Monday, October 8, 2012

The Best Super-Hero Cartoons Ever,


Considering how yesterday I regaled you with the horror that was the 1978 Fantastic Four cartoon, the single worst super-hero cartoon in history, I thought I'd look on the brighter side of things and detail what I believe are the five best super-hero cartoons today.

Without further ado, let's start at the bottom and work our way upwards:

#5 The Fantastic Four (1967) Hanna-Barbera's attempt at adapting the legendary Marvel Comic hits on most cylinders. The stories were, for the most part, fairly faithful adaptations of the original tales, with some creative leeway given for some licensing problems (the Sub-Mariner, licensed to Grantray-Lawrence for The Marvel Super-Heroes daily cartoon, was replaced in a couple of episodes) and the general ban about not showing people actually hitting each other. It even managed to do a fairly good version of the first Galactus storyline, even though Big G was blue instead of purple for some reason.

The Fantastic Four and the Silver Surfer face off against Galactus,


#4 Batman: The Brave and the Bold (2008-2011) I know fanboys everywhere collectively cringed when this show was announced, a return to the campy Batman stories of the fifties and sixties. I think most folks, including those fanboys, were pleasantly surprised by the level of quality to the writing of these stories, and the use of oddball and obscure heroes to populate them. This series is worth seeking out on DVD, just for the Starro and Equinox storylines, as well as the classic "Chill of the Night" episode, in which the Spectre and the Phantom Stranger follow Batman as his origin is retold in a much more serious tone.

Batman and the Vigilante from a B:TBATB teaser.


#3 Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes (2010-2012) I've only recently started watching this series, and unfortunately I've also discovered that its been cancelled to allow for an Avengers cartoon more in line with the movie. I haven't seen the big screen Avengers yet, but it now has one big black mark against it in my book. This was the way a Marvel Comics show should be done. Episodic, well-animated, lots of action and lots of characterization. It builds fairly slowly - Captain America doesn't make his proper appearance with this revamping of the original Avengers until Episode 9. This is just an all-around great TV show.


The original Avengers in animated form.

#2 Young Justice (2011-present) After five years of the mostly mediocre Teen Titans, I was hoping for a decent look at the younger heroes in the DC Comics pantheon. Young Justice does not disappoint. This has fragments and imagery from all the great DC super-hero cartoons of the past, from the Hall of Justice to the Watchtower. There are some great characters and some excellent stories in this cartoon series. The cast changes between seasons, but the quality and the depth of character is still there. Definitely worth a watch.

Arrowette, Robin, Kid Flash, Superboy, Miss Martian and Aqualad.

#1 The Tick (1994) The best super-hero cartoon is also the best super-hero cartoon parody. The Tick lasted for three seasons on Fox and is fondly remembered by almost everyone who saw it. The humor, the surrealism, the sheer goofiness brought viewers back and created a cult hit. I loved the live-action series, but it can't compare to Chairface Chippendale trying to write his name on the Moon, or the general wonder of Dinosaur Neil. This TV show, cartoon though it may be, can easily be stacked up against the best that the medium has to offer.


The Tick, Arthur, and many of the denizens of the best super-hero cartoon ever.

And, of course, if you like super-heroes, comic books and cartoons, feel free to check out my many quiz book e-books available through Amazon.com:

The Cartoon Trivia Quiz Book: Volume 1
The Cartoon Trivia Quiz Book: Volume 2


The Comic Book Quiz Book Volume 1
The Comic Book Quiz Book Volume 2: 101 Comic Book Trivia Questions (Revised Edition)
The Comic Book Quiz Book Volume 3: 1,001 Comic Book Trivia Questions
The Comic Book Quiz Book: Volume 4
(The X-Men – Batman - Spider-Man - Fantastic Four – Showcase - Dell Four Color Comics – the Mighty Crusaders - the Tick – Harvey Comics)













THE single worst super-hero cartoon in history.


They always say you can't go home again, and that's usually fairly wise advice. There are times when the yen for nostalgia takes over and you have to give in and take a look at the past. I have done this tonight. And I have paid the same price I did way back in 1978 when I first saw this particular cultural train wreck. 

Somehow Hollywood almost always manages to screw up when they adapt comic books, and particularly super-heroes, to the screen. Even the very best don't quite ring true to the source material. Billy Batson got his powers from an Egyptian wizard in The Adventures of Captain Marvel and packs heat for most of the serial. Superman II added some strange powers to the Man of Steel. The Rogues' Gallery of TV's The Flash was just the Trickster and a bunch of people who couldn't be bothered to wear costumes. But the worst super-hero cartoon series in history can only be one show: The New Fantastic Four

The year was 1978, and super-heroes were a somewhat hot property, though not nearly as popular as today in the movies. Superman the Movie had hit the theatres, and Spider-Man and the Incredible Hulk had respectable runs on CBS. The Fantastic Four had been adapted in the sixties by Hanna-Barbera, and is fondly remembered as the good Marvel cartoon of the sixties, as the Spider-Man series was fairly forgettable beyond the theme song, and the Grantray Lawrence nearly-animated cartoons were well-remembered and ridiculed both for being fairly consistent with the original stories and for being some of the cheapest animation in TV history. They were still a hundred times better than the New Fantastic Four

I'm sure most kids from the seventies remember the show, mainly for one thing: 



Yeah, you might've noticed it, too. It's the Fantastic Three and a little robot. The rights to the Human Torch had been optioned for a live-action development deal that eventually fell through, but not soon enough to stop them from making this travesty with H.E.R.B.I.E. the robot. I'd love to say Stan Lee was twirling in his grave some place because of that, but 1) the art-stealing bozo is still alive and 2) he just wants the cash to keep coming in, so he even did some voice-overs for this show. 

The second episode of the New Fantastic Four represents the nadir of an entire medium. "The Menace of Magneto" was so poorly written and characterized that even back then I remember staring at my TV and going "What the fuck?"

