Thursday, December 28, 2006

Suggestions for Further Reading: Fun Home

I am an illiterate idiot. At least, my days in college were not spent in the way college was once experienced, at least in my fanciful mind. Sure, I knew some other RTF and History majors who would stray into reading of the classics during their downtime, but when they were reading Proust or Joyce, I was flipping through X-Men, doodling in the margins of my notes, setting fire to the apartment I shared with CBG, reading non-fiction, the newspaper or magazines, and, of course, going to work. But all of those are excuses. I have the leisure time. At some point, I need to just cop to being willfully illiterate. Of course, I'm also fairly ADHD in my reading, so it's questionable that, even if I did purchase a copy of "Ulysses", I would make it past the first fifty pages.

Alison Bechdel makes me feel like an idiot or, conversely, that I've wasted my life reading the wrong things. Her graphic novel "Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic" is currently riding the end of the year "best in non-fiction" category in a few publications. This is remarkable mainly due to the fact that "Fun Home" is a graphic novel, it is autobiographical, it is personal, and it is everything many, many comics attempt to be, but utterly fail. Of course, Bechdel is very good at what she does.

I picked up "Fun Home" mostly due to a reading suggestion by an old college chum who I had once bonded with over Morrison's "Invisibles" and Jell-O shots. Amy usually had a few good ideas up her sleeve, and I figured she was wise enough not to just go off recommending books willy-nilly, not at the rate she reads. Also, I'd heard Time called it one of their books of the year. (Time does have a Comix reviewer, but I sort of quit taking him seriously a few years ago. I found his reviews too often slanted the subjective as if it were the objective, which I found a bit indefensible as much of the Time audience most likely knows very little about the medium.)

The book itself is currently available in hardback from Houghton-Mifflin (an interesting publisher for any graphic work, I thought). As per content, the story centers around the distant relationship of Bechdel and her father as Bechdel explores the awakening of her own sexual identity, the problematic issues of her father's sexuality and his untimely death.

Self-examination and auto-biography have been a staple of indie comics since Harvey Pekar drew his first stick man in a square, and with Craig Thompson's recent Eggers-like surge in popularity thanks to the Emo-Boy/coming-of-age tale "Blankets", publishers outside of small press seem to be taking notice.

Gay/Lesbian-coming-out tales are not unheard of in comic-dom, but where Bechdel separates herself from the little I've read is in her approach as she attacks the topic with more than the raw emotion of the topic. Instead, the book reads as a thesis in exploring her own story as a thematic reflection of the beloved literature which permeated her life as a child and young adult and the brief life of her father (and for which she obviously continues to hold a student's, if not a scholar's, interest). The depths of Bechdel's attempts at understanding are there on the printed page, and the sheer work which went into constructing the narrative as scholarship mode of telling the story speaks volumes.

Were Bechdel a lesser writer, the references would seem meaningless to those of us in the comic-consuming intellectual under-class. However, she chooses to illustrate (more often with words than her careful cartooning) the parallels she's selected and feels compelled to explore.

I am only familiar with Bechdel's prior work from the hilariously pointed title of her long-running strip "Dykes to Watch Out For" (a strip I'll be seeking out in collections or otherwise). In short, I'd never seen her stuff.

Bechdel's cartooning emulates the illustrations of early-readers I recall from around 1st or second grade, which utilizes clean, clear art and icongraphic symbols/features to differentiate characters rather than a realistic rendering style. At times her words overwhelm the seemingly simplistic drawings, but the juxtaposition between a child's recollection and an adult's 20/20 reflection plays well together.

Time's "Comix" reviewer is concerned with Bechdel's tendency to lean on words, hinting that he feels there's a useless repetition or disconnect between words and panels. I never felt that during the read, and even going over the examples he's cited, don't feel that he's made a particularly compelling case that Bechdel chose words over actions, given the reflective and meditative tone of the book.

Again, the comic makes me wish I'd spent less time signing up for Archery classes in college and more time in English courses. I am sure there were many items which passed me by in my first reading, but this graphic novel was a fantastic read, nonetheless.
Home Again

We are home again.

We arrived home yesterday, about 9:00. This followed a six hour drive across a little-used stretch of road between Lawton and Austin. It's not only faster, it's the scenic route. Unfortunately, we left Lawton late enough in the day that most of the drive wound up occuring in dusk and dark.

Mangum had taken good care of Lucy and Jeff, I think. Nobody is missing a paw or an ear or anything. One telling item: a few minutes after returning, I asked if anybody had seen Jeff, and both Jamie and Doug claimed to have seen him. I looked and looked and no Jeff. Then Jamie opened the door, and the cat was standing outside looking up at the door. He's an inside cat, and is not familiar with temperatures below 70 or above 80. I am sure a ceilingless, chilly world beyond the door came as quite a shock. Who knows what he thought was going on outside.

I also called Mangum, who said to me, "You don't let Lucy jump on the furniture, do you?"
"Oh, heck no," I replied.
"Yeah, I didn't know what to do. In day three, she just started jumping up on the couches and the bed."
"Ah. She is not supposed to do that."
"Yeah, I didn't think so."
"But you didn't stop her."
"I didn't want to yell at her."
And this is why Matt is not allowed to have children.

Doug didn't fly out until this evening, so today we got a little more Doug-time (which is sort of like Peanut Butter Jelly Time), and enjoyed our post-Christmas time. The weather was lovely, and we ate on the porch at Magnolia, then hit Austin Books so Doug could see the wonderment.

A visit with Doug is always good to remind you that you may THINK you have refined taste in Horrifically Bad Media, but Doug is a connosieur. He's done all the legwork for you, and is not afraid to raise your "Eragon" with a VHS copy of "Santa With Muscles" (one of IMDB's 10 worst movies...) or "Monster-A-Go-Go". He also seems to delight particularly in Christmas themed media, both good and miserable (as evidenced by "Santa with Muscles"), always having a few choice items on tap for "after the parents go to bed" viewing. We also were able to take in one of the most mind-blowing half-hours of television EVER PRODUCED with the Invader Zim Christmas episode.

Dropped Doug off at the airport, then headed home, where, half an hour later, Cousin Sue and Unky D made an appearance. I haven't really seen much of Unky D the past few years. He lives in Florida most of the time, and his scheduled Christmas trips to Houston always fall on years when Jamie and I are in Lawton. However, being back in Austin means that when he goes back to Austin to visit Cousin Sue, we DID get to see him this year.

After dinner we came home, I watched an episode of "The Flash", and now I'm winding down from the Holiday merriment. I am ready for a little winding down, but I do feel Christmas was a success this year. We had a very good time at the McB's, experienced no major issues in our travels, and will most likely be enjoying a quiet night on New Year's (as Jamie has dialysis in the morning, which means an early bedtime). Then that's it for another year.

Christmas isn't really over until you're cleaning up the mess on New Year's Day and putting up the lights for another year.

I shall choose to believe that at the heart of it, the season is an opportunity for people to attempt to put their best foot forward and that the spirit of hope at the base of it all isn't always obscured by the money-making nonsense, awful decorations and incessant carols. To those of you who feel Christmas to be a humbug, you get the next 11.5 months of man's inhumanity to man to cherish.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Gerald Ford, RIP

I have virtually nothing to say about a President whose administration I know almost nothing about, except that he pardoned Nixon.

Seriously. Not a thing. My first memories of a President center around Jimmy Carter, and that's a story for another day.

So... yeah.

So long, Gerry. If I'm sure of thing, it's that they've got football in heaven. You should be just fine.

Monday, December 25, 2006


Hardest working man in show business given only 73 years to better planet with R&B perfection. Billions of Earthlings now left to own, less-funky, devices.

Thank you, Mr. Brown. R.I.P. Let us not dwell on the negative, but remember how you changed music, America and (on the whole) left the world a better place.

May God welcome you with a cape, a heavenly beat and an eternity of getting funky.

Please read more here.
Christmas Day!

You have your Christmas wish, I'll have mine...

Hope your Christmas is going well.

We've opened presents, enjoyed some delicious roll wreath (ask Jamie for the recipe sometime... it will do nothing but improve your Christmas while expanding your waistline), had some coffee, cleaned up and are now basking in the post-Christmas Morning glow.

Jamie received some music books from Doug and has commandeered the McB family piano (I'm excited by the prospect of Jamie learning the theme to "The Magnificent Seven").
Judy and Doug are playing some billiards and Dick is engrossed in a New York Times Front Page book. It's tough to explain. (The New York Time's Page One 1851-2004)

I've already cashed in Jason's gift (a wisely purchased gift certificate) and expect my copy of "Enemy Ace Archives" first week of January. Jamie got me a copy of Spirit Archives Vol. 1, which I am very excited to have to absorb over the next few weeks. Doug landed me the entire run of "The Flash" on DVD (with Amanda Pays, truly a DITMTLOD). My loot also included two books I'll be getting into, and a set of Superman Uno cards (which I believe feature Jose Luis Garcia Lopez art).

Jeff the Cat even received a gift in absentia... a sort of self-heating cat blanket. We will never get him to move, ever, ever again.

Mel and the McB cats (Sam and Pippin) seem to be getting along swimmingly, less a short vaccuum/cat barking incident. Mel's gift was a swell bed which he's been using since his arrival.

