Saturday, February 28, 2009

Things Come Together and Simultaneously Fall Apart

Good news and bad news. The good news is that the draft of the query letter is ready. All that's left is to choose the excerpt from the novel. So if there's anyone reading this who's had the pleasure of reading the novel too, I encourage you to send me an email and tell me what section you think I should choose.

The new commitment to my exercise regime is also going well. I've managed to get a run in two whole days in a row, which is still not that impressive given other years, but a positive step to build on for now.

And now the bad. First, the minor malignant: even though it's now -11, yesterday morning, it was about +7 out, and pouring rain. It's also the day of my cyberpunk course, which is at a different location from my other classes. More importantly, about 10-20 minutes further than my other classes. And, as Murphy's Law clearly dictates, this is the day my umbrella decides that the whole "prevent water from passing through" thing is really just optional. In the course of the walk, it developed three completely different terminal flaws: The shaft holding the umbrella snaps in two pieces, one of the tongs caves in under the force of the wind and also snaps, and another section develops a big ol' hole in the fabric.

Clearly, I need a new umbrella. I don't think I've ever had to to do this before. Where do you even get an umbrella? Are they available at the local drugstore? The local Superstore? I guess I'll have to make an expedition. Dollars to donuts that it'll start raining whatever day I pick, though.

But this isn't a big deal, as annoying as it was at the time. Despite some people's experience, it does not rain all the time. The Major Malignant at the moment is the perennial favorite, my bicy---nope! Not this time! My computer. Attempting to download a wmv convertor, I accidently downloaded a trojan virus instead--a very quickly self-replicating one, to boot. Through judicial application of the Safe Mode and AVG, I managed to reduce the symptoms to the point where the computer could still actually function, which is a plus, but there's still clearly something terribly wrong with the Internet access. I'm continually running AVG, but since it takes 3 hours at least to do a full scan, I'm not even sure it can keep up with the thing.

So I'm over at the university to do today's work. (Well, technically, to procrastinate on today's work, since I'm typing this right now.) What really bugs me is how guilty I feel over my computer's virus-addled state. I mean, yes, it is my fault, in that I should be more careful what I download and I would have been able to fix if I had set a proper system restore point, but surely I've got more useful things in my life to feel bad about. But no, all I've got is a lingering feeling that if I was a nicer person, my computer would work right now. There's zero logic behind such sentiment, but there it is.

Still, let's end on a positive. Novel's moving forward, and I'll send the first first queries out on Monday. I'm ahead on my classes, I've got my health, and I've got a good life.
..There, that wasn't so hard.

Later Days.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Statement of Vague Intent

I had a very busy winter break. First, there was just the readings: Rousseau's Confessions for one course, Foucault's Discipline and Punish for the other. That's a combined total of over 1000 pages of course material. Both works are worth reading (well, the first half of Confessions is worth reading; I wouldn't go out of my way to read the second. Sorry, Rosseau.), but ye gods, they eat up the time.

And I didn't have a lot of time to spare. I had a presentation in the Confessions class to give when classes resumed, and an essay due in the other. (The respective topics were the Chevalier D'Eon and chora. Both of which could fill out there own posts--one was a gender bender, and one involved going to my first voluntary church service in years--but if we dwell on either, we'll be here all day.)

So I was very busy, until very recently. And now that all the immediate pressure's off, I found that what was left wasn't so much a sense of relief, but a question: where do I go from here?

It wasn't just a matter of what work I jump to next. I felt like I needed to reassess my overall goals. So I looked at my overall goals. Essentially, out of all of them, I'd only made any progress on one. Want to guess which one? (HINT: I spent last Friday night watching 12 back-to-back episodes of Big Bang Theory.) Simply put, it's not enough to write down on a piece of paper (or scream into the digital void) that you're going to get something done. You've got to do it. So I've made some steps in that direction already; next up, I want to tighten my academic belt. Now that I'm a little ahead in my assignments, I should use that advantage in other areas. It's time to get some conference proposals out there. And I need to stop waiting for the publishers to come to me--this time tomorrow, I want a draft of my query done with. And then there's the exercise: if I take one hour from the TV time and apply it to getting in shape, the shape will be got.
As a matter of fact, let's go one step further: for the time being, let's see who I am when you strip away the comics, the TV, and the video games. (I imagine what you'll find is a man who prefers TV, comics, and video games, but let's not spoil the surprise.)
Big finish: I call myself Person of Consequence. So isn't it time I got out there and did something of consequence?

