Top Five Jack Kirby Characters With Ridiculous Hats

Jack “The King” Kirby is a hero of the comic book world, co-creator (to flat-out creator depending on how much you want to credit Stan Lee) from a whole slew of characters in the Marvel universe, including the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, and the Incredible Hulk. I have nothing but the deepest love and respect for him and his work, which shows a lot of heart, action, and character to it. That being said, the King wasn’t always the best costume designer, and some of his costume designs became some of the sillier relics of the Silver Age, especially in terms of headgear. With that in mind, here are my top 5 choices for Jack Kirby characters who wear ridiculous hats.

5. Kanto (The New Gods)

Photobucket

Moderately silly at a Renaissance faire, would become full-on silly when trying to intimidate Orion or Mr. Miracle, Kanto’s yellow foppish hat is just very hard to take seriously.

4. Diablo (The Fantastic Four)

Photobucket

Not as ridiculous as the rest of his costume, to be sure, Diablo’s multi-pointed headdress is less intimidating than silly looking.

3. Ajak (The Eternals)

Photobucket

Ugly and unwieldy, Ajak’s giant golden Aztec-inspired helmet would cause more problems than help the godlike Eternal to solve any.

2. Loki (Thor)

Photobucket

I genuinely like Loki’s hat. That doesn’t make it any less ridiculous looking. Imagine how much time he must spend primping his long yellow tassels.

1. Galactus (primarily associated with the Silver Surfer and Fantastic Four)

Photobucket

I think a big reason why Galactus became a swarm of ships in the Ultimate continuity and second Fantastic Four movie is to because no audience, not even an audience of fans, can take that hat seriously, devourer of worlds or not.

Advertisements

Thor

This summer, dutiful True Believers will get not one, but two, movies leading up to The Avengers: Thor and the upcoming Captain America: The First Avenger. How does the God of Thunder hold up?

In brief, not great, but then again, not horribly either.

Photobucket

First, the good. There are some standout performances here, especially from Anthony Hopkins as Odin and Tom Hiddleson as Loki. The direction from Kenneth Branagh is solid, although he uses the tilted “Dutch Angle” way too much for my liking. The production design and special effects are good but not spectacular for a big-budget summer blockbuster like this, I’d like to note the costume design manages to make the silly Kirbyesque Silver Age costumes palpable.

Also, I noticed that, with the exception of Odin, most of the characters generally kept the most egregiously silly part of the outfits [the headgear] off for the majority of the film.

Unfortunately, things aren’t perfect in the Nine Worlds of Asgard. Whether through editing, special effects, or stunt choreography (my current suspicion is the editing,) the fight scenes come across as choppy and hard to follow. Also, Chris Hemsworth, while looking the part, and definitely bringing a bit of sex appeal for those so inclined, wasn’t exceptionally engaging as an actor (although he makes up for it in the fight scenes, where he shines a bit more than delivering dialogue.)

Photobucket
Hemsworth showing his, ahem, talents.

Overall, I liked this movie, but I doubt it has as much mainstream appeal or strength as Spider-Man or Iron Man did. It’s better than some of the recent Marvel projects (then again, most things would be,) but it could stand a lot of improvement. Unless you’re a diehard Marvel Zombie, this might be one to wait for the DVD.

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band

Photobucket

A hallmark of Rock and Roll music, The Beatles will most definitely be remembered in the history of 20th century music, and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band will likely be remembered as their magnum opus (I prefer the White Album myself, or Revolver, but that’s just me.) While many of their contemporaries are fading into nostalgia, the Beatles’ music has retained a timeless feel that has them rediscovered by generation after generation, either through video games, or through movies, such as Across the Universe.

Photobucket

I didn’t much care for Across the Universe when it first came out. I appreciate Julie Taymor as a director, her version of Titus was great, for example. But the movie was ham-handed about its anti-war agenda, about 45 minutes too long, and tried too hard to use a lot of the Dada-esque John songs and not enough of the more straightforward Paul songs. I actually like all the songs they picked more, but they weren’t suited to constructing a cogent narrative. Which led to numbers like Eddie Izard singing “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” in a circus.

This is the moment where me and this movie stopped agreeing on what a musical based on the Beatles should be about (if you want an exact moment in this video, it was probably around 45 seconds, where I thought to myself “okay, now stuff’s just happening. Thank you, movie.”) I was not pleased with this movie, to put it lightly.

