Site Unseen

No, I don't know why images have been failing to appear, leaving those charming little question-mark boxes. It's not happening with any rhyme or reason that I can see, and on a few occasions graphics that disappeared have reappeared without my even editing the post to ensure that the links to Picasa (Google/Blogger's image-hosting service) are correct. Meantime, I've taken down the almost entirely image-dependent recent posts in the Cover Album and First Friday series, and won't republish them until this gets figured out because I'm frankly sick of having to do so constantly.

Bedtimes and Broomsticks

Magic Trixie, a young girl in a black frock and traditional witch's hat, with frizzy pink hair, smiling, arms raised, one eye open and one closed

What's even better than hearing that my niece can't come to the phone because she's engrossed in reading Magic Trixie?

I was recently made aware that E and her sister M — that's for privacy purposes, not because my sister names her children after street drugs and Fritz Lang movies — lent the book to a friend and were eagerly awaiting the sequel, Magic Trixie Sleeps Over. Sharing is great! And they need wait no longer. Uncle Brian had already bought it, and mailed it out after hearing this rather than hold onto it for the girls' upcoming visit. HarperCollins was smart to advertise the next installment in each book, price them low ($7.99 each), and of course snap up this series from the brilliant Jill Thompson to begin with.

L Is for Links to...

I don't follow anyone on Twitter, but a visit to the website of a certain English ska-pop chanteuse to get a URL for this post confirmed why doing so is addictive. Who is she? In good time...

As soon as The Late Show wraps up each night, Craig Ferguson pops in with a cold open of The Late Late Show. He might ramble a bit, have an "alien" monkey hand puppet address the "People... of... Earth!", bring on a special non sequitur guest, or even engage in some lip-synching. It's all adorably shoestring-budget, getting to the heart of the host's "I have a TV show! True, it's on CBS, at 12:30 a.m., but still!" sense of glee, enticing folks to stick around.

Well, Monday night had a little bit of almost all of the above, as Ferguson, costumed backup dancers, and a chorus of puppets performed Britney Spears' "Oops... I Did It Again". I've been waiting for the video to make it onto the show's website, and now that it has I can't get it to run straight through once; still, it's worth a look.

The skit reminded me that if you find Spears' "Womanizer" hella catchy but kind-of overproduced and annoying at the same time, there's a virtual cottage industry of cover versions out there. Franz Ferdinand's has oddly out-of-tune vocals, but proves that the song can work as non-ironic rock. The All-American Rejects slowed it down and set it to acoustic guitar, beer-bottle percussion, and concertina, yet even with some winkingly substituted lyrics and a smart segue into The Turtles' "Happy Together" it doesn't quite transcend the sum of its parts for me.

My favorite version of "Womanizer" is from the infectious Lily Allen, who despite the electronics on much of her studio recording is here backed mostly by acoustic piano and percussion, with a drum on loan from Brian Wilson or Phil Spector. Even if it's not as boldly different as the ones above, it changes things up and stands on its own, which is what I look for in a cover. Allen's currently on safari in Africa, according to her Twitter feed, where between taking in the sights and slagging the notion of celebrity asked a very good question, italics mine: "[H]ow come leopard is pronounced leppard and leotard is leeohtard?"

Eau de Kirk

I'm not making this up.

Pon Farr cologne

When I first saw these colognes advertised, in a comic-book distributor's catalog a couple of months ago, I had to wonder if it was an April Fool's joke. Nope... You too can smell like a Vulcan in heat. Live long and party!

What's Future Is Prologue

I had to resist the temptation to tack this onto the brief Star Trek review that went up the other day — a good thing, because it keeps getting un-posted somehow. Here, if we're lucky, are some expanded thoughts on the franchise and the film...

Star Trek 2009 insignia poster

I guess I'm a Trekkie. Star Trek's original series was in reruns as I grew up, and my mom introduced me to it; I even faintly recall seeing the early-'70s Saturday-morning cartoon incarnation — specifically, and amusingly given the plot of the new movie, the episode where Spock goes back in time and meets his younger self on Vulcan.

