Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Book Review: The Green Hills of Earth

I have 142 unread books on my shelves. And that doesn't include comics.

I am not proud of this, I only mention it because with only one Hugo novel left on my agenda I'm now tucking in to what I estimate at three years to read my own modest library. Faster if TV continues to be its usual monotonous drivel. Thundercats, indeed!

What happened to the nearsighted, antisocial boy I was who devoured books like it was going out of style?

It's books for me from here on out, yessir!
(Don't mind me, TV, nothing to see here.)

First up from a favorite author of mine, was 'The Green Hills of Earth', copyright 1951, by Robert Heinlein, a collection of some of his short stories. It's a swell book, and in no danger of leaving my library for trade value or donation.

Heinlein drew up a timeline to keep all his sci-fi stories straight, and it's included with most of his works. Good old uncle Robert postulated the half century between 1950 & 2000 as interplanetary expansionist, with thriving human colonies on the moon, Mars, & Venus, pioneering the mighty void of space with courage despite many grave accidents and disasters.

His future world is one of personal helicopters for all, and women dressed in six ounces of fabric! All very well, but those two elements alone seem designed for trouble:
(helicopter engine): wuwbwuwbwuwb...
Jones: Zowie, Harriman, how 'bout the propellant tanks on her?
Harriman: Hoo, hoo! I bet a dame like that would... LOOK OUT!
(helicopter collides with 3 other helicopters, explodes): KRAKABOOM.

Speaking of women turning heads, the first story in the collection; 'Delilah and the Space Rigger' takes a light-headed look at sexism in the space workplace. I maintain that although space stations aren't as commonplace as Heinlein hoped, he knew a metric crapload about how people behaved and still behave today. He saw the sexual revolution coming a mile off, and either regarded it as a change in everyone's best interests or knew womenfolk are impossible to hold back. If our kind goes out there, it'll be two by two, or at least shoulder to shoulder.

In 'The Long Watch' and 'The Green Hills of Earth' brave spacemen die horrible and heroic deaths by radiation to save their fellows. So far, there hasn't been much of this outside sci-fi, either. No atomic-powered spaceships means no blind accordion playing space jockeys. Knock on wood. Also commercial space travel is 60 years behind Heinlein's projections and is still little more than a novelty for the ultra-rich. But on the bright side, we don't have indentured slaves dying of fungal infections in the swamps of Venus, either. Well, maybe NEXT century. As long as we engineer the fungus ourselves, and also bring the swamps and slaves with us.

'We Also Walk Dogs' featured a global interconnected telephonic company called General Services whose multitudinous employees offer nearly anything, at tremendous speed, for a price. It may not be organized and driven enough to provoke reclusive scientists into spontaneously generating anti-gravity (as in this tale), but we've got that very connective technology these days. And, who knows? Link enough blogs together, sift through the gibberish and the porn, and, just imagine what all of us might think of... together!
Just keep your eyes on the skies when you're flying your cars, brothers.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Toon Review: Thundercats

By the Eye of Thundera, Teletoon Retro is the final bastion of TV entertainment on Third Earth! Well, no, not really, but damn, do I love cartoons so. I recently saw 24 episodes of a Thundercats marathon. Not all in one sitting, but STILL. I apparently feel THIS is what I should do with my time. And now I get to waste yours, too! So be it!

Produced by Rankin/Bass in 1985 and for several years afterward, Thundercats is Saturday morning fantasy fare chronicling the adventures of a handful of humanoid felines; alien survivors of the crumbled planet Thundera. Perhaps fittingly for a cartoon about space cats, the head writer was Leo Starr. Well, I thought it was amusing. He also wrote Little Orphan Annie and Morbius the Living Vampire, apparently. Appropriate for a program that fluctuates in tone somewhere between sweet and horrifying.

Despite the bizarre premise, the episodes I saw were played almost entirely seriously, very rarely for laughs. Perhaps that was the only thing stopping this from becoming the mega-hit Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles soon would be. Still... four seasons, Marvel comics, awe-inspiring Halloween costumes, a CGI movie caught in limbo- somebody probably made out like a Plun-Darian mutant bandit!

It may do them too much credit to call them "characters", since the principal cast, charitably, are probably what my buddy Ron means when he says 'cartoonish' as though it was a bad thing.

Our hero is Lion-O, orphaned twelve-year-old prince-ling in a grown-up body thanks to the failure of his suspension capsule. He inherited the mystic Sword of Omens & is psychically guided by the spirit of a wise deceased warrior/scientist called Jaga. In other words, Lion-O is Luke Skywalker with a shaggy mane. I should say shaggy RED mane. NOW you won't mix them up.

Lion-O's fellow colonists on the strange world of Third Earth are brave, noble, stock types. Panthro is the gruff mechanic. Tigrra is the dashing architect. Cheetara is the speedy lady cat who hits things with sticks. Wilykit & Wilykat are inquisitive kids. And old Snarf "The Fierce" is the truculent house cat/tiny bearded dragon. They seek to build a mighty empire on their adopted world of Third Earth. If they (mostly Tigrra for some reason) can keep from being bamboozled, drugged, or stumbling into nets and deadly danger.

Like the Third Earth, this cartoon seems to have been made of little bits of everything else.

