Lifetime of Simpsons

S16 E07 – Mommie Beerest

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Hey, remember how last week we had a shocking amount of Marge episodes? Well apparently that wasn’t a fluke, because we have another one, and while it’s not exactly good it’s certainly different. Plus it’s a Moe episode! Neat!

The episode starts off with the Simpsons going to some fancy brunch restaurant to celebrate some good news. Apparently Homer has officially paid off their mortgage, and they’re celebrating by spending a lot of money on fancy food. You know, like responsible people. Anyway, we see Homer gorge himself on food, Bart harass the meat-carvers, and Lisa starts a food fight. Unfortunately the food fight causes Marge to start yelling at the kids, which for some reason embarrasses Homer to no end, causing him to storm out of the restaurant.

So Home leaves his family and heads to Moe to sulk about them not being presentable. Which is kind of ridiculous, but whatever. He gets to Moe’s and begins hanging out with his buddies, whining, when a health inspector comes in. This should be cause for alarm, but it turns out that this particular health inspector grew up with Moe and always ignores all of Moe’s horrendous health code violations. Unfortunately when he eats one of Moe’s pickled eggs to prove that it’s stored in a sanity manner, he drops dead.

And a week later a real health inspector shows up, and he’s not happy. He doesn’t look past all of Moe’s innumerable health code violations, especially the fact that his predecessor’s body is still on the ground, so he does what any legitimate civil servant would do, and closes Moe’s. Moe has nowhere near the amount of money required to bring the bar up to code, so he has no choice but to close the bar down, causing the regulars to get together and hold a funeral for their favorite bar.

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After the funeral the rest of the regulars head across the street to a gay-bar to start drinking, but Homer decides that he’s too fat to frequent a gay-bar, and asks Moe what he can do to help reopen the bar. Unfortunately the only thing that he can do is give Moe a shitload of money to fix things. So Homer does just that, and heads to the bank to get a massive loan for Moe, also acquiring another mortgage. But surely Marge is going to understand that Homer needed to do this to save a bar, right?

Ha ha ha. No. When Marge gets the first new mortgage payment she freaks the hell out, since apparently Homer didn’t think to tell her about the loan until that point. Marge is furious that Homer did such a stupid thing without even consulting her, so she decides to punish him in a unique way. Now that she knows they’ve given Moe such a huge loan she decides that that means they’re part-owners of the bar, and that she’s going to start going to Moe’s to ensure that they get a return on their investment, while Homer stays home with the kids for once.

So Marge starts going to Moe’s every night, trying to find ways to better the place. She begins bossing Moe around, and pushing for a big renovation to get a better class of clientele for the bar. Moe is against this at first, not wanting to change a thing, until Marge tells him her idea to turn the bar into a British pub, and he instantly changes his mind and begins renovating the place. We then cut straight to them having completed the renovation as Moe’s reopens as the Nag and the Weasel, Springfield’s hottest new pub.

And people love it. They’re rolling in new customers, and their bar has become one of the most popular places in town, all thanks to Marge’s intervention. Which is starting to irritate Homer, who has had to stay home with the kids while all of this is going on. And it just gets worse when Homer start to get jealous of Moe, since he’s spending all of his time with Homer’s wife. He even starts to worry that Marge and Moe are having an affair, even though she ensures him that that’s ridiculous.

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However one day at the Plant Lenny and Carl notice how depressed Homer is, and take him to Itchy and Scratchy Land to have an unhappy talk in a happy place. They tell Homer that Marge is having an emotional affair with Moe, which could destroy their marriage. They recommend that Homer actually do something romantic for once, and fix his marriage. So Homer heads home, ready to be a better husband and a better listener. Right on time to learn that Marge and Moe are about to leave to a restaurant convention in Aruba.

Homer’s incredibly depressed about Marge going to Aruba with Moe, and decides to talk to Lisa about his marriage woes, like a good parent would. Lisa doesn’t really have any marriage advice, but does suggest that Homer race to the airport and declare his love, which usually tends to work in the movies. So Homer races off to the airport while we see that on the plane Moe actually is plotting to steal Marge away from Homer. So Homer’s paranoia isn’t completely baseless.

Homer ends up getting pulled over by Chief Wiggum while racing to the airport, and wins Wiggum over to his side. Homer then arrives at the airport and has Wiggum race alongside the place in a cherry-picker, while Homer crawls up the toilet hole to get into the airplane. And while all of this is going on Moe begins to panic and tries to move along his plan to steal Marge. It’s wrecked when Homer shows up though, who begins explaining all of his crazy theories to Marge.

But while they’re standing there, making a ridiculous scene, things look bad for Homer. Because Moe starts to demonstrate that he actually knows things about Marge, and appreciates her, which makes Homer decides that he’s lost. Unfortunately for Moe Marge is a human being with agency, and she announces that she doesn’t want Moe, and that he didn’t win her. She then reconnects with Homer and the three head to Aruba for an awkward little vacation while Bart, Lisa, and Maggie participate in a European hot-air balloon race.

