30 June 2012

The Wicker Man as a Musical

Last night I watched The Wicker Man, the 1973 cult horror film starring Christopher Lee, Edward Woodward, and Britt Ekland. Shot in Scotland, it follows an uptight police sergeant as he searches for a missing child on an island whose populace has reverted to scenic British pagan rituals.

And all throughout the movie, till the very last scene, I was thinking, “This is an effin’ musical!” The cast keeps breaking into song and dance. Not the uptight sergeant, of course, but everybody else from the local schoolboys dancing around the Maypole to Lee at his piano and Ekland (and her body double) in nothing at all. Those musical scenes do more to reveal character than most of the spoken dialogue—though of course most of the characters are hiding something.

In that respect, The Wicker Man plays like an inverse of The Music Man. In Meredith Wilson’s masterpiece the stranger brings music to a community, while in Anthony Shaffer’s story the stranger finds a disturbing community already absorbed by music. In both cases, the community absorbs the stranger in its own way.

I see by the web that the National Theater of Scotland actually decided to adapt The Wicker Man into a stage musical earlier this year. The Guardian reported, “Previous attempts to stage The Wicker Man have stalled over failure to secure the rights to the music. [Co-writer Greg] Hemphill proudly promises that their version will feature every note of the original.” That soundtrack included genuine folk songs and new compositions by Paul Giovanni. I doubt the stage can get the eerie effect of bad lip-synching, though.

On the other hand, the Guardian’s Danny Leigh really didn’t like the sing-along Wicker Man screenings two years ago. Horror films and musicals are supposed to be two different kinds of fun.

29 June 2012

Killed Bill, Part 2

This week’s example of OIP Derangement Syndrome is provided by Sen. John Kyl, Republican of Arizona. After the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling on Arizona’s attempt to have local police enforce national immigration law, Kyl issued a statement that claimed:
I note that in his response to today’s Supreme Court ruling, President Obama called on Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform. I also note that the bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill I helped draft in 2007 was killed — in part — by then-Senator Obama.
Kyl referred to the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007, which Wikipedia describes this way:
The bill's sole sponsor in the Senate was Majority Leader Harry Reid, though it was crafted in large part as a result of efforts by Senators Kennedy, McCain and Kyl, along with Senator Lindsey Graham, and input from President George W. Bush, who strongly supported the bill. For that reason it was referred to in the press by various combinations of these five men's names, most commonly "Kennedy-Kyl".
As a U.S. Senator, Barack Obama voted for cloture on that bill—i.e., for bringing it up for a final vote. Sen. Kyl ended up voting against cloture, thus “killing” the bill. Both sides of those cloture votes had a mix of Democrats and Republicans, with most Democrats for and most Republicans—once again, including Kyl—voting against it.

Kyl’s shift presaged a longer, severe change in his attitude toward immigration reform. In 2010, Graham (R-SC) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) started talking about a bill based on the same framework as the “Kennedy-Kyl” bill, and Kyl promised to filibuster it. Think Progress noted:
Ironically, in 2007, Kyl sponsored an immigration reform bill that included many of the same basic principles that Schumer and Graham have adopted as part of the framework for their own bill. Kyl has argued that this time around is different because the “consensus” behind the bill he co-sponsored “has all but evaporated.” Given the fact that Schumer and Graham have simply provided a broad blueprint of what is still only an idea for an unwritten bill, it seems odd that Kyl is so quick to come out against it — especially considering the fact that he took a much different approach to immigration reform in 2007.
What changed between 2007 and 2010? Barack Obama became President. By pointing at Obama in his statement, Kyl subconsciously acknowledged that that event was significant in his changed thinking, but he got the facts about who killed his bill exactly backward. That combination of shifting positions, misstatement of facts, and blame for the President is the hallmark of OIP Derangement Syndrome.

28 June 2012

Bill Willingham on Oz in the Fables Universe

Sequential Tart interviewed writer Bill Willingham, who’s been slowly unrolling some Oz-themed storylines in his Fables comic book:

ST: I have a couple of questions about some of the current storylines. What led to the idea of Bufkin leading a revolution in Oz? Frank L. Baum had some strong political opinions; did that play into at all?

BW: To a certain extent. My reading of the Oz books was woefully antiquated in that I did it early on in life and hadn't revisited them as often as I should. And this is what I found out about Oz readers: Oz readers are fanatical readers. They want things correct. The few dips I've made into the Oz world had readers and some of the people who work in the Fables camp, like Eric Shanower, who has done the odd Fables book, and who, of course, is a massive Oz fan [Shanower writes Oz-themed comics for IDW and Marvel Comics], and Todd Klein, our letterer from day one: massive Oz fan — which apparently is a redundancy. There's no such thing as just a middle-of-the-road Oz fan. They called me out on the tiniest little thing. It is not the Lunchpail Tree; it is the Lunchbox Tree.

