Saturday, 28 June 2008

Comic Book Artist Michael Turner Passes On

Comic book artist and creator Michael Turner passed on June 27 after a long struggle with chondrosarcoma (a cancer that attacks cartilage). He was 37 years old.

Turner was born April 21, 1971 in Crossville, Tennessee. He was discovered by artist Marc Silvestri of Top Cow Productions at a comic book convention. His earliest work was on Silverstri's Codename: Strykeforce in 1995, a title published by Image. At Top Cow he worked on the Ballistic mini-series in 1995 and co-created Witchblade, on which she worked several issues. Among his last work for Top Cow was on the Witchblade and Tomb Raider team up. While at Top Cow he created the comic books Fathom and the never published Soulfire.

It was in 2002 that Turner left Top Cow to found his own company, Aspen MLT (Aspen for the lead character in his comic book Fathom and MLT for his full name, Michael Layne Turner. Aspen's entry into publishing was delayed by a year as Turner undertook a lawsuit against Top Cow to gain the rights to both Fathom and Soulfire. In 2003 Aspen published the Fathom mini-series, the last art Turner did on the title. It would resume publishing regularly in 2004, and Soulfire would make its debut.

Turner would also do some work for the major comic book companies. He illustrated Superman/Batman #8-13 in 2004 and contributed several different covers to DC Comics, including ones to The Flash #207-211 in 2004, a variant for Superman #205 in 2004, various covers for Justice League of America #0-12, and others. He also worked on covers at Marvel, contributing a variant to Civil War #1-7 in 2006-2007. Black Panther #23 in 2006, variants for Uncanny X-Men #500 this year, and others.

Turner was diagnosed with cancer in 2000. He would lose a hip, 40% of his pelvis, and three pounds of bone. While the cancer would go into remission after radiation treatment, it had returned several times since.

Michael Turner was a prolific artist, capable of producing a good deal of work in a short amount of time. Turner's style was somewhat reminiscent of the art produced at Image in the Nineties, which I never found appealing. But Turner also stood out from the other artists to emerge in the Nineties. Indeed, he was one of the few artists to emerge in the Nineties who was capable of drawing women without making every one of them look like pinup girls on hormones (the women of Gen 13 were a perfect example). I am not sure he will ever be listed among the greatest artists of all time, but he was certainly among the most talented today.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

The Unlikely Sitcoms of the Sixties

Even someone with only a cursory knowledge of American situation comedies during the Sixties knows that many of them were offbeat, to say the least. Even many of the classics of the era seem slightly left of centre, with sitcoms centred on a witch (Bewitched), a genie (I Dream of Jeannie.), a Martian (My Favorite Martin), a family of monsters (The Munsters), and a family that was just plain macabre (The Addams Family). As strange as some of these concepts for sitcoms might seem to many today, in some respects they were actually tame compared to other sitcoms that aired in the Sixties.

The factors behind the sometimes bizarre premises for sitcoms in the Sixties were varied, but primary among them was the programming formula of James T. Aubrey Jr., president of CBS from 1959 to 1965. Aubrey's formula for getting ratings was pure, simple escapism. In fact, he reportedly instructed the producers of Route 66 to add more "...broads, bosoms, and fun." It was while Aubrey was the president of the network that CBS debuted such escapist series as The Beverly Hillbillies, My Favourite Martian, Gilligan's Island, and The Munsters. Aubrey's programming strategy proved very successful. CBS dominated the ratings for many years while he was president. NBC and ABC took notice of CBS's success and would soon debut their own escapist comedies. NBC would debut such shows as Get Smart, I Dream of Jeannie, and The Monkees. ABC would debut such shows as McHale's Navy, The Addams Family, Bewitched, and Batman. Having never particularly gotten along with CBS CEO William S. Paley (who hated many of the shows Aubrey had brought to CBS, including Gilligan's Island and The Munsters), James T. Aubrey Jr. was fired in 1965 amidst a good deal of controversy. Despite this, his influence on CBS and the other networks would be felt for much of the Sixties.

