Armagideon Time

Trade-in: Well in hand(book)

November 21st, 2019

I prefer to let my featured selections percolate for a few weeks before discussing them here. It gives my brain time to process the material, jog loose any stray memories, and conduct more than a surface level survey. We’re going to put aside that informal rule for this installment, which discusses a much-anticipated tome which dropped a couple of days ago.

Given the recent spate of delays and cancellations involving comics collections, I had my doubts whether the omnibus edition of the original 1983 Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe run was actually going to materialize on the promised date. My suspicions of an elaborate (and cruel) fake-out didn’t evaporate until I tore open the shipping box and ran my grubby hands across the book’s cover.

And what a book it is — an issue per issue reprint of the entire miniseries, complete with the serialized “alien races” and appendix portions tucked at the end of each installment. (I had wondered if Marvel was going to bundle those sections for the sake of flow, and I’m thankful they didn’t.) The book is slim as far as omnibus editions go. It does raises questions of value for money spent, but it also means that the tome more physically manageable. I love my other omnibus editions but those thousand-page-plus behemoths really aren’t suitable for the casual browsing the Official Handbook demands.

Folks who visit here for reasons other than comics commentary are probably wondering what the heck the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe is and why it makes me (and scores of my peers) so swoony. Back in the early 1980s, Marvel’s EIC Jim Shooter floated the idea of doing a “Jane’s Guide” for its shared universe characters. The idea was farmed out to editor and continuity guru Mark Gruenwald, who expanded the concept into an wide-angle directory of the people, places, and things from Marvel’s Timely Comics origins to the then-present day.

Want to know how tall the Titanium Man was? Want to know exactly how Guardian’s battle suit worked? Want to know all the twists and turns of Vision’s origin story? The Handbook had that info in both excruciating and faux plausible detail. Originally planned as for a dozen alphabetical installments, it was expanded to fifteen via a two issue addendum of dead and inactive characters and a single issue guide to weapons and equipment.

To understand the significance of series to me and generational peers in fandom, you have to understand that this was a pre-internet era where documentation outside the source material was next to nil. There were times (*cough* DC’s Legion of Super-Heroes *cough*) where I went multiple issues without knowing a character’s name, never mind their powers or origin story. Occasionally Dynamite or other kiddie mags would fill in some details, but most of the time we had to rely on occasional in-story recaps, book ‘n’ record sets, or the dubious testimony of comics-reading pals.

For DC, it wasn’t that huge an issue because its upper-tier characters had a higher media and marketing profile. (For real, I first learned Wonder Woman’s origin from a Ground Round placemat.) With the exception of Spider-Man and the Hulk, Marvel info was fairly elusive. It could be frustrating for a kid lacking regular access to a spinner rack, but it also lent the Marvel Universe an alluring aura of mystery. Each little nugget of info gleaned from a flea market quarter bin purchase felt like a hard-won victory and kindled the desire to learn even more.

Prior to the Handbook, Marvel published a puzzle/activity funnybook series titled Fun and Games containing mazes, word searches, trivia quizzes and the like pulled from the various corners of the company’s fictional universe. Stray issues of it were a guaranteed quarter bin purchase for me — not for the puzzles, but for the tantalizing references to unfamiliar Marvel characters and concepts. Similarly, I doubt Jack of Hearts would’ve resonated so strongly with my younger self minus the novelty of stumbling upon a (supposedly) hot new character.

By the time the handbook debuted, I’d just discovered a semi-reliable source for new comics to supplement the stuff I was pulling from the flea market and “collector show” which popped up at the Woburn Mall on a regular basis. It was at the latter where I first came across an issue of the Handbook, and it was awestruck love at first sight. All these little mysteries and backstories had been codified with a matter-of-fact gravitas which meshed perfectly with my obsessive fanboy curiosity.

I only ended up scoring the last few issues of the main run and the “Book of the Dead” issues but I read-studied-memorized them with an almost religious fervor. The handy thing about after-the-fact prose summaries of funnybook storylines is that they can make even the most convoluted continuity cobbling seem like seamless cosmologies. The Handbook’s write-ups of the history of the Eternals and the Celestial Madonna arc outstripped the actual source materials by multiple orders of magnitude. Disposable jabronis and also-rans radiated mythic auras by virtue of getting an entry in the roster of deceased characters at a time when confirmed permadeth was still relatively rare in the genre.

