Monday, October 23, 2017

Noir Gravity

Jessica Jones: Alias Vol. 1 (Marvel, 2015, $24.99)
I am just getting around to watching the now not-so-new-anymore Marvel shows on Netflix, starting with Jessica Jones. I'm starting with this program—rather than Daredevil or Luke Cagebecause, while it was the second series aired by Netflix, it was a character I wasn't familiar with; and because of the actress Krysten Ritter, whose role on Breaking Bad, while short-lived, was excellent.

After an episode or two of the series, I was intrigued enough to go to the comics, so here I am reading Jessica Jones: Alias Vol. 1, which collects #1-9 of Alias, originally published by Marvel as part of its Max Comics. Truth be told, this is also my first exposure to Max, which I initially avoided entirely because I didn't really need to read "mature" comics published by Marvel. (There are already plenty of mature comics already available!) And I didn't feel the need to explore the seamier side of Marvel's street-level heroes. Boy, did I miss out at the time!

Featuring writing by Brian Michael Bendis, art by Michael Gaydos, covers by David Mack (Kabuki!), and additional art by Bill Sienkiewicz, the comic series is more Max Allan Collins-like noir adventure than superhero fare, regardless of ones's previous heroism as Jewel and membership in the Avengers.

Having seen the show before reading the comic, I couldn't help but look for continuity parallels while reading. While it's clear that the series draws on the comics, its plot has already taken on a life of its own, which makes for better reading and viewing.

As a comic, the book holds together very well. The superhero cameos—even if merely in memento photographs or on TV—grounds the story in the Marvel Universe, and the mysteries Jones endeavors to solve often don't rely on her past superhero work. That said, the appearance of Matt Murdock as her attorney and Carol Danvers as her friend are pleasant character-development moments. Bendis's writing is excellent. Sections have the rapid-fire patter of the dialogue of a police procedural TV program, and the quieter, slower sequences have a thoughtfulness and weight to them that helps maintain the noir gravity of the book.

This is a serious comic. There are serious crimes, serious risk, serious violence, serious relationship issues, serious life problems—including Jones's alcoholism. Bendis's treatment of Jones's drinking is respectful and true to life. This isn't the slurring swagger of a bewhiskered Tony Stark, this is daily functional alcoholism. Jones drinks too much, makes bad decisions—including sleeping with the main character of another Netflix series—and carries the weight of her hangover to work the next day.

As the comic continues, hopefully we'll learn why she drinks so much—but for now, it's background noise and traveling music that only makes an already difficult life more difficult.

Availability: Jessica Jones: Alias Vol. 1 is currently available.

Friday, October 20, 2017

An All-New Direction

Namor, the Sub-Mariner #1 (Marvel, April 1990, $1)
"Purpose!" Written and drawn: John Byrne, Inked: Bob Wiacek, Colors: Glynis Oliver, Letters: Ken Lopez, Editor: Terry Kavanagh, Editor in Chief: Tom DeFalco.

Prince Namor the Sub-Mariner ranks among the earliest of the current Marvel superheroes, dating back to 1939 and Marvel Comics #1 (as well as an earlier free pamphlet distributed at movie theaters!). This series was "an all-new direction" for the character and pulled out all the stops with John Byrne writing and drawing.

Carrie Alexander and her father, Caleb, are somewhere in the South Pacific when they encounter Namor, thought to be dead—and unable to keep his thoughts straight. He interrupts some natives, a cargo cult, perhaps, before meeting the Alexanders, who take him to their boat and help him recover. In turn, he asks for their help starting an environmental protection organization. At the end of the issue, Desmond and Phoebe Marrs are introduced. Wealthy and dissolute business people, the siblings are sure to become foils as the series develops.

Byrne's writing and artwork is well done, and he draws a straight line to the character's history by recounting Namor's origin story. There are also blood rage-fueled cameos by Lady Dorma and Marrina. On the whole, a respectable reintroduction of a storied historic hero.

