Actor, writer, producer and director Harold Ramis, who made many of the most iconic comedy hits of the 1980s and 1990s, died today at his home in Chicago. He was 69. The award-winning comedy filmmaker who co-starred in and co-wrote [[[Ghostbusters]]], [[[Ghostbusters II]]], and [[[Stripes]]] passed away from complications related to auto-immune inflammatory vasculitis which he’d battled for four years.
Chicago native Ramis graduated from Washington University in St. Louis, MO and worked as a joke editor for Playboy Magazine before launching his career as a writer for The National Lampoon Radio Hour, the radio show that was a launching pad for a who’s who of future comedy stars and collaborators including Chevy Chase, John Belushi, Richard Belzer, Bill Murray, and Gilda Radner. Rising alongside his peers in the late-’70s comedy scene, Ramis came up through Chicago’s Second City improv troupe and was head writer on sketch comedy show SCTV before breaking into Hollywood as the co-writer of 1978′s [[[National Lampoon’s Animal House]]]. The campus comedy sparked his hot streak through the ’80s and Ramis’s career as a writer, director and actor skyrocketed from there. He wrote camp comedy [[[Meatballs]]] (1979) the next year before making his directorial debut with the Chevy Chase-Rodney Dangerfield classic [[[Caddyshack]]] (1980), which he also wrote with Douglas Kenney and Brian Doyle-Murray. Caddyshack went on to become a cult hit and was named one of AFI’s Top 100 Funniest Films of all time.
I’ve been a fan of Top Chef for years, and this season has me particularly hooked. I like the New Orleans setting, the accompanying season of Last Chance Kitchen has been stellar, and I’ve found a few of the challenges to be some of the best the show has ever done, mostly because they manage to be surprising despite the show being in its eleventh season. But the biggest surprise to me about this season of Top Chef has nothing to do with the content of the show; it’s the sheer fact that I’m watching it.
Frustrations with my cable provider reached a breaking point last summer when I was overcharged by more than a hundred dollars in a single bill, and since most of the shows my roommate and I watch regularly are available through the combination of iTunes, Netflix, and Hulu Plus, we decided to call it quits with cable. Saving money was the obvious perk, but I was also more than happy to cut down on extraneous TV watching borne out of getting sucked into a show coming on after something I’d intended to watch, or worse yet, the time-wasting passive intake of crap I’m not even interested in but end up watching just because the TV is on.
On the other hand, while almost all of the scripted programming I enjoy is available through multiple outlets besides broadcast TV, most of the reality shows I liked seemed to be available only through iTunes, if anywhere at all. I’d always found the idea of buying episodes of reality shows silly since I don’t see any rewatch value in them, competition shows for the obvious reason that knowing the winner and loser of an episode takes away most of the point of watching it, and documentary-style shows because so many of the ones I watched tend to be of little to no substance. Even at just $1.99 a pop, I couldn’t imagine myself paying for them, so I figured they’d simply drop out of my viewing rotation altogether and was kind of bummed out at the thought.
Then I started tallying up the reality TV I’d been regularly watching. One iteration of Storage Wars, two shows about persnickety interior designer Jeff Lewis, three MTV shows about teenagers having kids, four sets of Real Housewives, and five food competition shows later, I wasn’t close to done but was sufficiently embarrassed at the volume of reality TV I’d been consuming. Ugh, I can totally live without this stuff, I thought. And I’ll save hours each week by not watching garbage!
But lumping together all reality TV as garbage isn’t really fair, is it? The first reality show I remember ever getting hooked on was Project Runway, which was innovative and entertaining while showcasing genuinely unique talents in an industry I knew little about (at least in the first few seasons of the show). Before morphing into a sensationalized and formulaic show on Fox, Kitchen Nightmares was Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares on Channel 4 in the U.K. and documented sincere attempts on the host’s part to save restaurants in much more detail, meaning insight on everything from how to cook specific dishes to how to best run meal service to how to create a local customer base were all offered on camera by Gordon Ramsay. And though it was short-lived, Anthony Bourdain’s The Layover showed me more about the real local cultures of both cities I know well and cities I’ve never been to than I think I could’ve gleaned through hours of my own research and experiences.
I realized the black-and-white view I’d taken on reality shows in a cable-less household was entirely and arbitrarily self-imposed. I decided that by culling the quality reality wheat from the trashy reality chaff, I could still get my competition and documentary-style fixes without losing hours to the empty albeit entertaining morass that previously clogged my DVR. Last but not least in sealing the deal, I tallied the costs of an iTunes season pass for the few gems like Top Chef that I decided were worth keeping up with and found it comes to less than the cost of two months of cable. With a bargain like that, it suddenly seemed silly not to buy the handful of reality shows I like most. And after all, in any season of Top Chef, the Restaurant Wars episode alone is always good for at least $1.99 worth of entertainment.
It’s almost spring and we’re suckers for the promise Spring Training brings, so we were thrilled to see that The Sandlot¸ starring genre faves James Earl Jones, Karen Allen, and a bunch of kids, is finally coming out on Blu-ray. Here are the details:
LOS ANGELES, (February 27, 2013) – “You’re Killing Me Smalls!” A film that still captures the hearts of baseball fans young and old, THE SANDLOT debuts on Blu-ray/DVD combo pack March 26 from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment in celebration of the beloved film’s 20th anniversary. “A charming and whimsical comedy about boys and baseball and a GREAT BIGDOG” (“Siskel & Ebert”), THE SANDLOT ranked in the Top 40 as one of the best sports movies ever.
