Thursday, July 30, 2009

Comics Roundup for 7/29/09

The New Avengers #55 - I was really pleased to see that Stuart Immonen has taken over the penciling duties on this book, as I didn't care for the art that much over the last story arc. This was a solid issue with a lot of good dramatic character development and interactions. I even like the bit where Bucky/Captain America is getting tired of everybody leaving a mess in his place. That said, I'm not sure that I buy Clint Barton/Ronin lethal force against Norman Osborne. Now, I'm not a long-time Avengers fan, so maybe this is keeping with his character. Seems to me like it's more of an argument that Wolverine would make, but he was pretty much absent this issue. (Shoot - even Bucky could have suggested it, considering his history as an assasin and all.)

Star Wars: Legacy #38 - This was a step-up from the last issue. Cade Skywalker continues to be an interesting character, but this series needs to find some momentum again. After the revelation of who Darth Krayt was and the subsequent inititation/confrontation with the Dark Side, it doesn't quite seem to be going in any particular direction. Hopefully something big's coming to shake things up. Personally, I'd like to see more with those Imperial Knights, who aren't quite Jedi but definitely aren't Sith. That's probably the most interesting concept to come out of this series.

Detective Comics #855 - Just like last issue, this one looks gorgeous with the combination of JH Williams III's art and Dave Stewart's colors. That said, I still don't find myself caring that much about this character. I've avoided mentioning that she's a lesbian, and I didn't want them to exploit that as a cheap story gimmick. However, I'm starting to feel that they're avoiding the issue so much that she's wound up being rather bland. I doubt that I'll get the next issue.

Fantastic Four #569 - One of the big points of discussion when Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch took over this series was whether they would be able to keep up with the deadlines. As far as I know, this book has shipped on time. At least, I don't remember any long waits between issues. This is the final issue, and it's disappointing to see that Hitch didn't do the artwork on it. Personally, I blame Marvel's editorial, because he did do A book last month and this month, namely Captain America: Reborn, but I would have preferred to see him finish out this particular story arc. That said, the fill-in artists did a serviceable job, and it was a satisfying conclusion. Millar managed to shake things up and put everything back in place for the next writer to come on board for the most part. That, and he proved once again that Dr. Doom is the ultimate villain, which reminds me of how badly they screwed him up in the movie.

Blackest Night: Tales of the Corps #2 & #3 (of 3) - As I've stated before, I'm somewhat wary of the fact that when there's a new crossover event, a lot of filler issues that are related to the event like to fill up shelf space (and take away money from my pocket.) I've been pretty good about avoiding all that lately, but I had no problem picking these up. For the most part, they really don't add much to the larger story. That said, they're some pretty solid little short stories that deal with various supporting and background characters. Some of these remind me of those old "Strange Tales" kinds of things that were popular before superheroes made their resurgence in the Silver Age. I also didn't mind the black and white "director's cut" reprint of Blackest Night #0 at the end of issue #3.

Wednesday Comics #4 (of 12) - part of me is wishing that I waited for the eventual collected editions. That said, I'm already 1/4 of the way through this, so I might as well stick it out. Again, I just flipped through it, and again, it looked awesome.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Some dogs'll never lose a toe, but then again, some dogs'll

I thought I'd give an update on my dog, Argos. I wrote about his situation here a few days ago.

When I brought him in to get some blood work done before the surgery, the vet insisted that we bump up his appointment from Monday 7/27 to Friday 7/24. The reason why is that his toe was looking a lot worse, as it was swelling and continued to bleed. The poor guy also had to give a urine sample, and apparently he wasn't too cooperative with that, which resulted in him banging up his toe even more.

The funny thing is, most dogs are better behaved when the owners aren't in the room, and that's definitely true for my other dog, Willy. Argos though, he's one of those exceptions, and when they had to re-take his temperature and give him his shot, they tried having me in there with him. With a treat in my hand right in front of his face, he was a lot more cooperative.

So, he went in for surgery on Friday, and before that they did an X-ray to see if his cancer had spread. The good news is that it hasn't, and they were able to proceed with the operation. The procedure was a success, and he did very well under anesthesia. According to the vet, he freaked out a little once he regained consciousness, but once they removed his IV, he became a lot more relaxed. She also pointed out that his whole demeanor toward her and the techs changed, and he became more cooperative in general. It's as though he was glad to be rid of that toe, which makes sense considering how much pain it was causing him.

When Kirsti and I were waiting for the tech to bring him to us, he didn't even notice us at first and tried to go straight for the exit. When he was redirected and saw us there, he was obviously happy to see us. He ran towards us and rubbed up against us as Kirsti and I showered him with affection. He also made this odd whimpering noise which I've never really heard him do before. I'm assuming that it was a happy sound, as his tail was wagging as he did it.

So, we have him home and we have to keep him indoors (which isn't easy considering he needs to be separated from Willy as the two of them got in a bad fight about five years ago). He's actually doing really well, and he's walking around on his bandaged foot as though there was nothing wrong. I suppose that the pain killers are contributing to that, but it's still surprising. He's also doing really well in the house, and he's basically just lounging around. He gets along really well with the cat; in fact, he's almost indifferent to him. Of course, he's also on a lot of medication - 3 kinds - one antibiotic, one anti-inflammatory, and the aforementioned pain killers.

I'm only slightly concerned as he isn't eating as much as he normally does, but he has eaten a little. I guess he's probably suffering from a little nausea still. Considering that he's drinking and going to the bathroom just fine when I take him out, I'm pretty optimistic. Another nice thing is that he's not chewing on his bandage, so we only put the "cone of shame" on him when he's in his crate at night.

Both Kirsti and I are feeling a lot better to see our pup doing so well. I'm looking forward to when he's all better and can come with me on my walks again (at least two weeks on that).

