One of the surprise hits of the summer as been MANHATTAN, WGN’s fictional take on the creation of the atomic bomb and the people who designed it. Tony award winning actor, John Benjamin Hickey talks about his role on the series and what it’s like playing around in the past. Plus it may seem crazy, but these guys go to abandoned hospitals and creepy sanitariums looking for the weird and unworldly. Meet the guys from GHOST ASYLUM, a new series on Destination America.
To quote Michael Corleone, “Just when I thought I was out … they pull me back in.”
Seriously, I thought after two columns I had exhausted the exhausting “Iron Jonah” storyline which is still running in the Amazing Spider-Man newspaper strip. I mean, one week I wrote about how J. Jonah Jameson lied to Tony Stark and got his hands on an old suit of Iron Man armor, then used it to try to capture Spider-Man by chasing him all over Manhattan while shooting repulsor rays indiscriminately at buildings and streets. I wrote about how said acts could – and should – have resulted in JJJ being prosecuted criminally and sued civilly for the wanton property damage he caused.
Then, in the next column, I wrote about how the same people who sued JJJ for property damage could also sue Tony Stark – he of the much deeper pockets – for negligently entrusting the Iron Man armor to JJJ which JJJ used to cause the property damage. I even outlined five theories under which the plaintiffs in these suits could have proven their case of negligent entrustment against Tony Stark. The first was strict liability, wherein a person does something so inherently dangerous that the plaintiff doesn’t have to prove negligence or fault. (I wrote about strict liability, even if, like someone who was as big an idiot as Tony Stark was, I didn’t call it that by name.) So, because I didn’t call it by name, and because I love the sound of my own voice even when I’m not speaking but writing, let me expound briefly on strict liability.
Okay, a promise is a promise. And I promised to lay off the Superior Spider-Man this week. Lucky for me there’s still an Amazing Spider-Man.
I know you think there aren’t any new Amazing Spider-Man stories right now, but I assure you there are. Where? Well, in the words of the philosopher, “See you in the funny papers.”
In the Amazing Spider-Man newspaper strip – where J. Jonah Jameson is still the editor/publisher of The Daily Bugle, not mayor; Peter Parker is still Spider-Man, not Doctor Octopus; and Peter and Mary Jane still have at least one more day of marital bliss – they’re running a story in which JJJ is trying to unmask Spider-Man. (JJJ? Lois Lane? What is it about alliterative initials and secret identities?)
No, I don’t mean it’s a world of erotic fantasies, BDSM role-playing games, and dominance. Although if it were, can you imagine how that would change the popular Disney attraction “It’s a Small World?” (And I apologize for having put that now unwashable image into your minds.)
What I mean is that the world isn’t just “white hats” and “black hats,” good or evil. It’s a world of grey tones where everyone has some good and some evil, where everyone is grey. Some people are more good than evil, while others are more evil than good, which is why there are shades of grey; at least fifty of them if bad literature can be believed.
Otto Octavius, the former Doctor Octopus and now the controlling mentality in the body of Peter Parker, who is trying to prove he’s a “white hat” by being a superior Spider-Man is proving instead that, like Batman in The Lego Movie, he “only work[s] in black. And sometimes, very, very dark grey.” And the world around him is trending darker too, like it’s got some sort of Goth hashtag.
The fall of the Marvel Universe’s first family continues this April in FANTASTIC FOUR #3 – from the explosive creative team of James Robinson and Leonard Kirk! The Fantastic Four have saved Manhattan from an inter-dimensional invasion – but the cost was severe. What was once a team of four has been reduced to three. Is this the end of the Human Torch? Plus – don’t miss the introduction of a stronger, even deadlier WRECKING CREW! But with the team down one member, will the Fantastic Four be strong enough to stop them? Fans will not want to miss FANTASTIC FOUR #3 this April!
FANTASTIC FOUR #3 (FEB140733)
Written by JAMES ROBINSON
Art by LEONARD KIRK
Cover by JOHN ROMITA JR.
Variant Cover by JG JONES (FEB140734)
Well, my friends, here we are, home after a weekend of adventure down south in horse country.
That’s a lie.
