Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Seven Scariest Super-Villains

Art by Alex Ross

This being Halloween AND "Wednesday Comics" day, I figured I should tell you who *I* think are the seven scariest super-villains in comics. However, one quick note: I didn't include the Uber-Cosmic characters like Darkseid or Galactus. Yes, anybody who could show up and actually EAT Earth is pretty damn scary. Still, they are obviously "fantastic" characters and therefore not quite as scary as pseudo-real characters. For example, the shark in JAWS is infinitely more scary than Godzilla, right? Both menaces could actually get you if you enter into their reality, but one would require a step and one a whole leap to get there! Anyway, that's my logic and I'm sticking to it. Ready?!

art by Steve Ditko

This is a character that has become scarier and scarier as his history has gotten longer and longer. At first he was just another weird Spider-Man villain, throwing pumpkin bombs on people while robbing banks. Then, as his back story was slowly revealed we learned that he was the father of Spider-Man's best friend. He was the victim of poison gas that made him into a schizophrenic. He was a sadist and a murderer. As we learned these things, THE GREEN GOBLIN went from being a guy in a goofy goblin costume to the one threat that Spider-Man had to stop. He was willing to hurt anyone to get to Spider-Man, including his own son. And in one of the greatest Spider-Man stories ever, he also killed Spider-Man's first girl-friend, Gwen Stacy. Now, his costume isn't so much goofy as it is chilling.
art by John Romita, Sr

art by Carmine Infantino
Throw the loveable Ray Bolger "Scarecrow" image out the window, this Batman villain's main schtick is fear. He can make you fear anything, either something you really do fear or something he makes up for you. Which would be worse? He once made Superman afraid of flying, and Aquaman afraid of water. He once tried to cripple Batman by making him imagine that Robin had been killed. That's all pretty damn impressive. THE SCARECROW could read you like a cheap pulp novel and have you quivering on the floor whispering, "mommy!" in a minute. Don't mess with him.

art by Steve Lightle
Most super-villain groups fall into one of two categories: they are either made-up of established characters, such as The Legion of Doom on TV's SUPER FRIENDS, or they are made from whole-cloth as their own entity, such as The X-Men's Brotherhood of Evil Mutants or the Legion of Super-Heroes' greatest foes, THE FATAL FIVE. They were accidentally put together by the Legion to help them defeat a menace they could not handle alone; once the menace went away, THE FIVE did not. Tharok, the evil cyborg, is the leader. Emerald Empress is like an evil and fashion-conscious Green Lantern. The Persuader owns an atomic axe that can cut through anything. Mano wields the touch of death; he destroyed his entire home-planet because he hated them so. Validus is a giant hulk of a creature who can also shoot electrical blasts out of his brain. Each of these characters are bad-asses in their own right; banded together, the fear level is FIVE and climbing.

art by Scott Kollins
When I was a kid, I made up comic-book stories. One of my stories featured a group I called "The League of Fear." It featured characters like The Lizard, The Tarantula, Two-Face, THE SCARECROW, and this guy. He's a gorilla. Have you seen gorillas? They are f'ing HUGE. Go to a zoo and just imagine one of them getting loose. That's enough to make most people pee in their pants right there. Then make this escaped gorilla into GRODD, who has mental telepathy that puts Martian Manhunter or Saturn Girl to shame. Oh, and he has an ego the size of Africa and he thinks he's much better than us silly humans. Put it all together and we are talking absolute fear! Come on, I ask you: what is scarier than a gorilla smarter than you are?!  

art by George Perez
There are several robotic villains who are out to destroy mankind; DC's BRAINIAC comes to mind. BRAINIAC would have made this list, but his green android look had him sporting short-shorts, not the most fear-inducing clothing (unless they are worn by grossly obese people), while his later mechanical look always conjured up images of him as a SUPER POWER action figure, so...minus points for that. Besides,  no robotic villain has been shown to have the heartlessness, the ruthlessness, the sheer cold-bloodedness of Marvel's ULTRON. He has come very close to wiping out all of humanity on several occasions. It's only the power and team-work of The Avengers who keep the rest of us safe. ULTRON would destroy you in a heart-beat....yours, not his, because he doesn't have one.... so stay waaay clear of him.

