Thursday, December 27, 2007

It's been longer than i planned since my last post. I'll blame it on the holidays. I'm planning a long weekend coming up, so hopefully i'll get some sort of reviews up here soon. Until then, here's a few things i've read, watched, or listened to lately.

Vampire Loves by Joann Sfar - This is about the romantic misadventures of a rather nice vampire. He bites with one fang so as not to leave too ugly a mark (and doesn't kill). His ex-girlfriend (a mandrake) blames him for finding out that she was cheating on him. His friend (a tree man) falls for his ex-girlfriend. A crazy vampire girl gloms onto him, but he develops a crush on a mortal girl. Sfar's art really drew me in. It looks like it's all done in pen (before colors), which was how Charles Schultz did it. All the characters are likable, even the ones who do stuff you don't approve of. The colors, while all rather dark (it is about a vampire, after all) are rich. They match and enhance the line art. I'd like to read more of this, and more of Sfar's work in general. You can read an excerpt at the publisher's site.

Escapo, by Paul Pope - This was reviewed on newsarama recently, and that reminded me that i'd had this on my shelf for a long time but hadn't read it. So i read it (but not the review, yet). I love Paul Pope's work. Ever since i found THB at that cool little shop in Springdale (they had CDs, too, and that's where i bought A Love Supreme...which i think i'll listen to now) i've sought it out. This story is set on the same future Mars as the THB comic, although the characters are all different. It's subtitled "a reverse tragedy", and it's refreshing how that aspect plays out in the end. It's in that large "album" format, which compliments Pope's open, expressive style.

An interesting technical thing i noticed, because i read Escapo and Vampire Loves on the same day, is difference in their use of panels. Vampire Loves is 99% six-panel grids throughout. That made it less attractive when i flipped through it in the shop, but when reading it, it worked to convey the downbeat humor and the mundane-yet-strange aspects of the story. Escapo, on the other hand, rarely has more than two panels per page, and the pages are a lot bigger, too. Despite most of Escapo's panels being the same size, you still get the feeling of time passing at different rates. You "get" it automatically (or subconsciously, i suppose), but i had to stop and think about how it worked. I think it happens because of the amount of detail and "movement" in a panel. A panel showing a solitary object, with no indication of movement indicates a slow, contemplative moment. Another panel the same size with lots of characters, and movement, equals a faster scene.

The Call of Cthulhu film also got me thinking of technical storytelling stuff. It's an adaptation of the short story by H.P. Lovecraft. It's done in the style of a 1920s silent movie. Why? Well, a metafictional reason is that Lovecraft wrote in the 1920s. A practical reason is that limiting the production to those tropes removes some of the problems in adapting the story to the screen. Were a modern, big budget film to be made of this story, there'd be questions of how realistic the CGI monster was, or did the actors overplay their growing madness, etc. Placing it in this context, however, you accept that the monster is stop-animated, that the sets of the mysterious island are abstract, and that the actors' madness can be portrayed in a purposefully "stagey" manner.

Not only does it dodge some of those "how *right* is it" problems, i think it also opens the door for some just plain cool creative decisions. When we see the cyclopean ruins of Ryleh, it looks as if the actors are walking through some enormous, three-dimensional cubist panting. It's all strange angles and odd blocky shapes. It throws you off kilter, which is just the effect you want for this story. There's a neat bit of trick photography at one point, too. Some of the props, especially the statues, are very cool looking, and again, because the whole silent film approach is more abstract in itself, it seems the designer(s) had more freedom to be creative with them. Kudos for making the ones that were supposed to be from different eras and cultures actually look different, too. Ah, and the stop-motion animated Cthulhu is really creepy. I suspect that a full-blown CGI version wouldn't be as bizarre or frightening.

Here's the trailer on YouTube:

I finished Gregory Benford's The Sunborn, which was a big concept rollercoaster. It is in the sci-fi school of Idea over Characters, but the ideas were exciting and big, so i was happy. It's not that the characters are poorly drawn, but the story could have happened to other people, and would have played out pretty much the same. It's all about finding life on other planets in our solar system, and how they get stranger and wilder and bigger as you go further out. I dug it.

We went to see American Aquarium at the Garage again, and they put on a great show. They were lit like mad, but still highly entertaining. I hope the fiddle player is with them next time, though. It really adds to some of the songs. After they played i bought the CD, which is the first one i've bought in a long time, and have been listening to it in the car for several days. The crowd was larger than last time, but cool. That's definitely my favorite music venue around here. They book good bands, the atmosphere is great, and it's just loud enough.

New comics have been slow lately, and i spent a bit too much when the local shop had a good sale before Christmas. So i haven't been to pick up new books, and probably won't for another week yet.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Engineer #1

By Brian Churilla (writer & penciller) and Jeremy Shepherd (writer & colorist), and Sean Glumace (letters)
Published by Archaia Studio Press

Hannibal Tabu, who writes “The Buy Pile” for, gave this comic a “WTF award”. I agree with him, except that i liked it, and he didn't (apparently). There is a lot of crazy stuff going on here.

There is a definite “cosmic” element. The hero, as i mentioned in an earlier post, travels between dimensions/worlds searching for parts of a mystical device. Is it mystical? It looks mechanical. It bestows godlike powers upon whoever wields it. You decide.

Actually, now's a decent time to wander into a discussion of what makes a comic cosmic. Does this subgenre even exist outside of comics? IDK. You know when you watch a documentary about the universe, about how stars are born and die, or the age of the cosmos, or how the best scientific minds can't find a huge chunk of the matter in the universe, or anything about quantum mechanics or string theory, and it starts tripping breakers in your brain that are usually tripped by mythology or ghost stories? That's the area that “cosmic” adventure comics inhabit, with superheroes and spacegods thrown in, natch.

Pages one and two set up the “big concept” backstory for the series. Page three drops us into the middle of the Engineer's latest mission. He's running from a huge, stoney spider-ish monster that wants to crush him. He's also running from the antler-crowned humanoids who worship the big stone spidery thing.

The three sisters appear. These are the mysterious beings who set the Engineer on his quest. They look...kinda like dolphins in long, ghosty cloaks? As all strange mystical beings should, they speak cryptically and never give the kind of help you ask for. They do (kinda) tell him that the piece of the konstrukt he's looking for in this world is inside the giant monster that's trying to crush him.

Once that is resolved*, the sisters do something very extreme to, in their minds, deal with the monster. The Engineer is very upset about this. This is not simply a good-guy-quests-against-evil kind of story. The hero's benefactors, while they are trying to save the universe from a force that would destroy it, are alien and uncaring when it comes to individual people or worlds within said universe. So the Engineer has to struggle with not just his enemies, but his allies as well.

The bizarre concepts don't stop. In that way, this comic is akin to Atomic Robo, but the tone is different. The Engineer is decidedly more melancholy, but that imaginative spark, the reckless creativity, is there. I've criticized a lot of comics for being too self-conscious: whether that meant being “cool” or “adult” or “edgy”. These comics blissfully avoid that. That makes me happy.**

I love that music is what powers the transport from world to world. The music/math or music/science connection is one of those phenomena that, while completely logical, always strike me as not quite right. Yes, i understand how math and music relate, but the experience of each is so disparate. (Especially considering that i love music, but am barely on speaking terms with math.)

The art has touches of Kirby and touches of Mignola, as you'd expect given the tone and cosmic-ness.

It's good. Look for it. Bug your comic shop if the didn't order it, because i think they can still get it. I've added it to my subscription list.

*I'm trying to find a synopsis/spoiler balance here; forgive me if it's awkward.

