In Times of Trouble: Great Books When You Are Down

Hello everyone, yesterday the terrible news came out that celebrity chef and tv host Anthony Bourdain had passed away. It was only a few weeks ago I was writing about Frightened Rabbit’s lead singer Scott Hutchinson who had also passed away under duress. I’m immensely saddened by the loss of these people who came into our lives and shared a bit of themselves with us. The world can be hard and hurtful at times. Politics are a mess and people seem to be at each other’s throats over the most basic things. When the world seems extra heavy, there are a few good reads I like to take a time out with that always seem to brighten my mood and I’ll share them with you now.

Bluebeard by Kurt Vonnegut is the tale of a 71year old painter, named Rabo Karabekian living in a 19 bedroom home he inherited from his late wife. He lets a writer move in named Circe, who actually writes under a pen name and is quit famous and successful. She eventually convinces Rabo to write an autobiography detailing his long and eventful life. The book is full of funny and heartbreaking stories from the streets of San Francisco as a young immigrant boy, to the European theater of World War II. It ends up as a lifting tale that I believe ranks with Vonnegut’s best work.

When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris is one of my all time favorite books. Sedaris is a humorist and essayist whom I was lucky enough to go to a reading in Dayton, Ohio when my wife bought me tickets for my 40th birthday. Sedaris signed a book for me and asked about my grandfather’s watch I was wearing. He added it into his signature in my book.

The book is chocked full of hilarious observations that start out pretty funny, but Sedaris can flip on a dime and it can be quite poignant as well. His stories often revolve around his middle class up bring in North Carolina or his hitchhiking across the country. His funniest stuff comes from a lot of the crap jobs he had while living in Chicago and New York, plus his endless, but charming quibbles with his boyfriend Hugh. However in this book the last 1/3 is dedicated to his battle to quit smoking and moving to Japan for 3months to accomplish it. I also have this book on audio, read by the author and I’ve listened to it numerous times. It’s a great companion on long drives by yourself.

If you’ve seen any of my other posts on Mid-American-Culture you may have read a couple of the Robert Frost posts I’ve done. He’s hands down my favorite poet and when the world has beaten me down, I’ll often settle down with a book of his poetry and be taken away to days on the farm around New England, or walking along the old stone wall. Here’s his poem After Apple Picking;

After Apple-Picking

BY ROBERT FROST

My long two-pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree

Toward heaven still,

And there’s a barrel that I didn’t fill

Beside it, and there may be two or three

Apples I didn’t pick upon some bough.

But I am done with apple-picking now.

Essence of winter sleep is on the night,

The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.

I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight

I got from looking through a pane of glass

I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough

And held against the world of hoary grass.

It melted, and I let it fall and break.

But I was well

Upon my way to sleep before it fell,

And I could tell

What form my dreaming was about to take.

Magnified apples appear and disappear,

Stem end and blossom end,

And every fleck of russet showing clear.

My instep arch not only keeps the ache,

It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.

I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend.

And I keep hearing from the cellar bin

The rumbling sound

Of load on load of apples coming in.

For I have had too much

Of apple-picking: I am overtired

Of the great harvest I myself desired.

There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,

Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.

For all

That struck the earth,

No matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble,

Went surely to the cider-apple heap

As of no worth.

One can see what will trouble

This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is.

Were he not gone,

The woodchuck could say whether it’s like his

Long sleep, as I describe its coming on,

Or just some human sleep.

Lastly Matt Fraction and David Aja had a spectacular run on Marvel’s Hawkeye where the title character and his alter ego Clint Barton battled countless Russian mob members and his own brand of depression. He reconnects with his brother Barney and has some help with his side kick Kate Bishop, AKA the other Hawkeye. Fraction delivers a tour de force character arc here and David Aja’s minimalist art is brilliant. I recommend this comic series to everyone I meet and I’ll suggest it to you as well. It’s always a great place to return too.

So there you go. Some great reads to dive into and get away from it all. But also, call your mom. Talk to your dad. Check on your friends, it’s a cold world sometimes and we could all use a hand. Don’t be ashamed of needing that hand. Someone can help you today and you return the favor tomorrow. It may sound cheesy but it works. Of course if you can’t find anyone else and you’ve reached your breaking point please call the suicide prevention hotline at 1-800- 273-8255. Take care everyone and keep up to date with more Mid-American-Culture.

I Guess he’s back, back again.

Good morning everyone. Marvel Comics decided to kill off Wolverine, the mighty mutant Canuck nearly 5 years ago. He died in a series apptly named The Death of Wolverine. Just so everyone knew what was coming.

Wolverine was a very popular character for decades. He was the crop of characters that joined the X-Men in the late 1970’s. He had previously been introduced fighting the Incredible Hulk over in his book.

