Saturday, December 31, 2016

Spicy Black Eyed Peas

2 cups dry black eyed peas
6 cups beef broth or water/broth mix
1 med onion, diced
2 jalapeƱos (or pepper of choice) minced
12 oz salt pork
1 tbsp oregano
1 tsp thyme
1/4 tsp sage
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp salt
2 bay leaves

Optional: 1 tsp pepper, garlic cloves to taste.
Vegetarians: 4 tbsp olive oil instead of pork

Rinse dry beans. Cube salt pork. Put all ingredients in pressure cooker, stirring to mix. Cook on high heat for 55 minutes. Let sit, sealed, for 1 hour. Serve with cornbread and hot sauce.  Remove salt pork before serving or storing if it grosses you out.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Doctor Strange Review

Doctor Strange came out at exactly the right time. A magnificently gifted surgeon and extreme narcissist obsessed with pop trivia pays too much attention to his cell phone and destroys his greatest gift in a devastating car crash that he should have seen coming. With the help of a multi-cultural coalition he learns a whole new perspective on the world, breaks the spell of his own ego and privileged life only to save the world from a group of anarchists set on bringing the world permanent profound fascism while dressed as one bad ass mofo.

Five days later America experienced the first part of that summary. Our car is still bouncing down the wet ravine, the final impact still to come. CGI blood is in the air, shattered glass making beautiful patterns in the night air.

The landing is going to fucking hurt, and the recovery is going to be unconventional beyond what we can imagine right now.

I've read a ton of Dr. Strange comics, and he always pulls it together in the end even when he has had to recreate the whole Universe from scratch. Get some candles, write some spells, have a team-up, do some magic.

Monday, November 14, 2016

New Day

This has been an intense week, and it's just the beginning. 
We are stocking the tool box and building the infrastructure for what we need to fight. Not everything is going to work, but it is way too soon to throw an idea out before it has had time to be tested. What I think we may want to keep in mind is that everyone has a different fighting style. We need to give people the autonomy to go to where their strengths are. 
Marching, donating money, donating time, posting, wearing symbols, petitioning, singing, writing, making pictures and videos, telling jokes, going to meetings, reading, vetting sources and communicating our actions to the world are all crucial parts of a holistic approach to the New Culture War. 
The President Elect is on 60 Minutes tonight outlining how to deport 1% of the US population on day 1. He brought a known anti-Semite and conspiracy "journalist" on as chief strategist. They are getting their army together, and their strength is also their weakness. They organize around authority and dogma. 
I would like to think our opposition is made of people that value ideological freedom, freedom from authority, kindness, acceptance, free expression, and that realize their personal dogma may not fit everyone. 
We can be lighter, move faster, and are open to trying a thousand different approaches while they are limited to what their figurehead demands. What they may miss is that they are a part of the same whole as we are. A society like ours doesn't function as top down, but as all together.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Luke Cage Part 2: Militant Jive Mouth

As covered in the introduction, Luke Cage’s first issue was cover-dated June 1972 and was created by Archie Goodwin with art by George Tuska and Billy Graham. 

Cage was not Marvel’s first crack at a Black hero. Created in1966 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the Black Panther debuted in Fantastic Four #52. He was the mysterious leader of the African nation of Wakanda, and was an immediate hit.  By extraordinary coincidence, the social rights group of the same name took to the streets later the same year. Black Panther made appearances in Fantastic Four and the Avengers over the next several years, and was Marvel’s first regular Black hero. 

In July, 1969 Captain America met Sam Wilson, an African American man who took on the mantle of The Falcon. Debuting in Captain America 117, Falcon was a regular fixture in Cap’s book, eventually sharing the cover logo when the book became rebranded as Captain America and the Falcon for issue 134 in February 1971’s issue. That title lasted through June of 1978, and was the first time a Black character was featured so prominently on a regular basis. 

This brings us to 3 years after the Falcon’s debut, and 6 years after Black Panther's. Luke Cage: Hero for Hire came roaring out of the gate with a few qualities the earlier Black characters didn’t have. 

First, Cage premiered in his own series. No guest star or sidekick tryout required. He was fully realized in the mode of Shaft and, dare I say, Muhammed Ali. Master of his own destiny, every challenge a brief sidetrack until he overcomes it with street smarts, indestructible skin, wit, and raw determination. 

