Thursday, April 29, 2010

Comics Roundup for 2/28/10

The Amazing Spider-Man #629 - Perhaps I'm becoming a sentimentalist, but I really enjoyed the feel-good ending to this story which wrapped up the three-part follow-up to the classic "Nothing Can Stop the Juggernaut". It's not particularly original nor profound, but I liked the exchange between Juggernaut and Spidey at the end:
Juggernaut: You're right, Webs. We're all here by accident.
Spider-Man: Yeah, but what we do afterwards - that's what matters.
Perhaps it's just because it goes along with my personal philosophy. While I do not believe that anything is caused by some sort of higher intelligence, I am not a nihilist. I do think that what we do here with our lives is important. Anyway, all that aside, I have been lamenting the lackluster art on this series lately. Obviously, it has been really strong with this arc with Lee Weeks doing the pencils. Looks like Chris Bachalo is handling the next story, and that's a good thing. There was a preview for it at the end of this issue, and the Lizard will be returning. I'm hoping that they do something interesting with this. After all, we know so much more about DNA and the human genome than we did back when Stan and Steve did the original Lizard stories. I think that they can put a new spin on an old story.

The Invincible Iron Man #25 - I missed the boat on this series, and I currently have the first three trades. There should probably be a new one soon, and if I'm guessing correctly, this issue marks the start of a new arc (and therefore won't be in the fourth trade). I have to say that this was my favorite comic this week. Turns out that Tony Stark has lost his memory up until the time he got his Extremis armor. That means that he doesn't remember the Civil War, the Secret Invasion, the Dark Reign, or any of that stuff. This could be interesting if it's handled well. I liked Matt Fraction's early Punisher War Journal stuff, but I think that the guy is really hitting his stride with this series. I'm eagerly looking forward to his run on Thor.

Thor #609 - While I do believe that the Siege crossovers are dragging a bit here, I still enjoyed this issue. Still, we get much more of the supporting cast than we do the title character, and that's getting a bit old. It's all wrapping up next issue, and the aforementioned Matt Fraction is taking over after that, so I'll stick around.

Captain America #605 - This story did a good job of proving that the "Bucky Cap" storyline still has somewhere to go. While it was only a decent wrap-up of the current storyline, it was nice to see that he still feels conflicted about what he's doing - especially when it comes to fighting the "crazy" Captain America. I'm hoping that they bring that character back, as he makes for a good foil for either of the two official Captain Americas. He represents the type of American who has great intentions and genuinely loves his country, yet his methods and view of what's right are pretty skewed.

New Avengers #64 - I'm guessing that with the end of Siege, we're also going to see a wrap-up to the whole story of the Red Hood. Basically, this issue just filled in some of the gaps from the main story, and it turns out that he's once again lost the source of his power. Anyway, I'm still wondering why this series is going to continue once the new Avengers title gets underway, but it's been one of my favorite series for some time now, so I suppose I should at least give it a chance.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Information Age Unnoticed

There's an old saying about what happens when you assume, and it often proves to be quite true. Something that my colleagues and I have been noticing lately has made me think of this. Essentially, we were all around our early twenties when the Internet became something that was no longer just the domain of computer geeks. We weren't raised with it, and there was a certain learning curve that came with our using it. Still, we were all young enough that we didn't feel overwhelmed by it. After all, we did grow up with computers, and the Internet is just an extension of that same tool. Of course, many of us have stories of being frustrated with people from the older generation trying to figure it all out. I don't know how many times I tried to explain some of this stuff to my mother, and many of my friends have similar experiences.

The assumption to which I alluded earlier is the idea that the younger generation, the kids who DID grow up with the Internet, would somehow be even more well versed in how to use this thing than us. I'm here to tell you that's absolutely not true. Are there some kids who know their way around this "series of tubes"? Sure. Still, you'd be making a mistake if you thought that your average teenager somehow had any sense for just how powerful a tool this whole thing is. For the most part, the Internet to them is simply a means of socializing. You use it for Facebook, MySpace and instant messaging. You go online and you write about how you're bored or how your parents suck. Essentially, you use it to have the same meaningless bouts of smalltalk that you'd be having some other way.

I have a Facebook account myself, and many of my "friends" are either current or former students. One of the most frustrating things is when they ask me questions on my "wall" that could have been easily answered with even the briefest Google search. I have even had them ask me what a word meant! Honestly, I'm not sure if that's worse than when they misspell a word and say that they just don't know how to spell it. Am I the only one who's aware of the trick where you type in a word's spelling the best you can into Google and then it gives you a result that reads, "Did you mean ___________?" There's also for that kind of thing.

