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A blog for poetry, prose, and pop culture.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Flash Fiction: Under a Dead Sun: Past Sins

Chapter 16

Morgan sat on the ground, his dead wife laying just feet from him, dirty streaks lining his face from where he had cried. His hands ached from clenching them so tightly and he tried to not make eye contact with the thing that had once been his wife. Still, there was that soft cry that echoed in the air, drifting from the upturned grave of his wife in the garden, a cry that chilled Morgan Randall's far bones deeper than even that of killing his wife for a second time. Randall wasn't sure how long he sat there, minutes, hours, time seemed to blend together. He never looked at the Black Sun above him, simply staring out into the the empty fields he had once envisioned filling with his wife. Finally Morgan rolled over and slowly pulled himself to his feet, trying to ignore the dull ache that stemmed inside him.

His battered body was caked with sweat and dirt, the cut along his arm having dried a bloody trail down to his wrist. He watched his hat on the ground as it ruffled in the slight wind, but left it there as he slowly hobbled to the barn. He ran his hands through his hair, brushing them away from his eyes and felt the salty residue of his sweat. The doors were still open to the barn from this morning and he went inside, returning seconds later with a shovel. He slowly walked towards the upturned grave, the mewling cries still echoing in the air around them, only stopping when he was a few steps shy of the grave. He looked at the churned earth around the grave, seeing his wife's precious bluebells uprooted and laying on the ground. The bluebells that had once been the sole bright spot of the farm. Taking a deep breath, Morgan steeled himself and crossed the last few steps.

He looked into the grave to find his stillborn daughter kicking her arms and legs. Her tiny fingers had morphed to black points, though not as long or as deadly as his wife's. Her tiny mouth was also distended, though she had no teeth to nash at him with. Still, her skin had sallowed and turned a mottled yellow while her eyes had become as blackened as the sun above. Eyes that looked up at him, dead and devoid of emotion. Slowly, Morgan lifted the shovel, closing his eyes and begged for forgiveness, and for the second time today, killed someone he loved again.

End of Line.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Poetry: Shadow of my Heart

Hey all,

It's been a significant time since I have done any poetry, and despite the major blog dump the past two days, I have been at work here. This poem I started a few weeks ago and finally felt like returning to it. I scrapped most of this poem in it's original version, just leaving the snowy grave line and a couple of rhyme schemes.

This poem changed from its original topic, which was much more upbeat, to this kind of sadder poem after re-connecting with a friend of mine who has been facing some thought times. I've always had a close spot for her and I can tell I channeled some of those feelings into this poem. Anyway, I hope you enjoy it and I'll try to do a better job of posting up some more work in the coming weeks.

Shadow of my Heart

The snowy grave on my heart,

Is brittle and cold,

It pumps slow, so slow,

When it once flowed so bold.

The flowers that bloomed,

Have withered and died,

The blossoms turn to,

Tears of petals I've cried.

You're like a ghost,

A shadow of my heart,

Who's gone away,

So hauntingly far apart.

I don't know what to do,

Or how I'll carry on,

When all the chances that come

Are suddenly gone.

Just walk through the cold,

To a place where I am unknown,

The empty halls echo,

As I waywardly roam.

I feel so lost,

Trapped in this cage,

And no escape, no escape,

Like story with a single page.

Once you closed,

The book of my dreams,

Nothing else matters,

Feelings felt obscene.

Though I can't say goodbye,

To you in my thought,

I given up up hope,

Of being the man that you sought.

It feels so hard,

This being alone,

When you know who you want,

but cannot atone.

End of Line.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Movie Time: Rewind: Kitty Foyle: The Natural History of a Woman

Hey all,

I'm back after a bit of a break this month with another chapter of the Movie Rewind, where I review a great film from Hollywood's history. I had a lot of fun last month reviewing Broadway Melody with Eleanor Powell, so I thought I would continue the trend by reviewing a film by another one of my favorite actresses, Ginger Rogers. The film is 1940's Kitty Foyle: The Natural History of a Woman, the film for which she won the Oscar for Best Actress.

RKO Films, the studio that made Kitty Foyle, was never considered one of the richest studios, like MGM and Paramount, but they compensated for that by having having a diverse production slate of films and had an impressive stable of stars in the 1930's, though MGM would corner that market by the onset of the 1940's and as RKO had financial troubles. RKO had many of the most notable stars under it's banner in the 30's, giving actors and actresses like Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, Irene Dunne, Fred Astaire, and of course Ginger Rogers. Ginger had teamed up with Fred Astaire throughout much of the mid to late 30's, their pairing being finally profitable for the studio, making 8 films between 1934 and 1939. In fact, they were RKO's number one draw and the only stars to top the list of box office performers while at RKO. By 1939 though, the duo wanted to branch out. Astaire wanted to make his on name and Ginger was eager to stretch her acting chops, having started out on the stage as a serious actress before going into musicals. The to still had a deep affection for each other as Astaire went to MGM to team with Eleanor Powell in the sequel to Broadway Melody, Ginger set her eyes on Kitty Foyle.

