Friday, April 30, 2010

Thought for Today: Mankind's Most Odious Invention

It's the car horn, isn't it?

Because when you honk, the cars in front, behind, and to the side of you are all going, "Who's honking? Are they honking at me? Is there something I should be aware of or did they just see someone walking down the sidewalk they recognized? Should I be moving? Oh crap, did I accidentally lean on the horn?" One honk can confuse a dozen people.

Meanwhile, there is no need to blow the horn at the person you are actually honking at, because s/he already already knows that s/he cut you off, and s/he will follow that up by flipping you off for making such a big frigging deal about it.

I am just saying, during a busy morning commute, what we need less of is LOUD SOUNDS WITH NO CONTEXT.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Thought for Today: A Touch Can Mean So Much When It's All You've Got

I've been listening to "That Means A Lot" fairly obsessively for the past couple days since re-borrowing The Beatles Anthology CD set from my dad to stick it on my iPod. As in, it ends, and I immediately play it again, and then I think about it a third time.

If there is a better "lost" Beatles track than "That Means A Lot," I have not heard it (I guess that means you've still got a shot, "Carnival of Light").

Let no man speak ill of the Anthology when it brings us such treasures!

* * * * *

(EDITED to add links if you are inclined to listen to it yourself, and as long as I've got your attention...)

I'm trying to put my finger on what exactly I like so much about this song. It's got a couple strikes against it, actually. The mix on the Anthology is going for a kind of Wall of Sound thing but just comes off muddy. And the lyrics on the song itself I don't find quite up to the usual pop elegance of the Lennon-McCartney team of this time. That "a friend" conceit sort of sticks out and isn't used for any reason, the first verse has a redundancy that doesn't sit well (First line: "A friend says that your love won't mean a lot", last line: "But when she says she loves you, that means a lot") and the pronouns are kind of all over the place. They sound a bit like temporary lyrics, except that there's apparently twenty-plus takes out there all with the same words (although it's possible that this is all used to a secret, brilliant effect that I'm too dumb to pick up on).

The music itself, as a song rather than a performance (although the drumming is great, any take I've found on YouTube that does it differently isn't as good), I find really stirring though, maybe it's as simple as that. I looked up some tab for this song and messed about with it on piano and I really like that Am6 chord (if that's indeed what's actually being played)...

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Today I Am A Writer

Got my first rejection from a potentially paying publication last night (for fiction what I wrote, that is), which I am celebrating as an important milestone. I was, of course, highly unlikely to strike gold the first time with the first thing I sent to the first publication, so now I got that behind me.

But, uh, I won't be posting every time I get rejected (even though I'm 100% positive it'll never ever happen again because I'm A Special Boy, right??).

Sunday, April 18, 2010

What I Have Been Doing In My Spare Time

1.) Coming up with a second entry for Pillock's "Write a proposal for a TV show set in space" thing (Plok, man, when are we all supposed to be posting these things?)

2.) Trying to decide which organs I can sell to help ease any financial strain that having a baby in about six weeks will create. (To be blunt, Left Kidney ... what have you done for me lately?)

3.) Aggressively not going to see Kick-Ass, because please, media people, do not make a big deal about whether or not this movie goes too far in its portrayal of violence! You are only giving Mark Millar what he wants! Do not feed the bear!

4.) Talkin' Mission: Impossible down at the ol'

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Thought for Today: The Chicago Way

Whenever I watch Brian DePalma's The Untouchables, I really enjoy it, but I'm never quite sure whether what I'm watching is actually a good movie or a bad movie. Even the things I suspect are or identify as "bad" ("He's in the car.") I rationalize in my head as intentional choices to provoke a desired effect that enhances the film.

Well, except for Sean Connery's Irish accent.

Monday, April 12, 2010


...can be found at MGK today.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Communists of the Marvel Universe #003: The Red Ghost

(Part three of an ongoing series analyzing the role of communists in the early Marvel Universe and how they have been adapted - or, in some cases, how they glaringly haven’t been adapted - by comics creators in a post Cold War climate.)

That’s the Red Ghost as in “The Red Ghost and his Super Apes,” of course. He turns intangible - hence the “Ghost” bit in his name - as a result of flying through a cosmic ray storm in order to recreate the circumstances under which the Fantastic Four got their powers, except he used a spaceship with no shielding in order to increase the exposure. Started out as an FF villain and has become sort of an all-purpose Marvel baddie.

Let’s see what Wikipedia has to say.

Ivan Kragoff was born in Leningrad, in what was at the time the Soviet Union. Before becoming the Red Ghost, Ivan was a Soviet scientist bent on beating the Americans to the moon and claiming it for the Communist empire. He assembled a crew of three trained apes — Mikhlo the Gorilla, Igor the Baboon, and Peotr the Orangutan — which he subjected to specialized training regimens of his own design, then took off on his lunar rocket trip on behalf of the USSR...

Hell, I got this one, you guys:

Ivan Kragoff was born in Leningrad, in what was at the time the Soviet Union. Before becoming the Red Ghost, Ivan was a Soviet scientist bent on beating the Americans to the moon and claiming it for the Communist empire. He assembled a crew of three trained apes — Mikhlo the Gorilla, Igor the Baboon, and Peotr the Orangutan — which he subjected to specialized training regimens of his own design, then took off on his lunar rocket trip on behalf of the USSR...
Right, that’s wrapped up! (Checks watch.) Hm, and quicker than usual…

Actually, no joke, in most of the Red Ghost’s appearances, I think that’s all you really need to do. Most of the times I've ever seen the Red Ghost in a comic, it’s not because the guys who were doing the story needed a commie bad guy, it’s that he’s a.) an evil genius, b.) a guy who turns intangible, and c.) OH MY GOD YOU GUYS MONKEYS AWESOME. If you’re going to do Spider-Man or the Hulk fights the Red Ghost in a contemporary comic book, it’s no sweat, there’s no need to bring up all that messy communist stuff; he's a mad scientist who happens to be Russian.