I realized that if I wanted to play in Oz at all, which I wanted Bufkin to eventually do again someday, I'd have to either have all my ducks in a row and massively re-immerse myself in the Oz stuff — or create a situation wherein I'm the only expert, [and can say], "Todd, Eric, what you don't understand is that when the Adversary conquered Oz, he made all these changes and all these changes are inscribed only in my mind, so nyah nyah, here's the way it is now, and you're just going to have to live with it."

I decided to go that route, so Bufkin finding that the whole place was conquered and overrun by the gnome king, who, when the big empire fell, continued on with his little local empire. Well, it was obvious that Bufkin, having defeated the djinn and slain Baba Yaga would think, "Overthrow a dinky little side-empire like this? Easy." It almost wrote itself, and it solved the problem of these guys who could so easily point out where I got things wrong.
I suspect Sequential Tart asked about Baum’s “strong political opinions” because he was progressive for his time while Willingham identifies himself as a conservative. But Willingham didn’t address that potential conflict.

I’ve written before about how the Ozma and Dorothy of Willingham’s Fables universe bear little resemblance to Baum’s characters. In contrast, Jack Pumpkinhead, the Sawhorse, and the Glass Cat act quite familiar. As for Bufkin, he’s a true original.

(Hat tip to Blair Frodelius’s Daily Ozmapolitan.)

27 June 2012

The Voices of Rage and Ruin

For anyone who’s wondered what the Creedence song “Bad Moon Rising” would sound like when performed by British Columbia teenagers singing in chorus and playing ukuleles (and one stand-up bass).

I have to say this arrangement doesn’t preserve the ominous quality of John Fogerty’s song. But the Langley Ukulele Ensemble performs a wide repertoire, and has a thirty-year history.

26 June 2012

Open Heart Surgery on the Yellow Brick Road?

This portrayal of the companions from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is by Sabrina Alberghetti, an artist in Vancouver, via deviantArt. She also shared her sketches for this piece and some other sketches of a hip-hop Scarecrow.

I’m not at all sure what’s going on in this scene, but the characters have a lot of character.

22 June 2012

Opposition “at every opportunity”

The New Yorker examines what I call OIP Derangement Syndrome with an article by Ezra Klein of the Washington Post on how Republicans shifted positions on the “individual mandate” for health insurance.

The approach was invented the Heritage Foundation, introduced into Congress by Republicans, pushed here in Massachusetts by Republican governor Mitt Romney, and championed as recently as 2009 by party leaders. But as soon as President Barack Obama agreed to include it in his health-insurance proposals, Republicans branded their party’s idea not only undesirable but unconstitutional.

Klein’s article highlights how Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) made an individual mandate part of a bill he designed during the Bush-Cheney administration:

“Between 2004 and 2008, I saw over eighty members of the Senate, and there were very few who objected,” Wyden says. In December, 2006, he unveiled the Healthy Americans Act. In May, 2007, Bob Bennett, a Utah Republican, who had been a sponsor of the Chafee bill [that also included the mandate], joined him. Wyden-Bennett was eventually co-sponsored by eleven Republicans and nine Democrats, receiving more bipartisan support than any universal health-care proposal in the history of the Senate. . . .

This process led, eventually, to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act—better known as Obamacare—which also included an individual mandate. But, as that bill came closer to passing, Republicans began coalescing around the mandate, which polling showed to be one of the legislation’s least popular elements. In December, 2009, in a vote on the bill, every Senate Republican voted to call the individual mandate “unconstitutional.”

This shift—Democrats lining up behind the Republican-crafted mandate, and Republicans declaring it not just inappropriate policy but contrary to the wishes of the Founders—shocked Wyden. “I would characterize the Washington, D.C., relationship with the individual mandate as truly schizophrenic,” he said. . . .

Even Bob Bennett, who was among the most eloquent advocates of the mandate, voted, in 2009, to call it unconstitutional. . . . Explaining his decision to vote against the law, Bennett, who was facing a Tea Party challenger in a primary, says, “I didn’t focus on the particulars of the amendment as closely as I should have, and probably would have voted the other way if I had understood that the individual mandate was at its core. I just wanted to express my opposition to the Obama proposal at every opportunity.”
Drawing on work by professors of law, psychology, and political science, Klein explores why the Republican Party reversed course so quickly and completely on one of its own policy ideas. But at its core the opposition arose just as Bennett described it: “I just wanted to express my opposition to the Obama proposal at every opportunity.”

