Saturday, August 25, 2012

Neil Armstrong Merges with The Infinite

Astronaut Neil Armstrong, possibly the most well known of all astronauts, has passed at the age of 82.

Armstrong was part of the Apollo 11 team that reached the moon, and was the first human to cross the great void and touch foot to moon soil.

That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.

Armstrong's family on his passing:

While we mourn the loss of a very good man, we also celebrate his remarkable life and hope that it serves as an example to young people around the world to work hard to make their dreams come true, to be willing to explore and push the limits, and to selflessly serve a cause greater than themselves.

For those who may ask what they can do to honor Neil, we have a simple request: Honor his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink.

That's a pretty damn good epitaph.

Godspeed, sir.

Well, I found MY candidate

My choice for POTUS?

of course, it can't go worse than the guy I voted for in the gubernatorial election 2 years ago...

Friday, August 24, 2012

Noir Watch: FBI Girl (1951)

I'm going to spoil the ending, but there are two great things in this movie.
  • Lots of Audrey Totter
  • Raymond Burr in a moving speedboat shooting at Cesar Romero who is shooting back from a helicopter.  Heck.  Yes.
Oddly, the movie doesn't really live up to either (a) containing Audrey Totter nor (b) the exciting Burr/Romero sequence I've described.

In the post WWII-era FBI director J. Edgar Hoover did a fine job of getting Hollywood in line and making sure movies about the FBI almost invariably celebrated the DOJ as a machine so powerful that even when infiltrated or somehow compromised, the power of righteousness would prevail.  And, if you were a red-blooded movie exec looking to stay away from HUAC, you could do worse than promoting J. Edgar's little club.
nothing like what you see of Audrey Totter here ever happens in the movie

FBI Girl (1951) spends no small amount of energy establishing the flawless nature of the FBI's fingerprint department - something criminals and lawmen alike in mid-century crime fiction seemed to worry about.  I've never understood how the whole fingerprint mechanism worked before computers, and this movie does nothing to shed light on why it was even an issue for criminals (I mean, with a million prints on record, and requests coming in all the time, how do you even know where to start with a comparison?).

On Lance Armstrong and Pyrrhic Victory

Well done, anti-doping agency.  

You know, its too bad if Lance Armsotrong did dope.  It certainly left a lot of questions around his 7 Tour victories.  But here's kind of what I think:

It's a bicycle race.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Hello, Babies

On Wednesday evening I finished listening to God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater via audiobook.  I had read the most quoted part of the book on a poster by a local artists of some renown, a Mr. Tim Doyle (who once owned and managed a comic book shop in a mall beneath a dormitory), and the quote stuck with me the way some of these things do.  What the poster said was this:
Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It's round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you've got about a hundred years here. There's only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you've got to be kind.
It is the blessing Eliot Rosewater plans to bestow upon a pair of twins born to an arsonist of ill-repute who has asked him to lead the proceedings at the twins' baptism.

Just so you know, I have been asked to officiate a wedding this coming winter. Should I be asked to officiate a baptism, the above quote shall be included in my remarks.  Other excerpts will be taken from The Bible, Ray Bradbury, and Kanye West.

Anyway, I finally consumed the book recommended to me long ago.  Thank you for the suggestion.

But now I feel like I need to read Slaughterhouse Five again.  Or all the Vonnegut novels I've read.  Again.

So it goes.

At any rate, a fine book and an interesting read as the presidential election blares out of every orifice of media and we all pound our chests about our understandings of who gets ahead and how and how we choose to look at one another as a matter of policy and, according to this novel, a matter of sanity.

Curiosity Mars Rover is Making Tracks!

Way to go, SCIENCE!!!!

We're making tracks on Mars.

Hello, Mars.  We R on U.

Here for many more pics

Go ahead and ask, David...

The Comics Haul 8.22.2012 (and bonus note on TV's "Toy Hunter")

I made it to the comic shop this week and didn't exactly break myself trying to grab new books.

