Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Rules

My wife tagged me with a meme, so I have to write my rules.

The Rules

1. Do not make the same mistake twice.
2. Call it like you see it.
3. Be a good sport. Be gracious when you lose and even more gracious when you win.
4. If you dish it out, be prepared to take it.
5. Think. Above all else, think things through.


I'm not a big golden rule person. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" doesn't work if you are a masochist (with apologies to Richard Bach).

Martin, Michael, you're up.

20 Years Ago...Silverwing

One of my most enduring role-playing game characters was Silverwing. Part of the fun of RPGs is that you get to play a character who is not like you. Silverwing was the first character I played who fit into that mold.



Originally designed only to fill a role temporarily in my friend Scott's Kalamazoo Champions campaign, Silverwing was just supposed to be a throwaway character and I didn't put a lot of original thought into him. I wanted to play a star-spangled American character like Captain America, but without wearing the flag. So, I drew inspiration from an American Quarter Dollar and its eagle symbology. I had played a D&D character named Sir James Silverwing and I liked his shield and name, so I made a character with a shield and his name. At the time, Marvel's Squadron Supreme was fresh in my mind and I borrowed a little costume design from that book's American Eagle and from Nightwing, one of my favorite characters from the New Teen Titans. I was also dabbling in an interest in anime at the time, and Scott had introduced me to Fist of the North Star, an ultraviolent postapocalyptic story featuring martial artists enhanced with what one would have to call superpowers. My favorite character in the show was Rei, who had bluish-white hair. I borrowed that too. The colors of his costume came from the Detroit Lions, Honolulu blue and silver.



And there was Silverwing. To show what kind of cool nerd I was back in 1987, Silverwing's NPC son was named Calvin. The boy had a stuffed tiger. Silverwing had some vague birdlike qualities like telescopic vision and high-frequency hearing, as well as a vulnerability to sonics. Like I said a couple of weeks ago, I didn't know what I was doing yet as far as writing Champions characters. Silverwing would turn out differently the next time he appeared.
More on what he would become next week. As you can see from the picture below, we hand-colored our characters right on the character sheet!


Saturday, September 29, 2007

Stuff I Like

Reading back over my posts of late it looks like I'm getting a tad grumpy. So here's a post that goes the other way. I tried to come up with a clever, semi-literate reference for the title, but I'm just not that good. This isn't the place for talking about family and love, and stuff. That's too easy and it's cheating! Some of these things will get their own blog posts down the road. Here we go with the first installment of Stuff I Like:
  • Mountain Dew. Ever since I was a kid I have loved this stuff. There were times when I would drink at least a six-pack in one four-hour gaming session. Don't give me that Code Red, Baja Blast or Game Fuel nonsense; give me the yellow-green citrusy goodness!
  • Baseball. I love the game, and I mean everything about it. I like the pace. Some complain that the game is too slow, but if you understand the intricacies and you know what to look for, it is anything but boring. I like the geometry of the field, the statistics, the equipment, the smell of the grass, the differences in stadiums, the rules, the way players don't talk smack, the uniforms, the way you can enjoy it on radio, the length of the season, the history, everything!
  • Satellite Radio. I have been an XM subscriber since before the beginning of the 2005 baseball season and I have never regretted it. It makes long trips go quickly and you don't have to keep searching for a radio station as you drive. The programming is varied and they have every pitch of the major league baseball season.
  • Old-Time Radio (OTR). "Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear..." Since I heard a recording of "War of the Worlds" on reel-to-reel at my uncle's house when I was eight or nine years old, I have loved this medium. From Superman to the Shadow to the Green Hornet to the Lone Ranger, there are heroes galore. With Fibber McGee and Molly, Abbot and Costello, Jack Benny, and more, comedy really sparkled back in those days. It really makes for excellent background when I am drawing. I think it stimulates the visual portion of your brain as you visualize the story. I'm surprised more artists don't try it. There's even an OTR channel on XM!

  • Chicago-Style Hot Dogs. I accidentally ordered these late one Sunday night when I was on my home to Michigan City from South Bend. I ordered the hot dog special from King Gyros, thinking it was just a couple of hot dogs and fries. I opened the wrapper in the dark in my car and my mouth just exploded with flavor. I literally pulled over and turned on the interior light to see what I had just eaten. Amazing!

  • Technology. I like computers, mp3 players, Bose noise-canceling headphones, scanners, cell phones, digital cameras, all of it!
  • Horseradish Sauce. My grandma took me to Arby's for the first time when I was a teenager. The people at the counter asked me if I wanted Horsey Sauce and I really didn't know what to say. Grandma just laughed and said yes for me. I liked it so much, she bought a bottle of it for me to take home. I ate it on ham, turkey, hot dogs, everything!
  • Sketch Art. Disney has a new Studio Collection, which is merchandise that shows characters in the development stages. I like to see how characters were constructed and thought out. I'm a big fan of animation and comic book model sheets, especially those with notes that were added by the designer during the process of creation, like the new Blue Beetle here, conceived by artist Cully Hamner.




  • Broadway Musicals. Before the snarky comments start my way, let me just send you a nice package of Shut the Frak Up. I like Rent, Wicked, Jesus Christ Superstar, Beauty and the Beast, and even Mama Mia, featuring the music of Abba. I've liked every one that I've taken my wife to see. What people don't understand is that Disney movies are essentially Broadway musicals with animation. If you ever liked Disney movies, then it follows that Broadway shows are the adult form of them.
  • Movie Soundtracks. While we're on the subject of music, there's nothing like a John Williams soundtrack. I used to ride my bike on my paper route, listening to the "Superman The Movie" soundtrack on my cassette recorder, which I kept in my newspaper sack. Sera goes to sleep every night to John Barry's "Somewhere in Time." In my collection I also have "The Rocketeer," "The Shadow," "The Incredibles," "Beauty and the Beast," "Star Trek-Where No Man has Gone Before, Next Generation, Generations," "Star Wars," "Batman Mask of the Phantasm" (which was really hard to find), and "Batman (Danny Elfman, not Prince)." I have others too, but these were the ones that came immediately to mind. My knowledge of obscure movie soundtracks got me this mention on Mark Evanier's website.

