Friday, August 29, 2008

Family Dynamic #1

With an entire DC universe not fit for a child's eyes, Family Dynamic is a breath of fresh air. Written by J. Torres, formerly of Teen Titans Go!, and drawn by Tim Levins, formerly of Gotham Adventures, Family Dynamics is the story of a generational superhero group whose powers are derived from the four classic elements: earth, air, fire, and water.

The first issue opens with an introduction to the Family via flashback. Pyralis, the father, is shown drawing flames from a forest fire up into the sky while his wife Sirocco draws the oxygen away using a vortex of her own creation. Their son Troylus brings a tidal wave to douse the flames, while their youngest son Terran evacuates civilians on a flying rock. It's actually refreshing to see an introduction done like this for the reader.

The introduction continues as the family is interviewed by another hero in his secret identity as a reporter. The exposition that follows gives a nice, detailed history of the team in their home of Storm City.

While the elemental quartet idea is by no means an original concept, it is a welcome sight to see a comic book that I can read to my daughter without having to edit the dialogue first. And the art? Well, let's just say that I was thinking of Mike Wieringo two weeks ago on the anniversary of his death, and this book made me think about him again. Tim Levins has adapted some of my favorite elements of 'Ringo's style, from the highlights in hair to the shadows of the wrinkles in an ordinary pair of pants. Add a cover by Sean "Cheeks" Galloway, and you have a real winner in this comic.

Originally scheduled as a six-issue miniseries, initial orders of #1 caused DC to cut it back to three. Give this book a try, and let's see if we can't get some more issues of a comic that deserves it!

Captain America Called...

Captain America called, Senator McCain. He wants his shield back:

I know it has an extra white circle, but it's still pretty funny.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

I Believe a Man Can Fly

I was going to wait until December to write this, but the muse is upon me.

I'm in a semi-darkened theater in Battle Creek, Michigan on Christmas Eve, 1978. I'm with my brother, my sister, my mother, my stepfather, and his three kids. We've ridden in the bed of a pickup truck with a cap on it, huddled together in blankets to get us all to the movies. We have popcorn and drinks, and in my hands I have a movie program, the first I've ever seen. I've been reading about the new actor Warner Brothers has found to play Superman, and I've seen him in previews for the past two weeks. He looks like the real deal in the program. As I peruse the actors' biographies, I'm up to Glen Ford, when the lights go down. I get goosebumps. After the bit with the kid reading a copy of Action Comics I hear the low rolling bass. Dum de da dum dum. Da da da da dum de da dum dum...then a burst of blue light fires the credits right at my eyes!

Two hours later, I walk out of the theater in a daze, past the ten-foot wide crystalline Superman The Movie logo sign. I have just seen the greatest movie in all of my fourteen years. Over the next several months, I see the movie four times. I see it with my dad, and with one of my best friends, Ken. We travel to Traverse City on a night when he has keyboard lessons, and after we see the movie, we spend the whole trip home in his mom's Lincoln Continental, with our hands outstretched in front of us, imagining the flight along the road in pursuit of an XK 101 nuclear missile.

I had been on the road to weeding out my comic book collection by trading them in two for one at the local flea market, but all of that's over with. I am buying everything I see with Superman in it. I find a new Superman series called DC Comics Presents, with art by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, featuring Superman and the Flash in its first two issues. I'm reading Starlog Magazine at a basketball game with Superman on the cover. This obsession lasts through spring and into summer. I have Superman The Movie bubblegum cards. I have the Superman soundtrack by John Williams on vinyl. While I listen to it, I sort out the cards in story-sequential order and match the music to the scene. I painstakingly record the soundtrack on my cassette recorder so that I can play it while I'm riding my bike on my paper route. I carry the cassette recorder in my paper bag, hands outstretched in front of me as I ride. It's an endless summer before high school begins and I have to put away childish things...

