Category: Books

Jack Cole

Originally posted on Brontoforumus, 2010-03-24 and 28; presented here with some edits.


A few months back, I was in my local independent bookseller, and I ran across Jack Cole and Plastic Man: Forms Stretched to Their Limits. I didn't even notice Spiegelman's name on the cover, I just flipped through the book and thought hey, this is pretty neat. And then my girlfriend got it for me for Christmas.

I started it today, and...wow.

Here's the thing: I've never actually read a Plastic Man comic before. I'm aware of him, I'm aware of Cole's work, but...I had no idea what I was missing out on.

It's just absolutely phenomenal stuff. The double-meaning in the book's title is apt: Plastic Man is like nothing I've ever seen before. It doesn't so much defy rules as live in a world where they haven't been invented yet. It freewheels between absurd whimsy and slapstick and completely shocking violence -- in one story, the villain, trying to escape, trips and lands with his head in a bear trap and dies. (It's page 12 in the link above.) There is absolutely nothing to foreshadow this; there is just a fucking bear trap all of a sudden. It's a real straight-up anything-can-happen book -- the closest analog I can think of is Tex Avery. (Spiegelman says it's like "Tex Avery on cocaine".)

Of course, Spiegelman's name is on the cover because a good big chunk of the book is a biography he's written -- and Cole is a fascinating character, right from the start. Early on, there's a story of how, at the age of 17, he biked from Pennsylvania to LA -- and there's a photocopy of his first published work, a piece he wrote about the journey that was published in Boys' Life.

I've read some very good comics histories over the past couple years, but none that used the artist's actual work so extensively. The Ten-Cent Plague, in particular, is a great book whose greatest weakness is its need to describe covers because it can't just print them (not sure whether that was due to rights issues or cost of printing, but at any rate there are many cases where it tells when it should show). Not only does Spiegelman use extensive excerpts of Cole's work, he discusses them with an artist's eye -- Cole's talent for layouts, the way Plastic Man draws your eye to create a sense of motion -- there are even diagrams.

And speaking of layouts, there's a reason Chip Kidd's name is on the cover too. He's the graphic designer who put it all together, Spiegelman's words and Cole's pictures. The whole thing is composed like a giant magazine article -- which it actually is, as it began life in The New Yorker. (Those of you familiar with Spiegelman will know that he is a major contributor to the magazine, and is married to Francoise Mouly, the art editor and a supreme talent herself.) The book is absolutely flooded with incidental Cole work, sometimes just a few panels on a page and sometimes a complete, uncut story. (Interestingly -- well, if you're interested in things like paper stock, which you actually most likely are not --, the pages that reprint stories in longform are newsprint, while the rest of the book is glossy. Those of you familiar with reprints of old comics have most likely observed that the old 4-color printing process looks much better on the newsprint it's intended for than on glossy paper. Scott McCloud discusses this a good bit in Understanding Comics.)

I've never seen a book quite like this, and I've never read a comic quite like Plastic Man. It's a deft combination -- Spiegelman makes for a great biographer and a great art teacher, and is equally masterful at knowing when to step the hell back and let the man's work speak for itself. And Kidd puts the whole thing together, creating an eye-catching presentation that's easy to read, or, if you prefer, just glance at. (I prefer to read everything, even the incidental stuff -- and even on the thumbnails, the text is big enough to read.)

The book also reprints Cole's infamous Murder, Morphine and Me in its entirety. I'd never read the story before (though I'd seen the infamous "woman about to get a syringe in the eye" panel that made it Exhibit A in the 1950's Senate hearings on comics), and it's an important piece of history, as well as a very neat contrast to the whimsy of the Plastic Man stories. It's got an afterschool-special quality to its message, and a predictable twist ending, but it's also got sympathetic characters, a breakneck pace, expressive art, and content that's graphic not just for violence's sake but to truly move the audience. It represents everything that thrilled young audiences of the time, and scared the old guard. It's just as powerful a representation of the no-rules nature of groundbreaking Golden Age comics as Plastic Man, with the same artist but an entirely different tone and genre.

This book makes me want to go out and buy a bunch of Jack Cole stuff. In the span of an hour he has become one of my favorite artists, and I don't know how I managed to miss out all these years.

And this book is the best casual introduction I can see, as sadly there is no set of cheap Chronicles paperbacks for Plas -- just $50 hardback Archives. I'm seriously considering saving up, though -- I want to see more.

Fortunately, there are also a lot of old Plastic Man comics available at Digital Comic Museum, which collects public domain comics. You can find Plastic Man in both his self-titled book and in Police Comics.

Thad Doesn't Review The Avengers

Here's the thing: I'm boycotting The Avengers.

It was Steve Bissette who convinced me, in a blog post last summer just following the summary judgement against Jack Kirby's heirs. After that judgement it looks like the heirs will never receive their due through the legal system, and the court of public opinion is their last recourse. I haven't bought Kirby-derived Marvel product since.

People have argued this one up and down, and done it well -- James Sturm, David Brothers, Chris Roberson, Heidi MacDonald, Steve Bissette again -- so I'm not going to go into an extensive retread just at this moment. But to summarize:

Yes, Jack Kirby is dead. No, his children didn't write or draw those comics. Neither did Bob Iger or Roy Disney III, both of whom stand to make massive bank on this movie and both of whom are in the position of making a lot of money on this movie because of who they are related to. Captain America should be in the public domain by now, but he's not, again thanks to Disney.

Marvel gives Stan Lee a million dollars a year. His contract stipulates that if he dies before his wife, then she (who also did not write or draw any of those comics) will continue to get a million dollars a year until she dies.

Kirby should have gotten the same deal Lee did. And if he had, he would have left his money to his children.

Never mind the rights questions and the work-for-hire versus spec questions. (Personally I believe Kirby did at least some of his work on spec, and Marvel "lost" the evidence among the thousands of pages of art they contractually agreed to return to him and then didn't. But again, never mind that for now.) Just giving some form of compensation to the Kirby heirs at this point would be a step toward rectifying the injustices Marvel did to Kirby over the course of his life. Plus, as Kurt Busiek recently noted, if Marvel (and DC for that matter) started retroactively applying their current standard contracts to past creators, people like the Kirby heirs and Gary Friedrich would spend less time suing them and more time promoting their movies.

Anyway, here's the other thing: last night somebody handed me a free ticket to go see The Avengers, and I realized that yes, this was a loophole in my boycott. If I don't pay to see it, I'm not supporting it.

Now granted, Marvel/Disney/Viacom/whoever paid for my ticket, and it was part of a marketing strategy -- word-of-mouth, buzz, what-have-you. So here's my thinking: if I talk about the movie, then they've accomplished their goal, and I've broken my boycott.

