Thursday, November 30, 2006

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Dave Cockrum, R.I.P

A perusal of the Web this evening brought the sad news that comic book creator Dave Cockrum passed away in his sleep this morning.

Cockrum was born in Pendleton, Oregon, not far from my hometown of Walla Walla, Washington. Cockrum first came to fans' attention in the early seventies, when he drew the teen superhero team comic LEGION OF SUPERHEROES. In the process, he designed new costumes and looks for many of the characters; and some of those costumes can be seen on the Sat-Am animated LEGION series on the CW these days. But his biggest claim to fame -- and the one that eventually made several folks in both New York and Hollywood much richer -- was co-creating THE NEW X-MEN with writer Len Wein and editor Roy Thomas, just over 30 years ago. Cockrum created the visuals for such characters as Storm, Nightcrawler, Colossus, and Phoenix. He drew the series from 1975 to 1977 (collaborating with writer Chris Claremont after Wein left); and then, after fan-favorite penciller John Byrne left, did a second stint from 1981-1983. His innovative, exciting, and fun style will be missed.

San Francisco: Ghosts and Story

From the 15th to the 17th, I was in San Francisco for a work-related conference. At the conference, I was lucky enough to attend a keynote speech given by Story Musgrave. Musgrave must be one of the most accomplished human beings alive, reminiscent of fictional heroes like Doc Savage or Buckaroo Banzai. How do you match a fellow who has advanced degrees ranging from medicine to literary criticism, and yet never finished high school? How about an astronaut who is the only man to have flown on all five space shuttles; an engineer who designed key aspects of shuttle equipment and the Hubble Telescope; a mechanic who actually changed the mirror in Hubble, in orbit; a poet and a professional landscaper? A meeting with him is guaranteed to make you feel somewhat inadequate about your own accomplishments.

I also participated in a fun "ghost hunt" tour of Pacific Heights, which started from the amazing Queen Anne Hotel. The hotel is decked out in Victorian decor (though not completely authentic; I don't think they had animated holiday statues of children in that era). Led by a chatty tour guide who wore a leather Van Helsing type duster and a top hat (and who also practiced a little sleight of hand along the way), the tour was a fun way to see a city that I lived in for three years. (I must say that the Mark Hopkins Hotel, where I stayed during the conference, offered a far nicer view of the city than my three years in the Tenderloin.)

Friday, November 24, 2006

When Black Friday Comes

Since I live within walking distance of a SoCal mall, I dropped by this morning to witness the "Black Friday" orgy of consumerism. I got over there at 9:45 a.m., by which time the initial frenzy appeared to be over. I saw a lot of deals that made me reach for my wallet, then stop and think: "Do I really need this? Does anyone I know really need this? Where would I put it?" One purchase I could not resist: boxed sets of the MONK TV series for about $16 each at Suncoast, marked down from $60 each. I walked away with the first four seasons. (Not that I'm likely to watch them any sooner than our boxed sets of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, or the other DVDs sitting around our collection waiting to be watched . . . .)

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Fictional Funds

Forbes magazine has promulgated its annual list of the top 15 richest fictional characters. Number one is that paternal embodiment of the military-industrial complex, Daddy Warbucks. Other top folks include Mr. Burns from the Simpsons (#2), Uncle Scrooge McDuck (#3), real estate magnate and SEC nemesis Mr. Monopoly (#6), comic book tycoons Bruce Wayne (#7) and Tony Stark (#8), and new member Prince Abakaliki of Nigeria, familiar to all recipients of e-mail spam (#9). Lucius Malfoy, Harry Potter's foe, has advanced to #12 as increasing gold prices have benefitted his galleon holdings.

Happy Thanksgiving

As we rise with a groan from our groaning boards, let's give thanks for the food we have, the good things in our lives, and the good things to come.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Placement -- Product Placement

We saw CASINO ROYALE yesterday afternoon at The Bridge. Overall, I really enjoyed it. The action sequences were sharp (particularly the first chase, which brought to mind the agile athleticism of the best Jackie Chan routines), the "origin" touches were effective (my favorite was the use of the trademark "down the gun barrel" shot in the pre-credit sequence), and Daniel Craig provided electric charisma as Bond. The romance aspects fell flat for me, alas.

