Grant Morrison’s Supergods

It should be an easy question to answer, a simple topic to elaborate upon. I love comics, and I love talking about the medium. And despite the fact that some of the best, most literate expressions of this artform have nothing to do with superheroes, I can’t ever deny the deep-seated passion I’ve had for capes-and-tights adventures since my first Avengers so many decades ago. But – why superheroes? What is it about this mythic cross of science fiction and fantasy that had not only enthralled me from a young age, but has also turned into huge business, dominating popular culture in movies and video games in the twenty-first century? Should be simple to answer. Shouldn’t it?

Grant Morrison, one of the most renowned and respected comics writers of our day, is far more equipped to tackle this subject than I. Thankfully, at least, as his new book Supergods shows us, I wasn’t wrong in thinking that there is no simple answer to the question. I’m just as thankful that the exploration of superhero culture, in his capable hands and guided by a life similarly captivated by the genre (as well as being twisted through years of genuine chaos magic and intense psychedelia), is a tremendously fascinating and rewarding one.

The "demigod" begins his journey to "pop deity"

Supergods explores the history of superheroes, from Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s creation of Superman in 1938 through the modern era and the infusion of superheroics into the “real world,” both in Hollywood’s forays into more realistic portrayals, and the advent of real world superheroes, like Portland’s Zetaman and Atlanta’s Crimson Fist. As each decade and each era is explored, Morrison beautifully connects current events with the responses of popular culture, demonstrating how the world of comics, and superheroes specifically, became both accurate reflections of the times as well as prescient oracles of developing fears, dreams, and ideals.

Continue reading Grant Morrison’s Supergods

Excerpts from the Journal, Italia 2010

It’s been little over a year since my most recent trip to Italy, which means I’ve already started thinking about how soon I can get back. The da Vinci-esque scrawls that fill up my Moleskine on traveling adventures are perfectly useless (and not just because of the illegibility) as a guide through foreign cities, but chronicling ruminations and observations about anything interesting in our lives is an Idle Time virtue, and one which I ceaselessly promote.

June 29, 2010

A week ago today we made our first trip into Firenze. The five of us, led by Margaret (our rental car’s soothing British-accented navigation device), parked at Piazza Michelangelo above the city, fairly near San Miniato en Monte. As promised by my Rough Guides guidebook (I’m now a big proponent of RG — dispensing with the juvenile snapshot summaries of DK and weary of the snarky pretension of Lonely Planet), parking was free in the piazza, and for €1,20 each we could ride the bus into town (which, honestly, wasn’t that far… we could really have handled a lot more walking on this trip…)

I was happy to show the kids (and Matt) what I remembered from my time here in ’06. Street-level, outdoor views of the Piazza del Duomo, Piazza della Signoria, Santa Maria Novella, Ponte Vecchio, and numerous other churches that I had something to say about — all marginally interesting, and in play later that evening.

The interior catwalk, lower rung

The highlight — and easily the most memorable moment of our time in northern Tuscany — came during our exploration of the Duomo. After exploring the inside of Santa Maria del Fiore we decided to appreciate Brunelleschi’s accomplishment up close by forking over the €8 apiece to climb up into the dome itself. The stairwells were even narrower than the climbs in Siena; the exertion double what we experienced in San Gimignano. The initial egress put us on the first of two narrow walkways encircling the inside of the great dome. A sheet of plexiglass kept us from tumbling down the twenty stories onto the altar below, and above and all around us, the spectacular fresco of the Last Judgment in all its glory. Heads of demons and devils fifteen feet across were just above us — Hell being the lower rung of the artwork — tormenting poor souls with flaming cudgels and flaying skin from sinners’ bones.

Continue reading Excerpts from the Journal, Italia 2010

This Used To Be My Playground, Part 6: Schwing And A Hit

#43. “Alive” — Pearl Jam

Ohhh, Pearl Jam. The perpetual #2 in the Great Early 90s Seattle Band ranking. The Stones to Nirvana’s Beatles. The Wyatt Earp to their Tombstone. The Munsters to their Addams Family. Pearl Jam were much more open about their classic-rock influences than Nirvana, and P.J.’s slightly-less-experimental approach gave Nirvana the much sought-after credibility edge. Kurt Cobain once summed up Pearl Jam in one sneering word – “jocks” – the implication being that cool, popular guys like Pearl Jam were once the guys that beat up arty misfit punks like Nirvana. It was all a crock, of course — neither band really matched those reductive descriptions. It was all a part of a “feud” between the two bands whipped up by the media to sell the magazines that were beginning to pile up in the corner of my room.

