Monday, June 29, 2020

Marvel Immersion Project: The Avengers #92-97 and The Amazing Spider-Man #90

The Avengers definitely is not the series for me.  As discussed last week, there are simply too many characters and, not coincidentally, too many narrative threads running simultaneously.  Frankly, by the time I got to the end of The Kree/Skrull War series, the story had gotten so complicated and been spread so wide that I barely cared how it ended.  Good guys won.  That's all that matters, I guess.  I get the importance for future stories.  I get the solid topical efforts regarding war, nuclear weapons and the demonization of ethnic groups during times of crisis.  None of that was enough to save it for me.  I won't be returning to The Avengers anytime soon.

On the other hand...

I now return to The Amazing Spider-Man for two short but profoundly relevant stories, not just for Spidey and Marvel but for the entire American comic book industry.  Yes, I've been hinting about this one for a while and we're finally here.

Getting back to Spidey feels like I have come home.  While I would say both Silver Surfer and Black Bolt are more inherently interesting characters, Spider-Man's world is the most satisfying of Marvel's Silver Age and therefore generates the most consistently satisfying narratives.  I've been away for 52 issues and was keenly aware of how much I'd missed and how eagerly I want to go back and fill in my own gaps.  I will at some point.

Before we move on, a quick acknowledgement for the main writer of The Kree/Skrull War series.  I don't think he's the one to blame for the broader mess that is the Avengers.  Or maybe he is.  Regardless, he put in the hours and I shall give credit where it is due.

Roy Thomas - Wikipedia
via Wikipedia

Roy Thomas was born November 22, 1940 in Jackson, Missouri.  He graduated from Southeast Missouri State University in 1961.  Probably his most important contribution to the industry was the introduction of Conan the Barbarian, previously a pulp magazine hero, to comic books.  He is the co-creator of many characters, including Wolverine, Luke Cage, Ultron and Red Sonja.  He was inducted into the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame in 201l.

My Recent Reads

The Avengers #92
Originally Published September 10, 1971
Editor: Stan Lee
Writer: Roy Thomas
Artist: Sal Buscema
  • A guilty by suspicion story as H.W. Craddock accuses the Avengers, and particularly Captain Marvel, of befriending the invading Kree.
  • Col. Fury draws a parallel with the Japanese Internment Camps during World War II.
  • Jarvis, the Avengers' butler, is featured.
Edwin Jarvis - Wikipedia
via Wikipedia
  • Joe Cocker reference!

  • The Big Three (Iron Man, Captain America and Thor), disgraced by the accusations, disband the Avengers on the final page.

The Avengers #93
November 10, 1971
Artist: Neal Adams
  • Hank Pym, now appearing as Ant-Man, journeys through Vision's android body to find what ails him.
Henry Pym (Earth-20051) | Marvel Database | Fandom
via Marvel Database
  • Crosby, Stills and Nash are the names of Pym's ants in this adventure.

  • The Big Three who dropped the bomb at the end of the last issue were actually shapeshifting Skrulls in disguise.  The same Skrulls, lead by the Super Skrull, kidnap Captain Marvel, the Scarlet Witch and Quicksliver.
  • "Fire and Rain" reference: the James Taylor song was released in February 1970.

  • David and Goliath reference.

The Avengers #94
December 10, 1971
Artists: Neal Adams (parts 1 & 3) and John Buscema (part 2)
  • The Inhumans are featured, and fortunately they survive a WMD attack by Super Skrull.
  • The Super Skrull brings his three captives to the Skrull king.  The king tortures the twins in an effort to extort Kree tech secrets from Captain Marvel.
  • Triton appears in the last frame.

The Avengers #95
January 10, 1972
  • An Inhumans story!  The Avengers save Black Bolt in San Francisco, then take him back to the Great Refuge where he, once again, wrests power away from Maximus.  
  • Maximus, wouldn't you know it, has aligned himself with the Kree.  There are implications, in fact, that all of the Inhumans are descended from the Kree.  In the years since, that interconnected history has evolved into something a bit more complicated.
Supreme Intelligence - Wikipedia
via Wikipedia
  • Featured: Supreme Intelligence

The Avengers #96
February 10, 1972
  • The Avengers head to the Skrull world to help their kidnapped friends.
  • Mar-vell wasn't really helping after all.  He hoodwinked the Skrulls!
  • However, a nuclear warhead is heading toward Earth.
  • Rick Jones is kidnapped by the Kree.
  • Supreme Intelligence sends him into the Negative Zone.

