Real Neat Blog Award

I was nominated for the Real Neat Blog Award by Gerhart von Kapherr.  I have always found the writing on gvonkapherr to be extremely intelligent and insightful.  I certainly appreciate the nomination.  Gerhart and his son Tom von Kapherr of Cats at the Bar are both good people. real-neat-blog-award The  “rules” of the Real Neat Blog Award are:

  1. Put the award logo on your blog (that’s it above).
  2. Answer seven questions asked by the person who nominated you.
  3. Thank the people who nominated you, linking to their blogs.
  4. Nominate any number of bloggers you like, linking to their blogs.
  5. Let them know you nominated them (by commenting on their blog etc.)

Now to answers the questions asked by Gerhart (and to keep things simple these will be the same questions I am going to ask my nominees)…

  1. Where do most visits to your blog come from?

Many of my posts are about comic books, science fiction and Doctor Who.  It seems from looking at my WordPress stats page that many people come across my blog when it pops up in the search results for related topics.  Promoting my blog on Facebook and on various message boards has also brought in readers.

  1. What is your favorite sport?

Oh, I’ve never liked sports all that much.  I was such a geek when I was younger, always reading a book instead of playing sports at school or summer camp.  I did grow up watching baseball, usually the New York Mets.  I’m a fan of the team even though they usually do poorly.  As the saying goes, I’m a sucker for a lost cause! I also find ice hockey to be fairly interesting to watch because it’s so fast-paced, plus you get the occasional fist fight to spice things up.  That, and I think the NHL lets cats play… ice hockey cats

  1. What has been a special moment for you in 2015 so far?

I suppose that it would be finding a new job so soon after I lost my last one.  At first it didn’t feel special because I was still carrying a lot of resentment around about how the previous one ended, and I kept comparing my new position to my old one.  It took a few weeks but fortunately I was able to learn to not just accept but appreciate my present employment circumstances. That is one of the aspects of my personality that is continually a work in progress.  I need to attempt not to be so negative and to approach things with a better attitude.

  1. What is your favorite quote?

“Never argue with an idiot. They will only bring you down to their level and beat you with experience.”

I have seen this attributed to George Carlin, and it’s a variation of something Mark Twain said.  I try to follow that advice, especially on the internet!  In a broader sense, it is a good reminder to practice restraint of pen and tongue in all aspects of life.  After all, I am certainly quite capable of putting my foot in my mouth.

  1. What was your favorite class when still at school?

It would be a tie between English and History.  I expect that anyone who follows this blog regularly won’t be too surprised to learn that.

  1. Anything you had wished to have learned earlier?

I sometimes wish that I had possessed more patience for learning math in school.  I always found it boring and confusing.  I never had any aptitude for it.  Some of what I struggled with, and was disinterested in, I would later realize were useful skills to possess in a variety of jobs, as well as in managing personal finances. Mark Anderson math cartoon I also would have liked to learn a foreign language.  I took French in high school and I really struggled with it.  I wanted to learn it but found it so incredibly difficult.  Being bilingual or multilingual would have been such a useful skill to possess.

  1. What musical instrument have you tried to play?

Oh, this is a sad story.  When I was in fourth grade I somehow got it into my head that I was going to play the trombone.  Yes, really.  But I just didn’t possess either the talent or the dedication that was needed.  In hindsight, my artistic strengths lay in other areas, particularly writing.  Hence this blog!

Below is my list of nominees for the Real Neat Blog Award.  If you don’t accept awards, please do not feel obligated to act on this.

I’ve listed these in alphabetical order so as not to play favorites.  I hope everyone will check them out, because they are all really good blogs that I enjoy.

Finally, here is a link to Dear Kitty, the founder of the Real Neat Blog Award!

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I blame Orrgo the Unconquerable for this weather

I’m looking out the window right now and all I see is snow.  Yep, more snow.  I am so sick of snow.

Winter is a funny thing.  When it’s late December you think to yourself “Wouldn’t it be nice to get a little snow, have a White Christmas for once?”  It usually doesn’t happen.  But then January rolls around and you start getting snow… and more snow… and still more snow.  So much snow that by the time you hit March and you’ve spent most of the last month suffering from a bad cold you’re literally shaking your fist and crying out “No! Not more snow! When is this winter going to end?!?”

