Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Wednesday Comics: The Avengers

Hey Kids, Comics!

After I discovered comic books in 1974 via The Justice League of America I went in search of other, similar examples of wonderment. I knew there were other DC books out there from the in-house ads. I soon came back around to MARVEL, too. AVENGERS #113 was the first Marvel book that I actually remember owning. There were others, for sure, before this: I distinctly remember the Spider-Man vs Mobius issue in SPIDERMAN #101, and I have a vague recollection of reading some CAPTAIN AMERICA & THE FALCON story where they face The Grey Gargoyle. But this issue, now....I liked it, and I kept it. Here's Captain America again, with Iron Man, The Vision, Scarlet Witch, the Black Panther, and Thor: six of Marvel's best characters, all in one book. I took an immediate liking to the first five, and tolerated Thor. In this issue they faced off against a racist group of suicide bombers wanting to stop the romance between a mutant and an android. Definitely not the subject matter appearing in JUSTICE LEAGUE, but fun none-the-less. I was hooked.

However, even though I loved this issue of THE AVENGERS, I didn't buy another issue until #125, more than a year later. Why? Well, I've read that Marvel was having trouble with their distribution company, so maybe that's why I never found another issue to buy. I know I could always find SPIDER-MAN and MARVEL TEAM-UP (which featured Spider-Man and various guest-stars, allowing me to try to figure out who was who and what was what in the Marvel Universe), but everything else seemed to be hit-or-miss, and for THE AVENGERS I was definitely missing. One more thing about Marvel team books. Their flagship title was FANTASTIC FOUR but at this point it was produced by very stable but not very exciting Ross Andru and Gerry Conway. Also it featured Medusa in place of the Invisible Girl. I was never a big fan of The Thing, so although I did buy an issue around this time, I didn't stay with it. I eventually would pick it up for about three years, though.

So I picked up #125 and if I had really liked #113, I positively loved #125. Not only were the same characters still around, but there were even more added to the mix. (Have I said I liked team books?) Besides Mantis and the Swordsman, Marvel's version of Captain Mar-vell (I always put the accent on the second syllable out of deference to Fawcett's original Captain Marvel) was leading the team against the cosmic villainy of Thanos, God of Death. And the art was by the super fantastic (but sadly one-time only) team of John Buscema and Dave Cockrum. After I read this issue, I *knew* I had to try to figure out the distribution schedule and find this book on a more regular basis. Long story short, I decided to subscribe. I had already made my commitment to JUSTICE LEAGUE and I thought I was ready for another title delivered right to my home.  
Unfortunately, after I sent my check off to NY I must have mis-counted "6 to 8 weeks" for my first issue to arrive. I saw one then two then three issues on the stands and did not pick them up, thinking one of them would undoubtedly be waiting for me in my mailbox the next day. This was frustrating, to say the least, and eventually very annoying. FINALLY my subscription started with #135, a story that tied into GIANT SIZED AVENGERS for its conclusion. Given my random experiences with Marvel comics, I had no way of knowing of their fondness for cross-overs and continued stories; and although I knew #125 had continued in CAPTAIN MARVEL I was still not really ready or amused when a month later I got #136 and it had *nothing* to do with #135. In fact, it was a reprint of an AMAZING ADVENTURES story featuring The Beast vs Iron Man. If this was the way Marvel did things, then I was a committed DC man!! 

Suffice it to say that the next few issues made me regret my decision to subscribe to THE AVENGERS. The characters I had liked were gone, replaced by nobodies like Yellowjacket, Moondragon, and The Beast.  The art by George Tuska was not the same as by John Buscema. After fighting some nobody bad-guy named The Toad they faced a Red Tornado spin-off (haha) named Whirlwind. Was this what I had missed!?! 

And then I got AVENGERS #141. Captain America was back. The Vision and Scarlet Witch had returned from their honeymoon (!?) at the end of the previous issue, so now they were back, too. And more importantly for this story, the artist was some new guy named George Perez. He brought a fantastic and unique style with him to the book that I fell in love with immediately. THIS was The Avengers!! With this debut he became the main AVENGERS artist, off-and-on, for the next five years, until he left Marvel to move to DC and handle....yes...JUSTICE LEAGUE (as well as NEW TEEN TITANS and some mini-series called CRISIS).  He ushered in a new era with this story, bringing "Earth's Mightiest Heroes" back to the top of the Mavel chain. I was hooked (again) as the team split up, one group to face the JLA knock-offs The Squadron Sinister and one to go back in time and fight the Marvel version of The Time Lord called Kang.  

However, the chaos that seemed to surround THE AVENGERS (or was it Marvel itself?) never seemed very far behind. In the *middle* of this multi-parter there were two issues that had absolutely NOTHING to do with either storyline or with the continuity of the title. I learned years later that it was a GIANT SIZED AVENGERS story that had been cut in two to take up two issues of the norml monthly, so had been written without any thought to the continuity of the series. Then there was another reprint in #150. There were "guest artists" and "fill-ins" all over the place as the "permanent" creative teams played musical chairs. Still, most of the main characters stuck around, and most of the issues were entertaining. George Perez came back and left again. Then he came back and left (again). 

There was a run from #181 through to about #200 that was another good series of issues, with art by John Byrne. During this time the US government took over the administration of the group, and because the US followed Affirmative Action programs, the Avengers had to, too. In a controversial storyline, Afro-American super-hero The Falcon is *made* to join to fill a quota. He was not enthusiastic about it, but as a long-time fan of the character, I enjoyed his inclusion. He stayed until the US government administration ended, although he has come back now and again.

