Sunday, June 11, 2017

Steve Ditko as Baron Mordo

FYI: This post contains “spoilers” regarding the Doctor Strange movie and the final chapter of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko's famous Eternity storyline. This shouldn’t bother you, as great art can’t be “spoiled” (everyone knows that Macbeth creates Frankenstein’s monster, but that doesn’t stop us from re-reading Gulliver’s Travels) but, regardless, you’ve been warned.

Dr. Strange was the first Marvel movie I’ve watched all the way through since the first Avengers film, which was so terrible, fatuous, and stupid it put me off the MCU entirely, once and for all I thought. I gave Civil War a chance on Netflix, and made it about twenty minutes in—those twenty minutes embodied everything I hated about Marvel movies.

I expected to spend maybe twenty minutes on Dr. Strange, which is also streaming on Netflix. To my astonishment I ended up watching the entire film and actually enjoying it. For a huge budget blockbuster film it actually exhibits some creativity and genuine trippiness. In many ways, although it deviates from the original Lee/Ditko source material, it captures its spirit. The ending, with the confrontation between Dr. Strange and Dormammu was reminiscent of the classic panels from Strange Tales #146, in which Dormammu battled Eternity as Strange dealt with the consequences. It was a lot of fun seeing that brought to life.

How beautiful this is!

The biggest of the movie’s improvements on the original Lee/Ditko source material is the portrayal of Baron Mordo. Actually in the movie he’s not yet a Baron, I guess—they just call him Mordo. It helps first and foremost that the Intellectual Property is embodied by Chiwetel Ejiofor, who has a compelling presence and is a good actor besides. At the start of the movie he’s a faithful follower of the Ancient One and a partner and friend to Strange. But when he learns that the Ancient One has been taking energy from Dormammu’s Dark Dimension, and that faith is shaken. Then, when Strange bends time to trap himself and Dormammu in a Groundhog Day-style loop—despite repeated warnings that YOU SHOULD NEVER MESS WITH TIME—Mordo walks away from Strange. As far as Mordo is concerned, Strange has committed a serious breach and while he might have saved the day this time, his actions could lead to devastating consequences down the line.

Mordo, then, is a rigidly moral and uncompromising man who believes that one should stick to their principles, regardless of the cost.

The reasons why Doctor Strange co-creator Steve Ditko left Marvel are not entirely clear and the source of a great deal of conjecture. In one version Ditko, an Objectivist, didn’t think that Doctor Strange’s mystical world was worth exploring, when there were so many horrible if mundane things happening here in reality, where A should equal A. Another version of the story is that Ditko didn’t appreciate Stan Lee’s re-writing his suggested dialogue on the Spider-Man stories he, Ditko, was plotting and drawing. Ditko, apparently, wanted Spider-Man to be a more aspirational figure, as opposed to a “realistic” one. Ditko believed that heroes should be figures that we look up to, not figures that reflect our own weaknesses.

But remember: in the early 1960s there were no royalties or bonuses for comics creators. Stan Lee, as a "company man," was doing all right for himself. Ditko, as a freelancer, wasn't. And Ditko, seeing his comics creations make tons of money for Marvel, and seeing them be licensed as TV shows, felt he was entitled to a greater cut of the proceeds. He also wanted to be fairly credited for his role in creating the work.

Whatever the specifics, Steve Ditko did not believe he was being treated fairly by Marvel. Rather than compromise his principles, he walked.

Despite the fact that Ditko was a smashing success with Doctor Strange, and, especially, Spider-Man, he left Marvel to strike out on his own, doing work for hire at DC and getting a pittance at Charlton in exchange for full creative control. In fact, Ditko’s material at Charlton featuring Blue Beetle and the Question is among his best work.

I don’t know if the creator’s of the Doctor Strange film had this in mind, but it’s easy to see the similarities between Movie Mordo and Steve Ditko. When Stan Lee I mean Doctor Strange is willing to bend the rule to achieve some success, Mordo sees this not as a success to be savored but as a failure to be ashamed of, and he refuses to play along. Disappointed and disillusioned, he strikes out on his own, to chart his own path.


Steve Ditko has stuck to his own principles throughout his career, unwilling to “cash in” on his past successes. It’s interesting to consider whether or not the filmmakers at Marvel Studios—many of whom surely know their Marvel history—decided to use him as a model for one of Doctor Strange’s top villains.

