Thursday, December 8, 2011

Your Holiday Movie Guide

This article was written for the November/December issue of Bazooka Magazine, which has been unavoidably delayed (but will hopefully be out in the near future). Since some of the movies are already out or about to be released, I'm posting a little early here. I'll also throw in some updates for the films I've seen since I wrote the original.

Big Holiday Movie Guide That I Should Have Come Up With A Better Title For, or,

Boy Will I Feel Foolish If The Muppet Movie Sucks
Movies, at their most basic level, are a form of escapism and there’s nothing people want to escape more than the unending Hell that is the holiday season. Hollywood, either because it loves you or because it wants your money (Full Disclosure: It wants your money.) responds to the basic human need to take a break from the mall (hopefully before going Columbine on Santa) by releasing a whole bunch of movies between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. The sheer volume of movies on the way may make it hard for you to decide which ones to see, so it’s a good thing I’m here to help you, absolutely free of charge. (Full Disclosure: Tips are greatly appreciated. Also, beer.)

Hugo (November 23)
When I first heard about this movie, I thought it seemed a little out of character for Scorsese, but the more I think about it, the more sense it makes. After all, Scorsese excels at telling big, epic stories, and no genre is bigger or more epic than fantasy. This also looks like a movie that’ll be worth the extra few bucks for 3-D. While stunning visuals are a dime a dozen these days, the trailer reminds me of Gilliam at his best--maybe it’s all the gears and moving parts. Throw in a cast that includes Gandhi, Dracula, Borat, Hit Girl, and Jude Law and this one looks like a winner.

Update: This wasn't even remotely what I expected except for the Gilliam vibe, which goes a lot farther than just the visuals (in fact, Gilliam really should have directed this). The pacing is a little too slow, but otherwise I've got no major complaints.

The Muppets (November 23)
It’s a well-known scientific fact that Muppets are awesome (Full Disclosure: This may not technically be a “scientific fact.”), so the only question here is whether or not the new flick lives up to the standard set by Jim Henson. I know Frank Oz has grumbled about the new movie, but I’m inclined to write off his complaints as old fartism. Jason Segel’s puppet thing on the Sarah Marshall DVD makes me think he’s the perfect choice to write and star in a Muppet film, so my biggest concern here is that my expectations for this one are unattainably high, especially when you throw in Amy Adams and a Chris Cooper villain. As if that’s not enough, Neil Patrick Harris has a cameo, which means there’s a chance for a NPH musical number. (Full Disclosure: It is my firm belief that anything--movie, job interview, nap, funeral, literally anything---can be improved by adding a musical number featuring Neil Patrick Harris.)

Update: Except for the fact that NPH doesn't sing, this movie is perfect. It's got everything you want from a Muppet movie, the entire cast is great, and watching Segel in the middle of it all is sort of like watching one of those cancer kids when they finally get their trip to Disneyworld or something.

My Week With Marilyn (November 23)
This movies stars Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe. Need I say more?

Answers To Nothing (December 2)
The title of this film is also a pretty good description of what you get from the trailer. There’s a missing kid and an operation and some cops and guys crying and I have absolutely no idea what the fuck this movie is about. To make matters worse, it stars Dane Cook, who’s apparently trying his hand at SERIOUS ACTING. I guess it can’t be any worse than his alleged “comedy,” but I’m not paying eight bucks to find out. The only thing even remotely appealing about this movie is Julie Benz, and that’s mainly due to residual Buffy fandom. To be honest, her role here looks like a less interesting variation on her character from the second Boondock Saints movie. Don’t bother.

New Year’s Eve (December 9)
This looks almost like a big-budget remake of 200 Cigarettes, only instead of Christina Ricci, Casey Affleck, and Elvis Costello you get Sarah Jessica Parker, Ashton Kutcher, and Jon Fucking Bon Jovi. Yeah, it’s got DeNiro and a few other people who don’t actively suck, but based on the trailer the shittiest cast members will be getting the bulk of the screen time. Do yourself a favor and watch 200 Cigarettes instead and see if you can spot Paul Rudd. (Full Disclosure: For all I know, Paul Rudd may be a major character in 200 Cigarettes. It’s been over a decade since I saw it, so I doubt I knew who the hell Paul Rudd was at the time. Also, I may remember it being better than it actually is, but I’m reasonably sure that its complete lack of Sarah Jessica Parker means it’s better than New Year’s Eve.)

The Sitter (December 9)
I want to believe that Jonah Hill and Sam Rockwell wouldn’t both agree to work on a steaming pile of shit, and the fact that this is from the director of Pineapple Express is promising. On the other hand, the “unlikely babysitter” formula has failed for everyone from Hulk Hogan to Jackie Chan, so historical precedent prevents me from recommending this one. The best reason to give this one a shot is that there’s really not much else coming out that weekend. (Full disclosure: I have never actually seen any of the previously referenced “unlikely babysitter” movies, but I don’t think that disqualifies me from stating that they suck ass.)

Young Adult (December 9)
This movie is kind of like Grosse Pointe Blank with Charleze Theron instead of John Cusack. And instead of a dark comedy about a hitman, it’s a bunch of predictable jokes about a woman trying to recapture her lost youth. Also, there’s no Jeremy Piven or Dan Ackroyd. (Full disclosure: This movie promises to be absolutely nothing like Grosse Pointe Blank.) So basically this one’s right up there with The Sitter in the “is very likely to make you lose whatever respect you still have for the star” category. So, you know, there’s that.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (December 16)
A gritty, borderline steampunk Sherlock Holmes action movie would be a terrible idea in the hands of most film makers, but Guy Ritchie made it work the first time around. The plot probably could have been a little tighter, but between Downey’s take on Holmes, the great banter between Holmes and Watson, the action sequences, and the visuals, the minor pacing problems didn’t hurt my feelings one bit. The new installment introduces Moriarty, so I’ve got high hopes.

Filmbrew at Maiden Alley: Die Hard (December 20)
If you haven’t been to a Filmbrew night at Maiden Alley yet, this is your last chance until next year. For the final installment of the 2011 series, they’re showing the single greatest Christmas movie ever made. I’m talking, of course, about Die Hard. This is the story of John McClane, a good cop who just wants to spend Christmas with his family. Before that can happen, though, he’s got to kill a shitload of terrorists. (Full Disclosure: They’re not really terrorists.) $20 gets you a couple drinks, free food, and one of the greatest action movies of all time, plus a special super-secret bonus double feature.

TinTin (December 21)
As a comic book geek, I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I don’t actually know anything about the comic that this is based on. It’s one of the world’s most celebrated strips, though, which probably means it’s pretty good. The film adaptation looks like a typical great big Spielberg adventure, so I can’t really imagine it sucking.

The Girl With The Dragon Tatoo (December 23)
I haven’t read the books, but I’ve seen the original movies, which were made in Denmark or Sweden or some other cold European place. I’m still not sure how I feel about them. The story’s fine, but there’s something about the gender politics of the series that kind of bothers me. On the surface, the titular “girl” appears to be a strong female lead, but most of her power is rooted in victimhood and she spends and awful lot of time waiting for Manly Hero Lead to save her. Also, there are some elements of the story (like the fact that she’s a lesbian except when Manly Hero Lead is around) that have a creepy “this character is basically just wank fodder for the guy who wrote the books” vibe. Still, the fact that I sat through three subtitled movies about these characters must mean there’s something worthwhile here.