I’m starting to think that Orrgo the Unconquerable is responsible for all of this snow.

Oh, the weather outside is frightful...

Oh, the weather outside is frightful…

Orrgo the Unconquerable is one of those numerous oddball monsters who first appeared between the mid 1950s and early 60s in stories published by Marvel Comics before they began their groundbreaking superhero revival in late 1961.  These were pretty formulaic affairs which involved some seemingly-unstoppable menace from beyond threating the whole of humanity, until the day is saved in a convenient last-minute (and often left-field) twist.

What caused many of these monsters to stand out were the bizarre designs they were given by artists Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, plus the offbeat names that writer / editor Stan Lee gave them.  That’s certainly the case with Orrgo.

Orrgo first appeared in Strange Tales #90, cover-dated November 1961 (the same month as Fantastic Four #1) in a story illustrated by Kirby and inker Dick Ayers.  According to the Grand Comics Database, the story was probably plotted by Lee and scripted by Larry Lieber.

An alien invader of seemingly-unlimited power, Orrgo sets out to conquer the Earth.  All of humanity’s weapons are totally powerless against him.  As seen above, he even freezes the city of Washington DC in a sold block of ice.

Eventually Orrgo decides to hypnotize the entire planet into obeying him.  Having defeated humanity, Orrgo then returns to the circus where he first arrived on Earth and takes a nap under a tree.  Well, even when you are an “unconquerable” menace, I expect that it is still a bit of work to crush whole worlds under your heel, and you eventually need to get some shut-eye.

Pow! Right in the kisser!

Pow! Right in the kisser!

Unfortunately for Orrgo, while he is catching some zzz’s, and the Earth’s population is in a hypnotic trance, the circus gorilla Jo-Jo breaks loose, furious that he hasn’t been fed.  Sensing that Orrgo is somehow responsible for his missing meals, the gorilla smashes the slumbering alien conquerer in the head, killing him.

Yeah, I did mention those last-minute, left-field resolutions, didn’t I?!?

You can read the entire story “Orrgo the Unconquerable” from Strange Tales #90 on The Golden Age blog.

Anyway, this is comic books, and no one ever stays dead forever.  Along with various other “pre-hero” monsters, Orrgo (or at least another member of his race) has been brought back on a few occasions by Marvel.  Most notably, Orrgo resurfaced in the bizarre yet fun Defenders revival by Kurt Busiek & Erik Larsen that ran from 2001 to 2002.  Orrgo was summoned by that supremely weird group of villains known as the Headmen, who used him to temporarily take over the world.

A mesmerizing comic book!

A mesmerizing comic book!

So, yeah, given his penchant for fast-freezing entire metropolitan areas, I would not be at all surprised to learn that Orrgo the Unconquerable is responsible for this awful winter weather.  To which I can only say… knock it off buddy, before I send another gorilla to bop you on the noggin!

Christmas with the Devil

Christmas is not exactly my favorite time of year.  First of all, like Ben Grimm and Kitty Pryde, I happen to be Jewish.  Second, I look at how ridiculously commercialized the holiday has become, and I cannot help but wonder what Jesus would think in regards to the conspicuous consumerism being conducted in his name.  Third, it is one of those times of year when people feel obligated to be happy & joyous, because that is the image popular culture projects, and so they believe that there is something lacking in or wrong with their lives because they are plagued by myriad problems.

And then I was reminded of Daredevil #266, published by Marvel Comics back in 1989.  It’s definitely one of my all time favorite issues of that series.  Yesterday Ann Nocenti had posted about it on her Facebook page, revealing of this story:

“Reality was the inspiration.  I’d screwed up my life so bad I had nowhere to go on X-Mas, so stopped in a pub and had a memorable day with strangers.”