Sometime in early ’92, I was cruising aimlessly around town on a Friday night in Brian Cunningham’s much beloved sky-blue Chevy stepside (mentioned in a previous entry.) Also on board was Jason Van Zant, a free spirit who favored floppy denim hats and those rough-hewn, loose-fitting hemp pullovers that I thought had a name, but I guess are just called “rough-hewn, loose-fitting hemp pullovers.” The proper social order was maintained, as I rode in the middle of the truck’s bench seat (as a junior) while Cunningham and Van Zant occupied the proper “adult” seats befitting their status as seniors. Van Zant was very into music, like I was, but his taste skewed a little more toward metal. He was one of those dabblers who always knew a few guitar chords and occasionally scribbled some lyrics into a Mead notebook.

“Vedder stole my thunder,” Van Zant was saying.

“Huh?” I asked, never having heard the name at this point.

“Eddie Vedder from Pearl Jam. I’ve been working on getting that tremolo into my singing voice for years, and now this Seattle clown is making a mint off it.”

Continue reading This Used To Be My Playground, Part 6: Schwing And A Hit

The Passion of the Thunder God

At the EarthFair Festival in San Diego this past weekend, I was struck by the logo for the San Diego Pagan Pride organization.  All these pagan religions united against discrimination and prejudice, reminding us all the while that crosses and Stars of David are fine as religious symbols, but if you’re really looking for iconography to rally behind, consider the ankh or… the hammer of Thor!

Which then made me wonder whether or not the half-dozen or so people in San Diego who actually claim to be adherents to the Norse faith had any problem with Marvel Studios’ upcoming summer blockbuster. Was Thor being seen as a trivialization of their beliefs? An insulting depiction of their deity dealing with the modern world like, I don’t know… The Book of Mormon or something?  Or was this going to be their Passion of the Christ?  Would Teutonic neopaganists start losing their shit in theaters nationwide (starting at midnight on May 6, naturally) watching their God of Thunder suffer at the hands of the divinely crafted Destroyer armor? Continue reading The Passion of the Thunder God

This Used To Be My Playground, Part 5: Smells Like Teen…age Fanclub?

There are many pieces of advice floating around out there when it comes to dating, most of them grade-A horseshit. It’s in matters of the heart where human behavior least conforms to set patterns. (Matters of the crotch are where human behavior most conforms to set patterns, but that was still a couple of months in my future.) “The prettiest girl never gets asked out because the boys are too intimidated” was one old saw that came a-cropper with the Marla Berry Christmas dance invitation. “Girls are attracted to confidence” was another bald-faced lie. I was far more confident than my track record entitled me to be, and was getting skunked left and right. “It’ll happen when you’re not looking for it.” I never stopped looking for it, and it happened.

On Wednesdays and Fridays in Creative Writing, we put our desks in the “sharing circle” and read aloud our works in progress. When circle time came, I usually ended up next to a senior named James Williams on my right, and on his right was another senior named Stephanie. James and I had grown into a comfortable acquaintanceship, and he was clearly a close friend of Stephanie’s. I don’t recall ever saying a word to Stephanie before, mostly because she was a senior girl, and I didn’t quite pack the gear to talk to senior girls. One Wednesday in mid-December, James was reading some of Stephanie’s poetry aloud for her. For reasons described earlier, I was in a fairly irritable and snarky mood that month, and certainly ready to call any feminine prima-donnaism on the carpet, even if it was a senior. Continue reading This Used To Be My Playground, Part 5: Smells Like Teen…age Fanclub?

