I like silly. So?

Yes, I like Godzilla and comic-book superheroes and Tommy James and the Shondells. I’m sorry if you have a problem with that.

I suspect it’s hard for some folks to take me seriously because my taste drifts toward, well, Godzilla and superheroes and pop music. Do you trust opinions about the weighty issues of the day when they come from a guy who voices opinions on which version of Captain Marvel is the best one? 

Well, that’s me. I can’t help being me. Back in the sixties I would argue that comic books have the potential to be great literature, based on what I was reading in Spider-Man and Fantastic Four. I enjoy finding significance in seemingly unlikely places. Nowadays that’s not a particularly controversial opinion. 

Horace Walpole said it best, anyway: “I have never yet seen or heard anything serious that was not ridiculous.” I take silly stuff seriously, but a lot of serious stuff, examined carefully, is pretty silly anyway.

W.B. at the Movies: The Marvels

It was June 1981, I was newly divorced for the first time, living in Ripon, Wisconsin, and I took a young woman to the movies in Oshkosh. It was one of those fancy new movie theaters that had not one, but two screens, and so we had a choice of two movies — Superman 2 or a new movie with Harrison “Han Solo” Ford, called Raiders of the Lost Ark.

I didn’t know anything about the second movie except that it starred Harrison Ford, who went to Ripon College 11 years before I did and had become a star as the result of the (then) two Star Wars movies. I lobbied for following the Ripon connection and the chance to see Han Solo in something different, whatever that might be, and we agreed to pick Ford over Christopher Reeve.

Long story short: We were so geeked out by the adventures of Indiana Jones that we didn’t want to leave the theater, so we went across the lobby and watched Superman 2, too.

That’s the kind of afterglow I have been feeling since watching Godzilla Minus One this week. I was so geeked out that I joined three Godzilla groups on Facebook in search of other people who loved loved loved this film, and I was not disappointed. I’m not the only one who thinks this is not just a great Godzilla movie, it’s a great movie, period.

In an echo of that June night 42 years ago, I was still so geeked out Friday afternoon that I decided to take a couple hours off and go see another movie, The Marvels, while it’s still in town. It’s the latest film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, teaming Captain Marvel, Ms. Marvel, and Monica Rambeau, who resists taking a superhero name in part because in the comics she is one of several women who has taken the name Captain Marvel, and that might be awkward in the movies.

This movie has, at least in the context of the multibillion-dollar Marvel universe, bombed at the box office. In fact, I was the only person in the theater for the 1:10 p.m. Friday showing. The word on the street was that the film is a whole lot better than its weak box office might suggest, and the word on the street is absolutely correct.

It may not be the best of the 30 or so Marvel movies, but it’s far from the worst one, and I had a great time. I adore the character of Kamala Khan, the comic book geek who is endowed with superpowers and lives out her dream as Ms. Marvel, and I adore the actress Iman Vellani, a real-life comic book geek who is living her dream playing Kamala Khan on TV and the movies.

Brie Larson does another nice turn as Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel, Teyonnah Parris is a fine Monica Rambeau, and British actress Zawe Ashton plays the role of the designated villain, Dar-Benn, with an appropriate mix of menace and sympathy.

Goose the Flerken returns after a scene-stealing turn in Captain Marvel. The flerken may be the single greatest invention in the entire Marvel Universe. I shall not say more. Spoilers, you know.

I think audiences may just be getting weary of comic-book movies. DC Comics released The Flash earlier this year, another entertaining movie that did not attract much of an audience. Maybe people are starting to think, “been there, done that,” when they see superpowered humans in tight costumes.

Whatever’s going on, all I know is I’ve seen one spectacular movie and one really good flick in the last few days, and so I went home happy. 

Bottom line: Catch The Marvels if you can, and absolutely, positively go see Godzilla Minus One, an astonishingly good piece of cinema.

Uncle Warren’s Attic presents Ebenezer, Stave 2: ‘The First of the Spirits’


When we met Edmund Filliput last week, he was in a dour mood on Christmas Eve, and a cheerful man in a top hat bought him a cup of coffee and a bowl of beef stew and offered to introduce him to some old friends of his that very night.

Today we follow Edmund home, where his dreamless sleep is interrupted by the first of those old friends, whose identity should not surprise anyone who has guessed who the happy stranger was. (And I did not try very hard to disguise him. What’s the name of the story again?)

I’m celebrating my new novelette by reading it in podcast form, a chapter a week, during this Christmas season. Of course, if you’re impatient for what comes next, the book is available for purchase in several formats.