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I think I’ve talked about this before, but I’m really getting sick of episodes that revolve around Homer and Marge’s marriage being in trouble, only for things to get swept under the rug. And this is a really big case of that problem. Yeah, Homer does really shitty things in this episode, but it then somehow managed to make him the victim. He took out a mortgage without consulting his wife, and then we’re supposed to be on his side as he worries that his wife is having an emotional affair. It’s just really strange. And then at the end everything is magically fixed after Homer storms an airplane. I’m just getting a little tired of plots like this.

Take Away: Don’t take out loans without consulting your spouse, especially if you’re just going to waste it on something stupid.

“Mommie Beerest” was written by Michael Price and directed by Mark Kirkland, 2005.

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Lifetime of Simpsons

S16 E06 – Midnight Rx

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Hey everybody, you know what’s fun to talk about in this day and age? Medical benefits! That’s not a sticky topic at all! Well. Let’s do this thing.

The episode begins with the Simpsons heading to Springfield’s aviation museum, stoked that Mr. Burns has apparently reserved the entire museum for a Nuclear Plant party. Which seems like an oddly nice thing for Mr. Burns to do, which doesn’t pass by Bart and Lisa. But they just roll with it and start checking out the museum, hanging out with a guy in a Burns mascot costume, watching a video about museum videos, and watching footage of Agnes Skinner walking on biplane’s in the 20’s.

Oh, and they also encounter a giant plane made of wood called the Plywood Pelican. They check out the massive plane, which could barely fly, and are shocked that Mr. Burns actually built and flew it, since he’s apparently Howard Hughes now. Surely that won’t come back! Anyway, people continue to enjoy the party, and how nice Burns is being. That is until he announces that there’s an ulterior motive to the party, and that’s not announce that they’re getting rid of the employee pharmaceutical plan, and they’ll all have to start paying for their own pills.

So the Simpsons head home and start trying to figure out how to cope with the fact that they’ll now have to pay for the absurdly expensive medication themselves. And after some though they decide that the only option is for Homer to get a second job that includes medical insurance. So Homer starts looking for a new job, but doesn’t have a lot of luck finding one that has medical insurance, because it turns out that most of the other businesses in Springfield are following suit and getting rid of their prescription drug plans as well.

So the whole town is screwed, mainly because prescription drugs are ludicrously expensive for no reason. But as Dr. Hibbert explains to the news, it doesn’t matter, because they have a monopoly and can charge whatever crazy price they want. Lisa and Marge try to go to a drug company, and doesn’t have much luck talking to an executive about prices, and instead just learn about Huey Lewis and the News.

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But the craziest part about the whole thing is that the Retirement Castle has decided that the medications for the residents is just too damned expensive, and they decide to let the old folks just go Cold Turkey and presumably die. But Grandpa isn’t going to stand for that. He heads over to the Simpson’s house and starts trying to come up with a plan with Homer. And they end up coming up with a decent one.

Grandpa apparently has a friend who lives in Winnepeg that he knows from the War, and Grandpa thinks that if he and Homer go up to Canada and use the friend’s medical card they can stock up on pills and smuggle them down to Springfield. So Homer and Grandpa cross the border, meet up with Grandpa’s friend Johnny, and they get to go to a drug-store and buy all the pills they could ever want. They then easily sneak right past the US Border Patrol and bring a whole shipment of drugs to Springfield.

And people are stoked. The old folks are thrilled to have their pills, and the rest of the Simpson family see Homer as a hero, especially now that they’re all heavily medicated. But obviously when word gets out about Homer and Grandpa’s scam, the rest of the town wants in. They all begin sucking up to Homer, putting in requests. And after some consternation Homer allows Apu and Ned to come to Canada with them to stock up on meds themselves.

So they get back to Winnipeg, meet up with Johnny again, and after Ned talks with some weird Canadian clone of himself, they head back to the United States. Unfortunately, when they’re in line at the border Apu decides to have some hot coffee, which obviously makes him start making stereotypical terrorist noises. Oh, and Ned puts a towel around his head like a turban. And in a ridiculous bit of political commentary, the US Border Patrol freaks out about an Indian guy acting weird, and arrest them.

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So they’re arrested and brought to jail where they’re informed that they’re being kicked out of Canada and forbidden from returning. They eventually get back to Springfield, and just like that the town stops seeing them as heroes. But Grandpa can’t let it go, and tells Homer that he wants one last big score, they just need a pilot to get them across the border.

Luckily, Mr. Burns has had a change of heart about his drug exploitation, because it turns out Smithers has some crazy thyroid issue, and without his medication he’s starting to die. So Burns decides to help Grandpa and Homer, and offers to fly the Plywood Pelican from earlier over the Canadian border and bring back as many cheap drugs as they possibly can. So they presumably break into the Aviation Museum, get the plane ready, and fly over the border.

They meet with Johnny and load the Pelican up with a whole shit-load of drugs and start trekking back to America. Unfortunately as they begin traveling across the border they hit some bad weather, and a bolt of lightning hits the plane, causing it to start crashing. Burns bails out at that point, and Homer and Grandpa have to try to crash-land the plane. They just barely accomplish this, crashing into the Town Square where the whole town shows up to get some pills. At first Wiggum is going to arrest Grandpa and Homer, but when the town announces they don’t want them to get in trouble, they decide not to punish them, and everything goes back to normal.