**This is an attitude i bring to all media, i think. Nothing kills a story, a song, or a film quicker than if i think the creators are trying only to look cool, or, even worse, trying to avoid looking uncool.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Comics Which I Got on December 12th, 2007 AD

The Engineer #1
Wow...very cool, and very bizarre! There are tons of big ideas mashed into this comic. This is one of the things i love about comics: creators can let their imaginations go wild, and the medium allows it to work. The Engineer has been tasked with recovering the pieces of the Konstrukt, which have been scattered across myriad dimensions. This is the only hope of defeating a malevolent being that is destined to destroy all worlds. That sounds kind of heavy, right? Well parts of the story are heavy, but also wildly inventive, and filled with great action/adventure elements. The imagination and excitement make it fun. I dig the character designs. The "three muses" characters do not look like what i expected. They are strange in a cool way. obviously i liked this one. Recommended!

Green Lantern Corps #19

Clearly the epilogue to "Sinestro Corps War", this issue is filled with strong character moments, as various Lanterns assess where they are after the huge war, and where they're going next. My favorite was the scene of Isamot Kol exulting in the simple joy of being alive. Writer Peter Tomasi knows his craft: he gives us satisfying vignettes of individual characters in single pages. I really thought there were more pages per sequence until i looked at it a second time, paying more attention to structure. I love these characters. No, i haven't read all the other parts of "The Sinestro Corps War". I'm a weird crank. :)

Fables #68
This story really feels epic and fable-ish. It's amazing how Willingham manages to make me believe that a character like Flycatcher can rise to these heights from the lows we'd seen him in for 60-plus issues. Part of it is that Fly hasn't become some kind of badass, he's simply found his particular strength, and gained belief in himself. His accomplishments are very positive, too. He builds a new place for people to flourish. That is awesome. We know there's tragedy coming, but i suspect that there will be long-term, positive gains, rather than that cheap "oh ain't it sad" type of "tragedy".

This was an awesome week for comics!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Dynamo 5 #9

Jay Faerber (writer), Mahmud Asrar (pencils & inks), Ron Riley (colors), Charles Pritchett (letters)
Published by Image Comics

What's It About? There was this alpha-type hero called Captain Dynamo. He had pretty much Martian Manhunter's power set: telepathy, flight, super strength and endurance, eye beams, and shape-changing. Captain Dynamo was married to Maddie Warner, an agent of government force that dealt with superhumans. Captain Dynamo slept around. A lot. After he died, Maddie found five of his offspring, exposed them to the same radiation that gave Captain Dynamo his powers, and voile: each sibling manifested one of the five powers. Thus was the superteam Dynamo 5 born.

Scatterbrain, the high-school football player, inherited the power of telepathy.
Slingshot, the high achiever, can fly.
Scrap, the dour gothy one, got super strength and toughness.
Visionary, the smart, shy guy gained the eye-beam powers.
Myriad, the playa, can mimic anyone.

In this issue, Scatterbrain is in a coma, due to straining his telepathic powers to the max in a recent battle. In order to maintain his cover, Myriad pretends to be him at home. Scrap and Slingshot investigate a pair of supervillains who have skulked into town.

Scatterbrain believes he's awoken from his coma, but it turns out that he's actually in something akin to astral from: he can perceive the waking world, but can't interact with it. He “travels” to his high school, where he discovers that Myriad's, ah, girl-crazy tendencies are going to make his life more complicated if he ever wakes up.

Then, one of the two new villains (the one with mental powers, called Brains) appears and attacks him! The telepathic smackdown is on!

Meanwhile, Scrap and Slingshot find the other villain, Brawn, who's laying low at a motel. When he apparently kidnaps a pizza delivery girl, they decide to ignore Maggie's orders and engage in battle.

Two concurrent battles ensue, one on a mental plane between Scatterbrain and Brains, another in the motel parking lot between Scrap, Slingshot and Brawn. Scatterbrain learns that his mental powers are much stronger than anyone expected. He defeats Brains, and when he does, they both wake up. Brains had been in the motel room, also comatose. She realizes that 1) the Dynamo 5 kids are tougher than expected, and that 2) their cover is blown, and more authorities are on the way. So Brains and Brawn skedaddle.

Back at D5 HQ, everyone is happy that Scatterbrain has recovered. The mood quickly changes when Myriad walks in and Scatterbrain clocks him for complicating his life back home! The issue ends with a meeting of Brains & Brawn and a couple of other previously vanquished villain: a villainous team in the making.

I hope i haven't done this issue an injustice. I'm tired tonight, but i wanted to get out another post before i turn in. I left out a whole subplot about Visionary's mom finding out that he's a superhero. I think she's gonna sue Maggie.

Here's what i like about Dynamo 5. The characters are likable and are being gradually fleshed out, while their roles in the team remain very clear. The art is strong. Each character is distinctive, and the costume designs are classic superhero stuff. The interpersonal dynamics are fun. The continuing revelation of the ramifications of Captain Dynamo's indiscretions is cool. There are plenty of questions about Maggie's history and motivations, too. I don't know how else to say it except that it's a fun, interesting superhero book with all the elements that make superheroes fun, without a lot of the complications we find in comics from the Big Two.

Good night. :) Comment!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Buffy the Vampire Slayer #9

"No Future For You" part four
By Brian K. Vaughan (writer), Georges Jeanty (pencils), Andy Owens (inks), Dave Stewart (colors), Richard Starkings (letters), and Joss Whedon (executive producer). Published by Dark Horse Comics.

Here concludes the arc concerned primarily with our favorite troubled slayer, Faith.

Her cover blown in the previous issue, Faith now confronts Genevieve, the rogue slayer whom Giles tasked her to kill.

Before we get to the action, however, we have a flashback, narrated by Faith, that helps to set up this issue's theme of mentorship and growth. The gist of this flashback is the conflicted feelings Faith has for her former mentor/father figure, the Mayor.* She felt loved by the Mayor, despite his evil nature.

This past relationship mirrors the current relationship between Genevieve and her mentor, Roden, a warlock who's a sort of anti-watcher. Roden has filled Genevieve's head with the notion that the slayer powers are her exclusive birthright, and that it is her destiny to slay all the pretenders.

Faith and Genevieve have this much in common, that mentors who supposedly care for them have led them down very bad paths.

While the slayers battle, Giles, with the help of a diminutive fellow named Trafalgar, tries to break the mystical barrier that Roden has erected around Genevieve's estate. They can't do it.

The fight continues. Faith wins, albeit more decisively than she intended. At this point Roden appears, and he's not upset at the loss of his charge. Instead, he asks Faith to take her place and help him get rid of Buffy.

Now, here Faith has brief reaction that implies she'd like to get rid of Buffy. Roden plays on this in his evil-villain-tempts-with-promises-of-power speech. Admittedly i haven't given the final television season of BtVS as much attention as the rest**, but i seem to remember that Faith and Buffy at least made peace with one another. It's been implied earlier in this arc that Faith would still like to kill Buffy, but that doesn't scan. It's a retrofit in her characterization. That said, it isn't dwelt upon, and the character moves past it, so it's not something that really mars the story.

Herein we get a tantalizing bit about the overarching threat for this season. Roden presents Faith with a big black book emblazoned with the "twilight" symbol that's been strewn about since issue one. He calls it "the guidebook" and claims it will show them how to get rid of Buffy. More, he says that, in exchange for helping his superiors achieve this goal, he will be granted "clemency from the coming purge."

Faith cracks the book across Roden's face. Roden starts in with the violent hoodoo. Just when it looks like he's got Faith on the ropes, Giles enters and stabs Roden. He's not down, however. Faith hurls the twilight guidebook to Giles. Somehow, Giles flips immediately to a page with a useful spell. He didn't have to check the index or anything! I won't tell you what happens, except to say that the Ripper aspect of Giles comes to the fore, and Roden is done for.

