Sunday, April 13, 2014

Noah - Movie review

I don't get to go out and see movies as often as I like, but I was curious about Noah when I first heard about it. When I got the chance to go out and see a movie with the wifey today, this is the one I chose, and lucky for me, she agreed to it.

I suppose I should start by addressing a few things, seeing as how I often write about religion in general and my atheism in particular. You might be wondering why I'd ever be interested in watching a Bible movie in the first place.

Well, I have nothing against a movie based on The Bible. To me, it's mythology, and I only get annoyed by it when people try to insist that it's something more than that (which in my mind, ironically makes it something less than mythology, as I think that myths are important and literalism cheapens them). There's been some internet chatter on the atheist communities where many of my fellow nonbelievers don't even want to give this one a chance. That doesn't make sense to me though. After all, I saw the latest Thor movie, and I'm not a practitioner of Asatru, so I can see a Biblical movie even though I don't subscribe to any of the Abrahamic faiths. Actually, one of my favorite movies is The Last Temptation of Christ, and I have some pretty cool comic book adaptations of Bible stories. I also like the occasional religious song by the likes of Johnny Cash and Al Green. Oh, and I also recently saw The 10 Commandments for the first time, and I thought it was a hoot.

I'm not interested in seeing every religious movie out there. For instance, Son of God holds no interest to me, mainly because it looks kinda uninspired and a bit too "been there, done that". I'm also not going to go and see obvious religious propaganda like God's Not Dead (which, from what I've read, doesn't seem to know the difference between atheism and maltheism). This one got my interest because I've really liked the works of the director Darren Aronofsky that I've seen. From my understanding, the man's an atheist himself (although he hasn't ever specifically used that word as far as I know - let's just say he's not a "believer" at least). I figured that would give him a bit more leeway to take some risks with the material and therefore say something interesting about it. I was interested enough to pick up the graphic novel, which is based on an early draft of the movie's script. I liked that quite a bit, so seeing the movie was the next step.

So, what did I think? I liked it. A lot. More than I figured I would.

Let's get a few things out of the way if you're trying to decide whether you want to see it. First of all, if you believe that the story is literally true, then please just stop reading and go find something else to do. I'm not going to get into all of it right now, but believing that story as literal truth is akin to believing in The Three Little Pigs. Seriously. It's ridiculous.

Also, if you're the kind of person who can't take off his skeptical glasses even in the context of a movie, where one is required to suspend one's disbelief, then maybe you shouldn't watch it either. It's a myth, and as I often tell my students: "Don't go looking for logic in myths. It will just give you a headache." In other words, don't sit there and nitpick it. Nobody's trying to tell you that this is a true story. Looking for logic in myths is like looking for metaphors in algebra.

If you're like me though and can watch this in the same way that you'd watch something like Pan's Labyrinth or the aforementioned The Last Temptation of Christ, and you'd rather see them say something new about a very old story than be absolute purists, then this just might be fore you.

There is a whole lot of stuff in this film that's not in the original text. Now, some of the stuff that you might think wasn't there (like Noah getting drunk - although the movie is the first time that ever made sense to me) actually is Biblical. And while there were no giant rock creatures in the book of Genesis, they are based on the Nephilim - one of those interesting ideas in The Bible that the writers didn't give a whole lot of information about - so why the hell not make them giant rock monsters? Not any sillier than a talking snake, eh?

One thing that some people have praised and others have criticized is that there's a very obvious pro-environmental message to this. Put me in the "praise" camp, because like I said, I wanted them to make this story relevant to a modern audience. Sure, it borders on preachy that one of the sins of the evil people is that they eat meat though. (There doesn't seem to be a whole lot of vegetation - what the heck is Noah eating if not meat? But there's that thing about logic and how it doesn't apply again.)