Oh, and while I don't want to go into specifics as to the cost, it was nice that the vet had estimated really high, and the total was almost 1/3 lower than expected. But even if it was the full price, he's worth every penny.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Comics Roundup for 7/22/09

I've been a bit distracted lately, so this is a couple days late even though I read everything the day that I got them. Here goes:

Gotham City Sirens #2 - I have a feeling that this book is more of a Catwoman book than anything else, but that's just fine with me. I don't think I ever liked the character enough to follow her in her own series, but so long as Paul Dini is writing it, I'm there. This was a solid issue, and it dovetails nicely in with what's going on in Dini's other Bat-book. And once again, I wish that somebody in Hollywood would take my suggestion and make sure that Hush is the villain for the next Batman movie. (So long as they base it off of the stuff that Dini does.)

The Incredible Hulk #600 - Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuiness's run on this title has been coming out rather irregularly, so I don't remember all that much as to what happened last issue. The good news is, this was a fun read, so it didn't matter to me. If anything, it's made me want to go back and reread their entire run. The backup features don't interest me all that much, and I'm a little miffed that a big chunk of it is a reprint of a comic that I already own, but I liked the main feature so much that it didn't matter. Loeb's take on the Hulk definitely isn't as psychologically complex as Peter David's, and this focuses a lot more on action than anything else. Still, with McGuiness drawing it, I'm okay with that. I do think that they're dragging out the "Who is the Red Hulk?" storyline a little too long though.

The Amazing Spider-Man #600 - Another big book for the week. I was a little disappointed in this one. It's not that there was anything wrong with it. I guess that I just expect something great with these round-numbered anniversary issues. Maybe it's because I still have fond memories of the debut of Venom in issue #300 or the death of Aunt May (she got better) in issue #400. Anyway, this was a solid Dock Ock story, and the last page has the return of Mary Jane, so I'm looking forward to how all of this pans out. One thing's for sure, John Romita Jr's art, while still good, isn't as great as it once was. I was recently re-reading the original clone saga from about a decade ago, and that stuff was awesome. This stuff is good, but not nearly as impressive.

Green Lantern #44 - Honestly, I didn't get into Green Lantern until I was in my thirties with the relaunch/return of Hal Jordan. Still, in that short period of time, he has become one of my favorite characters. This issue reminds me why, and it's amazing how much characterization Geoff Johns can squeeze in there between all the fisticuffs. I also have to say that as much as I miss Ivan Reiss on the series, Doug Mahnke is doing some of the best stuff I've ever seen from him. Maybe it's the inks by Christian Alamy, but this is really stellar stuff.

Wednesday Comics #3 of 12 - As I've stated before, I'm holding off on reading these until they're all in. That's not entirely true, as I do flip through each issue, and I've been reading the Superman storyline. Everything else still looks good though - not sure if I'll be able to wait until they're all in.

I passed up on the latest issue of Supergirl. While I like the series just fine, it's still tying in too closely to the whole "World Without a Superman" storyline. Now, I've said that I've been enjoying that story, especially in Superman. That said, I just saw the solicitations for October and this storyline is STILL going on. Honestly, I need to cut back on some titles, and I don't think that it has enough gas left in it to keep going like this. I'll probably still flip through them and pick up Superman, but for right now, I'm just going to pass on them.

Oh, and I completely missed Blackest Night - Tales of the Corps #2, but that was on accident. Hopefully there will still be plenty of copies next Wednesday.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Answers that answer nothing

Unoriginal thought alert! I've had the idea for this particular post percolating in my head for some time, but I've been hesitant to write it. Why? Well, a lot of this is totally unoriginal on my part. One thing I can't stand is when it's obvious that a person is simply quoting stuff that somebody else has said without giving it any original thought. I'm afraid that's how I'm going to come off here, but I'm going to go ahead and do it anyway. Hopefully this disclaimer will offset some of that, and even more importantly, I'll work out some sort of original thought at the end of all this.

I've been thinking lately that when I finally admitted to myself that I was an atheist, I had to deal with a lot more uncertainty than I did before. After all, when believing in God provides some answers, doesn't it? Why are flowers pretty? Why does food taste good? Why do mothers love their children? All of this can be answered with, "It's because that's the way God intended." Pretty good, huh? It certainly covers a lot of questions.

But what kind of answer is it, really? It's not an answer at all. In fact, all it does is create a lot more questions. It only makes sense if you accept the existence of this God in the first place. But even if you do, you have to ask the question as to who and/or what this God is. Where did it come from? Which god is it?

Of course, some people feel like they have the answers to those questions. As to where God came form, the answer is that he's Alpha and Omega - He's always existed. As to which God we're talking about, most people in the U.S. will tell you that it's Yaweh/Jesus. (We're you expecting Heimdall?)

And the same problem comes up yet again, doesn't it? All these answers do is create more questions. Alpha and Omega? Why the heck should anybody believe that such a thing is possible? And if something could always exist, then why not just say the universe has always existed (in some form or another) and cut out this overly-complicated God idea? And why should it be Yaweh/Jesus? Don't tell me that there's evidence - because there isn't. At least, nothing that I've ever heard (although I've heard many bits of "supposed" evidence that don't stand up to any kind of scrutiny. I'd be real happy if somebody could surprise me.)

Basically, I think that atheists are more comfortable with saying "I don't know". After all, you can use science to explain why mothers care for their children. If they didn't, the children wouldn't survive and consequently the species couldn't continue. Easy enough. But can it explain the deeper feelings that a mother has? Can it explain the sense of pride and amazement she has when her child says his first word or takes his first step? I don't know - maybe it can. But saying that it's because that's the way God wants it doesn't answer it any better than saying that the reason we have lightning is because Thor is striking down frost giants with his hammer. It sounds like an answer, but it isn't.

This might seem like a bit of a stretch, but to me, it's the same kind of thinking that people use to justify their belief in ghosts and the supernatural. Some strange, unexplainable thing happens, and therefore it's a ghost that did it. Shoot, in my old house, there was a strange clanking sound that always came from the kitchen. I'm sure if I brought in a "psychic" they'd tell me some story about it being the ghost of a guy who died in the kitchen. (I wonder if they ever show up and say, "Hmmm...must be a draft or something. No ghosts here!) Honestly, I don't know what that sound was, but why do ghosts even get to be an option?

I don't remember where I read it, but this kind of reasoning, when you break it down, essentially goes like this: "Since this phenomenon is unexplainable, it therefore is explainable."