With memorable performances from nine terrific young actors and supporting appearances from Honorary Academy Award® winner James Earl Jones (Field of Dreams, Star Wars Franchise), Denis Leary (Rescue Me,The Ref) and Karen Allen (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Starman), The Sandlot 20th Anniversary Blu-ray and DVD Combo Pack includes limited edition packaging and 10 collectible cast baseball cards.
It’s early 1960s and fifth-grader Scotty Smalls has just moved into town with his folks. Kids call him a dork – he can’t even throw a baseball! But that changes when the leader of the neighborhood gang recruits him to play on the nearby sandlot field. It’s the beginning of a magical summer of baseball, wild adventures, first kisses, and fun!
In connection with the release, FHE will embark on a partnership with Benny the Jet’s favorite shoe brand PF Flyers, for a special one-of-a-kind promotion. Beginning March 26, a limited run of The Secret Weapon, will be made available inside a vintage 1960’s shoe box, along with a $3 SANDLOT coupon inside. Additionally, all Blu-ray and DVD combo packs will feature a 10% PF Flyer discount coupon inside the packaging. Further information on this exclusive purchase can be found at www.pfflyers.com.
Additionally, The “Sandlot Baseball Field Program” will be comprised of partnerships with Major League Baseball teams nationwide in connection with the FOX Sports Networks. Notable teams such as the St. Louis Cardinals, Texas Rangers and Minnesota Twins will coordinate baseball field renovations across the Unites States so that loyal fans and baseball lovers everywhere will get the chance to enjoy their own “Sandlot” field in their backyards. Furthermore, screenings of THE SANDLOT will be hosted at several Major and Minor League ballparks across the country with Director, Writer and Narrator, David Mickey Evans. So lace up your mitt and get ready for a season full of baseball fun!
(*Subject to Change)
ARM & HAMMER Park, home of the Trenton Thunder (Trenton, New Jersey) – 4/13/13
Fluor Field at the West End, home of the Greenville Drive (Greenville, South Carolina) – 4/19/13
Arvest Ballpark, home of the Northwest Arkansas Naturals (Springdale, Arkansas) – 4/21/13
Rangers Ballpark, home of the Texas Rangers (Arlington, Texas) – 5/11/13
Tucson Padres at Kino Stadium (Tucson, Arizona) – 5/18/13
Busch Stadium, home of the St. Louis Cardinals (St. Louis, Missouri) – Date to be announced
Target Field, home of the Minnesota Twins (Minneapolis, Minnesota) – Date to be announced
Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, home of the Oklahoma City RedHawks (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma) – 6/1/13
AutoZone Park, home of the Memphis Redbirds (Memphis, Tennessee) – 6/15/13
Steinbrenner Field, home of the Tampa Yankees (Tampa, Florida) – 6/22/13
Dell Diamond, home of the Round Rock Express (Round Rock, Texas) – 6/25/13
Whataburger Field, home of the Corpus Christi Hooks (Corpus Christi, Texas) – 6/29/13
Fifth Third Field, home of the Toledo Mud Hens (Toledo, Ohio) – 7/5/13
Classic Park, home of the Lake County Captains (Eastlake, Ohio) – 7/12/13
CommunityAmerica Ballpark, home of the Kansas City T-Bones (Kansas City, Kansas) – 7/26/13
Security Service Field, home of the Colorado Springs Sky Sox (Colorado Springs, Colorado) – 8/2/13
Fifth Third Field, home of the Dayton Dragons (Dayton, Ohio) – 8/10/13
Werner Park, home of the Omaha Storm Chasers (Omaha, Nebraska) – 8/17/13
The Epicenter, home of the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes (Rancho Cucamonga, California) – 8/30/13
Coolray Field, home of the Gwinnett Braves (Lawrenceville, Georgia) – 9/21/13
THE SANDLOT Blu-ray and DVD Combo Pack Special Features:
● Theatrical Trailer
● TV Spots
Remember that time when Lois Lane dressed up as one of the most ridiculously named superheroines I’ve ever heard of on Smallville? And that superheroine was named “Stiletto” because at the time when she beat up a dude who was mugging Chloe, she happened to be wearing stilettos? And then she needed to find a way to draw out “the Blur,” (a.k.a. the non-Superman Superman of Smallville) so she used that incident to create a superheroine persona that wore a leather bustier and super-high stiletto boots, and then almost got her ass handed to her (despite being, really, pretty kick-ass for a normal gal). Yeah, that was a pretty silly episode. (And on a related note, I swear it’s just happenstance that I’ve started my last two columns by reminiscing about Superman shows. Next week, I promise I’ll reminisce about a different show. Or something.)
Anyway, despite being silly, I got to thinking about it recently, after some discussion about how female superheroines are dressed in comics. Let’s say I lived in a comic-book world, where I was, e.g., a lawyer by day and a superheroine by night. What would that be like? Well, first, I’d be really good friends with Matt Murdock and Jennifer Walters, because of course. (Man, we would have the most awesome happy hours ever.) Second, I’d have to pick a costume. And really, I feel like that wouldn’t be an easy task. I mean, in part it would depend on what kind of superheroine I was, e.g. what powers I had; but let’s say for the sake of general thought that at the very least my style of superheroine fighting would require athletic moves, as most do. What would I wear? And in comparison with what we see in comics, would it, or even could it, look “sexy,” as most supeheroines do, while still being practical? Let’s “give it a think,” as Winnie the Pooh would say.
