Archive for April 2010
I used to work three miles from my favorite comics shop in uptown Phoenix, and I could pop over at lunchtime on Wednesday or Thursday as soon as the new issues came out. Then the bad economic situation forced the city to reduce library hours again, and I wound up being transferred from my small but easy-going branch to a big and busy branch. Now I’m ten miles away from the store, and weekday visits are a thing of the past.
The city of Phoenix has three good comics shops in town. One is a chain–Atomic comics, and their stores are all out on the fringes of town. Paradise Valley, Tempe, Metrocenter–good stores but they’re in the boondocks. The other two stores are independents. I patronize them about equally, and I know, and I like the people who work in both stores. One is All About Books and Comics on Central just north of Camelback Road. The other is Samurai comics at 10th Street and Camelback. Saturday, April 24, I took my son Corencio and his best friend Harley over to Samurai. I knew that there were 3 comics waiting for me, and the latest expansion set for Magic the Gathering has just come out–the Rise of the Eldrazi. We drove over about 1 p.m. pretty sure that good stuff would be waiting.
Samurai Comics, owned and operated by Mike and Moriya Banks, has just recently moved into larger quarters. It is great to see a small business expanding in crummy economic times like this. They got $70 of my money yesterday–they should be doing well.
The teens immediately went to the Magic cards to paw over the Eldrazi commons. I was kind of disappointed in them. I expected a lot of overpowered freaky new things, and what I saw was a lot of underpowered junk. I’ll review the Eldrazi some other time. The set does have some good and interesting stuff in it. Corencio has made an almost unbeatable deck out of a starter deck and the extra commons he bought, but you know, this isn’t the coolest new Magic expansion ever. (It got a lot of my money though–grrrrrrr!)
I walked around and admired some of the other things that Samurai has to offer. For example, they have a lot of cool toys for sale. I would love to have this set of Fantastic Four figures. But I don’t know what I’d do with it, if I did own it. There is no open space in my house where I could even put this power team.
(Dang, I’m so old that I read most of these comics when they first came out back in the sixties.)
I admit that I’m more of a DC fan, but Marvel had the best stuff on display at Samurai. I don’t even want this Venom head, but I admire it.
There wasn’t anything for me on the new comics shelf, not even the titles I was expecting. I guess The Spirit #1 and Justice League #43 had sold out. Actually, the Guild with two alternate covers was over there, but I didn’t take it because it was in my bag, waiting at the register. Good issue, too.
(This is the cover I didn’t get.)
But, while I was in the back of the store, I did pick up some vital info. Next Saturday, May 1, is free comic book day. I love free stuff. They don’t have to lure me into the store with the promise of free stuff–I’d be going in anyway, As it turns out, I have to work next Saturday, so it will be towards closing time when I get by Samurai to see what they’ve got. There has been a trend in comic stores lately to be stingy, and not let the fans have one of everything in the free comic book give away. I suppose I should be glad to get one free comic, but back in the day (2 or 3 years ago) you could walk into a comic shop on Free Comic Book Day and walk out again with enough good stuff to keep you reading for the rest of the month. I’m hoping for good stuff, and that it won’t be like that this year.
It seemed like I had given the teens plenty of time to drool on the new Magic cards so I made my way to the cash register where I had already lined up my purchases–three comics, two Eldrazi starter decks, and a few commons. The rare cards are great, but good Magic decks are built on well-chosen commons, imho. The boys came over with another fifteen dollars in cards to run my bill up. (They should have been paying for their own, but neither one had any money. One good thing about being old and having a job–you can afford to pay for your pleasures.) Harley paid me back when I got him home, but my son owes me $10.
Shannon was there to take my money. She has the job I wish Corencio would/could get. How cool would it be to work in a comic book store! I sure envy the young people of today who have that opportunity. When I retire, I’m gonna try like the devil to get hired part time in one of my favorite comics stores–just to be around the place.
(Shannon is a cool, calm, collected comics professional. And I don’t think she charged me for that Reece’s piece I had to eat while waiting for the teen boys. Thanks, Shannon!)
Finally, after almost an hour in the comics store we managed to make our getaway with bags full of goodies. Then we went over to Harley’s house and played Magic all afternoon. I didn’t win any games, but it was still a nice break from being chained to this computer trying to write the Chaotic 8th edition of Tunnels and Trolls.