Later Days.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Comic Book Wednesday: Avengers (Some Assembly Required)

Honestly, "Avengers Assemble!" has to be the lamest rallying cry in comic book history. I mean, alliteration is great and all, but there's a reason Batman and Co don't go around shouting "Justice League, juxatapositions!"
Although come to think of it, that might be just weird enough to be cool.
For those who come for non-picture book related musings, I hope to have something suitably epic up for tomorrow to make up for the long silence. For everyone else, let's get busy.

Dark Avengers 2. By Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Deodato. It was out last week, but I just got it now, so... the newly minted Avengers team travels to Latveria to rescue Doctor Doom from the clutches of Morgan le Faye. This issue didn't really appeal to me. The art was fine, and Deodato made some split panel layouts that I really enjoyed, but the story...

One of the big problems in Bendis' Avengers for me was and is that I don't get a sense of scope. In each individual story, there isn't much a sense of something bigger going on, and for an Avengers title, that's essential. Norman Osborne has effectively been given control of the Marvel universe, and this is his center title; and yet, there's no sense here that he has any sort of master plan. An evil conspiracy isn't much of a conspiracy if the guy in charge of it all doesn't seem to have any plan beyond "let's see where this goes." In retrospect, there is often a unifying big picture, such as the Skrull plotlines in New Avengers. But there needs to be a sense of that in the issue at hand too, or it all seems like one big exercise in pointlessness.

There's also the problem that these characters aren't that compelling, not at the moment at least, and presenting each one as an imposter version of some other hero isn't really helping to make them any more distinct. What's left at hand, then, is a less-than-stellar magic fight (the pages of Morgana and Doom shouting nonsense words at each other is a little annoying) between characters that are largely unsympathetic. More than ever, I'm not sold that there's anything happening to these Avengers that I want to read about.

New Avengers 50. Brian Michael Bendis and more folk than you can shake a stick at. Plot: Less than pleased with their replacements, the Avengers attempt to lure Osborne's ersatz Avengers into an ambush, but wind up facing a surprise of their own (which makes the cover ridiculously misleading, btw). Wow, do I have mixed feelings about this. First: the art. The various artists come in during the book's climatic fight scene: each character on the team acts as narrator for one page, and a different style of art is used to depict each's mental state and battle tactics. It's a striking technique, and concepting impressive. For two or three pages. But by the time we get through the whole team, it feels tired. The Hawkeye/Mockingbird and the Spider-Woman pages are well done; we need to re-establish who these characters are after Secret Invasion, and their art suits them well. Mockingbird muses about how it feels like old times admist art that is quintessentially 90s superhero. Spider-Woman's art is faint strokes and luminscient colouring, while she struggles with her alienation. But the rest? Do we really need a full page to tell us Spider-Man thinks in quips during a fight, or that Wolverine really cuts loose?

It feels like padding, and as a 50th, expanded-size issue, padding is NOT what you want to shoot for. Far too much of the book feels drawn out: the fight, the reactions to Osborne's team, and we even get a script-for-script repeat of scenes from Dark Avengers 2. Not to mention the Avengers' motives don't even make sense: they ambush the state-sanctioned super hero team, beat them up... and then what? Tell them to feel ashamed of themselves? Turn them into the authorities? When the guys you're fighting ARE the authorities, that doesn't work so well. The last few pages, in which one of the Avengers publicly speaks out against Norman, are wonderful: they are well written, and show definite, heroic action. Too bad it took so long to get there.

