Friday, October 31, 2008

Candy Apples and Razor Blades…

Or, “The Misfits, Halloween, Sincere Irony, the Neo-Kissian Commodification of Exploitation, and Me”

I. Night of the Living Dead
“This Ain’t No Love-In…Ok, Well, Maybe It Is”

The Misfits are the Official House Band of Halloween.

This is not a bold statement by any means. Everyone loves “The Monster Mash,”1 but honestly, how many Slogophiles even remember any of Bobby “Boris” Pickett and the Crypt-Kickers’ follow-up novelty hits, like “Monster’s Holiday” or the eco-themed “Climate Mash?”2 I mean, I had to check his Wikipedia page to name one. And while other bands have songs about horror and Halloween, not too many of them have actually devoted pretty much their entire existence to the concepts. And most of the ones that do are really just ripping off the Misfits.

This being Halloween, and in keeping with the (coincidental) recent string of music-centered posts, I thought I’d reflect on the personal, cultural, and symbological3 significance of (I can only assume) the only band to write a song about a Tura Satana movie,4 and maybe explain why I still wear my ratty old “Crimson Ghost” shirt and listen to “Halloween” (both the original and the fake-y “exorcism” version) every October 31st.

Notes to Section I (no need to scroll!)
  1. Okay, I’m making an assumption here, but if you don’t love “The Monster Mash,” then I think the burden of proof is on you to explain why.
  2. To be fair, how many “Slogophiles” can there possibly be anyway.
  3. Not a real word, but an amazing facsimile of one.
  4. I have no less than six different-but-not-by-much versions of “Astro-Zombies” on my iPod right now. I also have no more than six. Basically, I took no less or more than three sentences to tell you I have six versions of the song. Amazingly, only one version is live.

II. She Looked So Good in Red…
Or, “How I Learned to Stop Taking Ian Mackaye Too Seriously and Love the Sleaze”

I first heard the Misfits in High School, as part of my early education in punk music. I liked them well enough, though I wasn’t a fan of how thinly produced the first album I owned (“Legacy of Brutality”) sounded.5 I occasionally popped the tape into my “stereo,” if the existence of more than one speaker made a tape-deck earn the term, but never really paid it much mind.

Then, exactly 14 years ago today, I had a revelatory moment.

It was afternoon on Halloween day, my freshman year of college. I was on the tail end of a particularly rough stretch of my life which included a traumatic and sudden break from a circle of friends (one that made me retreat into several months of self-imposed exile) and a seriously life-changing family issue that I’d rather not go into here.6 I was bitter, sullen, and rejectionist about almost everything.

Musically, I still loved nothing more than punk from the 70s and 80s. I was getting deeply into Minor Threat7 and as I didn’t smoke, do drugs, or even drink (at the time) and my prospects for ever having casual sex again8 seemed slim-to-nil, I decided to “go Straight Edge.” And like most Straight-Edgers, I was humorless about it.

I was probably humorless about a lot of things. I mean, I was in an angry place – and moving out of the house wasn’t really helping like I’d hoped. So, I was walking around that afternoon, listening to music, and trying to find a costume for a party that night.

Although Charleston, SC is not a particularly cold climate in October, I remember that day being chilly and grey. I had grabbed a tape at random for my Walkman (I didn’t get a CD player until 1996, believe it or not). It was Legacy of Brutality. The pounding, rudimentary down-strummed chords were exactly what I needed that day. I ended up wandering aimlessly, having given up on finding a costume.9 Then, while I took a shortcut through the hatefully touristy Market, “Halloween” kicked in. Brutally, I might add.

I suppose the fact that it was Halloween helped. But it was at that moment that I actually started listening to the lyrics. Or at least, listening to what I could decipher. And I realized how hilariously silly the posturing was. And then I realized it was probably on purpose. And it is entirely possible that this is where Sincere Irony as a lifestyle first entered my mind.

Here was a band that loved the same crappy monster movies I did, and sang ridiculous lyrics about them with a straight face. They meant it, man. Only they didn’t, not really. Except that they did. Cosmic, huh?10

I was put in a much better mood by this. And I started to remember that life could be enjoyed, not just endured. I ended up leaving the party with an attractive redhead, and within a few hours of my Misfits epiphany, my brief flirtation with sexual asceticism ended rather abruptly.11

Notes to Section II:

  1. An opinion that would lately be rendered quaint as, over the years, I delved deeper into punk. Bands like Flux of Pink Indians or Oi Polloi make Legacy sound like it was produced by George Martin by comparison.
  2. That sort of discussion is really best reserved for a Slog entry about The Goonies.
  3. A band I still love, even if the lifestyle they espoused is not for me.
  4. Honestly, even though most people do in this day and age, I am stunned that I actually managed to lose my virginity in High School. Heck, there are days I’m kind of amazed that I’m still not living a life of unwitting celibacy (see: Comic Books, My Love Of).
  5. I ended up teasing my hair up and getting my roommate to loan me some eyeliner and black lipstick, and went as a pisstake parody of a Cure fan (a band I really don’t care for, despite liking most of their contemporaries).
  6. Not really, but that isn’t the point.
  7. That relationship ended horribly, by the way, and made me bitter again for some time. But that’s hardly the Misfits’ fault.

