Friday, August 31, 2007

Mr. Gore and his energy-efficient office

Just what the hell is Al working on in there? I shudder.

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Once again, the case against electoral politics

Sheesh! Every time I make nonvoting, antipolitics statements like those I’ve made here recently about campaigning for Ron Paul, I get hit with scoldings for under-appreciating the "fine work" of libertarian candidates and their electoral efforts — comments like the ones you’ll find attached here.

So I feel compelled again to offer the same response I have so often before: some of my best friends are voters, but I’m a longtime nonvoter who believes “anarchists” and “radical libertarians” who rely on electoral politics to “liberate” themselves are both unimaginative and philosophically inconsistent. If it’s humiliating to be ruled, how much more humiliating is it to choose your own masters? I’ve talked about this many times before, including here, here, here, and in a recent interview with Sunni Maravillosa.

My libertarian critics should also check out a couple of nonvoting “classics”:

Abstain From Beans, by Robert LeFevre

Party Dialogue, by George H. Smith

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

In defense of "opting out" (2)

El Ray further defends those activists who’d rather focus their efforts on personal freedom than pursue libertarian ends by political means. This short piece, “Objections to Self-Liberation,” is pulled from a larger article titled “SELF-LIBERATION WAYS: A Compilation and Evaluation,” which appeared in Innovator, Spring 1969:

Any self-liberation method (like anything else) has potential problems; there can be grounds for honest reservations. But most of the more vehement opposition stems not from real obstacles but from ignorance or psychological blocks of one kind or another. These include:

Belief in the omnipotence of evil: “There is no way to hide. With satellites, radar and computers (etc.) they will find you no matter where you go and what you do.” This objection ignores: (1) the limited resources of any State; (2) the much greater concern of rulers with rival power-seekers than with opt-outs; (3) available techniques for frustrating detection and identification — technology is a two-edged sword. Such remarks are usually a confession of inferiority feelings and envy; in essence one is saying, “I’m afraid to become free so I refuse to believe that it is possible.”

Appeal to collective duty: “Instead of ‘copping-out,’ you should join my crusade and help achieve freedom for everyone.” Besides presuming altruism, this ignores the really horrendous problems in reforming a large, far-gone State, and the poor record of previous collective endeavors. A free society probably must begin with free individuals.

Dichotomy between expression and conduct: “Statism is basically an intellectual problem and requires an intellectual solution. The way to gain liberty is not by ‘opting out’ but by disseminating rational ideas.” Not only is this only a partial truth (see my editorial in Winter 69 INNOVATOR) but unnecessarily either-or. Some opt-outs are among the most effective communicators — Dr. George Boardman, for example.

Equation of self-liberation with technical retrogression: “You are abandoning thousands of years of civilization with all the benefits of the market to slink off someplace and live like a savage.” Such an objection ignores what can be AND HAS BEEN accomplished. A modern remote homesteader who may have electric plant, freezer, power tools, stereo, jeep, and perhaps even amphibious airplane need not live like the pilgrims. Nor does the neo-nomad with “self-contained” motorhome live like the plains Indians. Products of “civilization” are used when appropriate; what the self-liberator probably does avoid is complete DEPENDENCE on these.

Utopian notions of liberty: “‘Self-liberation’ does not provide real liberty, freedom exists only when one can act without need to defy or evade coercion.” But the latter kind of freedom has never existed on earth. The American Frontier, one of the freest societies known, included bandits and protection racketeers eager to prey on cowards and fools. Even in a new laissez-faire country with (hypothetically) non-coercive government, there might be attack by private criminals and foreign States.

Low valuation of freedom: “For me, self-liberation would be more trouble than it is worth.” This is an honest objection and is probably the real objection of many persons who offer other excuses. Their ancestors in spirit were Europeans of a century or two ago who became very interested in the New World and did much talking about it — but remained where they were!

Liberty is the heritage of men with the will to be free.

Labels: , , , ,

Praise for Ira Levin's great freedom novel

B.W. Richardson has posted a splendid review of Ira Levin’s This Perfect Day. I’ve long argued that the book is one of the finest freedom novels of the past four decades, and it really should be on every libertarian’s “must read” list. The crime is that it’s long out of print. Interesting, since just about everything else Levin’s written, good and bad, is now readily available. Brian spent a whopping $13 on eBay for a tattered paperback copy of This Perfect Day, but adds, “I do not want this book to be out of my possession ever again.” Take his word for it. Levin’s novel is a treasure.