The Avengers #97
March 10, 1972
Lee/Thomas/J. Buscema
  • You know what this story needs?  More characters.
  • It turns out Rick Jones has a superpower, or at least one the Supreme Intelligence has granted him temporarily.  He is able to summon Marvel superheroes from the 1940s.  Included are the old Human Torch and a different Vision, one with a similar costume but a different color scheme (seriously?).  Other blasts from the past:
    • The Patriot
Jeffrey Mace - Wikipedia
via Wikipedia
    • Blazing Skull
Blazing Skull | Superhero Wiki | Fandom
via Superhero Wiki
    • The Fin
Peter Noble (Earth-616) | Marvel Database | Fandom
via Marvel Database
    • Angel
Angel (Thomas Halloway) - Wikipedia
via Wikipedia
  • Through means I don't entirely understand, the powers of both sides are diffused.  
  • Craddock is unmasked as a Skrull.
  • All is well. 

The Amazing Spider-Man #90
November 1, 1970
Lee/Gil Kane
  • Villain: Doctor Octopus
  • Featured: George Stacy, father of Gwen Stacy, Peter Parker's current girlfriend.
George Stacy - Wikipedia
via Wikipedia
  • George Stacy dies in this issue and Spidey/Peter blames himself.  This is a big deal.  The readership is put on notice: recurring characters within the Marvel Universe can die, permanently.
  • The death would be shocking enough in itself but add to it George's final revelation to Spider-Man while dying in the web slinger's arms: he knew Spidey was Peter.
  • I have been away from this series for 52 issues.  This was my own introduction to George Stacy - I barely met him before having to let him go.  Yet, the emotional impact for me is far beyond anything I've experienced in my time exploring other Marvel series. 

Friday, June 26, 2020

Star Trek: Pen Pals

Episode: "Pen Pals"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 2, Episode 15
Original Air Date: May 1, 1989

Pen Pals (episode) | Memory Alpha | Fandom
via Memory Alpha
Data makes contact with Sarjenka, a little girl on Drema IV.  Her planet is in great peril.  If the Enterprise doesn't intervene, it's likely Sarjenka will die, along with the entire population of her world.  The complication: Drema IV is a pre-warp civilization and Starfleet interference would violate the Prime Directive.

I love the Prime Directive dilemma stories!  In my opinion, the PD is the best science fiction narrative device after Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics.  However, unlike the Laws which are absolutely rock sold, the PD is often no sooner mentioned than violated.  Still, the dilemma gets to the heart of the uniqueness of the Trek universe.  The TNG stories in this vein tend to be more effective than the TOS ones. 

The episode's secondary story - a Wesley tale, groan... - is also worthy of note.  Riker feels it's time for the young lad to experience command.  He assigns Acting Enign Crusher to lead a science team.  As always, there's the little voice in the back of my head nagging, "he doesn't deserve this."  That said, it is an interesting exploration of the dynamics of leadership and what it takes to learn the necessary skills.  Riker also emphasizes for Wesley the strong model available to him:
Riker: In your position, it's important to ask yourself one question.  What would Picard do?
Wesley: He'd listen to everyone's opinion, then make his own decision.
Wise man.

Food Notes

For the first time, Captain Picard succeeds in ordering and drinking his trademark "tea, Earl Gray, hot" from the replicator.

Acting Notes

Image result for nicholas cascone
via Memory Alpha

Nicholas Cascone (Ensign Davies) was born April 20, 1963 in New York City.  This was his first of two Star Trek appearances, also clocking in for DS9's "Equilibrium" as Timor.  Since Trek, he has appeared in Titanic, The West Wing and Dragonfly.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Squid Mixes: A Whiskey Champion Emerges

Two untested rye whiskeys in our price range are on sale in Vermont liquor stores for June: Jack Daniels Tennessee Rye and Ezra Brooks Straight Rye.  We picked up a bottle of each setting up, for now, our final whiskey battles...

George Dickel vs. Jack Daniels Tennessee Rye

Jack Daniels was fruitier.

