Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Because I'm Entirely Having One of Those "I Want to Make A Post, But I Don't Want To Put A Lot of Effort Into It" Days
Muppets' Christmas Carol
Because as far as I'm concerned, the real Charles Dickens is the blue furry guy with the rat as a sidekick. Not to mention the "Marley and Marley" song is as absolutely terrifying as the rest of the movie is heartwarming.
Muppets' Family Christmas.
I would give the Muppets all ten spots, if I could. But this one definitely deserves to be here. All the Muppets get together at Fuzzy's mom's place, and they're joined by the Sesame Street Muppets, and the Fraggles. There's a special appearance by Henson himself, and nothing, nothing comes close to the sheer joy of watching the Swedish chef trying to find a way to cook Big Bird for supper.
The Grinch Who Stole Christmas
"You're a Mean One, Mister Grinch" is the one song I will still be singing long after all real Christmas carols have been emptied from my mind. And not to brag, but my heart grows three sizes every ten years. Apparently, it's a serious medical condition.
Invader Zim's "The Most Horrible X-Mas Ever"
Everyone's favorite space invader Zim gets the bright idea to build a special Santa suit to enslave humanity. Archnemesis Dib tries to expose him, but the suit has its own ideas... Hijinx, as always, ensue. For no particular reason, this episode is narrated in the far future by a cybernetic snowman telling it as a children's story to a group of minature alien monsters. And it probably says a lot about me that one of the funniest things I've ever seen comes from this episode: when one of the alien monsters points out a plothole, the snowman wordlessly picks him up and slides him under a couch. That's not just a good Christmas lesson. That's a lesson that can be applied all year round.
National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. I add this one because there's a good chance my mom will read this list. Can I refill your eggnog for you? Get you something to eat? Drive you out to the middle of nowhere and leave you for dead?
Truly, so much to teach us all about the holiday cheer.
And that's my five. But what about yours? Post any beloved favorites here, and they can be properly judged and/or ridiculed by the masses.
Sunday, December 21, 2008
Anyway, I was at a party last night, and I had consumed a fair bit of alcohol. (It was the first time in a long time I'd drank heavily for two consecutive nights, since the night before that was my brothers' roommate's going-away party. And yet, the day after, in both cases: no hangover. Truly, I live a blessed life.) Often, when I'm drinking at a party, I get the urge to either work out math equations, or write down story ideas. This time, the muse that struck me belonged to the latter group. I hunted down a pen, and an available writing surface--a piece of discarded wrapping paper was the fist thing I found.
Sadly, looking at what I wrote in the light of day suggests that these inspirational works will not be among my best. The first thing written is "find a way to pun 'chronic' and 'chronicles.'" The second sounds like the voiceover for a movie trailer:
Every Doom has its Day.
Every Day has its Night.
Every Knight has its Fall.
Lucky for me, the important part at the moment is what happens after. A friend saw the writing (without being able to read it, and thus couldn't assess the quality of the writing) and commented, in a friendly manner, that observing people at parties must serve as good fodder for writing for me. I tried to deny this, since at the very least, it suggested a quality to what I had just written that even then I was pretty sure it did not have, but I think she's got a point. To paraphrase, I like to observe.
Don't get me wrong. Participating is great, and it's what all the cool kids are doing. I love a good conversation, and I'll take up any sort of endeavor that strikes me in the right way. But there's a part of me that really likes to take a step back, think about things, and reflect. (There's a connection between this and the post a few days ago about nocturnal walking, but I don't feel like teasing it out at the moment. Or bothering to link it. User unfriendly!) And a party's an ideal opportunity for this. People who are more honest than kind may suggest that this reflection comes from a lifetime of sitting by myself at parties in my formative years (and they'd be wrong. In my formative years, I stayed home. So there.), but I don't think it's a bad thing, not anymore. Like I said, I enjoy the interaction stuff. But there's a lot to be learned by thinking not just about what people are doing, but why.
I think I'll end this meandering with a quotation from Margaret Atwood, from her short story "Happy Endings," as to why it's important for a writer to spend time on the "why" as compared to the "whats:" and "wheres." This is Atwood, so it's slightly more cynical than it needs to be, but it gets the point across:
"You'll have to face it, the endings are the same however you slice it. Don't be deluded by any other endings, they're all fake, either deliberately fake, with malicious intent to deceive, or just motivated by excessive optimism if not by downright sentimentality.
"The only authentic ending is the one provided here:
John and Mary die. John and Mary die. John and Mary die.
"So much for endings. Beginnings are always more fun. True connoisseurs, however, are known to favor the stretch in between, since it's the hardest to do anything with.
"That's about all that can be said for plots, which anyway are just one thing after another, a what and a what and a what.
Now try How and Why."
I love trying How and Why. Aren't they fun?
Friday, December 19, 2008
Luckily, that's not the case for Flatland.
Flatland. By Edwin A. Abbott. The edition I read was the second edition, published in1884--actually, an electronic facsimile of the second edition, published in 1884, but let's not split hairs--and it's generally considered one of the earlier predecessors of science fiction. The plot--well, it's not really a plot, for starters. More like a concept. The concept is that a 2-dimensional being--a square, as it turns out--becomes aware of his nature of a 2-D being and attempts to explain himself and his world to the 3-D people.
The first half of the book is a description of the 2-D society, and the second half tells of the square's encounters in Lineland, No Dimensions, and Space. The first half is focused on the culture that results from a flat world, and that's really my favorite type of sci-fi: one high concept, then a careful consideration of how that change influences people, on macro and micro levels.
But while Flatland fulfills the basic criteria of a modern sci-fi story, it's very much a work of its own era. It reads a lot like an H. G. Wells novel, if that's a style you're familiar with. But there's no real plot, per se, and no overarching story; it's just the square character reciting what happened to him, in increasing fervour. I'm not really familiar enough with 19th century literature to know how typical a protagonist the square is. All right, obviously, he's not very typical, since he's, you know, a square, but he's got a male-dominated, upper-class entitled sort of attitude to him, and I'm not sure how much of that attitude Abbott is including to reflect ourselves in Flatland, and how much he just thinks that's what people are like.
There's some interesting stuff with the intersect between mathematics and theology, and I'm wondering how deliberate the inclusion of the millenial stuff is. (The square receives his vision on year 2000, in their Flatland timeline.) I also liked that Abbott switches from narrative to dialogue when the square is confronted with a sphere; it emphasizes the way the square has lost all sense of agency. It's super short, and can easily be squeezed into a single afternoon. And while there's nothing revolutionary to it, as an earlier pioneering work of science fiction, Flatland is actually more interesting in terms of high concept than a lot of the stuff people like Wells and Stoker were putting out in the general time. So, if you've got an afternoon to kill and a mild taste for geometry, give it a try.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Fables 79. By Bill Willingham and Mark Buckingham. Fables has been on a role recently, and while this issue isn't quite as good as the last, it's still going strong. The big events this week are Charming's funeral and a sharp turn towards the worse for Fabletown at large. Oh, and the Mogli story continues. I added that as an afterthought, because the storyline still feels like an afterthought; each month, I feel like there isn't quite enough there. I would have preferred that Willingham just wrote a Mogli arc for a few months than just get the five pages or so. The Mister Dark and Beauty/Beast scenes forwarded both their plots slightly, but I'm ready for both to advance to something more. But the main stuff- the funeral is exactly appropriate, and is a testament to economical storytelling. And the big event IS a big event, and I definitely felt its impact. For that alone, this issue is a must-have for anyone following the series.
Avengers Initiative 19. By Dan Slott & Christos N. Gage and Harvey Tolibao & Bong Dazo. Having lost the war, the Skrulls initiate their scorched earth policy, and in order to stop them, the remaining Initiative teams need to take down four of the six substations, across six different states. Remember a few weeks ago when Marvel ended a multi-month "epic" crossover with a very boring fight scene? This is the fight scene that SHOULD have been. The action sequence in this issue is so high-octane that it almost errs in the other direction. As always with AI, the huge cast is a bit of a drawback: yes, some characters die here, but there's not really that many who's deaths have any meaning, because they haven't had the facetime needed to, well, matter. But Crusader's story is wrapped up, and in a compelling manner, and it's a REALLY good action sequence. Read it, if nothing else than for what Secret Invasion 8 should have been.
