Wednesday, November 21, 2007

IRON MAN #126 Marvel Comics, 1979

Many fans, myself included, enjoy bitching about how Marvel has turned Iron Man into a total facist asshole ever since Civil War. How could they get the character so wrong, we ask? Most of us are just hoping he's a Skrull and everything will go back to normal and they'll let somebody like Adam Warren or Jeff Parker write Iron Man and everything will be fine and shhh it's OK to cry.

Since I feel passionate (in a smug, ironic way) about the proper characterization of Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, I decided to go back to those comics I remember and cherish from my youth. You know, the Dave Micheline/Bob Layton era of Iron Man when Tony Stark was a real hero. I found Iron Man #126, a fantastic issue in the Justin Hammer saga. It's written by Micheline with art by John Romita Jr. and inks by Layton. This is the Iron Man of my childhood! Noble, intelligent, cunning, brave...

Hey. What the HELL?!! This Iron Man is a dick, too!

Apparently I forgot that the Tony Stark of 1979 was a major league pimp with a fondness for whiskey sours, fighting dirty, gold chains, and reefer.

In this penultimate issue of the storyline we call in retrospect "Hammer Time," Stark is captured by his new enemy Justin Hammer, a Peter Cushing looking dude that always wears a smoking jacket. You know the type.

Anyway, Stark is kept apart from his armor for the whole issue, so he must use all his cunning and total lack of scruples to survive. I think Micheline was going for a ruthless, debonaire Bondian approach in his portrayal of Tony Stark, but he seems like a violent kung fu synthesis of Larry Dallas, the scuzzy neighbor on Three's Company, Matthew McConaughy's character in Dazed & Confused, and Eric Roberts in Star 80.

Here's Tony Stark sucker punching a guard just for the hell of it. It's been six hours since his last whiskey sour and he's gonna take it out on somebody, damn it.

Tony embodies that late 70's Marlboro Man swinger vibe that might seem cheesy and vaguely creepy to us now that we have a couple of decades of pop culture between us and Iron Man #126, but I assure you that look was very cool in the 70's. Tony Stark would have been a hairy-chested Golden God back in The Day, lord of the discotheque - now he looks like a sex offender who hangs out at truck stops.

One thing that is hilariously consistent - Tony Stark drinks like a fish. Here's a little flashback of Stark unwinding with his pal Mr. Jim Beam after a stressful day:

It's almost as if they're making fun of him, isn't it? Drinking is his second favorite indoor sport. I wonder what the first is? Probably air hockey.

Oh, wait - I think they mean f&%*ing.

Even when Stark is locked up on Hammer's floating estate, his first thought is booze, not escape. Hey, he thinks better after he's had a few, OK? Lay off, man - let's see you design a repulsor ray after swigging a 40 ouncer and a bottle of Nyquil. Here he is trying to talk a vogueing guard into bringing him some frickin' booze, fer Chrissake:
The guard denies his entirely reasonable request, which pisses Stark off to no end. That's when he starts to get all classist and demeaning and plans on showing this mere hourly employee who exactly he is dealing with:
Enraged that this lackey is refusing his request for booze, he lures the uneducated peasant into his room with the old fake hernia gag. "Guard, I have a painful hernia! Come look at it!" That shit works every time.

The guard enters, concerned about his prisoner's abdomenal well-being, and falls into trap #2, the old electrical appliance + pool of water gag. Stark's unique twist on this time-honored gag? That's not water, it's human urine!

That's right. Bring Papa Tony his drinky and nobody gets hurt, a'ight?

Stark does eventually escape from captivity even without his drink and searches for his Iron Man armor so he can turn the tables on Hammer and his small army of B-list villains. If he happens to find a wetbar or wine cellar before he finds his armor, that's OK, too. While hiding from Hammer's goons Stark does stumble across the aging crime lord's personal marijuana crop (left). It's strictly medicinal of course - help's with Hammer's arthritis.

