Burly Writer

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I'm a Writer, if by Writer you mean a misanthrope.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Characters I Want to Write: THE INCREDIBLE HULK!

One of the greatest things I ever read growing up was this (click on it, of course):

In the late 1970s, nothing and nobody was bigger than the Hulk. THE INCREDIBLE HULK television show was a smash hit, punnily put, and Marvel Comics (never one to look a gift horse) jumped in with both feet to promote the Hulk in every possible way. I mean, the way comics companies used to do, instead of timing their "death" of Batman in the comics to coincide with the astronomical success of the Batman movie from last year, ridding Batman's comic of, you guessed it, Batman.

No, Marvel in the 1970s went the other way. They had the Hulk shilling everything, in ads, on shirts, on Slurpee cups. And you need a sales boost? Slap the Hulk on the cover. He was better than a gorilla (which in the pulp days used to guarantee sales spikes)...the Hulk was green gold.

There's no doubt the pre-teen me identified with the Hulk of all the superheroes ever. And nothing caught the eye quicker than that brilliant combination of emerald and purple pants on a cover in a spinner rack. The Hulk was instantly accessible and understandable: he wanted only to be the most powerful bum to ever walk the Earth. He took food when he saw it, he jumped down on people's property leaving giant craters from his weight, and if he even saw a puny human he shouted and raged at them to go away. Sociable and the Hulk did not mix. I understood, down to my marrow.

So when I say the Hulk needs to be saved, right now, as a viable character with pathos and meaning, I mean I'm ready for the job. I've had a lifetime of Hulk comics. In my head, I have been the Hulk all my life. I know what it means to Hulk out. In fact, we all do, which is why the character had such lasting appeal.

"Had" is the operative word. The Hulk hasn't been the Hulk in years. Years and years. I'm talking pre-Peter David (the last notable Hulk writer), and certainly not since Sal Buscema (the most prolific Hulk artist) left Jade Jaws behind.

The only blip would have been John Byrne's truncated run in the mid-1980s, one of those vivid redefinitions of the character that we can only speculate on. Byrne departed the title to become the spearhead for DC Comics' revitalization of their Superman franchise, right around Superman's 50th publishing anniversary. We truly will never know what John Byrne might have accomplished, or how the Hulk comic might have altered his life as well. A true mystery.

Going back to John Byrne's take, though, is worthy of attention. Because the one thing Mr. Byrne understood very well: the Hulk is not a man colored green. The Hulk is not human. He's decidedly cro-magnon in appearance (dating back to the master Jack Kirby's "Frankenstein Monster" design for the beast, with prognathous brow, long ape arms, flat anvil head.)

To say the Hulk is not human is cruel, I know, considering how essentially human the Hulk's desires are. Core desires, to eat, to sleep, to be at peace, to not think too much, to enjoy nature. And even to feel grander emotions, of love. Bruce Banner, the scientist the Hulk emerged from, is a repressed guy. He's timid, withdrawn, brilliantly awkward. He's a man who doesn't "belong" in the real world, but he's a genius unparalleled whose work could benefit Mankind. When he transforms into the Hulk, all of his inhibitions are gone, replaced by animal instincts, the kind of instincts that enabled man to survive long enough to evolve and climb out of the trees. To become the dominant life on the planet.

The Hulk is not a psychological construct of Banner's id. The unfortunate process of updating the character has led to this fractured psyche element that never existed in the first place. The Hulk is a common denominator for all of us, a missing link one might say to a primitive yet necessary evolutionary path. The Hulk is not "just" Banner, he's Mankind itself, the core basis for the beast who walks upright, capable of using both brawn and brain to survive any situation. To survive, and to become more.

So I feel like the current writers have missed the point of the Hulk. The rage is but one aspect of a primitive reaction. Banner's anger, his emotional stress, his panic, brings forth the Hulk. He becomes the Hulk to survive. It's a symbolic survival, a scientific version of a warrior's spear and a bear skin to protect against the elements. Banner becomes the most advanced form of Man, as the Hulk...a creature which heralds the primitive instincts while Banner's intellect tames the savagery. The Hulk is actually more evolved, not less.

So the way to fix the Hulk is simple. You get him back to his Kirby look, because as much as I adore Sal Buscema's take, I think the Hulk works better the less human he seems. Right now he looks like a psychopathic steroidal Dolph Lundgren. He's also way too big; the Hulk isn't fifteen feet tall. The purpose of the Hulk, in Kirby's hands, was to show the incredible strength of an ape-like anthropoid. Deceiving strength, in a beast man about as large as a very large human male (seven feet, as noted). When Superman displayed his strength and good looks, he was beloved. When the Hulk, with his bruiser's hairy barrel chest and slouch throws a car, people flee in terror.

Also, erase all indications that the Hulk is a manifestation of Banner's psyche. Ditch that. Not only is it cliche, but it's been used to create more Hulks, Hulks of different colors to indicate different personas. You're de-uniquing the character, Marvel. Cut that out. All you're doing is confusing readers looking for the actual Hulk, who is green and burly and misanthropic, and smashes people who try to capture and kill him. The formula is simple and effective, even now.

