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I Blather On…

21/01/2015

… on the website The Blathers Of Gene Bathurst.  Gene was curious about my experiences writing Thundarr The Barbarian and I had a blast trying to fill in the blanks to the best of my memory.

thundarr portal into time title card

You can find Part One here and Part Two there

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Losing Our Heads

19/01/2015

So a number of people have been posting links to news reports about the public beheading of a convicted child rapist / murderer in Saudi Arabia.

The woman screamed she was innocent just before being executed.

Many of these people are outraged to one degree or another by this news.

I’m just trying to figure out what their outrage is aimed at.

Are they universally opposed to capital punishment?

Well, then we’re in agreement. I would hope we can convince all people, cultures, and governments to abolish capital punishment.[1]

Are they upset that the woman proclaimed her innocence to the very end?

We execute a lot of people here in the US who proclaim their innocence to the very end. I do not know enough about this case to have an opinion on whether or not the Saudi government adequately proved the woman had indeed sexually abused and murdered her step-daughter. I do know there’s ample precedence of step-parents abusing and murdering step-children here in the US, so barring proof there was a miscarriage of justice, I’m going to assume the Saudis know more about the facts of this case than I do.

Are they upset it was a woman that was executed?

Women are as fully capable of committing heinous acts as men, and we’ve executed women for such acts here in the US.

Does the manner of execution bother them?

Beheading is a pretty gruesome way to go, but it is swift and relatively merciful. Certainly swifter and more merciful than repeatedly jabbing a condemned prisoner for 30 minutes in a futile attempt to find a suitable vein for lethal injection, followed by several minutes gasping for breath, fully aware one is dying.[2]

Does the fact that it was a public execution bother them?

The last public execution[3] in the US was in 1936, the last public guillotining in France was in 1939. Photographic evidence indicates public executions in France and Saudi Arabia are comparatively sparsely attended as opposed to the jam-packed spectacles the US used to conduct. Now, if the argument is that public executions are a shameful thing and shouldn’t be conducted, we need to ask why that is so: Because they are unjust? Because they offend our delicate sensibilities? Or because they force us to face the facts about what we are doing to people in the name of justice?

Does it bother them that the execution was carried out by brown skinned non-Christians who aren’t big fans of the US of A?

Well, we had no problem with the French lopping the heads off people up to 1977, and here in America we had more than one death by hanging turn into death by decapitation. It is their land, their culture, their government; if they feel they are justified in what they are doing, how can we stop them? Put pressure on them to change their behavior?

Okay, fine, let’s say we do that. Exactly what kind of behavior are we attempting to change? Killing people, or killing them in public? Do we want the means of execution shifted to something we feel more comfortable with?[4]

We don’t hear a lot of outrage about Asian nations executing prisoners by hangings or firing squads.[5]

Most of the world has abolished the death penalty for common crimes, and many nations for all crimes. The biggest proponents of the death penalty remain Far East Asia, the Middle East, and the horn of Africa.

capital punishment map

I have to ask, is this what fuels the outrage of some? Not that criminals are being executed, but that they’re being executed by people who are…well, let’s put this delicately by using the phrase coined by the late Peter Bergman…not-us ?

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[1] I think all forms of “punishment” are futile, which, as I have noted elsewhere, is not the same as saying people should not be held responsible and accountable for their actions. By all means, take driving privileges away from drunk and reckless drivers, have people who have committed minor offenses pay some restitution in the form of community service or a fine, imprison dangerous and violent criminals so they will not be able to harm citizens during the time they are behind bars, but never ever “punish” because all punishment amounts to is eye-for-an-eye retribution to try to make the offender feel bad for what they have done. They never feel bad; they feel victimized and refuse to accept responsibility.

[2] And, yes, the vast majority of executed prisoners did far worse to their victims. The state is supposed to be above petty revenge and retribution and more about justice. By all accounts it took at least two blows to sever the head of the woman in Saudi Arabia, but the first blow was fatal and severed her spinal chord, so death was probably as instantaneous as that by guillotine. Not to make light of capital punishment, but if the objective is to kill someone as swiftly and as mercifully as possible, the electric chair is the way to go; it makes an awful mess and stench, but it kills the prisoner pretty much instantaneously. That’s the problem with killing people: The swift and merciful ways are messy, the clean ways are slow and agonizing (either physically and / or psychologically).