Spider-Man Noir 1 of 4. By David Hine with Fabrice Sapolsky and Carmine Di Giandomencio. As far as I can tell, the Noir line is basically a switching act: Marvel takes out the "super-hero" part of their characters, and replaces it with a heap of dark, broody noir style. A few weeks ago, the first issue of X-Men Noir came out, and the twist was that Professor Charles Xavier decided that psychopaths were the next step in human evolution, and created a school for training them. Here, the main plot is that it's the 1930s, and Peter Parker is a young agitator taking a stand with the unions against the factories and the mob men, lead by the criminal, the Goblin. The entire thing is narrated through the photographer Ben Urich. Hine and Sapolsky capture well the spirit of anger that permeates the comic, anger that those in power allowed things to come to such a point, and Giandomencio does a great job of conveying this anger and bitterness in a young Peter Parker. Judging on this issue and the X-Men, the Noir line is, through reflection, at least, going to be an interesting commentary on what defines superheroes, and what, beyond their powers, make these characters what they are, and keeps them from the path that both series seem to be heading.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
I've always enjoyed walking home by myself after a night at the bar. A part of it, I think, springs from fairly selfish motivations: after spending some time in the company of others, I want to immediately follow it with some "me" time. (Hence the reason that on such walks, I often stop by the local convenience store and purchase some entirely nonhealthy "me" foods.) There's also a safety valve issue: while it's not such a big issue anymore, I used to get a sensory overload when I was around a large group of people socially, and I needed some time to process by myself. But nowadays, the walk mainly gives me a chance to just dwell on the night, who I spent it with, and what they mean to me.
(Have I talked about the verb "dwell" in the past? I should have, because it's a favorite of mine. In the context, it means the same thing as thinking, but it also has connotations of home. I like that--the idea that your thoughts are a mental embodiment.)
Last night in particular, it was a mix of old and new. I don't do a lot of the night walk in Blank, so it had a heavy nostalgia flavor to it; this flavour was somewhat tempered since I was walking with my I-Pod, something that did NOT occur in the old days, since I didn't have an I-pod back then. But at least it made me feel less crazy for singing loudly in a public street at 12:00 am in the morning.
The best part of the walk (not the evening, which of course was the conversations with friends) was when I went past a house with a sign in the window that said "Have a Great Day!!". I deliberately chose my path so that I'd be going by the sign, and I had been really hoping it was still there. For more times than I can count, I've passed that sign late at night, still warm with the glow of the evening. And maybe it's because I'm usually a little drunk (ok, it's probably because I'm drunk) but it never fails to make me smile. It's just such a positive thing, a simple act of benevolence. It's a wish of good will to complete strangers, with no strings attached. And I think we all need that sometimes.
Cold Weather Running Aside: People get all kinds of excited when they see someone in a ski mask running quickly towards them.
Monday, December 15, 2008
It reflects, however, that I have now officially entered the holiday spirit, since my paper on Bernard Mandeville is finished. (well, actually, it needs a round of editing, a spell-check, page numbers added, and a title, but why split hairs?) It was pretty much the only thing I had to do since coming back, and it was weighing pretty heavily on me. Luckily, it turned out to be one of those essays where I just sit down and the ideas flow out, into the keyboard, and onto the screen. I think I almost resent those more: if all the ideas are there, and I KNOW they're there, typing them out seems so redundant that it actually offends me to be forced to do it. I know that makes very little sense, but that's why they're called emotions instead of logical tenets.
I was also a little worried about length, since the paper was to be 15-20 pages, and there was a point when I would have been certain I would barely squeeze in at 14 1/2. Well, I'm standing at 20 now, and the addition of the title, name, and date may just push the whole thing over to 21. I like meeting the upper end of a page length requirement; it allows me to feel very accomplished.
But the main source of worriment on this essay was that I did rather terribly on my presentation. It was a general overview on how the satirists of the eighteenth century undermined the authority of the medical practitioners, and the professor flagalated me for:
-relying too heavily on material discussed in class
-relying too heavily on a single critic rather than my own ideas or actual primary texts
-summarizing rather than arguing
-choosing a topic that was too broad
All of which was fair enough, to be honest. So I scraped that direction entirely, and a new idea eventually came to me. (Honestly, these occasional brilliant lightning bolts of ideas that come out of nowhere are the best part of grad school, and basically the only things that suggest to me I'm in the right field.) New idea: an eighteenth century writer named Bernard Mandeville made basically a career out of saying that the English economy is propelled by the production of vice-filled goods. I wanted to show that he practiced what he preached, that through promoting his own written works, he promoted his own vice-filled commodity, the book, and set up terms for how that book should be consumed. And I do all this by a close-reading of his final, and often ignored book, A Letter to Dion, in which he defends his most famous work, The Fable of the Hive, from an attack a man named Dion made on it in Dion's book, Alciphron.
So, as an argument based on a close-reading of a little-known author's most obscure work that itself was a response to a response of his best work, I'm hoping that I've dealt with most of the complaints with my presentation. And I feel good that I've done that, and that I've written a good essay that stands on its own.
On the other hand, it's a course about satire and the city in the eighteenth century, and I've written a paper that is about neither a) satire, nor b) the city. So even though I've discussed the topic with the professor, if he/she wanted to get nasty about it, she/he could really ding me on that front.
But hey, at least I got the century right. That counts for something, right?
Thursday, December 11, 2008
So anyway, the university campus gets a "home" designation. I went over to campus today to have lunch with some old English grad friends--which was great--and to take out some books via the national library agreement, which was less great, but also less of a hassle than I was fearing. I also took the opportunity to just walk around campus a bit, which was tres weird--like I was tourist looking at scenes of my past. I wrote about this more extensively in a short piece called "the Couple" ("Person of Consequence! You can't put in a plug for an unpublished work! " "Oh, can't I? That sounds like a challenge to me!" "No, I mean, there's no point... you know what? Never mind."), but it's amazing how much a person's life--by which I mean this Person's life-- can be influenced by the people they run into on a daily basis. I don't even mean friends and family; I mean just the people you see on a regular basis, and never talk to, never approach, and never really know at all. These people become a part of my personal context; just by being there, they contribute to my sense of familiarity. It's like a nice warm blanket of sameness.
Sadly, this being December, most of the actual students are busy studying, so they weren't around to contribute to my personal people-blanket. (Very selfish of them.) The people at the library provided enough scraps to make a few quilt patches, the students who were present provided the design, and, as always, my friends were the threads that bind the whole thing together. (Awwwww.)
Arts and crafts aside, it was fun to return to the alma mater, and I think that the books I found finally gave me a solid approach to my paper. But here's hoping that future ventures in the next week feature more of the friend side of the equation than the work side.
Oooh! Almost forgot. No trip down nostalgia lane would be complete without a brisk trot through lunch at the campus restaurant. And however much anything else has changed, their student bargain-priced grilled cheese is EXACTLY how I remember. If the campus is a quilt, then that restaurant is definitely a... signature stitching form? A matching throw-pillow? A ketchup stain in the upper right corner that draws the eye?
...I think think this metaphor has gotten away from me.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Secret Invasion: Dark Reign. By Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev. Osborne assembles his "Dark" Illumanati group, consisting of Loki, White Queen, Namor, Doctor Doom, and the Hood, and has a heart-to-heart with Swordsman. This oneshot is basically an "coming attractions" reel for the upcoming Dark Reign arc. As far as such things go, we've seen better; as divisive as DC's equivalent preview for the Infinite Crisis event was in killing off Ted Kord, at least something signficant occurred. Without going into too many spoilers, it felt like the issue wasn't setting up groundwork so much as telegraphing outcomings; we've already got a sense on who's going to be the character focal point of the group, who's preparing for a double-cross, and who's going to have a mental breakdown. The issue does what it intends to do, but it didn't really raise any interest for me in the Next Big Event.
Final Crisis 5. By Grant Morrison and Lots of Artists. If the series keeps improving like this, issue by issue, by the time we hit 7, it will be one of the greatest classics of Western literature.