References: Fantastic Four Annual #1.

Namor, the Sub-Mariner #2 (Marvel, May 1990, $1)
"Eagle's Wing and Lion's Claw" Written and penciled: John Byrne, Inked: Bob Wiacek, Colored: Brad Vancata, Lettered: Ken Lopez, Edited: Terry Kavanagh, Editor in Chief: Tom DeFalco.

After the reintroduction of Namor in the previous issue, this edition is a bit of a letdown. A lot seems to have happened between issues, but not much actually happens in this issue.

Carrie is pensive about Namor's affection before the Griffin, "some kind of flying creature," abducts her. Namorita informs Namor, who uses the TV news and geometry to locate the kidnaped Carrie... at the Statue of Liberty of all places. The Griffin proves a formidable opponent. The Marrs siblings make an appearance, as does a mysterious, pale-skinned, bespectacled woman.

Regardless, the issue is predominantly chase and fight scene, an odd pacing choice so soon after #1.

Availability: Namor, the Sub-Mariner #1-2 are reprinted in Namor Visionaries—John Byrne, Vol. 1.

Men Sculpted into Monsters

Master of Kung Fu #110 (Marvel, March 1982, 60 cents)
"Perilous Reign" Script/Plot: Doug Moench, Pencils/Plot: Gene Day, Inker: Jack Abel, Letterer: Jim Novak, Colorist: C. Scheele, Editor: Ralph Macchio, Editor in Chief: Jim Shooter.

During a rain storm at Nayland Smith's Stormhaven Castle in England, Shang-Chi and Leiko Wu spar in more ways than one. Smith, Soviet defector Mia Lessing (the Dark Angel blurbed at the end of #106; #107-109 might contain her introductory story arc) discuss a new threat with Black Jack Tarr and Clive Reston. A Russian trained in the Chinese martial art style Naked Kill called the Ghost Maker plans to procure "a new and extremely deadly weapon" from a secret base in the Sussex moors. While Mia and Clive engage in some hanky panky, Shang-Chi, Leiko, and Black Jack aim to stop him.

This issue is dense in text; Moench's story expounds on balancing Eastern and Western philosophies, respecting your fully by fully engaging with them when you spend time together, the Ghost Maker's back story, as well as his motivations. But it works. It is exactly the right amount of tet.

Day's artwork and page design—inked by Jack Abel—accommodates the writing well. In addition to the dominant imagery, page anchors, and motion through panels noticed in previous issues, Day also employs book ending to position characters against each other. He also incorporates the yin-yang symbol to further represent duality, borders a panel in blood, and frames a panel in the word "danger." When it rains, it rains hard, and when things go vertical, you can feel the vertiginous heights. Quite innovative!

The lettercol "Missives to the Master" includes another letter from T.M. Maple, as well as a postal service statement of ownership. In September 1981, Marvel printed almost 250,000 copies of that given issue.

Master of Kung Fu #117 (Marvel, October 1982, 60 cents)
"Devil Deeds Done in Darkness" Scripter: Doug Moench, Penciler and Inker: Gene Day, Colorist: Christie Scheele, Letterer: Janice Chang, Editor: Ralph Macchio, Editor in Chief: Jim Shooter.

This issue is a doozy. Not only is Fu Manchu himself prominently featured, but Day's artwork really rocks. Highlights include a two-page spread of an M.C. Escher-like maze of stairs and statues, panels within a panel as Shang-Chi and Death-Dealer plummet in the flooding crypt, and an excellent page in which Shang-Chi navigates additional stairs and encounters three laboratory-spawned creatures, "men sculpted into monsters." Day also book ends a scene change on a two-page spread and throws in a fun ballet form as Dark Angel fights Shang-Chi.

The plot entails Shang-Chi escaping from his father with the help of hungry rats, the destruction of Clive Reston's home, and Nayland Smith's abduction. What a wonderful comic series. I am glad I finally actually read some issues! I will have to read more.

