Tuesday, September 2, 2014

COPS GONE WILD

Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces [PublicAffairs; $27.99] is the most terrifying book I have read this year. Award-winning investigative journalist Radley Balko has chronicled a law-enforcement movement that has been threatening our essential freedoms for decades. It is a deadly state of affairs that has been enabled by politicians from the left and the right, an insane chorus of “tough on crime” laws that, while they may play well to fearful, frankly ignorant voters, should be more properly deemed “stupid on crime.”

I wanted to say it started with Richard Nixon, as so many terrible things have done, but that would be inaccurate. Though he details the fears of the framers of our Constitution against the military as police, Balko doesn’t connect the dots to the larger historical truth that the haves are always seeking to limit the have nots or the “don’t have as much as me” Americans. This continues in our own time with corporations and big money setting the agenda for every election and the knowing and often successful attempts to suppress non-Republican and especially non-white voters. But I won’t fault Balko for not writing precisely the book I wanted.  The book he did write should be a wake-up call for all citizens.

Nixon was looking for an issue that would win him voters and ‘war on crime” was that issue. He played on the fears of the citizens. Drug offenders, even non-violent drug offenders, were characterized as rabid animals. By the power of rhetoric with the cooperation of politicians left and right, Nixon took small-time dealers and their customers and turned them into monsters.

Movies and TV aided the process. Though few drug-dealers were armed with anything other than handguns, and even that level of firepower was not a constant, our entertainment showed them armed with every conceivable weapon of war. A pulp fiction trope became a reality, if mostly in the imaginations of the citizens.

Balko shows the growth of the militarization of our police forces and the subsequent diminishing of individual rights. Greater and greater leeway was given to police by the politicians, the courts and the public. The federal government enabled this build towards a virtual police state by selling weapons of war to police forces who weren’t properly trained in their use and who had no real need for them. But, as the book points out on numerous occasions, when you’re holding a hammer, everything looks like a nail.  

Look in the mirror. You are that nail.

As you read this book, you’ll be horrified by the excessive use of force to serve warrants for non-violent crimes...by the uncertain evidence used to justify these military assaults...by the routine killing of family pets...by the numerous raids on the wrong houses and the effect on the innocent citizens caught in their wake...by the casual declarations that the invading force acted in a proper manner. These true believers of this insane “war on crime” live by the adage that you can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs.

Look in the mirror. You’re an egg.

I became physically ill when I saw how complacent President Obama, Vice-President Biden and other Democrats have been in a sociopathic process that does more damage than good and without consequence to those who commit and relish the damage. The Republicans are just as bad on this issue, but I guess I expected it from that side of the aisle. Who says the parties can’t work together?

What can be done? Start by writing letters to your leaders: city, state and national. Remove the weapons of war from the police work those weapons were never designed for. Break the police mindset of “us against them” and emphasize “to serve and protect,” even when breaking that mindset requires firings of police officers who cross the line. Stop targeting so-called criminals based on the financial inability of suspects to fight back against a legal system geared to be lenient to the rich and powerful.

I have been and remain a big supporter of our police. But, when the police can’t recognize that citizens are not “them,” when they have forgotten that we are all “us,” then they must face consequences, serious consequences, for their actions.

We will have their backs if they stop beating on ours.

ISBN 978-1-61039-211-2

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For reasons that escape me at the moment, I read Justice League of America’s Vibe #1-10 [DC Comics; $2.99 per issue). It should come as no surprise to my faithful readers - and I should not have held out hope otherwise - that this is yet another mediocre super-hero series from the DC pain-trust. Those guys really take that insane “no jokes” crap to heart.

Cisco Ramon gets his vibrational powers from standing too close to a boom-tube from Apokolips that seemingly kills his older brother Armando. If you immediately thought “My Brother, My Enemy,” you do understand your super-hero cliches. Vibe is filled with them from issue #1 cover to issue #10 back cover.

