Monday, December 29, 2008

Going Back to Raleigh... Raleigh, to Raleigh. Going back to Raleigh - I don't think so.

(my apologies to L.L. Cool J)

Actually, we did take a trip three hours across state to head back to Raleigh on Saturday of this past weekend. Part of our family Christmas gift was tickets to the Carolina Hurricanes hockey game. The other part was incentive for our son to get back into the groove of walking after six weeks from his knee surgery (he's out of the wheelchairs and now getting around just fine - no running yet, but the surgery seems to have done the trick).

We took off in the van on Saturday morning, had lunch at Kanki (our favorite Japanese restaurant - since the Japanese in Hickory stinks on ice) at the mall, then shopped around a bit (didn't buy a thing though). Then we drove up to Wake Forest to check out the old houses we lived in (mostly just a drive by for old times sake). Then before the game, we checked into the North Raleigh Hilton where we were staying for the night and got changed into our jerseys.

The game was a lot of fun. Carolina was wearing their new, black home jerseys though (more merchandising for the fans to purchase I guess). They were playing the Boston Bruins, who were very good and beat us 4 to 2. Still, for us, the game isn't about winning (though that would be nice). We so enjoy going to hockey games in person, so you can scream and get psyched and just have a blast. Much better than watching hockey on TV.

We got back to the hotel around 11pm and flipped on the TV. Found Star Trek: First Contact on so we watched the last hour. The Hilton has these fantastic, widescreen LCD TV's in all rooms - and most of the channels were in HD to boot. It was a nice way to unwind before bed.

Before driving back home on Sunday, we had to hit another favorite restaurant for brunch. This time it was the Twisted Fork where kids eat free on Sundays. So, we had a little savings. Good thing too as my son ate more than any of us at Japanese the day before. It's tough having a growing pre-teen. He slept on the way home, and my wife watched some Grey's Anatomy episodes on her iPod. Thus, I made great time driving home while listening to the First Wave channel on XM/Sirius.

It was a fun little trip and a great edition to the vacation time.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Comics of the Week (12/24/08)

Brave and the Bold #20 - part two of the Green Lantern/Phantom Stranger team-up, and I have to say this story is getting worse for me. I just can't get into it. Again, it seems David Hine had a great idea for a sci-fi tale but then shoe-horned it into a DC Universe story for this arc. For me, it just doesn't fit. The Phantom Stranger has been totally wasted so far, and GL Hal Jordan is totally off his game here. The story just doesn't click right. I'm seriously thinking of saving some money and skipping the rest of this arc.

Trinity #30 - this book is starting to suffer with the slowness of the second act. It really needs to get back into gear, and even the gathering of villains and heroes to represent the various tarot arcana isn't excting me enough. I know it appears to be building to something big, but this building is taking a long long time.

Rann-Thanagar Holy War #8 (of 8) - Starlin and Lim finish this mini series with a great big, beautifully rendered battle. No one does cosmic as well as Starlin. I really like how this book unfolded and am pleased to hear Starlin will continue to use some of the cast in Strange Adventures, another eight issue mini in 2009 that continues some of the extra plot threads.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

I Found My Calling...

With today being Christmas, my wife and I got our 13 year old son (our only child) the one thing he wanted for Christmas - Rock Band 2 for the XBox 360. Now, I've mentioned in the past how we all enjoy Guitar Hero games, so this seemed like a natural next step. It combines great rock music (past and present) with an interactive video game and it comes with a couple instruments (a guitar and drums).

So, what's my calling?

I'm the singer of our house band - Da Rockrrrzzz! (my son named the band)

Yup, finally knowing the lyrics to "Hungry Like the Wolf" and "Eye of the Tiger" can pay off. I can rock those tunes like a master.

Good thing too since I can drum worth a darn. I'm okay on the hand-eye coordination needed for guitar and the main drums, but my foot-eye coordination sucks big time and that kick drum note kills me every time! This why my wife couldn't teach me to drive a standard.

So, we'll be doing a lot of rocking out over the holidays - until I go back to work on the 1st of the year.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a "are you ready to rock?". :)

Friday, December 19, 2008

Comics of the Week (12/17/08)

Batman and the Outsiders #14 - nice cover but the interior art was by a different artist and totally turned me off. Yuck. They need to get Calafiore and McKenna full time on the interiors or I'm dropping this title soon.

Tangent: Superman's Reign #10 (of 12) - are we there yet? This mini seems to be dragging on and on and on. I think 12 issues was a mistake. It should have been eight, which would have forced the writing to be a bit more tighter and the story more solid. It just seems like a lot of standing around and talking.

Trinity #29 - interesting technique of merging the two features (front and back) in this issue, but again we're just kind of moving at a snail's pace. I know they have 52 issues to tell this epic, but I'd like a few more high points.

DC Universe Holiday Special - the 2008 holiday special is here. 70 pages of stories that would probably be okay by themselves if sprinkled across various books or as various back-up tales. Lumped all together, though, you sort of get burned out by them. They aren't special. They're just okay. I remember a lot of classic Christmas/holiday tales in comics growing up. I think they worked a lot back then because they were not all lumped together. Ah well.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Comics of the Week (12/10/08) part 2

Trinity #28 - okay, now we get this plot moving as the closest allies of the trinity in this alternate reality make a move to track them down. This shows why these six folks are so important to the three heroes - a nice spotlight.

Justice League of America #27 - worlds collide as the Milestone characters from the early 90's fold into the DCU proper. The JLA headquarters gets invaded by Icon, Hardware and the members of the Shadow Cabinet. And even if you're not familiar with who these folks are, Dwayne McDuffie helps bring you up to speed really quickly. This looks to be a fun, exciting arc.

Secret Six #4 - the discovery of Neron's "get out of Hell free" card sparks tension among the group, and it has every major baddie on their tale thanks to the weird and wild "Junior". Once again, Gail Simone writes a perfect villains book - from the dialogue to the characterization to the whole aspect of what it is like for these costumed criminals to exist in world out to get them. Lots of fun and one of the best new DC books from 2008. If you aren't reading it, you are missing out!

Booster Gold #15 - first, how can you not love that cover? Elongated Man tying up Booster and Skeets. Perfect! Inside, the time travel chaos continues and Booster and his sister get an ally in the Stretchable Sleuth. Can they solve the mystery before time falls apart? With Ralph Dibny on the scene, you know they will! Good to see him back in action, even if it is a Ralph from the past. This is one of my favorite new DC books from 2007 and it still remains a read I look forward to each and every month.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Comics of the Week (12/10/08) part 1

Action Comics #872 - I'm not thrilled that this title began a cross-title arc with other Superman books. I don't get those, so following the story just here is a little rough at times. Things are recapped in a way but not satisfactorily enough. I hear Johns will be leaving the writing of this book soon anyway, so maybe it is time to drop it and save some money each month.

Ambush Bug: Year None #5 (of 6) - a nice parody issue of the events of Countdown, at least those pertaining to the multiverse rebirth and visitation by various heroes. I love the painting of Dan Didio as a villain as mnay fanboys feel that way about him. All in all, this series has been pretty good. One more laugh filled installment to go next month.

Final Crisis #5 (of 7) - while I liked this issue slightly better than the previous few, I figured out my problem with Grant Morrison's story. I don't care what happens. We don't have the big heroes (the Trinity, Green Lantern, etc.) in major roles. Most got knocked out of the action early on. Sure, Barry Allen came back but what has he done since then? Nothing. Disappointing. And it would help the narrative a bit if things were a little more explained. Ah well.

Final Crisis: Revelations #4 (of 5) - unlike the main story, this spinoff side tale is very clear and takes the time to really delve into its cast. We don't need a huge cast to get the story of Cain/Vandal Savage and the Spectre, as well as that of Montoya. If the main Final Crisis were as focused as this mini is, I probably would be enjoying it more.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Early Christmas Present

This holiday season we haven't felt into it yet. We haven't decorated yet, we've barely bought gifts. Just the blahs. Then this week we got an early Christmas present.

No, not the new garage door motor that we had to replace (which burned out on Sunday).

We found out this week that my son's knee has healed since the surgery he had on it back in November.

See, back in August his knee was bothering him so we took him to the orthopedic. They did an MRI and xrays and determined that blood was not getting down to the cartiledge between the thigh bone and the knee bone. For eight week he had to wear a brace to keep it immobilized (i.e. no bending). Great way to start the new school year, eh?

After eight weeks, there was little impovement. So, next was knee surgery - an out patient thing where they drilled a few holes in the bone to allow blood to flow to the cartiledge. That meant no weight bearing while it healed. That meant five long weeks of being in a wheel chair (a motorized one at school so he could get around, and a manual one for home and short trips). Of course, we have no bedroom on the first floor so he had to do a lot of scooting up and down the steps like a little kid. I had to give up my van since that is the only car big enough to transport the motorized chair (which weighs hundreds of pounds and needed heavy metal ramps to be put together each time to get the chair in and out).