This issue strikes a nice balance between the off-the-wall cool ideas that Morrison is known for (Rubik's cubes, anyone?) and the just-plain-cool, such as the Green Lantern trial at the start of the issue. As far as plot goes, I think the overall picture is that we're gearing up for the big final showdown; any finer details are, well, a bit muddled in the mix. On its own terms, the issue is fine, and based on what came before it, it's a step up. My only problem is with the overall picture: with only two issues to go, there are still a lot of disparate plot threads that just aren't close enough now to contribute to all contribute to the finale in any meaningful way. I may be wrong, but at the moment, it still seems like there are too many half-finished ideas floating in the air.
Wolverine: Flies to a Spider. By Gregg Hurwitz and Jerome Opena. Wolverine supplies the role as the Angel of Vengeance for a little girl caught in the crossfire of a gang war, killing the members of a local bike gang. Flies to a Spider is the latest in a long line of Wolverine one-shots, and I'd be worried about overexposing the character if that line hadn't been crossed decades ago. And while this is hardly the first or first hundredth time this has ever come up, but how exactly does a wanton vigilante murderer manage to put himself on the rosters of the biggest superhero groups in the Marvel world, and no one seems to mind? With the Punisher, at least he's an outlaw on the run, and law enforcement figures try half-heartedly to stop him every now and then. But Wolverine's got a registered address with the X-Men; you'd think someone would attempt to bring a warrant or two the next time they're in San Francisco.
But that's what I get for trying to apply logic to a world with flying men in tights. The issue itself isn't bad, although it's kind of forgettable. While it jumps through its hoops readily enough, the basic plot could have worked for any gruff, vigilante type. You basically could do the whole plot with the Punisher, just switching the claws for guns. And honestly, a bike gang? Versus an unstoppable, nigh indestructible killing machine? Not a lot of tension there. The action itself is well-orchastrated, and if that's your bag, I guess the one shot is ok. But for me, there's better out there.
But enough about me. Any dissenting opinions out there? Or sycophantic agreement? Or even disinterested bystanders? Comments, insults, and praises are welcome.
Monday, December 8, 2008
Should I talk about the car ride over to the airport?
The conversation on that car ride?
The four hour wait in the airport boarding area, in which I nearly friggin starved because the only place there selling food didn't accept debit?
The four-hour plane ride, in which I once again made the weighty decision on whether to choose Pepsi or Sprite for my complimentary drink?
The frustration towards the Samurai Sodoku puzzle I brought? The way it felt to look down from the window and feel the contrast between the lights from the stars and the lights from the ground? (Awesome, by the way; I never had a night time plane trip in clear skies by a window seat before.)
A review of the two novels I read on the plane, one featuring human/sheep hybrids, sentient computers, aliens with advanced olfactory sensors, and a religion founded on skepticism and another novel that was by John Barth? (Guess which one was easier to follow. Zing.)
The privilege I felt, at just being witness to a woman who stepped off the plane after a year spent abroad in New Zealand, coming into the arms of her family?
The relief I felt myself to be here?
The oddity of feeling that I was back, but slightly misplaced?
How I'm adapting? Whether or not I feel glad that my essay has finally swung the other way, that instead of having nothing prepared, I now have enough notes that they take up more space than the finished essay is supposed to? (Answer: I feel very glad. Glad enough to put off the actual writing another day or two.)
The precautions that should, nay, must, be taken for cold-weather jogging? (Very important.)
So many topics, so much yet so little space. And this doesn't even take into account a few things I left out entirely I suppose the nice thing about life is that these things sort themselves out, sooner or later.
Friday, December 5, 2008
My paper was on the expression of self in comic book blogs. I toyed with the idea of ending my presentation with a joke. Specifically, with this image:
It's probably best I didn't. But when will I ever get such a chance again?
A lot of people were saying they were glad to be done the course, myself included. A lot were also saying they had been really nervous about the presentation itself, which did not so include me. I kind of like presenting papers, to be honest. I love trotting out the oral skills and showing them off, even if calling them "skills" may be overstating them. I was the same way pretty much all through high school. It took me ten, fifteen minutes to work up the courage to strike up a conversation, but I'd perform in front of the entire school without thinking twice about it.
The presentation also marked the first time I used a powerpoint presentation. Given that I'm supposedly specializing in digital media, it seemed a wise course of action. I think that part went fine; I didn't have as many slides as other students, but quality over quantity, right? And while a picture may be worth a thousand words, a picture of the Punisher punching a polar bear is worth, like, six of those other pictures.
I found the bio blurbs the profs did before each session interesting; I've been in class with these students all year, and in some cases, this was the first chance I had to really hear their research interests and goals. A lot of the MAs are in it to make themselves more marketable. That still blows my mind: people come to U of Blank to get a marketable English degree. A marketable English degree. It... it just doesn't sound right. A healthy donut. A clean trash heap. A A smart rock. A marketable English degree.
I guess the last noteworthy thing about the colloquium is that I used it as an excuse to wear the full suit. Getting the whole thing to the university was a pain in the ass, especially on the bike, but it all held up remarkably well for spending the entire trip wadded into a ball in my bookbag. And honestly, I felt better wearing a suit. Cooler. More awesome. I totally get Barney Stenson now. (What, no How I Met Your Mother fans in the crowd?)
And how did the actual presentation go?
It was legend--wait for it--ary.
Thursday, December 4, 2008
A super-quick follow-up to last week's review of Batman 681:
Batman 682. I have absolutely no idea what's going on.
And on to the reviews proper...
Secret Invasion 8. By Brian Michael Bendis & Leinel Francis Yu. The final issue of Secret Invasion opens with the Watcher looking on as the Skrulls unleash their secret attack: a bio-weapon implanted in the Wasp. Usually, I don't have any complaints against Yu's art, but in this case, neither the art nor the dialogue really conveys what's going on. It looks like Janet van Dyne has accidently become the agent for a weapon that makes people come down with a bad case of black circles. The rest of the issue is basically a launch pad for the new status quo, which is the real problem here: the Skrulls seem more like an afterthought than the main story. It probably would have been more narratively focused (and more honest) if Marvel had just added a few more pages to SI 7, wrapped it up there, and published this issue as an epilogue or coda, which it very clearly is. It all fits together, as long as you don't think about it too closely, but for an eight month story, it's a fizzle of an ending.
Fell: Feral City. By Warren Ellis and Ben Templesmith. While I still regard Y the Last Man as far and away the best graphic novel series in my collection, Fell is probably the closest thing I have to a comic I'd described not only as literature, but as art. In fact, in a flagrant disregard for tradition and precedent, I'm going to start with my favorite part of the novel: the art. Generally, art is not a big selling point for me in a comic book series: I'm in it for the story, the dialogue, the script. For the most part, as long as the art isn't actually detrimental to the rest, I don't notice it.
I notice Fell's art. Take a look at this:
But enough amateur art critic. As pretty as Templeton's art is, it needs a story to ground it. In fact, I've read some of Templeton's other work, in which he illustrates more run-of-the-mill zombie stuff, and it's almost disappointing to have something so typical drawn so well. Like a waste of potential.
Thankfully, that's not the case here. Ellis is on his game, even if it's a different game than he usually plays. Each of the eight issues that make up volume one of Fell concern Rich Fell, a police detective transfered to Snowtown under inglorious, mysterious circumstances. And once in Snowtown, Fell begins to fall... presuming he started off from any height to begin with. As you'd imagine from the subtitle, Fell: Feral City is nearly as much about Snowtown as it is about Fell. Snowtown is a dark mirror image of a city: its people are controlled by superstition, hundreds of murders go unsolved each year, and everyone there seems to be going slowly--and not so slowly--insane. And that includes Fell. That's really the most fascinating part of the series--watching Fell slowly descend deeper and deeper into Snowtown, making one moral compromise after another. It's not exaggerating in the least to say that Snowtown is often a reflection of Fell's mind, growing darker and more warped along with him.
The little details are almost enjoyable as the big picture--like Fell's relationship with the bartender Mayko, and the comical insanity of Fell's fellow officers (Department secretary: "My husband left me. For the dog. That bitch. That pampered whore. With her fur and her pretty little nails. Aren't my nails pretty enough? Didn't I wear the suit for him? My throat is raw from the barking."). And the creepiness that is the Nixon Nun must be seen to be believed.
