Monday, December 29, 2008

Star Trek: Phase II

Okay, this is one of the coolest things I have ever seen. The original plans for a Star Trek revival included a television series with a second five year mission. These guys have pulled it off. The acting is weak, but the sets, uniforms, and effects are spot on. It's 1969 all over again:




This "show" is done in parts, available on YouTube, and apparently there's more of them. They not only have original series writers like David Gerrold working on them, but they also have Star Trek actors working as well. I really enjoyed this one!

Here's their home page!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Flashback: Atari!

This year, Christmas presents were a little thin around our house. Sera got the lion's share of the presents, as is only right. We made sure that the rest of our families and their kids were taken care of, and we tried to catch up on bills. Magi's dad and stepmother were generous as they always are, but we had to use that money to buy presents until we get paid again on January 2. On that day we both receive retro pay to cover the raise our association just negotiated for the new school year. They say we'd better enjoy it; with the economy in the tank, it's not very likely we'll get one at all next year. I'm not complaining. At least we'll still have our jobs!

I got Magi a professional knife sharpening station. We have a good assortment of knives, but they get dull way too fast and it's never fun to cook with dull knives. I had Magi cancel what she was going to get me, so I got a couple of books, and a Detroit Tigers beach towel and wall calendar. My dad sent me a hatchet that he made with "Native American" (he's 1/16 Native American) glyphs for which only he knows the meaning. But in my stocking this year was a truly great present. The Atari Plug-N-Play video game controller turns any TV with an RCA jack input into an Atari 2600 video game system with 10 games on it. With brilliant 8-bit graphics and powerful mono sound, this little machine will keep me entertained for hours and hours of fun!

I didn't have a video game system when I was a kid, but my mom did, so my brother and sister got to play it all the time growing up. I got to play with it sporadically when I went to visit them, and I never got enough. Now I can play some of my favorite games as often as I want. This particular version came with Centipede, Asteroids, Missile Command, Pong, Breakout, Adventure (my favorite), Circus Atari, Yar's Revenge, and some kind of Volleyball. You can be sure this will be going to school with me when we return a week from tomorrow, so I can share with my kids what real video games were like back the day!

One really nice thing about this unit is the quality of the controller. If you were playing video games back then, you might remember that the controllers were a little fragile. There was a little plastic piece inside the handle that touched the connections inside and it was prone to break every couple of weeks or so. You could get replacements, but it took time away from your busy playing schedule. This controller is heavy-duty and built to last. I'll be taking this with me on spring break for sure. Since it runs on four AA batteries, I can even plug it into Sera's extra DVD player screen in the car on the trip!

Wii users, eat your hearts out!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Spirit

Yes, it was bad. It was Sin City Lite.

Eric, Rob, Chas, and I went out to see The Spirit Christmas afternoon, and it was everything I expected it to be...and unfortunately, more. I get the whole chiarascuro thing, I really do. I get how the emphasis on one color (the Spirit's red tie) is supposed to draw your focus. I understand what writer/director Frank Miller was trying to accomplish. He and Robert Rodriguez were successful at it in Sin City. But whatever this movie was artistically, whatever it was thematically, it wasn't the Spirit.


SPOILERS FOLLOW

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The Spirit is not some genetic experiment performed by his arch-nemesis. He doesn't have some supernatural healing power, ala Wolverine. He doesn't do backflips up several levels of fire escapes. He does not wear black. He does not wear Converse tennis shoes.


Frank Miller knew Will Eisner, and supposedly respected his work. Why, then, did he turn the Spirit into just another character from Miller's own Sin City? Dwight wore a trenchcoat with Converse sneakers and did acrobatics all over the city. Daredevil (as Matt Murdock) even did that in Miller's Elektra graphic novel. Why, Frank, did we need Eisner's seminal creation to do the same? The Spirit comics had a flavor all their own. The stories did not have to be Millerized with Nazi symbolism and fetishism. You even plagiarized from your own work: "It was a nice piece of work, Kingpin. You shouldn't have signed it," became this gem: "It was a nice piece of work, Sand. You shouldn't have signed it."


You're still able to create stories of your own, Frank. What you've done is ruined a master of the form's best work. You can move on, but this is what people will remember of Will Eisner's work.


And that's a shame.




Friday, December 26, 2008

Fury

Nothing like revisiting the past to make the holidays festive! Fury, Stallion of Broken Wheel Ranch was a book that my Grandma and Grandpa McClain gave me in 1975, when I was just 11 years old. Those were difficult times for me, to say the least, and I don't think anyone could have realized the profound impact this book had on me.

The book centers around a boy named Joey Clark, who lives in an orphanage. Joey is unhappy, but a good kid, considered "horse-crazy" by his friends. He longs for a life with a real father as he goes through his chores from day to day. When an opportunity arises for Joey to go to a real, live rodeo, he sneaks in. When he's discovered, he makes a break for it and hides in a vehicle belonging to Jim Newton, a single rancher who has just caught a wild stallion named Fury. Of course Joey is discovered and eventually adopted, and of course he is the only one who can tame the wild stallion. It's stories like this upon which cliches are based.

But the power behind it is that it gave me hope in a time when I had none. My brief vacations to visit my father and my grandparents were the only bright spots in each year of misery. I immediately identified with Joey, and about a year later, my father allowed me to come live with him instead of being beaten and abused every day by my stepfather. This book got me through the last year of five where there was no silver lining to be found.

Thanks, Grandma and Grandpa!




Sunday, December 21, 2008

Schlock and Awful

This is the first page of Batman #683, which is previewed at this site.

My reaction is, really? You have to show Batman grabbing Talia's butt? Who is the target audience here? Obviously I couldn't have this comic book in my classroom. Could you imagine the parent calls I would get? Does this image do anything for older teenagers? I can find more graphic images by accident online, and so can they. So who exactly is this image drawn for?

I have the graphic novel that this scene is taken from. In it, Batman finally finds a moment of happiness in a lifetime of angst and tragedy. It was treated with dignity, class, and even respect for the characters. This is just schlock and awful.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Ah, Vacation!

I keep thinking about the summer vacation we took in late July. I know I didn’t write much about it at the time; I was too relaxed. I remember sitting by the “backwaters” in Mesick in a comfortable camping chair, with a fire going strong, crickets chirping, and a Tigers game on my weather radio. Sera was already asleep in the tent and the sun was going down. Magi was sitting beside me reading a book in the fading light and I thought to myself, it just doesn’t get any better than this. They say you can’t go home again, and to an extent that’s certainly true. There are no jobs in northern Michigan for us. There are hardly jobs for the people who already live there. But what a spot it made for a weeklong camping trip.