Photobucket

Then I watched Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Released in 1978, and produced by Robert Stigwood (the guy who produced Grease and Saturday Night Fever, so he at least has some good sense about how music can be used in a movie,) the titular band is made up of Peter Frampton and the Bee-Gees, is based loosely on the album and Abbey Road, and contains almost no non-singing dialogue except on the part of our narrator, played by George Burns, who tries to help piece together a plot about the Band being manipulated by music executive Mr. Mustard (who, if you are not aware, is not a very nice guy at all.) This is a blessing since we don’t have to deal with as much “real” acting from the Bee-Gees and Frampton.

They aren’t the only musicians in the movie: Alice Cooper plays Father Sun (he sings a rather bizarre version of “Because;”) Earth Wind and Fire play themselves (they do a good cover of “Got to Get You Into My Life,” and might be one of the few redeeming features of the film, besides a performance I’ll mention below;) and Aerosmith are the Future Villain Band (foreshadowing their career-that-wouldn’t-die of the mid-90’s and stretched on to today, they perform “Come Together.”)

The movie is punctuated heavily by scenes randomly sped-up (reminiscent of A Hard Day’s Night,) which is a a cute technique, along with the white superimposed inter-titles, but the filmmaker manages to grab it by the throat and drag it into the ground so often that you can’t help but wonder if they were trying to intentionally make an awful movie.

There’s a point where reasoning breaks down for me. Where any attempt to find anything redeeming becomes an increasingly daunting and depressing challenge bordering on the absurd. I would compare finding the bad in this movie as to finding a needle in a haystack, but that’s not a fair comparison. Trying to find the bad in this movie is like trying to find the hay in a haystack. And not just any hay, but one particular piece, and it’s lost in the sea of the same hay. If the bad were like a needle (or needles) in a haystack, at least then you could find something differentiated and go “Oh, here is your problem. This.” But this entire movie is the movie’s problem.

Steve Martin, by the way, is in this movie. Steve Martin. Because when I think of The Beatles, the first thing that comes to my mind is Steve Martin.

I have to admit this is pretty funny. Perhaps if this was the only thing the movie was then I would not be as upset about it. And then he’s gone. You cry out for Steve Martin to come back, but he’s gone, and he’s left you with an awful, awful, movie.

The rest of the movie has the same frantic nonsensical construction, but its mostly taking itself serious to levels that seem to border on the absurd. But there is no scene that doesn’t in some way awkwardly crumble, look poorly constructed, or just messy. George Burns at times looks amazed he is even in this movie.

The movie ends with a bunch of celebrities singing the reprise of the title track and posing in a manner reminiscent of the album cover. These include such 70’s luminaries as Heart, Leif Garret, Carol Channing, Bonnie Raitt, Minnie Ripperton, Tina Turner, Hank Williams Jr., Curtis Mayfield, and, of course, Sha-Na-Na. Wolfman Jack is there too, perhaps imagining this is the next American Graffiti. Unfortunately for the Wolfman, it is not.

This movie was apparently so bad that it bankrupted Robert Stigwood’s production company, and the Bee-Gee’s eventually sued him over royalties related to it. If I were them I’d suddenly be worried about the money running out too.

This movie is not redeemable, even for its camp value. It’s not “awesomely bad” or “so bad its good,” it’s just plain bad. I thought I knew what an awful movie was before seeing this movie, but it actually transcends narrative, filmmaking, and manages to defile the canon of one of the greatest rock bands of all time. I would not recommend it to anyone, to watch under any circumstances, even for a morbid curiosity to see how bad it is (which is why I watched it.) Do not watch this movie. I’ll repeat that. If you value your sanity, or think fondly of the Beatles in any way, do yourself a favor and not watch this movie. If you want to see a Beatles musical, see Across the Universe. Or wait for somebody to make a really good one.

It’s become increasingly obvious the more I think about it that, if only to avoid the possibility of having to endure a third Beatles music within the next 30 years, to create some kind of guidelines for future generations, taking on the problems of the problems of the 1978 and 2008 Beatles musicals. So take heed, filmmakers of tomorrow:

1) Try to draw more focus on the earlier pre-Sgt Pepper’s Beatles, and, if you do use the more psychedelic Beatles songs, focus more on Paul’s stuff (“Here Comes the Sun” would be fine too, “Octopus’ Garden” likely wouldn’t.) John’s songs aren’t very complimentary to narrative, and you end up with bizarre interludes. Under no circumstances is “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” to be used. Ever. “Strawberry Fields Forever” is a borderline case, because it isn’t as jarringly non-narrative as John’s other songs, but in both Across the Universe and Sgt. Pepper’s it gets used as an utterly dreadful ballad. But I think it could work.