Even better is how you've got a God who seems to be more consistent with what you actually find in Genesis, rather than the retconned version of him that's been given to us by Christianity. He's mysterious - almost unknowable. He communicates to Noah, but only through visions. He doesn't answer direct questions, and you don't necessarily feel that He's "good" so much as the mystery of the universe. In this, it's not about having Noah build the ark because he's a good man but because he's the best guy to judge whether humanity should continue or not. He's one of them, but he's not exactly a part of the rest of his species.

It also let's some difficult issues rise to the surface without providing some kind of cop-out. Drowning is brutal, awful, agonizing and horrific. Also, the idea that EVERYBODY was evil and deserving of death is almost as absurd as an ark with all the animals. There's at least one person you see die where you don't exactly feel that person had it coming.

I suppose the only easy-fix was how Noah managed to take care of all of those animals. Basically, he's able to figure out a way to get them all to sleep during the whole experience. That's fine with me though because otherwise the movie would have had to constantly address how he and his family were being zookeepers.

Like I said, I really liked this. I sometimes describe myths as true things that have never happened. I think that this movie brings that idea to life. If you take it as a myth, even if it's a myth based on what you consider to be a "real" story, it still brings an important truth to the surface.

And that's that the human race can be awful, brutal, and violent, but there's just enough good in us to make us worthwhile.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier Review

Watching the new installment from Marvel Studios reminded me of something that I've thought many times before: are superheroes a genre unto themselves? I've been meaning to write a blog post on this topic, and perhaps one day I'll get to it. However, for now I just have to point out that this film really doesn't feel like it's the same genre as Thor: The Dark World or even any of the Iron Man films. It also doesn't feel like it's in the same category as the previous Captain America movie. The only thing that really ties all of these films together, other than The Avengers, is that they're action movies, and the only thing that ties this one in with the last one is the main character.

Basically, this feels more like one of the Bourne movies (in a good way) mixed with a hero who's got some superhuman strength. Throw in a little bit of future tech and paranoia about the government, and you've got Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Anybody who read the original comic book storyline by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting will recognize the tone, even though many of the plot points have to be changed to accommodate the movie. (All of the major ideas and themes are there though, so I'm not complaining.)

What really made me happy about this movie is that they did exactly what I hoped that they would do with the sequel. Captain America is a character whose origin is fun, but he's even more interesting when he's the "man out of time" and placed into the present day. While there were certainly references to the fact that he had a lot of pop culture and history to catch up on since the time he was frozen in ice, it doesn't get too bogged down in that though. What works best about him is when he's a symbol for when (whether it's more mythology than reality) America was clearly on the good side, and putting him in the present day, where things are not so clear, helps to bring an interesting bit of inner conflict to a character who runs the risk of being one-dimensional.

I was also pleased with how they were able to cram as many characters and villains from the comics into the story without it feeling like they were being crammed in there. Batroc the Leaper? Hell yeah! Do we really need an origin and character arc for him? No. Just show him giving Cap a challenge with all his fancy kicks, and you've done the job. Crossbones? Got enough of him to set him up for the sequel. There's also a surprise villain in this, and I don't want to spoil it. While his appearance is brief (but significant) he also has some potential for a sequel.

I found myself really liking Anthony Mackie as The Falcon. Much like Cap, you've got to get a guy for that part who's able to convey a believable, yet morally upright, guy. Mackie pulls this off, and he also handles the action scenes really well, making him believable as somebody who can be Cap's wingman (pardon the pun). He's always been more of a partner than a sidekick in the comics, and it felt that way in this film as well.  I say put him in The Avengers. Also, Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow made a lot more sense in this story than she did in Iron Man 2, and she serves as a great character foil for Cap.

I suppose that I should say something about The Winter Soldier himself. I don't want to say too much, as I don't want to spoil anything. Let's just say that fans of the comic won't be disappointed, and it was great how he was able to convey a real sense of unstoppable menace every time he was on the screen.

I'll say again that despite my initial hesitation about Chris Evans taking on the lead character, but he won me over in the first film and then even more in The Avengers. I also wasn't sure what to make of The Russo Brothers directing when I first heard about them (as they're more experienced with comedy) but this film shows that they can direct action with characters that the audience can invest in. I hear that they're signed on for the next one. I'm looking forward to it.