I need to backtrack a bit here. How did Giles get through the mystical barrier? Willow did it. Also, Buffy is really pissy about the fact that Giles is working with "her" without even telling her. Again, when did Faith and Buffy start hating each other again? Of course Buffy's reaction is over the top. When she storms off, Xander says that maybe she just needs some alone time, to which Buffy responds "what other kind is there?" Yes, Buffy, nobody loves you. Your friends risk their lives for you over and over, they always forgive you when you do something really stupid, and hundreds of slayers idolize you. You're SO ALONE. Why don't you go cry about it to one of the TWO vampires who worship you. And, apparently in all the years she's spent with Giles she hasn't learned to trust him. Even though this part bothers me, it's still very true to the show. This is just one of those moments when i really don't like Buffy.

Epilogue one: Faith and Giles decide to continue to work together. At first it sounds like Faith wants to focus on helping new Slayers who are headed down the wrong path. But then it sounds like she and Giles will also be doing more "black ops" that are too dirty for Buffy and the other Scoobies. It would seem that either goal could be very time-consuming, but hey, this is a world with talking slugs, so it would be silly of me to get nitpicky about time management. The important thing is that these two characters go together very well. More importantly, Faith now has a good mentor at last.

Epilogue two: Tease the season-plot! A woman in military garb exits a helicopter and requests an audience with someone who's floating. She displays the "twilight" symbol on her palm. Here we see the Big Bad directly for the first time. His name is Twilight. His face is covered with a mask, and he has that symbol on his chest. Here's the cool stuff that has got me speculating, trying to figure out where this season is going***. Twilight says that he's trying to end the "age of magic." He doesn't regret losing Genevieve and Roden, because that's two magical elements removed from the world. Since he floats, or flys, it would seem that he uses magic, but it could be advanced technology. Or...maybe he's a supervillain? It would make metafictional sense that the first comic book -based season of Buffy would have a bone fide supervillain as the big bad. He does have a mask and a symbol on his chest. Hrmm. Also, in the Fray comic from a few years back, the future was shown to have been free of most if not all magical elements. Could Twilight be successful in his quest? We should learn more about all this quite soon, since Faith and Giles now have a copy of the "guidebook".

Verdict: Thumbs up!

*Best villain in the history of BtVS, bar none.

**I watched S7 once only, S6 twice (plus a couple more times for the musical episodes), S1-5 i've watched many, many times.

***Which really takes me back to the heyday of the tv show. It's awesome! B5 was that way, too. I just realized that the HBO shows i like are also like that, but since i watch them on DVD, the answers come quicker.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Random Comics Thought

I wonder if it would be possible to put together a typical shipping list for a week's comics in say, 1945, '55, 65, etc? I'm thinking that those records are long gone, since in the past there were multiple streams of distribution, and far less practice of market research. It would be interesting to see what variety of comics were being produced in various decades. Although with the Golden Age it might be hard to tell from just titles, since there were so many generic titles like Whiz, New, More Fun, etc.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Quick Reviews for Comics Released December 5th

Buffy the Vampire Slayer #9
"No Future for You" Part 4. This concludes the Faith-centric arc. It lays the groundwork for future roles for both Faith and Giles. There is a Final Confrontation with Genevieve and her anti-Watcher. The characterization of Faith feels like they ignored some of her development in the latter seasons, but they also move her forward, so it's a net gain. There's a bit of Ripper in Giles in this ish, and we see that he can find just the right page in a book faster than the Flash. The best villain in the show's history makes an appearance, and get a look at this season's Big Bad. Overall, quite cool, and a satisfying conclusion to this arc.

Resurrection #1
The premise: A roughly contemporary Earth was at war with advanced aliens for years until shortly before page one. This story is about the world after the invaders are driven away. I like where it's going. I like the lead character of Sara. It's cool that it's set in my neck of the woods. Some of the language is distracting. Some of the art choices are off-putting, in particular several scenes where eyes are shaded completely black. The storytelling aspect of the art is good, though. A good start.

Justice Society of America #11
The art is really strong. Lots of informative detail, good "acting". I didn't like the designs on the Japanese characters, though. What's the real point of this "Kingdom Come" Superman, though? It's probably just setup for Final Crisis, and that irks me. I want to read a story about the JSA, not an advertisement for some series coming out next year. There's also a moment where Starman breaks the fourth wall, and a comment from Citizen Steel that comes off very meta. That stuff bugs me too. It works in comedy, but... I'm cranky b/c there wasn't much JSA in this JSA comic. It does introduce a new Judomaster, who will apparently be part of a group of new JSA members next issue.

Dynamo 5 #9
Cool. We've got developments in Scatterbrain's and Visionary's personal lives, and Scatterbrain learns some neat new tricks with his powers. There are references to Faeber's other Image series, "Nobel Causes", in a way that builds the world but doesn't confuse or complicate the continuity. We a pair of fairly nifty villains, and end on a nice teaser. I look forward to this one. Like Blue Beetle and The Spirit, it's the kind of superhero book that i enjoy.

The Sword #3
Events take some big steps forward, forcing the story into its next phase. End of Act 1, in other words. I'm still intrigued by what's going on, but some choices don't work for me, and the visuals don't convey the tone that the words imply.

Atomic Robo #3
Very entertaining. The ending is abrupt, but the ride is a doosey. The action is brisk, the dialog is enjoyably snarky, and the wildly imaginative ideas are incessant. I really like this. We'll definitely need more after this initial six-issue run concludes. Recommended!

Fuller reviews forthcoming...

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

People who searched for the following terms were directed to this blog. Usually when people post these kinds of things, there's a lot of pervy stuff being searched for. Not so here. Am i doing something wrong? ;)

sallust rome blogger
built to spill keep it like a secret blogspot
bryan lee o'malley
allan handleman's theme song
stephen stills blogspot
hbo justin the preacher
kim pine hot
girlfriend matthew sweet
sex bob-omb
scott pilgrim
what happened to dara demi
sword #2 review luna brothers
scott pilgrim 4

Who is Dara Demi???

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Cities of the Underworld

I've been watching this show via Netflix. So far i've seen the first two discs. AFAIK there is only one season on DVD.

My favorite episode so far has been the first one, which was about Edinburgh in Scotland. Some of the large underground spaces there came about when older neighborhoods were built over in an effort to expand the city's usable space. The spaces were then used by all sorts of criminals, some of whom shouldn't have been considered so, like the bootleggers. I always enjoy stories of people flummoxing unjust legal institutions.

The episode about Paris' "catacombs" (they're not primarily burial places, as that term implies) was good, too. I hadn't known that the Romans mined there, or how they did it. The open, trench-style mines wound wherever the veins of ore took them, and these mines became the "catacombs" as the city grew over them. (In its ancient Roman aspect, this links to Gallic War, which is a nice bit of personal cross-media synchronicity.) Now large swaths of it are used as a canvas by more adventurous artists, and there's a subculture of urban spelunkers who explore it all.

The weak points: It feels like it's written with the assumption that people will be tuning in and out over the course of an episode. After each commercial break, lots of information is repeated. I reckon that's not bad, it's just something that becomes more obvious, and less useful, on DVD. Considering how long commercial breaks often are on cable, i can understand why the producers include these recaps.
Also, the banter of the host can get repetitive. You could make a bender-inducing drinking game out of this show. Taking a drink everytime the host said something like "We're 60 feet under the streets of Blahblahville, and the pedestrians above don't even know what's under their feet!" would get you schplitz pretty quick. And sometimes it's obvious that a fair number of people do know it's there, as evidenced by the presence of graffiti or electric lights.

Still, it's a cool show. I dig underground stuff: movies like The Descent, ERB's Pelucidar, Hollow Earth paranormalia, etc.

Giant Killer Mantises

The cool thing about being a gigantic, kaiju-style preying mantis (colossal monstrous praying mantis, 400d8, chaotic template, increase INT to 30) is that you get to destroy major cities and instill fear in the hearts of humans everywhere. The bad thing is that your giantkillerbride will bite your head off after intercourse. C'est la vie.
Petty Pop Music Aside
On the way home yesterday i heard a radio story about the band Fallout Boy, specifically about how they play with perceptions of sexuality. They acted like it was a big deal that the lead singer/bass player (that's a cool/unusual combination*) wears mascara. Okay, fine, but, as i shouted at the radio in unhinged fashion: "Robert Smith beat you to it by 20-odd years!" Sheesh. Do some research, lazy radio story producer.

