Monday, April 29, 2013


One of my loves and hobbies as an adult is horror movies. However, unlike most of my loves and hobbies, this has no root in my childhood. I never really watched horror movies as a kid. I remember staying home sick from church once and watching the Amazing Colossal Man on the afternoon movie offering with my Father. I remember loving Dracula and dressing as Dracula for Halloween, but I don't remember ever really seeing Dracula until I was in college. I remember the Drac Pack! I loved that cartoon. Does that count as a horror movie?

No. No it decidedly does not.

No, horror movies did not really play into my childhood. My love of horror movies would come in my teen years with a viewing of Aliens and those Friday nights in Clifton. Although, I do remember a television commercial for the Fog that scared the crap out of me.

Between summer of 1978 and summer of 1981 we lived in a small town called Rochester, New Hampshire. Not the famous Rochester, New York. This was different. Rochester, New Hampshire. It was small. And being a small town in the seventies, the streets were alive with kids who knew each other, rode bikes together, and visited each other's house with no formal permission. Therefore, it's under this setting that we'll find an elementary school-aged Chuck at the next door neighbor's house one Saturday afternoon.

I didn't especially like the kid next door. He was kind of a bully, and a year or so older. But I was bored and wanted to play cars and he was next door, so there I was. In his house. But he wouldn't get up off the couch. He lay there watching TV, and the afternoon horror matinee was about to come on. So I plopped down on the floor near him, half-heartedly pulled a few of my cars out of the carrying case, and planted in front of the TV.

The movie was called Matango. And it was strange. A foreign movie, although I really had no concept of what that meant back then. It was a Japanese movie, in color, and a quick IMDB search turns up the fact that it was released in 1963.

The movie followed the plight of a Japanese pleasure boat crew who get shipwrecked on a deserted island. They find an old ship, also shipwrecked, that seems to be in an advanced state of decay. The only thing to eat on the island is mushrooms. And as they try to survive, they slowly start to turn into mushrooms themselves.



Yes. You read that right. The crew of the boat begins to turn into mushrooms.

This TERRIFIED me. I was shaken. I watched the entire movie in silence. I collected my cars into the box, nodded at my neighbor, and went back to my house. I still to this day think that neighbor boy knew that movie would scare the crap out of me. I went home, did NOT tell my mom what I had seen for fear of disapproval, and kept the frightening thought of MATANGO to myself for years.

Then... a few years later... I became a father. And as my son grew and grew, I bided my time. Collected the movie on DVD, watched Ashton carefully for the proper developmental cues, and then one day decided the time was ripe. I plunked his diapered butt down in front of the TV and we got our Matango on.

I don't actually remember how old Ashton was when I showed him the movie. I asked him recently if he remembered. His eyes went vacant, saw past me, and his face went cold. He just sat there whispering "Matango. Matango. Matango."

I might be exaggerating slightly.

At any rate, he's never really liked eating mushrooms. I share some blame there.

Y'know, it occurs to me that my youngest boy, Alex, and my daughter have never seen the movie. I think it might be time. Want to join us for movie night?


Friday, April 26, 2013

The Answering Machine

The original mission statement of this blog, if it's something more than just an outlet for my ramblings, was to showcase incidents of history being reflected through our pop culture. To show what we can learn about our culture and history by digging through the entertainment of decades past.

Let's take a side step down a similar hallway for a moment. And allow me to showcase something from my own history that's reflective of our cultural development.

I'm a fairly technical guy. I'm not the biggest geek on programmer row, but I've become pretty involved with the tech of our time. I strongly believe in the advancements our society is making, and I'm quick to adapt something new. I've already mentioned how the iPad has changed my life as a comic book collector for the better. When I'm at work I never take notes with a pad of paper and a pen. To me the efficiencies of writing things down in my iPhone and transferring them to OneNote when I get back to my desk far outweigh the drawbacks of a physical system.

But it wasn't always this way. In fact, it took me quite awhile to embrace my gadget leanings.

I remember clearly the first time I ever spoke to an answering machine. It was the fall of 1983 and I was a gawky, awkward, smelly, dorky, eighth grader. I was also the Patrol Leader of our Boy Scout Patrol. I don't even remember the name of our patrol. But I do know that our group was comprised of the rejects from all the other patrols. The nerds. The comic geeks. The guys that the rest of the Boy Scout troop wished didn't exist. We submitted a name for our patrol to the Troop leader that celebrated our difference and ballyhooed our nerdism. It was quickly shot down. I don't remember what our original idea for the name was, but we were dejected by our consistent rejection and took a boring, standard name. The Panthers, or the Cougars, or some such nonsense.

