Vengeance is a dish best served dead: The Spectre again (#SFWApro)

My first post on DC’s Spectre ran up through Michael Fleisher’s 1970s series, which defined the Spectre in a way no previous series had done (I thought I’d have Part Two up sooner, but no). The concept of the Spectre as a brutal avenging angel (plus a couple of appearances in TV’s Batman: The Brave and the Bold)is the one every comics writer using the character has worked with ever since. In terms of sales, however, the series was not a success: after ten issues of Adventure Comics Aquaman came in and replaced it, even though DC had three Fleisher-written stories that hadn’t come out yet. Adventure‘s letter column said the sales had dropped after the first few issues. When the Fleisher run was reprinted years later in Wrath of the Spectre, including the unpublished three, editor Joe Orlando said he’d heard second-hand that a lot of comics creators hated the series, hated the Spectre’s brutal execution MO, and that this played into the cancellation.

The Spectre next had a three-issue run in the anthology series Ghosts, then got his own book again, scripted by Doug Moench, in 1987 (cover by Michael Kaluta, all rights with current holder) In this series spectre1the Spectre had greatly reduced powers, but still carried out his mission of vengeance, with Corrigan frequently locking horns with the Spectre over the Ghostly Guardians methods. Like a lot of Moench’s work, it didn’t click with me.

Then came the John Ostrander/Tom Mandrake series of the 1990s, and this did click. I’ve read the first two TPBs, Crimes and Judgments and Wrath of God and I wish more was out. The creators do a remarkable job combining elements of every previous run into something new. The greatest strength of the first two volumes is that they take a hard look at the Spectre concept. Why would God require Corrigan walk the Earth until evil is erased? Why target murderous hoodlums rather than war? Pollution? Racism? It turns out Corrigan’s mission wasn’t simply to destroy it, but to understand it, and so understand his own angry, frustrated soul. And that the Spectre isn’t his ghost but an angel of judgment bound to him (details of why and how came later in the series), its anger truly uncontrollable: when a dying woman begs Jim to stay with her, he has to hunt down the killer instead. Though by the end of Vol. 2, the Spectre has slowly begun a path toward redemption that would occupy much of the series.

Ostrander and Mandrake do an amazing job, though sometimes they fail the premise. In one story the Spectre wipes out Vlatava, a fictional country torn by civil war, because everyone there  has blood on their hands. The following issue the Spectre goes to Northern Ireland, but instead of unleashing his wrath, he kills one person and then leaves. I don’t know if they were uncomfortable genociding a real place or worried about the effect on the DCU (which is supposed to look reasonably close to our own world), but the difference made the second story very unconvincing. Overall, though, they’re a great pair of TPBs.

At the end of the Ostrander/Mandrake series, Corrigan finally gets eternal rest. In the Day of Judgment crossover event, Hal Jordan, deceased former Green Lantern (he’d turned evil, become a super-villain, then redeemed himself by dying to save the universe), becomes the Spectre’s newest host. A new series in 2001 has Hal using his willpower to control the Spectre and turn him into a spirit of redemption. The execution didn’t grab me, but I did like the premise. DC editor-in-chief Dan Didio, however, was determined to have Hal back as Green Lantern so Spectre eventually wound up bonded once again to a dead cop, black detective Crispus Allen. In the Spectre’s occasional appearances since it’s been mostly stock Fleisheresque stuff, rather than exploring the implications of a black spirit of vengeance.

While the Fleisher version remains definitive, the Ostrander/Mandrake run is easily my favorite.

(Cover by Tom Mandrake, all rights to current holder).

spectre1-1

 

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Gay marriage and other political links

Slacktivist looks at a recent Christianity Today article insisting that refusing to serve gays is nothing like refusing to serve blacks 60 years ago—that was racism and hate, anti-gay stuff is about staying true to Biblical principles. Except, as noted at the link, segregationists were very clear that black and white were separated by God (Jerry Falwell, one of the landmark leaders of the religious right, got into politics because of integration. He was against it).