*Other bands fronted by bass players: The Police, The Call. Bands with hot bass players: Smashing Pumpkins, Zwan.
Cool Deviantart Gallery

While i was looking for pics from Wet Moon, i stumbled upon the gallery of somebody called girltripped. About them i know nothing, but i thought i'd share the link to their gallery b/c they post awesome pictures like these:

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Scott Pilgrim Volume 4
Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together
by Bryan Lee O'Malley
Oni Press, 205 pages, b&w (a few color pages at the front), $11.95 and worth every penny

The most anticipated comic of 2007 arrived in stores last week. I went to the comic shop straight after work and it was already sold out. There was a big empty spot on the shelf where it had been. Ah, but my copy was waiting for me in my pullbox! I'm not a boyscout, but occasionally i am prepared.

If you haven't read Scott Pilgrim before, here's the deal. Scott is a lovable slacker who just might be starting to get his act together. He dates the mysterious, oft-hairstyle-changing Ramona. He plays bass guitar in a sorta-good band called Sex Bob-omb. He rooms with (and sponges off of) Wallace. He lives in Toronto, Canada.* His world is full of band practice, not finding a job, hanging with friends, dating Ramona, and fighting Romona's seven evil ex-boyfriends.

Yeah, Scott has to defeat each of Romona's evil exes in video-gamish battles. Luckily, Scott is the best fighter in the province. When i say video-gamish, this is what i mean: there are power-ups, exp. points, and weapon proficiencies.

Scott and Wallace do that "laughing hysterically" gag from Peanuts

Also, Ramona delivers packages through subspace. And sometimes her path takes her through Scott's dreams. This is what, if you're being literary, you'd call the "magical realism" part of the series. Sometimes music is magical. One of my favorite parts from Volume 1 is a band who can render their audience unconscious with a particular song.

As with all great comics, the supporting cast is as interesting/likable as the hero. Here's a run-down of the folks in Scott's world, copied almost verbatim from the inside front cover of Vol.4.

Wallace Wells: (26 years old) the gay roommate; owns everything in the apartment
The apartment has no AC. Scott is too lazy to get up and get water.

Kim Pine: (23 years old) the smart one; has freckles; plays the drums in Sex Bob-omb; dated Scott in high school; dislikes lots of people, possibly everyone [Kim Pine is awesome.]

Knives Chau: (17 years old) the teenager; Chinese-Canadian; breifly dated scott [see Volume 1]; Sex Bob-omb's #1 fangirl
Knives Chau shouldn't be so chipper asking that question

Of course there are more, like Stephen Stills, who's the creative force of Sex Bob-omb, dates Julie, and rooms with Young Neil. I'd love to read stories about any and all of these characters. Once in a blue moon Mr. O'Malley will post a short strip on his webpage that focues on them.

This is why Kim moved from her old apartment.

Volume four opens a few months after the last one. It's summer. Scott and Ramona have been dating for about four months. Everybody keeps asking Scott if he's said the "L word" yet. Sex Bob-omb is not practicing or doing shows because they're recording (mostly Stephen Stills is recording). Scott is actually seriously looking for a job. Kim Pine moves into a different apartment. A mysterious guy with a samurai sword is trying to kill Scott. A girl from Scott's past comes to town to tempt him (she wears lots of short skirts and has flirty lashes). Of course one of Ramona's evil exes (number four, natch) shows up, but maybe to tempt Ramona, as well as fight Scott? Hmm? Maybe? Events are converging that will force Scott to get his shit together and -gasp- grow up a little.

Kim and Hollie chat while Stephen Stills carries a box on moving day.

There are some Zelda-themed dream sequences, too. But honestly i don't know a lot about Zelda, so i think those were lost on me.

Lisa, the girl from Scott's past.

I love this series. When i went to pick up my comics last week, i was in a really bad mood. Reading SPV4 completely changed it. It's that kind of book. It's really funny, it's quirky (in the good way), it's full of characters you automatically like, it has elements you'll recognize from your own life, and fantastic moments that are simply fun.

Bring on Volume Five!

*What province is Toronto in? Confession to Canadians: contrary to what some might have you believe, we Americans do love you, but we have no idea what your provinces are called. But don't feel too bad; we don't know where Delaware is, either. Is there still a Delaware?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Sword #2

I wonder how this series would read if the art were more expressive. The characters display emotion, but everything seems restrained. Maybe that adds to a feeling of the bizarre. Or, maybe it limits the emotional impact of the events.

If you're not familiar with the Luna Brothers' style of art, it's been described as pastel painting. To me, it looks like cells from an animated movie. I haven't read about what effect they're trying to achieve. The coloring ads a lot of lighting to the art, but the line work is kind of minimal. The lines are equally weighted, like in the "clear line" style, but there isn't as much detail. I find myself wanting more detail in faces.

The story (spoilers ahead): It picks up right where #1 ended. Three strangers had burst into Dara's house, insisting that her father was somebody named Demetrios, and demanding that he give them "the sword." Her father plead ignorance of all that, so the three strangers, displaying superpowers, killed the family and set the house on fire. The floor gave way under Dara and she fell into an unfinished basement or crawlspace. Since Dara was in a wheelchair, the killers assumed she'd be killed in the fire, and left. However, Dara spotted a shortsword (roman legionaire style) protruding from the dirt. She grabbed it, and her paralysis was instantly cured.

Dara climbs out of the basement. She places the sword in each of her family memebers' hands, hoping that it will restore them to life the way it restored her ability to walk. Though quick thinking, this doesn't work. Dara's shirt catches on fire and she runs to the pond behind the house to put it out.

When the fire department and police show up, Dara decides not to tell them about the sword, or the superpowers of the killers. She had tossed the sword into the pond just as they were arriving. I think her legs are still healed, but she pretends to be paralyzed. The police wonder how she got to and from the pond without her wheelchair, but they don't pursue it much. Dara stays with her friend Julie.

Cut to the three killers. They've seen the reports on TV and know that Dara survived. They figure out that she has the sword. They argue a bit about whether they should go after her themselves, but ultimately decided that the situation is too hot and the sword too dangerous. Apparently the sword is very powerful, but maybe only when wielded by someone of this bloodline? It's too early to tell. They decided to send mercenaries to kidnap Dara and force her to tell them where the sword is. This scene felt a bit long, as it was all dialog, but it showed that these villains are smart and actually think ahead, which is nice. Smart characters are good.

The guy they hire to kidnap Dara is a real sleazeball. He sells drugs for one of the three, and is also involved in prostitution. The second panel he appears in shows him snorting cocaine off a hooker's breast. I'm not sure what the authors were trying to establish with this sequence. Maybe they wanted to show us that this guy is very bad, and therefore scary? But he comes across as merely a sleazy loser, and while he clearly has no regard for other people, he doesn't seem at all competent.

At her family's funeral, Dara learns some interesting stuff about her dad. He was an English professor. Some of his students are at the funeral, and they mention how they loved the stories he told about some ancient warrior called Demetrios, who was four thousand years old. Maybe Dara's father really was the Demetrios that the three killers were looking for, but he had partially lost his memories? So, he didn't know who he really was (thinking he was just a normal person), but the memories of his immortal life were leaking out through fiction? Or, maybe he was just pretending not to know what the killers were talking about, and isn't really dead? That would make him a very despicable villain, since he let his family be murdered rather than give up the sword.

The issue closes with the mercenaries, armed with uzis and such, about to jump out of a van and kidnap Dara.

I'm less sold on this series after this issue than i was after the first. The visuals just don't convey the drama that the script implies. The sleazy villain is a big turn off, too. He's not even an entertaining villain, he's the kind you hope gets killed at the earliest opportunity just to get him out of the story. I'll pick up issue three, and decide whether to continue with the series based on how that one goes.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Final Crisis

This post was prompted by this thread on my LCS's message board.