After George Perez left Marvel and Jim Shooter took over Marvel in a huge way, I dropped all of my Marvel books. By this point She-Hulk, Ms Marvel, a new Captain Marvel, the Sub-Mariner, and Tigra had joined (and quit) the Avengers. When Marvel took The Vision apart (he's an android) and made Scarlet Witch insane, I quit. Although I was in Japan at the time and didn't follow most of the comics at the time, it looks like most comics in the 90s were not very good. I did try to go back to Marvel in the early 90s with THE WEST COAST AVENGERS but that wasn't very much fun, either. Then or the Avengers was relaunched in 1998 by Kurt Busiek and, yes, George Perez. Also along for the ride were ALL 39 past-and-near Avengers, which made it fun. These two gentlemen obviously loved the Avengers as much as I had, and the care they took in crafting their stories made THE AVENGERS the best book on the stands again. For another four years, this series was awesome. 

Now Marvel and The Avengers are back in a dark place. Scarlet Witch went insane again and created her own dimension (aka House of M). Then she died but took several Avengers with her. Spider-Man and Wolverine as well as Power Man and other characters who had never been Avengers before joined up. There was a huge Civil War. Cap and Iron Man fought each other. Cap was killed (but got better). Can you figure out yet that I'm not reading this book (again)?

For now, I'm watching from the sidelines. I am hopeful that "my" Avengers will return, and once more the mightiest heroes on Earth will head into battle with their exciting mantra, "AVENGERS ASSEMBLE!!"

(click on the above to super-size it; art by George Perez, colors by yours truly)

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

We are off to visit my family in St. Louis for the next few days.

I like to drive back to visit my parents in November because the weather is better now than it usually is in December/January. So since we came (back) to the US in 2001 it's become something of a tradition for us to have Family Time at this time of year. That also allows all of my brother and sisters to have our own family's Christmases.

Thanksgiving effects me somewhat oddly. Even with all of my bitching and moaning about stuff, I do know very well that I have a lot to be thankful for. Don't think I take anything I have for granted, because I don't.

Please take a moment to consider just how blessed we all are....and if possible, donate a few things to your local food bank, or take a pie or some cookies to your local Police or Fire Station. It'll make them smile and fill your heart better than any turkey can fill your stomach. I do it every year, and it's something I can't imagine not doing.

I wish everyone a happy and healthy Thanksgiving holiday.....and no Black Friday injuries! ;-)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

My Favorite TV Shows

I don't hav any one "favorite" TV show. People often say, "I never missed FRIENDS" or "I'm totally a TREKKER" but I guess I'm just too picky to be able to say one particular show is my absolute favorite above all others. No, my favorites break down like this: shows that I love but also hate, and shows that I love.

aka Shows That I Will Check To See Which Episode It Is Before Deciding To Watch It

The best example of this type of show is MASH. The first three years with Trapper John and Henry Blake are good. The next two seasons with BJ and Frank are great. However, the last six years with Charles are, to put it mildly, uneven. So I can't very well say that MASH is my favorite show when I can barely sit through some of the melodrama of the later years. I understand why Larry Linville as Frank (right) wanted to move on, but when he did, he also took the heart of the comedy out of the show.  

The two shows created by Sherwood Schwartz, GILLIGAN'S ISLAND and THE BRADY BUNCH, veer wildly between awesome (usually the dream sequences on GILLIGAN and the middle years on THE BUNCH) and the awesomely bad (most guest-stars on the island and the last year with "Cousin Oliver").

BATMAN was fantastically entertaining in its first year, but in its second year it went TOO far overboard and then it got repetitive and just plain silly. Even the addition of sexy Batgirl can't make several of the last season episodes worth watching.

Super spy shows like MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE, THE MAN FROM UNCLE, and THE AVENGERS have more than their share of great episodes. However, UNCLE suffered from the same "camp" over-reach that affected BATMAN, and after it stopped taking itself seriously it couldn't find its way back to its core. Patrick Macnee had played John Steed for several years on THE AVENGERS with several other partners before Diana Rigg came on the scene as Mrs. Peel. Yet, it just wasn't the same after she left. And when Martin Landau and Barbara Bain walked away from MISSION the producers could replace the roles, but not the characters. It, too, was never the same without them.  

THE JEFFERSONS started out incredibly fresh and topical: one of the only TV series in the 70s with African-American leads, it also had the first bi-racial couple, The Willises, as supporting characters.
The first few years were all about the characters, but as the show got older and more established it became more pedestrian (for lack of a better term). When it lost its edge, it lost a lot of its appeal to me.

STAR TREK is supposed to be about an international (and inter-galactic!) crew working together to investigate the unknown. However, there are just too many Kirk-Spock-McCoy episodes. All of my favorite episodes featured most if not all of the Enterprise crew. Also, how many episodes did we really need about Man's Over-Dependance On Machines, or set on planets oddly similar to Earth?  

I loved the premise of the Space Family Robinson LOST in SPACE. However, there are just too many episodes centered around Dr. Smith doing something stupid, usually accompanied by Will and The Robot but nobody else. There were six other great actors on this show, but too often they were wasted because the producers took the lazy way out. 

