Regarding the Coolest Comic-Book Story Ever…

The Goblin tried to destroy my mind… but what did his evil really do? Open a door to the good… to the two of you. All those years I tried to shut you out. So afraid to even think of you. Feeling so GUILTY… so responsible for your deaths. But now, MOTHERFATHER… I can let myself remember. Now I can love you. Now I can grieve.’ And in his grief he finds new freedom, and that freedom lifts him up and carries him off… into the DAWN.

J. Marc DeMatteis (from The Spectacular Spider-Man #183)

Have you ever read a story that just blew your mind from its very first line?

Let me back up a bit…

I… have read a BOATLOAD of comic books in my day! From Neil Gaiman’s seventy-issue run on The Sandman to the epic Batman: Knightfall, I’ve been around the newsprint block more than a few times. I’ve read thousands of books, including series that date back to the nineteen-forties. When it comes to ‘sequential artwork’, there ain’t a whole lot that I don’t know.

But there is one story that will always remain my favorite: The Child Within, by writer J. Marc DeMatteis and artist Sal Buscema.

Now, I have Sal Buscema’s entire run on The Spectacular Spider-Man. I re-read through the run once a year (along with Sam Keith’s epic series The Maxx, and Gaiman’s The Sandman.) The entire run is amazing, but it kicked into overdrive when writer Peter David handed the baton to J. Marc DeMatteis. And within that run lies The Child Within, my favorite six-issue tale of all time.

The trick with writing comics, I think, is that a writer must take them seriously. One cannot focus over-much on the costumes and the super-powers, lest one’s tale de-evolve into a cheesy Power Rangers rip-off. This truth DeMatteis understands in spades: The Child Within is possibly the most harrowing, disturbing tale ever to grace the four-color page. It sucks you in like a Hitchcock film, pulling you deep into the dark recesses of each character’s mind.

Buscema – easily one of my favorite artists – was the perfect illustrator for DeMatteis’ nightmarish tale. His style is sharp, clean, almost bare-bones, and yet remains extremely vibrant and expressive. His work really stood out in the nineties, when more ‘sketchy’ styles were trendy due to artists like Todd McFarlane.

Most Spider-Man fans would tell you that Spidey’s best stories were Kraven’s Last Hunt (by DeMatteis and Bob McLeod) and Torment (by Todd McFarlane). The Child Within smokes them both, in my opinion; it was a true stroke of genius.

The Child Within ran in The Spectacular Spider-Man #178-183, in late 1991. All six issues can be readily purchased for a couple of bucks apiece; in fact, you’ll probably pay more for shipping than you will the actual magazines. For some odd reason, The Child Within was never collected into a trade paperback.

It should have been!

So go hunt it down and read it. Seriously.

You’ll be glad you did…

Regarding Someone More Talented Than I'll EVER Be…

I started this blog to showcase my own writing.

By modern standards, I’m pretty good…

By historical standards, I’m a hack.

Here is one of the greatest poems ever written, by one of the greatest writers who ever lived. Disney has made a tawdry mockery of his work, but for those of us who appreciate the finer things in life…

Well… WE get him!!!

L’Envoi – by Rudyard Kipling

When Earth’s last picture is painted
And the tubes are twisted and dried
When the oldest colors have faded
And the youngest critic has died
We shall rest, and faith, we shall need it
Lie down for an aeon or two
‘Till the Master of all good workmen
Shall put us to work anew
And those that were good shall be happy
They’ll sit in a golden chair
They’ll splash at a ten league canvas
With brushes of comet’s hair
They’ll find real saints to draw from
Magdalene, Peter, and Paul
They’ll work for an age at a sitting
And never be tired at all.
And only the Master shall praise us.
And only the Master shall blame.
And no one will work for the money.
No one will work for the fame.
But each for the joy of the working,
And each, in his separate star,
Will draw the thing as he sees it.
For the God of things as they are!

What Happened Here…?!

Didja ever have one of those moments in which you look around, and suddenly feel like you’ve landed on an alien planet?

I went out to run a few errands today, and there was this fellow standing outside the grocery store. He had his hair tied into a bun (what?) and he was sucking on what appeared to be a laser pointer.

Weird, man!

And I gotta watch it when I’m out to dinner. If I order a beer to go with my steak, I have to be very careful as to which brand of brew I select. Simply asking ‘what do you have on draft?’ is likely to result in my being served a glass of malted pine cones. (I’m reasonably certain that ‘IPA’ means exactly what it sounds like: ‘I pee, eh?’)

