Monday, March 31, 2008

The Kidney Lady
(Reference here)

Howard wasn't a super-hero, so it makes sense that he didn't fight super-villains. Or at least, not real super-villains - who will shed a tear for Pro-Rata the Cosmic Accountant or the Space Turnip? The only Howard villain with any kind of staying power was Doctor Bong, and that's not necessarily because he's a good villain. Doctor Bong is one joke. Certainly, many more successful comic-book characters have been less than even one joke, but still. Doctor Bong has a bell on his head and his hand is a clapper, and his name is drug innuendo. If you can get that, you've got the character.

It's worth pointing out that perhaps the major weakness of Gerber's initial run on Howard - and even some of his later Howard stories - is an almost pathological reliance on parody. Howard himself began his career as a type of parody character. (Disney later made the legal argument that Howard was wholly derivative.) It's hard to create work of lasting significance within the narrow parameters of parody: by design the genre is ephemeral. Anyone unfamiliar with Howard who goes back to re-experience the original run for the first time might be tempted to dismiss the series based on just how many dated parodies there actually are - Star Wars, the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, Master of Kung Fu. But this was how Gerber worked, for better for worse: he invariably began with blatant parody, and proceeded inward from there. Oftentimes, reading Gerber's work, you get the feeling that he's trying to outpace his conscious mind. All the truly sublime moments in Howard's run are built on off-hand character moments, inserted tangentially in the context of elaborately silly parodies and satire. Gerber, when writing Howard, couldn't just start with the sublime and work his way outward. He had to approach it from an abstruse angle.

Howard's adventures usually followed a pattern: weird things would happen, more weird things would happen, until Howard became indignant and exhausted. The underwhelming parodic elements in his adventures were underwhelming to Howard as well as the reader, and the indignation he felt at being the unfortunate victim of such a long strong of useless adventures acted as a mirror for Gerber's own exhaustion. Gerber was grasping for something bigger than could be readily accommodated in the pages of mainstream American comic books. But then, paradoxically, the context of super-hero books was absolutely essential: if Howard had ever found himself in a world of peace and contentment, a world without struggle or humiliation, he would have had nothing against which to rail. Similarly, if Gerber had not been forced to channel his energies into the merciless confinement of mainstream Marvel, from where would his inspiration have come?

Of all the wannabe and never-were villains who crossed Howard's path, the best was without a doubt the putative "Kidney Lady". Really nothing more than a crazy bag lady who rode the bus back and forth across Cleveland all day, she became fixated on Howard for his supposed danger to the purity of human kidneys. There was some sort of conspiracy at work, apparently. Anyway, it was revealed (in the above sequence) that she had been the victim of a callous one-night stand during World War II. That was it. I think Bill Mantlo later tried to establish that she had some kind of legitimate magical powers, but Mantlo's work for the Howard the Duck magazine is best ignored. (Although, it must be noted, the Mantlo-created Ducktor Strange showed up in an issue of She-Hulk a year or so ago, and that was kind of fun.) The Kidney Lady succeeded in having Howard institutionalized - it was in the mental hospital where he met KISS, and (I believe) the Son of Satan. But it is somewhat telling that the biggest threat Howard ever faced was really nothing more than a broken-hearted and delusional bag lady, whose base of operations was Cleveland Public Transit.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Suddenly, Everything Has Changed

I'm an atheist and I don't believe in the possibility of life after death... and yet, just a few weeks after Steve Gerber's death, we have the seemingly successful culmination of the very thing for which he had spent the better part of his career fighting. Just a bit of the uncanny in that. And certainly, it's not sweeping, it's not universally applicable, and it's bound to result in years of further legal wrangling, possibly even all the way to the Supreme Court. Warner Brothers won't go down with a fight.

But this isn't some small symbolic motion in regards to an ancillary matter. This is it, the grand-daddy of them all, and by strange coincidence perfectly timed for the character's 70th birthday in just a few days. It's not very often in life that such monumentally important issues can be boiled down to stark black and white, but sometimes it does happen. Not very damn often, but often enough to make all the other crap seem not so important after all.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Did You Know...?

Magno-Ball is not actually the most popular sport of the 31st century? It's Knife Ball, a 26th century variation of Australian-rules Rugby played with knives?

Fantagraphics co-founder Gary Groth is also the original keyboardist for 80s funk icons Cameo?

Harvey Pekar hasn't actually lived in Cleveland since 1992? He bought an artisanal dairy farm in west Texas in 1992!

The real reason for Clyde Fans' delays? Skrull spoilers!

Garfield is actually played by three different cats!

Since his retirement, Steve Ditko spends all day drawing Spider-Man and Dr. Strange stories, "just for fun".

All the manga in the United States is actually bought by twelve people, who "don't want the creators' feelings to be hurt"!

Alan Moore is actually a Presbyterian.