DEEP SPACE NINE is my favorite overall STAR TREK series. It has a great premise, a great cast of characters who shared the spotlight in various storylines, and a great cast of actors portraying said characters. However, in its later years it got bogged down in its own mythology and continuing storyline. If I happened to miss an episode (which I did, because I was living in Japan at the time) it was difficult to figure out what was going on. By the last few years it was less like STAR TREK and more like DYNASTY. 

I was tempted not to include my two favorite variety shows, The MUPPET SHOW and The CAROL BURNETT SHOW, because both were always entertaining enough; it just depended on who the guest star was if the episode was truly classic. Still, I would prefer even the dullest guest on either of these shows to most anything else out there, then or now.

aka Shows That I Want to Own on DVD and Watch Repeatedly

F TROOP is the one I guess I have to call my "guilty pleasure." Watching it now there are only a few laugh-out-loud scenes. The repetitive schtick characters (the bugler who can't bugle, the near-sighted guard, the Alamo survivor) get old. The premise of a post-Civil War fort manned by con men and nincompoops, surrounded by peace-loving Indians, doesn't sound all that entertaining. Yet somehow....I find myself enjoying it every time I watch it. Go figure. Maybe it's the fun leads: Ken Berry as Captain Parmeter, Forrest Tucker as Sgt O'Roarke, Larry Storch as Corporal Agarn, Melody Patterson as Wrangler Jane, and Frank DeKova as Chief Wild Eagle. Maybe it's the colorful surroundings (I heard later that the series was filmed on one of Warner Bros.' old "standing lots" which means it looked real cool. Whatever it is, I'm thinking I'll go watch an episode right now. Maybe the one with the Bed Bugs. :-)

THE ODD COUPLE featured the over-the-top sloppiness of Oscar and the persnickity cleanliness of Felix. This was a wonderful dichotomy to base a situation comedy on. Even now, years later, I find myself thinking of scenes or bits from this series. Did everyone learn the "don't assume because it makes an ass of u and me" lesson from this series, or was it just helpful in getting the message out there? Anyway, it was no accident that both Jack Klugman and Tony Randall won Emmy Awards for their work on this show.

WKRP in CINCINNATI was originally supposed to be all about Andy (a great Gary Sandy) and his new life in Cincinnati as a program director at the least popular radio station in town. Pretty quickly, however, the show stopped centering on Andy's life and expanded out to all of his crazy co-workers. Blessed with fine writing and a wonderful ensemble cast, WKRP left us too soon. Plagued with royalty or copyright issues for all the real 70s and 80s music the show used, the DVD releases of this classic are also, sadly, delayed.

It took me about a year to get into the medical comedy/drama SCRUBS. The first few times I watched it, with JD's weird narration and surreal imaginary scenes, it didn't do anything for me. But then I saw a few "serious" episodes: one where the three leads each had to deal with dying patients and one where Dr. Cox has to deal with his best friend having leukemia. I finally got that what JD was doing was his defense mechanism agains the pain, fear, and sadness that surrounded him at Sacred Heart Memorial Hospital. After I "got" it, I  enjoyed it for its entire run.

I didn't know what to expect from MY NAME IS EARL. I'm pretty sure it came on between two shows that I already watched, so I kept it on and then learned to love it. The premise is great: Earl Hickey, perpetual bad guy, wins the lottery but then is hit by a car, causing him to lose the ticket. In the hospital he decides to change his life by writing a list of all the bad things he has ever done ("Lost Dad the election," "Pretended to be dead to break up with a girl," etc) and then going out to make them right. As soon as he leaves the hospital, he finds his lottery ticket, and thusly believes in Kharma. This show was one of the few where I could *not* guess what was going to happen every week. In one episode, Earl frets about having to tell an ex-con buddy that it was his fault that the friend has been sent to prison. The friend was an angry SOB so Earl was scared to confess to him. When they finally get together, however, what happened was something I never saw coming. For that sense of wonder so often missing from mainstream TV, it earned its place on this list.    

To me, the ultimate situation comedy is THE BOB NEWHART SHOW. Bob was fun to be with, whether he was at home with his funny & affectionate wife Emily (a fantastic Suzanne Pleshette) or at the office with his crazy but also very funny mental patients. Jack Riley as angry Mr. Carlin was especially memorable. I always liked Bob's deadpan delivery style of comedy. So while my parents liked ALL in the FAMILY and my sisters liked MARY TYLER MOORE, I always liked Bob. I was very lucky to meet "Carol," Marcia Wallace herself at a Mid-Ohio Comic Convention, and she graciously signed one of my DVD covers. 

If you haven't seen all of these shows I've talked about here, I strongly suggest you go to your local library or to youtube or Target and check them out. They may not all be to your liking, but I am guessing that if you made it this far, you'll find *something* you'll like. If you want specific episode or seaons recommendations, just let me know. 

JLA Roll Call Portraits version 3

Here are our 3rd versions of the our JLA portraits....using the same general format, but updating the illustration! 

This version is from JLA #11, which also featured the Injustice League!! 

....continued after the jump! 

Monday, November 21, 2011

JLA Number 11 "A Power Struggle!" FORWARD

 This is the story that I was really looking forward to doing when I started. I had decided to start adapting existing JLA stories instead of adapting just the plots or writing my own stories, and I started with one of my all-time favorites! This issue is based on JUSTICE LEAGUE #111, "A Balance of Power!" I couldn't translate that title very well for my audience, so I ended up re-naming it "A Power Struggle!" which sort of kind of means the same thing, haha! I think I *should* have called it, "When Titans Clash" but that wouldn't have translated very well, either, haha!

