Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
“I have told my sons that they are not under any circumstances to take part in massacres, and that the news of massacres of enemies is not to fill them with satisfaction or glee.
“I have also told them not to work for companies which make massacre machinery, and to express contempt for people who think we need machinery like that.” (Kurt Vonnegut, from Slaughterhouse-5)
It’s 2011! Time for yet another change here with these posts. I’ve never been a fan of rating books, because it often seems like, say, a movie reviewer will give 4 out of 5 stars to wildly different movies that appear completely different in quality and you end up having to read the review anyway. However, I thought I’d give them a try. I’ve been writing these reviews for so long that I hope most readers have a sense of my taste, so if I give a rating, they’ll understand why I’m giving the rating. I’ll still write about the comics, so if you really want to get in-depth, there’s that. But for weeks where I’m just not feeling up to writing too much or want to go all “avant-garde” – as Bill Reed puts it – you can look at the rating. Just to be different, I’ll do stars out of 10 instead of 5. That’s just how I roll!
Also, if you’re someone like noted antipodal commentator and DC apologist FunkyGreenJerusalem, you might be sitting in a coffeehouse near Circular Quay (or perhaps up in the Rocks or near the dandelion fountain in Kings Cross) in 75-degree weather watching the wonderfully gorgeous Aussie women pass by and wonder, as you read this, “Where the bloody hell are any DC books?” Well, I have a plan about that, so fret not! Be patient, DC fans!
Finally, it’s the first “What I bought” of the year, so even though we have two #1 books below that you might want to know about, I thought I’d do a weird and wacky post. It’s not exactly avant-garde, but I hope you’ll enjoy it. So: very short reviews, then we’ll move on!
More bloodshed, more weird revelations, and more questions. It’s very slow, which kind of quells how fun this series ought to be, but it will make a sturdy trade, unless McCool completely screws up the ending.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
David and Woodward return to Lee and Bete Noire with a typically twisty issue – Jude is wreaking havoc, Lee doesn’t like it, and someone is tempting him. Yes, it’s very much a Peter David comic, but if you’re like me, that’s fine with you. If you’re like Joe Rice, you’d rather vacation in Rwanda than read this!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
True Tales of My Childhood – “My First Time”
I must have been 12, because I remember turning off the television after watching the premiere episode of Manimal and thinking, “Wow – that show is going to last a long time. Who doesn’t love it? And that Doctor Jonathan Chase sure is a dish!” My uncle came into the villa with his whip in his hand, and I knew the albinos in the north molybdenum fields had gotten a taste of the lash once again. Uncle Mac looked at me sternly and said:
“How old are you now, boy?”
I told him, sheepishly. He sniffed both in disgust and from the Pixie Stix dust ringing his nostril.
“Reckon it’s time we made you a man.”
I nodded, uncomprehending. My uncle often spoke of such things. He had told two native snake charmers he was going to make them men, which apparently meant they had to feed him grapes on the verandah after he had had too much sangria. He had told my dog One-Ear that he was going to make him a man, which meant siccing him on the head of cabbage Uncle Mac thought was getting suspiciously large. He had even told the wife of the local despot that he was going to make her a man, which meant dancing the cha cha with her while the band at her wedding played a polka. I waited to see what he meant with me.
“We’re going into town, boy,” he said. “We’re going to get your cherry popped.”
‘Town’ in this instance meant the collection of 20 or so huts a few miles down the Irrawaddy, but I nodded again. I knew he and my father must have discussed this, so I went along. Dad would be in Sikkim negotiating with the king for the use of a cadre of Yeti as day laborers (you can pay them in mongoose feces, and they don’t unionize – it’s actually against their religion) for the next two weeks, and I guessed the time could not wait until he returned. I knew, also that when my uncle said “going into town,” that could mean only one destination: Madame Ostrowsky’s Den of Pleasure. And that destination gave my father too many unpleasant memories. He went there often after Mom took off with that seven-fingered clown from Rangoon, and he always returned smiling and sobbing at the same time – I never figured it out until much later. Anyway, after he got the lesions and had to start wearing the catcher’s mask, Madame Ostrowsky (in reality an ex-colonial officer named Liam) banned him from the establishment. Uncle Mac, rash-free, continued to head down there every Saturday night and return every Sunday morning just in time to disrupt Reverend Smith’s sermon and urinate in the collection plate.
We took the jet skis downriver and parked at the only pier for two hundred miles. It was a Wednesday afternoon, so the townspeople were surprised to see my uncle. They ran screaming into their houses, which Uncle Mac waved aside with a jovial, “They always make a fuss when I show up – I reckon right now they’re planning some big fete for later!” We walked through deserted mud paths until we reached the biggest hut in town – Madame Ostrowsky’s. Uncle Mac bellowed that he was here, and pushed aside the two midgets drunk on rice wine who served as saloon-style doors to the place and entered.