You’ve got your clandestine government agency in A.R.G.U.S. whose actions are questionable at best and villainous at worst. You have the new slim and sexy Amanda Waller because most DC artists can’t draw more than one female body type. You have murderous villains in the employ of the government. You have an inhuman prison for super-humans and visitors from other dimensions or worlds. You have the young hero rebelling against rotten authority, but positively eager to work with them to achieve his own ends...even if those ends pose a danger to our world. I’m glad about that because I wouldn’t want to like any character in this title. When I characterize the series as mediocre, I’m being charitable.

From a diversity standpoint, Vibe scores for keeping the character Hispanic, a general term I use because the writer never gets more specific than that. If I were writing Vibe, I would have probably made him a “Dream Child” because I like to use real-world stuff in my stories.

Amanda Waller is black. Vibe’s handler is black and gay. However, the new 52 version of Gypsy is no longer one of the Romani people. She’s from another dimension. Which makes me go “Huh?” when I look at her “traditional” gypsy outfit of a kind that likely hasn’t been worn by actual Romani woman in decades.

Characterization is present only in the broadest of terms because to create more realistic and therefore more interesting characters would get in the way of the endless action sequences. Today’s DC super-hero comics are about as deep as a puddle.

I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

© 2014 Tony Isabella

Monday, September 1, 2014

TONY'S TIPS #71

This week in TONY'S TIPS at Tales of Wonder...The Sakai Project, Usagi Yojimbo Color Special and Tarzan: Burne Hogarth's Lord of the Jungle.

THOSE PEOPLE ARE CRAZY

My life is filled with ridiculous coincidences. I sometimes think it’s the universe’s way of making sure I always have something to blog about. Case in point:

Saturday night, August 9. I had left PulpFest a day early because a reoccurrence of my gout made walking difficult and increasingly painful. From Columbus to Medina, it’s a two-hour straight shot on I-71. Halfway home, I pulled into one of the highway rest areas for a pit stop.

I wasn’t expecting an anecdote.

The men’s room is on the far side of the rest area. The doors are on the near side. I was walking towards the exit when two gentlemen entered the building. One of them did a double-take when he saw me. I got nervous.

Picture bearded bikers drawn by Jack Kirby. These guys were big and sturdy. They were wearing motorcycle club t-shirts. Both had guns clipped to their belts. The guy who did the double-take pointed at me and exclaimed:

“You’re that guy! That guy from Medina!”

Followed by:

“You’re that guy who was on the front page of The Gazette! The one who writes comic books and was against open carry.”

I was thinking this could not possible end well.

Until he said:

“My mom loves you! She gave me both of those articles on you! She was so excited to read about you. Heck, I probably read a bunch of your comics when I was a kid!”

His mom’s on the high side of 80. Reading The Gazette is one of her joys, as is giving clippings of various stories to her son. Whose job has him on the road half the time. When he visits his mom, she always has a stack of clippings for him. 

The biker guy told me he admired me taking such a stand against the open carry folks in Medina. Confused, I sort of pointed to the guns he and his friend were carrying.  He laughed.

“Nothing wrong with open carry if you’re not trying to scare folks around you. If you’re not just being a dick. But those open carry people in Medina? They’re fucking insane!”

He shook my hand because he wanted to tell his mother we’d met and he’d shaken my hand. He mentioned that he was planning to check out my blog when he got the chance.

If you’re reading this, my friend, the universe bless you and your mom. You’re good people.

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Welcome back to the bloggy thing, which has been less than rocking for a couple months. July ended up being one of the busiest months of my career with the work slipping into August. After PulpFest, I was dealing with minor medical and other annoyances while trying to relax as much as possible. Well, since that “relaxing” trick never works for me, I’m back to doing my best to bring you at least one new bloggy thing post a day.

My bloggy thing will continue to be a mix of comics reviews, movie reviews, political and social commentary, dewy nostalgia and stuff that catches my interest. Most of the time, I won’t know what I’ll be writing about much before you read it. I’d claim I was born to be wild, but the DNA test hasn’t come back yet.

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Saturday night was a special “night with my girls.” Daughter Kelly took Barb and I out to dinner at Fiesta Jalapeno, one of the best restaurants in Medina and a favorite of ours. Then, because Kelly wanted to see it, we ordered The Amazing Spider-Man 2 [Sony; 2014] on demand from our cable provider.

