It’s exciting to be at the start of something. It’s especially exciting to be at the start of a new line of comics. Somehow comics, more than other forms of entertainment, have that feel of immediacy combined with a substantial tapestry of creative team-work. There’s always lots of dedicated people involved, and when they work together and make something new and exciting happen, it’s pretty special.
Ahoy Comic’s first new series, The Wrong Earth, is pretty special. And you can be at the start of it when issue #1 drops in stores tomorrow.
The new series offers readers a double-fish out-of-water story, as a classic Silver Age crime fighter changes places with a gritty “modern” hero. For superhero fans, there’s a lot to compare and contrast. And it’s done without any judgement on what type of storytelling is better. Writer Tom Peyer serves up clever new versions of old favorites, gently acknowledging the collective comic’s history that rattles around in collectors’ and/or fanboys’ heads. But he’s such an out-of-the box thinker that he will keep even the most jaded fans on their toes.
On the other hand, folks who aren’t overly well-versed in the nuances of fifty years of comic book heroes can enjoy this too. Anyone who’s seen one Marvel movie or one episode of a WB Superhero show is good to go.
Jamal Igle and inker Juan Castro provide solid art, often so smooth and skillful that you don’t even realize how good it is. Igle, as always, takes complicated scenes and makes them readable and engaging. He resists the urge to overdo it as he toggles between worlds, and what could have been jarring or tiresome is engaging.
One of the mantra’s for Ahoy is to provide a lot of material in each issue, and to ensure that it’s all diverse. The Wrong Earth #1 is overstuffed with creativity – including a prose story by Grant Morrison, a Too Much Coffee Man gag panel, a Q & A with Jamal Igle and a wonderful “lost” solo adventure of Stinger, the super hero sidekick.
Paul Constant teams with SU professor and artist Frank Cammuso on the Stinger short story called “The Fairgrounds Horror”. It has all the charm and fun of finding an old comic in your grandma’s attic. There’s an astounding level of detail, and the yellowed pages really look like they are from a 1940s comic.
Ahoy Comics’ first comic, The Wrong Earth, is a promising start to new publishing enterprise. I’m hopeful retailers will support this book, and if your retailer doesn’t carry it, ask him to snag you a copy. You will both be happier for it.
I’m just focusing on the work in this series of “I Love (And Rockets) Mondays” post, and not getting into any behind-the-scenes stuff. But it’s clear that Gilbert Hernandez, for whatever reason, just generates more Love And Rockets-related material than his brother Jaime in the same amount of time, which I can imagine is an issue for a publisher that wants to keep things even.
This reprint series has alternated Jaime books and Gilbert books, except for the everything-else collection Amor Y Cohetes, which gathered all of the stories from both brothers (and their early occasional compatriot, third brother Mario) that didn’t fit into their respective main sequences. I had the sense that book had more Gilbert than Jaime, though I didn’t count pages.
But this twelfth volume, Comics Dementia, also breaks the sequence — it collects the Gilbert stories after the end of Love and Rockets volume one that don’t fit into the “Palomar” continuity in any way. (There are a couple of linked stories set in a small Latin American town that couldbe Palomar, but the possible connection is never made.)
Comics Dementia includes sixty-four mostly short stories — many of them are single pages; a number are three-panel gags like a daily newspaper strip, placed at the bottom of another comic that doesn’t user that full page — over 224 pages. They originally appeared in all sorts of places: many in the second series of L&R, but many in other publications as well. And this 2016 book has comics from as early as 1996 (right after the end of the first L&R series) and as recent as 2015.
These are all experiments or trials of one form or another: surrealism, exercises in visual storytelling, jokes, contributions to anthologies, and a lot of religious and semi-religious questioning. (I wouldn’t try to characterize Hernandez’s personal religious convictions, but he’s been wrestling with the questions of sin and redemption and the nature of evil since the very beginning — those are important concerns throughout his work, and surface more obviously here in short strips that are all about those concerns.)