It was unlike anything I had ever seen. Wicker and bamboo everywhere, two lazy fans circling above, men sprawled in various states of undress and stupefaction along the walls, women dressed like geishas trolling through the human maze, some carrying trays filled with what looked like glass tubes, some holding violins and trombones on which they played slow, mournful jazz, and still others leading various barnyard animals around on leashes. The women were spectacularly beautiful – I had never imagined women could be this beautiful, not even when my uncle and father would dress up and put on shows for the plantation workers. They looked like they had been sculpted by a master, who spun them on wheels and added perfect curves right where they were needed. I gazed at them, deciding first that one was the most beautiful – no, that one – but what about that one – and here comes one down the stairs! I was instantly aware of a heat flowing through my body, a heat unlike anything I’d ever felt before, even hotter than when my best friend Siegfried put crushed jalapeño in my underwear. I looked desperately at my uncle, but he had drifted over to a tall, spindly, nattily-tailored gentlemen and was conversing quietly with him.
I raced over just in time to hear Uncle Mac say, “I say give him to Stella,” to which the tall man said, “You’re daft.” I tugged at my uncle’s sleeve and he spun around, a blazing smile on his face.
“My dear boy!” he boomed. “Madame Ostrowsky here and I were just discussing your predicament. I think today you will see Miss Stella.”
“Now, MacGillicuddy …” said Madame Ostrowsky.
“Hush, Liam,” said my uncle. “He’s a strong lad. Stella won’t hurt him.”
He told me to go to the top of the stairs, take a right, and knock on the first door on the left. When I was given permission, I was to go in and do everything Miss Stella instructed. I had become very good at knocking and waiting to be told to enter a room ever since the “Uncle Mac and Miss Cavendish and the large plate of elephant testicles” incident a few years earlier, so I nodded eagerly (an eagerness I did not feel, I can assure you, as my stomach was doing flip-flops) and dashed off. I climbed the stairs, still unsure what was expected of me. How would visiting Miss Stella make me a man? What made a man? Did it have anything to do with what my uncle was doing to Miss Cavendish and the elephant testicles? I doubted that I wanted to be a man that badly. But I did not want to disappoint my uncle or my father, who had doted on me since that awful day when my mother said, in front of all of us, “Giuseppe treats me better than any five-fingered man ever could! We’re going to live in the Philippines and bring laughter to the Tasaday!” I suppose the least I could do for them was to become a fine man. If visiting Miss Stella made me that, I owed it to them.
I knocked gently on the door and waited. A soft voice told me to enter, so I did. Miss Stella’s room was even more exotic than the lobby. It smelled of lilac and seemed to be slightly hazy. In the center stood a four-poster bed with a gauzy covering hanging over it. The room was lit only by candles, which seemed to my unromantic soul a serious fire hazard. Miss Stella sat on a divan to my left, and she took my breath away.
As she stood, I saw that she was taller than my father. His sunken chest and club foot make him seem shorter than he is, but she was very tall – well over six feet. She wore shiny leather boots that ended about halfway up her thighs, and the heels added another eight inches to her height. She had a black leather thong on, and a bustier laced up the front, pushing her breasts upward and outward. She had long, straight, black hair and flaming green eyes. Her face was unadorned by makeup, but her natural beauty almost overwhelmed me. The heat I had felt downstairs was threatening to knock me senseless. Miss Stella must have seen that, for she took my hand and led me quickly to the bed, where I sat on goose-down pillows into which I could have easily melted.
“Drink,” she commanded, in that soft, silky voice, and held out a glass to me. I sipped the delightful fruity concoction and felt much better. She eased onto the bed beside me.
“So, MacGillicuddy brought you,” she cooed. I nodded, unsure if my voice would work. “Oh, he’s quite the legend around here. When you’re older, I will tell you some stories!” She laughed, and the sound was like wind through chimes. She continued, “So, ______ is your father?” I nodded again. “Wonderful! I will make you forget your mother, dear. That is what I’m here for.”
She stood and pulled a chest out from under the bed. I swallowed nervously and croaked a question: What was I to do?
She looked up and smiled. “Don’t worry. Miss Stella will guide you.” She opened the chest and took out a box. “Here we have the apparatus,” she said. “This will teach you.”
She placed the apparatus in between us. I shifted uncomfortably on the pillows as she set it up. She explained all the parts to me and the rules of engagement. I didn’t realize becoming a man was so strictly informed by rules! We sat with the apparatus in the middle, and she instructed me. She breathed deeply and huskily when I did the right thing, saying things like, “Yes, right there,” and “You hit me in just the perfect place,” and she was playfully stern with me when I did the wrong thing, saying, “My dear boy, you’re not even close!” and “That was clumsy placement!” As I got better, she became less playful and more focused, because she saw that I was becoming a master – in such a short time! It became less of a game and more of a battle of wills, and with each slight move I made, she squirmed more urgently and I gained confidence. Finally, after hours of a thrust here, a parry there, and Miss Stella and I getting more and more heated and more and more in sync, I made my final move, and she cried out in part pain and part passion, and simpered, a beaten woman:
“You sank my battleship!”
Then, I knew I was a man. It has been my my favorite game ever since. Thank you, Miss Stella. Thank you, Uncle Mac. And thank you, Dad. I’m sorry I had to feed you to the hippo. But that’s a story for another day.
Generation Hope #3 (“The Future is a Four-Letter Word Part Three”) by Kieron Gillen (writer), Salvador Espin (penciler), Scott Koblish (inker), Jim Charalampidis (colorist), and Clayton Cowles (letterer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Marvel.