The first big assignment that I gave my seniors this year was to write an essay in MLA format. I showed them an example and gave them a couple of websites where they could look up and read how to do it properly. I even gave them a link to where all they had to do was enter in some information and it would produce a Works Cited page for them in the proper format. You'd be amazed as to how many couldn't get this right! You'd think that I just gave this assignment to a bunch of Korean War veterans or something. They would even tell me that they used the link that I gave them when their paper was clearly in the wrong format. I'd tell them that it was all wrong, and they'd respond, "Well, I used that link that you gave us." I started to worry that perhaps I goofed and gave them a bad source, so I went to try it out myself. Guess what? It worked out just perfectly when I did it.

It's staggering the amount of information that's at our fingertips nowadays. If you have an Internet connection, the phrase "I don't know how to ____________" is really a mark of shame on your part. Guess what I did when I wanted to learn how to properly cut up a chicken? I did the same thing when I wanted to know how to properly jump start a car. That was the same thing as when wanted to know when Iron Man 2 was coming out.

Can you learn everything you need to know with the Internet? No. But dammit, there's no reason to not know some basic information that helps you get by in the world.


I haven't written in my blog much this week. This is mainly due to the fact that I've been bonding with my new puppy, Freyja. I wrote a while ago about how Kirsti and I were debating on whether to get one or not, and even then it was pretty clear that we were going to go ahead and get one.

We've had her for over a week now, and she's been fitting in just fine. Of course, since she's a little puppy, she's pooping and peeing all over the place. Sure, she gets the idea that it's time to go when I go outside with her, but she has to go more often than I can remember to let her out. Luckily, most of our house is covered in laminate flooring, so cleanup is quick and simple. This isn't a surprise, of course, as Argos had the same problem when he was a little guy. It's something that will likely not be an issue as she gets older and is better able to hold it in a little bit better.

She was instantly accepted by our other two pets. Ever since Oliver (the cat) started to get along with Willy, he pretty much made up his mind that he likes all dogs. It was nice to see that this amity extended to puppies as well. He probably didn't count on the fact that this little girl would constantly tackle him and put him in a bear hug every chance she got. He endures it all pretty well, and he even plays back. Of course, it gets a little too rough with Oliver either hissing or the puppy yelping, but it's all much more dramatic looking than it is. I just have to make sure that I referee and break it up when things look like they're getting out of hand.

There was a bit more concern with Willy, considering his history with Argos. The two of them got in a really bad fight years ago, and we had kept them separate ever since. I wasn't as worried with Freyja though, as Willy has shown that he gets along fine with dogs so long as they're smaller than him. Also, he's okay so long as they're not too hyper and they don't try to dominate him. Basically, we're just going to pay really close attention as she gets older. If he starts showing any signs of dominance - even minor ones - we're going to put the kibosh on it right away. Honestly though, he's a much older dog now than he was then, and he's mellowed quite a bit. I think that between that and the fact that Kirsti and I know what we're doing, everything should be just fine. As of right now, the two of them play with each other, and that never gets out of hand.

Where did we get the name? Freyja is the name of the Norse goddess of love. Kirsti wanted to name the puppy Zeus if we got a boy. Basically, we decided that we were going to pick one based on personality. The one we picked just happened to be a girl. She had walked up to me and laid down beside me, and Kirsti held her a while as well. To tell the truth, we probably would have done all right no matter which one we picked. They all seemed pretty good.

Comics Roundup for 4/21/10

Just three books this week, as I passed up on quite a few things. Here goes:

Batman: Streets of Gotham #11 - This wrapped up the storyline involving Mr. Zsasz that's been going on for a few issues. It was a fairly satisfying conclusion, and I'm liking the Damien Wayne version of Robin more and more. I also like the fact that the backup story with Manhunter ties into events in the main Batman series. I really like this series, but if it's going to have another guest writer anytime soon, I might be skipping some issues.

The Amazing Spider-Man #628 - Spider-Man fights Captain Universe. You know, I always thought that the Captain Universe concept was somewhat hokey, but I liked this issue. Spider-Man is always at his best when he's fighting somebody who's clearly several power brackets higher than him. Also, it's nice to see that this whole thing is not simply a rematch with him and The Juggernaut. There was also a backup story, and I don't see much point in it, although it was nice to see some artwork from Todd Nauck in the main Spider-Man book.

Green Lantern #53 - There are some good character moments between Hal and Carol in this along with a scene where the two of them have to deal with Sinestro, who proves himself to once again be the biggest douche in the universe. For the most part though, this issue was setting up plot elements for future stories, both in this series and in the various spinoff books. This is the only one that I'm getting, so I'll miss out on some of that stuff, no doubt. Still, I'm curious as to who this new villain is, and I wonder what's going to happen to all the other various colored corps out there.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Best of the Beatles

Years ago when I was in college, I struck up a conversation with a fellow student about The Beatles. It turned out that we were both big fans. Unlike me though, this guy was a lot more well versed in music, and he had the vocabulary to explain some of the things that were so special about some of their songs. He was able to break down one song in particular and point out how the note at the end of one of the verses was tricky and completely different from what you'd expect from a typical song's structure.