But the most distracting aspect of the movie was the rampant product placement. CR was the first Bond movie made by Sony (and possibly the last, as it's likely to lose its controlling interest in MGM/UA), and the movie apparently takes place in a world where everyone uses Sony computers, Sony laptops, Sony cameras, and Sony electronic equipment. (Considering that the movie debuted the same day as the Playstation 3, I wouldn't have been surprised if Bond had challenged Le Chiffre to a few video games. "You're the best Madden player on the service, 007 . . . .")

The worst was the in-movie commercial for Bond's Omega watch. ("Your watch. Rolex?" "Omega." "Beautiful.") Product placement is nothing new for Bond movies -- GOLDFINGER moved a lot of Aston-Martin DB5s, and subsequent movies plugged everything from Playboy to BMWs. But in this movie, the placement is exactly the sort of "blunt instrument" M accuses Bond of being.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Sin of the Rings

Those who saw Elijah Wood in "Sin City" might have wondered if this is what too much exposure to The One Ring would do to an actor.

The linked video takes that thought one step further.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Too Much Air in the Cappucino?

According to this article in Fortune Magazine, Starbucks' stock may be trading at a Venti price despite a Doppo value. Apparently, following General Accounting Principles, 'Bucks exempts the cost of its stores' leases from the debt portion of the balance sheet. Those add up to $2.7 billion, or 10% of the company's net worth. They're probably not in actual trouble (at least as long as they avoid Krispy Kreme type expansion mistakes), but this news might make investors wake up and, well, you know . . . .

Saturday, November 11, 2006

The Comic Book Angle on Jack Palance

Although yesterday's LA Times carried a fine obituary for Jack Palance, it did not mention Mr. Palance's importance to comic books of the 1970's. Specifically, two prominent comic book villains were visually modeled on Mr. Palance.

I was aware that Palance's portrayal of Dracula in a TV movie inspired artist Gene Colan's portrayal of the vampire in the long-running comic book "Tomb of Dracula." But Jack Kirby scholar Mark Evanier's blog yesterday revealed that comics great Jack Kirby based the visage of the New Gods baddie, Darkseid, on Palance's face.

Monday, November 06, 2006

And on a Lighter Note -- Kitties!

No Longer Kids -- But Still All Right

Last night, Amy and I experienced a slice of rock-and-roll heaven when we took the shuttle bus up to the Hollywood Bowl and spent a couple of hours with The Who. It was simply one of the best concerts I've ever attended.

True, there's a certain amount of spectacle appeal to watching an over-sixty Pete Townshend still windmilling his guitar and doing the occasional scissor-kick; or the similarly-aged Roger Daltrey whirling his mic cord like a nunchaku and, yes, giving that primal scream near the end of "Won't Get Fooled Again." (I wondered how he could sing that song for 30+ years and still have vocal cords left.) But that wasn't what brought the crowd to its feet again and again; it was the consumate skill of two men who have been doing what they do about as well as it can be done, and have been doing it long enough to draw on a reservoir of experience and wisdom.

One doubts that a younger Townshend could -- without a scrap of sarcasm -- explain how the title music of television shows had become comforting to him, and then sing an ode to Mike Post, composer of the theme to Hill Street Blues and innumerable other shows. (He threw in a tossed-off reference to CSI -- apt since they performed, at various times during the show, the themes to all three CSI series.)

This show was different from those in the last couple of decades, because as posted below The Who came out with a new album, THE ENDLESS WIRE, last week, and they performed a good chunk of the songs from it -- including the (what else) mini-opera from would have been Side 2 had it been an LP. The new songs sounded great, but several in the crowd were less than receptive to them -- during one of them, a boor near me shouted out, "Play some music!"