[3] Rather the last legal public execution…

[4] That’s pretty presumptive of us, isn’t it? How would we feel if they tried to tell us how to dress?

[5] Rather, we don’t hear a lot of outrage about our trade partners executing people by hangings and firing squads; we’ll red ass North Korea all day long.

 

 

 

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Fictoid: the sniper’s lament

19/01/2015

snipers lament

the only thing
I ever felt
when I killed
someone was the
recoil of
my rifle

now I’m sitting here
with a fully loaded hand gun
ready to stick it next to my temple
and pull the trigger

how fast will that bullet fly?
will I have a chance
to feel the recoil
before the bullet
kills me?

only one way
to find out

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text © Buzz Dixon

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“All Along The Watchtower” by Bob Dylan

18/01/2015

All Along The Watchtower

All Along The Watchtower by Bob Dylan

“There must be some way out of here” said the joker to the thief
“There’s too much confusion”, I can’t get no relief
Businessmen, they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth
None of them along the line know what any of it is worth.

“No reason to get excited”, the thief he kindly spoke
“There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke
But you and I, we’ve been through that, and this is not our fate
So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late”.

All along the watchtower, princes kept the view
While all the women came and went, barefoot servants, too.

Outside in the distance a wildcat did growl
Two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl.

© Dwarf Music

art by John Rea Neill
lyrics by Bob Dylan

Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower” is one of my favorite songs.  It sounds like the opening scene of a great, epic fantasy (indeed, writer / editor Jessica Amanda Salmonson tried years ago to turn it into a lengthy story with another writer, but her co-author’s untimely death pretty much killed any momentum that project had; still, it would have been wonderful).  Unlike most ballads, it does not complete its story; rather it leaves it open ended and ripe for interpretation.  For that reason, it is haunting.

update:  “As you allude to, I published Ron Nance’s first story ‘Watchtower‘ about the Jester and the Thief. He wrote a very few more tales of this duo, and he and I co-wrote ‘A Wine of Heart’s Desire‘ set in the world of Dylan’s characters, to be found in the Tor Books anthology Tales By Moonlight.” — Jessica Amanda Salmonson

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Fictoid: gamblers

13/01/2015

JC Leyendecker - the devil you say cap

Well, my friend, it has been a droll evening.
But all evenings — and all games — must come to an end.

So, which shall it be?

Shall you reach for your gun?

Or shall I show you my card?

The gun?

Or the card?

The gun…?

…or the card?

Choose wisely, my friend.

We dangle on the precipice of hell.

art by JC Leyendecker
text © Buzz Dixon

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SNOWPIERCER: The Best 40 Years Late 70s Corman Movie

13/01/2015

Snowpiercer reiterates a point I brought up regarding Captain America: Winter Soldier: It tries too hard to look too real and ends up undermining its own strengths.

It’s a goofy, nonsensical story wrought with allegorical significance, lifting its big shocking reveal[1] from William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson’s Logan’s Run by way of Norman Spinrad’s Bug Jack Barron and Ursula K. LeGuin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas”.

Well staged / well directed / well acted with lotsa cartoon villains to hiss and Bruce Willis School Of Long Suffering Machismo heroes to cheer.

It’s all bullshit but it’s
entertaining bullshit.

This is precisely the sort of movie Roger Corman was producing in the 1970s, the original Death Race 2000 being the primo example of the sub-genre[2]Smart enough to fire the imagination, dumb enough to plow past “oh-come-on!” moments, fast enough & funny enough to be entertaining.[3]

Compare this poster…

snowpiercer-poster

…with this poster & tell me
which movie you wanna see.

death_race_2000_poster_01(Yeah, I thot so…)

Had Corman (or Peter Watkins or Robert Fuest) made Snowpiercer, they probably wouldn’t have come to several repeated jarring stops along the way as it dawdled over some new car on the train, making sure we were all acutely aware of the overwrought symbolism drenching the screen before lurching forward again.

