Issue #170

I've even gotten to like Christmas.

Christmas - any holiday, really - pretty much stopped having any meaning for me sometime in my teens. When I was in college, there was no reason to go anywhere over the holidays because the whole town would clear out, which made staying there just like being in an entirely different town, and when I got older and did have to travel around the holidays, I'd as often as possible miss the crowds and hassle by traveling on Christmas or Thanksgiving or whatever. From what I gather it's not that way anymore, but traveling on holidays used to come with all sorts of great perks: lower rates (since almost no one did it), half empty planes to stretch out in, and flight attendants would bring extras, partly because they had more time and fewer passengers and partly to commiserate over not being somewhere else, particularly on Christmas. Beyond that? Not a lot of attachment to the holiday. Of course, it also used to be that editorial offices would shut down basically from mid-December to mid-January. For a freelancer, a gap like that can be devastating. I can see where holidays might be a joy to dayjobbers and salarymen, but what they mostly mean to freelancers is there's no way to get paid.

But Christmas has grown on me. It's fun, if you don't take it too seriously, and a great time to be a little gooey and sentimental for a change. A lot of people even make a special effort to be nicer, almost as if they take Santa Claus seriously. (Author Thomas Disch once put forth the proposition that Santa Claus - we all figure out he's not real and our parents have been lying to us, but most of us just go on and continue to pay lip service to Santa anyway - so that, as adults, we'll know the acceptable behavior patterns when we finally figure out that God's not real.) I don't know why people get depressed at Christmastide. It's all like this huge social carnival; even if you're not part of it, it makes a great spectator sport.

So... the quick PERMANENT DAMAGE Christmas cheatsheet:

Best Christmas movie: CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT (1944). Hilarious screwball comedy about a Martha Stewartesque newspaper columnist (Barbara Stanwyck) forced to pretend she actually knows something about homemaking to keep her publisher from learning she's a fraud. Instant home in the country, instant husband, instant mess. It's one of the two movies I try to watch once a year. (The other's THE SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS.) Forget the insipid IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE; CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT is the true Christmas classic for the ages. (You can catch it on TCM at noon E/9A P December 19 or 8P E/5P P December 24.)

Best Christmas special: BLACKADDER'S CHRISTMAS CAROL. A send-up of the hoary Dickens chestnut with Rowan Atkinson and Tony Robinson reprising their roles as Edmund Blackadder and his urchin servant Baldrick, as Blackadder, "the nicest man in all England" learns about the wicked ways of his ancestors (from early BLACKADDER versions), courtesy of a lost alcoholic Christmas spirit (Robbie Coltrane), and adjusts his behavior accordingly. Unfortunately, BBC America isn't showing it this year, but rent BLACKADDER: THE COMPLETE COLLECTORS SET (BBC Video; $119.95 retail) for a look.

Top 10 Christmas songs:

1) The Pogues & Kirsty MacColl: Fairytale Of New York. Poignant, funny song of lost dreams and dreams desperately clung to, with brilliant duet by Kirsty MacColl and Shane McGowan

2) The Pretenders: Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas. I remember this song having to do with someone dying from the old piece of crap film MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS, where Judy Garland mournfully sings it. Turns out no one dies in the film at all, but the song still captures the heartbreaking nostalgia of the season.

3) Angry Johnny & The Killbillies: 6 Bullets For Christmas. Nasty rockabilly unrequited love revenge song with a holiday twist. Pretty funny unless you take it seriously.

4) T-Bone Burnett: God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. Straight rendition with the best guitar rendition the song has ever received. (Manfred Mann also do a great straight version of this.)

5) Dwight Yoakam: Santa Can't Stay. Dwight's psychobilly style carries off this collision of children's fantasies of Christmas and adult realities of divorce, and does it with entertaining humor.

6) Run-D.M.C.: Christmas In Hollis. The greatest rap Xmas song ever, upbeat and cheery for the season.

