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Issue #122

by  in CBR Exclusives Comment
Issue #122
  • Jed never wanted it, not Jed. He’d only left the holler twice in his life, once to get baptized and once to get married, and he loved it there. Not that it was easy living there, without electricity or even running water, but it was beautiful and peaceful, and he didn’t remember ever going hungry. There were plenty of berries, and meat for the killing, and his granddaddy had laid out a small plot south of the shack where vegetables could be grown. Whatever else they needed they made up by whittling, with Old Joe carting the carvings down to fairs in Pineville, to sell for whatever else they needed, like coffee and flour. Winters were the roughest, but his daddy taught him early on that a man had to be tougher than the cold, and so he learned to turn his back on it and dream of spring, when the snows would melt and the streams would fill with fish and the holler with life. It was in winter when a man needs a woman most, his daddy would tell him, to keep warm with at night, and young Jed thought he might like to be warm in winter but couldn’t see himself needing a woman no how.

    Not until he met her. Every Sunday, all the families in the holler came together when the preacher rode through to say services for them, and one day he noticed her. He’d seen her before, of course, known her for years, but like a strawberry tiny and white on the bush one day and luscious red the next she had ripened overnight, and that day her hair was the color of sun, her eyes bright and friendly and holding the promise of secret mysteries only she could unveil, and when she smiled it was like she was smiling just for him. Their courtship was scandalous short for the holler, and before the summer was out they were married. It was the same summer they buried his daddy. No one could figure out why she settled for the gangly Jed, certainly not her sister Pearl, but she moved in the family shack like she had always lived at his side there, and no one who saw her could doubt she was happy, even if the cause of that happiness escaped them.

    It was Pearl who started the trouble. She was always trouble, one of them (and there were many) who spent her life dreaming of somewhere else. Jed figured it was the Pineville picture shows that ruined her. Pearl had married a couple years early, to a boarding house owner up in Carthage, a “hotelier” she liked to say, but drove to the holler regularly to hand out “gifts” and show how she had money where they didn’t. Jed hated it but kept his tongue. His wife loved her sister and, anyway, kin was kin. When Jed came from, you didn’t judge them. You didn’t judge anyone.

    He often wondered, later, what would have happened had the pheasant not moved as he shot. He didn’t know why it had happened. He’d been still as always, but something spooked the bird, and the shot struck dirt instead, tearing up a patch of land. It was sixteen years after his wife had died giving birth to their beautiful Elly. Jed had wanted to grieve, but the baby took all his time, and it wasn’t long before his daughter was his life, as her mother had been. Pearl had offered to raise Elly alongside her own boy Jethro, to make sure she had schooling and grew up with a “future,” as she put it. “The world is changing,” she said. “That holler won’t be there forever.” Even so, at three that Jethro was already bent in the head, and Jed couldn’t see couldn’t see where any schooling would help him. In the back of his mind he blamed it on Pearl and her airs, and saw Elly growing up into a second Pearl. He couldn’t stomach it. So he raised her himself, teaching her as best as he could. The neighbors joked how Jed has raised himself a fine boy there, but it seemed all too short a time before Jed recognized she was way past passing for a boy, however much she might want to, and he knew the time would come far too quickly when he would have to let her go.

    But what Pearl told him came true, and it was him who did it. Him and that pheasant. Oil black and thick oozed from the ground he had shot. He didn’t pay it any mind at first. It wasn’t worth anything to him. He couldn’t use it in the lamps, like kerosene. He couldn’t drink it. A mess was all it was. But it wasn’t long before the neighbors came to see it. Soon after that, when word got around, strangers started showing up too. Then strangers with their lawyers. One day when he got back from hunting, two men in suits were sitting on the porch, sipping the sweet tea Elly had made for them and eyeing her like hungry men staring down a roast on a spittle. Oil men. They wanted his property, the land his great-great-granddaddy had staked out long before. Jed told them to go away. Like Pearl, they talked of the future, and how America was highways and cars now, how heat would be pumped to every home, but the future would run on oil. This was Jed’s change to help the future. He told them to go away.

