Merry Christmas!

Off for Christmas! Back in a week or two. Whatever holiday you celebrate, enjoy it!


Johnny Damon, you are now dead to me. I don't want to talk to you no more, you empty headed animal food trough wiper. I fart in your general direction. Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries.

(Monty Python references aside, look, I understand how it must be hard to resist when they basically drive a dump truck full of money up to your door, but if you're gonna leave Boston for New York, couldn't you at least have gone to the Mets? I can respect the Mets. I even kinda like the Mets! But the Yankees? Dead, I say. Dead!)


Joe Rice said this recently over on Listen to Us, We’re Right:

I goddam love Captain Marvel. The real one, not some alien who died of cancer or some bland Jheri-Curl nobody. Billy Batson. The kid who can turn into the world's mightiest mortal. His great golden age stuff still holds up, unlike a lot of the big superheroes. The entire Marvel Family is awesome (in theory). Great design, great idea, great adventures, just all around great. Unfortunately, they've been mishandled worse than pretty much any other characters since DC got them. The Maggin/O'Neil stories were good, but it didn't last long. Not even Jerry Ordway, with obvious love, could really make them pop in today's world. I have to think that they can work. I tell my students about them and they go wild. Captain Marvel can work, especially if you don't worry about the grown ups who want him to participate in Infinite Crisis or whatever. Give him to the kids. It's sure fire, I guarantee it.

I’m inclined to agree with the good Mr. Rice (who, in spreading the word of the one, true Marvel Family to a new generation of children, is truly doing the Lord’s work). I loves me some authentic Captain Marvel, and it bugs me that the character and his associated brood have been so often misused since DC acquired them back in the 70s. It’s a topic I’ve given a lot of thought to over the years – probably too much, in fact, but I don’t let silly things like that hold me back – and a little while back, I came to a conclusion, which is this: most creators are trying to write Captain Marvel stories using the basic superhero formula. This is why so many of them fail - because Captain Marvel isn’t a superhero concept.

It’s an adolescent fantasy tale. It makes use of superhero trappings, sure, but at its core, I think the Big Red Cheese has a bit more in common with Harry Potter than Superman.

Hear me out. Billy Batson is orphaned at a young age, cast out by his only remaining relative in Dickensian fashion, and forced to make his way in life as a child living in an adult’s world. A mysterious ancient wizard shows him that he is destined for greater things and grants him the power needed to make it possible. Life turns around instantly. With the power of Captain Marvel at his disposal, he is able to right not only the injustices committed against him, but against all good, innocent people everywhere (because he’s a hero, and that’s What You Do). But his life as Billy Batson vastly improves, too… he gets a job as a radio reporter, makes a reputation for himself, moves out of the gutter, and establishes a real life with a job, money, friends, and even a bit of family (surrogate and real – more on this in a bit).

All this is pretty well established by just the end of the first story (they didn’t waste much time in the Golden Age, did they?). Just a few pages into the saga, and the groundwork has already been laid for what is essentially the quintessential boys’ fantasy tale: the hidden destiny (the old “there must be more to life than this” chestnut), the amazing powers to help you achieve it, the ability to make your way in an adult’s world but still be a kid, and not a parent in sight. What little kid’s imaginary life isn’t chock-full of this stuff?

And it gets even more fantastic. He meets three kids who have the same name, and miraculously enough, they somehow wind up with the same powers he has. Another homeless newsboy becomes his best friend, and yup, he gets powers, too. Long-lost twin sister? Yup, her, too (honestly, Shazam should’ve just opened up a store and sold the powers rather than just handing ‘em out to every brat who happened along). And with that, Billy is no longer alone in the world… he has friends who understand the uniqueness of his world (because as cool as an Amazing Hidden Destiny is, it gets a bit lonely if you’re the only one, and deep down, we all want to belong to something), as well as a de facto family… a concept they all enjoy so much they officially adopt the name Marvel Family.

(And incidentally, here’s how you know this is really a boys’ fantasy – sister Mary is a lot of fun, and definitely cool enough to play with the guys, but she still lives away from Billy with her adoptive mother. So she can always go back to her own home when and if she starts to get annoying. Because you know how girls are.)

Every day brings a new adventure for our young hero, whether it as Billy, Captain Marvel, or as is often the case, both. His circle grows to include a talking tiger, the world’s most beautiful woman (who also happens to be the Queen of planet Venus), and a W.C. Fields-esque charlatan with a heart of gold. He matches wits and might with the likes of (among others) the world’s wickedest scientist (and his family), a black-clad evil doppelganger, an other-dimensional barbarian king, a giant atomic robot, the living personifications of the seven deadly sins, and bespectacled alien inchworm who manages to kill over 400,000 people (off-panel, of course… it’s classier that way).

Still think this is typical superhero fodder? I say it’s anything but. What we really have here is the ultimate fantasy of every pre-adolescent boy to have ever walked the earth, cross-pollinated with the most vivid fever dream in human history. Also, keep in mind that the good Captain first appeared in 1940, two years after Superman debuted and began to take the world by storm. Superman and the many long-underwear types who followed in his footsteps were big business, so of course Fawcett was going to cast Captain Marvel in that image… they wanted the book to sell! But if the pop cultural landscape of the day were a bit different, this character could very well ended up as a knight, a wizard, an Arabian prince, an Eastern mystic, or just about anything else, for that matter. Billy Batson was created as the ultimate childhood fantasy. Captain Marvel was merely the vehicle to bring that fantasy to the awaiting audience.

Otto Binder and the other Marvel Family scribes of the Golden Age understood that. Denny O’Neil and Elliot S! Maggin, who wrote many of the initial revival stories in 70s, seemed to understand that, too. I’d even say the Roy Thomas got it, based on the Captain’s appearances in All-Star Squadron in the 80s. Everyone else? They were too busy trying to turn Captain Marvel into Superman. But, as I said, Cap isn’t Superman. He’s Harry Potter. He’s King Arthur. And if you consider the whole “boy reporter living and acting as an adult” thing, he’s even Tintin. I’m hoping that, someday, another writer understands this, too.

(Now, of course, the next question is, “Is the mistreatment of Captain Marvel et al. a case of mass misunderstanding, or an intentional action by DC as part of an ongoing plan to get revenge for when Cap outsold Superman on a regular basis all those decades ago?” But that’s a rumination for another day.)

I'm not surly, I'm only drawn that way.

You know what? @#!& the 50 Book Challenge.

It's draining all the fun out of reading and making it into some sort of chore. Kind of like school, really. I liked it better when taking the time out of my day to read a book felt like I was stealing time away from something else around the home or workplace that needed doing... the nerd's equivalent of the illicit thrill of Getting Away With Something. I want that back, and am willing o be satisfied with the fact that if I had continued at the pace I was on, I would've made the 50 book mark easily. And I may still - I just won't be keeping track.

I am no arbitrary challenge's bitch!
Blogging has been kind of light lately - content-wise if not always amount-of-post-wise. I chalk this up to a couple of different factors.

For one, the holiday season is here, and I've been busy getting everything ready for Christmas. Lots of decorating, some last bits of shopping (stocking stuffers at this point), and, of course, some television to be watched. This is where I'm lagging behind the most. I haven't even watched Charlie Brown yet! It's a travesty, I know.

(Incidentally, do any of you who own the DVD of A Charlie Brown Christmas find yourself missing the "CBS Special Presentation" stinger - the one with the dramatic music and spinning words - as much as I do? Chuck's Christmas woes just ain't the same without it.)

Second, I find that my job is really starting to get me down. The job itself is okay, mind you - they could pay me more, sure, but you know, it's alright - but the hours, they are pretty much "teh suck," as they say on the inter-ma-net. Sundays from noon to 8 and Monday through Thursday nights until 11. Bleh. It was bad enough when it was just Erin and I, but now that Liam is here, I mind it even more. You'd think working nights would mean getting to see my kid all day long, but it rarely works out that way. Erin leaves for work super early, Liam tends to be an early riser, and I, as I stated, work late, get home later, and get to bed even later still (and I'm not one of those people who can crawl straight into bed either, unfortunately). So, since I need to sleep, Liam spends the days with his reliable, free childcare provider, his Grandpa Steve. It's a great arrangement for all involved, to be sure, but by the time I get up and do the things that need doing in the mornings, I don't get a lot of time to spend with Liam before I go to work.

It's not like I don't get to see him at all. I keep him at home Monday mornings, and all day Friday and Saturday (my weekend). On the other days, I make sure to go over to be with him for as much time as possible. And on the days Steve can't take him first thing (or at all), I'll definitely get up, though I can't do those as often as I'd like, as childcare on 4 to 5 hours sleep is really difficult 2 or more days in a row.

So yeah, it could be worse. But the fact is, I miss seeing my kid. I miss seeing my wife. And as strange as it sounds, working normal daytime hours would actually make it so I could see them more.

So if there aren't many posts around here, or the ones that are here seem kind of light, it's not because I'm lazy. It's because a lot of days, I find it kind of hard to care.

Speaking of things that I'm finding it hard to care about, DC posted the solicits for March 2006, revealing their plans for the post-Infinite Crisis "One Year Later" thing.