  • Prophet has been getting a lot of good buzz, including from Signal Watch favorite writer Chris Roberson.  The trade was inexpensive and the descriptions I'd read on the Image website were interesting, so I'm giving the trade a try.
  • Superman: At Earth's End is an Elseworlds special from a long while back.  I wasn't really seeking this out on purpose, but I've been meaning to read it for years.  It's pretty well liked, I understand and I came across it while doing some routine browsing of the Super-books at ABC.
  • The Ring of the Nibelung is actually volume 2, and I haven't read volume 1, which is listing for quite a bit on Amazon.  I saw this on the shelf a while back and told myself on a light week I'd pick it up so I wouldn't need to watch the price on Volume 2 go up as well*.  But I won't read it until, of course, I've secured Volume 1 and watched the entirety of the Ring Cycle operas.
  • Batman Incorporated 3 was supposed to come out the week after the release of Dark Knight Rises, but apparently has some material that seemed insensitive in the wake of the Colorado movie theater shootings.  I don't mind the delay in the slightest.
  • Superman 12 is possibly my last issue of the current run on this title.  I am buying so I don't have a hole in my collection, and even writer Dan Jurgens is distancing himself from his work on this book right now thanks to all the editorial interference that's reportedly occurring at DC at the moment - and which is leading to top name books like this feeling like they were put together by nitwits.
  • Supreme 66 continues the story by Erik Larsen that's okay, but not at the height of what Alan Moore was doing on this many, many years ago.

I didn't pick up the 50th Anniversary issue of Spider-Man like I planned to as it was kind of expensive.  New Rocketeer I will read in trade format.  I almost bought Captain America and Namor, but that will be cheaper in trade, and I'm doing just fine with Cap in trades now, anyway.

BONUS Content:

Toy Hunters, a new show on Destination America, came to our own Austin, TX this week.  The host visited Wonko's Toys in North Austin, a private collector of all sorts of toys and the fellow who runs Planet Superhero and lives just south of town, Tim Gardner.

I once met Tim randomly while at Wal-Mart.  He was savvy enough to spot a guy looking at some toys and asked about my interests and I explained I was mostly a Superman fan and we had a very nice chat about his website and collection.  He puts whatever I've got to shame.

I wasn't terribly impressed with the show, unfortunately.

1.  The host kept referring to a Super Powers toy from the 1980's as the vehicle of "Dark-Seed" as he was referring to Darkseid (pronounced "Dark Side" - as was made clear by the cartoon promoting the very vehicle he was buying had made clear).    He must have said "Dark-Seed" 20 times.  Total bush league, rookie mistake.
2.  The idea is that this guy goes around the country buying things from people and then sells them for a higher price at auctions in New Jersey.  This has absolutely nothing to do with the model of how vintage toys are bought and sold in today's market - but showing people clicking on eBay listings isn't good television, I suppose.  What was most vexing was watching the folks he was visiting basically take the same price for the goods they'd give someone off the street, not what they'd sell the item for themselves.  Tim and the guy from Wonko's Toys in North Austin are professionals - and this guy sort of made them look like chumps out in the sticks who can't figure out how to sell their own stuff.
3.  Yes, its Texas.  But Wonko's is located in a suburban strip mall in a developed and fairly well-to-do part of town.  The Country Bear Jamboree music made it sound like they were about to take a canoe ride in Deliverance territory.
4.  Do not explain to The Superman Expert anything about Superman.  It makes you look like an idiot.  I don't care if it IS for the cameras and people at home.  It's as awkward as when people find out I like Superman and try to explain to me that the first Superman comic is worth a whole lot of money.

The host is sort of an uncharismatic pill who uses that weird diction of anyone coached for talking about what they're doing for a reality show, and, frankly, the program needs a hell of a lot of polish.  They should try acknowledging something about the expertise of the people they're buying from, and maybe make it about what this guy can learn about the toys, the history of the toys and why they're valuable to someone rather than pretending he's the all-seeing oracle of toy value - something anyone with an internet connection can look up on eBay.

*last time I waited too long to pick up a book, I missed Torpedo Volume 1 and have just watched the cost rise and rise on Amazon as its also out of print and now in the hands of a different market.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

"Read Comics in Public Day" - a celebration of something or other

On August 28th the comics interwebs is once again asking comics readers to take to the streets for what is now an annual event called "Read Comics in Public Day".

To be clear, "Read Comics in Public Day" is pretty stupid.

I'm sorry.  Look, I know that's not a nice thing to say, but....

