mike sterling's progressive ruin

Saturday, November 05, 2005

The Archie gang is sorry. Sorry like you wouldn't believe. 

from Jughead #192 (May 1971)

Jughead is the one they're being sorry at, in case you're wondering where he is.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Snuggles, the emotional development of Superman, and more scary Swamp Thing stuff. 

An exchange with a customer I had a on Thursday:

Me: "I'm a seething cauldron of rage."

Customer: "You? You're a seething cauldron of snuggles!"

Sigh. I am imposing to no one.

Also, following my aborted attempt at rapping, new employee Pope Nathan informed newer employee Nicknameless Aaron that my rhymes were far too phat to bust.

Yeah, that's the kind of day we were having.

During another conversation I was having with Nathan and Aaron that day, we were discussing the bizarre, seemingly inconsiderate and insensitive behavior of Superman, Batman, and other characters in stories from the '50s and '60s. I noted that it's not so much that they were supposedly inconsiderate, as, since these comics were aimed at children, all the characters (heroes, villains, supporting cast) were written as children, with childlike motivations and emotional responses. Probably an obvious point, but not one I ever articulated, or considered, until yesterday.

As Nathan noted, it's kind of frightening to think of someone with powers like Superman with the emotional development of an eight-year-old.

People seemed to like my "Ten Scary Swamp Thing Moments" post (and thanks to Johanna for saying such nice things about it) and, as I'd hoped, people chimed in with their own favorite moments.

One people mentioned is the sequence from Alan Moore's initial Arcane story, where Arcane had possessed Matt Cable, and the "just say 'uncle'" revelation of his true identity of Matt's wife, Arcane's niece Abby. I was tempted to include that, but my list was Arcane-heavy as it was, and the two page splash of "Matt," his damned-soul pals, and the color-overlay of Arcane was too big for me to easily scan. That whole issue (#29 of the second Swamp Thing series) was darned creepy, as Abby slowly puts together what's wrong with Matt, and just who his coworkers are. One of my favorite bits of that issue is the panel of Matt and Abby sleeping together in bed, and Matt's reflection in the mirror is that of a corpse. And I believe the whole incest thing, of Arcane being intimate with his own niece, is one of the reasons the Comics Code passed on this issue. Well, that and the big freakin' two-page zombie splash.

Oh, "SPOILERS," by the way.

Craig mentions the sequence where Swamp Thing discovers the paperwork explaining his true origin (that he was never Alec Holland at all, just a plant that thought it was Holland...it makes sense in context, honest) and his reaction to General Sunderland's frightened query of "like it?" That really is a terrifying sequence, as this is the first time that we, as readers, who are sympathetic to the Swamp Thing's plight, actually see Swamp Thing as a monster. Man, I don't even need to open the comic to see those jagged panels, that extreme close-up of Swamp Thing's face as he's screaming in rage. That probably should have been on the list.

I also almost included Polite Scott's mention of the Monkey King, a creature from Jack Kirby's Demon series that makes a return appearance in Alan Moore's ST run. The sequence of the different fears that it forms, mentioned by Scott, are indeed scary, but I remember getting bit of a chill when we first see the Monkey King in its normal form: just a small, white monkey, looking up at you. Don't know why it bothered me like that, but it did.

There's another bit that I probably should have mentioned, since it's one of the first things I think of when I ponder that period of Swamp Thing...those latter Marty Pasko issues, just before Moore took over, with Steve Bissette and John Totleben on art. Those insanely horrifying monsters that are randomly attacking Swamp Thing and his pals, that we later find out are creations of Matt Cable's mind...I'd not seen bizarre monsters like that in comics before, and they really stuck themselves in my brain. (And, on a related topic...when we see Cable in that same issue, whom we haven't seen since the original '70s series, drunken, unshaven, slurring his words. Very upsetting.)