Daredevil 266 cover signed

“A Beer with the Devil” was written by Nocenti, co-plotted & penciled by John Romita Jr, and inked by Al Williamson.  It’s Christmas Eve, and Daredevil is in bad shape.  For the hero of Hell’s Kitchen, it’s the end of what’s been a horrific year.  After the devastating events of the classic “Born Again” storyline, Matt Murdock had been attempting to rebuild his shattered life.  His efforts were thwarted by Typhoid Mary, the femme fatale assassin in the employ of the Kingpin.  Typhoid orchestrated a campaign to attack Daredevil mentally, physically, and emotionally.  Barely surviving this brutal gauntlet, Daredevil then experienced the horrors of “Inferno” as the demons of Limbo assaulted Manhattan.  Now the shell-shocked, scarred vigilante sits in a bar, nursing a beer.  He is surrounded by other social outcasts who also have nowhere else to go on the holidays.

In the midst of this, a beautiful but enigmatic woman approaches Daredevil.  She starts to talk to him, telling a tale about betraying her husband.  The red-haired woman begins posing hypothetical questions, such as which is worse, stealing one dollar or one million, and then asking Daredevil if he believes he has made a difference as a hero.  Stating that “it’s too late for the world, the apple’s rotten, there’s no going back,” the strange woman seduces Daredevil, kissing him passionately.

Daredevil 266 pg 11

And while all this is going on, two brothers, Hector and Hugo, are drunkenly arguing.  Their squabble ends horribly, as Hector takes a broken bottle and stabs his brother in the stomach, killing him.  Daredevil realizes there is something wrong and violently punches the mystery woman away, and turns around to find a murder has taken place right under his nose, one he could easily have prevented if he had not been enthralled.

Daredevil turns back to the woman, whose shape shifts & changes, revealing her true form: the demon lord Mephisto.  The ruler of the underworld seizes the crimefighter, taunting and mocking him, throwing back in his face his actions as both Daredevil and Matt Murdock.  Mephisto appears to grow to immense size, and the bar is consumed by flames before the building comes crumbling down.  Claiming that Daredevil is powerless against evil, the devil finally vanishes, leaving Daredevil to plummet down to the street.

When Daredevil finally comes to in the snow, everything is back to normal, with no sign of any carnage or destruction.  Two concerned strangers from the bar help DD to his feet.  They ask if he wants to come with them to the soup kitchen for Christmas dinner, and he accepts.

Daredevil 266 pg 24

I can certainly relate to “A Beer with the Devil.”  There have been holidays past where I’ve found myself perched on a bar stool, drink in hand, ruminating on my solitude and unhappiness, wondering where my life went wrong, attempting to find solace among strangers.  As I said before, I think a lot of people feel that way around this time of year.

Nocenti’s writing on this issue is amazing.  She introduces the odd, colorful bar customers, effectively fleshing them out within just a few panels, given glimpses of entire lives lived outside the pages of this story.  They feel very authentic, just like the types of people you’d see if you walked into some hole-in-the-wall drinking establishment in Manhattan.  I’ve met quite a few characters like these during my bar-crawling days.

Mephisto is an interesting character to utilize.  As a Satanic figure, he is the exact opposite of the Messiah, the being whose birth Christmas is supposed to celebrate.  The lord of the damned would want to slander and blaspheme this most holy of occasions, to subvert the message of peace and hope.  Targeting Daredevil, tempting him, making him feel ineffectual, corrupting a noble soul who has already been through so much pain & suffering in order to finally tip him over the edge, is a very Biblical action.

And then, at the very end, Nocenti offers up a moment of hope.  A small gesture of human kindness, strangers extending a helping hand… that is the true spirit of the holiday.  It is a message all too often lost in the rush to buy the most presents or put up the most decorations.  Reflecting on that final page, I thought about my own present circumstances.  I have a lot of personal problems, along with many accompanying fears.  I have no idea what 2014 is going to bring for me.  But at least I know that this holiday season I’m not going to be alone.  I have my girlfriend.  Yeah, things are certainly not perfect between the two of us.  But when is any relationship ever without problems?  At least we have each other, which is much better than sitting on that lonely bar stool.

