Tuesday, October 18, 2005


The Tuesday Top Five

Nothing can keep me from delivering my Top Five to both of my readers! No, sir! Not the gray skies and chilly weather (low 60s) in LA! Not the crappy environment at my day job (there's a whole drama today regarding our Memory Walk and a Lucille Ball impersonator - no joke)!

Nope. None of it. Not even my protests and general malaise can keep them from hitting the cyberspace. So let's get right to it.

5) Comic Book Crossover Events. Normally, these are a huge pain in every red-blooded comic book fan's collective ass. This is how it works. One of the big two comics companies (Marvel or DC) puts out a story that claims it will "shake the (DC or Marvel) universe to its very foundations!" You read that heroes and villains will die, that worlds will be forever changed, that the status quo of the characters you love will never be the same.

And, of course, in order to follow the series, you will have to buy all 8 issues of the crossover series, plus all the tie-ins to regular titles.

Needless to say, these crossovers usually blow. You end up buying titles that you would never purchase otherwise to find one panel of one page that ties in. And usually the heroes and villains that bite it are pretty far from major. Usually they're characters who either a) only show up in these big crossovers because they don't have their own title or team membership; or b) had their own title, but it was cancelled; or c) had a team membership over a decade ago, and nobody really cares.

That said, I like both of the crossovers that Marvel and DC have out there right now. In House of M, Marvel's crossover, the now-villainous Scarlet Witch has remade over the world to give those she loves - including Magneto and the members of the X-Men and Avengers - their fondest wishes. When the heroes have fought back, demanding the "real" world, she's struck again and . . .


OK. She's made it so that the Marvel Universe now only has about 200 mutant characters, as opposed to the thousands they had before. Some prominent characters will lose their powers and disappear. Others will have to go on without their teammates.

What the hell? It's interesting at least.

DC's Infinite Crisis just got started, but it looks good. Basically, it's a sequel to 1985's Crisis on Infinite Earths. Again, all forms of comic book reality are breaking apart. But this time, the heroes of the DC universe aren't unified to combat the threat. Batman has broken up the Justice League - and all the members hate each other. Wonder Woman is wanted for murder. Superman is having a crisis of faith. And the villains are getting together. Basically, our heroes are screwed.

4) It's a two-way tie:

A) White Sox in the World Series. I know I've written about this already, but it just bears mentioning again, for a number of reasons. On the one hand, I'm really happy for the team and for both of the Sox fans in Chicago. It's great to see a team rise above everything and finally overcome years of disappointment. I'll be rooting for this team in the World Series no matter what. They deserve it. After spending most of September looking like the ultimate in choke artists, they're bringing the fall classic to my former hometown.

On the other hand, the White Sox going to the Series just exposes another in the arsenal of curses afflicting their cousins on the North Side. For years - all the time that I lived in Chicago and since I moved away - I've heard about how the Cubs are a cursed franchise. The Billy Goat kept them out of the Series. The black cat in '69. That fool Bartman a couple of years back. The team claims more curses than a certain Scottish king in Shakespeare.

I don't hold much with curses and that team, frankly. Most of the team's history, the Cubs have been so awful that they've been mathematically eliminated before June. I have my reasons for being skeptical. But now I wonder.

See, what greater curse could there be than having to watch a team across town celebrating, without the fans, the newspaper support, the bar scene, and so on. This, my friends, is the unkindest curse of them all. Whatever has offended the baseball gods his really cut them deeply. Maybe Mark Grace or that Woo Woo Wickers guy sacrificed a goat to Satan in the friendly confines. Maybe there's something even more insidious.

Doesn't matter. The curse goes on. And if the White Sox win, we'll know the Gods are really angry.

B) Steve Lopez's columns in the LA Times this week. Great stuff. Here's the link:


Basically, Lopez is in the midst of a week-long series down on LA's infamous skid row. All week, he's interviewed the people who live there, from the pushers and prostitutes to the mentally ill to the police and other authorities who try to maintain order there.

Over the past few weeks, Skid Row has received some attention, as it's been revealed that a number of LA's suburbs dump their poor and homeless there. Lopez has created a picture of this place, and today he spends some time showing us some of the heroes who dwell there. They include a doctor working the area's primary medical clinic, and an outreach worker who pulled himself up from the dregs of homelessness and drug addiction. The stories are harrowing.

As a side note, there's also a cool column in the Calendar section about filmic portrayals of journalists, in the light of movies like Capote and Good Night and Good Luck. My feelings on this subject are well known, but check out the article.

3) The Formosa. Had a few drinks at this place on Saturday night with my buddies after a performance of Steph's show. What can I say? The Formosa's a landmark in LA. It's stupid cool with atmosphere to spare. Since the 30s, the place has been a hangout for gangsters and movie stars (Mickey Cohen and Veronica Lake, to name a couple) as well as hipsters and other Angelenos.

It's hard not to dig the mix of train car and Mandarin decoration in the place's interior. If you want a taste of what LA must have been like in the 30s and 40s, this is the spot. While Chicago might have its Green Mill, the Formosa stands for what LA used to be without losing its charm and cool.

