Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Trick or Treat!

For Sera it was definitely a treat. Her first Halloween was spent in our subdivision going from house to house. In our small neighborhood almost everyone participates in the fall ritual. Our little bumblebee saw so many new children she didn't know what to do with herself. As we walked from house to house, we ran into people we know but rarely see, including the other two Chinese children in our 38-home subdivision. Sera already knows Paige well, but this was the first time she met the other girl. Ironically, her parents are also teachers. It really made my night to see Sera so excited. She ran most of the way through the trick-or-treating, but finally started to wear down after an hour, and her hands were like ice, so we decided to call it a night.

A year ago, no one could have adequately described the joy of being a father. This is the best thing I have ever done.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Wild Cards XVII: Death Draws Five

I LOVED this book!

As I've written before, I am a huge fan of the Wild Cards series and it's been a long time since I've read a really good Wild Cards book. This was the one I've been waiting for for about 15 years. The first seven books of the series were very strong. But the ones that followed wandered a bit too far from the premise and expanded the universe a bit too much for my tastes. I think it's because Chris Claremont joined the group of writers!

Anyway, Wild Cards XVII: Death Draws Five gets right back into the nitty gritty of the Wild Cards universe. It's been 16 years since Fortunato left America for a Japanese monastery, and his and Peregrine's son, 16-year old John Fortune, has turned his wild card. For the uninitiated, 90% of the Wild Card virus' victims die horribly, 9% become disfigured Jokers, and 1% become powered Aces. It doesn't look good for young John until he becomes an Ace, with a 1-in-10,000 longshot! While watching a "Siegfried and Ralph" tiger show in Las Vegas, John's Ace power of healing shows up just in time to save Ralph after he is mauled by one of his own white tigers. Like Law & Order, it's ripped from the headlines!

Unfortunately for John, there are forces at work to claim him. One is former President Leo Barnett's Secret Service agent Billy Ray (Carnifex) and the Midnight Angel, a new Ace in the service of President Barnett, who just happens to think that John Fortune is the second coming of Jesus Christ. As if that wasn't enough, the Catholic Church sends the Allumbrados (Enlightened Ones) after John because they believe that he is the Anti-Christ.

I'll leave the rest of the book to you, the reader, as John is the focus of a massive manhunt by highly motivated and even fanatical predators. We do get to see several old friends besides Fortunato, and among them are some of my favorite Wild Cards characters, like Yeoman and Wraith. It's good to see what they've been up to these past several years, since Wild Cards takes place in real time instead of comic book time. Fortunato is 62 years old now, and arthritic. This book made me feel young!

Unlike most of the Wild Cards books, this one was written by a single author, John J. Miller, who was the creator of many of the characters featured in the novel. Miller will also be working on the Wild Cards universe for Mutants & Masterminds, a game in which I've become interested. He's writing the campaign setting, so I'm really looking forward to that project.

I hesitate to add criticism to a review of a novel that I enjoyed so much, but the proofreading in this book was atrocious. And it was bad enough that the misspellings distracted me as a reader enough to take me out of the story. The phrase "guilty conscious" was used twice on the same page when the author meant to use "guilty conscience." That's just bad editing.

Overall, though, I give this book my highest recommendation. If you haven't read a Wild Cards book in a while, pick this one up. You won't regret it.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Attack of the Corn Cannon!

Foomp!That's right, it's a corn cannon. It's basically a tube hooked up to an air compressor. You shove an old corn cob down the tube and when the pressure is built up, you pull the trigger. The corn flies out at about 90 miles per hour. We saw one in action yesterday at Thistleberry Farms, a nice little farm outside of South Bend where they have fun attractions for the whole family. Here in the midwest, we have to make use of our farmland after the harvest is over, and this is how we do it! First, there was a corn maze complete with trivia questions at certain intersections to help you find your way through. For you city folk, the corn stalks remain standing after the corn has been picked, and the farmers cut maze patterns out of them. I guess you could call it a maize maze. Then, there was a barn where you could see live horses, rabbits, and chickens. This was Sera's favorite part of the day by far. Here are some not-so-favorites:

Here is Sera abandoning the horse she had sat on for all of two seconds. She didn't enjoy it very much as you can see. Fortunately we didn't pay for a pony ride. We just wanted to see if she would sit yet. Maybe next year.

Here's Sera in the cat cutout. Again, didn't care for it.

At right is the entrance to the barn. This would mark her third trip inside to see the animals. This is what she enjoyed the most. She kind of wears her emotions out on her sleeve, doesn't she?

Thistleberry Farms also had pedal-powered go carts, a concession stand, and a playground set up. Sera loved the playground and we enjoyed a nice hot cider with whipped cream and caramel on top.
I've had better days, but not many!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Twenty Years Ago...I Behaved Badly

Twenty Years Ago...Aegis took a week off!

In writing these remembrances of the Aegis roleplaying game campaign, I'm pleased that they bring back memories of good times, but I'm also reminded of behavior that I regret. Back in those days, I was very brash and outspoken, and tact was a four-letter word to me. I was proud, aggressive, and arrogant. I know I pushed away far more people than I attracted as friends. Playing my character Silverwing as a true-blue patriot helped with that. I thought at that time that I could never live up to his ideals of justice and fair play as I wrote them. Occasionally I played other characters whose darker sides more accurately reflected my own personality. I didn't know why my personality was so dark at the time, but I sure do now. Abuse at the hands of my stepfather had left long-lasting scars that were very deep. I didn't know how deep until about ten years ago when I got a second chance at making a life for myself.

I had spent eight long years teaching high school in Gary, Indiana. I took the job after two years of trying to find a teaching job in Kalamazoo where my then-wife's family lived, but to no avail. Gary was hiring during a tough stretch of teacher surpluses. We looked at living in Michigan City, which was a half-hour drive from Gary, but also a 40-minute drive to my friends in South Bend. It worked in the short-term, but I wanted to get closer to where my friends were so I could do more than just game once a week with them. Most of them went to the movies and things together too, and I wanted to be part of that circle. But, I stayed in Gary entirely too long.

Most people think that when I speak poorly of working in Gary, that I'm referring to the students or the parents there. Nothing could be further from the truth. I had students there who worked their rear ends off to make something of themselves and I'm proud to say that I had a part in helping them succeed. No, when I worked there I saw corruption that goes beyond anything I had seen before or have seen since. I saw teachers who didn't show up for classes. I saw computer equipment for which I had helped write a federal grant stolen by administrators and given to their children who were going off to college. I saw a teacher wipe his nose and clean his finger off on a doorknob so that students wouldn't ask to use the restroom. When I was head baseball coach I was threatened by a person who had applied to be my assistant because I had him removed from consideration because he didn't stay on the field during a cold game and got back on the bus while the kids and I stayed out to finish the game. His defense for his behavior was that I was a racist. The final straw was when I attended graduation and two students were shot at the Genesis Center.

To say that I was happy to escape that den of corruption and incompetence would be the understatement of the century. I started work in Elkhart and things really turned around. I began to feel better about myself and I moved to Mishawaka, South Bend's bordering city. Suddenly I was able to see my friends whenever I wanted! We would go to see movies, play disc golf, and have dinner together. It was just what I wanted, but something was still missing.

A year later, nine years ago tomorrow, I met the most wonderful woman I could ever imagine. A year and a half after that, we were married. Magi (pronounced mah-ghee) put things into perspective for me. She showed me that I had value, and that I was not damaged beyond repair. She had faith in me, believed in me, and has never, ever let me down. I wish that I was as good a husband as she is a wife. I'm always trying to improve, but she sets a really high mark. We built a house outside of South Bend, and now with most wonderful daughter in the world I have the life I never thought was attainable only 10 years ago.