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I’m not crazy about this episode, but there’s nothing really objectionable about it. It takes a strong stance against the pharmaceutical industry, which isn’t exactly a bold stance, but it’s an accurate one. Prescription drugs are an absurd business, and they gouge us to ridiculous extremes, keeping us in a state of sickness to increase their own profit margins, and the episode paints an interesting picture of what it would be like to live in a world without medical insurance. The people of Springfield go to ridiculous extremes to avoid paying for absurd pharmaceuticals, even running elaborate drug-smuggling operations. So hey, maybe tell your Representatives that we shouldn’t get rid of the Affordable Care Act? Don’t want to get to political, but it’s kind of monstrous that this country just tells sick people to die, instead of helping them.

Take Away: The pharmaceutical industry is terrible, and we should do whatever we can to help people with medication needs.

 

“Midnight Rx” was written by Marc Wilmore and directed by Nancy Kruse, 2005.

 

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Lifetime of Simpsons

S16 E05 – Fat Man and Little Boy

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Howdy folks and welcome back to another week of Simpsons episodes. And it’s a pretty damned lackluster week! I don’t think I was overly impressed with any of the episodes that I ended up watching this week, and while none of them were particularly horrible, they were all just kind of nothing. And today may be the most nothing of them all. Even with notes I could barely remember this one just two days after watching it. Let’s do this thing!

The episode starts off in one of those weird ways where it seems like they were needing to stretch out the runtime by just adding a bunch of disjointed gags together. We start off with Homer coming home from work and going in through the back door for some reason, which is where he see Lisa and Janey playing patty-cake and almost swearing, which causes him to fait. But that’s not important, what’s important is that Bart is in the treehouse and firing spitballs at them like a machine gun.

Lisa runs from the spitballs until she gets a couple to the face, and gets upset when she sees blood on one. But it’s not hers, it’s Bart. He apparently has a loose tooth, and since it’s his last baby tooth he decides that he’s owed a huge payout. He starts messing with the tooth, hoping that it’ll fall out, and things are sped up when Marge is trying to open a kitchen drawer and ends up elbowing him in the face, knocking the tooth out. But who cares, he has the tooth!

So Bart goes and puts the tooth under his pillow, eagerly anticipating a hell of a payout. Unfortunately when he wakes up he finds that the Tooth Fairy has screwed him over and given a donation in his name to the United Way instead of giving him a quarter or whatever. Bart is furious at this development, and goes to the kitchen to yell about it with his parents. They respond by telling Bart that he’s a big-boy now and should start growing up.

This quickly causes Bart to have a sort of mid-life crisis where he becomes incredibly depressed that he’s no longer a kid. He goes to a grocery store to try a ride a little car, but gets bored, and even has a depressing moment when playing with his toys when they stop having an adventure and start talking about liability insurance. And that little lack of imagination is enough for Bart to give up on his life, pack up all of his toys and childish things, and give them a Viking funeral at a local lake.

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That shockingly doesn’t fix Bart’s depression though, which keeps going. Lisa notices the sadness and decides to recommend that he start writing something to help process his feelings. But Bart doesn’t like the idea of writing books or poems, so he decides to start writing obnoxious slogans and writing them on his t-shirt. Close enough I suppose. Bart writes a shirt that says “Adults Suck, and Then You Are One,” and the kids at the Elementary School freaking love it.

The kids start loving the shirts so much that Bart begins selling them. He sets up a kiosk on his front lawn and is quickly selling out of his products. Until Chief Wiggum shows up and takes all the shirts because Bart couldn’t pay protection money. But Bart’s gotten the entrepreneurial spirit, and he decides that he should start trying to sell his shirts legit, in stores. Which means that he has to head to a Springfield Novelty Expo and try to sell his shirts to a vendor.

Being a random ten year-old with a box of shirts doesn’t really make a mark on the professional crap-sellers though, and Bart’s kiosk ends up being destroyed by Krusty’s larger one, and he leaves a failure. But as he’s leaving he almost gets hit by a car, and ends up striking up conversation with the driver. He ends up being Goose Gladwell, a weird Willy Wonka parody who owns a chain of joke shops. And he loves the shirts. So much that he agrees to start selling them in his stores.

And just like a the Elementary School, people really start loving the shirts, which cause Bart and Goose to start raking in money. And that economic influx ends up being a good thing, because when Homer wears one of Bart’s shirts to work while napping, he gets fired. But it’s not a huge problem, because Bart is apparently now making enough to become the family’s primary bread-winner. Bart starts taking care of the family and giving Homer an allowance at this point, which surely isn’t going to lead to calamity.

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Just kidding, things get awkward fast. Homer quickly begins relying completely on Bart, and it starts to bug him. He watches a natures documentary about how older alpha-lions will be deposed by younger more virile males. At which point the old lions either have to hang out with the really old lions, or bond with the young girls. And since Homer doesn’t want to start hanging out with Grandpa, he decides to start spending all of his time playing with Lisa.

Homer and Lisa start having great times together, and Lisa even shows him her diorama for the school science fair about nuclear power. However, right after she’s done showing it to Homer, Martin shows up with his project, a fully functional robot, and she realizes that her project is doomed. And because Homer now wants to take care of Lisa and be a great dad, he decides he should help her. Which obviously means he’s going to go online, find the instructions for making a nuclear reactor, stealing plutonium from the Plant, and making it in the basement.

