Brainiac On Banjo #022: Life, Hope, and Funny Books, by Mike Gold

Brainiac On Banjo #022: Life, Hope, and Funny Books, by Mike Gold

Batton

I am reminded of a conversation I had with Batton Lash several years ago. We were at one of those massive comics conventions – after 51 years they now all blur together into one unending conflation of backpacks, unpassable aisles, and excessive body heat. As you may know, Batton died this weekend and our obituary speaks for itself.

That conversation probably started out with several insulting but vaguely clever comments and then went on to my trying to get him to do another Munden’s Bar story. That’s me as an editor on autopilot: I see great talent and I think of it as a piece of birthday cake. But there’s at least one difference between people and birthday cake – the former might engage me in conversation. And, of course, that’s one of the great pleasures of my job. I prefer the sugar buzz from conversation.

Harvey

Somehow our discussion evolved into my desire to do a contemporary funny book, by which I really mean “funny.” In a medium that calls itself “comic” but is largely full of violent conflict, I feel the need to be specific. Anyway, the challenge is to create a project worthy of the 21st century reader’s time but without any obvious nod to Harvey Kurtzman and Mad Comics.  Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo #022: Life, Hope, and Funny Books, by Mike Gold”

Brainiac On Banjo #021: Raymond Loewy, Jony Ive, Bill Maher, and Stan Lee… by Mike Gold

Brainiac On Banjo #021: Raymond Loewy, Jony Ive, Bill Maher, and Stan Lee… by Mike Gold

Back when I was knee-high to a grasshopper, from time to time my friends and I would gather in the schoolyard and call out the makes, models and years of the cars driving by. You could do that back then, as damn near every car had its own identity, its own look and style. They were so distinctive that I think we could have ID’ed most of these cars by their silhouettes, as though we were World War II Civil Defense car spotters.

Between The Great War and The Great Vietnam Fiasco, the concept of “style” was critical to our culture. Movie theaters weren’t simply big rooms with white sparkly screens – many were cathedrals of film designed to inspire you to appreciate the entirely of the moviegoing experience. Drug stores had soda fountains that were overrun with chrome-plated art deco machinery. Designers unleashed mountains of energy defining the environment shared by four generations, led by the brilliant Raymond Loewy, who created the look of cars, refrigerators and other household appliances, furniture, corporate logos and packaging, and airplanes. In fact, he teamed-up with President John F. Kennedy in 1962 to design Air Force One.  Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo #021: Raymond Loewy, Jony Ive, Bill Maher, and Stan Lee… by Mike Gold”

Brainiac On Banjo #020: Lee and Ditko – Thank You, by Mike Gold

Brainiac On Banjo #020: Lee and Ditko – Thank You, by Mike Gold

It appears today is the last day of the year. That’s just a construct, but it does support the weight of tradition. There’s a lot of Top 10 lists during this terminal week – they’re easy to write, evidently popular, and pretty much bullshit. Yes, I’ve written a few but, really, if you start your list with, say, April and end with the following March and you’ll have a different list. If you disagree with me – and how dare you! – think of all the movies that didn’t win Oscars that probably would have had they been released the preceding or succeeding year.

Yeah, I’m still pissed Bill Murray didn’t win for Lost In Translation.

Another tradition is to list the top stories of the year. This has a bit more value, although I prefer the “top underreported stories of the year” features because I might learn something. I suspect that, when it comes to the amazing world of everybody’s comics, two of the stories that made a whole lot of lists (aside from Bill Maher’s) are the deaths of Steve Ditko and Stan Lee. So I’m going to conflate them.

Together, if not for Stan and Steve I’d be writing about Trump again and a lot of stunt people would be on welfare. Let me explain.  Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo #020: Lee and Ditko – Thank You, by Mike Gold”

Brainiac on Banjo #017: Post-Reality Credits

Brainiac on Banjo #017: Post-Reality Credits

This might sound kind of bitchy, but then again regular readers of Brainiac On Banjo will note that my default writing style is set to “bitchy.” Hey, it’s a living.