We intended to spend the weekend in Lexington, Kentucky, but we never got there. Friday/travel day, we got up at the crack of eight a.m., which for us is pretty early, and arrived at the Westchester airfield on time. The line in front of U.S. Air’s counter seemed unusually long and, after a fidgety while, we were facing an airline employee and learning the reason for the long wait: the flight had been cancelled and no other flights to our destination would be leaving that day. The best the very accommodating agent could do would require us to drive through New York traffic to another airport, change planes somewhere in the journey, and arrive in Lexington after the con had closed. We didn’t know about travel the following day, but assuming it was possible, we wouldn’t arrive until the con was, in all likelihood, mostly history. So I made one of those snap decisions we often regret and cancelled the whole trip. Then I spent much of the ensuing three days wishing I’d pushed harder, tried harder, mostly to assuage my conscience. I hate not doing what I’ve said I’ll do – would I have succeeded in politics? – and I felt I owed the Kentuckians something, which is a long story not to be told here.
So, instead of enjoying the bluegrass turf, we came home and eventually did a movies-on-demand viewing of Veronica Mars. I used to call Veronica’s television show a guilty pleasure. But why guilty? It was, in retrospect. a perfectly acceptable mass entertainment, maybe a cut or two above most of its kind. I didn’t miss the explosions or car chases – there were none – and the violence was well-choreographed, but fairly mild, and not overused. The plot was multi-layered and reasonably complex, but again, is this something we want to complain about? The ending left the sequel door wide open, but hey – this is the twenty first century media and am I not contemplating a sequel to my grocery list? (Bet there’ll be one, too.)
Which brings us to today. March 17. St. Patrick’s Day. Our annual bacchanalia. The first bacchanalia was begun in early history to honor the god bacchus. Our version is, as I type, being celebrated about 25 miles to the south, in Manhattan, among many other places, and presumably exists to honor a Christian saint named Patrick who allegedly evicted the snakes from Ireland, though a skeptic might say that the snakes symbolized the so-called pagans. That might include some of you, but not to worry: you almost certainly don’t live in fifth-century Ireland.
If you live in twenty first century Manhattan, well…maybe being a pagan is the least of your worries.
“You see things; and you say ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say ‘Why not?’”
George Bernard Shaw
“Back to Methuselah” (1921)
President Barak Obama is a visionary. Which is great. It’s important for the President of the United States to be a visionary, to be able to inspire. That’s how Barak Obama became President in 2008.
But once elected, it’s not enough to be a visionary. You need to know how to put that vision into effect.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy knew how to do that. Ronald Wilson Reagan knew how to do that.
President Barak Obama – and I can’t believe I’m saying this – does not.
The Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, is in real trouble. The website is a disaster – where is Oracle when we need her? – and those who have been able to sign up are finding that their personal health care providers are not participating and that only a limited amount of hospitals are participants. A woman speaking to Brian Lehrer on NPR a couple days ago told him that the only hospital she can go to under the ACA is Lenox Hill in Manhattan, and while Lenox Hill is a very fine institution, the woman lives out on the Island, as in Long. (And for those of you not in the metropolitan New York City area, trust me, when you are sick enough to need hospital care, you do not want to drive on the Long Island Expressway as your life is ticking away and you are crawling along the asphalt at as much as 10 miles an hour.) Meanwhile insurance companies are happily cancelling policies because they don’t measure up to the ACA’s parameters because the premiums for ACA approved policies are more expensive.
(Once again the insurance companies have figured out how to make a buck off of people’s miseries – I can just hear the board of directors of Horizon, Aetna, Oxford, Cigna, and all the rest at their meetings: “Okay, no more lifetime caps, no more pre-existing condition bans, but here, look at Paragraph IV for example – everyone has to have maternity care in their plan, which means we can charge the client for that even if the client is male. And that’s just Paragraph IV. Yes, no worries, we can make up for any potential losses and we have the ACA and the President to thank for that.”) And the Repugnanticans are having a field day, gleefully attacking our Marxist, Maoist, Socialist, Kenyan Muslim President every which way they can. And though you, my faithful readers, know that I am a staunch Democrat and supporter of the man currently living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, I gotta say…
What the fuck, man!
