Friday, November 30, 2007

Evel Knievel

Evel Knievel passed away today at the age of 69.

I was a huge Evel Knievel fan when I was a kid, which was right in the middle of his heyday as a daredevil. I used to tune in on ABC's Wide World of Sports and watch all of his jumps. I had the toys, too (seen at right)! My brother and I would use the ramps from his SSP Smash-Up Derby set (below) and Evel would jump over the cars, which we lay side-to-side between the ramps. It was fun sitting on your knees, revving up the motorcycle.
Basically, the rear wheel of the motorcycle rested along a toothed gear that you rotated using the handle on the plastic base. The rear wheel had a medium-resistance gyro in it, so the faster you got it going, the more stability the motorcycle had when you released it. This is also what allowed the bendy action figure to ride the bike through flips and loops and still land upright and keep riding.
After Evel's Snake River Canyon fiasco, my dad bought me the Skycycle toy for Christmas. It was a cool-looking toy, but the skycycle was the worst-performing Evel Knievel vehicle, ever...which come to think about it, was historically accurate.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

That's No Moon...

The next line should be, "that's a space station," if you are a Star Wars fan, but in my case it very nearly describes what the oral surgeon pulled out of my mouth late this afternoon. He extracted some huge piece of debris that was the size of the Death Star from my gum where one of my wisdom teeth had been. I don't know what it was; I don't want to know. All I know is that it hurt like a Sarlaac all day and not even Vicodin or Jedi mind tricks could touch the pain. His nurse stuck medicated dressings on both sides which I have to get replaced again on Monday and Wednesday. The pain subsided almost immediately and it looks like I won't have complications from the surgery.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Level 50

Well, after three and a half years of playing City of Heroes, I have won. I made the highest level they assign with my main character, Aftraburner.

When my buddy Eric introduced me to this game, I knew I was in trouble. I met my wife playing an online game where we spent untold hundreds of hours in cyberspace, and that game was only a text-based game with a fantasy genre that I have never even cared for. I knew how addictive they could be, and yet I played anyway. City of Heroes was right up my alley. It was a superhero game. It had amazing graphics. You could design your own character. Perfect! The only problem was that my little laptop computer couldn't handle it. Not enough RAM. Well, summer came, and I talked to my late friend Barry, who was at the time working at at computer company, and he put together a machine capable of playing the game (and more) for $700.

I played with a bunch of friends for several evenings, but during the afternoons on summer vacation I was on my own and I created a new character that I wouldn't have to worry about advancing too far ahead of them. And advance I did. I couldn't get enough of playing my fiery speedster. When he reached every new plateau I was excited for the next new power. I researched the ideal power builds, tested them out, and maximized his potential. I got clear up to level 43...and deleted him.

I was playing way too much. Most of my friends weren't playing anymore (they had gone over to Worlds of Warcraft) and I wasn't getting anything else accomplished and I had a lot to do. I finally simply had to face that I couldn't control how much I was playing and permanently deleted the character. After a few months, some of my friends started trickling back in. I reluctantly started up again, but only once a week, on Wednesdays and only to play with them. This time I kept the playing time under control, but I had to start my character all over again. I missed the little fire monkeys and the way his powers worked together. So I started all over again and this week, I reached the highest level. I'll still play along with everyone. We really don't play for love of this game. We play so that we can have something to do while we chat online, despite the geographical distances between us.

It's still fun to "win" the game after all this time, though!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


Here's my wife for you:

Magi cooked a wonderful turkey on Thanksgiving Day. I had not eaten solid food for three days, and she made a Thanksgiving dinner that I could eat comfortably. She even made adjustments to the sweet potatoes so I could eat them (she usually uses pecans). I thought it was the most wonderful turkey ever, but she thought it was a little dry. She had used a method of cooking she had watched on Food Network and was not satisifed.

We went out to get groceries on Saturday night and she still was talking about the turkey and about how if she had to do it over again, she would have used her tried-and-true method. All of the white meat was gone by then and she's not a big dark meat fan, so as we passed by the turkeys, I suggested she make another so we could have sandwiches for lunch all week. She immediately grabbed the exact same-sized turkey and put it in the cart! On Sunday, she did just that. It was perfection, of course, and you could see the pride in her eyes when she cut the breast open and it was as moist as could be. We've now had even more wonderful turkey sandwiches and at this moment, she has the leftover turkey in a soup cooking in the stock pot with carrots, celery, and onions.

I love the fact that she cares so much about the food she prepares for us. I love the fact that she has such personal pride in what she does. But I think what really gets me the most is the love in her eyes when Sera and I show how much we enjoy what she cooks. Love really is the most important ingredient in our lives.

And you thought this post was about turkey!

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Watchmen Movie

Alan Moore's and David Gibbons' "Watchmen" is the finest example of comic book storytelling, ever. It is even listed on Time Magazine's 2005 list of the 100 best novels from 1923 to present. I have read it myself at least 50 times and still find new things every single time. It was a 12-issues series, published in 1986 and 1987, and people are questioning how it can be made into a movie. I have heard arguments that state that there's no way it can be done in less than a 12-hour miniseries, and that it will lose too much in the translation if done in a shorter form.

I don't care.

Unlike a lot of people, I was completely satisfied with the adaptation of Alan Moore's (and David Lloyd's) "V for Vendetta." It went against the source material in many ways, substituting the ideology of libertarianism for anarchy and so forth. Yet, I thought the tones and rhythm of the story were still there. It managed to fit most of the story into the two-hour package, and I think the Watchmen movie can do the same. And if I don't like it, the graphic novel is still there, and it's so ingrained into my memory and consciousness that it will never fade. I'm sure I will see the movie once, as I always do the first time with an adapation of a work I have loved, with an eye for what they changed. I'll wait a week, digest it, and then go back and watch the movie for what it is: a movie! I've done the same thing with other translations, like John Grisham's "The Firm," (loved both the book and the movie, independently and for different reasons) and the Harry Potter movies.

