Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Smash diabetes!

Sometimes, in order to save my seven year old son's life, I give him gummy bears. A friend of mine once helped me out by giving him Cheetos. I've also given him cake frosting, which I had to do the last time we took a bike ride. I just told him to open his mouth as I squeezed it right out of the tube.

Before you think to yourself, "Gummy bears? Cheetos? Cake frosting? What kind of wonderful disease is this and how do I catch it?" I've gotta break the bad news to you. For starters, it's type one diabetes, and that also means getting a lot of shots and needing insulin in order to properly digest food. If you still want it despite all of that, sorry, but you can't catch diabetes. Basically, your immune system needs to attack your own body. (That's type one diabetes anyway. Type two is another story, and you can look into that for yourself.)

It's been about a year now since my son was diagnosed. I can laugh about it and see the humor now, but I certainly couldn't then. I remember while my son was in the hospital, I was having dinner with my in-laws at a restaurant right next door. I had to get up and leave during my meal so I could just sit outside the place and cry. No doubt lots of people who were walking and driving by saw me, but I didn't care because there was just so much pain that I had to get out.

Diabetes didn't happen to me. It's my son who's going to have to live with it and deal with it for the rest of his life. But most of you parents know that a child is a piece of yourself that you let go into the world. Not only that, but it's the most vulnerable part. It's the part where you'd sacrifice the rest of you to save. I wrote some time ago about how my great-grandfather died while saving one of his children, but unfortunately there are no horses that I can jump in front of in order to save my son from diabetes.

Want to know what's really horrible? If you have kids, you no doubt know how much they don't like shots. Imagine telling your kid that there's not just another shot coming up later that day but that shots are going to be a regular thing for him several times a day for what's probably going to be the rest of his life. I'll never forget the look on his face, and I'll never forget how I felt.

Another thing that I remember shortly after coming home is that I watched the horror film It Follows. I don't want to get too bogged down into the plot right now, but ultimately it's about a monster (that takes the form of a person) that will continuously hunt down its victim. There are all kinds of things that the victim can do to temporarily get away and/or delay its inevitable arrival. Strangely enough, I found this film to be not just a great horror film but strangely cathartic. This is essentially what diabetes is. It's a death sentence. My son can stop that rise in blood sugar with insulin, but eventually he's going to have to take insulin again with his next meal. I guess the film held a mirror up to reality and helped me to deal with it.

Another pretty bad thing was when I was taking care of him a couple of days after he came back from the hospital. We were trying to do the finger prick so he could find out his blood sugar level. For some reason, the device wasn't set to the right level, and there wasn't enough blood coming out to get a proper reading. I made the poor guy poke himself again and again, and the whole time he just wanted to eat some lunch. I pretty much freaked the hell out by cursing and shouting and banging my fists on the table. (In full disclosure, I was also pretty hungry, which no doubt made me think less clearly. Parents! Take care of yourselves if you want to take care of your kids!)

One of the worst things, which fills me with guilt, is a picture of my son that was taken shortly before his diagnosis. He looks so gaunt in that picture. I ask myself how I didn't notice. Why didn't I insist on taking him to the hospital sooner? Why was I in such denial and figure that he'd snap out of it just like I pretty much always do when something's wrong with me?

Of course, I know it's hard to tell in the moment because he didn't go from healthy-looking to sickly overnight. Plus, I need to take comfort in the fact that my wife and I have been taking good care of him (and even he does his part) so that he looks really strong and healthy now.

But still, that guilt monster comes crawling back at me just when I think I've defeated it. (I guess that movie works on a few levels for me. Funny how it's really more of an obvious metaphor for STDs, but as I always tell my students, sometimes a deeper level to a story comes more from what the audience gets out of it than what the storyteller intended.)

I originally wrote a longer post where I detailed what happened when he was diagnosed, while also going into my own struggle with anxiety and depression that I was battling right before then. Maybe I'll get to those at another time. Right now, I needed to get some of this stuff off my chest. This was too hard for me to write about until just recently. Not too long ago, it seemed like I couldn't even look at my son without feeling sorrow for the fact that he had this disease. When I would see pictures of him when he was younger, I could only think about how that was before his diagnosis and everything was so much easier then.

