Friday, March 27, 2015

How the (Liberal) Media Got Us Mountaintop Removal


When I was in high school I recall the corporate move to deregulate coal mining. All of the network news stations were in on the propaganda push to change the rules that resulted in the ecological rape we know as mountaintop removal. One particular slant they'd take was to show poor little wildcat coal miners. These were small operators--sometimes one guy--who owned maybe a front end loader, a bulldozer, and a pair of overalls. They'd trot one of these pathetic bastards out and he'd say:

"If'n I could grade away a few feet o' that thar hill I could git at that dab o' coal in thar and feed mah fambly."

Then everyone watching would feel really sorry for the hayseed workin' hard to feed his chirren.

Occasionally they'd have maybe a five-second sound bit of an ecologist warning that big operators would take those changes and tear down entire mountain ranges to get at the coal. After which the reporter would roll his eyes, or they'd have a coal company mouthpiece exclaiming how that would NEVER happen.

Well, it did happen.

People should be shot. Especially the bought and paid for "journalists" who supplied the lying propaganda.

SURFACE MINING AND CONTROL RECLAMATION ACT OF 1977. (The billionaires were drooling and Jimmy Carter signed it into law.)

People should be strung up and hanged by the neck for these kinds of ecological crimes. One of the most horrible things about all this is the language energy corporations use to describe the operations. In their terminology, mountains are called "overburden".


Thursday, March 26, 2015

Mainly, TV Sucks

I grew up on television like almost everyone else has. My parents may have been unusual in many ways, but we always had a TV in the house and I always had access to it. Since my parents both preferred to read rather than watch TV I found that I could generally watch what I wanted to watch. So, like most Americans I watched way the hell too much TV.

As I got older I became less and less interested in the old boob tube. It was rare that I liked anything enough to anticipate it and work my schedule around it. I pretty much stopped paying attention to television when I was in my mid 20s. It just wasn't my bag.

However, over the years, I would occasionally stumble upon something that I liked that was made for television audiences. And sometimes those shows would surprise me with particularly good writing and singular performances and productions.

Here are two such productions that did so:

The first one I want to mention was a two-part episode done for a TV show that I seem to have watched alone, in all of the USA. It was called FRANK'S PLACE and starred Tim and Daphne Reid (real-life husband and wife) who own a restaurant in downtown New Orleans. When I mention this series to anyone they don't know what the hell I'm talking about. I never encounter anyone who has heard of it, much less watched it.

By Jove, I watched it. There were only 22 episodes and I don't think I missed but one or two of them. And, yes, I was bummed out when it was canceled.


The most powerful episode was actually a two-parter. It was called "Cool and the Gang Part 1" and "Cool and the Gang Part 2". The thrust of the story dealt with the experience of one of the
Frank's Place employees, the youthful Cool Charles portrayed brilliantly by William Thomas, Jr. In this two-parter the kid becomes involved in drug dealing and soon finds himself with lots of money. But things do not go well. He descends quickly into a hellish life but realizes before it's too late that he has a good way out--toward his friends who love him. The acting is spectacular. Some might call it hokey and false, but they'd be wrong. I found it to be the best of what drama can offer.

Not from that episode, but a brief clip from FRANK'S PLACE.

The other TV production that stunned me was an episode of THE X-FILES. I will assume that most of the readers here are familiar with the alien-chasing FBI agents of Fox Mulder and Dana Scully. So I will dispense with explaining such familiarities.

There had been a number of really well-written episodes of the show. I should know, because I watched most of them, since it was one of the few horror/fantasy oriented TV shows on prime-time television in those days.

The episode that amazed me and showed me how good TV could actually be was written by Darin Morgan, directed by David Nutter. That episode was "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose" and co-starred Peter Boyle as a life insurance salesman who can sometimes see the future deaths of people he encounters.

Although dealing with the darkest of dramatic elements (murder, suicide, loneliness, despair),
the telepaly is punctuated by wry humor and is wonderfully played by all of the actors, most notably Peter Boyle who portrays the most unfortunate Clyde Bruckman of the show's title. As I watched that story unfold I knew that I was seeing something special and brilliant and that I would not likely see this kind of thing again. And I was right. Since that show I don't think I've seen anything that has come anywhere close to the quality of that episode of that particular TV series.

The late Peter Boyle.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

OUT OF THE NIGHT

Once again I ended up with a comic book that was not on my want list. This one is OUT OF THE NIGHT #1 from ACG (American Comics Group). ACG was one of those companies that outlasted most of the other second-tier publishers and was creating comics long after so many others had packed it in and ceased publication. They went toe to toe with Marvel and DC and finally bit the dust in 1967 during the superhero boom.

