Thursday, November 24, 2011

Comics Roundup for 11/23/11

I, Vampire #3 - Even though I don't remember too much from the past two issues, this was a pretty accessible story, and I didn't find myself confused by what was going on.  Even more so, it was pretty compelling, and I still dig the artwork on it.  I'm going to have to re-read this series, but I think that I'll be sticking with it for at least a few more issues.

Superman #3 - You definitely get your money's worth in each issue of this series, as George Perez packs every page with as much content as humanly possible.  Anyway, this was some solid superhero stuff, but not too different from anything I've seen before.  I might stick it out until the end of Perez's run, but I really need to find something to cut back on, and this series just might be it.

The Flash #3 - The story is interesting, but the artwork is really where it's at.  Francis Manapul really puts a lot of thought into each page of this series, and he does such an excellent job of conveying motion - something which is really important when you have a character who runs really fast like The Flash.  The story is pretty interesting as well, as it's a throwback to all of the sciencey stuff you'd find in Silver Age adventures of the character, only it doesn't feel ridiculously retro.

Aquaman #3 - This was another fun issue, but I'm worried that the whole "Aquaman can't get no respect" shtick is going to get old.  That's a bit of a minor complaint though, as Geoff Johns has created some fairly interesting villains along with adding a new supporting character.  Also, I wonder if that little lesson on piranhas wasn't a jab at the Peter David story where piranhas ate Aquaman's hand.  Hmm...

Kick Ass 2 #5 - I think I might just wind up repeating what I always say when I read a comic written by Mark Millar - the man knows how to move a story forward.  Other than that, this was another solid installment in a comic that definitely works better as a comic than as a movie.  (I don't know how they'd pull off what happened in the last issue in a movie.)  Nice to see that Hitgirl is back in action, but that was pretty much a foregone conclusion.

Captain America & Bucky #624 - I was worried that this was just going to be a rehashing of stuff we already knew about Bucky's Winter Soldier days, but we definitely got to see some stuff that we didn't before - like the reason why the Soviets put him on ice every so often.  Next issue promises a "new creative team" but a little bit of web searching shows that Ed Brubaker is still going to co-write, so I'm definitely on board.

Batman:  The Dark Knight #3 - This was definitely a better read than the last issue, and I'm glad that the cliffhanger turned out to be a bit of a red herring.  I was thinking of dropping this particular book, but I'm glad that I stuck around for this issue.  I'll be around for the next one as well.

Donald Duck:  Lost in the Andes - I haven't read this rather hefty volume of classic Carl Barks stories yet, but I'm definitely looking forward to it.  I'm still in the middle of the complete collection of Bone right now, and I want to finish that before I start on anything new.  Still, I got a chance to flip through this a bit, and it's certainly a nice volume - which I've come to expect from Fantagraphics.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Grandfathers and Bad Traditions

There's a bit of dialogue that always makes me grin whenever I watch A Hard Day's Night.  It involves a mischievous old man who's tagging along with The Beatles, and when asked about who he is, Paul tells the rest of the band that the man is his grandfather.

George: That's not your grandfather.
Paul: It is, you know.
George: But I've seen your grandfather. He lives in your house.
Paul: Oh, that's my other grandfather, but he's my grandfather, as well.
John: How do you reckon that one out?
Paul: Well, everyone's entitled to two, aren't they?

I'm not sure why this always amuses me.  It vaguely reminds me of talking with teenagers, as with some of them you have to spell everything out.  (Why am I picking on teenagers?  There are adults who are like this!)  The thought that John and George couldn't figure out that this man obviously must be Paul's other grandfather just doesn't occur to them.  Maybe it's the delivery, as The Beatles were all especially charismatic - especially in the early years.