So, come Friday the motorized chair goes back. We now start the process of him learning to walk again, mostly trusting he can put the weight on the leg without fear of falling.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Comics of the Week (12/4/08)

Trinity #26 - halfway point of this year-long weekly run book, and we're pretty much spinning in a rut. Still on the alternate reality, still the villains trying to get their act together, still the heroes confused and still the trinity missing. Yawn.

Terror Titans #3 (of 6) - the creative team continues to deliver on this mini series. Lots of villainy, lots of twists and turns, and the "shocking" revelation at the end of the issue is very exciting news.

Justice Society of America #21 - Gog demanded blind worship and the JSA said no! Now it all hits the fan. About time! While it played out like I expected, I appreciate all the characterization we've gotten in this arc for the ever growing cast. It is always a joy to see Jerry Ordway penciling the JSA again - takes me back to the early days of Infinity Inc. and, of course, the All-Star Squadron back in the 80's.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Shatner's Raw Nerve

I stumbled across a new television program on the Biography channel this week. William Shatner (actor, pitchman, etc.) hosts a new talk show called Shatner's Raw Nerve with new episodes airing each Tuesday night at 10pm and 10:30pm. The format is a half hour, one-on-one conversaton between Shatner and a guest. The first two shows this week were with Tim Allen and Valerie Bertinelli (now you know why I sought the show out).

The interesting thing is it is not your typical talk show. Shatner does not want to talk to them about their career or latest project or stuff like that. No, he wants to get to those "raw nerves" - to talk to his guest about those deep, difficult things in their lives. For Tim Allen, it was about his addictions (drugs and alcohol) and time in prison in his youth (for drug selling). For Valerie, it was about her past indescretions (like adultery while married to Eddie Van Halen) as well as her own addictions (to food).

What I found interesting about the discussion is that it shows these celebrities in a real, raw state. They're people. They overcome issues (or are still working on them). It about the human struggle, the human condition. I found the conversation to very enlightening at times.

Biography runs the episodes again all week long - so if you can catch one, check it out. You might find it interesting too.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Comics of the Week (11/26/08)

Reign In Hell #5 (of 8) - This mini is starting to bore me. It seems a lot of groups running around, encountering one another, but getting us no closer to a conclusion. I'm very disappointed - and am thinking I might drop it now and save the money from the last three issues. I have no interest in how it ends, the worst thing a mini series can do for a reader.

Trinity #26 - ugh, another slow issue here too. What is going on? Is it something in the air? Am I just tired? Get Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman back in this book - please!

Teen Titans $65 - Wonder Girl faces off against Lycus, while the rest of the team takes on the giant hellhound. I did like the way this issue moved and how Wonder Girl has grown into a better character because of this challenge. That's what a book should do - help the characters grow.

Justice Society of America - Kingdom Come Special: the Kingdom - another nice chapter from the creative team. Not only do we get close to the final events of this Gog storyline, but we also get a great focus on the character of Damage. Geoff Johns really plays off the characters well and provide changes that make sense. Again, good writing. The art is outstanding too. I cannot wait for the final two chapters of this storyline.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Comics of the Week (11/19/08) part 2

Trinity #25 - well, I'm now getting tired of the story moving so slowly. It looks like more and more individuals are realizing that something is wrong with the reality the Earth is in and that the trinity is missing, but I'm ready to see folks do something more about it than talk. The story needs to pick up the pace again soon.

Rann-Thanagar Holy War #7 (of 8) - in the penultimate chapter, the space heroes put their plan in place, and it looks like Synnar is perfectly fine with that. Where is this story going? We'll find out next issue. Again, the art is stunning and epic, like this story deserves.

Batman and the Outsiders #13 - combined with artist Fernado Dagnino, Frank Tieri is making this book resemble more the writing he did on Gotham Underground, and I'm liking that. With Batman gone and the Outsiders broken apart, Batgirl decides to build a new ally list. But someone isn't so thrilled with her. I do like how Tieri is taking advantage of the rich elements of Gotham City for the book. That will keep me reading it.

Justice Society of America - Kingdom Come Special: Magog - this one shot by Tomasi and Pasarin has the look and feel of the regular monthly title. This one focuses on Magog as he comes to terms with his past and his present role. There is also a short but interesting back up feature on Starman by Geoff Johns and Scott Kolins. It ties in nicely with what is going on in Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds. Overall a great special as we get closer to the finale of this long running storyline.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Comics of the Week (11/19/08) part 1

Brave and the Bold #19 - this is part one of a four part adventure teaming Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) with the Phantom Stranger. The story so far is a bit heavy on the exposition - setting up a plot that involves weirdness on Earth and activity on an alien world. It seems more a GL tale so far with the Stranger just tagging along. I hope it gets better but I fear it won't.

Tangent: Superman's Reign #9 (of 12) - okay, this issue plodded along and didn't move the story too far along. I think the whole thing got stretched out a bit too far. Having it go eight issues might have been better, just to trim the fat out of the story. Ah well - three more issues to go so I might as well stick with it until the end.

Ambush Bug: Year None #4 (of 6) - after last issue being so-so, this one comes back nicely as it parodies 52, takes pot shots at Dan Didio (which many fanboys will love) and then takes just as many shots on the fanboys themselves. Keith Giffen is an equal opportunity offender and that's what I like about his humor sometimes. Looks like Countdown will get satirized next issue, leaving Final Crisis hopefully for the last. I hope Giffen and Fleming don't disappoint.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes

Just like with Watchman, I was never a reader of Sandman when it hit the comic shelves in the late 80's. I remember I bought issue #1 but wasn't so thrilled to continue picking it up. Now, I know it is a brilliant series and Neil Gaiman really weaved an incredible tapestry over the book's run. I just never got into it. That is, until I picked up the first collected volume at the library last week.

Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes collects issues 1 through 8 of the Sandman book from 1988 and 1989. As even Neil points out in the Afterwards, the first few issues jump around a bit in theme, style and approach. One could easily tell he was trying to settle in a bit to something beyond the first story arc - the tale of how Morpheus, the god of Dreams, is captured and then escapes and has to reclaim his lost power. This first arc tries to tie-in basic DCU elements like the hosts of the 60's/70's mystery books, the Demon, the JLA and such. The book really seems to find a solid voice in the eighth issue which we see a conversation between Morpheus and his sister Death.

Now, I am not sure yet if my local library carries more of the volumes. If they do, I will certainly check them out. I enjoyed the first one enough to invest the time in reading more if/when I can. It definitely is not your typical comic book and that is probably why over the years it has appealed to many of the non-traditional comic book fans.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Book Review: The Book of Lies (2008)

In September of this year, Brad Meltzer's seventh novel the Book of Lies came out in hardback. I usually wait for Brad's books to come out in paperback (usually a year after their release) as I have all of the previous ones in the format. The first time I discovered his books was in a Raleigh bookstore that sold copies that were signed - my copy of the Millionaires was that way. Since then, I've met Brad at the San Diego ComicCon where I got personally signed copies of Dead Even and the Tenth Justice - my two top favorites of his books to date.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Comics of the Week (11/12/08)

Legion of Super-Heroes in the 31st Century #20 - this final issue had a lot of tribute panels to the LSH over the years, including a happy 50th anniversary in the final page. It was okay but the series never really gelled as well for me as some of the other animated line books. I do plan on replacing it in my pull list with the new animated Brave and the Bold book in a few months.

Action Comics #871 - per the corner symbol, this was part 4 of the "New Krypton" storyline. Now, I only follow Superman in this title because of writer Geoff Johns, so I have missed a few pieces. But the issue didn't confuse me too much. Basically we've got all these Kryptonians from the restored Kandor flying around, and that is going to mean trouble to be sure. Just the way they handled Doomsday was enough to show me that this could turn out a bad thing - they will need to get off Earth soon.

Trinity #24 - the storyline continues to move as the weekly title really allows them to explore the ramifications of having the trinity missing. Hopefully they'll be back in their own book soon, though spotlighting other characters has been enjoyable as well. And we finally learn what is going on with GL John Stewart.

Kingdom Come Special - Superman - this one-shot continues the story line from the JSA book, as Alex Ross writes and illustrates this spotlight on the Superman from the KC Earth. It does help flesh out some elements from the original Kingdom Come mini series, and the added notes in the back of the book are a nice look into the creative process in making the book.

Booster Gold #14 - part two of the Starro storyline concludes with lots of action, lots of mystery and lots of setting up for future stories. The Lady Chronos from the recent Atom series shows up and looks to be a part of the book down the road. That should add some tension to future issues. The rest of the story uses the time-travel elements of the series nicely as Booster and Skeets try to fix the trouble caused last issue when Starro took over the Earth. I'm very psyched for next issue as Dan Jurgens will be back as writer/artist full-time and we have an appearance by the Elongated Man (yeah, he's dead in present time, but with a time-travel book we can see him in his prime in action again, always a good thing).

