Support Wordplay 2015!

wordplay 2015Help me support the Literacy Volunteers of Charlottesville-Albemarle by donating to my 2015 Wordplay team!

Wordplay is an annual trivia contest held in April at the Paramount Theater in Charlottesville.  Teams of three compete to win prizes, but also as a way to fundraise for the Literacy Volunteers of Charlottesville-Albemarle, an organization dedicated to providing education and literacy resources for those who are illiterate or English language learners.

My team and I, the Dominating Dragons of William Monroe HS, are looking to raise $500 and we need your help.  If you can give any amount, please click the link below to donate.  All donations are tax deductible and it helps out a very worthy cause.

DONATE TO WORDPLAY 2015!

80 Years of DC Comics, Part Three: Action-Adventure

80 Years Episode 3 Website LogoFor 77 years, DC Comics has been the home to Superheroes. But for 80 years, it has been the home to action-adventure. Join me as I take a look at action-adventure stories featuring Steve Conrad, Johnny Peril, King Faraday, Nemesis, and Dick Grayson in an episode that spans most of the company’s history.

You can download the episode via iTunes at Two True Freaks Presents: Pop Culture Affidavit or you can listen here:  Pop Culture Affidavit Presents: 80 Years of DC Comics, Part 3 — Action-Adventure

From Zero to Breakup

MORE THAN ZERO: ZERO MONTH 20 YEARS LATER

In 1994 DC Comics published Zero Hour, a five issue mini-series designed to not only serve as a major summer crossover but also fix some of the continuity problems that had plagued their universe after the end of Crisis on Infinite Earths.  Some have suggested that Zero Hour caused more problems than it fixed but at the time it was the dawn of an exciting new era for DC.  To kick off this new age DC followed Zero Hour with Zero Month.  As the name suggests all of the main DC books were rolled back to zero though each one had a different approach to the idea  Some books featured a new origin.  Some contained tweaks to the existing origin.  Some contained brand new versions of old characters.  All of them served as a jumping on point for new and old readers alike. To celebrate this new era (or perhaps to bury it) some of us in the comic book blogging community have banded together from remote galaxies to discuss how the characters we cover were rebooted/revamped by looking at the solicitations of our character’s zero issues as well as delving into the Wizard Magazine Zero Hour Special, which was a magazine published around the time of Zero Hour to promote the series, what was coming next and the history of DC in general.

