Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Superheroes!

Recently, and by recently I mean the last decade or so, comic book superheroes have become extremely popular.  This can be attributed to the Batman and Marvel film franchises that have grossed several hundred million dollars in revenue.  The superhero movie trend may have become such a huge phenomenon that fans and film critics will start to get turned off by the shear volume of output from the genre.

Along with this new success in film, comes new fans.  Because these films are blockbuster action movies dressed up in superhero costumes, the number of people that are subjected to the characters and stories is vastly larger than the number of people who go to the comic book store on Wednesdays.  To me, and probably to many people who write and work on comics, this is a great thing.  More new fans!

At the moment, only the most popular comic book heroes have seen big screen time, or have appeared in the explosion of new animated series.  This post is about my favorite heroes, some of whom will never be seen in their own films, or series.

A few things about my particular tastes, before I dive right in.   Comic books turned me off early on for one reason.  It seemed that in order to be able to read and understand what was going on in the latest issue of Spiderman, I had to know first what had happened several dozen issues ahead of time.  I couldn't just buy an issue and read an episode about a superhero that had a beginning, middle and end (climax/resolution), like most serial television shows, or short stories.  So it appeared that the comic book culture was pretty exclusive and difficult to join.

Recently, that has changed.  The comic book industry has implemented some things to draw in new readers, without alienating their old school comic book readers/culture.  Both DC and Marvel have done a series of reboots.  DC has invested in Year-one stories that retell origins without changing contemporary storylines.  Marvel started a whole new continuity called the Ultimate Universe.  Using the multiverse theory of cosmology has allowed both publishing companies the ability to allow writers to do anything they want with characters without necessarily changing continuity.

However, at the time, I did my due diligence to understand what was going on, learned who other characters were, where they came from, what sorts of things happened to the characters since their inception, etc.  At a certain point, the continuity becomes so dense, and complicated, that it becomes not worth the time and energy spent to make sense of it all.  Sometimes the characters jump the shark so much that they flirt with comical ridiculousness.  Usually this turn happens once the writers introduced aliens and space/time travel.

Marvel's universe tends to rely more on space/time travel, and the idea of the Power Cosmic.  There are aliens, of course, but the size and scope of cosmic entities in Marvel take this all to another level.

DC's universe relies more on magic/supernatural elements.  DC relies on space and aliens as well, but not like Marvel.  And even though there are magical elements in Marvel, DC has more to say and do with regards to magic, demons, and the supernatural.  Personally, I am way more interested in the occult and fantasy as I am with quantum mechanics.

Also, I lean more toward simplistic characters.  The Superman problem is a well documented issue that fans and creators share when confronted with the Man of Steel.  He is so powerful, and has so many superpowers, it is difficult to make him successfully exciting, and engaging.  He has no weaknesses (aside from kryptonite, but seriously, not that big of a deal).  He can fly, is super strong, has laser vision, is bulletproof, has frozen breath, and is super fast.  He becomes, at a point, no longer interesting, he can't be challenged.

So... my favorite characters tend to have one or no powers, and/or realistic drawbacks (unlike Green Lantern's ridiculous aversion to the color yellow).  Anyway, here are a few I like the most.


Green Arrow
First Appearance: More Fun Comics #73 (1941)

So, at first glance, Oliver Queen, the Green Arrow, is a poor man's Bruce Wayne/Batman.  He is a super rich socialite vigilante, has a goofy young side-kick, an Arrow-cave, gimmicky gadgets... He doesn't really have a superpower, however, he is a gifted archer.  Also, he looks like Robin Hood.  Seems like a character doomed to fail.

I like Green Arrow for a few reasons.  Unlike Batman, Green Arrow kills.  His signature thing is a weapon that takes great skill to wield properly.  He can kill from a distance, but also has enough hand to hand combat skills to make himself a double threat.

He also is a player, a womanizer, but unlike Batman, he does it because he enjoys being a playboy, not because he has to keep up his alter-ego's social appearance.  This brings us to relationships.  Most famously, he is connected to another superhero, the Black Canary.  This is a dynamic not present in Batman's character.  Both he and Green Arrow have father/son relationships with their younger sidekicks, but Green Arrow also has an amorous relationship to struggle with.  Batman writers did dabble with this when they wrote in Talia Al'Ghul as a love interest.  But that didn't really stick.