Oh, we saw "Charlotte's Web" last night. Excellent movie for adults and kids, btw (Randy, take your nieces, etc...). I should have guessed the line-up of voices they recruited for the film should have indicated the script wasn't going to be a hacky, X-TREME "Charlotte's Web", but I was continually impressed with the filmmakers for remaining true to the material. Even if, subtextually, I worry for Steve Buscemi's self-esteem, what with his continual casting as miscreants.

That's all for this Christmas Day, 2006.

It's our sincere hope that your Christmas is a good one. Travel safe. Be good to one another.

We hope that you'll join us as all hands at The League of Melbotis wish for Peace on Earth and Goodwill towards all.

God bless us, every one.

Sunday, December 24, 2006


Saturday, December 23, 2006


We are in Lawton.

My parents called me two days ago and were pleading with me not to venture forth on Friday for our Holiday travels. They were under the impression that the weather in Colodaro would hit us.
"It's going to be horrible! The rain! The sleet! The ice!"
"The forecast says 50+ degrees and sunny."
"NO! It shall be horrid! You cannot travel!"
"But... we're looking at right now. It says 50+ degrees and sunny."
"The Houston weatherman says it's going to be awful. You can't drive!"

Anyway, it was a lovely, sunny, literally cloudless drive, averaging 55 degrees.

Doug flew in Wednesday night. Thursday we zipped about Austin taking care of some last minute purchases. Thursday night we met up with Jason at Macaroni Grill for a lovely dinner. Friday we rose, tossed our stuff in the car (including Melbotis) and drove to Lawton.

Matt "No, I Will Not Read Your Blog" Mangum is house/ pet-sitting at League HQ. So Lucy will have some company on Christmas/ her birthday. Lucy will be two on December 24th. I can scarce believe it.

We're very grateful to Matt and we left him a little something under the tree.

I'm now deeply embedded in the McBride Family Christmas. There's billiards, watching of local news and keeping a watchful eye on the cats as they keep an eye on Mel (who is mostly sleeping).

Jamie has already opened her present, so no surprises there, I guess. I feel a little bad. There's just not going to be all that much from me when she goes to open her packages.

This morning she's at dialysis, so this afternoon will be sleepy time for Jamie.

I, myself, was exhausted for some reason last night. I slept like a log for almost ten hours. Today, however, I feel back up to snuff. And, dare I say? Christmassy? JimD would be so disappointed, declaring the whole thing a humbug.

Hope everyone's Holiday is going well.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Eragon: the Best Bad Movie of 2006

Simply, Wow.

As folks who've followed League of Melbotis for any amount of time might know, I tend to skew towards genre in my movies. I'm usually up for action, monkeys, robots and space ships. And I can often be tempted to see a movie simply because it features a dinosaur or the promise of some web-slinging.

One of the things even long-time followers of this blog might not know is that it has always been a trade-mark of The Brothers Steans to wind up at the grisliest of mistakes coming out of Hollywood. I think our poor movie selection speaks to two things: (a) our eternal optimisim that we might stumble into something of interest, and (b) when together, we'd rather share the misery than try to drag someone else into a mistake we figure we're going to make, anyway.

So Jason is working from home/on vacation this week from putting people in the slammer, and I'm unemployed. So mid-day, after we'd gone to a pet store and played with a little pig (I now totally want a pig), we headed to the Regal Cinema at WestGate to see the new fantasy feature, Eragon.

I don't know much about the Eragon books. I think they're some sort of 15th generation fantasy novels based in a Tolkein-light universe. I'd also heard that the author was in his mid-teens when he wrote the first novel.

"I suffer without my stone. Do not prolong my suffering!"

Eragon is, essentially, the tale of a young farmer who lucks into a dragon egg/ R2-unit. There's an evil king, a former dragon rider, a total fox of a princess, and absolutely no new ideas.

At it's heart, Eragon is the sign to anyone over 20 that they are no longer of the younger generation. As Lucas cannibalized the films of his youth, so Eragon literally cannibalizes whole scenes from Star Wars: A New Hope and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, offering nothing new in return.

Literally, we are given analogs of Luke, Han, Leia, Obi Wan, Vader and either Grand Moff Tarkin or the Emperor, depending on how you want to read it. There's a sort of Death Star to invade, storm troopers/ orcs to fight, and a battle for Yavin IV. There's even a recreation of the scenes in which Luke realizes Uncle Own and Aunt Beru might be in trouble, right down to Luke leaving the now destroyed farm. (Although Storm Troopers aren't responsible. This time it's LOTR's Dark Riders. No, seriously. Only they have Wolverine's claws AND his off-screen trampoline to leap from. This flick has no shame in it's desire to lift from successful franchise movies).

Things to know about this movie:

1) It is a foregone conclusion that this is the first of a series of movies. There are multiple books, I hear. So it plays a bit like a Saturday matinee serial with multiple dangling threads and an arch-villain who isn't even really inconvenienced in any way by the actions of the film.

2) I cannot think of a single reason this was not a Sci-Fi Channel original movie.

Thirty minutes into the movie, Jamie started inserting lines from Star Wars between the lines of dialogue. Soon we were all jumping in on the gag, no doubt really upsetting the wide-eyed 'tween-age fantasy fans who were there for the showing with their moms.

Jeremy Irons plays the Obi-Wan analog, and throughout the movie I continually pondered how he must have said the wrong thing to the wrong person in Hollywood, or else Dead Ringers really caved his career a lot more than I thought... but it's so sad to see a perfectly good actor slumming with dialogue which, for a reason, feels as if it were written by a fifteen year old. John Malkovich plays The Emperor/ Tarkin, and, unlike Irons, you have to sort of admire his business decision. Malkovich never leaves the staircase of what is clearly a minimally dressed soundstage. He has about six lines in the whole film (one of which sent me into a giggling fit, thus I've listed above). It's the Brando-Superman business decision that, no doubt, got him the Italian marble tub Malkovich had always dreamed of owning, and surely his piece took no more than about an hour to shoot.

Still, he gets top billing and his face on the poster. Well done, Malkovich.

The titular character of Eragon is, as Jason said, "man pretty." He looks sort of like a cross-eyed version of the dude from Blue Lagoon, or a less goofy version of Peter McNichol's character from DragonSlayer (a dragon movie in which dragons were f-ing AWESOME, I might add).

As per the action of the movie, I don't know what this means, exactly, but I leaned over to Jamie about 45 minutes into the movie and said "Is it just me, or are things 'just happening'?" She agreed immediately with a roll of the eyes.

I think what I meant was this: Not only does every single character in the film seem to lack a motivation of any sort, but motivations they SHOULD have seem cast aside so the paces of Star Wars can play out in full. Most odd is that it feels as if huge portions of the movie were scrapped at some point... characters meet and instantly refer to each other's recent history without any possible discussion time shown, nor even hinted at. There were odd bits like Obi-Wan telling Luke "Look, you're a Dragon Rider. This means you must join the resistance you've never heard of." "Quite right!" Luke replies. "That will really advance our paper-thin plot! People will completely expect that beat since the narrator talked about those guys in the prologue! But they WILL be surprised when I run off mid-movie, hollering about a vision (this movie's "You're our only hope..." hologram), so that we can have our "infiltrating the Death Star" sequence, complete with a slain Obi-Wan (who has the fastest horse. Ever.)."

Another sequence in which time and reason sort of collapses centers around the dragon, who magically grows from a puppy-like rat-catcher weighing about fifty pounds to a 2-ton flying behemoth in a magical burst of... I guess Super Dragon Puberty. She suddenly has a name, vast knowledge of the world, dragon history, biology and a pretty good bead on our cross-eyed hero. I kept waiting to find out that dragons reincarnate into other dragons to explain all of this... but, no...

Oh, and before I forget... look, Rachel Weisz is foxy. But she doesn't have a particularly memorable voice. Perhaps because she is also a mid-level actress who is happy to take fantasy roles, somebody offered her the part of the dragon's telepathic voice. I kept thinking back to the "sending" from Elfquest comics I read in fourth grade, but mostly it just felt really awkward as the dragon would sort of blurt out master-of-the-obvious dialogue.

The Dragon is also fairly meek and mild for a 2-ton killing machine. I don't really understand why they went this route (ie: making Valcor look like a raging bad-ass compared to Eragon's dragon), but it certainly doesn't lend much to the film. There are also logistical problems, such as the dragon complaining about carrying 300 pounds of extra weight in one scene, and then suiting up in 800 pounds of steel armor about 3 scenes later.

Other oddities in the film included a few "non-surprises" which, I guess, were supposed to be a surprise. Obi-Wan is revealed to be a former Dragon-Rider a full hour into the movie. This is after training our young Jedi, telling tales of the Knights of the Republic (aka: Dragon Riders) and doing everything but using sky-writing to inform him of his background. As an audience member, we know EXACTLY what Obi-Wan is in the first 8 frames in which he appears, so, unfortunately, the only effect this has is to make Eragon appear exceedingly dim.

When Princess Leia (oh, yes, she's a princess) finally joins the action, she manages to know a heck of a lot about our hero, or at least is exceedingly comfortable with him. And then she goes through a bit of Frodo's Dark Rider poisoning problem.

