Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Spectrum Files: Halloween Hijinks: He Knows You're Alone (On Lichter Road)

  Halloween Hijinks



Somewhere in the family photo archives is a genuine artifact of boundless joy.  Two of my sisters and two of my brothers sitting on the living room sofa with pillows covering the lower portions of their faces, eyes piercing whatever may have been in front of them.

Which was the divide between the sofa and the television.

They were terrified.  A moment of high tension where the only thing missing was someone jumping in the room and screaming at the top of their lungs, resulting in much noise and defecated garments.  My mother took this snapshot, circa 1982, as the family for some reason was enthralled by a horrible slasher film from that glorified era,  He Knows You're Alone.

This little known gem features the big screen (for better or worse) debut of one Tom Hanks, which he pontificates about here:



Spectrum, who as I've stated could bring the highest of quality films into your home, also could swing the crap stick. This was one of those incidents, but the whole family (and assorted friends who were there on this hilarious Saturday evening) remembers it quite well.  My mom loves to tell the tale of the fear running rampant on the sofa that night.

He Knows You're Alone was another Halloween rip-off, but apparently had enough juice to scare the shit out of four young adults, and who knows who else was present in our humble abode.  Shot in 1980 on a low budget, it came and went in the cascading wave of movies that were either made as homages or direct attempts to profit off others' art in the horror genre.  It was lucky enough to feature a young Tom Hanks, who unlike many stars who had their starts in slasher or teen sex romps (Renee Zellwegger and Johnny Depp, I'm talking to you) loves to tell the story of the movie and apparently isn't ashamed of it in the least. 

See the video above for proof:  "KNIFE RACK!!"

A search and rescue mission for the legendary snapshot my mom lensed is underway, and if unearthed, shall be posted here for posterity's sake.




Monday, August 28, 2017

Bound to the Past: A Matter of Faith



There was a time that I came out of the dark of the loss of a father, not just doubting, but absolutely not believing in the existence of a god.

It seems in that department of loss, a person can go one of two ways: one can dig deep in your faith for strength, or completely abandon religion altogether for its lack of support.

I was somewhere in the middle.

My Mom remarried a couple of years after that Cancer asshole took my old man, and I was wandering the lakeside of uncertainty, really not feeling comfortable with the idea of any sort of supreme being.  It wasn't Dad's death that locked that down, though that factor had me despising the God I grew up fearing and loving during those moments that I did believe he was there.
It was science really.  I kept looking at the facts and the physics, history, and geology, and was having a hard time grasping the whole God thing.

The aftermath of Dad's death wasn't really helping either, to be honest.

But I wanted to.  I did.  I grew up in a loosely Lutheran household with plenty of church, if not prayer.  So the ground was laid, and when Dad got sick, there was a lot of prayer books, services, and counseling of the clerical involved that added to the atmosphere of Godliness.

So as I entered adolescence, all that was becoming argumentative. It was turning into a kind of mist that I was thinking I might be able to wave away.  Still, I was a tad afraid of what life would be like without it.

So I did what I always do.  As a music fan, a sports nut, a comic book reader, a cinephile, and a writer.

I went looking.

There was a church not far from where I lived and I took a walk over there.  I stopped short of going in on multiple occasions, but on one brisk fall afternoon, I pushed on that heavy door and walked in.  At first I thought the place empty, and was about to turn around and walk back out when I heard a voice.

A deep voice, with a touch of friendly rasp.  "Hello there?"

"Hi." I said, unsure of anything, let alone that voice.

And out of an office to my right at the end of a hall came one of the tallest people I have ever met, with the deepest voice, and the warmest damn grin.

Pastor Ted.

He shook my 11 year old hand in his immense one, and asked me what he could do for me.  I was shocked by how easily enough it came out.  I had questions.  I wanted answers.

That giant hand came out again and motioned me down the hall he had come from to his office.  I sat down in his mid-sized domain in a chair opposite his side of an immense desk.  He was surrounded by books. On the desk, on the enormous shelving unit that made up the wall behind him, and on end tables and other shelves around the office.

 I was surprised as he lit a cigarette, smiled, and began asking me about myself.

