Friday, March 30, 2012

Russell's Ken-Bun-Ki July 4, 1996 "This CIR's Term Is Up" aka The End of An Era

I am the Aya-town independent Co-Ordinator for International Relations (CIR), but in other cities, towns, and villages in Japan the CIRs are almost all working for the Ministry of Education International Youth Work Program (JET Programme). Their terms are three yaers at the most. Some people go home after just one year, but most CIRs stay for two or even three years. Their terms are from August to July of the following year, so every summer many towns have their own Going Away Parties. This is the worst time of the year for me. I hate July.

This year is especially difficult for me, because the city of Saito is losing Ms. Beth Ec, who is returning to the US now that her three years are up. I will miss her very much. Not only did she teach at Aya's Cultural Exchange (ACE) meetings, she also worked hard at our Junior High and High School overnight camps and at our International Speech Contest. Also, she was one of the leaders of Miyazaki's foreign community so helped organize our prefectural Earth Day festival and our Aya-local Southern US festival "Southern Festa." Most importantly, she worked with the young people in her town, Saito, to help organize a Saito Community Theatre, which put on two wonderful productions while she was here. She was able to show her town how much fun it is to perform or to watch live theatre. I think this is a wonderful gift she gave to her town.

I think it's a terrible shame that great CIRs like Beth have a term limit where she has to return to her home country. For not just Saito but Miyazaki prefecture and even for Japan, this is a huge waste. So it's with a heavy heart that I tell all CIRs who are leaving, "Thank you for your hard work! You did good!"

The Four Musketeers at the Ays International Speech Contest (summer 1996).
Michael Hatch, a co-worker, Ben Brown, me, and Beth Eck
I remember writing this article in my English Class by myself and crying as I wrote it. I figured it was too personal for the Aya Town newsletter to print, but to my surprise they went ahead with it.
I don't know if Beth ever read I'll send her a link and ask her. :-)

Beth in her town of Saito was about half an hour north east of my town, Aya. Ben was in Kunitomi, located between our two towns. Mike was in Takaoka, which south of me.

This is a very selfish article, because I knew Beth (and Mike and Ben the year after) were going to go on to bigger and better things. (She worked at the Atlanta Olympics that Fall). But it was still lonely without her. Beth left in 1996, and then Mike and Ben left in 1997. Then when I was "the old guy" I found it harder and harder to get excited about the same old work. I ended up leaving in 2001.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

WHM 2012 Womensfolk of POGO (4)

The most well-known female character in the POGO strip was definitely Miss Mam'selle Hepzibah. She made her debut early in the strip on October 30, 1950 to be exact. She was originally Porky Pine's "love interest" but only because he thought she was a female porcupine AND because she makes "the best popovers this side of the Chattahoochie River." The guys gave Porky Pine plenty of teasing as he made his way a'courting her for two weeks before she actually made an appearance (represented here from the book POGO Through The Wild Blue Wonder: ) (click to enlarge it)

Hepzibah in the Bible is the wife of King Hezekiah of Judah. The name means "my delight is in her." It is said by POGO scholars that the character was based in-part on Walt Kelly's second wife, but I can't vouch for that. All I know is that she started out looking much different than how she ended up. This next scene is from POGO: Prisoner of Love but was originally printed in the newspapers on August 21, 1969. Notice the fresh innocence of the two characters who were actually on their way to apologize to each other for an earlier misunderstanding: Pogo denied wanting to marry *any* woman in the Swamp, and Hepzibah was hurt that he included her in that denial. Here they accidentally meet again, and even though it starts raining (in spectacularly beautiful panels), they both marvel at what a nice day it is.

And thus is the charm and artistry of POGO represented for all in one simple sequence.

...the pay-off:
the illustration on the last page of the book

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

WHM 2012 Ramona Fradon

Ramona Fradon started out drawing for various horror and adventures comic books for DC in the early 1950s. She happened upon the AQUAMAN strip in ADVENTURE COMICS in 1951 and stayed with that character until he was about to get his own book in 1961. This means she was the first artist to draw the character AQUALAD, among other firsts. She retired from comics for several years to raise her daughter, and a full-book commitment was too much for her at the time.

In mid-1965 she came back temporarily to help design and launch METAMORPHO, The Element Man. In mid-1973 she was coaxed out of retirement again by Roy Thomas at MARVEL COMICS, but after doing only a few things there she returned to DC.

During the Seventies she drew FREEDOM FIGHTERS, PLASTIC MAN, and THE SUPER FRIENDS. It was in SUPER FRIENDS that I became aware of her distinctive style and grew to love it. When I saw it in FREEDOM FIGHTERS (one of my wacky favorites) and in AQUAMAN reprints, I could recognize it.

She was on SUPER FRIENDS from the second issue through to nearly the end, when she left DC in 1980 to take over the newspaper strip BRENDA STARR. She retired from that in 1996.