A few years ago some folks online decided that the reason why comics aren't more popular is because, by gum, you don't see enough comic nerds conspicuously sitting at Starbucks for hours reading a comic book.  Or at the park.  Or on a bus.  Or, probably, you know, lounging awesomely under a statue like that one in the plaza at the strip mall with the fountain that might make a cool picture for facebook or tumblr.

So... why?  Why is this even happening?  As near as I can tell, the purported reason for folks to take to the streets with comics is "promotion of comics".

these kids were reading comics in public before it was cool

The thinking went:  If more people were seen out in public reading comics, the whole entirety of what's wrong with a market that requires people spend $4 on 5-10 minutes of entertainment, that requires finding out-of-the-way shops in run down strip malls and understanding 20 years of back stories and, on top of that, often requires a byzantine pre-ordering structure...  All the financial woes of the industry would evaporate - if  only the masses saw a 20-something sitting on a bench outside the ice cream shoppe reading Ghost World or The Flash.

Yup, the problem is that nobody has seen you, you special snowflakes, reading comics.  In public.

There's kind of a curious logic to the idea that maybe doing this .3% of the year is not kind of pointless - especially given the limited number of attendees and that the sole criteria is that you appear "in public".  Why not send everyone to, say, the local library?  Starbucks?  Something that might make this newsworthy or even noticeable?  Strength in numbers?  Something for the cameras?  Why not, say, alert the media?

It's also a tradition born from the assumption that most people don't just mind their own damn business and that people actually look at what other people are reading.  Or, maybe, assumes that the person actively reading will somehow generate enough charisma by showing up "in public" that the casual passer-by will, of course, want to know what such an iconoclast is reading.

Happy B-Day to The Admiral

Happy Birthday to The Admiral.

Interestingly, he's doing his favorite thing on his birthday:  looking at someone else's finances and criticizing them.

You can retire a finance man out of business but you can't take the finance out of the man.  Or something.

Happy Birthday, man.  We'll grab a taco on Saturday.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Signal Watch Reads: The Underwater Welder

Jeff Lemire is currently doing a tremendous amount of work at DC Comics, and not just his series Sweettooth.  Prior to the New 52 he took on Superboy, and was doing a great job - certainly telling less headache-inducing stories than what we saw starting last September.

But many of us came to know him from his work on the Essex County trilogy, meditative, ethereal stories of past colliding with the present.  His latest book, The Underwater Welder feels a bit like a fourth installment in the Essex books, but in a new location (the hard cut coast of Nova Scotia), with water and diving a significant and ongoing theme rather than the wide open prairie/ near tundra of Essex County.

Jack Joseph is 33 years old and has made his living as a welder on the oil rigs that can be seen from the shore of his hometown.  His wife is very, very pregnant as he heads out for one last stretch of work before the baby is born - all in the week around Halloween, a day that resonates with Jack back through the years.

Lemire recognizes that past informs the present, and unlike the previous books in the Essex trilogy, the anxiety of the coming of fatherhood informs the future.  Despite the 224 pages of book, the comic feels much more like a particularly dense short story, in part because of Lemire's elaborate sense of pacing through visuals.  While far from an illustrative approach, Lemire's work stays on model in its' scratchy/ sketchy style, but paced brilliantly over the page count as each panel holds significance to the forward motion of the story - panels breaking up time, changing from one object to another, or otherwise manipulating the reader's point of view.

I hesitate to give up too much about the book, but it feels like Lemire is moving onward and upward with his work, instead of continuing to repeat himself - especially in the denouement of the book.  Rightly so, TV writer Damon Lindelhoff intros the book as an episode of The Twilight Zone, which featured tight vignettes that took characters through a strange or supernatural occurrence that provided some greater relevance in their life or gave the audience a moment to think a bit about what it meant for the character (I am still haunted by the idea of the man who wanted time to read, and in the wake of nuclear holocaust had all the time in the world.  Until he broke his glasses.  I probably think about that at least once a week.).

The story reads like fable or myth, and that's to its strength.

I did wonder how rushed Lemire felt to finish the book with his other assignments in queue.  The ending, while entirely satisfactory, lacked the pacing of the preceding set ups.  But perhaps I read the book too quickly.

Anyway, recommended.