Like Superman, they were rocketed from their dying planet, with advanced technology, an ancestral guide, and inhuman powers to help them. Plus a pesky mineral from their home planet that weakens them (Thundranium, in case you're wondering.)

Like He-Man, they have a barbarian harness-y mode of dress, a life of unending quest and combat, and a skeletal sorcerer arch-foe who lives in a creepy ruined castle with his beast-men armies. Plus, they're very 'toyetic'! Although I, personally, skipped right over Thundercats, never seeing their show at the time and graduating directly from He-Man toys to Ghostbusters toys, I did get a Snarf one Christmas. (Heh. That sounds dirty.)

And like Star Wars... well, everything. The first ally made by the Thundercats is the Ewoks, oh, sorry, I mean the Ro-Bear Berbils, an agrarian tribe of helpful teddy bear droids who build them their Cat's Lair and spending the rest of the season getting captured and needing to be rescued. Frankly, between you and me, if I was one of only four males of my species with only one grown female between us, I'd be more in the mood to rescue the native girls than the teddy bears. But that's neither here nor there.

The animation is a jumbled mix of the very deft and striking and the very rushed and recycled. But what else can you expect if you make 65 episodes in one season! Snarf me!

It's all very silly and inconsequential, but even after 24 episodes I can't say it was getting easier to predict. Any given episode they might be rescuing unicorns from cyborg Vikings or in an undersea frog-mecha battling giant eels, or roaming back in time through the astral plane to free imprisoned alien wizards. Whatever Third Earth was, there was a LOT of it! It's either endearingly eclectic or just dizzying and annoyingly erratic.

Take, for example, the episode where the Thundercats discovered a cave that caused rapid aging, and a fountain of youth that could cure it. Cheetara's fleet feet could navigate both without consequence. So... nothing. When the immediate threat was over, nobody suggests Lion-O try to restore his true age. But... you guys just found the fabled well of immortality! You could... oh, never mind, there's space bounty hunters chasing trolls beyond the River of Despair, you'd better go hit them with sticks.

Would YOU like it? Are you a twelve-year old kid?

Do I like it? Yes.

As Marshall said of Ted on 'How I Met Your Mother', my heart is both drunk AND a kid.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Hugos: A Canticle for Leibowitz

A tenderhearted pair of my co-workers rescued an abandoned young rabbit on the street today, which may be why Thumper's advice is ringing in my ears as I try to make this review: "If you can't say nothin' nice...don't say nothin' at all."
Sorry, rabbit. The sixties are underway and 1961's Hugo Winner by Walter M. Miller Jr. was not and never will be a favorite book of mine.
It concerns three events, each 600 years further into a very unfortunate possible future of war, atomic mutation, mass illiteracy, tribal conflict and suchlike. The events feature monks of the order of St. Leibowitz, copying, illuminating, embellishing, and preserving the personal effects, blueprints, relics, and grocery lists of the long-dead soldier Isaac Edward Leibowitz, debating their canonical value, reinventing the tech implied within, and eventually expanding the order's mandate to the preservation of all knowledge against human forces bent on self-eradication.
Today I bumped it up from the petulant 'no stars' I had written in my notes at the time, to one star out of four, still my most negative opinion of a Hugo so far. Yes, sadly, there's worse to come and I needed the 'no stars' rating for some others down the line.
'A C for L' is a classic. It is beloved. By other people. I admit this freely: You won't win me over by making me read Latin. Or by, seemingly, having a very low opinion of humanity.
What's worse is 'A Canticle for Leibowitz' seems like it might have inspired a sequence in my favorite episode of Babylon 5's fourth season ''The Deconstruction of Falling Stars". J. Michael Straczynski noticed that similarity halfway through writing it, I guess, thought about taking the bit with the undercover monk out or changing it, and left it in anyway. I'm glad he did. It was awesome and, unfortunately, said everything 'Canticle's' first two thirds said, only MUCH faster and less pretentiously.
I admire scholars. I do. My dearest friend is a librarian who probably fantasizes about working tirelessly in a post-nuke ivory tower, preserving the lone light of knowledge for the day the grubby masses will appreciate it once again. Probably. More likely his fantasies would make juicier reading than 'Canticle'. Maybe they'd have some romance and/or some zombie hordes.
I may have this unfounded hate on for classics of literature, which I know makes my reviews VERY suspect, but I'm damn thankful for people who write stuff down and work to preserve literacy. So, the scholar types in 'Canticle' who give their lives for over a thousand years are admirable, even if I didn't really like any of them. (Probably they were just too church-y for me.)
And, of course, unlike in Babylon 5, the overwhelmingly stupid bulk of the human race (or 'Simpletons', as many of them proudly call themselves after 'The Flame Deluge') never gets any better or smarter, finally using the technical knowledge the monks preserved to continue bombing each other to bits, alongside a REALLY AMAZINGLY DEPRESSING treatise on assisted suicide for a mutant woman with two heads.
Author Miller apparently did himself in just before the sequel came out in 1997. I don't plan to read it. It's probably a classic, too.
Old Misery-Guts Miller was one hundred percent a smarty pants. He deserved his Hugo. Especially in the 1960's. Anti-nuke fiction was a good idea. Still is. I'm all for not being nuked. So we should probably KEEP NOT NUKING EACH OTHER.
But until the human race stops doing kind-hearted things on the sly, like when I saw Kim and Rhianna caring for a lost rabbit this morning, I'm not going to give up on our species.

