Friday, December 24, 2010

Comics Roundup for 12/22/10

Batman, Inc. #2 - This was a fun issue establishing the new Japanese Batman. Basically, Bruce Wayne is taking his crimefighting efforts global, and he's establishing a Batman in various cities throughout the world. It's an interesting idea, but where is all this going? Considering that it's Grant Morrison, I'm going to assume that it's not just going to be issue after issue of a new Batman in a new country. Surely there's going to be some kind of payoff to the whole thing.

Secret Avengers #8 - It looks like Ed Brubaker is building on stuff he established in The Marvels Project, which rewrote Marvel's Golden Age history. That makes me want to go back and re-read that particular book. Anyway, Mike Deodato is still on a roll, and this continues to be a great 2nd Captain America book moreso than an Avengers book. I think I need to sit down and re-read the entire series though, as I'm no doubt missing some stuff.

Larfleeze Christmas Special - Larfleeze is a supporting character in the Green Lantern series. Basically, he's an "Orange Lantern" who instead of harnessing willpower, harnesses the power of avarice. His orange lantern tends to make him rather obsessive, and this issue deals with what happens when he finds out about Santa Claus. Basically, it's another one of those "true meaning of Christmas" types of stories, and guess what? I totally fell for it. It's a more sincere salute to the holiday than those dopes at Fox News will ever give.

Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine #2 & #3 - I passed up on the last two issues because I was buying too much stuff. Well, I've cut back and this series seems to be coming out bimonthly at best, so I figured that I could start picking it up again. I'm glad, as this certainly doesn't feel like shelf-filler. It has a pretty complex story, and it really gets to the heart of these two characters and why they'd get on each other's nerves. It's kind of the "World's Finest" of the Marvel Universe.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Adventures in Christianity - Part III

Because I just couldn't get enough Christianity on Saturday night, I just had to go to church on Sunday morning. This time, I went to Sanctuary Ministries Church in Concord, California. Why? Because I said that I would. Actually, I wrote about my decision making process regarding this some time ago, and now I finally went.

How the heck did this all happen? That there is a story unto itself. I'll give a very brief version of the story. A few years ago, a guy I knew in high school posted on Facebook a story about somebody who was "miraculously" healed. I wrote a response, spelling out all the problems that I had with the story. Much to my surprise, I got a response from the woman herself. We then went and had a conversation about it that turned into a face-to-face meeting. It was a good conversation, and even though I still don't believe in the supernatural or miracles, I felt like I had a better sense as to where she was coming from.

A few years and a few Facebook debates later (with some of them actually having the two of us being on the same side against somebody else) I have found myself to be Facebook friends with her sister, and more recently, her mother. It was actually her sister who invited Kirsti and I over for dinner and to their church. (I'm still trying to figure out the deal with the sister. While I'm certain that she's not a faithless heathen like yours truly, I'm not so sure that she's on the same page as the rest of her family.) Eventually "Facebook friends" turned into "friends" and I figured that I'd go ahead and go to church. I wasn't expecting some sort of revelation or conversion, and I don't think that they were either. They just wanted to invite a friend to something that they like, the same way I've invited friends to Free Comic Book Day.

At the risk of sounding like I'm making some kind of desperate plea for validation, I'm always somewhat surprised when I find out that people like me. The reason why is that I'm critical of everything, but I'm the most critical when it comes to myself. Whenever I hear my wife or somebody tell me about how so-and-so likes me, my reaction is always "Really?" When it comes to these folks, I'm doubly shocked. The way I see it, I can come off as rather abrasive, especially in my online persona. I'm the kind of guy who says things that people don't want to hear, and I don't have any qualms about telling a person that they're wrong when they clearly are. I don't always get good reactions from that sort of a thing, but obviously it's not so bad if people are inviting me over to dinner.

So, how was it? Ironically, I probably felt more comfortable in church than I ever did as a believer. See, as a believer, I never really felt all that connected to what the people were saying in church, and I felt bad about that. I figured that I was supposed to feel some connection. Shoot, maybe that should have been my first clue that atheism was the way to go for me. It took nearly a decade to finally figure that one out. Anyway, now that I don't feel like I need to believe any of it, I can just sit back and nod my head at the stuff that I like. As for the stuff that I don't like, I feel like I'm just an observer, so what's the harm?

Was there stuff I didn't like? Well, nothing that doesn't touch on my basic problems with the Christian faith - or faith in general, even. Overall, it was pretty nice. I actually like the sense of community that these folks have. One lady talked about how when she was having some tough times, everybody in that church was there for her and helped her out. How could I be against something like that?

Other than that, it was a tad bit long - two hours. The sister told me that it wasn't a typical service, and she told me that I "needed" to come back. I told her not to push her luck. Also, one of the pastors spoke about how he was having difficulty finding a nativity scene. I was tempted to raise my hand and say that I saw some at Costco. One of the places he mentioned that supposedly doesn't carry them is Target, but a quick check on their website shows that they have quite a few to choose from. Maybe he was getting at some bigger point that my analytical mind just refused to notice though. Lastly, something that could have been a problem was that during one of the prayers, we were asked to hold hands. This could have resulted in a mini freak-out for me if not for the fact that my wife was on one side of me and the sister (I wonder if she would be cool if I just used her name?) was on the other. If it was a complete stranger, I might have had some issues with that, but this is more of a matter of me being weird than a problem with the church.

The head pastor happens to be the father of my two friends. He's a nice guy, and he talked about us having some kind of debate (although I don't think that's the actual word he used) as he knew me through my online arguments. I told him that letting me get up there and debate would probably be the best way to get me to come back. In all seriousness, I don't think that it would be appropriate for me to come to one of their services and stand up there and give all my snarky comments about Thor and Frost Giants when those folks are there for their Jesus fix. Still, perhaps we can work something else out for a time other than their regular Sunday service. (This is assuming that he really meant it and wasn't just being folksy.) Personally, I think that a conversation would be better than a debate and maybe we can just let other people sit and listen.

The thing is, most people of faith really just don't get us atheists. This is mainly because there just aren't that many of us. It's also because some of the atheists they know might be in the closet about it. While I'd be a fool to expect to deconvert anybody, it would be nice if I could have at least one less person say things like "Oh, you must be angry at God!"

Adventures in Christianity - Part II

Every year, an old high school friend of mine, Justin McRoberts, puts on a benefit show for Christmas for Everyone at the Hope Center in Pleasant Hill, California that he calls McChristmas. Apparently, this was the ninth time he did this show, but it was the first time that I went. Why haven't I gone before? Well, I don't really do the whole church thing. Still, some other non-religious friends from those high school days have gone, and they convinced me that it's a good show. Basically, they told me that it was more about helping the poor and acting like Jesus than anything else, and I really don't have any problem with that sort of a thing.

I actually figured that I'd go last year, but something came up so Kirsti and I couldn't make it. This year though, we were able to go especially since Logan's aunty was able to take care of him for the evening. We were supposed to meet up with some of those aforementioned non-religious friends, but they flaked out on us, which made me suspect that the whole thing was a trap.

Well, it wasn't. Overall, it was a pretty good show. The music was enjoyable, and Justin's lyrics tend toward the more thoughtful/introspective than the overt deity butt-kissing that some religious music is. It's also impressive to see how far he's come, as it's been some time since I've seen him live. Despite his claim to be more of a music fan than an actual musician, he came off polished and professional, no doubt some of the credit going to his backup band. He also did a nice job with a few covers like "You Can't Always Get What You Want" and Aimee Mann's "Save Me."

Justin also talks a lot with his audience between songs, and it's usually pretty funny stuff, as he's a gifted storyteller. Sure, I don't always relate to the overall message, but I definitely related to a bit of what was said. The stuff that really hit home with me was when he talked about his son. See, Justin had a son just a few months before mine was born. I also found out that like me, he was hoping for a girl, but now that he has a son, his attitude is "All right! I have a son!" That's pretty much how I feel as well.