Wolverine would spend the 80’s and 90’s growing into one of Comics most popular characters selling with the likes of Spider-Man, Batman, and the Fantastic Four.

Wolverine or Logan as he was known to his friends, was a killing machine that was impossible to kill. He would end up with a heart of gold though and would take the scared, new mutant kids under his wing and teach them the way of the Samurai and stuff.

Bad thing was, Wolverine was so popular it became a running joke about how in the hell he could appear in 7 x-men books, his own book, a one shot special and make a guest appearances in Daredevil all in the same month?

The biggest blow to good ole Logan would be the inevitable washing away of what made him cool in the first place. Wolverine was really a man of mystery set to fits of bezerker rage. He didn’t know who he was or where he came from.

Marvel would eventually throw all that out the door. He even gave up his iconic cigars. I mean it’s cool if YOU smoke Logan, you have a mutant healing factor! No, Marvel would take away all the mystery in 2 mini series called Origin.

Origin would take away all the mystery from the story. Who he was, which was apparently a rich land owner’s son. It just stole the mystique of the character and he couldn’t go back. So while Origin sold very well, it would only go down hill. Because when he was an unstoppable weapon of death he still had no idea about himself. He constantly battled his demons and wether or not he was a man or an animal. Now he was no more complex a character than any one else. James Howlett was his real name, and he was actually an heir to a rich family name and was nigh invulnerable. Essentially Batman and Superman mashed together.

No one was interested in this. They made him a head master at the Xavier school. Now Wolverine was a teacher. They had him and Storm date post her divorce from the Black Panther. He would lose his healing factor. Then get a super suit. No one cared. Let’s just kill him off.

So he died.

He was still around though. Hugh Jackman was ever present on screen. During the Secret Wars story line a alternate universe Old Man Logan would be brought to the main stream. The Ultimate Universe Logan had a son named Jimmy Hudson who would show up in X-Men Blue, and normal universe Daken would be around on drugs and fighting Moon Knight. Plus, you had the next gen Wolvie, Laura Kinney. Laura was a clone of Logan who had a messed up story and lots of doubt about who she was, coupled with “are clones even real people” syndrome that most fictional clones seem to have.

She would step up to fill Logan’s blue boots. It would be pretty awesome. They would take all the good and cool of the legend of Wolverine and not give it all away. Plus little girls could pull the claws now and ask random bubs what was up? Oh and plus Honey Badger! She’s a clone of Laura and she’s just a kid but tons of fun.

Well, like all things in comicdom, James Howlett AKA Logan AKA Wolverine is coming back. Something about a damn infinity stone because there’s a Marvel Movie about Infinity Stones so we gotta cram that into the comic pages. With Logan’s return, they have kicked Laura out of her All-New Wolverine costume and back to her X-23 belly shirt. It’s kinda sad. She had grown a lot as a character in the last four years.

Have a great week everyone and like always Make Mine Mid-American-Culture!

The Miseducation of Ben Reilly Part 2.

Happy Saturday to you all and thanks for checking out Mid-American-Culture. Today I’m gonna pick up from last week but first a correction, I falsely stated that Mark Bagley designed the Scarlet Spider outfit and a reader pointed out that it was actually Tom Lyle.

We left things last time with Ben dying at the hands of Norman Osborne, impaled on the Goblin Glider saving Peter Parker’s life. He aslo turned to dust showing that he was a clone after all.

So Peter and M.J. lose their baby and the comics try and move past the last 2 years of publication. It sucked to just see the whole thing disappear as if it never happened. I kept reading Spidey though because he was my character, and I’d always read him.

However Tom Defalco would soon launch an alternative future series called Spider-Girl and it would be the high school age daughter of Spider-Man, and guess what? She wore Ben Reilly’s Spidey costume and even referred to him as Uncle Ben.

This would be the first of many Ben teases Marvel would throw at us Clone Saga fans. Defalco would also introduce Ben’s own son Reilly Tyne, who with the help of the other clone Kaine, would become Dark Devil.l, a Ghost Rider/ Daredevil mashup. He was a pretty damn cool character that I would have enjoyed more of.

Now in this same series, that is essentially a part 2 to the world of the Clone Saga, eventually The Black Cat’s daughter shows up as a new Scarlet Spider and Peter shares a touching story with May about her Uncle Ben.

Its like Marvel wants to get away from the 90’s but also embrace them. Haha

Eventually, Tom Defalco would get Marvel to try a Clone Saga again, as it was originally intended, a short 6 month story and Ben survives through the end and sets out on his own. Sadly, it didn’t sell well and again forgotten after the initial 6 issues.

Im gonna leave you here at the end of the Spider-Girl era and post Clone Saga 2, but come back next week for the return of the Scarlet Spider and his own series! Have a great week.