It also has to be said that nearly all of this is aggressively weird: the Candide-esque turmoils of the preternaturally positive Roy; adventures of the Leaping Elite, women whose highly-trained thighs let them semi-fly; several appearances by the destructive and frequently giant-sized Love Gremlins; murderous attacks by the fearsome Froat, the brain-sucker of Delaware; three completely different consecutive stories all titled “Heroin;” philosophical musings; vaguely SF and fantasy-tinged strips that tend to end in horrifying violence; a collection of profiles of Catholic saints; random bits of non-fiction; and strips I can’t even describe.
Comics Dementia also more-or-less forms a single world — Roy battles the Froat, and meets the Leaping Elite, who capture Love Gremlins. Or maybe it’s just that there’s a loose “Roy” world that a lot of these strips fit into, since the more surreal or philosophical strips here don’t really fit into anything else. (And there are a bunch of those.)
This is a book for serious Gilbert Hernandez fans, the ones who want to dive into his quirky, one-off strips and are OK with the fact that a lot of them just end in death and dismemberment the way that old Monty Python skits would often end with a meta-joke about not having a punchline. Comics Dementia is the furthest reaches of the land of Love and Rockets, far out on the border with pure-art comics and stranger things. It’s an interesting journey, if you manage to travel there, but it’s not for everyone.
On Friday, Shane Black’s The Predator will arrive, intending to be a fresh take on the franchise that appears to be playing up the humor. It’s set after the 1987 original and its Predator 2 sequel so acknowledges those events happened, which is cool.
Additionally, 20th Century Home Entertainment has wisely capitalized on the new film by releasing 4K UHD releases of Predator 4K, Predator 2 4K and Predators 4K.
When the film first arrived, audiences suspected it was another Arnold Schwarzenegger action flick with sci-fi trappings. After all, the one-sheet positioned him, rifle in hand, in the crosshairs of someone. He was paired with Carl Weathers, Bill Duke, Richard Chaves, Jesse Ventura, and so on (including Black back when he acted). What no one was prepared for, though, was John McTiernan’s taut direction and Stan Winston’s amazing alien hunter; the helmet removal moment late in the film stunned audiences.
A franchise was born, populating film sequels, comics, novels, and the crossovers with 20th’s Aliens series. As a result, the thrills were gone, the surprises were quickly absent, and they become more of the same.
Therefore, it’s interesting to go back to the beginning and relive those suspenseful moments when no one was sure exactly what unearthly creature was now hunting humans. It was camouflaged, rendered seemingly invisible, through most of the film so it was a cat and mouse game until Arnold figured out how to get the upper hand. The script from Jim Thomas and John Thomas nicely ratcheted up the suspense, giving us just enough characterization to help differentiate one target from another.
It remains a good movie, a strong piece of entertainment and reminds you how the Predator was fresh.
The previous Blu-ray editions were okay but never great so it’s nice to have a strong, 4K Ultra HD release. The 2160p transfer in 1.85:1 nicely captures the original look of the film, grain and all. The colors are more vivid and the subtle alien tech is sharper which enhances the rewatching. We get a good DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix but I would have preferred they invested in the Dolby Atmos upgrade to match the visuals.
The 4K disc comes with Audio Commentary from McTiernan, Text Commentary by Eric Lichtenfeld, who contributed to the 2001 documentary, If It Bleeds We Can Kill It: The Making of Predator and interviews with various production personnel.
The 4K disc is accompanied by the most recent Blu-ray pressing and that disc contains all the same Special Features as it did when originally released. The combo pack also comes with a 4K Digital HD code, so will look very snazzy on the right monitors.
Yesterday, Sunday TODAY’s Willie Geist remembered mirthful Marie Severin, who designed, sketched and colored covers for many of the most famous characters in the Marvel Universe, including Doctor Strange; The Incredible Hulk; Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner; Spider-Woman; and the parody series Not Brand Echh, and who died last week at age 89.
Dave McKean is a deeply classy cartoonist, the kind whose work is as likely to be first shown on the walls of a gallery as in a publication somewhere. And even his comics that do appear alongside other comical funnies are more serious and elevated than their peers — aiming to be Works of Art and not just entertainments.
Sometimes this can be exhilarating, since creators working at a high pitch can bring audiences up to their level. And sometimes it can be annoying, as when you’re trying to read over two hundred pages of far-too-stylized Dave McKean lettering on a tablet, with the pages just that little bit smaller than they would be on paper.