And this is just an oddity, but the guy who plays Luke is something like 19, so probably 18 when they filmed the movie. Princess Leia just looks too old for him, if they are going to lead to a romantic interest. So, I looked her up, and sure enough, she's 31. There's some really bad dialogue about Luke's missing mom, so I hope to GOD that this princess is not supposed to be his mom. Because right now that'd be skewing pretty far into the red zone on the Oedipal scale.

I don't have any real reason to think that the girl is supposed to be his mom other than that they went way out of their way to make sure the two never touch and mostly just smile at each other. But I also thought Famke Janssen looked ten years older than James Marsden in X-Men. And, lo and behold, she was. That doesn't mean that Princess Leia can't just be an urban cougar, but the whole thing was just so chaste... And she really, really doesn't look old enough to be his mom, either.

I'm sort of spent. The list of bad goes on an on. The scenery-chewing by the guys playing villains is, at times, priceless. The list of "name" actors who are in the film is a bit surprising, leading me to think that this film's budget was greater than it should have been 9or spent in the wrong places). The villainous army looks like a rejected LOTR concept, completely emulating the Uruk-Hai, but without the make-up budget. D&D/ LOTR fantasy folk such as dwarves and elves are mentioned, but never seen. A lame "chosen one" plot thread is used to bypass any actual training period (one sure fire way of determining this was a 15-year old's fantasy in our world of immediate gratification for kids...)

And, last, but not least... during the Attack on Yavin IV/ Battle at Helmsdeep conclusion to the movie, our heroes have somehow, idiotically, pinned themselves and the entire resistance into an unescapable valley. Then the invading army enters the fray through a single entry point. This would be the exact opposite of laying siege to a castle. This would pretty much allow the dudes you were attacking to just shoot every one of your soldiers as they walked in the door.

So what's good?

There are two very good looking actresses in the film, but one only appears in two scenes. And the other spends a good deal of the movie trussed up in the Detention Block being poked at by the floating sphere robot.

The dragon CG is not too bad. Unfortunately, the dragon does a lot of posing and posturing, and doing seemingly odd things that would scare people, but which make for a well composed shot. (beating wings, roaring, etc...)


I'm sort of at a loss. Even the cinematography was about sci-fi channel original level.

And for some reason Joss Stone is in the movie for, like, 30 seconds.

Eragon could make for a great drinking game, I think. Watch, insert Star Wars dialogue to appropriate scene, or name analog scene or character... rewarded with a drink.

To me, the oddest thing about the movie is that it appears to be aimed at the folks who would like Star Wars and LOTR. But, as I mentioned above, you'd have to be under the age of twelve or an idiot not to note how they've completely lifted every element of this movie from some pretty popular sources. Eventually those kids WILL see LOTR or Star Wars. So any shelf-life this movie might have had to launch a series is going to be relatively short-lived.

The movie genuinely FEELS like maybe it was written by a fairly mature kid. There's no patience for pacing, only jumping to the next set-up. Characters seem only partially evolved and obvious. Character names seem like copies of Tolkeinish names. Elvish words (used for jedi-tricks) seem EXTREMELY Tolkeinish. There is world building going on, but it's a reproduction of a reproduction of a reproduction. One day this kid might come up with a really fresh concept to match his motivation and passion, but for now... it's like getting the grocery-store knock-off of the action figure you really wanted (aka: Spader-Man).

Anyway, Eragon. You are amazing.
I missed Jim D's birthday. I am sorry.

Jim D is now 487. Or less. I forget. JimD does not celebrate his brithday. Nor get excited about Christmas. Or shuttle launches.

Also, Happy Hannukah to all Loyal Leaguers.

Monday, December 18, 2006


Merry Christmas, RHPT
New Blogs, Short Christmas and the Phantom Zone

In the past week, two blogs, new to our eyes, have crossed the desk of League of Melbotis.

Jill HW is blogging at the recently founded Potato Leek Soup. Sure, the name is going to draw all kinds of hits from misdirected cooking fans, but I think it's got a certain zing to it.

Jill was in my creative writing class in 12th grade and English class in 11th grade. I can't vouch for her writing since the early 90's (except for a lot of e-mails), but Jilly has a PhD, which you don't get by dangling your participles, Leaguers.

All this reminds me: The League may one day sponsor a contest in which we will grant $500 to someone who can correctly diagram every sentence in a lengthy LoM post. But in order to do this, we will also need an English PhD to verify the findings. I literally failed the "diagraming sentences" unit in 7th grade Language Arts.

So, welcome to the cut-throat world of blogging, JHW. Your prose are always welcome.

Blog #2 comes from a source I was surprised I had not heard from before: one Laurenn R., of the rolling hills of West-Central Austin. She's doing great work over at Ab Absurdo, and has been for quite a while.

Well, the secret's out and I'm sharing the pages of Ab Absurdo with you. Go check 'em out.

My advice to these two bloggers as someone who's been at this a while:
Don't ever mention the words "nude" and "Supergirl" on your blog, because the combination draws all kinds of unwanted traffic.

The KareBear is here. We've had a lovely day. I finally bought Cousin Sue a Christmas present and a sort of lame birthday present. I almost bought her a whoop-ass candle, but I couldn't see her using it. I shall buy it for Jason for his birthday instead. Or at least show it to him sometime.

We had dinner with KareBear, Jason and Mandy at Maudie's on Brodie. The fajitas were much, much better than those at Casa G's.

Then we opened Christmas presents for Short Christmas, and Mom really outdid herself this year. Well done, KareBear.

RHPT in the Phantom Zone

And finally, on Randy: Once trusted by this Council, charged with maintaining the defenses of the planet Krypton itself -the chief architect of this intended revolution, the author of this insidious plot to establish a new order among us - with himself as absolute ruler.

That's why we totally condemned him to the Phantom Zone.

RHPT isolated in the Phantom Zone, an eternal living death

In a fit of Short Christmas cheer, I am conceding to the wishes of the highly suspicious results of this month's poll. Tomorrow I shall release RHPT from the Phantom Zone. Sure, he's a treasonous criminal, but he's OUR treasonous criminal.

Have a good Christmas free from the PZ, Randy. I'll set you free as time permits.
It is December and it's hot out. No, seriously. It was 80 degrees here today, and kind of muggy. I want for one of these monkeys who keeps telling me there's no such thing as global warming to come and sit in my front yard, wear a parka all day and then get back to me on that opinion.

You'd think after 4 years in the desert I'd be pretty used to warm Decembers, but I'm not. It probably wouldn't be as bad, but it WAS cold. We were running the heat and wearing sweaters a week and a half ago. Now we're wearing shorts and I'm watering the lawn for good measure. It's tough to sing "White Christmas" when you're opening the windows, enjoying the first gusts of Spring.

I'm sort of busy in a general way. The Karebear is headed into town tomorrow (no Admiral, as far as I know), and will be having Short Christmas with us. This is the KareBear's new thing. Last year, we were unable to travel, and so KareBear and The Admiral came out for a weekend prior to Christmas (they had guests coming, and they couldn't tell them not to come). This year, KareBear's coming in, guns blazing, for something like 18 hours of Christmas, then she's back to Houston.

I bet she totally got me a Speak'n'Spell.

Anyhow, I'm looking forward to the brief festivities. Then, Wednesday, Douglas flies in. We're hanging here for a short time after that, and then headed for Lawton, Oklahoma for the actual Yuletide.

Lawton IS America. It's a military town, and I have as of yet to meet a single jerk in that 'berg. It's too big to be small town, but too small town to be a city. Lawton is also kind of fun at Christmas as we go wandering through Jamie's childhood memories, stare gape-mouthed at The Boulevard of Lights, taunt buffaloes at the reserve and check out what the fill-in crew on Lawton's local network affiliate does when their usual anchors are on vacation. I assure you, it's pretty awesome.

I have not yet figured out what to get Cousin Sue for Christmas/ Birthday. Susan's birthday falls on Christmas Eve, and so, while I always remember her birthday, she definitely gets shortchanged on the gift thing by EVERYONE. This year, Susan turns 29 again, so it's a big birthday for her. Anyway, Susan is the only remaining family member on my list (provided Jamie took care of her side of the list), so hopefully KareBear will come with a bushel of ideas for Cousin Sue. Honestly, I think I'd have a better idea of what to get her Corgi, Pierre.

Not much to report out for the weekend.

Hope you had a good one. I'll be posting for the foreseeable future and will alert Loyal Leaguers to any likely multi-day hiatus.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

New Feature: I Totally Hate Unicorns

It may be tough to imagine disliking something which doesn't exist. This time of year, sure, you get your Scrooges declaring Christmas a humbug. But you rarely hear them say: "Gee, I hate Santa". Or, "that Rudolph is a total phony."

People generally leave well enough alone when discussing fictional creatures, whether you're talking Elves, Trolls, Pixies, Cyclops, Eskimos or Vampires. It's, indeed, a rarity to hear someone say "Those mermaids really chap my hide."

But, circa 1997, I bore witness to my first open assault on unicorns. I was taking a screenwriting class I was throughly enjoying, and had allied myself with a certain, outspoken fellow. JimD was someone I'd become friendly with during the time-leaching "Intro to Screenwriting" class. We'd become pals when he said "Yeah, I used to read lots of comics." Now, he was one of the few sane people in my class, and we were both equally enthusiastic about the opportunity the course presented.