What I've found that is really cool is that the producers have set up a blog tracking the production of the film and you can monitor their progress here. I think it's really cool to see the Gunga Diner sign in actual neon lights and to see Rorschach walking the street, no matter how the movie comes out.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Going Out with a Bang

I'm sick as a dog today, so this is it for the week.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Rookie Mistakes

Well, I had a major brain pop tonight. We were eating at Carrabba's Italian Grill* when Sera grabbed the pepper grinder. Brilliant as I am, I showed her how to turn the grinder. She had a great time picking it up with her hands but lost interest fairly quickly.

An hour later, while we were at the grocery store, she broke out into hives around her wrists and hands, with one on her eye. We went over any new food she had tried, finding nothing on the list (despite remembering being amazed that she ate a slice of lime with gusto), and then remembered the pepper. She had rubbed some on her eye while she was getting tired at the grocery store, too. A soothing bath later, she was fine. The hives are gone, the redness is gone, and she's fast asleep.

Then I started kicking myself. Gee, genius, they make a spray out of this stuff that is a skin and eye irritant. You think it's a good idea to put a 19-month old's hands in the stuff? We've washed all of her clothes, including her bath towel, so there's not much chance of it coming back.

Hives aside, I find myself strangely at peace tonight. We have our tree up and lit, it was a beautiful night to be out with family, and my oral surgery has cleared my sinuses. For the first time in a year, I have been able to breathe through both my nostrils for an entire week. I thought it was allergies that prevented me from breathing well, but as it turns out at least part of the problem had to do with my upper wisdom teeth. The learning continues.

*We have two ways of eating at Carrabba's. One is celebratory, where we order bruschetta or a wood-fired pizza and a full dinner of Chicken or Steak Marsala and drinks, usually about $70. Then there's the way we went tonight, which we call "Carrabba's on the Cheap." Spaghetti with meatballs and meat sauce with angel hair pasta for two, with salad, bread and soda, $33 with child's meal. We do this one far more often than the first. That's usually saved for birthdays and anniversaries.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Black Friday

I did my part today. I bought a newspaper and a two-liter bottle of Mountain Dew at 7-11. We don't tend to shop at the big stores come the day after Thanksgiving because everything we buy for Christmas has to be shipped.

Magi and I have no family within 700 miles of here, so we use to take care of Christmas. Free shipping is wonderful! So instead of leaving the house to fight the crowds, we get to set up our Christmas tree and spend time with each other instead.

Sera touched snow for the first time today. She was nervous about it at first, but when she saw me pelt the dog in the face with a light snowball (which he ate, of course), she wanted to try it too. With the look she had for snow, I can hardly wait to see what she thinks of the Christmas tree with all of its lights!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

As God as My Witness, I Thought Turkeys Could Fly.

Yes, Thanksgiving is all about family togetherness, blah, blah, blah... In my house in 1978, it was all about this show, "WKRP in Cincinatti"...the funniest television episode ever produced, in my opinion. And now, without further ado...

and the finale...

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Badger

Today I picked up The Complete Badger Volume 1. I don't even need to open the front cover to know I am in for a good time. I loved this book from the first time I was given a copy as a promo at a convention. The Badger is a martial artist based in Madison, Wisconsin. A victim of multiple personality disorder due to abuse from his stepfather, Vietnam veteran Norbert Sykes exhibits several interesting personalities, not the least of which is The Badger. Fighting crime on the streets, drinking beer, and training his animals, the Badger confronts whomever offends his sensibilities and gets his butt handed to him as often as not, but he takes it all in stride. Sometimes he is mass murderer Pierre, sometimes a little girl. But one thing the Badger never is, is boring!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Steven E. Gordon

I just picked up Steven E. Gordon's new sketchbook, "Expressions & Attitudes," Volume 2. If you don't know who Steven is, he's the character designer for X-Men Evolution. And when I say character designer, I mean he designed every single character, from mains to background. He was also a director for the series. He also did character designs and directed "Ultimate Avengers," the animated adaptation of "The Ultimates." His designs are simple along the lines of an Alex Toth, but his proportions are more superheroic, with much longer limbs. His sketchbooks don't just have character design sheets, they have sketch after sketch of the characters in various moods and at various angles. It's really a nice package.

His website has a number of cool features, too. He has "How to Draw" sections for the X-Men Evolution characters, including hand theory, one of my weak points. His theories on animated design are a lot like others I have seen (draw straight lines opposing curves, for example) but it's good to have it all in one place. If you ask me, I think he should be putting out a book on how to draw for animation. He has more useful stuff on his website for free than many of the books I've paid for.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Piece of Cake!

I came out of the oral surgery just fine so far. I had all four wisdom teeth extracted this morning. They said they were giving me something to relax and then I woke up!

The swelling has already gone down considerably and the pain pills are doing their job for the most part. Eating is an adventure, but that will make Thanksgiving that much more enjoyable.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Mutants & Masterminds

My buddy Eric ran a sample game of Mutants & Masterminds for a group today and I really enjoyed it. Sitting around a table with a couple of guys rolling some dice...well, it isn't just that. Eric ran for a couple of us in the South Bend gaming group. It's a nebulous group. I know a lot of them, know some of them on sight but don't know their names, and there's a few I don't know at all. Today I got to play with one guy I didn't know, and one I know by first name only. We played in a nice little attic room with two gaming tables placed side by side. It was fun looking at a new system and comparing it to the one I already know. The combat worked out pretty smoothly despite the fact that it was also Eric's first experience with the game. It's similar enough to Dungeons & Dragons that it didn't give him too much trouble at all.

The game setting was in the Top 10 world created by Alan Moore and South Bend native Gene Ha. Eric went to high school with Gene, and he's kind of a local hero to many of us. Anyway, the game was set in the Top 10 world of Neopolis, where supers are called "science heroes" or "science villains" and the world is just full of them. So many that there are too many to fight crime and they all have to get jobs. Our group was a set of US Marshals assigned to prisoner transport, pre-created by Eric. I played Astro Hound, a robot ("Post Organic") dog who was formerly the sidekick of the Silver Space Hawk. I was drinking a can of Cherry Coke and when it was time to speak in character, I drained it and talked into the can so that my voice had a metallic sound. It cracked the new guy up. The new guy, Jason, played Waypoint, a character who could teleport and phase through objects. Steve played Nightwren, a darkness-based character.