20 June 2012

Dorothy Gale in Manchester

From Angelica Carpenter, Curator Emerita at the Arne Nixon Center for the Study of Children’s Literature, comes word of this call for papers from Britain.
Returning to Oz: The Afterlife of Dorothy

Thursday 7th February 2013
Manchester, UK

Papers are sought for a one-day conference in Manchester on representations and interpretations of Dorothy and Oz in popular culture. This conference seeks to address the perennial popularity of L. Frank Baum’s creations, and to explore their most recent incarnations.

Possible themes may include (but are not limited to):
• Film, TV and animated adaptations
• Sequels and prequels (other than Baum’s series); translations, editions and revisions
• Music and musicals
• Kitsch
• ‘Friends of Dorothy’ and gay culture
MGM and Judy Garland
• Graphic novels and visual art
• Merchandise, memorabilia and ephemera

This conference is the sister project to our Further Adventures in Wonderland: The Afterlife of Alice project. As such, papers are also welcomed that offer some comparison of the respective afterlives of Alice and Dorothy, or that deal with texts featuring both characters.

Abstracts of 250-300 words (for a 20 min paper) should be sent via email to the CONFERENCE CONVENORS by 30th September 2012.

Selected papers may be invited for inclusion in an academic collection of essays following the conference.
I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, it might be an opportunity to write about interpretations of Oz and to explore part of Britain that I’ve never seen, visiting Godson and his family along the way.

On the other hand, I think it’s very important to note that Dorothy has no “afterlife” because Dorothy is living in Oz where no one dies.

19 June 2012

Odysseus, Siddhartha, Dorothy

The latest New York Times Book Review has an interview with Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, about her reading. Among the questions:
What were your favorite books as a child? Did you have a favorite character or hero?

The complete “Wizard of Oz” series, by L. Frank Baum. Over the course of those 14 books, stalwart Dorothy Gale triumphs, step by step, through precisely what Joseph Campbell would later call “the hero’s journey.” I think Dorothy may be the only little Midwestern girl you could ever put in the same archetypal category as Odysseus or Siddhartha. She was absolutely totemic for me.
Dorothy doesn’t appear in The Marvelous Land of Oz, and plays a supporting role in some other books, but she truly is an archetype. As well as a regular little girl.

17 June 2012

When Teenaged Superheroes Have Grown Up

As fans digested the details of DC Comics’s latest new universe, the loudest cries of lamented concerned particular characters who no longer exist in the company ’s main continuity:

  • Wally West, the first Kid Flash and third Flash.
  • Donna Troy, known as Wonder Girl, Troia, Darkstar, and finally Donna Troy.
  • Cassandra Cain, the second Batgirl (third, if we count Bat-Girl Betty Kane) and then Black Bat.
  • Stephanie Brown, who fought crime as Spoiler, Robin, and Batgirl.
What do those characters have in common? They all arrived on the scene as teenagers and have grown up over time. Their overall story arcs have therefore all been about coming of age: becoming independent young adults, taking on adult roles (with new costumes and identities), and in the case of Wally and Donna raising children themselves. Change is essential to the stories of characters who are growing up.

While I’ve also seen laments for the loss of some characters from the comedic Justice League International of the late 1980s (Ted Kord, Ralph and Sue Dibny), those haven’t been nearly as passionate or prolonged. Those characters are adult and therefore basically fixed in personality. We can enjoy seeing them bounce against others, but we don’t expect them to change greatly. Adult superheroes are defined by unresolvable foundational conflicts.

When DC Comics rebooted its universe, it aimed to simplify its past—which necessarily meant setting aside Donna Troy. Her background is so confused that Marv Wolfman has co-invented three different origins for her.

The company’s new universe also turned back the apparent ages of its main characters. Recent magazines have shown Superman and the Justice League launching their careers in the recent past, and a new Teen Titans gathering for the first time. Several teenaged characters—Superboy, Beast Boy, the second Kid Flash, the second Wonder Girl, and more—have been radically reinvented as new characters with new pasts.

So why hasn’t the company reintroduced Wally, Cassandra, and Stephanie as young people? This spring Cody Walker for Bleeding Cool asked DC co-Publisher Dan Didio about the first, and I think the answer applies to the others as well:
He explained that fans had grown up with Wally West, seen him get married and have children[;] and with the de-aging of Barry Allen, it would cheat those fans who grew to love Wally to de-age him as well. 
After some grumbling, Kelson Vibber at Speedforce (a website devoted to all things Flashy) wrote:
Wally West…was fleshed out as a real, dynamic character, whose journey was central to who he was. We didn’t just grow up with Wally West; he grew up with us.

The story of Barry Allen has always been simple: Police scientist gets hit by lightning and becomes a super-speed hero.

