About Teen-Angels & New Mutants by Mike Baron

Teen Angels & New Mutants, Stephen Bissette’s treatise on “Rick Veitch’s Bratpack and the Art, Karma, and Commerce of Killing Sidekicks,” is really about the exploitation of youth for entertainment in all its forms, with erudite digressions on the history of comics, Frederick Wertham, and the porn industry. Bissette, most famous as an illustrator of Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing, turned his back on comics for reasons laid out in this lengthy but endlessly entertaining treatise. He tears into the Big Two, DC in particular, for their cynicism, market exploitation, and in particular, the broken promises of The Death of Superman, which tricked millions of gullible fans into purchasing what they thought would be a seminal event only to be betrayed within months.

Bissette dissects Kevin Eastman’s Tundra imprint, where Brat Pack first appeared, and explains why it failed. He also provides a timely history of self-published comics, including Dave Sim’s manifesto. He charts the history of social conscious comics in the modern era, beginning with Denny O’Neil’s and Neal Adams’ Green Lantern/Green Arrow books. The first one, showing a shocked Green Arrow and Green Lantern finding Speedy shooting up, is one of the most famous covers in comics.

Along the way, Bissette takes a hard look at youth exploitation and the fate of such child stars as Sue Lyons, Corey Haim, and Brooke Shields, as well as scrofulous boy band impresario Lou Pearlman who was shocked when his boy bands actually succeeded. He just wanted a farm team for his pederasty.

If all this sounds a bit much, it’s not. Bissette’s observations are trenchant and amusing. “For a satirist like Veith, the Midnight Mink and Chippy were never expressions of either a latent homosexuality or homophobia, any more than Moon Mistress and Luna were inherently misoxgynist projections. They were, clearly, reflections of he tself, the anima and the animus.”

The only odd thing about this book is that Bissette never discusses what actually occurs in the pages of Brat Pack, but an appendix offers summaries of each chapter. Should be required reading for any serious student of comics.  –Mike Baron

TSA

Dear TSA: I am a sixty-seven year old writer from Fort Collins. On 9/2, I flew from Denver to Atlanta. Agents pulled me aside after passing through the metal detector and with my permission, stuck their hands down my waist and patted every part of my body. They waved me through. Then another TSA agent, Mark Broeren, pulled me aside and went through my luggage, pulling out every item of clothing. They took out my toiletry kit and handled my toothbrush, razor, and pills. Agent Broeren took me into a private room. I unslung my suspenders and was about to drop my trousers. Agent Broeren said, “Stop! You do that and I’m going to have to call some other guys in here and then it becomes a whole other deal.” I took this as it was intended, a threat for unlawful detention. In the absence of any threat or illegality. I said nothing. Agent Broeren felt every part of my body including the soles of my feet. When he was finished he said was free to go. He never explained why I’d been subjected to his scrutiny and he did not apologize.

Yours,

Mike Baron

Biker, By Mike Baron

BIKER INTRO

by Mike Baron

I got my first motorcycle when I was sixteen. The Honda S90. Cost four hundred bucks. Oh, the power of that mighty machine! It topped out at fifty-five going downhill. Out on the eastern flats of South Dakota a motorcycle meant freedom. It’s difficult to describe the appeal of a motorcycle to those who have never ridden, but once you ride, you understand.

I waited impatiently for each new Travis McGee novel by John D. MacDonald. You all know his work even if you don’t know his name. MacDonald wrote Cape Fear, which was made into two movies, the most recent starring Robert DeNiro. While the front of my mind was filled with ephemera and teen-age emotions, the back wanted to be a writer. It would be a long time before my skills caught up with my ambition. I began writing for newspapers as soon as I graduated, notably the Boston Phoenix and the Real Paper. I began writing comics with my science fiction title Nexus, which I created with Steve Rude.