It was really difficult to convince Magi to go camping. As she has said herself, her family’s idea of camping was staying at a Day’s Inn. When my buddies and I went camping several years ago for Gen Con, I told Magi about the experience. She said even then that she was too much of a “princess” for the rustic campground we used. Well, a little store called Cabela’s took care of that! On our trip out to visit my father in Utah, I had brought what I thought we needed to camp. I had purchased a clearance-priced tent made by the Swiss Army company that looked pretty good and I set it up for the first time at my father’s house. We didn’t sleep in it, but I was reasonably sure we’d be comfortable. Well, it turns out that the air mattresses that lie on the ground are a little unstable, which we found out after one night in my sister’s tent, and our own tent collapsed in high winds the first time we tried to sleep in it two days later! All the way to Utah, I had seen signs for Cabela’s, and when we drove past one in Omaha, it looked to be the biggest store I had ever seen. So we stopped at every single one on our way home as I looked to make camping an enjoyable experience for her. A week and four Cabela’s stores later, we had a new 20’ x 15’ tent, and two queen sized collapsible air mattress frames. The windstorm in Omaha convinced me to not only replace the tent, but to get a weather radio as well.


As we set out on our first post-windstorm camping experience in my hometown, we stopped in Cadillac for lunch at Elias Bros. Big Boy. Big Boy might seem a little lowbrow for some people, but for me it’s a piece of home. The Big Boy we visited is the one at the end of Pearl Street, where my grandmother and my father lived during my senior year in high school and first few years of college. When I was with them, we ate there virtually every night. I bought Sera a Big Boy beachball for the campsite, and she really enjoyed that.

We also stopped at G&R Party Store in Cadillac, which sells fantastic deli sandwiches. Well, they seem fantastic to me anyway. If hunger is the best seasoning, nostalgia probably comes in a close second. I used to get their sandwiches when I worked at Four Winns boats right out of high school, saving money for college. I took a bite of my sandwich and packed the rest of it to go in our cooler along with a couple of 20-oz. bottles of Faygo (gotta love Michigan products), Redpop for me, and grape for Magi, and we only had one more stop to make at Wal-Mart, because I had forgotten to pack our pillows.

When we arrived at the campground, I found the tent to be just as easy to set up the second time as the first, which I had done at home in the back yard just a few days before. Sera and I had slept out there one night to make sure she was okay with tents that are not being blown down around us. While I was putting up the tent, Sera got busy getting to know the earth of my hometown through her new beach ball. Too bad she didn’t enjoy herself.



We were completely settled in within an hour, with the air mattresses inflated and the beds made. I looked at the sky and decided not to put the fly on the tent, so we could see the stars, which sparkle far brighter in northern Michigan without all the light pollution of the cities nearby. Magi asked me what we would do if it rained. I didn’t think it would rain, but of course we found out that it would the hard way. We awoke to raindrops in our faces and I threw the fly over the tent in about five minutes and just laughed as I pounded the stakes into the ground. I said, “We’ll do what everyone does at a campground when it rains; we’ll go to town!” So, the next morning we made a short trip to Traverse City, where we enjoyed a fantastic lunch at a bistro called
Amical on Front Street. My wife wrote a glowing review of it here. Sera napped in the car afterward while I went into a local bookstore to find something to read. We sat in our van in the rain while Sera slept in her car seat, listening to the raindrops, reading, and contemplating our amazing lunch. By the time we were headed back to Mesick, the rain was clearing, and the weather was mild again, as it was the rest of the week.

When Sera wanted to swim, I took her down to the beach where my grandmother used take me when I was young. We always called this area the “backwaters” but I never understood what it really was, and unfortunately I was too wrapped up in other things to ask. The “backwaters” is actually called Hodenpyl Dam Pond and it’s essentially a flooded valley where the Manistee River used to run through. When the Dam was built by Consumers Power in 1925, the waters backed up, creating the…”backwaters.” Swimming in the backwaters was always a challenge because the beach has about fifty feet of rocky sand until the water is about six feet deep, and then it drops off quickly and steeply. The mud bank that forms the drop off has freshwater clams galore. You can’t eat them, but they sure skip well across calm water.

While we were set up, my buddy Eric came up for a couple of days. I had wanted to go canoeing, but logistically, it wasn’t going to happen with three adults. So, we did the next best thing: we went rafting instead! The four of us rented a raft and set out down the river on the shortest trip they had available, which is two hours. We had a little difficulty at first, as the current pulled us behind a downed tree. Paddling out of that was a bit of work, but after that it was smooth sailing. You really don’t have to paddle much as you float down the Manistee. You just have to steer and enjoy the scenery. There are old railroad bridges, sand banks, and some evidence of logging. By the way, that part of the Manistee River is also home to a bird sanctuary. On any given day you can see Herons with wingspans well over six feet taking off. There are bald eagles too, but we didn’t see one that day.

Two and a half hours later, Sera was pretty miserable. Her life jacket prevented her head from turning so that she couldn’t even rest her head on Magi’s shoulders. She still talks fondly about riding in the boat, though.


That night, we returned to Amical, and had a wonderful dinner. I had a sirloin steak with morel mushrooms, the trademark of my little town. If you’ve never had morel mushrooms, they sell for around $25 per pound and they are worth it. I grew up with them, so I can’t bring myself to spend that kind of money on them, but if I see them on a menu as part of a meal, there’s a good chance that I will order it.

The next day, we said our goodbyes to Eric and left for Mackinac Island, just a hundred or so miles north. We had reservations for the Grand Hotel, and after four days of roughing it, we looked forward to being pampered. We took the ferry over from Mackinaw City, and while Magi and Sera rode in the main cabin, I rode on top in the air and took pictures. When we arrived after 15 minutes, we initially had trouble finding a coach to the hotel. For those who have not been to Mackinac Island, there are no motor vehicles allowed except a few fire engines and ambulances. Everyone else is conducted by horse, carriage, or bicycle. It was actually convenient that we were delayed at the dock, because I had forgotten my sport jacket. You see, at the Grand Hotel, you must dress in jacket and tie after six. I had left mine in the minivan. Fortunately, we had valet parked, so the people at the ferry arranged for it to be brought over on the next boat and delivered to the hotel. What service!

We checked into our room and showered, showered, showered. Our feet were filthy from days in the sandy pines, wearing Crocs. Even after you take a shower at the campground, you have to walk across sand to get back to your campsite. It took some serious scrubbing to get the dirt out of every nook and cranny of our toes. My jacket arrived at about the same time as the luggage, and we got ready for dinner. Meals at the Grand Hotel are sumptuous, and always wonderful. The milk chocolate crème’ brulee was amazing.




Sera loved shopping in the little village. There were all kinds of cheap souvenirs and plastic toys that she could play with, and we got her a t-shirt with a monkey on it that she just adored. There was so much to see that was new to her. There were horses everywhere, and beautiful flower gardens. And she really enjoyed the attention she got from the wait staff and the guests in the dining room as she virtually pranced through the aisle after dinner.

The next day, during Sera’s nap, I rented a bike and rode the 7.5 miles of Lake Shore Road. This is a trip I really want to take again next year with my own bike. The one I rented was comfortable enough, but my bike is built much more for someone my size. I’m hoping Sera will want to go with me in her trailer. She would really enjoy the scenery. I want to find a way to mount our video camera on my handlebars too. It’s a gorgeous ride.