After stuffing a couple of Hefty bags full of weed, Stark continues his search for his armor and maybe some rolling papers...
After a quick detour into a tool shed where he crafts an electric hookah out of a Chevy engine block, a propane tank, and a hair dryer, Stark finds his armor. Wow, he is so high right now. The suit, it looks so shiny... Man, he could go for a pint of Haagen Daaz ... His fingers feel tingly...

Finally at the every end of the comic, Tony Stark suits up and is ready to kick ass once again. Just in time, too, because Hammer's army of second-rate villains has been sent to hunt him down and crush him. Too late. My man Tony Stark has a serious buzz on, he's queued up some Blues Traveller on the suit's MP3 player and he is ready to trip out while he kick everyone's ass. Then it's ice cream time! (OK, no he doesn't really get stoned. That would be wrong. He just drinks.)

The last page is ten kinds of awesome, as Tony strikes a pose and delivers a rambling tough guy speech to the assembled squad of costumed losers:

It sounds best if you sing the last line: "Then I'm coming after you! LOOK OUT!"

OK, so my trip into yesteryear didn't yield any proof of classic Tony Stark's non-dickishness. But it did unearth an example of a smooth, casually cruel character with an unshakable sense of his own place in the world and precisely how awesome he is. I give 1979's Tony Stark zero points for heroic purity and 250 Caruso Points for sheer manly force of personality.

Out-of-Context X-Men Panel o' the Day

Cyclops and Mr. Sinister exchange brutal bon mots in X-Factor #39.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Not cool: Stomach flu

My apologies for the lack of posting - this time my entire family and everyone withing 50 meters of our house fell prey to some sort of hideous stomach flu nanovirus.

Seriously, the shit was nasty.

It started with my wee little toddler and then spread from there. Soon everyone was violently puking, including Trixie the dog, Po the cat, and General Chang the goldfish. You ever seen a goldfish vomit? Oh. Well, me too.

Anyway, now I'm back and - brace yourself - I am actually planning on doing a post about a comic book! I know, pretty wild stuff for a blog that is supposed to be about reviewing my old comic books. What can I say, sometimes it's hard to muster up the moral energy and courage needed to eviscerate a twenty year old issue of X-Men. Sometimes I just want to post about other crap and totally alienate my dwindling readership. Meanwhile, hungry young turks are out there beating me at the game! Of course, if the hungry young turk in question ever kisses a girl, I suspect his productivity will drop drastically.

OK, the puking and ass stuff are over! Now it is time to blog!

By the way, the stomach virus and me plunging my hand into a public toilet recently are completely unrelated events. Really.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Off-Topic: Which is less likely to fall into a toilet, an MP3 player or disc player?

It's not unusual it happens every day
no matter what you say
you find it happens all the time
love will never do what you want it to
why can't this crazy love be mine

-Tom Jones
"It's Not Unusual"

Help me out here, people.

Some background: I still haven't gone digital. Instead of an MP3 player, I lug a cheap-ass disc player to work.

This morning I was on my way to work on the safe and efficient Washington State Ferry service and I had to go to the bathroom. Not to put too fine of a poitn on it, but I had to go #2. This is a relevant detail, I'm not telling you this to be gross or to conjure up an unwelcome mental image.

Anyway, I set the Discman behind me on the toilet and kept the headphones on, listening to Tom Jones as I did my business. There's nothing like a little Tom Jones in the john. Try it some time.

Anyway, when I had completed the transaction, I stood up - and the headphone chord yanked my disc player off the back of the toilet and right into the toilet bowl - before I had flushed, if you know what I mean. I screamed an obscenity, undoubtedly frightening the guy in the stall next to me, and quickly plunged my hand into the feculent water to fish out the now ruined and stinky Discman. I had to toss away the entire thing, disc and all, and wash my hands like, seven times. I don't know if I can ever listen to Tom Jones again.

I've been discussing this incident with anyone who will listen and I've gotten mixed responses:

a) Why are you telling me this? Get away from me, I don't even know you.

b) You should get an MP3 player, you're much less likely to drop it in the toilet.

c) Good thing it was just a cheap disc player - just think if that was an expensive iPod.

d) You put your hand in the toilet?