The story of Wally West, however, has been the story of a boy who gets his greatest wish — to become just like his hero — and then has to struggle with living up to that responsibility. It’s a story with a beginning (Wally as sidekick), a middle (Wally struggles to live up to his uncle’s legacy), and, if not an end per se, a conclusion (Wally becomes a mature adult, a seasoned hero, and a family man).

Rewind Barry Allen’s life? No problem. Rewind Wally West’s life? You destroy what made him most interesting to many of his fans. . . .

It comes down to the classic question of change vs. the illusion of change. You can keep telling stories about a guy with super-speed forever. But at some point, stories about a guy with super-speed who grows into his destiny have to become stories about something else.

Now I didn’t grow up with Wally West. I met that character in the New Teen Titans of the early 1980s when he was a contrast with Dick Grayson as Robin and the other team members: “terminally normal” from a happy Midwestern family, politically conservative, tending to self-doubt, finally giving up being a speedster because of health problems. That version of the character was wiped out in Crisis on Infinite Earths a quarter-century ago. (But am I bitter? Rararargh.)

After Barry Allen died in that crisis, Wally West stepped up into the role of the Flash—but he wasn’t the same “terminally normal” Wally as before. His father turned out to be a nasty secret agent. He wanted money for his heroics, if only to live on. He left the Titans to join the Justice League. And over time he grew up, as DiDio and Vibber described, proving himself as hero and a person.

The same situation applies to Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown. They successfully came of age. When last seen, Cass Cain had conquered her language issues, daddy issues, mommy issues, and guilt about her past as an assassin to become the independent Hong Kong crime-fighter Black Bat. Stephanie Brown had won the respect of Tim Drake and Bruce Wayne, faced down her father, and shared her secret life with her mother.

To reintroduce those characters as young people in the new DC universe with their previous identities and challenges would mean erasing those triumphs. Instead, we can choose to interpret the multi-year sagas of Wally, Cass, and Stephanie in the 1986-2011 DC Universe as coming-of-age novels. And those characters won.

COMING UP: Why doesn’t the same logic apply to Dick Grayson, Tim Drake, and Barbara Gordon?

15 June 2012

“I have no intention of interrupting the President”

This week’s example of OIP Derangement Syndrome comes from Neil Munro, reporter for the right-wing website Daily Caller, who interrupted President Barack Obama’s Rose Garden statement on immigration-law enforcement by shouting.

Munro later claimed, “I timed the question believing the President was closing his remarks, because naturally I have no intention of interrupting the President of the United States.”

That excuse is not believable. The transcript shows that President Obama was in the middle of a paragraph, with eight paragraphs of his prepared statement to go. In fact, he was in the middle of a sentence. Furthermore, even after it was clear that Obama wasn’t finished, Munro shouted out again.

Obviously Munro did have the “intention of interrupting the President of the United States.” That experiment was run, and the results are on tape. Munro’s excuse didn’t fool other reporters who were there. While he might wish to deny what he did, that denial of his visceral responses and motivations is part of OIP Derangement Syndrome.

Munro and his employer have claimed that such aggressive questioning was necessary. But when Obama directly addressed Munro’s question, the reporter interrupted again before the end of a short sentence. Furthermore, the President had held a formal press conference on 8 June, only one week earlier. He’s held more than twice as many solo press conferences (31) at this point in his presidency as his predecessor (14), and sat for more interviews (441) than his two predecessors combined (322). People who suffer from OIP Derangement Syndrome push away such facts because the very sight of Barack Obama as President discomfits them.

It’s curious that Munro shouted, “Why do you favor foreigners over American workers?” He came to the US from Ireland in the 1980s. He’d have had more credibility asking what the new policy implied for immigrants who follow US rules. But then he wasn’t really seeking an answer; he was shouting at a President he doesn’t want to respect.

I’m more curious about Munro’s commentary of Republicans’ recent accusations about security leaks since Munro’s LinkedIn profile boasts: “I unveiled a bunch of secret programs, including a polar-orbiting, missile-tracking satellite, and the Navy’s test stealth-ship.” Of course, the essence of OIP Derangement Syndrome is different standards for different people.

14 June 2012

The First Thing We Do, Let’s Kill All the Mothers

From Dwight Garner’s review in the New York Times of Colm Tóibín’s New Ways to Kill Your Mother: Writers and Their Families:
His essential point, driven home in an essay about all the motherless heroes and heroines in the novels of Henry James and Jane Austen, is that “mothers get in the way of fiction; they take up the space that is better filled by indecision, by hope, by the slow growth of a personality.” To put it another way, he writes, “The novel is a ripe form for orphans.”
That’s long been true of children’s fiction, where even young heroes who leave the protection of home (e.g., Dorothy Gale, Huckleberry Finn, Harry Potter) don’t have living mothers to begin with. Of course, there are also many classic and popular children’s novels in which mothers are a strong presence (Little Women, the Little House books, and Harry Potter again).

