19th Aug2011

Does A Body Good

by Will

After all these years, I still find that I’m too immature for “Got Milk?” ads. These things have been around for almost 20 years, so it must be an effective campaign. That said, most of them just look like a money shot from a celebrity sex tape with high production values. Even when they did one with Batman – my hero among heroes – it just made my heart hurt for the Caped Crusader! Was that how he was replenishing the Wayne fortune?!!!

Anyway, I work at…a place filled with…people who might be inspired to drink milk, and these posters are everywhere. Hell, I think we ran out of money, and they’re just using them as cheap wallpaper. In any case, I thought I’d share a few of them with you, along with my thoughts. Before we get started, I apologize for the quality of the pictures; Ansel Adams never had to use a BlackBerry camera…

Just look in that dog’s eyes. He clearly saw the whole thing. This just makes me think back to the time Amanda quit Twitter because she got a bunch of backlash for saying she preferred black guys. What did Devante do to you, Amanda?! What did he do?!!!

They finally came up with a way to get me to not notice the milk mustache. Ha! He’s with a giraffe! Honestly, I think the funniest part is that the giraffe actually finished college.

This is probably the worst picture of Demi Lovato I’ve ever seen, and I say that as a Demi fan. Hell, you don’t say something nice about her, and she will punch you in your face! She went to rehab for it and everything. Anyway, this picture looks like it might be some sad artifact sent to the past from a future where her career has totally derailed, yet the “Demi Loves Otto” sex tape is tearing up the SuperNet.

This one is disturbing to me because, in real life, Victoria Justice looks like a bad Photoshop job. She’s got the face of a 25 year old, yet the body of a fit 15 year old. She’s like a younger clone of Giada De Laurentiis. She just seems like an odd choice for a milk ad. “Your body will be suspended in teen animation, but you’ll be pretty. Drink up!”

And I thought R. Kelly was the one who sang “Down Low”. Notice how you can’t really see from the waist down? These are my confessions…

OH, COME THE FUCK ON!

16th Jun2011

Mr Terrific?

by Will

So, according to a comment on my last post, I’m apparently deplorable for implying that the “DCnU” diversity books are simply that – affirmative action books to fulfill some diversity quota. If this revamp actually holds weight, more power to it. The thing is, I’m not new to this game. For all the changes of staff and direction, at the end of the day, the same people running the industry were running it 20 years ago. It’s a 4-color country club. That’s not to say that they don’t occasionally have good intentions, but they’ll always be thwarted by the baby boomer fans who don’t like change (remember the “Donald Glover for Spider-Man” debacle?). Sure, those fans will die out, but is there enough of a new generation to take their place? That, in essence, is the point of the DC revamp. I get that. I just don’t know if there’s as much an audience for that as one might think.

With all of this going, I decided to look at the matter from the perspective of the “black comic reader”. That’s not a normal thing for me, as I tend to just think of myself as “comic reader”. It rarely hits home that the heroes “don’t look like me” ’cause it’s fiction. A lot of people in real life “don’t look like me” either, as I’ve had a few unique experiences. Then again, I got into comics at an age when I was no longer looking for heroes, so maybe that has colored my view. In any case, I can turn a blind eye to a few things as simply “comic reader”. I find, however, that’s it’s when things are targeted directly to “black comic reader” that I have the most problems. One particular example of this is Mr. Terrific.

As the second person to go by the name “Mister Terrific”, Michael Holt has genius-level intelligence, and he’s an Olympic-class athlete. He became a self-made millionaire through his company, Cyberwear. After his wife and unborn baby were killed in a car accident, he contemplated suicide, but was stopped by The Spectre.  The Spectre told Holt of Terry Sloane, the original Mr. Terrific, which inspired Holt to want to follow in his footsteps. Not only does Mr. Terrific eventually become chairman of legacy group, The Justice Society, but he also becomes a ranking member in the Checkmate intelligence agency. Sounds good, right? Well, not so fast.

First, I’ve always had a problem with the fact that his intelligence is ranked. According to the comics, Mr. Terrific is the 3rd smartest man in DCU. Why does his intellect need to be qualified? Some might see this as a great advancement for a black character, but I always saw it as “Well, there are 2 people smarter than him, and I’ll bet they’re white.” If this were a race, he’d be the 2nd loser. Marvel did this with Amadeus Cho, who was the 7th smartest person in Marvel Universe. In both situations, all this does is point out that “he’s good, but he’s not the BEST”. Can’t he be brilliant without a rank? It’s bad for public schools, and it’s bad for super heroes.

Second, Mr. Terrific suffers from what I’m going to ignorantly refer to as “Doing-Too-Much-Itis”. This is one of the reasons that he always came off as a pandering, “diversity” hero, as there are 2 ways to play this: 1) make him a street-smart stereotype OR 2) go WAY overboard in the opposite direction. With Mr. Terrific, #2 is flying the plane. You see, it’s not enough that Holt is a genius and a successful businessman. No, he created T-Spheres which hover around him, and do whatever the story needs them to, and he’s also invisible to electronic detection. Plus, he’s an Olympic decathlete AND he holds 14 PhDs. FOURTEEN PhDs!!! In my best Seth Meyers voice, “Really?!” They couldn’t take one thing and stick with it? Now, my commentor would probably say something like, “Well, Batman’s smart – are you trying to say that a black man can’t be just as smart?” Here’s the difference, while Batman probably could’ve earned 14 PhDs, he DIDN’T. Ya know why? He didn’t need some institution of higher learning to qualify what he’d learned. He was too busy being trained by ninjas and shit.

It’s like comic book writers haven’t figured out how to handle the black middle class. It’s not all Sweet Christmas and Uncle Toms. There is a middle ground. Two great examples of this are Steel and Static. Both started a bit rough, as they were mired in the early 90s culture in which they debuted. Over time, however, they carved out identities that weren’t so stereotypical, and were something we hadn’t really seen before in comics. Steel became a trusted ally to, and engineer for, Superman and the Justice League. Static, if handled probably, could be the Peter Parker for a new generation. The key to both is that, to me, they’re relatable. I can’t relate to a dude with 14 PhDs. Mr. Terrific should be out teaching college courses or curing diseases instead of fighting Black Adam.

Finally, another thing bandied about regarding Mr. Terrific is his atheism. He has fought alongside the Wrath of God, but still isn’t a believer. Um, OK.

Let’s forget the fact that throwing real world religion into comics was a notion bound to fail. Some could say that the existence of a deity is more plausible in a comic universe than in the real world. So, by the very structure of his fictional world, Mr. Terrific is already unnecessarily outcast. Now, let’s add to it that the church is one of the cornerstones of what one might consider “the black experience”. His stance, therefore, distances him from many of  those for whom he was most likely created. While we live in the age of the rise of the “Blatheist”, this was just another Terrific aspect to which I couldn’t relate.

Now, let’s take another stance. Let’s assume Mr. Terrific wasn’t created for the black comic reading audience. Instead of appealing to the “black comic fan”, what if he’s meant to appeal to simply the “comic fan”? Let’s take the aging fanboy of the old school persuasion; I dealt with a lot of these back when I was with Diamond. In this situation, Mr. Terrific would still be fail as a concept. You know why? He’s an uppity, rich, intelligent black man, who doesn’t believe in God. Oh, and he dates white women. But he runs real fast (don’t forget to include a stereotype that they do believe in, ya know – so they can relate).

So, for whom was Mr. Terrific created? To whom does he appeal? Are any of you Mr. Terrific fans? With the DC relaunch, he’s slated to have a higher profile. As one of those old school fans pointed out on The Beat, the series will be “written by a black”, so who knows if I’ll find myself liking him more. If there are more fans like that Beat commentor, then the future doesn’t look too terrific to me after all.

10th Jun2011

52 Thoughts…

by Will

So, I already talked about the future of DC Comics in this post. At that time, I figured it was best to be optimistic, and just wait and see what was in store for us. Now, the 52 launch titles of “DCnU” (yes, I hate that, but it seems to be catching) have been announced, so I thought I’d give BRIEF thoughts on each one.