The story opened as we were transporting a science villain named Captain Seven to Neopolis from San Francisco. Captain Seven had run a church called the Order of the Sept and had been convicted of tax evasion. We were just outside of Neopolis in a rural area when the bus had to stop because of a downed tree. When the driver stopped, a 15-foot tall red guy overturned the bus. We quickly got out of the vehicle and confronted the bad guys who were obviously there to break out Captain Seven. We lost the initial fight as the bad guys cast some kind of impenetrable mist and made off with the prisoner, leaving us blind in their wakes.

As we made our way to the station house to file our reports, we started doing some research to find out who these guys were. A couple of names were quickly called up and we used some good old-fashioned detective work to find out some of the formerly imprisoned bad guys' unusual habits. We discovered that the big red guy was called Blood Envoy and that he actually had to absorb blood to survive. The church that Captain Seven had run was located in San Diego, so we started there. We found out that a slaughterhouse had experienced a break in recently and there had indeed been blood stolen. We went to the church itself and discovered a Kirbyesque machine in the basement that was transmitting illegally wired cable television into another dimension! Assuming that was the source of the untaxed income that Captain Seven was imprisoned for hiding, we took the device and removed it from the church to a place of our choosing for the rematch, thinking that they would be on the way to find out what happened to their revenue source. Sure enough, when the bad guys arrived, our new plan and choice of opponents paid off and we defeated them, recovering the prisoner.

The game itself moved quickly and we had fun playing it, but that's hardly ever the most fun that gamers have. It's the fun of the comments made in between combat turns and the in-jokes that only we would get. One such joke was when we would make our "you're under arrest" statements and someone would throw in a Firefly reference ("You are bound by law"), bringing laughter to the whole table. It's this kind of humor that binds people like us and separates us gamers from the everyday crowd. I value this kind of camaraderie and I'm looking forward to having a regular game to play in with guys I've known for many years.

Posting might be irregular here for the next few days. I'm getting my wisdom teeth pulled tomorrow and I'm told that the medication can make you a bit loopy. I sure hope so! I don't want to hurt like I have this past week.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Writers Guild of America Strike

I support the writers. Most of this argument is about residuals for electronic media. The writers got shaken down the last time for videocassette payments because the producers didn't know what the future would hold. Well, they sure as heck know that electronic media are the future of television. What's that, you say? It doesn't cost anything to download episodes of Bionic Woman or Lost? Well, that's true, it doesn't cost you anything. But the producers and networks do sell advertising for them, and unlike TiVO, you can't skip the commercials.

Here's an op-ed by Lost producer/writer Damon Lindelof that claims that episodes of Lost have been downloaded "hundreds of millions of times." The producers claim that there's no money in the internet? Let's lowball the estimate and say that there have been exactly 100,000,000 downloads. If the writers were paid a tenth of a cent per download, they would be receiving $100,000 instead of the $0 they get now. Think the producers made nothing on the downloads? Think again.

The last WGA strike in 1988 lasted 22 weeks. This one, unless the producers put electronic media residuals back on the table, will go longer.

Friday, November 16, 2007

They Were Right!

My buddy Eric and I went to see the Star Trek TV episode, "The Menagerie" at the movie theater last night, and I have to say, the advertisement told the truth. We saw the remastered episode in HD. Literally, it was HD DVD. We know that because we saw the little Windows "Start" button in the lower left corner of the screen when the "movie" ended. Yes, they actually charged us $12.50 to watch an HD DVD from someone's computer put up on the movie screen with an LCD projector. They didn't even have to make a print of a film. They just burned a promo DVD!

Preceded by a 15-minute introductory advertisement for Star Trek Remastered Season One, the episode looked good, with some nice revamped digital effects, none so different that they would take the viewer out of the story. Everything about it was very nice except for the outrageous price that we were charged with no notice until we arrived at the box office, and the fact that this was clearly promotional material that we paid to view.
One thing that amused me about the episode was that during Spock's court martial, Scotty was operating the viewscreen that projected Captain Christopher Pike's story that served as Spock's testimony. The irony struck me immediately: If it required a starship's chief engineer to run a projector, it's no wonder that it cost $12.50 per ticket to see this feature!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Deer Hunting

Today marks the opening of gun season in Michigan. When I was a kid, all you had to do was take in your hunting license and opening day was an excused absence. I was really upset that I missed getting my first license at 14 years old by just five days. Gun season ends on November 30. I had to wait until my freshman year in high school to start deer hunting. Standardized tests? Who cared? We learned about the environment by actually being out in it.

Back when I was growing up we hunted, fished, canoed, swam, and did all the outdoorsy stuff. Sometimes I really miss that. Sera really loves the outdoors and today we had snow flurries. I can't wait to see her rosey cheeks outside in a pile of snow. She is going to have so much fun!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Top 50 Songs

Okay, my tooth is nagging at me again, so here is a list of my top 50 favorite songs. Copy/paste strikes again!

Top 50 Favorite Songs EVER!

These are not necessarily in order:

Don’t Stop Believin’—Journey
Edge of Seventeen—Stevie Nicks
Hotel California—The Eagles
Sultans of Swing—Dire Straits
Baker Street—Gerry Rafferty
Broken Wings—Mr. Mister
We are the Champions—Queen
Celebration—Kool and the Gang
The Way it is—Bruce Hornsby and the Range
The Devil Went Down to Georgia—Charlie Daniels Band
Comfortably Numb—Pink Floyd
Don’t Stop—Fleetwood Mac
Sara—Fleetwood Mac
Lakini’s Juice—Live
Hell’s Bells—AC/DC
YMCA—The Village People
Star Wars Main Title Theme—John Williams
Superman Main Title Theme—John Williams
Dirty Laundry—Don Henley
Where the Streets Have No Name—U2
Learning to Fly—Pink Floyd
Rhiannon—Fleetwood Mac
When You Love a Woman—Journey
Sailing—Christopher Cross
Money for Nothing—Dire Straits
Heart of Rock & Roll—Huey Lewis and the News
Miami Vice Theme—Jan Hammer
In the Air Tonight—Phil Collins
Danger Zone—Kenny Loggins
Eye of the Tiger—Survivor
Don’t Let Him Go—REO Speedwagon
Still Rock & Roll to Me—Billy Joel
Love will Keep Us Together—Captain and Tennille
Physical—Olivia Newton-John
My Sharona—The Knack
9 to 5—Dolly Parton
Kiss on My List—Hall & Oates
Eye in the Sky—Alan Parsons Project
Down Under—Men at Work
Centerfold—J. Geils Band
Maneater—Hall & Oates
Open Arms—Journey
Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?—Culture Club
Owner of a Lonely Heart—Yes
Kyrie—Mr. Mister
The Heat is On—Glenn Frye
You Belong to the City—Glenn Frye