Labels: , ,

Sorry, one more Ron Paul post

I know I promised that this would be a Ron Paul Free Zone, but Wendy McElroy posted this on her blog yesterday:

“I sympathize with Wally Conger's decision to declare his blog a 'Paul Free Zone' -- not merely because such discussion easily becomes tedious but also because any discussion of Ron Paul has the potential of alienating good friends. In my case, I am watching former anti-politicos as they sign get-out-the-vote petitions, do 'vote for my guy' mail-outs, and write Rah-Rah blog posts for a man who seeks a position of raw political power over their lives; there is no other way to describe the Presidency.”

Very well said.

Labels: , , ,

The art of non-leadership

The 57th verse of the Tao Te Ching, by Lao-tzu (Dr. Wayne Dyer’s new adaptation, from Change Your Thoughts – Change Your Life):

If you want to be a great leader,
you must learn to follow the Tao.
Stop trying to control.
Let go of fixed plans and concepts,
and the world will govern itself.

How do I know this is so?
Because in this world,
the greater the restrictions and prohibitions,
the more people are impoverished;
the more advanced the weapons of state,
the darker the nation;
the more artful and crafty the plan,
the stranger the outcome;
the more laws are posted,
the more thieves appear.

Therefore the sage says:
I take no action and people are reformed.
I enjoy peace and people become honest.
I do nothing and people become rich.
If I keep from imposing on people,
They become themselves.

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Looking toward "Big Damn Movie 2"

My friend Brain worries that the Serenity actors’ contract options for doing a sequel expire this coming Saturday. I’m not so concerned. So the contract options expire. Can’t those options just be renewed?

Anyway, even though Serenity’s performance in theaters two years ago was less than stellar, the film’s DVD sales over the past 20 months were good enough for Universal to release a 2-disc “collector’s edition” last week. And I suppose if all us Browncoats buy the Big Damn Movie a second time, maybe, well, maybe Joss Whedon and crew will get a chance to do another film about the Greatest Sci-Fi Universe Ever. I bought my copy last Tuesday, as soon as it went on sale.

If you love Serenity, and even if you bought the original DVD, this new package is worth picking up. It’s got all of the bonus features from the first release, plus lots of new stuff, including a feature-length cast commentary (with Whedon, too) that manages to be plenty of fun.

I know, I know. You feel ripped off, as we all do when these special edition DVDs keep coming out with new stuff. You’re tempted to skip this new release altogether, just to show the industry they can’t keep kicking you around. But this new Serenity is a goodie, and if you buy it, you’re telling the suits at Universal that you wanna see Big Damn Movie 2. And you can always use your original DVD as a loaner to recruit new Browncoats. Good idea, huh?

Labels: , , , ,

I can't believe it's already over...

I barely got out of the house yesterday, so it wasn’t until this morning that I noticed the goddamn school buses clogging the roads. Kids are back in school. And that means, even if unofficially, summer’s freakin’ over.

Where the heck did it go?

Are summers getting shorter, or am I just, gulp, getting old?

Monday, August 27, 2007

Oh, the irony...

Dubya took some time this morning to offer high praise for outgoing Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. “Under his leadership,” Bush said, “the Justice Department has made a priority of protecting children from internet predators...” Ironically, Bush made this statement in Waco, Texas, where another notorious attorney general made special efforts to “protect children” almost 15 years ago.

Labels: , , ,


I gave up reading Sherlock Holmes pastiches years ago, when it grew clear that most were written by hacks who didn’t give a shit for Sherlock and used the Doyle template out of pure laziness. And since then, I’ve cast a skeptical eye on almost all literary spin-offs. But I couldn’t resist this bit of Faux Verne when I spotted it last week at Nan’s used book shop. First of all, I’m a Jules Verne fan and hadn’t until now read any Verne imitations. Second, I’m a lifelong admirer of Captain Nemo, literature’s greatest seafaring anarchist. And third, I heard author Kevin J. Anderson speak at Comic-Con last month and thought, well, what the hell?

