Jun 4, 2021

The 24 Dead Hunks of "Fear the Walking Dead"


After skipping a few seasons during the "Happy Friends Do-Gooder Club" story arc, Bob and I have started Fear the Walking Dead again: survivors of the Zombie Apocalypse puttering around the ruins of the American Southwest.  In this season, they run afoul of Virginia, whose totalitatarian police state covers a large swath of southern Oklahoma and northern Texas (but still, everyone goes by first names, and there's never a duplicate).  

She forces Morgan's Happy Friends to join her community, and gives them...ulp...jobs..that match their abilities.  The former nurse runs a mobile medical clinic.  The former police officer becomes head of security.  The former barber becomes a barber.   How oppressive!  They immediately start making plans to take her out and restore freedom.

Problem #1: No beefcake.  Only 5 of the 15 main characters are male, none paticularly attractive.  

Problem #2: Heterosexism.  Strand is gay, but when was the last time he dated, or expressed interest in a man?  Season 2?  Al, a lesbian, got a brief romance in Season 4: it began and ended in the same episode.  

Meanwhile heterosexual romance goes on and on.  Dwight has been searching for his wife Sherry ever since they lived in Alexandria, on the other side of the continent -- and he finds her.  Season 4 ends with a boy-girl wedding.  In Season 5, half the women in the cast are pregnant.

Problem #3: They keep introducing cute guys, only to have them killed.  One gets tired of  "Look, a cute guy!  I wonder if...no, he's dead" over and over and over.  

I kept a tally of all of the hunkoid deaths in Season 6 to date.

Episode 1: "The End is the Beginning":  Wi.th  Emile the Bounty Hunter (Demetrius Grosse, top photo) hot on his trail, Morgan encounters Isaac, and accompanies him to an isolated valley, where his pregnant wife is waiting for supplies.  In the subsequent battle, Emile and Isaac both die.  Dead Hunk Count: 2

Episode 2: "Welcome to the Club":
   The rest of the Happy Friends Do-Gooder Club from last season are living in Virginia's settlement, Lawton.   Strand is punished with the job of clearing some molasses-covered zombies from a warehouse.  To accomplish this, he wounds Sanjay  (Satya Nikhil Polisetti) and uses him as zombie bait. Two guards are also killed. Dead Hunk Count 5

Episode 3: "Alaska":  Virginia has assigned Al and Dwight the job of clearing the zombies from new territories.  They come across a building full of living people who have been sequestered there since the Zombie Apocalypse began, but now they're all sick from the bubonic plague.  

Episode 4: "The Key".
  A murder mystery episode!  Cameron  (Noah Khyle), one of Virginia's Rangers, is murdered -- by his girlfriend, by Virginia, or by someone else?  Meanwhile, Morgan, who is starting an alternate settlement, is accosted by two men who want the key he carries around his neck.  He kills them both.  Dead Hunk Count: 8

Episode 5: "Honey": Dwight discovers that his estranged wife Sherry belongs to an anti-Virginia terrorist group. They kill two of Virginia's Rangers.  Dead Hunk Count: 10.

Episode 6: "Bury Her Next to Jasper's Leg."   
Virginia has assigned June to run a mobile hospital, but she is not always successful at saving people, like the hunk with the burst appendix.  Meanwhile there's an explosion at Tank Town, where Virginia's people acquire the gasoline for their endless crosscountry trips, and some hunks die.   Dead Hunk Count: 14.

Episode 7: "Damage from the Inside."  A horror movie episode! Virginia's daughter/sister Dakota is attacked, and her Ranger bodyguards killed.  She ends up trapped in the home of a crazy taxidermist who wants to embalm her.  Dead Hunk Count: 16.

Episode 8: "The Door." 
Former Ranger John Dorie is hiding out at his old cabin.  The Ranger Marcus (Justin Smith) tracks him down, and is killed.  Virginia's daughter/sister Dakota shows up; John discovers that she is the one who murdered Cameron in Episode 4, so she kills him, too. Dead Hunk Count: 18.

Episode 9: "Things Left to Do."  June gets revenge for her husband's death by killing Virginia.  Strand takes over Virginia's old settlements, Morgan has his alternative colony, and everything is concluded, right?  Wrong!  There's another Big Bad.

Episode 10: "Handle with Care": Daniel is having problems with dementia.

Episode 11:  "The Holding." 
Morgan sends some of his operatives to investigate  the new threat, a cult that plans to cleanse the world of zombies and humans with a nuclear bomb. Wes's brother Derek (Chinaza Uche) is there, and dies, along with several other cultists. Dead Hunk Count: 21.

Episode 12: "In Dreams": Grace's unborn baby helps out, somehow, before being stillborn.

Episode 13: "J.D.": June runs into her dead husband's father, who gives her the intel on the doomsday cult.  Meanwhile former Ranger Hill is killed.  Dead Hunk Count: 22. 