I realize that I'm being flip when I make the allusions to Thor and lightning, but the fact of the matter is that for the longest time, human beings were unable to explain where lightning came from. Does that mean that Thor was EVER a reasonable answer to the question? Did he used to do it until we could figure out a natural way for it to occur? Is a ghost causing that strange sound in my old house but will immediately desist once somebody discovers what's clanking into what and where that draft is coming from?

So there you have it. I don't know if I've covered any original territory there, but I don't see why people are satisfied with answers that don't really answer anything. Is it really so hard to say that you just don't know?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Once more into the breach!

I made it my goal a few summers ago to read at least one Shakespeare play every summer that I haven't read before. Obviously, I know some of his plays back and forth, but I really want to have a better grasp on his entire body of work. I'll admit, reading Shakespeare is a bit of a chore. I usually don't realize how much I like a particular play until weeks after when I find myself constantly thinking about it. In other words, it's usually better to have read Shakespeare than to read Shakespeare. It's also much better to actually see a dramatic performance of his plays, which makes sense considering that's what the author intended for them in the first place.

When I first made this decision two summers ago, I went with Richard III. I chose that one because I was given some free tickets by a coworker to see it at CalShakes. This play has one of Shakespeare's most compelling lead characters BUT ... so... many... supporting... characters... hurting... head. That was a bit of a bear to get through, but it was well worth it - especially when I saw it performed live. Richard III is like Macbeth but without the conscience. He does all sorts of evil stuff and never feels a bit bad about it, and yet he's so compelling in his maliciousness that the audience can't turn away.

Last year, I went with King Lear. I went with that one simply because I've wanted to for some time. That one was quite a bear to read as well. It has a great setup, but Lear is a difficult character to follow at times. He basically goes off his rocker, and when you're already struggling with Shakespeare's language, it's hard to figure out when he's insane and when he's in his right mind. Also, there's the problem of there not really being a good movie version of which I know. I rented one of those BBC produced versions with Ian Holm. He was great, but basically those productions are filmed stage productions - so they don't really work as a film or as a live performance. Anyway, the funny thing about this one was that months later when I was trying to explain it to somebody, I found myself getting all excited about it. Also, when a friend of mine who loves it was talking about it, I started to realize a little bit more how brilliant it is. I guess I'll have to revisit that one some day.

This year I went with Henry V. I chose this because I have Kenneth Branagh's film on DVD. Actually, I've had it for years. Before I was an English teacher, I had bought it and tried to watch it. I didn't know what the hell was going on, so I said that I'd watch it again some day. That day never seemed to come (until today, but more on that in a minute).

So, I needed a reason to finally watch that movie. Compared to Richard III and King Lear, this one was a breeze. The plot is really straight-forward and compelling. I suppose it helps that I remember a bit from Henry IV, Part II which I read in college. In that one, Prince "Hal" is a bit of a partier, but he's starting to get away from his wild ways. With Henry V, he lives up to his potential by successfully defeating the French and uniting it with England. (It's his son's fault that it didn't last.) I'm not sure that I'll be dwelling on this one as much. Sure, there are some great moments, but only time will tell if it gives me something to think about.

Watching the movie definitely added to my appreciation for the play. There were some bits that I didn't quite catch when I read it that came across in the film. (I'm thinking of when Henry's friend is executed for stealing from a church.) I thought that I would just watch half of it today and the other half tomorrow, but I only paused it long enough to feed my dog.

Another thing that I liked was that they inserted a bit from Henry IV, Part 2 into the movie. At least, I'm assuming that's where it was from - it had Falstaff in it. Considering that Falstaff is mentioned in this play and that he was so important to Henry in his youth, that was a good call to make. My only complaint is that I didn't always like Branagh in the role. I think that it was his first Shakespeare movie, and he certainly got a lot better by the time he played Hamlet.

So, any recommendations for next summer? I'm thinking of going even easier on myself and reading a comedy. I already know Much Ado About Nothing, The Merchant of Venice, and A Midsummer Night's Dream. I hear Twelfth Night is fun.

Where's my dog?

I go for a two-mile walk pretty much every morning right after I eat some breakfast. Over the past few days, I've been hearing the same question over and over again: "Where's your dog?" They're asking me this because usually I'm accompanied by a 100 lb. Shepherd/Rottweiler named Argos. He's also been known to make friends with lots of people whom I pass while on my walks. So, what happened to him?

The poor guy is hanging out in his dog run with the "cone of shame" around his head. He's going to be out of action for roughly a month because he's going to get a toe removed.

A couple of weeks ago, I noticed that he was limping, and when I took a look at his foot, it looked simply like he tore off a nail. After a few days though, it started to look work, so Kirsti and I decided to take him to the vet. Turns out it's not just a torn nail, and preliminary tests show that it's cancerous. After doing a bit of research, I've learned that this is not all that uncommon in dogs - especially Rottweilers.

Waiting for the test results has been a trying experience, made worse that the vet didn't get back to us with all of our options as soon as she said she would. So, Kirsti and I have done a lot of talking about what we're going to do with him. After finally hearing from the vet, we've decided to have his toe amputated. This isn't an uncommon procedure, and his chances of making a full recovery are pretty good. As I said to Kirsti, I've seen dogs get along with only three legs. I'm sure Argos can handle a missing toe.

We could have him go in and have them do a biopsy first, as there's a chance that it's not cancer. Still, as far as I'm concerned, I want him in the hospital as little as possible, so I opted for the toe amputation. They're also going to do a chest x-ray on him to see if it has spread.

That's where it gets tricky. I'm a big "quality of life" guy when it comes to animals. Basically Argos' day consists of guarding the house, eating, and then going on a walk. (During the summer and on weekends, he goes on a walk in the morning.) Since we have to keep him as an outdoor dog, I wouldn't want to prolong his life if he was unable to do those things anymore. In other words, I'm not going to have him suffer through chemo or anything like that. After all, he's a big dog and he's seven years old. Sure, he probably has 2-3 years left in him, but I don't want them to be filled with suffering. So, if it has spread, we're going to do what we can to make him comfortable, but as soon as it gets debilitating at all, I'm going to have him put to sleep. (I'm feeling confident that it won't even come to that, as he seems pretty damned happy and healthy with the exception of his bum foot.)

