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12 November 2004 @ 08:51 am
Jessica gave me her cold, or whatever it was, so I've been medicated for the past two days. I had forgotten just how horrid Robitussin tastes.

The Scar
I'm about a third of the way through China Mieville's novel, 'The Scar,' and it's already making me want to give up writing forever. So far, I like it more than it's predecessor ('Perdido Street Station'), which was denser, but more scattershot. The plot here is very lean, and the characters very well drawn. Anyone who enjoys imaginative fiction dappled with steampunk and heavy doses of heady language will dig it.

Because It's Thursday (even though it's not)
OK, comics. Being sick the past few days I had lots of time to dig into this week's offerings. It was a pretty good week. Here's What I've come up with.

DC's big autumnal event nears it's conclusion. This issue, the killer is revealed. Or is he? I'm holding out hope that writer Brad Meltzer is pulling a fast one on me, because I don't really buy that the Atom is a cold-blooded murderer. Of course, he could be under someone else's control. Anyway, it's a pretty good issue, but very slow to start, spending almost twelve pages basically recapping things from previous issues. Artwise, it's a treat. This series has been some of Rags Morales' career best.

Picking up on the heels of the recently concluded 'Wargames' crossover, this issue does a decent job of removing Nightwing -- the only supporting 'cape' left from Batman's little cadre of vigilantes -- from Gotham City. Which is only fair, since Batman has gone out of his way to alienate himself from pretty much everyone in DC's attempt to bring the character back to his 1940's loner roots. The real treat here is the fill-in art by Zach Howard. I hope to see more from him in the future.

Another issue referring to 'War Games,' this issue, as per it's mission statement, focuses on the aftermath from the perspective of the police department. Lot's of changes and inter-cop conflict, as there are just as many cops who trust Batman that don't. The lynchpin of the story is the new commissioner's orders to remove the bat signal from the roof of GCPD headquarters. Out of all the bat-related titles, this one is still the best, offering a grounded, realistic cop drama that just happens to be in a city with famous vigilante. Top notch stuff all the way. I'll be sad to see artist Michael Lark depart (in a few issues).

JSA #67
This one is closely tied to the plot in 'Identity Crisis,' and should be read before the current issue of that title. Unfortunately, I read it afterward, which killed some of the drama. It was still a decent read, even if nothing much happens. Dave Gibbons' art is a little distracting and not as detailed as the usual artists on this book. Overall fine.

This one is written by Alan Moore's daughter, Leah, with art by Sean McManus and J.H. Williams III. I was very wary of this title. In fact, I wasn't planning on buying it at all until I saw it on the shelf. Being the first chapter in a miniseries, the story is full of intriguing mysteries. Who is this kid, and why does she disappear for months at a time? What are these entities she encounters, and do they exist in a dream? In reality? Or something in between? Needless to say, I've very pleased with the purchase. Now I just have to decide whether to buy the rest of the issues as they come out, or buy the inevitable (and less expensive) trade paperback collection.

I don't really buy many Marvel comics these days, and I've never bought an issue of Iron Man, that's for sure. But this new series is written by Warren Ellis, who does a bang-up job reinterpreting the invincible one by way of more modern, imaginative and politically aware sensibilities. I like that Stark is confronted for being, basically, an arms dealer, bringing a moral weight to, traditionally, a canon of silly adventure tales that took the hero's day job as multibillionaire industrialist as simply a background detail that needn't be at all referred to. In an earlier, more innocent age this is acceptable, but not anymore. The computer-aided painting here is sometimes brilliant, other times lackluster and sterile. Still, it shows promise, and certainly stands out among a lot of the Jim Lee clones Marvel has taken to hiring of late. In any case, I'll most likely be picking this one up again.

I don't know why I bought this. I should have known. Yes, it was funny. Yes, Kirkman is a great writer. And yes, Scot Kollins' artwork is predictably brilliant. It's still bloody popcorn, though. I guess there's nothing wrong with popcorn, if that's what you're into, but like I said, I should have known.