Friday, April 16, 2010

My Favourite Characters: Mysterious & Machiavellian

My tastes are simple. I enjoy sci-fi and superheroes. And other stuff, too, but outside of the fantasy genres I tend to get bored pretty fast. This is just who I am: realistic drama and drawn-out mysteries have to work extra hard to reach me, to allow me to identify with a character. My buddy Ron says I'm not hooked up right. I'm not unconvinced of that diagnosis.

And moreover, I like morally simplistic characters. All good. All bad. Like Superman or Darkseid. I'm oversimplifying this a bit, but I generally do have a hard time liking fictional characters of a more ambivalent kind.

So mad props to Robert Carlyle, for his portrayal of insane genius Dr. Nicolas Rush in SyFy's Stargate: Universe. This is a great new show, (o.k., it's no Defying Gravity so far, but then what is?) which my otherwise Stargate-loving friend Anthony was not won over by.

In tone, Stargate Universe is rather like the recent Battlestar Galactica, stark and relatively humorless in comparison to the earlier SG-1 or Stargate: Atlantis. Of course, it needn't stay that way indefinitely, the first half of the season has been a near-constant man vs nature struggle for survival. (With time-outs for Quantum Leap-style body swapping with less endangered Earth-type folks) I maintain that SGU could develop in various interesting ways, and I'm hopeful that it will not descend to the wrist-slitting tedious misery of Battleglum, or worse, Caprica. Well, I'm hopeful, anyway. It's good to hope things. It sure ain't as upbeat as Star Trek. But you never know.

Particularly desperate for a new sci-fi show to enjoy, with Doctor Who sparsely available in 2009, I latched onto Stargate Universe tentatively at first, but then when I FINALLY managed to see the pilot I was hooked. Granted, my favorite character was Eli. How could I not like Eli? (Pudgy, affable, computer gamer shown at right.)

But Rush is my favorite DUBIOUS character. My favorite SKETCHY character. I recently racked my brain for a guy who was neither a black hat, nor a white hat, but who I still really enjoy watching. And Rush is at the tippy-top of the list. No offense, Dr. House. Maybe if Princeton Plainsboro Teaching Hospital was on Neptune's moon Triton you'd garner more of my minuscule attention span...

But, seriously: I'm fascinated by this guy. Did he endanger 80-odd lives and strand them on a ramshackle barge on an endless drop into outer darkness just to further his career? Is he on a quest to better humankind and has just grown too obsessed to care about other people? What of his research into the Ancients of Earth, and their ability to ascend into a bodiless, immortal state?
Could he be suicidal, desperate and distracted over the death of his wife? Is he just in a prolonged state of coffee withdrawl? WHAT'S HIS DEAL?
Maybe this is how people enjoy Lost. The MYSTERY and DRAMA hook them. They get to ponder oblique motivations and discuss amongst their friends. They didn't need the rustling in the trees that first night on the island to be immediately revealed as a dinosaur or they'd get bored (like I did). They aren't afraid that 6 years of questions will end abruptly without satisfying conclusions. Or maybe they are. I sure was. But I don't need to wonder anymore. Now I have a Lost of my own... in space. Oh, that sounds terrible. Maybe Anthony was right all along.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

I hate Glee! I don't see its appeal at all!

So spoke Community's Jeff Winger, weeping from his efforts to enjoy Glee, the Fox musical-comedy-drama mega-hit. As usual, I laughed very hard during Community, with complete sympathy and affection for its splendid cast of zany misfits. But THAT line made me laugh till I cried. Because I completely agreed with Jeff.

I TRIED. I tried so bloody hard. I really wanted to like this show. Know some things about me first, they might be relevant: I'm a guy. I'm straight. And I ADORE musicals, comedies, and musical comedies. It's just GLEE I can't abide.

I think it's called 'Glee' because 'Despicable Me' was already taken. Not very Gleeful. Try Hateful, hollow, and horrifying.

Executive producer and show-runner Ryan Murphy told Rolling Stone '[Glee is] four acts of darkness and two acts of sweetness'. Did my PVR cut off the last two acts? Where was the sweetness? I think he means the wearyingly repetitive slushies-thrown-in-faces gag. Slushies are sweet, right? I think Murphy may have some trouble identifying sweetness: these characters are too deeply cynical to be high-schoolers. And why are they so unattractive? I know, I know, subjective impressions of physical appearance aside: the men are doe-eyed, 'aw, shucks' goofball victims or total douche-hats, and the women are manipulative, evil shrews or crazier than shit-house rats. It's off-putting! I'd rather hang out with Sil from 'Species' than any girl on Glee. Who WAS I supposed to identify with or, god forbid, LIKE?

Now, to be fair, I remember the emotions were real-esque once when the gay kid's dad subverted my expectations by not freaking when his son came out. That actually seemed like a GENUINE moment of human feeling. And I'm told that when Will's horrible wife revealed she wasn't pregnant and had been stringing him along his reaction was VERY realistic, with shades of domestic abuse. Well, coin a phrase, duh! Screw a guy over in the most primitive possible way and watch the laughs keep on comin'!