Of course, I'm able to write about all this in a cool, calculated manner, but when the time comes to have him put down, I will no doubt be a sobbing wreck. Still, I know that I can keep my emotions in check when it comes to matters like this. It's like with our last dog that we had put down, Molly. Her back legs were starting to give out on her, and one day I saw her completely collapse. She was able to get back up after a couple of minutes, but I told Kirsti that I didn't want to come home from work some day to find her lying helplessly on the ground and suffering. The vet who put her down seemed to understand where I was coming from, as she said, "You want her to go on a good day."

That may sound strange, but if you think about animals, they live entirely in the moment. Not only that, but putting them to sleep is such a peaceful process (especially for big dogs) that I would consider myself lucky to die with such dignity.

All of this is premature though, as I feel confident, but I'm prepared to do what I need to do. I'd rather not go into how much this is all going to cost, as you can no doubt imagine that it's a lot. The logical side of me says that he's worth it because he's a great burglar deterrent, as he barks at anybody who comes near the house (and his size doesn't hurt, I'm sure). I have read and heard more than once that the best way to scare off potential thieves is to have a dog like him around, so I'm definitely buying some peace of mind.

That's not really the reason though. The reason he's worth it is because he's my best friend. He can be a bit challenging at times, but I know that he always has my back. Back when my leg was in a brace, he was very good about not walking too fast when I took him out. One time, when my sciatica started acting up (most painfully) he was sure to only take a few steps and then constantly look back to see if I was doing okay.

That's the reason why I'm willing to get his toe removed, and that's also the reason why I wouldn't put him through any painful surgeries that would only buy him a few months at best.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Song of the Howlin' Tornado

My goal this summer is to get a lot of writing done. So far, I'm not doing too badly, even though I haven't started the story that I've been trying to write for more than a decade now. Basically, everything that I write takes place in the same world, and for the most part follows the adventures of one particular character. This story that I just finished, however, is a prequel of sorts, and it tells the story of a previous generation of heroes. It's not quite as long as the novel I wrote last year (and still need to do a second draft on) but if Wikipedia can be believed, it's long enough to be called a novella.

So, if you feel like reading it, here it is. I had to use File Factory, and all you need to do is select the "Free Download" option. You'll then have to wait a bit for the timer to count down, but then you'll have a link to download it. If that's too much work, email me and I'll send you the PDF.

Not sure if you want to take the time to read it, but you want to learn a little something more - like what it's about? Well then, here's a rundown of the plot and major characters.

The story:

During World War II, the government commissioned group of superheroes, known as The Victory Brigade, to assist with the war effort. Much of the story takes place in the final days of the war, as the heroes must stop Adolf Hitler from attaining godhood. Not only must they deal with the Nazi menace, but they soon discover that their Soviet allies are not to be trusted either.

The main characters:

Eagleman - The leader of the Victory Brigade. He's a man in a mask who can fly with the aid of wings and a jetpack. Little is known about who he really is, but he commands absolute trust from his teammates. His greatest strength is his ability to see the big picture in any situation, but sometimes this leads him to not dealing with the immediate threat.

St. George - Not the original saint, but the latest in a family line of heroes who have taken on the title in order to fight evil. He often butts heads with Eagleman, but he values his leader's judgment.

The Howlin' Tornado - A former supervillain who can harness the wind, The Howlin' Tornado wound up helping Eagleman and St. George deal with a Nazi invasion of America. Shortly after, he was asked to join the Victory Brigade. When not fighting evil, Martin Zephyrus (his real name) writes songs and plays the guitar, hoping to be a Country and Western singer in the tradition of Gene Autry and the Sons of the Pioneers. He narrates the story.

Spaceman - A mysterious, reptillian alien from another world, Spaceman has a grudge against the Germans and has fought with the Victory Brigade since the beginning of the war.

The Bavarian Lion - One of Germany's many superheroes, The Bavarian Lion starts off as a faithful servant of The Fuhrer, but eventually his conscience and ambition brings him to working with The Victory Brigade.

Comrade Worker - The Soviet superhero is actually one of many who goes by that name. In fact, they belong to a team simply known as Comrade Workers. As The Howlin' Tornado points out, Communists don't have much imagination when it comes to superheroes.

The influences:

I pretty much throw everything up against the wall on this one, and hopefully it will all stick. The driving force behind this story though was my attempt to write a Shakespearean tragedy using superheroes. Shakespeare's characters are often over-the-top, and to me this simply feels like a natural amalgamation.

Aside from that, this story incorporates my love of history and comics, obviously. It's also a tribute to old-time country music, for which I have quite a fondness. I've been listening to The Sons of the Pioneers, and so many of their songs are both sad and beautiful, unlike much of the cheesy, manufactured pablum that passes for country music nowadays.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Comics Roundup for 7/14/09

Blackest Night #1 of 8
- For those who don't read superhero comics, you're probably not familiar with the concept, but this is the first issue of DC's latest crossover event. In a nutshell, crossovers involve stories with an epic scope and many of the company's characters. This particular one stems out of a story that's been building in Green Lantern for the past few years, and now it spills over into the lives of all the other heroes. The concept is fairly simple - the dead are rising. Think of a zombie movie that stretches across the universe, and you have an idea. Also, these zombies, the Black Lanterns, are not mindless, but they are intent on killing everything in the universe.

Crossovers can be hit or miss. Overall, I've been much more engaged by Marvel's crossovers over the past couple of years. The main reason is that their concepts are much more simple and direct. With Civil War, you had superheroes fighting each other over a government superhero registration act. With the current Dark Reign, the bad guys have essentially taken over. While Blackest Night is a bit more complex than what I described, it's definitely one of DC's better crossover ideas. I think that the reason why is that it grew naturally out of stories that had been developing for some time. I'm not sure how much people who aren't already reading Green Lantern are going to dig this, but so far, it's pretty good. This issue just sets the stage for the rest of the story, but it really leaves you hanging with "Oh crap! How are they gonna get out of THIS one!"