Among the things James T. Aubrey Jr.'s policy of escapist entertainment would result in was a large cycle (I suppose given the genres it embraced, it could even be called a "megacycle") towards broad comedy that lasted from the early to late Sixties. The mid to late Fifties had seen sitcoms shift away from the broad comedy of I Love Lucy and I Married Joan to gentler family comedies such as The Donna Reed Show and Leave It to Beaver. Aubrey's programming philosophy would swing the pendulum the other way, so that broad comedies once more dominated the broadcast networks. Among the earliest of the broad comedies of the Sixties were The Beverly Hillbillies, McHale's Navy, and Car 54, Where Are You?.

To some degree Aubrey's programming philosophy may have been partly responsible for a very large cycle (again, one that can be called a "megacycle") towards imaginative television (to borrow a term from Sherwood Schwartz's book Inside Gilligan's Island)," shows with elements of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and so on. While many of the imaginative series of the Sixties were action series, such as The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Star Trek,many others would be sitcoms, such as Bewitched and Get Smart. Beyond Aubrey's policy towards escapist entertainment, other factors also probably resulted in the megacycle towards imaginative television. Foremost among them was the incredible amount of interest in the American space programme at the time. In fact, space would play a central part in at least two classic sitcoms. Uncle Martin, of My Favourite Martian, originated from Mars. On I Dream of Jeannie Major Tony Nelson was an American astronaut. Even shows whose premises did not deal with space, such Bewitched and Gilligan's Island, would often feature space oriented programmes. Another factor in the cycle towards imaginative television was the monster craze which had gripped America's youth after the classic Universal horror movies had been released to television syndication under the title Shock in 1957. The monster craze was perhaps much of the reason for such imaginative TV shows of the Sixties as Thriller and Dark Shadows. While the monster craze would have minimal impact on sitcoms, it was perhaps responsible for the comedies The Addams Family and The Munsters. Another factor in the cycle towards imaginative TV shows in the Sixties was the spy craze. By 1965 both the United Kingdom and the United States were engulfed in a absolutely craze for spies. The Bond movies were only one manifestation of the craze. Another were many of the TV shows of the era, including The Man From U.N.C.L.E., I Spy, and The Wild Wild West. In fact, the spy craze in Britain was triggered by two TV shows (not the Bond movies), The Avengers and Danger Man. As far as American sitcoms, Get Smart and The Double Life of Henry Phyfe were the only ones directly created by the craze, but many sitcoms, from The Monkees to Gilligan's Island, had episodes featuring spies.

With the networks embracing more and more escapist TV shows, broader comedies, and imaginative TV shows, it was perhaps natural that the premises of various Sixties sitcoms were rather unusual. In fact, it seems doubtful that many of these shows would debut in any other era. Oddly enough, James Aubrey was not responsible for what was one of the stranger sitcoms of the era. Mr. Ed centred on a talking horse and the only friend to whom he would speak, architect Wilbur Post. The show was somewhat reminiscent of the series of Francis the Talking Mule movies of the Fifties, Mr. Ed was hardly derivative of those movies. Mr. Ed was based on Walter R. Brooks' short story "Ed Takes the Pledge," which pre-dated the Francis the Talking Mule movies. Mr. Ed debuted in syndication in January 1961. It was James T. Aubrey who brought the show to CBS in October 1961. It would ultimately last five years on the network before a very successful syndication run.

It was also in 1961 that ABC debuted another rather odd sitcom. The Hathaways centred on Walter and Elinore Hathaway, ,who adopt a family of performing chimps and who treated the apes as if they were human beings. Nearly from the beginning The Hathaways was a failure. Its ratings were so low that the series could not keep sponsors. Critics considered it one of the worst shows on the air. Despite this, The Hathaways managed to last one season.