So, where would I rank this considering that I recently ranked all the comics adaptations? It's hard to tell with just one viewing. I'm tempted to say that it would crack the top ten. The top fifteen? That's probably pretty safe to say.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Tales of Employment - The Layoff and the Bicycle

Photo: Jonathan Maus - Bike Portland
I had this bright idea back in 2011 that I would write a series of blog posts entitled "Tales of Employment". I kicked it off with one of my favorite stories from my teenage years, and then I never wrote another entry on that theme. Honestly, I only have about two other stories off the top of my head that are worth telling, so here's one of them, about two and a half years later.

I was reminded of this story just recently when I bought my wife her (much belated) birthday present: a new bicycle. She had been talking about how she wanted one for some time, so I figured that it would make for a good gift. Unfortunately, I had to wait until I had some money to spend. Luck also favored me, as I recently got a raise (expecting a back-pay check next month) and I was able to get one for myself as well. When I got mine, I rode it back from the bicycle shop, and my mind flooded with memories. Since I basically live in the same area in which I grew up, it reminded me of riding with my friends when I was a kid. However, it also reminded me of the day I got laid off from my dotcom job.

I worked a lot of different jobs before I became a teacher, the last of which was as an Assistant Product Manager at Military.com. (At least, I think that was my job title - we're talking over thirteen years ago now.) I had been working there for about a year, as I had quit my previous job at LookSmart. (There is still a LookSmart.com but I don't think that it has any connection to the company for which I once worked.) Basically what I did there was write a lot of copy, and I created pages for the merchandise section of the store. I'm sure that I did some other stuff, but my memory is getting hazy.

I'd probably never say it back then, even though I was thinking it, but my salary was ridiculously high considering my skill set. I'm pretty sure that they figured this out as well considering that I'm pretty sure that some of the folks who were hired after me weren't making quite as much. Still, I guess I must not have been a completely useless twit, as I survived the first big round of layoffs that the company had. The way I remember it, there were a few people trickling away from the company at first, one after another. Each time they laid a few people off, the CEO would make some kind of a speech about how we "finally have the team we need". Then there was a big cut - maybe about a third of the company. After that, there were a few more, and then one day...

At the time, I was living out in Martinez, California (that's the left side of America, for you non-'muricans) and the company was (still is?) in San Francisco (in the North Beach area). It would take me about an hour and a half to commute there by BART. Fortunately for me, I got to telecommute three days a week. I usually would go into the office on Mondays and Fridays. I suppose that I should have suspected something when my boss, Victor, (who was a cool guy - no knocks on him) emailed me to make sure that I was there on Friday, as there was going to be a "meeting".

Turns out that the meeting consisted of me, Victor, some other guy (can't seem to remember who - but I remember there being somebody else) and the CFO. They gave me a folder and let me know that they were letting me go. In the folder was all kinds of information about how to continue my health benefits and contacting unemployment. Plus, they gave me another two weeks pay. (And once again to Victor's credit, he even managed to hook me up with some freelance work for the company for some time after I had officially made my departure.)

This was a crappy day for me. Not long before that, Kirsti and I had bought our first house, so worries about paying the mortgage sprang instantly to mind. Plus, I absolutely detest job hunting. Something about it just feels so degrading, especially when I have to pretend that I care about stuff that I don't care about - because the truth is that I just wanted to make some damned money. It took me about a month until I finally got my first teaching job - but that's a story for another day.

The things that I remember are as follows:

1. I was listening to Weezer's "Green Album" when I drove home. I can never hear the song "Island in the Sun" without thinking of that day. I also can't think of that day and not think of this song.


2. I spent so much damned time looking through Craig's List trying to find a job, and I started falling into despair when I simply wasn't qualified for any of them.

