Here’s this month’s great cover…

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Look at that! Isn’t it wonderful?

This month’s great cover in comic book history comes from the September 1991 issue of Marvel Comics Presents (#84) featuring one of Marvel Comics’ premiere superheroes: Wolverine. The artist behind this masterpiece is Barry Windsor-Smith. He did everything on it – pencils, inks, and color.

Windsor-Smith started working for Marvel in the late 60s, because Stan Lee liked his Jack Kirby-like way of drawing. But, Windsor-Smith soon began to develop his own signature style. Like most comic book artists, he improved greatly upon his early efforts the more he worked. Unlike some comic book artists, he just kept getting better and better and better. Some of the great artists would reach a plateau and then their work began to slip. Not Windsor-Smith. At least not yet. This month’s cover was done more than twenty years after he started in the industry.

We see a blood-spattered Wolverine with his claws partially retracted. He looks peaceful, yet terribly weary. He seems to be, not just exhausted from the completion of a pitched battle, but totally done in by a lifetime of pitched battles. Has he had enough?

What also strikes me about this cover is its sophistication. This isn’t a typical cover of a super-hero heroically battling some super-villain or coming to the rescue of some citizen in imminent peril. This cover is deep with nuance and complexity. This ain’t just some kid’s throw away when finished reading super-hero fantasy. This is art.

I should note I hadn’t seen this comic book when it came out in 1991. I wasn’t buying this title then. I didn’t know this cover existed. In fact, I spotted it for the first time fairly recently when putting away inventory at Nostalgia Zone’s warehouse and I was quite impressed. I made note to include this cover in my great covers series.

And I was in for another surprise! When I searched for an image of the cover today, I discovered the artwork was a wraparound piece. When I spotted that I was even more stunned by the beauty Barry Windsor-Smith had wrought.

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This was the cover I was expecting to find. It’s still a powerful masterpiece.

Bravo, sir!

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Where the hell is the parade?!

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Allow me to complain just a bit.

But first, know this: Memory is not video tape. We may think we remember something vividly, but as the events we’re remembering recede into the past our recollections are influenced by other people’s stories of the events, we conflate unrelated events with the ones we are remembering, and so on. When we tell someone about a memory, our brains are recreating the story of that memory, not putting in a video tape and pressing play. Memories can’t help but change over time.

That said, remember when the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was shown on television? Those were the days. The bands would play, the floats would float, and the massive balloon characters would… also float. It would be two or three hours of just watching the parade go by. Ahhhh.

“But, Jim,” you say, “the parade is still shown each year on television. In fact, it’s shown on CBS and NBC!” Sure, but it seems the parade is just coincidental, a backdrop for announcers who don’t appear to have ever announced anything before. Now the parade just helps to transition between the multiple interviews of the networks’ stars talking about the shows they are in or Broadway performers talking about their plays. They’ll cut to performances from hit musicals or pop and country artists. And I just saw a Pillsbury sponsored baking demonstration using, what else?, Pillsbury dough. As I write this, CBS is showing an extended ad for a website from which you can buy overstock items.

Where the hell is the parade?!

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NBC’s idea of parade coverage.

I will say CBS does show something of the parade. NBC just plants their cameras outside of Macy’s showing pretty much nothing but production numbers. So, if musicals and production numbers are your thing, watch NBC not show the parade.

Ugh, what’s a curmudgeon to do?

Well, let me relate my favorite memory of the parade. Remembering what I said about memory not being video tape, I’m still certain I have this right.

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The parade continues the tradition of ending with Santa Claus arriving at Macy’s, but waaaay back in the day Santa used to climb down from his sleigh/float and walk into the legendary department store. It was such an exciting capper to the parade.

One year, as the parade came to an end, Santa made his way into Macy’s while his pants made their way to his ankles. Whoops! Talk about wardrobe malfunction! I remember my dad and I sharing a special father/son bonding moment over Santa’s embarrassment.

The next year saw the new tradition of Ol’ Saint Nick just staying in his sleigh as the credits rolled.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

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Yeah? Well, I like it!

