Author Archives: Jim "Dr. Dim" Fitzsimons

You Know What’s A Really Good Musical With A Man Singing And Dancing In The Rain?

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Although, I generally like most kinds of movies, I’m not a big fan of musicals. There are a few I enjoy, but as a genre the musical usually leaves me cold. Often the songs feel as though they slow down the movie. I find myself saying, “Get on with it!” Good musicals, however, have songs that advance the narrative, not put it on hold.

My pedantic nature makes it difficult for me to suspend my disbelief of a world in which people burst into song and dance numbers. Even as a kid, I would wonder how everyone knew the words to the song one character was spontaneously singing. How was it everyone was so good at dancing? Even the milkman.

I like The Wizard of Oz and it’s a musical. In fact, I’d say this 1939 classic is one of the films I love. There are song and dance numbers the same as other musicals, but somehow I don’t have a problem with any of it. Perhaps the fact that Oz is a fantasy film makes it easier for me to accept the singing and dancing.

As a kid, the Over The Rainbow segment was a little dull. I just didn’t understand the importance of the song to the story. I’ve heard the song was almost cut from the film because an executive felt the same way as the younger version of myself. It was a good thing that it was kept. Not only for the narrative flow of the story, but to demonstrate that not every song has to be a show-stopper.

A more recent musical really could have benefited from that lesson. Chicago (2002) was filled with nothing but show-stopping numbers. Every song! Each song would start slow and quiet and build and build until the performers were belting it out to the back row. Every song! Why must every song be a home run? What’s wrong with a hitting a single or a double? It was exhausting.

I say it would have benefited by having less show-stoppers, but it did win the Oscar for Best Picture that year. And my mom loves it. Well, I hated it.

So, when I was shamed by a friend for never having seen the 1952 MGM classic, Singin’ In The Rain, I decided I’d set my usual distaste for musicals aside and try to give it a fair shake. (Incidentally, the friend who shamed me hadn’t seen it either. Still hasn’t. I learned this after I watched the legendary musical. The nerve of some people.)

Was this musical going to be a collection of show-stopping numbers sung at the tops of the performers’ lungs? Or would the movie understand how to bring things down a little? Would there be subtly? Would the musical numbers make sense?

The answer to those last three questions is yes!

I had seen bits and pieces of Singin’ In The Rain, but never the whole film. Well, I finally saw it and I really liked it.

Not only is a good musical, Singin’ In The Rain gives the audience a glimpse of the art of filmmaking. The story takes place in Hollywood’s transition period from silent films to talkies, showing the challenges of using sound (played for laughs with some of the moments being a bit hokey) and the fact that some of the stars of the silent era were going to be left behind. Some actors just didn’t have the voice for talkies, as was shown by Don Lockwood’s (Gene Kelly) female partner in the silents Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen).

We are shown that the whole way of acting needed to change with sound. In the silents acting could be big and bold, but with sound a softer, more subtle mood could be more easily portrayed. Lockwood and Lamont needed to learn that lesson. Lockwood could make the adjustment, but Lamont’s voice was just too off-putting.

To save his studio’s first (and awful) attempt at a talkie, Lockwood had the brilliant idea to remake it as a musical. The idea of dubbing a performer’s voice was also born. That’s where Kathy Seldon (Debbie Reynolds) came in handy. She had a great speaking voice and she could sing, so she would become the film voice of Lina Lamont. Sadly, due to Lamont’s ego, Seldon would be contracted to always be the woman behind the scenes. She would never be a star. However, Lamont’s ego would also lead to the vindictive star’s undoing.

The musical numbers are pretty damn impressive. Gene Kelly is a hell of a dancer. He makes it look so easy. He co-directed the film, which I assume included being it’s choreographer, and the choreography is terrific. I had no problem accepting singing and dancing in this world. It all worked for me.

I had, of course, seen the landmark dance scene of the title song. It’s so good. It’s long been a rumor that Kelly was suffering from a 103° fever as he performed the number, which took two to three days to film. I’m not sure I buy it. Kelly was in fine physical form, but with that severe of a fever, even he would have been side-lined. But I could be wrong.

Then there’s costar Donald O’Connor’s wonderful Make ‘Em Laugh routine. Holy smokes! Were these guys good. His dancing filled with pratfalls and running up walls and back flips, all while lip-syncing the song, is amazing.