So Homer starts working on the reactor, and shockingly makes it functional. Which obviously terrified Lisa, who gets Marge to tell Homer to get rid of it. So Homer heads to the dump to get rid of the reactor, and ends up running into Bart. Things aren’t going well for Bart. Goose sold the shirts to the Disney Store, and is screwing Bart out of the partnership, leaving him with nothing. So, logically, Homer decides to bring the reactor into Goose’s store and threaten to eradicate the town unless Goose gives Bart the money he’s owed. And since Goose isn’t a goddamn lunatic, he agrees, gives Bart the money, and Homer and Bart leave, triumphant, to get rid of their nuclear bomb.

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There are some interesting ideas in this episode, but it just generally didn’t do much for me. I feel like several different episodes could have been made out of some of these premises if they’d just had more time to breathe. Bart having a mid-life crisis because he’s realized that he’s no longer a kid is a great idea, but it’s basically just for the first act. Likewise, the idea of Bart becoming the breadwinner could have been really cool, but they stop focusing on that so quickly to get to the insane ‘Homer builds a nuclear reactor in his basement’ plot, which didn’t really work with me. Plus this episode ends with Homer threatening the destruction of the entire town over like $500. That’s odd.

Take Away: Growing up is hard as hell, and writing is a great way to deal with the complex emotions that come with that.

 

“Fat Man and Little Boy” was written by Joel H Cohen and directed by Mike B Anderson, 2004.

 

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Reel Talk

Moana Is a Cinematic Anti-Depressant

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I don’t talk about it nearly enough on here (mainly because I have a ridiculous project planned for next year) but I really like Disney. There’s obviously some problems with the film, especially their issues with gender roles, but a lot of that can be kind of excused by the time periods that they were made. And taking all of that aside, Disney is pretty much the experts at delivering all-ages stories that impart lessons and fulfill the role that fables once had for people. Kind of like my appreciation for James Bond films, I don’t really think that there are any truly bad Disney flicks. They all have something to appreciate in them. So of course I’m going to be into any Disney movie that gets announced, and I was especially excited about their most recent release, Moana. Disney has been on a bit of a hot-streak lately delivering some really great and surprisingly nuanced movies, but even taking that aside there was a lot going for this movie. It featured songs written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who is pretty much the best, and represents Disney taking another stab at telling stories that speak to people other than white folks, which is always to be applauded. Plus I heard that the film was pretty great too, and I’m happy to report that that assessment was very correct.

The film follows a young Polynesian woman named Moana who is the daughter of the chief of her island. Life is pretty simple on the island, just doing the same things that they’ve done forever, which is really boring her. She dreams of leaving her island, and venturing out beyond the reef that surrounds the island, but her over-bearing parents refuse. And gradually they start to suppress her adventurous ways and get her to accept her life as a civil servant. But all of that changes when the island suddenly starts to suffer from some unknown source. There are no longer any fish around the island and all of their crops are dying, plunging the island into uncertainty.  The only person who has an idea is Moana’s grandmother, who tells her that it’s because the demi-god Maui stole a small magical stone from the goddess Te Fiti, and that action is going to destroy the world. The grandmother just so happens to have the stone, and tells Moana that she should take a boat, leave the island, and go sail to Maui to make him help her. So Moana breaks her promise to her parents, finds a hidden ship that her people have kept secret for generations, and starts to sail out to the island that Maui was imprisoned on. So Moana hits the seas and starts sailing towards Maui, being helped by the ocean itself, which is sentient and has taken an interest in her ever since she was a little girl and helped a small turtle make it to the water, thus earning some favors from the sea.

And after several trials and tribulations Moana finally gets to the island of Maui, and we’re introduced to the demi-god Maui, a braggadocios shape-shifter who lives for getting adulation from humans, and who has been rapped on an island for a hundred years. He initially has no interest in helping Moana, primarily because when he stole the magical stone and was banished to this island he lost his magical fish-hook that’s the source of all of his powers. But after Moana does everything she can to convince him, and the ocean lends a hand, Maui agrees to help, as long as they get his fish-hook first. So the two set sail, dealing with a race of goofy coconut warriors before getting to a subterranean world of monsters were they deal with a glam-rock crab who has stolen Maui’s hook. The two fight the crab and outsmart him though, and get Maui’s hook back, giving him his powers and confidence. And along the way Moana and Maui have gained a real friendship, and have really grown as people. Which makes it that much more difficult when they get to the island of Te Fiti and end up coming across a being of pure lava that has taken over the island and they’re stretched to the limit. But after a brief crisis the two pull it together and save the day, just like you would imagine, and Moana returns home to her island to lead her people into a brave new world of leaving the island and exploring like their ancestors did.