III. Too Much Horror Business
Danzig Needs To Lighten the Fuck Up and Jerry Only Needs To Just Stop

The Misfits are clearly Fellow Travelers on the Road to Sincere Irony. However, as mighty as their original output is, there is strong evidence that the founding members either never truly grasped what made them great, or lost the plot so long ago that appreciation of their recent output is best left to everyday irony of the least sincere kind.

I’m going to speak only of Glenn Danzig and Jerry Only, and not the roughly 173 other people who can claim to be Misfits Alumni. They were there when it started, and there when it ended. And they were still there when it rose from the dead, collapsed, rose again, collapsed, and finally settled into a merchandising cash cow.

A. Danzig

Danzig, of course, has technically not been involved with the Misfits since at least a decade before my Halloween epiphany. Of course he moved on to make similar horror music, first with Samhain12 and later his eponymous solo band. Of course, these things are “similar” to the Misfits in much the same way that Jim Belushi is “similar” to John Belushi – the former is an unfunny product that exists largely due to its relationship to the latter.

Don’t get me wrong. I like some of the post-Misfits Danzig oeuvre. And early Samhain isn’t appreciably different from the later Misfits’ relatively weak thrash songs on Wolf’s Blood/Earth A.D. But I think the difference between the Sincere Irony of the Misfits and the Earnest Sincerity that came afterward13 can be best appreciated by a comparison of two representative songs.
  • Earnestly Sincere: Danzig, “Mother.”

  • Sincerely Ironic: The Misfits, “Mommy, Can I Go Out and Kill Tonight?”
While the former is not a “bad” song, the latter shows the truly developed outlook of the Sincere Ironist. “Mother” is a grim manifesto of a dark man warning others away from his darkness that never fails to make me chuckle. “Mommy…” is a slice of silly fun that sticks in the knife when we realize that we’re secretly celebrating a vengeful maniac who begs to be allowed to break curfew to commit his trophy-killings. Of course we still don't care, because it’s the fucking Misfits, and it’s not really fun and games until someone loses an eye (or twenty).

The Earnestly Sincere latter day Danzig seems blissfully unaware of the outright silliness of his pseudomacho shirtlessness, his wolf-laden videos that resemble nothing more than a direct-to-video adaptation of the Clan of the Cave Bear, and his pretentious revelation of his favorite occult books, which he apparently keeps by a kiddie pool.14

The Sincerely Ironic Misfits knew good and damn well that the main reason they were so badassed is that they looked comical, acted like cartoons, and sang about the ridiculous as if it were sublime. Well, actually they probably don’t, but self-awareness is the realm of the cynical ironist. And those guys are total douchebags.

B. Jerry Only

Of course, when I speak of the Misfits, I need to clarify: I mean the first incarnation of the band. While there’s nothing outright “awful” about the music of the second incarnation of the band, there is also none of the joy and fun. Jerry Only and his revolving cast of hired guns do not amuse me much. They come off as a pale imitator of the original, like a photo that has been Xeroxed until it is recognizable, but ugly. But I actually have no beef with “ugly, derivative crap qua ugly, derivative crap.”

I have a partial beef with the New Monkees…er…Misfits…on the issue of violating the 50% rule of Band Identity. This rule, commonly shattered by aging musicians clinging to their past successes at the expense of any growth or change, is a guideline I first postulated when I saw the “Beach Boys” a few years ago. Said “Beach Boys” consisted of original member Mike Love and mid-60s addition Bruce Johnston and a group of (admittedly competent) session men. While nothing was intrinsically wrong with the performance, it was beyond odd to think that one of the original five members could lay claim to being an equivalent experience of seeing the original band.

Essentially, I believe you have to have at least half of your original membership still in the band (rounded up for bands of 3, 5, or 7) to be able to use the original band name. Some exceptions may apply if a band didn’t really “gel” until a key member joined (case in point, the “classic” lineup of the Clash is actually the one with Topper Headon on drums, even though he did not appear on their still-legendary debut), or if only one member of the band provides nearly all of the music and lyrics to every song.15

The original Misfits were a revolving door outfit, to be sure, but as long as both Danzig AND Only stayed along for the ride, the name was fine. But once Glenn hit the bricks, the band was dead.

I am willing to let this quibble slide, as Doyle Von Frankenstein was part of the last several years of the original Misfits (though clearly he had not gained his German Barony until some time between 1983 and 1996, as he just went by "Doyle" then). However, there are some crimes that I cannot let slide – some actions are simply unpardonable. And the blame for that isn’t just on the reunited Misfits, but must also rest at least partially on some of their more oblivious fans.

“So Wolter,” you may ask. “What real crime did the post-Danzig Misfits (and the less-observant fans thereof) commit?”

Well, I’ll tell you, anonymous reader:

Forgetting that the world only needs one Kiss.