Artist unknown
First, his appearance is one of the creepiest you could possibly imagine. The recent CAPTAIN AMERICA film got that look right; he was down-right scary. Second, he's a Nazi. Nazis are scary; that should go without saying. And Third, he's a megalomaniac scientific genius. That can't be good. Not only has he tried to destroy the majority of the world on several occasions, THE RED SKULL has also turned Cap against his partner, The Falcon, and has killed or tried to kill the people around Cap for years. Not a nice guy (see: reference above about him being a Nazi, d'uh!)

art by Marshall Rogers
Probably no one is surprised to see THE JOKER on this list. I mean, he was portrayed so menacingly in the recent DARK KNIGHT RETURNS movie by Heath Ledger. His over-the-top never-can-trust-him character trait is what makes THE JOKER one of the scariest villains out there. Let me try to explain it from the point of view of one of his henchmen: you get out of the pen, you need a job, you show up at the henchmen temp agency and instead of getting somebody safe like Mirror Master or The Penguin, you're told that THE JOKER is looking for people. Yikes! This is the guy who kills his henchmen like other people kill flies. In several of his appearances THE JOKER murders people simply because they are in his way. Yeah, if you are un-lucky enough to ever meet this guy, pray you survive.

art by Neal Adams

Happy Birthday, Nevada!

Today is the anniversary of Nevada being admitted to our United States of America.

Date of Admittance:

October 31, 1864

Parentage: The word "nevada" comes from the Spanish name for the mountain range on the western border of the state, "Sierra Nevada." "Sierra" means "mountains" and "Nevada" means "snow-capped." The territory was separated from the Mormons in the Utah Territory after it was won from Mexico in 1848 after it was stolen acquired from the Native Americans.

Place in the Family 
Number 36
Rushed in between  
West Virginia (June 1863)

and Nebraska (March 1867)

"All for Our Country" 
that's a pretty good one, actually

The Silver State 
Due to silver being mined there in the late 1800s

On the License Plate
"The Silver State"
and a silhouette of mountains 
State Flag
A blue banner with a silver star in the upper left-hand corner,
surrounded by the name "Nevada."
Above this is a yellow scroll with the words "Battle Born" 
(because Nevada became a state during the 
US Civil War). Below this are two sprays of 
sagebrush (the state flower).
Not all that interesting if you ask me. 

First City You Probably Think of
When You Think "Nevada"
Las Vegas

Actual State Capital: Carson City

State Size (Area) is 7th of 50.
Population is closer to 35th of 50.
(per 2000 Census figures)

Nevada Sports:
Absolutely none

Anybody From Nevada
Ever Grow Up To Be President?


Good vs Evil
Lake Tahoe

Las Vegas
Famous People From Nevada 

Pat Nixon
Former First Lady

Dawn Wells 
"Mary Anne Summers" on
James Marshall
Children's Book Illustrator

Glen Charles 
TV writer/producer
 Les Charles 
TV writer/producer
Andre Agassi
Pro Tennis Player
Barry Zito
SF Giants Pitcher

Panic At The Disco
Rock & Roll Band 

A Song For You....

"I Write Sins Not Tragedies"

Written & Sung by Panic! At the Disco

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Scary TV From The Seventies

To help celebrate Halloween Week, I want to talk about the scariest TV shows I ever watched.  When I was a kid I used to watch a lot more TV than I do now. I would watch cartoons in the morning before going to school (Beanie Boy & Cecil, anybody?) and then I'd watch the syndicated re-runs as soon as I got home *from* school (Gilligan's Island, F-Troop, Ultraman, Batman, Star Trek etc. etc. etc...!) At night I would watch the same shows my parents or older sisters or brother watched. Sometimes, though, I would happen upon a night when nobody else was watching....and these four TV-movies are the ones I remember TO THIS DAY.

