Celebration or Existential Crisis? U-Decide!

Sunday is my 30th birthday, and through a rather fancy bit of happenstance and some creative scheduling, I managed to wrangle a four day weekend out of it. So me no bloggy while I spend the next few days either celebrating or mourning the end of my 20s (probably a bit of both, truth be told). In the meantime, I leave you with this...

The Doctor (Tom Baker style)... sort of... as a Lego minifig, made with the ReasonablyClever.com mini-mizer! Okay, you have to use some imagination here, and it helps if you pretend the Pez dispenser is either the sonic screwdriver or a bag of jelly babies (mmm... jelly babies), but jeez, work with me, people!

See you on the other side of a new decade.

Man, Tony Stark was Marvel's bitch for a while, huh?

Mikester put up an interesting post today about big comics event stories, the “big changes” they always promise, and how said changes never really amount to anything that lasts for more than a year or so before it’s back to the status quo. I’m not going to recap his point here – it’s a thoughtful, intelligent post*, and you should read it yourself – but I do want to add my two cents to the discussion.

The big thing with long-term, serially written comic books is what somebody (I think it was Stan Lee) once called “the illusion of change.” In other words, you have to include events in the lives of the characters that make it seem like the narrative is moving forward, but for the most part, everything really remains more or less the same. For instance, over the years, Peter Parker has moved from high school and college into “real life,” got married and joined the Avengers, but a Spider-Man comic book story now isn’t all that different from one written in 1966 – Spidey has crap luck, fights a bunch of animal-themed villains, and sells pictures of himself to the Daily Bugle.

It’s a simple system, and for the most part, it’s worked pretty well through the decades, but it does have some drawbacks. For one thing, it’s vitally necessary to introduce some changes, however cosmetic, over the years, or else the book in question really begins to stagnate. Weisinger-era Superman stories are a lot of fun, sure, but if you read a bunch of them together, you see that they were basically telling the same 5 or 6 stories over and over again for a couple of decades. It’s no wonder Marvel seemed so revolutionary when it burst on the scene.

The second problem, the really big one, is the desire to top whatever was done last – you know, “if they thought the last thing was huge, wait’ll they see what’s next!” And this was the attitude that took hold with the dawn of the event book in the 80s. Secret Wars and Crisis on Infinite Earths sold well, so Marvel and DC understandably started to get that “well, what do we do to top this?” mentality. And so change begat attempt at bigger change begat attempt at even bigger change, setting in motion a big ol’ four color Domino Rally set, with brief stopovers at the status quo in between events in order to set up even bigger domino sets each time.

And of course, it played havoc with the lives and stories of the characters involved. There are plenty of examples I could name – a few dozen from the X-Men books alone – but for argument’s sake, let’s look at Iron Man:

  • Iron Man battles alcoholism and loses control of his company.
  • Iron Man battles alcoholism (again), loses control of his company (again), turns over superhero identity to irrational replacement character, who he later fights to regain said identity.
  • Loses control of his technology, goes on one-man war to regain it, alienates friends and government, has to fake his heroic identity’s death to restore good name.
  • Whatever happened in Armor Wars II.
  • Paralyzed. Eventually gets better.
  • Dies. Eventually gets better.
  • Acts increasingly irrational, becomes a murderer, and is revealed to have been under control of powerful temporal being. Dies.
  • Replaced by teenage doppelganger from a parallel universe. Dies. Actually shunted to yet another parallel universe. Returns, but is somehow his old self again.

I could go on, but intentionally remembering this stuff caused a small part of my brain to explode just now.

Somewhere along the line, a simple thing like the illusion of change gave way to increasingly ridiculous one-upsmanship. You can blame the 80s, you can blame the companies themselves, but the fault for most of it falls squarely on us, the readers. We bought this stuff (I know I sure bought my share of it back in the day), so they kept feeding it to us. People say they’re tired of this sort of storytelling, but they still buy The Other or Civil War or Infinite Crisis (guilty on that last one myself!), so we’ll keep getting it handed to us.

My point here is this: I’m not saying “urrrrrr, event comics bad!, because big event stories can indeed be very entertaining when they’re written well. I wouldn’t be buying Infinite Crisis if I wasn’t thoroughly enjoying it, I assure you. I’m just tired of them acting like the kid on the school bus who tries way too hard to impress everyone. I’d prefer they stop showing off and focus on telling me a good story.

*This, of course, is Mike's shtick - intelligent, well-written pieces on comics and Swamp Thing-related ephemera (see also: "I'm Chalk!"). My shtick is posting nearly incoherent mumblings about comics, stuff about my kid, the occasional iPod playlist, and pictures of vikings armed with anachronistic weaponry.

