Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Shocking True Story of My Urine Test

For those of you who don’t know, or who are such assholes as to know but not care, I was sick last week.  Like, so sick I missed work and everything, which is not something I do regularly.  So sick, in fact, that I forked out the 40 bucks to go to the doc-in-the-box, which is the closest I’d gotten to a doctor’s appointment in over two years.  I know, I know, it was a drastic step, but when “The Amazing” is the title that precedes your given name, certain expectations are placed on you by your public.  Dying of the demonic crossbreed spawn of smallpox and typhoid simply would not do, I owed all of you better than that.

Now there are reasons I avoid doctors.  First, it’s the title, it’s so pretentious.  ‘Oh, look at me, I’m all smart and stuff because I went to school for a billion years!  I must know so much more than all of you, because I have a piece of paper that says so!’  As if their title from an accredited university is better than mine, which I granted to myself.  Also, my father works in medicine, and routinely calls most doctors morons, and I don’t know if it’s genetics or environment, but that’s clearly a factor.  But fine.  They’re the experts.  And I was in miserable pain, from the throat cancer/mad cow/bird flu thing.  So I went to see them, and I even tried to be polite.

Too bad they were such dicks about it.

The trouble really began after they asked for a urine sample.  Now, understand that they’d kept me waiting for several hours, without food or water, as they dicked around being the smug assholes that they are.  I, too, was somewhat troubled by the brownish liquid when I saw it, but hey, maybe that’s a side effect of all the meds I’d been taking to save myself from the mustard gas sickness or something?  Who knows?  I’m not a doctor, for christ’s sake!  But the actual doctor was, to say the least, somewhat started by the color.  She asked me how long this coloration had been coming out of my body, I shrugged.  Keeping track of my bodily fluids isn’t really that big a deal, after all.

Then we waited for the actual results.  And I guess that’s where the real problems began.  “Mister Palm,” the doctor, whose name I probably should have bothered to learn in the preceding three hours, began, “I’m not sure how to tell you this.  Or how this is even possible.  But your urine content was  40% pure scotch whiskey.”

“Really?  I’m losing that much of a buzz just because of pee?”  I asked her, taking a small sip from the flask I had been drinking out of since walking into the parking lot.  I skipped breakfast, after all, and you have to get nutrition somehow.

“Losing?  Mister Palm, I don’t even know how it’s possible to have so much alcohol in your system that I can register what type of whiskey it is!”  Her shock had confused her.  It’s easy to recognize different varieties of whiskey based primarily on smell, though, I suppose the other 60% was still pee.  She probably could have noticed the flavor if not for all the urine.

Then it hit me.  I stared into the flask intently, wondering about the possibilities.  This starring went on for several minutes.  Good old Flasky.  He never let me down… until he was empty.  “You think there’s a way I can separate that?”

“What?”  Her look was one of bafflement, astonished at the brilliance coming from one so ill.  Despite my lingering to life, I manage to come up with brilliant ideas at every turn.

“You know, to save it!” I am such a genius, you guys. “I mean, that’s single malt, old enough to vote.  I only buy the good stuff, you see.”

“…. You want to distil- No.  Just no.  And besides, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.”  There were more good ideas to come?  Fantastic!  I really was feeling shitty, and less thinking up genius might help.  “How are you even still alive?”

“I’ve been asking myself the same thing, Doc.”  Seriously, reading audience, bubonic plague/measles/ring worm is just the worst, I’m telling you.  I was in real pain.  “I had to swallow half a bottle of Mucinex just to have the strength to walk in here.”

“Yes, that’s skipping ahead a little on my list of questions, but apparently you’re constant ingesting of Guaifenesin has induced uric acid nephrolithiasis.  It’s among the many, many side effects of your history of medication misuse.

“Uric acid whatsit now?” I asked, pulling my gaze slightly away from Flasky.

“Kidney stones, Mister Palm.  You have kidney stones.” 

See, this is what I’m talking about.  Condescending doctors and their condescending bullshit.  Kidneys can’t just turn to stones, you guys.  They’re biological organs.  Stones are rocks.  What the hell did she think she was talking about?

“What the hell do you think you’re talking about?” I politely asked her.  “Kidneys can’t magically turn to rocks.  That’s stupid.”

“That’s… ugh.  I also found trace amounts of illicit narcotics.”  Oh shit. It was a fair cop, but I could explain.  I think?