13 June 2012

Another Look at the Sawhorse and the Guardian of the Gates

The secret of yesterday’s little Oz tale is that it’s also a Petrarchan sonnet.

The Sawhorse clattered to a halt beside
The city gate. “Unlock the doors!” he called.

The Guardian of the Gates around the walled
Metropolis regretfully replied,
“Believe me, all this afternoon I’ve tried.
The iron bar that holds the doors is stalled,
And nobody can leave the Emerald—”

“Who let this happen?”

                    “I,” the Guardian sighed.
“I took a wishing pill to be a bard,
Completing verses for my tunes. But fate
Has barred me from the post I was assigned.”

The Sawhorse pawed the ground and pondered hard.
“What tune?” he asked.

                    The Guardian sang. The gate
Swung free. “But how?”

                    “You sang your opening line.”
Looking back, I recall being dissatisfied with this item as a story, even a slight one, so I recycled the final pun in different form into a tale titled “Dearest Mother” later printed in an issue of Oziana. But the original stayed on my hard drive, awaiting a day when I needed a blog entry.

Above is the Sawhorse as depicted by Bill Campbell of The Oz Enthusiast.

12 June 2012

The Sawhorse and the Guardian of the Gates

I found this thin little Oz story in a twelve-year-old file on my hard drive.

The Sawhorse clattered to a halt beside the city gate. “Unlock the doors!” he called.

The Guardian of the Gates around the walled metropolis regretfully replied, “Believe me, all this afternoon I’ve tried. The iron bar that holds the doors is stalled, and nobody can leave the Emerald—”

“Who let this happen?”

“I,” the Guardian sighed. “I took a wishing pill to be a bard, completing verses for my tunes. But fate has barred me from the post I was assigned.”

The Sawhorse pawed the ground and pondered hard. “What tune?” he asked.

The Guardian sang. The gates swung free. “But how?”

“You sang your opening line.”
This Guardian is presumably the one in The Patchwork Girl of Oz, who plays the title character a tune on his mouth organ. I’ve theorized elsewhere that he’s not actually the same Guardian of the Gates in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, The Marvelous Land of Oz, and other books (as shown above, depicted by W. W. Denslow), but rather a temporary substitute. The usual Guardian seems much more dedicated to his job than the one who composes music.

TOMORROW: The secret of this story.

10 June 2012

Stephanie Brown: The Final Fight

The last weekly Robin closed with a hint that it was actually good that the Robin storyline titled The Final Fight, scripted by Chuck Dixon, was never produced.

That’s not because Fabian Nicieza’s Search for a Hero was stellar. (I thought Nicieza was kept from exercising his fine understanding of the character of Tim Drake because of difficult scheduling.) And it’s certainly not because that canceled volume would have impeded Tony Daniel’s Battle for the Cowl.

Rather, the key to that sentiment rests in how DC Comics’s description of that volume concluded: “Robin also has his hands full with a not-so-happy family reunion between his lady love [Spoiler] and her father, Cluemaster!”

Dixon created Stephanie Brown, the Spoiler, as an antagonist for the Cluemaster, a second-rate Riddler introduced in 1966. When fans wanted to see more of her, Dixon wrote stories of Stephanie as Tim’s other woman, then his main girlfriend. But since Tim was the protagonist of those stories, Stephanie mainly posed problems for him: a crush on her when he was seeing someone else, her pregnancy, her father moving back in, her replacing him as Robin, her temporary death, and so on. Stephanie was, as TV Tropes said, a walking Afterschool Special of teen woes.

The Final Fight description promises further adventures in that mode. It describes Robin with “his hands full” once again because of Spoiler and Cluemaster. And as the protagonist in his own magazine, Tim Drake would have once again helped to fix Stephanie’s troubles for her.

But being the child of a minor supervillain was Stephanie’s problem, not Tim’s. So the cancellation of this Robin storyline meant that problem was available to Bryan Q. Miller to address in his Batgirl series, collected in three volumes: Batgirl Rising, The Flood, and The Lesson.

And those volumes are really good. Miller wrote funny dialogue. He created a solid supporting character in a young homicide detective who becomes Stephanie’s special contact on the police force (every hero seems to need her own) and possible love interest (ditto). He had the advantage of a clear narrative arc as Stephanie took over the role of Batgirl with the help of predecessor Barbara Gordon.

As Miller was telling his stories, Christopher Yost and Nicieza were showing Tim Drake fighting crime overseas and in cyberspace. That left Stephanie with the challenges that Dixon used to give Tim in Robin: trying to keep up the life of a normal Gotham City student while also fighting powerful criminals. So Stephanie has to deal with midterms, campus crime, a teenage witch-boy, and a suspicious mom.

