Friday, May 31, 2013

#590. The Cephalopod Coffeehouse May 2013

I've got a bunch of books to choose from:
  • The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana by Umberto Eco
  • The March by E.L. Doctorow
  • The Final Solution by Michael Chabon
  • how i became stupid by Martin Page
  • Rez Salute by Jim Northrup
  • Supergods by Grant Morrison
  • The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling
  • Martin Monsterman by Manny Trembley
  • Kaboom! Volume 1 by Jeph Loeb & Jeff Matsuda
And the book I'm reading now, 11/22/63 by Stephen King.

None of these were bad.  On Goodreads I rated each of them either four or five stars (out of five) (and King is already looking at five stars), which meant that this month was an uncommonly good one for me as far as reading went (not to mention prolific, though a lot of these were fairly short).  Choosing one book to rule them all (rather than blab on about all of them), I'll go easy and talk about the current one. 

I've talked about 11/22/63 and King in the past.  The book's central location (or at least starting point) is Lisbon Falls, Maine, which is my hometown, and right next door to where King himself grew up.  Al's Diner isn't really, but Frank Anicetti and the Kennebec Fruit Company are.  You may not know either by name, and you may not even know their defining element, Moxie, but trust me, all three are a big deal, not just for me, not just for Lisbon, but for a lot of people.  The Moxie Festival draws thousands to town every year (this year's is being held July 12-14, if you care to stop by).  Moxie is an acquired taste, a soft drink of a bygone era, when soda was used as medicine (no kidding).

The book is King at his best.  It's about the Kennedy assassination, but it's also about people, which contrary to popular opinion is what he does best.  You can't tell a good horror story without knowing about people, and it's something King knows better than anyone.  It's another of the many stories he's been waiting to tell for years.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

#589. Pop Fly Wednesday

The Boston Red Sox
2nd in American League East Division
The Sox were five-in-seven for the past week.  Good for them!

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
4th in American League West Division
Mike Trout made history again.  The Angels were three-in-six, including a couple big wins (a good phrase to use for this hard-luck team).  Trout is batting .293, Mark Trumbo .269, and Albert Pujols .247.

The Oakland Athletics
2nd in American League West Division
The A's were five-in-six.  That's awesome!

The St. Louis Cardinals
1st in National League Central Division
The Cardinals were four-in-seven.  Pretty good!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

#588. Fan Tango Tuesday: Hootie and the Blowfish

subject: Hootie and the Blowfish

overview: It's a fact of rock music that it just hasn't been the same since '60s, and really I blame Led Zeppelin.  Rock was the hot new thing that angered '50s parents and gave us outsize personalities like Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry.  Then stuff like the Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Who, and The Doors happened.  The '70s were a long decade of experimentation that gave us singer-songwriters, disco, and yes, Led Zeppelin.  Then in the '80s everything exploded, broke all the rules.  The '90s were one long effort to recover from the '80s.  Kurt Cobain and Nirvana were a brief effort to do something new, bring it to the next level, but then Cobain died.  The rest of the decade struggled to reconstitute rock identity.

And it all started with Hootie and the Blowfish.  Hootie broke all the rules.  The band was at the vanguard of reviving the '60s rock vibe, scaling back the excesses (which of course the '60s had begun, but surprisingly innocently) that had crept up and splintered interest into a thousand subgenres.  Hootie was Southern rock and soul and pop all rolled into one.  It sounded laid back.  Within a year, though, Hootie was the most popular band of the new generation and then the squarest one around.  This was around the time where everyone started to glom onto the hip hop and dance scenes, leaving rock entirely behind.

These days rock is making a comeback, which began with the garage bands of the early '00s like the White Stripes and continued to the folk acts like Mumford & Sons.  Everyone is still rebelling against the mainstream sounds of U2 and Coldplay, because as mainstream as rock got with Elvis and the Beatles, observers are still convinced that rock is best represented as rebellion like the mumbling Bob Dylan and R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe.

Hootie stood apart because of its lead singer Darius Rucker, a black man surrounded by three white guys: lead guitarist Mark Bryan, bassist Dean Felber, and drummer Jim "Soni" Sonefeld (who's the one responsible for breakout signature song "Hold My Hand").  Rucker was indisputably the face of the band, who was assumed to be the Hootie in name while everyone else represented the Blowfish (these were actually Rucker and Bryan's nicknames for some old college friends).  As much as this common misconception plagued the band, the name itself was so goofy that once people stopped paying attention to the music, they couldn't take the band seriously anymore.

And the glorious reception of the first album was met with dread silence when the second album (led by songs Hootie had dreamed up before its great success) came with much heavier material.  Its name was Fairweather Johnson, giving entirely new meaning to the first one's Cracked Rear View.  The band knew before anyone else that the ride wouldn't last.  In fact, every member of Hootie quickly embraced the dreaded rockstar fate of growing up and starting families, bucking the lifestyle expected of them.  It was the first time the slog of the new road scene had been rejected.  Rock wasn't guarenteed for instant stardom unless you could accompany your songs with snazzy music videos.  Have you ever seen a Hootie music video?

Today the music video aesthetic is built into the whole act since as we all know the music video is already dead.

Yet Hootie endures.  Musical Chairs was all about having fun with the music again, while Scattered Smothered & Covered represented the band's covers era bar scene, and an eponymous album tried to replicate the early success.  Hootie's most recent album together, 2005's Looking For Lucky, is some of its best work, in which the songs reached true Americana like the work of Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen.  Yet the stigma remained.  With the radio no longer interested in new Hootie, the band took an extended break.  Rucker announced his intentions to become a country star.  Everyone scoffed.  Then of course it happened.

I've loved every minute of it.  Mark Bryan has created two albums of his own material, while Rucker is releasing his third country album today (his first solo effort was an R&B set).  They've remained a favorite no matter the incarnation since I first heard them.  They're inexplicable to the Led Zeppelin set.  Led Zeppelin happened as a direct answer to the original rock vibe, taking all the music and throwing Doors lyrics in front of them.  Without Jim Morrison, Doors lyrics are beside the point.  It was the jam session, rock as jazz, which the Grateful Dead and the Dave Matthews Band mined to great success, but rock is about the lyrics not just presentation or having a good time, rediscovering the communal messages that go beyond the traditional love message.

That's what Hootie is all about.


(Yes, twenty selections.  I really, really love Hootie.)

Monday, May 20, 2013

#587. Frog Splash Monday: Now I've Seen WrestleMania 29

The thoughts on WrestleMania 29 will follow shortly, but there are a few topics worth addressing first:

1) Curtis Axel
Mr. Perfect's son Joe Hennig made his debut all over again on Raw tonight.  Joe was previously featured in CM Punk's New Nexus circa 2011 as Michael McGillicutty, the name he went under when he competed on NXT (WWE's current breeding ground).  This is pretty big.  Much like Dean Ambrose as part of The Shield, this is someone the fans have been wanting to see get the call-up for a while.  He's the guy who trained with The Rock in his most recent run with the company.  The new name might take some getting used to, but it's a legacy combination just like The Rock's originally was ("Rocky Maivia" coming from Dwayne Johnson's father Rocky and grandfather Peter Maivia).  Mr. Perfect's real name was Curt Hennig, while Joe's grandfather was known as Larry "The Ax" Hennig.  "Curtis Axel" could eventually be boiled down to just Ax or something.  "Ax" was also one half of the '80s tag team Demolition (no, not Larry Hennig), but I'm sure fans would be willing for someone with, ah, more talent to share it, much like "The Rock" was previously a nickname for Don Muraco.  Joe received a strong push out of the gate tonight as the newest member of the Paul Heyman family (which also includes CM Punk and Brock Lesnar).  You might remember Heyman from ECW, the "land of extreme."  Joe battled Triple H, the semi-retired legend who lost to Lesnar last night at Extreme Rules in a steel cage match, in the main event.  Not too bad!  Although of course now fans will be asking all the more loudly to see Richie Steambeat receive similar honors.  This particular prospect is the son of Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat.  If you have to ask who he is, then there's no hope for you.

2) Austin Aries
TNA was on the receiving end of yet another embarrassing episode a few weeks ago when Austin Aries showed a considerable lack of maturity when announcer Christy Hemme misstated his entrance.  Hemme is a legitimate wrestling goddess, winning the original WWE Divas Search, but has nicely transitioned into a role more traditionally associated with men (unless you're Lilian Garcia).  Aries is one of those ROH alumni renowned for his wrestling prowess.  Last year he was given a run as TNA champion, a move that elevated him to the main event, which lately has meant a lot of tag team matches for some of the best wrestlers in the promotion (that's where Bobby Roode, Aries' predecessor as champion and in fact his tag team partner, currently sits, as well as Christopher Daniels, the hottest heel in the company not to be featured in the Aces & Eights faction).  Aries decided it was appropriate to block Hemme into the corner and then climb to the second rope (so, let's be clear, his crotch was in her face) while she made the correction.  That's just not something you do.  TNA as a company has been doing commendable business.  I said "yet another embarrassing episode" at the start of this item because in the spring of 2011, Jeff Hardy showed up to the main event of a TNA intoxicated and unable to compete.  He subsequently cleaned up his act, thank goodness, and is once again a member in good standing of the wrestling community, but I'm sure there are still fans who will only associate both Hardy and TNA with such bad publicity.  Aries has offered an apology, and Hemme accepted, but how could he have possibly thought that was a good idea in the first place?

