Category Archives: Pop Culture

The Man Has Died. Stan Lee (1922-2018)

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Last December, with the input of a few friends, I had written a post commemorating Stan “The Man” Lee’s 95th birthday. Today I’m writing a brief post to acknowledge The Man’s death and his impact on my life.

I was a Marvel kid in the 1970s, when I started collecting comic books. All of my comic collecting friends were at the time. Although, I grew to appreciate DC Comics later in life, I’m still a Marvel kid at heart. Marvel Comics were just so much more exciting than DC Comics. The artwork was better. The action was better. The characters were better.

The characters were better, in large part, because they were so much more relatable than DC’s. Marvel characters had real world, often mundane, problems. Spider-Man had to figure out how to defeat Doc Ock and protect Aunt May, all while keeping his identity secret and his homework done. OK, I wasn’t fighting super-villains, but I did have homework. That relatability was one of Stan’s greatest contributions to comic books. His characters were people.

I’m aware there have been criticisms against Stan for what appeared to be his desire to be thought of as the sole creator of The Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, The Hulk, Iron Man, and a whole litany of other exciting super-heroes. But I think those criticisms are a little unfair. Later in his life, he would acknowledge the massive contributions of such creative giants as Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko in those extremely creative years in the early 1960s.

Stan Lee had a “gee whiz” kind of quality to his personality. He could seem a little hokey at times, but his optimism and exuberance were undeniable. It was that personality that made him the perfect cheerleader for Marvel Comics and for comic books in general. And that cheer-leading was an equally important facet to his contribution to the world of comic books, super-heroes, and, eventually, tent-pole super-hero movies. The Man not only changed comic books, he had a hand in changing Hollywood.

Throughout my youth, I would spent hours and hours reading, looking at, and studying comic books, most of them Marvel. Comic books inspired me to keep drawing, when other kids gave up and moved on to other things. I became an artist, a cartoonist. No, I never did get work drawing comic books, but no matter. It was comic books, Stan Lee’s comic books, that put me on the road to gaining this skill.

For that and the thousand of hours spent battling Dr. Doom with The Fantastic Four, or Ultron with The Avengers, or Magneto with The X-Men, I am eternally grateful to Stan “The Man” Lee.

Packing Peanuts!

No. Make that…

Excelsior!

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Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books.

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This Month’s Great Cover Has A Lantern Jaw

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Just look at that!

In the January, 1993 issue of Superman (#75), our hero from the planet Kryton had died defeating what seemed to be an unstoppable foe: Doomsday. In the months that followed, as Superman lay “dead,” four characters stepped in to fill his sizable shoes. They were Eradicator, Superboy, Cyborg Superman, and Steel. Eventually, the real Superman rose from the dead (hardly anyone stays dead in comic books for very long) to take up the task of once again fighting for Truth, Justice, and the American Way.

This month’s great cover is from Superman: The Man Of Steel #25 (September, 1993). It was drawn by Jon Bogdanove and inked by Dennis Janke. Bogdanove had started working for Marvel Comics in 1986, then he hopped on over to DC Comics in 1991 and became part of the team that created the Man Of Steel title in the wake of Superman’s death.

1993 was part of th23188at awful time period when comic book art began to drown in unnecessary linework. Lines! Lines! Lines! Marvel and Image Comics led the way in this era in which some artists forgot to leave room for color, adding more and more lines, while some inkers also abandoned the use of varying line weight to show the shape of things. Look at the cover of The Incredible Hulk #341 (March, 1988), drawn and inked by Todd MacFarlane, one of the artists who issued in this flood of undisciplined linework. Now, imagine there’s no color, it’s a black and white line drawing. Without the color it would be difficult to tell just what the hell is going on. So many unnecessary lines, which all have more or less the same weight to them.

Compare MacFarlane’s cover to this month’s great cover. Bogdanove and Janke use plenty of lines for shading, but the lines are disciplined. They are loose in their execution, but they are placed right where they are needed. There are thick and thin lines. They make sense. You can tell exactly what is going on. And they leave room for color, which was masterfully provided by Janke.

