Friday, August 15, 2008

The Beginning of ‘The End’ of Iron Man

It may be true that all good things must come to an end but in the case of Marvel Comics’ Armored Avenger Iron Man, it’s “The End” that has us stoked.

FanBoyWonder’s favorite new go-to Website for all things comics and sci-fi—io9 (thank you Kemosabe for the refer)—is reporting that the classic Iron Man creative team of David Michelinie and Bob Layton are re-uniting once again to chronicle Tony Stark’s final chapter in Iron Man: The End.

The source of the news comes from Layton himself who is sporting preview pages of the upcoming mini-series on his Website

Now of course this REALLY won’t be the last Iron Man story ever told but Michelinie and Layton have been itching to tell their version of Shellhead’s last days for the better part of a decade.

According to Layton, he and Michelinie pitched Marvel their concept of the “last Iron man story ever told” back in 2000 but it took some time to get the green light.

After the span of almost a decade and several ‘false starts', this project has finally reached fruition,” explained Layton on his website.

Here’s the Upshot from Layton himself: Decades in the future, a 70-plus Tony Stark is overseeing his ultimate project of his lauded career—the completion of Earth’s first commercial space elevator, whose inauguration will change the world’s economy and the future of space exploration forever. However, not everyone is looking forward to this project’s launch with the same enthusiasm as the head of Stark Universal. Sinister forces are at work, behind-the-scenes, to insure that Stark’s pinnacle scientific achievement ends in disaster.

Layton says “The End” is tentatively scheduled to be published this November, in conjunction with the Iron Man movie’s DVD release. However, the Iron Man DVD is reportedly slated for a September 30 release date so take the “tentative schedule” with a grain of salt.

The story has been conceived and plotted by Michelinie and Layton—scripted by Michelinie, pencilled by Valiant alum Bernard (Second Life of Dr. Mirage) Chang and inked by Layton.

The End would mark M&L’s second Iron Man collaboration this year following the four issue mini series Iron Man: Legacy of Doom—the third of M&L’s Camelot Trilogy featuring Iron Man vs. Doctor Doom in King Arthur’s Court.

The previous two clashes of Marvel’s armored heavyweights by Michelinie and Layton took place in the classic Iron Man (volume 1) #149-150, with part two in Iron Man (again volume 1) #249-250—which has also been in a hard cover Iron Man: DoomQuest.

While “Legacy” wasn’t quite a strong a story as the first two Iron Doom team-ups—due in large part that it was a flashback “forgotten” tale retroactively sandwiched between the previous two Camelot stories and current events in the Marvel Universe—Legacy was still quite enjoyable and worth checking out.

While we’ve always been DC Comics fanboy first and foremost, we read a fair amount of Iron Man back in the great days of Old Marvel—both during Shellhead’s his time on The Avengers and in his own book.

Their circa 1980 Demon in a Bottle story line from Iron Man (first series) # 120-128, collected in the trade paperback The Power of Iron Man was groundbreaking stuff, ahead of its time and easily as good as anything put out today, while their Armor Wars in 1988 remains a Shellhead benchmark.

To us the definitive Iron Man has been and will always be from the team of Michelinie and Layton. No one else since has come close to making this character come alive.

Bottom Line: Count on Iron Man: The End being on our pull list in November or whenever it hits stores. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

FanBoyWonder’s Review of Final Crisis #3

Once again we’re pressed for time as we’ve been busy at work and we were late in picking up books but before the review window closes shut we wanted to get our thoughts on Final Crisis #3 on the record even as we’re shooting from the hip…because we just know that the world is just DYING to know what FanBoyWonder thinks.

The Upshot From DC Comics: Batman missing in action! Superman immobilized! Green Lantern on trial for his life! A shadow is falling across Earth's super heroes — and now it's Wonder Woman's turn to face the Evil Gods!