Undergarments: Yes, I’m going to start with this, and here’s why: 1) Well, obviously, we’re talking about all the practicalities of superheroine-ing, and that includes everything from the inside out; and 2) I’ve seen so many comics in which a superheroine is fighting and there’s a lot more wear-and-tear than you’d expect from just a physical fight, and then, voila! Clothes are ripped and we can see, omg! their unmentionables! (Or, you know, sometimes they just go out to fight crime with one boob hanging out. Sure, why not?)
Well; if I was going to be running around trying to karate-kick (or whatever kick) thugs and stuff, I’d definitely wear something comfortable underneath. And it is possible to wear comfortable underwear that’s still pretty or cute; but for any of those superheroines out there who I’ve seen drawn wearing even somewhat skimpy panties under their costumes – well, all I can say is, those ladies’ superpowers must include the power to fight wedgies. At the very least I’d be wearing underpants that cover and stay on my butt; and in all likelihood, as a superheroine my new favorite thing would end up being boyshorts. Also, for any artists out there who are drawing superheroines wearing thongs? AHAHAHAHA. *snort* Right.
Likewise, if I had plans to be backflipping all over, or hanging upside-down, or elbowing baddies, or pretty much anything involving gymnastics or a physical fight, the last thing you’d be seeing is my cleavage. I mean, who can spare the concentration to worry about flashing the world when you’re trying to save it? Also, low-cut shirts are an easy thing for someone to catch onto or snag during a fight – yikes! Despite her other hilarious costume choices, Ms. Marvel has it right when it comes to the practicalities of how much cleavage I’d want to worry about while I was fighting. (Power Girl! You were so close to having a practical top! What happened?? Oh yeah. Dudes.)
I’d also want to wear something very breathable, unless one of my superpowers was not sweating. So that means goodbye to all of the heavily padded “Wonderbra” type things that would boost cleavage to the level seen on most superheroines (and if that’s all natural, then whoo-boy, the back problems those ladies must have!). One of my friends who grew up in Florida once compared those bras to “wearing two warm wet sponges” when it’s hot outside, and she’s not wrong. Maybe I’d opt for a little padding so the world wouldn’t take notice every time it’s cold outside, but probably the very “sexiest” thing I’d try out as a fighting superheroine is a sports bra like this, which is what you get when you cross a “sexy” lingerie store with an attempt to be practical. And even that has underwire, which is not super-comfortable in athletic situations, so my likely favorite would be something like this. (P.S. Sports bras don’t usually have lace on them. Sorry, dudes.)
Pants and Top: I actually think in most fight situations, a tightly tailored costume would be beneficial. It means less clothing to get caught on stuff; easy movement; and comfort, particularly if you’re wearing a breathable material, e.g. cotton spandex instead of something like bathing-suit material (though that probably holds up better and shows perspiration less). Spandex isn’t super-durable, though. If I had something like Supergirl’s physical invincibility, which supposedly extends to at least form-fitting clothes, then sure, the protection of spandex might be all I’d need; but if I was less-than-invulnerable, I’d probably want at least a few layers, and/or some padding around the joints; or maybe some leather, like motorcycle riders wear, if I could make it flexible enough. If I was less of a gymnast and more of a heavy fighter, I might even go for some sort of flexible body armor, like Batman.
I’d say there would be a range of decent choices for design here, as long as it: 1) covered and provided some protection for all exposed skin, unless invulnerable; or 2) If invulnerable, was still comfortable to fight in, so no unitards (wedgie problems again, as well as the worry about flashing everyone, for reals). The closest I’d go is spandex shorts to, like, mid-thigh. Or, if I absolutely had to wear a unitard, I’d at least wear tights or hose underneath. Also, let’s be frank, us ladies don’t shave our legs every single day ever, and crime waits for no beauty regimen. So even as Supergirl I might prefer something that covers my legs.
Oh, and I might opt for a belt of some sort, both a) to stave off butt cleavage; and b) for pouches, because seriously, as much as we make fun of comic book characters with myriad pouches sometimes, where else would I keep my weapons, grappling hook (because of course I’d have a grappling hook), communication and/or time-telling devices, and other necessaries (deodorant might be welcome, if I’m constantly fighting)? I might even go for a leg sheath too, if I were a guns-and-knife-y sort of gal. (Ooh – or maybe boots with leg knife sheathes! Rad.) If no pouches, or maybe in addition to them, I’d probably have zip-pockets sewn in all over the place, pants and shirt.
In the tops department, I’d go for full coverage unless I was invulnerable; and if I was, again, Ms. Marvel had the right idea for necklines. Oh, and I’d never, ever, ever wear a corset or bustier of any sort, unless my super-powers were being able to not breathe while exerting myself, and winning fights without bending too much in the middle. I’d also never, ever wear a cape, no matter how cool it might look if I could fly, because hello – how seriously easy is it to get tangled up in something like that, not to mention baddies literally yanking you around? (The exception being, I guess, Batman-types, who actually use the capes to fly, and even then I’d want it to, like, retract into a pouch or something.) I’d probably also opt for some good short, tight leather fingerless gloves with velcro wrist-adjusters and grip on the palms, especially if I was a climber or gymnast-y type fighter.