Ellis is big on promoting this series, although not always big at actually WRITING it: the issues are dirt cheap, but it's often a six month stretch between them. Issue ten will be out... some day, but for now, Feral City can be purchased for around $20 Canadian, which would be a good price even if the comics were crap. Instead, you'll be getting a fusion of art and story that fully showcases why the comic book is a worthy medium for the art of narration.
...And no, no one's paying me to sell Fell volumes.
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
Extends to Luxury, extends to Lust:
And if we count among the Needs of life
Another's Toil, why not another's Wife?
--Alexander Pope, "Epistle to Bathurst"
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
My marking for students is almost done--I've got about 8 assignments left to mark, and 5 of those are because the student in question hasn't handed them in. I can't remember the last time I was so entertained by my students' final essays. For the most part, they're a pretty sharp bunch, especially for a first year course. (Either I'm getting easy in my old age, or it's because it's a first year course full of fourth year students wanting to cross off their English elective.) And the essays have had some really, really awesome secondary sources. One managed to use Mein Kampf to draw a connection between propaganda and the US in a way that wasn't entirely inflammatory. (Just partially inflammatory, which is what happens when you mention Hitler. Ever. And I can't wait to see the interesting key-word searches this post will create.) Another used Baldwin's PETA video. I checked that out personally. I was expecting a happy-go-lucky fun-loving Baldwin, ala 30 Rock. That is not what I got. Most disturbing thing ever. Finally, one student writing about school discipline used a 1953 film designed for 8 year olds. This lead to a three hour marathon in which Person and friend watched the entire gamut of 50s educational films, from the weenie roasts in "What To Do on a Date" to the bold truth in "The Trouble with Women." Surprisingly, the male-oriented "As Boys Grow" was very accurate. The female "As Girls Grow" was not--ladies, remember that to be safe, you should avoid washing your hair when you're having your period. That's how it works, right? Sadly, since the student was using a 1953 film without either irony or historical context, it didn't really work for a university level paper.
My work for the blog class is done too; I'm ready for the presentation on Friday, slideshow and all. The slideshow will be an academic first for me, so I'm hoping it works well. I'm comparing one comic book blog that involved detailed, personal introspection and another that involved the Punisher punching a polar bear in the face. Which will the audience prefer?
The only thing not going well is my 18th century paper. It's 15-20 pages, and I've finished... um, well, I wrote an outline. *Cough*. Since I've given up on finishing that one by Saturday, the question now is how to minimize the number of books I need to take home. So far, I've winnowed it down to a mere fifteen.
Yeah, maybe I should go work on that instead of typing this.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
(You know which ones I mean.) Today, we will look at Batman 681, and an extended review/ramble on the new DC Cartoon series, Batman: the Brave and the Bold.
Batman 681. By Grant Morrison and Tony Daniel. This issue marks the final chapter in the "Batman RIP" sequence. And I know with the "Final Crisis" event currently going on at DC, it's internet-fashionable to rag on the perceived obtuseness of Morrison's work. But honestly.... I'm really not sure what happened. There's the Black Glove revelation, some cool moments such as Batman's death-defying moment and Nightwing's escape, but... I don't know. It's missing that "moment," that revelation that makes it all worthwhile. Rather than being left with the feeling that we've entered a bold new era, I'm just left feeling... that's it? That's what's supposed to change things? There's no real drama here--the only thing really at stake doesn't seem at stake at all. There may be huge reveals, and layers within layers of meaning I just don't get, but it seems like Morrison's just obscuring a picture that doesn't really show us anything we haven't seen before, and certainly doesn't live up to the hype.
Batman: Brave and the Bold. The Brave and the Bold is something of a legacy title at DC, so I'll try to do it some justice by telling what I know about it, and making the rest up. In the 60s (70s? 80s? Before I was old enough to be literate, at any rate), Brave and the Bold was a DC Showcase title in which each issue featured two DC heroes teaming up. The series stopped years ago, but a new volume started up more recently, still featuring the ever-changing cast, but trying to maintain an overarcing story. The first arc was a big success, in my opinion: it managed to rotate through a huge cast, stay true to the individual characters, and still tell a cohesive story of epic scale. Since then, the title seems to have fallen into hard times. I'm not completely sure, and far too lazy to check, but I think it may have been cancelled. (Person of Consequence: not just uninformed, but willfully uninformed. It's the effort that makes the difference.)
More recently, the new DC cartoon Batman: Brave and the Bold began this month on the Cartoon Network. It's following the Brave and the Bold format of rotating partners, but one side of the partnership is decided: every week, Batman will team up with another DC character to fight evil. (Or go shopping, or anything else. It's not set in stone.) I think this decision is a really good one for DC--if for no other reason that they save big money on voice actors, since there's only one voice that HAS to be there. More signficantly, if the series is going to be a showcase for the DC Universe, and change on a weekly basis, it's a good idea to have a single anchor character, a known value that serves as the "known." In the DC stable, there's basically two characters that EVERYBODY knows: Batman and Superman. Superman wouldn't work, simply because of his established power levels. He certainly has the justification for travelling into the exotic locales, but every week, they'd have to justify why the most powerful man on the planet needs help.
Batman doesn't have that problem. It's perfectly conceivable that Batman could ask for help--not because he needs it, of course, but because it's convenient for him. With Superman, extra people just get in the way. The early episodes have also used Batman as the authority figure--he knows what's going on, he figures out the situation, and the other character has to follow his lead. This works quite well as a story-telling technique: it casts the other character in the role of the uncertain fish-out-of-water, which makes him/her the POV character for the viewer, and serves as a quick and easy way of connecting the viewer to unfamiliar characters. This could change as the series goes on--in fact, reversing the situation so that it's Batman who is out of his element is the logical, if temporary, inversion of the formula--but it works for now. (And frankly, it would be hard to justify Batman acting like he's out of his element. We're two episodes into the series, and he's already shown sangfroid while walking through an alien armada and strolling around Dinosaur Island on the hunt for a sentient gorilla. The guy's not easily phased.)
Batman is voiced by Diedrich Bader, probably best known by adults for his role as Oswald on the Drew Carey Show. He has done a fair bit of voice acting though, so he's not new to the genre. He's certainly not the first guy I'd think of to do Batman, but given the tone of the show, they're going for a lighter, more easy-going Batman than most incarnations, so while it takes a few minutes to get used to, he fits. I think a lighter Batman is a good move for DC--given the brooding Batman of The Dark Knight, the recent lunatic in the comics, and even the dour figure that appears in the other animated series, a move towards a more kid-friendly (and just friendly period) version will protect the line for the next generation and indoctorate a whole new set of fans for the caped crusader. (They still call him that, right?)
So after all that, how's the show? Good. Surprisingly good. Again, we're only two episodes in, but it's been promising. Episode 1 has Batman teaming up with the teenage hero Blue Beetle to fight aliens, with Beetle learning a valuable lesson about being a hero. Episode 2 has Batman teaming up with former criminal turned Plastic Man to fight Gorilla Grodd at dinosaur Island, with Plastic Man learning a valuable lesson about being a hero. (But a different lesson.) Yes, there's a definite gear towards children, but it's not so dumbed down that it can't be enjoyed by all ages. It certainly doesn't have the epic scope of the Justice League Unlimited Series, and it still has a way to go to reach Dini's Batman: the Animated Adventures level, but it's good, it's holding its own, and here's hoping it gets better.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
The real kicker? As my brother pointed out, I had access to another phone. I could have phoned the cell. Instead, my thought process went so far as to reason: "I don't have a cell phone. I can't make phone calls." So, under this plan, my next step would be to obtain the grad student phone list, and call someone else to get them to phone my cellphone. (I needed the grad phone list b/c I didn't have any of the numbers, except on the cell phone.) I'll say it again: I reasoned that I couldn't make phone calls myself THEN I STARTED A PLAN CONTAINING THE STEP "CALL UP FRIEND ON PHONE." Gaahh.
Anyway, I got the phone back, and I went home. Between the phone debacle, and a frankly terrible mark in the blog class, it was a pretty down-south day. So, as per my prerogative, I am postponing my "Comic Book Wednesday" segment to Thursday.
