It used to be that the death of a superhero was an “Imaginary Story” or a What If…? tale. Then, with the death of Superman in 1992, it became all about the publicity, the sales boost, the net dollars.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the accountants. The impermanence, the easy reversibility of death trampled on the audience’s feelings; we felt disrespected and we fought back in the only way we could – with our wallets. And the companies answered with more stunts and more exploitative stories in which heroes like Captain America and Spider-Man died and were brought back, or supporting characters like Aunt May and Jason Todd died and were brought back, and when that stopped working, they revived long-dead characters like Bucky Barnes.
Sometimes it works out. The morphing of Bucky into the Winter Soldier was and continues to be a brilliant piece of storytelling.
And sometimes people who are dead stay dead. Gwen Stacy. Uncle Ben. Karen Page. Thomas and Martha Wayne. Jor-El and Lara. Their deaths are constant echoes in the lives of Spider-Man and Daredevil and Batman and Superman. Their lives continue to reverberate in the hearts of those who loved them.
My father died a week ago today. His death will be a constant echo in my life. His life will always reverberate in my heart.
“…More importantly, the personal touch provokes some bracing moments that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. It’s one thing to have Neil DeGrasse Tyson or various NASA technicians talk about how they were inspired by Spock – or even to haveTrek-loving actors like Jim Parsons and Jason Alexander say that they sympathize with stories of Nimoy staying mostly in character when his show wasn’t shooting. But only Adam Nimoy could comment knowledgeably about what it was like to have a drunken argument with Leonard Nimoy and then walk out into a world where images of Mr. Spock were impossible to avoid. The best scenes inFor The Love Of Spock are the most conventional, featuring famous folk praising a pop culture legend. But the scenes that most linger in the mind are more like the one where the director confesses his complicated feelings about his father to another Spock, Zachary Quinto. It’s moving to know that even Nimoy’s son is as in thrall to an icon as the rest of us.” – Noel Murray, AV Club.com
“Leonard Nimoy was an artist who defined a timeless character.” – Andy Webster, New York Times
“The 1963 Corvette received a major restyling, new mechanics and a new name: ‘Stingray.’ Zora Arkus-Duntov convinced the brass at GM to include independent rear suspension on the ’63 because he convinced them he could sell 30,000 cars if they had it. The passenger compartment was still kept far to the rear of the car to allow the engine/transmission to sit behind the centerline of the front wheels. This allowed for a better weight ratio (47/53) that improved handling. The ’63 Corvette included new twin headlights that are hidden behind an electrically operated cover. This added to the aerodynamics of the car when the headlights were not in use. The fastback coupe was also new; it included a fixed roof with a large back window that was split down the center with a body-colored bar. (This bar was very controversial and was removed in 1964, making the ’63 very unique.) The car now had recessed non-functional hood lovers. Front fender louvers and ribbed rocker panels replaced the coves on the earlier models. The coupe also has lovers at the back of the side windows. The dash has circular gauges with black faces and the earlier models have storage space under the seats. Air conditioning, power brakes, and power-assisted steering were now available options.• Total 1963 Corvette Stingrays Built: 21,513 • Convertibles: 10, 919 • Coupes: 10, 594” – www.vettefacts.com
So, whass up, people? Sorry I wasn’t here last week, but a big thanks to Editor Mike (Gold) for the very funny piece he posted in my absence. Only laugh I had about Thanksgiving this year – nope, Turkey Day was not fun.
And what did I do the rest of the weekend, besides recover from my intestinal woes? Which really didn’t end until Monday morning, when I woke up “bright-eyed and busy-tailed” and really bummed out over what could have been a great four-day holiday from work?
Well, for one thing, I watched For the Love of Spock on Amazon Prime. A documentary originally intended to celebrate the much beloved Vulcan as part of Star Trek’s 50th anniversary celebration, Adam Nimoy – son of Leonard, originator of the idea, and director of many acclaimed television shows including Star Trek: The Next Generation, Ally McBeal, Gilmore Girls, and NYPD Blue – expanded the project into a love sonnet to his father and his long, successful careers as an actor, and later, a photographer. In order to do both the film and his father justice, Adam sought crowdfunding in June 2015 in order to raise enough money to meet the licensing fees needed to use clips, stills, and archival footage from Paramount Pictures and CBS. The month-long campaign on Kickstarter grabbed attention, and by the end of the month (June 2015), Adam had raised $662,640 from 9,439 lovers of Spock and Leonard from around the world.
Was it worth it? Are you kidding? Im-not-so-ho, it’s worth every cent. It’s just a totally wonderful movie, with interviews from William Shatner, Nichelle Nichols, Simon Pegg, J.J. Abrams, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, and many others, including Leonard’s brother, sister-in-law, his daughter and grandchildren. Adam himself pulls no punches, talking about the raucous and rough relationship he had with his father until, in adulthood, the two men found their way back to family and love. (Adam directed his father in the remake of the classic episode, I, Robot on the revived Outer Limits, which ran from 1995 to 2002 on Showtime, SyFy – God, how I hate that spelling! – and in syndication.)
Seriously, people, devote a little more than an hour and watch this!
