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.

18th Feb2010

Things I Learned This Evening…

by Will

– Black people are funny – not just in the “haha” sense, but also in the “WTF?” sense.

So, I was in Blockbuster, killing time, and this black family was milling around me in the previously viewed section. All of a sudden, the wife exclaims, “Oohn they got Couples Retreat! You know, the one wit’…” And I swear to you, in unison, husband and wife said “Faizon Love”.

What. The. Fuck? Now, I’m sure most of you saw the commercials for that movie. You remember that it starred Vince Vaughn, Jon Favreau, and maybe even remembered Jason Bateman. It even had Kristen Bell and the chick from the sex scene in Watchmen. But only black folks would remember it as the movie with Faizon Love. God bless ’em!

-After Blockbuster, this little halfy with a lip ring approached me as I was getting in the car. She gave me some sob story about how she was trying to get to her boyfriend’s house, but her mom couldn’t pick her up, and she didn’t have money for a cab. Of course, this was followed by a “Do you think you could help me out?”

Look, sweetie, you’re clearly new to this grifting thing ’cause you’ve got it all wrong. Allow me to point out your mistakes:

A) You’re NOT going to your boyfriend‘s house. You’re going to your sister‘s house. Why is that? Well, your savior in your time of need don’t need to know about a boyfriend. After all, they’re going to want to think there’s something in it for them. Also, the possibility of a sister just sweetens the pot.

B) So, your boyfriend’s apparently waiting for you, but doesn’t really care how you get over there? Your boyfriend clearly doesn’t love you. Or doesn’t exist. Either way, you’re making me late for Jeopardy.

So, did I help her? Nah, fuck her. I ain’t got time for that shit.

– I haven’t had the chance to blog about it, but I’ve been LOVING some Mad Men. I just discovered the show last month, when I watched the first 2 season sets over the course of a week. The 3rd season isn’t slated to come out until March, but I’ve been able to cut ahead, thanks to TVGorge (which I’m sure is gonna get shut down any day, so I’m not even gonna bother to post a link). One thing that I find funny, though, is how Peggy received her Queer Eye makeover last season, yet none of it stuck. She was beautiful for an episode, and then went back to being frumpy ol Aunt Margaret. Oh well, maybe that’ll change by the end of the season…

I’m also struck by the fact that women are able to detect that Don Draper’s “down for whateva”. It seems that infidelity is a man’s right during that era, but no matter how much of a stable family man Draper tries to project himself to be, all women seem to know that he’s gonna fuck ’em the first chance he gets. Sure, he’s got that commanding presence, which I’m sure serves as an aphrodisiac, but he would be even more baller if he were like, “No, I’ve got a hot wife at home”. Instead, he folds, which I feel kinda kills his allure. I’m not quite sure if I can put it into words, but it reminds me of a recent Rolling Stone interview with John Mayer. In that interview (which predated the infamous Playboy interview), Mayer said that “turning down John Mayer” is the new “hooking up with John Mayer”. By this, he meant that women are finding it more empowering to reject him, based on his reputation as a cad, instead of contributing to said reputation. I feel that Draper, by giving in to every women he comes across who’s NOT Betty, is slowly tearing down his own allure, as opposed to how he would come across if he occasionally said “no” to a couple of them. Oh well, the show’s got that Sopranos vibe to it where you feel you’re watching the downfall of a man and his empire, so I’m sure it only gets worse from here. I’m sure I’ll have more to say about the show once I’m done with the season.

Well, enough ranting from me. Hopefully, the next post will be one of those Adventures West Coast blogs I’ve been slacking on….

31st Jan2010

Adventures West Coast #2: Iron Man: War Machine

by Will

Adventures West Coast #2: Iron Man: War Machine

Welcome back to AWC, as I take on the classic story, Iron Man: War Machine.

Last time, I discussed Demon In A Bottle, the story where Tony Stark had to hit rock bottom in order to build himself back up. This story’s slightly different, however, as this is the story of Tony’s DEATH (*cue spooky minor chord*). Don’t get your Underoos in a knot! The story’s 15 years old, and they’re still publishing Iron Man, so you know he survives. The importance of the story lies in the fact that it introduces us to the War Machine armor, which has come to be known as the badass, heavy artillery armor worn by Tony’s pilot, Jim “Rhodey” Rhodes (Terrence Howard’s character, for y’all who saw the movie). What I found to be most interesting about this storyline, though, was the fact that many of the ideas presented are actually being used in the current Iron Man Storyline, “Stark: Disassembled” (more on that later).

As the collection opens, Tony has just returned from the latest Avengers mega battle, “Operation: Galactic Storm”. The fight took a lot out of him, and he’s suffering from the fact that his central nervous system is failing due to a techno-organic virus he has contracted. Man, does Marvel love them some techno-organic viruses! I’ll bet that sounded real cutting edge back in 1993, as all of their books seemed to have a major T-O threat. Long story short, Tony’s dying, and there doesn’t seem to be a cure. He knows he’s in his final days, but just as he’s wallowing in his pity party, he finds himself zapped to the 28th century. There, he meets The Stark: a race of aliens who worship Tony Stark as a god, due to the fact that one of his spaceships will eventually crash on their world (which is their past; stupid time travel!). In any case, the Stark’s world is on the brink of collapse, as they didn’t take good care of it. Basically, it’s an eco parable. Since Tony’s their god, they brought him to their time to solve their problems. He doesn’t want their destruction to be his legacy, he uses the rest of his days to solve their problems. There’s a final attack, and he’s sent back to his time, with no memory of the trip, plus he’s now closer to death.