Blackest Night - Tales of the Corps #1 of 3 - With the big crossovers come a lot of superfluous stuff that tries to cash in on the popularity of the main title. I've been fairly good at avoiding a lot of those. This one, however, I wanted to pick up. The main reason is that Geoff Johns, who writes Green Lantern and Blackest Night is co-writing it. Also, it goes into some background detail regarding characters who have been introduced in Green Lantern, and I'm interested in learning more about them. I gotta say, this definitely didn't feel like filler. Each of the three stories was pretty compelling on its own, even if it wasn't part of a larger event. I'll get the next two.

Batman: Streets of Gotham #2 - Paul Dini continues his streak of making mediocre villains awesome and cool villains cooler. (He's the guy who made Mr. Freeze cool in the animated series, only to have The Governor of California ruin him again.) With this story, Firefly is more interesting than just a flying arsonist. Also, Hush breaks out of his prison only to impersonate the supposedly dead Bruce Wayne and offer to donate a billion dollars a month to the poor in Gotham. What game is this guy playing here? I'm interested in finding out. Oh, and there's some backup feature I didn't bother reading. Maybe I'll get to it later, but I don't remember anything that happened in the last installment of it.

Amazing Spider-Man #599 - Norman Osborne definitely wins the "worst dad ever" award in the conclusion to the "American Son" storyline. What did he do? He knocked up his son's girlfriend (who's also the supervillain Menace). It was a pretty satisfying ending, even though it had some fill-in artists divding up the art chores. I'm hoping that what happens will have consequences for the other Marvel titles in which Norman also appears.

Captain America #601 - Honestly, this felt like a bit of a filler issue, as it didn't have anything to do with the current "Reborn" storyline. It's a flashback issue of Cap and Bucky fighting vampires in WWII. It's a decent enough of a read, and while I usually don't like Gene Colan's art, it did the job. Here's hoping that Ed Brubaker continues to develop the stories that he set in motion when he started this title.

Wednesday Comics #2 of 12 - Even though I wrote quite a bit for last week's issue, there isn't much for me to say on this one. I flipped through it, but I'm going to wait until I have all twelve issues until I read them. It's hard enough keeping all the stories of the various comics I read straight, and adding fifteen more every week only throws me off more. Anyway, I flipped through it, and it looks gorgeous, just like the last one.

I passed on the latest issue of Action Comics. What with all the Batman and Blackest Night stuff coming out, I need to cut back a little. Action is probably my least favorite of the current Superman books, so that was an easy call to make. I also skipped the latest Dark Avengers. While it's one of my favorite current titles, the next few issues are a crossover with the X-Men, and a different writer is taking over for that storyline. I'll come back when all that crap is done.

One final note - Just in case anybody has the idea that this is an attempt to create some sort of comics review blog, you might be disappointed. As you can tell, I have good things to say about pretty much everything I write about. This is a good thing, considering these are the ones I buy. If I was buying them and complaining about them, that would be a different story. So, unless somebody wants to send me free comics to review, this is probably going to more of a lovefest than anything.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Defending Harry Potter

I realize that explaining what's good about Harry Potter isn't exactly the most controversial thing in the world. For the most part, critical reaction to the books and the movies has been pretty positive. Still, there are some detractors, including some friends of mine. While I don't really have any problems with their reasons for not liking the series, I thought I'd give the reasons why I like it. Is it because I'm a die-hard Potter fan? Hardly. I haven't even read the books, although I'd like to one day. I have seen each movie in the theater though, and I plan on going to see the latest one tomorrow. I also buy them on DVD, and I'd like to eventually replace the first four movies on Blu Ray, mainly due to the great visuals that they all have. (I'm waiting until they're really cheap though - and really it's the first two that I want to replace the most, as the original transfers look like crap.)

With that said, here's what I like:

#1 - It gets kids reading. Yeah, I know, how cliche. That's what everybody says. However, it's true. I've known a lot of kids who read Harry Potter books and probably wouldn't have read anything else. Of course, the complaint that I've heard from people regarding this is, "Yeah, but that's all they read!" Sure, it's hardly an ideal situation when a person only reads one particular series of books at the exclusion of all others, but at least that's something. I doubt that there's a kid out there who'd be reading Tolstoy had he or she not encountered Rowling first.

Still, I imagine that the Harry Potter books have been a gateway to other books for a lot of kids out there. After all, if comic books could get me interested in other forms of literature, then I think that a series of novels could do the same for somebody else.

#2 - It has foundations in mythology. Again, I'm sure that plenty of kids read through the mythological allusions and never think twice about it. Still, it's obvious simply by reading the movies that Rowling is a student of mythology, and she mixes and matches Norse, Greek, and probably Celtic traditions all together. For me, anything that keeps the old myths alive is worthwhile.

The fact that Rowling follows such a mythological tradition is no doubt what probably turns some people off to the stories. What I mean by that is that it uses myth logic, which isn't very logical at all. It requires a childlike suspension of disbelief to accept a lot of the things that happen in it. I'm more than happy to do that, some aren't

#3 - The characters are interesting. That's the one thing that has me coming back to each sequel. They all have personality, and I'm genuinely interested in seeing them grow. Sure, Potter is a generic hero archetype, but that's to be expected. Just like Luke Skywalker, it's all the people around him who are much more interesting.

#4 - It pissed off religious conservatives. What's not to like about that? I love that part in Jesus Camp when that one lady talks about how they would have killed somebody like Harry Potter back in Biblical times. Hmmmm...they would have killed a character who could only exist in fiction? Who but fictional people would want to do such a thing?

Saturday, July 11, 2009

You can actually avoid death!

Anybody who knows me is aware of my disdain for comments like: "Everything happens for a reason." Another one that goes along with this is: "When your time comes, there's nothing you can do about it." Well, sometimes things happen because somebody did something stupid. I suppose that if you have to find a reason for it, it's because we need to weed out the stupid from our gene pool. As for not being able to do anything about it, that's wrong; the person could have not been so stupid.

I was thinking about this when I heard a story on the news a while ago about a guy who died when he was street racing. The newscaster said that what happened was "tragic." A kid coming down with a fatal form of cancer - that's tragic. A woman losing her baby in childbirth - that's tragic. Children dying in warfare - that's tragic. Somebody engaging in risky behavior and dying as a result - sad, sure - tragic, no.