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Domino Year One-Updated with New Art

My tooth hurts today, so I'm going to cheat and do a copy/paste for this post. Here's the origin story for Domino, the character that I'm running in the new Mutants & Masterminds game:

Masquerade File

Code Name: Domino
Real Name: Paul LeMasters
Occupation: Student/Lucky Dog vendor
Marital Status: Single
Known Relatives: None (orphan)
Place of birth: Unknown, assumed to be New Orleans
Date of birth: Unknown, birth certificate says 10/31/1987
Group affiliation: Nightwatch
Base of operations: New Orleans
First appearance: Nightwatch #1
Height: 6’ Weight: 175 lbs.
Eyes: Blue Hair: Black


Paul LeMasters was found abandoned on the steps of an orphanage in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans, Louisiana in November, 1987. It is estimated that he was no more than a month old when he was found. Given a name by the priest who ran the orphanage, Father Paul Chauvin, LeMasters was raised in this very poor community with little support. Despite this disadvantage, Paul developed cognitively and physically at an amazing rate, easily memorizing anything he could detect with his five senses. Unbeknownst to Paul, several families had tried to adopt him, but Father Paul denied them all, keeping young Paul at his side.

When he reached fifth grade, Paul received a scholarship to attend Holy Cross School, where he excelled for the next seven years. With his amazing muscle memory, Paul found that he could bowl a perfect 300 game after the first time he saw a bowler roll a strike. After watching a no-hitter at a Zephyrs game, Paul became a dominant high school pitcher, with several major league teams preparing to acquire his services after his final year of high school. With a perfect SAT score in-hand, Paul was courted by university after university. At the beginning of his senior year, Hurricane Katrina struck the city and Holy Cross School was damaged beyond repair, like most buildings in the Ninth Ward.

Father Paul had arranged for the children of the orphanage to be evacuated to Houston, but he was strangely compelled to get back to New Orleans. Taking young Paul with him, Father Paul was forced to sneak back into the city. Wading through filthy flood waters, the pair approached the orphanage in the dark. Debris flowed past and around them as they made their way up the steps. When they reached the top, Father Paul crossed himself as he saw the orange spray painted “X” on the door. At the top of the mark was “9/30/05,” the date that the building had been checked. To the left was “NOPD,” and on the bottom a zero, indicating that no one had been found dead inside. The powerful stench of mold almost overwhelmed young Paul, but Father Paul remained steadfast. He marched to the top of the stairs where his office was located, while young Paul remained at the door, illuminated only by the moon. Suddenly, the sound of splashing footsteps took Paul by surprise and he was bowled over by two burly men. A knife was immediately at his throat.

The office where Father Paul had gone remained silent, but from high above, a cloaked man descended onto the two men from a shattered window. The knife disappeared from young Paul’s throat and the snapping sound of a spiral fracture from the burly man’s wrist could be heard over the pounding heartbeat in Paul’s ears, followed by a primal scream of rage and pain. Paul tried to clear his head, but the suddenness of the attacks had left him disoriented in the dark.

“Paul! Get down!” came Father Paul’s shout, but young Paul could not locate its source. All he saw was a masked man squaring off with the other thug, who had drawn a small revolver. The gun fired wildly, the muzzle flash blinding Paul momentarily, while the rustling cloak seemingly swallowed the man completely. The pair momentarily grappled, and the rotten wood floor beneath the pair began to give way. The cloaked man began to fall, and then a final shot rang out. As the cloaked man collapsed through the gaping hole in the floor, the looter grabbed his friend by the arm, eliciting another scream, and bolted for the door, the pair falling down the final three steps into the water. They scrambled to their feet and disappeared into the night.

Paul rolled the fallen hero onto his back, and to his surprise he saw the kind face of Father Paul behind the mask, smiling oddly serenely, despite the terrible, gaping wound in his chest. As blood bubbled from Father Paul’s chest, he rasped out his final words. “Paul,” he whispered, “when one Domino falls, it sets another into motion.” With his last breath, Father Paul withdrew a key from the cuff of his glove and pressed it into Paul’s hand. With that, Father Paul was dead.

LeMasters removed Father Paul’s simple costume, but left the body on the doorstep of the orphanage, where he tipped off the police it could be found. He used Father Paul’s cell phone to make the call, made mental note of all the numbers and contacts in the address book and promptly threw it over the levee into the slowly receding waters. Paul searched the priest’s office and found nothing salvageable there. He discovered a hidden watertight compartment behind a statue, from which he guessed Father Paul had gotten his disguise. He watched over Father Paul’s body for two days from a safe distance until the police arrived to pick it up. They changed the “zero” marked on the door to a “one.” A single tear fell from Paul’s eye. He blinked it away and fell fast asleep, nearly exhausted from his vigil.

Father Paul’s funeral was a short affair, attended by few. Most of the Ninth Ward evacuees remained out of the city, and there were few workers available to handle entombments when there was so much work to be done. Father Paul’s body was kept in storage until the archdiocese was able to claim it and place it in their mausoleum. Paul held back tears until he found himself reliving the moment of Father Paul’s death in excruciating detail. When the gun went off for the last time in his mind, he fell to the ground, doubled over by his guilt.


It was weeks before Paul found the key’s lock. He knew it was for a Wells Fargo safety deposit box, but he had no way of knowing which branch it was in. Temporarily employed by Entergy, the local power company, Paul worked in the city as one of the few allowed to remain within the city limits. As part of the crew working to restore power to Wells Fargo, Paul used the chance to work his way to the deposit boxes. Finally finding the correct box, Paul emptied its contents into a backpack and went back to work until the end of the day, when he deliberately let it slip that he was only 17 years old. Freed of his obligation to the company, he picked up his final check and went to work.