I went through my history, brief and jagged as it was....a happy childhood, Dad's death, mom's remarriage, the moving, and finally, almost as if angry, my loss of faith.  There was no shock on his face at all, just a knowing nod and smile.

I wanted this man to bring it back.  Make me feel as if God was watching my back again, and return the security that came along with all of that.

He found a place to begin.

That afternoon we spoke for a couple of hours.  Comfortable and conversational, and Pastor Gundlach begin to chip away at that mountain of doubt that had been ascending for the last few years.  I spoke of science.  I brought up the word evolution.  He smiled again, and spoke of a very learned man he knew, regimented in the field of science as a researcher whose faith in his God was as strong as anyone he knew.  He also stood, reached behind him to his left and pulled a small paperback book and set it front of me on his desk.

"I think You'll like this." he said softly as I looked down at a copy of "The Handy-Dandy Evolution Refuter".

"A lot of your heavy questions will be answered in here, I'm not a scientist." He said as I leafed through it, "but I think You and I have a lot to talk about."

And so we did.  I became a member of that church, just myself, though my Mom would attend there often enough, was confirmed, took my first communion,  and became an acolyte.

Many of us have several heroes in different chapters of our lives.  It's part of the process.  I may be a bit overdramatic or hyper-warm in labelling them in this way, but that's how I am.

Pastor Theodore G. was a hero.

He passed away about 4 years ago, retired legend of the Wisconsin Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod) and I doubt he remembered me much.  However, at the time I was there, he would tell people when I wasn't around (My mom verified this) of a young man, struggling hard with his faith, that one October afternoon had grown tired of the struggle and asked him to ease his pain.  And how proud he was to do so.



Adolescence is important.

It's a bridge to adulthood.  I feel as though if I had navigated it without a belief in the loving god that I had spend most of my youth having, I'd have grown to be a different person. I would have been harder, less quick to understand, less willing to forgive.  With that somewhat shaky but never failing belief in God, I grew to be a person with a strong ability to feel and express empathy.  With an even more powerful ability to love.

It wan't easy, mind you.  Unlike the other student's in Pastor G's confirmation classes I was quick to question. I asked with frequency and asked hard.  Pastor G always had reasonable answers to my queries, and always laid a path.  I came in as a black sheep to the Catechism classes, and I think Pastor Ted liked that and saw it as a challenge.  No one else in my group carried any doubt, and though mine was lessening, I was the only one that needed reinforcement.

Without that faith, I may have given in to the doubt and anger that was constantly at my shoulders. Perhaps not controlled the temptations I resisted as I grew up. I don't think I would be who I am today.  Right now, I may not have the same faith and belief I had then.  I may not be a strong Christian, a Stryper Soldier Under God's command, but I know I'm a good person.


I think, in large part, I have Pastor Ted to thank for that.











Wednesday, July 19, 2017

George A. Romero's Land of the Dead:

   In honor of the late, great George A. Romero, my son Aidan chimes in with a look back at the most unsung of the original Living Dead films. 

   "Zombies man, they creep me out".  This statement by the character Paul Kaufman (the late Dennis Hopper) leaves the audience to the question: what is the most frightening or perhaps interesting aspect of the living dead?  Ghouls, zombies, walkers, stenches, whatever one would call them, the most important and persevering element of these monsters is that they are us.  They are a reflection of the human condition and society.  No one has had more influence and understanding of this than the master of modern zombies, the auteur George A. Romero, and this has never been more apparent and obvious than in his fourth Zombie film,  2005's Land of the Dead.  Land follows the progress of both human society and the dead since his original living dead trilogy consisting of Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the dead and Day of the Dead.  While this film differs from the previous installments in terms of scale, the constants of Romero's work remain present and relevant involving his political allegories, social critique, and symbolism.

