Saturday, April 6, 2013

So, That Online Course I'm Taking - Gender Through Comic Books

Just as an FYI - I intentionally wrote my piece on portrayals in women in comics earlier this week before getting into the reading for the course I'm taking.

The course is:  Gender Through Comics Books at and originating at Ball State.

Anyway, I work in higher education, currently in libraries, but from 1997-2006 I worked in Distance Education at large public research universities, UT Austin and Arizona State University.  From 2007-2008, I worked at a smaller eLearning company here in Austin that developed mostly corporate training materials with the occasional foray into creating materials for educators.

When I left university distance learning, it wasn't because I was tired of the field.  I thought eLearning was in its toddler-hood, but we were taking a leap to return from Arizona to Austin, and there weren't/ aren't that many positions out there for this, even with my sterling credentials.  Working in a media shop developing stuff for corporations was a great experience in many ways, and I learned a tremendous amount I doubt I would have gained at The Academy (as we like to say when we're wearing tweed and drinking hot tea from small cups).

Back in 1999 or so, I remember watching a clip from 60 Minutes on The Future of Education.  At the time, University of Phoenix was a rising star and talking heads were proclaiming that UofP had cracked the code.  In a few years we'd all be taking our courses through them, and there was no point in resisting progress.  They predicted (and were clearly relishing the term way, way too much) the concept of "rock star faculty", folks who would be THE faculty voice for a generation talking about America History 101, etc...  Nobody was sure how it would work, but they were certain it was just around the corner.  

It didn't happen.

Your Daily Dose of Good Cheer: Cate Blanchett

Reed chimes in on the whole 10 Years of Blogging Business

I've known Reed since... man, probably 1984 or so. If anyone was there when I passed the curve from "mild interest" in comics to full blown comics nerd, it was he. He was also the guy i knew who actually owned copies of Death in the Family, and so, one day while he and Jason were listening to Van Halen albums or something, I sat on his bed and read the whole run.

Anyway, Reed has been with the blog for years, though he only usually chimes in to defend his beloved Texas A&M Aggies (who are having a pretty good time of it these days). But he's always around... somewhere....

Congratulations on 10 years of blogging!!! It's hard to believe. It's hard to believe my oldest will turn 8 in 2 months, that Jas and I are 40 years old, and that my dad is 70! My dad turning 70 is actually the hardest to come to grips with.

Anyway, here is what I have appreciated the most about The Signal Watch (and The League of Melbotis):

* Your captions with photos and images. Whether it's crazy 1950-60s Superman covers, photos of your family, or images from Hollywood, you have the best captions!
* Your commentary and dialogue about your family (especially with and about your brother). I always check the comments section. Of course, I'm biased having known your family for so long.
* Daily Dose of Good Cheer formerly Dames in the Media That The League Once Dug. I never realized that it was originally done to increase web traffic on your blog. Regardless of the reasons, I'm a big fan.
* Your movie reviews. You have helped keep me from making poor decisions at the movies. Especially when you pan comic book movies. That usually seals it for me.
* I stopped collecting comics after I graduated high school so it's been nice to stay in the general loop of the industry through your blog.
* Your general writing. I am constantly amazed at not only the quantity, but the quality of the writing and how you keep things fresh on your blog for over 340+ days a year (you rarely take days off from your blog).

Again, congratulations on 10 years and here's to 10 more. Thanks for providing an entertaining break during my work day.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Your Daily Dose of Good Cheer: Cassandra Peterson as Elvira

Oh, Did You Just Figure Out That Maybe Disney Buying Star Wars Means Everything You Liked About Star Wars is Going to Getting Demolished?

Shoemaker sent me this article from i09.  It's basically about how, the afterglow of Disney's purchase of Star Wars and the sudden lay-offs, etc... start to settle in, someone realized that Disney probably doesn't give two Jawa farts about the Star Wars Expanded Universe.

As I said in my email response to Shoemaker: no kidding

once again, your avatar for what will happen to everything you once loved

Even when the first Expanded Universe stuff hit the shelf when I was in high school, I didn't read it.  I guess by the time those books arrived, I was pretty well aware that studio executives weren't going to care that some sci-fi authors wanted to write Star Wars books when it came time to make new movies, and those studio execs were going to include George Lucas and his associates.  When movies that moved past the conclusion of Return of the Jedi did happen, they'd be so much bigger than a series of fantasy books, that the books would just sort of disappear into the ether as non-canonical, leaving a herd of nerds wondering how to reconcile the irreconcilable, narratively speaking, in their minds.