Next, we see a shadowy cabinet doing what shadowy cabinets always do in this book: plotting a takeover of Stark Enterprises. They create a Chernobyl-like event, and then frame Stark Enterprises for the accident. Again, dying Tony doesn’t want this as his legacy, so he uses a remote-controlled Iron Man suit to go clear his name. He ends up fighting the Masters of Silence, a trio of techno samurai, who’ve been hired by the Yakuza to kill Stark for causing the nuclear accident. Tony convinces them that the Yakuza lied, and he and the Masters take the fight back to the Yakuza. It’s at this point that he unveils the War Machine armor: sleek and silver, with more firepower than any prior Iron Man suit.

While Tony’s fighting, he makes a very important operational change: he needs info on who may have framed him, so he charges Rhodes with using their intelligence connections to get information. When Rhodes reminds him that nobody’s gonna share secrets with a helicopter pilot, Tony promotes him to VP of Operations. With his new position, Rhodes finds out that the person behind all of this is Justin Hammer (from Demon In A Bottle) DUN DUN DUNNNN! Turns out Hammer was trying to defraud Stark Enterprises so that he, along with 5 other organizations, could split up the company for themselves. Anyway, Tony and the Masters of Silence strong-arm him into surrendering, at which point Tony gets back Stane Industries (formerly known as Stark Industries, his old company). So, it’s like Tony put right a very big wrong from his past. And then he dies.

Rhodes grieves along with the rest of the world, as word breaks that Tony Stark has passed away. As an interesting aside, the news even reports a rumor that Tony may have succumbed to the AIDS virus. Yeah, really. Anyway, remember that seemingly impulsive promotion that Tony gave Rhodes? Well, guess who’s now the head of Stark Enterprises! Yeah, Tony left a holo-will (SO futuristic!), leaving Rhodey as the head of the company but, more importantly, asking him to take over for him as War Machine. It seems that the armor was actually developed with Rhodey’s specs in mind, and the world still needs an Iron Man. Rhodey’s pissed that Tony put him in that position, but he eventually agrees. But what’s this we see, as the issue ends? Turns out Tony’s not DEAD dead. Sure, he’s got no vitals, but he’s been cryogenically frozen by his med team, for reasons unknown.

Next, a gang of villains attacks Tony’s memorial service, slamming an exploding chopper into Stark HQ. Rhodey makes his debut as War Machine and saves the day. However, the Avengers West Coast (of which Tony was a member at the time of his death) end up returning to Earth at just that moment, and they realize the Iron Man they see isn’t any Iron Man they know about. So, a fight breaks out between War Machine and the AWC, as these misunderstandings are prone to occur. Both sides iron things out (hey, that’s a pun!) and realize they’re both on the side of angels. It’s at this point that we start to learn more about Rhodey.

The most interesting part about Rhodes is the focus on his interpersonal relationships. I think it’s always hard writing a romantic interest for a black character in comics. Do you give him a black girlfriend, or do you go off the grid with something “kooky”? God forbid you make her white! On twitter today, I was comparing the token blacks of the Big 2: Rhodey vs. GL John Stewart. When it came to relationships for Stewart, DC took the easy way out: he got to marry an alien. A pink alien, at that, so she’s still “colored”. Oh, and the Justice League cartoon? Another alien: Hawkgirl. She’s white, but she’s got wings; it’s like dating a sexy can of Red Bull. Rhodey, however, hasn’t had it easy, and it shows. I think, due to his position as Tony’s pilot, he felt that people may have seen him as a bit of an Uncle Tom. The character, himself, is cool as a cucumber, but whenever another black character shows up, it’s like they make a point of making him feel uncomfortable about his subservience to Tony. Even when he had his black girlfriend, Marcy, she kinda made him feel like shit ’cause she was a cutthroat executive at Stark, while he was an air chauffeur. During this storyline, he cuts her loose, due to the fact that she wants his job, but he quickly rebounds with Tony’s blond friend, Rae LaCoste. To say that Ms. LaCoste is “aggressive” would be an understatement, but let’s just say that he’s fucking her within an issue. In fact, she gets so close to him so quickly that I was SURE she’d turn out to be working for Justin Hammer or something (if that was the case, it’s not revealed in this collection). You can tell he’s uneasy about this, though, as he reminds her “this complexion doesn’t come from Coppertone”. She tells him she likes it and doesn’t care, and Mandingo Fuck Party 23 resumes where it left off.