It turns out people don't like discovering they've been lied to. Take me, for instance. Glee's pilot sold me on a premise: high school schlubs make good in glee club. Yay! Sounds like fine fare, musical comedy fun. I RAVED about that pilot. I looked FORWARD to it. I ENCOURAGED people to check it out when it returned. Then I let it slap my face for 10 episodes until I gave up.

There was no character development. No plot. Just miserable, auto-tuned, stereotypes unable to connect with my life experiences as an uncaring universe heaps torment and humiliation upon them. Whee!

'Glee' pretends to care about humanity, the pain of growing up, and the blight of high school, but I cannot feel its tacky happy endings. "Freaks and Geeks" was painful to watch, too, but at least it seemed more honest. I actually cared about THOSE characters and when bad things happened to them, I felt bad for them. That's how drama's supposed to work. I think. Or is there some way to loathe everything the characters stand for and just enjoy the juiciness as they stab each other?
It worries me how many viewers are probably doing just that. Glee oozes with all the shallow, soul-soiling unpleasantness of reality TV only somebody HAD TO MAKE THIS UP!

I know you love it. Plenty of people that I love, love 'Glee'. And now NPH and Joss Whedon are going to be stopping by, too. I LOVE THEM!

Sigh. I really wish I could start believin' again.

But I have the feeling Glee will continue to leave me as cold as a slushy and as heartless at that new ass-banjo Jesse St. James. Here's hoping!

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Hugos: Starship Troopers

Today I learned the meaning of the word 'polemic'. Let me share it with you: it's a reasoned argument presented in attack/defense of a concept or doctrine. Neat-o, right? It's good to learn new things!
The 1959 Robert A. Heinlein novel 'Starship Troopers' was called a polemic in a UK Sci-Fi mag I happened to skim through today, and once my friend Ron read me the definition you see above, I agreed.
The book wasn't a screed: that's the one-sided rants you'll often see here at Mike's Best Blog Ever, the kind that offer no room for argument; i.e. She-Hulk is the best Marvel Comics Super-hero. Full stop!
The doctrine in question in the novel 'Starship Troopers' is militarism. Robert Heinlein, (normally one of my favorite writers) in this novel reminds me of the televised exchange between 'Futurama's evil alien newscaster Morbo and Richard Nixon's thousand-year-old head:

"Morbo! How's the wife and kids?"

"Belligerent and numerous!"

"Good. 'Cause Nixon's pro-war and pro-family."

Heinlein, to be charitable, was not really pro-war. (When would Lazarus Long find time enough for love if he was always face-down in the mud of the battlefield?) But RAH sure as heck was pro-military.
Hence my ambivalence toward this Hugo winner: I have a personal philosophy of total pacifism honed in the fires of being a tremendously privileged doughy white coward who rarely had to fight for anything. Heinlein had buds who died at Pearl Harbor. So who am I to judge?

Starship Troopers tells the tale through long (but interesting) dialogues and classroom scenes, (without much in the way of actual combat sequences) of Juan Rico, Filipino soldier in the Terran Federation fighting in the war against the arachnids of Klendathu. The bugs in question are soulless commie drones, and the Rico in question is a brave and mighty democratic human individual who has earned the right to vote along with his willingness to die and kill to defend the Earth in kick-ass power suits dropped on enemy planets from orbit.

By the way, that dying seems to begin with about a 50/50 chance of dying IN TRAINING. Just in case you wanted to join up for the co-ed shower scenes like in the Verhoeven movie. 

It's not like that movie. 

Among other things, in the book 'Dizzy' Flores is a dude. And, no, Johnny and Dizzy probably don't bunk together in the book either, in case THAT got you interested! This is not a book of sex or romance, except maybe Heinlein's romantic feelings about his country and his military service. Pacifist and Dutch pervert Paul Verhoeven's awesome movie satirizes what Heinlein takes VERY seriously. Yet both book and movie were criticized for 'glorifying fascism'.

Controversial? Yeah. And RAH would have liked that. He was one smart guy. He loved his country and he was too sick to fight in maybe the only war the 20th century NEEDED to fight. I know that bugged him. Doughy, know-nothing socialists like me sitting on our butts out-gassing on topics our public schools and TVs barely prepared us to blather about on blogs all over the 21st Century probably would've bugged him, too. Canadians aren't commies, per se, but, well... I still would have liked to meet him. Don't know what we would have talked about.
He was seemingly fascinated by Mormons.
And until I reached the age of reason I was one of those... ah, it's not important now.
Maybe we'll meet in the waiting room in Mormon hell. I can tell him about the Verhoeven movie.

I gave this book 3 stars out of 4. Low for a Heinlein, but the thing is 'Forever War' and 'Ender's Game' prefer to show war in something of a different light. A nasty one. And I liked them better. They seemed more honest.

(Canada should be thankful I do not literally stand on guard for it. The bugs would probably roll right over me while I apologized and tried to see their point of view.)

Friday, April 9, 2010

What The... What?

