Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Drop the ball already

Go to hell, 2008.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Dave Campbell is neither a camp nor a bell. Discuss.

Please join me in welcoming back to the world of non-profit blogging Mr. Dave Campbell, whose new blog is called, modestly enough, The Society for the Advancement of Dave.

To give you a quick f'rinstance of what you might expect to find there, one of his first posts declares the Greatest Christmas Song Of All Time to be a tie between Andy Williams and the Pogues. Enjoy!


Monday, December 29, 2008

Sidebar Update!

Hey all! I'm back from Christmas vacation just in time for the final Sidebar Update of the year. Hoopla! Let's jump right in.

The current Object of My Affection is Anne Hathaway, and I'm a bit surprised she's never been featured on the Sidebar before. She's lovely as all git-out, with gorgeous brown eyes and an adorable smile, not to mention: she's stacked. That's right, I said it! I'm only human! Sue me. She also happens to be pretty damn talented, equally adept at comedy and drama. Rachel Getting Married is one of my few remaining must-sees of the year in film (along with Gran Torino, Wendy and Lucy, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button). And her Saturday Night Live was one of the very few non-Tina Fey/Sarah Palin episodes this year that didn't totally suck from start to finish.

Still reading David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest, but I'm in the home stretch: page 857 (out of 981) (not counting footnotes). I should have it finished by New Year's, just in time to start on my favorite Christmas gift this year: DFW's Consider the Lobster. Damn it's rotten this guy isn't around to write more.

Watching: The Venture Bros. Season 1 DVD. What an endlessly hilarious show! And such a wide range, from elaborate parodies of Walt Disney or Easy Rider to fart and pee jokes. Sharp, funny stuff.

Listening to The Gaslight Anthem's latest album, The '59 Sound (as recommended by Noel Murray -- thanks!), which is kind of a punkier take on early Springsteen story-songs. I almost want to put punk in quote-marks, since the self-described punk band doesn't sound especially "punk" to me, though they do indeed rock hard behind some evocative lyrics. Biggest drawback to me is that the songs start to blend together a bit, with a dearth of big hooks to distinguish between them. But maybe that's just me.

Hating: same monkey. Only 21 more days, praise Jeebus!

And the Lyric of the Moment is from the Refreshments' "Good Year." "It's been a good year for bad days, or a bad year for good days." Indeed it has, folks. 2008 has been the worst year of my life, for various none-of-your-business reasons, and I heartily welcome its demise in a few short days. Here's to 2009 (motto: "It can't possibly be any worse").

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Monday, December 22, 2008

Merry Whatever Your Bag Is!

Hey folks, as is kind of the norm around here these days, I'm taking a little pause from blogging, what with shopping and holiday travel plans and such and so. Sadly, that means a delay on my Monday GrimJack post as well. Look for the next one to appear in the New Year, as well as, oh, so very much I've been trying to get to and haven't (such as Golden Globe nominee reactions and my TV year-end wrap-up). Doesn't mean I definitely won't post again until 2009, but it's not looking good right now.

Apologies to those few of you still following this blog for my lackadaisical approach to blogging of late. Please be assured that I continue to love and cherish you all. In a manner of speaking.


Saturday, December 20, 2008

Music Quiz Answers

And now the answers to my latest Music Quiz! Not a lot of particpants in this one, so a big thank you to those of you who did join in. But that left a lot of unanswered lyrics. Frowny face! Well, here are all the answers (and the names of those who got them right). And hopefully I can narrow this list down to make a nice mix CD for my sister's kids to enjoy.