So I'm not going to talk about the movie. If I say I liked it, then I'm doing just what Disney wants me to. If I say I hated it, then that misses the point -- then I'm suggesting people shouldn't see it because it's a bad movie, not for ethical reasons. If you choose not to see a bad movie, that's not actually a boycott. (I remember lots of people in various comments sections saying they would boycott Ghost Rider 2 over Marvel's treatment of Gary Friedrich -- I reminded them that it's only a boycott if they had planned on seeing the movie in the first place.)

But yeah, I saw it. And I'm going to talk about my moviegoing experience.

I suppose you could argue that I'm still giving them what they want, if you really believe there's no such thing as bad publicity and any mention of the movie is good for them...but, well, read on.


The movie was at 7 PM, and my fiancée and I arrived before 5. She'd eaten and I hadn't, so she grabbed us a spot in line while I found the nearest place to grab a slice of pizza.

The slice I bought was mediocre and I would probably not go back. I felt particularly disapponted inasmuch as the theater is a couple of blocks from my favorite pizza place ever, but I didn't have the time or the money for that spot.

(Tangentially, several nights before I'd had a dream where I was lost in the New York subway system trying to find a good slice of pizza. Because yes, of course you can find a slice of pizza on any given corner in Manhattan, but I was trying to find a really good place. I am sure that this is a metaphor for something.)

So anyway, I got back and grabbed my 3D glasses and my spot in line. I love my fiancée but I think I may have to fire her from holding-my-place-in-line duty. Holding someone's place in line requires more than just waving him over when he walks in; you also need to make sure that you leave enough room around you for a human adult to stand comfortably in.

And so began the hours-long wait in line. It went about how these things usually go: standing in line sucks, but you're there with other people who share a common interest. I was next to a kid who had just read Knightfall and gushed about it while describing The Brave and the Bold as "unwatchably terrible" -- well, at least he's a kid who's enthusiastic about comics.

'Round about 5:45, a manager came up to the line and announced that no cameras would be allowed in the theater.

Including camera phones.

IE, a thing that every single fucking person carries in their pocket, because this is two thousand and goddamn twelve.

Now, I know that this completely fucking boneheaded policy was Disney's and/or Viacom's fault, not the theater's. But what is the theater's fault is that they waited until we'd been in line for an hour to tell us. Yes, as it turns out it was written on our tickets -- in an illegibly-tiny, illegibly-antialiased font way down at the bottom —, but how the hell hard is it to post signage and tell the guy at the door to let everyone know as they come in?

So I went back to the car, along with at least one person from every single group in line. Fortunately, this allowed the line to rearrange itself in a way so that I actually had room to stand comfortably when I got back. And hey, it could have been worse -- as I discovered when the line started moving, the guys who got there first had to stand in a really cramped spot, next to lighted movie posters that gave off a noticeable amount of heat.

And then came the wands.

They didn't pat us down, at least, but there were actually people in suits outside the theater entrance who wanded us to make sure we didn't have cell phones on us.

Let me fucking tell you something, Disney and Viacom.

Captain America did not go to war and punch Hitler in the goddamn face so that he could wake up 70 years later in an America where people have to pass through security to see a goddamn movie.

All so that somebody wouldn't record a 3D movie with their fucking phone and post it on the Internet. Because that would really hurt this movie's business, I'm sure.

Well, the good news is it totally worked and nobody managed to sneak a camera into any of the screenings and post the movie on the Internet within a matter of houohhhhh I'm just messin' with you guys, of fucking course somebody did. I checked this morning, just for curiosity's sake, and yes, surprising absolutely no one, a bootleg cam video of the movie is now readily available on the Internet.

What, you mean irritating and inconveniencing law-abiding customers didn't actually stop anyone from pirating something? I sure never would have guessed that from every single time anyone has tried it, ever!

Anyway. After the wanding we were admitted into a theater that really was not big enough for the size of the crowd. I'm given to understand they opened a second one -- which means we would have gotten better seats if we'd shown up later, because as it was we wound up way too damn close to the screen. (We were in the second row. We were told the first row was reserved for press. If the people who wound up sitting there were press, they must have been there for their high school paper.)

The seats sucked, but on the whole I was surprised to find that they didn't really suck any more for a 3D movie than they would have for a 2D one. There was a sense that the whole thing was hovering above us, and of course since you are actually looking at a plane, yes, shapes distort depending on your viewing angle. And there were bits where the screen had some single massive object filling it that made my eyes cross. But still, I don't think it was any worse than if I'd watched a regular movie from that seat. The problem isn't 3D, it's poor theater design.

All in all, I would say the theatergoing experience left a lot to be desired, and I'm certainly going to remember it the next time I think about attending a prerelease screening -- or even a popular new release.

But I will say one good thing about it: it's the only time this century I've gone to a movie and nobody in the audience had a damn phone.


There's been some talk about credits over the last few days -- an interviewer asked Stan Lee why Jack Kirby wasn't credited in the movie and Stan gave the kind of tone-deaf response he often makes when people ask him questions about credit: he actually said "In what way would his name appear?" (He added that "it's mentioned in every comic book; it says 'By Stan Lee and Jack Kirby'"; I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he's referring to the original comics that Jack actually co-wrote and drew with him, because no, Jack does not get a creator credit on most of the current Marvel books.) I know Stan doesn't make these decisions (anymore), but I think he should have responded with "Well, that doesn't sound right; I'll ask around and see what I can do."

People have pointed out since that Kirby's name is in the credits. I didn't see it, but I think it was probably in the "special thanks" section 2/3 of the way down; the credits went by fast and the only names I caught there were Millar, Hitch, and Lieber. (And I'm certainly not saying those names don't belong there, mind; Lieber co-created Iron Man, and this movie is largely adapted from Millar and Hitch's The Ultimates -- indeed, I read an interview where Millar says they're not getting any compensation from the movie and if that's true I think it's outrageous.)

At any rate, my point is, I didn't see Kirby's name in the credits, and I was looking for it.

So, to answer Stan's question, "In what way would his name appear?" Well, Spider-Man had a big "Created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko" credit right at the beginning, and I think the Marvel Studios movies should have the same thing. I realize that Avengers, in particular, has a lot more creator credits, but I don't care; I still think they should be up onscreen in the opening titles, every one of 'em.

(An alternative idea, that I know could never actually happen but would like to see: in the end credits you get a prominent credit for each of the leads. The Iron Man helmet with Downey's name, the shield with Evans's, and so on. You could couple those with creator credits. Prominent, middle-of-the-screen credit saying "ROBERT DOWNEY JR.", and then, lower down and in smaller type, "Iron Man created by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Larry Lieber, and Don Heck". Then the big "CHRIS EVANS", with a smaller "Captain America created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby". And so on down the line. No, this would never happen in real life, because I am talking about messing with the top-billed actors' credits, but...a man can dream.)