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And so do a lot of horror movie fans, despite critics’ less than enthusiastic reviews at the time.

I’m talking about the 1982 sci-fi/horror classic John Carpenter’s The Thing. I was about 16 or 17 when I first saw it, so that might color how I feel about it, teenagers not necessarily being the most sophisticated of film connoisseurs. After all I thought Porky’s was hilarious when I saw it at roughly the same age. I haven’t watched Porky’s in a very long time, but I watched The Thing again just two nights ago.

And, for me, it still holds up.

It’s a terrific, if very intense and gruesome, popcorn movie!

Film critic Roger Ebert was bothered by the lack of character development and lack of intelligence of those characters. He wondered: If the creature prefers to attack individuals out of sight of the others, why did the fellows keep going off on their own? That is a good point, but I didn’t let that bother me. Good popcorn movies get a pass on such deficiencies. And, in recent years, the attitude toward this movie by critics has been changing. More and more it’s being lauded as one of the 80s’ best sci-fi/horror films.

The story involves a group of American men (no women!) stationed in Antarctica to do science or whatever they do down there, whose day is interrupted by a dog being chased by a couple of crazed Norwegians in a helicopter. The Norwegians, along with being crazed, are pretty bad with their weapons as they attempt to kill the dog. One couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn with his high-powered rifle and the other manages to blow himself and the helicopter up with a mishandled hand grenade.

Come to think of it. Why would scientists in the Antarctic need high-powered rifles and hand grenades? Ah, never mind. Where’s that popcorn?

So, the dog is taken in and it is quickly discovered that it ain’t no ordinary dog. We learn that it is a parasitic creature from another world that creates exact duplicates of other living creatures. It duplicates members of the American team so well, right down to being able to talk and act just like the original, that it’s impossible to tell the difference until it’s too late. Well, Kurt Russell’s character, McCready, the hard-drinking, cynical, world-weary, helicopter pilot does devise a way to tell the difference. I won’t say anymore than that.

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McReady conducting tests.

Ebert mentioned that Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) handled the same basic story (a group of people in an isolated area with a powerful creature hunting them) much better. I agree. The suspense of Alien is more intense than the suspense generated in The Thing, still there is plenty of suspense as no one knows who can be trusted to not be the alien.

Let me praise the special effects of The Thing for a moment. They were excellent 35 years ago and they still look pretty damn good today. (There is a moment where the alien is clearly stop-motion animation, but it’s a fleeting glimpse.) The effects are all practical. There are no computer generated  effects in the film. In fact, in the film (set in the year it was released) we get to see that time period’s level of computer graphics sophistication in a scene with McReady playing chess on a computer. How far we have come in 35 years!

There is one particularly spectacular creature transformation scene. It is completely unexpected. It’s shocking, gruesome, frightening, and hilarious all at the same time. The alien might not be bothered by the intense cold or bullets, but it does burn, so the men use flame throwers to destroy the monster, which still manages to be able to escape. Well, part of it does, as we see in that exciting sequence. And the reaction shot as the men see the alien’s method of escape is terrific. It’s has to be one of the greatest “you gotta be kidding me” moments in cinematic history.

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Hang on. Why would scientists in the Antarctic need flame throwers? Ah, never mind. Where’s that popcorn?

The ending is bleak. (Sorry if this is a little bit of a spoiler for you, but the movie is 35 years old.) The survivors realize that there is no chance of any of them getting out alive. And they certainly can’t let that creature anywhere near civilization, so they have to flush it out and destroy it once and for all. McReady determines they need to make the area as hot as possible in order to keep the alien from just allowing itself to freeze again and wait for the unsuspecting rescue team to arrive.

They gather up all the dynamite they can carry and blow up the compound.

The survivors, exhausted and not sure if the alien is still among them, decide to wait and see what happens…

Ummm. Why would scientists in the Antarctic need dynamite? Ah, never mind. Where’s that popcorn?

Packing Peanuts!