I have had to work hard to prove to people that I have changed over the past several years. I still have the same tendencies that I had before, but I am quite a bit better than I was. I am certainly going to continue to improve myself in that regard. I like to think of it the way the Question once did in his comic book. I am "becoming." That is to say, I'm a work in progress.

I am about to start playing in a new superhero game. I no longer have to try to understand a character who believes that good things can happen. I can relate personally to that belief. In 1993, I had this convention sketch drawn by Matt Feazell of my character Domino to prove to my skeptical friends that he would not be one of my typically dark self-portraits. Now, in 2007 when I play Domino, it will be true.

Tomorrow: Attack of the Corn Cannon!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

View Master

Have you ever owned one of these? I have had a View Master since before I could read. I love them. Despite the fact that you can now practically buy a DVD player and movies for the same price as the viewer and reels these days, I got one for my daughter today. It's the one in the middle. It's quite an improvement over the original. The reel loads in the top of the viewer horizontally instead of vertically, like the older ones seen at the left and right. It also transitions between slides more easily than the old ones. The viewer on the left I got for Christmas in 1978 as part of the Marvel All-Star Gift Pak. You just can't beat Ditko's Doctor Strange in 3-D! I just got the canister out again to see what I had in it as far as old reels go. I was pleasantly surprised to find three sets of Batman (1966 TV show, Batman #251: Joker's Five-Way Revenge, Batman The Animated Series) reels, as well as the Six Million Dollar Man, Jungle Book, AristoCats, assorted DC and Marvel heroes from Gift Paks, and a really cool one: The Cisco Kid from 1950 (right), which belonged to my dad when he was a kid.

If you never had a View Master, basically it's a stereoscope. You have two photographic slides on either side of the reel, and they are scaled differently in focus to provide the illusion of depth when you view it with both eyes. In the middle there is a short caption for the slide you are currently looking at. When you press down on the slider, it rotates the slide so that the next pair lock into place and you are ready to view the next one. Each reel has seven sets of slides and there are usually three reels per set. The viewer now sells for about $5.00 and the reels for about $3.00 per set.

As I found out at the National Restaurant Association show a few years ago, there's even a
company that makes custom View Master reels for promotions!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Message Boards and the Truth

Okay, today I will talk about factual dishonesty on message boards!

I was on the Detroit Tigers message board today where there were, as usual, a bunch of people bashing third baseman Brandon Inge. I grow weary of discussing baseball with people who can't do fifth grade math, specifically comparing decimals. One of the complaints about Inge was his failure to hit with runners in scoring position (RISP). I did a quick check on CBS Sportsline's website and sure enough, Brandon Inge was better than half the team with RISP, including superstars Gary Sheffield, Curtis Granderson, Carlos Guillen, and Sean Casey, who get criticized far less.

I would have let the whole thing go after I posted the research, but one guy just said, "I don't think so." That's his argument? "I don't think so?" Wow, I hope he thought long and hard about that one! Are people so intellectually lazy that they just don't care if they are misrepresenting the truth? I'm not talking about opinion. I'm talking about cold, hard fact.

Last year a guy on that message board claimed that Chicago White Sox fans were low class because of an incident that occurred in the 19th century. I calmly explained to him that at the time the incident occurred, the team we now know as the Chicago White Sox was a minor league team located in St. Paul, Minnesota. They only became the Chicago White Sox in 1901, when the American League was founded. Furthermore the team calling itself the Chicago White Sox at that time became the Chicago Cubs. He wasn't even talking about the same team!

He didn't let that get in the way of his rant. He raved on and on and on about how White Sox fans were classless because of this incident.

I just don't get how people, even when confronted with incontrovertible fact, maintain that their unsubstantiated claims are true just because they say they are.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Digital Comics

I know that there are lots of people who insist that comic books should be read in their monthly "floppy" form. There are people who insist that trade paperbacks are the way of the future. I'll take digital comics.

My first foray into the medium was quite satisfying. I'd seen the collections of 40 years worth of comics for around $50.00 but I didn't want to jump all the way in that far just yet. So I picked up this Avengers disc at Borders last week and have thoroughly enjoyed it. For $10.99 (before discount) I got 100 issues of Avengers. This disc covers the issues beginning with Heroes Return (vol. 3 #1) and running all the way through New Avengers #1-25. I had read the first issues back when Kurt Busiek and George Perez were working on the title, but I hadn't yet seen any of the Bendis stuff. It's pretty entertaining! I certainly feel like I got my money's worth out of this purchase.

Basically what you get is a no-frills disc with printable .pdf files of scanned pages. So you get covers, ads, letter columns (remember those?) and everything. It was a good deal, and this weekend I'll be going back to get the Fantastic Four set. I'll probably put the larger sets on my birthday and Christmas lists for my wife to buy if she wishes.

I like this whole idea because we plan to travel when we retire, and I just can't see hauling long boxes all over the country. If I want to read comics, I'll just fire up the computer. If I want to take a comic with me somewhere to read, I'll just print one out and staple it together.

It would be great if other companies jump on this as well. I would love to dump my long boxes of Batman and Detective and just throw a couple of discs in my organizer. I'd keep about 10 comics that have sentimental value and sell the rest. I would also love to read some never-reprinted issues of Justice League of America from the 1970s. Now that I think about it, I would love to read a lot of comics that I wasn't allowed to read back in the 1970s that have never been reprinted. I've been anxiously awaiting the new Showcase Presents Jonah Hex #2 to come out. I think having Jonah's entire run collected in color on one DVD-ROM would be extremely cool.

I'd like to hear your thoughts on digital comics!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The World Series

Game 1 of the World Series starts tonight. It brings back bittersweet memories from last season, because that's where I was at this time.

Magi and I had been to all the Tigers' home playoff games to that point thanks to my friend Ann, who got tickets for us. I had been able to acquire tickets to Game 6 in Detroit myself. They were standing room only, but they would have done just fine...had the Tigers not lost the Series in Game 5 in St. Louis. Despite the loss, I still got to see my team play in the World Series, thanks to my buddy Doug. He works for a local store chain and got us tickets as the guests of a large soft drink company. We drove to Detroit that day, and drove home again that night. The Tigers lost the game, but the atmosphere was electric. We were given several promotional items, including XM radios, rally towels, commemorative pins, the works! I bought pennants and programs and we just plain had fun. It was a night to remember!

I don't much care who wins this World Series, but I do hope it's well-played and exciting. I love this game!

Play ball!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Question

I was going to write a curmudgeonly post today about factual misrepresentation on Internet message boards, but I decided that life is too short. I’d rather write about something I like.

The Question (1987) is one of my all-time favorite comic book series. Written by Dennis O’Neil and drawn by Denys Cowan and Rick Magyar, the series takes a new view of an old Charlton character created by Steve Ditko. In the original version, Vic Sage was a hard-hitting Hub City journalist who had an alter ego created by placing a false skin over his face and bonding it to his skin with a gas invented by Aristotle Rodor.

In this newer version, Vic Sage investigates corruption in Hub City, as the sinister Reverend Hatch has sunk his influential claws into the drunken mayor Wesley Fermin. Sage but meets an untimely demise at the hands of Lady Shiva and the Reverend Hatch’s goons by the end of his first issue. They break most of his bones, shoot him in the head with a small-caliber handgun, and dump his body in the river. For all intents and purposes, Vic Sage and the Question are dead on the last page of issue #1.

In issue #2, many of Ditko’s influences are replaced by O’Neil’s as Sage is seemingly brought back to life by Shiva’s healing skills. He wakes in Richard Dragon’s mountain home. Richard Dragon, whose comic book series in the 1970s was also written by O’Neil, trains Sage from a wheelchair. The acerbic, violent Vic Sage slowly transforms into a zen warrior-philosopher whose central personality trait is curiosity.

