Sunday, July 26, 2009

On the passing of legend to myth to forgotten

A lot of announcements were made over the weekend at San Diego this weekend. The two that surprised me the most concerned two sets of characters who have been in and out of legal quagmires that seemed inextricable.

On Friday, Marvel Comics announced that they had secured the rights to Marvelman, also known in America (thanks to legal back-arching from the selfsame Marvel Comics) as Miracleman. Based on a largely forgotten British comic book and re-imagined (a good thirty years before people got sick of the term) by comics mastermind Alan Moore, the book was spectacularly popular in the 80's and early 90's until its publisher, Eclipse Comics went belly up (the details of that are an article all by themselves, I can tell you.) Since then, Todd McFarlane bought the rights, Neil Gaiman claimed he owned a piece, original creator Mick Anglo claims he never authorized the new version and HE owned the rights, and things have remained in a gordian knot for decades. The Wikipedia page has a pretty good rundown of who's said what over the years.

So Marvel announced they had Marvelman, but after careful reading of their statements, conspicuously stopped short of saying that they had the rights to those oh-so-coveted 24 issues from Eclipse. They have the rights (from Mick Anglo) to do new stories. That's very nice, but it's not quite what Marvelman fans have been waiting for. Until/unless Marvel says clearly otherwise, it sounds like those issues are just as unobtainable as they were on Friday morning.

No to be undone, DC announced on Saturday that in addition to doing the Milestone and Red Circle characters, they had secured the rights to the THUNDER Agents. As I already predicted some weeks back, I KNEW someone was going to get them now that John Carbonaro had passed on, and I was hoping it would be DC.

The histories between the two stables of characters are somewhat similar. Both experienced their original popularity over five decades ago (Marvelman in the 50's, THUNDER Agents in the 60's), both had a brief renaissance in the 80's / 90's, and both have been bogged down in massive litigation that rendered them unattainable in the eyes of most comics fans, not to mention publishers. DC came tantalizingly close to doing the Agents a few years ago, but John C didn't like the changes DC suggested to the characters, and put the kibosh on the revamp. They got reprints out of the original run of the book in their archives series, and even a nice resin statue of Dynamo. So it's obvious DC had the most invested in the characters. McFarlane was going to do new Marvelman/Miracleman stories, but his copyright battles with Gaiman kept that from happening (thank god, if I may be allowed to pass comment).

I was guardedly pleased with Marvel's announcement, I was over the moon with DC's. But one comment that I heard over and over on the boards about both announcements really shocked me.


I'm not so silly as to expect everyone in comics to know about the THUNDER Agents (though it'd be nice) but the idea that there are people reading comics today who hadn't heard of Marvelman really surprised me. I mean, we're talking about seminal work by Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman, arguably two of (if not the two) best writers in the modern age of comics. But to young comics fans that "before I was born", and as such relegated to classrooms and elderly relatives driving down the highway pointing out Where Things Didn't Used To Be.

Both companies have challenges before them, But both have different toolsets available to them to make their new characters into successes. Both will have to (re-)educate the comic-buying public as to who these characters are. In this, DC has two advantages:

-They have access to the entire run of THUNDER Agents. They can, should they choose, put out another reprint, perhaps one of their Showcase editions, to allow fans to read the stories for the first time. Unless we hear otherwise, Marvel does not have access to the stories that fans (American fans at least) remember and want to see again.

-The THUNDER Agents are a unique set of characters, with powers, personalities and interactions that haven't been duplicated by other comics. They can be easily folded into the DCU and not threaten to overwhelm the Trinity with power, requiring a serious nerfing. Marvelman, at his core, is a second generation copy of Fawcett's Captain Marvel. It was the Moore and Gaiman stories that made him into something special and miffic. Marvel aready had a second generation copy of Captain Marvel. His name, ironically, was Captain Marvel. Also, as he was written by Moore and Gaiman, Marvelman had almost godlike power, enough to take over the world and create a true utopia. Obviously, that isn't going to happen in the Marvel Universe version of the character. And they already have a recently-introduced character with godlike powers in The Sentry. If they plan to use him in the MU, I fear he'll be a big fish in a VERY big pond, and will quickly get lost.