All too soon, we were headed home back down I-75. It rained most of the way back, and it was fitting. We had enjoyed such great weather for most of our trip, we felt it was a fair tradeoff to drive home in the rain. With just a quick stop at Sea Shell City, a great tourist trap that has been there for years, we drove straight through until we were almost home.

As I sit here in the dead of winter with a slushy drive home ahead of me, it’s nice to think back to that week in what I consider paradise. I look forward to going back for more.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Greatest Christmas Movie Ever Made

'Tis the season for Christmas movies and specials, and we've seen our share of them during the past few weeks. We started with the Grinch and Charlie Brown, which we've owned for years. Then we picked up a DVD set with Rudolph, Frosty, and Santa Claus is Comin' to Town. It's a Wonderful Life will have to wait until after Sera goes to bed, but the greatest Christmas movie of them all is, of course, Die Hard.

My wife laughs at me whenever I make mention of this, but it's absolutely true. Released in 1988, this movie made Bruce Willis a star. Yes, it came out in the summer, but the setting if you'll recall, is a Christmas Eve party in Los Angeles, where New York detective John McClane, is reunited with his estranged wife, Holly, played by Bonnie Bedelia. No sooner does McClane arrive at the party, but a group of criminals takes the building by force. McClane hides in his wife's office, and then escapes to the unfinished upper floors, armed with only his nine millimeter semi-auto, he wreaks havoc on the operations of the villainous Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) and his accomplices.

The great thing about this movie is the very thing that made Live Free or Die Hard such a bad movie. There is no leaping from the tail of a crashing jet. There is no explosion that doesn't belong in the movie for plot reasons. It's just McClane, running around an office building barefoot with an increasingly dirty tank top, mixing it up with the bad guys and actually getting hurt. He doesn't shrug off bullet wounds. Like Indiana Jones, McClane's pain isn't ignored. He's slowed by injury. He gets punchy from blood loss. And the misdirection by the bad guys was completely fresh and novel at the time.

One of the bad things about Die Hard is going to be a problem for movies (and novels) from now on; current technology dates the story badly. If McClane had posessed a simple cell phone, events would have been drastically different. One of the weaknesses the bad guys capitalize on after they cut the phone lines is the lack of information about them that the police and FBI have. McClane could have changed all of that as well as the timing of their arrival by being able to identify himself as a police officer when calling in the emergency.

Despite any of its problems, Die Hard remains a top-notch action movie--no, make that a top notch Christmas movie, indeed a prototype for what action movies should be and so seldom are.

Yippie-Kay-Yay--er, you know the rest.

Brad Bird on the Spirit? Oh, What Could Have Been!

I read on Mark Evanier's site this morning that we could have had a great Spirit movie over 25 years ago by the director of the Iron Giant, the Incredibles, and Ratatouille, instead of Frank Miller's (per)version:

http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/herocomplex/2008/12/the-spirit-that.html

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Faucet

I stayed home with Sera today, and it was just wonderful. She's sick, with her nose running like a faucet, but her appetite is unchanged. Ordinarily, she wakes up at 6:00. Today, she didn't wake up until 7:30, and was ravenous. My little girl ate about 3,200 grapes, and then an entire banana, followed by a piece of bacon, a piece of toast, and some of my eggs. Feed a cold, starve a fever, I guess!

While we sat together on the couch with her tucked in next to me watching Wonder Pets or one of the other awful shows she loves, I watched the most recent episode of Chuck on hulu on Magi's laptop. I plugged in my headphones, which she of course wanted to try. So I hooked up my splitter, which we got for traveling to China, and she listened on her own headphones while still watching her show.

Searching through the channels, I saw an opportunity to watch a movie uninterrupted during her nap. Live Free or Die Hard was coming on at 11:30, so all I had to do was put her down for a nap a half hour early. I did that, and she thwarted me by staying awake until 12:15. Ladies and gentlemen, always respect the schedule! After a two-and-a-half hour nap, she was up and wanted a bath. Yes, you read that right. She wanted a bath. It's high recreation for Sera, and who was I to deny her?

By the time Magi got home from work, we had gone through half a box of tissue, but we had a great time together. Whether we were drawing on her easel, or watching the Little Drummer Boy on DVD, or just playing kitty cat, this is truly the way to spend a sick day!

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Watching the Watchmen

I told Magi that I wanted only one thing for my birthday (yesterday; I'll blog about it someday), and it was this book.

It is everything I hoped it would be. Watching the Watchmen includes character studies, notes, breakdowns, color roughs, original script pages, and colorist notes for the greatest graphic story of all time. You can literally see how Dave Gibbons worked out the visuals for every character, major and minor; how he laid out scenery so that it was consistent not only from page to page, but from issue to issue. He even includes the original graphic schedule he made for himself to keep himself on task. As I pored over every detail, I gained a new respect for comic book artists. The good ones really don't just sit down at the table and knock stuff out. They think about everything, and the speed at which they actually draw is secondary compared to the process of even getting to the point where they are ready to draw the page. Dave Gibbons goes through several steps between thumbnail breakdowns and the inked page. I had no idea how laborious it actually is and I admire him for his efforts, especially on this wonderful work.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

What's Wrong With This Picture?

Oh, no, the Spirit really does say this...in the movie trailer:

Unfortunately, you have to watch the whole thing. It's near the end.


Friday, November 28, 2008

Attention: All Comic Book Fans



This man's name was Christopher Reeve. He played Superman from 1978-1986.












This man's name was George Reeves. He played Superman on television from 1951-1959. Note that his last name is spelled with an "s" on the end of it and that Christopher Reeve's name does not.

If you want to have any credibility at all with your long-winded diatribes about the movie Superman of the 70s and 80s, you should at least know how to spell his name.



































































Thursday, November 27, 2008

Poor Atheists!

I saw a church sign today that made me smile. It said:

"Poor atheists! They have so much to be thankful for and no one to thank!"

I don't have to believe in a god to appreciate my life. I don't have to go to church to love my family and be a decent citizen. I don't have to read a bible to know what's right and wrong. I don't have to fear hell to do the right thing. And I sure as heck don't give a second thought about celebrating Thanksgiving despite my lack of religious belief. One thing my atheism has taught me is to respect others' beliefs (or lack thereof). Apparently that's a lesson lost on the pastor of at least one church in our area.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Batman BRB

With all the hubub being created due to the release of Batman #681 and the conclusion of Grant Morrison's Batman RIP storyline, I'm reminded of an actual good storyline. In the summer of 1977 I was 12 and Star Wars had just come out, and there was a real pageturner burning through Detective comics. Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers created what I consider to be a definitive Batman story. Did anyone believe, looking at this cover, that Batman was actually going to be dead? No. Not even my 12-year old self. So when DC publishes a storyline called Batman RIP, why does it get attention from national publications, as if there is going to be a permanent change in who puts on a mask with pointy ears and goes out to fight crime? People, it's been done before, over and over again, sometimes well done at that. This isn't going to be one of those times.