Now that we're a little into the new Bendis era of Avengers, I can't help but think that the books would work so much better as a single book. The Dark Avengers are clearly meant to be compared to the heroes who's identities they're stealing; what better way than constantly contrast their actions? The juxtaposition of the two teams could be used for some interesting stories; you could have one team rise as the other falls, run parallel adventures, or alternate between arcs. (Yes, the contrast is still there in the current form, but it's far more disjointed than it would be otherwise.)

Instead, because Marvel makes more money selling two titles, we get this. There are some really good ideas and good stories here, but as long as they're being stretched out so far, they're not nearly as effective as they could be. (Also, let me point out the irony that the title "New Avengers" is now the longest running and most established Avenger title.)

Mighty Avengers 22. By Dan Slott and Khoi Pham. The Scarlett Witch-picked team of Avengers learn what's going on: Mordred has tricked Quicksilver into becoming the incarnation of the chaos god ChThon, and the avatar is remaking reality in his image. They also bicker among themselves, as is traditional. Ever since the Spider-Man/Human Torch series he wrote a few years ago, I've been predisposed to favour anything from Slott's pen. I'm not entirely sold on this yet though; it's clearly set up to be classic Avengers, for those who don't like Bendis' flavour (a few years late, but never mind.), but it doesn't quite feel like it has found its legs yet. The team's a little sprawling: there's Jocasta, Wasp, Vision, Stature (still a dumb name), Iron Man, Hulk, USAgent, and Hercules--and also Amadeus Cho, Jarvis, and Scarlet Witch, depending on how you're counting. It feels like a few less characters would give some breathing space.

There's also the problem of balance. Taking Dark Avengers into account, we have two teams of Avengers fighting two magical based King-Arthur themed villains inside two weeks. That seems like something the editors could have coordinated a little better. The story itself is interesting--the chaos theme is intriguing, especially given all the conflicting personalities on the team--but the scale seems wrong. Slott is trying to sell the threat ChThon publishes as a global issue, but thanks to years of crossovers, we don't define global issues as something that affect only one title any more. As a result, ChThon, not really a compelling villain to begin with, feels like far less of a threat than he's supposed to be. It's a compelling comic, but it hasn't really drawn me in yet.

...Wow, this edition has gone on forever, huh? Just rambling on and on, with no actual end in sight.

They should let me write the Avengers! (canned laughter.)

That's it for now, boys and girls.

Later Days.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Comic Book Wednesday: Sure it's Wednesday. Who says it's not?

Invincible 59. By Robert Kirkman and Ryan Ottley. Meet Powerplex, AKA Scott Duvall. He's an ordinary guy who works at the Pentagon, has a wife and kid at home, and has sworn vengenance on Invincible after his sister died in collateral damage caused by an Omni-Man and Invincible. Now THIS is how you do an origin story. The emphasis is on the motives, not the powers. (He's an energy absorber, which is really a tangential part of the story, until the very end.) As previous posts show, I'm a big fan of Invincible, and this issue is exactly why. Invincible, in this issue, at least, is practically a guest character; the story belongs to Powerplex, and his quest for revenge. Who's to blame? Great stuff.

Amazing Spider-Man 587. By Marc Guggenheim and John Romita Jr. Well, they're trying. Since the Spider-Man reboot, there's been an emphasis on making new villains and new characters. And frankly... it's not really working. Freak, Jackpot, Menance, Peter's new roommate, new love interests... none of them are really that interesting. The stories themselves are pretty good, but the new characters just don't click. So when there's an issue like this one that focuses on the new characters, and their involvement with the Spider-Slayer subplot, and a story that's less than stellar--Spider-Man goes to jail, only we don't get to see the most interesting parts of the story because they were told in a one-shot last year--and the result is kind of blah at best, and boring at worst. I suppose that's the one good thing about a bad Spider-Man comic these days--wait a month, and it's a whole new story.

In other news, I just caught a few episodes of the Spectacular Spider-Man cartoon show. I love the voice actors they've gotten for it, and the stories are pretty good too; a lot of really well-orchastrated fights and some nice high-school level drama. Plus, for whatever reason, I can't get the song out of my head: Spectacular, Spectacular, Spider-Man. Spectacular, Spectacular...

