Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Perils of Loving a Spider-Man Fan

Around our house, a sure-fire way of telling that summer is coming to a close and fall is just around the corner is the presence of bugs in the house. Without fail, every year at the end of August/beginning of September, once the nights begin to get uncomfortably cool for the insect and arachnid races, I start finding creepy crawlies in areas of the house where they are far from welcome. The garage seems to be particularly popular with spiders of all types. Mind you, I don’t have anything personal against spiders. I even like some of them. Orb weavers, in particular, are always welcome in my yard -- the webs they create are truly impressive and spectacular. However, they are NOT welcome in my house.

My husband and I both grew up reading comic books and graphic novels, and we still read them well into adulthood -- a guilty yet harmless little pleasure, to our minds. Super-heroes are our favorites, and we definitely have character preferences. My husband just happens to be a Spider-Man fan. Not only that, he is uncommonly kind to the creepy crawlies that make their way into the house. If Hubby finds a spider or a beetle crawling on a wall or lurking in the bathtub, he’s likely to scoop up the offending creature in a glass or rolled-up piece of paper and deposit it safely outside, instead of pounding the crawly into juice with a shoe or something (like most people are wont to do).

This August has been particularly bad (or good, depending on your point of view) for spiders. I recently spent a good portion of one Saturday evicting spiders of all sorts from the garage. When my husband entered the garage to investigate what I was doing, I told him, “This is all your fault, you know.”

“MY fault?” he asked.

“It’s because you’re a Spider-Man fan, and you’re too much of a softie,” I said. “You’ve rescued so many spiders from the house that word has gotten out in the arachnid community, and now they’re all trying to shack up in our house. I just know they tell each other, ‘Oh, it’s safe to move in there. The guy who lives there is a Spider-Man fan, and he loves us! He never hurts spiders!’”

“I just don’t see the point of killing a perfectly harmless spider that just happens to end up in the wrong place,” said Hubby defensively.

“Yeah, well, you’d just better hope a spider never ends up in the bed,” I replied.

Me and my big mouth.

The next night, oblivious to any potential dangers lurking in our domicile, Hubby and I settled in for the night. He sat up in bed with his nightstand light on, reading a book until he felt tired enough to turn off his light -- and, yes, he was reading a Spider-Man graphic novel. I had a stack of graphic novels on my nightstand as well, but I wasn’t reading -- I was ready to crash.

I shut off my nightstand light, rolled over ... and found myself face to face with a big ol’ spider. It stood on the edge of the mattress and just stared at me. I even know what kind of spider it was: It was a grass spider, which are pretty common in central Indiana. At that moment, though, I really didn’t care what kind of spider it was. All I comprehended was that it was in MY BED, and it was gonna pay.

Before my husband or the spider could react, I leaped out of the bed, seized the nearest book from my nightstand, and brought it down very hard and very repeatedly on the spider: WHAM! WHAM! WHAM! WHAM! WHAM! WHAM! WHAM! WHAM! WHAM! The poor spider probably never knew what hit it. It was pounded to oblivion in seconds. I then scooped up the remains in a facial tissue and deposited them in the waste basket. The whole time, my husband just stared at me in amazement.

“Your fault!” I told him. “I told you something like this would happen, Mr. Spider-Man Fan, Mr. Hero-of-Spiders-Everywhere!”

I was still holding the book that I’d used to pulverize the spider: Green Lantern Archives Volume 3. Hubby glanced at the book and then looked back at me and said, “Well, you’ll probably never find a spider in the bed again. Word’s gonna get out that spiders should stay out of the house because a Green Lantern fan lives here!”

Monday, August 27, 2007

Indianapolis Air Show! (11th Annual)

Pilots are nuts. I love ‘em to pieces, and they have by far the coolest jobs in the world, but they are absolutely nuts. I think you have to be at least a little nuts to do what they do for a living -- military or civilian. But there’s no doubt that pilots do what they do because they love to fly more than anything else in the world. And there was certainly plenty ‘o love-of-flying going on at the Indianapolis Air Show this past weekend.

I’ve been to several air shows, and this was a particularly good one. The Indianapolis Air Show comes to Mount Comfort airport (just outside the east side of Indianapolis) every year, rain or shine, and everyone who regularly attends swears that it gets better and better every year. Definitely, it is one of the best air shows in the USA, and it also helps to raise a great deal of money for charities.