For the most part, Mr. Ed and The Hathaways would be some of the few truly odd sitcoms to air on the networks in the early Sixties. All of this would change with the 1963-1964 season. The season would see a new hit sitcom in the form of My Favourite Martian on CBS, a situation comedy focusing on a Martian who finds himself stranded on Earth. The following season would see even more sitcoms with imaginative premises, including The Addams Family, Bewitched, The Munsters, and My Living Doll.Of these series, The Addams Family, Bewitched, and The Munsters were all hits. As a result the 1965 to 1966 would see yet more imaginative comedies and more comedies with strange premises. Among the strangest may have been a show called My Mother the Car.

My Mother the Car centred on small town lawyer Dave Crabtree whose mother had been reincarnated as a 1928 Porter convertible car while shopping for automobiles. Against the family's wishes, Crabtree bought the car. Like Mr. Ed, Mother would speak only to one person, Crabtree. The series featured Jerry Van Dyke as Dave Crabtree and Ann Southern as the voice of Mother. The show also had top notch writers, including Allan Burns (who had written for The Bullwinkle Show and would go on to create The Mary Tyler Moore Show) and Chris Hayward (also a veteran of The Bullwinkle Show, he would go on to work on such shows as He and She and Barney Miller). Initially, the car was to be the reincarnation of Crabtree's late wife, but it was felt that this would wreak too much of necrophilia.

Despite a good cast and a good writers, My Mother the Car received bad notices from critics across the board. Even then there were many who thought it was possibly the worst show of all time. For over a decade it would be the basis of jokes for Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show. Even now it still has a reputation as one of the worst shows of all time. In 2002 TV Guide ranked it as #2 in its list of the worst shows of all time (beaten only by The Jerry Springer Show). Despite this, My Mother the Car actually lasted a season, with a large audience of children. Having seen episodes of the series, I have to say it does not live up to its bad reputation. Although the comedy is sometimes hit and miss, there have been far worse shows on the air before and since My Mother the Car.

My Mother the Car was one of the shows in a trend towards imaginative sitcoms in the Sixties. This was not the case with Hogan's Heroes. Despite this, its premise was certainly unusual and controversial. The series had originally been titled The Heroes and took place in a penitentiary in the United States. After four years in which its creators Bernard Fein and Albert S. Ruddy tried to sell the show, Fein decided to change the premise after seeing a fellow passenger on a plane reading Von Ryan's Express. Hogan's Heroes was then set in a Nazi prisoner of war camp during World War II with Hogan and his men engaging in espionage and sabotage even as they were imprisoned in the camp. The show was largely a parody of such prisoner of war films as The Great Escape and Stalag 17, to the point that Hogan and his heroes had access to resources to which no POW would realistically have had access. While Hogan and his men were clearly cast in a heroic mould, The camp's commandant, Colonel Klink, and the other Nazis were generally shown as buffoons. The series featured Bob Crane in his first starring role as Colonel Hogan and Werner Klemperer as Colonel Klink.

In some respects Hogan's Heroes had a very unlikely premise, even for the Sixties. For this reason many critics questioned whether such material was even appropriate for a sitcom before Hogan's Heroes debuted in September 1965. Many feared the series would make light of Nazism and as a result trivialise the horrible truths behind Nazi Germany. In its "television and radio" reviews from September 18, 1965, The New York Times commented, "There's something a little sick about "Hogan's Heroes..." A radio ad aired prior to its premiere, which summed up the show's "amusing ingredients" as "German police dogs, machine guns, the Gestapo..." would only add to the controversy, especially after being quoted in Newsweek. In fact, the ad may have led to the confusion as to whether Hogan's Heroes was set in a POW camp or a Nazi concentration camp that has persisted since its debut. The controversy would swiftly fade away once Hogan's Heroes aired, and the show would go onto last for a total of six seasons. It would then go onto a successful syndication run.

