Sunday, June 28, 2009

OMG, Billy Mays just died!

I just found out from CNN that Orange Glo pitchman Billy Mays was found dead at his home in Tampa, Florida, this morning -- just a few days after I poked fun at him in a Green Lantern article.

Okay, now I feel really bad.

Now THIS is a thing of beauty

The new Museum Replicas Limited catalog showed up yesterday! I absolutely love getting this catalog -- it's so much more fun to go through than the Web site. Primarily, it contains quality, functional replicas of (mostly European) historic armaments -- and, oh, they are gorgeous. I took fencing in college, so I'm a total sucker for their replica rapiers, in particular, and also their Scottish Claymores. They also sell period costuming, though I question the authenticity a bit since my friend Georgette -- an expert on historic garments -- tends to get bent out of shape whenever I show her a Museum Replicas catalog ("That's NOT how a Surrey Chemise would have been constructed!").

In addition to period weapons and clothing, Museum Replicas tends to carry a lot of items from science fiction and fantasy films, comics, etc. Case in point: check out this life-sized, wearable, classic Thor's helmet:

As I say in my header, it is a thing of BEAUTY. Too bad it's so darned expensive. Museum replicas also carries an Iron Man helmet and a Magneto helmet (from the films), and Thor's hammer, amongst other things.

Then there's the stuff from Frank Miller's 300:

Leather briefs. Oh. My.

As I said, though, I like the rapiers. I want the Grantham Rapier REALLY BAD:

Pretty, pretty, pretty.

So, how good are the weapons? Well, I can't exactly use the rapiers for fencing -- they ARE real swords, well made, well balanced, and highly dangerous. I got my brother a Zatoichi (walking stick) sword for Christmas one year, and it was suprisingly well made -- there was no way the blade was separating from the wood any time soon.

We DO have a German battle mace, originally from the catalog, that's seen better days. In the midst of a bathroom remodel, we decided to use it during the demolition to see how would handle the punishment. It did just fine on the tile, drywall, and sheetrock -- that mace pounded them into powder without getting a chip or dent. THEN we made the mistake of hitting a wall stud. The mace handle actually BENT. I guess maces weren't meant for taking out wood beams. Oops.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Farewell to a talented and troubled native son

It’s like the death of Elvis all over again.

When Elvis died, it was rather significant to Hoosiers due to the fact that he performed his last concert in Indiana – in Market Square Arena, in downtown Indianapolis, June 26, 1977. Sadly, Market Square Arena no longer exists. The site where it stood is now a parking lot, though it contains a small memorial to Elvis in one corner.

Michael Jackson’s death is significant to Hoosiers because he was from Indiana, along with all of his brothers and sisters. Indiana has a long history of turning out popular singers, musicians, and songwriters, some controversial, ALL influential: The Hoosier Hot Shots; Hoagy Carmichael; Cole Porter; Crystal Gale; John Mellencamp; Ken “Babyface” Edmonds; David Lee Roth; Axyl Rose; John Hiatt; and, most recently, Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band -- just to name a few. However, NO singer from Indiana has been more influential, or controversial, than Michael Jackson. Of all the other singer/musicians from Indiana, only his sister Janet comes close to approaching the impact he had, for good or ill, on popular culture.

Growing up in Indiana, I could never escape the Jacksons, or so it seemed. They always seemed to be everywhere in the local media. If they weren’t having a concert at the Pepsi Coliseum or Market Square Arena, they were on TV – variety shows, talk shows, even their own Saturday morning cartoon show. OR, they were on the radio. ALWAYS. They even had a hit song about Indiana –- “Going Back to Indiana.” I heard that song all the time while I was growing up.

I was never a fan of Michael Jackson. I liked him fine, but I was always more of a rock (and blues) listener than a pop listener. I also had a preference for bands as opposed to individual performers. During the 1980s, when Michael Jackson’s popularity was at its peak, I did my best to ignore the whole phenomenon and bury myself in the blues. Even so, I couldn’t quite escape Mr. Jackson. He was EVERYWHERE. For a brief time, there was even a rumor that the governor of Indiana was trying to get permission to produce state license plates with Jackson’s image on them.