Of course, he must have been talking about something that was post-Revolver when the band started to experiment with different sounds and instruments and became more of a studio band than a touring band. Right?

Wrong. He was talking about "I Saw Her Standing There." That's a song off of their first album, Please Please Me.

I've been a fan of The Beatles as far back as I can remember. They're one of those bands that my mom would listen to that I not only liked then, but I still like now. (What do I no longer like? ABBA. What did I never like? I'm looking at you, Air Supply.) By the time I got my first CD player when I was in high school, I started collecting all of their music. I found myself liking pretty much everything, but if I was forced to pick a favorite, it would probably be Rubber Soul. To me, that album really showcases how their music was progressing from catchy pop tunes to much more sophisticated fare.

Of course, I would encounter people who didn't like the Fab Four. Personally, I think that there's something sinister about people like that. It's like not liking puppies or chocolate. It just ain't right. Aside from that, I'd talk with some people who thought that pretty much everything pre-Rubber Soul was worthless, and then I'd hear from those who thought that everything past that was too "weird". As for me, I did, and still do, defend the entire catalog. I think it's safe to say that I'm not alone on this score.

As for the early stuff, sure the lyrics aren't too insightful and they don't really probe any deeper issues for the most part. It is what it is - pure pop music. However, there has to be some reason why it has stood the test of time and continues to find new fans whereas so much has fallen by the wayside. I think that the key thing to figuring out why is to actually listen to the music (what a crazy concept!) Even with their early records, there's a lot more going on than just a catchy hook. I've been listening to this stuff for decades now, and after playing along with these songs on The Beatles Rock Band I'm still catching little subtleties in the music that I had not noticed before (or I had perhaps forgotten about). Perhaps much of the credit is due to their producer, George Martin, but ultimately it was Lennon and McCartney who wrote the majority of those early hits.

The maturity of their lyrics came earlier than a lot of people might think though, as I'd argue that songs like "If I Fell" and "Things We Said Today" are amongst some of their best, lyric-wise, and they appear on their third album, A Hard Day's Night. The next album was Beatles for Sale, and that one has some great lyrics on songs like "I'll Follow the Sun" and "I'm a Loser". With each successive album, you got songs with lyrics that were more and more sophisticated while still maintaining the great melodies that they already had going for them.

As for the later stuff, sure "I Am the Walrus" is pretty nonsensical. However, I don't think that Lennon was trying to create some kind of unified, cohesive statement with them. He was just putting together words and sentences that sounded interesting together. I don't have a problem with that sort of a thing. I have a problem with lyrics when they're trying to say something but are nonsensical when you think about them. (See "Ironic" by Alanis Morrisette and "Life is a Highway" by Tom Cochran and that cheesy country band that covers the song.) Still, "I am the Walrus" remains one of their most popular songs.

Is it possible that Beatles fans are just apologists and are willing to say that anything that they did was good? I suppose that's possible. However, I know myself pretty well, and I think that I'm pretty good at being objective and realizing when I like something for reasons other than the fact that there's some genuine quality there. (See my Clash of the Titans review.) If I was like this, I'd try to tell you that anything post-Kieth Moon by The Who was good. I'd try to tell you that 70s Elvis (and the soundtrack to Clam Bake) was just as good as what he was doing in the 1950s. I'd try to tell you that most of Paul McCartney's solo career wasn't a colossal waste of time!

But "I am the Walrus"? Dammit, that's just a good song. It rewards careful listening. There's a lot going on, and I curse my lack of musical vocabulary as I can't really put into words what's so interesting about it.

Here's the thing - there's a reason why they made a movie called Across the Universe that basically told a story through Beatles songs. There's a reason why they did that Cirque du Soleil tribute. There's a reason why The Beatles Rock Band was made whereas you don't see The Troggs Rock Band. It's because pound for pound, the Beatles put out a high ratio of quality music. No other band comes close. I don't know of any other band that has that many albums and songs where I can listen to everything and only consider a few parts to be the low notes. People will continue to discover them years from now, and a lot of other bands - even some good ones, and even some of my absolute favorite ones - will be an interesting footnote in musical history. It's not because there's some sort of international conspiracy that perpetuates some sort of myth about them. It's because they really are that good.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Comics Roundup for 4/14/10 - plus WonderCon Bonus

Today I'm not just going to write about what I got on Wednesday, but I'm also going to write about some of the comics that I got at WonderCon. Here we go:

The Flash #1 - Even after rereading the entirety of The Flash: Rebirth I still felt a bit underwhelmed, I thought that I'd give the first issue of the ongoing series a try. This was a pretty fun issue, and it's setting things up nicely for the new status quo. I liked the cliffhanger ending, and I think that Francis Manapul is the perfect artist for this series. He does a good job of conveying motion, which is what you need when the series is about the fastest man alive.

Batman and Robin #11 - This was yet another rather linear issue considering that it came from Grant Morrison. This isn't to say that there's not a lot going on, as now I'm starting to think that maybe Oberon Sexton might not be Bruce Wayne. It just seems too easy. Oh, and I also like how Damien's mom has basically gained control of her son's motor functions in order to get him to do some evil.