Well, Captain Nemo, by K.J. Anderson, isn’t a great work. But it is a light, fun, sweet tribute to Verne’s novels. It purports to be the “true” story behind all of Verne’s books. Every one of them, Anderson tells us — from Five Weeks in a Balloon, to A Journey to the Centre of the Earth and, naturally, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea — is based on the real-life exploits of Verne’s childhood chum André Nemo. So this novel is comprised of a half-dozen or so “real accounts” of Nemo’s adventures, mixed with a biographical telling of Verne’s ascent to literary stardom. Silly? Sure it is. But it got me re-reading Leagues again for the first time in years.

And Captain Nemo is also kind of a blast in its own right.

Labels: , ,

In defense of "opting out"

Back in the early 1970s, when I was still a baby libertarian, El Ray, later Rayo, was a widely published activist who represented what was often called disparagingly the “retreatist fringe” of the movement. While others pursued electoral politics to further liberty, El Ray explored more radical avenues to expand personal freedom and actually live a free life. He was a great theorist and, in a way, a forefather to Samuel Edward Konkin III’s “counter-economic” Movement of the Libertarian Left. For a decade, from his camper and campsites socked away in the mountains and woods, he wrote pieces on freedom theory and strategy for little publications like Innovator, Free Trade, Libertarian Connection, and Vonu Life. Then, in 1974, whoosh, he was gone. Not dead-gone. Gone-gone. Rayo disappeared.

For all anyone knows, he was eaten by savage warthogs. He might even have slipped quietly into a conventional suit-and-tie lifestyle. Who knows? I like to think that, 33 years later, El Ray’s still hunkered down in his own Galt’s Gulch somewhere, far away from prying eyes.

What follows is a short essay El Ray wrote for the Winter 1969 issue of Innovator, titled “On Strategy of Cultural Change.” It’s a fantastic repudiation of the “retreatist” charge made against anti-politics and, in turn, agorism.

Libertarians who choose to secure their own liberty often find themselves accused of “anti-intellectualism” by other freedom advocates. The charge goes:

“Statism is basically an intellectual problem and requires an intellectual solution; liberty cannot be achieved until popular attitudes become compatible with liberty. The way to gain liberty is not by ‘opting out’ of society but by disseminating rational ideas within the society.”

This criticism is rather beguiling because it is half true: statism is indeed an intellectual problem and requires an intellectual solution. But statism is not EXCLUSIVELY intellectual; it is a SYMBIOSIS of philosophical deceit and institutionalized violence, each sustaining the other. Neither is alone the cause; each is both cause and effect.

Coercivist governments largely control the mass communication media; directly through administration of “public schools,” indirectly through licensing of radio/TV stations and intimidation of publishers under tax and regulatory laws. And the controlled communication media in turn inculcate attitudes and misinformation in support of institutionalized coercion.

Equally important but not so well recognized: Most people accept statist propaganda not merely because they are brainwashed but because they WANT to believe. They feel powerless to change the society or to liberate themselves from it (“You can’t fight City Hall.”) and therefore prefer to believe that somehow it is all for the best. And the more despotic the system, the greater their credulity. Most inmates of German concentration camps were pathetically eager to believe the “explanations” of Nazi administrators, against all evidence to the contrary. Most Russians, even more than most Americans, believe that infringements of their liberty are necessary; opposition, if any, is reserved for details of implementation where change appears possible. One can observe this for himself; most people encountered are not merely deceived; they WANT to be deceived and bitterly resent any attempt to demolish their rationalizations of The Way Things Are.

Certainly liberty cannot be achieved society-wide until popular attitudes become compatible with liberty. But the inverse is equally true; changing popular attitudes is impossible until liberty is realized or at least appears imminent. Together, these lead to the conclusion: a coercivist philosophic/politico-economic system cannot be radically changed BY ANY MEANS from within. Establishments can and do evolve, but mostly in response to developments external to the system.

I suggest that liberation is possible only on the individual level and only by changing attitudes and living-patterns together. Refutation of statist propaganda and opting out must go hand-in-hand. To seek self-liberation is not to be “anti-intellectual”; it is to integrate intellect with reality — to follow thought with action.

Labels: , , , , ,

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Ron Paul: enough already!