In my humble opinion, Phoenix has some pretty damn good comics stores, and Samurai Comics is one of the best. Truthfully, I like it a lot better than Atomic and a little better than All About. I really spend way too much money on sequential narratives, but I’ve always loved them, and why should I stop just because I’ve grown ancient. In the words of the Terminator, “I’ll be back.”
(All digital camera work done by James “Corencio” St. Andre.)
I was born to have adventure.
Sometimes I forget that, but then something will happen that forces me to remember. Lately it has been dancing. Son Corencio–he who is taking the Salsa course at Arizona State University–and I went dancing last Friday night for the fourth time in a little over a month. We returned to the Fat Cat Ballroom in North Phoenix to learn how to cha cha. I’m really only going on these expeditions because he needs a driver to get back and forth–the ballrooms are a good fifteen miles from my home–but as long as I’m going, I might as well try it out and see what I can learn, right?
For our second and third trips we went to the Paragon Ballroom in Tempe. The second trip was actually a salsa class. I sat that one out. The class was very crowded, and the people were, for the most part, very young, late teens through early twenties. This old troll did not try to salsa, but now I’m sorry that I didn’t.
The third trip, which was a week ago Friday night was West Coast Swing. I danced that one, and I pretty much learned it–at least the basic steps. When the teacher got into the intermediate class which involved shoulder touching, double handed spins and winding up back to front, he pretty much lost me. I rather like West Coast Swing, and I’ve heard that opinion echoed by several people.
Last Friday’s trip back to the Fat Cat was to learn cha cha. That was Corencio’s decision. The alternative was bolero at the Paragon, and we’re probably not ready for bolero.
I had a heck of a time learning to cha cha last Friday. Luckily a woman named Susan (didn’t get her last name or a phone number–I’m there to dance, not romance) took pity on me, and decided that she would teach me this dance if it killed her. Thus, I wound up spending more than an hour with this very charming woman. (Note to self: take digital camera along and take some pictures if you keep doing this dancing stuff.)
This guy was my cha cha teacher.
This is what I learned. Stand facing your partner, hands lightly touching. Take one step to the left with the left foot. Bring the right foot back behind it. Rock forward on the left foot. Bring the right foot up level and one step to the right at the same time. That’s the first cha. Bring the left foot over and next to the right foot. That’s the second cha. Move the right foot over one more stop. That’s the third cha.
Cha cha cha!
But wait we’re not done. Now the woman sends her right foot back, and I put my left foot forward. Rock back on my right foot. Bring the left foot back and off to the left for a step. Cha! Right foot closes the gap. Cha! Left foot takes another step. Cha!
Cha cha cha!
That’s the basic dance. I had a helluva time getting that down. Susan showed me and showed me and showed me. I watched her feet and mirrored her steps as best I could. I had a hard time with the rock step in the middle. Seems like my weight was already on that foot, so why do i have to step forward on it again. Just couldn’t get that. Eventually, Susan had me just practice the rock step a bunch of times until I caught the motion and could do it.
But wait, there’s more! The basic simple dance never seems to be enough for these guys. So after you finish the cha cha cha part, on the last cha you release your partner’s outer hand, turn your body 90 degrees so you are no longer facing her, and let your own outer hand swing wide in a flourish. you do this at both ends of the cha cha cha part, and it really adds a little something to the dance. Over the course of the evening I actually got pretty good at this part, and for perhaps 10 to 20 seconds at a time, I actually looked like I was dancing.
During a break I took Susan through a couple passes of West Coast Swing. That actually went off without a hitch and showed I wasn’t a complete stumblebum.
And by the end of the evening I could almost, sort of, cha cha cha. I learned a lot, and I improved a lot. Am I any good? No. After one lesson of cha cha cha, I’m still terrible at it, but I have the gist.
My cha cha dancing clothes were not so fancy, but the steps looked sort of like this during the good part.
