stan Lee.

 Re-production of Kirby's "Spider-Man" in the middle
It's also infuriating to me that the family has the audacity to claim that Jack ought to own Spider-Man, too. Stan took his Spider-Man concept to Jack first, as he was the top artist, and didn't like what the King came up with. So, then he went to Steve Ditko, who co-created the Spider-Man we all know and love.

Kirby apparently came up with a guy that looked a lot like Captain America with a web gun. Not a nerdy high-school kid, not the weird, agile Spidey of Ditko's pencil, but another hulking Kirby muscleman.

Jack Kirby had nothing to do with Spider-Man, and, frankly, what the Kirby Family is trying to do to Steve Ditko is analogous to what they accuse Marvel of doing to Kirby. Steal the character, and it makes me question the validity of their motivations.

Yes, give Kirby, or his heirs, a monetary compensation for his work, and the money Marvel has made off it. That is fair and just, but to tear down the work of other creators, even Stan Lee, in the name of Jack Kirby seems not in the spirit of the man that I read about.