Playing: Xenoblade
Reading: The Neverending Story
Drinking: Lumberyard IPA. It was on sale at my local liquor store, and I checked the label only to discover that "Lumberyard" is actually the Beaver Street Brewery, my old college watering hole. It tastes like the good ol' days. And hops.

Adventures in Home Audio

I'm not what you'd call an audiophile, but I know what I like.

I've got an HTPC I use as my primary media box. And for the past two and a half years, my surround sound speakers have been a set of Creative Inspire 5300's connected to it. They're perfectly good PC speakers (and were $80 when they were new), but as far as home theater, they're a bit lacking.

So, after months of research and scanning for deals, I got me a receiver and a new set of 5.1 speakers.

The receiver is the Onkyo HT-RC360, which Fry's had marked down from $550 to $300 for Presidents' Day. Now, three things:

  1. I have been keeping an eye on Dealzmodo, TechDealDigger, and TechBargains for months looking for a deal like this -- and none of them had this deal listed. This discovery was entirely the result of my deciding, on a whim, to check the Fry's site. Which is even more notable because
  2. I had been at Fry's, looking for a good deal on a receiver, the previous day, and not seen this. I know they had it in stock, because I picked it up in-store, but it hadn't been on display, nor had I seen it listed in the newspaper clippings upfront listing their weekend deals.
  3. Oh, and of course three days later the Sony equivalent got marked down to $215 on Amazon. But that's okay; this is the sort of thing you come to accept as inevitable in any kind of major hardware purchase, and anyway from the reviews the Onkyo sounds like the better device.

Talking of reviews, I couldn't find any professional ones of the RC360, which made me nervous. But I gathered from Cnet that it's roughly equivalent to the TX-NR609. I'd been looking at the 509, but its lack of OSD and HDMI upscaling gave me pause. Those features aren't make-or-break, but with the RC360 marked down to $300, it was only $75 more than the 509 -- plus it's got 7.1 support. For that price, I may as well buy something a little better and more future-proof.

I had also noted that most of the demo rooms at Fry's used NR509 mixers. While I don't always credit Fry's employees as the best judges of what makes a good product demo (the first thing you see when you walk in the front door is an expensive bigscreen plasma TV inexplicably playing a movie at an eye-searing 240Hz), I thought this was probably significant.

And while I was nervous about buying a speaker set I hadn't actually tested in the store, ultimately Cnet's review of the Monoprice 8247 won me over. The short version: you can get better speakers, but only if you pay four times as much. (An aside: I stopped reading news.com.com some time ago after their reporting became indistinguishable from the trolls in the comments section -- I was going to say "except with better spelling", but nevermind -- but their reviews section continues to be pretty great.)

Anyhow, the speakers came in and I wired them up. It's not pretty just yet -- for now the rear speakers are just sitting on end tables, with their cables blue-taped to the wall, but in the next few weeks I plan to get somebody over to run cable through the attic and mount them properly on the wall. (I'd run the cable myself, but asthma tends to limit one's desire for attic-related adventures.)

One minor gripe: the Monoprice page for the speakers recommends pin-type speaker plugs, but the wire-in-back type I ordered from them is too long; it won't fit in a speaker that's lying flat. It should work fine in one that's wall-mounted, and maybe the wire-in-side type will fit. I might try ordering a couple of those the next time I get something from them, though $2 speaker plugs aren't really worth ordering by themselves. So, bare wire for now -- not like I can hear the difference.

Once I got everything hooked up and configured, I fired up Back in the USSR to verify that the speakers were working, and then straight to the Bridge of Khazad-Dûm scene in Fellowship of the Ring. (This was the point at which my fiancée came out of the bedroom to complain that I was making the house shake. I like to think this was her way of saying "Great job on purchasing and setting up an awesome sound system, Honey!")

Image: The remote, with its many and oddly-labeled input buttons From there I hooked up the rest of my various devices. The Onkyo remote has the now-typical problem of a shitload of different inputs with sometimes arbitrary names -- "GAME" works fine for the component switch connected to my Wii and PS2 (another aside: I wish the thing had more component inputs so I wouldn't need a component switch at all -- but obviously analog is on its way out and I'm sure in a few years I'll have enough HDMI devices that I will be grateful for the emphasis on the new input over the old), but, absent anything resembling "HTPC", I have my HTPC connected under "BD/DVD". My seldom-used DVD/VCR combo is under "VCR/DVR", and my TV audio is connected to "TV/CD", which inexplicably is not the same button as "TV"; the "TV" button can't actually be assigned to any audio input. (I guess people connecting the audio output of their TV into an input on the receiver are probably a rarity; most people have cable boxes which they can connect to the receiver and then output to the TV. But I don't have cable TV, and we sometimes watch broadcast TV. Such people do exist!)

Also: this receiver is the only appliance I have ever bought that came with a GPL compliance notice in the box. This is one more piece of good news on future-proofing: my old TV is no longer supported, its firmware is no longer updated, and it has some annoying bugs (namely, every time it can't tune a channel in it drops it, meaning you effectively have to rerun the channel search every time you move the damn antenna -- again, developers just do not even consider people who watch over-the-air TV at this point). The Onkyo receiver not only supports more features and inputs than I need, its use of open-source software means it can continue to be updated even after its official end-of-life (unless, of course, there are some kind of TiVoization shenanigans at work).

Speaking of my 2005-vintage TV, it's probably the next major piece of equipment I'd like to replace, but it does have one feature I like: an "Automatic" zoom that will upsize the picture beyond the standard 4:3/16:9/"super zoom" presets and zoom the picture until there is no black border anywhere. This is especially useful for the PSP, which outputs games at a weird little 480x272 format that appears as a tiny little windowboxed picture even under most zoom presets. Unfortunately, the receiver's upscaling messes with the TV's "Automatic" zoom; it'll resize the PSP picture vertically, but that still leaves it pillarboxed and vertically stretched. That left me back at wiring the component output of the PSP directly to the TV and leaving the audio hooked into the receiver -- this largely defeats the purpose of upscaling since I'm back to switching TV inputs for different devices, but that is, of course, a minor inconvenience.

And that, incidentally, is the draw of upscaling for me -- I don't really expect the filters to increase my picture quality, but it does mean I don't have to switch from HDMI to Component 1 to Component 2 to whatever on my TV. (Actually, talking of quality, there were visible vertical lines on the PS2 picture -- but I couldn't see them from the couch, and I'm not sure if that's the fault of the receiver or the connection. I've had the PS2 and the cable for some time and I think the connection must be worn, as when I first turned the PS2 on I got audio but no picture; I wiggled the connector in the back and that's when I got a picture with faint lines on it.)