Anyway, thanks for your contributions, folks...it makes me want to pull the comics out of the vast Mikester Comic Archives and read them again, for like the two-dozenth time. And if you haven't read them yourselves...do yourself a favor and check them out! Yes, even you, Kitty!

Thursday, November 03, 2005

New comics day shenanigans. 

This was my first new comics day in quite a while without pal Dorian helping out, which means I was a little more swamped than usual. The new guys (Pope Nathan, and Nicknameless Aaron) are working out fine, but they don't know the ins-'n'-outs of new funnybook day yet, so on top of the duties I had, I also had to cover some of the responsibilities Dor used to have as well. One of those things Dor did was rearrange the new comics racks to accommodate the new arrivals...that's something I used to do before Dor worked here, but apparently I'm a bit out of practice. It didn't seem like it was this difficult before!

Holy crud, I had too many books come in that I wanted to buy:

1. Simpsons Comic Book Guy's Book of Pop Culture - As a funnybook seller, I have a special affinity for the Comic Book Guy character. I would say "there but for the grace of God go I," but I'm not out of the woods yet. This book, including articles on running a comic book store, and a day in the life of Comic Book Guy, would appear to make big chunks of my site here redundant. At the very least, I need to put off reading it at least until I finish my next article for Comic Book Galaxy (which shares initials with Comic Book Guy...coincidence?).

2. Showcase Presents Jonah Hex - Ah, finally. I've been pushing for a reprint of Jonah Hex comics for a while now (under Jan. 11), so I'm glad we finally got 'em. It looks great in black and white, as I thought it would. On a related note, we can't keep the Metamorpho and Superman Showcase books in stock. Green Lantern just kind of sits there, though...which is a shame, since the Gil Kane art looks great in B&W.

3. Complete Peanuts Vol. 4 - I don't know what to say about this book that I haven't said already. It looks spectacular, it's a classic strip at the peak of its form...if you don't love this comic, you're dead to me, dead, I say.

4. Invincible Vol. 5: Facts of Life - Just plain ol' superhero fun. It's the extra sketchbook pages that keep me buying this series as trades instead of single issues...and the comic is more satisfying in larger chunks, anyway.

Other new comics day notes:

The first customer of the day asked me why Powers #14 had a $3.95 cover price, since it didn't seem any thicker than normal. I had no idea, and wasn't expecting a price increase...and it was invoiced at $2.95. I called Diamond to confirm (just to make sure we wouldn't get a note next week saying "hey, you know those Powers comics you were selling at $2.95? They actually were supposed to be $3.95, so we're charging you the extra amount this week. Hope you didn't sell too many at the wrong price!"), and yes, it was a typo on the cover. I wonder how many copies were sold nationwide at the $3.95 price?

Another surprise was getting a second helping of Seven Soldiers: Klarion #4, which we already received previously. According to our distributor rep, these are replacement copies for the previous issues which were misprinted. A side-by-side comparison shows no obvious printing errors, beyond the colors in the newer books being slightly richer. Was it just the coloring? The rep didn't know, and I didn't catch anything on the comics news sites about it (not that I look at them much, anyway). Any of you folks know?

And hey, while that Marvel Team-Up #14, teaming corporate movie/toy tie-in Spider-Man with the creator-owned Invincible was kinda neat, I don't imagine Invincible's creators are going to be too happy with the fact that the copyright information says nothing about Invincible not being a Marvel character. Maybe there's a gentleman's agreement behind the scenes regarding this, but the indicia does clearly state "all characters featured in this issue and the distinctive names and likenesses thereof...are trademarks of Marvel Characters, Inc." Maybe we can look forward to "Stan Lee Presents Invincible #1" soon. Or maybe they'll just rename Gravity. (Oh, relax...that was just a joke there, Sparky.)

Seven Soldiers: Bulleteer #1 - People complain about apparent sexism in comic. Fans of comic defend against allegations, stating writer knows what he is doing regarding point he's making. Original complainers state that fans of writer are groupthinkers, blindly defending everything he writes. Fans of writer call complainers chowderheads. And so on.