1. "I'd take the seasick crocodile" Whirling Dervishes, "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" (Ian)

2. "He's embedded in the ground" The Who, "Boris the Spider"

3. "With a bit of rock music, everything is fine" Abba, "Dancing Queen"

4. "And who shall wear the starry crown?" Alison Krauss, "Down in the River To Pray" (Nicholas)

5. "For I'm bound to ride that Northern railroad" Soggy Bottom Boys, "Man of Constant Sorrow" (Nicholas)

6. "Trying to smile but the air is so heavy and dry" Bananarama, "Cruel Summer"

7. "But it never really mattered, I will always feel the same" The Beatles, "I Will" (Nicholas)

8. "When the day that lies ahead of me seems impossible to face" Bill Withers, "Lovely Day"

9. "You gotta take a lesson from Mother Nature and if you do you'll know" The Brady Bunch, "Time To Change"

10. "Everything I want the world to be is now coming true especially for me" The Carpenters, "On Top of the World"

11. "But when I get back home you're always there to rub my back" Fountains of Wayne, "Hey Julie"

12. "He can't dance, he can't sing, but he will eat most anything" (No one will get this one. Even Google only returns a single working result. Don't use Google, cheater.) Hoyt Axton, "Fearless the Wonder Dog"

13. "And he loved me so naughty, made me weak in the knees" (I forgot about that line. That's not kid friendly! Better toss it, I guess.) Joni Mitchell, "River"

14. "Well, he fought with the goblins, he battled a troll" Leonard Nimoy, "The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins"

15. "Forget about your worries and your strife" Louis Armstrong, "Bare Necessities" (Ian)

16. "But jumping queues and making haste just ain't my cup of meat" Manfred Mann, "The Mighty Quinn" (Johnny Bacardi)

17. "I stick out my chin and grin and say" Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, "Tomorrow" (Nicholas)

18. "If you need a companion well just go right by the pound and find yourself a hound" Nellie McKay, "The Dog Song" (Franko)

19. "When Big Larry came 'round just to put him down, Spongebob turned into a clown" SpongeBob Squarepants, "I Ripped My Pants"

20. "That's nobody's business but the Turks" They Might Be Giants, "Istanbul (Not Constantinople" (Nicholas)

21. "It is you (oh yeah), it is you, you (oh yeah), it is you, you (oh yeah yeah yeah)" Toots and the Maytals, "Pressure Drop"

22. "And you know I'm so wired up, don't need no coffee in my cup" Van Morrison, "Jackie Wilson Said" (Johnny Bacardi)

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Friday, December 19, 2008

"Because I Got Depression"

Once again, Achewood strikes an uncomfortably resonant chord:

I'm the dude who sucks

Hey, did I tell you about meeting Chris Onstad at the book signing for The Great Outdoor Fight at Austin Books? I didn't? Well: it was sweet. That's the second book signing I've attended in Austin at which the author could not have been a nicer, friendlier, funnier, humbler, more appreciative dude. Also, it's the second book signing at which beer has been available for free. I'm sensing a pattern, and I dig it.

Onstad was very understanding and apologetic about the long wait (it took me, I shit you not, three hours to get to the front of a line of about fifty people), and he volunteered a character sketch to everyone with a book (I got Roast Beef, naturally). He even tolerated my banter about college rivalries (he went to Stanford -- BOO! HISS! -- and I went to Cal -- YAY! HOORAY!). The publishing schedule for Achewood has been spotty at best over the past month or so while Onstad's been on this book tour; hopefully, now that he's finished, it'll get back to regular updates. Which would be nice, since Achewood is not only my favorite webcomic, it's one of my favorite comic strips of all time (up there with Peanuts, Calvin & Hobbes, and Doonesbury).

P.S. Keep guessing at my music quiz! Still a lot of unidentified songs!

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Music Quiz

I need to post something, but I can't get inspired to create an actual thought-out entry. So instead, here's a music quiz.

I'm making my sister a mix CD that she can play for her kids, since they (especially The Cutest Niece In The World) really love the last one I made for them. I've got a couple dozen songs I'm trying to choose between -- mostly bouncy and cheerful, some just because they're pretty; silly words are a plus. I'm listing a random lyric from each song below. You guess the title of the song and the artist. Winner gets to cheat on their New Year's resolutions with impunity.

1. "I'd take the seasick crocodile"

2. "He's embedded in the ground"

3. "With a bit of rock music, everything is fine"

4. "And who shall wear the starry crown?"