Mad Magazine owes its continued publication to a 1995 DARPA grant.

Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez are in fact the same person - Morton Hernandez. "Jaime" draws with his left hand, and "Gilbert" draws with the right!

Carl Barks, contrary to popular belief, was not actually a dog!

Tom Spurgeon moonlights as one of mainstream comics' most popular writers. Mums the word, but his non de plume apparently rhymes with "Geoff Johns".

Maus was the result of a late-night bar-bet between Art Spiegelman and Gore Vidal.

Kramers Ergot does not actually have anything to do with Kramer from the popular television series Seinfeld!

Robert Crumb has been on Paxil since 1995.

Contrary to popular belief, Superman's creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were not actually Jewish - they were Senagalese!

Chris Ware enjoys a profitable sideline as a talent scout for the Arizona Diamondbacks!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Requiem For A Waterbed

I've slept on a waterbed for eight years, since the summer of 2000. Most people have reacted with surprise or even dismay when they learn this fact: do they still make those? Isn't it uncomfortable? How often do you attend key parties while listening to Grand Funk Railroad on your eight-track player? Etc, etc.

Waterbeds are in fact extremely comfortable, as long as you buy the right kind. Unfortunately, they don't really make them anymore - or at least, you have to go out of your way to find them. The last time I needed a patch kit for my mattress I had to order it online, because none of the furniture stores in my vicinity carried waterbeds or waterbed accessories. I imagine in a few years they'll come back into vogue. Everything is cyclical, not just in comics.

But for the last six years, I've slept on an extremely uncomfortable waterbed. The traditional waterbed consists of a single bladder, but my bed had two bladders, side by side running up and down the bed. The theory behind this design - and I stress "theory", as this is not actually how it ever worked - is that two people lying side by side can adjust their sides of the mattress to fit their preferences. Hence, the person on the right side of the bed fills their bladder with more water for a firmer surface, the person on the left, less water for a softer surface. In practice, it doesn't work like that. If there is any pressure differential at all between the two sides of the bed, what happens is that the person on the firmer side inevitably rolls off that side and onto whatever side is softer. Furthermore, not only do they roll off the sides of the bed but they roll into the rut at the exact center of the bed created by the crease between the two bladders. So, instead of a relaxing waterbed experience, you basically end up huddled in a ditch, with all the weight of your body pushing down on the small of your back.

Now, the problem with a bad bed is that you usually don't figure out that it's bad until long after the fact, way too late to actually do anything about it. In our case, my ex-wife and I weren't in any position to replace it for a while (I don't think she disliked it as much as I did, in any event). When we separated, I kept the bed, and again, I was in no immediate position to replace it. But finally, there came a time when the stars aligned and I was able to make the sizeable capital investment in a new bed. (I'm cheap for most everything, but a bed is one of those things where spending the money to get a good one pays off in the long run.) And this meant that the old bed had to go.

Usually, filling and emptying waterbeds isn't very difficult. If you've done it a few times, it's actually pretty simple. In order to drain the mattress, you need to hook up a garden hose and a small PVC gadget to the kitchen faucet, in such a way that you can create an airtight siphon with the faucet, pulling the water out of the bed, through the hose and into the sink. It's essentially the same idea as siphoning gasoline from a car, only your own lung power is nowhere near strong enough to pull all those gallons out of a water mattress, so you use the force of water leaving a faucet.

In theory, as long as all the hose connections are airtight, it should be a breeze. But when I went to dismantle my bad last night - for the final time - it didn't work quite so easily. I fixed the hose, checked for air leaks, tried and retried the faucet at least a dozen times. Nothing was working. Every time I could see the siphon process beginning, something would happen to throw it off. Eventually, I reasoned that the water pressure coming out of my apartment faucet just wasn't strong enough to create enough suction. In the course of this (well over an hour spent trying to get the siphon to work), I even succeeded in filling the mattress with a sizeable amount of additional water which hadn't been there when I started. If I hadn't known better, I would have sworn that the mattress knew full well it was being put out to pasture. It was being stubborn. It didn't want to go.

And then, the situation went from bad to worse. Any time I'm doing anything even remotely interesting around the house, it becomes a source of utter fascination for Janet. Under normal circumstances, this would be immaterial; however, when you're dealing with a rubber bladder holding many, many gallons of water, you do not want the cat to be testing her claws thereupon. Do you see where this is going? I was already at my wits' end trying to get the damn mattress to siphon. I had been pushing the cat off the bed all evening to prevent just such a catastrophe from occurring (before you ask, I couldn't close the door because the hose was running between the rooms). I turned my back, she leaped on the bed and kneaded the bladder, and in a moment an awkward situation became a crisis.

Well, there was nothing for it: whereas before I had been planning on giving the mattress away, probably on Craigslist, now there was no choice: I had to get rid of this thing. The fix was in. The bed had to die.