There is something bittersweet about that bit of dialogue for me though.  Even though I find it endlessly amusing, it reminds me of the fact that I didn't really get what, according to Paul, I was entitled to have.  Sure, I have two grandfathers, but I didn't ever get to know either one of them.  My mother's father died when I was just a little guy, and I vaguely remember meeting him.  My father's father died when I was a teenager, but I never got to know him.  There are a few pictures of me as a youngster sitting with him, but he looks annoyed.  I asked my parents about this, worrying that I was a horrible little child who was hated by his grandfather.  They informed me that the problem was that he was basically drugged up and pretty much out of it, so therefore he wasn't even cognizant enough to be annoyed.  He suffered from mental health problems that either began with, or were exacerbated by his experiences fighting with the Marines during World War II.  This is main reason why I never got to know him, as we never visited him while he was in the hospital - and even if we did, he wouldn't have any idea who we were, as his condition had deteriorated so severely by the time he died.  (I sometimes wonder if I would take Logan to see my dad if the same thing happened to him.  I've decided that I'm glad that I don't have to make that decision.)

I mentioned to my dad once about how important it was to me that Logan would get to know both of his grandfathers since I didn't know either one of mine.  My dad informed me that he didn't know either of his either.  His mother's father died of black lung at the age of 40.  (He was a Spanish immigrant who worked in the coal mines.)  His father's father died in a tragic farming accident.  Apparently, my grandfather ALSO didn't know either one of his grandfathers.  In other words, this has been one long, crappy Johnson tradition that desperately needs to come to an end.

So, how is it working out so far?  Well, my dad lives several hours away, but as you can tell from the second photo on this entry, they sure seem to hit it off well when they do see each other.  I imagine as Logan gets older, he'll develop an even closer relationship with my dad.  The reason why is that my dad owns a ranch near Redding, California.  He already frequently plays host to my two nephews and to the granddaughters of his wife.  Surely Logan will be spending a few weekends there during summer breaks.  Basically, my dad is recreating some fond memories that he had when he would visit his relatives on a farm in Nebraska when he was a little kid, and that can only be a good thing.

My wife's father gets to see Logan much more often.  In fact, now that he's retired, he does daycare one day a week.  With just a tiny bit of jealousy, I must admit that this grandfather is probably Logan's favorite person in the world.  Whenever he sees Grandpa Howland, his eyes light up.  Whenever Grandpa's in the room, Logan gravitates right toward him.  Of course, the feeling is mutual.  My father-in-law had two girls, and he mentioned that he wanted a son, so Logan is just a tiny bit extra special to him for that reason.

I should probably mention that Logan has a bonus, third grandpa.  (Suck it, McCartney!)  The last time my mother and her boyfriend came to visit, Logan instantly gravitated toward him.  This is not so surprising, as the man is a bit of a kid-magnet.  My nephews love the guy as well.  Still, by the second day, when he came to the house, Logan ran toward him with his hands outstretched, looking for a hug.  (And yes, he did that for my mother as well - but truth be told, he went to her second.)  Obviously, this will be the grandpa that he'll see the least, but hey, it'll be more than I've seen my two grandfathers combined, so you can't complain about that.

Obviously, Logan has grandmothers as well, and we could even say that he has three.  He adores my mother-in-law, loves it when my mother does "Hoppe, Hoppe, Reiter" with him, and claps along to the Russian songs with my step-mother (and her mother as well!  I guess he has FOUR grandmothers!)  Let's also not forget that there are aunts and uncles - both family and honorary as well.

But this one's about the grandfathers.  The thing is, seeing him with any of these guys doesn't make me regret the fact that I didn't know mine, but it makes me realize that with having kids, sometimes you get to correct the mistakes of the past - even the kinds of mistakes that weren't anybody's fault.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Comics Roundup for 11/16/11

I've been out of town this weekend, so this is a bit late.  Hopefully I can remember what happened, as I finished reading these before I left!

Batman #3 - Scott Snyder is continuing his great Batman scripts with this series, and Greg Capullo is turning in some of his best art as well.  I think that these two work really well together to create a comic that's greater than the sum of its parts, to use a cliche.  The story is complex, but there is a good bit of action in it as well that serves the talents of Capullo.

Captain America #4 - This probably isn't my favorite Captain America story from Ed Brubaker, but it's still entertaining and Steve McNiven's art is pretty good as always.  Supposedly Alan Davis is coming on board for a story arc starting with issue six.  Now THAT'S going to be pretty cool.