The backpack contained several items, including a 16mm movie reel. Paul headed back to the orphanage, equipped with a gasoline-powered generator he had borrowed from Entergy. He knew Father Paul kept old equipment of the type he needed. Pulling out an old Bell & Howell projector from the audio/visual storage room, Paul threaded the film from memory, marveling at the age of the celluloid, which had been spliced in several places. Using a moldy bed sheet as a screen, Paul watched as his future unfolded on old linen.

In a series of clips dating back to before talkies, men dressed in cloaks and simple domino masks explained and demonstrated what it means to be the next in succession in a long line of costumed adventurers called Domino. “From the time of the American Revolution,” the movie explained, “there has been someone called Domino fighting injustice. Sometimes from the barrel of a gun, sometimes from the blade of a sword, other times with empty hand, but always fighting to preserve justice and the ideals of decent people, Domino has prevailed.”

“Under usual circumstances the passage of the mask goes from father to son, but when that is impossible, a successor receives these instructions. If you are watching this, your predecessor was unable to train you him or herself. Follow these steps carefully, and within a few years you will be ready to take up the mask.”

Paul shut off the projector and paused quietly in the dark to think. Was Father Paul waiting for me to turn 18? Was that what the desperate trip to the orphanage all about? Why was I selected? My memory tricks? The fact that I have no family? He turned the projector back on and finished watching. In the last few minutes it was clearly Father Paul behind the mask, talking about taking advantage of modern technology to keep up with criminals. First thing I need to do is transfer this film to digital storage, Paul thought to himself. Wait. Does that mean I’m doing this? Of course it does. I owe Father Paul everything.

Paul watched the film again in his mind. Every detail burned into his memory, he made his plan. Digging into the backpack, he found a passport in his name for which he remembered applying when he was 16, $50,000 in cash, the key and deed to a French Quarter apartment, a Credit Suisse account number, and a detailed map of Northern China, with a mountaintop marked in red. Perfect, Paul thought, I already speak Spanish, French, and Creole. I always wanted to learn Mandarin. Also in the backpack was a simple black leather mask, sculpted to match his facial features on the inside, but padded within to disguise the contours of his face. Attached was a Post-It note reading, “When you’re ready.”

While he waited for his visa to be approved, Paul celebrated his 18th birthday being courted by baseball scouts and college admissions representatives. He told them up front that he was not interested in their proposals, but they were not dissuaded. He ate at the finest restaurants in the French Quarter, many of which were still open for business. The meals, complete with visits with the head chefs, arranged by his hosts, were exquisite. He had no idea that food could taste so good. Some of the chefs graciously showed him their techniques. Paul absorbed everything. The manual dexterity of their sous chefs was simply astounding. He had never seen knives move so fast. He asked if he could try preparing some vegetables and was able to replicate precisely the style of the woman he had watched. “Wow,” she said, “you may have a future as a chef.” Paul smiled for the first time in weeks, but kept his thoughts to himself.

Two Years Later

The China Air jet landed nine minutes ahead of schedule at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport. As Paul LeMasters stepped off the plane and down the ramp to the international terminal, no one was there to greet him. Forgotten by those few acquaintances he had left behind, he wouldn’t have been recognized if anyone had watched him. The way he carried himself with inner peace and confidence belied his tender age. He stretched for a few minutes to relieve the kinks from the 14-hour flight. Then the twenty-year old took a cab to his French Quarter apartment and unpacked. The last item he unpacked was the leather domino mask. He put it on. He was ready.

To Be Continued…

Monday, November 12, 2007


Well, today I went to the dentist and wow, I get to have all four of my wisdom teeth extracted next Monday. One is broken and infected and causing me a lot of pain, and the doctor said that if they pull my lower ones, the upper ones will grow longer. What??? How can I not have heard of this before? First I get hair growing out of my ears and now my wisdom teeth will get longer if the lower ones get pulled? What other surprises are in store as I get older?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Setting the Bar

Usually on Sundays I write about gaming and characters and fun stuff. Tonight, however, I feel compelled to talk about parenthood and childhood.

I took Friday off as a personal day because Sera was going to be without daycare, so I have spent the past three days with her, every minute that she was awake. I enjoyed every minute of it, especially this afternoon when she fed me cereal from my own bowl while she ate the majority of it. It's been a wonderful three days. I'm sure it's the same everywhere, as every parent thinks his or her child is the cutest of all. Well, they're all wrong, because mine is!

I never thought I would be a good father. I was extremely hesitant to agree to adoption because of my fear. My parents didn't exactly provide good role models for me in that regard. I have written before about this, but not in great detail.

As I played with Sera today, I noticed something. Every time she comes running to me, I pick her up and kiss her on the cheek. I must have done that a hundred times over the past three days. I don't even remember my mother ever kissing me, or even hugging me for that matter. For the most part, when I lived with my mother I also lived with my stepfather, the guy who used to beat me. I can't imagine what it was like for my brother, who was just about Sera's age when we went to live with that man. It just boggles the mind that anyone could treat children in that way.

Tonight, while giving Sera her bath, I had a flashback. Not a severe one, like combat veterans sometimes have, but enough of one that when she splashed water on me, I realized that my attention had drifted. I was thinking about how when my brother, sister, and I took baths when we were young, I had to go first in scalding water, so that when I was done, they could get in the tub and still have warm water. When I tell Sera that it's bathtime, she gets excited because she's going to have fun. I remember bathtime far differently. I remember having my head held underwater and having to fight my way back to the surface. I remember being scrubbed raw even when I was 11 years old and starting puberty because I smelled like an adolescent. Sera has bath toys galore. She has stacking cups that sprinkle water, two squirting toys, and letters that stick to the side of the tub. I had ten minutes to get in and out of the tub before the water got too cold for my brother and sister.

I get the feeling that being a father is going to bring a lot of these memories back to me. And I feel comforted that my daughter is going to have good parents who show her love and affection.