Like I said, I can laugh at some of the absurdities of it all now. Perhaps it's because shots aren't that big a deal for him to get or for me to give. He's always willing to take another if he's hungry enough for another slice of pizza or more fried chicken. I've also discovered how brave of a kid that I have. It's a hell of a way to find out, but I'm pretty confident in saying that he is brave because I've seen him put it into action.

And while it's true that he's been handed a death sentence, haven't we all? It's all just more immediate for him, and while I always worry about the future, there was never any guarantee that everything would be okay. Now I just don't get to pretend anymore.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Read These Comics! - The Silver Surfer: Parable

If you would have asked me a week ago how many Stan Lee signatures I had in my comics collection, I would have told you three. The first time was in 1987, the second time in 1989, and the third time in 2014. Imagine my surprise when I sat down to re-read The Silver Surfer: Parable to find that he not only signed the first issue (as I remembered from '89) but the second issue in 1991. And as an added bonus, he signed the backboard and wrote "Excelsior!" Geez, how did I forget about that? I'm not even 100% sure what convention that was.

Anyway, since this series first came out in 1988, that places me at about thirteen years old when I first read it. I'm sure that I read it a few times after that, but adulthood brings fewer rereadings of comics, and it's safe to say that I haven't read these comics in over twenty years.

How does it hold up? Pretty well.

It's a solid story, and it doesn't read like what Stan did back in the 1960s. Even if you don't like the story, it's pretty clear that we have a master of the art form. He knows when to just let the pictures tell the story, and unlike some of the comics from the Silver Age, he doesn't bog it down in a lot of redundant exposition.

I should also say something about Jean "Moebius" Giraud. For those who don't know, he's a French artist, and this is one of the few American comics that he's done. I've read some of his other works, including the Western Blueberry, and some of The Incal. While I appreciated the art, I just couldn't get into them. Don't get me wrong, this is not me telling you to avoid them. By all means, check them out, because he has a lot of fans and is well-respected all over the world. The problem might be me.

My only complaint about the art is that this series wasn't printed on higher quality paper like it deserved. (There have been reprints that have rectified this.) Still, even that doesn't hurt it. While I complimented Lee on knowing when to let the pictures tell the story, he wouldn't have been able to do so if the artist didn't know how to tell a story.

Any story that features the world-devouring Galactus needs to make him look not just like a giant, but downright god-like. That's exactly what you get from this. It's especially important because in this out-of-continuity story, Galactus essentially comes down as just that - a god. Moebius really sells it, and the reader can really feel the terrifying grandeur of the character on each page.

When Galactus first arrives, he just stands there in the middle of the city. He doesn't break out his machines in order to devour the planet. He's like an old-time religious idol, and he's worshiped as one. This is exactly his plan, as he knows that the presence of a god will lead to chaos and the destruction of humanity, as nothing inspires people to kill like doing the will of a god. He doesn't even make any commandments, as he (rightfully) figures that some human will claim to speak for him soon enough. It's not until the Silver Surfer blasphemes this god that Galactus begins to move and shows what he truly is - a force of destruction. I don't want to say anything else about the story, as I hope that you're able to read it for yourself.

After reading a few interviews with Stan Lee, it's safe to say that he lies somewhere on the agnostic-atheist side of things when it comes to belief in God. But just like a lot of us nonbelievers, he's clearly interested in the subject and explores it here. As I said before, I was just a kid when I read this. It really stuck with me though, and I remember that this was an example of why I'd insist to adults that comics were not just for little kids. While I wouldn't tell you that it's like reading a book by a religious philosopher, it does throw out enough interesting ideas to get you thinking. This was certainly the case when I was 13, but even at 44 I'm finding that I can't get it off my mind.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Green Lantern Corps and the Case for Jessica Cruz

Who knows what the heck DC/Warner is up to these days when it comes to their movies. They're obviously still trying to catch up to Marvel by trying so hard not to be Marvel. Jared Leto's going to be the Joker again, right? But now Joaquin Phoenix will be The Joker in a solo Joker movie? Why is the Joker getting his own movie?