For the most part? Meh. Seriously and spectacularly meh.

It reminds me of the whole post-Zero Hour thing: it's a bunch of specially-designed "jumping on points for new readers" full of allegedly shocking changes-for-the-sake-of-changes. New teammates! New costumes! New identities! Who got knocked up? Who is being replaced until their next big movie or tv show comes out? Who is Batman now? Why is the new Robin uniform patterned after the version shown on a cartoon cancelled five years ago? Give us your hard-earned cash to find out!

Just like Zero Hour. And you know, I bought into it back then. I was young, I was impressionable, I didn't have a girlfriend to spend the money what little money I made on instead. But now, I'm older, I'm wiser, I'm cynical, and I have a wife and child to spend what little make on instead. As a man once said, "Fool me once, shame on... shame on you. Fool me... (longish pause) you can't get fooled again."

I'd be lying if I said that there wasn't anything interesting coming out of this. Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes sounds fun, but I buy Legion anyway, so that's a no-brainer. Walter Simonson and Howard Chaykin on Hawkgirl earns a look on the creative talents' respective careers alone. And the Kurt Busiek/Jackson Guice swords & sorcery take on Aquaman sounds intriguing (sorry Scipio).

But the rest of One Year Later? Well, it all seems like a case of - to quote another man (a Brit this time) - "second verse, same as the first."

A Marvel Universe Christmas, True Believers!

Saw this out on the inter-ma-net somewhere and had to grab it for my very own. It made me all kinds of happy.

My only problem is that Spidey is cast as Shermy (if I remember my A Charlie Brown Christmas dance moves correctly) when, obviously, he's the Charlie Brown of the Marvel Universe.

A brief thought after reading Legion of Super-Heroes #12

I finally get why I love this book: it's Wild in the Streets.

With super-powers.

In outer space.

In the future.

As if the Legion wasn't high-concept enough before, now Mark Waid throws the greatest cult teen rebellion movie ever into the mix. Brilliant. Waid am genius.

14 or fight!

No wonder they're in last place.

So I saw an ad tonight for some new UPN sitcom called Cuts. I think it's about some inner-city guy who gets a job at ritzy, upper-crust hair salon, but that's not important right now.

The tagline for the show was "he's gone from street... to chic!" At least, I think that's what it was supposed to be. You see, the key words from the line appeared on the screen in appropriately representative fonts. And the first word, shown in a spray-painty, urban, kind of worn down font, was definitely "street." But the second word, the one in the predictably ritzy, gold-and-diamondy kind of font? Well, it wasn't "chic."

It was "sheik." As in "the leader of an Arab village or family." (via) As opposed to "the quality or state of being stylish." (via)*

And yes, they do sound the same (sheik can also be pronounced to sound like "shake," but that's not important now). Homonyms are tricky like that. But if you're in charge of promoting a network show - even if the network is UPN - shouldn't you really check to make sure you're using the right word?

Because "going from street to chic" and "going from street to sheik" are two entirely different shows altogether.

* And yes, I saw that an alternate definition for sheik was "a man who is much concerned with his dress and appearance," but considering some of the synonyms suggested include "dandy" and "fop," I don't think they meant that version, either.

Book the Tenth - the Short Short Version

#10. The Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby - Seeing as I decided to undertake this project in order to get myself to read more often, this book seemed wholly appropriate. It reprints Hornby's columns from The Believer magazine (the monthly, slightly less annoyingly "hipper than thou" offshoot of McSweeney's), and each selection follows a simple formula: Hornby buys a bunch of books over the course of a month, actually reads a few of them (though never as many as he would like), and writes about what he read. I'd go into more detail, except there isn't any. It's just a writer writing about other writers. If you like this sort of thing, than this is definitely the sort of thing you'd like. I do, so I did. It makes a great companion piece to Hornby's collection of pop music essays, Songbook, which I also recommend wholeheartedly.

And with that, I'm 1/5th of the way through the 50 Book Challenge. I kind of rule!

A bit of everything


* From the "About Damn Time" Department: Doctor Who on DVD in America! Woot! On Valentine's Day, no less, so Erin, you should have no problem finding a gift for me this year. I read that the original plan was to only release the discs in Canada and delay the release here in the States until it actually aired officially here, but it looks like the BBC finally realized that wasn't going to happen, as most American television networks suck (and I still don't understand why this couldn't air on, and this is just a for instance here, maybe friggin' BBC America, of all places, hmm?).

* Evan Dorkin's Welcome to Eltingville pilot is being re-aired on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim in the Sunday/Monday overnight hours at 1:30 am and 5:30 am. It's a really funny show, and if you never saw it the first time around, it's a good chance to see what CN passed over for a series in favor of utter dogshit other programs like Squidbillies.

* In trying to find children's programming that is as palatable to Erin and I as it is to Liam, I think we may have all found a winner in the Noggin series Jack's Big Music Show. It's a show about 2 puppet kids of indeterminate species and their dog, and all the misadventures they stumble upon as they try to make music in their clubhouse. The show was created by Muppet performer David Rudman (who is the current performer for Cookie Monster, according to IMDB), and the show definitely has a sensibility and sense of humor that will seem familiar to anyone who has watched anything Muppet-related over the years. And thankfully, the music is good, too, whether performed by the regular cast or the guest performers (each show contains two video segments, one of which usually features Laurie Berkner, who is as talented as she is cute... and she's very cute). None of that Raffi crap for this show, thank goodness. Liam's whole face lights up and he starts bopping around the second the music starts, and he's not even six months old yet, so if you have kids anywhere from infant to early-school-age, they may very well like it, too. Just don't be surprised if you end up watching it with them.

And if you don't have any children, this could very well become your guilty pleasure show. Your secret will be safe with me.


* At long last, I managed to finish Essential Tomb of Dracula Vol. 1. It took a while, but I think it was all worth it in the end. If you're a really hardcore vampire fan and revere the sort of tragi-goth-romantic Anne Rice sort of vampire stories, this series probably isn't for you; it's far more Hammer than Bram Stoker. But if you're willing to accept the fuzzy, movie-esque logic of the book and the occasional continuity gaffes in the plot, it's really a lot of fun. The story starts on shaky ground as the book is passed from author to author in the initial issues (including Gerry Conway, Archie Goodwin and Gardner Fox), but really finds it's footing and becomes genuinely intriguing once Marv Wolfman takes over. Wolfman realized that Dracula gets title billing, and should therefore be the book's focus, instead of woefully incompetent vampire hunters Frank Drake and Rachel Van Helsing. In Wolfman's hand, the count transforms from a Lugosi-Lite cliche into a truly frightening, complex, and surprisingly sympathetic protagonist, but never loses sight that he is definitely the villain at all times.

And the artwork by Gene Colan... wow. I was never a big Colan fan growing up; I thought that his work always looked rather muddy and washed out. But in black and white, the crispness and detail of the man's pencil-work really gets a chance to shine. In fact, I'd say that this is the one series reprinted in Marvel's Essential line that actually looks better in black and white than it did in color. Now that I've seen his work at it's unfettered best, this man has quickly become one of my favorite comics artists ever. His ability to convey both the beautiful and the horrific - sometimes in the same panel, no less - is nothing short of astounding. It turns out that for all these years, it was Gene Colan's colorist I held the grudge against. Who knew?

In short, a really great book, and a surprising departure from typical Marvel comics fare, as much now as at the time the series was originally published.

* On the opposite end of the spectrum is the indie superhero book, Hero Corps: The Rookie from Baby Shark Productions. I picked this up at Wizard World Boston, where the creators practically shoved it down my throat. I usually hate the hard sell approach, but their pitch - guy trains his whole life to join superhero police force, gets the call up to the big leagues and find out he hates it - won me over. Well, I should've listened to my initial instincts and passed. The idea is sound, and different enough from other "capes as cops" books like Top 10 to stand out, I suppose, but the execution is off. Unlikable, cliched characters (the rookie, the hard-ass captain, the reckless partner, the one with "daddy issues," etc.) plod through the motions for no other reason than to move the plot along, and since is the first of a series, there isn't even that much plot to move along in the first place; as a result, it feels like there's a lot of "treading water" here. The art isn't great either, though whether that's more the fault of the artist (who has some problems with depicting the characters consistently throughout) or the reproduction (which is often fuzzy and occasionally outright awful), I haven't completely decided. I'd avoid this, if I were you.

Movies (in brief)!

* Mr. & Mrs. Smith - A pleasant enough diversion if you like watching pretty people blow stuff up, and legitimately laugh-out-loud funny in a few parts. There are a few plot points that are unsatisfactorily left unexplored, though, and it doesn't so much come to an end as it just sort of stops, but it's worth a rental. If you need to compare it to some of Doug Liman's other films, it's sort of the exact midpoint between Go and The Bourne Identity.

* Bride and Prejduice - Jane Austen meets Bollywood musical; if you're inclined toward that sort of thing, you'll probably like this a lot. If not, well, it's cute enough in it's own fashion, and there are much worse ways to spend 2 hours than looking at Aishwarya Rai (Roger Ebert has repeatedly claimed she is the most beautiful actress on Earth; look long enough at her eyes, and you'd be hard-pressed to argue with the man). Plus, you get to see some unexpected appearances by Sayid from Lost and, surprisingly, Rory Gilmore, of all people.