While the controversy would fade even as Hogan's Heroes was still in its first season, that controversy would return to haunt the show. In its October 25, 1998 issue, when the possibility of a movie based on Hogan's Heroes was being discussed, The Boston Globe stated "...under no circumstances should a film of Hogan's Heroes be made," claiming it "...presented the Nazis as the biggest cutups since the Keystone Kops." In his 2000 book The Powers That Be, David Halberstam's examination of the rise of modern media, the author referred to Hogan's Heroes as a "...programme with an almost obscenely comic view of the Third Reich..." In 2002, despite the fact that the show had received good reviews in the Sixties (even from that particular magazine), TV Guide ranked it as the fifth worst show of all time, primarily because by that time they thought the show was offensive. While many current criticism directed towards the show is grossly inaccurate (although the Nazis were portrayed as fools, there was very little physical comedy of the sort for which the Keystone Kops were known), the fact remains that there are those who today find the show offensive.

While Hogan's Heroes was controversial, The Flying Nun never was. In fact, it is probably hard to find a more wholesome show. And compared to other comedies of the era, it was exceedingly gentle natured. Its premise, however, is a bit strange. The show was based on the book The Fifteenth Pelican by Tere Rios and featured Sally Field as Sister Bertrille, a 90 pound nun who could fly due to a combination of her light weight and her cornette. As might be expected, critics were not particularly favourable to the show, given its limited premise. Despite this, it was a minor hit when it debuted in 1967. It was also was commended by various orders of nuns for helping humanise the profession. The series lasted for three whole years.

By the late Sixties the cycle towards imaginative television had ended and the cycle towards broad comedy was coming to an end. It would seem, then, that the show called The Ugliest Girl in Town simply debuted too late in the decade. The Ugliest Girl in Town centred on Timothy Blair, a Hollywood agent who falls in love with British actress Julie Renfield. Unfortunately for Blair, Renfield returned to England after shooting a movie in the States. While goofing off, Blair dressed as a hippie and was photographed by his brother, a professional photographer. The photos wound up being published in an English magazine where an English modelling agent assumed Blair was a woman. Blair then dressed as a woman so he can be near Renfield in England. Further complicating matters, while in England Blair racked up ₤11,000 in gambling debts, forcing him to remain in England and impersonating a woman to pay off his debut.

With an overly complicated but very limited premise, The Ugliest Girl in Town received overwhelmingly bad reviews. The New York Times called it "..the most vapid half-hour in the nation last night." The Philadelphia Inquirer went even further, saying the series possessed "some basically distasteful overtone." Audiences were apparently not thrilled with the show either. It got low ratings from the very beginning. In all the series would only last half a season on ABC. Strangely enough, ABC would debut a show with a similar concept, Bosom Buddies (an early vehicle for Tom Hanks) in 1980. It was a bit more successful, lasting two years.

The megacycle towards imaginative television more or less ended in 1967, while the megacycle towards broad comedies would slowly fade away following 1968. The broad sitcoms and imaginative comedies of much of the Sixties would largely give way to family sitcoms. Some of the new family sitcoms would tend towards broad comedy (such as The Brady Bunch), but many more (such as Julia) tended to gentler, family comedies. Even the few imaginative comedies to debut in the late Sixties were often gentle family comedies. The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (based on the 1945 novel and the 1947 movie) could not seem to decide whether it was a broad, fantastic comedy or a gentle family one. Despite its premise of a psychic nanny, Nanny and the Professor was a wholly gentle family sitcom.