Friday, November 14, 2008

Bring It On: All Or Nothing (2006)

My wife was watching E! last night and at 8pm up comes the showing of the film Bring It On: All Or Nothing. The third film in this franchise (I've not seen any of the others) is about a rich California girl who has to change schools when her dad loses his job. She goes from the school where she is head cheerleader to one where she barely fits in. But cheering is in her blood and that helps her cope with new friends, a new love interest and a chance to get back at her bitchy rival.

It stars Hayden Panettiere of Heroes and came out just prior that show hitting the airwaves. We all know how Hayden looks in a cheerleading uniform. It also stars Solange Knowles. Intesting little fact: it also stars Marcy Rylan who took over for Hayden on the soap opera the Guiding Light in the role of Lizzie Spaulding. So, basically you have two actresses who played the same soap character playing rivals. Go figure.

It was a nice, distracting film. Not a lot of meet. Typical girl in new school, girl is unhappy, girl finds a way to fit in, girl gets revenge on her old friends who shunned her by kicking their butts in the big cheerleading competition in the end. Very formula film. But the soundtrack totally rocked. With music by Gwen Stefani and Rhianna, it really helped make the film feel very today.

Worth a watching when you've got nothing else on the tube.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Batman: Lovers and Madmen

I checked out the hardcover Batman: Lovers and Madmen from the library yesterday. This book reprints issues 7 through 12 of Batman Confidential, published in 2007 and 2008. I have to say I wasn't very impressed overall.

The story takes place in week forty-two of Batman's first year as a hero, so we're talking about a Batman who is still honing his craft and making mistakes. Okay, I know this is a popular period for writers to explore for the hero as they can show him as infallable. I get the lure. But we've been here, done that - with Frank Miller's exceptional Batman: Year One. Strike one.

Next, we're introduced to a love interest we've never heard of before. Okay, that'll work - new territory is good. But we also get some rather adult full-page spread (thus the "lovers" in the title). And what happens to her? You can probably guess - she ends up getting in the way of Batman doing his job effectively. Cliche. Strike two.

Finally, the six part story basically serves as a retelling of the origin of the Joker. Um, hello? Hasn't the Joker's origin been reinterpretted dozens of times before? Did we need another one? I don't think so. This writer doesn't add a lot to it really. My thinking is someone said "hey, we got a Batman movie coming out in 2008 with the Joker, who can do us a tale that is sort of like the film but not really?". I mean, seriously, that had to be the rationale, right? Otherwise, what editor would allow someone to tread the same ground that has been tread by many others before. It bores the readers. Strike three.

This book failed at bat (no pun intended) for me. Glad I didn't pay real money ($18+ for the six issues on the stands or $24.99 for the hardcover) for this one.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

We Wii Fit!

Last month, my wife decided that we should get for her birthday the Wii Fit board and game. Though it was her present, we all are getting benefit out of it.

For those unfamiliar with this, basically this is a wireless exercise board that interacts with the Wii video game system. The board is able to take a person's weight as well as use shifts in footing and balance to play a variety of games and such. What kind of games? Balance games like slalom skiing, tight-rope walking, soccer ball heading and more. It allows a person to do a variety of yoga poses to help tighten muscles and increase flexibility. It also has aerobic activities like hula hooping, running in place, step aerobics, rhythm boxing (using the Wii numchuck) and more. There are also strength building exercises too. It is pretty amazing the variety that it has.

It also allows you to set goals for weight loss every two weeks or month. It keeps the data daily so you can track your progress. It keeps track of your activity and even allows you to add outside activity (I do that when I go walking some nights or when I work out at the YMCA on the weekends). And when it takes your weight, it also calculates your BMI (based on your height entered). It is really an amazing piece of equipment/software.

The best part, for me and our son, is that you really don't realize you are getting a good amount of exercise while you "play" some of the games. It is fun and it makes getting fit a joy, not a pain like it can be.

Downsides? Well, the board does tend to guilt you when you don't weigh in every day. Heck, my wife and son missed almost a week of weighing in and it kept asking me if I had seen them! LOL. It also keeps wanting to give you health tips (you don't have to listen to them). Still, as I said, it is fun for the whole family - and family that fits together gets, well, fit together. ;)

Friday, November 7, 2008

Is 16 Old Enough For College?

I read an article just this morning about New Hampshire trying to pass state legislation to allow 16 year olds to graduate from high school (assuming the pass all the required testing to meet graduation standards). Their rationale is to allow students to work at their own pace and, if they are properly prepared, go off to start their higher education two years sooner.

I have to wonder: is 16 old enough for college?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Comics of the Week (11/05/08)

Final Crisis:Resist - this one-shot focuses on the Checkmate organization (and in particular, Mr. Terrific, Snapper Carr and the Cheetah) as they try to deal with the spread of the Antilife Equation on the Earth's population. This was on okay issue that focused more tightly than Final Crisis has itself in its main book on specifics. That was good. But the story spins right back into the fifth issue of the main mini-series at the end, so we don't get a truly standalone story.

Terror Titans #2 (of 6) - this mini is a good read so far with good artwork. I like the further exploration of the fight club angle, however the book loses a couple points overall. Here's why: in the recent DC Nation columns they made a point to focus on this mini and the fight brackets. What did they do in the second issue of six? They pretty much handled the first round of brackets with two panel fights for each matching. That's cheap. I wanted to see much more, especially when we have characters we know nothing about like TNTeena and Hardrock.

Trinity #23 - the waves of rememberance continue to ripple across the altered reality as more and more folks figure something isn't quite right. I am hoping the book starts to pick up the pace as each week lately seems more like a mirror image of the last. I'd like to see things start to escalate and build again as we're nearing the halfway point.

Justice Society of America #20 - I loved the meeting of the JSA with the Earth-Two heroes, even if it was to fight. The Alex Ross cover was, as always, gorgeous. One big complaint: again, not enough time devoted to this. This could have easily been a two issue event. Hopefully this isn't the last we'll be seeing of the Earth-Two heroes.

Secret Six #3 - another solid issue from Gail Simone and company. They continue to move the plot while adding some great characterization of all the villains involved. We get a lot more about the mysterious "Junior", including another violent act so casually executed. Not sure what is up with Bane being so protective of Scandal. That makes for an interesting side point. And the final revelation of what this card is was a great payoff (no wonder everyone wants to get their hands on it!!!). This is another monthly books, like Booster Gold, that I cannot wait to read each month. Definitely one of my top five favorites going at this time, and that says a lot after just three issues being out. When the creative team has a passion for the book that shines through, the readers notice it.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Comics of the Week (10/29/08) part 2

Trinity #22 - another slower issue as the man who would be Hawkman of the ancient past discovers there is something amiss in the world's future. In the present, Firestorm is rescued by some interesting allies. I'm hoping we shift out of this alternate reality in the next month or so. I can't get totally vested into it since I know it'll all go away when the trinity is restored to their rightful roles.

Final Crisis: Rage of the Red Lanterns - this one-shot is basically an extra Green Lantern issue for the month, giving us a prelude of sorts into the "Blackiest Night" arc. The colors are coming out of the woodwork as the rage inspired Red Lanterns make their move on the day of Sinestro's execution.

Justice League of America #26 - great cover featuring an alternate world JLA as Vixen must get out of the trap Anansi has woven. While it was interesting to see this alternate team, they were quickly gone as fast as they came. We didn't get time to invest any interest in them - which is a shame as they had me curious indeed. Ah well.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Comics of the Week (10/29/08) part 1

DC Universe: Decisions #4 (of 4) - this biweekly Election '08 tie-in ends with a battle against Jericho, who possessed Hal Jordan's body, and then a "sermon" of sorts from Superman on why voting is important. I liked how this mini started out and how we got to see some political opinions of established characters, but the end did not pay off the way it should have. In hindsight, I probably could have skipped it and had been $12 richer because of it. Ah well.

Reign In Hell #4 (of 8) - this mini hits the halfway point and has a "Sightings" banner on the cover to boot. Turns out the last page reveals the return of a fan-favorite character (I won't spoil it right now). Suffice to say, it all hits the fan as Giffen certainly knows how to write this character well. The rest of the issue? Eh. Okay but not great. I still may drop it before the finale.

Teen Titans #64 - the team (what's left of it) does battle with Bombshell while Cassie gets a little "family" history. The issue seemed like filler to stretch this storyline over three issues. Can't say I was thrilled. This book runs hot and cold. I wish it could find a steady stream of hot to keep it interesting all the time.

Rann-Thanagar Holy War #6 (of 8) - Starlin and Lim give us a full issue to really comprehend the scope of the villain of this saga, and it sets the stage nicely for the final act. How will the rag-tag team of cosmic heroes beat this threat when their mightest of guns easily is swatted down? My interest is there now to want to see how this epic plays out to its conclusion.

Rocky Horror Picture Show

The cosmos must have been aligned just right yesterday, telling me that something was missing from my life of late. I mean, really, when you get two signs in a single day - it must be telling you something, right?