It also influenced my back issue purchases, as made evident by my full runs of Bronze Age It! The Living Colossus and Torpedo appearances. My memories of reading my small stack of Handbook issues remain lucid after some thirty-five years — flipping through the second Book of the Dead during a sixth grade nature retreat and developing an appreciation for Wonder Man while sitting on a lawn chair outside my uncle’s apartment, the loose-from-wear pages and appendix layout clear as yesterday in my mind’s eye.

The Handbook was enough of a success that Marvel followed it up with a “deluxe” edition a couple of years later, which ran roughly concurrently with DC’s similar Who’s Who index. While I picked up every issue of that revised and expanded do-over on the stands, it lacked the magic of the original run. My comics fandom had entered its peak by then, thanks to discovering a direct market shop in biking distance and an uncle who gifted us his deep collection of Bronze Age Marvel stuff during a religious epiphany (a move which I’m told he later regretted).

Simply put, there weren’t as many mysteries to savor, just current plotlines and older source material which rarely lived up to the expectations established its Handbook summaries. The deluxe edition couldn’t be the magical gateway the original had been because I no longer needed a gateway. I could reflexively cite the Punisher’s first appearance or Baron Blood’s decapitation chapter and verse.

On a more subjective level, the Marvel Universe reflected in the original Handbook will always be “my” Marvel Universe — pre-Secret Wars, with Ghost Rider, Yellowjacket, Spider-Woman sidelined, Dracula and Phoenix dead, the New Mutants just arrived, Paul Smith is the X-artist, and James Rhodes is Iron Man and Monica Rambeau is Captain Marvel. My fandom may have hit peak consumption a bit later, but that particular moment was my for-real, regular basis jumping-on point. This is not to say “my Marvel” represents some artistic apex, but that the first edition of the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe managed to synchronize the perfect material, perfect moment, and perfect audience in my particular case.

It’s a Proustean madeline and a geologic core sample and quasi-religious artifact rolled up in a single tome that makes for some ideal bathroom reading.

Plus, you get to see Mark Gruenwald use his professional position to resolve what I have to assume was a twenty year old playground argument.

You bric it, you brac it

November 14th, 2019

In Victorian times, members of the newly minted bourgeoisie would express their prosperity by decking out their domiciles in the style of a TGI Fridays. Every surface, patch of wall, or cozy corner had to be crammed with a bewildering assortment of knickknacks.

What began as a curated clutter of somewhat valuable objets d’art soon turned into a wider phenomenon, as less fortunate folks sought to emulate the smart set’s affectations with mass produced curios aimed at giving an aura of store-bought sophistication on the cheap.

The trend eventually ebbed, as these things tend to do, only to resurface half-a-century later in another era of material prosperity and conspicuous consumption. This also happened to overlap with a bout of market-driven nostalgia which attempted to triangulate itself between Gilded Age opulence, Roaring Twenties hedonism, and frontier period rustic modes. Being a kid in those times meant the homes of every older relative resembled a folksy fusion of Holly Hobby’s front room and a burlesque bordello.

And when said relative died or downsized their post-retirement digs, there’d be a mad rush among the younger folks to lay claim on the assortment of “antique” globes or swords or dueling pistols collecting dust in the den. Discovering how flimsy and cheapjack the items were became an important life lesson, how the long coveted stuff of dreams was actually cobbled together from flimsy sheets of tin, particle board and paste. (It was a lesson also learned at home, after some constant yet function-free fixture fell victim to misadventure caused by rough play.)

Despite the dubious provenance of its artifacts, it’s an aesthetic I sincerely miss. There’s something cozy and comforting about it which is sorely lacking in spaces kissed by “konmari.” Combine it with the scent of a stew cooking and the stuffiness of steam radiator heat, and it fills me with a comforting sense of “home” as a home should feel.

It’s something I prefer to evoke with my own mix of family heirlooms and significant curios, however. The pre-fab crap does evoke some bit of nostalgia, but the off-the-rack impersonal aspect of it does little for me. Plus the shoddiness of that shit makes it difficult to score outside of estate sales, where more often that not it will be coated in a grimy layer of dust mixed with tobacco tar.

No way to go

November 13th, 2019

The Watergate break-in. Nixon’s re-election. Bloody Sunday. The terrorist attack at the Olympics in Munich. Hurricane Agnes. The Christmas bombing on North Vietnam.

The year of my birth had no shortage of horrors and tragedies, but one of the most disturbing of the lot took place in countless bathrooms across America.

To ask “why?” is to imply that the universe is governed by quantifiable principles. Any pretense of “logic” flew out the window when some unholy alchemist of the household arts decided that folks’ shitters would be improved by wrapping every fixture in garishly hued artificial fur.