Liberality for All #1 - I don't know what to say about this comic that this synopsis doesn't already cover. It's almost like poetry. (Hey, Dad, if you're reading this...click that link. You'd probably get a kick out of it.)

House of M #8 - So was that an intentional slam against DC's Identity/Infinite Crisis in there, or am I reading too much into it? (The bit about magic not being able to remove a memory.)

Donald Duck & Uncle Scrooge: Somewhere in Nowhere - There's a piece of personal correspondence in here from Carl Barks, shortly before his passing, and it's just sad to read. He still seemed mostly on the ball, with some thoughts about the internet's impact on comics, but his note that he wasn't interested in studying another cartoonist's work because he doesn't draw anymore...well, that depressed me. I realize that at nearly a century old, he probably had his fill of drawing, but still, sad. He didn't care for Pokemon, either, apparently.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

The Least Scary Swamp Thing Moment. 

from Super Friends #28 (January 1980) by E. Nelson Bridwell, Ramona Fradon & Vince Colletta

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

I've written a lot on this site over the last week or two, and hopefully one or two of you have read what I cranked out here...but today, just some linkage, to give myself (and you!) a break:

So a lot of you saw this
Monet Does Swamp Thing Photoshop contest entry at Worth1000, and immediately thought of me, judging by the number of e-mails I received telling me about it.

But you know what the sad part is? Before I received a single e-mail about it, my Swamp Thing-sense had already taken me right to that page. I had even downloaded the image for use as a desktop picture (or "wallpaper," to you Windows-ites).

That doesn't mean "stop sending the Swampy links," by any means. You see anything Swamp Thing-related that perhaps I may not have seen, pass the link along, by all means!

I've been meaning to point you folks in his direction for a while, but Scott Saavedra posted several pencil sketches over a five-day period (which you can see here, here, here, here, and here). Good stuff...go check it out.

"The monsters look nasty, but artist Bernie Wrightson says they are fun to draw"

Interesting news bit from that interview: Wrightson is working on a revival of the '90s cartoon Biker Mice from Mars, and is redesigning the main characters.

"One mess begat another: confusion reigns supreme in the latest DC Comics debacle"

"I couldnt resist buying Infinite Crisis, DCs new piece of crap. I read it with mixed feelings [...] Throughout most of the story I was lost, but it ends in such an unexpectedly memorable way that it suggests that DC may be ready to pull its head out of its ass."

Monday, October 31, 2005

Ten Favorite Scary Swamp Thing Moments. 

Now this is hardly a definitive list...perhaps all of these aren't the absolutely scariest moments from Swamp Thing, but these are the ones that have stuck in my head all these years. There are a lot more on top of these as well...I could easily have done 100 scary moments, most of which would have been with Arcane, but I think this is a pretty good variety of choice creepy scenes.

Needless to say, SPOILERS ahead:

Arcane opens his big mouth one too many times (Swamp Thing #10, May/June 1974, by Len Wein and Berni Wrightson):

After his apparent death in Swamp Thing #2, the mad scientist Arcane has returned in his misshapen, reconstructed body, intending to possess Swampy's body and use its power to conquer the world! Fighting on a forgotten slave graveyard in the middle of Louisiana swampland, Arcane's repeated claims that he's going to "enslave" the world and be its "master" wakes the spirits of the departed slaves, who exact a terrible and deserved punishment on Swampy's arch-nemesis.

Swamp Thing casts out a demon (Saga of the Swamp Thing #12, April 1983, by Marty Pasko and Tom Yeates):

Swamp Thing had been tricked: the young girl he'd been protecting was in fact harboring a powerful demonic force, which has since taken over Swampy's body. However, as the captions tell us:

"Something struggles beneath the misshapen surface that is Alec Holland: a will to live. For what else could have kept him alive this long, against so many odds?"