What bizarre warning from beyond awaits Frankenstein, The Question and the agents of S.H.A.D.E. in the shadows of the Dark Side Club? What grim fate lies in store for The Human Flame? What happens when the Anti-Life Equation hits the internet? Can the Fastest Men Alive outrun The Black Racer — Death himself? And who are the Justifiers? The answers are all here as the unstoppable rise of evil continues in FINAL CRISIS #3 by Grant Morrison and J.G. Jones

Well we suppose we could call it an improvement of sorts—the first two issues of this seven-issue mini-series “event” offended us. This month we were just bored.

That actually sounds harsher than we intended as FanBoyWonder actually liked Final Crisis #3 much better upon our second and third readings but our recurring thought was “this is what it looks like when ‘evil wins’ huh?”

If by “evil” they mean “manufactured drama” then okay—mission accomplished but when we compare Final Crisis “evil” to say… the evil of The Holocaust or the evil of the tax code—sorry but Morrison’s concept of “evil” seems rather feeble to us—at least what’s been revealed to us thus far.

There was definite, if incremental, improvement this issue. Morrison has dialed back some what his random jumping around the story allowing the reader to start to get a clue as to what is going on even as he advances the plot with the mandatory summon all the heroes into one place to debrief thing.

With Batman captured, Superman off the board tending to his critically ill wife Lois Lane and Wonder Woman (albeit later in the story) infected with the bad guy virus, it falls to Alan Scott the original/Golden Age Green Lantern to pick up the mantle of leadership and inspiration that normally falls to Superman.

Morrison scores points with us here. Especially as in the history of the post-CRISIS “New Earth” in the days of the Golden Age before Superman and the Justice League generation came on to the scene, The Green Lantern was the big guy powerhouse of his day so the heroes of the day looked to GL leadership and to set the example.

Whether by accident or by design, Morrison has honored the original GL and by extension the original JSA members so he’s earned some brownie points with us.

J.G. Jones art was also better upon the second read. His breakdowns are quite eye-catching but his pencils and inks look rushed in some key panels. Carlos Pacheao has been tapped as artistic back up starting next issue but we’re wary of this becoming Infinite Crisis all over again with a committee of artists.

More is the pity in that Jones’ art is adequate but we can see how it could have looked so much better.

One little thing that really annoyed us came in the splash page with the conference he heroes. Jones shows Alan Scott Green Lantern with his power ring on his right hand when it’s always on his left hand. Careless in small things, careless in all things.

A plot point that did seem rather unnecessary for Morrison to create out of whole cloth Article X to “draft” superheroes in times of crisis—a concept VERY similar to what Greg Rucka introduced in Checkmate a couple years back.

It seems even more unnecessary when we see on the splash page that bulk of those “drafted” are once or current members of either the Justice League, Justice Society and/or Teen Titans—folks who would have answered the call anyway. Yet “drafting” them implies something much more dramatic—in a manufactured sort of way.

Naturally, what we most cared about—the return of Barry Allen—was featured the least with Jay Garrick at the West house to tell Wally and Barry’s wife what has happened to their husbands. Ok….Jay recognizes Barry’s aura so it’s really him but Morrison cheats us out of a fulfilling reunion between Barry and Wally by stilted dialogue.

Libra—the signature bad guy of Final Crisis—continues to impress us not at all. With his peach colored cloak and his grape colored mask and shirt—this fruity little villain does not exactly radiate menace or convey a sense of danger. Face it, the guy is no Anti-Monitor.

We’re honest enough to admit that we’re never going to totally buy-into this “event.” This is not just due to the failings Morrison here but also Morrison is paying for the bumbling of DC management.

However, this issue shows us that some potential still exists to make it a decent, if not long remembered, mini-series.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Smug Alert—The Secret Crisis Behind DC & Marvel Comics

FanBoyWonder wants to acknowledge a REALLY good essay by Travis at Film Fodder Comics --“What’s Wrong At Both Marvel and DC?” in which he cleverly and unflinchingly dissects the ...underperformance of this summer’s two comic book “events”—Final Crisis at DC Comics by writer Grant Morrison and Marvel Comics’ Secret Invasion by writer Brian Michael Bendis.