Till We Have (Famous) Faces

I went to that MyHeritage.com website that everyone keeps talking about. You know the one – you upload a photo, it scans your face and then tells you the famous people you kind of vaguely resemble. I was legitimately curious to see who I allegedly looked like pretty bored at work and figured I’d give it a try. I ended up trying this with two different pictures, partly because I wanted to see if even marginally different facial expressions produced different results, but mostly because I wasn’t entirely happy with what popped up the first time. Here’s what I got (minus the people that I had never actually heard of):
  • Steven Soderbergh (well, I have significantly more hair)
  • Leslie Nielsen (Surely you can’t be serious – and now you fill in the rest!)
  • Sean Lennon (So that’s why Bijou Phillips keeps drunk dialing me at 4 a.m.)
  • Elton John (Final confirmation that my haircut really is as bad as I’ve always believed.)
  • Dennis Quaid (Actually, I’m pretty okay with that.)
  • Larry King (Oh. Hell. No. Although I have been known to randomly exclaim “Seattle, you’re live with Loni Anderson!” from time to time.)
  • Jack Nicholson (Younger Jack, okay. Older, puffy Jack, I sure as hell hope not.)
  • Alan Rickman (I know a lot of ladies who really like Alan Rickman, so I’m okay with this, too.)
  • Bryan Ferry (I never even conceived that this would be even a remote possibility.)
  • Elvis Costello (Elvis is a cool guy. I’ll accept this.)
  • Wayne Knight (Post-gastric bypass, maybe.)
  • Peter Gabriel (Actually, I’m more offended by this one than by Larry King.)
  • Wim Wenders (Um, I don’t feel especially German.)
  • Peter Jackson (Please, no. Although I see a grad student here at the school a lot who could easily pass as him.)
  • Elia Kazan (Well, I do love to blacklist people, it’s true).

So the verdict for me? I apparently resemble mostly puffy, fey (or outright goofy looking) dudes in glasses. And so much of my life gets explained in one fell swoop. Alsoof note… I apparently don’t resemble any famous woman ever. This is probably good news to famous women everywhere.

Incidentally, both pics I uploaded also had Liam in them. He fared much better than I:

  • Michael Vartan
  • Aidan Quinn
  • Nikola Tesla
  • Charles Bronson (Wha huh?)
  • Lindsay Lohan (Just not as drunk, I hope.)
  • Frida Kahlo (Though doesn't have the Doughty Uni... yet.)
  • Kurt Vonnegut
  • Laurence Fishburne (Cowboy Curtis represent!)
  • Farrah Fawcett (This bodes well for the hair he may eventually grow.)
  • Lenny Kravitz
  • Marilyn Monroe
  • Tim Roth
  • Nina Hagen
  • Ravi Shankar (So that's why I keep hearing sitar music in the morning!)
So, essentially, by the standards of conventional beauty, my son is quite the handsome mofo. And in the few cases where the person he resembles isn’t particularly attractive, the looks department is more than made up for in the areas of brains and/or talent (except maybe Charles Bronson). So if anyone asks, just remind them that the boy pretty much rocks.

Erin did this, too, but I won’t steal her thunder. You can check out her blog to see who she got. Although I feel it’s important to note that numbers 1 & 8 on her list are folks who are on my List (you know the sort of list I mean, right?). So, apparently my fantasy women tend to resemble the woman I’m actually married to, and I figure that has to win me some brownie points.

In case you were wondering...

Happiness is listening to Belle and Sebastian cover Badfinger's "No Matter What." It is truly grin-provoking, and how often can you say that about a pop tune? Scoot over to KEXP and find out how to listen to the B&S live performance podcast to experience this moment of pure altena-pop bliss.

If there is something cooler than this, I am physically incapable of dealing with it.

Years before Calvin ever conceived of "Tyrannosaurs in F-14s" (in the single greatest Sunday comic strip ever, I might add), there were...


Thank you, Walter Simonson. You truly do the Lord's work.

From now on, if anyone ever asks me why I read comic books, I'm just going to show them this panel.

Shilling and proof of my pathetic existence, all in one easy to read package!

The Great "Bill & Erin Would Like to Move Someday and Don't Want to Have to Take All of This Stuff With Them" eBay Comics & Collectibles Purge of '06 continues!

Click here to see the auctions, which include 4 different Usagi Yojimbo trades, a loose but complete Superman/Clark Kent Mego-esque figure from Hasbro, and the Palisades 2005 Convention Tour Super Grover figure (which is an awesome toy, but I just don't have the room for it). Bid early, often and honestly!