1. Justice League #1 by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee

Great idea, but we all know that this is the creative team for, at best, the initial arc. By #6, we’ll still Johns on board, but we’ll have a Kubert or Scott McDaniel on art. You could do worse, but this is a book that deserves to ALWAYS have A-list talent on it.

2. Justice League International #1 by Dan Jurgens and Aaron Lopresti

I like Booster Gold, so I’ll give it a shot. I just don’t have the love for the JLI that a lot of fans seem to have. I’m here for Batman and Booster.

3. Teen Titans #1 by  Scott Lobdell, Brett Booth and Norm Rapmund

All hail our Image overlords. Seriously, this is more DV8 than Teen Titans. At least Tim Drake’s still around…

4. Suicide Squad #1 by Adam Glass and Marco Rudy

Another concept for which I’ve never had much love. It’s got Harley in it, though. Crazy, redesigned Harley.

5. Action Comics #1 by Grant Morrison and Rags Morales

This is an iconic comic cover:

This is NOT:

Good luck with that.

6. Superman #1 by George Pérez and Jesus Merino

Meh. This would mean something in 1988. Perez doesn’t exactly “bring all the boys to the yard” these days.

7. Superboy #1 by Scott Lobdell and R.B. Silva and Rob Lean

Loved the writer 20 years ago, but don’t know those artists.

8. Supergirl #1 by Michael Green, Mike Johnson and Mahmud A. Asrar

These guys kept Superman/Batman chugging along, but I think I was the only one buying that book. Liked Asrar on Dynamo 5, though.

9. Batman #1 by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo.

Same problem as Action – this  cover isn’t dynamic enough for a book that’s being relaunched after 700 issues:

 

10. Detective Comics #1 by Tony Daniel

Can’t believe Daniel’s still on this franchise. He came along because Kubert couldn’t stay on schedule. Then, they reward him by making him the artist AND writer once Morrison went off to do what he does, resulting in a run that felt like filler. Now, they shift him over to Detective to do more of the same?

11. Batman: The Dark Knight #1 by David Finch

Relaunched after 2 long-delayed issues. Yeah, this’ll work. Paul Cornell or Peter Tomasi will be on this book in a year.

12. Batgirl #1 by Gail Simone, Ardian Syaf and Vicente Cifuentes.

She is HEALED! Barbara Gordon can WALK, and it is a MIRACLE! This one’s causing a lot of chatter online. I’m kind hoping hoping the last panel of #1 shows her getting shot.

13. Batwoman #1 by J.H. Williams III, Haden Blackman and Amy Reeder

Do we really need this is the one, true Batchick is back on the prowl? I get that it contributes to DC’s “diversity”, but she feels pretty redundant at the moment. Plus, Williams is the draw. No one’s gonna care once Calafiore gets put on the book.

14. Catwoman #1 by Judd Winick and Guillem March

Winick, eh? How long before Selina gets a trusted confidante who’s then diagnosed with HIV? That’s the Winick Special right there!

15. Red Hood And The Outlaws #1 by Scott Lobdell and Kenneth Rocafort

I like Rocafort, but Red Hood is kinda like Hush: less is more. Don’t keep him in the spotlight. Plus, a team comprised of Arsenal and Starfire hardly makes it a “must read”.

16. Batwing #1 by Judd Winick and Ben Oliver

‘Cause we’ve all been wanting to read Bat Panther. Nobody likes reading Black Panther, so who thought putting bat ears on that concept would be a winner? This is an affirmative action ploy right here.

17. Nightwing #1 by Kyle Higgins and Eddy Barrows

Surprise, surprise. Not. We knew it was coming, but we thought it would come through a more organic process than what’s seemingly taking place.

18. Batman And Robin #1 by Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason

Why does this book still exist? It was created as the “new flagship”, a la Astonishing X-Men so that Morrison would have his own sandbox to play in. Once his stuff expanded to other titles, this book’s purpose ceased to exist. It’s superfluous.

19. Birds Of Prey #1 by Duane Swierczynski and Jesus Saiz

No Gail and no Oracle. This title hasn’t fared as well when Gail’s not at the helm. Also not sure about the lineup. However, if they’re still in Gotham, I’ll check it out.

20. Green Lantern #1 by Geoff Johns, Doug Mahnke and Christian Alamy

Doesn’t seem like anything changes here. Good for its fans.

21. Green Lantern Corps #1 by Peter J. Tomasi, Fernando Pasarin and Scott Hanna

See #20

22. Green Lanterns: New Guardians #1 by Tony Bedard, Tyler Kirkham and Batt

This will be the first Green Lantern book of DCnU to be canceled.

23. Red Lanterns #1 by Peter Milligan, Ed Benes and Rob Hunter.

This will be the first Lantern book of DCnU to be canceled.

*NOTE: Since there seems to always be a Green Lantern mega event on the horizon, I suspect this book, along with New Guardians will be canceled “as a result of those events” – even though it’ll really be due to sales.

24. Aquaman #1 by Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis

It’s Johns, so it shows DC’s committed, but Aquaman, at his best, has still been considered a joke.

25. Wonder Woman #1 by Brian Azzarello #1 and Cliff Chiang

I came for the art, but I stayed for the story. Seriously, I love anything by Cliff Chiang. Can’t say the same for Azzarello, but I’ll give it a chance.

26. Flash #1 by Brian Buccellato and Francis Manapul

Who? I mean, I know Manapul – he’s supposedly the reason the last series was so late, but this other guy. I assume Flash will have a high profile, due to Flashpoint,  but this ain’t a team that instills confidence.

27. Green Arrow #1 by JT Krul and Dan Jurgens

JT Krul, huh? He did the lambasted Rise of Arsenal, but people swear he’s good. Pass.

28. DC Universe Presents #1 by Paul Jenkins and Bernard Chang

Anthology books don’t do well, but Jenkins is a good name to have on this. Plus, it’ll serve a key purpose in the beginning, as it will help to explain the new status quo in areas not covered in the established series.

29. Savage Hawkman #1 by Tony Daniel and Philip Tan

Ha! Hawkman’s always been a continuity bitch, and Daniel’s writing it. I saw it won’t last 2 years.

30. Blue Beetle #1 by Tony Bedard and Ig Guara

Glad Jaime’s back. It’s another diversity book, and it could be DC’s Ultimate Spider-Man if handled right.

31. Fury Of Firestorm #1 by Gail Simone, Ethan Van Sciver and Yildiray Cinar.

This is just City Guys with nuclear powers thrown in. Look at that cover. They should really be back to back, with their arms crossed. “They’re from different worlds, but they find out they have more in common than they thought.” Sitcom 101.

Plus, Gail doesn’t have the best track record as co-writer on a book about young heroes. Her run with Byrne on The Atom left a LOT to be desired. It’s debatable whether that was due to her or Byrne. Then, her Gen 13 run was also pretty lackluster, but that could also be attributed to that fact that it was a stale franchise. I just don’t think she has the same grasp on the “young voice” that writers like Bendis and Kirkman have.

32. Mr Terrific #1 by Eric Wallace and Roger Robinson

Affirmative action hire! Kiss this goodbye.

33. Captain Atom #1 by JT Krul and Freddie Williams II

JT Krul again, and another character nobody really gives a shit about. Won’t see year 2.

34. OMAC #1 by Dan DiDio, Keith Giffen and Scott Koblish

Didio on a Kirby concept. Since it’s Didio, they won’t cancel it until it’s only selling 10 copies, but the writing will always be horrible.

35. Static Shock #1 by John Rozum, Scott McDaniel and Jonathan Glapion.

Who? Only one I know here is McDaniel. He’s got a nice, kinetic style, but I don’t know how this’ll play. Basically, Static and Blue Beetle are courting the same audience. If they’re aiming for a new audience, this is good, as it could bring in diverse readers. If we’re counting on those already reading comics, they hate minority characters.