Shoes: No heels, no way. Hell no. Or, to be more precise – up to maybe 3/4 to 1 inch of a sneaker-style heel could be acceptable, but there would be no stiletto or spike heels, no square heels, no narrow-heeled wedge heels, etc. A short wedge that was wide and actually designed for stuff like fighting and running could be acceptable, I guess (it’d have to be tested). A low platform also might work. (Although of course, both of those options would be solely for the vanity/fashion desires of the superheroine, since I can’t see either of them being a fighting advantage). But again, short and low means like, 0.75 to maybe 1.25 inches, which is a lot lower in appearance than most comics artists realize. Even flying superheroines wouldn’t really be exempt from this, because they don’t do all of their fighting in the air, and they’d still need to keep their balance and speed while kicking someone or running on the ground.
If I was a superheroine that ran a lot or fought like a martial artist, I might actually want something closer to racing flats, Puma Speed Cats, or the like (racing flats are so nice to run in). I’d also want rubber soles with excellent grip (and maybe hidden knives in the heels if I did have thick soles, because knives in the heels. So cool. As far as a question of boots or sneakers, I actually might prefer boots with a soft but flexible leg – for more ankle support, as well as more leg and ankle protection. And I’d definitely get some good breathable athletic socks that stayed up and had arch support.
Accessories: Along with the aforementioned pouches, I’d definitely have my hair either very short, just long enough to stay in a short ponytail (a cut at about shoulder-length, maybe?), or in a bun at all times. As someone who’s done sports with hair that’s not super-short but too short to really tie back, and hair that was long enough to sit on, I know how annoying hair in your face/mouth/eye can be; and that doesn’t even consider it being a really convenient thing for people to grab in fights. No no, my superheroine hair would not be flying everywhere. A neat bun, perfect short ponytail, or super short ‘do is the only way to go. Barring or on top of that, I might opt for a skullcap, or similar tight hat, or a bandana like Elektra wears (but with all of my hair actually inside, and no flowing ribbons to catch on things).
If I was the sort to need to hide my face and keep my secret identity, I actually like the style of Black Canary on Smallville, where she paints a mask of elaborate makeup on as opposed to wearing a mask. She also has short hair and wears a wig in regular life, which is quite practical. Well done there, Smallville. Makeup is super time-consuming, though, so I might also have a fitted demi-mask to throw on as needed. Or, seriously, a ski mask-style thing. keeps the hair and identity under wraps!
And with that, I’d be (hopefully, somewhat) practically fitted out to go fight crime! And now we are back to the question, how “sexy” would I be? Well, I’d have low-to-no heels, and no cleavage or skin flashing. I’d also be lacking the flowing hair worn by so many superheroines, and maybe be wearing a cap or even a ski mask (and those things are ugly). Pretty much, I’d be Batman. I would, however, probably be wearing tight clothes. So I guess that’s, like, one sexy point in favor of practical costuming? But more importantly than any of that, I’d be comfortable, incognito, and giving myself the best advantages for winning the day and staying alive; and I have to think for most superheroines, those would be the most important considerations.
Looking at how superheroines dress in comics today, I occasionally see evidence that character and costume designers have at least thought of some practicalities; but I also see many egregious examples of “this would never happen in real life, wow.” And I see an imbalance in the practicality of design for male vs. female heroes. I’m not an idiot, or an unreasonable person – I know comics are for looking at, and people want to look at nice things; and superheroines having at least some prettiness or sex appeal is (almost always) inevitable. And that can be okay; I like looking at nice things, too. I also understand that for some heroines, invulnerability or other powers change the costume metric. But I do think it’s great when I see at least some thought being put into what it would really be like to be a superheroine, rather than just “what I want to look at.” And since male professional creators in comics still greatly outweigh female creators and can’t know what it’s like to actually live in female bodies and wear women’s’ clothes…maybe my little foray into musing about practical superheroine-ing will actually be helpful to someone. And if not…well, if I create a superheroine, now at least I know what she’ll be wearing!
Until next time, dress for success and Servo Lectio!
TUESDAY AFTERNOON: Michael Davis Does The Sgt. Pepper Rag
WEDNESDAY MORNING: Mike Gold and The Nerddom Intelligentsia
There’s a plethora of “reality” shows on the tube and some fit into the niche of what I call “redneck reality” – shows like “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo,” “Redneck Vacation,” “Alligator Wrestlers” and so on. There’s also a niche of “supernatural reality” shows such as Ghost Hunters, Finding Bigfoot, and other “investigative” shows. Of course there is also fictional horror shows that are real big like “The Walking Dead” and “American Asylum.” At least, these are shows that intend to be fictional.
I’m not loathe to hop on a bandwagon and I love combining genres or niches so I’ve come up with an idea for a supernatural redneck reality show I’m calling “Zombie Wranglers”.
Cue theme music and opening credits: Zombie Wranglers with Joe Bob Briggs, Ellie Mae Clampett and Simon Pegg.
Narrator: Zombie encounters depicted in this show are handled by self-proclaimed experts in the field. Do not attempt these at home. If you see a zombie, run like hell.
Opening visuals: The team walking through bayou country with Joe Bob in the lead. And he talks to the camera. Ellie Mae, in a tied off red plaid shirt opened to the third button and cut offs cut way up high, is on one side, Simon, carrying all the equipment, brings up the rear.
JOE BOB: This week me and the Zombie Wranglers team are in Bayou Country of Loosiana. Lots o’ Zombie sighting out this way. A few running wild. Hopefully, we can hook up with a local bokor, or voodoo priest, who can give us the lay o’ the land.