When I was a kid and I first came across her name in the credits I thought, "What kind of name is Ramona?" I thought it was some different spelling of Ramone! It didn't even occur to me that artists were women!! Once I realized that she was a lady, obviously it didn't make any difference, haha. Those comics illustrated by her and (usually) inked by Bob Smith were just beautiful. According to interviews, she did not like being inked by Vince Colletta, and when he was not taken off of her work, she was convinced to leave.

These comics are still some of my favorites, not only for the nostalgia but because of the beauty of the art. For several years SUPER FRIENDS was my favorite comic, as AQUAMAN had been cancelled and JUSTICE LEAGUE was stagnant. I have the AQUAMAN ARCHIVE where her art is reprinted on good paper in lush full color, and man! is it beautiful.

I'll let her art mostly speak for itself....

Metamorpho, a character Fradon 
helped design in 1965

ZAN & JAYNA push out original "Friends"
Marvin, Wendy, and Wonder Dog

Aqualad guest-stars in SUPER FRIENDS 27, the first
time she drew the character in more than 15 years.

Two of her best known works team-up in 1978

In May THE ART OF RAMONA FRADON will be released. I can't wait for it, and if you like what you see here, I would recommend picking it up.

Here's to you, Ramona Fradon, for many hours of entertainment!

Scheduled to be published May 8, 2012

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

WHM 2012 Veronica Hamel "Hill Street Blues"

One of the few TV series I watched regularly during the 80s was a little cop-show called HILL STREET BLUES. Perhaps you've heard of it.

My friend Susie and I happened upon it at about the same time during its debut season (1980) and after it was moved to Thursdays at 9PM we would discuss it on our way to school every Friday morning until we graduated. Her favorite character was Captain Frank Furillo, portrayed by the great Daniel J. Travanti. Mine, of course, was Veronica Hamel as public defender Joyce Davenport. The fun thing about their relationship was by day they were antagonists; she called him "Furillo;" he called her "Counselor." By night, however, they were a couple. She called him, "Pizza Man." He won two Emmys for Best Dramatic Actor; she was nominated five times but never won.

HSB asked a lot of its audience, in that stories would continue (sometimes for weeks or longer) and characters would come and go during each episode rather quickly. If you were looking for a BARNEY MILLER or ADAM 12 type of series, this wasn't for you. However, the main storylines would always have some type of pay-off, and characters would change over the course of the series. Henry, for example, started off as a rather meek and mild hostage negotiating type. As portrayed by Joe Spano, he gradually became more out-going and vocal. One of HSB's "break-out" characters was "crazy" Mick Belker. As portrayed by Bruce Weitz, Belker started out as a caricature but evolved into a well-rounded character. Weitz won an Emmy as Best Supporting Actor in 1983.

All of the action of HSB centered around a large metropolitan police district in an unnamed America city. At the center of *that* was Captain Furillo, who was definitely the "lead" actor of the show. However, if it was legal than Davenport was involved, as well. They were the yin-yang of the show and the central dynamic. Hostage situations, for example, tended to "report back" to Furillo, and then the "perps" would end up with Davenport in court at the end. Sound like LAW & ORDER? HILL STREET BLUES did it first.

Among the other women featured on the show there was Betty Thomas as Officer Lucy Bates, a woman who just wanted to be a cop; Barbara Babcock as Sgt Esterhaus' passionate lover; and Barbara Bosson as Fay Furillo, Frank's ex-wife. Lucy was a great character, but the other two women were SO not my type or even shown really sympathetically. Fay in particular was a whiny good-for-nothing overwhelemed by life's many problems.

HILL STREET BLUES was a trend-setter in that it showcased a large (huge!) cast of characters instead of the same five or six that television series tended to before HSB came along. Before HSB the norm was nameless walk-on supporting characters who you never saw again. After HSB, you are more likely to see the same actor portraying the same character over the life of a series. LOST, for example, was a direct descendant of HSB. And I was pleasantly surprised to see Veronica Hamel appear on that show in the semi-recurring role of the mother of Dr. Shepherd (Matthew Fox). Homage? Maybe....

The first two seasons are available on DVD, so if you have never seen this great show, try your library or a store. If you want engrossing drama with a touch of comedy, this is the show for you. And if you want sexy, powerful women....may I recommend Veronica Hamel as Joyce Davenport?

Monday, March 26, 2012

WHM 2012 Taylor Swift "Mean"

I was trying to think of a current female artist who is recording now who represents/embodies some of the same qualities and talents that I have been introducing here over the past month. There are plenty of possibilities, but I decided to go wih Taylor Swift.

Now I'm not going to write up any pseudo biography of her. I don't know anything about her except that she is awesomely talented. I first heard her (and didn't like her!) when she hit big in 2008 with "Love Story." Then in the next year she became hugely popular with her smash hit, "You Belong With Me." I'm not a big fan of music videos (mostly because they don't play them on TV, and I'm not going to sit in front of the computer and watch them!) but I had heard that her video was adorable, so I went In Search Of. If you haven't seen it, here is the link. I recommend it. (It also has a wonderful "gay" version by the University of Rochester acapella group The Yellow Jackets. You can watch their official parody version  here.) Anyway, I really liked this song and never got tired of hearing it. In fact, I actually bought a copy of it. So, yeah, I really liked it. :-)

She of course was involved with Kanye West at the 2009 MTV Music Awards show when she won Best Female Video for "You Belong With Me." He infamously interrupted her acceptance speech to tell her that Beyonce should have won. He came off as an ass, but she handled the whole thing with class.

