Friday, July 17, 2015

Friday Five: Five Superheroes I Loved (Who I Don't Think Were Very Popular)

Ant Man opens today and I'm sort of confused because I can't tell if (a) the movie is good and everyone thinks it's good (b) the movie is bad but everyone thinks it's good (c) the movie is good but everyone thinks it's bad, or (d) whether I should care at all.  In any event, since we rarely get to the theaters anymore, I'll have to wait until it comes on Netflix and I fall asleep watching it on Xmas Eve, which is how I experience pretty much 99% of the big, non-Avenger, movies nowadays.

I am disappointed that Marvel didn't steal my tagline that I once proposed if they ever  made a movie about The Atom.  I have a whole idea for a movie ad for someone like The Atom, or Ant Man, in which they show you, say, Iron Man, then Thor, then The Hulk, and finally Ant Man, while a voice over says This summer, small is the new big.  THAT WOULD BE AWESOME. And even though Orange Is The New Black and its misplaced sympathy for the author who TOTALLY DIDN'T WANT TO BE INVOLVED IN DRUG-DEALING GUYS -- let's not waste any time rewarding or feeling sorry for poor little rich girls who got involved with bad boys and paid a very minor price for their thrill-seeking and then were 1000% enriched by it.

Let me go off on tangent here.  Piper Kerman is a drug dealer, okay? That's who everybody is making rich/lionizing with this series.  A DRUG DEALER. She was a spoiled rich girl who grew up to have a relationship with a heroin dealer and not just have a relationship: Piper Kerman HELPED DEAL THAT HEROIN and laundered money to make it more possible for more people to deal heroin.


And since then, Piper Kerman has become some kind of poster child for society, getting awards and being made rich by the sensationalizing of her own downplay-my-wrongdoing-and-shrug-it-off fake memoir.  (Fake memoirs of rich women are all the rage these days, and making up stuff or minimizing the poor behavior of rich women can make you a rich liar yourself, right Wednesday Martin?)

Piper Kerman writes it all off as "I fell in with a bad, hard-partying crowd," and everyone keeps making her rich(er!).  When she was indicted her rich family had an emergency meeting to decide how much of its wealth to devote to defending her. She plead guilty but was allowed to remain free for five years because the federal government wanted her to testify in street clothes, not prison uniforms, at the trial of her drug-lord kingpin boss.  In the end, she got 15 months in prison for her role in the scheme; the bust that led to her arrest involved someone bringing 14 pounds of heroin into the US.  That's about $6,000,000 worth of heroin, on one trip.  I wasn't able to find out how much Piper Kerman got paid for glamorizing and minimizing her major role in a drug ring, apparently because rich white drug dealers are better at hiding personal information about themselves from Google.

"Drug Dealing
Is the New Debutante Ball"

Having made myself good and mad, let's try to blow off some steam with some superheroes that I loved.  As I started out before getting distracted by a drug-dealing rich skank, Ant Man is either a good or bad movie that everyone has weird opinions about. What I was surprised about at first was that Ant Man was being made, at all.  In this brand-conscious era, it's increasingly risky to throw billions of dollars at something people don't know about already.  That's why there'll be another Hunger Games movie even though the (awful, I assume) book series was only three books and there's already four movies. That's why we keep getting Spider-Man and Superman and Batman and The Avengers as superhero movies, with only the rare Guardians Of The Galaxy thrown in for variety.

It's even harder to justify spending billions on a movie if the movie is likely to suck; as I was saying to Sweetie last night, and as I say so often, most things suck.  If you look at, say, a library with 10,000 books in it, consider that those books represent the cream of the crop: they are the books that survived all the levels of publishing scrutiny/gatekeeping to actually get put out.  And how many of them are good? Not all of them.  About 10%, I'd say.  The same goes with movies, photographs, restaurants, etc: about 1 in 10 things is good and worth keeping around, by my estimate.

So if I was asked to invest MY billions into a movie, I'd likely not want to take a risk on Ant Man, who is probably beloved by, like, three people. I'd want to try to make Superman or something, where 99% of the people wouldn't say Huh? when the name was mentioned.

So it's good that they're making Ant Man because maybe it means people are entering a phase where we can experiment a bit more and not everything has to cost/make a billion dollars.

There's my second diatribe of the day.  Now for superheroes I liked that I don't think were very popular. In no particular order!