I love a good close-up and Bogdanove and Janke nailed this one. This, my friends, is how you draw an angry, determined, about-to-kick-your-butt Superman!

Packing Peanuts!

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Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books.

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Horror Incorporated Didn’t Need A Host

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“Lurking among the corpses are the body-snatchers, plotting their next venture into the graveyard…”

Those were the first words that welcomed Twin Cities viewers to the weekly night of terror offered by the local TV station KSTP, back when I was a kid in the 1970s. The show was called Horror Incorporated.

There were many such creature feature offerings on local television stations all over America in those days. Our horror movie showcase was a little different than most. Ours had no host.

No Vampira. No Ghoulardi. No Mister Lobo. No Sir Graves Ghastly. No Doctor Creep. No Sharon Needles. No Grimsley.

No host.

But my research does show that Horror Incorporated did indeed, however briefly, have a couple of hosts. First was Dr. Paul Bearer (get it?) in the early 1970s. There also appears to have been a second host in the mid-70s, who went by the name Graves. Neither host lasted very long. For the majority of its run from the fall of 1969 until sometime in the later 1970s (I’m not certain when it ended) there was no host.

And having no host was good, because…

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Not a great Dracula.

In the 2000s, the show was revived with hosts. There were two attempts at a revival, in fact. I don’t know which came first, but one was hosted by Count Dracula, who stood in front of a green screen and did a not so great Bela Lugosi impression. He would make puns and tell a few facts related to the featured horror movie. He would then tell viewers to “OBEY!” and come back next week. Lame, but the actor did his best with what he had to work with.

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Not the Addams Family.

The other attempt had a small cast of young actors doing sort of a take off on the Addams Family. In fact, the main character, Uncle Ghoulie (center in above photo. No, not the wolf!), was a cross between Gomez Addams (as played by the great John Astin on the ’60s TV show) and Svengoolie, a current and longtime horror show host. They did skits and tried their best to insert humor into the proceedings. They had varying degrees of success.

Neither incarnation lasted long.

I might have a bit of nostalgic bias here, but I prefer no host. That’s the way I saw the Friday night creature feature when I was a kid. There was no silliness, except what might have been in the movie. The way that version was presented was to absolutely creep you out. You were supposed to be scared. It set the tone for a scary movie. And if they had a good one to show, one with Lugosi or Karloff, perhaps, the viewer would be in the proper mood for a scare and not a giggle.

The show featured a simple open and close which often times were far more frightening than the featured film. They consisted of a sparse set: Black with only a coffin in a spotlight. And, of course, there was fog. The lighting would change from harsh white to yellow, blue, purple, green, red. There were sounds of creaking doors, shrieks, groans, and cries of anguish. And then the lid of the coffin would begin to open and two pale, claw-like, almost skeletal, hands would come into sight. The occupant was rising from his coffin to head into the night in search of blood… I’m guessing.

And there was the voice-over provided by Jim Wise, who was also working for KSTP radio. He sounded excellent as he welcomed viewers to that week’s “excursion through Horror Incorporated…” Chills! Good old-fashioned, blood-curdling chills, folks!

When the feature was complete, the scene returned to the coffin. This time its occupant was returning from a night of terrorizing innocents. And the voice-over told us…

“Next week, I will be back again with another venture into the chamber of horror. Come along for another experience through the unknown, into Horror Incorporated.”

Now just try to get some sleep, kids!

You can watch the opening and closing at this link. See if you don’t agree that it is very effective. Also, visit The Horror Incorporated Project. It’s a fun site that really helped me in my research.

Packing Peanuts!

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Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books.

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A Pedant Watches Close Encounters of the Third Kind

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Warning! Spoilers ahead.