As of this point, I wouldn't be surprised if they have all of their movies be nothing but a big buildup to The Wonder Twins. (And yes, I know that Wonder Woman was fantastic. And I actually liked Justice League in spite of its obvious flaws.)

Last I heard, the plan for Green Lantern was to make a Green Lantern Corps movie. Essentially it would be a buddy space cop movie with Hal Jordan and John Stewart. This is good because since Stewart is African American, we can get a little bit more diversity in our superhero movies.

But I'm going to make some longtime fans upset and utter something potentially blasphemous.

I say ditch Hal Jordan.

That's right. Forget Hal Jordan.

He had his chance. Was it the fault of Ryan Reynolds? I don't think so. I blame a half-baked script and awful special effects. But we've seen him on the big screen before, and it didn't work.

I realize that many longtime comics fans aren't going to like this. Hal Jordan is the original (unless you count the Golden Age) Green Lantern of Space Sector 2184. He's the classic model. Sure, he's been replaced in the comics before, but it pretty much always comes back to him. Whenever DC does a big crossover event and the Justice League needs a Green Lantern, he's the one we get. He's the one that most people recognize (except for kids who grew up with John Stewart in the Justice League cartoon).

If we don't get Hal Jordan, then who do we get?

We get the one who has the potential to be the greatest Green Lantern of them all.

Jessica Cruz.

Let's get the easy reason out of the way first why it should be Jessica representing 2814. She's both female and Latina. The first one is a pretty good bonus for diversity, the second one his huge. Don't tell me that there aren't any Latina superhero fans out there. I go to comic book conventions. I know that they're there. And I'm sure that there are some little girls who would love to see somebody who looks more like them up on the big screen.

Honestly, I feel as though that reason is good enough. But for me, I have something personal to relate to when it comes to her. I'm neither female nor Latin, but Jessica deals with anxiety just like I do. To be fair, I don't deal with the absolute crippling anxiety that she does, but I deal with it enough to relate to her.

And it's her struggle with anxiety that makes her the greatest Green Lantern. (That's right! I said it!) For those of you who don't know, current continuity posits that not just anybody can wield a green lantern ring. Other heroes have tried (notably Green Arrow and Batman) and while they were able to get some results, it was absolutely agonizing for them. A Green Lantern is somebody who can overcome great fear and possesses tremendous willpower.

While Jessica's story is far more complex than this, part of her backstory is that she went camping with some friends, and all of them were killed while she managed to survive. She has post traumatic stress syndrome, and it resulted in her shutting herself indoors for three years. Being a Green Lantern has been a struggle, and she has had difficulty creating constructs with her ring.

You might be wondering then, how can a shut-in with anxiety possibly be the greatest Green Lantern when they're supposed to be able to overcome great fear?

Because for Jessica, every time she walks out of the house, she is overcoming great fear. One of my favorite issue of Green Lanterns had her struggling to build up the nerve just to go to Simon, her friend and fellow Green Lantern's, house for a dinner party. Pretty much every moment is a struggle for her.

Some supervillain comes along who wants to rule the universe? He's secondary to just walking out the front door.

There is so much potential for this character, and I really hope that they continue to do great things with her.

Jesus is a friend of mine

Hey, Christians, are you tired of people referring to your relationship with Jesus Christ as a "religion"? (If you're fine with it being a religion, as I know many of you are, then just move along.)

Hey, religious skeptics, are you tired of Christians who are in denial about the fact that they are followers of a religion?

Guess what? I think that I can fix this for the both of you.

First off, I'm going to step out of my wheelhouse here and try and get into the mindset of the Christian who doesn't think of what they're doing as a religion. I hope that any "it's not a religion" Christians read this and correct me if I get anything wrong. Obviously, you all don't see things the same way, but I'm fairly confident that I can get the basic gist down. I could be wrong though, and I'm willing to write an update and/or have a conversation in the comments section until I accurately depict your point of view.

