Say Hello To The Bad Guy…

Say Hello To The Bad Guy…

When talking about comics with people that aren’t into comics a book that comes up a lot is Sandman. Sandman is, in my experience, the most recommended book to people who don’t like comics, haven’t read a comic, don’t take comic books seriously, or think comics are ____________ (insert sweeping generalization). It’s a great comic, but hey, it’s 2014. There’s a new sheriff in town.

In comic form.

There’s a new good fantasy comic you can give to any random person on the street is what I’m trying to say. Loki. Except it’s not really just one series. Nor is it really one continuous vision by a single creative team. It’s a story that has spanned three years, and about three and a half different comic books published by Marvel.

In 2011, Marvel did a convoluted crossover thing-y called Siege. Loki died. Thor brought him back. As a kid. A kid that was seemingly innocent. Kid Loki got his own series: Journey Into Mystery. Issue #622 of that series set Loki on a path to figure out why he did some bad things that led to his death and rebirth.

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I’m simplifying in the interest of not spoiling, but Loki didn’t want to be Loki anymore. He sacrificed who and what Loki was in order to craft a new Loki. BUT, as Journey Into Mystery came to a conclusion, and all of us had fallen in love with Young Loki the hero, we learned that the Loki that was acted in a manner that was as selfish as we’d expect from a trickster god.

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Loki made a backup. He was working the long con and in ensuring that a version of himself would be resurrected with a clean slate, he also made sure that the backup of Loki-Classic could replace New-Loki once all the pieces were in place. He wanted the illusion of change.

The illusion of change. It’s a key factor in comic books, and in ongoing fiction in general. Characters die. They change costumes. They swap minds. But ultimately, they revert back to what we expect them to be. There’s a reset button that’s ready to be pushed when sales dip.

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Loki can’t avoid being Loki. Marvel won’t let him. More importantly we won’t let him. We’re not comfortable with actual change, in fiction or in real life. It’s easy for us to become a part of a narrative. either one that we tell ourselves, or that we let others tell about us. And it’s easy to get trapped there.

Young Avengers by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie saw Backup-Loki-In-Kid-Loki’s body formulate the identity of New-New-Loki. Kid-Loki’s desire to do good was burdened by New-New-Loki’s struggle with his own nature and the guilt over the reasons for his own existence.

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Loki’s tale is now being told by Al Ewing and Lee Garbett in Loki: Agent of Asgard. Loki performs missions in exchange for erasure of his past deeds.

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It’s a simple story told in an epic manner. Trying to redefine yourself. Who you are. While the old you can rear their ugly head at any moment. We’re introduced to what appears to be the “Old Loki”:

Screen Shot 2014-02-19 at 8.52.18 PMBut turns out to be New-New-Loki of a distant future. A Loki that seemingly proves that all of Loki’s work is for nothing.

Loki will always be Loki.

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So many mainstream comics are marketed with the tagline “THINGS WILL NEVER BE THE SAME AGAIN.” Few have dared to admit that no matter what you do, no matter how much you love this little cult hit, things will just revert to what they used to be in the end.

 

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I Haven’t Changed All That Much

I wrote this in 2009 for some sort of Facebook chain letter type thing where I had to type in 25 things about me. 2009 Paul isn’t too different from 2014 Paul. I was probably a little smarter back then, but on the plus side, I HAVE seen Saving Private Ryan since writing this, so…accomplishment!

25 things, the product of the sleep patterns of the elderly

February 1, 2009 at 8:28am

1. Back in the day, while IM’ing several girls that I liked, each on a separate occasion told me how funny I was and that I should do stand up. However, I have crippling, crippling stage fright so thats out of the question. Also I’m very anti-social around people I don’t know. So if I could become a stand-up comedian through intant messaging, I’ll do it.

2. It would probably be a good gimmick. Some might call it “avant garde.”

3. Any big words I use, I’ve learned from comic books.

4. Comic book and pop culture facts have taken over most of the space in my brain. I was a really big history student in high school. I would finish my test first most of the time. Now? I can quote lots of obscure stuff and recommend films and shows that most people still won’t take the time to watch.

5. I like to believe that Robert Altman would have done an amazing superhero film if he ever considered it or had the chance.

6. Scorsese or Coppola, too. Especially Marvel characters. Angst and loneliness all around.

7. Films that people are shocked I’ve never seen: Saving Private Ryan, Braveheart, almost any film that was up for an Oscar in the 90s.

8. I never drank in high school and assumed that most of my friends didn’t.

9. I was very naive in high school.

10. Drunk me takes pride in the fact that when I get sick, I never leave a mess. Sober me quietly takes pride in this as well.