One of the few recent photos of comics legend Steve Ditko?

Live It Down available now!


Duke Redmond, former professional wrestler, lives a solitary life in Los Angeles in 1976. His body is broken and battered from years of entertaining the masses during wrestling's golden age of the 1950s and '60s, when he wrestled as the flamboyant heel "Duke Continental."

Sara Sota, the widow of Duke's former colleague Larry, known in the ring as "Steele Trapp," asks Duke to look into the circumstances of Larry's death. Duke has no reason to think that Larry's death is anything other than a suicide, because after all, wrestlers don't die of old age, or natural causes. And Duke himself has occasionally thought of putting an end to his own miserable suffering, for which he self-medicates. Nevertheless, Duke begins looking into Larry's death and soon begins uncovering information that suggests maybe Larry didn't go crazy and kill himself.

Then, Duke's niece Honeysuckle shows up unannounced from Iowa, declaring her intention to enroll in classes at UCLA. Duke reluctantly makes room for her in his cramped one-bedroom apartment. But she hasn't come into town to study; she wants to be a dancer. Her attempts to create a new life for herself bring her to the attention of a porno producer who wants to use her in his latest endeavor which will be distributed using the freshest entertainment technology-- videotape.

This is the premise of my crime novel, Live It Down, which is available now for the kindle for $2.99 and print for $8.99. The first chapter is below. If you're interested in professional wrestling, porno, the 1970s, or feeling good all the time, give it a read.

