The Lists #5: Warning Labels that Could Have Helped My College GPA

The Lists #5 by Chelsey Clammer

10 Warning Labels that Could Have Helped My College GPA

  1. On Cocaine: Not to be used while editing papers that are beyond the assigned page limit.
  2. On Physical Education Requirement: Not to be taken before 1pm.
  3. On Alcohol: Contents do not increase fluency in Spanish.
  4. On Marijuana: Refrain from use while studying Statistics.
  5. On Metaphors: Do not mix with Biology lab reports.
  6. On Cliff Notes: Contents may cause over-confidence in reading comprehension.
  7. On 18th Century British Literature: May cause drowsiness.
  8. On Electronic Overhead Projectors: Ask your doctor about likelihood of malfunctioning during use for a final exam that will determine whether or not you will receive a passing grade for the course.
  9. On Mushrooms: Not to be ingested for at least 36 hours before an oral exam.
  10. On Attractive Professors: May cause false sense of excitability for Heidegger.

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Chelsey ClammerChelsey Clammer (Episode 49) received her MA in Women’s Studies from Loyola University Chicago. She has been published in The RumpusAtticus Review, The Coachella Review and Make/shift among many others. She received the Nonfiction Editor’s Pick Award 2012 from both Revolution House and Cobalt, as well as a Pushcart Prize nomination. Clammer is a weekly columnist for The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review, as well as the assistant nonfiction editor for both Eckleburgand The Dying Goose. Her first collection of essays, There is Nothing Else to See Here will be published by Thumbnail Press in Fall 2013. You can read more of her writing here.

Heroes Never Rust #65: Feed the Beast

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Heroes Never Rust #65 by Sean Ironman

Feed the Beast: What a Man Must Become to Survive Vietnam

Many of the Marvel Comics characters created in the 1960s have their origin tied to war. The Fantastic Four tried to beat the Russians to Mars during the Cold War. The Incredible Hulk was born during a gamma bomb test. The Punisher didn’t make his first appearance until 1974, but maybe he’s lasted so long because his origin is tied to war, like the others. Characters like the Fantastic Four and the Hulk were created, were scarred, because of some deeply human trait. They are parables to show us mankind’s flaws. They are comics that want peace, not warmongering—no matter how many battles those heroes find themselves in. The Punisher fits into that idea. Some readers prefer stories where the protagonist is a good person. I am not one of those readers. I don’t have to agree with the protagonist’s actions. I don’t agree with what the Punisher does, but I can understand it. That’s enough for me. In the final issue of Born, Frank Castle gets the closest he will get to becoming the Punisher until his family dies. And it’s in the midst of battle.

Born 4 cover

The issue opens with the greatest panel sequence in the miniseries. A close-up of an American soldier holding his face in both hands. Blood is on his hands. It’s raining. More blood flows and drips down his hands. He removes them from his face and he has no eyes and half his nose is gone. His mouth is filled with blood. In the final panel, he falls face first into a puddle and dies. “There is a Great Beast loose in the world of men,” the narration over the first panelr reads. “It awoke in dark times, to fight a terrible enemy. It stormed through Europe, across the far Pacific, and crushed the evil that it found there underfoot.” According to the narration, this “Great Beast” came to destroy evil. It was good at one point. But now that evil has been defeated, there is no putting away the Great Beast. “So the Great Beast must be fed: and every generation, our country goes to war to do just that.” The second and third page is a shot of the Vietnamese overpowering American troops. Castle and a few others fire from behind sandbags. Grenades are thrown. Pieces of heads are blown apart. There’s a severed arm off to the side. mid-air. The narration reads, “Today is the day we feed the Beast.”

It’s not long before Castle, Goodwin, and Angel, along with many more make a run for it. Angel stops to fire at the enemy. Goodwin tries to get him to keep running. Angel manages a few words before his head is blown clear off. “There ain’t no God, fool! Look around you! there ain’t no muthafuckin’ God!”

Anti-aircraft guns are used on the Vietnamese. Some are blown away. But there are just too many enemy soldiers. American jets fly overhead and drop bombs. “I was so certain I would make it,” Goodwin says in narration. “The big freedom bird. Thirty-six and a wake-up. I am out of here. In the end I can do no more than follow on a killer’s heels, rushing with him to his Alamo.” A soldier aflame runs at Goodwin with a bayonette ready to strike. Goodwin is grabbed and pulled into a plane. Beautiful flight attendants call his name. One says, “You made it, you silly son of a bitch.” He smiles with tears in his eyes and the plane flies off into the white of the background. He’s dead.