You go and approve the hiring of a Canadian tech company to build the web site? And to make matters even worse, it’s a company that has a botched record! To quote from the Washington Times (granted, a very conservative paper, but they are right in this):
“Canadian provincial health officials last year fired the parent company of CGI Federal, the prime contractor for the problem-plagued Obamacare health exchange websites, the Washington Examiner has learned.
“CGI Federal’s parent company, Montreal-based CGI Group, was officially terminated in September 2012 by an Ontario government health agency after the firm missed three years of deadlines and failed to deliver the province’s flagship online medical registry.”
For someone who is about jobs, jobs, jobs for Americans, I just don’t get it. Why didn’t the President just go to Microsoft or Apple? Why didn’t he call up Bill Gates or Steve Jobs (before he died, of course) and ask them for advice, i.e., give me the names of the best and the brightest in the IT biz. I want them to build what I believe will be the most important website in American history.
That’s what I would have done.
Seriously, man, what the fuck?
Now I hate working for a micro-manager. You know the type – he or she has got his or her nose in your face every second of every hour of the workday, and just won’t leave you alone to get your job done.
But the President of the United States has to be, in so many ways, a micro-manager. A hands-on guy. He – or she? Go, Hillary! – has to know what’s going on, has to have his – or her. Go, Hillary! – nose in your face every second of every hour of the workday. The President always has to be one step – or a hundred yards, or a million-zillion miles – in front of the crowd.
Because ultimately, as that plaque on Harry Truman’s desk read – The buck stops here.
And it doesn’t do any good to admit to that after the fact, as Obama did last Wednesday.
Imagine: the word Shazam is uttered and Boom! – from the far reaches of nether being a lightning bolt, a very peculiar looking lightning bolt, flashes toward Earth. But something goes amiss! A crack in the cosmic egg? A misalignment of creational energies? Instead of altering a red-sweatered youngster into a larger and much, much mightier version of himself, the boomer veers through a twilight zone and a lot of alternate dimensions and…
… there I am, newly arrived in New York City, standing on a sidewalk, puzzled. I’m supposed to begin my comic book job today, but the Marvel Comics office is closed – closed at ten in the morning! – and as I look around, I see that most of the stores on Madison Avenue are also closed. What the heck? Isn’t this a plain old weekday? What’s with the closing?
I know no one in the city except Roy Thomas, and I don’t know where he’s staying. But I remember a name that was mentioned in a Marvel comic book: Flo Steinberg. I find a pay phone. (Ah, yes, pay phones. Remember them?) Ms. Steinberg is listed in the directory and I put a coin into a slot and dial her number. A pleasantly feminine voice answers and after a brief conversation, I have the answer I sought. Stores and offices are closed because this is something we didn’t have in the Missouri town where I was, until three days previous, a newspaper reporter: a Jewish holiday. Specifically, Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.
I didn’t know, on that Manhattan morning 48 years ago, that Rosh Hashanah was a new year’s celebration – I’d probably never even heard the words “Rosh Hashanah” – but the holiday and my life were in fortuitous synchronization: the Jews were beginning a new year and I was beginning a new life. I was undergoing a transformation, not as arresting as the morphing of the red-sweatered kid into a red-costumed superhero, but considerably more enduring
Flo told me how to find Roy, who was rooming with Dave Kaler in a lower east side tenement. I sought him out and the next morning, which wasn’t any kind of holiday, he introduced me to Stan Lee and…Shazam? I entered a building at Fifty Ninth and Madison a smarty-ass journalist and, eight hours later, exited it a comic book guy, probably a little less smarty-ass.
Hours and days and years and decades filled up. Comic books evolved from what was widely considered to be disreputable trash into a recognized and reputable narrative form and I evolved into…what? Somebody with the same name as the twenty-something who stood on Madison Avenue, puzzled – a slender fellow with hair, he was – into who or whatever is sitting in front of a computer – a computer? – and typing these words.
Here we are again, in a bardo state. (Note: “Bardo,” as all you Tibetan Buddhists know – and among our readers, you are legion – refers to an intermediate state, as between one life and the next. I’ll use it to mean any state between a current important thing and the important thing one is anticipating. I don’t know what the Dalai Lama thinks about this, but I hope he approves.)