McKean is never going to go out of his way to make it easy for you to read and understand his work — not physically (just understanding the words and images) and not conceptually. He’s simply not interested in an audience that isn’t going to work at least as hard as he does.
Pictures That Tick 2 is a 2014 collection of McKean’s short comics; it’s so classy that it’s subtitled “Short Narrative Exhibition.” Set your expectations appropriately.
It’s also so classy, or so heavily designed, that it has a short comic even before the table of contents, and a title page that primarily consists of squiggles laid out to look like words but which cannot be ready, on a typically moody McKean background. You know, I like his work, but often a little of it goes a long way.
Oh, and another short strip interrupts the title/copyright page — McKean is never not futzing around with book design if you let him.
Finally, about a dozen pages in, you’ll finally get that table of contents, in a small scripty font on a red-and-black mottled background. (One suspects no one ever actually explained the importance of legibility in book design to a young and impressionable McKean, but instead expounded the virtues of drama.)
There are about five substantial stories here — two creation myths from an aborted project where McKean would be a showrunner for a third incarnation of the Storyeller series for Jim Henson Productions, and three projects that were art exhibitions/installations converted into comics. Also included are about a dozen shorter pieces — dreams, posters, wordless pieces, evocative comics for a jazz CD, and other random stuff.
The two creation myths are fairly straightforward: they’re very Dave McKean-ish comics, so the words are sometimes hard to read and the virtuosity of the art sometimes obscures the meaning, but the story isn’t difficult to follow or deliberately obscure.
The three gallery pieces are more evocative, designed to be fragments or moments that gallery-goers will experience probably but not necessarily in this order, and so the bits have to be more independent and separate. One is a journey around part of England’s coast, as a woman chases her runaway husband and finds the art he has inspired in his wake. Another is a series of bits of dialogue related to a true story from McKean’s youth, about something bad he did that he doesn’t quite explain or detail. The other one, “The Blue Tree,” which comes first in the book, is the closest to a conventional narrative and relates pretty closely to the two creation myths — McKean’s notes say he was explicitly trying to combine religious and scientific ways of looking at the world, from his two immediately preceding projects.
I’m not sure what size Pictures That Tick 2 is in the physical world. I hope it’s as large as possible: McKean’s work is best the more you can submerge yourself into it, to have it surrounding you on all sides. (So he’s probably best at gallery shows, and second best making movies.) These are comics to think about and ruminate on and read slowly, teasing out nuance and detail. But they will probably be slightly annoying, at least at moments, even to readers who like and enjoy McKean’s work, just because of the barriers McKean puts up between his work and the audience. So make sure you know that going in, if you do decide to go in.
BURBANK, Calif. (Sept. 6, 2018) — It’s not a stretch to say audiences have missed their favorite family of Supers over the past 14 years. Disney•Pixar’s Incredibles 2, the sequel to 2004’s beloved Oscar®-winning The Incredibles, received a mega-strong reaction from critics and audiences — earning a 93 percent critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes, rocketing atop the list of highest-grossing animated films, and surpassing $1 billion at the global box office. Fans can reunite with this incredible family of Supers instantly on Digital in HD and 4K Ultra HD™ and on Movies Anywhere on Oct. 23, and on Blu-ray 4K Ultra HD,™ Blu-ray,™ DVD and On-Demand on Nov. 6.
Family members of all ages will be hypnotized by hours of delightful entertainment, with never-before-seen Incredibles 2, bonus material highlighting the beloved characters in the film and the filmmakers who bring them to life. When audiences instantly bring home the film two weeks early on Digital, they will receive additional exclusive featurettes, including two SuperScene Breakdowns and Samuel L. Jackson discussing his character Frozone a.k.a. “The Coolest Guy in Show Business.” Overall bonus includes an all-new mini-movie Auntie Edna, which gives a glimpse of fashion visionary Edna Mode’s all-night endeavor to design a suit to best harness baby Jack-Jack’s expanding super powers. Also included are an inside look at the impressive production team at Pixar Animation Studios; documentaries highlighting the film’s relatable characters and stand-out scenes; 10 never-before-revealed scenes; filmmaker commentary; the touching theatrical short “Bao” and a corresponding featurette about how the dumplings sprung to life; and much, much more.