My real question is why does there have to be another Batman when Bruce Wayne goes out of commission? Why is there a mantle to fight for? Last time this happened, when Batman had his back broken, some nutcase who called himself Azrael stepped in and became a more vicious, murderous Batman and sullied the name. When he was taken down, Nightwing stepped in for Batman for a short time. Now, apparently, Nightwing, Robin, and Batman's son (don't ask) Damien, a resurrected Jason Todd, and even an archvillain named Hush are going to battle it out for the cape and cowl. I get the metastory that someone has to occupy the identity to keep DC's trademark fresh and all that, but why in a world of costumed crimefighters does someone have to be Batman? For that matter, why can't they all be Batman? Who's going to stop someone from doing something that's illegal in the first place, like dressing up and being a vigilante when there's real crime to be prevented? Does Bruce Wayne have a trademark on the Batman name that needs to be protected?

The same thing has happened over in Captain America lately. The guy who's been Captain America was supposedly shot and killed a while back, and now there's a new one. The Flash isn't the original Flash. Green Lantern has been replaced by a namesake and then returned, as has Green Arrow, Superman, the Spectre, Spider-Man, Ghost Rider, and I'm sure numerous others. When is anyone going to be convinced that the original character isn't coming back eventually? Never.

That's why they should have called the storyline Batman BRB. Because in internet parliance, don't worry. Batman will Be Right Back.*

* I did not come up with this phrase on my own. I saw it in the comments on a comic book website covering the "event" and then expanded upon the little joke, which actually made me LOL.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Worst Villain Base Ever!

Just got back from seeing "Quantum of Solace" with my friends Eric and Rob, and we really enjoyed the movie. I'd seen some bad reviews that read along the lines of, "Leave the action to the Bourne movies," but I have to say, this was a natural continuation of Casino Royale, which I still think is clearly the best Bond movie in the series.

Bond is still boiling over the death of Vesper, whom he claims not to have cared about, but obviously did. He is accused of being overly aggressive, killing indisriminately, and is reined in by M. But when he encounters another operative as bent on revenge as he is, he teams up with her to achieve both of their goals.

SPOILER ALERT!
SPOILER ALERT!
SPOILER ALERT!
SPOILER ALERT!
SPOILER ALERT!

At one point in the film, at the villain's Bolivian desert headquarters, each room in the place is apparently powered by its own hydrogen fuel cell. As Bond causes an explosion in the garage, the ensuing fire ignites and explodes each room in turn like a huge, glass and concrete Hindenburg. I laughed out loud for no apparent reason, as the title of tonight's blog came to mind. Architects designing green buildings in the future may want to consider that a major design flaw.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Spectacular Spider-Man

As a fan of Sean "Cheeks" Galloway's artwork, I really looked forward to more Hellboy animated movies. However, it looks like there won't be any more for the forseeable future, so I'll have to settle for The Spectacular Spider-Man!

I watched the first few episodes of this series with the help of my able two-year old assistant, but she took a little more of my attention than this show required. Saturday mornings quickly became more about making breakfast than watching cartoons. But recently, I needed some folders for school to organize my papers and I saw these cool Spectacular Spider-Man ones so my interest was rekindled. Sera helped too, since she has been wanting to watch "Spidey-Man" every night before bed for the past few weeks, but I was getting tired of chapter-skipping to where he's in costume, so I checked online to see if the Spectacular Spider-Man had been released on DVD yet. It took some searching, but I finally found a copy of "Attack of the Lizard," comprised of the first three episodes, which have been edited into a "full-length" movie.

I really like the design of Spider-Man. In this cartoon, Peter Parker is still a 16-year old high school junior, and he's not all musclebound as superheroes tend to be. What I really like, though, is the way they shaped his mask's eyes, so that the black outline has actual substance and adds to the shape of his head left). I don't think I've ever seen it done quite like that before. Usually, artists make the eyelets look like lenses that bend outward when viewed from the side. The heavy black outline of the eyes of the mask allow the character to be very expressive as only a cartoon character can, when wearing a full face mask. The producers of the live-action movies could never duplicate that, which is why Spider-Man so often suffers from "superhero unmasking syndrome."

Storywise, the producers take a few elements from the movies, but have really stuck to the early comics so far as introducing villains. I've only watched those first three episodes, but in those three episodes they gave us the Vulture, the Enforcers, Electro, and the Lizard, pretty faithfully taken from the comics, which I have started to re-read from my Marvel Masterworks books. I really like that they made it so that not every villain is green, as was the case in the early comics. Here are the Vulture, Electro, and the Lizard. Electro's old suit really made him look dated, so this one's actually an improvement. And the Vulture certainly looks scarier in black and red!
Another big selling point for me is that the show runner is Greg Weisman, creator and former supervising producer of Disney's "Gargoyles," a show that I really loved. This is a guy who knows how to produce an engaging show for kids with complex plotlines that adults can enjoy following too. And as any fan of Spider-Man knows, Spider-Man's story is one long soap opera. Looks like my VCR and DVR are going to be busy for the next few Saturdays. I have ten episodes of the first season that I haven't seen!


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Dagwood's Sandwich Shoppes


A few years ago, the local grocery chain, Martin's, started selling what they called Dagwood sandwiches. They have turkey Dagwoods, ham Dagwoods, roast beef, and even Italian Dagwoods, which are my favorites. Basically, they consist of the meat on French bread, and then provolone cheese, cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato, green pepper rings, and garlic-pepper mayonnaise. I wondered, while I ate my first one, if the creators of the Blondie comic strip had any plans to use the name, and sure enough, discovered that there was a budding chain of Dagwood's Sandwich Shoppes.


We ate at the local Dagwood's in South Bend yesterday, and I remembered that I had never written about it. It's a nice little place near Madison Center in the downtown area, at 420 N. Niles Avenue. The decor inside, as you might imagine, is largely based around the comic strip, with huge murals of Dagwood and Blondie all around. There is an HDTV showing various Blondie strips in a continuous slide show.


The food there is great, if a little overpriced. I've had a couple of their sandwiches, and the clear favorite is the actual Dagwood itself. For $8.99, you get Genoa salami, ham, pepperoni, turkey, cheddar and provolone cheese, lettuce, tomato, roasted red bell pepper, banana peppers, red onion , deli mustard, and mayonnaise, on three slices of white bread, held together with an olive skewer. It really is a great sandwich.


A big plus for Magi is that they sell Zapp's potato chips, a Louisiana company she knows well from when she lived in New Orleans. The chips really are good, but the best thing about them is that Dagwood's has its own special flavor, Zesty Pepper.
I just finished up the half I had left over from yesterday for dinner tonight. Rummaging through the fridge for it made me feel a little like Mr. Bumstead himself! And now I think I need a nap.

If My Grandmother Had Wheels...

"Aye. And if my grandmother had wheels, she'd be a wagon"--Montgomery Scott, reacting to seeing the USS Excelsior in Star Trek III

Yes, folks, this is J.J. Abrams' version of the starship Enterprise, courtesy of Entertainment Weekly.

I respect Mr. Abrams' work. I think "Lost" is one of the best shows ever. But I have a feeling this thing is going to be the biggest bomb since the Genesis Device took out the Mutara Nebula.