We encourage you all to read Travis’ essay then come back here for our take—fully acknowledging Travis’ great commentary as the springboard for our own thoughts on the matter.

Below we excerpt three key points from Travis but again, it’s not our intent to distort his point by omission so we do encourage you to read his essay in full, then come back here for our Two Dollar and 99 Cents.

Travis’ Upshot:

“There is a relatively new situation going on at both companies. DC has a rather different method of planning stories, in that tons of people cram into a room and plot out the direction of a title or character for a year or three. Marvel tended to be a little more free-wheeling, but lately they have adopted more of the meeting syndrome as well, to mixed results. The one big change to all of this recently is that both companies are trying their hand at crafting an in-depth meta-story involving the entirety of their respective shared universes, but the results are not going well.”

Plug 'n play:

“With both of these writers [Morrison and Bendis], we have a case of someone getting stuck on an idea and getting away with writing a few things, and then waiting, biding their time until they could get enough influence over enough titles to carry out the rest of their plan. We are dealing with two large stories that are consuming more than their fair share of shared-universe comic pages (not quite as much at DC) to play out an old, old idea by a tired writer who keeps his ideas in the back of his head, waiting for the chance to plug them in wherever he can make them fit.”

And finally:

“While crafting a meta-story is not in itself a bad idea, it is hard to do in cinematic style. The most comfortable place for that is TV. It can be accomplished in comics, but it takes more cohesive planning and better story-telling than either of the two companies are managing. Geoff Johns proves the exception because he is not doing a hyped "special event" outside the normal monthly titles. Instead, his narrative is crafted within each title, with organic implications for other places in the shared universe. Other writers are free to take some of those implications and run with them, incorporated into the other titles, and most of the good writers do so, which makes for a natural meta-story in collaboration with the massive number of other creative people who are playing in the same sandbox and borrowing the same toys, which might be affected by the changes implied in his titles. The end result is a gripping narrative with meaningful events and character growth. With the Bendis and Morrison titles, we get hyped marketing that the characters will be changed forever... until their next event which shatters all of your preconceived notions, ad infinitum.”

FanBoyWonder has had this essay on the brain all weekend but it wasn’t until we watched a re-run of South Park that it came to us in a bolt of lightning. DC and Marvel Comics are at a crossroads with both their “events” They stand in the eye of the storm—the perfect storm of self-satisfaction. In a word—SMUG!

For anyone who didn’t catch the classic South Park Episode “Smug Alert the upshot of the episode is that when Kyle’s dad buys a hybrid, he becomes so self-satisfied and preachy and obvlious to reality that he starts to enjoy the smell of his own farts. Others in town quickly follow suit resulting in a massive “smug storm.”

The problem as we see it has been a long time in building and certainly not entirely the fault of either writers Morrison or Bendis—although they are certainly a large symptom of the problem. In a nutshell, comic book storytelling, its storytellers and comic book fans have come to take themselves WAY too seriously.

It wasn’t so bad when “comic books” first became “graphic novels.” Everyone wants a little respect, comics fans are no exception so it was nice to have our art form recognized and respected at long last.

From ‘Characters’ to ‘Properties’

However, as fans became more “sophisticated”—or at least older—the Big two publishers—DC and Marvel seemed to lose sight of the actual storytelling—“characters” became “properties” and publishing took a back seat to movies, media and merchandising.

So comic books have found themselves relegated to the “kids table” at their own banquet. Consequently, there’s been much less “adult supervision” by DC and Marvel’s parent companies and so long as the books were published and they didn’t lose too much money, big corporate didn’t care.

Thus the comic book star system grabbed hold of the industry with a python-like grip. The star system had been born long before this current “Secret Crisis” to be sure but “talents” like Mr. Morrison and Mr. Bendis have helped fuel this star into a “supernova” of hubris at the same time that comic book galaxy is dramatically shrinking.