This movie starred Kim Darby (from an episode of STAR TREK, and the original John Wayne version of TRUE GRIT) and James Hutton (soon to be one of my favorites from ELLERY QUEEN). They were newlyweds or something and he was busy being "the husband" and she was busy with working on re-modelling the old house they had recently bought. Well, somehow when she unplugged the fireplace or the furnace or some old room in the house she accidentally freed a bunch of gremlins or gargoyles or some-such creepy night people. Of course, they never showed themselves to anybody except her. Of course, the husband didn't believe her story. Of course, they came at night when she was alone and she was never heard from again.
Morals of the story: 1. Believe your spouse when s/he tells you there are creepy little monsters living in your house. I mean, why wouldn't you? 2. Never buy an old house and try to re-model it. ESPECIALLY if it is off in the woods of New England or somewhere creepy.

This is the movie that was so successful it spawned a sequel, THE NIGHT STRANGLER, and then a series, KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER. The title referred to a vampire who was "living" in Las Vegas who found plenty of potential food at the casinos and shows. Carl Kolchak, portrayed by the great Darren McGavin, is a newspaper reporter who investigates these murders and comes to realize that they are the work of a vampire. This is probably the best "what if vampires really existed?" movie I've ever seen. In the sequel, Kolchak is in Seattle and comes across a zombie-like man who lives off the blood of others. This was another atmospheric tale, but no where near as creepy as the first one. Still, the ratings these movies got were high, so the TV series was green-lighted. Although it only lasted one season, KOLCHAK (now becoming the Stalker of the title, rather than being the prey) had plenty of wonderful episodes. I will try to profile the series as a whole at a later date.  
Moral of the story: 1. Don't believe everything you read in the papers. 2. There really are vampires out there.

This TV-movie starred Karen Black in three separate mini-dramas. In one she is a put-upon college professor in a small New England town who is taken advantage of by a Big Man On Campus. In the second, she plays twin sisters who are constantly at each other's throats. And in the third she receives an African token which turns out to be alive and after her! This is the one that everyone who has ever seen it remembers. I swear somebody took this story (by horror-fantasy writer extraordinaire Richard Matheson) and created the Chucky movies from it.
Morals of the story: 1. Don't sleep with your teacher. 2. Get along with your siblings. 3. If you ever receive a magical African token with strict instructions on how to take care of it, FOLLOW THEM.

This is the TV movie that was made about the Sharon Tate murders in 1969. This isn't a horror movie in the traditional sense because  there are no vampires or zombies, but it is still the most horrific story I've ever heard of and Charles Manson (and people like him) is still my main bogey-man. Scary? Hell yes! Who needs to be afraid of zombies when there are actual people out there who will kill you just because you happen to live in the wrong house?
Morals of the story: 1. Don't buy a used home out in the country; you don't know who lived there before you did.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Bobby "Boris" Pickett: "Monster Mash"

Fifty years ago this week the Number One song in America was a diddy called "Monster Mash." If you have never heard this song, I feel sorry for you! Of course, if you're reading this you probably know exactly what song I'm talking about. :-)

"Monster Mash" was written and performed by Bobby Pickett and his buddy Leonard Capizzi. Bobby was a singer/actor who just happened to do a killer (ahem) impersonation of Boris Karloff. Originally he wanted to be an actor, but when he couldn't find any jobs he and his buddy decided to take advantage of his impersonation talent and write and record what became an immortal novelty song. They scraped the money up to record it and pressed a thousand copies. They then shopped it around to various record labels in Los Angeles but were turned down by all of them. Various DJs who were given copies played them on the radio, though, and the rest was history.

It was number one for two weeks over Halloween, 1962. History-buffs might be interested to know that this was the same time as the Cuban Missile Crisis.

"Monster Mash" re-entered the chart in 1970 and then again in 1973, which is when I first heard it.

Boris Karloff evidently thought it was a fun song, as he sang it when he was a guest-host on the ABC-TV variety show "SHINDIG" in 1965.

 Here is a young Bobby Pickett performing on American Bandstand or some other show in the mid-Sixties.