I tried to write novels, but all I did was pile up words and waste a lot of paper. I’m a slow learner, but I do learn. It wasn’t until I moved to Colorado that the flow of garbage from keyboard ceased. All of a sudden I was mining copper. Then silver. Every would-be writer has a million words of bullshit clogging up his system, and it behooves him get it out as soon as possible so he can get to the good stuff. English novelist John Braine (Room at the Top) says that no one should attempt to write a novel before they’re forty. They simply don’t have enough life experience. Of course there are exceptions, may they rot in hell.

Most pop art, especially literature, movies and comics, depend on the principle of tension and release. Story dynamics are what keep you turning the page, eager to find out what happens next. If you don’t identify with the protagonist, the pages become very heavy. A good story is like a good pop song. It has a tonic. “In Penny Lane there is a barber showing photographs…” It has a bridge that creates tension. “And all the people that come and go/Stop and say hello…” Finally, it has a hook that resolves the tension created by the tonic and the bridge. “Penny Lane is in my ears and in my eyes/A four of fish and finger pies…”

In a novel, the hero is up, then the hero is down. The hero is never static, because that means nothing is happening. There is no story. A good novel mixes psychological with physical dynamics.

The name Josh Pratt comes from a roadside memorial in Fitchburg, Wisconsin. My protagonist formed like some unholy creature in a vat of pop culture. The Wild One. Easy Rider. Kung fu movies. But always, at the back of my mind, Travis McGee lurked. MacDonald put his finger on the pulse of evil and the evanescence of life like no other pulp writer. His lyrical descriptions of South Florida have drawn thousands of readers to Bahia Mar, the marina where the fictional McGee anchored his houseboat, the Busted Flush.

But Josh is my own creation, a reaction to the smart-ass private eye, as pioneered by Raymond Chandler. Is there any doubt that Philip Marlowe is the original smart-ass? “He looked about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food.”

You don’t hear Sherlock Holmes cracking wise or using irony! Josh is someone who got dealt a bad hand. No mother, a worthless, abusive father who abandoned him at fifteen, Josh fell in with the only family he ever knew, the Bedouins, a rag-tag biker gang in Wisconsin. He went to prison for atrocious assault, among other crimes. His nickname is Chainsaw. He shudders every time he hears it. Locked in a cell, Josh had time to reflect on his life, read, and listen to music, guided by Chaplain Dorgan.

Dorgan didn’t jam Jesus down Josh’s throat. Josh accepted Jesus because it made sense to him. I’m not Christian. I’m a not very devout Jew. My wife is Christian. I mean she’s a real Christian, who does good things and doesn’t announce it on Facebook. Josh’s Christianity is in part a reaction to the prevailing wisdom. Every good writer has a little imp of the perverse in the cockpit. Social Justice Warriors love to vilify Christians. I see it every day on Facebook. Yet, they are peculiarly reticent when it comes to Islam. The explanation is simple. Social Justice Warriors attack Christians and not Moslems for the same reason animal rights fanatics target women in furs instead of bikers in leather.

The writer’s first commandment is to entertain. If you don’t entertain, you will not make your case for the lesbian whales. Didactic fiction usually falls flat and that goes for Atlas Shrugged. To Kill A Mockingbird and The Grapes of Wrath are exceptions. The second commandment is to be original. The third commandment is to show, don’t tell. It is my goal to grab the reader by the throat in the first sentence and drag him through the narrative without stopping to breath.

A word about Harleys. Josh rides a modified Road King. I like Harleys. I have ridden many and rode a Road King to Sturgis in 2000 where Cher got booed off the stage at the Buffalo Chip by talking about her “good friend” Bill Clinton. Bikers know bullshit when they hear it. I own two Hondas. No true biker will give you shit about your choice of bike. Once, while servicing my Gpz 550 in a parking lot, I looked up startled to find a meth head jerking my way.

“Hey!” he said. “Don’t you know you’re supposed to ride an American bike?!”

“This bike was built in Nebraska,” I said (true.)

“Oh. Okay then.” And he jerked his way out of the lot.