I have been struggling for days to figure out some sort of simile or metaphor to use as a way to represent what the post Zero Hour Titans books were like.  I figured it would be easy–I am, after all, a sports fan and have seen more than my fair share of lineup changes that were both beneficial and detrimental.  But for some reason, I keep coming back to the first two weeks of July 1996 and what amounted to the last gasp of a dying relationship.
Kate was … well, I can’t say that she was a nightmare or anything, but it was the first relationship that I had ever been in where things lasted longer than a couple of nights or a couple of weeks.  But by the time i was making my way through my freshman year of college, we both were slowly discovering that our high school romance wasn’t compatible to my being away at school.  We spent the summer breaking up, getting back together, and fighting for various reasons–I knew she was cheating on me, I was getting some, we had concert tickets–and I am sure that we would have been done way before I left for school in August had it not been for that week in July when my parents were away and we, for some reason, were getting along.  Of course, I would later find out it was because the guy she was hooking up with behind my back was also out of town, but ignorance proved to be bliss.
When Zero Hour hit, the Titans and Deathstroke were both at that point.  Deathstroke had been spinning its wheels with one-off action yarns after a very solid “World Tour” storyline in 1993 and the Titans was literally sputtering. W hole issues would go by where it seemed like nothing was happening, there didn’t seem to be any actual villains to fight (the Terrarizer, really?), the team never felt like an actual team, and with the exception of a couple of really good Rik Mays-pencilled issues, the art by Bill Jaaska was downright terrible.  Enter new editor Pat Garrahy, who was assigned, much like Jonathan Peterson four years earlier, to do something, anything to keep the titles afloat.  Zero Month, it was decided, was the perfect time to do that since Team Titans–the title I though twas the better of the three–had been cancelled, Nightwing was being given back to the Batman books, and the various other members of the group were sent packing in one way or another except for  Arsenal and Changeling, who had given the team to the U.S. government and were somehow going to find new members.
Unfortunately for the readers, the new direction chosen was more of a complete dismantling of both books rather than a refocus.  The solicits promised new and exciting things as Previews put a spotlight on the bold new direction that each book was taking:
ZM Solicits - Deathstroke #0 ZM Solicits - New Titans #0
The menaces that began to ravage characters in both books seemed to come out of nowhere.  Yes, ther ewas a lead-up to the Titans having an affiliation with the government, but the Deathstroke assassination plot and the Crimelord were simply dropped in, and by the time that Garrahy was let go from the title in late 1995/early 1996, the supporting cast of Deathstroke would be mostly killed off and Marv Wolfman would be given five issues to end his sixteen-year run on New Titans with at least some semblance of dignity.
I can’t tell if it is hindsight being 20/20 since I have read interviews about how displeased Wolfman was with his last year and a half on the title, but when I now read the features in the Wizard Zero Month special, I think I can already hear the disdain, or at least noncommittal:
Beyond Zero Hour New Titans Beyond Zero Hour Deathstroke
Take a look at the last lines of each of those features and you see what seem like non-comments or at least prefabricated talking points:
The book has gone under a lot of changes in the past few years, but all were evolutionary … heroes died, new heroes replaced them, tempers flared, and because they were young, mistakes were made.  That is the way life is.  But now we begin with a new group.  A revolution, so to speak.  New heroes, all with their own lives, hopes and desires.  This allows us to create a very different Titans book.
I think Slade’s ambiguous nature as well as not being sure what he’ll do next makes him someone you want to follow … His relationship with his ex-wife, his friends and co-workers is more than another ‘Man on a Mission’ comic.  He’s not out to stop the mob.  He’s not out to stop evil.  YOu hire Slade, he does his job.  Unofrtunately, his own life gets in the middle of things and mucks it all up.
I can’t remember if I found this all enticing, because prior to issue #0 of both titles, I was already a committed fan.  I will say that the idea of a new artist on Titans was enticing and the conspiracy plot in Deathstroke at least had me interested and the way a “Titans Universe” was being cobbled together using Green Lantern, Damage, and The Darkstars was a draw, especially since I was already reading those titles.  So I guess it worked on some level.
Unfortunately, the internal strife among the creators and editors contributed to the titles’ ultimate downfall.  In interviews, Wolfman had said how quite a number of the plots from issue #0 onward were not his own and dialogue was completely rewritten and he went as far as to threaten to quit if Garrahy was going to continue.  This new era lasted through a lengthy Deathstroke story involving the Crimelord, who was revealed to be Steve Dayton, and a Titans story where Raven was an evil soul-sucking dominatrix before everyone headed off to space in a forgettable four book crossover called “The Siege of the Zi Charam.”  At a DC office party late in 1995, Wolfman was given notice about the titles being cancelled and eventually negotiated to have Garrahy removed from the book and began “Meltdown,” a storyline that more or less restored all of the characters that he loved to write to some semblance of normal.
Kate and I had our Zero Month … well, Zero Week, where everything was great and we remembered what worked, but after a while, we were left to look at the mess that was being ignored and had to make a decision to clean things up or walk away.  One day, we decided it was over and haven’t spoken in nearly twenty years.  And this is where the simile kind of falls apart because I would be back with the Titans a year or so later with Dan Jurgens’ Teen Titans book and then would follow them through The Titans, Teen Titans (the Geoff Johns title), and Titans before finally ending my relationship with the book when the New 52 was announced.
But that’s another breakup story.

A big thanks to Michael Bailey and Jeffrey Taylor of From Crisis to Crisis for having me be part of this crossover.  Be sure to check out the links below to find out how other characters were treated during Zero Month.

A New Start

I may have neglected to mention the last time that I covered anything regarding Degrassi, which was about a year and a half ago, that I initially missed the finale of Degrassi Junior High.  For years, I knew that in the final episode of that season–“Bye Bye Junior High”–the school caught on fire during a dance, but I never actually saw the episode until someone sent me a video tape full of Degrassi episodes sometime in the early 2000s.  So back in 1990, I had no idea what happened and really no sense of the show’s continuity.  Sure, I knew who the characters were, but if a random DJH episode came on, I really couldn’t tell you what season it was from.