Now, your average bokor, he may raise himself up some zombies but mostly it’s just to work around the hut or run errands and such. Very rarely do you come across a bokor trying to create a zombie army and I myself personally have never come across one trying to create a zombie apocalypse. Stands to reason – if zombies take over the whole world, where’s the bokor gonna live, I ask you.
Sometimes you might get a hybrid, like a zombie loupy garou or werewolf. Those are nasty. I’ve heard some talk ‘bout bigfoot zombies but, personally, I’ve never believed in sasquatches myself. That’s a little too out there for me.
Some ignorant types said they don’t find zombies all that scary because you can just outrun ’em. That’s not always true. An older zombie, one that’s come back to life a while ago and whose grave is old, yeah, okay. Their joints are stiff and they just creak along. A newly raised zombie or one created by a zombie bite? That’s a different story. They can move pretty fast and you may not know which is which just to look at ‘em.
Hey, Simon – we seem to be getting’ nowhere in a hurry. How ‘bout you send up a zombie call?
Visual: cut to Simon, muttering.
SIMON: How ‘bout yew carry yer own weight on this show, yew bloody gobshite.
JOE BOB: What was that?
SIMON: I’m doin it!
Visual: Simon cups his hands around his mouth and calls.
SIMON: Urgh! Aargh!
Visual: All three heads turn as a cry comes back from close by.
VOICE (off) Urgh! Aargh!
Visual: Camera turns to catch a pretty fresh zombie lurching out of the brush.
ZOMBIE: Urgh! Aargh!
Visual: Joe Bob keeps his eyes on the off camera zombie as he gives direction. Middle background – Ellie Mae unbuttons another button on her shirt. Simon starts sneaking off in the background.
JOE BOB: Okay, Ellie Mae, prepare to lure him on. Not too fast now. And undo another button on that shirt; that’s pure ratings gold right there. Simon, start circling ‘round now behind him.
ELLIE MAE: Right you are, Joe Bob.
Visual: Ellie Mae, glancing behind her with wide eyes, faking being scared, prances on in front of the zombie, her breasts heaving, The zombie, distracted, follows her, reaching for her.
Visual: Joe Bob talks to the camera in a calm, professional manner.
JOE BOB: It’s a little known fact that zombies are easily distracted by a purty woman running just out of reach and screaming, especially if she has large hooters on display.
Visual: Joe Bob calling to Ellie Mae.
JOE BOB: Ellie Mae? You want to run a little faster than that, girl. This is a speedy critter.
Visual: The zombie grabs Ellie Mae by her hair, yanks her back, and bites her on the side of her throat. Ellie Mae no longer fakes being terrified; her screams are for real.
ZOMBIE: Hurrr! Aargh!
ELLIE MAE: Gaaaaaah!
Visual: Simon, coming up from behind, furiously plants a machete in the top of the zombie’s head. The zombie releases Ellie Mae but her eyes roll up in her head.
SIMON: Let go of her, ya bloody beastie!
Visual: The zombie, the machete still in its head, turns around and bites Simon in the arm. His eyes start to roll up in his head as he grimaces in pain.
ZOMBIE: Urgh! Aargh!
JOE BOB: (off camera) See now, this is a classic mistake in combating zombies. You want to strike crossways across the neck and take off their head. Top wise like Simon did does no damn good a’tall. Tell ya the truth, I’m a little surprised at Simon for bein’ so unprofessional.
Visual: Back to Joe Bob as he keeps a wary eye out off camera.
JOE BOB: Now yew folks are gonna get a little extra treat here. You’ll see how someone bit turns into a zombie like Ellie Mae and Simon are about to do.
Visual: Simon and Ellie Mae, their faces going white and their eyes sinking back in their sockets, stand jerkily and raise their arms in classic zombie fashion.
JOE BOB: (off camera) There now. Skins getting’ all pasty white and stuff. See that? Sure sign of them turnin’ into zombies, you bet.
ELLIE MAE: Braaains. . .
SIMON: Braaaains. . .
Visual: Joe Bob seeing that their coming for him and turning to run.
JOE BOB: Well, that’s about all the time we got for this week. I’ll be back next week with a new Zombie Wrangler crew. In the meantime, don’t let em’ grab you! Bye all!
Visual: long shot of the zombies chasing Joe Bob through the bayou as ending credits and theme run.
The Author Concludes: Discovery Channel, TLC – I’m waiting for your call.
The Editor annoyingly adds: Illustrating Mr. Ostrander’s column today is a Wasteland piece by the gifted artist and energetic entrepreneur Michael Davis, best known for his long-running ComicMix column published every Tuesday afternoon… when we can find him.
It’s the end of the year, so it’s time for still another mindless list of favorites – maintaining a cloying, egotistical annual tradition throughout the media. Once again, here are my self-imposed rules: I’m only listing series that either were ongoing or ran more than six issues, I’m not listing graphic novels or reprints as both compete under different criteria, I’m not covering Internet-only projects as I’d be yanking the rug out from under my pal Glenn Hauman, and I’m listing only nine because tied for tenth place would be about two dozen other titles and I’ve only got so much bandwidth. Besides, “nine” is snarky and when it comes to reality, I am one snarky sumbytch – but only for a living. On Earth-Prime, I’m really a sweet, kind, understanding guy.
Having said all that, let’s open that hermetically sealed jar on the porch of Funk and Wagnalls and start.