Now I've gotta figure out what to do with those Creative speakers. I'd like to hook them up to my desktop, but Apple is allergic to standards, and you can't actually get analog surround to work on a Mac without some kind of adapter.


Playing: Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together. You know what else the receiver has? A shitload of presets for audio levels. It doesn't just have a preset for games, it has different presets for different genres -- RPG, Action, etc.

Reading: The Light Fantastic

Unison: File sync from Ubuntu to Windows 7

Hey, been awhile. Have been ignoring the blog (even my traditional New Year's Eve Post) and many of my other Internet habits in favor of various projects I've been hard at work on. I just pulled off a WordPress update; you're reading this so it looks like it went smoothly.

Anyhow. One of the aforementioned projects (and the thing you came here to read, if you found this page by Googling an error message -- and if you did, you may want to skip my meandering explanation and go straight for the numbered steps at the bottom of this post): I recently decided to set up a file sync system across the computers in my house. It's useful for syncing things like savegames, RSS feeds, and the public-domain ebooks I've been grabbing from Project Gutenberg and MobileRead and comics from Digital Comic Museum across multiple devices.

I'd done some command-line RSS before, and also set up backup systems with Toucan, but figured I'd try something different on this one. I gave Ubuntu One a shot and it seemed promising until I realized it isn't open-source and I can't set up my own server. Canonical is swiftly becoming the Apple of the Linux world -- good at taking open-source software and making it pretty and usable, but not so great at giving back to the open-source community.

Ultimately I settled on Unison, which proved to be a bit of a headache -- frankly if anybody has a better solution I'd be happy to hear it, but here's how I got it to work.

First of all, the Unison GUI requires GTK. Hardly a problem on the Linux side, but under Windows, extracting the binaries from gtk.org and setting the PATH variable didn't work, no matter what I did. Maybe it's a Windows 7 thing, or maybe it's a Unison thing, but either way, Unison threw up "This application has failed to start because libgtk-win32-2.0-0.dll was not found. Re-installing the application may fix this problem." every time I ran it. Sticking it directly in the GTK\bin directory worked but is an ugly solution; multiple sites suggested installing Pidgin, which comes with GTK, but produces the same problem as Unison doesn't find it in the path.

(Actually, let me back up a bit: I couldn't get Unison to work with 64-bit GTK at all. The only Unison binaries I could find were 32-bit; I opted to install a 32-bit version of GTK rather than stick Cygwin on my HTPC and compile Unison from source.)

Ultimately, I found a binary Windows installer for GTK (conveniently the first Google match for gtk windows binary installer); whatever my PATH problem was, this installer fixed it. The Unison GUI was up and running, from its own folder.

Next problem, though: SSH. Unison did not play nice with PuTTy.

Googling the problem, I found a page called Unison-ssh, which includes a wrapper named ssh.exe for download. If you've read this far you've probably already installed PuTTy, but in case you haven't, you'll only need it if you want to use public key authentication -- this ssh.exe will automatically install a copy of PuTTy's command-line SSH utility, plink.exe, if it can't find it. (Well, hypothetically. It tries to stick it in WINDIR and if you're not running it with admin privileges it'll fail.)

Now, I should add that this ssh.exe doesn't work properly under Windows 7; it'll prompt you for a username but only let you type one character and then automatically Enter it. Same problem with the password prompt. The comments thread in the page is filled with people who have the same problem. Maybe a clean compile would fix it, I don't know; again, I didn't want to go to the trouble of setting up compilers on my HTPC.

There's a solution a ways down the comments thread. Unison stores its data in the .unison directory, even under Windows. (That'd be \Users\name\.unison under Win7.) They're simple text files with the .prf extension. And you can add an "sshargs" line to give command-line arguments. If you're comfortable sticking your password in plain text, you can add the line "sshargs = -pw [pass]" and you're done. But if you're not, you can set it up with RSA keys. A later comment links a post on Palin's Technical Blog that runs down how to generate a keypair with puttygen -- the problem is, I couldn't get my Linux server to accept it; I kept getting a "Server refused our key" error.

I found the solution on Andre Molnar's blog: you need to generate the keypair on the Linux server, using ssh-keygen, add the public key to your authorized_keys file, then move the private key over to the Windows machine and use puttygen to import it and then save as a PuTTy .ppk file. From there, add "sshargs = -i [path to private key]" to the appropriate .prf file.

Almost done, but the Unison GUI still has path issues, even if you stick ssh.exe in the same directory as PuTTy and add that to your PATH. I got around it by sticking a shortcut on the desktop with the PuTTy directory as the working directory.

In summary:

  1. Install openssh-server on your Linux server and PuTTy on your Windows client.
  2. Install Unison and its dependencies on your Linux server. (It's offered in the Ubuntu repos; command-line is unison, GUI is unison-gtk.)
  3. Install Unison on the Windows client.
  4. If you want to use Unison's GUI, install GTK on Windows.
  5. Download the ssh.exe wrapper for PuTTy. Stick ssh.exe in the same directory as PuTTy and put that directory in your PATH.
  6. Generate an RSA keypair on your Linux server using ssh-keygen. By default it will put the keys in ~/.ssh/id_rsa and id_rsa.pub.
  7. Copy the contents of the public key (id_rsa.pub) to ~/.ssh/authorized_keys. Remember to set perms on ~/.ssh to 700 and authorized_keys to 600.
  8. Move the private key (id_rsa) to the Windows machine. That's move, not copy; delete it from the Linux side as you don't want to store the same private key in more than one place.
  9. Run puttygen.exe. Import your existing private key, then save the result as a new .ppk file. Delete the original key file. Again, only the owner should have read perms on this file.
  10. At a minimum, your \Users\name\.unison\foo.prf file should contain the following:

    root = [Windows path]
    root = ssh://[user]@[host]//[Linux path]
    sshargs = -i [path to private key]

  11. To get the Unison GUI to run ssh.exe properly, create a shortcut and set its working directory to the PuTTy directory.
  12. You can schedule regular syncs using Windows Task Scheduler; run the command-line Unison executable, with args "-batch [name of pref file]". Don't include path or extension, just the filename ("foo" in my example above).

So there you go: a cross-platform syncing solution. Good for backups, for keeping files consistent between your desktop and your laptop, or for anything else that requires keeping the same files on multiple machines.


Playing: Just finished playing a fan translation of Act Raiser. Maybe a bit more on that soon.

Reading: Blood of the Elves. As I await The Witcher 2.

Revisiting NIMH

My mom read me Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH when I was a kid. A few times, as I recall.

I first saw Secret of NIMH on VHS when I was in fourth grade. Mostly I was put off by the divergences from the book.