  • Vanilla Ice Cream with Hershey's Chocolate Syrup and Jif Creamy Peanut Butter. This dessert treat needs no further description. It is the be-all, end-all of ice cream dishes. I put this together when I was 12 and it remains my greatest contribution to the culinary arts. Not original, perhaps, but darned tasty!

And that's the end of the first installment of "Stuff I Like." Time for ice cream!

Friday, September 28, 2007

Bionic Woman

Spoilers ahead for Bionic Woman "Pilot."






I sort of saw the Bionic Woman pilot Wednesday night; we were playing City of Heroes and chatting on Skype so my attention was divided between fighting bad guys and cracking on my buddy Carl. So, I caught the repeat of it on the SciFi Channel tonight. I like how NBC reruns its cool shows that way.


Michelle Ryan, who is British, plays a pretty convincing Jamie Sommers, an American bartender, raising her teenaged sister and living in San Francisco. Her boyfriend, bio-nerd Will Anthros, has been targeted for death by the first Bionic Woman, Sarah Corvis, played by Battlestar Galactica's Katee Sackhoff. Corvis drives a semi right into Anthros' car, smashing it, but most of the damage is done to Jamie, who loses her right arm, both legs, right ear, and right eye. Anthros takes his love to his secret biotech facility and makes her better. Better, stronger, faster. Okay, sorry, I couldn't resist!


When Jamie awakes just after surgery, Will explains that "anthroscytes" are healing her. Sounds like coal to me, but whatever. After the secret society of super-scientists convene a meeting to determine whether or not to train Jamie, she hops up out of bed and walks around. Well, I guess they have made improvements to bionics since 1972. Steve Austin had to work at it.

Jamie soon escapes from the biotech facility, which looks like an old missile silo, and turns on the speed. No slow-mo for this Bionic Woman! They also did a nice little CSI-let's-look-inside-the-body camerawork, letting us see some of the action inside her bionic legs. Nice work!


Back home, she cues a music video and deals with her changes. She runs for the edge of the rooftop and does a Tobey Maguire off the roof. She feels alive! Jamie apologizes to her sister and they have a bad moment. Jamie goes back to work and her sensory enhancements kick in just about the time she meets Sarah Corvis. Next thing you know, she's puking up oil in the ladies'. Sarah is nice, though, and holds her hair. What a pal!


Naturally when she walks outside the bar, Jamie's attacked by a mugger. Gotta show off those bionics! She takes pity on the mugger and lets him go.


Jamie confronts Will about what has been done to her and he reveals that there are microchips in her head. She doesn't like that, so naturally they end up in bed together. Like in a bad horror movie, Will is immediately shot from a nearby rooftop by Corvis. Jamie gets him out of sight, and goes out to confront Sarah. She does a Greatest American Hero landing and goes hand-to-hand with Corvus. Like the Seven Million Dollar Man, Corvis has two bionic arms and an advantage. They have a Lethal Weapon closeup fight in the rain, and Corvis makes her escape.

Jamie meets her new boss Jonas Bledsoe, played by Miguel Ferrer, who is as cantankerous as ever. Some veiled and not-so-veiled threats later, Jamie walks away with her freedom.


It wasn't bad as a first episode goes. It introduces the characters adequately and sets up the relationships that we can watch for later. I just hope that this more of a re-envisioning like Battlestar Galactica was. I'll definitely watch more episodes.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Boys of Summer

My baseball team, the Detroit Tigers, were mathematically eliminated from making the playoffs last night. The Yankees, with their nearly unlimited payroll, simply had too much high-priced hitting talent to overcome. With only three games left in the season, I have no reason to be disappointed. Last year the Tigers made it all the way to the World Series following 12 straight seasons of playing under .500 and their usual elimination date was in August each year. With last year's team 95% intact, they made a move to add designated hitter Gary Sheffield and that should have been enough to get them back. It would have been, too, had it not been for injuries.

When the season began, pitcher Kenny Rogers was already on the disabled list with a surgically-removed blood clot in his shoulder. Backup catcher Vance Wilson had to undergo Tommy John surgery to repair damage in his elbow. Flame-throwing relief pitcher Joel Zumaya ruptured a tendon in the middle finger of this throwing hand. The hits just kept on coming. Fernando Rodney, Jeremy Bonderman, Nate Robertson, Andrew Miller, Gary Sheffield, all spent time on the disabled list.

As a fan, I can say that the Tigers didn't make it because of injuries, but you never heard them say that. They didn't make excuses. They played the game the right way, playing through adversity, playing through pain.

There were fantastic highlights along the way in the 2008 season. Justin Verlander threw a no-hitter on June 12 against the Milwaukee Brewers. Todd Jones recorded his 300th career save. Pudge Rodriguez hit his 500th career double and took over the third place spot for catching the most games, lifetime. Five Tigers making the All-Star Team was icing on the cake.




When Magglio Ordonez wins the American League batting title later this week, he'll be the first Tiger to have done so since Norm Cash in 1961. Simply amazing, that kind of consistency. His monthly averages were .344, .346, .421, .278, .393, and .370. He had one month, July, that I can't even call bad; it was just average. Even in that "slump," if you can call it that, he never went more than two games in a row without a hit. His average right now stands at .359 and his nearest competitor, Ichiro, is at .349, ten points back. And at over 500 at bats in the books, Ichiro would need a miracle to overcome that differential. I love having him as a Tiger!



It's ironic that the Tigers won't make the playoffs this year, but the Cubs will, despite having a worse record than the Tigers. But that's the way the playoffs work; each division winner makes it in regardless of record and only the next best record earns the wild card spot. I'll be rooting for the Cubs, since former Tiger Craig Monroe and former Tiger player and manager Alan Trammell are with that organization now. I'll also root for anyone who plays the Yankees. It was my greatest pleasure to watch the Tigers knock those guys out of the playoffs last year. It would be almost as sweet to watch anyone else do it this year. If it can't be my boys of summer, it can be someone else's!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Yatta!

