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

7 lbs. liquid light malt extract

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.)

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

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.