Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Modern Age of Super-Hero Cinema

I've mentioned before, we can't help but love movies. So many Books serve as inspiration for Films that it's a near impossibility not to enjoy both, sometimes.

My brother and I grew up in the age of pre-super-hero cinema. I count Tim Burton's Batman as the birth of the super-hero age of film. Certainly, others would disagree, calling out Christopher Reeve era Superman, but there's a distinct difference between that Superman (1978) and Batman (1989), aside from the decade-plus span between them.

Superman was a wonderful movie in it's time, but it was a film made of Hollywood rather than of Comics. I'll try to explain...

Film, being a visual medium, has lent itself, since it's silent-film beginnings, to offering up spectacular new worlds. A Trip to the Moon (1902) by Georges Méliès and Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1927) are two prime examples of the earliest silent-film spectacles, and prime examples of movie-making as well! A Trip to the Moon was a present-day (at it's time) frolic of fun, fantasy and frivolity, while Metropolis delves into societal woes and political commentary in a stunning future world... To help bridge the rather distant topical gap between those two movies, let me include F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu (1922) - a horror fantasy both thoughtful and fun, in the way that scary movies are fun. Each of those were visual spectacles.

There's no denying the hundreds of great films which have lacked high-levels of Spectacle, but they're not often easily recalled. Even the great real-world dramas in film history have been spectacular in some way or another. Alfred Hitchcock had a remarkable ability to spectacularize the mundane. His movie Rear Window (1954) is one of my very favorite movies, and it's entire story takes place from the viewpoint of one room in an unremarkable apartment building, featuring characters who were just regular people that any of us might know; yet, it was spectacular in its filmic ingenuity.

The point of all this is that Spectacle is not a bad thing. It's what makes us want to go to the movies, even when a movie is billed as "The Greatest Love Story of ALL Time!" A great romance, then, IS the spectacle.

Now, getting back to the Christopher Reeve Superman... the tagline for that movie was "You'll Believe a Man Can Fly!" The spectacle was the thing selling it. Cinema had reached a turning point in visual innovation. Maybe it was technology, maybe it was studio greed, maybe it was an audience clamoring for MORE! Probably all of the above. The years leading up to Superman included big hairy fistfuls of effects heavy classics. From Jaws and the first remake of King Kong - for robotic special effects, to the Planet of the Apes movies and Logan's Run - for unusual sets and make-up effects, to Star Wars, Close Encounters, and Indiana Jones for new uses of miniatures, mattes, and some more make-up and physical effects. Superman came out at a time when Hollywood needed the most spectacular spectacle available, a being from another planet "who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men!" The risk in making Superman was the same risk as in the making of any other big-budget picture, but thesubject was no risk at all, having been mostly popular since his inception nearly 4 decades earlier. And so, the big-red "S" smashed it's way into our hearts all over again.

And, then what? Three sub-par sequels... Meanwhile, Star Wars rose to galactic popularity, and multitudes of copycats followed. Science Fiction films blossomed beyond their previous pinnacle in the 1950s. Alien crept from the ductwork, Jason, Freddy, and Michael Myers slashed at us, and Indiana Jones dug into ever more treacherous tombs. All of this Flash Gordon-y pulp horror and adventure caused some older viewers to reflect on things they'd grown up with... Reflection led to nostalgia, leading to more reflection, then rediscovery, and finally a realization that some of the most memorable stories ever sold had come from movie serials and 10-cent comic books. Indiana Jones, archaeologist and tomb raider, helped us rediscover our own entertainment history.

Coincidentally, during this same period of time, comics were going through some growing pains of their own. Year after year of declining sales wasn't helped by rising competition from TV toy-cartoons, and the birth of video games. Also, a budding industry of Indie Comic publishers had been whittling away at the major publisher's market share by releasing grittier, bloodier, and sexier comics, many of which also had intriguing stories with more mature elements than the major publishers could print - thanks to the Comics Code Authority (CCA).

The CCA was established in the 1950's after a big stink rose from the bowels of one Dr. Frederic Wertham. His book, "Seduction of the Innocent" made claims that violence in comics was corrupting the youth. He included in the book the results of interviews with problem youth, whom he claimed had pointed the finger at comics, TV, and movies as their inspiration for doing bad things. It has recently been discovered that Wertham intentionally skewed some of this information in the effort to prove his misguided point.

Major comic book publishers voluntarily submitted their works for CCA approval for about 45 years, until the indie publishers started to gain popularity. At this time, in the 1980s, Marvel and DC began experimenting with edgier stories, re-packaging older stories into large volumes of collected works, and so, the Graphic Novel was born.