For the most part, I was just able to go with it and enjoy the show. I did have a bit of an issue when Justin handed over the stage to a gospel choir. It wasn't that the choir wasn't good. They were pretty damned entertaining. It's just that the leader talked to the audience a bit before about a personal experience of his before they went into a song about how God's going to "work it out" (or something along those lines). As I stated in my last post, I'm not going to get into all my objections to Christianity, so let's just say that this was a moment when all of my issues started racing around the forefront of my brain, making it difficult for me to just enjoy the music.

Will I go again? I think it's a definite possibility. After all, it helps a good cause, and I definitely enjoyed most of it.

I'd like to point out that Justin and I have had discussions about having some sort of a debate between our two blogs. These conversations have stopped, and I'm guessing that it stopped for him for the same reason that it stopped for me - being a father takes away from blogging time. I'm hoping that we can get back to it someday though, as it should be interesting. The thing is, Justin's beliefs are definitely Christian, but he definitely doesn't go along with a lot of the dogma that you typically hear from Christians. I have a feeling that he just might upset the Christians more than I will. Hopefully we'll get to find out someday.

Adventures in Christianity - Part I

This weekend, I went to not just one, but two churches. Was I there to vote? Was it a wedding? Was it a funeral? Was I just looking for a bathroom? Nope. I actually deliberately went into two different churches to sit amongst the faithful when they do that faith-y thing they do.

Before I start, I just want to relate a little story. Let's call it a parable. I think that there was some guy who used to speak in parables. He had long hair and some wild ideas. He didn't always do what other people thought was right. And that man's name was...I forget. But the point is... I forget that, too. You know what I'm talking about. He used to drive that blue car?*

Anyway, there's this project that I have my students do called a "Cultural Excursion" where they have to do a speech and write a paper on some sort of cultural experience. It can be a visit to a museum or a religious service (that's not their own) amongst other options. I had one student, who was a Christian, join a Jewish family for the Passover Seder. Basically, his presentation and paper were both rather offensive. Sure, the experience was new to him, but he pretty much mocked the whole thing and called the food "disgusting" amongst other things. I pretty much told him, in so many words, that his presentation made him come off as a grade-A asshole. I'm not sure if he got what I was even talking about. After all, them Jews are weird and not normal like Christians are.

So, I want to write about my experiences, but I don't want to be like that guy. Yes, I have my issues with Christianity and neither of these two experiences did anything to change that. If you really want to know what my problems are, I'm sure that I've written about them three or four times on my blog already. Go read the stuff that all the other atheists say; it's not too different from what I have to say. At the same time, I do want to be honest about how I felt, but I think that I can do that while still being respectful and not beating a dead horse.

Anyway, I think that I'll write about both experiences in two separate entries from this one, as I'm not sure that I want to stay up much longer. The first one was Justin McRobert's McChristmas benefit concert at the Hope Center in Pleasant Hill. The second was a Sunday service at Sanctuary in Concord. As to why I was there and what I thought, that's for the next couple of posts...

*This is a reference to an episode of The Simpsons called "Homer the Heretic".

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Comics Roundup for 12/15/10

The Amazing Spider-Man #650 - Spidey has a new suit! Looks pretty cool, and I'm fine with it so long as it's a temporary change, which is the implication here. He created it solely to take on the new Hobgoblin, and he shouldn't need it beyond that. As far as I'm concerned, Spidey's best costume is his original, followed closely by the black costume. I like this one better than the one he wore during the first half of Civil War, and that's probably because it's so close to the black one. Anyway, speaking of The Hobgoblin, I like this current story, but it's not sitting right with me how seemingly permanently Roderick Kingsley was dispatched in the first chapter. I think that he still has some potential and any writer who wants to bring him back will have to do it in a rather lame way (considering that he had his head removed).

Wolverine #4 - This issue was nothing special, but the last page, where Wolverine meets his dad in hell, is setting up some interesting possibilities. I don't have much else to say than that, other than the fact that part of this story is similar to what Mark Millar did in his "Enemy of the State" story arc. We once again have a Wolverine who's not in charge of his own actions wreaking havoc. Let's hope the whole hell situation has enough payoff to make it stand out.

Green Lantern #60 - Has this series really been running for that long? It still feels brand-new to me, and I'd be surprised that I stuck with it for so long if it wasn't for the fact that I'm enjoying it so much. This has everything you want in a comic - good art, a bit of character development, some action, and a shocking reveal that makes you want to read the next issue. Here's to another 60 issues!

Boycott Thor? I say thee nay!

Perhaps you've heard that a group of white supremacists called the Council of Conservative Citizens is planning a boycott of Marvel's upcoming Thor movie. What's the reason? Apparently Iris Elba, a black man, is going to play the part of Heimdall, the watchman of the gods. This is bad because the gods from the comics are based from the gods of Norse mythology, and the Norsemen were white people, after all.

Yeah, okay, so what? It's a bunch of idiotic white supremacists getting all mad over something unimportant. That's not so much what prompted me to want to write about this. What made me want to write about it is that some fans of the comics are complaining about this particular bit of color-blind casting as well. To be fair, they're not calling for a boycott or using racist language to make their point, but the accusations are along the lines that this is political correctness run amock.

I disagree with this assertion, and I think that when it comes to casting somebody to be a god, then you want to go with the best actor, period. I should point out that I once wrote about how I thought it would be a bad idea to cast a black man as Captain America, so you can't accuse me of being PC when it comes to this issue. With the whole Heimdall issue, it's different for a number of reasons.

First of all, Heimdall isn't the main character. Nobody picks up an issue of Thor because they can't wait to see what Heimdall is up to. The title character is the main one, and if you're going to make a movie, it's important to at least have the title character look right. From what I've seen, Chris Hemsworth definitely looks like the Thor from the comics. Everybody else from Loki to Odin look as they did in the comics. Why would it be a big deal to change one supporting character's ethnicity?

The thing is, gods aren't human. Something like race seems to be a petty, human concern, doesn't it? I can't imagine the other gods treating Heimdall differently just because he has darker skin than them. It's not like if you had a black Captain America fighting in WWII and all the white soldiers, who were used to racial segregation, acting like there's nothing seriously strange about that. And yeah, I know, Captain America isn't real either, but that time period is real, and if you're going to have a fictional story take place in a real time period, it's disrespectful to pretend like it was some sort of prejudice-free zone. When you have the gods of Asgard, it's not even a real place and it doesn't have a real history, so if there's one random black guy, then hey, that's not any stranger than anything else that goes on there. In fact, I'll submit that it's LESS strange than Loki having a child that's a serpent that circles the Earth's oceans. (Just a bit.)

Lastly, I have to wonder: why is nobody complaining that the Thor of the comics doesn't have the proper red hair that the god was said to have? Is this some sort of prejudice against gingers? And let's not get started on how many white guys have played Jesus. When they finally get a guy with a bit more melanin to play the son of Yahweh, then we can talk about the accuracy of Heimdall's skin tone.


Saturday, December 11, 2010

Get thee to an eReader

I don't read nearly as much as I feel that I should, even though I know that I read a whole hell of a lot more than most people do. Shoot, even if you only count the comic books I read, I still read a whole hell of a lot more than most people do. With that said, I recently started counting in my head how many books I've read since last June. Sure, a lot of those books remain unfinished, as I lost interest about halfway through. Not counting those, I've read about six or seven (can't remember off the top of my head) entire books since then. That's not too shabby, I'd say.