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One of my favorite things from the 1980s

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I am stuck in the 80s. Well, mostly my musical taste is stuck in that decade. I am a regular listener to and an occasional guest on the wildly popular podcast, Stuck in the 80s. SIT80s was the brainchild of Steve Spears who was the entertainment news editor working at the Tampa Bay Times when he had the idea to start a podcast dedicated to his favorite decade. Along with the podcast came a blog of the same name extolling the virtues of MTV, Phil Collins, The Breakfast Club, Deborah Foreman, and a whole lot more. There have been a few co-hosts, but Spearsy (as his friends call him and I hope I can consider myself a friend) has been the heart and soul of the show since it first dropped in 2005.

The podcast focuses on mainly the music, movies, and many other aspects of the pop culture of the 80s. Except one. Television. Not that television never comes up, there just isn’t a lot of talk about it. It is a whole untapped aspect of the decade that Spearsy has yet to mine. I often wonder why he hasn’t. My guess is that when a kid is coming of age, as Steve was in the 80s, there isn’t much time to watch television. I know I didn’t watch much in the 80s. Prime time television anyway.

There’s a whole blog I could write about Stuck in the 80s, and I’ll do that at some other time. I wanted to use this article to correct, at least slightly, the omission of television in the 80s talk on one of my favorite podcasts. And that correction is Late Night with David Letterman.

Well, not the entire show. No, there’s too much there for me to do in one blog post. Instead I want to talk about one of the best parts of those early years of Late Night: Chris Elliott. And more specifically his characters. And even more specifically his “Guy Under The Seats” character. Of his many, many characters; which included The Panicky Guy, The Conspiracy Guy, The Terminator Guy, along with his impressions of Marv Albert, Jay Leno, and Marlon Brando, the Guy Under The Seats was my absolute favorite.

Chris is the son of Bob Elliott, who was the Bob half of the comedy duo Bob & Ray. Bob & Ray’s style of comedy was about as dry as one can get in comedy. Their deadpan delivery while satirizing American society was sometimes taken seriously. They would often appear on the Tonight Show where the audiences could seem perplexed by these guys, but Johnny Carson loved them and would laugh hysterically.

Chris inherited his father’s deadpan delivery and love of oddball humor. Chris normally adopted an air of superiority when he would join Dave at the desk. He would often put down Dave’s show as a dog and pony kind of act, but as The Guy Under The Seats, he would routinely get downright insulted by the host’s lack of enthusiasm with the night’s bit. Chris would interrupt the show by popping up through a trapdoor in the bleachers, do some humorous bit and talk to Dave, Dave wouldn’t be too impressed, Chris would get offended and then he would threaten Dave. He would end most of the Guy’s appearances by slowly descending back under the seats while letting Dave know, “I’ll right here! Making your life a living hell! I’ll be watching you!”

I loved it!

There were lots of things I loved about Late Night, which I will write about in the future. Chris Elliott and his Guy Under The Seats are just where I decided to start. There’s an hour long video on YouTube featuring many (maybe all?) of these bits. Go here and love it, too!

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This Month’s Great Cover: Fantastic Four 143

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Just look at it. What more could you want from a comic book cover?

You know, one thing I like about this first blog of the month for Warehouse Find is: I don’t really have to write much. The first week of each month I feature what I think is a great  (or, at least, important) cover from the world of comic books. All that pretty much needs to be done is post the image and say, “Ain’t it great?!”

Well, I’ll give you a little more than that. This month’s cover is the third Fantastic Four cover to be featured. The first was the premier issue of that vitally important comic book. It wasn’t a particularly great cover, but it was a good one by the King, Jack Kirby, and it changed the tone of comic books forevermore. The second cover depicted a desperate Thing searching through fiery debris for the Human Torch as drawn by John Byrne. He’s the Human Torch, why worry about him being in fiery debris? It’s a head scratcher.

This month’s cover is also the second entry drawn by the great Gil Kane. As I noted when I wrote about that other cover by Mr Kane, it is clear why he did so many covers in those days. His work was awesome!