I think she is just starting to have a real effect on the music business. I look forward to seeing and hearing more of her in the future.

Here she is with her band performing "Mean," on the 54th Annual Grammy Awards Show on February 12, 2012. Watch until the very end and you'll see her look of awe when the audience gives her a standing ovation. It's just delightful.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Russell's Ken-Bun-Ki June 27, 1996 "My Parents Visit Aya"

Last week my parents visited us in Aya for the first time. They visited Japan while I was an exchange student at Miyagi Universty of Education in Sendai, but at that time they only visited on Honshu. After we have lived in Miyazaki for ten years they finally visited us in Kyushu. It was the first time we had seen each other in three years.

Their purpose was not to sight-see but to visit with my Japanese family and friends adn to experience our daily lives. Of course, we took them around Aya.We showed them the Suspension Bridge, Aya Castle, the Flower Clock, the Horse Park, and Shusen no Mori (the brewery). I had sent them videos of Aya before, so they would often say, "Oh, I remember seeing this!" or "Where is th fabric dyeing facility?" or "Where is the glass blowing studio?" There were many places thy wated to see, but they were all in Aya! We didn't go anywhere else in Miyazaki. Also they were interested in where their grand-daughter went to Nursery School and in my English Coversation classes, so I took them on visits to both.

My parents are both in their Sixties, but both still work. My mother is a teacher at an elementary school so she is on summer vacation right now. My father took time off to travel here. Every year at about this time they travel somewhere. In America there is no set retirement age. The age for retirement benefits is 65, so may Americans work until they reach that age. My parents love to travel, so they work hard and  save their money. When they have enough for a trip they go somewhere. Of course, they are also saving for the future. If things work out well their savings and their retirement money will allow them to continue to live life as they are accustomed. However, just like in Japan, the number of Senior Citizens is increasing in the US. The Social Security and Medicare systems are in difficult situations. My parents will probably continue to work as long as they continue to travel.

Their impression of Aya was, "It's a town full of nature, surrounded by mountains, and much easier to live in than any big city." They thought the mountains after a rainfull were especially beautiful.

This was written 16 years ago. Since then, obviously, I have moved away from Aya. My parents are both retired and they don't travel so much any more. I see them at Thanksgiving and at weddings or graduations and things like that. I plan on seeing them next week when we take a quick trip back to St. Louis. They are basically healthy, and are economically well-off. So they are enjoying their time together.

When we were back in Aya over Christmas/New Years this past year my daughter happened to meet her Nursery School teacher. She spoke with pride about meeting my mother (a fellow teacher) when they were in town, as written about in this article. 

As an extra added bonus, here's a photo of my favorite spot in Aya, its castle.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

WHM 2012 Womensfolk of POGO (3)

Continuing the introduction of the three major female characters in the POGO comic-strip by Walt Kelly, today I want to talk about Miz Beaver and her pal, Miss Sis Boombah.

Miz Beaver seemed to be the one female character who was treated as an equal in the crazy Okefenokee Swamp world. She wasn't a romantic character at all (that was Mis Mam'selle Hepzibah; we'll get to her next week). She seemed to be non-threatening most of the time (unless she was trying to play match-maker between Pogo and any of her other lady friends!). She was often shown walking a baby buggy (usually containing a fish!) or she would be shown doing her laundry. Almost always she had a corn-cob pipe in her mouth. She reminded me a little bit of "Granny" from The Beverly Hillbillies. Sometimes she would talk about her husband Mister Beaver, but always in the past tense. The assumption was that he had died. However, in this panel from 1969, she actually tells her pal Miss Sis Boombah what happened to Mister Beaver.

Miss Sis Boombah was a Rhode Island Red and was introduced as such in a joke about subversives or some such. She was crazy about physical fitness and tended to get the mens folk all riled up about staying in shape or getting out of her way. As was shown last week, subtlety was not her forte. She did not tend to show up as often as Miz Beaver; when she did appear it was often as Miz Beaver's conversational companion, again as shown here. She was very much a supporting character and not a protagonist of any particular adventures.

the illustration on the last page
before PRISONER OF LOVE begins

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

WHM 2012 The Women of MARVEL

In the last two weeks I talked about my favorite comic book women at DC. This week I'd like to talk about The Women of MARVEL.