At this point (and it's still early) i'm not interested in Final Crisis. It's a "boy who cried wolf" thing. Infinite Crisis was going to change things in a big way, and for the better, yet it didn't. OYL was going to set a new, better status quo, but it didn't. 52 was mostly good, but again, didn't set the new tone, or truly refresh/rejuvinate the DCU. I've been waiting for the new DCU for years now, and all i've gotten is this intentionally mishmashed thing that feels very temporary. So, even though Morrison is involved, i have to assume that Final Crisis will continue the well-established trend. I'll buy whatever individual series appeal to me, but convincing me to follow the "big story" at DC will be a hard sell.

Maybe it's a phase i'm going through, maybe it's more, idk, but i'm less and less concerned with long-term continuity. It's fine by me that Batman and Spiderman exist in timeless worlds where they never age and where elements of their histories just fade away after a while. As long as the core of their characters are consistent (i.e., personality, motivation, etc.) and short-term continuity is consistent, it doesn't bother me that, say, this month's fight between Batman and Ras Al Ghul doesn't jive with the fight they had in 1974.

Since Continuity (and other metatextual issues) is what all the "big stories" have been about lately, that makes them an even tougher sell.

What's more, i think that any comics that will have a wide appeal to a non-specialty market will not be concerned with long-term continuity.

Long-term continuity in comics is kind of like the alignment rules in D&D. It's useful in certain special situations, but most of the time can be ignored, and contributes more to arguments between hardcore afficianadoes than to enjoyable stories.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


Today on the way home from work i was listening to the Alan Handleman Show. Unless you live in central NC, you can't hear the show, AFAIK. He does have a syndicated shown on Sunday nights, but that's more music-oriented than his daily show on 101.1. His topic was a new move by record companies to make radio stations pay a significant fee for every song they play on the air. This could easily put a lot of smaller stations--or stations of any size with a narrow profit margin--out of the music business.

There's one very obvious problem here. Record companies have, for decades, greatly benefited from their product being played on the radio. How else would a mass audience hear it? The first tape (yes, tape) i ever bought with my own allowance/yard-mowin' money was "King of Rock" by Run DMC. I bought it because i'd heard a couple of the songs on the radio. Without 97 Jams wafting westward from Memphis, i never would have heard how the sucka MCs call them sire. Ditto with the Prince and Whodini cassettes that came later. (The Greatest American Hero and Hill Street Blues theme song single records were a different story, of course.) So why would record companies want to essentially run many of their advertisers out of business?

It's because they're scared. Being scared is not a bad thing if you respond to it well. Without fear we'd all get hurt a lot more often. But a poor reaction to fear can cause many more problems.

The way the music companies are responding to their decreased profits is anti-entrepreneurial, maybe anti-capitalist. What does a normal business do when sales are down? They have a sale. They repackage products. They add give-aways. They stay open extra hours. They do something to make their product more appealing or more valuable, so that people will choose to buy it. The record companies are not doing this. They aren't lowering prices on CDs. They aren't adding value to them--like, with more songs, or multimedia features. Instead, they're simply demanding more money from anybody and everybody they do business with. If a store in your town took that approach, how would you respond? That's how we're all going to continue to respond to the record industry.

I assume that they are lobbying Congress to pass laws that will force radio stations to pay these fees. That's even more disgusting. When they can't get people to willing pay prices higher than the market will bear, they lobby (i.e., pay off) the government to use its coercive power to force people to pay them. That's not entrepreneurship. That's not capitalism. That's mercantilism of the colonial and medieval eras, when kings would give the right of trade to whichever party paid the most for it.

There's a weird contrast here. Our current technology enables a vast variety of music to be produced and distributed on a large scale more cheaply than ever before. Yet the traditional channel by which people have heard music for the better part of the last hundred years, radio, has become less diverse than at any point in its history. While the technology brings more possiblities, the radio industry actively shuns them in favor of the narrowest, supposedly safest approach.

But, onto a positive possibility. Let's say this plan becomes reality. Lots of radio stations can no longer afford to play music from the record companies. Here's an awesome idea that a few different callers to Handleman's show suggested: the stations could play local and independent music instead. I would LOVE that. One of my longtime daydream-enterprizes is a radio station that plays just that kind of music, including live performances from local venues and festivals. There is a ton of great music out there that most peole never hear. IMO it would be hugely positive in all kinds of ways if this world of more diverse, more genuine music replaced the tiny, repetitious playlist of revolting garbage that oozes out with banal malevolence from most radio stations.

Here's a musical recommendation. I just listened to a CD by a group called Scythian, whom i heard at the Grassroots Festival at Shakori Hills a few weeks ago. Their music is a mixture of various traditions, from Celtic to Klezmer, with modern elements as well. All of them, i believe, are trained in either classical or jazz, as well. The drummer has definitely studied jazz drumming. They were my favorite band out of many that i heard at Grassroots Fest.

There are other Grassroots Festivals in other parts of the country. I don't know if it's some kind of touring enterprise, or if it's just a common name adopted by similar but independent fests. Anyway, if the others are anything like the one held at Shakori Hills, they are well worth attending. Go out and enjoy some live music!

One more music recommendation: American Aquarium, whom i heard at The Garage in Winston-Salem (a very cool venue, btw). They remind me a bit of the Wallflowers, but i like them more; they feel more focused and less miasmic. Here is their myspace page, which has a few songs.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Election, NaNoWriMo, Annihilation

Election, NaNoWriMo, Annihilation

We had a local election this past Tuesday. It was a small one for mayor and city council seats. The ballot didn't even fill a whole page. Everybody i voted for lost. Even in the race for the "At Large" council seat, where the top three vote-getters get a seat, i picked all three losers. I think it's kinda funny.

NaNoWriMo is going very slowly right now. The idea i had suddenly got very boring when i started putting it to paper. So now i either retool it extensively or start over with something else.

This week i started reading Annihilation V1, and so far i'm liking it. The first section is the Drax mini. The small-town Alaska setting is cool, but maybe that's b/c i have that sense of Romance for small towns, though i've never chosen to live in one. I don't think i would have liked this story as a monthly comic. It would have felt sparse, plot-wise. But collected, it's a satisfying little prelude/setup to Drax's involvement in the bigger story.

I knew nothing of Drax before reading this. There are a couple of flashbacks that show his old costume, which i recognized from comics i've seen but never read, so i vaguely know he was involved in some of the "cosmic" Avengers stories from the 70s. That's all fine though, b/c this story doesn't depend on any of that. What background you need to know is told here, and the rest is new.

Now i'm at the part where the Annihilation Wave enters the scene, and the action rachets way up. It will be interesting to see how the various minis collected here flow as a unit. Will the pacing be choppy, or balanced? How much will the tone vary? What effect will different creative teams have?

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Funny (Sick) Game

This game reminds me of those days back at G-HellCo when Matt would call my cube and say "Paul, you're skipping a meeting again." And i would say "What? There's a meeting? Since when?" And he'd say "We sent you three reminders." And i'd be all like "Are you sure? I don't think my Messenger program is working right. It's been acting weird all week. Besides, i' to have my kidney removed this i can't come to the meeting. The doctors said so. They said specifically 'no meetings.'" And then he'd remind me how many jobs had been outsourced to Argentina that week (usually at least 30, in a normal week), and i'd go to the meeting.

Play sick funny game

Thursday, November 01, 2007


I've taken the plunge and signed up for nanowrimo, aka National Novel Writing Month. That might mean a) i don't blog at all, b) i post novel segments here, or c) the nanowrimo writing inspires stuff for me to blog about.

It almost certainly means that i won't be planning any rpg sessions in November. There's not enough time for both, and i think they are different-similar enough that i can't do both effectively. For a while (and this helped me decide to do nanowrimo) i've felt that the kinds of worlds i want to create and the stories i want to tell are suited more for fiction than games. My interest in designing rpg elements has waned while my interest in fiction has increased.