So, we’ve got the First Family of Marvel Comics (sans the Invisible Girl, she may have been on maternity leave or something, so the Inhuman Medusa was filling in for her) battling their arch foe Dr Doom. Dr Doom just might be the greatest comic book villain this side of The Joker and he’s giving the Human Torch quite a blast. The Ever Lovin’ Blue-eyed Thing has just broken his chains and declared it’s clobberin’ time. Sure, he doesn’t say it, but we know he’s saying it. Mr. Fantastic is doing his stretchy thing, while Medusa has that snazzy red hair. All right, that last thing was a tad uncalled for, but I do like red hair. Kane includes a bit of the futuristic machinery Doom always employed. And just what is the button he’s pushing going to do?

“Get set for the greatest battle issue ever!”

What’s not to love?!

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A Hobo, a Hunchback, and a Weird Old Lady Walk Into a Haunted House…

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Guest blogger Michael Noble returns with a Halloween tale…

Of course, despite the debacle that was playing “war,” [see Mr. Noble’s previous guest bloggery] Doug Schlaufman and I remained good friends. As is evident in the photo provided above during one of our Halloween outings.

This particular Halloween of our youth was a bit of a milestone: It was THE Halloween night we were going to visit the famed haunted house down the street from where I lived, a house we hadn’t dared go into previously. The hauntings and blasphemies and tales we’d heard about the place had kept us at bay for a long time. This year? It was the year we popped our haunted house cherry and ventured forward.

Back in the day, Halloween was a much anticipated free-for-all.

There were pillowcases that needed filling with candy and treats in the course of several trips in and out of the surrounding neighborhoods. There was the goopy make-up that got in your eyes and stuck there throughout the next day when you went to school, no matter how hard you tried to scrub it off. There was the toilet paper. There were the pumpkin guts tossed in the middle of the street we slipped on when we crossed from house to house. There were the dark, foreboding pathways leading up to houses, lit by little more than a single, ominous red or blue light bulb. The dogs scaring the bejeebers out of us when we approached a house. The thoroughly creepy music emanating from the background somewhere. Dank, moldy figures sitting on porches, waiting to make us leap screaming as they suddenly “came alive” and lurched menacingly at us.

Those were the days.

The old Polariod photo is of (left to right) Doug Anderson (hobo), myself (hunchback … and yeah, hunchbacks wore jeans) and Doug Schlaufman (weird old lady), complete with my father’s bright orange ‘68 VW in the background. It was 1973 (I think) and I was twelve years old. What a motley looking crew we were.

I remember that particular night vividly. We ran wild in the streets for hours, collecting as much as we could. I recall we came back with bags full of stuff, our loot practically giving beneath its weight. We’d dump it all on the kitchen table for Mom to go thorough, snag a piece or two for the road and then we were out the door for more.

We were unstoppable.

There was a house about a block away. It was transformed into a Halloween haunt during the season. We never had the guts to go into it before, but this was the year. I remember we saved that place for last. We wanted to go in, but we didn’t want to go in, if you know what I mean.

Toward the end of the night – feet tired, arms weary from lugging pounds and pounds of tooth-decaying treats – we ventured to the haunted house of doom.

We were greeted by an ominous voice inviting us to enter at our own risk. We were genuinely frightened out of our wits, but none of us backed down. We were going to go through with it. Mom knew where we were, even if she didn’t know who these people were. It was all good.

We carefully tip-toed inside. Just past the front door, ripped shreds of material hung. We had to make our way through them. Some were sticky. With what we hadn’t a clue.

A left turn took us into our first room of terror. We stopped dead in our tracks: a surgeon came into sight just around a wall. He had a mask on his face, scalpel in hand. We couldn’t see who he was “working” on but he beckoned us toward him. We tentatively took steps forward and, as we did, an operating table came into view. A balding man was atop it, mouth in a grimace, reaching out toward us and moaning. We could see his naked belly, a belly spilling out spaghetti entrails and red ooze.

Our hair was standing on end. The patient moaned louder and reached for us, but we backed away, right into a couple of hideous ghouls who had snuck up from behind us. We started and yelped and saw yet another figure closing the door we’d come through. This one had a scythe in one hand and what looked like intestines in the other. I felt a hand on my shoulder and screamed.