War Horse (December 25)
This is a story about a horse. A horse that goes to war. A “war horse,” you might say. So if you like feel-good movies about the triumph of the equine soul--or if you’re, like, a furry or something--you might just be the target audience for this movie. (Full disclosure: If you are a furry, you’re not the target audience for this movie. In fact, if Spielberg hears that furries went to see this movie, he’ll probably cry. Do you really want to make the creator of E.T. cry? What kind of monster are you?)

Melancholia (TBA)
The date for this one isn’t set yet, but Maiden Alley will be playing it sometime in December. This is the new movie from Lars Von Trier. He directed Anti-Christ, which overall was a little too artsy-fartsy and gratuitously “shocking” for my tastes. Still, Von Trier’s visuals are interesting and he does a great job of establishing mood, so I’m willing to give him another try before writing him off as a pretentious wannabe ateur. Also, the IMDB synopsis of the movie (“Two sisters find their already strained relationship challenged as a mysterious new planet threatens to collide into the Earth.”) is too intriguing to pass up.

These are just a few of the movies coming out in the next month or so. There’s also another Mission Impossible movie, a Christmas movie from Aardman (the company that does Wallace and Gromit), and a some other stuff that I didn’t have room to include. (Full disclosure: By “didn’t have room to include,” I mean I couldn’t think of anything clever to say about them). Hopefully my recommendations and warnings will help you choose the holiday movie that’s right for you. (Full disclosure: Unless you hate America, it’s The Muppets.)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The War On [Insert Holiday Here]

As anyone who watches Fox News (or--more likely if you're reading this--The Daily Show's coverage of Fox News) knows, a WAR ON CHRISTMAS has been raging for the past several years. This all-out attack on Christian values mainly involves acknowledging that not every single person is a Christian, but if you've got more than five friends on Facebook, you probably know that there's another more sinister battle going on: the Godless Heathens (TM) are abbreviating the word "Christmas" as "Xmas." I don't think I have to tell you that there are few things more offensive than replacing the word "Christ" with the English transliteration of the Greek letter "Chi" (which, incidentally, has been used by Christians to represent Christ for hundreds of years).

I think it's awfully unfair that only Christians get to play the part of victim in a made-up war against their beliefs. Call me a cultural relativist, but I think people of other faiths should also be allowed to get their persecution complex on. So far, it looks like only the Jews have joined in on the fun:

The Liberal Elitist (TM) in me can't help but think that the non-Abrahamic faiths should also be represented. So I decided to help.

I should probably explain that last one. I thought the holiday was something like "Grumenthar's Ascension" and was going to do a "Keep the Groo in Grumenthar's Ascension" pic featuring the Groosalug. Turns out I got the name wrong, but a "Gurn" is basically a funny face, which inevitably leads to the Angel Dance. I suspect there are probably stills from the scene in which Boreanaz's expression is more properly a by-the-book gurn, but unfortunately Google Images didn't turn up too many stills from the scene. So you might want to pretend that Angel looks slightly goofier to get the full effect.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

It's A Bird, It's A Plane, It's Social Justice Superman!

From the October 2011 issue of Bazooka Magazine:

Earlier this year DC Comics, facing flagging sales, announced that it would reboot its entire line of comics. The new books were supposed to provide a chance for writers to re-imagine some of the classic characters and give new readers a jumping-on point that wasn’t bogged down in decades of continuity. The new books released in September to a mixture of guarded optimism, legitimate anger and disgust (Google should turn up plenty of blog posts about former Teen Titan Starfire’s revamp as an amnesiac sex doll), and of course lots of nerd rage.

Before the books came out, Superman’s new costumes got some attention from comic geeks as well as the mainstream press. In Action Comics, which is set during Superman’s early career, he’s wearing jeans, work boots, and a T-shirt bearing the classic “S” symbol. In Superman, set during the new DC Universe’s “present” (about 5 years after most of the characters started their super-hero careers), the costume is similar to the classic Supes uniform, but conspicuously missing its usual red underwear. When Action Comics #1 first came out, it received a bit of media attention when a comic shop in South Carolina pulled it because in one panel Superman said “GD,” (not “God Damn,” just “GD”) which Billy Bubba Joe Bob took to be blasphemy. So far, though, there hasn’t been a lot of talk about what is in my opinion the most interesting and awesome aspect of the new Superman comics: the fact that he’s being written as a filthy Liberal Socialist Progressive class warrior.

For the roughly 20 years that I’ve been reading comics, Superman has always seemed at best naive and hokey, and at worst kind of a Fascist. Frank Miller probably deserves some of the blame for the latter, but over the years numerous comic creators have used The Man of Steel whenever they’ve needed someone to represent the dangers of unchecked power or unquestioning faith in traditional authority figures. In some stories, Superman was a tool of “The Man.” In others, he was “The Man.”

Grant Morrison’s Action Comics #1 offers a different take on The Man of Steel. The book opens with Superman involved in a stand-off with the cops as he dangles a businessman named Glenmorgan off a balcony in an attempt to scare Glenmorgan into confessing his crimes. Supes eventually drops the tycoon, only to catch him before he hits the ground. Scared sufficiently shitless by the experience, Glenmorgan finally makes his confession.

What are Glenmorgan’s crimes? Did he build a doomsday device? Try to blow up the moon? Conduct horrible experiments in an attempt to create an army of superhuman foot soldiers? Not exactly. “I’m guilty!” confesses Glenmorgan, “What do you want me to say?...I used illegal cheap labor...No safety standards...I bribed city officials...I lied...I everyone...” In other words, pretty much the same things that CEOs do every day in America.

After Supes deals with Glenmorgan and warns the crowd, “You know the deal, Metropolis. Treat people right or expect to hear from me,” we cut to Lex Luthor, who’s been paid a considerable consulting fee to help General Lane and the U.S. Army capture Superman. In order to lure Superman into his trap, Luthor has begun demolition on a building where squatters are known to be living. Superman manages to get everyone out, but it looks like he’s going to be captured until the homeless people hes’ just saved step in front of the tanks coming to capture him. Since the murder of U.S. citizens by the military would be a public relations nightmare (at least in the comic books), Superman is able to make his escape.

After he’s done championing the weak, Superman returns to his Clark Kent identity, where we find him living in a slummy “bohemian” apartment building. During a conversation with his landlady, he tells her that the scrapes on his face (apparently Earth’s yellow sun hasn’t made him completely invulnerable yet) are the result of a beatdown he received for his story about intergang’s influence on the dock unions. Most previous incarnations of Clark Kent have mainly done the Peter Parker thing, using stories about his super-hero alter-ego to make a living (and occasionally trying to pin illegal activities on members of his rogues’ gallery). This one’s working for justice even when he’s not wearing the blue long johns. During the conversation, we also hear about how Superman recently threw a wife-beater into the river, breaking both his hips and three of his ribs. The rest of the comic covers the second attempt by Luthor and Lane (now joined by Glenmorgan) to capture Supes.

As much as I loved Grant Morrison’s take on Superman in Action Comics, I took it for granted that by the time we got to DC’s other title, Goerge Perez’s Superman, which is set 5 years in the future, I’d find out that Clark had “sold out” and become the boring old Kal-El I’ve been ambivalent at best about since I picked up my first comic book. Turns out, I was wrong. The first issue of Superman finds Clark miffed about the fact that The Daily Planet has been acquired by Superman detractor Morgan Edge, Glenmorgan’s successor and a direct stand-in for Rupert Murdock (right down to the wiretapping). Towards the end of book we also hear that Clark has been working on a story about illegal evictions. I don’t think Perez will focus on the social justice angle as much as Morrison, but it’s good to see that he’s at least acknowledging it.