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This movie was just an incredibly delightful experience. Just about everything in it worked for me on a fundamental level, and I spent almost the entire film with a grin plastered on my face. It was a beautifully animated film with some stellar voicework and songs that I really could see going down as all time greats. There was no “Let It Go” to be beaten to death, but they had a timeless quality about them that really worked for me. Plus we got a ridiculous David Bowie-esque song from a bedazzled crag voiced by Jemaine Clement, which is pretty fantastic. But basically everyone else in the movie delivered some incredibly voice acting, which really helped shape the film. I’m not familiar with Auli’i Cravalho but she was stellar as Moana, giving the character a sass and intelligence that really worked fantastically. She was capable, fun, and determined, which I feel could easily have come across as almost a Mary Sue, but she was delightful. And, as per usual, Dwayne the Rock Johnson was a hoot. He expertly delivered the cocky swagger that Maui had, but when it came time to let some emotion into the film he handled it wonderfully.

There was just a lot to love about this film. And one of the things that I loved most about it was the fact that while it was incredibly familiar, using a lot of the standard Disney tropes, it also brought us to a unique world and told a familiar story in a different way. The movie dealt with a lot of topics that Disney loves to examine, such as duty, dealing with tradition versus change, and fighting against destiny. But it took those tropes and put them in the Polynesian setting, which hasn’t really been used. Lilo and Stitch attempted to give the culture justice, but that movie is a little strange and was more sci-fi than fable. This film took a beautiful culture that really isn’t portrayed enough and gave us a competent woman of color saving the day by trying to get her people to change and progress. Which is pretty fantastic. So if the horribleness of the world has you down you could do worse than check out Moana, because I can almost guarantee that you’ll leave happy and a little more optimistic about the world.

Moana was written by Jared Bush, directed by Ron Clements and John Musker, and released by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, 2016.

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Marvel Madness

That Time the Avengers Had the Most Awkward Thanksgiving Ever

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Typically when I write these Marvel Madness posts I find the stories two different ways. Most of the time I just stumble upon them while I’m making my way through different runs. I’m simultaneously going through the classic runs of Fantastic Four, Uncanny X-Men, the Avengers, the Amazing Spider-Man, Daredevil, Doctor Strange, Captain America, the Incredible Hulk, and Thor, trying to find crazy stories from the Silver and Bronze Ages that catch my fancy. And it’s usually not to hard to find something crazy. I mean, just finding an issue with Doctor Doom on the cover is usually a pretty good indicator that things are going to be goofy. But there’s a second way that I find stories, and that’s when I actively try to find a thematic story. That’s usually around the holidays. When it was St. Patrick’s day I tracked down that X-Men story with the leprechauns, when it was Halloween I specifically tried to find a story with Dracula or some other monster in it, and I’ve found a whole mess of ridiculous Christmas stories to check out in a month. But when I was thinking about a new Marvel Madness to do, I decided to roll the dice and see if there was a Thanksgiving story floating somewhere out there. I figured there maybe was some crazy story where Captain America went back in time and met Pilgrims or something. And while there may be one of those out there that I couldn’t find, I did find something else. Because much to my surprise I was able to find a story from the short-lived The Vision and the Scarlet Witch series that revolved around the Avengers getting together and having an incredibly awkward and tense Thanksgiving. And if there’s anything more quintessentially “Thanksgiving” than turkey, it’s awkward encounters with family. So let’s check out what could possibly be awkward about a fancy meal hosted by an occasionally insane and super-powerful witch and her robotic husband!

Right off the bat I’ll admit that I don’t have a whole lot of context for what’s going on in this issue. I’ve never read any of the other the Vision and the Scarlet Witch issues and I haven’t reached this period of time in the regular Avengers book either. But I’m aware of the fact that the Scarlet Witch, the reformed villain and perennial member of the Avengers did fall in love with the Vision, the android that Ultron created to infiltrate and destroy the Avengers. And I guess this was a series that was just about their relationship. But I suppose none of that is really important, what is important is that this issue opens up with the Scarlet Witch’s brother Quicksilver arriving at the house with his wife Crystal, a member of the Inhumans, and their son. And apparently this happy couple is living with the Inhumans on the moon, because they arrive by way of spaceship. And things are just starting. Quicksilver and Crystal are met at the door by Vision and are brought into the family room where they begin hanging out with the other guests. And it’s here that I first started to be amused by this issue, because for some reason these friends are getting together to celebrate and enjoy a meal together while all wearing their costumes and referring to each other by their superhero names. I guess they can’t let their hair down for one night.

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So Quicksilver, Crystal, and their baby Luna come into the house and begin spending time with the other guests. We have Captain America, Namor, the Wasp, Doctor Strange (who is acting as Scarlet Witch’s obstetrician, because she’s still pregnant with magic babies at this point), the guy that sold Vision and Scarlet Witch their house for some reason, a local stage-magician and his partner who I suppose are friends with the couple, and probably most hilariously, Martha Williams, the mother of Simon Williams aka Wonder Man, the man that Ultron used as the basis for Vision. I guess they’ve decided that this isn’t creepy, and Martha acts like she’s related to Vision, which is super odd. So the various attendees begin mingling and catching up, telling stories and trying to act natural while wearing ridiculous costumes. But all of this is ground to a halt when the next guest come in.

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That’s right! Magneto’s here! In case you don’t know, or if you’re more familiar with Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver from the MCU films, Magneto is their father in the comics. Or is he? I don’t follow the X-Men that well, and I think that that’s been changed in recent years, but at the point that this story was written that was true. Magneto had previously worked with Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver when they were members of his Brotherhood of Evil Mutants terrorist group, but at that point they didn’t know they were related. When that information came out the siblings fled Magneto and reformed, becoming Avengers. So that would be awkward enough, but now we get to see a Thanksgiving dinner where a bunch of heroes have to play nice with a straight-up supervillain. And they are not pleased.