She-Hulk. Gorgeous. Hella strong. Wicked sense of humor. Write her seriously at your own peril: her best superpower is her defiance of pessimism. Write her as a monster at your own peril: at heart she's just a good little girl who never let herself dance.

I wanted to call this last post of She-Hulk week "Whither Shulkie?" for added classiness, but experience tells me it'll probably be more like "wither". Lately I just can't afford to keep up with comics. Was "The Last Defenders" good? Or "Savage She-Hulks #1"? Maybe "Girl Comics #1"? I dunno yet. I think Jen Walters is fairly likely to disappear: but then again, you can't REALLY kill a superhero unless you wound the concept so badly everyone loses interest and stops buying it.

Media exposure might help, although Shulkie on TV is sparse and embarrassing ('Enter The She-Hulk' might be a stellar porno title, but the cartoon is just NOT as fun as it sounds). In fact, the TV She-Hulk to beat so far is the 1981 Benny Hill sketch and the Dan Slott-penned 'The Cure' episode of 'Fantastic Four: World's Greatest Heroes'. The latter is not only notable as Jenny's best TV showcase so far, but also the best TV appearance of Squirrel Girl, auditioning for the mighty Fantastic Four.

Maybe it's high time for a She-Hulk live-action MOVIE. There are, however, some minor stumbling blocks. Like, in my buddy Ron's words: 'Unfilmable', 'Impossible', and I'm pretty sure he said 'Garbage' at one point there. For my part, I see three obstacles:

1. Please, Internet, STOP saying Megan Fox for She-Hulk! I need you thinking less Vapid, more Clever and Funny. Think Zooey Deschanel on the one side of thirty, Tina Fey on the other, with the reminder that Jen Walters has usually been depicted in her thirties, and that Shulkie should probably be CG rather than human, crafted by the horniest artists our decadent society has to offer. Think Sigourney Weaver's Na'vi Avatar only curvier, and obviously, more green.

2. Don't just throw it together- have a damn script first. Don't filter it through a committee. Too many cooks and all that. Dear lords of Hollywood, spare the children from any more 'Catwoman', 'Elektra' or 'Superman Returns'!

3. Don't make the mistake nearly EVERY writer who tells a 'Savage She-Hulk' story seems to make. This IS a superhero comic, BUT IT IS NOT AN ACTION FLICK. Not foremost. She-Hulk is first and foremost a ROMANTIC COMEDY. That's what makes it unique. That's the genre where it pops. On paper...

Add those three points together and you've got a box office risk so big it will almost certainly never be taken. Right, Nick Cage? Right, Disney? Huh? I double dare you...?

I will, as usual, have to content myself with 'Iron Man 2' and MAYBE, SOMEDAY, FINALLY a She-Hulk feature-length cartoon?
I just beg for one more like Gail Simone's 'Wonder Woman' than the most recent sucktacular 'Dr. Strange' flick or whatever. Sorry, Marvelites.

And speaking of Wonder Women, I figured out the answer to the question I posed myself on Monday:
Why is the She-Hulk my favorite over the likes of Silver Surfer or Mary Marvel? I like so many of these great and good bastions of four-color righteousness, I do, and I guess it's because they are pure in heart. She-Hulk is many things. But I wouldn't call her pure!
And who IS, really?
We WANT to be. We often TRY to be. But few of us get to be grown-ups without some tarnish. And although, say, Wonder Woman is a great heroine, (and in the William Moulton Marston 1940's characterization was even a little kinky; making with the bondage games) I've got to side with the She-Hulk for having the edge in... naughtiness.

To that end, if I may, next week (or quite soon) I'll post my amateurish 2003 opus "Untold Tales of She-Hulk" over at deviantart.com It's a sort of women-in-prison sexploitation romp, may John Byrne forgive me. The Comics Code Authority surely would- it's approximately as tame as Marsten's stuff, I think. And, hopefully, as fun. Remember: "DON'T MAKE SHOWERING SHE-HULK ANGRY..."
Speaking of forgiveness, a smart husband would probably keep 'The Other Woman' on the down-low. I'm not sure what kind of husband that makes ME... But, hey, don't worry, Sweetness! She-Hulk's only real in some other Dimension! There's no need to turn Green with envy... unless... Wait! That might be GOOD!
As ever, for my flesh-and-blood Giantess. Thank you thirty billion times, luv, for marrying me despite my glaringly obvious character flaws.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Supports, Lifts and Separates

The supporting characters are the staples that hold a comic book together. Or the glue, if you've got a trade paperback. Either way, a tribute now to the little people who've made She-Hulk the perpetually-on-the-verge-of-cancellation superheroine she is today.

Back in 'Savage She-Hulk' in the 1980's David Kraft designed a tepid love triangle when the newly hulkified lady simultaneously dated the card-carrying creep with the unfortunate moustache, 'Zapper' Ridge, and the self-loathing filthy hippie Richard Rory. Yeesh. Archie Andrews gets Betty and Veronica, and Jen had Zap and Rory? She made the right choice in the end: leave L.A. for New York and forget she ever met them.