Bike cover

The Burroughs music group by Mike Baron

THE BURROUGHS

The Burroughs are a nine-piece soul band out of Greeley. Bandleader Johnny Burroughs has a voice the size of North America with a growl that would make James Brown proud, and a yowls like a cat with perfect pitch. He roars. He purrs. He slithers on his belly like a reptile. The band jukes and jives like The Temptations or The Four Tops, sounding at times like Tower of Power, Graham Central Station, Dexys’ Midnight Runners, and the Famous Flames. The four man horn section is tighter than a gravity lock and the rhythm section moves the mothership. Johnny struts and glides like Cab Calloway, and the four horns dance in unison.

Playing mostly original material riven with sudden tempo and chord shifts that slap you around like a drill instructor, it’s all about dynamics, shifts in tone, tempo, and key that keep the audience craving more. They tease a chord until you’re hypnotized, then snap you out of it with a change up. The Burroughs are pure crack. Burroughs’ own songs such as “Introduction/Turn It Loose,” “Dance Now,” and “Tighter” have you out of your seat before the message reaches the medulla.

We saw them at the CSU lagoon series. A week later, we saw them at the mid-town mall. Two weeks later we saw them at New West Fest. They are the most exciting band in Northern Colorado right now.

Their first album, Sweaty Greeley Soul, was recorded live at the Moxi Theater. This winter they are going into the studio to record their next.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vwjl8KfS9m8

The Burroughs

Life On Two Wheels by Mike Baron

LIFE ON TWO WHEELS

Young men want to go fast. I couldn’t wait to get my first motorcycle. I was so eager to ride I pulled Chuck Roberts off his mini-bike as he roared by on a dirt road in Mitchell, SD. Chuck, I hope you have forgiven me. My first motorcycle was a Honda 90. Oh, what a powerful machine! It almost went sixty downhill! In Mitchell, there was only one cycle dealer, a guy who sold Hondas out of his garage. When Honda introduced the massive, world-crushing 450, we could not conceive of such an enormous machine! It looked like Shamu, the killer whale!

I no longer desire to go fast. For those who wonder why we ride, I can only say it is a sublime experience. Watch Easy Rider. Many years later, my next motorcycle was a Honda Hawk 400. Oh, what a powerful machine! I swapped out the mini-apehangers for a flat bar that made a huge difference. Then I co-owned a Honda 400 Supersport (the four cylinder engine) with a girlfriend. When I sold Nexus, I got a Kawasaki Gpz 550, the ne plus ultra back in the day. Because of federal regulations, the speedo only went to 80. I had the Kawi over a hundred numerous times, but I never knew how fast I was going because of that federal speedometer. Many years later I sold the Kawi and got a Honda Hawk 650, a water-cooled vee-twin. I wish I still had it.

Then I got a Shadow 750, which I am still riding, and a 1979 CB650 given to me my Tom Delaney on my 65th birthday. My friend Kim, who is smaller than I, rides a Valkyrie. Once he dropped it in gravel and it took two of us to pick it up. A couple months ago we went to Fort Collins Motor Sports to test ride the new Indian Scout. The Scout is the greatest motorcycle ever made. If you ride, you will agree. We were both ready to deal until the manager informed us that virtually every motorcycle they sold involved a two thousand dollar “set-up and documents fee.” I understand that dealers have to put the bikes together and that a set-up fee is legitimate. But two gees? The Shadow Sixty, supposed to retail for nine thou, became eleven thou. The regular Scout, which is supposed to retail for eleven, became thirteen.

Pox upon thee, Fort Collins Motor Sports!

I will continue to ride my miniscule motorcycles and enjoy the experience, which is not so much what you ride, but the ride itself.

mike motorcycle new

The Mohs Opera Sedan by Mike Baron

THE MOHS OSTENTATIENNE OPERA SEDAN

One day Roger and I were out biking through the rolling hills of southern Wisconsin when we came upon a long, low industrial building yclept Mohs Motors. We pulled over to check it out. Bruce Mohs, who was then in his sixties, came out to meet us and offered to show us around. Inside the long low building sat his masterpiece, the Mohs Ostentatienne Opera Sedan, an immense, grotesque automobile built on an International Harvester chassis. The only entry was through the massive, top-hinged rear door.