      In every one of Romero's living dead films, the director allegorically examines the society he lives in.  In Night, he tackled the topics of communism and racism.  In Dawn, he criticizes the modern consumerist culture. In Day, he depicted the issues of militarism and lack of communication. In Land he combined several elements in his political critique, most notably the war on terror.  By this time, many years after the outbreak of reanimated corpses, society has made some progress in rebuilding itself and what first appears to be an efficient way but it's revealed to be corrupt and destined for downfall.  The film revolves around the city of Pittsburgh, in a building at the center of it called "Fiddler's Green", a luxurious establishment exclusively for the upper class, while those who can't afford it (a large amount of people) inhabit the slums around it.  The city operates with a system mirroring both feudalism, where people wind up doing tasks for the powerful in exchange for favors and aristocracy, where the power for those who happen to be rich. This could be seen as an illusion to the power corrupt people with money wield in modern times.  The entire city is fenced in, more or less protected from the dead. The man in charge of fiddlers Green, Paul Kaufman, is threatened by his ill tempered lackey, Cholo Demora (John Leguizamo).  After Kaufman backs out of the deal to allow the latter into the establishment, subtly due to Cholo's Hispanic ethnicity, adding a touch of racial discrimination and inequality into the structure of this corrupt empire. Cholo threatens the destruction of the fence using the powerful arm of "Dead Reckoning", which he has hijacked.  Kaufman immediately rejects Cholo's ultimatum and opts for other means of resolution by sending the original commander and designer of the "dead reckoning" Riley Denbo (Simon Baker) to stop him.  This is an allusion to President Bush's declaration "We do not negotiate with terrorists".   A line Kaufman actually uses. The reference is among the most obvious and specific allegories Romero has used in his Living Dead films.

      Another of Romero's trademarks the film predominately features is a social critique, in this case regarding class warfare.  The rich hold all of the power and the poor are left with scraps. This is a reflection of the growingly distressed economy of modern America with some many people below the poverty line and money not getting where it really needs to be.   The reason for this is quite prevalent.  In Land, the people in power are ignoring the problem, therefore they are a part of it.  Kaufman does not acknowledge the poor people living in slums outside of Fiddler's Green.  This allusion is taking a radical step further with the zombies themselves; the dead are now portrayed by Romero as carnivorous animals as opposed to malevolent ghouls and it seems almost cruel when marauders runs through the dead's territory and sadistically destroy them. As this film takes place an undetermined amount of years after the original trilogy, the zombies have had time to evolve. They all remember routine aspects of the original lives and attempt to mimic them, and even show empathy towards one another.  Early in the film zombies are seen attempting to use their old instruments or reclaim their old day jobs, the most significant case being a zombie gas station attendant.  This is grown from a seed planted in the previous installment,  Day of the Dead.  In Day a zombie named Bub shows he recognizes objects he may have used in his past life and displays genuine grief in a  surprisingly touching scene.  Now in Land, a large amount of the dead showing these traits. With a new sympathetic view of the zombies, they now take their place as lower class and the economic allegory, and through the events of the film, may become what could be viewed as revolutionaries as they attempt to overthrow Fiddler's Green.

      On the subject of sympathetic characters another one of Romero's occurring reoccurring elements is symbolism.  In Night of the Living Dead, Romero was one of the earliest directors who bravely cast a black man as the lead hero in the form of actor Duane Jones, who portrayed Ben. While Romero states his casting decision was due simply to the fact that Jones had given the best audition, he repeated his choice 10 years later in casting Peter in Dawn of the Dead, who is played by Ken Foree. He rounded out the original trilogy following this as in Day of the dead with casting Terry Alexander as one of the protagonists named John.  He repeated this motif years later in Land, but with a twist. The casting of a black man was Eugene Clark as Big Daddy: the intelligent zombie who would lead the dead in their revolution. With this decisio,n he suggested that Daddy is a hero as much as any of the human characters, bringing the character arc of the zombies as a whole to a bizarre but effective conclusion.

        All of Romero's zombie films contain allusions that can be examined but Land of the Dead could be argued to have the most effective and specifically relevant political allegories, social critiques and symbolism to the time period, and confirms Romero's status as a true auter with his own definitive style. He creates this post apocalyptic recovering society that already displays the same problems we face today, such as the inability to resolve matters peacefully,  and the ignorance of important economic issues leading to a massive and growing gap between the upper and lower classes of society.  Using these, he closes out his original living dead continuity reaffirming the zombies many parallels with the living, and at some times leaves the audience rooting for the dead to prevail against a corrupt government.  By the films end, the viewers are still left to ponder just how different or better they are from the dead. The subordinate Mike (Sean Roberts) comments on the zombies behavior:  "They're pretending to be alive!",  leaving Riley Denbo to note "Isn't that what we're doing? pretending to be alive?"