I didn’t read the Ditko version of the Question, so I didn’t have the background to make any comparisons as did many vocal readers who complained that this version of the character was too radically different from the original. Instead, I saw this character as a refreshing change from the dark and gritty post-Dark Knight pantheon of superheroes. The Question (who never called himself that, by the way) weaved his way through adventures seeking answers to fundamental questions about himself and the world, resorting to violence only when it was necessary.

Denys Cowan’s artwork ranged from polished to downright sketchy as the series progressed. Rick Magyar’s inks really helped them for the first two years, but when he was replaced by Malcolm Williams III, the inks got just as sketchy as the pencils. One of the highlights of the series for me was the authenticity of the martial arts. I recognized some of the techniques used in the series from my own brief Karate training (two and a half years). Denys Cowan also paid attention to men’s fashion, which was extremely unusual for a comic book artist. Since Vic Sage basically just put a mask on and changed the color of whatever clothes he was wearing to become the Question, Cowan often had him dressed very well. The length of the Question’s hair grew as the character continued to evolve over the three-year run of the series. That added a level of believability to what was normally considered to be a two-dimensional art form.

The 36 monthly issues of The Question were supplemented by two annuals, the first of which are among my favorite issues of the series. Question Annual #1 was part of a three-part crossover among Green Arrow, the Question, and Detective Comics (featuring Batman). At that time, they were the three main non-powered heroes in the DC universe and I thought it was pretty cool to team them up and explore their philosophical differences. Readers also got to see Batman from another character’s perception:

Green Arrow: “I just thought you swung down from rooftops and cleaned bad guys’ clocks.”

Batman: “Sometimes I do. That accounts for about four percent of my activity. The rest of my time is spent finding out things.”

The Question was written like a 36-issue limited series. It had a definite ending planned. When the series concluded, it as followed by The Question Quarterly, which followed the main characters beyond the scope of Hub City. It didn’t engage the reader in the same way the series had, and ended after only a few issues.

My enjoyment of this character flowed over into our long-running Champions campaign. When the gamemaster at that time, Craig Merrick, killed off our world’s version of the Question to advance a storyline, I was upset. I had requested an appearance by the character because half the fun of playing a game set in a comic book world is having your character meet other characters of whom you are a fan. Once that happened, Craig bumped him off. From that point on I sought revenge. Craig had a way of beginning an interrogative statement. He would look at a person and say something like, “Question—what is your character doing right now?” or “Question—what color is your character’s costume?” Every time thereafter that he began a sentence that way, to anyone, I would interrupt:

Craig, looking at Eric: “Question—“

Me: “He’s dead.”

Craig, looking at Doug: “Question—“

Me: “Still dead.”

I’m sure that got annoying after a while, but back then I was that guy. I’m not that guy now, and a lot of that has to do with this comic book series.

I learned a lot from The Question. It opened me up to philosophy that I had not previously considered. I read books from Denny O’Neil’s monthly recommended reading list. I tried a little more introspection. I questioned my childhood and my adult reaction to it. I started studying Karate, and maintained that study for two and a half years, reaching brown belt (I got injured and had to stop for a long time. Then I moved away.) I was amazed at how much a comic book series could change a person.

When the Question returned in the recent Huntress: Cry for Blood miniseries, I saw hope for the first time in over 15 years that this version of the Question was back. When the Huntress crossed a line by accidentally shooting Batman with a crossbow bolt, she realized that she needed help. Vic Sage took her to Richard Dragon for training. He recognized some of his formerly angry self in her. The Question and Huntress began a relationship after that, but it was unfortunately doomed as her inner demons proved too strong for the training to overcome and she went back to her killing ways. To me the Huntress was doomed, but it looked good for the Question to get another shot at comics.
Naturally, DC starred him in a universe-wide crossover event and killed him off by giving him lung cancer.

This event would have made me really upset fifteen years ago. I can just see myself in the audience of a panel at a comic book convention:

Moderator: “We’ll now take questions from the audience.”

Me: “You can’t. He’s dead!”

Now, though, I have to look at it like this: Denny O’Neil has retired from comics, Denys Cowan has moved on to produce animation, and the character would have only been a shadow of his former self anyway. It was probably for the best. Sadly, though, this is symptomatic of what DC has been doing lately. Right now they’re killing off the New Gods, from what I understand. Jim Starlin, master of comic book death (a future blog post subject) is calling it “a mercy killing.” I can’t help but think that’s what the Question’s death was too.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Better Living through Technology

I am admittedly a tech guy. I don't go all googly-eyed over a new graphics card or game system, but I do love to find new ways to make my quality of life better.

I previously wrote about Old-Time Radio (OTR) here, and I love listening to the old shows through my cathedral-style radio, which has a cassette player in the side. The only problem is that cassettes of OTR shows are expensive and there is a lot of overlap. I don’t know how many copies of “War of the Worlds” I’ve received in OTR sets. Quite often, you can find bargains on these shows in .mp3 format on CD-ROM. You can buy literally hundreds of episodes for $10 or so. Where else are you going to find that kind of entertainment bargain?

The only problem with the .mp3 format is that it wouldn’t play over my cathedral radio. I looked online and couldn’t find an old-style radio with an .mp3 player in it. But a little thought brought something to mind. If they have iPod trasmitters for cars, why couldn’t I use one of those to transmit to the cathedral radio? I checked with the one my wife has for her iPod Shuffle, but its only power source was the power outlet in the car. A little deeper search revealed just the thing. The Belkin F8V3080 TuneCast II Mobile FM Transmitter runs on AAA batteries, and can plug not only into my iPod to play over my radio, but it can be plugged into a computer, a portable CD player, even my XM Radio docking station. I can now listen to virtually all sources of Old-Time Radio through my cathedral radio!

While it has a bit of noise in the transfer as most FM transmitters do, that’s usually not an issue with OTR recordings because they have noise in them anyway. It does nothing to break the illusion that you are listening like they did in the old days.

Now who is going to come up with a battery-powered AM transmitter so fans can listen to these old shows on their actual antique radios? Sounds like I might have to get to work!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Twenty Years Ago..."The Magnificent Seven!"

Aegis #161
October 25, 1987

“The Magnificent Seven”
Gamemaster: Doug Fisher

Acting team leader Prism was dispatched to investigate a break-in at the residence of one Dr. Valarik Jarlson, better known as Thunderfist (seen at right). Upon her arrival, she found the house in disarray, with burn marks on the walls. After feeling a slight tremor, she went outside to find the police who had arrived, temporarily blinded and off their feet. Following this investigation, a man named Jonathan Hawker reported a break-in at his house as well. This led the team to believe that the previous homes of the former Aegis member Smite were the targets of a nefarious search. Anticipating the villains’ next target, the team went to a U-Store-It facility where some of Smite’s belongings had been moved. Lying in wait were the Magnificent Seven, with an ambush at the ready. Seeing through the setup, Aegis arrived ready to do battle.

When the fight was over, Prism was severely burned, Silverwing was blinded, Willforce was slashed, and Star Knight got pounded. The villains’ objective was to find Smite’s Super Soldier serum, but they were defeated.

These are my notes from the second adventure in which I played Silverwing. This was the way of the Aegis campaign. When the gamemaster started to get worn out, someone else would step up. Scott was the ultimate arbiter of what went on in the world, but each of us took a turn running once in a while. This was epecially true in 1987, when Scott was in a horrific car accident. He had a broken hip and was in traction for a month. He wasn’t able to drive for several weeks after that, either. When he got out of the hospital, I drove him to South Bend from his home in Paw Paw, Michigan. Craig Merrick, who ran occasional adventures with Scott, had to take over for several adventures, and Doug had these stories ready to go when Scott returned.