And they certainly wouldn’t have given us time to think about what we were looking at and the logic (or lack thereof) in what we were seeing.[4]

There are only two ways to approach cinefantastique:
Either make what one sees onscreen absolutely 100% plausible looking, or else use a stylized approach that doesn’t try to convince the viewer so much as ask them to play along.

When the former approach works, it works very, very well but it typically takes a lot of time and effort (read budget) especially in the script and performances.

The latter approach is more forgiving, basically telling the audience, “Pretend this papier-mâché boulder and painted backdrop is an alien world and we’ll tell you an entertaining story.”

This is why Star Trek: The Original Original Series[5] and early (i.e., no later than Tom Baker) Doctor Who shows grab my interest and attention far better than their glossier descendants.

Mind you, there’s a lot of
exceptionally fine work in
those slicker, more realistic
episodes and much to be
recommended, but the real
magic is in the early episodes.

When you try to make the unreal real, you better come out high steppin’ or you’re cruising for a fall. Audiences will accept felt cloth Muppets with delight but fight tooth and nail against the original 1986 Howard The Duck’s attempt to convince us a bird could talk.

Snowpiercer has a lot to recommend it,
and isn’t a total waste of time, but it
tries
 too hard to convince us and just
barely
 enough to entertain us.

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[1] Seriously, who didn’t see that one marching down the avenue at the 10 minute mark?

[2] Though there were copious films of the same style produced around that time by others: The Gladiators a.k.a. Gladiatorerna a.k.a. The Peace Game, Punishment Park, and The Final Programme a.k.a. The Last Days Of Man Of Earth being of three many that immediately spring to mind.

[3] Oh, and lots of nudity. Lots and lots and lots of nudity. I don’t want to watch an R-rated movie and find out it’s just a bunch of swearing.

[4] This is surprising because Snowpiercer makes a lot of really smart leaps in story and exposition, allowing audience familiarity with various tropes / clichés / stereotypes of the genre to fill in gaps that otherwise would have been filled with talk-talk-talk.

[5] Not the re-released version with amped up spfx that jar with the style of the original show.

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The Enemy Of The Surreal Is The Real

11/01/2015

I finally caught up with The Avengers movie and Captain America: Winter Soldier.

Verdict?

I liked ‘em.

The Avengers is the best half hour Saturday morning superhero cartoon episode ever made, and while Captain America: The First Avenger remains the best superhero movie ever made, Captain America: Winter Soldier is a damn fine sequel, mega-entertaining, tons o’fun, and really well executed.

It’s also the death knell for the genre,
but it’s going to take a while for the body
to die so expect another couple of sequels
before we’re all done.

The Avengers, as much fun as it was, failed to fully engage me the way Captain America: The First Avenger or the Iron Man movies did for this reason: With all the characters scheduled to appear in various mega-budget movie sequels and TV spinoffs and toy and apparel merchandising, there was no way any of these characters were ever in danger.

Not so much as a chipped nail or a stray hair.
Nope, The Avengers were solid and they knew it
and we knew it.

So there.

While there are a lot of fun-filled crowd pleasing moments in The Avengers[1] there was never a moment of suspense.

animated hulk smash

We all knew they were all going to come through unscathed, safe and sound with not one iota changed so they could appear in the next movie and the next movie and the next movie and the next movie and when you announce a slate of 14 – 15 – 16 big-big-big budget seasonal tent pole movies with McCrappy meal tie-ins maybe everybody knows you aren’t going to take any real chances or do anything that will put a hiccup in that master Marvel marketing plan and gosh-a-rooty, know where that leaves us?

It leaves us with a really, really good episode of a really, really well made 1980s Saturday morning superhero show.

But it really is really, really, really good.

Captain America: Winter Soldier brings a whole new set of problems to the genre because comic books and cartoons have one thing in common and that’s so long as you can draw it, you de facto make it believable, and while brightly colored naked people flying and fighting are absurd in reality,[2] they translate quite well to comic book panels and cartoon pixels.