Monday, July 17, 2017

Bound to the Past: An Uneasy Dawn

Winter, 1982.

A Saturday morning featuring my brother, my sister and her boyfriend terrifying me with tales of what they had seen the night before. Hordes of marauding ghouls piling on top of the living, chewing on them, and in turn transforming them into one of their own.

The details of what they saw, from the graphic details of the munching sequences, to the fear of their creatures' numbers were truly disturbing, but what was more haunting was the realistic description of the downfall of society under the weight of this gruesome and massive threat.

What they saw and were reiterating to me was a midnight screening of George A. Romero's "Dawn of the Dead", and the descriptions kept me up at night.

A week or so later, I distinctly remember hearing Kenosha's WRKR broadcasting the radio ad for the obviously successful midnight movie.  The ominous rumblings from the deep-voiced narrator telling me how the film had been banned in a gazillion countries and several planets.  This didn't sound like a sales pitch, it sounded like a damn public service announcement!


For some reason, all this made me nervous.


Flash forward about 3 years.  I'm a 7th grader, sitting in my room on a grey, boring, fall Saturday afternoon.  I decide, in an incredibly bored state of mind, to flip on my little Portland (a Daewoo product!) television and click over to WVTV 18's afternoon movie.

"The Night of the Living Dead".

Oh, boy.  Should I watch this?

I'd heard the stories, and I knew of the connection to "Dawn of the Dead".  "Dawn" was the sequel to Romero's "Night", a low budget horror film that scared audiences and put butts in the seats back in 1968.   I had read in library books about the movies, about both "Night" and "Dawn", touting the ground-breaking effects work, the often realistic depiction of societal breakdown, and their unrated statuses.  On video shelves, I had seen the Thorn/EMI VHS tape of "Dawn" on the shelves with Roger Ebert's blurb about "The savagely satanic view of America" blasting off of it.

Still nervous.  But curious.  Like a cat.

The lead-in to Ebert's talking point was on right now.

I watched "Night of the Living Dead" that afternoon, and I was never the same again in regards to movies.  Despite it being the middle of the afternoon, broad daylight, and my parents being about 40 feet away in the living room, this movie scared the shit out of me.  I had felt this way only one time before, and you can thank John Carpenter and Michael Myers for that.   But I knew Myers wasn't real.  The stuff happening on the screen here felt like it could actually happen, and the crux of it's effectiveness lies right there. 

That's what George Romero did. He made me deal with a movie, not just watch it.

When I finally saw "Dawn of the Dead" 5 years later,  as a senior in high school, I felt the same apprehensiveness.  I was actually afraid as the opening frames unspooled across the screen.  That red carpet backdrop behind the film's title graphic served as some sort of warning. 

 

But like I did with "Night", I hung in for "Dawn".  It was like dipping your toe in ice cold water.  With every horrifying event on the screen, I was able to go a little deeper, be able to take it a little easier.  By the end of the movie, I felt as though I had survived something, but now I was ready.  Ready for more.  At this moment, I had truly had fallen in love with the horror genre.

John Carpenter and George Romero had given me something I had never felt before.  They had taken me to an edge.  Made me feel a shaky, electrical feeling, a combination of fear and exhilaration.   They taught me that movies were more than an entertainment.  You could actually take someone for a ride, nervously perhaps, but nonetheless, take them.  I was glad to introduce my son to the works of both of these great men years later, and have learned it was a great decision. 

George A. Romero passed away yesterday.  His oeuvre was much more than "Night of the Living Dead" and "Dawn of the Dead",  and even the Dead films in general.  He was a great filmmaker, but one thing I learned through his interviews and even attending a screening of "Dawn" with my father-in-law, he was funny, political, thoughtful, sharp as a tack, and genuine.  Intensely genuine.