Secondly, the first 16 issues were titled “Hero For Hire”, which set him apart from any existing super-hero concept. He didn’t need to keep a gig as a reporter or photographer. His family wasn’t impossibly rich from crazy inter dimensional experiments, and he wasn’t a billionaire industrialist selling arms to the military. He was a super-private detective holed up above a revival movie theater, right in the heart of 70s NYC.

The cover to the premiere issue laid it all out: Neon signs advertising BARS and GIRLS, a mysterious Black woman smoking a cigarette, a clearly corrupt White cop, a winning poker hand, and dice rolling a Natural 7. 

Over the course of the issue, Cage both expresses the shorthand of the Black street experience, and mixes in elements of the emergent Black cinema as embodied by Shaft, Cotton Comes To Harlem, and Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song. 

The man who becomes Luke Cage grew up as a tough street-wise hustler, running with a small gang and just trying to make it. We never hear his birth name, the one he had before the end of his sentence and transformation to hero. 

Things went bad when his low-level hustle resulted in his girl Reva getting killed, which lead to a frame-up. He goes into prison, defiant yet resigned to his fate. A singular individual, Cage still gravitates to the Black prisoners, which gets him lumped in with the “Militants”. A corrupt White guard gives him a good beating for standing up to injustice in the prison. 

Fate leads to Cage being used as the guinea pig for a chemical bath that is intended to bring out the super from the man. As with Captain America's origin, death follows the scientist playing God, and chaos wreaks havoc in the prison. 

Cage escapes the experiment and the prison in a hail of bullets, which reveals his indestructible skin. Once on the outside, he changes his name to Luke Cage, makes peace with his dead girlfriend, and goes shopping for his super-hero outfit. It’s here that Cage dons a silver headband, yellow silk shirt, black leather pants and swashbuckler boots, and a thick chain around his waist as a belt. His dialog reflects what the reader must have been thinking:

“Yeah! Outfit’s kinda hokey… but so what? All part of the super-hero scene. An’ this way when I use my powers it’s gonna seem natural. A little promotion work an’ I’m in business!”

He begins to circulate business cards reading “Luke Cage HERO FOR HIRE” and that pretty much wraps up the first appearance. The final panel concludes with a caption promising “A man called Cage… walks and waits, and thinks of a girl named Reva. And knows soon the time approaches when: VENGEANCE IS MINE!”

Overall Luke Cage’s adventures are a strong addition to the emergent mass media intended to tap into Black audiences. It matched the tone and intent of the new black cinema. Blaxploitation was about to explode beginning in late 1972/early 1973, and this comic was poised to fulfill the need of urban audiences interested in an ongoing superhero. 

Being a comic book distributed on newsstands in 1972, however, resulted in some limitations. Starting in the mid-1950’s, color comic book publications generally had to adhere to The Comics Code Authority. This independent self-regulating body ensured young readers (the presumed audience for comics) were protected from sexuality, language, graphic violence, a celebration of criminal activity, zombies, horror, the word “weird” on a comic cover, and a whole arcane system of rules that makes the MPAA seem utterly transparent. 

This resulted in broad references to drugs, sexless relationships, and a need to develop euphemisms for nearly every adult exclamation imaginable. Luke Cage’s best know of dialog was one such euphemism. 

“Sweet Christmas!”

A joke among comics readers for years, there is something charming about it in retrospect. It doesn’t match up to any typical piece of crass language, it vaguely hints at Jesus, and it is incredibly distinctive. In the recent television incarnation of Cage in Marvel’s Jessica Jones series, the character says it twice and it is both convincing and it suggests a self-aware humor to the character. 

Armed with a bizarre catchphrase, a fully original costume, a bad attitude, and a badder Afro, Cage somehow caught enough of the pop-culture imagination to still be relevant after 45 years. 

What happened next, following his first adventure? He carried the series under the title of Heroes for Hire 15 more months. Next time, we’ll take a look at what kind of challenges the character met following his origin story. 

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Luke Cage’s Evolution: Introduction

Every successful super hero has a core reason for being that is both unique to the character and can resonate with an audience. Luke Cage’s core concept is to be a Black everyman acting as the epitome of the ever changing notion of what “Black” means to a White audience. 

Luke Cage began as a reflection not of Black culture, but of Black-marketed movies. Marvel was expanding their line of comics in 1972, and the popularity of the new Blaxploitation genre was irresistible. 