On my podcast, Dimland Radio (available on iTunes & Podbean) I do a semi-regular segment I call the Dimland Radio Pedantic Moment. It’s a moment in which I’ll get all pedantic on some usually minor thing I’ve noticed. For example, in one of those life insurance TV ads Alex Trebek does he mentions the three P’s of life insurance offered by a particular company. They are Price, Price, and Price. A Price you can afford, a Price that cannot change, and a Price that fits your budget.

Um, Alex? A price that fits my budget is a price I can afford. So, it’s really only two P’s then, isn’t it?

See? Like that.

Sometimes my pedantic moments are rather lengthy. On last week’s show my moment was a long one. It covered much of what I didn’t understand about Steven Spielberg’s 1977 classic Close Encounters of the Third Kind. A listener to my podcast attempted to assist me in getting past my pedantry, but some of it is still mystifying to me. I thought I’d go over the problems I have with the film here, as well.

Don’t get me wrong! I really like the movie. It’s just that…

The plot.

A super-advanced, extraterrestrial species, which had been visiting our planet and kidnapping our people for decades (unless you believe they built the Egyptian pyramids – they didn’t, humans did – then they’ve been coming here for thousands of years), had decided to make themselves known by driving average people crazy by implanting an image of Devil’s Tower in their minds without any explanation as to why. The people are just compelled to figure it out and go there.

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“Huh. Where have I seen that before?”

The aliens are kinda jerks.

They also steal a four year old boy right from his terrified mother’s arms. Because they needed just one more human, I guess.

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“It’s OK, lady. We’re just going to do a few experiments on him.”

No, the aliens aren’t kinda jerks. They are complete ——–!

(I prefer not to swear on this blog, but you know what I mean.)

They have also been leaving clues for the government to come meet them at Devil’s Tower. The government scares off the locals and builds a base which includes a landing strip, for some reason, and wait for our interplanetary neighbors to show up.

The pedantry.

Something the government people picked up on is a series of five musical notes coming from the spacemen that they think means something. They think it is important. This is where I get a little lost. There’s a meeting of the government people in Carnegie Hall or some similar facility, in which the head man demonstrates some hand signals matched up with the music. The hand signals come from a method of teaching music developed by a fellow named Zoltan Kodaly.

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“It’s been my life-long dream to play a reel-to-reel tape machine to a live audience.”

This is received with thunderous applause from the government people in attendance. It was met by me with a confused, “Huh?”

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“Hot crowd! Hot crowd!”

So, at the end of the movie, the alien mothership shows up and the humans and ET have a musical conversation. But, how do we earthlings know what to say in response to whatever it is that the little grey men are saying? Sure, some fellow says the aliens are teaching us a basic tonal language, whatever that means. Another says it’s the first day of school, but how do we know what the tones mean? How do we know what to play back?

On my first day of school, if my teacher had asked me to spell cat without first teaching me the alphabet, it would be pretty futile, wouldn’t it? If the aliens are trying to communicate with us using musical notes, we would need to know what the notes represent first, wouldn’t we? And yet the government men somehow know how to respond. One of them tells the musician what to play; at first, eventually a computer takes over. The musician is the only one who seems to understand my confusion. He even asks, “What are we saying to each other?”

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The musician (in the middle) is thinking to himself, “Well, at least it’s a payin’ gig.”

Remember Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home in which a massive space probe is destroying the earth trying to talk to extinct humpback whales? It was the Enterprise crew that figured that out, so Admiral Kirk suggests that they respond by reproducing humpback whale sounds. Mr. Spock correctly points out that though they could make the sounds, they don’t know the language. “We would be responding in gibberish.”

Isn’t that what the humans were doing in that scene in Close Encounters?

My pedantic moment continued with my discussion of the return of the hostages these heartless aliens had been picking up on their numerous visits. Out of the mothership pile several confused people, some of whom had been gone for decades. Just how thrilled will they be to learn their loved ones had moved on or even died. “Thanks a lot, alien buddy old pal.”

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“Welcome back. You’re wife has remarried and she’s in her 60s.”