My mother has told me that she allowed me to leave her home when I was 12 to go live with my father because she thought that my stepfather was going to kill me. During our most recent conversation the last thing she said to me was, "You didn't have it all that bad." Well, if by that she meant that he didn't kill me, I guess she was right. But the bar she had set for herself as a parent must have been set pretty low. I'm setting mine a lot higher.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Superhero Team Names

It's funny how when a new superhero roleplaying game campaign begins, so much attention is paid to the name of the team.

I once sat in a living room during the first night of a campaign, and we never even got to that phase. The gamemaster had set up the common origins of the player-characters as gaining their powers as the result of being saved by the computer of a crashing spaceship. We spent two hours in the scenario trying to persuade the computer (also known as the gamemaster himself) to save us in a way that would also grant us powers. No matter what we did or said, the guy who created the scenario would not let the origin that he created happen. Finally, after two hours, the GM was satisified and I was mad. Talk about a waste of time. That was a game to which I did not return. Like Bill Cosby once said, I told you that story so I could tell you this one.

At least there was roleplaying involved in the scenario I just described. What generally follows the introductory story can be even more painful. When the heroes are finally together and unite to fight crime, they need a name under which to operate. Here's where the fun begins. We have the Justice Society, the Justice League, the Justice Machine, the Fantastic Four, the Avengers (on many coasts), the Defenders, the Teen Titans, the Champions, the New Warriors, the Guardians, the Ultimates, the X-Men, the Legion of Super-Heroes, Honor Guard, the All-Star Squadron, Squadron Supreme, the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the Outsiders, Alpha Flight, Generation X, the Next Men, the Southern Knights, Gen13, the Doom Patrol, Wild CATS, Excalibur, the Exiles, the Freedom Fighters, Freedom Force, Stormwatch, the Authority, the Eternals, the Liberty Squad, the Liberty Legion, the Protectors, the Inhumans, the Elementals, the Atomic Knights, the Seven Soldiers of Victory, Infinity Inc., the Challengers of the Unknown, X-Force, Force Works, Checkmate, the Manhunters, Strikeforce Morituri, Team 7, the Darkstars, Heroes for Hire, the Thunderbolts, Power Pack, Youngblood, the Tribe, and the Rising Stars. Those are just the published superhero team names I could come up with off the top of my head. There are probably dozens if not a hundred more! I once spent hours with a group just trying to figure out a group name.

So what to call your team? I was lucky when I joined the Aegis campaign because they already had the team name and the infrastructure established. When I started my own campaign, we struggled for a little while, but since the team consisted of the first superbeings in the world, they called themselves the Genesis Foundation. I learned after a few experiences like that to have a team name already in mind when they get started.

In one Champions campaign I ran, the team were recipients of a clockmaker in semi-fictional Crescent City, and they were called Nightwatch. In the last Champions campaign I ran, I knew it was going to be set in Chicago, and I had a common origin story set up for the team. At the climax of the story, the player characters would join hands under a collapsing roof, only to discover that they had created an impenetrable force field that saved them. They would call themselves the Untouchables.

Now I'm thinking ahead to the Mutants & Masterminds campaign we are about to begin. I wonder how long it will take us to come up with a team name? We are going to be based in post-Katrina, post extradimensional invasion New Orleans. Any suggestions?

Friday, November 09, 2007

That Thing You Do!

In the summer of 1996, I lived in Michigan City, Indiana. I had nothing to do in the afternoon after summer school got out, so I spent my time in the dollar movie theater. I would go to two, sometimes three movies a day until I had seen virtually every movie the theater was showing. I would buy however many tickets I needed and take advantage of their free refills on soda and popcorn and have a great old time for about 10 bucks. One of the best movies I saw that summer was "That Thing You Do!"

Written and directed by Tom Hanks, "That Thing You Do!" opens in 1964 Erie, Pennsylvania. Jazz drummer wannabe Guy Patterson, played by Tom Everett Scott, has just been discharged from the army and he's working for his father at Patterson's Appliances in the kind of downtown area that we just don't see anymore. Guy's friend Lenny (Steve Zahn) is in a band with no name and they find themselves in need of a drummer for a college talent contest when their timekeeper Chad breaks his arm playing leapfrog over parking meters. Guy quickly learns their song, and inadvertently names the band, the One-ders.

The band, led by James Mattingly III (Johnathon Schaech) wins the talent contest because Guy steps up the tempo of their song so that the college kids will dance to it, and they gain the attention of the owner of a spaghetti restaurant called Villapiano's, who hires the band to play at his restaurant for $100. After the session, a fan asks where he can get the record of their popular song, and that sparks the band to make one of their very own. When the record gets noticed, a small-time manager signs the band and gets their song on the radio. The rest is a whirwind of sudden fame, fast money, and inflated egos, as the band's record climbs the charts.

Without giving any more away, I think Tom Hanks did a remarkable job writing and directing this movie and appears in a minor supporting role as big-time record producer Mr. White. I'm amazed that he has't directed another. The movie has charm, wit, and some very young up-and-coming talented performers, like Giovanni Rabisi and Charlize Theron. Great attention is paid to the period, as the sets and wardrobe reflect the still-hopeful time of the mid-1960s, before Viet Nam was a household word and man had landed on the moon.

The hit song that the band records really could have been a hit song in that period. It hits all the right notes. It's a good thing, too, as it is played roughly ten times throughout the movie and strangely, it never gets tired for me. In fact, if you listen to it carefully there are subtle differences in each playing, as the band becomes more refined and experienced. If you really watch this movie (and I have seen it at least 50 times. That is not an exaggeration.) you can also see how the band upgrades their musical instruments as they grow into their roles as national sensations. The matching suits of different solid colors and the slightly longer hair reminds one very much of the Beatles at the time.

The performer who really steals the show, I think, is Liv Tyler. Liv plays Mattingly's girlfriend, Faye, and I think that the 60s look really suits her. She may have been born 20 years too late. She evokes the innocence of the age very well, and I think this was her best role to date, despite the fact that it was one of her earliest.