Top 5 Postseason Moments of 2010

On the last day of the 2010 regular season, with all apologies to that scintillating infield of Will Clark, Robby Thompson, and Matt Williams, I realized that, no matter how this Orange October would resolve, this team was my favorite Giants team of all time.  This band of castoffs and misfits, this gritty homegrown pitching staff, this Buster Posey kid and thong-swinging Aubrey Huff, went on to create one of the single most intense stretches of anticipation, tension, and excitement in my life.  A stretch that ended, of course, in pure joy.

It’s been a long time coming. A lot of heartbreak and a lot of frustration. But a lot of exuberance too. Winning the World Series was not just about chasing away demons from so many failed seasons past. Throughout this entire postseason I had exultant flashbacks to teams, players, and even broadcasters from the past. So forgive me if I’m not quite ready to move on completely from that magical season.

On the eve of Opening Day, 2011, I need to take a minute and count down my

Top Five Postseason Moments of 2010

5. Tomahawk Whiffs

The Giants won the West. We were hosting the Wild Card winning Atlanta Braves for the first two of a five-game NLDS.  So why was the world ready to send the Braves off to another LCS before the first pitch had even been thrown? Why am I hearing on KNBR that our pitching measures up about equally, but the Braves have the edge in hitting?

This east coast bias monstrosity was just starting to build.  And in the opposite corner, an orange-and-black northern California heartbeat, freak-powered and boldly defiant.  You want to see pitching?

Tim Lincecum struck out fourteen Braves in Game One of the NLDS. Fourteen. Equal my ass. That one run?  All the Giants needed.  There’s a reason this kid won two straight Cy Young awards. And if the rest of the country hadn’t caught on yet, this was just the kind of call to attention they needed. Continue reading Top 5 Postseason Moments of 2010

The Sportsbook Dilemma

When I was a freshman in high school, my social studies teacher, Mr. Stiegler, recounted a story to our class about lifelong sports fandom triumphantly rewarded.  For years, including every pathetic campaign during the 1970’s, he placed a five-dollar bet on the 49ers to win the Super Bowl.  It was a symbolic gesture: he rooted for the team, and naturally wanted to see them win the title, even if in his heart he knew the gesture really only amounted to flushing an Abe Lincoln down the toilet every August.

When Bill Walsh, Joe Montana, and Dwight Clark stunned the country in 1982, Mr. Stiegler was five hundred dollars richer.

The story was inspiring.  My good friend and classmate Nelson Wong was likewise intrigued, so as soon as we turned twenty-one, one of us, sometimes both, would place five bucks on the San Francisco Giants to win the World Series.  On occasion the bet was a bit more (we were both in possession of five-dollar heartbreaks in 2002, but Pudge Rodriguez’s ’03 fistpump in my face cost me twenty bucks and a shot at two hundred), and the bet location often had a lot to say about the odds.  Most of my money was dropped in Tahoe, but the odds were generally better during Nelson’s formerly regular treks to Las Vegas. Continue reading The Sportsbook Dilemma

T-shirts that Show You Care

Texting “redcross” to 90999 is certainly an easy way to donate ten bucks to the American Red Cross and its relief efforts overseas.  As Stephen Colbert pointed out on his show last night, however, iPhone users need to prevent the overzealous autocorrect function from turning the well-intentioned “redcross” into the somewhat snide rejoinder, “reactors.”  Colbert: “In which case I believe all the money goes directly to the radioactive leaks.”

The community-driven online t-shirt company, Threadless, in addition to being responsible for a good portion of my wardrobe, offers a chance to help the cause and promote awareness at the same time.  Jason Yang’s design, “Rebuild Japan” is just twenty bucks and 100% of the net proceeds goes directly to the Red Cross.

Snag one for yourself and one for your significant other. The only time wearing matching anything isn’t tacky is when it’s all about solidarity.

2010 in Music

It’s the signature Idle Time event, the annual tradition that started this whole beautiful mess: The List.  After deliberations and discussions, roulettes and rancor, The Institute is happy to unveil our Favorite Forty for 2010.

props to PiedPica

This is a bit of a first for our collective.  Since 2002, the year-end Best Of has always been shared primarily via print media, whether in jewel case booklets or the short-lived Idle Times zine.  Now the rankings and rambling blurbage are presented online first, which means the requisite what-we-missed and what-were-you-thinking comments can fly unfiltered straight from your keyboard to our ears.  Feel free to call us assholes if you’re still into that; but rest assured that our calloused hearts have long ago been rendered immune to insults.  Besides, anything rude you have to say about our musical tastes (I’m looking at you, Dizza), has more than likely already been exchanged amongst the five of us.