On to WrestleMania 29!

Sheamus, Randy Orton, & Big Show vs. The Shield
The three names on the left side of this match are all perennial members of the WWE-doesn't-know-what-to-do-with-them-at-WrestleMania club.  To be fair, Orton has had a good amount of success,but Big Show's woes are so well-known that they were the whole subject of his match against Cody Rhodes last year.  Sheamus has twice had matches against Daniel Bryan sabotaged on the card, and his debut at WrestleMania against Triple H is one of those matches I still keep trying to redeem in my own thoughts.  Still, Sheamus had the best showing in this match.  As talented as the members of The Shield are, they were mostly playing off the big names.  Not a bad match, but curiously devoid of any real momentum, possibly because they had to figure out how to help The Shield win again (they're currently undefeated and last night captured a bunch of championships, led as always by Ambrose).

Ryback vs. Mark Henry
It wasn't until I remembered that a lot of this WrestleMania could very easily be defined by the Hall of Fame induction of WWE legend Bruno Sammartino that the significance of this match clicked.  It was all strongman style.  That was Sammartino's gimmick, and who better to sell it at WrestleMania than the new Goldberg and the World's Strongest Man?

Team Hell No (Daniel Bryan & Kane) vs. Dolph Ziggler & Big E Langston
Langston was another obvious attempt at taking a chip off the old Sammartino.  The commentary kept making references at how powerful he is.  Ziggler is the new Mr. Perfect, though a version that can win a world championship in WWE (which he did the night after WrestleMania, though he recently suffered a legitimate concussion and so couldn't make his scheduled title defense last night). He wasn't given much to do in this match, however, which has been typical of his WrestleMania appearances.  That's always puzzled me.  Maybe next year?

Chris Jericho vs. Fandango
I will probably have to watch this match again, but most of it just seemed like it was the consummate professional Jericho at the top of his game, and Fandango merely keeping up.  Jericho is one of those wrestlers who can have a good match with anyone, which was all the more necessary in this one because it was Fandango's first actual match in WWE.  Their feud continued last night, and it seems to be continuing still.  It doesn't hurt that Fandango's sometimes dance partner Summer Rae is turning into an attraction all her own.  Previous Divas like AJ Lee (a breakout sensation last year), Sunny, and Sable have always made the most of it.  Hopefully Summer can do the same.  In the meantime, this match was fun in the same way Jericho's match against Steamboat, Jimmy Snuka, and Roddy Piper was a few years ago.  Jericho can have a good match against anyone and even if he's the only one worth watching (and that's not necessarily the case in either of these matches), by god you'll still enjoy yourself.

Alberto Del Rio vs. Jack Swagger
A contender for best match of the night.  These two had surprisingly good chemistry together.  It's entirely possible that they are in fact each other's ideal opponents in the ring.  Del Rio has been looking for exactly that since he arrived in late 2010.  It was assumed that his match was fellow Mexican superstar Rey Mysterio, but it's Swagger.  The company has been trying to make Swagger a star for years, but with his lisp it's hard to take him seriously when he speaks (I don't personally fixate on that, but I know other fans do).  That's why he has a mouthpiece in Zeb Coulter.  All he has to do is get it done in the ring.  It's always good to have two submission specialists unleashed on each other.

Undertaker vs. CM Punk
For a good portion of Undertaker's famed WrestleMania winning streak (after this match now 21-0), he wasn't know for having the best matches on the card.  But that has become the norm in recent years.  This match was no exception.  Punk had been on a hotstreak since the summer of 2011, and aside the injuries that are currently keeping him out of the ring he's shown no signs of slowing down.  He's an inspired performer.  Every threat to the streak makes big promises about ending it, but few have done it with as much flair as Punk.  The death of William Moody, who portrayed Undertaker's long-term manager Paul Bearer, earlier this year provided particularly fruitful material.  Where such an angle could easily have been in poor taste, in this instance it was the ultimate tribute.  A lot of Undertaker's early WWE matches revolve around his mysterious urn, held like a totem by Bearer at ringside.  Punk and Heyman centered a lot of the drama around the urn once again.  Probably more rewarding than both recent Triple H matches, and even the ones against "Mr. WrestleMania" Shawn Michaels, whom I contend will be facing Triple H at next year's landmark WrestleMania XXX.  It's no coincidence that WWE has been ramping up Shawn's appearances recently.  He's been retired since 2010.  It's time for one last moment of glory, ending his good buddy Triple H's career once and for all.

Brock Lesnar vs. Triple H
Like The Rock, Lesnar made an unexpected comeback, competing on cards sprinkled throughout the year.  His last match before last year's Extreme Rules was at WrestleMania XX against Goldberg.  Though he's a wicked heel now, circa 2002-2003 he was the Next Big Thing, the long-awaited second coming of the legitimate WWE big man, Hulk Hogan style, this time one who could pull off a competitive match (the problem was always finding competition).  Lesnar had a successful stint in UFC, which has informed his current smashmouth style (and the corporate logo-infused attire he uses to wrestle).  Now he's a monster that looks all the more impossible to defeat.  This match with Triple H was a more contemporary version of the Sammartino style.  Notably the commentary never once mentioned the strongman vibe, even though these are two wrestlers who epitomize it.

The Rock vs. John Cena
A reprise of last year's "Once in a Lifetime" main event was a clear echo of that match, much like Star Trek Into Darkness is of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.  And it's a better match precisely for it.  If Cena has any real weakness in the ring, it's that he doesn't often seem to realize that a big match should be treated that way.  He's had plenty of big matches, but a lot of those big matches (especially the ones against Rob Van Dam and CM Punk) he lost.  He lost last year's big match against The Rock, too, and that fact made this one more compelling than its predecessor could have hoped to be.  The Rock always benefited from contemporary stars rising to similar levels of success as himself.  Cena has often lacked that, or WWE in its incarnations at the time did everything possible to split its attention, keeping Batista and Randy Orton away from him for too long.  Instead his early WrestleMania opponents were Triple H and Shawn Michaels, stars of previous generations.  Cena in fact had a contemporary with whom he meshed really well, Edge, but their only WrestleMania encounter was a three-way match that also included Big Show (for some reason), and wasn't even the main event of the card.  So it's no surprise that he needed some extra help to get it done with Rock.  And get it done they did this time.

All in all a pretty good WrestleMania.


I'll round today out with an acknowledgement of my ongoing obsession over a different subject entirely, actor Colin Farrell, who was on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon tonight.  He was pretty awesome, promoting the animated flick Epic by...talking about his line dancing past.  Makes perfect sense!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

#586. Life & Theft Sunday: A Grunt

recently i was thinking
about war again

durm und strang
and bang and blame

i think the people
who hate war the most
are the ones who can't
keep their own horrors
out of their eyes

war is a terrible thing
don't get me wrong
but there are a lot of bad things
that happen all around us
all the time and war
has its worst effects in the mind
where most war is pitched
every single day

far from the battlefield

or at least any
that will ever be

so what is it
about war and people
getting blown to bits
because that's
what they set out to do?

we find it a horror
because we can't imagine
how anyone could volunteer
for such a fete

yet we've been a volunteer army
for decades now
and the strange thing is
i wish we still had the draft

i wish we still had the draft
because it prevents all the typical bullshit
it prevents assholes from telling you
that you can't fight for your country
because once you go volunteer
you can be rejected
and i know all about that now

when there's a draft
they'll take anyone
and you're all in it for the same reasons

when you volunteer you can be screened away
like it's a good thing to reject the willing
on technicalities while those who slipped in
can be as bad as they want to be
like all the assholes behind a wheel
on the battlefields of the road

volunteers come into a regimented culture
but it's an artificial one that's just as phony
as anywhere else
the drafted were always forced into conformity
because there was no telling where they came from

the drafted could bitch about the horrors with justification
volunteers have no one to blame but themselves
and damned if no one still knows the difference

war in a volunteer state is a tacit approval
and a true dichotomy of the culture
even after all that culture revolution
there are still people who believe in war
and ain't that a bitch?