1. Manhattan Projects. If I had to write a Top 9 of the Third Millennium list, I’d be hard pressed not to include this title. It’s compelling, it’s different, it’s unpredictable and it’s brilliantly executed by writer Jonathan Hickman and artist Nick Pitarra. It turns out the scientists and the military leaders behind the creation and the execution of the Atomic Bomb had a lot more in mind than just nuking Japan… a lot more. And their plans run decades longer than World War II. Based largely upon real-life individuals who are too dead to litigate, each person seems to have his own motivations, his own ideas for execution, and his own long-range plan for how to develop the future. Yet the story never gets bogged down in political posturing or self-amusing cuteness – the latter being a real temptation for many creators. Each issue gives us the impression there’s more than meets the eye; each successive issue proves there most certainly was. If the History Channel spun off a Paranoia Network, Manhattan Projects would be its raison d’être.
2. Hawkeye. If you’ll pardon the pun, Hawkeye has never been more than a second-string character. An interesting guy with an involving backstory and enough sexual relationships to almost fill a Howard Chaykin mini-series, this series tells us what Clint Barton does when he’s not being an Avenger or a S.H.I.E.L.D. camp follower. It turns out Clint leads a normal-looking life that gets interfered with by people who think Avengers should be Avengers 24/7. He’s also got a thing going with the Young Avenger who was briefly Hawkeye. Matt Fraction and David Aja bring forth perhaps the most human interpretation of a Marvel character in a long, long while. Hawkeye might be second-string, but Clint Barton most certainly is not.
3. Captain Marvel. Another second-string character. Despite some absolutely first-rate stories (I’m quite partial to Jim Starlin’s stuff, as well as anything Gene Colan or Gil Kane ever put pencil to paper), the guy/doll never came close to the heritage of its namesake. This may have changed. A true role model for younger female readers and a very military character who uniquely humanizes the armed forces, Carol Danvers finally soars under writer Kelly Sue DeConnick and artist Dexter Soy – both as a superhero and as a human being. DeConnick doesn’t qualify as “new” talent, but this certainly is a breakthrough series that establishes her as a truly major player… as it does Marvel’s Captain Marvel.
4. Creator-Owned Heroes. Anthology comics are a drag upon the direct sales racket. They almost never succeed. I don’t know why; there’s usually as much story in each individual chapter as there is in a standard full-length comic. I admire anybody who choses to give it a whirl (hi, there, honorary mention Mike Richardson and company for Dark Horse Presents!), and I really liked Creator-Owned Comics. Yep, liked. It’s gone with next month’s eighth issue. But this one was a lot more than an anthology comic: it had feature articles, how-to pieces, and swell interviews. The work of Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, Steve Niles, Steve Bunche and a cast of dozens (including swell folks like Phil Noto and Darwin Cooke), there wasn’t a clinker in the bunch. I wouldn’t mind seeing follow-ups on any of the series featured in this title, although I must give a particular nod to Jimmy and Justin’s Killswitch, a take on modern contract killers, and on Steve’s work in general. This is no light praise: I’m not a big fan of horror stories because most of them have been done before and redone a thousand times after that. Niles is quite the exception.
5. Batman Beyond Unlimited. Okay, this is a printed collection of three weekly online titles: Batman Beyond, Justice League Beyond, and Superman Beyond. But it comes out every month in a sweet monthly double-length printed comic, so it meets my capricious criteria. Based upon the animated DC Universe (as in, the weekly series Batman Beyond and Justice League, and to a lesser extent others), these stories are solid, fun, and relatively free of the angst that has overwhelmed the so-called real DCU stories. Yeah, kids can enjoy them. So can the rest of the established comics audience. Pull the stick out of your ass; there’s more to superhero comics than OCD heroes and death and predictable resurrection. These folks have just about the best take on Jack Kirby’s Fourth World characters than anybody since Jack Kirby. That’s because Jack remembered comics are supposed to be entertaining. Honorable mention: Ame-Comi Girls. It’s based on a stupid (but successful) merchandising idea but it’s just as much fun as anything being published today.
6. Batgirl. O.K. The real story here is that DC Comics mindlessly offed writer Gail Simone from this series only to restore her within a week or so after serious (and occasionally, ah, overly dramatic) protest from both the readership and the creative community. But there was good reason: Gail took a character who was in an impossible situation and, against all tradition, put her back in the costume without resorting to ret-con or reboot, which have been the handmaidens of the New 52. She brought Barbara Gordon back to action with all the doubts, insecurities and vulnerabilities one would expect a person in her position to have, and she does so in a compelling way exercising all of her very considerable talent. This title thrives despite being engulfed in two back-to-back mega-non-events that overwhelmed and undermined all of the Batman titles.
7. Orchid. I praised this one last year; it comes to an end with issue 12 next month. That’s because writer/creator/musician/activist Nightwatchman Tom Morello has a day job and the young Wobblie still has a lot of rabble to rouse. Orchid is a true revolutionary comic book wherein a growing gaggle of the downtrodden stand up for themselves against all odds and unite to defeat the omnipresent oppressor. Tom manages to do this without resorting to obvious parallels to real-life oppressors, although the environment he creates will be recognizable to anybody who thinks there just might be something wrong with Fox “News.” But this is a comic book site and not the place for (most of) my social/political rants (coughcough). Orchid succeeds and thrives as a story with identifiable, compelling characters and situations and a story that kicks ass with the energy and verve one would expect from a rock’n’roller like Morello.