One thing I noticed is that my feet felt heavy. Even when I knew what I was doing, and was doing it correctly, I seemed a little slow. It felt like my feet stuck to the floor. I was wearing my one and only pair of shoes–a comfortable, but fairly heavy pair of work/dress shoes. They have low heels and rubber soles, and provide excellent traction. They grip the floor. That is not what you need shoes to do when you’re dancing and have to move your feet. Looking around, I saw that most of the other men there were either wearing tennis shoes, or low comfortable loafers. The women were in heels, some quite high. Susan told me that was to put the weight more on the balls of the feet. Makes sense to me.
So, Ken needs dancing shoes. What keeps me from being a natural dancer seems to be three things: 1. I’m old, but there were people there older than me, and they were very good, 2. I have a bad sense of balance–several times I lost it, and went staggering away from my partner trying not to fall down, and 3. my feet are heavy and slow. It seems to me that better shoes would help a lot with that third condition.
Corencio’s assignment for the Salsa class is over. He has written his four paragraphs about outside the classroom dancing, and only has to turn them in. He had fun last Friday. He connected with a girl he knew slightly from class, and the two of them really seemed to get along. Ah, young love! I’m glad for him. Will we go out dancing again at one of these places? I don’t know. It’s really up to Corencio now to say he wants to go. I’m willing, because dancing is fun.
Yes, learning to perform simple patterns of movement with a partner is fun. It must be even more fun to be able to perform complex patterns of movement. Dance is fun. I wish I had gotten into it decades ago.
But, if I go again, I really have to get me some new dancing shoes!
There is so much good stuff published for Young Adults these days. There was really nothing like it back in the day when I was a teenager. In those days I searched libraries and bookstores for any kind of ancient fantasy that the world had forgotten, because there wasn’t anything new for readers like me. I sure wish I was a Young Adult instead of a Young-at-Heart Adult. Kids have no idea how great things are for them right now.
The Good Neighbors written by Holly Black and illustrated by Ted Naifeh. Graphix, c.2008. 2 v. 117 p. 115 p. all illlus.
I suppose the lesson is that there is no happy ever after. Sometimes there is happy now, and sometimes you don’t even get that much.
Once there was a man named Thaddeus Silver who won a fairy princess for his wife. He brought her back to the human world, and she gave him a daughter that they named Rue. Thaddeus got older, but his fairy wife didn’t. Thaddeus found himself needing human love. He cheated on his wife, and by doing so, lost her. (Well, that’s what usually happens when people cheat in a relationship—they lose the one they cheated on.)
But families and relationships don’t end that simply. And there is nothing simple about Rue’s family on her mother’s side. It is ruled by a tall, demonic fellow named Aubrey (I’m sure the resemblance to Aubrey Beardsley, Victorian illustrator of the weird, is no accident.) Aubrey has a plan to conquer a human city and swamp it in the world of Faery. That plan requires some sacrifices.
And some of those sacrifices are Rue’s best human friends.
Since this is a fairy tale, I’m not surprised to see that Ms. Black has worked the tale of Thomas the Rhymer into it. The Tam character is about the most sympathetic in the book, and turns out to be Rue’s best friend. It takes her a long time to realize that. (I am making an unjustified assumption here–an assumption that you, the reader of this blog, are moderately familiar with fairy tales, including the classic Tam Lin, or the old english poem about Thomas the Rhymer. Obviously both Holly Black and Ted Naifeh know these sources. If you don’t know these tales, do some research. I have given you enough clues in this review, but I’m not going to retell those stories here.)
The Good Neighbors is a graphic novel. Ted Naifeh’s art is brilliant, dark, and emotional in nature. There is a visual treat on every page. If this were simply a novel, it would probably be an 800 page monstrosity, but since it is a comic, so much of the strangeness is telescoped into the art. The author doesn’t have to describe how someone feels when the reader can see it for herself.
The Faery lore exhibited in this book is first rate. Anyone who reads it can learn a lot about the world of the Unseen. The infinite variety of the Elfin host really pops out of the pages at the reader.
Highly recommended to everyone who enjoys urban fantasy.
–Ken St. Andre
Don’t Take Your Brain to the Movies
(Medusa the Huntress-best monster in the movie)
Last Sunday (April 11) I got to see Clash of the Titans—regular old 2D in my neighborhood movie theater. I took my son and his best friend—they are the ones who really wanted to see it. I had read a few lukewarm reviews, but what the hell do critics know anyway? I try to never let reviews keep me from seeing something I want to see, or influence me into going to see something I don’t want to see.