Morris Walters and Louise Mason were supporting cast in 'Savage She-Hulk' and 'Sensational She-Hulk' respectively. Morris was the trigger-happy Sheriff Daddy who gets his exercise jumping to conclusions and hunting the green monster he thinks killed his daughter. Perfectly sensible, if you want She-Hulk to have a General Ross analogue chasing her so she can pointlessly do everything her famous cousin has done. Weezi was the former golden-age masked heroine Blonde Phantom, plucked from obscurity by Byrne and re-imagined as a silver-haired Angela Lansbury-style mentor who wanted to be Jen's sidekick and thus cheat death by becoming a comic book character again. Moe brought drama and pathos, Weezi brought comic relief and staggering concepts about the nature of faked reality. They were married off and vanished together once more from She-Hulk's life. For better or for worse.

Shulkie's time in the 'Avengers' cemented a fast friendship with Janet Van Dyne, the Wonderful Wasp, crying out for a super gal-pal since the early sixties. More so at that time, fresh out of the worst break-up in Marvel history. (Unless you retroactively count Gwen Stacey and Norman Osborn. Yeeeurgh!) Janny and Jenny, tall and small, on the loose in a mansion full of hunks to rate and date. Best friend Jan is dead now, of course. Dead as a comic book doornail. Expect her return from the grave in 2012.

'Secret Wars' gave us Titania, and 'She-Hulk' gave us Mallory Book. An arch-foe for work, and an arch-foe for play. Great characters, at least once Dan Slott wrote a backstory for Skeeter with some heart in it.

Howard the Duck and Awesome Andy- She-Hulk's soul siblings in funny book exile. Tough as nails on the outside, mushy romantics on the inside, oddball cult favorites who gravitate to the odd girl out.

'Fantastic Four' gave Jen a replacement family worthy of her greatness, and a handsome Indian chief with the best chemistry yet. Stan and Jack's burly buddy of John Storm, dusted off by Byrne, may mostly have been quiet man-candy but he could handle himself around superheroes, and I thought he was quite a catch for Jen, frankly. Still not sure why they broke up.

Luke Cage, John Jameson, Tony Stark, and Hercules: playing to modern portrayal of She-Hulk as a 'cape-chaser', she had one-night stands and one imploded quickie marriage with these famous superstuds. Wish Peter David had slowed down to tell me more about Herc, since banging him had been a long-term fantasy of Jen's and David just dispensed with it in a page where you blink and miss it. Of course, he ALSO didn't explain how Jen met Skrull Jarella, the thunder-stealing, focus-pulling lovelorn sidekick who couldn't die. (Couldn't die? Or WOULDN'T die?)

Speaking of thunder-stealing and focus-pulling, now we have Jen's semi-friendly niece and nephew from barbarian futures, and a cruel Red She-Hulk (or She-Rulk, if you like) here to snap her neck and take her place. Cause that's what Marvel does these days. (O.K., I'm being a bit alarmist, I kind of like Lyra.)

Last but never least, Ben Grimm. The ever lovin' blue-eyed Thing is the idol a' millions, and he has his own family, loves, concerns, and yet-to-be canceled comic. I've enjoyed the flirtatious dynamic between them in such diverse places as Marvel Two In One 88, the '90's Incredible Hulk cartoon, Thing/She-Hulk: The Long Night, and especially the filthy innuendo in Twisted Toyfare Theatre. Ben and Jen is not quite the forbidden-but-often-imagined Superman/Wonder Woman team-up, but I kind of like the idea of an ElseWhatIf World where orange and green Bennifer are shacking up.
Also, I'll settle for friends who let friends crash on their fancy Baxter Building couch.
It's probably safer.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

My Favorite Characters: The Jade Giantess

Jennifer Sue Ann Walters. Lady Lawyer. Sexpot Superhero. Avenger, Defender, Liberator, and more. Yes, arguably Marvel Comics' finest female character, but it's undeniable: all the good names were already taken. Wonder Woman? Taken. Green Lantern? Taken. Captain Marvel? Taken a BUNCH of times! Can't be Catwoman. Sprite? Ariel? Shadowcat? Nope, not hardly. She had to settle for SHE-HULK.
Oh, don't get me wrong. She's a girl Hulk. So, it is PRACTICAL. It's just a name devoid of grace, elegance, and dignity.
But, what's in a name? Most of us don't get to choose them. You go with what works. At least you do if you're my favorite comic book superhero OF ALL TIME!
Obviously, I'm not the only one. It just seems like it when she's always getting canceled. Wonder Woman? She's at 600 issues. She-Hulk? Barely broke 100 if you fudge the numbers.
But plenty of people like her. Try shulkie.com. That dude Lingster clearly has great affection for her. (And disdain for Peter David's run on her title, which I wholeheartedly share, sadly.) Plus, Family Guy's Chris Griffin apparently LOVES She-Hulk. It's the sort of thing I learn doing half-assed Google searches for She-Hulk information I didn't have. And I used to think myself QUITE the She-Hulk buff. In the early noughties there was a period when I owned her every comic issue and guest appearance. In the saner days since (girlfriend and wife days, it must be admitted) I culled the issues from my collection that could best be described as shit-tacular (both She-Hulk and others). But I can bypass the list I was GOING to make of 8 better uses of my time with my pants on to bring you:

(Why eight? Because that's how many fingers I have left with both thumbs up!)