And where did all the video stores go? There was nothing more fun than browsing the shelves for some weird old title, one that you would never have thought to watch if the video store didn’t happen to have it. And on that note, what happened to video game cartridges? And compact discs? I mean sure, I could listen to any music I want on a digital music service, but what if the service goes down?

What happened to the bookstores? Borders’ is long gone, and Barnes and Noble’s is hanging by a thread. Now I see people reading stuff on these over-sized phones, as though we don’t spend enough time looking at screens as it is.

I went to see Metallica a couple of years back, and I kinda felt like I was doing concert-going all wrong. Apparently you’re not supposed to actually enjoy the concert, see? What you’re supposed to do is spend the entire evening holding your cell-phone over your head. You’ll kinda miss out on jamming to the music, but the point is to have the video… which apparently, must be way more fun than the actual concert itself.

And what’s with this Face-Bollocks thing? Apparently, life events do not count until they are validated on social media. Now, I do agree that Mark Zucker-bot has improved political discourse. It’s very enlightening to read the lengthy threads of reasoned debate. They explore every possible facet of each issue too, those threads; they don’t end until someone gets called a ‘Nazi’, and that’s how you know that the issue du jour has been satisfactorily settled.

It’s nice how social media has made us all more connected. I enjoy walking through throngs of people, each one blissfully unaware of his neighbor’s existence as he stares fixated at his phone. I think Twitter, Instagram, etc. have all helped to create a more cohesive, cooperative society.

On that note, I’m also noticing an uptick in political activism. It’s heartening to see how many young people are engaging in the political battles that shape our social landscape. Blocking traffic and rioting are very, very effective means of persuasively communicating one’s viewpoint, and I expect those tactics to usher in a bright new Utopia any day now.

Media has changed, as well. When I was a kid, it was a royal pain having to sort out which news tidbits were commentary, and which ones were actual reporting. Now that objective reporting has been completely done away with, it’s much easier to digest the news.

There’ve been a lot of changes to the American legal system, too, which was admittedly never that great. Now you just stand trial on Twitter, which completely streamlines the process and totally negates the need for juries.

Yessir! This is the Brave New World, come to life at last!

If anyone needs me, I’ll be hiding under my bed… barricaded behind a pile of CD’s, books, and VHS tapes. I’ll be using my land-line phone to order pizza and soda. I figure I can last under there a while, too. The hipsters won’t be able to get at me because…

Well, everybody knows it’s rude to ‘vape’ indoors, right?

Don't Call ME a 'Human'!

I have a writer’s block.

Really, I do.

It’s this shoe-box that sits next to my writing desk. Normally I stack CD’s on it, so I can listen to music while I write. But if I wanted to, I could pick up that shoe-box and set it on the desk where my laptop normally sits. And then I couldn’t write there anymore, see? That shoe-box would totally block my ability to type.

Other’n that, I have NO idea what it means to have ‘writer’s block’.

To me, writing is like taking a dump. Or throwing up. Or sneezing, or maybe having sex. In all those situations, a physical urge has built up that requires release… and finding release is extremely satisfying. It’s not that I’m pursuing an obsession by writing for hours on end; rather, I’m purging an unknown ‘something’ that has been causing pressure to build up in my fragile little head.

Writing is not a job. It is not a pursuit. Nor is it a hobby, or even a neurosis…

It’s a mental purge. Some people can contain their thoughts, neatly filing them away as they go about their daily lives…

And others cannot. There’s got to be a ‘data dump’, or our mental health begins to suffer. Some of us must eject our excess thoughts, foisting them desperately upon others.

Those who can contain their own thoughts are simply called ‘people’. Those who cannot are a different specie altogether…

They’re called ‘writers’.

If you’re a ‘person’, count yourself lucky; seriously, there is some stuff that you just don’t wanna understand! If you’re a writer, be well my friend…

Or at least, as well as someone like you – or I – can be!

Fashion Magazines: An Investigative Report

I love me some comic books!

I have around 4,000 in my possession, dating all the way back to the sixties. They’re filed in these stack-able plastic boxes, neatly lined up on one side of my hallway. Each box has a number on it, and I have this little notebook with an index of what’s in each numbered box. Every book is in its own plastic sleeve with a backer board in it, and the titles are separated by dividers with labeled tabs.

I am obsessive about how my comics are handled and arranged; even doctors filing medical records aren’t as fastidious as I am.

