Wednesday, January 21, 2015

DC Comics & Me

My history with the DC Characters started not with the comics, but with television.  I was too little to have watched the shows in their original runs.  As a 2 and 3 years old The Batman TV show and the Filmation Animated shows with Superman, Batman, Aquaman and more piqued my interest.  In the Filmation animated shows, I discovered the heroes I would always go back to, the Aquaman, Atom, Green Lantern, Hawkman, Hawkgirl/ Hawkwoman, the Flash, and the Teen Titans. In 1973 when I was 5, Super Friends came on TV; with that show I discovered Green Arrow and Plastic Man.  In 1974 at the age of 6, the Live Action Shazam! Saturday morning show premiered.  I discovered my favorite Superhero.  At the time DC did not own those rights outright, they would however later.  At age 6 I also discover the George Reeves Superman TV Show. Even back then I knew that they were not my speed.  They were cool, but I found the others cooler.

From time to time I would read the comics my maternal Aunts and Uncle had.  I was introduced to Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes, Swamp Thing, and many more.  When I was 10, we were living on Adak, Alaska.  My dad came home with a huge plastic garbage bag of good condition comics.  Among those were various DC titles including Adventure Comics with the Justice Society of America, Secret Society of Super Villains, The Flash, Green Lantern/ Green Arrow and more.  DC re-introduced me to something I discovered in Star Trek, Alternate Realities.  There was Earth One, where the bulk of their titles existed, where their main characters were in their prime.  Then there was Earth Two where the Golden Age versions of their character still existed.  There was Earth X where the Axis Powers won World War II; there Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters worked to free America from the yoke of Axis control.  I was hooked, but I was not allowed to buy my own.  When we moved we left them on Adak.

The reason for my prohibition from buying my own Superhero comics was a hold over from when I was 7 or 8.  My mom heard TV Educator and Star Fred Rogers say Superheroes only promoted violence in young boys, therefore were inappropriate for them.  I was only allowed Classics Illustrated, TV Show adaptations, Funny Books (Archie, Richie Rich and the like).  When I was 14, I started to buy my own comics.  I started with Who’s Who of the DC Universe.  It was a glorified DC Comics encyclopedia.   I reveled in all of the character minutia.  In 1984, I started to buy the New Teen Titans with issue 40.  That issue was the retirement of Dick Grayson, then Robin, and Wally West, then, Kid-Flash. Dick did not retire from Superhero business, just being Robin.  That was due to the recent introduction of a new Robin, Jason Todd.  Wally was having power issues at the time.  This was leading up to a huge story arc, the Judas Contract.  That storyline is considered one of the biggest in that title’s history.  I also went back to an old friend the Legion of Super-Heroes and I read Infinity Inc, following the second generation of superheroes from Earth Two.

Then in 1985 came Crisis on Infinite Earths.  It was one of the two first big event comics.  Whereas Marvel’s event was to sell toys, this was to streamline continuity.  There had been too many inconsistencies with the various Earths and travel between them.  Ironically this Multiverse was returned to DC decades later.  I was a huge fan of Artist George Perez and writer Marv Wolfman, who were also on New Teen Titans. For another decade I would always pick up the Universe spanning crossovers from DC. That stopped in the mid 1990’s.  I tried to do it again in the 2000’s and 2010’s, but was overwhelmed by the time I got to Blackest Night.

Among my Favorites from my teens to my twenties were, Justice League (Giffen era), Wonder Woman (George Perez Era), Jonah Hex (Joe Landsdale and Tim Truman), Superman (John Byrne), Power of Shazam (Jerry Ordway),  and New Teen Titans/ New Titans (Marv Wolfman).  New Titans’ continuity started to get too convoluted for me so I left, around 1995.  An imprint called Elseworlds started unofficially in 1989 with Gotham by Gaslight, Batman in the Victorian era. Officially it began in 1991 with Batman: Holy Terror, Batman in a world where Puritanism still exists.  This imprint sang to me.  Regardless of the characters, I tried to read as many of these as I could.

In my 20’s I started reading the Vertigo imprint. It was more adult titles, many from the second wave of British Comics writers: Grant Morrison, Neil Gaiman, Jamie Delano and the like.  I started to divert from superhero comics in the early nineties.  Then in 1995, I quit comic entirely. I was out of it for 4 years.  When I came back it was because of Warren Ellis with Transmetropolitan, Planetary, and his run on StormWatch, which later became Authority.  At that time, Jim Lee’s WildStorm had just been sold to DC comics.   During most of the 2000’s and 2010’s I did not read many mainstream Superhero books.  I was reading quite a bit from publishers other than DC or Marvel.   Vertigo however was big.  I read Scalped, Fables, Transmetropolitan, the Witching Hour, Books of Magic, Jack of Fables, House of Mystery, the Witching, Goddess, Global Frequency, Orbiter, Adventures in the Rifle Brigade,  House of Secrets,  Sebastian O, Sandman Mystery Theater, V for Vendetta, We3, Madame Xanadu, Preacher, the Invisibles, and Y: The Last Man.