until the other day i thought the iraq war
was less stupid than the popular opinion suggested
a hangover of the vietnam years that we still cling to
like dependents on the drugs that helped make it possible
you all said bush was an idiot
burning in his own folly
you still claim that it made no sense
and yet it made all the sense in the world
the only problem is that we lost the stomach for resolve
and instead just wanted to believe in absent hope

hope in the middle of climate change
is like a winter that doesn't want to go away
snow in the middle of spring
and spring in the middle of winter
when the levies broke we all saw monsters
a hushpuppy in a bathtub

well maybe it was an obsession
that wasn't so healthy after all
but in a lot of ways it really was inevitable
a mess we had to clean up if we ever wanted
to look at ourselves in the mirror again
and in the 21st century mirrors are no longer miracles
but more of our patented nightmares
they're on the walls and nowhere in the landscape
and there is no fairest of them all
just another warrior attempting to find their grail
in a childrens crusade to a holy land
stuck in a quagmire of conflicting faith
all derived from the same source
but speaking a different language

someone is making the argument
that all of this makes sense
and that the only explanation is that
black is still black and white is still white
but black isn't a color and neither is white
these are absences and they are the abyss
and we are all staring at it
never once realizing that it is indeed
staring back at us

we moonwalk toward Golgotha
and there's not a Cyrenian in sight
and we look upon the grim works of
Ozymandias and tremble because we no longer know
how to look at history with any perspective
perhaps because all those books of Alexander's
were lost and really i was recently reminded
that 97% of human history was left off the annals
so what do we really know except what we tell ourselves?

drafted into this world and volunteered to fight a war
i try to blend all the disparate conflicting impulses
that float around me and the life and the theft of it
are just things that happen before it all ends

so tell me again why i should be outraged
or why i shouldn't be outraged
every single day

i respond with a grunt

Friday, May 17, 2013

#585. Direct Current Friday

Rounding out the week, I'll secretly be participating in the Remakes Blogfest, but not until later in the post.  I've decided that if I do things officially, it just won't work out.  Somewhere along the way I think I either really did alienate everyone or somehow it was construed that I don't want comments.  I love comments.  I loved the dialogue that went into some of the comments recently, and would love to continue that.  Although if I really have alienated everyone, as the title of the obscure Marlon Brando movie suggests, Sayonara.

Today Star Trek Into Darkness opens.  This counts as a holiday for me, although I probably won't be seeing it until tomorrow.  When Star Trek opened four years ago, I used it as an excuse to make repeated trips to the movie theater to see it in an almost exact replica of the instant adoration I had for The Dark Knight a year earlier.  Sadly I have no monies in 2013, so I will not really be able to do that again, but I would beg borrow and steal my way into the auditorium for this.

I'm a Star Trek fan.  Some of us call ourselves Trekkies, and some of us call ourselves Trekkers (because let's face it, "Trekkies" sounds stupid).  I'm not a Star Trek fan in the sense that I regularly attend conventions and have psychotically (but awesomely) retrofitted my living quarters into a replica of a set.  In fact, I've only ever been to one convention, and I had to leave before Robert Picardo made his appearance (yes, one celebrity appearance, so obviously not a big one).  I'm a Star Trek fan in that I've loved Star Trek for a long time.  It's not just one or two of the series or movies that I love.  I have a whole blog committed to the entire franchise.

Ten years ago it was a rotten time to be a Star Trek fan, or at least one the least bit attuned to the rest of the community.  Star Trek Nemesis had bombed in theaters over the winter, and Enterprise was limping its way to a woebegone conclusion two years later.  Fans talked more about what they hated than what they loved.  It was my introduction to Internet culture.  Everyone's too cool for the room, harvesting a cult of personality rather than insightful commentary.  I'm more of an insightful commentary kind of guy.

And so when I talk about Star Trek, it's about the things I love, and I love Star Trek because there are many things I love about it.  I don't spread this love around unconditionally.  It just so happens that Star Trek has a hard time disappointing me.  The last time I was disappointed with it, I pretty much stopped experiencing the offender, which is the pocket universe of the Pocket Books novels.  I used to read those all the time.  I guess the more filmed Star Trek there was, the less tolerance I had for work that I found poorly derivative.  Although that's what the fans who hated the later filmed material said about that, too.

It's all a matter of perspective.  And I'm coming back around on the books, by the way.  I'll be reading a few of them probably later this year.  Anyway, it's not such a bad time to be a fan these days.  Star Trek was more popular than any other film in the series.  It made buckets and buckets of money.  We're only just now getting another one, but that only figures.  I maintain to this day that the main problem a decade ago was franchise fatigue.  The fans went from having a single series that had run for three seasons to a new movie every few years a decade later to another series and more movies to three more series for more than another decade...These fans found plenty of shiny new obsessions, and they had their fun elsewhere.

The reboot was something some of us had dreaded for years.  There was such an interconnectedness to the previous version and all its incarnations, despite minor deviations here and there, it was for those who could follow it exactly like a given author's beloved epic cycle.  But the reboot worked.  It was immediately different from what had come before, but it put a new focus on some of the elements that badly needed attention in the original versions of Kirk and his pals, being a knowing examination of these characters.  Kirk and Spock were already legends.  Now the stories themselves explained why instead of just letting the fans extrapolate.

Some people say the J.J. Abrams version of Star Trek is missing the insightful commentary of its predecessors.  I offer a counterargument that this Star Trek has that, in spades.  It speaks about the human condition, using the main characters, and doesn't do too much to distract from that, other than all the spiffy whizzbang action that won Abrams a seat at the Star Wars table.  Star Trek has always been about the human condition, from Christopher Pike being held captive by the Talosians to "Trip" Tucker deciding to sacrifice himself so his buddy Jonathan Archer could disentangle himself from the mess Shran made.  Every incarnation of Star Trek has interpreted this basic mandate differently.  The new movies are no different.


The remake I choose to spotlight in my unofficial participation in the blogfest is The Maltese Falcon.

Wait just a hot dog minute, The Maltese Falcon a remake?!?  The classic starring Humphrey Bogart and Peter Lorre?!?  Indeed, grasshopper.  It's also based on a book!

Okay, maybe you knew that one.  Dashiell Hammett's book was published in 1930.  Someone in Hollywood figured it would make a great movie.  The Maltese Falcon was duly released in 1931.  And then Satan Met a Lady was released in 1936.  Bogart's Falcon, "the stuff dreams are made of," came out in 1941.  It was an instant classic, a masterpiece of film noir.

And just think, all those people who claim remakes are a terrible thing would have done everything possible to block it from ever being made given half a chance.  What are they, a thug in The Maltese Falcon?  I know, I know, they usually adopt this stance because they hate to see a treasured memory attempt to be replaced.  Obviously most remakes aren't based on actual treasured memories.  Except Harrison Ford's The Fugitive.  Or Judy Garland's The Wizard of Oz.  You get the idea.  "Remakes" are the basis of storytelling itself.  You only think it's about original ideas.  A story is only a version of something that already exists.  It's inspired, no matter how tenuously, on events whether fictional or real.  Every single story ever.

I'd much rather live in a world where Bogart's Maltese Falcon exists, thank you.  I love that Homer helped give us The Iliad, and The Odyssey.  Those poems were composed centuries after the events they evoke.  Stories based on stories.

For the bonus round of music, I'm going unorthodox again.  As I recently stated, I'm a fan of the Beatles.  For a few years, I collected issues of the British music magazine Mojo that included complete covers of Beatles albums, uniting various artists and their particular interpretations of the songs.  My favorite remains Revolver Reloaded, based of course on Revolver, another of their formative masterpieces.  It includes Mark Mulcahy's version of "She Said She Said," which is to my mind the definitive one.  These Mojo albums were probably why I was able to enjoy the movie Across the Universe so much, because it features another collective effort to cover Beatles song.  As far as I'm concerned, you can't go wrong with Beatles songs.

Plus we wouldn't have this without remakes.

And I really wouldn't want to live in a world where that wasn't possible.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

#584. Leo Five Thursday

(I'm a pretty big Beatles fan, though this one ends alluding specifically to a George Harrison song, "My Sweet Lord," after referencing a Beatles album, Rubber Soul, which is considered the first of their great work.  It features "Drive My Car," "Norwegian Wood," "Nowhere Man," "Michelle," "Girl," "In My Life," and others.  "Rubber soul" is a term I've adopted for myself, trying to figure out why it's so hard to find others like me.  I've used it in my poetry.  The Q&A format of this one comes from one of the books I'm currently reading, Rez Salute by Jim Northtrup.)

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

#583. Pop Fly Wednesday

Before we get to baseball, let me just continue to express my ongoing frustrations.  I am not a pessimist, I'm a realist.  People love to quote the affirmative that persistence leads to success.  I'm sure it looks exactly like that from the other side, when persistence works.  The truth is, persistence is only the act of repeatedly doing the same thing expecting a different result.  Some people also call that insanity.  Success is not inevitable.  We cannot all succeed.  Sometimes a story really is about failure.  Since this post is in fact about baseball, statistically speaking in every game someone wins and...someone loses.  There are other sports where ties are possible, but baseball isn't one of them.  The team at the top of a division could very well have been at the bottom last season.  That's how the Red Sox are.  We members of the Nation lived through eighty-six years fully believing in the Curse.  Great ballplayers like Carl Yastrzemski, Ted Williams, Carlton Fisk, Jim Rice, and Wade Boggs never saw Boston win the World Series as active players.  And that's just the guys who played in the Majors.  I remember watching a near-perfect game from knuckleballer Charlie Zink at a Portland Seadogs game.  I was eager to see Charlie eventually succeed Tim Wakefield as the Sox knuckleball ace.  That never happened.  There was a Lisbon, ME recruit when I was in high school who entered the farm system and never amounted to anything.  Even being exceptional isn't always good enough.  Lewiston, ME boxer Joey Gamache was a local legend, but I'm sure most people have never heard of him.