Born 4.1

As Castle blows away Vietnamese soldiers, and actually stabs one in the stomach with the rifle when the barrel burns out, a voice tempts him. The voice says it can help him. Castle just needs to accept the help. Like I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I don’t believe the voice to be of supernatural origin. I believe it’s inside Castle. I believe Castle accepts the beast within himself. He becomes a savage. He lets go of his humanity to fight his order. And he lives. He should have died in that battle, but against all odds, he pulled through.

Born 4.2

Goodwin couldn’t give up his humanity. He couldn’t give up on his hope to return home to the good America. Castle gave up everything he had and he survived. He fed the Great Beast inside. He returns to America. The last shot of Vietnam is of Goodwin, blood soaking his shirt where his heart would be. His corpse is left behind. Maybe that’s what happens in war. There’s no humanity left by the end. Castle goes home, but he’ll never be the same. The Fantastic Four and the Incredible Hulk turn into something inhuman, but are still able to hold onto their humanity underneath. A lot happened in the world in the 1960s. The Punisher still looks human, but he’s not complete. Vietnam has created that hole in him.

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Photo by John King

Photo by John King

Sean Ironman (Episode 102earned his MFA at the University of Central Florida. Currently, he teaches creative nonfiction and digital media at the University of Central Arkansas as a visiting professor. His work can be read in The Writer’s ChronicleRedivider, and Breakers: A Comics Anthology, among others.

Episode 124: Horror Movie Poetry Night!

Episode 124 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

This week is a live show for Horror Movie Poetry Night, starring The Drunken Odyssey All Stars, brought to you several days early for your Halloweening pleasure.

Drew Johnson, Photo by Leslie Silvia. (That's a blurry John King, far left.)

Drew Johnson, Photo by Leslie Silvia. (That’s a blurry John King in golden mouse ears, far left.)

On this occasion, The Drunken Odyssey All-Stars included:

Amy Watkins (The Walking Dead)
Vincent Crampton Dr. Josef Heiter (The Human Centipede)
Anna King (The Silence of the Lambs)
Drew Johnson (The Shining)
Jeff Shuster (The Blair Witch Project)
Melanie Neale (Jaws)
Teege Braune (Werewolves)
Karen Price (Rosemary’s Baby)
Stephanie Rizzo (Gremlins)

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Episode 124 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

In Boozo Veritas #65: Adventures in Halloweening: Part 4

In Boozo Veritas #65 by Teege Braune

 Adventures in Halloweening: Part 4

The season of Samhain is upon us. This is my last In Boozo Veritas before the thirty-first and final entry into this year’s Adventures in Halloweening. Though my pinky is still broken, I haven’t let the injury prevent me from cavorting with witches and tangling amongst ghouls. This might be my last blog of the season, but we have nearly a full week before the fateful night, and many more adventures to pursue.

Read the short story “The Gutter Sees the Light That Never Shines” by Alistair Rennie. In this fantastic piece of dark-fantasy, Rennie moves a collection of imaginatively nasty characters around The City of Thrills like chess pieces as they encounter each other in increasingly gruesome and visceral conflicts. No sane reader will have a clear sense of whom to root for, but an unexpected full-circle twist of vengeance makes for a devilishly well-crafted climax worthy of Chan-wook Park. The violence, both relished by the characters and presented in loving technicolor by Rennie, is not however the most disturbing aspect of the story. Instead, I found the frightening implications of the dangerous yet captivating world that Rennie creates to be more unsettling. This story is part of a series of tales about the Meta-Warriors, described as “a troupe of ultra-violent, habitually transgressive misfits” on their creator’s website, and I look forward to delving deeper into their horrible adventures.

Watched John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness. A thoroughly entertaining movie, there are plenty of reasons why it has never become a classic.

Mad Mouth

Teetering between schlock, weird fiction, and meta-horror, it follows Sam Neill’s John Trent, an insurance claims investigator attempting to discover the whereabout of missing horror novelist Sutter Cane. As Trent delves deeper into the mystery, the world around him becomes unquantifiably stranger and his accent wavers precariously between American and Australian. The film takes most of its cues from Lovecraft: many of the allusions (Pickman’s Hotel) are direct references to names within Lovecraft’s universe and the notion that otherworldly creatures are attempting to enter and destroy civilization will be no doubt familiar to Lovecraft’s readers, the central plot devise that reading a supernatural text, in this case Cane’s latest novel, can lead to delirium, paranoia, and eventually insanity has its antecedent in Robert Chambers King in Yellow cycle.