God bless Marvel for producing these phonebook sized black and white reprints of their classic comics. Especially this one. Not only are all these issues finely crafted horror tales by the likes of Marv Wolfman and Gerry Conway, but they represent some of the best work by one of comicdom's bar-none greatest artists, Gene Colan. I was surprised at how much actual horror the creators managed to get away with, given the standards of censorship (the dreaded Comics Code) of the day. Granted, there are some silly moments, some required leaps of faith on the part of the reader, but these are easily dismissed in favor of the wonderfully crafted sense of dread, high-drama and tragedy.
Current Mood: mellowmedicated
Current Music: Kate Bush - The Dreaming
09 November 2004 @ 12:57 pm
There aren't enough successionists these days. Ostensibly illegal, but not outside the realm of the possible (the Constitution could be rewritten), succession is usually only spoken of in the realm of the crackpot and/or cultist. These folks seem to be either the most inspired of the lot or the most absurdly obsessed (see section on sasquatch for evidence).

Much Accomplished, but Little Work
Jessica and I went to Ikea this past weekend and bought a new dining room table, a rug and a new bookshelf to aid in consolidating my collection. We spent a good portion of two days assembling things, cleaning and moving around furniture (and books). The place looks great, but I got no writing at all done, which is pretty much par for the course for a weekend. The work managed to eat up Monday as well, however, which I took off work for the sole purpose of devoting it to writing. It's a good thing I get as much done as I do at work during downtime. Otherwise, I'd never get anything done at all.
Current Mood: busybusy
Current Music: Blondie - Autoamerican
04 November 2004 @ 10:42 am
The bright side of realizing that more than half of the people living in the U.S. are complete bucketheads, is that almost half aren't utterly mad, that a lot of people here do care about what's going on here and in the world at large, and believe that our administration is leading us all down a dangerous, in some ways horrific, path. Like me, some of us are despondent right now, because we believed the election would go otherwise, because we thought the president's utter failures would be recognized by everyone and be rewarded with eviction.

Not so, not so. It's a bitter pill, but, at least for me, this election has demonstrated that intolerance and moral superiority is the new order of the day. We have to accept that most people think gay marriage should be criminalized, that abortion is murder, and that Iraqis are children that need to be bombed into democracy for their own good.

I think it's going to take a long time to turn this around. The United States is young, an infant herself, and bloated with power. Like a child with a gun in a playground full of adults, lecturing their elders about what is right and wrong, what justifies war, and what constitutes treachery, as if these nations haven't seen their own cities razed over and over again, as if they haven't been brutal occupiers themselves and learned through their own folly the very lessons facing us.

When was the last time a foreign army occupied an American city? When have we ever tasted the whip of foreign masters? Or watched our loved oned led away to be shot?


What good is our lecturing a nation like Germany, then, for not seeing things our way? Or France. They who have been where we are now, young and puffed up with rightousness, centuries gone by. They have learned these lessons already.
Current Mood: distresseddistressed
Current Music: Camper van Beethoven - Cigarettes and Carrot Juice
04 November 2004 @ 08:57 am
Did this election have anything to do with anything (other than party loyalty)? It certainly wasn't about the economy or the war in Iraq, both miserable failures.

The election did manage to demonstrate one interesting fact, however. That a lot of people would like to see their personal, religion-grounded beliefs become matters of law. Yes, in the land of tolerance, a significant portion of the population wants to legislate against behaviors they consider objectionable. Regardless of the fact that religion has no place in our government, regardless of the fact that the same religion used to justify their judgement cautions against judging others in God's stead.

It flies in the face of everything this country stands for and was founded on, AND isn't christian behavior at all. So a question is begged: What are these monsters? And what will become of us?

Because It's Thursday
OK, settling down. On a lighter note, I did pick up a few comics yesterday, but only read three of them, not really being in the mood to enjoy much of anything.