Lastly, cap the Hulk's strength. For decades now, the Hulk has been one of the strongest beings on Earth. That's fine, but to have his strength increase proportional to his anger, that really takes the suspense out of a Hulk story. He needs to escape the death trap? He gets angrier, he breaks free of the unbreakable bonds. He is down for the count? Ditto, big knockout punch driven by his Gamma Ray-spawned steroids. The Hulk doesn't need this articulation. It's like Superman always having a super power ready to deal with whatever he needs to deal with. Super-memory, Super-friction, Super-whatever. The Hulk is this strong, and that's it. Anybody stronger than the Hulk is stronger than the Hulk. The cool thing is, when you reach that point, it makes it even more imperative that the Banner part of the Hulk come forward to help Greenskin figure out a physical way around the stronger opponent. A way the Hulk can understand, if you see my meaning, since Banner isn't a football coach inside the Hulk's mind...the two beings are one. The Hulk has to summon Banner's intellect from his subconscious, and Banner has to face his fears and repulsion of the Hulk. To survive. See what I'm getting at?

Anyway, it'll rain tiny Selma Hayeks before I ever get a chance to write the Hulk, but it would be fulfilling. All the way back to some primal origin point only my genetics can recognize.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

NIGHT FORCE, or Germination of an Idea

I hesitate to speak about My Work. You see, My Work is kind of like a sasquatch. It might exist. It might have a smelly ape ass. It might stride like a man. But My Work is pretty much an unproven myth, a grainy photo of something lumbering out of view.

But I've been thinking a lot about NIGHT FORCE, the DC comic from 1982 by writer/artist combo Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan. These two men produced probably the best comic series of the 1970s, certainly the most consistently excellent, in TOMB OF DRACULA. They rejoined to create Baron Winters, a mysterious and powerful man in a cloak accompanied by a spotted panther named Merlin. Baron Winters spends the bulk of the series inside his dark mansion, while he uses "agents" in the outside world, ordinary people, to fulfill missions against evil forces.

NIGHT FORCE didn't live terribly long, just over a year, but it was some well-done stuff full of Wolfman/Colan magic. Like most off-beat comics that defy generalization, even the fan's good will didn't keep NIGHT FORCE going.

What stuck with me was how Baron Winters basically impresses people into service for him, whether they like it or not. Winters plucks fairly ordinary people out of their lives and thrusts them against extraordinary circumstances. Even, it should be said, against impossible odds.

This seems somehow in line with the Pulp. When I say Pulp, in this context, I mean a pulp hero from the old magazines like the Shadow or Doc Savage. One of those Pulps who assemble a group of agents from random sources, and send them on missions for their mysterious benefactor. Partially this was a result of pulp readers needing an "identifier" into the action of these crazed plots. Even Sherlock Holmes does not narrate his own tales, as it's left to Doctor Watson to be the "witness" to Holmes' feats.

So I've struggled over and over with the idea, of a Pulp "master" manipulating random people to become agents of his. To perform suicidal tasks, to endure horrors to rip apart the mind, in order to stop a greater evil in the world.

And that's also the point: this Pulp master is a mysterious, almost supernatural presence, like the Shadow, like Fu Manchu. The men and women impressed into service will see this Pulp as dangerous, they'll be at odds with him, but they'll also perform their tasks. Because whatever the Pulp battles is big enough to take away our lives, our loved ones, our souls even.

I like the staging of it, and it creates better balance than attempting to justify yet another novel with a Pulp protagonist who is unstoppable, unkillable, unflappable, and yet more than mere style, more than our impressions of the form made of light and shadow. I don't have the great Phillip Jose Farmer's internal understanding of Tarzan, say, as a superhuman presence but also very human. The balance must be right, and I haven't hit on it with my limited mental faculties.

Though I'm usually loathe to admit that "witnesses" are necessary in adventure fiction (they seem extraneous and boring to me most times...see the young FBI agent in the movie version of HELLBOY from a few years back), it stands to reason that Marv Wolfman displayed very plainly in both TOMB OF DRACULA and NIGHT FORCE that the secondary players, the non-star characters, were in fact the most important part of the resonance of the works. The human beings and the Pulp, in the most iconic case the Lord of Vampires...Dracula, share the same basic desires: to survive in a world of their choosing.
Really it's about choices, and I'm interested in how a man, an ordinary schlub approached by some fantastic, almost other-worldly being, would react to what is asked of him. What if, say, this man despised Mankind, wished for nothing more than the destruction of his species...and yet still, the Pulp must force him, demand his loyalty, and most likely the man's mortal life, to stop it.

Stay tuned.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Burly Dames: Dee Wallace

If Steven Spielberg taught me the wonder of manliness and Pulp almost simultaneously (RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK), then he also managed to kick-start my romantic notions. Karen Allen was a cutie pie, in RAIDERS, there's no doubt. But it was the mother of the boy-we-all-once-were Elliot in E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL, played by a fairly unknown actress named Dee Wallace, which set the 12 year old me on my ear.

Like a lot of great loves, I'll just say that Dee Wallace, soon most known as Dee Wallace Stone (married to late actor and beefy werewolf, Christopher Stone), entranced me. I don't think I hardly noticed her the first couple of times I saw E.T., and then about the third time when she opens that door on a California sunset with an astronaut standing on her stoop, I realized how beautiful she was.

Soonafter, while watching old "Twilight Zone" reruns on Channel 20 out D.C. at eleven at night during my early teens, I started seeing ads for a movie version of Stephen King's CUJO. And there she was, in the previews, getting out of a car, sweaty and terrified, and beautiful.

At the same time, THE HOWLING was making its rounds on the cable televison. This was the werewolf flick Dee Wallace had made prior to her Spielberg role. Her husband in the movie and real life turns into make-up master Rob Bottin's onscreen werewolf; THE HOWLING and AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON had transformation effects which had never been seen before. Blew our minds, folks, let me tell you.

Dee Wallace's career, I've read, started with a small bit on "CHiPs" and evolved to exploitation in Wes Craven's original THE HILLS HAVE EYES. I think she was a hooker in both roles, but nevertheless, enthusiastic and hard-working.

