Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Halloween. My favorite holiday. Christmas used to by my favorite, natch. But then I spent many years as a lonely miserable bachelor. Christmas is harsh under those circumstances. I got married in 1997 and had two wonderful Christmases as a newlywed. Then we had kids.

So yeah... Christmas is not a favorite.

Halloween has always been a favorite. It seems to combine a couple of my passions. History, horror, pop culture, fall, and I used to love candy. I love the decorations, I love the traditions, I love the origins. I'm all about the culture of something. And holidays are usually the first stop in defining a people's culture.

Rather than boor you with the history of Halloween, with the differences between Halloween of today and of yesteryear, or with Halloween nostalgia, I'm going to just bow out of it and offer you this:

Thanks to my Mom, it's the DCD Halloween pics of years gone by.


Monday, October 29, 2012

New York ComicCon

On October 5th, 2012, my oldest son Ashton turned 13. That's right, I'm a parent to a teenager.

The reality seems a little bit off here. I still consider us to be parents of toddlers, rookies in the parenting world. But apparently, that is not the case. It sneaks up on you. We've seen Ashton every day, it's not like he was a sweet, loving little boy one day and then BAM... teenager. He's been changing little-by-little all year long. If we're being honest, then I have to say I've considered him a teenager for the last six months.

But what do you get a teenager for his birthday? Toys are not his thing anymore. There's only so much video game playing I can handle. And he is well supplied with music and iTunes gift cards.

When we asked Ashton what he wanted for his birthday, there were two things. The first was a pair of noise canceling (daddy yelling negating) headphones. The second was toys from the movie Aliens.

Ashton's turning into something of a collector in his own right. Loving the movie Aliens so much that he's begun seeking out merchandise from it. Whether it was accidental or a direct influence, his tastes turn away from current day obsessions and his loves are from the past. Alien, Predator, Terminator, James Bond, and other things hold his attention. So when he says he wants Alien toys for his birthday, Lorie and I sigh heavily. This is not a quick run to Target.

The other factor in here is how hard he worked this last summer. He decided he wanted to earn extra money and in May asked me for permission to mow other people's lawns. He made business cards and walked the neighborhood looking for business. He only locked down two customers, but between the two of them he was able to build up quite a bank account. He was allowed to use a portion of that money on fun stuff. His first choice was Nerf weaponry. I turned that down, as there's only so any Nerf guns we can store in the house and the back yard.

So... a good way to meet both the needs of allowing him to spend some hard-earned cash and to give him a memorable birthday treat was to take him to the New York ComicCon.

We got up at 4 A.M. on a Friday, drove the five hours to the Javitz center in New York, spent all day at the convention, met my sister for a chat over appetizers (I'm not allowed to say where we ate), and then we headed home. Quite the day.

The Empire State Building off in the distance.

We both loved seeing all the costumes there.

Aquaman was being proudly featured at the DC booth.

Ashton got to see the cargo loader from Aliens up close and personal.

We were exhausted at lunch. Sitting in a corner on the floor. My back was giving me problems all day.

I scored a retro-cloth Mego like pair of figures of the Six Million Dollar Man and Bigfoot.

Found the Human Torch Hot Wheels car from the seventies. For some reason, I'm a sucker for the super-hero Hot Wheels and Corgi cars.

And Scooby Doo. I finally have my Mystery Machine!

Aquaman. On a 1965 Ford Ranchero? Eh. I'll take it.

Found this Aquaman poster in a pile of old things. Love it.

I finally got to meet Rob Kelly in person. Operator of the Aquaman shrine and co-creator of the Ace Kelly webcomic. He had packaged together his first storyline and was selling it in a tabloid-sized comic, a nod to the tabloid sized comics of the 1970's.

The only t-shirt I bought at the convention. Proudly displaying my love of things from my childhood, things with super-heroes on them, and things that make me look goofier than normal.

This was a classic moment. We had walked about eight blocks back to the parking garage from the convention center. We plunked down in a Subway and awaited my sister and nephew. We were exhausted, but we agreed that all the pain and stress was worth it. We had a blast.

This isn't the first time I've been to the convention in New York City. It's the fourth. The first time was about twenty years ago. Side-by-side with my buddy Mario. I was dressed as Aquaman, he was dolled up as Green Lantern. We actually got pulled over by the cops while dressed like this.