The Ostentatienne was powered by an International Harvester truck engine. Entry into the car was from the rear; solid steel side rails (designed to protect passengers during a crash) prevented doors along the vehicles sides. The Ostentatienne could be ordered customized to suit its buyer’s wishes; Ming styled oriental rugs, refrigerators and sealed beam taillights were some of the options available. Production was reported to be three to four vehicles per year, only one was ever built.”

The vehicle weighed over five thousand pounds. Mohs had other inventions including the world’s longest motor-scooter, capable of seating There was also the Safarikar, finished in naugahyde. Mohs tried to sell us his book, The Amazing Mr. Mohs, but we were too stupid to bite. How I wish I’d bought that book.

mike odd car Mike motorcycle

Dogs by Mike Baron

DOGS

Years ago, the reclusive Canadian ninja/lumberjack/artist Neil Hansen, who drew Badger, Whisper, Punisher, and his own Epic series Untamed, came to visit in Madison. I had to leave for a convention. I told Neil he could stay at my house and use my motorcycle, but he had to draw something. I gave him a script that came to me in a nightmare, about a man and his dog. When I returned, Neil had penciled, inked, and lettered it. I showed it to people over the years, but there was no place for it in civilized society.

The last time Neil drew, he provided covers for my IDW Badgers. I have seldom encountered a greater talent, yet Neil has not taken pencil to paper in years. I asked him recently if he would, and he told me that he had tried, but the fire had left him. I’m certain that if I assigned Badger to run Neil’s life, he would be drawing in no time.

Less years ago, I was kickin’ it with peripatetic pulp prophet Paul Pope, who drew the cover of the new Badger #1. Paul said he had carte blanche to do an eight page strange sports story for DC, and invited me to write something. I have always been fascinated with disc dogs, which is a strange sport indeed. I wrote “Fluke,” but by then Paul had vanished.

Cesar Madarro sent a friend request and a story request. I gave him “Fluke” and he hit it out of the park. Cesar told me he had also illustrated a Fabian Nicieza story called “Mad Dog,” and sent me that as well.

My partner Steve Rude and I sought to syndicate Nexus and I thought of my old pal Jay Kennedy, EIC at King Features Syndicate, forgetting that Jay had drowned in Costa Rica in 2007. I sought Jay Kennedy on Facebook, and a Jay Kennedy enthusiastically responded. This Jay Kennedy lived in Massachusetts and was also an artist. He was puzzled by my syndication request but we figured it out. When I told him about Dogs he asked me to write him a short script.

Now I had a whole comic worth of dog stories. All I needed was a cover. I turned to Badger artist and old friend, Mike Norton, whose Battlepug now has three volumes out from Dark Horse. Mike has also drawn for Marvel and draws the popular Revival book for Image, with writer Tim Seeley. Mike Jones did the colors. Finally, our Baby Badger logo was drawn by Badger artist extraordinaire Val Mayerik, who illustrates the current run.

If Dogs proves popular, I plan another book about skinks.

Comic Cons by Mike Baron

The convention season is upon us, my friends. And with it, certain exhibits will use boom boxes to advertise their wares. Nobody likes them. Nobody. Not even the people who are playing them. They only serve to make conversation more difficult and to cause headaches due to that incessant, infernal throbbing, the same sound you hear when some self-obsessed asshole pulls up to you at a streetlight blasting Beasty Boys or Li’l Wayne from the giant speakers in his trunk.

My friends, don’t let this happen to you! I’m calling on each and every one of you to go up to the blasters and ask them, politely, to turn it off. I am asking con organizers to not permit this noise pollution.

Another irritation, about which we can do nothing, are the illegible public address systems the organizers use for—for what? Most of the time the distortion is so great I can’t understand a word they’re saying. It’s so loud you can’t hold a conversation while the announcer is blasting. Conventions need jumbotrons to broadcast their messages.