To their credit, these stars DO come to the comic book kids table with a vision and ideas—some brilliant, others hopelessly flawed—but ideas nonetheless. This is much to the relief of current management which by all outward appearances and recent track record, management appears to be totally devoid of idea or vision beyond “sell, sell, sell!”

Thus with the aide and abetment of the publishers, the star system of writers does not write for their audience but for their own amusement—to express THEIR vision of the (comics) universe as they see it. This comes much to the consternation of the lower profile but more reliable writers in the comics bullpen—the age old resentment of show horses vs. workhorses.

Under the current alignment of the “stars,” these high-profile hacks don’t care or don’t know what stories came before them because it doesn’t matter—they are living in the now because they are in the know. Their universe is the six-to-eight issues it takes to fill a trade.

We the long-time reader/customer are ridiculed for not liking what’s being sold to us— for “not getting it.” This time it really IS like nothing that’s ever been done before—their story is REALLY sophisticated so please don’t bother them with questions of quality control or disagreements on direction. Don’t you know who they are?

Now that’s just SMUG!

Of course, we the reader are not exempt from criticism. We may not like what they are selling but we’ve been buying it so we are as much a part of the problem as anything. We enable the problem.

So what’s the Secret Crisis? There’s a major Smug Storm closing in on the horizon. It’s headed down the pretentious turnpike, with its many-headed crossover titles sucking up all of the readers’ disposable income and good will until….like San Francisco in the South Park universe…the Big Two of DC and Marvel Comics disappear completely up their own…anal orifices.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

FanBoyWonder & Kemosabe Review The Dark Knight

Here’s the Upshot from Warner Brothers: “Batman (Christian Bale) raises the stakes in his war on crime. With the help of Lt. Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) and District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), Batman sets out to dismantle the remaining criminal organizations that plague the city streets. The partnership proves to be effective but soon they find themselves prey to a reign of chaos unleashed by a rising criminal mastermind known to the terrified citizens of Gotham known as The Joker (the late Heath Ledger).”

FanBoyWonder and our best pal and all around Kemosabe John Micek went to see the much anticipated sequel to 2005’s Batman Begins—The Dark Knight during its opening weekend.

Even as we started to record our impressions during the short drive back to Kemosabe’s house from the theatre, we quickly realized that the film was just too big for us properly review in a shoot from the hip format.

So we split the difference by first recording our initial impression then taking time to ponder the Dark Knight before entering into our Siskel and Ebert-like give and take exchange via e-mail.

MEGA SPOILER WARNING: If you haven’t yet seen The Dark Knight, don’t read any farther.

Roll tape:

FanBoyWonder: I think I finally get the Joker now. The Joker always kind of annoyed me because he….I never figured out why [Batman] or anybody just never put a cap in him but it really was like the end of The Killing Joke. But at least they didn’t’ share a laugh.

But they both recognized something in each other that they can’t kill.

Kemosabe: Batman is Batman. He can’t cross that line. He can’t kill The Joker has no compunction about killing. So it’s like the unstoppable force meets the immovable object. It’s like they said in the movie, there’s nothing that can be done about it.

They are just destined to lock horns with each other because Batman can’t ever cross that line and kill [The Joker] and that’s the only way he’ll ever be stopped.

FBW: It’s even more elemental than that. It’s Order and Chaos. They truly can’t vanquish one another.

KS: I liked that they never actually explained him—no origin [for The Joker]. It could be one of like three origins. He’s just like some demonic force.

FBW: Exactly how The Joker is in the comic.

Gary Oldman took it up a notch as Commissioner Gordon.

KS: I agree.

FBW: And wow they killed Batman’s ‘ Lois Lane ’ [Rachel Dawes played by Maggie Gyllenhaal]

KS: She wasn’t ‘ Lois Lane ’.

FBW: She was the love interest.

KS: Ah….it was kind of weak.

FBW: That actually surprised me that they killed her off.

KS: I had actually heard that it was going to happen so I wasn’t entirely surprised.

FBW: [Gyllenhaal] actually did a little more with [the role of Rachel Dawes] than did Katie Holmes.