The first MARVEL comic-book I read regularly was THE AVENGERS, and the first few issues I bought featured Scarlet Witch in a prominent role. I have already talked about #113, so today I'd like to talk a little about #128. In this issue Agatha Harkness from the FANTASTIC FOUR guest-stars, as this story continues from an issue of FF (which I didn't manage to get for many, many years later).  She decides to take the Scarlet Witch in hand and teach her how to use her "magic" powers more wisely. The Scarlet Witch is actually a mutant, not a sorceress, but in this story she learns to depend more on herself and her core strength, and not to look to any man, be it her brother or her boy-friend, to protect her. The menace that Thor and the other Avengers couldn't stop, SHE could. Because this was one of the first issues I read that featured Wanda in any prominent role, I was intrigued and attracted. I began a love-affair with this character that continues to this day.
At the time of this story (1974) she and The Vision (the red-faced guy on the cover who isn't Thor or Iron Man) were trying to work out whether what they had was love or something akin to it; they ended up marrying about a year later in GIANT-SIZED AVENGERS #4. They remained married, in the Avengers, for several more years. During this time she evolved into a stronger and more forceful character. She had self-confidence and a loving husband. They were quite the team. In the mid-80s MARVEL gave them a four-issue mini-series and when that sold well enough, they got a 12-issue maxi-series as well. In this story she and her husband decide to have a child. Scarlet Witch uses her magical mutant powers to help biology along (seeing as how her husband is an android) and not only does she succeed in getting pregnant, they eventually have twins~! As wild as this development was, what came later was even worse: Wanda is portrayed as schizophrenic and dangerously crazy after her "sons" are shown to be manifestations of her own imagination. When Wanda is confronted with this truth, their children cease to exist. Meanwhile, the Vision has been taken apart by some governmental agency (never mind that he's an android, not a robot) and then put back together. Unfortunately, they somehow lost his humanity. They divorce, two very broken people.

About ten years ago Kurt Busiek and George Perez were responsible for bringing THE AVENGERS back to the top of the sales and quality charts. Amongst the members were the Scarlet Witch and her ex-husband. Wanda was now portrayed as a woman who had lost her children but who was trying to cope as best she could; the Vision was more human, but had seen Wanda trying to make steps to be happy again, and was "letting her go." It was melodramatic, but well-done melodrama. I had the feeling they were inching back towards each other....

However, in the recent HOUSE OF M cross-over event, it was shown that the Scarlet Witch was responsible for destroying the entire reality that MARVEL had created over the past 40 plus years, killing several of her friends and fellow Avengers in the process. This was too much for me, and I dropped MARVEL. I have since heard that reality has been righted, but I haven't gone back. I really don't understand why MARVEL would treat one of its oldest and best-known characters like this.

While we're on the topic of Avenging Women who have not been treated well by MARVEL, could someone please tell me why founding member the Wasp is not in the new AVENGERS movie?! Instead of Janet Van Dyne-Pym, we have the Black Widow?! She was only an Avenger for a few issues in the early Seventies and then again in the Nineties. That doesn't really put her in the same class as Captain America, Iron Man, or Thor. However, in AVENGERS #1 the Wasp is there, and she should have been in the movie.
The Wasp can shrink, fly, and blast you with "wasp stings" that resemble modern-day tasering. Plus she's cute as a button and is a joy to be around! She is one of the few characters who actually cares about her costume, changing it almost every chance she gets. She was originally the girl-friend (then wife) of Hank Pym aka Ant-Man/Giant Man/ Goliath/Yellow Jacket. For years they were MARVEL's other "power couple" (we'll get to the main one in a minute), always together and always dependable. Like the Scarlet Witch and the Vision, they stayed with the Avengers for several years; also similar to what happened to the Scarlet Witch, MARVEL couldn't seem to leave well enough alone. The Wasp's husband began to be portrayed as suffering from paranoia and/or an inferiority complex. He began to have bursts of anger; he failed at missions and became more and more frustrated. He began to beat his wife, got framed by a super-villain and sent to jail, and was finally divorced by Jan. She bounced back stronger than ever, even leading the Avengers for several years. Hank, too, eventually bounced back and played a supporting role in the West Coast Avengers while Jan stayed on the East Coast. Then in the Busiek-Perez rebooting they were well on their way to reconciling, healthier and happier than ever.

Then the Scarlet Witch destroyed the universe, and evidently killed both of them. They may have gotten better; I'm not sure because I dropped MARVEL when HOUSE OF M started.

The other MARVEL group that I bought throughout the 70s and into the early 80s was THE DEFENDERS. Originally formed by Dr. Strange, the Sub-Mariner, and the Hulk, it added its first new member in #4: The Valkyrie! She started off similar to Thor or the Hulk in that she was really two separate identities: an honest to goodness Norse warrior-woman, trapped in the frail body of a mousy nobody named Barbara Norris. Her search for her identity was aa continuous sub-plot in the book for years. She was nearly as strong as the Hulk, she was armed with an enchanted blade, and she rode a flying horse. Visually, she was quite a sight.

THE DEFENDERS had a rotating, open-door membership policy unlike any other group out there: if there was danger, and you happened to be around, you were drafted in. Valkyrie was only the first new member, but she wasn't the last (not by a long-shot). Nighthawk joined to take the place of the Sub-Mariner, and with his money he paid Power Man to hang around for a few adventures. Daredevil happened by a few times. The Son of Satan (yes, that was his name) also joined up a few times.