Why would I pick such an arbitrary starting point as June? See, June is when I bought my eReader, or my Nook, to be specific. I think it's pretty safe to say that having bought this trusty little device has led to me reading much more than I probably would have normally. Although I already wrote about it, I just have to say that if you like to read at all, you really need to get one of these things. I'm happy with my Nook, but I imagine that the Kindle or Sony's eReader are just fine as well. Even though the Kindle doesn't read ePub files, I'm starting to see Kindle-specific files and PDF's on some of the sites that offer public domain books.

Somehow, I doubt that I'm the only person with an eReader who now reads more. One of the reasons is that it's so darned handy. It's far easier to read the Nook at the dinner table than an actual book, as I don't have to hold any pages down. It's also easy to read while I'm feeding/burping Logan. The size is also nice, as it's smaller than an average book. That will make it nice to carry with me the next time I go out of town for a few days.

Even though I'd recommend one to anybody who likes to read, I have to give a warning about the Nookcolor. When I first heard about it, I was contemplating getting one. After all, it can do all the things that my Nook can do, but it's all in color, and users can subscribe to magazines like National Geographic. I got a chance to check one out at Best Buy though, and I'd have to recommend against it. At least, if all you want to do is read books, then your more standard eReader is the way to go. With those, it's as easy on your eyes as reading a real book. With this new color device, it's like looking at a computer screen. I can't imagine reading an entire novel this way.

What I'm really hoping for is that one day these will come down so much in price that they'll be used in the classroom. Imagine a student having all of the novels and textbooks on one eReader. Sound expensive? How much do you think all of those books cost? Shoot, I know that students are fined about $100 if they lose the literature book - and that's just one of them. Yeah, I know, those textbook companies have quite a hold on the school system, but how can they maintain it when budgets are constantly cut back? Getting the kids eReaders might be the only way to go.

It was once said that you could get a good sense for how a kid is going to do in school based on whether or not their parents had a bookshelf full of books in the house. While I think that I will always want to have some old fashioned copies of certain books, I know that an eReader will be one of the first things that I'll make sure my son has when he's old enough to read.

Oh, and for eReader newbies, here are some great places for free books:

Comics Roundup for 12/8/10

If this is your first "Comics Roundup", then here's the deal: I'm not attempting to write detailed reviews. I basically do this for myself, as when I force myself to write about what I'm reading, I tend to be a little bit more cautious with my comics buying habits. If you find it interesting at all, then that's fantastic.

The New Avengers #7 - I complained a bit about last issue, but this one more than made up for it. Now that I think about it, it was really heavy on dialogue, and I don't think that there was even a moment of action. That's okay though, there was plenty in the last several issues. I especially loved how this addressed one of the big problems with Spider-Man serving as a member of The Avengers. I remember writers saying years ago that having him be on the team would take away from what's appealing about the character - namely, it would solve all of his money problems. When he first joined, nobody was getting paid, so that wasn't a problem. Now that he's on an official (two, actually) team, he's still not getting paid because he hasn't revealed his identity. Considering everything that happened during "Civil War" and "One Moment in Time" it makes perfect sense that he wouldn't even reveal his identity to get a decent paycheck. Not only was this issue resolved, but it was resolved in a fun way. Good stuff.

The Flash #7 - This issue revolved around Captain Boomerang, one of The Flash's villains. It was fine as far as a villain origin is concerned, and it set things up nicely for issues to come. Nothing special with this issue, but considering how much I've enjoyed every other issue of this series, there's no way I'm dropping it.

Wolverine #3 - Damn, but there are a lot of Wolverine books out on the shelf nowadays. I'm not just talking about all the team books in which he appears. He also has about a billion solo books. Hopefully this is the best one because I just can't commit to much more. Anyway, I enjoyed this one as well, and I loved the cameo by Spider-Man. While this is quite different from any Wolverine story I've read before, it's doing the one thing any good Wolverine story does - and that's dishing out some serious abuse to old Logan.

Echo #26 - I just finished re-reading all of The Astounding Wolf-Man, and I'm thinking that it's going to be time to start going through this entire series again. I enjoyed it the last time I did it when it was on the 14th issue or so, and I reckon that I will again. The problem is that I just don't remember a lot of stuff from issue to issue. This particular one didn't have much going on in it, but it was good enough to keep me reading through to the end and wanting to re-read everything, so that's saying something.

Superior #2 - Did I dream it, or was this supposed to be an all-ages book? It sure as heck isn't that, as there's a lot of harsh language going on in it. It's not that I mind it at all, it just seems to me that the subject matter of this series doesn't lend itself to that. Basically it's like the plot of Big only the boy is in a wheelchair and instead of just becoming an adult, he becomes a comic book superhero. (The comic itself even makes reference to this similarity.) That said, this was an entertaining read, just like pretty much everything Mark Millar's been writing nowadays.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The problem with "hating the sin"

I've heard the term "love the sinner, hate the sin" for some time now. Usually it comes up when Christians discuss homosexuality. Shoot, there was probably even a time when I either said the same thing or something very similar. Basically, it's a way for Christians to handle the cognitive dissonance that they experience when they know that it's wrong to discriminate against people, yet they feel that they should follow the rules of their holy book which tells them that dudes shouldn't do it with dudes.

It sounds kind of nice, right? Love the sinner? Who can be against love? Christians will tell you that we're all sinners, and according to their mythology, we are. It's impossible to not be a sinner, really. Homosexuality is just one more sin, kind of like lying, cheating, or stealing. In this light, homosexuals aren't any better or worse than anybody else.

Here's the problem - it's bullcrap, and it's still hateful. If you have a son/daughter who tells you that he/she is gay, are you going to say this to them? Of course, you love your kid, but are you going to say that you "hate" their "sin"? Do you really think that's somehow better?

Most people in the world want to do the right thing. We want to do what our parents think is right. It's good to know that they still love us when we screw up, but there's a serious problem with calling homosexuality a sin. We've learned a few things over the past few decades. We understand that it is not chosen. Calling it a sin is telling somebody that they're doing something bad just for being who they are. Sure, this is better than telling them that you hate them, but what if my son is left handed and I told him that I loved him even though he was a southpaw? What the hell kind of love is that?

If you use that phrase in the case of homosexuals, you're not "loving" anybody. Maybe it makes you feel better, but I doubt that it does a whole lot of good for gay people out there. How about we just accept them and don't get too concerned over what some ancient book of mythology tells us? You know, the same book that can't be bothered to tell us that it's not okay to own people as property.

Limbaugh is a racist, end of debate

I realize that a lot of people are writing about this particular issue, but in case you haven't heard, Rush Limbaugh recently accused Native Americans of doing far worse to those of European descent than the other way around. He asks the question, "How many people have died since the wm arrived due to lung cancer, thanks to the Indian custom of smoking? Who are the real killers here?"

He has a good point. After all, Native Americans run all the tobacco industries and are responsible for most of the cigarette advertising. Let's also not forget that most people who smoke had their first one when a gang of injuns tackled 'em down and forced a peace-pipe into their mouths. Damn you, Native Americans! Will there ever be an end to your atrocities? We oughtta force them off their lands and make them live in areas that are reserved especially for them! That'll show 'em!

Seriously though, I've talked to many people about Limbaugh. By this point, anybody who doesn't see him for the evil little troll that he is simply never will. His supporters will hem and haw yet again despite the fact that this is probably the millionth racist thing that he's said. The guy could put on a pointy white hood and they'll still defend him.

Anybody who excuses him by this point is either a racist or so blindly loyal to the "conservative" cause that they push their own values to the side. Seriously, the man is a troll. He eats billy goats, lives under a bridge and turns to stone in the sunlight.