The King in Yellow

Chambers stories, which bridge the gap between nineteenth century decadence and twentieth century horror have been dubbed proto-weird, yet remain as fresh, eerie, and modern as the work of Lovecraft among others that he influenced. He enjoyed a posthumous resurgence in popularity, The King in Yellow actually jumping to number one, due to references in HBO’s True Detective, despite the show’s failure to contribute anything new to the mythos or even utilize it in any interesting way. This week I read Chambers “The Yellow Sign” for the first time and can easily see why it has continued to appeal to horror fans throughout the last hundred years. As it accounts the burgeoning and arguably inappropriate relationship between an artist, the narrator, and his young nude model, the pair are simultaneously tormented by the wide, pale face of a mysteriously repulsive doorman who seems to always be glaring into the artist’s studio and finally infiltrating their dreams. The confluence of events that leads to the protagonists’ horrifying conclusion and the details surrounding the doorman’s grotesque countenance are indeed unnerving, but I was left most undone by the dramatic shift in tone the story takes after the characters read the damning text, a play itself entitled The King in Yellow, a playfulness that becomes a dark, hopeless, ethereal pondering that almost seems to nihilistically accept the gruesome fate awaiting the victims.

Kerouac House 2

Photo by Karen Price.

Back in Orlando local author and journalist Bob Kealing had an exciting week. On Tuesday he realized a personal dream when the Kerouac House, which has for several years hosted a writing fellowship, became an official historical landmark, the first time Orlando has awarded the distinction to a location with literary significance.

Photo by Karen Price.

Photo by Karen Price.

The lovely and well attended ceremony in the front yard was drier than Kerouac or I would have preferred, but featured pepper jack cheese, a mutual favorite for both the spokesman for the Beat Generation and myself. Keeling’s contribution, both discovering the house’s connection to Kerouac and writing a fantastic book called Kerouac in Florida: Where the Road Ends, were rightfully recognized. Yesterday he gave a presentation at East End Market on his latest book Tupperware Unsealed: Brownie Wise, Earl Tupper, and the Home Party Pioneers, the film rights of which have recently been optioned with Sandra Bullock expressing interest in the role of Brownie Wise. Kealing’s knowledge, story-telling, and obvious enthusiasm for the subject were so absorbing that those of us in the audience who had never before pondered the history of Tupperware found ourselves, nevertheless, captivated.

Despite the southern gothic charm of the hanging moss over the Kerouac house, I must admit neither event had much of a Halloween connection, but sharing a sangria with Pat Greene yesterday at the market, I did enjoy an oddly spooky twist. I had casually mentioned to Pat that I kept running into a guy dressed in a hat and trench coat with the most life-like and disgusting zombie make-up I had ever seen.

“Actually, I haven’t seen him this week, but it seems like every Halloween reading or event I go to the guy is lurking around in the same make-up even when no one else is dressed up,” I said.

“Oh yeah? It kind of reminds me of Nat Orel,” laughed Pat who is kind of a local historian in his own right.

“Who the hell is Nat Orel?” I asked.

“You never heard of Nat Orel? He was a petty thug around Winter Park and Orlando back in the late sixties and seventies, more of a small time crook and a bully than an actual criminal. Everybody knew him even though no one liked him. He had been in and out of jail a bunch of times, and finally he crossed a line, and this time he’s going to go away for a while. I think he shot a guy while he was knocking off a gas station or something, but the cops can’t seem to nab him. They keep getting tips that he’s at this bar or that bar, but by the time they get there he’s ducked out. This is Halloween in ’78 or ’79, I think. Then the next morning the find his body all mangled up. They think somebody had tied him to the back of a car and dragged up and down Winter Park road, but nobody ever reported anything suspicious, and they never arrested anybody for killing him. I don’t think they looked very hard because everybody kind of figured whoever did it did the city a favor,” Pat guffawed at this as though it were the punchline to a really great joke.

“Anyway, there used to be a local legend that Nat would lurk around Orlando before Halloween in a trench coat and a fedora, and if anyone looked at his face, he’d drag you to hell, but nobody really talks about it anymore,” Pat concluded.