DETECTIVE #800 was a boring recast of the status quo in Gotham City. It's not really much of a story. More of a retreading travelogue of some of the developments in the wake of the Gang War crossover, most of which was covered in the actual crossover itself. The backup story by David Lapham was somewhat dippy, too. More of a poem with pictures than a story. Lapham's going to be the new writer for Detective starting next month. I sincerely hope his backup story in this issue isn't going to be indicative of the future.

JLA: CLASSIFIED #1 was fun, though only one member of the Justice League (Batman) makes an appearance. I dig most of Grant Morrison's work. He thinks big, and stuffs his stories with one-off details and kooky dialogue that evokes both the strengths and the absurdity of the superhero genre. Best line: "Alfred, has my flying saucer arrived from the factory yet?"

AVENGERS #503, the last issue (yeah, right) of the series, revealing the perp behind the murder of a few teamembers over the last few months and pretty much the destruction of the Avengers as we know it. Most readers guessed it anyway (it was the Scarlet Witch, an Avenger herself), so there isn't much in the way of surprises. The plot here has been pretty blockheaded. Which is odd, because Brian Bendis is a talented writer, especially when it comed to dialogue (Dr. Strange's dialogue was pitch perfect, straight 70's cheeseball kitsch). This story will lead into yet another Avengers series next year, which I most likely won't bother with.
Current Mood: workingworking
Current Music: Dharma Bums - Bliss
03 November 2004 @ 01:52 pm
Whenever President Bush starts talking, I like to close my eyes and imagine the Incredible Hulk speaking. Try it. It takes the sting off.
Current Mood: crankycranky
Current Music: Bjork - Medulla
03 November 2004 @ 10:54 am
Feeling Like a Chump
How disappointing. It sucks to see the country continue to down a road I'd rather not see at all. And it's frustrating that so many people think otherwise. Jess and I were up late hoping for a shred of good news, but as the results trickled in, it was pretty obvious that Bush was going to win the election. I was so melancholy this morning that stayed in bed for about an hour and a half after my alarm went off, eked into work at about 10:30. How terrible.
Current Mood: depresseddepressed
Current Music: Patsy Cline - Stop the World (and Let Me Off)
02 November 2004 @ 09:56 am
I woke up a little early, to vote and get to work on time. Unfortunately, the flyer distributed throughout my neighborhood advised me to go to the wrong polling center, so I ended up waiting 30 minutes in line and then told to walk four or five blocks down the street. It was nice to see so many people voting, though. I have never waited in line at a polling center. This morning both centers had 20-30 minute lines.

That said, I'll be happy to see normal commercials now. I'll take anything. I promise I'll discover a new appreciation for the Oven Mitt and the Ford Truck Man.

I watched the movie DUMMY last night, a little indy thing starring Adrian Brody, Milla Jovovich and Illeana Douglas. It's weird and fun, with eccentric characters and a great script. It's asks the audience to suspend it's disbelief a little too much, but it's nothing unforgivable.

Great Purge Update
We are now about $50 away from making $2,000 on ebay over the last few months. So, now we have enough for closing costs. Now I guess we have to work on an actua down-payment. Only about $20,000 to go. *sigh* Anyone want to donate (kidding)?

Grant Morrison's latest foray into comic book strangeness, the 3-part miniseries WE3, is on it's second issue and (like most of his better work) is unlike anything I've ever imagined. The plot is very simple (and over-the top): three household pets, a dog, a cat and a rabbit, undergo transforative surgery, military training and education (they can actually speak, though in a sort of primitive pet-dialect), converting them into something like super-soldiers. Sounds stupid, huh? I thought it was the the dumbest thing I'd ever heard when I read the solicitation for it. Oddly enough, it's not. In fact, it's sorta *sweet*, ultraviolence notwithstanding. Imagine Old Yeller, but with rockets and projectile cat claws.