Jose couldn’t remember a time in his life when he didn’t instinctively know that things were totally cracked the fuck up. But every so often and just for the hell of it the world gave him unnecessary verification. This time it was Larry Sota’s suicide that did it. The poor, stupid bastard just could not or would not see that everything doesn’t always fit together the way you think. Look close and you can see the cracks.
James’ and Marco’s deaths weren’t part of any conspiracy. They had nothing to do with Larry or anything Larry might have done and they damn sure didn’t have anything to do with Jose. The only thing all four men had in common was that they’d made the unfortunate decision, in the long ago murky past, to entertain the masses as professional wrestlers. And that decision, made mostly of their own volition, led to many other bad decisions. Decisions that always seemed reasonable and even rational at the time, but were in fact monumentally cracked the fuck up.
Training is hard. You lift weights, you spar, you practice your moves, you perform. Well, your body gets tired and sore, so what do you do? Give it time to recover, or take something to ease the pain and give you a little boost so you can keep going the next day? And while you’re turning that over in your mind you might also want to ask yourself: What are the other guys doing? You know, the guys who are after your spot on the card? That’s right, and if you’ve got any sense at all you’ll take that goddam Dianabol yourself; just enough to keep up. Then maybe a little more, just to get that edge. And you know what, if the Dianabol works that well, imagine what uppers will do for you. Then pretty soon you start to realize that uppers are nice, but what you really need is cocaine, then the cocaine isn’t enough so you try a little heroin—right between the toes so no one can see the telltale marks; this is entertainment for the whole fucking family, you know. And all of that, the drugs plus the alcohol you drink between matches and at the parties is doing nothing but good for you. You don’t even notice the cuts and bruises, the pulled muscles, the concussions. You just keep on, and you and every other poor stupid bastard who came before you thinks it’s never going to end.
Then all of a sudden it does end, and you’re nothing at thirty-five. And those drugs that helped keep you going, easing the pain and speeding your recovery? Turns out those motherfuckers have made your body too old and decrepit to do anything at all. Oh, and those blows to the head that rang your bell and made you see stars? You thought you were just shaking them off, but guess what? They’ve made you too goddam stupid to learn to do anything else.
If James and Marco could be said to have been murdered by anything, it was the lifestyle. By signing on and getting into the business they’d condemned themselves. Wrestlers don’t die of old age. They don’t die of natural causes. There was Artie Haley, whose brain hemorrhaged while he was driving, and he plowed his goddam car into a schoolbus when he was thirty-one. Jeff Parker had a heart attack while sitting on a public toilet, injecting heroin into a vein in his ankle when he was thirty-eight. Danny Marshall got shanked in prison at thirty-five. Joe Masur got it into his head that he could fly, and jumped off the roof of his house when he was thirty-six. Chris Thomas was crushed by an overweight prostitute when he was thirty-three. Eddie Stark had a heart attack while walking up a flight of stairs at forty-six. Poor Lincoln Holler had fallen into a coma five years before, when he was forty.
And now add Larry Sota to the list. Went crazy; completely batshit crazy. Convinced beyond all reason—and totally immune to any sensible argument—that some mysterious someone was out to get him, at fifty. Christ, what took him so long? Fifty is a ripe old age. Comparatively, he was one of the lucky ones. Then he went and proved just how fucked up the world is by tying a noose around his neck—hell, not even a real noose, with a proper goddam loop, but just one half-assed knot (Jose shuddered to think about how painful that must have been, how determined Larry must have been to end his own fucking life when the coroner said that he’d spent at least an hour on that rope; shit, after forty-five minutes wouldn’t you just say, Enough’s enough, I’ll try it again tomorrow?) and ending everything himself.
“I’m gonna die,” he’d said. Poor deluded, batshit crazy Larry (hey; maybe that wasn’t such a bad wrestling name) had called Jose almost out of the blue, after seven years, and slurred “I’m gonna die. You’re gonna die.”
“What’re you talking about, old friend?” Jose had tried to sound comforting, but he knew there was no comforting the man who owned that pathetic voice on the other end of the phone line.
“They got James,” he’d said. “They got Marco.”
Jose had heard about James and Marco. “They died, Larry, but that’s got nothing to do with you.” He’d taken a drink from his can of Pabst.
“It’s because of what we did!” Larry had whined. Deep voice, but the man whined.
“When?”
“That night. The night, it was...” his voice trailed off, vaguely. “Back in Kansas.”
Jose had been in Kansas only four times in his life; the last time was nineteen years before. Half his lifetime before. He’d smiled at the memory.
 “That was an... interesting night,” he’d said.
Larry gasped. “It’s getting us all killed!” he said.
“You can’t really believe that what happened that night has something to do with Jimmy and Marco?”
“He’s doing it in order—”
“Who is ‘he’?”
Larry had ignored Jose’s question. “The order that we went that night. First it was James... Then Marco... Then, oh gawd, it was—”
Jose had heard Larry sobbing on the other end of the line. In response he had laughed lightly. Didn’t want to belittle the poor man, who was obviously batshit crazy, but still. “Larry, you’re letting this get to you. It’s too bad about Jimmy and Marco, but for god’s sake, it’s got nothing to do with you, or with me...”
“You’re after me,” Larry had asserted.
Now Jose really laughed, he couldn’t help himself. “I’m not after you, Larry, my friend. I assure you, I’m not after you.”
But that’s not what Larry had meant. He wasn’t accusing Jose; he was warning him. “They’ll come for me next, and when they do, you get yourself ready,” he’d said.
“Christ, Larry, first it was ‘they,’ then ‘he,’ now it’s back to ‘they,’ which is—”
“I’m getting myself ready,” and Larry’s voice sounded clear for the first time during the call. Cold and calculating, like an accountant toting up column A. “I’ve set up a will. I’m getting everything in order. Talked to my kids for the first time in almost a year. I told my son I love him for the first time—” and the coldness left his voice again, and he was sobbing.
Whether Jose had thought the man was crazy or not—and clearly he was crazy—was beside the point now; Larry was hurting real bad, and there was not one goddam thing Jose could do for him. It made him a little resentful. We’re dying before our time? Wrestlers do not die of old age. He couldn’t bring himself to say it out loud, but goddammit Larry knew that as well as Jose did. None of them would be able to live down their pasts. Try telling me something I don’t already fucking know.
 He’d wished Larry hadn’t called, and he didn’t want to continue the conversation. “Hey, listen, Larry, thanks for the call, and the warning and all that, but I really got to get going now. Why don’t you give me a call later this week?” Maybe when you clear your head and stop with all this insane bullshit. Then: “Maybe we can get together. You’re still up in Pasadena, right?”
“Maybe you can come to my funeral,” Larry had said. “Maybe you’ll get the chance before they hold yours.” The line went dead.
Then, two days later, Larry went dead. For god’s sake, he killed himself. To ensure he wouldn’t die of old age? To pre-empt whatever he thought was coming?
The call to Jose was his fucking suicide note, and Jose hadn’t done anything about it. Not one goddam thing. He could have told someone. He could have called someone. Larry had a wife, maybe he could have called her. Maybe Duke. Hadn’t Duke worked at the VA Hospital for awhile? Might have been able to get Larry some help.
That was why Jose couldn’t bring himself to go to the funeral. Sure as hell wasn’t Jose’s fault, but Jose had a sort of flaw in his character and he felt guilty. Crazy as he was, Larry had reached out to him, but Jose had turned away. Had hung up and finished watching Barnaby Jones, or some bullshit like that, killed off a can of Pabst and then opened another one. Had spared poor batshit crazy Larry about five seconds of thought before going to sleep that night, but didn’t think of him again until he’d gotten the invitation to Larry’s funeral.
He should have told someone about that call. But he didn’t.
Jose didn’t believe that Jimmy and Marco had been killed because of what happened that night in Kansas. He was no psychiatrist, but it seemed obvious to him that Larry must have felt guilty about that for a long time, and Jimmy’s and Marco’s untimely but hardly unexpected deaths had given him an excuse to dig at himself about it. But goddam, there was no reason for that guilt shit. The girl had wanted it. She’d wanted all of them. Lots of girls had hot pants for wrestlers. Today they were called groupies or starfuckers or whatever. Jose couldn’t remember all the strange he’d gotten out on the road. And plenty of them went with more than one guy in one night.
It was true, that night was unique. And that girl was unique. She’d taken on five of them, all by her sweet little self. For Larry’s sake, he cast his mind back. He tried to remember specific details. What about that night, that event, that wild young girl, could have caused Larry so much fucking grief? The answer was simple: Nothing. But to someone who’d had one too many concussions, and taken one too many uppers, that didn’t matter. And if it hadn’t been about that night, Larry would have made it about something else.
But then the night of the funeral Jose got another phone call, and goddammit he just couldn’t help himself. He started to wonder if maybe Larry wasn’t so batshit crazy after all.

