Tagged: Shakespeare

JOHN OSTRANDER: Prognostications 2012

Crap. Crappity crappitry crap.

It’s New Year’s Day. If it was New Year’s Eve I could look backwards and wax philosophic about 2011. But here we are smack dab in the middle of New Year’s Day, Day 1 for the year 2012, so I really should be looking ahead and prognosticating about what the year will bring especially for comics and related media.

I’m a crappy prognosticator.

Years ago, I read a squib in a newspaper about how a Japanese cell phone company had worked out how to add a camera to their phone and I thought, “What a stupid idea. They’ll have these crappy little photos and how good could the lens be and so on. Who would want that?”

Well, everyone, as it turned out.

Before that, I read another little squib about how the Dean of St. Paul’s cathedral in London was going to do a controlled jump with a parachute from the top of the church to bring attention to a rock opera that was premiering called “Jesus Christ Superstar.” And I thought, ‘What a stupid idea. A rock opera? About Jesus? Who would want to go see that?”

Well, gobs and gobs of people, as it turned out.

So I’m not the world’s foremost prognosticator. The Great Criswell I ain’t.

This year, however, it may not matter. The Mayan calendar ends with 2012 and some people predict that means the world is going to end in 2012. Heck, they’ve already done a big, loud, lousy movie about it. How you can take such a potentially fantastic event and make a lousy movie about it is beyond my – wait. The director was Roland Emmerich, wasn’t it? He’s also the one who directed Anonymous which says Shakespeare didn’t write Shakespeare’s play (piffle, I say!). And the producer/director of the heinous Godzilla remake. Never mind.

Okay, I grant you that maybe this isn’t real strong evidence. I mean, just because the calendar I have on my wall ended last night didn’t mean the world ended. Not if you’re reading this. I bought another calendar. And if the Mayans were all that sharp as prognosticators, why didn’t they chop up every single Spaniard they met into tiny little pieces?

In 2012, we have The Avengers movie coming out, the new Spider-Man movie, The Dark Knight Rises, and even the first of The Hobbit movies. The first of The Hunger Games movies, the next James Bond movie (Skyfall) will also make their appearances. Heck, based on the latest trailer, I’m hyped to see John Carter. This doesn’t even include the stuff that I don’t know I’ll want to see yet. I didn’t know about Hugo until relatively late this year and that may be my favorite film of 2011.

Seriously, would any sort of just and loving god end the world before Mary and I get to see The Hobbit?

Wait, That’s right. I’m agnostic. Said so last week. Doesn’t matter; I’m not going to believe in the Mayans either. We’re going to have 2012 and it’s going to be fun. Despite the Mayans, despite the elections, there are good times waiting out there.

As Stan (the Man) Lee himself was known to say: “Face front, True Believers! Because that’s there the future’s coming from!”

Words of wisdom for us all. Happy New Year, folks.

MONDAY: Mindy Newell


JOHN OSTRANDER: Completing The Circuit

I love reading. Central to my being a writer is the fact that I love reading. I’ve always wanted to give back the pleasure I’ve gotten from it. I love when a writer pulls me into the world that they’ve created. It’s a magic act; words are used like spells to stimulate the senses. I see, I hear, I feel, I can even taste or smell depending on how adept the writer is and the words they use.

I love television and movies and other media as well but, for me, reading demands an active level of participation on my part. My imagination gets engaged, I think and I feel, heart and mind are involved. I feel I am in a conversation with the writer when the work is good.

Think of a toggle light switch. In the off position, the current doesn’t flow and the lights are not on. Flip it and the connection is completed and the light shines. Writing and reading are like that. The work exists but it is only when it is picked up and read that the circuit is completed.

The reader brings him or herself to the work, just as the writer does. What the readers take out of it depends on who they are. I have people write to me about the stories I’ve written and I always find it interesting; sometimes they find things here that I didn’t know was there myself. More often, they tell me things about themselves and that’s fascinating.