My husband and I attended the show on Saturday, despite the fact that weather forecasters had issued warnings about scattered thunderstorms and other fun things. Yeah, well, this is Indiana, and Indiana weather has never been truly predictable. There was a tiny bit of rain Saturday, but certainly not enough to hamper the pilots (or the crowd) in any way. In fact, the pilots seemed to enjoy the weather. A good, steady breeze came out of the west through most of the day, and the pilots certainly took advantage of it -- especially those who had to fly the notoriously slow and heavy WWII-era bombers in the display of historic war planes. Planes and helicopters of all types, military and civilian, were on the ground and in the air, and it was a truly spectacular show.

On the ground, two planes that really caught my attention were the replica Wright B Flyer and the Red Bull MiG-17F. MiGs, for anyone who’s never seen one, are very small jets that look kinda like someone just stuck wings, a tail, and a cockpit on a very powerful jet engine and called it a plane. These babies were the terrors of the sky during the Cold War and the envy of pilots everywhere -- especially U.S. pilots who were unfortunate enough to find themselves combating them. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, many former Soviet planes, including MiGs, found their ways into the hands of U.S. pilots, many of whom say Soviet planes are amongst the most fun to fly.

The Red Bull MiG is meticulously maintained and happens to be brightly painted in the hues and logos of its sponsor -- though there’s also a hammer’n’sickle painted on the tail, in homage to the plane’s history.

While my husband and I gazed at the grounded plane, he shook his head and said, “It’s kinda sad, really.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Here you have this military plane, an arch-enemy of ours during the Cold War, and it’s now performing at U.S. air shows and covered with corporate logos,” he said. “They might as well paint ‘Capitalism Wins!’ across the side of the plane. It just seems -- I dunno -- undignified somehow.”

Undignified or not, when we saw that plane fly later in the day, it was a very impressive sight. Despite its age, the plane remains truly fast, manueverable, and powerful in the air, and it’s a very unusual plane to see in flight. It’s no wonder MiGs are often mistaken for UFOs. (Though anyone who thinks MiGs look weird should have seen the V-22 Osprey take to the air. Talk about a strange-looking plane!)

Then there was the Wright B Flyer, a replica of the Wright Brothers’ second plane. The replica was a bit sturdier and stronger than the original Wright B Flier, but it still came across as the “granddaddy” of the tarmac, parked there amongst vintage WWII fighters and other historic planes.

“So, how well does it fly?” my husband asked one of the pilots flanking the plane.

“Oh, it’s a real pig in the air,” said the pilot, who was wearing a TPS (Test Pilot School) jumpsuit. “But we flew it here from Dayton without too much trouble.”

“Flew it HERE?” my husband exclaimed. Clearly he didn’t think the plane looked capable of flying that distance.

“Oh, sure,” the pilot replied. Then, after giving the plane a look that was a cross between affection and disgust, he said, “We had to stop twice to refuel, though.”

Fun as it was to see all of the grounded planes, nothing beat seeing them fly. It’s always a treat to see the more unusual or vintage military planes in flight and marvel at the ingenuity that went behind creating them -- some of them look like they shouldn’t be able to fly at all! And, of course, it’s always fun to see the Blue Angels put on a show, buzzing the crowd and zooming around at speeds just short of hitting a sonic boom. My favorite planes, though, have always been bi-planes, and there were plenty of them at this year’s show. Nothing quite beats a bi-plane in sheer maneuverability.

For anyone who’s never attended an air show, I highly recommend them -- they are a lot of fun for adults and kids, and a great way to spend a day in the great outdoors. For information about next year’s Indianapolis Air Show, visit http://indyairshow.com/

Saturday, August 4, 2007

What ten comic books have influenced you the most?

I know a guy named George -- another adult who still reads comic books as much as he did as a child -- who recently asked, “Which ten comic books influenced you the most?” Apparently, George found a book in which the author listed what he thought were the 100 most influential comic books of all time, and George was curious to know which comics had influenced other comic book readers, including me.

“Influence” is a hard term to pin down. What kind of influence was George talking about? Comics that influenced me artistically? Socially? Psychologically? As it turned out, George's question pretty much covered "all of the above.” By ten comics, he also meant ten actual, separate comic book issues rather than ten stories, considering many comic book story lines run on for several issues.

I must admit, I thought it would be difficult for me to come up with a list of only ten comics, but when I sat down and thought about it, it really wasn’t difficult at all. There’s a huge difference between comic books that are influential and comic books that are favorites -- some of my favorites were influential, but not all that were influential were favorites. So, following is my list of the ten comics that influenced me the most, albeit in different ways. The comics are presented in the order in which I first read them, not in chronological order or order of preference. I encourage all readers who love comic books to think about the comics that had the most influence in their lives and to come up with their own lists:

1. Magnus Robot Fighter 4000 A.D. #8 (1964), “Havoc at Weather Control.” This comic came out just shortly before I was born, but an old copy made its way into my hands years later, in a stack of comics given to me as reading material for a family road trip. It was my introduction to comic book heroes, and to Russ Manning's artwork, and I love it to this day.