Which is why trying to make a realistic superhero movie is self-defeating, the way making a giant monster movie any more serious than the original Godzilla or Gorgo[3] is self-defeating.

City stomping is fun but if you’re serious about your city stomping then you’re going to have a million and one personal tragedies playing out and all of a sudden…

…it ain’t fun any more.

Captain America: Winter Soldier has wild gunfights erupting on busy, crowded city streets in broad daylight using explosives and heavy caliber weapons with vehicles flying through the air engulfed in huge balls of fire…

…and no civilian casualties.

The target of all this mayhem is Nick Fury hizzowsef, and there’s where all plausibility flies out the window.

Imagine, if you would, that the head of the CIA is nearly assassinated in DC by a cadre of well armed / well trained combat personnel disguised as civilian police officers.

The city — hell, the whole country! – would go apeshit and security would slam tight around Washington as US troops are moved in to secure the capital.

None of which happens in
Captain America: Winter Soldier.

Oh, they talk about it as part of Hydra’s great plot to take over the world, but you’d think if that was their intent then maybe there should’ve been some nod in that direction.

Everything keeps meandering along until the baddies can put their Final Plan into motion.

That plan entails a huge duke out between (among?) three huge helicarriers, each of which costing into the trillions of dollars or so and all of them getting destroyed in a glorious spfx orgy.

C’mon, granted it’s a movie based on a comic book, nonetheless it tries to present itself realistically enough that one recognized Cappy & Co have just destroyed the economic wealth of the US by wiping out those three helicarriers.

Granted they were destroyed to prevent a horrible holocaust from happening, but the fact is their destruction just wiped the GNP clean and left America with nothing to show for it.

And this is not getting into the huge cost of collateral damage as the three helicarriers wreck a big hunk of DC before destroying themselves.

In a real world — a world which the Marvel movies carefully try to evoke — there would be trials and courts martials and an immediate deep and lasting mistrust of all superheroes.

But it just gets shrugged off in the movie.

Now, you can get away with that sorta stuff in a comic book because the very nature of the comic book medium — like its cousin, the animated cartoon — forces a certain suspension of disbelief. The very method used to tell the story — the staging and pacing and the very strokes of the pen and brush used by the artist/s – force the reader to put aside thoughts of how reality works and accept the highly stylized worldview of comics.

And there’s nothing wrong with that;
that’s what makes comics so much fun.

But eventually it’s going to undermine the genre. Right now there’s the thrill of seeing stuff done onscreen that we’d only seen in comics and cartoons before, but eventually that will wear off and audiences will find themselves strangely dissatisfied with films and characters that had delighted them a year earlier.

Marvel, with its thousands of characters, can roll with the punch for a while. When — not if — Iron Man and Hulk and Captain America and The Avengers grow tiresome, there are lots more to choose from.

But the genre itself is eventually going to burn out, and trying to make the movies more real — “better” as it were — is only going to hasten that moment.

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[1] The movie could have been just two hours of Hulk bitch slapping Loki and it would have made as much money.

[2] As are talking animals.

[3] Both of which are great examples of their genre and better than Pacific Rim or the recent Godzilla remake or the Godzilla remake before that or Cloverfield. Ghu, yes, better than Cloverfield

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Playing Dominoes With Terrorists

9/01/2015

The difference between terrorism and state sponsored terror is this:
State sponsored terror is simply low grade warfare, typically directed at those populations directly under the state’s control.  It is a bully’s weapon — the powerful inflicting pain, suffering, and deprivation on the weak — but it is backed up with genuine force.

If it wasn’t, those terrorized would rapidly
rise in revolt and overthrow the state.

Terrorism in the modern sense is a weapon of the weak against the strong.  This is not to be misconstrued as a moral endorsement.  Terrorism as practiced today is an insidious device, but its aims are not as straightforward and direct as them seem.

The object of terrorism is to provoke a massive and unjust reaction by the target against the group the terrorists are trying to motivate.

Terrorists simply don’t possess the resources to wage a direct one-on-one war against their enemies (perceived or real).  To get those resources they need the support of their particular group, be that group ethnic, racial, cultural, political, or religious.

Typically their group is not openly at odds with the target.