This book was one of their horror titles. ACG was one of the first comics publishers to capitalize on the horror genre with their title ADVENTURES INTO THE UNKNOWN. This book, OUT OF THE NIGHT, was obviously created to cash in on the popularity of horror comics.

I was attracted to it for several reasons. Among those is that it's a first issue, and it has a really cool, garish cover. But the main thing that made me grab this copy (other than the low price I got on it) was the Al Williamson, Harold LeDoux artwork inside. The two illustrate a werewolf story that's pretty weird and the illustrations sparkle. 

Publishing information inside indicate that this book was published in 1951.

Williamson's style was striking. Frazetta could ape it, but few others could match the flowing lines of his pencil.

The werewolf in this tale is largely human, initially lacking fur.

Yes, this was a horror comic.

The strange plotting of a werewolf against his victims! "Good Heavens!"

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Vacated Childhood

Sometimes I happen to drive through towns or cities where I lived with my parents when I was growing up. These days there is absolutely nothing whatsoever in those places that is welcoming to me or which resembles in any way the comforts of--as they used to say--home and hearth.

It's strange to travel through these spots, now. What were once areas where I could count on something approaching welcome there is now only coldness and a lurking fear. These days I don't even have photographs of these old homes and neighborhoods. The houses that my parents either owned or rented are mainly gone. I used to joke that wherever I lived was later leveled.

There's nothing quite like the iciness of traveling through a town that once held the promise of a safe place to lay one's head, and a warm home where you could retreat from the rain with the security of four walls and supportive allies. Now, when I move through these towns and cities all I see are buildings and streets and strangers and no hope of any finer emotion.

I never lived in this house. But this wreck isn't far from where I did live when I was a kid in the hell-hole known as Brunswick, Georgia. When I was a child, Brunswick had an economy based on industry of various types. Chemical companies, pulp mills, industrial fabricators, and other such ongoing concerns. One by one those places closed up shop, some of them leaving hideously polluted superfund sites. This crappy shell is typical of the structures still standing in Brunswick. My skin crawls whenever I do happen to travel through this horrid little burg, but I sometimes force myself to go back there to take photographs of places I recall. I have one single friend who still lives there, but mainly I stay the HELL away from it, zipping past at the speed limit on the rare occasions when I do travel nearby. I once took my wife to see Brunswick, and after about 30 minutes she started begging me to get her out of there as fast as I could. I complied.


This is Decatur, Georgia. I rather liked Decatur when I was living there as a kid. Some of the happiest memories of my life are from that time. The town was pretty cool in those days, and it's pretty cool now. But there is no one there for me and if I go back, the only thing in the way of a welcome is what I can buy from a lodging establishment and a restaurant.


My parents' first bookstore was somewhere around this area (North Highland Avenue), circa 1966. It was a great bookstore and I loved being in it. It's where my dad began to accumulate the vast stock of old comics I was able to rummage through during my childhood. It's rare that I encounter a comic book that was published after 1955 or so that I haven't at least held in my hands.


This is Macon, Georgia. Another town that holds absolutely nothing for me. This was on Poplar Street where my parents' bookstore was located. Also known as "the Avenue of Flags" because of the state flags project. My parents funded one of them--the flag for the US Virgin Islands. That was a place they longed to visit, but which they never got to see. I did visit the

Islands, partly because of their fascination with that part of the Caribbeans. As for Macon...the only thing that could entice me to visit it again would be to see the Ocmulgee Indian Mounds.


This is part of downtown Ellijay, Georgia. When I lived in the county it was 100% white and was easily the most virulently racist spot I ever lived. You learned to keep your fucking mouth shut there. One of my teachers was a supporter of a well-known neo-Nazi (JB Stoner) and the school system would bring in Christian evangelists to regale the student body with messages from Christ (against the law and all that, but who was going to complain?). Ironically, I had pretty fun teenage years and developed my love of the outdoors there and learned to hike and backpack. I was also active in sports--football, track, and wrestling. We were rarely in the town itself because we lived on 120 acres of forest on the other side of the county on a chunk of wilderness where our nearest neighbor lived 2.5 miles away and the nearest paved road was more than four miles distant and our driveway was exactly one mile long. I miss the land, but not the ignorant, hateful, racist folk who lived in Ellijay. There is nothing there for me, now.

Monday, March 23, 2015

SPEEDBALL 6-10.