You’d think this would be evident. But you’d be wrong. The world already had a metal-tinged, not-altogether technically proficient, make-up-laden foursome of ostensible musicians that in actuality were a front for an enormous merchandising campaign. The Hot-Topic-ization of the punk world was one of the sad and ultimately inevitable side effects of mainstream acceptance of the genre. No use railing against prefab bands and pre-studded leather jackets. It’s just what happens in a commodity society.

However, when a band formed in the earliest days of punk that staggered through about 7 years in the legitimate underground, which had been defunct for over a decade suddenly reforms and immediately starts releasing a spate of merchandising, from skateboards, to bookbags, to lunchboxes, to sweatbands, to home pregnancy kits, on and on, ad infinitum…well, that just doesn’t sit well.

Especially when that band, which is admittedly aging rapidly, starts slathering on the clown white in a manner not seen in its original incarnation – sure they had a shock horror look, but it was far from the kabuki/clown hybrid that was displayed upon their rebirth – and attempt a FUCKING WRESTLING CAREER.


Honestly, if the Misfits Starship would just start covering “Strutter” and “Detroit Rock City,” instead of whizzing their legacy down their embossed bonded leather pants (on sale at Gadzooks for $199.99), I wouldn’t need to write this section.16

Instead, a band that made consistent effort to turn the trashy, dark, exploitive underbelly of American Pop Culture into redemptive anthems of noise and fun – a band that extolled the virtues of fringe culture heroes like Vampira, “Big Daddy” Roth, and Vincent Price, committed the one cardinal sin in punk: they exploited their own target audience.

It’s been a couple of years since I’ve heard anything new from The New Original Misfits. Please keep it this way, Jerry.

Notes to Section III

  1. Per the redhead in the story above, this should be pronounced “SAW-ehn.” And who am I to question a practicing Wiccan about the pronunciation of obscure and ultimately stupid Celto-Pagan BS?
  2. While not always an unnecessary mindset in daily life, Earnest Sincerity is responsible for most of the truly execrable “rock” music. Bands such as Counting Crows, Creed, and Live once ruled the airwaves because music fans mistakenly embraced them as representative of a “mature” outlook on life.
  3. If none of this makes sense to you, search for Danzig on youtube. You’ll be glad you did.
  4. John Lydon can claim that Public Image, Ltd is exempted for this reason, but the quality latter albums suggest that the moment Keith Levene left, PiL ceased being PiL, being down from 50% to 25% of the original lineup.
  5. Okay, I guess I never needed to write any of sure are picky, anonymous reader.

IV. Come Back
It’s Still Ghoul’s Night Out

Despite their best efforts at becoming a caricature of a caricature of a caricature, the Misfits are still a must-hear every October. Ultimately, their complexly overlapping and joyously redundant back catalogue still packs a wallop that merchandising and self-importance cannot dilute.

I urge every reader to put the Misfits album of your choice on the turntable, or the CD tray, or the tape deck, or your iTunes library and turn it up LOUD. As far as I’m concerned, it’s never Halloween until you’re shouting along with Glenn:


Unpleasant dreams…

Notes to Section IV:
  1. I have 6 versions of this one, too. Each is clearly essential and distinct...

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Placeholder, vol XXVII

....Overrated, Underrated...

Well, this doesn't really count as "content," per se, but I figured I'd crank out a Slog entry to keep this baby from entering Indefinite Hiatus territory. See you in a few days when I repeat the process.

I just had a thought (probably ripped off from Goldilocks) about the notions of Overrated and Underrated bands. There are always bands that are hyped above and beyond their genuine capacities, and others that are much, much better than they're given credit. I think I officially have the Platonic1 ideal of each measurement.

And, unless you close the window now, you're gonna learn 'em:

Radiohead. If you aren't a fan, you know exactly what I mean. They are a poor man's Wire, if Wire were about 100 times less interesting, and if Wire's lead vocalist was Gollum doing a Tiny Tim impression. If you are a Radiohead fan, repeat after me: "I promise to listen to more Fuguzi."

Fugazi. Yeah, I know. They are generally acclaimed by most critics and about as popular as any independent-label band can ever hope to be. But, honestly, they need more credit. If you aren't a Fugazi fan, you should be. If you are a Fugazi fan, repeat after me: "I promise to listen to more Fuguzi."

So Overrated They're Underrated
The Beatles. C'mon, they're the fucking Beatles. Everyone says they're awesome, so they can't really be, right? Wrong. I used to deny this fact, but I was full of it. If you think the Beatles are overrated, you are just trying to be a provocative ass. And you should probably listen to more Fugazi.

Rated Exactly Right
Led Zeppelin. Everything everyone ever says about them is true. The good. The bad. The sick. The stupid. Even if it contradicts.

Little known Zep fact:2 If Robert Plant and Ian Mackaye ever came into direct contact with each other, Thom Yorke's OTHER eye would go googly.

There. I said it. And I'd say it again.

  1. Plato was a dickhole, by the way.
  2. Little known, but ultimately true.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Slog's Endorsement For Best Album of 2008


Damn Right, Rebel Proud

Fuck. Yeah.