Marvel had previously introduced Black Panther in the pages of Fantastic Four in the mid-60’s, and The Falcon debuted as Captain America’s partner a few years prior. Luke Cage would be the first Black hero with his own comic. 

Luke Cage, Hero for Hire debuted in April 1972 with a June cover date. At the time of publication the following films, later categorized as Blaxploitation, had been released: 

  • Cotton Comes To Harlem
  • Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song
  • Shaft

Just 3 films, only one of which had broken through to a mass (non-Black) audience. Shaft was the rough template for Luke Cage. A half-soul-brother. 

Although derivative, Luke Cage also cross-pollinated with the superhero genre, creating an interesting and enduring hybrid that has evolved over the past 40+ years to reflect dominant mass culture images of African American males. Regardless of any changes over time, the character is at his core about the intersection of white perception of Black culture as filtered through pop culture iconography. 

The first point of commonality between Shaft and Cage is the creative heritage. Both characters were created by White writers. Novelist Earnest Tidyman created the Shaft series of novels, and Archie Goodwin, with assistance from Roy Thomas created Cage. Each author was respectable within their field, doing their best to create an interesting tale of genre fiction with a Black character in traditionally White environs. 

Comics being collaborative, two artists came on board at the start of the Hero For Hire incarnation of Cage: George Tuska (journeyman White artist) and Billy Graham (Emerging Black cartoonist) as penciller and inker respectively. Later writer of Luke Cage’s adventures, Steve Englehart, observes Billy was brought in based on being Black, but also asserts, indisputably I think, that his talent was clearly strong. In fact, Graham eventually became the sole cartoonist responsible for the art in the series. 

Shaft, to continue the comparison for a bit, made the translation to film helmed by Black director Gordon Parks. Obviously, the very African American Richard Roundtree carried the role masterfully. The producers of the film were white, but that was typical of the time. The goal of the film studio, similar to Marvel's, was to tap into the Black market with media directly aimed at them. Shaft was wildly successful, a genre-defining hit with a killer soundtrack, a great balance of action and humor, sex, sharp dialog, and the ability to crossover to mass audiences. 

In September 1973, after 16 issues, the Luke Cage, Hero for Hire title was retired in favor of the more super heroic Power Man. The year this change happened was the peak of the Blaxploitation film genre. The next two years saw a decrease in films under this genre umbrella, and from 1976-1979 the same number of Blaxploitation films were released in total as came out in 1975. 

At issue 50, the economics of comic publishing lead to the next transformation of the series. Once Blaxploitation was down and out, the book was merged with the recently canceled "super martial arts" series Iron Fist resulting in Power Man and Iron Fist. This buddy action genre book lasted 75 issues before being cancelled to make way for Marvel’s New Universe line of “realistic” comics. In general, he was a solo or duo character. Luke also spent brief time in the “non-team” series, the Defenders in the 70s as written by Steve “Howard the Duck” Gerber. 

The next incarnation of Cage came out at the 20th anniversary of the character in 1992 with a series appropriately titled Cage.The creative team consisted of Black creators Marcus McLauren and Dwayne Turner among others. This version was tough Denzel kind of guy who moved to Chicago to resume his Hero for Hire business. It lasted just under 2 years, which left the character without a regular home for the rest of the decade. 

A revamped Luke cage returned just in time for his 30th anniversary in 2002 in the 5 issue series Cage by Brian Azzarello, Richard Corben and Jose Villarrubia where he was recast as a badass urban hip-hop OGMF. He concurrently appeared in the Brian Michael Bendis/Michael Gaydos series Alias, which is the basis for the Netflix series Jessica Jones. That incarnation transformed him into a straight talking moral compass, and eventual family man. He’s been a fixture in Marvel’s Avengers books for the last 15 years in this version. 

That’s the overview. Next time, a closer look at each of the eras described above, from the Blaxploitation years to eventual TV star. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Film to Comics: Introduction

The comic book industry has relied on licensing from other media since its inception. Early comic books were repackaged versions of comic strips. The comic book came into its own as a medium separate from the newspaper strips that spawned the format by the late 30s. 

Throughout the medium’s history, comic books were published that featured popular concepts from an comprehensive array of media. This included film, radio, television, novels, short stories, toys, corporate mascots, comedians, animation, comic strips, video games, pop music, opera, theater, and poetry. 