There is something alive in the work. Shakespeare is performed all over the world every day; Someone once said somewhere in the world he’s performed every hour of every day. The key is that his words still resonate on topics that are vital to our daily experience. They impact and influence people, change the way life is perceived. Shakespeare’s mind reaches us through the centuries and talks to us. The circuit is completed.

It’s not just Shakespeare. Charles Dickens lives as well and never more so than in this season. Don’t just watch A Christmas Carol – read it. I have yet to see any version – film, television, or stage – that captures the social commentary within the written work. It’s almost contemporary in its question of wealth, class, and our responsibility to our fellow human beings. One of the most powerful yet least used portions in the story is how young Scrooge, stuck at school for the holidays, finds comfort in books and how they come alive for him.

It’s not only with the writers who are dead. Think of contemporary living writers that you know, that you love. You may never meet them in person and yet you feel there is a bond between you and that writer, that you know them. When you read a good book, when it swallows you in, there is a now that you experience, that you create with the writer. The connection is complete; the current flows.

Make your life richer. Go read.

MONDAY: Mindy Newell

REVIEW: FDR and the New Deal For Beginners: Comics That Educate

REVIEW: FDR and the New Deal For Beginners: Comics That Educate

Depending on who you ask, Franklin Delano Roosevelt is either a fantastic president or a menace.

Typically the focus on whether to call him good or bad hinges on your opinion of his New Deal economic program. Advocates say it was a helping hand in a time of need, especially after President Hoover exacerbated the troubles of the Great Depression. Opponents say that the New Deal was ineffective and that therefore it should be dismantled.

There are some who go farther, like when Father Coughlin called him “Franklin Double-Crossing Roosevelt” and others compared him to a dictator. One thing you can’t deny, though, is that being president during the Great Depression, World War II and pulling a country through both events successfully while paraplegic is pretty hardcore.

FDR and the New Deal For Beginners is a book aimed at teaching the unfamiliar and the amateur about just exactly what FDR was all about, and what the New Deal consisted of. If you’ve never heard of this man, this book will give you a great overview of his presidency, from his early life all the way through his last term. (more…)


I love stories. I love reading stories, I love hearing stories, I love telling stories.

I’ve been like this as far back as I can remember.

The way my mind works is that I see stories everywhere. Back when I was going to Chicago’s Quigley Prep Seminary in my freshman year of high school, I had to take the elevated train down to school and back at least five days a week. In those days, the first seat in the first car was a single seat right by the front window. When I could get it, I’d watch the tracks as we went. I’d assign one person’s life to one of the rails and another person’s life to the parallel rail and, at junctions, where another set of rails could switch you to another set of tracks, I saw those parallel lives coming together but then another junction would come and those lives would no longer travel on together. I projected a story onto the rails.

Yeah, I was an odd kid.

Sometimes I would come home after dark, especially during the winter, and when I could I’d sit by the train window and watch the apartment buildings as we passed them with rows upon rows of windows. Most would be dark or have the shades drawn but, every so often, the window would be lit and the shade would be up and you’d see someone in the window, just for a few seconds. You’d catch a bit of their life and wonder what the rest of it was like.

Years later, I lived in an apartment that was a half block or less from the train tracks. I lived on the third floor and I knew, from my previous experience, that if the lights were lit and the shades were up, people from the passing trains could look into my life just as I glimpsed into others. That seemed fair.

What I learned from this is that we play many parts in our lives. We are the leads of our own stories (or should be) although, as Charles Dickens, in the opening of David Copperfield, wrote: ”Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.” We can be the hero or villain in our own life and sometimes are both. In the story of other peoples’ lives, we assume different plot functions – supporting character, antagonist, cameo, walk-on. We are part of so many different stories.

We are all stories; we are all storytellers. As my former rector, Revered Phillip Wilson, used to say, stories are the atoms of our social interactions. We use story constantly in our own lives, to convey experience, tell a joke, share an experience. Stories are how we understand the world into which we have been born. The stories we tell shape us both as a people and a nation.

The stories often get told and re-told just as DC Comics is now re-telling its stories. Events get altered because it makes a better story. When Del Close was telling portions of his life story in Wasteland, he was never concerned about the facts (although there were often some kernels of fact in the story) – he was concerned with what was true, what was good for the story.