Seriously, this album basically takes everything awesome about bands like Social D, the Supersuckers, The Reverend Horton Heat, and Mötorhead then shakes in all the good aspects of honky tonk dive music, then sprinkles the spite of GG Allin and David Allan Coe. After that, it bakes in a sweaty, drunk oven at 800 degrees for about 40 minutes and comes out THE TRUCKLIEST1 FUCKING THING IN HISTORY.

Buy it. Or steal it. Or buy it, give it as a gift, then steal it back. Whatever.2 Just listen, or you're a pussy who hates everything good.

Oh, and punch somebody. Anybody.

  1. Just in case any reader is unfamiliar with the word "Truckly" or the concept of "Truckliness," I refer you to this little bit of Florida Legislature Crazytime:
  2. Sen. Jim King, R-Jacksonville, said he had a set [of Truck Nutz] on one of his vehicles, which he described as "all pimped out." They are no more than "an expression of truckliness," he said, although he'd acceded to his wife's request to take them off."

    I find it shocking we'd tell people with metallic testicles on their bumpers that this is a violation," said Sen. Steve Geller, D-Hallandale. "There's got to be better things for us to spend time debating."

  3. Actually, you should buy it. Because Hank needs to be remunerated for being this badassed.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Only Series That Matters: Game 1

Of all the things I have ever done on the internet that were baffling to the brain, Bleed Grizzly Pink may be the brain-bafflingest. A fictional Chicago team that sold out completely to corporate interest and non-fans, the Grizzlies were based on a reader comment made at the inexplicably popular Bleed Cubbie Blue. At one point BGP had like 9 writers, each of which pretty much made up whatever the hell they wanted to. And that is all you get from me. Here's an archived piece:

I apologize for the long delay in posting over here, but it's been hard to even profile this team right now. Sure, I could blame it on the nervous breakdown I suffered a couple of weeks ago which caused my temporary committal to a medical facility until I was no longer "a danger to myself and others," but that would be disengenuous.

The honest truth is I was just plain bummed.

There's no other way to put it. I was bummed at Major League Baseball's cowardly last-minute decision to "level the playing field" by not allowing the Grizzlies to participate in the postseason this year.1 Something about "the game has become massively unpopular in several major markets " due to the near quarter century of unquestioned dominance displayed by our Boys in Pink. Those quarters? The decadent East Coast baseball establishment, led by the longtime also-ran sports network, ESPN. ESPN, if you may remember, came on strong in the early 80s, only to be ousted by the juggernaut that was formed when a winning Grizz team prompted a WGN/Lifetime Network merger in 1987. While ESPN still clings to life by duking it out with TBS and FOX for non-Grizzly table scraps every summer and feasting on its monopoly of winter sports like curling and indoor ping-pong, the jealousy felt by the media in the ironically nicknamed "First City" is palpable.

So, their endless and pathetic lobbying has finally found success. On a trial basis, the MLB office has suspended the Grizz from the postseason, citing that they violate Anti-trust legislation. A terrifying precedent to set. Grizzly Manager Skip Essian has retired in disgust, and several players are seriously considering forming their own barnstorming team. Alonso Sorialdo has selflessly offered to bankroll this Globetrotting team from his vast personal fortune,2 should the need arise, but most Grizz players are trying to ride this out, and hope that public outcry will be sufficient to get the Pink Train back on the rails in 2009.

However, in a gesture of love for their fans, the Grizz are giving back to the community the only way they know how: by playing baseball at a level not seen outside of the Gods of Olympus.3 The Real World Champions are playing a best of seven against the only team that stands a chance of winning: themselves.

And I was there for Game One last night at the Pad, still in my hospital gown,4 to cheer them on!

Though I was hoping for a surprise unveiling of the mythical "40-Therroyo roster6" vs. the rest of the Grizz, I was treated to a different, arguably greater experience.

The Grizz had designated two team-members as captainsof each squad:7
  • Squad A: Third Baseman Extraordinaire and reknowned animal rights activist Ramis Rodriguez
  • Squad B: "El Toro del Oro" himself, the always zany starting pitcher Pacho Zapato
The agreement was, just like on a schoolyard, the Grizz Squads would pick each player, one by one until the 40-man roster was split evenly. Ramis won the bat grab after Zapata failed to kick it out of his hand, and selected supersub Marv DelaRosario. Zapato paused for a moment before announcing over the PA at The Pad a single word:


A hush spread over the crowd, as thousands of Grizzheads checked their iPhones for a translation of Zapato's comment. A gasp spread over the same crowd when they realized what he meant.

"Ginormous Z" was challenging the entire Grizz lineup singlehandedly.

An argument ensued as various members of the Grizz lineup attempted to convince Pancho that that was madness. Of course, that was like pouring gasoline on the fire, as Pancho has had a long running bet with Ozzie Guillen and Hugo Chavez as to who is the craziest Venezualan alive.

I could say that cooler heads prevailed, but I would be lying. Eventually Derrick Li and Woodrow Kerrigan managed to talk Z into taking on a catcher, just so the balls wouldn't pelt celebrity umpire Jeremy Piven. Of course, given the choice between rookie phenom Giovanni Solo and seasoned veteran Carlos Negro (Or "Chuck Black" as he's known to his legions of fans), the Z-man made the only choice he could have made.