Lost Links and Laughs

The Lost
season finale airs tonight, leaving us bereft of new episodes for the next 8 months.

Cover to the upcoming 5th-season edition of Finding 'Lost' from ECW Press

I like Nikki Stafford's idea of watching the whole series to date again before the final season begins in early 201o, and discussing it episode by episode over at her blog, Nik at Nite. We'll even have the 5th-season edition of Finding 'Lost', now available for pre-order from Amazon and elsewhere, in our hands by the time we revisit this past year. But I'm reminded of an exchange between young Daniel Faraday and his mother, Eloise, in a recent episode: When Daniel is told that there's no time for such pursuits as the piano, he says that he can "make time" — to which Eloise knowingly replies, "If only you could." I remember my dad telling me that there should be an extra day of the week which by Constitutional (if not cosmic) decree must be devoted to all those hobbies and projects that never seem to get the attention they deserve. Sign me up for that!

Meanwhile, if
you have time before the Lost finale or are suffering withdrawal the day after, here are some fun links to check out.

Albert L. Ortega photo of Nestor Carbonell for PR Photos © 2007

With the strange and somewhat disappointing behavior of Richard Alpert in last week's Lost, I decided to revisit a Nik at Nite thread from a few months back for a pick-me-up. It was devoted to haiku on Alpert — and the charismatic actor who plays him, Nestor Carbonell, late of the Jimmy Smits series Cane, even later of the live-action version of The Tick (as Batmañuel), and frequently (but apparently falsely) accused of using mascara and eyeliner. [Mmm... REM's "Crush with Eyeliner". Great straight-up rock song.]

Haiku is a form of Japanese poetry more contagious than the swine flu. There are further nuances and themes in its original practice, but in English it's basically three lines of five syllables, seven syllables, and five syllables, as lovely, pithy, or tongue-in-cheek profound as you can make them, depending on the mood and purpose.

Example for you:
That line was five, this seven.
And this one is five.

You can keep each line a phrase or sentence unto itself, or wrap 'em around from one line to the next. The first two haiku below are from frequent Nik at Nite poster Batcabbage, the rest are mine; no offense to everyone else's entries — again, check them out — but I didn't have time to ask for permission to reprint anything here, and don't think Batcabbage will mind.

Can't kill your father?

Here's a file. Let James do it.


Not the knife, damn it!

Wrong, you silly little boy.

Pick the book. The book!

older than you think

I always look the same (well

grew my hair out once)

Come closer, closer.

Want to know a secret, John?

My name is Nestor.

Where did I come from?

If you really must know, I'm

The Fifth Cylon. Psyche!

Hurley the action figure as seen in the Fine Bros. parodies

I took a look at ABC's own
'Lost' Untangled once and found it a ridiculous waste of time; just tried to try it again, but the viewer froze up, so we'll stick with that assessment. However, Nik at Nite turned me on to a much more amusing (unofficial) action-figure series created by Benny & Rafi Fine. Other "franchise" characters appear either randomly (The Joker) or... otherwise (Claire from Heroes is used because they have no figure of Emilie De Ravin, Claire from Lost). While I haven't seen them all yet, and there may be some internal continuity, you can start with any installment; I just watched the latest three, involving Star Trek, the Yankees, and Batman, in reverse order of production and it didn't really matter. But I hereby warn you that pretty much none of the voices remotely match the characters — frustrating at first, although it makes the dead-on Hurley that much funnier. And no pun intended there, but also be forewarned that (perhaps in a nod to Kenny on South Park) Hurley always dies.