They could comfort themselves by saying, “Well, at least, I haven’t aged.” Because the aliens must have been traveling at light speed the entire time they had held these people captive. And this led to a remark made by one of the government men when another said that Einstein was right about the whole the relativity thing and aging. The remark was, “Einstein was probably one of them.” Them being the aliens.

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“Don’t look now, but isn’t that Ash from Aliens standing behind us?”

When I was a kid I thought that line was profound. Now I find it incredibly irksome. The suggestion that the human species can’t produce someone as intelligent as Einstein is profoundly insulting. Much the same way believing the ancient Egyptians weren’t capable of building the pyramids is profoundly insulting.

And here’s the pedantic thing: The government people were expecting these hostages to be returned. They had a checklist of names and a big board of photographs. How did they know? We hadn’t even learned to communicate yet! Remember? It’s the first day of school!

And just how do we know these people weren’t replicants as in Blade Runner or pod people as in The Invasion of the Body-Snatchers? They could have be sent here to take over the world! Look, the aliens have shown they don’t care about the loved ones left behind when they take prisoners. They pulled cute, innocent, trusting, little Barry right out of his mother’s arms. They didn’t give a damn.

I don’t trust them.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m thinking too much about it. It’s still a great movie.

Packing Peanuts!

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Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books.

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Great Album Retro Review: Bridge Over Troubled Water By Simon & Garfunkel

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Bridge Over Troubled Water is the studio swan song album of the harmonizing folk duo that ruled the 1960s. There aren’t too many two singer voice combinations that were better than Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel. And Simon’s lyrics are among the best of any songwriter in all of pop music.

The album was released in January, 1970 and I seem to recall that my parents owned it. That’s a little surprising, because my parents were never big music people. Dad liked his country and western, but I don’t remember them doing a lot of listening to music at home. They watched the Lawrence Welk Show for crying out loud! These weren’t the most musically hip people, but they had this album. Go figure.

I don’t often listen to this album, but when I do it’s amazing how good it is. It’s not the folk sound of their earlier efforts, it explores several musical genres such as jazz, reggae, and world music. Comedian and podcaster Adam Carolla would often complain about how doleful and morose Simon & Garfunkel’s music was and he has a point, but he forgets this album. Sure, it gets a little quiet and sad, but some of it is downright fun!

It is easily my favorite S & G album.

The tracks:

Bridge Over Troubled Water – Right out of the gate. A magnificent song. It’s been compared to The Beatles’ Let It Be and that is an understandable reaction. More gospel than folk, Garfunkel’s vocals soar on this one. And he didn’t want to sing lead on it at first, he needed convincing. I’m glad he was convinced. Also, according to Wikipedia, the “silver girl” in the song is referring to Simon’s wife at the time and her first grey hairs, not heroin as the urban legend claims. That will be a relief to my mother, who had gone off the song when she heard that myth.

El Condor Pasa (If I Could) – This gentle and wistful song is an early indication of Simon’s interest in music from around the world. It’s a little like a World Music version of the folk classic If I Had Hammer.

Cecilia – Oh, this one is fun. Awesome percussion throughout. A great, toe-tapping, uptempo song about a fellow’s not-so-loyal girlfriend taking on another lover while he’s in the bathroom.

Keep The Customer Satisfied – Another uptempo song and another song rumored to have to do with illegal drugs. This time it’s thought to be about a drug dealer, but Simon was writing about how exhausting it is to tour. I love the horns! They add a terrific punch.

So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright – A jazzy song praising the world famous architect, sung so sweetly by Garfunkel.

The Boxer – This and the title track were S & G’s most commercially successful songs and this one is a boomer. A gritty song about a fighter trying to survive a life filled with punches. The big drum sound was accomplished by recording the drums in a hallway. The “lie, lie, lies” chorus helps make this a great sing-a-long tune.

Baby Driver – Back to the uptempo, but this time Simon doesn’t counter-point the music with downer lyrics as he does on Customer and Why Don’t You Write Me, this time he just wants to have some fun. I really like this song. It just might be my favorite track. Excellent guitar work!