It looks like either the strange zombie I’ve been seeing everywhere either has an equally odd knowledge of obscure and morbid local history, or else Nat Orel has chosen me as this year’s victim. In the meantime, tonight there will be a great reading once again hosted by Bookmark It at the East End Market featuring a smattering of local publishing house Beating Windward’s more macabre authors including Nathan Holic, Keith Gouveia, Jon Binkowski, and of course, Karen Best whose collection A Floating World features thirteen wonderfully unnerving and creepy stories and has established Karen as central Florida’s literary face of Halloween.

A Floating World

Friday night, of course, is my favorite day of the entire year. Jenn and I are planning on going to see The Texas Chainsaw Massacre at the Enzian at midnight, but surrounding that we will hit up as many Halloween parties as possible. Meanwhile, I’ll be keeping a wary eye open for old, undead Nat for the preservation of my mortal soul. See you all on Halloween!

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Teege with Hat

Teege Braune (episode 72episode 75episode 77episode 90episode 102episode 122) is a writer of literary fiction, horror, essays, and poetry. Recently he has discovered the joys of drinking responsibly. He may or may not be a werewolf.

Episode 123: Ghost Stories from the Year without a Summer

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Episode 123 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

On this week’s show, I present a discussion of and readings from work that resulted in the companionship of Lord Byron, his physician John Polidori, and the Shelley’s during the Year without a Summer, in which a ghost story challenge was undertaken.

Mary Shelley

Mary Shelley, by RIchard Rothwell.

John William Polidori

John William Polidori

John William Polidori as painted by F.G. Gainsford.

Lord Byron

Lord_Byron_coloured_drawing

Lord Byron, engraving by person unknown, colored by person unknown, as of press time.

Notes

Please give thanks to the amazing talents and efforts of this episode’s two readers:

Chris Booth

Chris BoothAugust Evans

August Evans_______

Episode 123 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

Shakespearing 17.2: Lears

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Shakespearing 17.2 by David Foley

Lears (An Interlude)

Note: In my project of reading all of Shakespeare’s plays in order, I’m still a long way from King Lear. What follows are thoughts about seeing a recent production.

When I entered NYU’s Skirball Center a couple of weeks ago—exhausted from four hours of teaching, a little nauseous from the peanut butter cookie and double espresso I’d substituted for dinner—I was having a hard time remembering why I’d wanted to see my fourth King Lear in two years. I’d hurried to secure tickets to this touring production from the Globe Theatre in London, but since then, it had been dismissively reviewed by Charles Isherwood in the Times, and now the sparseness of the audience suggested that word-of-mouth wasn’t doing it any favors either. To top it off, I had my Brazilian boyfriend with me, and though his English is good, it’s not Shakespearean good, and it wasn’t clear he needed to be subjected to it either.

The signs continued bad. There, as Isherwood had promised, were the actors chatting with the audience, a chumminess that continued with a cozy opening speech, which, among other things, announced that the house lights would be left up in an attempt to recreate the Globe’s outdoor setting. And then the play began, still recognizably the production Isherwood had reviewed: a game cast of eight actors, accordion music and singing, broad acting, jokey staging, everything spelled out as if the production had to be toured to high schools.

Why then was it so devastating? None of the Lears I’ve seen in the last two years have brought me so immediately back to the play’s primal power to move, its bone-deep sorrow. Of course, what you most need in King Lear is a Lear. Joseph Marcell gives an emotionally immediate and inventive performance, a kind of vaudeville of grief and madness that’s never less than fully felt. Isherwood says that Marcell’s performance lacks “emotional thrust and stature,” and this language itself might start to get at what this Lear accomplishes. I don’t know what “emotional thrust” is, and “stature” seems to be what this production is assiduously avoiding. What the company seems to realize is that Lear is not a play of “stature” but of harrowing simplicity. It is a kind of vaudeville. Two of its most wrenching scenes are absurd. There’s the scene in the hovel in which all the “poor Tom’s a-cold” stuff is never credible: we never believe there’s any reason for Edgar to commit himself so wholeheartedly to his disguise. And there’s Gloucester’s attempt to throw himself off the cliff, the blind old man somehow convinced that he’s fallen from a great height when he’s only fallen on the ground. This is not a world of stature. It’s not a world of grandeur. It’s a world where we’re brought close to the echoing absurdity at the center of our lives, the “nothing” that is the play’s sounding note from Cordelia’s first response to her father.