That changed when I tuned into watch Degrassi one day and saw a new title sequence, one for Degrassi High.  The characters were the same (for the most part) but they were older and at a new school.  The whole thing would end just like DJH had–with a dance after everyone learned the school was about to close–but that’s a few years off.  The episode that started DH was a two-parter, “A New Start.”

One of the things that can be the most heavy-handed part of old episodes of Degrassi is its educational aspects.  There was, to some degree, a mandate that the show had to teach and sometimes that issue was handled in an “issue of the day” sort of way.  That kind of happens in “A New Start,” even though the episode does its best to toe the line between a solid piece of teen drama and a very special episode.

While the cast is forced to adjust to its new surroundings and we get some great subplots, involving Joey, Wheels, and Snake getting hazed by older students, including Duane (who would become a key character later in the show’s run) as well as the introduction of new characters like Claude (more about him in future episodes), this one revolved around the twins:  Heather and Erica.  It seems that over the summer, they held the time-honored teen jobs of camp counselors and while working at the camp, Erica met and lost her virginity to one of the other counselors, a guy named Jason.  It wasn’t out of character completely–Erica was always more boy-crazy than Heather–but the complication that arose was that by the end of the first part of “A New Start,” Erica discovers that she’s pregnant.

So begins a story that even today would be considered controversial:  Erica gets an abortion.  Most of the second part is devoted to her contemplating the abortion, seeking counseling, and arguing with her sister, and it ends with the two of them walking either up to or into the abortion clinic, depending on what version you saw.  It’s a tough topic to approach and the writers do this deftly, as do the actresses.

One of the most important things to point out about Heather and Erica, which is highlighted in a pretty forced class discussion about abortion, is that the girls are a part of a very conservative Christian family, so when Erica brings up the topic as a way of working through her feelings (like I said, it comes off as a little forced) and gets a discussion going that  properly highlights multiple sides of the issue.  When Erica openly wonders if it could be the right choice for someone, Heather gets visibly upset and talks about how babies die every day in the “killing centers.”

Looking back at it, twenty-five years later with the perspective of someone who now has well-established views on the issue, this discussion and some of what Heather says comes off as almost satirical; however, when I was thirteen years old, I really didn’t know what an abortion was aside from it being an issue I heard about on the news.  “A New Start” made an attempt at presenting abortion in a way that was straightforward, and Heather’s inner conflict is well done, too.  Erica wants her support and Heather is so anti-abortion that she doesn’t know if she will give it, but eventually she puts her love for her sister above her political ideals and walks with her when she goes to the clinic.

The original ending freeze frame to “A New Start, Part Two.” This was only aired in Canada. The U.S. version, shown on PBS, ended a few moments earlier.

That last scene, by the way, caused a controversy, at least among those who were aware of it back in 1990.  The episode originally ends with Heather and Erica making their way through a crowd of anti-abortion protesters and freeze frames on a woman holding a figurine of a fetus as they walk in the door.  This was too much for PBS, who truncated the American version of the episodes by a few seconds and ended with a freeze-frame of their faces.  The episode still aired, though, which is more than I can say for a similar episode of Degrassi: The Next Generation which aired in Canada but was initially not shown in the U.S. by the cable network The N (incidentally, neither was “A New Start” or a later episode that referenced the abortion).

I don’t know if this opener was a way for Degrassi High to make a statement that they weren’t going to shy away from heavier topics now that characters were older, but it certainly gripped me and up until the show seemed to vanish from my television, I never missed an episode.

Both episodes can be found on YouTube …

Part One:

Part Two:

Pop Culture Affidavit, Episode 46: The Pop Culture Affidavit TV Theme Song Countdown!

Episode 46 Website CoverRiding the coattails of The Palace of Glittering Delights, I’ve got my own TV theme song countdown. There’s comedy! There’s drama! There’s Canadians! There’s Hasselhoff! Join me as I count down twelve of my all-time favorite TV theme songs.