Many of the newer edgy stories were new works with all-new casts of characters. But some stories featured our favorite heroes in times and places previously unknown. The first of the Great Graphic Novels in this new age of comic publishing was "The Dark Knight Returns" by Frank Miller. Frank Miller had been working in comics to great acclaim in Marvel's "Daredevil" series and had built up enough klout to get a chance at a darkly futuristic Batman story with "The Dark Knight Returns." In DKR crime is rampant throughout Gotham City following the retirement of the Batman. Able to stand it no more, old man Bruce Wayne dons the cape and cowl once more. Along the way he picks up a new Robin - a girl Robin! - and crosses paths with multiple gang armies, and Superman even makes an appearance. The Dark Knight Returns is beginning to feel a little dated, but is unquestionably one of the greatest works in comic-book history, not just for it's great story, but for introducing new ways of presenting a story in comics form. I re-read it often, and I recommend it, highly.

The astonishing success of The Dark Knight Returns is the root of modern super-hero cinema. If not for Frank Miller and DKR we never would've had the Tim Burton "Batman" which borrowed a number of story-telling elements directly from Frank Miller's DKR. Burton made this "Batman" his own, but this movie existed, not as a Hollywood showcase, but because it had become clear through DKR that comics could have compelling stories and boatloads of spectacle at the same time. And that's why Batman begins the modern super-hero movie era, instead of Superman.

Following on the heels of Batman came a flurry of other pulp and comic-book-inspired movies: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Mask, The Rocketeer, The Shadow, and more; through more Frank Miller creations like "300" and "Sin City", all the way to our most-modern and greatest super-hero movie yet, "The Avengers."

I'll add some interesting and fun links to this later, but I thought you should know, this piece was inspired by the Oscar win of Jennifer Lawrence for "Silver Linings Playbook." Jennifer Lawrence played the young Raven Darkholme (aka Mystique) in "X-Men: First Class" which reminded me that Halle Berry, who played Ororo Munroe (aka Storm) in X-Men, X2:  X-Men United, and X-Men III: The Last Stand... which in turn reminded me that Ellen Page, who played Rogue throughout X-Men I-III had also won*. Considering their male co-stars - Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, and Hugh Jackman - one is almost forced to wonder "What's up with that?"

*Corrections/additional info (via http://awardsdatabase.oscars.org):
  • Ellen Page did NOT win, but was nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role for Juno.
  • Ian McKellen has had two nominations, 1st for Actor in a Leading Role for Gods and Monsters, 2nd for Actor in a Supporting Role for Fellowship of the Ring.
  • Halle Berry won Best Actress in a Leading Role for Gods and Monsters and is the only Oscar winner to have portrayed multple 'supers' - Storm in X-Men 1-3 and Catwoman.
  • Jennifer Lawrence has been nominated twice for Best Actress in a Leading Role, 1st for Winter's Bone and receiving the statuette for for Silver Linings Playbook.
The intent was to illustrate that only female X-Men have won Oscars for Leading Roles, albeit in other films.
Many other Oscar notables have appeared in super-hero films (non-acting awards have not been included here):

Jack Nicholson and Kim Basinger appeared together in Tim Burton's Batman and have each won Oscars - Basinger as Actress in a Supporting Role for L.A. Confidential and Nicholson as Best Actor for Cuckoo's Nest, Supporting Role in Terms of Endearment, and Leading Role in As Good as it Gets.
Michelle Pfeiffer - Catwoman in Batman Returns has 3 nominations, 2 of which were for Leading Role.

Tommy Lee Jones - Two-Face in Batman Forever - has had 3 Supporting Role noms, winning for The Fugitive, and one Leading Role nomination.
Uma Thurman - Poison Ivy in Batman & Robin - was nominated for Supporting Role in Pulp Fiction.

There are many more items like these, but too many to include here. I'll leave it to you to look up your favorites. ;-)

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Singles Awareness Day is S.A.D.

I've only just learned of Singles Awareness Day. It's not about one dollar bills. I'm sure we're all well aware of each and every $ingle we have. Singles Awareness Day is about relationships - singles as opposed to couples... or grouples, if that's your thing.

Wikipedia describes Single's Awareness Day, or SAD, as a humorous holiday; hence it's bespoke three-letter-acronym. In the wake of Valentine's Day, discovery of this "holiday" inspired in me some reflection, which almost always includes an exploration of our shelves. That which follows was found in our Humor section.

Most guys are OK with bachelorhood. We like being free and single and enjoying everything life has to offer, with nothing to tie us down and no one to hold us back... well, that's what we tell ourselves, and some of  us believe it. But, if the truth were known, nearly everything we do is directed toward the goal of trying to impress a partner. Often, like a game of chess, we're working out future moves ahead of the next turn, and some of us don't know we're doing it. That's how it is for teh average guy.