EDIT: Between the two blogs where I’ve posted this, I’ve already received the usual lame-ass excuse about how Limbaugh is joking and somehow I’m missing that it’s all done as entertainment. I declare horsecrap on this excuse. Do Limbaugh’s fans hear this and laugh at it, saying, “Wow! What a ridiculous thing to say! It’s funny because it’s so absurd!” I doubt it. The man is not a comedian. In order for him to be one, he’d have to be funny. He just says horrible things and then when he gets called out on his vileness, his fans use the old “It’s humor” excuse. Bull and crap.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Comics Roundup for 11/24/10

The Amazing Spider-Man #649 - This certainly had a surprising plot twist, and I'm not sure if I like it. SPOILER ALERT! Roderick Kingsley, the original Hobgoblin, did indeed come back. It made sense, too, since Norman Osborn, who screwed him over royally, is now out of the picture. However, as soon as he's back, he gets killed (rather brutally) by Phil Urich, the one-time Green Goblin - you know, the lame, good one who had his own series for a while there. I certainly didn't see that coming, and I'm kind of disappointed to see the end (?) of Kingsley so soon after his return. Still, it was an entertaining issue, and I'm interested to see how this all pans out.

Secret Avengers #7 - This series recently won a poll as the Best Avengers book. I still don't think it's much of an Avengers book other than its name, but it's still a pretty good read. We got to see a bit more of the supporting cast this time (although Moon Knight's nowhere to be seen despite being on the cover). I also don't know much about this Prince of Orphans guy. I don't know if that's a cool name or a lame one.

Detective Comics #871 - Lots of new Batman stuff coming out, and I almost bought everything that came out this week. However, I decided to just try this one, as Batman and Robin seemed like nothing but filler, and I gave Tony Daniel enough of a chance over on Batman. Plus, the zero issue of Batwoman seemed pretty thin. I'm not familiar with the creative team on this title, but I figured that I'd give it a try. My verdict? A pretty solid detective story, with this issue focusing on the Dick Grayson Batman. I also like that the backup story featured Jim Gordon in a story that's going to tie into the main plot. That's the way to do a backup story.

Captain America #612 - I don't have much to say about this issue other than it was another solid installment in a series that's been delivering the goods for several years now. I think that this series continues to be popular because readers like me are as invested in the "Bucky" Captain America as they are the original Cap. I'm really curious as to how this is all going to end up.

The Walking Dead - Volume 13 - When I get around to it, I'll write a blog entry about the excellent TV adaptation of this series. As for this current volume, I'm pleased to say that it offered quite a few surprises. Just when I thought I knew where everything was going, I wound up being thrown for a couple of loops. Also, it's nice to see that Rick isn't completely far gone as I would have thought with the last volume, and maybe now he has a real chance at what passes for happiness in a zombie apocalypse.

Ex Machina - Volume 10 - I haven't gotten around to reading this one yet, and I'm thinking that it might be a good idea to reread the entire series like I did with 100 Bullets since this is the last volume. I have to say that this is probably one of the best series I've read that's simultaneously lame to describe to people. "It's about a superhero who becomes the mayor!" Yeah, that sounds lame. Trust me, it isn't.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Comics Roundup for 11/17/10

Batman: The Return - This one-shot unites Grant Morrison, writer of the new Batman, Inc. with David Finch, writer/artist of the upcoming The Dark Knight for a story that establishes the new status quo in the Batman universe. Personally, I liked it. I'm not a huge David Finch fan, but when he's good, he's good. I also don't have a problem with there being two Batmen - Dick Grayson in Gotham and Bruce Wayne as the international one (I guess he'd be more suited to be in the JLA, then.) I do worry that there are too many Bat-books coming out. I like having a regular Batman book to read every month, but there's no way that I'll be getting all six (?) of them. At the very least, I'll stick with whatever Grant Morrison is doing.

Batman, Inc. #1 - Speaking of which, this was an interesting first issue. A Japanese Batman? I wonder what that's going to be like. So far, it seems pretty interesting, and I like Yanick Paquette's art. It's also nice to see Catwoman playing an important role in this book as well.

Hellboy: Double Feature of Evil - All the Hellboy comics have been really great lately, so I'll forgive this one for being a tad bit sub-par. There are two short stories, and the first one, while having a cool concept, has a pretty anticlimactic ending. The second one is short and fun story involving some Egyptian gods. As usual, Richard Corben does a nice job on the art.

The Flash #6 - How often does this comic come out? Seems like it's been more than a month since the last one. Oh well, so long as the creative team remains this consistent, I'll be happy. Anyway, this issue wrapped up the first major story arc, and it was a pretty good one. The subplot that I liked managed to dovetail into the major story, and I'm starting to get who Barry Allen is more as a person than I ever have before.

The Astounding Wolf-Man #25 - Well, that's that. I want to go back and re-read the entire series, but I still found myself enjoying this issue despite the fact that I didn't necessarily remember all of the characters and various subplots. It looks like things are definitely being kept open if ever Robert Kirkman wants to return to this character. Overall? A pretty fun 25-issue limited series.

The Avengers #7 - Too many damned Hulks, if you ask me, and I was kind of hoping that the Red Hulk would go away once his identity was revealed. It looks like that's not happening though, and he's in this issue. Looks like he might even be joining the team. Well, the original Hulk was a member, maybe it might be interesting to have this one on the team for a while, especially now that he's slightly more of a "good" guy than before. The Red Hood is also back, and he has his hands on two of the Infinity gems. There's a guy who just keeps on trying, and it's nice to see that he's back to cause more problems.

Green Lantern #59 - We finally learn what happened to Black Hand, and we get some more information on the Indigo "compassion" Lanterns. It looks like there's more going on with them than meets the eye, and in some ways they might be the most messed up Lanterns of them all. This was yet another good installment in what has consistently been one of my favorite comics of the past several years.

Friday, November 12, 2010

It's the Great Pumpkin Ale, Charlie Brown!

Last summer, I had some success while getting a little creative with my homebrews. Instead of just making a pre-packaged ingredient kit, I went ahead and made a Chili Ale. (Links about that process on the bottom of this entry.) I figured that I'd try my luck again for the fall, this time making a pumpkin ale.

I've made a Thanksgiving ale before, and that was a kit that used pumpkin pie spices, but it didn't have any actual pumpkin in it. My initial thought was to just buy this kit again but put some real pumpkin in it. However, I decided to get a bit more creative than that.

The kit that I had used (from MoreBeer!) was a somewhat dark and malty American-style ale with the aforementioned pumpkin pie spices. I wanted to make something a bit lighter and fruitier while still having a bit of mild hop flavor to go along with the pumpkin pie spices. So, I put together my own kit and bought a medium-sized pumpkin.

I got to try a bottle of it just yesterday, and my initial reaction was somewhat mixed. It's REALLY pumpkiny. When taking a sip, the first taste to hit you is a mildly-hoppy ale with a hint of pumpkin spice. Once it goes to the back of the tongue, a big punch of fruity pumpkin overwhelms the palate. The nice thing though is that it leaves you with a rather pleasant taste in your mouth, like you just had a slice of pumpkin pie, only you're not craving a glass of water to go with it.

I went and had another glass of it today, and I have to say that it's growing on me. Much like the chili ale, I think that this is going to be one of those beers that people are either going to really dig or not dig at all. Also, it's going to be a "right time and place" kind of beer. It probably would go best as the last beer of the evening or maybe even along with desert. (I imagine that it would feel kind of redundant to have it with pumpkin pie.)

So, for the homebrewing nerds out there, here's the actual process:

I started off by gutting a pumpkin then slicing it up. I took the cut-up pumpkin and baked it at 350 degrees for about an hour.

I then soaked the pumpkin in 150 degree water for an hour. I barely got any pumpkin flavor out of that into the water, so I let it soak overnight. Still hardly any pumpkin flavor after that.

I decided to go ahead and put all of the pumpkin and slightly pumpkiny water into my brew kettle for the boil. This is what did the trick to get that pumpkin flavor into the beer. I also put all of the seeds into a grain bag. (I'm not sure how much this affected the flavor.) I have to point out that the beer is somewhat hazy. Part of this is because I forgot to put the whirlfloc tablet (which clears the beer without altering the taste) into the boil. Still, I've done that before, and I've never had such a murky-looking beer.