Hmm, what else?
I read Mike Gold’s column about Patton Oswalt with interest, being a fan of The Goldbergs (Wednesday, ABC) and knowing that Mr. Oswalt narrates the show, playing the writer and creator Adam Goldberg as he tells the story of his family. I then clicked on the link within Mike’s column to take me to Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee and Jerry’s cup of joe with Patton – and you’re right, Mike, Mr. Oswalt’s Death of Superman is an absolutely fabulous idea!!! So much better than Doomsday – though after rewatching that monstrosity on HBO last week, part of my face-in-the-toilet Thanksgiving weekend (as if I wasn’t suffering enough) I do have to say that the best part of the movie, the only part that got me hooked and made me forget my woes were those last minutes as Wonder Woman fought the creature. Oh, right, Superman and Batman were there, too.
Anyway, then I started browsing CICGC, ‘cause I haven’t been on the site for a while, and watched Jerry have coffee with Barak Obama at the White House. Jerry calls him “thecoolest President ever!,” and you know what? Just to see Barak behind the wheel of Jerry’s 1963 Corvette Stingray – the coolest car ever!!! – well, “I’m hip, bro.”
Can you even imagine President – God, how I shiver as I type this – Donald J. Trump behind the wheel of the coolest car ever!!!
The comedian / actor / writer / producer has a list of credits longer than Reed Richards’ arm, and if I mention just some of the shows he’s been in (or voiced) that I enjoyed, you’ll understand why I think he’s tapped into my cable feed. But, in the interest of full disclosure, this personal list includes Justified, Agents of SHIELD, Community, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Futurama, Burn Notice, Veep, Archer, and Static Shock. He’s co-starring in the newly revived Mystery Science Theater 3000 playing the latest newest member of the Forrester family. And he steals the spotlight in Foil, one of Weird Al Yankovic’s best videos.
If somebody semi-knowledgeable told me Oswalt is one of the guys in the Daleks cans, I’d probably believe ‘em.
He’s made no secret of his being a comic book fan – he pitched a “death of Superman” story to Jerry Seinfeld (himself a Superman fan) on Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee that I would love to see in print. I should note that he built part of his stand-up act around his enthusiasm before Geek Culture became fashionable. And, for personal reasons I won’t go into here, I can testify that Patton Oswalt’s heart is where his act is.
But this time, he’s outdone himself. When Justice League Action premieres in a few weeks, he’ll be joining such stalwarts as Sean Astin, Kevin Conroy, John DiMaggio, Michael Dorn, Mark Hamill, Ken Jeong, Carl Reiner (yow!), Armin Shimerman, Brent Spiner, Tara Strong, and James Woods behind the microphone. Fine; a good gig is a wonderful thing to behold.
However, Oswalt is voicing one of the most obscure characters in the DC multiverse. He’s voicing Space Cabbie.
If you were to respond with “who?” well, I couldn’t blame you. Shortly after that meteor snuffed the dinosaurs, DC Comics was publishing a lot of continuing characters in their science fiction comics. Adam Strange is – deservedly – the best known; Space Ranger, the Atomic Knights, Ultra The Multi-Alien are among the many others. And Space Cabbie – or Space Cabby, depending on who was paying attention at the time – is among the more obscure.
His adventures ran in Mystery In Space between 1954 and 1958 and, comic book continuity being akin to those arcade claw machines, has been revived for guest-shots several times in recent decades. But not so many as to release him from obscurity.
I doubt that when Patton was asked which character he’d like to voice, he spurted out “Space Cabbie!” Actually I doubt he was asked at all – but, being a fellow fanboy and knowing his work and his dedication to our medium… well, I wouldn’t be surprised if Space Cabbie were Patton Oswalt’s choice.
Justice League Action starts its weekly run on Cartoon Network December 16th. Check your local listings to see if you have local listings. And Patton Oswalt, thankfully, is everywhere.
Yesterday, in a fit of inertia, I watched five episodes of Bosch on Amazon Prime. The show is based on Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch, a detective in a series of terrific books by Michael Connelly.
It’s a good enough show, at least so far. It moves at its own pace, so I had plenty of time to wonder about weird, related stuff. Would I look like star Titus Welliver if I was a man, since we have the same bags under our eyes and the same beginner jowls? Don’t the female characters in the books have more to do than look at Harry with adoring eyes? Is that a part of Los Angeles I’ve been to, or has it been in a million other movies? Why aren’t there more food trucks in the LA on this show? Why aren’t there more food trucks in my neighborhood right now?
Once I was satisfied with my answers to those questions, I started to compare the phenomenon of binge-watching to reading a collected trade paperback collection of comic book series.
It is most satisfying to binge-watch programs made to be binged. By this, I mean that Orange Is the New Black, House of Cards, Grace and Frankie and, yes, Bosch work better than American network shows like Supernatural (which I’m trying to get into because it’s a popular Internet meme and I should know what’s going on) or even Buffy, the Vampire Slayer. Television shows can work when you watch them once a week, when you need to be reminded who the different characters are and what happened. When you watch them all at once, it’s really annoying to be told the same things over and over (and over and over) again.