What is not being understood here is that you don't mess with your base. This is too radical a change for Star Trek fans, and just as John McCain had to reverse many of his positions to get the religious right to support his candidacy, Abrams should have asked for a more faithul recreation for his movie. He is going to enrage half the Star Trek fans in the world with an unfaithful design. The vast majority of people seeing this movie aren't going to care about what the Enterprise looks like and that's okay for the short term, but potential hardcore repeat viewers are not going to go back to the theaters to see it. And that's where $300 million grosses come from.

I hope I'm wrong. I hope this movie grosses a zillion dollars and they make a ton of sequels. But after seeing this design, I have no faith that it's going to happen. They should have gone with this one, designed by a fan:


Friday, November 14, 2008

Batman: The Brave and the Bold

The new Batman cartoon premiered tonight on Cartoon Network, and well...yeah...uh...

It's pretty bad.

Batman pulled a flexible batarang off of his chest insignia, wielded a lightsaber contained in his utility belt, and apparently his costume is also a space suit complete with jets (made from the tubes on his belt) powerful enough that they allow him to reach escape velocity. And that was all in the first ten minutes.

Batman teaming up with Green Arrow for the opening teaser was pretty cool as they defeated the Clock King, and then we are introduced to Jaime Hernandez, aka the Blue Beetle. This version of the Blue Beetle actually works really well in animation and could definitely hold his own in a spinoff. It's just too bad that it was announced yesterday that his comic book series is being cancelled.
I didn't have a problem with the animation and design styles at all. In fact, it's really cool seeing a Dick Sprang Batman animated on the screen. But Diedrich Bader (Oswald from the Drew Carey Show) is his voice, and it's just kind of weird because his voice is so familiar to me. I'm sure it's okay to kids who don't know him from Adam (West, that is!).
I only got a glimpse of the Batmobile in the credits, but it looks uber-cool.
I'll keep watching, but wow, I hope they pull the imagination back a little.

Update: You can see a few clips, including the credits with the Batmobile, here.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Zack and Miri


For only the third time since bringing Sera home from China a year and half ago, Magi and I went out without her. We went to see Kevin Smith's new movie, "Zack and Miri Make a Porno."

If you are a Kevin Smith or Judd Apatow fan, you will love this movie. If you're not, then I feel sorry for you because I laughed so hard at one scene, I thought I was going to pass out. I was still laughing about it when I left the theater.

Kevin's movies aren't for everyone. There's a certain raunch factor that you have to be able to get past to enjoy them. I don't have that problem because I teach 8th graders who pass gas in class. I think his movies are hilariously funny, aimed directly at comic book, movie, and pop culture fans who are well-versed in those topics for the past 30 or so years. There are always Star Wars references in his movies, and in Clerks II he even began to show his age by comparing Randal Graves' obsession with the original Star Wars trilogy to the new geek triad: The Lord of the Rings. Jeff Anderson, who plays Randal in the View Askewniverse, gets a shot at a supporting character in this new movie, and let's just say that there's some poetic justice for one of his Rings-bashing lines in Clerks II.

If you like Kevin Smith, see this movie!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Blue State?

I can't believe I'm in a blue state today. Indiana hasn't voted Democratic for president since before I was born. I've lived here for 19 years and have always looked around and seen red, and yet today it's clearly not.

I always feel somewhat alone, being a Michigan transplant. I'm usually the only guy I see walking around wearing a Detroit Tigers cap. If I see someone else wearing Tigers gear, I always make a point of stopping to talk to them. They're usually either from Michigan, or a transplant like me. When I go to Michigan for a visit, I always feel more comfortable because I see other people with the same interests. I feel that same loneliness sometimes as someone who leans liberal in a state that always goes conservative, at least in presidential politics. I don't feel that way today, at least for the moment.

This might be the first step in feeling at home in the state where I've lived for so long.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Is the Election Over Yet?

I will be so glad when this election is over. One of my students just called me "Mr. McCain..." twice!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Ten Years Ago...

Ten years ago today I met the woman of my dreams. After an online friendship of a year and a half, I flew from Indiana to New Orleans and met my future wife. It was my first time in New Orleans, and stepping off the plane, I was greeted with an absolute wall of heat and humidity. It was stifling, but all I could think about was that I might sweat through my shirt before I met her.

As I approached the gathered crowd of people awaiting passengers, I searched for her face, which I had only seen in a few photographs. Hers was easy to find; it was the face that was smiling the most. We hugged, formally introduced ourselves, and went off in search of luggage.

Our first dinner was at a restaurant whose name I can never remember, save that it starts with "C." It was Copeland's (I asked the other day). We sat at the table, talking about stuff that we had written to each other, basking in the glow of the restaurant lights. We already knew that we shared many interests, but had wondered if there would be personal chemistry when we met face to face. It was a question very quickly answered wth a resounding "Yes." We held hands the whole time that we waited for our food to arrive, overjoyed with finding one another.

I never remember the name of the restaurant (it was the only time we ever ate there together), but I sure remember what I ate: Shrimp Creole! It was the first time I'd had a Creole dish and it was amazing. But what was more amazing was that we, a couple who had only known each other online, found each other to be exactly what we had said we were. We had both heard horror stories about people meeting someone online, only to be disappointed or even worse, swindled after meeting in person. I think we would probably both have been crushed had we turned out to be someone other than who we claimed to be.

I stayed with her the whole weekend, touring New Orleans, visiting her at work, eating wonderful meals, drinking cafe au lait and eating beignets at Cafe Du Monde. I even cooked breakfast for her, because it's the meal I feel most comfortable making. My Mexican Fiesta Omelet was done just right. And since they don't have Big Boys in New Orleans, it was the first time she had eaten one. We visited the Riverwalk Mall, and saw the cutest kitten jumping in and out of a concrete planter, filled with enough plants to make it look like a jungle compared to her small frame.

When we parted at the airport, we were both crying in the rain. No, I'm not kidding. It was like a scene from a movie. As we sat in her car, she took off a small ring that she wore and put it on one of my fingers as a keepsake. On the plane, I tried to keep my emotions in check, and the only way to do it successfully was to start planning a return trip for Christmas vacation. I drew a calendar on a notebook page and started counting the days.

I love you, Magi, and thank you for making it so that I don't have to count days anymore.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

SHIELD Existed in 1957?

I always thought Nick Fury was an agent of SHIELD starting in 1965. Turns out I'm wrong, according to this Reuters story:


"In a written account, Torres described how he scrambled
his F-86 D Sabre jet in calm weather from the Royal Air Force base at Manston,
Kent in May 1957.

'I was only a lieutenant and very much aware of the
gravity of the situation. I felt very much like a one-legged man in an
ass-kicking contest,' he said.

'The order came to fire a salvo of rockets at the UFO. The
authentication was valid and I selected 24 rockets.

'I had a lock-on that had the proportions of a flying
aircraft carrier,' he added. 'The larger the airplane, the easier the lock-on.
This blip almost locked itself.'


At the last moment, the object disappeared
from the radar screen and the high-speed chase was called off.