Anyway, i'll at least post updates on my progress during the month here, and encouragement will be appreciated.

Big thanks to the hosts of Secret Identity, without whom i probably would've forgotten all about nanowrimo until February. (On the CGS forums i'm known as blockhead.)

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Damned
(volume one) Written by Cullen Bunn, Drawn by Brian Hurtt; published by Oni Press

When first i heard about this comic, i wasn't interested. It mixes supernatural horror with pulpy, 1930s crime fiction. These kinds of "cross genre" concepts usually don't work for me, b/c i find the whole "look at these genres crossing!" aspect too distracting. The story usually suffers as a result, too, b/c so much energy goes into mixing and meshing that there's not much room for anything else.

However, such is not the case with The Damned (subtitled "Three Days Dead"). Yes, elements from disparate genres are sewn together here, but the seams are invisible.

Our protagonist is Eddie, and he's dead. He gets better after a few pages. Some time ago, he was cursed with a weird sort of immortality. He can be killed, but when someone touches his corpse, their life-force is removed and Eddie's is restored. Eddie's wounds are transferred to the new victim--i.e., if Eddie had been bludgeoned to death, the lug who touched his corpse will suddenly have all the bludgeoning wounds.

The world is essentially the darker side of gangster pulp, with one important difference: demons walk the Earth, and they run the gangs. If you're a Buffy fan, you can imagine this might be what a town infested with demons could be like without any Slayers, Watchers or other White Hats. I don't remember it ever being stated, but it feels like this all takes place in (an alternate) Chicago. That's where gangster stories belong.

Anyway, the two gangs that run things had been talking peace. A negotiator was brought in to work the deal. The negotiator was nabbed by an unkown party. The boss of the Aligheri gang brings Eddie back (after being three days dead from a slit throat) to find out what happened to the negotiator before the Roarke gang finds out that he's missing. Now, of course there are snitches and duplicitous characters playing all sides against the middle, and these are lowlifes with which Eddie must consort to do his job. And there's a third gang, diminished in power yet still dangerous, called the Verlochin, who happen to be the gang who cursed Eddie.

One of the things i like about crime pulps is how several players, working toward their own ends, try to outsmart and outmanuver each other, with our protagonist struggling against all sides to get to the truth. That's here in The Damned, and it's done well.

This book ain't for the squeamish. There are plenty of grody images, from demi-demon corpses to "the Worm", a former human cursed into a particularly creepy monstrous form. There were scenes that made me cringe, but with horror, is that criticism or praise? Oh, and tons of violence, and no shortage of cuss words.

The very end was iffy for me (i think it's meant as a possible seed for another volume), but overall i enjoyed "Three Days Dead".

Click here for a free preview.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Incredible Change-Bots
by Jeffrey Brown

Did you ever like Transformers? Do you think, as cool as they were, they were kinda silly, too? Well, if so, you will probably dig "Incredible Change-Bots". It pokes all kinds of fun at the Robots In Disguise while never being truly dismissive. You've got villainous robots that can't hit the broad side of a barn, Big Rig always pausing battles to set up his trailer, robots making out, a Change-Bot who "incredible changes" into a bag of popcorn, and lots of other very funny things.

Note: I think it helps the humor if you read it out loud with the kind of earnest goofiness that the text implies. The lazer beams effects are written as "bew! bew! bdew!" which is the sound you made when playing with Transformers as a kid. Yes, you did. If only i could do a Soundwave voice...

The art is, like the subject matter, superficially child-like, but with some subtlety that you might not notice at first glance. It looks like the coloring is done with markers? I don't know my art tools well enough to say for sure. It's very vibrant and engaging, regardless how it's done.

The story: If you know the "origin story" of Transformers, this is pretty close. The mechanistic planet Electronocybercircuitron is ruled by a two-party system. Just like the USA, both of these parties are populated by self-absorbed jerks who care only about the accumulation of power, and society suffers as a result. They ruin their planet and rocket off to Earth. The battle continues here!

I laughed a whole lot while reading this comic. The characters are great, the action is crazy, and it all moves at a nice clip. I think i read the whole thing in a little over an hour, and have dipped into it a couple times since. It's one i'll definitely share with friends, and i recommend it to anyone who played with Transformers, or who just wants a good laugh.

Sunday, October 28, 2007


This weekend i read Incredible Change-Bots by Jeffrey Brown and The Damned by Cullen Bunn & Brian Hurtt. Both of these were very good comics. I hope to write up some reviews in a couple of days, but my sinuses are bothering me and that makes it harder to think. I also might post about the Grassroots Festival at Shakori Hills that i attended a couple weeks ago.

Quick reviews of new comics:

Metal Men #3: The time-travel elements and a lot of the science-y talk lost me last issue, but not so much this time. T.O. Morrow's rant on the first page about his Death Metal Men was great--over-the-top, mad scientist bravado that was well written and hilarious. I loved it. Duncan Rouleau is going to be a writer/artist i look out for from now on.

Knights of the Old Republic #21: A lot of transition stuff going on here. The cast seems to be getting re-focused, as some people step on stage and others step off. I think they'll have a good mix of main characters that will play well in the next arc. The cover is kinda old school, with dialog and panels set into the image; that feels very "comic book-y", which is cool.

Umbrella Academy: There's a huge "Royal Tennenbaums" vibe going on here, and that's fine by me. The odd superpowered siblings gather for their adoptive father's funeral. One sibling is offered an opportunity to betray the others. This series drops you into this very interesting and layered world, with lots of history and characters going in differing directions, so it feels like a book that been around a while, rather than one that's only on its second issue.

Blue Beetle #20: Read Ami's review. We learn a wee bit more about the Reach--as a worldbuilding buff i really want to know more about them, esp. since they are one of the few groups formidable enough to have a truce with the Guaridans of the Universe.

Green Lantern Corps #17: The "Sinestro War" epic is in "third act big battle" stage right now, so lots and lots of action in this one. It's all cool, but what intrigues me are the parts that will have repurcusions after this arc, like the new receipient of the Ion powers. All the characters get a decent amount of attention. Gibbons is good at handling large casts.

The Sword #1: A very good first issue. We learn who our protagonist is, a little of what she's about, we see her world fleshed out in a satisfying way, and then in the last few pages the supernatural element of the story calmly walks into her life and throws everything into chaos. This was well constructed, and drew me into the world and story very well. I really want to find out what's next, and that's what a good periodical story does.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

"Feel" vs. "Think"

Yesterday at lunch i habitually switched on the radio to check in on the news. As usual, there were no big stories that grabbed my attention. A caller to the Neal Boortz show did say something that i'd like to address, however. He said that liberals don't think, they feel. That's something you hear on more doctrinaire conservative shows like Rush's and Hannity's, as well.

What gets me thinking is that you can hear the same statement in reverse from liberal commentators. We don't get AirAmerica in my town, so i don't hear them. We do get Sean Combs' show, but i think he's just as much a hack as his hacky partner in hackdom, hack Hannity. So, i don't bother listening to either of them. (These days i listen to very little talk radio period, but that's another subject.) Where i have encountered it is on liberal podcasts, where i've heard it said that conservatives don't think, they feel.

What gives?

1. Both assertions are wrong. Both liberals and conservatives think. There are reams and reams of studies, commentaries, analyses, etc. filled with more or less rational arguments for and against all sides. A small number of these are even sincere. The assertion that one group or another doesn't employ their brains is easily refuted.

2. Both assertions are correct. Both conservatives and liberals (and libertarians, and anarchists, etc.) base a lot of their arguments in emotion.* More than a tactic, emotion is often the foundation of our political worldview. We often choose a side based on how we feel, then construct rational arguments to justify our feelings. Assessing things in a truly objective manner is extremely difficult. (Even objectivists have a hard time at it!) Because we're, you know, human beings with emotions, not incorporeal minds floating in an ether of pure rationality.