I have to confess I’m surprised to find that so far, orders of the hardcover edition are outpacing orders of the paperback, which in turn are outpacing orders of the ebook. I’m also gratified, of course, by people’s willingness to spend a little more, not just for the physical book, but the one designed to last a bit longer.

I’m having fun bringing the story to life in what will eventually become my first audiobook. I really must go back and do the same with some of my other stuff. The fun should not have been a surprise; my online life began, after all, with a podcast serialization of my first novel, The Imaginary Bomb.

The rendition of “Oh, Come, All Ye Faithful” that appears in these podcasts, by the way, comes from my collection of 78 rpm records. The singers are the Trinity Choir, and the record is Victor 16996; “Joy to the World” is the B-side. Among information on the label are the facts that “Adeste Fideles” was translated from the original Latin by the Rev. Fred Oakeley (1802-1880) and the melody is by Marcas Portugal (1763-1834), both morsels that I didn’t know before. 

The invaluable 78discography.com tells me that the song was recorded on Oct. 6, 1911, three months to the day after the choir performed for the B-side. The record, which still sounds magnificent to me after 112 years of wear, felt like the perfect accompaniment to this story.

Thanks to everyone who has sent kind words of encouragement about Ebenezer and, of course, God bless us, every one!

W.B. at the Movies: Godzilla Minus One

The last time I was in a real movie theater, it was Christmas 2019 and the film was Star Wars IX: The Rise of Skywalker. So I had a bit of culture shock when I walked in Wednesday evening: Every seat was a leather, power recliner, there was plenty of room for people to walk in front of me even with the legs extended, and each row was elevated above the other so high that everyone had an unobstructed view of the screen.

The occasion was a “Early Access Fan Event” screening of Godzilla Minus One, the new Japanese-language film from Toho, the movie company that started it all with Gojira back in 1954. It turns out that “Early Access Fan Event” was just a fancy way of saying you could see the film two nights before its official U.S. release on Friday. There were no special treats or features for Godzilla fans; it was just a regular showing of a new movie, just two days early.

Which is fine by me. I just wanted to see a Godzilla movie on the big screen with a state-of-the-art sound system, where a monster the size of a skyscraper looks as big as a skyscraper and its footsteps and roar shake the building. Mission accomplished.

And, oh my. I took to social media as the closing credits rolled. I wrote:

“Fellow geeks, the rumors are true. Godzilla Minus One is magnificent.”

The monster effects are as good as you’d expect in 2023, and on the Superscreen DLX with Dolby Atmos sound, it’s like you’re going to be squashed or at least hit by flying debris any second. But the human story takes it to another level.

It begins in 1945 in the closing days of World War II, and we meet Koichi Shikishima, a kamikaze pilot who lands at an airstrip on Odo Island and tells mechanics his plane is malfunctioning. There’s nothing wrong with the plane and it quickly becomes clear he just didn’t want to go through with his mission.

Shikishima is deeply ashamed of himself, even when a mechanic tells him it would have been a meaningless sacrifice given that Japan was days away from losing the war. The film follows him as he tries to atone for surviving a war where his assignment was to kill himself and as many enemy soldiers as possible at the same time.

Of course, Godzilla fans guessed what happens at the airstrip as soon as I mentioned Odo Island. That’s where the big lizard was first sighted in 1954, and the island has made numerous appearances in the 37 Godzilla movies that span almost 70 years now. 

People who come for the monster rather than the story might grow impatient with this one, but people like me who appreciate a good story with their monsters will go home happy. And even the people who want wall-to-wall monster action should be content with Godzilla’s moments on center stage.

A couple of moments would have made me stand up and cheer if I wasn’t so comfortable in the recliner. First, the final confrontation with Godzilla is undertaken by a stalwart group of civilians after a pointed remark that the job is too important to leave to the Japanese or U.S. governments. Can I get an amen?

My other “OMG this film is magnificent” is a musical cue. The theme that accompanies the opening credits of the original movie is called back in almost every film, and the makers of Godzilla Minus One dropped the theme at the absolute perfect moment near the climax. 

The last 10 years have been wonderful for Godzilla fans. The 2014 U.S. version completely erased the sour taste left by the goofy 1998 Hollywood debacle, and the American sequels haven’t been too shabby, either. 