While I get the impression that Morrison has wanted to re-imagine Superman as a crusader for social justice for a while, the current political climate may make this the perfect time for a bold, new vision of The Man of Steel. A Superman concerned with the same issues that are ripping this country apart might actually make the character relevant again. When you think about it, Superman is one of the few DC heroes who makes sense as a representative of “the common man.” Wonder Woman and Aquaman are royalty, many super-heroes are independently wealthy or have secure upper middle class jobs, and Batman, with his focus on street crime, is essentially a rich guy who puts on a bat costume and beats up poor people. Clark Kent, despite his alien birthright and arsenal of powers, is a Midwestern farm boy who has to bust his ass to make a living as a reporter in the dying print news industry.

I have yet to hear about Bill O’Reilly or Glenn Beck going on a tirade about the new Superman’s “un-American” activities, but I suspect that says more about the position of comics on the cultural radar than the restraint of right-wing pundits. No doubt somebody will eventually complain about how Morrison subverted the character in order to put forth his Liberal Agenda (TM). Here’s the thing, though: Morrison’s vision of Superman is actually strongly rooted in the character’s origins. Superman was created by a couple of poor Jewish guys during The Great Depression and social justice, especially against those who preyed upon the poor and the weak, was a common theme in the early days of the comic. Keep in mind that one of Superman’s greatest and most enduring villains is Lex Luthor, who when you take away the super-science is just another corrupt businessman.

When World War II came, Superman, like many heroes, went to war against the Nazis, and ever since then the character has steadily evolved to face the nation’s fears (at least metaphorically), be it street crime or nuclear annihilation. Perhaps his most recent incarnation as the ultimate symbol of the status quo says more about America than it does about the abilities of DC’s writing staff. Before he became a good little conformist, though, Superman was a champion of working class Americans. I for one am glad to have him back on our side.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Oakland Police Steal Protester's McRib!

First off, I should probably ease your mind a bit: The Oakland police didn't really steal anyone's heat-lamped chunk of slightly-higher-than-dogfood quality pork. That would unforgivable.

What the Oakland police did (aside from befriending adorable kitty-cats) was fire tear gas, flash bang grenades, and rubber bullets at peaceful protesters. During the fray, one filthy hippie--a former Marine named Scott Olsen, who had served two tours of duty in Iraq--was hit in the head with one of these weapons, suffering a fractured skull and brain swelling. He is currently in the hospital in fair condition. Blogger Aaron Bady was there when the fun started, so check out his blog if you'd like to see some pictures of the crazed, out-of-control behavior that set off the confrontation.

Also in McRib-related news, a scientist hired by the Koch brothers has conceded that global warming does, in fact, exist. Of course, you probably already heard that given that the story has received a total of nearly 30 seconds of coverage on cable news. Seriously, how many times can they keep repeating the same story like that.

Anyway, keep in mind that the McRib will only be around for a limited time.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Drugs, Math, and SCIENCE!

From the September issue of Bazooka Magazine:

Since it’s a well-documented anecdotal fact that most welfare recipients are drug dealers who abuse the system so they can buy gold teeth and new rims without having to get a real job, it’s fairly common to hear people (and by “people,” I mean “morons”) suggesting that we could save a lot of tax money if we’d just ignore that pesky Fourth Amendment and drug test people who receive government assistance. If the test comes back positive, we can save money by cutting them off and letting their kids starve. That’ll learn ‘em!

Not surprisingly, Florida--consistent winner of the “State Our Nation Is Most Embarrassed By” award--had instituted just such a policy. The drug testing started earlier this year and the state predicts that the program will cost around $178 million annually. The result? A whopping 2% of the tests have been positive and another 2% didn’t complete the application process “for unspecified reasons” (no doubt they got trapped under a mountain of gold chains and car stereo equipment). According to the Tampa Tribune’s Jenée Desmond-Harris, the state will save somewhere in the neighborhood of $40,800-$60,000 per year on rejected applicants.

Keep in mind that drug testing only shows whether someone has taken drugs in some specified period of time (which varies depending on the drug being tested for). It does not differentiate between someone who took drugs once (possibly weeks before they found themselves in need of government assistance) and habitual users. It also doesn’t reveal whether the person being tested uses alcohol, so those who abuse alcohol (and in all likelihood those who abuse legal drugs that have been prescribed to them by a doctor) will get a pass. Furthermore, testing doesn’t guarantee that a single drug dealer is caught (especially if he follows NWA’s advice that dealers should abstain from the drug in which they trade).

Another problem with drug tests is the fact that they aren’t 100% accurate. According to Dr. Dwight Smith of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Black Hills, South Dakota, 5%-10% of positive drug test results are false positives (positive results even though the test subject has not taken any drugs). The rate of false negatives (negative results when the person being tested has taken drugs) is even higher, at 10%-15%. And those are averages. Tests for specific drugs tend to be more accurate, while those that attempt to test for a broad spectrum of drugs (like the ones Florida is administering) are generally less accurate.

If all the percentages and numbers make it hard to get a clear picture of exactly how pointless Florida’s drug testing program is, you’re in luck, because I have a tortured analogy! Let’s say that I’ve just invented a new electric border fence that periodically scans for people trying to cross it. Even better, it can use cutting edge SCIENCE! to determine whether the person trying to cross it is an illegal immigrant. If so, the fence emits a deadly electric shock. Of course, it does have a few bugs. Here are its performance specs:
  • In an average day, the fence scans roughly 2,000 times.
  • Of those 2,000 scans, 1720 of them happen when there is nobody trying to cross the fence (at a cost of about $30 a pop).
  • 240 times a day there will be illegals crossing the fence, but the scanners will somehow fail to pick them up.
  • Each day, 40 illegal immigrants will see the fence and decide to stay in Mexico.
  • 37 times a day, the scanners will electrocute an illegal immigrant who is trying to TAKE OUR JOBS!
  • Three times a day, the illegal alien detection technology fails and and electrocutes American citizen (probably an adorable child) standing near the fence.
So, at the end of the day, my awesome border fence costs $60,000 to operate, allows 240 illegal immigrants to cross the border unmolested, scares away 40 potential border crossers, fries 37 people with hopes of a better life, and kills 3 innocent children. I’m looking for investors so I can get a prototype ready to sell to Florida. Who wants in?

Update: Since writing this article, I've discovered that one of the companies doing the drug testing in Florida, Solantic, was co-founded by...wait for it...Florida Governor Rick Scott. His holdings in the company were transferred to his wife shortly before he took office. So there's absolutely no conflict of interest here or anything like that.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

One More And I'll Shut Up About Comics (for a while)

I’m not sure if DC saved the best for last or if everything just looks better compared to last week’s releases, but I think this week’s releases had the best overall quality so far. Nothing managed to beat out Action Comics for my favorite book of the reboot, but there’s some good stuff here (of course there’s some bad and unremarkable stuff, too).