It is any wonder my generation grew up so psychically damaged?

Trade-in: Witch crazy

November 12th, 2019

When I first set about acquiring collected editions of “most favored” funnybooks, John Byrne’s year-long stint on West Coast Avengers/Avengers West Coast was near the top of my wantlist.

The run was controversial as it unfolded and remains so among segments of fandom who still give a flying fart about thirty year old superhero stories. It kicked off with Johnny B’s radical reboot of The Vision — making him blander and literally less colorful than before — and tragic breakdown of the Scarlet Witch after losing her synthezoid husband, magical twin toddlers, and ultimately her sanity. These plot threads were supposedly in service to an impending confrontation with the time-manipulating Immortus, but Byrne abruptly quit the book before making good on his various tantalizing set-ups. (The biggest one was left dangling for a decade before getting an overdue but somewhat satisfying resolution in 1999′s Avengers Forever.)

The run came to symbolize a creative M.O. which Byrne had started with Fantastic Four and Hulk and continued with the Superman titles — crash the status quo, float some intriguing subplot seeds, then depart in a fit of fanzine-rumored pique, tossing the mess in the laps of whichever poor stiffs got yanked into to replace him. His quitting WCA was a turning point in my Byrne fandom. It would be the last funnybook run I bought based on his solely on his creative presence.

Yet though I agree with all of the usual criticisms of Byrne’s stint on the series, I still hold a great deal of affection for it. It’s frustrating and frequently grotty in the extreme…

…but it also brought an intriguing perspective on the West Coast Avengers and super-team books in general.

The run followed up and expanded the free-form team dynamic Byrne had played around with in Alpha Flight, with an extra dollop of soap-operatic subplotting. No one is going to confuse these comics for Watchmen, but there’s a refreshing faith that the reader can keep up with the odd narrative structure without constant callbacks or exposition dumps. There’s a definite sense that things were heading some place (or places), so all the cryptic teasers and tangents will be made clear in time. It was infuriating when that — or Byrne’s broader plans for the Avengers franchise — didn’t materialize, but it doesn’t make the lead-up any less interesting.

Besides, any protracted story arc which features Mole Man’s giant monster, the U-Foes, and the return of the original Human Torch can’t be a complete failure.

Historically speaking, the run is of a set with Justice League International and the “Five Years Later” LSH relaunch. All three attempted different spins on the prevailing X-template for superteam series, and all three failed at sustaining their initial appeal over the long haul.

Honestly, though, the above fumbling towards critical analysis only partially explain my love for these comics. The actual reason is much more personal in nature.

My mom died on the last day of November 1988. I didn’t have proper clothes for her funeral, so a good portion of the week afterward was spent clothes shopping with my aunt and uncle as they scoured the Greater Boston retail circuit for dress pants that would fit me. One of the malls we visited had a Waldenbooks with a spinner rack of new comics. The first issue of Byrne’s WCA run was there, so I picked it up.

Reading it was a strange experience, because I kept thinking about the preview I’d seen for in a previews flyer. It had only been a couple of months before, but if felt like a lifetime ago. The start of the run coincided with the whole new chapter of my life, which carried no small amount symbolic heft in my grief-addled psyche.

I stuck with the series until Byrne’s departure a year later, picking up each new issue at New England Comics during our Saturday visits with my father in Boston. The comics — and my anticipation for the next installment of the story — were a rare constant in a stretch of time when the changes came fast and furious.

I don’t want to to put too much sentimental weight on these comics, because they’re not equipped to support it. But they were a “thing,” they way random issues of White Dwarf magazine were a thing and the Clash’s first album was a thing and Phantasy Star was a thing and the Earthsea trilogy was a thing. They were a bunch of fixtures I gravitated toward and genuinely loved because they offered a welcome distraction at a painful moment in time.

Though looking back on Wanda’s implied non-consensual hand job and Wonder Man’s mega-mullet, I wonder if I was just swapping one set of traumas for another.

Then playing

November 7th, 2019

Maura and I spent a good part of the summer of 2018 clearing out my grandmother’s attic of anything I possibly wanted to keep. There were fewer items on that front than I’d anticipated, though the prospect of shifting heavy crates in the sweltering heat tended to override most feelings of materialistic sentimentality.