2) Thematic diversity. Both films have a problem with taking a single issue and more or less defining the entire movie around it. Sgt. Pepper’s is about the corrupting nature of fame and power, while Across the Universe is an anti-war movie. There needs to be some variation, maybe a strong subplot not tied into that theme, or else try to create some more conflict with the theme (both of the above things are presented as bad, understandably, but that removes 99% of the conflict from the story. There needs to be disagreement and synthesis of ideas.) Otherwise it just becomes an overpowering series of intertwined Beatles songs.

3) Self-referential comments need to be low, if not to a minimum. The Beatles are such an integral part of pop culture that it’s easy to put references to characters or lines into the script. But it’s also really easy to go overboard with it too, because there’s so many iconic lines and characters. Across the Universe goes especially overboard with this, with every major character being named after some Beatles song or another. It’s ok to have a few characters that aren’t named after the songs, or to keep spouting random bits of Beatles lore. This makes the movie actually about something other than the songs, which, as important as they are to a musical, are not the entirety of the film.

4) Not every song needs to be on the nose about what it’s about, but at the same time, don’t attribute completely new meaning to a song. The first problem is “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” always been used as a part of a circus number (Sgt. Pepper’s including two guys in a rollerskating horse costume as Henry the Horse. I wish I were making that up.)

The best example of the opposite problem I can think of is “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” which in both films gets used in drastically different ways. In Sgt. Pepper’s it’s about the music people lusting after the band and the dangers of fame. In Across the Universe

Yeah, heavy-handed much?

5) Actually, maybe just don’t make a musical about the Beatles, especially “based on the music of…” and save everybody involved a lot of trouble.

Top 10 Cartoon Intro Sequences of the 80’s and 90’s

The intro sequence of a cartoon is a crucial part of the episode: it introduces and reinforces the themes and characters of the series, and the best of these use both the music and visuals to this effect. Here are my top 10 choices, although a handful of honorable mentions (most of which involve chanting the main characters name over and over [c.f. Iron Man, Sam and Max Freelance Police, Freakazoid, Inspector Gadget, and Count Duckula.] or those that, while awesome, do little to explain the show other than by being awesome [Ren & Stimpy.])

10. The Incredible Hulk (1996)

This manages to, without any lyrics to the theme song, completely visually explain Bruce Banner’s plight as the out-of-control gamma-powered goliath and how everybody from The Leader to General Ross wants a piece of him. And, to think, all of this without Nick Nolte…

9. Earthworm Jim

This manages to capture both the high adventure and Pythonesque absurdity that infused nearly every episode of Earthworm Jim. (Many of the people involved with the Jim franchise have said they disliked this cartoon, which I can’t really understand.)

8. Mighty Max

This has no lyrics to it, but manages to create something high-paced and fast-action, explaining the character’s roles, and the basic premise of the show (Max goes through portal, learns lesson fighting evil thing, and Skullmaster is super-creepy [but being voiced by Tim Curry helps that, although you don’t hear it here.])

7. Pirates of Dark Water

Explains the premise and characters exceedingly well, but not higher on the countdown due to lackluster quality.

6. Darkwing Duck

You get that fast-paced action and superhero feeling, with little comic touches revealing quite a lot about the Darkwing character (his egotism, catchphrases, etc.)

5. Galaxy High

Proof autotuning existed prior to Kanye West. Also, besides being a great-sounding song, does a lot to reveal the central conflict of the stories.

4. Gargoyles

Watching this just makes me excited for the subsequent thirty minutes, which will be full of random references to Shakespeare and mythology and epic superhero-style melodrama, topped off with Keith David’s velvety baritone.

3. Animaniacs

Gleefuly anarchic, and going through the core of their ensemble cast in about twenty seconds, Animaniacs’ theme is just one of the amazing bits of stand-out music that punctuate this series.

2. Jem and the Holograms

Jem: truly, truly, truly outrageous. Also, flashy, fashionable, full of music, and a rivalry with the Misfits. All in about 45 seconds.

1. Batman The Animated Series

Batman being Batman. Which is to say, awesome. This, in a glance, perfectly captured the tone and style of the series.

Thinking with Portals

I wrote a rather glowing review of Portal 2 last week, and, indeed, much praise needs be given to Valve’s series in general and this game in particular. However, as I’m wont to do in general, and for the purposes of this site in specific, I began to think about the game and something curious came to mind.