Episode 14: "Mother." 
Alicia, one of Morgan's operatives who has infiltrated the cult, runs into Cole (Sebastian Sozzi) and some other people she knew back in Season 3, when they were all living in a baseball stadium community run by her mother.   They are killed.  Dead Hunk Count: 24.

Maybe I should be looking for a tv show where nobody dies.

Jun 2, 2021

Fall 1987: The Universal Agony of Heterosexual Life

Fall 1987:  I'm in grad school in Comparative Literature at the University of Southern California, enrolled in a Seminar in Modern Literature.

Big mistake.  I've had my share of elitist, condescending, heterosexist professors who dismiss everything I like as "plebian," "bourgeois," or "idiotic," but Dr.Lazar is the most elitist, condescending, and heterosexist of them all.

"I don't watch television, of course, but last night I was looking for the news, and...."

"We won't be reading mindless trash in this classroom."

We read only the World's Greatest Authors: Eugene Ionesco, Harold Pinter, and especially The Greatest of the Great, Samuel Beckett (1906-1989).

Beckett was born in Ireland but wrote in French. I'm quite sure that the top photo is a composite, since he wasn't into bodybuilding.  Or much of anything else except women -- he rejected socialite Peggy Guggenheim -- who got revenge by starting a rumor that he was gay -- and then married Suzanne Dechevaux-Dumezil. But he also had a long-term romance with BBC writer Barbara Bray.

During his lengthy heterosexual machinations, he managed to stay in good shape through playing tennis.  And he wrote Great Literature.

He liked James Joyce, but thought that Ulysses was far too simplistic.  After all, if you dig down far enough past all the obscure references, you come up with characters and a plot.  He wanted to write plays and novels that had no characters or plots, just random thoughts that made no sense.

Besides, it has pleasant scenes.  He wanted to depict the unrelenting agony of life.

While living in Paris and playing tennis with an heiress.

So he wrote horrible plays:

Waiting for Godot: two guys stand around waiting for him, but he never comes.  Let the heavy-handed over-symbolic interpretations begin.

Krapp's Last Tape:  an elderly crazy guy replays the tapes of his life as he's dying.

Happy Days: in a horrible postapocalyptic world, a woman who is slowly sinking into the ground tries to carry on her daily routines, while her husband (left) walks backwards.

And horrible novels:

Molloy: an elderly man lives in his mother's old room and thinks.

Malone Dies: an elderly, bedridden man is writing a novel about something or other before he dies.

The Unnameable: the inner musings of a deformed being who is apparently blind and unable to move.

 Professor Lazar is completely enchanted with the last line: "I can't go on, I'll go on."

"This is a commentary on all our lives," he says.  "Determined to endure in spite of the horror."

Ok, he lived through World War II, so he saw some horrors.  But now he's a tenured professor who flies off to Paris to give speeches.  Surely there's been a few pleasant moments in his life?

Gay subtexts: are the guys in Godot gay?  Is Malloy?

"No, of course not.  Beckett writes of Everyman, of the universal agony of human experience.  He has no time for something so ridiculous as the gays."

I can't go on, I'll go on.

Sorry I can't stick around for more discussions of the universal agony of heterosexual experience.  I have to get to the gym, and then I'm meeting Alan for dinner at the French Quarter, and afterwards we're going cruising at Mugi.  A paradise of masculine beauty awaits.

Jun 1, 2021

Downton Abbey: Two Gay Guys, Maybe Three, and a Lot of Britain-Between-the-Wars Glitz

During the 2010s some of my friends became obsessed with something called Downtown Abbey. Conversations at sex parties would move away from penises to the star-crossed lovers Matthew and Mary, or the despicable machinations of Lord Sinderby.  I wasn't paying much attention.  Costume drama -- boring! -- and set in the Victorian Era, so doubtless no gay characters.  The gay interest was probably due to beefcake, but you can see that anywhere.

But the series has just dropped onto Netflix, and with it some surprises: it's actually Downton, not Downton, and set in the early twentieth century, immediately before and during World War I and through the Roaring Twenties.  Was I wrong about the lack of gay characters, too?  I turned on the first episode:

Scene 1:  Beautiful establishing shot of a quaint English village and the majestic Downton Abbey (a house, not a Catholic monastery).  April 1912.  An army of servants climbs out of bed and starts getting things ready, scurrying about the vast mansion/museum that would shame Buckingham Palace, while head butler Mr. Carson supervises.  

The newspaper arrives, and cute brown-haired William (Thomas Howes) dutifully irons the pages.  He reads something startling, and tells Mr. Carson.  Soon the whole servant army knows, as well as the master, Lord Grantham.  It's the sinking of the Titanic -- most of the ladies in first class were taken off in time, but almost everyone else died.  Including James and Patrick!  He rushes to tell Lady Cora.