3. Any commentator who relies on this poor argument ain't to be trusted. It's just an excuse for dismissing the ideas of a broad category of humanity.

*Fear is the favorite emotion of those who wish to rule. With it they can make people afraid of terrorists, corporations, crime, illness, immigrants, racists, democrats, republicans, ad infinitum. And once they've got the people scared, they can get their money, their liberty, and their adoration.

Monday, October 15, 2007

American Dreamz

This flick stars Mandy More and Hugh Grant. It parodies a handful of current trends, namely President Bush, American Idol, and Middle Eastern Terrorism.

The tone is mixed, or maybe just moderated. Making humor from the subject of terrorism is an edgy idea, but this movie manages to do it in a light manner. Making fun of President Bush is one of those things we pretend is edgy, even though everybody does it. It's one of those modern myths we've all decided to go along with, like the idea that the generation before us was backward, naive and prudish, regardless of any evidence to the contrary.

Mandy More plays Kendoo (there are a lot of punny names). She comes from Padookie, Ohio. That's a rif on Paducah, Kentucky, I reckon. Maybe it's dumb, but I'm sensitive about people from the coasts making fun of rural America. Sure, it's supposed to be funny, but I always suspect they mean it. It's not like King of the Hill, which pokes fun at its South Texas characters, but genuinely likes them at the same time. King of the Hill is like when you give your friends a hard time, or tell embarassing stories about family members you love. Conversely, most movies that tap this vein of humor are like the hateful little shits who made fun of you in jr. high for wearing the wrong brand of jeans.

There's a lot of biting satire that could be made on the whole "war on terror", Iraq, freedom vs. security, Bush, and the all sociopolitical malarkey that's been overflowing the septic tank of American life since late in 2001. This movie doesn't make it. It scrapes out a few Bush-is-dumb and Cheney-is-an-evil-puppet-master gags, but it doesn't dive deep for the surprising stuff.

I'm being dismissive, but I enjoyed this movie. What I'm grousing about isn't that it's bad, but that it isn't a biting satire that points out things in our current public life that really piss me off and that I think deserve a good mocking. That, however, is not the movie's fault.

Moore's character has a tragic fate. (Her boyfriend dies, but he's just a plot device, and the Cheney analog is rejected, but he's not sympathetic.) She gets fame and fortune, but it's clear that she isn't happy, and she knows she never will be. Yes, she is fake, and so we might feel she is getting her just desserts, but we also know that she's aware of her fakeness, and that she uses it to ward against a painful world. We can blame her for that, i supose, but we can't get satisfactorily self righteous about it. That's a respectable accomplishment in storytelling.

Friday, October 05, 2007

I thought some more about the subject of my previous post. You know, racism as we know it can't really exist before say, the Colonial Era. (I'm making some broad strokes here, just humor me for a bit.) It wouldn't make any sense in the ancient world. (Obviously i'm talking relative "sense" here.) In a world where the people across the river or on the other side of the mountains are aliens and barbarians, there's no ground for the modern concept of race to grow.

For example, take the typical white vs. black racism. It only exists because various groups of paler-skinned people think of themselves as this one group, "white". Poles, Danes, Greeks, Welsh, they're all "white". Furthermore, they're all European, and further furthermore, they're all Christian. Only when you've got that whole continent full of relatively similar-looking people thinking of each other as part of the same team can they begin to think of other people--on other continents with a different religion and relatively different features/coloring--as part of a different team.

Until a sufficiently large group of people are linked by strong, common social structures, there is no race. A bunch of Celts, Romans, Slavs, Angles, Jutes, et al vying for control of Europe ain't a race. All those jokers loosely united (conceptually, at least) under a handful of common banners, well that there is a proper race. And when these guys find they need something to justify conquering and enslaving people in other lands, esp. when a lot of their better ideals go entirely against those practices, a sorta-kinda-scientific-sounding idea like race becomes all kinds of useful.

Of course Sallust didn't criticize the Berber race. What would be the point? Why would he think of them in that term to start with? They weren't any less Roman than all the other barbarians out there, and that's what counted. Hell, there were plenty of Italians who weren't Roman. Expecting people of that era to have an opinion about race would be like expecting them to have an opinion about NASCAR. You can speculate about it ("well, they liked chariot racing, so they'd probably like car racing, too") but you can't make any meaningful observations about it.
I wrote this to send in to a local news radio show. I didn't send it b/c they had moved on by the time i wrote it and i rarely get responses from these shows anyhow. In fact, i rarely get responses to this blog or to posts i make on forums, too. What gives? Anyway, what prompted this was a statement something like "there's always been racism and always will be." I also want to write something about another false "truism" i hear a lot in regards to the Middle East. It's the one that goes "these people have been killing each other for thousands of years." I don't think that's true.

I question the assumption that all societies have always been racist--at least to the extent that ours is or has been in the last few centuries.

If you read ancient books, there is remarkably little attention given to race in the modern sense. I recently read "The Jugurthine War" by Sallust. This is about a war between Rome and a Berber king in North Africa. It is told from the Roman point of view, by a Roman author. Romans and Berbers are distinctly different races. There were no negative statements about Berbers as a race, even though the author had ample incentive to cast them in a bad light.

Also, Roman citizenship was not limited by race. Anyone could become a Roman citizen by serving in the legions. People were not excluded from service because of skin color or place of origin.

The great prosyletizing religions don't seem to have put much stock in race, either. Christianity and Islam accepted Europeans, Arabs, Semites, North Africans, Subsaharan Africans, Persians, etc. Buddhism embraced all the varied races between India and Japan.

Race was of so little concern to ancient writers that we have a hard time pinning down the race of some ancient peoples. What did the average Egyptian look like in the days of the Pharoahs? Ask modern scholars and you'll get a myriad of answers, because modern man is obsessed with race, but his ancestors weren't, and so they didn't bother to record such details.

I'm not saying there wasn't prejudice in the past. Of course there was. The most common being that anyone from outside your own culture was a "barbarian", but this had to do with culture and language, not skin color or perceived genetic inferiority, as with racism.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Yet Another Meme

I plan to have some reviews up Saturday, but here's a meme that I stole and then altered a bit.

The "4 Things" Lists

4 jobs I've had in life:
1) bookseller at B&N
2) copywriter
3) software QA
4) tutor

4 places I've lived:
1) NE Arkansas
2) SW Arkansas
3) NW Arkansas
4) Piedmont North Carolina

4 favorite foods:
1) Thai
2) Mediteranean
3) Mexican
4) Pizza

4 places I'd rather be:
1) Hanging Rock
2) Outer Banks
3) Downtown Hot Springs, either on Art Hop night, or a summer Saturday Afternoon
4) Peppers Pizza, Franklin St.