5. "For I'm bound to ride that Northern railroad"

6. "Trying to smile but the air is so heavy and dry"

7. "But it never really mattered, I will always feel the same"

8. "When the day that lies ahead of me seems impossible to face"

9. "You gotta take a lesson from Mother Nature and if you do you'll know"

10. "Everything I want the world to be is now coming true especially for me"

11. "But when I get back home you're always there to rub my back"

12. "He can't dance, he can't sing, but he will eat most anything" (No one will get this one. Even Google only returns a single working result. Don't use Google, cheater.)

13. "And he loved me so naughty, made me weak in the knees" (I forgot about that line. That's not kid friendly! Better toss it, I guess.)

14. "Well, he fought with the goblins, he battled a troll"

15. "Forget about your worries and your strife"

16. "But jumping queues and making haste just ain't my cup of meat"

17. "I stick out my chin and grin and say"

18. "If you need a companion well just go right by the pound and find yourself a hound"

19. "When Big Larry came 'round just to put him down, Spongebob turned into a clown"

20. "That's nobody's business but the Turks"

21. "It is you (oh yeah), it is you, you (oh yeah), it is you, you (oh yeah yeah yeah)"

22. "And you know I'm so wired up, don't need no coffee in my cup"

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

RoboCop Rap

All right, fine. I can't resist. Here it is, even though you've probably seen it by now. It's the RoboCop Rap. And it's awesome.

NOTE: Thanks to DTC for being the first to point this out to me in a comment.


Monday, December 15, 2008

GrimJack: "A Shade of Truth"

At long last, after a brief run as a back-up series, and a major crossover event, we have reached it. Cover date: August, 1984. Cover price: $1.00. (Those were the days.) Published by First Comics. Written by John Ostrander, drawn by Timothy Truman, co-created by both. I give you the 26-page tale "A Shade of Truth": GrimJack issue #1.

I apologize if this post tries your patience by running even longer (a lot longer) than the generous length I have established with previous GrimJack posts. But this happens to be one of my favorite single issues of any comic, ever -- in fact, it may be the most valued treasure of my collection. And I own Action Comics #1! (Note: no I don't.)

We open with a young woman scribbling in a diary, while John Gaunt muses narratively about the nature of truth. The woman finishes her writing, steps onto the ledge of her window, and plunges several stories to her death. And then the splash page, which frankly, given my history with and love of this character, gives me goosebumps:

The most interesting man in the world: 'I don't always drink rotgut. But when I do, I prefer Old Piss.'

"Call me a mercenary. Call me an assassin. Call me a villain. I am all that and more." That he is, that he is. One of my favorite comic book quotations of all time. And surprisingly useful in real life, too.

In the background, but not referred to in this issue: bartender Gordon.

For the newcomers, who may have missed the Starslayer stories, Gaunt re-establishes his hang-out of choice (Munden's Bar), and his location (the Pit, the ghetto of Cynosure, which is the intersection of the multiverse). And he once again displays his method of assuring he drinks alone: shot glass in one hand, loaded pistol in the other. Take my word: it works.

In the foreground, but not referred to in this issue: gatorlizard Bob.

In walks a posh older woman, distinctly out of place in a dive like Munden's. Which immediately attracts some bad attention.

How to distinguish between Hearsehead and Toque: Hearsehead has a skull and crossbones on his headgear. Toque wears a toque.

Hearsehead and Toque would become semi-recurring if not especially important characters, again underlining the strong continuity of GrimJack's world.

Mix and match the previous four panels to reveal the title of this issue!

Anything for which Gaunt's tolerance level has plummeted, I do not envy (even if Gaunt doesn't know how to spell "tolerance"). Gaunt now illustrates the consequences of his low tolerance:

I prefer bars which don't allow fun. Makes the depression so much easier to achieve.

Gaunt makes a couple of new enemies while wearing his trademark grin. As always, wouldn't be GrimJack without some totally necessary gratuitous violence. Hope Hearsehead has dental!