Yesterday, I plugged my iPod into an external speaker I bought for canoeing and blasted the Superman soundtrack while I rode my bike around the neighborhood. It was all I could do not to stretch my hands out in front of me. It's been 30 years and now I know I will never lose that part of myself. I can feel it again, a youthful exuberance, a hopefulness for the future. Maybe it's starting to get back in shape by riding my bike, maybe it's having a wonderful wife and daughter, and maybe it's having students who actually seem to care this year. It might be a combination of all these things, but right now I feel like I can fly!
So go ahead, Warner Brothers, make your darker Superman movie. Earn your money as you have every right to do. But know that you won't be inspiring any fourteen-year olds to help other people, to overcome adversity, or to do the right thing even when they don't have to. At least I had my Superman movie. I'll have to try to inspire kids for you.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Never Underestimate the Power of the Dark Side

"Like the recent Batman sequel -- which has become the highest-grossing film of the year thus far -- (Warner Bros. Pictures Group President Jeff) Robinov wants his next pack of superhero movies to be bathed in the same brooding tone as "The Dark Knight." Creatively, he sees exploring the evil side to characters as the key to unlocking some of Warner Bros.' DC properties. "We're going to try to go dark to the extent that the characters allow it," he says. That goes for the company's Superman franchise as well."

This quote comes from the Wall Street Journal Online.

Here we go again!

Good Week

My first full week of school was a good one. My students this year seem to want to do well, and I've come up with a new motivator.

I've divided my students up into four-person teams, and I have them compete for points when we review our homework each day. I use a spinner to determine which team gets the opportunity to answer, and each team's leader gets a four-sided die to determine which of the team members is the one to answer. If the student doesn't know the answer or doesn't know which question we're on, we quickly move on. If we don't have homework to grade that day, I check to see who has their materials. At the end of the week, I give a quiz. Students who get 80% or better earn one point for their team, and students who get them all right earn two points. The team with the highest accumulated points wins the week. They get prizes, ranging from candy bars to mechanical pencils to money, and they also get to choose where in the room they will sit the next week.

I treat the whole thing like a big game show, and they seem to respond to it. I will probably make small changes to the rules as we go, and I'll need to mix it up so they don't get bored with it. I'm encouraged, though. It's a good start.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Gen Con

Gaming has been one of my favorite hobbies since 1983, when I first discovered Champions. Champions is the superhero roleplaying game that I played when I met my lifelong friends here in the Michiana area. Essentially you take the role of a superhero in a game of pretend, only instead of running around the yard with a towel around your neck, you sit around a table and use metal miniatures on a map, rolling dice to resolve actions, whether success or failure. There are hundreds of these games, from Dungeons & Dragons to Mutants & Masterminds, to Villains & Vigilantes. Gen Con is the ultimate experience for those who play roleplaying games, board games, even video games. This four-day convention is expected to draw 85,000 gamers this week, and today I was one of them.

My buddy Rob picked up a ticket for me when he was in Indianapolis on Thursday, which saved hours of waiting in line. He drove us down this morning and we walked right past hundreds of people standing in line.
I wanted to see the new Champions Online demonstration for myself. Champions Online will be an MMORPG (massively multiplayer online roleplaying game) that brings the characters that I've been squaring off with for 25 years to our computer screens, and it's being made by the same guys who brought us City of Heroes four years ago.

I got to talk to Steve Long, former attorney and gamer who used to belong to a Champions Amateur Press Alliance (APA) with me and several other Champions players. He bought the Hero Games property some years ago and has developed it well enough that it was snapped up by Cryptic Studios for its next project. He is very excited about this new project, as well as the upcoming 6th edition of the Hero System rules. I don't blame him. The character costume generator alone on this new game is simply amazing. It's quite an upgrade over CoH. You can literally watch the muscle tone of your character change as you move an onscreen slider. It's that detailed! Game play looks very fast, and there are comic book fonts on the screen in both word balloons and captions. Instead of fully painted characters like CoH has, Champions Online characters appear to be drawn with line art with colors that are a little flatter and more like comic book art. It makes for an effective illusion that you are playing in a comic book story.

Champions Online will be released as both an Xbox 360 and a PC game, and if you have the PC version, you can either use a special Xbox controller or your keyboard and mouse. This looks like fun!

I passed by the WizKids booth in time to see a live Heroclix demonstration too. And when I say live, I mean they used living people as the Heroclix! They had actors playing Mr. Fantastic, Spider-Man (shown above), Daredevil, and Ms. Marvel. Each of them had a scaled up Heroclix dial, and a giant board to play on. They had little kids roll giant dice to resolve the actions. What a way to introduce them to the game!

Ms. Marvel apparently had the ability to withstand a giant wedgie. I'm not sure where that ability is on the dial, but she had it for the whole game!

I also picked up a book that I've been waiting for for quite some time. Green Ronin Publishing had advance copies of their Wild Cards sourcebook for Mutants & Masterminds. I'm really looking forward to reading this one!