This ties in, at least in my eyes to the Christian Science Monitor’s series on the clash between Christian wedding vendors and gay couples. It includes quotes in various segments from Southern Baptist spokesperson Al Mohler and a spokesperson for the United Pentecostalist Church on the importance of religious freedom and not forcing people to compromise their beliefs. Even though I don’t agree with this, I don’t think is an unreasonable stance—but it sure is similar to the arguments made under Jim Crow and even today against desegregating (a friend of mine was warned by her pastor that dating across the color line was absolutely anti-Bible).

And while Mohler and other members of the SBC are quoted about rights and diversity, they don’t have any respect for either. Mohler (and the SBC) have opposed same-sex marriage, regardless of whether florists and bakers are forced to provide services; the SBC last I checked doesn’t support any rights for gays (to have sex, to serve, etc.). That doesn’t invalidate their support of the wedding vendors, but I think it’s important to remember the only religious freedom they’re fighting for is that of people who believe like them.

It’s particularly telling in the arguments that county clerks shouldn’t have to issue licenses if they personally don’t accept same-sex marriage due to “sincerely held religious beliefs” as in one proposed Mississippi bill. For the life of me I can’t see any excuse for refusing to do the duty your taxpayers are paying you for. And why single out same-sex marriage over all the other things people might object to (interracial, Catholic getting a second marriage, marriage outside your faith, atheist marriage)? As I’ve said elsewhere, religious freedom doesn’t guarantee your right to get out of anything you object to.

All that being said, death threats against businesses that refuse to provide wedding services are not an acceptable political tactic.

In other news:

•Police shoot a number of mentally ill people every year because they’re often the first responders called in to deal with the problem. Slacktivist looks at possible solutions. And in response to the Charles Kinsey shooting last week, slacktivist suggests police give mandatory first aid to anyone they shoot.

•Conservatives are shocked and appalled that anyone would make jokes about abortion on the pro-choice side.

•Some members of Congress are wondering about the impact of AirBnB and whether it squeezes out regular renters.

•I’ve blogged before about the news reports that most farm-to-table restaurateurs in Tampa are lying about their food. I’m not surprised this is common elsewhere.

•The CDC reports a growth in drug-resistant gonorrhea.

•Although Ohio is an open-carry state, protesters at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland will not be allowed to carry toy guns or umbrellas with sharp tips, just real guns.

•Shell-shocked anti-Trump Republicans begin reconciling themselves to the candidate. I particularly liked one suggestion that Republicans should back off calls for tax cuts for the rich, but only temporarily.

•There’s a push for Uber drivers to unionize. Sounds good to me. And despite it’s success, it’s currently bleeding money (one suggestion in comments at the first link is that they’re waiting until self-driving cars let them dispense with the human factor).

•Paul Ryan didn’t roll out his “Better Way” at a country club so (according to the Wall Street Journal) he must be serious about helping the poor. Think Progress mocks the people who think Ryan is a serious-policy guy.

•There’s dying for honor and then there’s honor killings in which someone else makes the call for you (and by “you” I mean women).

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Neo-noir drama, Person of Interest and other films and TV watched (#SFWApro)

As I’ve already caught Hail Caesar, watching INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIES (2013) wraps up my Coen Brothers perusing for the time being, and unfortunately not on a high note. Like the Coens’ A Serious Man and Barton Fink, this takes what one of my film books describes as a basic noir concept — the universe suddenly decides to wreck your life for no reason at all — and applies it to a non-crime film. Oscar Isaac plays the eponymous surly folk singer in the early 1960s dealing with professional rejection, a lack of cash, a runaway cat and hitching a ride with a guy who gets hauled in by the cops. As I said of A Serious Man, this is just a string of random bad-luck events with no real plot, and Davies is too unlikable to care (though I agree with several critics his actions are mostly those of a decent guy).  Justin Timberlake plays half of a folk-singing duo, F. Murray Abraham runs a record label and John Goodman is an ill-fated jazz man. Might double-bill well with Next Stop, Greenwich Village with its more upbeat portrayal of struggling Big Apple creative types. “I’m not hearing any money in that.”