“It’s a fair cop, but I can explain.  Really.”  I could tell my sincerity was successfully sincere enough.

“Of course you can.”  There must have been something exciting on the ceiling for a second  there, because I clearly witnessed her eyes roll.  Maybe a fly or something?  Or she thought she saw a spider?  “Should we start with the acid?”

“I thought that brownie tasted weird!  Okay, see, last night I was at this party-“

“You said you’d been sick for a week.”  She gave me a look.  I’m not sure how to categorize it, other than ‘insincere’.

“I have!” I totally had!

“Then why did you go to a party last night, instead of staying at home in bed?” 

Now, I was really, really trying to be patient with this doctor, okay?  But this is what I’m talking about!  They always talk crazy nonsense and judgmental crap.  Why the hell would I stay at home in bed?  I use my bed to do exactly two things, one is sleeping and one is why I was at the damn party in the first place.  And it was totally legit!  It wasn’t a party full of high schoolers or hookers this time!  It was just a bunch of metal-heads (is that the right phrase?) and the musicians they love (I, obviously, was with the band).  What’s the big deal?

Politely, I didn’t say any of that out loud.  I am nothing if not pleasant, though I did take another sip of scotch.  “I’m afraid I don’t understand the question.  Moving on, this dude was handing out brownies, and so I took one.”

I’m really quite certain that the doctor and I weren’t communicating very well by this point.  “So, you’re excuse is that a stranger handed you an unidentified food substance, and then you knowingly ingested it?”

“Well, I didn’t want to be rude.”

“I just….Ugh!”  Some people just go out of their way to be unpleasant, huh? “ So what’s the excuse for the cocaine?”

“Cocaine?  No, that can’t be- oh, wait!” Damnit, Fidel, I knew that wasn’t just sugar you told me to snort! “Okay, that was an honest mistake.  Castro tricked me, scouts honor.”

“Castro?” I’m such a name dropper, you guys. “The Cuban dictator?”

“Yeah, Fidel and I go way back.  We were on this hunting trip last week, we do it every year.” There was an audible face-palm sound as I continued. “He tricked me into doing it.  You know what it’s like, how guys like to foul their friends when they pal around?”  Fidel’s such a kidder.

“I’m not even going to ask what you were hunting-“

“The most dangerous game of all.”

“…. You expect me to believe you accidentally snorted cocaine while hunting down human beings with Fidel Castro?”

I starred at her.  What was she talking about? “Humans?  What?  No, no, no, I was hunting pa-“ I noticed the panda bear sticker that was on her name tag, though the name itself still escapes me.  I already just knew she’d get all animal rights on me. “Uh, yes.  Humans.  That’s it.”

Her audible sighs were getting louder.  “I’d call the police if I really believed any of this idiocy.  But Mister Palm, the real reason I’m so confused by this report is that apparently you have a chemical substance called “Yridium bicantizine” in your urine, and frankly I’m baffled.  There’s no record of this substance in any textbook-”

It came to me in a flash.  “It’s the Ketracel-White!  Oh yeah, well that makes sense.”  I smiled knowingly.

“The what?”

“So, I was in this wrestling match with Uwe Bowel a few days ago, it’s this whole thing he does.  And he’s a big guy, you know?  I kind of wanted an edge, so yeah, I gave myself a dose of Ketracel-White, figured it couldn’t hurt.”  Sound and well-reasoned.  Why it was so difficult for her to understand, I just don’t get.  Why wasn’t she treating me with more sympathy?  Didn’t she remember that I was sick?

“What?  That doesn’t explain anything!”

“The Yridium bicantizine.  It’s a chemical compound in Ketracel White.”  Jesus.  Why did I know that and she didn’t?  She’s the friggin’ doctor!

“What is Ketracel-White?!?!”

Oh.  Ok.  Now I understood her confusion.  “Oh man, you didn’t watch ‘Deep Space Nine’?  That explains everything!  The White’s a drug that the bad guys give their foot soldiers, the Jem’Hadar.  It keeps them all violent and rage-y  but still in control.  You really should watch Deep Space, it’s the best of the Star Treks.”

“You can! Not! Have a fictional substance in your urine!   That's insane!”

Man she was getting angry for some reason.  “Doc, my life is insane.” I tried to reassure her.  “I go parasailing with astronauts!  I punch Greek gods in the dick! I time travel sometimes!  Hell, I have Vietnam Flashbacks and I was born in 1986!  Nothing about my life makes any sense; you just have to accept it.”