CUJO was the role, Stephen King stated once, that Dee Wallace should have been nominated for an Academy Award. Not to be a love-struck fool, so removed from my young years as I am, but I would agree. The role of a victimized housewife trapped with her young son in a broken down Pinto while a rabid Saint Bernard stalks her, is not the sort of thing the Academy would deem worthy. Yet there's nothing in CUJO (a great movie by the way) which, where it concerns Dee Wallace, is not savagely authentic. As authentic as anything Meryl Streep ever did. In fact, I doubt Streep could have pulled it off with such believability.

Dee trooped on after that, starring in another fun little b-movie project that I still fondly recall, CRITTERS. After that, the lady pretty much looks to have steadily plugged away in television for the next 20 plus years. She's still working, still as attractive and sincere as ever, last time I caught her while flipping channels.

My secret is that I was so in love with this woman, when I was 14, that I intended on walking to California to where I'd read she lived, Woodland Hills. This coincided with my reading of King's THE STAND, so I was in full-on road odyssey mode at this point. I wanted an adventure (I'd have ended up dead on the road somewhere between Virginia and California, but far be it for reality to sink in), and I had a romantic notion I'd meet the lady herself and, you guessed it, become her pool boy.

It wasn't a literal interpretation of pool boy-istics. But I figured, in my addled teen brain, that Dee Wallace couldn't turn away a kid who'd walked three thousand miles just to rake her lawn. And there isn't even innuendo there.

If I'd actually done what I set out to do, I'd really have a story to tell. But like most things, I couldn't escape my own world. The dream of a quest to reach Dee Wallace faded, replaced as it was in my imagination within my early writing work, where the love interest invariably had "wide cheekbones, short blond hair" and spoke in the soft Kansas drawl of Ms. Wallace. I had a tough little robot miner in love with her, in one "science fiction novel", and he protected her night and day from the evils of a maniacal, cruel universe. Love, it seemed, gave the robot life and purpose beyond his basic function as a rock-smashing piece of steel. Within the robot lurked a heart that yearned to be alive, and human, just long enough to show this blond 35 year old woman how much he loved her, in the most delicate and romantic way possible: to gently cup with real hands her ankle, to kiss her instep with lips of flesh and blood, and to then peer up into the recognition in her blue eyes of that adoration.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Hell's Squeaky Spinner Rack

(This entry coupled with some fave comic book covers of the distant, and I mean distant, past...)

I read the conclusion of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips' INCOGNITO. Despite liking it overall, I still wonder about the pacing of many projects in today's comic book community. Brubaker as the writer seems content to milk the cow with two fingers, until the five issues started to come to a conclusion, and then it's a rush to complete the work. Not that it comes off bad or anything, but you can tell Brubaker's been saturated in the "taffy plot" mentality, as I'll coin it right now. The idea that you can stretch the plot seemingly forever as long as you're a good enough cocktease. This is evident in Brubaker's CAPTAIN AMERICA as well, which is floundering a bit ever since the ascension of former sidekick Bucky Barnes to the Cap role. Which coincides with the eventual resurrection of Cap himself from his grave (expected, of course) but just terrible planning. Bucky is worse than a lame duck, unless Marvel Comics wants two Captain Americas running around, like there's multiple earthen Green Lanterns and multiple Flashes and multiple Supermen over at DC. It's called de-uniquing, and it waters down the impact these characters are supposed to have.

That said, Brubaker and Phillips' CRIMINAL is often the best thing on the stands, so any time you see a new arc, pick it up. Bru's tendancies to give a good lapdance is lessened by his innate ability to get inside noir-trodden characters, and Phillips is much more effective as a mood artist than an action one (though he's pretty good at that as well.)

AGENTS OF ATLAS has been cancelled, one of the best comics to come out of Marvel in a long time, which I have to thank all you fine Spider-Man/Batman/"Dark" Avengers buyers for. Thanks for f*cking that up. Jeff Parker and the blossoming talent of artist Gabriel Hardman was producing a comic of full-bodied depth and gratifyingly action-packed dimensions. Parker knows he's writing pure heroin in the form of Pulp, so he throws everything great into a mix of talking gorillas, 1950s robots, secret agents and Uranian saucer men. It's impossible to even describe AGENTS OF ATLAS without nearly weeping from happiness, so I appreciate everyone buying it and keeping it on the shelves. Nice pull, folks.

AGENTS will be extant at Marvel, albeit in crossovers with X-titties and backing up in someone else's comic. Which then forces me to buy a comic I don't want to get the back-up I do. Oh, you Marvel-ous ways.

SECRET SIX by writer Gail Simone and artist Nicola Scott is still pulsating with life, thankfully, at DC, and it's head and shoulders better than anything else the company is producing. Visceral and ethically-challenged, you're in for a treat designed for you, the adult comic book reader. Which means, when you read SECRET SIX, you aren't forcing DC Comics to adultify Superman and Batman (kids' characters) to meet your expectations. The criminal protagonists of SECRET SIX exist in a moral void, yet continue to amuse with their inability to ever truly be evil. No matter how repellant their actions, they still somehow conflict with greater evils than themselves. And I'll say now: Nicola Scott is the best comics artist working right now. That's a fact. She has the exquisite style straight from the pre-1990s, coupled with the ability to draw stunningly sexy women without having to resort to porn poses in order to convince the reader they are, in fact, supposed to be attracted to the female form. Amazingly, Scott's women are beautiful and sensuous the more ragged and sweaty they are, because by god they look like real women would look, instead of some horny teenager's wet dream of the way they look.