Glenn Harris photo of Emilie De Ravin for Photorazzi © 2004

Jorge Garcia, who plays Hurley on the real
Lost, has a blog called Dispatches from the Island that's always worth a look. He's given us behind-the-scenes glimpses at things like the cake made to celebrate the series' 100th episode (crafted with insane detail by the people behind the Food Network series Ace of Cakes), a sneak peek at Hurley's Dharma jumpsuit, and the Star Trek movie premiere. I don't check it out as often as I'd like (which puts it in good company with a couple dozen other blogs at least) but the posts are usually so short and sweet there's almost no excuse. One post in its entirety: "Here's a picture from a talk show I did in Munich." Photo. "[The] main difference between German talk shows and Spanish ones? No ant puppets." It's a quintessential old-school weblog, compulsively clickable.

Celebratory cake with close-up of Hurley figure from Jorge Garcia's blog

Finally, we'll close on something sent by my pal and sometime writing/researching partner Rafael Benjamin, who freely confesses to next to zero experience with his "twelve-rungs-below-Photoshop image-editing software". Until recently Radzinsky was just a name heard in a flashback of Desmond's; he was assigned or confined to the Swan station, known colloquially as the Hatch, and went nuts. With half of our cast time-traveled back to 1970s, we've now met him in the flesh. So Raf mocked up the title card for a Lost spinoff set during the time the guy was banished to button-pushing detail, a little something he calls...

Creative if admittedly clumsy spec art for 'Zinsky & Hatch from my friend Rafael Benjamin

Apparently, this is either such a terrible pun or so just plain ugly that Blogger and/or the invisible hand of the universe keeps knocking my entire post down every time it's put up; of course, if you're actually reading these words, then they don't need to be here, but what's a little paradox between...

Scary Good

I'm about to post a rave review of Jill Thompson's Magic Trixie books

Thompson is no stranger to sassy supernaturalists, having previously conjured up the delightful Scary Godmother series. Divine yet devilish SG is the Queen of Halloween, doyenne of a magical realm called the Fright Side and world's coolest grown-up companion to little Hannah Marie. In the debut 1997 hardcover, Hannah proudly went trick-or-treating with the big kids for the first time only to have her cousin Jimmy abandon her in a supposedly haunted house — prompting Scary Godmother to step in, calm Hannah's fears, and turn the tables. Three more hardcovers and a dozen traditional comic-book issues were published by Sirius through 2002, and all are highly recommended. The "one-shots" and miniseries, now available in collected editions, have invitingly busy black-&-white interiors full of strong shadows and sharp angles, especially on Scary Godmother herself; their stories delve deeply into the Fright Side, bringing characters barely seen in the hardcovers to the fore, but in rereading them recently with an uncle's eye I noticed occasional borderline bawdiness that may concern some parents. On the other hand, the lavishly watercolored hardcovers are absolutely all-ages appropriate, with simpler language, typeset captions and fewer word balloons (though the narrative still unfolds in the comic-book style, what many practitioners and academics call sequential art). There have also been two Scary Godmother animated specials, available on DVD.

If you'd like to buy one of the items shown and can't do so locally, please consider clicking through to Amazon; Blam's Blog may receive a small commission on the sale of anything placed into your cart and purchased during the session.

Kindred Posts: Braids of GloryHey! We Got a Live One Here!
Dark Knight DelightHounds and FuryBedtimes and Broomsticks

Vulcan A

Or at least a solid B, if not B+.

'Star Trek' 2009 poster depicting the Enterprise heading into warp

I'm talking about the new Star Trek film, of course.

Bad News, Good Deeds

A poster for the
X-Men Origins: Wolverine film, © 2009 Fox or Marvel or both.

I can't imagine you haven't heard of
Wolverine by now. Gruff X-Men dude with claws? Played by Hugh Jackman in the new US box-office smash? Right?

He was co-created and first written by a man named
Len Wein in 1974.

On April 6th, one month ago yesterday, Len and his wife Chris Valada lost much of their house, many irreplaceable possessions, and their dog Sheba in a fire. Neither they nor their son were physically injured, which is far and away the most important thing, but their collection of original artwork and comic books to which Len had contributed was burned and/or waterlogged — much less a financial consideration than an emotional one, although thanks to the phenomena with which Len has been involved replacing them would be an expensive proposition.