1. Blue Devil. Blue Devil was, according to my memories, a stuntman who got magically trapped in his blue-devil suit and had some powers based on that suit; he had a weird mixture of scifi and demons in the comics back when I read them, and the stories themselves usually had a humorous slant to them.  The one I remember most was one where there were aliens named "Leni" and "Jorj" (get it? Nothing funnier than riffing on one of the saddest stories ever written... I didn't realize that when I first read the comic, though. I thought they were making fun of Bugs Bunny's frequent references to Lenny and George.  I wouldn't fully understand the reference until I actually read Of Mice And Men and now I don't find them funny anymore. I find them sad.)

Apparently, that humor went away after a while -- as it seems to have done with every comic, judging by the few I read in the last 5 years or so.  Green Lantern fighting zombies, crises everywhere, demons: everyone is dark and disturbed now. Here's a sample of where the comic adventures of Blue Devil led, from Wikipedia:

He spends the "missing year" trapped in Riverrock, Wyoming along with the rest of Shadowpact. It is a small city hidden by a blood shield by an assembly of evil magical beings, called the Pentacle. There he meets, or rather meets again, Jack of Fire, a red, muscular demon. The entity is hiding a disfigured, bony face under a black bandanna, claiming to have been turned into a demon by the actions of Daniel. He further explains that the very same moment the demonic Neron granted fame and powers to Cassidy as the Blue Devil, the dead parents and siblings of Patrick were dragged from Heaven to Hell.

2. Ambush Bug: The Ambush Bug was another funny comic, and wasn't always a hero.  He started out as a comic foil/bad guy I think for Superman, before somehow heading into the future to fight with the Legion of Superheroes? That's what I remember, anyway.  He also had his own miniseries in which he battled a sock who was a sort of parody of Dr. Doom.

Hey, I didn't say I had good taste.  Ambush Bug had all sorts of possibilities that sort of got swamped in silliness.  He appeared to understand that he was in a comic book, for one thing, and was supposed to be completely out of touch with reality.  That sometimes made for funny and yet interesting adventures, but more often towards the end was just overwhelmed by 'lunacy' that seemed to try too hard.

3. The Legion of Substitute Heroes: I read the Legion of Superheroes comics regularly, and sometimes they had guest-stars or appearances from the Legion of Substitute Heroes, a group of substandard heroes with odd powers, like Stone Boy, who could turn himself into a statue.  The group was led by Polar Boy, who could make things cold, and who eventually made it into the real Legion.

While I liked funny comics more than the dark ones, as a kid, looking back again I think maybe the boat was missed here.  One thing that a lot of very funny stories have is a sort of twist on something sad that lends the comic antics some zing, like salting caramel only in a literary sense.  Catch 22 is hilarious whenever it's not heartbreaking.  The Hitchhiker and Dirk Gently books involved murders and the destruction of entire planets, and yet were funny while dealing with serious themes of a sort.

Comics seem to go only in two lanes: Supersilly, or superdark.  I'm sure there's a marketing reason for that, but it led to my disinterest in things like the Substitute Heroes when they just went too silly.  There's probably a great story about people who want to be superheroes but aren't quite good enough to do so, waiting to be told.

4. 'Mazing Man: 'Mazing Man wasn't really a superhero at all; the book was about a midget-type guy who found a helmet with a letter M on it and decided to become a superhero; he mostly helped kids around the neighborhood and hanging out with his friend Denton (a 'dog-faced' apparently human guy who wrote a comic book.)

The stories were interesting and sort of nostalgically sweet ones that I remember and like to go back and re-read; the comic was canceled after just 12 issues.  I'd say it deserved more, but sometimes things have to end to keep them from going bad.  How much better would our memories of Arrested Development have been without the muddled fourth season?  Or Seinfeld without that terrible last episode?  Like George Costanza, people should learn to leave on a high note.

5. Firestorm.  Finally, a "SERIOUS" superhero.  I liked Firestorm because of how cool his powers were, and because of how weird a superhero he was.  Firestorm was the melding of an athlete's body and mind with the mind of a college professor, through some kind of nuclear accident.  When the two joined to become "Firestorm" they could do something like reconstruct things on an atomic level to change one thing into something else, like a nuclear reactor into 10,000 hamburgers or something.

I'm not really clear on how his power worked, actually: I only learned about Firestorm near the end of my heavy comic-reading days, and so only read a couple issues in which he was a hero.  That's how I remember it, anyway.  (I checked on Wikipedia and learned that he couldn't actually affect organic matter before he became an "elemental" and the storyline got much darker.  Also, there's a new Firestorm now but I don't know anything about that.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Finally a reason to go to Manassas Virginia

Other than to see the birthplace of both Ravi Shankar and George Zimmerman, that is.