The Only Living Boy In New York – On an album of so much musical exploration, this and the final track are the most traditional S & G feeling songs. It’s a melancholy track about being lonely in New York City. The big drum sound fits this song, unlike the drum sound that was overdubbed, unknown to Simon and Garfunkel, onto the remixed version of their song The Sound Of Silence.

Why Don’t You Write Me – Simon loves himself an uptempo, bouncing song with a downbeat lyric and this one is a good one. There’s a bit of a reggae feel to this one.

Bye Bye Love – Recorded live on my fifth birthday (just a coincidence) during a concert performance in Ames, Iowa, this cover song is more popularly known to have been hit for pop music’s other famous harmonizing duo, The Everly Brothers. According to Wikipedia, S & G performed the song twice, because when they first played it that night in 1969 they really liked the sound of the audience clapping along. So, they played it again and recorded it for inclusion on this album.

Song For The Asking – Quietly lush with strings, acoustic guitar, and Paul’s vocals, this all too brief song sounds very much like a sweet goodbye. And that’s what it turned out to be for this would be Simon & Garfunkel’s final studio album.

Packing Peanuts!

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Great Album Retro Review: Suzanne Vega By Suzanne Vega

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Returning to the ’80s, which is where a very sizeable chunk of my favorite music originates, so get used to it, I will once again review what I think is a great album. In this installment, I will tout Suzanne Vega’s first album.

Released in 1985, the album is self-titled and is beautiful and melancholy. Vega’s singing and songwriting are as graceful as they are thoughtful and poignant. The songs are mainly acoustic and have a folksy feel. They are quiet, simple, and straight forward in their production.

I must have discovered this album at a point in my life at which I most needed it, because it really dug its way into my psyche. I love this album. It is in my Top Ten All Time Favorites.

The tracks:

Cracking –  This song opens with my favorite acoustic guitar riff on the album and uses a  lilting synthesizer to fill in the sound as Vega talk sings much of the lyrics. It’s a moody piece that sets up the album very well.

Freeze Tag – There’s a lilt to this song as well, as Vega appears to reminisce on playful times with a flame from her past. And a song that drops a reference to Bogie and Bacall can’t be bad.

Marlene On The Wall – My favorite track on the album, this is a more up tempo song about getting romantic advice from an ever-observing poster of Marlene Dietrich. At least, I think Vega means Dietrich.

Small Blue Thing – This song returns to the moody atmosphere of the first track. To me it seems to be about obsession and being controlled by the object of that obsession. She becomes a small thing being held in her obsession’s hand.

Straight Lines – A little up tempo again, Vega sings of a woman changing herself. Cutting her hair, casting away lovers, simplifying her life until she is finally alone. With that accomplished, I can’t help but to feel some sadness for her.

Undertow – Still on the slightly up tempo side, I’m not entirely certain what this song means. But, like much of the album, there is a feel of melancholy filling every corner.

Some Journey – This song has some nice jangly guitar accents along with a flowing electric violin. Vega sings of what might have been had she met a certain person. Would they have been lovers?

The Queen And The Soldier – This song is a fable of a young queen, isolated, impetuous, and powerful, and a loyal soldier who had finally decided he couldn’t continue to do battle for her. Instead, he offers her a chance to end the constant violence and to find love. To break her out of the trap of her royalty. Does she accept his offer?

Knight Moves – I’m not certain if Vega intended this song to be about the same queen in the previous track, but I always thought it was. The melancholy continues as the queen is questioned as whether she loves one, many, any, or me.

Neighborhood Girls – This closing track is the most bouncy of any of the tracks on the album. It almost feels out of place, it’s practically jaunty, but it still works. There are plenty of excellent popping guitar lines throughout this song about neighborhood sex workers.

Packing Peanuts!

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Pods Looking Back 3: One More List Of My Favorite Nostalgic Podcasts

Time once again for me to recommend a few podcasts that look back nostalgically. Well, they look back at past events, anyway. And I’m going to throw in a shameless self-promotion. (Hint: I do a podcast.)