So, I emptied the mattress by hand, carrying buckets of water from the bedroom and emptying them in the kitchen sink. When I had drained enough water to be able to move the mattress, I pulled it off the bed, across the kitchen floor and into the bathtub, where it could drain properly. Even with over half of the water removed, the bladder was still incredibly heavy. Water makes up between 45 and 75% of human body weight: it was not difficult to imagine that the weight of the rubber bladder dragging across the floor was almost exactly that of a human body. In this light, there was something pitiful about the mattress in these final moments, bleeding from multiple orifices, knowing full well that it was dying.

The second bladder took much less time than the first. I knew what needed to be done, and there weren't any unfortunate holes in the mattress caused by malicious bystanders. The bed didn't have anything left to throw at me. It was over. I wadded the two bladders up into a garbage bag and threw them into the building dumpster, an unceremonious end for a most obdurate piece of furniture.

Changing beds is not something that most people do very frequently. Dismantling my old bed brought back a raft of old memories - the circumstances behind the end of the previous bed (actually a funny story, but not mine to tell), the many moves, the good times and the bad. There is absolutely no reason to get emotionally attached to a piece of furniture, but at the same time it's still a piece of my life: I slept on that bed for longer than I was married, for goodness' sake. I've been divorced for a few years now but there are still bits and pieces of my marriage that bob up to the surface of my life now and again. With the passing of the waterbed, there's one less concrete tie to those years of my life. It's not a bad thing by any means - I hated that bed, after all, and am happy to see it out of my life - but not without an ever-so-slightly bittersweet flavor. One last trip down memory lane, as my dad is wont to say.

Oh well, enough of that maudlin shit. I used my tax refund to by a king size memory foam mattress - less than half-price because it was on clearance, but still not cheap. I've always wanted a king size bed.

Thursday, March 20, 2008


I'm still recovering from an unexpected but extremely pleasant visit that occupied the first half of the week, so posting will be sparse.

But here's a thought that occurred to me the other day. It's probably nothing, but it's still worth putting out there on the off chance I'm right, in which case I will be on record as being right.

In the build-up to Secret Invasion, Marvel is spending a lot of time ramping-up expectations - certainly understandable, but perhaps a little bit foolhardy in the context of past bait-and-switch operations that have passed for promotion in mainstream comics circles. The Big Two are nothing if not foolhardy. But still, the talk circles around the fact that something Big is going to happen. Now, how much "Big" can really happen in a series in which the biggest possible reveals - either Iron Man or (dead) Captain America are Skrulls - have been potentially telegraphed & predicted widely for a year? Furthermore, what could possibly happen in the pages of Secret Invasion that could warrant the kind of mainstream press attention Tom Brevoort has implied the story will receive?

I guess my tentative answer to these question revolve around another, simpler question: how much in the way of guts do you think Marvel has? Do you think they've got the stones to make the "Big Reveal" of Secret Invasion be that . . .

the President of the United States is really a Skrull?

There's precedence, but nowhere near on this scale. Under Steve Englehart's tenure, Captain America saw the president - sort-of - commit suicide at the climax of a pseudo-Watergate scandal in the mid-70s. Later on, Mark Gruenwald had Captain America - then simply The Captain - battle Ronald Reagan in the Oval Office, ultimately impaling him with a flagpole. (Reagen had been turned into a giant snake at the time, and the post-Iran-Contra symbolism was lost on exactly no-one). Both of these occasions, it must be noted, occurred in the context of perceived instability in the executive branch. Both of these occasions also coincided or paralleled one of Captain America's periodic identity crisis - in the first case, the President's suicide triggered Steve Rogers' first sustained abandonment of the Captain America identity; in the second case, Rogers had been stripped of the identity by the government and replaced by a psychotic goon with an overtly-conservative political agenda. In America today we've also got an unstable executive branch, and in the books themselves a substitute Captain America wears Steve Rogers' uniform, with the real deal (presumably) in the grave.

Both of the previous storylines, while certainly memorable, occurred solely in the context of Cap's own book. Secret Invasion isn't just a single book, so it'd be hard to ignore, and even harder to predict the reaction if reader perception shifted negatively. (Bush is as unpopular as any President has ever been in living memory, but even given that he's still got a rock-solid 25-30% of the electorate behind him.) It would be a big move on Marvel's part: it's perhaps the one thing that could come out of this storyline that could possibly reproduce Death-of-Cap-scale headlines and attention. Regardless of whether or not fandom as a whole warms to the book itself, it would ensure blockbuster sales - not merely successful sales, but potentially Death-of-Cap numbers. And as opposed to the aforementioned Death of Cap book, the open-ended nature of such a revelation might actually bring new customers back for issue #2. Whereas many laymen might have (naturally) assumed that Captain America #25 was the end of the story - most peoples' experience of death does not naturally imply a sequel, after all - if the big reveal on the last page of Secret Invasion #1 happens to be that George W. Bush is really a Skrull, well, you might conceivably get real-world people excited about reading issue #2.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Breaking News

After setting the internet on fire with the release of advance promotional pics of the Watchmen cast members in costume, the studio finally relented to frequent demand and released the long-anticipated first pic of Doctor Manhattan!