“No, you are just a deluded idiot who’s only ‘sickness’ is caused by side effects of all the drugs in your system!  You don’t need a doctor, you need a therapist!”  Man, what is it with her and my sister and my ex-girlfriend?  “You need to stop putting this crap in your body, because all of this is made up in your head!”

“Doc, you’re the one who found a fictional substance in my urine,”  I politely pointed out. 

She threw her notes to the ground and stormed out of the office. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Making Marvel Mine: The Stan Lee/Steve Ditko Break Up

So, truth to tell, I’ve been trying to work my head around Essential Dr. Strange vol. 1 for about 4 months now, since I finished it back in January.  I read it in 3 months, a little long for this type of project, and now I’ve spent even longer trying to figure out how to articulate my impression of the book.  I’ll get into this more in my actual review for the book later next week (hopefully?), but the book is really 2 very separate books- “Steve Ditko’s Dr. Strange”, followed by “What the Hell do we do With This Weird Ass Character?’s Dr. Strange”. 

The split is jarring, more so that the break up with Ditko and Lee on Spider-Man, which is ironic, given Dr. Strange has a firm ending, as opposed to Spider-Man, which doesn’t even attempt to comment on the switch from the fascinating, scratchy work of Ditko to the softer, gorgeous Romita.  I haven’t talked much about it before (it won’t come up in Spidey until I review Essential vol. 2), but others have discussed it at length.

Officially, there is no explanation.  Fans have blamed it on a disagreement between Lee and Ditko over the identity of the Green Goblin.  There’s a certain logic to this, if all you read are Spider-Man comics (In Amazing Spider-Man #39, Romita’s first issue, the identity is revealed, after all), but it has little bearing on the larger narrative.  Reading the tail end of Ditko’s Dr. Strange work, you can feel it all reaching its climax.  Months before his final issue, Stan Lee wasn’t even writing the book, handing it off to Roy Thomas and Denny O’Neil.   Hell, the final Ditko story was literally titled “The End—At Last!”, the finality of the 17-part(!) Eternity Saga, Ditko’s swan song, his ultimate Dr. Strange story.

And then Steve Ditko left Marvel Comics.  He and Stan Lee hadn’t been on speaking terms for months.  Ditko went into reclusion, and has refused interviews for nearly 40 years.  Based on what people around them can tell, the Ditko/Lee split was as much about politics as it was artistic integrity.  Despite the weirdly LSD-Trip-like world Ditko had portrayed in Dr. Strange, as the 60’s progressed, Ditko found himself becoming more conservative, growing more and more to believe in Ayn Rand’s objectivism and the belief in the self before others.  Lee’s secular humanism, his impassioned support for the growing civil rights movement and liberalism became a problem between the two friends.

Basically, as the culture wars of the ‘60s began, the two became irreconcilable. 

People often compare the Lee-Ditko split to the Lee-Kirby split, but I don’t think the two are really comparable.  While both artists left Marvel due to artistic differences (and both eventually returned in a reduced role), Kirby’s main complaints were more due to legal rights issues.  Kirby was willing to play ball, to a point, because he was a team player- which is quite apparent when you look at his post Marvel work for DC (“Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen”, anyone?).  Ditko wasn’t a team player.  When he left Marvel, Stan Lee didn’t even know why (Ditko himself has said that Stan Lee deliberately didn’t ask, for the record).  He eventually showed active disdain for his Marvel work, destroying originals of Spider-Man out of contempt.  As time went on, he became an artistic recluse.  I’m not trying to assign blame here, and I can only speculate on events that happened well before I was born,  but the more I learn about this, the more I feel like Ditko has only himself to blame for becoming a pariah.

So what does all this have to do with me taking forever to talk about a comic book?  Because all of this is going on in the background for the first half of the book, followed by the aftermath of “Shit, well, now what?”  Dr. Strange was more Ditko than Spider-Man was, mostly because Spider-Man was more popular, and, I think, Stan Lee liked the character more.  I think both Stan and Steve felt empathy for the character, which gelled at first, until their differing philosophies pulled the two of them apart.  Ditko wanted Spider-Man to become a conservative character, crying out against the college hoodlums protesting around the country.  Lee wanted him right there, protesting with them.  Ultimately, the two could never had stayed a team, and Lee’s vision of the character won out (which, I wholeheartedly admit, is my preferred version).