All-Star Western
I heard good things about Gray and Palmiotti’s recent Johnah Hex series, but never got around to reading it. My understanding is that All-Star Western is basically the same book under a new title, and it looks great. The first story teams Hex up with a 19th Century Dr. Arkham as they try to solve a series of Ripper-style murders in Gotham. The issue’s a little “ancestor cameo”-heavy, but that’s really my only complaint. Hex is written like Hex should be written, Dr. Arkham’s running psychoanalysis of him is entertaining, and the art’s great. It’s pretty stylized, but I love the way the artist brings things into focus by giving more detail to and using a more varied color pallet on the things that are important to the scene. I think I’ll keep reading this one. One question for the peanut gallery: Is the woman in the cloak and cowl in the bar scene (kind of center-right in the background, behind the guy in the red vest) a cameo I’m not getting?

Batman: The Dark Knight
This is in the same category as all the other Bat books in the reboot: solid, but not spectacular. At least story-wise. I’ve got kind of a love/hate thing with the art. The costumed Batman and the cityscapes and other set pieces look great, but most of the actual people suffer from a bad case of what I can only describe as “Liefeld face.” And don’t even get me started on Hulk Two-Face.

Here’s something I never thought I’d say: I really enjoyed the new Aquaman comic. If the first issue is a good indication of where the series is going, it might even become a regular book for me. The thing that makes it work for me is the idea that people of the DCU feel pretty much the same about Aquaman as the DC fans do: that he’s a really lame super-hero who talks to fish. Acknowledging that Aquaman basically sucks right from the beginning might actually allow Johns to write an Aquaman book whose plot isn’t constantly undercut by the fact that it’s about Aquaman.

The Flash
Nothing groundbreaking here, but there’s super science right from the get-go, a good story hook, and I like the art. Buccellato does a great job of conveying a sense of movement, which is pretty important in a comic about the fastest man alive. I know that sounds obvious, but Flash artists and editors don’t always figure that out. I recommend giving this one a shot.

I, Vampire
If you love vampire cliches, this is the book for you! “Unimaginative” seems too generous and “uninspired” suggests a potentiality that does not exist here. So I’m going to go with “awful.” Not “Starfire is a sex doll” awful, just “this is not even remotely a good comic” awful.

Justice League Dark
The “occult JLA” concept could fall into a serious pile of suck very easily, and Peter Milligan is one of the few writers still working for DC that I’d trust to keep that from happening. After a couple of pages of uncertainty, Milligan won me over with three panels. The final (and my favorite of the three): “The local power station threatens to explode when it is imbued with consciousness...and gets bored.” YES! That’s some Doom Patrol level shit there! I was a little worried about John Constantine as a character in a mainstream DCU comic, but his introductory monologue (“He wanted to contact his dead wife. I wanted to pay my rent.”) put those fears...well, if not “at rest,” at least “into a state of sleepiness.” I feel good about this one as long as Milligan’s on board.

First off, what the hell is wrong with Supes on the cover? His arms and legs look hideously deformed. I’m curious whether the artist used an action figure for a model, because the limbs seem to have that sort of weird toy articulation to them. Once you get inside the book, the art is much better, at least when you can see it. For a comic book artist, George Perez is a very wordy writer. When combined with a few too many panels on some pages, this makes the comic seem a little crowded at times. Aside from the verbiage and clutter, though, it’s not a bad story. I’m especially glad that Perez didn’t immediately throw out everything I loved about the Action Comics reboot version of Supes.

Teen Titans
Ok, I like the fact that the comic starts out by acknowledging that super-powered teenagers would probably be a giant pain in the ass, and that they do it through Kid Flash, who would no doubt be the biggest pain in the ass of the bunch. The rest of the book really just establishes Red Robin as being very Batman-like and introduced Wonder Girl. Nothing wrong with it, and there’s an occasional hint of a Young Justice vibe, so I’ll at least give it until the whole team’s introduced before making a definite decision.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The DC Reboot Continues

New week, new comics. But first, great news: J.T. Krul is off Green Arrow. The reign of terror is over! Even better, he’ll be replaced by Keith Giffen. Looks like the wall of pure hate I’ve been sending out finally paid off.

We’ll start off with the one I missed last week:

Mister Terrific
I’ve always like the Michael Holt incarnation of Mr. Terrific. In addition to being a believable take on a hokey Golden Age character, Holt is a really likable guy. Therefore, seeing him turned into a complete ass in the first issue (even if it is due to some kind of crazy mind-altering something or another) doesn’t really inspire confidence. Also, while I’m a big fan of Holt having access to all kinds of crazy super-science, an extra-dimensional fortress might be just a little much. Still, I’m a big fan of the character, so I’ll give this one a few issues to pick up.

And now for this week’s reads:

Like most of the Batman books that have come out so far, this has the makings of a good, solid Batman story. Nothing wrong with that, but it doesn’t really look like they’ll be covering any new ground, either. My favorite thing about this book is probably Capullo’s art, which I think fits Gotham very well.

Birds of Prey
The first issue only introduces half the team, the story isn’t great, the art is mediocre, and the costumes are terrible. Not sure if being a Black Canary fan is going to be enough to keep me reading this one, especially if there’s no Barbara Gordon or Huntress. Judging from the cover of issue one, the rest of the team is made up of characters that I’m at best ambivalent about.

Blue Beetle
I’ll admit that, aside from his occasional supporting character appearances in other books, most of my exposure to Blue Beetle was on The Electric Company. When it comes to the DCU, I usually get the Beetle and Booster Gold mixed up. Still, I always thought the character was basically a science guy with lots of gadgets, so the whole mystical alien scarab thing kind of threw me for a loop. In general, I prefer street-level super-heroes like Green Arrow or Batman, but I can appreciate cosmic when it’s REALLY Cosmic (Morrison’s JLA, for instance). The background on the mystical alien scarab thing seems to be right at that “ho-hum cosmic” level that a lot of comics get stuck in, so I’m not sure if I’ll bother reading the second issue of this one.

Since I’d read Laura Hudson’s Comics Alliance article about this one, I thought I knew what to expect and expected bad. Turns out, it was worse. Hudson’s article article focused on the book’s smarmy, fanboyish attempt to make Selina a “sexually empowered woman,” but didn’t point out that even the non-”adult” parts of the book also sucked. Outside of the opening scene and the porn, the bulk of the issue follows the exact same plot as every bad action movie with a female protagonist (which, of course, have their own twisted view of what constitutes a “strong” female character) without the slightest hint of irony.

First off, a tangent inspired by the reference to Dick’s year as Batman: Can we please stop trying to squeeze references to the old DCU into every single reboot comic? Since the heroes in the new timeline are only supposed to have been around for a few years, trying to squeeze every single storyline (or some variation on it) from 70+ years into that time frame is just a little much. Also, it defeats the whole “remove all the continuity baggage that makes the universe inaccessible to new readers” idea that I thought was one of the reasons for the reboot in the first place. As for the comic itself, there’s just enough of a hook that I’ll probably at least follow the first storyline.

Red Hood and the Outlaws
Neither Roy Harper nor Jason Todd finished out the old DCU as likable characters, so it seems like a bad idea to start them off in the new universe with equally unlikable qualities (and in Todd’s case, apparently most of the unlikable background). And then, of course, there’s the whole “Starfire is basically a Real Doll with superpowers” thing that Hudson commented on in the article I linked earlier. Really the only positive thing about this comic is that (as far as we know), Roy hasn’t raped anybody yet. Unless a court determines that Starfire’s apparent inability to distinguish one human from another renders her mentally incompetent to give consent, that is.