Now, the movie's got a pretty devoted fanbase, and I do love me some Bluth, so I decided to give it another shot 18 years later and see what the fuss was about. I figured my older self would be more ready to appreciate the movie on its own merits.

On one level, I was right: it was much easier to appreciate the gorgeous animation, the superb voice casting, and the sheer scope and ambition of the project than when I was 10. On the other, my gripes with the movie remain surprisingly similar to what they were back then.

Some spoilers follow, as well as my dim recollections of how things went in a book I haven't revisited in twentyish years.

First, the good: the movie is fucking beautiful. Just amazingly animated. I love the character designs, from the scabby, scaly claws of Nicodemus and the owl to Dragon the cat, who resembles a nightmare version of the Cheshire Cat. Bluth was a visionary who helped drag animation from the dark ages after Disney's death, and he assembled one hell of a crew (I noticed a Bruce W Timm in the credits). And the cast -- well, Derek Jacobi is currently touring internationally in a critically-acclaimed performance of King Lear.

It's also, as best I remember it, a decent if truncated recreation of the major arc of the book: Mrs. Frisby (Brisby in the movie) needs to move her house because her sick child can't travel, she's directed to a group of superintelligent rats living under the rosebush, and they help her because her husband was a compatriot of theirs. It turns out they were subjected to scientific experiments at the National Institute of Mental Health; they've escaped and are currently in hiding, stealing electricity from a farmer's house, but they want to move shop and survive on their own resources. This has to happen a lot faster than anticipated because the scientists from NIMH track them down and seek to destroy their lair.

The movie does a pretty good job of telling that story in under 90 minutes. But it's got its share of flaws, too.

First of all, I can see why the movie had trouble finding an audience on release: because it finds trouble finding its audience in its presentation. It's too scary for young children, but the humor is too dopey for older ones.

As for the changes -- well, I think bringing Jenner in as a present antagonist instead of relegating him to flashbacks, and giving the film a clear villain, is a smart move. However, I have to go with 10-year-old Thad's assessment that all the nuance is drained out of his character from the book. Book Jenner was a tragic figure; not evil per se, just someone who had a fundamental disagreement with Nicodemus's plan. Here he's a conniving, mustache-twirling, murderous cliché. And an irrational one at that -- when Mrs. Brisby warns the rats that the NIMH scientists are coming to destroy their lair, Jenner calls her a liar and attacks her. How does that make sense? He may be a power-mad murderer, but he has no reason to doubt her, and it's hardly in his best interest just to assume she's lying and go back home without investigating whether or not anyone actually is coming to kill him and undo the life's work he's fought so hard to preserve. All in all, the movie trades a complex character for a lame caricature.

And about that "NIMH is coming, you have to escape" bit? No payoff! We never see the rats scrambling to move; we just find out they got out of there, seemingly with no pain or trouble in the process. The climax of the book is completely gone, with the fight with Jenner taking its place.

And the fight with Jenner -- well, I'm not as bothered by Nicodemus's death in the movie as 10-year-old Thad was; it's a tragic, affecting scene, and killing off the wise old mentor character is a classic storytelling component that is probably more satisfying to a general audience than the book's ending, where Nicodemus survives but Justin apparently, but not certainly, dies.

But then there's a swordfight.

Don't get me wrong, swordfights are awesome. And this particular swordfight is awesome. But it doesn't really fit. Those miniature swords look awfully well-made; they're not what you'd expect a group of rats living under a rosebush to make, no matter how highly developed they were. And what do they have them for? Justin's a guard, but we never actually see him turn a sword on anyone outside of this scene. The rats presumably don't want to swordfight the cat because it would risk revealing their existence to the farmer -- so why do they have them in the first place?

And the swordfight leads to the movie's biggest weakness: the fucking amulet.

See, in the movie, Nicodemus has two magic artifacts: a screenie thing that lets him watch the outside world and show flashbacks, and a magic amulet. I'll come back to the amulet in a minute, but let me start by saying the screen contributes absolutely nothing to the story. We see Nicodemus looking through it at the beginning and narrating to the audience that Mrs. Brisby is going to ask him for help, and then later he has her look through it so she can see the origin story.

You don't need a damn magic screen for either of these things.

Nicodemus is sharp enough to know Mrs. Brisby is going to come knocking on his door following her husband's death without a damn magic screen. And Mrs. Brisby doesn't need to see the origin story flashback; only the audience does. The screen as a framing device is used as an excuse for some of the best animation in the film, but again, you don't need a magic screen to set up the use of special effects to frame a flashback; that's a movie trope that the audience already understands.

But the real irony of using the magic screen to show the origin story is that it effectively demonstrates why the magic screen doesn't fit the story. We're looking at a story about rats who become superintelligent as a result of medical experiments. It is fundamentally a science fiction story. The magic artifacts don't match the SF premise, and are never fucking explained; Nicodemus just has them, because wise old people in movies have magical artifacts.

Which brings us to the amulet. The movie doesn't bother explaining where it came from, just that Nicodemus has it for some reason, and that Jenner apparently knows what it is but doesn't know Nicodemus has it. Which really doesn't make a whole lot of sense, because you have to figure that if Jenner knew about a magic artifact but didn't know who had it, Nicodemus would be a really, really obvious guess.

So okay. The rats set up an elaborate pulley system to move Mrs. Brisby's house; Jenner sabotages it and causes the whole thing to collapse and kill Nicodemus. Jenner gets in a swordfight with Justin; Jenner's lackey, who's been reluctant about this whole "let's kill Nicodemus" plan for some time, saves Justin and then he and Jenner both die. Then, when all hope seems lost, Mrs. Brisby moves her house using her magic amulet.

So okay. My biggest problem with the amulet? It's not that it doesn't make sense in the context of the story, it's not that its origin and purpose are never explained, it's not that it's a MacGuffin and a deus ex machina. My biggest problem with the amulet is that fucking amulet is an asshole. Seriously. The fucking thing could have moved Mrs. Brisby's house any time, but it waited until three people were dead. And two of them seemed like pretty nice guys!

On the other hand...

Two posts ago, I argued for more 8-page comic book stories.

A couple weeks back, I picked up Nation X #4, because it had a Milligan/Allred story with Doop. Now, that was pretty awesome...

...but then I realized I'd paid $4 for an 8-page story. I would not have bought the book for any of the other stories in it. The one where the kids raid the fridge was fun, but still not enough to justify the purchase.

So, all this to say, I'd love to see more anthologies like Nation X...except, you know, good.


Playing: Mega Man 10
Reading: Just wrapped Men of Tomorrow.

Auld acquaintance

You know, having my New Year's Eve traditions rudely and abruptly yanked out from under me has itself become something of a New Year's Eve tradition -- and, the childish drama inherent in such a change in plans notwithstanding, I think I'm all right with that.

