Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Monster Movies & Me

I have an interesting history with monster/horror Movies. For a time, they freaked me out. I blame one man for that - Christopher Lee. For a little kid growing up in the 70s, Hammer films were everywhere. Christopher Lees portrayal of Dracula was scary, seductive, and menacing. It freaked me out. That man scared the living bejeezuz out of me. In college, I went back and watched the Hammer films and discovered their allure. I love them now, but if seven-year-old Rick saw Christopher Lee on the street, would have pissed himself in fear. There was a movie that also terrorized me as a kid was 1975's Trilogy of Terror starring Karen Black. It is a three act anthology movies with Ms. Black starring as different characters in each segment. The act with the Zuni Fetish doll scared me beyond belief it was a total wig out moment when I saw it. Another thing that got me was a trailer It’s Alive. I never saw the movie just the trailer and to a six year old me that was enough to traumatize. It was about evil mutant babies and if you are a younger kid who has baby sibling you know that is not too far off from reality at least in a little kid's mind.

Let us start in the beginning. I used to check out those Crestwood Monster Movie books as a kid. I thought they were cool. I loved a lot of horror comedies like the Abbott and Costello Meets series, Mad Monster Party, The Addams Family, and The Munsters. I could handle the Universal monster movies, Vincent Price films, Roger Corman films, Ray Harryhausen films, Godzilla movies, and a great deal of the sixties schlocky films. Like all young boys, I thought they were cool and neat. Ray Harryhausen was a childhood hero of mine. I was fascinated with the Sinbad movies he did, as well as with Jason and the Argonauts and Clash of the Titans. Many of his movies were more action and adventure and less horror. Now, I was more into super heroes than monsters, but many monsters are found in comics, too. Vincent Prices element of camp made his movies a bit more palatable. That may have worked for me, allowing me to laugh at what scared me. My mom let me read the kid-friendly monster books from Harvey Comics - Casper, Wendy, Spooky, and Hot Stuff. Those were easier on me than some of the other stronger scary comics.

I grew up in and out of hospitals and as a little boy, I knew what real horror could be. The Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock, Outer Limits, and Hammer horror films freaked me out, maybe due to their intense emotional content. I just know that I could not watch them for the longest time. My uncle was a huge fan of the Warren horror comics, EC reprints, DC, and Marvel horror lines. I was able to handle those because of they were hand drawn. In 1982, I went to see Poltergeist in the theater, and this was the rekindling of my love of monster and horror movies, television, books, and comics. I got into the Nightmare and Elm Street films, the Return of the Living Dead films, and so much more.

As a teenager, I discovered that according to certain Eastern European superstitions, I would have been expected to become either a werewolf or a vampire just because I have a cleft lip and palate. This made me curious in my twenties. I watched and read many vampire- and werewolf--based media, including the White Wolf World of Darkness role-playing game setting. As an adult, I began to see a trend in which the monsters were not the real evil; humanity was. This was through the Clive Barker film Nightbreed and many of the Zombie media as well. With my experiences as a young child this was not refuted. I started going back and checking out those things that scared me as a little kid: Hammer Films, Twilight Zone (I watched those when I was 13), Outer Limits and Alfred Hitchcock. I began to read Horror, Fantasy, Urban Fantasy and Mythic Fiction. I saw that the line between these genres were thin. Charles De Lint and Clive Barker often blurred the lines between them often.