And by coincidence, today is Doug’s birthday. Happy birthday, loser!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Almost Forgot!

I've blogged every day for 36 consecutive days now. My buddy Martin challenged me to do it when I teased him about slacking off for a weekend, and I have risen to the challenge!

Today was a Daddy Day. From the moment Sera woke up this morning until she went to sleep at 7:30 tonight, it was all Daddy, all the time. Magi is feeling under the weather this weekend, so this was perfect timing on Sera's part. I made her all three meals today, ranging from pancakes this morning to grilled cheese and peaches at lunch to beans and peas for dinner (she rejected the egg roll I warmed up) and played for countless hours with her. She won't accept me being on a chair or sofa so long as I am in the living room, either. I have to be down on the floor with her. I chased her, tickled her, took her outside, played with her baby, played with blocks, colored on the floor, read her a book, drew with her at my drawing board, "flew" her around the house, put her down for two naps (one almost non-existent) and put her to bed. During her sleeping times, I've been working on making a new version of an old character for the Mutants and Masterminds game I wrote about here, so I almost forgot to post. We watched The Phantom together today, too, and I'll write about that later in the week.

This is the best thing I have ever done, bar none. I love being a father.

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Shadow (1994)

Spoiler Warning: Spoilers for the Shadow (1994) follow below.

I love this movie.

Like all movies, it has its flaws and I'll get to those, but overall, this is one of my favorites. First of all, it's set in the 1930s, which is always a seller for me, but not for the general movie-going population. Just look at the Rocketeer's, The Phantom's, Sky Captain's, and The Shadow's box office returns. The only movies set in this period that seem to do well feature Indiana Jones.

The movie also features one of my favorite old-time radio characters. The Shadow first appeared on radio as the host of a mystery series called Detective Stories, but found his own way in The Shadow Magazine. He was later given his own radio show, which ran from 1937 until 1954. The Shadows who appeared in the pulps and on radio were very different. The Shadow of the pulps used a pair of .45s and dispensed justice with the aid of several agents who owed the Shadow their lives; on radio, the Shadow was able to "cloud men's minds," rendering himself invisible. He was usually only accompanied by Margo Lane and occasionally his driver, Shrevvy. Both characters employed a mysterious and intimidating laugh.

The 1994 movie, starring Alec Baldwin, used an amalgam of the two different Shadows. This one has agents and .45s, but also turns invisible and is accompanied by Margo Lane, played by Penelope Ann Miller.

We are given a back story for the Shadow, who begins the movie as Ying Ko, an opium magnate in Tibet. He is kidnaped and reformed by the Tulku, a mysterious sorceror-type who identifies Ying Ko by his real name, Lamont Cranston. The Tulku reforms Cranston and teaches him the psychic abilities he will need to clean up New York City.

In New York, Cranston (as the Shadow) saves the life of Roy Tam, a metallurgist working at NYU. Tam becomes one of the Shadow's agents. Cranston meets with his Uncle Wainwright (Jonathan Winters, one of my favorite comedians) at the Cobalt Club. Wainwright is the police commissioner who is about to put a task force on the Shadow's trail until Cranston uses strong mental suggestion to hold him off. At the same time professor Reinhardt Lane, Margo Lane's father, played by Ian McKellan, is developing a beryllium sphere, a key component to what Tam calls "an implosive explosive sub-moleclular device," which Cranston renames "an atomic bomb." Professor Lane falls under the mental domination of Shiwan Khan, the last descendant of Genghis Khan, who seems to be bent on taking over the world. Shiwan Khan has the same abilities as the Shadow, which makes him a formidable opponent.

After Shiwan Khan sends Margo Lane to kill the Shadow, she tries to shoot Lamont Cranston, whom she discovers upon being awakened from her trance, is the Shadow. Together, they set out to defeat the plans of Shiwan Khan and save New York from being held hostage. I won't spoil any more, just in case you haven't seen this gem.

One of the key reasons for my enjoyment of this film is the actors. Alec Baldwin is great, and the scenes in Tibet feature some actors who were very busy in the 80s and 90s. Al Leong (seen at right) is in every good action movie of the period. He was in "Big Trouble in Little China," "Lethal Weapon," "Action Jackson," "Die Hard," "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure" (where he played, ironically, Genghis Khan), "Beverly Hills Cop III," "The Replacement Killers," "Godzilla," and "The Scorpion King." How's that for a resume'? Also in the scene are James Hong and Arsenio "Sonny" Trinidad. In the museum scene, you can see Ethan "Neelix" Phillips and ALF's dad, Max Wright. Moe Shrevnitz, the Shadow's driver is played by the inimitable Peter Boyle.

Stealing the show for me was Tim Curry, who played Farley Claymore, Professor Lane's assistant. He has a moment in this movie where, I swear, he was the Joker. He spins around in a circle, firing a Thompson submachine gun and cackling maniacally. I was sold right then and there that Tim Burton had made a mistake casting Jack Nicholson in 1989.

Another great part of this movie was set design. I love art deco, and this movie is chock full of it. From the Cobalt Club to the Hotel Monolith, the classic architecture of New York is extrapolated into the sets.

The Jerry Goldsmith soundtrack is flawless as well. It's mysterious, dark, and has jazz for the club scenes. The Shadow's anthem is heroic and haunting all at the same time.

A selling point for me but perhaps not others is that Neal Adams did the key marketing art. The poster and the toy art was based on this Adams original, which is for sale on his website:

There were a few sour notes in this movie. The Shadow engaging in Spider-Man-like banter while he fights Khan's Monguls rang false to me. After he lands on a bad guy, he quips, "Next time, you get to be on top." That line just didn't seem Shadow-like at all. But there are more than enough really cool scenes to make up for it. My favorite has to be the scene on the bridge where the Shadow saves Roy Tam's life.

We had a surround sound system built into the walls of our house when we had it built in 2000. When the Shadow "appears" invisibly on the bridge, his laugh literally echoes all around the living room. It comes from everywhere and from nowhere. When the bad guy fires a machine gun in every direction trying to hit the Shadow, the bullets and ricochets also bounce all over the room. I show this scene on our DVD player whenever someone visits for the first time, just to show off the surround sound. It's just too cool. Unfortunately, this movie's DVD release was limited to full screen only.

Another reason I love this movie is the way that I saw it in 1994. My buddy Doug and I went to see it at the State Theater in downtown South Bend. The State was one of those old-fashioned theaters where people used to dress up to "go to the pictures" back in the old days. It was opulent and beautiful even then. The atmosphere made the experience that much more enjoyable.

This movie was just built to have sequels made. I wish it had done better at the box office. I also hope that at some point, there is a more elaborate widescreen DVD release with some special features. The current DVD has virtually nothing.

I have also read that Sam Raimi has obtained the rights to make a new Shadow movie. I hope it's better than Spider-Man 3.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

New Superhero Game

I'm so excited I can hardly stand it! Tonight, some friends and I are meeting over dinner to discuss a new superhero roleplaying game campaign that I get to play in. It's been a couple of years now since I was involved in a tabletop game and when a thread came up about superhero games on a local gaming message board, I was so desperate to play that I even volunteered to buy the food at every session if I someone would run for me.

For some time I've wanted to try this Mutants & Masterminds game. From what I understand it moves much faster than Champions, which is the only game I've played for the past 20 years. I'm looking forward to seeing how this works, and maybe someday when our basement is clear of comic books again, I'll get to run another campaign of my own.