Related to all this, there have, admittedly, been quite a few celebrity encounters during my life. I’ve had to work with a few famous people to shepherd their books through my companies’ publishing processes. For the most part, they don’t impress me, and I just try to maintain bland working relationships with them. To me, they’re only people who just happen to have jobs that put them in the public light. I also tend to have a very odd reaction when meeting famous people, one that I just can’t explain –- instinctively, I want to get as far away from them as humanly possible. Beats me why I have that reaction.

Before I worked in publishing, I met a few celebrities while working as an advertiser/promoter in Bloomington, Indiana, while I was in college at Indiana University. One of the most memorable encounters was with the late, great Vincent Price, in 1985. He was on a college tour at the time, giving lectures on the impact of villains in film. I was given the job of going over his itinerary with him while he was preparing for his lecture in Bloomington. Price was enjoying a surge in popularity at the time, thanks to his work on Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” album. I remember Price as a very polite and classy elderly gentleman, who was more than a little amused over all the attention he was receiving due to his association with Michael Jackson. Yes, even meeting legendary actor Vincent Price, I couldn’t get away from Michael Jackson.

Then there was my close encounter with Jackson himself. It was in 1987, in the middle of winter. Myself and a few buddies decided to spend a weekend in Chicago to get away from the college rut for a while. While there, we hit some shops around Water Tower Place, walking stubbornly through cold, howling winds and peeking in shop windows.

Suddenly, outside one shop, a bunch of minivans screeched into a nearby alleyway, and LARGE men wearing three-piece suits, sunglasses, and tennis shoes started piling out. We had no idea what was going on. For all we knew, it was the Chicago mob or something. We ducked into the shop to get away from them –- a shop that turned out to be a store devoted to very expensive and useless items, like gold-plated golf clubs and electronic toe massagers. There was no escaping the “mobsters,” however. They piled into the store after us, after which the store manager hurried to the front door and locked us all in.

Then, I turned around and found myself face-to-face with Michael Jackson, vintage 1987. He was wearing completely nondescript clothing topped with an ugly green parka. There I was, standing a mere foot away from the then-biggest superstar on the planet, and the only thing I could think was, “Damn, he’s SHORT.”

He also had a little blond boy with him. Read into that what you will.

My instinct to get away from the celebrity in question kicked in, and I nodded politely to Jackson and retreated to the back of the store, where my buddies were all standing and gaping at Jackson and his entourage. The shop window was filling with faces of people staring inside and pointing at Jackson. It was probably a good thing that the manager locked the front door, but how the heck were WE supposed to get out?

While Jackson looked around the store, I sidled up to the manager and asked if he could PLEASE let us out. He obliged us by shooing us out the back door, to a dirty alleyway. I felt greatly relieved to be out of there, but my friends were all shell shocked.

“We should have asked for his autograph,” said one. “No one will believe we ran into him.”

“Are you KIDDING?” said another, “or didn’t you notice all those THUGS with him?!”

Admittedly, for a while after that incident, I did kind of regret not asking Jackson for his autograph -– at least a little. That feeling of regret went away VERY quickly, though, as Jackson’s personal life -– along with its eccentricities and controversies -– started to overshadow his music. In addition to the controversies of his personal life, I remember feeling VERY angry at him, for various reasons, for acquiring the Beatles' song catalog.

Now Michael Jackson is gone, and just like when Elvis died, more controversies and more ugly rumors are erupting throughout the news. I can only hope that Jackson’s death also doesn’t spark the types of conspiracy theories that followed in the wake of Elvis’s death.

Perhaps now the Beatles' estates will be able to secure ownership of the Beatles song catalog. Who knows.

So far, here in Indiana, Hoosiers seem determined to remember Jackson a very specific way. Local radio stations are playing his music, but interestingly enough, it’s NOT his music from the 1980s but the music from his childhood, when he was a member of the Jackson 5 and electrifying crowds in performances at local arenas and county fairs. I heard the song “ABC” at least three times on my way to work this morning.