Mack "Little Big Klusz" Fontegna.

This was a stunning development, as Fontegna has never played the position before. Nor did he fit into either of the catcher's gear (a local little league coach living nearby had to race home to get pads that fit the diminuative infielder-turned-backstop). But just getting Z to agree to have a teammate took 25 minutes, and the lines to every Shenanigan's in the Pad were starting to grow full of hungry and restless Grizzheads.

Finally, the game began in earnest. And what a game! Zapata and "Little Big" took an early lead after Z hit a first inning grand slam off of Canadian newcomer Rick Wardon8 that brought in Fontegna and the "ghost runners" on second and third. After that, Wardon settled into a strong series of shutout innings before getting pulled in the seventh.9

Meanwhile, Zapato was pitching like a man possessed. He struck out the first 19 batters, despite the fact that he was clearly just aiming his pitches at Fontegna's (admittedly shaking) glove. Then, in the seventh, leadoff man Sorialdo got the first ball into play. It was a line drive comebacker that Z fielded barehanded.

For a lark, Z pitched lefthanded to the next two Grizzlies (Ryne "Ryngo" Therroyo and Derrick Li), striking The Royo out on 5 pitches and beating out a grounder to first by Li. The fact that Pancho only beat Li by a step apparently scared Ginormous Z enough that he switched back to righthanded pitching and gunned down his rival captain in three pitches.

A scoreless and batterless eighth followed, though it was not without heroics as left fielder Rook Jackson (replacing Alonso Sorialdo, who had to rush to a board meeting) made a spectacular diving catch headlong into the Pink Monster. He got up and finished the game, though at the time of my writing it is unclear whether the speech centers of his brain will ever recover from the impact.

Zapata and Fontegna failed to score in the ninth (as Woodrow Kerrigan was playing at his regular postseason levels), stranding a ghost on third and Zapata at first on a groundout. In the ninth inning, the rest of the Grizz turned on the heat. Number 8 hitter, Kotsay Thundudome got the first hit the game for his side (and ended his 4 game mini-slump - the longest of the season), a triple scorching down the right field line.9 Pinch hitter Darlyle "Big Possum" Wadd advanced to first after the inexperienced Fontegna dropped strike three - Thundudome would have scored then but, as he stated in the postgame interview, Pancho Zapata stared at him with such rage that he feared for both "his life and the lives of his ancestors" if he left third. It is unsure what this actually means, but Kotsay looked pretty rattled.

Of course, none of this mattered as the now-functionally-retarded Rook Jackson belted a homerun over the very same Pink Monster that had taken a sizable chunk of his prefrontal cortex in the previous inning. Z fumed, Fontegna quaked, and The Royo stuck out on a close fastball on a full count (that umpire Piven originally called a ball until Z stared him down). Derrick Li then hit a combacker at Zapata that might have been an out had the Golden Bull not attempted to field it in his teeth.

The richocheted ball landed in the "visitors" dugout and was ruled a ground rule double by a visibly quivering Piven. This set the stage for the at-bat to end all at-bats: Pancho Zapata vs. Ramis Rodriguez. I would love to give a play-by-play for this AB, but at that exact moment my table number was called at Shennanny North, and I missed the first 8 pitches getting seated. By the time I could locate a jumbotron, it was a full count. And it stayed that way for 37 straight foul pitches. I was already finished with my Tater Nachos before El Hombre Gigantico hung a slider right in Rodriguez's zone. He grooved it all the way to where the old "Eamus Catuli" sign used to be (now a jumbotron devoted to Designing Women reruns)!10 The crowd erupted, half of them hanging up their cellphones to applaud, the other half calling friends to see if they got on TV.

It was a madhouse! With just one game down, this series is already interesting. While the underdog Zapata squad lost, it was a nailbiter, and I think any of the local media calling for a sweep are premature.

I for one, am just glad that the Grizz aren't letting a little thing like not making it to the postseason end their season.

Here's hoping everyone tunes in for game 2, and whether you're rooting for squad A or Squad B - Go Grizz!