It’s clear that Miller had to shape his storytelling around some editorial mandates. Barbara Gordon gets yanked out of the action when DC needed her to appear in another series. Another supporting character, Wendy from Teen Titans, is just settling in when she suddenly disappears. One issue in the last volume was written to set up an issue of Batman Incorporated that wasn’t even published until months later. But the series’ overall narrative arc stands up to all that.

Like Nicieza in his second opportunity with Tim Drake, Miller had to finish his run much faster than he planned to make room for DC’s reboot. I thought Nicieza’s climactic storyline suffered from being crammed into one issue, but Miller was able to overcome that problem. In a terrific last issue, he simultaneously showed Stephanie confronting her oldest problem—her dad, of course—and looking ahead to possible glorious futures. And she achieves those triumphs for herself.

It would still have been possible for Tim and Stephanie to confront the Cluemaster in Dixon’s Final Fight and for her later to confront him again in her own magazine. Parental issues never go away, after all. But for Stephanie Brown to come of age, she had to be more than support for another title character. Tim makes some appearances in Batgirl, but the much more significant crossovers of this period are when Stephanie appears in Red Robin, showing him how she can stand on her own.

In DC’s rebooted universe, Stephanie Brown’s role—and even existence—is uncertain. She was never a Robin, even briefly. It’s unclear whether she was ever Batgirl. Her larger story for all practical purposes appears to be over.

COMING UP: But that may not be a bad thing.

09 June 2012

“The general confusion of office-work”

In late 1951 or early 1952, EC Comics writer-editor Al Feldstein combined two science-fiction stories he’d read into a single tale, adapted it into the comics form, and assigned it to artist Wally Wood. Apparently Feldstein was working on the belief that stealing from two stories at once wasn’t plagiarism but research.

He also apparently didn’t anticipate that anyone would notice. But on 19 Apr 1952 the author of those stories sent this letter to the company:
Just a note to remind you of an oversight. You have not as of yet sent on the check for $50.00 to cover the use of secondary rights on my two stories THE ROCKET MAN and KALEIDOSCOPE which appeared in your WEIRD-FANTASY May-June '52, #13, with the cover-all title of HOME TO STAY. I feel this was probably overlooked in the general confusion of office-work, and look forward to your payment in the near future. My very best wishes to you.

Yours cordially,
Ray Bradbury
In a postscript, Bradbury recommended that the editor check out his books for more stories, and even offered to send copies. No doubt pleased not to be facing a lawsuit for copyright infringement (Weird Fantasy, #12, had also contained a story inspired by one of Bradbury’s), EC paid the suggested fee and did indeed license several further stories in advance, thus time trumpeting Bradbury’s name on its covers.

That letter is reproduced in Grant Geissman’s Foul Play!: The Art and Artists of the Notorious 1950s E.C. Comics. Check out Histories of Things to Come for a peek at those stories.

08 June 2012

Romney’s Selective Keynesianism

In May, Time published Mark Helperin’s interview with Mitt Romney, which included this exchange:

Time: Why not in the first year, if you’re elected — why not in 2013, go all the way and propose the kind of budget with spending restraints, that you’d like to see after four years in office? Why not do it more quickly?

Romney: Well because, if you take a trillion dollars for instance, out of the first year of the federal budget, that would shrink GDP over 5%. That is by definition throwing us into recession or depression. So I’m not going to do that, of course.
That’s standard economic thinking: cutting government spending during economic bad times not only hurts the most vulnerable but can causes a vulnerable national economy to stall. John Maynard Keynes realized that years ago, advising governments to spend more to grow out of recession, even if that requires more borrowing in the short term. Romney evidently accepts that reality.

Except when the President is Barack Obama. At the same time Romney was excusing himself from making deep cuts in his first term, he was criticizing President Obama for not doing so:
What’s happened here isn’t complicated. Washington has been spending too much money and our new President made things much worse. His policies have taken us backwards. . . . The consequence is that we are enduring the most tepid recovery in modern history.
This was the same speech in which Romney lied in saying Obama “added almost as much debt as all the prior presidents combined,” as detailed back here.

In fact, as Rex Nutting wrote in the Wall Street Journal’s Marketwatch blog, President Obama’s budgets have increased spending less than his predecessors’. Which to any Keynesian explains why the economic recovery has been “tepid.”

Even Romney recognizes that drastic spending cuts would hurt a fragile economy, “by definition throwing us into recession or depression”—as long as he’s in charge. But according to him and people suffering from OIP Derangement Syndrome, the laws of economics work differently under President Obama.