This was the issue where the JLA faces off with a group made up of some of their worst enemies. In the comics they faced The Injustice Gang, made up of: the Shadow Thief, Chronos, Poison Ivy, the Scarecrow, Mirror Master, and the Tattooed Man. A quick glance will show that I kept the first four and dumped the last two. I'm sure I chose Dr. Polaris as the GL villain because he was more interesting than the Tattooed Man, but I don't  remember why I didn't use Mirror Master. I know by this point I had purchased a whole case of DC collectors' cards and was using the characters featured in that collection as my "who's who"....but I can't imagine Mirror Master not being in that group! Oh well, sorry, Mirror Master! You appear *briefly* in an upcoming story, which is more than I can say about the Tattooed Man, who never appeared ever. 

One point I liked about my version of this story is that I had the group consist of TEN bad guys instead of six. There were currently ten JLAers, and I figured that if you are stupid enough to go out and PICK A FIGHT WITH THE JLA (!!?!) you would want to atleast have the same number of members as them! So I added Aquaman's foe Black Manta, Superman's enemy the Toyman, Wonder Woman's foe the Cheetah, and Black Canary/Green Arrow enemy Count Vertigo. Plus I added master villain Vandal Savage to take the place of Libra in the original and a more logical (?) power source. It worked out well, as you'll see.

My favorite part of this issue, though, is that I had it start with the villains hunting the heroes. I played up the idea that part of what the JLA would do if they really existed would be to make benefit appearances for charity: but if they actually *did* that, what would stop the bad guys from attacking them at those appearances? Nothing, atleast in this story...! I thought that was clever.

This is the first time I used a new assistant to translate the English into Japanese. I talked to Yukiko Ochiai, a woman who worked in my office at the town Board of Education. She was much more available than my previous assistant, Mariko Tadokoro. However, she didn't have the interest or something, as I often found people reading the stories after they were printed asking me what I had meant etc. That is why you may see some obvious whited-out corrections in the Japanese in this issue. I went back with someone else and changed some of the terms to make them more clear or correct.

I'm pretty sure the English is okay, though. :-)

Some Obscure Rock-n-Roll Band Called The Beatles

I don't remember a time when I didn't know who The Beatles were. In my house we had the one stereo (aka Record Player) and next to it were all the various albums belonging to the people who lived there with me: my two sisters, my brother, and my parents. (Being the youngest, at this point I didn't have any albums of my own.) From a very young age I would look at the album covers because I wasn't allowed to play the records for fear of scratching them. We had The Red Album and The Blue Album. Before I even listened to them (or knew what they sounded like) I was attracted to the design: same pose, same building, several years apart: what a cool idea!
Of course, I soon realized that this group was the same one I was hearing on the radio all the time (I think "Hey Jude" was the first Beatles song I remember knowing). So I knew who The Beatles were (and what they sounded like) pretty early. While I was growing up it seemed like they were everywhere: Paul McCartney sang "Live and Let Die" and "Band On The Run," Ringo Starr was on the radio with "Photograph" and other hits, and the band itself was mentioned on Saturday Night Live almost every other week. As I got older, I learned to recognize super-hits like "All You Need Is Love" and ""She Loves You," as well as more obscure songs like "Helter Skelter" (which to this day I simply can't listen to!) and "Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." And of course, I was only 16 when John Lennon was murdered, leading to the subsequent huge increase in "Beatlemania." This also led to George Harrison returning to the world stage.  

I think because the Red and Blue "greatest hits" albums were my first introduction to most of their songs, it has always been easy for me to think of them in terms of "Early Beatles" and "Later Beatles." There were so many Beatles songs that I would be hard pressed to pick one "era" over the other; for every "Revolution" there was a "Please Please Me;" for every "We Can Work It Out" there is a "Penny Lane."    

However if I had to pick only one of these albums to listen to from now on, though, I think I would have to pick The Red Album. Not only do they seem better/sharper/more focused, but there are more collaborations between Lennon and McCartney instead of solo efforts, and they are *fresh.* There is just so much joy and happiness in their early hits, like "I Saw Her Standing There" and "Twist and Shout." Even songs like "PS I Love You" that are supposedly sad are so bouncy (for lack of a better term). If you want to really understand just how great the early Beatles songs are, think of their context. In the weeks before The Beatles hit the US singles charts, these were some of the biggest hits in America:  "Sugar Shack" (Jimmy Glimmer), "I'm Leaving It Up To You" (Dale & Grace), "Deep Purple" (Nino & April), "Dominique" (The Singing Nun), "There! I've Said It Again" (Bobby Vinton), and "My Boyfriend's Back" (The Angels). In this group, "I Want To Hold Your Hand" must have been literally a breath of fresh air! 

The Beatles, for several reasons, were a phenomenon that no one has ever been able to replicate. There has never been any other group, musical or otherwise, like them. The newest Justin Bieber or Hannah Montana are nothing like the popularity that The Fab Four had to deal with. Think about it: How many other rock-and-roll bands are there where the majority of people can name all the members? John, Paul, George, and don't even need their last names. When they burst onto the scene they were still trying to fit into the "band uniform" characterizations, but by the end of their professional life together they had become four indidvidual musicians. Just look at the two photos above and below this paragraph for proof.