  1. An event that annoyed me so much I could hardly even enjoy watching Boise get leveled by the Tampa Bay Devils (wise move to drop Ray from their name, as it was clearly cursing them).
  2. The recent crash has hardly affected Lonzie's bottom line at all - alert as always, Sorialdo had closed a crafty series of deals days before anyone else was aware of the cracks in the market. In fact, his net worth rose considerably in the first few unstable days. Some economists think his personal pledge of 800 billion to bail out the banking industry is the only thing keeping consumer confidence from plummeting.
  3. Who, strictly speaking, just played Rounders.
  4. Hot pink, of course.5
  5. I did remove the IV stent. I'm not a freak.
  6. Sadly (as was told later by a friend who works in the Michael Kors boutique on the Pad's Mezzanine level - a favorite haunt of fashion conscious owner "Smilin" Sam Zeeck), this is still not within the realms of current medical science.
  7. In the absence of "Skip" Essian, these captains would act as managers as well.
  8. It's been said before, but it bears repeating: the man deserves some respect for surviving the rather harsh hazing that all players receive that arrive in Chicago from the AL (or as the Grizz nicknamed it after their starting lineup won the all-star game for the fifth straight year, "the Sissy Circuit"). Few players can throw a shutout after having the pinky on their non-throwing hand broken (if the player cries, it's back to the minors - club tradition) - but the "Shawshank Redeemer" is as hard as they come.
  9. I found out in today's paper that Ramis Rodriguez, as acting manager, pulled him because setup man Carlo Marmot wanted to try a "really, really neat idea for a new trick pitch." This later turned out to be just a four finger fastball, only really, really fast.
  10. To be honest, it probably wouldn't have been more than a single, but without any fielders behind him, Z had a devil of a time getting it to Fontegna at third.
  11. Reputedly a favorite diversion of longtime Grizzly legend Grant Madison during his off days.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Comics Ideas That Never Were: The Knight Owl

Here at the Slog, we are fascinated by history of all kinds, especially the kind that never existed. And even more important than that, the kind that is particularly geeky and stupid. With that in mind, we bring you the first installment in the ongoing Secret Apocryphal History of the American Comic Book.
The Knight Owl
Vol. 1
August 1965
Cranston Press
Gary, Indiana

Red & Blue = Hero, Purple & Green = Villain. See for yourself!

The Story Behind the Story.

"A Hero both Nocturnal and Chivalrous"

This was the mandate of the idiosyncratic publisher Norman Cranston1 when he "created" his flagship title in the spring of 1964. Hoping to cash in on the popularity of the Silver Age of comics, specifically the Marvel House style, Cranston (then a struggling publisher of romance novels) assembled a team of the most desperate artists and writers in the Gary, Indiana area. Though Cranston would take credit for the creation of all 4 comics published by "CP" in its heyday (The Knight Owl, The Top-Notch Three, The Mechanical Man-Wolf, and Jericho Jewel - Amish Alien),2 he almost certainly did no more than string a few adjectives together and provide a spate of work-for-hire contracts to his stable of "talent."

Per industry legend, writer "Winston Wycliffe"3 and an un-credited artist4 created The Knight Owl at a 24-hour diner near the Cranston Office - inspired by their own plight, the pair quickly turned a hideous pun into a hero "with One Talon in the Past, and One in the Future." The distinctive medieval armor and fluffy owl suit were apparently designed in a matter of moments - which caused a great deal of trouble in future issues, given the pointless level of detail was difficult to reproduce in the budget methods used by Cranston, and led to constant deadline issues.

The debut issue was dated December, 1964 and hit the newsstands that October, in accord with the dating standards of the day. It would be the last time the issue came out anywhere near on time. The story in the first issue was pretty standard fare, involving the character's origin.


"The Screeching Sword of the Celestial Sentinel of Chivalry"

John Owlsley, an antiquarian of the Castleton Museum of History, is a quiet and shy man. Afraid of almost everything from the dark to heights to his own shadow, he spends most of his time reading ancient books of Knight Errantry in the manuscript wing. One evening, a loud thunder crack during a storm startles the timid Owlsley, who drops his glasses. They shatter, leaving him practically blind. He fumbles around, and pushes in a book on one of Museum Library shelves. This in turn opens a trapdoor beneath his feet. He falls into a mysterious tunnel under the building, and staggers about looking for help. A mysterious and silent stranger, who appears only as a silhouette leads Owlsley to an underground grotto, whereupon he discovers a sword and shield resting on a throne. The stranger then disappears - prompting the nervous Owlsley to pick up the weaponry.

In a flash he is transformed into a mighty armored warrior whose feet are the talons of a mighty owl. He discovers that while he holds the sword and shield, he has enormous strength, enhanced senses, and superior wisdom. These powers, he soon learns, disappear (along with his talons) if he loses contact with either item for more than a minute. As is the custom of the day, he decides to use his newfound powers to battle evil, dubbing himself "The Knight Owl."

Later issues revealed that Owlsley is the direct descendent of the mighty Sir Roger Owlsley, defender of the Sacred Shrine of Nocturnia - a fictional Medieval kingdom that appears every 100 years, like an Arthurian Brigadoon. His sword also develops the ability to "screech," sending waves of solid sound into his enemies.

This rather hackneyed origin, with elements lifted from Captain Marvel, Thor, and countless other tales, led naturally to the lackluster writing of the first 5 issues of the series, where the Knight Owl mostly battled bankrobbers and jewel thieves (including the bungling Gypsy King, who later reformed and became a rather humorously portrayed Private Investigator in issue 12 after his gang of baby-stealers betrayed him to the police).

However, with issue #6, either a new "Winston Wycliffe" was hired or the original one figured out what the Knight Owl was missing: a Signature Villain, one with panache.