Where was I? Oh yeah, between the end of summer and the beginning of fall. For me, this year, it seems to be a time of nostalgia. Today, for example, is the anniversary of the day, 25 years ago, that I met a woman who had been, 30 years earlier, a girl to whom I’d given, as a birthday present, a subscription to Mad Magazine. Unknown to me, she had maintained that subscription all those years and so, learning that I’d become a comic book writer might not have been deeply surprising to her, (Maybe slightly surprising? I mean, does anyone really become a comic book writer?) I’d forgotten the gift subscription and what I find interesting about it is that back then, in my late teens, I still had some tenuous connection to comics. Before the girl-turned-woman gave me a reminder, I thought I’d abandoned comics much earlier, before I shut a figurative door with the cold breath of an individual I shall call Sister Henrietta still chilling the nape of my neck.
Then, off to school plays and speech contests and the misery men know as military high school and girls…one girl in particular. There was an annual bardo, that occurred just about now, when the frolicsome summer days were expiring and school loomed and you couldn’t help but wonder what lay between you and Christmas. (Note: the days weren’t always that frolicsome because, there was work to be done, my family being one of modest means sustained by a neighborhood grocery store and I’d better get out of this parenthesis before I begin ranting about how the kids of today don’t know how good they got it…and, work or no, we did manage some fun, and even a bit of goofiness.)
Okay, now imagine a montage of uniformed service and slum living and empty highways and empty rooms and empty bottles and Manhattan office buildings and hospital wards and protests and anything else you’d care to imagine and end your montage with me meeting the girl-turned woman in the vestibule of a church, both of us a ripe middle age, accompanied by our grown children, walking between the pews to the altar to speak vows I’d typed on file cards – not great vows, but they did the job. That was August 19, 1988.
Let me tell you, August 18 was for me one hell of a bardo.
Pulp Publisher, Open Road Media has announced plans to release digital editions of stories from Black Mask, beginning with Jerry Tracy, Celebrity Reporter by Theodore A. Tinsley.
Black Mask magazine, launched in 1920, built its reputation on fostering, and later inspiring, some of mystery’s most beloved hardboiled writers, including Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Carroll John Daly, Theodore A. Tinsley, and Paul Cain.
These tough, grim, but ultimately noble stories of private eyes and crooks represent an extremely powerful slice of American fiction. Mysteriouspress.com/Open Road Media is thrilled to announce that Black Mask stories will be available in digital format beginning August 27, 2013.
Paying homage to the original magazine, stories will be released monthly, commencing with works by Black Mask masters Norbert Davis, Steve Fisher, and Paul Cain, as well as an omnibus of stories by Theodore A. Tinsley, Jerry Tracy, Celebrity Reporter. All works feature new cover art, as well as brand-new introductions.
The Jerry Tracy, Celebrity Reporter collection features every Jerry Tracy story ever published in Black Mask, and is an invaluable compendium of one of early noir’s most original heroes.
About Jerry Tracy, Celebrity Reporter:
Manhattan’s sharpest gossip columnist tangles with brawlers, triggermen, and dames
The most important people in the world come to Broadway—to eat in restaurants, dance in nightclubs, and die in rain-slicked back alleys. Whatever the big names are doing, Jerry Tracy hears about it—and tells the world in his infamous Daily Planet column. As quick with his typewriter as he is with a .45, Tracy can break a nose as easily as he breaks a news story. But beneath his hard exterior, this columnist has a kind heart, and a sense of justice that will make him do crazy things for a woman in trouble, or a friend with a murder rap hanging over his head.
Featuring every Jerry Tracy story ever published in Black Mask, this collection is an invaluable compendium of one of early noir’s most original heroes. Written in machine gun prose that would make Damon Runyon proud, these stories describe a man whose words are tough—and whose fists are even tougher.
About the Author: Theodore A. Tinsley (1894–1979) was a prolific noir author who wrote for all of the prominent pulp magazines, including Black Mask, Munsey’s Magazine, All Detective Magazine, and Action Stories. His best-known creations are Carrie Cashin, a private eye who became pulp fiction’s most popular female character, and Jerry Tracy, a gossip reporter with a nose for sniffing out murders.
The other authors/stories launching that day are “You’ll Always Remember Me” by Steve Fisher, “Red Goose” by Norbert Davis, and “Pigeon Blood” by Paul Cain.