When Dr. Strange begged off from regular meetings he was replaced by the Hell-Cat. Patsy Walker had been a model with her own "love" series from the 40s to the 60s. Then she was re-introduced in the pages of THE AVENGERS and given the uniform of an obscure MARVEL heroine called The Cat. She appeared for about a year and then went off for more training. Instead of returning to the Avengers, however, she met up with The Defenders and spent the rest of her crime-fighting career with them. She was a fun character who initially only had grappling hooks on her gloves; eventually she acquired a magical cape and several years later (after I had moved to Japan and stopped reading comics) she married the Son of Satan. I guess love really is blind....

Two more well-known MARVEL super-heroines belonged to the X-Men: Storm and Marvel Girl slash  Phoenix. I have already written about STORM here so suffice it to say that she was always one of my favorites until she cut her hair into a mohawk and went "punk." The Storm shown here was an African goddess who could control the weather and who was strong enough to lead the X-Men when Cyclops took a leave of absence. The Storm that I thought I knew would never go radical punk with a stud dog collar for a necklace (!). I figured that the creators at X-MEN didn't know what the hell they were doing, so I dropped that book. Storm is now back in her beautiful straight hair flowing cape/costume look and recently married the Black Panther. So I guess MARVEL wisened up on that score.

A few years before I left X-MEN, though, there was a wonderful run of stories by Chris Claremont and John Byrne (and Dave Cockrum before him). One of the best arcs in this run was the great DARK PHOENIX SAGA. If you have never read this collection of stories, you must go to the library or bookstore and get a copy. It is one of the greatest comic book super-hero stories EVER.

Marvel Girl was introduced in the early 60s as another of the traditional "weak" super-heroines; Jean Grey had some telepathic and telekinetic powers, but usually she stayed in the background behind the men of The X-Men. In the late 70s, however, she was the victim of a cosmic radiation accident that increased her powers a thousand-fold. She became the Phoenix. Unfortunately, gradually it became clear that the Phoenix persona was like some sort of vampire who wanted more and more energy to feed off of. Jean was able to keep the power under control but she became more and more schizophrenic while doing it.

Then in 1979 a band of Evil Mutants try to manipulate Jean into thinking she is the Black Queen, not having any idea of what they are actually unleashing. Jean's psychic blocks are let down and the Dark Phoenix persona takes over.

Although the X-Men are eventually able to defeat the Dark Phoenix and restore Jean Grey to her humanity, the story didn't end there. While under the power of Dark Phoenix she had consumed a sun and killed millions of broccoli people. The MARVEL version of the galactic police wouldn't let her  get away with that without some type of punishment, and so instead of being executed Jean killed herself, freeing the universe of the threat of the Dark Phoenix.

MARVEL has brought back the Phoenix and Jean Grey a few times since then, but those stories just tarnish what is a wonderful melodrama.

Last but certainly not least, let's talk about MARVEL's first and most famous super-heroine, Sue Storms Richards of the Fantastic Four. Originally introduced as the Invisible Girl, she later became Mrs. Fantastic when she married Reed Richards. They were MARVEL's first married super-heroes and first "power couple." A few years later they were the first MARVEL couple to have a child together. When their son, Franklin, developed cosmic powers of his own and Reed had to "shut his mind down," they became the first super-hero couple to separate (although they later reconciled). Sometime in the 80s she officially changed her name to the Invisible Woman and never looked back.

Although she was originally introduced  as a "wall flower" (her power was to become invisible!) she gradually became stronger and stronger. Her invisibility was increased to include invisible force fields and then invisible fields of energies she could make into such things as bridges, ladders, and parachutes. In one of the first FANTASTIC FOUR stories I remember reading (FF #166-167), she nearly stopped the Hulk in his tracks when the men-folk couldn't, simply by creating a force shield around his head and cutting off his oxygen. Clever AND beautiful! As her powers were shown in more and more creative ways she became just as strong as her team-mates/family Mr. Fantastic, the Human Torch, and the Thing. She has appeared in cartoons and in the two main-stream Hollywood FANTASTIC FOUR movies. Gone forever are her days as a "shrinking violet."

Nowadays if you ask current comic-book fans for their favorite MARVEL woman you are more than likely to receive answers like Ms. Marvel, Mystique, the She-Hulk, Spider-Woman, Spider-Girl, or Emma Frost. These women are either copy-cats of established male characters, or blatant sexual stereotypes (I mean, really....Mystique walks around completely nude, for no real reason!?!). No, thanks. Give me the classic MARVEL women, please.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

WHM 2012 Mary Anne or Ginger?

I don't think there has ever been a more well-known pop cultural question than this one:
If you had to pick, which would it be, Mary Anne or Ginger?