Hiro Nakamura's favorite exclamation has made its way into our house.
After I watched the Heroes DVD set a few weeks ago, I showed a clip from it in my classroom. Hiro used the word "homogenous" when speaking to Ando and I wanted my students to see that I wasn't just making the word up. They saw Hiro shouting, "Yatta!" and wondered what that was all about. I looked it up, and apparently it is short for the Japanese word, "yarimashita," which translates to "I did it!" Next thing you know, my students are celebrating every success with raised hands and a mighty "Yatta!" much to the chagrin of my fellow teachers.

When Sera was climbing the stairs on her way to bed the other day, she made it all the way to the top and I raised my hands and yelled "Yatta!" She started giggling, so I did it again. With a smile still on her face, she repeated as best she could, "ah-TAH!" I just about lost it. I swear, my daughter is the cutest being on the face of the planet.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

H.I.V.E.

H.I.V.E. Higher Institute of Villainous Education is a book by Mark Walden, a former game designer-turned author. It is the story of an orphan who is brought into a large school where the first year students are sorted into four different “streams,” distinguished by the colors of their school uniforms. The main character meets the boy who becomes his best friend on the trip to the school. They are confronted by two bullies at the first group meal. One of their professors has been transformed into a cat and one of their fellow students is a clumsy boy who just happens to excel at working with plants. His first name is Neville—I mean, Nigel.

No, I’m not kidding.

I was intrigued by this book when I saw it advertised by our Media Center on our school announcement channel, so I checked it out over the weekend. Having just finished it, I have to say that J.K. Rowling has nothing to worry about as far as competition, but she may want to have her attorneys take a look at this book. Anyone else who has read the Harry Potter series may want to avoid it.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Mail Mine Marvel!

I just picked up a sheet of the Marvel Super Heroes stamps at the post office. I don't use stamps a lot since we pay our bills online, but there is an occasional need to send in a tax form or a request for university transcript or what have you. Can you believe it costs $8.50 just to get an official transcript made? Especially considering that it's the only written copy of my grades that I can get! They notify you online of your grade now, which does you absolutely no good if you need written proof for anything! I paid almost $600 to take this stupid class, so you would think they could at least send one paper copy of my grade.

Since my baseball slugger stamps were no longer good (postage went up) and I only had a few of those left, I got this new batch, which I am not sure I will use up before the next rate increase.

I'm not sure why they included such a relatively obscure character such as Spider-Woman in here. If they were looking for a female character, I would have chosen She-Hulk or the Invisible Woman/Girl. If not a female character, then perhaps Daredevil or Ghost Rider, Marvel characters who have had their own movies, would have made good choices.

I used my Spider-Woman stamp on the transcript request. That'll teach them not to at least send me a report card! Why, back in my day we got carbon copies and before that they were carved from granite...

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Superboy

As I've been sick the past two days, I've been thinking about Superboy. My dad used to buy comic books for me, especially when I was sick. One of the comics I remember that he got for me was Superboy #165. It was a classic 80-page Giant with several reprint stories, including "Superboy's Last Day," in which the Boy of Steel falls ill due to his first exposure to Kryptonite. Bedridden, he uses his Superboy robots to substitute for himself as they perform tasks around Smallville. I thought that if Superboy could get sick, well, why not me? I'll stay in bed like he did.

This is also the comic that inspired me to learn to read, as I've mentioned before. The reprint from Adventure #210 with Krypto's first appearance was responsible for that. I wanted to know why Krypto was leaving Earth at the end of the story and my mother suggested that I learn to read so I could find out for myself.

The character Superboy has been surrounded by controversy for quite some time now. The heirs of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel have been suing DC because the copyright to the Superboy character has been restored to them. Siegel and his partner, Joe Shuster, had pitched Superboy to the company back in the 1940s and were rejected. Then, a few years later, DC went ahead without Siegel and Shuster and started publishing Superboy stories. Siegel and Shuster sued and won. It was determined that Superboy was a distinct character from Superman and that Siegel and Shuster owned the rights to him. They later sold the rights back to DC, but thanks to a 1976 change in copyright law, there was a limit to how long that agreement could last. As I understand it, the Siegels own Superboy again for now (Shuster had no heirs), until the courts decide if the original 1948 ruling was proper or not. There is some jurisdictional question about whether the 1948 judge was supposed to make copyright decisions or not.

The effects of this lawsuit have been evident for some time. The Legion of Super-Heroes cartoon features a young Clark Kent who goes by the name of Superman instead of Superboy. The recent release of the New Adventures of Superman cartoon does not include the Superboy cartoons that always fit between two Superman cartoons in a half-hour episode. In the DC universe, recent versions of the Superboy character have been murdered or have become murderers themselves. And now all traces of the Superboy name have disappeared from the pages of DC Comics. It's an ugly situation and it's hurting the fans.

It would be a perfect time to re-introduce the character Superboy to comic book fans. An all-ages book featuring Superman as a boy would be well-suited to kids who don't feel like they fit in, and I don't mean like that whiny Smallville TV show. They could see that a boy with power can act responsibly and do the right thing, not because he has to, but because he chooses to. That Superboy lived in a town where decency and community weren't alien terms shouldn't be lost, either. I hope this lawsuit is resolved soon. Kids could use a hero.
I drew this sketch of Superboy the other night in blue pencil and finished the pencils last night, before I lapsed back into a fever. I feel better today and my temperature is back to normal. Someone must have taken the Kryptonite away!




Saturday, September 22, 2007

102.1

No, it's not my favorite radio station. It was my temperature when I woke up this morning. I was a little stiff when I got up from dinner last night but didn't think too much about it. That's what 42-year old former athlete's knees feel like at times. No, it was when I got up to let the dog out before bed that every joint ached and I got the chills despite the low-70s temperatures outside. I knew then it was a bad sign.

As usual when I have a fever, I had delirious dreams all night. Sometimes it's being wrapped in ropes with knots I can't untie, and sometimes I'm covered in chains that I can't untangle. The fun times are when I'm solving a complicated mystery. I actually enjoy those. But last night I was plotting out spacing in a word document using one of the fonts I wrote about yesterday, And to make matters worse, there was a New York Yankees logo involved. Talk about a nightmare!