The only Supergirl series I’ve read was the one Peter David wrote back in the 90s. In it, Supergirl was an angel who had taken over the resurrected body of a devil worshipping teenager. Or something. The point is, I don’t know much about the Kryptonian version of Supergirl. Maybe if I did, I’d recognize something in the first issue to tell me where the story’s going or what Supergirl continuity/origin is being used. As it is, I just know that Supergirl’s apparently just fallen to earth for the first time and has no idea that her home planet has been blown to millions of tiny chunks (a surprising number of which fell to earth in locations easily accessible to Lex Luthor). I’ll pick up the next issue or two and see if it looks like it’s going anywhere interesting.

Wonder Woman
There’s a chance that this is the first Wonder Woman comic I’ve ever read. It’s not that I don’t like the character, just that I’ve never been inspired to pick up any of the books where she’s the star. The new book might just change that. Judging from the first issue, it looks like the plan is to go full-blown mythic, and I think I trust Azzarello’s to do thatl. Also, Cliff Chiang’s art has kind of a Sandman vibe to it that I really like.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Google Plus Improvement Suggestion: Subscription Circles

One of the big selling points/innovations of Google Plus is its inclusion of circles. These are basically lists that allow you to organize your contacts into custom lists which are used to control who can see a particular post. Circles are great for controlling privacy (you can post pictures of last night’s party to your “Bar Friends” circle and not have to worry about your grandmother seeing them) and for controlling the signal-to-noise ratio of your news feed (people who you don’t know or who post exclusively about what they had for dinner go into the “Don’t Care” circle that you never bother to check), but aren’t very useful for targeting posts to people who you don’t know very well (or at all).

The big problem with circles as they currently exist is that they only work if the user knows what circles his contacts want to be in. This is fairly easy for close friends (Zed goes into the movie and politics circles, but since he doesn’t game, I leave him out of the RPG circle), but much more difficult when it comes to casual acquaintances (I know Ferndando is a gamer, but have no idea if his musical tastes are anything like mine). And then there are the people you don’t know, which is especially problematic if you’re a writer, musician, politician, business owner, or other public or semi-public figure (Is this guy a QAGS fan, someone who likes my political rants in the local alternative rag, or somebody I went to college with and don’t remember?).

From the poster’s perspective, a circle becomes less useful if you’re not sure that you’ve got the right people in it. When it comes to important (at least in your estimation) news, you’re more likely to just ignore circles entirely and post publicly so you don’t miss anyone, which sort of defeats the whole purpose of having circles in the first place. On the reader end of things, getting put in the wrong circle means you’re not getting the content you want and clogs up your news feed with stuff you could care less about. If a poster is consistently posting things you don’t care about (either due to overuse of public posts or having put you in the wrong circle), eventually you’re going to unsubscribe from their feed or stick them in your own “Don’t Care” circle.

Right now, the only way to know who wants to be in a particular circle is to ask them what circles they want to be in. Unfortunately, there’s no really efficient way to do that. If you use private messages, you have to do it for each new contact and send new messages to everyone if you start a new circle. If you use posts, you have to regularly announce the circle so that new followers can opt in. In both cases, you then have to manually add everyone who responds.

There’s an easy fix for this, which I’m sure somebody has already suggested but I’m going to chime in about anyway: give users the option of making circles public and subscribable. Whenever a user decides to follow someone new, give them a list of that person’s public circles and let them select which ones they want to subscribe to. To make it easy for subscribers to add or remove subscriptions later, list every user’s public groups on their profile page along with a link that allows people to subscribe or unsubscribe.

In addition to allowing posters (especially those who use their profiles to promote themselves or their business) to more effectively target their posts, subscription circles would be very useful in allowing readers to organize their feeds. For example, I might to care what my favorite author has to say about writing and what books he’s got coming out, but not give a damn about his favorite sports team. Allowing me to subscribe to his “writing” circle and disregard his “da Bears” circle allows me to cut out the noise without losing the content I want. With a few additional tweaks, opt-in circles could be used to provide a functionality similar to Facebook’s groups or fan pages, which will be important when Google Plus opens up the doors to businesses and other organizations.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Get Ready, Movie Fans, It’s Shitember!

From the September Issue of Bazooka Magazine:
Every movie fan knows that summer movie season draws to a close sometime between the middle and end of August; I think Fright Night pretty much closed it out this year. Starting in October (amidst what seems to be an ever-decreasing number of forgettable but enjoyable horror flicks), studios will be releasing the films that they think will get Oscar attention. Some of these will spend too much time cloying for the Academy nod to be enjoyable, but a good chunk of them will be really good movies.

Those of you who are familiar with modern American timekeeping will, of course, note that between these two periods lies the month of September, which we’re just entering. That’s when studios release that stuff that doesn’t have the starpower or visual effects to compete with Conan and Captain America and is far too devoid of artistic merit for even a bought Academy member to vote for. If you love movies but hate yourself, September’s the month for you! Here’s what’s in store for you:

September 2: Apollo 18
This is another one of those fake documentaries like Blair Witch or Cloverfield, which in my book is strike one against it. The footage purports to show NASA’s secret final visit to the moon and [spooky announcer voice] why we didn’t go back! So basically, this is shaping up to be the first fifteen minutes of Transformers 3, only without any actual Transformers. IMDB lists both of the actors as “uncredited.” Not sure if that’s due to a dumb marketing maneuver, a scheme to get around SAG pay scales, or just the actors saying “hey, how about you just leave our names out of this?”
What It Wants To Be: Apollo 13 meets Aliens
What It Will Probably Be: Paranormal Activity in SPAAAAAAACEEEEEE!!!!!!
Recommendation: Just go see Shark Week 3-D instead. It’s a gorefest about sharks eating people (in 3-D!), but at least they’re not trying to pretend that a worn-out framing device that rarely works is something edgy and new. If you’re really curious about Apollo 18, you can probably get the same experience by watching random excerpts from Discovery Channel shows about the space program while a guy wearing a rubber alien suit hits you in the crotch repeatedly with a hammer.

September 9: Contagion

This one worries me not in spite of its star power, but because of it. Even though the cast is largely made up of people whose careers have likely peaked, the need to bring so many turn-of-the-century big names on board makes me worry that the plot’s a little thin. Also, based on the preview, the only two who might not be completely phoning it in are John Hawkes and that dude who played Veronica Mars’ dad. Worse still, Soderbergh is kind of hit-or-miss as a director, and this film looks like Roland Emmerich trying to do a remake of Outbreak while pretending he’s Robert Altman. It might turn out ok, but I’m skeptical.
What It Wants To Be: I’m not sure Soderbergh has any idea. Is it a drama? A thriller? A disaster movie? For most of the actors, I think the answer is “how I’ll pay for that boat I’ve been wanting to get.”
What It Will Probably Be: Again, no clue. It could be good, or it could be two hours you’ll never, ever get back.
Recommendation: Unless Burke and Hare (Simon Pegg as half of the Victorian age’s most famous grave-robbing duo!) plays here, check it out. Your only other option is Warrior, which looks to be The Fighter without all the heroin addiction and, you know, acting.