Duke Continental's embarassing headshot from 1963 plays an important part in the book.

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Saturday, June 10, 2017

Twin Peaks: Don't let Stupor Cooper win!

Cool poster.

The original Twin Peaks was an exciting, unique program that, even in its lesser moments (there were quite a few!) still felt special—even important. This despite the fact that it was a network TV show, and the network suits were messing with it, especially in the second season, when they forced Lynch, Frost, and et. al. to explicitly reveal Laura Palmer’s killer. Those couple of episodes, in which Leland Bob horribly murdered Laura’s cousin Maddie, featured some of the series’ most indelible moments. Whatever Ray Wise was paid it wasn’t enough.

After that, the show began to really develop/explore the mythology of the Black Lodge, going into surprising detail about what was actually happening between this reality and that one. The final episode was half Black Lodge—that stuff was brilliant. Maybe the best portrayal of dreaming ever captured in any work of art. The other stuff, with Doc Hayward seeming to kill Ben Horne, the stuff with the Miss Twin Peaks competition, Annie’s kidnapping, the Nadine Hurley stuff, the stuff with Audrey and the bank bomb, etc, doesn’t make much sense— even less sense than Twin Peaks usually made.

There was a sense that the show was becoming even more remote. The current season seems to be taking everything that might have been accessible about the show and jettisoning it in favor of, uhm, I don’t know.

Apparently, Lynch and Frost wrote the new season as one long 18-hour movie, and Lynch directed everything, then broke the result into one hour chunks. And it shows. None of the episodes feel like individual works. So I’m not sure how fair it is to judge based on what’s happened so far. I’m also not entirely sure what’s been happening so far. It seems to be moving at a simultaneously turgid and breakneck pace. Some things are set up and then completely dropped, presumably to be picked up again later (the stuff with Principal Hastings, for instance, the stuff with Ben Horne’s new secretary Beverly Page), while other things are set up and then paid off almost immediately (the glass box).

It was fun seeing Cooper make it out of the Black Lodge. But since he’s appeared in Las Vegas, taking over the life of “Dougie”, he’s been in a complete stupor. And Stupor Cooper’s storyline is completely inane. Las Vegas is the real world, not the Black Lodge. Someone in such a near-catatonic state would be taken to a doctor by—the people at the casino, his wife, his co-workers—SOMEBODY, for crying out loud. And by the way, I’ve never won $425,000 playing the slots over and over, but do they really just give you he money in cash without taking your information, especially your social security number?

This was a major problem for Twin Peaks, especially in the second half of the second season: It completely lost interest in “reality,” and the non-Black Lodge stuff became, essentially, one damn thing after another storytelling. The “reality” stuff needs to be grounded for the Black Lodge stuff to have any impact. If Stupor Cooper could walk around in such a catatonic state in the real world, then there’s no reason for all the Black Lodge stuff.