I've said it before, but I'll say it again: I've met Ron Paul, I've spoken with Ron Paul, I even have a great fondness for Ron Paul. But I've kinda had it up to here [if you could see me, you'd see I've got my right hand up over my head] with all the Paulian talk that's swamped the libertarian blogosphere for the past few weeks and has made my favorite daily watering hole,, particularly its blog, almost unbearable to visit right now.

This blog is a Ron Paul Free Zone.

Just thought I'd mention that.

Labels: ,

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Left Libertarian classic now available

One of my regrets since college has been misplacing a dusty little 1972 paperback titled A New History of Leviathan: Essays on the Rise of the American Corporate State, edited by Murray Rothbard and Ronald Radosh. This book was one of the few genuine Left-Right collaborations that sprung from Rothbard’s notorious flirtation with the Left in the late 1960s. And it was a real eye-opener for me at the time, filled with essays by, of course, Rothbard, libertarian Leonard Liggio, New Leftist William Appleman Williams, then-Leftist now-neocon Radosh, and others. I did an online search for it about two years ago and found a single, well-worn copy — originally priced at maybe a dollar — for 35 bucks. As much as it pained me, I passed. Well, the Mises Institute comes through again! It now offers this important bit of Libertarian Left history as an absolutely free PDF download! Fantastic!

Thanks to comrade Brad Spangler for the tip.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Now THAT'S Flash Gordon!

Labels: , ,

Not your daddy's Joker, is he?

Heath Ledger plays the Joker next summer in The Dark Knight, the follow-up to 2005's Batman Begins. I'm already creeped out.

Labels: ,

Saturday, August 18, 2007

FLASH GORDON: a second look

So last night, since I was tuned to SciFi Channel anyway from having just watched Doctor Who, I figgered I'd give the new Flash Gordon series another try. I thought, maybe I was too harsh in my review last week.

Nope. I was right the first time. The show is actually getting worse.

Gina Holden, who stars as Dale Arden, is still a hottie, though. I don't think even this show can kill her career.

Labels: , ,

Alan Moore interview

The folks at Infoshop News have posted a very thoughtful conversation with comic book author and anarchist Alan Moore. The entire interview is worth reading, but to whet your Libertarian Left appetites, here’s a short bit from Moore about why he separated himself from the Wachowskis’ 2006 movie version of his extraordinary graphic novel V for Vendetta:

“What had originally been a straightforward battle of ideas between anarchy and fascism had been turned into a kind of ham-fisted parable of 9-11 and the war against terror, in which the words anarchy and fascism appear nowhere. I mean, at the time I was thinking: look, if they wanted to protest about George Bush and the way that American society is going since 9-11 — which would be completely understandable — then why don’t they do what I did back in the 1980s when I didn’t like the way that England was going under Margaret Thatcher, which is to do a story in my own country, that was clearly about events that were happening right then in my own country, and kind of make it obvious that that’s what you’re talking about. It struck me that for Hollywood to make V for Vendetta, it was a way for thwarted and impotent American liberals to feel that they were making some kind of statement about how pissed off they were with the current situation without really risking anything. It’s all set in England, which I think that probably, in most American eyes, is kind of a fairytale kingdom where we still perhaps still have giants. It doesn’t really exist; it might as well be in the Land of Oz for most Americans. So you can set your political parable in this fantasy environment called England, and then you can vent your spleen against George Bush and the neo-conservatives. Those were my feelings, and I must admit those are completely based upon not having seen the film even once, but having read a certain amount of the screenplay. That was enough.”

Labels: , , , ,

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Return of The Question

Talk about synchronicity! I’ve written about Steve Ditko and his Objectivist comic book hero The Question here and here in the past two weeks, and look what I found at my local comics shop yesterday! The Question makes a rare and marvelous appearance in the latest issue (#36) of DC’s Justice League Unlimited, based on the Cartoon Network animated series that wrapped up last year. This isn’t quite Ditko’s version of the character. Rather, as he was on the TV series, this Question is a data-collecting revealer of conspiracies. But he is Vic Sage, and he does strike the appropriate Randian poses. And it’s really quite a fun story, which is all that really matters, right? I don’t think Question buffs will be disappointed.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Being naughty for fun and profit

Russia is one of the most sparsely populated countries on the planet. In fact, its population’s been shrinking since the early 1990s. But government leaders in the region of Ulyanovsk have got a “fix.” According to a story in today’s Denver Post, they’ve declared this coming September 12 the “Day of Conception” and for the third year in a row are giving couples time off from work to, well, screw their brains out and make babies.