The 50 Book Challenge!

#9 Dean and Me: A Love Story by Jerry Lewis and some other guy I can't remember now - I've always been kind of fascinated by Jerry Lewis, who I view as the ultimate example of what happens when enormous talent and enormous ego collide. No one is more convinced of Jerry Lewis's importance to film and comedy than Jerry Lewis, but if you look at the histories of both with an objective eye, you kinda have to admit that he's right (on a related note: Hey! Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences! Howzabout a lifetime achievement Oscar for Jer while he's still alive to accept it?). So when I heard that he wrote a book about his partnership with Dean Martin, I figured it'd be a pretty interesting read.

If you're expecting Lewis to trash his late comedic partner and reveal the seedy underbelly of 1950s Hollywood, you'll most likely be disappointed. As the title says, this is very much a love story; as Jerry states in no uncertain terms time and again that he loved Dean like the big brother he never had. And while their career together as one of show business's most successful duo act is certainly covered in great detail (and if you have any doubts as to the importance of Martin and Lewis, don't worry, Jerry will remind you just how big they were many, many times), it's their relationship that takes center stage, and Jerry writes about it all, the good times and bad, with a surprising honesty. When you're the one telling the story, the urge to paint yourself in the best possible light can be overwhelming, but I have to give Jerry a lot of credit here for being willing to call himself out on his own mistakes. If he acted out of anger, jealousy or ego, or even if he was just being an asshole for the sake of being an asshole, he owns up to it here. You have to figure that hindsight is, as they say, 20/20, and that maybe he's trying to settle his accounts here on Earth before he checks out for good, but still, you have to admire the man's honesty in this regard.

On the whole, it's an interesting book that provides a lot of unique insights about both men as individuals and as a team. I'd love to read this story portrayed from Dean Martin's perspective, but there's only one way to get that now (seeing as the man's been dead for 10 years and all), and I'm not really in that big a hurry to find out.

Turkey, moods, and games.

I really enjoyed Thanksgiving this year. Not only did I get to ingest an amount of food that would likely be considered prohibitively dangerous (socially acceptable gluttony - gotta love it!), but I got to spend four whole days around the house with the wife and child. You see, my work schedule truly blows - all Sunday and Monday through Thursday nights. Bleh. Anyway, I don't really get to spend a lot of time during the week with Erin or Liam, and getting to see both of them at the same time is especially rare. Inevitably, all this time away from the fam (and, indeed, just about everyone I know) usually results in me spending a good chunk of the week in just the most pleasant of moods - it's a dandy little combo of depression, crankiness, sadness, burnout and general not-giving-a-crap-itude. Oh yeah, I'm a real peach most nights.

So four big days spent with the wife and the boy - together, no less - was exactly what I needed. And around Christmas, I'm taking the remainder of my vacation time and will get another 9 or 10 days in a row with 'em (and maybe I'll even get to see - GASP - my family and friends, too). So, as cheesy as it sounds, yeah, I'm pretty thankful for all that.

In the end, I decided to return Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction to the video store a few days early. Running around as the Hulk and smashing the hell out of whatever you please was pretty fun. The actual game parts - the parts where you were required to, you know, do stuff - those weren't as fun. I mean, come on, I'm supposed to be the friggin' Hulk. The Hulk doesn't keep the army from destroying a building so Doc Samson can download info from some mainframe. Hulk not green-haired shrink's lap dog. Hulk strongest one there is! Hulk smash puny humans! Raaarrrgghhh! And so on.

So yeah, if I'm the Hulk, why am I gonna prevent something from being smashed? Unless it's a 70s comic book ad and that building houses the world supply of Hostess Fruit Pies, I'm gonna smash the damn thing but good. I'm just sayin'.

But in other game news, I took Jeremy's advice and picked up FIFA 2002 for cheap. I had to deal with Annoyingly Chipper & Overcaffeinated Salesguy again in order to buy it, but he somehow made it through the conversation unscathed, so I take that as a good sign. I've only had the chance to play it for like 10 minutes, but so far it seems pretty fun. But needless to say, I cannot yet bend it like Beckham. I can't even bend it like Beckham's dead, limbless uncle, for that matter. I did manage to win a game on a penalty shoot-out, though, so I've got that going for me, which is nice.

It's no less likely than any other project I'll eventually abandon.

I've decided I need to do something to add a bit of excitement to my humdrum life, so I'm going to start a rock band. Or a superhero team.

I don't play an instrument, but I don't have superpowers, either, so one option is as viable as the other, really.

It may even make the most sense to split the difference and start a superhero rock band, now that I think about it.

Whatever happens, we'll call ourselves The Practitioners of Awesome.

The Amazing Things You Can Learn At The Library - First in a Series!

#1. There are apparently a number of fascinating careers available to the German-speaking individual, including business person, medical professional, mad scientist, cowboy and robot.


I need some help from the videogame-inclined out there in the audience. Thanks to my accidental discovery of the Fox Soccer Channel on my cable system, I've become somewhat enamored of the futbol. I'd like to play it the way I play all sports I enjoy - in my pajamas, on my couch, preferably with a Jones Green Apple Soda or tasty beer (Magic Hat #9, Newcastle Brown Ale, Guinness... whichever is available) within reach. So I'm wondering if anyone out there can recommend a decent footy game for me?

Keep in mind that I'm looking for something I can just pick up and play every now and again. I don't need an insanely detailed game with nine million obscure control configurations for each possible game situation. I'm looking for more of an arcade-style soccer game than a sim, you dig? Not that I'm opposed to the likes of the FIFA or Winning Eleven games, mind you, they just look really difficult.

Also, affordable would be nice.

So anything people could suggest would be great. Thanks.

In other video game stuff you could care less about, I rented Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction today, and it's easily as fun as everyone says. You can make with the "HULK SMASH!" very easily in the game, as just about everything you encounter can be smashed and/or thrown. Even people and wildlife. Hee!

Here's a recreation of a fun thing I did on the game this morning:

(Hulk charges a soldier shooting at him)


SOLDIER: OH NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

(Hulk picks up soldier and throws him at approaching helicopter)


SOLDIER (voice trailing off as he flies through the air with the greatest of ease): AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh....


(soldier hits side of helicopter, does no damage whatsoever)

SFX: fump.

PILOT: Um...


And that was the Bill Doughty PS2 Players' re-creation of "The Fun Thing I Did on the Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction Game This Morning. This programming was brought to you by an Unready To Learn / No Teacher Left Standing Grant from the U.S. Dept. of Education and Readers Like You. Thank you!

Random thoughts about some recent (if not very new) comics

Infinite Crisis #2 - You get out of this book what you put into it. Personally, I like big, dumb superhero mash-up/cosmic menace stories, and I'm a DC continuity junkie from way back, so I'm digging this series a lot. A whole lot. Enough that I'm too impatient to wait for the trade. This issue moved things along nicely, I thought, recapping the back story, setting some subplots into motion and generally nudging the narrative along a bit. And I loved the Perez/Ordway recap of Crisis on Infinite Earths. Some pretty artwork, there. I wish I could say the same for the rest of the issue, but Andy Lanning is drowning Phil Jiminez's pencils in thick, ugly, pitch-black ink. Andy, buddy, sometimes less is more.

New Excalibur #1 - This book? It didn't suck! It was, in fact, quite good. I picked it up out of curiosity - the cast in intrigued me (how did Nocturne end up in the regular Marvel U?), I enjoy the character of Captain Britain, and I read the original Excalibur once upon a time ago - but I had very low expectations. The ol' Chris Clare(mont), he ain't what he used to be, you know? The events of the story and the characterization of everyone really drew me in, though, and I'm legitimately curious to see where this is going. I'll probably wait for the trade, though.

She Hulk 2 #1 - Ah, smell the meta-commentary! So, if I read this right, people who wait for the trades are bad, and yet those very same people saved the book. Oh Dan Slott, you fantastic irony-pointing-out bastard! Seriously, though, Slott's She-Hulk is hands down the best version ever of the character, the stories are consistently fun, and the art of Juan Bobillo really stands out from the crowd. I'm really glad this book is back. I'm still waiting for the trades, though. Sorry, Mr. Slott.

Marvel Team-Up 1-14 - The guys on the Comic Geek Speak podcast have talked this book up in the past, and it sounded really fun, so I tracked down the issues for cheap on eBay (from Nik at the Spatula Forum, as it turned out) and gave it a try. And honestly, this is the best Marvel book I've read in a long time. It's like a 1980s Marvel comic in all the best ways possible - you get to experience the interconnectedness of the shared Marvel Universe, the stories have a great mix of adventure and fun, and the characters aren't all so relentlessly grim. There's a lot about this title to love, and I'll probably go into more detail about it some time when I'm not so tired. For now, I'll just say that if you grew up on 70s and 80s Marvel, or like superheroes at all, you really should be reading this book.