During this class (the one post-Intro), one of our fellow student screenwriters had written a script I shall describe as "Cloak & Dagger" meets "War Games".

The format of the class was somewhat brutal, especially for fragile creative types. Each week, you put the ten pages you were required to write into a box for your classmates to read. They would give you written feedback. Then, once every few course sessions, you'd have to sit while the other students put your pages up on the overhead and asked you questions (ie: trashed your script). It was a great exercise in separating your ego from your work, lest you break down and cry. Indeed, you either embraced the process or went into meltdown.

During the "Cloak & Dagger" guy's evaluation, it came to light that a key element of the screenplay was a unicorn-shaped necklace given by one lead character to another. The unicorn necklace came into serious play during the climactic scenes of the script.

After some mulling, JimD raised his hand and said something along the lines of "It can't be a unicorn."
"Why?" we all asked.
"Unicorns are lame," he said, with the authority of one who knows his unicorns.
"What?" the hapless screenwriter was now (wisely) taking a defensive posture.
"Dude, nobody likes unicorns."
"I think it's okay."
"No, nobody likes unicorns."
"I don't see anything wrong with it."
"Dude," JimD turned to the class for help. "Does anybody here really like unicorns?"

I sat and thought about it as the exchange went on for longer than expected, realizing that, at age 22, I had really not given the matter of unicorns the appropriate consideration.

An irritating pair of unicorns.

I recalled thinking unicorns were pretty cool when I was in second grade, having had what had to have been a pretty goofy folder that featured a unicorn (a unicorn which bore pegasus-style wings, no less) flying across a cosmic star scape. Later, at the Texas Renaissance festival circa 1983, I had seen a sheep with a horn glued to his head and touted as a unicorn (apparently the horses were glue resistant). The "Dungeons & Dragons" cartoon, which I adored, featured a unicorn (named "Uni", no less) and I'd never thought too much about that. I played a lot of Dungeons & Dragons as a kid, and so I think I was pre-disposed to giving the fauna of faerie-land a bit of a pass.

But I had to ask myself: Did I like unicorns?

There had been a unicorn incident. In first or second grade, my folks had dropped me off to see "The Last Unicorn". I have no recollection of the movie, other than that it must have been a fairly bleak story. I was unable to sleep the night after I saw it, feverish, and, as I recall, a little irritated with the titular Last Unicorn for some reason. I have never seen the movie since.

"Nobody likes unicorns!" JimD was still insisting.
I looked at my watch. The conversation had been going on more than five minutes. People were becoming a bit uncomfortable, I believe, at JimD's anti-unicorn belligerence, paired with the scree-writer's pro-unicorn stance. It was a stalemate, and neither side would blink.
"Who else," JimD confronted the small class, "likes unicorns?"

What the hell was a unicorn, anyway? I mean, I remember hearing that in medieval times people thought unicorns gored folks with their horns. That was sort of cool. But those people also thought elves lived in the woods and that taking a bath was evil. So their unicorn knowledge was probably shaky at best.

this unicorn is really annoying

Now, unicorns mostly festooned air-brushed t-shirts you could buy at the fair, pranced around in flower-littered glens and showed no signs of goring people with their horn. They're total snobs, hanging out only with maidens, pegasi and each other. They contribute nothing, unless they "majestically" ran along a rainbow, pooping cheer on all who dares to look up.

"I'm not sure it's that big of a deal-" I started.
"No way!" Jim D cut in. "Are you saying you like unicorns?"

Like the Tri-Star horse jumping over the T in Tri-Star (but clocking some poor grip on the head with his hoof), it hit me.

Unicorns are stupid.

a typical, stupid unicorn. How I hate them.

I had no idea why, but JimD was right. Sure, this made JimD more than a little like the Darkness guy from Ridley Scott's "Legend", but I was no Tom Cruise, or even one of the chubby dwarf guys. I was the little green troll dude, totally ready to take down some unicorns if it meant eternal winter and that the annoying girl became a rad goth grrl.

"Yeah, okay," I admitted, "Unicorns are kind of lame. But if that's what he wants..."
"See!" JimD turned to the screenwriter, triumphant.

The guy kept the unicorn necklace in the script, where it remains, unproduced, to this day. I do not know how much JimD actually KNOWS about unicorns. I assume it is a lot. In the years that have since passed, to my knowledge, we have spoken of the matter only twice.

I also hate Rachael Ray. She makes food that any idiot with a box of Triscuits and a can of Cheeze-Whiz can make, all while rambling like a clock-watching dental hygenist ready for her big weekend at the lake. Further, Rachael Ray has usurped the rightful place of Giada De Laurentiis as the queen of Food Network, which is unjust, as Giada De Laurentiis is obviously a total fox.

a total fox

All that said, Rachael Ray and I agree on more than the fact that, honestly, if you can't just make it with Triscuits and Cheeze-Whiz, you might as well hire caterers.

Rachael Ray also hates unicorns. I'm totally lifting this from someone else:

"I would smile all day long, every day, if it guaranteed a unicorn getting punched in the face. I find them really annoying." - Rachael Ray, responding to queries posed in Entertainment Weekly's "Stupid Questions" column, (10-20-06).

Thanks, Rachael Ray.

Here, also is an example of a GOOD use of unicorns.

link: courtesy Doug

With these unicorns, hopefully, the democracy-loving unicorn will defeat the evil socialist unicorn. Then, we can kill and eat the freedom-championing unicorn, savoring his patriotically succulent juices while picking any stray commie-bits from our teeth with his red, white and blue horn.

Here is a link, courtesy of SG Harms, regarding the wearing of unicorn shirts.

So I don't like unicorns. I think they're dumb. I'm much more about hippogryphs, and wyvern.

So League of Melbotis has a new mission: We're going to expose unicorns for the frauds they truly are.

If you have any good unicorn stories, pictures, etc... please send them on.

We're making the world a better place, one less unicorn at a time.

Unless it's this unicorn, who is totally awesome.

Friday, December 15, 2006

COMICS in 2006
a DC Comics heavy retrospective of the year in tights

Overall, this has been a good, if not watershed, year for fans of superhero comic books. Both DC and Marvel seem to be on the same page that they are now writing for an adult/ young adult audience. Big events occured which appear to have actually had an impact in the universes of the Big 2. Creators seem to be the driving force in a way which bodes well for the next generation of the industry. And superheroics seem to have crossed from the comic page into the American zeitgeist in a way we haven't seen in a long time.


I'd given up on Marvel in early 2006. As some may know, I don't pick up too many Marvel titles except in collected editions. I wasn't even able to pick up much in the way of Spider-Man early in the year as the Spidey Cross-over event "The Other" hasn't been collected in softcover. The "House of M" storyline, which was then wrapping up, didn't appeal to me, and I still can't get myself used to the idea that Cap's sidekick has been chilling in Russia for sixty years. I don't care who is writing it.

New Avengers has, honestly, left me cold since issue #1. I don't get it. I love Bendis, and I love the art. There was just something about the "All-Star Avengers" which didn't click. Especially since they had to include their Superman/Supreme/Mr. Majestic/Hyperion/Prime-sixth generation super-dude knock-off in the mix.

So, aside from BOTH Bendis and Brubaker's runs on "Daredevil", I didn't feel like I was getting much out of DC's Marvel-ous competition.

Luckily I picked up an issue of Civil War, and some additional issues of Amazing Spider-Man, Fantastic Four and Black Panther. Whether I think the series has hit on all cylinders or not from a logical point of view, or whether I thought characters acted in character, the series is good, comicky reading. Tough questions (for the Marvel U) are asked, harsh lessons are learned and not everyone in a white hat ends up smelling like roses.

I understand Marvel readers are infuriated at late production from Marvel, and delayed shipping. Given the rate of delivery by Marvel during the Jemas-era, Marvel's books practically seem like they're coming out early.

What I can't envision is Marvel's ability to pull their universe back together in the aftermath. Should be a neat trick.

Looking to 2007, I am far more concerned about the rumored "Onslaught: Reborn!" series, when the original idea was so hokey, not to mention the "Heroes: Reborn!" fiasco to which it was tied, but which pre-saged the Ultimate line. Marvel also needs to learn to NOT have three "events" in a year. "Annihilation" and "Beyond" were completely forgotten amongst the "Civil War" hype.

Some Other stuff

Dark Horse rereleased all of the "Concrete" work to date in 7 volumes. It's no wonder I passed by the book at age 13 when I remember seeng it on the shelf, but it's also no wonder that as an adult, it's some darn-good reading.

Gemstone seems to be suffering some financial hardship with the cancellation of a good chunk of the Disney line of comics. Fortunately, Uncle Scrooge appears to have survived the first axe to fall. In 2006 I delved a little further into Uncle Scrooge and picked up both "The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck" and "The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck Companion". Some darn fine comics by Don Rosa, modestly priced, and truly all-ages fun, not just kid stuff. Highly recommended. the ongoing "Uncle Scrooge" collections are fairly fun, too, but at their best when Rosa or Bark's work is reprinted.

Image Comic's loveletter to Jack Kirby "GodLand" continues to surprise.