Uncanny X-Men 506. By Matt Fraction and Terry Dodson. Emma faces a moral crisis, Colossus faces a less troublesome grey area (he busts up a Russian slave ring dealing in female former mutants), Scott welcomes them to the school, and Beast and the mad scientist team travel to Japan. First, I'd like to say it's nice to see the Dodsons drawing Emma again. And not just because they're gifted in sketching Emma (which they are); it brings back fond memories of my tranquil childhood, reading Generation X. It's funny to think that Chamber is the only male member of that team still not dead. Anyway, Fraction delivers a good issue, but it feels repetitive. The school expanding to take in mutant civilians? Gee, we haven't seen that since... they opened up their gates right after the original decimation. And we haven't seen Beast assemble a team (and over multiple, dragged out issues, to boot) to reverse the effects since... well, right after that. It really feels like Fraction's going somewhere new with these stories, but at the moment, somewhere new feels like something old.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


I tried to bake a potato in my microwave today. It turned out well. Mostly well.
Related note: Burnt ketchup really smells.

Later Days.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Comic Book Wednesday: Ask Not For Whom the Bugle Blows

Fable 81. By Bill Willingham and Mark Buckingham. Blue has a heart-to-heart with Rose, and Fabletown gets a new resident. This issue is solicited as the last issue of the "Dark Ages" arc, and that feels like a bit of a false billing, since there is one very significant conclusion, but the big issue is left unresolved. I don't want to get too spoilerly, but honestly, I had a big problem with the way things turn out: while it fits with the characters involved, I thought at least one deserved better, or at least a better speech. (And yes, I know this is horribly vague, but trust me, it's as close as I can come.) In other subplot news: separated from Pinocchio, Gipetto is abducted by a pack of animal Fables. There, that's a clear development, right? Anyway, the art is as good as ever (I especially liked the costumes of Mr Dark), and the writing likewise. I just wish it told a slightly different story. PS. Given the events of this issue, the DC soliticitations for 82 are a complete and utter lie. I felt you should know that.

Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade 3 of 6. By Landry Q. Walker & Eric Jones. Marvel's all-ages line has been burgeoning for quite some time in terms of both number of titles and quality. DC can't quite seem to hit the same level of quality, nor even the all ages portion; a lot of their kid-directed material is for, well, kids. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.) Supergirl is the exception. It's a fun, zany series about a super-powered girl who has to face high school along with the heroics. This issue, Supergirl deals with a red metorite which gives ordinary people super-powers--but not everyone. The story is resolved in a manner that almost puts it in the realm of silver age superman goofiness, but it fits in the established storyline. And Supergirl has some truly awesome one-liners: "Why are people always launching me into space?!" "I think all I got was the power to talk to fish. Who wants to talk to fish?" It's a fun book.

Green Lantern Corps 33. By Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason. Various subplots are advanced, at no great pace, and paint dries. Seriously, that's what happens. Kyle starts a mural in response to the recent tumults, and the rest of the Lanterns join in to paint the prime coat. I'm really torn for this issue: it's got some really good moments for Kyle and Guy, and I think that some downtime to acknowledge the fallen is important, and now is a good of time as ever, but... well, it's a little boring. And I'd be fine with the slower pace, but the painting also comes with some fairly heavy-handed colour metaphors for the coming Darkest Night storyline, which is really irritating. So this is a flawed issue of an otherwise generally really good series.

That's all for now, folks. I'm going to just sit here and listen to the rain. (Yes, rain in February. I ain't in Saskatchewan no more...)

Later Days.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

And Yet He Looks Like Samuel Johnson

I feel like James Boswell.

Ok, that's going to require a little explanation. First, my last night. As those who know me can attest, I'm not exactly the partying type. Given choice, I'd prefer a small group of close friends over a casbah rocking. But on the other hand, long time readers know that I fancy myself someone who deliberately lives--in small doses--an interesting life. So after much hemming, hawing, and general indecision, I went to an English grad student house party last night.

In retrospect, it went EXACTLY how I should have expected.