He returned to base and was debriefed the next day by an
unnamed man who 'looked like a well-dressed IBM salesman.'

'He threatened me with a national security breach if I
breathed a word about it to anyone,' he said."

I wonder if he wore an eyepatch and smoked a cigar...

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Death of Teaching

I witnessed the death of teaching today.

At an in-service (a meeting where the administration pulls us out of the classroom to improve instruction), we were told that in order to comply with No Child Left Behind we, as a citywide department, will be using curriculum mapping to guide instruction. For those of you not fully versed in educationese, that means that what we do for every single day of a school year will be mapped out in advance.

If a student is taking Algebra I, which was the topic du jour, he or she will be able to walk from one classroom to the next, knowing exactly what to expect to see taught that day, throughout the entirety of our school corporation. It won't matter that some of us have the most advanced students in our school taking Algebra I in eighth grade, or that at the same time, high school teachers who are teaching the same course are dealing with those who barely passed regular eighth grade math the year before. The methods, examples, activities, and strategies will all be predetermined by a task force that was organized last year. I, as an instructor, will be a human automaton, not only following this curriculum to the letter, but reporting on my compliance each day using an online template where I will check off each item that I use in class each day.

This is my worst professional fear realized. My ability to make up imaginitive activities or worksheets is no longer welcome. My choice to take advantage of teachable moments, where a topic involving mathematics comes up in the news and I can spend time talking about it with my classes, is gone. My skill at analyzing student weaknesses is no longer required; it won't matter whether my class needs an additional day to comprehend a concept. I guess I don't have to worry if my kids struggle with the dreaded train problems for three days as I had to deal with last week; after one day it will be time to move on to the next topic whether they understand it or not. The task force clearly knows best what my students will have trouble with from year to year and how long it will take.

Guest speakers and field experiences are things of the past. So is the thought of interdisciplinary units, crossing curricula with science, language arts, or social studies. Want to co-teach the metric system with the science teacher in your team? Sorry, no time. We're doing the order of operations today and evaluating expressions tomorrow. Is your beloved family member in the hospital for four days? You'd better leave detailed substitute plans. Not that it should be a problem to have a substitute. With this cookie cutter operation, anyone could do this job. The question is, who's going to want to?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Why You Shouldn't See a Batman/Superman Crossover Movie

This is hilarious:



I never would have thought to cast Christopher Walken as Commissioner Gordon.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Enough. Already.

As I wrote about here, I hate these slogans that seem to be one-word sentences, even though they're not. This ATM actually has two of them plastered all over it. I would expect more from Teachers Credit Union.

I guess I should be thankful that they at least capitalized the words.

Friday, October 24, 2008

I Voted Today!

We voted early today, since we had the day off. I know, why do we need a day off? I would have preferred working today and getting out of school one day earlier, but it's not up to me. I try to avoid politics on my blog. You never change anyone's mind and the controversy that it brings gets one labeled. I'm okay with that today. Label me however you want.

It was a simple choice for me based on the things I care about. The one I can talk intelligently about is education.

Being a teacher, I want No Child Left Behind revised and fully funded. McCain said he wants a spending freeze on everything except for defense and entitlement programs. Well, there you go. Our schools would continue to run at NCLB-forced deficits until the financial crisis stabilizes, further restricting our ability to operate our existing programs. In a recent NPR interview, McCain spokesperson Lisa Graham Keegan said that the Senator wants to take teacher professional development money and give it instead to principals to dole out as incentives based on the test scores of students. This would create more drones teaching to tests than we already have due to the pressure brought to bear in the school system.

He also promotes the Troops to Teachers program, so that military personnel with college degrees "can go right to teaching and not have to take these examinations which -- or have the certification that some are required in some states." Yeah, he might want to read No Child Left Behind, which forbids that sort of thing. He only voted for it, after all.

McCain and Obama both support charter schools, which by the way, don't perform any better than public schools, but McCain wants vouchers so that our budgets can be even more strained. Charter schools boast smaller class sizes and autonomy from the ordinary bureaucracies that govern schools. I would think that if everyone had that, the public schools would be more successful as well.

But at least Obama doesn't want it to come out of the public school budget.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

LOL

I only use LOL when something actually makes me laugh out loud.

Here was a blog comment on some still shots promoting the new Brave and the Bold cartoon, premiering November 14 on Cartoon Network (one seen at left):

"The Ugly American Says: Batman looks so ANGRY in those shots. It’s like somebody killed his parents or something."

I've Been Tagged

Well, I haven't posted anything substantial in about forever, so I guess it's fair that I've been tagged by my wife. Now I have to write something.



According to the rules, I am to share seven random and/or weird facts about myself. This might be a challenge. Only seven?



1. I wear size 14 W shoes. My feet have actually grown two full sizes and an additional one in width since I turned 25. I think that counts as a secondary mutation, but I'll have to check with Grant Morrison.



2. I have freakishly fast hands and feet that are equally as slow. I hardly ever drop anything that I don't catch before it hits the ground. Usually things don't even get a foot away from my hands before I catch them. But my feet? It's like being grounded in concrete. If I drop something like a knife that I don't want to catch with my hands and my feet are in the way? I'll be headed to the emergency room soon thereafter. My slow feet are why I never played college basketball. I could shoot, pass, rebound, and block shots, but I couldn't cut off the baseline on defense.



3. I earned a brown belt in Okinawan Shorin-Ryu Karate. In a past life, when I lived in Michigan City and worked in Gary, I felt the need to learn self-defense in spite of being a big guy. I was awarded Most Dedicated Student in my dojo in 1994. If I'd stayed there, I would have had my black belt in about another year and a half.



4. I hate football. I might be the only red-blooded American male who does, but I don't care. There has never been a home run called back because of a holding penalty. I hate TV time outs, instant replay refereeing, and Notre Dame.



5. I love the metric system. I love it so much that I wrote a paper on it for a grad course that the professor said was publishable. Anyone who doesn't prefer the metric system needs to be able to tell me how many furlongs are in a mile and how many ounces are in a gallon. No, you don't get time to think about it; the answer should be given instantly.



6. I've had a constant ringing in my ears for about two years. 99% of the time I'm able to ignore it, but sometimes it just drives me crazy. It sounds like a watch alarm going off, but with a solid tone that's on all the time. There doesn't seem to be any reason for it. I didn't spend my youth going to loud concerts or listening to headphones with the volume all the way up.



7. I know the decimal equivalent of any fraction with single digits in the numerator and denominator. And yes, that includes all the sevenths. 1/7 = 0.142857... and 2/7 = 0.285714... and 3/7 = 0.428571... Have you noticed that they all repeat the same six-digit sequence? The sequence just starts in a different place! 4/7 = 0.587142... and 5/7 is 0.714285... and 6/7 = 0.857142... So once you memorize 142857, you can say very quickly what any fraction over seven would be just by figuring out what the first numeral in the quotient is. The rules wanted random and weird stuff, and it doesn't get much more random than that!