A good story always reflects the storyteller and Del’s stories always did. Del lives in his stories just as Dickens lives in his stories just as Shakespeare does in his. As I do in mine. The stories aren’t real in that the events haven’t happened but they are hopefully true; lies told in service to the truth.

So – what’s your story?

MONDAY: Mindy Newell

Let Them Talk

letthemtalk-300x175-2694018Let Them Talk
Hugh Laurie
Produced by Joe Henry Warner Bros. Records

Let us stipulate up front that Hugh Laurie is an insanely talented individual. He’s a comedian, a comic actor, a dramatic actor, a comedy writer, a novelist, plays piano, guitar, and percussion, and, apparently, deep down in his soul, according to the liner notes of Let Them Talk, he’s also an 80-year old, gravelly-voiced Negro ex-sharecropper blues singer.

Sure. Why not?

Most of us think he’s a dyspeptic American medical miracle man (hearing his acceptance speech for his Emmy win as Dr. House, my ex-wife, who knew Hugh Laurie only from House and Stuart Little, asked, “Why is he putting on an English accent?”), so why couldn’t this British born, Oxford and Cambridge educated actor also be Jellyroll Morton?

In Let Them Talk, Hugh Laurie sings the blues, and if he ain’t Jellyroll Morton (and who could be?), he dives into these classic numbers as though he wished he could be. “These great and beautiful artists lived it as they played it,” Laurie writes in the liner notes. “But at the same time, I could never bear to see this music confined to a glass cabinet, under the heading Culture: Only To Be Handled By Elderly Black Men. That way lies the grave, for the blues and just about everything else: Shakespeare only performed at The Globe, Bach only played by Germans in tights. It’s formaldehyde, and I pray that Leadbelly will never be dead enough to warrant that.”

Laurie offers his credentials for playing the blues: a lifelong love for the music and its performers, “I love this music, as authentically as I know how.” The love is there, and combined with some of the abovementioned insane talent, Let Them Talk comes across with some new takes on the old blues worth listening to.

“St. James Infirmary Blues” opens with a quiet, almost symphonic rendition of this great, mournful song that eventually slides into a more traditional take that sets the tone for the rest of the album. The high points include “Swanee River,” the Stephen Foster classic that Laurie weaves with the swinging, piano pounding verve of a Jerry Lee Lewis and Craig Eastman’s haunting violin accompaniment; the energetic power of Robert Johnson’s “They’re Red Hot”; the lazy Ferdinand Joseph Morton composition, “Winin’ Boys Blues,” Cosimo Matassa’s “Tipitina,” and the simple, crisp pickings on Arthur Phelps’ “Police Dog Blues.”

Joining Laurie are such guest vocalists as Dr. John on the Harry Creamer and Turner Layton classic “After You’ve Gone,” which pays no uncertain homage to the 1928 Bessie Smith and later Mac Rebennack recordings; Irma Thomas on the soulful “John Henry,” and Sir Tom Jones (yes, that Tom Jones), plaintively begging “Baby Please Make A Change,” by Armenta Bo, Carter Chatmon/Alonzo Lonnie Chatmon.

For the most part, Laurie’s voice carries him through, but polish and sophistication were never a perquisite for singing the blues. We can forgive him if he has to reach and sometimes strain to hit that note; the blues are, after all, about struggle and pain. But like the first time you heard Hugh Laurie speak without an American accent or play the piano, you’ll be delighted and surprised by what this talented individual can do. Kind of makes you wonder what he has to sing the blues about.

Paul Kupperberg is, deep down in his soul, an 80-year old phlegmy-voiced Jewish comedy writer. He also writes the critically acclaimed Life With Archie Magazine for Archie Comics and is the author of the mystery novel, The Same Old Story (available as an eBook on Amazon.com).


The Tempest

thetempestbluray-254x300-1479053You have to give Julie Taymor credit. She rarely repeats herself and brings a sense of creative vision to every project, making each effort unique. For every brilliant stage work, The Lion King, there is a creative misfire, Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark. And on screen, she scored a bullseye with Across the Universe and disappointed with The Tempest. The adaptation of William Shakespeare’s final play is now out on DVD from Walt Disney Home Entertainment.