Superman: Secret Origin #5 (of 6) - Last time, I was lamenting the fact that this series was starting to feel a bit unnecessary. While it had a strong start, the last couple of issues felt too much like they were covering territory that's been covered many times before. This issue manages to mix it up a bit more, as we see a new origin for Metallo along with some expansion on General Lane - the father of Lois Lane who's none too fond of Superman. Not only that, it was simply a solid issue and a lot of fun.

Siege: Loki - To make up for the month-long delay of the last issue of Siege, Marvel is filling the shelves with these Siege one-shot issues. For the most part, they scream "rack filler!" I passed on the Captain America one, and I'll probably pass on the Spider-Man one as well, mainly because the regular writers of their respective books aren't doing those issues. However, I did pick this one up since I noticed that Kieron Gillen, the current Thor writer was doing it. It definitely was a solid read, and we got to see Loki doing some wicked Loki stuff, and he was living up his role as a god who creates chaos for its own sake. The art by Jamie McKelvie was pretty good too.

Daredevil #506 - I recently reread Ed Brubaker's entire run on this series all the way through the recent Andy Diggle issues, so I'm pretty hip to everything that's going on. I don't feel like I have much new to say from the last issue though. It's still a solid-read, and they're doing a good job of raising the stakes every issue, as this time it looks like one of DD's supposed allies is working against him.

Batman #698 - I was worried that Tony Daniel had turned the Riddler bad again, but it seems like he's just made him more enigmatic. (Get it?) He's a bit more creepy, and you can't quite be sure of his motivations. Anyway, this was a decent issue even though Daniel didn't do the art chores for it. (I assume that he's gearing up for the big #700.) There are a lot of twists and turns, so no doubt I'll have to reread this when the next issue comes out.

The Astounding Wolf-Man #22 - I'm wondering what's going to come next once this series finishes. Robert Kirkman said that these characters would move on, but I wonder exactly which ones? Anyway, everything's coming to a head here, and this was yet another issue that ended with a "Oh crap, did that really just happen?" moment at the end that made this series so readable in the first place.

Okay, on to the WonderCon booty:

Testament - This is a telling of various stories from the Old Testament with a variety of well-known artists. I think that this is the sort of thing that anybody but the most fundamentalist of religious types or most closed-minded atheist could read and enjoy. It's respectful of the stories without being preachy, and let's face it - it's a lot more interesting to see this stuff in comics form than to actually read the Old Testament. (And no, I'm not saying that there isn't any good stuff in the OT. There is. But let's face it, a great deal of it is crap as well. Do we really need all those "begats"? Must I know every step that went into making the Ark of the Covenant?

Samson: Judge of Israel - While I suppose that those who are more religiously inclined than I am might find some sort of spiritual feeling with this, it read to me more like a good tragic myth. I guess that speaks a lot to its quality, as just like Testament, both believer and nonbelievers alike can find something worthwhile in it. I've always said that the Samson story is ridiculous if you take it literally. However, if you take it for what it is - mythology - then it's a pretty good story with a lesson that even the godless can learn.

Killraven - I passed up on this when the limited series came out. I guess that's due to the fact that I knew very little about the character, and even though Alan Davis both wrote and drew the series, I just figured that I'd get the collected edition sooner or later. Well, since the hardcover was half-off, how could I resist? This was a pretty solid piece of sci-fi action, and Alan Davis turned in some gorgeous artwork like he normally does. I don't think that I'd follow-up on this character though if he's not involved though. It's kind of like how I bought that big Flash Gordon book because it was all of Al Williamson's stuff. I don't care enough about these kinds of stories unless the writer/artist appeals to me. (It's basically a post-apocalyptic setting where Martians have invaded and enslaved the Earth. Killraven was raised by them for gladiatorial combat, but he gained his freedom and now fights against them.)

True Story: Swear to God - This is another comic that I figured I'd buy one of these days, and I found this in the same half-off bin as Killraven. What's it about? It's about a guy who loves his wife and their relationship. There's more to it than that - like how he adjusts to moving from Napa Valley to Puerto Rico. This was some pretty touching stuff, and I saw some reflections of my relationship with my wife in it. I'm going to put this by her nightstand to see if I can get her to read it, as I think she'll like it if she does.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Beer vacation

Yesterday Kirsti and I got back from a trip up to Humboldt County. We got to see the redwoods and some really beautiful scenery, and of course we also visited some brewpubs. That seems to be a pretty consistent part of any of our trips - figuring out which breweries/brewpubs are in the area. It seems like the further north you get from here, the more breweries you'll find. (One of these days I'll have to make it out to Portland, Oregon.) On this trip, we went to Eel River, Six Rivers, and Lost Coast. Here's what I thought:

Eel River - We stopped off at this place in Fortuna while on our way to our hotel in Eureka. I got the sausage and sauerkraut plate, and that was pretty tasty. Kirsti got a bowl of some kind of cheesy, potato-bacon, etcetera soup that was really good. (I got a small cup of it for myself as well.) As for the beer, I started off with their Triple Exhultation. This was a really strong beer, and I determined that maybe it wasn't a good way to start. It was really hoppy and sweet with an almost caramel-like aftertaste to it. It was also about 9% alcohol. I suppose it would have been fine if that was to be my only beer, but I also got their amber lager, and honestly it tasted a little off. I'm well-versed enough in beer though to know that it was probably due to the fact that I started with such a strong ale. I should have done things the other way around.