    They went, and when they came back Pearl was with them, ranting about the $25,000,000 they were offered for the land and its mineral rights, and the royalties oil production would bring. Jed barely understood a word of it. All he knew was this was his home and these men wanted to take it from him. Then Pearl played dirty, bringing Elly into it. Didn’t Jed want the best for his daughter? Did he want her to marry here in the holler and die young in poverty like Jed’s wife had done? It wasn’t a ploy. There was real pain in Pearl’s face when she said it, like it was something she had never ever wanted to say but couldn’t hold in any longer, and the grief he’d set aside so long bubbled up fierce as the oil. Truth was he loved Elly more than anything else in his life and couldn’t bear to see her go the way women in the holler did, aging before her time, married to someone like him.

    He loaded up the truck old Joe had left him when Joe died that Spring, and took the money.

    That was when Pearl really started in. It wasn’t her money or her life, but she planned to live through him, and through her son Jethro, who’d grown up every bit the idiot Jed had expected, though the boy was far more kindhearted than his mother could’ve wanted. It must’ve been something in him that just wouldn’t be killed. Jed liked that. So he didn’t resist much when Pearl said he should move Elly to California because that’s where the future was. She said everyone knew that. He knew she’d ask him to take Jethro along, and when she did he said okay. He liked Jethro, in his way, and mainly Jethro, who’d never showed any interest in Elly despite them being cousins, had gotten big enough man to scare other men away from her. Jed may have lived in the holler all his life but even he’d heard what California men were like. He could see Elly didn’t understand why they had to leave their home, but she was a good girl, accepting his decision with a bright-eyed smile, always ready for an adventure.

    It was only when he was ready to go that the neighbors came to him with a decision. They were crazy sick of Jed’s bossy grandma Daisy, a scrawy, feisty woman who considered herself an expert on everything, and would raise holy hell on anyone who disagreed with her. If the Clampetts were leaving the holler for good, there wasn’t any way she wasn’t going with them. Jed, who had looked forward to leaving her behind, reluctantly agreed. Kin was kin, and maybe, he reasoned, she’d make a good chaperone for Elly. If there was anyone who could scare off a man, it was Granny.

    But Jethro was his big mistake, he knew later.

    They crossed the country day by day. In every town, people gaped at them, the ragged family in the rickety old truck, the old lady riding on top in a rocking chair. Did the others notice? How could they miss it? But he never asked; what good would it do? They were who they were, and if others didn’t like that, well, it wasn’t their problem. The oil company had found a banker named Drysdale to manage Jed’s money, and, when they arrived, it turned out Drysdale had bought them the biggest house he could find. Jed didn’t mind. He was just as happy to be separated from other people, and Jethro, like Drysdale, insisted this was just the sort of home a rich man would have, so staying would keep the boy happy, if nothing else. Before Jed knew it, Elly was already off, staking out territories for her pets. And he had to admit he liked California. Not just because Granny seemed to hate it, and constantly complained of this thing or that unequal to her exacting if not fantastic expectations. He also liked the dry light, pure and warm up there above the city’s smog level. The light was never so good back home, where the green canopy of the forest constantly blocked the sky in summer and in winter unbroken gray steel sky blotting out the sun for months at a time. He had heard there was no winter in California, and he hoped it was true.

    It was all fine, for a time. Granny was never happy, of course. Pearl, it turned out, had ruined Jethro, drumming into his head that he was as good as anyone and there was nothing he couldn’t do, though any fool could see that wasn’t true, and the boy had a bad tendency, like Pearl, to believe he was entitled to Jed’s money. Ellie Jed couldn’t figure out. He figured it was time for her to better herself, but she resisted all attempts. For himself, Jed found it hard to adjust to a life where he needed to do nothing, though it wasn’t long before he knew watching out for the boy was a full-time job. Jethro was out to make his mark, that much was clear. Elly had a habit of attracting men she cared nothing about, and any actor, musician or businessman who came to the house lusting after her became easy prey for the boy’s scheme of the week. He was full of ideas, without showing an ounce of the work needed for any of them to pay off. So the mark was missed again and again, and Jethro, despite unflagging ambition, remained under Jed’s roof.

    It stayed that way for a time.