Also, I bought THE SATAN FACTORY, a prose novel starring Mike Mignola's pulp hero Lobster Johnson, written by novelist Thomas E. Sniegoski. I hope it's amazing, and of course I'll be letting you Squeaky Spinner Rack readers know, fer sure.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Series Character and the Stone Spines of Timelessness

I am the kind of dude who covets other people's series characters.

I love series characters. I love to see characters who are already familiar to me appear in another, different work. There is something very comforting about the series character, or even the secondary character, who appears in more than one novel by the same, or even another, writer.

For the last ten years, easily, I've been obsessed with finding my own "series character." My own Travis McGee. My own Tarzan. My own Hap Collins and Leonard Pine.

Some say the writer is limited who conceives of a series character and milks them until the stories are trite and formuliac. Some argue this happened with nearly all the great series characters, and their writers.

For me, the recognition of continuity within a writer's work began with Stephen King, and Castle Rock, his fictional Maine town. This town itself became the first series character I knew about. The secondary players in books like CUJO, IT, and THE DEAD ZONE began to overlap. The first name I recognized from one King book to another was Sheriff Walt Bannerman, who helps capture a serial killer in DEAD ZONE and meets his violent death by rabid dog in CUJO. Being a kid, I didn't make the connection at first, but when I did, it created a cool kind of legitimacy to King as a chronicler of Sheriff Bannerman's adventures. As if, in a way, Bannerman actually lived and his life, like many, was too big for just one novel. He didn't just stop living after DEAD ZONE. He didn't just become another lost character, but something more memorable.

Other characters filled in King's continuity from one book to the next. You knew them when you saw them. You appreciated King's loyalty to Castle Rock, and in letting go of that fictional town (in the unfortunate NEEDFUL THINGS), King lost part of himself I believe. The town was King, King was the town.

Obviously King influenced my reading choices, and John D. MacDonald soon brought the series character to its apex in his "Travis McGee" novels, about a "salvage consultant" musclebound beach bum type who helps friends and acquaintences in trouble. McGee is a knight errant, and his unshakable ethics remain untainted for the whole of the series, some 21 novels begun in 1964 and ending in 1984. MacDonald died in 1986.

These books taught me, at the tender young age of fifteen/sixteen, everything I needed to know about becoming a man. That I failed to become Travis McGee is incidental, as I had the blueprint before me. The point was that everything McGee believed in was everything a man of worth needed to believe in: help the helpless, adore women in their beautiful mystery, assert justice, be civil, be independent, be masculine and free of guile.
Travis McGee didn't change much over the course of the books. The circumstances of his adventures wasn't expansive. McGee didn't look inside himself and question his motives or his actions. He questioned only the provacation of evil in the world, and he sought mostly to pull his friends and others out of evil's path. It's only in THE GREEN RIPPER, when McGee seeks revenge for the murder of a woman close to his heart, does he determine to destroy the evil.

Compare that to Richard Stark (Don Westlake) and his "Parker" novels, which interestingly run parallel to the Travis McGee series. Professional heist man Parker stars in 24 novels, begun in 1963 and ending in 2008. Unlike McGee, Parker is a cold robotic engine of efficiency, uncompromising and unromantic. Parker has a code, but it is designed around a strict system of plan, job, escape and score. Whatever deviates from Parker's code is a deadly threat to Parker's survival and freedom, and he quickly removes inconstants, by strangulation or a bullet.

Richard Stark's series completed a circuit for me, the series character as villain instead of hero. Suddenly the "bad guy" is the only guy to root for. Whether you like Parker or want to be Parker is immaterial: Parker bludgeons his way from page one of book one and never stops. He still hasn't stopped. He is never settled, never fulfilled, never changing. You know as little about Parker in the first book as the last, but he is compelling nonetheless. Every human Parker encounters is changed forever, while Parker remains the anvil, the constant.

The series character, in my studies, seems almost incidental to the novel in which he/she stars. Noting most of the best of the series characters over the last 100 years or so, you can find that most of them are totemic stone spines holding up the novels'/stories' plots. While the plots might exist without these stone spines is nothing new, which nothing grows from stone. The series character doesn't "grow" or "change", but are as ancient and stern as time.

The secondary players, generally, end up absorbing the emotional context of the series novels. They are the Sheriff Bannermans of the fictional world, who play out their lives, and the drama of their existences, upon the craggy surface of the stone spines. These secondary players do not depend on the series' main protagonist, but rather live their lives around them, or die beneath or behind them. Occassionally the series character encounters some human drama/tragedy nearly collossal enough to shatter their immutable presence, but in the end the timelessness of the series character is intact. It must be. Even for the writer themselves, this is a constant unshakable truth.

After all, who is to say only the writer truly exists? Perhaps even the writer is just another dollop of human blood and bone upon the thrusting spires of stone. Maybe even the writer must bend and break before and beneath something immeasurable and without end.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

DVD Absence Atrocities: TARZAN'S GREATEST ADVENTURE (1957)

Where the runny sh*ts is the DVD of possibly the greatest Tarzan movie ever made (most certainly the best color Tarzan of all time)?

Sorry to be crude, folks, but I'm positively enraged whenever I think about it.

I don't know what the perception of Tarzan movies is today, really. At one time, Tarzan movies were as popular as James Bond flicks, and produced on a fairly regular basis. Unlike Bond, Tarzan movies didn't require a huge budget for pyrotechnics. In TARZAN'S GREATEST ADVENTURE, the sweaty conflict between the white hunter (the great Anthony Quayle) and Gordon Scott's Tarzan is enough to fully stimulate all the senses. Strange coincidence, Sean Connery (007 himself) has his first major role (as a thuggy bad guy) in this movie. A few years later, Connery is the biggest rising star on the planet.