Scene 2: The army of servants discusses the tragedy.  The dead men were Lord Crowley's cousin and his son.  Now he has no heirs (his daughter Mary doesn't count, of course).  

John Bates (Brendan Coyle), the new head valet, arrives and gets introduced.  He walks with a cane, which causes some gossip.  How will he carry things and climb all those stairs?

Thomas shows him his duties, which hats to put out, which cufflinks are to be used in London, and so on.  Bates comments: "Look at all this wealth within our reach. But none of it's ours." Uh-oh, he's planning a heist.  Thomas, meanwhile, is jealous because he was up for the valet job, and they chose an outsider instead.

Scene 3: Lord and Lady Grantham discussing the entail: he is legally obligated to pass on the estate to his male heirs -- plus all of his money and all of his wife's money.  So if the heirs don't especially like his wife, after his death she is turned out of the house with nothing but cab fare.

Later, Lord Grantham tells daughter Mary, who is not as distraught as he expected. Sure, she was engaged to the cousin's son, but it was just a formality; she didn't really like him.  

Scene 4: The Dowager Countess, Lord Grantham's mother, arrives and starts criticizing everyone, like Lady Grantham for not having the common courtesy of giving birth to a son.  Because of Lady Grantham's naughtiness, the new heir will have to be Lord Grantham's third cousin, once removed.  No one in the family has ever met him.  She suggests finding some way to "smash the entail" so Mary can inherit the estate.

Scene 5: Lord Grantham shows up in the kitchen while the servants are having lunch.  They scurry about.  He welcomes Mr. Bates affectionately.  Um...the two have a history?  Maybe they were boyfriends at Eton.  No, no one who went to Eton would become a valet. 

Scene 6:  Sunday, several weeks later.  While the servants scurry about -- the girls all gaga over Second Footman Thomas (Robert James-Collier, top photo) like he's a rock star -- the family goes to church.   The family lawyer gives Lord Grantham the details about the new heir: a lawyer from Manchester (redneck land, like an American saying "The new heir is from Alabama.").  His deceased father was a doctor.

Lord Grantham: "Why would my third cousin be a doctor?  Aristocrats don't work."

Whoops, the head cook ordered one of the servants to bring some chopped egg upstairs to sprinkle on the chicken, but she grabbed a jar of brass cleaner instead -- deadly poison!  Is something interesting going to happen?  No -- she manages to track it down through the chain of servants before it actually reaches the dining hall.

Scene 7:  Thomas runs down to the village.  To do something interesting, I hope?  Like, anything but discuss the entail.  But we immediately cut to the servants discussing how Bates can't do his job, and Lord Grantham asking him how he's doing, with his old war injury and so many stairs and all.  "I'm fine!" he insists.  Of course he'd say that -- the alternative is being canned.  

Meanwhile, the servants discuss Bates -- he was Lord Grantham's batman (servant) during the Boer War.  "I think it's romantic!"  Really?

Meanwhile Thomas goes to the head butler and tries to sabotage Bates by claiming that he can't finish his duties, so poor William has to help, on top of his own duties.

Scene 8: More discussions of the entail and whether Bates can do his job.  Lady Grantham: "Fighting side by side, you must develop a tremendous bond.  But it doesn't help him to give him a job he can't do."  So make him your secretary -- no stairs.

And Mary goes to meet with her secret boyfriend. But instead of smooching, they break into Bates' room, looking for dirt on him.  

Scene 9: Head Butler tells Lord Grantham, "Bates can't carry things, he drops everything, and he can't serve at the table, so tonight we may be forced to have a maid serving the Duke." Gasp!  

Ok, ok, Lord Grantham has had enough.  He calls Bates into his room and hems and haws.  Bates: "I'll do anything.  Anything.  Because I'm very eager to stay.  Very eager."  Whoa, smoldering look.  "Sorry, Bates, you can't get on your knees, so..."

Scene 10: 
 Dinner with the extremely attractive Duke (Charlie Cox) - Mary's secret boyfriend!  Gasp! 

  "So, um, Mary, what were you doing with the Duke in the servants' quarters?" 
"Just looking around. Now drop it!"

Meanwhile, the servants gossip.  One of them brings up a tray to Mr. Bates, and sees that he's been crying.  He really, really wanted to stay. 

Scene 11:   Everyone leaves the dining hall, but the Duke stays behind to ask Lord Granham to fight the entail:  "You'll give your entire estate and all of your wife's money to a complete stranger?" Lord Granham refuses, "But Mary will still receive some money, if you want to marry her."

The Duke: "Whaaaa?  There's been some mistake.  I like Mary, but I have no intention of....."

Lord Granham: "You blighter!  You led us on!"

