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Thursday, May 21, 2015

The World Where I Am Sitting


I was asked by someone who loves Godzilla films as much as I do, “What do you think will be the future of the franchise?”  This question is a reasonable one, because since the beginning of the franchise the viewer could expect fun, violence, destruction, and some allegorical content.  Whether Godzilla represented the spirit of Japan, or a force of nature, or a vengeful spirit out to make the world pay, the character was always interesting, even if other portions of the films he starred in were not so interesting. Biolante comes to mind.

The recent America film of Godzilla so outclassed the previous American film of the character, I have to think the franchise whether in Japan or the US is in good hands. But, there is always the fear, on my part if not that of others, that the recent effort succeeded but the makers of that film won’t understand why it did.  An example of that would be the live action version of Scooby Doo, and the sequel, Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed.  The first chapter was silly and funny, but most importantly, it was clever about what people liked about the cartoon, and played with the expectations of that audience.  The second film looked at the first and said those clever scenes just slowed it down, lets just make it a straight mystery comedy.  And in the process, killed the humor, made for no mystery, and sucked the life out of the whole time you were in the theatre watching.

Like Scooby Doo, and any long lasting, beloved, franchise Godzilla has accepted conventions, that is, things we the audience love, and without them, it isn’t Godzilla.  If the makers of the last Godzilla film think we need a dozen monsters and lots of fighting, it might be a momentary fun spectacle, but it won’t be very enjoyable in the long term.  So, I am aware the next movie can suck, if all goes poorly, but I trust that it won’t.

Doing a project that involves research, I am always excited when it involves paintings and legends and myth.  I love to learn about the world around us and use it or use what I’ve learned from it to assist my work in the future.  In this case I am researching the lost city and “continent” of Atlantis, and the best early writer on the subject was Ignatius Donnelly, a Minnesotan who was a bright man who had an interest in many different aspects of existence.  He discovered in his research various theories that, while perhaps not proving the existence of Atlantis, proved to be rather prescient in describing other events of the unwritten earth history.  He does of course use pseudo history to fill in the blanks.  There is no doubt he is writing fiction, but he is doing so after having made some surprisingly logical leaps of faith.  His work and others are worth the effort of seeking out.



Monday, May 18, 2015

A Different Take on Cthulhu Worlds


There are people who believe that the world that HP Lovecraft created and nurtured is unchangeable, solid not fluid, and obedient only to the word of its initial creative talent, HP Lovecraft.  I love HP Lovecraft, and think his work and legacy is a genius one.  But I do not mistake that for being anything that is set in stone. The reason for that is, he himself invited many others to co-create the world and ideas, and mythos that surrounded his work.  This is actually, when you think of it, exactly as a mythos should be.  A worldview or set of beliefs or ideas from one mind is not really a mythos, it is creation that has a body and form, but also a beginning and end, and obeys just one mind.  The concept of a mythos is enormous, it says, when coming into contact with a powerful idea, or a great thinker, the mythos will adapt to include that.  It doesn't matter who said it, or within reason what was said, so long as it works within the legitimate understanding of the mythos. 

HP Lovecraft ---  "Life is a hideous thing, and from the background behind what we know of it peer daemoniacal hints of truth which make it sometimes a thousandfold more hideous. Science, already oppressive with its shocking revelations, will perhaps be the ultimate exterminator of our human species — if separate species we be — for its reserve of unguessed horrors could never be borne by mortal brains if loosed upon the world."

 "Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family"


Today I am bringing you a look at the books of Brian Lumley that concern his work in the universe of Cthulhu, and HP Lovecraft's side universe, the Dream Lands.  He is not the same author as Lovecraft, he is neither better, nor worse, in my view, just much different.  I like his work a lot, and I believe he respects HPL, so, I do encourage you to read him, and to seek out the books shown below.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Superman's Pal, JFK

One of the Legendary Comic Books of the Silver Age featured a cameo by President John F. Kennedy.  Part of its legend comes from the fact that it hit the newsstands just a week after JFK was assassinated. 

ACTION COMICS #309  was already at the printers when the assassination occurred and it was too late for the company to cancel the issue.  They were afraid the public would consider the comic to be in bad taste under the circumstances.  I don't know if the public did, but in retrospect, the issue is a quirky piece of comics history, as well as a sad commentary on how times have changed.

It starts off as a typical Silver Age Superman story.  Superman is expected to attend a public ceremony in his honor.  All in the line of duty for a hero as beloved as Superman.  The problem is that Clark Kent has been selected as one of the people to share the stage with him.

Now normally this would be no biggie; Superman would just use one of his robot duplicates to impersonate him or maybe ask his buddy Bruce Wayne to pose as Clark Kent.  Except that Batman is also supposed to be at the event honoring him; and Lois Lane has set up metal detectors at all the entrances to the hall as one of her wacky schemes to prove that Clark is really Superman.  Dang that woman!

So what's a Man of Steel to do?

The story leaves the reader in suspense until the very last page.  Superman appears at the event, and shakes the hands of both Batman and Clark Kent.  Lois fails to detect any robot impostors.  How did Superman pull it off?

At the very end we see Superman going to thank his secret accomplice who helped by posing as Clark:  John F. Kennedy.