Here are the ingredients for an extract-kit boil:

Flavoring grains:
1 lb. Crystal 15L
.5 lb. British Pale
.5 lb. German Munich

Malt:
7 lbs. liquid light malt extract

Hops:
2 oz. Fuggle for the entire boil
2 oz. Kent Goldings at the last 5 minutes.

(That's a lot of hops, but those are pretty mild tasting. I wanted the hops to be noticeable but not overpowering, which is probably what I would have gotten had I used something like Magnum or Centennial hops.)

Additions:
sweet orange peel - last 10 minutes
pumpkin spice - 1 teaspoon at the last 10 minutes, an additional teaspoon at the last five minutes

Yeast:
Fermentis dry American Ale - fermented at room temperature, left in carboy for two weeks

Read about my Chili Ale (includes videos):

Comics Roundup for 11/10/10

The Amazing Spider-Man #647 & 648 - The "Brand New Day" era of multiple writers ends, and the "Big Time" era of Dan Slott as the solo writer begins. Considering that I probably enjoyed a greater ratio of his stories than any of the other writers, I'd say that this is a good thing. Issue 648 sure throws a whole lot of stuff at the wall, setting up all kinds of stories for the next couple of years, I imagine. What's the best part? Hobgoblin's back! And even better, it looks like it's the original. Considering that Norman Osborn, who screwed over Roderick Kingsley, is now out of commission, it's a good time for the Hobgoblin to come back.

The New Avengers #6 - I had a hard time getting into this issue, as I never like those "it's a battle on another plane of existence" types of stories. Considering that I loved the first five issues though, I'm not too worried about it. I'm interested in seeing where this series is going next.

Avengers: Prime #4 (of 5) - Not much to say, other than this was another solid chapter, and it's always good to pick up a book drawn by Alan Davis.

Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #6 (of 6) - Oddly enough, this issue seemed to make the most sense out of all of them, and I especially liked how Red Robin determined the best way to revive Bruce from the dead. (Just tell him that Gotham needs him.) There's definitely a lot going on, and I'm going to have to sit and reread every issue back-to-back as I usually have to with Grant Morrison's stories in order to get a better appreciation of what was going on.

Batman and Robin #16 - The Black Hand definitely gets what's coming to him in this issue. Best part? Is it when Batman smashes his face into the glass? Or is it when he slips on the banana peel that The Joker put in his way? Anyway, Bruce Wayne is definitely back, and this sets things up for a new era in the Batman books. I'm looking forward to what Batman, Inc. is all about. I'm just not sure which of the Bat-titles I'll continue to follow. I'll probably check out the first few issues of David Finch's The Dark Knight and I'll definitely get Morrison's Batman, Inc. I'm not sure if I'll continue this title, and I'm not enough of a fan of Tony Daniel to keep getting the main Bat-book. I don't even know what the deal is with Detective Comics right now.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Willy gets some peace at last

Looks like this is my year for sad dog stories. Back in March, I had to put Argos down, and on Thursday I had to put Willy down. This is a rather different sort of a story though. With Argos, he had a pretty clear-cut physical illness that was going to kill him. With Willy, he had a mental illness that would have made him a danger to the other pets in this house - and potentially even my son.

Unlike Argos (and my current dog, Freyja) I didn't get Willy as a puppy. He was at least a year old, and he had been abandoned. A coworker of Kirsti's found him, and asked if we wanted to keep him (after checking to see if anybody had reported him missing at animal control). When he first came over, Kirsti and I instantly fell in love with him. I wanted to give him a Germanic name, so I named him Wilhelm, with the intention of us actually calling him Willy.

He was a sweet, friendly, mellow dog. The first night that we had him, we put some blankets down on the floor and told him to lie down there while we went to bed. He did this no problem, and he continued to sleep in our room up until his last night with us. He fit right in, and he even got along well with the cat, even though he'd shove his nose into her every so often just to make sure she was still alive. (This cat was Tyson, who we put down several years ago at the age of 18.)

Still, there were some issues. On a camping trip, he got pretty aggressive and attacked our friend's dog. We were able to break it up pretty quickly, and no major damage was done. We figured that it was just a fluke thing, since they were both right next to each other in the back of a truck and had gotten along just fine the rest of the time.

When we got Argos, the two got along just fine, but Willy would often try to dominate him. This went on until Argos got a bit too big for that sort of a thing and started fighting back. The two got in a really bad fight, and Willy came out the worst in that one. I remember at the time thinking that the issue was Argos, since he came out on top. Little did I realize that as time would pass, I would learn that it was Willy who was the real instigator. It's a long story as to why I concluded this. One thing is that Argos got a "roommate" when we took in Kirsti's old dog, Molly, and there was never an issue (but Willy had attacked Molly one time). I was also able to have Argos play with other dogs at the park without an issue. Lastly, Argos was good with kids. In fact, he even would go into a super-polite mode when children were around.

Willy though, he had issues. We were able to keep him separate from Argos, and this worked out okay. We had to keep him in a crate while we were gone; otherwise, if a car backfired or something like that, he'd freak out and either destroy the inside of the house or dig his way out of the yard. One Fourth of July, he lifted up a fence and tore up his paws while trying to dig through concrete. He was found on the other side of town. It got to the point where when we bailed him out of animal control, it cost us $300. Having him in the crate actually seemed to mellow him out a bit though, and he always eagerly went inside when it was time for us to go to work. I guess he felt safe in there.

He got along fine with our new cat, Oliver, but there were a few incidents with him as well. One time Oliver got too close when Willy was eating; another time he got too close while Willy was playing with a chew toy. Both of these incidents prompted an attack from Willy. (Don't get me wrong - with all of these attacks that I have mentioned, with the exception of the big fight with Argos - absolutely no blood was drawn. It just looked a lot more dramatic than it was.) Other than that, the two were pals, and I even have pictures of the two cuddled up next to one another. With Freyja, it was pretty much the same thing. They got along, but he attacked her a couple of times. I was able to break it up before anything bad happened.

The thing is with Willy is that this was all a slow process of his mental health going downhill. When Logan came to our house, I didn't exactly like the way Willy approached him. It wasn't to attack, but it was with a bit too much concern - unlike Freyja, who seems aware of the baby but indifferent. The bottom line is that I didn't trust Willy to be around Logan all by himself, not that I really trust any dog, but I especially didn't trust him - especially once Logan starts crawling around and wants to check out the chew toys lying around the house.

I suppose that it's been in my head for a couple of years now that I might have to put Willy down due to his anxiety issues. As time passed, we had to keep him in the bedroom most of the time. He liked it for the most part, but when he wanted out, all he would do was pace. I tried taking him on walks, but he was such a nervous bundle of energy that I felt like I was going to have a mini heart attack each time we went. (And I pride myself in having been able to get some supposedly difficult and even "impossible" dogs to walk just fine.)

The final straw was when he, for the second time in a week, randomly decided to attack the cat. He finished his food and then raced all the way to the other side of the house to find Oliver and attack him. With this, there was no longer a way to even anticipate what sort of a thing might set him off, and with a child in the house, I just wasn't willing to take a chance. Turns out that Kirsti was pretty much on the same page as me.

When we told the vet his whole story (and I realize that with as long as this blog entry is, I'm still leaving a lot out) she agreed with our assessment that putting him down was the best thing for him, as his anxiety disorder would likely only get worse, and he could make our house an unsafe place. We made a point to see our regular vet, as she was there with us for Argos' last appointment and Freyja's first. In other words, she knows what kind of pet owners we are, and wouldn't jump to the conclusion that we were putting our dog down just because he became inconvenient for us. (The fact that we kept him for 10 years should testify to that.)