WATCH FOR THESE HAZARDS: Double-wide baby trams. Groups of cosplayers gathering in front of your table preventing access. The Joker. The little boy eating a jelly doughnut who likes to flip through your comics. Cosplayers with five-feet-wide costumes. Corn dogs. Funnel cakes.

The Art of the Insult by Mike Baron

THE ART OF THE INSULT 

The perfect squelch. The withering put-down. The witty slander that leaves folks gasping in disbelief and delight. D.H. Lawrence on James Joyce: “Stewed-up fragments of quotation in the sauce of a would-be dirty mind.” Winston Churchill: “Unless the right honourable gentleman changes his policy and methods and moves without the slightest delay, he will be as great a curse to this country in peace as he was a squalid nuisance in time of war.” Dorothy Parker: “Their pooled emotions wouldn’t fill a teaspoon.” Mary McCarthy on Lillian Hellman: “Every word she writes is a lie including ‘and’ and ‘the.’”

High school, for me, was an unending search for the withering put-down. Like Eric Harris, I had no use for humanity and it had no use for me. Unlike Eric, I lacked that black toxin which caused him to mow down a dozen classmates before turning the gun on himself. I used to memorize what I considered witty put-downs. Many young men go through a phase where alienation causes them to judge harshly. Most of them grow out of it.

However, Facebook breaths new life into this adolescent movement. There’s something about Facebook that brings out the worst in people. They say things on Facebook they wouldn’t dream of saying to your face. You actually have to struggle to keep a thread on track without degenerating into “Fuck you!” “No! Fuck YOU!” I posted that Lady Gaga had killed it at the Superbowl, and within twenty posts it had degenerated into name-calling.

Serial insulters are witherers. Wither the witherer? The latest rage seems to be fabricating faux nineteenth century insults without the wit. “Hoofwanking bunglecunt” has a certain cachet, as does “twatwaffle”  But it has no meaning. Oh insult, where is thy sting?

They will never replace the classics. “Fuck you!” “No! Fuck YOU!”

My friends, I have five rules for arguing on Facebook. 1: No sarcasm. 2: No personal attacks. 3: Be brief. 4: Keep your sense of humor. 5: Know when to quit.

Dirty Cop Movies by Mike Baron

DIRTY COPS

While there are dirty cops in many movies, the dirty cop movie is a genre unto itself. James Ellroy is something of a dirty cop factory, having written L.A. Confidential and the screenplay to Dark Blue, starring Kurt Russell and Ving Rhames, and Rampart, starring Woody Harrelson. In both Confidential and Dark Blue, dirty cops are laws unto themselves, using their authority to punish the wicked regardless of the law, and to enrich themselves. In Ellroy’s world, the dirty cop is the norm. Even his good cops take corruption as a given. As always, it’s a matter of degree.

Both Bad Lieutenants, the former starring Harvey Kietel, and the latter Nicolas Cage, are withering trips through hell that end in cracked redemption.

Antoine Fuqua’s Training Day is among the finest dirty cop movies, featuring a swaggering Denzel Washington that is beyond corrupt. Fuqua and Washington teamed again on the excellent The Equalizer, which could not exist without dirty cops.

Among the lesser known dirty cop movies is Boaz Yakin’s Safe, Jason Statham’s best film, which features Statham as a cashiered, corrupt cop on his last legs who finds meaning in saving the life a Chinese girl savant whom Chinese gangsters use as a numbers cruncher. Safe is also notable for James Hong’s sleaziest performance. The climax involves Statham teaming up with his dirty cop buddies to take down both the Chinese and Russian mobs.

James Mangold’s Cop Land posits a Jersey town consisting almost exclusively of corrupt cops whose efforts to hide their crimes brings local sheriff Sly Stallone in conflict with lifetime corrupt cop player Harvey Keitel.

These are just off the top of my head. You may have others.