The most exciting find was entirely accidental. We were making a final sweep of a dresser beside the attic door when I noticed the bottom of its drawers were lined with old newspaper. It wasn’t just any old newspaper, either. The acid-browned and brittle sheets including the full set of movie listings from the August 31, 1975 edition of The Boston Globe.

I carefully bundled the pages inside an oversized RPG manual and trucked them home for further perusal. Together, they offer a strange and sad and wonderful glimpse into a moment of cinematic and local history. A few of the venues exist in some semi-recognizable form. Most have long since succumbed to the region’s stratospheric real estate prices and propensity for grandiose redevelopment schemes (a.k.a. condos and strip malls).

Only a handful were personally familiar to me. Most existed — and persisted — as garbled memories of the litany of screening locations appended to movie ads on TV and radio stations when I was a kid.

“…Woburn, Lawrence, Dedham and Sack 57!”

So pull your Country Squire into the lot, hang a speaker from the driver-side window, crack open a cold one from the cooler, and enjoy the somewhat faded show…

We used to pass by the shuttered husk of the Lawrence multiplex on the way to adoption training classes in Haverhill. Woburn has undergone a number of expansions and is still going strong. The drive-ins are all long gone.

Those halcyon days before cable and home video became ubiquitous, when revival houses were the primary means of watching older films minus Ronco commercials. The Orson Welles closed down after a fire in 1986. (The block also used to house Looney Tunes, one of my preferred used vinyl shops in the early 90s.) The Brattle and the Coolidge Corner are still hanging in there.

Belmont is the super-rich suburb where Mitt Romney formerly resided, for the record. The (long gone) Pinehurst Drive-in in Billerica was where I first watched Star Wars and Superman during their initial runs. Its pre-movie piped-in audio provided my initial exposure to “Heart of Glass,” which spooked the heck out of me at the time.

Here we have Young Maura’s stomping grounds. The list of movies she watched at Medford Cinema through her tween years would both amaze and fill you with envy. She also remembers getting scared of something at the Medford drive-in and crying when she was really young.

You couldn’t do a better job capturing a cultural moment if you tried. Yeah, a strong case could me made for swapping in Jaws or Rollerball for Hennessy, but having a largely forgotten thriller anchored by a pair of familiar stars fits the temporal snapshot perfectly.

And that’s a nice use of the future Micronauts font for The Dragon Flies.

Punched out

November 6th, 2019

The Spinner Rack is one of the few bright spots in the hellsite known as Twitter. It’s a dedicated gimmick account, with said gimmick being an image-heavy rundown of the comics released x-many-years-ago on a given month and day. The results are always informative and entertaining, with an extra kick of nostalgia when a featured date falls within the bounds of my funnybook fandom phases.

Such a moment occurred last night, when the account issued a two-part tweet covering Marvel’s releases for November 5, 1985.

1985 was a watershed year when it came to me and my comics habit. At the beginning of the year, my pal Brian and I discovered a direct market shop in neighboring Stoneham. My trips to the store didn’t become a regular thing until Lil Bro and I were talked into taking on a paper route. I despised the gig but it did provide a stream of pocket money which didn’t depend of the whims of my increasingly erratic parents.

Every Friday afternoon, I’d hop on my ten-speed and make the treacherous three-mile trek up Montvale Ave to scope out and score the week’s new funnybook releases. For the first time in my comics-reading life, I was able to follow specific titles on a regular basis without the risk of missing an crucial installment — and I embraced this opportunity with the blind enthusiasm of a thirteen year old fanboy. (Which I was.)

And what an incredible fricking time it was for going all out — Crisis and Who’s Who and OHOTMU’s “Deluxe Edition” and Atari Force and Secret Wars II and the road to X-Men #200 and Fantastic Four and GI Joe and oversized EC reprints and previously unobtainable graphic novels and Direct Market offerings and…

Suffice to say, I spent a lot of money on comics that year, and not necessarily wisely. My collecting habits became more methodical, mapped out months in advance using Marvel Age and freebie upcoming release flyers. There hasn’t been a time before or since those months where I was as legitimately excited about and invested in the current comics scene. There have been occasional flare-up since, but nothing as sincere and cynicism-free as my fandom was in the back half of 1985.

The puzzle isn’t what brought a halt to that as much as how it managed to last as long as it did. A year is a geologic epoch from a thirteen year old’s perspective, and there were no shortage of distractions competing with funnybooks for my fickle attention and limited amount of pocket money. The post-Transformers wave of Japanese mecha-merch began flooding toy aisles while Bradlees beckoned with its cheap cassette bins and discounted Stephen King paperbacks. The D&D basic set entered my life and offered a novel interactive angle to my adolescent power-fantasies.