Ultimately, the Sixties would produce an inordinately large number of sitcoms with very strange premises on American television. In fact, this article hardly even scratches the surface, as in addition to the shows mentioned above there were also My Living Doll (which featured Julie Newmar as a very lifelike robot), It's About Time (Sherwood Schwartz's comedy in which astronauts are thrown back in time to the Stone Age), and The Second Hundred Years (in which a man born in 1877 is frozen while prospecting for gold in Alaska and then thawed out in 1967), among many others. Nor would sitcoms with bizarre premises stop debuting after the Sixties. The Seventies saw the short lived sitcom Quark, which followed the adventures of an interstellar garbage scow. In the Eighties Alf would feature a sarcastic and cynical alien who came to live with a very unfortunate American family. In the Nineties 3rd Rock from the Sun featured a group of alien scientists who took human form and took up residence on Earth to study humanity. Nor are these the only rather unlikely sitcoms to debut since the Sixties. There have been others and will, no doubt about it, probably be more.

Still the fact remains that the Sixties saw more sitcoms with off the wall premises debut than any other decade. And it seems rather unlikely that many of these sitcoms would have made it on the air at any other time. Both Mr. Ed and My Mother the Car would see too outré by the standards of network programming in later eras. Political correctness alone would probably keep Hogan's Heroes off the air. The Sixties appears to have been a singular time when, for much of the decade, it seemed as if almost anything could go with regards to the basic concepts behind situation comedies.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Comedian and Actress Dody Goodman Passes On

Comedian and character actress Dody Goodman, well known for her appearances on Tonight Show when it was hosted by Jack Paar, passed Sunday. She is believed to have been 93.

Dody Goodman was born Dolores Goodman on October 28, either in 1914 or 1915, in Columbus, Ohio. After graduating from high school she moved to New York where she hoped to become a ballerina. Instead she found herself dancing in chorus lines on Broadway. She appeared in a variety of Broadway plays as a cancer, first receiving her first credit in Viva O'Brien in 1941. She would also appear in such musicals as Miss Liberty, Call Me Madam, and My Darlin' Aida. She played the character Violet in Wonderful Town in 1953. Its director, George Abbot, convinced her that she should focus on comedy. To this end, Goodman developed a new persona of a ditzy, very talkative woman not unlike Gracie Allen.

Goodman's gift for comedy would come to the attention of Tonight Show host Jack Paar, and she was invited to appear on The Tonight Show. She first appeared on the show in 1957 and her appearances there brought her fame and an Emmy nomination for Best Continuing Performance (Female) in a Series by a Comedienne, Singer, Hostess, Dancer, M.C., Announcer, Narrator, Panelist, or any Person who Essentially Plays Herself. Unfortunately, Jack Paar began to feel that Goodman was upstaging him and the two had a falling out. After appearing frequently in 1958, she would only appear on Jack Paar;s show two more times in 1960 and 1961. Goodman would go onto make several appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, also appearing on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and The Mike Douglas Show. She also guest starred on The Phil Silvers Show and The Defenders. She appeared in the film Bedtime Story. She was a regular for a while in 1968 on the soap opera Search for Tomorrow.

Goodman would return to Broadway in the Sixties, appearing in A Rainy Day in Newark, My Daughter, Your Son, and a revival of The Front Page. It was in the Seventies that she appeared on the show other than The Tonight Show for which she is most famous. She played Martha Shumway, the title character's mother on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. She appeared in the movies Silent Movie and Grease, playing the high school secretary Blanche. She also appeared on Broadway in Lorelei.

During the Eighties, Goodman reprised her role of Blanche for Grease 2 and also appeared in the movies Max Dugan Returns, Splash, and Private Resort. She guest starred on the shows St. Elsewhere, Crazy Like a Fox, and Murder She Wrote. She was a semi-regular on Diff'rent Strokes. She provided the voice of Miss Miller on the Eighties Saturday morning cartoon Alvin and the Chipmunks.

From the Nineties into the Naughts, Dody Goodman appeared less frequently on television, although she would play in the long running Broadway revival of Grease. She also appeared in the films Cool as Ice, Frozen Assets, Samantha, Cops and Roberts, and Black Ribbon (relased in 2007, it was her last appearance on screen).