This morning, I slept off and on until 11:00 because I wanted to watch the season premieres of Legion of Super-Heroes and the Batman. My fever broke right about then, because I woke up in a pool of sweat. I was watching Superman's first appearance on the Batman, and the Man of Steel faced Metallo, the man with the Kryptonite heart. Once Batman got the Kryptonite away and Metallo was subdued, Superman asked for it back. After Batman dug out Superman's secret identity, he delivered that piece of Kryptonite in a lead container. And guess what Superman did? That's right, he threw it into the sun! How ironic. I had a good laugh over that.

I'll be back tomorrow with another tale from twenty years ago...if I feel better!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Fonts

I am a huge fan of fonts. Times New Roman and Arial just get dry after a while. When I make worksheets for my eighth graders, I switch them up a lot just to make the work more interesting. I always wanted to be able to letter comic books myself, and now I can.

Comicraft is a company owned by Richard Starkings and is responsible for the lettering and sound effects of a huge number of comic book titles. Their website not only has hundreds of fonts, but also tips on how to produce the effects in Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. I used one of those tips to slightly alter my blog title today. The first time I bought one of their products, I picked up the Zap Pack on a 3.5" floppy disk. The Zap Pack contained a number of valuable things: A font called Wild and Crazy (pictured) as well as a sound effects font and .eps files to make various word balloons. I used this one for a long time, but it was somewhat limited in that there were no parentheses, which are fairly important for math, and a few other symbols were missing as well. I would often have to substitute other fonts just to get those symbols and it sometimes wasn't a good match.
One great thing that Comicraft does is an annual sale on fonts where the price of every font in their inventory is the same as the year, expressed in cents. A lot of their fonts are normally very expensive for a teacher's salary. At New Year's this year, I'm expecting all their fonts to be $20.08. Each year I budget some of my Christmas money for a new one. When the font from my favorite comic book, Astro City (left) debuted, I jumped on it.

Another site that I use is Blambot. Blambot has some inexpensive lettering and sound effects fonts as well as some free ones. From Blambot I got the font that I use for headings on my comic book worksheets. Here is BadaboomBB:

When I was running a role-playing game campaign similar in feel and design to Batman: The Animated Series, I had to dig to find the name of the font that they used in the titles. I eventually found and used it. It's called Andes.

I'm always seeing new fonts that I like and I make it a challenge to find out what they're called!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Superman Dumbsday

This is going to look bad, ripping on two Superman movies in a week’s time, but I am compelled to do so today. Spoilers lie ahead for “Superman Doomsday.”

Superman Doomsday” suffers from a version of what Roger Ebert calls an idiot plot: “Any plot containing problems which would be solved instantly if all of the characters were not idiots.” In this case, Superman is that idiot.

Doomsday is a biologically engineered creature designed to kill. He is unearthed by an illegal drilling operation run by Lex Luthor and Doomsday immediately starts killing things. He kills them a lot. I stopped counting snapped necks after the third one. Inevitably, Superman goes to face off with this monster, as he should.

The pair exchange vicious blows for several minutes, knocking each other through buildings, cars, tearing up Metropolis like it was made of so much cardboard and cellophane. At one point, Doomsday leaps up to grab hold of the Daily Planet helicopter, flown by Lois Lane. He clings to the body of the helicopter in an attempt to kill passenger Jimmy Olsen because he has dared to take a photograph of the monster. Superman tries unsuccessfully a couple of times to pry Doomsday’s hand from the helicopter, and then shears off the landing gear with his heat vision, allowing Doomsday to fall to earth. It should be noted, therefore, that Doomsday cannot fly.

Superman comes back down after landing the helicopter safely, and the battle continues.
Doomsday gets Superman on the ropes, eventually hitting him so hard that Superman starts coughing up blood. In a moment of desperation, Superman flies Doomsday up into space, and then turns him right back around and piledrives him through the atmosphere, right back down into the middle of Metropolis. The shockwave from the impact obliterates dozens if not a hundred buildings, which were not evacuated. Doomsday is dead, and Superman collapses in front of Lois, and supposedly dies as well. Herein lay the idiocy.

Superman had flown him into space. Since Doomsday could not fly, Superman could have:

1. Thrown him into the sun. He meant to kill him, so why not? Even if Doomsday survived the fury of the sun, he could never have escaped the gravity of the core.

2. Thrown him into deep space. He could have even pushed him gently, so that it would take generations to even travel out of the solar system. He could have worked out a more permanent solution at his leisure.

3. Placed him in orbit of the Earth or the Moon, anywhere he would have been rendered harmless by his inability to fly.

4. Driven him into the Moon. There’s no atmosphere to slow his descent, and no one lives on the moon. Lives would have been spared.

5. Landed him in the desert, the ocean, a volcano, the north pole, the south pole, anywhere lacking a population of millions.

Unfortunately, in order for Superman to die in Lois’ arms, he had to drive Doomsday right back into the middle of a huge city. And everything that happens consequently in the story hinges around the fact that Superman died an idiot. Turns out that he was only mostly dead anyway, like the Man in Black in the Princess Bride, but he was still an idiot.

Superhero writers need to play role-playing games. My friends and I played out the Death of Superman storyline from more than 10 years ago in the comics. I wrote up Doomsday as a Champions character and put him up against our superhero team. They were nowhere near as powerful as Superman but easily subdued him without even breaking a sweat. If you can fly and your opponent cannot, you have a distinct advantage. You can keep them off balance in the air. If you have a ranged attack and they don’t, you reign supreme. You will never have to be touched by them. Think like you’re Superman, not a fanboy who wants to see mass destruction on the screen.

