Saturday, September 30, 2006

I Can't Believe I Used To Like You

I don't know why, but I recently got to thinking about all the crappy TV I used to watch in the 80s. It seems like there were a lot of shows that I really liked then, but seem so inane now, and they just leave me wondering "Why the heck did I look forward to them?" I focus on the 80s because I was in my late teens/early 20s, so I should have had enough sense to realize these shows were pretty poor, but somehow found myself glued to the TV when they were on.

Here then, are a bunch of shows that owe me huge chunks of my life back:

Family Ties- I guess it was originally supposed to be some sort of satirical "Generation Gap" comedy, but the kicker was, it was the kids who were the conservatives, and the parents were the liberals! Wow! The show ended up having little impact on society at large, other than launching Michael J. Fox's acting career, and Tina Yother's singing "career." Actually- it did introduce the sit-com concept of The Rapidly Aging Kid- in which the Keaton's had a baby. One season focussed on Elise's pregnancy, the next season focussed on the infant, and the next season the kid was 5 years old! I guess they couldn't wait to get on with the obligatory "Cute Kid" jokes.

Night Court- OK, starting with Season 2, we had Markie Post's cleavage, but was that enough to justify the show's existance? Actually, pretty much, yes.

Kate and Allie- Mix an ignorant slut and Mrs. MacMillan, throw in a couple of not-quite-cute kids, and you've got comedy gold. Well, comedy tin maybe. Still, I'm pretty sure I saw every episode. Good God, why?

Golden Girls- I swear I'm straight- with my fashion sense and hair, there's no way I could be gay. So why did I watch this show? For Sophia's biting with, or the Gracie Allenish comedy stylings of Betty White? I can't believe I was with this one from the beginning, but somehow missed out on the first few seasons of Newhart and Cheers.

Evening Shade/Designing Women- The less said about the horrid oeuvre of Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, the better. I just want to blank every episode out of my mind.

On the bright side, I can say that I've never voluntarily seen even part of an episode of Who's The Boss, Full House or that show with Urkel. But, still, the 80s were not a high point of my TV-watching career.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Oh Captain, my Captain

If you held a gun to my head and asked my to tell you my 5 favorite comic characters, I’d probably list the following in some order: Captain Marvel (the original), Plastic Man, The Spirit, Batman and the Joker. (Actually, first I’d probably make some remark about how putting the gun to my head was not, technically, making me give you the names- that I was doing it of my own free will.*)

Looking at the list, something interesting sticks out about the first three characters- they’re all classic Golden Agers that really don’t translate too well to modern day comics. All three are, for lack of a better word, innocent. They’re funny, they can be goofy, they tend to have odd rogues galleries- all characteristics that put them at odds with present-day comics.

Of those three, Captain Marvel is by far my favorite, and he is the one that has the biggest injustice being done to him. He started out around 1939/1940 in the wake of the success of Superman. His alter ego is a young boy- Billy Batson- who one day was taken to meet a mysterious wizard named Shazam. When Billy says the wizard’s name, he is transformed into Captain Marvel, a superstrong, invulnerable, flying hero.

Cap’s adventures were much lighter than Superman’s and (especially) Batman’s. Cap always smiled. Where Superman’s evil genius nemesis Lex Luthor was devising deadly schemes to kill him, Cap’s evil genius nemesis, Dr. Sivana, had schemes that resembled those of The Brain (from “Pinky and the Brain.”) Where Batman’s foes were the Joker and Two-Face, Cap had to battle Mr. Mind, a super-intelligent worm (!) (although, to me, he looked more like a caterpillar).

As time went on, the Marvel Family grew to include Billy’s sister, Mary Marvel, Freddy Freeman (who became Captain Marvel, Jr.), Uncle Dudley (who had no superpowers, but pretended he did, and everyone played along), the Lieutenant Marvels (Fat Billy, Tall Billy and Hill Billy), Talky Tawny (a tiger who was given a serum to allow him to talk and walk upright, and was often seen around Fawcett City in his dapper suit and hat), all the way down to Hoppy the Marvel Bunny.

You can easily see these people were not living in the same universe as the Punisher and Wolverine.

At their peak, Captain Marvel comics were the highest-selling comics in the country, with sales surpassing those of "The Big Three"- Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. DC comics (Superman’s publisher), started a lawsuit, claiming Cap was ripping off Superman. The suit dragged on into the 50s, with Fawcett (Cap’s publishers) eventually agreeing to stop publishing the adventures of the Marvel Family.

Ironically, some time later, when Fawcett went out of business, DC bought the rights to all of their characters and decided it was time to re-introduce Captain Marvel to the masses. In 1972, DC put out the comic “Shazam!”, featuring art by Cap’s original artist, CC Beck, and stories that attempted to recapture the spirit of the old books. By now, however, comic readers were older and used to more “realistic” characters like The Fantastic Four, or Spider-Man- characters with flaws and foibles. Despite also having a popular live-action Saturday morning TV show, Captain Marvel never really approached his old levels of popularity, and the comic was eventually cancelled.

Cap became a back-up character for a while- doing guest appearances in other books. In the late 80s, another attempt was made to bring back “The Big Red Cheese,” but this also never really caught on, and was cancelled after a couple years.

So where am I going with this?

Well, three words- Captain Marvel’s back! Or is he?

DC Comics recently had huge cross-over event called “Infinite Crisis”, which affected all of the characters DC publishes, and launched a mini-series called “The Trials of Shazam!”. One of the results is that magic doesn’t work like it used to, and the old wizard, Shazam, who gave Billy Batson his powers, is dead. Which means that Captain Marvel is the new Shazam. And he’s been driven crazy by the responsibility. In the beginning of issue #1, he seriously wounds a couple of bad guys, just because he can.

Why? Why in the comics world is it assumed that in order for a character to be “good” or “relevant”, he has to become The Dark Knight? It worked for Batman (to a point) because that was always part of his character, but this is should be a light-hearted book.

This is Captain Marvel:

This is not:

Would “All in the Family 2006” feature an Archie Bunker who’s a member of the KKK? Would a modern “My Favorite Martian” have Uncle Martin secretly trying to pave the way for a takeover of Earth? I shudder to think at what “Hogan’s Heroes” would be like if it were written as a modern comic.

If you have to change a character so much that he’s the antithesis of what he used to be, just give up. Let him fade away and write a new character. The fans will appreciate it more, I’m sure.

*Inside Joke

Monday, September 11, 2006

Exhaustion sets in

Whew! I've just spent the past two weeks catching up on 4 months of comics- about 160 in all. I had to put in some marathon days, but it was a sacrifice I was willing to make.

Anyway, I read some great stories- All-Star Superman, Fables, Batman, 52, and a few stinkers too (Nextwave- I'm looking at you!).

Anyway, seeing as I haven't posted in a while I think I'm going to be gathering my thoughts over the next few days, and then posting my 2 cents on some of my favorites and least favorites.

Just thought I'd warn you.