I think it was Paul who said the reason they were so successful was just because they were a hell of a good rock and roll band. That they were. And so, so much more. 

I leave you now with one of my all-time favorite Beatles' songs, "HELP!"  

JLA Number 11 "A Power Struggle!"

Not a single Justice Leaguer to be found. Some of my favorite villains...and who doesn't love the traditional "ripping the cover open" design? I think my favorite part of this cover is Chronos' clock-hand gun shooting arrows off the cover, haha! (Chronos is the white-faced guy in yellow and green on the right.)

Friday, November 18, 2011

Russell's Ken-Bun-Ki May 23, 1996 (What Is A Foreigner?)

Last week the city of Kawasaki abolished the Japanese nationality caluse from the city municipal employee test criteria. However, the Home Ministry announced, "You must have Japanese citizenship to be a public employee." The Japanese government believes that foreigners "cannot work in the public interest or enact public opinion."

Basically a foreigner is someone who is born and raised in another country, has a different mother tongue than you, and has different manners and customs. However, there are people born in Japan, who speak Japanese, and have the same Japanese customs as all other people who live here, but who in the eyes of the government do not have Japanese citizenship. In the eyes of the Japanese government, these people are "Koreans." In the eyes of other countries, these people would be called "Japanese." The decision made by the city of Kawasaki relates mostly to these people.

Among these so-called "foreigners" are pople who have never been out of Japan. Some of these people speak no language other than Japanese. Be that as it may, these people are treated as "foreigners" rather than as "citizens." They pay taxes but have no right to vote. They must carry the government mandated Foreigner Registration Card at all times.

As a foreigner myself with a different hometown, another mother tongue, a different culture and customs I want to preserve, and with the distinct possibility that I will not spend the rest of my life in Japan, I'm obviously a foreigner. However, in my opinion those people who were born here and who will spend their entire lives doesn't matter who their ancestors were: they are Japanese. What does everybody else think?

(Click on the article to Sumo-Size it)

See you next time!

This is the "Ken-Bun-Ki" article that I am most proud of and, re-reading it now, 15+ years later, I'm still very proud that a) I wrote it and b) my town printed it.
The majority of Korean-Japanese "foreigners" live in or around Kawasaki City. In 1996 that city's City Hall made their historical announcement that they would open up their municipal employee test to all residents of Kawasaki, irregardless of their "nationality." Although I can't find that this clause was overruled by the central government, I also couldn't find any proof that any "Korean" residents ever became city employees.

I have not lived in Japan for any length of time for these last ten years, but when I left in 2001 the central government was still borderline racist in their thinking when it came to "pure bloods" and I haven't read any announcement that they are any better than they used to be. Sure, there used to be announcements every few years about how the government is going to "loosen" up on controls, but then nothing ever happened. For the 14 years that I lived in Miyzaki, although I was a hard-working member of Japanese society I was not allowed to vote or own property or even live wherever I wanted to without checking in with my parole officer the Ministry of Justice (how's that for an oxymoron?). I had to carry ON MY PERSON 24-7 a Foreigner Identity Card that struck me as akin to the "papers" required by racist South Africa. But maybe that was just me. Anyway, the government position on me and mine after 14 years really began to grate on me, and that is one of the reasons I moved, rather than stay and subject my daughter to this type of overt racism (and don't even get me started on the sexism). I like my racism the American way, under the table and behind your back, thank you. :-)

Anyway, if I ever do move back to Japan, I think I would like to help set up something in Miyazaki similar to this organization in Kawasaki: the Kawasaki Municipal Foreign Residents Assembly
I've said it before and I'll say it again: I love the Japanese people, but I'm not too fond of the Japanese government.

Monday, November 14, 2011

One Hit Wonders: Club Nouveau "Lean On Me'

Bill Withers wrote this song as a kind of "folky" ballad (?) back in 1972. If you haven't heard it, well I can't imagine how you possibly found your way to *my* blog, haha. It's a beautiful song, and you can find it by at YouTube. In the meantime,we're here to talk about *this*version, from 1987. It' a staple on 80s-90s-Now radio stations, and every time I hear it I think back to my days in college when it first came out Then of course I think of all the people who I have leaned on and who lean on me. It's a great song.

Now, while it's true that Club Nouveau never had another hit song, they actually had a hit *before* this. When they were known as The Timex Social Club they had a top ten hit with "Rumors." Anybody remember that song? According to legend they had to change their name when some watch company protested their name. The rest, as they say...

Crank it up; you know you want to! ;-)

Saturday, November 12, 2011

CBJ Trades Russell Quits CBJ?!

This season has not gone the way anyone in the Columbus Blue Jackets organization or fan-base thought it would. We made all sorts of exciting and dramatic trades over the summer, with the expectation/hope that we would be a better team this year. I remember reading that all of the fans wanted another appearance in the playoffs, at the very least. (We've had one shot in ten years.) Anything less and people would be upset.

Well if you know anything about hockey at all you know that the Blue Jackets are currently the worst team in the league. We have won TWO games out of...wait for it....fifteen~! So our current record going in to our game tonight against the Winnipeg Jets is 2-12-1. We have a grand total of five points. The Jets aren't much better; they are at the bottom of their Eastern* division, yet they have thirteen points. (*they are in the East because they took Atlanta's berth; they'll be a league realignment next year.)