And in this case, that's a good thing: I started out slightly awkward, but mellowed out as the night went on. I will credit a large portion of said mellowing to the fact that my four pack of pomegrante cider (Yes, pomegrante cider. Read the link above. Bad drink = good story. Also hangovers and intestinal problems, but those hazards come with the territory.) turned out to be a six pack, so when I thought I was downing my last drink of the evening, I was really just starting on the second half.

I've never drank enough to reach blackout levels, and tonight was no exception to that, but I'll admit to a general blurriness. What really stands out--besides the 5 km walk home at 3 am--is the Rock Band session. As will suprise absolutely no one who really knows me, by the third pomegrante cider, all I really want to do is belt out kareoke all night.

And that's roughly what I did. I performed righteously on "Mr. Brightside," kicked some major patoot on "Eye of the Tiger," and would have delivered an absolutely awesome "It's My Life" if it wasn't for not realizing until the song was half over that I was singing the Gwen Stefani version instead of the Bon Jovi version.

Now, the question I'm sure everyone is asking is: where does Mr. Boswell fit in? And if you're asking yourself that, then I have no choice but to belive that you just don't know Boswell.

John Boswell is an eighteenth century writer best known for his biography on his friend and mentor, Samuel Johnson. But he was also an accomplished autobiographer, and spent most of his life compiling a truly comprehensive memoir/journal. For my scandalous memoirs course, I'm reading "Boswell's London Journal 1762-1763." And if I feel like I had a night out on the town, I'm basically just putting a drop in the bucket to the ocean that is Boswell's life of cavorting and making with the merry.

But while he was an inverterate merry-maker, Boswell was also incredibly reflective. He was an avid church goer, which makes me feel a little guilty in comparison. On the other hand, I spend comparatively little time wenching with whores, so I guess we balance out. His journals show someone who was deeply conflicted with his life, and obsessed with how others saw him. Over and over again in his journals, he talks about feeling that he spoke too freely at a party, that he spent so much time trying to be the clown that he's not just afraid that he lost the respect of others, but that he lost respect for himself.

As someone who, in the past 24 hours, felt it absolutely necessary to convince a room full of people* he could do 50 push-ups, I get that.

And that's what I love about English: being in a position where I'm exposed to these ideas and texts that allow me to compare myself to an eighteenth century rake, or crack wise about Derrida's deconstructionist theories, or debate intepretations of chora. Bottom line: this stuff is fun.

Not fun is hovering around a toilet after the sixth cider, but that's another story. And probably one that doesn't deserve retelling.

*Come to think of it, it might have been an entirely empty room.

Later Days.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Comic Book Wednesday: the Allure of an Aptly Drawn Ape

Legion of 3 Worlds 3 of 5. By Geoff Johns and George Perez. In the comic book industry, there are many books that have become nearly legendary simply by virtue of the ridiculous delays between issues. Marvel's Halo series. Kevin Smith's Spider-Man and Black Cat stories. Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk. Legion of 3 Worlds has not reached that rank, but as a tie-in series to Final Crisis that is reaching its middle when the event itself ended last week, there's egg on someone's face.

How is the comic? Well, it's the third in a series, so the ball is already well-rolling. And it's heavily seeped in DC mythos, so anyone without a reasonable background in all three iterations of the Legion of Superheroes should probably sit this one out. The Plot: Superman Prime (the Superboy from an alternate universe, brought forth in Infinite Crisis, which Johns and Perez also worked on) has found himself in the future of the Legion, and has led a cadre of supervillains (from a previous Johns story arc in Superman) to attack Metropolis, bent on destroying a society that idolized the false Superman. Superman and the Legion--the Legion from three different universes-- try to stop him. The art is typical Perez--at its absolute best when depicting giant crowd scenes, and the combined forces of three legions--plus assorted speedsters, Green Lanterns, and Super-men--definitely fits the bill. I enjoyed the issue, but it's certainly nothing like the rest of Final Crisis, and I can't imagine it being fathomable or even likeable to someone without a thorough knowledge of Johns' oeuvre.