Availability: Master of Kung Fu #110 and #117 are reprinted in Shang-Chi: Master of Kung-Fu Omnibus Vol. 4.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

An Entire House of Assassins

Master of Kung Fu #105 (Marvel, October 1981, 50 cents)
"The Razor-Fist Connection" Writer: Doug Moench, Artist: Gene Day, Colors: C. Scheele, Letters: Jim Novak, Editors: Denny O'Neil and Jim Shooter.

The hero of the comic book is one Shang-Chi, son of Dr. Fu Manchu, and the series features supporting characters created by Sax Rohmer, who wrote 13 Fu Manchu novels between 1913 and 1959. This might be the first issue of this series that I've read despite having several in my collection. For some reason, I'd neglected it as a Bruce Lee knockoff and didn't know about the Rohmer connection. That connection is important. This title's pulp fiction lineage mught make it one of the longest-running tie-in or licensed comics, among Conan the BarbarianRom, and Star Wars.

The highlight of the issue is Gene Day's artwork. His line is quite fine; he can pack a lot into a panel without making it overly dense. But it is Day's sense of motion that impresses. Be it a person walking around another over the course of several panels, Shang-Chi jumping over a wall or his enemy Razor-Fist in combat, or Razor-Fist's blade slicing through air, Day's artwork is cinematic in style. He also knows how to anchor a page: the reflection of an anguished face, Pavane centered on an explosion, or Juliette sitting in a wicker (rattan?) chair. Day's figures move through the panels, and the panels move through the page.

As for story, Razor-Fist, working for the reportedly dead Carlton Velcro, search for Shen Kuei, Pavane, and Shang-Chi. He leaves Hong Kong for London, where he finds the latter two, as well as Leiko Wu. There are also parallel subplots detailing the background of Velcro and Razor-Fist, and an exchange between former MI-6 operative Nayland Smith and Fah Lo Suee, daughter of Fu Manchu.

The story is solid, even dropping in at #105, and Day's artwork is wonderful. The letter column features a note from T.M. Maple, whose comments are among the best in fan activity.

Master of Kung Fu #106 (Marvel, November 1981, 50 cents)
"The Assassin Master" Writer: Doug Moench, Artist: Gene Day, Inker: Armando Gil, Colorist: C. Scheele, Letter: Jim Novak, Editor: Denny O'Neil, Editor in Chief: Jim Shooter.

Another excellent issue featuring the artwork of Gene Day, this time with Armando Gil inks, a worthy combination.

After questioning Razor-Fist with Pavane, Shang-Chi and Leiko Wu continue to the Marquesas in search of Carlton Velcro's island base, "an entire house of assassins." They reach the mansion and take on Velcro's guards, then face another Razor-Fist (!!!) and Velcro himself, who proves himself a most disappointing employer.

Day's hallmark fluid motion throughout the page and dominant page anchors are wonderful, and the story resolves well.

Availability: Master of Kung Fu #105-106 are reprinted in Shang-Chi: Master of Kung-Fu Omnibus Vol. 4.

Friday, June 03, 2016

Heathphemera: Aug. 8, 2008

Written four days before I got married:

  • Get suitcase
  • Get car
  • Call Becky
  • Driving to Fort
  • Go to bathroom
  • Drive to hotel
  • Lunch

Heathphemera: Aug. 7, 2008

Written five days before I got married:

  1. Gift Police tickets
  2. Pack for trip
  3. Call car for 5:15 a.m.
  4. Notebook guy coming at 8
  5. Check hotel for gym
  6. Set autorespond
  7. Get Chris's mailing address

  • Dop kit
  • Suitcase
  • Trunks
  • 3 days clothes
  • Boxers
  • Socks
  • Gym shoes
  • Suit
  • Shirt
  • Tie
  • Dress shoes

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Newsprint Gourmet

Not infrequently, I cut recipes out of newspapers or tear them out of magazines, setting them aside for later use. I don’t always end up making them. This month, I did, making a recipe clipped from the Dec. 26, 2013, edition of Culver City News: Crispy chicken cutlets with pears and shallots. It’s a winner.