So, I was doing my usual daily browse over on, trying to find a way to spend my 75 monthly downloads (still had 30 left to go before the 10th when I get my next month's batch), and I stumble on the newly added titles the following:

Yeah, baby! You know what this is. The original motion picture soundtrack for the Rocky Horror Picture Show, that campy musical fraught with sexual energy that first hit theatres in 1975 and became a cult classic as a staple of midnight showings all around the world since. Now, I had a couple songs from it on my iPod already but this was the whole kitten-caboodle. It didn't take me long to download many of the tracks.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Making Comics

In 2006, Scott McCloud put out his third book on comics - the aptly titled Making Comics.

Naturally, it is about, what else, making comics. And since Scott is an artist himself, the book is more an illustrated guide on various topics including the expected discussions on perspective, character design, facial features, layout, composition and more. His approach to the topics works very well - in a show, not tell manner. That is really important when we're talking about how to do art. Those with MFA degrees or art backgrounds would most likely agree.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Losing It...

Confession time: I had a huge crush on Valerie Bertinelli from the first time I saw her on TV on One Day At a Time in the mid-70's all through my junior high and high school years. I'm sure I wasn't the only teenaged male who did. There was something about that wholesome, girl-next-door look and how well she portrayed Barbara Cooper that just entranced me. Maybe it was because she reminded me in a lot of ways someone else I was crushing on at the time. Hard to say. Still, I've always considered her very tops of my list of celebrity crushes.

Anyway, last week I realized she had written an autobiography entitled Losing It - and Gaining My Life Back One Pound at a Time. I checked the non-fiction section of my local library and it was checked in. Not for long. I checked it out and eagerly read through it in a couple nights.

The book talks about her career both on the sitcom and other shows and TV movies. It also talks about her marriage to Eddie Van Halen, and the ups and downs of that relationship over the years. It talks about her greatest role - motherhood (to their son Wolfgang). It also talks about a woman who has struggled with her own sense of self-image from a very young age until in her 40's when she most recently became a spokesperson for Jenny Craig.

I found the book to be very easy going and honest, just as I would expect Valerie to be. She doesn't lay blame on anyone but herself for most of the problems she has encountered in life. She speaks straight from the heart and gives an honest portrayal of things she went through, why and what those choices led to. I found it a very enlightening read.

Does this book shake my image of her? Well, a couple things might have - but not enough. She still seems like someone I would love to get to know, just to sit down and talk to. She seems more like an everyday person who just happened to be famous rather than some kind of diva or huge "star".

Friday, October 24, 2008

Comics of the Week (10/22/08) part 2

Trinity #21 - This issue felt, in a lot of ways, like a fill-in if you will. The lead focused on the three villains of the piece who usurped the trinity's power but we learn why things didn't go as planned. It was okay but not as great as previous issues. The back-up didn't do much to move the story either. Not sure why. I guess with fifty-two weekly issues in the story, you have to have a clunker every now and again.

Superman: New Krypton - this one-shot bridges from last week's Action Comics to the next event running in all the Superman titles over the next few months. Superman has to bear with a great loss while at the same time juggling the Kandorians discovering what the yellow sun will do for them. There are a couple scenes that indicate this could turn into a huge problem for the Man of Steel and Earth. You can sort of tell which creative team did what. The art was split through out - some of it better than others. It hasn't convinced me to pick up any further Superman titles beyond Action though.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Comics of the Week (10/22/08) part 1

Final Crisis: Submit - I liked this tie-in one-shot that was more character focused. Black Lightning shows how a true hero continues on despite insurmountable odds. However, Grant Morrison's disjointed writing tainted the book a bit. Still, it was a better read than...

Final Crisis #4 (of 7) - if the idea was to give us a feeling of chaos and confusion, this issue did it! Seriously, I don't all the praise for Morrison on this. This is supposed to be a cornerstone event and yet it just isn't working for me at all. There are a few good ideas here and there, but none of them follow through. It is like throwing spaghetti on the wall to see which is done enough to stick. Too much is sliding to the floor. And the dialogue is clunky. Ugh.

Tangent: Superman's Reign #8 (of 12) - while I appreciate the epic feel Jurgens is trying for here and the fact he wants readers to realy get to know the ins and outs of the Tangent Earth, I think this book is suffering from having too many issues to play with. It is like the story is dragging on purpose just to fill out the twelve issues.

Maybe I'm just having a cranky week. Two more books left to read.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Comics of the Week (10/15/08) part 3

Final Crisis: Rogues' Revenge #3 (of 3) - Geoff Johns and Scott Kilins deliver an amazing ending to this mini series, showing why the Flash's villains can easily carry a title on their own. These criminals show that there is honor and rules among thieves, and that they take care of their own. As Johns did when he wrote the Flash years back, these characters are more than just advesaries to make the hero look good. They are fully formed, well-rounded characters. I cannot wait until he relaunches the book now that Barry Allen, the Silver Age Flash is back!

Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds #2 (of 5) - here Johns' epic story telling is supported by the ever perfect, ever detailed artwork of George Perez. Together they take the rich history and cast of not one but three LSH eras and weave an epic adventure. And looking at those full page spreads and identifying all the players is a lot of fun too. I have a feeling there will be some big casualties in the battle with Superman-Prime's Legion of Super-Villains, but in the end the LSH franchise will be left stronger and ready for another 50 years.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Comics of the Week (10/15/08) part 2

Justice Society of America #19 - "One World, Under Gog" continues with part 4 as the battle lines in the JSA are drawn - those who question Gog's motives and those who support them. Things get even more complicated though when Power Girl finds her way back from Earth-2, but she's not alone! Next issue should prove to be quite the fight between the generations. Johns and Ross are really taking their time to weave an epic here. Though at times it is like not a lot happens each month, the characterization and the context are making for a rich tale. And those Ross covers are awesome as always.

Trinity #20 - Busiek and Bagley continue to explore this "what if" world where the trinity never existed, and through Firestorm's research we see how that new history was shaped. I think the weekly format really allows them to explore and expand on the concepts that a monthly title could not afford. I am enjoying this a lot - like a good novel. The back-up feature involves the newly released Krona and his quest for power. This should come to a head later in the run as well.

Booster Gold #13 - fill-in team of Remender and Olliffe give us a thrilling first part of a tale where Starro the Conqueror takes over Rip Hunter and, in essense, has a chance to change history. Booster and Goldstar must try to stop the alien starfish from subjugating the entire human race. The story continues in the same vein as earlier arcs, using the dynamics of time-travel to make for some very interesting situations. This fill-in is allowing Dan Jurgens the time to ramp up as the writer-artist on the book full time. I'm continuing to love this title.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Comics of the Week (10/15/08) part 1

Batman and the Outsiders #12 - another Batman R.I.P. tie-in issue with the Outsiders finding themselves on the receiving end of trouble. The cover does not lie - an Outsider does die in this issue. But it isn't an obvious choice, or one that really has long standing ramifications. Oh, except the team disbands. Yeah, we'll see where things go with next issue.

Brave and the Bold #18 - I have to ask again: when did Marv Wolfman turn into a hack writer? This second part of the Raven/Supergirl team-up was horrible. Very disjointed. And even though a forgotten hero returns (sort of), it still wasn't anything major to write home about. This felt like a filler arc to be sure. I hope the quality of the book gets better.

DC Universe: Decisions #3 (of 4) - except for a couple good scenes with the heroes and their political thoughts, this issue really took the series down a turn for the worse. I had high hopes for this mysterious person behind the assassination attempts, but we find out in the last few pages who is behind it. And trust me, it is a left-field thing (even if it does fit the clues so far). I won't spoil it here, but the last issue of the mini series has some serious 'splaining to do as to the motive behind this person's actions.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Comics of the Week (10/8/08) - part 2

Action Comics #870 - the Brainiac saga comes to a rocking conclusion with lots of big panels, lots of excitement, and an ending that was slightly telegraphed by the cover (unfortunately). I have to say though that in a number of panels, Gary Frank's rendering of Superman looked a lot like the Christopher Reeves Superman to me. That is a very cool effect. In a lot of ways, Geoff Johns writes this book like a huge blockbuster film.

Trinity #19 - the lead focuses again on Tarot in this strange, altered Earth. Also, we get a nice glimpse both in the lead and backup of former supporting cast members of the now-missing-trinity. Nice touches to this alternate reality aspect of the epic. Cool cover as well.

Secret Six #2 - Gail Simone continues to dazzle me with her story telling and characterizations of these villains on the fringe. I really like where the book is going so far. Also, the battle between Catman and Batman shows how alike the two are in so many ways - fitting since Catman started out his career trying to emulate Batman.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Comics of the Week (10/8/08) - part 1

Legion of Super-Heroes in the 31st Century #19 - in this penultimate issue of the series, Booster Gold is the focus as the LSH tries to figure out what the true purpose of this showy hero is. Now, I like Booster a lot, so this story was fun. But the book really seems to have lost its focus on the LSH and that might be possibly why it is getting cancelled (that and the cartoon is no longer running on Kids WB).