It remains to be seen how history will ultimately depict Michael Jackson. For now, in his home state, Hoosiers are conjuring the spirit of a very talented boy, one who influenced countless artists and musicians before being overwhelmed by the excesses and tragedies of celebrity adulthood. If history is kind to him, maybe in a few decades, the image of the talented little boy from Indiana is how Jackson will be remembered.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

And the power behind the orange rings is ... BILLY MAYS!

And here I used to think the Blue Lanterns were hilarious.

Well, okay, they're STILL hilarious, but thanks to Green Lantern #42, now I think the Orange Lantern(s) is MORE hilarious. Spoilers ahoy!

In the previous issue, Larfleeze chopped off Hal's hand in order to get the blue ring. In THIS issue, upon donning the blue ring, Larfleeze all of a sudden doesn't feel hungry anymore! However, that nice feeling proves to be fleeting, as the blue ring decides it likes Hal better and swiftly makes its way back to Hal -- and reattaches his hand, blue ring and all. Then Hal and Larfleeze get in a big ol' fight, and Hal decides, hey, maybe Larfleeze will lose his power if Hal can get his orange power battery away from him. Hal succeeds in getting ahold of the orange power battery -- and lo and behold, it starts talking to him like Billy Mays from an Orange Glo infomercial (click on the image to enlarge it for reading):

"Call today and you'll receive a 32-ounce bottle of original Orange Glo for the low, low price of $19.99! Plus we'll include this handy cleaning bucket ABSOLUTELY FREE! You get it all! Here's how to order!"

It's Billy Mays, I tell ya! The Green Lanterns have Ion, the Sinestro Corps have Parallax, and for the Orange Lantern(s) it's Billy Mays. (Either that, or the orange power battery is channeling classic game show host Bob Barker.)

As if that isn't funny enough ... I've been saying all along that the only thing Hal has to do to get rid of the blue ring once and for all is hope for something simple, like getting laid or just wishing for the blue ring to shut up and go away. Well, wouldn't you know it--!

"--I hope you stop asking me that question!"

And the blue ring says, essentially, "OKEE DOKEE!"

Hee, hee, hee, hee, hee, hee, hee! Stupid Blue Lanterns. Power rings have always accepted orders very literally, but this really takes the cake.

John Stewart isn't exempt from the fun. There's nothing like getting a big ol' smooth from an extremely dangerous arch enemy, even if she IS a cute girl:

Man, Fatality has DEFINITELY been brainwashed by the Star Sapphires. DEFINITELY. Still, John's experience with getting a little super-villain love is so far better than what Hal usually goes through.

And then there's THIS:

I could be wrong, but I do believe that's the first time in Green Lantern history that Hal's actually been whacked in the head with a power battery.

Okay, I'm gonna go back to my comics now, and continue chuckling gleefully. I LOVE it when super-hero comics are funny.

Monday, June 22, 2009

"I claim this desk in the name of the Earth!"

I finally returned to work today, after being out due to illness most of last week, and THIS was waiting for me on my desk:

Geez, miss just a few days of work, and Duck Dodgers tries to take over. That's what I get for being sick.

(Actually, some co-workers left the little figurine there as a joke. Buncha jokers, I tell you ...)

I need a Marvin the Martian to go with him!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Greatest Comic-Book Sound Effect in the History of the Universe

First, here's the setup: Captain Britain, Kitty Pryde, Ferro(2), and Bodybag (that's the big green lizard-thing) are examining the remains of Kitty's teddy bear, which Bodybag has just partially ingested:


Courtesy of Alan Davis and Excalibur #43, 1991.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Justice League: A Cry For Justice preview (It's a good thing Batman isn't around!)