I ask you: what is the answer? Replace my disc player with another cheap disc player and be more careful around toilets in the future, or go digital and get a tiny little MP3 player that will fit in my pocket? I need your guidance, O Dave's Long Box reader.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Deathstroke Theme Song - not OK with pets

I've been thinking a lot about Deathstroke the Terminator lately. Just lying await at night, unable to sleep, staring at the ceiling and thinking about Deathstroke while Tangerine Dream music plays endlessly in my head. I have issues, what can I say?

Anyway, I've decided that Deathstroke needs a theme song - some short little ditty that plays when he strides into a room or busts through a skylight, guns blazing. I think it might sound a little something like this...

Shortly after my cat Po attacked me for waking her up, I tried the Deathstroke Theme on my dog Trixie, just to see what she thought...

Trixie savaged my left hand five seconds after that video was taken. Eleven stiches. Schipperkes are tough little sonsabitches, let me tell you.

It's hard living in a world of animals that don't appreciate my devotion to Deathstroke the Terminator. Damn, it's hard.

Monday, November 05, 2007

CRIMSON PLAGUE Image Comics, 2000

Terror Week splatters you in womanly acid blood with this look at George Perez's gory, short-lived creator-owned sci-fi/horror comic Crimson Plague!

I have to be careful because my fingers find themselves wanting to type "Crimson Plaque," which would be a wholely different but equally disturbing comic. Floss and brush, kids! You don't want crimson plaque or ochre tartar, that's some nasty shit.

This comic, part of the creator-owned Gorilla Comics imprint published by Image Comics, only made it two issues, but the first issue is like, 64 pages for only a couple of bucks. I wonder how they made money off that one. George Perez, arguably one of the greatest comic book artists of ALL TIME, wrote and drew this ambitious but unwieldy tale of two women - DiNA Simmons (acid blood, red streaks in hair) and Shannon Lower (acid tongue, no pants on butt). One of the things that makes Crimson Plague noteworthy, aside from all the melting flesh and stuff, is that all the characters in the comic were modelled after real people that George Perez knows. This is both a good and bad thing, as we'll discuss shortly.

It's sort of difficult at first to figure out who the main characters are and what the main plot of Crimson Plague actually is, but after repeated readings I think I've got it figured out. Shannon Lower and a bunch of ragtag space marine types are dispatched to a lunar penal colony to rescue employees of the mutli-planetary corporation EcoTech from rebellious prisoner/miners. When they arrive, they find no survivors - just lots and lots of red goo that used to be human beings.

The shit is everywhere; it'll take more than a couple of Swiffers and a trash bag to clean this mess up.

Man, what a mess.

It turns out that most everyone has been killed after exposure to the acid blood of DiNA: Simmons, a foxy woman with a seriously dangerous physiology. Anything her blood touches dissolves into the aforementioned goo while screaming, "GAAAHHH! HELP MEEE!!!" Seriously, her blood is so nasty that the slightest drop will totally kill you within seconds in the most gruesome way possible. Beat that, Rage Virus!

Perez is famous for his ridiculously detailed art and Crimson Plague is no exception. He seems to really enjoy drawing people dissolving into red goo. Here's some poor mulleted bastard who makes the mistake of stabbing DiNA: Simmons in the gut. Bad call, dude:


So DiNA: Simmons (no idea why her name is spelled like that) is sort of the villain of the piece, a combo of Alien and Species. Shannon Lower is the protagonist, I guess, but that's only really evident in the second and final issue. She kind of gets lost in the crowd in the first issue, which is full to the point of gagging with minor characters. Since she gets about as much page space as everybody else, it's tough to figure out that she's supposed to be the focus of Perez's story. She ends up being the sole survivor when the Colonial Marines, er, I mean EcoTech soldiers she's with get slimed by DiNA.