The wonderful paradox about New Year's, and a significant portion of why it is my favorite holiday, is the balance of the old and the new, of tradition and change. (Also, beer.) I'm a guy who puts a lot of stock in his past, but who could sure use some forward momentum in his life about now.

Traditions are wonderful things, and seeing old friends is a joy -- but shaking up a routine is something special in and of itself. I'll never forget New Year's Eve 2000/2001 -- nothing special, perhaps; I just stayed home and watched Batman (the 1989 one) and Army of Darkness with my little brother. It wasn't the night I had expected or planned for, but it was a very pleasant capper to a very hard week. (It was also the first night I checked out #finalfight, starting another tradition -- every year I'd show up there early on New Year's morn, even years after I quit my regular attendance of the channel. That's another tradition I'm breaking this year -- with some pride, actually; it's important to know when to let traditions go.)

I've had a comfortable New Year's Eve routine for, if my count is correct, the past five years (and that image at the top of the main page is from the 2006 party). It didn't hold this year, but that opened the door for something new. I saw Lewis Black perform (second time; he always puts on a good show), and, running late to meet my friends at Four Peaks (as it turns out, they left at 11:30 -- honestly, who leaves a New Year's Eve party half an hour before midnight?), my dad and I happened to be on the new light rail train passing over Tempe Town Lake when midnight hit. We saw fireworks over the lake. Then we walked around the downtown area until the 12:45 fireworks show, which was pretty spectacular -- I don't understand how there were people simply walking away, with their backs to it, paying no attention.

Anyhow. In the spirit of the holiday, in the spirit of the balance of the past and the future, I have some thoughts on where I am and where I'd like to be -- nothing quite so simple as resolutions, but a few ideas.

I have a steady job now -- but I'd like a better one.

I have a lot of good friends -- but I could stand to make more. And, I hate to say it, but the truth is maybe some of my auld acquaintances should be forgot.

I love my hometown -- but I'm overdue for a change of scenery.

I'm an honest person, to a fault. I speak my mind and don't play games. But I could stand to keep my mouth shut more often than I do, and learn when to cut my losses rather than go down swinging.

And, as jaded a person as I am, I can never foresee a time in my life where I turn my back on a fireworks show.

I have no idea where I'll be come this time next year; I don't think I can count on seeing Lewis Black and then being on the light rail over the lake at precisely midnight. But that's a liberating thought -- who knows what the future will bring? Maybe I'll start a new tradition, or maybe it'll be another satisfying one-off.

Think about your traditions -- and think about new ones you can start.


Reading: Me of Little Faith, by Lewis Black; Our Dumb World (yes, still; it is a very long book best read in one- or two-page chunks)

Playing: Chrono Trigger DS, Final Fantasy IV DS, Super Smash Bros. Brawl

Halloween '08, Part 3: Francis Ford Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula

Continuing from my previous post:

Bram Stoker's Dracula was my favorite of the four movies, and here's why: it managed to create the most faithful adaptation of the events of the book, while totally subverting its theme. Also, it had boobies.

The movie goes to great lengths to adapt the book accurately, from the inclusion of Holmwood and Quincey, a pair of redundant characters who are usually left out of movie adaptations, to details like Dracula climbing on the walls of the castle like an insect, feeding a baby to his wives, becoming younger after feeding on Lucy, and appearing on the streets of London in broad daylight; Harker going prematurely gray after his ordeal; Dracula's wives surrounding Van Helsing and, unable to break his protective circle, killing his horses.

And yet, in the end, the viewer is left with a wholly different feeling about Dracula: far from being evil incarnate, he's more of a sympathetic character. It's the uptight Victorians who are the real villains here; Hopkins's Van Helsing is out of his damned mind, chopping a woman's head off and then casually discussing it over dinner, after dismissing her as "a bitch of the Devil, a whore of darkness" while laughing giddily.

The sexuality that's implied in the book, and in most of the film adaptations, is overt here. Yet, it seems far less perverse than the society that condemns it. Lucy talks lustily about "unspeakable acts of desperate passion on the parlour floor", and this seems a far more natural thing for a nineteen-year-old girl than choosing a husband. She doesn't look like she's suffering when she's clutching at herself during an "attack" by Dracula, but she certainly does when she's having her head cut off by Van Helsing.

Yes, Dracula's origin story and his motivations are original to this version, as are his meetings with Mina under the identity of Prince Vlad. Most importantly, Mina's consent, and indeed insistence, on being turned is original here. And that's an integral part of the film: when all is said and done, it's clear she belongs with Dracula, her exciting and mysterious ancient love, not the boringly conventional and dull Harker (a role which you'd think Keanu Reeves would be perfect for, but which he still manages to drag down). Dracula is a sympathetic character, and thus the whole story is turned on its head.

Thematically, it's The Rocky Horror Picture Show played straight.

No, hear me out.

I'm not comparing the quality of the two movies, and certainly not of the two directors. Rocky is an awful damned film, which is of course part of its appeal. Francis Ford Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula is, by contrast, an utterly brilliant film. But thematically, the two have a lot in common: a fresh take on monster movies of the 1930's, centering around the conflict between old, prudish attitudes toward sex and modern, more liberated ones. Both movies focus on straightlaced couples seduced by a character who's traditionally depicted as a villain but who, in the end, is far more relatable than the eccentric German professor who seeks to destroy him.

Which is not to say that Frank-N-Furter and Dracula are good guys -- they're both cannibals, for God's sake. Frank kills Eddie and serves him up for dinner; Dracula throws a baby to his wives (and reminders are given throughout the movie that he is, in fact, Vlad the Impaler). And so both of them are still monsters, and there's no defending those acts -- saying they're another metaphor for breaking taboos is a copout. Less a copout, perhaps, is to contrast these actions with their sexual behavior: it's not sex that makes them monstrous, it's violence; the typical western notion that violence is more acceptable than sex is another piece of those perverse and puritanical social values that both movies criticize. (In Dracula's case, it also allows for the contrast between a charming, Lugosi-style Dracula and a monstrous, Schreck-style one within the span of the same movie.)

So that's where the Coppola movie shines: Stoker's Victorian sensibilities are wrong, but his story can be easily adapted to late-twentieth-century themes -- perhaps because Stoker's novel itself is about the clash between the ancient and modern worlds. (Not to say, by any stretch, that modern films aren't prudish in their own way -- MPAA-approved nude scenes are still utterly absurd, and this is a movie chock-full of graphic sex scenes where nobody ever completely disrobes.) Ironic, then, that Stoker's name is in the title -- this was the first in a trend of films with authors' names, not always appropriately, stuck in the titles to differentiate them from previous adaptations of the same work (the worst offender being Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book, which bore even less resemblance to Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book than Disney's animated version; if memory serves its credits didn't even say "Based on the book by Rudyard Kipling" but "Based on characters from the book by Rudyard Kipling").