Of course, for two decades we had Uncle George backing up the books - which I doubted he ever read, but he knew that without his stamp, those books wouldn't be taken seriously nor purchased by Star Wars fans.  And that meant less dough, so best to just approve them and worry on it later.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Carmine Infantino Races into The Infinite

Reports are coming out that Carmine Infantino, original artist of the Silver Age Flash comics - and so, so many other comics - has passed.

If you can, pick up the Flash Chronicles books or the Showcase Presents: The Flash collections.  It's not just the stories that are great (and they are), but it's Infantino's visualizations of Barry Allen's powers brought to life, managing the panel-by-panel aspect of comics to keep the reader on pace with Barry when necessary and coming up with other techniques - like the "many Flashes in a single panel" technique that was even spoofed in an early episode of The Big Bang Theory.  

Roger Ebert Merges with The Infinite

Film critic, commentator and historian Roger Ebert has passed.

As co-worker Kristi said "he and Siskel had the last, old school intelligent criticism show on TV".  I agree.  Even after Siskel passed and Ebert had to take a side-line role on At the Movies after he'd grown ill, I liked the various folks who were on, but I really missed the original formula.  Smart, tweedy guys taking an art form seriously.  Back when studios were arguably trying to participate in film as an art form and less as a commercial product.

Ebert found the internet, and as recently as a few days ago he was online, blogging, talking about how he'd been ill again, but that he and his wife, Chaz, were planning new ventures and what was to come for his film festival in Chicago.  He was massively influential online, straying from movies and into politics and sociology.

I liked Ebert most of my life, but the past few years I came to respect the hell out of the man who wasn't just confined to giving movies a thumbs-up or down, who had a wide ranging field of interest, who had become somehow more verbose once stripped of his voice, and whose decades of reviews were available online for me to consider.

We lost Gene Siskel too soon when he passed more than a decade ago, and we lost Ebert just as he was really getting his engines humming for his career's second act.

His website is still up, and hopefully his team of critics is still out there doing their jobs.

Your Daily Dose of Good Cheer: Marcia Gay Harden (as Verna Bernbaum)

No Post Thursday - what I've been doing (class, books, end of the yearly cycle)

This evening I went to the gym, watched an episode of Mad Men Season 5, did some pre-ordering of comics, and got pretty far along with the first unit of the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) I've started through Canvas.

When I get through the first week, I'll post some personal and professional observations as someone who (a) has read comics for a long, long time - including a good chunk of the assigned reading, (b) who actually does care about gender representations in media - but maybe not in a particularly prescribed way, and (c) who worked in distance education for a decade before moving on to digital libraries.  As bonus featurea (d) I already went through five years of undergraduate education in narrative media studies, and (d) I sort of have my opinions regarding scholarly writing when it comes to social criticism, so...  it's turning out to be an interesting experience already.

It's going to be a long post, and only, likely, I will care about it, so...  look for THAT.

Speaking of gender in comics and pop-culture, yesterdays post on why it's okay for Power Girl to have a "boob window" got a fair number of hits.  By that, I mean, we were around 95 last I checked, which is, like, HUGE for this site.  I never know what's going to get traffic.  I fully expected upwards of 18 clicks.

I am making a commitment to just admit I am going to just read all the Richard Stark novels and nothing else that is not a comic until I finish the Parker and Grofield series.  And then I have, literally, ten books to get through.

  • I'm about a quarter way through the Larry Tye Superman book Nathan gave me, so that might get read while I work through the Stark novels.
  • Dark City Dames by Eddie Muller - a book with bios of a handful of noir sirens, including sections on Audrey Totter and Marie Windsor
  • Altered Carbon - as recommended by Steven
  • the next three Barsoom novels starting with Thuvia, Maid of Mars
  • Doc Savage, Man of Bronze - personally recommended by no less than Chris Roberson
  • The Big Screen  - a non-fiction book on the history of cinema
  • The Killer Inside Me and After Dark, My Sweet, that I've been putting off for, literally, almost twenty years
  • the new Glenn Wheldon Superman book  
  • a Dashiell Hammett collection

As I said on the Facebooks today, I need more time to read.

So, no recommendations for a bit.  My plate is full.

Jamie's birthday is passed, and mine is next Friday, so if you're around and want a cocktail, email me.  We may be doing something about drinks on the 13th.

We have a yearly cycle that starts at Halloween and ends with my birthday.  Really, from Halloween, it's something every few weeks, including Valentine's Day, then March - the months of birthdays, etc...  And, of course, Easter and Mother's Day take us into May.  At this point I'm used to it, but it does seem like it compresses time into the various observances.  Summer has become my holiday from holidays, except for July 4th, which includes explosions and hamburgers and is thus becoming one of my favorite holidays.