Also, amazing is the Broadway Melody (Gotta Dance) number. It comes into the story by way of Lockwood telling the studio’s head executive of the big dance number to go into the reworked movie. The routine is lengthy, but terrific. There’s even a ballet segment which beautifully makes use of a 20 foot long shimmery scarf being blown in the air. That scarf is as much a part of the ballet as Kelly and his dance partner Cyd Charisse.

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Cyd Charisse. Oh. My.

Talk about an entry. Charisse arrives onscreen, legs first, as a vamp who proves to be quite the temptation to Kelly’s smalltown boy who has “gotta dance.” Charisse is as sexy as hell in that green flapper outfit. She and Kelly dance so well together, from the more contemporary dance on through the ballet. It’s wonderful, but in the end money talks and the smalltown boy does not win the vamp’s heart.

This 1952 musical classic was thoroughly enjoyed by me. I may have to take in some more of the classic musicals. If there are others on the same level as Singin’ In The Rain, I might just become a fan of the genre.

Packing Peanuts!

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Images used under Fair Use.

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Here’s A Few Things About Comic Books

This is going to be one of those round-up blogs, in which I comment on a number of comic book related topics. I have a few things to comment on, but not enough on each topic for a full write up, so…

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It’s real. It’s an actual comic book cover. The February 1966 issue of Lois Lane would finally address the issue of Clark Kent’s flimsy disguise. A nice suit and Buddy Holly glasses? Really? If I removed my glasses and donned a Superman costume, people would still know it was me. So, how did this disguise work in the comic books, TV shows, and movies?

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That’s me, holding the comic book in question. Geez! My toupee needs adjusting.

I read this issue (which you can buy at NostalgiaZone.com – $10 cheap!) and I’m going to spoil it for you. DC Comics doesn’t really explain how Superman keeps fooling the world.

The story in a nutshell: Editor Perry White has to leave the Daily Planet while he serves, temporarily, in the US Senate. His replacement is awfully handsome, a “dreamboat” according to Lois, but he also acts suspiciously. Lois goes on a date with him that first day after work and thinks there’s something up with the guy.

She learns he is the leader of S.K.U.L. (Superman Killers’ Underground League) and she gets roped into a plot to kill Supes. She gets Lana Lang to help her decode the instructions she had been given by this secret underground league. When the message is decoded, Superman bursts in on Lois and Lana and makes that declaration we see on the cover. Lana does admit they’ve had their suspicions.

Superman then removes his mask and he turns out to be the leader of the kill Superman club. But, he’s really an FBI agent trying to smoke out that League and he enlists Lois and Lana to help him. Continued next issue.

They don’t exactly explain how Superman/Clark Kent can fool the world with a suit and glasses.

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The sexism just oozes from the narration paragraph at the top. “The Daily Planet’s pretty reporter,” “cute nose.” Yuck!

While reading this comic book from 52 years ago, I was struck by how blatantly sexist it is in its treatment of women and Lois Lane in particular. Lane is an investigative reporter, yet she’s described as stumbling onto stories. Her immediate reaction upon meeting the new editor is to think of him as a dreamboat. And neither Lane nor Lang bring up the topic of marriage, yet that’s what “Superman” deems the best way to berate these women for their stupidity. Marriage must have been a major theme in the Lois Lane series, after all it was a “girl’s” comic.

Switching gears, a couple months back, on a Facebook comic book fan group page, there was a discussion of whether the cover of Marvel’s Fantastic Four #1 was an homage to or a rip-off of the cover illustration of DC’s The Brave and The Bold #28 (the first appearance of the Justice League Of America). Look below for a comparison.

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Compostionally the two cover are very much alike. I prefer the Fantastic Four cover, because I prefer Jack Kirby’s drawing to Mike Sekowsky’s. Although, Sekowsky’s anatomy drawing is better and FF #1 isn’t Kirby’s best cover. It’s good, just not his best.

(OK, I’m a Marvel kid. I’m required by the MMMS to always prefer Marvel covers. Even if drawn by Rob Liefe… NO! There’s no way I can do that! I must draw the line somewhere!)