The film is a the story of a working class woman set in the early 1930's. Kitty Foyle (Rogers) works as secretary to a wealthy Philadelphia socialite named Wynnewood Statfford VI (Dennis Morgan), helping him in his attempt to succeed in establishing a magazine during the Depression. They fall in love, and she always believes he will ask her to marry him once the magazine is a success. The magazine fails unfortunately and Wyn is forced to return to his parents for employment. Kitty is left behind and decides to leave for New York to take a new job working in a department store. While in New York she meets Dr. Mark Eisen (James Craig) who loves her, but Wyn Stafford shows up and asks Kitty to marry him. She initially refuses citing the differences in their social backgrounds. She feels that Philadelphia socialites would never accept her. Many of these beliefs are echoed by her father, who cautions her against reaching above her station in life. Wyn agrees to leave behind Philadelphia and move to New York, so that they can be together. They are married in New York and weeks later they go to Philadelphia to let family know about the marriage. The family is overbearing and obnoxious to Kitty, leaving her feeling ostracized and unworthy. She leaves, and eventually divorces Wyn, believing her father to have been right all along. Kitty finds out afterward though that she is pregnant with Wyn's baby. Kitty steels herself and decides to have the baby anyway, bucking conventional wisdom (at the time) about single motherhood. Sadly though the baby is delivered still-born. Meanwhile Wyn marries a rich socialite as his parents insistence, and by chance, Kitty meets his wife and son. This is difficult for her because she still loves Wyn. She observes the life that Wyn is leading but re-connects with Mark Eisen, the young doctor who was in love with her. Eventually Mark proposes and Kitty is finally forced to reevaluate her life and decisions. In the end, Kitty has to choose between money or love, and in so, she is finally able to let Wyn go and be happy.

Kitty Foyle was a huge film for both RKO and Ginger Rogers at the time.It was RKO's highest grossing film of the year and proved Rogers could be a bankable star without Fred Astaire. It also did a lot to change many people's view of Rogers. Because of Kitty Foyle, Rogers diversity made her a valuable commodity. As many of the 1930's biggest stars, like Irene Dunne, Eleanor Powell, Claudette Colbert, and Greta Garbo waned in the 40's, Rogers continued to star in pictures. She seemed to have a knack for picking the right range of roles for her, from musical to comedy, to romance, to drama, and excelled in the industry after many of her contemporaries were left behind.

Kitty Foyle's message at the time was quite forward in it's thinking. Lauding a lead actress at a major studio to star in a film that promoted many principals that at the time were not considered common. Principals like single motherhood and female independence. Rogers though really raised the bar in her role, showing her depth and range and despite some of the elements on the film not holding up as well, particular elements like the belief that a woman can only rise so high, Rogers is stellar in her role. Next to her performance in Top Hat, this is my all time favorite Rogers role and the role that I really credit for helping me break the conventions of the stereotype that I had of her as well. The same stereotype that I envision that she so desperately wanted to prove that she could break. Ginger Rogers was establishing a new role, revealing in female empowerment, and embracing the changing culture of the time. A culture where many of America's women were entering the workplace to man the factories while the country was at war.

The film itself though, is based on Christopher Morley's 1939 novel, Story of an American Girl and it of itself is very different than the screen version. Adapted by famed screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (one of the Hollywood 10 who would later be blacklisted as Communist sympathizers) he is credited for having glamorized much of the traditionally more risque moments of the book. In the novel, Kitty originally has an abortion instead of a mis-carriage and Trumbo toned downed some of the explicit sexuality within to make it more palatable to the Motion Picture Association's rating system. The book's explicit nature was so profound that Rogers initially turned it down, only changing her mind after reading the screenplay. The film itself ends on a far more upbeat tone then the book, painting a picture for a more hopeful future, giving it a more traditional Hollywood ending. Still, Trumbo's work won him his first Oscar for screenwriting and helped establish himself as one of the pre-eminate writers in film throughout the 1940's, and even throughout the following three decades despite having to write under a pseudonym or use a front to get his work published from the Blacklisting.