7) Mojo Nixon & The Toadliquors: Good King Wenceslaus. Rowdy, good-natured and, in its own way, faithful version of the old classic all of us know and none of us know the words to.

8) Suicide: Hey Lord. Almost mystical-sounding electrodirge by the original NYC punk-synth band.

9) The Waitresses: Christmas Wrapping. A pop tale of a year of disaster redeemed by the holiday season. For what amounted to a novelty song when released, it still holds up 20 years later.

10) The Kinks: Father Christmas. Another collision of childhood fantasy of Christmas with the adult realities of it, with the roles reversed and class distinctions added in.

It should be said that I don't like most of these because they're dark or irreverent (though that doesn't hurt). I like them because they're enjoyable listening. And you will too.

Best Xmas album: nothing yet beats John Fahey's austere, crystalline guitar work on THE NEW POSSIBILITY. Wordless and beautiful, it's perfect for focused listening, and perfect background music. His five other Christmas music albums are just as good. (And, unlike, say, "6 Bullets For Christmas," they're not likely to drive your parents out or have the neighbors calling the cops on you.)

Best online sites to shop for last minute gifts: NuLime and Overstock.Com. Good selection, good prices, quick delivery. (They'll get it there before Friday week if you order now.)

Anything else about Christmas you need to know? There's still a week to ask.

  • Last week, I asked what comics-related objet d'art people wanted for Xmas. The response was... curious...:

    What: LONE WOLF AND CUB pocket TPB set ($???) Why: Well, I just know I'll never buy it. Heard good things about it, sure, and am curious to read it; but there's too many of them, and frankly I'm not a huge manga fan so I'm really not inclined to spend money on the stuff. But should it fall into my lap...

    Please bring me a full run of MYTH OF 8-0PUS by Tom Scioli.

    Are you kidding? The only reason I bother to shave is so no one will mistake me for Santa Claus...

    DREADSTAR DEFINITIVE HARDCOVER COLLECTION! - SIGNED BY JIM STARLIN! I have these books, that's why I ultimately decided to spend money on things I haven't read a hundred times before. This book kept calling out to me though, and if I hadn't remembered I needed $20 to get my car out hock over at the parking garage I'd've probably picked it up instead of some SPIDER-MAN DVD's at the end of the show. The plus side is that I did get to meet Jim Starlin again. Haven't talked to him in long time, and I did pick up his new book, COSMIC GUARD. Nice book, I need to pick up the last couple those next time I see them. He told me that they found the negatives for the METAMORPHOSIS ODYSSEY and it will be in this deluxe format soon. THE LAST HEROESis a close second though. I really want to read the end of that story.

    All I want for Christmas is BONE: ONE VOLUME EDITION. I've never read any of these books and have always heard it's one of the best. This has got to be the best way to go through it on my vacation after Christmas... one long session.

    I would like the new MARVEL LEGENDS HAWKEYE figure from Santa so that I could modify one of his hands to flip the bird. Then I would mail it to Bendis.

    Aw, c'mon. I know dead is supposed to be dead over at Marvel these days - just look at Magneto and Xorn - but I've heard that before (hell, I was responsible for the original Mighty Marvel Death List in the late '70s, a chart on the wall outside Jim Shooter's office that listed dead characters who weren't supposed to be brought back, on the theory that if anyone can come back from the dead, death is irrelevant as a plot device or an emotional tool, and that didn't last more than a few months) and I can't believe anyone actually believes Ant-Man, The Vision or Hawkeye are really dead...

    THE ABSOLUTE PLANETARY would look nice under my tree.


    The one comic related item I'd like is the deluxe AMERICAN FLAGG! collection. Howard Chaykin is one of my favorite artists, and I was too young to read Flagg during its first go around. From everything I've heard, his work influenced nearly every artist that's come since, and I'd love to see the master's definitive work.