Aside from "trick" arrows, and other goofy gimmicks, like a family of similar archer characters, that were popular in 60's comics, Green Arrow never seemed to get out of control in the way that more famous and popular characters have.  There is still much to be explored and exploited with Green Arrow stories.  Based on the popularity of the new television series, Green Arrow could get the attention he deserves.

Kevin Smith worked hard to revitalize this character with his Quiver and Sounds of Violence story-arcs.  This rebuilding and rebranding of the character continued with Judd Winick's run in 2004.  Also, the character makes an important appearance in Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns.


Hourman
First Appearance: Adventure Comics #48 (1940)

Speaking of heroes that got out of control... Hourman is a pretty simple, one-sided hero.  Nothing too complicated about a chemist who creates a chemical that allows him to be super strong and super fast, but only for a limited time.  Eventually, someone decided that a human Hourman wasn't good enough and created an android from the future to take his place.  This was totally unnecessary, and kind of missed the point of the superhero to start with.

Why is this guy so cool?  Unlike Superman, Hourman is not always Hourman.  His alter ego Rex Tyler is a normal chemist with no powers.  He becomes Hourman after ingesting Miraclo, a drug that gives him his powers.  It only works for an hour at a time, so... he has to use strategy and keep track of time when using it.  This, of course, sets the hero up for dependency issues, and storylines about drug abuse, side-effects, and the ethics of human enhancement.

While maybe not a hero that can carry his own adventure, he is best on a team.  and who doesn't like superhero teams?

The problem with teams is there is often one guy on the team that can out-hero every one else.  On the Justice League, that guy is Superman.  On the X-men, that guy is a girl named Phoenix.  On the Avengers, that guy is Thor.  But for every Thor or Superman, there are a number of more interesting side characters that make up the team that would really get a chance to shine if it weren't for the ridiculously thorough and unnecessarily diverse hero that makes everyone else obsolete.  This makes Hourman pretty useful when he's paired up with a few other characters from the Justice Society, a team without that one guy.

The JSA Elseworlds story The Liberty Files shows how cool Hourman can be.


Daredevil
First Appearance: Daredevil #1 (1964)

This dude is blind.  Blinded by a radioactive chemical that also heightened his other senses, Daredevil has a radar sense, super hearing, and super-sensitive touch.  There are a few other blind superheroes in both Marvel and DC universes, Dr. Midnite and the Shroud share many of the themes seen in Daredevil.  He uses the darkness as an ally, his blindness becomes an asset, not a crutch.

Unlike most Marvel characters, Daredevil is never an Avenger.  Which is a huge anomaly in Marvel's universe.  Daredevil rarely leaves his own neighborhood/city, preferring to actually stick with his original premise, which is to fight crime and protect his city of New York, specifically the neighborhood of Hell's Kitchen.  Even Batman outgrew his original premise to protect Gotham, becoming so good at his brand of vigilantism that Gotham no longer is a challenge.  While a lawyer by day, Matt Murdoch is not super rich like Oliver Queen, or Bruce Wayne, and going toe to toe with street hoods, gangsters, and common criminals never seems dull with Daredevil.  Occasionally he teams up with fellow New Yorker, Spiderman.  They share many of the same villains.

Unlike Spiderman, however, there is no space-Daredevil (see black-suited Spiderman), or convoluted story of seemingly endless Daredevil clones (see the Scarlet Spider, Kaine, Spidercide...).  Let's all collectively pretend that Ben Affleck movie never happened.  Frank Miller's Man Without Fear and Born Again runs, and Brian Michael Bendis's run in 2001 are the best storylines.

Etrigan the Demon
First Appearance: The Demon #1 (1974)

This is an interesting magical character from DC comics.  Jason Blood, an Arthurian knight, is bonded with Etrigan, a demon son of Belial, and half brother to the wizard Merlyn.  I always thought characters with historical connections to other legends and myth are interesting.  New takes on old stories can be well done. There are a group of them in the DC universe with ties to ancient history.  Vandal Savage, Manitou Raven, Dr. Fate, and the Spectre are all examples of these characters out of time.

Not only does Etrigan have this out of time, ancient legendary status, and cool demonic powers, but also shares some of the same tropes and themes as Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and the Incredible Hulk.  The difference between Jason Blood and Dr Jekyll and Bruce Banner, is his control over the Demon.  Jason Blood can summon his alter ego with a rhyme.  Also, the demon speaks exclusively in rhyme, which is awesome.  Etrigan/Batman team-ups are the best.  Also, Etrigan/Jason Blood is an important character in the JLA Obsidian Age storyline.