Let me say right now that the special effects were excellent. You will believe that a horse can fly. You will believe in scorpions larger than elephants, and a kraken the size of Rhode Island. You will believe that Medusa was a lamia—half woman, half giant serpent, faster than lightning, and more deadly than a cobra. You will believe in Olympos. You will believe that the ancient Greeks had the coolest-looking ships in history.
You just won’t believe in the story. So, don’t try. Leave your brain at home, and enjoy the movie as pure visual spectacle. Let me say that my admiration for the Special Effects artists, the computer graphics guys, the set designers, the costumers and the people playing the bit parts in these computer generated spectaculars is growing all the time. I wish my imagination worked as well as theirs does. What can be put on the screen today is amazing.
I asked my 19 year-old son what he thought of the movie. He said it was average. He said HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON was better. How to train your dragon was pure animation—instead of human actors working in front of a blue screen surrounded by computer effects—and it had a real story that worked. You got to know the characters, and to like them. The dragon story made sense. The Greek mythology story didn’t.
One thing I noticed about Clash of the Titans was that almost all of the moviemakers were American. That means the movie was pure Hollywood. And the truth is that Hollywood movies haven’t been really good for a long time now. Especially the Big Budget ones! No originality left in Hollywood, except in the fantastic craftsmanship of the little people. Like I said, the artists were amazing. The bit part actors were superb.
And now a few whys! Why did the movie have Liam Neeson as Zeus and Ralph Fiennes as Hades? Their roles were neither important nor dramatic. Any bit part actors with beards could have taken those roles, and probably done them better. Neeson really seemed miscast. Fiennes was nasty, and Hades should be nasty, but he was just another z-grade villain dressed in black. His minions were a lot more impressive. Why is Sam Worthington, he of the blue face in Avatar—the 22nd century space marine, starring as Perseus? Has Hollywood run out of hunks that they have to use the same ones over and over? I didn’t buy him as Perseus. He’d look a lot better as G.I. Joe.
Who was good? The actresses who played Andromeda, Io, and Cassiopia were terrific. Alexa Davalos played Andromeda. Polly Walker played her good-looking but arrogant mother Cassiopeia. Gamma Arterton played the immortal Io, who was the true heroine of the movie.
The script writers butchered the story of Perseus rather badly. Yes, he was the son of Zeus, but his mother Danae was not killed by her husband Acrisius. In fact Acrisius was Danae’s father, not her husband. Afraid that her child would kill him, he imprisoned her in a room open to the sky. That was too tempting for Zeus, who was something of an immortal Casanova in those days. He came to her as a shower of gold, and got her pregnant. We don’t need the Arthurian trick of Zeus pretending to be Acrisius to get at his wife. Nor did Hades kill Perseus’ foster parents at any time. Danae married her rescuer Dictys and lived long and happily, eventually becoming queen of the island of Seriphos. Hades really isn’t a bad guy in Greek mythology. It is simple-minded Americans who associate him with Hell, and thus Satan, and have to turn him into the villain of the story every time.
Another thing, it really was Athena who helped Perseus slay the Gorgon. He had to make an epic journey, but he did it by himself wearing winged sandals that Hermes gave him. No loyal but doomed flunkies from Argos had to go with him. Zeus doesn’t actually appear in the story of Perseus except for his casual rape of Danae.
(The old Greeks didn’t wear a lot of clothing. Zeus goes wooing.)
As for Pegasus, the winged horse sprang full-grown from the neck of Medusa when Perseus cut her head off. He never rode the flying horse. That honor was reserved for a guy named Belerophon somewhat later in Greek mythic history.
Cassiopeia did anger a god by bragging about her beauty, but it was Poseidon who lost his cool and sent a sea monster to destroy either the city or Andromeda—whichever came first. Andromeda was not princess of Argos, but of what was probably the seacoast city of Joppa in Palestine, and after her rescue, she did marry him. Perseus didn’t turn her down and go off to be with his mythical guardian nymph Io.
(how to meet girls)
And the moral of all this setting the facts straight is that you can’t get your knowledge of either history or mythology from the movies. They always mess it up.
Oh, yeah, and the Titans, who were the actual parents of the Greek gods were never destroyed by a kraken. Their own children defeated them, and piled mountains on top of them to keep them out of the way.