The Avengers #19 - The new team is revealed, and it's not the members that you see on the cover.  That's okay though, as at least I got to be a bit surprised.  It turns out that Spider-Man and Wolverine will not be on the team, but I'm good with that as well.  After all, they're on the other team, which is still an official Avengers team but it has its own vibe that suits the two of them much better than this book did.  After all, I can't recall any cool moments with the two of them in this title, but I can think of plenty of them from New Avengers.  Oh, and cool cliffhanger for this issue.

Justice League #3 - This was a whole lot of fun, and I'm really liking how this is all coming together now that Wonder Woman is on board.  Some fans are critical of the "decompressed" style that Geoff Johns is taking with this series, but I don't really think that's a fair comment.  Sure, there are a few one-two panel pages, but there is the ongoing story with Cyborg that's giving the readers the best of both worlds.  Also, Jim Lee is doing some top-notch stuff here as well.  I think that this series is exactly what it aims to be.

The Amazing Spider-Man #674 - This has been such a solid series since Dan Slott took over as the main writer.  Is it the best superhero comic on the stands?  No.  But is it ever disappointing?  No.  Looks like the Vulture is back, and with yet another new spin on the character.  However, this one seems to be a bit more interesting and keeping with the original concept of the character.  Also, I still find myself liking Mary Jane more now than I have in a long time.

Wonder Woman #3 - I didn't like this one as much as the last two issues, mainly because I didn't feel like a whole lot happened.  Still, it's a good story that Brian Azzarello is creating here, and I love what he's doing with the character.  For those who don't know, her origin has been changed, and instead of being made out of clay by her mom, she's the daughter of Zeus and her mom when they had an affair.  The "clay" story is still in there - as it was the lie that she was told.  Still, this makes for great use of her links to Greek Mythology, and it also makes you care about Wonder Woman herself more, as nobody wants to have to question who they are.

Nightwing #3 - There wasn't anything necessarily wrong with this issue, but I think it will be my last one.  I've been picking up so much stuff since DC's relaunch that I'm starting to forget what happened from issue to issue.  This one I couldn't remember at all, so I think that makes for a good excuse to drop it.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Comics Roundup for 11/9/11

Batgirl #3 - This series has been one of the most pleasant surprises of all the rebooted DC Comics.  I expected to like it enough to give it a shot, but I didn't realize that it would become a favorite.  Gail Simone is doing a great job of making Barbara's former handicap and subsequent "miracle" healing matter to the overall storyline and to the emotion of the character.  Plus, it's always nice to see Nightwing interact with her.

Wolverine #18 - I mentioned with the last issue how the tone of this book has really changed.  It went from pretty dark stuff to madcap high adventure.  I like both styles, but I still wish that there was more transition from one to the other.  Still, this remains one of the longest runs that I've continued to get on Wolverine's solo title.

Green Lantern #3 - Geoff Johns is doing a pretty good job of continuing with everything he's built with this title, but I think that it's still pretty user-friendly to new readers.  Sinestro continues to be a great villain, and there are some good plot twists that make me want to check out the next issue.

The Avenging Spider-Man #1 - I guess it was only a matter of time before they launched a new Spidey title, and a new twist on the old Marvel Team-Up at that.  Believe it or not, this is my first comic that I"ve ever bought with Joe Maduriera on the artistic duties.  I'm not a huge fan, but he's pretty good at putting together the story.  The story was pretty fun as well, so I'll probably check out the next issue.

Batwoman #3 - I don't have much to say other than the fact that I'm still enjoying this series and I look forward to the next issue.  I also appreciated the recap of her past on the first page, and I think they're doing a good job of incorporating the character's sexuality into her personality without it feeling exploitative.

The New Avengers #18 - Norman Osborn assembles his new Dark Avengers.  Most of these characters I don't know very well.  Hopefully the story can start moving forward with the next issue, as I feel like the setup is overly long on this one.

Batman and Robin #3 - Just like the last two issues, I really enjoyed this one.  I think that Peter Tomasi is doing a fine job of making sure that the relationship between these two characters the centerpiece of this title instead of it just happening to have both characters in it.