The Boy Scouts sucked. Hard.

At any rate, I was the designated Patrol Leader of a patrol made up of comic geeks. Natch. And it was my duty to call every patrol member on Monday afternoons and find out if they were coming to the Troop meeting that night. I did this every week dutifully. And, as it turns out, I was the only Patrol Leader that actually did it. I was able to make my report as to who was present, who was absent and why, and who was unaccounted for.

Impressed? Neither were my crappy Scout Leaders.

I remember calling the home of brothers and Patrol members Brad and Tom one Monday afternoon. Their Dad answered, but sounded a little off. I sprang into my spiel, asking to speak with either Brad or Tom.

It took me a few moments to fully realize what was going on. Brad and Tom's dad was not... interactive. He was speaking some sort of message and giving me instructions. I slowly realized what was happening and got a little excited about the whole thing.

At the beep, I gave off my standard, scripted Patrol Leader message trying to get the information I needed and asking to be called back. I didn't know that Brad and Tom were on vacation, and I wouldn't speak to them again for a whole week.

Once off the phone, I ran upstairs to tell my mom. An answering machine!! I spoke to an answering machine! Brad and Tom have an answering machine! Those dudes must be rich!

Mom was not impressed. She saw no reason for the technological horror that is the answering machine. To this day, if she hears the phrase "call waiting" she spits on the ground and stamps twice to ward off evil demons.

When Brad and Tom got back from vacation, they were just as excited as I was. Although, from the other side of the coin. They, of course, were the super-advanced duo that had such technology and I was just the guy on the phone. However, they were a little jazzed to actually have a call for them get recorded on their Dad's new answering machine. Even if it was from their dorky Patrol Leader reading his dorky script for his dorky task that no one else took seriously.

Even amongst geeks, I'm considered a nerd.

These days we take the phone for granted. I'm annoyed by the space my desk phone takes up and we don't even have a land line at the house. How archaic. I carry around the world's most advanced pocket computer in my khakis. Why would I want to bother with tethering myself to the wall in order to make a call.

But thirty years ago, my first encounter with an answering machine was mind-blowing.


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Black Lightning

As you may or may not have gathered, I read comic books. Lots and lots of comic books. Almost exclusively.

I even have a spreadsheet that I use to keep track of my reading goals.

But today's comics frustrate me. They are definitely part of my reading rotation schedule, but not my favorite part. I mostly look forward to my comic yesterday reads.

The idea is to spend time reading the comics I enjoy the most, and not get caught up getting bogged down with what the companies publish today. A few months ago I finished my Flash yesterday read. Reading Flash comics from his Silver Age reappearance in 1956 to his ill-fated ending in 1985. From there, I started up reading Firestorm, from his first appearance in 1977 to the end of his second series in 1990.

Up next I plan to do a month-by-month yesterday read of the Justice League of American and the Avengers. I figure I can get a unique, compare and contrast perspective on the publication history of Marvel and DC's headliner titles.

But after Firestorm, and before my JLA Avengers opus, I figured I would pop off one of the shorter yesterday reads by taking on Black Lightning. He only had eleven issues in the seventies and a handful of back up stories.

I had always seen the character as one of the oddball "DC Explosion" characters of the 1970's. A time when the company was doing well and taking publication chances to see if anything struck a strong chord with the readers. Firestorm was one of these characters, but went on to hit it big in the 1980's. Black Lightning never really made it on his own, but I was still looking forward to becoming familiar with these books.

They are really good.

I was a little surprised at just how good they are. DC was famous for being wary about publishing black characters. I don't think the editors were racist so much as they were... conservative. And they long held to the idea that black characters would hurt their distribution in the South. DC's first black hero was a substitute Green Lantern that appeared in 1971. Black Lightning was the first black character published by DC to have his own book. And that didn't come along until 1977.

I had stupidly assumed Black Lightning was a one-note character created to capitalize on the blaxploitation craze of the 1970's. I thought this despite knowing the character really well from his appearances in the 1980's. There's certainly a little of the blaxploitation element going on here, but it is by no means the focus of the book.