KS: That’s because they gave Katie Holmes nothing to work with and Maggie Gyllenhaal played her a lot fiercer.

FBW: Gyllenhaal I thought was marginally better but what do you do with the ‘girl part’ in these kind of films.

And nobody plays B-movie scumbag like Eric Roberts [as Gotham mob boss Sal Maroni]. He came a tad close…he didn’t quite cross the line but he came right up to it as far as overdoing it.

KS: It was parody. I will not be as kind as you. It was outright parody.

FBW: He gets a little bit of legitimacy by appearing in Heroes and he thinks he’s the cat’s ass now.

Overall, The Dark Knight makes Batman Begins look like a Super Friends cartoon episode.

KS: It was bleak. There were a couple scenes that I found quite chilling like with [Gordon’s] son. As a father you just feel that stuff. The impossibility of the choice.

[Momentary pause after FanBoyWonder drops the tape recorder in the car]

KS: I will quibble with the editing. It was dark and it was kind of murky. It was very fast and it was very hard to see…very hard for the eye to keep track of what was going on.

Granted its kind of Batman’s thing. He disappears. He comes back.

FBW: [Director] Christopher Nolan has gotten better at doing action scenes but wow, they took it up a notch.

I thought that Anthony Michael Hall as the anchorman [Gotham Cable News reporter Mike Engel] was going to have more to do.

KS: Is that who that was?

FBW: Yeah.

At this point we got to Stately Kemosabe Manor and we both realized that we need time to chew on what we saw. So below an e-mail exchange starting about a week after we viewed the film.

FanBoyWonder starts the e-mail exchange:
I liked the inclusion of Dr. Crane/Scarecrow and the cameo by Cillian Murphy. It was both a nice way to wrap up old business from the previous movie Batman Begins but also a subtle and clever way very early in this sequel to reinforce the previously established theory of “escalation” in the Batman film universe where costumes and capes start to come out of the woodwork following the appearance of Batman.

Did Batman create this new brand of costumed menace or did Batman come onto the scene to combat this new brand of uber-criminal? Chicken or the egg. In any event it was a nice touch.

“You either die the hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the bad guy”

Harvey Dent’s quippy, almost throwaway line over drinks with Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) and Rachel Dawes is a very neat upshot of a very messy movie and it oh so captures the tragic fate of this character

Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent was brilliant. Fanboys everywhere knew his ultimate fate but I found myself hoping against it. That the true mark of a really good film. We wanted Harvey not to endure what ultimately becomes his dark destiny as ‘Two-Face’.

Another word about Eric Roberts. We mentioned that we was over the top and he was definitely not quite the heavy that Tom Wilkinson who played Carmine Falcone— Gotham’s Al Capone in Batman Begins was.

Eric Roberts is no Tom Wilkinson but I guess that was the point. Carmine Falcone was THE BIG mob boss of Gotham. He was taken off the chess board and who takes his place but the junior varsity of the mafia. Still it would have been nice to see Wilkinson again but two Batman Begins cameos would have been pushing it I suppose.

Morgan Freeman was given a lot more to do as Lucius Fox this time around. Consequently, Michael Caine as Alfred didn’t get as much to do but Alfred did manage to have a couple vital supporting scenes as Bruce Wayne’s manservant, assistant, mentor and co-conspirator.

Morgan Freeman’s Fox really stepped up. Unlike Batman Begins where Fox and Bruce Wayne played it coy—tell me no lies and I’ll ask you no questions—Fox this time around was All In right in the thick of it. No more plausible deniability.

And we really liked how Fox pushed back against Batman when Fox thought Batman was crossing ethical lines by using Wayne Technology, Fox’s invention for a well-intentioned purpose that all-too-easily could have been perverted for ruthless means in the wrong hands.

And yet again with Fox and Alfred and especially Gordon, we see that for all of Batman’s tricks and training and grit, he can’t do it all alone. He’s the one man war on crime but without allies, it would be a quick good night for the Dark Knight.