In the 2010’s I was getting all the huge crossovers, but I gave up, after trying to read the Blackest Night Saga.  I came back to DC during the New 52.  The New 52 was a somewhat relaunch of their whole Universe. They seemed to attempt more diversity.  The more interesting and out of the mainstream titles rarely lasted.  Presently I like the mystically oriented titles that have remained. The two titles that revived Earth 2 went by the wayside.  They got too convoluted in continuity and were tied to a couple crossovers. I am reading Grant Morrison’s Multiversity; it is a miniseries about the DC Multiverse.

Overall, I have fond memories of DC Comics and its imprints.  I have a fondness for certain characters: Captain Marvel/ Shazam, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, Black Canary, the Atom, the Flash, Hawkman, Hawkgirl/ Hawkwoman, the Marvel/ Shazam Family, Aquaman, and Wonder Woman. Beginning in the 2000’s, I started collecting the DC Direct/Collectibles Action Figures.  They were mostly of those Characters above and a few from WildStorm books and Vertigo books.  I am more discerning about new Action Figures.  

I tried a few DC Video games.  I liked Justice League heroes, even thought it was buggy. Injustice: Gods Among Us was great.  DC Universe Online was disappointing.  City of Heroes/ Villains and Champions Online were better Superhero MMO RPGs.  Mortal Combat versus DC Universe was interesting.  DC Comics characters are my favorites.  However I have never been a big fan of Superman or Batman.  I would buy those if there were particularly good stories.  One average I tended to avoid the big Two from DC.  I refrained from talking in detail about the New 52.  I plan to write further on that subject at a later date.

I enjoyed the Warner Brothers’ DC Animated shows from the 1990’s to present: Batman: The Animated Series, Superman: The Animated Series, Justice League, Justice League Unlimited and Young Justice. In 2007 Warner Brothers Animation began their series of direct to DVD DC Universe Animated films.  I followed them all.  This series has been verily solid with story and voice acting.  DC Comic’s Live Action Films have been hit and miss.  They had early success in with Superman: The Movie and 1989’s Batman. Others have been disappointing.  I am very hopeful with the adaptation of Captain Marvel/ Shazam slated for a 2019 release.  The fist of these new DC universe Live Action films is slated for 2016 with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.  Many are waiting to see if DC Comics succeeds with these. That Has Been My Not So Humble Opinion.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Country for Outsiders

When I watched the recent HBO show Sonic Highways about the Foo Fighters album of the same name, an idea came up.  Nobody talks about what country acts may be interesting to folks who are not traditionally Country music fans. Many of the acts that the show brought up were those who bucked the Nashville system or sound.  The way Nashville makes music is singers sing, writers write and musicians play.  The iconoclasts are the folks that many non-Country listeners may enjoy.  Typical groups of Country iconoclasts are the Outlaw Country Movement, the Country Rock Movement and Southern Rock.

The Outlaw Country Movement is full of Country musicians that many feel refused to play Nashville’s game.  Hank Williams, Sr. was one of these people, He was initially rejected in 1946 to join the Grand Ole Opry and then joined in 1949 only to be dismissed in 1952 based on his behavior.  His son and grandson have followed in his footsteps.  Johnny Cash was another who did not fit the mold.  He, like Williams, wrote his own songs.  He also started as a Rockabilly act. What became the Outlaw Country movement started in the early Seventies with Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings.  Both had limited success in Nashville in the 1950’s and 1960’s.  When they move to Texas and recorded their albums their way, they saw increasing success. That led to others following in their footsteps.

Here is a list of Outlaw Country Artists you may enjoy.  This is by no mean a complete list, it is based on my personal tastes as will be all the lists in this article.  I am not going to breakdown these artists because there are too many:  Hank Williams, Hank Williams, Jr., Hank Williams III, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, Bobby Bare, Sr., Bobby Bare, Jr., David Allen Coe, Steve Earle, Tompall Glaser, Waylon Jennings, Roger Miller, Willie Nelson, Johnny Paycheck, Leon Russell, Ray Scott, Billie Joe Shaver, Jessi Colter, Sammi Smith, Tanya Tucker, B.W. Stevenson, Townes Van Zandt, and Lucinda Williams.

Another Movement some consider part of the Outlaw Country movement is the Bakersfield Sound.  This was a movement to counter the Nashville sound of the 1960’s.  It was developed in Honky-Tonk Bars.  It was part of the movement of people from the dust bowl area in the 1930’s to California.  Most of these folks were from Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas and other parts of the South.  This movement also had a big impact of the future Country Rock and Southern Rock Movements as well.  The biggest artists from this were Buck Owens, Buck Owens and the Buckaroos, Merle Haggard, Merle Haggard and the Strangers, and Dwight Yoakam.