Incredibles 2, is packaged and released in several different ways, offering families the flexibility to watch the movie instantly and on a variety of devices of their choosing, including Digital 4K Ultra HD, HD and SD and physically as a 4K Ultra HD Combo Pack (4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and Digital Copy), a Multi-Screen Edition (Blu-ray, DVD and Digital Copy) and a single DVD. Additionally, the Digital HD/SD, Blu-ray and DVD versions of the film have been modified in an effort to accommodate photosensitive viewers, however individual sensitivities may vary.
In Incredibles 2, Helen (voice of Holly Hunter) is called on to lead a campaign to bring Supers back, while Bob (voice of Craig T. Nelson) navigates the day-to-day heroics of “normal” life at home with Violet (voice of Sarah Vowell), Dash (voice of Huck Milner) and baby Jack-Jack—whose super powers are about to be discovered. Their mission is derailed, however, when a new villain emerges with a brilliant and dangerous plot that threatens everything. But the Parrs don’t shy away from a challenge, especially with Frozone (voice of Samuel L. Jackson) by their side. That’s what makes this family so Incredible.
BONUS FEATURES (may vary by retailer)
The Coolest Guy in Show Business – In this partially illustrated documentary, Samuel L. Jackson reflects how his childhood and love of comics shaped his passion for film and imaginative storytelling.
2 SuperScene Breakdowns – Casual commentary-style pieces looking at specific scenes in the film (The Racoon Fight and Mrs. Incredible) through a particular creative focus like action choreography, set design or story.
Blu-ray & Digital:
All-New Auntie Edna Mini-Movie – When Bob Parr visits super-suit designer Edna Mode looking for help with his high-energy toddler Jack-Jack, Edna pulls an all-nighter designing a suit to harness the baby’s seemingly limitless powers.
10 Deleted Scenes With Introductions – Suburban Escape, Kari Revisited, Return of the Supers, Chewed Out, Late Audition, Slow Day, Frozone and Honey, Restaurant Robbery, Fashion Show and Security Breakdown.
Super Stuff – From buildings and vehicles to costumes and props, every action movie requires a lot of really cool stuff. Meet the makers and learn what it takes to design and build such a uniquely incredible world.
Heroes & Villains – A collection of mini-docs about the backstory and major design ideas behind the “Incredibles 2” characters — featuring voice actors, director Brad Bird, and Pixar artists talking about the many elements that make these characters feel real.
Ralph Eggleston: Production Designer – This short piece explores the many ways a single production designer has influenced the look, feel and character of the Pixar universe, culminating in Incredibles 2.
Strong Coffee: A Lesson in Animation with Brad Bird – Brad Bird’s passion for animation dates back to his childhood and mentorship under Disney’s Milt Kahl, and that enthusiasm and powerful insight emanates from every film he’s made. Take a deep dive into Brad’s early years at Disney Animation Studios and his time at Pixar.
Paths to Pixar: Everyday Heroes – At its heart, Incredibles 2, is about family dynamics and the challenges of being a working parent. Meet the parents of Pixar as they discuss their personal connections to the film and their experience with stretching to balance work and family.
SuperBaby – A documentary/hip hop music video hybrid hosted by Frankie and Paige from Disney Channel’s Bizaardvark. This piece explores how Jack-Jack came to life onscreen — from design to special effects to animation — all set to a hot beat.
Commentary – Get inside commentary from animators Alan Barillaro (supervising animator), Tony Fucile (supervising animator, story artist and character designer), Dave Mullins (supervising animator) and Bret Parker (animation second unit and crowds supervisor).
Theatrical Short: Bao – An aging Chinese mom suffering from empty nest syndrome gets another chance at motherhood when one of her dumplings springs to life as a lively, giggly dumpling boy.
Making Bao – Director Domee Shi shares her secret recipe for making an animated short — discussing how her rich cultural heritage, unique relationship with her mom, and her love of food all informed the making of the food-fantasy Bao.
Outtakes & Stories – Raccoon Fight Story, Evelyn Animation Outtakes, Puppet Animator Interview, Outtakes Goofy Arms Story and SuperBaby Music Video.