    My admiration for Howard's AMERICAN FLAGG! is second to none - I even wrote seven doomed issues of it - but, just between you and me, I don't think the master has done his definitive work yet. But if he has, it wasn't the great AMERICAN FLAGG! but the lost volumes of TIME². Someone reprinting those books would be a terrific late Xmas gift for everyone.

    I usually buy all my comics on my own either by shop or mail order, but I missed something and I've yet to find a book store that carries it. I've been trying to get my hands on the new release, THE DC COMICS GUIDE TO COLORING AND LETTERING COMICS by Mark Chiarello and Todd Klein. As much as I enjoy reading comics, I also enjoy studying the craft of comics. I like reading scripts and looking at layouts. I like the mechanics of the process from start to finish. I feel as though coloring and lettering rarely get equal field time, and that this book will fill that gap. Plus, I'm a big fan of Mr. Klein's work so this was a must. I love his style and the look of his letters. I'm dying to see his technique. (I can't seem to find the issue of WIZARD that he did a tutorial in from, what, '94? '95? I don't remember.) Of course, it slipped through my radar when it came time to order. I always assumed I'd be able to stop by the local Borders of Barnes and Noble or any of the other bookstores in the area. Unfortunately, none of them carry it and my options are quite limited out here on the Cape. The saddest thing is that I put it on my Amazon WishList a day too late, as my parents had already made purchases from there. That was a real disappointment. But that's it. That's my One Thing.

    Good choice... but you do know Borders and B&N will order any book they don't stock, don't you?

    The one comics-related item I want for the holidays is the 40 YEARS OF AMAZING SPIDER-MAN CD-Rom collection available from Topics Entertainment. The chance to have the first 500 issues of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN at my beck and call for casual reading (or research if I ever get to write the book) is to great to pass up! And they include the ads and other elements that preserve the flavor of the time periods of publication! While it runs $49.99, itself a deal, I have seen it at websites for as little as $35!

    I really want LOVELY BISCUITS by Grant Morrison. I live in the States, and it appears to be impossible to find it here without spending a fortune on Ebay, and then spending more than the cover price alone on shipping just to get it here. I've finally reached an age where I can really appreciate the things this man has written (I'm 27, what am I, a late bloomer?). ANIMAL MAN #26 is quite possibly one of the most brilliant comics I've ever read, and since reading it a year ago I've slowly been hunting down anything Morrison.

    You asked this week what comics-related product we'd like to receive, and I know what I'd want! I've coveted it for awhile now, but I never really have the cash - it's the MR. FANTASTIC statue that Bowen Designs produced a few years back. Not the miniature version they followed up with, the full-size deal. Have you seen it? Many of those statues are cool, but this one, for some reason, really catches my eye. Something about the way they managed to capture his stretchy body in statue form. I don't know...seeing it in three dimensions is just wild. Anyway, please do tell Santa (or in my case, Hanukkah Harry).

    Actually Hanukkah for me and it needs to happen now as it started last night. I want all the volumes of the HAWKMAN ARCHIVES and the ADAM STRANGE ARCHIVES. Otherwise, a gift certificate to my local comic book store is always appropriate.

    I guess I'd most like to get the new hardcover MARVEL VISIONARIES: JACK KIRBY. Why? Because Kirby is the King, then, now and forever, and this volume reprints some of his more obscure stuff in lush, high-quality format.

    All I want for Christmas, comically speaking... is ABSOLUTE PLANETARY, so I can compare Warren Ellis's script for issue 1 to the final product to gain a little more insight into the arcane art of comic book writing. But if I must accept two wonderful gifts, the second would be any and all TPBs of Y: THE LAST MAN. Having just read volume one (UNMANNED), my brain and eyes are thirsty for more. What a way to launch a new series!

    I want one of the new AMERICAN FLAGG! books. Because I loved the book as a teenager and miss it dearly. Chaykin was 20 years ahead of his time here. I knew then this was revolutionary stuff. So much in comics is disappointing now, this blast from the past would surely cheer me up!