R.I.P. Eddie Guerrero, 1967-2005

Having been a wrestling fan off and on through the years, I feel the need to pay a bit of tribute to Eddie Guerrero, who passed away this week at the far-too-young age of 38. A lot of people dismiss professional wrestling as fake, and say that wrestlers aren't real athletes. Well, the outcomes of matches may be pre-determined, and championships may be awarded by committee rather than truly won by individuals, but make no mistake about it, these people are both athletes and performers in every sense of the word. The limits they push themselves to - physically and mentally - just to entertain a crowd are nothing short of astounding. And remember, there's no off-season in wrestling, so these men and women are out there almost every night of the year. A lifestyle like that often takes its toll. It certainly did in Eddie's case. At one time, he turned to alcohol and pills to help dull the physical and emotional turmoils he was suffering, and it almost cost him everything - his job, his family, his entire life. But he was able to turn that all around and come back even better than before, which is particularly impressive considering how great he was to begin with. For him to pass away after being clean and sober for four years... that's just so heartbreaking.

Eddie Guerrero was a fantastic athlete (he had the best frog splash in the business), a master showman (face or heel, you couldn't wait to see what he'd do or say next), and judging by the many testimonials I've seen on television and online, he was about as universally loved by everyone whose lives he touched (in person and in the ring) as is humanly possible. In the eyes of anyone who knew him, or merely watched him wrestle, he will always be a true champion. Rest in peace, Eddie. Viva la raza.

50 Book Challenge Fever - Catch It!

#8. Candide by Voltaire - I first read this book for an Honors class in college, but I don't recall ever actually finishing it. See, with classes in the Honors Program, you never really had to finish any of the books. I mean, sure, they said you did, and of course, you'd imply that you did, but you didn't really need to; so long as you had a working knowledge of more or less what was going on in the book, could adequately participate in discussions and could look like you were carefully considering whatever the professor had to say, you could get by rather easily. Dear lord, did I ever hate the University of Maine Honors Program. The things you do sometimes to keep parents happy.

But I digress.

I discovered that when removed from the academic setting, the book takes on a very different feeling. In school, you're supposed to search for the greater socio-political underpinnings of the work. You're supposed to be very concerned with What Voltaire Means. Out of school, none of that really matters, and the story becomes a trite-but-still-mildly-entertaining farce, the sort of broad comedy that would've made a terrific Buster Keaton movie. A naive lad is cast out into a world that proceeds to kick him square in the sack (metaphorically speaking) every time something even remotely good happens to him, though all the while he clings to the belief that his is the best of all possible worlds - that's pretty much every movie Keaton ever made!

So yeah, it's cheesy, and looking at it from the perspective of the 21st century, it's less an "Age of Enlightenment" masterwork and more a "Age of Why Didn't Stuff This Just Seem Like Common Sense to Anyone?" rambling narrative. But Voltaire did help to expand the boundaries of low comedy, and for that we should be forever grateful.

Plus, there's lots of sex and killing. Always a good combination.
I'm no longer in as foul a mood as I was when I wrote this, so now, with 85% less self-loathing by volume, I'd like to say

Happy Birthday, Erin!
This past Friday, Chris over at Crisis/Boring Change kicked off a new feature he calls Permanent Records, an ideally 52-week discussion of his favorite albums; kind of a long-form version of Desert Island Discs, really. He kicks things off with a discussion of Ani DiFranco's amazingly excellent Little Plastic Castle. He has a lot of great things to say, about both the album itself and its impact on his life, and reading his thoughts reminded me of some of the goings on in my own life (or at least the lives of those around me) when this came out. I talked a bit about it in Chris's comments section, but I want to discuss it here, too. It's my blog, and I'll be repetitive if I want to be. I'll be repetitive if I want to be.

Anyway, if I recall correctly, I was a junior in college when this record came out. At that point in time, I knew a lot of people (most of them women, but not all) who considered themselves to be really hardcore Ani fans - I worked at the radio station and hung out with a lot of theater people, so that's to be expected . They had all the records, the posters, the patches, and the occasional bootleg CD; they went to shows whenever she played close by, they taped her rare TV appearances, and some of them even shaved their heads to resemble the way Ani looked on her earlier record covers. And may God have mercy on your soul if you happened to mention in their presence that you kind of liked Alana Davis's cover of "32 Flavors."

So Little Plastic Castle comes out, and of course everyone buys it. But amongst the self-proclaimed DiFranco cognoscenti, there was a lot of angst: Ani didn't sound the same! If you've never heard it (or any other Ani CD, for that matter), this album marked the beginning of style change for DiFranco, as she began to move away from the aggressive folk sound of her early work and started experimenting a bit with funk (and a hint of ska on the title track, too). And no sir, they didn't like it! They felt lost, abandoned, and betrayed; how dare she try something new, when she could be making records that sound just like Not A Pretty Girl or Dilate?

Sound familiar, comic book people? Still more proof that fandom is fandom, no matter the genre.

Now, it's only fair to admit that I'm no fan of Ani's later work, either, (though I must agree with Chris that Little Plastic Castle is pretty phenomenal), but I do appreciate the level of effort she puts into everything she does, as well as her desire as an artist to grow and experiment. Everything that she and her company, Righteous Babe Records, has achieved is due to the Herculean efforts she has undertaken through the years to get her music out there; Ani DiFranco is diminutive in stature, but not in talent or ambition. So if she were to do an album of Norwegian funeral dirges accompanied by nothing but a washboard and a vocoder, I wouldn't buy it, but I'd say more power to her.

I just found the whole thing kind of funny. A recurring theme throughout Ani DiFranco's music (and especially on this album) is her refusal to be pigeonholed as an artist, to never be saddled with any one particular label, and yet it was the people who claimed to be her biggest fans that insisted on pigeonholing* her the most.

*Doesn't the word "pigeonholing" sound astounding dirty?

It's Friday night, the wife's away for the evening and the kid's asleep. Y'all know what that means... time to kick off a series of short reviews of some of the comics I've been reading the last few months. Aw, yeah!

Honestly, I'm so glad Erin consented to marry me, because I really don't think any other woman on Earth would have me.

Anyway, to get started, here’s some of the more memorable stuff I picked up at Wizard World Boston:

Action Comics 436 - "The Super Cigars of Perry White." With a title like that, it must be Elliot S! Maggin. So yeah, mutant children from, uh, someplace, either the future or another planet, pay back the solid Perry did for them in a previous issue by giving him a box of cigars that grant him superpowers. The usual hijinks, including the inevitable "GASP! Perry White is Superman!" mutterings, ensue. Overlooking the fact that this is the rare comic to tout the benefits of smoking, it's really a lot of fun. I love 70s Superman comics... they tried so hard to make Supes seem relevant to the era, and yet they were completely unashamed to occasionally use plots that would make even Mort Weisinger blush (especially when Maggin or Cary Bates was at the wheel). God bless you, Mr. Maggin.

Superman 233 - This represents the other extreme of 70s Superman comics, the Man of Steel is revitalized for the modern era under the editorial guidance of Julius Schwartz. Denny O’Neil writes this initial story, altering Superman’s status quo – Clark Kent becomes a television reporter; all of the Kryptonite on Earth is rendered inert; Superman seems mysteriously less powerful than before – in the space of… wait for it… 12 pages. It doesn’t even take the man a full issue! And it’s not like everything seems hyper-compressed, either. O’Neil just makes really excellent use of the space allowed. Amazing. The story is still pretty decent after all these years, too (though the idea of a “mail rocket” is more than a bit silly).

Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen 104 (80 Page Giant G38) – Yes, I know, Superman is a dick. But in his defense, I submit this issue, which reprints stories in which Jimmy: switches bodies with Superman, discovers his secret identity, and then immediately runs off to tell Lois Lane; tries to con his friends into thinking he is volunteering to be frozen for 1,000 years so that they’ll appreciate him more; mistakes Professor Potter’s “Elastic Lad” serum for a soda; gets himself turned into a giant turtle monster… honestly, I could go on and on. They’re all amazingly fun stories, but they all drive home an important point: Jimmy Olsen is both a moron and an asshole. If you had to spend every waking hour with this tool and that bipolar Lane chick, you’d be a dick, too.

Legion of Super-Heroes (Vol. 2) 290-294 – This is, in many fans’ eyes, the end all, be all of LSH stories: the Great Darkness Saga. Basically, Darkseid shows up after centuries of, um, not showing up (they’re kind of unclear on what he’s been up to), kicks the Legionnaires’ collective asses for 5 issues, and is only really defeated because he kind of gets tired of fighting them. I first read this story a while back in trade paperback, and was left feeling kind of “meh” about the whole thing. A few years and a healthy dose of Legion fandom later, I can appreciate it a lot more. Definitely a great story, and it’s consequences for felt for years to come (right up until the Zero Hour reboot, actually). Is it better than “Earthwar,” though? I’ll let the hardcore Legion fans fight amongst themselves over that one.