Character Theme Songs, Vintage Toy Commercial TV Spots , Toolkit Montage and Global Incredibles 2, Trailers
Theatrical Short: Bao & Commentary
Incredibles 2, Cast and Crew
Holly Hunter and Craig T. Nelson return as the voices of Helen and Bob Parr, who still struggle to juggle their duties as parents and Supers. Sarah Vowell once again provides the voice of the teen-queen of sarcasm Violet, while Huck Milner joins the cast as the voice of 10-year-old Dash, and Samuel L. Jackson reprises his role as the voice of Lucius Best – aka Frozone. Incredibles 2, also features the voices of Brad Bird as fashion visionary Edna “E” Mode, Bob Odenkirk as savvy businessman and Super fan Winston Deavor, Catherine Keener as tech pro Evelyn Deavor, Jonathan Banks as Rick Dicker, Sophia Bush as up-and-coming hero Voyd, and Isabella Rossellini as an influential ambassador and advocate for Supers.
Written and directed by Brad Bird (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, Ratatouille) and produced by John Walker (The Incredibles, Tomorrowland) and Nicole Paradis Grindle (Sanjay’s Super Team short, Toy Story 3 associate producer), Incredibles 2, is executive produced by John Lasseter. The Incredibles was the film that introduced Oscar®-winning composer Michael Giacchino (Up, Tomorrowland) to moviegoers, and he returns to the Incredibles universe to create the score for Incredibles 2.
Product SKUs: Digital = 4K UHD, HD, SD Physical = 4K Ultra HD Combo Pack (4K UHD+Blu-ray Feature+Blu-ray Bonus+Digital Copy), Multi-Screen Edition (Blu-ray Feature+Blu-ray Bonus+DVD+Digital Copy) and DVD
Feature Run Time: Approximately 118 minutes
Rating: PG in U.S., PG in CE, and G in CF
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
Resolution: 4K UHD = 3840 x 2160, HD = 1920 x 1080, SD = 720 x 480. Some flashing-lights scenes in 4K UHD (physical and digital) versions may effect photosensitive viewers.
Audio: 4K UHD Blu-ray = English Dolby Atmos, English, Spanish and French 7.1 Dolby Digital Plus, English 5.1 Dolby Digital, English 2.0 Dolby Digital, English 2.0 Descriptive Audio 4K UHD Digital = English Dolby Atmos (platform dependent), English 7.1 (platform dependent), English, Spansih & French 5.1, English, Spanish & French 2.0 Blu-ray = English 7.1 DTS-HDMA, English 5.1 DTS-HDHR, English 2.0 Dolby Digital, Spanish and French 5.1 Dolby Digital Language Tracks, English 2.0 Descriptive Audio DVD = English, Spanish and French 5.1 Dolby Digital Language Tracks, English 2.0 Dolby Digital, English 2.0 Descriptive Audio HD Digital =English 7.1 (platform dependent), English, Spansih & French 5.1, English, Spanish & French 2.0
Subtitles: Blu-ray = English SDH, Spanish and French Subtitles
Closed Captions: Digital = English; DVD = English
One good joke can you pretty far. Ask anyone who’s ever headlined a sitcom or had a popular stand-up act. 
Or a big comic strip, more to the point.
The early days of newspaper strips are a treasure trove of great examples: the same artists would have dedicated space in their paper, but not always be producing the same strip. So if a guy had a funny-kid joke that day, it might be one strip, and if he had a two-Irish-guys joke, it might be a different strip.
(I can’t see modern audiences standing for that, but modern audiences have been spoiled horribly.)
Frederick Burr Opper’s most famous strip was Happy Hooligan, but that was mostly just his hook to hang “jokes where someone tries to help, and it turns out badly.” He had plenty of other strips to be hooks for other jokes, too — but this is the one his audience loved best, so he tried to tell it as much as he could.
I should admit that I didn’t actually know most of that: Allan Holtz’s informative introduction to this recent selection of Happy strips (edited by Jeffrey Lindenblatt, containing about ninety strips from the high years of 1902-1913) gave me the background, along with a quick sketch of Opper’s life and career.
Happy is the kind of old-timey that’s still funny quite a lot of the time, but the cartooning expectations are different enough — a frozen “camera,” lots of wordy explanatory dialogue, drawing that looks a bit stiff to modern eyes — that the reader needs to settle into it and get used to it before it starts to be funny.