Daredevil 266 pg 30

The artwork on Daredevil #266 is wonderful.  John Romita Jr is one of those artists who always turn in very solid, professional work.  He isn’t especially flashy, but he gets the job done, effectively tells a story and establishes a real sense of atmosphere.  I think he is a rather underrated penciler.  “A Beer with the Devil” is one of the best efforts of his career, as he draws the mundane and the metaphysical side-by-side.  Romita’s redesign of Mephisto is amazingly horrific.

I’m a huge fan of Al Williamson, who was himself an amazing penciler.  Williamson specialized in sci-fi and space opera, memorably illustrating Weird Science, Flash Gordon, and Star Wars.  I wonder how he felt about inking Romita’s pencils for these grim, philosophical tales of gritty urban crime and, later on, the surreal journey that Nocenti took DD on when she sent him into Hell itself for a confrontation with Mephisto and his son Blackheart (see Daredevil #s 270 and 278-282 for that mind-blowing odyssey).  Whatever the case, Williamson was a great fit for Romita’s pencils, and the two of them were the perfect art team for Nocenti’s thought-provoking writing on the series.

At first glance, Daredevil #266 probably seems a very bizarre story to look at to celebrate the holiday season.  But actually it is a very appropriate, genuine piece of writing.  Rather than putting on a façade of joy and frivolity, “A Beer with the Devil” acknowledges that, yes, the world is deeply messed up, there is more than enough evil & hypocrisy to go around, and life just isn’t fair.  But, as the ending demonstrates, by offering a little bit of kindness and selflessness towards others, perhaps you can help make things just a tiny bit better, one day at a time.  And that might just be a sentiment Jesus would agree with.

Holiday daze

So, another year comes to an end.  I would be lying if I didn’t say I would be happy to see 2012 pass by.  The past twelve months have had so many personal highs and lows, a total rollercoaster.  I’m looking forward to 2013.  Hopefully it’ll be a better year, and I’ll be a better person, as well.

In any case, the last week has been pretty good.  Michele and I invited her parents over for dinner on Christmas Eve.  Michele is one hell of a cook.  This year she made a turkey, stuffing, homemade mashed potatoes, and several vegetables.  It was a really good meal.  The cats went totally crazy, of course!  Squeaky and Nettie love their turkey.  Squeaky even ended up jumping on the kitchen counter in an attempt to get at the turkey before Michele had even had the opportunity to cook it yet!  Anyway, there were plenty of leftovers, so the cats had a chance to gobble down plenty of turkey.  We also gave a few pieces to the turtle.  Yes, Meeshee Gamera refuses to eat vegetables, but she loves poultry.  We gave some food to Michele’s parents to take home.  From what Michele tells me, when they got home, Little Ginger the kitten went nuts when they fed her some turkey.

Michele's delicious turkey

Michele’s delicious turkey

Finally, a few days later, there was only a little bit left.  After I threw out the carcass, I made the mistake of leaving the remaining turkey on a plate by the stove, planning to give it to the turtle the next day.  Well, when I woke up the next morning, it was all gone, except for the wish bone.  Michele and I were looking at each other, puzzled.  “Did you eat it?”  “No, I didn’t, did you eat it?”  Finally it dawned on us that in the middle of the night one of the cats must have jumped up and taken it!

Between the cold weather and the turkey rendering us semi-comatose, we ended up watching a lot of television.  When Michele’s parents came over for dinner, I turned on Animal Planet for the Too Cute marathon.  That show features oodles and oodles of kittens and puppies.  I think I overdosed on adorable.  Then Michele put the Laurel and Hardy film Babes in Toyland aka March of the Wooden Soldiers on the DVD player.

Christmas morning was pretty much dominated by our yearly tradition of watching the 24 hour marathon of A Christmas Story on TBS.  Somehow, we never end up viewing the movie from beginning to end.  Instead, we catch 15 minutes here, a half hour there, and by the end of the day, when you add up all the bits & pieces, we’ve seen the entire movie at least once.  That really is a hysterical film.  As with so many other great cult classics, it apparently did poorly in the theaters, only to find new life on home video and television.