I know Scott isn’t as wishy-washy as he used to be, but he seems awfully bloodthirsty in this comic. Espin does a nice job with Hope and Kenji’s battle, and Gillen is getting better with the characters all the time.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
Byrne packs a ton into this, following Antonia, Jasmine, and Nathan in the Civil War era, Renaissance England, and World War II, as they try to figure out what’s going on. This is definitely a long-haul book, as only two issues in we have several plot threads, plus an odd cliffhanger. It’s good fun, though.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
True Tales of My Childhood – “The Last Time I Wet the Bed”
I was once a bedwetter. I admit it. I’m proud to admit it. Okay, I’m not proud that I was a bedwetter, but I’m proud that I have the cajones to admit it. I am a member of the International Recovering Bedwetters’ Association (IRBA). We meet once a month in a secret location in the Ruwenzori – you would not believe the protestors we used to get when we met in Milwaukee. I am not ashamed to say I often chair these meetings. And don’t think I haven’t seen some of you at the meetings. Yes, you – don’t think that Toronto Argonauts helmet hid you. And you – you thought that Dave Sim mask would fool me, but it didn’t. But this isn’t a tale about outing others. It’s about how I defeated my demon.
I don’t know when I started wetting the bed. It may have been the night they aired the last episode of Space 1999. Boy, I loved that show. I cried for an hour until Dad told me that spending 33 days in a upper New York state commune was real punishment, and that I should be quiet. Then, because the memory of that month was so raw to him, he had to go to his happy place in the woodshed with the hooks hanging from the ceiling for a while. I seem to recall wetting the bed that night, but ever since Uncle Mac took me on Space Mountain when I was four and paid the attendants 100,000 rupees not to strap me in, I’ve had some gaps in my memory. It was around that time, I do know.
Those with strong bladders cannot imagine the horror when yours first erupts when it’s not supposed to. It feels like death. I dared not tell my father or Uncle Mac, and my mother was still not home. (I did not know yet that around that time she was beginning her torrid affair with Giuseppe the seven-fingered clown, which would eventually end my parents’ marriage. This did little, I assure you, to alleviate my bedwetting problems.) I kept quiet, changed my pajamas, stripped my bed, changed everything, and sat up all night talking to my invisible friend Claude. He advised me to keep it to myself, because children usually grow out of the problem. Ah, Claude. I was so sad when Noriega’s security forces shot you. Of course, they never found the body … but that’s a story for another day.
This story, however, is not about the first time I wet the bed, but how I triumphed over my problem. I did everything I could to defeat the bedwetting monster. My father and Uncle Mac eventually discovered my secret, and they were surprisingly sympathetic. Dad only broke two of my toes, while Uncle Mac simply called me “Miranda” for the next decade. I got off easy, I reckon. I tried to remain a closet bedwetter – in one case, literally, as I spent the night in the closet, and wet it. My father had no choice, really – I spilled his Glenfiddich, after all. Some things are almost unforgivable. Of course, with Uncle Mac’s frequent travels and his penchant for gossip once he got a Roy Rogers or two in him, I did not remain “in the closet” for long. Oh, the abuse from the village girls I endured!
How did I beat it? I made up my mind that I would simply wrestle with my monster, much like Jacob and the angel. Not that dramatic, of course – my “monster” was a little smaller, although I don’t mean to be immodest, no less potent! However, nothing else worked. Electroshock, my father taking away my dog Wittgenstein, denying me water for three days – it didn’t matter. Finally, he and Uncle Mac gave up. I, however, had been told that quitting was only for Boston Red Sox, so I decided to beat it myself.
First, I drank a lot of water. If I was going to beat it, I wanted the temptation to be greatest. So I chugged gallon after gallon. My father was in Vladivostok on business, but my Uncle Mac just shook his head as he watched me. “Miranda,” he said to me at last, “don’t you think you’re doing yourself a disservice by drinking so much? You know, with the pee-pee geyser you have become.” He thought that description was funnier than calling me “Miranda.” It gained such currency around the region that when the Dalai Lama himself stopped by one day, an honor I will never forget, he called me a “pee-pee geyser.” Still, he told we I would achieve total consciousness on my deathbed, so I’ve got that going for me.
“Uncle Mac,” said I, “I’m going to beat this thing. Tonight. Just you see.”
“Well, that’s fine, Miranda. But remember – my bedroom is under yours. If anything soaks through you’ll spend a month in the hole.” The hole was actually the underground bunker Uncle Mac built for the inevitable day when a splinter group of the Baader-Meinhof gang, the Style Council, came after him for the unfortunate remarks he made on German television that one time. It was plushly furnished and had enough food and firearms to last a year. However, Uncle Mac made anyone who went in the hole watch reruns of What’s Happening!!, and I wanted desperately to avoid that fate. I smiled at him, assured him that he would remain dry (or as dry as one could remain in the tropical heat), and went to bed.