Sound like fun? Well, it is! And not for just the obvious reason! Couples who “give birth to a patriot” exactly nine months later will win money, cars, washing machines, video cameras, and other prizes during June 12 festivities.

Is Russia a great country or what?

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Sorry, I'm blissing out

Just checking in. Deb and I are back from a brief vacation in Carmel, just a couple hours north of here, and I'm still "blissing out" from all the gorgeous weather, terrific food and wine, and fun art galleries. I can't even get a decent rant going about Karl Rove right now. Imagine! The single thing Carmel lacks is a really great bookstore. The only one left in town -- several have closed since I last visited two years ago -- is a teeny New Age metaphysical shop...not that there's anything wrong with that. See you shortly.

Labels: ,

Saturday, August 11, 2007

A Flash in the pan

SciFi Channel’s new Flash Gordon series debuted last night with a 90-minute pilot. Eleven more episodes should make up the first season. But I think I’ve already seen enough.

If you’re gonna tackle an American sci-fi icon like Flash Gordon — even if you plan to give him something of a contemporary spin — you’ve still gotta give us Flash friggin’ Gordon. If you plan to just stick the 1934 Alex Raymond names on 2007 faces and then ignore the spaceships, ray guns, swashbuckling swordfights, minaret-strewn landscapes, colorful villains, and flamboyant costumes, don’t call your show Flash Gordon. Call it anything else, call it Zippy Corrigan or something, but don’t call it Flash Gordon.

Two weeks ago, I attended a panel discussion about this new show at Comic-Con. The producer was there. The head writer was there. Stars Eric Johnson (Flash) and Gina Holden (Dale Arden) were there. And even though the two or three clips they showed didn’t particularly impress me, these people seemed enthusiastic and sounded like they understood the series’ source material. I left with a small bit of hope.

That teeny bit of hope was demolished last night. Flash Gordon sucks. Period. You can camp up the old comic strip, as they did with the 1980 movie, and get away with it, because we old fans get the joke, we know that Flash is “of his time,” he’s retro sci-fi, and the whole idea of Ming the Merciless, Mongo, and winged men is, well, a bit silly. But don’t fuck with Flash’s very essence. Don’t suck all the life out of him. Don’t give us a Zarkov who’s nothing more than an eccentric, RV-driving, sputtering, loser geek. Don’t give us a politically correct Ming who’s more Donald Trump than Fu Manchu.

Thankfully, Johnson does a reasonably good job as Flash. He’s not embarrassing. And Holden is an appropriately yummy Dale. She’s no damsel-in-distress, but Dale’s never had to be. If the rest of the cast were as good, and if the scripts were, well, even “OK,” we might have at least something to work with here. But I’m afraid we don’t. And that’s a pity.

Go rent — or better yet, buy — the new DVD of the 1980 Flash Gordon movie. You know, the one with the terrific Queen score. Revel in its comic strip sappiness. Or rent the old Buster Crabbe serials from Netflix. Have yourself a party. Just ignore this new SciFi Channel “original.” It’ll be gone in a few weeks anyway.

Labels: , , , ,

Will I find a deal on

My semi-major home remodel is kicking the shit outta my wallet right now, so I doubt I’ll be among the first to check into Galactic Suite when it opens for outer space business in 2012. A three-day stay at the three-bedroom (i.e., three-pod) boutique space hotel, says Xavier Claramunt, director of the company planning the hotel, will cost $4 million; that also includes eight weeks of intensive training at a space camp. The price is out of my range, but Claramunt says in a Reuters story: “We have calculated that there are 40,000 people in the world who could afford to stay at the hotel. Whether they will want to spend money on going into space, we just don’t know.” Well, were it not for the cost, I’d be there in a snap. If any readers out there want to help defray the expense of my staying at Galactic Suite, please contact me ASAP.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Hiroshima: The Sequel

Sixty-two years ago today, the U.S. followed-up its destruction of Hiroshima, Japan, by likewise bombing Nagasaki. This was the U.S. government's second terrorist act in four days.