8. Bill Mumy and Miguel Ferrer's Comet Man # 4-
It's only a cameo, but it's a real eye-opener.
(By eye-opener I mean shower scene. Perhaps I'm becoming a tad predictable? No, really. It's not easy to find in used bookstore bins, which are vanishing into the ether themselves, but it's pretty cool. Those guys should write more.)

7. Jeph Loeb & Frank Cho's Lady Liberators guest story in Hulk #7-9-
One of my bookstore co-workers pulled the issue with the LL standing on the Red Hulk and tagged it with the post-it note: "Marvel's idea of female empowerment". Well, yeah. It's a seventies homage. Heck, one day girls'll even get the VOTE! Kidding aside, Frank Cho and Jeph Loeb seem to remember how to have fun. Shulkie working her way down the list of superheroines to phone for help and the LL being the bottom of the proverbial barrel never fails to tickle my funny bone.

6. Dwayne McDuffie's She-Hulk: Ceremony graphic novels 1 & 2-
Something I read today makes me think there's a scene in this that caused John Byrne's departure from Shulkie's title between issue 8 and 31. If true, at least me Bizarro Mike got him Superman out of it! Boo! But whatever the dilemma caused by shaved legs, it was a romantic thrill with fine characterization, some thought behind it, and very sadly one of the last great moments in the Jen/Wyatt Wingfoot relationship. But, by hook or by editorial mandate, a girl's gotta run free! And I prefer to think if there were bits I didn't like, they weren't Dwayne McDuffie's fault. I like that guy!

5. Ty Templeton's Howard the Duck: Media Duckling-
I like THIS guy too. See earlier posts. When I met him I also got the Laurie B. She-Hulk drawing photographed for this post! Sweet! HTD:MD owes something to Steve Gerber's weird run on Sensational She-Hulk, which I admit wasn't my favorite, but c'mon, for every Nosferata the She-Bat it had a BALONEYVERSE! I'll let you guess which one I thought was funny and which one I thought was labored. Cause I don't know anymore.

4. John Byrne's Fantastic Four-
The birth of the modern Shulkie. Confident, sharp-witted, cuddlesome, occasionally sarcasti-bitch but never disappointing. I side with Scott Tipton of Comics 101 in the belief that Jen's time on this FF team was the best this comic had been since Stan and Jack.

3. John Byrne's Sensational She-Hulk trade paperback-
Covered in Comics 101's 2007 posts, nevertheless, it is a treasured part of my collection and they'll have to pry it from my cold, dead hands. Does Byrne deserve three places on a list of 8? He deserves 4! Maybe someday he'll get to write more She-Hulk. A guy can dream, right?
2. John Byrne's Sensational She-Hulk 1-8, 31-50-
More or less. There's some filler. There's a lot of cheesecake. There is also some of the best funny book work of ALL TIME. In the best sense of the word funny. If the idea of a superheroine who has the power to KNOW she is a comic book character and manipulate her life accordingly doesn't appeal to you... you'll probably just read something else. But I think it's friggin' hilarious.

1. Dan Slott's She-Hulk All FIVE Trades-
Keep them close to your heart at all times to stop stray bullets! Jen's also got a brilliant cameo in Dan and Ty's Spider-Man/Human Torch #4.

By my tinfoil hat reckoning She-Hulk is 35 Marvel years old (for whatever that's worth in a universe where time slows down with every passing company-wide crossover) and they seem to be doing their level best to kill her and finally stamp out lighthearted, fun funnybooks in favor of a dour, grey morass of rain-soaked action scenes. Nice property you bought, there, Disney! Any chance of a She-Hulk movie?
No, I thought not.
See you kids tomorrow. Unless I'm trapped in the Baloneyverse.
(It's a universe made of old baloney.)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

I Only Read She-Hulk for the Articles

From naughty librarians to lady lawyers eager to examine their briefs, I think it's universal: dudes dig smart chicks. I know my own admiration for the She-Hulk is focused entirely on her large, powerful, heaving brains.
So, taken from that perspective, this comic is VERY thought-provoking. Reading it is a deep, meaningful experience rife with well-considered messages on Jung's 'shadow side' of the human psyche. Is man inherently evil? Does it do more harm than good to suppress our rages and lusts? Is man merely an animal or instead a spiritual being capable of transcending his baser instincts?
Consider, too, the double standard of gender politics and the inequality still inherent in the relations between the sexes. Tony Stark might have a list of sexual conquests as long as his... arm and he's still a matinee idol. Give a similar checkered past to the She-Hulk and suddenly you've got people yelling 'Slut!'.
(I prefer the term 'Sexually Accessible' myself.)
Because sluts are BAD. Sluts are just... NAUGHTY. And I think it's pretty clear to everyone that She-Hulk is a GOOD GIRL.Is it her fault if a rocket engine blasts her pants off? Or that even unstable molecule costumes can rip in the most EMBARRASSING of places in the midst of an ordinary day's heroics?
It's just the job, that's all.
But men get too hung up on the whole Madonna/Whore angle. Real women tend towards the middle of that scale, neither unreachable perfection nor skanky trash.