    But Jed worried about Elly. She still behaved around Jethro the way a ten-year old girl would around the boy she had a crush on, constantly challenging him, trying to be his rival in all things. Jed had been around enough to know when a girl had a crush. The boy was dumb as dirt not to see it, but that was something to be thankful for. Problem was, more and more Elly tagged along on Jethro’s emptyheaded adventures, trying to get him to pay attention to her. He wouldn’t have wanted her in any case. Elly was “back there” to him, and Jethro had a different kind of hunger, a gnawing desire to be a Californian, someone great, as he imagined all Californians were. Jethro had that effect on women. Drysdale’s secretary, Jane Hathaway, had been drooling over him since they arrived. Then there were the paternity suits, which Jed told Drysdale to pay off as quietly and quickly as possible. He considered making Jethro marry one of them, to teach him a lesson about catting around, but Jed figured no woman deserved that no matter what.

    Both kids vanished in ’69. It wasn’t until much later anyone found out what happened. Jethro had been trying to be a record producer, and hung out with someone named Terry Melchor, a famous actress’ son who now produced a famous combo called The Beach Boys. Melchor considered a recent discovery, a street musician called Charlie, unmanageable, and cut him loose, but Jethro got it in his head he could turn Charlie into a star, as if saying it would make it true. Charlie was everything Jethro wanted to be, a man who made his own rules. Charlie lived on a commune on a ranch in the north San Fernando Valley, with a whole family of free spirits including many girls. In Jethro, Charlie might have seen a disciple or a meal ticket, but he invited the boy to come stay at the ranch. Jed saw him once after that, when he came home for his things, hair unkempt and a patchy beard growing from his chin for the first time, spouting something Jed didn’t quite understand about a coming race war and how God wanted the white man to retreat to the desert. As quickly as he appeared, he was gone again. Elly went with him.

    If it wasn’t for the drugs they fed her, she would’ve been able to defend herself. They kept her alive for several days, while she screamed for help and begged Jethro to set her free, finally realized and confessed her love but by then it sounded like desperation. It was all noise in his head anyway. He had drugs in him too, by then, but mostly it was fear that kept him still. It was horror beyond his comprehension, shutting him down, and when Charlie, eyes filled with silent threat, put the knife in his hand, he stabbed at the black haze in his mind and told himself he couldn’t have done anything else. A couple of Charlie’s boys buried Elly somewhere in the Calabasas hills. The body was never found.

    When she didn’t come home, it broke Jed. He stopped seeing eating much, stopped leaving the house altogether. He had to be there when he got back. For a time he talked about becoming a private detective so he could go find her, but he no longer had the energy for it. Even Granny knew enough to not sass him then. It was as if she didn’t even know Elly and Jethro were gone. She kept the house and cooked as she always did, and stayed out of his way. She had never really needed any of them anyway.

    Jethro surfaced six years later. Shell-shocked and eaten by guilt, he walked away from the ranch a couple weeks after Ellie’s death to get lost on the streets of Los Angeles, panhandling for money and sleeping in doorways. Hundreds of thousands lived that way in those days, some by counterculture choice and most by necessity, and in that company even Jethro went unnoticed. Until ’75, when Jane Hathaway stumbled across him in a supermarket parking lot on Ventura Blvd. He was filthy and bone-thin, dead eyes in a face masked by matted hair, and she almost tossed a quarter at him and ran, but in the instant of recognition all her desire exploded in her again, and this time she knew she could realize it. She had long since quit Drysdale to start her own financial consulting agency. She was the boss now, and she could be the boss now with Jethro too. He would be her toy, hidden away in her apartment outside anyone else’s knowledge, until she grew tired of him, satisfying not only her desire but her revenge for all those times she had practically thrown herself at him and he had treated her like dirt.

    For her, it was bliss. She bathed and shaved him, fed meat back onto his bones, and he accepted it all without question or resistance, like an infant, but, no matter what, she couldn’t reawaken his dead eyes. He did whatever she asked, but robotically, without enthusiasm, and his attention wandered constantly, as though he was painfully looking for a face, a smile, he would never see again. She went to greater and greater extremes to hold his attention, engaging in ever kinkier behavior.