At last, the posh woman has the chance to plead her case to Gaunt, in a composition I really dig:

Mrs. Sondra Grant's first husband was William Honesworth, now Cynosure's Minister of Finance. And since Cynosure's one overriding impetus is money, that's a damned important position. William and Sondra had a baby girl, Marcie, who grew up to commit suicide in the opening pages of this issue. When Sondra went to collect Marcie's belonging from her university apartment, she found the ghost (some might say "shade" -- see title, see title) of her daughter reenacting her final moments over and over again, all through the night.

Gaunt is not unfamiliar with ghosts -- in fact, they're a common occurrence in certain parts of Cynosure. Ghosts act out the remorse of their previous life, until said remorse is relieved. Sondra is convinced the key lies in her daughter's diary, which she wants Gaunt to locate.

Gaunt tries to protect Sondra from the dirty details of his job, but Sondra demands to know the whole truth. She insists on accompanying Gaunt through every step of his investigation. He admires her for her determination, while she will come to regret it.

Marcie had written home about her boyfriend at the university, a jock named Mitch Sewell, who seems a likely first subject to interview. And thus Gaunt has to pay a visit to the University of Cynosure, the only artificially created dimension in the city, in which all rules of every dimension work -- science, magic, alien technologies, etc.

The U of Cyn. Don't forget: "Cyn" rhymes with "Sin."

Gaunt tracks down Mitch, who claims never to have heard of Marcie. Gaunt begs to differ.

Nice POV.

Gaunt doesn't take kindly to Mitch's reluctance to share, and things get ugly quickly.

That's always been one of my favorite threats: "You're gonna wear your ass as a hat." Does that mean he's going to rip off his ass and place it on his head, or he's going to bend his head backward until his ass perches atop it? Either way: disturbing, and hilarious.

Mitch cockily confronts Gaunt with the knowledge that he is much younger and stronger than his opponent. Shame Gaunt doesn't play by the Marquess of Queensberry's rules.

If you try to tell me you don't get a kick out of a big dumb jock getting punched in the nuts ("BLAMP!"), you are lying.

Mitch, persuaded to talk by Gaunt's charm and finesse, insists that he broke up with Marcie a few weeks back because of Marcie's involvement with drugs. When Gaunt presses him, Mitch swears he has no idea what kind of drugs, nor where she got them -- his scholarship would've been at risk had he gotten involved. Gaunt suspects he's not getting the whole truth, but leaves it for now.

After leaving Mitch crammed in a locker in the gym, Gaunt and Sondra argue over Gaunt's rough modus operandi.

He makes a good point.

Gaunt's next visit is to Sondra's ex, Marcie's father: William Honesworth.

A Trade War, you say? That sounds destructive. It also sounds like ominous foreshadowing. I'm not sure why.

Honesworth greets Sondra coolly, but cordially. She asks if he has any idea why their daughter would have killed herself.

Here we meet Heinrich Krupp, Honesworth's giant, monocle-wearing, Iron Cross-brandishing, right hand bird creature.

While Honesworth and Sondra commiserate, Gaunt snoops, eventually running into Honesworth's current wife, Vinula.

She's kind of a freak, and she appears to be clothed only in her own hair, but she imparts this advice to Gaunt: "Seek the Candyman. Beware Krupp."

Gaunt knows Candyman: he's a small-time dealer in the Pit. But why, he wonders, should he be wary of Krupp? And just as he is wondering this, he turns and bumps, slapstick-style, directly into Krupp's massive frame.

Krupp doesn't care to laugh, I guess. Although he does have his own prop comedy routine, which he performs for Gaunt, using Gaunt as the prop.

Ah, but as the old saying goes, "He who laughs last, gets a steel-toed boot to the face." Or something like that. My point is: GrimJack kicks Krupp in the face.

After they vacate the premises, Gaunt confers with Sondra as to what he's learned. And Sondra confides in Gaunt that her daughter had always been lonely, looking for approval from her father that never came. She also tells him of her own loneliness, first as the wife of the cold, work-obsessed Honesworth, then with her current husband, who is incapacitated and dying.

She frets that she is being silly, telling Gaunt these things.