The original Portal game features an entirely (two-person) female cast: Chel and GLADoS. It focuses on utilizing creativity, especially with the context of a gun that creates portals. It’s not a gigantic leap, well, not in the world of academia anyway, to go from the powers of portals to the power of the feminine reproductive system (the portal through which we all must initially pass through, if you’ll pardon my entirely serious yet somewhat tongue-in-cheek analogy.) When thought of in this particular context, it could be seen as a fully empowering game for women, one that emphasizes not brute force but a kind of redirection of aggression that would be stereotyped as more feminine in nature.

The rest of this article discusses some aspects of the game that occur later on in the game, especially after Chapter 5, so, for those who wish to avoid spoilers, now is the time to stop reading.

As I mentioned, Portal 2 includes two male-personalities to the game, dim-witted AI Whealtey, and eccentric industrialist Cave Johnson. Both of which touch on an interesting theme: the attempts of men to dominate or control the feminine with horrific consequences.

Cave, as we find out in the audio messages he’s recorded in the 50’s, 70’s, and 80’s, is a boisterous man who embodies what might be thought of as stereotypically manly traits: he’s loud, he’s aggressive, he doesn’t think ahead and seems interested in science for its own sake (things which wouldn’t bode well were he a test subject at Aperture Science, as his final death, of a self-inflicted poisoning, is a testament to.) The Portal device, it appears, has been in development in various phases for a long time (as signs describing the “Quantum Tunneler” showcase in the earlier stages,) so, Cave has been developing this technology that, if we follow my earlier assertions, supplants or mimics the feminine function.

Wheatley takes over from GLADoS but proves himself incapable of maintaining the barest functionality of Aperture Science, a feat which GLADoS herself seems capable of doing effortlessly. He develops an almost perverse addictive near-sexual thrill out of testing, and as he begins to torment Chel, is trying to find new ways to keep those levels of excitement up (including taping the test and playing it back ten times simultaneously.) While GLADoS seemed to focus on the testing not for personal gain but for the sheer nature of her AI, Wheatley ignores every element of the upkeep of the. He is thrust into the role of GLADoS, the role of caretaker, and he proves himself completely incapable of the task.

While this might seem to ultimately reinforce gender roles, instead, it merely showcases an attempt of masculine forces in power to try and coopt or control the feminine, which, as occurs at Aperture Science, leads to problems that can only be solved by non-lateral thinking.

Portal 2 Review

Odds are being here in and of itself is a sign you know the cake is a lie and the peculiar pleasures of Portal: a puzzle-shooter game from Valve that was, frankly, one of this Dork’s favorites, with it’s whipsmart gallows humor and innovative gameplay mechanics. You’re also likely familiar with the ending credit song “Still Alive,” a deceptively catchy little tune composed by Jonathan Coulton from the point of view of the killer AI GLADoS in response to the events of the game.

Photobucket
So, how does Portal 2 hold up? I’ve powered through the solo campaign, and begun work on the cooperative mode, and I must say I’m impressed. Portal 2 has managed to take the core mechanics of the (admittedly woefully short) first game and integrate it into a larger game while still not losing the humor, the challenge, and the overall quality. The puzzles are still fun and intriguing, and. Perhaps the only complaint that immediately registers is Jonathan Coulton’s inability to make lightning strike twice with the new ending song “Want You Gone.” But that is perhaps the smallest of complaints. The writing is, again, impeccable, and the visuals excellent.

My brother and I are just scratching the coop mode, but it shows a lot of promise, again building on the framework the original Portal built with some new tricks added in (lasers, catapaults, hard light bridges, propulsion/attraction tubes, mobility-altering gels, and how all of these might combine with each other and the original bag of tricks.) The capacity to create two sets of portals here adds an interesting layer to gameplay.

And while the previous game focused on you and GLADoS, two new characters have been added to the mix: the dim-witted core Wheatley, and the stand-out Cave Johnson (voiced by JK Simmons, best known perhaps to anyone reading this as J Jonah Jameson in the recent Spider-Man movies,) the eccentric CEO of Aperture Science who leaves a few prerecorded messages that are uncovered later on in the game including this gem.

Overall, I would fully recommend this game to gamers and nerds of all stripes.

Overkill

I grew up reading comics in the the 90’s, a period known for its excessive, silly, stories and immature attempts at maturity. What I am about to show you here is a relic of that time, bringing together Todd McFarlane, arguably the best, brightest, and most talented artist to come out of the era.

Photobucket

With Rob Liefeld, most definitely the worse:

Photobucket

In this video, they work with comic geek hero Stan Lee to come up with the almost painfully 90’s “Overkill,” who looks eerily similar to a character named Overt-kill that later appeared in Spawn. This highlights both the strengths and weaknesses of all the creative team involved and is absolutely hilarious to watch. Enjoy!

Photobucket