3. It was a real blow to my self esteem. I'm intensely self-critical, and it basically made me feel like I was completely worthless. Even though I have the Most Supportive Wife in the World, I still couldn't shake the feeling that I was pretty much useless, and I dreaded the thought of working in something as horrible as retail again. (I'm okay now, folks. Teaching is the only job where thoughts of doing it until retirement don't scare the hell out of me.)

4. I knew that I would be stewing on it and slowly driving myself crazy if all I did was sit around the house. After doing a bit of job hunting online the first day, I went out on a long bike ride. (See! There's the bicycle connection.) I rode and rode and rode all over the town of Martinez. Also, it was in June, so it was hot, and I was sweating like crazy. I essentially rode myself to a point of exhaustion, as that was the only way I'd ever be able to get some sleep.

When I went for my first ride on my new bike, I remembered that day. It reminded me of what great exercise riding a bike can be, and what a great way it is to clear my head.  Even more importantly, it made true the words of Aeneas, as written by Virgil in The Aeneid: "haec olim meminisse iuvabit" or “Maybe someday you will rejoice to recall even this.”

That's a good thing to keep in mind the next time I'm faced with a hardship.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The power of Satan

When I was a kid, the idea of Jesus definitely resonated with me. However, when I look back at it all, it seems like the idea of Satan resonated even more. I'm not saying that I liked the idea, but the fear of Satan felt more palpable than the love of Jesus ever did.

As I've explained in past blog posts, much of the theology I grew up with came from the Jehovah's Witnesses, and they make a big deal out of old Lucifer and his band of demons. See, they're out there, and they're always looking for some kind of way to influence you, but if you just call upon God, then Jehovah/Yahweh/Jesus will send them packing. As a result, I spent many nights under my sheets saying "Jehovah" a few extra times just to make sure that all the demons were gone.

(Side note - I sometimes get grief from my fellow nonbelievers for supposedly wanting to take away the "comfort" of religion from people. That bears another blog entry on its own, but let me just say this - not every religious idea brings "comfort". In fact, some of them bring quite the opposite of that.)

Things are different now, obviously. I attended a church service a few years ago, and the pastor mentioned about how some of the folks there were currently undergoing struggles with Satan. I successfully managed to not roll my eyes, but it took some effort. Sorry, but it just seems funny to me now. I also find it oddly amusing when people on Facebook refer to him as "the enemy" as though he's flippin' Voldemort or something.

With all that said though, while I obviously don't believe in a literal Satan, I do believe that there is a lot of power in the idea of Satan.

No, I don't think that he works very well in the context of Christianity for several reasons. For starters, he's a mish-mash of concepts that don't quite come together. The whole thing with him being the serpent in the Garden of Eden, for starters, is a total retcon. Yeah, he's in the book of Job as well, but go talk to a Jewish friend - he's hardly the evil being who Christians make him out to be. He's more like an employee of Yahweh, tasked with bringing up challenges. Obviously, he's an evolved concept once he gets into the Christian scriptures, perhaps having an influence from Angra Mainyu of Zoroastrianism. (And let's not forget that his look is derived from a satyr, who represented sexual pleasure (often sporting an enormous phallus) that the pagan Greeks prized so much and the Christians poo-pooed.  Even within the context of Christian tradition though, his role has changed. According to the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law's Douglas O. Linder, it wasn't until the 13th Century that the role of Satan went from that of a "mischievous spoiler" to the Prince of Darkness we all know and love today.


Even if we take him at his present roll within the faith, he has to be the absolute lamest villain ever. He's supposed to be really smart, yet he's dumb enough to think that he can challenge an omniscient being and somehow win. When we take the prophecies at the meaning that many Christians would have us take them, the only thing Satan would have to do in order to beat God is to not do anything - thus nullifying any prophecies about what he's supposedly going to do and how God will ultimately defeat him. Shoot, Satan could devote his time and energy to feeding the starving, and that alone would make him beat God and even make God out to be a bit of a jerk in the process. But no, he's going to do exactly what God says that he's going to do - making him either stupid or a willing participant in some sort of epic farce that God has planned out for the universe. Seriously, it's not a very threatening ultimate villain when the average person is able to out-think him.