The word "religion" has a lot of baggage. There are a whole lot of people out there who have ruined it by being judgmental, violent, controlling, etc. That's not what a relationship with Jesus is about. Jesus came down to save us. He offers eternal salvation, and all you have to do is accept him into your heart and believe in his sacrifice. Doing so doesn't just win you a one-way ticket to heaven. It transforms you, on the inside. It changes your whole perspective on life, and you realize that you're living for a greater purpose. All the trivialities fall by the wayside, as Jesus makes it clear that whatever you're dealing with now is insignificant next to what he has to offer you.

Is that good? I think that's pretty good.

Religious skeptics? Are you still with me?

I know what you're thinking, because you're thinking what I'm thinking. Once you get past your huge inner "OH, COME ON!" groan, you'll point out that Christians have rituals and supernatural beliefs about the nature of this world. They're also organized, with some groups being more hierarchical than others. Those are all of the trappings of what we call religion. It doesn't matter if you think that you have a personal relationship with Jesus or that Ganesha has an elephant's head. It's all religion.

Christians, are you still with me? Because here's where I try and bring it all together and make everybody, or maybe nobody, happy.

For the religious skeptics, we need to realize that calling Christianity a religion comes off as being dismissive. When you lump Christianity in there with Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Shinto, Norse Paganism, and the crockfest that is Scientology, you're not acknowledging the very personal nature of Christianity.

I know what you're thinking. "But other religions are also deeply personal!"

Yes, they are. And when we're looking at it from the outside-in, that's what we're seeing. But for the believer, it's not the same thing as all of those other beliefs. Christians have something unique, and they want to acknowledge that.

Yeah, yeah, "But all religions are unique in their own way!"

Again, to the believer, this isn't what matters. The way that Christianity is unique is what's important.

For the Christians who are still reading, maybe you can see why the talking point of "it's a relationship not a religion" doesn't get much traction with us skeptics. For me, even if it turned out that your religion was 100% the truth, and you really, honestly, literally have a relationship with the Creator of the Universe, then I still can't get my head around the idea that it's not a religion.

I guess what I'm saying there is that Christians should say, "To me, it's more than just a religion." That demonstrates the personal nature of the belief while not ignoring the definition of the word "religion" as it's understood by most people. (And again, I know of plenty of Christians who have no problem with that word. If you're one of those Christians, why are you still reading this? This isn't for you! Geez.)

And if a Christian words it that way? What should the religious skeptic say?

Nothing. Let them have it. Because to them, it's not just a religion. 

It's not just a religion in the same way that your mother isn't just "some lady". Yeah, she's "some lady" by the meaning of the term. She's simply "some lady" to most people on the planet. But she's not "some lady" to you.

And then when we're all done, we can rock out to the following:

Nobody reads a blog post about blog posts

Two years.

It's been two years since I've written in this blog.

Sure, I've ranted a bit on Facebook, and I've even written some longer, thoughtful posts that very well could have been a blog post.

But I've neglected this blog.

I'm going to keep this short, because posts about not posting and/or plans for future posts aren't interesting. However, I feel like I should acknowledge the absence.

Lots has happened in those two years. My son was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. I fell into a deep funk the day Trump was elected. I've been dealing with anxiety and depression (formally diagnosed even).

I've also read a lot of comic books. I want to write about them again.

I still really like beer. I don't drink much nowadays, but I suppose that I still have something to say as I haven't quit drinking. I just average a few a month as opposed to 1-2 a day.

I have started riding my bike a lot. I ride anywhere from 20-30 miles when I get a chance, which is usually once a week. Maybe I'll post about that.

But enough of this. I'm not even going to post this to social media. I'm just going to leave it here in case anybody notices the huge gap.