Labels: , , ,

Once more, Steve Ditko

As I mentioned last week, I’ve been on a real Steve Ditko kick since Comic-Con, devouring the three hardcover volumes of 1960s era Ditko work I picked up there. I’ve re-read the old Doctor Strange stories he did for Marvel, his Captain Atom and Blue Beetle comics for Charlton, and best of all, the entire run of his Ayn Rand-inspired hero The Question, also produced for Charlton. All of which reminded me that I have two paperbound Ditko books boxed and stored in a portable storage unit in front of the house. Wish I could get to them right now, but that’ll have to wait until after our home remodeling project. Those two books contain, I believe, all of Ditko’s Mr. A stories from the late ’60s and early ’70s. To play with the Randian vernacular a bit, Mr. A made The Question look like a whim-worshipping skank. He was a black-and-white Objectivist through and through. And here’s what’s neat: there’re some nice samples of Steve Ditko’s Mr. A work available for view online, including, in full, the character’s first ever appearance in witzend #3 (1967). The Mr. A material comes in three parts — here, here, and here. Whether or not you’re sympathetic to the Objectivist life view, you’ll probably enjoy this.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Black Mamba for Christmas

I'd hoped to find the 4-disc, definitive, re-edited, 247-minute Kill Bill: The Whole Bloody Affair DVD package under the tree this next Christmas, but alas..., which in June listed the release date as November 6, now reports that the DVD's release has been pushed to December 25, Christmas day. OK, so now I'm hoping I'll find enough Best Buy gift cards under the tree to scoop up the damn thing on the 26th!

Labels: , , , ,

Monday, August 06, 2007

Report from Ground Zero

On this 62nd anniversary of the U.S. destruction of Hiroshima, it occurs to me that a few readers might like to revisit the story of my personal brush with the atomic bomb last year. Read about it here.

Labels: , , ,

Sunday, August 05, 2007

But what's the answer?

Eric Newsom has responded to my recent post about Steve Ditko and The Question with an alert that he runs a web site, complete with busy forum, about all things relating to the great Objectivist comic book hero. I've just taken a look, and the site's terrific. You'll find it right here.

Labels: , ,

How scary is anarchism?

Al-Qaeda is more dangerous than ever, say our masters. This, after six years of Homeland Security, the U.S. invasion and demolition of Iraq, and the intrusive Patriot Act.

Despite the watchful eye of the Food and Drug Administration, our spinach, our canned meat, and even our green beans are unsafe to eat. Our pets are even afraid to eat meals.

The Interstate 35W bridge in Minnesota collapses, due in part to the incompetence of the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

Despite all of this, I was told by a friend today that the notion of a world without government frightens him. He'd never feel safe, he said.


Labels: , ,


Ten days ago at Comic-Con, Steve and I spent more than three hours — first in line, and then sitting and waiting in a gigantic ballroom (capacity: 4,500) — to see the world premiere of Superman Doomsday, the first of DC Comics’ direct-to-DVD, older-audience (i.e., PG-13), animated features. For geeks, this movie is a pretty big deal. For one thing, it’s “inspired” by DC’s long-running, bestselling “Death of Superman” series from a decade or so ago. For another, its producer (and co-writer) is Bruce Timm, who was responsible for the best string of animated superhero TV shows ever (Batman, Superman, Batman Beyond, Justice League Unlimited). Expectations were high at Comic-Con. So what’s the verdict?

Superman Doomsday offers a couple of real surprises, neither of which has much to do with its story. The first surprise, for me, was that the movie doesn’t fall anywhere into the continuity of Timm’s original Superman series; rather, it’s a whole new ballgame, with the familiar cast of characters sporting all-new looks and new voices. There’s nothing particularly wrong with this, but it did jar me initially, and I confess that I was somewhat disappointed. In the voiceover department, Adam Baldwin (Firefly, Serenity) replaces Tim Daly as Superman, Anne Heche replaces Dana Delany as Lois, and James Marsters (Spike, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer) replaces Clancy Brown as Lex Luthor. All of them do admirable jobs, but I do miss Brown’s Luthor, who had really developed phenomenally through the ten-year run of various TV shows. The second surprise is how serious DC is about the PG-13 rating. The violence, of course, has been heightened considerably, to the point where I winced at seeing Superman bleed as freely as he does. The sexuality is also a touch explicit for a cartoon feature; the secret “dates” Superman and Lois share involve serious lip-action and overnights at the Fortress of Solitude in bathrobes. Superman Doomsday ain’t for the kiddies.