Final Crisis: Revelations #3 (of 5) - we hit the halfway point and find out just why Cain is so hot to destroy the Spectre. Nice tie-in to Final Crisis - you get a real true sense of the effects of the Anti-Life Equation.

Green Lantern #35 - the final "Secret Origin" chapter brings Hal and Sinestro back to Oa for a meeting with the Guardians. It doesn't go well. This chapter sort of ties up the threads of the "origin" arc and peppers things for the next story line in present day. It'll be nice to get back there after seven-plus months. The artwork by Reis & Albert is gorgeous as always.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Comics of the Week (10/1/08)

DC Universe: Decisions #2 (of 4) - I really enjoyed this second issue of the political themed mini. After Green Arrow endorsed a candidate last issue, the floodgates are opened. I like how the personalities and the interplay between characters worked this issue. With the real-life election playing out daily in the news, this is a nice contrast to it.

Justice League of America #25 - some nice touches this issue with Red Tornado, tying up elements that have been present in this title run so far. The Vixen/Animal Man plot is a little dull, especially given the villain and his abilities. Glad this storyline concludes next issue.

Trinity #18 - speaking of alternate realities, welcome to another one after last issues big blow up! I like how this was presented - it was interesting. How will the Trinity bounce back and set things right? I'm eager to keep finding out after this issue.

Terror Titans #1 (of 6) - spinning out of the regular Teen Titans title, this mini series by McKeever and Bennett promises to be an action packed ride. I like finding out more about these villains, about seeing more evolution of the Ravager character, and I like how this ties into Final Crisis without having all the trappings of that book. Really enjoyed this first issue a lot.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


Damn, it's been a couple crazy weeks.

First, I'm halfway through a three week cycle of working third shift on a remote installation project for my company. Gotta love those 10pm to 6am work cycles to mess with your biorhytms. I don't think I've watched any TV regularly of late.

Second, there's the gas chaos in the south - but it is getting better. More stations seem to be keeping in stock of late, so that is good. Luckily with working the third shift from home I haven't been burning through the gas.

Third, with the bank chaos, our bank Wachovia gets bought out on Monday. I'll let my wife handle that stuff as she has a past in banking and is the financial mind of our coupling. Still, that's always a surprise.

Finally, AOL sends an email out last night saying on October 31st they are pulling the plug on user FTP sites. What the $^#%*?!? No reason why - just "sorry for the inconvenience". Hey, AOL, forget you. I just changed from my monthly paying account to the free version. You don't want to give me FTP space, I'll forgo giving you money and use your free email service. Thanks but no thanks, dudes. That's crappy customer service and that's what you get. So, I'm moving my websites to another locale - something free. Sure, its work but what the heck. Time to prune my online presence some. Still, I hate the idea of all those dead links on the Internet. So untidy.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

A Night At the Museum (2006)

For about six weeks now we've had Ben Stiller's 2006 comedy A Night At the Museum sitting on our DVR. My son had seen it twice through school but my wife and I had not seen it at all. So, last night she and I finally had time to sit down and watch it. We thought it was cute.

Stiller plays a divorced father who is trying to find a steady job. He lands one at the NY Museum of Natural Science as a night watchman. Thing is, the other guards (played by Dick Van Dyke and Mickey Rooney) fail to tell him about the strange things that happen in the museum at night. As they say, "the history comes alive at night" - literally!

The film was enjoyable. The special effects worked very well. It was a nice family film that could be enjoyed by young and old alike (hard to say that these days). It was also nice to see veteran Hollywood legends like Van Dyke, Rooney and Stiller's mother Anne Meara (in a small cameo role) getting work. I also enjoyed Robin Williams' and Owen Wilson's roles in the film. It's a nice film to catch if you hadn't seen it in the theatre.

Friday, September 26, 2008

RIT's Student Orientation Service (SOS)

From the fall of 1983 through the fall of 1987, I attended Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in Rochester, NY. It was a good college experience - I got a great education, made a lot of friends and had a lot of great memories.

One of the big foundations of my time there was my involvement with the Student Orientation Service (SOS). This was a volunteer organization - about forty to fifty students - with two faculty advisors to coordinate the program. The reason SOS is back in my head today because I got an email from one of the faculty folks - Dawn - who was sort of the motherly figure for our group (Joe, then by default, served as the fatherly role for us students).

SOS worked through out the year to plan for three orientation weekends in the summer (two for freshmen, one for transfers) and one big orientation week in the fall at the start of the year. We'd have weekly meetings with our committees, Sunday night training sessions monthly as a whole group, various social events through out the year to keep us motivated (like the huge Poster Painting Party in the spring to paint all those posters we'd need for the programs and the Cabin Party in the winter where we'd go chill for the day, play games, and dance). At the end of the year, we'd have our semi-formal Fall Banquet to celebrate the work we had done for the year.

I first got bit by the SOS "bug" when I arrived in the summer of 1983 for my own freshmen orientation. Here they were - all these students in matching t-shirts and cool buttons pinned - ready to help answer questions, show us around and make the transition to a new college life easier. I knew immediately this is what I wanted to do!

Freshmen year (SOS 84) I was on the Operations and Scheduling Committee (chaired that year by Beth Charney). We coordinated the plans for things, and made sure reservations for places on campus for programs were set.

Sophomore year (SOS 85) I decided to try out for the Executive Board and be a committee chairmen myself. I made it in the group of 10 chosen and headed the Deaf Awareness Committee (RIT has an affiliation on campus with NTID - the National Technical Institute for the Deaf - so I took a crash course in sign language). My committee was responsible for programming on the diversity of the hearing/deaf culture on campus as well as for scheduling interpreters.

Junior year (SOS 86) it was back to the general committe (I don't recall at the moment whose committee I was on that year) and for my Senior year (SOS 87) I was in the general committee for most of the year but stepped up to the plate for the Fall program to help run our committee when our chairperson went off on a co-op assignment. During these years, I was also the editor of the SOS-BS, our monthly newsletter that covered what each committee was up to during the year in preparation for the programs as well as a little bit of insider social messages between members.

Some of my favorite things included: chaperoning the dances we had for the incoming students (I loved to dance then), hanging out with the parents in the Ritzskeller (to help ease their minds about sending their kids off to college), performing in the skits we did for the parents and kids (to show them what college life was and was not like), and, of course, move-in day when we helped folks unload their cars and get their stuff from parking lots to the buildings ("we gotta move these refrigerators...we gotta move these color TV's...").

On my wall, the SOS group pictures hang proudly. Beneath them are the souvenier mugs from each year on display. In 1987, I was awarded the Most Outstanding Committee Member for Summer Programs (the plaque hangs proudly on the wall too). My photo albums from my college years have a lot of pictures from SOS events and after-hours parties (when we'd unwind after a long day of orientating folks).

Some of my closest friends from college came were in SOS - folks I still keep touch with to this day.

Crazy About Gas part 2

Well, things have gone from bad to worse here in western North Carolina in regards to gasoline. When Hurricanes Gustav and Ike hit the continental US, they took out some of the oil refineries that feed the pipeline that gets gasoline to our part of the country. Those storms were two weeks ago.

As of yesterday, many gas stations in our area are still without fuel.

Actually, that's not completely true. While many have the little plastic bags on the nozzles or signs out front saying "No Gas", not every station is completely out - at least not at the same times.

Wednesday night I witnessed about thirty cars lined up on the main drag of downtown Hickory (US-127) in front of an Exxon. A tanker truck was in back depositing fuel, and as soon as he finished filling the station up - the customers drained the place. When I drove past this morning, it was plastic bag city there.

Just up the same road I saw traffic in the right lane backed up for nearly a mile. I got in the left and continud by the BP where cars were lined up to fuel up. Had to be at least fifty cars. I swear, it was as if I had suddenly been transported back in time to the mid-1970's. Crazy!

Now, I was lucky enough on Monday to top off my tank so I've still got about 2/3rds of a tank in my van. Also, with doing a third shift project for work (which I can do remotely from home), I am saving on gas a bit for this week and the next couple. Still, eventually the little trips to pick my son up from school and to the grocery store and such will eat away at the gas I have.

Hopefully things will get better soon. The news every morning is always so depressing. The story from Charlotte is the same - no gas here or there, lines where there are some, everyone is in a panic. The word is saying things will get better by the weekend - we shall see.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Comics of the Week (9/24/08)

Ambush Bug: Year None #3 (of 6) - okay, this was a weird issue. Yes, Ambush Bug as done by Giffen and Fleming tends to be weird, but this one was beyond the usual for them. I probably would have gotten it more if I wasn't tired when I read it. Ah well.

Reign In Hell #3 (of 8) - Giffen seems to be crafting a great war epic here, with lots of focus on the squirmishes and such in the battle for the underworld. It works okay, but I'm starting to lose my interest in this one. Not sure if I'll make it to the end before dropping it. Next issue will decide that.