(Part of me has to wonder if that would really work, if Kennedy really could convincingly impersonate a 6-foot plus Midwestern farm-boy.  I have this mental image of Lois saying, “You can cut the phoney ‘Bahston accent’ any time now, Clark; no one is laughing!”)

In the last panel, Superman tells his super-confidant:  "I knew I wasn't risking my secret identity with you !  After all, if I can't trust the President of the United States, who can I trust?"

Comics guru Tony Isabella has cited this issue as his standard for a good president.  A good president, he says, is one to whom Superman can confidently divulge his Secret Identity.  Sadly, we have had very few in my lifetime whom I think Superman could trust.

But for the heck of it, let’s play that game.  Granted, this is going to be highly subjective and open to argument, but what the hey:  Which presidents could Superman trust.?

We’ll leave off Kennedy; I was barely a toddler when he died; besides, we’ve already established that Superman trusted him.  Next.

I don’t think he’d trust Johnson.  Although I think that Superman would approve of many of LBJ’s social programs, Johnson was also a shrewd horse-dealer.  Any president in whom Supes confided would face the temptation to take advantage of that confidence and use Superman to his own ends.  And I could see Johnson doing that.

I don’t see Supes trusting Tricky Dick at all.  Apart from Nixon’s antipathy towards reporters, trust is a two-way street and I don’t see Nixon bringing himself to trust Superman.  He’d be more likely to have the FBI investigate him to discover his Secret Identity.  Heck, Nixon might even put Lex Luthor on his payroll, and keep in mind that this was the era where Luthor was an Evil Scientist and not a Respected Zillionaire Industrialist.

I can’t really say about Ford.  He seemed to me like a decent enough guy, but he really wasn’t president long enough to give a good sense of what kind of person he was  He’s doomed to be a footnote of history, I’m afraid.

Jimmy Carter is one I think Superman could trust.  Carter always struck me as a man with a great deal of moral integrity, both as president and his career afterwards.  You can argue about how good a president he was, but I think he was and is a good man.

Reagan… not so much.  Don’t get me wrong; I liked Reagan.  I drew political cartoons for my college newspaper during his administration and he was fun to draw.  But whenever he talked about Values and Morality, I always had a sense that he was playing to the audience, giving them what they wanted to hear.  There’s an old saying in the Theater that the most important part of acting is Sincerity… and if you can fake that you’ve got it made.  Ronald Reagan was a very good actor.  I like to think that he did have a strong sense of decency, but I think he more often used it to justify his ideology rather than to inform it.

Unlike some of the previous presidents, Reagan appeared numerous times in the comic books himself.  (Even not counting REAGAN’S RAIDERS, an earnest fan comic of the ‘80s in which Ronald and his closest advisers gain super-powers and punch out the Foes of America).  I can think of two instances in which he is shown directly interacting with Superman.

In Frank Miller’s THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, Superman is portrayed as the President’s lap dog, running errands for him and clandestinely fighting America’s enemies.  In Miller’s dystopian future, all super-heroes have been forced into retirement or hiding.  Superman’s arrangement with the President allows him to continue doing some good in the world, but he clearly resents it..

Another take on the idea was given in a FIRESTORM storyline by John Ostrander during the ‘80s in which Firestorm decides to use his powers to disarm both the US and the USSR.  There is a scene in one issue where President Reagan summons Superman to the Oval Office in order to ask him to take Firestorm down.  Superman respectfully declines, saying that he’s not entirely sure the boy is wrong, and that it’s an idea he’s though about himself; (a cute allusion to the well-intentioned but badly-executed SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE).

I do think, however, that Superman could trust George Bush père.  The elder Bush was a former director of the CIA, not to mention a Skull-and-Bonesman back in his Yale days.  I think he understands the importance of keeping a secret and would respect Superman’s.  Although I didn’t vote for him, I always felt Bush Sr. was a man of integrity.

Bill Clinton, less so.  It’s been said that Clinton regarded JFK as a role model; if so, he imitated Kennedy’s less admirable qualities.  I think he did all right as president… but not nearly as good as he might have had he not let his id get the better of him.  I don’t think he’s quite dependable enough for Superman to trust with his Secret Identity.  (Although in a curious coincidence, it has long been established – long before Bill Clinton was elected -- that Clark Kent’s home address in Metropolis is an apartment on Clinton Avenue).

I don’t think Bush fils is terribly reliable either.  Like Jimmy Carter, George W. Bush likes to speak of his religious faith, but unlike Carter, I’ve never felt the sense that this faith translated either into his policies, or (which is more relevant to this little game) his personal life.

Which brings us down to Barack Obama.  I suppose here my own political biases, as if they weren’t already obvious, are evident.  I like Obama, and I think he’s a decent man.  But even more than that, he is himself a comic book fan.  He is our first Presidential Geek-In-Chief.  Whether you like or hate his policies, you have to give him that.  Some of our previous presidents have seemed like comic book characters, but none of them have been fans.  Obama is.

If Superman ever met the President in person, as he occasionally has in the comics, he would doubtless say, “It is an honor to meet you, sir.”  That is because Ma and Pa Kent raised him right, and taught him to show respect.  Superman would show respect to the office regardless of his opinion of the office-holder and regardless of who Clark Kent voted for.  I think Obama alone, of the presidents I’ve listed, would reply, “No, Superman, the honor is all mine.”  He would certainly keep Superman’s secret, and would take pleasure in that responsibility.