Just last fall I watched the feature "Night of the Living Steelers" on the NFL Network.  The project intertwined George's career with the heyday of the Pittsburgh Steelers.  George was a Pittsburgh native, a Steeler fan, and at one time even directed short films for NFL films.  In this featurette, his guiding hand and warm voice took you through the sounds and images of horror and football both and reiterated the down-to-Earth nature and uniqueness of this wizard of filmmaking.  "Steelers" teaches you just as much about the Steel City cinematic legend's roots as it does the Pittsburgh Gridiron stalwarts.  After seeing this little documentary, I felt closer to the man and  I'm grateful I saw it.


It effected me deeply when I had learned he was gone, and I'm going to miss him.

He was one hell of an individual, and they don't make 'em like George anymore.
























Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Bound to the Past: Heroes Can Sleep During Star Trek



In early 1980 my dad was sick with esophageal cancer.  He wasn't at the point where he was bed-ridden yet, but I think it can be safely said that time was of the essence.

In an effort to share limited time, He decided to take me to the movies.

In the fall of 1977, He took a clan of us to see "Star Wars" at the Keno outdoor theatre.  I don't need to go into too much description of the awesomeness of that. I barely remember that screening, but I sure as hell recall the effect it had on me and so did my dad's wallet.  For many reasons.  Reasons I wish I still owned.

I think with this new film, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, he was hoping for something close to the same thing.

Even to fans of the legendary television series, the first film of the "original cast series" is seen as a bit of a slog.  It is a bit overlong, a bit quiet in tone, a bit melancholy, and a lot cerebral.   Not to say it's pure garbage,  it's a quality movie, it just wasn't a thrill a minute.  For an 8 year old kid and his tired, ailing dad it probably wasn't a great choice. That fact wasn't either of our faults, as it was a damn Star Trek movie. It did feel more like a very strong episode of its offspring, The Next Generation.

I still have fond memories of the film, despite all that.  I vividly recall Ursula Andress speaking of V'ger. It kicked out some decent spaceship effects for its time, and a still intact chemistry between the cast members, all of them back together again after nearly 15 years.  Needless to say, I found my mind wandered often during the film, and the old man slept for long periods of it.  Often snoring.

But that's okay, heroes get to sleep during Star Trek movies.

After we shook off the doldrums and headed out through the lobby to go home, I spotted something.  This was in the days when studios would often supply theatres with "programs" to accompany their "event" films.  It didn't happen all of the time, but in this case an oversized full-color booklet was being sold to potential buyers.

I asked Dad if I could have it.  If memory serves, he really didn't want to buy the damn thing.  I liked the colorful images and pressed him, more than likely a bit whinily.  (I know, not a word)

In short, I was an asshole.

And he wasn't.  He still bought it for me.  As a father, I know this feeling he must have felt in that moment.  Despite the fact that this expenditure really is a waste, you love that little person who wants the result of it. And you want to make them happy.

Dad wanted to make the asshole happy.  At 8, I knew very little of Star Trek, series or movies.  Star Trek didn't have people shooting laser guns at each other, no swashbuckling lightsaber action, there was no Darth Vader, no furry mascots or charming robots.  It was thinking man's science fiction that I wouldn't come to respect for many more years through the gateway of that Next Generation series I mentioned earlier.   So for all of those reasons, I shouldn't have this book.  For those same reasons,  this thing means the universe, no pun intended, to me.  This man, this hero, tired and ill, loved his son so much that he spent hard earned money to buy something for someone who didn't get it.

Or maybe just to get him to shut the hell up.

Either way, that's love.

My Dad wasn't a hero because he took me to see Star Trek.  He wasn't a hero because he bought me a stupid book to go along with it.  There isn't enough damn bandwidth here for me to tell you why Bob was a hero.



I miss you, Dad.












Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Spectrum Files: Powers Boothe & Southern Comfort





This is the one I missed the boat on.  Every night "Southern Comfort" aired during the month Spectrum carried it, we weren't home.  If memory serves me right, it was only shown about 3 or 4 times to begin with.  Due to the description in the guide that showed up in our mailbox on a monthly basis, and the trailers that ran between the features on Spectrum, it was a movie I desperately wanted to see.