I also had lunch with two of my teacher friends, one of whom having moved to Tennessee this summer. We ate at Buca di Beppo and had some amazing Italian food. I got to see several of my South Bend area gaming friends and even one of my CoH friends, Ben, who lives in New Jersey. When I got home, I got a huge hug from my daughter, whom I had not seen all day. I brought her back a pink stuffed bear dressed as a ballerina in a purple tutu. She loved it.

All in all, I'd say it was a great day.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Breaking Away

I've had my bicycle for 14 days, and so far it is a total success for me! There were two days last week that I didn't ride because it was in the shop being fitted for our trailer hitch (and I was in Detroit to see the Tigers) and two days this week because school was about to start and I didn't leave work until almost 9:00 PM. Even with just riding for 10 of those 14 days, I have put 51 miles in so far, with a total of about 4.6 hours on the bike.

I'm learning a lot about the neighborhood I live in. There are about five good subdivisions to ride in; the main roads are way too busy for my tastes. One of the subdivisions is called Pheasant Pointe. It has street names that just crack me up. All the street names are either named after pheasants, or the dogs who hunt them. It also just happens to be the home of about seven South Bend and Mishawaka police officers. I see their cars everywhere.

I've only taken Sera in the trailer once so far, but she seemed to enjoy it.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Live Long and Prosper

Okay, I confess. I am a Star Trek fan. I never dressed up at a convention, but I actually won a trivia contest at one once. Yes, I know more about Star Trek than most Star Trek fans. I won a John DeLancie-autographed script of "Q Who,", the episode of Next Generation that introduced the Borg. I have met at least a dozen cast members.

I admit this so that I have a little more credibility when I say that I am excited about this image. This is Zachary Quinto as Spock in the upcoming Star Trek movie. Zachary plays the main villain Sylar on Heroes, and in this picture, he looks like he could be Leonard Nimoy's son.

J.J. Abrams is directing this movie, and if he gives the Enterprise crew as many layers as he has given the characters in Lost, this could be as great a rebirth as the new James Bond franchise promises to be.

You can find this and other images of the new Star Trek crew at this site.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Rainbow Over Comerica

Went to the Tigers game on Saturday night with two friends from school. It rained a little, but then...

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Vacation, Part 2

I'm going to skip over the drive from Denver to Utah because Magi has all those pictures on her computer. I was driving, and she's got all the cool pictures right here.

The drive was nothing short of spectacular. After endless hours of cornfields we got to see some amazing scenery.

Once we got there, my dad showed us around. He and Dee have a great little ranch just on the south side of Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah. Dad had to show me his shop, which was the first thing they built. Here, he shows off his car and tractor collection. He's owned a lot of these cars and tractors in his lifetime, but not the 1950s Batmobile in the lower right corner:

He builds and trades guns, too:

Lots and lots of guns...oh, and knives too:

Here, he shows the medicine bag he had made for my late grandmother, whose great grandmother was Mohawk. Yes, I'm 1/64 Native American:

You might have guessed correctly that my father is into Westerns. Here is some of his memorabilia, including a signed photo of Clayton Moore as The Lone Ranger that my brother and I got him some years ago:

And that IS a Cylon helmet containing the Battlestar Galactica series DVD set I gave him for Christmas. Hey, it's good to have varied tastes!

My dad often uses this getaway spot to sleep in the middle of the night. He suffers from spinal arthritis that the strongest painkillers can't touch sometimes, and the only way he can sleep is in a chair. He was in a car accident when my mother was pregnant with me, that is responsible. His breastbone was broken by the steering column and he broke every one of his ribs...from the back. He also broke both legs. He almost died and still bears the tracheotomy scar on his throat. I'm just grateful he gets to spend his twilight years surrounded by the things that he loves.

Next time: The trip to Cedar City! With pictures!

Monday, August 04, 2008

What are the Odds?

Fans of "The Wire?" Anyone?

I saw this on my bike ride last night. What are the odds that there would be a corner like this near where I live? Now if I see a Wee-Bey Street, then I gotta change it up, yo.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

The Fun Never Ends...with Wisdom Teeth

Didn't do any biking today because I thought an emergency root canal would be more fun.