Next morning, Gaunt and Sondra visit Candyman, who has recently acquired some new, well-armed muscle. Candyman, puffed-up and feeling he has nothing to fear, deigns to answers Gaunt's inquiries:

Gaunt translates:

The reality gets uglier and uglier for Sondra. She angrily denies Candyman's assertion, but Gaunt begins piecing things together. They leave, but not before Gaunt taunts Candyman with the existence of Marcie's diary, as yet undiscovered.

The Alpha Centauri (spelled differently in the panel above) commercial empire provided soldiers to the low-level thug Candyman, hoping to get hold of Candyman's client, Marcie Honesworth, and through her get their claws into Finance Minister William Honesworth, whose coerced influence could net them untold profits. But should this manipulation by the Alpha Centauri become known to the other corporate giants, a Trade War would be inevitable.

Gaunt spells this out to Sondra. She becomes convinced her daughter is as bad as Candyman claims, maybe worse. Her memories of her daughter are being destroyed. She asks Gaunt to drop the case.

That's not who John Gaunt is. Gaunt will always want the truth, no matter whom it hurts, nor how much. Even if it's himself he's hurting. As it is here. In tears, Sondra vows to continue rooting out the truth with Gaunt -- but the emotional connection between them, their mutual recourse from loneliness, is dead and gone. That's the kind of price Gaunt is always willing to pay, when he's got his mind set on something, but it's a price that also continually takes its toll on his soul.

Gaunt and Sondra return to the U of Cyn to talk to Mitch again, suspecting he was the one who got Marcie hooked on the drugs in the first place, but Mitch is dead, and his killer is not hard to find.

Krupp explains himself: Mitch indeed got Marcie addicted to some vicious drugs, at the behest of his boss, Candyman, for whom he had been selling on campus. Candyman's Alpha Centauri bosses tried to use her addiction to control her father. Krupp confronted Marcie, and persuaded her that the only honorable way out, the only way to preserve her father's name, was suicide. She accepted that fate, but first she wrote down her confession in her diary -- which also could be used to blackmail Honesworth. Mitch found the diary and kept it for himself, thinking to sell it to the highest bidder. Which naturally led to Krupp tracking him down and killing the hell out of him.

Krupp wraps up his story by sharing how fiercely Mitch fought him:


Gaunt is surprised to find Candyman has followed him, along with one of his Alpha Centauri gunmen.

Candyman wants the diary. Gaunt is reticent to comply.

Gaunt makes his move, but, as everyone keeps reminding him, he's lost some of his game in his later years. He takes out the Alpha Centauri hired gun, but Candyman shoots him in the shoulder and sends him reeling. Candyman and his lone remaining henchman close in on Gaunt for the kill.

Krupp, the stubborn bastard, keeps coming for Gaunt, even with a bullet in his brain. Gaunt grabs a metal javelin from a pile of gym equipment and makes sure Krupp stays down for good.

That just about wraps things up, save for a final act of redemption which releases Marcie's ghost... well as Sondra's final recriminations directed toward Gaunt's painful use of truth as a weapon.

And Gaunt is left with his flawed but unwavering moral code, which sets him up on a high ground that always seems to leave him alone in the end.

Next week: the return of Blacjacmac!

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Friday, December 12, 2008

'Tis the season to be naked


Wow, that's the best Christmas present EVER! Thanks, Santa!

And R.I.P. Bettie Page.

Click picture for full, NSFW goodness! You're welcome.


Thursday, December 11, 2008

20 Favorite Actresses

I was tagged by SamuraiFrog at Electronic Cerebrectomy with the following meme: pick your 20 favorite actresses. While I hate memes with such difficult rules, I decided to play along with this one anyway.

I would've posted this sooner, but SamuraiFrog made this cool collage of the 20 actresses he picked, so I wanted to do it too. I think it turned out very nice. You don't have to leave me a compliment in the comments but it wouldn't hurt, what with Santa watching and all.

After the super-keen collage, I've listed all 20 actresses, and my two favorites of their films. In most cases, these aren't going to be their most iconic film appearances, nor even arguably their best performances; these are just the films closest to my heart for whatever reason. Also, I've probably accidentally left out one or more of my favorites due to faulty wiring in my puzzler. I reserve the right not to get too worked up about it.