The first hour was the worst. The gallons of water had made their way through everything and had settled in my bladder. My bladder was unhappy. It rumbled for release, but I remembered what my sensei always said: “Once you see the wall, then the wall is no longer there.” Trying to figure out what the hell he meant by that always distracted me, and this time was no exception. I focused on the wall for a bit, but Bob Geldof with no eyebrows kept swimming into my field of vision. That was okay, because I could contemplate Bob Geldof with no eyebrows and ignore my bladder for a while. However, there’s only so much Bob Geldof with no eyebrows one can take, and my bladder was beginning to rumble more. So I switched tactics.
I thought of my mother. I had never accepted the fact that a clown with seven fingers on each hand could make my mother happier than my father, and although that often made me wet the bed, tonight it had an opposite effect. I concentrated on my mother’s last words to me: “Brussels sprouts are a Communist plot,” and knew then that she was a soothsayer of epic proportions. There was a noble truth in those words, and truth that, if proclaimed to the world, would solve all the problems that we struggle with – poverty, lack of health care, wars and strife, why country music exists, why Julie Newmar never became a bigger star. I’m sorry, but look at her!
Where was I? Oh yes. Well, thinking about Julie Newmar …
Phew. Sorry. Anyway, it made things happen down there, and as anyone can tell you, it’s tough to do the one thing when something much better is happening! But I couldn’t keep that up all night! I needed self-control, and the other thing was not conducive to that! So I thought of Uncle Mac and the things I once saw him do with razor wire, and that helped. But now I started to hallucinate. Oh, the things I saw! I was on a boat on a river, and on the banks were tangerine trees and overhead was a marmalade sky. Actually, I think someone else may have been intruding on my hallucination, so I left quickly. The hours passed slowly, as if you were playing mahjong with your grandmother. I wouldn’t know about that, because my surviving grandmother (Mom’s Mom) was serving time in a Turkish prison for selling knock-off Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots in Ankara (the Turks frown on that sort of thing). But that’s how I imagine the time passed. The night crept toward its conclusion, and I knew I did not have much time to go. Suddenly I heard an unearthly scream that almost finished me. The scream came right up through the floorboards, and I knew instantly that it was Uncle Mac. I clenched my urethra tight and prayed that whatever had terrified him would not come and get me. The whimpering that followed allowed me to concentrate on his fear and pain, while distracting from my own. I passed over an hour listening to him toss and turn in bed, and although I never found out what had wrenched such a howl from the very depths of his soul (save the cryptic reference the next morning to “Kissinger’s rim job”), it might have saved me, as my hallucinations were taking a decidedly waterfall/ocean/fountain turn before the scream.
When my eyelids started to flutter and my bladder felt like it was going to burst out of my gut and run happily around the room and I could no longer feel my toes and the Laffer curve actually sounded like good economic policy, I looked out the window and saw the sun peaking over the jute fields on the eastern side of the plantation. I had done it! Granted, I hadn’t actually slept, but I knew that would come the next night. I had mastered my bladder and my fears. No longer would I be “Miranda”! No longer would exiled spiritual leaders insult my lack of control! No longer would the village girls run up behind me and tug on my genitals until I screamed! No longer would I be the punchline of a joke in taverns from Mogadishu to Shanghai! Ah, the freedom! I threw open the shutters as the early morning sunlight bathed my naked body. I stepped onto the bed and pissed on it. It was a symbolic piss, indicating that I was leaving my former life behind and that I was born again. For 26 minutes 12 seconds I peed, feeling every ounce of water flow out of me and into the distant past. Then, desiccated, I staggered off the bed and flicked a lit match onto it. As it burned, I felt tears of joy on my cheeks. It was my sixteenth birthday.
The Suicide Forest #2 (of 4) by El Torres (writer), Gabriel Hernandez (artist), and Malaka Studio (letterer). $3.99, 22 pgs, FC, IDW.
Not a lot of answers, but more questions – it appears that Alan’s ex-girlfriend, Masami, is killing people, but is she really???? Plus, we learn a bit about Ryoko and why she works in the forest. Good psychological horror with just a soupçon of bloodshed. Keen stuff!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
Sweets #4 (of 5) by Kody Chamberlain (writer/artist). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Image.
Chamberlain is pulling things together, but even with 80% of the book out, it’s still difficult to figure out where it’s going. I worry about the “rogue cop” element, because it’s so clichéd, but I’m still curious to see where it goes as it finishes.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
True Tales of My Childhood – “The Girl With the Hat”
The summer after I turned 14 was not a good one. We were forced to flee the plantation when the Maoist omnisexual rebels in the mountains unionized our workers. The workers went nuts one night after a long meeting and several jugs of Jolt Cola, and we were forced to flee. My dad and Uncle Mac set up shop in a back alley in Nairobi, where they sold knock-off Cabbage Patch Kids to unsuspecting street urchins. However, there was not enough room for me, so they used some of their remaining funds to send me to the General Lysander Cobb Pickham School for Wayward Boys in Dandy Shank, Arkansas. General Pickham, you’ll recall, was known far and wide as the worst general in American history. In 1862 General Robert E. Lee recommended that he be dipped in buffalo dung and dropped into a deep pit filled with ravenous raccoons, but Jefferson Davis needed generals desperately, so Pickham kept his command. His men are notable for being the only group honored by both sides in the Civil War for their actions at the Battle of Mickichunga. Pickham led them into am ambush where half his troops were killed, and then he led them to an attack of another Confederate division that he mistook for Union soldiers. His troops, quite naturally, dipped him in buffalo dung and threw him into a deep pit filled with ravenous raccoons. They received medals from both Davis and President Lincoln. However, Dandy Shank was General Pickham’s home town, and they love him. My father read about their principal, Colonel Oscar von Gruppenstein, who liked to lick peanut butter off exposed wiring, and decided that the school was the place for me, at least until he and Uncle Mac could figure out how to break the union and return to our glorious plantation.