Speaking of Satan being a willing participant though, that's exactly how he works when it comes to propagating Christianity. (Or Islam, as I know that he plays a role in that religion as well.) For many Christians, when they come to start doubting their faith, Satan is a convenient entity to blame. In other words, it's a good way to stop questioning, as the very idea of it is evil, so why would you even want to go down that road?

If such an evil entity exists, and the only thing that can protect you from it is God, then why take chances on abandoning the belief that's protecting you from such a malevolent force? This is why many Christians will insist that there's a Satan who's a very real being indeed. I know that I used to be one of them. I would argue with people who claimed to believe in God but didn't believe in Satan. I remember thinking that the "The greatest deception of Satan was convincing people he doesn't exist" argument was really clever. (If you still think it's clever, try replacing "Satan" with "Darth Vader" and realize that it works just about the same.)

In an odd sort of way, I kind of hate Satan more now than I ever did when I actually believed in him. Obviously, I don't hate the being, but I hate the concept of him, as it's obviously designed to prevent people from thinking.


(And yes, I know that some Christians will protest and say that their faith allows them to question. And what are they told to do when they question? Go pray about it. In other words, go reconfirm your bias.)

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Atheism - what it is, and what it ain't

Think you might be an atheist? Well, there's all sorts of advice out there as to how to tell your friends and family, but let me give you a bit of advice that I don't hear very often:

Get ready to have people tell you what you think.

Honestly, I have to wonder if there is any other viewpoint I have that has people feel as though they understand what I'm thinking better than I do. When I say that I prefer beer over wine, for instance, I don't get people making all kinds of assumptions about what other foods and beverages I like.

I suppose that people of various religious beliefs run into similar situations. I know that I have some Christian friends who get annoyed when, for instance, people assume that they're against gay rights just because they're Christian. That's a pretty lame thing to do, and I try to avoid assuming anything about a Christian other than the fact that he or she accepts the basic doctrine of Jesus dying for our sins.

Perhaps a cool response to this blog, if there are any Christians/Muslims/Hindus/etc. out there reading it, is to write some sort of an equivalent where you dispel the common misconceptions about you. This can be all in the name of improving communication.

So, here's my little guide as to what being an atheist IS and what it ISN'T.

WHAT IT IS:

An atheist doesn't believe in any gods. They don't believe in a single, capital-G God. They don't believe in multiple gods. They don't believe in a deistic god or even a pantheistic god. For whatever reason, they simply don't believe in one, and they don't feel the need to call out to one in times of stress. (And yes, there are atheists in foxholes. Sorry folks, but not every aphorism is true.)

That's pretty much it.

WHAT IT ISN'T:

Being angry at God - We don't believe. We're about as angry at God as you're angry at Superman for not helping you when you need him.

A choice - You can't believe what you don't believe, just as you can't not believe what you do believe. Perhaps a person makes a choice to not be open-minded or to not hear the other side of the story, but you believe things because they make sense to you, not because you've made some kind of willful decision.

Us being stubborn - While it might make you feel better to think that somehow, deep down inside, we really DO believe in a god, we don't. Get over it.

An indicator of intelligence - Sorry, fellow atheists, but being an atheist doesn't make us smart. (I realize that most of us already agree on this point.) While it's true that there seems to be a correlation between higher education levels and a lack of belief, I've known plenty of atheists who were pretty slow on the draw. (And I'm sure that's true for most of us.)

WHAT IT ISN'T (NECESSARILY):

The following reasons MAY be true for some atheists, as they don't cancel out the "WHAT IT IS" part of this, but don't assume it's true for every atheist you meet. This means that you might have to actually talk to them and listen.

A world-view - It can very well be a part of a person's world view, but it's not one all by itself. Keep reading, and hopefully the following examples will help to illustrate this idea.