"The Mouse Guard" was fun to look at, if a little light on plot. Wish I could find the most recent issues. or figure out how to store them. Maybe it's a good item to wait for the trade.

And, technically, it's DC's Vertigo... but I'm glad to see Harvey Pekar with access to better distribution. I didn't start picking up his stuff until this year, and it's, as Harv would say "real interesting."


It's one year later in the world of comics, and, in fact, One Year Later at DC Comics.

Superman had a huge year this year, enjoying success in movies, DVD, video games and even in the pages of DC Comics. "Superman Returns" didn't meet industry expectations (which were insanely high), but made over $200 million at the domestic box-office, and came in as the top seller and renter in its home video release. Superman merchandise, both cheap and crummy, as well as high end and pricy not only hit the shelves, but seems to be selling at a fairly brisk pace.

In the comics, Superman dropped from 3 monthly-ongoing titles to 2, but picked up "All-Star Superman" and "Superman: Classified", as well as continuing with reprints of Silver-Age goodness through the Showcase Presents line. From a creative stand-point, Infinite Crisis provided Superman with a nice high point, resolved some fan complaints, all while the One Year Later event introduced a whole new bundle of questions and complaints from the Super-Fan community.

I've not been shy about saying that I enjoyed the heck out of "Up, Up and Away" by Kurt Busiek and Johns, "Superman: This is Your Life" across all three Superman monthlies during IC, and the post IC work within both Busiek's "Superman" and Johns/Donner's "Action". Cooke and Sale's "Superman: Classified" has been off to a good start, although I, personally, am not surprised. Of this period, however, I believe "All Star Superman" by Morrison and Quitely will be the most enduring of the Super works.

Overall, a revitalizing year for DC's original franchise.

Unfortunately, the return of Kara Zor-El to the DCU has been an unmitigated disaster. Fans' calls to DC to return Supergirl ("the one, true" Supergirl, as many maintained as various substitutes were introduced) to the Super-titles resulted in a convoluted mess which, 12 issues into her series, has shown only the faintest signs of quality or coherence. As of a week and a half-ago, I officially gave up on the series, voting with my dollars and declining to purchase the latest issue. Simply, the character is unsympathetic and messy, and is being upstaged by other creator's portrayal of her in everything from "Supergirl and the Legion of Superheroes" to single-panels of her in IC, etc...

To the chagrin of black t-shirt wearing sixteen year old comic fans, Batman came out of IC as a character who, for the time in 15 years, isn't making his trademark simply by acting like a paranoid/psychotic loner. The post Dark Knight Returns misinterpretation of Batman's mentality was wiped away with a new editorial line-up and creative force. Curiously, "Robin" is actually very readable at the moment, Dini is tearing things up in a good way in "Detective", and Grant Morrison's "Batman" (although on an Ostrander/ Mandrake hiatus) is taking turns I didn't expect, but which I'm enjoying. The first issue of "Batman: Classified" was okay, but didn't blow me away.

I confess to not thinking too much of Bruce Jones' run on the final issues of "Legends of the Dark Knight". His Batman was fine, but the story felt like a vintage single-issue Batman mystery spread out over far too many pages. A waste of Olivetti's considerable talent.

I think that, in the long run, the decision to bring back Jason Todd will haunt DC far more than Jason Todd is haunting Batman. There are a dozen different ways they could have had a similar character to Todd running around, and I just can't get behind this decision or excited about "The Red Hood".

I have given up on Nightwing.

"Justice League of America" is the sort of team-book DC has traditionally struggled to produce. As most members of the team are from the offices of other editors (even Aquaman), the JLA has usually been all plot, no character. So it takes a special kind of writer to simply use the characters as they are, and not feel the need to radically alter or damage a character in order to explore that character. Does that make sense?

The first issue of "Justice Society of America" was very promising. I enjoyed about 65% of the final issues of the predeceding title, "JSA". I think this reinvigorated take is exactly what's needed for the team, if not the title, to receive the attention it deserves. Further, I'm enjoying the two-to-three issue character focused runs on "JSA: Classified".

"Teen Titans", meanwhile, feels as if it is headed somewhere good, but just hasn't touched down quite yet, post OYL. I don't think you can argue the quality of the art, and DC's new insistence on character as well as plot is being felt in this book as well. Glad there was no new #1.

The three big stories, of course, were "Infinite Crisis", "One Year Later" and "52".

"Infinite Crisis" was absolutely fascinating from a DC reader's perspective as the creative team essentially took ownership of the sins of the actual editorial choices DC has made not just in the past 20 years, but going back longer than some of the creators have been alive. The art, even by multiple artists, was top notch, and the story, itself, very good for a "big summer event" type-series. However, DC wasn't up front about all of the cross-over material you would have to read in order to follow the flow of the comic. The fall-out is painfully clear when returning to the collected edition, and see characters seemingly die on one page and then re-appear forty pages later. The future reader of collected editions will never know what happened to, say, Firestorm, which brought him back.

In addition, the four "Countdown" titles didn't appear to all have a similar effect on the outcome or the main plot. Further, the "Infinite Crisis Special"s, which were really the fifth issue of all four series WERE important to following the "Infinite Crisis", and should have been included as chapters in Infinite Crisis. I've spoken to folks at my comic shop who are unclear as to events in IC as they believed DC when they were told that reading the "countdown" titles wasn't necessary for following the mini-series.

My recommendation? Bite the bullet and have the "collected editions" department put together a few volumes which actually tell the whole story, as they did with "Our Worlds at War".

"One Year Later" was the literal jump in the DCU from the final panels of Infinite Crisis to One year Later for every character in the DCU. Senior VP and Executive Editor Dad DiDio recently candidly discussed successes and failures of the year in publishing at Newsarama. Among the "could'a done it better" items was the OYL editorial launch. While all of the DCU comics were given an opportunity at a fresh start, few editors seemed to embrace the idea as fully as they could have, instead treating OYL like a minor cold best forgotten after the first three issues post IC.

Some titles seemed to arrive stillborn, including the much hyped "Wonder Woman" relaunch by Allan Heinberg and the Dodsons. Almost eight months after the initial launch, we're only 3 issues in, and still know nothing more today than we did in the time before issue 1 of this new series hit the stands. Further, Wonder Woman has been appearing in titles from Justice League America to Manhunter, without missing a beat. There have been hints that Wonder Woman would NOT be Diana (or Diana Prince), but those plans have either been scrapped or are taking an unfortunate amount of time in coming to fruition, while these other comics seem to suggest that the change isn't permanent, anyway.

The Bart Allen "Flash: Fastest Man Alive" relaunch has been met with deservedly harsh criticism. It's not that readers would have been completely unwilling to accept Bart as The Flash, but... man, the series reads like an 80's time bomb. Plus, I still can't get over the idea that Bart is something like 6 or 7 years-old in reality, no matter what they want to push on us with VR and the Speed Force. Bart's immaturity was, after all, the whole point of Bart's original series, "Impulse". I don't care what happened in one or two issues of Teen Titans.

"Aquaman" is interesting, to a point. I'm still not sure what Busiek hopes to gain by not only introducing a new Aquaman, but keeping the former Aquaman nearby, looking like an oxygen deprived Davey Jones. We're several issues in, and there's been no pay-off.

In short, DC needs to seriously reconsider it's post-Lost concept of stringing the reader along. Unlike TV, the comics aren't free. While I appreciate a little mystery, I also appreciate a little resolution. I also liek to know who it is I'm supposed to be reading about.

I am two issues shy of the end of the "Martian Manhunter" limited series. That will be all the Martian Manhunter I can take from that creative team, thanks. I probably won't even finish the actual 8 issue run. I don't know who is floating what ideas at DC for limited series, but this thing is just deadly dull.

"OMAC" is, uhmmm... it's not horrible, but it should have been a 4-issue series. It's great to have a continuing plot-thread with the OMACs, but... yeah.

"The All-New Atom" is, conversely, a good all-ages read (I think). The main character's greatest power may be his completely unbelievable level of Americanization when fresh off the plane from Hong Kong, but the story is so weird and fun and funny, that I'm able to forgive some of the elements that don't really work. Also, while a mystery remains re: Ray Palmer, it doesn't feel like the core of the story is empty.

Another surprise came in the form of "Mystery in Space", which is beautiful to look at, and is surprisingly energetic for a Jim Starlin book.

As I mentioned either here or at the now-defunct "", I gave up on "IC Aftermath: Bludhaven whatever". I am told I missed the re-entry of Captain Atom to the DCU. The series was bad. I am disappointed that I missed one of my favorite C-Lister's shining moments, but...

"Hawkman"'s titular (he he) change and focal change to "Hawkgirl" was an amazing misfire. I've never been a huge Walt Simonson fan (oh, crap... Thor fans will hate me), but his story seemed mired in unfocused, 80's style, low-level nonsensical villainy. Chaykin seemed mostly interested in drawing a chilly Hawkgirl, which should have been okay... but was just sort of boring with no story behind it.

"52" stands out as a narrative and commercial success. It goes against any workable model I thought I'd ever see for a comic (I always thought a singular, monthly Bat Phone-book of comics would be great), and has kept readers engaged for months without ever showing its hand. Following a TV-style, multi-character arc, featuring soem of my OTHER favorite B and C-Listers, "52" will be missed in week 53. I can't wait to see how DC follows it up. Hopefully not by skipping a year ahead and filling us in on the missing 52 weeks again.