11. Cooking relaxes and excites me. Especially when I’m trying out a new recipe for a group of friends. I’d like to have a restaurant someday.

12. Moreso, I’d like to own a movie theater that completely rips off the conecpt of the Alamo Draft House. A theater that shows old, obscure movies as well as new releases, that serves food and beer while you view a film.

13. I think The Wire lives up to the hype.

14. Forrest Gump and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button are the same exact film. 2-3 hours of nostalgia and sentimentality with a gimmicked protagonist. And I was underwhelmed by both.

15. Like most of you did, I had a dream where I could fly as a child. It was so real. I wish I could have that dream again.

16. If I was a billionaire, I would put money into developing an Iron Man-type suit. I wouldn’t really want to fight crime myself, but on the other hand I would worry that the person I gave the suit to would turn evil.

17. When I was in high school, I wanted to be a pro wrestler.

18. I think I’d like to believe in a religion based on Neil Gaiman’s Sandman.

19. I am constantly disappointed by the lack of futuristic stuff that was seen in movies that took place in the 2000s. Where is my flying car, my robot butler, and my suit made of tin foil?

20. Catholic School wasn’t so bad. I didn’t mind wearing the same thing everyday.

21. I’m not good at keeping in touch.

22. I am easily distracted.

23. I don’t think Travis Bickle belongs on the AFI’s top villains list. They should have an anti-hero category. Douches.

24. I love the word “douche.”

25. I use ellipseses and expletives far too much in my writing. The 40 “fucks” Rob removed from the Frank and Barry script can attest to that.

That’s Okay With Me

That’s Okay With Me

There’s a misconception that The Simpsons and Family Guy are alike because they reference things. In fact, these days, nearly any show/movie/comic book that references another piece of work risks being labeled as Family Guy-style. Or is explained as “You know, like Family Guy.” Worse yet, someone pulls out “Family Guy-esque.” Yeah, you took a film class or two, Me (or person incredibly similar to me). You’re not that smart! Anyway, The Simpsons, and other works on that level pulled off references, or “allusions,” if you will with skill, precision, and purpose. The gag wasn’t based on you knowing the reference (South Park has shit on Family Guy far better than I ever could, so please view their “Cartoon Wars” episodes if you don’t know what I’m talking about). The gag was based on if it was funny or not, and if you got the reference, all the better for you. And if you didn’t get the reference, but learned it later at college while getting your head filled with literature and foreign films and naive political notions, well then BULLY FOR YOU! That made what The Simpsons writers had pulled off all the more impressive.

Why, Paul? Why are you going off on Simpsons and Family Guy and writing vaguely like a Dusty Rhodes promo on your blog about comics that you haven’t posted on in nearly a year?

Well.

It’s cause of Hawkeye. I know. Groan. Fart. We covered this in 20 other posts. But Hawkeye has expanded in scope in its second year. The first year focused on Hawkeye (Clint Barton), and what he did on his non-super hero-ing days. The creative team was headed up by writer Matt Fraction and artist David Aja, with Javier Pulido taking on issues 4&5. The second year has seen the book grow into almost two books (which will surely converge again into one), following both Barton, and his female protege Kate Bishop, with the focus alternating monthly. Also alternating monthly, are the art teams, with Aja telling Barton’s tale, and Annie Wu telling Bishop’s (Though Pulido got Kate’s tale going in the Annual).

Anyway, we’re talking about the Kate issues. The Annual, and issues 14 and 16.

Screen Shot 2014-01-22 at 10.04.04 PMThis is from the second to last page in the Annual. I missed the reference at first, but then my friend Jeff pointed it out while we were geekily talking about issue 14 coming out. The cat with a taste for a specific brand of cat food is a call-out to Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye starring Elliott Gould as Raymond Chandler’s Private Eye Phillip Marlowe.

The annual’s tease paid off with cat food aisle conversations in 14 and 16 between Kate and an unnamed P.I. that looks quite a bit like Mr. Gould did back in 1973.

Screen Shot 2014-01-22 at 7.56.40 PMGoing back to the hippie women for a moment, they also  happen to be dead ringers for Marlowe’s neighbors from the film. And maybe they have his cat? (“What do I need a cat for? I got a girl…”)

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The latest issue also visually references the characters of Dr. Verringer and Roger Wade from the film, while also bringing in a bit of the parasitic relationship as well. Henry Gibson, who played Verringer in The Long Goodbye, is an easy visual shorthand for villain. Just ask Tom Hanks.