And here he is doing a live appearance in 2006, which the YOUTube commentator says was his final performance. He died on April 25, 2007.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Ken-Bun-Ki: "Election Day"

Note: "Russell's Ken-Bun-Ki" is a series of articles I wrote for my Japanese City Hall newsletter back in 1996. They were articles about life in America or life in Japan as experienced by an American.
This one from October 31, 1996 and is about American Election Day.

Last week was the election for the Japanese Congress. In America our election will be November 5 (1996). American elections are always held on the day after the first Monday in November. This year's election will be for every House of Representatives member (the US "lower house"), one-third of the Senate (the US "upper house"), local officials, and, of course, the President. There are 435 Representatives and 100 Senators (2 from each state), so approximately 33 will stand for re-election.

The House of Representatives are elected to two year terms. Senators are elected to six year terms, but instead of having all 100 Senators run for election at the same time, their terms are staggered so that every two years one-third of them must run. Presidents' terms are for four years, and they can serve only two terms.

Americans can vote when you turn 18. You register with whatever state you are living in when you turn 18. If you are not actually in that state on election day you can get an "absentee ballot" and vote by mail. People like me who are in foreign countries can also vote this way. Recently ballots have become computer punch cards, so you don't have to write in your candidates' names by hand like people do in Japan. You pick the candidate's name on a column and blacken in a circle or punch out a hole. It's very easy. Results are not counted by hand but by computer, and the results can be announced very quickly. Therefore the polls can stay open later to allow more people to vote.

In America President Clinton belongs to the Democratic Party; former Senator Dole belongs to the Republican Party. These are the two major political parties in the USA.

Who will be the US President as we head into the 21st Century? I am looking forward to this election very much. I can hardly wait.

Polling Place #1 during last week's Congressional Election

So obviously this is another one of those articles that tells about US culture instead of Japanese. The Japanese political system is based on German and British systems; in other words, the leader of the main political party becomes the Prime Minister and creates a cabinet from his party. They have the authority to call an election anytime between the last election and four years. So if the Prime Minister is riding a popular wave of support, it behooves him to call an election and hope that he and his party are re-elected at this time.

Voting age in Japan is twenty, which is also the age you can drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes. 

The main party in Japan is the rural-based Liberal Democratic Party. Opposition parties include Komeito, the Social Democratic Party, and the Democratic Party of Japan. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

We Go POGO by Kerry D. Soper

Any one who reads this blog on any type of regular basis knows that I LOVE "POGO" by Walt Kelly. Hell, I just wrote a commemorative article about Walt Kelly on the anniversary of his death last week! It should not come as any surprise that I go to places like ebay and amazon and type in "POGO" just to see if there is anything new (or newly available).

Which is how I found the topic of today's article, WE GO POGO by Kerry D. Soper. Professor Soper is an associate professor of humanities, classics, and comparative literature at Bringham Young University. He is the author of Garry Trudeau: Doonesbury and the Aesthetics of Satire

While I'm quoting the back of the book jacket, how about this for a write-up?
Walt Kelly (1913-1973) is one of the most respected and innovative American cartoonists of the 20th Century. His long-running POGO newspaper strip has been cited by modern comics artists and scholars as one of the best ever.....WE GO POGO is the first comprehensive study of Kelly's cartoon art and his larger career in the comics business. Author Soper examines all aspects of Kelly's career...from his high school drawings; his work on such animated Disney movies as DUMBO...; and his 1930s editorial cartoons for LIFE....Soper taps Kelly's extensive personal and professional correspondence and interviews with family members, friends, and cartoonists to create a complex portrait of one of the art form's true geniuses.

Which is all well and good, aint' true! In the immortal words of Albert the Alligator: Rowrbazzle! This is a tedious, badly-written book about a subject that should have been...well...ANIMATED, for crying out loud! I tried....really I read this book. I got as far as the second chapter, Comedy and Satire in POGO, page 98, before I had to give up. (The book is 218 pages of TINY print 42 lines per page and sparsely I say *sparsely* illustrated!!) (To which Churchy would say, "I's prefers rutabeggas to sparsely in my salads," and Owl would say, "What's that you say? Who's a beggar? Homeless, here in the swamp!? We need a program, I tell you! Stamp out homelessness!")