A presupposition - This is my current pet-peeve. I often hear from believers that the main difference between us is that we both start off with different conclusions. To this, I must retort: NO, NO, NO and NO. My starting point is as follows: don't start with a conclusion. Draw your conclusion from the evidence and be ready to change it as new evidence comes to you. While starting with a conclusion might very well be what a lot of theists do (notice how I didn't make the same mistake and say "all" of them?) that has got to be the most dishonest way of investigating the truth of anything.

Mutually exclusive with agnosticism - Agnosticism deals with what you know; atheism deals with what you believe. I don't claim to "know" that there isn't a God, and I'll give you a hundred bucks if you can find one instance of me EVER claiming that. But I also don't "know" that there are no Frost Giants. In both cases, I feel comfortable enough with the lack of evidence for either of them to continue living my life as though they don't exist though.

Cynicism/Nihilism - Do some atheists believe that everything is pointless and therefore "don't believe in anything"? Sure. That sure as hell doesn't describe me though - or any other atheist I know.

Skepticism - There are atheists out there who believe in ghosts, psychics, astrology, etc. While certainly some of us (myself included) came to atheism through skepticism, it doesn't necessarily follow that an atheist is a skeptic.

A response born out of emotion - I've had both positive and negative experiences with religion. Neither one is a factor in my thought process. Do some people become atheists simply because they are rejecting an abusing religious experience? I suppose, but don't assume it about all of us.

A flat-out refusal - Most atheists I know can list off a number of things that would convince them that a God exists. I think that many of them would agree with me that if there IS one, then what we "believe" doesn't mean much of anything. Show me verifiable evidence, and by "evidence" I mean the sort of thing that you'd accept as proof no matter what we're talking about. Oftentimes what gets submitted to me as "evidence" is something that the believer thinks is a compelling reason to believe what he/she believes, yet this same person would reject the same argument for a faith that contradicted his/her own.

That's all I've got. Fellow non-believers - have I missed anything?

All grain brewing

After several years of homebrewing, I have entered a new, more advanced, phase: all-grain brewing. I was lucky enough to receive the equipment for it from a friend who was moving across the country and was looking to lighten his load (along with finding excuse to upgrade his gear).

For those of you who aren't familiar with the process, most homebrewers usually start out with extract kits. With those, you mix malted barley syrup with boiling water (along with hops and sometimes other ingredients) to create the pre-fermented beer.

All-grain brewing is just what it sounds like - instead of buying syrup, I'm buying 10+ pounds of milled malted barley. I'm not going to go into the entire rundown of the process, mostly because others have already done so. If you're a homebrewer or homebrewer-curious, then check out this link. If you're just mildly interested in the same way that I find wine production interesting even though I'm not a big fan of wine, then here are some general thoughts:

1. It's a lot more work. Extract brewing is like cooking, and it turns into a science project when you ferment it. All-grain brewing is more of a science project at the start, then you're cooking, and then it's a science project again. 

There are many more steps, which means that there are more places to go wrong. The trickiest part involves keeping the "mash" (the grain sitting in hot water) within a certain temperature range.

2. It takes longer. Set aside the better part of the day if you're going to all-grain. I suppose I'll start to go faster once I get the hang of it, but I found myself having to "fix" my mistakes more than once. Still, even if I get it down perfectly, the very nature of the process adds a few extra hours.

3. Even though I screwed up a bit, I still got some really good beer. The first one I made was a pale ale, and that was good. The second was a brown ale (and a slight modification of a recipe from The Complete Joy of Homebrewing - the book that my sister-in-law bought me years ago which prompted me to start this hobby). That one is downright excellent. In both cases, the alcohol level was a bit lower than it ought to be, but I don't think that anybody can complain about the taste.