And thus, through his own sheer force of will, Swamp Thing casts the demon out of his own body. Corny? Sure, but 22 years after its initial publication, that scene still sticks with me.

Swamp Thing turns into a big jerk (Swamp Thing #168, July 1996, by Mark Millar, Phillip Hester and Kim DeMulder):

Swamp Thing was already Earth's plant elemental, a champion of the Green. However, at this point in his ongoing evolution, he had also gained mastery over the other elemental powers of the world: fire, water, air, stone...making him the most powerful and dangerous creature on the planet, his sympathy for humanity long gone. This becomes readily apparent when Arcane (yes, Arcane, seeking his own salvation) tries to appeal to Swamp Thing's better nature by reminding him of his wife, Arcane's own niece, Abby -- Swamp Thing's great love. Swampy's response? "She was the one with the long white hair, right?"

Judith turns into a bird (Swamp Thing #48, May 1986, by Alan Moore and John Totleben):

Well, yeah, that's pretty much what happens. Judith is one of John Constantine's "army" of assistants, invading the caves of the Brujeria, who plan to wage war on Heaven. However, Judith betrays Constantine, promised wonders by the Brujeria is she just does their bidding. And as part of that bidding, the Brujeria...well, turn her into a bird, basically, in order to carry the message to begin the war. Part of the creepiness of this scene is that the transformation is mostly off-panel, with the occasional shot of intermediary steps of Judith's changes, as the Brujeria provide narration:

"To commence, you must let the new legs grow down from the stump of the throat. They will scratch and hurt as they push through...."

Demons are just plain mean (Swamp Thing #144, July 1994, by Mark Millar, Phillip Hester and Kim DeMulder):

Swamp Thing is on the run, disguised as a human (his old, deceased, friend Matt Cable), and at the lowest point of his despair, Father Kelly arrives to lend him some support. Who is Father Kelly? A good and kind priest, dragged bodily into Hell to remove his positive influence on the community around him...thus tipping the world's balance closer to evil. Father Kelly was let out of Hell for an hour, supposedly in answer to his prayers that he be allowed to help Swamp Thing...but after he's sent back, the demon reveals to Swampy that he was only released to make Kelly's suffering worse, by giving him a brief taste of freedom. It's such a despairing view, that good people would be allowed to suffer in Hell, with no hope of reprieve, through no fault of their own. Upsetting stuff.

Swamp Thing gets all Lovecraftian on us (Swamp Thing #8, Jan/Feb 1974, by Len Wein and Berni Wrightson):

A secret horror lurks beneath the city of Perdition, a horrible, tentacled mass (called "M'nagalah") that tells Swamp Thing that it created life on Earth, gave man the ability to do violence, and, having been brought to Earth against its will from the distance place in the stars where it lived, it seeks to build sufficient mass in order to rise to power when the cosmos is aligned to the perfect position. C'mon, this is Lovecraft all over...he's even name-dropped in the story, for Pete's sake.

Makes one wish Wrightson did more with the Cthulhu Mythos stuff. Oh, and M'nagalah returns during Swampy's Challengers of the Unknown tenure in the late '70s, as well as in the '90s Trenchcoat Brigade mini-series.

It's not the Winchester House, we swear (Swamp Thing #45, February 1986, by Alan Moore, Stan Woch and Alfredo Alcala):

This is a simpler scene, taking place in the Cambridge House, a house when the heir to the Cambridge Rifle fortune insisted that construction on the house never be stopped in order to keep the spirits of the weapon's victims at bay. Of course, the project was long since abandoned, and, this being a Swamp Thing comic, there are ghosts all over the place...and in one room are two gunslingers having got into a shooting match over a game of cards. After a while, there's not much left of the bodies....