Though some of the other performances in the film don't hold up as well as Rogers and many of the ideas and thoughts within may seem dated, in viewing the film as a product of the time you can see what a daring motion picture that it is, despite glamorizing some of the toils of the working woman's oppressive daily grind. As a film it helped to establish Rogers as more than just a dancer and comedienne, it made her a star in her own right. In terms of he greatest actresses of all time, I really think Ginger Rogers is vastly under-rated, trapped in the stereotype of her teaming with Fred Astaire. I firmly believe her to be the most diverse actress of her generation, excelling in all fields and genre's of film. Perhaps matched only in terms of diversity with the great Audrey Hepburn. Still Ginger is one of my favorite stars, if you've never seen the film treat yourself o a very surprising tale along with a very powerful performance from the one and only Ginger Rogers. Kitty Foyle: The Natural History of a Woman.

End of Line.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Flash Fiction: Under a Dead Sun: Past Sins

Chapter 15

Ally threw herself backwards, away from the horrible claw reaching out towards her. The light was dim inside the stable, though a soft glow still clung to the lantern on the wall behind her enabling her to still see the man who had been her father. He was trying to free himself from a tangle of bodies, having been thrown under her brother and fiancee. He wasn't her father anymore though, not really. His face had become a twisted mess, his mouth distended into a gaping maw of sharp black teeth and even duller black eyes that stared back at her. She crawled back, her hands tearing at the hard packed earth, fingers clawing at the clay floor so hard that her nails peeled and bled. She screamed again, harder, when she saw her brother and fiancee had also begun to move, they too, having turned into the terrifying creature her father had become.

The thing that had been her father shot his hand forward, having freed his torso. His thick claws grabbed at the hem of her muddy dress, finding purchase. Ally screamed even harder, thrashing so fiercely and using her feet to kick back off the earth so hard that that part of her dress and petticoat tore away. She had kicked so hard that she lifted off the ground and when her dress tore, she landed hard on her backside, letting out a soft cry as she landed, shuddering as a wave of pain shot along her spine. Her head still throbbed from the two huge lumps and her stomach felt tender and bruised. Her fingers bled from torn nails and her lip had split again from her last cry, letting her taste her own coppery terror.

Still, fear over ruled her pain and she rolled over, crawling as far away as she could on her hands and knees. She stopped when she reached the wall of the stable and looked around for a weapon, anything she could use. She looked desperately, for anything, running her hands along the wall trying to find anything she could use. Finally she flashed on the lantern and she pulled herself upright on the wall, fighting the wave of vertigo and nausea that came over her. Her fingers closed around the wire handle of the lantern and she pulled it free, her fingers shaking with terror.

She turned around, thrusting the lantern forward, washing the three creatures in the lantern's meager glow. The one that had been her father was just steps away as Ally pushed herself as far against the wall as she could. The other two had also freed themselves and were but steps behind the first. Her father still clutched the torn shreds of her dress, but stretched his mouth wide in a fetid hiss as he closed in. Tears streamed from Ally's face, though she made no sound, her voice choked off by the thick lump in her throat. Suddenly the beast's eye went wide and it jerked forward, lunging at Ally's throat. Instinctively Ally lashed out with her only weapon, bringing the lantern across and smashing it against the side of the monster's face. The lantern exploded, erupting against the beast in flames. The creature reared back, the flames licking at the monster as it let out a weird, strangled sort of cry. It thrashed backwards, flailing against the creatures behind it. The fire licked at the monster almost inhumanly fast, spreading across it and the other two beasts like wildfire.

The oil from the lantern hadn't stopped there though, the fire and oil licking at the dried bits of hay that lay strewn about the stable, catching in small bits until reaching the first bale, from which the whole building caught. In mere seconds, the stable was burning fiercely. Ally swatted herself as small bits of her own clothes smoldered from errant bits of oil and embers, falling to the hard floor. She watched as her father quickly burned, his sallow flesh melting away. Tears, from both her heart and the thick smoke that was forming inside, streamed from her face. Her father had fell against her fiancee and her brother, the flames catching against them as well. They seemed to burn bright and fast, the only sound coming from them a mix of throaty growls and hisses, as even in flames they tried to crawl towards her.

Turning her head away, Ally couldn't look anymore. She feebly crawled away, pulling herself upright once she reached the exit of the stable. Once clear, she stumbled towards the small boathouse that had once tied the raft to the other side of the river. She fell hard by the door but she didn't have the strength to pull herself back up again. Ally Marshall merely turned over, rolling her back against the side of the boathouse, and lay there in the muddy earth. Then she watched the stable burned itself to the ground and burn away the only family she had ever known.