If you watch superhero movies, you’ve undoubtedly noticed the plethora of post-credits teaser scenes. Don’t get me wrong: I love these post-credits teaser scenes. They were pioneered by Marvel Studios over a decade ago. I enjoy the fact that, recently, Marvel added a mid-credits sequence to most of their releases as well. I understand why those Marvel character movies that aren’t produced by Marvel Studios now have them as well – most of the current Spider-Man movies, the ever-widening X-Men cluster and, brilliantly, the Deadpool movies.

I like how Warner Bros imitates this in many of their DC movies, as have other franchises. To be fair, Marvel Studios “borrowed” the stunt from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, released 22 years prior to Iron Man I.I think there should be a law passed that each and every movie produced today and in the future – including documentaries – be compelled to have a post-credits sequence, preferably featuring Samuel L. Jackson and/or Robert Downey Jr. To lighten the budget, Sam can push a few credit cards if he so desires. But the last episode if the first season of DC’s Titans, lawfully available only on DC’s DC Universe streaming site, has an end-credits teaser that will most definitely screw you up.  Continue reading “Brainiac on Banjo #017: Post-Reality Credits”

Brainiac On Banjo #016: Is Batman Damned, Or Are We All?

Brainiac On Banjo #016: Is Batman Damned, Or Are We All?

Yup. This is another one of those pieces about how the controversy surrounding Batman Damned #1 is no big deal.

Except… According to everybody’s pal Rich Johnston, still columning for Bleeding Cool, there was a CGC-rated 10.0 copy of the first issue that sold for big bucks on eBay. So much money, in fact, that I figure Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark got into a bidding war.

Yes, dear friends, Batman Damned #1 CGC 10.0 sold to Florida’s Blaze PC Collectables for $1800.00.

Go back and read that again. It is not a typo, but it should be. There are a number of reasons why this is absolutely ridiculous. There’s a point where real-world values should exceed comic book values. Puerto Rico is still bleeding, undreamed of hurricanes are continuing to wreak damage and kill people, there are more worthy and needy causes than there are grains of sand in the Sahara, and we’ve got the biggest fight in American history coming up in a mere three weeks and if you’re interested in not seeing the United States of America turn into 1941 Belgium I’ll bet there’s a worthy candidate not far from you who can use a contribution.

Besides, I started buying comic books when they were a dime. I wince at today’s $4.00 cover price (admittedly, ten cents in 1960 would be worth… well, 84¢ today – and don’t get me started on explaining William M. Gaines’ hot dog index!). But $1800.00 is just a bit egregious.  Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo #016: Is Batman Damned, Or Are We All?”

Brainiac On Banjo #015: Doctor Who – Without A Punny Headline!

Brainiac On Banjo #015: Doctor Who – Without A Punny Headline!

The Doctor: Why are you calling me Madam?
Yasmin Khan: Because… you’re a woman?
The Doctor: Am I? Does it suit me?
Yasmin Khan: What?
The Doctor: Oh yeah, I remember! Sorry, half an hour ago I was a white-haired Scots man.


Jodie Whittaker/Doctor Who
at Comic Con 2018 Photographed by Andrew H. Walker/Shutterstock for Variety

We don’t know how to handle pronouns these days. That’s a transitional process as we evolve our language to more inclusive and less presumptuous forms. In the case of Doctor Who, that’s not as much of a problem. There have been 13 Doctors thus far — give or take — and the new one is the first to be a woman, at least as a matter of outside packaging. We really don’t know how Gallifreyan genders work, and their men and women alike are mostly brilliant and largely insufferable.

Yesterday, Jodie Whittaker debuted as our current Doctor, and did so pretty much all over the world, at pretty much the same time. Now that’s the way to launch a series. OK, I’m a fanboy and I’ve been watching the show since it first crossed the Atlantic. I haven’t seen an actor turn in a less-than-great performance in the lead role, even in spite of some less-than-great stories. More to the point, I haven’t seen a transitional episode where one Doctor regenerates into another that was less than entertaining by the standards of its time. In these two considerations, Whittaker fits in perfectly.

Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo #015: Doctor Who – Without A Punny Headline!”

Brainiac On Banjo #014: Should We Ban Banned Books Week?

Brainiac On Banjo #014: Should We Ban Banned Books Week?

Do you remember all the way back to last Tuesday, when the Washington Post still was referred to as a “liberal” newspaper? Many people believe that. The following day, Wednesday September 26th, was the day the Post just might have turned the corner.