There is a kind of charm to the SPEEDBALL series. Ditko crammed quite a lot of story into what was then a small publishing package. The size of your average monthly comic book at that time was reduced quite a lot from Ditko's days in the Golden Age and Silver Age. He figured a way around this by packing a lot of panels to the page--sometimes ten or twelve panels. Gone were his grand splash pages of the early days, reserving those for the opening shots of each issue.

Another thing he did that was old-school was that he sometimes had two separate stories in each issue. This also harkened back to the very early days of the resurgent superhero comics of the Silver Age. There is also the possibility that Ditko knew that the modern fan base might not go for his new series and he wanted to establish Speedball as a character and set up a history and a mythos as quickly as possible within the run of the book while he had the chance.

If that last possibility was correct, then it was the right thing to do. Because SPEEDBALL was canceled after only ten issues. The new crop of kids and subnormal adults in those days acting as Marvel's fan-base just weren't impressed with the old master's title. And so Ditko went back to doing his own thing on his own time and Marvel got yet another creation which they could turn into cash at some future date.


And so it goes.

SPEEDBALL #6.

SPEEDBALL #7. Ditko delivers one of his typical villains, a masked gunman.

SPEEDBALL #8. This is probably my favorite cover of the bunch. Featuring one of the simplest bad guys I've ever seen Ditko produce. And all the more appealing for that simplicity. Read it if you can find it.

SPEEDBALL #9...continuing the adventures of a teenaged superhero who still lives at home with his parents.

The last issue. Twisted science and criminal mayhem! What did Ditko suspect about Monsanto?! The finale of the series in which one of the bad guys is croaked in typical Ditko fashion.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Dead?

I recall being told about this drama queen who phoned his parents (several times!) to tell them that they were "dead to him"!

I couldn't stop laughing.


I don't know about you, but I don't speak to dead people.


Saturday, March 21, 2015

SPEEDBALL!

Most of my collection of Steve Ditko comics are from 1968 and before. For a long time I didn't consider much of his later work for my collection for many reasons. I was mainly collecting his comics material because of feelings of nostalgia. So, even though Ditko was far more productive after 1968 than he was before that, I wasn't seriously looking upon that material as collectible.

But then I happened to buy a huge stack of Ditko's Charlton ghost stories mainly from the 1970s and early 80s. This was, I discovered, nice work. Especially the covers. And, of course, I decided to give such work consideration and began to collect it.

One title of which I was aware was SPEEDBALL. This is one he created upon his belated return to working at Marvel Comics. It's a hard one to pin down, and not among my favorite works by Mr. Ditko. He created, plotted, and penciled all of the ten issues he produced before it was canceled. But it's not the kind of thing that was foremost in my mind to add to the boxes of my Ditko books.

Finally, though, I located an entire set in nearly new condition at a silly-low price and took them home. The covers are pretty good for this period for Ditko, but the interiors just don't do it for me. There's not a lot of inventive use of layouts there, and none of the inkers seem to have appreciated delineating his pencils. I do understand that Ditko was all about laying down the line in quick order as he went into his later years--giving what he felt was a fair day's work for a fair day's pay. Perhaps that's why there's almost no magic to this series.

When I compare it to something like STATIC, which he did not too many years before SPEEDBALL, there is an enormous difference in quality. Maybe he just wasn't going to bust a gut for Marvel. It's hard to say.

The dialog is by Roger Stern, and I see little of Ditko's political and philosophical dogma running through the stories, but that stuff is there if you pay attention. In addition, there seems to be a struggle afoot between the creator and the publisher:

SPEEDBALL was marketed (it seems to me) as a book for younger readers. There is a grade-school feel to the logic and storytelling there. But it also has a hard edge to it in some of the adventures--and knowing Ditko's black/white good/evil way of seeing the world, I wonder if the series was indeed intended by him to be aimed at younger readers, or if the book was blind-sided by the publisher and its editors.

Who knows?

At any rate, I added them to my collection. It ain't THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, and it's not STATIC, and it's not even THE CREEPER or THE BLUE BEETLE. But it's still Ditko.

SPEEDBALL #1. Ditko starts off the series with a butt shot of the new hero. From everything I've read, his old professional nemesis Stan Lee HATED such covers. Seems fitting Ditko would deliver exactly thus since Liar Lee wasn't in the position to nix the cover at this point.

Issue #2. One of the weirder villains.

#3. Ditko seemed to enjoy creating superheroes who are not supremely powerful. Speedball is just such a creation. Unique, but not god-like. And so the villains he faced were similar in stature.

SPEEDBALL #4.

SPEEDBALL #5. I didn't particularly care for the inking done on any of the ten issues. It's all just uninspired. Decent, but there's no magic or care in it. I suspect Ditko must have been delivering the least amount of detail in his pencils and layouts.