This is not really about being famous or having a tangible sense of accomplishment.  These are names that went pretty far, but by conventional standards still didn't go all the way.  Persistence doesn't always lead to success.  We all love success stories.  Those are the true affirmations, but they might also be exceptions to the rule.  If the Red Sox are doing really well this season, it means some other team isn't.  We can't all be winners.  This is merely a sobering message, not the musings of a quitter or someone forgetting their dreams.


The Boston Red Sox

As it happens, Beantown has dropped two spots.  They're currently three games behind the Yankees.  Since last Wednesday their fortunes have not been so great.  Clay Buchhulz hasn't won another game.  In fact, the only game they won in this stretch was on Friday against the Toronto Blue Jays, on the strength of Jon Lester's pitching.

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

These guys are still doing pretty miserably, ten games out of first place, although they won more games in this stretch than the Red Sox.  Mark Trumbo is batting .264, Mike Trout .286 (first time this season he's been ahead of Trumbo?), and Albert Pujols .242 (which is slightly better than when we last checked in).

The Oakland Athletics

The A's had a couple of wins in this stretch.  They're also a bunch of games out of first place.  And Coco Crisp has been recently been on the disabled list!  But it's okay because he returns today.

The St. Louis Cardinals

At least these guys are still leading their pack.  (Remember that at one point, the Sox, A's, and Cardinals were all tops of their divisions, while the Angels were...the best team in Anaheim.)  They won five games in this stretch.  Go Cardinals!  Somewhere the squirrels are really happy.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

#582. Fan Tango Tuesday

subject: Green Lantern

overview: I've been obsessed with Green Lantern for decades.  I've mentioned before that this obsession began when I realized he featured my favorite color as his entire modus operandi.  And the funny thing is, Green Lantern isn't even any one character.  There are hundreds of distinct Green Lanterns.

The first was introduced in the Golden Age era.  His name was Alan Scott and he really has nothing to do with the rest of the Green Lantern saga.  Plenty of writers have twisted themselves into knots trying to explain how he is, but he really isn't.  The most flippant thing you can say about him is that his weakness was wood.  The more traditional Green Lanterns used to have a weakness to the color yellow.  The Big Bang Theory joke was that you could take out both versions with a Number 2 pencil. Rim shot!

The Silver Age and still best-known version is Hal Jordan.  He was a test pilot who happened to be closest to the crash site of Abin Sur, the dying Green Lantern of Sector 2814 (there are 3600 in all).  The Green Lantern Corps was the creation of the Guardians of the Universe, wise little blue people who have been alive for countless millennia.  Its members are essentially space cops.  The term "Green Lantern" technically refers to the power battery that charges the ring Green Lanterns use to draw on their willpower to effect superpowers, whatever their imagination can provide them.  The power ring has been described as the most powerful weapon in the universe.

I say Hal got the ring because he was the closest to Abin Sur since there were several other available candidates, those who have the ability to overcome great fear.  The first was Guy Gardner, who later became famous for his brash personality.  The other was John Stewart, who is by far the most sober of any of the existing human Green Lanterns.  Both got the chance to sling the ring after Hal decided he didn't like the constraints imposed by the Guardians on his activities.  Hal is a free spirit.  It's funny, because he's got Air Force experience, and so he definitely knows from discipline, but even as a test pilot he tended to buck tradition, which is probably why he and perennial love interest Carol Ferris are one of the few romantic couples in comic books to have never settled down.

Guy is an even bigger maverick than Hal.  That's why John had a shot.  Of course, every time Hal walks away from his responsibilities as Green Lantern, he ends up coming back, because above all else he also has a strong sense of duty.  The biggest challenge he ever faced in this ongoing struggle, as later explained by Geoff Johns in Green Lantern: Rebirth, was when he lost his hometown of Coast City to alien conqueror Mongul, events that took place during Superman's return from the dead.  Hal lost it, as chronicled in "Emerald Twilight" and Zero Hour, obliterating the Corps and the Guardians and becoming the all-powerful Parallax in the process.  Except unbeknownst to Hal and everyone else, Parallax wasn't just an identity he assumed, but the personification of fear.

Another wrinkle in this puzzle is Sinestro, once the self-proclaimed Greatest Green Lantern of Them All. He was so self-assured that he shaped his entire home planet of Korugar in his image, imposing a tyrannical order so that nothing ever went wrong according to his very strict standards.  When the Guardians found out, they expelled him from the Corps.  In retaliation, he had a yellow ring of fear forged, which functioned in much the same way as a Green Lantern's, but he became the very image of the mustache-twirling villain, and Hal's natural rival.  When Hal got better (after redemptive arcs in The Final Night and Day of Judgment), it was Sinestro who took the vanguard of fear in gusto, until a series of crises helped him see things more soberly and gave him his own shot at redemption.

Half of what I love so much about Green Lantern is that it's the least static superhero franchise imaginable.  No matter how little things seem to change, they always are.  The characters are always shifting in their perspectives, growing.

John Stewart, for example, lost his faith in himself when he inadvertently allowed an entire planet to be destroyed on his watch during Cosmic Odyssey.  During the renaissance periods that followed, he was a prime candidate for great character exploration.  In Green Lantern: Mosaic, he was a better Hal than Hal, questioning all the typical Guardian logic.  When Kyle Rayner accepted responsibility as apparently the last of the Green Lanterns, John was one of his greatest mentors (Alan Scott, ironically, was another).  John has been a stalwart member again under the revived Corps, even though his demons frequently try to make him stumble.  He's the Green Lantern fans of the animated Justice League knew.  He's a far more acceptable alternative than Guy.

Guy was the Green Lantern taken out with a single punch by Batman.  He was the one oblivious enough to temporarily use Sinestro's yellow ring for himself.  He's had questionable fashion sense.  But he did open a bar named Warriors, and that was pretty cool.

When Geoff Johns began writing Green Lantern tales in 2004, I was skeptical.  I had been a big fan of the Kyle Rayner era.  All these humans Green Lanterns stick around because fans grow attached to them.  No other sector has more than one representative as a rule.  Now Earth even has Simon Baz, the first post-9/11 addition to the fold, and it shows.  Anyone can be a Green Lantern, provided they fit the code.

Green Arrow, Oliver Queen, couldn't be one, though.  Hal and Ollie went on a famous road trip exploring the American social landscape.  Ollie is a hopeless liberal.  Hal is a hopeless conservative.  The only thing they share is the word "green" in their superhero names.  Ollie shoots arrows at people. Hal prefers a giant boxing glove.  I just thought you should know about that part of the legacy.  The famed odd couple archetype.

Johns has created an entire expanded landscape.  Carol Ferris had long pulled double duties as Star Sapphire.  Johns expanded that into the love corps.  Sinestro already represented the fear corps.  Johns created the greed corps (hilariously personified by Larfleeze), the redemptive corps (the Indigo Tribe), the compassion corps (the Blue Lanterns embodied by Saint Walker), the dead corps (the Black Lanterns, glorified zombies led by Black Hand), the rage corps (the Red Lanterns), and one corps to rule them all (the White Lantern).  Some people would call that silly.  But if you start questioning comic book logic, there's really no convenient place to stop.

The mythology has always fascinated me.  Green Lantern exists in the DC landscape.  Remember earlier when I mentioned the Silver Age?  This was an era where superheroes came back into fashion after falling out of favor following WWII.  The Golden Age Flash was replaced by the Silver Age Flash just like the Green Lanterns shuffle.  Except these Flashes famously met.  It was the start of DC's whole concept of the multiverse, parallel realities with different versions of the same basic concepts.  It was revealed that the mad guardian Krona was responsible for this when he attempted to observe the moment of the Big Bang.  This is DC's version of Pandora's Box.

That's how I'll end the overview.


Showcase #22 (1959) The debut of Hal Jordan and all of modern Green Lantern lore.

Green Lantern #76 (1970) The start of the Green Lantern/Green Arrow "Hard Traveling Heroes" arc.

Justice League #5 (1987) The "one punch" issue featuring Guy Gardner and Batman.

Cosmic Odyssey (1988) Event that saw John Stewart lose a planet.

Green Lantern: Emerald Dawn (1989-1990) An updated version of Hal's formative development.

Green Lantern: Emerald Dawn II (1991) An updated version of Sinestro's formative development.