In the meantime, I'm getting regular doses of The Question, Steel, Natasha Irons, Animal Man, Adam Strange, Black Adam, Dr. Fate and others. They tell me it will all tie together. Eventually. I guess in week 51 or 52. I'm a sucker for a good magic trick, so I'm on board.

I do feel like DC's OYL plan was probably a misfire due in large part to the fact that only the barest of details of "52" could be revealed across the board, and so charatcers basically had to come out of the year-long ordeal behaving as if nothing were wrong. Obviously a catch-22 when trying to drum up a high level of importance for the drama of "52". Meanwhile, hints about the events of 52 have been littered across DC titles from Green Lantern to "Mystery in Space". Chronologically, it's odd to have a build-up of drama occur, knowing there's a few months in there that don't translate to much of anything.


DC has done a phenomenal job with stepping up the "collections" side of the business.

Finally keeping pace with Marvel, DC now makes most story-arcs available in a Trade Paperback Format (tpb) from their comics within a short time of their initial release. Fans wishing to follow Seven Soldiers or IC were able to do so within a few months of the floppy comic's publication. And that ain't all bad.

The Archives format continues to cause me woe and sorrow. I simply can't afford to buy $50 collections when there are up to 20 volumes (see: The Spirit). Sure, it's great to see comics printed on this quality of paper, hardbound, etc... but I also haven't had an opportunity to learn whether I like, say, THUNDER Agents, and $50 is a pretty steep entry fee. Unfortunately, this is also the only way to currently pick up "Enemy Ace" and "The Spirit" collections.

I think DC is trying to give us an "Archives for Dummies" (or tightwads) format with the Chronicles series. Unlike "Showcase", which is 500+ pages of black and white reprints on newsprint of Silver-Age goodness (for around $16), the "Chronicles" format uses better paper and color. But has only released a few volumes, so it's tough to get too excited.

Nonetheless, I hope DC considers those of us who have to choose what falls within a certain budget and can find a way to offer some of their more obscure back-catalog to those of us who will try anything once. After all, I was a huge fan of DC's recent release of "The Best of the Spirit". Mayhaps sales didn't dictate this was a huge success.

The "Absolute Edition"s from DC are an attempt to provide fans with the equivalent of a DVD Criterion Edition, with oversized pages, re-coloring when necessary, extra notes, well-bound hardcovers, a slip case and entire compendiums when the spirit moves them. At their MSRP, the books outpace even the Archive editions on price, ranging all the way to $100. Deeply discounted at places like, the comics are a little more attractive, but still steeply priced. For the time being, DC is only putting material in the format which deserves such high-end treatment. My concern for the line is that the list of books I'm willing to pay that chunk of change for has already been largely delved into, including "Watchmen", "Dark Knight" and Kingdom Come". Not too many more where those came from if Absolute will continue as a meaningful (and not merely pricey) imprint.

That said, we'll see what 2007 brings. Already we know of "New Gods Omnibus Vol. 1" (yes, I am picking that one up). We'll see what else DC has up it's sleeve. They've already put out the first 20 issues of "Sandman" in the format, and immediately priced it out of my range at the high-end. The idea of collecting the next two volumes at that price, and most likely Gaiman's "Death" limited series, quickly aids you in making these sorts of decisions, no matter how much you like the work.

Alternative Comics Media:

Back in January I got into an online tussel with comic creator Lea Hernandez when I made several absolutely brilliant points (over at about how I didn't see online comics being a viable business model or medium.

Well, since that time I haven't seen a sea-change in the current industry's approach to the possibilities, but DC's Vertigo line is posting whole 1st issues online to build reader interest in collected material, etc... I never could get my credit card to work with PayPal, so I can't say word one about Girl-a-Matic online comics, which proves nothing but that PayPal and I have never gotten along.

2007 may be a better year for online comics, depending on marketing schemes, etc... Lea and Kurt's (from Return to Comics) comments made me hopeful for the future of online comics, and it would be nice to see the idea grow.

Superheroes appeared in a few movies, including "Superman Returns", "X3", both of which did fairly well (even if X3 was, let's be honest, a pretty bad movie). However, "Zoom's Academy" not only received a law suit from Marvel, but failed at the box office and was voted a nominee for "worst movie" on one list I saw. "My Super Ex-Girlfriend" put an unnecessary nail in the coffin of Luke Wilson's acting career.

The "Donner Cut" of Superman II saw the light of day and went from being a Supermanhomepage late night speculative fantasy to something you could buy at Target. Which is kind of weird when you think about it.

NBC's prime-time drama "Heroes" is the big break-out hit. And although only the Cheerleader ever did anything remotely heroic, people seem suckered into the mystery of the whole thing. I tried it. It's all right.

"Marvel: Ultimate Alliance" for console video games looked really neat. I don't play video games, so...

The Conclusion:

There is no conclusion. It was a big year for a few companies. I still didn't feel like I managed to branch out to enough indie stuff, partially due to lack of access, and then the harsh price-point when I did have the access.

DC seems to be learning some tough-love lessons on the editorial side. I say "seems to be" as I think 2007 will see how it really plays out.

The new status quo at the big two publishers seems to be that it's okay for books to be late, as long as they're going to sell like crazy (see: All-Star Batman on issue 4 in year 2). And if it's going to be really late, have a fill in story by your B-List guys ready.

I hope you picked up a comic or two this year. I hope I didn't succeed in only making comics sound like an impenetrable morass of primary colors and steroid-freaks that one must obsess over to enjoy.

If you read this far, RHPT will send you an iPod.

Here's to 2007.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Comic Creator Kookiness: Vaughan and Cooke

Every once in a while I get into a little tizzy about this comic or that. The League reads a big stack of comics every week, and so it's always a pleasure to read something, and then really want to pick it up again and read it all over.

But at 22 pages, usually that's not like a huge time investment or anything.

Since Siegel and Shuster were canned by National Comics and no longer were making dime one off Superman (a post for another day, or go read the heart-breaking Men of Tomorrow), comics have struggled with the business side of keeping a franchise alive without the original creators, vs. producing and nurturing new talent and new ideas.

The DC or Marvel Comics' universes wouldn't exist as a concept if, when Steve Ditko put down his pencil and walked away from Marvel, Marvel had shuttered "The Amazing Spider-Man" comic. Nor would DC (National then) have lasted too long had they decided only Siegel and Shuster had what it took to tell a Superman story.

However, dozens, if not hundreds, of new comics hit the shelf every year between the big publishers, international reprints, and small press. Very few ideas take off beyond the first issue or six. A few dedicated folks continue to put out their independent comics which lose money, or move them online. But these days, even Mickey Mouse can't get a break. Gemstone is cancelling four of their Disney titles (once the best selling comics in the US) as, somehow, the Mickey comics aren't doing it anymore.

A lot of folks have read the Pulitzer prize winning novel "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay" (and if you haven't, go read it. No, seriously. Now. Then come back). The book was released a few years ago to much critical acclaim, but, as these things tend to do, that didn't translate much into the way of comic sales. Mostly because there had never been an actual comic called "The Escapist", just as Kavalier and Clay were fictional characters in the novel.

A few years after the novel was released, the novel's author, Michael Chabon, worked out a deal with Dark Horse comics to publish "The Escapist" comics. Unfortunately, the comics-reading world and the book-reading world once again failed to intersect, and sales suggested that "Kavalier and Clay" had been largely ignored by the comic reading audience (anecdotal evidence would suggest it was, as I think I've spoken to one other person in a comic shop who had actually read the novel. And didn't think much of it. But all of the Star Wars universe books? Boy, howdy... no problem finding folks who've read those...).

Long story short, despite Dark Horse putting nothing but all-star talent on the "Escapist" comics, sales that probably weren't any better or worse than any other Dark Horse title, not to mention a running gag of the stories presented being being reprints (with the gag only understandable if one read the novel...), and other gags that required one know a bit about the publishing history of comics, "The Escapist" didn't stay in print all that long. Fortunately, several issues were collected by Dark Horse.

However, with the final issue, the last story in the anthology was not aout the Escapist, Luna Moth or Mr. Machinegun, but a young guy in Cleveland who inherits a large sum of money and uses it to buy the rights to the dormant Escapist franchise. The story was spun off into a 6-issue limited series entitled "The Escapists".

And thus, one of my two spotlighted creators.

Brian K. Vaughan (Ex Machina, Y: The Last Man) weaves a great tale of young, starry-eyed ambition, corporate greed, surprising derring-do, unlikely friendships and the creative impulse. It's not enough that Vaughn is writing Ex Machina (surely one of the smartest comics you're not reading, JimD), he also manages to work with multiple artists to tell a wonderful story that perfectly fits the medium and works in a self-reflexive mode that I haven't seen done that well ever before.

Today saw the release of the final issue of "The Escapists", and has been the case in the previous five issues, the story failed to conform to many of the comic (and, indeed, American pop-media) norms.

This evening's Creator Kookiness is a two part doozy as the final pages of "The Escapists" #6 seem to be a plea to the comics community itself to generate new and better ideas, and an indictment of corporate control and hegemony on the comic page. A worthy goal, and one that Vaughan, in his own career, has ably championed with deeds rather than words.