In most cases the stories of characters from other media in the comic books were not adaptations. The tales featured new adventures and stories of pre-existing characters. The most successful example of this would be Donald Duck, where the seeds of the Disney short features flourished under the guidance of cartoonists such as Carl Barks and Don Rosa. Creators such as these expanded the core concept well beyond what was achieved in a 7 minute animated short. More typically in media transliteration, the new material retained little inspiration from the source. An example of this it the Gold Key Twilight Zone comic, which used the licensed concept as an umbrella under which to package strange and spooky short stories which featured only the thinnest of connection to Rod Serling's anthology program. 

Next stop, up ahead.. a teddy bear with flippers..

Most comic book tie-ins were safe, bland, by-the-numbers adventures that in no way indulged in significant universe building. The comic book series Mr. District Attorney was not conceived as a series of tales to be interpolated between episodes of the long running radio and TV series. This is not to say that these types of books failed to have creative merit, but from the 30s through the 60s a licensed book was often as much a marketing tool as it was an independently successful creative endeavor. 
There were certainly many journeymen cartoonists, writers, and artists that made their unique mark on all sorts of comics, including those already mentioned. In other cases, licensed comic books could act as a jumping off point for up and coming creators. The publishers that made most use of these licensed of comics found themselves creating a safe and steady work environment for artists that were better suited for genres outside the ever increasing market share that super heroes held.

By the end of the 1960s Marvel was beginning to pull ahead of DC in market share. Marvel was focused almost exclusively on their energetic and dynamic super hero line of books guided by concepts created earlier in the decade by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko. 

Not everything Marvel published did was a roaring success, but books such as Spider-Man and Fantastic Four were gaining new, more mature audiences and resonating with readers well over the age of 12. Due to distribution agreements, Marvel's output was very focused, and was limited in the number of titles a month they could release. 

DC during the end of the 1960s had a strong core, and had been experimenting with new ideas. Despite a lot of efforts in a number of genres, none surpassed established successes like Batman and Superman. Their forays in licensing were limited to very few examples. Most notably, Bob Hope and Jerry Lewis both had series through DC/National that ran through the entire decade of the 60s. 

The secondary publishers of the late 60s and early 1970s included Harvey, Charlton, Gold Key/Western, Archie, Warren, and several lesser-known entities. 

Harvey and Archie were committed to children’s comics which featured well known characters that originated with the publishing imprints. Harvey was home to Caspar, Hot Stuff, Wendy, and Richie Rich. Archie was home to the eponymous all American teen, Betty, Veronica, Sabrina, and Josie and the Pussycats. In the case of these two publishers, the work was often adapted into animation and other media, but the reverse was incredibly rare. One of the few exception was the Archie imprint Spire, which featured Christian themed stories, often delving into biographic tales about such well know born-agains as Watergate figure Chuck Coulson and musician Johnny Cash. 

Warren was going after a much older crowd with a line of rough and tumble black and white horror magazines, which included Vampirella, Eerie, and Creepy. There was a very close relationship between Warren and films thanks to their flagship title, Famous Monsters of Filmland. Although they had a mail order arm that sold a wide variety of genre film merchandise, they never published an adaptation of an existing film. 

Charlton was a trend follower, and through quantity often compensated for what they lacked in quality. Charlton's motto was to keep the presses running, and they did so by publishing comics from every known genre including western, war, horror, romance, sci-fi, hot rod comics, TV tie-ins, and action heroes. They produced few film adaptations, most notable of which are Gorgo and Konga adapted by Steve Ditko in the 1960s. 

© Steve Ditko and Joe Gill

Gold Key/Whitman had something different from these other companies. They inherited the Disney license. This meant they were the one publisher with the ability to easily carry on the decades-long tradition of movie adaptations. Disney ensured their films received adaptations in comics since the mid-1950s through a long-standing agreement with Dell publishing. Most of these adaptations, featuring classics such as Shaggy Dog and National Velvet, were published under the umbrella title Dell Four Color. Some were done as one-shot issues, unattached to a series as is the case with Mary Poppins. As the license moved to Gold Key a slightly different approach was taken. Beginning in 1970, there would be a single series, Walt Disney Showcase, wherein all of the film adaptations would live. The series was not exclusively movie tie-ins, but all of the Disney film comics from 1970 through 1979 were published as a part of this series.  

Who are.. what are.. THE BOATNIKS!!!