The Bard’s works have been interpreted and reinterpreted since they were first staged at the Globe Theater so it’s no surprise Taymor wanted to bring her own ideas to the script. Her bold move was to turn Duke Prospero into Prospera, the duke’s wife and then cast Dame Helen Mirren. Taymor said at the time that no male actor seemed to fit her idea of the lead so tried a woman for a staged reading and decided the story held up.

Translated to the screen, Prospera, the sorceress, presides over the inhabitants on a small island, dealing with her daughter Miranda’s  (Felicity Jones) romance with Ferdinand (Reeve Carney) while fending off the schemes of Caliban (Djimon Hounsou) and Stephano (Alfred Molina) to do her in. There’s magic galore and Ariel, usually played by a female but here is essayed by Ben Whishaw, is a genuine sprite.

Taymor adapted Shakespeare’s words but they remain familiar ones and she has assembled a fine cast led by Mirren, who is never short of fascinating to watch work. Molina, Hounsou, Chris Cooper and Alan Cumming lend strong support so the overall production should be far more satisfying than it proves to be. There’s a crackle of energy missing from the performances and the CGI effects, which she used so well in Universe, don’t measure up. For a story about magic the effects prove oddly dull and uninspiring.

The pacing moves along but languidly, as if shooting on a Hawaiian island enervated cast and crew.

The movie performed well at festivals before being met with a collective yawn by critics and audiences alike last December making for a poor year end showing for Taymor. The movie plays much the same way on DVD aided by the usually crisp video transfer from Disney and helped tremendously by some terrific audio work.

Students of Shakespeare will want to see this and own the Blu-ray edition which comes with some terrific special features. In addition to Taymor’s perfunctory commentary, there’s a separate track with Virginia Mason Vaughan (Professor of English at Clark University) and Jonathan Bate (Shakespeare Professor at England’s University of Warwick), using their depth of knowledge to informatively discuss the adaptation. It sounds like an English paper read aloud is quite interesting.

Additionally, there’s the one-hour-six-minute Raising the Tempest which covers the production from script to final editing. There’s always something to learn from these but are really for students of film. This one, though, has Brand offering up comedic patter throughout and makes this worthwhile.

You can watch Julie & Cast: Inside the L.A. Rehearsals, a 14 minute look at Brand, Molina and Hounsou getting a handle on their characters under Taymor’s watchful eye. This is a revealing look at the creative process. There’s an additional, more humorous five minute Russell Brand Rehearsal Riff as he improvises answers as Trinculo to Taymor the Interviewer’s questions. The disc is rounded out with Carney’s “Mistress Mine” music video and an assortment of trailers.

Thor & Loki: Blood Brothers

From the beginning in Journey into Mystery, Thor’s arch enemy has been his foster brother Loki, which Stan Lee lifted directly from the Norse myths. Loki, god of mischief, was an infant when Odin slew his father and took the child to raise as his own. Much of the Norse mythology tells stories of Loki’s schemes and trickery among the gods of Asgard, a rivalry with Thor clear. Stan, Larry Leiber, and Jack Kirby didn’t real mine the sibling relationship in those early years; it had to fall to other writers who added sophisticated psychological thinking to the relationships of gods.

One such rumination of that relationship was Robert Rodi’s 2004 [[[Loki]]] miniseries. Released under the Marvel Knights imprint, it echoed the core Marvel Universe’s interpretation of the characters but offered up entirely fresh takes on the characterizations and look of the deities. Painter Esad Ribic eschewed Kirby’s science fiction-blended imagery and costuming in favor of a look the Norse themselves would have recognized. About the only things shared between the two universes was Loki’s horned helmet and Thor’s blond hair.

Rodi picked up the story some time after Loki triumphed as has enslaved not only his “brother”, but all who would oppose him including Odin, Balder, and Sif. The weight of rule grew heavy on the trickster, who found no mirth from the throne. He was unhappy and unmoved by the forces that demanded his time and attention including Norn Queen Karnilla and Hela, ruler of Hel. The story is strong, aided by Ribic’s powerful artwork in its somber tones.