The theme of what is the true monster - the other or us - is a theme from the ages and it continues today. These monster movies can be used to tell allegories we otherwise would not be able to handle. Sometimes understanding our darker nature as a species is not easy. My history with monsters in movies went from the safe as a kid, to the more philosophical as an adult. With certain childhood experiences and even certain adult ones, I learned what true monsters were. Using the supernatural, horrific and grotesque to examine these ideas in a safe forum, we are able to ask and answer some very hard questions about ourselves and our natures. That Is My Not So Humble Opinion.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Iconography

Recently there has been a metric ton of controversy over the recent Idea from Andrew Garfield about Spider-Man being bisexual.  There also was quite a bit of hubbub over the casting of Laurence Fishburn as Perry White and years earlier Michael Clark Duncan as Kingpin.  The question has come about whether changing a character’s race, creed, gender, and sexuality takes away from the character.  Does it even matter?  This type of stuff has been done; it is interesting when it becomes evident how bad our collective memories are.   DC has their Elseworlds imprint.  It was an anything goes idea.  They re-imagined DC’s Iconic characters.  They had all the superheroes in World War Two were O.S.S. Agents, Civil War Batman and Superman, Victorian Era Wonder Woman and the list goes on.  The DC Multiverse includes a Gender reversed world.  One pre-Crisis of the Infinite Earths world had a racially diverse Justice League. 

The controversy all seems to begin with the introduction of the second Spider-man in the Ultimate Marvel Universe.  He is Miles Morales, who is of Hispanic and African-American descent.  There were rumors he would be gay as well.  Some people were upset a person of color was Spider-man.  Some people thought why change an Iconic character.  First they did not make Peter Parker African-American.  Second this not in the main Marvel Universe, but the Ultimate Marvel Universe.  They were treating Spider-man as a Legacy character.  That means many people become that hero passing it down from on generation to another.  There were a number of folks who said why not make a new character all together instead of try to make Spider-Man politically correct.  I understand the reason to use an existing character to do this.  The case example is Nick Fury.  How many folks know that he originally was Caucasian?  In the Ultimate Marvel Universe he was introduced as African-American.  His Original appearance was more like Will Smith, which was until Bryan Hitch drew him in The Ultimates, and then he resembled Samuel L. Jackson.  When Marvel started their big Film push they hire Mr. Jackson to play that role.  In the regular Marvel universe they introduced Nick Fury, Jr. That character looks an awful lot like Samuel L. Jackson too.  It can be done.  Mind you Nick Fury is a second tier A-list Marvel Character.  The mainstream is not as familiar with him. I think that making a fictional work more diverse is a good thing.  Using already established Icons instead of creating new characters from scratch is the issue sometimes. 

Some folks are too attached to their fictional heroes.  Superman has been African-American in some Alternate reality stories.  In one version of the Squadron Supreme Marvel’s DC Stand in characters, their version of Batman, Nighthawk was Black.  With Erotic Lives of the Superheroes by Marco Mancassola has become big news among comic book folks. This is due to its portrayal of Batman and Robin as a gay couple. I do not have a problem with that. I have a problem that based on the ages when most Robins started as his partners that would make him a pedophile. The Geek community is freaking. They forget that Dr. Fredric Wertham leveled this accusation back in the Fifties. Even Rick Veitch satirized this in Bratpack with Midnight Mink and Chippy. People are upset their favorite is portrayed as gay. Mind you this is an independent writer and it is a book of prose. Disney and Time-Warner have yet to do legal battle; I would not be surprised if they do. I think it is funny everyone is looking at the homosexuality and not the child abuse angle of this. I have not read the book and may not. To me at first sight seems to be written for shock value although the author denies this. 

The reason why there is the idea to do it with the bigger icons instead of create newer characters from scratch is profile.  Newer characters do not have the history or the name recognition.  Publishers can also bury lesser characters.  The Mexican-American Blue Beetle has lost his title twice.  This is due to sales not quality according to DC Comics.  This was also a Tier one B-list character, but a popular one.  Mixing up the cultures of characters, having more high profile female character, even more LGBT characters would show how really diverse our world really is.  Here is an example that upset people: since 1988, Barbara Gordon AKA Batgirl has been a paraplegic.  She became the superheroes hack extraordinaire Oracle.  Although she was physically challenged she still was contributing to the Superhero Community.  She also still kicked ass.  In the fall of 2011, DC revamped their world, and cured Ms. Gordon of her paraplegia.  Many in the disabled community were upset.  She had become a symbol of self reliance and capability to those in wheelchairs.  DC had other characters become Batgirl; heck, Ms. Gordon was not the first to have that Moniker.  Barbara was the most visible and memorable of the Batgirls.  Still her life as Oracle had become very popular as well. 