September 16: I Don’t Know How She Does It
It’s a bit alarming how much the trailer for this movie pissed me off. The basic premise is that Sarah Jessica Parker is happily married, incredibly successful, and has overachieving kids...and it’s just really, really stressful! You know, I’m pretty sure there’s a chick in Marshall County or Ledbetter or somewhere with a special needs child and an abusive ex who’d trade in her double shifts at Wal-Mart and the meth lab next door for this “stressful” life without a second thought. Once you get past the elitism of the premise, the rest of the movie seems every bit as uninspired as the decision to cast Sarah Jessica Parker as a vapid cunt.
What It Wants To Be: A modern-day 9 to 5.
What It Will Probably Be: An insult to Rosanne Barr’s entire career.
Recommendation: Piranha 3DD

September 23: Killer Elite

You may have heard of “on the tin advertising,” which basically means you get exactly what’s advertised. In the world of movies, this describes fine films like Snakes on a Plane and Hot Tub Time Machine. Killer Elite seems to be a variation on, or perhaps an evolution of, that concept. In this case, the basic idea seems to be “if we tell them what the movie is about, we don’t have to even bother giving it a good title.” If you hook two groups of guys up to state-of-the-art brain scanners and tell one group, “We’re making a movie about Jason Statham and Clive Owen trying to kill each other. It’s called Killer Elite.” and tell the other group “We’re making a movie about Jason Statham and Clive Owen trying to kill each other. It’s called Photographs of President McKinley’s Hairy Nutsack,” the readouts for the two groups will be identical: Fuck yeah!
What It Wants To Be: A giant action movie about Jason Statham and Clive Owen trying to kill each other.
What It Will Probably Be: A giant action movie about Jason Statham and Clive Owen trying to kill each other.
Recommendation: Did you miss the part where Jason Statham and Clive Owen are trying to kill each other?

September 30: Courageous
This movie is from the makers of Fireproof, so I’m assuming that it, like Fireproof, will play at the Paducah Cinemark for months despite the fact that by all rights it should be a straight to video release. Fortunately, this one doesn’t have the kind of star power (by which I mean Kirk Cameron) that Fireproof brought to the table, so hopefully it won’t hang around as long. Although I’ve never seen Fireproof, my understanding is about a heroic firemen who love God. Courageous, on the other hand, is about heroic policemen who love God. So this is a pretty radical departure for the film makers.
What It Wants To Be: An affirmation of Christ’s love and/or the inherent legitimacy of authority figures in uniform.
What It Will Probably Be: Wasting a screen that could be showing a perfectly good movie about tits and evil fish.
Recommendation: Hope something good’s playing at Maiden Alley. The only other new release this weekend that might be watchable is 50/50, which might not even play here. “50/50,” by the way, is both the title of the film and the ratio of good to bad leads (Joseph Gordon-Levitt/Seth Rogan)

Once the long dark teatime of the movie industry that is September ends, things will get better (or, in the case of Hugh Jackman in Rock ‘em, Sock ‘em Robots: The Movie, bad in much more ridiculous and potentially amusing way). In addition to The Rum Diaries (which I hope will show up at Maiden Alley), October’s got at least one over-the-top action flick (the steampunk Three Musketeers movie), what could be a passable sci-fi flick starring Justin Timberlake (In Time), and a few remakes that might be worth seeing out of curiosity if nothing else (Footloose, The Thing). After that, the holiday movie season kicks into gear and there’ll be too many movies coming out to keep up with. Just don’t forget what’s really important this holiday season: seeing the new Muppet movie.

Friday, September 16, 2011

DC Reboot, Week 3: Eh.

I decided not to pick up all the new DC reboot comics this week. The first week’s selection was mostly mediocre, so this time around I picked up major characters, characters I like, and a few that sounded neat. I skipped Deathstroke, Grifter, Legion Lost, Red Lanterns, and Resurrection Man and missed Mister Terrific (which I do want to read). The verdicts on the ones I read:

Batman and Robin

Once you get past/ignore the fact that the reboot timeline (which is supposed to be something like 5 years after the various super-heroes started appearing) means that Bats has been going through Robins at an alarming rate, this is pretty much what you expect from a comic that pairs Bruce up with his son. Damien doesn’t take orders and seems like he could just as easily be a sociopath as a hero and Bats isn’t used to dealing with quite so much attitude. It looks like the writers are taking their cues from Morrison on this one, so this should be a good one.


Despite being part of the reboot, this looks to be basically the same Batwoman comic that was promised a year or two ago but never got off the ground. Looking forward to finally reading it.

Demon Knights

The Demon/Jason Blood and Madame Xanadu wander around medieval Europe at some unspecified time after the fall of Camelot, occasionally meeting up with Vandal Savage. In the first issue, they also meet up with a character who appears to be a female version of Shining Knight. Not sure about this one. I really like the character design for Etrigan, but so far he only seems to speak in rhyme when transforming. I realize writing the rhymes is probably a huge pain in the ass, but not even trying seems kind of lazy to me.

Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E.

I wasn’t reading comics when the Seven Soldiers of Victory stuff came out, so I don’t really know anything about the character. Based on the first issue, though, I like it: Frank works for the Super Human Advanced Defense Executive, which is headquartered in a microscopic city inside a 3-inch indestructible ball that moves around at 600+ mph, his boss is someone named Father Time who gets a new body every 10 years and is currently a little girl, and he’s just been paired up with a team of other variations on the classic Universal monsters. The first issue has a “Doom Patrol meets Hellboy” kind of feel, and if they can keep that up, I’ll keep reading.

Green Lantern

The book starts with Sinestro getting a power ring, which seems like a bad plan considering that he’s apparently already done a bunch of the bad stuff he did in the old DCU. Then we cut to Hal and discover that it was his ring, which the little blue guys took away from him (presumably because of recklessness) and he’s not handling it well. The issue’s basically all set-up for the final page, which looks like it will lead into the actual premise next issue. The first issue was readable enough, but there’s not enough story there to make any real judgement about whether or not the series will be worth reading.

Suicide Squad

Harley Quinn and a bunch of other really bad guys you’ve never or barely heard of (I think Deadshot’s the next most recognizable) get forced into working for Dr. Amanda Waller. I assume they’re going to be some sort of super-team, but based the description of the first mission (provided just as the issue ends), it’s also possible (if unlikely) that Waller has lost her damned mind and become a super-villain. I’ll give it a few issues, if only because they seem to be writing Harley the way I like her--disturbingly, creepily insane--and there’s a guy with a shark head.


This one’s all origin story, so it’s going to take at least another issue to get a feel for where it’s going. It looks like it might just be rehashing the mid-90s Superboy storyline, but hopefully they’ll add something new or interesting. I kind of like the manga-style art.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Dan Didio Nut-Kick Theater

Since this blog has been mostly politics lately, let’s talk about comic books.

While I still go pick up new books every Wednesday, I’ve gotten way behind on actually reading them. I’m anywhere from 2 to 10 issues behind on most books at the moment and just can’t find time to sit down and catch up. When I do catch up on something, it’s not unusual to realize that I should have stopped buying it months ago. So for me, the DC reboot is a way to start fresh and attempt to keep up. Except for the single issue of Justice League last week, this Wednesday was the first wave of the new DC books. Since all but a few were on my “at least check out the first issue” list anyway, I decided to drop the extra $10-15 and give them all a chance. Just finished them all and the experience was mostly underwhelming, though some of the titles do have potential.

Justice League

This was the only DCU book released last week, and the big jumping on point that was supposed to get fans amped up for the all new DC Universe. Apparently, the creative team (or more likely, Dan “should be kicked in the nuts” Didio) decided that the best way to do that was with a story where....not much happens. So it’s kind of hard to tell where this one will go. Johns seems to be taking the Grant Morrison “Batman is so incredibly competent that he’s almost a self-parody” track, which can be a lot of fun. Green Lantern seems to be at least somewhat based on Ryan Reynolds from the movie, which could go either way. I don’t hate Jim Lee’s art, but I don’t especially like it, either. Especially the actions scenes. Lee seems to belong to the “maybe if I just put a bunch of shit in the panel, no one will notice that I suck at actually showing what’s going on.” I will cautiously buy issue 2.