End of Line.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Movie Review: Iron Man 2

Hey all,

Paramount Pictures Iron Man 2 is arguably one of the most anticipated films of the year, attempting to deliver on what was considered one of the best, and most unlikely, comic book box offices success. Needless to say I was eagerly awaiting the release of the picture this weekend and headed out to a very early showing this past Friday. I can honestly say I was not disappointed in the least bit. Iron Man 2's success relies on the powerful performances it gets from nearly every member of the star studded cast and the great direction of the returning Jon Favreau.

Iron Man 2 picks up closely where the first film left off. Tony Stark (played by Robert Downey, JR) is leading Stark Industry and has publicly admitted to being Iron Man, His business has never been stronger but the US Government is increasingly concerned about the thought of a privatized military weapon being in the hands of a public citizen and is desperately trying to get a hold of the Iron Man armor from Stark. Meanwhile in Russia, the son of a former scientist that worked for Tony Stark's Dad, Howard (Mad Men's John Slattery) named Ivan Vanko (played by Mickey Rourke) is angry at the legacy of hurt and embarrassment his family has suffered at the Stark's family's hands. Taking blueprints his father had comprised with Howard Stark in the 60's, Vanko designs an arc reactor like the one that keeps Tony Stark alive. Using that reactor and his own design, he creates an exoskeleton that emits whip like energy projections and vows revenge on Stark for making his father die in shame.

At home, Stark has discovered that the element that powers his arc reactor is slowly poisoning him and if he can't find a viable substitute, he will die. Placing his trusted assistant Pepper Potts (Gwynth Paltrow) in charge of Stark Industry, they head to Monaco along with his new assistant Natalie (Scarlett Johanson). Deciding to relish the short time he has left, he decides to drive his own race car in the Grand Prix until he is confronted by Vanko. After a knockdown drag out fight he manages to stop Vanko and returns home with Pepper, despondent over the information that his technology is in other people's hands and representing a danger to people. Between that and the blood poisoning, Tony starts falling further into drinking and partying. In fact he falls so far that his best friend, Col. James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) steals a suit of armor and battles the out of control Stark.

Vanko is freed from prison by Stark's rival, Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) and agrees to build an army of drones for Hammer Industries. As Stark is confronted by Col. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and made to confront his demons, Rhodes takes his suit to the military and with the help of Hammer, outfit the suit with a variety of weapons. At the new suit's, dubbed War Machine, unveiling, Hammer shows off both his drones and the War Machine suit, not realizing that Vanko controls them all. Stark is forced to cage his demons and rush to the unveiling to stop Vanko, Hammer, and his best friend, from destroying everything he hold important.

The real key to this films success is the cast. Robert Downey, JR continues to show why he may be the best bit of casting in a super hero movie ever. The center portion of this film is very Tony Stark centric, and in most super hero films that is a kiss of death, people want to see Spider-Man and Batman, not Peter Parker or Bruce Wayne. Yet Downey makes his character so charismatic that even at his self-centered and narcissistic best, he electrifies the screen. Even when Stark bottoms out, you root for Downey's redemption BECAUSE of his ability to make Stark so likable. I also can't say enough about Gynwth Paltrow's under stated performance as Pepper Potts. She and Downey have an un-mistakable caustic chemistry. The romance is very much a throwback to the romances of the 1930's and 1940's, or for a more modern reference, like in Moonlighting. Where beneath the arguing and contempt they have are two people who love each other but just can't admit to it.

The supporting cast is great as well. Rourke as Vanko looks to be having the time of his life in the role, relishing in the over the top nature of his character but finding enough real menace and nuance in his performance to keep the character from being one dimensional. Don Cheadle steps into Terrance Howard's role of James Rhodes well, maybe even bringing a bit more gravitas to the performance. Scarlett Johanson as Natalie Romanov, of the Black Widow (though she is never called that) brings a great quality top the film. Her action sequence towards the end is great, really showing off the fight training she did and hopefully setting her up for a bigger performance in the Avengers movie. I was afraid that she would be more of a throwaway character meant to add some sex appeal for the fans, but I thought she added nicely to the role. Oh and added sex appeal. Even Sam Rockwell has Justin Hammer offers a great foil for Stark. Never having Stark's charm or luck, he manages to make Hammer both light and dark at the same time. Constantly balancing the dark overtones if the character with a comedic element that added the right amount of levity at the right time. My favorite bit of casting was John Slattery of Mad Men playing Howard Stark. Maybe it was a bit of type casting with his easy familiarity with the 60's era look that his scenes were in, but it was inspired.

I can't say enough things about the great casting of this movie, though you have to give director Jon Favreau credit for the job he did. He manages to take a huge sprawling movie and find a great blend of action, drama, and comedy and yet all the while allow his actors to breath and express themselves. Favreau, an actor himself in movies like Swingers, Couples Retreat, and in Iron Man itself as Stark's bodyguard and driver Happy Hogan) is really an actor's director. Understanding the craft of acting with his background, he allows the actors the chance to find themselves in the role, to do several different takes to find just the right one. He turns the process of directing into a collaborative effort and you can really see it in the performances of the actors, especially in Downey's.