Other viewing material that day was the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode of Santa Claus, a truly bizarre 1959 Mexican movie which features the war between St. Nick and the Devil.  Yes, really!  It is a strange, strange film.  To quote Mike & the Bots, “This is good old fashioned nightmare fuel!”  Then it was time for this year’s Doctor Who Christmas special.  It was pretty good, albeit uneven.  I may review “The Snowmen” on this blog in the near future.

Another show on Animal Planet that I’ve gotten into recently is Pit Bulls & Parolees.  I really like that one.  I think pit bulls are misunderstood.  If you treat them kindly and train them properly, they really can end up being very sweet, loyal dogs.  Another reason I like the show is that it gives people who have been to prison a second chance.  Maybe I’m too sappy, but I honestly believe that there are some people who have made mistakes, but who now genuinely want to turn their lives around.  I honestly feel that they should be given that opportunity.

I think the cats have been happy to have us home, since they’ve been leaping onto the couch to watch TV with us.  Nettie has been sleeping in my lap.  At one point Michele was relaxing on the couch under the blanket, and, as can be seen below, Squeaky curled up on top of her head.  I think she was actually very comfortable there.

Michele and Squeaky

Michele and Squeaky

In the last few days, Michele has gotten a nostalgic craving for that late 1970s series The Gong Show, hosted by Chuck Barris.  She’s been watching all of these clips of it on YouTube.  I’ve never actually seen the original version of The Gong Show before.  I saw a few episodes of the 1980s revival, which never impressed me, so I couldn’t understand what the big deal was.  But Michele pretty much forced me to watch those clips of the original incarnation and, yeah, it is a million times better.  I have to agree with her, the people involved in making the show must have been on some serious drugs!  Of course, while we were browsing through all these old television clips, we happened to learn that a serial killer was once a contestant on The Dating Game.  Oh, wow, truth really is stranger than fiction.  I’m surprised that this never inspired an episode of Criminal Minds.

So now it’s New Years Eve.  I have no plans yet.  Since I quit drinking, it just feels really weird hanging out at bars or parties with people who are getting smashed.  A couple of nights ago, we were at The Cobra Club in Bushwick again, hanging out with some of Michele’s friends.  It was fun, yeah, but after a couple of hours I just started to get edgy, being around all that booze.  And, y’know, if you aren’t drinking, bars are kinda boring.  I don’t know, maybe I just overthink these things.  Anyway, I’m not sure what I’m going to end up doing tonight.  Perhaps I’ll hang out with Michele for a little while and then call it an early night, catch the Twilight Zone marathon or something.  We shall see.

In any case, I hope everyone has a wonderful 2013.  See you next year.

My nutty Thanksgiving weekend

This year my Thanksgiving weekend was crazier than usual.  Last Monday, I received a phone call from a temp agency that I registered with some time ago.  I’ve been trying to get work thru them for a while now, because it seems that they have a lot of good positions with really big companies, openings that pay well and might eventually lead to something permanent down the road.  It turned out that this temp agency wanted to send me out on an assignment, all right, but not for an office job.  No, it was a retail job at a big department store in the Herald Square area of Manhattan.  I would go in for a half day of training on Wednesday, and then return for an eight hour shift on Friday.  Yep, that’s right: Black Friday.

I’ve worked retail during the holiday season before, about a dozen years ago.  It wasn’t pretty.  Crowds of people packed in tight, scrambling to grab all the big “deals.”  I do not even like the idea of shopping on Black Friday.  So the thought of actually working on it filled me with genuine fear.  Nevertheless, I accepted the assignment because, as I said, I’ve wanted to get work from this agency for a while now, and I thought this would be a good way to get a foot in the door.

Everything went fine on Wednesday.  I showed up, did the four hours of training, and left.  Thursday I was nervous, but I tried my best to stay calm.  I went to bed early, so I’d have plenty of sleep.  Friday rolled around, and I got up around 6:15.  Made it to the store in plenty of time of the beginning of the 9 AM shift.  I get assigned to the third floor, and one of the supervisors tells me to walk around & straighten things up, because customers were leaving things in a mess.  I do this for about 45 minutes when the store manager calls me over and takes me to the back office.  I find out that there’s been a mistake made.  Of the 16 people who showed up on Wednesday for training, only 12 were supposed to actually return on Friday to work.  I was one of the four who wasn’t picked to work Friday, but somehow there’s been a miscommunication and everyone came back.  I’m told they don’t need me, and I should call the temp agency to find out what happened.