The NEW reason to go to Manassas, Virginia, is that my book Codes is available for purchase there, at Prospero's Used Book Store, which is, as their banner says, the home of "Used Books, Maps & Prints" [AND CODES A BRILLIANT SCI FI NOVEL BY BRIANE PAGEL] I'm sure they're going to add that any day now.

At least go click on the link and give them some traffic. Plus, you can order used books online, in case you like to buy used books. Which I do, as I mentioned the other day. It really does look like an awesome place to visit, in person. They have a potbellied stove!

I really think this makes ME the most famous person linked to Manassas, Virginia.  Did Ravi Shankar ever write a poem about clones and evil corporations? Doubtful. Did George Zimmerman ever shoot one? Probably, but it was in Florida so it was totally okay because it kind of looked like the book might maybe be African-American.  Either way, I come out looking pretty good in this comparison.

Here, by the way, is a poem by Ravi Shankar:


Gregarious in hunger, a flock of twenty
turn circles like whorls of barbed wire,
no spot below flown over uncanvassed.

The closer to death the closer they come,
waiting on wings with keen impatient
perseverance, dark blades lying in wake

until age or wound has turned canter
into carcass or near enough for them
to swoop scrupulous in benediction,

land hissing, hopping, tearing, gorging.
no portion, save bone, too durable
to digest. What matters cannot remain.


The point is though you should definitely get the kids in the car, take a long weekend, and drive to Manassas, Virginia, to buy my book in hardcopy at Prospero's.  Tell them I sent you!  

Also, Manassas' local museum has apparently a collection of bells which I know people will think I'm being sarcastic about but which honestly I would like to see.  Sure there's pictures of them online but that doesn't give you the full experience.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

I'm impressed/frightened that my mind works this way.

So there's this road on the way to the grocery store where one day Sweetie had to stop to re-belt in Mr F, who is a regular Houdini even though we have a safety vest, two seatbelts, and two carabiners holding him in.

On this road where Sweetie had to stop was an owl sitting atop a chimney near a house.  Sweetie took a picture of it after Mr Bunches spotted it.  She told me about it that night, and we agreed that was weird but not entirely unheard of, that there would be an owl during the day and in our area. A year or two back a big owl took up residence near us and drew some local media attention.

Then, a couple days later, Sweetie reported they'd driven by it again and the owl was there again. "It's creepy," she said.  "It's like it's looking at me."

The other day, we were in that area again so I pulled onto that road, and it was there, again:

Sweetie again thought it was creepy, and I agreed.  The owl is kind of a creepy bird.  So to help her out, I said:  "Maybe it's not an owl. Maybe it's just a really short guy in an owl suit." But she didn't think that helped at all.

Monday, July 13, 2015

10 Minutes About Real Books, Science Fiction, Depression, And "Bridge To Terabithia,"

I really really don't like reading real -- nonelectronic -- books anymore, and yet I had to, twice, over the weekend.

The two real books I read/am reading are/were Hyperbole And A Half, the book of collected essays by Allie Brosh, and Footfall, by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. The reasons I am/did read them as real books is because my electronics have let me down/been sabotaged over the past few days.

We have a lot of electronics in our house, because the boys demand a lot of them and we use them a lot, too.  And when we lose one, it causes a chain reaction that boils down to I have to read real books. What happened recently was that the tablet that Mr Bunches uses a lot stopped taking a charge, so I had to send it in for warranty coverage (which was frustrating, in that I had to insist, politely but firmly, that Dell pay for shipping; the guy on the phone kept insisting that we had to ship it ourselves, but I said, quote: "I am going to be polite but firm with you: No. I have a warranty, and if I pay for shipping that undermines the efficacy of the warranty." In the end, I won. Sometimes it's good to know consumer protection law.  ALWAYS it's good to know that.)

Which left Mr Bunches without a tablet. We were already down a computer because the old, OLD laptop, the one with the battery that doesn't keep a charge and it has to be plugged in all the time, is now downstairs in my home office, where it has to sit because it's the only computer that can work our printer, so if I want to print something I have to email it to myself downstairs.

We could get by on two phones and two laptops, though, except that yesterday morning Mr F got upset that I wasn't paying much attention to him -- I was working on an aid application to help get therapists paid for to come in and work with the boys, and it was LONG -- and so he got mad and dumped a soda on my laptop, surprising me because I hadn't known that he was behind me.