"Emerald Twilight" (1994) The arc that saw Hal Jordan temporarily end the entire Green Lantern legacy and transform into Parallax, followed an issue later by the debut of Kyle Rayner, who subsequently became known as the torchbearer.

Zero Hour (1994) The event that saw Hal's ambitions as Parallax nearly play out.  It's Green Arrow who puts an end to the scheme with an arrow to the chest.

The Final Night (1996) Event that saw Hal Jordan reclaim his heroic identity long enough to sacrifice himself in order to save Earth.

Day of Judgment (1999) Event that saw Hal Jordan temporarily become the new host for the Spectre, the Spirit of Vengeance.

Green Lantern #154 (2001) Kyle Rayner's friend Terry becomes the victim of a hate crime, one of the first notable instances where homosexuality is addressed directly in comics.

Green Lantern: Rebirth (2004-2005) Hal Jordan returns, the whole Parallax thing is explained, and widespread appreciation of the franchise begins.

Green Lantern (2011) The movie that proved the limits of that widespread appreciation.  Naturally I loved it.

Green Lantern #0 (2012) First appearance of Simon Baz.

Monday, May 13, 2013

#581. Frog Splash Monday

Well, I think I've succeeded in completely alienating myself as a blogger.  As I've told you before, this was the natural state of my blogging for years, so if you're feeling all smug, just know that familiarity has inoculated me to this shunning.

On to professional wrestling!

WrestleMania 29 is being released on home video tomorrow.  I've only seen two WrestleManias live on PPV, WrestleMania 2000 (the sixteenth in the sequence that was in fact broadcast in 2000, when I watched it with my wrestling-obsessed friends at Mercyhurst College in Erie, PA, where large groups in the dorm lounge on Monday nights was the norm) and last year's WrestleMania 28, thanks to my brother-in-law being on leave from a deployment and wanting to enjoy himself a little (sometimes his idea of enjoying himself is doing a lot of work around the house, so this was a welcome change of pace).

(It does occur to me that if I ever wanted to change the name of this blog, it would be to Life In Parentheses.  Seriously, who else do you know who writes so many parenthetical phrases?  I'll wait.  Or perhaps the Leo Five feature will be renamed that, now that it technically stars not just Leo but Monk and soon Joe Cocker, who is not the famous pop act but a cocker spaniel.  You'll see if that does in fact happen, Theoretical Reader.  And I realize that parenthetical phrases that turn into whole paragraphs don't need parentheses after all, but I'm the writer.  And I also realize that I do have some readers, such as the Geek Twins, who show up with comments rain or shine.  You are always appreciated, despite my cynical rhetoric.)

Anyway, since WrestleMania XX in 2004, I've been making an effort to add the subsequent DVD releases to my collection.  Previously I used to ogle the videos at the late Movieland in Lisbon, ME, although I rarely actually rented them, all the older ones, and 2003's WrestleMania XIX was the last time I allowed myself that peculiar indulgence.  And anyway, I picked up the whole anthology WWE released that included I-XX (with 21 as a bonus) on the cheap at FYE, and now have a complete collection, although with my ever-present lack of funds, I've been wondering if I should sell them, and if I can make good money off of them, unlike my comic book collection.  I've had three separate listings on Craigslist for some other items for months now, and the only interest I ever got was from a scammer.  (Seriously, scammers?  Why must the idiocy of most people allow you to believe you won't experience the psychic wrath of people who aren't idiots?  Psychic Wrath would make a great name for a rock band.)

(The phrase, "[fill-in-the-blank] would make a great name for a rock band" comes from Dave Barry, who used to write a Pulitzer-winning humor column syndicated throughout every decent American newspaper.  Fill-in-the-blank would also, incidentally, make a great name for a rock band.)

After a while, you start to realize that the popular response to any WrestleMania is the always the same.  "It just wasn't that good."  This amazes me.  Most commentators on wrestling seem to believe the majority of wrestling isn't any good.  They've got the same response as the people who don't watch wrestling.  The only difference is that they engage in the classic Internet exercise of sado-masochism.  They force themselves to watch what they hate in order to complain about it on the Internet, because, y'know, "it'll make the creators improve the product."  Baby, anyone who seriously heavily relies on outside input shouldn't be doing something creative.  There will always be a fair amount of give-and-take.  In fact, wrestling is the most interactive product around.  Fans create and destroy careers all the time, almost equal to the amount of similar effort on the part of promoters.

(I will also acknowledge that a really fun project would be to create an entire story from suggestions, like the ultimate Choose Your Own Adventure.)

That being said (the thing before that last parenthetical phrase), I always expect that the given WrestleMania is better than the response it garners on the Internet.  The funny thing is, I often get in the way of my own appreciation of wrestling because I invariably attempt to do something else when I pop in a DVD, such as use the Internet (really?!?) or fall asleep.  I fall asleep watching things all the time.  I'm an equal opportunist like that.  This is not an indication of my active interest.  (Consequently, when someone says they fell asleep watching something because it was boring, either I assume they were mistaken or we just have different interpretations of this phenomenon.)

Sure, sometimes the matches on a WrestleMania were clearly put together because the bookers wanted someone on the card and couldn't figure out how to do it usefully, and there are a lot of WrestleMania matches like that.  But this year's WrestleMania doesn't seem like that at all.  I assume if the wrestlers showed up to perform, they did something worthwhile in these matches.  I will probably talk about this again next week, just so you know, because hopefully I will have finally seen WrestleMania 29 for myself.


Anyway, in TNA, Sting addressed the AJ Styles situation on Impact last week.  Sting is the dude who made a name for himself in WCW, the face-painted warrior who was not the Ultimate Warrior (who was in WWE until a perhaps misguided effort to confront Hulk Hogan a second time), who was as much the face of the company as Ric Flair, for years.  When the New World Order thing happened, the bookers were tired of relying on Flair.  Seriously, he was a nonentity during that whole (years-long) thing.  During one of the points where it seemed like it was over (but wasn't), Flair and Hogan had another series of matches, which they'd done when Hogan first appeared in WCW (but not when they were both in WWE).  Anyway, Sting was tapped as WCW's savior.  He spent fifteen months not actually competing in matches.  This is unheard-of in wrestling.  And something that will probably never happen again, and I'll explain that momentarily.

Anyway, there was even a fake Sting the nWo (some people might present that as NWO, but I stay true to the spray-painted logo) used for a while (and then sent to Japan, the land where this whole angle originated).  The real Sting finally staged his comeback at Starrcade 1997 (Starrcade was WCW's WrestleMania).  This match with Hogan was hyped beyond anything else from the decade.  Bret Hart was present, having just joined WCW after the Montreal Screwjob debacle of the previous month's Survivor Series match against Shawn Michaels in WWE.  When Hogan technically won the match fair and square (the referee was supposed to botch the count, but inadvertently botched that), Hart charged in the ring and declared "Not again!"  The ringside commentators (I don't care what anyone says, WCW had the best of these) accurately observed that at this point the match was restarted, or in other words an entirely separate match began.  Sting was all fired up, unlike how he'd been earlier.  He won easily.

Still, because of the controversy of whether or not Hogan had gotten a fair shake (never mind that it wasn't nWo policy to give anyone a fair shake), the result was declared null and void, and another match a few months later tried to resolve this huge moment.  This was the beginning of the end of the momentum the company had had over WWE.  It didn't hurt that Goldberg, who became a huge phenomenon in 1998, was still completely overshadowed by nWo shenanigans.  It's also worth noting that as much as everyone wanted everyone else to believe, the dedication Sting had demonstrated to being the savior hadn't been matched by the conduct of the rest of the company.  Hogan had lost and won back the WCW heavyweight title to Lex Luger only a few months earlier, and at the 1996 Starrcade, he lost to Roddy Piper (which is significant even if the title wasn't on the line).  The full heel version of Hogan (he had previously been the biggest face ever, literally, though he still wrestled as a heel, which was what big men until Vince McMahon saw dollar signs in Hulkamania were, including the Hogan prototype "Superstar" Billy Graham) was hated, but he was unappreciated.  He should easily have been more successful, but again, wrestling fans are insane.  A Hogan who was champion and undefeated throughout the same fifteen months would have been a more effective opponent.

Still, keeping Sting out of action for so long created a lot of logistical problems.  The Starrcade match was perhaps doomed to failure from the start.  The part of the match that Hogan technically won was dominated by Hogan, with Sting receiving one long beating.  It seemed like the smart thing to do.  Was a guy who'd spent fifteen months out of action prepared to contend a match any other way?  Then the second part of the match, the one that Sting technically won, featured everything that the fans really wanted to see.  Suppose that the two aspects of the match had been blended (as more or less intended).