The effects of course are spectacular. Like that should even be a question at this point. The script is solid as well, though I did have a few faults with it. The fight scenes between Rourke and Stark are a tad to short for my tastes. When Rhodes and Stark go at it, it builds to a climax, but when Rourke's character is involved I though the battles were a little quick. Provided, the final battle leading up to the confrontation with Rourke is great, I just wish it had given us a bigger payoff. Also much of the script borrowed elements from the seminal Iron Man tale, Demon in a Bottle, which chronicled Tony's descent into alcoholism. While I understand not wanting to do to much drunk Iron Man for fear of audiences thinking that they were ripping off the Will Smith super hero film Hancock, I would have liked to have seen the performance that Downey, a former addict himself, could have given as a bottomed out billionaire.

Don't get me wrong, I think they did a lot of things very well in the script, setting up not only the next Iron Man film, but establishing Stark's place in the wider Marvel universe teasing both the upcoming Captain America film and the next years Thor film. It also practically establishes the beginning of the Avengers movie setting up characters like the Black Widow and Nick Fury's role as the founder of the Avengers. In fact, with only one small exception which I won't mention, I thought most of the cameo stuff was fairly innocuous and un-obtrusive. Truthfully, the script had a nice blend of action and levity and it really allowed the cast to give very great performances.

All in all I thought Iron Man 2 certainly lived up to the hype. While maybe not as polished as the first film, it's certainly as enjoyable and as entertaining. Robert Downey, JR establishes himself as one of the most affable actors to watch on the screen, really capturing the audiences attention. Favreau continues to build on his bankable legacy as a director and is quickly becoming a box office force to be reckoned with. The film has a fabulous cast with great acting and it reminds us that films can still be fun and enjoyable blockbuster affairs without sacrificing story quality. Iron Man is a really good movie that elevated by the cast and crew to a better picture than you conceive because it is so apparent that the crew is having so much fun. You should definitely check out Paramount Pictures Iron Man 2 as it's clearly the front runner for the summer box office. Not because I said so, but because it's truly worth it.

End of Line.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Flash Fiction: Under a Dead Sun: Past Sins

Chapter 14

Cody stared at the Johnson brothers, his ire growing by the second. Buford Johnson was dead, even he knew that, a belly wound of that nature was fatal. The delay had cost them time and there was no way that they were going to make Desperation before tomorrow afternoon. It was to dark to try to traverse these trails at night, to easy for one of the horses to break an ankle or throw a shoe. Instead, Cody Jarrett seethed, stuck in the middle of nowhere with the one person he couldn't kill, the one person who knew the name of the man who was going to sneak them out of the country, Beau Johnson.

"He ain't got much time left Cody, brother ain't got much time left. I jus' wanna make him comfortable."

A belly wound was a helluva way to die, Jarrett should know, he'd killed plenty of men that way. Your stomach acids bled into your body, very painful. It would be more merciful to just shoot the poor bastard. Cody's hand danced over his Colt, fingertips itching to grab the pearl handled revolver, and splay both of these bastards brains over the rocks. But he needed that damn name. Getting this much money across the border with his face plastered over every wanted poster in the fucking county wasn't going to be easy. Beau had the name of a man who could sneak them across down the Colorado and into Old Mexico. At least until some of the heat wore off him for a little while at. Jarrett had made a lot of enemies in the last few years and with the US Marshall's office on his ass now, it seemed a good idea to lay low for awhile.

Still, even without that name, with this much money at his disposal and his reputation in a town like Desperation, maybe he didn't need the Johnson boys as much as he thought. Sometimes a smile and a bullet could make a greater payment than plain old American currency. Besides, why share this kind of bounty 3 ways when you could keep the whole fucking lump sum for yourself. Jarrett felt that familiar warmth in the pit of his stomach, that euphoria that built whenever he un-sheathed his pistol. Whenever he knew he was about to kill a man. Cody Jarrett smiled and eased the pistol free, hearing that welcoming click as he thumbed the hammer back. Slowly, ever so slowly, he squeezed the trigger, hearing the roar of the gun as he fired two rounds into Buford Johnson's chest. Beau jerked himself back, scrambling backwards like a crab.

"What the FUCK CODY!"

Cody cocked the pistol again and slowly moved it side to side, as if shaking his head no, when Beau went for his gun. He kept it trained on Beau as he lowered himself into a crouch in front of the perspiring Beau.