Unfortunately, he didn't go down easily. She gave him a sedative to calm him down, but it only made him more anxious. This didn't surprise us, as when we gave him some tranquilizers on the last Fourth of July, it had no effect despite the fact that we gave him twice the recommended dosage. The vet asked if she should try more, but we told her to just put him down, as we didn't want to prolong his torture. Of course, once the lethal injection took over, he went down very quickly, and then it was over.

I loved that dog. I had a lot of good times with him, but he was sick. I will always have a nagging feeling in my mind that I could have done more for him, but I need to just accept the fact that maybe he was fighting a sickness that had no cure. I know that he had some happy times, but the last couple of years he always seemed anxious. I cried, of course, but not like I did with Argos. I feel more relieved than anything now, and I'm glad that I was able to do for him what I could. At the very least, Kirsti and I did more for him than his original owners ever did.

Rest in peace, Willy. Maybe you and Argos can finally play together again.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Comics Roundup for 10/27/10

Captain America #611 - We're gearing up for another intriguing story, as Bucky finally has to deal with the world's reaction to him having once been an assassin for the Commies (albeit he was brainwashed). I'm curious as to how this is all going to end up, not so much based on what went on this issue, but what was mentioned in The Avengers. (I'll get to that later.) Also, it was nice to see Daniel Acuna on the art chores; I hope he'll stick around.

The Avengers #5 - It's a time-travel story, and the Hulk and Tony Stark of the future speak of a fate for Bucky Barnes, and The Hulk says that he "gets what's coming" to him (and also calls him a "son of a bitch".) I wonder what that's all about and if it's going to play out in what's going on in Cap's regular title. Anyway, other than that, this was a solid closer to the first storyarc. Looks like the Red Hulk will be joining next issue. Does that mean that Killraven and Captain Marvel won't be on board?

Steven Rogers: Super Soldier #4 (of 4) - This was a satisfying conclusion to a pretty good miniseries. It also seems to be setting things up for the future, which makes this not feel like a disposable story.

Secret Avengers #5 - This is a good series, but it's not really much of a team book. It's more like an extension of the Captain America regular title. Maybe it should have been called Steve Rogers' Secret Avengers. That way, it's understandable when the other team members aren't in the book.

Kick-Ass 2 #1 - I saw the film recently, and while I was entertained, I ultimately didn't feel like it worked as well as a movie as it did as a comic book. Anyway, this was pretty good, and it takes things to the next logical step. First you get superheroes in a realistic world, now it's time for the superhero team. Should be interesting.

The Amazing Spider-Man #646 - Glad to see that Norman Osborn doesn't get the last laugh, as the child of Menace isn't his but his son's. Hopefully Dan Slott will do something with that when he takes over as the only writer of the series when it goes into the "Big Time" storyarc.

Batman and Robin #15 - The Black Hand has finally outsmarted Batman! Only you can't outsmart Batman, and it looks like Bruce Wayne is back! But how did he return? We don't know. Like most of Grant Morrison's stuff, you have to wait until the story is complete to see how it all works out.

Hellboy/Beasts of Burden: Sacrifice - I had never heard of Beast of Burden before, but I like Hellboy, and the artwork seemed pretty spiffy. Also, I like the gag with the vampire who tries to run away from Hellboy on the first page. Anyway, I enjoyed this, but I don't think that I'll look into any of the regular Beasts of Burden stuff beyond this.

Olympians: Zeus - King of the Gods - I enjoyed the volume with Athena so much that I just had to check this one out as well. I wish that I had a class set of this stuff to teach Greek Mythology. It's certainly a more dynamic way of learning about these stories than that lousy book by Edith Hamilton, which completely sucks the life out of a bunch of exciting stories. George O'Connor stays pretty true to the myths while only taking a few understandable liberties here and there. Also, his artwork is expressive and lively, and I look forward to the next book in this series.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Beer Fest in Martinez

I suppose that the guy who writes a blog called Comics, Beer, and Shakespeare and lives in Martinez, CA should probably write a little something about the First Annual Bay Area Craft Beer Festival, especially since I went there.

Despite the rain, the beer fest went on as planned, only nearly everything was moved into a big warehouse. The outhouses, food, and band were outside (under tents), so you'd still have to get a little wet if you wanted to pee, eat, or rock. Even though the rainy weather put a stop to everything, I still think that I would have had a better time if it were sunny. It's not so much that I mind getting a little wet, but inside it was very loud and difficult to hear anybody. (Like the brewers who were there presenting their beer.) Outside, the band was really loud. Normally this wouldn't be a problem, but my wife and I had our baby with us, so that made things difficult. I imagine that if it were outside, we could have found a place to hang out that was far enough away from the band to enjoy without disturbing the kid.

I still thought that it was worth the price of admission though. It was $35 for admission, a free glass, and unlimited samplers. Those who don't drink (my wife) could get in for a mere $5. Unlike my ill-fated trip to the Lagunitas Brewery, where free samples became the death of me, I went into this beer festival with a game plan. I made sure that I had some food in my belly before I left, and after having several samples, I made sure to put some more in there. (There was a paella stand - tasty stuff.)

Part of my game plan included only trying from breweries that were unfamiliar to me. Why try something that I've had a million times before? This is why I found it curious that so many people were lining up at the Sierra Nevada tent. Have these people never tried a Sierra Nevada before? I went up to see if they were offering some sort of limited edition beer, but all they had were their standard Pale Ale and their seasonal Brown Ale. I grabbed a free coaster and moved along. I guess if I had planned to stay all day (which I might have if the weather was nicer) and try everything, then maybe I would have gone there. (Even spacing it all out, I think you'd wind up in a coma if you tried everything that was there.)

The plan also involved making sure to cleanse the palate between beers, especially if I was going from something with a really assertive flavor to something with a really mellow one. A lot of people don't seem to be aware of this. Even when I'm sharing my homebrews, I'll have people drink a Hefeweizen after an IPA. Doesn't it taste funny to them when they do that? I know it does to me. Maybe I'm weird that I care about the way things taste. Anyway, I obviously wasn't the only person who had that in mind, as there were free pretzels being given away at pretty much every table.

Were there any highlights? Sure, but the only one standing out in my mind the next day is the Siamese Twin from Uncommon Brewers. They're a very small, upcoming brewery from Santa Cruz, and their Siamese Twin is a Belgian Dubbel style ale. While I like the style (even made it one time) it's not always my favorite, and I usually have to be in a certain mood for it. With theirs, I could see myself being in the mood for it pretty often. It was really smooth, but there was a lot going on that you could really savor. Even more impressive was the fact that I noticed this after having sampled several beers already. I should also point out that their Baltic Porter was really nice as well, and that's the one I ended on for the day.

I guess I was most impressed with them because they were really offering something different. For the most part, breweries have a pale ale, an IPA, a Hefeweizen, a porter and/or stout, and perhaps a seasonal beer. This is great, and I like to see that so many Americans are starting to branch out as to what they consider beer to be, but I think it's hard to create a new brewery and do something original - unless you're willing to take a chance and do something that could potentially be unpalatable. From what I saw at the Craft Beer Festival, I think that Uncommon Brewers is the one to watch.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Odysseus in Comics

It's not often that a comic book provokes an emotional response out of me. Not only that, but I can't remember a time when it ever happened while simply flipping through it at the comic book store. However, that very thing happened last Wednesday when I chanced upon The Odyssey, an adaptation of Homer's epic by Gareth Hinds. I picked it up because I love the story, and I also really enjoyed Marvel's recent adaptation.

What got to me was when I flipped to see how he handled the scene with the old dog, Argos. For those who don't know, I recently had to put my dog down, and he was named for Odysseus' pet. This story was on my mind anyway, as I was reading The Odyssey with my freshmen class. This was the first time I've taught it since my Argos passed away, so it was a pretty emotional moment when we got to this particular tragic dog story. Before we got to it, I told my class about my dog. In one class, there were quite a few weepy-eyed freshmen - and this was before we got to Homer's version!