You'd really only have that as a possibility today, with AJ Styles.  AJ is the TNA equivalent of Sting (and Ric Flair), the face of the company (other than Jeff Jarrett, who dominated the early years), a reliable talent of extraordinary ability (his nickname is in fact "Phenomenal").  Last year he lost the ability to compete for the heavyweight title for a full year.  He had his most distinguished run with the title in 2009-2010.  When you're championship material like that, anytime you're not in contention, observers label you an underachiever.  TNA has never truly mishandled AJ, but they've typically lacked direction for his character (something that has plagued Randy Orton in WWE for the last few years, and it's always far more obvious with him, because he doesn't have the compensating ability in the ring).  Last year they gave him direction in a big way.  One of his perfect rivals is Christopher Daniels, whose career closely mirrors his own except in championship gold.  They've wrestled each other countless times.

Last year they finally gave Daniels a chance to distinguish himself as something other than a standout wrestler, and in the process elevated AJ back to the forefront as well, but the real testament is that they've allowed him to follow the Sting example as closely as possible.  TNA has been plagued by the Aces & Eights faction for almost a year.  Every member is a former wrestler in WWE, something the more naive fans will always claim as meaning they're nothing but limited cast-offs.  WWE and WCW and ECW swapped talent for years.  If ECW had ever been in a position to gain marque talent, it would probably still be in business today.  In fact ECW is the reason Steve Austin became a huge star.  The promotion flipped him from his underappreciated WCW days to stardom in WWE.

AJ has spent large swathes of time not competing.  He's changed his look.  But he's in fact wrestling again, and it hasn't been fifteen months, and his first opponent wasn't the wicked leader of Aces and Eights (Bully Ray, who used to be known as Bubba Dudley).  Sting is Bully Ray's next opponent.  It's obvious that AJ will defeat Bully in their inevitable match.  A lot of fans seem to equate inevitability with predictability, and therefore uninspired product, but great fiction uses inevitability all the time.  It's not knowing that something's going to happen that dictates how it should be received, but how it's executed.  When you expect to be disappointed, chances are you will be.

AJ and Bully Ray should have a good match when that happens.  They've got contrasting styles in the ring, and they both know (and are further learning) how to pull off a dramatic episode.  Putting together a match isn't just about stringing along a series of moves.  It's knowing how to pull them off effectively.  Sometimes that means that there's far less action than you'd expect.  If the Sting/Hogan match was a true failure, it was that there truly were two distinctive parts of the match, one where Hogan was dominant and one where Sting was dominant.  There didn't seem to be interest in integrating either one.  It's funny, because Hogan was a master of changing momentum.  He built all his matches on the same sequence of events, culminating in the dramatic comeback.  The entire Aces and Eights angle has been teaching the entire TNA roster how to do that.  The payoff should be worth it.

That's all I'll yammer about today.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

#580. Life & Theft Sunday

a small bowl of cereal
without milk
is a large bowl

a small bowl of cereal
with milk
is a small bowl

Friday, May 10, 2013

579. Direct Current Friday

That's the kind of day I had, which is good, because usually I've just been angry depressed at my current job.  Being sarcastic was a massive coping mechanism when I was working at the bookstore.  We all had radios, and when I was being funny sarcastic (because angry sarcastic is bad, or so I've learned), I could make people like me.  I'm naturally a reserved individual.  The way I blog is the way I'd talk, but a lot of what I yammer about when I blog goes over my beloved readers' heads, and it's really no different in real life.  I really haven't known anyone in real life who will tolerate me talking about the things that interest me, including my peculiar observations just from life.  That's half of the reason why I write.  And figuring out how to make it acceptable in blog form has been another process.  These cartoony things will become funny (hopefully), but the introduction has to be a little different.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

#578. Leo Five Thursday

This one stinks, but I promise the next one won't.  This is the sixth trial run.  The last five were more than a year before I had any readers.  Leo Five himself retains his terrible design.  That is all.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

#577. Pop Fly Wednesday

Since the Challenge ended, I'm sure you've been sitting on pins and needles just waiting for me to update how my four baseball teams have been doing.  Nah, I'm sure you're not.  This is as much for me as anything else.  This is a log of the season.  Truth is, if I weren't blogging about it, I wouldn't check in as regularly.  It's far easier to track baseball in a newspaper or on the TV (or radio) than by Internet.  The Internet is the most comprehensive source, but it takes getting used to as my main source.  So I'm making a weekly concerted effort.

The Boston Red Sox

They're still atop their division.  That's just awesome.  Big Papi has been on a hitting streak.  Clay Buchholz won his sixth game on May 1.  They lost most of the games in this stretch, but again, that's okay.  They're doing just fine.

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

These guys have as many losses as the Sox have wins (21).  So still not so fantastic.  They won on the 1st and 3rd.  Mark Trumbo is at .292, Mike Trout at .274, and Albert Pujols at .231.

The Oakland Athletics

The A's are two and a half games behind the Texas Rangers. They lost most of their games in this stretch, including one to the Angels.  They won two out of three in a series with the Yankees, so that's pretty cool.

The St. Louis Cardinals

These guys have 21 wins and are at the top of their division, too.  Naturally they won the majority of their games.

I'll probably have to check in a little more often on my own if I want to have more to say about this stuff next time.  I yammered on and on some days during the Challenge.  There was literally one day late in April where I talked more about baseball than the unique subjects I was otherwise tackling.

But the other big change from last month is that now all these people who thought maybe I was an interesting blogger are learning that most of what I find interesting maybe...isn't so interesting to other people in this community...

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

#576. Fan Tango Tuesday

subject: Grant Morrison

overview: When I call someone a favorite storyteller, it's because they've hit all the marks I consider necessary for greatness.  The one most people will identify with is simply telling a good story.  The one that's most important to me is telling the story distinctively.  There's also the ability to tell good story after good story.  Sometimes it's simply a matter of telling one story so well that it burnishes the storyteller in my own imagination.  Since I'm a storyteller too, they also have to inspire me.  If they can cover these bases, they earn a place in my favorites.

I read comic books.  I've read comic books since I was a kid.  One of the reasons I still read them is because of storytellers like Grant Morrison.  Morrison was a sensation in ways I couldn't even begin to appreciate when I was just getting into them.  He was part of the wave of British writers who came over to American comics in the '80s.  His first significant work was a surreal new take on Doom Patrol, which is a team that is basically exactly the X-Men, only the trick is that they came first (much like how the Challengers of the Unknown came before the Fantastic Four).  That was his contribution to the budding Vertigo line of more mature material at DC.  He createdThe Invisibles next.  If you ask him, you might know The Invisibles better as The Matrix.  Like his Doom Patrol, The Invisibles was a completely subversive adventure, indicative of the new counterculture of the '90s, the young punks rejecting rather than rebelling against the system, which you may recall from films like Trainspotting.

But like Ewan McGregor at the end of that film, Morrison pulled a fast one on everyone.  He next went mainstream.  In fact, when Morrison went mainstream, it began a process that completely changed the landscape of the mainstream.  His mainstream was called JLA, a completely iconic (and in fact a version of it that hadn't even existed before him) take on the Justice League of America, all of DC's greatest heroes woven into a cohesive pantheon.  This was when I read Morrison for the first time.  After the death of Superman four years earlier, this was easily the most important DC development of the decade.

By the end of the last millennium, Morrison was looking for a new challenge.  He skipped over to DC's competitor, Marvel, where he worked on a book called New X-Men.  Along with the movies that were just getting underway, these comics were responsible for revitalizing the mutant franchise, making what had become stale and forgettable exciting again.  Except Morrison was feeling frisky.  Instead of doing just what he'd done with the Justice League, with the X-Men he did things like reveal that the mysterious Xorn was the infamous Magneto taking on a new guise.  Subsequent writers eventually pretended that his whole run didn't exist.  He didn't stick around Marvel long.

When he returned to DC a few years into the new millennium, Morrison seemed to have learned what readers would find acceptable.  He immediately embarked on two of his most ambitious projects.  One was the beginning of a run with Batman that is only just now coming to a conclusion.  He introduced Batman's son, Damian, whom he had with Talia Head, the daughter of Ra's al Ghul.  Damian was the purest incarnation of Robin ever, a younger version of Batman who might have one day easily slipped into the famous cowl.

Morrison also launched Seven Soldiers of Victory, conjuring obscure characters into a total revision of the team book concept.  Each of the members of this Seven Soldiers had their separate mini-series and adventures, but they converged around a singular mythology that united their disparate efforts.  In a lot of ways this may prove to be his ultimate contribution to the comic book format.

In recent years, in addition to his Batman work Morrison has also put a stamp on Superman, whether in All Star Superman, an out-of-continuity tale that imagines how far the Man of Steel can really go with his abilities if faced with the limitation of his own imminent death, or in Action Comics, where he helped establish a new continuity and embraced Superman's complete legacy.

It's impossible to summarize the impact of Morrison's career, and all the ways he's continually found the most outlandish and compelling stories imaginable to tell.  He's the definition of a comic book writer to me, but to call him "just" a comic book writer is to do a disservice both to comic books and the art of storytelling itself.  You may know guys like Neil Gaiman (for work like Sandman) and Alan Moore (for work like Watchmen) and identify them as the best of the comic book writers, but Morrison exceeds them all.  I truly believe that.