Anyhow. All this to say, Francis Ford Coppola makes pretty good movies. I know, amazing observation, right? That is why you read this blog. Because you enjoy watching someone take 800 words to say something everybody already knew.

Go vote tomorrow.

Halloween '08, Part 2: Three Dracula Movies

Halloween's my favorite holiday, and this year, in celebration of the season, I watched four different versions of Dracula: 1922's silent German Nosferatu, the 1931 Bela Lugosi Universal classic Dracula, the 1958 Hammer Horror of Dracula starring Christopher Lee, and Francis Ford Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula from '92. (I was hoping to squeeze in the 1979 Dracula with Frank Langella and Laurence Olivier, but ran out of time. Maybe next year.)

The most obvious and banal observation I can make is that each of the four films is the product of its time. But interestingly, they all stayed fairly close to the source material.

Nosferatu is an excellent example of the art of silent film, and does an admirable job of conveying the plot with minimal dialogue. The acting is, of course, purely physical and greatly exaggerated. Schreck's makeup is suitably creepy; his ratlike features and too-long limbs and fingers grant him a sense of the otherworldly and frightening. The cinematography adds to the effect with the shots of Count Orlok's shadow on the wall, and, most famously, the Count springing up out of his coffin as if his feet are on a hinge. In the version I saw, the soundtrack was fully orchestrated; I expect this detracts from the authenticity of the experience, but it added to the atmosphere.

It's no wonder Prana Film lost Florence Stoker's copyright infringement suit, as the film's efforts to dodge infringement accusations are decidedly half-assed. The film's first two acts are virtually identical to the novel's, and Count Orlok, Hutter, Ellen, and Knock are clearly the same characters as Dracula, Harker, Mina, and Renfield, respectively. (Harding, Lucy, Professor Bulwer, and Dr. Sievers are minor enough characters to have plausible deniability, but their names are still suspiciously similar to Holmwood, Lucy, Professor Van Helsing, and Dr. Seward.)

Most of the movie is a fairly straight-up adaptation -- Hutter, as in the original story, is a realtor, and is bound for Orlok's castle to sell him property in his hometown. (The movie deviates from the book by making Knock/Renfield a realtor as well; the 1931 and 1992 versions follow suit.) Hutter says goodbye to his wife, meets spooked villagers who warn him of wolves in the woods and refuse to take him to the castle, and takes a scary stagecoach ride with a mysterious driver. When he arrives at Orlok's castle, we see all the expected symbolic scenes: he cuts himself, Orlok lunges for the wound but is repelled by the cross; Hutter falls asleep and wakes up with bite marks on his neck. After Hutter finds Orlok sleeping in a coffin, the count leaves him for dead and departs for his new home on a ship.

The ship sequence is expanded in significance compared to the book, but to the same result: Orlok kills everyone on the boat, leaving only the captain's body tied to the wheel.

The last act seems truncated by comparison. It's creepy enough -- the seeming plague come to the city, with people dying left and right, and the angry mob led by Professor Bulwer against Knock -- but Orlok's defeat ultimately seems anticlimactic. No turning Lucy into a vampire, no stake through the heart; the significance of multiple coffins filled with soil from his homeland is hinted but never comes to any payoff. He simply stays out too late and dies by exposure to sunlight. But that in itself is probably Nosferatu's most lasting contribution to the story and the genre: it introduced the idea of vampires not merely being weakened by exposure to sunlight but actually dying on contact with it.

Moving on to 1931: it struck me how different this Dracula is from its best-known contemporary in the Universal Monster series. The 1931 Frankenstein has very little to do with its source material, while the 1931 Dracula follows Stoker's story fairly closely, with only a few major deviations: Renfield, not Harker, is the realtor who goes to Castle Dracula to close the sale on Carfax Abbey, and Dr. Seward is Mina's father.

That aside, we've got the same staples noted above: spooked villagers, the coach ride, the blood and the cross, the coffin, the attack, the departure by ship, and the arrival of the same with its crew all dead. We also see Dracula's wives, who show up in the 1958 and 1992 versions as well.

Swapping Renfield in for Harker does a nice job of explaining his madness, and also serves to throw out Harker's unlikely escape from the castle, one of the more problematic parts of the original story.

And of course in Lugosi's Dracula and Frye's Renfield, we get the two best characters in the film. Lugosi's Dracula stands in stark contrast to Schreck's Orlok; Schreck is immediately scary, while Lugosi is charming with menace below the surface.

This version includes Lucy in more than a cameo; as in the book, Dracula bites her (after appearing at the window as a thoroughly hokey rubber bat), Van Helsing attempts a blood transfusion, and she turns anyway; unlike in the book, this doesn't take an agonizingly long series of trial-and-error attempts to stop Dracula from coming through her window every night (though part of that sequence appears later in the movie, with Van Helsing hanging wolfsbane around Mina's neck and the nurse removing it). Lucy's story, curiously, is left dangling here; she becomes a vampire, but the heroes never bother to track her down. Presumably, like Mina, she reverts to her old self when Dracula is killed.

Dracula starts feeding on Mina and then, for reasons not adequately explained, decides to show up and hang out around the scene of the crime long enough for Van Helsing to notice he doesn't have a reflection; in an iconic moment, he breaks the mirror.

As in the book, Renfield betrays his master for Mina's sake and Dracula eventually strangles him. Unlike the book, Dracula shows up to gloat some more; Van Helsing gloats back and tells him his plan to kill him. Once again we get the multiple coffins containing Transylvanian soil.

No chase back to Castle Dracula in this version; Van Helsing corners him in Carfax Abbey and stakes him there. Mina reverts and she and Jonathan leave Van Helsing behind.

In the end, there's a reason this is the definitive Dracula movie. It's not as creepy as Nosferatu, but it's bigger and has a more satisfying third act. The sets are gorgeous, and Lugosi's charisma (and eastern European accent) make him the Dracula all others would be compared to and most would imitate to some extent. The pacing is good and a lot of extraneous material from the book is removed; the changes are mostly good ones.

Speaking of changes from the source material, the 1958 version probably deviates the most out of the four, while still keeping fairly true to the story. That version starts much like the others -- Harker goes to Castle Dracula, except this time he's a librarian rather than a realtor, and the most interesting early twist is that he knows who Dracula is and is actually there to kill him. It seems a little farfetched that he writes this all down in a diary that he keeps not-really-hidden in the desk in his bedroom, but as the plot develops it becomes clear that the diary is insurance in case he fails his mission.