It seems like no one was informed that Magneto was going to be showing up, and everyone seems really creeped out by his presence. Even Crystal, who is trying to keep her child away from her grandfather. Vision seems okay with everything though, and makes awkward chit-chat with his father-in-law while everyone else keeps their distance, and while Quicksilver bring Wanda into the kitchen to politely ask her what the hell is going on. They head into the kitchen and immediately begin arguing while Wanda insists that he should be there because he’s their father, while Pietro makes the logical point that the fact that Magneto brainwashed them into being terrorists probably outweighs the fact that he’s their father. The two continue to bicker for a while as we cut out to the living room and see that Captain America, Namor, and Vision are bonding over the fact that they’re the original Invaders, since Vision’s body is technically made from the original Human Torch’s. But it’s not all fun stories, because basically everyone else is being awkward as hell. The Wasp seems to be a little drunk and is talking about her recent divorce from Hank Pym and how they never had kids together, Crystal is talking about how Pietro isn’t being the most attentive husband, and the weird magicians are trying to make conversation with Magneto while not bringing up his hatred of humanity. But that’s all brushed aside when Wanda announces that dinner is ready and they all sit down for their meal.

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Everyone starts to eat, but apparently not talk, because all we see is everyone sitting there staring at Magneto while thinking about all the horrible things he’s done. They all eat their dinner in silence, and when it’s over people start to escape the awkwardness. Cap, Namor, Wasp, and Doctor Strange slip out first, claiming that they have superhero stuff to deal with. Then Martha Williams and Crystal say that they’ll help Wanda clean up when they’re stopped by Magneto, who demands a word alone with his daughter. The two head into the kitchen and Magneto begins to open up. He apologizes for being such a shitty dad, but then in the same breath starts ranting about how he’s in the right and how humans suck. Which isn’t exactly a great apology, and Wanda calls him out on it, telling Magneto that she’ll never approve of what he believes. The two squabble for a bit longer until Magneto can’t take it any more and leaves in a huff.

The stragglers are all hanging out in the family room again, having a good time, while Magneto walks past them and storms out of the house. He begins flying away, fuming, when he notices something odd, and returns to the house. He walks back into the house and asks Vision and Quicksilver to follow him. They seem a little confused at first, and that just gets worse when Magneto starts explaining that he need their help to keep everyone safe from a threat. And what threat might that be?

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Sure! The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants are there, ready to fight everyone at the dinner. Despite the fact that this Brotherhood seems to feature Magneto and Quicksilver, both of whom are standing right there. Everyone seems pretty confused about this turn of events, until it becomes clear that these impostors also have the powers of the Brotherhood, at which point the three men stop wondering what’s going on and just start fighting. Quicksilver begins racing around with his replica while Magneto spars with his, throwing shovels at each other. But when it becomes clear that two speedsters just running around punching each other isn’t working, Vision decides to cut in and starts fighting the Quicksilver replica, using his abilities to shift his density to catch the replica off guard and knock him out.

And once the Quicksilver replica is taken care of, the real Pietro turns his attentions to Mastermind, who quickly defeats Pietro by crippling him with hallucinations. Magneto tries to help his son, but he too gets drawn into Mastermind’s hallucinations. Luckily Vision isn’t affected by the hallucinations though, and he tries to free his two family members when he’s attacked by Toad. This spurs a memory in Vision though, and he grabs Toad in a headlock, and tells Magneto to use his powers to mess with the iron in Toad’s blood. And when Magneto does this, all of the replica’s drop down dead. Apparently Toad was the brains behind this operation, and he was using some weird technology that had been introduced in a previous Avengers story to create replicas of his old team. They stand a round mocking Toad for a while, until a little drone shows up and begins lifting Toad and his replicas up into itself with a tractor beam. Toad starts to gloat until we realize that the Quicksilver he’s with is the real one who has quickly changed his costume. Pietro knocks Toad out again, defeating the little creep and his replicas. And once that’s taken care of Magneto decides to take Toad and the replicas away, wanting to leave rather than deal with Wanda any more. And once he’s gone Vision and Quicksilver head back into the house and talk with Wanda, returning the issue to a weird sitcom pastiche.

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This was a very silly issue of comics. There was a lot of drama in it, and I get the feeling that his whole series may be a little too much of a soap opera for my taste, but there was still a whole lot to like about it. I’ll never get over the fact that these friends and colleagues all ate a holiday meal together while wearing their silly costumes and calling each other their codenames instead of their actual names. That’s just weird. And all the robot nonsense with Toad in the back half of the issue is fun and completely comes out of nowhere, but I guess they couldn’t just sell an issue of comics that was all family drama. But that’s the stuff that I dug about this issue. Of course something like this would happen! Wanda and Pietro have had a really complicated life, and do have a father who is a legitimate supervillain, so it makes sense that interacting with him now that they’re heroes would be more than a little awkward. And I just love the idea that they tried to look past this and have Magneto come to Thanksgiving with the goddamn Avengers. That’s just such a ridiculous idea, and I love it so much. This would have been the most awkward and uncomfortable Thanksgiving dinner of all time, and they just had to all sit there and take it. So I hope you had a less awkward Thanksgiving this year, hopefully you didn’t have to sit with a monster. Unless you had to eat with a relative who voted for Trump, otherwise you may have this story beat.