LearThe fact that this is not drenched in Beckettian futility but instead is bound to our deepest human sorrows and a kind of love is the strange alchemy of the play. How does it work? This production seems to understand that it works the way a fairy tale does: in all simplicity, as a tale that, before you know it, has touched wells of hidden and terrible knowing. “[W]hat can you say to draw/A third more opulent than your sisters?” Lear asks Cordelia, and in that moment, when logic says that she can’t win a better portion than her sisters, that there’s only one third left, we understand that we’re in the logic of, the rhetoric of a fairy tale. The mistake you can make with King Lear is to miss this note: to aim for tragic grandeur instead of primal tale.

In the deep wells of the play, in its echoing nothingness, is love. The play blasts a gaping hole where we suppose love is, and finds in its place a love so elemental that it barely comforts. The reason the scenes with poor Tom are so moving despite their illogic is that they sound this note at its deepest. This is why we have to, for the moment, believe that Edgar is not Edgar but Tom. “Unaccommodated man.” “The thing itself.” In the Globe’s production, Marcell clings to Tom, as if only the madness of the shattered self could bring him to such terrifying depths of love: love not for those who comfort and reward us, but for the thing itself. The acts of love in the play—Edgar helping his father to the edge of the false cliff, Lear holding the dead Cordelia in his arms—attempt to bridge the nothingness that keeps opening up around them, and these attempts, a kind of heroism of the absurd, are what give the play its power to devastate.

Isherwood says that the production “may serve as a nicely accessible entertainment,” but “don’t expect to feel much deep emotional engagement.” And yet, with the house lights embarrassingly up, I found myself furtively wiping away tears and struggling to suppress sobs. The problem is not that the production is accessible; the problem is what, in its jolly simplicity, it manages to access.

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David FoleyDavid Foley is a playwright and fiction writer living in Brooklyn. His plays include Cressida Among the Greeks, Paradise, Nance O’Neil, The Murders at ArgosA Hole in the Fence, and Sad Hotel, among others. His novel The Traveler’s Companion is available on Amazon. He teaches at New York University.

The Curator of Schlock #62: Tales of Terror

The Curator of Schlock #62 by Jeff Shuster

Tales of Terror

Tales of Terror PosterI was first introduced to Edgar Allen Poe in the 2nd Grade. I seem to recall a bunch of the other boys and myself being corralled by a substitute teacher. To pass the time, she read us “The Black Cat.” She mustn’t have realized the symphony of the grotesque contained within in that story for she wanted to stop reading right at the point the narrator cuts the feline’s eye out. I have no idea why. Us boys were sitting in rapt attention at the grisly details being told to us. We wanted to explore the dark side of human nature, which I think is where the allure for horror comes from. I went on to read many other Poe tales, but “The Black Cat” still remains my favorite. That story along with two others was adapted in 1962’s Tales of Terror directed by the unspeakably-prolific Roger Corman.

Poe

Our first tale of terror is called “Morella” and it involves a character by the name of Lorena Locke (Maggie Pierce) who decides to visit her estranged father (Vincent Price). He’s rather cold to her since he blames her for her mother’s death (even though his wife died a few months after childbirth.) His daughter is shocked to find the dried out corpse of her mother, Morella, in the master bedroom. Oh, and Lorena is dying of a terminally ill disease that isn’t specified. She and her father reconcile, Morella’s ghost possesses/kills Lorena, and the house burns down with poor Vincent Price in it. Yeah, I didn’t get this story. I didn’t get David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive either.  There’s sometimes a buggy.

The second tale of terror is “The Black Cat” though this telling is also taking cues from “The Cask of Amontillado.” Peter Lorre plays Montresor Herringbone, a connoisseur of fine wines and by connoisseur, I mean a lush who drinks away the money his wife Anabelle (Joyce Jameson) has squared away for food.

Poe2He’s also a bit of a meanie to her cat, a black cat. While bar hopping, Montresor comes upon a wine tasting event featuring the world’s most foremost wine identifier, Fortunato Luchresi (Vincent Price). Montresor calls him a poser, and they settle it with a wine tasting contest. Neither bests the other, both being able to identify each vintage perfectly.