There are super-hero movies I won’t see until I can get them free from my local library system. I won’t pay to see DC Comics movies because a) the company hasn’t honored its agreements with me and b) they’re shitty movies. I won’t pay to see non-Disney Marvel Comics movies because they don’t credit the creators of the elements used in those movies. Normally, I would not have paid to watch Amazing Spider-Man 2, but how could I say “no” to my darling daughter who had just plied me with chimichangas and margaritas?

SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD

The “action plot” of the movie is Spider-Man versus Oscorp, now run by Harry Osborn. The “human drama plots” are Peter Parker yearning to know more about his parents, our young hero’s relationship with Gwen Stacy and May Parker struggling to make ends meet without her beloved Ben. Here’s the good and the bad and the ugly of the film:

The good: There’s a nice balance between the action and the human scenes. It’s this balance that made Marvel’s super-hero comics so much better than DC’s for most of the past fifty years, including and, most especially, today.

The good: Andrew Garfield does well as both Peter and Spidey. I’ve come to rank his portrayal well above that of Tobey Maguire.

The great: Emma Stone shines as Gwen Stacy. That she’s as terrific a scientist as Peter Parker and courageous enough to help Spider-Man defend their city makes me wish even more than she has not been so cavalierly and unnecessarily killed off in the comic books and, now, in this movie. More on this in a bit.

The bad: Jamie Foxx as Electro. Terrible performance. You can see chunks of the scenery in his teeth, much like you could see bits of Quint in the title star of Jaws. However, to be fair, Electro was written badly. Cliche after cliche that not even the pretty sweet special effects could overcome.

The so-so: Dane DeHaan as Harry Osborn. He doesn’t look old enough to be Peter’s contemporary. He doesn’t have much range beyond the spoiled rich kid and budding sociopath bits. Every damn thing that he does as the Green Goblin is ridiculously familiar. It’s a shame he’s clearly going to be in the next movie, leading a new version of the Sinister Six.

Digression. My guess as to the line-up of the Sinister Six is: the Green Goblin, Electro, the Rhino, Doctor Octopus, the Vulture and either the Lizard or a new-to-the-movies villain. I’m ruling out Venom and the Sandman from the last of the Tobey Maguire movies on account of they didn’t play well at the box office. A darker take on the Black Cat - Harry injects his secretary Felicia with one of
Oscorp’s secret serums - is worth considering. Not that I think it would be a good idea, but I don’t expect Sony to be as smart about these things as all of us are.

The crazy fun: Paul Giamatti as the Rhino. I love the kooky rhino suit. I love Giamatti’s playing the crazy for all it’s worth. This is the difference between an actor of Giamatti’s talent and DeHaan and Foxx.

The good-but-not-enough: I wish we could have seen more of Fighting Nursing Student May Parker. Sally Field can play feisty and tough. The next movie should park the fretting over Peter and their bills at the curb and let May shine in her new job.

The stupid and the ugly: The killing of Gwen Stacy. This was a bad move four decades ago and a bad move today. What made it worse in the comic books is the cynicism, the lack of imagination and, to be blunt, the inability of Stan Lee, John Romita and Gerry Conway to appreciate what they had in Gwen.

Steve Ditko introduced Gwen as a rather two-dimensional soap opera style bitch. Not surprising as Ditko has rarely been able to create characters of any depth.

Working with Lee, Romita softened Gwen’s image and personality. In a great moment, albeit one usually ignored afterward, we learned Gwen was every bit as smart as Peter. In the comic books, it wasn’t long before Gwen was devolved into the typical girlfriend in peril. To their considerable credit, the two Amazing Spider-Man films gave us a Gwen who was so much more than the cliche girlfriend in peril. That Gwen could’ve been used to great effect in the comic books. If Conway and company had been up to the task.

Conway has since been quoted as saying Gwen was boring and that the angst-ridden Mary Jane offered more dramatic potential. That’s true only by the clinched tropes of super-hero melodrama. It’s the same kind of bullshit mentality that says super-heroes can never have a moment of happiness, that marriage isn’t interesting, that raising kids is boring. Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit.

What it really is...is the low skill levels of mediocre editors and writers. Who either haven’t experienced the real life their readers experience or who don’t have the ability to bring real life drama to their stories.