Action Comics

The idea of an “edgy” Superman would turn my stomach in the hands of most writers, but I’ll give Grant Morrison the benefit of the doubt on just about any concept. It only took him a few pages of establishing that the edginess comes from the fact that Supes is an activist to win me over completely. This comic will probably cause some serious nerd rage, but I think I’m going to love it.

Animal Man

I never read Morrison’s Animal Man series, but I’ve run into the character in other books. He’s got kind of a “regular guy” vibe that I like, and the whole shamanistic animal otherworld thing seems neat. I’m not crazy about the art in the new book, but it looks like they’re sticking with the same basic character that’s always seemed likable to me, and the final scene of issue 1 means I’ll at least buy issue 2.


I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read of the most recent Batgirl series, so it’s one of the ones I’m a little sad to see get rebooted. Plus, Barbara Gordon has been Oracle pretty much the entire time I’ve been reading mainstream comics, so while seeing her as Batgirl is cool, the idea of a DCU without Oracle is a little weird. The comic kind of starts where the original Babs-as-Batgirl ended, with her returning to duty after several months in a wheelchair courtesy of the joker (fortunately in the new DCU, the damage wasn’t permanent). I really enjoyed the first issue, but I’m probably a little biased since I’m a fan of both Batgirl and Barbara Gordon.

I kind of like the art, but nothing about the first issue of this book really reaches out and grabs me. That said, the premise--a super-hero based in the Congo--has potential. If nothing else, the types of crimes and bad guys to be dealt with should have a very different vibe from the typical American super-hero comic. The problem, of course, is that I’m not sure I trust Judd Winick to do anything but write a straightforward American super-hero comic, only with black guys and Congolese place names. I’ll probably pick up the next issue or two just to see if it’s going anywhere interesting.

Detective Comics

The timeline seems to be after Bats has befriended Gordon but before the rest of the GCPD and city government are on board with the idea of a vigilante as an ally, and the series dives right into things with the Joker as the antagonist. It’s pretty standard Batman fare, but I’m always a sucker for any Batman comic that includes “Frank Miller medical updates” whenever Bats gets hurt.

Green Arrow

The nut kicks I advocate for Dan Didio are meant to be one-kick (each time you happen to run into him), do-it-and-it’s-done affairs. Almost like a greeting. Hell, I’d even be willing to elect a Nut Kick Commissioner to rule on when it is and is not acceptable to kick Didio in the sack. In the end, I know Didio will get his due when the ghost of Julie Schwartz rises, Spectre-like, to exact vengeance upon him. J.T. Krul, on the other hand, deserves the kind of brutal nut punch overkill that Hartigan gave to That Yellow Bastard’s head in Sin City. After all, he wrote The Rise of Arsenal, which is arguably the absolute worst comic book mini-series to ever see publication and then continued his rape of the Green Arrow family with the moronic “a forest pops up in Star City” nonsense. When I heard about the reboot, I was heartened by the idea that Krul’s reign of suck over one of my favorite characters was finally coming to an end. But, of course, Didio earned his daily nut kick by deciding that Green Arrow would be one of the few comics that didn’t get a new writer.

I was sure that this comic would be yet another rape of one of my favorite characters by Krul. The low expectations might have actually helped, since the comic didn’t manage to annoy nearly as much as expected. Sure, the villains are apparently motivated by Youtube hits, Krul’s attempts at writing Ollie-style banter are atrocious, and the armor looks entirely too Green Lanterny for my taste. However, at no point in the book does Ollie take off his pants and start randomly urinating on things, which for Krul is a small victory. I will give him credit for re-introducing the trick arrows and remembering that Ollie does, in fact, own a huge technology company and therefore should have some Batmanesque cool toys. I will continue to read this book out of grim obligation to the character and the solemn hope that J.T. Krul is struck down by a vengeful god or rendered permanently incapacitated before the series gets cancelled.

Hawk & Dove

Even if this comic were extremely well-written (it’s not), I would have still been distracted by one of the great mysteries of modern life. Namely, how is it possible for Rob Liefeld, who has absolutely no skill or talent for drawing, to be a successful comic book artist? I just don’t understand.

Justice League International

I suspected that loyalty to some of the individual characters would be the main draw of this book, but the first issue suggests that there might be some fun character bickering, and there’s even a possibility of some ineteresting conflict derived from introducing global politics into the usual super team set-up (the team is backed by the U.N.). If nothing else, having protesters bomb the Hall of Justice in the first issue is enough to convince me it deserves a chance.

Men of War

Call me a traditionalist, but Sergeant Rock should be fighting Nazis. In addition to just seeming wrong on a fundamental level, attempting to update Rock to a modern-day setting runs a high risk of the enemies devolving into offensive racial stereotypes. Much as I like the character, I doubt I’ll pick up the next issue.


I knew basically nothing about this character going in, and after reading the first issue, I still know basically nothing about this character and am very neutral on the comic. Since I usually love Giffen’s work and, as I may have mentioned, am not a fan of Dan Didio, I was hoping that one of them would overpower the other, making the decision as to whether or not this would be worth reading an easy one. Instead, it seems that when the powers of good and the powers of suck combine, you end up with something blindingly mediocre. I might pick up issue 2 in hopes that by then Giffen will have discovered a way to circumvent the Kryptonite-like drain on all things good that is Dan Didio (my suggestion: repeated nut kicks), but only if it comes out during an otherwise slow comic week.

Static Shock
Comics, on the most basic level, are supposed to tell a story with pictures. Words are often used to enhance the story, but the visual element should generally be a big part of the experience. So if a typical page of a comic is using several hundred words and most of them add very little to the story, somebody’s doing something wrong. Sometimes the artist just can’t tell a story very well. Sometimes the writer is too wordy or not good at letting the pictures do the talking. Since the art in this book seems to do a pretty good job of showing what’s going on, I’m going to blame the overabundance of caption boxes and word balloons in this book on the writing team. Unfortunately for DC and fortunately for my bank account, there’s nothing about this book that makes me feel like I need to buy any future issues.


I used to read The Authority and always like the characters, but I’m curious how they’re going to fit it all into the DCU. Several of character concepts (especially Apollo and Midnighter) have always been “kind of like [JLA member], but more of a bad-ass and not necessarily ‘heroic’ in the traditional sense,” and it look like that may be the direction the book is headed. I’m definitely intrigued, especially with the idea of Martian Manhunter belonging to both teams.

Swamp Thing
Re-envisioning Alan Moore seems to be a battle you’re destined to lose, so I’ll give the creative team some credit for even trying. The book starts off after Dr. Holland has died, become Swamp Thing, and somehow returned with vague memories of his time as a rotting heap of plant matter. Then at the end, a Swamp Thing completely independent of Holland shows up. Not sure if Swampy and Holland existing independently of one another was done in the old comics--I never finished the series--but using that as the starting point could work. We’ll see where it goes from here.