Winner: George Dickel

George Dickel vs. Ezra Brooks

This was a particularly important battle.  Brooks is definitely a lower-shelf brand than most of the others we've tested.  At full price for each, Brooks is $12 cheaper than Dickel.  Brooks is a perfectly nice whiskey, having already triumphed over Old Overholt, our original favorite (read here).  And $12 really is rather a lot.  So, even if Dickel should win, it's likely only going to be our "when it's on sale" choice while Brooks remains our staple.

George Dickel is smokier.

Winner: Ezra Brooks

Well, what do you know?

My wife was quite surprised to find that she preferred the Brooks in the blind test.  What's interesting is that she'd never described Dickel as smoky before and, in fact, wouldn't have considered the word a redeeming adjective for a whiskey.  Nonetheless, her choice was clear.

No complaints here.  The preference will save us money.  While I think the other brands might be nice for a change of pace once in a while, our rye of choice is both tasty and affordable.  Everybody wins!

Next up: Vermouth Battles

Squid on the Vine

Fondo Bozzole, Giano Lambrusco Mantovano
A bubbly red
Cherry nose
Cherry, bubblegum taste
My rating: 8.1

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Family Book Swap: The Secret Commonwealth

Title: The Secret Commonwealth
Author: Philip Pullman The Book of Dust: The Secret Commonwealth (Book of ...
via Amazon
As expected, my wife gave me The Secret Commonwealth, the second volume of Philip Pullman's The Book of Dust trilogy for our latest book swap.  Here is my reflection on Book One.  The story is set some 20 years after La Belle Sauvage and about 10 years after His Dark Materials.

Lyra is a university student at Oxford, though in a different college from Jordan, the one that essentially raised her.  Pantalaimon, her separable daemon (long story - read the books!), witnesses a murder while out wandering one evening.  This sets off a chain of events that leads to Pantalaimon running away and Lyra setting off to find him, sending both on an adventure across Europe to what we know as Turkey.

Malcolm, whom we met in Book One of this series, still sees himself as Lyra's protector.  What's more, he's in love with her.  So, when she runs off after Pan, Mal runs off after her.  Luckily for all involved, he's become even more of a badass with age.  Seriously, George Smiley would be proud!

There's a lot more to all of this but it's complicated.  However, it's well worth immersing oneself in this world.  I wasn't too sure about this second trilogy, having enjoyed the original so much, but the second book has me convinced.  While it is set in the same world with, for the most part, the same protagonist, the story is not a feeble attempt to rehash the old.  With more adult characters comes a more adult atmosphere and a more adult adventure.  As with Book One, not a read aloud for the tots.

Perhaps most importantly, Pullman tests the limits of the very world he created, specifically the limits of the daemon-human bond.  The original series portrays the relationship as invariably blissful.  In the new, Lyra learns quite a lot about how different the reality can be, and not merely between herself and Pan.  While His Dark Materials begins with the "I am not what I seem" premise of so many fantasy tales, The Book of Dust revolves more around "The world is not quite what I've always assumed it was."  If anything, it makes the concept more believable.

One other thing I really like:  Lyra, whom we've now known at three life stages, is acknowledged as a sexual being.  She has had sex.  She enjoyed it.  No big deal.  At no point is she shamed for this.  Nice.

In fact, the story is so different that I wonder how well it would stand on its own.  I love His Dark Materials and would certainly encourage anyone who hasn't read it to do so but I don't think it's necessarily a pre-requisite.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Marvel Immersion Project: Strange Tales #145-146, The Avengers #89-91

This week, I say goodbye to Dr. Strange and move on to a quick tour with The Avengers, issues #89-97, a run known collectively as The Kree/Skrull War.  I have previously hinted (here, for instance) at my main gripe with the Avengers: way too many characters!  The group started with five founding members in 1963: Ant-Man, Wasp, Iron Man, Thor and Hulk.  Things got messy quickly.  Hank Pym switched from Ant-Man to Giant Man in issue #2 and Hulk quit.  Captain America joined in #4 and was granted founding member status.  By the time we get to our story, launched in 1971, the Avengers had seemingly become a catch-all to include the stars of discontinued series and any other character the Marvel creators couldn't put anywhere else.  I'd intended to begin my own reflection with a rundown of the roster at the time of #89 but even now, 49 years later in an age of thorough Wikis and numerous other reliable sources, figuring that out is maddeningly complicated.  Who was in?  Who was out?  Who had been in but had left?  Who had been invited but refused?  Who was included in the stories but not an official Avenger?  Nothing in the issue itself provides any clarity.  You get the characters you get for a given story.  Either you're already supposed to know the rest or it doesn't really matter.  Just shut up and enjoy the comic book, stupid!