Six Rivers - I was really eager to try this place, as they happened to have a chili ale. I've been toying with the idea of making one myself, and I wanted to give this one a try before I made my final decision. (I had emailed the brewmaster a week before to get some valuable advice on how to make one.) After trying theirs, I've decided to go for it. I've had other chili beers before. One was a habenero pilsner, which was good but only in small doses. The other was something I bought at Bevmo a while back. With that one, I liked the taste of the chili, but the beer itself was kind of Corona-esque (in other words, crappy).

The chili ale at Six Rivers was as good as I imagine something like that can be. It was basically their wheat beer with some chili in it. It added a nice flavor without being too extreme, and it perfectly complimented my grilled halibut tacos.

For desert, I had their Oreo Cookie cheesecake that I washed down with their stout. I used to not be such a big fan of stouts, but I think that I'm starting to come around.

Lost Coast - Unlike the other two places, I've had some of Lost Coast's beer before. To be specific, I had their Downtown Brown, which is a mighty tasty brown ale. At the brewpub, I tried their Raspberry Brown. I find myself still conflicted about fruit beers. For the most part, I think that they're not very good and somewhat reminiscent of cough syrup. This one was a bit different though as it was a fruit flavor in a dark ale rather than the usual pairing with a wheat beer. Basically, it was good enough for me to finish without any problems, but I don't think that I'd try it again. I still think that perhaps the best pairing of fruit and beer would be Pyamid's Apricot Wheat.

As for the food, I had their turkey burger which was really flavorful and juicy. On the side, I got a really nice Caesar salad. After downing the raspberry brown, I had their stout. It was pretty darned good as well.

Overall, I'm starting to notice that almost all craft breweries have the usual suspects which consist of a pale ale, a wheat beer, an IPA, a stout and/or porter, a blonde ale and/or pilsner, and then they'll have something unique that you don't find very often. The biggest exception seems to be Gordon Biersch, which specializes in lagers. Also, Pyramid, while offering a lot of the usual suspects, specializes in wheat beers. I have this feeling that there's some new angle out there that somebody's going to jump on one of these days, and it should be interesting when it happens.

This town's not big enough for the two of us

Writing about how my wife and I chose the name of our son got me to thinking about the unfortunate fact that I have one of the most common last names in the world. While "Logan Henry" isn't the most common name in the world, no doubt he will learn about at least a few others in his lifetime. (I was already just informed via Facebook of an eight-year-old out there named "Logan Henry". At least I don't know him personally.)

I've always been happy about the fact that my first name was both familiar and uncommon. I knew a few while growing up though. There was a Lance who shared a hospital room with me when I was little. I vaguely recall some other Lance who was several grades higher than me when I was in elementary school. I never had another Lance in any of my classes, until I took a Humanities class at DVC and there was not one but two other people with my first name in there. Still, for the most part, I felt pretty unique.

This feeling started to fizzle when I received a phone call years ago from a collection agency. Apparently, I had a huge balance on my American Express card, and they were coming after me. This seemed rather strange to me. I did have an American Express, but I had canceled it a few years before. Not only that, but I was pretty sure that the balance was zero when I closed the account. I was confused, but then when they asked if I was the "Lance Johnson" who was born in 1956, I realized that they had the wrong guy.

I figured that would be the end of that, but about two years later, I received yet another call, and this time I hadn't paid my Master Card. Was it that same Lance Johnson who was giving me a bad reputation? Nope. It was a Lance Johnson who was born in 1965! (I'll admit, I'm kind of making up these dates, as I can't remember numbers very well. I do remember well enough that it was two different dates.)

I hadn't received any more calls, but one day I got a letter in the mail. It turned out that I hadn't been paying my child support. No, it wasn't a letter from the future, where my wife wised up and left me, and I had to pay support payments for Logan. It was for a Lance H. Johnson - who lived just around the corner from my house! When I went to give it to the guy, I apologized for opening up his mail, as I didn't look at the address having figured that it must have been for me considering that my name was on it.

I haven't had anything like this, but whenever I go to the Homebrew shop, I have to specify not only that I'm the Lance Johnson who lives in Martinez, but that I'm also the one who lives on Brookside Drive.

I feel so insignificant.