36. Hawk And Dove #1 by Sterling Gates and Rob Liefeld

This is a joke, right?

37. Deathstroke #1 by Kyle Higgins, Joe Bennett and Art Thibert

He’s had his own series before, but he’s another character where less is more. Don’t try to turn him into an anti-hero, or try to make us sympathize with him.

38. Legion of Superheroes #1 by Paul Levitz and Francis Portela

Levitz knows the Legion, I’ll give him that. This is also, like, their 9th reboot since I’ve been born.

39. Legion Lost #1 by Fabian Nicieza and Pete Woods

Fabian Nicieza AND Scott Lobdell? DC really broke out the time machine, huh? Hope we get some hologram covers out of the deal!

40. Grifter #1 by Nathan Edmondson, CAFU and BIT

So, Wildstorm’s back, eh? It could work.

41. Voodoo #1 by Ron Marz and Sami Basri.

Wasn’t she a stripper? I don’t entirely remember. Based on the cover I’ve seen, and the fact that Marz is writing it, I get the feeling he’s just gonna use some of his Witchblade ideas over here. After all, more people will read this than those buying Top Cow books.

42. Stormwatch #1 by Paul Cornell and Miguel Sepulveda

Martian Manhunter’s in The Authority? It might work.

43. Animal Man #1 by Jeff Lemire, Travel Foreman and Dan Green

Jeff Lemire is that indie darling DC keeps trying to push on us, but just like “fetch”, I don’t know if it’s gonna catch on.

44. Swamp Thing #1 by Scott Snyder and Yanick Paquette

Here’s your Swamp Thing, hippies. It’s even got that Scott Snyder y’all love so much. I feel like this might be a “be careful what you wish for” situation, where having ST in the main DCU isn’t as awesome as you thought it was going to be.

45. Justice League Dark #1 by Peter Milligan and Mikel Janin

Better hope this is a mini. Sure, it’s Milligan, but this is just Shadowpact all over again.

46. Demon Knights #1 by Paul Cornell, Diogenes Neves and Oclair Albert

See #45

47. Frankenstein: Agent Of SHADE #1 by Jeff Lemire and Alberto Ponticelli

I like Frankenstein. I like SHADE. I also realize this is just Hellboy and the BPRD. Luckily, I like this character more than I do Hellboy – that is if it’s the same characterization as in Seven Soldiers.

48. Resurrection Man #1 by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning and Fernando Dagnino

Doesn’t see year 2.

49. I, Vampire #1 by Josh Fialkov and Andrea Sorrentino

Might’ve worked as a low-selling-as-singles-but-sells-respectably-in-trade Vertigo title, but I don’t see it working as a mainstream DCU book.

50. Blackhawks #1 by Mike Costa and Ken Lashley

A cool, honor-bound group of pilots is now updated into a band of infojock mercenaries. Like Checkmate, I think this concept would be cool woven throughout the universe, and maybe given a mini here and there, but I don’t think it’s a viable ongoing concept.

51. Sgt Rock And The Men Of War #1 by Ivan Brandon and Tom Derenick

There are folks who love war comics. Then again, that war is typically WWII. The Big One. All that. Not sure if modernizing it will work, based on common opinions of our current wars. However, it’s the DCU, so all the battles will take place in fictional places, like Bialya, so it won’t matter.

52. All-Star Western #1 by Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Grey and Meridat.

It’ll march along  just like Jonah Hex did. “A rose by any other name…”

So, those are my initial thoughts. I hope I wasn’t too mean. If anything, I kinda wanted to make a note of this point in time so that I can come back to it when the books ship, and see if I still feel the same. What are your thoughts on the new lineup?

07th Apr2011

So, Which TV Network Are You?

by Will

I’m not sure if this is obvious to some, but the “television experience” has changed a LOT in just a few short years. Once upon a time, people were concerned about airdates and antenna positioning, however, the prevalence of DVR and cable have pretty much done away with all of that. The aspect which has experienced the greatest change, however, is that of network branding. Currently, networks no longer really have a specific identity, instead choosing to let their shows speak for themselves. This can be confusing, though, as what does it say about a network when its most successful shows involve crime scene semen or anti-social nerd caricatures? This wasn’t always the case. There was a time, not that long ago, when networks not only promoted their programming, but also their identities. This was true from the biggest network affiliate to the smallest local syndicated outlet. For example, Channel 5 used to show the same reruns of Mr. Belvedere, Three’s Company, and Who’s The Boss?, but for the summer of ’92, they expected you to refer to it all as “Camp Teeheehaha”. Sure, you’d seen the shows before, but they were taking advantage of the American experience of going off to summer camp in an attempt to rebrand the shows. That’s some Don Draper shizz right there! Networks did little things like this to show that they supported their series; after all, they’d already paid for the syndication rights, so they might as well get their money’s worth. Nowadays, all we have are court shows. If you miss one, another will be on right after it. There’s no real need to promote, as there’s no real difference: sassy black woman judge, sassy white woman judge, sassy might-be-Latina judge, etc. The shows have changed, but so has the promotion of said shows. So, where am I going with this? Well, growing up, I used to think about which network I’d want to be on were I to have my own series. As I grew from boy to man, in what was (to me) a golden age of television, I noticed certain things about each network that made me want to park myself on their prime-time lineup. Let’s take a closer look, shall we?

ABC

This one is pretty much a no-brainer, as anyone who grew up in the 80s and 90s knows where I’m going with this. ABC had a bunch of shows which made them seem like The Touchy-Feely Network, whether it was the family drama of Life Goes On, or the generational experiences of Thirtysomething. Judith Light starred in the riveting TV movie of The Ryan White Story, and families loved gathering around to watch dads across America get hit in the crotch on America’s Funniest Home Videos. All of those shows, however, had NOTHING on the powerhouse known as TGIF.

I’m not going to go into the history and lineup of the TGIF block, ’cause most of y’all were there. Maybe it’s the comic fanboy in me, but what I loved most about TGIF was the shared universe. I guess I’m always looking for a sense of community, and I loved how the early series tended to be related to each other in some way: Mark Cooper (Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper) subbed for Michelle Tanner’s (Full House) class, while Harriet Winslow (Family Matters) was the elevator operator at Larry & Balki’s job (Perfect Strangers). Steve Urkel (Family Matters) did a science project with Mark Foster (Step By Step), while Dana Foster (Step By Step) gave love advice to Cory Matthews (Boy Meets World) at Sea World. With all of this crossover action, it was kinda fun trying to imagine where I might fit in. Maybe I’d be friends with Eddie Winslow, like Weasel and Waldo Geraldo Faldo. Or maybe Karen Foster would reject me before her character oddly disappeared to pursue a country music career. Or maybe I’d be the black friend that Cory and Shawn used to have when Minkus was still around. The possibilities were endless!

One of this biggest perks of a perch on the TGIF lineup was that you also got to host the Saturday Morning Preview special. These are relics of days gone by, but back when networks still had Saturday morning cartoons, they always kicked off the season with the Saturday Morning Preview one Friday night in September (Sure, NBC had one, too, but those were usually hosted by Cosby kids or those awkward kids from ALF or The Torkelsons). The TGIF ones were great, as everyone was (usually) still in character and they genuinely seemed excited about dreck like Hammerman and Little Rosie. Everything was awesome in TGIF Land! As an added bonus, once Disney bought ABC, every show was pretty much required to do a stint at Disney World, so free vacation!

CBS

Growing up, I can’t ever remember wanting to be on CBS. That’s not to say that I didn’t watch CBS shows. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Up until the dawn of the CSI Era, CBS got a bad rap as The Old Folks’ Network. Yes, they had programming like Murder, She Wrote and 60 Minutes, but I never saw it like that. If anything, I always felt that CBS shows had a sense of maturity that couldn’t be found on other networks. I grew up watching Murphy Brown and Designing Women – both shows that spoke more to my experience of being raised by strong, single women from the South. So, I never wanted to be on CBS, as I felt I was already there. Next!