The THUNDER Agents are a great set of tools that can be used to write great stories. Their best has yet to be seen. To a lot of people, the greatest Marvelman stories have already been written. Anything else Marvel tries to do will be compared to those stories, and I'll warrant, they'll come up second.

If you're talking sales of reprints, Marvel will win hands down. They could name their price, and it'll STILL be cheaper than the usurous fees people are getting one Ebay for the original TPBs of the Eclipse runs. But when it comes to potential for new stories, I think DC has the most potential for success.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

On the joy of watching schoolgirls raise hell from the safety of the cinema

If you've never heard of the St. Trinian's films, I feel for you.

They're based on a long series of Ronald Searle cartoons, which were in turn inspired by an experimental "free range" girl's school, St Trinean's school in Edinburgh. The cartoons were largely stand-alone gags, but like had been done to Charles Addams' "familial" creations, story and character names were created for the series of films done by the legendary Ealing studios in the UK. The girls of St. Trinian's were little terrors - they ran book on sports, received education in both ballet and blackmail, and generally "Did as they liked".

Alaistair Sim (best known over here from the classic adaptation of A Christmas Carol) played a dual role as headmistress Miss Fritton (Drag comedy has SUCH a more respected history in other countries) and her brother Clarence. World-famous-in-Britain George Cole played local petty criminal and assistant to the girls' schemes Flash Harry. There were four "classic" St T's films made, all are damn brilliant in the classic "Ealing comedy" way. A fifth was done in the 80's with little fanfare and acceptance, and won't get much more from me.

But a new film in the series was released in the UK in 2007, with a hell of a cast, and an large number of about-to-be-big castmembers as well. Far funnier than he's given credit for Rupert Everett takes on the dual role of Camilla Fritton and her brother Carnaby. Notorious character Russell Brand plays notorious character Flash Harry, and recent Bond Bird Gemma Arterton plays Head Girl (get your minds outta the gutter, it's a position in British schools vaguely akin to class president...tho in her case, maybe you're right) Kelly Jones. The plot is simple - The school is having financial issues, and the girls have to come up with a scheme to get the money to save it. This time it involves participating in School Challenge and a plot to steal Vermeer's "Girl with a Pearl Earring". (As Colin Firth also appears in this film, there's more than a couple references to the recent film of the same name as well)

It hits all the standard cliches for these types of comedies (new outsider eventually joins in and is accepted by the gang, bad people fall in mud, etc) but they're played with a freshness and fun that kept me quite happy and pleased. One scene of the entire student body teeming across Trafalgar Square and through the National Gallery was just awesome - they were filmed from a crane, and perfectly resembled the screaming mass of dust, limbs and field hockey sticks from the original cartoons, as well as the animated titles from the classic quartet of films.

There's already a sequel in the works, to feature David Tennant, just off his run in Doctor Who. He'll not be the first DW alumni to appear - female lead Talulah Riley played Miss Evangelista in the wonderful (all I'll bet Hugo-winning) episodes "Silence in the Library / Forest of the Dead", and Fenella Woolgar, Agatha Christie from "The Unicorn and the Wasp" plays the sports matron.

The film is headed for the USA on August 28th - I recommend it for fans of the originals, of Ealing comedies in general, teen "kids vs the adults" comedies, and for tweens as well. There's a copy of the poster at

It's interesting that Talulah Riley loses center spot on the poster to the slightly more recognizable (and sexy) Arterton, but NEITHER get actual name billing on the poster. That's reserved for more popular Everett and Firth, as well as Brand and now famous in US Lena Headey and Mischa Barton.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

On spending two decades plus with the same person

A guy is sitting in his favorite chair, looking melancholy; a tear runs down his cheek. His wife asks him, "What's wrong with you?"

He looks at her and say "Do you remember when your father found us in your bedroom, and he got out his shotgun and said if I didn't marry you, he'd have me sent to prison for twenty years?"

"Yeah, and?"

He sighs quietly. "I would have gotten out today."

As of today, I have been married to The Wife for twenty years. Counting the time we were affianced and just plain going out together, I have been with her longer than I have been without her. I am happy to say I have not regretted it.

