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Friday, July 14, 2006

Back to Un(Nature)

My pal Matt introduced me the Loop Island Wetlands a couple weeks ago. Since that time, I've been over to New Albany twice to visit the ponds and paths that wind from the foot of Silver Street to the Ohio River.

I have a weird history with the place. About 15 years or so ago, I did a newspaper story about possible health hazards created by the old Moser Leather Co., which was doing something pretty stinky back there (actually, it was using one of the ponds as a slurry dump, if I recall, and legally so). My reporting was not quite so legal; I'm pretty sure I trespassed on the leather plant's property to get my investigative whiff on.

Now the tannery is closed and the new owner (apparently a beaver-battling soul named Al Goodman) has kindly opened up the property as a semi-public wetlands. Goodman has even posted a little stand that promises MAPS, although I have never seen said maps. Still, it's a nice thought.

My pal Joe and I went for a walk at Loop Island yesterday.

The coolest part of the property by far is an abandoned rail trestle that spans Silver Creek as it heads down to the Ohio. For the pic above, I was actually standing in Clark County, having crossed over from New Albany.

The trestle is kinda up there. Joe got a little nervous (me too, to be honest -- it's catching), but I reminded him that we are both far too fat to fall through the ties of a rail trestle. He conceded, of course.

Here's Silver Creek as it empties into the Ohio. I'm standing on a landing that overlooks the creek and some shale beaches on the river -- they make for a nice spot when the water is down, as it was yesterday. You often bump into folks with fishing tackle in tow back on these trails.

Yesterday, Joe and I met a couple and their dog, which the gentleman described as being a Chow-Wolf mix that isn't always so good around people. The thing was on a leash, but I still grabbed a big stick on trek back to the car -- just in case.

This little gem lies at the Clark County end of the trestle, where Loop Island abuts a spat of auto salvage yards and other junk industrial properties that Indiana is trying to clean up with its greenway project. It's not clearly pictured, but what you have here is two rusted-out school buses on which sits a rotting thresher or combine of some sort.

Confronted with such a canvas, what's a hilljack moron supposed to do except spray paint even more evidence that there's no good reason he should be breathing?

Goodman reportedly wants Loop Island to be part of the greenway, and I for one hope he gets his wish, if for no other reason than to clean up this junk. Loop Island is very nice, despite the occasional hateful eyesore and unnatural canine threat.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

They Keep Pulling Me Back In ...

I can remember lecturing newbies who were standing in line back in '92 to buy Superman #75, the issue in which the Man of Steel was “killed” by a painfully stupid new villain named Doomsday.

I was hanging out/volunteering at the shop where I bought my titles, Comics America in Clarksville, which has since vanished along with most outlets that sprang up during the boom of the late ’80s. On this particular evening I and some other aspiring geeks were helping out the pro geeks with a rush of speculators and helpless geeks (there’s a substantial difference, if you care to know), at least 30 deep in line. A media blitz had guaranteed that a copy of Superman’s “death” would shortly fund a nice chunk of a minivan or the youngest’s college education, at least at a state school.

“It will never be worth anything,” we kept telling them. “D.C. is printing like 4 million copies, and they all are coming in a plastic bag. You are wasting your money.”

It’s not always fun to be right.

As of July 4, Superman #75 is up to $12 in near mint (basically, perfect) condition, I’d guess bolstered by the release of the painfully stupid new Superman movie. I was surprised to see it doing that well, particularly when some other really good Superman issues are languishing near cover price 15 or 20 years after publication.

My interest in the price of Superman #75 is not merely nostalgic. I spent much of the July 4 weekend pricing out the comics collection I built in my 20s, with the notion that I might test the waters on eBay if the books’ appreciation merited the hassle. I even went so far as to buy a spiffy piece of professional comics inventory software with automatic price updates.

After about 30 hours of shuffling books and clumsy data entry, I’m now seriously considering taking up the collecting habit again. The smell of slightly moldy pulp never gets out of your blood completely, and what the hell, comics are cheaper now than they were 15 years ago.
Cases in point:

Howard Chakin’s four-part Shadow miniseries: 50 cents over cover.

The Killing Joke, media darling Alan Moore’s defining Batman/Joker story: $7, down from $40-$50 six months after its initial release in 1988.

Superman Annual #11, which includes Moore’s revered “For the Man Who Has Everything” story: $4.

And despite a reasonably successful movie adaptation, the ‘88 U.S. release of Moore’s V for Vendetta is priced a just a few pennies over cover.

It’s like we said back in ‘92 -- as fan interest in comics exploded, companies churned out 10 times or more the number of issues that were being printed in the 1960s. (I had the good fortune/taste to snap up the full run of The Amazing Spider-Man back in the ‘80s, so my weekend was not a complete fiscal flop.) And each and every one of those ‘80s books went straight into an archival polymer bag, which weren’t introduced until the ‘70s.

Collectables maintain value because they are rare, and late ‘80s comics are never gonna be rare. Add to that the publishing houses’ new passion for “graphic novels” -- re: cutting back-issue shops out of the market with glossy collections now sold in bookshops, hipsters’ latte-drenched comfort zone -- and the demand for my old, smelly comics is thin.