Maybe in the musical world a similar philosophical question is "Who is your favorite Beatle?" In comics for sure the question is "DC or Marvel?" But for main-stream TV, what else is there? "Who is your favorite STAR TREK captain?"?? For all the main-stream acceptance STAR TREK has obtained, this is still too much of a nerdy question. (Sorry, Trekkers, you know it's true!)

For those of us of a certain generation, meaning the kids who watched GILLIGAN'S ISLAND when it first aired (1964-1967) and then those of us who watched it in reruns thereafter, this is the perfect discussional point slash conversation starter. Do you prefer the down-home natural beauty and spunk of Mary Anne Summers or the sophistication and allure of Ginger Grant? Besides the characterizations, there is also the important consideration of actual beauty, as embodied by the actresses portraying them: Dawn Wells and Tina Louise. Obviously they are both attractive. So the question is: who do you think is *more* beautiful?

I know my answer, but I wanted to know what other men would say. So I sent an email out to 25+ guys at my office asking them the simple question: Mary Anne or Ginger? Of the responses I got, less than a handful picked Ginger! This surprised me, because....I mean....look at her! But some of the comments were "I prefer brunettes" or "Ginger is high maintenance." I also think it might have something to do with the fact that we are living in Columbus, Ohio. Mary Anne's "mid-western values" play better here than they would in, say, Hollywood or New York. Atleast, you could argue that.

Most surprisingly of all, there were two guys who, when asked, said, "Who? I never watched that show." WHAT!?! I thought *everybody* watched GILLIGAN'S ISLAND. I guess I'm getting old.

Maybe there's a newer pop culture question for guys of a different, younger age. "Which FRIEND would you sleep with", perhaps? I suppose I could send that survey question around, too, but I think I would get wildly different responses, haha!

As for me, my choice has something of a story behind it. As a kid I was a big fan of Russell Johnson, who played the Professor. It was rare for me to hear of "other" Russells out in the real world, so when I saw him I took an immediate liking to him. He, of course, was linked with Mary Ann in the Theme Song, "...The Professor AND Mary on Gilligan's Island." So I started noticing her, and wondering why Mary Anne didn't have more stories about her. Why was it always about Ginger? Now that I'm older and I've read some of the Tell All stories I know, but at the time I was always rooting for Mary Anne to have more screen time. Besides, she and The Professor seemed to be the most normal ones on the island, and I kind of liked that. And lastly, Ginger kept changing her hair-styles! If you read my article last week about Seventies Women, I'm a big fan of long, straight hair. When Ginger had that look going on, WOW. But mostly she had a bouffant (sp?) or a bee-hive or something in-between. NOT a fan of those looks; never had been and never will be. So put those reasons together's Mary Anne, hands down.

Off to have a cocoanut cream pie. Aloha!

Monday, March 19, 2012

WHM 2012 Vicki Sue Robinson "Turn The Beat Around"

If you are of a certain generation, you know this song and this singer. As far as I know she never had another top-ten hit, but in Spring-Summer 1976 this song was everywhere. In 1994 Gloria Estefan recorded a cover, but the original will never

Unfortunatley, Vicki Sue Robinson died of cancer on April 27, 2000. She was only 45 years old. RIP

Here she is performing live (not lip-syching!) with her band on The Midnight Special from 1976. Check out the boas and the lady guitarist! :-) Enjoy...

Friday, March 16, 2012

Russell's Ken-Bun-Ki June 20, 1996 "The Bargain of The 100 Yen Store"

Getting a Bargain Feels Great!

People may laugh when I say this but I really love 100 Yen Stores. It's not because I'm cheap; it's because I love bargains. I also enjoy super-market "Special Sales."

The other day there was an especially great find at the 100 Yen Store. The ice cube tray in our freezer had cracked and we could no longer use it. I could hae ordered a new one from the manufacturer but that would have been a hassle, and I figured that would be very expensive. Just as I was thinking that we didn' really have to have one I fud avery good one at the 100 Yen Store. It came with its own box for the ice cubes, and it was only one hundred yen. It's just a one hundred yen ice tray, but it's awesome to use. Now every time I make ice or put ice in my drink I laugh to myself about how much I love the 100 Yen Store.

There's one more thing I love about 100 Yen Store, and that is its effect on international economics. It doesn't sell just Japanese goods: you can find international things made in such places as Taiwan, China, and the USA. Japan exports out-numbers its imports, so if there were more of these types of stores, the import-export imbalance would be more balanced.

If you have a chance to visit a 100 Yen Store, please do. You won't be sorry. I promise it will be worth your time...and worth more than 100 yen. :-)

JL #15 Guests & Villains Roll Call

JLA #15 featured a plethora of guest-stars in each JLAer's nightmare...brought about by THIS man:  

continued after the jump! 