Like certain vice presidential candidates, I am choosing not to follow all the rules and won't be tagging anyone else. But I'm glad I got tagged. It made me write!

Monday, October 13, 2008

McCain to Deliver Underdog Speech

When I saw this headline, the first thing I thought was, "When Palin's in trouble I am not slow; So it's hip, hip, hip, and away I go!"

The Pledge. Of Allegiance.

And while I'm in a ranting mood, does anyone realize that the Pledge of Allegiance is one sentence? From kindergarten, we teach our children to say it like they're William Shatner:
"I pledge allegiance...to the flag...of the United States of America..."

I understand that the cadence is important for youngsters to break the pledge up into smaller chunks that they can memorize more easily, but should they still be doing this in 8th grade? It's one sentence, for crying out loud. If we can expect them to memorize the preamble to the Constitution, surely the Pledge of Allegiance isn't out of reach??

Sunday, October 12, 2008

I'm Sick Again

I'm getting kind of tired of feeling badly. I've been sick off and on for over three weeks now. It started with Sera, went over to Magi, finally got to me, and then made the rounds again. At least one of us has been sick every day for this whole time. Since I feel this way again, and I just got done watching Andy Rooney on 60 minutes (he's still alive??!), I think I'll rant for a bit.

  • Comic book fans, the actor who played Superman in the 70s and 80s is Christopher Reeve. The guy who played him on TV in the 50s was George Reeves. Obviously there is no relation, since their names are spelled differently!
  • When you are dinner with people, put your frakking cell phone away. We were at dinner last night with a bunch of twentysomethings, and I swear to you, one of them was pulling his cellphone out between bites. I may be getting old, but it was driving me crazy. At least pretend like you want to be with the people with whom you are sharing a meal.
  • When I take the trouble to actually go to a store and I'm at the service counter, you take care of me before you handle a phone that starts ringing while I'm standing there. I took the trouble to actually travel to your store. Ask the phone customer to hold, and take care of me first.
  • Summer vacation, winter recess, Thanksgiving, and spring break are not paid holidays for teachers. One of the same group of twentysomethings last night was complaining about all the time off we teachers get. It's not like we're getting paid for it, Sparky. Believe me, I'd love to get paid vacations or holidays. It just doesn't happen. The salary we receive is based on days actually worked.
  • Two-way stops are not first-come, first-go. There are rules for right-of-way that you may have studied once in driver's training. If I'm turning right and you're turning left in the same direction I intend to go, yield the right-of-way! People treat every intersection like it's a four-way stop. If they slam on their brakes fast enough, they think they can go first.
  • White Sox and Cubs fans do not have any room to talk trash about our respective baseball teams. My Tigers have won the World Series twice in my lifetime. Their teams have a combined one win in the last 90 years. The Tigers have won four in that time. They stunk this year, but it won't always be this way.
  • Speaking of baseball, why does the Gold Glove award take hitting into consideration? Shouldn't the Silver Slugger award take defense into consideration then, too?

That's all I have for now. I think I'll go trim my eyebrows before I start looking like Andy Rooney as well. Seriously, can no one tell that man that it is allowed for him to be able to see from under that brush?


Saturday, October 11, 2008

Flashback



I was browsing deviantart.com today and ran across this piece (click to enlarge) from Dusty Abell. Dusty must be about my age because I know every character and vehicle on it. How many can you name?

Late addition: By the way, compare Ark II, at left, with the Space Academy's cruiser in the upper right.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

A Little Humor

A joke I read online in the comments section of a blog today:

"You know why John McCain blew off David Letterman, right? Because he used to be a weatherman."

Ba-DUM-bum!

Monday, October 06, 2008

No More Mammograms

Today in class, I caught a student passing a note. This is a major mistake in my class. For most of you who aren't in the education world, note writing and passing is a prelude to violence. I'm not exaggerating. Most of the interpersonal conflicts and violence in our schools stem from what someone said about someone else and most of that comes from notes that get passed around. Anyway, I made a big fuss about this as I always do. I ranted about how I have said not to do this since the first day of school, and how I shouldn't have to remind anyone every day for seven weeks of what they shouldn't be doing.

The student's argument was that it was not a note. It was a letter. It's a little semantics game that kids like to play when they're caught doing something wrong. I extended my classroom rule to "written correspondence between two or more parties," just to cover myself.

No sooner than I had returned to my trip around the classroom checking on progress, I saw another note being written. I took it away and raised my voice, saying that "I just got done telling you not to do this," when another student said, "Tell him it's not a note. It's a mammogram."

Peals of laughter went through the room. Most of the students and I were beside ourselves. Most of us except for the student who had made the comment, anyway. He had meant to say, "telegram." He still didn't understand what was funny. I explained what a mammogram was, and said, "That's it. No more mammograms in class, either."

Hopefully, they will actually follow this rule.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Parent-Teacher Conferences, Part 2

What I said last year, times infinity to the infinite power.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Final Thoughts on the 2008 Detroit Tigers

74-88, .457, 5th place in the American League Central. Dead last, even behind the Royals. Thank goodness this nightmare season is over.

Position Players

Curtis Granderson—Curtis started off the year on the disabled list after suffering a fractured finger in the second-to-last spring training game. He rallied after that, especially improving on his strikeout numbers and his average against left-handed pitchers. Despite missing the first three weeks of the season, he still scored over 100 runs.

Placido Polanco—Normally sure-handed Polanco committed eight errors this season, compared to none all of last season. He hit .307, down from .341 the season before, but his numbers with runners in scoring position declined even more, down to .278. For the previous three years, he hit .364, .396, and .380 with RISP. This is a big reason for the Tigers’ poor year.

Gary Sheffield—Sheffield, who had off-season shoulder surgery, tried to stage a comeback after a dismal year last year. Unfortunately, he tore a tendon in the middle finger of his right hand sliding into second base, and re-injured his surgically-repaired shoulder early on. As a designated hitter, a player should bat higher than the .228 with 19 home runs and 56 RBI. His continued thuggish behavior, especially during the recent scuffle with the Indians’ Fausto Carmona, makes me want him gone. I don’t care if he ever hits 500 home runs.

Magglio Ordonez—The 2007 American League Batting Champion got lazy this year. His constant swinging at the first pitch caused him to ground into a staggering 27 double plays. He still hit .317 with 103 RBI, but his fielding and baserunning were just plain awful.

Carlos Guillen—Carlos moved over to first base because of his 24 errors at shortstop last year, but the move was short lived to make a position for the even worse-fielding newcomer, Miguel Cabrera. He committed 14 errors in 89 games at third, and he just didn’t seem to have much pop in his bat, with only 54 RBI compared to 100 last year.

Pudge Rodriguez—Pudge was hitting .295 for the Tigers this year, when they traded him to the New York Yankees for former Tiger relief pitcher Kyle Farnsworth. It marked the end of the Tigers’ playoff hopes, as they were visibly shaken after the trade was announced. After that, they went right down the tubes. Thanks, Pudge, for coming to Detroit and putting us back on the baseball map.