NBC

While ABC was courting me with TGIF, NBC had another acronym waiting in the wings for my affection: TNBC. By far, the most successful NBC branding of that era was “Must-See TV”, but I couldn’t really relate to that. I enjoyed the shows, but they all took place in Manhattan, as the protagonists seemed to have these fantasy jobs that paid for their massive apartments. As much as I love New York, I wasn’t gonna be on “Must-See Thursday” unless I sold a joint to Theo Huxtable or got transferred to Hillman College. Then, along came TNBC as a world of possibility for young black guys. Sure, Lisa Turtle didn’t do much for The Cause, but California Dreams came along and showed me that I could be a drummer. And there was that black dude on The Guys Next Door – sure, no one remembers that show, but I remember he was there. Then, we got Saved By The Bell: The New Class, which always seemed to have a slot for a hip, dancing black guy that needed to be filled. And Hang Time – a show about basketball! C’mon! As a teenager growing up in the late 90s, nowhere felt like “home” as much as TNBC. Yes, I realize that those shows were basically created for girls, but I still kinda felt like those characters were my people.

The BIGGEST perk of being on NBC, however, is one of these:

I don’t know if it’s contractual or what, but if you’re on an NBC show, you are pretty much guaranteed to film one of these public service announcements. A lot of PSAs just come off kinda clunky, but The More You Know has gained a special place in the annals of pop culture. Most PSAs are lame, but I always saw these as some kind of badge of honor. I’ll take one of these over those Truth.com kids ANY day!

Fox

Oh, Fox! It’s amazing how an entertainment network can be so edgy, while its news wing is so conservative. Fox was founded on Married…with Children, so that has colored its identity. While ABC was the Touchy-Feely Network, Fox was on the complete other end of that spectrum. Besides the early reality fare like World’s Greatest Police Chases, there was a “Fox Show” model: the aforementioned Married…, Top of the Heap, even Herman’s Head. Generally, if you wanted to make middle America uncomfortable for about 6 episodes, and your show wouldn’t work anywhere else, then Fox was the place to be. Even to this day, I’m surprised by how much Fox Standards & Practices allows on the air – the entire Seth MacFarlane franchise is a good example of this.

I’ve admired Fox because they are willing to take chances. They still carry shows that you just wouldn’t see anywhere else, and they miss more than they hit. The beauty of the network, however, is that it lives by American Idol alone. The show airs 5 months of the year, but the ratings are high enough to make Fox the #1 Network for the entire season. Growing up, all they had was The Simpsons, but the attitude seemed to be the same as it is now. Sure, reality programming has evolved, and Fox has taken advantage of that, but it’s still the same old Fox. I’d want to be on Fox ’cause they’ll promote the Hell out of your show during NFL and MLB games, but you’re still gonna get cancelled after they move your show to Sundays at 7:00 PM.

UPN

Has there ever been a network with more of an identity crisis than UPN? It’s remembered as The Black Network, but that’s not entirely accurate. Sure, the network had a lot of horrible black shows, like Homeboys in Outer Space and The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer, but there was so much more to it than that. The oddest part of UPN was the it’s prelaunch reputation didn’t match what ended up on the screen. Here’s the pre-launch promo for the network:

As you see, it’s relying on the reputation of the shows that had been developed by Paramount in the past, yet doesn’t really go into detail as to what we should expect from the network. Were they just going to rerun all those shows they just mentioned? Should we be expecting new stuff? Classical music! Rock music! Then, the network launched, and we were introduced to DiResta, Marker and Platypus Man. When your network is bolstered by shows starring a Mad About You costar and Richard Greico, you’re in trouble. Yeah, there was Star Trek: Voyager, but it could also be said that UPN was the nail in the Trek coffin, as both of its offerings were reviled by fans. Early UPN was the television equivalent of the Dot Com Boom, as they really just threw around a lot of ideas to see if they’d stick. Richard Dean Anderson as a cowboy. A Love Boat reboot. A bunch of shows NBC had knocked off their schedule because they apparently weren’t “New York” enough. Through all of this, there was one spot where I could see myself.

Around the time the NBC’s TNBC block was at its peak, UPN started toying around with a similar concept for weekday afternoons. Comprised of reruns of Sweet Valley High and a new teen show called Breaker High, the network adopted the slogan “UPN is U’pn”, which was pronounced “oo-pin”. Sure, it made no sense, and to say it aloud sounds like something you’d hear in a commercial for Dunkaroos. Maybe they were implying that UPN was moving up? Maybe UPN was jumping? I don’t know, but where there are teen shows, I’ll be there. Anyway, Breaker High was about a bunch of kids who were in a semester-at-sea program. It had everything you’d come to expect from teen shows, but starred a charismatic Ryan Gosling and Tyler Labine. I loved the Hell out of that show, even though it didn’t even last an entire season. The U’pn block ran for about 3 months on a daily schedule until it just disappeared one day in November, as the timeslot was given back to the stations. Breaker High finished up its run on Sunday mornings, but the only time I ever saw anything worthwhile in that network was the 3-month U’pn Era.

The WB

OK, I already covered the fact that I’m drawn to things that give off a sense of community, and no network exemplified that as much as The WB. When it first launched, the network’s promos revolved around the image that all of the stars hung out on the Warner Bros backlot. Going to work seemed like it would be a ton of fun, as you’d see Nikki Cox on the elevator, and run into Tia and Tamara Mowry on the way to the set.

Plus, I was entering a point in my life where I really kinda wanted to be in a boyband. While girls my age were pining for heartthrobs, I wanted to be one, and nobody developed teen stars quite like The WB. The stars of those shows kept the teen magazine industry in business for the better part of a decade. If you were under the age of 20, and wanted to make it big, you either needed to fly to Orlando and audition for Lou Pearlman, or you needed to get yourself on a WB show.

Even though it’s a bit of a joke in some circles, The WB did more for pop culture over a decade than people realize. I explored this once before, and my feelings haven’t changed. For that reason, The WB is where I’d want my show to air. You can thank them for Buffy, even if you blame them for Katherine Heigl. To top things off, I think they had a really classy send-off video. A network hadn’t folded since the DuMont Network, so I had no frame of reference for these things. However, if you’ve got to go out, this is the way to do it:

07th Mar2011

5 Corners of Pop Culture That I Don’t Understand

by Will

Yeah, so I go around boasting that I know so much about pop culture, but even I have my blind spots. For example, I’m not much of a movie guy. I’ve never been one for going to movies, and I used to just tell myself “I’ll catch it when it comes on TV”. As a result, there are tons of movies that have become modern day classics (Titanic, Shrek, Avatar) that I’ve never seen. So, don’t recruit me for your trivia team if you need a Movie Guy. Outside of movies, though, there are 5 particular areas of pop culture that I just don’t “get”.

Now, I’m not exactly trying to be controversial, but I just know I’m opening the gates for a flame war. That said, I’m not necessarily saying there’s anything wrong with these five things, but they just don’t really hold much meaning for me. If you can think of a way to change my mind, or can point out great aspects that I’ve missed, then I certainly invite you to do so. This isn’t a bash session, but rather a cry for help: help me understand the big deal about these things.

1) The Big Lebowski – I’ve had people tell me “You don’t get The Big Lebowski ’cause you’re black.” Um, OK…That’s never really affected my interpretation of movies before (although Bamboozled did make me hate white people for a day or so). Since college, I’ve had people tell me that Lebowski is the most quotable movie ever, while extolling the virtues of The Dude. It was an entertaining movie, quirky in the vein of Fargo. It’s a fine movie, but I don’t get the *phenomenon*.  I don’t get why there are action figures of crew-cut John Goodman and Jeff Bridges looking like stoner Jesus in a bathrobe. I don’t get the uptick in White Russian consumption.