Well, there’s one other thing: you have to find that joke funny. That is the problem with a one-joke strip, whether it’s Happy Hooligan or Cathy or Garfield.
In Happy‘s case, the joke generally involved Happy getting pummeled by someone — usually a policeman — after trying to do something nice and inadvertently causing havoc by his clumsiness. Many fewer people in 2018 think violence is funny than did in 1902, so Happy has not aged as well as it might have. (On the other hand, a lot of strips of the same vintage are horribly racist, and Happy sidesteps that by mostly makes fun of British people, at least in the strips reprinted here.)
Happy Hooligan is an important milestone in the development of the American comic strip — Holtz’s introduction is good at making those connections, tracing the developing single-panel in Punch (where Opper worked before starting Happy). Now, “important” is not always the same thing as “still entertaining to read,” but Happy still largely works, if you’re willing to meet it half way and get used to its older rhythms and expectations. And that’s pretty impressive for something that appeared in a disposable newspaper more than a hundred years ago.
 You might be a redneck if. What’s the deal with. Watermelon. Seven words. Yo mamma.
Bit by bit, the cool, overlooked films of previous decades are finally being spruced up and released on Blu-ray. The most recent example comes from Lionsgate and is Francis Ford Coppla’s terrific Tucker: The Man and His Dream. Starring Jeff Bridges, it tells the story of Preston Thomas Tucker, a man who saw a different, better way to design, build, and sell cars. Many of his inventions attracted attention and were clearly ahead of their time.
Ever see a Tucker Torpedo? Not a surprise the answer is a no since only 50 true Tuckers were ever manufactured. Tucker (1903-1956) was an inventor and engineer, including auto racecars, a combat car and gun turret during World War II, and even aircraft. Once the war ended, he was determined to build cars, dreaming of models, as Detroit’s Big Three were content with the models form 1941.
The 1988 film shows how Tucker was thinking big and as early as 1946, had an idea for new features — disc brakes, seat belts, a pop out windshield, and head lights which swivel when you turn – for the next generation of automobile. The war weary public is fascinated and the Tucker Corporation sells many shares and there’s general excitement.
Under Coppola’s steady hand, we watch how the dream turns to ashes, one disappointment at a time, and his various innovations are discarded by a nervous Board of Directors. Tucker also had to deal with the wrath of Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler in addition to Michigan Senator Homer S. Ferguson (Lloyd Bridges) orchestrating government interference.
You admire Tucker and root for him thanks to Bridges’ winning performance. He’s surrounded by a strong supporting cast including Joan Allen as his wife Vera, Christian Slater as their son Preston Jr., Martin Landau as Abe Karatz, his lead financier, Elias Koteas as his engineering partner Alex Tremulis, and Dean Stockwell as Howard Hughes.
The film is a story of American innovation, chasing the American Dream, and a cautionary tale about corporate power. There’s a definite Frank Capra quality to the narrative, which makes sense since the screenplay comes from Capra collaborator Arnold Schulman, who shares the credit with David Seidler.
It’s a fine drama and well worth watching. Interestingly, Coppola initially considered this as a musical, similar to his One from the Heart, and in one extra, we see a shot of him with the legendary Leonard Bernstein, Adolph Green, and Betty Comden discussing the project. Coppola, a better filmmaker than businessman, never got to realize that dream, but got some financial help from George Lucas, to make this movie.
The movie never connected with its audience, despite solid reviews, and Paramount Pictures took a loss on the release. Even Landau being nominated for an Oscar and winning a Golden Globe Award as Best Supporting Actor, didn’t help the film’s home video release.
Tucker: The Man and His Dream gets a loving 1080p transfer in 2.39:1 and in addition to the Blu-ray disc, you get a 4K Digital HD code, which is cool. We can appreciate the work from cinematographer Vittorio Storaro with rich colors that have been well presented. The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track is just about a solid match.
We also get Audio Commentary with Director Francis Ford Coppola, a Francis Ford Coppola Introduction (3:39), which goes into the background; a Deleted Scene (4:11) with optional commentary by Coppola; Under the Hood: Making Tucker (10:02), assembles archival material complete with comments from Lucas; Tucker: The Man and the Car 1948 Promotional Film (14:54), a promotional piece that clearly inspired the director, who provides optional commentary.