Just as Woody Allen’s Scoop harkened back to 1930s comedies, so Woody Allen’s MATCH POINT (2006) seems to reflect 1960s social dramas such as Room at the Top with its story of a tennis pro marrying into a wealthy family via smitten Emily Mortimer, then risking his success on an affair with in-law Scarlett Johannson. This is as plodding and dull as Crimes and Misdemeanors. “Did anyone ever tell you you have very sensual lips?”

RUMOR HAS IT (2005) is the best film of the week, a slight but pleasant comedy in which Jennifer Aniston learns her family’s sordid past was the inspiration for The Graduate, hunts down the Benjamin Braddock character (Kevin Costner) in the belief he’s her father, and upon learning he isn’t winds up becoming the third generation of women to fall for him. Mark Ruffalo plays Aniston’s bland fiancee, Shirley Maclaine plays Mrs. Robinson and Mena Suvari is Aniston’s bubbly sister. “Life should be a little nuts—otherwise it’s just a bunch of Thursdays.”

MV5BMjhkNzU3ZDktNmI2Zi00YzUwLWFhMzQtOGE1OTJjMzFjY2U5XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjE5MjEyNjM@._V1_UY268_CR3,0,182,268_AL_After watching the pilot of FANTASTIC JOURNEY (1977) for Now and Then We Time Travel I kept watching the story of a handful of travelers from different eras struggling through the Bermuda Triangle to find a path back to the present (or for Jared Martin’s Varian, the 23rd century). Rewatching this I can see why I liked it in my teams—the writers do a good job with pulp staples involving mad conquerors, utopian civilizations,  sorcerers, etc.—but also why it lasted less than a dozen episodes. The acting is bland (except for Roddy McDowell as cynical scientist Willoway) and the characters except Varian have little besides looks to distinguish them. No great loss to American TV that it didn’t last.

PERSON OF INTEREST on the other hand, I’ll miss greatly, as it wrapped up the final season this year. The cast members continued operating in the shadow of the all-powerful AI Samaritan which we learn was attempting to steer human history in the direction it believed we needed to go. Solid drama, though I can see why a number of fans were angry that Root (Amy Acker) joined the list of dead lesbians who populated TV this year (when I thought most of the heroes would wind up dead it didn’t seem significant, but as the body count turned out to be low …). I still enjoyed the season though.

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From Justice League to Jefferson: Books Read (#SFWApro)

JUSTICE LEAGUE: Darkseid War Part One by Geoff Johns and several artists kicks off a Big Event that launched last year and ran until a couple of months back (such is our age). Unfortunately reading the story of Darkseid’s opening battle with the Anti-Monitor convinces me DC has no idea what to do with Jack Kirby’s New Gods (much like the Orion reboot in Wonder Woman). The backstory of how Mr. Miracle was enslaved on Apokalips to stave off a cosmic war comes off quite mundane in Johns’ telling—if he’d been sold to R’as al Ghul or Dr. Doom instead of Darkseid it wouldn’t have made much difference. And I’m heartily tired of Johns’ villains showing their evil by threats of bodily violation (“I will rip the spine out of his body!”). And similar to Johns’ Green Lantern run, he uses this opening volume to seed lots of stuff running way into the future, none of which inspires me (this new origin for the Joker looks frightful).

23546843MS. MARVEL: Crushed (primarily by G. Willow Wilson but also Mark Waid and multiple artists)was a disappointment after the previous volume, as the main plotlines are a)Kamala’s parents fix her up with a cute Pakistani and b)Inhumans plot to take over Jersey City as the new master race. Plotline A is stock (I’ve seen this kind of Immigrant Traditional Parents Fix Up Daughter plotline in a fair number of sitcoms) and B just shows how Inhumans are the new mutants. Some fun bits though such as Loki crashing the prom at Kamala’s high school

BATGIRL: Family Business by Cameron Stewart and Brendan Fletcher has Batgirl run into multiple other members of the “Batman Family” including Huntress, Dick Grayson, Batwoman, Batwing, the Gotham Academy cast plus discovering her father is now Batman and trying not to let crimefighting get in the way of her maid-of-honor duties at a friend’s wedding. This is a lot of fun, without the plot holes of Vol. 1 and even making Bat-Gordon interesting.