I had to have been pretty bored to think about this, but on the way to work today, I started thinking about all of the real-life people who have had cartoons (for kids and/or adults) based on them. Look, I said I was bored! Anyway, here's what I came up with:
  • The Beatles
  • The Jackson 5
  • The Harlem Globetrotters
  • Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretsky, & Bo Jackson (ProStars)
  • Rick Springfield (Mission Magic)
  • The Gary Coleman Show (though actually based on Gary's movie, The Kid With the Broken Halo, but he gets title credit, so it sort of counts)
  • Chuck Norris: Karate Komandos
  • MC Hammer (Hammerman)
  • New Kids on the Block
  • Kid 'n Play
  • Wolfman Jack (Wolf Rock Television)
  • Maculay Culkin (like Gary Coleman, the show, Wishkid, featured a character patterned after Culkin, but it made no bones about the fact that it was essentially the Culkin show)
  • Puffy AmiYumi (Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi)
  • Robert Evans (I think it was called Kid Notorious)
  • Pam Anderson (Stripperella falls under the Gary/Maculay rule, sort of)
Am I missing any? I think there may have been some sort of NASCAR-based cartoon, but I'm not sure. I know there are plenty of cartoons based off of other live-action shows, but those were based on the characters from those shows. The Brady Kids, for instance, followed the adventures of Greg, Marcia, and the rest, not Barry Williams, Maureen McCormick, et al. But yeah, that's all I can think of.

Mine is a sad existence, I know.

Insert inevitable Blue Oyster Cult reference here.

(Probable spoilers ahead - though if you're worried about spoilers for a Godzilla movie, of all things, you have bigger problems than I can help you with.)

Oh my damn. If there's a more fun cinematic
experience out there than Godzilla: Final Wars, I don't know what it is. I don't want to know what it is. I honestly don't think I'd be physically capable of handling it.

See, here's the thing. I've been a Godzilla fan all my life. I'm not as hardcore as some - I don't call the monsters solely by their Japanese names, I don't buy the expensive import toys, I'm not morally opposed to the presence of Raymond Burr in the American versions of the first film and Godzilla 1985 - but watching a big, rubber-suited monster trample on a model town and fight some other big, rubber-suited monster is definitely my idea of a good time at the movies. But most of the films in the Big G's career have tended to follow a pretty standard formula, mixing the monster battles in with a rather boring "B-plot" involving the film's human characters - often a young scientist or two, a chaste love interest, and more often than not, a little boy in frighteningly tiny pants. They tried to shake things up a little with the films in the 80s and 90s by adding film-to-film continuity and a few recurring characters, but it was pretty much the same old problem - once the people show up, everyone decides to go get a snack or use the john. Because honestly, who watches a Godzilla movie for the actors?

The creators of Godzilla: Final Wars took a unique approach with this film, though: they decided to make the B-plot actually worth watching. It took 50 years and this being the alleged last film of the series for someone to have this particular brainstorm, but at least they got there at all, I figure. And it's the way they approach it that I think makes it even more interesting. After years of American culture borrowing influences from Japanese culture, they've borrowed back the Americanized versions back (with a little Hong Kong thrown in for good measure). What results reflects bits and pieces of The Matrix, Star Wars, Star Trek, X-Men, every team-based action cartoon ever, The Heroic Trio, and even a bit of Shaolin Soccer, among other things. For once, I didn't feel the need to fast forward to the next monster throwdown.

And oh, are there monster throwdowns. This movie features over a dozen different Toho Studios monsters, from old favorites like Mothra and Rodan to long-ignored baddies like Hedorah the Smog Monster and Ebirah the giant lobster. They even use - if you can believe it - the American movie version of Godzilla, referred to for the purposes of the movie as simply Zilla (allegedly because the American film was so terrible as to take the "God" out of Godzilla; who can argue with that?). The battle in Sydney between the real Godzilla and the American pretender is worth the price of admission alone. Just don't blink.

Also, Godzilla sort of plays soccer. It really must be seen to be believed. It's glorious.

Now, I'm not saying it's a perfect film. Just because the human characters are finally given something interesting to do doesn't mean that the acting is especially good (the Dick Butkus-esque Captain Gordon, the movie's lone Western character, is a hoot as a character, but he's not so good with reading the dialogue). And although Mothra's tiny twin priestesses, the Shobijin (or the Alilenas, or the Cosmos, depending on which movie you're watching) make an appearance, they don't sing the Mothra song. It's not an actual problem, per se, but I like the Mothra song. It's pleasant. I even have it on my iPod. Maybe I'm more hardcore about this sort of thing than I thought.

It is, however, a very fun movie. And most days, I think I'd rather watch a Fun Movie than a Fine Film. Life's enough of a downer as it is - I just want to enjoy myself in the little free time I actually have. And don't get me wrong, I love a good steak now and then; but more often than not, I'd rather just have a burger, you know?

My selfish wants.