In fact, remember LA Confidential, a movie that should have won best picture a few years back? Great scene in that flick in the Formosa. You might remember that part of the film's plot centered on a group of prostitutes who were made up to look like movie stars. At one point, a couple of detectives make their way to the Formosa's nightclub scene, and one of them spots someone who's a dead ringer for Lana Turner. So he approaches the woman, chews her out for being a whore made up to look like Turner, and end up getting a drink thrown in his face - because she is, in fact, Lana Turner (hanging out with mobster Johnny Stompanato).

Well, that's the Formosa. Cool, dark, all atmosphere. Decent drinks (I wouldn't order anything out of the ordinary, but they mix decent G&Ts and regular martinis). The food's just OK, but that's not why you're there.

2) School Days by Robert B. Parker. I've been a fan of Parker's since somebody handed me a paperback copy of his second Spenser novel, God Save the Child, back in the 8th Grade. I was a fan of detective TV shows back then, and I was looking for some detective novels to whet the appetite. Parker and his sleuth Spenser delivered, and I've been a regular reader ever since. Now, after more than 30 novels, I still love the character and look forward to catching up with him once or twice a year.

Most people know Spenser, incidentally, because of the really mediocre TV show that came on while I was in high school, Spenser: For Hire, starring Robert Urich. Not a great show, but Avery Brooks was super cool as Hawk, Spenser's tough-as-nails associate. Urich was fair, as was the rest of the program.

But the series is really terrific. Parker deserves his reputation as a modern heir to the Hammett, Chandler, and MacDonald school of hard-boiled American detective fiction. Spenser is smart and funny, tough and honest, and possessed of one of code of ethics and conduct that would do any knight of the Round Table proud. He is a good man in a bad world - a true expression of Chandler's feeling that "Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean".

One of the things that fans of this series have come to love and hate over the years is the family of characters with whom Parker has surrounded Spenser. There's his occasionally difficult paramour Susan Silverman; the aforementioned partner in crime Hawk; more or less adopted son Paul Giacomin; and a gaggle of cops, mobsters and assorted toughs. Oh, and a dog.

In School Days, most of these characters are not on the scene, and we're left with Spenser pared down to his own devices. He investigates a Columbine-like crime in an exclusive Boston suburb, and as always the dialogue crackles, the action is fun, and we're glad to have Spenser around.

1) Aquaman Fever. That's right. Two comics items in one blog. It's craziness!

If you grew up in the 70s, you no doubt remember the Super Friends, Hanna Barberra's cartoon take on the Justice League of America. Year in and year out, the show featured five main super heroes on the team: Superman, Batman, Robin, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman. Of these, Aquaman was the lamest.

Even if you liked him, you had to admit it. He usually caught a ride with Wonder Woman in the invisible plane. His own jet ski seemed lame. They didn't always need an underwater guy.

Later in the series, they added a bunch of other characters: Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman and Hawkgirl, the Atom, and some politically correct characters (Black Vulcan, Samurai, El Dorado, and Apache Chief), as well as the Wonder Twins. Later still, they added teen heroes Firestorm and Cyborg.

Still, Aquaman was among the lamest. Don't believe me? Check out this website - funny as hell look at our heroes:


So lame was Aquaman that the creators of the new Justice League cartoon chose not to make him a regular on the series. He shows up occasionally, sure. Like when there's a threat involving WATER.

The rest of the time, they don't need him as much.

But apparently, he's not so lame out here in Hollywood. In fact, over the past six months, there have been not one but two major appearances by old gill-head in the popular media.

First, on the very funny HBO sitcom ENTOURAGE, up and coming celeb Vince Chase has been cast in a big budget Aquaman film, directed by James Cameron. Every episode, we've been treated to challenge upon challenge as Vince has tried to live up to the orange and green tights of our hero - from mastering the harpoon to dealing with the fans to overcoming a romance with the actress playing Aquagirl.

Funny, funny stuff.

And then this week, on the WB's Smallville, young Clark Kent will meet up with a college-aged Aquaman, who takes a shine to young Lois Lane. Oh, and young Lex Luthor wants to understand how he talks to fish or . . . something.

It doesn't really matter. With Superman AND Aquaman, how can good help but overcome evil (and, since it's Smallville, sell indie rock CDs and Abercrombie clothes).

I wouldn't go so far as to say that Aquaman's on the rebound just yet. He's played for laughs on Entourage, and probably should be on Smallville, too. But I'm here to wonder aloud whether old Aqua might not be the boomerang super-hero of 2005. Is he DC Comics' Teri Hatcher? You know, we thought the career was over, but now she's back? Is he the Keanu? Still working even though we should have forgotten about him ages ago.

We'll see. But for now, I'm pretty sure that crime in the undersea kingdom of Atlantis is under control.

"A) White Sox in the World Series. I know I've written about this already, but it just bears mentioning again, for a number of reasons. On the one hand, I'm really happy for the team and for both of the Sox fans in Chicago...."

That's right, I'll be watching from Greenville, SC while Dennis DeYoung gets to sit in a skybox in the excrecable US Cellular Field. Is there no Justice in the world? No one who will fight for the lost Sox fan?

[sigh] I miss Old Comiskey....

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