    I want a page of original art from Mike Mignola's HELLBOY. I don't care what page it is, although preferably it would have Hellboy himself on it. Why? Three reasons: I think any page of Mike's stark, mood-infested output is a work of art, pretty enough to be put in a black-matte frame and hung on a wall; it would be a nice complement to the framed Mignola-drawn Hellboy sketch my wife gave me for my birthday (two days after Christmas) last year; and it would be such an extravagant purchase that I would never buy it for myself.

    I would like copies of HITMAN #'s 51 & 52 because they are the only issues I do not have to complete my run of the series. Two items isn't really a laundry list, is it?

    It is, but what the hey. It's Christmas...

    Saw in your column where you are collecting a list of one comics item that folks would want for the holidays. That is a tough choice, but right now that item would be SPAGHETTI WESTERN by Scott Morse. Why? Well, I read SOULWIND about a month ago and thought it was a fantastic story. Fantastic in the sense that it was a wonderfully woven fantasy story that involved some time travel, which is always a big hook to me. He conveys a lot of emotion with drawings that are often very simple. So, because of that great tale, SPAGHETTI WESTERN is on the top of my list. Also, it is a western, which is a good draw for me. Not the most ambitious item, but it resides at the top right now. It will be interesting to read the list that you compile.

    Was it?

  • Didn't get the chance to read any comics this week - my week's been pretty much dedicated to getting CSI and PAT NOVAK scripts done, but I did have the chance to see a couple movies. I managed to get out to the theater to see OCEAN'S TWELVE, which can only be described as a jaunty mess. I enjoyed it a lot, I wouldn't recommend against seeing it, but...

    People have been calling Clooney, Pitt, etc. the new Rat Pack, and man, was this ever a Rat Pack film. If nothing else, the original Rat Pack were innovators (not to mention wallowers in) self-referential irony, and OCEAN'S TWELVE is flaming steeped in it. Which is pretty amusing, particularly in the section where Julia Roberts impersonates... well, if you're that interested, go watch the film. It's a lot of fun. But it falls down terribly not on the plot (which is terribly convoluted and they do short-change an important plot point that would've made the entire film seem a lot clearer and more clever) but on the characters. What made OCEAN'S ELEVEN appealing was the way the eleven different personalities involved meshed their peculiar quirks and skills into a seamless scheme where ever single party's precise involvement was critical. The big problem with OCEAN'S TWELVE is that, while it's clever and funny enough to be entertaining, none of the team seems to actually do anything. I defy anyone, just watching OCEAN'S TWELVE, to tell me what Scott Caan, Casey Affleck or Don Cheadle's characters' crime specialties are, and, worse, Bernie Mac and Carl Reiner just up and disappear for huge chunks of the film. Even George Clooney and Brad Pitt never seem to do much. The contracts are reportedly already signed on OCEAN'S THIRTEEN, and I hope they put more character into that one. On a more picayune note, who exactly were Ocean's 12 anyway? By the time it was over, my best count was Ocean's 16...

    But OCEAN'S TWELVE is an absolute masterpiece compared to the abysmal A HOME AT THE END OF THE WORLD, the Colin Farrell vehicle that tries to be what amounts to a chick flick for gays, though I can't imagine gays would be much interested in it, since Farrell's character (at least as an adult) cheats the whole gay thing and the one solidly gay character, of course, contracts AIDS, 'cause, you know, that's what gays do. I mean, what, filmmakers can't find enough drama and conflict in gay lives without dragging AIDS into it? Farrell wanders through the thing like the acid trip his character takes as a 12-year old never wore off, somewhere in there Robin Wright Penn does her Toni Collette impression, and the best thing that can be said about it is that around the time you're seriously starting to see the appeal of Russian roulette, it very abruptly ends. Skip it.