My folks are headed back to Kenya for missionary work/ putting eyeglasses on Kenyans.  Always proud of them in their volunteer efforts.

Mad Men Season 6 starts Sunday night, so, leave a brother alone while he does his thing.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Put some clothes on: The complications of female superhero costumes

One of our own posted a link to Twitter to a page showing redesigns of popular female characters in comics (in particular, DC Comics characters) in outfits that are not the white one-piece peek-a-book of Power Girl or the familiar star spangled corset and shorts of the Wonder Woman costume.

I'll take a poke at the Power Girl costume because the original is one of the most discussed costumes in comics and, short of Vampira, the one most likely to raise questions and hackles.

example of redesign

and original formula

In comparison to Power Girl's traditional costume, he redesign certainly seems less aimed at appealing to the male gaze and creating a look that still honors the original.  It appears functional and...  well, I think this design is actually pretty bad, but we can talk about that later.

Your Daily Dose of Good Cheer: Deborah Harry

10th Anniversary: Jake chimes in from the Shores of Oregon

As he says below, Jake is a relative new-comer to the Signal Corps/ Loyal Leaguers.  If "new" is being around for two years.  I've really enjoyed Jake's participation, his enthusiasm and his occasional voice of dissenting opinion.

And, yes, the Longhorns were the better team.

I stumbled upon The Signal Watch around April 2011, so I'm a relative newcomer to this ten year enterprise. I don't remember how I found the site, but I'm sure it had something to do with Superman. And it became quickly apparent this site was more than a collection of rants written with all of the erudition of a third grader. Quite the opposite; I found the posts to be refreshingly intelligent and insightful, much more so than the major comic book oriented websites, but without the cynicism and contrived snarkiness. Before long, this became my primary source of comic-related news and commentary. In fact, when it comes to superhero comics, monsters, film noir, Planet of the Apes and yes, Superman, The Signal Watch is my Saturday Evening Post.

Of course, it helps when the founder and proprietor, Ryan, is the same age, and grew up watching and reading all the same stuff I did. He's one of those rare people who, with equal enthusiasm, can argue the social and cultural currents running through comics, or pick the winner of Mothra vs. the Giant Mantis. Then of course, there's Superman -- Ryan just gets him. There are few things I don't get, like his zeal for Jimmy Olsen comics. And I think he actually believes the Longhorns were a better team than USC in 2005.

More than anything, I appreciate Ryan's willingness to converse with his readers. As someone who is often clumsy and blunt wielding my opinion, I am grateful for his patience and forbearance.

So congratulations, Ryan. Here's to ten more years. Salud!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Signal Watch Watches: Phil Spector

I think i figured out who Phil Spector was while I was in high school and had subscriptions to Spin and Rolling Stone.  He got name-dropped a lot, but it was in college that I figured out what The Wall of Sound was, and identified it with Darlene Love, The Crystals, The Ronettes, et al.  I'm no music aficionado, but I know what I like, and I was and am a Spector fan.

Recently, HBO aired a film by writer-director David Mamet, a movie based on speculation around the Lana Clarkson murder.

Of one thing I am certain: David Mamet is a much, much smarter person than me, but he can write a script that I can keep up with while still surprising me with what he sees in characters and situations, both micro and macrocosmic.  And whether his script hews to reality or not is irrelevant.  What's on trial here is less about Phil Spector, but 20 years of celebrity cases, of what it means to have reasonable doubt in the make believe world of Los Angeles and show business.  And, of course, the masses who pass judgment knowingly from watching snippets of news or seeing headlines in their RSS readers.

Your Daily Dose of Good Cheer: Tom Selleck

RHPT and 10 Years of Loyal Leaguership

I met Randy at a movie theater in Beaumont, Texas.  He had come to Beaumont to visit JimD, meet me and catch a screening of Superman: The Movie.  That's one of two times we've been able to hang out, but I've been there online to find out he was moving to Tennessee, getting married, and now, he's on his second child. 

10 years, y'all.

Here to Randolph and making friends across the internets!

I had a version of this e-mail ready to go, but then I read Steven's letter, and managed to get an advanced copy of the 10th Anniversary post, so I re-worked it. Is that cheating?