2. Batman #237 (1971), “The Night of the Reaper.” This was my introduction to Batman in print. Prior to then, Batman was known to me only through T.V. This story, written by Denny O’Neil and illustrated by Neal Adams, completely blew me away. Decades later, it’s still my favorite Batman story of all time.

3. Green Lantern-Green Arrow #83 (1971), “…and a Child Shall Destroy Them.” Another Denny O’Neil/Neal Adams collaboration. I could give a million different reasons why I love this comic book, but the most important reason to note here is that it made me a lifelong fan of Green Lantern, Green Arrow, and Black Canary -- the Hard-Traveling Heroes.

4. Adventure Comics #438 (1975), “The Spectre Haunts the Museum of Fear.” My first exposure to the Spectre -- and to horror comics in general -- and it scared me half to death. I loved it, though, and I fell in love with Jim Aparo’s early artwork, and with scary comics in general.

5. The Uncanny X-Men #101 (1976), “Like a Phoenix, From the Ashes!” I was one of the lucky kids to acquire this comic when it was first released -- my first exposure to the X-Men. Though it had Jean Grey’s first appearance as Phoenix, Nightcrawler would become my favorite X-Man and would remain so for many, many years. This comic also made me a lifelong fan of Dave Cockrum’s artwork.

6. Detective Comics #40 (1940). I didn’t actually have this comic book -- rather, when I was still a kid, my dad bought me a book called Batman from the 30’s to the 70’s, which contained a lot of old, reprinted comics, including this one. This story introduced the original Clayface, Basil Karlo, and incorporated a lot of elements that I loved at the time: Batman & Robin and old movies in a Phantom-of-the-Opera setting and a villain based on Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney, Sr. It made me appreciate stories from the Golden Age of comics.

7. Camelot 3000 #1 (1982), “The Past and Future King.” I’ve always loved Arthurian legends, and this was irresistible: A science-fiction story about King Arthur and his knights (or at least some of them) coming back to save Earth in the year 3000? I was soooo there; I was totally hooked on the mini-series from the first issue. It was my introduction to comics that had much more “adult” themes than what I was used to at the time.

8. ElfQuest #1 (1978), “Fire and Flight.” In college, my friend Georgette introduced me to her collection of ElfQuest comics. I came to love and adore ElfQuest, and I remained a fan up through ElfQuest: The Hidden Years (1992). The plotting and characters were extremely well done, and Wendy Pini’s art, though very “cartoony,” was endearing. ElfQuest was partly responsible for inspiring me to become a writer. (Georgette also introduced me to Jeff Smith’s Bone. Curse you, Georgette!)

9. Marvels #1 (1994), “A Time of Marvels.” The man who would then go on to become my husband introduced me to this comic. It was my introduction to the artwork of Alex Ross, and I loved it immediately. Though Alex Ross has since illustrated many other publications and produced many more paintings of characters I love, Marvels remains my favorite story that he’s illustrated so far.

10. DC: The New Frontier #1 (2004). I'd been absent from reading super-hero comics for nearly a decade when this one brought me creeping back. Darwyn Cooke’s vintage-style artwork and reverent approach to the story and characters were an irresistible combination. When the series showed a very young Hal Jordan, the future Green Lantern, meeting legendary pilot Chuck Yeager, I became completely engrossed in the story. I’ve been reading comics regularly, again, ever since.

HONORABLE MENTION: Spectre #27 (2003). DC: The New Frontier started me on a trend of picking up back issues to find out what had been going on with Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps over the last nine or ten years, and at the tail end of my "research" came the entire stack of Spectre comics covering Hal Jordan's time as the Spectre. I sat down and read the entire series in one night, without any expectations, and without any discomfort over the idea of science-fiction-hero Hal being forced into the horror-mystical-spiritual world of the Spectre. By the time I got to the last issue (#27), I was bawling my head off -- I loved it. I contacted artist Norm Breyfogle the next day and soon acquired from him four original page panels from issue #27. I also sent a note to writer J.M. DeMatteis to thank him for expanding my world view a little bit. I can't say that this comic has really affected a change in my overall behavior since I read it, but it is the only comic book that's ever made me cry.