It would be many years before I found it on a $5.99 DVD shelf in a Shopko kiosk. It is now, somewhat ironically, one of my more valuable films.

I was terrified of Powers Boothe, star of Southern Comfort, during this era due to the horrifying Emmy-winning performance as the piece-of-crap, murderous demagogue Jim Jones in the TV biopic, "The Guyana Tragedy".  The concept of one person's ability to get a group of people to knowingly do themselves in with only his influence scared the bejesus out of me.  He would ironically and eventually become one of my favorite screen stars.


In "Southern Comfort", the 1980 Walter Hill-directed drama, Powers' character with Keith Carradine in tow, was the closest thing to a good guy in the movie.  A branch of the Louisiana National Guard winds up at the whims of mother nature and revenge-seeking cajuns in the swamp due to the idiotic behavior of one of the group's lesser brains.  A lot of 80's stalwarts, including Fred Ward, Alan Autry (one-time Green Bay Packers quarterback named Carlos Brown before taking on a show biz name), Peter Coyote, and T.K. Carter, among others appear alongside Boothe for a ride down the drain of a soggy, gray corner of hell.

This film is bleak and disturbing, and I have never been able to take my eyes off of it.  Most of the characters are difficult to root for, and their pursuers really cannot be blamed for their reaction to the principals' stupidity.  Another example of interlopers jacking with the strength of an unknown and often unseen adversary.  In that respect, this film could easily be seen as a Vietnam allegory.

Powers Boothe just passed away this week, and I'm not ashamed to admit I wept.   He had a long and varied career that deserved more than the recognition it got, and I watched closely the whole way.  Aside from the Emmy I mentioned earlier he didn't garner much hardware, but he was always a bright spot in a dark sky.  Through the 80's he was also brilliant in Walter Hill's Extreme Prejudice,  as well as The Emerald Forest, and as the lead in HBO's series Philip Marlowe, Private Eye.  In the 90's he brought up the bar on films where it would normally be low.  His supporting turn in Rapid Fire gave a young Brandon Lee a much needed anchor, and his tuxedoed terrorist's acerbic wit and quick menace brought Sudden Death much higher than it deserved to go.  (However there is that moment, played straight for some reason, where Jean-Claude Van Damme fights a Pittsburgh Penguin mascot, but I won't go there.)  I'm not going to describe his Curly Bill Brosius in Tombstone.  I want you to go in unprepared for the sting.  It's that damn good.

He spent the 2000s on both the large and small screen.  He and fellow Texans Matthew McConaughey and Bill Paxton were the trifecta that gave Frailty it's grim but electric atmosphere.  To this day I regard that one as one of the most underrated horror films of all.  (And by the way, God Rest Bill Paxton, another of my favorites that I will wax nostalgic about here soon.)  Boothe's Senator Rourke in Sin City has a paranormal malevolence to it not really seen previously from Powers.   His turn on Deadwood as Cy Tolliver is just amazing work.  I've been told he was terrific on shows I've not seen like 24 and Nashville, but I don't doubt the accounts for a second. No one could ever say he wasn't always straight 100 at all times.


If I had to make a list of my favorite actors, Mr. Boothe would surely be on it.  His imposing presence and rumble-of-God voice made him a great villain, but there was a softness he could sell at the right times you could believe in.   I'm going to miss him, but I luckily have a stack of his work to look back on, as I did last week when I watched Southern Comfort for the 28th time.   Part of me still wants revenge on the cinema demons that kept me from seeing it way back when.

God Rest you,  Powers Boothe.  And thank you.



Monday, May 8, 2017

Bound to the Past: Blue Ribbon Digest





As a kid my main hero was Batman.  Hands down.  I went through different phases where my focus of the moment may be a different pop culture phenomenon, maybe Angus Young here, Bruce Lee there, Burt Reynolds for some golden months, but for much of my pre-adolescent youth, Batman was the go-to guy. 