---Folks, a quick post edit to answer Steve's questions.  First of all, here's proof about Ashton's experience with the Aliens loader:

You can see from his expression that he had no intention of playing along or appear as if he was enjoying himself.  Disaffected teenager.

As for Steve's question about other pictures of cosplayers.... ermmm...  uh....

It seems as if I was actually embarrassed to take people's pictures.  I'm ashamed to say it.  Obviously they dress up at conventions to get attention, I just felt a little too creepy in asking them to stand and get a picture.  The few pictures of cosplayers I did get were blurry and crappy.  I tried to get a picture of a wonderful Scarlet Witch, but she walked off.  I was too slow for female Thor and female Loki.

I desperately wanted a picture of one Magneto costume.  A hand sewn red and purple costume with cape and helmet that lovingly depicted the Silver Age Magneto.  I really liked the guy.  But I shamed myself because the ONLY reason I wanted his picture was because his giant, geeky nose was poking out of his plastic helmet in the most ridiculous way.  I didn't want to make fun of him for that.

... it was great though.

The ONE dude I talked to was the Aquaman up above.  And only because he actually had stuffed fish toys floating over his shoulders.  As you can see, the picture was blurry, and I definitely offended his two female companions.

"Oh!  Sorry!  You guys look okay too.  Go ahead and get in the picture."


Next year, Steve you're coming with us and manning the camera.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Nightmare Before Christmas

Here it is October and my iPod has gotten very depressing. According to my spreadsheets, there are very specific things I must listen to during the month of October. First and foremost is Wojciech Kilar’s soundtrack to Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Spooky and haunting. Another one is the soundtrack to Sweeney Todd, wonderfully dark and hateful. There’s the soundtrack to the Addams Family movie. The soundtracks to Aliens and Predator and the Wolfman and Sherlock Holmes. And there’s the Nightmare Before Christmas.

Nightmare Before Christmas has always proven a difficult problem for me. An annual problem. The root question here is, how do you classify the movie? Is it a Halloween movie or a Christmas one? The question has been driving me crazy ever since I saw it in the theater in 1993.

Halloween entertainment isn’t necessarily as distinct as Christmas entertainment. Any horror movie can be considered Halloween entertainment just as it can be up for movie-watching fun at any time of the year. The elements that make a good Halloween movie are atmosphere and character. Does it have a creepy, gothic atmosphere? Does it have outrageous characters that you can model a costume on? Okay… you’re good!

Christmas movies are very specific. They must take place at Christmas. The enjoyment of the holiday must be in jeopardy in some manner. And Christmas must be either ‘saved’ or ‘understood’ at the climax of the movie. There are many, many, MANY movie that fall under these tight guidelines.

My favorite Christmas movie is Die Hard. It takes place at Christmas. And it’s Die Hard, which is awesome.

Nightmare Before Christmas is… sigh. Nightmare Before Christmas has both.

It’s gothic. Most of the action happens at Halloween Town, which answers the need for a spooky setting. The main character is Jack Skellington, the King of Halloween, and almost everyone he interacts with is a spooky horror character that would make a great Halloween costume. So…. Right? Halloween. Right?

But the movie STARTS at the very end of Halloween. And ends on Christmas Even with a save-the-Christmas moment! The movie even has a Christmas message. Santa Claus is in the movie! Santa Claus gets kidnapped in the movie!! It has elves! Ugh. It’s a Christmas movie. Impossible.

I think this method of breaking all the rules by adhering to all the rules is why the movie has burned itself into my brain as a timeless classic.

Ultimately, the movie makes me love Halloween and I can’t think of a single time I’ve watched it at Christmas time. So it’s a Halloween movie.


This movie caught me off guard this year with a facet of our family development I wasn’t entirely aware of: Holiday traditions. As kids, holiday traditions are extremely fun and important. As adult daddies and mommies, they’re a pain in the butt. Unless you’re my ridiculous sister. ( What caught me off guard is the traditions I’m creating for the kids without even realizing it.

My youngest son, Alex, is six. And when it came to his attention that it was even slightly close to October, he wanted to watch Nightmare Before Christmas. I laughed at the request, and asked him why. He said, very plainly, “it’s tradition”.

I have a love/hate thing with traditions. For me, they’re a tool to invoke nostalgia. But logically speaking, if you do the same thing every year there’s nothing to mark that year in your memory as unique. So do traditions actually hurt the lasting memories of the holidays? My oldest kid is thirteen, and we’ve already built a lot of traditions surrounding Christmas. My mother, however, has so many traditions surrounding Christmas that they start on November first and fill a calendar with red and green ink.