One of the best received comics stories I ever wrote was “What If Gwen Stacy Had Lived?” Readers responded so favorably to the story because every development in it was a logical consequence of what had gone before. Even to J. Jonah Jameson ruining what should have been the happiest day of Peter and Gwen’s lives. If there were any surprises, it was only because comic books don’t often proceed from a logical viewpoint. Their plots are twisted for the cheap thrill. If it bleeds, it leads.

The story was open-ended because I always wanted to return to that alternate world. Spider-Man, his civilian identity exposed, on the run as never before. Gwen and May fighting for him.

Readers requested Marvel publish a “Mr. & Mrs. Spider-Man” series. I had dozens of ideas for such a title. I could have written the heck out of that title. But I digress.

The bad: Outside of the credit for Lee and Ditko as the creators of Spider-Man, no other comics credits are included. Captain Stacy and the Rhino were co-created by John Romita. The “death of Gwen Stacy” comes from a story written by Gerry Conway. John and Gerry should have been recognized for their contributions to the movie. The same is true for Gil Kane, who drew the original story, and writer Adam-Troy Castro, who created the briefly-seen Gustav Fiers (also known as “The Gentleman”) in the prose novel Spider-Man: The Gathering of the Sinister Six and two subsequent novels, all featuring chapter illustrations by Mike Zeck.

The bottom line: The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a decent movie. While I wouldn’t watch it again, I think it holds its own with the first two movies of the Tobey Maguire series. It’s worth watching if you can do so without buying it. It’s worth buying if you love Spider-Man so much you want to own all his movies. Because there are far worse obsessions.

I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

© 2014 Tony Isabella

Monday, August 25, 2014

TONY'S TIPS #70

This week in TONY'S TIPS at Tales of Wonder...Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast, the current Fantastic Four series and, from Archie Comics, Diary of a Girl Next Door, Betty.

PULPFEST 2014

PulpFest 2014 was celebrated on August 7-10 at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Columbus, Ohio. Although pulp magazines are a very minor interest of mine, the yearly event is one of my favorites because I get to spend time with so many good friends I don’t see often enough.

PulpFest isn’t a “work” convention for me, not that any convention I attend is all work. I have never been a guest of the convention, nor should I be. My “pulp” credentials consist of having written a couple issues of Doc Savage for Marvel, adapting a few prose stories that originally ran in pulp magazines to comics stories, co-writing the very pulp-like Captain America: Liberty’s Torch novel with Bob Ingersoll and writing an essay or two for my friend Anthony Tollin’s outstanding line of Sanctum Books reprints. Pretty thin.

However, this year, I didn’t have to buy a ticket to the event. My friend Peyton Holden won a free pass to the convention in an online contest. Since he couldn’t make the trip from Los Angeles, he asked the convention to give me that free pass. I would be starting this year’s event with some extra spending cash. Thanks, Peyton!

The Hyatt Regency is one of my favorite hotels. The rooms and the service are always first-rate. The hotel restaurant is excellent. Next to the lobby level of the hotel are gift shops and a wonderful food court. The Columbus Convention Center is attached to the hotel on the other side. If you were so inclined, you’d never have to go outside during your stay.  However, staying inside means you would miss the great Columbus “Arena District,” which is also filled with great entertainments and restaurants.

I’ll get back to PulpFest before you start thinking I’m working for the Columbus Convention Bureau...

Early registration for the convention was Thursday, August 7, from 5-9 pm. Early-bird shopping in the large dealers room was available from 6-10 pm. This was one of the only disappointments of the con. When I went to the hall after a quick dinner, only a couple dealers were in the hall and even partially set up. When I went back around 8 pm, only a few more were up and running. Since I was experiencing what would prove to be a gout attack that made walking clumsy and painful, I called it a night.

Since my main interest in PulpFest is seeing my friends, the early-bird shopping isn’t a draw for me. However, for others, like that very happy guy I ran into on my way to the elevators, it’s a huge deal. He was grinning from ear to ear because he had just bought a Jim Steranko-drawn poster of Norgul signed by the artist and Walter B. Gibson, the creator of the magician detective. Besides writing most of The Shadow pulp novels and creating much of the character’s background, the prolific Gibson wrote several books on magic and enough comic-book and other stories to fill the careers of a dozen writers. But I digress.