I proposed after the third or so date, she didn't actually accept until several weeks later. We were necking in an old book store, and in a fit of passion I asked her to marry me again, and she said yes. As I opened my eyes in joy, I spied a first printing copy of Earthman's Burden by Gordon Dickson on a shelf, which I had been looking for just forever. If that's not a good omen, I don't know what is.

I didn't have a ring or anything, and we both knew we weren't in a position to actually get married, we just knew that we would indeed get married when we could afford it. (we were as annoyingly practical when it came to having kids too, which is why we didn't have The Kid for eight years after were got hitched) So to celebrate, I got her a piece of chocolate cheesecake. When she finished it, I asked her to give me the styrofoam box. When she asked why, I explained, "So when we finally get the ring, I can put it in the box and hand it to you. She thought that was adorable, handed it to me, and promptly forgot about it.

Several years later, we went to the Fortunoff's to pick up the ring; I was carrying a small paper bag. I got the ring, distracted her for a moment, there was a rustling of brown paper, and handed her a styrofoam pie-slice box. She fell apart - it couldn't have gone any better.

Our wedding ceremony was performed by my old High School English teacher, who had since joined the priesthood. Eight years later he baptized The Kid. Our reception was something out of of Goodfellas, complete with the satin bag full of cash, which was promptly siezed by the mother of the bride to pay for said reception.

We've moved four times in that time, which is as I understand it, below average. we've gone from job to job, but never reaching a point where money has ever become an argument point. Our arguments have been few, far between, petty and pointless, and quickly sorted. We spend most of our time quoting movies at each other, being witty and urbane, and generally laughing our asses off.

Her mom remains bewildered as to how we could possibly be happy, since we are not rich and do not live in a fourteen room mansion. But as the years have ground on, she has had to admit that we ARE happy, she just can't possibly grasp how.

She fits in my arms, and fills in the bits about movies that I don't. We have shared things with each other - she had never read Douglas Adams, and I had never seen Little Shop of Horrors. I explained how the DC Multiverse to her, and she eplxained the appeal of Shell Scott novels. I got a few writing gigs from her old boss, and she went to work for Jim Shooter at Defiant, where she met Steve Ditko. Twice.

Considering all the things that could happen in a relationship, and the few things that have, we've apparently gotten very good at dodging bullets. I'm hoping our luck holds out. We're both in pretty good shape (searches frantically for a piece of wood to knock - stupid pre-made cubicles) and expect to be stuck with each other for quite some time to come.

Works for me.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

On the definition of "foil" as "enemy, antagonist"

Back when I worked in a bookstore in the 80's, publishers started coming up with ways to make book covers more attractive. One of the things they started doing were more than one cover for a book. In some cases they'd just change the background color of the cover, and in same cases they'd do different art, as they did for the Stephen King collection "Different Seasons". Now bear in mind, this was done SOLELY to give the bookstores something more attractive to stack in the windows - four different color covers allowed you to do a more appealing display.

Once in a while someone would come along and ask if they were four different books; one person asked if the four covers meant the books were different languages. We'd assure them they were all the same interior, it was just a display thing. So they'd pick their favorite cover, and buy their copy.

Their one copy.
Cut to the release of the first issue of Legends of the Dark Knight. First new Bat-title in decades - a big deal. So DC decided to take a page from the book publishers' playbook and put out four different covers. Now bear in mind, this was effectively a two-color cover - black and one of four background colors. No special art, noting. Designed SOLELY to allow the store to put them in the window in a cool way. IMS, it didn't even get solicited as anything special cover-wise.

But a very odd thing started to happen. I saw it with my own eyes. Without any prodding, fans began asking the owner at the shop I frequented, "Which one is the rare one?" The proprietor, no fool, answered, "Pink". People bought the pink one. People bought all four covers. Sales of the issues effectively increased fourfold.

Now, the comics industry doesn't need a bridge to fall on them.

Multiple covers almost immediately became the standard, at least for "special" issues. Even mainstream magazines started doing them - TV Guide and Entertainment Weekly do them on occasion now, usually for genre shows and movies, ones that have a heavy "collector mentality" following.

Again, in the desire to make their books pop out of the stack, publishers started adding more printing techniques to their covers. Foil, holograms, extra colors, all designed to catch the average readers' eye. But there was a major point - the book publishers never asked the reader to pay more for a foil cover.