But, Person, you say, how can it be Comic Book Wednesday on a Thursday?
Because I said so, that's why.
Now I excuse me while I spend the next 24 hours pondering why all my possessions seem to have a deep-seated urge to throw themselves away from me.
UPDATE: Aaaaaand Today's Tuesday, which means no comics anyway. Thank you and good night!
Saturday, November 22, 2008
That's when I figure out it's 6:00 PM. I have just slept for fifteen straight hours. So over the past three days, I have then slept, on average, my regular amount. So much for any work I intended to do today. By this rate, I'll be back to my regular scheduled sleeping by, oh, January or so.
Later Days. (Which I will probably sleep through as well.)
Friday, November 21, 2008
Even though I didn't get a wink of sleep, the night itself was amazingly productive. I finished all the marking I had with me, I read a half dozen or so recaps of Gossip Girl on televisionwithoutpity.com (honestly, the poster's analysis is pretty much a piece of literature in itself), I found a promising paper for my Mandeville essay, I chatted briefly with a friend online, I finished the daily Killer Sudoku puzzle, and I read a chapter or two of a few scholarly books and about half of Iain Banks' Bridge. It's not quite sci-fi, it's not quite surreal, and it sure as hell doesn't fit any other casual category (unless, and pardon my French, you consider "mindfuck" a category. In which case it's the prototype.). More on that (maybe) when I finish it.
So, yeah, as far as these things go, it was a fairly productive 10 hours between nine and seven. Not the usual nine and seven I associate with productivity, but there you go.
As a matter of interest, U of _______ has a much more active night life than U of Someplace Else. I'm not talking about the bar hoppers or the janitor force (they're about the same, or at least, I'd imagine they'd be the same if U of Someplace Else was closer to more bars). At about 11 or so, I headed down to the Math building's lounge, which I knew was full of comfy couches and such. And I was not alone. There were people sleeping, people working, and people talking all night long, from 11 till four, when I went back to a different building so I could use the computer lab. And while it was nice to just be around people, it was also nice to be specifically around good old, introverted, of course we're up at 3:00 am Math people. I don't know if I've mentioned this before, but I did my BA in mathematics and english. So much of the mathematics has faded away--I doubt I could tell a Hermitian from a Hamiltonian these days--but I still feel like there's some connection between me and my mathematical bretheren. I imagine it says a lot about me that I find math, of all things, as this enticing, romantic subject, but I guess that's the road not taken for you. At the same time though, I've done enough near grad-level math research to know I really, really don't want to do grad-level math research. For now, I'm where I belong.
And now that I can get into my apartment, that's true in more ways than one.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
And for those who are comparing this to the last horrible occurrence, this is the part last time around when I became full of self-doubt and other unpleasant sentiments, wondering if I do this sort of thing to myself on purpose. And I'll admit, I went there this time too, briefly. But I got over it. I was swearing, and sulking, and generally making the other people on the sidewalk take the long way around, when suddenly it hit me: this sort of thing really does happen to me all the time.
So why should I make a big deal out of it?
There are a few good things about this, after all. One: I can be grateful that I didn't go through with my plan to put my memory card on my keychain (I thought it would be easier to keep track of that way. Ironic.)
Two: this time, I managed to safely lock my bike up in my office, so I don't have to worry about it being stolen. (Granted, that means I'm locked out of my office, but if life gives you lemonade, there's going to be some lemons.)
Rather than sulk and moan, I should embrace the circumstances. I've full access to my bank account, warm clothes, an ID, and a bookbag full of students' papers. (Ok, that last one is not proving useful.) There's a campus full of nooks and crannies to situate oneself in for an evening, and, thanks to a library that doesn't close till 11, I've got some good reading material (Iain Banks, Anthony Burgess, and, since it's an evening for risks, the complete short stories of JG Ballard, whom I have never previously heard of). (There's also a whole string of bars nearby, but somehow getting drunk with strangers and no means to get someplace safe after is a little TOO adventurous, know what I mean?)There's an adjacent 24-h convenience store, and now I've got a pack of 32 vanilla wafers for the amazing price of $1.49. Hello, supper!
So yes, come tomorrow there's going to be some trouble with a poor night's sleep, department keys that need replacing, a body in need of a shower, and clothes in need of changing, and if I DON'T get ahold of my landlord, the weekend is going to be not-so-great, but for now...
Now is good.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Invincible is a series published by Image, written by Robert Kirkman, and (usually) drawn by Ryan Ottley. It follows the life of its titular character, Mark Grayson. At the start of the series, he's the teenaged son of Omni-Man, the world's greatest superhero, and at our first glimpse, his inherited powers have just kicked in for the first time. What powers are those? Your basic Superman set: super-strength, flight, and invulnerability. From there, the series follows Mark as he grows up, heads to college, and learns the superhero trade. There's some fairly major plot twists that I don't want to give away, (do NOT start this series with a volume that comes after number 3) but I will say that the attention Kirkman gives to Mark and his supporting cast--especially his mother--goes above and beyond nearly any superhero comic I can name.
The usual comparison for Invincible is that he's a modern-day Spider-Man, and I can certainly see the similarities. Mark goes through the same process of growing into his role, and growing up in general. But I think that this comparison does an injustice to the nature of the series. Mark is not Peter Parker; there's no shy awkward phase to overcome, and he's not the wise-cracking jokester. Most of all, Mark's powers guide the series in a different direction. If Spider-Man can be summed up by the maxim "With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility," then the theme of Invincible goes one step further--"Power Corrupts." This difference presents itself in many ways-- first, there's the graphic violence, which is the only thing holding the book back from a full recommendation among the younger set. This isn't a comic book series where death is taken lightly; people are killed, and killed brutally. The kind of power Invincible yields has consequences. And given the level of power, it's only natural that the title keeps returning the nature of corruption. Spinning webs is one thing, but when you're that much better than the average human, what is there to keep your humanity? Given the nature of mainstream comics, it's an issue that can't really be fully explored (not if the characters are to remain marketable), so it's nice to see it addressed here.
And it's certainly not something you're going to find in Spider-Man.
So it's a testament to to Kirkman that even while the characters around Invincible succumb, his own struggle manages to feel real and important. Mark starts with a sort of naivety, and even after he goes through a half dozen different hells, he still stays a decent (and equally important, believable) guy.
Admittedly, this comic doesn't have Fables' cast of thousands, or Scott Pilgrim's sheer insanity, or Yorrick's quest for self (although the last one comes closest). But it's a good story, and at issue 54, it's not over yet.
I grew up in a rural area (for future purposes, let's call it Where Else). And every now and then, something happens to remind me of the perspective that background has given me. One such reminder occurs once a year, regularly, like clockwork. In any sizable modern city, the system of electric lights at night is fairly elaborate, and fairly powerful. For any cloudy night after a substantial snowfall, those lights bounce off the snow and the entire city radiates with this unearthly glow. You can grow up in a city and still be aware of this glow, but to really appreciate it, to recognize that it isn't always there, to acknowledge the full "unearthly" part, I think you really need to spend a few winters in a small prairie town with nothing but black skies and white horizons.
As a kid, I found the whole thing pretty unnerving, and whenever the family stayed at my grandparents' house in Somewhere Else, I'd be sure to pull down the blinds in my room to escape it. Admittedly, while I still sleep with my blinds down (I've become one of those that needs absolute dark for nocturnal sleep), I've changed my mind on the city glow, to the point where I not only tolerate it, I kind of embrace it.
And yes, I'm aware that it's not fully a good thing. It's a tremendous expenditure of power, it's a sign of our modern dependency on technology, and on days when the sky isn't so clouded, it's a form of pollution that keeps us from seeing the stars.
But at the same time, it's more than that. It's the light in the darkness, the shout to be heard. It's a sign of the city, it is the city. When the clouds obscure us from the sky, when the snow obscures us from the earth, when the night obscures us from the day---
The city glows. The people sleep.