In a way, Tarzan passed the baton for action movies over to the James Bond franchise, as Tarzan couldn't keep up with the ever-increasing cool factor and budgets of Bond. That's not to say there wasn't some great Tarzan movies in the 1960s (notably, starring Jock Mahoney and Ron Ely as the Ape Lord).
Tarzan movies faded by 1970, the last released Tarzan flick in this here country for a decade.

I was born in 1970. It could be argued that Tarzan had been done onscreen as well as he ever could be. My generation grew up on Tarzan movies shown on Sunday mornings on the television. I was educated by Tarzan, who reflected everything I wanted to be.

Nevertheless, you'd be hard-pressed to find any of the Tarzan movies of Scott, Mahoney, or Ely on DVD. This isn't just a call-out to the copyright owners/studios, it's a demand: don't let these great movies languish in non-DVD hell. And get some features on the actors and people! That's why Turner Classic Movies exists. Roddy McDowell's estate probably has original scripts. Do some research. Don't just release bare bones DVD (though I'd be glad to get'em any way I can!)

It's hard for any Tarzan movie (or practically any adventure movie ever made) to stand up to TARZAN AND HIS MATE (1934) with Johnny Weissmuller, but I nominate TARZAN'S GREATEST ADVENTURE as right here with it.
Here's http://www.tarzan.cc/int-gordonscott.html an interview with Gordon Scott. Seemed like a man and a half, for sure.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Characters I Want to Write: AQUAMAN!

That's right, folks, the laughing stock of the superhero set, the character every writer and artist loves to talk about and think about and mess with, the character no one seems to be able to sustain public interest in...Arthur Curry, known as Aquaman.

Honest injun, I don't have an overriding love for Aquaman. I never read Aquaman comics growing up in the 1970s (where he was relegated to ADVENTURE COMICS and his own series for a short time, and then as a back-up in ACTION COMICS "starring Superman by the early 1980s). I did see him on "SuperFriends" along with the rest of my generation. You can all hear the thought-wave sound effect from the cartoon, as Aquaman called his finny friends to help him combat some menace. The effect was cool, and I did dig his orange shirt and green fin-pants combo. But interesting he was not.

The popular comic book writer Peter David took on Aquaman for perhaps the most successful portion of Aquaman's four-color history. Despite the fairly terrible art in the mag, David's approach made sense: chop off Arthur's hand, replace it with a harpoon, put a gnarly beard and long hair on him and Conan the Barbarian him out. And despite myself, after actually recently reading the first 14 issues of the comic, I liked the approach.

But like anything, the approach collapsed once David left the book, and subsequent writers tried to integrate the "classic" Aquaman and the new Aquaman, leading to all kinds of problems. Nobody can or has been able to determine just what it is Arthur Curry brings to the table. Is it the orange shirt? The fish telepathy? The harpoon/magic hand made of water thing? Just saying that is disturbing, isn't it? "Magic hand made of water." It's like the description on a bottle of anal lube.

I was reminded again how much of a challenge the entire conceit is. It isn't just about having an Aquaman solo comic on the shelves; DC Comics doesn't have an interest in what happens to Arthur, unless their star Geoff Johns decides to write him. Then you'll hear the slobbering over how great the character should be, and how Johns will take him there. Well, let's just say Johns doesn't impress me much anymore. Not at all.

I already wrote about some ideas concerning Aquaman in the past. His conceit is difficult, yet not. He's the hybrid son of an Atlantean dame and a human father. Arthur is a caucasoid after his dad, but he can breathe underwater like his mom. Arthur is also of royal blood, so he's really the King of Atlantis, which is full of blue-skinned underwater people. In the 1960s, Arthur somehow managed to surround himself with a caucasoid redhead babe in a skintight outfit, a caucasoid sidekick Aqualad who wore a cool red shirt like Aquaman's and sported a man-fro (which is awesome, I now realize), and a caucasoid Aquababy who ended up murdered by Aquaman's mortal enemy, the Black Manta.

Suddenly, Arthur had a bunch of whities around him and you didn't see those blue-skins much. Which is interesting, in a "there goes the neighborhood" kind of way. Arthur ended up practicing some extensive racial discrimination, there. Without some diversity, it was just another comic about homogenized, deodorized, whiter-than-white superheroes.

Look at the X-Men reboot in 1975, and how reader interest was drummed up by the racial/cultural diversity of the new group. It was an original take in comics of the time, to have a Russian and a German and a Canadian and an African hottie and an Irishman and a Navajo indian, all with superpowers, teaming up. It was the "Star Trek" approach to diversity, but it held reader interest until the X-Men became the biggest thing in the comic book world.

Today, everyone is trying to shake up various characters by changing their race, their identity, even their sex, in order to propose "change." None of that gets to the heart of change. The success of X-Men (and it wasn't immediate success by any means, but at least that new cast kept the book from imminent cancellation) came from the character-driven sub-plots most notably exploited by Chris Claremont and John Byrne, the writer/artist team that changed the book's downward spiral into, literally, a phoenix from the ashes.

Basically, Aquaman needs to become another kind of character, not another character completely. I imagine Arthur to be a pretty tough hombre, but not in the league of his creative influence, Marvel Comics' Namor the Sub-Mariner (created a couple years prior to Aquaman, 1939 to 1941). I don't think Arthur is super-powerful strong, able to punch holes in a submarine. But he might use a fancy Atlantean battle ax to hack through the steel and sink the thing.