Tales of Terror 4

Montresor gets all liquored up. Or is it wino-ed up? Fortunato drags Montresor back to his house to sleep it off. Fortunato and Anabelle start making googly eyes at each other, an affair ensues, Montresor finds out, revenge, solidly built walls, etc. We don’t get a cat getting its eye cut out, but we do get a rather wonderful nightmare sequence where Fortunato and Anabelle play catch with Montresor’s severed head.

Tales of Terror 3Our third and final tale of terror is “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar.” Basil Rathbone–obviously–plays a hypnotist by the name of Mr. Carmichael. He’s hypnotizing M. Valdemar (Vincent Price), a terminally ill man who wants to forget about his constant pain.

Tales of Terror 5Carmichael manages to alleviate Valdemar’s pain through these trances, but requests that Valdemar participate in an experiment. Carmichael wants to keep him under hypnosis to the point of death, seeing if the hypnosis will keep him alive somehow. The experiment is successful…sort of. Valdemar’s body dies, but soul ends up becoming tethered to corpse. You know, I don’t think that would be so bad. Just tune the radio to A Prairie Home Companion each weekend, and I’ll be okay being stuck inside a cold, lifeless corpse.

So, my first foray into a Roger Corman Poe Picture was relatively painless. If you’d like to learn more about Roger Corman Poe adaptations, please allow me to point you in the direction of Randall Burling’s “The Fall of the House of Corman” featured on episode 8 of The Drunken Odyssey podcast.

Five Things I Learned from Tales of Terror

  1. Cobwebs are not shabby chic.
  2. You can drink your food.
  3. Black cats are bad news.
  4. Vincent Price always seems to die in horrible ways.
  5. Oozing putrescence is precisely as unpleasant as it sounds.
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Photo by Leslie Salas

Photo by Leslie Salas

Jeffrey Shuster (episode 47episode 102) is an MFA candidate and instructor at the University of Central Florida

The Lists #4: Seven Ways to Tell You’re in a Paul Verhoeven Film

The Lists #4 by Clinton Crockett Peters

Seven Ways to Tell You’re in a Paul Verhoeven Film

1: You take your shirt off and aren’t wearing a bra. You also smile during a co-ed shower.

2: You’re Kevin Bacon. As soon as you turn invisible, you go right for the breast of the woman you hate.

3: You always cock your head sideways when you’re thinking, even if it’s to wonder why so many women don’t seem to be wearing bras. Or why a giant beetle is spewing lava.

4: Two breasts aren’t enough.

5: You think flapping in a pool like a desperate minnow on a hook while riding a tasteless slime ball is a good time.

6: The real you isn’t the one who has committed unspeakable acts of violence and genocide, but the one who is desperate to prove himself and follow the clairvoyance of a Sesame Street reject growing out of a man’s chest. The host man will later become a deranged general and on a distant planet inform everyone that the once-thought mindless insect enemy can, “Suck your brains out!”

7: You’re part man, part metal. But all cop. And shoot between the legs of a screaming maiden, instead of over her shoulder, or around her torso, or wait for a better shot, or tell her to ‘Grab your ankles, lady!’ You’re all cop and fire phallically true.

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Clint PetersA former wilderness guide, Clinton Crockett Peters (Episode 115) has an MFA in nonfiction from the University of Iowa where he was an Iowa Arts Fellow. He is a Teaching Fellow pursuing a PhD in creative writing at the University of North Texas and has work published or forthcoming in UpstreetAmerican Literary Review, AntimuseLos Angeles Review, and Ethos. He writes regularly for AMRI. 

Heroes Never Rust #64: Surrender in Vietnam and the Loss of the Real America

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Heroes Never Rust #64 by Sean Ironman

Surrender in Vietnam and the Loss of the Real America

The beginning of issue three of Born shows various images from the Vietnam War: bombs falling from planes, a bridge filled with pedestrians blown sky high, American soldiers setting a Vietnamese village on fire, Vietnamese men and women dead in a ditch, and children burning at planes drop napalm. An unseen narrator comments on America being unable to give up just because America must show the world that they can’t be messed with. “Though we make the world despise us…Though we do things that will stain our souls forever…Though America eats its own intestines over this, cities riven with unrest, leaders inspiring loathing and distrust…We cannot lose.”