    One night she handcuffed and gagged him, and when she was through with him she ordered him to do the same to her. He did, but the horror had awakened in him again and he fled sobbing, half-naked, leaving her there. No one ever saw him again. Six weeks later, after neighbors complained of the smell, the police found Jane Hathaway.

    ’78 was a bad year for the oil company. With OPEC driving prices up, they greedily bled the Clampett wells dry, cashing them out before filing bankruptcy. A major company swept in to buy out their remaining assets, stripping Drysdale’s bank of their business. With Jed, they had been his biggest depositors. Faced with business collapse, Drysdale scrambled for replacement accounts. Columbians and Bolivians had heard about his reputation for discretion, and, while he had qualms about laundering drug money, considered it the lesser of evils when faced with bankruptcy himself. It worked out for him, for a few years. By the mid-’80s, government agencies that went by pseudonyms sought out his help for overseas deals involving the Middle East and Central America.

    The FDA raided Granny’s self-declared medical practice. Offended by an invasion of government officials on her property, she defended herself as she always had, with a long barrel rifle. A SWAT team cut her down on the Clampett front porch. For several weeks, tabloid magazines and TV news programs were filled with lurid tales of “the Beverly Hills Witch,” most invented from scratch, before interest evaporated. A few mentioned the “living dead man” found inside the mansion, reputedly the witch’s zombified captive and intended victim. Consigned to a county hospital for observation, Jed turned to Drysdale for help, but by this time Drysdale was of no use. Investigations revealed his role in drug trafficking, and learned he had been using those profits and the portfolios he managed for rich clients, including Jed, to buy up savings-and-loans. But the S&Ls had collapsed, taking Jed’s fortune with them. Drysdale, facing prosecution and certain conviction, put a gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger, leaving his wife and grown son, who had always prided themselves on their stations in life, to fend for themselves, tainted by association.

    Jed stayed institutionalized for months, regularly drugged and shocked until thought was impossible. It was a blessing. For the first time in years when he closed his eyes he didn’t see Elly’s face. One day they told him they were letting him go. Budget cuts; he didn’t have the money to afford treatment.

    I met him in a Hooverville outside Phoenix in ’91. He’d tell anyone who’d listen he was a millionaire, and no one listened, but no one laughed either. The place was filled with ex-millionaires, even an ex-Senator. The years had been rough on everyone. Turned out after he’d been put on the streets he somehow made his way back to the holler. No one was there anymore, the shack where he’d been born and raised was replaced by a dry dirt plot. The oil company was long gone, leaving only scarred, desolate land. Dead trees and no game. Pearl had died in prison several years earlier after burning the boarding house to the ground for insurance money she never got; it had been failing for years, ever since hotel chains moved into the area. There was nothing at all left for him there. He wandered after that, until arriving at the Hooverville.

    He told me his story, what he knew of it (I pieced the rest together later), but when it came to regrets, strangely he denied any. He had attained the peace that comes only when you lose everything, even hope. When he was done talking, he closed his eyes and raised his face to enjoy the Arizona sun, and that’s where I left him, a placid smile on his lips as he imagined his beautiful young wife and his beautiful daughter, and hunting opossum, pheasant and raccoon in the rich, green holler he used to call home.

  • A woman I know who used to work in Marvel editorial just got a job teaching, and when she announced to one of her classes – eighth graders – that she used to work at Marvel, one student said, to general consensus, “Their comics suck.”

    The good news is that there doesn’t seem to be any stigma anymore to being a kid and publicly admitting you read comics. The bad news should be self-evident.