Feel free to add your two cents, either in the comments or on your own blog, since I'm old and tired and can't be bothered to officially tag anyone else with this meme.

I tell you, it is mere coincidence that these women all have been, or eventually will be, filed under the category: Objects of My Affection.

Cate Blanchett -- The Lord of the Rings, The Aviator
Hope Davis -- Mumford, American Splendor
Zooey Deschanel -- Almost Famous, Elf
Minnie Driver -- Grosse Pointe Blank, Good Will Hunting
Faye Dunaway -- Bonnie and Clyde, Chinatown
Jodie Foster -- Taxi Driver, The Accused
Audrey Hepburn -- Sabrina, Breakfast at Tiffany's
Katharine Hepburn -- The Philadelphia Story, The African Queen
Holly Hunter -- Raising Arizona, Broadcast News
Grace Kelly -- Rear Window, To Catch a Thief
Laura Linney -- The Truman Show, You Can Count on Me
Myrna Loy -- The Thin Man, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House
Marilyn Monroe -- Some Like It Hot, The Misfits
Julianne Moore -- Boogie Nights, The Big Lebowski
Parker Posey -- Kicking and Screaming, Henry Fool
Susan Sarandon -- Bull Durham, Dead Man Walking
Meryl Streep -- The Deer Hunter, Silkwood
Lili Taylor -- Say Anything..., I Shot Andy Warhol
Uma Thurman -- Dangerous Liaisons, Pulp Fiction
Sigourney Weaver -- Aliens, Death and the Maiden

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The AV Club's Best Music of 2008

The AV Club has released their annual list of the best in music, which means it is once again time for me to break that list down into an expose of my staggering ignorance of modern music. This is my fourth year of doing this, believe it or not, and it just keeps getting sadder.

This year, the AV Club has listed their top 30 albums, as voted on by their 19 (!) music critics. And it's a great crop, as far as illustrating my massive lack of musical awareness goes.

Literally, Swear To God, Never Heard Of Them (Unless They Maybe Appeared On A Previous AV Club List And Made Zero Impression On Me)

Beach House, Devotion
The Helio Sequence, Keep Your Eyes Ahead
Girl Talk, Feed the Animals
Department of Eagles, In Ear Park
Flying Lotus, Los Angeles
Wolf Parade, At Mount Zoomer
The Cool Kids, The Bake Sale
Black Mountain, In the Future
Frightened Rabbit, The Midnight Organ Fight
Mates of State, Re-arrange Us
Hercules and Love Affair, Hercules and Love Affair
The Gaslight Anthem, The '59 Sound
Fleet Foxes, Fleet Foxes
Bon Iver, For Emma, Forever Ago
The Walkmen, You & Me
Fucked Up, The Chemistry of Common Life

Heard Of Them, Never Listened To Them

Sigur Ros, Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust
American Music Club, The Golden Age
Sun Kil Moon, April
Lupe Fiasco, The Cool
Lil Wayne, Tha Carter III
Portishead, Third
Los Campesinos, Hold On Now, Youngster...

Heard Of Them, Heard Their Music, Don't Care For Them

Death Cab For Cutie, Narrow Stairs
Erykah Badu, New Amerykah, Part One: 4th World War

Heard Of Them, Heard Their Music, Secretly Believe People Who Claim To Like Them Are Just Pretending In Order To Fuck With Me Personally, That's How Much I Can't Stand Them

TV on the Radio, Dear Science

Heard Of Them, Heard Some Of Their Music, Still Undecided

Vampire Weekend, Vampire Weekend
The Hold Steady, Stay Positive

Heard Of Them, Heard Their Music, Favorably Disposed Toward Them, Don't Own The Album

Flight of the Conchords, Flight of the Conchords
Drive-By Truckers, Brighter Than Creation's Dark

Own The Album

And there you have it: Tom's Musical Ignorance, 2008. As far as what I actually did listen to this year, well, I liked the latest Weezer album, which probably means I totally suck.