Basically what Hinds did is create a moment that could only exist in comic books. The scene plays out beautifully, and once the old dog passes away, you see the goddess Athena pick him up and carry him off. For me to describe this does not do justice to the beauty of how Hinds uses the art form to give this scene the emotional weight it deserves. Sure, that's not how it happened in the original epic. However, I've been on record as stating that I think it's a bad idea to be too slavish to the source material when adapting something - be it a movie or a comic book. Different art forms have different needs, and what works well in one works well in another. (Which is why I had no problem with the whole change to Grendel's mom in the Beowulf movie. The original story works fine as an epic poem, but it would have made for bad storytelling in a movie.)

Of course, after getting a bit misty-eyed after seeing this in the comic book store, I had no choice but to buy the darned thing. And considering that it's a hefty book for only $15, it was a pretty darned good deal. As for the rest of the adaptation, I have nothing but praise. Sure, I kind of missed the goatherd Melanthius getting his just desserts at the end, but it probably would have been far too crude for a visual medium (his ears, nose, hands, and feet are chopped off, and his genitals are given to the dogs to eat - all this because he was more loyal to the suitors than his king, and what's worse, he kicked an old beggar - who was really Odysseus in disguise, but still, you treat old beggars with kindness).

There are also several other beautiful moments, like when Penelope weeps for her husband and when Calypso has to let Odysseus go. Everything else is played out very clearly, and I'd recommend it to anybody who loves the original. Also, if you're trying to decide between this adaptation and the one that Marvel Comics recently did, definitely go with this one. Not to knock Marvel's, as they really put some nice effort into it, and adapting such an epic tale is no minor feat unto itself. However, this one is far more emotionally pleasing, and the storytelling skills of Mr. Hinds is far more direct and effective.

And is it just me, or does the suitor Antinuous remind anybody else of Glenn Beck?

Comics Roundup for 10/13/10

New Avengers #5 - I'm pretty much just going to repeat myself if I take the time to write much about this series. It continues to be entertaining, and the artwork is top-notch. Turns out Hawkeye isn't going to be a member, and Spider-Man is confused as to why he didn't get the priority call from the other Avengers team. Wolverine didn't either, apparently. I wonder if the two of them will be sticking around in that series, or we'll just see them in this one. Honestly, as much as I like them being "official" Avengers, I think they work better on Luke Cage's team.

Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #5 (of 6) - Like much of Grant Morrison's stuff, I'm sure that this will all be better when the issues are read back-to-back. That said, I still liked this, and I can see how various threads are starting to tie together.

Batman: Hidden Treasures - I got this for the Bernie Wrightson artwork. I suppose on that level it was worth it, but the main story was only okay, and the reprint of a story from Swamp Thing didn't do much for me, as I never cared for that character all that much.

Wolverine #2 - I've always liked Wolverine, but his solo adventures are usually hit-or-miss for me, most of them leaving me cold. This seems like a pretty good story so far, so I'll stick with it, as I'd love to get a monthly dose of Wolverine.

Echo #25 - Supposedly this series will be drawing to a close sometime relatively soon. (How's that for vague?) I hate to see it go, but I think one of the things that makes it good is its sense of direction. I wonder what Terry Moore is cooking up next.

Superior #1 - A PG story from Mark Millar, this was a pretty compelling read, although it doesn't seem to be saying all that much new about the genre, unlike his other offerings. I'll stick around for the next issue though.

Green Lantern #58 - Larfleeze, the Orange Lantern, is becoming a more interesting character all the time, and he's not so one-note as he seemed to be at the start. There's a lot going on in this series, and after Blackest Night, there certainly are a lot of areas to explore with this mythology, what with all the various lantern corps out there.

The Amazing Spider-Man #645 - Again, not much to say, but I'm glad I didn't stop getting this. The art was a bit more stiff in this issue than the past few, but it's good enough to drive the story along. Plus Mark Waid has done a good job of tying in all of these various threads from the past few years of the title.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

3D?

The last time I went to Costco, I got a chance to check out the 3D TVs. Apparently this is the next big step in home theater, and seeing as how I'm the kind of guy who jumped on to the Blu-Ray bandwagon a little earlier than most (and I also mistakenly jumped on the HD-DVD Titanic) I wanted to check out this next step.

Well, I have to be honest. I was skeptical. After all, I'm getting tired of all the 3D stuff that's coming out right now. When I went to see Toy Story 3, I deliberately went to see it in 2D. Even if the ticket prices were the same, I'd go for the 2D. I remember feeling that with Up, the 3D did absolutely nothing for the visuals. If anything, it was slightly distracting, and I've been much more impressed watching the 2D Blu-Ray of the film. I thought that Monsters Versus Aliens actually put the 3D to some use, but then when they did it was just to have a "Look! This is 3D!" moment. When I saw the new Clash of the Titans, I had read that it wasn't originally shot for 3D in the first place, so I opted for 2D. I have to say that the only movie I've seen where I thought that the 3D actually contributed to the overall experience was Avatar. While I didn't love the film itself, I did think that it was worth it for the visuals alone, and the 3D created an immersive experience like I had never seen before. Still, do I really need to have that kind of experience with everything I see? Do I need it for Forgetting Sarah Marshall or Goodfellas? Probably not.

After seeing the 3D TVs, I am no longer skeptical. I now think that it's a total waste instead of maybe just being a waste. I mean, let's get real about a couple of things. First of all, 3D is not an improvement over 2D. Talkies were not an improvement over silent film (I'd argue that they created a new artform, actually) and color was not an improvement to black and white. They both just opened up some possibilities. At best, that's all you have with 3D. However, these possibilities are entirely unnecessary when it comes to most films. Not only that, but in many respects, 3D actually looks worse than 2D. The colors are dimmer, the image isn't as sharp, and in some cases, it's been known to give people headaches. (I confess that I started to feel a little "off" when viewing the 3D TV display.)

The second thing we need to realize is that we can only make TV look so good. DVDs were a huge step up from VHS, and HD was a big step as well. Still, the difference between DVD and HD is not nearly as great as the difference between VHS and DVD. Shortly after I got my DVD player, I could barely stand to watch VHS tapes anymore. I've had my Blu-Ray player for some time now, and I have no problem watching (and sometimes even buying) DVDs.

So what's 3D all about? It's the TV manufacturers trying to get us to think that we need to have something that's better than what we already have so we'll buy crap we don't need. I've made statements about my feelings regarding 3D TVs before, and the comments I usually get back are along the lines of, "Yeah. It's not worth to pay the extra money for something that's just a little bit better." While these folks are probably not going to be quick to jump on the 3D bandwagon, I wish they'd realize that it's not even a little bit better. In fact, it's worse.

And of course, Roger Ebert explains why 3D sucks much better than I can. My favorite reason:

IT’S THE WASTE OF A DIMENSION. When you look at a 2-D movie, it’s already in 3-D as far as your mind is concerned. When you see Lawrence of Arabia growing from a speck as he rides toward you across the desert, are you thinking, “Look how slowly he grows against the horizon”? Our minds use the principle of perspective to provide the third dimension. Adding one artificially can make the illusion less convincing.


Comics Roundup for...oh, let's say the last three weeks of September

I've been a bit busy lately, so I haven't been keeping up with this. Here's everything that I got since the last time I wrote a Comics Roundup:

The Amazing Spider-Man #643 - 644 - I'm definitely glad that I didn't pass up on this story. It's been a lot of fun what with its mix of villains and simple plot device of Spidey trying to get a baby to safety. The last issue ended with a pretty cool surprise twist, and I'm eager to see where it's all going and how things will pave the way for the next major Spidey arc: "Big Time".

