Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Bound to the Past: The Incredible Hulk

I'm getting older, but I still love comic books.  I love them every bit as much as I did when I was ten years old, Marvel and DC alike. Batman, The Hulk, The Flash, and Captain America.  The four color messiahs.  The new stuff's cool and all, but I still lean back into that "bronze" age as it's called, probably more for the nostalgia of it, but there it is.  My enjoyment of the medium is unchanged.

Too bad everything else about me is aging.

About 5 years ago my eyesight, until that point an easy 20/20, went to shit.  Suddenly, almost overnight, text messages on my iPhone were blurry.  I had to squint to read novels and magazines. Menus were becoming an adventure.

"I'll have the fried mussels."
"Sir, that says the menu was printed in Brussels."

What the hell was going on here?

I suddenly felt like my mother, who I once took this book to for spelling clarification...

"Ma, what's that word there?"
"Ah, hell, I can't read that!" she replied reaching for her glasses.

Now I can't either.  Seriously.   Even with readers on it's a struggle to make out the damn microscopic print on the sacred panels of this book.   The book discussed here is Volume 1 of the Marvel Comics paperback, "The Incredible Hulk" which compiles the first 6 issues of the great green beast's adventures in one stupidly tiny paperback.

These things, these amazing dead sea scrolls of books gone by weren't available just anywhere, you know. You had to make a pilgrimage to one of "them malls" to get one.  In this case, Northridge Mall in Southern Wisconsin, which I believe was located somewhere in the Himalayan mountains just between Valhalla and K'un Lun.  That's what I thought at the time anyway.

Remember that?  Remember The Mall?

Before the internet, before Amazon, there was this magical place called The Mall, and within its grand confines were places like Waldenbooks, Camelot, Sam Goody, and B. Dalton, where things you didn't even know existed could be purchased.  I found AC/DC imports at these places.  There were Starlogs and Mad Magazines.  There were Razzles and Marathon bars. I found Matchbox cars that looked like the 69 Dodge Charger Peter Fonda drove  in "Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry", by God.

And I found the paperbacks of dreams.  Now, the old Batman compendium I still have is non-linear and non-specific in its chosen reprints,  but the panels were large enough that my old ass can still read them today.

Too bad they're black and white.

However, the Marvel ones now take an effort just as superhuman as old green-skin himself to read. But they're in color. What a paralyzing trade-off.

It's hell getting old.  Now I feel like my mom did, visually flailing away at these miniscule words that only a kid can see, but is too young to read or at the very least understand.  Bumbling to make out the images of Jack Kirby's seminal art.  But I tell you in all truthfulness, this book is every bit as cool as it was 37 years ago when I first got it.

No, you can't have it.

Is that the trade off the universe gives you?  You suddenly start to really appreciate the things you took for granted as a kid.  The wonder of comic book art.  Through a painful squint or expensive eyeglass prescription.  The power chords that were cool as hell are now are legendary, but surrounded by the tinnitus you obtained in your 20 hard years of labor in the printing industry.  The amazing spin kicks in Kung Fu movies that inspired you to take martial arts classes, that if you attempted now would result in you throwing your back out like a dumbass.

The powers that be giveth perspective as they take away, but who knows, maybe it helps you appreciate things all the more. That's what I'm trying to do.

Now where are my glasses, damn it.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Spectrum Files: Volume 2: The Pursuit of DB Cooper

It started on a Saturday night. My wife and daughter were off for a school play, while my son and I were staying home watching "Open Range", a Kevin Costner film starring himself and Robert Duvall.  A loud bark and howl from outside began with the opening frames of the western, and did not cease until long after bed.  This continued for weeks and still happens from time to time to this day.  This dog is a beast. 

It's like the Hound of the Baskervilles across the moors.  I ventured out a couple of times during the early days of this barking blitzkrieg to try to find out if it was the same dog that my wife and I had both spotted running free throughout the neighborhood in recent weeks. I have no doubt it's the same as his first appearance of the evening is typically juxtaposed with the opening salvos of the dog's nightly vocal attack. 

Typically his verbal monotony ventures away from me upon approach, so I know it's a wanderer and not a noisy canine belonging to a thoughtless neighbor. I get close, but never close enough. Eventually I was forced to call the police. When that failed at least three times I called the local office of animal control.  They told me that they only work days, but they'd try to help in any way possible by coming out and looking for a loose dog or holes in fences.  Obviously, no go on that.  This dog has become uncatchable.  A pair of thug-like dogs in this town had achieved the nickname of "Bonnie & Clyde" in recent history, which made me want to nickname this escaped troublemaker who seems to avoid capture. 