I have a few things on my mind. I'm going to write about at least one of them before the night is over.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

San Francisco Comic Con

Wonder Woman by Mike Mayhew
Since the departure of WonderCon to Southern California, the San Francisco Bay Area has been making several attempts to replace what was easily the biggest comic book related event of Northern California. It was looking like the Big Wow Comicfest might have taken its place, but that seems to be a thing of the past, and it's been replaced by the Silicon Valley Comic Con. I didn't attend that one, mainly because it seemed like more of a media convention and I was still hoping that Big Wow might be making a return. (I'm not including the East Bay Comic Con. I've been to the past two of them, but it's a pretty small, although worthwhile, show.)

Since that idea is apparently a bust, I went ahead and bought a ticket to the San Francisco Comic Con. The ticket price was a bit steep at $50 for a Saturday ticket, but I have been dying to go to a big show, so I ponied up. It didn't have nearly the star-power of the Silicon Valley show, and there weren't too many artists in attendance that I wanted to see, but when a buddy of mine expressed interest in going, I figured that was a good enough reason to at least check it out.

Overall, I think that it was a pretty good convention. While there weren't a lot of comics professionals there, the ones I got to see where kind of a big deal to a long-time comics fan like myself. For some reason, I've managed to go nearly 30 years of reading comics without meeting Mike Zeck, who drew one of the greatest Spider-Man stories, Kraven's Last Hunt. He's also the guy who designed Spidey's black costume.

I not only got his autograph on the first part of the aforementioned Kraven story, I had him sign the issue of Secret Wars that detailed how Spider-Man received the black costume. On top of that, I got the signatures of the inkers: Bob McLeod on Kraven's Last Hunt and John Beatty on Secret Wars. One more signature topped off the Secret Wars, and that was writer (and former editor in chief of Marvel Comics) Jim Shooter.

I also parted with some money when I bought some art prints with some classic covers that Zeck did, along with a really cool profile of The Punisher. (I had two Zeck-drawn Punisher posters hanging in my room when I was a kid.)

Writer, penciler, inker - all signed
Those guys were all some of the best in the business, but you don't find them doing much in comics lately. Zeck and Beatty informed me that they work more in licensing now rather than do the monthly comics grind. I'm assuming the same is true with Bob McLeod. (McLeod also signed the first two issues of The Amazing Spider-Man that were penciled by Todd McFarlane. In my opinion, his inks improved McFarlane's art. I told him so, but he said that McFarlane didn't think so.)

I did get to meet one artist who's currently putting out some great work, and that's Mike Mayhew. He has recently illustrated a couple of issues of Star Wars that feature the exploits of Obi Wan Kenobi and young Luke Skywalker, filling in some gaps between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. I got him to sign those tow comics, but I was disappointed to hear that there weren't any more issues like that in the works. I also got into an interesting conversation where I got some insight into the workings of Disney and Marvel regarding keeping all of the continuity straight between the movies and comic books. Just like with Zeck, I also purchased some pretty cool art prints from him. One was with Wonder Woman, one with Batgirl, and one with Jean Grey of the X-Men.

One other thing I observed was the overall quality coming from the independent comic book publishers. Usually it's pretty easy for me to bypass what they're selling, and maybe once in a while I'll see something interesting. This time I found myself passing on a lot of stuff that looked pretty cool. (But I did pick up a couple of them - most notably from Emet Comics. Their focus is female creators and female characters, but I was drawn to the obvious quality of the artwork. I haven't read them yet, so I can't speak to the quality of the stories. One way or the other, the female angle is definitely not just a gimmick.)

As for shopping, you'd be happy if you were looking to buy some classic comics (think Golden and Silver Age) as there were a few vendors specializing in those. I didn't see as many dealers selling trade paperbacks and graphic novels as I'm used to seeing, and I didn't see a whole lot of toys or cool T-shirts either.

They apologized for looking exhausted,
but they were good sports as I geeked out.
I only checked out one panel, and that was the one with Ian McDiarmid. You probably know him better as The Emperor from the Star Wars movies. He took audience questions and shared stories from filming the movies and his stage career. Fun fact - he does an uncanny impression of George Lucas.