Ron Charles, the Post’s book critic, opined we might not need Banned Books Week any longer. “I just wish Banned Books Week didn’t appear to exaggerate a problem that’s largely confined to our repressive past… Are we winning any converts with this annual orgy of self-righteousness?”

He contradicted his point when he reported how many books were, indeed, banned last year. The label of self-righteousness rarely is self-imposed.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should point out that, over the years, I have edited or contributed to a decent number of “banned books” and have been railing against banning books for, damn, a very long time. When it comes to the Pop Culture Squad, well, suffice it to say I am not alone.

Mr. Charles states, among other things (and I urge you to read his piece, to which I conveniently posted the link in my second paragraph), “Doesn’t Banned Books Week carelessly lump together the interested mother with the book-burning Nazi?” Well, part of the parenting process is the unfortunate imposition of mommy and daddy’s more disgusting values onto their children. Such is life, and many kids challenge those “values” as part of their maturation process. But my blanket response to this sort of challenge is “If you don’t want to be conflated with book-burning Nazis, stop acting like a book-burning Nazi!”

I am opposed to removing any book from any library or any bookstore. The librarian and the bookseller have no right to impose their self-indulgent mores upon an unsuspecting audience. By removing that which they find objectionable, they believe they have the right to transplant their views and politics onto everybody else. They most certainly do not.

For the record, I would not even ban Mein Kampf. Indeed, I encourage teenagers to read this book and to discuss it from both the moral and the historical perspectives. As I often do, I once again quote George Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Arguably, that is the most important aphorism of all time.

You may ask “OK, smart-ass. Would you edit a graphic novel adaptation of Mein Kampf?” I’m hardly your go-to-guy for far-right-wing subject matter, although I have proudly worked with many conservative and right-wing talent and I never interfered with their points of view. Adolf Hitler… well, my own backstory just might get in the way of that.

In the hands of the right creative team, a Mein Kampf adaptation might work. But it most certainly would not get racked in libraries or placed on Apple Books.

Librarians are teachers and… well… teachers teach. That means discuss, exchange points of view, and listen. Point out the problems with allowing a person with a small gaggle of follows to shove his or her will down everybody else’s throats. That’s particularly important these days, no matter what your worldview might be. If we don’t keep these discussions going, the next thing we’ll see is these same librarians and teachers cart away all the copies of the greatest American novel, Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. Actually, we’ve been seeing this for a while now, but most of these culture vultures seem content to merely censor the hell out of the book – thereby voiding the author’s point.

I understand his concerns and I think Mr. Charles’ piece was well-written and rather clever. But when it comes to bringing attention to censorship and the imposition of limits to the acquisition of knowledge, his heart is in the right place but his head’s up his ass.

I say that with respect.

Seriously.

 

Brainiac On Banjo #013: This Joke’s On Us

Brainiac On Banjo #013: This Joke’s On Us

Perhaps the most often-asked question by superhero movie fans is “Why do most of the DC movies suck?”

The “most” part is about the one truly great DCU movie made during the past decade, Wonder Woman. Thus, every time I reference the DCU movies I’m excluding Wonder Woman. Oh, and the Lego Batman Movie, which, in my opinion, is the best Batman movie ever.

These movies have been very disappointing for DC fans. After all, Marvel Studios keeps on knocking them out and knocking them out of the park. My enthusiasm for their upcoming Captain Marvel movie is quite strong. My enthusiasm for DC’s upcoming Aquaman movie is hidden behind a humongous growth in my cynicism gland.

Don’t get me wrong. Every time Warner Bros. is about to release a new DC movie (and, for the record, I am not referring to their direct-to-home video features) I hope for the best. And, with a few significant exceptions I am almost always disappointed. For example (WARNING: NAME-DROPPING ALERT!), at the World Premiere of Suicide Squad I sat between John Ostrander and Jim Lee. John created the version of the Squad that was seen on the screen, is a Pop Culture Squad columnist, and remains my oldest living friend. Jim is among the very best artists around. He was elevated to the position of DC’s co-publisher and chief operating officer. I’m a big fan of his – at one point much earlier in his career, DC’s e-i-c Dick Giordano and I (at the time, First Comics’ e-i-c) were discussing the idea of a Batman / Jon Sable crossover written by Mike Grell and drawn by Jim Lee. That project remains very, very high on my lengthy “I’m still pissed that these projects never happened” list.