Now that I think about it, the tip-off that Shannon is the main character is her introductory panel, in which she appears in her underwear. There's an alarm going off on her ship and she's got no time for pants! Pants? "Pants, HELL!"

I admire her spirit. There are some times when you just can't be bothered with trousers, like during an earthquake or at the swimming pool. I'm going to try that: next time the mail comes I'm just marching down there in my boxer briefs because damn it, there's a Bank of America bill and a J. Crew catalog just sitting out there exposed in my mail box! "Pants, hell! I've got to get that damn mail!"

I would have liked to have seen more Shannon in her underwear and more crimson goo, but alas, Crimson Plague never made it to issue three, because Gorilla Comics folded as quickly as they set up shop. Perez clearly had big plans for the series, because the first jumbo size issue is absolutely packed with exposition and characters. It's one big steaming info dump, really, with not a lot of narrative momentum. One gets the feeling that Perez would have hit his storytelling stride after a few issues, but we'll never know. As is, the first issue in particular is a busy mess, jumping around in time and location with abandon. A few narrative captions would have smoothed things out and made it an easier read.

I mentioned earlier that Perez based all of his characters on people in his life. Dina Simmons and Shannon Lower are real people, presumably without acid blood. That may explain why even the most incidental character gets a name in the book, so Perez can say, "See, Bob? You're the space janitor Max Mopup on page 13. You get killed on page 14, though. Sorry."

Perez is a fantastic artist, so all his characters look like real people instead of the usual default Square Jawed Guy template we get in many comics by lesser talents. The problem is, Perez is not as good of a casting director as he is an artist. Some of the characters just don't look like they fit their role.

It's like when you watch a low budget Canadian syndicated TV show and the cast just doesn't look right. You know what I mean? You can just tell - the guy on the screen doesn't look like an FBI agent or an immortal warrior, he looks like a truck driver. I just couldn't get past the "miscasting" in Crimson Plague. Lower and Simmons fit the bill, but some of the other characters just look sort of... normal. You know you're not looking at a galactic president, you're looking at the librarian at George Perez's local library.

All in all, despite a somewhat shaky start, I'm bummed that I don't get to find out where Perez was going with all this stuff, bummed that I don't getto see more people dissolve into piles of red goo, bummed that I will never find out the signifigance of the spelling of DiNA's name.

Oh, well. That's how things go during TERROR WEEK! (Now entering week 2, BTW)

P.S. I forgot to mention that I don't actually own Crimson Plague - Ian Brill lent them to me like, TWO YEARS AGO and I never gave them back. Sorry Ian! You can have them back now...

Friday, November 02, 2007

Terror Week presents: Eaters of Man!

Terror Week lingers on after Halloween, like a fart at a Saturday night poker game. You just can't get rid of it, no matter how many windows you open. Such is the power of Terror Week here at Dave's Long Box.

Utter, bladder-voiding, sanity-shattering terror is part of the human condition, but such is the nature of civilized Western life that few of us are confronted with true terror on a daily basis - unless one happens to be an avid viewer of Nancy Grace on CNN. Those reading this blog were undoubtedly born in the 20th Century, the most violent 100 years of human existence, yet for those like myself fortunate enough to live in modern society, we have lived lives untouched by the specter of daily violence.

I am, of course, speaking in extremely general terms, but the sad fact is that the daily burden of fear on this planet is usually born by those in developing nations who live in poverty. These are the folks who have to stress about the air, food, and water they ingest killing them, or their children dying of preventable diseases, or about falling prey to criminals or soldiers or mines or unexploded bombs...

...or yes, getting eaten alive.

Previously I advanced my completely unproven and unsupported theory that all human terror stems from a biologically hardwired fear of saber tooth tigers. I stand by my hypothesis and I challenge anyone to prove me wrong (knowing that I will just delete any comments that contradict said theory because I am a dick). That's because for hundreds of thousands of years, animals have been stalking, killing, and eating humans. Even today man is on the menu with alarming frequency in poor rural areas on Earth.