But then along comes Darwyn Cooke, laying two comics on me that, in anyone else's hands but Cooke or Miller, I doubt I would have given the time of day.

I am, of course, referring to DC Comic's incredibly gutsy revival of "The Spirit".

The Spirit was a never a comic book. Or, at least, it mostly was never a comic book. The title existed mostly as a newspaper insert for several years, beginning during the WWII era, and extending for decades. Each insert was usually a self-contained short story, featuring the title character, a former policeman who, after crooks believed him dead, decided to put on a domino mask and fight the weird, Dick Tracy-like criminals of Central City. The strip had several repeating characters, but is known within comic circles not just for wit of The Spirit's sometimes ham-handed attempts at justice, but also for being the playground for Will Eisner's medium-bending innovations in the sequential arts.

And if you have anything bad to say about Will Eisner, you and I shall go to pistols.

For decades The Spirit was associated with a single creative force in Mr. Eisner (some strips like "Garfield" have reportedly not been done by their original creators in quite some time). And so, any revival SHOULD be looked upon with no small amount of skepticism.

Before his passing, "The Spirit" had been collected by DC in it's high-end "Archives" format, which pretty much put it out of my price range at around $45 a collection (I believe there are 20 archive collections). DC's dedication to Eisner's legacy had also made them the publisher of reprints of Eisner's other works, such as "A Contract with God", "The Building" and "Invisible People".

At some point, Eisner must have known his legacy could continue beyond his semi-retirement, even as he was still publishing new work fairly regularly until the time of his death.

I can't be sure it was Darwyn Cooke's work on "New Frontier", that earned him the assignment, but in the last month Cooke has released two Spirit comics that I can't help but recommend.

The first is last month's "Batman/ The Spirit", which featured an imaginary meeting by Batman and The Spirit as their rogues' galleries decide to cause trouble in a neutral location. Jeph Loeb teams with Cooke on writing chores, and his knack for big, big ideas works pretty darn well in the context of such a momentous occasion.

Cooke's take on The Spirit maintains Eisner's "skin-of-his-teeth" luck and chipper attitude that made what little "The Spirit" work I've lucked into reading such a pleasure. (I am familair with eisner by way of some of his Graphic Novels, such as "The Building" and "A Contract with God").

Further, when possible, Cooke is able to pull off some of the same visual trickery of Eisner's work.

Whether he is able to make the stories of the citizens of The Spirit's world the key to the success of the newly debuted "The Spirit" title as Eisner was able to do is still out for the jury to decide. But, I think the first issue, which hit stands on Dec. 13th, is a pretty good sign that as long as Cooke sticks with the title, The Spirit is in good hands.

Circling back to my point, Vaughn may have been 100% correct in asking the comic community to honor the work that had gone before by creating new ideas. Jack Kirby asked, pretty specifically, that be how his fans honor him not by endlessly repeating the stories he'd set before (and God knows Jack was never shy that he was going to do HIS own thing), but by coming up with their own, original ideas and remaining true to them.

It is true that most attempts at a revival of a series do not hold the same fire as the original concept, and I think "The Escapists" tragically and accurately illustrates this point. Many "franchise" characters go through some difficult periods as creative teams come aboard that simply are not up to the task. (ie: anything Elektra without Miller's by-line).

And, had you asked me should anyone attempt to bring back The Spirit, I think I probably would have laughed.

Surely there will be The Spirit purists out there who will never accept Cooke's work, and, honestly, I don't blame them. He isn't Eisner. His work WILL be different. But I enjoyed the first two glimpses of his Spirit more than enough to see how long he can stay on before DC can't keep him there anymore.

Or until Frank Miller gets his hands on it. Then God help us all.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

For JimD

The Avenging Unicorn Playset

thanks to Jamie for the link

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Not much to report and Mary Poppins

This week has been amazingly lazy and unproductive.

Although we were miles apart last night, apparently both Jason and I watched the Disney classic "Mary Poppins" on ABC Family.

I was struck by the similarities in reference to magic that one could see in "Mary Poppins" (which has some odd bits surely intended for the adults), and the portrayal of magic in much of Neil Gaiman's work. Specifically in his work that includes his anthropomorphization of Death. Even more telling was Gaiman's introduction of Death in the cult Sandman comics, wherein Death immediately quotes "Mary Poppins", extoling the virtues of the movie to her brother, Dream.

Gaiman's definition of magic, as a realm just touching our world, but one which we rarely notice, was prevalent in his Sandman series, as well as his limited series "Books of Magic", and the two "Death" limited series. Is Mad Hettie the pigeon woman? Is it that unlikely that a character line Burt or Mary Poppins, or Uncle Albert might have appeared somewhere in the Sandman series?

I had not seen "Mary Poppins" in years, and may not have seen it in its entirety since my parents took me to the theater for a screening circa 1980. As a child, I think, you expect magic in movies, but I was impressed as an adult viewer at the handling of wonderment through the eyes of the Banks children. Other things seemed far more interesting, including the odd melancholy of Burt and Mary's relationship, as well as the creator's clever separation between the magic and mundane in such an acute fashion.

Nor did I note the source of Mrs. Banks' distraction as a mother was her involvement in the women's suffrage movement (which took far nastier turns in the UK than in the US). There's probably some insidious message there about the addle-headed suffragist not able to pay attention to her own children, but that's a discussion for another time.

Kids today have Harry Potter, who is a far more relatable character than the "practically perfect" Mary Poppins, and probably even more so than Michael and Jane, two perfectly behaved English children (children without video games, cell phones, or an X-TREME, in-your-face attitude). For my dollar (or tuppance), what is made even more mysterious than Hogwart's dungeons and catacombs are the odd comments made by Burt regarding the world we catch mostly only glimpses of, and a history of Mary Poppins which, properly, never reveals itself.

That's the trick of magic, though, I think. Keep them guessing how it's done, and always leave them wanting more.

Gaiman, you owe us one. But you'd hidden it in plain sight all along.

Let's all give mad props to little Alexander Boone, who stepped foot on terra firma for the first time on December 8th at 5:48am. CBG sent me the announcement yesterday. I guess all that birthing really wore her out, as she then foolishly agreed to let me post upon her new arrival.

a young Alexander Goodman poses for what is sure to be the first of many mug shots

Lex (as I shall call him, even if Carla does not) weighed 7 pounds, 7 ounces upon arrival. He came in at an impressive 21 and 1/4 inches, which, I am sure, meant he was totally dominating all the other kids on the neo-natal unit's basketball court.

So congrats to Carla and David, and let's all welcome the newest Leaguer to Planet Earth.

Little Lex, you're in good hands. Now get out there and enjoy the future.

Monday, December 11, 2006


This evening I watched a movie I was fairly certain I would never see in this lifetime when Jamie unleashed "Mean Girls" from the DVR. This makes it (I believe) three Lindsay Lohan movies I have seen in my life.

I recently read a Time Magazine interview with Frank Portman, the former front-man of 90's alt-punk band "The Mr. T Experience" (and current successful young-adult author of "King Dork") who said something along the lines of "Our entire popular culture's about high school. It's this thing that most people suffered through terribly or like to think they did."

If "Mean Girls" is any indication of the small, untreatable pettiness we're all carrying around, I have little hope for the human race.

Ostensibly, the movie was for tween-girls, or, possibly, teen-age girls. Actually, when I think of some of the content, I hope it was intended for teen-age girls and not those 5-8th grade girls. But, let's be honest, it's the tweens who will buy it on DVD.

The movie came out during the "Hilary Duff is Everywhere" phase of movie-making between 2003 and 2004 (which you may not have noticed, but as there seemed to be two or three of the same movie running at all times at my local cinema, I took note). I think I probably lumped this one in with those movies in my mind. What I DO remember was that adult reviewers were suggesting that, maybe, you know, THIS one was okay... I also recall hearing how this movie was surprisingly good, how the zoological observations of the protagonist reflected the absurdities of American high-school culture, blah blah blah...

The movie is far better than most for the first thirty minutes, then sputters as it falls into a predictable "beat the snob girl at her own game" pattern which these movies seem to thrive on, and, of course, pretty much finds it's denouement by telling not just our protagonist, but every character, to love themself (an unsatisfying message as Tina Fey's character admits aloud that none of these girls seem to have any problems with self-esteem). Tucked in there is a rare shoutout to also love the girl next to you, and I guess that's what they're hoping to sow.

If the first third of the movie seemed to be giving me hope by stealing from anything, the first reel actually seemed to mirror 1989's "Heathers", right up to "the lunch time poll" (which made me wonder aloud if that wasn't a wink and a nod of an homage). In a post-Columbine-era, it's impossible to imagine a film like "Heathers" receiving funding, and it may be best not to consider how many pipe bombs and trench coats Christian Slater may be tangentially responsible for. But in a post-Columbine world, the ending of "Mean Girls"seemed like a cop out. It was far more fluffy bunnies and rainbows, as if there was line the producers finally settled upon which they would not cross before having the guts to be a black comedy. We discover our alt-rock disaffected girl just needed the love of a good Mathlete, and it really is all about how big your ass is in high school, even when the movie is trying to say otherwise.