This week readers of certain comics get a preview of the upcoming Justice League: A Cry For Justice series, in which Hal (Green Lantern) Jordan forms his own splinter group of the Justice League. For those of you who don’t already know this, Hal has been a Justice League leader before. His team was the JLE (Justice League Europe), consisting of Ralph and Sue Dibny, Wally West, Power Girl, Tasmanian Devil, Kimiyo Hoshi, and others. Quite frankly, the team was a disaster, with Hal’s leadership ending abruptly when he became Parallax. So, I’m a bit worried about how this new Justice League team is going to work out.

(My friend George refers to the JLE as Excalibur Lite – though I would argue that Nightcrawler was a much better leader of Excalibur than Hal Jordan was of the JLE.)

The preview begins thus: Hal and other Justice League members and former members are meeting in the satellite. Hal says:

(Now, why does that remind me of an old Twisted Sister song?)

Hal then starts talking about all the heroes who have died recently: Martian Manhunter, Batman, etc., etc. This gives Superman a golden opportunity to play the “Implied Dumbass” reply card for once in his life:

Hal then asks, what now? Superman replies that they start again, and do the right thing, blah, blah, blah: “I mean – isn’t that what we do?”

Hal looks around a bit, thinks about what happened to Bats, and THEN replies ...

Hal then goes on and on about how being “good” isn’t scaring the bad guys, that the bad guys are getting worse, that he’s tired of them picking off heroes one by one, that the Justice League doesn’t really stand for “justice” anymore, etc., etc., etc. Hal wants to track down the bad guys who keep doing horrible things to them, and bring them to justice, pure and simple.


Now, it’s a good thing Batman isn’t around, because he would no doubt be going off on Hal and accusing him of acting like Parallax again. As it is, Superman, Wonder Woman, and the others are acting ALL surprised – except for Ollie, who just keeps saying “Oh, boy” to Hal’s comments. When Dinah tells Ollie to quit saying “Oh, boy,” Ollie replies with:

“—things change.”

Oh, yeah, like Dinah doesn’t also know that about Hal. In fact, in some ways, Dinah probably understands Hal better than Ollie does. Still ...

NOW we have the setup for WHY Hal (with Ollie) forms a new Justice League team. I’m not sure I completely buy Hal’s reasoning – but, then, not many people do, do they? Oh, but we already know that Hal will succeed in convincing some heroes to join his side – including Supergirl, who probably can’t help herself because ... well ...

Yeah. That.

This Justice League series is gonna be REAL interesting.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Hal Jordan is the Bruce Campbell of the DC Universe

Seriously. Hal Jordan really is the Bruce Campbell of the DC Universe. Please consider the following, if you will:

Both are very handsome men, but one can’t take either of 'em TOO seriously.

Their weapons must also be fashion accessories.
Exhibit A:

Exhibit B:

They are men of action!
Exhibit A:

Exhibit B:

Any excuse to play cowboy ...!
Exhibit A:

Exhibit B:

Both appreciate a really good pompadore.
Exhibit A:

Exhibit B:

Bruce has fought really powerful and annoying zombies ...
... while Hal is ABOUT to fight really powerful and annoying zombies:
There’s that whole possessed-by-supernatural-critters thing ...
Exhibit A:

Exhibit B:

... not to mention that severed-hand thing.
Exhibit A:

Exhibit B:

(Here’s hoping Hal’s hand doesn’t actually end up attacking HIM –- though it would be funny, wouldn’t it?)

So, there you have it. Plus, if you think for one moment that Bruce Campbell has never been hit in the head... HA! AND, admittedly, neither Bruce nor Hal are exactly A-list in their respective universes (Hal can never quite get out of the shadows of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman -- and is only this summer getting his first solo [and animated] film) -- but OH how their fans adore them.

(Modest, ain't he?)

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Now, here's something you don't see every day:

Presenting, a brachiosaurus being hoisted by a crane (once you get past the ad, that is):

Well, sorta. The Children's Museum of Indianapolis (largest children's museum in the world) has been busy adding to the building, and yesterday installed two new, life-size Brachiosaur statues. My family is definitely planning to visit the museum once all of the new construction is done!

(Video courtesy of the Indianapolis Star.)