At first, I thought it was coincidence. Then I learned that the Fantastic Four was the result of a mandate from Atlas Comics publisher, Martin Goodman, to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby to create a superhero group to compete with the Justice League of America, DC’s super team that debuted just about a year earlier. Learning that bit of history has me leaning toward rip-off.

What do you think?

Finally, as part of that JLA/FF discussion, someone brought up the practice of artists copying other artists in the creation of comic books. They provided an image (see below) that certainly is evidence of copying.

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Top frame: Jack Kirby • Middle frame: Gil Kane • Bottom frame: Rich Buckler

There’s no denying the second two frames were copied from work done by Kirby in the first frame, assuming that image is the original use of that punch. You will note that Gil Kane (second frame) made a couple changes to the pose: Captain America’s left arm is held differently and his hips are turned to the right. Kane’s variation, in my opinion, makes the pose a little on the awkward side, especially the lower part of his left leg.

Gil! If you’re going to copy the master, copy the master.

Someone in the group discussion claimed that Stan Lee, himself, would hand artists frames of comic art, usually drawn by Kirby, and instruct them to copy that frame. This revelation was offered without any source citation, so it may be untrue. And it may be a case of artists just copying other artists, in this case Kirby, because the other artists may have solved a difficult problem. When you consider how quickly artists had to get the work done with looming deadlines and the need to do as many pages as possible in a day to get decent pay, copying is understandable.

Artists were paid lousy. If you could only manage one page a day, you’d starve.

Packing Peanuts!

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A Great Cover To Get Excited About

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Working for a comic book store has its moments. Sometimes you’re able to find that one issue for which a customer had been looking far and wide and for so long. There are the occasions when a little kid comes looking for advice on what to collect. (I always tell them to find something they like and collect that. Don’t worry about value, but keep it in good shape. Comic book collecting should be fun.) And sometimes we get a customer who is just damn excited to find a comic book drawn by their favorite artist. An original, not a reprint. From the early days. And it’s affordable!

That last scenario happened on Saturday. A fellow came in and found himself a copy of Amazing Spider-Man #33 (February 1966) drawn and inked by the incomparable Steve Ditko. It would be his first original Amazing Spider-Man purchase. Until that Saturday, he had been collecting reprints. The customer placed his find up by the register for safe keeping as he searched around for any other gems. That’s when I noticed the cover.

Ditko, along with Jack Kirby, was instrumental in creating the Marvel Universe with Stan Lee in the early 1960s. His style is unmistakable and, to be honest, doesn’t always work for me. But this cover caught my eye.

It was Ditko who designed Spider-Man’s look. He is responsible for what must be the second most iconic costume in all of comic books. First would have to be Superman, but Spider-Man is right up there. That’s a hell of an achievement.

The cover says it is “The Final Chapter” and we see our hero, apparently trapped, as the water rises. The cover is done simply and effectively with tension and drama. But is Spider-Man really trapped? Is he contemplating his escape? Or is he giving up and letting the flood waters take him?

Surely, our hero isn’t giving up.

The composition is straight forward and elegant. Spidey is right at the center trapped with the water is rising. What will he do? The text helps set the tension. Can this possibly be the final chapter? Is it the end of our hero?!

The reader just has to find out!

That’s an effective cover. And it is very gratifying to know the copy we had in the shop has found a loving home.

(Hmmm. It’s curious. The other Amazing Spider-Man cover I declared great also had Spidey threatened by rising water. It seems I have a thing for wet Spider-Men. I might have to call my therapist.)

Packing Peanuts!

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The Good Ol’ Days Of Stupid

Guest blogger Michael Noble returns with his thoughts on kids being stupid, inspired by this whole eating Tide detergent pods silliness.

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Of course we did stupid things as kids.

We were kids for Pete’s sake. Being a kid comes with certain entitlements. In many cases doing stupid things was expected of us.

Still, in hindsight, it seems we were a more intelligent sort of stupid than the youth of today. (If that makes any sort of sense.)

Example: We didn’t go around eating Tide pods, things we know for certain aren’t to be ingested. In some deluded, misplaced reality, chomping down on laundry detergent capsules is a rite of passage currently. When I was a kid having our mouths washed out with soap was a punishment, not a dare. We may have been dumb but we didn’t knowingly self-inflict such blatant imbecility on ourselves. I mean, we did stupid things … but we weren’t stupid.