1. Black Lightning is really Jefferson Pierce, high school teacher.

2. Pierce is a gold medal winner from the decathlon of two different sets of Olympics.

3. Pierce is extremely intelligent, grew up poor, made something of himself, and has come back to his old neighborhood to make a difference.

4. When the book starts out, Black Lightning has no powers. He's just a guy in a costume who relies on his tremendously capable physical abilities and his smarts.

5. Part of Pierce's disguise is an afro wig and a tough, 'street' method of talking that he would never use in the classroom.

6. Pierce has no love interest. Instead, one of the supporting characters is his ex-wife, who he still has a friendly relationship with.

7. Black Lightning has a definite mission, fighting Tobias Whale and his drug operations that are polluting the streets he grew up on.

There is a lot going on here for a comic book written in the 1970's. Writer/creator Tony Isabella thought out this character very well, right down to his roots and motivations. Having a fully fleshed out Jefferson Pierce behind the mask makes the book a treat to read.

One of the things that pleases me most about super heroes is the kind of hero that does what he does for altruistic motivations. Superman could do anything he wants to, but chooses instead to only use his powers for good. Black Lightning doesn't do what he does because he has cool powers and it's expected. He starts off the story having no powers at all. His motivation to make a difference is so strong that he's willing to risk his life and get out there and DO something. This is the kind of character I want to read, and this is the kind of comic that makes me detest a lot of the comics that are created today.

I love being surprised like this. The material has been under my nose for years. Just another entry in my 'to-read' spreadsheet. But I'm very glad I got around to reading it.


Monday, April 22, 2013

Suction Cups

I have a friend at work who recently accused me of having the super power of making boring, everyday stories seem slightly interesting.

And I admit, perhaps my type of stories aren't the roller coasters of adventure that I think they are. But... they're my stories and I'm gonna tell them anyway.

Like this one. It's awkward.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about my new comic book sanctuary and the concept of focusing the collection. I've been sticking to that idea pretty well as I set up the sanctuary. And I started the sanctuary with the most important display. A glass case full of licensing stuff from the 1970's.

But the case is heavy. And it loads from the back. You need a key to open it, and there's the constant danger of scratching the hard wood floors when swiveling the case out to add stuff to it.

It's quite the quandary.

When I first populated the case and carefully swiveled it back into place, this terrible tragedy happened.

All the Super Friends lined up and posing. Except for Wonder Woman, who took a nose dive. HEAVY SIGH! This would not do. What if I got something new for the collection? Or found something boxed up for years that really belonged on display?

Vaguely inappropriate Wonder Woman scissors?

DEFINITELY inappropriate Wonder Woman scissors. How can I not display these? But the case is set up already! What to do? What to do?

What could be the solution to such a devastatingly perplexing, first-world problem?

Lorie, as always came up with the solution. And when she first suggested it, I was more than a little dubious.

Suction cups? Really? But would they hold my weight?

Lorie went on to explain the devices wouldn't be used to scale buildings, as I had immediately assumed. But instead, I could attach them to the top piece of glass in the case and remove it, populating my antique dollies from above.

I was a little worried that my natural clumsiness would bring this operation to a disastrous end. So I enlisted some help.

She was dubious too.

What? I'm going to ask Ashton to help?? We've SEEN what he can do.

This was just the lawn mower, folks. On the first lawn mowing of the season, no less. No No... my go-to "Collection Assistant" is my overly OCD daughter, Katie.

Just what an eleven year old girl aspires too.

So we got the suction cups attached.

Katie nervously took hold...

... and... IT WORKED!

Worked very well, I might add. So we took some things out and played for awhile.

And then we set up some displays.

Afterwards, we got the glass back on with no problem at all.

That may not have seemed like a pulse-pounding adventure to you folks, but it certainly had my heart racing a little.


Friday, April 19, 2013

Radio Shows, Comedies, the Gym, and Stillness of Mind

I'm on record quite clearly as loving old time radio shows. Jack Benny being my hands-down favorite. So much so, in fact, that when I went to load the 1950 'season' of Jack Benny on my iPod, I freaked out a little when I realized I only had three seasons left of the show.

So? What's the big deal? It's my favorite radio show, sure. But there is a ton of radio show material available to me through my membership with So much that I can move on to something else for my gym time on the treadmill. Not only that, but there's my newfound love of podcasts to consider as well. So what's the problem?