    It can’t be said Marvel’s in any great trouble at the moment – a relief from their status of the past few years, I’m sure – as, if public records can be trusted, they seem to actually be making money publishing comics these days (contrary to their corporate stance that they are no longer a comics publisher but a license generator/media empire). Overall, the moves made on Joe Quesada’s watch (has Bill Jemas’ name been scratched from the tablets now, the way pharaohs used to obliterate the memory of their predecessors?) have been good ones, but, despite movie after movie (which isn’t much help when those movies are on the level of HULK or DAREDEVIL) and announcement of new product line after new product line, there’s still the sense that, like most comics companies, they’re basically preaching to the converted. Despite the occasional mini-blip (ULTIMATE FANTASTIC FOUR #1 is said to be selling in the neighborhood of 200,000 copies, the best sales they’ve seen on anything in ages), their broad line of comics never seems to gain from any boost the way Marvel Comics did back before the company killed off all the Marvel zombies. It’s been interesting watching the evolution of new product lines: The Ultimate line was ostensibly an “entry level” for new readers (and seems to have been fairly successful at it) but, for all intents and purposes, has turned into an “edgy” mature line. But so has Marvel Knights, now reported to be undergoing a sort of revivification, while the gloves off Max line, purporting to be an “adult” line (via the normal hallmarks of “adult” comics, sex, swearing and ultraviolence), has seemed less interesting by comparison, much of the material being little more than fratboy exercises. I can understand the virtue of a “kid’s line,” such as the coming Marvel Age books are alleged to be, with their modernized retelling of “classic” Marvel tales (though somehow I get the feeling that if you take Stan Lee and Steve Ditko out of, say, the Terrible Tinkerer story came early on in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, you throw out the charm for what’s basically a sappy shaggy dog story requiring mountains of rationalizations just to be able to retell it without feeling utterly embarrassed). But where is the standard Marvel line in all this? If every line is producing its own Spider-Man book, doesn’t market confusion set in? If you’ve got AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, which follows the standard Spider-Man mythos, and you’ve got ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN, which has edgier, more sophisticated reimaginings of Spider-Man stories, and you’ve got MARVEL AGE SPIDER-MAN (or whatever it’ll be called) retelling Spider-Man stories for kids, how’s someone who doesn’t haunt NEWSARAMA or pore over PREVIEWS, maybe even someone who has never read a comic book before supposed to distinguish between the variants and their intended audiences?

    I’m not saying Marvel’s wrong. I’m just saying that, on the surface, it all seems a little… unfocused.

    Meanwhile, to give Marvel something to consider on another front, I recently swapped e-mails with a retailer who made this complaint as we discussed Jemas policies that have been reversed since his departure, when the subject of Marvel’s “print-to-order” policy, ostensibly laid down to “encourage” retailers to spend more of the their order dollar on Marvel books for fear of not being able to get them at all, came up:

    “It is the single biggest barrier to the growth of Marvel (and thus, a significant portion of the industry itself) that currently exists. It is the single biggest barrier to the growth and success of new stores that exists in the industry (not that we need any of those or anything…). It is a policy that when examined at all closely says that Marvel has simply given up on comics. Worst thing that ever happened in the industry. It is the only problem that I face every day that hurts my business that I can do *nothing* about. It’s why there are 9 DC TPBs on my Top Ten list and 1 Marvel trade. It’s why it’s my personal policy that I do not ever recommend monthly Marvel titles unless people specifically ask for them or we have all current issues back to the most recent trade in stock at that moment, because we have no control over customer satisfaction in that case. It offers large stores a huge competitive advantage because they can stock swap between shops, and Tuesday delivery accounts an unconscionable advantage because they get an extra day’s jump on any extras for their damage/shortages. It examines the market implosion of the mid-90s and pines for those days, setting in motion events that risk precipitating a repeat performance.

    If it is ever rescinded, we will literally *throw a party* in the store. I am not joking.”

    As things stand now, until DC mounts a rumored counteroffensive on the market supposedly planned for later this year, Marvel remains our best hope of recovering any sort of strong American comics market. Like the White House, they can hold up their successes as indicative of the future. The question is how much like the White House is Marvel at turning a blind eye to the chinks in their armor instead of dealing with them?