Oh, there are doubtlessly friction points, and quite often neither the target nor the terrorists’ group as a whole want anything to do with the other, but that kind of live & let live attitude is anathema to the terrorists.

While they may have other ulterior motives, their primary aim is to get their group motivated against the target.[1]

So the purpose of terrorism is less the actual destruction of targets of values[2] but rather the generation of outrage against their own group which in turn will lead to their group joining the fight against the target.

It’s as if your kid sister goes to the neighbors next door, pees on their dining room table, then runs back with them in hot pursuit; her hope is that the family will protect her against the neighbors, not listen to what they have to say and administer justice on their own.

Terrorism differs from civil disobedience, nonviolent protests, and passive resistant in a very key, crucial manner:  Civil disobedience is aimed at creating a disruption and irritation to the daily operation of the target, until they finally get fed up and stop doing whatever it is the protestors are protesting.

The object of civil disobedience is not to create lasting harm; quite the contrary, civil disobedience only works when it can be stopped with a single word and everything goes back to normal.

You want African American riders to stop
boycotting your busses, tell them they can
sit wherever they want.  They’re climbing
back on the busses in less than five minutes.

Terrorism is not that.[3]  There are no states or groups capable of being intimidated by terrorism; if they were, they would have already been taken over by a tougher ruling cadre that won’t capitulate.

The recent attacks on the Charlie Hebdo offices and other targets in France are not aimed at intimidating the French into capitulation.[4]  Rather, it’s to provoke them into a stupid and senseless reaction against the terrorists’ group, so that the group will rally together against the target.

The terrorists are willing to kill dozens of the target so that thousands of their own group will die so that their group will be sufficiently provoked and enraged to go to war against the target.

It’s a row of dominoes, and the only way to keep them from tipping over the last one is to intercept a domino before it topples.

And the easiest way to do that is that when the terrorists’ topple their first domino…

animated toppling dominoes prevented

…refuse to let the next one fall.

Oh, the macho bullshit chickenhawks will throw their little hissy fits — they always do when they aren’t the ones who have to march off to blood and disaster – but don’t listen to them.

Listen instead to common sense and common decency.

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[1]  And if in so motivating them, the terrorists also become recognized as the group’s leaders, well so much the better.

[2] That’s nice, but purely a bonus.

[3]  Renegade elements of the Irish Republican Army tried a bizarre hybrid of terrorism and civil disobedience after the bulk of Ireland gained its independence.  They planted bombs but called the local authorities to alert them to evacuate the area before they detonated, causing disruption and no small amount of property damage, but studiously avoiding human casualties.  The idea was that the British would never been sufficiently outraged to react in a large scale, and would eventually get worn down to the point where they’d agree to the IRA’s demands in order to stop the attacks.  Unfortunately, it took only one bungled phone call to wreck that plan, and the wrath of the scepter’d isle came down hard and fast on the emerald one.

[4]  It’s a popular trope that the French are cowardly cheese eating surrender monkeys who will give up at the first sign of danger.  The truth is they have a long and blood military history, one that includes being on both ends of the invaders’ bayonet, and they are reluctant to take up arms on a large scale if they can’t see an obvious benefit or a valid exit strategy.  One is foolish to mistaken caution in getting involved in every fight that comes down the boulevard with an unwillingness or inability to fight if needed.

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los angeles: a love song

7/01/2015

Los Angeles postcard

driving down the sinuous dusty snake we call sepulveda it is easy to understand why we love los angeles sunbaked unreality cut loose from the present an eternal time an internal rhyme over forever linked to past and future but never to now aging hipsters ancient hippies all the way back to hollywood nature boys this place this land this zeitgeist called to us all in our sleep in our dreams it beckoned us with a beguiling voice calling us with this siren song you’ll never be home till you’re here till you’re here till you’re here you’ll never be home till you’re here

and we came in cars in jitneys in jalopies in jets in jest in just what we had on our backs whatever it takes to find our way here find this time this place this land so hot and dusty and magical it must be a fever dream where every possibility is a reality waiting to be uncovered this is where we belong

this is our home
this will always be our home
this always has been our home

we walk its canyons of cactus and concrete sit in its cool temples both sacred and profane and we ask why are we here

we know we are supposed to be here but why?