Squarecat Comics Vol. 1 – I think Jennifer Omand’s table was my last stop at Wizard World Boston, as I was making a final pass through Artists’ Alley before heading for the T station. I stopped because I was drawn in by her cute drawings of funny animals dressed as Marvel super-heroes. But the main attraction was this book, a collection of her online diary strip that features Omand, her boyfriend and others depicted as cartoony animals (Omand herself is the Squarecat of the title, literally a square-shaped cat). Think American Elf without having to see James Kochalka’s weiner all the time. The book is cute, charming, heartwarming and laugh-out loud funny, and Omand herself was a lot of fun to talk to. Buy it, read it, give copies of it to all your friends.

Wrath of the Spectre – I’ve heard a lot of good things about the Michael Fleisher/Jim Aparo Spectre stories from Adventure Comics in the 70s, so getting this TPB for half-off was a no-brainer. They were a great mix of detective and horror stories, and they made my jaw drop more than a few times. If you’ve never read any of these, here’s the basic formula for each story: someone commits a murder, which Detective Jim Corrigan investigates; he discovers the culprits, turns into the Spectre, and proceeds to KILL THE BAD GUYS DEAD in gruesome, often fittingly ironic ways. Kind of like if the Crypt Keeper decided to get involved in his own stories. How this stuff got by the Comics Code (like the guy getting cut in half by the giant scissors, for instance), I’ll never know; I’d love to find out the stuff they had to cut!

Tricked – I talked about this book and meeting Alex Robinson at the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund table in a couple of different places (which I'm too lazy to link to now, but you can go look for them yourself - it's like a scavenger hunt!), but I just want to say again that this was a terrific book and you should all read it and love it, and maybe even feed it and cuddle it and name it George. I’m just sayin’.

The Kansas Board of Education has voted to "redefine" science, in order to allow for the teaching of intelligent design.

Have you ever wished you had the power to telepathically make people's heads explode, like in Scanners? And then had the means to take a road trip through Kansas?

I'm just sayin'.

(Now, I'm not one to diss anyone for their belief in God. In fact, I happen to believe in a higher power of some variety. But there's that little thing in the Constitution about separating church and state. I like that part. Ideally, it prevents the establishment of state-sponsored religion, which always ends badly. Always. So let's keep that part of this august document in mind when we go making our silly laws, okay?)

Sometimes it feels like they're all watching me, and it's kind of creepy.

Because Psychbloke demanded it!

Well, that's not true. More like, because Psychbloke mentioned it in passing!

It's... my Pez collection!

Yup, Pez is another of the great loves of my pop cultural life. Now, I'm not particularly hardcore or anything. I've never been to a Pez Con, I've never made a fantasy Pez dispenser, and I don't own any that are particularly old, rare or valuable (though as a kid, I had a soft-headed Batman, and a Captain America, and one of the rubber headed monsters and... well, I don't like thinking about that now). I do, however, have a whole lot (or, as the ancient Sumerians said, a butt load) of dispensers (over 200 at last count). Assembling this candy-popping menagerie over time has been a lot of fun, and a rather surprising bonding experience for Erin and I (more on that in a bit). And as I have everything displayed on the bookshelves in the living room, the collection is also quite a conversation piece. It's usually one of the first things people notice when they come into the house, and everyone - friend, relative, cable guy or whoever - remarks about it. And it's funny, too... you leave comic book stuff out in full view, and people start in with the "nerd" crap. You display a few hundred Pez, and they get really excited. Go figure.

The funny thing about all this is that my wife Erin holds no small amount of blame for this particular obsession of mine. I used to buy Pez a lot as a kid (I'm telling you, I would LOVE to get that soft-head Batman or Captain America back!), but I never really started actually collecting the things until high school. Not long after Erin and I started dating in college, she left to spend her junior year abroad in Austria. Extremely long distance dating, especially so early in the relationship, is tough, but one of the things we'd do to cheer ourselves up was to send each other care packages. I'd send her Jif, Doritos, Winnie the Pooh merchandise and Optic Nerve comic books. She asked what I wanted, and I told her that since Pez originated in Europe, and that Europe generally got an entirely different selection of characters than we had here, some Pez dispensers would be quite nice, thanks.

She sent me box after overflowing box of Pez dispensers. Erin, by her own admission, is pretty compulsive. She does nothing in a small way.

And before you ask, no, it wasn't the Pez that made me decide this was the girl I had to marry. But it helped.

I also have a giant dispenser of Charlie Brown (wearing a Red Sox hat, which seems so appropriate) and bobbleheads of the old Bride and Groom dispensers. These just may be the most important pieces of the entire collection, as they sat in front of us on our table at our wedding reception.

Now if only I could get back those damn Batman and Captain America dispensers! Anyone have spares they'd be willing to donate? Or maybe a Spaceman, or Uncle Sam? Or a Make-A-Face? Please?

Here are some Pez links:

- The Pez official site, which connects you to both the American and European halves of the company. Sadly, though, it doesn't look like the webstore has been updated in forever.
- Pez Central, a good source for all manner of Pez-related goodness.
- Custom Pez for your business, direct from the Pez company itself. The minium order is only 2 million dispensers.
- A Pez Boy MP3 player. It has 512 mb of memory, is Windows and Mac compatible, and "comes preloaded with great indie music."
- Pez Collector's News, complete with info on all sorts of Pez conventions.
- The Burlingame Pez Museum in Burlingame, California. If I ever get to go on my fantasy road trip of cheesy and fun American tourist destinations, this will definitely be a stop. For now, I'll have to settle for the PodTrip audio tour.

You'd do well to fear The 50 Book Challenge!

#7. Tricked by Alex Robinson – I generally hate the term “graphic novel,” but that’s a very accurate description of this book, so I’ll suck up my pride this time. Tricked, the gi-normously sized new graphic novel by Alex Robinson, might just be one of the best character studies in the history of the comic book form. The story follows six people – a reclusive rock star, an office temp, a waitress, a young runaway, an autograph counterfeiter, and a psychotically obsessed music fan – whose lives gradually begin to intersect over time until they are all finally brought together in a final act that manages to seem both inevitable and shocking at the same time. It reads a bit like a comic book version of Short Cuts, really. And if that seems like a lofty comparison, rest assured this book lives up to it admirably. The characters could be one-note caricatures very easily – the waitress who is unlucky in love, the girl in search of the father she has never met, the washed-up musician seeking his muse – but like those from the Robert Altman movie or the Raymond Carver stories that inspired it, they each have those unique quirks and qualities that somehow make them as real as the people you know.

Robinson proved that he had the chops to create moving, compelling, character-driven stories in his previous work, Box Office Poison (which is also collected in a phone book-sized graphic novel). BOP, however, was originally published in serial comic book form, and shows some of the drawbacks native to that format (most notably a shift in plotline focus – as the initial main character’s storyline stalls, a previously secondary character pretty much takes over the whole book). Robinson has obviously learned from his prior experiences, though, as the story in Tricked never waivers from the field of vision laid out in the early pages. Whether or not this would have been the case if this had been published in serial form instead of a completed, original graphic novel is impossible to tell. And honestly, it probably doesn’t matter.

What does matter is that this is a great book that deserves to be read. If you’re at all open to reading comic books or graphic novels or whatever the hell you want to call ‘em, then you should read this book ASAP. If you’ve never read a comic before, then this is a hell of a place to start. Box Office Poison is well worth your time, too, so go and buy both today. Alex Robinson is a true talent, and a hell of a nice guy, so you’d all do well to throw some money his way at your earliest convenience.

I'll watch just about anything once.

There are few things in this world that I honestly and truly love, and public access television is not one of them. It’s pretty darn entertaining, though, and once it’s turned on, I’m drawn like a moth to, well, not a flame, but a television broadcasting locally produced, no-budget edutainment programming. Moths love their edutainment programming. Look it up!

Anyway, I think I find public access fascinating because I don’t recall that we ever had it back when I was growing up in Bangor, Maine. Sure, there was that one channel that the cable company used to display notices of local happenings and video of the occasional city council meeting, but there was never anything you could actually call a show. Except for the way buff religious guy who stood in front of a brick wall reading the Bible. We had that guy, but that was about it. Here in Rhode Island, on the other hand, we have at least 4 or 5 channels devoted to public access, at least one of which is devoted solely to Spanish language programs, and another specifically for religious stuff. And every single one of them has something worth watching at some time or another.

Here are some of my favorite RI public access programs. I don’t know the titles of most of them, so I’ll just make up my own.

El cabrito espantosamente intenso del predicador (“The Frighteningly Intense Preacher Kid;” Thanks to Babel Fish for the translation there.) – This is a Spanish language religious show starring a small child – no older than 8 or 9 years old – spreading the Gospel through sermon and song at a vocal speed of approximately 38 million words a minute. This kid is a human dynamo, running back and forth across the stage, preaching and singing his little heart out. And intense! I have no idea what this kid is saying, but it’s pretty darn clear he believes it wholeheartedly. And you better, too, or else he’ll probably come to your house and subject you to his “Herve Villechaize, but religious and on crystal meth” act in person. And I don’t think you’ve got the stones to withstand that, Jefe.