Logan Henry Johnson

Last Wednesday, Kirsti and I found out that we're going to be having a boy. We had decided some time ago that we wanted to find out the sex of our baby as soon as possible. My reasoning is that he starts to become a little less abstract in my mind when I can refer to him as a "he" rather than as an "it". Also, we can start preparing his room and getting the appropriate clothes for him. I don't quite understand the "Don't you want to be surprised?" question that you get from some people. After all, it's really not that much of a surprise when there are only two options. Even with that though, it's still a surprise; it just comes a little bit earlier.

We also have a name, and just in case you don't want to take the time to reread the headline of this post, his name is Logan Henry Johnson. How did we come about this name? It definitely took some time. When it came to girl names, we had a lot that we liked from which to choose. Boy names though? That was a bit tougher. We had a conversation where I listed through various characters from mythology, but that wasn't getting us anywhere. (And Heimdall is such a strong, masculine name!) We then went through the names of Shakespeare's characters, but we're not Italian enough to pull of names like Benvolio. Ultimately, we went through the names of comic book characters - or their secret identities to be more specific. For the most part, the names were a bit too plain for our tastes, but when I said the "real" name of Wolverine, Kirsti's eyes lit up and said, "I like that!" (Comics nerds will note that his real name is James Howlett, but for the longest time, he thought that his real name was Logan, and that still is what everybody calls him.)

What about Henry? I was pushing for that one as a first name, but Kirsti wasn't going for it. I just like the sound of it, and it's not too common. Also, it has a very royal sound to it (see Henry I - VIII). Lucky for me, I managed to convince her to use it as a middle name, and it's been steadily growing on her ever since. Besides, the name Logan Henry Johnson has a nice ring to it. It sounds like the name of a President or some other important person, doesn't it?

I always said that I wanted to avoid the most common names when I had a child. From what I've read, Logan is currently the 19th most popular name in the country right now. That's not too popular, and I really can't think of many Logans that I've known in my lifetime. I'm glad that we managed to avoid having a name that was in the top ten at least.

Some folks might very well be wondering if there's any sense of disappointment, as when we were trying to adopt, we specifically asked for a girl. I'll admit that I was hoping for a girl. However, the word "disappointment" isn't quite right. When we saw (and trust me, it was obvious) that he was a boy, I was more happy about the fact that I finally knew what he was than anything else. Also, with each passing day I imagine what things will be like with my pal Logan. I suppose if having a boy instead of a girl is the worst thing that ever happens to me, I will have lived a very fortunate life. I suppose that if I wanted to scar him for life, I could insist that he wear dresses while I call him "Lola".

With this new bit of information, the reality of becoming a father is starting to sink in a little more every day. That's originally what I wanted to write about, but that's going to have to be a separate entry. Maybe I'll get to it later today.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Boycottin' beers

It's really not saying very much when I say that I'm boycotting a particular brand of beer. Not only is it pretty insignificant due to the fact that I'm just one guy, but it's even less significant considering that about 95% of the beer I drink is the stuff that I make. Still, I was inspired by the movie Beer Wars to rethink the kinds of beers that I buy when I feel like getting something that didn't start from the hose in my backyard.

I had written some time ago (I can't seem to find the link to it though) about Budweiser's American Ale and how I was pretty excited at the prospects of the big brewers starting to delve into making craft beers. My rationale was that a lot of people who might not normally try a Sierra Nevada might try something with the name Budweiser on it, and from there they might move on to try beers made by the smaller breweries. I haven't completely changed my mind about this, and I still think that there's some merit to this argument.

The kinds of beers that I'm more opposed to are the likes of Blue Moon, Shock Top, and Jack's Pumpkin Spice Ale. What's wrong with these beers, you might ask? Well, nothing's really wrong with them. Blue Moon is a decent witbier, and Shock Top's not bad either. (Truth to tell though, I preferred Sam Adams now-defunct Spring Ale and my own personal homebrewed wit. Hoegaarden's not bad either, probably because they're the original witbier.) Same goes for Jack's. Then what's the problem? The problem is that they're made by the big breweries. Blue Moon comes from Coors and the other two come from Anheuser Busch (Budweiser).

That's not necessarily so awful, but the thing that I resent is that they don't openly advertise this fact. In the movie, they showed how Shock Top has a completely bogus brewery on the label, and if you go to the address, you wind up at the Budweiser plant in Fairfield, California. Why would they do such a thing? Mainly to drive the smaller breweries out of business. According to the film, beer sales are stagnant right now with one major exception, and that is the craft beer market. Not content to have the vast majority of beer sales with watered-down crap like Bud Light, Coors Light, and Miller Light, these breweries are trying to take up more space at the grocery store at the expense of the smaller - and usually better - breweries. Of course, they can do this because they have the advertising and distribution muscle that the smaller guys can only dream of having.