Roy Raymond returns to comics (Swamp Thing #69-#74, Feb-July 1988, by Rick Veitch and Alfredo Alcala):

Television show host Roy Raymond is in his limo, complaining to his assistant Lipchitz that he needs something spectacular to get his show back on top on the heap again. At the same time, Swamp Thing, having abandoned his role as the Green's protector, has wreaked havok on Earth, with new, flawed Swamp Things being generated as replacements. Raymond and Lipchitz encounter one such flawed creature, and Raymond becomes convinced that this is what he needs to make a splash.

Oh, splashes are made, but not what they were planning. The creature takes control of the limo, trapping Raymond and Lipchitz in the back, and over the next few issues we watch as the situation deteriorates...every last bit of food and drink is consumed, Raymond is delirious, cutting TV deals on a phone that doesn't work, and the floor of the limo is flooded with human waste. Grotesque, horrible, sadistic, and just a tad bit dark-humored...Rick Veitch's forte.

Arcane possesses Matt Cable (Saga of the Swamp Thing #27, August 1984, by Alan Moore, Steve Bissette, and John Totleben):

Matt Cable, who has a problem with the drink, finds himself almost certainly mortally injured in a car wreck. Upside down, bleeding to death, he finds himself face to face with...a giant yellow fly. At this point, we don't know who the fly is or where it came from...but c'mon, we know it's Arcane. He's returned from Hell, and needs a human body to work his evil in the mortal world. Particularly Cable's body, what with his strange powers given to him from secret scientific experiments...which will give you the powers, as you all know.

And there's only one way for the fly to get into Cable's body...now, perhaps you've accidentally swallowed a plain ol' regular fly before, by accident. It's really gross, you cough and you choke, and you're just plain ol' disgusted, since you know for a fact that fly was just on some dog poop mere minutes ago. And that's just a tiny little thing. Now imagine swallowing a foot-long fly, especially one that's talking to you the whole time. Ew, ick.

Swamp Thing encounters Arcane in Hell (Saga of the Swamp Thing Annual #2, 1985, by Alan Moore, Steve Bissette, and John Totleben):

Arcane has been defeated by Swamp Thing, his evil soul sent back to the hell from were it came. However, Arcane has had a measure of triumph, as he had cast his niece Abby's soul down to hell previously, leaving Swamp Thing no choice but to go to hell himself to retrieve it. While there, he encounters his old enemy, his body massively swollen with hatching insect eggs. As Swamp Thing turns to continue his search for Abby's soul, Arcane cries out "how many years have I been here?" Swampy's reply, delivered, it seems, with no small measure of satisfaction:

The other entries in this list weren't in any particular order, but this scene is the one that sticks with me the most, which is in my opinion the most scary and disturbing sequence in the whole of Swamp Thing's many issues.

Any favorite scary Swampy scenes of your own? Drop 'em in the comments section...I'd love to see them.

Happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 30, 2005

So long to Dorian. 

So yes, it's true, pal Dorian has left the building. He's no longer selling funnybooks for a living (though I think I've managed to cajole him into being our "manga consultant," since I barely know my shojo from my josei), and we're going to miss him around here. He was a good worker, and more importantly, he was a good friend.

"Is a good friend," I mean. He's not dead...yet. And yes, he's still going to be doing his site, so don't worry! (Though he and I did toy around with the idea of creating a fake "feud" between the two of us, but, eh, I'm old and don't have the energy for it.)

And saying "so long" to Dorian put me in a nostalgic mood, thinking back to the other employees we've had at our funnybook establishment:

NATHAN: This is the original Nathan, not the newly-arrived Pope Nathan...my primary memory of him is that he seemed to know everything about the Warhammer line of tabletop wargames (this was back in the day when we still sold gaming products...we sold off that part of the business a couple years back). Also, he seemed to have a lot of lady friends who brought him food on a regular basis.