To add insult to injury, the coach of the Winnipeg Jets is the man Columbus didn't hire to be our new coach when we had the chance, Mr. Claude No'el. We passed him over in favor of our current coach, Mr. Scott Arniel. Not sure that was such a good idea, are we?!?

And to make matters even worse for me, yesterday the Blue Jackets traded my favorite player, Kris Russell! And where did he go, you ask? He is now playing for my former home-town team, the St. Louis Blues! (If he had gone to Colorado Avalanche he would have re-teamed with former CBJ Jan Hedja, my wife's favorite player, and our home would now be flying Avalanche colors.)

Yet we continue to play our terrible goalie, Steve Mason. Every game. (sigh)

So it's with a heavy heart that we are planning on going to the game tonight. When I picked this game in our half-season package back in August the hope was that we would celebrate Coach No'el's new position, welcome Winnipeg back into the NHL family, and then beat them in a winning streak on our way to the playoffs. Haha!

Now I'm thinking I may wear gray and white (Jets colors) instead of blue tonight. (sigh)

My new team logo!?

Maybe I'll switch allegiance to the St. Louis Blues. After all, they just hired the Blue Jackets' former coach, Ken Hitchcock, last week! When I go to St. Louis for Thanksgiving, maybe I'll pick up some RUSSELL t-shirts with the Blues logo on them to take the place of the CBJ crap stuff I currently have.

I told my wife I might buy up some RUSSELL CBJ sweaters and t-shirts and give them out to friends and family as gifts. Hell, they have my name on them, and they'll be cheap! Why not? If you're reading this and you want one, just let me know. ;-) 

Friday, November 11, 2011

Russell's Ken-Bun-Ki May 16, 1996 Bon Appetit!

Recently I feel like Miyazaki has begun to change in a certain way. what I mean is, there has been an increase in foreign food restaurants recently. Currently I know of restaurants dedicated to Italian, Russian, thai, Indian, French, Koean, and Chinese food. Many people ask me, "What about American food?" Honestly, there are only a few genuinely "American" foods. This is because, except for the Native Americans (called "Indians" in slang), all Americans or their ancestors are immigrants. They brought over not only their food but their culture and language. That's why there are very few things that are truly American. On the other hand, that is why Americans can find any type of food almost anywhere! Italian pizza and pasta, Indian curry, German sausages, English stews, Mexican tacos, Chinese food, and of course Japanese sushi and teriyaki can be found everywhere. We can enjoy all types of delicious foods any where, at any time. 

That's why I am so happy that I have discovered delicious pizzerias, Indian curry, and Thai restaurants in Miyazaki City. Anyone who has not had foreign food before, I urge you to try something. Trying foreign foods is another part of International Relations. If you introduce various types of food to children when they are young then they will grow up to be more international people. You already eat Japanese-modified foreign foods like Curry Rice and Pizza Toast and Doria. I think you should try the original foods these Japanese dishes were based on.

By the way, this week's title is French for the Japanese term "itadakimasu." We don't really say this in English, so I used the French version instead. 

*Click on the Japanese to Sumo-size it.

This article was written 15 years ago. Now I'm sure that Miyazaki City is even more "International."

Veterans Day 2011

Walt Kelly celebrated Veterans Day (aka Armistice Day) in his strip POGO on November 11 every year. I'm not sure why he felt so strongly about this day, as according to the biographical information I have read about him he was not himself a veteran. Perhaps because of this, he was either super-patriotic himself OR eternally grateful and humble about those who did serve in the Armed Forces. I don't know for sure, but as someone who never served in the Armed Services myself, I can guess that it is a little bit of both.

So to honor all soldiers, here's a reprint of the 1949 Veterans' Day strip.

"All gave some; Some gave all."

POGO by Walt Kelly

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Wednesday Comics: The Justice League of America!

Hey, Kids, Comics!

This particular comic-book is specifically responsible for me being the man I am today! I have The Super Friends and my good buddy Brian F to thank for it, too. Let me tell you a story....

In the fall of 1974 I would have been ten years old. The Super Friends were on TV and I loved them. I already knew who Superman and Batman and Robin were. I knew *they* had comic books but I hadn't really thought they were all that interesting (Curt Swan and Carmine Infantino didn't do anything for my ten year old sensibilities). When Brian brought this comic to school, though, I was floored. I had not realized that there was an entire universe above and beyond Superman and Batman!! I begged him to lend it to me. I then either bought it off him or told him I lost it and kept it...(sorry, Bri!) Either way, I tore out the subscription tag inside and wrote off to subscribe to this wonderful book. It was the first comic book I actually remember reading.
That started my love of THE JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA that I really haven't ever gotten over! They are still my favorite characters all interacting with each other; what's not to love?!

They've been around since 1960. They helped in some small part create the Marvel Universe. (As the story goes, the JLA comic was selling well, so the publisher of Marvel told some staffer named Stan Lee to come up with a group of heroes for Marvel. He ended up creating The Fantastic Four. And the rest as they say is history.) They are still the benchmark for all other super-hero groups, even though they were not the first (that honor goes to their friends the Justice Society of America). Thanks to cartoons like SUPER FRIENDS and JUSTICE LEAGUE most of them have high-profile mass media recognition.

Plus they're really, really fun.