Which is why I think it’s weird that my wife leaves her fashion magazines lying all over the house. I mean, shouldn’t she take better care of them? Sometimes I even chuck a few just to whittle down the collection, and she doesn’t even notice. But yet she’s always looking at them, and every time we go somewhere she brings one just in case she has to sit and wait for something.

Now – like most men – I have definite ideas about what clothing I think looks good on a woman. And also like most men, I am more interested in how the clothing makes the woman look than the clothing itself…

Thus, I never really understood the fashion industry.

It’s not that I’m a complete barbarian when it comes to things women enjoy. Two of my favorite films are Kate Beckinsale’s Serendipity and Sandra Bullock’s While You Were Sleeping; I’m also a big fan of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Elizabeth George Speare’s The Witch of Blackbird Pond, all love stories. Of the novels, novellas, and shorts I’ve written, many are either outright love stories or have romantic sub-plots. I can dig that, I think, because romance is – at the end of the day – a unisex pursuit. Plus I find emotional interaction and drama very fun to write.

On the other hand, I do notice that none of my heroines tend to be fashion-istas; s’weird that I happened to marry one. Seriously.

So I decided to put on my journalist’s cap, and investigate why these magazines hold such fascination for my wife.

I picked up an issue of InStyle; the date under the UPC code said it’s from December of 2018, and the cover features Jennifer Lopez.

It’s very strange, the cover photo. Jennifer Lopez is wearing what appears to be a green curtain, and she’s obviously naked underneath ‘cuz you can see the side of one of her breasts, and her hip. She’s photo-shopped, too; you can tell because virtually all women (especially ones as ‘hippy’ as J-Lo) have these faded stretch marks from their hips widening at puberty, and J-Lo’s are nowhere in sight. Her naked hip just kinda looks like a balloon; maybe the photo-shop guy shouldn’t have fuzzed it so much that he took out her hip bone right along with her stretch-marks.

Why is Jennifer Lopez naked? Did the photographer corner her in her dressing room? And why the curtain? Did she yank it off the window in a panic? Inquiring minds wanna know!

So I opened the cover, expecting to find a table of contents. You know, like National Geographic or Newsweek would have.

Instead of a table of contents, there’s this picture of a pretty brunette holding a bottle. The bottom of the advertisement just says ‘Si’. Across the top it says ‘Georgio Armani’.

What’s ‘Si’? Is it a bourbon? It kinda looks like bourbon from the bottle it’s in, but the ad doesn’t say that. And who the hell is Georgio Armani, anyway? Is he the distiller? His signature is on the opposite page from the ad, kinda like Jim Beam’s signature appears in the whisky ads from my fishing magazines. What exactly is the pretty brunette trying to actually sell me here?!

Next is a jewelry ad; at least I know what they’re peddling. After that comes a two-page ad that simply says ‘Valentino’. There are four women in the ad… or at least, I think they’re women; they’re all a bit on the androgynous side. And who’s Valentino? Do he and Georgio Armani know each other?

The next two-page ad simply says ‘Michael Kors’, and features three very attractive women. Who’s Michael Kors? Is he a pimp? I mean, the picture shows two women in a car like they’re being dropped off, and another woman slipping her shoes back on like she just came out of a cheap motel. You’d figure if this Michael fella were running an ‘escort service’, he’d at least put his phone number on his ad. That’s just common sense.

Finally I said ‘the heck with it’, and flipped ahead to the table of contents… which began on page twenty-eight!!! It’s three pages long, the table, with an ad between each page.

Do you remember when ‘pop-up ads’ were the bane of every computer user’s existence? Thanks to ad blocking programs, they’re mostly a thing of the past. But I know where they all went…

Fashion mags!

So I flipped ahead to some of the feature articles, which is deucedly difficult to do because most of the pages aren’t numbered. (I suppose Georgio the Distiller and Michael the Pimp don’t like competing with page numbers for space.)

Most of the articles, it seemed, featured pictures of celebrities promising that their ‘go-to’ makeup and accessories will make a gal look just like them. Which sounds nice, except for that picture of Margot Robbie wearing a trash bag, and the one of Nina Bobrev (who?) wearing a Halloween costume that was clearly inspired by one of the Chick-Fil-A cows. The weird thing is, the articles didn’t even mention Hefty and Chick-Fil-A. Much like Michael the Pimp omitting his service’s phone number, that’s just sloppy marketing!