But back then in the comic book, Superman just stood toe-to-toe with Doomsday and they landed simultaneous finishing blows, ala Rocky II, except neither got back up. When I first saw Superman fly Doomsday into space, I got a sudden emotional rush, thinking, “Finally! The writers are thinking from the perspective of Superman,” only to be crushed moments later by the monumental stupidity of returning the monster to Earth. I literally said aloud, “You’ve got to be kidding me!” My 17-month old daughter Sera was playing in the room with me while I was watching the movie and she looked at me, wondering what I was mad about. I have a feeling she’ll be writing better stories than this by the time she’s 12.

The Kevin Smith cameo was kind of cool, though.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Spectacular Sean Galloway

My friend Eric is a big Hellboy fan. I was never into Hellboy all that much, but I enjoyed Mike Mignola’s artwork. When I heard that Hellboy was getting his own animated movies, I knew that Eric would want to know, so I started looking into the project, especially when they said they weren’t going with Mignola’s designs. Mignola’s design sense is apparently famous in the animation industry, as his designs were used for the Disney film “Atlantis.” Even the characters he didn’t design were made with his influence and inspiration. So when the producers, including Mignola himself, decided to go with someone else, I had to know why.

Enter: Sean “Cheeks” Galloway. I’ve read that they discovered him on the internet, with a gallery of art on http://www.deviantart.com/ like so many amateurs have. Well, as far as I’m concerned, he has the goods. In fact, after he was done with designs on the Hellboy movies, he got the job doing designs on the new Spectacular Spider-Man cartoon. I love this guy’s art!



Tuesday, September 18, 2007

K-Ville

I stopped watching the Tigers game last night at 9:00 to watch a new series called K-Ville. There's no way I'm letting a good show get away from me this year like I let Heroes escape my notice last year during the pennant race. Besides, the Tigers lost on a walk-off home run which all but sealed their fate for this year.

K-Ville is about two New Orleans police officers, trying to make a difference in the post-Katrina recovery. Anthony Anderson plays Marlin Boulet, a police officer whose family has left the city for Atlanta while he remains behind to try to help his neighborhood come back from disaster. His daughter has nightmares and is terrified whenever it rains. Cole Hauser plays Trevor Cobb, an ex-army soldier freshly returned from the Middle East with unknown ties to the Crescent City and a hidden past.

I really like this show. The accents are right, the terminology and slang right ("How's your mother and dem?"), and best of all, it's filmed on location. My wife, who lived in New Orleans for several years, vouched for the stuff I didn't know. On last night's episode, one of the crime scenes was on the concrete balcony across from St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square. Magi and I stood on that very spot not five years ago. It was very cool. It's fun seeing places with which you are very familiar as part of a TV drama.

The first episode, like most, essentially introduces you to the characters and their motivations, and this one does it very well. The plot was a little predictable, with the bad guys trying to profit from the disaster, but I'm very forgiving of pilots. This one sets the stage for greater stories to be told. I give it a big thumbs up.

The only problem is that it's on FOX, and since it's a good show it will probably be canceled after the initial six episodes.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Superman Returned--Badly.

Spoilers Lie Ahead for Superman Returns.

I wasn't going to post this but a friend of mine posted some thoughts on Superman Returns and asked my opinion. So, here goes:

"Superman Returns" is a movie in need of a good editor. Not just some ham-handed nerdy comic book guy who screams bloody murder every time a movie veers from nearly 70 years of convoluted continuity, but someone on set who could have asked Bryan Singer some very simple questions to avoid the distracting details that prevented this from becoming a truly great movie, instead of a love letter to Richard Donner's 1978 "Superman The Movie:”

Why did Superman need a spaceship to go to Krypton? The movie Superman has never had difficulty flying in space without a suit or a ship? Did he take books on crystal to listen to? Or was it simply the imagery of his returning to Earth the same way he first arrived? Oops, I think I answered my own question.

Why does young Clark Kent wear glasses if he was never Superboy? I don’t have a problem with him never being Superboy, but if he didn’t have to disguise himself, why would he wear glasses?

Why does Clark Kent pull his shirt apart to reveal the Superman logo in the middle of a busy street while running at a normal human speed? I get the iconic image bit and that Chris Reeve did it, but that’s just silly. He usually did the iconic thing in a storage closet, not where dozens of people could see it.


Why does Superman have an “S” on his belt? Isn’t the one on his chest enough?

When Superman saves the crashing plane by landing it in a baseball stadium, why does he just leave it there? Perry White even asks the question, “How are they going to get that plane out of the stadium,” so it’s evident that he didn’t. That’s an operation that’s going to cost the baseball team owners thousands if not millions in revenue and it would disrupt the lives of everyone involved with the team as a business.


What did they mean by saying Luthor didn't go to jail because Superman wasn't there to testify? Luthor was complicit in a coup attempt of the United States in an overt assault on the White House. Might there have been a few Secret Service agents who were willing to stand up in court? The President may have made a decent witness, if not.

Why is Superman a stalker? Good grief, when he’s not listening in on Perry White and Lois in a private conversation in Perry’s office, he’s following her home and looking inside her house like a super-powered peeping tom. It’s one thing to monitor the world for trouble, but come on!

Assuming this movie takes Superman and Superman II as canon, didn’t Lois wonder why she was pregnant, when Superman removed her memories of them being together? Did she just wake up with morning sickness, take an EPT and assume it was an immaculate conception?
If Superman left Earth five years ago, how old was Lois when he left? 17? Actress Kate Bosworth was 22 years old when her scenes for this movie were shot and she looks every bit of it.

“I hope this hasn’t put you off flying. Statistically speaking, it’s still the safest way to travel.” I hope they paid some royalties to whoever wrote that line in “Superman The Movie”.

Luthor’s plot to steal the Kryptonite from “Addis Ababa, 1978.” Funny, we thought he already stole that one in “Superman The Movie.” Remember Otis’ line: “Are we going to Addis Ababa, Mr. Luthor?”

Luthor making a grab for land is a bit familiar and tacky. How is he going to enforce his claim to ownership of this new island that covers nearly half of the continental United States? At least in “Superman The Movie” he went to the trouble of purchasing the land that would remain when California sank into the Pacific Ocean.

Those thugs who were on the new land mass when Superman lifted it into space--what happened to them? They were either crushed by falling rock, fell off into the ocean, or died of exposure to space. Superman doesn’t kill, but I guess he just figured that since they beat the tar out of him, it was okay.