The Vision and the Scarlet Witch #6 was written by Steve Englehart, penciled by Richard Howell, inked by Frank Springer, and colored by Adam Philips, 1985.

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Page Turners

Marvel Comics the Untold Story is an Enlightening Bummer

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It’s been a while since I’ve checked out some non-fiction here on Page Turners, and I figured I’d stay on brand and read some history that doesn’t really matter. And in that spirit I decided to finally plunge into a book about the history of one of my favorite sources of stories, Marvel Comics. This book actually came out a couple years ago, and it’s been sitting on my shelf the entire time. I just kept hearing about how great it was, and how it delivered a really in depth and revealing insight on how some of the most recognizable and important characters of the twentieth century were formed, but I got the book at the exact time that I started using a Kindle to read books, and just kind of let this physical book sit by the wayside. But no longer! Marvel has always been important to me, and I figured it was high time that I actually learned something about the company that gave me so many great characters. As I’ve evolved as a comics reader I’ve gradually learned more and more about what goes into making them. When it began I was just reading for characters. I liked Spider-Man so I looked for Spider-Man comics, regardless of where the stories fell into continuity. Then I started focusing on reading them in order, learning the progress of the character. After that I started to differentiate between writers and artists, and specifically seek out stories written by particular writers I enjoyed. And now I’ve reached the point that I’m learning about the editorial process and the history of the writers, learning about the inner workings of the company.

The book is pretty straight-forward, and it’s always a little hard to discuss the “plots” of non-fiction books. It really just tells the story of Marvel Comics, from creation to 2013 when it was published. We get to see the start of the genre, and the beginning of the Marvel legacy when Carl Bugos created the Human Torch in 1939 for Timely Comics. From there one thing leads to another and we trace the history of comic books. We see how the proto-Marvel rode high during World War II with Captain America, then fall flat when the industry burst following the war. But everything turned around when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby decided to create The Fantastic Four by combining basically every popular form of comic book at the time. And it worked. They ended up ushering in the Marvel Age of comics, introducing classic character after classic character, all of which managed to differentiate themselves from the DC competition. The characters of Marvel weren’t all-powerful and morally superior gods, they were flawed human who dealt with real issues in between beating up supervillains. And it clicked.

Once the groundwork was laid the company began to get more and more popular and the book expertly examined every shift in power. We learn about the good times and the bad, when we would hear about the classic creators hanging out in the Marvel Bullpen, crafting the classic foundational stories of the company, and the lean times when the creators were all bickering, being stabbed in the back by the owners of the company, and being laid off. We learn about star creators, reliable workhorses, and the fact that basically everyone but Jack Kirby had no guarantee that they were going to stick around. Time change, the company chased various trends, they lead the industry, and they fell behind. We see owner after owner take over the company and quickly realize they have no idea  what they’re doing, often to disastrous results. We learn about all of the behind-the-scenes drama that helped create and destroy some of our favorite stories and characters.

And I really enjoyed it. The book was very well-written and helped give serious insight into a company that has produced so many memories for me. As time has gone on I’ve learned more and more about the creators behind my favorite characters, but this book really dove in deep and showed me the nitty-gritty of the company. Which was kind of a bummer. There were a lot of great anecdotes and things I learned about the company, but there were also some really revealing moments that kind of destroyed my mental pictures of these creators. Because time and time again that so many of these classic stories that we can all still talk about and obsess over were just done for paychecks. So few of these creators actually seemed to give that much of a crap about the characters or the stories they were creating. It was just a job. Which shouldn’t have shocked me. I’m not sure why I was so idealistic about these things, thinking that these people were creating art because they just really wanted to tell stories about heroes, and not for the money, but I guess I was. Which isn’t to say that I’m sad I read the book. Quite the contrary. I learned a lot about the industry, and the economic realities that create it, and while it shattered certain naive illusions I held about the company, it also lead to a lot of really great discoveries, and helped humanize some of these creators that have been held in god-like opinion.

Marvel Comics: The Untold Story was written by Sean Howe, 2013.

Bat Signal

Issue 126 – “Case of the Silent Songbirds”

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Hi there everybody and welcome back to another installment of Bat Signal, my continuing experiment to read random issues of Detective Comics. I hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving, not too much family drama. And speaking of turkeys, let’s read a goofy issue with the Penguin! That was a stretch! Anyway, the Penguin! We haven’t had one of his stories in a while, and luckily the issue that I happened to pull today is much less aggravating than the last one I checked out. Mainly because this one doesn’t revolve around umbrellas, causing my to write the word umbrellas roughly one thousand times. No, we have a much different Penguin story in store today, and it’s pretty great. As you could guess from the insane cover that features Batman and Robin laughing uproariously at an overweight man being electrocuted before their very eyes. Let’s get going!