Teen Titans #63 - mostly the issue focuses on Bombshell, but we do get to see some of the fallout (pun intended) from last issue's slaughter. One of the two victims is still alive, luckily. Would have liked to have seen some of the funeral rather than hear about it second hand as we did. Points off for that.

Trinity #17 - we're a third of the way through, and it all hits the fan. You know its bad when the stars of the book aren't in but a half dozen panels total. Didn't like the back up focusing on Konvict, though it makes sense he will have a bigger role in the end of this story (otherwise why start with him at all?).

Secret Six #1 - okay, this came out at the beginning of the month, but I picked it up last week and just read it this week. Man, this is good! Love what Gail Simone is doing with this title. Great scene at the convenience store with Blake and Lawton. Interesting way for them to try and perk Scandal up. Very curious who will be their new sixth. And next issue - Batman! Can't wait for October.

Birds of Prey: Dead of Winter

This trade paperback volume collects issues 104 to 108 of the Birds of Prey comic. It is the last story arc from Gail Simone's run on the title as writer, and it features the Secret Six - the group whom Gail is currently doing the monthly writing chores on.

After the loaded last volume of the BOP trades line, I felt this one was a little skimpy with only five issues collected in it (and DC charges the same price as the previous volume with had seven issues in it). Still, I wanted to read this arc as it sets up some elements for the monthly Secret Six title (like the interaction between Catman and Huntress, for instance).

The story overall read pretty well. I like the return of a certain favorite heroine in this arc. Also, seeing Hawkgirl and Big Barda in action with the team was fun. And, of course, seeing Harley Quinn hook up briefly with the Six made for a fun element as well.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Secret Six: Six Degrees of Devastation

In late 2006/early 2007, Gail Simone with the help of artists Brad Walker and Jimmy Palmiotti continued her take on DC's rag-tag team of super-villains - the Secret Six - in an all-new mini series. This collection puts those six issues into a single trade paperback, and is a perfect prelulde to the new Secret Six ongoing series that just started last month.

Following up from Villains United, the regulars (Catman, Deadshot, Ragdoll, Savage and Knockout) are down one member. Who do they get to join them? Would you believe the Mad Hatter? In Gail's capable hands, she turns this goofy Batman foe into someone formidable and dangerous. Of course, the book is about villains, so there is some really twisted and violent scenes in this book. Her writing makes it work.

Being a fan of villains myself (heck, I wrote a "Secret Society of Super-Villains" fanfiction series for three years on the 5 Earths Project group), I really enjoy her spin on this cast. Having got the first issue of the ongoing title last week (which I enjoyed as well), I can see she's got some more wild ideas in mind. Hopefully she'll stay with this title for a good long run.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Heroes season premiere

NBC kicked off season 3 of Heroes last night with a bang - in fact they went all out. First, there was the countdown special at 8 which did a full recap of characters and such to catch viewers back up. Then at 9, we got not one but two (count 'em - two!) episodes back to back. Wow! I didn't realize that was the case until the first one ended with "Heroes continues...NOW".

I was very impressed with the first hour. It had the feel of the first season opener. Lots of interesting interactions, lots of mysteries, lots of surprises. Okay, I'm a little done with time travellers but oh well...

The second hour seemed to settle things in a bit, to start to expand on some of the new storylines. I love the whole Level 5 stuff as well as the introduction of other new villains (like the speedster to vex Hiro). Given that this season is subtitled "Heroes and Villains", it looks like we are getting a good mix of that. About time too.

Another neat thing - the cameo by William Katt, former start of Greatest American Hero. I hoped he would last a bit longer but ah well. Nice nod to a super-hero show from back in 1981.

It definitely looks like Kring and company are ramping this season up to get viewers back. I hope the stories can match the introductions so far.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Birds of Prey: Blood and Circuits

I used to be a regular reader of the Birds of Prey comic - up until issue #47 in fact. That was the time that series creator Chuck Dixon left the writing chores. I decided then to drop the title.

However, recent interest in the new Secret Six comic had me thinking I should pick up back appearances of the villain team. I already had Villain's United and wanted to get their Six's trade and their previous appearance in BOP.

That lead me to getting the BOP volume prior to that one - Blood and Circuits. This trade covers issues #96 to 103 (from 2006 and early 2007). I enjoy Gail Simone's writing on other books and found it equally enjoyable here. The first arc in this volume - when the team goes to try to protect Black Alice from being recruited by the Secret Society of Super-Villains was a good one. This then leads into a change in the status quo for the team as one long standing member departs and others are brought in. This bringing in of others leads to some bigger headaches for Oracle.

If you love adventures featuring smart and competent super-heroines, this is a book to try. The writing is witty and fun. I'm planning on back filling on the other BOP trades prior to this one as well - which could get me almost all the way back to when I stopped picking up the floppies. Those cover Gail's run as writer on the book.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Remembering Pete Newmann

A friend sent me an email last night that really caught me by surprise.

Back in the late 90's I was involved in a collectible card game called OverPower. It pitted a team of four characters versus four other characters to see who could knock out whom. The characters were based on comic book heroes and villains from the various comic book universes (DC, Marvel, Image). Besides buying the cards, I often made my own homemade versions with PhotoDeluxe and shared them on the web. It was online I met other players, often playing games via chat dialogues and even got to meet a number of players in person.

One such person was Pete Newmann, who went by the AOL screen name of Eboladude. See, Pete was a research scientist in Maryland who studied the ebola virus for a living. He was also a devoted husband and father.

Pete and I chatted often online - not only about OverPower but about other things too. I actually got to meet him in person once when a bunch of us planned a road trip to Niagra Falls, Canada, for a card tournament weekend. I drove up to his house early that Friday morning, hung with him and his son until the other guys arrived, and then we took his van on the trip.

Now, neither Pete nor I were hard-core players. We played for fun. We liked to make homemades. In fact, on that weekend, he even presented me with a couple of gifts. First, a CD that included all his and my homemade images. Second, a huge box full of color print-outs of all my homemades to date (I am sure he printed a ream of paper at work for them all, and killed some toner doing it).

Not being the best of players, that left us some free time to talk and such. I remember us having dinner one of the nights at the restaurant near the hotel, eating wings, drinking beers and just chatting about life and such. He was more than just someone I knew online. He was someone I considered a good friend. On the drive home Sunday night, while the others slept in the back of the van, he drove and I kept him company as we talked through the night.

But, as often happens, people change interests, move on to other things and start to loose touch. That happened with Pete and I. OverPower, the game, sort of folded. We'd chat now and again but in the last decade we sort of lost touch.

That brings us back to the email I got last night. Another OverPower buddy was searching for folks online and came across a link for a local Maryland comic shop that had posted about an event in late December of 2006. It was a memorial HeroClix tournament in Pete's honor. Pete had moved on to playing HeroClix after OverPower it would seem.

I searched the web this morning but so far have not found out exactly when Pete died or of what causes. I think I want to know just so I can have some closure for myself.

Anyone who knew him would say Pete was a friendly, approachable person. He could make you laugh but at the same time be someone with whom could have serious talks. My prayers go out to his family and friends.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Heroes: Saving Charlie

A couple weekends back, when we were up in the mountains, we stopped into the local Wal-Mart for a few things we needed. I saw the paperback of Heroes: Saving Charlie, a book that came out in hardcover back in 2007 and recently hit paperback printing. Back when it first came out, I knew I wouldn't spend the money for the hardcover - even though during season 1 I was a huge Heroes fan. So, I waited until recently to pick it up.

For those who don't know, this book basically attempts to fill in the gaps from one of the season 1 storylines - where time/space teleporting Hiro Nakamura falls in love with Texas waitress Charlie Andrews and tries to save her from a grisley death when Sylar goes after her for her power. Season 1 touched upon the details briefly but this book was written to expand upon it.

Well, it spends 279 pages attempting to do that, but the effort comes off as some pretty weak fan-fiction. Having written fan-fiction online for three years (for DC Comics characters), I have a sense for fan-fiction, both good and bad. This novel definitely falls into that later category.

The book is very uncomfortable to read at times. Do I really when to hear about Hiro's urges or attempts to hide his "obvious" interests? No, I don't. The book nearly bordered on ruining a great character for me. As for Charlie, it didn't do her any justice either. Worst of all, the book doesn't keep things consistent with what the television show did show (especially with the ending and such). In short, it violates one rule of fan-fiction that I always adhered to - do not violate established continuity just to tell your story.

If you haven't read the book and are a fan of the show, I strongly recommend you pass on this book.

Library reads - Blue Beetle trade paperbacks

Wednesday night, my son went back to Faith Formation classes for another year at the church. That means it was time for library night again for me (I park the car at the church lot, walk the half mile to the library, browse, then walk back - getting some exercise for my body as well as my mind). This week, I picked up a couple of trade paperback graphic novels to read.