I'm not doing it justice. I do recomment having a look, though. It's unlike anything on the shelves (comic or otherwise).
Current Mood: nervous(for the future)
Current Music: April March - April March Sings Along With The Makers
01 November 2004 @ 10:22 am
Writing Woes
I completed very little in the way of actual work over the weekend, which is a little disappointing. I feel like I have a better handle on what I want to do, though, which makes up for the lack of productivity.

I did manage to catch a bunch of movies, though. First up, CONTROL ROOM, a documentary about media coverage of the war in Iraq. It's the best sort of documentary of this kind, with no annoying narrator telling you what to think about the images you are seeing. All in all a very powerful criticism of the way information is delivered and perceived around the world. Second, the remake of DAWN OF THE DEAD, which was fine. The original is, of course, much better. But this version remains true to the spirit of Romero's films, which means a lot to me. The ending was at once disappointing and the most chilling part of the film, image-wise. A a self-professed connoisseur of (good) zombie movies, I declare Dawn of the Dead a fine, if slightly derivative (but that's to be expected, being a remake) addition to the canon. Worth watching for Romero fans (and a much better remake than Romero's own 90's remake of Night of the Living Dead). ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND is a truly fine piece of work. Yes, Kate Winslett stars in it, so I'm already biased toward liking it. That's pretty much a given. But the other actors as well (Jim Carrey, Kirsten Dunst, Tom Wilkinson) really manage to pull off excellent performances, bringing to life some very difficult and fantastical material. Jim Carrey, especially, whom I never much cared for, really surprises with the most understated work he's ever done. THE HAUNTING. No, not the awful recent special-effects-laden 1998 remake. This is the original, and it's one of the creepiest horror movies ever made. Ascribing to the very valid horror dogma that less-is-more, The Haunting never shows the viewer any ghosts. The chills come from noises, slowly-turning doorknobs, spooky laughter and screams (lots). The screenplay is absolutely one of the best horror stories ever written for the screen (adapted from Shirley Jackson's 'The Haunting of Hill House') and it's a delight to watch the characters degenerate from confident, wisecracking skeptics (who clearly don't like each other at all) to completely terrified (and in one case insane) believers.

Our street must have a bad reputation. Jessica and I set out to give away loads of candy last night, but the children were few in coming. We ended up giving the kids two and three candy bars apiece and still didn't get through the first bowl. This is a shame, because Jess bought something like twenty bags of candy, anticipating hordes. Still...it was a perfect Halloween night. The leaves had just fallen a few days before and the familliar earthy smell of October was in the air. The wind had only a slight chill to it, and the sky was clear; even some stars were visible.
Current Mood: busybusy
Current Music: His Name is Alive - Someday My Blues Will Cover The Earth
29 October 2004 @ 10:04 am
Securing Hungary's (expired) Toy Patents
"After her first contact with a Department of Homeland Security agent, an Oregon toy store owner thought she might be the victim of a prank caller. But a second cryptic call left Stephanie Cox shaky. When the feds descended on Pufferbelly Toys, they showed their badges and made their mission clear: They were investigating a report that she was selling a toy called the Magic Cube, which they said was an illegal knockoff of Rubik's Cube. Cox removed the offending item from the shelf, then contacted the manufacturer, who assured her there was no patent violation. Now, with the Magic Cube back on the shelf, Cox still puzzles over her Homeland Security experience. "Aren't there any terrorists out there?" she asked."

Homeland security enforcing patent law?

Oddly enough, inventor Erno Rubik originally called his geometry-inspired invention, "The Magic Cube." It was only after Ideal got involved with the marketing and distribution of the product (1984) that the name was changed to, "Rubik's Cube."

Also odd is that Homeland Security Chief Tom Ridge recommended that, in the event of an Orange Alert, American's should stock up on, among other things, Rubik's Cubes. Hmmm...aren't there orange squares, and red and green squares too, on those puzzles? The mystery deepens.