Dave Barry, Pulitzer Prize winning author, can serve as a decent example of an average guy. I hear your protestations, "What?! He's not a regular guy! He's a famous writer!" Well, I'm here to tell you that some guys, Mr. Barry included, earn their fame by being a regular guy, an "everyman". And, I'll let you in on a secret. ALL guys are famous... in their own minds. Work with that idea, not against it, but don't let us get out of hand.

OK, Guys. Don't think I'm selling out our secrets. Truth is, the Ladies figured out how to keep us in check millennia ago. We're not that tricky, really, but we can be exasperating. As proof I offer into evidence the book "MEN!" filled with the feminine point of view on men from some great ladies, including Dayton's own Erma Bombeck!

Some guys get lost on the path to finding a partner. They are called "Dudes". Dudes get so wrapped up in the trappings of impressing a partner that they lose sight of the goal. Too much Coolness, or Swag - in today's parlance, is really nothing more than B.S. Few potential partners are willing to wade through it to find the Guy inside. Furthermore, Dudes tend to be the kind of guys which inspire women to write books like "Picking On Men". Seriously, Dudes, you aren't doing the rest of us Guys any favors, but nice car! Is that a hemi? Where'd you get those rims?

HEY GUYS! I'm still talking to you. This is serious. You may think you're King of the Hill, Top of the Heap, but somewhere there's a lady who knows better, 'cuz she's the one who's been trying to give you the boost up there. On the other hand, there's a whole spectrum of ladies out there, just like the men, ranging from "I don't need a partner" to "I must be in a relationship at all costs!" Here are some extreme examples. Don't stop reading here and let these ideas get you down... Keep reading...

Extremes are like the slices of bread at either end of a Dagwood Sandwich, easily avoided while enjoying all the wonderful variety in the middle.

Now here's Lewis Grizzard. From the books below you might think he was an expert in relationships. He's really another "everyman" who's had the decency to try and help us see the humor in our partnership pursuits, all along the route, from the start, to the highs, through the lows, and back into the game. His "Advice to the Newly Wed" and "Advice to the Newly Divorced" are contained in one handy flip-book. Every "everyman" appreciates such convenience.

But one person can't possibly live through and share every kind of love and romance. There are plenty of other voices out there with other viewpoints and tales of sexual adventure and foible, as seen below...

Frustration, the folly of youth, and the journey forward all contain innumerable stories of woe and/or wonder. Enjoy the journey, because, as with most things, if you're not having fun you're doing it wrong.

All the books above and many, many, MANY more are available now at Bonnett's Books. Get one for a single friend. ;-)

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Catching up...

I didn't give up blogging for lent. We've had a lot to do which kept me away from the blog. Here are some touchstones from the last two weeks.

A) February 13th is the unofficial birthdate of Bonnett's Books. I don't know the exact date our store opened so I chose 2/13 to honor our Grandma Ruth, without whom we wouldn't be here today. February 13th was her birthday and this year she would have turned 100 years old. Thank you, Grandma.

B) We're still enjoying movie-awards season. So many of our books and comics have become movies that it's natural to be movie fans as well. You can find many past award winners and your personal favorites here, in print and/or on DVD!

C) We've been putting out a lot of reading-copy comics and cool inexpensive stuff from the '70s-'90s.

D) Some debate has arisen regarding the difference between retro pin-ups and vintage pin-ups.

The word "vintage" refers to items genuinely produced in their time. Think of the phrases "1920s vintage fashion" (Flapper clothes), "1950s vintage photography" (Bettie Page), "1960s vintage furniture" (Eames chairs) or "1976 vintage philatelics" (Bicentennial Stamps). The word "vintage" indicates that such things are actually products from that time or type which they represent.

The word "retro" means that something is produced in modern times which harkens back to a particular time or style which has had it's turn in cultural history. If something is described as "vintage style" or "vintage look" it's really a "retro" item. And, there's nothing at all wrong with retro.

There's some really awesome retro stuff around these days, but if you're looking for original items of any kind you need to know the difference. I hope these last few paragraphs have helped. Don't get me started on "reproductions".

E) And now, here's a list of other ways to keep up with Bonnett's Book Store:

1) This very blog! This is our online hub. We're active on other sites but this is where you'll find the meat on our social media bones. If you know us on other sites you may notice that activity sometimes points back here, to Penciled Margins ~ http://bonnettsbookstore.blogspot.com. Feel free to add us to your RSS feeds, link to us on your own blog, and recommend us to friends.