And, to be totally honest, the whole comics thing was hitting a level of diminishing returns. Atari Force ended, Byrne left Alpha Flight for Hulk, Secret Wars II was painfully embarrassing, and most of the other titles I followed entered protracted periods of wheel-spinning. Between my age and the type of material I’d been reading, I’d begun to suss out the contours of the bigger picture, and it was depressing as hell.

No book evokes that sentiment as effectively as Incredible Hulk #316 did. The much-hyped (by Marvel Age, at least) issue promised a massive slugfest between a mindlessly rampaging Hulk and the heaviest hitters of both the East and West Coast Avengers, written and illustrated by John Byrne back when such a byline carried substantial fanboy heft. It promised to be Wrestlemania for kids who spent way too much time memorizing the list of “Class 100″ strength characters in OHOTMU (and, in fact, I coded a text-based “fighting game” featuring the characters in BASIC in my 8th grade science class when the story was first announced).

As far as I was concerned, there was no way this issue could possibly disappoint…and yet it did.

The Avengers’ big guns show up, indulge in banter, and lay some (mostly ineffectual) smack down on the jade behemoth. Then Doc Samson shows up, sporting an 80s coke-douche ponytail and fighting togs purchased from a Sigue Sigue Sputnik rummage sale. He fights the Avengers for a while, at which point the Hulk gets bored and wanders off.

Before the tangled mass of forearms and fists can pursue, Samson points out all the damage the battle has caused and asks the Avengers to let him bring down the Hulk his way. The Avengers grudgingly agree to his contra-logical arguments, because this is where the narrative was obviously leading and there was no point in dragging things out further.

There’s also a b-plot where Betty Ross and She-Hulk swap flashbacks while fretting over an experimental treatment aimed at shocking Bruce Banner out of the coma he’d been in since getting chemically separated from his alter ego. It fills a specific number of pages and accomplishes its assigned task.

It wasn’t that the issue felt underwhelming given the build up. I’d read enough post Brood War X-Men comics to be inured to damp squib storytelling. It was that I couldn’t think of an alternate way the story could’ve worked. That was probably Byrne’s point, to deconstruct the mechanics of superhero slugfests in general while providing an answer to “why don’t the toughest Marvel heroes just gang-rush the Hulk?” queries by fans.

That’s not a terrible angle to play, but in my case it ended up being the feather which brought down a terminally stressed edifice. It didn’t turn me against the genre or kill my interest in superhero comics, but it did in whatever bits of my unexamined fandom remained after Secret Wars II. It wasn’t even a conscious thing. I just started dropping one book after another. The weekly runs to the shop stopped, and I settled for whatever random issues grabbed my attention from the nearby CVS’s magazine rack.

It would be another two years before I started getting back into comics as an ongoing thing, and by them my tastes had shifted to the “bwah ha ha” Justice League, Watchmen, and localized manga.

Hopefully things will be a bit more settled by the time next Halloween rolls around, because this October was a wash.

Recommended listening: One sad coda deserves another.

My childhood consumption of “spooky” lit followed a fairly predictable path for its era. There were Hitchcock and Serling branded anthologies borrowed from the public library, collections of non-gory classics purchased from school book fairs, Twilight Zone Magazine tales of varying quality, check-out aisle digests related supposedly true tales of the paranormal and squicky passages discovered in my aunt’s collection of paperback horror potboilers.

Much of it went over my pre-teen head, either because of archaic language or crucial contexts which were beyond my comprehension. There was still plenty of nightmare fuel to be had, impressions of which still linger into the present day. Yet none of the fictional terrors managed to creep me out or capture my morbid imagination as intensely as Victor Miller’s The Book of Worries did.

I’m not sure where our household copy of the 1981 paperback came from, although factoid-filled vademecums abounded on the family bookshelves. Besides making for fine “casual” reading, they helped feed the “broad but shallow” knowledge pool my old man (and later yours truly) used a tool for performative mindfuckery. (It’s an easy way to make yourself look like a genius among folks too thick to suspect otherwise.) In any case, the book soon made its way into my grubby mitts and I dived into it with the gusto of a sensation-seeking doofus with zero understanding of what “anecdotal evidence” meant.