Here is the full AP story.
Current Mood: anxiousanxious
Current Music: The Replacements - Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash
28 October 2004 @ 10:30 am
More Bad News from Iraq
In April 2003 in Baghdad, Peter W. Galbraith, a former diplomat who helped advance the case for an Iraq invasion at the request of Paul Wolfowitz, said he told a young U.S. lieutenant stationed across the street that H.I.V. and black fever viruses had just been looted. The soldier had been devastated and said, "I hope I'm not responsible for Armageddon."

Read about it here.

R.I.P. Spoiler
DC Comics, in an apparent effort to bring Batman back to his angst-filled loner roots, killed off Spoiler this week (among other major status quo changes). Spoiler was a rare character in comics. The daughter of a minor villain, Stephanie Brown tried to make up for her father's bad choices by becoming a vigilante. It wasn't easy. She was a teenaged single mother riddled with guilt and self-doubt about her fitness for such a life. She was something rare in comics, and in heroic fiction in general, a character who reached for greatness despite a troubled background and uncertain abilities, and, in the end, a noble failure.

Because it's Thursday: Comic Ramblings
GREEN LANTERN: REBIRTH #1 knocked my socks off. I've never been a GL fan, but Geoff Johns has been talking this thing up, so, my ear thoroughly bent (and bleeding) I picked it up last-minute. This is old-school DC weirdness of a kind that isn't seen much anymore. It's bubble-gum, sure, but DC fans should really dig it. On the other hand, the last two episodes in the Batman War Games mega-crossover event (24 issues) was a bit of a letdown, despite the above-mentioned status quo changes, which are somewhat compelling. The ending was too quick and too pat, while some earlier aspects of the story stretched out for far too long. That said, the CATWOMAN issue (#36), wasn't terribly bad, as usual. FLASH #215 serves as kind of a sidebar to the *other* major DC event going on right now, that being the Identity Crisis, a superhero mystery incorporating the Silver Age histories of many of the major DC players. What's surprising is how seamlessly write Geoff Johns (again) fits the Identity Crisis elements into his overall ongoing tale. This is probably because many of DC's senior writers were informed about the events in I.C. more than a year in advance, and were invited to incorporate it into what they were working on (as opposed to an editorial edict ordering writers to insert a crossover issue into an ongoing story simply to boost sales, which is more often than not a disappointment for fans). An unqualified success.

Great Purge Update
Jessica and I managed to give away, via Pittsburgh's fine Freecycle list, many items that have been clogging up our dining room, mostly things we had intended to sell during the neighborhood street sale held every year. A lava lamp, a wonky pyramid filled with water that, if used to specifications, evokes a mood of calm, quiet reflection, two scarab-shaped bicycle helmets (white and black), a number of books, including a 4-volume set of Winston Churchill's 'History of the English Speaking Peoples' that belonged to my grandfather; Bruno Schultz's 'Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass;' a collection of Michael Moorcock paperbacks that I've since replaced with hardcover editions; a battered paperback copy of Dostoyevsky's 'Netochka Nesvanova,' on the flyleafs and endpapers of which I had written, during my college days, a five page essay on John Locke's theory of Substance, in (now faded) miniscule pencil script while sitting paperless in the passenger seat of a friend's car, bound for Bennington, Vermont; kitchen trash bags (5) filled with unwanted clothes; a box of toys, including smurfs (dozen or so); Burger King editions of Tiny Toons and Animaniacs characters; hard rubber miniatures of all three Chipmunks (Alvin, Simon, Theodore), as well as the tortured, often penniless father-figure Dave and even the low-down Uncle Harry; novelty devices themed after M&M's candies, including a telephone and several clever dispensers; four Danger Girl action figures; a Powerpuff Girls miniature lunchbox; two coffee mugs shaped like the busts of Capt. James Kirk and Mr. Spock, respectively; seven keychains; four Simpsons figurines (Homer (bowling themed), Bee-Suit Man, Prof. John Frink, Lisa -- no one ever produced a Plow King figure, which I most certainly would have kept); and a matchbox version of a Plymouth Prowler.
Current Mood: sick(headache)
Current Music: Saturday Looks Good To Me -- Every Night