Scene 12: The Duke is inexplicably upset by Lord Granham jumping to conclusions.  He tells Mary "I'm leaving tomorrow first thing.  Tell Thomas (my valet while I'm visiting) that I'm going to bed."

Mary is extremely upset.  "Darn!  I thought I'd hooked up for sure!"

Scene 13: The Duke tells Thomas that he was unsuccessful at talking Lord Grantham into fighting the entail.  "You did the right thing to telegraph me.  It just won't work.  She won't inherit enough money for me to marry her."

Thomas: "Now what?"

The Duke: "Well, I have to have a wife with a lot of money.  Maybe I'll go to New York and look for one."

Thomas: "What about me?"  They hug and kiss.

The Duke: "Well, what can I do?  I can't hire you as my valet.  You'll have to stay here."

Thomas: "But you're in love with me."

The Duke: "One swallow doesn't make a summer."  At least the boy swallows.

Thomas: "What if I blackmail you?  I've got proof of our affair."  

The Duke: "Oh, I burned all those letters.  Face it, mate -- you've been dumped.  Get out."

Scene 14:
Bates and Thomas, the two jilted boyfriends, load up the car, glaring.  Lord Grantham feels guilty, and at the last minute gives Bates his job back.  "So what if he can't get on his knees -- there are other positions."

Scene 15:  The lawyer from Manchester (Dan Stevens), now heir to the estate, having breakfast with his mum.  The post arrives -- a letter from Lord Grantham.  Whatever could he want?  He opens it: "To change our lives."  The end.

Beefcake: None.

Heterosexism: No.  People seem to marry for money.

Gay Characters: Thomas and the Duke.  Maybe Mr. Bates.

My Grade: A little long, with too many conversations that repeat the same old stuff without advancing the plot.  The entail, the entail, Bates drops things, the entail.   A lot of people staring for so long that you think the screen is frozen.  And nothing actually happens.  They talk, and talk, and talk. 

But two gay guys, maybe three, so I'll give it a B.

August Strindberg: Nude Statues and Dream Visions

Growing up in Rock Island, where most people were of Scandinavian ancestry, I heard constantly about Vikings, runestonesPeer Gynt, Knut Hamsun, Hans Christian Anderson, lukefisk, the Elder Edda, and especially August Strindberg (1849-1912), the Swedish playwright who explored subconscious drives and secret desires.

You'd expect a lot of same-sex interest among those secret desires, but mostly there are heterosexual longings and battles of the sexes.
The Father (1887): a father-daughter relationship goes wrong.
The Dance of Death (1900): a heterosexual marriage gone wrong.
The Ghost Sonata (1907): A young student discovers that the girl he likes is not what she seems.

His most famous play, Miss Julie (1888), is a standard rich-poor romance with a psychosexual twist, as the wealthy Julie and the footman Jean vie for power.  It has been filmed a number of times, and there are various stage productions, including a black/white version, Mies Julie, and a gay version set in 1905 South Carolina, Miss Julie(n).

A Dream Play (1901) strays from the formula. It's about the surrealistic journey of Agnes, daughter of the Hindu god Indra, who comes to Earth to see what men are like.  She runs into lots of them, of various sizes and shapes, with various ambitions, desires, traumas, and cruelties. Most fall in love with her, but some might be gay.

By the way, Strindberg is the only writer I know of who is immortalized in two different nude statues, both in Stockholm.  The massive, muscular "Titan" by Carl Eldh in Tengerlunden Park.

And this more realistic version, in a group with two other equally nude writers, Gustaf Frödingshöjd and Ernst Josephson, in Stadhusparken (City Hall Park).

There are also about a dozen non-nude statues of Strindberg scattered around town.

May 31, 2021

Jack Russell's Boyfriend: Werewolf by Night

Speaking of werewolves, the only Marvel/DC comic I read regularly in the 1970s was Werewolf by Night, which appeared from 1972 to 1977.

I bought the first issue because I figured it would the first time the character appeared in print, as opposed to other Marvel characters who moved in and out of each other's books at random.  Wrong -- Jack Russell had been around for a couple of years.

Why name a werewolf after a breed of dog?  

At least the first issue had an origin story. 

Jack Russell turns 18 and inherits the family curse; during the three nights of the full moon, he turns into a ravaging werewolf. Afterwards, of course, his clothes are gone, revealing an amazing physique.  In the second issue, he tries to explain his dilemma to the man he lives with -- "more than a friend" -- a middle-aged writer named Buck Cowan.

Buck also has an amazing physique and is allergic to shirts.

There is a "damsel in distress" being threatened on most covers, but surprise!  It's not some girl, it's his sister.  Jack doesn't have a girlfriend, girl admirer, or female crush, at least not in the issues I read.  

In 2013, he appeared in a guest spot on The Ultimate Spider-Man, voiced by Disney hunk Ross Lynch.

See also: Jim Steranko
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