However, watching, say, the fifth episode of Bosch (or any other show designed for bingeing) would be less satisfying than watching the fifth episode of Buffy because of that lack of repetition. Each episode of a network drama is designed to be self-contained. When you watch any episode, you can tell who the main characters are, what kind of people they are, and what is at stake for them.
When I started to read comic books, each issue was designed to be self-contained. Regular readers might know more about the backgrounds of the characters, but the publishers knew that every issue might be somebody’s first. Every issue had a beginning, a middle and an end.
Even in the 1990s, when comic book sagas were planned to span several issues, each issue still had a complete story. If there was something from a previous issue that the reader needed to know, the creators and editors found a way to work that in, either with a flashback or dialogue. The best-selling collected edition at the time, The Death of Superman, can be maddening to read in one sitting, precisely because the necessary plot points are repeated so often.
The inside-out version of this is also true, at least for me. When I read a series that seems to be designed to be collected, I often forget what’s happening between issues (and I can’t always find my previous issues, but that’s a house-keeping problem of mine, not a general cultural crisis). Most recently, I notice this with Letter 44, a series I really like. And I’d like it much better if I could remember who the good guys and bad guys were from one issue to the next.
Comic book economics are such that it is not always possible to publish a graphic novel all at once. Those monthly pamphlets let the publishers amortize the costs over a longer term, so there is less risk. I get that. I get that so much that I want to support unusual work that needs my money upfront, at the pamphlet stage. I want artists and writers to get paid as often as possible.
There has to be a better way to do this than we’re doing it now. Either we need a better publishing plan, or we need better drugs for my memory.
Yesterday I ran into a friend from high school as I was leaving the supermarket. He told me that he is moving to a smaller place and so he’s trying to sell off his comics collection, which runs into the thousands and thousands. He’s going to keep some of them because he loves them, and for posterity, and for hopefully great value in the future. But he hasn’t been able to offload most of them – which I said probably has something to do with the economy, because even if the Dow is over 18,000 and the unemployment rate is under 5.5%, most everyone is keeping their Washingtons and their Lincolns and their Benjamins in their wallet or under the bed. He also told me that once DC’s two-month limited series Convergence is done in April, he’s also going to be done with comics.
“Why?” I asked.
“Because all it is now is one big cataclysmic event leading into another,” he said. “It’s boring, it doesn’t mean anything, and I’m not wasting any more money on the shit.”
Yeah. I get it.
Back in the eighties the comics industry was experiencing a boom in great visual storytelling that was busting down all the preconceived notions about comics. No more pop-art balloons. No more women whose only aim in life was to become a Mrs. fill-in-your-favorite-single-super-guy here. No more “*choke* *gasp* *sob* How ironic!” neatly wrapped up endings. Stories became more complex; the superheroes weren’t always red-white-and-blue American good guys who always saved the day.
Yes, Marvel had been doing this since the introduction of Spider-Man in Amazing Fantasy #15, cover-dated August 1962, but across the country there was an explosion of energy in the eighties: the independent market took root and prospered, the Comics Code Authority seal vanished from covers, the Brits launched a second pop culture invasion, and people were openly readingcomics on the subways, on the buses, at work, and at school. The story ruled, man!
Comic historians can tell you when it exactly happened, but I know that it was after Crisis on Infinite Earths and Secret Wars and, especially, The Death of Superman, that the story disappeared and the event took over.
Ah, The Death of Superman – everyone was buying multiple, multiple copies and stowing them away in attics and cedar chests and shoeboxes because everyone knew they would be worth $$$$$$ someday. Only of course millions of issues were printed and of course DC wasn’t going to really ice their licensing giant and of course the public’s ability to be sucker-punched was infinite (pun intended). So of course it will be about 500 million years before a mint copy of the issue will be worth gazillions. But of course DC made money, lots and lots of money, and generated lots and lots of publicity, including a Time magazine cover.
And so of course, the people at the top of the corporate DC ladder wanted to do it again. And again. And again. And again.
And so they did.
And Marvel did it as well. I think they started (but again, ask a comic historian for the exact stats and dates) after SecretWar I with the expansion of the X-Men line, which led to crossovers, which led to X-Men crossovers, which led to Iron Man and Thor, and Punisher expansions which led to crossovers and then to across-the-line events.
Oh, and let’s not forget the variable covers with Mylar and special graphics and holograms. And there were “3-D” pop-up pages, and double-page fold-outs and…
Dig it, man. These were all events.
But what happened to the story?
It went elsewhere…to the comics that nobody really noticed (and so got cancelled), to the book publishers who started graphic novel lines, and, especially in Marvel’s case, to the movies and television. (Although, as Marc Alan Fishman recently noted in his column last week, DC’s Flash is gettin’ it.)
John Ostrander’s column yesterday reflected on the wonderful world of robotic (computer) storytelling. He noted that these stories, and I’m using shorthand here, suck big time. Grammatically correct and all that, but no heart. No soul. No emotion.
But the Cylons evolved, and I’m guessing so will these programs, John.
Maybe not in our lifetime, old friend, or yours, but one day there will be an X-Men or a Superman or a Daredevil or a Batman written by a computer.