More later as details emerge!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Daddy's Full of It

Okay, so I don't believe in "monthiversaries," but today I just had to buy Sera a cake for her 18-month day. Sera's first birthday was a week after we got home from China. We had a cake for her, but she wanted no part of it. After all, she was eating 90% formula from a bottle at the time. She had just started eating Cheerios a few days before. So today on my way home from work, I bought a cake. At least it wasn't a full cake. I figured since it was only a half birthday, I could get away with buying a half-cake. She didn't seem to mind!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Chris Claremont's Fantastic Four

Sounds wrong, doesn't it? You have no idea. I just got done reading 95% of Chris Claremont's run on Fantastic Four and I have to say...Yeesh. When he wrote X-Men I thought, "Okay, he's a little eccentric, but it's his book and everyone likes it, so I'll just go with it."

In his X-Men run, Claremont borrowed heavily from movies like taking the Brood from "Alien." In Fantastic Four, he borrows from Highlander with Alysande Stuart, a Scot highlander with a sword. In X-Men, he used NPR reporters Neal Conan and Manoli Wetherell to bear witness to the heroism of the main characters. In Fantastic Four, he uses fictional reporters Gordon Clay and Isobel Aguirre to the same effect. In X-Men he used the time-travelling daughter of Scott Summers and Jean Grey, as Phoenix (Rachel Summers). In Fantastic Four he usees the time-travelling daughter of Reed Richards and Susan Richards, as Marvel Girl (Valeria Richards). Are you starting to see a connection here?

If that wasn't coincidence enough, Claremont had the Warwolves show up, as well as a Genoshan plotline featuring mutates and Chief Magistrate Anderson. All that was missing was Okay, check that one off too.
On the other hand, I loved Salvador Larroca's artwork. I think it made for an excellent example of American Manga fusion. And to be fair, I did enjoy this pairing of Claremont and Larroca on X-Treme X-Men, but I'll save that one for another day.

For my brother, who worries that I will start to sound like just another Internet curmudgeon, here's a sequence that made me laugh out loud:

How is there not someone off-panel responding, 'The quicker picker-upper?"

Better yet, where is the response, "Oh yeah? I'm Pledge. Let's get together and dust these bad guys off!"

Monday, October 15, 2007

First Contact

Spoiler Alert for Star Trek First Contact (1996)

I was watching Star Trek: First Contact last night, in which the Enterprise follows a time-traveling Borg ship into the past. Despite the fact that time travel gives me a headache, just like it did Captain Janeway of Voyager, I really liked this movie.

The basic plot of this movie is that the Borg launches a one-ship invasion of Earth's sector 001, and after the cube-shaped ship faces resistance by the Federation without the services of its most experienced officer and the most technologically-advanced ship in the fleet because an admiral feels that he can't trust Picard in this situation. Finally drawn into the battle by desperation, Picard senses the voices of the collective and focuses the fleet's attack on a vulnerable point on the Borg cube. Just as it is destroyed a Borg sphere escapes and starts traveling back through time. The Enterprise-E is trapped in the "temporal wake" of the sphere and the crew notes that sensors show that Earth has been assimilated. They follow the Borg sphere back to find out what has been changed. They find that the first warp ship, the Phoenix, has been damaged and that without it, Earth will not make first contact with the Vulcans, and the Federation will not be forged.

After the Borg fire on and do damage to the missile silo that houses the Phoenix, killing many of the engineering team, the Enterprise quickly destroys the sphere, but not before Borg survivors transport themselves undetected to the Enterprise-E. They quickly begin to assimilate the crew and take over under the directions of the Borg Queen.

In order to try to restore history, the crew of the Enterprise make contact with Zefram Cochrane, the inventor of the warp drive. Well, he was the first human to build one, anyway. I guess it's like Columbus "discovering" America, when there were already natives living there. Anyway, the crew find out for themselves that Cochrane is not the philosopher they thought he was. I love the parts where Cochrane reacts to the crew's hero worship. James Cromwell did an outstanding job of making a Star Trek character human. The contrast between 24th century humans and 21st century people is a recurring theme throughout the movie. Picard's fixation on defeating the Borg is compared by Cochrane's assistant, Lily, to the revenge-seeking Captain Ahab of Melville's Moby Dick. It's only when Picard destroys a model of the Enterprise-D in his rage that he sees that she is right.

The part of the plot I could have done without is the Borg Queen's seduction of Data. By giving him a little skin of his own, she tempts him to join her as her equal. Bah. Data is a toaster compared to the Borg. I don't buy that one.

I thought the humor in this movie was well-placed, with a drunk Deanna Troi denying her inebriation while trying to get information from Zefram Cochrane, and Cochrane himself cranking Steppenwolf as his ship launches. Great moments to lighten up the drama of Picard mowing down his own assimilated crew member with a machine gun on the holodeck.

Worf finally gets to be bad to the bone (literally) when he ties off his damaged space suit with parts of a severed Borg arm. Now that's a Klingon!

I thought this movie really was a good start following Star Trek: Generations' passing of the baton. They really hit the ground rolling. Insurrection kept it going, but wow, they hit the wall with Nemesis. It's too bad. They had more in them, and we could really use a new, good Trek like this one.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Twenty Years Ago..."Swords of Damocles"

Aegis #160
October 18, 1987

“Swords of Damocles”
Gamemaster: Scott Burnham

The fledgling hero Silverwing, while working for UNCLE, had infiltrated TAROT, a vast network of villains, under the guise of a rogue UNCLE agent. As his ticket in, he bore the Damocles Warhead, recently acquired from Angel Flight, who in turn had retrieved it from the Destroyers, who had stolen it.

Silverwing became Justice, one of the major arcane of TAROT. When he had gained all the information he needed, he realized that an entire UNCLE strikeforce was insufficient to destroy the arm of TAROT; so he enlisted Aegis, the local superhero group, to help him. This infuriated Silverwing’s superiors, but his actions turned out to be justified when the battle ensued.

Aegis was victorious, but only just. Their leader, Willforce (right), was struck down by the Grim Reaper’s cerebro-stunner and was only revived after they analyzed the scythe at the Laresa-Perov Life Sciences Institute in Baltimore.

That’s how it looked when I wrote my notes twenty years ago. You can see the use of KC Ryan’s original game world in the fact that UNCLE was a law-enforcement agency he placed in the world that Aegis inhabited. Scott’s mix of TAROT, from Villains and Vigilantes’ “The Pentacle Plot,” as well as Marvel’s Grim Reaper and Nekra, was an interesting mix of villains for Aegis to fight. This adventure featured the members of Aegis depicted here, together for the first time. This was Silverwing’s and Star Knight’s first adventure with the team. This would be the membership until New Year’s Day 1988, which will be a fun blog post. I audio-recorded that game session and I think I still have the tapes somewhere!

Saturday, October 13, 2007


Well, last night was our first trip to the Emergency Room with Sera. After a temperature of 104 and her inability to go to sleep, we called Sera's family doctor's office and they suggested that taking her to the ER was the way to go. So, we headed out. Sure enough, an ear infection was causing the problem. A prescription and some Tylenol later, and we were on our way back home for a little sleep. I do mean a little sleep. The poor girl was miserable the whole night. The best hour of sleep that she got was from 1:30 to 2:30 this afternoon. The good news is, the anitbiotic that the doctor prescribed has done the trick and she is happy and playful again.

I guess we've been really lucky, because I can't stand watching her suffer like that and I hope I never have to again. I know that it will happen, but I can still hope.

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Shadow Knows

While we were doing a graphing activity in class yesterday, I thought I would try something out with my students. I played an .mp3 file of the first episode of The Shadow, featuring Orson Welles (left).