Animal Man (1988-1990) Buddy Baker is a superhero who gets his powers by borrowing attributes from the animal kingdom.  Before Morrison wrote him, he wasn't even as respected much less nearly as relevant as Aquaman, a character who's still trying to get out from under the idea that he's that dude who talks to fish.  Under Morrison's guidance, Buddy went about as far as a regular superhero could go.  He literally broke the fourth wall.  Around the end of his first year writing Buddy, Morrison found some of the most transcendent material possible in this form.  It's essential comic book reading material.

Arkham Asylum: A Serious House On Serious Earth (1989) Released the same year as the Tim Burton Batman and subsequently a high-selling graphic novel, this was Morrison in his earliest and perhaps still greatest work in the mainstream of comic book lore, visiting the place all Batman's villains go and plunging into the psychology of the dynamic between heroes and their foes.  It's Alan Moore's The Killing Joke and Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns that everyone knows today, but this is the best of the Batman stories from that time.

Kid Eternity (1991) Another shorter work, this may be the career statement for Morrison, taking another obscure property and doing an incredibly expansive and philosophical take on it.

The Mystery Play (1994) One of his rare stories that don't play with genre (Morrison is known for crafting a peculiar image of himself that is as much a story as anything he writes), this one is pretty literary in a traditional sense, and it completely works.

The Invisibles (1994-2000) I've read only a tiny portion, but it's hard not to acknowledge the impact of this one on Morrison's legacy.

JLA (1997-1999) Bringing together a line-up of the Justice League that was the DC equivalent of the Greek gods, Morrison writes about Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Green Lantern, The Flash, and Martian Manhunter in some of their biggest and wildest adventures.  Well, until he writes them again.

New X-Men (2001-2004) Even if it's all but forgotten today, Morrison's work here affirmed everything that's good about Marvel's mutants.

The Filth (2002-2003) For those who want to experience The Invisibles but without having to read an incredibly long story, there's this other pretty unusual story of an alternative look at what's actually going on in our screwed up little world.

We3 (2004-2005) Often Morrison can be mistaken for a writer who completely dependent on throwing everything he can think of in his scripts.  This story about a trio of animals who escape being drafted into the military as bionic warriors and rediscover themselves along the way is easily one of his best, and it's also one of his most subtle works.

Seven Soldiers of Victory (2005-2006) This is a maxi-series that includes the titles Manhattan Guardian, Shining Knight, Klarion the Witch Boy, Zatanna, Mister Miracle, Bulleteer, and Frankenstein, each of them with distinctive stories to tell on their own.

52 (2005-2006) A collaborative book he did with several other standout writers that helped revamp the concept of minor characters in DC, ensuring that they would never be mistaken as such ever again.  There's a big story waiting for anyone.  It certainly doesn't hurt to have Morrison help find them.

All-Star Superman (2005-2006) Morrison pushes the Man of Steel to his limits.  May be one of the definitive Superman tales, this writer or any other.

Batman (2006-2013) Enveloping work that he's done in the titles Batman, Batman and Robin, The Return of Bruce Wayne, and Batman Incorporated, this is a truly epic vision of the Dark Knight that wonders how strong the concept really is, whether he works best in isolation or in relation to his allies.

Joe the Barbarian (2010-2011) Like We3 this one plays with Morrison's conventions and is a real charmer because of it.

Action Comics (2011-2013) Morrison revisits Superman, bringing the character he previously pushed to his limits back to earth, swapping the famous costume for jeans and a t-shirt (the cape stays, though) and a whole cast of characters who are simply reacting to his presence, often in surprising ways even though most of them are thoroughly familiar elements of the mythology.

#575. Frog Splash Monday

I'm going to start this week's wrestling thoughts with ROH.  Ring of Honor is the third largest wrestling promotion in the U.S.  Like TNA, it began in 2002, though it has primarily kept a focus on the wrestling over the entertainment factor that gives us folks like Brodus Clay (the latest big guy who dances) and Fandango (a regular-sized guy who also dances).  Although of course even ROH has storylines.  The current one involves another wicked faction (every faction in wrestling is wicked, even the legendary Four Horsemen) that's opposing Kevin Steen, whom I think the promotion briefly thought was going to be a watershed type of champion.  He recently lost the ROH world title to Jay Briscoe, one half of a brother combination that has no relation to the Briscoe brothers who were dominant in the '70s, Jack and Gerald (the latter eventually gaining more fame as a stooge of Mr. McMahon during the "Stone Cold" Steve Austin era along with Pat Patterson, not only the first Intercontinental champion but also gay).

Jay Briscoe as champion makes a ton of sense.  He's a homegrown star that the fans will absolutely recognize.  In recent years, after the loss of stars like Brian Danielson (who subsequently made a name for himself as Daniel Bryan), CM Punk, and Nigel McGuinness (who attempted to make a name for himself as Desmond Wolfe, but had to retire due to medical issues), ROH seemed to lose direction.  McGuinness has since returned to the promotion as an on-air (i.e. noncompetitive) personality, although he may be contemplating one last match.  I'd be happy to see that happen.  Another star who's returned recently is Paul London, a firecracker who was a star in the early days and quickly moved on, winning the ECWA Super 8 tournament (something Christopher Daniels alone can say he's done twice) and making a go of it in WWE.  One of his first matches in WWE was actually against Brock Lesnar.  That was a fun match.  Eventually, though, he got swallowed up in the dying cruiserweight division, and then in a tag team with Brian Kendrick, a combination that spent a great deal of time as Smackdown champions but never got an ounce of respect from the company.  And then London disappeared, perhaps because he smirked right before McMahon "died" that one time in 2007 (although everyone else was soon thinking about Chris Benoit, for entirely negative reasons).  It's just good to see London back on a stage where he can be widely appreciated.  And the whole promotion around him seems to be undergoing a renaissance, so that's nice.

It's always good to have a competitive environment.  The last time it was socially acceptable to talk about wrestling out in the open was during the Monday Night Wars between WWE and WCW.  Wrestlers were everywhere, and the snickering was kept under the table.  That was good.  TNA is once again turning to one of the stars of that era, Sting, to compete for its world title.  Sting may be getting on in years (he's over fifty), but he can still go in the ring.  Undertaker is younger than him, but competed in far crazier matches in his prime.  Some fans no doubt want to see that dream match, which WWE has attempted to make a reality in the past.  If it ever did happen, it would still be special. True fact: Sting was the tag team partner of the Ultimate Warrior when they were both learning the business.  It may explain the face paint (well, The Crow explains the face paint now, but still).  The funny thing is TNA's own Sting, A.J. Styles, is actively pursuing his own version of the Sting savior role circa 1997.  The funnier thing is that the company didn't wait as long to get Styles back in action, but the end result will no doubt be the same.  He'll be the big star of this October's Bound for Glory (a smaller version of WrestleMania), probably in a match against Daniels, who has been tormenting Styles for the past year.

Undertaker, meanwhile, competed on Raw and Smackdown two weeks ago for the first time in three years.  At that time, he was retiring Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania and then helping make his "brother" Kane's run as world champion more legitimate, losing to him at three consecutive PPVs.  This time he was helping to put over The Shield, and Dean Ambrose in particular.  The Shield is a faction of up-and-coming talent that has been in the spotlight since last fall.  They're basically a new version of the Nexus, which was another thing happening in 2010.  Ambrose is clearly being groomed for greatness.  This will be a very good thing.  Wade Barrett was the skipper of Nexus, and he was pushed too far too quickly.  Although they still have yet to lose, Ambrose and his two cohorts have yet to do much in singles competitive.  They keep doing matches together.  In Mexico, this is a regular thing.  It would make sense for Rey Mysterio, Sin Cara, and somebody else (it would be awkward to make the third Hunico, because he was the substitute Sin Cara, and that didn't end well).

Anyway, to speak of Fandango again, it's funny that he became a meme.  His debut was delayed for months, probably because they were trying to figure out how to pull this gimmick off, but it seems to be doing the work itself, along with a killer theme (slightly evocative of the old I Dream of Jeannie theme) and some Dancing with the Stars moves (and perhaps a killer new diva currently known as Summer Rae).  Some observers are concerned that WWE will screw it up, but they don't seem to realize that heels can be loved just as much as babyfaces.

Did I mention that Dolph Ziggler actually did finally cash in his Money in the Bank briefcase, won last summer?  He's finally a world champion, something "Mr. Perfect" Curt Hennig never did in WWE (much less WCW, although he did in AWA before appearing in either of them).  Ziggler is a heck of a lot like Hennig, although he doesn't have the Perfect Plex (which in hindsight is probably what ruined Hennig's back).  The WWE champion is still John Cena, who will be defending the title against Ryback (WWE's official Goldberg) in two weeks.  They're making Ryback a heel because they can't make Cena one.  If Ryback wins it'll hardly matter.  If Ryback doesn't win (he competed for the title in the fall against Punk, but didn't win thanks to good folks like The Shield), that will pretty much mean the end of that.