JOSH: Now, after Josh left employment with us, I knew about his standing-in-line-for-Star-Wars shenanigans, but imagine my surprise when I found out he was on Amazing Race 4 with his pop. Holy cow. But as for an actual store memory of him...God help me, I know you're reading this, Josh, and I'm very, very sorry, but my most vivid memory of you from the shop is Greg picking you up and lifting you over his head. Again, I'm sorry. Oh, that, and your Wolverine tattoo. (You can visit Josh's site at Weezerandgeezer.com.)

GREG: Yes, the same Greg that hoisted Josh into the air and spun him around like a propeller. That Greg. He was also a stand-up comedian, an actor, and a bouncer at a local bar...that last one coming in handy late one night. Greg was in charge of our games department, and occasionally had late night Magic: The Gathering gaming sessions with several customers. During one such session, someone tried to break into the computer store next door, shattering the front window. Little did the burglar know that the largest man in Ventura County happened to be working late at the nearby comic shop. Hearing that noise, Greg charged out, tackled the guy, and kept him pinned until the police arrived. Yes, we had our very own superhero working for us. Cool, huh? (You can see what Greg's up to at Merrymisfits.com.)

SEAN: So one day, Sean and I were talking about something or the other, and Sean's response to something I said was "man, you're so bad!" My immediate reply was "I'm so bad, I should be in detention," which blew Sean's mind, since of all the people he expected to be quoting Anthrax lyrics at him, I was at the bottom of that list, given my usual boring, vanilla demeanor. Also, Sean is responsible for introducing us to the circle game, for which he will pay dearly, oh yes. (Visit his occasionally-updated webpage at Flesh-head's Treehouse.)

COREY: Corey was our back-room gnome, working a day or two a week to try to keep the storage area in order. We're good friends, so naturally we give each other an enormous amount of grief. I think my favorite bit was when he was up in the front of the store asking me about something, and someone riding by on a bike shouted something incredibly vulgar, along the lines of "C*********G B***H!" Right after, I said to Corey "hey, I think your mom's here."

Don't worry, he gives as good as he gets. Oh, yeah. (You can see what Corey is up to at Captain Corey.)

RACHEL: Rae was (and still is) a charming, intelligent, and charismatic young woman, and was liked by all our customers. In fact, one or two customers may have liked her just a little too much, necessitating a series of secret code phrases between the two of us in case I needed to get her out of an uncomfortable situation. Okay, we only needed to do that once or twice, and she was amused by it, so it's no big deal.

She also had a pet snake named (if I recall correctly) Jezebel. Neat.

ROB: Ah, yes, Rob. My old high school buddy. He hasn't worked here in years, but customers still ask how he's doing. In a strange turn of events, after leaving the store, he moved out of town, then out of state, and now he's married and lives just down the block from our shop. Go figure.

My favorite memory of Rob from the store was when he had to go on the roof to adjust the store sign. While he was up there, a customer of ours came in and asked me "hey, why is Rob pantsless on the roof?" Now, knowing this particular customer, he probably was joking, but it says something about how people see Rob (even someone who knew him as well as I did) that the possibility did exist that he was on the roof with no pants.

Rob was also the instigator of the local mini-comics concern Full Frontal Harvey (discussed here), and was in a handful of bands (including local legends, Phooey). He currently has a small pet dog named Jon Benet. Yeah, I know.

(EDIT) KID CHRIS: Can't believe I almost forgot about him. Well, you can look through my entries over the last year or so and get your fill of Kid Chris stories. He did pop in on Saturday to say hello, and tell us what classes he's taking ("History of Rock 'n' Roll" and "Theoretical Geography"). Go visit his site, which he may update again someday.

AARON: Actually, we just hired him. He's the "Fake Dorian," even though those are some big gay shoes he's gonna have to fill. Yeah, that's right, Dorian made his job so much his own that "being gay" is now one of the requirements. Hope he likes showtunes.

All joking aside, we are going to miss Dorian around the shop, though I know we'll still see him around...he's still gotta get his new funnybooks, after all. So, Dorian, good luck to you, and you know I wish you well. "Vaya con pollos," my friend.

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