COMING UP: Romney keeps trying to move the economic goal posts.

07 June 2012

“You are approaching the periphery shield of Vortex Four”

So I was thinking, “Where on Earth could we find the right sets for an affordable remake of Zardoz?” And then I realized that the former Yugoslavia is available.

These are all monuments to World War 2 erected under the Tito regime, photographed by Jan Kempenaers of Belgium and published in his book Spomenik. (Hat tip to the Crack Two blog.)

06 June 2012

Boston Drivers

The Boston Public Library is the repository of the work of Boston Herald-Traveler cameraman Leslie Jones (1886-1967). It’s created a webpage for this collection, which contains 34,000 negatives, and shared a significant selection on Flickr.

One category getting a lot of attention lately is Jones’s photographs of early auto accidents. The outcome of a slide on an icy road above, for example, comes from the Norumbega section of my home town.
This one is labeled “Fire truck goes into Charles River near Cottage Farm Bridge.” Which leaves some unanswered questions, like “Why"?”

It’s startling how flimsy these old cars seem—and this was decades before seat belts became common, much less mandatory.

05 June 2012

Oz Museum and Opera in the Works

This Boston Globe interview with illustrator Bob Staake alerted me to work on an opera based on L. Frank Baum’s The Road to Oz. Googling brought me to the website for the National Oz Museum, a project of Oz collector supreme Willard Carroll.

About the opera, the website says:

Together with the prestigious performing-arts organization Bay Chamber Concerts, the Museum is developing a live multi-media musical based on Baum’s book “The Road to Oz.” The production is being written and will be directed by Willard Carroll, with sets and costumes designed by acclaimed author and illustrator Bob Staake. The concept is to create a one-hour, one-act musical work based on L. Frank Baum’s fifth Oz book.

The approach to the music is not envisioned in a conventional operatic or musical-theater/show-tune way, but to find a unique slant from which to tell the story through character and music. Baum’s characters in this book – Shaggy Man, Polychrome, Button Bright the Rainbow’s Daughter [whoops—Button-Bright seems to have gone missing from his proper place in that sentence], etc. – each offer up imaginative starting points for songs to tie together the story; a story about loss, love, reconnection, hope - and joy deferred and joy attained.
Those are indeed some of the themes of The Road to Oz. The book’s main weakness is its story, both thin and cut short. Yet it’s also immensely pleasing, and that simplicity might benefit adaptations into elevated media. A few years back, for instance, I saw Eric Shanower’s adaptation of the basic tale as an amateur ballet, cut down to focus on the Shaggy Man’s transformation, and it worked.

As for the museum, Carroll’s collection seems still to be mostly in boxes after his move across the country, but this spring students at the Rhode Island School of Design worked on designs for the institution.

04 June 2012

The Game of Life, the Universe, and Everything

This weekend the Boston Globe reviewed Jill Lepore’s The Mansion of Happiness, an examination of American life and values through board games—particularly the game Life itself.

Reviewer Buzzy Jackson wrote:
Lepore, a staff writer at The New Yorker and a professor of American history at Harvard who has written about the intellectual and political history of Colonial and 19th-century America, isn’t really interested in board games. Instead, she wants to know what [Milton] Bradley’s game can tell us about American values and aspirations. As in the game of Life, each chapter takes the reader a little further along the path of human development. . . .

The marriage chapter examines the life and work of Paul Popenoe, famous for posing the eternal question, “Can this marriage be saved?” The oddly contentious story behind E.B. White’s story, “Stuart Little,” makes up the chapter on childhood, and Lepore dismantles the myth of Taylorized efficiency in “Happiness Minutes,” the chapter on working.
Now did Lepore actually start her investigations and ruminations with board games, or did she realize that Bradley’s Life provided a structure to unite essays on several disparate concerns?

Lepore will speak about this book and the history of American board games, with pictures, at the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester on 5 June at 7:30. This illustrated lecture is free and open to the public.

03 June 2012

The Lost Robin Storyline of 2008-09

Collected Editions alerted me to this curiosity from 2008: the announcement of a collection of Robin issues to be scripted by Chuck Dixon and drawn (at least initially) by Chris Batista, the team behind most of the Violent Tendencies volume. In June 2008, Dixon and DC Comics parted ways, and that book was canceled before its scheduled publication in early 2009.

DC Comics’s description of the forecast Robin: The Final Fight, still visible at Powell’s and elsewhere, said:
All of Robin’s training and crime-fighting by Batman’s side comes to a head in this spectacular volume as Batman goes missing and the Boy Wonder becomes the new Dark Knight.