That's not easy for me...

I will do my best to put my discomfort aside for now.

My Recent Reads

Strange Tales #145
Originally Published June 1, 1966
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Steve Ditko
  • Nemesis: Mr. Rasputin

Strange Tales #146
July 1, 1966
Writer: Lee
  • Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.
    • Artist: Jack Kirby
Advanced Idea Mechanics (Earth-616) | Marvel Database | Fandom
via Memory Alpha
    • Nemesis: A.I.M., Advanced Idea Mechanics, first appearance
  • Doctor Strange
    • Artist: Ditko.  This is his final Doctor Strange issue.
    • Nemesis: Dormammu
    • Includes appearances by both Eternity and Mordo.
Clea (Earth-616) | Marvel Database | Fandom
via Marvel Database
    • A mysterious woman has been aiding Strange in his struggle against Dormammu for nearly two years-worth of issues.  She finally gets a name: Clea.

The Avengers #89
June 10, 1971
Editor: Lee
Writer: Roy Thomas
Artist: Sal Buscema

Vision (Marvel Comics) - Wikipedia
Vision via Wikipedia
Rick Jones (character) - Wikipedia
Rick Jones via Wikipedia

  • Vision, Quicksilver, the Scarlet Witch and Rick Jones capture Captain Marvel.  Mar-vell doesn't realize it yet but the Avengers are actually trying to save him, and the world, from the radiation building up in his body.
Annihilus (Earth-616) | Marvel Database | Fandom
Annihilus via Marvel Database

  • Nemesis of all of the above: Annihilus
Ronan the Accuser - Wikipedia
Ronan via Wikipedia
  • We see trouble brewing in the Kree world.  Ronan the Accuser has sent a Kree Sentry to Earth in order to kill Captain Marvel.
Kree Sentries | Marvel Database | Fandom
via Marvel Database

The Avengers #90
July 10, 1971
  • After battling the Kree Sentry, the Avengers head to the Arctic, responding to a call for help from the Pyms.
Avengers Vol 1 28 | Marvel Database | Fandom
via Marvel Database
Wasp (comics) - Wikipedia
Wasp via Wikipedia
Henry Pym (Earth-8096) | Marvel Database | Fandom
Yellowjacket via Marvel Database
  • Avengers added to the mix: Goliath, Wasp and Yellowjacket
Captain America - Wikipedia
via Wikipedia
  • Avengers also featured, though briefly: Captain America, Thor, Iron Man
Carol Danvers - Wikipedia
via Wikipedia
  • Also featured: Carol Danvers (pre-Ms. Marvel)

The Avengers #91
August 10, 1971
  • Ronan reveals his plan: to reduce all humans to their pre-historic, Neanderthal state.  Hank Pym (Yellowjacket) has already fallen victim.
  • Ronan receives word from the Kree galaxy that the Skrulls have attacked, leading him to abandon his plans for Earth.
  • After Ronan leaves, all, including Pym, revert back to normal.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Star Trek: The Icarus Factor

Episode: "The Icarus Factor"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 2, Episode 14
Original Air Date: April 24, 1989
The Icarus Factor (episode) | Memory Alpha | Fandom
via Memory Alpha
Riker has a big decision to make.  He has been offered command of the Aries.  As if that weren't enough, his estranged father Kyle is sent to give him a briefing on the ship's mission.  Meanwhile, Worf is grumpy.  It's the 10th anniversary of his Rite of Ascension and his disconnection from his Klingon heritage is hitting him hard.

I actually liked this episode a lot.  The Will-Kyle troubles are resolved far too easily at the last minute but otherwise, it offers great development for several characters: Will and Worf certainly but also for Dr. Pulaski, whose romantic past with Kyle is revealed, and Troi who admits to difficult feelings regarding Will's proposed departure.  The parallels between the two stories are clearly evident as is the implied father-figure Will sees in Picard that he no longer does in his own dad.  One can feel the relationship lines aboard the Enterprise settling a bit.