The messy communist stuff is, however, acutely important in his first appearance.

If you haven’t read Fantastic Four #13 … well, you should. Ditko inks Kirby (it results in a magnificently monstrous Thing), and you get this panel, which in black and white is absolutely stunning:

But anyway, here’s a summary. Reed Richards is again trying to get to the moon before the Soviets do, and he finds a new fuel source (Tunguska-derived, it appears – that’s right, Warren Ellis, Stan Lee totally beat you to this one!) with which to accomplish this. However, the Red Ghost and his simian crew also blast off at that very moment to conquer the moon in the name of Mother Russia. They both make it to the moon and start to fight, when suddenly, The Watcher makes his first appearance. He does his whole “I am bound never to interfere in mortals’ affairs, except this time” speech because the US/USSR conflict, no longer confined to Earth, now potentially threatens the rest of the universe. So he transports them to the Blue Area of the Moon where there’s breathable atmosphere and the ruins of an ancient civilization (it’s where the X-Men fought the Imperial Guard at the climax of the Dark Phoenix Saga, you’ll recall) and says to fight it out there, and whoever wins will win the space race for their side. The Fantastic Four, of course, beat the Red Ghost and claim the moon for freedom and democracy. “Space is your heritage,” the Watcher tells them. “See that you prove worthy of such a glorious gift!”

Okay, so right off, Marvel Time makes the “first men on the moon” thing an anachronism (though I guess we haven’t actually had a woman or apes up there yet). As for the Red Ghost himself, we can’t just cross out the communist references because they’re actually important in this case. The Red Ghost here isn’t just any mad scientist to fight, he has to represent something that the Fantastic Four would oppose ideologically; otherwise, it’s just another supercharacter scuffle and not the event of cosmic significance that Lee and Kirby are trying to sell us on in this story.

So to that end, we can ask, “What is it that ‘Soviet-ness’ represents here that the audience is to be repulsed by?” In other words, what exactly is Stan Lee’s beef with communism (other than that he’s an American citizen in the early 1960s)?

Well, it turns out in the story that the Red Ghost treats those apes pretty badly. He calls the gorilla “My monsterous slave,” and in the next panel shouts, “No food for you yet, comrade baboon! It is important to me that you remain hungry – I want you to be mean, vicious, dangerous!”

Later in the story, the Red Ghost captures Sue and imprisons her behind a force field guarded by his Super-Apes, and she thinks, “If I could only find a way to eliminate this force field – to free the Super-Apes! I would take my chacnes with them, rather than the Red Ghost, for they are like the communist masses, innocently enslaved by their evil leaders!” Sue manages to knock the force field out of commission, but they don’t attack her. “Just as I expected! They’re so ravenously hungry that they don’t even notice me in their frantic attempt to get the food which Kragoff had left on the other side of the force screen!” The gorilla punches out a wall. “And now,” Sue thinks, “no longer under the Red Ghost’s mental control, they want their freedom!

At the story’s end, they leave the Red Ghost on the moon to the mercies of the Super-Apes, who have rebelled against their cruel master. “Wait!” Kragoff says. “Why are you staring at me that way? Aiming the [paralysis] ray at me?? Your eyes – they’re gleaming with hatred – with vengeance!”

So stripped of era-specific politics, what “Soviet-ness” seems to mean for Stan Lee here (and elsewhere, notably in a Captain America/Hawkeye/Quicksilver/Scarlet Witch Avengers story with a Vietnam analogue) is exploitation, and that’s something you can always find a relevant outlet for. In fact, it’s interesting to see how Marvel’s anticommunist themes of the early 60s morph into the antiestablishment themes of the late 60s – they’re both about taking a stand against The Man, whether that Man is an American establishment figure or the Soviet high command keeping the little guy (or ape) down.

So there are any number of ways you could make this story relevant, to find a new way for the Red Ghost to be The Man. Perhaps the most mischevious would be to take the Soviet boogeyman and turn him relatively seamlessly into a ruthless, total free-market industrialist. Maybe he’s headed to the moon to strip it of its resources, to ransack the wonders of the Blue Area – you could play this as a guy who wants to own the moon, who wants to privatize Earth’s satellite. The Super-Apes are, as you will, his corporate drones or his underfed and underpaid working class. The FF, then, fight him to protect the moon from being divvied up like it was just another chunk of unclaimed geography; that space exploration is about something finer, something to bring humankind together, despite whatever differences we might have had on Earth. All that idealistic 60s Star Trek stuff, right? There’s a philosophical/ethical/ideological conflict that would make this important and not just another bad-guy fight, worthy of the Watcher’s interference.

Well, whatever way you do it (I'm sure there's a better way I haven’t thought of), again, it generally doesn’t matter for 99% of the Red Ghost appearances past, present and future. But then again, if you committed to the Red Ghost as a symbol of exploitation, maybe you could get more out of the character than just a mad monkey wrangler...