Dody Goodman was easily one of the funniest comedians from the early days of television. Her voice alone, which was somewhere between Scarlet O'Hara and Tweety Pie, was funny. And while the persona she created was ditzy, when Goodman talked her speech was peppered with wit and a natural gift for absurdity. I was not alive to see her on The Jack Paar Show, but I have seen clips. She was truly hilarious on the show. Goodman would bring her gift for comedy to her various roles as an actress as well. I believe only Goodman could have played Martha Shumway. She made the character all her own. Singer, dancer, actress, and, above all else, comedian, Dody Goodman will be remembered.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

George Carlin R.I.P.

Legendary comedian George Carlin passed Sunday at the age of 71. The cause was heart failure.

Carlin was born May 12, 1937 in New York City. He attended Cardinal High School and then Bishop Dubois High School. He dropped out of high school to join the Air Force, in which he served as a radar technician. Carlin was discharged from the Air Force in 1957. In 1959 he went to work for KXOL in Fort Worth, Texas. It was there that he met Jack Burns. The two formed a comedy team, performing around Forth Worth. In 1960 the two headed to Los Angeles. In total the team of Burns and Carlin stayed together for two years before deciding to pursue individual careers. They released one album, Burns and Carlin at the Playboy Club Tonight in 1963.

At the start of Carlin's career he had been fairly conservative. In his early appearances on shows such as The Mike Douglas Show and The Ed Sullivan Show he was clean shaven and dressed in suits. For much of the Sixties, Carlin was perhaps best known for such routines as Al Sleet, the "hippie-dippie weatherman," the Indian sergeant, and Wonderful WINO (a radio station with a very stupid DJ).

By the end of the Sixties, however, Carlin had transformed. He grew his hair out, grew a beard, and began dressing in jeans and T-shirts. And while amusing observations on humanity and life in general had been a part of his act from the beginning. Carlin's comedy took on a new edge, becoming more topical and biting. The reason for the change in George Carlin as a comic was his exposure to Lenny Bruce, whom he first saw in the early Sixties. When Carlin first saw Bruce perform, he realised his comedy was not exactly earth shattering and decided to set off in a different direction. In fact, Carlin was in the audience in December 1962 when Lenny Bruce was arrested for obscenity in Chicago. Carlin was arrested as well for refusing to show the police officers any identification, saying he did not believe in government issued IDs.

In the Sixties Carlin appeared on television regularly, allowing viewers to watch his transformation. His first appearance on national television was on The Mike Douglas Show in 1965. He would appear on The Hollywood Palace the following year, and would make his first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1967. In 1968 he made the first of many appearances on The Tonight Show. Carlin made a guest appearance on That Girl and was a regular performer on the short lived Away We Go as well. It was also in 1966 that he released his first solo album, Take-Offs and Put-Ons. He made his film debut in 1968 in With Six You Get Eggroll.

The Seventies saw George Carlin's popularity soar. It was in 1972 that he first performed his most famous monologue, "the Seven Words You Cannot Say on TV." The seven words were those that are considered so offensive and so inappropriate that they cannot be uttered on radio or television. Even after 36 years, most of the words are not considered unsuitable for broadcast. The routine was recorded for his album Class Clown, released in 1972. "The Seven Words You Cannot Say on Television" landed Carlin in trouble and in legal history books. It was in 1973 when he performed "the Seven Words You Cannot Say on Television" at Summerfest in Milwaukee that he was arrested for obscenity. A variation on the same theme, "Filthy Words," was recorded for his album Occupation: Foole in 1973. The album was broadcast uncensored on October 30, 1973 on New York City radio station WBAI. A complaint was filed with the FCC, with the warning that "...in the event subsequent complaints are received, the Commission will then decide whether it should utilize any of the available sanctions it has been granted by Congress." Pacifica, the owners of WBAI, appealed the FCC's decision, which led to a landmark Supreme Court case which ruled the sketch was "indecent, not obscene." The Court also decided that the FCC has the authority to forbid broadcasts containing offensive language during hours when children may be listening. This would result in the short lived "Family Viewing Hour," in which the networks decided only to air family friendly material during the hour of 8 to 9 PM EST (7:00 to 8 PM CST). Starting in 1974, the Family Viewing Hour faded away in 1977.