Anything above you want to recommend? And keep in mind, I mostly like good old fashioned rock and roll. Loud and fast. If you're going to suggest something that could be described as "sadcore," or "Icelandic," for Christ's sake don't bother. But if there's an actual gem in there I'm missing out on, please let me know!

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Tuesday, December 09, 2008

GrimJack: "Blood and Thunder"

Hey folks. Sorry GrimJack Monday is falling on a Tuesday this week, but as you may have noticed, this blog has entered (once again) a bit of a low-content mode over the past couple weeks. I'm trying to rectify that, but darn it if life doesn't keep happening. I tell you what, anyone wants to put me on salary, I can promise you I'll be more than happy to devote my full time to blogging. Until that happens, well, we'll all have to make do.


As we learned last issue, the back-up feature GrimJack was primed to make a crossover with the lead story, Starslayer. Here, presented in fairly to-the-point fashion, because I don't think it's very good, is that "BOOKLENGTH THRILLER" of a crossover. From Starslayer #18, featuring the final appearance of John Gaunt within its pages, written by John Ostrander and drawn by Timothy Truman, this is "Blood and Thunder."

'He asked for no foam half-caf and got extra foam full caf. DAMN YOU STARBUCKS!!!'

This, as the caption above notes, is indeed one Torin MacQuillon, the Starslayer himself. He is an ancient Celtic warrior, plucked from his own time by Tamara, captain of the good spaceship Jolly Roger, and descendant of MacQuillon's wife (who I guess remarried after his disappearance). I don't want to get too much into the backstory of Starslayer, so that's going to have to be enough to get you up to speed. Oh, but you should also know, his headband acts as both an attractive cover for his missing eye, and as a psionic link between himself and Sam, the monkey-like droid who helps him to function in the unfamiliar future. Plus, he's been captured by Count Ariosto, an aristocrat and hunter whom MacQuillon recently bested, and was imprisoned in Ariosto's dungeons, from which he has now escaped, leading a ragtag crew of assorted other prisoners in an attempt to gain their freedom.

Oy! You can see why I didn't want to get into too much backstory!

Please try to ignore my fourth-wall breaking direct acknowledgement of you, the reader.

Here we see that John Gaunt is narrating the tale, which is part of the main reason I have a problem with this comic. Gaunt completely dominates the proceedings, thoroughly overshadowing the regular characters, right down to being the one who tells the story. In all fairness, John Gaunt is far cooler and more interesting than Torin MacQuillon, and I prefer him leading the way. But, from the POV of a comics fan in general, it pains me to read this issue. A comic book guest star should be just that: a guest, serving to accentuate the action and add some flavor here and there, not illustrate how weak the actual stars of the book are. I mean, come on: if the Thing fights the Hulk, you know the Thing's going to triumph if it's in Fantastic Four, and the Hulk will win if it's in The Incredible Hulk. You don't have the Hulk visit FF, and then pants the Thing, shove him in a locker and make him cry. Which is essentially what Gaunt does to MacQuillon here. Ostrander is undermining the comic's main characters at the expense of a crossover guest, and I don't think that's good storytelling.

That's how I see it, anyway.

I assume Crayne's last scam involved a spray-tan salon gone awry.

As we saw last time, John Gaunt has run across the Starslayer gang because he's been hunting down Crayne, a scoundrel, coward, and con artist, and a tenuous member of MacQuillon's alliance. Crayne owes Gaunt a substantial amount of money. Problem is, he doesn't have it, nor do the rest of the group (which consists of Tamara, Sam, and Chris Heyman, the Free Marine whose name has previously appeared in a GrimJack backup story).

Yep, that's a match, all right.

That's Chris. And the statuette Gaunt mentions is of course the Manx Cat, the grand MacGuffin of Cynosure, which Gaunt was chasing down in his very first appearance. Again, that's one of the things I love so much about GrimJack: the rich and consistent continuity.

Ostrander has Chris drop a little bit of an in-joke here. She calls Count Ariosto "the Rude Baron," which is a shout-out to Mike Baron and Steve Rude, co-creators of another one of the greatest comic books ever, Nexus.