Lee plays Dracula similarly to Lugosi -- charming and eccentric; perhaps a little colder than Lugosi's version. Much of the typical foreshadowing -- the mirror, Jonathan cutting himself -- is missing; instead, a single Dracula wife feigns being a damsel in distress, and then bites Harker. Dracula appears at that point, looking crazed, and with blood around his mouth. Here we see what may be this version's biggest departure from the previous films: cinematic sex and violence were getting more overt by 1958, and in fact the Hammer Horror series was on the leading edge of the trend. Horror of Dracula is tame by modern standards, but pursued titillation that the Universal version didn't. You don't quite see the female vampire sink her teeth into Harker's neck, but this movie comes closer to that shot than the 1931 film did, and shows blood around her mouth and Dracula's afterward. As for the "sex" part, the inherent sexuality of the story is still veiled, but there is an element of the erotic to the scene, and the female vampire is one of several women in the film to wear a revealing dress.

Harker lives to fight another day, but only one more. Like the 1931 version, this film throws out the hard-to-believe "Harker gets away" part of the book. Unlike the 1931 version, it replaces it with the even-harder-to-believe premise that he waits until right before sunset to try to kill Dracula, and kills the wife first so she can scream and wake the Count. This seems like particularly poor planning on Harker's part given that he has the presence of mind to hide his diary where someone will find it first.

Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) turns up looking for Harker, finds him vampiric and sleeping, and stakes him. Between the scene in the crypt, Harker's diary (which he acquires from the traditional spooked villagers), and the carriage he saw tearing out the gate carrying a coffin as he arrived, he determines that Dracula's headed to London to replace his dead wife with Jonathan's fiancee. In this version, Lucy is engaged to Jonathan, and is Holmwood's sister; Holmwood is married to Mina.

Holmwood, with good reason, is originally skeptical of Van Helsing, but as Dracula goes after Lucy and Dr. Seward (a minor character in this version) misdiagnoses her with anemia, Mina seeks his help. We get the transfusion scene again in this version, as well as the wreath of garlic around her neck that the maid then removes. Lucy apparently dies, Van Helsing reveals Jonathan's diary, they go to the crypt and stake her.

As Van Helsing and Holmwood try to track Dracula's coffin down (there's no Carfax Abbey in this version, and neither is there a ship scene; Castle Dracula is within a day's ride of London and Dracula came by coach). As in the previous movies, Dracula needs to sleep in a coffin in his own home soil, and in this version he isn't capable of transforming into wolf, mist, or bat, so his mobility is limited.

While they're out looking for him, Dracula makes his move (leading me to wonder why they didn't perform the search in the daytime) and turns Mina. Holmwood discovers what's happened when he hands her a cross and, as in the book, it burns her. He and Van Helsing go to the morgue to find Dracula's coffin, but it's gone; in another unexpected twist, it's inside Holmwood's house. As Dracula attacks Mina again, Van Helsing finds the coffin and throws a crucifix into it, preventing Dracula from returning to it and forcing him to flee with Mina back to his castle. At last, the chase scene!

Van Helsing corners Dracula for a good, solid fight scene, ending in sunrise and Dracula's death. Holmwood saves Mina, who was buried alive; she returns to normal. Presumably Harker and Van Helsing didn't know that killing Dracula would cause his victims to revert, because if they did, then none of the movie makes any sense.

This version, while IMO the least memorable of the four, is interesting for managing to throw some twists into the story, most notably Harker's revelation that he knows who Dracula is and intends to kill him and Dracula hiding inside Holmwood's own home. The decision to include Holmwood while minimizing Seward's role and omitting Renfield's is interesting. And again, the increase in sex and violence over the previous films is notable.

I think my biggest complaint is that Dracula's transformation from man to monster occurs too quickly in this movie -- Christopher Lee doesn't get nearly enough lines, which is a pity given his fantastic voice and delivery. Nonetheless, it remains one of his most memorable roles in a long and distinguished career, and with good reason.

That leaves the 1992 version, and I have enough to say about that one for it to be its own separate post. To be continued!

Love and Rockets: New Stories #1

So, people on the messageboard have recently been prodding me about the fact that there are threads there that consist largely of me posting and nobody replying, yet meanwhile I have let my blog languish since February. It is a fair point, and so I'm going to start putting my posts about things nobody else apparently wants to talk about up here instead of on the boards.

Sadly, Love and Rockets seems to be one of those things, and that's a shame -- anything involving Skrulls or written by Mark Millar provokes lively discussion, yet when I bring up one of the seminal series in comics history (and, for my money, a fantastic piece of American literature)? Nada.

So this week marked the debut of Love and Rockets: New Stories, the third volume of the series and a new format -- a beefy 100-page annual. I suspect that the reason they titled it New Stories instead of simply Volume 3 is that, at a glance, it looks like a trade; they want to emphasize that it is not, in fact, a collection of old stuff.

The presentation is 7 short Gilbert stories (one of which is written by Mario) bookended by a Jaime story in two 24-page installments.

Jaime's story is set, loosely, in Locas continuity -- it features Penny Century and Xo, and Maggie appears briefly -- but it doesn't fit with the series' usual realistic themes; it's a superhero story. It recalls the early Maggie the Mechanic stories, where dinosaurs and robots appeared as casual, everyday parts of life, and Love and Rockets was actually a fairly accurate description of what you were likely to see in the book.

That aside, needless to say, it's not everday superhero fare. There's plenty of Kirby love to go around, but this is still a Love and Rockets story -- it's about family issues, old friends reuniting, and strong women.

That element of the familiar pervades Gilbert's stories, too, but he abandons his established world -- there's no Palomar here, nor even any of its tangentially related characters like Venus or Fritz. They're also short -- Jaime devotes 48 pages to a single story, while Beto's longest is 16.

Papa, The New Adventures of Duke and Sammy, and Victory Dance form a trilogy of sorts, increasingly surreal as they go. Mario's story, Chiro El Indio, is not so much surreal as whimsical, and has a certain 1920's vibe to it. Never Say Never is a funny animal story about luck and sharing the wealth, while the aptly-named ? is a thick-lined, surreal pictures-only story that recalls Owly or Frank.

Beto's stories show a good deal of stylistic range -- I'm not an artist and I'm likely to stumble in trying to describe what he does with lines and shading, but each story is visually distinct.

Anyway. Love and Rockets. One of the all-time greats, and I love that it's still being published -- even if we only get one a year now.

Looking forward to Beto's story in this year's Treehouse of Horror comic.


Playing: Just finished Mass Effect for the second time; working my way through various Mega Man titles in preparation for 9.

Reading: Our Dumb World, in-between various comics. The local Atomic Comics had a 20% off sale on Labor Day and I picked up a stack; so far I've read Astonishing X-Men vol 4: Unstoppable and Batman: Gotham by Gaslight.