First off, Magneto makes his powerful and decisive entrance thusly:



Yeah, he asks for directions to the Baxter Building at a gas station. I realize that, yes, these were the days before Google Maps, Tom-Toms, and the like. But fuck. The Mutant Master of Magnetism, traveling in something that even Buckminster Fuller would've rejected, asking a service station attendant for directions to one of what has to be the four most famous buildings in New York City. There are things called maps. Oh, but magnetism doesn't affect paper. Guess that's why he needed the directions. And is the basis for the whole crappy show.

Magneto got to the Baxter Building, and right away challenged Reed Richards for the leadership of the Fantastic Four. After a short battle in their workout room, Magneto was triumphant. Soon after, Magneto's first assignment for the team was to protect a bank from being robbed by going there first and removing the money themselves. Naturally, they put the money in that thing that passes for Magneto's car and he took it to hide it from the robbers. 


Yeah, I know. Magneto. In alternate comic book realities, this mutant has nearly destroyed the planet on several occasions. In this animated world, he robs a bank. Well, now Reed is certain that Magneto is up to something (duh) and sets a plan into action to stop him from getting away with the money, which he was loading into his helicopter to fly across the border. I am not making that up, by the way.

After another short fight in which somehow magnetic powers are just as ineffective as having a stretchy body, Reed pulls out a gun on Magneto. The mutant bank robber finds he can't affect the gun in any way, and figures that Reed has found a way to neutralize his powers. And the cops come and take the distraught super-villain away to the hoosegow. Oh, and before he goes, Reed tells him that the gun was made out of wood and, essentially, he still has his powers.

Thirty seconds after that revelation, the iron-rich marrow of that cop's bones was pulled out of his nipples. 

Yes, Reed Richards' plan was revealed and Magneto still went along full of self-doubt. This was a retread of a Stan Lee plot point from an old issue of Incredible Hulk, in which ol' Greenskin managed to defeat an alien known as the Metal Master with a similar, though Hulk-sized weapon. The thing is, no one told the Metal Master what the kicker was, so he still thought he better move his ass back out into space. These cops are taking Magneto, who knows his powers still work, to a jail full of metal bars, steel-reinforced concrete, guns, handcuffs ... you know, like taking a kid with a sweet tooth to a candy store. I would've like to seen the episode that was broadcast in about a month. You know, after all the police funerals.

There is not a single redeeming feature to this episode. The animators had a unique approach to anatomy and proportion throughout this series, as in they didn't have one. Most of this shows' look like a kiddie coloring book that was colored in wrongly about 20% of the time. Even the episodes that should've been fun, like the one with the Impossible Man, are bland and boring. And like most cartoons of the sixties and seventies, actual humor was conspicuously absent. A vaudeville routine would've been more entertaining than some of the "good-natured ribbing" that takes place between the Thing and H.E.R.B.I.E.

Sigh. It would be nice, just once, to have a memory of a TV show or movie from when I was a kid that actually was up to snuff when I finally got around finding it again. I recently unearthed some episodes of The Man from Atlantis. I'm not holding out much hope, but I at least have some. Not like for the remaining twelve episodes of the New Fantastic Four




Sunday, September 2, 2012

Trying something new ... a podcast. Or what approximates one.

I'm trying something new this weekend: A podcast. Ideally, this will be in support of the book I'm currently writing, which is called Lost Voices: A Compendium of 101 Programs from the Golden Age of Radio. It is basically a trivia cyclopedia and old-time radio reference for a bunch of old radio shows that I've enjoyed over the years, most of which are probably too incidental for any but the most diehard of fans to have much knowledge about, hence the book.

The direct link to the podcast is:
http://archive.org/details/LostVoicePodcast001

This first program features my commentary on two old radio shows: An episode of Leo Diamond and His Harmonaires and The Alan Young Show.

Hope you like it!


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Book review: The first book I ever read.


Time for a book review. But not just any book review. Today I'm reviewing the very first hardcover book I ever read as a young 'un back in the wilds of Wisconsin. I know it was the very first one I ever read, and I even have a copy of it right now.

I got no idea where I got it from or who gave it to me. Those bits of information are lost to the winds of time. I'm thinking it probably helped warp my personality almost as much as comic books did. This noteworthy tome, this pioneering work of literature that was the premiere written software that was loaded into my fragile li'l mind, was the Little Golden Book of Fireball XL-5.

This monumental tome was written by Barbara Shook Hazen, who I discovered decades later as having written over 70 children's books and a hair less than a dozen for adult folks. The colorful, eye-catching artwork was created by Hawley Pratt and Al White. Hawley Pratt worked with Warner Brothers during the heydays of their cartoon unit, and was the co-creator of the Pink Panther. He also directed one of my favorite cartoon series of all time, The Super 6.


So it had that going for it before I even opened the book. Not that I was even remotely aware of such stellar achievements back then, of course.

For those who aren't familiar, Fireball XL-5 was a television show that originated in Britain and was syndicated in the states in the mid-sixties. It was done in "Super-Marionation," which basically meant it was acted out by puppets, much like Supercar and the perhaps much better known Thunderbirds. The show's creator, Gerry Anderson, went on to have a major hand in the sci-fi classic Space 1999.

The spaceship, Fireball XL-5 was part of Earth's Space Corps, which was headed by Commander Zero. The Fireball's crew consisted of the puppetly-dashing Colonel Steve Zodiac, the marionettingly beautiful Venus, who was both nurse and navigator, and Robert the Robot, a see-through mechanical man who was Zodiac's co-pilot. The TV series also featured the somewhat addled Professor Metric on board, but he didn't make an appearance in this book. Also on board was Commander Zero's son, Jonathan and his pet Lazoon named Zoonie (who was a kind of primate).|

The Fireball investigated a strange uncharted moon that was covered by both precious gems and man-sized space serpents that spit out said gems. Naturally, Jonathan and Zoonie played a big part in saving the crew from the space serpents, luring them to the cold side of the planet where they froze.  Everyone got themselves a bag o' gems to sell to help finance a "Space School for Earth boys and girls," and the Fireball led the biggest parade Space City had ever had.

Now what more could a kid ask for? Shiny spaceship, monkey, big robot, space lizards, parade. That's like twenty Twilight novels of action right there.