I dubbed him DB Cooper.

If you're unfamiliar with Mr. Cooper's work, in the 70's he stole somewhere in the neighborhood of a quarter of a million dollars.  He then hijacked a commercial airliner, parachuted off the plane somewhere over the pacific northwest with said cash, and was never captured.  His FBI case remained open until sometime last year.  Cooper was a false moniker, of course, and I guess that's irrelevant as no one knows his real name either.  He's in the wind forever if he survived.

One morning in the very early 80's  I awoke before the house, made my way to the Sylvania console and turned on Spectrum.  The first film of the day was a Roger Spottiswoode-helmed action flick entitled "The Pursuit of DB Cooper".  This movie also starred the affore-mentioned Robert Duvall as a grizzled Insurance adjuster in search of the money.  Now, mind you, this whole film is fiction, and a brief narration states such at the outset just before Cooper, played by Treat Williams, (a hell of an actor whose entire career seems fraught with either poor choices or bad representation), makes his legendary leap. 

The rest of the film is one long extended chase scene involving Williams and Duvall, Kathryn Harrold as the Cooper character's wife, and Paul Gleason as a sketchy, filthy, bum.  It really is a film that feels and looks of it's time and has it's share of fun moments...

Including what may be the worst overdubbing of all time when Duvall, just after slamming Gleason back into the trunk of a car calls him a "motherjumpin' snake dick."  I get it if you're editing for TV, I've actually seen worse in that regard.  However,  I believe these folks were going for the PG, as if you read Robert's lips, that is clearly not what he was saying at the moment of filming.

That bit of language has come out of my mouth in years past, and to this day, especially when trying to locate this stupid bellowing canine to help the local law enforcement give this neighborhood some peace.  By the way, I know the neighbors seek quiet too, as the complaints have shown up aplenty on my burb's Nextdoor page on multiple occasions. 

Sadly, (and exhaustingly) much like his namesake, DB Cooper has not been caught. 

Monday, April 10, 2017

Bound to the Past: Volume 3: Lucan

There’s nothing more frustrating than a TV show that can’t find a night. Truly, that’s the network’s fault.  “Firefly”, one of the greatest television shows ever filmed was ineptly handled by its network, Fox, and never had a chance. It bounced around the week, then got pink-slipped.  The same can be said for other shows as well.  Guilty as charged,  good ol' Fox mishandled the great “Brimstone” in 1993.  

Seinfeld was barely even watched when its first season completed, but NBC thought there was enough there to give it a shot and the rest is history.  One of the, if not THE, greatest sitcoms of all time. 

Those days are gone.

In this day and age, viewers have the ability to see when a show is struggling thanks to the power of the internet and instant ratings results.  They often get involved in a struggling show’s attempts at survival.  Constantine and Hannibal are examples of shows that have fan bases who took to the internet in massive campaigns to attempt to save their show, to no avail.

Lucan, airing in 1977 and 1978 had one of the weirdest broadcast schedules ever.  With a premier in September of 77, and two months until the second episode, it was hard to get in to it.  Then it took a month off after it aired for 5 weeks straight.  Who the hell was running the show down there at ABC anyway?  This program never had a chance.  Even with maybe 4 operational channels in a given area, how could a person find the damn thing?

Less than 12 episodes ran. Hardly a case study for a successful launch.   In any case, Lucan was a show about a boy who had been raised by wolves, and the drama that enfolded his reintroduction into society.   It starred Kevin Brophy as the seminal character.  Its debut was a made for TV movie that someone saw enough potential in that they decided to sell it to series, although it appears that they jumped ship like it was on fire after that point.  Ned Beatty, Stockard Channing and John Randolph were all involved in this, and I wish for the love of God that I could remember it better.  The reason?  Because from all accounts when you pissed ol’ Lucan off, his eyes glowed amber, and he, as the theatre instructor in Teen Wolf put it, would “Wolf up, Wolf out, uh… Wolf it”. 

The show went off the air quickly, and I remember being hugely disappointed.  I was 6, what did I know?  So I talked my Dad into buying me the novelization of the pilot movie.  What the hell was I thinking?  How was I going to read this thing at that age?  I eventually did a few years later, long after having lost interest, because I was bored. 