Then I ran into the article about Jennifer Lopez. She talks about her butt a lot, and she never does get around to explaining how she wound up wearing that curtain. (Somewhere in the studio, I’m betting there was a very annoyed interior decorator!)

Then I found this page that listed accessories for ‘the Do-Gooder’, whatever that means. At least the page clearly listed the items being sold, and their prices…

Three hundred and sixty dollars for a bathrobe?! Two hundred and seventy-five for a pair of canvas sneakers?! Three hundred for a braided bracelet with a plastic charm on it?!

What the hell?!

As I closed the magazine in horror, I noticed that the back cover featured an ad for Tiffany diamonds. At least they list their website, so you can find their products and stores. (Tiffany’s is, apparently, smarter than Michael the Pimp.)

I threw the magazine onto the floor, just next to the couch (I always put things back where I found them) and then I headed for the hallway…

It was time to go read Batman for a while.

Regarding… well, nothing… 'cuz I ain't finished it yet…

I promised y’all one of my finest stories, due for release very soon…

I ain’t finished editing it yet. Sorry ’bout that.

But to paraphrase Stephen King, that which looks forward must also look back… and thus I offer you, my dear friends, one of the finest poems ever written. It makes my own feeble writings pale by comparison, but despite its detrimental effect upon my own work I nevertheless feel the need to post it.

My own opus will appear soon enough, I promise. Until then, ladies and gentlemen, I give you…

Oh, hell. There is no need WHATSOEVER for me to introduce this one!!!

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,

Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—

    While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,

As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.

“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—

            Only this and nothing more.”

    Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;

And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.

    Eagerly I wished the morrow;—vainly I had sought to borrow

    From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore—

For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore—

            Nameless here for evermore.

    And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain

Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;

    So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating

    “’Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door—

Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door;—

            This it is and nothing more.”

    Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,

“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;

    But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,

    And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,

That I scarce was sure I heard you”—here I opened wide the door;—

            Darkness there and nothing more.

    Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,

Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;

    But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,

    And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Lenore?”

This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “Lenore!”—

            Merely this and nothing more.

    Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,

Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.

    “Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice;

      Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore—

Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;—

            ’Tis the wind and nothing more!”

    Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,

In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;

    Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;

    But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door—

Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door—

            Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,

By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,

“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,

Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore—

Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”

            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

    Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,

Though its answer little meaning—little relevancy bore;

    For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being

    Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door—

Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,

            With such name as “Nevermore.”

    But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only

That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.

    Nothing farther then he uttered—not a feather then he fluttered—

    Till I scarcely more than muttered “Other friends have flown before—

On the morrow he will leave me, as my Hopes have flown before.”

            Then the bird said “Nevermore.”

    Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,

“Doubtless,” said I, “what it utters is its only stock and store

    Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster

    Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore—

Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore

            Of ‘Never—nevermore’.”

    But the Raven still beguiling all my fancy into smiling,

Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;

    Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking

    Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore—

What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore

            Meant in croaking “Nevermore.”

    This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing

To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;

    This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining

    On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o’er,

But whose velvet-violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o’er,

            She shall press, ah, nevermore!

    Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer

Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.

    “Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee—by these angels he hath sent thee

    Respite—respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore;

Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!”

            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

    “Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!—

Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,

    Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted—

    On this home by Horror haunted—tell me truly, I implore—

Is there—is there balm in Gilead?—tell me—tell me, I implore!”

            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

    “Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!

By that Heaven that bends above us—by that God we both adore—

    Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,

    It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore—

Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.”

            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

    “Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!” I shrieked, upstarting—

“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!

    Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!

    Leave my loneliness unbroken!—quit the bust above my door!

Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”

            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

    And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting

On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;

    And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,

    And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;

And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor

            Shall be lifted—nevermore!

Coming Soon…

I started to post a short story from the archives tonight…

But as I pored over the tale, carefully checking every word, I decided to give it another day or two.

This was the first short that I wrote after I got married, when the paradigm difference between Male and Female first smacked me upside my rock-hard head. That was when I first learned what it meant to truly love another person despite the fact that she didn’t make a LICK of sense to me! (Note to the ladies: That concept works both ways…)

I composed that short by framing my befuddled marital musings within the literary genre that I love best: Horror. Monsters fascinate us because – in an exaggerated form – we inevitably see ourselves buried within their angst-ridden stories.

‘Renewing Forever’ is the working title.

You’ll get the story when it’s polished and ready…

And not a moment before then!