Oh, and spoiler: Riker stays.  However, his proposed new ship doesn't blow up this time!

Acting Notes

Image result for mitchell ryan
via Wikipedia

Mitchell Ryan (Kyle Riker) was born January 11, 1934 in Cincinnati.  He is a war veteran, serving in the Navy in Korea.  Over a half-century career, his most famous roles were as Burke Devlin in the '60s soap opera Dark Shadows, Greg's father Edward on Dharma & Greg and General McAllister in the original Lethal Weapon film.  His was a career compromised by alcoholism, a disease which got him fired from Dark Shadows.  He was in better shape by the late '80s, though, and was an early candidate for the role of Captain Picard.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Squid Mixes: White Lady

The White Lady combines gin, Cointreau and lemon juice.  I got my recipe from David Lebovitz.  It tastes kind of like Crystal Lite with gin.  Except better.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Marvel Immersion Project: Strange Tales #138-144

I will be moving on from Doctor Strange soon for a relatively brief visit with the Avengers.  Strange is certainly a different sort of character but I can't say the stories themselves did much for me.  Nick Fury was a bit more exciting, at least in the beginning.  However, that series was less interesting once it reverted to the typical villain-of-the-month formula.

I'm ready for something new.

My Recent Reads

Strange Tales #138
Originally Published November 1, 1965
Writer: Stan Lee
  • Nick Fury Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.
    • Artist: Jack Kirby
    • Hydra kidnaps Fury while threatening the world with a Betatron bomb.
  • Doctor Strange
    • Artist: Steve Ditko
    • Part 9 of Dormammu/Mordo story 
    • For those who admire the series for its artwork, #138 is seen as the pinnacle of the Ditko run because...
    • Strange meets Eternity
Eternity (Earth-616) | Marvel Database | Fandom
via Marvel Database

Strange Tales #139
December 1, 1965
Writer: Lee
  • Fury
    • Artist: Kirby
    • Agent G, also Imperial Hydra's daughter, helps Fury escape.
  • Strange:
    • Artist: Ditko
    • Part 10 of Dormammu/Mordo
    • Strange confronts Mordo directly.

Strange Tales #140
January 1, 1966
Writer: Lee
  • Fury
    • Artist: Kirby
    • Arnold Brown is revealed as Imperial Hydra.
  • Strange
    • Artist: Ditko
    • Part 11 of Dormammu/Mordo
    • Strange and Dormammu spar.

Strange Tales #141
February 1, 1966
Writer: Lee
  • Fury
    • Artist: Kirby
    • Nemeses: The Fixer and an unnamed potential collaborator 
Fixer (comics) - Wikipedia
The Fixer via Wikipedia
  • Strange
    • Artist: Ditko
    • Part 12 of Dormammu/Mordo
    • Strange finally triumphs.

Strange Tales #142
March 1, 1966
Writer: Lee
  • Fury
    • Artist: Kirby
    • Nemeses: The Fixer and his now identified collaborator, Mentallo
Marvin Flumm (Earth-616) | Marvel Database | Fandom
Mentallo via Marvel Database
  • Strange
    • Artist: Ditko
    • Nemeses: three agents sent by Mordo, including Demonicus and a mysterious enchantress

Strange Tales #143
April 1, 1966
  • Doctor Strange's trouble with Mordo's three agents continues.

Strange Tales #144
May 1, 1966
Writer: Lee
  •  Fury
    • Artist: Kirby
    • Nemesis: The Druid, eventually to be known as Dredmund the Druid
Dredmund the Druid | Captain America Wiki | Fandom
via Captain America Wiki
    • Agent Jasper Sitwell is introduced.
Jasper Sitwell - Wikipedia
via Wikipedia
  • Strange:
    • Artist: Ditko
    • Strange seeks to help a mysterious woman held captive by Dormammu.
    • Nemesis: Tazza

Friday, June 12, 2020

Star Trek: Time Squared

Episode: "Time Squared"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 2, Episode 13
Original Air Date: April 3, 1989

Image result for time squared tng"
via Memory Alpha

Our heroes encounter a Picard double from six hours in the future.  Log records from his future-duplicate shuttle indicate the Enterprise is to be destroyed by a yet to be encountered peril.  How can they prepare for such a dire threat without even knowing what it is?