4. In both cases, my beers look more "professional". I don't know if this is a coincidence, but most of my extract beers tend to have a decent amount of yeast at the bottom of each bottle. It's not off-putting, but it's noticeable, and my beers are rarely as "clean" looking as the kinds you can buy at the store. In the case of these two all-grain batches, there's hardly any yeast at the bottom of the bottle - just about as much as you see on the bottom of a Sierra Nevada. (They carbonate their beers in the bottle, don't you know.)

5.  Kits are cheaper. The Pale Ale kit I got was eight bucks less than its extract equivalent.

5.  Essentially, the process is a lot of work, a bit frustrating, and slightly maddening. I can't wait to do it again.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Me and the pros

Batman by Jim Lee
I don't get a chance to blog as often as I'd like even though I probably have about five different post ideas that are currently swimming around in my head. For this one, I'll combine three of them into one, as they all fall under the category of comic book professionals whom I've had the pleasure of meeting within the last few months. I'd have four to write about if I included Stan Lee, but I wrote about that in my summer wrap-up post.

The first one was on September 14th when Jim Lee came to my local comic book shop, Flying Colors Comics and Other Cool Stuff in Concord, California. For those of you who don't know, Mr. Lee is the current co-publisher of DC Comics, but he's probably better known by fans for his artwork. He got started at Marvel in the late eighties and rose to fame in the early nineties while drawing characters like The Punisher and The X-Men. He later broke off with a bunch of other popular creators to form Image Comics and draw his own creation, WildC.A.T.s. More recently, he's worked for DC, even selling his creations to them, and working on iconic characters like Batman, Superman, and the Justice League.

I've been following most Lee's work ever since he drew The Punisher War Journal back when I was in middle school. I remember approaching him for a signature at WonderCon, and I was able to walk right up to him. Just a couple of years later, he would have lines that would circle the entire event hall. I already had several of his comics signed by him, but I didn't have any of his more recent stuff from DC. I figured that it would be worth checking out, and I got a pretty good variety of books signed by him, including an issue of Strangers in Paradise where he drew the cover and the first five pages. It was cool because I also had that one signed by series creator Terry Moore, who drew the alternate "flip" cover. I even got a photo with him, which you can see below. Right below that is an interview he did with Joe Field, owner of Flying Colors.

Me and Jim Lee

Batman by Neal Adams
My next meetup with a pro was on January 17 when Neal Adams came to Flying Colors. Mr. Adams has been in the business for a long time, and he's probably influenced every artist who came after him either directly or indirectly. He's also one of the artists responsible for making Batman more of a dark, scary-looking vigilante again rather than the campy, Adam West version.

I figured that I didn't want to pass up an opportunity to meet a guy who's had such an influence on an art form that I love. I was also excited that I was able to find an old reprint of a Green Lantern/Green Arrow comic book of his that I had received when I was in elementary school. A friend of mine gave it to me, and it's a bit battered but still perfectly readable. I know that some people, particularly those who are older than me, have a hard time considering comic books to be anything other than kiddie fare. I can tell you that as a kid, I certainly didn't think that this stuff was aimed at me. This was serious stuff, with one of the stories dealing with Black Canary getting taken in by a cult. I don't think that I even knew what a cult was back then.

Anyway, the ticket that I bought afforded me two signatures. I was all set to bring in that one and a collection of his various Batman comics.

And then something occurred to me.

I received my first comic books when I was three years old and in the hospital for open-heart surgery. A kid with the same first name as me gave them to me. Sharing a hospital room with another kid named Lance is remarkable enough, because I probably can still count all the Lances that I've known in my forty years on this planet on both of my hands with maybe a pinky and a thumb left over.

Turns out that I still have one of those comics - an oversized Batman published in 1976. It collected various stories by some classic Batman artists, and the final story was drawn by Neal Adams. It's funny how it came to me. I was getting ready for bed, and I was going to read the aforementioned Batman collection when it suddenly hit me that one of those stories might have been drawn by Neal Adams. I then went out into the garage and dug it up.