Let's take crocodiles. There are two species of crocodile that regularly chow down on homo sapiens: Africa's Nile crocodile and the Asian saltwater crocodile. According to the Wikipedia entry (grain o' salt alert!), "The saltwater crocodile is one of the major animals involved in attacks on humans in Southeast Asia and Australia and is responsible for about 300 deaths annually." It is estimated that the Nile croc kills a couple hundred Africans and tourists each year. These numbers are wild approximations because of the lack of infrastructure and local government in many croc-heavy regions, to say nothing of civil war. But let's presume that at least 500 people get the chop every year from crocodiles.*

Chew on that for a minute.

Odds are pretty damn good that as you are reading this, some poor bastard is being digested inside a crocodile's belly or some unsuspecting person is walking too close to the edge of a river right now, unaware that death lurks unseen in the murky water mere yards away...

Crocodiles are opportunistic ambush predators, bursting from hiding when some animal enters their Kill Zone - anywhere near water. Again, Wikipedia: "As an ambush predator, it usually waits for its prey to get close to the water's edge before striking without warning and using its great strength to drag the animal back into the water. Most prey animals are killed by the huge jaw pressure of the crocodile, although some animals may be incidentally drowned."

The most famous and prolific Nile crocodile is Gustave, a monstrous 20+ foot beast that prowled Burundi's Rusizi River and Lake Tanganika. While Burundi's warlords have killed far more of their own people than Gustave could ever dream of, the jumbo croc is blamed for over 300 deaths over the years. This may be an exaggeration, but it's certainly possible. Gustave is so famous they even made a movie about him, Primeval, which I haven't actually seen.

The locals mistakenly believed Gustave had died of old age or finally got killed, as a confirmed sighting of the man-eater hadn't been reported in years. Likely the only ones who sighted Gustave didn't live to spread the news, because in April 2007 a huge croc with Gustave's trademark bullet-scarred noggin attacked some fishermen, eating one of them. It seems that Gustave is back and in full effect.

A 300 victim tally is impressive for any species, but pales in comparison to India's Panar leopard, which killed over 400 people around the turn of the century. Or how about the Champawat Tigress, the champion of all man-eaters with a documented 436 kills in Nepal and India's Kumoan region in the 19th century? Any way you cut it, that's a shitload of dead bodies. The Champawat Tigress was so feared that the Nepalese Army was assembled to drive it over the border into Kumoan, where it became the Indians' problem. Nice, huh?

Aside from staggering success at killing people, both the Panar Leopard and the Champawat Tigress had one thing in common: they met hot doom from the barrel of legendary hunter Jim Corbett. Nobody on Earth had more experience at tracking and killing man-eating cats as Corbett, a man who by all accounts was exceptionally skilled and possessing of iron nerves, keen eyesight, and a lot of luck. Guy had a face like a mutt, though. I guess God didn't roll triple sixes for every category when he was making this particular Ranger player character.

Corbett's books occupy an honored place in the Dave Campbell Library of Macho, particularly The Man-Eating Leopard of Rudraprayag, an account of Corbett's repeated attempts to end the career of the most famous man-eating cat in India.

This particular leopard preyed on pilgrims and villagers in a more densely populated area of India and as a result had a much bigger psychological impact than the Panar leopard. The official death count for the Rudraprayag leopard is around 125 victims, but Corbett himself says the cat killed "several hundred" Indians over the course of several years. The leopard was notorious for snatching people out of their homes without a sound and was thought by many locals to be some sort of evil spirit due to its uncanny knack for escape and evasion. It was like a Sith lord and a Predator and a ninja all wrapped up in one lean rosette skinned package.

Leopards, like crocodiles, are opportunistic killers - although humans aren't their natural prey, they're more than willing to sample the local bipeds if the conditions are right. By contrast, tigers and lions usually only turn to man-eating when they can't close the deal with their normal prey due to injury, illness, or infirmity.