Last night, the tooth next to one of the wisdom teeth I had extracted last November came alive around midnight. I was in so much pain I couldn't even lie still. There was decay there caused by the wisdom tooth facing up against it and I had a simple filling put in about a month ago, right before we left on vacation. The doctor said I might need to have a root canal because the filling was so close to the gumline, and as usual, he was right. Murphy's Law seems to run wild with my wisdom teeth. So, after a combination of Ibuprofen and a healthy dose of Sera's Baby Orajel, I was able to get some sleep...but not much, until about 3:30.

This morning, when I felt semi-human, I called the doctor's emergency number and got in to see someone and he wasted no time in shooting my mouth full of painkillers and getting to work. 45 minutes later, I walked out pain-free, but numbed up so much I couldn't talk clearly. I'll have to have the rest of the work done next week, but at least the tooth isn't pounding like it has its own pulse.

If you are younger than 40 and haven't had your wisdom teeth out yet, I highly recommend it. I have had every possible bad side effect that the doctor has warned me about so far, and it's mostly because I waited so long to have them out.

Friday, August 01, 2008

My New Ride

After my recent bike ride around Mackinac Island, I was thrilled. I had discovered a way to get exercise that I really enjoyed. I had purchased the Jeep Overland Stroller for Sera and me to go walking but my lower back was just killing me over time. So to find an exercise that didn't cause severe back pain while being on vacation was a great bonus for me!

When we got home from vacation, I started shopping online for a bicycle. I found a couple that were reasonably priced, but Magi suggested that I visit our local bicycle shop, House of Bicycles. She sure was right!

I hadn't had a bike that wasn't a Huffy since I was old enough to ride a two-wheeler, and my last bike was a ten-speed that I bought during my senior year in college that didn't even make it through a summer before I returned it because the nuts that needed to be turned to adjust the brakes kept snapping. It was not well-made. There have been several advances in bicycles since 1987, apparently.

The bikes I had been looking at had 19" frames, and the one that the owner of House of Bicycles picked out for me to try had a 22" frame. I liked it well enough, but it was black and green, which I didn't really care for. The next one he picked out was even bigger, a 23" frame Raleigh hybrid with a 24-speed Shimano deraileur that was electric blue. He adjusted the seat for me, took the time to explain how and why the seat could be adjusted to way higher than I would have ever done for myself and then helped me pick out the right accessories for it by asking me what I would be using it for.

There's really something to be said for customer service in local specialty shops. I bought my camera the same way from a place in Elkhart. No matter the problem, I can always go talk to a person with expertise who is happy to answer and help me in any way they can. The people at this store are the same way. They guided me in the right direction and built me a bike to last. They made sure that I got fenders to protect my clothes should I decide to ride to work (measured today at 7.5 miles, but along scary roads with lots of traffic--maybe not) and a cargo rack with webbing to keep my stuff from falling off. I got a headlight and taillight, an electronic speedometer/odometer and, of course, a water bottle and mount.

I picked the bike up at 6:00 last night, and by my second ride at 8:30 this morning I had already ridden ten miles, all without pain. I had to have them make one adjustment, raising the handlebars a little so I could sit straighter in the saddle, but otherwise everything has been perfect. It's great to feel the wind evaporate the sweat instantly as I ride. I can ride longer without overheating, my knees and back feel great, and I get my pulse rate up for a good long time. This may be the answer I've been looking for!

Now, does anyone want a lightly-used Jeep Overland Stroller at a reasonable price?

McCain on Education

John McCain, at the recent NAACP annual conference, said the following:

"We should also offer more choices to those who wish to become teachers. Many thousands of highly qualified men and women have great knowledge, wisdom, and experience to offer public school students. But a monopoly on teacher certification prevents them from getting that chance. You can be a Nobel Laureate and not qualify to teach in most public schools today because they don't have all the proper credits in educational 'theory' or 'methodology.' All they have is learning and the desire and ability to share it. If we're putting the interests of students first, then those qualifications should be enough."

I am growing to hate politics. I really am. Putting politicians in charge of education is like putting candy manufacturers in charge of preventing tooth decay. Anyone who thinks that educational "methodology" is not important needs to shut the frak up about education...right now. It's like saying that all you need to do is take a few anatomy courses to be a doctor. Methods courses teach the very structure of the educational system, including ethics, assessment validity, and the essence of cognitive and affective development. Almost every college professor I had possessed a PhD and most of them couldn't teach their way out of a wet paper bag. It's not just about mastering the subject material. It's about being able to convey it to students of various ages with a wide array of pre-existing understanding in an effective way.

It's about teaching, Stupid.