Mark Evanier — perhaps the only person who could challenge Larry Marder for the title Nexus of All Comic-Book Realities (sorry, civilians; in-group speak is hard to shake) — has thus captained...

Click here to visit the project's home page immediately.

Now, I realize that the "comic-book people" reading this are probably already aware of the situation, and the rest of you don't own (or wouldn't know where to purchase) any relevant items to donate. I just couldn't let this go without mention on the blog, however; if I reach anyone who wasn't aware of the undertaking and can help, it's worth it. Len has had a hand in countless moments of joy and wonder for me and millions of other readers over the years, on top of which he's what our tribe calls a
mensch. I've seen him indulge fans with behind-the-scenes stories at comic-book conventions, and at a time when dozens of journalists were likely asking the same favor he graciously spoke to me at length for an article celebrating the 25th anniversary of the "new" X-Men that ran in a well-received issue of Comicology. The reason why it's taken me so long to write about this, in fact, is that I've been trying to figure out how to cost-efficiently offer some of the few remaining copies of that issue as a reward to folks who donate to the project. As it turns out, the book drive is going so well that no incentives are needed — not that my gesture would be more than a drop in the bucket — but some copies may yet be part of an auction if funds are needed to purchase any outstanding items on the list.

Here's an overview of Mr. Wein's career — with a focus on the creation of Wolverine, since that's what's topical — to give you an inkling of his place in the comic-book world and pop culture at large:

Covers to
Teen Titans #18, drawn by Nick Cardy and lettered by Gaspar Saladino, and House of Secrets #92, illustrated by Bernie Wrightson, © 1968, 1971 DC Comics. The former contains Len's first comic-book work and the latter introduced Swamp Thing. Scans courtesy The Grand Comics Database. Click here for a look at Wrightson's uncolored ink-wash original and here for an interior page.

Len broke into comic books with friend Marv Wolfman writing a 1968 issue of Teen Titans at DC. He quickly amassed credits there and at Gold Key, Skywald, Warren and Marvel as well, mostly on such anthology titles as House of Secrets and Twilight Zone; Cain and Abel, the "hosts" of House of Mystery and its sister title Secrets, were physically based on Wein and Mark Hanerfeld, assistant to editor Joe Orlando. After creating Swamp Thing with Bernie Wrightson for Secrets in 1971, Len won the 1972 Shazam Award in the Best Writer (Dramatic) category and shared another with Wrightson for the story "Dark Genesis" in Swamp Thing #1. He wrote influential runs of Phantom Stranger and Justice League of America at DC — among many other titles — before succeeding Roy Thomas as Marvel Comics' editor-in-chief in 1974, also writing Thor, Amazing Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, and, briefly, the revived X-Men.

X-Men was one of the rare early-'60s Marvel concepts that underwhelmed, and it went all-reprint in 1970. Thomas had inherited scripting duties on the title from Stan Lee in 1966 and, after passing the reins to other writers in 1968, returned to close out the series' first run with Neal Adams. Len told me back in 2000 that resurrecting the mutant team — specifically with a group of new, international characters — "was something that had been bandied about for several years" before the assignment fell to him in 1974. "When I created Wolverine," he said, "I made him a Canadian mutant so that whoever got [the job of relaunching X-Men] would have something to start from." Thomas first approached writer Mike Friedrich to collaborate on X-Men with artist Dave Cockrum, but Friedrich was unavailable by the time the project was given the green light and Wein stepped in.

Cover to
The Incredible Hulk #181, drawn by Herb Trimbe and lettered by Gaspar Saladino, featuring the first good look at Wolverine, © 1974 Marvel Comics. Scan courtesy The Grand Comics Database. Click here to see the original black-&-white art (a third of the way down the page).