One of us bolted for the door, grabbed and opened it. The gruesome troop came at us and we dashed out of the room, back down the hall, through the front door and out into the street at a pace I would never again run.

We ran all the way back to my house, terrified as we bolted from the place, laughing at our scared selves the remainder of the way. One of my friends suggested we return and go through the rest of the place; the other blurted, “No way!”

We made it back to my house with nary a scratch. Halloween, again, was the blast we’d remembered it to be.

Inside the kitchen, my mother asked about the haunted house. We all agreed it was thoroughly creepy, but fun. Something caught her eye as she looked at me … and a look of utter disgust came across her face.

“What in the world is on your shoulder?!?” she half yelled. She grabbed a dish towel from the kitchen and came at me. I stood frozen still. My friends were looking at me wide-eyed, no laughter left on their faces.

My mother reached over and took whatever it was from my left shoulder. She showed it to me.

It was a huge piece of raw calf’s liver, a real one, obviously used as one of the props in the haunted house. That hand on my shoulder had left it there for me as “a parting gift.” It left a dank, blotchy, wet stain.

That’s the kind of Halloween I remember as a kid. They were good times … good times indeed.

Michael Noble blogs regularly at Hotchka.com and can often be heard on the Assault of the Two-Headed Space Mules podcast.

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When It Comes To GI Joe – Size Matters!

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Photo source: Wikipedia

It was 52 years ago when two highly important items came into this world: Me and GI Joe.

All right, sure, maybe I’m not as important or interesting as GI Joe, but I wanted to let you know that Joe and I have been around for pretty much the same amount of time. (He predates me by about nine months. Hang on. Perhaps my parents were celebrating the release of this awesome new toy. Ew. I don’t want to think about it.)

It was in February 1964 when Hasbro released GI Joe. It was intended as a doll that boys would play with, but they didn’t call it a doll. Oh, no. Boys don’t play with dolls. Hasbro called it “America’s moveable fighting man.” And they released four versions: Action Soldier, Action Sailor, Action Marine, and Action Pilot. Using “action” in their titles led to the coining of the term “action figure.”

The original Joes had hard hands and painted hair. Later would come the lifelike hair and beards, talking Joes, and that ever-popular Kung-Fu Grip. I prefer the hard hands and painted hair ones, myself. There also soon came an African-American version and then versions of the enemies of WWII – German and Japanese versions. And much later came female versions.

Because the human body cannot be copyrighted or trademarked, Hasbro came up with the scar on the cheek as a way to protect their product from cheap knock-off toy makers. Another trademark in the early years was the unintentional, incorrect placement of the right thumbnail on the underside of the thumb. It was a goof that Hasbro turned into something useful.

As the Vietnam War dragged on and became more and more unpopular, Hasbro rebranded GI Joe as an adventurer rather than a soldier. He was part of an Adventure Team. There were land, sea and air adventurers. And astronauts!

From the beginning there were whole lines of accessories and vehicles that could be purchased separately. There were also playsets big enough for Joe and his team. I recall a friend having one of those. I was quite envious.

Well, I got older. And, wouldn’t you know it, a whole bunch of new kids cropped up. And, in 1982, Hasbro launched a new kind of GI Joe toy line. These Joes were miniature. The original Joes towered over these usurpers! A proper GI Joe is 12″ tall, not those less than four inch tall pathetic little hunks of multi-colored plastic.

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And there were so many of them. Dozens and dozens! I remember a little comic book shop that I frequented was about half comic books and half those little monstrosities. They had the accessories and the playsets, but they also had comic books and TV cartoons and posters and all manner of ancillary items for purchase. They were taking over the world!

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I guess I was just too old to appreciate the new style of one of my favorite toys.

Oh, well, to each their own.

There is a tradition in my household. Each year when it comes time for putting up the Christmas tree, the first ornament placed on the tree is my 1999 35th Anniversary Hallmark GI Joe ornament. And that ornament is about the same size as those miniature GI Joes.

Hm.

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