Aside from a few funny moments (mostly brought by adult players, Tina Fey and Tim Meadows) I didn't find much to latch on to. All of this, in part, because the "high school is hell" model of cumpolsory education doesn't jive terribly well with personal experience.

If Frank Portman is right, and we are all still hung up on a locker-room wedgie or some girl pointing out our acne on the bus ride home, it's a pretty sad indictment of pop culture and culture in general. How many adults are walking around with unresolved vendettas and revenge fantasies that should have been swept up with the mortar boards from the gymnasium floor?

Really? That many?


At least in the entertainment industry, I am led to believe it's a hell of a lot of people.

Tina Fey, screenwriter for the project, has dovetailed a bit of the insecurity of her character from this movie with her work on "30 Rock", and one almost wonders about the Jack Donaghy/ Regina George paradigm of Fey's worry about alpha-dogs. Or maybe that's just the well-spring of comedy. I don't know. But she seems hard-wired into the idea of "I was such a geek back then", and "what a loser I am now... despite my success".

These days, I am sadly hard pressed to remember names of teachers, administrators, and especially fellow-students, although a few clues can usually set me straight. I am inclined to remember myself as a "nice guy", but, heck, I don't know. I might just not remember giving some poor freshman noogies everyday, for which, even now, he's plotting his revenge. (Actually, that seems entirely plausible.)

The stuff that sticks out in my mind about that era is how aware I was that because I had not graduated, I was never to be trusted. I do not remember anyone making fun of me (perhaps I was blissfully ignorant), but I have very firm memories of hitting three bathrooms before I found one that was unlocked during a particular potty emergency in English my senior year. When I asked about it, I was told that they always locked the bathrooms on the first floor during periods that coincided with lunchtime, because they'd once caught a kid smoking in the bathroom. So, you know, your bladder be damned.

"Mean Girls" actually has a montage, including the "why do you have to use the restroom?" dilemma of public ed, and this was where I connected. The prison mentality of lowest-common-denominator rule application is a good bit, and is one of the stronger segments in the film. This is the high school that I remember.

Or that you had to leave class and stand in line for twenty minutes in the office to collect a "tardy" pass if you were ten seconds after the bell. Or being told to sell cakes out of a catalog to raise money for prom. Or the monitor refusing to let you go to your locker to get your own textbooks to work on assignments or study, because it was before the first bell (and you could see your locker from where you were standing, and you'd gone to school forty-five minutes early, just for this).

Perhaps "3 O'Clock High" utilized some of the bureaucratic insanity to best advantage, but was that was certainly not the central conflict.

There are high school movies I like. When I was of the right age, and before it was marred by outbreaks of genuine school violence, I found "Heathers'" black humor and deadly pragmatism to the "Mean Girls'" central issues to be pretty funny, but understood that this was a hyper-reality of Archie-Comics-like parody of high school. At the time I'd also liked "the Chocolate War" and "Heaven Help Us" (which I give myself a pass on if it's bad as I haven't seen it in 16 years), perhaps because they skewed male-centric. "Election" was frustratingly fun. "The River's Edge", while morbid and depressing, had a certain reality to it, that if you heard it had happened at another nearby school, you wouldn't bat an eye. "American Grafitti" captured some of the freedom and opportunity of summer nights in high school.

However, these days few movies seem to be willing to do much but find some variation on the "serve uppity snob girl her comeuppance". Which is kind of silly, especially when nothing can top John Waters' "Hairspray".

These days, for me, the high school character that reminds me most of an actual high school kid is Zach Gilford's portrayal of Matt Saracen on NBC's Friday Night Lights. Where other storylines on the show have already spun off into hour-long prime-time soap opera territory, and kids have mostly fallen into the parentless world of TV high schoolers, Gilford's Saracen is somehow still grounded in some sort of reality. Not presneted as a macho jock stereotype, nor the well-coiffed bad boy/ artist, he's the guy trying to figure out how to be the best man he can be, while trying to figure out what that means.

Anyway, this went on way longer than I meant for it to, so I guess I'm curious:

Interactivity time:

What "high school" movies or TV do you like? What "high school" movies or TV do you feel are ridiculous? Which ones do you think cut closer to the truth than they let on? Am I completely full of it?

Your opinions, please...

Sunday, December 10, 2006


Well, I'm feeling a little tired and foggy today (it's nowhere close to morning anymore). I didn't really drink that much egg nog, but I also didn't eat anything between lunch and about 12:30 AM. We received our first guests around 7:40 when Stuart and Hilary made an appearance, and Shoemaker drifted out the door sometime around quarter to three.

The evening was full of old and new friends, Loyal Leaguers, olives, dogs, elves and lots of good cheer. There were surprise guests, surprise turns of events, heartfelt moments and Andy S. wearing an oven mit.

You have to understand, The League of Melbotis last hosted a big party as a mid-day sort of affair about six years ago. Prior to that, we did some bar-b-q's, and that's about it. We, traditionally, don't do a lot of entertaining. So, yes, mistakes were made. But when we moved back to Austin, I was not about to let the Holidays go by without some demonstration of our appreciation for our pals.

We also have an insane amount of booze still left at our house, so if you can send over about eight frat-boys, have we got a treat for them... Otherwise, Jamie and I are just going to have to drink all this stuff before it goes bad.

Next year, a more focused BYOB.

Stuart and Hilary appeared first, and we scarcely had a few minutes to chat (ask Hilary about the Budweiser room at SeaWorld) before the flood gates opened and my house became full of all sorts of guests. Zoomy. Jason and Elena from down the street. Justin and Tanya from back in the day (Monarch Soccer '84 rules!), Peabo and Adriana, to name just a few.

We handed out some door prizes. Several attendees won bottles from the Jones Soda 2006 Holiday Dessert Pack. We sampled some of Tanya's Cherry Pie Soda, and it was surprisingly good. A marked change from last year's debacle with Jones Soda. Pez dispensers, M&M's and other Holiday surprises were handed out to a lucky few.

"It's not just a party," remarked Steanso, "It's a game show."

Winner for surprise guest of the evening: Well, I sort of knew they might come, but John and Julie B. drove in all the way from the N. Houston area. Julie said they were a definite maybe, but Julie's in school and John works a lot of hours, so, you know, if they didn't come, nobody was going to get bent out of shape. Anyhow, I have no idea what time it was, but I looked up and said in my head, "Oh, there's Julie." And then it sort of clicked "Julie lives in Houston". So, anyway, kudos to the B's.

Winner for surprise info of the evening: It took a minute to click thanks to Mr. Eggnog, but Mr. Shoemaker described his lovely girlfriend as his "fiancee"... so Shoemaker is getting married. I can scarce believe it. Sadly, Keora wasn't there for reasons which Mr. Eggnog has wiped from my memory bank.

Winner for heart-tugging reunion: The League and Mr. Eggnog. No, Mel's original owner, Jenny, came by with her husband. Mel freaked out and went all puppyish for a while, and proceeded to follow Jenny around for a good chunk of the evening. Jenny informed me that she is now going to write a Lifetime movie about women who give up their dogs, only to be reunited with them.

Winner for defeating The League and Steanso's best efforts: The firepit. John B. gets an ingenuity award for finally getting the fire started with an emergency run to the store and the purchase of a Duraflame log. Kudos to John B.

Winner for best food item: Goes to Cousin Sue's pumpkin dip. When I asked, "Was this good?" upon seeing the empty dish (when I finally got a chance to go try some), was met with a resounding response in the affirmative. So, Susan, you need to make more.

No Win: I could not get Peabo and Adriana to name their soon-to-arrive child "Lil' Ryan". Apparently, it does not translate well into Spanish. They claim that, phonetically, it sounds a bit like "to laugh at" or something along those lines.

Endurance Award: Steven and Lauren may have clocked the most minutes at the party. Arriving with the first herd and departing with the second, we enjoyed the heck out of having these cats at our house.

Winner for name I caught, but failed to pronounce correctly all evening: Elena? Helena? She lives three houses down, so I sort of better figure this out.

Most ignored: The two ice-cream cakes (which are really cool and look like Yule Logs) we bought and promptly forgot about that are now sitting in the freezer.

Most-discussed: The League's "shrine" (as many called it). I had many people come to me after visiting upstairs to say "I have never seen anything like that before". I am not certain that is good or bad.

Best Elf: Rami. Hands down.

Best-effort: to Pat for, reportedly, knocking down several of my action figures and then trying to get them standing again. Only to knock down several more plastic heroes. Repeat.

Best footwear: Jamie, for giving up on her skirt and boots and switching to jeans and her sock-monkey slippers around 11:30.

Overall thank you: To the many party-goers who worked so hard to wear out the dogs. From Justin's initial game of fetch, to Shoemaker tossing the ball for Lucy at 2:30, the dogs are totally crashed out today. That's a rare treat, and we thank you.

All in all, a grand evening. I forgot to take pictures. I think Jason snapped some pics. If I can get some photos to post, or can link over to his site at some point, I shall do so.

We want to send out a thank you to everyone who attended and even those folks who couldn't attend. It's tough to demonstrate your appreciation for your friends, en masse, so this is my best effort. Sure, we may not have loved every moment of our time in Arizona, but it really led us to appreciate the value of good folks like you Leaguers.

We plan to repeat in the second Saturday of December, 2007. Mark your calendars now.
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