There are movies that I can't help but watch whenever they appear on television. Mel Gibson's "Payback" is one, as is "Tommy Boy" with Chris Farley. But "That Thing You Do" just continues to charm me every single time I see it. I'm still amused by the fact that The Bass Player literally goes through the entire movie with no name. Since he is one of the four band members, I have to think that Tom Hanks lost some kind of bet to have chosen to make a movie where one of the main characters has no name. The coolest thing is that he succeeded.

Thursday, November 08, 2007


I love grilling! Tonight for dinner we had jerk-seasoned porkchops with black beans and rice topped with fresh diced onions, Cuban style, and it was just sensational. Magi considered baking the pork chops, then cooking them sauteed in a frying pan, but I wanted to grill just one more time, before the gas line freezes.

I go against conventional wisdom and use a gas grill. It's just easier and far more convenient. About 15 years ago, in the summer, I was visiting my mother and she had this little gas grill in her closet. She had stopped at the neighborhood butcher shop and picked up some steaks and grilled them medium rare for us. I usually ordered my steaks medium well at the time, and this was the first time I had tried steak this way and I thought that I had wasted a lot of steak in my life eating them too well done. I eat them this way all the time now! The next Christmas, she got me my own gas grill, and it still stands as one of the best presents ever!

I lived in a small apartment at the time, and I grilled every single day for at least six months. I took that little grill out in the snow and cooked. I didn't mind getting a little cold. I tailgated with it, took it everywhere, and generally got pretty good at using it.

One of the true joys I get in the summer is cooking for my family on the grill. Sera's not really excited about the flavor of grilled stuff yet, but that's natural. I love coming home from summer school at 12:30 and just firing it up for hamburgers. We have a butcher shop on our way home from work and cooking their fresh hamburger is just amazing. It has just the right fat content to make them tasty.

This summer, while Magi and Sera were visiting her family, I grilled every day and night. This meal remains one of my favorites of the summer. That's a 16-oz. Porterhouse with a baked potato (margarine, pepper, no salt) and a pasta salad I made myself with tri-colored pasta, Italian dressing, pepperoni, roasted red peppers, and onions.

Over the years, I have experimented with my grill quite a bit. Did you know, for example, that frozen pizza on the grill is fantastic? I cook DiGiorno's pizzas on my grill all the time. They get a real smokey flavor and very crispy crusts. I cook hash brown patties on it, as well as egg rolls. I cook vegetables in a metal bowl, with a little olive oil-flavored cooking spray and Paul Pruddhome's Vegetable Magic on them. For meats, I just think you can't go wrong with Lawry's Seasoned Salt. Heck, I eat it (sparingly, because of high blood pressure) on popcorn, too.

When I think about it, there's very little that I won't cook on the grill. If I could find a way to do a turkey, I'd take care of the main course for Thanksgiving. Okay, maybe I'll try sweet potatoes next. A little butter and brown sugar, and wow, I'm starting to get hungry again!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Daddy Day

It was my turn to take Sera to the doctor today for her 18-month checkup, so I got to spend the entire day with her.

She started the day at 5:15 AM, 45 minutes earlier than she usually gets up, so Magi suggested that we use the extra time to have breakfast at Eddie's Steak Shed. I married a smart woman! I had steak and eggs, which consists of a 12-oz. ribeye steak, two eggs, hash browns, and two pancakes. Sera had the Mickey Mouse pancakes and bacon. Yes, that's one big pancake with two little ones attached to it as ears. Shhhh, don't tell Disney! She devoured her pancakes once I put syrup on them. Since she never eats syrup on her pancakes at home, this was a brand new taste!

We got to the doctor's office right on time, and everything was great! She's gaining ground in height and weight, and is still well ahead developmentally! She got a shot, cried for 15 seconds, and was happy.

She was nearly falling asleep at the doctor's office, so we went home for her to nap. After she got up, we went out to get new comics (Jonah Hex, Metal Men, Superman, Midnighter, and the Heroes hardcover) and then to Little Ceasar's for a cheap lunch. The rest of the afternoon was spent playing on the living room floor and napping. A guy could get used to this stay-at-home dad stuff!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Water Boarding

I normally avoid political subjects, but this one takes the cake. Water boarding is an interrogation technique that is described this way by ABC News:

"The prisoner is bound to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet. Cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner's face and water is poured over him. Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt.

"According to the sources, CIA officers who subjected themselves to the water boarding technique lasted an average of 14 seconds before caving in. They said al Qaeda's toughest prisoner, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, won the admiration of interrogators when he was able to last between two and two-and-a-half minutes before begging to confess."

How in the flaming heck can anyone suggest that this is not torture? I have read that numerous government officials deny that this procedure constitutes torture and it makes my gag reflex kick in. If there is one thing we as a country should not condone, it is this.
I think anyone who publicly says that this technique is not torture should voluntarily subject themselves to it immediately.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Am I the Only One?

Sometimes I feel alone, like I'm stranded on an island like Tom Hanks in Cast Away. I don't mean alone in life. My wife and daughter provide all the company I could want and I have friends besides. No, I mean alone in the sense that I don't like Seinfeld.

What's the deal with this show? Why do people find it funny? When it was first run, I gave it a shot as a midseason replacement. I watched the first 13 episodes and talked about it with my co-workers. I didn't laugh once. I tried watching it several times thereafter at the urging of friends who found it hilarious and I got nothing. What am I not seeing in this show? Classic TV moments that people talk about, like the Soup Nazi: "No soup for you!" Masters of their domain? Nothing. Not even a smile. "They're real and they're spectacular." Whatever.

I just don't get it. I have a good sense of humor, so why don't I see what's funny about this show? Now, I like Jerry Seinfeld himself. I think his stand up routine is funny. He was interviewed on Larry King the other day, and he blasted King for not even knowing that his show wasn't cancelled because of ratings. Seinfeld was merciless and funny. But today I thought, okay, let me give it a second chance, and what do I get? Kramer getting banned from buying fruit in a store and Jerry not being able to perform because George had been fixated on impotence.

Somebody rescue me!

Sunday, November 04, 2007

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

When we last left our heroes, they had just defeated most of Doug's villain group, The Magnificent Seven: Dazzler, Scamper, Kanga, Echo, Shockwave, Wipeout, and Mr. Magnificent. Several of the villains had escaped. We now join the story already in progress...