It’s a bye gone era, the era of the novelization. They still exist to an extent,  but it’s not the same.  Before there were VCRs, you could go to the grocery store and buy the paperback version of the movie you saw at the theatre that you were so in love with.  It was a way to keep the images alive in your mind as a kid.  For me, Lucan was the first example of many to come. I was a huge novelization fan.

By the by, if you’re into novelizations, (or were) check this out: 

And despite 40 years gone by, and only 12 episodes airing, someone still cares (this is a pretty sharp site, actually)

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Bound to the Past #2: Strange Unsolved Mysteries

Volume 2: Strange Unsolved Mysteries

As a kid, I was an explorer.  On a small scale, I ventured.  I often found myself alone wandering the house, inspecting corners, looking into cabinets, behind curtains, through yards big and small.  Paying sharp attention to the small details.

It was a quiet path, but one I enjoyed.  At our house in Somers, Wisconsin, we had a tuft of miniature woods, a small but dense affair that stretched about 10 yards in diameter.  It hardly qualified as a forest, but the thickness of it would drop the temperature about 10 degrees when you stepped into it. I loved to run into its small opening to hide from an idiotic uncle with a tickle-fetish when he came over.  The knoll sat within viewing distance of the ogre's car, and I could peer back through the brush toward the house, waiting for him to leave.

Sometimes time would go by slowly in this pensive game, but I had a couple of collections in there to keep me busy.  I would often go on long walks next to the train tracks with my Dad, way too deep in his thoughts,  collecting empty shot gun cells and vintage bottle caps.  He let me keep them, and let me know that was okay with his crooked grin and brush of the hair.  The yellow shells were hard to come by, those were the piece de resistance.

It was in this patch of woods that I stored this for inspection and organization.

In colder months, when outside wasn't an option,  I'd wander into the basement.  There the tool area, the rec room, and the basement were areas to stroll, think, and look.  One afternoon I wandered into the rec room, adorned with ultra-thick texture paint, drop ceiling, hand-made bar and an extra bathroom.  Looking around, I spotted a small paperback book that must have belonged to my older sister, Linda.

The cover struck me as creepy, but I was interested by the title, "Strange Unsolved Mysteries".  It was a collection of "true-life" short stories involving hauntings, strange creatures, eerie coincidences, and ESP.  It was of it's era for sure, as my Dad also had books on paranormal and extraterrestrial dealings that I'd wander through.  Paperback copies of "The Late Great Planet Earth", "The Bermuda Triangle", and "Chariots of the Gods" lay about the house.  This item, however, was a combo of all of them, but a Scholastic PG version for young adolescents with short attention spans.

I was stunned by these stories.  This shit was real!  

A small town in Texas was the locale for a strange yellow blob that scientists couldn't categorize!  A plane crash avoided due to a dream!  A picture drawn that was the exact visage of something someone else saw years before!  Terrifying cryptids!!  Good Lord, this stuff needed to be investigated!  If it came from a book order in Weekly Reader, it had to be true!!

It was at that point that I began to draw an interest in Sasquatch,  Loch Ness, hauntings, and shifty-eyed people.   Though I was years ahead in the reading department ( I think I would go on to read "Mandingo" and "Jaws"  in the third grade,  "The Shining", and "Amityville" in the fourth), I was probably too young to read this stuff and infer what was needed.  As a result, I took it way too seriously.  Being a viewer of "In Search Of" and "Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom", I began to see cryptozoological wonders in every corner, UFOs next to all stars, ...ghosts behind every click and creak.

I only saw these great mysteries in the walls of my home and the plot of our land, and the adventurous territories of my mind, enhanced by these books and television shows.

Going forward, my eyes continued to always be wide open, as all young explorers' are.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Tears of the Dragon

I grew up a huge Bruce Lee fan.  As I've waxed on here before about him being a nice surrogate for the eradication of the bullying in my life as a kid from childhood to adolescent youngster.   He was gone long before I became a fan, as he passed away when I was two.

Not many two year olds attending screenings of "Fist of Fury", though that's probably something that should happen, if I have anything to say about it.

Bruce has become known for far more than his movie stardom as time has gone by.  He has become largely regarded for furthering martial arts beyond its "classical mess" status, creating a hybrid form of the science he referred to as Jeet Kune Do, which is still studied and taught today.  He was a deep philosophical thinker and many of his own creations are deeply felt and repeated.