PASSING STRANGE: A Gilded Age Tale of Love and Deception Across the Color Line by Martha A. Sandweiss chronicles the double life of Charles King, a once-legendary geologist and explorer of the American West who sometime in the late 1800s met Ada Copeland, a former Georgia slavewoman, and passed himself off as a light-skinned black man to marry her (Sandweiss notes the One Drop rule may actually have made it easier for a white guy to represent himself as black). Unfortunately we have no first-person accounts of how the couple met, whether Ada ever suspected the truth, etc., etc., so Sandweiss is limited to discussing what might have happened (I give her credit for not presenting her guesses as facts, as some do) which sucks out the dramatic potential. And away from his double life, King isn’t that memorable a character. So not a winner.

 THE JEFFERSON RULE: How the Founding Fathers Became Infallible and Our Politics Inflexible by David Sehat argues that the tradition of politicians invoking The Wisdom Of America’s Founding Fathers to justify particular policies goes back to Jefferson painting the Federalists as heretics veering from the True American Tradition, which of course coincided with his own views. Sehat then traces this line of argument as it’s employed by both sides through the decades (both FDR and his adversaries claimed the Founders’ mantle), and concludes this hurts politics by ducking the question of which policies are actually good for America. More informative than I expected, though for me it bogs down from the Reagan era onward (but if you’re not as familiar with the past 30 years of political debate, you may like it better).

THE REPEAT YEAR by Andrea Lochen is mainstream fiction with a do-over plot: a woman wakes up New Year’s Day to discover it’s twelve months ago and she has a chance to change the events that drove away her true love. Unfortunately, people persistently want to react the same way as the original timeline, even when she warns them what will happen … This is way too talky in the serious-literature way (lots of conversations about people’s emotional epiphanies) but that’s more a matter of personal taste than quality, so YMMV. And of course the concept is so familiar to me just now, that I’m more critical than if I’d read it say, five years ago.

 

 

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A fabulous weekend, followed by … (#SFWApro)

Last weekend was great. I honestly don’t know why, but I just seemed to relax. Read, watched movies, went to a vegan potluck with TYG and didn’t stress out about anything.

The week was not that great, but it was reasonably productive. Wednesday my brain just sort of balked, but Thursday when the dogs were at day care I made up for it. So let’s overview some of my current projects:

Southern Discomfort has hit problems, though nothing unsolvable. Maria’s starting to slide into passivity again, and the FBI agents, conversely, are looking too good. The FBI has been a morally compromised mess for much of its history, and making them completely heroic runs against the reality, particularly in a story involving the murder of a black politician (under Hoover, the agency worked against the civil-rights movement for years). A third problem is that several supporting characters have their own arcs but I can’t seem to work the resolution in. Overall the finish looks stronger than the previous couple of drafts, but some of the other changes will make my original plan for taking down Gwalchmai, unworkable. I’m not sure what I’ll come up with instead.

•As I said last week, Good Morning Starshine really does look good for something only a couple of drafts along. And it’s light and fun, and I finally got the protagonist the way I want him (a would-be careerist who can’t quite bury the better angels of his nature). So I’m working on an outline, after which I’ll put the next draft in gear. It feels right.

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A Famine Where Abundance Lies (title courtesy of Shakespeare’s sonnets, image courtesy of azquotes) is shaping up very well. The protagonist is finally taking action—it won’t help her, but at least she has some agency.

•The protagonist of It’s Never Jam Today, however, is still just stuck being the plaything of the plot. Which may reflect that it’s about how Luck influences our lives … still, he (or she, I’ve swung back and forth) needs to try harder, even if like Hannah in Famine, it’s ultimately futile.

•I took a look at Oh the Places You’ll Go, which I put aside during my work on Now and Then We Time Travel, and there’s a lot I like. It’s definitely a character story, though, a kind of fantasy version of The Turning Point (1970s film about two former friends who meet again long after choosing different paths); the big challenge is capturing their feelings about the road not taken and figuring out exactly what their resolution should be. But I’m confident I’ll get there.