Aegis #162

November 8, 1987
Gamemaster: Doug Fisher

After their capture, Kanga and Dazzler became ill, Dazzler violently so. While being rushed to the hospital, Dazzler was sprung by the rest of the Magnificent Seven. Kanga, whose illness was not so acute, was very eager to help Aegis when confonted. Deprived of his trick boomerangs, Kanga led Aegis into Cordwayne Industries in South Bend, Indiana. Despite Willforce's best precautions Kanga escaped, and a trap set up by Mesmero was sprung. Combat ensued, and the Magnificent Seven was totally and utterly defeated.

And there you have it. Homemade villains combined with established comic book villains made for fun times in the world of Aegis.

I didn't record any more adventures until October of 1988, but I do have a ton of stories to share about the campaign and the guys who played in it.

Next Sunday: The evolution of Silverwing!

Saturday, November 03, 2007


If I hadn't become a teacher, I think I would have liked to run a comic book store. Okay, that's down the list a ways. Catching for the Detroit Tigers would have been my first choice, and being a comic book writer/artist would have been my second. But in third place, I think I would have been happy running a comic book store like Fanfare.

A trip into South Bend and Mishawaka today made me start thinking about this. I stopped by two of the three comic and gaming stores in the area, and wondered how it was they were missing out on the cornering the local market. Downtown South Bend has the Griffon, a game and book store where I get gaming supplies like dice and paints. Toward Mishawaka is Buy Me Toys, which sells comics and action figures. In Town & Country shopping center is Uber Geek Gear, where they specialize in HeroClix and T-Shirts. All of these places are owned and operated by sole ownerships with no employees. But if I drove an hour and a half to Kalamazoo, Michigan, I could go to Fanfare, where I could get all of those plus comic book original art and sports cards if I so desired. That's the kind of store I would want.

I first visited Fanfare Comics and Cards on December 5, 1983. I know this because it was my 19th birthday. I was in the first semester of my freshman year in college, long past the time when I thought I would be reading comic books. The last one I had bought was in 1979 when I was a freshman in high school, and I was putting all of that childishness behind me. But when I arrived on the campus of Western Michigan University, I discovered that not only were there students reading comic books, but there were actual groups of students playing roleplaying games and having serious discussions about comics. Not only that but I learned from one of the groups that there was a local store dedicated to selling nothing but comic books. I had never heard of anything like this, so I took a bus to the store to see this wonder for myself.

Fanfare's original location was on South Westnedge Avenue, several blocks from where it is now. It was formerly a two-story house shared laterally with a country-western music radio station. When you walked in the door, there were tables along two adjacent walls. On the tables were longboxes with Marvel back issues, and below the tables were the DC back issues. On the right wall were shelves that held the new comics. It was a tiny little hole in the wall but it was the most glorious store I could imagine. I interviewed the owners, Tom Fleming and John Kowall for a paper I was writing for an English class. I was able to learn more about the hobby in that hour than I had in my entire life. Having grown up in rural Michigan, I had bought comic books either at flea markets, our local grocery store, or a book store in nearby Cadillac. I had no idea what I didn't know.

As time passed and the direct market took flight, Fanfare grew. John left for Mishawaka, his home, and Tom moved several times to better locations down the street, each time expanding its floor space and inventory. Now called Fanfare Sports and Entertainment, they carry sports cards, collectible card games, roleplaying games and supplies, t-shirts, used CDs, DVDs, video games, comic book art supplies, and now Tom is also one of the leading sellers of original comic book art. It's amazing what one man has accomplished.

When I lived in Kalamazoo, I was able to pick up my comics every Friday. It was a weekly ritual to which I looked forward. A bus ride downtown, one transfer, and I was at their store. It was a $1.50 round trip!

When I moved away, I was still buying lots of comics, but I lived 90 miles away. I started using their mail-order service. In eight years, they only made one mistake in shipping my comics to me. Unfortunately, I don't buy enough titles to even make an order worthwhile. I still make my way up there three or four times a year, and every time I do, I regret not living closer by. I've visited comic book stores all over the country, and Fanfare is still the best one I've ever seen.

Friday, November 02, 2007

The Value of Time

Now that Sera has been with us seven months, we realize that going out to eat is highly-valued time. We only go out to eat about once a week now, whereas before we had Sera it was at least two or three times. Our one meal out has become very precious, and we hate to waste it.
We had to run out to Shipshewana in the middle of Amish land tonight to pick up Sera's quilt. Magi was in a support group in which the membership sent each other patches of material to be included in the quilt. We ate at one of our favorite restaurants, Das Dutchman Essenhaus, when we dropped the quilt stuff off. Essenhaus prepares food like my grandmother used to. Salad, freshly baked bread, fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, noodles, fresh corn, dressing, and pie for dessert. Oh, and it's family style and all you can put away. The wait staff just brings you huge dish after huge, delicious dish.

Well, since we had only recently eaten there, we tried a new place in downtown Shipshewana. It was a very Essenhaus-style place called the Blue Gate. Yikes. I ordered the all-you-can-eat cod with fries and cole slaw, while Magi went with the open-faced turkey sandwich. Sera had the child's meal of chicken and noodles. My fish was incredibly salty, and Magi's sandwich was underseasoned and had a big lump of fat mixed in with the dark meat. Sera's meal came out of a can. Canned carrots, canned chicken, all for $4.95. The waitress asked me if I wanted more fish before I had even tried it, and never came back to the table. She spent the entire time we were eating talking to the people at an adjacent table about her life as a waitress. It was only when we got up to leave that she came back and dropped the check on the table, saying, "Pay the cashier." She should have chosen her words more carefully, because the cashier is the only person working there who got money from me. The cashier asked how everything was, and I told her straight out. She looked around to find out who our waitress was, and that was it. I told her that we wouldn't be back, and she made no attempt to find a manager or anything.

Guess where we stopped for dessert on the way home?

Thursday, November 01, 2007

I Am Such a Geek

Am I the only one who wants to wear this shirt to the Iron Man movie when it opens?