“Caught” in Providence – This is the only one that I know the actual title of, if only because it’s sort of a Rhode Island institution. Essentially, it’s like a locally produced version of The People’s Court, except that it involves real cases and is taped in an actual courtroom. The defendants are all filed through one at a time while the judge hears their case. Most of the time, it’s just people with parking tickets who often plead “Guilty with an explanation” and try and get the judge to lower or completely toss out their fine (which he often does, especially if it’s a poor mom with her kids in tow or a cute female college student). Every now and again, though, you’ll get an actual hardened criminal with a severe attitude problem that’s there for some sort of pre-trial happening. And then the next person will be another person with a parking fine, only they’ll look really frightened. I shouldn’t laugh, but I always do.

Rhode Island Skank Dance Party – This is a show consisting of nothing but video footage shot at Providence-area dance clubs. It’s like a low-rent version of that old Emtpy-V show, The Grind, but without the host, lip-synced “live” performances or attractive people. Just a bunch of people dressed like they desperately want to get laid, bumping and grinding to endless, techno-ized versions of songs that were popular a year or two ago (which is when this was filmed, for all I know). The best part is watching people mug for the video camera. You get to see some really terrible dance moves, all manner of obscene gestures, and every now and then, drunk girls making out. Except that the drunk girls get mosaic-ed out of the picture; the gestures, everything from the finger to the wagging tongue between the “v” of fingers that is the universal symbol for cunnilingus, remain. The end result is perhaps the most entrancing show in television history. If you sit down to watch, you will not stop until the show ends. Somehow, it is impossible to tear yourself away. An entire channel of this would seriously impede my ability to lead my everyday life.

The Star Trek Show – A couple of people sitting in front of a wall with Star Trek posters on it, talking about all things Trek. You could make a lot of jokes about these people, and admittedly I have, but I also have to admire them in a way. They’re really into what is widely acknowledged as the geekiest of geek disciplines, they’ve probably dressed as a Borg for an occasion other than Halloween, and they may have even paid money to go to Klingon language camp. But they’re comfortable and secure enough with themselves that they don’t care who knows it, and are even willing to go on TV and proclaim their geekiness for all (or at least just the folks watching public access late Sunday nights) to see. That takes some cojones. Live long and prosper, guys.

The High School Video Project Show – Every now and again, they’ll randomly show a bunch of clips that local high school students made for some sort of class assignment. Like today, for instance, they showed a bunch of commercial parodies filmed by students at North Kingstown High School. As is to be expected, these things tend to range in quality from “surprisingly clever” to “so terrible they deserve to be studied,” but laid out end to end, they’re all surprisingly transfixing. Almost as big a threat to getting things done as Rhode Island Skank Dance Party, but with a bit less skank – though only a bit, as I was surprised by what they actually let teenage girls to wear to school now. I would’ve paid good money for girls to be allowed to wear impossibly tiny skirts to school back in the day! Yeesh.

The Priest Who Does Surprisingly Good Entertainment Interviews – This isn’t locally produced, but it airs on one of the religious public access channels, so I say it counts. I’ve only ever seen this once or twice, but I think it’s just a show where this youngish priest interviews famous people who just happen to be Catholic. On one episode I saw, he interviewed Bruce Campbell (which is what made me stop to watch). And truthfully, it was one of the best interviews with Campbell that I’ve seen. His entire career was covered in amazing detail, like he was on Inside the Catholic Studio or something, and you could tell that Father Whatshisname was a really big fan, or that he at least really did his homework. And I don’t think they ever talked about religion once. If this guy ever has a crisis of faith, he should totally get a job on E! and show those sniveling little celebrity sycophants how a real entertainment interview is done.

So there you go. We’re not talking about really high quality programming here, but it is pretty fun in it’s own, bizarre little way. The only way I could really think of to improve it would be to smush it all into one big supershow, starring a tiny Latino preacher boy in a Star Trek uniform shaking his booty out on the dance floor in order to pick up chicks and get an A in his video production class, while at the same time interviewing Bruce Campbell, who is trying to contest a parking ticket.

It’s so crazy, it just might work.

The Mod Squad! Pete! Julie! Links!

White House to The Onion : Stop Using the Presidential Seal.

The Onion's response, as summed up by editor-in-chief Scott Dikkers: "I would advise them to look for that other guy Osama (bin Laden) ... rather than comedians. I don't think we pose much of a threat."

Heh. The Onion rules. Now if only Scott Dikkers would revive "Jim's Journal," the world would be a happier place indeed.

If you have ever wanted to see a word defined using scenes constructed from Lego bricks, then you should check out The Bricktionary. My personal favorite is "asphyxiate," but they're all pretty excellent.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: God bless the internet.

My kid is cute. You want proof? Check out my wife Erin's blog entries detailing Liam's first adventures with solid food and playing in his exersaucer.

Bring me the head of Stephen King!

The 50 Book Challenge saunters along!

#6 - The Colorado Kid by Stephen King - When I first found this book, I was pretty excited. First of all, the idea of King writing a pulp novel-type mystery story was pretty appealing. I like his writing best when he works in genres other than "Stephen King" (Eyes of the Dragon, for instance, was a dandy little fantasy novel). Second, the sales blurb on the back compared this story rather favorably to the works of Dashiell Hammett and Graham Greene. Great people to emulate with this sort of thing, so I'm still with you there. Finally, and perhaps most amazingly, it's short. 178 pages to be exact. Short Stephen King novels are like short Grateful Dead songs; you've heard rumors that such things exist, but you never thought you'd actually encounter one. So with all this in its favor, I figured I'd give the book a shot.

Please learn from my mistake. Don't give this a shot. You want to know why you shouldn't? Glad you asked. It's not really the murder mystery story the sales blurb makes it out to be, not in the conventional sense anyway. It's about two grizzled, elderly newspaper veterans telling their intern the story of a local unsolved "mysterious death" case. And that's it. A story about a story. Hold on, let me add some emphasis to that. IT'S A STORY ABOUT A STORY! You know who writes stuff like that? Lazy high school creative writing students who put off writing their final project until the night before it's due (I speak from personal experience here). And you know what else? Even after the retelling, the story never even gets resolved! And then we get an afterword from King trying to excuse his lack of satisfying-ending-writing skills by basically saying "Well, life's like that sometimes. Tough titty. Don't question me on this. I've outsold the Bible. What the hell have you done with your life?"

Honestly, I don't even think the man has an editor anymore. Avoid this, please.

Someday, I may get good enough at this game to play for more than 5 minutes at a time.

Last week, I had $24 in unused trade-in credit burning a hole in my pocket and an undeniable hankerin’ for some pixilated carnage, so I hopped in the car and drove myself down to the local EB Games location. I hadn’t been in the store for more than five seconds when the barrage of questions from Annoyingly Chipper & Overcaffeinated Salesguy began:


You know, typical video game store employee chatter.

I browsed the store’s selection of both new and used games, all the while trying to drown out Annoyingly Chipper & Overcaffeinated Salesguy’s yammering by imagining myself in a variety of more preferable situations – buying new floor tiles, renewing my driver’s license, getting a colonoscopy… anything, so long as it was quieter. It sounds weird, but I really need to concentrate when I’m looking at games. See, I’m not a hardcore gamer by any means, I don’t generally have a lot of money to spend on video games, I certainly don’t have the time to play a lot, and I’m not into a lot of the popular genres (RPGs, real time strategy, anything with the word “Madden” in it, etc.), so finding a game that I will enjoy playing takes a lot of consideration and effort. I probably make it a more torturous process than it needs to be, but I do that with most aspects of my life (just ask Erin), so why should this be any different? In any event, I just wanted to browse the selection available to me without having Annoyingly Chipper & Overcaffeinated Salesguy yammering in my general direction about how I need need need to pre-order Dungeon Crapper Pi, Super Mario Debate Club, City of Geometry Teachers, or some such nonsense.

Finally, after much consternation and hemming and hawing and a very unwanted salespitch from Annoyingly Chipper & Overcaffeinated Salesguy about pre-ordering an X-Box 360 (Which reminds me... wouldn’t “pre-ordering” something mean that you order it before you order it? How in the blue hell is that possible?), I was able to come to a decision: Star Wars Battlefront (now a PS2 Greatest Hit title). Now, typically, I hate shooting games. I find them repetitive, I can never adjust the camera angles quickly enough, and first person perspective games tend to make me nauseous (I’ve never been able to play Doom for more than 5 minutes without getting a little motion sick). Plus, I tend to suck at them in a big way. Battlefront has a few advantages, though. For one, you can switch from first person perspective to a refreshingly Dramamine-less third person. Second, it’s set in the Star Wars universe, so that’s usually good for some fun. Third, you can gun down Gungans by the truckload (Ewoks, too, but I’ve historically had less of a beef against them). As an avowed Jar Jar hater, that sort of thing appeals to me. And last, but certainly not least, it was $20. Greatest Hits titles and their accompanying cheaper price tags rule. So despite Annoyingly Chipper & Overcaffeinated Salesguy’s insistence that I’d be much better off waiting a week or two and spending an additional $30 to buy Star Wars: Battlefront 2 – Electric Boogaloo (because it’s newer and more expensive and therefore a better game, apparently), I paid the man, kicked him square in nuts (at least in my head), got my game and drove on home.