In a genre and medium still rather dominated by male creators and readers, most of whom are very handsome, desirable, and brimming with confidence, it only makes sense that they would craft a female character so similar to themselves. Thus, there can occasionally be a danger of objectification, but entirely unintentionally, of course. After all, Wertham fought bravely to defend our minds against that kind of filth and impurity. Comics are safe as houses nowadays!Superheroine costumes NEED to be skimpy: it distracts the villains. That's just shrewd tactics, not cheesecake.
Also, Jen Walters being a shape shifter, she just normally has to deal with clothes that rip or slip. Wardrobe malfunction is a hazard of supernatural combat.
What fan service? Sometimes a gal just wants an all-over tan. Plus they don't make towels big enough for your average glamazon, do they? They're so dinky!
So if a grown woman feels like supplementing her income with a metal bikini photoshoot in a magma pool, who are we to stand in the way? That would be... wait, what's going on here?
I've lost all credibility, haven't I?

Monday, April 5, 2010

And Lo, There Came A Shulkie Week!

Long time readers may recall that I, Mike, have enormous affection bordering on a personality disorder for comic book super-heroine Jennifer 'She-Hulk' Walters. And it's the 30th Anniversary of She-Hulk's first appearance in 1980. YAY! So in the dwindling hopes of garnering as much attention as I apparently got on Legion Week back in November, I'm going to shoot for a post per weekday.
Most people (including my beloved and, let's face it, long-suffering wife) know that 5 posts will barely scratch the surface of how much I can blather on about this PARTICULAR topic. THE SENSATIONAL SHE-HULK.
Her story began in the very early eighties with one visionary and iconic man.Yes, Benjamin J. Hill, creator of the She-Hulk... oh, what? That doesn't count? Sorry, Marvel's legal department is beaming telepathic messages into my cortex suggesting that Stan Lee and John Buscema created She-Hulk in the very early 1980's. Go figure.
I'm pretty sure Stan and Jack created the Hulk, so I imagine Hill's estate's not getting any royalties. But I haven't done any research, so, who the hell knows?
Scott Tipton has a splendid blog history of She-Hulk's comic book appearances. Read them, they're undoubtedly better than mine.
In a nutshell, mousy Los Angelino lawyer Jen Walters is shot by gangsters while her cousin Bruce 'You May Remember Me As Television's Bill Bixby' Banner just HAPPENS to be in town and JUST HAPPENS to have the same blood type and it JUST SO HAPPENS to be gamma irradiated, and hey, presto: you have a green-skinned cash machine who (in theory) appeals to sex-starved teen boys (and roue Benny Hills of all ages) and 'newly' liberated roller-disco girls who, now that it is the eighties, are fully entitled to read comics, too, or at least do lines of coke off of them.
Shulkie's first series lasted longer than it really deserved because, well, 30 years ago they didn't cancel books just because they were terrible. (This tradition has declined in recent years but is ongoing.) The Jade Giantess even got a couple of trade paperbacks before the days when EVERYTHING was suddenly worthy of a trade paperback, and one of those may well have outsold Dazzler's! I kid you. The Disco Dazzler had about 50 issues, just like Jessica Drew's Spider-Woman. She-Hulk had 25. Then Jen did some crossovers, then she joined the Avengers. Tossed from writer to writer, each more confused and befuddled than the last, the Green Glamazon rocketed to recognition (or at least became slightly less obscure) when John Byrne made her a member of the Fantastic Four. Byrne apparently fell in deep and unsettling love with She-Hulk, made her much more vivacious, intelligent, and funny, got her a second, MUCH superior book. Paving the way for Steve Gerber, Dwayne McDuffie, and then some lesser lights who got to ride it into the ground again at issue 60.
All was silence for nigh on ten years. If the decades have a place reserved for them in hell, I hope the 1990's are on the very bottom.
She-Hulk never went entirely away but tended to be the muscle/eye-candy in the Avengers if you couldn't get the X-Gals or Carol Danvers. Then in the noughties, presumably for some kind of legal reason (?) they dusted poor Jenny off again, with some good parts in Busiek & Perez's Avengers, then Geoff Johns 'The Search for She-Hulk' storyline. 2005 saw much rejoicing (mostly by me) when She-Hulk's third volume was launched by Dan Slott. It was 100% worthy of the excessive praise I heaped upon it. Templeton, Loeb, Pak, Van Lente, Parker and others have served her well since. Depending on who was writing, she was strong and clever and sexy, or a mindless violent mess, or some kind of damn bounty hunter in a Torchwood rip-off. Depending on who was reading, she was a role model, Good Girl Art pin-up, silly parody or nothing whatever to write home about, and certainly nothing to keep buying. And if you're keeping score, that's 4 times a She-Hulk series got cancelled.
I cannot stress this point enough: THIS IS MY FAVORITE COMIC BOOK SUPERHERO.
Created by putting boobs on the Hulk so nobody else (except Benny Hill) could do it first. Created just after Girly Thor, Spider-Woman and Ms. Marvel and thankfully long before Wolverine-With-Boobs X-23.
Why, oh, why don't I have a sensible favorite superhero like the Silver Surfer or Mary Marvel? Man, oh, man, that would be SO much easier! But, no, I cannot in honesty deny my first comic book crush. And I do mean CRUSH!