But the last two Toho films have been, in my humble opinion, absolutely brilliant. Shin Godzilla in 2016 and now Godzilla Minus One have taken the story back to square one: Both treat Godzilla as a brand-new menace that had never been seen before. They fall more in the category of reboot than sequel. I love that approach, and I considered Shin Godzilla the second-best Godzilla movie ever until Wednesday night. Godzilla Minus One is simply breathtaking.

(The first Godzilla movie is in a league of its own, as I wrote not long ago.)

6 o’clock

“There’s something special about 6 o’clock in the morning.” What a great first line for a song. I’m not sure John Sebastian quite pulled it off — it’s not one of his most memorable songs — but many mornings at 6 o’clock, I sing the first line. 

This time of year, 6 o’clock in the morning is dark and cold and quiet, and I think the dogs are nuts to want to go out there. But I remember 6 a.m.s when the sun is shining and birds are calling to each other and the air is bright with the promise of a new day.

I’m guessing Mr. Sebastian wrote that first line in the summer.

Still, warm or cold, 6 o’clock represents the beginning of the day for most people, a proverbial and literal fresh start, a time for reorganizing and refreshing and preparation and taking a deep, quiet breath before plunging into the chaos of another day.

There’s something special about that moment.

Something, anything

The value of establishing a writing streak is enormous. Making the commitment to write something, anything, every day, creates a habit that is hard to break, and especially once you have sailed past 1,000 days, then 1,100 days, and then 1,200 days. You just don’t want to go back and start counting from 1 all over again.

Still, inevitably you’ll have a day like this one, a day when you can’t think of anything to write about except the streak.

It’s weird. You might have just finished your first significant bit of fiction in almost a decade and published your first significant bit of fiction in nine years.

It may, in fact, be your first published book of any kind in more than a year.

You might have all sorts of ideas rolling through your head.

And yet still, some days, you find that none of your ideas are formed well enough to convert into a coherent blog post.

You kick yourself for not working far enough in advance, despite your best intentions to work ahead and especially never to leave the blog until the end of the night. 

But you made a commitment, and so you sit down, reluctantly, to scratch out a little something about writing for the sake of extending a writing streak. 

“This is the 1,215th day in a row that I have posted something here — three years, three months, 28 days,” you write. “And isn’t that something?”

And you realize, why, yes, it is something, isn’t it? After decades of writing intermittently and thinking how good it must be to develop a regular writing habit, you did it. You’ve been writing and posting something here every day for so long it’s second nature to write something, anything.

You know there will be days that you write something more interesting or thought-provoking or entertaining, because you’ve already had days like that. You know there will be days when you come up with three and four and a half-dozen blog posts, because you’ve had those, too. 

In short, if you follow through on a commitment long enough, the days when the words barely trickle out don’t trouble you all that much, because you’ve also had days when the floodgates open. 

And so you write a few words about not having much to write about today, and you sleep well, looking forward to what you will write next.

Lessons in inflation

Comic books taught me everything I needed to know about inflation.

It cost more than it used to to make a 10-cent comic book, so they had to charge 12 cents. They had been 10 cents for more than 25 years, although as costs rose, they held the 10-cent price by cutting pages. The standard length of a comic book went from 64 pages to 48 pages to 32 pages. Finally they decided 32 pages was the minimum, and so the price had to give.

Twelve cents held for about seven years, but then inflation kicked in and they went up to 15 cents. There was a little experimentation with offering 48 pages for 25 cents, but that was quickly abandoned and it settled back to 32 pages for 20 cents, and then 25 and 30 and 35 and 40 cents. By 1980 a 32-page comic book was 50 cents.

Eventually other factors than inflation affected the price — the starving writers and artists won the right to be paid as if they were writers and artists, and better paper and printing techniques became the standard — so it’s not fair to say the 10-cent comic book of 1960 morphed into today’s $3.99 product, but inflation was the main culprit in the 1960s and 1970s.

I want to show you something about percentages and inflation.

That first price increase, from 10 cents to 12 cents, inflated the price by 20%.

When it went to 15 cents, that was a 25% increase.

The rise to 20 cents was 33%. Yikes!

Going to 25 cents was a 25% increase.

Going to 30 cents? Only 20%.

And 35 cents represented a 16.7% raise.

The hike to 40 cents raised the price by 14.3%.

Do you see? After a while, the inflation rate went down. But make no mistake, the price never went back. You could buy 10 comic books for $1 in 1960. By 1980 you could buy only two.

Don’t ever be fooled when the politicians announce that the inflation rate is down as if that’s wonderful news. The damage is already done.

The 10-cent comic book is gone forever.