  • Four small boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • Salt and pepper
  • ¼ cup flour 
  • Olive oil
  • Three tablespoons butter 
  • Two shallots, thinly sliced 
  • Two pears, peeled, cored, and cut to half-inch dice 
  • ¾ cup chicken stock 
  • One lemon, juice thereof 
  • One teaspoon Dijon mustard 
  • Four teaspoons chopped fresh thyme 
  • Two tablespoons chopped parsley 
  • Spinach 

Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper and coat with flour. Sauté in oil and butter until golden brown on both sides and cooked through. Transfer cooked chicken to a plate, warming in oven if necessary.

Cook the shallots and pears until lightly translucent and golden. Add the chicken stock, lemon juice, mustard, and any plate drippings. Simmer until the sauce reduces by half. Add the thyme and parsley, stirring in any remaining butter until just melted.

Meanwhile, wilt the spinach.

Spoon the sauce over the chicken cutlets and serve over wilted spinach.

(This previously appeared in Karma Lapel Vol. 3, No. 2. If you'd like to receive the perzine monthly, send me The Usual.)  

Hike of the Month: February 2014

On New Year’s Day, J. and I did our first walk from Charles Fleming’s book Secret Stairs: A Walking Guide to the Historic Staircases of Los Angeles. We chose Walk #40:Santa Monica—Rustic Canyon Loop, a three-mile loop that includes 1,069 stairs. (RunKeeper tells me it was 3.37 miles and two hours and 11 minutes, but we went off track a little toward the park along Ocean Avenue above the Pacific Coast Highway.

Parking in the pay lot between the beach and the PCH just south of Entrada Drive, we located the pedestrian tunnel and made our way to the first set of stairs. The two longest staircases—from East Ocean Avenue and Entrada Drive to Adelaide Drive (the latter set of 166 wooden stairs is particularly neat)—were relatively crowded with joggers and others exercising; the rest of the walk was calm.

The remaining staircases were less trafficked and felt almost private as they wended their way up and down between people’s homes, along fenced-in yards, and otherwise in between and behind residential buildings.

Along the way, we saw a Little Free Library on a small traffic island. Both of us stepped into its shadowy cool to browse, but we didn’t find anything worth taking with us. We also met a family doing much the same walk. The man had grown up in the area and was showing his wife and two young daughters the staircases, while sharing memories of having the run of them and the neighborhood as a child. It would be a neat place to grow up, for sure. We bumped into them again a
couple of times, once in an alleyway that featured a small trampoline.

J. and I found the staircases in the second half of the walk to be most interesting: more weathered and worn, less traveled, and going more interesting places. At the end, after 1,069 stairs, we were well ready for lunch when we returned to our starting point, taking another pedestrian tunnel back to the parking lot, the beach, and the ocean.

Recommendation for an after-hike repast: Patrick’s Roadhouse on Entrada at the PCH in Santa Monica. The homemade potato chips are delicious, but overly plentiful.

(This previously appeared in Karma Lapel Vol. 3, No. 2. If you'd like to receive the perzine monthly, send me The Usual.)

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Comix Index: Rip Off Comix #2

Publisher: Rip Off Press, Inc.
Publication year: 1977 (includes material created between 1974-1977)
Cover price: $1
Purchased: For $8 at Dreamworld Comics

Wonder Warthog takes a block of stone from the Great Wall of China. Promotional boxes for other material within. (color, art assumed to be by the respective artists)

Interiors are black and white.

Inside cover
Griffith Observatory: "Kids of Today (Tsk, Tsk)" by Bill Griffith
"There's a time and a place for everything -- but for the kids of today (tsk, tsk), the time is always now and the place is always here."