Speaking of key supporting players, Gotham/Chicago was as much a real character in this story as anything. In Batman Begins, they did shoot some key scenes in the city of Chicago so it looked and felt like a real place and not like you were on a sound stage.

This Gotham City was a living, breathing urban center. You could see it. You could feel it. That made all the difference. This was real movie. Even Batman’s costume/armor and Joker’s get up looked real enough.

This was a plausible, real world movie—as much as humanly possible given the premise and the story’s comic book origins.

Kemosabe responds:

Hope you don't mind if I go all "meta" on you for a moment.

But every time I see a "Batman" film or read one of the seminal comics -- whether it's "Batman Begins" on celluloid or "Killing Joke," or "Year One," on paper, I start thinking about the Batman's iconography and the power of myth.

Because, on a very real level, that's one of the questions/issues that this movie confronts: The Batman (isn't it quaint how they're still using the definite article "The" before his name?) as symbol -- both as a force against=2 0lawlessness and as a reflection of our own inner needs and fears.

One of the things that's driven me crazy in the wake of the release of this movie was the run of articles comparing "Batman" to the current occupant of the White House -- the only similarity between them being their allegedly single-minded pursuit of evil and their desire to vanquish it.

But putting aside the easy political expediencies, there's actually something to it.

At the opening of the film, The Batman is already confronting the problem of the inevitable escalation in weirdness and crime that his very presence in Gotham City has created. You see that with the preponderance of garish villains (Scarecrow, Joke and Two-Face) and with the imitators that he has inspired.

Though he's only been on the job for a short time, The Batman has already gone from man to symbol -- a symbol of order, of law in the face of lawlessness. But even with this success, we find Bruce Wayne questioning his own methods, wondering whether a bogey-man who hides in the shadows, who inspires grown men to dress like him and risk life and limb, is the kind of protector that Gotham City deserves.

Ultimately, he decides it isn't, and determines instead that the future of Gotham lies with the fresh-faced prosecutor Harvey Dent. At one point, he's even ready to chuck it all to live what he hopes will be a quiet life with his lady fair -- Rachel Dawes.

Not to give too much away, but you've got to figure that this isn't the way it's going to work out. And one of the most intriguing parts of the film is watching Batman/Bruce come to terms with his potency as a symbol and his realization that, though it means never getting to live a normal life, he has to fulfill this role in the life of the city.

And that's the point where Batman morphs from a man in a bullet-proof suit to something like a legend. All our greatest myths, after all, involve some kind of sacrifice on the part of the hero. Hercules had his labors. Odysseus had his wanderings. Sisyphus had his boulder. And Batman/Bruce has the war he must know he can never win, but fights anyway.

And there's something a little ennobling about that -- yet still a little sad.

Batman alternately inspires and provokes pity. Inspires because, somewhere, deep inside of us, we hope there's the part of us that would rise to an impossible challenge if called. And sadness because we know the depth of the sacrifice required to do so.

Back to you, Fanboy ...

FanBoyWonder’s Last Word:

Heath Ledger’s Joker—perhaps in no small part due to his unfortunate and untimely death earlier this year—has grabbed the lion’s share of both critical attention and viewer buzz but I think Aaron Eckhart deserves a special word of praise for playing two separate and distinct characters within the same film—one heroic and one unredeemable—in his portrayal of Harvey Dent and later Two-Face.

Gotham’s “White Knight” DA could have easily been painted into a corner of blandness as a white-bread, by-the-book, naïve public official that works within the system to battle corruption—and is always doomed to fail.

But Eckhart—with the help of some good scripting—brings a heaviness and depth to Harvey Dent. Dent plays by the rules (mostly) but he also plays the angles within those rules—hence the double-headed coin (“I make my own luck.”).

Eckhart gave viewers the sense that Dent had real, pragmatic flaws long before the “accident” that gives birth to Two-Face. Dent’s horrible scaring didn’t give him superpowers or funky fighting abilities but it did take the lid off of the inhibitions that most of us keep inside (i.e. NOT ramming the car that cuts you off in traffic).