Most people know I will try reading any genre once, from pulp adventures to historical romance, from hard-boiled detectives to western dime novels. But I always come back to my favorite: Science fiction. And after I remembered this book a few years ago, I wonder if this is what started my love of straight (and occasionally bent and warped out of recognition) science fiction.

I would not doubt it in the slightest.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Book Review: Project Superpowers hardcover


Project Superpowers is a great comic book series. Not only does it have great artwork, fine covers by Alex Ross, and an excellent story, it brings back all the heroes of yesteryear from all those defunct publishers that were competitors to DC Comics and were on the scene a bit longer than Marvel Comics was official using that name.

One of the heroes, the Death-Defying Devil, used to sell upwards of three MILLION comics a month. Nowadays, a comic is a hit if it sells 100,000 when you count all the multiple covers. Devil was known as Daredevil back then, a name that had to be changed for obvious reasons.  (The same thing happened to two Blue Beetles and Cat-man for this series, becoming Big Blue, the Scarab and Man-Cat.)

The Black Terror, the Flame, the Green Lama, the Arrow, the Target, Masquerade, the Fighting Yank, Power Nelson ... all names you may or not be familiar with in the 21st century, but in the forties and fifties there were on the newsstands and selling as many or more books than Superman, Batman and Captain America.

These are the characters your grandparents might've seen but probably don't remember. Alex Ross and Jim Krueger again team-up to revitalize some characters with some major heroic deconstruction, much like they did on Marvel's Earth X and Ross and Mark Waid did with DC's Kingdom Come. The focal point of this part of the story is the Fighting Yank, who had been tricked into, at the end of World War II, imprisoning most of the heroes of the era in an urn that was actually Pandora's Box of myth. Later, a much older Yank tries to salve his guilt by freeing those heroes, only to find everyone has been changed in some way by their stay inside the magical prison. There reappearance on the scene does not please the remaining super-powered characters who have secretly taken over most of the planet.

The artwork in this volume alone is worth the price, especially since it includes the various sketchbook and info pages on the main characters, and full-color design sheets on all the characters used in the series.

The hardcover just includes the first half of Chapter One of Project Superpowers. There are trade paperbacks reprinting most of the rest of the series (at the current time, Chapter Two has been completed, as well as several ancillary series starring the Devil, Black Terror and a Bring on the Bad Guys limited series to introduce some new characters).

This is one of those books that I heartily recommend. If you're not a golden-age fan, I think you'll still like this story.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Music Review: Songs that just happen to be on my Zune right now.

Real simple reviews this time, as I look at various oddball songs that I just happen to have on my Zune. I was loading a couple of singles last week and accidentally sent over the entire folder of single songs to my player. I'm a dinosaur in that I prefer album-oriented rock, but I have the occasional single that gets stuck in my head.

"Hit Me with Your Rhythm Stick" by Ian Dury and the Blockheads. Ian Dury was another entertainer who died far too soon. He and his band were a popular new wave act in the UK, and never really got any airplay in the US. Imagine if U2 wasn't so full of themselves and could actually have fun; then you'd have a good idea of some of the Blockheads' sound. Dury's vocals are understated on this number and the song is more of a dance number than anything else. Very enjoyable to listen at any time.



"Marvin, I Love You" by Stephen Moore. A novelty song about Marvin the Paranoid Android, the robot from Douglas Adams' legendary The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, performed by Moore, who provided the original voice for Marvin. Simple, one-joke song. You probably have heard it on Doctor Demento at one time or another.



"Sky High" by Jigsaw. I remember this as being a really crappy song when I was a kid, having got the whole album from the Columbia Record Club. It is actually a very layered pop song that is an enjoyable listen. The lyrics are near as sappy as I remember them to be.



"Beautiful World" by Devo. One of my favorite Devo songs, off the New Traditionalists album. Mark Mothersbaugh and company could make some good pop songs as well as the primitive new wave they band was known for. This one plays real nice until the kicker in the last verse that turns it into pure Devo.



"On the Loose" by Saga. Saga is one of those Canadian bands like Rush or Triumph: A progressive group with a lot of popularity everywhere but the US. This song was their highest charting number in the States, mostly due to some constant airplay on MTV. Michael Sadler has a distinctive voice and projects a lot of energy. Definitely one of my favorite 80's hits.

"Word Up" by Cameo. I have no idea why I like this song. I've never been much in to funk, R&B or dance music, but I just enjoy this tune. It brings to mind Tracy Morgan's impression of Larry Blackmon on Saturday Night Live, when all he could answer any question with was "Word up!"



That's all this time around! Next time, some more geeky stuff!


Sunday, May 13, 2012

Movie Review: Justice League: Doom



Since The Avengers movie seems to be the big thing right now, and since I detest actually going to the theatre nowadays (fat ass + narrow seats = uncomfortable), I thought I'd watch and review another recent super-hero flick: Justice League: Doom.

This is the latest in the DC Universe animated movies, and like most of the recent ones, is only related to any of the others on unique tangents and cameos. The whole series is basically an offshoot of Justice League and Justice League Unlimited, the popular animated series on Cartoon Network. There are bits and pieces of iconography from that series all over the place, but this tale is really a combination homage to two things: Challenge of the Super Friends and Mark Waid's legendary JLA story "Tower of Babel". 

The "Doom" of the title is the Legion of Doom, named after Lex Luthor's halfwit team from the Super Friends cartoon. This time, however, it is led by Vandal Savage, the immortal villain. A modern version of Cheetah is the only holdover from that team, which features Metallo, Bane, Ma'alefa'ak, Star Sapphire and Mirror Master as the arch-enemies of each Leaguer. 

As a nod toward the recent "New 52" revamp, former Teen Titan Cyborg is thrown into the mix. A good chunk of the story is a variation on a plot line in "Tower of Babel": The Batman has contingency plans to neutralize each member of the Justice League, should such a thing become necessary. The aftermath of a staged robbery by the Royal Flush Gang affords Mirror Master the opportunity to get into the Bat-Cave and steal those plans, which Vandal Savage modifies into death traps for each member of the League (which are not the same as in the original story). 