Avengers: Prime #3 (of 5) - This issue brings "The Big Three" back together. It's a fun story, and hopefully we'll get to see them resolve their issues with the last couple of installments.

The Avengers #5 - I have a feeling that Bendis might have been somewhat inspired by Grant Morrison's JLA when writing this. The story is wild, crazy, and involves a situation where you definitely need a lot of superheroes on the case.

The Flash #5 - The plot moves along briskly, and I'm loving the art once again.

Secret Avengers #5 - We finally learn why Nick Fury is up to all sorts of shenanigans. That's because it's not Nick Fury! This was a fun read, and I'm looking forward to the next issue.

Steven Rogers: Super-Soldier #3 (of 4) - Another good installment, and we get to see how Steve Rogers is a lot more than just the super-soldier serum. He'd be a hero regardless.

Captain America #610 - I wasn't too into this the first time I read it, but after thinking about it and going back to it, I've decided that I liked it quite a bit. Baron Zemo is definitely not your average villain, and considering his involvement with the Thunderbolts, it would be silly to simply make him another villain-of-the-month. Also, I'm kind of hoping that they switch the backup feature to a cooler character soon. How about The Falcon or Union Jack?

Nemesis #3 - This issue moves along briskly, and we've basically got a case of a hero and a villain constantly one-upping each other. Let's hope the movie negotiations don't stall the next issue.

Olympians: Athena, Grey-Eyed Goddess - This was ten bucks, and I couldn't resist it because it was about my favorite Greek Goddess. Good artwork and solid storytelling go along well with some slight twists on some classic stories. I learned a few new ones.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Offend people the right way

Nobody would ever accuse me of being on the cutting-edge of topical content when it comes to my blog, but I feel a little bit more behind the curve right now. Personally, I blame it all on the baby and the fact that I've had to return to work. Still, I've been thinking about some stuff lately, and now I finally have a chance to write about it. (Although Logan's getting a bit twitchy and Mommy's not home...)

When I heard about that one moron pastor's decision to have a "Burn the Koran" day, my reaction was to think that he was doing something stupid. Yeah, yeah, he didn't actually go through with it, but I understand that there were some other yahoos out there who went and did it anyway. Now, you might be wondering, what did I have against it? After all, didn't I participate in "Draw Mohammed Day"? That's something that would offend Muslims. Why would I be on board with one and not on board with the other?

I already explained my reasoning for drawing Mohammed, so if you want to know why, click on the link. The reason why I don't think that one should burn the Koran is because burning a book, or a flag, album, picture, etcetera, is the lowest form of expression. All it communicates is "I don't like this and I don't think anybody should get to look at it and make up their own mind." If one is inclined to critique the Koran, then create something like The Skeptic's Annotated Koran. Burning books is just dumb. I have some serious problems with holy books myself, or rather, I have a problem with people who think that these holy books should become the basis of law for a modern society. Still, I think that there is much that one can learn from The Koran, The Bible, The Vedas, etcetera. At the very least, you can understand what exactly it is that people believe about their various gods.

The one thing that I want to make absolutely clear is that I don't think that people shouldn't burn The Koran because people might get offended. A person has every right to burn it. If people get offended - too damned bad. This is a free society. I also don't think that our actions should be dictated by what would and would not offend the Muslim extremists in other parts of the world. If we let them do that, then they're controlling us, and therefore "winning".

It should be made absolutely clear that in this country, we have the freedom to destroy the holy books of others. However, wouldn't it be nice if we all could find more intelligent ways to critique things?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Comics Roundup for 9/8/10

I thought I'd start off today's comics roundup by reminding everybody (myself included) what the point of it all is. I don't aspire to have a formal "comics review" blog, so if that's what you're looking for, you'll be disappointed. For the most part, I write this for myself. Why do I do it? Because I sometimes find that I'll buy certain titles out of habit more than the fact that I'm enjoying them. I've found that by doing this particular exercise, where I have to write a little something about every comic I get, I've been able to focus more on getting the stuff that I'm really anxious to read rather than the stuff that completes a collection. With that said:

The Amazing Spider-Man
#641 -
Now we know everything that happened in between "One More Day" and "Brand New Day". From where I sit, it all makes as much sense as a story that undoes past stories possibly can. A lot of people really bagged on "One More Day", but I kind of liked it, mainly for the reason that it was the first time in quite a while that I cared about Peter and Mary Jane's relationship. With this particular story, I feel that way again, and we can see that she'll continue to be an important part of his life. Also, their break-up makes some sense, and it would probably have been harder for them to get divorced under the same situation. One thing's for sure, if they ever plan on undoing the undoing of the Spider-marriage, it's not going to be any time soon.

The Amazing Spider-Man #642 - I picked this up in spite of the fact that Paul Azaceta's artwork. I've said it before, and I'll say it again - while he is a good artist, and actually an above-average storyteller, he isn't quite the right fit for Spider-Man. Still, this issue seemed a bit better than what he's done before, and there weren't any shots of Spider-Man that made him look like he was having a hernia. What's better, the story by Mark Waid is really fun, and we get Peter Parker at his Peter Parkeriest, what with his roommate selling all of his clothes off so he can make the rent, leaving him with just an ugly sweater that he has to wear while going on a date on a hot day.

Green Lantern #57 - One thing's clear with this issue and it's that there are many story possibilities left over now that there are several different Lantern corps throughout the universe. Also, there's a lot left to tell now that it's established that each corps has its own entity. This one deal's with "the predator" of the Star Sapphires, and it gets to the issue of why the Star Sapphires would seem so screwy even though they're supposed to represent what's thought of as a more positive emotion - namely, love.

Hellboy: The Storm #3 (of 3) - This wasn't so much a complete story as a prelude to what's promising to be a larger epic tale. Still, there's a bit of a character arc for the titular character, as Hellboy continues to do things his own way. Recently, he discovered that his destiny of being the harbinger of the end of the world wasn't so clear-cut. There was another option. Still, not liking the idea of being manipulated, HB is going for a third option - an option that he hasn't completely figured out yet. Anyway, I think that I say it pretty much every time, but this continues to be a must-read series of miniseries. To think that I've been sticking with this character for fifteen years, and the best stuff is the most recent. I can't wait to see what's next.

The New Avengers #4 - I sure hope that other people think that Stuart Immonen is hands-down one of the best artists currently working on superhero comics today. Every page is fantastic, and he only seems to be getting better and better. Of course, the stories are pretty engaging as well. As I've mentioned before, this was the Avengers book that I was the most skeptical of, but it's quickly becoming one of my favorites.

Batman and Robin #14 - I'm glad that I recently reread every issue of this series, as I actually had some sense of what was going on. Grant Morrison shows us why The Joker will always be Batman's greatest villain, and it's interesting to see how this whole thing is becoming more about him versus Black Hand than the Dick Grayson Batman versus Black Hand. I must also point out that I really dig Frazer Irving's artwork, and I even had a strange dream last night that seemed to mimic his artistic style.

Astro City Special: Silver Agent #2 (of 2) - I think that I need to read this and the first issue back-to-back, as I didn't really remember what had happened in the previous one. That said, I still enjoyed it well enough, and it's good to see that this story was finally told. It certainly was an ambitious little tale, and the character is definitely more than a Captain America-type as I would have figured.

Wolverine #1 - I actually got this one for free, as I took my son, Logan, on his first trip to Flying Colors Comics. The owner, Joe Field, gave this to him, but I asked Logan if it was okay if I borrowed it to read, and he seemed cool with it. Anyway, I liked it enough that I'll probably pick up the next issue. I was especially pleased to see Renato Guedes handling the artwork, as I really enjoyed his work on Superman. Personally, I'm a bit confused by all of the different Wolverine comics that are out right now, and I don't know why the adjectiveless title has been rebooted. Whatever, it was a fun read.