Hmmph!  After all that worry, I’m in & out the door in under an hour!  So I call up the temp agency, and they have a totally lame excuse.  According to them, everyone who the store wanted to return on Friday received a confirmation e-mail telling them to come back, and if you did not get an e-mail, you should have known not to return on Friday.  They acted like this was so blindingly obvious, and seemed to take the attitude that I made some sort of moronic mistake.  Uh huh.  If it was so obvious, why did everyone come back on Friday?  If all four people who didn’t get an e-mail were clueless that they were not supposed to be there, then it’s not so obvious, is it?  Really, it seems very apparent that the agency should have notified everyone as to whether or not they were supposed to report to work.

Anyway, since I was already in Manhattan, I decided to walk over to Midtown Comics, which was having a 25% off everything until 12 noon sale.  I purchased a handful of trade paperbacks that I’d been meaning to get for a while now, but that I’d been putting off buying for an occasion such as this.  So it wasn’t a total waste of a morning.

Back-tracking to Thursday, Thanksgiving itself was fun.  When I was a teenager in the 1990s, I used to watch the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Turkey Day marathon each Thanksgiving morning.  I miss those.  They used to be one of the highlights of the whole day for me.  I decided to recapture some of the spirit of those days by playing a couple of MST3K episodes on the DVD.  First up was the Turkey Day edition of Night of the Blood Beast, a 1958 cheese-fest produced by schlock filmmaker Roger Corman.  The monster in this movie looks like a giant flame-broiled parakeet.  Next I watched the MST3K edition of Gamera, which was the first of the giant flying turtle movies to come out of Japan.  Strangely, while it was on, I could have sworn our pet turtle Meeshee was watching the TV from her tank.

For dinner, Michele and I met up with her parents, and we ate out.  The restaurant put together a pretty good Thanksgiving Day spread, with turkey, gravy, stuffing, potatoes, and vegetables.  I wish we could have stayed out longer, but I thought I was going to be working the next morning.  We all know how that turned out.

After the Black Friday mix-up the next day, I returned to Queens.  Michele had been invited to a party by her friend Pam, so that night we headed to Brooklyn.  It was a cool get-together.  We were there most of the night.  It’s a good thing I quit drinking a few years ago, because there was a ton of booze at the party.  If I had been imbibing, I’m sure I would have gotten totally smashed.  As it was, I ended up spending most of the night watching a Jackass marathon on television.  I’ve never actually sat down and watched Jackass before.  Damn, what an incredibly stupid show… yet at the same time, absolutely hysterical in a really sick, twisted way.  I was totally laughing my ass off.  I really had to wonder at what sort of astronomical premiums Steve-O, Johnny Knoxville, and the rest of the gang need to pay on their insurance policies.  That is, assuming any carrier would be willing to cover them.

Around three in the morning a bunch of us headed out to a local bar, the Cobra Club.  With a name like that, you would think it would be a douchebag type of place, but turned out to be really cool.  While we were there, I ran into this guy Alex who I knew from way back when I was living in London, England for six months.  I’d bumped into him in NYC a couple of times since, but it had been years since I’d last seen him.  That was cool.  Back around 2004 he was in this local industrial metal band Still Life Decay whose work I liked.

Shortly before last call, the DJ played “Imagination” by Xymox.  I had not heard that song in years and years.  It was so long, in fact, that I’d forgotten who recorded it.  I ended up downloading it off of Amazon the next day.  It’s always cool to re-discover old music like that.

The rest of the weekend was pretty low key.  I was mostly relaxing and reading comic books.  Sunday night I popped another MST3K episode into the DVD player.  Warrior of the Lost World is one of my all time favorite episodes of that series.  I’ve mentioned it before on this blog.  Suffice to say, I was laughing non-stop as Joel, Tom Servo, and Crow went to town on it.  It was a fun way to end the holiday weekend.