As the title suggests, The Book of Worries is a bleakly humorous collection of things to get anxious about. This being 1981, there was no shortage of material on that front — nuclear war/meltdowns, the energy crisis, economic woes, aviation disasters, terrorism, crime, health scares, environmental issues — all the fun shit which has since become part of the media’s background noise, but still had hot-button evening news novelty in an era on unending, cascading anxieties. (There’s no love lost between me and the Baby Boomers, but there hasn’t been enough discussion about just how much the diminishing returns malaise of the Seventies fueled their generational heel turn during the Reagan years. Narcissism and unrelenting panic are one hell of a cocktail.)

That material was “real” enough to give me seriously chills yet abstract enough to my kiddie-brain to compartmentalize. News footage and adult discussions aside, the prospect of a DC-10 crashing down in my neighborhood felt as remote as something out of Star Wars or a superhero comic. Even with shit like Woburn’s childhood cancer cluster felt someone removed from my day-to-day life, despite it claiming a childhood friend and a couple of kids in my Cub Scout troop.

Killer bees (and nuclear meltdowns and freak accidents) weren’t much different than ghosts or zombies, apart from the extra frisson of knowing they did exist, albeit well outside my little corner of the universe. I knew even at age nine that the Creature from the Black Lagoon wasn’t going to nab me while wading through the stream across the street, but there was extremely remote possibility that someone might have dumped their pet piranhas into it, and there resided the thrill.

Now that I’m older and have a clearer perspective of the world and its problems, those vicarious chills have largely evaporated. That shit doesn’t seem as abstract anymore, especially when it involves contemplating one’s mortality and anxiety about the future. I still enjoy spooky stuff for nostalgic and atmospheric reasons, but rarely seek out any truly unnerving material — not because it scares me, but because it just makes me depressed.

This mindset puts the The Book of Worries in a weird place for my middle-aged self. I tracked down a copy because it was an important artifact of my formative years (and dead cheap on the secondary market), but really can’t bring myself to browse through it. Given the state of things, I’ve little enthusiasm for adding more worries to the mix, even tongue-in-cheek ones from four decades ago.

Recommended listening:

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

So there’s this isolated polar research station inhabited by an extremely irritable group of military men and scientists…

…which is unexpectedly infiltrated by something in a familiar form.

Things get a bit dicey when members of the research team start to dig a little deeper into the mystery…

…sowing further confusion and consternation among the staff.

Things rapidly go downhill from there, with multiple fatalities and the complete destruction of the facility.

The two survivors of massacre are left to confront each other in the smoldering ruins.

(panels from Alpha Flight #9, April 1984; by John Byrne, Andy Yanchus, and Michael Higgins)

Between this and the Plodex/Master arc a few issues before, it’s pretty clear which 1982 sci-fi/horror flick got its hooks into ol’ Johnny B’s imagination. I’m a bit surprised he dipped into that well twice in the space of less than a year, but I’d wager the whole “Thing/Thing” thing was too tempting to let slide. This was a man who spent years collaborating with Claremont, after all.

Recommended listening:

Ghosts as sheet-sporting shades of the dead do not exist.

Ghosts as unpleasant manifestations of past trauma totally do exist. In fact, my corpus is a veritable spookhouse of such entities, and their visitations have grown more frequent in recent years.

Here’s a brief rundown of some of the more malevolent ones:

The Flayed Knee Nightmare: This one has been vexing me regularly since the last day of 9th grade, when I took a tumble off a scooter, stripping the skin of both my kneecaps and replacing it with bits of gravel and other road debris. My mother tried to exorcise it with long soaks in epsom-laced bathwater and peroxide washes, but the entity still manifests during long walks or any time I try to kneel.

The Carpal Phantom: The summoning process took roughly two decades but it’s been having a grand old time ever since. It’s frolicking in its domain even as I type this.

The Lumbar Devil: It came to me at my pan-washing station at the hospital kitchen. “You can totally lift that stack of twenty sheet pans over your head, Andrew,” it whispered to me. I was young and foolish. I listened to the beast. And my fate was sealed.

The Ankle-geist: Occasionally works in concert with the Lumbar Devil, but mostly shows up to remind of the many times I landed too hard or too awkwardly on my right foot over the years.

The Dead Finger: Not a presence but a void. No sensations can be felt on the pad of my right index finger, thanks to a curse inflicted by a rabbit who thought my digit was a carrot.

The Festering Maw: This is what happens when years of poverty, neglect, and laziness are allowed to ferment over a long period of time in a warm wet place. Sometimes agonizing, sometimes embarrassing, but always pretty disgusting. I’ve begun to bring this one to heel, but it has not been an easy (or cheap) process.

Recommended listening:

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