But what about the movie’s story? I think it’s very well done. Granted, the source material’s been tweaked, sometimes radically, but it had to be. Only diehard fans who don’t recognize the challenge of cramming two years of comic book story into a 75-minute film should be dissatisfied. A few may argue that the movie’s center section — the post-Doomsday, mourning period of the story — shuffles along a bit too slowly. It may, but at the same time, it builds into what’s a boffo finish. Grumbles were heard in the Comic-Con crowd that no Justice League members appear in the film, as they did in the comics. But to have included Batman, Green Lantern, or Wonder Woman would have diminished the dramatic impact of a “world without Superman” in this short movie.

Overall, Superman Doomsday is a dandy, rock ’em sock ’em, animated feature. Superman fans and comics geeks in general should check it out when it’s released on DVD September 18.

Labels: , , , ,

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Steve Ditko revisited

Jack Kirby may have been The King, but my favorite comic book artist as a kid in the ’60s was, hands down, the great Steve Ditko. I read everything of his I could find, starting naturally with Amazing Spider-Man, then moving on to Doctor Strange (the Strange Tales back-of-the-book feature) and even his very early monster and sci-fi stories. I followed Ditko from Marvel to DC, where he produced the Creeper and Hawk & Dove, but the stuff he ground out for Charlton Comics in 1966-68, like the “new” Captain Atom and a relaunch of the Blue Beetle, is what enthralled me most.

Best of all Ditko’s Charlton creations, though, was his no-nonsense, blue-suited, faceless, Randian hero, The Question. (A few years later, I’d discover his similarly Objectivist-themed and even more unswerving Mr. A in Wally Wood’s Witzend fanzine.) The original Question canon consisted of just five short appearances in the back of the Blue Beetle comic and one full-length solo book — just 62 pages in all. (The Question also appeared in a Beetle story, but only as reporter Vic Sage.) Those stories were tremendous fun and crammed with hardcore “A is A” values:

“Help! Do something! We’re caught in the current! Can’t hold on much longer!” shout two murderous thugs The Question has kicked into the city’s raging sewer system.

“So why tell me your problems?” says The Question. “You’re both crazy if you think I’d risk my neck to save the likes of you! As far as I’m concerned, you’re just so much sewage! And you deserve to be right where you are!”

“You’re inhuman! You can’t leave us here! You’ve no right! It’s your fault we’re here! You must save us! It’s your duty! It’s...”

“Duty?? — to whom??”

I lost my copies of The Question’s original Charlton appearances long ago. I reread them so often that I probably just wore ’em out. But I never lost my love for the character. Unfortunately, Steve Ditko never returned to Vic Sage and most attempts to resurrect him have been unsatisfying. Denny O’Neil tried his hand at it in the mid-’80s, thoroughly discarding the unique Ditko flavor and injecting instead an inappropriate Zen philosophy. Recently, the Justice League Unlimited cartoon series presented a version of The Question more inspired by X-Files than Ditko. As far as I know, the genuine Ditko article has shown up just once in the past 40 years, still checking his premises and spouting the Objectivist jargon; that was in Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Strikes Again graphic novel in 2002 (“I’m no Ayn Rander!” The Question yells at Left-leaning Green Arrow. “She didn’t go nearly far enough!”).

Anyway, I’ve wanted to get hold of and revisit Charlton’s original Question stories for a very long time. So everybody in San Diego last week probably heard my big gasp when I discovered at Comic-Con that Ditko’s entire Question saga, plus every smidgen of his Blue Beetle and Captain Atom work from the same period, is now collected into a wonderful, single hardcover book, part of DC’s Archive Editions series. The book’s titled The Action Heroes Archives Volume 2, and it’s fantastic. The reproduction is crisp and beautiful. For Steve Ditko fans, this book is a dream-come-true, as is the first Action Heroes volume, published in 2004, which features all of Ditko’s earliest Captain Atom stories from as far back as 1960.

Long live Steve Ditko. And long live The (quintessential) Question.

Labels: , , , ,