Perhaps I'm just more logical than emotional about this one, but something bothers me when people don't acknowledge that somebody's death was stupid. Don't get me wrong, if you're the mother of a kid who died as a result of pretending to be a NASCAR driver on a residential road, I'm not expecting you to say, "Man, my son was really stupid." However, you don't get to ask questions like, "How could this happen?" or say "When it's your time, it's your time." Chances are good the kid would still be alive if he was doing homework.

I also remember feeling this way when Dale Earnhardt, the NASCAR driver, died as a result of a crash during a race. People were acting like they just couldn't see something like that happening. Now, I'm not equating his death with somebody who street races, so I wouldn't call what he did stupid. However, I'm sure that the man knew the risks. I mean, you've got lots of cars going in circles at 200 miles an hour. If anything, we should be shocked at the end of every race when nobody dies! (And if Wikipedia can be trusted on this, he was the fourth to die in nine-month period.)

Yes, what happened to him is horrible. No, he did not deserve to die. If anything, it's a disservice to the dead when things like this happen and we act surprised and wonder out loud, "How could this happen?" I'm sure when Earnhardt went to the afterlife in Valhalla, he didn't scratch the top of his head, wondering just what the hell happened to him. I'm sure the first thing he said to The Valkyries was, "Damn! Must have got in one hell of a wreck, huh?"

Friday, July 10, 2009

Randomness - truth, nukes, and cold

Lots of ideas swimming around in the ol' noggin', but not enough to justify a different post for each one:

#1. It's really sad that so many people think that lying and making stuff up is a perfectly acceptable way to prove your point. I've seen this happen many times, and it still baffles me. Right now, Ray "Banana" Comfort has some new book about how atheists believe that "Nothing created everything". He has had it explained time and time again that he's wrong, and that he's completely misunderstanding the atheistic point of view. (The key word is "create". We don't believe that it was "created".)

Another example was a debate that I read (but didn't really participate in) where some guy was making bold assertions like how the U.S. is the only country that allows people to become citizens simply because they were born here. He also threw out some dubious statistics regarding how many kids get free lunches.

Sure, one religious nut and some online nut - hardly the symptom of a greater problem, right? Wrong. You've got guys like Sean Hannity who takes snippets from Obama's speeches completely out of context in order to attack the man (when all you'd have to do is listen to the next sentence to see that he was actually saying THE OPPOSITE of what Hannity accused him of saying). The dishonesty has gone mainstream, folks.

This is why I prefer online debates to in-person debates. When I debate in person, I have this thing where I don't like just making things up. Unfortunately, not everybody has that problem, and you can't really do fact-checking in the heat of the moment. That's what's nice about the Internet. Somebody can post something and you can destroy their arguments immediately after fact-checking.

#2. Okay, about three times this week I've heard and/or read people still whining about Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. I think that I gave it a B- when I first saw it, but upon a further viewing, I downgraded it to C+. And what's the one thing that people won't shut the hell up about? The nuked fridge scene. It's become an internet catch-phrase, and there's even a movie news site called "Nuke the Fridge".

Ugh. Can we get over this? Personally, and I know I'm not the only one, I loved that scene. Yes, it was stupid. Spectacularly stupid. There is absolutely no way such a thing would work in reality, just like the following wouldn't either:
  • being dragged behind a truck and having no injuries
  • hanging on to a submarine for miles and surviving
  • using a life-raft as a parachute (Mythbusters has my back on this one).
  • Using your bare hands to pull out a guy's heart (to be fair, there may have been something supernatural at work with this one - which isn't more realistic, but it makes sense in movie logic).
  • chopping a rope bridge in half, slamming into the cliff, and not breaking a single bone
  • having James Bond be your dad in the thirties
My point is that the movies have a precedent of , illogical stunt sequences that completely defy all of the laws of physics. Why this particular one has so many internet nerds' (not that there's anything wrong with being an internet nerd) panties up in a bunch is beyond me. I've yet to hear an argument that makes any sense as to why this scene is so unforgivable but the others are perfectly acceptable - particularly the life raft/parachute one.

#3. I can't seem to exape these damned Coors Light ads. Basically, their whole selling point is that you can tell when the beer is cold enough because it changes the color on the can. Call me crazy, but I can usually tell if a beer is cold enough WITH MY SENSE OF TOUCH!!!! I mean, do I have Matt Murdock-like (that's a superhero reference) tactile sense here or can't pretty much everybody do that?

What's also bugging me is that they keep talking about how their beer is "frost brewed". What the hell does that even mean? How can you use frost to brew something? First of all, you have to boil everything, so there's no frost there. Afterwards, you have to ferment it. Now, while lagers ferment at colder temperatures than ales, you still don't want any "frost" in the picture. After all, frost implies freezing, and nothing's gonna happen if you get it that cold.

My point? There's no such thing as "frost brewed". Why do they say it then? Because some marketing research guys determined that the phrase concocts thoughts of a nice, cold beer in the mind of the rubes who buy Coors Light. (Not that everybody who buys Coors Light is a rube, but that is what a rube buys.)

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Comics Roundup for 7/8/09

Wednesday Comics #1 - Ever take a look at the comics section of your local Sunday paper? It's a travesty, as they try and cram as many strips on a page as possible. Once upon a time, there were strips like Prince Valiant and Little Nemo in Slumberland that would take up an entire page (or darn near close to it). The fact that they've been slicing and shrinking comics for decades now is one of the main reasons why Bill Watterson stopped doing Calvin and Hobbes.

What's that got to do with Wednesday Comics? Basically, it's DC's way of paying homage to those classic strips. It folds out to the size of your average comics page and features 15 different strips (featuring mainly superheroes like Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, etcetera) and each strip fills up the entire page. Of course, this would be meaningless if they had crap artists, but they have some of the best doing this particular series.

It's $3.99 an issue and it comes out every week. Considering that it's only going to last for twelve issues, you can count me in so long as they keep looking this good. My favorites? Batman, Superman, Kamandi, and Sgt. Rock.

Superman: World of New Krypton #5 - Definitely a more compelling read than the last issue, as Superman has to stand trial for treason, with General Zod as his prosecutor. It's a good example of Supes using his brains, as his strength is pretty much meaningless on an entire planet of Kryptonians.