In terms of pop culture clout, The Big Lebowski has basically become the White Scarface. Scarface has become somewhat inspirational in urban circles, especially to a generation of rappers. Sure, Tony Montana ends up dead, but before that, he came from nothing and ended up having everything. With that, you can kind of understand why he has become the poster child for those who also come from very little. On the flip side, I don’t see anything aspirational about the story of The Dude. They occupy the same levels of pop culture, for different demographics, for different reasons. Maybe those folks were right: I understand Scarface, but I don’t understand The Dude. Maybe it is because I’m black…

2) The Muppets – Don’t get me wrong: I love Muppet Babies, and the Muppets version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” is one of my favorite Christmas songs. That said, I just never really got into the movies. In college, I spent time around a sketch comedy group, and that was the first time I learned how much comedy circles revered the Muppets. Maybe I haven’t seen the right movies, and I’m missing out. I just don’t get the appeal. In some ways, I think I may have the same issues with the Muppets that I have with Alvin & The Chipmunks – I can suspend my disbelief, but I have a problem with these “creatures” coexisting with humans. The same way that I’m slightly disgusted by the idea that humans girls have the same kind of crushes on 4 foot singing chipmunks as they would on Justin Bieber, I also can’t really deal with the Muppets gallivanting around the “real world”. Sure, it works for Sesame Street, but I don’t see why adults are entertained by this, unless they’re high. And yes, do understand the irony of this statement coming from the guy who still watches Power Rangers.

3) Jersey Shore – Sorry, folks. Watching the premiere of Jersey Shore felt like a chore. Everyone who knows my love of bad television thought that I’d simply fall in love with the show, but they were wrong. I think I may have a different threshold than others. It seems that Jersey Shore is a guilty pleasure for quite a number of young professionals who love the show, but would never admit to it. It also seems that quite a few educated people love tuning in. That’s great. It’s just not my cup of tea. I LOVED the True Life episodes that spawned the show, but I really found nothing likable or engrossing about the cast of Jersey Shore. I did, however, enjoy watching that guy punch the shit out of Snookie ’cause, really, how often do you see something like that?  Jersey Shore is like going to the zoo – people feel superior as they ogle the “dumb” animals, but that shit eventually gets old and you find yourself looking for the hot dog cart.

4) Harry Potter – They’re cute books. I get that. They’re not, however, a worthy basis of what has become a literary juggernaut. Let’s rewind a bit, though. I missed the genesis of the Harry Potter phenomenon because I was somewhat off the grid. I went to Summer College at Cornell the summer that the first book started picking up steam. Now, if you’re not familiar with Cornell or Ithaca, its almost like its own little world. Generally, you have to really seek out information from the “outside world”, or else you won’t know of anything outside the Ithaca city limits. These were the early days of the internet, and there was no social networking just pushing information at you. When I got back to civilization, I started hearing rumblings of this “Harry Potter” thing, but really didn’t know what folks were talking about.

A big reason that I was resistant to Harry Potter was that I didn’t like the caliber of the early adopters. Sure, everyone reads Harry Potter now, but in the beginning, it was a certain group of people: the kids who weren’t allowed to watch TV, who only played with no-name educational toys from mom & pop stores, whose parents drove hybrids. Mainly, Harry Potter was the entertainment of yuppie children, and I hated all that they stood for. I can’t ignore what the franchise has done for literacy, which has actually been a great by-product of the phenomenon. It truly got people into reading, and that’s the one thing I like about it. That said, I’ve never found it all that original.

I grew up in a Roald Dahl household, so it was quite obvious when I started seeing his ideas popping up in the Harry Potter books. The extent of most people’s knowledge of Dahl is typically Charlie & The Chocolate Factory, and maybe Matilda or James & The Giant Peach. If you’ve more than just those, however, you’ll see what I’m talking about. It angered me that people felt that Rowling’s ideas were so groundbreaking, when I’d seen many of them before. For the people who saw where I was coming from, they still brushed me off with a “Well, nothing’s original anymore” or “Well, Rowling did a great job putting all of those Dahl concepts into one series”. Whatever. Like I said, they’re cute books, but I don’t see why they took the world by storm.

5) Star Wars – Basically, this comes down to the fact that I grew up with the philosophy that “Trekkies Can’t Be Warsies”. I latched onto the late 80s Star Trek revival, and that was where I put my focus. Unlike the other things I’ve mentioned, I “get” Star Wars, but I just don’t have the patience for it, nor do I have the desire to learn.

Star Wars just feels downright inaccessible to me. A few years ago, the only stuff that was “canon” consisted of 3 movies (and a holiday special that no one likes to acknowledge). Later on, there were 3 more movies, which was still manageable, especially since the “real fans” hated the new films and flipflopped on whether they acknowledged the events portrayed in them. Then, however, there was the Clone Wars cartoon, which bothers me because you can’t get attached to any characters, knowing they’re ALL gonna die. Then, there’s all the Expanded Universe stuff (which may not be considered canon, but is still held in high regard amongst the hardcore fans) and don’t get me started on all the comic series. So, at the end of the day, it’s still just 6 movies and some shows, but it feels so much more daunting. In terms of fandom, I like to go ALL IN. You can’t just tell me, “Oh, there are these books, but they don’t count.” If they exist, I’m going to feel like I need to read them and decide for myself if they count. And it’s just too much. The same argument could be made for Star Trek, but I got in early on that stuff, while Star Wars got rolling before I was a gleaming “surprise” in my father’s eye. I know it’s all psychological, but it just feels like being a Star Wars fan requires too much damn legwork. If you’ve got an “Star Wars in 3 Minutes” primer you want to send me, I’m all ears. Otherwise, I don’t think I’m ever gonna have that soft spot for The Force that so many of you seem to have.

So, there you have it. I hope we can all still be friends. I didn’t set out to bash the stuff that people hold dear, but I simply wanted to give my impression of these things. I welcome you to try to convince me otherwise, as I will admit that I do feel a bit left out at times. However, I fear that I’ll just get a bunch of comments like “Ur a fuckin’ moron!” Oh well, at least you’re leaving comments!

04th Jan2011

My 20 Favorite Songs of 2010

by Will

Yes, I understand that it’s 2011, and that most people did these lists weeks ago. That’s the point. I didn’t want to get lost in the shuffle, so I figured I’d wait for everyone else to get their own lists out of their systems. Plus, I really didn’t want to be caught up in the whole “Best Of” phenomenon. I think it was during my time at Diamond when I realized that I’m not really qualified to judge the “best” of anything (which is probably why I never got tapped to judge the Eisners). Quality is completely relative, and all I know is what I like. So, instead of focusing on the best of 2010, I’m going to focus on the songs that I most enjoyed.

Now, as you know, I sometimes do a content sharing thing with TGRI Online . The thing is, I’m not their primary demographic. Usually, when I write something with a musical slant, I immediately think of posting it over on that site. With this kind of project, however, I’m fairly certain that that audience ain’t gonna be onboard with my choices. Likewise, I’m not always keyed into the musical tastes represented over there. I wouldn’t know moombahton if it threw a brick through my window. So, with that in mind, I figured I’d just do this for me. Of course, you’re welcome to follow along. I do, after all, like attention.

20. Christina Perri – Jar of Hearts

I think I first heard this song at a gas station, but it was beautiful. Apparently, it gained fame from being played on So You Think You Can Dance, but I never watched that show so I can’t vouch for that. It reminded me of a more mellow Evanescence, and I really loved that group. Back in the spring, I made a joke on twitter that I felt emo high school girls were probably scribbling these lyrics in their notebooks, and I still believe that.

19. Flo Rida – Club Can’t Handle Me

I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again: this song is WAY more fun than it has any right to be. I usually don’t like David Guetta’s stuff, and it’s a throwaway movie song. That said, I loved the Hell out of this song during the latter half of this year.

18. Bed Intruder Song – Antoine Dodson and The Gregory Brothers

Yes, I drank the Kool-Aid. Sure, I got tired of him just like everyone else, but this was truly the Year of the Autotuned Amateur. We got a ton of imitators, but none made as much of a mark as Mr. Dodson. “Hide your kids, hide your wife” became a part of our vernacular, and shows like Cougar Town were even giving shouts to the song.