some come for fame and some for fortune but if that is what you want you take it and leave soon enough you were never one of us you never belonged here and we can see it in your eyes smell it on your soul and we bear you no animosity and we say go with the grace of God…

…but go

a thousand failures are our family but you we don’t know

we come to build and make but many times we know what we build but not why our great white elephants rear back and stretch tusk and trunk to the sky
why do we do that
why would anybody do that?

because we can and
because we can then we must
we can not let los angeles go unimagined we must call forth
a thousand foolish fantasies from
a thousand fantastic fools and we must
shape the unreality the ur-reality and make it concrete give voice to the dream that beguiled us revitalize it and send it back into the world to find our brothers and sisters and bring them home

los angeles you are my home waiting for me from before my parents were born you hold secrets for those who love you secrets you reveal and they will share with the rest of the world

not everybody will hear the music or
get the joke but those that do
they will be here
they will come
they will be part of us

dusty canyons dreaming streets dazzling days starry nights of neon and wonder blocking the real stars in the sky dazzling us with galaxies imagined by man and woman some big some small some petty some grand but all reflecting the same unreal city and land that calls us here that makes us welcome

to the desert!  to the skies and snakes and scorpions, to sunbaked sunblasted sunbleached suncursed vistas of melting stone landscape, we come

to the sea!  great prehistoric monsters of steel and gray writhing above the waves hiding behind phony palm trees only to fall to very real surfers knights of the sea skating slithering sliding safely between the legs of the giants to deliver themselves born whole like venus onto the nirvana of the beach, we come

to the studios!  playschool playhouse playacting a thousand lives a million scenarios an infinite range of possibilities playfully tossing back to the world what the world cast off, we come

we come without fear and oddly without hope because hope is uncertain and we all know we are the chosen one we are the one destined to set the night ablaze with unquenchable glory, we come

and so
here we are
what are you
going to do
about it?

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text © Buzz Dixon

 

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KING KIRBY: a play by Fred Van Lente & Crystal Skillman

6/01/2015

“The Midtown Comics Podcast has teamed up the husband and wife team of comic book writer Fred Van Lente and playwright Crystal Skillman to present their play, King Kirby. King Kirby was performed for a live audience this summer, but now it’s presented to you in audio format for the first time for free!”

Jack Kirby is my nameBrief review based on my personal knowledge of Jack:

Hits several (but not all) keynotes in Jack’s long and illustrious career as well as several (but again, far from all) of the most prominent abuses shoveled on him directly and indirectly by the comics industry.  Based on my first hand experience with them, gives an adequate but not altogether thorough idea of what Jack and Roz were like, and what Stan Lee is like; I wouldn’t say this is a grievous fault since it’s hard to sum up the wonderful complexity of any human being in just an hour’s time, much less four people (Joe Simon is the 4th major role in the piece; I have no first hand knowledge of him).

kirbyself__span

The actors cast in the roles (Steven Rattazi and Amy Lee Pearsall) remind me of Jack and Roz as opposed to sounding like Jack and Roz, but they’re fine performers and their interpretations of Jack and Roz’ personalities are nice tributes to their memories (Nat Cassidy as Stan Lee comes much closer, but that’s because there is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to sound bytes by Stan).

The complexities of the various business deals and legal conflicts that marked both Jack’s personal career and the comics industry as a whole are streamlined but at least presented with enough detail to make the issues understandable to audiences unfamiliar with them.

In short:  I really, really enjoyed this and recommend it highly to everyone.

Jack Kirby and his creations

Thanx to Midtown Comics for staging and recording this live reading of comic book writer Fred Van Lente and playwright Crystal Skillman’s play:  When in Manhattan go visit Midtown Comics — it’s a helluva great store!

And a special thanx to Tom Spurgeon’s
The Comics Reporter for the tip off.

And yeah, I know some people are going to say the Spider-Man depicted here is Steve Ditko’s design; nonetheless, Jack took the first swing at designing the character and passed the job on to Ditko because he was so busy with other books.

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