Hamell on Trial

I realize that the few people who actually read my blog probably lose interest fast, because it’s not about any one thing, but they’re wrong. It is about one thing: me. It’s about me and I’m a random guy, my interests and pursuits shifting between art and science, cooking and comic books. Allow me to change the subject once again and talk a little about music. I love music and it makes up a big part of my life, a constant stream of music echoing through head by an internal radio station that plays 24/7. I’ve mentioned my susceptibility to the dreaded ear worm and how I constantly make up little songs about everyday things that make up the bulk of my existence. Now I’d like to talk about one of my most profound musical experiences.

This was roughly 30 years ago and I was finishing up my undergraduate studies at the University of New Hampshire in Durham. On this particular evening, I was in Portsmouth, NH, at The Portsmouth Brewery, because my favorite local band, Groove Child, was playing. I got there early, mainly because I like to grab a good seat and order my beer before the masses arrived, and partly because I always get to where I’m going early. The basement room where the shows went on was not big. I doubt it could hold 100 people, 60-70 being a more realistic estimate. Of course, this was several decades ago and memory is a fickle thing, so take much of what I say with a grain of salt. This is more about how I perceived this experience that a factual account, so get the hell off my back. Suffice it to say that I had a front row seat at a rather intimate music venue when the show began.

I’m eagerly awaiting Groove Child, the main attraction, when the opening act comes out. He’s a bald, white guy, a bit stocky, a bit Uncle Festerish, in a faded, black tee shirt and well-worn jeans, with an acoustic guitar that looks like it’s seen better days. Walking out and assessing the crowd, he opens with a joke. It’s a dumb joke, a dad joke. He delivers the predictable punchline and pauses for the inevitable chuckle that such a bad joke brings, and then, so abruptly i nearly gives me whiplash, launches one of the most powerful live performances I’ve ever seen. It started with a thundering, staccato guitar strum with enough bass (I later found out he tuned his strings down an octave to make his sound bassier) to push me back in my seat and lyrics delivered with the speed of a rap star freestyling on the mic. Following this explosive opening was a roughly 45 minute set that simply blew me away. His material shifted between hard punk rap and slow, heartful ballads, from more dumb jokes to poems about drug dealers getting stabbed to death. No joke, I was so affected by his set that, after he was done, I simply paid my tab and walked out. No one could have followed that act and not looked dull by comparison.

Ed Hamill, also known as Hamill on Trial, was born in Syracuse, NY, but got his big break on the Austin music scene. I still don’t know all the specifics of his life, but both his stories and his songs speak of a history of drug use, hard times and heartbreak. I recall him relating a bad car accident that nearly killed him and left him with chronic pain. After his marriage of 22 years ended, he wrote a song a day for a year. They’re on his YouTube channel if you’re curious enough to take a look. He is brash, honest and outspoken, with several songs commenting on political and societal issues. He put a few albums out on Ani Defranco’s record label. I’ve seen him a handful of times and own several of his albums. His music is easy to find online, but, trust me, none of his recordings can match the sheer intensity of his live performance. I always appreciate a live performance, particularly because of the bravery it takes to get and share a part of yourself with an audience, but Ed Hamill shines on stage. He has a stage presence that is large and commanding and if you, at all, like what you hear on this blog post, I encourage you to see him.

How Nick Fury Became Black

 

Battle Scars #1

I’ve been reading comics for a long time and I’m pretty familiar with most of the big players and even a few of the minor ones. Few comic book characters are bigger than Nick Fury. For one thing, he has been around longer than most. Created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, Nick Fury first appeared in Sgt. Nick Fury and his Howling Commandos #1 in 1963, so he’s been around since the Silver Age of comics. Starting out as a grade-A military badass, his character morphed into the super secret agent leader of SHIELD. Secondly, through his involvement with SHIELD, he has, at one time or another, played some role in nearly every Marvel comic book title I can think of, from Iron Man to the Punisher. For a character so under-powered in the Marvel universe, he has been written as a shadowy puppet master, pulling the strings behind a veil of secrecy. Then, in 2002, Nick Fury shows up once more in the title, The Ultimates, but with some notable differences. In that comic, he’s black.