On land, Arthur is no less imposing physically than in the sea. He is more adept at fighting in the water, so if you rumble with Arthur in the ocean, it's like taking on a judo master in his dojo. For an idea of Arthur on land, battling, you just take the judo master out of his dojo (training room) and put him on the streets of Detroit. He's not nearly as effective, but he's still effective. Learning how to survive on those streets, the judo master must attain another kind of knowledge: street sense. Interesting, no?

Also, Arthur has an advantage on land in that I believe, personally, his skin will be tougher, his muscles harder, due to the stress and pressure of an entire life in the oceans. He's stronger than most any normal man whose body has not been shaped by that life. His skin is half-Atlantean, which means it could be similar to a shark's, that rough concrete texture that protects those fish. It takes a high-velocity weapon to pierce a shark's flesh, and thus will it be with Arthur. He's still vulnerable, but he's also way more durable.

I think Arthur is going to be a hard-looking dude. You see the way boxers faces become misshapen from the constant impact of blows? Well, I think ramming his kisser through water all the time will have a distinct impact on Arthur's facial features, which will be more "weathered." Also, I don't think he grows facial hair, frankly, nor do any Atlanteans. Kind of like a lot of Native Americans and Asians. For undersea people to grow facial hair or body hair of any kind would be kind of weirdly counterproductive of evolution. Arthur has hair on his head because he's human, but as much as I obviously dig the beard, he doesn't grow one. Not this version of Aquaman anyhow (though he might rock some sideburns, if we're going to get technical.) Arthur's hair is short, because he isn't a hippie or a rocker. It's a utilitarian haircut. He's a warrior, not a fashion slave.

All this aside, Arthur Curry's persona is private, a bit on the aggressive side. I think he judges people, Atlanteans or humans, by how they move or hold themselves. Fish in the oceans determine danger by the frenetic activity around them. Nothing that hunts in the waters does so without announcing their intentions in a kind of language of motion. Sharks almost always seem to "dance" around prey, determining danger, or advantage, before striking in earnest. Arthur perceives in much the same way, which would be particularly interesting on land if he misreads intention based on how people approach him.

I get the sense Arthur should be more "feral" than he is mostly shown. He's usually just a man, a King, a politician, a hero. But living beneath the waves must affect the thought processes, the survival instinct, the reactions. He's not an animal, but I think Arthur must have more in common with sea life than with either the Atlanteans or humans. In a sense, Arthur is more in tune with sea creatures, like Grizzly Adams and Tarzan to wildlife in their respective worlds. Arthur doesn't "talk" or "command" fish/dolphins, but he "reads" them by their movements. They relate information to him by how they act. And who's to say there isn't some orca whale somewhere who long ago befriended the boy Arthur and is a protector?

The last thing is to alter Arthur's reason for being. He's not interested at all in being a King. If that element must be part of his conceit (which, originally in his earliest incarnations, was not), then let it be something Arthur refuses utterly. This will alienate him from Atlanteankind in one swoop. Yet still he has to face his blood right someday. Let it be someday then.

The other aspect is to put Arthur in situations where he is most likely to find action. This Aquaman seeks conflict, from his righteous belief that neither Atlantean nor human have the best interest of the Seven Seas at heart. Dig it?

The way to do that is put Arthur in a research facility run by an independent purveyor, using the old Sea Devils adventurer/explorers and other DC second-string/supporting characters for history's sake. The point is to have a cross-section of a lot of interesting characters involved in studying the heretofor unexplored 3/4ths of the world currently deep under water. Even the Atlanteans, for all their thousands of years before Mankind's ascendance, have lost the knowledge of the what is to be found in all that vastness. This includes islands, and reefs, and deep ravines and so on. Anything could there. ANYTHING, and a lot of harm besides. And the Atlanteans are isolationists at this point in time, lacking interest in exploring, or learning, of anything but their own prideful superiority. Which isn't to say some young Wyatt Wingfoot-type young Atlantean won't get fired up and join the research team, wanting to learn while also impressing the cool-as-a-moose Arthur Curry, who remains unimpressed. If you can feel me.

Can this work? Would you read that Arthur Curry, that Aquaman? This is just part of what I'm thinking, but it's the game to play. Nobody knows how to make Aquaman popular and readable and cool...but I'm sort of a nobody, right? Maybe that's what Aquaman needs? A nobody, instead of some somebody. Just saying, of course. Just a little hint, is all.


for all, and I do mean ALL, things Aquaman on this beautiful blog!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Carter's Sweet Love

Just the other day, I was pointed toward an article in the Washington Post

concerning how young college-age women have no reference for positive sexuality in today's Internet society: they are either virgins ("Just Say No") or they are "porn stars" in order to match up with what "sex" is according to the Internet. This is to say, they haven't any other scale for what to do if, as the columnist says, they decide to say "yes."

This ongoing problem is reaching epidemic levels in a society of really misinformed young women. And many boys/men are taking advantage of a new upsurge in young women degrading themselves instead of being degraded by men. This is seen as a tool of empowerment, but it's just making it easier for dudes to pack it, smack it, and rack it. In fact, I can't imagine growing up in these here days, when the term "pwn" does not exclude young women based on their relative naivety, but preys on it. What are these girls naive about? Well, they are pretty naive about just how far "the guys" will go to nail them; and not nail them because the girls are irresistable and worth pursuing, but just to get it on tape to show their friends. It is, no matter how you slice it, a new world of sleaze you can't even begin to respect.