Tons of my most vivid memories of ages 6 to 11 involve that 4-color avenger.  He took many different forms at the time.  Irv Novick was responsible for the bulk of his representations in that era, but from time to time he came in the guise of the pencils of Neal Adams, Jim Aparo, or my personal favorite of that time period, (though it seems like he didn’t draw him that often then) Dick Giordano.  There was something about this era of comics, frequently titled The Bronze Age.  The stories often were dark and creepy, but not quite as nasty as today.  A friend of mine once called them “family-friendly disturbing”.   On the covers of these monthly joys, the heroes were frequently fraught, trapped in some horrifying predicament, often with that incredibly discernible facial expression that heroes weren’t supposed to have.  That of fear.  For crying out loud, Batman wasn’t supposed to be afraid of anything!  

That’s what made me buy them. (or more so my parents).

It disturbed me to see Batman with that visage on his face.  I needed to make sure The Dark Knight was going to be alright. 

I had other comics of course.  My collection was littered with tomes from The Incredible Hulk, Daredevil, House of Secrets, and Justice Society among others, but the bulk of my stack was Batman.  A decent fall-back at this time was The Brave & The Bold, a monthly drawn by Jim Aparo featuring Bats partnered up with another lesser super-hero, but I preferred the original.  Oddly, they were tough to find which made their acquisitions that much more exciting.  Occasionally my mother would find one of those drug store poly-bag specials with 3 issues inside that made her the most grandest of dames on the planet for the next week.  These discoveries were largely responsible for the growth of my prized Batman compendium. 
That, and the time my parents bought me a subscription for one year as a birthday gift.  Once a month a black mylar-wrapped issue of the greatest detective’s adventures would wind up in our mailbox.  For 12 months, I checked the post daily beating my parents to the punch, racing Ginger, my beloved dog, to the mailbox.  

The golden nugget of my Batman-obilia was a Blue Ribbon digest.  Every month, DC put a new Digest out dedicated to a different hero in their arsenal.  What the Digest was was a small omnibus of stories from different eras in the character’s history.  You usually found them in the “impulse buy” section of a grocery store as you were checking out.  Let’s see, I need some Chap-stick, a Bit-O-Honey, and 5 stories about The Green Arrow.  

In December of 1980, they ran with Batman.  The weird thing was how my Mom would come home with something like that and act like it wasn’t a big deal.  This was the golden ticket, woman!  This was the Holy Grail of Shit Rob Wants!  How can you just walk in the door with bags of food from Kohl’s and just toss that out there as a secondary thing, like “oh, and I picked you up a pack of Fruit Stripe.” 

This was the most incredible thing ever!!  Except for maybe that “treasury”-sized issue with that unsettling cover.  You know the one.  Comic book dorks know the picture.  It was the nightmare fuel image of a kneeling, screaming Batman with what appears to be a dead Robin the Boy Wonder lying motionless in front of him, super-imposed on a grainy image of a laughing Ra’s Al Ghul’s face behind him…  Getting That book was tantamount to finding the ark of the covenant.  It appeared in the ads every damn month, but never on the newsstands. It passed it’s release dates without me able to acquire it, and now fetches a quarter of a million dollars on eBay. 

But the Blue Ribbon Digest was as good.  I carried this thing around with me everywhere.  On trips it was packed with my matchbox cars, Tigger, and my underwear.  At school, it was in my Batpack, checked frequently at random inspection points throughout the day.  Had to be done.  I became suspicious of schoolmates that may want to get their grubby little digits on my prized book.  I knew Everyone wanted my Blue Ribbon Digest, damn it. 

The 4 color messiahs were a guide.  They were quietly there all day long. When I found out in January of 1979 that my dad wasn’t long for the world due to that Cancer asshole, they stood up behind me and held up my middle finger to the world.  They listened when I complained and provided answers.  The newsprint of the bronze age comic was analgesic to a soul looking to dull the edge of what was presented.  There were a lot of heroes in my life, and there still are. 

But Batman, that dark cowled vigilante, was the first.  Despite the god-awful fear implanted on his face on the covers of those monthly challenges, he was back again in 30 days. 

Today he’s still there, standing in the rain looking over my shoulder, offering the calming whisper of turned pages and the glory of pencil and ink.