See the photo above? We did stuff like that. For the thrill of it, in pursuit of the challenge of it all. It was good, clean fun. Getting run over by a bicycle? No big deal. Yeah, so you got a welt the size of a basketball that migrated from your chest, around your side and all the way around to the middle of your back. But, eventually, it would heal. And probably before your mom got wind of it. So really… where was the harm? We could still walk. There were no open wounds. Some mussed up hair and a few tire marks on your clothes, nothing a run through the wash couldn’t cure.

The point is: We had fun. We knew how to have fun without killing each other or ourselves. Each weekend, with school behind us, was an adventure, the dawning of a new day that saw us with our favorite cereal in front of an hour of morning cartoons followed by undertakings with friends on a full day hunt for pure, unadulterated, unsupervised enjoyment without a care in the world.

And, oh… the memories some of those undertakings yielded.

I remember one particular Saturday. My father had to go into work for some important project (his company built engine components for NASA and Boeing) and mom spent the day in the house cleaning and cooking. I was left by my lonesome to play with neighbors or build models or what have you. This Saturday saw a friend and I tinkering about in the garage. We found a five gallon bucket and decided to experiment with Ajax and gasoline and some sort of flower food for my mother’s outdoor plants. All went into the bucket along with things such as turpentine and laundry detergent and whatever was in that glass jar on the top shelf above the washing machine forever beckoning me every time I took out the trash. If it sounded cool into the mix it went. My buddy even found an old fencing slat perfect for stirring it all together.

But whatever the last ingredient was that got added to the mix made the concoction foam. And rather violently, almost to the point of bubbling over the rim of the container. And the chemical stench of it all! It burned the hairs in our noses and left a tang that wouldn’t soon be forgotten. That’s when I knew it was time to call it quits. I grabbed the bucket by the handle, schlepped it out the back garage door and out the side yard, opened the gate leading to the street and awkwardly dragged it across the front yard lawn to pour it into the gutter. I told my friend to grab the garden hose so we could wash it down the street. That done, I rinsed out the bucket, left it to dry and we put away all our doings strewn around the garage. When I went back to close the gate, that’s when I noticed the line in the lawn.

There was a definitive burn seared into the grass, a burn line leading from the backyard all the way out to the street … and it was still smoking. I didn’t remember spilling anything when I dragged the bucket across the lawn but there was the evidence in front of me, plain as day. The line was in the last throes of bubbling, grass curling up into itself, gasping its last, never to convert carbon dioxide into breathable air ever again. The trail was discernible, telltale and accusatory. I grabbed the hose and washed the scar with water as best I could, hoping against hope it would help … or at least stop the grass from smoldering. “Michael! Come here!” my friend called to me. I ran over to him. He pointed at the bucket we’d used. There, drying in the sun where I’d left it, was a gaping hole in the bottom of it, clear indication whatever witch’s brew we’d mixed up was toxic enough to melt an opening in the container. That’s where the liquid leaked. That’s where the searing line in the grass came from.

My mind raced. Maybe my father wouldn’t notice. Maybe, because that gout was on the far side of the front yard, it wouldn’t be readily obvious from such a distance. If the subject came up, I would deny, deny, deny, as would my buddy if asked. “Burn in the lawn? No, I don’t know about any burn in the lawn…” would be my response when my father asked me if I knew anything.

There was no proof of our culpability, no accusatory evidence I had anything to do with the channel of now dead grass running across the lawn. We had the perfect alibi: Ignorance. And the two of us made a pact – we would never speak of this again.

Later in the week, when my father took the trash out, he mentioned the blight on the lawn. “Michael, do you know anything about the front lawn? I took the trash out and it looks like something spilled across the grass all the way out to the street…”

“In the lawn? You mean… our lawn? The lawn in our front yard? That lawn? Nope.” I replied.

In retrospect, mixing those chemicals was a dumb thing to do. But good times nevertheless.

Now here’s the thing: When I was a kid, there was no such thing as Tide pods, desolvable laundry detergent in convenient little packets you tossed into the wash. No such product to stupidly dare one another to chomp down on to see what reaction came of such foolishness.