17. Eminem – Not Afraid

We’ll leave the video out of this one, as I didn’t really dig the Em-As-Neo imagery, but I still loved this song. The lyrics are strong, but it’s the background that really makes the song. No, not the beat – the background. It’s really epic, like it could be a score for a superhero movie. I loved it so much that I rock the instrumental just as much as the album version.

16. Elton John & Leon Russell – When Love Is Dying

The critics weren’t too kind to Elton & Leon’s collaborative album The Union, but I love anything Sir Elton releases. Produced by T Bone Burnett, the album has a definite rural flair to it – one that we haven’t heard from Elton since around 2004’s Peachtree Road. This is one of the strongest tracks on the album, and after repeat listens, I simply fell in love with it.

15. Bruno Mars – Just The Way You Are

I’ll be honest: I didn’t like this song at first. No, let me correct myself. I loved the song, but I didn’t like Bruno on it. I didn’t think his voice was strong enough. I felt that it needed stronger vocals and more strings, which would’ve boosted it to the next level. Over time, though (especially due to BarkBite’s constant pimpage of the Bruno Mars brand), I came around to really liking the song. What I initially saw as weak vocals turned into a sort of earnestness. I think the public connected with that as well, which is why the song has become such a huge hit.

14. V.V. Brown – Shark In The Water

You can’t deny the hotness of that chorus. An import from the UK, V.V. hasn’t really taken off yet, but this song is popping up in commercials, so don’t count her out just yet.

13. Eminem feat. Lil Wayne – No Love

Ok, full disclosure: I am a fool for Haddaway’s “What Is Love?” Loved it when it came out, loved the A Night At The Roxbury revival, and I loved this. I kind had to give Em credit for even rapping over what some might consider to be a cheesy song. Not only that, but his flow is INSANE. To complete the circle, I also downloaded the instrumental. I’m not sure why more artists aren’t using that track on mixtapes, as there’s a lot of potential there.

12. Natasha Bedingfield – Touch

I’ve always loved the Bedingfield family. I think there’s audio evidence somewhere of me butchering “If You’re Not the One” on an Ithaca radio station. I even loved his little sister, even though her debut album was riddled with songs about how hard it was to write an album. So, I really liked this song, even though the video is really just a Plenty of Fish commercial. In any case, I felt Natasha was venturing into Kylie territory with this song, which isn’t a bad thing.

11. Chris Brown – Yeah 3x

This is dumb, but one of the things I love about this song is the name: it’s not “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah”, but is instead “Yeah Three Times”. It’s a stylistic thing, but it resonated with me. Whether you forgive him or not, CB’s back. I actually enjoyed Graffiti, but he still had the Rihanna incident looming over him. The video’s kind of a pandering affair, as he dances surrounded by a bunch of little kids, but I still found it to be a fun song.

10. Chris Young – Getting You Home

No, we’re not leaving country off this list! Lindsay & I listen to the country countdown every Sunday morning on the way to church, and this song was ALWAYS on. Avoiding the stereotypical country tropes, this is actually a really sexy song. I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I really came to love this song over the course of the year.

9. Cee-Lo Green – Fuck You

This song needs no introduction or explanation. Next!

8. Miranda Cosgrove – Kissin’ U

If you follow me on twitter, you already know I have an unhealthy obsession with iCarly. It’s nothing dirty or unseemly – I just like bad television. A guilty pleasure, if you will. This song didn’t blow up too much, but I liked it because it sounded like something M2M might’ve released back during the Pop Renaissance of 2000.

7. DJ Khaled featuring a whole bunch of motherfuckers – All I Do Is Win

I’ve got so many versions of this song that I’ve lost count. I first heard it at my friend Jason’s wedding, and then I couldn’t stop hearing it. It gets in your head like that. The best way to listen to the song, however, is driving through the back roads of rural Virginia, at about 10 PM. Also, you’re required to take your hands off the wheel and make ’em stay there.

6. Alicia Keys – Empire State of Mind Part 2

I’ve never been the biggest Jay-Z fan, but I will say that I love his samples. I have discovered more music than I can remember from samples that Jay-Z has used on his tracks (I’m still cranking “Ain’t No Love In the Heart of the City”). That said, as huge as his NYC anthem became, I preferred Alicia’s solo take on it more because it had more heart. While Jay is just name-dropping things you might see mentioned in an I Love NY brochure, Alicia really makes you feel what it’s like to be swept up in the city.

5. Neon Trees – Animal

This song is just infectious. It’s perfect for car jingles, fast food ads, and it’s got “one-hit wonder” written all over it. Despite all that, the sound is reminiscent of the days when The Killers sounded like they were actually having fun in the studio. I can only hope there are more like this from this group, but “Animal” was the only track I liked off their album Habits.

4. Shontelle – Impossible

This was a powerful ballad that just kind of snuck up on me. When I first heard it, I thought it might have been a new Brandy track, as it did have that “Brandy-When-She-Doesn’t-Suck” vibe to it. I remember not thinking much of Shontelle’s debut song, “T-Shirt”, but this track definitely changed my opinion of her. It was a slow burn up the charts, but I think she’s finally making a name for herself.

3. The Band Perry – If I Die Young

Back to the country stuff, this band seemingly came out of nowhere during the second half of the year. A family act, The Band Perry have only released 3 singles so far, but this one has gone to #1 on the country charts. As for subject matter, this is the kind of stuff Taylor Swift would be performing if she could grow out of her fairy tale obsession.

2. Darius Rucker – Comeback Song

I have loved Darius since the days when all of y’all were calling him “Hootie” (btw, he was not Hootie). While that group had an impressive debut and a pretty lengthy career, Darius has almost taken the Justin Timberlake path, as he has achieved way more as a solo country act than he ever did as a member of that group. The funny thing is that it’s not like he even really changed his sound; if you loved Hootie songs, you’ll love Darius’s solo songs. He’s the first black man to make an impact on country music in 2o years (sit down, Cowboy Troy!), and he’s been grabbing awards left and right. He’s not showing any signs of slowing down, and this was his biggest song of the year.

1. Sara Bareilles – King of Anything

Kaleidoscope Heart didn’t get a ton of love from critics, nor did I see it on anyone’s Best of 2010 list, but it was by far my favorite album of the year. I think a lot of people wanted to write Sara off after the success off “Love Song”, but this song proved that she wasn’t a one-hit wonder. It has the same lyrical playfulness of “Love Song”, but the beat and the handclaps really just help to bring it all together. Nobody does Cute Tell-Off songs quite like Sara. I highly recommend every track on the album, but this is my favorite, as well as my favorite song of the year.

Thanks for playing along! Leave your comments/concerns below. Next time, I’ll probably have a comic rant. That is, if I remember to pay my ISP…

20th Dec2010

RePlay: The Christmas Experiment

by Will

So, in the DC area, WASH (97.1) becomes the all-Christmas station at this time of year. In recent years, it’s been almost a race to see how soon they’ll make the format switch. It used to occur on Black Friday, but now it happens about a week before that. Many people hate this, and groan “Let’s take care of Thanksgiving first”, but I LOVE it. I love Christmas music. I love the season and everything about it.

Now, I’ve already discussed how there aren’t any modern Christmas classics being released, so I thought I would try a little experiment. I decided to just let WASH play, and then write up a little blurb about the feelings I got from the songs played during that stretch of music. Let’s take a closer look, shall we?

Baby, It’s Cold Outside (Any): Winter time Date Rape at its finest

I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus (Jackson 5): Bitch better not let Joe catch her!

Last Christmas (Wham): A wonderful ’80s classic. I keep this in my rotation year round. I’m actually surprised Diddy never got around to sampling this beat.

Do They Know It’s Christmas? (Band Aid): Those poor savages. I’ll bet they don’t have calendars.

All I Want For Christmas Is You (Mariah Carey): As far as I’m concerned, Love Actually Girl beat Mariah for the championship on this song. No, not really, but I love the Hell out of that movie.