And those are just a few of the glaring holes in the story. I could go on for pages, but like I say, leave your brain at home, and enjoy the movie for lovely costumes and breath-taking special effects.
Brom. THE CHILD THIEF; a novel. HarperCollins, c2009. 481 p. illus.
No Captain Hook. No Tinkerbelle. No Wendy and her brothers in pajamas. No pirates and no Indians. No flying. No third star to the right and straight on till morning. No Neverland. Brom’s 2009 novel, THE CHILD THIEF, is Peter Pan as you have never seen him before.
Scottish novelist James M. Barrie first created Peter Pan as a character in his story “The Little White Bird” way back in 1902. He really gave form to the character in his novel “Peter and Wendy in 1911. The original Peter Pan was the boy who wouldn’t grow up, and that’s what I admired most about him—that he clung to his childhood and immortality when everyone else surrendered, grew up, grew old, and died. That original character was not quite the impish prankster that Disney made out of the character. He was more of a heartless sociopath—a child without a conscience.
Neverland is replaced with the Isle of Avalon—Arthurian and Celtic overtones are fully intended. This is a fairyland ruled by Modron, also known as the Lady (as in The Lady of the Lake), full of all the creatures of Faery. It is, however, not a happy place. It is a dying place, plagued with horrors on all sides.
And into this world Peter brings the lost children. He looks for those who are lost, abandoned, and desperate, and lures them into the Mists to arrive in Avalon where they never grow old and die. They just die. He brings them to be his soldiers in the centuries-long war with the Flesh Eaters, corrupted Pilgrims who came to the Enchanted Island by chance, wreaked havoc with their guns and intolerant Christianity, were trapped there and turned into monsters.
Brom’s island is somewhat more complicated than either Barrie’s or Disney’s. The old Celtic gods lived there, most notably Herne, the Horned One. And Avallach, and Modron, and Jenny Greenteeth! And there is a troll, rather an admirable character, named Tanngnost. (I’m glad there was a troll in the story.)
With a little more discretion on the author’s part THE CHILD THIEF could have been a great Young Adult novel, but Brom lives in a very nasty gritty world where the only word anyone has to express pain, fear, and frustration is the participle of fuck. I have to say that I got fucking tired of all the fucking language in the mouths of all the fucked-up characters. But after a while, I focused on the action and didn’t give a fuck about the fucking conversations any more.
Language aside, this is a strong and memorable novel that will haunt you long after you finish reading it. Brom also illustrated it superbly with pencil drawings and paintings. He can do great moody portraits—doesn’t seem to be that interested in illustrating the action scenes. I’d recommend the book to anyone who is a fan of strong fantasy.
–Ken St. Andre, April 13, 2009
Libraries are cool. Enter a new library, and you never know what you’ll find. The City of Phoenix (more properly Library Administration) switched me from the tiny community Century branch to the large, extremely busy Palo Verde branch last week. I picked up lots of new duties as a librarian, and I’ve found all kinds of stuff on the shelves over there that I’ve never seen before, including lots of graphic novels. Today’s blog concerns an Elseworlds graphic novel about Batman from 1999.
One of the earliest comics I remember was about Batboy and Rubin from Mad Magazine. The diminutive duo were trying to track down a serial killer who punched holes in the victim’s toes and then drained all the blood from their body. It turned out that Batboy himself was the killer, and his sidekick Rubin was his last victim, because . . .dun, dun, DUNNH!–HE WAS A VAMPIRE BATBOY!
This imaginary story starts with Batman the vampire lying in his coffin staked through the heart. Good old Alfred did that for him after Batman last control and killed the Joker. Now if there was ever anyone who deserved killing, it was Mr. J. and the only bad thing about a vampire killing the Joker is the idea that he might come back as a joker vampire. Still, Bruce Wayne was racked with guilt by it, and he committed vampire suicide.
Vampire suicide is really boring and after a month or two of having his body rot away, he really wishes his undead afterlife was more fatal. Then Gothan City goes to Hell in a big way–all the remaining bat-freak villains–Penguin, Riddler, Black Mask gang get out of control and Commissioner Gordon and Alfred decide to bring him back. This turns out to be a really bad idea.