"Now Beau, I appreciate the love you had for your brother, but I'm afraid I have plumb run out of patience here. I aim to get to Desperation and out of this fucking territory and I aim to do it quick. Now I need you to give me the name of the contact or you'll be joining your brother a might bit faster than you figured."

Beau was flush with fear, though he steadied his voice before he replied.

"That name is the only thing keepin' me alive Jarrett, it's the only chip I got left in this stake. Why the fuck should I give you the one thing you need me for. You're the most wanted man in the territory. You NEED me Jarrett. If you think you can get out of this fucking place without me you are fucking crazy. I'm afraid you're just gonna hafta shoot me you crazy bastard."

"Fair enough Beau."

Cody thundered the last 4 shots in his gun into Beau, his body jerking as the hot lead burst through his chest. He picked himself up from the crouch and wandered back to the small fire they had set up. He calmly reloaded his pistols, ejecting the spent shells onto the dusty ground. Grabbing his canteen and some trail rations, he settled down, resting his head on his saddle to eat and grab a few hours sleep. He glanced at the Johnson Brothers and smiled, already feeling more confident in his choice. He tossed back a long pull of the canteen and started rolling a cigarette, it would be dawn soon enough and he had plenty of trail to cross.

End of Line.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Word Balloon: Iron Man: Demon in a Bottle

Hey all!

May is most certainly Iron Man month, with the big sequel to the film rolling out in just 1 day (as of writing this). As I did with Watchmen and Wolverine last year and Kick Ass this year, I thought I would continue the trend and turn a spotlight on Marvel Comic's Iron Man in this column.

Since the success of the first film, I think the origin of Iron Man is pretty well ingrained into people. Billionaire weapons manufacturer Anthony Stark is captured by terrorists and forced to make them a bomb. Dying as a piece of shrapnel is inching towards his heart, he creates a power source and constructs a suit of armor to protect him and allow him to escape. Traumatized over the destructive powers of the weapons he has built, he vows to use the armor to protect the world, though he is still a victim of his own narcissism and billionaire playboy ways.

Despite Iron Man's longevity and character appeal, he has really been one of Marvel's B characters for most of his publishing career. Iron Man has never had the great creative teams nor Marvel's dynamic artists on board and seminal Iron man stories are few and far between in the characters nearly 50 year existence. Up until Marvel's Avenger push the last few years, which has seen the character quality and impact improved greatly, Iron Man has really only had one creative defining story arc by arguably his one and only great creative team. That story is the seminal "Demon in a Bottle" arc collecting Iron man Volume 1 #120 to #128 by writers David Michelinie and Bob Layton, with art by John Romita, Jr. Carmine Infantino and Bob Layton himself.

Michelinie and Layton had been tasked to fill in the next arc on the series and they were teamed with John Romita, Jr, son of Marvel legend John Romita who was one of the longest tenured artists on Spider Man. This marked Romita's first monthly penciling assignment and he was teams with Layton and Michelinie, who were already established at Marvel. The writers both stated they never set out to write a relevant story, they simply looked at the kind of life a person like Tony Stark would live. Rich, famous, and dealing with the stresses of running a multi-national corporation, partying, and the strains of being Iron Man, they figured that Stark would have problems outside of the usual villain of the week. In fact, they looked at alcoholism as the villain of the week for this arc. The fact that this story IS so identifiable with Iron Man, and the fact that the legacy of this storyline is still a resonate factor in Iron Man almost 30 years later, though, is relevant.

Demon in a Bottle is really about Tony Stark hitting rock bottom. After a battle with the Roxxon Corporation, the Iron Man armor begins to malfunction on Stark and he crashes. After running a series of tests and finding no problems, he visits a Casino with his then girlfriend, Bethany Cabe, but it is attacked y a group of villains, including Whiplash. He dons the armor again and defeats the villains with some help from Bethany, but overhears one of the goons saying that "Hammer" wants Stark alive. After the battle, Iron Man appears at an event to meet a foreign ambassador, but his suit again malfunctions and he kills the dignitary with a repulsor blast. Forced to turn over the Iron Man armor to the authorities, Stark slips deeper into drinking.

Heavily drinking and despondent, Stark convinces his friend Scott Lang (the Ant-Man) to sneak into prison and get information from Whiplash on Hammer's involvement. Discovering that it's his business rival, Justin Hammer, he and James Rhodes (his friend and eventually War Machine) fly to Monaco to confront him, only to be captured. Hammer explains that he has seized control of the armor to ruin Stark's reputation and to get his company back on top. Eventually Stark escapes but Hammer sends a group of super villains after him. Tony manages to regain control of his Iron Man armor and defeat the villains, though when chasing after the fleeing Justin Hammer, Stark crashes and significantly damages the island the complex was on, sinking it and destroying it.