And now I have to finally read The Nobody.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Oddly Life Affirming Superman Toy

Saturday I had to go to Target to buy a new telephone.  Not a smartphone, just a $15 thing to plug into the wall.*  Whilst at the Target, I stumbled upon the latest Superman toy from Fischer-Price:

Hero World™ DC Super Friends™ VOICE COMM™ Superman™

The name your 3 year old is sure to share with you accurately as you head into the toy section.

I'm out of the action figure game unless its a Superman toy.   Despite the odd paint and plastic, this still qualifies as Superman, so I picked it up and looked at it, and this fellow, intended for kids 3-8, has kind of a weird, kid-friendly sculpt and a bunch of voice related features.   Basically, he's got some sort of chip and I guess he can interact with other figures in the line and it all seems a bit more complicated/ compelling than pulling a string and hearing the same phrase repeated over and over about a barnyard animal.

Neat enough.  But I was pleased to hear was what actually came out of Superman's mouth, so to speak.

"Why did I make these chains out of kryptonite?  OWWWWW!!!!"

This Superman doesn't talk about punching anybody or breaking things.  He's pretty much all about helping folks (quickly) and seems a bit alarmed about Lex Luthor and General Zod's whereabouts.  But, mostly, making declarative statements about leaping into action to help out at some specific emergencies and some less specific.

I like this.  It's a proactive Superman who isn't trying to teach kids 3-8 about dark vengeance or grim justice or some such.  It seems like it should be okay for superheroes to be as much about saving the day (our Superman toy blurts: "There's a truck in trouble!") as clobbering other action figures, but a lot of superhero toys don't seem designed that way.

Noir Watch: Over-Exposed (1956)

Back in the day there wasn't necessarily a concept of a "chick flick", but studios did produce something called "women's pictures".  Douglas Sirk made his name producing movies like Imitation of Life (featuring a lovely Lana Turner) that could be held up as the ideal of the genre of women struggling in a man's world, wrestling with romance or work, and often coming into conflict with their children (see:  Mildred Pierce - a movie I really dig).  

I'm not entirely certain how Over-Exposed (1956) made its way into a noir set, and like Women's Prison, it seems a bit of a stretch to find a place for this next to Double Indemnity or even The Strange Loves of Martha Ivers.  But given the turn in last third, it made be a matter of pacing that's throwing me off.  

It's an interesting mishmash of the money-driven, hard-scrabble girl from the wrong side of the tracks using whatever she's got to get ahead as in Baby Face (1933), but only able to hint at a dodgy past while assuming one could rise to fame and fortune taking pictures for the society pages.

It is 1956, so our leading lady pays and pays dearly for not jumping at the opportunity for marriage to an amiable guy with a good haircut (Richard Crenna).  

The star of the film is Cleo Moore - one of the platinum blondes Hollywood started cranking out in the wake of Marilyn Monroe's success and suddenly remembering Jean Harlow had been a pretty good idea.  She's all right, if a bit humorless, and lacks the punchy iciness of, say, a Joan Crawford (or, god forbid, Bette Davis at her best).  

Busted at a "clip joint" on her first night in a small town, Lily Krenschka falls in with the photographer who grabbed her shot outside the police station, learns his trade and heads to NYC where she tries to become a newspaper photog, and winds up a taking pictures for the society pages and personal portraits, which, according to the movie, makes you a celebrity yourself.  Eventually she gets pictures she shouldn't of had and things go badly for her.  

If only she'd just agreed to marry Richard Crenna.  She could have lived a life of adventure with Col. Trautman.  

I wasn't much of a fan of the movie.  You're on your own.

Noir Watch: Women's Prison (1955)

I think we're all friends here, and so it's in that spirit that I confess to a great love of the film Reform School Girls (1986).  It's high 80's cheese, completely self-aware, and has one of the most satisfying conclusions in cinema history.  If you haven't seen it, you likely believe it's some sort of pay cable late night hoo-hah, but it's a pretty straight up prison movie played for camp and some (intentionally) cheap thrills.

Man, someone was trying to sell a much racier movie than the one delivered.

Neither prison movies nor women's prison movies are something I seek out, and I was surprised that Eddie Muller had included a whole section on prison flicks in his book, Dark City.  I'm not going to argue with Muller over how or why prison films are considered part of the genre, so there you are.  And as this film was included in a set of "Bad Girls of Film Noir", I'm just going to deal.