This started me thinking about the boys involved in this situation. I'm not saying the young dudes shouldn't be trying to score, because their hormones will pretty much drive them toward that goal regardless. Having respect, some kind of decency, toward the girls however...that is something learned, something ingrained. Respect doesn't mean to treat the girls like sluts or virgins. Respect and decency, part of the outline of being a man, are necessary components to learn how, firstly, to pursue girls and actually adore them and secondly, to learn how to live with the girls once they become women. That's right, girls grow up. This is important in the manly education: practice being decent to a girl, so you can later respect a woman.

Again, before anyone points it out: respect and decency doesn't mean men remove their balls and become weak, soft shades of themselves (or Oprah-ized, one might say). This crushing blow to manhood isn't remotely necessary, and is actually contrary to a healthy sexual relationship. As the great Oliver Reed once said, the best women in bed are sluts in bed. They are willing participants in a civil passion only us humans can engage in. Outside of it, women remain the delightfully intelligent human beings that drew you to begin with, vexing, practical and even wondrous at times. But a man and a woman in bed require a substantial theatre for getting down that is unique to them, and not found in any video on Redtube starring professional sluts or naive amatuers pretending to be sluts.

I know a woman, in fact, a beautiful love of my life type (forever denied me, natch), who has a boy who is 13 years old. Puberty age, teetering on the edge of horny teenager. I was thinking about when I was growing up, lacking Internet porn, and finding some 1970s-era skin mags in a wrecked car in my grandfather's junkyard at age nine or ten, and also the budding of cable television in those early 1980s exposing me to all kinds of hedonism, violence, and sex. My education arrived fairly quickly, but also fairly restrained. Nothing I saw was on the level of "Two Girls One Cup."

I didn't have the kind of clinical degradation you find online nowadays. I had movies with some explicit sex in them, mostly tastefully carried out (even something like BODY HEAT with the blazing sexuality of Kathleen Turner, a story practically melting off the screen, with two people so consumed by passion that murder was the only pathway to allow them to have more hot sex, was still artful in its presentation), and I had Captain Kirk making out with shapely alien chicks via "Star Trek" reruns. Sex in the early 1980s, culturally, still had a close eye on itself, still adhering to codes of conduct established in earlier decades. Next thing you knew, Madonna came along and reinvented the "virgin" in the video "Like A Virgin" and we were well on the road to a myriad of talentless entertainers becoming wealthy and established from their willingness to suck the bulging excess of an over-sexualized, over-stimulated culture.

While considering this, in relation to this teenage boy, I spoke about exposing him first to "representations of sex that reflect what sex really is, before he gets his education off the Internet." At least, representationally, in movies.

With that in mind, I'm going to list the movies which have sex scenes in them which any red-blooded American boy of thirteen should see. This is a rough guide to sexual expression in movies which entertained the hell out of me and also drew me in via their willingness to get down. Point of fact, it was so common for there to be a "sex scene" in movies that, by the 2000s, it was a cliche mocked even by Hollywood.

I'll rate these sex scenes from one Eric Dickerson jheri curl (former Hall of Fame running back for the Indianapolis Colts and Los Angeles Rams in the 1980s, and his awesome hair) to four Eric Dickersons, in descending order. This rating includes poignancy of story context, how well done, and also by explicitness. Keep in mind too, these are movies a teenage boy will want to see, and be able to watch in most cases. The kid should be entertained in other ways than just finding out how beneficial smut can be. (And this list will evolve; I have to rewatch a lot of movies again to remember if the quality matches up with my memory...but here's the ones I'm pretty sure about. So for right now, the money shots!)

GHOST 1990
See them alone, see them with a friend, but make sure your kids see what a real approximation of sex is before they see what it shouldn't be.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Closed Fist

Tonight there's a big boxing match between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Juan Manuel Marquez, in Las Vegas. Classic scene, middleweight contenders, a horde of A-list entertainers, you could be back in the early 1980s, or the 1950s.

I've been hearing a lot about the death of pro boxing, as a sport. Mixed Martial Arts has savaged boxing's appeal, partly because of MMA's immediacy and relative newness as a viable sport, and partly because MMA seems less rife with criminals taking advantage of the fighters.

The thing a lot of the general public is missing about boxing concerns something many people are willing to dismiss: tradition. And I'm not talking about just the tradition of the Great Fighter, the Sugar Ray Robinson/Ali/Haglers of history. There is that factor, the permutation of spectacle that has forever been the draw when two powerful, almost supernaturally enhanced duellists take to a spot of earth to impose their superiority.

But there is also the tradition of boxing as a structured engagement. MMA proclaims that it is superior in quality to boxing due to "free style" enhancements; the fighters are all trained in multiple techniques, limited only by their natural abilities. The best fighters in MMA are still the best fighters, as are the best boxers the best in their sport.

But there isn't really a competition between boxing and MMA, or shouldn't be. What will forever seperate boxing is, in fact, the very restrictions MMA proponents use against it: boxing is an artform, requiring an adherance to basic rules which prohibit the fighters and, in a very real way, legitimize their boxing skill.

And that's the point: boxing is a type of specific duel, as was sword-fighting, or pistols, or knives, or jousting. The fighters had particulars they had to adhere to, as "civilized" men, a point that shouldn't be dumbed down in our dumbed-down society and culture.

There is something to be said for civil physical discourse. MMA has proven itself to be a visceral vignette of battlefield fighting, the sort of free-for-all set in a clean environment instead of in some muck between soldiers. MMA dallies with the survivalist's themes, providing a new generation the "Fight Club" they have been seeking, instead of the more cryptic and damaging physical dangers of War.