  • A bland week in politics was abruptly livened by a couple events: Iowa’s largest newspaper, THE DES MOINES REGISTER abruptly and improbably endorsed Sen. John Edwards, underscoring the instability that remains in the Democratic primary race despite the recent apparent anointing of Howard Dean; and former Secretary of the Treasury Paul O’Neill, unceremoniously dumped from his job a couple years ago, mostly for advocating an economic course the White House thought impolitic, advertised his new book on 60 MINUTES by verbally assaulting the Hand Puppet, claiming, among other things, that the offensive against Saddam Hussein was in process well before 9-11, that the White House knew there were no “weapons of mass destruction” inside Iraq even while touting them as the rationale for invasion, and that, at meetings, the Hand Puppet was often “disengaged” and “incurious.” Not that any of this is news, but it’s nice to hear it verified by an Administration insider. Though O’Neill’s hardly an insider now. The White House’s main response to the “revelations” is to accuse O’Neill of leaking state secrets, though the Justice Department cleared all the papers O’Neil took with him when he left, and the one he held up on 60 MINUTES, despite its “Top Secret” tag, has been available to the public for ages. Revenge investigations give me such a warm and fuzzy feeling; the aroma of Nixon administration nostalgia is almost overwhelming.

    Meanwhile, after discussing it with my advisors, I’ve decided to throw my hat into the ring as an independent populist candidate for President Of The United States. And I’ve got the populist message that no other candidate dares speak that’ll take me right to the top:

    Let the rich pay for it!

    Let’s face it, Americans don’t like their politics complicated. Both political parties make the error of believing Americans care about ideology. But Americans don’t care about ideology, they only care that things work reasonably well, preferably with as little negative impact on them as possible and certainly with as little as possible on anyone they have to deal with on a daily basis. And, despite what party has been in power for the past thirty or forty years, American domestic policy has basically consisted of subsidizing the rich (Republicans usually refer to this as “a broad-based tax cut” or “supply-side economics” or “capital gains tax cuts” or “defense spending” – and what’s that about the Hand Puppet looting Social Security? – while Democrats just sort of grunt and mumble and change the subject when it comes up) and making the poor and middle-class pay for it. That’s easy to understand, right?

    Now I know what you’re saying. You’re saying “Class warfare!” And I say: you bet your ass it is. Class warfare’s practiced in this country every day, but it’s the rich warring on the poor and middle-class. You never heard politicians claim the root cause of poverty is the poor, or that the homeless live miserable, debilitating lives because they’re too lazy to get jobs? You never heard an administration claim more people are working when unemployment rolls shrink instead because for great numbers of people benefits have run out so they’re now collecting welfare instead of unemployment?

    Anyway, it’s brief, concise and simple to understand. Lemme give you a frinstance:

    Want a good education for your kids?

    Make the rich pay for it!

    Want quality health care for your family without paying through the nose for insurance or living at the mercy of an HMO?

    Make the rich pay for it!

    The government wants adventurist foreign wars?

    Make the rich pay for it! (And let them send their sons and daughters to fight!)

    Want to make sure you’ve got enough food for your family, and the heat won’t get off in the dead of winter?

    Make the rich pay for it!

    Want good roads to drive on?

    Make the rich pay for it!

    Want everyone off welfare rolls once and for all?

    Make the rich pay for it!

    Want air and water that won’t poison your children?

    Make the rich pay for it!

    Yeah, yeah, I know, it’s their money, but my money’s my money too and your money’s your money and I don’t see the government saying they can’t take that. I mean, we’re in deep, deep deficits here, the Euro’s skyrocketing against the dollar, and somebody’s got to pay off those debts. How come it’s always Average Joe Taxpayer? Does anyone really need more than, say, $20 million? That’s half a million spending money per year for forty years, and that’s without doing another lick of work in your life. If you can’t live on that, that’s just sad. For those snotty pundits who demand to know the details of the plan, let me just say what every Democrat and Republican says when asked that question (hell, the Hand Puppet pawned off this one all the time): details forthcoming. Like right after I’m elected.

    The best part is, since I’ll be running my campaign basically for free right here from the Internet, I won’t be beholden to any special interest groups. Which are, as we all know, a fancy way of saying “rich people.”

    It’s the perfect populist platform for the 21st century. Say it loud, say it proud, say it with me:

    Make the rich pay for it!

    Feels good, doesn’t it? Say it again:

    Make the rich pay for it!

    And remember me on Primary Day and Election Day.

    Wow, I feel my own private Sirhan Sirhan coming for me already…

  • Another Consumer Electronics Show come and gone, and all I got was… well, lots of stuff, actually.