Basically, the thing that I learned is that the big breweries are only getting bigger as one huge brewery buys out another one. Ultimately, they will try and get as much of their stuff on the shelf as possible. Why else would they create things like Budweiser Select? Do you really think that there was a high demand for a watered-down light beer that wasn't Bud Light?

I suppose that if somebody offers me a Blue Moon, I won't turn them down. However, I won't be giving my money to Coors. (Actually, I have a wit that I bottled a few days ago, so there really is no need.) I'll also be careful that when I do buy something that seems like a craft brew, I'll make darned sure that I really am supporting a company that actually cares about making good beer and not just eating into another demographic.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Clash of the Titans Redux

Last night I went to see the new Clash of the Titans. I figured that I would probably go and see it no matter what, seeing as how I'm such a huge fan of Greek Mythology. I admit that I was a bit disappointed when I heard that they were remaking the 1981 film. That's not so much because I'm a purist when it comes to the original. Sure, I fondly remember my dad taking my sister and me to see it after school on the last day of first grade. I've also seen it many times since, and I have shown it to my freshmen classes many times, either in parts or in its entirety.

No, the reason why I was disappointed was that they had decided to remake the movie rather than simply retell the Perseus myth. After becoming so well familiar with the original story, I found myself wishing that somebody would take another crack at it. I guess Clash of the Titans has more cache than Perseus though. For those who don't know, the movie made many changes to the original story. Now, I don't mind the little details like how Perseus rides Pegasus rather than have him wearing the winged sandals of Hermes. Think about it - what makes for a cooler visual? That stuff doesn't bother me. It even doesn't bother me that he fights The Kraken - a monster from Norse Mythology. After all, a monster is a monster for the most part, right? The sea monster from the original myth really doesn't have much of anything about him that stands out from what I remember, so why not the Kraken? And who cares if it looks nothing like what it's supposed to look like?

That said, there was enough from the myth that got put into the movie - namely Medusa, the Grey Women, and Perseus being placed in a chest with his mom when he was just a baby. As for the changes, much of it was just taken from other myths, and it held true to a lot of broad mythological themes - like how the gods manipulate people and how people struggle through the difficulties that are presented to them.

So, what did I think? I absolutely loved it. I left the theater feeling happy. Honestly, it's even further removed from the myth than the original version, but none of that bothered me. I also don't understand why it's taking such a thrashing from the critics. Sure, it's a big, goofy, cheesy, ridiculous movie, but I don't think that it's aspiring to be much more than that. I definitely think it succeeds in doing what it sets out to do, and I reckon that it'll probably do well even after the opening week, and it will continue to do well on home video. The main character is pretty one-dimensional, but aren't most mythical heroes that way? Also, it's pretty much just one action scene after another, but again, isn't that what you get in a lot of myths as well?

I understand why critics aren't raving about it, but the negative reviews seem to be a bit overboard. (To be fair though, there seems to be a few who appreciate it on the level that I do, Roger Ebert and AO Scott to name a couple of them.) I wonder if much of it has to do with the fact that supposedly it really doesn't look very good in 3-D. Personally, I made a point of seeing it in 2-D, and that was before reading Ebert's recommendation. I knew that it wasn't originally filmed in 3-D, and they only transferred it in order to be able to jump on the bandwagon and charge more per ticket. I also think that maybe some people are remembering the original with rose-colored glasses. Let's face it - the original is a bit of a silly movie as well.

Still, even though it's a total B-movie, I don't think that it's completely without its merits. I really liked the visual design of the film. Some of the stuff that really stood out were the Jinn (a Middle Eastern concept - but hey, the Kraken ain't Greek either). They looked awesome, and I liked the way they were able to control the giant scorpions. Did it make any sense that they were able to do that? Not really. One reviewer complained that it was a "Deus ex Machina." That seems like a strange complaint when you're dealing with Mythology though, doesn't it? Still, I liked the way they looked, and I just accepted them as the mysterious helpers who showed out of nowhere and had no discernible reason for helping the heroes. Another cool visual was the boat of Charon, which was pulled by a couple of swimming zombies. Lastly, I have to say that the Kraken was definitely a good use of CGI. The thing was massive, and the screen could barely contain it in its entirety. I never once thought to myself while watching it that it was an effect. Oh, and I gotta say that as far as a black Pegasus is concerned - why the heck not? (I will say though that I actually liked the old Medusa better. She's better when she's uglier and moves more slowly and deliberately. Why would a chick who could turn you to stone just with a glance be in such a damned hurry?)

I'll even go so far as to say that Perseus in this film is a slightly more interesting character than he was in the original. This one has an inner conflict, as he wants to completely reject his godhood and embrace his humanity. However, when faced with a task of this magnitude, he has to compromise from time to time. Now, don't go expecting some kind of Last Temptation of Christ meditation on the nature of manhood mixed with divinity, but at least it gives him a character arc.