We may have been dumb kids who mixed together all sorts of chemicals that probably could have blown the garage to smithereens, but we weren’t stupid enough to challenge one another to swallow it.

Thanks, Michael. I’m glad you survived childhood. You can read more by Michael at hotchka.com.

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Johnny Comelately Sees Star Wars: The Last Jedi

It was Sunday night. As I watched it unfold, I found myself rising from my seat, clenching my fists, in disbelief of what I was witnessing. It was impossible. It was astounding. It was a miracle.

The Minnesota Vikings finally caught a break in a playoff game and snatched victory from the jaws of defeat

I know, that’s not Star Wars. I just wanted to share.

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Lucasfilm Ltd/Walt Disney Studios

The night before the “Minneapolis Miracle,” my wife, my son, and I ventured out into the cold winter weather to the theater to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Sure, it took a while. We’re busy people. It reminds me of when I was a kid and first saw the original Star Wars film. It had taken quite a while before I finally got a chance to see it. It was released in May of 1977 and I didn’t see it until late that summer. I did see Return of the Jedi the day it was released, though.

Well, to cut to the chase, I liked The Last Jedi. I really liked it. And, of course, I want to see it again. I’ll dive in a bit more, though, to give you my impressions. I will do my best to avoid spoilers.

I’ll start with what I found wanting.

For me, it got off to a rocky start. Perhaps I was just trying to get up to speed and was a little disoriented, but I felt the beginning was a bit uneven and at times tried a little too hard to add humor. That was a problem throughout the film. The humor didn’t always land so well. Some jokes worked, most were a little off.

I thought Finn (John Boyega), former storm trooper turned rebel we met in Episode VII, was underused. His main sequence in the gambling town, whatever it was called – French Morocco? – seemed a little tacked on. But it did bring up the interesting aspect of the duplicitousness of the arms dealers, who were getting quite wealthy off both the First Order and the Resistance.

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The aspect that bothered me most about the beginning of the film (and throughout The Force Awakens, as well) was Domhnall Gleeson’s performance as the First Order’s General Hux. Gleeson is a good actor. He’s terrific in Frank and Ex Machina. But, it seems he’s being directed in these films to make absolutely certain the audience knows his character is EEEEEEEEEvil. He really hams it up. I swear the only thing missing was a mustache for him to twirl. However, when he dials it back, as he does later in the film, he’s much better.

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The porgs (the little bird/hamster creatures) didn’t bother me. They could have easily been overused, but they weren’t. It’s been pointed out that they were in the film purely for merchandising. Probably, but what in a Star Wars film isn’t used for merchandising?

There’s lots to like about this movie. The special effects are terrific. There is a use of a ship going to hyperspace that is stunning! There’s a chase involving the Millennium Falcon that is a thrill ride comparable to the asteroid field chase in The Empire Strikes Back. The settings look great. Some are opulent, while others are primitive, but the details get plenty of attention.

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Supreme Leader Snoke is deliciously evil and his portrayal of evil is right on. Gleeson could learn a thing or two from Andy Serkis, who is brilliant as Snoke. Adam Driver, again, does a terrific job as Kylo Ren. Just as  in The Force Awakens, Ren is conflicted, being pulled by both the light and dark sides of the Force. Or is he?

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Daisy Ridley puts in another fine performance as Rey, the young woman with a murky past who is steeped in the power of the Force. She, too, feels conflicted. She feels the pull of the Dark Side, while she attempts to complete her mission of bringing Jedi Master Luke Skywalker out of hiding to help the rebels defeat the First Order. But it’s not going to be easy. Skywalker (and it’s so great to see a grizzled Mark Hamill playing his most legendary character again) is reluctant to resume his role as the hero. His reasons are complicated and have to do with his young apprentice, Ben Solo (Kylo Ren), turning to the Dark Side, mirroring his own father’s turn to the Dark Side (Anakin Skywalker to Darth Vader) while training with Obi Wan Kenobi.

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At one point, Skywalker says to his old friend R2-D2 that there is nothing he could be told that would change his mind and have him return to the fight. R2-D2’s response brought tears to my eyes. I’ll say no more than that.