And yes, Mr. Dilloway, I know this stuff isn't "real."  It's still art.  I appreciate good art in whatever form it takes.  Perhaps you'd like to meet Damien Sandow?  But just to prove everything's cool, hey folks!  His books are ninety-nine cents this month!  No, I don't generally shill for other blogger buddy book writers, mostly because I believe in supporting books you love rather than people you like and because I don't automatically assume they're one in the same (and also because I really don't have the money to try and tell the difference indiscriminately).  In this case, Dilloway has been grumpy longer than I have, and I'm hoping that any success he receives will motivate him to write more of what I hope he'll write, which is some genuinely good stuff.  He's been feeling like he should quit writing.  And partly I agree.  There's stuff that feels like he's just writing because he's a writer, and then there's stuff he writes where it truly feels inspired and he seems engaged as a creative voice.  That I'll always support.  So if I can be a part of drawing that out of him, all the better, even if he hates me for suggesting that some of his material doesn't fit that category.  To be fair, I won't mention which material is which.  You're all adults (so far as I know).  You can make these decisions for yourself.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

#574. Life & Theft Sunday

some of us know what we are

some of us know
the character of humanity

some of us know
how little we're separate
from the rest of the animal kingdom

some of us know
that in that kingdom
we are indeed king
but this is not something
to brag about

some of us know
how beastly in our instincts
how base and selfish
and small and pathetic
and rude we all are
not with words but our actions

some of us know
it's not in our words
that we expose ourselves
but how we behave
not in our anger but
in our contempt for each other
how we treat those we pretend
don't exist or we consider
lower than ourselves

some of us know
how we are surrounded by wonders
and to embrace them is to
know ourselves in all the ways
we could be if we just
knew ourselves

Friday, May 03, 2013

#573. Direct Current Friday: A-to-Z Reflections

  • Somehow I survived the 2013 Challenge.  I know I survived because I distinctly remember going insane at the end of it.  I lost it.  Thanks for being discreet.  Thanks for stopping by!

  • It was a combination of things, really.  I finished writing a commentary series examining The Annotated Sandman over at Comics Reader about a week before the end of the Challenge, and I think I was more emotionally invested in that than the Challenge.  Twenty issues of Neil Gaiman's Sandman, writing notes about the stories and notes about Leslie Klinger's notes (and managing to muscle past my one regular reader's criticism about this).  I've long been interested in reading Sandman, but have only had sporadic experience with it.  There's still plenty for me to read, but it was interesting to see that I really did get wrapped up in it.  I know Gaiman far better from American Gods and Good Omens, but it's impossible not to know about his Sandman if you know much about comic books.  Like when I finally read Jeff Smith's complete Bone, it's a rite of passage.

  • The end of the Challenge happened to coincide with ones of my many existential crises.  I don't think readers like to read about that sort of thing, which is why I don't tend to write about it.  Unfortunately I was writing on a daily basis.

  • The Boston Marathon explosions hit me pretty hard, too, and I was genuinely upset that it didn't seem to affect pretty much anyone else.  Earlier in the month Roger Ebert died, and people cared about that.  They didn't care about Margaret Thatcher's death, which I guess is either apathy or politics.  But to gloss over the explosions and whatever they might signify was a little much.  Anyone ought to know that the blogosphere itself exploded over the idea of gun rights recently.  I get that the blogosphere tends to be pretty liberal.  Writers in general seem to be pretty liberal.  I'm an atypical middle-of-the-road-leaning-toward-conservative (officially listed as an Independent for American voting purposes) writer.  I'm pretty sure that bugs anyone who thinks about it, even if they don't realize they're thinking about it.  One of the prominent bloggers in my own little circle earned my rare Black Mark of Doom.  I won't visit them again because of their emotional and popular but not very critical opinions (even if they seem critical).  I won't name them here.  But I get that people will or won't visit or comment on a blog if they decide they don't like the opinions being expressed.  I didn't expect that during an event that's all about being as accessible as possible I would come across something that would do the exact opposite.

  • Last year was the first time I participated in the Challenge.  I picked up actual readers, and I found a number of blogs that I still enjoy reading to this day.  Some of them didn't participate this year.  I found that I was disappointed about that.  I tried finding new blogs this year, too, and I'm not completely certain how many I found because I sought them out during the Challenge or because I'd recently found them outside of it.  There were a few.  But the most frustrating thing for me was that one of the things I thought could be improved from the last time that was actually undertaken this time by the hosts was in the sign-up process.  People were encouraged to categorize their themes.  Most of them didn't.  What. the. hell.  I visited the first five hundred blogs on the sign-up after an initial attempt to visit based on the categories, only to see that most people didn't do the categories.  There were nearly two thousand blogs signed up.  That's far too many for any one person (even a ninja clone like Alex Cavanaugh) to visit during a month.  And the subsequent 500 blog survey turned up...Well, maybe a saint can come up with positive things to say and like about all those blogs.  I can't.  Most of them simply didn't interest me.  Yes, there was always a good bet that most of any number that big won't register well.  But when "most" is in the 90% range, there's a problem.  So I didn't try to visit the remaining ones.

  • (Yes, I'm still yammering.)

  • I found that some of the blogs I really enjoyed reading early on I couldn't muster myself to keep the same enthusiasm for later on.  The topic was fascinating, but not fascinating to read for an entire month, day after day.  I'm assuming even my most dedicated readers eventually thought the same about my material.  It only figures, and that's another thing that wore on me.  I never thought my stuff would be trivial.  But that's why most people only talk about things other people might already have a chance to know.  That's how you get comments, anyway.  Most people are only really interested in talking about their own thoughts, or offering basic encouragement.  That's the extent of their reaction.  They don't generally tend to care about reacting to someone else's thoughts more directly.

  • It's very hard to tell the difference between genuine interest and general encouragement.  In something like this, most people are simply trying to visit and write as much as they can.  

  • I'll also come out and say this: the blogging community still bothers me in that it seems to be based on a system of reciprocity.  As in, you follow me I follow you.  You give me a comment I give you a comment.  There's no such concept of altruism.  It just seems as if most people won't bother to invest their time unless they see a benefit to it.  The benefit to me is whether you derive anything personally from an experience (i.e. enjoyment).  The gain is what you take away.

  • Yeah, so I was a hypocritical idiot, because I went in at least half my own part of the Challenge expecting people to care about books I'm in the middle of releasing.  I've since realized that for me, that's no reason to blog.  If a blogger "cares" about my book because they can also get me to share their book, that's advertising.  There are plenty of blogs like that.  I'm not one of them, and I've got plenty of blogs, including a reading blog, and I don't write about the blogging buddy books there because I read plenty of other books, and there are other websites to do that sort of thing (such as this or this).  I want to be as positive as I can about blogger buddy books.  On my reading blog I tend to be critical even of books that have been around for centuries.  Blogger buddy books can't function like that.  The whole idea is to be as positive as possible, because anything else can potentially get you a new enemy.  (Repeat Blogger Buddy Rule No. 1.)  So that's why I don't do that on my blogs.

  • Oh!  Speaking of my reading blog, the linky list that's on the right is for a new reading club.  Visit the Armchair Squid's blog to find out more about the Cephalopod Coffeehouse.  I'll be participating here at Scouring Monk, but anyone interested, can read more about my reading habits at Hub City (or those other links).

  • Of course, that assumes I haven't succeeded in pissing everyone off, alienating myself.  Although I've bitched about blogging before and survived.

  • I've also been watching a lot of TV-on-DVD recently.  I enjoyed Day Watch and Defying Gravity and Flashforward again.  I loved these short-lived shows the first time.  I love them more now.  I watched Firefly (and Serenity) again.  Everyone loves Joss Whedon right now.  Yet I've never quite gotten around to loving him.  Appreciate him, yes.  But he speaks a different language, the way most people would approach, say, Grant Morrison.  Firefly has always seemed to me a little disturbing.  It's a pastiche on the Civil War and clearly sides with the Confederacy.  In one of the special features from the Serenity DVD, he says it's less to do with sympathy for the so-called Lost Cause so much as the classic underdog conceit.  And yet it's such a clear parallel...Anyway, it got me thinking about being a native of a region where there was a regime that was later determined by popular record to be on the wrong side of a conflict (or ideology or whatever).  Whedon is a native of New York, but I would have assumed that he came from a Southern state.  Why then such apparent sympathy with Johnny Reb?  He says there's a great wealth of American literature from this vein.  I'm thinking Jesse James?  Even Star Wars to an extent.  Apparently I would need to study that a little more.  Anyway, I've determined to write some Browncoats fiction to explore this for myself.

  • I also just finished watching Spin City, some of Michael J. Fox's favorite episodes.  This was a great show.


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