    Public insubordination from soldiers. Mutinies by soldiers refusing to follow stupid orders. Desertions (reportedly some 5000 of them). And the administration continuing to insist there will be no troop escalation in Iraq, while shipping in 1300 or so troops to not entirely replace the number killed there "in peacetime," and trying to avoid the visible necessity of it by not only refusing to cycle out soldiers who've already finished their tours of duty but by refusing to cycle out soldiers who've been crippled or otherwise severely injured. Meanwhile, word is out that Pat Tillman, football hero who (I say this without the slightest sarcasm) nobly abandoned his gridiron career to serve his country and whose death in Afghanistan was used by the Pentagon to turn him into a national patriotic hero, was actually killed by friendly fire.

    But wait. Rumsfeld's comment about going to war with the army you've got suggested the war was so urgent there was no way to sufficiently arm the troops before the invasion started. Except... there was no great urgency to invade Iraq. They weren't a threat. (And, yeah, you can write me all you want about how everyone thought Iraq had a nuclear/chemical/biological weapons program in full swing, but the CIA has made it clear - one of the reasons admin underling Porter Goss is busy purging the Company now - they told the White House over and over there was no viable evidence of it, only to be told - by the vice-president, no less - to cherry pick what information they had until it matched what the administration wanted to hear.) The admin could have taken all the time we wanted to properly arm the troops. They didn't. Which is a funny way to support the troops. And ain't it a coinkydink that shortly after Rumsfeld gets ambushed by his own troops - and his comments repeated on news broadcasts and talk show throughout the world, in all their petulant, short-sighted glory, the Army suddenly discovers that the company producing armored vehicles for them could have been turning them out twice as quickly - but nobody ever asked them to. But now there will be more armored humvees in Iraq, ensuring a very merry Christmas for all our troops that are being shot at and bombed by a hostile population.

    Is there really anyone out there who doesn't think the best way to support our troops would be to get them the hell out of there?

    Meanwhile, at Camp Pendleton, home base in Southern California for many Marines being shipped off the Iraq, HP himself praised a nurse who started a program to raise funds to Marine families living in poverty. Exactly the sort of compassionate conservatism we've come to expect from him, but it begs the question: why on earth are any Marine families, let alone many of them, living in poverty?

    The other darkly funny moment of recent politics was Homeland Security Secretary-nominee Bernard Kriek's abrupt withdrawal from nomination. Kriek, former police commissioner of NYC and handpicked choice of Rudy Guiliani, didn't pay the proper taxes for illegal aliens working in his household. At least that was the official story. More stories have since come out, about his extramarital affairs, his accepting bribes (whoops, I mean "financial gifts"), his refusal to pay condo fees that eventually triggered an arrest warrant for him, and his alleged connections to a business allegedly run by the mob. The admin, interestingly, insists they knew about all this and still wanted him for the job. Which isn't all that strange for an administration that wears conflicts of interest like badges of honor.

    I'm told Marc Mason reviews THE LAST HEROES (by me and Gil Kane) this week at Movie Poop Shoot. I haven't read it yet, so it could be a pan for all I know, but there it is. Go take a look.

    Since we're in holiday mode this week, I haven't done my email Xmas cards for this year yet - haven't come up with a good hook for one yet - but here's my card from last year, for all of you. It's a tad outdated now, but the spirit lives on:

    And since we're in the Christmas mood this week, here's a special gift for Permanent Damage readers. See, Marvel editor-in-chief Joe Quesada has this band called Idlechatter (Joey Q, vocals/guitar; Tommy Dean, guitar/vocals; Mike Ferrara, bass/vocals; Bobby Ventura, drums/vocals) and every year they produce a new Christmas song as a present. Here's last year's, "Christmas At My Comic Shoppe," regifted to you with Joe's permission, so click the link below and give it a listen. It's quite good, with an amusing aside from a surprise guest.


    Thanks, Joe. I appreciate it.

    Unless something major happens, I'm likely just going to cool out the next couple of weeks and clean out the review pile for the new year. So everyone have a great whatever holiday you choose to (or not) celebrate, and let's hope 2005 is a whole lot better for everyone.

    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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