While in "Tower of Babel", Ra's Al Ghul destroyed the most basic of communication abilities in all over the planet. Vandal Savage plans to ignite a solar flare that will devastate half the planet, with him and his Legion of Doom becoming masters of the survivors. 

This movie was as action-packed as most of the other major entries in the DCU Animated line. There's a lot of the same character design work as the previous Justice League movie, Crisis on Two Earths, but the movie isn't directly related to that. There's not a lot of backstory that a viewer needs to know to jump right in and enjoy this great movie. 

If I had to rate this flick on a ten-point scale, I'd easily give it an 8. I think it is a good segue for anyone interesting in the Justice League and perhaps interested in looking at the New 52 comic line. Mind you, the Justice League comic book is a pale shade of most of the other titles, it is still probably the most accessible due to all the familiar faces.


NOW AVAILABLE FOR THE AMAZON KINDLE

by Rich Meyer

If you remember how much department store clerks cringed when they saw Jack Benny coming on Christmas, or remember listening to Martians attacking New Jersey, or worried about how Kitty Kelly was going to be exonerated of those murder charges this time, then this is the quiz e-book for you!

The well-known and the very obscure are featured throughout this quiz book, which is easy to navigate and can be used by the neophyte fan and the seasoned listener alike. The shows in this quiz book cover the entire span of radio performances, from the very first in the 1920s to modern programs in the eighties and nineties, and from soap operas to musical programs to news shows and quiz programs.

This book is now in a DRM (Digital Rights Management)-Free version for your convenience! Now you can convert the book to be able to read it on any platform or e-reader you like!


Book review: Thing/Liberty Legion Hardcover


Nothing like a good review after a rambling rant, is there? And here we go with one of the most unlikely reprint volumes I've ever seen. The Thing: Liberty Legion is part of the new Marvel Premiere hardcover series, in which Marvel Comics' been trying to squeeze more moolah out of readers by reprinting stories they've already reprinted several times. And they got me to do it with this particular book.

While the stories contained in this book are some of the most unlikely that I thought I'd ever see reprinted, they're also some of my favorites. One of my Top Five comic book characters of all time (and for the record, the top five, in order are the original Vigilante, the Thing, the Flash, Cliff Steele and the Shade) along with some of Marvel's golden age greats. Nope, no way I'd want to buy that. Not.

I believe I've mentioned before that Marvel Comics' golden age stable of characters was not the best, and rarely rose to the level of DC Comics' oeuvre of the time. And both were outshone by most of Quality Comics' and Lev Gleason Publications' books of the time. But as usual, Roy Thomas used his encyclopedia knowledge of the golden age and his yen for reviving old characters to great effect in the tales in this book.

The book begins with the very first adventure of the Liberty Legion, which encompassed The Invaders #5-6 and Marvel Premiere #29-30. The Red Skull captures the Invaders (Captain America, the Sub-Mariner, the original Human Torch and Toro) and brainwashes the heroes into fighting for the Axis Powers. The Skull doesn't think enough of Cap's sidekick Bucky to even bring him along. Tired of being marginalized as the helpless kid sidekick, Bucky breaks into a radio broadcast and brings together several other heroes: The Patriot, Red Raven, Miss America, the unfortunately-named Whizzer, the Thin Man, the Blue Diamond and the recalcitrant Jack Frost. With this group of second-stringers, Bucky frees the Invaders from the mind control and the Liberty Legion is formed to fight threats on the wartime homefront.

The next tale is a three-parter that ran in Fantastic Four Annual #11, Marvel Two-in-One Annual #1 and Marvel Two-in-One #20. The story was reprinted in a couple of Marvel Essentials volumes, but this is the first time (to my knowledge) that it was reprinted in full-color. The Fantastic Four go back in time to repair the damage caused when a vibranium cylinder accidentally is sent back to World War II, which helped the Nazis win the war. They meet up with the Invaders and recover half the cylinder. The enigmatic Watcher's appearance tells Ben Grimm that all is still not well, so he takes a trip back himself, meeting up with the Liberty Legion and various Nazi-themed super-villains.

This particular tale takes place during that brief story cycle in 1976-1977 when Ben Grimm had lost his super-powers and was forced to wear an exo-skeleton that looked exactly like his old form as the Thing.

There's some excellent artwork in this volume, provided by Frank Robbins, John and Sal Buscema and the incredibly underrated Don Heck. Roy Thomas scripted the entire shebang with a lot of great characterization and attention to detail that he's been known for throughout Marvel's silver age.

It is definitely not for everyone, but I think most folks would find The Thing: Liberty Legion to be a fun read. The excellent full-color reproduction is a definite plus as well. I find it to be a great addition to my graphic novel library.


AVAILABLE FOR THE AMAZON KINDLE

1,001 COMIC BOOK TRIVIA QUESTIONS
NEW DRM-FREE EDITION
by Rich Meyer

If you name a comic book character from the last 70 years, you'll probably find a question about them - from Thor and the X-Men, to Superman and Batman, to Little Lulu and the Pink Panther. There are questions about almost every genre of comic book - superhero, funny animal, teen, horror, war, humor. 

This quiz e-book has 1,001 questions (and answers) for the most neophyte of fans and questions that will probably stump a few of the experts!

This book is now in a DRM (Digital Rights Management)-Free version for your convenience! Now you can convert the book to be able to read it on any platform or e-reader you like!






Saturday, May 12, 2012

Music Rant. R-A-N-T. Nothing more, nothing less.


I was writing some music trivia questions tonight for an online magazine, and while I was perusing an old copy of Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop to confirm some dates and rankings, I came to a realization: The music industry started out on the wrong foot and never recovered. The entire vacuum of popular music in the 20th and 21st century has been the result of a colossal slip on a mighty banana peel. And the general public has been stuck laughing at the same sad shtick ever since.