The first was Blue Beetle: Shellshocked, which collected issues 1 to 6 of the comic series from 2006. The new Blue Beetle, the third to have that name, debuted back in Infinite Crisis and I have read about him some since in team-ups and over in Teen Titans. This was my first exposure to his solo stories though.

I found the beginning of the series an okay read. It builds nicely his supporting cast of family of friends as well as some reluctant allies and an arch nemesis. This is what you'd expect the beginning of a series to do. There is also the mystery of just where the scarab is from and why it gave Jaime Reyes, high school student, these amazing abilities.

The story then continues in Blue Beetle: Road Trip, which collected issues 7 to 12. These issues continue to expand on the opening concepts as well as include some guest appearances of other DCU characters. I didn't find this volume keeping my attention as much as the first one. However, it was enjoyable enough in that if I see other volumes in the library in the future that I will check them out. They both were good enough for reading - especially when the price was right (free).

If you like comics in the similar vein of early Spider-Man or Firestorm or Nova - ie. the high schooler adjusting to getting awesome powers and trying to cope with them - then you might want to give this series a look. This Blue Beetle shares a lot of elements with his predecessors in the genre while still adding its own twist to things.

Comics of the Week (9/17/08) part 2

Tangent: Superman's Reign #7 (of 12) - while Batman leads the heroes of the Tangent Earth to rescue the JLA, the Tangent Superman comes to their Earth. I really like the way this book is pacing out now. We have everything set for an epic battle to begin next issue between the two Supermen and Power Girls.

Rann-Thanagar Holy War #5 (of 8) - Starlin and Lim continue to move this cosmic epic with lots of locale hopping and lots of action (and a little humor too). With this issue, act 2 ends with the curtain about to rise on the final act of the series.

Trinity #16 - again, the issue is a full focus on the battle at Castle Branek, and having a lengthy mini like this on a weekly basis, you can do that without losing momentum. The Jim Lee cover with Wonder Woman is also very nice (I love how every three issues the covers tie together in a single image by a single artist).

Action Comics #869 - as I said last week, this book is on my pull-list now (yeah!!!). This part 4 of the Braniac saga, and things go bad to worse for our heroes. Will Superman and Supergirl be able to stop Brainiac, save Metropolis and save the other bottled cities as well? Come know they will, the question really remains is what twists and turns and fun will Geoff Johns put in the script to get to that point. I'm looking forward to the next issue.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Comics of the Week (9/17/08) part 1

Brave and the Bold #17 - the first time since this book relaunched I found an issue I was not thrilled with. This issue was part one of a two part story teaming up Supergirl and Raven. It is written by Marv Wolfman and has art by Phil Winslade. The art didn't thrill me much and that didn't help Wolfman's script either. Marv used to be a writer I loved. His work on Tomb of Dracula in the 70's and New Teen Titans in the 80's was awesome. I think though of late he just has kind of lost that spark I enjoyed in his earlier work. Ah well.

Batman and the Outsiders #11 - Chuck Dixon has left the writing chores, and Frank Tieri has picked them up (for now at least). I liked Tieri's work on Gotham Underground as he showed an affection for Batman's villains there. He brings that to this issue as well. The problem with this issue for me was it is part of the "Batman R.I.P." storyline running through all the Bat-titles and I don't read any other ones. So, it is kind of like being an outsider (no pun intended) here. The issue is okay, just not great. The art didn't thrill me much either. Depending on who gets the permanent creative chores, I might be dropping this title soon.

DC Universe: Decisions #1 (of 4) - this is a mini series timed to coincide with the current US Presidential election. In this book, someone tries to assassinate a presidential candidate and the heroes of the JLA decide to do some protective measures. What happens though is Green Arrow ends up getting into a position where he openly, publicly endorses a candidate he would back anyway. The concept of the series is an interesting one - that is which heroes have what kind of political beliefs.

It is a tricky topic to handle. You have to make their views consistent with past portrayals - and so far the writers are doing okay with that. Green Arrow has always been portrayed as a liberal, as far back as the 70's. So, positive points there. How the rest of the series plays out will be interesting to watch. The other thing that is tricky is for the writers to avoid getting preachy or pushing their own political agendas. With Judd Winick being one of the writers on this book, I tend to worry a little about that. We'll see what happens with the next three parts.

It almost makes you wonder though - how would these characters back the true candidates (as in the book you have fictional ones). Who would back a McCain-Palin ticket? Who would back an Obama-Biden ticket? This would make for some interesting debate indeed.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Saturday Night Blahs

Yesterday afternoon and last night I had the blahs. My wife is still out of town (gets back this afternoon) and my son was off at a friend's house playing. It was just me, the dogs, and my laptop for backing up my iTunes library. Boring Saturday and I was feeling out of it. Even a dinner out at IHOP (had the T-bone steak and eggs combo) didn't shake the funk.

This called for deseperate measures.

So, I pulled out a couple DVDs from the library and watched two that I felt could cheer me up. The titles? Xanadu and Grease 2.

Yes, you read that right. By most critics, these are two of the cheesiest films ever to come out of the early 1980's. Know what? I don't care about that.

First up was Xanadu. I got the recent DVD set in part because it had the soundtrack remastered included. I had this album on vinyl and I played it often. Loved it. Loved the ELO tracks. Loved the Olivia Newton-John tracks. I know the songs inside and out. The film is the story of album painter Sonny Malone (Michael Beck) who is looking for something better and of Danny Malone (Gene Kelly) who is a retired big band musician looking for one more big dream. Enter Greek muse Kira (Olivia Newton-John) to apply the magic. The film is an ode to roller-disco with lots of wild costumes and colors. Very 1980. And the choreography was done by a very young Kenny Ortega (known by today's generation as the man behind Disney's High School Musical franchise). It is a sappy, over the top, ode to musicals of old - and it a perfect rainy day, feeling blah kind of thing. It started to make me feel better.

Next up was the 1982 sequel to Olivia's big film with John Travolta. Grease 2 has neither of the big stars from the first film. Only folks like Didi Cohn, Sid Caeaser, Eve Arden and Dody Goodman reprise their roles from the earlier film. The rest of the cast is an all-new set of T-Birds (lead by Adrian Zmed's Johnny) and the Pink Ladies (lead by Michelle Pfeiffer's Stephanie and featuring Lorna Luft (Paulette) and Maureen Teefy(Sharon)). The story is a reversal of the first film in that outsider Michael (played by Maxwell Caulfield) falls for cool girl Stephanie and must find a way to impress her.

As with Xanadu, I owned this soundtrack on vinyl - and again on CD. I know these songs inside and out too. In fact, I've watched this film so many times over the decades since its release that I can do most of the lines in most of the scenes. I love this film that much. Pfeiffer is at her sexiest in this film - young, vulnerable and searching for that real love. Both her spotlight numbers in the film - "Cool Rider" and "(Love Will) Turn Back the Hands of Time" are my favorites (and I will admit for some reason that latter song always makes me tear up a bit every time I watch the film - it must resonate with something from my life in 1982). The other songs like "Score Tonight" and "Reproduction" are double-entendre laid numbers that give this film a more sexy edge than the first, more famous and loved of the series. The Grease 2 fans seem to recognize the unique characteristics of this film and embrace them on their own merit.

Needless to say, the film put me back squarely into 1982 and that nostalgia trip further helped to break the night of blahs for me.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Crazy About Gas

Yesterday morning after dropping my son off at school (I've been on the Mr. Mom duty this week with my wife out of town for a family emergency - and my son hasn't been able to ride the bus to and from school for three weeks now due to a leg brace he's wearing for a knee-cartiledge issue (gotta be in it for another four weeks or so)), I decided to top off my tank at the store where our lab is. The price for gas was $3.59 a gallon. There were a lot of cars so I circled once, parked and pumped what I needed.

By lunch time, the store had bumped their price up to $3.89 per gallon, following suit to all the other stations nearby. And still the cars were lined up.

I picked my son up from school at 3pm and, on the way home, all the high school drivers were pulling into a station near the school selling at $3.99 a gallon. I laughed and told my son they should go up the road about a mile or so as I had passed those stations and they were still selling at $3.69 a gallon. As we passed those two stations, one was overflowing with cars trying to fill up. I checked the place across the street - it was empty, and their pump handles were covered up. Out of gas.

Wow. Just wow.

I know that Ike has hit Texas hard and that includes the off-shore pumps, but it seems like everyone in the southeast has freaked out over possible gas shortages. Tie to that all the retailers willing to bump up the prices to get what they can - and still people are paying it. Crazy.

I figure it'll be a temporary bump, but I'm not planning on burning through my tank quickly just the same. Might run one errand tonight, but tomorrow I'm home for the day. Gotta sleep in some during the day as I have to pull a third-shift for a software install tomorrow night for six stores (10pm to 6am). Then I'll sleep a bit Monday morning and adjust back to the normal schedule for the rest of the week.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Comics of the Week (9/10/08)

Legion of Super-Heroes in the 31st Century #18 - okay, I'm getting bored. Glad the title ends in a month or so. The book does a good job for telling done-in-one tales for readers not familar with the cast and such, but with the cartoon off the air the book has no extra support. Ah well. Maybe if Geoff Johns could get on to the writing of the regular LSH title, I'd have something to substitute for this one.