The Seventies saw Carlin appear on such shows as The David Frost Show, The Mike Douglas Show, The Flip Wilson Show, and The Tonight Show. The first of his many HBO specials debuted in 1977. Carlin was also the very first host of Saturday Night Live in 1972. He guest starred on Welcome Back, Kotter and appeared in the film Car Wash. He was also the narrator of the movie Americathon. His first book, Sometimes a Little Brain Damage Can Help was published in 1984.

The Eighties would see Carlin doing less television, beyond four different HBO specials, The Tonight Show, and The Simpsons. He appeared in the films Outrageous Fortune, Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure and Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey. The Nineties would see George Carlin a regular on two different TV shows. He took over the role of Mr. Conductor from Ringo Starr on Shining Time Station and starred in his own sitcom, The George Carlin Show as a New York cab driver. He also continued to appear in HBO specials. He appeared in the films The Prince of Tides and Dogma. His second book, Brain Droppings, was published in 1997.

The Naughts saw Carlin appear in the films Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Scary Movie 3, and Jersey Girl. He also provided voices for Cars and Happily Ever After. He appeared in more HBO specials and had three more books published: Napalm and Silly Putty, When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chop, and Three Times Carlin: An Orgy of George.

Today George Carlin is so much of an institution that it might be hard for some to believe that at one time his comedy was considered shocking and offensive by some and revolutionary by all. His routines generally centred around wry observations meant to lay bare the hypocrisies and absurdities of modern, American life. Among his favourite subjects was the illogic of the English language, not only tackling "the Seven Words," but such politically correct words and phrases as "bathroom tissue" being used instead of "toilet paper" and "mobile home" instead of "trailer." Indeed, while many of his contemporaries would pepper their routines with obscenities merely for shock value, Carlin used them it was to make a point, his routine "the Seven Words You Cannot Say on Television" being a prime example. And no topic was too sacrosanct for Carlin to tackle, everything from drug use to sex to religion. Not that every topic Carlin covered was controversial or even dealt with humanity. Among my favourite routines he ever performed was one on cats and dogs.

George Carlin would not only become an exceedingly popular comic, but a very influential one as well. His influence can be seen on such varied comedians as Chris Rock and Jerry Seinfeld. If Carlin's influence was wide reaching, it may well be because he was one of the most intelligent and observant comedians of all time. And while I may not have always agreed with all of his views, I also believe it was because he was one of the funniest comedians of all time as well.

Monday, 23 June 2008

A Marvel Comics Quiz

As regular readers of this blog probably already know, Beth of the lovely voice laid down a challenge for me at the first of the year. The challenge was simply this: I must create and post one pop culture quiz a month in A Shroud of Thoughts. The quizzes can have a single theme or simply be a collection of random things. At the end of 2008, the reader who has accumulated the most points throughout the year will win a pop culture related prize. For those of you curious about the prize, I decided that it will be a pop culture related key chain of the winner's choice, to cost no more than $5.00 (minus sales tax). The price limit is for the simple fact that I can't afford platinum plated key chains... I'll provide the answers around the end of the month.

With two movies based upon Marvel Comics characters (Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk) released this summer movie season, I thought it might be a good idea to have a Marvel Comics quiz.