My two months at the General Lysander Cobb Pickham School for Wayward Boys were fraught with bad grades, strange welts on normally-hidden body parts, long sleepless nights listening for the soft footsteps of Colonel Gruppenstein’s ballet slippers in the hallway, and an ever-increasing fear of kohlrabi. My tale of survival and escape are a story for another day, but suffice it say that I did escape and fled northeast to the verdant plains of Indiana and a small town where I spent a few blissful months and which shall remain nameless for the protection of all its inhabitants. I have enemies, you know.
I arrived in town on a balmy October morning, when the weather was still warm but the air held a hint of winter crispness. I knew I had to get a job, so I stopped in at the first place I found: A five-and-dime. The old lady behind the counter said I reminded her of her dead son, who had poked out his eye in Hue in 1970 and died insane in Saskatoon a few years later. She hired me on the spot. It was only part-time, but I thought it was wonderful. I had a job, I quickly found a cardboard box to sleep in, and all was right in the world.
Then I met my boss. Mr. McGee was not a pleasant man. In 1967 he had been walking home one night through Haight-Ashbury when some hippies asked him if he got high. He didn’t understand the question and became fearful when they told him he was “trippy and square.” Ever since then he had been mistrustful of anyone whose haircut didn’t resemble Johnny Unitas’s in 1958. He also told me repeatedly that he didn’t like my kind because I was a bit too leisurely. However, he feared Mrs. Allbright, the woman who had hired me, so he kept me on. I never actually knew what my duties were, but apparently it was doing something close to nothing, but actually different than the day before. Mr. McGee used to look at me with his squinty eyes and mutter curses in Aramaic, but Mrs. Allbright would simply say, “Donal! Hush!” and he would slink back into his office. So the days passed.
Toward the end of the month, everything changed. I was behind the counter eating a corn dog and flipping through the latest issue of Tiger Beat. Some kids were in the back pounding back gallons of whole milk, but I let them because it made Mr. McGee quake with fear. I was starting to wonder if my father and uncle would ever find me when I heard the cheery tinkle of the bells at the entrance. I couldn’t believe it. Some girl was coming in through the out door. I was in love with this rebel from that very instant.
I should describe her, but that year I spent in the opium wells of Tashkent has played tricks with my memory. I do remember her hat. It was a beret. I can’t precisely describe the color, but it was somewhat reddish. Maybe … magenta? Burgundy? Anyway, the beret was exactly the kind you would find in a second hand store. It was quite distinctive, and from her sauntering gait, I got the feeling that if it had been the summer she would not have worn a whole lot more than that beret. She had that wonderful attitude of a girl who knows she is simply better than anyone. My heart skipped several beats. When the feeling returned in my left arm, I knew I had to make my move.
I had never been that good with women, despite my experience with Miss Stella. But this I could not pass up. I approached her and said something – I don’t even know what – and I might have said my name, but before I knew it, she smiled a dazzling smile and said, “Let’s go.”
Now, I may not remember much about her face, but I do know she was built like a brick shithouse. She slung me over her shoulder, laughing all the way. Mr. McGee came out of his office and demanded to know what was going on. She told him he was “trippy and square,” which sent him scuttling like a hermit crab back into his dark domain. As I dangled there on her shoulder, I reached out slowly to touch the beret, but she sensed my movement and slapped my hand away. “Boy no touch!” she ordered, and I whimpered softly. Then she cooed in my ear, “Do you plan to do me any harm?” I couldn’t believe her nerve. She said it slyly, though, and unskilled as I was in the ways of women, she may have been joking.
She put me on the back of her bike and we rode. I asked whether I needed a helmet, and she pulled over, slowed to a stop, turned around, and punched me in the nose. Before I could think, she kissed me long and hard. It was the first time I had ever been kissed – well, by a girl – and the intense feelings flowing through me made the pain and humiliation I had felt a few seconds earlier even greater but somehow less shameful. She pulled away and smiled. “What was your question?” she asked. I couldn’t even remember my name, much less any doubts I had about the ride.
We drove far and wide that day, and she told me tales of the haunted houses in the area – houses visited by vengeful succubi and wayward poltergeists and restless phantasms. We watched the kids get out of school in the afternoon and we promised them a shiny nickel and a coupon to the local video game parlor if they would only sell us their souls. Laden with metaphysical booty, we ranged down to the farmlands south of town as the weather turned darker and the rain clouds gathered. She said she didn’t want to get her beret wet, so she suggested we hide out in a barn on a farm belonging, she said, to crazy Old Man Johnson, who had lost a leg in WWII and later grew it back. The barn was far enough away from the homestead that he would never know. In we went just as the storm broke.