At the end of the Squad flick, Jim asked me what I thought. My response: “I liked it a lot, compared with Man of Steel and Dawn of Justice.” Talk about damning with faint praise. I mentioned several scenes I really liked – and still do. I enjoyed about half of the movie, maybe a bit more. But, jeez louise, I’d still put nearly all of the Marvel Studios movies ahead of it, were I destined to be washed-up on that fabled desert island that somehow has electricity.  Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo #013: This Joke’s On Us”

Brainiac On Banjo #012: Streaming The Universe

Brainiac On Banjo #012: Streaming The Universe

The streaming service called DC Universe is up and running. Sort of. If you’re looking to discover why Robin angrily said “Fuck Batman!” you’re going to have to wait about a month, or fly to New York City, sneak into the New York Comic-Con (by all means, do not give those bastards your money), stand at the back of a cramped overstuffed under-air conditioned room and watch Titans about a week early.

Wow. I actually digressed in the lead paragraph. I’ll get back to my intended rant now.

The world of “television” changes every day, and where it’s heading right now seems to be an environment where you are getting a lot more entertainment and a lot more choice of where you want to get it. You also have a lot more hassle, signing up for Crom-knows how many streaming services. Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Sling, HBO Now, DirecTV Now, Showtime When, Playstation Vue, Acorn, WatchTV, CBS All Access, ESPN+, Cinephiles, YouTube TV, NuMedia, Mubi, Fandor, Sundance, and now DC Universe… I’m sure I missed a few. Hell, before I did my research I hadn’t even heard of six of them. But even if you have, do not relax: there are plenty more coming your way, including Disney, which may or may not include Marvel and/or Star Wars and/or Pixar and/or Fox.

Each of these services run between about $5 to $50 a month and while there is some overlap, you’ve got to join – and pay for – each one separately. I’ll bet dollars to donuts that we’ll see mergers and washouts and aggregating services to lighten the load. But it’s unlikely there will be a service that lets you triple your available viewing time.

OK. “It’s a brave new world, yadda yadda yadda.” Every day it’s a goddamned brave new world. No wonder our attention spans have been reduced to that of kittens.  Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo #012: Streaming The Universe”

Brainiac On Banjo #011: Death of A Super-Hero?

Brainiac On Banjo #011: Death of A Super-Hero?

He rides through the jungle, tearin’ limbs off of trees Knockin’ great big monsters dead on their knees The cats don’t bug him ’cause they know better ‘Cause he’s a mean motor scooter and a bad go-getter He’s the toughest man there is alive Wears clothes from a wildcat’s hide He’s the king of the jungle jive Look at that cave man go!

Way back in May 1960, the ABC network purchased a Chicago-based rural-oriented radio station from the Prairie Farmer magazine, not because they wanted to aid corn-growers but because it was a 50,000 watt “class A” radio station. That meant it was received by listeners in about 33 states, much of Canada, and, if you lived next to their transmission towers, probably your dental fillings as well.

In other words, they wanted a money machine. Pursuant to this, WLS changed format from “music to milk cows by” to that nasty-ol’ rock’n’roll. ABC thought the farmers wouldn’t appreciate the musical musings of Chuck Berry, Brenda Lee, Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, and the ever-frightening Elvis Presley. So, in order to clear the field, they chose one song to play over and over and over for a few days. Their disc jockeys were a talented group of kids including the legendary Dick Biondi and Bob Hale, who a year previous had emceed the Iowa concert where Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper and Richie Valens performed their last. Those jocks were the heart and soul of the station. They announced that song under various contrived titles. The farmers quickly found something else to listen to, and the kids were brought in through word-of-mouth generated by their redundancy programming.

That song was Alley Oop, performed by The Hollywood Argyles and written by Mort Shuman and Doc Pomus, two of rock’s most important writers. For the record, it debuted on WLS a month before official release. The song was based upon the brilliant newspaper comic strip of the same name – which, unless I’m mistaken (it happens), was not published in any of the five major Chicago newspapers at the time.

Oh, wait. This isn’t about rock’n’roll radio. It’s about an obituary. Well, maybe not. Hopefully not.  Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo #011: Death of A Super-Hero?”