You can download the episode via iTunes or listen here:  Pop Culture Affidavit, Episode 46

For your viewing pleasure, here’s all of the theme songs I mention in the episode.

Billy Joel, “Sleeping With the Television On” (the episode’s opener):

Star Trek: The Next Generation

Star Trek: The Motion Picture

CHiPs

Hill Street Blues

Community

California Dreams

Friends

Great Scott!

House of Cards

Charles in Charge

Growing Pains

The Facts of Life

Mad About You

Night Court

Cheers

The extended version of “Where Everybody Knows Your Name”

Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High

Beverly Hills, 90210

The West Wing

My So-Called Life

Baywatch

21 Jump Street

Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?

Hazy Shade of Winter

The view from my deck at sunset a couple of weeks ago.  I probably should have zoomed in so the grill wasn't in the frame.

The view from my deck at sunset a couple of weeks ago. I probably should have zoomed in so the grill wasn’t in the frame.

I got the “schools are closed” call at 5:45 this morning and rolled back over, hoping I would get to sleep in.  I kind of did for the next hour or so, as I drifted in and out of sleep until I finally got up.  As I write this, it hasn’t started snowing yet–we’re expecting the rain to change over in a couple of hours–but there’s enough snow already on the ground for it to look dreary and dull. This is not the kind of winter that you are happy about in December when it’s almost Christmas; this is the kind of winter that you are absolutely sick of.

On a day like this, I have to listen to “A Hazy Shade of Winter”:

Time, time, time, see what’s become of me
While I looked around for my possibilities
I was so hard to please

But look around
Leaves are brown
And the sky is a hazy shade of winter

Hear the salvation army band
Down by the riverside’s, it’s bound to be a better ride
Than what you’ve got planned, carry your cup in your hand

And look around
Leaves are brown now
And the sky is a hazy shade of winter

Oh hang on to your hopes, my friend
That’s an easy thing to say but if your hopes should pass away
Simply pretend that you can build them again

Look around
The grass is high, the fields are ripe
It’s the springtime of my life

Oh seasons change with the scenery
Weaving time in a tapestry
Won’t you stop and remember me at any convenient time?

Funny how my memory skips
While looking over manuscripts
Of unpublished rhyme, drinking my vodka and lime

I look around
Leaves are brown now
And the sky is a hazy shade of winter

Look around
Leaves are brown
There’s a patch of snow on the ground

Look around
Leaves are brown
There’s a patch of snow on the ground

Look around
Leaves are brown
There’s a patch of snow on the ground

The song was written by Paul Simon, and according to the Wikipedia entry (I’m doing some serious research here), it follows a hopeless poet who is unsure of his achievements in life and describes the dour mood that you would find in the latter part of the year, especially as fall transitions to winter.  But even in winter there’s a bleakness and for a group that is known for having a softer edge, Simon & Garfunkel give it a fair amount of angst and it’s probably harder than just about anything else they’re famous for.

In all sincerity, I’m surprised that this hasn’t been licensed by Pfizer or some other company as the theme song to an ad for Seasonal Affective Disorder medication or something because it just so much captures the anguish, frustration, and exhaustion of feeling like you’re trapped in the dead of winter, wondering if there is ever going to be a way out.  And could a song be any better for this or the situation more worse?

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you The Bangles:

This was the first version of this song I ever heard, spotting the very Eighties video on MTV during one of the many occasions I was hanging out at my friend Tom’s house in 1987 and watching music videos because he had just gotten cable and I didn’t have it at all (1987 was a huge year in that way; I probably should do an episode about it) and to me it’s still the better version.  Yes, synth intros like the one in this song can make the song seem instantly dated, but when those first guitar chords kick in, it’s such an ass-kicking moment that you cannot help but just getting sucked in.  Plus, it’s off of the Less Than Zero movie soundtrack so it has a built-in sense of despair, although this despair comes with anger.  It’s thrashy, sexy, and fun, and a reminder of why The Bangles are clearly one of the most underrated groups of the 1980s.

So as the rain turns to ice turns to snow turns to another day off from work turns to me shoveling the driveway turns to me really hoping that the warm weather arrives and is more consistent, at least I’ve got songs like this to be soundtracks to meandering blog posts.