I'm not going to talk on and on about how I love these comic characters. I'm just going to share a few of my favorite issues out of the 40 plus years that they've been published. Coincidentally, they are all several years old. Is it true that you never forget your first love? ;-)

Of course, I would be amiss if I didn't point that that there have been several incarnations of The Justice League over the years. My favorite was and always will be the *original* JLA started by Aquaman, Batman, the Flash, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, Superman, and Wonder Woman. They later voted in Green Arrow, the Atom, Hawkman, Black Canary, the Elongated Man, Red Tornado, Hawkwoman, Zatanna, and Firestorm. This, to me, is the comic equivalent of Classic Coke.
I know that other eras have their fans, and I did in fact read most of them, but to me these characters these stories these comics ARE the Justice League of America.

The first 80+ issues have been collected in full-color ARCHIVE EDITIONS (such as Volume 7, shown here, with a cover by the artist I met at the Baltimore Con, Mr. John Workman)  and in black-and-white SHOWCASE editions. One or both should be available at your local library. Check them out! So without further ado here are some of my favorite issues, in chronological order:

JLA #59 is a representative story from the Gardner Fox era of the book. Mr. Fox was the first writer of the series, and as such created a lot of what became "iconic" about the book. Juggling a dozen characters or more in any given story, Mr. Fox would play up the plot to the detriment of characterization. The criticism most levelled at him is that all of his characters were interchangeable. To some extent that is true, but in his defense I can say that times were different then. Anyway, this is one of my favorites because 1. it features Aquaman and 2. it has the JLA overcoming IMPOSSIBLE odds to save the day and 3. it featured beautiful art by original JLA artist Mike Sekowsky. His art was, shall we say, unique? Sometimes I didn't care for it at all, but usually it was dynamic and fun. This was one of those times.

JLA #111 was the beginning of the issue I just talked about. Several years later I managed to track down a copy and BOY it was almost as good as its conclusion! It didn't feature the whole group, which was basically the only thing wrong with it. Aquaman had a huge part in the story as he fought off Flash foe Mirror Master and Batman foe Poison Ivy. Good stuff, Maynard! Plus it featured what ended up being my favorite art team: the late great Dick Dillin and Dick Giordano. What's not to like!? Note: several years ago I was lucky enough to meet Mr. Len Wien, the writer of these comics, and I got him to autograph them for me. You can see his name clearly on this one, as well as in silver (but nowhere near as clear) on the issue above.

JLA #122 featured the death of Aquaman. As a kid I thought he really had been killed...! (Yes, naive=stupid kid) I still get a kick out of how my favorite artist Mike Grell drew Green Lantern crying. I was also lucky enough to meet "Iron Mike" and have him autograph my copy on the bottom left of the JLA logo. You may also notice that there is a fold down the middle of the comic: for subscriptions they FOLDED the comics to mail them!! Sheesh.

JLA #139 featured two stories in one issue: the cover story was the concluding chapter of the JLA-Adam Strange team-up from JLA#138. This was okay, but the real action was the second story, which featured the million dollar debut of Steve Englehart as new "permanent" JLA writer. In this story the entire JLA (yes, all of them!) show up to fight a classic battle against several cold-based foes, with a surprising result. Mr. Englehart in his stories mixed the best of the Gardner Fox-Len Wein adventures with his own brand of characterization, making, to me, the all-time BEST ERA of the JLA. Plus this story features the last (?) JLA cover by super-artist Neal Adams. A definite classic. 

JLA #146 For several years this was my all-time favorite JLA issue for the simple reason that it features two of my favorite characters/members in starring roles. This is the issue that Steve Englehart really pushed the envelope about super-hero sexism when he, through Hawkman, had the members arguing about whether Hawkgirl/woman should be able to join the Justice League. Simultaneously, Red Tornado was apparently back fromt the dead for the second time. And, oh yeah, the Construct (that evil looking robot on the cover) was back to try to take over the world again. A lot happened in this issue, and at the end it was definitely established: Hawkwoman and Red Tornado were IN! 

JLA #192-193 This was the first JLA story illustrated by the great George Perez that I really, really liked. The Master had stepped in when the Great Dick Dillin had died suddenly, but that work was in the middle of a continuing story and the inker etc wasn't changed. By this time it was clear that Mr. Dillin's inker just didn't work well with Mr. Perez's style. So from this issue he got a different inker, Mr. John Beatty, and the art looked much much nicer. The story also was a long time coming: the final, true Secret Origin of the Red Tornado. And it doesn't hurt that Aquaman gets a few kick-ass scenes in this story, too. Although I never liked the idea of Firestorm in the JLA because he was not by their by-laws a "full-time super hero" (he was still in high school!) I have to admit that as drawn by George Perez he never looked better.   

JLA ANNUAL #1 is probably my all-time favorite JLA issue. Why?
Because it actually manages to use EVERY member of the team in ONE super-long story. They fight their old enemy Dr. Destiny (that's him with the skull face on the left) and his plot is so nefarious that it takes all fourteen current members* to defeat him! Art was beautiful, too. (*The role of Green Lantern was played by John Stewart, in one of his few appearances with the group before the JUSTICE LEAGUE cartoon. Hal Jordan was off in space or something so John stepped in to take his place.) 

JLA #217 Not only does this issue feature an iconic cover of most of the current members (no Hawkwoman, of course, geez) but it also features an Aquaman-centric JLA adventure by fantastic JLA artist Chuck Patton. Several issues after this the original JLA disbanded and was replaced by...well, another group of characters. This was one of the last really good stories before that happened. So in hindsight, it represents almost an end of an era.