Thursday, March 15, 2012

WHM 2012 Womensfolk of POGO (2)

Today I'd like to continue my introduction of the collection of POGO comic-strips called POGO Prisoner of Love. In this story the mensfolk have decided to create a new country because nobody can sing all the high notes to the US National Anthem. (This is a good example of the logic flowing through the Okefenokee Swamp, haha!). So naturally, it's decided that Pogo will be the new country's President. As soon as the womensfolk hear of this, they all want to catch Pogo to become the First Lady. Of course, Pogo has to run away from them, making up a few weeks' worth of silly escapades. This strip is only the beginning. It shows several classic POGO characteristics: a character in drag (sort of), the beautiful trees of the swamp, a misunderstanding, one of the countless "walk-on" characters that populated the swamp (and the strip), and a nonsensical exclamation ("AGK!").

the illustration after the dedication page

JL #15 Dream Analysis

Commentary/Analysis of the Justice Leaguers' Nightmares
(pages 2-4)
Batman has many allies, but his best friends are his partners Robin and Batgirl. To see both of them murdered like this is a great shock to him. Also, most of his enemies are demonically Evil (The Joker, Two-Face, Scarecrow, etc) but only one of his enemies is a simple thief. So to see that Catwoman has also turned demonic would be another sad event in his life. (Catwoman's profile will be featured tomorrow, as will all other guests/villains mentioned below)

BLACK CANARY (pages 5-7)
Black Canary's mother was the original Black Canary, but was killed by the alien Aquarius. The current Black Canary left her origina dimension to help her escape painful memories and moved to the Justice League's dimension. Her nightmare is that her mother's former team-mates the Justice Society would blame her for her mother's death.

(pages 10-12)
Aquaman has a large family: his wife Mera, his son, and his apprentice, Aqualad. His nightmare is that all of them are murdered by his three worst enemies: Black Manta, The Fisherman, and his half-brother, Ocean Master.

Martian Manhunter is a true Martian, and his dream is to one day return to Mars. His nightmare is that the planet he returns to has been destroyed.

GREEN LANTERN (pages 17-19)
The Green Lantern of Earth (real name John Stewart) is a member of the Universal Police Force Green Lantern Corps. His nightmare is that his closest friend in that group turn against him.

THE FLASH (pages 20-22)
The Flash has many terrible enemies. His nightmare is that six of the worst ones get together to kill him. His wife is not a super-hero.She is a "normal" woman named Iris Allen who is a newspaper reporter. However, her nephew is the teen super-hero Kid Flash, who will appear in the next issue.

(pages 23-25)
Superman is the most powerful man on Earth. However, there are things that even he can not do. His nightmare would be for his worst enemy, Lex Luthor, to kill his good friends in the Justice League, his girl-friend Lois Lane, and his cousin Supergirl. Not only that, but Superman must always control his powers so that he doesn't use them in anger; to lose control is his worst nightmare.

WONDER WOMAN (pages 26-28)
Wonder Woman lives on Paradise Island. When she wants to escape the pressures of "the real world" she returns home. Part of her nightmare is to come back to her home and find everything she loves destroyed. The other part of her nightmare is that the Gods she worships have turned against her.

GREEN ARROW (pages 29-31)
Green Arrow does not have the power that Superman or Green Lantern has; he has only his own skill and self-confidence in his abilities. His nightmare would be to lose control of those skills and abilities, and to be responsible for the death of Black Canary, the woman he loves. This would be a huge shock to him.

HAWKWOMAN (pages 32-34)
Hawkwoman from a very young age wanted to join the Hawk Guard Police Force on her planet, Thanagar. After she graduated from high school she joined the Officers Programme and after five years she became an excellent officer. She found romance at work, as well, as her husband Hawkman was a colleague in the police force. Her nightmare is to be expelled from the police force she loves.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

WHM 2012 Women of the Justice League

The first comic-book that I remember devouring was JUSTICE LEAGUE of AMERICA #112 in 1974. In that issue, which I talked about in this article, there were two female Justice Leaguers: Black Canary, who was a current member, and Wonder Woman, who was a former member. Before the JLA disbanded in JUSTICE LEAGUE ANNUAL #2 (1984) there would only be two more women, for a total of four. Today I'd like to tell you about them.
Wonder Woman was one of the founding members (with Superman, Batman, Aquaman, the Flash, Green Lantern, and the Martian Manhunter), but in 1969 DC Comics decided to make her into a non-powered "Emma Peel" type character. So there she is on the cover of JLA #69 appearing to vote Green Arrow out when she was the one who was actually leaving. This character lasted for a few years untl more logical heads prevailed and the "real" Wonder Woman returned. The JLAers ask her to return, but due to a memory loss she now has self-doubt regarding her abilities an asks the JLAers to monitor her cases and judge for themselves whether she still has what it takes. (It's worth mentioning that her friends have absolutely no doubts that she was fine!) Unfortunately, her comic-book was only published bi-monthly at this point so this storyline went on for nearly two years! Finally she was readmitted in JLA #128, nearly sixty issues without her! So when I picked up JLA #112 she was still out, although she appeared in the reprinted story. I eventually learned of her "tasks" and went in search of them. The first one I found was WONDER WOMAN #220, with beautiful art by the great Dick Giordano. He became one of my favorite artists and the featured bad guy (Chronos) became a favorite villain.