The Arch-Nemesis

"The Hideous House Call of the Diabolical Dr. Deadline"

In issue #6 (shown above in the 1992 "Cranston Classics" reprint with computer colored cover - sadly I could not locate any of the original hand-colored issues), we are introduced to the "Diabolical"5 Dr. Deadline. Clearly a bogeyman based on the nightmarish ticking of our own internal clocks, Dr. Deadline is the most nefarious and indeed only "successful" villain to face the Knight Owl. Though colorful and fun in a silly Silver Age way, such also-rans as Sir Shade Sinister, the Insomaniac, and Baron von Batt never struck the primal chords of mortality and the fear of loss and change like Dr. Edward Lineman, erstwhile Nobel Prize-winning Physicist, and his errant time controlling curse.

For, "due to a hideous accident, Dr. Deadline is a slave to an unpredictable personal timeline in which certain moments seem like eons and weeks pass in a instant - beyond his subjective perception." While the sophisticated goggles he has designed enable him to project his affliction on to others, "it takes a monumental effort of will to exert the mental control needed to ensure that the goggles keep him in sync with the rest of the world. " Every tick of the second hand of every clock on earth resonates in Dr. Lineman's mind, for if not, he could lose his tenuous grasp on linear time and suddenly realize that he is hour, days, or possibly years closer to death.6

The Rest of the Run

"Tempus Fugit, My Dear Owl"

The Knight Owl's initial run lasted for 36 issues (averaging about 7-8 "monthly" issues per year), facing Dr. Deadline on 4 other occasions spread out over six additional issues. After the final time they faced each other (Issue #34, "Knights of Our Lives, Part 2"), Dr. Deadline was presumed to be dead when his clockwork lab assistant/bride-to-be "2 P45t M1dn1gh7"7 accidentally set off the self destruct sequence in Dr. Deadline's flying hourglass fortress, burying the Diabolic Doc under several tons of white diamond sand.

The final issue of The Knight Owl, "Blade of Democracy," (February 1970) was a disturbingly pro-war piece in which Owsley foils a plot by a group of Vietcong agents (disguised as a popular "Peacenik" band) to drug the President and brainwash him into withdrawing troops from Vietnam. Of note: The issue ends without fanfare, with the caption: "Next Issue - Diabolical Doc D Returns from Death!!!" Clearly, the cancellation of the issue was a surprise to many involved.

In the 1990s, Cranston's son Ernie and his widow, Beverly, launched an updated "grim and gritty" version of The Knight Owl in an attempt to cash in on the Mylar-bag, chromium cover collector's boom (this time starring John Owlsley's nephew, Mark, a recovering junkie who inherited the title after the former was assassinated by a terrorist group led by a recidivist Gypsy King). The overly crosshatched and needlessly violent issues blended in with the times without making much of a splash (and indeed alienated any longtime fans that might have read it for nostalgia value by replacing the "Screeching Sword" with a spike-knuckled, two-bladed katana and giving the "New Knight Owl" a cybernetic arm with a force field in place of his shield. Dr. Deadline returned as an AIDS-ravaged serial rapist that Mark Owlsley eventually beheads with a gear from Big Ben. This revamp lasted 7 issues before folding ignominiously.

On the bright side, a trade paperback collecting the first 7 issues of the original run was released at this time. Although its garish re-colorization was not in the spirit of the original run, it served as an introduction to an often overlooked chapter of the Silver Age for a whole new generation of readers.

  1. Born Norman Wojtkowski-Royall, it is rumored this enigmatic man took his nom-de-publisher from the old Shadow pulps.
  2. Of those, The Knight Owl is the only title to last more than a few months, as The Top-Notch Three and The Mechanical Man-Wolf folded after 4 issues. Jericho Jewel ran for only two issues and ended with an unresolved cliffhanger that was legendarily completed by Grant Morrison in the secret "Lost" issue of Doom Patrol. This issue, which takes place at an unspecified time in DP continuity, remains unpublished at Morrison's request. He claims that though the script was "satisfactory" and the art (by comics legend Gil Kane) was "phenomenal," the comics world "needed Jericho Jewel's story to end in a "quantum fashion," with Jewel "both Alive and Dead, with his wooden starship adrift in the spaces between our thoughts." More cynical observers claim that since the rights to Jericho Jewel are still held by Cranston's increasingly senile and overprotective widow, Morrison may never have even written a script. The fact that no paperwork can be located at DC that even attests to the existence of this issue, combined with the death of Gil Kane in 2000 makes this a tantalizing, but unproven theory.
  3. Almost certainly a pseudonym, but no record of his real name. "Winston Wycliffe" was the name of the so-called "Sage Minstrel" who answered the incoming letters from readers; he is assumed to be the writer of the series.
  4. None of the artists at Cranston have ever been identified. While at least 3 different styles have been identified, Cranston refused to allow artist credit, and if any of his staff ever managed to sneak in a hidden signature, it has never been isolated.
  5. "Diabolical" precedes the name "Dr. Deadline” 89 of the 156 times the character is mentioned by name in the initial run.
  6. Of course, in his first appearance, he mainly just ties the Knight Owl to a giant candle and shouts expository dialogue.
  7. Oddly enough, a character name invented a full generation before "l337"

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Zen and the Art of Procrastination

Or, Is Anyone Still Even Writing This, Much Less Reading It?