The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #36 - Back when I was in college, there was a long, drawn-out storyline now known as "The Clone Saga". It started off as a compelling read, but it soon got out of hand and ridiculous. (As time has passed, fans have learned that it was supposed to be much shorter, but short-sighted bean counters took the control away from the creative team.) Anyway, when all that was finally wrapped up, the Spider-Man comics have barely made reference to the storyline - with the exception of the occasional joke or comment. Well, time heals all wounds, and that saga is once again having an impact on Spidey's world. So far, I'm intrigued, as there's a guy who has a mad-on for Peter Parker over something that his clone did. This annual doesn't resolve the storyline though, but it will be picked up in the regular series. I'm interested in what's going to happen, and I have a lot more faith in the current powers-that-be that they won't screw it up this time.

Batman #688 - Last issue, I was pleased to see that Judd Winick was the new writer on the series. This issue, it's even better because Mark Bagley is doing the art. What's the bad news? This creative team will only last a few issues, and Tony Daniel will become both the writer and artist. Honestly, I don't care much for his art - his storytelling leaves something to be desired. I haven't read anything he's written, but I have a feeling that I'll be dropping this series after the current creative team departs.

X-Men Forever #3 - Okay, I'm done. There's nothing wrong with the series, but I certainly don't like it enough to get it twice a month and pay an extra buck per issue. Besides, it all feels so inconsequential, as it doesn't take place in the same continuity as all the other Marvel books - which is a big part of the appeal of comics in general.

Green Lantern #43 - I'm only a relatively recent convert to Green Lantern fandom, so I don't know much about the villain known as The Black Hand other than what I've read in the current series. This issue sets the stage for the big crossover storyline 'The Blackest Night" and Black Hand is a big part of what's going down. Some pretty creepy stuff goes down, and I'm once again reminded of why this is one of my favorite comics. Also, it's nice having Doug Mahnke take over the pencils.

Thor: Tales of Asgard #3 (of 4) - Old Stan Lee/Jack Kirby stories about what happened on Asgard before Thor came to Earth as a superhero. Fun stuff. 'Nuff said.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Bible, Public Schools, and the Law

While goofing around on YouTube today, I came across this little ad (it's only a minute) from Chuck Norris:

Looks like he's with some organization that's trying to get the Bible back into the public schools. Of course, I could quibble with a few things, like the assertion that our forefathers founded this country on "Biblical principles" (you know, other than slavery). Also, I hate the whole doom and gloom about how "God knows" that we need to change the course of our country. (Yeah! Bring back Jim Crow laws and take away women's suffrage!) I'd also have a major problem with a history class using The Bible as its sole textbook (and yeah, I know, he didn't use that exact wording).

What really bothered me though was a lot of the comments from YouTube users who don't seem to understand what the Constitution actually says. No, I'm not picking on Christians; I'm picking on some of my fellow nonbelievers. One guy asks, "Has Chuck Norris ever read the Constitution?" My question to him is: "Have you?" So, for those of you in a coma, here's the First Amendment again:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

I teach some Bible stuff to my senior English class, and frankly, I plan on expanding on my whole religious literacy unit. Before I do, I always feel the need to explain that I'm not breaking any laws by doing this. In fact, the textbooks have excerpts from The Bible (including an insultingly abridged version of the Sermon on the Mount). The point is, you can teach the Bible without violating the First Amendment.

How? Think about it. I teach my students about the Greek and Norse gods. I also did a unit on Hinduism. Yet nobody thinks for a moment that I'm somehow violating the Constitution when I do that. After all, it would be absurd to assume that I'm encouraging the kids to worship Zeus and Odin simply by teaching them about him. Well, the same idea applies to Jesus. I can teach what the story is without preaching it. In fact, since it's more likely that there are people who worship Jesus than Odin, I freqently pepper my lessons with phrases like, "That's how the story goes, and whether you think that's literally true is your choice to make in life."

The really funny thing is that people like Chuck Norris obviously aren't considering the far-reaching implications of what they're advocating. Take a look at Europe. They have religious education in the public schools, and they are far less religious. Now there very well may be some other factors at work here, but it's safe to say that teaching The Bible doesn't necessarily make one a believer in The Bible. While I've had kids actually tell me that they gained a greater appreciation for their faith through my lessons (how's that for irony?) I've never had a nonbeliever suddenly go, "Hey! Something about this Jesus guy being the son of God makes sense!" If anything, what I do only seems to reinforce what they already feel to be true. Who knows? Maybe I've planted some seeds that will make some of the believers more skeptical, but let's face it - I'm one out of a half dozen teachers they've had just that year. My influence can only go so far.

Monday, July 6, 2009

SUVs, Hummers, and Raised Pickups

Not only am I missing that special chromosome that makes men interested in sports, but I'm also missing the one that makes us interested in cars. Basically, I'm fine with my Chevy Prizm (which is really a Toyota Corolla) as it gets me from point A to point B. Even if I had a lot more money, I couldn't see myself going out and buying a really expensive car. I suppose that I would have to have insane amount of money to get something really fancy.

That said, if I did have the money for a more expensive vehicle, I'd probably drive something snazzy and sporty like a Porsche. Yeah, there's nothing practical about them, but they're snazzy and cool. Even though it's not my priority, I can see the appeal.

What I don't see the appeal in is all of those tank-sized monstrosities that litter the road. For starters, let me tackle what's probably the least offensive - the SUV. I don't necessarily have a problem with these, but some sort of meme has infected the populous that made these things more popular than they ever should have been in the first place.

Before I go on, please don't give me the, "Hey! I have an SUV! It's my right to drive one! Why can't I do what I like?" If you have one, then Odin bless you, it's your right to have one. Go have fun with it. Still, if you have one, it should be because you either genuinely need it or genuinely want it - I'm not entirely convinced that so many people fit one or both of those categories though.