Not so for comics companies. A foil cover meant an extra buck on the cost of the book, easy. And usually there'd be a foil and a non-foil cover, which of course meant you "had to" buy both covers to keep your collection complete.

Now all of this was spurred along by the addlepated idea that somehow ALL comics were a great investment, and a comic you paid MORE for must be a BETTER investment. People would not and could not grasp that the reason Action Comics #1 was worth thousands and thousands of dollars is because there's like seven of them. There will never be a similar demand for one of the million copies of Spawn or X-Force.

Eventually the speculators left, people woke up and realized that they were being very foolish, and all the gimmick covers and million-copy print runs went away. The market shrank back to what it was before the boom, maybe even a little less as readers just gave up on comics altogether.

And we assumed we had learned.


Marvel just announced they will be doing a foil cover for the new Ultimate #1 issues.

Here's the paragraph everyone's quoting...
This is Marvel doing the nineties right," explained David Gabriel, Marvel Comics Senior Vice President of Sales & Circulation. "We’re taking two of the most popular cover treatments of all time—foil and holograms—to create an all new kind of cover, as a 'thank-you' to fans who’ve been demanding this kind of variant! Retailers and fans don't need to worry. We're only doing this on a limited basis. You won't see one on Ms Marvel #46 or Lockjaw and the Pet Avengers #4. We're using them to mark very special occasions...such as the launch of Ultimate Comics line.
Let's break this down...

"This is Marvel doing the nineties right"

This is like trying to to the Dresden bombings right. Or perhaps they mean "right" as "Better for us".

"fans who’ve been demanding this kind of variant"

My kid "demands" candy all the time, but I don't give it to her. Peter David gave the fans "What they demanded" in the last issue of X-factor, and has learned the price of giving the public what they want.

"We're only doing this on a limited basis"

"Limited" is one of those words that gets a lot of use. Like in "Limited warfare".

I have the advantage that I don't read the Ultimate titles, so this won't affect me. But this kind of thing spreads like wildfire, especially if it's successful.

I beg the industry to remember. Remember the cases of unsold comics in your back rooms. Remember the speculators dumping "hot" books at half cover while you were trying to get twice cover two booths away. Remember that moment that you realized that you just bought five copies of a comic book, all pre-sealed in bags, and a sixth one that you could open and read.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

On the ability to cook an entire meal in just under a day

All told, I don't buy too many food gadgets. I have a stove, a microwave, an assortment of pots and pans, and the other things you'd expect to find in a modern kitchen. But I've never owned a toaster-oven, nor a Magic Bullet, or any of the other devices Ron Popiel and his spiritual progeny have presented to us over the decades. A mandoline slicer sits unused on the shelf of our Ikea kitchen organizer once I realized I could still cut onions faster and smaller than it could, and retain the tips of all ten fingers. Even the terracotta garlic roaster I lusted after for so many years collects dust as several attempts to use it resulted in small vaguely garlic-scented charcoal briquets.

I'm no luddite, I just try to buy things I'll actually use on a regular basis. I bought a food processor back when I first married The Wife that sat in its box through three moves and two decades. It only just came back into use lately to help grind her usually coarse rice flour into a fine powder that works better in her assorted gluten-free recipes. Her breadmaker joined the family of appliances a year or two back after she realized that the vast majorty of gluten free breads out there either tasted like foamcore, or was stupidly expensive and still only tasted slightly less like foamcore. She's become quite the baking machine herself, whipping out brownies, blondies, hamburger and hot dog buns and all manner of tasty yet non-gastric-distress-inducing yeasty comestibles. She's making a trip to see her Mom next week, and she wondered if her assorted flour mixes will be available in the local shops, and maybe she should bring her own. I calmly suggested that it might be a poor plan to take a series of plastic bags filled with white powder in her luggage.

More and more plug-inables has joined the kitchen since our move to PA and the larger kitchen it provided. A countertop griddle proved far more controllable than our electric stovetop (do NOT get me started) so pancakes became a regular thing for us, including at least one try of the truly ridiculous but actually pretty good pancakes-in-a-spray-can Batter Blaster. A waffle maker also allowed other breakfast pastries to be enjoyed, mainly Alton Brown's Sweet Potato Waffles. Our coffee maker fell to lime scale rot last week, so I upgraded to an iced tea maker, which is really nothing more than a coffee maker with a larger single-batch capacity, but since The Wife makes iced tea more than I make (iced) coffee, it seemed to make sense. They're all in heavy rotation, and we've gotten the use of all of them.