The story begins with the Penguin already running away from Batman and Robin, on foot. Which proves to be a bad plan when the Dynamic Duo just roll up in the Batmobile and get ready to beat him up. However, Penguin’s umbrella has a high-powered flash device in it, which easily blinds them, letting the Penguin slip away. And when Batman and Robin’s vision returns they find the Penguin missing, and begin searching around for a place he may have hidden. And it just so happens that there’s some sort of radio broadcast going on from a bird enthusiast club that’s talking about canaries. Unfortunately the Penguin isn’t in the room, so their out of ideas, and return to the Batcave. But they were wrong. The radio was involved in Penguin’s plan, because we see him meeting with some of his goons, and preparing to hatch their latest plan. Which involves extorting singers in Gotham who have been given bird codenames, and if they don’t pay up to the Penguin he’ll steal their voices. And that radio broadcast was a signal to go after the “canary,” who is just a singer nicknamed the Canary. Not very clever Penguin.

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So the Canary’s voice has been stolen, and the Penguin continues to threaten the singers of Gotham. But the Penguin’s plan isn’t exactly subtle, and the next morning Bruce and Dick easily piece together what happened. And they hadn’t even gotten out of their pajamas at that point! And once they figure out that the Penguin is using the radio show to signal his goons, they decide to go check on the Canary, hoping to figure out what’s going on. And lucky for them, when they get to the Canary’s apartment they find that the Penguin is already there, trying to extort her yet again. Batman tries to punch the Penguin immediately, but the little bastard is able to send a flare out of the window to signal his goons, who come in to save him. The goons begin fighting Batman and Robin, which goes exactly like you think it would. But in the commotion Penguin is able to escape and continue his stupid crime spree.

However, Penguin hasn’t figured out that Batman and Robin solved how he was communicating his hits, so he just keeps on having the weird bird radio station list out targets. This time it’s the hummingbird and the blue bird. So Bruce and Dick start researching bird facts and end up deciding that the targets are a famous crooner named Jack Martini and a blues singer called Tessa King. So the race off to save the two singes, and decide to get to Jack Martini first. They get to the studio where he’s recording a new album, and unfortunately get there just a little too late. As Martini begins singing his voice suddenly cuts out. The Penguin has succeeded again. Batman manages to arrest one of Penguin’s goons, but he promises not to tell the Penguin’s secrets, so the Dynamic Duo head out to protect Tessa King and try to actually win one. So they hide on the rooftop club that she’s performing at, ready to spring out and stop the Penguin. But it turns out the Penguin is ready for Batman’s interference.

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Yep, the Penguin is hiding up in the rafters and just drops a big fire extinguisher on top of Batman, distracting him long enough to activate the gas hidden inside the microphone, and stealing Tessa’s voice. So the Penguin starts to run away and ends up jumping off the rooftop, using his umbrella like a parachute to escape. So Batman and Robin head back to the Batcave and come up with a plan. Batman’s going to go and warn every singer in the city and Robin is going to skulk around that bird radio station to try and see if Penguin shows up. And luckily for Robin, he does. Robin starts to listen to Penguin and his goons planning their next bit of extortion, and learn that their next target is the Wren. But while he’s peeping the Penguin spots him, and ends up capturing Robin with a giant pair of tongs, and kidnaps the Boy Wonder. But before they drag Robin out of the place he uses some of his training and nudges a picture of a wren, causing it to not hang straight anymore.

So when Batman later comes to the bird radio station and finds Robin missing, he decides to investigate. Obviously Batman spots the nudged frame and immediately realizes that Robin has been kidnapped at that the target is a small opera singer called Millie Long who is getting ready to perform Faust that night. So Batman heads to the Opera house and gets ready to stop the Penguin. And he does this by dressing up as a bit-part in the opera so he can stand on the stage behind Long. Oh, and he deactivates the microphone trap, ensuring that Long won’t get her voice stolen. And when the microphone doesn’t go off, Penguin freaks out and jumps onto the stage himself, getting in a duel with Batman. Batman uses a polearm that he held for his role, and Penguin has an electrified umbrella. And things loo rough for Batman. Until Robin comes swinging in, having escaped from the goons, causing a distraction. And when Penguin focuses on Robin, Batman is able to grab a lasso and wrap it around Penguin, causing the electrified umbrella to touch himself, knocking himself out. And that’s the end of Penguin’s insane and elaborate plot to extort singers!

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I had fun with this issue. It was pretty different from the previous issue I’ve had with the Penguin in it, but I don’t know if it was any better. I liked that the Penguin was obsessed with birds in this one and not umbrellas, making him one of the most nuanced villains we’ve had. But while this one didn’t make me go crazy as I typed the word umbrellas over and over, it also wasn’t quite as insane as that one. Until the end that is. I guess the idea of Penguin running around town and using a fake radio station about birds to extort singers is pretty weird, but things get thrown into over-drive when the opera stuff starts. Because we get to see Batman get dressed up in a silly costume, while wearing his normal silly costume underneath, and then duel the Penguin on stage after he takes the place of the Devil in the Faust play. That’s just some grade-A goofiness right there.

“Case of the Silent Songbirds” was written by…someone. Maybe Bill Finger? Not sure. But it was drawn by Jim Mooney, 1947.

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