Tony returns home and continues to binge drink, alienating his friends and co-workers, prompting his butler Jarvis to quit and to descend so deep into alcohol that his own girlfriend relates a story about the loss of her first husband to drugs. Stark relents and vows to get treatment, both to save his relationship and to save his company, which is now in the grips of a corporate take over.

This story arc is considered one of the 1970's greatest tales and still generally holds up very well, really only lagging at the ending, where Tony cures his alcoholism in the final issue of the arc. Being the 1970's though, they didn't really craft stories in a long term fashion like that, though its tales like Demon in a Bottle and the stuff that Chris Claremont was doing on the relaunched X-Men title that were changing that. Stores were being crafted with long term plot developments in mind, where a single issue or storyline would have repercussions months, or even years after the initial arc had finished. Michelinie and Layton were at the forefront of creating a new way for comics to be read and probably do not get as much credit as they should have. This is a comic that really tried to inject realism and tell a story where the hero, for the most part, is flawed and un-flattering. For the first time in Iron Man's long history, the reader was engaged in Iron Man's life and world, telling a tale we all know well, that of the rise and fall of a hero, but crafting it in such a way that Iron Man for the first time, was truly human.

This was John Romita JR's first monthly gig and as such some of the learning curves really show. Still even in this raw form you can see his real strength really start to shine through, his storytelling skills. He injects a sense of realism and tragedy in the pages that help to accentuate the story. Today his storytelling skills are his strength, really crafting the pages in such a way to tell the story in a way that needs no words. This is relevant even 30 years ago in his work on Demon in a Bottle. I think he is also helped amiably by writer Bob Layton's inks over his pencils. Layton was an established inker and used his knowledge and craft to help fine tune some of the rough edges of Romita's art. Even the fill in issue by industry legend Carmine Infantino, one of the most renowned "workhorse artists" of the 1950's and early 60's. Infantino had created the Silver Age Flash and even helmed DC Comics in the early 70's before returning to freelance penciling in the late 70's. His fill in issue of Iron Man I always thought was a great bridge, bringing the old guard of comics to the new talent, and ultimately the new way in which comics were published.

As you enjoy the second Iron Man film you will see several instances where they reference Demon in a Bottle, though they are never a slave to the story. They incorporate elements of the tale to tell their own modern version of the story. Where alcoholism is simply a symptom and not the villain. Still, a nearly 30 year old tale STILL maintains its relevance to Iron Man. It retains it for a reason, it's that good. While the film create sits own mythology, its fun to look back and see the basis of these myths and to pay homage to the material and the creators that make these movies possible today.

Iron Man was a character that never really got his due in Marvel. Up until right before the successful launch of the Iron Man film, he was simply one of Marvel's characters. It's great to see Iron Man really regaining his place as one of Marvel's top tier superheroes. For my money, you can't go wrong starting with the Demon in a Bottle trade and there is never a better time than now to check the book out. It may even lead you towards some of the really good stories being told today about Iron Man by authors like Warren Ellis and Matt Fraction, all of whom look to Demon in a Bottle as the turning point for Iron Man. Check it out.

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Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Free Comic Book Day!

Hey all,

I'm running a little behind on this post but this past Saturday was Free Comic Book Day, an event sponsored throughout the country to support awareness of comics and to promote the industry. Many comic book shops have industry professionals show up to their stores for signings and sketch events as a means to really push the days sales and increase that visibility. This is the third year I have had the opportunity to do some volunteer work down at my local comic shop, Atomic Comics.

Atomic is the biggest comic book chain in Arizona with four locations, in Paradise Valley, Chandler, the Mesa Superstore, and my store, the Metro location. This year the store owner, Mike Malve, loaded up on a huge number of local talent instead of getting just a few big names, and had over 25 different local industry pro's doing sketches. All the proceeds generated from the sketches went towards the Hero Initiative, a comic book charity that gives backs to long time industry pro's who didn't have the retirement plans or medical insurance options back in the 40's, 50's, 60's and 70's. may of the creators of your favorite comic book characters, like Batman, Superman, the Flash, many of the X-Men, and Wolverine, get none of the generated profits these hugely marketable franchises generate as they were under a proprietary contract. As a result many of these pro's are in bad situations, with homes being foreclosed and mounting medical bills as they get older. The Hero Initiative gives back to help to alleviate some of the pressures of comic books great fore-fathers.