JUSTICE #1-12 This is a recent story by mega-superstar artist Alex Ross featuring the JLA characters and their world. Basically, the story boils down to: what if the Legion of Doom (from the old Super Friends cartoon) really did try to take over the world from the JLA. It has some super-fun moments and also some shockingly violent moments as well, but if you are fan of these characters you owe it to yourself to read this story. Unfortunately, it hasn't been collected in a trade paperback yet. It is available in a hard-bound version though, so check your local library.
Check out that picture again. There's a reason those seven characters are in the forefront. They truly are The Magnificent Seven.

JUSTICE LEAGUE never died. DC has now re-started their series in the New 52 of DCU and I am reading them, of course. I hope Geoff Johns and Jim Lee can approach the same level of greatness that these older comics represent. Here's hoping!  

Monday, November 7, 2011

JLA # 10, "The Fingers of Felix Faust!" AFTERWARD

So...what did you think of my Halloween-themed story? Felix Faust was always one of my favorite villains; I mean, come on, the evil sorceror, what's not to like, right? And he seemed like a natural enemy for Zatanna, who I wanted to introduce to my DC universe. The story itself is based on the premise of an old Gardner Fox story, where Felix sends the JLAers out to collect the bell, book, and wheel. That's about all I used from the original story, though!

Things of note in this story: the debut of Aquaman's wife, Mera, and his brother, Ocean Master. It's not clear from his appearance here that Orm is Aquaman's brother, but it didn't really matter to me. I was trying to show that the DC universe is always awake and busy, and if a JLAer can't appear for an adventure it isn't because he or she is just sitting around! This is a theme I visited a few times. As a fan, I always liked to be shown what the "missing" members were doing, so I figured my readers would like it, too. I eventually even wrote a story about it, but that's much later.

Speaking of Zatanna, I introduced her here as a sorceress. I didn't want to call her a witch, but in Japanese the same word is used for both terms, "sorceress" and "witch." I don't think anybody ever noticed. Long-time or well-versed fans will notice that I introduced her in her late 80s costume as designed by George Perez instead of in her fishnets and top hat. That's coming up next time she appears, I promise. If you did recognize her costume, did you notice that I tweaked it? I made her wear long pants instead of high boots. I always thought it was silly that she would show a bit of thigh when the rest of her body was completely covered.

Introducing Zatanna included a bit of a trick because in English her spells work when she says her WORDS backwards, not her phrases. So in this example shown above instead of saying, "Will Own Your Keep" (Keep Your Own Will) in mainstream DC comics she would actually be saying "Lliw nwo ruoy peek." That was too confusing for me (just typing it just now!) and too confusing for my readers. So I simplified it and hopefully made it easier to understand. Note: the Japanese translation was the same way, even though it would have lent itself to either style.  
And speaking of tricks, I was especially happy with how my "magic" effects turned out. I printed out all issues at my city hall to hand out to my students. However, I found out that their printer (actually a huge copier) could also print in red by simply changing the ink cartridges. So I designed all the magic to be printed in red. Then when I actually colored the book for the library copy I kept to the red motif. Also, I did weird things like in this panel, where the heroes' faces disappear before their bodies do. I liked how it turned out.

Now a quick note about how the groups were divided up for this adventure. Here are the teams:

See any pattern(s)? There are three, but the primary pattern is that Chapter 3 featured the members with animals in their names: BATman, Black CANARY, and HAWKwoman.  That's why they are sent to a planet (dimension) where the animals are having a human sacrifice. Once I hit on that group, I decided to make the three Super Friends team up: Aquaman, Superman, and Wonder Woman (of course). And the other reason for letting them stay together was that the remainder were the three prominent Silver Age characters: The Flash, Green Lantern, and Martian Manhunter. Then I figured I'd put Green Arrow in Batman's group so Batman could figure out that Zatanna's spell kept GA from being Felix's slave and explain that to the readers. Done!
Believe it or not, I kept track of who teamed up with who, and I am pretty sure I got everybody to team up with everybody else atleast once during my run. I do remember that I accidentally teamed up The Flash, Batman, and Wonder Woman again after already having them work together in issue five. I'll talk about that story when we get to it.

The other thing I remember distinctly from this story is the violence. Green Arrow finds that he is the only member who can stop Felix Faust from unleashing his terrible spell. So I ask you: if you were an archer forced to *stop* an all-powerful sorceror, what would you do? Injure him, right!?

Now remember, this was published in Japan where they have very rough & violent comics. I figured I could get away with it. And you know, I never had any comments other than the typical boys' reaction of, "Cool!"

I always thought Felix was such a bad-ass for 1. magically pulling the arrow out of his shoulder and 2. tossing it aside like that. Good thing for Green Arrow that he freed Zatanna in that mean-time, because you just know Felix was ready to murder GA.

And the last thing I wanted to talk about here was the near-induction of Zatanna at the end of this story. Like the "try-outs" I gave Hawkman and Elongated Man last issue, this was a story I wanted to do to kind of gauge her popularity among the kids. She did okay, but she simply did not have the popularity of the other two. Was it sexism? Possibly. Was it that Hawkman with his helmet and wings had more of a visual appeal? Probably. Be that as it may, I got a few comments regarding Black Canay's statement below, which I thought was great. There's more of this strong feminism coming up from Black Canary in Zatanna's next appearance, too. Black Canary definitely was *not* Shrinking Violet, haha!

Next time: my take on my all-time favorite JLA comic~!