Those who came expecting a live version of one of The Who's innumerable greatest hits album did not come away disappointed. They started with one of their earliest hits -- the proto-punk sandpaper guitar riffs of "Can't Explain" -- and worked their way through lots of songs from "My Generation" (oh, the irony!) through "You Better You Bet" and "Eminence Front." (About the only disappointment for me was no songs from QUADROPHRENIA. They had some terrific video backgrounds on screens (a medley from TOMMY was accompanied by scenes of a silver ball flying through the air and gliding through the skylines of New York, Seattle, LA, and other cities), particularly for the new songs.

Some of the most memorable moments for me, however, were the songs from the new album that just involved Pete accompanying Roger on accoustic guitar. The other band members (which included Ringo's son Zack Starkey on drums, and Pete's brother Simon Townshend on guitar and backing vocals -- not to mention their keyboard tech, who stepped in at the last moment to play the boards when the official player had to tend to his sick wife) left the stage; and the entire huge Bowl stage shrunk down to spotlight two old mates who had survived the decades, doing what they did best -- standing side by side, and making wonderful music together.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Shred, Don't Rip

Here's a chilling article about how at least one credit card company believes it is legally obligated to entertain (and, apparently, issue a card to) even a torn-up-and-taped-back-together credit card application. Not to mention how meth-addled junkies obsessively spend their sleepless nights taping together torn-up financial documents for identity theft purposes.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

PMX 2006 photos

My photos from last weekend's Pacific Media Expo 2006 (albeit only Sunday) are up on Photobucket.

The Endless Wire

When the last studio album by The Who came out, vinyl records still dominated music stores, with their gigantic vistas of jacket art; CDs were an audiophile's plaything (if they were yet sold); and DVDs were unheard of -- Laserdiscs were the high-end video of the future.

Now The Who's album "Endless Wire" is being sold either as an ITunes download, or as a CD with a live-performance DVD inserted. Both download and DVD feature a science-fiction like cover with a man made of pixel-like forms climbing a staircase, with birds on one side and pixel-boxes on the other. And with both, the cover art is tiny.

As for the music: Well, it's pretty damn good. There's nothing with the pop hooks that make songs like "Squeezebox," "5:15," "Who Are You," or "Baba O'Reilly" songs that play on radios and TV throughout the decades; but they're at least as good as the non-hit songs on the albums where those songs appeared.

I'm definitely looking forward to seeing The Who tomorrow at the Hollywood Bowl.

Laptop Liability

Today's Los Angeles Times has a startling story for folks who travel overseas with laptops: U.S. Customs officials believe they have the right to boot up your laptop, look at every file and photo thereon, seize it, and, yes, prosecute you based on the laptop's contents -- all without warrant, probable cause, or even the reasonable suspicion required for a pat-down search on the street.

According to the article, this erosion of 4th amendment protection is currently being questioned in the central district court here in L.A.

It's true that the 4th amendment search and seizure restrictions have been interpreted to grant border officers more leeway in searches, because of the interest in preventing smuggling (of both inanimate objects and humans) and cross-border contamination. But as the article points out, this is an intrusiveness that goes beyond simply looking inside luggage -- particularly since business laptops can contain proprietary information. And in a balancing test, the importance of searching laptops to interdict contraband is questionable; with the Internet, it's probably easier to move information via e-mail and ftp sites than to load it onto laptops. We'll see how this turns out.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The Wrist of the Story

Well, the broken bone in my wrist should now be officially healed, according to what the doctor told me. It's been a little over a week since he took the cast off me, and yesterday I stopped wearing the splint. As the photo shows, my wrist is still pretty swollen. I get shots of pain on the left and right sides when I reach in certain ways, or even when I yawn and stretch. Per the doctor, the ligaments in the wrist might take another 3 or 4 months to heal. I'll know I'm healed when I stop getting the zings of pain in the wrist.

The Hidden Goldberg

For a look at author (and cousin) Tod Goldberg that's a bit more serious than his satirical blog, follow the link to an insightful interview at