Be Water, My Friend.

Emotional content, not anger.

He inspired me into the two plus years of martial arts study that I wrapped myself up in, not just the films I saw him in growing up, but reading "The Tao of Jeet Kune Do" and his famous letters and other writings about training your mind.  I've have engaged in some, and am still trying to incorporate more of the wisdom....

It's hard rewiring an old house, but not impossible.  I started in my 30's, and am still a work in progress.

But without The Little Dragon, I may not have even begun.

As a kid thinking back, I used to get sad when I'd remember that he was gone.  He was 32, and like Jimi Hendrix, Roberto Clemente, and Anton Yelchin, had a hell of a lot more to give.   If I think much about it, it can still tear me up to this day.  So I try to focus on the positives the man brought to the ethereal table in his flicker on this plane.

He also brought us his son, who was trying to carry on that flame.

Brandon Bruce Lee died on this date in 1993 from an unfortunate and unnecessary gunshot wound on the set of "The Crow".  That movie is demonstrably melancholy, and coupled with Brandon's passing while trying to bring James O'Barr's graphic novel on grief and recovery to life, the film contains power few movies have.  I can name maybe 3 other movies that have hit me in that place.

By all accounts Brandon was as wise as his father, if far less intense.  In interviews he had a calm demeanor coupled with a self-deprecating humor that was as charming as the smile he and his father both flashed like a sword.  He seemed to carry a more relaxed angle on life and peace, though I'm sure Bruce and he had the same views on where the world should be as a whole.

He didn't explode onto the scene as much as back into it.  After having the lead in one Hong Kong action film, "Legacy of Rage", he starred in an updating of the television series, "Kung Fu" (I won't go into the irony there) before roles in smaller films "Laser Mission" and "Showdown in Little Tokyo".   They were lackluster affairs that still showed his potential screen presence, if little else.

Then came "Rapid Fire"

Brandon was wicked good at Kung Fu.  he may not have been dad by a long shot, but he could get it done.  What Brandon brought to the table was choreography heavily influenced by legend Jackie Chan. I was excited by a martial arts persona more than I had since I was a kid.  Then I had read in an article that he had been given the lead in Alex Proyas' upcoming film, "The Crow".

He died without much shooting left for his character. That's why the film, after being in turnaround a couple of times, was finally finished and released.

There was no martial arts in "The Crow"... It was unabashed id.  Melancholy and rage dripped from every frame of the movie, and Brandon's death only seemed to burn it into the images on screen.  If there ever was a movie for a person so immersed in hurt, so unflagging in their sorrow, it's "The Crow".  It may not be medicine for when you feel that way, but at at least a person can know someone identifies with them when they're in that place.

It's uncertain to me if that's a good thing, though.  As powerful as "The Crow" is, it sadly acts as a reminder of how good Lee was.  He could act. He was far more than a martial arts icon.  His performance is on par with the rest of the film, morose, longing, and on the edge.

It seems to be grief encapsulated.  "The Crow" shows there is no answer for the wrongs of the world, why this young man had to die so young, on screen and off.  The film seems to underline the ridiculous uncertainty and ultimate unfairness wrought by the world, while being a vile, black example of it at the same time.

And then you remember his father died mysteriously of a cerebral edema himself in 1973, 20 years prior.  Two strange, unfair, out of nowhere losses of two people, father and son, who had so much to give and were just ready to start unleashing it on a global level.

As much joy as these two men gave me, the disappointment at what could have been starts to creep over it.

But I have to remember:  They wouldn't want me to think that way, they wouldn't want anyone to think that way.

So I don't.  Not for as long as I probably would have, had it not been for them.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Bound to the Past #1

I had never gotten the chance to see "The Empire Strikes Back" theatrically. Life was as Billy Crystal's Fernando called it, "Crazy-go-nuts". My Dad, who had taken several of us to see the original "Star Wars" in its initial run, had passed away. There wasn't time to go "to the show" anymore during that period, really.

I did catch "Empire" theatrically in a re-release sometime in the summer of 1981 in Marshfield, Wisconsin, but that, my friends, is truly irrelevant and sadly anti-climactic.