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Yes, Steve Martin can REALLY, REALLY play the banjo

At last, after years and years of wondering, I have the answer to an old question of mine: Is Steve Martin REALLY a decent musician? I always knew he was a gifted and endearingly goofy comedian and actor. I always knew he was a good writer –- copies of his books occupy one of the shelves in my house, and I absolutely love the movie Bowfinger. I also, always knew he had a lot of unusual, seemingly unrelated talents, including balloon twisting and playing the banjo.

Oh, that banjo! It was a constant presence in Steve Martin’s comedy routines earlier in his career. He always played it just long enough to make one suspect that, hey, maybe this guy really can play. But –- oh -– how frustrating that his playing was almost constantly interrupted in the name of comic effect. I just wanted to hear one complete song, played straight, with no interruptions or jokes. ONE SONG on that banjo.

Of course, there's long been a problem with banjos in public perception. In popular culture during the last few decades, banjo music has been unfairly cursed by the movie Deliverance and the joke born of it: “Row faster, I hear banjos!” In spite of that, I’ve always loved banjo music. I’m no expert on banjos by any means, but I’ve always loved the way they sound. Bluegrass, in particular -- that most banjo-friendly music -- has an almost otherwordly yet earthy sound. It seems determined to get people to relax and enjoy life’s experiences —- triumphs, heartaches, and everything in between.

So, imagine my surprise when, this morning, thanks to, I found out that Steve Martin has released an album of his banjo music: The Crow: New Songs for the Five-String Banjo. Apparently, the album has been available via for a few months now, but it’s only recently been released in regular distribution, including on CD. (I do download music on occasion, but I still prefer using CDs as my primary source for MP3 files. There have been too many instances where I lost music because a device failed on me -- so I’m more comfortable with the relative “permanency” of CDs.) I kid you not, I contacted THREE STORES during lunch today before I finally found a copy of the CD to purchase. All the other stores were sold out, with new orders pending.

(On a blog-related note: Weirdly enough, on 96th Street, while driving to the store, I saw a guy wearing a Green Lantern T-shirt -– young guy, in his twenties, running across the street toward the group of fast-food restaurants on the other side. Hey, mister --! If you ever read this, I just want to know: Are you a REAL Green Lantern fan, or do you just like to dress like you’re on Big Bang Theory?)

Anyway, I finally obtained a CD, got back to the office, loaded the CD into iTunes and my iPod, and ... oh, my.

YES, Steve Martin really does play well. AMAZINGLY well. This isn’t like one of those albums from a successful actor or athlete who decides one day to become a singer or a rap artist -– and then quickly proves that the desire may be there, but there’s no talent or training. No, Mr. Martin is GOOD. VERY good.

This is no comedy album (though the song “Late for School,” sung by Martin himself, is delightfully silly). It’s truly good music played by an accomplished banjo artist and an impressive array of musical pros -- Vince Gill, Dolly Parton, and Earl Scruggs, just to name a few. Mr. Martin also wrote all of the songs on the album (except one) himself, proving that his talent for writing isn’t limited to prose and dialog. The songs are a nice mix -- bluegrass/Irish, vocal/instrumental -- and from what I can tell via my third listen, there doesn’t seem to be a weak song in the bunch. They're played with such obvious joy and enthusiasm, though, that I don't think even a weak song would sound weak, anyway. I'm willing to bet this is an album any bluegrass artist would be proud to claim as his or her own.

I wonder why, when I first heard the opening song, “Daddy Played the Banjo,” tears came to my eyes? Maybe it’s because I have waited a long time to hear Steve Martin play -- I mean, REALLY play -- and it was even better than I hoped. Or maybe it's because this wonderful album came on the heels of a VERY trying couple of weeks at my publishing company. Or maybe it’s because the song itself is so lovely and wistful.

With that song in mind: YES, Mr. Martin -- a kid is listening to you right now. My tiny daughter is happily clapping her hands and hopping around the living room to your music, inspired to dance in that sweet, awkward way toddlers dance. Thank you for this album. THANK YOU.