Wednesday, January 23, 2013

This has Nothing to do with Your Poker Face


Spoon
Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
2007, Merge/Anti-
produced by Mike McCarthy, Jon Brion

Britt Daniel - guitar, vocals
Jim Eno - drums
Rob Pope - bass
Eric Harvey - piano, keyboards

singles - 
  • The Underdog/ It took a Rumor to Make me Wonder, Now I'm Afraid I'm Going Under
  • Don't You Evah'/ All I Got is Me
Some people may remember this band from the early '90s when it was a pseudo-punk, garage rock band that shared the same sound as bands like Pavement and the Pixies.  Eventually, their sound changed into something more melodic and listenable, but still retaining the interesting experimental rhythms that were all the rage in the 90's but now are more refined.  This is also the first time the band cracked the top 40 on the Billboard 200, debuting at number 10.  I like this album better than their others, The Underdog is a great pop song, complete with a horn section and clever rhythms.  I do love horns in rock songs!

Ghost of You is the only song I dislike, and my issue is more with how it was placed on the album than the song itself.  Placing a soft, miserable little song like that second on the album among rocking more pop-heavy tracks breaks up the flow a little bit.  Whoever is responsible for that should be shot.

clear red vinyl!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

What's in a Name Change?

Recently, the new owner of the New Orleans Hornets had decided he wanted to change the name of his franchise to something more New Orleansy.  This, of course, makes sense.  A sports team ought to identify itself with the city it resides in, and the fans it wants to connect with.  I'm sure there are hornets and other wasp-like insects in the bayou, but they aren't what anyone would think of when trying to picture the city of New Orleans.

If I was going to change the name of the New Orleans franchise, and the Utah Jazz was too stingy to part with the name that ought to be in the Big Easy, I'd have a few good ideas.  The Brass was a name that was thrown around as a possibility.  Not only does it allude to the horn section of the jazz bands that make the city famous, but allows the team to take advantage of brass balls jokes.  Also on the short list are the Bull Sharks (not bad, but hybrid names like Mud Hens, Jethawks, Mighty Ducks, or River Monsters just make me think of minor league teams and their cartoon logos), Rougarou (it's a cajun word for werewolf...), Swamp Dogs (also a good name for a minor league baseball team... and also makes me think of body odor, for some reason).

The favorite name, and the one most likely to be chosen (nothing "official" has been submitted yet) is the Pelicans.  Speaking of minor league baseball, the Pelicans is also the name of a long defunct New Orleans minor league franchise.  Apparently the brown pelican is the Louisiana state bird.  I'm sure Louisianans all know this and are very proud.  I don't know the state bird of the state I live in, so...  I'm assuming people in Louisiana who like sports don't know or care either.

I was pretty doubtful that this name would be able to capture what the new ownership is hoping for, a new stronger connection to the community of New Orleans.  Like many other commentators and reporters in the sports community, my first thought was choosing the pelican as a mascot for a professional sports team in one of the biggest leagues in the world is a huge laughable mistake.

Then I saw these fan generated logos and designs and decided this may actually work out.  One can only hope the official design team takes some pointers from these, and also from Jay-Z 's successful redesign of the Nets franchise logo and colors.

This circular design makes me think of university.  It also makes the bird far less goofy.  The color scheme doesn't match up, however.  There are rumors that red/navy/gold are proposed instead of the blue/purple used now.  Also, mardi gras colors (yellow/green/purple) are used by the Hornets now as alternate colors.  


The XFL called.  They say this one is awesome.  It is a pretty badass design, but seems more suited for lacrosse or roller derby than the NBA.  Also, I'm not sure how well a jesters hat will go over if you're trying to be taken seriously.  


Simplicity.  This reminds me of the new Nets look.  Not overly complicated, but still clever, incorporating the mascot, and the importance of music to the city.  It does look like a logo for an automobile company though.  

This one also makes the pelican seem less goofy.  Incorporating the NOLA logo used as an alternate now is a good idea to bridge the new with the old identities.  The top hat is pretty cool too.  Once again, the color scheme would change...


This one seems more appropriate for the minor leagues.  The bird looks smushed.  However, I do like circular designs.  


Note how it incorporates the fleur di lis design seen in the old Hornets patch.  the color scheme is able to be changed easily.  It's simple, easily recognizable, and not silly.  