And wait together for other times, and
Saturday, November 15, 2008
And that's where my "uncomfortable" factor starts to seep in. I've done a lot of autobiography and digital technology reading from this course, and one thing I've noticed is that both areas tend to involve personal narratives in a way that most other scholarly papers really don't. Being raised on the whole "there is no 'I' in essay" school of teaching (I'm totally claiming that phrase, and plan on unleashing it to year after year of undergraduate), I've got something of a problem with this approach. Maybe that's why I'm more comfortable analysing fiction--the defining trait about fiction is that it's not real, so it's easier to detach yourself from it, a bit.
Anyway, the Lassoued and Efimova essay struck me because, even in this area, it's a lot more personal than most, to the point where I felt like I was eavesdropping on a private conversation. They're basically articulating how and why they came to know each other. On the one hand, it's all slightly uncomfortable-feeling, but on the other hand, I appreciate that this is what it's all about: the way social and private and public and everything else can get blended together when people create new forms of communication. It's a paper documenting their relationship, but at the same time, it IS their relationship. Like this blog: it's writing about my life, but it also, in some hopefully not at all depressing way, IS my life.
Not to mention the more you study this sort of thing, the more it paralyzes you towards writing about it. Clearly, I'm going to have to do a half-dozen or so comic book reviews just to regain some perspective.
Hope everyone likes Wolverine!
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Seriously, I think the evaluation, even as impromptu a one as this, is a good idea. Even if I don't get any useful feedback, it's still interesting to see how the student's experience of the subject has differed from mine.
Jumping to a new topic: Biking home today, I saw a furry, four-legged creature with a tail running across the street, and my first thought was "My God, that's a big squirrel." It was a cat, an animal that, excepting the similarities described above, does not really look like a squirrel. The surprising thing for me, though, was that "squirrel" was where my mind immediately leaped. Three or four months ago, my first instinct would have been "cat." At some point since moving here, "squirrel" became my normal, go-to reference for a furry animal, and a cat running around free became relatively unnormal.
This lead me to think about "normal" in a more general context. I don't want to go overboard with this, but the experience drove home how much "normal" is a subjective, even transitional, experience, and made me wonder what other definitions of normal have changed for me without me even noticing. As my definitions change, does it mean my identity's changed as well? And what am I potentially leaving behind?
Points to ponder. Later Days.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
The good news is, you can never burn a grilled cheese sandwich so badly that ketchup can't fix it.
On to the reviews...
No Heroes 2. By Warren Ellis and Juan Jose Ryp. This came out last week, as I was kindly reminded, but better late then never. I notice that the cover proclaims this is not a comic book, but "A Serialized Graphic Novel." Clever marketing move, or pretentious quibbling? Anyway, this issue has less action than the first one, but considering Ellis' strength is clever dialogue and big ideas, the change is more or less an improvement. Basically, Carrick Masterson takes Joshua to the Frontline base, and asks him whether he really wants to be a hero or not. Some more of the Frontline history is fleshed out, and there is a pervading sense throughout the comic (sorry, serialized graphic novel) that something is going to go very bad, very soon. I'm still impressed with Ryp's style and framing; major scenes, including a bloody two-page fold, are rendered more potent just because they jump out of the boxes and squares. Now that a few more of the pieces are falling into place, I think I enjoyed this issue more than the previous. I want to see where this goes next.
Teen Titans: A Kid's Game. By Geoff Johns, Mike McKone, and Tom Grummett. For something different, today's long section is a largely forgotten selection from 2003. The Teen Titans are one of the DC properties that seem to be in a constant state of rebooting. The idea is simple enough: take all the teenage equivalents of heroes, put them on a team. Hijinx ensue. My own familiarity with the Teen Titans extends mainly to being a fan of the cartoon show, and its pseudo-anime style. To give you a taste, here's a link to the theme song. You're welcome.
So I'm not really used to the darker tone presented here. My main problem with the book is that it's not particularly accessible to outside readers. Yes, there is a character glossary in the back--although since there's no table of contents, you wouldn't find it until after you finish reading, so I'm not sure how useful it is--but the general context of the series is tiptoed around a little more than it's explained. Two previous superhero teams, Young Justice and the Titans, had just disbanded after Donna Troy, the original Wonder Girl, was killed by a renegade Superman robot. (You know, the robots Superman used to keep around to convince people that he wasn't Clark Kent. In retrospect, he really should have done a better job decommissioning them. Hindsight.) Teen Titans is an attempt by the older Titans--Beast Boy, Starfire, and Cyborg--to create a support group for the younger super heroes: Robin, the new Wonder Girl, Kid Flash, and Superboy. This volume has the heroes band together to fight Deathstroke, who is possessed by his son, Jericho. Again, there's an accessibility issue. While new readers won't left entirely in the dark, to understand the history these characters have with the Titans, you've got to be an old school fan.
Still, aside from the continuity issue, Johns' writing is good, and is characterization is great. Most of the focus is on the younger titans, but everyone gets a moment in the spotlight. It's worth reading for the spot-on Robin alone. If you've got a soft-spot for teenage superheroes, or you're familiar with the Titan's history, or you're just a skeevy perv who likes Starfire's costume (or lack thereof:)
Give the volume a try.
Or just listen to the theme song again.
When there's evil on the attack
You can rest knowing they got your back
'Cuz when the world needs heroes on patrooooooooool, Teen Titans GO!
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Onto the book!
Tigerheart is essentially an adaptation to Peter Pan, in which the main character, Paul, travels to Anyplace (the Neverland analogue) to find a new baby sister for his mother.
An adaptation is a tricky thing, and an adaptation of a children's story is even trickier. To reach the highest level of success, it needs to appeal to the children audience, but also to adults who experienced the original story when they were children. Luckily, Tigerheart satisfies both.
Narratively, the book hits an interesting (though compelling) note. The tone is fairly unusual for a Peter David book; it focuses less on jokes and amusing dialogue than usual, and feels more like a very erudite and deeply reflective children's book. (With a lot of fight scenes and action sequences, in case anyone thinks they'll get bored.) David's showing some impressive versatility here.
As you might gather from the use of "Anyplace" over Neverland, David has chosen to use his own names for the various characters in the story, to the point where he reimagines some traits altogether--for example, it's Captain Hack now, with a hatchet for an arm, and he was eaten not by a crocadile, but a giant sea serpent. While this is kind of a risky move, I think it really pays off; David emphasizes that these characters have grown bigger than their names, into archetypes and ideas--while at the same time acknowledging that everyone has a different picture of them in their heads. Morever, the story is of such high quality that misgivings are put aside. I can't honestly remember ever sitting through the Disney movie, or reading the original book, but I still felt some sort of nostalgia. It kept coming up in David's dead-on portrayals of Wendy, Tinkerbell, the Lost Boys, and the (ok, this is where the book shows its age) Indians, and new additions like Paul and Captain Hack's Sister (Slash, of course) feel like they've been there all along. "The Boy" may or may not be an exact duplicate of Peter Pan, but after 200 some pages of pirates, shadows, and adventure, I really didn't care.
Tigerheart is one of those rare books that truly deserve the label of "all ages." It's insightful, clever, and fun. It may not be perfect (the narrator is a little grating, at times), but it's a good read.
Two hatchets up.
Sunday, November 9, 2008
Anyway, on to the main topic. Four years ago, for reasons that deserve a post of their own, I started running on a regular basis as a form of exercise. And I think it's gotten to the point now where it's a part of my identity; even if I stop running for a week, or even a month (which, sadly, has been known to happen), I still think of myself as a runner. I don't really have a problem with that. Running seems like the sort of activity a person can be proud to claim.
Note that I don't refer to it as jogging. I'm not entirely sure why. It's a little bit pretentious, I know, but jogging seems like a hobby, something you do more to keep up appearances than because you like doing it. To me, running is a lot more than that. Yes, it keeps me in shape, and yes I do brag about it (in peak shape, I can do 10k in about 42 minutes. See? perfectly at peace with the bragging.), but the parts I really enjoy are the other things. It's a great way to let the mind just drift while the body does its own thing; running is about as close as I get to meditation, and I would argue that it's actually pretty close.
It's also a nice way to push one's own boundaries, and get to know your surroundings. I like to vary my route considerably. While it does mean getting lost a lot, I know the ins and outs of _______________ a lot better because of it, and when it comes to pushing limits, getting lost for an hour or two is a great way of learning that yes, I can run for an hour or two straight.