We see what Spider-Man without Ditko is like, because Romita steps in, and the book stays consistent in terms of tone; the story just goes on.  But because Ditko had more creative freedom on Dr. Strange, he finished his story, and everything he’d wanted to say, he’d said.  What did he have to say?  Well…. I’d rather get into that with the actual Dr. Strange review.  But to say that Steve Ditko is a complicated individual is more than an understatement.  In any case, Post-Ditko Dr. Strange becomes a very different animal.

Again, I’d rather focus on story when actually talking about the story, not the behind the scenes, but I will say this: Unquestionably, Steve Ditko is a brilliant artist, and just as responsible for the look of cosmic weirdness in Marvel Comics as Jack Kirby.  I hate it when Spider-fans get into pissing matches of “Ditko vs. Romita” because no matter what, it just boils down to personal taste*.  Both are brilliant, but incredibly different artists.  There’s no such debate with Dr. Strange fans (there are also far fewer of them), Ditko is the definitive Dr. Strange artist.  And in a way, that immediate assessment is a disservice to the artists on Dr. Strange after him, like Marie Severin, Dan Adkins, and Bill Everett.  They had to follow the footsteps of an artistic giant, and often showed similar- but different- levels of genius. 

With Ditko gone, and no clear vision as to where to go, the people working on Doctor Strange afterward did what they could with a property no one but Ditko really understood.  And rather than try to rehash everything before them, they did it the same thing that Ditko had- they made him their own.

Anyway.  I just wanted to get all of this out of the way, because when I talk about Dr. Strange, I want to actually talk about Dr. Strange.  This behind the scenes stuff is a little off putting when I just want to see dudes in capes punch other dudes.  Doctor Strange is weird enough without all this bullcrap baggage on top of it.  Next Week! (maybe?)  Making Marvel Mine on Dr. Strange.  And stuff.  Yeah.


*= ….*sigh* If I have to do this, I’m afraid I’m on Team Romita.  Everything’s just so pretty!  Alright, you can now stone me to death for committing Spider-Man Heresy.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Searching for Earth’s Mightiest Heroes

So…. I should be finishing my review of Essential Dr. Strange Vol. 1, which I’ve been putting off because it’s a little difficult to explain my feelings about it.  Or I should be writing that letter to my grandmother that I promised.  Or I should find something to do at the office, since I am actually at work right now and being paid to do my real job.

But no.  I don’t want to do any of things.  Because all I can think about is what I’m doing tonight.  Because at midnight tonight, I’ll be in Chicago’s IMAX theatre, watching The Avengers!  (squee!)

You know what this feels like, to me?  It feels like it’s 2000, and I’m going to the opening weekend of X-Men.  I remember as a kid thinking that the X-Men movie would never happen, that as much as my 7-year-old self wanted to see Captain Picard play Professor X (because sometimes the most logical casting choice is obvious to even a 7 year old) it would never happen…. And then, magically, it did.  It was incredible to experience, which is why I remembered it being a better movie than the it actually is*.

I guess it’s that feeling of wonder and incredibleness that has me absolutely GIDDY over Avengers.  I still can’t get over that THIS IS ACTUALLY HAPPENING! An Avengers movie!  Written and directed by Joss Whedon!  That, like, the entire planet seems to want to see!  This is actually happening.  I don’t even know how to describe my joy about this movie.  And that’s the difference I think, between the Avengers movie and all the other superhero movies I’ve seen over the last few years.  It’s not just that I want to see this movie (or don’t want to, *cough*Green Lantern!*cough cough*).  It’s so much more than that.  I am literally joyous about this movie, not a description I can often use.

It’s been building for 5 years.  A movie I near, ever thought could happen.  Earth’s Mightiest Heroes are gathering together in a movie that the whole world will go see.  And in 7 hours, I’ll be seeing it on the IMAX screen in Chicago with hundreds of other fans.  It’s going to be… incredible.  That’s all I can say.  And now, clichéd as it is, I just have got to cry out: “Avengers, assemble!”**

*=The plot of X-Men makes no god damn sense at all.  It’s forgivable, because it’s all so new and fresh in terms of being a game-changer, but seriously, it’s not as good as you remember.  If you want to watch an X-Men movie, stick with X2 and First Class.
**=God, that was so clichéd.  Still obligatory, though.