TV or, not TV, that is the question. The answer is TV.
I know, I’ve spent the past five columns writing about a TV show and not comic books, and also four out of the five columns before that doing the same. But sometimes these TV shows are just asking for it.
Like “By His Own Verdict,” the November 15, 1963 episode of 77 Sunset Strip. Okay, most of us weren’t even born when this episode first aired. And those of us who were – like, gulp, me – couldn’t shave yet. But the law involved in the story hasn’t changed in the almost fifty-five years since the episode aired. In fact, it’s been the law since 1910, which is before all of us were born. So the topic is still topical, even if it’s not timely.
Joseph Cotton played Arnold Buhler, a criminal defense attorney who was about to retire. His last case was defending Max Dent, a petty criminal played by Nick Adams who was on trial for murder. Right after the not guilty verdict, Max verified that because of the Double Jeopardy Clause of the 5th Amendment, he couldn’t be tried again for the murder. Then he told Arnold that he was guilty; he killed the man.
All of this took place in the teaser, before the opening credits. In my day, people wrote compressed stories that weren’t being padded for trade paperbacks or season-long story arcs, things actually happened. And they happened faster than a frat boy’s Friday night dash to the toilet bowl.
Arnold was upset. He had prided himself on being able to tell whether a prospective client was guilty or innocent and only representing the ones who were innocent. Max not only blemished that record but that also meant Arnold was complicit in a miscarriage of justice. So Arnold hired private investigator Stu Bailey to investigate and try to determine whether Max was truly guilty.
Stu took the case but without the usual aid of the other members of the 77 Sunset Strip team. This was an episode for the 6th season, after Jack Webb took over as producer, decided the show needed to be film noir rather than light-hearted action adventure show, and jettisoned everything that made 77 Sunset Strip 77 Sunset Strip except for Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. and the title. And the title didn’t even make sense any more. Stu’s office wasn’t on the Sunset Strip, it was in the Bradbury Building in downtown Los Angeles.
While Stu was helping his friend from America’s Old Bailey, we viewers were hoping what Stu would really do was find the old Bailey. Alas and alack, that was not to be. Instead of classic 77 Sunset Strip, we got a muddled story that suffered from a loss and a lack of legal accuracy.
Before Stu had finished his investigation, Arnold began, for want of a better word, stalking Max. No, not for want of a better word; there is no better word. Arnold was stalking Max. Following him around. Bothering him. And finally, hinting that he wasn’t glad to see Max, that was a pistol in his pocket. Arnold told Max that while Max couldn’t be tried in a court of law again, he could be tried by Arnold. Arnold would be Max’s judge, jury. And executioner.
Meanwhile, Stu learned Max was as irredeemable as a book of expired Green Stamps. So, just in time for the fourth act, Arnold announced he had reached his final verdict and went looking for Max.
Arnold found Max in the train yards. Max ran. Arnold chased him, usually with his hand in his pocket where the gun was. While Arnold and Max were playing Hide and Seek, Stu and Marty Kline, the DA who prosecuted Max, were looking for Arnold to stop him from killing Max.
As the doctor in the Myanmar epilepsy ward said, that’s when the fit hit the Shan. Max, after pleading with Arnold to stay away to no effect, pulled out his own gun and shot Arnold. As Arnold lay dying in Stu’s arms, he explained that he had set the score right. Arnold goaded Max into killing him. But Arnold didn’t really have a gun, so Max couldn’t claim self-defense. Max had murdered Arnold. Now Max could be prosecuted for murder again, just a different murder.
Marty the DA lamented to Stu that Arnold wouldn’t get the result he had desired. As Arnold had provoked Max, the best they could do was prosecute Max for manslaughter, not murder.
Bob, the former public defender, lamented that self-defense law must not be on the curriculum in California. Because neither Arnold nor Marty had the slightest idea how it worked.
A person may defend himself when he has a reasonable belief that there is an imminent threat of physical harm to his person. In defending himself, the defender may use the same amount of force being used by person against whom the defender is defending himself. Max reasonably believed Arnold was chasing him with a gun and was going to kill him. That’s what those of us who know how self-defense actually works, call deadly force. Because Max reasonably believed Arnold was going to use deadly force, Max was entitled to use deadly force to defend himself against Arnold.