PulpFest members receive The Pulpster, an annual magazine featuring articles related to the convention. There was lots to celebrate in 2014. Seventy-five years ago, in 1939, the very first World Science Fiction Convention was held and a dozen fantastic fiction pulps  made their debuts. Eighty years ago, the “shudder pulps” began to appear on newsstands.

Those were but two of the key anniversaries celebrated this year. Edd Cartier, Hannes Bok and Virgil Finley, legendary illustrators,  were all born 100 years ago. It was The Avenger’s 75th anniversary  and the 50th anniversary of when Bantam Books being reprinting the adventures of Doc Savage in paperback format. Between the PulpFest programming schedule and articles in The Pulpster, these landmark events were given their due. For late-night entertainment, spread out over Thursday through Saturday night, the convention showed all 12 chapters of the Buck Rogers serial.

On Friday morning, before the convention, I went to the food court for my usual breakfast from Chicken ‘N’ Egg. The place offers great fresh food at a very reasonable price and I eat there almost every morning when I’m staying at the Hyatt. By good fortune, I ended up sitting down with long-time friends Anthony Tollin, Rob Davis, Ron Fortier and new friend Rick Lai.

Tollin is on his third successful career. He worked in comics for nearly two decades. Then he became a renown writer of radio history booklets and worked with many of the legends of that medium.  Now, via his Sanctum Books, he published wonderful books reprinting the pulp novels of The Shadow, Doc Savage and others. We’ve been good friends for over four decades.

Rob and Ron are the dual brains and talents behind the “new pulp” juggernaut that is Airship 27 Productions. “New pulp” denotes new novels and stories in the pulp tradition, a neat mix of the classic and the modern. They’ve published over ninety books since they got started and could release their one-hundredth book before the end of the year. I’ll talk more about this in a bit.

It’s the dear friends who bring me to PulpFest every year. Besides the gentlemen mentioned above, I spent some fun time with Michelle Nolan, the noted comics historian; Mike Carbonaro, legendary comics dealer and the founder of the Big Apple Comics Conventions; and Sam Maronie, a freelance writer who made his first sale to the Marvel Planet of the Apes black-and-white magazine during my editorship of the title. Outside the convention, I met my friend Scott Galloway for lunch on Friday and, later that afternoon, hung out for a spell with Ken Eppstein of Nix Comics.

Located in the Hyatt’s nearly 16,000-square-foot Regency Ballroom, the PulpFest dealers room is the heart of the event. This year, it had over fifty dealers selling pulp magazines, facsimiles of pulp magazines, vintage paperbacks, modern-day pulp fiction, old radio shows, first editions and more.  There were more comic books there  than in previous years, offering great issues from the 1940s thru
the 1960s. If my Vast Accumulation of Stuff was not too large - at present - I could have easily gone crazy in this room. So much cool stuff on display.

Something I saw several times: dealers directing customers who were looking for a specific pulp magazine issue or old paperback to some other dealer they thought might have what the fan sought. There’s a real sense that the dealers love this stuff just as much as their customers.

Digression. Tollin told me Street and Smith’s Love Story Magazine was the best selling of the company’s pulps, even outselling The Shadow. He also told me, much to my surprise, that no one has  published any facsimile editions of any romance pulps. Makes me want to read one of them all the more. End digression.

PulpFest had 21 panels and readings over the weekend in addition to the Buck Rogers serial and the Saturday night auction. I make sure to attend at least one panel every year and, this time around, it was “The Fun of Writing Pulp Fiction,” moderated by Ron Fortier and featuring a half-dozen writers of “new pulp” fiction. I found this description online:

New Pulp is a movement of writers, artists and other imaginative souls to create new Pulp Fiction for the modern age. It is fast-paced, plot-oriented storytelling of a linear nature with clearly defined, larger than life protagonists and antagonists, creative descriptions, clever use of turns of phrase and other aspects of writing that add to the intensity and pacing of the story.  