In any case, Rhodey does a great job both running Stark and as War Machine, but something’s going on in the background that he doesn’t know about. You see, Tony’s not dead, and only his med team knows. He’s been in cryogenic stasis, and sort of reliving old memories. His central nervous system is gone, but they think they can reprogram the T-O virus to replicate his CNS into something even better than what he had before. Then, his body will reboot itself just like an operating system. Sound familiar? It should, if you’ve been reading Marvel for the past year. If not, here’s the long and short of it: Tony Stark hid the identities of most of the Marvel heroes in his head (longer story), and Norman Osborn became the most powerful man in Homeland Security (even longer story) and wanted that information. To keep it out of enemy hands, Tony wiped his mind, like a hard drive. He was near death, but left a plan for his friends to reboot him like an operating system. In the meantime, he’s kinda reliving his life in his subconscious. Oh, and he asked Rhodes to carry on the fight for him, as War Machine. Yup, “everything old is new again”. Anyway, back to War Machine.

Once Rhodes finds out about Tony, he feels betrayed and quits angrily. Tony kinda feels bad, but feels justified because he thought that the ignorance would serve to protect Rhodey in the long run. He, then, debuts his NEW armor (back in this day, Tony seemed to go through armor like clean underwear. There were only subtle changes each time), which resembled his classic red & gold suit, but allowed him to control it remotely from his hospital bed, as he hadn’t regained motor functions. Tony, again, apologizes to Rhodes and tells him that he wants him to keep the War Machine suit. As the storyline ends, Rhodey’s making a call to the Avengers West Coast, implying that he’s going to join up.

Unlike Demon In A Bottle, I felt that this collection provided a satisfying beginning, middle, and end. For a book called War Machine, the armor was appropriately featured in most issues, and not just at the end. In some ways, I feel that I missed out by reading this in collected form. I can only imagine how big of a deal it was to read this back when it was originally published in sequential form. This was the early 90s, and everyone was trying to one-up the next guy. If comics weren’t featuring deaths, they were featuring new armor and trading card inserts. Tony had been in deep shit before, but he hadn’t quite DIED. For a full year, Rhodes took his place. In a pre-Internet society, this must’ve driven fandom apeshit! I remember how I felt when the “Age of Apocalypse” replaced the X books, and I’ll bet this was the same for Iron Man loyalists. In all, it’s a good read, and a great resource for anyone looking to get some insight on the only man Tony Stark trusts to carry on his legacy.

06th May2009

Leon On Me: A Brief History of Black Cinema’s Charo

by Will

“Run a web search on the phrase “American Dream” sometime. You’ll get nine million hits, and 95% of them are for real estate. Three percent are for strippers.”

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courtesy: davidruffinbbfaq.ourfamily.com/leon.jpg

Look at that smug motherfucker up there. Just look at him. In the time it has taken you to be mesmerized by his overt smarminess, that dude has just banged your sister. And your mom. In front of you. ‘Cause that’s just the type of guy he is. In every role he has every played, he has either screwed someone OR screwed them over. If you’re not familiar with ’90s Black cinema, or you’ve never had to endure the agony of what was once called the African Heritage Movie Network (sponsored by AT&T, ’cause Black people love runnin’ up a phone bill!), allow me to introduce you to the D-level powerhouse known, simply, as Leon.

Born Leon Preston Robinson IV, his first claim to fame was as “black dude who’s about to get banged by Madonna” in the controversial “Like A Prayer” video (controversial because of the Catholic iconography, not because she was banging a black dude). He went on to pretty much fill out the role of “black henchman” whenever Sam Jackson was busy (this was before Pulp Fiction, of course). If it involved snortin’ coke, womanizing, or just plain sweatin’ a lot, Leon was your man. You may even remember him from the movie that everybody loved, yet nobody ever talks about anymore: Cool Runnings (whatever happened to Doug E. Doug?).

In the mid-nineties, Leon landed a choice role in Robert Townsend’s The Five Heartbeats, the story of a fictional Motown-era singing group. Really showing his range, this role prepared him for his next: a role in The Temptations, a TV movie about a real Motown-era singing group. He followed this up as the title character in Little Richard, a TV movie about…well, you get the picture. After all those singing roles, he decided “Fuck it, I’m releasing an album.” So, he formed Leon and The Peoples, a reggae soul band, starring him and a bunch of people who don’t have the luxury of having their names mentioned in the band’s moniker. This marked the point at which Leon The Actor and Every Role Leon Has Ever Played became one being. This is the reason I’m educating you, so that you’ll be ready when he comes to steal your coke and bang your mom. He’ll do it. I saw it in one of his movies, and he apparently thinks he can really do all the shit he does in movies!

Leon can also be found traveling the country with Black stage shows. You know the kind – they always have names like All That and a Bag of Jesus or You Ain’t Goin’ To Heaven, So You Sho’ Nuff Goin’ To Hell. It would be best to avoid these at all costs. First off, there’s no telling what he might do. Secondly, this is the kinda shit that made Tyler Perry rich, and we just can’t have that happening again.
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Take this knowledge and use it wisely. He may seem like a poor man’s Wesley Snipes, but he is not to be trusted, nor should you look him directly in the eye. Wait…where are your pants? Didn’t I just finish telling you not to look him in the eye?! Damn, he moves fast…
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