If you are possibly thinking I am exaggermatating the extent of the boringness of this boring book, I quote again, verbatim verbiage from the vernal villain:
In addition to behaving like a Shakespearean fool in this respect, Pogo also takes on the pedigree of a satiric minstrel or griot. The truth-telling minstrel figure has deep roots in the European tradition; like the jester or fool, the minstrel in some cases had special license to criticize authority figures or parody the official voice and texts of the culture. West African culture had its own version of this privileged social critic, the griot, the feared but protected community jester who "combined the talents of the musician with those of the innovative poet (weaving "his own comments, moral judgments and isolated poetic images into his songs") and the clever trickster-jester to accomplish his ends." (Watkins 64) (page 84, University Press of Mississippi edition)

To this I say:
Deck us all with Boston Charlie, Walla Walla Washington and Kalamazoo!

If you like POGO and/or are a fan of Walt Kelly, DON'T buy this book. It's by some professor who is trying to use half-dollar words when the five and dime variety would suffice just as well. The jacket says it's about Kelly, but I read the Introduction and The Short Biography and there were very few quotes. Just a lot of talk by Professor Soper. You don't need a lot of words to understand and appreciate POGO. Here, let me show you: 
THIS is what POGO was all about (click to en-biggen).

I repeat, don't buy this book. Borrow it from you local library if you think you'd like to validate my opinion. But if you're going to buy something about/by Walt Kelly, buy THIS instead!!

Addendum 12-21-12
I got the following comment from Professor Soper himself, and it made me feel a *tad* harsh in my criticism. I'm not going to back-pedal in my criticism of some of his word choices ("griot"? really!?!?) but perhaps I should have been more clear in my main criticism: it ain't the book I thought it was going to be. And that is my problem, not Professor Soper.
Honestly, I have been thinking I need to buy this book just because I want to have it in my collection.
So.....go to your library and borrow it. Read it. Then send Professor Soper a comment asking him to write more lively the next time he writes about something so inherently fun.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Worst Comic of The Month?

Okay, so the title of today's post may be a bit on the hyperbolic side, but let me explain. Last month I rushed into my comic-book shop to pick up the three or four comics I buy regularly. One is AQUAMAN, of course. The others are FIRESTORM (insert random link to The Fire and Water podcast), EARTH-TWO, and JUSTICE LEAGUE;  the last two because I have always loved the JLA and the JSA. Neither of these classic groups are actually alive in current continuity so are not currently IN either of these books, of course, but I can still hope, can't I? ;-)

So I grab up those four comics and rush home. Later, I notice that this is Captain Marvel on the cover, but I think, "Okaaay, Shazam must join the JLA in this issue....?" Because the book is called JUSTICE LEAGUE I kinda expected to read about, oh, I dunno....the JUSTICE LEAGUE!!! Instead I read pages and pages about the annoying brat who is the current Billy Batson and how he most undeservedly receives the power of SHAZAM. And...then the book is over.


How in the world can DC think that it is okay to print some Captain Marvel-wannabe crap in the pages of a book called JUSTICE LEAGUE, with absolutely NO JLAers present in the story!?!?!

I take it DC is not interested in long-term plans to continue to rape my wallet, as I will be even more careful about what I buy in the future! THIS is why you don't want to just order books and pick them up without looking at them, because if I had taken a moment to check I would NOT have paid for this toilet paper.

DC, what happened?? You used to be such a great company. Come back!!    :-(

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

JLA #12 "War With The One-Man Justice League!"

JL #22 "Crisis On Earth-2!" part two AFTERWARD

So, what did you think?
Let me criticize it first so you don't feel like you have to protect my feelings....there were too many characters, and not enough action.

It starts off okay....with a one-page synopsis of what "Earth 2" is and what has been going on....I always liked those scenes with Flash and Green Lantern of both Earths, and this time I used Huntress as the equivalent of Batman. Long-time fans will understand why. I still don't understand why DC thinks the "parallel earth" concept is so hard for fans to understand....!