And the fact that this is not in my control is a little upsetting. The kids are forming traditions of their own based on whatever we ended up doing last year. Ugh. I have to be extremely careful about every activity I plan in the December time frame. It’s why I’ve avoided devoting a blog to anyone’s birthday or anniversary. I don’t want it to get caught up in an expected, traditional cliché.

Some things seem to grow to be entirely not within my control. Like the holiday traditions we follow in the minds of my family. Or whether or not the Nightmare Before Christmas is a clearly-classifiable movie. For the most part, that seems to really bother me. But every once in awhile I relax, put things in perspective, and I’m comforted by the fact that such issues just really don’t matter.


… it’s a Christmas movie.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Spectre vs Mr Justice

I try my best to avoid words like ‘unique’ when I’m discussing comic characters from the 1940’s. The term just doesn’t apply. First, there are too many characters that can be considered ‘unique’ for the word to retain any meaning. Second, there were always knock-offs. Always.

The problem with my education in the Golden Age of comics is that it’s been primarily DC comics that I’ve studied. I knew the names and the looks and the titles of the output from other publishers, but had never really immersed myself. So finding these little gems from the Golden Age has started to become a real treat that I enjoy.

Recently, I read I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets. A collection of the Golden Age work of some dude I had never heard of called Fletcher Hanks. Turns out, this particular artist was insane. Reading his work is a strange trip through comics that I previously would have said that no one would ever have published, much less published in the early 1940’s. His art style is jarring and unsettling, his characters are powerful and completely merciless, and one really gets the sense that Mr. Hanks really wanted all criminals, maybe all of humanity, to just burn.

Taking a step back from the intensity of Fletcher Hanks, and back into the much more comfortable pool of water that is DC Comics, we find ourselves face-to-face with the Spectre. The Spectre first appeared in January of 1941, More Fun Comics #51, and was created by Jerry Siegel and Bernard Baily. Spectre is a very interesting character, as he is the reincarnated soul of dead cop Jim Corrigan. Brought back to life by no less than God himself and charged with bringing His wrath to the criminals of the Earth. Spectre is merciless and harsh on criminals. Supernatrual and God-like, it’s quickly established that the Spectre can do just about anything. When reading his adventures, it’s not about the question of can the Spectre defeat the bad guy. It’s much more about HOW will the Spectre defeat the bad guy. Elongated figures, battles on other dimensional planes, death stares and magic rings and animation of the dead; Spectre had enough going for him to make me think he was truly unique in the Golden Age of comics.

Spectre was original, of course. But one can’t say he was unique. I just found out about Mr. Justice.

Mr. Justice was a character belonging to the MLJ comics group. A comic book company I don’t have much experience with. They evolved in Archie comics, but pre-Archie they were strictly adventure. Blue Ribbon Comics #9, the debut of Mr. Justice, was published in February 1941. The Mr. Justice strip is credited to Joe Blair and Sam Cooper. Reading the strip gives one the distinct feeling that you’re reading the Spectre… as drawn by Fletcher Hanks.

Mr. Justice is a spectral character who fights crime with God-like powers. When not in ghostly form, Mr. Justice works for the District Attorney as his secret identity… Mr. Justice. Ermmm…. Anyway… the dude can do almost anything and often does. He fights on other dimensional planes using all kinds of Supernatural powers. All pretty standard stuff to Spectre readers.

However, the art is far different from the offerings of the Spectre. There’s something about the wide open mouths, fangs, pointed ears, bloodshot eyes of the villains that makes me think Sam Cooper was in reality Fletcher Hanks. Or the art was at least influenced by Hanks in some way. But the backgrounds and other figures of the strip don’t support this theory. It’s… unsettling.

And then there’s his origin. In the year 1040 Prince James of England was assassinated in a plot by Scottish Rebels and his spirit was trapped in the castle where the murder took place. In 1940, the castle was sold, disassembled, and on a ship on it’s way to America when the ship carrying the castle was targeted and sunk by a Nazi submarine. This act of dire Nazi-ism released the soul of Prince James who then became the Royal Wraith, Mr. Justice.

That’s… awesome. That’s just… that’s… awesome.

I don’t want to like Mr. Justice. But I love him right down to my twitchy toes.