Another aspect of these new Star Wars films that I find pleasing is the light saber battles. In the prequels, the light saber battles, although thrilling, appeared more like dancing than battling. Every move seemed (and was) choreographed. Yes, in the original films and in these new ones the duels are also choreographed, but they don’t look that way. On film they come across as actual battles. Spontaneous. And that’s how they should be.

And, by the way, is turning your back on your opponent in a duel a good idea? It was done a lot in the prequels and I’ve seen it done in these new films. I never understood what advantage it was to spin around while having a sword fight. It seems to me that exposing your back to you foe is a bad idea. Now, if you’re fighting more than one person, then you probably would have to turn your back to at least one opponent at some point. Still.

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It was bittersweet to see the late Carrie Fisher in her best known role as Leia Organa. She has a steady calmness in her role as leader of the ever-dwindling Resistance. But she has faith in their cause and in her brother. The film dedication to her was another moment that brought a tear to my eye.

Some fans have criticized the dialog. Well, had they seen the original Star Wars? It wasn’t exactly Shakespeare. I understand the knock, but I didn’t have a problem with the dialog.

However, I don’t understand the very negative reactions I’ve been seeing from some fans. Perhaps, some are disappointed that they didn’t feel exactly the same way they felt when they first saw the original. If so, I have a news flash for them: No follow up film can ever match the initial thrill of the original. Empire didn’t. Sure, it’s a better movie, but it didn’t have that same WOW impact as seeing that Star Destroyer looming over head at the beginning of Episode IV. The same goes for the Indiana Jones franchise. Raiders of the Lost Ark caused a reaction by the fans that none of the other films could touch. So, stop complaining that you didn’t feel the same way you did when you were 12.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a fun, touching, and very entertaining movie. And it has me wanting to see it again and excited for Episode IX.

Packing Peanuts!

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When You Absolutely, Positively Have to Have Salisbury Steak

Guest blogger Michael Noble returns once again, this time to regale us with a tale of Salisbury steak. This ought to be interesting…

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Funny thing about me and food: I get a craving for something and, of course, it won’t be readily available right then and there. What to do?

Well, over the last 15 years or so, I bite the bullet, look up whatever it is I’m craving, and figure out how to make it from scratch.

Some of my previous attempts?

Off the top of my head: Eggnog. Macaroni and cheese. Shepherd’s pie. Almond roca. Mushroom soup. Custard pie. Fresh whipped cream. (No, not all were successes the first time around. I’ve since tweaked a couple of them during later attempts and made them work to my satisfaction. The really interesting one was my custard pie; it came out perfectly the first time I made it. The second time it didn’t work so well for whatever reason. As the saying goes: They can’t all be gems.)

Now… I’m well aware every single one of those items mentioned is easily procured if you simply jump into the car and head over to the local grocery store. But I’m not the sort of person who takes the easy road in such situations. I’d much rather go a’huntin’, get some hands-on learning in and gain the experience and satisfaction of doing it myself.

Last week one of those “situations” raised its head and its name was Salisbury steak. For whatever reason, the dish cropped up somehow, somewhere (I believe I saw a picture in a magazine) and I started salivating at the very thought of it. A little strange, I know… but a craving is a craving.

So, I went looking for a recipe. My intention was to make Salisbury steak to enjoy with The Golden Globes awards broadcast Sunday evening.

“Sunday night? I’m making Salisbury steak for dinner. I’m craving it for some reason,” I announced. “That work?”

“Knock yourself out,” I was told.

I found a recipe that fit my needs – it just so happened to be a slow cooker recipe – and, to my delight, I discovered I had all the ingredients at hand necessary to make the dish. Well… almost.

There was one item I lacked: A particular gravy mix. But I knew there were a few extra containers of brown gravy languishing in the pantry from the holidays. I figured I could doctor some to the point of edibility. (Despite the fact it was a name brand product, rarely does something that comes from a jar “work” in a recipe from scratch. Whipping it up fresh is usually preferable.)

Now… Let’s talk about my experience with Salisbury steak for a moment. Honestly, it had been a long, long time since I last had it. Truth be told, the memory of it was probably a lot more delectable in my mind than in reality. I did remember someone making it in the past and it being a taste delight at the time. Other than that? My Salisbury steak memories consisted of my mother tossing frozen TV dinners in the oven for us kids. Hey… We liked those TV dinners. They came with interesting potatoes and strangely attractive vegetables. The fried chicken was pretty damned good. And the desserts were always a surprise treat, too. (What did we know? We were young, culinarily-inexperienced, impressionable kids.) But I remember… I remember the Salisbury steak dinners were one of my favorites.