I vaguely remember receiving an email from JimD many years ago telling me that I must read this blog a college buddy of his started. As with most things JimD recommends, I ignore it the first couple of times. (I do this despite JimD's amazing track record of recommending insanely awesome things). I - again - vaguely recall clicking the link, quickly scanning the first few posts, and moving on. A few days (weeks?) later, JimD's second email was along the lines of "you need to read his blog or he'll stop writing and that would be a tragedy". And for whatever reason, I clicked the link again and started reading a post. God knows what was the subject of that first post (probably comics), but I was hooked. I probably didn't start regularly visiting the blog for a few weeks (This was pre-Google Reader), but for at least two-thirds of the past 10 years, I visited League of Melbotis more than once a day, and commenting constantly. In fact, after Google Reader came along, I didn't add The League's feed because I would visit the site more often than Reader refreshed the feed. Good times.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

It's a Bird! It's a Plane! It's Superman: The Musical!

Holy cow.

I've known about It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Superman! for around 10-12 years, but I had never seen it in any form.  Originally produced as a campy Broadway spectacular  in 1966 (it debuted the same year as the Adam West TV show), the show ran for about four months before closing.  I think that, these days, the show has mostly been forgotten.

In 1975, because nobody was paying attention, ABC broadcast a version of the musical.  Reportedly the program aired a single time, fairly late at night and in a dead zone where networks were often trying to figure out how to fill the airwaves*.  To the best of my knowledge, there is no legally obtainable copy of the broadcast available.  For Superman fans, the musical is about as close to an intentionally obscure artifact as I can think of to that king of pop cultural ephemera, the Star Wars Holiday Special.  Superman fans have all seen clips or stills, but we haven't seen the actual full program.

Can you read my mind?

This week, I did obtain a copy.  We'll keep it a little shrouded in mystery, but my source knows who he is, and knows how awesome he or she is.  As the existence of this video may not be entirely on the up and up (and so offended am I that I have immediately burned the DVD so that NONE may find yourself tainted by the sheer audacity of it's illegality), I'm keeping the gifter's name out of it.

But, thanks, man.  That was SUPER of you!**

The video itself is a transfer from tape.  Tape from 1975.  So, it's got some rough edges and the sound is occasionally wobbly because: aging analog media.  It's not the drug-fueled nightmare that the Star Wars Holiday Special devolves into within minutes of the opening, and, frankly, the Star Wars Special had about 20 times the budget of this show.  It's also an oddball bit of nerd media, and would fit nicely on your shelf next to the shelved low-budget, very 90's Justice League pilot, the Legends of the Superheroes, the Captain America TV movies, etc... etc...   But the musical is pure hammy schmaltz, but intentionally so, and it's oddly charming, even if it's not much of a musical.

Your Daily Dose of Good Cheer (Bonus Edition): Sean Young in Blade Runner

Somehow I never pre-set this column to go off yesterday.  I simply had no post for 03/30.  Kind of weird.

Anyway, let's give Sean Young credit where it's due.

Your Daily Dose of Good Cheer: Elizabeth Mitchell

NathanC on The League's 10th!

I don't recall exactly when I met NathanC, but i recall seeing him play in a band called "Barnyard Commandos" at my high school's rockfest. I know I'd met him before he met up with my brother at Trinity in San Antonio when they were both Freshmen. And, not only have we been pals ever since, but Nathan knew Jamie separately from knowing me back at Trinity, as well. So, longtime pal.

No matter what happens with this blogging business, I know that Nathan will still be popping up at odd hours at my house until one or both of us goes.

Lovin’ the League

I’ve told the League (I cannot in any way refer to him as ‘Ryan’ in cyberspace) many times that he should be writing a column for the paper. Or a book.

I’ve know Mr. League for close to 20 years now, and always found him to be a bright boy. But something in his nut cracked when he moved to Arizona. The dearth of cultural activities in Chandler turned him inward, and then led him to spew his thoughts upon the interwebs with the classic-era blog “League of Melbotis.” The life and times of livin’ large in AZ were supplemented by remembrances of better (and worse) times in Texas, including some of my favorite stories about working for the Mouse at Willowbrook Mall, or the rat at Chuck-E-Cheese.

The League writes well, and continues to do so with The Signal Watch. His online persona is honest and not without a little humorous sarcasm. He speaks for the frustrated observer of life and culture. His takedown of Johnny Clambake’s is legendary.

And he brings people together. As many have said before in this spot, the League of Melbotis was a social network when Marc Zuckerberg was only...

Oh, wait a second, Facebook started in 2004?

Well, you were a little ahead of the game.

Happy Easter, y'all

And from here in Texas...

It's Like Seeing a Fever Dream Come True: Axe Cop TV Trailer

@#$% just got real.