And let me tell you folks, it was indeed a happy purchase, because this is one crazy fun game. I’m really terrible at it – even on the easy setting, with “friendly fire” turned off and automatic targeting on, I still die with rapid and frightening regularity, quite often by my own accidental hand – but it’s fun. Well worth your video game dollar if you’re a fan of Star Wars or shooting games, even if it does mean you may have to contend with the likes of Annoyingly Chipper & Overcaffeinated Salesguy.

And the wholesale slaughter of Jar Jar and his pals? Cheapest geek catharsis money can buy.

This is for Annie.

It's not exactly what you were hoping for, but I hate to see you disappointed.

Ponderousness and shameless self-promotion (though not necessarily in that order).

Hey kids, comics! I've got more stuff up for sale on eBay - some Powers trade paperbacks, the first Love Fights trade, the first True Story Swear to God trade (don't worry, I'm not going crazy, I ended up with two copies), the TPB of Peter Milligan's first Human Target mini for Vertigo and, to test the waters for unloading some regular floppy comics, Rann-Thanagar War 1 and Return of Donna Troy 1. Bid early, bid often!

So last night, at the University where I work, there was a guest speaker: Marc Summers. Yup, Mr. Double Dare and Unwrapped himself. A bit of an odd choice for a business school, but his talk was very well-attended, so I think it was pretty successful. Even though the event was about 30 feet away from where I was working (the "Grand Hall" is in the same building as the library), I didn't get a chance to pop my head in or anything, so I don't know if anyone asked him how he was able to cope with his near-crippling OCD while working on a show like Double Dare. I know I'd sure like to know.

This Thursday, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, the former president of Brazil, is speaking.

Rather huge change in gear, don't you think?

Now, my question is, do you feel psyched for Marc Summers, seeing as he essentially got to be the warm-up act for such a VIP; or do you feel bad for President Cardoso, who is stuck following a guy who used to encourage kids to reach up a giant, plastic, green slime-filled nose in order to find a flag and win a Snoopy Sno-Cone Machine?

Yes, I do lie awake at night asking myself these questions. Why do you ask?

Taking the Pepsi Challenge (but substituting books for the Pepsi)

The 50 Book Challenge continues...

#4. Superman: The Last Son of Krypton by Elliot S! Maggin – For my money, Elliot S! Maggin is the best Superman writer of all time, and certainly the most imaginative. Even if one of his comic book stories wasn’t particularly good, it usually contained some endearingly mad genius idea or two to at least make it memorable; in short, he was the Grant Morrison of his day (or more appropriately, Morrison is the Maggin of today). So naturally, I was pretty excited at the prospect of reading a Superman prose novel by the man. Well, it didn’t quite live up to my expectations, but there were enough of those mad genius ideas to keep things interesting. The basic plot is pretty pedestrian – Superman is forced to team-up with Lex Luthor in order to fight a common foe – but said foe is an interstellar real-estate mogul who has stolen the lost documents of Albert Einstein in order to fulfill an eons-old prophecy of universal conquest. So it has that going for it, which is nice. Maggin also takes the opportunity to really crawl into all of these characters’ heads and see what really makes them tick, especially Luthor. In Maggin’s hands, Lex transforms from a one-note mad scientist into a really complex character, someone who views himself as the Man of Steel’s karmic opposite, the equal and opposite reaction to Superman’s every action. Superman may be named in the title, but Lex may ultimately be the main character.

You know what, forget what I said about this not living up to expectations. It was really good, and I look forward to eventually reading the sequel, Miracle Monday. Best of all, you can read both books (and another short story) for free here.

#5. Radio On: A Listener’s Diary by Sarah Vowell – For her first book, Vowell decided to listen to the radio for the whole of 1995 and keep a journal detailing what she heard and how it impacted her life. Guess what? Most radio really sucked in 1995 (if you were there, I’m sure you remember), it made Vowell kind of miserable, and she passed the misery onto us. I can only assume she knew her later books would actually be good, and there’d be people like me who’d read them in reverse order, so that by the time we got to this one, we’d already be fans and therefore wouldn’t give up on this slow crawl into ennui halfway through. She details – oh, does she ever detail – program after program, soundbite after soundbite, pausing often to complain about the mid-decade conservative talk radio boom (which, yeah, was pretty bad) and the majority of NPR programming (which is funny, considering how much of her later career is centered on NPR). And, since this is 1995 she’s talking about, she devotes much page space to the canonization of Kurt Cobain. Ugh. Sorry Sarah, I don’t care how talented he may have been, anyone who does so many drugs that he can no longer eat, kills himself and leaves behind a wife and child – even if that wife is Courtney Love – is a fucking loser. Hey man, nice shot.

Sorry, train of thought derailed. I have no patience for Cobain worship (The guy from Sublime who OD’ed? Also loathsome. Shannon Hoon from Blind Mellon, too.). Anyway, there is one affecting section dealing with her reactions to the Oklahoma City bombing (she was born in that neck of the woods, so it literally hit her close to home), but for the most part, there’s not much here worth your time. Read Take the Cannoli, The Partly Cloudy Patriot or Assassination Vacation instead. They’re excellent books by a true literary talent. This is just an art school student’s dull-as-dishwater side project.

When Titans Clash!

Liam vs. Spider-Man! The fate of the world hangs in the balance!

By the way...

Infinite Crisis #1?

Really good.

He's talking about comics again. Run!

They came from the library, and then they went back. That's how it works, you see.

JLA: Earth 2 – I’ve enjoyed most of Grant Morrison’s JLA stories, but I don’t think this one worked very well at all. It borrowed a little too heavily from the Star Trek mirror universe stories (the Crime Syndicate is like the JLA, but they’re into sex, drugs and thrill killing… see, they’re all eeeevil!) and that one Doctor Who episode, “The Five Doctors” (the whole idea that if the heroes want to win, they have to lose). But most of all, it just felt rushed; I don’t think 96 pages was enough space to tell this story. A full-length 5 or 6 issue storyarc to develop the concepts more fully would have been a better choice this time around. As for the art, well, I’ve never been a big Frank Quitely fan – what with all the excessively blocky characters and their permanently pursed lips – and here he was at his Quiteliest. Green Lantern is about 5 people wide, and Wonder Woman looks like a dude. Just ugly stuff. I wanted to like this book, and I liked the basic premise involved, but the parts didn’t add up to a whole that I could enjoy.

The Groo Houndbook – A lot of people really dig Sergio Aragones’s “Groo the Wanderer,” so I figured I’d finally check it out. This book, reprinting Groo’s first encounter with his dog, Rufferto, was the earliest story I could find. Um, I guess if you like this sort of thing, than this is the sort of thing you’d like; apparently, I don’t like this sort of thing. I guess I see how people find this title funny, and I was mildly amused by just how much everyone else in the book except Rufferto seems to hate Groo (a man who rescues the hapless barbarian from quicksand is forced to apologize), but I never laughed once. In the end, I guess it’s just not my thing. But if anyone out there can recommend a Groo story that they think I will find funny, I’m open to suggestions.

1917 is the new 1918?

After their loss on Friday to the Chicago White Sox, the baseball season is officially over for the Boston Red Sox. I should probably be more disappointed, but I can't get myself too worked up about it. It would have been nice to see a repeat trip to the World Series, but I'm still high off of the 2004 win. They turned the tide of history, ended the talk of that stupid, non-existent curse and gave me one world championship. That's enough for now. I'm not greedy. So long as they can remain consistent contenders, that'll keep me happy for a few more years yet. Besides, considering this season's intra-team snarkiness and the serious deficiencies they faced in the pitching department, they're lucky to get as far as they did. Terry Francona deserves a medal.

So congrats to the White Sox. They earned it. But now, in my eyes, they're committed. If they're going to oust my beloved Red Sox, they owe it to me to go on and win the whole damned thing. That's the only thing that'll make it worthwhile.* So good luck in breaking your own imaginary curse, Chicago!

*It's the only thing that'll get me to keep watching, too. Fox has the World Series again, which means more painful coverage by the worst announce team in baseball history, Tim McCarver and Joe Buck. If I don't care about any of the teams involved, I won't watch, and I'll be blissfully spared from their inane chatter. So maybe I should actually be hoping that Chicago loses...

Some thoughts on a largely unimportant subject.

It occurs to me that I’ve been blogging about comics (among other unimportant topics) for just over a year now, and I’ve never once outlined my ideas to Save the Comic Book Industry.

Well, I don’t have any. I don’t think it even needs saving, truthfully. It’ll evolve or it’ll die, and as the past few years have shown, it seems to have chosen the former option (however begrudgingly). However, I do believe that the landscape of comic fandom could be a lot more palatable, so I submit the following contribution to the ongoing dialogue. These are what I consider to be the 5 steps that we all could do to make being a comic book fan a more enjoyable experience. They should all be common sense by now, but sadly, that’s not always the case.