First of all, what drives me crazy about SUVs is that so many people think you NEED one. I know somebody who as soon as she had a kid, people started asking her about when she was going to get an SUV. Not only that, but I've had somebody comment on my wife's Scion that it was fine since we don't have any kids yet. That's the thing, there's this notion that you simply can't survive if you have kids and don't have an SUV. Well, guess what? There are plenty of folks who don't have SUVs and have kids and manage to function just fine. Not only that, but people got along with them for generations.

"Oh, but Lance! You need space to carry around all that stuff that comes with having a kid!" Well, I realize that I don't have a kid yet, but I'm starting to think that maybe kids don't really NEED that much stuff. And again, I'm sure somebody will point the finger at me and say that I'll change my tune when I have kids. To that, I'll once again point out that there are people who survive just fine without one.

The other thing that bugs me is that I've actually heard people talk about how they're "safer". Where are they getting this from? They're obviously not reading the same stuff that I am - most likely, they're not reading at all. (In all fairness, I have read that some manufacturers have been making them safer.)

Basically, the only advantage I see is that you have more room with one, but I'm not convinced that you even need all that room. I suppose that if I had a large family, I'd probably get a van or something along those lines. (Do they still make station wagons?) So, why would I want to spend a lot of money on something I don't need that isn't safer and gets crappy gas mileage?

Anyway, next up is The Hummer. What can I say about this vehicle other than the fact that it's a total douchemobile? It's big, barely fits into a parking spot, and from what I understand, doesn't even have all that much room. There's absolutely no practical reason (unless you're in a war zone, I suppose) to own one of them. Of course, that's true for a Porsche, but Hummers are ugly looking behemoths. I hate to go with the whole "you must be compensating for something" argument, but the shoe seems to fit on that one.

Lastly, there's the raised pickup. I hate these people - especially at night, as they completely blind me. Supposedly, some people use them to go off-roading, which in all honesty, is something in which I see little appeal, but to each his own. Most of these though, they're far too nice looking to have seen a lot of off-roading action from what I can tell. From what I can tell, these folks must say to themselves, "I want a vehicle that's not only impractical, but completely annoying to other motorists."

There's recurring joke in the movie Robocop about a popular car called the 6000 SUX. The joke is that it's big and gets really lousy gas mileage, but that's what people want in this dystopian future. Watching the movie now, the joke doesn't resonate as much because it doesn't go nearly far enough. After all, it's just a car. If they remake the movie, they'll have to replace it with something the size of a tank.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Comics Roundup for 7/1/09

Whoosh! I read through this week's stack pretty quickly, which is good and bad. It's good because I was eager to read them all, bad because I'm already done. Anyway, I didn't get around to writing about them until now, so here they are:

Batman and Robin #2 - While I really liked the first issue, I loved the second one. The thing that I usually like about Grant Morrison's writing is that he tends to have a lot of wild, big ideas and he'll cram them all into one issue, whereas another writer would take just one of those and do an entire epic story out of it. Well, Morrison's certainly not short on ideas for this series, but what's even better is that it's a character-driven story. Dick Grayson's having a tough time filling his mentor's shoes, and the fact that the new Robin (who happens to be Batman's love-child with Talia, the daughter of Ra's al Ghul) doesn't respect him is making things worse. Easily my favorite read of the week, and the splash page alone captures the theme of the entire issue. Great stuff.

Captain America: Reborn #1 of 5 - The series that brings back the original Captain America is off to a good start, even though the explanation as to how he's still alive is a wee bit convoluted and makes me feel like I'm rereading Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five (which isn't a bad thing, now that I think of it). My only complaint is that I don't see why this couldn't be done in the regular series, but so long as Ed Brubaker is writing this as well (and Bryan Hitch's art doesn't hurt either) I won't complain.

The Astounding Wolf-Man #17 - Robert Kirkman has really mastered the art of moving the story forward and ending on a cliffhanger each issue. That must be why I keep coming back for more. In this issue, Wolf-Man makes amends with his daughter, but he finds himself on the wrong end of the law. Sucks to be him.

Astro City: The Dark Age - Book Three #3 of 4 - I find that this particular series is much better when I read it all at once in one sitting. I read everything up to this point and enjoyed it, but now I'm getting lost again. Too many characters to keep track of, but this series never lets me down on the re-read, so I'll keep getting it and wait for the whole story to finish before I try and read it again.

Echo #13 - Speaking of people who don't let me down, this story keeps moving forward. How to explain it? Think of a woman with some pretty serious personal issues suddenly getting superpowers that she can't control. That's somewhat the gist, but it hardly does it justice. Somebody once mentioned to me that this series would look even better in color, and while I liked Terry Moore's black and white work just fine with Strangers in Paradise, I'm thinking that this particular series could use a dash of color. It would definitely suit the action scenes at least.

Trojan War #3 of 5 - Marvel Comics continues its adaptation of all the Trojan War related stories that aren't found in either of Homer's epics (or Virgil's one epic, for that matter). I knew the story of Prince Memnon being defeated by Achilles, but I didn't know that the swift-footed one also took down an Amazon Queen before meeting his maker. I'll have to work that into my Trojan War lesson plans for next year.

Fantastic Four #568 - Word on the Internets is that they're going to re-boot the Fantastic Four movie franchise. Thank goodness for that, as the first one stunk, and the second seemed like a bad Saturday Morning cartoon. This is the penultimate issue of Mark Millar's run, and while it wasn't as cool as the last issue, I'm certainly eager to see how this all gets wrapped up. Obviously, the good guys will win, but will Ben "The Thing" Grimm be able to get married? With a book like this, it's definitely a possibility, as "family" is often the theme. I'm also wondering if they're going to re-explore Johnny Storm's "music" career like they did in the first few issues of this particular run. (He wasn't really much of a musician, as it was all an opportunity for him to get his own reality show.)

Captain America Comics No. 1 - Marvel did a series of one-shot comics to celebrate their 70th Anniversary, and for some reason I missed this one when it first came out. I wasn't much interested in the other ones, so I passed them up. This one, however, had one of my favorite new artists, Marcos Martin, doing the main story. That alone was enough for me to get it, but I really liked the story, as it establishes that it's not the super-soldier serum that makes Captain America a hero, but the bravery of Steve Rogers. (Yeah, a somewhat cliched message, but it was executed well.)

Is it Wednesday yet?