There’s nothing in music today that fosters Art. Or even just art. It has all been a slow slide down a snowy slope that pushed the actual art and the people who could make that art off the course entirely, like Vinko Bogataj on a ski-jump. Businessman have skied the interests of the general public to the bunny slope, where their interests could be controlled and protected; where the businessmen could give the general public the interests they wanted them to have. The easily and readily reproduced ones. The safe ones that don’t encourage thought. The safe ones where just a simple bass chord and drumbeat controlled their movements, and pedantic lyrics controlled their minds. Bland, soppy, unrealistic words of love balanced with just the right power chords and musical hooks to keep the listener from disbelieving the moronic panaceas painted by those lyrics.

The only real art in the music now is the actual business itself. Much like Orwell's "art" of Newspeak Hip-hop and modern pop music are as far away from actual music created by humans as cave paintings are from Imax movies. Canned music pervades the everything. Tracks are laid down without a musician ever being involved. Autotuned voices mean no one needs to learn how to sing properly and that everyone will sing properly in the same bland, whiny, patronizing voices. Nothing matters now but the nebulous land of the Top 40 and Top 10. Very few recording acts can really sit down anymore and record an actual honest-to-bogey album and make it a cohesive work. For the big acts, every track is methodically laid out and parsed so that manufactured hit-after-manufactured hit can be shoveled into the belly of the business beast.

It is almost a novelty to have a band that plays instruments while singing to have a hit now. Let’s let Bieber play his drums a bit and fiddle with a few instruments here and there, but make sure he’s out there dancing and lip-syncing. The young girls love that.  Make sure Beyonce’s out there dancing like she’s a spastic Tina Turner-wannabe. The guys love that. That’s what the people pay for. That’s what people are told to pay for.

The iconoclasts are still out there; bands that play their own instruments in concert, sing their own songs, and rely on the power of intelligent words and carefully crafted music to bring their art to life. But a good number of these deviants-to-the-norm don’t even get recording contracts. And if they do, they have to make major changes to themselves in order to palatable to an audience that has been taught to expect perfection and tripe. Must look as white bread as possible for the sheep to baaaauy their singles.

This has been going on since rock started as “rock ‘n’ roll”. Everyone had to sound like Elvis Presley. Everyone had to sound like the Beatles. Everyone had to sound like the Byrds, like the Bee-Gees, like Nirvana, like Eminem, like the Fray. A small change here and there. A slightly different sound. But really, the same, safe sound, with new packaging. Bands have always been given chances to record “new” sounds, as long as they fit into official parameters. Frank Zappa was signed because a talent scout heard one song and thought the Mothers of Invention were a white blues band. Trying to fit a band into a niche that was co-opted into safety from an entire race.  That backfired completely and wonderfully. Of course, not fitting into any of the corporate molds forced The Powers That Be to marginalize Zappa and his music. His only popular music hits were harmless novelty numbers, like “Valley Girl” or “Dancin’ Fool”. You’ll never hear “Mo and Herb’s Vacation” or “City of Tiny Lights” on the radio. Too complex, too long for the bacteria-like culture of short-attention spans that the music industry has created.

Oh, and sorry, white folks do NOT play the blues. They steal them. Just like rap. The only white folks who should be allowed to rap were the Beastie Boys, since they actually took it on as an art form rather than just a hook.This was one of the few instances of trying to fit a band into a niche co-opted into safety from an entire race that backfired completely. Of course, not fitting into any of the corporate molds forced The Powers That Be to marginalize Zappa and his music. His only popular music hits were harmless novelty numbers, like “Valley Girl” or “Dancin’ Fool”. You’ll never hear “Mo and Herb’s Vacation” or even “City of Tiny Lights” on the radio. Too complex, too long for the bacteria-like culture that the music industry has created.
Oh, and sorry, white folks do NOT play the blues. They steal them. Just like rap. The only white folks who should be allowed to rap were the Beastie Boys, since they actually took it on as an art form rather than just a hook.

Music has to be safe. Safe for our kids. Safe so it can make money. Which is the only reason the kids are needed in the first place. The business takes advantage of the inherent sense of rebellion on all kids, making something just a little different from their parents’ music for them to consume. Your parents liked Elvis? Oh, so not cool! Nirvana. Yeah, that’s cool and rebellious. Ka-Ching at the register. “Dad, I can’t believe you listened to Nirvana. All the mumbling … listen to this Arcade Fire album. See? That’s what speaks to me now!” Ka-Ching again. And again.

And the art of music dies just little bit more, with each mp3 download. The only thing that keeps it going is the simple fact that music is eternal. And it will find a way to be expressed.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Twelve finally ends and quite successfully, too.


Marvel Comics' limited series The Twelve finally finished it's twelve issue run this week, after starting back in 2008. Creators J. Michael Straczynski and Chris Weston got too involved with other commitments (movie work) and shelved the series after eight issues. I hadn't really put much hope in it ever being finished, since the last limited series that I liked and got shelved stayed shelved. 

But then Sonic Disruptors wasn't selling at anywhere near sustainable levels.The Twelve had two of the most popular modern comic creators behind it, and true to their words, they made sure this series got finished, and finished properly.


The Twelve follows the exploits of twelve mystery-men who were put into suspended animation by the Nazis at the end of World War II. An accident caused them to be revived and have to adjust to a new, very different world.

None of the Twelve heroes are anyone that a casual reader would recognize as anything but perhaps a stereotype. Most of them only appeared once or twice as features in Marvel Mystery Comics, U.S.A. Comics, or Daring Mystery Comics. The Phantom Reporter, Captain Wonder, the Fiery Mask, the Witness, Rockman, the Blue Blade, Mastermind Excello, Dynamic Man, the Laughing Mask. Electro the Iron Man, Mr. E and the original Black Widow were the only ones with recognizable names, but all are far different from their modern namesakes.

Much like Roy Thomas had done in the seventies, Straczynski and Weston managed to transform a bunch of nobodies into characters we both liked and hated. While I won't give away any spoilers here, I have to say that I'm hoping that these characters will be allowed to interact with the regular Marvel Universe (or whatever passes for that nowadays) and not relegated back to Comic Book Limbo. There are some definite possibilities in this group. 