Looks like next week has a few of the big names (Batman & Robin, Green Lantern), a few all-new (at least in monthly format) titles (Frankenstein: Agent of SHADE, Red Lanterns), and a few titles that, if history is any indicator, are doomed to cancellation (Resurection Man, Deathstroke). We also finally get the Batwoman series that DC’s been promising for at least a year now. I don’t know if I’ll pick up the whole pile next time--I find it hard to imagine any possibility of a readable Grifter comic--but I’ll try to post some mini-reviews of the ones I do.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Confessions of a Hopium Eater

From the August 2011 issue of Bazooka Magazine:
I was enlightened or warped, depending on how you look at it, by George Carlin at a relatively young age. One of the things I agreed with Carlin about for a long time was voting, on which he said:
"I don't vote. On Election Day, I stay home. I firmly believe that if you vote, you have no right to complain. Now, some people like to twist that around. They say, 'If you don't vote, you have no right to complain,' but where's the logic in that? If you vote, and you elect dishonest, incompetent politicians, and they get into office and screw everything up, you are responsible for what they have done. You voted them in. You caused the problem. You have no right to complain. I, on the other hand, who did not vote -- who did not even leave the house on Election Day -- am in no way responsible for that these politicians have done and have every right to complain about the mess that you created."

Since all politicians seemed equally dishonest, I took Carlin’s advice and stayed home most election days. Then in 2000, the Supreme Court appointed George W. Bush to the presidency and it quickly became apparent that in some cases the lesser of two evils was in fact preferable. So I started voting for the person I thought would fuck up things the least and/or the candidate who could correctly pronounce “nuclear.” Until 2008, every vote I cast was against the other guy, not for the guy who got my vote.

In 2008, Barack Obama came along, and I actually believed that he’d do what he said he’d do. While I knew that many of his ideas could never actually be implemented, he made me believe that he’d at least fight for them, and for the first time I voted for a candidate rather than against his opponent. During the early days of the Obama presidency, my Hopium addiction was still strong enough to give him the benefit of the doubt, but after a while I managed to kick the habit of paying more attention to what Obama was saying than what he was doing.

Many who are still hopelessly addicted to Hopium are quick to point out the accomplishments of the Obama administration, but most of these are hollow victories. The Iraq war is over, but only on paper, and we’ve more than made up for the decreased fighting there in Afghanistan, not to mention our air and drone attacks in Libya, Somalia, Pakistan, and Yemen. We’ve got universal health care, but in the form of a corporate-friendly mandate almost identical to the plan that the Heritage Foundation proposed during the Clinton administration. The administration directed the DEA to stop raiding state-legal medical marijuana dispensaries, but then changed its mind when it realized how much money these dispensaries were making without DEA interference. I guess they were worried about that money cutting into Big Pharma’s profits and by association Big Pharma’s campaign contributions. Obama’s few real accomplishments, like the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” were inevitable. They might have taken a few years longer without Democratic leadership, but they were gonna happen sooner or later.

It’s become abundantly clear that Obama, like most other Democrats, only differs from the Republicans on a few social issues. When it comes to economics, the difference between the two parties is so minor as to be almost academic. They’re both ultimately concerned with keeping their rich donors happy, the only difference is that the Democrats will occasionally hide their blind greed and self-interest by throwing a bone to a social program or two. It’s a lot like professional wrestling: To a progressive-minded voter, the Dems are the faces and the GOP play the role of the heels, but at the end of the day they’re all working to put on a good show (like The Debt Ceiling Showdown pay-per-view event) to keep the cash flowing from the rubes (us) to Vince McMahon (the Koch brothers, Walton family, and other billionaires).

Obviously, people on my end of the political spectrum aren’t going to vote for any of the criminals and maniacs that have a chance of getting the GOP nomination, so what the hell are we supposed to do? Much as I agree with Carlin on most things, on this particular point, I think he’s wrong, so I’m going to vote for somebody. The question is, who? My current plan is to vote for a third party candidate (a real one, not a Republican wearing teabags on his three-cornered hat).

Some people will probably counter this idea with the Nader argument and say that by “throwing away your vote” on some third-party candidate, you’ll help to put the GOP back in power. My counter-argument is “what’s the difference?” From where I’m sitting, I really can’t see much of one. All the worst policies of the Bush years have been continued under Obama. As for all the GOP policies that Democrats use to frighten votes out of people--cutting of social programs, outlawing abortion, passing DOMA--keep in mind that the Republicans controlled all three branches of government for most of a decade and didn’t accomplish any of these things. That’s because actual reform of this sort would cost them votes in the next election. Wedge issues like these are the steel cage ladder matches that keep us watching (and voting).

If you can’t find a third party candidate you agree with, just vote for the absolute most batshit insane person you can find. Under our current political system, third party candidates don’t have much chance of getting elected anyway, so you’re not really voting to elect anyone. Instead, you’re voting to show the major parties that you refuse to give your vote to someone who isn’t going to work for your interests. If enough people do it, maybe eventually they’ll take notice (at least until the Supreme Court decides that corporations get 1 vote for every dollar they earn or something). If a few third party guys get elected, even better. There’s always a chance that a handful sincere true believers and colorful nutjobs can at least slow down the bi-partisan corporate toadying and upwards redistribution of wealth that goes on in politics today. At the very least, having a few true loonies in office will make C-Span a lot more entertaining.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Open Letters To The Universe

From the August issue of Bazooka Magazine

There’s a lot of stupid shit going on lately, but I’ve been too busy (or maybe just too lazy) to cover it all in depth here. Instead, I’m going to use a contrived “open letters to people I don’t know” format that will allow me to hit the highlights while simultaneously annoying the Update Update guys. So everybody wins.

Dear Sarah Palin,
Did you really release a book called Undefeated? Seriously? That’s like Paris Hilton releasing a book called Unfucked. In both cases, the interwebs are full of evidence to the contrary.

Dear David Williams,
If you regularly report thousands of dollars in gambling losses on your tax returns, you can’t be against expanding gambling in the state of Kentucky. Our state could really use the jobs, tax revenues, and other economic benefits from gambling money that Kentuckians like you are giving to neighboring states.

Dear Bush Tax Cut Supporters,
Trickle down theory used to be confined to the fringes of the Republican party--even George H.W. Bush called it “voodoo economics”--but today even the allegedly but not really Liberal Obama administration pays lip service to the idea that giving tax cuts to the rich will create jobs. Let’s ignore the 30+ years of evidence that this simply isn’t true and think about it from the perspective of a business owner: Say you run a business making Gadsden flags.Your company is fully staffed with salespeople, office workers, janitors, and enough people on the production floor to turn out 1500 flags a month. Your biggest sales month is April (when all the tea partiers are gearing up for their tax day protests), when you sell about 1400 flags. The rest of the year, you average around 1000 flags a month. If the government gives you a tax cut, are you going to use that money to hire an employee you don’t need? Exactly. If we want the economy to improve, we need to put money into the hands of the morons who buy Gadsden flags, not inflate the bank accounts of the people who outsourced their jobs to China in the first place.

Dear Nancy Grace,
I hear there’s a dead white girl at the bottom of the Marianas Trench. Why don’t you go check that out?

Dear Hollywood,
Please make a buddy cop movie starring John Turturro and Alan Tudyk. Don’t let Michael Bay have anything to do with it. While you’re at it, stop letting Michael Bay make movies. Thank you.

Dear Michelle Bachmann,
Your husband is gayer than George Takei dancing on a rainbow in assless chaps. It’s probably best for both of you to acknowledge this now. Not only will it allow you to avoid the inevitable airport bathroom revelation, it will hopefully convince him to stop using federal money to torture openly gay people with his “pray the gay away” program. Maybe then he could start a faith-based initiative that would really benefit the country. I recommend a “Pray Michael Bay Away” program.