I have plenty more, but I already feel like the aforementioned nerdy comic book guy and a grumpy one besides.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Twenty Years Ago, Part II

The first character I played in the Aegis campaign in South Bend was a speedster named Afterburner. There were already several established characters in the second generation of Aegis superheroes and I didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes.

When you play Champions, there are several archetypes. You can often see a martial artist/gadgeteer, like Batman, a brick like the Thing, a flying energy projector, like the Human Torch, a mentalist like Professor X, or an armored guy like Iron Man. There are combinations of these, but usually characters get lumped into one category or another. Aegis wasn’t like that. Element had four forms. Willforce could basically do whatever he could imagine—I mean, hallucinate. Killshaft had a wide variety of trick arrows, and Prism had varied effects on her light powers. Almost everyone was extremely versatile, and fast!

I chose to play a speedster in a campaign where the typical speed was already high. I didn’t have a lot of experience in creating Champions characters. There were hundreds of pages of rules spread over dozens of rulebooks and supplements at the time. So Scott, the gamemaster, helped me with it. I was not pleased with the results.

Because Afterburner would get more chances to act in a 12-second “turn,” Scott built him with lower powered attacks. Afterburner was not able to do any significant damage to any of the villains the team was fighting, and as a last-chance desperation move to do something, anything to fit in, Afterburner tried to destroy the tires of the villains’ escape vehicle. He couldn’t even do that. I basically threw my hands up in disgust and said that I’d start another character. Scott convinced me to try for one more week and I reluctantly agreed, but I’d already made up my mind. I wasn’t going to leave my enjoyment of this game up to playing a character that I barely understood and which couldn’t even disable a common automobile.
I was determined to learn these rules so that I could write my own character.

The sketches above are from my 1987 sketchbooks. I really wish I had kept drawing back then. I just basically stopped drawing around 1994 or so, and I picked the pencil back up just a few years ago. The sketch at right, which I drew this morning, is how I draw now. It's more along the lines of a Mike Wieringo-cartoony style, whereas back in the 80s I wanted to draw more like Mike Grell. Be Like Mike, I always say.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Roseland

Here's another idea for a television series. There is a tiny town called Roseland just north of South Bend on the Michigan border where the town council has been run by two people for a few years now. Dorothy and David Snyder, a married couple, were two of the three members of the town council and basically that allowed them to run roughshod over council meetings. They always held a majority of votes, so they controlled everything. They routinely had people removed from meetings, including their third council member. Over the past few years, the town's citizens have grown more and more angry with the Snyders' decisions. People were geting fined for minor things like having yard signs protesting the Snyders, and for obscure building code violations. While the Snyders were in control, one business along a main stretch of US 31/33 had a sign that read, "Welcome to Snyderville."

Magi and I would often look forward to reading the South Bend Tribune simply for news of the latest Roseland fiasco. There was a story about David Snyder allegedly being a deadbeat dad, reported owing over $100,000 in child support. Then there was a story about Snyder's alleged battery on fellow council member Ted Penn. Last night, David Snyder was ejected from a council meeting and was then knocked to the ground and arrested by a Rosleand police officer. On the video it looks like the officer got a few head punches in while he had Snyder on the ground, too. This might be interpreted as police brutality, and Snyder could theoretically sue the town, which is already nearly bankrupt because of all the litigation against it from when he and his wife were in charge.

I wonder if he would use the money to pay his child support? Stay tuned.

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Classroom

The Classroom should be a version of "The Office" but set in public schools.

Just got back from Sam's Club and Office Max. I dropped about $75 on office supplies for my classroom. I got towels and markers for my dry-erase boards, pencils and erasers for the upcoming ISTEP test, pens, and brightly-colored copy paper. Just another donation to the school system. Yes, it's tax deductible to a point, but Magi and I both drop more than we are allowed to deduct by several hundred dollars.

On the other hand, we almost didn't get our first full paycheck of the year today. There was an error in processing direct deposits which was partially resolved by the end of the day. Magi and I got our pay because of the bank we use, but some other teachers didn't. Because of the way the school system keeps starting the school year earlier and earlier and the way the contract says that we are limited in the number of pays we can receive in a calendar year, they had to pay us a half-pay two weeks after we started, the other half of which they deferred until the first week of January, when we will receive one-and-a-half pays. Make sense to you? Think of it this way. You work through a week of vacation now, and we'll compensate you for it in four months or so. Sound fair to you? Welcome to education.

So why does the school system keep starting us earlier each year? Well, it's simple. No Child Left Behind, also known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, requires students to make Adequate Yearly Progress over the year before. For our school, that means that our seventh and eighth graders need to perform better than the seventh and eighth graders did last year on Indiana's standardized test, which is called ISTEP. Since the test is given at the same time each year, it behooves the school system to start the students learning earlier and earlier to give them more and more time to prepare for the test. Eventually at this rate school will start in mid-December and get get out right around the end of September, so that students have had an entire year to prepare. I've always thought that fall would be a great time for a vacation. It's the off-season at Disney World!

Now let's look at that Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) again. We're not assessing students where they are when they arrive and then measuring where they are when they leave. We're not even assessing the seventh graders of last year and comparing them with their performance in eighth grade this year. We're comparing last year's seventh graders with this year's seventh graders. If you're into baseball, that's like a manager moving his rookie shortstop to another position and bringing a new rookie in to play shortstop and comparing the two rookie seasons to see if progress has been made. Every year he has to bring in a new rookie shortstop and each one has to play better than the last or he's in danger of losing his job. Oh, and there's no draft. He has to play whoever shows up.

To understand this law at its most ridiculous, you have to understand cells. There are cells determined by ethnicity, gender, language proficiency, special needs, and socio-economic status. If any one of these cells fail to make AYP the entire school fails. The most important cell is language proficiency, because therein lies the irony. Students who are not proficient in English are still expected to take and pass a test that is written...in English. If some of those students manage to become proficient in English they are moved out of that cell, leaving only those students who are, you guessed it, not proficient in English. According to this law, all students must pass the standardized test by 2014. I have a feeling that at our school will fall at least one cell short.