(Seriously NSFW.)

(I don't want you to get fired.)

Click here for the EXCLUSIVE pic!

In all seriousness, I am laughing my ass off at how many people are getting excited about these pics. I mean, I love Watchmen to death, and I'll probably even see the movie - but what are we, twelve? Do we need Hollywood to make a movie out of our favorite book in order to endow some "legitimacy" onto our inferiority complexes? I can't wait until we see the Watchmen toys - invariably, there will be toys. If you've actually read Watchmen, you know that the book itself is well-inoculated against the kind of extra-textual corruption provided by big-budget merchandising extravaganzas. The book has an entire section devoted to how silly and dangerous merchandising is, for God's sake.

It's not enough to say that Hollywood is missing the point, because they always miss the point, it's their job to miss the point. They don't make money if they don't miss the point. But it's nonetheless funny that they have missed the point, by creating a big commercialized tent-pole film starring a megalomaniacal supervillain who manipulates the commercial-saturated mass-media to achieve his ends. You can argue that movie adaptations of V For Vendetta and From Hell are travesties - in both cases, they were - but for Watchmen, the existence of the movie, however bad it may be, actually does add something to the book, in a metatextual sort-of way. When I pass the Watchmen toys lined up in the toy store (or Newbury Comics, assuming the movie is rated R or a hard PG-13 and the toys are only aimed at older collectors), I will smile when I think of Adrian Veidt perusing the tear-sheets for the little plastic Rorschach with his Action Grappling Hook accessory.

Even Alan Moore would crack a smile over that little irony...

Friday, March 07, 2008

Proof That Cyclops Is A Skrull,
or That Ed Brubaker Is Lazy

Hmmm, perhaps he doesn't he doesn't remember the year he spent living in a giant Celestial ship situated in Manhattan harbor? The one Apocalypse used as a base for a few thousand years?

Yeah, the one in the background there.

Later, the Celestial ship was pulled from earth by the Celestials for some reason or another relating to some kind of outer-space shenanigans which I really don't remember very well, except for the fact that Cyclops most certainly got well acquainted with the Celestials.

One of them even tried to step on him:

But he got his own back, later, even succeeding in blasting Arishem the Judge's arm off:

How many people in the universe can say they've blown a limb off a Celestial? I guess when you've lived as action-packed a life as Cyclops, stuff like that just doesn't rate remembering.

So, yeah.

Whatever did happen to Rich Buckler, anyway?

EDIT:HOLY SHIT, this is apparently what happened to Rich Buckler. I have to say this is one of the oddest, if not the oddest, post-comics statements I've ever seen from anyone. Spend some time looking around the site and you'll see what I mean...
The Vision of Piers the Plowman
Part One

Wednesday, March 05, 2008


OK, remember how I said I was going to post? Well, then I ran head first into the Week From Hell. However, since I feel bad about leaving you all with nothing, I'll give you some one-or-two-sentence NERD thoughts you can take up in the comments, if you wish:

Do you think DC is using the much-maligned Countdown series as a way to clear the decks of a number of dead-end and unpopular plot threads before Final Crisis hits? If yes, was this the plan all along or did they switch plans once they saw how unpopular all the Countdown-related actually were?

She-Hulk: Peter David is capable of writing good, fun comics when he wants to, but his first arc on this series is poor enough to bring into doubt the question of whether the series will last long enough to get to a second Peter David story arc.

Shooter on the Legion: still cooking with butane, but three issues in the lack of interesting villains is starting to be felt. Admittedly, this is a weakness of a lot of Legion stories, but that doesn't make it Ok...

Am I the only one who thinks that Grant Morrison's Batman is simply not very good?

Idea: some Skrull agents are so deep they may not even know themselves that they are actually Skrulls - the ultimate sleeper. Would allow them to have their cake and eat it to in regards to Iron Man - as well as enabling agents to pass muster with psychics.

Another idea: they haven't come out and explicitly said the X-Men won't be involved in the Skrull business, and given how much the X-books suffered from being on far the periphery of Civil War, I imagine they are thinking long and hard about how to tie the mutant books closer to this upcoming event. With that said, if any X-Man is a Skrull, my money is on Cyclops.

Call me a sucker, but I'm enjoying Geoff Johns' Legion story in Action. I guess I just really love the Legion.

Sunday, March 02, 2008


I was gonna post some more Howard stuff, honest, but then I found this...