Corbett believed that the Rudraprayag leopard probably developed a taste for humans during a period of plague and drought. The local Indians couldn't spare the wood to cremate their dead, so they put burning embers in the mouths of their dead and pitched them off a cliff. The leopard, it is theorized, discovered this stockpile of man flesh and decided that they were good eating. From that point forward, it was ON.

"[Leopards] drive tent-peg size fangs into your neck and rip open your
tender belly with windmilling rear claws while their foreclaws hold you in place
and they call you dirty names in leopardese."

The Rudraprayag leopard still carried on with eating its usual diet of goats and deer and whatnot, but the enterprising cat also killed and ate more than its share of women and children. Unlike crocodiles, whose Kill Zone covers the river/human interface, leopards have an unlimited Kill Zone - they can show up anywhere, and often do. They're practically invisible in the sun-dappled underbrush and are totally silent - until they spring into action. Then you are screwed. They drive tent-peg size fangs into your neck and rip open your tender belly with windmilling rear claws while their foreclaws hold you in place and they call you dirty names in leopardese.

Only two people were attacked by the Rudraprayag leopard and lived to tell about it. Everyone else died. Corbett tried everything to stop it, ranging from bear traps to tripwire shotgun traps to baiting the cat with live animals to lacing dead animals with poison. He was stalked and nearly killed on several occasions by his nemesis, and at one point Corbett had to take a vacation to get his jangled nerves together. All the while, the residents of the Rudraprayag region and the pilgrims who had to pass through lived in abject fear of this unkillable boogeyman.

Corbett ultimately sorted the Rudraprayag man-eater out, and the old cat measured a full seven foot and six inches. It had teeth worn from old age, a mouth blackened from ingesting the poison that could not kill it, and scars from various close calls and battles with other cats. It was an old leopard, but still magnificently powerful - it had taken down adult cows as well as full grown humans.

What about lions? Or tigers? Sharks? Jaguars? Already this post stretches too long to discuss any of these man-eaters at length. Sure, these animals don't hunt and eat humans by default, but each of them has been known to chow down on homo sapiens when the local conditions are right.

Let's just look briefly at lions. The most famous man-eating lions, the Tsavo lions, devoured up to 135 railway workers during the latter part of the 19th century before they were killed by Lt. Colonel JH Patterson. This man-eating team were dubbed The Ghost and The Darkness, and a mediocre film was made about them in 1996. After serving some time as Patterson's floor rugs, the lions are now on display at the Chicago Field Museum of Natural History. It's speculated that the natural food supply of the Tsavo lions may have dried up and the pair learned to appreciate human flesh by dining on the inadequately buried bodies of railway workers. Through trial and error they taught themselves how to hunt man.

The Tsavo lions were not anomalies, however. A pride of lions in Tanzania taught themselves how fun and easy it was to hunt people. Three generations of lions in the pride developed the skill and aptitude for man-eating, and ultimately the threat to the local populace was ended when the entire pride was wiped out.

Even today lions go after humans in Africa. According to researchers, "Between August 2002 and April 2004 a man-eating lion killed 35 people and injured at least nine in a 350 square kilometres area along the Rufiji River." It appears that Tanzania is still one big Kill Zone under the right circumstances. All it takes is one lion with a tooth ache or a festering thorn or the proper role model and the curtain lifts once again on the ages-old drama of man vs. scary animal.

There are some who may read this and feel uneasy with the idea of man killing animals under any circumstances or feel that the depiction of certain predators as man-eating monsters makes it that much easier to hunt and kill them. Fair enough. I for one think it's incredibly cool that there are still places on the planet where humans are not Lords of the Earth, where if you don't tread carefully you may end up getting eaten.

Of course, that's easy for me to say here in my warm home outside Seattle. I don't have to think twice when I go get food for my family or even step outside for a minute to look at the stars. It's an inescapable fact that for loads of people in the world, man-eating animals aren't some romantic notion but a very real part of their daily lives. Even today.

And that, my friends, is real TERROR! Believe it!

*I totally can't back this number up, it's just a rough estimate. Hey, if you want scientific accuracy you shouldn't be reading a blog.