Bob Cooper is kind of fun, but again, it seems that Lynch and Frost aren’t all that interested in how the real world works. How is Bob Cooper able to dial into government computer systems? He’s been Bob Cooper for twenty-five years, presumably doing this stuff, so why hasn’t he been caught? How does someone like him stay off the radar? Is it just because he seems to associate entirely with loathsome, depraved rednecks? Since the original Twin Peaks aired the PATRIOT Act has passed, and Obama’s NSA has spied on and “unmasked” millions of Americans. How did Bob Cooper evade that?

Bob Cooper: How has he been able to elude capture for 25 years? Where is the NSA?

What the new show needs is more grounding. Where is Big Ed Hurley? Where is Invitation to Love? The stuff with Wally Brando was a lot of fun (and the best use of Michael Cera since Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World), as was the stuff with the new Sheriff Truman’s wife ranting about the leaky pipes and the bucket. We need more of those moments—and they need to connect to something. 

Matthew Lillard as Principal Hastings has been very good. Hastings has apparently committed a horrible act of brutality without his knowledge or consent, and Lillard has portrayed that confusion and sadness in a surprisingly moving way. Hopefully we’ll get more with Jane Adams’s Constance Talbot, the joking Buckhorn, South Dakota crime scene investigator. The other cameos haven’t made much of an impression on me as yet. But, again, this is an 18-hour movie, not a TV series. Except for the terrible Brett Gelman, who couldn’t get a series on Adult Swim, so he very publicly announced that he was leaving the network because of “the misogyny of their policies.”

The original Twin Peaks premiered in April, 1990. It opened with the discovery of the body of Laura Palmer, the beautiful blond high school girl, wrapped in plastic after having been dumped by the side of a lake. As the series wore on, viewers learned that Laura Palmer was promiscuous, took photos for a skin mag called Flesh World, had an abortion, was a drug addict and so on and so on. Imagine the Mary Sue and Jezebel think pieces that would inspire—the woman whose body is a commodity (packaged in plastic!) who is punished for the sin of exploring her own sexuality. On top of that, Twin Peaks is full of attractive, young women in peril. And the scene in which Maddie is killed is harrowing.

If Twin Peaks were to begin today, it would be think-pieced out of existence. People like Brett Gelman would stroke their chins and complain on social media that David Lynch and everyone else involved in the endeavor hates women. Also, there’s the fact that the Black Lodge stuff borrows heavily from Native American folklore—in other words, it’s cultural appropriation.

Lynch subtly addressed some of this in the scene between his Gordon Cole character and David Duchovny’s Denise Bryson. Cole plans on taking the young, attractive FBI agent Tammy Preston with him to investigate the appearance/arrest of Bob Cooper, and Bryson mentions that Cole has gotten into trouble or nearly gotten into trouble with attractive young women before—a nod to the fact that, indeed, the show and the Fire Walk With Me film experienced some criticism of the portrayal and representation of its female characters. It’s a funny scene, but it’s also a bit sad. In 1990, an artist could be messy, could follow their muse to wherever “problematic” places it might take them—even to a certain extent on network TV. If Twin Peaks were just starting today, none of the artistry and uniqueness would matter to the think-piecers and the social media mobs. If it doesn’t advance their preferred (leftist) narrative, it must be strangled before it can build any momentum.

So my question is, why is Brett Gelman on the show at all? And what do other SJW’s think of it? Actually, scratch that, I don’t really care.


At this point, five episodes in, Twin Peaks is a frustrating, fun experience. Stupor Cooper definitely needs to snap out of it (there was one moment, at the breakfast table when he took a drink of coffee, that I thought he was going to snap out of it, but, alas). I mentioned earlier that I want to see Big Ed, and Invitation to Love, but what the show is really missing is AGENT DALE COOPER, the real Cooper, not Bob Cooper or, most especially, Stupor Cooper. 

Stupor Cooper: Please snap out of it!

It’s entirely possible that it will end up being more fun than frustrating, but I’ll only know that after having watched the full eighteen hours. I understand why Showtime is releasing it as a weekly series. For crying out loud, I added Showtime to my Amazon Prime just so I could watch the show, meaning they’re going to get at least four months’ worth of subscription fees from me. But if ever there was a show that needed to be “binge watched” it’s this.