The barn smelled of wet wool and warm clay and mosquitoes and burritos. I drank it in – it was real. The rain hitting the roof sounded so cool and all the horses stared at us, wondering who we were. She took my hand and led me up to the hayloft, where we could be closer to the elements but still protected. There she instructed me in all the finer arts of boy-girl relations: the “Taming of the Rhino,” the “Circling of the Wagons,” the “Two-Ply Pony,” the “Top Hat,” the “Insatiable Octopus,” the “Kickback,” the “Sting of the Jellyfish” – my more experienced readers will recognize them all! The thunder drowned out everything that the lightning saw, and for that one night, I felt like a movie star. Through it all the beret stayed on. That made it more beautiful.
Before we fell asleep, I begged her to tell me more about her. Her name, her age, her position on nuclear re-armament in the face of the mounting threat of terrorist regimes, her favorite flavor of iced cream. She giggled at all of my requests and said only that she thought I was gnarly. I finally fell asleep, only to be awoken, it seemed only minutes later, by a pitchfork pressed into my vitals. A man I assumed to be Old Man Johnson was standing over me growling like a marmoset and demanding to know what I was doing in his hayloft naked and covered with what appeared to be molasses (ah, the delights of the “Two-Ply Pony”!). I was always a quick thinker, so I pointed behind him, shouted, “Isn’t that Carmen Miranda in a bee suit?”, and when he turned, I grabbed my clothes, slid down the ladder, and ran like the wind. I checked my pockets – she had robbed me blind. But oh, she had given far more than she had taken!
A month later, as I was roaming the streets of Pierre, South Dakota, making money by passing off fake Mike Schmidt rookie cards to acne-ridden 30-year-old virgins, my father and Uncle Mac tracked me down and told me the union had finally caved when he and my uncle had offered them Devil Dogs with every meal. We were going home, but my adventure would remain tattooed on my mind for years afterward. If that girl is reading this, I forgive you your thievery and thank you for the experience.
If only I could remember exactly what color that beret was.
I’ll take a bit of time with this. The conceit is that Jon Moore, a spy and/or criminal, is being chased by evil men. He knows something they don’t, however – he speaks to a man named Jake Ellis who only he can see. Jake tells him how to get out of jams and where to go when he’s on the run. It’s a pretty interesting idea, because even Jon doesn’t know who or what Jake is. Edmondson sets the scene fairly well but doesn’t give us too much information about Jon himself, and Zonjic’s solid art is good for the gritty milieau in which Jon travels (even though it’s bright and sunny Europe). A very intriguing start to the mini-series.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
As usual, several plot threads are swirling – Darwin leaves to sort his head out, Rictor talks to Rahne about the real father of her child, and Pip “joins” the team, but in true David fashion, he has an agenda. And unfortunately for Travis and his ilk (I don’t mean that pejoratively, I just love the word ‘ilk’), Monet is in a bikini but Emanuela Lupacchino doesn’t draw her. Sorry!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
True Tales of My Childhood – “My Family Flees the Country”
Dear readers, not all of my childhood was Slurpees and stripteases, I can assure you. Yes, my previous true tales from my childhood have been uplifting tales of my triumphs as a young man. But my childhood has a dark side, and a part of it must be told, as I’m sure my readers are wondering exactly how I, along with my father and my Uncle Mac, ended up on a molybdenum plantation on the northern reaches of the Irrawaddy. Well, I would ask all the weak-stomached among you to turn away, for this is a sordid tale in which I play a crucial and morally repugnant role. Please, gentle readers, try not to judge me too harshly.
It was a glorious time to be an American, I can tell you. It was a cruel winter, true, but we had a new president in the White House, one who had practiced well for the harsh reality of politics by starring in movies with chimpanzees. If you want to say he is the greatest American ever, my father and Uncle Mac would not have disagreed with you. I remember the winter so well. Admiral Nelson and the Trafalgars topped the charts with their groovy single, “I’ll Never Surrender (Especially Not To Spaniards),” I won the International Nose-Picking Title, Youth Division (for best form), and I spotted my first brassiere. Now, it’s true that it was worn by my Theosophy teacher, Mr. Ohlmeier, but we all have to crawl before we can walk, and I counted that as a big deal. My father and mother were still together, but unbeknownst to me, she had already started her torrid affair with the seven-fingered clown Giuseppe, a man so devoted to her that he would follow her halfway around the world and eventually steal her away from my father. I thought all was perfect in my life. Little did I know. Little did I know, gentle readers.
Uncle Mac lived across town from us, alone in his attic apartment after his mail-order Gambian wife left him to become a transsexual member of Malta’s Parliament. My father was worried about him, because Uncle Mac would simply sit up in the attic, scraping off his fingernails with a file, solving impossible mathematical theorems, and dyeing his pubic hair orange. My father would smuggle puppy jerky past the overbearing landlord, Mr. Jarndyce, because Uncle Mac refused to go out for simple sustenance. On those frequent days when Mr. Jarndyce got drunk on turtle beer while watching tractor pulls on WSHT, the favorite UHF station in our area, I would sneak in to visit Uncle Mac. This was more at the insistence of my father than through any of my own desire – Uncle Mac had by now started calling me “Miranda” because he had learned of my bedwetting problem, and I still hadn’t gotten used to the phenomenon of my testicles retreating into my body whenever he did – but I dutifully went, because I knew if anything happened to Uncle Mac, my father would hold me responsible and force me to sing the entire score of “Showboat” at the most popular intersection in town.