First broadcast on September 26, 1937, "Death House Rescue" is about a man named Paul Gordon, an unemployed husband and father who is on death row and about to be executed for a murder he did not commit. The Shadow, aka Lamont Cranston, agrees to help Paul to clear his name by reading his mind as Paul goes over the details of the crime. Doing so leads the Shadow to the perpetrators of the real crime.

Those of us who are into comic books and similar genres often overlook the power of old-time radio. I firmly believe that the radio audiences of the past are more sophisticated than those of today’s television shows. Radio shows often had more complex plots, more intelligent humor and far better vocabulary. I can’t help but think that people who listened to radio shows developed better language skills by emulating popular radio stars of the time.

Surprisingly, the kids really seemed to enjoy listening to the radio show. Maybe it was because it was better than silence, but I’d like to think that it opened their minds to new possibilities of entertainment. Some of them really got it. One student told me that in your mind you could make the characters look however you wanted them to. He was right!

I personally like to listen to audio cassettes of the shows played on my cathedral-style radio, which has a cassette player built into the side. It gives the illusion that you are listening to the shows as people did in the 30s and 40s. My friends Doug and Laura got one for me when the Shadow movie was released on video back in the mid-1990s. It was a promotional item given to distributors of the video, which makes it even more special to me than one that could have been purchased. It was a gift that I have never forgotten and still appreciate.

There will be much more on old-time radio later!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Smart Money

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson has a plan to scrap No Child Left Behind and raise the starting salary for teachers to $40,000 a year.

US Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings had this to say: "No Child is working in New Mexico. I'm sure the teachers of New Mexico would not want the governor dishonoring their work."

I wonder what the teachers of New Mexico really think about this "dishonor." Do you think that Ms. Spellings is reaching just a little bit here?

Bust a Cap!

The new Captain America is such a good shot, he had a .45 made with no sights!

The new Captain America is set to make his debut in Captain America #34. With a new design by Alex Ross (below), this new Captain America pays homage to the low-budget serial of the 1940s by reducing his costume elements down to the point where, according to Alex Ross, "he had no shield, no wings on his mask, no white sleeves, little tiny gloves, and he carried a gun."

I have no problem with heroes carrying guns. They can come in very handy. But I would really like it if the artists drawing them would actually look at a gun before they draw one. Alex Ross is famous for using photographic reference. I have to believe he has a mockup of a .45 somewhere.

This looks like it will be an interesting storyline, depending on the identity of the man behind the mask. I will give it...a shot.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Sera's 18 Month Portrait

This past weekend, we took Sera to the Japanese garden (yes, we do know the difference between Japan and China; it's just pretty, that's all) in Mishawaka to take pictures of her to send to my father, whose birthday was Monday. He doesn't have the internet or even a computer, you see, so we have to make physical prints and send them to him. It's all rather archaic if you ask me. He's the only one of my relatives who won't get a computer, and he is the one who would use it more than any other. He would never stop reading about the things he is interested in, like the Civil War, old cars, the Old West, etc.

I took 102 pictures of her with my Canon Rebel XT digital camera, and the one I took by accident came out the best. She was in the gazebo getting ready for another costume change when Magi asked her if she wanted to take that dress off. She immediately grabbed for her neck because she hates to have collars tight around her neck. I can't believe she's 18 months old already!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Theeeeee Yankees Lose!

I don't know who made this, but I love it!

Monday, October 08, 2007

Star Trek on the Big Screen

In a limited, one night only engagement, the two-part episode of Star Trek The Original Series, "The Menagerie," will be shown on the big screen in High Definition (HD). In our neck of the woods, this remastered episode, the only two-parter of the original series, will be shown at Movies 14 in Mishawaka on November 13.

If you haven't been reading, I wrote about the remastered episodes here.

Check here for details about this special showing!

100th Post--100 Things About Me

As I understand it, it is tradition to write your 100th post in this fashion. So, here are:
100 Things About Me

1) I was born in Battle Creek, Michigan on December 5, 1964 at 10:24 PM.
2) I am 6’ 4” tall and have been since I was 16 years old.
3) I am nearsighted and have worn glasses since I was 15 years old.
4) I am allergic to Phenobarbital, a barbiturate I was given post-op when I was three.
5) I have hereditary high blood pressure, which I have had since I was 18 and in the best shape of my life. I have been taking medication for it for years.
6) I have a brother and a sister, six and seven years younger than I, respectively.
7) I have been married twice. My wife is the quite simply the finest person I have ever known and I love her.
8) I have an 18-month old daughter named Sera whom I love more than anyone else in the world except my wife.
9) I have a Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics from Western Michigan University, 1987.
10) My first major was Computer Systems Engineering, which bored me to tears.
11) I have been a teacher for 20 years; two years as a substitute, eight years at Lew Wallace High School in Gary, Indiana, and the past 10 years at Pierre Moran Middle School in Elkhart, Indiana.
12) I love baseball. I don’t care about any other sport.
13) The Detroit Tigers are my favorite baseball team.
14) I went to five baseball playoff games last year in Detroit, including the first game of the World Series.
15) I played football, basketball, and baseball in high school.
16) I was all-conference in football, and academic all-state in basketball.
17) I used to be able to dunk two-handed when I was 16.
18) I hit three home runs my junior year in high school and was hitting over .400 halfway through the season. I ended up hitting about .200 because I tried to hit one every time I was up to bat.
19) My high school baseball team won the Michigan Class D State Championship in baseball in 1982. I made a defensive play that saved the game.
20) I was class salutatorian in high school.
21) I scored in the 96th percentile on the ACT and received a Michigan Competitive Scholarship.
22) I never took the SAT.
23) I played tuba for four years in school.
24) I like black licorice.
25) I met my wife on the Internet.
26) I have been to China.
27) I buy and sell comic books.
28) I learned to read before I started school because of Superboy #165.
29) My favorite character is Batman.
30) My first comic book was Batman #203 (1968).
31) My favorite cartoon is Batman The Animated Series (1992).
32) I hated all the Batman movies made from 1989 to 1997.
33) I pretty much liked Batman Begins except for the part where Batman kills dozens of ninja.
34) My second favorite character (a close second) is Superman.
35) My favorite TV show ever is Star Trek (1966).
36) I once won a trivia contest at a Star Trek convention. I didn’t miss any questions.
37) I have met Mark Hamill, David Prowse, George Takei, Armin Shimerman, Marina Sirtis, Michael Dorn, James Doohan, Mr. T, Stan Lee, and all of Aerosmith.
38) I have been to Skywalker Ranch in Marin County, California.
39) My favorite movie is Star Wars.
40) My favorite song is “Hotel California,” by the Eagles.
41) My favorite music is rock.
42) My favorite band is Fleetwood Mac.
43) My favorite singer is Stevie Nicks.
44) My favorite comic strip is Calvin & Hobbes.
45) I do imitations of many characters: Yoda, Fozzie Bear, Miss Piggy, Kermit the Frog, Quick Draw McGraw, Scooby Doo, and others.
46) I love to draw.
47) My favorite comic book artist is Neal Adams.
48) I have met Neal Adams.
49) My favorite comic book writer is Alan Moore.
50) My favorite author is Pat Conroy.
51) I like old-time radio shows.
52) The Shadow is my favorite.
53) I broke my left wrist when I was 13 playing dodgeball.
54) I am an amateur photographer.
55) The genealogy of my father’s family in America has been documented back to an ancestor born in 1776.
56) I have owned only five cars in my life.
57) I now own a 2003 PT Cruiser that I bought new.
58) I own my own house.
59) I play City of Heroes, a Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game.
60) I play superhero roleplaying games and buy dice that match the color schemes of my characters.
61) I am a geek!
62) I have had three pets in my life. A basset hound/dachshund mix named Ladybug, a short hair cat named Cuddles, and a Lab/Shepard mix named Shadow. I only named the last one. He’s seven and a half years old.
63) My favorite food is steak. Specifically, Tenderloin, medium rare.
64) I eat Lawry’s seasoning salt on popcorn. I use it sparingly because of my blood pressure.
65) I have a brown belt in Okinawan Shorin-Ryu Karate. I studied for a year and a half before I moved away from my dojo in Michigan City.
66) I have been to Ground Zero in Manhattan.
67) New Orleans is my favorite city.
68) I have been to Mardi Gras. Most of it is not what you see on COPS.
69) My favorite drink is Mountain Dew. I generally avoid caffeine, but it takes six cans of Dew to equal a cup of coffee.
70) Because I had finished all but two of my required classes when I was a senior in high school, I went to vocational school and took Electronics. I used to be able to fix televisions and radios.
71) I saw the first launch of the Challenger space shuttle from EPCOT Center on April 4, 1983 while on spring break.
72) I love movie soundtracks.
73) John Williams’ score for Superman The Movie is my favorite.
74) Politically, I am a liberal who believes in personal responsibility. Help others help themselves is my philosophy.