White Christmas (Bing Crosby): If you listen closely, you’ll realize this used to be a Klan propaganda song. As Uncle Ruckus would say, “Look how perfect and white these nice folks is, smellin’ like lemon furniture polish!”

The Christmas Shoes (NewSong): This song takes on a whole new meaning when you realize the kid is just trying to con the store out of a fresh pair of Jordans.

Christmas Through Your Eyes (Gloria Estefan): You realize this is sung from the point of view of a Miami Sound Machine member who was blinded in one of Gloria’s bus accidents, right?

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (Any): Silly folks! You can’t make a yuletide gay…unless you send it to prison. Otherwise, it has to be born that way.

Feliz Navidad (Jose Feliciano): The definitive Latin stamp on Christmas. You know Spanish people were as siced about this as black people were when we created a new version of “Happy Birthday”. Still waiting on a remix with Pitbull and Daddy Yankee, though.

OK, enough rambling from me. Until next time, remember to keep your feet on the ground, and keep reaching for the stars.

19th Jun2010

The Hits From Toast to Toast AKA “Get Off That Table, Becky!”

by Will

Tara Reid

Walk into an average DJ’d bar on a weekend night (for you local folks, I’m talking Union Jacks, Blackfinn, the late, great Lulu’s, etc.), and you’re bound to have your ears assaulted by certain songs. Have you ever wondered why every bar plays the same songs? Well, the bars I mentioned are pretty much “white bars”, and I’ve come to notice that drunk white kids LOVE these songs. I thought I’d try to figure exactly what it is about these songs that appeals to the young, drunk, Caucasian masses. These are presented in no particular order, as popularity is relative, based on quality of the night, amount of alcohol, as well as environment. So, let’s see here…

Friends In Low Places – This Garth Brooks classic is a karaoke staple, but it’s the non-country fan’s country song. It embodies everything everyone thinks about country music (drawl, unrequited love), but it’s also got edgy, angsty leanings. It’s about not fitting in, and feeling like an outsider. Shit, this thing could’ve been recorded by Foo Fighters or Death Cab. A lot of insecure wallflowers can relate to this song at the beginning of the night. It’s a song about shady people. Everyone singing along is in one of 2 camps: they’ve got a shady friend, or they are the shady friend. The drunker Cody gets, he moves from the former to the latter. That said, the presence of alcohol just ensures that he’s not alone in this transmogrification.

Sweet Caroline – This is another drunken singalong staple, especially due to its use during the 7th Inning Stretch. Nothing brings a room together like a unison “bum-bum-bummm!” – or, the regional “fuck-ing-slut!”- that follows the titular refrain. This drunken solidarity turns a room full of dudes into a room full of bros.

Gold Digger – White people LOVE this song! Why? ‘Cause it let’s ’em say “nigger” (unless the pussy DJ is playing the radio edit). Any black person who’s made it to college – the time of life when levels of bravado and available alcohol run highest – has dealt with the “but it’s in the song!” argument that Chad throws down when he sees you glaring.

Another reason the song resonates with white people can be boiled down to one simple line: “we want prenup!”. You see, white people are the only ones who understand the importance of said document. Black people don’t have prenups, unless they’re athletes – in which case they’re married to white women. Otherwise, your average black man doesn’t have anything your average black woman would even want in the event of a divorce!

Also, what does the song’s protagonist end up doing? “He leave yo’ ass for a white girl!” It’s a line that’s met with sneers in the black club, but is met with Woo Girl cheers in your white bar. Every Molly, Abby and Katie will make herself known at this point! Black guys, this is also a good time to scan the crowd to find the girls who might be down. You know what I’m talkin’ about…

As the night rolls on, and everybody’s loosening up, we move to the 80’s trifecta:

Livin’ On A Prayer – Drunk white kids sing this thing like it’s their national anthem. They forget their trust funds and kickball leagues, and sing as if Johnny and Tina were their hardworking, blue collar parents. Despite all this passion, it’s all gonna fall apart at the key change. It always does…

Your Love – This is the point in the night when Cody decides that he doesn’t want to go home alone. He’s had just enough Yuengling to start making eyes at the hot chick at the bar. He makes a point to really eye fuck her once the “I just wanna use your love…tonight” part hits. Unfortunately, Becky’s not on board, and rolls her eyes as she disappears into the crowd to find her friends. This lines up perfectly with the next song:

Don’t Stop Believin’ – Nothing filled white people with so much hope until Barack Obama came along. It’s a song that says to Cody, “Don’t worry, there are other fish in the sea!” The guitar solo alone is enough to make a man forget his troubles, and trust me – he WILL engage in air guitar!

Just as Cody starts to cheer up, and get back on that horse, Closing Time kicks on and the lights go up. Sure, tonight was a bust, but there’s always next weekend – same bar, same songs…

06th Apr2010

Adventures West Coast #7: NBM Spotlight

by Will

Adventures West Coast #7: NBM Spotlight

Back when I worked in the comic industry, I was the Diamond contact for any publisher whose name began with a letter between “E” and “R”. This exact range would change over my tenure, but one publisher that I never lost was Nantier Beall and Minoustchine Publishing, AKA NBM Publishing. Now, NBM had a respected reputation in the industry, yet they weren’t putting out the books with the big name creators. There was no Moore or Gaiman coming from their corner of the market, so some of their best books sort of got lost in the shuffle. On numerous occasions, I would get calls from Terry Nantier, telling me that he felt they deserved more of a push for their titles. These phone pleas would be followed up by meetings at conventions, where he would again tell me that he wanted more promotion. At times, it was less of a request, and more of a demand. I’d tell him that I would do what I could, but I never really got any cooperation from the Diamond side of things. In any case, a few books would come across my desk, and I’d put them aside for when I was done reading Ultimate Final Invasion, or whatever was going on with the Big 2 at the time. Well, since I’ve got nothing but time on my hands, I finally got around to some of those NBM books, and all I can say is, “I’m really sorry, Terry!” NBM really has some great stuff in their library, and I only hope that he’s now getting the promotional attention that he always wanted.

Since these books were by Rob Vollmar and Pablo G. Callejo, plus the fact that I read them together, I figured it was only natural that I review them together.

The Castaways HC

Though it was actually the more recent of the two books, I actually read The Castaways first.
The Castways is the Great Depression-era tale of Tucker Freeman, a young boy who finds himself trying to emulate his estranged father, by riding the rails in the hope of a better life for himself. As the book starts, we find Tucker peeking at the collection of postcards that his father has sent home over the years. It seems that Mr. Freeman used to regularly leave home for long periods at a time. One day, he simply never came home. As a result, Tucker, along with his mother and siblings, were forced to move in with his father’s sister. A devout Christian woman, Tucker’s aunt was also a raging disciplinarian bitch. One day, she tells Tucker that he’s not pulling his weight, and that he’s at the age when he should strike out on his own, so that she would have one less mouth to feed. She gives him a few dollars, and tells him to leave immediately. Tucker hops the next boxcar out of town, and begins his journey to the unknown. Along his journey, Tucker meets Elijah Hopkins, a kindly old black man who’s also living the hobo’s life. Elijah takes Tucker under his wing, and teaches him the rules of the vagabond lifestyle. Tucker and Elijah bond during their time on the road, and when Elijah discovers that Tucker didn’t exactly want to leave home, he’s forced to make a decision on what path he feels would be best for the boy.

I found this to be such a touching story in short package. When the book started out, I found Callejo’s art style to be a bit jarring, as he tends to express every crease and wrinkle on the characters’ faces. The fact that it’s a two-tone book just exacerbated the fact that many of the old characters had a California Raisins-esque quality to them. His approach is quite European, which is understandable since most of his work tends to be for European publishers. By the end, however, I felt that his style was exactly what the story needed. Vollmar is great at expressing emotion, and he is quite gifted at writing significant moments between characters. I enjoyed every second of this book, and my only regret is that it took me 3 years to finally read it.