I have no problem with accountability. But I would like a common assessment that takes the measure of a student where they are and then compares it to where we are able to bring that same student. Either that or make it so that students cannot pass each grade until they pass the previous grade's standardized test. We have kids who have never passed a grade-level test. If they can't pass third grade, they put them in fourth grade. If they can't pass that, well, fifth grade would be a nice change of scenery, etc. We have kids in eighth grade who can't multiply 8 and 7 consistently but we are expected to teach them how to collect and analyze data using quartiles, as well as to solve systems of linear equations.

When is Hollywood going to make a show or a movie about schools that reflects the actual folly of what we are trying to do? It's more farcical than the comedies that have already been made. Maybe that's the problem; no one would believe it.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Too Fast!

I write about comics, games, baseball, television, movies, books and other stuff. I have likes and dislikes, pet peeves and favorites, but there’s one thing that is constant in my life that never fails to humble me and to make me so happy that I tear up: That’s my family.

We’ve been back from China with Sera for five months now and they have simply flown by. I watch her grow and learn every day and I marvel at the process. To actually see the connections she makes in her mind when she experiences something new is just amazing. To see the humor in her personality touches my heart, because humor in my family has always been very important.

My blood-related family and I are somewhat estranged. I haven’t seen anyone on my father’s side of the family for nearly five years. On my mother’s side it has been since Christmas 2006 and that was only my mother. I haven’t seen the rest of her side of the family in many years. But my family at home is the driving force in my life. Everything I do I do for them. They are the only reason that I haven’t walked away from teaching. I’ve had enough of students not doing homework and No Child Left Behind blaming me and my colleagues for their collective lack of progress.

I spent an hour last night on the floor with Sera in her room, watching her do nothing but connect plastic rings of different shapes and colors, feeding them into the silo of her toy barn and pulling them out of the gate below, making the toy play “Old MacDonald,” to which she still sings, “Ee-i-ee-i.” I still have to provide the “Oh.” At least here is a child I can guide. One of her first words was actually a phrase: “Thank you.” I have kids in middle school who won’t say thank you if you save them from being hit by a car or pick up and return a $20 bill that they dropped in the hallway without noticing. My daughter will not be one of those.

When Sera sees me every day, she bubbles and giggles and sometimes shakes violently as she tries to get out of her stroller. The best part of my day is when I pull up in front of my wife’s school to pick them up. When I pick her up, she pats my back repeatedly, almost as if she’s reassuring herself that I’m physically there and not just in her imagination. When we get home, she wants to go outside with Shadow, our 90-pound Shepard/Lab mix. She stands atop her plastic slide and watches me throw his Nylabone Frisbee. She claps when he catches it and cackles with glee when he brings it back. She has taken to her swing set slowly, but she’s now insisting on walking to it by herself and indicating which swing she wants to sit in. She’s still afraid of the metal slide, which is higher than the plastic one, and grips me tightly when I take her near it. That’s what she did the first few times I took her to the swing set, so I know it’s only a matter of time.

My wife gave me a book by a middle-aged man who, with his wife, adopted two girls from China. It reads like a series of blog posts cataloguing their daily lives and how his daughter changed him. The odd thing is that most of his entries don’t take place until she was almost speaking in complete sentences. There is very little about his daughter at the age my daughter is. That’s too bad because I think this is a magical time.

All of this started because I changed the picture on my computer desktop. I took out one of the composite pictures of Sera in China and replaced it with a current one. Oh my, she is growing up too fast already!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Zero.

The question was, "Of the 9/11 hijackers how many of the 19 were from Iraq?"

I asked 86 8th grade students this question today, and not one of them got it right. If we are to learn from history, we need to learn some history.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Twenty Years Ago...AEGIS!

...I was a 22-year old kid fresh out of college with my career ahead of me. I was a substitute teacher, living in a student ghetto, working part time at a grocery store in the evenings. And I had just made friends that I would have for the next twenty years.

As I've written before, my friend Scott had been in a serious car accident and needed someone to drive him to the Champions game that he ran every week in South Bend. Champions is a role-playing game in which the players portray superheroes and roll dice to resolve actions that their characters would take. Think of it as improv with dice rolling. I had played in some Champions games while in college, but nothing serious. No one had the time to devote to a weekly game and study regularly too. I sat in on Scott's game once during the summer, but there was no room for another player at that time. I thought it was cool how these guys met every week, had professionally drawn sketches of their characters, and even had painted metal miniatures to represent their characters. When the opportunity came to join, I jumped at the chance.

We played at Doug's house at 1025 S. Esther. I've mentioned Doug before. We are still close friends to this day, except for the loser was supposed to call me back last night and never did. Every Sunday afternoon, I would drive Scott and myself to South Bend and have a great evening with Doug, Eric, Carl, Craig, Charles, and Brian. Here's an unfinished group sketch that I did back then of the team, which was called Aegis.

From left to right is Element (Carl), Silverwing (me), Ronin (Charles), Willforce (Eric), Thunderfist (Doug), Prism (Scott), Killshaft (Craig), and Apocalypse (non-player character). Looming over everyone in the back is Star Knight (Brian).

You can see the comic book influences of the day. Element could become an elemental creature based on the classic four elements (earth, air, fire, water). At that time there was a comic by Bill Willingham called Elementals. Silverwing was based more or less on a combination of Alpha Flight's Guardian with a flight suit and a shield like Captain America's. Ronin was a ninja. Willforce was the most unique character. A veteran with terrible hallucinations, whatever he imagined became real in the physical world. If he imagined firing a machine gun, invisible bullets would be fired. He was the only one who saw the effects. To everyone else, it looked like pantomime. Then came Thunderfist, the son of Thor (we were all big on Walt Simonson's work at the time, and I swiped a Simonson figure and adapted a new costume for his sketch, seen at left), and then light-based Prism. Killshaft was an archer, and Apocalypse was a Rambo-type Viet Nam veteran before First Blood came out. His name came from "Apocalypse Now." Star Knight was a Gundam. Brian was big into anime long before it caught on in the mainstream. He had import laser discs from which to draw inspiration.