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So why does it matter? How is this just not the same thing I derided Family Guy for, except for people who took a film class about the films of Kubrick and Altman? Because rather than dealing in the surface level of “We like the same things,” Fraction, Wu and Pulido are communicating through the reference. It’s part wink, part context, and for those not in on the references, part “Go check these books out at the library Reading Rainbow episode wrap-up” to get readers to take in the art that played a part in influencing this story.

Modern storytelling is constantly derided by lazy people across all mediums as “having been done before.” Well, good for you, enjoy your show about a carefully workshopped marketing construct masquerading as reality. Things have been done before yes, but sometimes there’s an art in acknowledging it, and maybe even in saying that we’re all trying to tell one big story. Yeah. That’s it. My wrap-up is that Fraction and Wu are bringing Altman’s Long Goodbye into the Marvel Universe. I can’t wait til Marlowe brushes off Thanos with a “That’s okay with me” as the Mad Titan wishes half the universe into non-existence one more time.

Going back to the series as a whole, though, it seems to be exploring many of the themes and storytelling techniques that were present in many of Altman’s films: Humanism. Non-conformity. Expansive messed up families. Overlapping dialogue. Telling a story from a dog’s perspective-no, wait. That one doesn’t really fit.

What I’m saying here (if I’m conveying anything coherently at all), is that Fraction and his many talented collaborators are telling a fantastic story, and they’re doing so using the paints, the ingredients, the whatever-metaphor-you-want-to-insert-here elements that make Altman films like The Long Goodbye great to make their story even more richer and satisfying.

 

 

2013

Prior to this year I hadn’t participated in any real physical activity since 1998. That’s the last year I played soccer, and it was followed by four years of doing the bare minimum in gym class, and many years of sitting on the couch and not going to the gym.

You could count how many times I went on one hand. Unless you’re missing fingers. Then you could count how many times I went on two hands. Unless you don’t have any hands at all, so then you should probably use your toes to co- I’m getting away from the point here. It was a minuscule amount of time.

Last year, my mother-in-law Michele asked the whole family to join her for a St. Patrick’s Day fun run. I agreed, but complained. To anyone who would listen. I would go on Jerry Seinfeld-ian routines about running and how crazy the idea of it was.

It was a 2 mile run and I shambled through it, only speeding up when my patience with slower “runners” in front of me wore thin. But I did it, and was satisfied that I got to have a few beers at the end.

But then Michele ran a half marathon. She ran a freaking half marathon. I was impressed, and dammit, I was inspired. So I decided to see what I could do.

I downloaded the Zombies Run training app on my phone in the beginning of April. This got me on a routine that got me used to running, and started me in training for a 5K. I then signed up for my first 5K through NYC Runs, the Firecracker 5K, which was held on the 4th of July on Roosevelt Island. I was joined by Michele as my coach, with her wife Colleen joining us as well, and my wife Chrystal waited at the finish line as our pit crew.

On that day TEAM BEER AND CUPCAKES* was formed. Michelle, Colleen and Chrystal got me through that first run, and have been a part of each subsequent run in one way or another, whether it was by running, or just providing pre-race advice over the phone.

I then did a race per month: The Brooklyn Bridge 5K, The Color Run (5K), Zombies Take Manhattan (5K), The Channukah Gelt 5K (aka The Oy Vey 5K), and The Hot Chocolate 10K. My sister Sara teamed up with me for The Color Run, the Oy Vey 5K and the Hot Chocolate 10K, joining TEAM BEER AND CUPCAKES, but also forming the team of “TEAM WHATEVER HILARIOUS NAME I WANT TO PUT ON FACEBOOK.” 

I’m grateful to the people who’ve run with me this year and that have encouraged me to run this year. It’s something I’ve come to enjoy as a group activity — not only with my teammates but with the hundreds that have shown up for each run. I also appreciate running when I’m on my own. I’m just able to lose myself in it. It’s a good way to get away from everything and every ounce of stress disappears. I’m sticking with this. And whether you’ve run with me, or liked a photo of me running on Facebook, you’ve been a part of helping me to keep going. Thank you. Thank you so much.

I didn’t think I’d ever run in my free time let alone enjoy it.

Thank you, NYC Runs for organizing so many of the races I’ve done this year.

Thank you, Colleen and Sara for being awesome teammates. Sometimes I outpace you (usually when you’re injured), more often you outpace me, but you help me keep going!

Thank you, Chrystal, for being my wife, encouraging me, and making sure I have a big bottle of water and a smiling face at the end of each run.

Finally, thank you Michele. You really inspired me this year, and you’re the best coach I’ve ever had.

Here’s to 2014. There’s a lot of beer and cupcakes to run for, and a half marathon to tackle in about 6 months.