X-Men vs. the Hulk. By Chris Claremont and Jheremy Raapack and Roy Thomas and Sal Buscema. This is the first in a series of oneshots celebrating the founding of Marvel, and it features two stories. The first is a peculiar beast: it's a new story, but Claremont is writing the X-Men from the era just after the Brood War encounter. The idea is that, through means not entirely specified, Wolverine has decided Colossus needs testing and arranges him to fight the Hulk. So much for plot. The fight itself is quintessially Claremontian, with thought bubbles and narrative captions. But it's extremely well executed. The art's a little off--some characters, especially Kitty, look like they wandered in from a manga. The second story is a reprint of X-Men 66, in which the X-Men battle the Hulk in order to raid Bruce Banner's lab to find a McGuffin needed to cure Xavier. I know it was chosen because it's the first fight between the X-Men and the Hulk, but I think Marvel misstepped in choosing it. By the content of the story and its use of Claremont as the author, they're definitely signalling the focus is on the X-Men, not Hulk, and I think that could have been further emphasized by choosing a Hulk vs. X-Men story that Claremont himself wrote, which would add a further level, comparing his current work to the original. (In ten some years on the X-Men, he must have written a Hulk story at some point, right?) At any rate, it's a serviceable package, if not exactly notable.

Secret Warriors 1. By Brian Michael Bendis, Jonathan Hickman, & Stefano Caselli. The Secret Warriors, a team of vaguely hero legacy-connected individuals, were introduced during the Secret Invasion. In that series, they were a team gathered by Nick Fury in order to--well, stand around and fight Skrulls, as it turned out, since they didn't really do anything in particular. And in case you want to read more of them doing that, here it is. The "hook" seems to be that Nick Fury created this covert cloak-and-daggers super hero team to shut down the crooked remnants of SHIELD. The first issue is basically the set-up and fight scene, and while many of the characters still remain littler more than ciphers at this point--Slingshot, the Druid, and Stonewall--but the rest are least engaging enough to warrant further reading. The art is good, but what's really spectacular is Daniele Rudoni's colouring. There is an alternate cover of a man in a suit with a chained manticore and a masked man riding a skeletal horse behind them. This scene does not appear in the book. There's also a bunch of extras, including a list of Fury bases, a HYDRA timeline, and a journal from Slingshot--interesting material, if somewhat filler. The issue itself is worth looking into if you're a fan of Fury--nothing too above average yet otherwise.

Later Days.

*UPDATE*: I was originally planning to review Agents of Atlas 1 as well, which is where the title comes from. On account of the team being compose of aliens, atlanteans, robots, and apes. Already sounds more interesting than Secret Warriors, doesn't it?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Maybe You're Coming Off Desperate.

So there's this, I don't know, this "thing" going around Facebook these days. It's pretty simple: you get tagged, you write 25 things about yourself in a note, you tag 25 people, and they do the same.

Honestly, it's kind of annoying. I was kind of hoping that as we progressed down the information highway, we could leave things like a new equivalent of the e-chain-letter behind us. (I was also hoping we could leave the metaphor "information highway" behind us, but what can I say? You let in one early 2000 internet theme, you open the floodgates.) At least this ignores the phony "consequences" part--there's no penalty for failing to tag. On the other hand, you don't get the touching story about how a little old woman passed the chain letter on and the next day she fulfilled her life long dream of becoming a Norweigan folk singer. So that part's a toss up.

I haven't been tagged yet myself, and I'm greatful, frankly. I mean, if I feel the urge to cite random facts about myself that walk the line between boring and TMI, well, that's what the blog's for. I'm glad I don't have to do one. It's a real time killer, too. I mean 25 points takes a lot of effort, and by nineteen or so, you're resorting to things like "my nickname is Bubbles." It's more time-wasting nonsense that Facebook is, rightfully, famous for. Not to mention a symptom of the "I'm so interesting" modern culture that encourages everyone and their pet monkey to start a blog, or write a zine, or write a blog on their zine concerning their pet monkey. Some people don't HAVE 25 interesting things to say about themselves, and encouraging them is not a good idea. So I'm glad I don't have to do one.


Later Days.

P.S. I see great things ahead for the "desperation" tag. It's going places, baby.