Am I recommending this film? I guess it depends on who you are. If you love Mythology, but you're not a purist, then you might want to check it out. If you like B-movies done right, then this just might be your thing. If you like a guy fighting monsters, monsters and more monsters, and you just want to be entertained, then you just might like it. If you can appreciate good special effects, then you can probably dig it.

What can I say? Just keep in mind that just like with superhero movies, I tend to have a bit of a blind spot when it comes to the material. Keep that in mind if you're going to factor in my review as to whether you should see this or not. Personally, I can't wait for the Blu-Ray.

Release the muthaf#ckin' Kraken already!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

WonderCon Roundup

Even though I skipped WonderCon (for the first time in more than twenty years) last year, I decided to go ahead and go this year. The plan was to go on Sunday when it would be less crowded, and not fill up the day with various panels that give you information that you could eventually get on the internet. I wanted to spend time walking around and maybe even getting an autograph or finding some good deals on some comics that I had to pass up for various reasons.

I have to say that I had a great time. The highlight was that I got to meet Ted McKeever. While I can't say that I'm a super-huge fan of his work, I did really like his story for the Batman: Black and White anthology several years back. In fact, I like it so much that I share it with my students when I do my comic book lesson. It's really great because it gives me a chance to explain the nature of comics (or sequential art, if you want to get all pretentious) and how our minds have to fill in so much of the information that goes on between the panels. Not only that, but it's a very offbeat Batman story, and it relies very heavily on symbolism. My students often chuckle when I say that we're going to do a lesson on comics, but then they realize just how serious this stuff can be when I give them this story to read. Anyway, I got a chance to tell Mr. McKeever about this. He was really appreciative, and we got to have a short conversation on comics, symbolism, and teaching.

Another cool moment was going to the panel for IDW's Kill Shakespeare. If you don't want to click on the link, the basic premise is that you have a bunch of Shakespeare's famous characters interacting with one another (like Hamlet, Lady Macbeth, Richard III, Juliet, Othello, etcetera) and the mission that's given to them is to kill a certain William Shakespeare. I bought the first issue, so I haven't read it yet. However, after listening to the creators, I have a feeling that it's going to be a lot of goofy fun that's right up the ally of people like me who like both Shakespeare and comics. It doesn't seem very highbrow, but it doesn't seem like a dumbed-down version of Shakespeare's famous creations either.

The cool thing is that one of the guys on the panel was an English professor at Stanford. He actually expressed that he didn't really like the concept of it, and he was worried that it would confuse too many people who had yet to be introduced to the real Shakespeare. He did admit though that he was probably more of a purist than Shakespeare himself would have been if he were alive today to give his thoughts on the comic. (I sure hope somebody drinks a beer in that comic - that would really make my day.)

Aside from that, I got some pretty sweet deals. I got a really cool-looking comic called Testament that tells old stories from the Bible, but it's not some cheesy Bible-lesson. It has some really great artists (Bill Sienkiewicz, Sergio Aragones, Steve Rude, etcetera) telling the stories. I even managed to get Aragones to sign his section for me. (If you read Mad magazine, then he's the guy who normally draws the little cartoons that you can find in the margins. He's also done a heck of a lot of other stuff.) I also got one that tells the story of Samson, and again, it's not some watered-down Bible lesson for kids. It treats it like it's supposed to be treated - like a legend, a classic story that has stood the test of time. It's really great looking stuff, and it includes the original (okay, an English translation) story from the Book of Judges at the end of the comic so readers can compare and contrast.

I also walked away with some cool deals and got a bunch of free comics from the DC booth. Some of it I'll read, but much of it will go into the big box of comics that I leave in my classroom for SSR.

Will I be going again next year? We'll see...

Comics Roundup for 3/31/10

So few books came out this week that I forgot to write about them. Here's what I got:

Blackest Night #8 (of 8) - This was a satisfying end to a very far-reaching story, and just like any good comic book story, it has you wondering what's in store for the heroes now that this particular crisis has been averted. It was also good to see that Sinestro didn't get to hang on to the White Lantern for very long, as even though he had the desire to beat back the Blackest Night, in the end it was all about his own glory. For Hal Jordan, it was about doing the right thing, and it only made sense that victory came when he got a hold of it. Another thing that I liked about the conclusion was how it was resolved by attacking it at its source, which was Black Hand. The solution also made perfect sense in context. Anyway, I'll be sure to pick up the beginning of Brightest Day at the very least.

The Amazing Spider-Man #627 - "Something Can Stop the Juggernaut" indeed. After several lackluster issues (art-wise) it was great to see Lee Weeks on board. Looks like he's sticking around for the next issue as well. Not only that, but I hope that they can get Roger Stern to write some more Spidey stories in the near future. I just missed his initial run on the title back in the early eighties, but the bits that I have read are all pretty solid.

Astro City: The Dark Age - Book Four #3 (of 4) - I'm waiting for the series to end, and then I'll read the entire epic. I keep forgetting who's who when I go a month in between issues. I think that my head is filled with too many mythologies. I just can't keep up sometimes.