One morning, when the cruel north wind was angrily screaming through town looking for toupees to snatch away and skin to flay from bone, I gazed through Mr. Jarndyce’s window and watched as he cried himself into a drunken stupor while a reel-to-reel played “Won’t You Come Back To New Jersey, Sweet Ursula” by the Minstrels of the Lost Trail. Then I cautiously opened the front door and tip-toed up the stairs to the attic. My father told me I must always knock before disturbing Uncle Mac, but the haunting lyric “I gave up my seat on the bus of your heart” distracted me momentarily and I unthinkingly pushed the door open. Oh, how I wish that mynah bird had gouged my eyes out when I was three instead of simply pecking me in the ear!
There was Uncle Mac, sitting with his back to me in the center of a circle. The circle was made up of small figures. In the light of the flickering candles I couldn’t make out what they were. I dropped the bag of Funyuns I was carrying and turned to go. My uncle heard me, though.
“That you, Miranda?”
I stammered an affirmative, and he told me to come in. I was stuck, so I had to obey. I slowly walked into the middle of the room. The candlelight was stronger there, and I saw what the figures were.
Each figure was a plastic doll. Most of them were dressed like Wonder Woman. Each doll looked like Lynda Carter. The ones that were not dressed were – how shall I put it? – anatomically very correct. The craftmanship was exquisite. I felt my testicles retreat further, which meant they were now somewhere deep in my colon.
I asked Uncle Mac what he was doing. He grinned that maniacal grin he had and whispered, “You go to church, right, Miranda?”
He knew I did. We all attended the First Church of Saint Cosominus, who had been martyred in 1979 when he refused to “Do the Hustle” at a wedding. When I said of course, he responded, “Well, this is my true church, boy. The Most Excellent Dynamic Church of the Prime Lady of Paradise Island. The Temple of the Woman of Wonder. My Sanctuary.”
I looked around. Painted on the walls of his apartment were frightening sigils and disturbingly realistic depictions of various stages of a bacchanalia. My young eyes could not comprehend much of what I saw. I looked at my uncle and saw he was wearing vestments and holding open a dog-eared comic book, circa 1942. His eyes were glazed in the candlelight. They may have also been glazed from the large pile of what he would later jokingly refer to as “the brown acid” lying next to him. I asked him what kind of religion it was.
“Religion is an ecstatic experience, Miranda,” he murmured. “It can also be an economic one, and quite a lucrative one. That is the kind of religion I want to found. I want to spread my devotion to the Wondrous One to all. Religions, like sharks, must swim or die. Do you understand?”
I didn’t but I had learned not to say “no” to Uncle Mac ever since he asked me if I wanted to purchase his Starland Vocal Band album for a huge mark-up so he could use the money to get his mail-order Gambian wife. So I said yes and asked him to explain more.
“You see, young lady, people will pay. Yes, they will. They will buy my icons and worship them as I do. I will be the high priest of this new religion, the Prophet, the Caliph, the Pope, and my rule will be absolute. Absolute, do you hear me, girl? And these icons – priced to move – will be the wave on which I will surf to financial and spiritual glory! Are you with me, Miranda?”
I still didn’t understand, but I nodded meekly. I then asked what my role in his plan was. I was strangely intrigued. I had met prophets at the elementary school I attended (Melvin Becket predicted the fall of the Shah, after all), but I had never been around for the founding of a religion. It seemed a good way to pass the time.
Uncle Mac bared his teeth, and for a moment I thought he was going to go for my throat. “Listen well, girlie. You are going to be my Apostle Paul. You are going to be my Khadijah, who was the wife of the Prophet Muhammad. You will spread my faith to the masses.”
I wondered aloud why he couldn’t do it. He snarled, “You fool, Miranda! Don’t you remember? Don’t you remember that they are after me?”
I had forgotten that after Uncle Mac helped fix the 1964 pennant race, he had to go underground because so many members of the Swiss banking houses had lost their fortunes and had arranged with certain intelligence agencies to destroy him. I wouldn’t have believed it, but there was that mysterious trench-coated man with the buzzard on his shoulder who used to lurk in the alley behind our apartment …
He said, “This is what you have to do, Miranda …” He then outlined a plan so audacious, so bold, so astonishingly brilliant that it would have made us all billionaires and, quite possibly, secured our ascension as Religious Superstars. I gathered up all the icons and stuffed them in the knapsack that Uncle Mac had gotten for me. I slipped out before Mr. Jarndyce woke up and made it home before dark, fighting against the banshee wind all the time. The next day I put the plan into action. As I suspected, it was brilliant. The icons sold like hotcakes, and suddenly we were flush with cash. My parents never knew, although I think my father caught one of my customers leaving the house one day and demanded to know what was going on. The customer almost cracked, but got lucky when a 1948 Packard came tearing around the corner driven by a statuesque red-haired Hispanic woman. My father has always had a weakness for Packards and statuesque red-haired Hispanic women, and his momentary distraction allowed the customer to escape. All was well.