An example of successful re-imagining was the Modern version of Batwoman.   The original was created in the Fifties to battle Dr. Wertham’s theories about Batman.  The character was recreated for a Modern era in 2006.  This time she was a lesbian as well as Jewish and a socialite.  Greg Rucka wrote the character in many of her earlier exploits, he is credited with fully flushing out a complete character.  Initially the character was received with mixed reaction.  After seven years, it is accepted as part of the character.  During this time they also present Batman supporting character Renee Montoya as Lesbian as well.  Not just Lesbian, but in an on again off again relationship with the Modern Batwoman.  Montoya later became the second vigilante character known as the Question.  That part has changed post New 52, Montoya is not the Question.  As far as I know Montoya has yet to appear in the New 52.  Once again these were not any major big name characters.

In the late Seventies early Eighties Roy Thomas suggested that the Earth-1 version of Captain Marvel/ Shazam be African American.  They were going to go with the name Captain Thunder which was the originally proposed name of the character.  They dropped because another publisher, I believe National Periodicals (DC’s name in the thirties and forties), had a character with that name.  Honestly I think it would have been nice.  A Major Tier 1 A-Lister being African American would have been cool.  In various Elseworlds books they have went back to that.  Here is an interesting thing.  We have had a Black Green Lantern; Heck there is a generation of people thanks to the Justice League Animated Series who see that character as their Green Lantern.  It difference is they did not make Hal Jordan Black; they introduced another character with a Green Lantern Ring.  This is much like what was done with the Ultimate Spider-man or the Jaime Reyes Blue Beetle.  They did create a new character, but the used the Superhero persona of a previous character.  That seems to be a compromise.  Still some people claim political correctness. 

One fact pointed out in various articles, when Peter Parker was created in the early Sixties a White kid from Queens was not unusual.  Today based on that area’s ethnic make up he would stand out.  A higher percentage people of color are affected by crime than their Caucasian counterparts.  It then would be more likely for a vigilante to be a person of Color based on that.  I am not saying there are not economically challenged White people.  I am saying if you go be percentages.  That is partly due to the difference in socio-economics between the various racial and ethnic groups.  When these characters were created America did not seem as diverse as it appears to be now.

Here is my final point.  Does it really matter what Race, Ethnicity, Gender, Sexual Orientation or other defining characteristic these characters have?  Does it need to stay static?  Honestly I do not believe so.  As a culture changes so does its heroes as villains.  It is nice when I see that reflected.  Is this new? No, it is not things change to reflect where we, human being, are in a certain point in history.  Are some people too attached to their Pop Culture Icons?  Definitely, in time the change will be part of the main culture.  Nick Fury, John Stewart (Green Lantern) and Jaime Reyes (Blue Beetle) show us that change can become part of the culture at large.  That Is My Not So Humble Opinion.



Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Child of the Seventies

I was born in 1968, but I grew up mostly in the 1970’s.  When the 80’s rolled in I was 11, so my teen years were in that decade.  As a child of the 70’s there are things I experienced that succeeding generations take as a given that were new.  The Seventies saw the beginning of really merchandising to kids.  Now it occurred before that, but after 1977 and Star Wars that changed.  The Toy licensing of Star Wars is interesting.  In 1977 Lucasfilms approached Mego, a toy company known for licensing various properties into toylines.  They did the DC and Marvel 8 inch figures; they also did Happy Days, CHiPs, Star Trek: The Original Series and many more.  The President of Mego refused saying he did not want to be known for licensing every B Science Fiction Movie.  So Lucasfilms went to Kenner and they took it, that lead to Kenner becoming a powerhouse in the Toy Industry.  Kenner later became part of Hasbro.  Mego went out of business in 1982.  They were a top Toy company in the seventies. 