And then there's the Crock-Pot non brand-specific slow cooker device.

About three years ago they were having a chili cook-off at my company, and I decided to participate. Realizing I'd need a heated pot of some type to keep said chili warm, I went to my local Mega-lo-Mart and picked up a cheap one. The chili was well-reviewed, and when I got home, I had a new device at my disposal.

My mother, bless her, was of Scots ancestry, a people who never progressed past boiling in food preparation technology. Her parents were also apparently very ascetic in nature, and shunned things like spices and herbs. Likely they thought they could lead to dancing. So "boiled" was usually followed by "to death" in my mind.

Soon I learned that pot roast could actually be tasty, not to mention a number of other meat products prepared low-and-slow. Pork roasts, often selling two-for-one at our local supermarket were usually either cooked on the BBQ or in the oven, but I wondered how it'd taste cooked for hours in a bath of pork-n-beans. I only wish all my idle wonderings were as succeessful and delicious.

Another local shop regularly offered pork shoulder at a buck a pound - I figured it too would be good in beans.


It didn't cook, it disintegrated. I pulled the bone from it like one would prise loose a baby's tooth. In a few stirs it became this porky-beany sluice of wonderful. It's now the single most often thing cooked in our trusty cooker.

Last winter, Tatiana EL-Khouri posted an article at Michael Davis World (where I am a frequent kibitzer) singing the praises of her slow cooker, and the freedom it allowed her. I agreed, but complained there was one thing I couldn't seem to find a good recipe for, tho - the pork and beans/baked beans themselves that I'd use as a cooking medium. We'd usually just mix up a devil's brew of canned pork and beans, baked beans and usually a can of black beans for some diversity, and cook away. But I wanted to try one that I could make from scratch, prepare in bulk and pull out when we needed it. Searching the electric-type Internet, I was amazed at how many recipes I found started with "Open a can of baked beans and...". None seemed to have what I was looking for.

Well, this weekend I lost my patience, took the ingredients from three or four recipes that looked promising and bashed together my own. And not to pat myself on the back, I think I knocked it out of the park. In the tradition of making everything available for free on the Web, I present it here.

Vinnie's Slow-cooker baked beans

5-quart slow cooker
1 pound each of dried white northern beans, navy beans and black beans
Tabasco / hot sauce of choice
4 tsp salt
1/2 lb salt pork (preferably slab)
1/4 cup each red and vidalia onions, diced
1 tbsp diced garlic in oil (+ 1 tbsp oil)
1 1/2 cups molasses
1 cup dark brown sugar
2 cans (14.5 oz size) finely diced tomatoes
4 tbsp barbeque sauce
1 tsp cumin

  • Soak beans overnight in large pot of water plus 5-6 squirts of hot sauce. Next morning, drain beans, refill pot with fresh water and salt, and simmer at gentle boil for one hour.
  • Cut salt pork into 1-inch cubes (or 2-inch slices if pre-sliced)and cook/render in pan. Remove from pan with slotted spoon and set aside. Cook garlic and onions in remaining pork fat. Set aside.
  • Drain beans, reserving bean water.
  • In (cold) cooker, mix tomatoes, molasses, brown sugar, BBQ sauce cumin, and another 4-5 shakes of hot sauce until sugar is dissolved.
  • Add pork, onions/garlic and mix.
  • Add beans (to about 1 1/2 inch under rim) and mix thoroughly.
    (N.B. - three pounds of soaked and boiled beans results in about three cups of beans more than a 5-qt cooker can handle. Save the remaining now-cooked beans for other recipes or dishes - about two snack-sized zippy-bags full. Great for minestrone or salad)
  • Add bean water to fill cooker and mix.
  • Cook at high for as long as you can stand it (7 hours min), stirring infrequently, about once an hour.

    Near end of cooking process when it's at a solid boil, makes a great medium for cooking hot dogs.

Eventually, I want to buy one of those stick blenders, and that Kitchen-aid industrial stand mixer just calls to me every time I see it.