In Nashville there were artists who did not let the Nashville system change the way they did things.  They refused to sign away song publishing rights.  They some fought to regain their rights when the system wanted to chew them up and spit them out.  Among these are Dolly Parton, George Jones, Zac Brown Band, Dixie Chicks, Trace Adkins, and Toby Keith.  Toby Keith and the Dixie Chicks have their detractors based on their personal politics. 

Then there are those that began their careers as Outsiders to the Country music scene and machine.  Kenny Rogers came from Rockabilly, Jazz and Folk then Acid Rock with his band First Edition.   Rogers started taking the band in a Country Music direction then he left in 1974.  Many Traditional Country acts with strong roots in the Country Music industry were very chilly towards Mr. Rogers.  Rogers was also known to use record producers from Pop and R&B, which also did not help his relationship with the Country Music Establishment. 

John Denver came to Country Music from Folk and Pop Music.  He became a Country Juggernaut, but still was thought of as an Outsider by many long existing acts.  The most famous is the 1975 CMAs and Charlie Rich’s behavior when John Denver was revealed as the Country Music Association’s Entertainer of the Year for 1975.  Similar behavior occurred the year before when Olivia-Newton John was announced the CMA’s Female Vocalist of the year in 1974.  In the 1970’s there was a movement of Pop and Rock acts moving into Country.  This did not sit well with those who were part of the Machine.

Eddie Rabbitt was also viewed as an Outsider for being originally from Brooklyn, New York.  Rabbitt was embraced by the Country Establishment, but ran afoul in the early-1980s, because he was a huge crossover act.  Crossover acts are people who come from a distinct musical genre or style, but also have a good deal of success as a Popular Music artist.  Rabbit, like Rogers and Denver, had been a Crossover act.  Many of the Country Music Establishment had not been able to be successful outside of Country Music.  Part of the issue was jealousy.

The Country Rock Movement came in the late 1960’s to the early 1970’s.  Many rock acts were going back to the roots of American Music.  Some went back to the Blues, others went back to Country and Bluegrass. Some like Gram Parson and Emmylou Harris transitioned into becoming full on Country acts.  A majority of them started with in Folk or Folk Rock traditions.  Here is a list of many acts considered part of this movement: Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris, The Band, Eagles, Linda Ronstadt, Mike Nesmith, Buffalo Springfield, The Byrds, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Dr. Hook, Firefall, Flying Burrito Brothers, J.D. Souther, Little Feat, Poco, Canned Heat, and Neil Young.

The Southern Rock Movement started in the late 1960’s to the early 1970’s.  Its influences were a merging of Country with Blues, where as Country Rock had more Folky roots.  Southern Rock owed also a great deal to Rockabilly from the 1950’s as well.  Soutnern Rock also was know to have a hard Rock bent to it as well. Bands like the Allman Brothers Band, the Charlie Daniels Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd and ZZ Top blaze this path for future acts.   Here are the notable Southern Rock Acts including folks doing their modern idea of it today:  the Allman Brothers Band, Alabama, Atlanta Rhythm Section, the Avett Brothers, Band of Horses, Barefoot Jerry, Big and Rich, Billy Swan, the Black Crowes, Black Oak Arkansas, Blackfoot, Blitzen Trapper, the Charlie Daniels Band and Charlie Daniels, Dickey Betts, Doobie Brothers, Elvin Bishop, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Georgia Satellites,  Gregg Allman, Gov’t Mule, J.J. Cale, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Marshall Tucker Band, Molly Hatchet, Mountain, Outlaws, Ozark Mountain Daredevils, the Pure Prairie League, Reverend Horton Heat, Ram Jam, Rossington-Collins Band, Shooter Jennings, Social Distortion, Steve Miller Band, Stevie Ray Vaughn and Double Trouble, Ted Nugent, Tony Joe White, Tom Petty, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Kid Rock, Uncle Kracker, Van Zandt, .38 Special, Wet Willie, Southern Culture on the Skids,  and ZZ Top. 

There is another movement in Country, I am not very familiar but is important to mention.  It is the Alt Country Movement which is also known as Americana and Alternative Country.  Some of the bands already listed are considered part of this movement too. It is considered a fusion of Country with a Punk ethos, by some.  It started in the 1990’s as an alternative to the Mainstream Country Machine. Some of the most common band ascribed to this movement are Uncle Tupelo, Wilco, Ryan Adams, Band of Horses, Mumford & Sons, The Lumineers, Justin Townes Earle, Son Volt, Bottle Rockets,  and Roger Clyne & The Peacemakers.  I cannot vouch for these acts as I am familiar with them by name but not by their music.

Some bands were on several of these lists.  I put them where I felt they fit best.  Like stated before these are not definitive lists they are ideas to help you figure out what you like.  In my experience some of these acts are not strictly Country or Rock.  Depending on who you talk to they may switch columns or be considered both. This has been My Not So Humble Opinion.