What other publishers attempted movie adaptations? Although no other publisher had a long term licensing deal with a film distributor, many gave it a shot. In an early non-Disney effort, DC offered up issue 43 of their Showcase Presents anthology to Doctor No in the early 60s. It was a reprint of the UK adaptation of the novel, and marketed here as a film tie-in. The word Bond appears in a word balloon and not even in bold. Barely a blip on the radar, and one of the very few pre-1970 efforts for this type of tie-in. 
Can you feel the beat Mr James?

By 1970 there was a serious contender for number one comic company that was looking to expand very, very rapidly once their distribution network allowed for it. The publisher needed material- and fast. They began looking to licensing deals, pubic domain material, reprints form the company's early years, as well as drawing on the creative energy that a bunch of adult comics fans breaking into the industry could bring to the company. 

Marvel was expanding quickly, and getting into the movies seemed like a good idea. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

FIRESIDE PART 5: The Mighty Marvel Jumbo Fun Book

Pneumonia. It’s not uncommon, and I had it in 1978. I was 7. My Mom was allergic to penicillin, and fortunately I was not. I was diagnosed on the 3rd floor of the amazingly mid-century pediatrics clinic on Eastern Parkway in Louisville, KY. 

The funny thing with pneumonia is that, at 7, not only can you not spell it, but you don’t feel sick. 

I was directed to stay prone or, at the least, sitting for a full week. Mama picked up my first Fireside marvel boo for me to get me through. Every child of this era that had any kind of illness and still reads comics into the 20-teens has this story. It’s the tale of the thing they got when they were sick. 

What astonishing book am I holding out on? The most embarrassing comic of all: The Mighty Marvel Jumbo Fun Book. 

It’s not exactly a comic book.There are very few panels of sequential work. It’s not exactly a history, or an art book. however, there are several pages that work to demonstrate varied art styles and how they relate to commercial art’s portrayal of various characters. It’s not a how to book, but there are opportunities to learn basic drawing skills. It’s all that plus much, much more. Crosswords, trivia, word search, puns, mazes, word jumbles, and a lot of material that really is aimed at an adult collector of Marvel’s output. Considering that I was 7, and some of the material required an adult budget I’d say the book was appropriate for ages 7-47. 

Some of the more esoteric games include “Conan’s Monster Farm”. At 43, I have not read any more Conan that I read at 10, which is to say nearly none. Yet the child for whom this is intended is expected to be able to identify 7 monsters culled from the first 100 issues of the comic. 

A page with 14 word balloons where the goal is to ID the speaker? Beyond ‘Crom” and It’s Clobberin’ Time!!”there are few “gimmes” in this quiz.

Still, I loved the book. For instance, it taught me that there were different artists drawing different comics. It game me a sense of history. I had only read 3 or 4 Hulk comics, but to discover that there were 6 artists that had drawn the character was fascinating. In 1978 I likely guessed 0 of them. Now? I got 5. Somehow, the book holds up. 

Some characters at the time were 100% new to me. Howard the Duck, Wolverine, and even Daredevil were unusual. Supporting characters like Professor Bong remained obscure until I was well into my 20s. 

I’m not sure when this book left me and moved on to another child. I suspect it was when my Mama was dating someone in 1980, and his son was getting into reading. I think a lot of the books from my younger years were passed on. So much of this book failed to make sense, but I still loved it. 

So, imagine my surprise when I found a copy for $12 last month. I had passed on copies ranging from $40-$125 on eBay recently. The alleys and avenues it opened up from my childish map of the world. It was pretty amazing. 

So much of this book was deeply ingrained. So many first encounters with different ideas, artists and characters. The puzzles undoubtedly worked to reinforce the memories. The Power Man Page? Why is Luke Cage such a favorite of mine, when I didn’t read a comic with him as the lead until 2001? Why is the SpiderMobile so iconic, when my first issue of Amazing was 2 years later? 

Checking it out now, there is also a lot that I enjoy now, that I was ignorant of then. Deathlok, Man-Thing, Tomb of Dracula. For the serious collectors, there are early appearances of Wolverine and Guardians of the Galaxy. 

It’s an incredibly campy, silly, infuriating book. Regardless, it got me through the sickest week of my young life. I still remember running in circles around the rom when Grandma wasn’t looking and Mama was at work. 

Could I tell the difference between the Ditko, Byrne, Romita, and Infantino Spider-Man? maybe. Can you??