The following part is not pleasant, but does have a happy ending.

75) My parents divorced when I was almost seven years old.
76) My mother remarried a man who abused me for five years.
77) All of my comic books were immediately burned.
78) I was punched.
79) I was kicked.
80) I was beaten every day except for my birthday and Christmas. Sometimes I didn’t even know why I was being hit.
81) I nearly drowned when my stepfather tried to teach me to swim.
82) The welts on my rear end and my (brother’s) were inspected when the police were called following one of the beatings. They did nothing.
83) My infected fingernail was torn off with pliers because my stepfather was too cheap to take me to the doctor. I ended up in the emergency room because it wouldn’t stop bleeding.
84) He gave me baths until I was 12 because I “didn’t wash well enough.” He would hold my head underwater to rinse my hair until I had to fight for breath.
85) I was made to lie to my teachers about the black eye he gave me in 6th grade.
86) I was beaten in the name of God because the bible says, “Spare the rod, spoil the child.”
87) I am an atheist.
88) I respect other people’s beliefs until they try to force them on me.
89) I was called a moron despite the fact that I got straight A’s.
90) I wasn’t allowed to sit on the furniture in our living room because it was “not for animals.”
91) I went to 11 different elementary schools.
92) I had to have my blood sugar tested when I was 11 because I was deathly thin from not being allowed to eat at dinner.
93) My mother let me move in with my father when I turned 12 because she thought my stepfather was going to kill me.
94) I couldn’t tell my father about the abuse because my stepfather said he would kill my brother (who stayed behind) if I told.
95) My grandparents had bought comics for me and kept them at their house so that I could read them when I visited. The stories of those heroes and how they overcame adversity inspired me to do the same.
96) After the death of my grandfather, my father and grandmother gave me guidance and morals and a sense of self-worth.
97) I had great junior high and high school teachers who believed in me.
98) I became a teacher because of them.
99) I am a success despite the fact that I was a victim of child abuse.
100) I am happy. Here's why:

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Twenty Years Ago...Silverwing, Part II

Faced with the challenge of adapting a little-used character into an established role-playing campaign, I took Silverwing and fleshed him out into something a little more substantial than just a costume and a pile of numbers.

The Aegis campaign was based in Baltimore, Maryland. Why it was based in Baltimore I never knew, but I accepted it and moved on. Looking at a map, I noticed that Baltimore was not very far from Washington, D.C., and where better to base my patriotic hero? I found where Aegis Headquarters was located, in a lighthouse on Gibson Island and mapped it out. Silver Spring was nearly the same distance from Gibson Island as Baltimore was. I’ve always liked legacy characters, too, so I made Silverwing the third character to bear the name. I had the World War II father, the Viet Nam-era brother, who was MIA, and then the youngest, my character. I also saw on the map that Silver Spring, Maryland was near both Washington and Baltimore, so I established the family homestead there. He would live with his retired superhero father and his mother. After the loss of their oldest son, they would want their youngest close at hand. For a secret identity, I was looking for a name that stood out a little more than an alliterative Peter Parker or Reed Richards. I had been watching the Iran-Contra hearings and liked the name of Oliver North’s attorney, Brendan Sullivan, so I borrowed it in the form of Brandon. And since he would be a descendant of my knight, Sir James Silverwing, the last name Jameson clicked in. Thus was born Brandon Jameson, aka Silverwing!

The first version of Silverwing had all-natural powers (without an origin) and I wanted to have the character make a little more rounded, instead of having some vague, birdlike powers. I didn’t want to play a mutant because the world’s history was full of X-Men-like angst and I just didn’t see my patriot playing the victim. So I explained his flight as the function of a prototype battlesuit like Guardian/Vindicator used in Alpha Flight. As it turned out, the American government had stolen the technology without Silverwing’s knowledge. His shield was not indestructible like Captain America’s, but was instead laced with adamantium in the paint, making it tougher than normal metal. The circuitry in his battlesuit not only allowed him to fly through electromagnetic means, but also to use the shield to reflect attacks back at anyone firing on him. On the other hand, it also made him vulnerable to electrical attacks, as feedback. Silverwing naturally inherited one of his father’s old enemies, Shocktrooper, who wielded the very energy that would take advantage of this defect. By naturally, I mean the the gamemaster chose him for me. Silverwing’s natural speed and combat training made him fairly formidable. He also had an innate danger sense that made it difficult to catch him by surprise.

I wrote Silverwing with a very strong moral code. He would never accept killing as a method, instead believing that every man and woman was born with an inalienable right to life. He would sacrifice himself before allowing someone else to be killed. He really did believe in truth, justice, and the American way, even during a time when America wasn’t using those beliefs all the time. He was nearly a hero of the 1940s as his father was before him.

I had to make all of this work within the framework of a game system with which I was still unfamiliar. I went out and bought every rulebook I could find for Champions. This would include Champions, Champions II, Champions III, Danger Unlimited, Super Agents, and others. To get all the rules in one place would have been too much to ask. Over the years, every new supplement included rules that would allow you to create the character you wanted. So, I packed all of these new books in my game bag, and took them with me on substitute teaching assignments. Most of these substitute assignments consisted of showing a movie or handing out a worksheet, so working on gaming stuff was not a problem. I only occasionally got to teach. I also used to work at the 24-hour Family Foods grocery chain six days a week, and in order to get Sunday off to play in the Aegis campaign, I had to agree to work overnight Saturday night. I would be lucky to see 10 customers in an eight-hour shift, so I brought my game bag along. I worked through the rules like a student fresh out of college could, and I soon had the rules worked out pretty well.

With a new character sheet in hand and a better understanding of the rules, I was ready to jump back into the Aegis game with a character I could feel confident in playing.

Next week: Silverwing’s first adventure with Aegis!

Saturday, October 06, 2007

The Holy Grail

This book is my Holy Grail.

In the summer of 1976, when I was 11, this book was in many bookstores at a cover price of $6.95. For a trade paperback now, this price is reasonable, but for a "funny book" in those days, it was out of reach for even my generous grandparents. Comics were about $0.30 and paperback books were about $1.25, just to put it in perspective. Every vacation for a few years I would see it on the shelves of the bookstore in downtown Cadillac, Michigan and drool as I flipped through the pages. There were the origins of every superhero that I cared about, all in one place: The golden age and bronze age Superman, the golden age Batman, whose origin had needed no update; Wonder Woman, golden and bronze age; golden and silver age Flash, Hawkman, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, Atom; and finally the origins of Plastic Man and Captain Marvel.