So a lot of people out there in the comics bloggyverse are talking about the recent Superboy ruling (long story short, a judge said that the heirs of Jerry Siegel own Superboy, not DC Comics, and therefore, not Time-Warner), and how this affects stuff like Smallville and the upcoming Legion of Super-Heroes cartoon. Now, this whole fooferaw is a capital B, capital D Big Deal – not just for the Siegels, DC, and Time-Warner, but also, I’d imagine, just about anyone who created a character under work for hire agreement. But there’s a question I have about how this all affects me personally.

Because it’s all about me, you see.

What I want to know is, what effect does this have on the publishing rights to pre-existing Superboy-related material, such as the Legion of Super-Heroes Archives series that I’ve only recently started collecting in the last year or two and currently only own the first 3 volumes of (with the fourth on the way thanks to eBay)? If this decision stands, and the Siegels don’t cut some sort of licensing deal with the Time-Warner suits, will these, and anything else that happens to reprint a Superboy appearance, have to go out of print? Because that would make me rather unhappy.

Siegels, if you’re out there… by all means, go for all the gusto you can grab in the name of justice for Joe and Jerry, but please don’t let this stuff disappear from the eyes of would-be readers. Specifically me. Thanks.

All is right with the world again.

Baseball's back. The Red Sox are playing their season opener against the Texas Rangers, and as I type this, they're up 5-0.

Ahhhhh. See? How could April not be better than March?

Related Cool Thing #1 - Local radio broadcast rights of Sox games have finally transferred to the Providence affiliate/carrier station of WEEI FM, the home station of the Red Sox. Before, the rights belonged to some local AM talk radio station that sounded like it was broadcasting from a small fishing boat in the middle of the Indian Ocean. I'm very happy about this... no more AM hiss, no more losing the signal whenever I drive underneath something, like a bridge, or some trees, or, you know, the sky.

Related Cool Thing #2 - The Rangers' second baseman Ian Kinsler got his first major league hit off of Curt Shilling in the third inning. They stopped the game, tossed the ball over to the Rangers dugout so Kinsler could keep it, and the crowd gave him a standing ovation. I love stuff like that.

Oh yeah, I forgot one.

Erin had a business trip to Chicago scheduled for this week. I was going to tag along, because the vendor she was meeting with was gonna take us all out to Wrigley Field for the Cubs' home opener on Friday. But the meeting got cancelled, so the whole thing was called off? Month the cancellation occurred? March. Bastard month, I tells ya.

Well, I'm glad that's over with.

Jeez, if there’s one month every year that tries to bend you over the table and nail you in the poopshoot without at least offering to buy you dinner first, it’s March. March sucks. Every. Single. Year. Have you ever had a good March? Well, that’s just some sort of weird statistical anomaly, or maybe one large Opposite Sketch, because believe you me, Mr. Man, March is pretty awful.

Predictably, this year was no exception. Now, don’t get me wrong… nothing really unspeakably terrible happened. No one died or spontaneously combusted or contracted a mysterious terminal illness or anything. In the grand scheme of things, it was all just little to mid-sized annoyances. But that’s how March always works. It never comes at you in a big, nasty, Skeletor-esque master plan of ultimate evil. It’s just bits and pieces of smidgeons of evil, whittling away your confidence and happiness in teeny tiny increments for 31 straight days. So not only is March a bad month, but it’s also an annoying, malicious little prick with entirely too much spare time on its hands.

This year’s list of March related grievances? Glad you asked. Let’s see… Erin had a stomach virus for about two weeks and some change, Liam was cranky from the special sort of pain that only teething can provide, we had to replace the car that we had previously believed was the good one, I blew not one but two – count ‘em TWO – job interviews (that I was totally qualified for and would’ve led to more money and a much more family-friendly schedule), Erin was on the receiving end of all sorts of crap from a committee she’s involved with because she was getting too much work done, I was informed that I'm now on the list for potential state grand jury selection for an entire year, and the hot water heater saw fit to bestow upon me almost two tolerably warm showers (though, admittedly, that may be an improvement; me and the hot water heater have some issues with each other).

So as I said, yeah, nothing really unspeakably awful, but little things heaped upon you all month long tends to increase irritation levels at an exponential rate. So I’m not at all upset to see March segue into April. April is good. I like April. The weather gets nicer, baseball starts up for real, and at the end of the month, I get my birthday, which usually means cake, presents, and money. I really enjoy cake, presents, and money a whole lot. And after enduring March every year, I feel like I really earn them.

Next year, though, I’m gonna tackle March in a new way. I think I’ll have everyone I know line up and kick me in the sack on March 1st. I think one day of intense pain, followed by a day or two of lingering discomfort, may be a little easier to take than an entire month of it’s metaphoric equivalent.