There's currently a trade paperback collecting the first six issues of the series. There were also #0 and #1/2 issues that featured some reprints of many of the characters original adventures, particularly Rockman, who was created by the legendary Basil Wolverton. Before the series restarted with #9, The Twelve: Spearhead was also published, which revealed some more of the heroes' back story and interaction with the other Marvel heroes on the fateful adventure that sent them away for nearly 60 years.

You don't need to know a lot about these characters, or even Marvel Comics, to enjoy this very interesting tale. The Twelve is a great series and I would recommend any comic fan give it a try.


NOW AVAILABLE FOR THE AMAZON KINDLE
FREE ON SATURDAY IN HONOR OF 
FREE COMIC BOOK DAY!

1,001 COMIC BOOK TRIVIA QUESTIONS
NEW DRM-FREE EDITION
by Rich Meyer

If you name a comic book character from the last 70 years, you'll probably find a question about them - from Thor and the X-Men, to Superman and Batman, to Little Lulu and the Pink Panther. There are questions about almost every genre of comic book - superhero, funny animal, teen, horror, war, humor. 

This quiz e-book has 1,001 questions (and answers) for the most neophyte of fans and questions that will probably stump a few of the experts!

This book is now in a DRM (Digital Rights Management)-Free version for your convenience! Now you can convert the book to be able to read it on any platform or e-reader you like!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Random Music Musings: Some interesting discoveries and re-discoveries


Every now and again, I'll just download a song or an album just for the hell of it. We all do that, I'm sure; something in your head reminds you "hey, you should listen to that - someone said it was good". I never remember who, so it might've been me to begin with or some internet tout.  Here's some of the albums and cuts I've picked up on my recent meanderings.

Alice Cooper Goes to Hell. Alice Cooper's 9th studio album came out in 1976. I always remember it because of his performance at the Grammy Awards that year, when he ripped the clothes of one of his co-presenters as as a lead into the song "Go to Hell". The seventies were both kind and very unkind to Cooper, as his career temporarily hit the skids with a stay in a mental hospital. This album is considerably more pop than his early or much later work. The title track is really the hardest, nearly-metal song of the whole disc. There are some catchy tunes on this one, my personal favorite being "Didn't We Meet (in the Night in My Dreams Somewhere)". The hit "I Never Cry" is the centerpiece of the album. 

The Church, Starfish. This is one of those albums I cannot believe I missed when it first came out. I remember The Church's big hit, "Under the Milky Way", but for some reason or another I must have dismissed it back then. I recently picked this one up and the entire album is fantastic! There's a musical cohesiveness to all the cuts that brings it all together. The band also has some excellent lyrics. I can understand why a lot of people have referred to the Church as virtual clones of Pink Floyd, as the song "Destination" could easily have been inserting on any eighties Floyd album and it would've fit in perfectly. The Church takes their sounds and words to a different, less ego-centric place than Roger Waters did with Floyd. "Reptile" and "Hotel Womb" are also stand-out cuts.

Aimee Mann, WhateverI cannot believe that somehow this one got lost out of my CD collection. This was one of Aimee Mann's first efforts after her break-up of Til Tuesday (known for their epic hit Voices Carry). Another example of that rare breed of intelligent pop music, Mann tells some excellent stories here with good hooks and without being preachy or long-winded about things. "I Should of Known..." opens the album wonderfully, almost every song on the album would've been worthy of a single release (back in those ancient days when singles meant more than they do now). I've enjoyed every Aimee Mann album I've every heard. They can be a little angst-y, but she doesn't slam it in your face like a lot of alternative/college rock acts.

And lastly, just a single I picked up last night because it happened to show up in a search when I was looking for something else. The Producers were one of the innumerable bands coming out of Atlanta, Georgia in the wake of R.E.M. and the B-52s. They put out two albums, had a couple of Top 100 hits, a lot of MTV video airplay, and went their way. With two hits, they don't even end up being featured on the One-Hit Wonder reviews, and that's a shame. The Producers had an energetic sound and some good hooks. I remember getting both albums back in the day, but the one song that I think the group is most remembered for is the catchy "She Sheila", a version of the oft-heard musical paean to the woman who you see everywhere but just can't get her to see you. It was worth the 99-cents on Amazon to get that opening keyboard procession back on my mp3 player.

Below is the YouTube for the somewhat minimalist MTV video for "She Sheila" (from the album You Make the Heat). Enjoy!





NOW AVAILABLE FOR THE AMAZON KINDLE

by Rich Meyer

If you remember how much department store clerks cringed when they saw Jack Benny coming on Christmas, or remember listening to Martians attacking New Jersey, or worried about how Kitty Kelly was going to be exonerated of those murder charges this time, then this is the quiz e-book for you!

The well-known and the very obscure are featured throughout this quiz book, which is easy to navigate and can be used by the neophyte fan and the seasoned listener alike. The shows in this quiz book cover the entire span of radio performances, from the very first in the 1920s to modern programs in the eighties and nineties, and from soap operas to musical programs to news shows and quiz programs.

This book is now in a DRM (Digital Rights Management)-Free version for your convenience! Now you can convert the book to be able to read it on any platform or e-reader you like!

Comic Book Review: Three Marvel Comics that are actually good reads.


I have to say that it has been quite a few years since I've been able to actually enjoy reading a Marvel Comic book. The entire Civil War/Dark Reign/Whatever event we're running continuously now because we have no idea how to actually write comics caused me to get bored with their entire line of comics.  I think Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. was the last series I actually liked, beyond the ubiquitous Marvel Zombies titles. I did try to follow the Red Hulk storyline as well, and liked The Twelve (which is finally being finished as I write this).


This year I've actually found three Marvel Comics series in the past few months that have both been readable and enjoyable.

The first title is Avenging Spider-Man. Despite the name, this is basically a re-working of Marvel Team-Up, as every month Spidey is highlighted with another character. The first three issues are a complete story featuring Spidey, Red Hulk and J. Jonah Jameson (now Mayor of New York) facing off against the Mole Man and a new subterranean race. The stories are scripted as well as the last incarnation of MTU, and the artwork is superb. And, more importantly, the stories have a lot of humor, something that's been missing from the Marvel Universe for a long time. Issues #6 and 7 are crossing over with the newest series of both Punisher and Daredevil, which should be a fairly intriguing story, as they face off against a conglomeration of all the various high tech super-secret (not) villain organizations. Really, I'm just happy to see a team-up book back on the stands.