    As I’ve mentioned before, CES is Halloween for adults, where all the latest consumer gadgets are on parade. This year fewer booths were giving out freebees, but the average party favor was above the quality of the thousands of pens given out last year. T-shirts, playing cards, CD/DVD holders, headsets, little gooey pads you put on your dashboard that hold in place your sunglasses, keys, PAD, cell phone or anything else you may need at a moment’s notice and seemingly defying gravity to do it. The theme this year, overall, was wireless, but it now goes beyond wireless phones or wirelessly networking your computers together to the more useless wireless home concept. I particularly like the preponderance of wireless stereo speaker systems now available, since wiring a living room for decent listening used to involve either tons of cable obnoxiously visible or clumsily hidden beneath rugs or carpets, or gouging strip holes in your walls to run the cables through there, then patching, painting and otherwise making a mess that keeps you from easily moving the speakers if you decide to rearrange. No more. Wireless, not to mention wireless connection of stereo receivers to your computer so you can play MP3s off it to anywhere in the house you have hooked up. Considering what we’re mostly talking about with CES is gizmos nobody really needs, that’s something like actual progress. Another bit of wireless functionality, given that cell phones aren’t going to go away anytime soon and there’s a greater awareness than ever before that people holding cell phones cause a lot of car accidents even as more and more people talk on their phones while driving, is wireless headsets that plug into your phone so you can talk and keep both hands on the wheel. (Today the hands, tomorrow the attention.)

    Microsoft is making a big move into home electronics, following the lead of computer manufacturers like Gateway (though I’m sure Microsoft would say Gateway’s following their lead). The best gadgets, though, are coming from Creative, best known for their Soundblaster line of audio cards for computer. My favorite Creative stuff is their expanding line of MP3 players, especially the tiny Nomad Muvo®², a thin palm-sized box with 1.5 gigs of memory, and the Nomad® Jukebox Zen Xtra, about the size of an old transistor radio when they first got truly portable back in the ’60s, with hard drives of up to 60 megs (not to mention a really nice control screen and fairly easy-to-use controls). If you average a music MP3 at 4000KB per song, that’s – I don’t feel up to doing the math right now, but that’s months worth of songs playing constantly without ever hearing the same one twice. Great sound quality, and it can play any way a tape player can. The teenage music junkie in me longs for one. Far and away the most alluring thing at the show. Wish I had the money.

    Oh, yeah, and then there were the performances by Third Eye Blind and others. I wish I could say CES was more than a parade of flashy but pretty much needless expenditures (I don’t think anyone really needs a 72″ plasma TV with brilliant color, but I sure wouldn’t mind having one; such is the nature of consumer society) but it’s one hell of a parade.

  • Notes of the week:

    Matt Bellisle, whose minicomics UNDERGROUND and SOUVENIR have been well-received by this column, has a live action adaptation of SOUVENIR available for viewing or downloading on his website. My continued dependence on dial-up keeps me from enjoying it, but you might want to take a look.

    The New York Times ran an article by David Carr that outlines hazards faced by freelancers that very few (including freelancers) consider. Seems the defunct magazine LINGUA FRANCA paid off a number of freelance contributors on its way out of business a couple years back, and now the bankruptcy trustee is threatening legal action against anyone who doesn’t give the money back. Seems from a bankruptcy court point of view, freelancers are “unsecured” rather than “secured” creditors, and secured creditors get paid first, at least according to the trustee. The Authors Guild differs, but given that freelancers are usually the least capable of mounting a costly legal defense, it’s not surprising that other lawyers often consider them targets, the same way liability lawyers sniff around for the best party to get the most money from. You may recall Marvel’s lawyers tried (and mostly failed at) similar shenanigans during Marvel’s bankruptcies of a few years back. Maybe Crossgen isn’t stiffing freelancers after all; maybe they’re just kindly trying to spare them an inevitable legal boomerang down the road. (Thanks, Rodolfo!)

    For some political fun stuff, go here.

    Don’t forget I currently have available:

    DAMNED: trade paperback from Cyberosia, art by Mike Zeck and Denis Rodier, coloring by Kurt Goldzung

    Crime. A parolee jumps parole to fulfill a promise to a dead cellmate, and finds himself hunted by mobsters looking for missing money he knows nothing about, in a city where he has no friends.