The big winner in my ‘80s collection is Milk & Cheese #1 ($65), a weird indi book I picked up because I, too, was enraged by Merv Griffin in my more passionate youth.

Still cracks me up.

The good news for today’s collectors -- although it doesn’t profit me -- is that some of the best comics ever printed are out there on the cheaps.

Mike Baron’s Nexus, one of the smartest super-hero titles, runs about $3 an issue. Moore’s Swamp Thing, which created D.C.’s Vertigo approach before the marketing guys slapped a label on it, are about $4 an issue for most of the run. Even Neil Gaimain’s incomparable Sandman is near cover for most issues (#1 is $25, about half of what it was moving for 10 years ago). Almost the entire library of Valiant titles, thought to be the next big thing in superheroes 15 years ago, are now about $1.50 a pop, although Harbinger #1 -- a sharp take on the whole teen mutant thing -- has bounced back to $30.

Of course, most of these books are available as “graphic novels,” so there’s no need to humiliate yourself by actually going into a comics shop.

But newsprint smells a lot better than double-mochas.

Friday, June 30, 2006

The View From Below ...

I see this every day at my parking garage. I get irritated whenever someone takes two spots; it's hard to descirbe how irksome this business is.

I actually drove a late-generation Mustang from Louisville to Boston and back. Trust me, it's no big deal.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

In Honor of Devil Day ...

I started an e-mail thread at work (because I am so industrious) on the best quotes about Satan, or in general the notion of a personification of ultimate evil (David Warner from Time Bandits didn't make the cut, but you get the idea). Here's what we've come up with so far.

"What do you think the Devil is going to look like if he's around? Nobody is going to be taken in if he has a long, red, pointy tail. No. I'm semi-serious here. He will look attractive and he will be nice and helpful and he will get a job where he influences a great God-fearing nation and he will never do an evil thing... he will just bit by little bit lower standards where they are important. Just coax along flash over substance... Just a tiny bit. And he will talk about all of us really being salesmen. And he'll get all the great women."

Albert Brooks, Broadcast News

"Did you really expect to conjure up the devil and ask him to behave?"

Agent Mulder, The X-Files (Die Hand Der Verletz)

"The Devil is a low motherfucker, jack."

Richard Pryor

"Who's that goat-legged fellow? I like the cut of his jib."

Mr. Burns, Simpsons Treehouse of Horror IV (via Ann All)

Calvin: "Do you believe in the devil? You know, a supreme evil being dedicated to the temptation, corruption, and destruction of man?"

Hobbes: "I'm not sure man needs the help."

Bill Watterson

"It is the greatest art of the devil to convince us he does not exist."

Pierre Charles Baudelaire

"I do not fear Satan half so much as I fear those who fear him."

Saint Teresa of Avila

"They that worship God merely from fear, Would worship the devil too, if he appear."

Thomas Fuller

Thursday, March 30, 2006

V is for Very Average ...

I wrote this little item as a response to a review of "V for Vendetta," the film. I saw the movie this weekend and, while not overwhelmed, was inspired to dig out my comics from nearly 20 years ago to refresh my memory, which of course is faded. I really wish someone would reprint the story in the black-and-white, as it was meant to be published. I have a couple of the original British Warrior mags, and man, does it make a difference.

I enjoyed the V movie as something to do on a Friday night, but as a statement on the nature of totalitarianism, terrorism and freedom, it has about as much to say as The Matrix does about the nature of self -- that is to say, very little that a thoughtful adult would find substantial.

V for Vendetta was never my favorite Moore work -- I'm a Swamp Thing man myself -- but the comic's strong suit is what the film (and I have to say, most of the comic's most ardent fans) tend to miss out on -- the overwhelming ambivalence of the central character. Moore's V is a jerk. A complicated jerk for a complicated time, but a jerk, nonetheless. Reconstructing a concentration camp and melting the Voice of Fate's doll collection in a crematorium is not anarchy; it's pathologically theatrical and meticulous revenge. Moore's V is not only re-conditioning Evy, he's paying her back for her betrayal. "Vendetta," get it? The film builds far too much sympathy for V on a personal level. He's not supposed to be a hero. He's a troublesome proposition.

As an American, I'm also totally put off by the thinly veiled "9-11 Was a Bush Plot" revamp on the manner in which the fascists come to power. In Moore's book, the fascists bring order to a society in total chaos; they get people fed and make the trains run on time, as it were, and in exchange, the people relent as the fascists impose their world view and eliminate those that don't comply. That's how is happens in the real world. The conspiracy theory nonsense in the movie a) is just painfully obvious and a bad piece of storytelling and b) absolves the people themselves for the rise of the fascists. "They tricked us," instead of, "They feed us, and we looked the other way."

As for plot holes, let me get this straight -- Evy is an assistant of some sort at the government TV complex. As such, her employee ID card gives V access to the personal bathroom of one of the most important and powerful co-conspirators in a totalitarian regime. And this is even after Evy's being investigated as a terrorist. I guess it's too much to expect that they would turn her key-card off.

Dumb movie, nice visuals, mostly.