Most people have to listen to music when running or doing their cardio. For Lorie, it's the beat that helps her maintain a pace. I completely understand that, as I feel running is much easier with music. It's just that I love the radio shows so much and my commute isn't long enough to support everything I want to listen to. So the cardio machines are where I do the radio shows.

Years ago when I first started going to the gym, I would rotate through several different radio shows. Jack Benny, George and Gracie, the Great Gildersleeves, Inner Sanctum, the Shadow, Blackstone the Magician, Superman, Flash Gordon, and Tarzan. Something quickly became apparent to me. I'm just not paying attention to the story! When I'm on the elliptical or treadmill or stationary bike, I'm having difficulty keeping my attention focused on the radio show and not letting my mind wander to the thousands of things that clamor for it's attention all day long.

The comedy shows are quick, funny, interactive, and don't rely on a complete plot. It's easier to listen to them than it is the Shadow or Superman. I was shocked at this information. If you had asked me then what my favorite show was, I would have said the Shadow without hesitation. But when I'm sweating through thirty minutes of movement on a machine, I just don't pay attention to the story.

So Jack and his crew work their show in such a way as that you feel you're hanging out with friends. And if your attention wanders for a few minutes, you can snap back without really having missed anything important.

I wonder if this is an increasing problem in our culture or just for me in my age. I much prefer sitcoms right now, because I feel I have too much to do to sit in front of the TV for an hour long drama. I've got writing, reading, collection tinkering, and dozens of projects I would rather be working on then sitting in front of the TV forcing myself to watch an hour of anything. It's a new problem. I think my mind has become busy to the point of being unable to sit still.

I've been implementing a plan for this at the gym, coincidentally enough. If you're running, you start out with a slow, short pace and work your way from there. So I'm taking the same tact with mind exercises.

After thirty minutes on the treadmill, I usually move to fifteen minutes on the elliptical or stationary bike. So I've loaded the iPod with the Superman radio show. It's a short show, only about ten minutes per episode. And I challenge myself to stay focused on the show while maintaining my pace. I try to keep my eyes on a blank spot on the wall, and I start the exercise with a pace-setting piece of music and then move into the radio show. I mentally 'table' any thought that comes along that tries to vie for my attention. It's been working so far. I've followed through ten episodes with only minor incidents of mind-wandering.

What I really need to do is work out a system for relaxing at home. The days are starting to slide by too quickly. I'm not reading enough, writing enough, or not spending enough time sitting in the yard in Spring doing nothing. And there are some good shows out there that I want to watch. I just need to implement a process to 'still' my mind.

Maybe alcohol is the answer!!!


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

How Moving Affected my Development

A few weeks back, I wrote a blog about moving and listed out the different places I've lived. Now, I've been living in the same house for over fifteen years and we're just moving into a house addition that we started six and a half years ago. Life is good.

My mother hit that blog and asked some questions. What did you use as an anchor? In each new environment did you have something that made it home? How did the transient lifestyle affect your development?

Actually, I think these questions say a lot about my mother. Think about that for a second. You've lived in a small town in North Carolina all your life and you've never really traveled that much. And then you marry into the Air Force and find yourself trying to establish a different building as a new 'home' every one to three years. That must have been tough for her. It was different for us kids, because we didn't really have the 'roots' that having a single childhood home can give a person. We never knew better.

But the questions are interesting. I do think it affected my development. I like for things to be in the proper place. No... you don't understand. I really really really like for them to be in the proper place. It's an obsession, really. When I bring something new into the house, I don't just set it on the kitchen table and leave it for some other time. I have to figure out at the VERY least which room it goes into. And when I visit someone, I have to carve out my 'place'. The chair I want to sit in and where my bag will go. I get nervous and uncomfortable if these decisions can't be made quickly. And I have to wonder if it's the OCD affecting me or if it has something to do with the 'transient lifestyle' of my childhood.

When I took my first job as a computer programmer, it was a huge leap for us. I had managed a Blockbuster Video and managed a temporary labor company, but this felt different. My first day as an actual professional. Well... they were not as ready for me as much as I was ready for them. They hadn't prepared a cube for me yet or gotten me a computer.

My new boss just asked me to leave my stuff in her office and help the Sys Admin move some furniture for the day. I was an internal mess. No place to be. No spot my own. No area to carve. I can't start building my own little systemic, OCD routines and processes if I don't even know where I'll be sitting. It was a very awkward first day to a brand new career.