But, wait, Arnold didn’t have a gun, so he wasn’t going to use deadly force against Max. Doesn’t that disqualify Max from asserting self-defense? Do you really think I would have wasted all these column inches, if the answer to that were yes? If the person has a reasonable belief he is in danger of being killed, he may assert self-defense, even if he is, in fact, mistaken in that belief. Like I said, that’s been the law of the land since at least 1910. Probably longer.
In order to goad Max into killing him so that Max could be prosecuted for his murder, Arnold spent a good part of the episode convincing everyone, especially Max, he was going to kill Max. Max had a reasonable belief Arnold intended to kill him. Meaning Max had a right to use deadly force to defend himself, even though Arnold never actually intended to use deadly force. Max didn’t commit murder or even manslaughter. Max didn’t commit any crime at all. Nick Adams might have been guilty of overacting a bit, but Max, he was as innocent as Dr. Richard Kimble, Jason McCord, and all of Perry Mason’s clients. Combined. (Wow, I really have to kick this fixation on old TV shows.)
Arnold, you knew less about the law than a first year student at the worst law school in the country. And because of that, like Narcissus withering away by that pool of water, you died in vain.
This book looks very much like it’s going to be a parody of The Family Circus. There’s a male cartoonist, his beautiful and pearl-wearing wife, their four chibi children, and the round single-panel that encompasses all of them.
But creator Benjamin Frisch apparently wasn’t interested in a re-run of the Dysfunctional Family Circus, and so The Fun Family is a more free-floating parody — maybe of self-actualization and the search for meaning in life, maybe of just life itself.
Robert Fun’s family mimics the Family Circus closely: wife Marsha, sons Mikey and Robby, daughter Molly, baby J.T. Robby even takes over the comic strip, as metafictionally the Keane kids have the Family Circus and in real life Jeff Keane has actually done.  It even begins with a famous Family Circus trope: Robert Fun’s mother, “Grandma Virginia Fun,” has just died, and almost immediately appears as an angel.
But there’s no grandpa alongside her, and this dead grandma is a lot more demanding and specifically religious than in Family Circus. In fact, everyone here is spikier and quirkier than in the soft-focus Family Circus. Dad has a strange collection that he’s obsessive about, Mom abandons her husband and falls under the spell of a succession of gurus as she tries to find happiness, and both of them seem to ignore the fact that these kids seem to be no older than six or seven, leaving them to fend for themselves most of the time.
(But this is not a particularly realistic world to begin with: Frisch lampshades the children’s ages by pointedly noting that they do not age over the year or so that this graphic novel covers.)
Things spiral out of control after Grandma’s death, in several directions. I’ve mentioned the two parents’ obsessions, but the kids are nearly as crazy, building religious monuments or burying themselves in comics-making. The kids just want their parents back together, but instead they all just go further apart.
Eventually, there’s a break, and a confrontation. But it doesn’t go the expected way. Fun Family has a “happy” ending — everyone has things they want, everyone is successful, and so on — but it’s not at all the happy ending we expected, or the ending we would get from Family Circus. (Where, of course, nothing ever changes to begin with — nothing like this story could ever happen there.)
I’m not entirely sure if Frisch had a point in Fun Family: it feels like it’s trying to say something about family and work and happiness and self-understanding, but he’s throwing blows in all directions, which obscures anything positive he might be trying to say. Maybe there is nothing positive; maybe this is exactly what Frisch meant: happiness is based on delusions and monomania, so find the things that can make you ignore the outside world (which will only give you grief).
Fun Familylooks a lot like the book I thought it would be — cute, rounded, with a great eye for classic cartooning and lots of dot eyes. But it reads like something darker and more savage, underneath all of the happy talk. It implies a deeply nihilistic view of life, for its its gospel of wealth and angelic dead grandmas. Perhaps it’s best Bil Keane was safely dead before Frisch took up his pen.
 I can’t imagine what it’s like to have your career be drawing cartoons about your own fictionalized fifty-years-ago childhood, following in the footsteps of your dead father. But “Jeffy” lives that.