One complaint I have of the film: I was confused as to Harvey’s final fate when I walked out of the theatre.

Two other things I really liked about Dark Knight was the evolution of Batman’s relationship with Gordon.

We see it just as it is in the comics—semi-condoned by the GPD as evidenced in a couple of time where Batman appears at a crime scene and Gordon orders his cops to clear the room and they grudgingly but quickly comply.

As part of that, we also got to see something of the “Dark Knight Detective” where Batman collected a bullet then back at the Bat-lair (was it really a cave?), Bruce and Alfred use Wayne-tech to run ballistics tests and run down leads on the computer Oracle-style. I hope they play up more of the detective angle next time.

Bottom line: For a film that was so long, (about 20 minutes too long I think), at the same time it also felt terribly rushed at times—especially during the extended third act with Two-Face.

Maybe I’m pulling this out of the air but one got the impression that Nolan and Company perhaps weren’t sure if they would be around for the next bat-film so they went All-In with the Dark Knight to make their statement.

I’m going to need to go see it again to pick up what I missed the first time but Dark Knight was a definite home run in my book. I’m looking forward to letting Brianna the Girl Wonder see it…in another 5 years.

Kemosabe Takes Us Home:

One final word before we part. And I recall reading this elsewhere, so the meme is already out there.

One of my favorite scenes in the film is the ballistics test in the "Batcave."
Why? Because it's a reminder that Batman, in addition to being a revenge-obsessed loner with an undeniable way with his fists, is also "The World's Greatest Detective."

The test-fire scene featuring Bruce and Alfred is one of the rare glimpses of that side of the character, and it's one that deserves to be explored more.

After all, if Batman is nothing else, he's the culture's most enduring pulp hero. And one of the great addictions of the pulp genre is following the character as he unravels a mystery. Heck, not for nothing is one of the flagship Bat-titles called "Detective Comics."

If there's a third bite at the apple, I'd love to see a more classically Noir-ish take on the character. That is, less focus on the fists and more on the unraveling of a great mystery.

FBW Editor’s Note: When not playing the part of FanBoyWonder’s Kemosabe or when not playing with two bands -- Milkshake Jones and Fink’s Constant, -- John L. Micek covers Pennsylvania politics for a major Keystone State newspaper—read his political blog, Capitol Ideas, at

R.I.P. Isaac Hayes—A.K.A. South Park’s Chef

FanBoyWonder was shocked to hear the news of the passing of legendry singer Isaac Hayes—known most recently as the voice of Chef from South Park. He was 65.

Long after he was known as the “Shaft” guy, he got a career second wind to a whole new generation of fans as the voice of Chef—three words—“Chocolate Salty Balls.”

Hayes ended his association with the South Park guys and the South Park fans on an acrimonious note when he abruptly quit the show—purportedly in protest over the show’s poking fun at Scientology. But the South Park guys make fun of everyone so go figure.

So when the guys “killed” off Chef, Kyle summed it up best during the episode’s memorial service—“We shouldn't be mad at Chef for leaving us, we should be mad at that fruity little club for scrambling his brains." - a not-so-subtle jab at Scientology.

We’ve always hoped that Matt and Trey and Isaac would bury the hatchet and allow for the return of Chef—now that can never be.

Let’s hope that Chef is out there resting in peace—and haunting John Edward.

Rest In Peace—Isaac Hays. Good-bye Chef!

Below is Mr. Hayes obit from the Associated Press:

Singer, songwriter Isaac Hayes dies at age 65

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Isaac Hayes, the pioneering singer, songwriter and musician whose relentless "Theme From Shaft" won Academy and Grammy awards, died Sunday afternoon, the Shelby County Sheriff's Office said. He was 65.

A family member found him unresponsive near a treadmill and he was pronounced dead an hour later at Baptist East Hospital in Memphis, according to the sheriff's office. The cause of death was not immediately known.