While Wonder Woman was out of the Justice League, the remaining members voted in a new female member name Black Canary. Her history is long and convoluted, so I'll summarize it here: Black Canary was  a member of the Justice Society of America, the very first super-hero group EVER. It retired in 1951 when comic-book super-heroes fell out of favor. During that time Black Canary married and had a daughter, cursed with a "sonic scream" power. In 1969 the original Black Canary and her husband, private detective Larry Lance, were killed by the alien Aquarius. The daughter then decides to join the Justice League. So we have one of the first "next generation" super-heroines, a member of both the JSA and JLA. (I have to admit, however, that these details did not come clear fr nearly 20 years; during that time the daughter *thought* she was the mother. The less said about that the better.) Black Canary fights as well as Batman and has a "sonic whammy" power, her Canary Cry, too. Plus she wears leather and fishnet stockings and rides a Harley *and* has long, blonde hair. What's not to like? She's one of my favorites and deserves to be more famous. Given that Wonder Woman took 60 issues off, Black Canary and Wonder Woman have a roughly equal number of appearances in JUSTICE LEAGUE.
Hawkman pushes his case
for Hawkgirl to join
The third woman to join the JLA was the comic-book equivalent of Rodney Dangerfield: Hawkgirl appeared in the same JLA issue when her husband is inducted in 1964, but she herself is not asked to join until 1977. In the Golden Age of Comics (1940s) Hawkman and Hawkgirl were re-incarnated ancient Egyptian prince and princess. In the Silver Age of Comics (1960s) they were alien police officers from the planet Thanagar. So in the pages of HAWKMAN his wife was an equal partner; in JLA, however, she was less than nothing. The reason given for asking Hawkman to join the JLA but not Hawkgirl was that there was a JLA by-law that said only one new member could be asked per year. She said she understood and had no problem with this; I'm guessing she was secretly thinking, "I'll get voted in next time." Ha! After both Wonder Woman and Martian Manhunter quit in 1969 it seems like they would have asked Hawkgirl to step up then; nope. She did guest-star in JLA #72, but not to join! Finally, after Black Canary, Elongated Man, and Red Tornado had all joined, Hawkman had had enough: he told his colleagues that they had to take them both or neither of them. She was finally admitted in JLA #146.

Hawkgirl finally joins the JLA
However, that isn't the end of the story. Even after she became a member, she often failed to show up for meetings. She ended up missing a huge run from JLA #195 thru #221. This included her being excluded from the special anniversary issue of JLA #200. Hawkgirl (or Hawkwoman, which she was preferring by this time) got to join, but she never seemed to get the respect from the writer or the editors.

When the JUSTICE LEAGUE cartoon made its debut in 2001, Hawkgirl took the place of Aquaman as a founding member and was featured prominently for the first three years. Hawkgirl/Hawkwoman seems to have finally found her place in mainstream popular culture.

The same can't be said about the Justice League's fourth and final female member. Zatanna Zatarra (her real name) is a stage magician who is also a think David Blaine as crime fighter and you're half-way there! Zatanna was created as a supporting character in the pages of HAWKMAN by Gardner Fox, original writer of JUSTICE LEAGUE and one of the fathers of the Silver Age. She, like Black Canary, was a "next generation" hero, as her father was Zatarra, the magician super-hero ala "Mandrake" who made his debut in ACTION COMICS #1. Zatanna guest-starred in several JLAers' individual issues until she guest-starred in JUSTICE LEAGUE #51 and again in #83.

After that she appeared randomly. She did not have her own series in any comic books and was basically in limbo. That is, until 1978 when the editorial staff of JUSTICE LEAGUE asked the readers to vote on the character they would most like to see join the JLA. Zatanna won in a landslide, and as the dumb-founded editor promised, she joined in JLA #161. However, she had lost her top hat, fishnets, and tuxedo outfit for some lame Seventies jumpsuit, cape, and ponytail monstrosity. I, for one, was disappointed. (Hell yea I voted for her!)
After several years with that uniform, artist extraordinaire George Perez designed her something new, and that was the one she wore for the rest of her JLA career. It was more "sorceress" than magician, but it seemed to be better that what she had been using, so it stuck. Not so oddly enough, in current DC Comics continuity she is back in the fishnets and tuxedo. :-) 

The Justice League adding their 4th female member (JLA #161)
in a typical Seventies jump-suit that screams, "magician."
The DC Comics universe has several other super-heroines, but I don't none anywhere near the emotional connection with them that I have with Batgirl and these four. Most notably there is Supergirl. Although I have tried reading her series several times, I simply can't seem to like her (I'm not a huge fan of SuperMAN, either). And of course, there is Mera, who is mostly (if not only) known as Aquaman's wife. Mera was never portrayed as a genuine full-time super-heroine while I was a kid. Very recently she has been portrayed more as an adventurer like her husband, and I feel great things about her. Perhaps she is on her way at last to becoming a full-fledged super-star. We can only hope.

Meanwhile, some Marvel women have had it even worse. I'll talk about *them* next week.