Pp. 1-5
The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers: "Phineas Goes to the Store" by Gilbert Shelton (story by Don Baumgart)
"Wow! My very own head shop!"

Pp. 6-13
Dorman's Doggie By Foolbert Sturgeon
"Live outside! I thought outside was just a big open air potty!"

P. 14
Rowdy Noody By Justin Green
"I'd play a warped record over n' over again, and I wouldn't give the dirty bastid anything 'cept egg water and halvah until he croaked!"

P. 15
Griffith Observatory: "Religious Nuts" by Bill Griffith
"Boss, I can't do no diggin' today -- my chart says my 'air' sign is dominant so I'm goin' to the track!!"

P. 16
Nerds by Dave Sheridan
"Ha! How do we do that? The UFO Society won't even recognize us!"

P. 17
The Forty Year Old Hippie: "The Rip" by Ted Richards
"Sure! Me him! You want buy autograph poem? Me just publish. Fifty dollar money."

P. 18
The Adventures of Fat Freddie's Cat by Gilbert Shelton (two six-panel strips)
"That's a neat stunt, but how do you know that the car will swerve like that?"

P. 19
Griffith Observatory: "The Doomsters" by Bill Griffith
"Your tofu and yeast sandwich is ready... anything in the paper today?"

Pp. 20-24
Terror Under the Bed by R. Diggs
"Get out in that kitchen an' rattle those pots an' pan's!"

Pp. 25-28
The Year Is... 3711 by Dave Sheridan
"We don't know, sir! It just sort of oozed up out of the sewer, sir!" (best panel in the issue)

P. 29
The Forty Year Old Hippie by Ted Richards
"I'm sorry, but I think you've had enough!"
Business name: The Catharsis Coffeehouse

P. 30
The Casebook of Doctor Feelgood by Foolbert Sturgeon
"Things used to be a lot easier for guys like me... you beat up the bad guys and everybody liked you!"

P. 31
Griffith Observatory: "The Geniuses" by Bill Griffith
"An artist, eh? And he rented number nine for the weekend?"

Pp. 32-48
Wonder Warthog: "Epidemic" by Gilbert Shelton
"Just enough to cause a few isolated cases! Our P.R. department will take it from there!"

Inside back cover
Advanced Motoring Tips #149 by Gilbert Shelton
"Radio signals would be sent to change the lights in the vehicle's path. The transmitter would take coins."

Back cover
On a Perfectly Clear Day by Gilbert Shelton (color, house ad)
"If you look long and hard enough, it is said, you can see the back of your own head."

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Travis Millard: Authors@Google

I helped organize this talk by Los Angeles-area comics artist Travis Millard at work in Santa Monica. It took place in February 2010 and just hit YouTube recently.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Dennis Woodruff at the Post Office

Dennis Woodruff is a Hollywood icon of sorts. For the last few decades, he's been making homemade movies about himself and the Hollywood experience -- as well as his search for Hollywood experience. At first they were available on VHS -- I have a thrift store copy of Double Feature -- and now they're on DVD-R.

He sells them out of his art cars, and he'll sell them to you if he meets you on the street. A friend reports that he spends much of his time chatting up pretty girls and overdressed men in Hollywood cafes. Apparently, he also goes to the post office.

Here's what my wife learned about Woodruff while she stood in line ahead of him:

1. He'd like to meet Eddie Murphy.
2. He thinks black men might know Eddie Murphy and isn't too shy to ask them if that's the case. ("Ask for an introduction," he says.)
3. He's impatient. (He said, "If this line doesn't move any faster, I'm going to blow up this place."
4. He writes his URL on his bills when he pays them through the mail.
5. He considers talking to people in public being an entertainer.
6. He doesn't like to waste money on Express Mail and doesn't think you should either.

Ladies and gentlemen, Dennis Woodruff.