For me, running is also a solitary engagement. I've gone running with roommates and siblings in the past, but our paces are so different that it's kind of hard to work it so that everyone gets a good workout. I've thought about joining a running group, but part of what I like about running is doing it on my own time and at my own speed.
Last: with winter fast approaching, running takes on whole new dimensions. Usually, it's easiest just to give it up entirely for a month or two. I really want to keep it up this year, and I'm still too chicken to check out the U of _______ gym, so we'll see how it goes.
Today's run: 4 degrees Celsius. Spitting rain and mild wind. Not particularly pleasant; should have worn gloves. Good call on the bunny hug.
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
Invincible Iron Man 7. by Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca. After the destruction of the previous issues, Tony Stark AKA Iron Man is at his breaking point. Good thing Spider-Man has swung in for a good old fashioned team-up. Good lord, is it ever. Among others, the pair fight the Big Wheel. No one, no one, says "Wacky 70s hijinx" like the Big Wheel. Fraction also uses the team-up to its full extent. Spider-Man, with his recent past literally stripped away, makes a perfect advocate for the good old days when heroes teamed up and fought bad guys. Iron Man, on the other hand, can't get past his responsibilities at SHIELD, the aftermath of Civil War, or any number of events that define the current Marvel universe. It's a wonderful, almost meta commentary on how comic books have evolved, and whether where they are now is a place worth going to. Fraction ties this all together with a comparison to Cliffton Pollard that maybe, maybe is reaching a little. But it's got the Big Wheel. How can you hate a supervillain whose sole purpose is to burst (roll) into a room in his ridiculous costume spouting something like "You can't fire me! I'm the Big Wheel!"
You can't. You just can't.
Final Crisis: Resist. by Greg Rucka and Eric Trautman. Checkmate survivors rally together to plan a desperate last ditch attack on Darkseid. A good issue, and, depending on what's done with it, an important issue in the overall Final Crisis story. It's showing the kind of desperation that an event this big SHOULD be doing a lot more of, and and doesn't get too boggled down in the details. If you've been following Final Crisis, you should be able to follow this, although to get the most out of it, you really need to be a Checkmate fan. Trautman's art is a little rough, but doesn't detract from the story.
X-Men and Spider-Man 1 of 4. Christos Gage and Mario Alberti. In this first issue set in the halycon pre-Gwen Stacey's death days, after Kraven the Hunter declares Spider-Man a mutant on national television, Spider-Man and the X-Men team up to fight him and a mystery villain. Ok, it's the Blob. The six - on -two fight goes pretty much as you'd expect, but a second mystery villain shows up about a decade early, which creates some interest for issue 2. Alberti's art is a little distracting, but Gage does a good job utilizing both the X-Men and Spider-Man's early characterizations. The only thing I don't think they quite answered is why--rather than a fun trip down memory lane, these characters have gone so far from this point of history, it's rather jarring to see things "as they used to be." A flashback series needs a clearer framing for why this story is worth telling, and so far, we've just got a mild hint.
X-Men Manifest Destiny 3 of 4. Manifest Destiny is basically a miniseries about telling minor stories about various X-Characters--so a pretentiously big title with very small ambitions. The first story is a continuation of Iceman's fight against Mystique. Iceman explains how he got out of the last cliffhanger, then gets into a new cliffhanger. Continued next issue! In the second story, we get Graymalkin's mutant origin story, which is the usual prosecution, but with a bit of buried-alive-by-your-father added on. And in the third and best story, the X-Men try to cheer Colossus up after the certain death of his girlfriend Kitty. Aside from the fact that, as one character notes, Colossus has pretty much been depressed continually for the past ten years and nothing's really done any good, and the fact that Wolverine probably isn't in character when he's spearheading a "feel-good" movement, it's the kind of minor teammate plot that I wish the X-Men series proper hadn't given up years ago in exchange for nonsensical stories involving hippies and gender-swapping super villains.
Each entry seems to be getting progressively longer. I think it's wise to stop with three.
Anyway, for the pleasure of the masses:
The first issue in constructing the blog was choosing which blog server to use. I chose Blogger not because of any analytical consideration of the various servers, but because the majority of the blogs I read used it. This choice, made quite cavalierly at the time, suggests an awareness of online community on my part and even a faint indication of my early concept of audience: most of the people I knew as bloggers used Blogger, hence, I could best precipitate interactions with them by doing the same. In contrast, the choices of blog title and blog handle were extremely calculated. I wanted a title that appeared witty and clever, but could be construed as generally as possible. Experimental was an indirect reference to the class-project impetus of the blog, and Progress was meant to be a mild, tongue-in-cheek mockery of the idea that the blog would progress to a set goal. Taken together, Experimental Progress could mean virtually anything and thus, in terms of practicality, meant nothing. Only in the context of the rest of the site could the intended meanings be attributed. In essence, the title of my blog was a supplement to the content.
The choice of my blog handle, Person of Consequence, is slightly more complicated; while it tries to invoke the same sort of contextual tone as the title, it also arises from my own personal notions of online privacy and self-protection. My personal experience with other bloggers is that few used their real name, and only a small fraction used more than their first name. I decided to follow suit. While there are certainly enough “Michael”s in online existence to avoid easy identification, I chose “Person of Consequence” both to further obscure my identity and to adopt a more flamboyant title. My devotion to anonymity was somewhat questionable; while I avoided proper nouns and place names in my blog posting, in other avenues I was a shameless self-promoter. Hiding on my blog was fine, but I felt no compunction in repeatedly advertising my blog in my Facebook account, nor in emailing the link out en masse to the members of the blogging class. In her studies on blogging, Kennedy concludes from interviews with her subjects that they felt “a distinction between being anonymous and feeling anonymous” (“Technobiography” 130). To this observation, I can further add that my own desire to feel anonymous seemed to travel a one-way street. While I feared readers who stumbled onto the blog transgressing into my pre-existing social networks, I encouraged members from those social networks to participate in my blogging process. At the site’s inception, at least, my feeling anonymous and safe extended only to feeling anonymous among those with whom I did not have a pre-existing relationship.
Autobiography scholar Phillipe Lejeune places crucial importance on the inclusion of a proper name to the author of a text: “The entire existence of the person we call the author is summed up by this name: the only mark in the text of an unquestionable world-beyond-the-text... [the name] is linked, by a social convention, to the pledge of responsibility of a real person... a person whose existence is certified by vital statistics and is verifiable” (On Autobiography 11).
An autobiography, he goes on to state, formalizes this relationship by unifying the author, subject, and protagonist into one “real person,” by means of the autobiographical pact. This definition creates new areas of discussion regarding my handle choice. First, in terms of the medium, the blog is not as complete a unit as the written text Lejeune describes. My own blog is awash outside links and references, from the discreet headings provided by Blogger to my own included links to various other sites depicting lists of urinals or voting stratagems. But while these references indicate a world-beyond-the-text, they do not provide what Lejeune would argue is the true pact between the auto biographer and the reader: they do not prove that the actual text of my blog represents authentic, actual events. Though it is in no way part of the actual blog text, my proper name still provides a verifiable confirmation of my blog, but only to a select audience, those who were lead to my blog through prior established relationships. To those who have reached Experimental Progress through other means, the veracity of my posts is met through other criteria, more specific to the blog form. The subjects in Kennedy’s blog trials felt that they still possessed anonymity despite baring very specific factual information because this information was revealed in the context of the blog. In an inverted relationship, I felt that blog readers would accept my posts without verification because of blog social conventions towards respecting anonymity in bloggers. Lejeune’s social convention that links responsibility of the text to a real person is still present, but it applies differently to different aspects of my audience.
The notion of a divided, fragmented audience suggests that even attempting to create a unified persona in the context of a blog will be fraught with difficulty, and this has indeed proven to be the case. When I was first beginning the blog, one commenter suggested that he or she “definitely recommend getting StatCounter set up on here. Then you can counter-stalk all the people who are stalking you” (“Let’s Get Things Started”). I followed through on this comment, and the results immediately showed a sharp divide in my reader demographic. One group of readers consisted mainly of acquaintances and friends who had been lead to my blog through existing social connections. The other group consisted of those who came purely to peruse my comic book reviews, in the regular “Comic Book Wednesdays” feature.