2) Twitter! - Real-time, live-action, up-to-date, late-breaking Bonnett's Book Store, downtown Dayton, and Oregon District info can be found by following @BonnettsBooks. If you're in the area during special events like First Fridays, Urban Nights, or the NCAA First Four you'll want to keep an eye on our Tweets. You may hear about events or get on-the-street useful info you won't find anywhere else.

3) Foursquare! - This one's for your smartphone. Here's our page, and here's our profile. Foursquare is an app that let's you "check in" when you go places. There are many reasons people might want to do this... One is for private life-tracking. Some folks like to keep tabs on and analyze every aspect of their lives, from calories and weight to time and travel costs. Foursquare can help with the time and travel part. But we like Foursquare because it can be used to send updates to friends and family about where you are and what you're doing. Going out for drinks? Shout out to your friends and they can join you! Find an awesome little shop like Bonnett's Book Store? Tell your friends where they can find their vintage birthday issue of Playboy! And here's the best part... Foursquare is built to let shops like ours offer special deals to you when you check in! We currently offer 20% off your purchase price when you check in and tell your friends on Twitter or Facebook. Also, Foursquare is something of a game as well... you can earn badges for things you do and become "Mayor" of your favorite places. Curious? This site can tell you more.

4) Flickr! - Flickr is a photo sharing site owned by Yahoo! We use it to share large collections of currently featured items. You can browse Flickr without signing up, but you can only upload if you join.

5) Pinterest! - Pinterest is fun. It's a place to collect and organize your interests, be they recipes, fashions, cool cars, vacation spots, whatever you want... and share them with your friends - or not, by using "Secret Boards". We use it to highlight some currently available items and to share some interesting things we find online. But be careful, you can easily kill a night just looking around.

6) Facebook - I don't think I need to tell you about Facebook. Here's our profile, and here's our page.

7) Google Plus - aka Google+ or G+ is a darn fine social site. Our profile is under my name, Kevin Bonnett, and our page is Bonnett's Book Store. I haven't found easy and effective ways to share to and from other social sites, except for this blog (Blogger and all blogspot.com sites are owned by Google). But G+ does one thing better than any other site... privacy! The first thing you do on G+ is organize your contacts into "Circles". A musician can make a "Circle" of bandmates only, for planning rehearsals and gigs. We can make Circles for different customer interests... like Comic Books, or even narrow it down to specific characters, like Spider-Man... this way, we can share with interested parties when something new comes up without bothering people who aren't interested in that particular topic. For example, Western fans wouldn't have to be bothered by Paranormal Romance information, and vice versa. If you join Google+, please look us up. It's a great place to be if you get totally fed up with Facebook.

If you use any of the above sites, apps, or services feel free to look us up and share with us!

Happy Valentine's Day!

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Golden Age Comics batch 201302a

A new photo set on Flickr features some things you may not know you can find at Bonnett's. More to come! Other items available. Any questions? Please ask!
Action #90 & Airboy Vol 4 #1Airboy Vol 4 #5 & Vol 8 #1Air Forces #3 & Boy Illustories #44Classic Comics (Classics Illustrated)Classic Comics (Classics Illustrated)Crack Comics #9 & Dick Cole #6
Famous Crimes #7 & Fast Fiction #1Feature Comics #40 & Feature Films #1Girls' Love Stories #3 & Heroic Comics #30More Fun Comics #94 & #97More Fun Comics #103 & Popular Comics #94Public Enemies #8 & Target Comics Vol 9 #10
True Sport Picture Stories Vol. 3 #9 & True Comics #34Whiz Comics #23 & World's Finest Comics #20World's Finest Comics #20 & #33Prize Comics #1 & Sure-Fire Comics #1Dick Cole #3 & Heroic Comics #27Real Life Comics #10 & Spotlight Comics #2
Doll Man #1 & World's Finest Comics #39

Golden Age Comics 201302a, a set on Flickr.
Via Flickr:
A selection of Golden Age Comic books available from Bonnett's Book Store in Dayton, Ohio; dealing in back issue comics and magazines since 1939. -- All items sold separately. Prices shown are negotiable. -- Contact BonnettsBookStore on Flickr or Gmail for more information -- This collection includes Doll Man, Superman, Dick Cole, featuring Ace, DC Comics, Fawcett, some with Jordan's store stamp, L.B. Cole art, pre-code comics used in Seduction of the Innocent, sports, civil war, world war two, air war, love, romance, adventure, cowboys, naval battles, police, crime, criminals, law, action, thrills, spills, humor, funnies, gags, super heroes, movie stars, classic stories, motorcycles, mysteries, murder, suspense, and more!