Grumble, grumble... it's Trek and time travel... grumble, grumble...  I'm sure I seem like a broken record at this point (to those who remember what one is).  I will try to be specific in my criticism.

No reason is given for why this strange time blip occurs.  The story concludes with this exchange:

PICARD: A lot of questions, Number One. Damn few answers.
RIKER: Maybe none of it was real. Perhaps we were all part of a shared illusion.
PICARD: Or maybe he was thrown back in time, so that we would be able to take another road. Make a different choice. Well, they say if you travel far enough you will eventually meet yourself. Having experienced that, Number One, it's not something I would care to repeat.
RIKER: I'll be on the Bridge, sir.

Not particularly satisfying.  In the end, it's merely a narrative gimmick.  Some praise the episode for good Picard development but for me, that's not enough to rescue it.  Not the worst episode for Season 2 so far but it's certainly not going to go on my list of favorites. 

My favorite part of the story is, not surprisingly, about food.  In the tease, Riker prepares an omelette for several of his fellow officers.  The choice of an 'Owon egg is unpopular with most of his guests:

Acting Notes

Image result for colm meaney
via Die Hard Scenario Wiki

Colm Meaney (Chief O'Brien) was born May 30, 1953 in Dublin.  After secondary school, he went to the Abbey Theatre School of Acting, then joined the Irish National Theatre.  I first became aware of him as the father in the outstanding film, The Commitments, a great music lover's movie.  In fact, he was in all three of The Barrytown Trilogy movies, based on Roddy Doyle's novels.

Meaney's path from bit player to principal cast within the Star Trek franchise is fascinating to watch.  Between TNG and Deep Space Nine, he appeared in 225 episodes, second only to Michael Dorn.  Either he had a great agent, a fantastic working disposition, a winning personality or all of the above.   

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Squid Mixes: Martinez

A Martinez combines gin, sweet vermouth, maraschino cherry liqueur and orange bitters with a lemon twist garnish.  I got my recipe from Make Me a Cocktail.  I found it for my orange bitters exploration this month.  It's a pleasant beverage.  My wife found it Campari-like and perhaps that comes from the bitters.  Interestingly, it's the maraschino liqueur that carries the day in terms of flavor - interesting in that the drink only calls for a bar-spoonful.

Another meaningful observation: I find my preferred cocktail, the Manhattan, has a rather wheaty aftertaste, kind of like toast.  I've always assumed it comes from the whiskey as it is made with grain.  However, I found the same aftertaste in the Martinez, leading me to believe that the vermouth may, in fact, be the culprit.

Squid on the Vine

Di Giovanna, Riserva Naturale Monte Genuardo Bianco 2018
Apple nose
A little chocolate taste, odd for a white
My rating: 8.3

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

On the Coffee Table: Carsten Jensen

Title: We, the Drowned
Author: Carsten Jensen We, the Drowned (9780547737362): Jensen, Carsten ...
via Amazon
We, the Drowned covers about a century of history (1848-1945) in the Danish port town of Marstal.  The story is told through the sailors who spent years at a time at sea and the women - their mothers, wives, daughters, etc. - who stayed behind.  In particular, we follow Laurids Madsen who should by all rights have been killed in a naval battle, his son Albert who grew up to become one of the most powerful men in town and Albert's not quite adopted son Knud Erik who miraculously survived World War II, despite spending nearly all of it in hostile waters.  The book is beautifully written, much of it in a strange first person plural with an unspecified narrator, apparently typical of Scandinavian storytelling - told from the perspective of the community.

I'll admit to additional personal interest in the subject matter.  My ethnicity is a sampling of various Northern European lines and primarily Danish.  Interestingly, my wife also has some Danish in her background, a rare overlap in our Venn diagram.  My grandmother's family left Denmark for good in the early 1920s, a period covered in the book's span.  They were farmers and Jensen's story makes a clear cultural distinction between the sailors and the farmers, though the two societies lived within a few miles of each other.  The relevance to my own family history: the farmers were the ones who emigrated.  The sailors were already traveling the world.  The question was whether they'd ever make it back home.  I have long been curious about the fact that the United States was so heavily peopled by those who left where they were, whether by choice or not.  It's a fact which I think has huge bearing on our national mindset.  It's not as if other countries emptied entirely into the new world.  Most people stayed.  What does it mean for our nation that we are descended from the ones who left?