Boxing, for whatever else could be said about it, is a strict culture of self-examination (as pointed out in Joyce Carol Oates' fascinating book ON BOXING, which I urge any of you cats/kittens to find): the boxer seeks to confront his own fear, his own weakness, in the Other. What the boxer fears, what his limitations are, he seeks to exploit in the Other, to destroy those weaknesses, those fears. That boxers are allowed to do that in such a transformative place as the Ring, the hallowed ground of agreed-upon conflict (unlike the "locked" "imprisoned" pretense of MMA's Cage, which devolves men into animals in society's perception more than the Ring ever has, and has not been addressed by MMA's earnest desire to make the sport "legit"), is a kind of joyous social contract between men of all ages, all races. To lose that in the face of this culture's ignorance of the beauty of boxing, is truly shameful.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Return of the Pulp

Pulp has become a core topic in my world. It's almost as if Pulp exists in a world seperated from us by just a thin layer of shadow. I keep waiting for the public imagination to be enthralled once more by the fabulous impossibility of Pulp.

Pulp's strong points are almost a dichotomy: the Pulp story has the most incredible elements, the most fantastic incidence, the most crude exploitation of human emotions. Meanwhile, the Pulp relies heavily on formuliac influence--the agreement between reader and writer of the inevitability of justice, in one form or another.

My first exposure, and understanding, of Pulp emerged from a movie I've spoken of recently, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. Indiana Jones, particularly within the first twenty minutes of the movie, is graven in stone as a Pulp Hero. He's mysterious, brazen, fearless, adaptive, and determined. Until he sees his first snake, striking deep into a repulsion the entire movie-going world instantly understands, Jones is derived from a long line of Pulp Heroes. Yet with the deft personality touches, Jones goes from Pulp Archtype to Pop Culture Icon within seconds after this discovery of his primary phobia. He both subverts and celebrates the Pulp Archetype.
I've argued before that the Pulp Archetype, the Pulp Hero, had his heyday in the 1930s/1940s due to a certain cultural acceptance. First, public belief in the flashing sword of Zorro. Then rabid popularity for the gutteral cry of Tarzan. Then the shuddering pleasure in the creeping laugh of The Shadow, which coincided with that apex of Pulp magazines and the dominance of radio broadcasting, which existed in every American home. The rise of the Pulp Hero from literature to Pulp and back again has been a theme dominating the characters. The Batman, one of the world's most popular characters since the 1940s, is obviously The Shadow stripped of pyschological darkness but given, in its stead, a mask. The mask, the part of the cowl of Batman that hides most of his face, remained the darkest part of his costume during most of his publishing history. The costume's primary colors, blue and gray, were deftly spotted with the darker face of the mask and the Bat-symbol directly in the center of the yellow oval, where his heart is. This is interesting to note that, along with Batman's inhuman white "eyes", lenses one supposes, criminals cannot see him as a man, like them, but as a mysterious creature of darkness.

This eye-showing issue is one of the missteps of the movie versions, for me...Batman's eyes are revealed on film, which convinces you (as it's supposed to) that there is a famous actor behind the mask and, thus, empathetic. The problem is, once you realize it's a man in a rubber mask, it is a man in a rubber mask. You're not allowed to suspend that belief. Batman is left little mystery on film. The Batman on the 1960s television show however, for all the comedic/satiric elements and Adam West's smooth-operator eyes revealed, is a much more successful transition. The darker mask is retained by the show's producers, a subconscious concession to Batman's grim crusade literally on his face. At no time did anyone of that era care if Bruce Wayne became Batman because his parents were slain in front of him by a criminal when he was a child. And yet the element of symbolic darkness is still present in the television show's costume design. No matter what anyone thinks about the loyalty to the comics felt by the show's producers, they respected the character enough to get details correct that slavish fan-pros in Hollywood cannot.

At any rate, the point is that I feel the Pulp character has been making a steady return in recent times. Not the flawed superhero of Marvel and DC Comics, nor the unassailable indestructible Pulp Hero of the 1930s. But a mysterious element has begun to creep back into the new icons, a detachment between what the readers know about the character and what the character's actions are. I believe the new Pulp Hero must be prepared to do anything, in order to return his world to the status quo. The Spider, a 1930s vigilante character cut in the Shadow mode but 120 thousand percent more violent and unpredictable, reflects what I'm thinking in theory. The only thing you could be assured about with the Spider is that he would kill and destroy anything and everything in the pursuit of justice. He was an agent of chaos strictly imposing his world view on the criminals/citizens of Earth. Unlike the Randian philiosophy of the Individual choosing to be either good or evil and judged according to that choice, the Spider clearly chose for you both Fate and Punishment. I guess the Spider is the most gloriously pure example of what might be politically referred to as Facism, or outright psychotic in head shrink terms.

There's something to be said for the purity of the mystery of the Pulp. The fact that so many Pulp characters such as The Avenger and The Phantom exist only in the pursuit of an ideal Justice, a specific concordance with the Laws of Man they themselves are not bound to, makes the Pulp Hero somewhat more edgy and new in these times. The Pulp is not an "anti-hero", which represents a pretentious style of hard-edged character, but the Pulp is neither restricted by nor loosed upon moral standards. The Pulp seems motivated by a methodology we, the reader, can only begin to guess at. I think some of the most vivid Pulps seem undefined by what they are after, and wholly defined by the process of avenging.

In every way, the Pulp's journey to avenge injustice is truly why they exist. "Justice" is merely an excuse to return, again and again, to the unleashing of fear, pain, and blood. Whether it be their own, or yours, under the strangling vines of Pulp's lacquered darkness.