Anyway, in a drug store somewhere, my Mom and I had stumbled across a paperback-sized version of the Marvel Comics graphic-novel styled novelization. I was exceedingly thrilled. At least I would know what the hell happened. I guess you could call what I was feeling relief, really.   I began reading it on the ride home, and thanked my dear mother about 235 times in the process.

When discussing the epic film (which has since become my favorite in the long-winded series) at school with my chums, I would now at least know what the Hoth I was talking about. I still acted as though I had seen the film going forward. For the opposite to be true would be a disgrace.

Several years prior, I had an over sized (what comic book nerfherders call "Treasury-sized") edition of the whole Marvel schpiel of the original 1977 classic. I loved that thing. I brutalized it in the process. Alas, at the age of 6, you didn't prospect comic books, man. You read the damn things.

Over and Over.

I can now glowingly re-read that masterpiece thanks to Frank and Mary, my mother and father-in-law, as last Christmas they purchased me the entire thing in a glorious hardbound edition. When I re-read it, I physically experienced an explosive wave of nostalgia. I wish there was a single-word encapsulation of that emotion. Sorry I can't do that for you, but my regret is overcome by my sadness at my own verbal ineptitude.

The "Empire" paperback isn't quite as cool as the original, but it still means a lot to me to this day. Great work by writer Archie Godwin, whose name comes up to this day as creator of the great Luke Cage character, a superhero who has a great show running on Netflix.  The pencils by Al Williamson and Carlos Garzon were pretty slick. Yeoman's work by all 3 gentleman.

I also loved the paperback size as opposed to the Treasury, it's one distinct advantage. For that sizing made lugging it around easier and less damaging.  After all, this was the melding of Comic Books and the Star Wars universe, and it aint to be played with.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Spectrum Files #1: In Which I Salute Chuck Barris

Volume 1:  The Gong Show Movie

Not too long ago my wife and I sat down to watch George Clooney's "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind".  It's the supposed autobiographical journey of one Chuck Barris. 

Yes, he of "The Gong Show" fame.  

Now it's pretty well known that he wrote the hit song "Palisades Park" that Freddy Cannon made famous and was a game show genius producer being behind "The Dating Game" among others including "The Gong Show".  What this film (based upon Barris' own book) is trying to tell you is that besides all of those credit-deserving ventures, he was once a highly successful assassin for the CIA. 

I won't give any more credence to that voluminous tidbit other than acknowledging that it made for a hell of a premise and an even greater movie. 

As a kid in the early 80's Spectrum showcased "The Gong Show Movie".  I was completely confused, as other than catching a few moments at the end of an episode that was an early evening lead-in to prime time television, I had never seen the show.  (Later when my parents eventually got cable, I caught some reruns on the fledgling USA Network, however.)

The movie mystified it me.  The premise of "The Gong Show Movie" is that it is a fictional week in the life of Barris, as he tries to put together episodes of the show for impending broadcast.  I remember a lot of weird things happening including bizarre auditions,  Jaye P. Morgan with a ridiculous strip-tease, and a "Doors"-like venture into the desert as a result of a nervous breakdown for Mr. Barris.  Also, one of the auditioners sang a song about legalizing prostitution that his wife danced to, resulting in my friend and I getting into trouble for singing later.

Hey, I had no idea what we were singing about. I was 10. 

I didn't make much out of the film other than the fact that Barris was a really strange guy.  Overall,  he confused me as a kid, entertained me as a teen later in those affore-mentioned reruns, and then completely had me twisted around as an adult thanks to "Confessions".  

What an INSANE story!!  CIA??  Really?  I think he claimed something like the CIA never came down on him for speaking up, as no one would believe him anyway.  Seems unlikely,  but I digress.

Chuck Barris passed away this past week at the age of 87.  Say what you will about the man, but he accomplished several lifetimes worth of craziness (minus the CIA assassinations, you include those, it's a whole nother story) in his single one.  Plus, he made me laugh. I will always see him doing that repetitive and predictable clap that the audience did with him as he introduced guests.  I'm sure they did it out of insult and affection both.  The way he tipped his head back during the intros like Drew Brees does just before a throw.  The difference being I think Barris' eyes were closed. 

I guess you could say I admire him in a weird way for all of that, and he entertained millions during his lengthy show biz career.  I'm no Chuck Barris expert, but I know a dynamo when I see one. 

Now here's some Gene Gene the Dancing Machine:  (For a late 70's variety show, the editing here is big-league)