Born 3The war has been lost. Readers have seen that in the previous two issues. Frank Castle is the only one left at Valley Forge who cares to strike out at the enemy. The other soldiers wait out whatever days they have left getting high. It’s unclear who is speaking in the opening. It could be Castle, but it could be Goodwin or just a nameless narrator. I don’t think it matters. The opening does a its job—it presents the idea that there really is no reason why America doesn’t just call it quits. It’s all chest pounding. Just a bunch of men refusing to give up to show their strength, even though they no longer know why they are fighting.

Both of the main characters of Born, Goodwin and Castle, are forced to challenge their reasons for their actions. The first line of dialogue in the issue belongs to Goodwin. “Why can’t we stay out of the rest of the world?” Goodwin wants to keep his head low and get home. He doesn’t care for the war, but understands a man like Castle is needed. He spends most of this issue with his friend, Angel, who has given in and is constantly found in the drug den of Valley Forge. An hour before dawn, the two friends watch the rain. Goodwin lays into Angel about getting high. Goodwin tells him, “We shouldn’t have gotten involved here; all we’re doing is making an even bigger mess of the place than it was already. And we’re screwing up our own country. We’ve been tearing ourselves apart over this for the last five years.” Goodwin wants to focus on what he calls “the real America.”

Born 3 detail 1This isolationist idea has been around forever. I hear it from time to time in today’s world when U.S. soldiers are sent overseas. Recently, I watched HBO’s John Adams miniseries and the same idea was discussed when England and France were at war. In Born, Angel shuts Goodwin up. “I keep hearin’ you talkin’ ‘bout this idea you got—this real America? It’s a fuckin’ dream, man. It belongs in the thirties. The twenties. Fuck, the Wild muthafuckin’ West. That’s the real America right there: back when you was shootin’ each other, rapin’ red Indians an’ callin’ me nigga…”

I wrote about this idea recently in a post about Captain America. The past is viewed as a simpler time. It seems like everyone throughout history is trying to make things like they were in the past, even if the past wasn’t so great. Maybe as children we see the love and goodness the world has to offer, and then we become adults and have to make concessions to our beliefs. The past, then, is viewed as pure and wholesome, but as children, we only see one side. Angel wants Goodwin to wake up, not to accept the reality of their situation in Vietnam, but to accept that this perfect America Goodwin dreamed up never existed.

Castle is in a similar situation. He comes close to tossing a grenade into a latrine that his commanding officer is using. The officer had just told Castle that he stopped requesting supplies and just wants to wait out the rest of the war and not draw anyone’s attention. He stops himself, but later he questions that decision. Castle has been changed by his three tours in Vietnam. Some readers have raised the idea that the voice talking to Castle is supernatural, like Satan, but I don’t buy it. There’s no other supernatural element. I believe it’s his conscience. He questions how he could “kill at the drop of a hat.” At first, he tells himself that it’s about the other men at the base. But he throws that idea away. The war has made him a killing machine. “That’s what’s got you worried? That urge you have, to give every motherfucker in the world exactly what they deserve?”

Born 3 detailHe seeks out Goodwin, and their talk quickly becomes personal. Castle tells Goodwin about his family. He has a four-year-old daughter and son on the way. “I sometimes think they might be my last chance.” Castle is afraid of himself. This scene comes directly after he questions his motivations for wanting to frag his commanding officer. I spoke in my first post about Born that this comic is supposed to be the real origin of the Punisher. That he was the Punisher long before his family was killed in a gangwar. But maybe Castle was always the Punisher. Maybe he just never had the means to kill. Just going to Vietnam doesn’t make a person the Punisher. We’d have a lot of Punishers on the street if that were true. Maybe Vietnam is just one of many events in his life that pushed Castle over the top. Maybe like Angel tells Goodwin, there never was this perfect time in Castle’s life. Vietnam didn’t destroy the good America, and it didn’t turn Castle into the Punisher. Do we really change so much from one event? Or do we just reveal more of ourselves? I believe that one event is not enough to completely change who a person is, but a series of events can. Like waves splashing against rock will, over time, corrode the rock. The issue ends with a Vietnamese army attacking Valley Forge. One more event they have to survive, and if they do, will they think one day that everything was so perfect before this battle, that they had no problems? I think they’d just be lying to themselves.

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Sean IronmanSean Ironman (Episode 102earned his MFA at the University of Central Florida. Currently, he teaches creative nonfiction and digital media at the University of Central Arkansas as a visiting professor. His work can be read in The Writer’s ChronicleRedivider, and Breakers: A Comics Anthology, among others.

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