The Miseducation of Ben Reilly Part 1.

It’s funny how you get to a certain age and for a brief moment you can hyper identify with music and literature, film and heroes real and fictional. At around 18 your life is changing and a person looks to make their own way in the world. For some it’s a journey of figuring out who you are and who you wanna be.

I have always been a massive comic book geek. I lived for the first 7-8 years of my life in a trailer park in Proctorville, Ohio. The trailer park was just off of State Route 7 and ran along the Ohio River. Well across the main drag of my trailer park was a little mom and pop convenience store called Holderby’s. I used to go to this store a lot with my folks and the deal was always that if I was good, which I always was, I’d get a quarter for the Ms. Pac-Man standup and a comic from the spinner rack. The time period here is the early 1980’s and Spider-Man was hands down my favorite character, still is for the most part.

After my folks had returned their soda bottles for change and I had fallen to the 4 bit ghost of the arcade game, we’d return home and just before bed one of my parents would read me my fresh new comic as a bed time story and show me the art as the story went along. Soon I’d fall asleep to dream about what is certainly Stan Lee’s most famous creation, Spidey and his friends.

Eventually when I was nearing the end of my High School years in the mid 90’s Marvel drops a bomb shell on it’s readers. The Peter Parker/ Spider-Man we’d been reading for years may not be the real thing. A clone of Parker’s created by his college professor, Miles Warren had returned.

The 1990’s was the most gimmicky time in the history of comics. All the heroes were either being killed off or changing into grimacing anti-heroes. Superman died, Batman had his back broken, Green Lantern was evil and called all the GL corps. Tony Stark was an evil teenage version of himself. Plus all the cover were holograms and bagged.

The gimmick was that a throw away clone character, who supposedly died at the end of a story in the 1970’s was actually alive and back in New York and he’d crossed paths with the original.

The Peter Parker clone would take the name Ben Reilly. Ben from Peter’s uncle, the Power and Responsibility, one and Reilly was Aunt May’s maiden name. After being back in NYC for a bit in a story called The Exile Returns Ben decides he’s gonna stay, he’d been living on the road for years always on the move. Partially because he didn’t feel like he was a real person and didn’t belong. There was also the fact that another failed Parker clone named Kaine was out to kill him. Comics right?

So Ben adopts the alias of the Scarlet Spider. It was a totally throw away costume designed by comics legend Mark Bagley. The outfit was made up of a plain red Spidey type outfit with a blue hoodie he bought at zoo gift shop. I gathered he felt like a cheap knock off so why not go with it?

So now the Scarlet Spider is making a place for himself in the world. This goes back to my original point. I was 16-17 at the time and I strongly identified with the character, I too was ready to go out into the world and find my own place. Plus Ben was super poor and worked in a coffee shop. I didn’t have a lot either and worked in a grocery store.

Well as it turned out the character was I initially super popular. He had beaten Venom, which Spider-Man never had. People really liked the character, and Marvel really liked money. So, it all gets amped up and the slide to Hell begins. Marvel gets the idea that maybe Been was the real Spider-Man the whole time! So in a story designed to last 6 months, we get drug out for over a year. The Peter we’ve followed for 20 years is married to M.J. Watson and he’s going insane or something. All to comfort the blow of the rug being pulled out from the feet of long time readers.

When Ben is revealed to by the real Spidey, comic fans lose their minds. It’s hate mail and boycotts. This was Marvel Pre- Disney ownership and money was a worry in the late 90’s. So marvel has to reverse course after a year of Ben as Spidey and Peter and M.J. off having a baby in Portland, Oregon.

The best way the editors decided was to bring back ole Norman Osborne, the original Green Goblin. He’d also been dead for quite some time. However the whole Clone Saga was simply a big gotcha to Peter.

The entire year plus story line known forever as The Clone Saga, would be wrapped up in 4 issues spread out over one month. The story was called Revaltions.

Marvel needed their corporate icon back to normal and it was deemed that Ben was out. All the way. đź’€

Ben would die saving Peter from Norman’s Goblin Glider. He’d die thinking he was the real deal. It was sad.

It was also here that Pete and M.J. would lose the baby or it was kidnapped or something. It was all retconned away later any how. From here Ben Reilly would be forgotten for about 5 years then he was teased repeatedly for another decade plus. However we will get to that next Saturday in The Miseducation of Ben Reilly part 2. Thanks for reading and have a great week.

Weekly Waves Vol. 22 Captain America’s iPod

This week’s playlist was curated by @mburnsoh and revolves around a theme of Captain America’s playlist. Ranging from songs he missed out on to songs he was probably referred to its a good variety of genres. Check it out here and check out the idea of playlist’s for fictional people here.