Heyman and Tamara attempt to enlist Gaunt's aid in helping them spring MacQuillon from Ariosto's clutches. But Gaunt drives a hard bargain.

When Gaunt says, 'What d'ya got in trade?' that's when the porno music kicks in.

Tamara is crushed, but she agrees to give up her ship in return for Gaunt's help. As Gaunt and the rest storm Ariosto's fortress, we get an idea of how Sam works, and why he's been unable to contact MacQuillon: MacQuillon's high emotions tamper with their mental link.

Hit the button, Frank!

Tamara and Heyman create a diversion with explosions and gunfire, allowing Gaunt to slip in the back and make contact with MacQuillon, who is battle-enraged and unreasonable, lashing out at Gaunt. Isn't that always the way with crossovers?

Bozo the Clown is well-known even in Cynosure, apparently.

While it amuses me how Ostrander acknowledges the comic book tradition of heroes fighting each other before realizing they're actually on the same side, then subverts it by having the battle between Gaunt and MacQuillon last exactly one panel, again it pains me to see the star of his own comic so easily dominated by Gaunt. MacQuillon has proven himself again and again to be a mighty warrior, and Gaunt deflects a vicious punch from him by catching it in his open palm. Makes MacQuillon look like a total puss, frankly.

"By the way, nice scar." Ha!

Sam receives an S.O.S. from Tamara -- she and Heyman have been captured. Gaunt is ready to bail on them, arguing that he only made a deal to rescue MacQuillon. MacQuillon of course refuses to leave without rescuing them, and his fellow escapees refuse to leave MacQuillon's side. This combination of nobility and stubborness strikes a chord in Gaunt.

GrimJack admires hard noses.

He agrees to stay and fight as well. But see, there it is again: the way Gaunt patronizingly regards MacQuillon as a less evolved version of himself is another slight from Ostrander to the comic's actual main character. Constant undermining. Maybe it doesn't bug you the way it bugs me, but you can at least see why it bugs me, I hope.

And now, the final battle is joined. I really dig this image, with Ariosto top left and his wizard ally Sphinx bottom left:

'A moment when eyes lock...' appears in the panel with the guy missing an eye. Intentional?

MacQuillon goes sword-to-sword with Ariosto, the escapees rescue Tamara and Heyman, a bunch of people fight a bunch of other people, and GrimJack faces the wizard Sphinx.

Your choice!

Sphinx works in silence, casting a monster of a whammy at Gaunt. Gaunt deflects it with the help of a little trinket called the St. Elvis vial (ha!), and sends the energy back at Sphinx, destroying him. Or almost:

GrimJack's list: 1. Sphinx. 2. Grizzly bears.

There's that continuity again: Sphinx would indeed become a recurring member of GrimJack's Rogues Gallery.

Gaunt's final line to Sphinx -- "Count on it!" -- was the slogan of First Comics at the time this was written. I wonder if that was intentional.

Meanwhile, all the other good guys win. Hooray!

Now, as to the matter of Gaunt's payment. Tamara doesn't want to give up her ship, and demands to know what MacQuillon is going to do about it. His answer:

We GET it. GrimJack rules, you suck.

And Gaunt's final salute to Torin MacQuillon (after making him look like a bit of a chump for the preceding 24 pages):

We need all the heroes we can get. Not the TV show 'Heroes,' though. That show totally blows.

Gaunt's noble nature shines through here; it's not always discernible, but it's most often brought to the fore by recognzing the quality in others. So that's two cases in a row now on which Gaunt has gotten stiffed! Nobility doesn't pay the rent, John.

MacQuillon (since he is noble) offers to share the Jolly Roger's captain's chair with Tamara (though, if he were really noble, he'd probably just give it back to her with no strings attached). His fellow escapees become the Jolly Roger's crew. And as for the last member of the group, Crayne, he skipped out on the battle and on his debt to Gaunt.

Issue #8: Crayne returns. Spoiler alert!

He's gone from the pages of Starslayer, but he's not gone from John Gaunt's life. Elections, you say? Hmmm....

Next time: the debut issue of John Gaunt's own title, GrimJack!

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