Huntress #1 & 2 (of 6) - I bought these because I like the character, liked the art when I flipped through it, and was glad to see that they restored her to her original costume (more or less).  I always thought that Jim Lee's revamped version in Hush was kind of lame, as it was the "more skin = better" school of thought.  Anyway, the story is fine, but I'm reading too many comics right now, and I don't feel compelled to pick up the next four issues.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Tales of Employment - The Pickle Jar

I wasn't always a teacher.  In fact, I've worked quite a few jobs before I ever took my current teaching position at the age of 27.  I've been meaning to write about some of my memories for some time now, and I figured that since I've been wanting to blog a bit more, this would give me some good material.

I'll start off with a story from my very first job.  I was a Courtesy Clerk for Safeway in Concord, California.  I worked there for three years, from when I was 16 until I was 19.  My last day on that job was one happy day, and perhaps I'll write about that some day.  This time though, I need to write about The Pickle Jar.

One of my duties as a courtesy clerk was to do "go backs".  This was simply putting items back in their proper spaces.  Sometimes people would take something like a can of corn and put it near the magazines.  Obviously, that would need to "go back" to where it belonged.  Other times, people would get to the cash register and realize that they suck at math and didn't have enough cash to buy both chips AND salsa, so one would have to be returned to the shelf.  There were even times when people had entire shopping carts full of stuff, and their check wouldn't clear, resulting in tons of stuff to "go back".  Are you clear on this "go back" thing yet?  I realize it's really technical, and you're probably pretty stupid, but I'm going to need to move on now.

I usually saved the job of doing "go backs" for the end of my shift when I was working from eight to midnight, as the store was pretty empty by that point.  Obviously, perishable stuff would go earlier, but pretty much everything else could wait until later.  One particular night, one of the lower-ranked managers, Will, informed me that there was a jar of pickles on the "back desk" that didn't belong there.

What is the "back desk" you might ask?  It's where we'd put damaged items so the store could keep a record of it for some reason or another.  It was called the "back desk" because it was a desk that was in the back of the store.  Again, please excuse all the jargon that I'm using here, as there just isn't any other way that I can put it.

Anyway, Will had a bit of a smile on his face, so I figured that there was probably something unusual about these pickles.  He was younger than most of the managers, and I had a pretty good rapport with him, so I figured he was just joking around with me.

Sure enough, when I got to the jar, there was something that just wasn't quite right about it.  For the pickle illiterate, "pickles" are cucumbers that are preserved in vinegar, usually a clear vinegar.  Well, this liquid wasn't quite clear.  It was a bit more on the murky side.  Also, there was something about one pickle in particular that caught my eye.

I realize that this can be really confusing, so maybe you missed the part where "pickles" are cucumbers that are...umm...pickled.  See, cucumbers are normally green.  When you pickle them, that doesn't really change.  Well, one of these pickles wasn't quite green.  It was more of a brownish color, and it was a bit on the flaky side.

My seventeen-year-old mind couldn't wrap my head around this.  How could a pickle go bad?  Doesn't the vinegar preserve it?  Was the cucumber rotten in the first place?

When I walked past Will, he and some of the other workers were all laughing.  I asked him what the heck that was - some kind of rotten pickle?

And that's when Will informed me of a horrible, horrible truth.  That's right.  Somebody crapped in the pickle jar.  Oh yes, a person pooped in it.  Defecation.  Fecal matter.  Shee-it.

From what Will told me, it was a woman who did it.  She had returned the pickles and got her money back, and it wasn't until later that the checker who returned the lady's money realized the caca in the jar.  Before you think that the checker was an idiot - do you really think you would have inspected a jar of pickles closely to see if there was a turd in it?  Of course not.  The policy was to give people their money back if they weren't satisfied with something, and the checker probably just wanted to get that lady out of there.