Of course there were also plenty of cosplayers, which is a bigger deal now than when I started
reading comics. There were the ones you'd expect like Boba Fett, Stormtroopers, Deadpool, Spider-Man, and Batman. I only caught a few surprises like a 90s era Superboy and Captain America's dancers. (I did the closest thing to a catcall in my life when I saw them on the street, pointed at them and shouted, "Awesome!" They thanked me, so I guess I can keep my Not-a-sexual-harasser card.)

I'm glad I went, but I'm also glad that I just went with a friend and fellow comic book fan. I didn't bring the wife and kid, and I'm not sure if they would have enjoyed themselves as much as they did at Big Wow. There wasn't as much kid-friendly stuff, and it was a lot more crowded. It's not that I think my wife would have hated it, but I don't know if she would have wanted to stay as long as I did. Hopefully this is just the beginning for this con, and we'll see an even more impressive guest list for next year.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Suicide Squad - movie review

For those who haven't read any of my comic book movie reviews before, I should probably start with the disclaimer that I'm almost always positive when I write about these films. In some cases, like Batman V. Superman, I could recognize the movie's shortcomings while still enjoying it. In other words, it's pretty tough to create something that I don't like so long as it's based on comic books.

With that said, I really wasn't going in to Suicide Squad with super high expectations. I've never read the comic, and the only characters that I cared about were the ones who were Batman-related. And while I realize that many people loved the trailers, I was a bit underwhelmed. That feeling only sank when the negative reviews started to pour in. I wasn't going to let that stop me from seeing the movie, but I continue to worry that Warner doesn't know how to handle its DC properties the way that Marvel Studios knows how to handle theirs.

Once again though, I'll say that while I understand the negative criticism, I still liked the movie. Much like DC's last effort, Batman V. Superman, I found this to be a pretty frustrating movie, only I have less personally invested in this particular property. I thought that the movie had a really great original style, but it seemed to be the victim of (once again) too much executive interference with the creative process. And Warner is still trying to artificially catch up to Marvel by throwing as many characters in one movie as possible. (How cool would it have been if we already knew most of these villains from various superhero movies and then have this become an anti-Avengers by having them all team up?)

One thing that I can definitely say for it is that the movie really kept up a nice, brisk pace up until the final act, which got caught up in the whole "Why are they all fighting this guy?" trap that so many of these movies do. I thought that the director, David Ayer, made good use of various classic rock songs throughout. Sometimes when people do that, it feels like they're ripping off Scorsese, but I guess it doesn't feel that way when it's done in this particular genre.

All right, here are some scattered thoughts:

Jared Leto as The Joker - I was more than willing to give Leto a chance, and I didn't really pay too much attention the fact that the guy seems to be a real creep. Obviously, Heath Ledger's performance is still fresh in a lot of people's minds, so that would be tough to top. Leto was going to have to take the character in a different direction if he was going to stand out? Did he do that? I guess, but he didn't really do anything all that interesting with the role at all. The Joker just felt like a generic bad guy.

I also think that, with the exception of the flashback scenes, the character felt pretty perfunctory in this movie. I'm not entirely sure what he added to the story other than that.

Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn - She was probably the perfect choice for this part. She's a very pretty woman, but she's also able to pull off crazy pretty well with that wide smile of hers. It was pretty clear that she looked to the character's original portrayal in Batman: The Animated Series for inspiration. (And you actually get to see her in the original outfit! And you quickly realize why they changed it.)

I think that we can blame the issues with The Joker on the fact that the movie had Harley in it, as her origin is so tied to that character. Still, Robbie's portrayal was interesting enough that I think that they could have had her merely hint at her origins.

Will Smith as Deadshot - I don't know too much about the character, but I liked Smith's portrayal. He's always pretty likable, and he was a good choice if they were going to make at least one of these villains have a bit of a heart. I'd be really happy to see more of him in other DC films.

I don't think that this is the sort of movie that will win over people who normally don't like comic book movies. It might even turn off a lot of people who like what Marvel has been putting out over the past decade. As I said, I get the negative reviews, and it's a bit of a mess toward the end. Still, there was enough for this comic book nerd to enjoy, and I hope to see it again (especially if there's a director's cut.)