The next on-going title that I'm enjoying reading is The Defenders, back in their own book that has the motto "protecting humanity from the impossible." I'm assuming this group will have the same kind of nebulous membership as the original did. Doctor Strange, the Sub-Mariner and the Silver Surfer return, joined by Iron Fist and Red She-Hulk. The initial storyline has the team going to Wundagore Mountain to protect a reality-altering device from an age-old spirit that has embodied the original Hulk's rage. There's a lot of humor, especially from the conflict of these diverse personalities, a lot of good action and the requisite strangeness that has always marked any Defenders title.

The third title I'd like to mention is actually the current "big event" at Marvel: Avengers vs. X-Men. I haven't liked the "big events" at either Marvel or DC for quite a long time. Hell, I think that last one that was any good was the original Crisis on Infinite Earths.  But the first two issues of this series make me hope that things have changed. The story starts with Nova, the Human Rocket, crashing in the middle of New York City from outer space, where Captain America and the Avengers discover that the Phoenix has reappeared. Naturally, they'd like to stop her from destroying anymore planets. Cyclops and the X-Men would like to keep Hope Summers, who is manifesting the powers of her mother, safe from the Avengers. And just as naturally, a battle royale ensues. The two issues I've read where very enjoyable, with good characterizations and somehow none of the multitudes are really left by the wayside, a major feat in itself.

I'd love to think that Marvel has actually listened to their fans and started giving them what they want: Good, solid story lines without a lot of the trimmings that come with multi-book annual crossovers.  However, since each of these comics I've mentioned was published under at least three or more covers, I'm going have to leave conclusion for a later time, to see if these books can maintain the same level of quality.

But as for right now, these three titles are definitely worth reading, and are a good jumping on point for new fans and older ones who have been alienated by a very dull status quo.




NOW AVAILABLE FOR THE AMAZON KINDLE

1,001 COMIC BOOK TRIVIA QUESTIONS
NEW DRM-FREE EDITION
by Rich Meyer


If you name a comic book character from the last 70 years, you'll probably find a question about them - from Thor and the X-Men, to Superman and Batman, to Little Lulu and the Pink Panther. There are questions about almost every genre of comic book - superhero, funny animal, teen, horror, war, humor. 


This quiz e-book has 1,001 questions (and answers) for the most neophyte of fans and questions that will probably stump a few of the experts!

This book is now in a DRM (Digital Rights Management)-Free version for your convenience! Now you can convert the book to be able to read it on any platform or e-reader you like!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Playing in the World's Largest Trivia Contest in the 21st Century


Last weekend, the World's Largest Trivia Contest was played in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, the place I consider my hometown. I just happened to be updating an old spreadsheet with all the teams I had played with in that illustrious contest over the years and discovered this was my 20th Trivia contest.

For the uninitiated, the contest is sponsored annually by WWSP 90FM, the local college radio station. The contest is broadcast on the radio and, for the past five years or so, been simulcast on the internet. The basic gist of the game is this: Questions are asked and people call in to answer them. The contest lasts for 54 straight hours, from 6pm on Friday to midnight on Sunday. Each question is worth a certain number of points, dependent on how many teams answer it correctly. The top ten teams get trophies and bragging rights for the next year.

And the questions aren't something you'd find in Trivial Pursuit. A working knowledge of that game doesn't help for Trivia. If you can remember what poker hand the robot in Silent Running had, or what TV show starred an actor playing both himself and his own father, or what country once made Porky Pig president, then you've got the mentality for Trivia. And for players, it is always Trivia with a capital "T".

The difficulty of the contest has varied over the years, as the people who write the questions, Jim Oliva (a.k.a. the Oz) and John Eckendorf, have had a difficult time of making the contest both entertaining and reachable in the era of Google and internet search engines. Before the advent of the net, Stevens Point was a city of stenographers, as teams that hoped to contend for a trophy would be taking notes in movie theaters, while watching TV, while listening to the radio, and anywhere that an interesting little fact might raise it's head and be fodder for a question. I personally have notes on nearly 3,000 movies, 5,000 TV episodes and 3,000 old-time radio shows.

Most people play on teams of two or more people; the more people usually being better, at least up to a point. I played on one team for eleven years, before deciding to branch out and start my own. There's just only so much you can do; Most teams don't even consider the possibility of winning. One year we came in 4th place. The last question of the contest used to be noted for a high difficulty factor, and when I got that answer correct that same year, I decided it was time to move on and see what I could do on my own. The four years I ran a team, it was a solid Top 25 team. It was a fun experience, but when I moved to Pennsylvania in 1998, that was pretty much the end of my career as a Trivia player.

Then 2008 comes along and with the streaming of the contest, I was able to give it a try again. I played remotely (and still do) for a team called the Collective (now called Collective Foole, after merging with a long-time team). The first few years was hard. We only had dial-up internet available in our town, or at least in the two-block area at the end of town here. I was always lagging about thirty seconds to a minute behind everyone else, and that became tiresome at times, missing answers I knew but couldn't express properly to the team. Luckily, they soon figured out I wasn't just an old crazy guy. Well, I hope they have, anyway. 

This year, however, the wife and I finally got tired of the slow speed of dial-up and invested in a wi-fi hotspot. Playing this year was a joy, as that 30 second to a minute of lag became five seconds at the most. And I could actually contribute a lot more, since I could help with looking answers up on the net rather than just relying on my notes. To keep myself interested in previous years, I always had a little game of "get the answer before anyone else" going, but this year, that wasn't really necessary.

Collective Foole placed 12th in the contest this time around. We had placed 6th last year, so the finish was a bit disappointing, but I think we've actually made great strides on organization and utilizing our resources. Top 10 would've been better, but Top 20 is definitely respectable. 