That night... that very same night... my son was born. Three weeks early. TOTALLY leaving the plan in shambles. So my second day I called out. Not a stellar first week on the job for my good ol' brain and heart.

My anchors are just about what you would expect. Move as many times as you want, comics are sold everywhere. At least in the seventies they were. I do remember the frantic rush to figure out which channels were assigned to which TV stations at every new house. And the giddy joy that came with learning the local afternoon TV programming. The Archies and Popeye and Batman in New York. Starblazers, Spider-Man and Battle of the Planets in New Hampshire. People that lived here in Martinsburg all their lives always ask me about Ultraman and Speed Racer. Sorry, those shows didn't air in the areas where we lived. I never caught them.

I briefly touched on the marking of time in my moving blog. When you move every one to three years in your childhood, you begin to mark time based on what house you were living in when the event happened. Robyn was born when we lived in Plattsburgh, New York. My first Legion comic was in San Antonio, Texas. My first fist fight was in Fairfax, Virginia. My first pushing-on-the-playground incident was in Rochester, New Hampshire. First girlfriend was at summer camp at Hilltop, Pennsylvania.

Well, now that I've lived in the same house for fifteen years, I've seemed to lose the ability to mark time at all.

There were certain things I keep 'waiting' on with my oldest son. "When he's a teenager, I can expect this." - that sort of thing. He's thirteen! Teen-ager-dom has begun! When I turned thirteen, we had lived in twelve different houses. I keep waiting for some major 'thing' to happen that I can use to mark Ashton's next stage of development. As if the turning of birthdays wasn't enough. I have to keep logically comparing his development know to where I was at his age.

So yeah, the constant moving did affect my development, I think. And there's a part of me that keeps expecting a move again. But now that we've lived here for so long, made this house a home, stretched it out and then stretched into it, I just can't picture moving again for a very long time. If ever.


Monday, April 15, 2013


When I think about it, I should be able to make friends with older people very well. Shared interest, is the general idea. I can talk with them about old comics, movies, TV, music and radio shows. We should have stuff! Stuff in common!

But we don't.

See older people, people in general, choose to live in the present. They're interested in what captures their interest now... not what they may have read or seen or heard fifty years ago. People that like to live their entertainment in the past, like me, aren't exactly rare but they're not overly common either.

So I don't really like to pester people with my interests. Unless they bring it up first, and then all bets are off.

The facility I work in has security guards that tour the premises. They know my picture from a gallery of employees that they study, so I'm "Mr. Dill" or worse yet... "David". We exchange pleasantries but other than that we don't really get to know each other. More than one of them have mentioned my life-size cardboard cutout of Captain Kirk. Apparently, 'hazing' a new security guard at my work place is done by waiting until the dead of night, sending the new guy on his rounds alone, and not telling them that they might come face-to-face with an unexpected visitor from the Starship Enterprise. They wanna know if the new guy pulls his gun on Captain Kirk or not.

They really hate me during Halloween when the Universal Monsters come out.

I like to get in early. And one morning at 5:30, I had rolled into my cube and was doing my morning ritual of unpacking my bag and getting some breakfast together when an unexpected voice from behind startled me.

"So... I guess you like Captain Marvel." It wasn't actually Captain Kirk that was talking to me. I turned around and found one of the older security guards smiling at me. He had white hair and a warm face, and was motioning to one of my cube displays where I had several versions of Captain Marvel action figures lined up together.

"Sure do." I grinned dismissively. Assuming that he was just making friendly conversation and not wanting to bog him down into unasked-for geekiness. "Ever since I was a little boy, I've loved that guy."

"Yeah." The security guard nodded at me. "Me too. Ever since I was a little boy."

I looked up from what I was doing, startled. I should've known. Most everyone on the planet refers to Captain Marvel as "Shazam" because of a legal dispute preventing DC from using the name "Captain Marvel", so the character gets marketed as Shazam. But this dude... this dude had said "Captain Marvel". He might actually know the character. He might actually know the character from his childhood!

He launched into a story. Telling me how he had grown up in New York. Telling me about the little corner store he used to buy comics at and who his favorite characters were. I slowly sunk into my seat in shock and surprise as he continued on. Movies, TV shows, memories, nostalgia, comics, radio shows... this guy knew everything. He was that rare mix of an older person who liked to live the entertainment of his past. A genuine golden age geek, here right in front of me.