On behalf of Will (WH), Isey (MI), Rex (RF), Donno (DH), and myself (MDG), thanks for humoring our obsessions all these years.  Or thanks for checking us out for the first time. Let’s make some mixtapes.

40-31 / 30-21 / 20-11 / 10-1

(P.S. We haven’t abandoned the cover mocks..! We need to leave something for the physical artifact exchange. Stay tuned!)

This Used To Be My Playground, Part 4: Kryptonite and Stomach-Aches

Upon returning to high school for my junior year, I found myself in the unique (to me) position of being something of a known commodity. I had spent two years maneuvering my way up from being a friendless and awkward nobody from a nowhere middle school to rubbing shoulders with folks in letterman jackets and cheerleader skirts. I was by no means a member of the elite, the inside circle, but the elite knew me. I was no longer a cipher. In dramatic moments of adolescent self-pity, I still thought of myself as the neglected outsider, but I could no longer really play that card, even to myself. In the brutal high school social strata, I now outranked the morbidly obese, the harelipped, the bad-skinned. I had bit and clawed my way into the comfortable middle. Enough acceptance to keep me from slitting my wrists or experimenting with auto-erotic asphyxiation, but enough angst to keep my edge and feed my growing cynicism.

I was secure in a fairly tight circle of friends, I had a conspicuous (read: ugly) vehicle that announced my presence with noise and color, and was meticulously putting together some emotional armor thanks to some hard lessons. Shelby? I was one of about fifteen boys that she expressed an interest in that month. Virginia? She liked reform school boys. (May eventually have stopped liking boys altogether, if her mullet and Toyota 4X4 were any indication.) Amanda? Didn’t like me. Never did. Never would. But liked the fact that I liked her, and shamelessly played upon that for over two years whenever she was bored with the thousands of other things she had going for her. She was my Ideal Girl, from the first week of high school when I saw her in Introduction to Physical Science (IPS) to halfway through junior year, when I met…well, wait for song #41 in the next installment.

#36. “Litte Miss Can’t Be Wrong” – The Spin Doctors

We all have our Ideal Girl. The one who epitomizes everything we want in a mate. Physically, at least, I had had an Ideal ever since Christy N. in elementary school. (Wanna get treated like Superman treats kryptonite? Just be me attempting to talk to Christy N. in 6th grade. That girl avoided me like the plague.) Light brown or red hair, perhaps with a bit of permed or ironed curl. A slight dusting of freckles. Pale to the point of luminescence. Blue or green eyes. This was the Ideal. I was young and dumb enough not to let personality or intelligence interfere with the Ideal.

Although The Spin Doctors’ Pocketful of Kryptonite album was released in August of ’91, it had no impact on me (or the general listening public) until almost a year later. When I heard it, I was reminded of my sense of relief and the weight off my shoulders when I finally gave up on Amanda, and simultaneously, the dream of a physical Ideal. Been a whole lot easier since the bitch left town/Been a whole lot happier without her face around…

But there were others. Oh, Lord, there were others. I had girl-fever, and I had it bad. The sheer size of my stainless-steel balls as I introduced myself and chatted up lady after lady is a thing of wonder to me now. Who was that confident guy? Sometimes I was able to play out the string for a few weeks, other times I was cut dead in a moment. No matter. On to the next doomed attempt. If any of you Gentle Readers out there feel I treated Mushroom Girl somewhat shabbily, rest assured, my sins were revisited upon me tenfold. No one can cut you dead like Marla Berry declining your invitation to the Christmas dance. (But I get ahead of myself…)

Much like the new Death Star in Return of the Jedi, the armor I was donning was piecemeal and incomplete. Unlike the new Death Star, it was in no way “fully armed and operational.” In short, under a thin veneer, I was still kind of a needy open sore. But I had learned much, and would continue to learn.

Continue reading This Used To Be My Playground, Part 4: Kryptonite and Stomach-Aches