Before I go further, I want to say that my issue with this change is not about race. I know there are some comic/movie fans out there that throw a fit when there’s some white-washing, or race changing, or virtue signalling, or any one of a number of bullshit things these people want to whine about. I don’t give a good Goddamn if they want to write Nick Fury as a black man, an Asian woman or a nonbinary Latinix with breast augmentation and a big dick. What does matter to me, however, is continuity. I was actually pretty shocked I didn’t hear more complaints about a character that has been white for four decades suddenly becoming a black man with no explanation. I believe the short answer that was given at the time was that this was merely an alternate dimension, which is the lamest writer cop out that I have heard. Then came Battle Scars.

A six issue limited run written by Chris Yost, Cullen Bunn and Matt Fraction, this lukewarm story actually addressed this race change perfectly, albeit somewhat weakly. So well, in fact, that I have always wondered why I have heard little mention of it in comic book discussions. I don’t think I’ve even met someone who has read it. It was such a mandatory retcon, in my opinion, that I’ve wanted to write about it for a while now. I had forgotten about it until I started rearranging my comic book collection and ran across it and reread all six of the comics in a day. This is where I must put a spoiler warning. Spoiler alert, spoilers ahead, if you at all care then you already know what I am talking about. This may be overkill, because I have a feeling that no one cares, that this little bit of comics history is so insignificant (not to mention, this blog itself) that it is but a forgotten footnote in Marvel lore. That being said, I know some people can get pretty testy out there when any sort of spoiler comes along, so you’ve been warned. If you want to read this series for yourself, without foreknowledge of the plot, then read no further.

Battle Scars #5

In the start of the series, we are introduced to Sgt. Marcus Johnson, a tough and savvy army ranger who returns to the states from his tour in Afghanistan. The return is not a happy one, since it is for his mother’s funeral, but he barely has time to mourn before he gets attacked by Task Master and his henchmen. Given that he’s outnumbered and that Task Master has fought the likes of Captain American and Spiderman, Johnson holds his own pretty well, but still has to be rescued by the Avengers. They hand him over to SHIELD who immediately take him into custody and, oddly enough, treat him like a prisoner. He does the obvious thing and escapes, determined to find out who killed his mom. Along the way, he meets up with his comrade-in-arms, Cheese. I shit you not, his nickname is Cheese and I don’t want to imagine what happened to award him that nom de guerre. What follows is a circuitous mess of a plot that I won’t bore you with.

I know I warned you about spoilers, and they’re here, but the story itself is not great. It feels like the sort of thing that could’ve been fit into a single comic, but they padded it to make a short run series. Shit, even Deadpool couldn’t make this entertaining. Yep, Deadpool is in it, but he doesn’t help that much. Long story short, it turns out that Nick Fury was up to some hanky-panky with a fellow agent on one of his missions. That agent turns out to be Marcus’s mom and, deciding to keep the baby, assumes a secret identity to keep the child safe.

Fury reveals all this just before he and Marcus get captured by Some super baddie by the name of Orion. He’s an arch nemesis of Fury’s, but he wants Marcus because his body produces something called the Infinity Formula. This is the stuff that has kept Fury alive for so long and makes Marcus just a little stronger/faster/tougher than the average human. They ultimately escape and, in the process, Marcus gets an eye taken out, hence the eye patch that Fury is known for. Once the battle is over, Fury announces his retirement from SHEILD and asks Marcus to take his place. Not only does Marcus agree to that, but it’s also discovered that the name on his actual birth certificate just so happens to be Nick Fury. Isn’t that convenient. Oh, and his buddy Cheese? He just happens to be Phil Coulson.

So, there you have it. The story of how Nick Fury became black. Again, not the best story in the world, but at least Marvel did give some explanation about the change. I rarely care what is cannon or not, but that race change was too big not to have some reason offered, no matter how thin. I’m sure you were all dying to know. Until next time, True Believers, happy reading.