In the early 1970s, Hayes laid the groundwork for disco, for what became known as urban-contemporary music and for romantic crooners like Barry White. And he was rapping before there was rap.

His career hit another high in 1997 when he became the voice of Chef, the sensible school cook and devoted ladies man on the animated TV show "South Park."

Steve Shular, a spokesman for the sheriff's office, said authorities received a 911 call after Hayes' wife and young son and his wife's cousin returned home from the grocery store and found him collapsed in a downstairs bedroom. A sheriff's deputy administered CPR until paramedics arrived.

"The treadmill was running but he was unresponsive lying on the floor," Shular said.
The album "Hot Buttered Soul" made Hayes a star in 1969. His shaven head, gold chains and sunglasses gave him a compelling visual image.

"Hot Buttered Soul" was groundbreaking in several ways: He sang in a "cool" style unlike the usual histrionics of big-time soul singers. He prefaced the song with "raps," and the numbers ran longer than three minutes with lush arrangements.

"Jocks would play it at night," Hayes recalled in a 1999 Associated Press interview. "They could go to the bathroom, they could get a sandwich, or whatever."

Next came "Theme From Shaft," a No. 1 hit in 1971 from the film "Shaft" starring Richard Roundtree.

"That was like the shot heard round the world," Hayes said in the 1999 interview.

At the Oscar ceremony in 1972, Hayes performed the song wearing an eye-popping amount of gold and received a standing ovation. TV Guide later chose it as No. 18 in its list of television's 25 most memorable moments. He won an Academy Award for the song and was nominated for another one for the score. The song and score also won him two Grammys.

"The rappers have gone in and created a lot of hit music based upon my influence," he said. "And they'll tell you if you ask."

Hayes was elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002.

"I knew nothing about the business, or trends and things like that," he said. "I think it was a matter of timing. I didn't know what was unfolding."

A self-taught musician, he was hired in 1964 by Stax Records of Memphis as a backup pianist, working as a session musician for Otis Redding and others. He also played saxophone.

He began writing songs, establishing a songwriting partnership with David Porter, and in the 1960s they wrote such hits for Sam and Dave as "Hold On, I'm Coming" and "Soul Man." All this led to his recording contract.

In 1972, he won another Grammy for his album "Black Moses" and earned a nickname he reluctantly embraced. Hayes composed film scores for "Tough Guys" and "Truck Turner" besides "Shaft." He also did the song "Two Cool Guys" on the "Beavis and Butt-Head Do America" movie soundtrack in 1996.

Additionally, he was the voice of Nickelodeon's "Nick at Nite" and had radio shows in New York City (1996 to 2002) and then in Memphis.

He was in several movies, including "It Could Happen to You" with Nicolas Cage, "Ninth Street" with Martin Sheen, "Reindeer Games" starring Ben Affleck and the blaxploitation parody "I'm Gonna Git You, Sucka."

In the 1999 interview, Hayes described the South Park cook as "a person that speaks his mind; he's sensitive enough to care for children; he's wise enough to not be put into the 'whack' category like everybody else in town — and he l-o-o-o-o-ves the ladies."

But Hayes angrily quit the show in 2006 after an episode mocked his Scientology religion. "There is a place in this world for satire, but there is a time when satire ends and intolerance and bigotry towards religious beliefs of others begins," he said.

Co-creator creators Matt Stone responded that Hayes "has no problem — and he's cashed plenty of checks — with our show making fun of Christians." A subsequent episode of the show seemingly killed off the Chef character.

Hayes was born in 1942 in a tin shack in Covington, Tenn., about 40 miles north of Memphis. He was raised by his maternal grandparents after his mother died and his father took off when he was 1 1/2. The family moved to Memphis when he was 6.

Hayes wanted to be a doctor, but got redirected when he won a talent contest in ninth grade by singing Nat King Cole's "Looking Back."

He held down various low-paying jobs, including shining shoes on the legendary Beale Street in Memphis. He also played gigs in rural Southern juke joints where at times he had to hit the floor because someone began shooting.
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