So it was into the bag of rice we keep handy just for stuff like that, and 24 hours of no laptop to try to salvage it. It worked -- I'm typing this on the soda laptop -- but for 24 hours I had no laptop, and Mr Bunches had to use my phone to keep himself amused/distracted from the rain that causes him to have panic attacks.

WHEW THIS WILL EVENTUALLY BE ABOUT BOOKS. So that's not why I was reading the real book of Hyperbole and a Half.

I was reading the real book of that because I've had it on request for the ebook version from the library for, I don't know, EVER, I think, and then when we were at the library the other day for superhero craft day,

 I saw the real book on the shelf and checked it out, because I really really wanted to read it.  If you haven't read Allie Brosh's work, you can check out much of it for free on her blog; she is hilarious and heartbreaking.  Her essays on dogs moving and her fixation on cake as a  kid and battles with spiders are so funny they make me cry with laughter; but her essays on dealing with depression are both funny and terrifyingly sad.  Worth reading, either way.  And her drawings only make them funnier/sadder.  As someone who gets down from time to time, I could relate in a way to her stories, both the funny and the sad ones. I read the entire book in a day.

I was reading the real book of ...

... I just realized I didn't start the timer on the 10 minutes, so I'll start it now...


 for entirely different reasons: First off, I was reading it because of the lack of electronics for me to use yesterday around the house, so I couldn't read any of the ebooks I've been working on.  I decided to read one of the few real books I have in the house, and went to where I've been rebuilding my collection.  About 6 years ago I sold about 99% of my books to a used bookstore, and since then I've regretted selling only a few of them, those books that were my absolute favorites.  So I decided to buy used versions of those books and re-create my absolute favorite books in hard copy form, more like coffeetable books or art pieces than books I intended to read.

Footfall was one of those all-time favorites.  The story is an alien invasion story, from Larry Niven, who's superserious about science, and often spends too much time explaining it in a boring way (his Ringworld books, in my memory, go too far in explaining/discussing the science. His Integral Trees and Gripping Hand series, plus this book, get it about right.)  It's one of those sprawling epic stories that I love; I'm only about 1/5 of the way through it and there's already a plethora of characters and subplots: the astronaut's wife having an affair with the reporter, the congressman getting to go meet the aliens aboard the Russian space station, the degenerate biker with a good heart who's just trying to get by, and so on.  The aliens haven't even arrived at Earth yet and the story is every bit as good as I remember from reading it 25 years ago. (I can remember almost perfectly when I read it the first time: It was 1990, when I'd just moved out of my parent's house.  I remember my roommate, who didn't like science fiction much, laughing because the aliens in the book are similar to small elephants. "Baby elephants invade the Earth," he used to laugh.  I try to remember how annoying I found that whenever I am tempted to make fun of the glitter vampires in Twilight.)

Which leaves just Bridge To Terabithia.

 I was reading an article about kids' books everyone should read, and a bunch of the books I'd loved as a kid were on the list, including Beverly Cleary books and Bridge to Terabithia.  There was one scene in Bridge that I'd always recalled, the one at Christmas where the kid and his dad are trying to get his slot cars to work and they won't, and the dad is getting frustrated because he spent a lot of money (for this family, a lot of money is not very much money) on them and he feels bad, while the kid just wants his dad to feel good so he keeps pretending the toy is great.  It's one of those scenes, like the Billy Pilgrim-in-the-cave scene, that while not objectively as sad as many possible scenes, for some reason lodged in my mind as a terribly terribly sad thing, and has stuck with me for about 35 or nearly 40 years.  I probably read the book the first time in 3rd or 4th grade, so a long time that's been in my head, and when I got to that part of the story (I borrowed the book as an audiobook from the library) it was the same as I remembered it.

The book holds up really well; it's a book that's probably not a great read for an adult but not a bad one, either.  If I have one gripe about it it's that the two main characters seem a lot more mature and intelligent than fifth graders ought to be.  Fifth grade is about 10 years old, and these characters seem more like 7th- or 8th- graders, I think. That may not seem like much, but I think there's a world of difference between 10-year-olds and 13-14 year-olds in how they think and act. I'm not sure if the author made the kids be fifth graders for a reason, but I don't think the book would suffer if she'd changed them to 7th graders, and it might be better.

Also, I had to go make sure our refrigerator was shut, because Mr F keeps not shutting it and sometimes I do, too, and Sweetie is REALLY upset about that, so she's hung these signs all over the house:

And while I was making sure the fridge was shut the timer went off but I only just realized that, so this has been like 33 minutes about stuff.