Tying into the events of “Batman R.I.P.” continues here as Robin and the Bat family search for their leader while engaging in all-out battle with Gotham City's underworld. And with his once-dead girlfriend Spoiler now back among the living, Robin also has his hands full with a not-so-happy family reunion between his lady love and her father, Cluemaster!
This copy makes clear that Dixon didn’t break with DC because he disagreed with that “Batman RIP” storyline, as some observers posited at the time. As I wrote back here, Dixon’s a pro who knows how the business works. Rather, the difficulty was that it wasn’t working that way. His comments at the time showed that he disliked how the company changed its plans.

Clearly the storyline described above had DC’s approval—otherwise, the company wouldn’t have announced this volume. It was a direct continuation of the events Dixon had scripted in Violent Tendencies, which in turn grew from some of his earliest work with the Tim Drake character.

Then the top editors suddenly decided to go in a different direction, one which ultimately led to Tony Daniel’s Battle for the Cowl. We know that was a late decision, after Judd Winick had scripted some of the same transition for Dick Grayson. We know that the timing of that shift caused plotting trouble for Fabian Nicieza when he suddenly took over Robin after Dixon and for Peter J. Tomasi when he scripted Nightwing.

Dixon has a reputation in the industry for working well ahead of deadline, and interview with the Examiner in March 2009, shortly before this volume was to appear:
I [had] written about eight more scripts. There was a storyline with Steph’s dad and the return of some Robin villains in a new way and the introduction of several new bad guys. Much of this is hazy in my mind already. Lots of changes were made as I was writing and the direction of the book was being altered even as I was in the middle of a story arc.
Some covers were already prepared and released when Nicieza took over from Dixon. Others were altered. The Final Fight cover shows Robin kicking someone in the face; was that character deliberately obscured to hide his identity?

Despite the breathless marketing copy quoted above, I doubt Tim Drake was to become “the new Dark Knight” permanently. I noted back here that Grant Morrison had pitched the idea of Dick Grayson taking over as Batman back in 2005 when he first talked with Tomasi, then an editor, about the assignment. I suspect Dixon wrote Tim trying to be Batman in a pinch, as in Battle for the Cowl, and deciding (once again) that’s not what he wants to do.

COMING UP: Why it was good this Robin storyline was canceled.

02 June 2012

Old Impulse Visits New Young Justice

“Look, pal! A superhero team needs only one comic-relief guy, and this season it’s me!

01 June 2012

Man Claiming to Be Arizona Official Struggles through OIP Derangement Syndrome

Last month Ken Bennett, who publicly states that he is the Arizona secretary of state, struggled through a bout of OIP Derangement Syndrome. It started when he told a right-wing radio host:
I’m not a birther. I believe the president was born in Hawaii—or at least I hope he was. But my responsibility as secretary of state is to make sure the ballots in Arizona are correct and that those people whose names are on the ballot have met the qualifications for the office they are seeking.
Bennett said that over a thousand people had sent him messages demanding he investigate Obama’s birth, and that he was expressing doubt about that well documented historical event only to satisfy their curiosity. Not, of course, because he was a co-chair of the Mitt Romney campaign in Arizona.

To that end, Bennett asked the government of Hawaii to send him “a verification in lieu of a certified copy of a birth certificate.” And to its credit, the Hawaiian government demanded that he prove that he’s really the Arizona secretary of state and responsible for presidential ballots.

When asked if he might exclude the elected President of the United States from the Arizona ballot if he wasn’t satisfied with another state’s standard legal document, Bennett said he might do that, “Or the other option would be I would ask all of candidates, including the president, maybe to submit a certified copy of their birth certificate. But I don’t want to do that.”

However, even days after Bennett went public with this policy, his office still hadn’t asked Michigan for its record of Mitt Romney’s birth, or any other state about other candidates. When Bennett first publicized that he was investigating the President, he stated flat out that he didn’t want to ask the same questions of all the candidates.

Since Bennett claimed to be taking this action only because of public questions, the Left Action group mounted an online petition to demand that he investigate the proposition “Mitt Romney is a Unicorn." As of 22 May, that petition had more than ten times the number of signers as had demanded that Bennett investigate and disqualify President Obama.

And on that date Bennett apologized to his state and said of the President, “He’ll be on the ballot as long as he fills out the same paperwork and does the same things that everybody else has.” Has Bennett come out the other side of OIP Derangement Syndrome? Has he stopped insisting that this President go to ridiculous lengths without making the same demands of other politicians? We’ll see.

Meanwhile, Bennett is collecting signatures to run for governor of Arizona. The state represented in the Senate by John McCain. Who, according to a 2008 analysis of pertinent law by Prof. Gabriel J. Chin, was not technically eligible for the Presidency. But of course officials like Bennett don’t try to apply such technicalities to a candidate like McCain.