I have often thought that Alex Ross's perception of the DC universe had to have come from this book. It is the only place I can think of where Captain Marvel and Plastic Man appeared in the same place with the rest of the Earth-1 DC heroes. He often puts Captain Marvel and Plastic Man in stories that seem to take place during the satellite era of the Justice League, despite the fact that at the time those stories were published, Captain Marvel's and Plastic Man's adventures took place on entirely different Earths.

I had seen the origins of some of these characters condensed to one page in a magazine called Dynamite, when I was in elementary school. It was always my favorite day of the month when we got our new issue. But to have all the full origin stories in one place was just too good to be true. I tried to wait patiently to see if the book would ever arrive with my Christmas presents, but it never did. Time passed, but I never forgot this book, especially with the Neal Adams cover. When I saw the package sitting on my doorstep this afternoon, and I opened up the book for the first time, I felt a little more of my childhood restored to me.

After 30 years, I finally found the Grail!

Friday, October 05, 2007

All Star Goddamn Batman & Robin, the Boy Wonder

Please forgive the profanity in the title. Trust me, it's appropriate. Frank Miller and Jim Lee make Batman look like a bad joke in this "monthly" series, entitled All Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder. I say "monthly" because issue #7 just came out and I bought the first issue at Crescent City Comics in New Orleans two months before Hurricane Katrina in 2005. I still remember bringing the comic back out to the car, reading it, and promptly tearing it in half. I didn't even let Magi read it. She looked at me, aghast, as if I had just turned my head around 360 degrees. I never mistreat a comic book, but this time it was warranted. In this book, yet another retelling of the Batman legend, Batman takes a newly-orphaned Dick Grayson and shows him how sympathetic he is by lifting the terrorized boy by the shirt with one arm.

By issue #2 the infamous line came (see right). Showing such compassion for a boy who has just seen his parents murdered in front of him, Batman takes Dick Grayson on a ride to the Batcave that lasts, let's see, three issues?

Issue #6 came out a few months ago and it featured an opening page with Wonder Woman telling a man, "Out of my way, sperm bank." This is pretty typical characterization from Frank Miller, but it pales in comparison to issue #7.

When issue #7 came out this week, I read a few reviews and then I knew I had to read it for myself. Here's the best word balloon ever attributed to Batman, which he says right after he and Black Canary have sex on the ground in the rain under his cape. No, I'm not kidding: "Not one word. I've taken enough grief about calling my Goddamn car the Goddamn Batmobile. I'm the Goddamn Batman and I can call my car whatever the Hell I want to call it." Those aren't even the only times he's called the "Goddamn Batman" in this issue. Black Canary and Dick Grayson both refer to him this way.

What amazes me is that there are people who think this is the definitive Batman. There are people who don't understand that Frank Miller is laughing at them. He is writing this stuff just to prove that he can blow his nose into a script and people will buy it. He has taken a character whose sole purpose was to avenge his parents and to make sure that nothing happens to anyone else as it happened to him as a boy, and turned him into some kind of sociopath who has no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Everything this Batman does is to promote more violence, and the more vicious, the better. "They're shooting scared. They're shooting stupid. Killing their own. Life is good."

Black Canary is an admirer. "You know you're a fine man, Mister Batman. A right hero you are..."

I don't know what All Star Batman is, but he isn't that.

Thursday, October 04, 2007


I'm not big on "monthiversaries." I am happy to celebrate anniversaries because anniversary is a real word. It's kind of like 6th grade or 8th grade "graduation." I guess you can celebrate any small incremental change, but I would reserve the word graduation for high school or college. But anyway, the other day when my wife reminded me that it had been six months to the day that we were united with Sera, I had to think about it. In six months I have watched Sera go from having to be propped up on pillows to not only walking but climbing stairs. She has changed so much physically she sometimes doesn't even appear to be the same girl that we met in April. And I have suddenly been promoted from the title of Dada to Dah-dee. When Magi took Sera to school yesterday we had to drive separately because I had parent-teacher conferences. Ordinarily I pick them up in the PT Cruiser (Paid off as of last night! Woohoo!) and Mama and Sera watch for Dada outside the building. Sera knows the PT Cruiser when she sees it. So yesterday when Magi picked Sera up from day care, Sera pointed out the door and asked, "Dah-dee?" Magi had to explain that I was still at work.

I can't believe that my little girl is growing up so fast. She repeats things now. Before she had a vocabulary of about 15 words and signs. Now she just says whatever we say. I was getting ready to put her in her inflatable duck bathtub on Tuesday night and I said, "Are you ready for Ducky?" Next thing you know, "Duck-key" is coming out of her mouth. When we ask her questions with an affirmative answer now, she doesn't just nod. She says, "Yeah." I guess we have to get to work being careful about saying "Yes, sir" and Yes, ma'am" now. Our daughter will grow up respecting adults. My wife is very southern about this, and I'm okay with it. I didn't grow up that way, but I would never claim that my upbringing was superior in any way. I learned my lessons through the care of teachers. I had some really good ones.

On Tuesday, when we got home, our neighborhood kids were out playing in the cul-de-sac. It's hilarious; out of five surrounding houses with children under six, there are eight girls and only two boys. I half-joked that we need to get them playing softball and basketball right now so that when they're all in high school together, they can play as a unit. Sera always wants to go out and see the other kids, but she was shy and wasn't quite ready to get down on the ground with them just yet.

But it won't be long.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Parent-Teacher Conferences

Tonight we are having parent-teacher conferences from 3 PM to 7 PM. I cannot begin to tell you what an inefficient use of our time they are. I can count on one hand the number of useful conferences I've been involved with in the past ten years .

The first problem is that 90% of the parents who come in are generally concerned about their children and are attentive to their needs. Those parents are not the ones I need to see! I should just make a recording for them saying, "I wish I had 100 more just like him/her."

The second problem is that sometimes when parents come in, they exhibit bad behaviors that their children emulate. This sometimes includes saying, "Well, I was never any good at math, so it's okay that my son/daughter isn't either." Well, guess what? My dad was never any good at math either, and I have a degree in the subject. Sometimes they come in drunk or altered in some way. I haven't had many of those, but I sure do remember the ones I did have. I will occasionally hear everything I want to hear from a parent about how they have a behavior contract set up, and then I never hear about it again. Sometimes I get parents who are at the end of their rope and simply don't know what they can do; their child actually runs the house because they don't know how to discipline him or her.

The saddest conference I ever had was a few years ago when my student's grandmother came in and said to me, "She ain't never going to need to know this to work in the trailer factory." I was absolutely amazed. This woman had already condemned her 14-year old granddaughter to working in the same job she had. Before this girl had the opportunity to explore different careers she might like, she was told by the person raising her that she had no other future. When the girl's mother tried to intervene, the grandmother shot her a look and told her, "She's going to be just like you and have a kid before she's 16." Wow.

For the most part, conferences are about four hours of sheer boredom. I get a little grading done, socialize a bit with my fellow teachers, who are also generally not seeing the people they need to, either. If conferences could be done well, we would arrange conferences with the parents of those students who are behind in their work or who never even try to get help. I wonder if there are parents out there who would appreciate knowing that their kids can call me at home to get help on homework. We would see those parents of kids who bring laser pointers to school and wear Al Pacino as Scarface on their pajama pants, and then we could ask them if that's really the image they want their child to project to represent their family.

One thing I do take from conferences is negative examples to shy away from when it comes to raising Sera. I have seen the results of missteps that parents make. If I can't avoid them all, at least I can avoid those.