I also liked this panel below, which had each of the groups separating themselves. I always imagined that the characters stood around and did what I showed a little bit of last issue: ("I should take the ocean assignment." "I'll go with you." "Let's tackle that problem together.") Of these characters (and Batman, Wildcat, Huntress, and Sandman, who are not shown) I think I should have cut at least six characters. Oops! Oh, and learn? Haha.

As I've said before, I consider my strength to be my plotting/writing, then maybe my design, and then my art is way waaaay down at the bottom. However, looking at these old issues I do sometimes come across something that I forget I'm good at: coloring! Just take a gander at this mountain scene from Indonesia. I count at least four separate shades of green! Plus, I don't know if it's just me, but I think I can feel that these four characters are actually flying ABOVE the green. There seems to be depth to this picture that I don't usually get to boast of.  

Of course, the main point of all of this drama was to have Red Tornado commit suicide. If you haven't read the stories that this one is based on, did this come as a surprise to you? I was trying to create a character that was desperate to be "human," but who was bullied by characters like Hourman and The Atom. That's why I included The Atom in the first place: to have one of the older characters not accept Red as an equal. We never saw The Atom again, by the way. :-) We will, however, see Red Tornado again. (spoiler? haha)


Something else I did not comment on last issue but noticed when I was scanning this issue....I actually researched and found specific locations ON Earth for the bombs. This panel appeared last issue (with an awful drawing of The Spectre, if I may say so...) Well, I had forgotten that I actually researched the correct latitude and longitude for those six locations! Obviously two of them were the North Pole and the South Pole, but the others were in the middle of the South Pacific and Ecuador (last issue) and Indonesia and Gabon this issue. Sometimes my geekiness surprises even myself. :-)  

So that just leaves the individual chapters.....first up, my all-time least favorite story. Basically we have an adventure that any ONE of these characters could have handled by him/herself. The coloring is the best part of this section, which ends on some sort of moral to respect your elders or something. Bad, bad, bad. Re-reading this now I have no idea why I wanted to include the elder Hawkman. I should not have. 

Now this chapter I come back my opinion, this chapter is what "team-up" is all about. Unlike in the previous chapter, this time none of the heroes on their own could have succeeded: they NEEDED each other. And I liked the way Red Tornado is trying desperately to "get" Green Arrow and Hourman. Colors this time were browns, bronzes, and yellows to represent the arid environment of Africa. Nicely done.

Here's another one of those "everyone plays an important part" stories, yada yada yada. I do like that two of the characters are wearing sun-glasses, though. I mean, come's snow and ice everyone you look! Of course you don't want to get blinded by the snow! Anyway, by this point I knew I had nothing for some of these characters to do, and so Jay Garrick thanking Ralph Dibny for coming up with a good idea while an invisible Manhunter does all the actual work is....well, stretching things. Moving on.

Now sure why I didn't have Starman wearing sunglasses here, too. In hindsight I should have. I remember in this story trying to desperately differentiate it from the previous chapter. Three of the most powerful men of two worlds and they can't defeat one little bomb? Not my best moment. By the way, I also remember thinking about including the then-current Starman, Jack Knight, instead of Ted or David. I think I left it a bit vague as to which character this is, but I guess it must have been the late, lamented David. In my universe maybe he didn't die quite as quickly as he did in the actual comics. 

And now we are at the whole point of this story. Look at the following panels and play "Where's Red?" Now you see him, now you don't....If you are paying attention you can see Red Tornado in the background walk off and decide to go commit suicide. In fact, originally my story went directly from page 37 to 39. It was only as I was working on it that I realized one panel was not long enough for Red to write his note and high-tail it into outer space (page 40). So I added page 38. That's why, if you are paying attention, the same quote about "I'll take Power Girl, Red Tornado, etc with me..." is used on both pages 37 and 39. Now it can be told!

And lastly, here's another Justice League "group shot" that I only used once or twice. I cribbed it from a George Perez pose of The Avengers. I didn't use it very long for several reasons: 1. Hawkwoman looks too small next to Hawkman; 2. I don't like the way I drew Elongated Man; 3. I don't like bearded Aquaman; 4. the membership changed again. And that is all I will say about that for now. :-)