Then it all came crashing down. Somehow our reach extended too far, and the wrong people heard about our fledgling religion before it was strong enough to influence the correct people and secure tax-free status. One day a shrunken toad of a man, wearing a sombrero and a fake green beard, knocked on the door of my room. I admitted him, thinking he was another customer. Instead he flashed a badge of a certain government agency which made my bladder weaken (and with my problem, that was not a good thing). I knew, somehow, that the jig was up.
“Young man, you are causing the wrong people some consternation.” He reached in his pocket and extracted a photograph. “This person, specifically.” I looked at the photo, agog. I knew the person pictured on it, but, even after all these years, still fear to name him. Let’s just call him Mr. X. “Young man,” the agent continued, “I don’t think I have to tell you the power this individual wields. A Ms. Lynda Carter is a personal friend of his, and he will not suffer this affront to her reputation. His power is idle at this moment, but if you continue with this mockery, he will bend that power exclusively to destroy you and your family. Do you understand?”
For once, and at the wrong moment, I found courage. I laughed. I was a child, and although I had learned not to sass my father, my mother, or my uncle, I had yet to learn that lesson with regard to government officials. I laughed and told the man that I didn’t believe Mr. X had anywhere near the power he ascribed to him. The agent’s eyes grew thin and his lips trembled. He could not believe the attitude he was getting from this impudent youngster. I doubted if he knew exactly what to say.
Finally, he recovered his composure. “Fine. There will be consequences. I hope you are prepared.”
And that is how we came to flee the country. The next day our bank accounts were frozen. My father lost his job at the carnival because certain pictures (doctored, I’m sure) of him in a compromising position with the dog-faced boy were delivered to the owner. Mr. Jarndyce sobered up long enough to evict Uncle Mac. My mother was driven out of the sewing circle when it was revealed that she had actually used a machine to get her hems straight. I think it was this shame that eventually made her leave our family completely. I was told that my spelling tests at school were unacceptable and that I was only suited for a career in (the horror!) broadcast journalism. In less than a week, we were destitute. Uncle Mac did the only thing he could – called his old friend Flightless Gus (an old joke, he said, from their days in the RAF) and asked if he had any career opportunities for two bankrupt but stout fellows. Flightless Gus knew about the molybdenum plantation, which needed an overseer, and we were off, hours ahead of the group of government agents carrying knitting needles of death and wearing Lynda Carter masks in some bizarre homage to their insulted queen who broke into our house and mistakenly slaughtered the family of Quakers who had decamped there on their way to Tipperary. Oh, we were quite lucky!
I felt enough guilt about the whole episode to confess all to my father and Uncle Mac a few months later. They simply laughed and sipped their flaming drinks out of their boot-shaped glasses and ordered more poi. Uncle Mac put it succinctly: “Miranda, you did us a favor. Where else on this planet can you hear the wails of the two-headed cats as the burly tribesmen whip them? It’s the loveliest sound on earth.” My father smiled and nodded. For one brief instant, all was right in the world. And home no longer felt so far away.
Gantz volume 15 by Hiroya Oku. $12.99, 216 pgs, BW, Dark Horse.
Violence. Gore. Inexplicably naked women. Pure awesome.
Somewhere around here are The Ten Most Recent Songs Played On My iPod (Which Is Always On Shuffle). Oh, here they are!
1. “Underwater Love” – Faith No More (1989) “Liquid seeps into your lungs but your eyes look so serene”
2. “The Colorful Ones” – Liquid Jesus (1991) “TV screen burning your heart and the will to survive”
3. “She’s the One” – Bruce Springsteen (1975) “But there’s this angel in her eyes that tells such desperate lies and all you want to do is believe her”
4. “Stars of Warburton” – Midnight Oil (1990) “We got our pipe dreams, they went up in smoke dreams; burn it clean in the climate control of your hypermart malls”
5. “A Gentleman’s Excuse Me” – Fish (1990) “Can you get inside your head I’m tired of dancing?”
6. “Gave Up” – Nine Inch Nails (1992) “Covered in hope and vaseline still cannot fix this broken machine”
7. “Courage and Conviction” – Crazy 8s (1988)
8. “Lose Control” – James (1990) “This body’s young but my spirit’s old”
9. “Lay Your Hands on Me” – Bon Jovi (1988) “I’ve been to school and baby, I’ve been the teacher”
10. “Rites of Passage” – Fish (1999) “You think that saying ‘sorry’ is going to make it seem all right”
No one got the totally random lyrics from last week, which wasn’t surprising to me. They were from Can’s “Yoo Doo Right” from their 1969 debut album. Can is a strange band, man! I’m going to try something slightly different (maybe I’ll get tired of it, maybe not) … it’s Totally Random Movie Quotes!!!!!
“Everything is different, but the same … things are more moderner than before … bigger, and yet smaller … it’s computers … San Dimas High School football rules!”
Yes, it’s easy. We have to ease into these, after all! As always, thanks for indulging me when I go off the beaten path a bit. It’s cathartic to share these ABSOLUTELY true tales with a sympathetic audience – my wife just tells me to shut it because I’m interrupting “Modern Family.” She cares not for my pain!!!!!
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