Bluesman HC

Next, I tackled Bluesman, which was actually the first collaboration between Vollmar and Callejo. Originally published as a 3-part, pseudo-prestige format series, Bluesman follows traveling guitarist, Lem Taylor, as he makes his way through rural Arkansas in pursuit of his next gig and next meal. Joining Lem on the journey is piano player, “Ironwood” Malcott.

The most significant aspect of Bluesman, from the get-go, is that Vollmar has done his research on the period. There are several historical references cited which serve to explain the lifestyle of a traveling musician in that era, as well as how he would be received by the rest of society. This background really helps to set the mood and boundaries of the tale. In early ’20s America, there was a class of man that simply traveled the rural south, relying upon the kindness of strangers. They would pay for their room and board with a song, and then set out for the next town. This was a complicated “occupation”, as many felt that these people should get “real” jobs so that they could make a real contribution to society. They looked down on these layabouts, as they “weren’t about nothin’.” At the same time, these people also enjoyed the entertainment provided by the traveling bluesmen. The best venues to play were, of course, speakeasies and juke joints, the locations of which weren’t exactly common knowledge during the days of Prohibition.

We first meet Lem and ‘Wood, as they wake up on the wrong end of a gun, due to the fact that they’ve been caught by the farmer in whose barn they were sleeping. Before the farmer is about to shoot them, Lem begins to preach and tells the farmer that he was a traveling holy man. This allows Lem and ‘Wood to escape, but only after they sing a few hymns for the farmer’s wife. They hit the road, and end up in a town called “Hope”. It’s here that we first see how society feels about traveling bluesmen, as they walk into a restaurant, and are ejected the minute the woman in charge notices Lem’s guitar case. She knows that they’re going to rely upon her charity, as they clearly don’t have any money. Again, Lem revs up a sermon so powerful that it leaves the woman in tears. Not only do they end up with their supper, but they also get a tip about a juke out in the woods that might provide them with their next gig.

The men soon find themselves at Shug’s joint, where an impromtu performance earns them a 2-night engagement. Shug is impressed enough with them that he allows them to sleep in his shed, and promises them a bigger take the next night. Well, on the second night, a local talent scout catches their act, and tells them that he wants them in the studio to record their songs. He tells them to be in Memphis within a week, and he’ll take care of the rest. It all sounds so promising, and that’s when Vollmar cites a passage which points out that a traveling bluesman’s success was always fleeting, no matter how close at hand it may seem. This is the part of the Behind The Music where the shit would hit the fan.

Lem was the responsible son-of-a-preacher-man, who grew up in a devout Christian household, and was never allowed to play his guitar in the presence of his father. Despite the rift that it caused in his family, he knew that his life had been changed the first time he heard the blues. Ironwood, while a bit older than Lem, was a LOT less responsible. Lem lived off strangers out of necessity, but you could tell that ‘Wood enjoyed it. He was simply a layabout, and the two men weren’t on the same page, as far as their goals were concerned. Plainly put, ‘Wood was trouble, as Lem found out on the second night. After their gig, ‘Wood convinced Lem to accompany him home with Tarene, one of the waitresses at the juke, despite Shug warning them against it. They get back to the cottage, and if Barry White had lived that long ago, they’d have put on one of his albums. Everybody was about to get some ass, when a truck rolls up out of the blue. In bursts Wyatt, the white owner of the house and, apparently, the waitress. Everyone scrambles to hide, but it’s no use, as he has noticed ‘Wood’s hat on the floor, signaling that his woman’s cheatin’ on him. At that point, action happens pretty fast, as Wyatt starts to beat the shit out of Tarene. Tarene chokes Wyatt in self defense, but he kills her by smashing a lamp against her head. He’s about to shoot her, as ‘Wood comes out of hiding and charges him with a knife. ‘Wood gets half of his head blown off, as Wyatt ends up with ‘Wood’s knife in his chest. With his remaining strength, Wyatt tries to shoot Lem, but the gun’s out of bullets. Lem’s in shock regarding ‘Wood’s death, and Tarene’s cousin, Maisy, tells him that he needs to leave before people show up, asking questions. When Lem leaves, Maisy finishes off Wyatt with the butt of his own gun.

Lem sets on the the run, and the book almost becomes a companion book to The Castways, as Lem embarks on a hobo’s life similar to that depicted there. While Lem’s on the run, Maisy hangs herself, and Wyatt’s father brings a lynch mob to town, demaning justice for his dead son. As far as he’s concerned, any black person could be punished for the crime, as the true injustice was that a white man had been killed, and he was convinced that one of the “town niggers” had done it. Luckily, the town has a fair sheriff, who won’t bend to the mob mentality. At this point, the book splits between the story of Lem on the run, as well as the sheriff’s investigation.

By the third act, everyone’s on stage, as the confrontation takes place in the middle of the woods, just before a tornado is about to hit. This section of the book is not only powerful, but it also lends a bit of the supernatural to the book. When we last see Lem, we’re pretty sure that he’ll never make it to Memphis to record that record. The epilogue, however, leads you to believe that may not have been the case, providing an ending so emotional that I defy you to finish the book with a dry eye.

As I said before, I’m sorry that it took me so long to discover the work of Vollmar and Callejo, but their work is a true example of “comics as literature” and I truly feel that it raises the bar on the medium to a new level. Definitely check these out!

15th Mar2010

DC’s Amazing-Man II Ain’t So Amazing When Becky’s Around…

by Will

Considering this is post #666, I really wanted to cover something sinister. At first, I considered a full disclosure, “fuck you” post regarding my last employer, but those kinds of things can violate NDAs and come back to haunt you. So, I quickly threw out that idea, and was left pretty empty-handed. Then, as I was leafing through the latest issue of Batman & Robin, and something caught my eye.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of DC Comics, which is being celebrated throughout the comics and various toylines. One promotion is sponsored by Colgate Max Fresh Mini Breath Strips, and the copy says that it “salutes DC Comics on 75 Years of the Hero Getting the Girl.” OK, cheesy enough. This blurb accompanied a blown up print of this cover:

That is Amazing-Man II and Maxima, both members of Extreme Justice – the “edgy” Justice League team that was published during the mid 90s. Amazing-Man was the grandson of the original WWII-era Amazing-Man, while Maxima was the warrior princess from Almerac. In any case, Maxima’s main theme is that she’s always looking for the perfect mate – basically a Xena-esque Bridget Jones. Of course, then, she would go for the Mandingo warrior that was Amazing-Man. In any case, a cover like that wasn’t too common, and the thought that came to my mind was, “Boy, Amazing-Man sure did love white women!” The emphasis is on did.

You see, after the breakup of Extreme Justice, Amazing-Man went to join an unofficial regrouping of Justice League Europe. On their maiden mission, while investigating the Louvre, Amazing-Man and Crimson Fox got into a conversation. Yup, her:

White, French, Crimson Fox. Supposedly, she was seen as “sexy”, despite that cobra thing on her head. Anyway, it turns out she was really turned on by the big A-M, yet she didn’t really think she had a chance. She nervously tells him about her feelings, and he’s actually flattered. Not only is it an awkward conversation, but it’s also not something you need to discuss in the workplace. You’re about to see why. They make plans for a future date, and all seems right with the world. Then, they are caught offguard by Starman’s nemesis, The Mist, who massacres them and the rest of their team. So, here you have a character, whose main footnotes include “interracial kiss cover” and “killed, while flirting with white girl, by villain who isn’t even in own rogues gallery”. Kinda sad, yet here we are, celebrating his dead ass “getting the girl”.

When Amazing-Man III came along, it was a whole different ballgame. He wears a dashiki and looks like Ving Rhames. He lives in New Orleans, and is probably pretty suspicious of white people. Hell, he pretty much declined a spot on the Justice Society just so he could go back to New Orleans to “do some good”. He gave up a shot in the big leagues to return to his FEMA trailer! He ain’t gonna go out like no punk bitch! That, is a man who has learned from the past, and I have a feeling we won’t see a cover featuring him kissing Power Girl.

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