4 movies I can watch over and over:
1) Anchorman
2) Rushmore
3) The Apartment
4) Paper Moon

4 t.v. shows I like to watch:
1) Deadwood
2) Newsradio
3) King of the Hill
4) 30 Rock

4 websites I view daily:
1) juno mail
2) newsarama
3) yahoo mail
4) blogs

4 computers I've owned:
1) Current offbrand PC
2) dell PC before that one, now running Linux
3) Packard Bell PC before *that* one, now in attic
4) a word processor, fate unknown

4 podcasts I listen to weekly
1) Secret Identity
2) Jordan Jesse Go!
3) History According To Bob
4) On Point

4 comic books I loved as a child
1) The Brave & The Bold
2) Micronauts
3) Fantastic Four (John Byrne years)
4) All-Star Squadron

4 comic books I love as an adult
1) Fables & Jack of Fables
2) Scott Pilgrim
3) Madman
4) Dynamo 5

4 good books I've read lately
1) The Rise of Silas Lapham, by William Dean Howells
2) The Road to Serfdom, by F.A. Hayek
3) The Jugurthine War, by Sallust
4) Borderland: A Journey Through the History of Ukraine, by Anna Reid

4 bands I've seen live
1) Matthew Sweet
2) Juliana Hatfield
3) Sonic Youth
4) Bob Dylan

4 favorite albums
1) Girlfriend, by Matthew Sweet
2) Leave Them All Behind, by Ride
3) Keep It Like A Secret, by Built To Spill
4) Goin' Up, by Freddie Hubbard

4 things to do around here
1) Tate Street Festival
2) Ren Fair
3) Blues Festival
4) Stellarcon

4 funny-sounding place names
1) Possum Grape, AR
2) Pickles Gap, AR
3) Toadsuck, AR
4) Climax, NC

4 'yo momma' jokes
1) what's the difference between yo momma and a washing machine? when i drop a load in the washing machine, it don't follow me around for a week
2) yo momma's so nasty, she'd give sour dough yeast infection
3) yo momma's teeth are so yellow, when she smiles, traffic slows down
4) yo momma's so fat, she plays hopscotch like this: new york, chicago, l.a. ...
#1 stolen from Tina Fey on 30 Rock, #2-4 stolen from In Living Color

4 funny things my mom used to say
1) hard headed henry harris - what you got called when you were stubborn
2) bossy the heifer - what you got called when you were bossy
3) you'd argue with a sign you painted yourself - my retort: if i painted it, it'd be right
4) ___ is slower than Christmas

4 Southern linguistic eccentricities
1) "if it'd been a snake it woulda bit ya" - said when you find something in an obvious place
2) snakedoctors - one of my granpa's name for dragonflies
3) "Lord willin' and the creek don't rise" - expressing assurance that something will happen or get done; self-conciously religious people will respond to this with "if the Lord's willin', it don't matter if the creek rises"
4) "gave him down the road" - yelled at someone over a slight, foul-up, etc. never been sure exactly where this one comes from

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

New Ten Characters Meme!

Ami memed me!

Here we go.

First, select your ten fictional characters (from any medium) by whichever method you like best. Then answer the questions below.

1. The Monkey King (American Born Chinese, traditional stories)
2. Bugs Bunny (Looney Toons)
3. John Carter (Edgar Rice Burroughs' Mars series)
4. Gimli (Lord of the Rings)
5. Rose Tyler (Dr. Who new series)
6. Inara (Firefly)
7. Spike Spiegel (Cowboy Bebop)
8. Willow (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
9. Gkar (Babylon Five)
10. Metamorpho (DC Comics)

1. Divide the list up by even and odd. Which group of five would make a better Five Man Band (like a Power Rangers team)? Who would you slot in each position: Leader, Lancer (second-in-command), Big Guy, Smart Guy, The Chick? If you think the team would be improved by swapping one character between the even and odd groups, which ones would you switch?

Team A, aka Team Charisma:
Gkar - Leader (this is the Gkar of season 5+, obviously)
Monkey King - Lancer (b/c he could inspire the others)
John Carter - Big Guy
Inara - the Chick
Spike Spiegle - Smart Guy (street smarts mostly)

Team B, aka Beauties and Beasts:
Metamorpho - Leader
Rose - Lancer
Willow - Smart Guy (think BtVS seasons 1-3)
Gimli - Big Guy
Bugs Bunny (cross-dressing version) - the Chick

Swap: Inara & Rose. Rose makes a better Lancer, and Inara a better Chick. (Not that Rose isn't very attractive, but she's far more practical than Inara.)

Inara on Team A makes them the most charismatic group in the universe! Season
5 Gkar: religious leader and diplomat; Monkey King: wild n' crazy guy; John Carter:
swashbuckling Virginan gentleman; Spike: dark, dangerous, mysterious; Inara: beautiful, sensual, cultured. They could charm most enemies into submission!

2. Gender-swap 2, 8 & 10. Which character would have the most change in their story arc? Which the least? Would any of these characters have to have a complete personality change to be believable as the opposite sex?

Bugs, Willow, Metamorpho. None of them would require a complete personality change. Wacky female characters are a lot less common than males like Bugs, but it could work. If Willow were a guy, I think her meek behavior in the earlier seasons would be looked down upon rather than seem endearing. And her sexuality "becoming" gay later on might play differently, too, since the stereotype is that lesbians are hot, and gay men not.

3. Compare the matchups of 1 & 8 and 5 & 9. (Ignore canon sexual preferences for the moment.) Which couple would be more compatible? Which couple would be more plausible to people from either principal's home culture?

Monkey King and Willow -

Rose and Gkar - If we're talking the earlier, jackass-y Gkar, no way. Rose would despise him. The older, wiser Gkar, maybe.

4. Your team is 3, 4 & 9. The mission consists of a social challenge, a mental challenge and a physical challenge. Which team member do you assign to each challenge?

Gimli gets the physical challenge (assuming it doesn't involve jumping or sprinting)
John Carter gets the mental challenge; he's a fighter for sure, but he's pretty crafty Gkar, of course, gets the social challenge. At any point in his development, his social skills were formidable.

5. 7 becomes 1's boss for a week in some plausible fashion. How's their working relationship?

Spike Spiegel as the Monkey King's boss? It's disasterous. The Monkey King is a mystical being of remarkable accomplishment, and Spike is a stubborn, strong-willed loner. The fight that ends it would be cool, though.

6. 2 finds him/her/itself inserted into 6's continuity. As far as anyone other than 2 or 6 is concerned, they've always been there. What role would 2 be presumed to have had in 6's story, and could they fit in without going wonky?

Bugs Bunny inserted into the Firefly universe? I'm laughing just thinking of it! Bugs would be either the wackiest member of Serenity's crew, or a recurring antagonist who made their life hilarious hell. His inclusion would violate the more realistic feel of Firefly, but boy would it be fun.

7. 3 and 5 get three wishes. The catch is that they have to agree on all three wishes before they get the benefits of any of them. What three wishes would they make?

John Carter and Rose. Hmm. Well, John would like for Mars to be restored, ecologically, and Rose would go along with that, b/c it would help a lot of people. Rose would want her mom to be safe and happy, and John would be for that. ... I don't know. Aside from Rose being put off by John's militaristic nature, they wouldn't disagree on each others' goals, but they don't share many.

8. 1 and 2 are brainwashed by a one-time artifact that works even on people immune to mind control to attack and kill 4. They keep their normal personality, skills and competence level, except any Code vs. Killing has been turned off. Can 4 survive? How?

Monkey King and Bugs against Gimli. Sorry, Gimli, I love you and you're a great dwarven warrior, but with those two after you, you're dead. The Monkey King has godlike powers, and Bugs is insidiously clever.

9. 6, 7, 9 & 10 must help an orphanage full of small and depressed children have a merry Christmas. Who does what, knowing that at the very least the kids will be expecting a visit from Santa?

Inara, Spike Spiegel, Gkar, and Metamorpho - Metamorpho would be Santa. He could use his chemical and shapeshifting powers to make himself look like Santa, as well as create some toys! Inara has compassion to spare, and can read people well enough to know how to care for each child. Gkar would have lots of stories, and I suspect he knows a few card tricks and silly things that would entertain the kids. Spike would be at a huge loss. Maybe he could show the kids some martial arts moves, which they would like.

10. 3 and 8 are challenged to circumnavigate the Earth in eighty days or less, using only forms of transportation invented before 1900. Can they do it, or will they be fatally distracted by sidequests or their own personality conflicts?

John Carter, Warlord of Mars, and Willow Rosenberg - No. Willow would get too impatient with the slowness of pre-1900 transportation. John Carter's sort of chivalric code of behavior might not meld so well with Willow's modern sensibilities, either. However...they are both strong-willed and rise to a challenge, so maybe they would be successful for that reason, despite the other drawbacks.

Okay, that was cool! At first glance, this meme seemed overly complicated, but it turned out to be fun!

Now, who do I tag? How about Joelle, Joel, and Acme?