1. Enjoy what you read, read what you enjoy. If you don’t like a particular title, drop it like a bad habit. Don’t keep reading out of inertia, or the need to be a completist, or even because “it might get good again.” And most especially, don’t buy a book specifically to bash it online! It’s plain and simple: if you don’t like it, don’t read it. Vote with your wallet. The comics industry may not be a democracy, but it is a business, and no one’s going to publish a book that nobody reads. And look, down the road, if it does indeed get good again, feel free to return. But don’t suffer through the bad times for the occasional high points; life’s too short for shitty comics.

2. Make your own decisions. Don’t buy a book because it’s hip, or ironic, or because your friends, the people at your comic book store, The Comics Journal, Wizard, CBG, or your favorite website or blog tell you to. All of these resources can point you in the direction of something you just may enjoy – yes, even Wizard – but in the end, like what you want to like simply because you like it (see also Rule 1).

3. Allow people to read and enjoy whatever they want, even if you think it’s the biggest pile of crap in the history of history itself. For example, I will never understand the appeal of tentacle porn manga, even if I live to be 1,000 years old, but there are people out there that enjoy it a whole hell of a lot. None of them are forcing me to read it, or telling me that I’m waste of oxygen for not enjoying it, so I figure I owe them the same courtesy.

No one likes a know-it-all. You know a lot about your particular genre, title or character of choice? That’s fantastic, honestly. Just don’t think it makes you inherently superior to anyone else. It’s just comic books. It doesn’t matter, no one really cares, and even though you’re the Grand Poobah (or, to use a phrase coined by Lene Taylor, the Alpha Monkey) of your particular geek clique, there will always be someone who knows more than you do. And if you’re an especially arrogant prick, said person will be more than happy to knock you on your ass, figuratively and literally.

5. This is probably just a reiteration of numbers 1 through 4, but stop the negativity already! Seriously, just stop it. Stop bashing books online just for the sake of bashing books online. Stop telling people that the books they like are crap, and by extension, that they are crap, too. Grow the hell up. You want mainstream acceptance for comic books and the people who love them? Stop acting like a bratty manchild (or womanchild, as the case may be). There are reasons why stereotypes like the Comic Book Guy character on The Simpsons exist, folks. Whether we like superheroes, art comix or, yes, tentacle porn manga, we still all like comics. We have to learn to play nice within our own little group before we’ll ever be allowed to play in the other kids’ sandbox.

5a. Truthfully, the other kids’ sandbox is overrated, so even if we never do get to go play with them, it’s really not that big a deal. That shouldn’t deter us from making nice amongst ourselves, though.

Of course, this isn’t just limited to comic books. These suggestions are equally applicable to Star Trek, sports, rock music, or anything else with a WAY too intense fan base; all you have to do is change the terminology.

It’s just common courtesy, folks. Think about it, won’t you?

Blog pimpin'

A few of my friends have started blogs recently, and they're well worth your time.

My friend Dan (he of the Wizard World Boston excursion) can be found at The Jimmy Gatz Conspiracy, while my friend Annie (who knows all the words to the theme song from 227) has set up her corner of the bloggyverse at senselessness.

And, as I have mentioned before, you can also visit my wife Erin's newish blog, Sic Transit Gloria.

Go. Read. Enjoy.

The 50 Book Challenge Continues...

#3 - "Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation" by Lynne Truss - I majored in English and college and spent a brief, miserable time working for a newspaper as a combination go-fer, assignments-no-one-else-wanted reporter and 8th junior assistant bootlick copy editor. When I worked for MetLife, I usually ended up proofreading most of my co-workers' correspondence to correct spelling and grammar mistakes, especially comma usage. And as Erin can attest, I'm very easily offended by the abuse that the English language takes in the modern world, even though I've committed more than my fair share of offenses over the years. (just because you're passionate doesn't mean you can't also be a hypocrite) In other words, I'm well within the confines of Truss's target audience. But even if you're not a hardline grammar stickler, you may still find something of value in this book. The shaky history of punctuation is surprisingly interesting, and if you're not careful, you just may learn something before it's done.* You might even find yourself inspired to carry a Sharpie at all times, ready to cross out the dreaded "greengrocers' apostrophe" at a moment's notice. Hey, it could happen.**

* Hey, hey, hey!
** If you have as little to do as I do, anyway.

As promised, Supergirl by Alex Robinson

So yeah, excellent work from one of the classiest guys in comics today. Like I said, buy his books!

Geekmas Wrapping

My friend Dan and I went to Wizard World Boston on Saturday, and by and large, we had a fun time. As is to be expected, it’s pretty superhero-centric, but if you like that sort of thing – and we do – then this is the sort of thing you’d like.

Now, I’m not the sort of person who’s really cut out to do any sort of full-fledged con report. As I said earlier in the week, I don’t really go for the big time announcements, the panels, the gaming or the social aspects. I go to comic shows to buy cool stuff for cheap. The two states where I’ve lived through the years, Maine and Rhode Island, aren’t exactly hotbeds of the comic retail universe, so these events provide opportunities I don’t get very often. So I’m in no way capable of giving any sort of blow-by-blow account of the day’s events, but here are some brief observations.

- We met Alex Robinson (of Box Office Poison fame) and his wife (whose name I forget now, sadly) at the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund table, and let me tell you, they are two of the friendliest comic book people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. We ended up stopping by the table twice and had long conversations with them both times. I picked up Alex’s new book, Tricked, which he signed and sketched in for me, and Dan and I both received some really beautiful superhero sketches he drew (I got Supergirl, Dan got Zatanna) in return for becoming CBLDF members. I’ll have to post a scan of the Supergirl sketch sometime. It’s really excellent. So anyway, buy lots of Alex Robinson comic books, because he’s good people.

Alex Robinson, more than happy to sell me stuff.

- Eliza Dushku’s security detail whisked her past us while we were at the CBLDF table the second time around. Good lord, is that woman tiny! Like “feed her a cheeseburger, STAT!” tiny. Give her a strong breeze and an aerodynamic hat, and she could do a spot-on Sister Bertrille imitation. On the other end of the spectrum, pro wrestling legend Mick Foley looks even more husky than he used to now that he’s no longer regular in-ring talent. If these two were to trade lunches, they’d both benefit.

- Lou Ferrigno is more buff than any man his age has a right to be. I’ve heard numerous times that he’s kind of a dick in person, but I doubt anybody would be brave enough to say it to his face.

- Palisades Toys must be the greatest company to work for in the world. I’ve seen their booth at two shows now (this one and WW Philly last year), and both times everyone was incredibly friendly, and they all looked like they were having fun. And I’m talking legitimately friendly and fun, not that fake “I’m trying to sell you something so I’ll put on a big, shit-eating grin and laugh a little more often than is necessary” friendly and fun. Nice folks. Plus, I was able to snag the last Super Grover figure they had (at least for Saturday… not sure if they had a set limit to sell for each day, like how WizKids limits sales on the Heroclix convention premiums, or if I got the For Real Last One of the Show), so that was pretty cool.

- Comics Retail Inflation: the Dollar Box is the new Quarter Bin. But then again, most of the dollar boxes we saw were filled with some really excellent stuff (I picked up the entire Great Darkness Saga for about a third of what it would cost to buy the TPB), so it’s not like I minded the rate hike so much. There were some quarter bins to be found, though, but they were filled mostly with really worn 80s books and the usual 90s detritus.

- Of course, there were stormtroopers:

“I think we’ll be the judge as to whether or not these are the droids we’re looking for, pal.”

- A lot of booths were well-stocked with half-priced TPBs for sale, but it seemed like all these places had the exact same stuff! You could have built a rather large house out of the all the copies of “How to Draw Manga” or Marvel Encyclopedia volumes we saw. And so much of the stock was in rough shape, too. I noticed a lot of books had the telltale magic marker “remainder” line across the tops, so I think I’ve discovered what happens to bookstores’ unsold graphic novels. There was some good stuff to be found, but you really had to hunt. And recent collections I had put off buying because I figured I’d find them here (like the Superman Showcase, the Avengers Serpent Crown book or the Sgt. Rock digest), were completely absent.

- One of the bargain TPB booth proprietors had herself a little salespitch. She’d yell, “All books 50% off, ALLLLLLLLLLLLLL books 50%!” Repeatedly. All. Day. Long. With no less than a 30 second break in-between. I heard that woman’s rant in my dreams last night. They weren’t good dreams. I snuggled in a little closer to Erin for protection.

- Artificial heat index: Someone had the Blue Beetle issue of Secret Origins for $15. Um, no, I don’t think so, not even with the excellent Gil Kane artwork found inside, thanks. Someone else had the John Byrne issue of Superman that introduced the Matrix Supergirl for, again, $15, with a sign reading “1st New Supergirl – HOT!” Wrong series, wrong Supergirl, bad retailer (go lay down!). I just shook my head and walked away. I realize now I should have kicked him in the sack.

- The sort of ATM line you’re only going to see at a con:

Screw the goodies. Red Riding Hood’s granny needs cash!

On a similar “only here” note, I also saw Batman headed in to use the can. No pics of that, thankfully, but the image will stay burned in my brain for years.

- Last but not least, the official Warriors of Plasm count was a mere two copies of the collected edition. By my index, that means Wizard World Boston was a good show.

R2 says: "Wizard World Boston is TPS approved!"