We had many many early morning conversations after that. And as it turns out, I wasn't the only one. He was known far and wide through the OSC as being the hands-down friendliest security guard. He was the type of guy that would find out what interested you, and then be able to converse with you on the topic. It's just that the niche he and I shared was a little more specialized than most.

I came in at 5:45 one morning and he met me at the door. "I thought you were going to be late today." He said. "I'm glad I caught you. I've got something to share."

He walked me out to his car and brought a huge shadow box out of his trunk. We walked over to my car and he loaded it into my trunk. It was his collection of what he called 'pinbacks'. And he was lending it to me for a couple of days so I could check it out.

Pinbacks, as he called them, are pins. Just little, metal circles with a pin on the back to hold the thing to your jacket. Today they're a dime a dozen, and I have a tupperware container of many many pinbacks from the last twenty years. But see... his were from the 1940's. True, vintage antiques sporting characters most people have long forgotten and offered as cereal premiums and in-store giveaways. The difference here is the eras involved, as this security guard had picked them up when he was a kid. What I was seeing was his own, personal, childhood collection. Something that he was immensely proud of and had obviously shared with many people. I wasn't observing the history of something I saw online or in an antique shop. I was touching the personal history of someone who shared my interests but was born thirty years earlier.

And there, in his collection, was an original Captain Marvel Club pinback from the 1940's.

Back when this happened, I didn't have the comfort of a camera/iPhone in my pocket and I hadn't started writing again. So the experience went unrecorded. It is something I keep having to remind myself that it actually happened.

One day, this particular security guard dropped out of guard rotation and never came back. I asked another security guard about him and was told that his hip was hurting too bad, so he had been forced to quit and move back to New York to live with his daughter. I never saw him again.

We only ever knew each other for a few minutes on the quiet mornings when his rotation had him at my building. And I wish I could have conquered my social anxieties and weirdness enough to get to know him better. He was a real treat and I miss talking about Captain Marvel with him.


Friday, April 12, 2013

Reading Comics in Public

There are certain stigmas that come with reading comics. I'm sure I don't have to tell you. Ever since Dr. Wertham and the comic witch hunts of the early fifties, comics have been seen as something that's strictly for kids. It's not true, but it's also not a battle that I particular care to fight. The comics that I personally enjoy reading were definitely aimed at kids. I still enjoy them just as adult women can enjoy books aimed at teenage girls. So I stopped taking up that baton long ago.

However, when you sit down at a place like doctor's office and open up a comic book to pass the time, you're bound to get noticed.

When Lorie was pregnant with our first kid, we went to every doctor's appointment together. I didn't yet have a job as a computer programmer, and our life was drastically different. We would sit in the waiting room, I would reach into my bag and bring out a comic book to read, pop the tape, slip it out of the protective bag and board, open it up, and Lorie would die of embarrassment.

Lorie and I don't really have knock-down drag-out fights, as some couples do. We have quiet disagreements and make sure our stance is known by the other person. Lorie has made sure her stance on my reading comics in public is well known.

When my family goes to the beach, we usually sit in a semi-circle and read. All of us. the first time Lorie went to the beach with my family, after we had been married, she was shocked. We rolled down to the beach, spread out the blanket, set up the chairs, and pulled out books (Dad), magazines (Mom), and comics (me). Lorie was expecting sand castle making and swimming and ball throwing and long walks and boardwalking. We read. It drove her nuts.

I remember sitting at the beach a few years ago while the kids played in the sand. I was trying to read a trade paperback reprinting 1970's stories of Captain America and the Falcon by Jack Kirby. But with the kids at the beach, I'm constantly 'doing inventory'. Meaning my eyes slide from one kid to the other to the other making sure everyone's staying safe. Between that, assorted bikini girls, and the general beauty of the ocean, it's hard to get reading done. Nevertheless, the open book sat in my lap. One of my cousins, now an adult and in college, was less than impressed with me. He wanted to know how I could possibly be entertained by such juvenile entertainment. Rather than launch into any high-fallutin answers concerning historical criticism or 'comics as an art form', I chose to embrace my passion and cop to just loving them because I love them.

The iPad makes reading comics in doctor's offices with my wife a little easier. I can sit there with an iPad and no one would ever know what I'm reading. And Lorie's next to me with her iPad, usually playing video games. As is the kid next to her. Or the adult across the aisle with a mobile phone. The video game playing in our society is abundant, but it doesn't have the same stigmas that comics do.

