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


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.