Me and Neal Adams
I don't have a lot of vivid memories of my hospital experience, and I'm fairly certain that it was more of a trauma on my parents than it ever was on me. But when I confirmed that he drew one of those stories, something came crawling out of my deep subconscious. You can ask my wife - I just sat there at the edge of my bed, crying. I didn't have a total breakdown, but I just couldn't stop the tears from flowing.

What's probably obvious is that I decided that particular comic was one that I needed to get signed by him, as old and beat-up as it is. Since I wanted to get at least one nice-looking book signed by him, I opted for a Green Lantern collection that I owned which collected the entire Green Lantern/Green Arrow run, including the one that I had received when I was a kid. I also got a third signature when I bought one of his art prints, which is now framed and hanging on the wall near my son's room.

What was cool about that event is that he really took the time to talk to all of the fans. It made the line move a little slower (not too much of a problem since my ticket got me priority placement) but it was worth it, as it was enjoyable to listen to him talk and tell stories to the people in front of me. What was also nice was that I got a chance to tell him about how I got that particular comic book. (That's me telling him about it in the picture.)

He's also kind of a salty guy, to say the least. You can check out the video with Joe Field interviewing him. (Field is a former radio guy, so he knows how to conduct an interview. It's definitely worth watching if you're a fan.)



George O'Connor signing what may
or may not have been my copy of Zeus.
The most recent meeting with a professional took me out of my neighborhood and into San Francisco on the 6th of February. By some random chance, I stumbled across the fact that George O'Connor was going to be doing a signing at Isotope Comics. O'Connor has been doing an excellent series of books entitled Olympians where in each one, he focuses on a specific Greek god or goddess. So far, he has released volumes for: Zeus, Athena, Hera, Hades, Poseidon, and Aphrodite. They've all been really great, as it's clear that while his focus is on making the stories fun and accessible, he's also done his homework and knows the material. Each volume has been pretty good, with Hera probably being my favorite one so far (and his too, as I found out when I got to meet him).

While I had to go out of my way to this signing, it was definitely worth the trip. Isotope is a pretty cool comic book store, as it's basically set up as a lounge where customers are encouraged to kick back, read, and hang out a bit. There's even an upstairs area with a bunch of underground ashcan comics and a couch. Another cool thing is the wall of toilet lids with drawings by various artists and writers who have visited the store, including: Jim Lee and Warren Ellis (off the top of my head).

O'Connor's rendition of Aphrodite
There wasn't a very big crowd for this one, so it was nice that I got to take the time to talk with O'Connor about mythology and his creative process. I felt like I was getting a bit of an education while I was there.

One of the more interesting twists to the stories he's retold include the notion that perhaps Persephone wasn't entirely unwilling when she went down to the Underworld to serve as the Queen of Hades. Another was that the rivalry between Athena, Hera, and Aphrodite in the "Judgment of Paris" wasn't just about a beauty contest.

Both of these interpretations are grounded in a careful study of the available sources, and O'Connor also manages to crystallize some aspects of these myths that seem pretty obvious when they're pointed out but may not have occurred to you otherwise. One of these is the fact that Hera is cool because she's the only being who scares Zeus. Another one is that the reason why Heracles' name means "the glory of Hera" is because if it wasn't for her working so hard to completely ruin his life, he wouldn't have had an existence filled with challenges - and this wouldn't have given him a reason to show how great he is. It's one of those "God(dess) works in mysterious ways" sorts of things. (I still feel bad for the guy.)

The really cool thing about meeting O'Connor is not just that he signed all six volumes of the series for me, but he also drew a sketch on each one of them. Even better, for each volume, he'd give you a choice between a few different characters. Needless to say, these books, which were already pretty important to my collection of not only comics but works on mythology, have become even greater prized possessions. Check out the sketches:

Aphrodite for her eponymous volume.

Cronus for the Son of Cronus

Beastiality is bad - The Minotaur for the Poseidon volume.

She's my favorite of all the deities, so I went for Athena.

Persephone and her Pomegranate from Hades

The Glory of Hera - Heracles (Hercules to you rubes out there.)