To promote the forthcoming Thor movie, Marvel turned the miniseries into a four-part motion comic, [[[Thor & Loki: Blood Brothers]]], which was released throughout the spring. Now, the adaptation is being released on Tuesday by Shout! Factory. They have not been edited together into a seamless whole so each chapter comes complete with opening and closing credits which can be tedious. Worse, this is being marketed as an animated project when it is most definitely a motion comic. (more…)

Review: ‘Madame Xanadu #1’ by Matt Wagner and Amy Reeder Hadley

Fresh off another successful Grendel run and two excellent Batman miniseries ([[[Monster Men and Mad Monk]]]), Matt Wagner is switching gears so hard he may have just shredded the transmission.

A revival of the occult heroine Madame Xanadu? Really?

Sure enough. Wagner is writing the Vertigo series, the first issue of which debuted this week. It’s, well, odd, for lack of a better word. The first chapter begins in Arthurian times as Xanadu tries to prevent Camelot’s bloody fall.

Wagner channels a bit of Shakespeare’s lyricism in Xanadu’s dreamy, esoteric narration. And much of the goal seems to be recasting the common legend in surprising ways, not the least of which is Merlin as an old horndog.

The art, by relative newcomer Amy Reeder Hadley, is as graceful and natural as the titular character. The slight manga influence further similarizes the book to Elf Quest, which it mirrors fairly closely in tone.

The only real problem so far is the lack of scope in the first issue. Not a whole lot happens, at least till the last page, and there’s almost nothing to hint that this series is going to be an epic love story between [[[Xanadu]]] and the Phantom Stranger that lasts through several ages. I had to check the PR cheat sheet for that info.

Van Jensen is a former crime reporter turned comic book journalist. Every Wednesday, he braves Atlanta traffic to visit Oxford Comics, where he reads a whole mess of books for his weekly reviews. Van’s blog can be found at graphicfiction.wordpress.com.

Publishers who would like their books to be reviewed at ComicMix should contact ComicMix through the usual channels or email Van Jensen directly at van (dot) jensen (at) gmail (dot) com.

MATT RAUB: Who Are Two?

MATT RAUB: Who Are Two?

So we’re into week two of the Doctor’s new adventures with his shiny new companion in “The Shakespeare Code,” and much as I was last week, I’m still giddy with excitement. Last week we were introduced to Martha Jones, a med student from the present time. And in this week, the Doctor takes Jones on her first trip inside the T.A.R.D.I.S. to the late 1500s, where they meet one of the Doctor’s personal heroes, William Shakespeare.

While this episode got to play a lot with what I like to call the Shanghai Knights jokes. To explain, in the film Shanghai Knights the two main characters would run into famous names in history that only we the audience would know, and reference their lives through punn-ish dialogue, such as telling a adolescent Charlie Chaplin that he talks too much. Either way, the same thing stood for this episode, in which the Doctor is constantly using lines from Shakespeare’s unwritten plays. To which the playwright responds “I should use that!” Cute little dialogue, but lets move onto the nitty-gritty.

Going along with my last review, when I mentioned that the first episode resembled the season one’s episode “Rose,” this episode was very much like season one’s “The Unquiet Dead.” In that episode, a very green Rose tags along with the Doctor to the 1800s where they meet Charles Dickens and solve yet another perplexing mystery. That episode dealt with alien entities possessing corpses making them look like “zombies” to the anybody else but our Doctor, while this week’s episode dealt with ancient aliens who pose as “witches” and get Shakespeare to use his “new words” to open a portal to their home world. Very similar episodes indeed.

With that theory in place, there should be hints of this season’s overall arch. In episode three of season one, they started mentioning “Bad Wolf” and how it was a harbinger of things to come. Now, before the re-launched series, I was never a huge Doctor Who fan, but with the writing and pure concept of continuity that thick over an entire season, I was hooked. I’m only hoping that this episode can keep with that formula.