Brandon Inge—Brandon suffered a displacement fracture to the ego this season. When the Tigers brought third baseman Miguel Cabrera over from Florida, Brandon found himself without a starting job. Even after Cabera proved to be as mobile as an oak tree in the hot corner, the Tigers put Carlos Guillen there instead. Brandon began the season in center field in the place of Curtis Granderson, and was actually one of the only hitters who didn’t fail in the first few weeks of the season. Brandon played in the outfield, at third, shortstop, and catcher this season. His batting average was atrocious, but he only committed one error the entire season, that one coming with only two games remaining in the season.

Marcus Thames—Marcus didn't show the improvement I looked for last year, keeping his long swing and hitting everything to the pull field. It scares me every time he goes after a ball in left field.


Miguel Cabrera--Leading the American League in home runs at 37, Cabrera got off to a very slow start. Once he got used to the American League, he hit like crazy. It was very exciting watching him in the second half of the season. He started out the season at third base, where he was a butcher, but converted quickly into a very good defensive first baseman.

Edgar Renteria--This was supposed to be the shortstop that we were looking for to shore up our infield, but Edgar's lack of hustle and production made him expendable. He hit .332 last year, but only managed .270 this season. The Tigers are not picking up his option for next season.




Pitching



Justin Verlander—A nightmare season for Justin, as he struggled with control over his fastball in more games than not. It seemed like early in the season he tried to slow his pitches down, but all that did was give the batters more time to tee off. He ended up with the most losses of any pitcher in the American League.



Kenny Rogers—I said stick a fork in him at the end of last season and I was right. He just lost it this year. Retire, Kenny.



Jeremy Bonderman—Season-ending surgery took Bonderman completely out of the equation as he battled a blood clot in his pitching arm. He actually had to have a rib removed.



Nate Robertson—Nate collapsed completely, and his dominance over left-handed batters ended quickly.



Armando Gallaraga--What a bright start for a young pitcher. Armando came up to replace the injured Jeremy Bonderman and had a better season than Bonderman has ever had! He went 13-7 with a 3.63 ERA. By far the best pitcher we had this season.



Joel Zumaya—An off-season injury took Zumaya out and he never recovered.



Fernando Rodney—I would still pay money to see him shipped out of town. He still looks like a lost child on the mound and fields his position like a coachless little leaguer.



Todd Jones—The Roller Coaster knew this was his last year and he played hurt most of it. He's retired now.

I can't even describe the disappointment that this season has brought me. The Tigers had a lineup loaded for success. "Win now" was the philosophy behind the trades that brought Miguel Cabrera, Dontrelle Willis, Edgar Renteria, and Jacque Jones to the Tigers. Instead it blew up in our faces. This season was harder to watch than 2004 (when I was first able to watch Tigers games on cable. Thank goodness I couldn't watch in 2003 when they went 43-119) and 2005 when they toyed with getting to .500. This team had all the pieces in place, but just played poorly. It was like they would try to find new ways to lose. When the starting pitching was good, the bullpen was bad. When the starters and bullpen were good, the defense or hitting would let them down. It was just like watching an orchestra, whose musicians all had different sheet music, trying to play all at the same time.

There's always next year, I guess.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

All Star Superman

As All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder was, in my opinion, the worst Batman comic book ever printed, All Star Superman is among the best examples of its title character's comics.

For 12 uninterrupted issues, unmarred by world-shaking crossovers and unnecessary guest appearances, we have been treated to Grant Morrison's and Frank Quitely's tribute to the wonder that is Superman. Nearly every element of the Superman of my youth is there: the bottle city of Kandor, the Fortress of Solitude, Krypto the Superdog, the Superman robots, Luthor as evil scientist (as opposed to the post-Crisis corporate tycoon), Jimmy Olsen's signal watch, and Bizarro. And it's all done well. Morrison takes the inane and treats it with respect and dignity and tells a story that is completely adult, without language and gore that would gall anyone with good taste.

The story begins in issue #1 with Lex Luthor killing Superman. No, really. Luthor plots Superman's death by overloading his cells with solar radiation, the same solar radiation that provides Superman's powers. Superman literally has more power than he can handle, and his cells are being disrupted by the surplus. Superman spends the entire 12-issue run putting his affairs in order and doing what he can for humanity before his inevitable end arrives.

Frank Quitely's art takes some getting used to, but grows on you after a while. He tends to draw Superman's red trunks more like boxer briefs than the circus trunks that inspired them, and Superman's cape is a bit short. But then again, that's how it looked in the fifties and sixties.

This title is a throwback in another way, too. I probably wouldn't have bought the first issue and gotten sucked into the story if it had not been for one thing: The first issue had a variant Neal Adams cover (seen at right). I am a huge fan of the Superman vs. Muhammad Ali treasury comic done back in 1978, and Adams' Superman is nearly as iconic to me as his Batman is. I remember a lot of the 70s Superman books were the same way. They would have an Adams or a Rich Buckler or a Nick Cardy or even a Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez cover, with Curt Swan interiors. Quitely is a bit more stylized than Curt Swan, but his blocky Superman is certainly reminiscent.

This series may have taken three years to put out 12 issues, but the story was well worth the wait. This is how Superman should be done.




Sunday, September 21, 2008

Counting to Ten

She's growing up way too fast.

Sera went from diapers to "big girl panties" in about five seconds. We started the potty training process when school let out in the beginning of June, but we got sidetracked when we went on our long vacation in July. When we came back, though, we started the process again, and bam! She's potty trained. The sticker she's wearing in the picture is from her first accident-free day at daycare. She was very proud of it, and so were we.

She's really interested in helping us cook. Magi and I share cooking duties, especially in the summer when I can grill every night if I want to. Whichever one of us is not cooking tries to keep her entertained so she doesn't get underfoot, but it's been more and more of a challenge. In the picture, she is helping to stir the pasta salad that fed me for a week at school.

We just assembled the Learning Tower, a pretty expensive stepping stool that has safety rails to keep flush with our work surfaces in the kitchen. Sera has already found it wildly fascinating to help prepare food, and I like that. I learned to cook in college, working in the dorm cafeteria. Don't generalize, now...Western Michigan University's food service was outstanding. There were never complaints about food in the dorms. I credit it for helping me to decide to stay in the dorms all the way through school. Cooking is a skill that everyone values when you can do it well, and I'm glad that Sera wants to learn. Yesterday, she helped make her own sandwich for lunch. She chose what went on it and spread the mayonnaise on with her plastic knife. She chose chicken and ham, mayonnaise, tomato, onion, pickle, and sport peppers from the refrigerator. I'm not making this up. I didn't choose a single item. She's like a little Dagwood, this one. Takes after her daddy!

The most amazing thing that Sera has done in the past few weeks is to count to ten. It's not what you think. She didn't just recite the numbers in order. She counted her floating letters one by one as we put them away. It's just amazing to me how quick she is, and the quantum leaps in cognitive development she makes. And every time she does it, I feel like she's moving too fast. On one hand, I want to take her to do grown up activities like canoeing and hiking; on the other, I want her to stay my little girl forever.

I have a feeling I'll get my wish both ways.