I've used the term minor league a lot in this post.  This one fits into that category too.  The floating bird head looks stupid.  I'm betting the real logo, when revealed, will look more like this than any of the others.  Because I'm a pessimist.  

Monday, January 14, 2013

1, 2, 3, 4, 5 Against One

Pearl Jam
Ten
1991, Epic
produced by Rick Parashar

Eddie Vedder - vocals
Mike McCready - lead guitar
Stone Grossard - guitar
Jeff Ament - bass
Dave Krusen - drums

singles-
  • Alive
  • Even Flow
  • Jeremy
  • Oceans
What can you say about this album that hasn't been said? This particular band received poor reviews, and criticism. David Browne from Entertainment Weekly wrote "you've heard it all before on records by [...] Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, and Mother Love Bone". Even Kurt Cobain denounced Pearl Jam as sell outs, which I find odd, as a month later, Nevermind would be released and blow up.

As it turns out, Pearl Jam is the only group from that scene to be continuously touring and releasing music since their inception. That can't be said of any of the other bands mentioned so far in this post. The 20 plus career of this band starts with this strong debut.


Pearl Jam
Versus
1993, Epic
produced by Brendan O'Brien

Eddie Vedder - vocals, guitar
Jeff Ament - bass
Stone Grossard - guitar
Mike McCready - guitar
Dave Abbruzzese - drums

singles-
  • Go
  • Daughter
  • Animal
  • Dissident
Apparently there is this real thing called the Sophmore Slump. This phenomenon appears after a band has such a strong debut, they are unable to meet expectations on their follow-up effort. This follow-up album defies that theory. Not only did the single Animal lend some lyrics to the title of this post, but Daughter spent 8 weeks at number one on the Mainstream Rock chart, and was nominated for best rock performance at the 1995 Grammys. The album received a nomination for Best Rock Album.

Once again David Browne slammed the album, stating that he gave it points for not being "a carbon copy of Ten". The album incorporates sounds not heard in Ten, including some funky beats and acoustic instruments. There is also a transfer of writing credits from Grossard to Vedder, which would culminate in Ed becoming a rock icon. This second effort could possibly be better than their debut. And if this is where the band stopped, they would still be considered legendary and an integral part of the '90s alternative rock renaissance. However, they didn't stop here, which makes their career far more interesting.

I am aware I chose to use the album covers used for the vinyl pressings. I did it on purpose.  

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Poker Games can be Dangerous

This is the latest installation of cool old folk songs.  Hit the label "Folk" to see the rest on this blog.

Like with all good folk tunes, the song changes and evolves as it is sung and resung, sometimes differing greatly from the very first recordings to the most recent renditions.  The particular piece for this post is not really any one specific song, but rather songs about a specific event with specific characters.  



Stagger Lee Shelton was a famous St. Louis pimp in the late 1890s, of the group of pimps known at the time as the Macks.  The legendary story is as follows, told by many musicians.  Stagger Lee gets into an argument with Billy Lyons (or Billy DeLyon, or Billy Delisle), during a card game.  Somehow, Billy Lyon takes Stagger Lee's lucky hat, usually by winning at cards.  Stagger Lee then shoots him.  In the first versions of the song, there is no card game mentioned, which makes the crime appear more cold-blooded and impulsive.  

In the various versions of the song, Stagger Lee is often made out to be a trickster, a shyster, a wicked man, and even the devil himself.  Where as Billy Lyons is often a naive sucker unaware of the danger that Stagger Lee represents.  

The Grateful Dead version of the song is about Billy DeLyon's wife Deliliah and how she gets her revenge by shooting Stagger Lee in the balls.  This is actually the first version of the song I ever heard, and didn't realize Stagger Lee was part of the American Folk mythos until I heard Taj Mahal's version.  

Notable songs about Stagger Lee and Billy Lyons include: 
  • Stack O Lee Blues - Herb Wiedoeft
  • Stagolee - Mississippi John Hurt
  • Stagger Lee - Tommy Roe
  • Wrong 'em Boyo - The Clash
  • Stack Shot Billy - The Black Keys
Other artists to have either covered or written songs about these characters include Woody Guthrie, Professor Longhair, Bob Dylan, David Bromberg, Taj Mahal, Beck, James Brown, Duke Ellington, Pete Seeger, Doc Watson, and Pat Boone.  