The story is large and sprawling, though there are a few themes tying it all together: the senselessness and brutality of war - any war; the power of the sea over a community's collective consciousness, potent even when some actively fight it and the gap in life experience between the men and women of the town.  There were some rough patches for me - a lot of brutal, senseless violence early on and I felt a lot more involved whenever the book latched onto one personal story for a while.   But overall, We, the Drowned is an enriching read.

Monday, June 8, 2020

Marvel Immersion Project: Strange Tales #132-137 and The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #2

Strange Tales #135 contains an unexpected treat, at least for me: the introduction of S.H.I.E.L.D., a particularly important development for the Marvel Cinematic Universe of the 21st century.  Sgt. Nick Fury was originally introduced in his own series, Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos, in May 1963.  In my opinion, Fury brought a much needed breath of fresh air to the Strange Tales series.

My Recent Reads

Strange Tales #132
Originally Published May 1, 1965
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Steve Ditko

Strange Tales #133
June 1, 1965
  • Part 4
  • Nemesis: Shazana

Strange Tales #134
July 1, 1965
  • This is the last Human Torch/Thing story (artist: Bob Powell) in the Strange Tales series. 
    • Features the Watcher and Merlin, he of Camelot fame
Merlin in comics - Wikipedia
Merlin via Wikipedia
    • Nemesis: Kang
  • Dr. Strange story: Part 5 of Mordo/Dormammu

Strange Tales #135
August 1, 1965
Writer: Lee
  • For the primary story, a new series is introduced: Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.
    • Artist: Jack Kirby
    • Introduction of both S.H.I.E.L.D. and Hydra
S.H.I.E.L.D. | Marvel Cinematic Universe Wiki | Fandom
S.H.I.E.L.D. logo via Marvel Cinematic Universe Wiki
Hydra (comics) - Wikipedia
Hydra logo via Wikipedia
  • Dr. Strange: Part 6 of Mordo/Dormammu
    • Nemesis: Sir Baskerville

Strange Tales #136
September 1, 1965
Writer: Lee
  • Fury:
    • Artist: Kirby
    • Hydra tries to find S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters by trailing Fury.
  • Strange:
    • Artist: Ditko
    • Part 7 of Mordo/Dormammu
    • Strange frees himself from a demon.

The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #2
October 1, 1965
  • A Spider-Man/Doctor Strange crossover, appropriate as both characters were drawn by Ditko.  It's fun watching Spidey trying to find his way in a Dr. Strange dreamscape.
  • Nemesis: Xandu

Strange Tales #137
October 1, 1965
Writer: Lee
  • Fury:
    • Artist: Kirby
    • S.H.I.E.L.D. agents Gabe Jones and Dum Dum Dugan featured, previously introduced in other Fury stories.
Gabriel Jones (Earth-616) | Marvel Database | Fandom
Gabe Jones via Marvel Database
Timothy Dugan (Earth-616) | Marvel Database | Fandom
Dum Dum Dugan via Marvel Database
  • Strange:
    • Artist: Ditko
    • Part 8 of Mordo/Dormammu
    • The doctor probes the mind of the Ancient One to learn the secret of Eternity.

Friday, June 5, 2020

Star Trek: The Royale

Episode: "The Royale"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 2, Episode 12
March 27, 1989
The Enterprise crew discovers the wreckage of an Earth vessel - marked with NASA and a 52-star US flag - on far away Theta 116.  When they go down to investigate, Riker, Data and Worf are trapped in a Las Vegas-style casino hotel.  None of the characters they meet exhibit any life signs, apart from a decaying corpse in an upstairs room, apparently one of the astronauts from the crash, Col. Steven Richey.  The colonel's diary offers the explanation.  The alien beings who were responsible, accidentally, for his predicament created this dreamworld for him based on a trashy novel he was reading.

This was certainly an enjoyable episode, though lacking in substance.  On the positive side, it presents the loneliness of space quite effectively.  Richey's story is heartbreaking and the hotel itself feels brutally isolated.  The original screenplay was heavily edited.  In fact the writer, Tracy Torme (Mel's son) basically disowned the piece after the changes, asking that his pen name, Keith Mills, be used instead.  I'm curious about the original, apparently far more surreal.  Picard's "curiouser and curiouser" line early in the episode is an Alice in Wonderland allusion, certainly suggesting a trippier atmosphere.