A really bad idea for all the freak criminals in Gotham City. Vampire Batman eats them. Then he goes and eats all the criminals incarcerated in Arkham Asylum. He leaves a note for Doctor Arkham. “You can go home now. Your work is done.” Doug Moench got to do what every Batman scripter must be dying to do–kill the Batman villains. He does so with glee. Ghastly hideous deaths are doled out to them all. Bloody.
And it was fun to read, and I raced right through it, but I have to wonder . . . why do artists love to do hdeous, hideous artwork, and then get it published? Kelley Jones, John Beatty, and Gregory Wright have combined here to create the worst, imho, Batman art of all time. Every single picture is hideous, twisted, murky, gory, symbolic, twisted and demonic. None of the characters look anything like our standard images of Gordon, Pennyworth, Dent, Cobblepot, et al. Hideous, hideous, hideous, and done with such skill.
You can probably guess how this tale ends. So I won’t mention it.
But I leave you with this question, why does everyone want to kill the Batman? I wonder how many Death of the Batman stories have been done since the character was created. Dozens? Hundreds? Do you think Batman dies–vicariously at least once a year?
I have always liked Barbara Gordon. I liked her when she was Batgirl fifty years ago in my youth, and I like her now as Oracle. What is not to like? Smart, tough, red-haired, voluptuous, and at one time a librarian—my perfect woman. Since the Joker’s bullet shattered her spine and made her a paraplegic, she has developed a new super power—absolute mastery of computers.
(And come to think of it, computer mastery is a kind of super power in the 21st century. Those of us who know something about computers have advantages over those who don’t. I don’t know nearly as much as I should, but dang it, you really have to study to keep up these days, and I’m an old grown-up with a job. I don’t have time or energy for computer study. I pick up what I can, when I can, and compared to the average adult that I see here in the library, I have kind of third-rate computer super powers. It is brains that Barbara uses now—and I tell you, it is a joy to see intelligence get its due as a human super power.)
(While I’m philosophizing, I have to say that I consider it completely unfair that comic book characters get to remain forever young and beautiful, cheat death, exist in multiple universes simultaneously, and have super powers while out here in Mundania I’m coming to the end of my run and don’t have any of those abilities. Totally! Not! Fair!)
BG aka Oracle has recruited her own band of super heroes/heroines and they’re known as the Birds of Prey. Yes, Good Girl comics live on, and judging from the racks at Samurai Comics here in Phoenix, they are more popular than ever. The Birds have a rotating cast consisting of Huntress, Black Canary, Lady Blackhawk, Manhunter, a teenager called Misfit, and they usually tackle the same kind of street crime that keeps Batman and Green Arrow busy. In her bountiful spare time, Oracle also maintains databases and does free lance computer investigations for Batman and the Justice League of America—she coordinates America’s super hero community.
Platinum Flats is the fourth or fifth graphic novel from DC in the last few years starring the Birds of Prey. Having left Metropolis behind, they are now headquartered in a ritzy suburb of Star City called Platinum Flats. It is a sort of San Jose to Star City which is a kind of substitute San Francisco. This time they are up against the Silicon Syndicate—a group of criminal geniuses who mostly avoid the flashy kind of cartoon villainy and go for big profits instead. The comic is full of computer jokes. The bad guys control companies like EBuy and Youface. I should have taken better notes–I wonder how many of those in-jokes there are.
Except that in this episode the Joker is just back from Outer Space, and decides to cut himself into the action, which he does in typical ruthless Joker fashion. And that leads to him confronting Barbara Gordon one on one, determined to finish the job he botched so many years ago. Yes, there is a Joker/Barbara showdown, and I’ve never loved or respected her more than during this confrontation.
If you’re a comics fan, do yourself a favor. Get a copy of Platinum Flats, or at least go to your local library and read it. D.C. is at the top of its game with this one. Five Stars out of four in my ratings book.
[And speaking of comics fans, I’ve always been one, but it may be that more of these blogs will be comics oriented in the futue. I have taken a new position in the Phoenix Library system that doesn’t allow me as much computer time as I’ve had in the past. That means I will have more reading time, and in my current position, I’ll have more graphic novels and things to read–hence more blogs about comics. You’ve been warned. 🙂 ]