The feature itself was included on Experimental Progress only through great hesitation on my part. Out of all the possible blogging topics I considered, I felt that it contained the least genuine life-writing, since it was not about me at all, but a critical examination of comic books. Paul Hodkinson, in his essay “Interactive online journals and individualization,” examines the evolution of the online goth culture from close-knit forums to more loosely connected blogs (“Interactive online journals”). Unwittingly, my comic book posts had tapped into a similar subculture, one devoted to comic books. Simply by my choice to make my blog searchable on Google, my comic books entries were found and linked by both dedicated Fables fans at Clockwork Book and by the publishers of the comic book No Heroes, Avatar Press. The “real-life” book posts were often of a more personal nature. While not quite what Laurie McNeill refers to as an extremely “localized textual world” that appears on first glance to wallow in banality from an outsider’s perspective (33), posts such as “Not a Good Start” and “Wait, what time is it?” both involve contexts more easily recognized by those who have established a pre-existing social relationship with me. The two distinct audiences made me uncomfortably self-conscious of the purpose of my blog. Who was I writing for?
I continued both types of posts for the duration of the blog, but I felt uncertain which one I should devote more effort towards, which one would cultivate the best audience. In a nutshell, which “type” of writing was more popular, the comic book feature or the “real life” entries? The answer hinges on one’s blog-based definition of popularity. The comic book audience was more numerous, and infinitely more varied; according to StatCounter, this audience included people from India, Brazil, Italy, and other distant locales, all of them led to my site as a result of the comic book community linking. On the other hand, to date, none of this audience segment has posted a single post within my blog. Without StatCounter, I would be entirely unaware of their presence, demonstrating the impact that inclusion of such technology can have on the blog’s development, and on my perception of its development. MacNeill notes the typical blogger’s extreme desire for feedback (35); the only feedback I received from the comic book audience was their presence. Furthermore, it was difficult, if not impossible, to determine what percentage of these readers were repeat readers, or merely came to read a single review and then left the site forever. My “real life” audience provided more concrete commentary and suggestions that guide future blog entries, and I could measure their continued involvement in my blog through repeated commenting. I found I was unable to choose which measure of popularity was preferable, and taking steps to further secure either of these audiences felt like abandoning the other.
In addition to audience, I also felt fragmented in terms of overall tone. The tone within Experimental Progress determines the audience I could expect, and my conception of the audience frequently colored my tone. Originally, I felt a tongue-in-cheek, lightly sarcastic tone was necessary to work against the formal, structured purpose for the blog, and this tone was present in everything from the title to the “About Me” section: “As part of my course work, I'm constructing this blog. So every word I write in it, and every word you write in it, will be finely combed for intent, routinely searched for rhetoric, and dissected into pieces until all possible meaning has been extracted. But try not to be self-conscious about it.” The warning to not feel “self-conscious” was a warning to myself as much as to the reader; by approaching it in the style of a joke, I hoped to relieve some of that anxiety.
I tried to keep the tone consist as the blog developed. Further entries such as “Bathroom Humour” and “Life is Weird” continue an emphasis on joking, light-hearted topics. Even my choice of images reflects this tone. Kress and Van Leeuwen describe several image interpretation patterns common in Western culture and the larger world. The templates of Blogger itself follow these patterns: the Blogger heading is located at the top of the page, suggesting its status as the ideal, and my own blog as the reality; more significantly, the format of the blog emphasizes what Kress and Van Leeuwen call a “margin-centre-margin” structure (211), with the blog entries in the centre as the main purpose, and made everything else, from previous posts to the“about me” section, marginal. As a personal choice, I tried to eschew anything that differentiates my images from the rest of the text, and instead integrate them as closely as I could. To date, my blog contains ten images, half of which are found in “Comic Book Wednesday” posts. Nearly all of these images are intended either to be humorous in themselves, such as the birthday-capped Gaskell in “Birthday Wishes,” or complement a humorous observation, such as the Tim Horton’s cup in “Coffee Cup” and the sink photos in “Bathroom Humour.” The images I included act as supplements to a broader context.
But at times, it struck me that trying to stay consistent in this tone seemed to undercut not only perceived notions of formalized structure, but my own attempts at self-expression. In “Self Reflexive,” I constantly interrupt larger ideas with parenthetical asides, building to the final set of parentheses: “Very special music plays in the background to ensure everyone realizes that Person of Consequence has learned an Important Lesson. He bows, and the stage curtain closes slowly. The applause light flickers on.” The drippingly sarcastic conclusion virtually attacks the notion that any serious conclusion can be made. Even the reflective essay that I felt indulged in the fewest humorous digressions, “Politics Talk. Worse, Canadian Politics Talk,” is sandwiched between a self-deprecating title and a flippant conclusion: “See you at the Conservative majority in two weeks!”. My tone seemed to indicate a secondary split inside my blog, between serious discussion and a light-heartedness I appeared unable to avoid.
My blogging experience came to embody two different splits, one dividing audience and one dividing desired content and tone. In terms of audience, much of the split arose from my interactions with the comic book reading community. Since I felt that the comic book posts were of a different nature than the “real life” posts (a separation I felt was so critical that I was willing to create the divide between comic books and “real life” in the first place), I resolved to keep them separate. The general format of Blogger made separation apparently simple: I could create distinct posts for both audiences and allow them to pursue what they found interesting. However, upon closer examination, the two were not as divided as I thought; both sets of entries clearly contained text directed towards exactly the audience I thought I was excluding. In “Wait, what time is it?” and “Not Soy Good,” I explain my provincial origins and vegetarianism respectively, details that my pre-established audience all ready know. In the Comic Book posts, I frequently explain elements, such as X-Factor being “a team of mutant private investigators” (“Anti-Life Equation”), that would be superfluous for my comic book readers, but necessary for my other readers. This writing extends to off-putting comments such as “if you don't know what that means, you're standing in the wrong line,” as they are ultimately aimed towards helping the non-comic book audience members—albeit helping them by suggesting that they come back tomorrow. Despite the concerns I created by being overly attentive to my StatCounter, my blog functioned in a manner similar to those Hodkinson describes: it allowed me to engage larger communities, while also making entries that were “significantly more varied and individually distinct” (636). The inclusionary measures suggest that while I am aware of my fragmented audience, I was also trying simultaneously to integrate them as well.
In a similar fashion, my tone was not actually contradictory to my intent in my more serious posts; rather, it allowed a new venue for analyzing the text. Just as the “self-conscious” reference in my “About Me” spoke towards my own feelings of self-consciousness, the tone in the other entries signaled deeper involvement with my writing, and often reflect my awareness of audience . References to “Bathroom Humor” and oatmeal cookie martinis in “Not a Good Start” attempt to create a comical preface to dull the edge of the personal self-examination that follows. The mocking conclusions to “Politics” and “Self-Reflexive” arise from a concern that my audience may find the preceding too judgmental and alienating; rather than undercut the message at hand, such utterances are meant to enforce a camaraderie with the readers and a unity with the greater blog whole. The result is a tone that remains somewhat consistent throughout the blog, but is used for entirely different purposes in different areas of the text.
To say that my understanding of Experimental Progress and the resulting self-interpretation have progressed from fragmentary to unified is an oversimplification. No matter how inclusive I make individual entries, there is still a noticeable and sharp divide in my audience, and despite the new associations it may create, a constant tone can be detrimental to deliberate attempts at self-expression. Rather, I believe that the blog has shown me how unitary and fragmentary conceptions of the self can exist and be expressed simultaneously. Even the format of the blog—individual, highly specialized posts with specific titles, mixed with links, keywords, and an overarching uber-text—lends itself to both a fragmentary and unitary reading. The result is an increased understanding of how different links can be created, combined, and separated to create something that is at once familiar and new.
 In fact, Lejeune’s statement that the proper name is the “only” mark in the text of an unquestionable world-beyond-the-text is hyperbolic, in a printed or electronic context.
 “Bathroom Humour” and “Prisoner’s Dialectic,” respectively.
If anyone's still reading this, the Works Cited is available on request. Please do not request it.