Acting Notes

Image result for noble willingham
via Memory Alpha

Noble Willingham played the role of Texas, a loud, sleazy gambler who befriends Data at the blackjack table.  He was born in Mineola, Texas, August 31, 1931.  He went to North Texas State (now U of North Texas - great jazz program incidentally) as an undergrad, then got a master's in educational psychology at Baylor.  He served in the Army during the Korean War.

He was working as a high school social studies teacher when he went on his first professional audition, landing a part in Peter Bogdanovich's masterful film, The Last Picture Show.  He was in quite a few memorable films over the years: Chinatown, Norma Rae, Good Morning, Vietnam and The Hudsucker Proxy among others.  He had lots of television work, too, most prominently opposite Chuck Norris in Walker, Texas Ranger.

Willingham left Walker in 2000 to run for congress.  He ran as a Republican against Max Sandlin, a Democratic incumbent, in Texas's first district.  Willingham lost, getting only 43% of the vote.  Four years later, Sandlin lost the seat to... (heavy sigh)... Louis Gohmert who still holds it today.

Willingham died of a heart attack in 2004.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Bitters of the Month: Orange

Orange bitters are made with orange peel and a variety of other flavorings depending on the brand.  I currently have Regans' Orange Bitters #6 in the cabinet, a product of the Sazerac Company.  Once again, we begin our exploration with a gin and bitters.  We observed that orange bitters has a more floral, perfumey flavor than Angostura.

While Angostura is the preferred bitters for a Manhattan, both orange and Peychaud's bitters are accepted alternatives.  Once we settle on a whiskey and a vermouth, we will probably play around with the bitters possibilities.  I expect I'll still prefer Angostura but you never know.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Marvel Immersion Project: Strange Tales #125-131

As discussed last week, even though conservative artist Steve Ditko probably wasn't too thrilled, the counter-culture of the 1960s was not shy about expressing its affection for Doctor Strange.  In 1965, Jefferson Airplane headlined one of the first big psychedelic music showcases, entitled "A Concert for Dr. Strange."

A Tribute to Dr. Strange 1965 Concert Poster, Longshoremans Hall ...
via Amazon

In 1967, Pink Floyd included Strange's imagery on the cover of their album A Saucerful of Secrets:
A Saucerful of Secrets - Wikipedia
via Wikipedia

Relevant images enhanced:
Ruta Flashback: Pink Floyd A Saucerful of Secrets e Interstellar ...
via Ruta Flashback

My Recent Reads

Strange Tales #125
Originally Published October 1, 1964
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Steve Ditko
  • Nemesis: Baron Mordo

Strange Tales #126
November 1, 1964
Dormammu - Wikipedia
via Wikipedia
  • Nemesis: Dormammu

Strange Tales #127
December 1, 1964
  • Part 2 of Dormammu story
  • First appearance of the Mindless Ones 
Mindless Ones | Marvel Database | Fandom
via Marvel Database
Strange Tales #128
January 1, 1965
  • Primary story is now a joint Human Torch/Thing venture (artist: Dick Ayers)
    • Nemeses: Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver
Wanda Maximoff (Earth-616) | Marvel Database | Fandom
Scarlet Witch via Marvel Database
Pietro Maximoff (Earth-616) | Marvel Database | Fandom
Quicksilver via Marvel Database
  • Dr. Strange nemesis: Demonicus

Strange Tales #129
February 1, 1965
  • Nemesis: Tiboro

Strange Tales #130
March 1, 1965
  • His is still the secondary story but for the first time, Dr. Strange is the primary image on the cover.
  • The Torch/Thing story (artist: Bob Powell) features a special appearance by the Beatles!  That's right, no mere mention this time.  The Fab Four actually turn up on the page.  Most of the likenesses are pretty good.  John Lennon (second from left) isn't quite right...
The Beatles in Strange Tales #130, 1965 (With images) | Vintage ...
via Pinterest
  • Dr. Strange nemeses: Dormammu and Baron Mordo, in tandem though Strange doesn't realize Dormammu's involvement

Strange Tales #131
April 1, 1965
  • Part 2 of the Mordo/Dormammu story.  Mordo's minions chase Strange through the streets of Hong Kong.