Wolverine was first glimpsed at the end of
The Incredible Hulk #180, dated Oct. 1974, with the character's first full appearance coming in #181. John Romita, Marvel's art director, designed the character, but Hulk artist Herb Trimpe was the first to draw him for publication. After #182, Wolverine was next seen in 1975's Giant-Size X-Men #1, where he was recruited by Professor Charles Xavier alongside a couple of extant characters and the new Wein/Cockrum creations Storm, Nightcrawler, Colossus, and Thunderbird (other mutants seen in the movies either predated the 1975 relaunch or have come along since). The new team's adventures continued in X-Men #94, the first non-reprint issue of that title in five years, and took off like gangbusters — though Wein handed the scripting baton to his associate editor Chris Claremont during production of #95. "I never intended to write it," Len said in our interview. "Once I got involved with the creation of the team, I liked the characters, but by that point I was editor-in-chief ... and there weren't enough hours in the day." Wein didn't stay in the executive position for long, putting him in good company; Thomas succeeded Lee in 1972, Wein took over in August 1974, his old friend Wolfman (who had been overseeing Marvel's line of black-&-white magazines) assumed the post in 1975, and so on.

Cover to
Giant-Size X-Men #1, drawn by Gil Kane & Dave Cockrum and lettered by Gaspar Saladino, © 1975 Marvel Comics. The issue introduced the "All-New, All-Different" X-Men, most co-created by Wein. Scan courtesy The Grand Comics Database.

Len returned to DC Comics as a freelancer in 1978, writing
Batman and the Dark Knight's adventures in Detective Comics as well as Superman and such back-up features as Deadman, The Demon, and The Human Target, the latter of which he'd originated with artist Carmine Infantino in 1972. He became an editor at DC in 1980, overseeing such quality projects as that year's launch of New Teen Titans, Wolfman and George Pérez's revival of a concept that became DC's answer to X-Men; Roy Thomas' 1981 introduction of All-Star Squadron; Mike W. Barr and Jim Aparo's Batman and The Outsiders in 1983; Alan Moore's revelatory 1984 reinvention of Swamp Thing; and Camelot 3000, one of DC's first direct-market-only projects and its first "maxi-series" (the trade name bestowed by DC upon 12-issue miniseries), written by Barr and drawn by Brian Bolland. Len co-plotted the first issue of 1985's game-changing Wolfman/Pérez blockbuster Crisis on Infinite Earths, consulted on the rest of the run, and edited its companion title Who's Who: The Definitive Directory of the DC Universe. Having worked with both Moore and Dave Gibbons, who illustrated his run on Green Lantern, Len was also assigned to edit a little something of theirs called Watchmen.

Covers to Detective Comics #500, drawn by Dick Giordano and many others, and Batman #400, painted by Bill Sienkiewicz, © 1981, 1986 DC Comics. Len wrote two stories in the first of these landmark issues, and he edited the second. Scans courtesy The Grand Comics Database.

When Disney established its own comic-book house in 1990, after decades of licensing its characters to other publishers, it hired Len as editor-in-chief. The operation didn't last long, but in 1992 Len transitioned to writing teleplays for the
Batman and X-Men animated series, Transformers, and much more. He kept a hand in comic books, co-creating Gunfire for DC and dabbling at Marvel, Image, and Defiant, on occasion returning to the characters with which he was most associated for special projects; Cain and Abel, who had been appropriated for Neil Gaiman's Sandman series after their anthologies were boarded up, were written again by Len in a 1998 special issue of Sandman spinoff The Dreaming. The past decade has found him writing Simpsons stories for Bongo Comics, scripting The Victorian for Penny-Farthing Press, and co-writing a Conan miniseries at Dark Horse Comics with Kurt Busiek. He was elected to the Eisner Awards' Hall of Fame in 2008, and earlier this year again contributed to various titles at DC, including Justice League of America.

Covers to The Dreaming Special #1, illustrated by Dave McKean, and Justice League of America #29, drawn by Ed Benes and colored by Brian Miller, © 1998, 2006 DC Comics, both featuring Len returning to concepts that he'd written decades before. Scans courtesy The Grand Comics Database.