The thing that I wonder is what prompts this sort of behavior?  Did this woman plan this out for months ahead of time?  Was she just strolling the aisle, saw the pickles, and suddenly thought, "I could TOTALLY crap in this!"  Did she buy the jar with the full intention of eating all the pickles, but after eating one decided that she had to return them, only to be ruled by some sort of obsessive-compulsive need to not return a partially-full pickle jar, a poop being the only thing she had that came close to the size and shape of a pickle?

The world may never know.  All I know is that somebody crapped in the pickle jar.

Comics Roundup for 11/2/11

Fear Itself #7.1 - This Captain America-centric epilogue to the summer's big event delivered exactly what I thought it would.  SPOILER ALERT!  Bucky's back to life - turns out he didn't die in the first place.  I've mentioned that I thought they were going to undo that particular death on this blog for some time now.  I guessed it because we've spent so many years now getting to know this character, and it felt like such an unceremonious afterthought to just kill him off the way that they did.  So, it looks like there will be a Winter Soldier comic coming out soon, and most of the world will believe him to be dead.  Sounds good to me - I'm down with the first issue at the very least.

Uncanny X-Men #1 - I thought I'd give this other new X-Men book a try since I tried out Wolverine and the X-Men last week.  It was decent enough, but I'm so far removed from the X-Men universe lately that I just don't know if I want to commit.  I understand the difference between this book and the other X-Men book, but what's the deal with X-Men?  And X-Men Legacy?  And Fat Free, Low Carb X-Men?  It's too confusing.  Even Wolverine alone has twenty books on the stands nowadays.

Detective Comics #3 - Nothing too special here, but it was a solid little bit of Batman shenanigans.  Tony Daniel has created a pretty good villain in the Doll Maker, but I don't know if he will have much staying power after this particular arc is done.

Justice League International #3 - I really enjoyed the first issue, mainly due to the fun character interactions.  I might just check out the next one, but if I don't start seeing more of that, then I just might be done with this.  A good team book focuses on that, in my opinion.  Either that, or you do what Grant Morrison did with JLA years ago and come up with the craziest threats you can possibly imagine.  The threat in this series is just too standard to keep my interest.

The Amazing Spider-Man #673 - I've said it before, and I'll say it again - the relationship between Peter and Mary Jane is SO much more interesting now that they're not married.  Anyway, lots of other good stuff in this, and it turns out that Peter will once again have to watch out for his secret identity, as the spell cast by Doctor Strange only works enough to prevent people from remembering that he publicly revealed it in the first place.  Fun stuff, like usual.

Action Comics #3 - I enjoyed the story well enough, but the art on this book has taken a serious drop since the first issue. You'd think that with an important book like this, they'd keep it pretty consistent and top-quality. I'll stick around because I believe in this new direction for Superman, but I hope they pick a more dependable and consistent artist for it.

Crimson Empire III #1 (of 6) - I got rid of a lot of my Star Wars comics recently, but I kept the last two Crimson Empire series, mainly because I enjoyed them so much.  I didn't really remember all that much other than enjoying them, so I"ve been re-reading them.  So far, they're as good as I remember them.  This one has much of the same creative team, so I'm hoping that it will be a worthy successor (but I haven't read it yet).

Key of Z #1 - A former student recommended this zombie comic to me.  It's fine, but I just wasn't interested enough to keep getting it.  While I hate to compare it to Walking Dead, it's inevitable that I will do that.  I think that the main problem is that it doesn't stay focused enough on one, or even just a couple, of characters.  I didn't feel involved enough, and I thought there were too many things thrown at me all at once. I think many of these characters and concepts could have been saved for later issues.  The art was nice though.

Hellboy:  House of the Living Dead - I have not yet read this hardcover graphic novel by Mike Mignola and Richard Corben, but considering I like the character and everything they've done with him, I expect to like this one as well.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

How to REALLY deal with demons

I've written once before about my childhood fear of demons.  You can read about it here, if you want, but in short, I used to believe that demons existed.  Not only that, but I even had my own encounters with demons.  One of them involved a particularly nasty little imp who pushed my head into the couch cushions while I was taking a nap and verbally threatened me.  I no longer believe in them though because I have learned about sleep paralysis, which turns out to be a FAR more logical explanation than some supernatural being who likes to mess with me while I sleep.  (Seriously, don't these things have anything better to do?)