8. Revival. A somewhat apocalyptic tale about people who come back from the dead in the fairly isolated city of Wausau Wisconsin (I’ve been there several times; it is a city and it is indeed fairly isolated). But they aren’t zombies. Most are quite affable. It’s the rest of the population that’s got a problem. The latest output from Tim Seeley and my landsman Mike Norton, two enormously gifted talents. Somewhere above I noted how Steve Niles is able to raise well above the predictable crap and that is equally true here: the story and formula is typical, but the execution is compelling. That I’ve been a big fan of Norton’s is no surprise to my friends in Chicago.
9. Nowhere Men. I’ve got to thank my ComicMix brother Marc Alan Fishman for this one. Admittedly, it’s only two issues old and it has its flaws – long prose insertions almost always bring the pace of visual storytelling to a grinding halt – but the concept and execution of this series far exceeds this drawback. Written by Eric Stephenson and drawn by Nate Bellegarde and Jordie Bellaire, the catch phrase here is “Science Is The New Rock ‘N’ Roll.” Four guys start up a science-for-the-people company and that’s cool, but twenty years later some have taken it too seriously, others not seriously enough, and things got a little out of hand. Sadly, I’m not certain who understands that, other than the reader and one of the major characters. Science is the new rock’n’roll, and exploring that as a cultural phenomenon makes for a great story – and a solid companion to Manhattan Projects.
Non-Self-Publisher of the Year: For some reason, I’m surprised to say it’s Image Comics. They’ve been publishing many of the most innovative titles around – four of the above nine – all creator-owned, without going after licensed properties like a crack-whore at a kneepad sale.
No offense meant to either publishers or crack-whores; I said I’m really a sweet, kind, understanding guy.
New Pulp Author Barry Reese compiles a list of the Top 10 new New Pulp best selling books on Amazon every Monday morning. See how your favorite pulp books fare each week at http://barryreese.net.
Without further ado, here’s the completely and totally unofficial New Pulp bestseller list as of right now (title, then publisher, then release date, then sales rank): 1) Doc Savage: Death’s Dark Domain by Will Murray (Altus Press, September 2012) – 71,739 2) The Golden Age by Jeff Deischer (White Rocket Books, October 2012) – 125,852 3) Pro Se Presents # 15 by Various (Pro Se Press, November 2012) – 184,340
4) The Spider: Shadow of Evil by C.J. Henderson and J. Anthony Kosar (Moonstone Books, October 2012) – 273,590 5) Horror Heroes by Various (Pulp Empire, October 2012) – 585,940 6) Secret Agent “X” – Volume Four by Various (Airship 27, October 2012) – 647,102 7) Three Against the Stars by Joe Bonadonna (Airship 27, November 2012) – 795,194 8 ) Black Bat Mysteries Volume Two by Various (Airship 27, August 2012) – 867,330 9) Mystery Men (& Women) Volume Three by Various (Airship 27, November 2012) – 956,126
10) Monster Aces by Various (Pro Se Press, October 2012) – 1,463,279
Just missing the list were: Pro Se Presents # 14 by Various (Pro Se Press, October 2012) – 1,697,869, Blood of the Centipede by Chuck Miller (Pro Se Press, September 2012) – 2,140,953, Pirates and Swashbucklers Volume Two by Various (Pulp Empire, October 2012) – 2,335,554 and The Spur: Loki’s Rock by Mark Ellis (Fortuna Books, September 2012) – 2,471,177.
Read the full list and the rules for putting the list together here.
The second season of NBC’sGRIMM has turned the characters upside down, especially “Juliette” played by Bitsi Tulloch. She fills us in on how it all happened – and what’s coming up on the show when it returns in 2013. Plus CBS’PERSON OF INTEREST is a Top 5 rated show which has been a surprise to a lot of folks including stars Michael Emerson & Jim Caviezel who talk about putting the show together. Meanwhile, STAR WARS gets two more writers and WOLVERINE gets a Marvel NOW launch.
Prime time television in the 1950s and 1960s was packed with family situation comedies, including Hanna-Barbera’s takes on The Honeymooners in the form of The Flintstones and The Jetsons. By the dawn of the 1970s, those situation comedy tropes began to permeate Saturday morning cartoons as funny animal and super-heroic fare began to wane. Then there came Scooby-Doo, the first truly original and fresh concept in ages. The four meddlesome teens, their charismatic canine companion and van became the template for many imitators.
I can therefore imagine the brain trust at H-B trying to find new variations on the successful theme. The idea of combining elements a mystery solving family was a natural but how they ever settled on Charlie Chan and his dozen children remains an, ahem,. mystery.
The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan debuted in 1972 on CBS and was derived from Earl Derr Biggers literary sleuth, Charlie Chan. Based on Honolulu, Chan was modeled on real life detective Apana Biggers, and was introduced in 1926 but gained greatest fame in a series films featuring occidental actor Warner Oland.
Interestingly, there had not been a Chan movie or television series for quite some time by 1972 so one wonders how familiar the youthful target audience was with the character when the series arrived. Regardless, the sixteen episodes showcased the kids a lot more than they did Mr. Chan and the show featured one of the larger casts of regular characters even if the prose Chan Clan was an even dozen, for this show they trimmed that to ten. In prose and television, the mother is never mentioned.
The stories themselves are filled with harmless action, some mild humor, and plenty of chances for the cast to shine. You can see for yourself in the newly released The Amazing Chan Clan and the Chan Clan — The Complete Series from Warner Archive. For the record, the series is credited for being the first time Charlie Chan was performed by a genuine Chinese actor, Keye Luke, who played Number One Son in many of the earlier features. Other performers were also of Asian descent but were quickly recast when CBS deemed their accents difficult for the audience to comprehend (although you wonder if they actually tested this theory and we won’t know because the original stories were redubbed). Only Robert Ito, as Henry, and Brian Trochi as genius inventor Alan, remained.