It gets worse.

The devil, sitting in Hell, gets bored. He decides to come to Earth, disguise himself as a simple German housepainter. Stirs up some trouble with the townfolk in some beer halls. Rises to power. And turns all of Germany into a fascist state. Then goes around starting wars.

That’s right… the devil is Hitler.

Hitler is the devil.

And regularly fights Mr. Justice. As Hitler AND as Satan.

This strip… this is awesome. Right down to my toes.

What’s bothering me so much is that there’s nothing much original in MLJ comics. There all rip-offs of other comic characters or styles. The practice ran rampant in the 1940’s when comics were a cash cow. There’s nothing original here! Move along!

But… but it’s just so freaking awesome.


Monday, October 22, 2012

Disco Dracula

Earlier this month I wrote about the Hammer film Horror of Dracula and Christopher Lee’s interpretation of the king of the vampires. In that post, I bashed the 1979 Dracula film starring Frank Langella and called it “Disco Dracula”.

Then I felt guilty.

Then my head wouldn’t leave it alone.

I am not a fan of loudly expressed, drastically uninformed opinions. I feel like the internet has plenty of that already covered. So why add to it? I rented the 1979 Dracula movie from Netflix and, almost apologetically, watched it with Lorie and my two older kids. And yes… I ended up loving it.

The settings were lavishly beautiful and spooky. The re-telling was faithful and yet still had twists. There were definitely some scary scenes, as my daughter can profess. And the hair… was magnificent. The soundtrack really had me, so much so that I had to look up the composer. John Williams. It was John Williams, of course. In the year between Superman (1978) and Empire Strikes Back (1980).

I’m much more familiar with Frank Langella’s work today. So seeing him on screen as Dracula was a little unsettling. His hair is magnificent. Langella’s performance is perfect and he crafts Dracula to be the type of flawless movie character in the same vein as James Bond. You just can’t picture them doing normal, everyday things. Langella’s take on Dracula is deadly serious and brings a lot of weight to the role. He’s extremely charismatic and very controlled. He’s obviously very comfortable with the character, as I just learned he was famous during the time for playing Dracula in a lengthy Broadway performance.

That being said, there are still moments like this:

As with all forms of entertainment, there are certain elements of the film that will forever mark it as something produced in the 1970’s, for audiences of the 1970’s. As much as I’ve come to love and respect this movie, it’s still Disco Dracula. Your mileage may vary. At this point in my life I’m very aware that I’m unable to remove myself from my assessment of movies, comics or books and I’ll never have the completely impartial judgment.

See? This is Jonathon Harker? Secondary hero of the film! He’s sporting the part down the middle and 70’s porn ‘stache.

My favorite scene of the movie, one of many favorite scenes, is when Professor Van Helsing is searching for his daughter, Mina. A character that at this point in the film has been turned into a vampire. He and Dr. Seward find an entrance to a series of underground tunnels while digging up Mina’s coffin, which gives us one of the truly spine-tingling scary scenes of the movie.

I was chasing my daughter around the house quoting this scene and doing vampire fingers.

One of the things that I don’t like about modern storytelling is the feeling that the creators are embarrassed by the original source material. It’s the feeling I get when I see science fiction stories done with a gritty, realistic take. I’ve talked about this before, with posts on Falling Skies and my comparison of modern werewolves with Curse of the Werewolf ( I absolutely feel this way when I find vampire stories that shy away from the traditional weakness and strengths of the vampire. Things such as vulnerability to religious expression like crosses and Holy Water, vulnerability to sunlight, the ability to change shape into a mist or a wolf. There are several modern day examples of creators who shy away from these elements of the vampire mythology. I’m not a fan of that. Maybe this is my OCD overruling me and getting in the way, but if you’re going to tell a story about vampires please embrace the source material. Be inspired by our past, not embarrassed by it. I feel that Dracula does this. In the 1970’s, Bela Lugosi’s Dracula had been around for forty years and was a tired old cliché. Lugosi himself played Dracula in Abbot and Costello meet Frankenstein. The vampire lord had strayed into a parody of himself and our culture at the time had a hard time taking the character seriously anymore. Indeed, the movie Love at First Bite with George Hamilton was also released in 1979, parodying the vampire.

Even though this movie has scenes where it comes off as ‘Disco Dracula’, I think one of its greatest strengths is that it takes the source material very seriously.