Trinity #15 - I love how it all came together in this issue, and the two features did as well. Only thing is, this is issue 15 of 52 so there has got to be a lot more hitting the fan than this. That has me very interested as this is clearly a mega-epic in the making.

Final Crisis: Revelations #2 (of 5) - this tie-in is showing more guts to Final Crisis with a cast that readers can connect to. And, the whole scene with the Anti-Life Equation - that was like something out of a creepy, zombie horror film. Loved it.

Booster Gold #12 - Dan Jurgens draws the Bat-cast well. His Batgirl is spot on perfect. And the story line by Chuck Dixon - a perfect trippy time-travel/paradox laugh-fest. It was great! And that last page - YES! (I won't spoil who shows up but I am sure the creative team will do something great with this person.)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Back into Action Comics

Months ago I remarked in my weekly comic reviews how much I was digging the "Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes" arc in Action Comics (issues 858 to 863). Now, I had dropped Action regularly years ago but that arc brought me back.

Well, Geoff Johns writing on the title has caused me to come back and stay. I've gotten the next five issues in recent weeks (864 to 868) and I am loving all the elements coming back to the series. Some highlights:

864 - an epilogue to the LSH issue if you will, with Lightning Lad escorting Superman back to the 21st Century and Batman being none to happy. A nice intro to the Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds as well.

865 - a great issue featuring Toyman. Lots of resolution to some plot lines from the 90's where writers darkened the character too much by implying he was a child molester. I never liked that. This issue sorts all that out nicely and sets the villain up for the future.

866 - the beginning of another large arc, this one focusing on Brainiac. We also see the return of supporting characters Cat Grant and Steve Lombard. Nice! This sets up a classic Daily Planet line-up. Nice nods to the Superman films of the 70's too.

867 and 868 - parts two and three of the Brainiac arc. Oh, and if you thought you knew everything there was to know about Brainiac, you're wrong! I love how Johns respects the past and builds upon it, much like he is doing over in Green Lantern.

This book is definitely going back on my pull-list full time. Check it out if you like Johns' writing on other titles.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Bones season premiere

My wife and I watched the Bones season premiere which aired earlier this week on FOX last night (taped on the DVR). It was a two-hour episode which, thankfully, we were able to run past the commericials and get done in just shy of an hour and forty minutes. As long time fans of the show, what did I think?

I liked: the British versions of Booth and Bones. They made a nice contrasting team to the main characters. In fact, into the first half hour I thought they'd make for a nice spin-off show (so much for that!).

I liked: the reappearance of Angela's husband, just to add tension. Throwing Cam into the mix made it more fun, and of course we got more of Sweets too. That worked.

I liked: all those gorgeous remote shots of England. Looked awesome on HD.

I liked: Booth's battles with the car. Classic!

I didn't like: what the writers did to the Angela/Hodgins relationship. It is like they have to mix everything up for a new season.

I didn't like: the replacement squint. Clearly we're going to have a rotating person in the lab now that Zack is seeking mental help. What a shame. Maybe this will open it up for the character's return later in the season. I'm hoping.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Ranking Super-Hero Films

In a summer of big blockbuster super-hero films, inevitably one starts thinking of ranking those they've seen in some kind of order. I'm a fan and am no different than others. So, here's my list from worst to best - my top 25 (or so) super-hero films. Remember: these are only the films I have seen personally (either on the big screen, on cable or on DVD). If you have some to recommend that I do see, please let me know and I'll keep an eye out for them.

Note 1: If I had included animated films Batman: Mask of the Phantasm and Justice League: the New Frontier would have been there as well. I don't know if either of these ever came out in theatres or if they went direct to video. They are good, but unfair to rank with the others because you can pretty much do a lot with animation that you can't do otherwise with live action. One animated film does make my list below, but I'll explain why when I get there.

Note 2: Of this summer's releases, I did not see Hancock or the Dark Knight. I'll likely catch both on cable in the future. I haven't seen either of the Hulk films (I hear I should skip the first entirely) - again, might catch the new one on cable someday. I've never read Hellboy comics so I've skipped those films. Ditto with the Crow, V For Vendetta and the 300 - though all technically aren't super-heroes per se.

27. X-Men: the Final Stand
26. Superman Returns
25. My Super Ex-Girlfriend
I've blogged about the above three within the past year. See individual entries.
24. Superman III
This felt more like a Richard Pryor comedy than a Superman film. Just a mess. Not near as bad as Superman IV though (never saw that one, heard it stunk).
23. Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
I blogged about this one within the past year too. Just didn't work for me.
22. X-Men II (X2)
This film suffered, like the third in the series, of too many characters to cram into one film. Made it too hard to enjoy. Plus, it did a weak job at handling the whole "Dark Phoenix Saga", a comic masterpiece.
21. Supergirl
The lead had the right look but the story really was just a bit too hokey.
20. Fantastic Four
I enjoyed how the pulled off the team origin, but they botched up Dr. Doom big time. That lost points big time with me.
19. Batman Forever
Three heroes plus three villains equals too many new characters for a film to do justice to.
18. Daredevil
I never read much of this character's comic. The film was good but not great.
17. Batman and Robin
I liked the introduction of Robin to the franchise. I disliked Val Kilmer in the Batman role. Too much Jim Carey lunacy and not enough Tommy Lee Jones.
16. Spider-Man III
Hated Venom in this film but the effects on Sandman worked really well. Would have been just as happy with a single villain and none of the symbiote junk.
15. X-Men
A nice attempt at a team film, but too many characters got the short end of the stick so that Wolverine could shine.
14. Howard the Duck
Technically not a super-hero film, but I felt the first 2/3rds of the film did the Steve Gerber creation justice. I really want to get this on a DVD release, but I doubt it will happen. Waaaauuuuugh!
13. Spider-Man
A near perfect origin adaption. The only thing that ruins this film for me is the unmoving mask that Willem DeFoe must wear as the Green Goblin (it truly put a damper on his performance and it ruins the entire final act for me).
12. Batman Returns
Love Michelle Pffiefer as Catwoman (but not the costume). Penguin was a little too much (and too gross).
11. Batman Begins
Wasn't excited to see this in the theatres so I waited on the DVD. I liked the portrayal of the Scarecrow, and the reboot of the franchise worked well enough too.
10. Mystery Men
This film is more comedy than adventure, but I first saw it with my good buddies in San Diego during Comic-Con. That goes a long way. It did adapt the comic pretty well all in all.
9. Ghost Rider
I blogged about this film within the past year as well. The effects and the story worked well on this one, as did the rocking soundtrack.
8. Batman (1966)
I grew up on the campy 60's television show, so this one gets high marks just for nostalgia alone.
7. the Rocketeer
I never read the comic per se, but the film does a great job setting the tone and the believability of the concept.
6. Batman (1989)
What can I say - Keaton did a better job than expected, I liked Nicholson as the Joker, and then there is the Prince soundtrack. It all works for me.
5. Spider-Man II
Best of the trilogy. Spidey versus just a single villain makes it all work. The effects to make Doc Ock worked well too.
4. Superman: the Movie
Given the times, this was a well crafted film. Despite a few plot flaws, it very much captured the silver age Superman from origin to debut in Metropolis. Great cast.
3. Iron Man
I blogged about this one earlier in the summer. This film worked for me on many levels. It was a good adaptation of the origin, modified for modern times. Robert Downey Jr. worked out splendidly in the lead role. Can't wait for the sequel.
2. The Incredibles
Technically a computer animated film from the folks at Pixa, but it definitely is a gem. This original story with original characters. I have the DVD but if I catch it on TV I'll stop and watch it to the end (like I did last night).
1. Superman II
Building upon the first film, this one is near perfect with the Phantom Zone criminals and all. Only minor complaints are some of those odd powers Superman uses near the end. Beyond that, great film. And the opening with Lois in Paris - perfect portrayal of the character at the time.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Comics of the Week (9/4/08)

Adam Strange Special #1 - this tie-in to the Rann-Thanagar Holy War didn't thrill me as much as the Hawkman Special last month. I think part of it was because Jim Starlin did not do the art for this one. Also, the story seemed to mirror a lot of what Hawkman went through (past/future/mystery). The future stuff did reveal some big stuff will be happening with Adam Strange - either in the mini series or beyond.

Green Lantern #34 - I thought this issue ended the "Secret Origin" arc, but it appears we have one more issue to go. This one was okay but mostly just a big fight, nicely drawn by Reis. I'm ready for us to get out of the past on this title.

Trinity #14 - once again, the back-up feature was a bit more interesting than the lead. This whole side-trip to the Antimatter Universe was a bit too much of a diversion all the way around. Let's get back to the bigger story arc. I do like this last trio of covers with the Trinity battling their Antimatter counterparts. Changes things up a bit.