A quite recent, pretty decent
rundown of Wolverine's creation with commentary from Romita and Trimpe was written by Frank Lovece for Film Journal International on the occasion of the X-Men Origins: Wolverine premiere. Wein's blog, WeinWords, includes an interesting post from February addressing a particularly strange idea that's been bandied about from time to time concerning the muttonchopped mutant. No actual review of the Hugh Jackman flick there, though, as the blog understandably hasn't been updated since the fire.

Marv Wolfman
interviewed Wein on his friend's early days, working methods, and other subjects in 2003, and last year The Silver Age Sage presented an entertainingly freewheeling conversation with Len on a wide variety of topics. An installment of The Treasure Keeper, Robby Reed's in-depth look at legendary letterer Gaspar Saladino, focuses on the Wein/Wrightson Swamp Thing with story pages and Dial B for Blog's usual fine production values.

You can spread the word about
The "Let's Rebuild Len Wein's Comic-Book Collection" Project by visiting Mark Evanier's POV / News from ME and, even if you have nothing physical to contribute, copying one of the banners onto your own website.

A poster for the first film adapted from Wein's comic-book work, Swamp Thing, © 1982 DC Comics or maybe Avco-Embassy Pictures.

Ric Estrada 1928-2009

Splash panel to "The 'Mormon' Battalion!" from
Our Fighting Forces #135 © 1972 DC Comics. Script,
Pencils, Inks: Ric Estrada. Letters, Colors: Unknown.

I hope you'll forgive me for dispensing with the pithy post titles when it comes to memorials.

Ric Estrada passed away last Friday at 81. He wasn't among the best known or
most tenured comic-book artists, but he holds a special place in my heart for his work on the revival of All-Star Comics in 1976. It turns out that he holds a special place in the hearts of many others for quite different work: illustrating passages from what's popularly called the New Testament, plus The Book of Mormon, for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

First Friday

Update: One Year Later...

Cover to Detective Comics #27 © 1939 DC Comics.
Pencils, Inks: Bob Kane. Text, Colors, Typography: Unknown.

Here in the Philadelphia area, as in other cities around the country, the first Friday of each month is known as (wait for it)
First Friday. The art galleries in Old City are open late, and more recently the suburbs have joined the fun with exhibits, live music, and open-air dining as well.

I'd hoped to run a series of virtual galleries here on the blog under that title, celebrating firsts in the comics world on occasional Fridays — and for a while I actually did, beginning with a bunch tied to Batman's 70th anniversary. When the original version of this post went up, however, I was still dealing with what at the time I called The Great Purge, which had erased all 50-odd posts to date on Apr. 1st, 2009. Problems that I attributed at the time to Blogger persisted even as I got everything republished and continued with new posts; eventually, assembling the First Friday posts only to have them go unseen was just too frustrating. Yet I optimistically resurrected First Friday the next year, only to have an even Greater Purge occur on Apr. 1st, 2010, when a deplorably jealous jerk from my decade in the comics biz deleted the entire blog in a despicable act of destruction. I'd taken to saving the HTML of the blog periodically and soon reconstructed it one more time, but while I didn't want to give the vandal(s) any satisfaction I decided that it made sense to reserve republication of the heavily historical comics material in First Friday for the upcoming blog devoted specifically to my professional comics-oriented writing, since that material seemed to be the main trigger for this demented individual's behavior.

So all that's left of the original First Friday post is the first paragraph above and the cover to Detective Comics #27, which introduced Batman to the world, as a sort of memorial to what was. Cover dating later settled into a convention of two or three months ahead of an issue's release date, but in the Golden Age the span was shorter, and a variety of sources have 'Tec #27, dated May 1939, distributed in April; Mike Voiles' Amazing World of DC Comics website, which truly lives up to its name, gives an approximate on-sale date of April 18th, 1939. For more images and insight commemorating 70 years of the Gotham Guardian, you can head on over to The Comicologist (sorry for the tease; when it goes live, there will be a link here).