* Team Beer and Cupcakes celebrates a successful run with beer, cupcakes, or a combination of the two. These celebratory items are consumed in addition to making sure we re-hydrate with water.

 

Andy Rooney, The Living Planet!

The years spent on 60 Minutes hadn’t been enough. If only he had the full sixty minutes to himself.

Andy Rooney silently cursed Mike Wallace.

People just didn’t understand how things used to be. They didn’t understand how awful things were.

He needed to take action.

He stripped naked. It wasn’t hard, considering he was in a hospital gown. But he removed the gown and stepped into the pentagram he had painted on the cold tiled floor.

It looked perfectly. Exactly as it had been etched in the book. He hoped he would pronounce the incantation correctly. Did kids today worry about pronouncing things correctly? Probably not. What with their texting. And their LOL’ing. When he was a —

No. Stop. He couldn’t waste time with that. There would be an infinite amount of time if the spell succeeded.

He said the words.

He breathed his last breath.

And on November 4th, 2011, Andy Rooney’s spirit was dispersed across the world.

On November 5th, people across the world began to wonder aloud about “kids today” and “entitlement” and “how much better things were when they were younger.”

The spell worked. He didn’t need 60 Minutes anymore. He had 6 billion souls.

In the deepest darkest pits of those souls, Andy Rooney laughed.

The Shy Trivia Night Host

An ode to to the anonymous trivia host at Sunswick’s “Trivia Night”

“Oh God.” He covered his mouth. Did he say that out loud? Did they hear or see him? He darted back into the men’s room and vomited, just barely making it to a toilet.

The group was there again. For trivia night. The two brunette girls, one short and one tall. A tall blonde guy and a bearded dude of about the same height. Their little friend with the glasses and hat would be showing up soon enough. He hated them.

No one ever showed up for trivia night. Why did this group persist? He searched for his phone to text Angela, but it wasn’t there. He left it on the bar. Shit.

Why did he even agree to host a trivia night? Was it that night of erotic Trivial Pursuit with Angela? Dice rubbing up against things which dice shouldn’t be rubbed up against. Erotic rewards for knowing Tony Danza’s costars from Who’s the –

No. He couldn’t think of that now. He washed his face, but couldn’t bear to look in the mirror. He had to go out there and host trivia night, damnit.

He walked to the bar palms sweating. Angela was taking their order. Someone, the bearded one, was clearly mouthing the words “trivia night.”

Grabbing his phone, he walked briskly behind her, slipping a note into her pocket. She was startled, but saw it was him, and turned back to the customers. He didn’t look back at her but he knew what her face looked like already.

He would go back to his apartment, and study the trivia cards again. He would be ready for next week.

Originally published September 15th, 2011

BAM! POW! Batman: Not Just For Depressed People With Vigilante Fantasies Anymore!

BAM! POW! Batman: Not Just For Depressed People With Vigilante Fantasies Anymore!

Every now and then the media gets a wild hair up their ass and decides they should do a report on comics and how they’re edgy. And violent. And…not just for kids anymore! Pop culture writers have been doing this during most of my 29 years on this earth, and whenever they do so, they usually invoke the sound effects associated with the 1966 live action Batman series.

It’s a shorthand. It’s a reference people get.  Something familiar that they can associate with the thing you are trying to tell them about.

So when a new Batman comic was announced that was based off of the Adam West Batman series, I was not excited. I probably said “UGH” out loud. But the first issue arrived, and word of mouth was good. Really good. So at a price of 99 cents, I decided to check it out.

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I’m happy to report that Batman ’66 by Jeff Parker and Jonathan Case is a fun and incredibly well-crafted comic book that goes well beyond paying tribute to a property that people are nostalgic for. This isn’t an empty embrace of “camp” like Joel Schumacher’s films.

Parker and Case use the digital format to play with color, echoing and expanding upon the moments in the show when action would pause for a sound effect laid over the action. Going from one page to the next, the page layout will appear similar, but the colors, dialogue and action all change. Check out these two pages:
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Case’s artwork captures the feel and the designs of the show, but he brings his own style to the book, casting different “actors” that look a bit like their real life counterparts, but never look stiff or photo-referenced.

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I can’t wait to see what Case does with the Joker on the book, as his Riddler is jumping off the page with energy.

Parker’s script shines in amazing moments like this:

Screen Shot 2013-07-16 at 9.08.04 PMIt helps set the tone of the world. It gets away from the restrictions that a word like ‘camp’ puts on a book, and brings it fully into a realm that is fun without any pretensions.

Plus, we can look forward to a showdown with Dracula.

Or Count Floyd, I suppose.