•I finished the index to Now and Then, though I still need to go through and clip out all the duplicate entries (Malcolm McDowell is in a lot of time-travel films).

I now have about an hour of research reading to do, then I’ll see if this weekend is as much fun as the last.

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Reboots, remakes and retro (#SFWApro)

0004565435-ew-1420ghostbusttersSo John Scalzi wrote a post defending the new all-female Ghostbusters (all rights to image remain with current holder) and mentioned in passing that while he doesn’t think the endless 1980s remakes (“Robocop or Point Break or Poltergeist or Endless Love or The Karate Kid or Clash of the Titans or Footloose or Total Recall and on and on”) are necessary, “after a certain and hopefully relatively early point in your life, you realize remakes are just a thing the film industry does — the first Frankenstein film listed on imdb was made in 1910, and the most recent, 2015, and Universal (maker of the classic 1931 version) is planning yet another reboot in 2018 or 2019″

I’ve heard this argument before about the umpteen 1980s remakes — no big, Hollywood’s always remaking stuff — and I don’t think I agree. As someone who went to the movies in the 1980s a lot, I don’t believe Hollywood remade 1950s films of the 1950s as much as they’re now remaking 30-year-old material. Which puts me in mind of the argument from Retromania: Why are we so addicted to remaking and revisiting the entertainments of our past?

While it’s true Hollywood has always done remakes — as noted in comments at Scalzi’s post, Maltese Falcon was filmed three times in roughly 15 years — it was a different thing pre-1980s. People might remember the earlier films when they caught the Bogart Falcon in 1941 but they couldn’t rewatch them or wait for them to air on cable again. It was a given that films had a very limited lifespan, then they’d be consigned to oblivion. Cable and VCRs changed all that. Nobody needs a reboot to see Clash of the Titans or Ghostbusters because the originals are available effortlessly. And I don’t believe the typical 1980s remake has the marked differences in style of, say, Karloff’s Frankenstein and the Hammer Curse of Frankenstein or John Huston’s 1941 Maltese Falcon and the 1936 version, Satan Met a Lady.

And “Hollywood remakes stuff” doesn’t explain why the number of 1980s remakes (not to mention others such as turning Transformers into a big-screen film — and Terminator: Genisys amounts to a mash-up remake of the first two Terminator films) dwarfs the number of films going back earlier, such as Day The Earth Stood Still or The Women.

My usual assumption with movies is that it’s money or a CYA move: “Hey everyone loved the original Poltergeist! Green-lighting it was the right move!” But the emphasis on relatively recent films makes me wonder if movie execs are really embracing something from their own teen or twentysomething years. Lord knows I have a nostalgia for stuff from that era in my life. That would make the remakes equivalent to the comics creators who reboot characters to their Silver of Bronze Age status because that’s when said creators were young, comics-crazy nerds—oh, sorry, I mean because the characters in those eras were objectively more awesome than anything that’s been done with them since. So Joe Quesada erases Peter Parker’s marriage to restore the single Peter he remembers, DC’s Dan Didio brings Barry Allen and Hal Jordan back as Flash and Green Lantern, etc., etc.

Another factor as Vanity Fair noted a few years ago, is that culture isn’t changing as fast as it used to. The style of films in the 1950s, the way men and women were written, the issues people addressed, would all have required major changes for a 1980s audience. Eighties stuff remade today? Not so difficult, particularly if it’s genre, though Ghostbusters shows you can change things plenty if you want. I wonder if there isn’t a cycle here—as cultural change slows (if VF is right, and I think it is), stuff from the past looks more accessible to new audiences, which gives less reason to push the envelope in a new direction, which keeps making us look more like the past …

I’ll have at least one more post prompted by Retromania down the road.

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Go me! (#SFWApro)

51-ZSSiSf7L._SX348_BO1,204,203,200_Now and Then We Time Travel is in McFarland’s fall catalog. Yippee!

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