There are around two-dozen publishers of new pulp fiction, a group that includes comic-book publishers such as Dark Horse, Dynamite and IDW. Many of the prose novels are self-published and print-on-demand works. The authors and publishers of the novels don’t make a lot of money from the books. The books and anthologies are labors of love in every sense of the term.

I came away from the convention with a six-inch stack of new pulp fiction. My new friends Dick and Norma Enos gave me a copy of The Yesterday Men, the latest in Dick’s Rick Steele Adventures series. I also bought books by Mike Baron, Ron Fortier, Jim Beard, Charles Saunders, Wayne Reinagel and others. I’ve got some great reading in my near future.

Unfortunately, my second and final PulpFest disappointment showed up early Saturday evening. A gout flare-up in my left foot got so bad that it seemed prudent to curtail my weekend and head home on Saturday night. Two hours later, I was back in my Medina home and shuffling around like Quasimodo.

The gout passed in a couple days. Weirdly enough, the treatment for such reoccurrences is to stop taking my anti-gout medication until the attack passes. You can add that to the long list of the great many things I do not understand.  

The gout attack didn’t dim my enthusiasm for PulpFest in the least. I’m already planning to attend next year’s event. I hope to see you there as well.

I’ll be back soon with more stuff.

© 2014 Tony Isabella

Sunday, August 24, 2014

READ MORE TONY: COMPLETE ALIEN COSTUME SAGA

Spider-Man: The Complete Alien Costume Saga Book 1 [Marvel; $44.99] collects Amazing Spider-Man #252-258, Marvel Team-Up #141-145 and Annual #7, Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #90-95 and some special features. That adds up to a hefty 488 pages of web-slinging wonderment.

The writers and artists include Tom DeFalco, David Michelinie, Cary Burkett, Tony Isabella, Louise Simonson, Al Milgrom, Ron Frenz, Rick Leonardi, Greg Larocque and Paul Neary. Guest super-heroes and super-villains include Daredevil, the Black Widow, the Black Cat, the Rose, the Blob, the Hobgoblin, the Answer, Captain Marvel, the Red Ghost and his super-apes, Starfox, Alpha Flight, Moon Knight,Cloak and Dagger, Iron Man, Blacklash and more.

That Isabella guy wrote the Spider-Man/Iron Man story from Marvel Team-Up #145 [September 1984]. “Hometown Boy” wasn’t really a tale about super-heroes. Set in my native Cleveland, it focused on Mark Scarlotti aka Blacklash. I think you’ll like it.

Keep watching the bloggy thing for news on reprints of my stories and whatever new work I can tell you about. Look for the return of new full-size bloggy things this coming week.

© 2014 Tony Isabella

Thursday, August 21, 2014

AUGUST GARAGE SALE CANCELLED

My recovery from various minor ailments is coming along much slower than I had anticipated. I'm writing and working much more slowly than usual. I'm on the mend, but I think I'll get there much more quickly if I skip next weekend's garage sale.

September's garage sales are still on.  However, since no artists or creators have come forward and requested driveway table space for those garage sales, the September sales will "just" be the usual cool stuff at low prices. 

Besides offering a couple Saturday night hours those weekends, I'm considering offering a few late afternoon/early evening hours on each of the two Fridays.  With the Medina schools back in session, this would address the concerns of some of my customers who find it difficult to come to the garage sales during my regular hours of operation. I'll make my decision on this next week.

My final garage sale will still be in October and will still be Halloween-themed. I'll have some more details on that soon.

Here's the revised schedule:

Friday, September 12: 9 am to noon
Friday, September 12: 4-6 pm (TENTATIVE)
Saturday, September 13: 9 to noon
Saturday, September 13: 5 pm to 7 pm

Friday, September 26: 9 am to noon
Friday, September 26: 4-6 pm (TENTATIVE)
Saturday, September 27: 9 to noon
Saturday, September 28: 5 pm to 7 pm

Friday, October 10: 9 am to noon
Friday, October 10: 4-6 pm (TENTATIVE)
Saturday, October 11: 9 to noon
Saturday, October 11: 5 pm to 7 pm

That's all I have for you at the moment. I'm several hundred words into my PulpFest 2014 report and will post that as soon as I complete it.

Tony