Debbie Jue (Nancy), Jay Jay Jue (Flip), Leslie Juwai (Mimi), Leslie Kumamota (Anne), Virginia Ann Lee (Suzie), Michael Takamoto (Tom), Robin Toma (Scooter), and Stephen Wong (Stanley) were replaced, respectively, by Beverly Kushida, Gene Andrusco, Cherylene Lee (as Suzie and Mimi), Jodie Foster (yes, that one), John Gunn, Michael Morgan, and Lennie Weinrib. Don Messick was the required dog companion Chu Chu.
Each kid had a specialty in addition to a musical talent so they would perform a song in each episode, making for relatively simplified storytelling. The music was supervised by Don Kirshner (who else?) with vocals led by Ron Dante (carried over from The Archies). As for the cases, they mimicked the movies’ international flavor so Mr. Chan and the kids globetrotted after the Crown Jewels or visited Trinidad to find missing doubloons, or joining in for Mardi Gras in New Orleans. The cases were never the reason to watch the show, but instead to see the siblings interact and to find out what goofy new invention would come in handy. None of the songs ever made it to the Top 40 and are pretty forgettable.
If anything, this series is a curiosity from that transitional period between the Golden Age of Saturday morning fare and the watered down pabulum that denoted the ‘70s.
As reported on Friday, led by Avengers Vs. X-Men #4, the comic book Direct Market’s orders of $44.68 million in comics and graphic novels (at full retail value) is the largest sum seen in a single month since Diamond began reporting Final Order data in February 2003, and it’s probably a higher figure seen in any month since 1995 in un-inflation-adjusted dollars.
Now, with the estimates out, we can see that two other Diamond Exclusive Era records have been set. Diamond’s Top 300 comics had orders totaling $25.72 million, an increase of 44% over last May and the highest total since Diamond became the sole distributor in 1997. It beats the total of $25.37 million set in December 2008.
Trade paperbacks and hardcovers were exceptionally strong, too, with the DC reboot volumes topping the charts; the Top 300 accounted for $8.27 million, just missing the one-month record from November 2008. That combined with the comics figures to break the other record this month: the Top 300 comics plus the Top 300 graphic novels combined for sales of almost exactly $34 million, beating the previous record from December 2008 by nearly $2 million.
These are dollar sales and not unit sales — though the unit figures came close to setting records, and inflation is not really a huge factor in comparisons over the last two or three years. As we can see on this table of average comics prices, that December 2008 peak found the average weighted price of comics in the Top 300 to be $3.31; this month, the average weighted price was $3.53. That’s less than a 7% increase over three and a half years.
ALL COMICS UNIT SALES
May 2012 versus one year ago this month: +44.24% YEAR TO DATE: +20.89%
TOP 300 COMICS DOLLAR SALES
May 2012: $25.72 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: +44%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +5%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +60%
Versus 15 years ago this month: +36%
YEAR TO DATE: $108.66 million, +20% vs. 2011, -2% vs. 2007, +39% vs. 2002, +8% vs. 1997
ALL COMICS DOLLAR SALES
May 2012 versus one year ago this month: +45.12% YEAR TO DATE: +21.77%
TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES
May 2012: $8.27 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: +47%
Versus 5 years ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: -17%
Versus 10 years ago this month, just the Top 50 vs. the Top 50: +47%
YEAR TO DATE: $33.16 million, +28% vs. 2011
ALL TRADE PAPERBACK SALES
May 2012 versus one year ago this month: +41.14% YEAR TO DATE: +16.22%
TOP 300 COMICS + TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES
May 2012: $34 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: +45%
Versus 5 years ago this month, counting just the Top 100 TPBs: +1%
Versus 10 years ago this month, counting just the Top 25 TPBs: +36%
YEAR TO DATE: $141.83 million, +22% vs. 2011
ALL COMICS AND TRADE PAPERBACK SALES
May 2012 versus one year ago this month: +43.76% YEAR TO DATE: +19.95%
OVERALL DIAMOND SALES (including all comics, trades, and magazines)
May 2012: approximately $44.68 million (subject to revision)
Versus 1 year ago this month: +44%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +9%
YEAR TO DATE: $182.49 million, +20% vs. 2011, +4% vs. 2007
The average price of comics in Diamond’s Top 300 was $3.53 as was the cost of the average comic book retailers ordered. $3.50 was the median price of all comics offered in the Top 300, while the most common price remained $2.99.
The numbers already show it, but there’s increasing anecdotal evidence of a turnaround out there — including this piece in yesterday’s Ventura County Star. The headline alone is of a sort we haven’t seen in the business in a long time. Brian Jacoby from Secret Headquarters in Tallahassee, Fla., also provides a very positive view in the comments thread of this ComicsBeat post. “My subscriber list has grown 20% in the past 9 months, beginning on the strength of the excitement for the New 52, and bolstered by other great launches since, like (Miles Morales as) Ultimate Spider-Man and Saga, and the continued influx of Walking Dead– and Avengers-curious people brought in by other media.” That’s how recoveries have worked in the past: one thing leads to the next.
Follow Comichron on Twitter and Facebook, to be alerted when new estimates are released.