In the Seventies, Toys were made from characters from TV, Movies, and Comic Books.  By the 1980’s TV Shows, Comic Books and other merchandise were made from toy lines.  That led to many concerns that animated TV shows in the 80’s were thirty minute commercials.  Star Wars helped come up with the idea of anything was game to license for merchandising to kids.  My brother owned the Jaws game that was made in the Seventies.  In the Seventies businesses really began to understand how media affected kids.  A positive spin on this is Children’s Workshop using advertising techniques to teach kids with the advent of Sesame Street.  ABC did this also with Schoolhouse Rock.  Advertisers both in positive and negative ways began to really target kids more in the 70’s.  It did not hurt that the saturation of media as we know started to go into overdrive in that decade as well.  It was not just Television and Film, radio and the Music industry started to target the tweens during this time with Michael Jackson, Donny Osmond, David and Shaun Cassidy, Lief Garret and many more. 

The Seventies are when we saw people advertise their tastes with their clothes.  This is when the TV and film tie in T-shirts began.  There were also shops that made custom shirts using vinyl decals and heavy duty presses.  With more stores carrying the screen printed work these types of places went away by the mid Nineties.  Before the Seventies one brand was really big in Athletic shoes, Converse; by the mid Seventies they had major competition form Adidas, Puma, Nike, and up and comer Vans.  The late Seventies saw the advent of the designer Jeans, before that Levis and Lees ruled denim.  Many of these trends still exist today.

The Seventies with the rise of the FM station was when music had long shelf lives.  Songs released years ago would be re-released as singles again if the act was increasing in popularity.  Dream On by Aerosmith only charted to 59 on the U.S. charts when it first was released in 1973. After the success of Toys in the Attic in 1975, it was re-released and went as high as 6 in the U.S.  When I was in high school a song from almost 10 years earlier were on the pop stations.    In the early eighties a lot of the early Punk and New Wave songs that came out in the mid to late Seventies were still on the radio.  So when I was creating certain play lists based on chronology I was surprised by the actual release date of some of the music. Today music seems more transitory having a shelf life of months or weeks as opposed to years. 

It seems that all Popular Culture is losing itself shelf life due to easy accessibility.  Movies from the Thirties, Forties, Fifties Sixties and even ones released a few years prior remained in Theaters especially Drive Ins.  That is something many Children of succeeding decades will have missed out in.  By the Eighties over half of the Drive-In Theaters closed down.  This is due to the rise of the huge Multiplex theaters in urban and suburban areas.  In many was Drive-In Theaters were more Communal in nature.  People would socialize during the Intermissions.  In some case almost have a tailgate party.  Luckily I live in an area were we have a Drive-In with in 5 miles.  They still play the older movies there, in the last few years we have seen Creature of the Black Lagoon and The Warriors on the Big Screen.  Drive-Ins were a major part of American Popular Culture between the late 1940’s and the 1970’s.  In Ventura County California where I grew up the City of Ventura had a large Drive-In that had 3 screens.

As I said Earlier I think the Seventies is when the media started targeting the Tweens (9-12) and early teens which is also the Junior High/ Middle School set.  This is when the Young Adult Literature movement started to really take off.  The momentum of it started in the late Sixties with S.E. Hinton.  She helped continue the movement with more books in the Seventies.  Without this previous history we may not have had Harry Potter or the Hunger Games.  Those adult who read Young Adult Literature as Tweens and Teens, are now Adults reading Young Adult Literature.  They know the label does not mean lower quality. 

As a Child of the Seventies I have seen many changes in the way media affects us.  I have seen the continued marketing targeting younger and younger people.  Mass consumerism seems to continue to this day.  I am still not sure how I feel about it.  This Has Been My Not So Humble Opinion.