    MORTAL SOULS: trade paperback from Avatar Press, art by Philip Xavier

    Crime/horror. A police detective tracks and kills a female serial killer, only to gain her gift of seeing her targets for what they really are: the dead, who run the world, and who hate the living.

    BADLANDS: trade paperback from AiT/PlanetLar Books, art by Vince Giarrano

    Crime story, set in 1963 and starring the man who really killed John Kennedy.

    BADLANDS: THE UNPRODUCED SCREENPLAY: text from AiT/PlanetLar

    Screenplay version of BADLANDS, designed to ward off anyone who wants to make a movie of it.

    PUNISHER:CIRCLE OF BLOOD: trade paperback from Marvel Comics, art by Mike Zeck and John Beatty

    Crime. The original mini-series that transformed The Punisher from a minor character into a movie-franchise spawning star. Imprisoned for his killings, the Punisher fights to survive and escape, but the war he declares on organized crime once he’s out takes an unexpected turn.

    GREEN LANTERN: TRAITOR: trade paperback from DC Comics, art by Mike Zeck, Gil Kane, Scott Kolins and Klaus Janson

    Superhero action. Three generations of Green Lanterns – the alien Abin Sur in the old west, Hal Jordan joined by the Atom in the Silver Age, and the modern Green Lantern Kyle Raynor – battle an unstoppable cyborg powered by the stars and driven by a religious calling to snuff out all life in the universe.

    MY FLESH IS COOL: monthly comic from Avatar Press, art by Sebastian Fiumara

    Crime/science fiction. A charming assassin has the ability to work through other people’s bodies to fulfill his commissions, but then his power becomes available to the general public, for a price. (By the way, I’ve received word that MY FLESH IS COOL is postponed until February.)

    FRANK MILLER’S ROBOCOP, monthly comic from Avatar Press, art by Juan Jose Ryp

    Science fiction action. The most faithful adaptation of a screenplay in history. From the version of ROBOCOP 2 that was never filmed, Frank Miller’s vision of the decaying future city of Detroit is realized for the first time, as Robocop crosses swords with a demented squadron of military police and a program-altering self-proclaimed moral watchdog, while the real police go on strike and OCP readies an even more powerful Robocop to replace him.

    Still upcoming is a full list of projects coming up in the near future.

    Finally, I want to again thank everyone who has donated to my fund drive. (For details, click here.) It’s been one of those moments every freelancer hits every so often, where cash flow just grinds to a halt as the bills continue to pour in and there’s nothing to be done except to stagger through it, and it’s you people who’ve kept me on my feet. While I’m not out of the woods yet – the fund drive is still going on and will be for at least another week, if anyone would care to help out a poor beleaguered columnist – every week you help bring me a little closer to the other side of it, and I really appreciate it.

    Those wishing to comment should leave messages on the Permanent Damage Message Board. You can also e-mail me but the chances of a reply are next to nil these days, given my workload, though I do read all my e-mail as long as it’s not trying to sell me something. IMPORTANT: Because a lot of people apparently list it in their e-address books, this account has gotten a slew of virus-laden messages lately. They’re no real threat but dealing with them eats up time I don’t really have, to the extent I can no longer accept unsolicited e-mail with attachments. If you want to send something via attachment (say, art samples) ask me first. If I say okay, then send. Unsolicited e-mail with attachments will be wiped from the server without being read. You can also leave messages for me and have discussions on other topics at my Delphi forum, GRAPHIC VIOLENCE. Please don’t ask me how to break into the business, or who to submit work to. The answers to those questions are too mercurial for even me to keep up with.

    Those wanting to subscribe to the WHISPER e-mail newsletter should click here.

    I’m reviewing comics sent to me – I may not like them but certainly I’ll mention them – at Steven Grant c/o Permanent Damage, 2657 Windmill Pkwy #194, Henderson NV 89074, so send ’em if you want ’em mentioned, since I can’t review them unless I see them. Some people have been sending press releases and cover proofs and things like that, which I enjoy getting, but I really can’t do anything with them, sorry. Full comics only, though they can be photocopies rather than the published version. Make sure you include contact information for readers who want to order your book.

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