Holy hell, my poor Slog is on life support. I’ve just been too drained of purpose and direction and energy to update of late, I guess. Damn this ADHD, for getting me to make promises I can’t keep!

Here is the running tally of things I have utterly failed to blog about:
  • My facial hair Odyssey
  • My exciting trip to the Bristol Renaissance Faire® in Wisconsin and the extension of my streak of personal intoxication
  • The utterly ridiculous nutpunch end to the baseball season
  • My career and education goals update
  • My attempt to replace baseball with hockey in order to ensure the winter months are just as depressing for me as the MLB Postseason
  • My return to Appetite Theatre, this time sans beard
  • My near complete conversion from apathetic Taoist Atheist to apathetic Rinzai Zen Atheist with Taoist leanings
  • My conviction that, though not undoable, Sarah Palin isn’t altogether that hot
  • The new ongoing series: Comics Ideas That Never Were
  • Will Wolter ever buy the Clash Shea Stadium live CD, or is it too much of a cash-in?
  • The Dark Underbelly of the Eighties, Part 1, Section C (Subsection ii) – will it be out before Chinese Democracy?
I suppose I should work on making that list more manageable, in an attempt to get caught up and provide anyone who still bothers to check what passes for a blog in my neck of the woods. So, I will provide a status report/brief entry:

My Facial Hair Odyssey
On the way. Honest.

My Exciting Trip To the Bristol Renaissance Faire® In Wisconsin
…and the extension of my streak of personal intoxication
Also pending.

The Utterly Ridiculous Nutpunch End To the Baseball Season
I am still far too pissed and sad to formulate anything worthwhile from the experience. Again, this isn’t a baseball blog for a reason.

My Career and Education Goals Update
I am still trying to make this possible, but I am very seriously considering going back to school for an MFA in Biomedical Visualization.

Screw you…I’m not joking.

I’ll need a several undergraduate courses to catch up, as well as a decent GRE score, and probably some serious help with letters of recommendations and some form of financial assistance (if I can even get that – given my previous woes with student loans). But this actually seems like a very cool, and very fulfilling, career path for me, if I can actually jump through the hoops.

My Attempt to Replace Baseball With Hockey In Order To Ensure the Winter Months Are Just as Depressing For Me As the MLB Postseason
My adopted “home” team is now 0-3 – but I haven’t actually watched a game yet. Still, Chicago sports is nothing, if not consistent. Go Blackhawks! I think!

My Return to Appetite Theatre, This Time sans Beard
You can find the info here. I am in the first show of the evening. I will be playing the part of "Peanuts."

My Near Complete Conversion from Apathetic Taoist Atheist To Apathetic Rinzai Zen Atheist With Taoist Leanings
I also can kinda gloss over the Zen/Taoism stuff, as I am far too mystified and new to the processes and ideas to be an apt explicator – and I’m already driving Ali crazy enough. Anyway, my buddy Gene is a hell of a lot better at talking about the processes and he’s pretty much on the same path as I am right now. The most I can say is that it actually appears to be completely compatible with my Atheism and my love of the Tao, while giving me a sensible (or at least sensibly nonsensical) process to a state of understanding and living in the world that might just be what I need to keep from wanting to murder Ryan Dempster.

My Conviction That, Though Not Undoable, Sarah Palin Isn’t Altogether That Hot
Though not undoable, Sarah Palin isn’t altogether that hot.

The New Ongoing Series: Comics Ideas That Never Were
Soon, my dear Reader (can I call you Reader? ‘Cause I already did). Soon.

Will Wolter Ever Buy the Clash Shea Stadium Live CD, or Is It Too Much Of a Cash-In?
The answer to both parts of the question is: probably.

The Dark Underbelly of the Eighties, Part 1, Section C (Subsection ii) – Will It Be Out Before Chinese Democracy?
The answer to this question is: probably not.

So, my new to-do list is as follows:
  • My facial hair Odyssey
  • My exciting trip to the Bristol Renaissance Faire® in Wisconsin and the extension of my streak of personal intoxication
  • The utterly ridiculous nutpunch end to the baseball season
  • My career and education goals update
  • My attempt to replace baseball with hockey in order to ensure the winter months are just as depressing for me as the MLB Postseason
  • My return to Appetite Theatre, this time sans beard
  • My near complete conversion from apathetic Taoist Atheist to apathetic Rinzai Zen Atheist with Taoist leanings
  • My conviction that, though not undoable, Sarah Palin isn’t altogether that hot
  • The new ongoing series: Comics Ideas That Never Were
  • Will Wolter ever buy the Clash Shea Stadium live CD, or is it too much of a cash-in?
  • The Dark Underbelly of the Eighties, Part 1, Section C (Subsection ii) – will it be out before Chinese Democracy?

I hope that was helpful. See you in 3 months when I realize that I have not updated The Slog since this entry, and do this all over again!1

  1. This is the longest Slog entry I’ve ever done without a footnote.2
  2. Shit.