Even though I probably spent more than half my life now believing in these things, I can safely say that this belief is about as dead in me as my former belief in Santa Claus.  When weird, spooky stuff happens, I don't even consider for a moment that it might be a demon any more than I consider that my Christmas presents might be from St. Nick.  Not too long ago, I was sleeping and woke to find my wife standing near me.  She walked up to me and sprayed something in my eyes, which immediately started to sting.  I then woke up to find that my wife wasn't anywhere in the room, but I did have a stinging sensation in my eyes.

Is it possible that my wife sprayed hairspray in my eyes while I was lying in bed?  I suppose, but they didn't sting THAT bad, and I was taking a nap while wearing my contacts - which has been known to result in stingy eyes from time to time.  Also, my wife just wouldn't do that kind of a thing.

Yet still, I consider my wife a more likely suspect than a demon.  Why is that?  Get real close to the computer and read the next part really carefully:


Demons don't exist, but my wife does, which is what makes her a more likely suspect.  (I can prove the existence of my wife if you really want me to do that for you.)  However, the MOST likely suspect is that I simply dreamed it.  It fits the definition of sleep paralysis, something which still happens to me.  However, it never comes in the form of demons anymore ever since I stopped believing in them.

Okay, okay, so why am I writing about something that doesn't exist so vociferously?  Will my next post be about how unicorns don't exist either?  Well, maybe it would be about that if I ran into the same amount of intelligent people who believe in unicorns as people who believe in demons.

I've told my story of my demon-encounter to people before.  The point of the story is to illustrate how the things that we experience aren't always what we think they are.  There are times when our minds play tricks on us, and what we think is real is, in fact, not real.  This doesn't make us insane; it just means that neither our brains nor our senses are perfect.  Need some examples?  How about 92 of them?

What I'm finding to be depressing when I tell certain people my story is that they STILL think that it might have been a demon who was doing that to me!  Those demons, they're trying to get to me for some reason.  Maybe they wanted me to learn about sleep paralysis so I could no longer believe in them and then they could REALLY get at me!

From this point, I ask them why "demon" even gets to be an answer.  I ask why it wasn't a leprechaun, hobgoblin, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster?  (I give the same response when people tell me about their "ghost" stories.)  They always act like I'm saying something ridiculous, as though "demon" is somehow a sensible answer!  And again, these aren't morons who are saying this.  These are people who are pretty intelligent otherwise.  Check this out - it's called "Dealing with Demons".  It's not like some illiterate buffoon wrote it.  The guy is completely serious, and does a good job of articulating his point of view.  I mean, it's bat-crap crazy, but it's well-written bat-crap.  If somebody asked me to write an article on how to deal with demons, it would simply read:  "Don't bother, because DEMONS...DON'T...EXIST."

Is it POSSIBLE that demons exist?  I suppose so, but the evidence for them is no greater than the other things I mentioned.  Of course, some people will say that encounters with those other mythical creatures were, in fact, just encounters with demons who took on other forms.  This is somewhat like what the Jehovah's Witnesses will tell you if you tell them a ghost story.  Those ghosts are not, in fact, ghosts - they're demons!

But once you've started down that path, you don't get to just arbitrarily (and let's face it, nothing could be more arbitrary) attribute it to one particular fairy tale creature over another.

There are so many real things in this world with which we should concern ourselves.  Why waste time worrying about crap that's made up?  I think sometimes about my son and when he gets out in the world.  If certain adults want to tell them about their beliefs, and even about Yahweh/Jesus/Allah/Thor/C'thulhu, then that's fine with me.  However, I'm going to have a real problem if some adult tries to fill his head with nonsense about evil beings who like to mess with you in your sleep.  If that ever happens, I'm going to make it real clear to him.  I'll say, "Just like werewolves, vampires, and zombies...DEMONS...DON'T...EXIST."

Why will I say that?  BECAUSE THEY DON'T.  Holy crap.  It's almost embarrassing that I genuinely feel like this is a point that needs to be made.