Man, we had fun. I'll be writing about these times from notes I kept each week on Sundays. It should be just as much fun remembering those times.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Wild Cards

Having just finished watching the first season of "Heroes," I can't help but draw certain comparisons to a great series of novels that came out beginning in 1987 called Wild Cards.

Edited by George R. R. Martin, Wild Cards is an anthology series, written by a number of different authors over 17 volumes to this point. The premise is simple: In 1946, just after the close of World War II, an alien race from the planet Takis decides to test a viral weapon on the population of Earth. The weapon falls into the hands of a human, who uses it to hold New York for ransom. A teenage hero of the war called Jetboy tries to foil the plot, but the virus gets released over the city. The Wild Card virus, has severe effects. 90% of the people affected by it die horribly, which is known as "drawing the black queen," 9% survive but are deformed and called Jokers, and the lucky 1% gain super powers and are known as Aces. The effects that this virus and these people have on the world is what the series is all about. The setting of the books spans decades. It begins just after World War II, and runs until present day. There are stories that take place during the Korean conflict, the McCarthy era, Viet Nam, Watergate, and pretty much every interesting time in our history.

The characters in Wild Cards, even the ones with powers, shy away from the tight costumes and flashy code-names from comic books. Well, they stay away from the costumes anyway. One of my favorites is The Great and Powerful Turtle, who is a shy man with telekinetic powers who builds armored shells out of junk cars for protection. The Sleeper starts out as a poor kid in junior high who changes powers and appearances every time he goes to sleep. He soon becomes addicted to stimulants trying to forgo his transformations; some of them are not very pleasant. Captain Trips is a counter-cultured biochemist who gets his powers from various powders that he creates. His "friends," as he calls them, are different personalities that he becomes when he takes them. They are all named and themed after 60s songs. You can find an index to virtually all the Wild Cards characters at this site. There are spoilers within, so beware.

The connections to "Heroes" lie in some feature characters and a few supporting ones. Senator Gregg Hartman has a persona named Puppetman who controls people after physical contact and uses these puppets for political gain. Nathan Petrelli might owe a bit of his existence to him.

Deadhead eats people's brains and gains their memories. "Heroes" villain Sylar gains abilities of people whose brains he eats. I actually created a villain called Abattoir back in the early 90s who gained powers by eating the hearts of his victims, much to my friends' collective chagrin, and I fully admit that I got the idea from Deadhead.

Demise is a contract killer who survived drawing the Black Queen and shares his death psychically with others. But his real gift is his regenerative ability, much like Claire (the cheerleader) has. Demise ran into problems a few times during the series when his bones are not set correctly and they heal in the wrong position.

There are any number of telepathic characters like Matt Parkman in Wild Cards, not the least of which is Dr. Tachyon, the sympathetic Takisian dedicated to helping those afflicted with the Wild Card virus. Well, he's dedicated when he's not drunk or deported.

Character similarities aside, the tone of Wild Cards is very similar to that of "Heroes," and I think that's why I liked it so much. I do love the superhero genre, with the costumes and silliness, but I also enjoy some serious science fiction where the only place you have to suspend your disbelief is accepting that the existence of extranormal power. If you liked "Heroes," give Wild Cards a try.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Heroes


I missed Heroes the first time around. And the second. The first time around it was baseball season and the Tigers were headed to the postseason. I was so excited I could hardly stand it. Every game was riveting. Magi told me that the show was great and I would watch it sporadically, and Heroes isn't the kind of show with which you can do that. Like Lost, the show is so serialized that if you miss even one episode, you're...well, lost.

Since the show just came out on DVD and the Tigers seem to be sliding further into second place and falling behind in the wild card race, I'm gearing up for season two by watching season one. Ordinarily, a show like this would be right up my alley. It has superpowered human beings and good storytelling. I am finding it to be everything everyone told me it was.

Typical superhero shows have the costumes and secret identities and all the conventions of the genre, but Smallville changed that. I wish Smallville was half as good as this show, but at least it served to establish that not all superheroes have to wear tights. Heroes reminds me of the Wild Cards series of novels edited by George R. R. Martin which I'll write more about later. In those books, the heroes are very real people with real flaws and personalities.

In Heroes, the characters feel real. They have kids, wives, husbands, relationships. They don't all come from New York. They're all over the map. I like that. I think my least favorite character so far is Nathan Petrelli, the flying man who is running for Congress. He is the most self-serving, manipulative jerk on television and he doesn't even care that he can fly! Now that's self-involved.

I don't want to start overanalyzing the motives of all the characters. I'm only up to the "Six Months Ago" episode and I'd probably be wrong about everyone. Except for Nathan, that is. I'm pretty sure he's a schmuck.

To be continued...

Monday, September 03, 2007

Problem Solving

I've been cranky lately.

I had a project that needed to be done over the summer and I just didn't get it done. One of our school's goals is to improve problem solving skills across the curriculum. The difficulty is that not everyone is an expert in problem solving in the formal sense. So my task was to create problems for each area of study in our building. Six problems each for ten departments didn't sound like a lot at first, but when you begin working on them and it starts to feel like you're pulling teeth after twenty, you know you're in trouble.

I'm a little bit obsessive/compulsive. Okay, a lot. When I have a task in front of me, it eats at me until I get it done. I can't relax, can't concentrate on anything else, and I get edgy. I've been trying to work on my secret project ever since school started and I couldn't seem to get focused because I had this huge albatross on my back. So, yesterday I left Sera and Magi at home and went into school on Sunday and knocked the project out. I hadn't had such focus in a long time. I worked all day and got it done.

The funny thing about stuff like this is that once I obsess over something like that, the line of thinking leaks into everything else I do. I started watching TV last night, and new word problems started popping into my head. After a while, though, my head cleared and I felt light and happy again, the weight finally gone. I came up with some new things to write about in my blog. I made a list. The next couple of weeks' worth of posts could be fun to read. I know they'll be fun to write.