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It was meat (and, as a kid, I loved meat) but a different kind of meat. It was weird meat is what it was… but kids dig “weird.” Of course, what I liked as a kid didn’t always translate over to adulthood. I foggily recall having one of those dinners with about 20 years nestled between the last experience and it wasn’t what I remembered. In fact, it was pretty much inedible. Adulthood will do that to your taste buds, you know. Thankfully.

So, why I was all hot and bothered to reacquaint myself with Salisbury steak was a bit of a mystery. But I figured I could make it from scratch head and shoulders above what could be peeled back and exposed from beneath a thin layer of aluminum foil straight out of the oven, all hot and bubbly and oozing over into the other segments of that hot metal tray.

Sunday came and I got to work. I seasoned and formed the hamburger meat with CBS Sunday Morning speaking to me in the background. And then I browned the patties and drained the grease, wrapped them up and tucked them snugly away in the fridge for later disposition. Later, as the afternoon got on, I added the remainder of the ingredients into the crock pot, placed the patties at its bottom, covered all, and switched the pot to its lowest setting. In four hours, there would be Salisbury delight wafting in the air.

As the time got nearer, I made mashed potatoes and fried up Delicata squash to compliment the meal. With those condiments complete, I switched off the crock pot and lifted the lid.

The aroma that arose from the pot was appealing, comforting, beefy. I could hardly wait to dig in.

The table set, the food served, I began. That first taste was Salisbury steak, all right. But nothing I’d ever quite tasted previously. Yes… the hot, smothered flavors were there from my youth but there was a distinctive taste I couldn’t quite put my finger on. It wasn’t off-putting by any stretch of the imagination, but it wasn’t anything I readily recalled, either.

I struck up a conversation after a few bites, “Remember Clifton’s Cafeteria in the mall when we were kids? How it had those long lines of cafeteria offerings, all the senior citizens milling about trying to decide what to put on their plates? I’m getting that sort of vibe from this. Not in a bad way, more in a comforting way. It brings back those memories…”

“No… it’s not bad at all. And it does bring back memories, all right,” came the response. “And, since you opened the door and started critiquing, I’ll throw in my two cents: It kind of reminds me of those TV dinners I had as a kid. There weren’t any I remember ever really liking. Sorry.”

Huh. Guess me and my nostalgia and my memories will be revisiting Salisbury steak all by our lonesomes next time around…

Thanks, Michael. I’m feeling an odd craving for a TV dinner right now. You can read more by Michael at hotchka.com.

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January’s Great Comic Book Cover Is By The King

29715I’ve said this before: When I was younger and first collecting comic books, I didn’t really care for Jack Kirby’s artwork. I did come to appreciate when I got older and had studied comic book art very closely and for a long time. Lately, I’ve been hearing other comic book collectors saying the same thing. Although they haven’t said how much they’ve studied the art, they have come to an appreciation and love for Kirby’s genius.

With this month’s great cover, I think I might have been a fan of Kirby in my younger years, if one thing would have been true. If Bill Everett would have inked more of the King’s work. In those days, Mike Royer, Vince Colletta, or Joe Sinnott were teamed with Kirby most often. They were all fine inkers, but Bill Everett, a excellent artist in his own right, seemed to really gel with his fellow comic book pioneer.

Look at that cover (The Mighty Thor #171, December 1969). Penciled by Kirby, it has many of his telltale features. There’s the round biceps, the odd-looking yet expressive hands, and those great skyscrapers. And, of course, that dynamic struggle pose between to super-powered foes. Kirby was so good at dynamic.

On this cover, there’s also a more defined anatomy. More restrained somehow. More disciplined. And I love the expression on The Wrecker’s (he’s the guy in the green jumpsuit) face. There’s something about those eyes. I attribute these elements of greatness to Everett’s inking. Everett should have been Kirby’s inker far more often. If this cover is any indication, they would have made a hell of a team.

It’s a great cover.

Packing Peanuts!

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