1. What was the first Marvel comic book ever published (clue, it dates all the way back to 1939)?

2. What classic characters appeared in that first Marvel comic book?

3. Captain America debuted in what issue of what comic book?

4. What was the first character ever created by Stan Lee?

5. When did The Fantastic Four debut?

6. Following The Fantastic Four, what was the next important Marvel Comics character to debut?

7. Spider-Man debuted in the final issue of what obscure Marvel title?

8. Tony Stark, AKA Iron Man, was based on what famous millionaire industrialist?

9. Who were the original members of The Avengers?

10. What is Dr. Strange's full name?

Sunday, 22 June 2008

The Incredible Hulk

When it comes to media outside of comic books, The Hulk have never had much luck. He made his television debut on the syndicated cartoon The Marvel Super-heroes in 1966. Unfortunately, the animation on the series was shoddy at best. And while many have fond memories of the Seventies series The Incredible Hulk starting Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno, I must admit I never cared for it myself. The 1982 animated cartoon The Incredible Hulk was acceptable by Saturday morning standards of the time, although obviously the censorship of the era somewhat limited the violence on the cartoon. The 1996 cartoon The Incredible Hulk started out well, but faltered in its second season. The 2003 movie, Hulk, directed by Ang Lee, it was a bit of a disappointment for many, being thought far too slow moving and containing too little action. When it came to a quality adaptation, it seemed that the Hulk was overdue.

Fortunately, with The Incredible Hulk, fans of the Marvel Comics character have received the adaptation for which they have longed. Not only does The Incredible Hulk capture the feel of the classic Marvel Comics, but it is also one of the best adaptations of a comic book character ever made, ranking up there with both Spider-Man 2 and Iron Man. Much of the reason it succeeds where other adaptations have failed is that it has a script (written by Zack Penn, who also wrote the second X-Men movie that is intelligent but contains plenty of action. And any concern about Louis Leterrier being an untested director should be laid to rest with this film. He clearly has succeeded where the much more experienced Ang Lee had previously failed.

Of course, the movie also succeeds due to a stellar cast. Edward Norton is perfect as the much put upon Dr. Bruce Banner, making the scientist seem as if an everyman with which we can all identify. William Hurt and Liv Tyler also due well as General Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross and his daughter, Dr. Betty Ross respectively. Kudos must also go to Tim Blake Nelson, who is perfectly smarmy as Dr.Samuel Sterns (if you are a fan of Marvel Comics, you will no doubt recognise the name...).Tim Roth is also appropriately sinister as Emil Blonsky. The cast take Penn's already superior script and bring out the best in it.

What will make the movie even more enjoyable for comic book fans is that The Incredible Hulk acknowledges the character's history. When General Ross mentions a "super soldier" programme from World War II, long time Marvel Comics readers will recall the origin of Golden Age character Captain America. Stark Industries is mentioned in the film, as is S.H.I.E.L.D. The film also features in jokes and cameos which acknowledge the history of the characters and Marvel Comics in general. Hiding out in Brazil, Dr. Banner tries to say the classic line, "Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry" from the TV show in Portuguese, with hilarious results. At one point Betty Ross buys Banner a pair of purple pants (which Banner constantly wore in the comics books), which Dr. Banner rejects out of hand. Early in the film a clip from the TV show The Courtship of Eddie's Father appears on a TV screen, featuring Bill Bixby, who would play Dr. Banner in the Seventies series. Not only does Lou Ferrigo, who played The Hulk in the same show, have a cameo, but he provides the voice of The Hulk. Stan Lee has his usual cameo in the film, this cameo being the best besides the one in Iron Man. Even Robert Downey Jr. puts in an appearance as Tony Stark himself.

Of course, where Hulk failed is having too little action. This is hardly a problem with this movie. There is action from nearly the beginning in The Incredible Hulk, as we get to see The Hulk battle the Army and other opponents. Many of the fight scenes are very impressive, particularly the final battle in New York City. The CGI in this film is extremely convincing, with The Hulk looking extremely realistic and able to express a wide range of emotions.

Over all The Incredible Hulk is very fine adaptation of the comic book. It is intelligent and possesses plenty of action, while paying homage to both the character's past and the history of Marvel Comics as well. It is easily another film of which Marvel Comics can be proud, easily ranking up there with Iron Man and Spider-Man 2.