Should a grown man be reading comics? Should he be reading comics in public? I'll tell you my answer. I don't care. Never have and never will. I'll read what I want to read, when and where I want to read it. And chances are... I'll be reading it while wearing my Aquaman t-shirt.

And my wife will be dying of embarrassment.


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Team-up Books

Last time out, I rambled on about my love of "partner" comics, such as Captain America and the Falcon. A couple of times while writing that post, I accidentally wrote "team-up" to discuss the style of sub-genre.

Team-up books are different. And glorious in their own right.

The Team-up comics of the seventies and eighties were headlined by one major hero, and had one 'guest star'. The major books were Brave and the Bold with Batman, DC Comics Presents with Superman, Marvel Team-Up with Spider-Man, and Marvel Two-in-One with the Thing.

I had several of these books growing up. And in my case, they usually served to introduce me to characters I didn't know. Which is kinda what they were all about.

This is how I learned about the Metal Men:

I got this comic as part of the long car trip in the summer of 1977. We moved from Texas to upstate New York and made several summer vacation style stops along the way. My mother had a huge bag of comics and I would get a couple of new ones every day. I read the heck out of this comic. Studied every, glorious page of Jim Aparo artwork. Committed the Metal Men to memory. And practiced how to read Tin's dialogue.

The Metal Men character Tin stutters. It's his character trait.

And when we arrived at my Grandmother Lomax's house in North Carolina, I was excited to show her how well I could read by reading the page with the most Tin dialogue.

Tin stutters.

I can still picture her face, a complete mask of stress and worry, as I looked up having completed my read through of the page. I wasn't sure what was upsetting her so much. And it took me several days to figure out what had gone wrong.

Sigh. I had just assumed she knew all about Tin, the Metal Men, and the character's stuttering speech impediment. I made similar mistakes frequently.

The Jim Aparo artwork of those Brave and Bold comics ingrained itself into my brain, I loved it so. I could tell the difference between artists starting at a very early age, and Aparo's work ranked up there with Dick Dillin and Mike Grell in my seventies-influenced childhood. Jack Kirby... Kirby's just in a different category.

Today, there are almost no team-up books. The reason is quite simple. Modern comics rely on 'decompression'. They tell stories over the span of six or more issues, instead of the done-in-one comics I grew up on. This is in order to sell more comics, keep readers coming back, and be able to provide content for trade paperbacks to be sold in bookstores. The done-in-one team-up book, with a new guest star every month, is difficult to pull off and still meet this guideline.

There are a few exceptions, writers who have proved it can be done. But nothing like the team-up books I grew up with.


Monday, April 8, 2013

Super Hero Partnerships

When I was a kid, I loved Captain America and the Falcon. It was a team-up book with two partners. It helped a lot that the art was by Jack Kirby, my personal hero of a comic book artist. But there was something more to it. I really liked the idea that they were partners.

You don't find that often in today's comics. But in the late sixties and early seventies, it was kind of a thing. The format was that you would take one headliner, a hero that could hold his own book, and match him up with one second stringer. A hero that the publisher felt couldn't sustain his own series.

The two most notable examples are Captain America and the Falcon, and Green Lantern and Green Arrow. These two titles were among my favorites as a kid.

That simple premise has two alterations. The first is two enormously popular heroes jammed together. Superman and Batman headlined World's Finest for years. And the disparities of their partnership was what made the team up interesting.

There's a guy at work that insists that "Batman is not a super hero". He's not a comic book reader, and is basing his argument on the fact that Batman has no powers. It's a good premise, but really.... this is a character routinely lumped in with other 'super heroes' in the Justice League.

In the 1940's, the distinction was more clear cut. Superman was seen as a 'super hero' that would respond to any situation that couldn't be handled by normal man. Batman was more of a masked crime fighter. This explanation seemed to please my co-worker.

The other alteration to the team-up premise is to match up two heroes whose solo books aren't doing all that great. Maybe the readers of both heroes would each buy the new title and double sales. The approach has had limited success. Hawkman and the Atom were squeezed together in the late sixties, and their book was cancelled soon after.

The pairing of Power Man and Iron Fist gave both characters a needed boost and they successfully held their book for years, until finally falling under the ax. But the team-up is well remembered by fans and they keep popping up paired together in the Marvel universe because of these fond memories.

There are many things about comics that I wish they would bring back. Team-up books are high on the list. But that wish still falls far behind 'good stories' and 'younger readers'.