Some of these suggested podcasts might get a little explicit in their language, so keep that in mind. However, this list is mostly swear-free. (Hint: Mine isn’t.)

Click on the titles to link to the podcasts.

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Stuck In The 80s For the better part of the last thirteen years, Steve Spears has been the host of this podcast that fondly recalls the 1980s decade. Music, movies, trends, books, even television get talked about on this fun and relaxed and friendly show. The listener feels completely welcome in expressing their love of all things ’80s.

There have been a number of co-hosts over the years, including yours truly for a guest co-host appearance or two or three, but Spearsy (as his friends call him) has been the one constant. For the past five years, Spearsy’s co-host has been Brad Williams. Brad started out as just a fan, but eventually became co-host replacing the very boisterous Sean Daly. Brad brought a different vibe to the show that meshed very well with the original host. Plus there’s a certain Jen with one N who brings a woman’s perspective to the show as she guest co-hosts more and more frequently.

They love the ’80s. If you love the ’80s, check out this podcast.

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Hit Parade It was Jen with one N who mentioned this podcast on SIT80s. It sounded interesting so I checked it out.

It’s a music podcast that comes out once a month. Each month, host Chris Molanphy does a deep dive on a topic from pop music history. The show is very well produced and researched and it is fascinating. In fact, the show is so good and the host is so engaging he made Bon Jovi interesting.

I hate Bon Jovi! So does the host, which is a testament to how good this podcast is.

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The Dana Gould Hour Dana Gould is damn funny and his monthly podcast, never less than two and a half hours, is funny, informative, and so very entertaining. He and his guests will talk politics, the entertainment industry, and comedy in general. There’s a semi-regular segment called Political Talk with Two Guys from Boston in which Gould and actor John Ennis improvise as two Bostonian working class dudes talking about whatever, not necessarily politics though.

The middle section of each show has Gould giving a talk on the history of something usually related to entertainment. Those stories include Roy Orbison’s triumphant and tragic life, the awesome schlocky genius of Robert Corman, and just how the hell that crazy film Beneath the Planets of the Apes got green-lit. Gould has the gift of telling these stories in such an engaging way. I love how he does it. Hell, I even listen to his ad reads, instead of fast forwarding the way I do with all the other podcasts to which I listen.

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The Assault of the 2-Headed Space Mules It’s a mouthful title, ain’t it? This podcast is hosted by my friend Douglas Arthur. It’s an easy, relatively quiet podcast that explores various aspects of pop culture. He’s discussed the film Mad Monster Party, Saturday morning cartoon theme songs, Jonny Quest, novelty songs, Devo, and much more. He’ll even read a short story or two by H. P. Lovecraft on the show.

And he’ll bring in members of the G.O.O.C.H. (Gang of Occasional Co-Hosts, of which I am a member) Squad to have some fun blathering on about whatever strikes his fancy. We just gathered to do a show on… No, I don’t want to spoil it.

The show comes out irregularly. Douglas is a busy man, so it adheres to his schedule.

Dimland Radio

Dimland Radio Finally, my shameless self-promotion. I do a weekly podcast/internet radio show. I talk about sports, politics, science, skepticism, atheism/religion, and anything else that I find of interest. I’ll give movie recommendations and gripe about pop culture, just not necessarily at the same time.

I have segments that include the Dimland Radio Science Hero or Science Zero, It’s Not True (usually internet memes and urban legends people tend to believe, but aren’t true), Dimland Radio ARGH! (that’s something that really bugs me), Three Cool Things, and my most popular segment the Dimland Radio Pedantic Moment. People love those. I think.

And I’ll talk about The Who. I talk about them a lot. It’s kind of an obsession. I’m trying not to do it too much. Really. I am trying.

All of these podcasts are available on iTunes. So, check ’em out. (Please! Please! Please! Subscribe to Dimland Radio. You don’t even have to listen if you don’t want. You can just download and delete. Please?)

Packing Peanuts!

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