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’.

This is, in my opinion, the single greatest comic strip ever published.

And yeah, the rest of Calvin & Hobbes was great, too. But this? Pure genius.
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.

Oh, get me away from here I'm dying.

Belle and Sebastian - If You're Feeling Sinister
You are Belle & Sebastian's "If You're Feeling

What essential indie rock album are you?
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