It is early Thursday morning as I write this, and I've finally started to recover mentally from playing; 54 hours, even with a few hours of sleep here and there, wears you down. Soon the preparations for next year will start. There's always more movies to see and more TV to watch. Most people don't understand the obsession people in Stevens Point have with Trivia. I can't even begin to explain it myself. I think it's just something that's in a person's blood. Or I've been doing it so long that the meaning itself has lost any definition.

But I know that the strains of Steppenwolf's "Born to Be Wild" next year will once again begin the culmination of another year of feverishly hopeful preparations, when we are again told "Let's play some trivia, Fast Eddie!"

By the way, if you want to really get a feel for what this contest is like, without waiting to play, try to find a copy of the movie Triviatown. This documentary does a very good job of relating the insanity makes a college town double in size for a weekend.

For those wanting information on the contest, please check out www.90fmtrivia.org for more information.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

We're taking a break, folks!







Hey folks!

Rich's Random Reviews is taking a two-week hiatus, as the siren call of Trivia is upon us. The World's Largest Trivia Contest, broadcast on the air and internet from 90FM WWSP in Stevens Point, Wisconsin starts on April 20th-22nd, with 54 straight hours of trivia mayhem. 

I gots to get my information, books, pets and all that sort of stuff organized, so no blogging til Wednesday, April 25th. 

If anyone cares to listen into the contest through the link on the 90fm website, I'll be playing with a team called Collective Foole. 

See youse folks in the funny papers until then!

 

Monday, April 9, 2012

Week of Good Stuff Day 2: Nextwave Agents of H.A.T.E.



For my second entry for my "Weekof Good Stuff" theme, I've picked a short-lived comic book that I found to be damn fun: Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. This was a rather strange Marvel Comic from the team of Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen. It was strange in that it was funny, didn't really care about continuity and was very enjoyable, which was a strange thing to say about a Marvel Comic in 2006. Or even now for that matter.

For anyone who isn't familiar with the book, Nextwave was about a group of renegade heroes who were working for an anti-terrorist organization along the lines of S.H.I.E.L.D. They discovered the group had different aims than what was told to them, so they stole a high-tech aircraft and went off on their own to destroy selfsame organization.

The group includes some long-running Marvel Comics characters. Monica Rambeau, former Avenger and Captain Marvel, was the leader, adopting her Photon identity. Aaron Stack, also known as Machine Man was the ship's pilot and beer and sex-obsessed android. Boom-Boom was a former New Mutant and X-Man, and could create explosions.

Eliza Bloodstone and the Captain rounded out the team. Eliza was the latest in a hereditary line of nigh-immortal monster hunters. The Captain was the powerhouse of the group, as he had received amazing abilities from aliens one night when he was drunk. His actual name was Captain #!%&@, but he doesn't use it much, after Captain America beat the crap out of him and washed his mouth out with soap.

The series lasted for a year. Most of the stories had Nextwave trying to stop the Beyond Corporation, the evil group behind H.A.T.E., while avoiding the former commander, Dirk Anger. Along the way, Fin Fang Foom, Devil Dinosaur and even Forbush Man battled our heroes.

The characterizations were what was the highlight of the book. Just seeing Machine Man annoy the hell out of his teammates was worth the price of the whole series. I'm really hoping that someday Marvel decides to remember that there was a time when comic books were a joy to read and not just a soap opera chore with bad plots, characters and crossover schemes. Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. was one of the last entertaining series that Marvel created. It is collected in a couple of different trade formats, and is definitely worth the time and money to procure.


Sunday, April 8, 2012

A Week of Good Stuff begins: Starman Volume 9 - Grand Guignol

I've decided to make it easy on myself. This is a week of reviewing stuff that I like. No, stuff I LOVE. This is the Week of Good Stuff.

I don't know if I've ever mentioned this here, but James Robinson's Starman was the single greatest comic book in the history of the medium.

Big claim, huh? Not really. This was the only truly wonderful thing that has ever come out of a major crossover event at either DC or Marvel. Or anywhere for that matter. Alan Moore and Grant Morrison deconstructed heroes in Watchmen, Doom Patrol and Animal Man. James Robinson built them back up into true heroes and human beings in the pages of Starman.

Robinson has a special flare for writing comic books that shows his love and respect for the medium. A throwaway line here mentioning Commando Yank or Codename: Assassin, a picture of the original Justice Society in a background there, all the while pacing what was really an 84-issue story of a single man in the fictional world of Opal City.

This tale begins with the abrupt murder of David Knight, who had just taken the hereditary identity of Starman from his father. His brother Jack, a tattooed slacker and collectibles nut, is forced to take up the mantle. But he does it reluctantly and does it his own way. No costume, just a leather jacket and goggles and a long golden Cosmic Staff.

It is no spoiler to tell readers that Jack grows into his role as a hero and defender of the city. It also is no spoiler to say that he eventually gives it all up for the love of a woman and his newborn son. It would be a spoiler to reveal many of the twists and turns that got him there, and which opened up a new world to readers.

My favorite story line is encapsulated in Starman Volume 9: Grand Guignol. This trade paperback features a yearlong adventure that has Jack returning from a trip to outer space to find Opal City besieged by almost every major villain that had been featured in the series so far, led by a villainous version of the Shade, the erudite anti-hero who had become one of Jack's friends. Luckily, Jack has friends, such as the Elongated Man and his wife, Adam Strange, another Starman, Black Condor, Phantom Lady, the Black Pirate and a family of policemen dedicated to protecting their city. He also has the help of his own father, the original Starman.

This is one of those perfect stories. Triumph and tragedy, life and death. It is all here, on as mythic scale as we have in today's world. There's a realism amid the flying capes and elastic fists and radioactive men that draws you into Opal City on a level that's hard to explain. You cheer the triumphs and you weep for the lost as if they were real people.

And not to forget the other contributor: Peter Snejbjerg provides some atmospheric art. His style if very reminiscent of the Brothers Hernandez in Love and Rockets, and is a perfect compliment to Robinson's story.

The series has recently been recollected into the Starman Omnibus series, so it is very easy to find all of the series.  You can jump right in anywhere, or start from the beginning. It doesn't matter. Each volume in the trade paperback series has everything you would want in a great comic book.

This series is one of the very few things in the planet that I would label inspiring.