Getting a chance to volunteer down there was great. I got to do the same job I have had the last 2 years, passing out free comics to anyone who comes up and generally chatting about the medium to both established and new customers. I even helped generate some sales for the store with recommendations of books for people to read. I handed out comics for about 8 hours or so at a pretty steady clip, people really responded great and everyone was super excited to be there and be involved. It was kind of a bonus that we got to give to charity as I was having fun just being a part of the experience.

I think maybe the coolest aspect of free comic book day was knowing that my best friend, Jason Worthington was one of the local pro's doing sketches at the table. Watching him prep and get ready for the event was cool, but he really knocked it out of the park and I know that everyone down at the hop was impressed with the great quality of his sketches. I even commissioned a great Dazzler sketch from him that you can check out on his blog, along with some of his other work. It was cool that he got to do that and even promote his upcoming book, Zombies vs. Cheerleaders from Moonstone Comics. I'm excited to see what kind of stuff he has upcoming and what kind of gigs he may get from San Diego Comic Con in July.

Overall I had a blast and I can't wait until next year to take another turn at it. It was great working for Atomic for the day and to be able to talk to so many cool people about something I love so much. Also be on the lookout for a new Word Balloon featuring the super hero of the month, Iron Man, tomorrow.

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Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Flash Fiction: Under a Dead Sun: Past Sins

Chapter 13

Father Enrico Santiago's fingers fumbled with the bullets as his slid them into the gun. He hadn't touched this gun in nearly 20 years, and his hands shook, raw nerve and adrendlin flooding him. Old emotions he had long since tried to forget, even older memories that had been better left in the past, all came flooding back. He slid the last round in the chamber and clicked the breach shut. Enrico closed his eyes, and remembered the last time he had held this gun. Twenty years ago at Bull Run.

He remembered running through the woods, wondering how a simple boy from poor parents in the New Mexico territories had ended up here. He remembered thinking that it would be a grand adventure, a chance to free himself from poverty. All he knew at that moment then though was the blood on his hands. He remembered the men he had killed and the horrible sounds they had made. He recalled watching his unit get cut to pieces and the screams the screams of the dying all around. He could even still feel the hot furrow of the bullet that creased his shoulder. He fell to the ground hard, tasting a mouthful of mud and he hit. He knew then, that all he really wanted to do, was to live. He prayed to God to help him at that moment as he drug himself towards the only cover he could find, a small hollow. He had pulled himself into the hole, bullets flying above him, his face streaked with tears and anger and fear. It was there he came face to face with the man he would become. Enrico Santiago. Army Chaplain.

The Chaplain had been shot in the head, though how he had fallen in the hollow was anyone's guess. It was that day though, that Edward Richmond died, and Enrico Santiago was born again. He had always had dark hair and skin, living in New Mexico had provided that, plus rumors of infidelity in his fathers past mean he probably was part Hispanic. His father hadn't been much for the Bible, but his mother had made him read from it daily and it was that information he used n the first few months. Enrico surrendered to the Union and after a few weeks in a prison camp and was released under another chaplains care, Father Hester. Hester had arranged his freedom in exchange for heading west with him to found a new mission. Hester didn't survive the journey, though Santiago did.

He had spent the last 20 years living a lie, trying to lead a good life and help people, he really had. There was one thing more important to Enrico Santiago though than helping people. The one thing that had caused all of this in the first place. A fear of dying. Enrico tucked the gun deep beneath his robes and stood up. No, Enrico wasn't going to go quietly at all.

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Sunday, May 02, 2010

Assorted Nuts!

Happy May All!

Last month was kind of crazy towards the end where I fell off posting a little bit. I think this month will be very similar, with my big inspection coming at the end of the month. Still I hope to have some good production this month, especially this week, with a rundown on the recent Free Comic Book Day, a Word Balloon about Iron Man, more Under A Dead Sun, and going into the weekend a look at Iron Man itself. I'm committed to at least 5 posts between now and Sunday.

Overall I have to say that I'm pretty happy with how Dead Sun is turning out, it's actually expanding a lot from the original pitch I had in mind. I've added an additional character than in my original pitch, Ally Marshall, as I felt the story still needed kind of an everyman perspective. Though the key of my story is still going to lie in tying each character to something from their past as they have to confront the horrors of the undead. I'm having a lot of fun with this series and I really wish I was making better progress. Still we are about 12 chapters in and I think the meat of the story is about to ramp up now that the action is getting established.

As for poetry, I've taken a few stabs at writing some new stuff but nothing that feels natural. I'm hoping to take another crack at it on Wednesday or so to que something up a little later. I have been listening to a lot of Sia since that concert and a lot of my poetry has been really to close what she writes about so I'm hoping avoiding it for a few days, both the poetry and the music, will offer a new perspective.

So big stuff ahead, stick around and thanks for reading!

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