Lyrics acoording to Taj Mahal, Tommy Roe, and Nick Cave

I was standing on the corner
When I heard my bulldog bark
He was barking at the two men
Who were gambling in the dark

It was Stagger Lee and Billy
Two men who gambled late
Stagger Lee threw a seven
Billy swore, that he threw eight
Stagger Lee told `Billy,
I can`t let you go with that
You have won all my money
And my brand new stetson hat`

Stagger Lee went home
And he got his 44
Said, `I`m going to the bar room
Just to pay that debt that I owe`

Stagger Lee went to the bar room
And he stood across the bar room floor
Said, `now, nobody move`
And he pulled his 44

`Stagger Lee`, cried Billy
`Oh, please don`t take my life
I got three little children
And a very sickly wife`

Stagger Lee shot Billy
Boy, he shot that poor boy so bad
`Till the bullet came thru Billy
And it broke the bartender`s glass

Oh, Stagger Lee

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Penises are Funny

I like animated short films.  They are a lot like short stories in literature.  It doesn't take much to be fully invested, and they don't take very much time.  In order to write a good short story, or produce a good short film, the writing has to be good, and the characters, plot, and climax can not take very long to explain or arrive at.  I found this film about a month ago.


Wanted Melody from Wanted Melody on Vimeo.

It is from a team of french animators.  Their webpage for their campaign is here.  The project is funded completely by donation, and the plan is to produce a few smaller shorts to pitch to studios in order to fund a series of shorts.

The potential is staggering.  The subject has no facial features, and so the animation and movement of the subject has to convey emotion.  Also, the fact that there is no dialogue allows for the animation and the music to set mood and tell stories.  The animation team could have chosen any inanimate object, however they chose the "willie".  The penis is timeless.  It is also always funny.  To sum up, the creators explain it this way on their website:

Why Willies?
  • Universality
  • A willy is a common and symbolic object which concern the whole world, every continent, every culture, 50% of the people got one !
  • A whole symbol !
  • Since the dawn of time, phallic representations are in every culture, particularly in arts, as a virility, fertility and pleasure symbol.
  • Breaking down prejudice
  • Succeeding in telling a story with willies as characters, is a challenge that can surprise the spectator, simply telling human, universal stories, without pretention, funny, surprising, and delicate at the same time. Willies can be proud of their symmbolic, and its rudeness only depends on the look that they carry.

    of course this whole thing made me instantly remember this scene from Superbad...  

    Saturday, January 5, 2013

    Denial 101: Hopelessly Clinging to... Something

    This is another post in the series of trying to understand stupid people.

    I found this today: a paper proving that dinosaurs were not real, and it's just a huge hoax.  This, of course, is full of logical fallacies and is based nearly entirely on the premise that the religious text of Genesis is undeniable fact.  Further proof is the picture below.  One can only hope murieljcompton is an instigator commonly known as a troll.  But this is probably, and sadly, legit.




    The overwhelming belief in Creationism is of course responsible for this fringe conspiracy theory actually gaining considerable support in the face of rational thought. Creationism, and the inability to understand how petrification and fossilization works. It is also interesting to note that according to this board, even the crazy conspiracy theorists think Creationism is nuts.

    I can understand how indoctrinated hate works, I can understand Pro-life.  I can even understand the fear, misunderstanding, and misinformation that leads to racism, homophobia, and the oppression of women.  What I can't understand is Creationism.


    These statistics give a pretty clear picture on Creationism in American. And no huge surprise, there is a correlation between education and belief in Creationism. I am actually impressed that there are people out there living and participating in a society that is arguably the strongest post industrial nation on the planet, who still cling to the theology of the Middle Ages. These people vote in national elections, and yet have made the choice to dismiss much of the science that allows modern humanity to understand our world and universe. Creationism's essential belief, that the world is only between 5 and 10 thousand years old, was rejected by theologians as early as Philo (50 CE) and Augustine (430 CE), and by the majority of serious scholars by the 18th century.

    How can you go through 12 years of grammar school and, at the end of it all, deny everything you learned in science classes as not legit? You'd have to be either incredibly stubborn, incredibly stupid, or when confronted with the seemingly incompatible ideas of science and religion, instead of trying to reconcile the differences and find meaningful ways for them to coexist (like the Catholic and Anglican churches have) you just threw up your hands and ran screaming from the room.

    I guess it all comes down to some people unable to think for themselves. They must have been absent the day the schools taught how to make an informed opinion. These are the same sorts of people that try and ban books, change textbooks in school, handle poisonous snakes and believe god will keep them from being bitten, do these sorts of things, and ban dancing until Kevin Bacon saves the day.