Thursday, May 28, 2009

Batman and Robin Unmasked

I was reading the DC Comics message boards today and I just don't get Batman and Robin anymore. People were going on and on about "what kind of Robin" this new kid Damian is going to be with Dick Grayson being Batman now. I yawned.

When it comes to the point where a character has been replaced so often that the role is typified, then it's no longer a distinct character. It's a company trademark.
The whole point of being a masked vigilante is to go unrecognized. The Batman dressed up the way he does because "criminals are a superstitious, cowardly lot" and a bat would frighten them. Okay, when you're driving around town in a bat-shaped car, they have pretty much figured out that you are not a bat, and the symbol becomes a fetish.
At some point, I would like to see a character with no identifiable theme except that no one knows who he is. He gathers evidence and strikes, leaving behind no trace of his identity. He doesn't want thanks or recognition and he doesn't want to join a group. He is always seen from the back or in shadow, and the challenge to readers is to determine who he is. There would be clues left to the readers by the writer and the artist and the mystery would be a fair one. It would be solvable (unlike that piece of crap "Hush" storyline) and the character would be a pre-existing one from the annals of comic book history. At the end of the storyline, his identity is revealed and the story ends. The story would end because his effectiveness is compromised by the loss of anonymity and he fades back into obscurity, teaching all the glory hounds a lesson in how it should be done.
Oh, and that new Robin suit? Sheesh.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

I Deserved a Break Today... I got up and got away to McDonald's. I used to eat at McDonald's for breakfast quite a bit. I like the sausage burritos, even though they are about the worst thing for me in the world. But last night I couldn't sleep at all. It was too humid even with our air conditioner and ceiling fan running on high. Every time I woke up, I was in a deep sweat. When I finally got up at 5:00 instead of 4:30, I only had 15 minutes to work out even if I pushed my departure time another 15 minutes back. I thought about just skipping it, but that way lies quitting. So I got on my bike, rode really hard for 15 minutes, and hoped for the best. The way I see it, any exercise is better than the none I was going to get if I skipped it.

My rear end was still dragging when I left for work, so I decided to stop at McDonald's to get a cup of coffee. I typically avoid that much caffeine, but it was either that or collapse before noon. I stopped at the McDonald's that used to drive me batty back when I was going there all the time. They couldn't get my order right to save their own lives. I swore every time they screwed up the order that I would never go there again. But I always did. And they always screwed the order up. I hadn't gone to that particular place in a loooong time.

Today, I ordered my former usual, the sausage burrito meal with coffee. Guess what? No hash browns. To tell the truth, I didn't need the hash browns. I know what's in them and I really didn't need them. But good grief, they messed up my order the one time I go there in a year? I was getting my hash browns.

On my way to school for the last two days, I was thinking to myself, if you can't even do good work at McDonald's, what on earth can you do? It made me think of a car wash that our baseball team had when I was a kid to raise money for uniforms. My grandfather and my father taught me how to wash a car. And believe me, if I missed a spot I heard about it and fixed it. When my friends did a sloppy job I was there to fix it. If my dad had heard from a townsperson that they had gotten a lousy car wash from something I was involved with, I knew I'd hear about that too. So while other guys came and went from the car wash, I stayed the whole time to make sure the cars were getting completely clean and that nothing was missed. That kind of work ethic is missing today. Even with mundane activities like washing a car or filling a bag at McDonald's, there should still be pride in doing the job right. This may sound curmudgeonly, but this is something about which previous generations were absolutely right.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Soft Bigotry of No Expectations

We saw Terminator: Salvation on Sunday, and I liked it. That isn't to say it was a great movie, but neither did I expect it to be. Unlike Star Trek, I had no idea what it was about, save that Christian "Psycho" Bale was playing John Connor.

I think this is a pattern for me. I loved Iron Man last year, but hated the Dark Knight. I am by no means an Iron Man expert, and was willing to forgive minor alterations to the Iron Man mythos. But you put Batman, the Spirit, or Star Trek into a new form, and I get relentless in my attention to every last detail. On the other hand, I loved Watchmen and I have a really strong familiarity with the material. I guess it's just hit or miss, but it sure is easier to like something when you go in not caring whether or not it's any good.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Star Trek--Upon Further Review (Spoilers)

We went to see Star Trek again Friday night at the drive-in. I really wanted to like this movie so I gave it a second look. I did like it better the second time, but this time I brought my Skywalker Ranch director's pen with me and took notes from my favorite lawn chair. Here are some thoughts:

  • The music during the Kirk birth/death scene was very reminiscent of Giacchino's work on LOST. I loved it.
  • Still don't get where the deep canyon in Iowa came from. I even made sure to pay attention to make sure that's where the scene was set. It was.
  • Sarek's scenes with Spock were great. I like this Sarek much better than the one in the Original Series.
  • Nice nod to Star Trek the Motion Picture with the reference to the Kohlinar ritual.
  • Vulcan bullies. Not logical.
  • Spock seems to be vulnerable to "your mama" jokes. I suggest Dave Chappelle be his nemesis in the next movie.
  • Someone get Zachary Quinto a better razor. Spock always seems to need a shave.
  • Starfleet cadets are not enlightened in this future. Uhura calls Kirk a hick and suggests that he has sex with farm animals and the guys with her call him a townie and start a fight. I doubt this is what Gene Roddenberry had in mind.
  • The broken Kelvin salt shaker Kirk absent-mindedly plays with in the bar is a nice touch.
  • "Space is disease and danger wrapped in darkness and silence." Good grief.
  • Kobayashi Maru test is a nod to Star Trek II, of course.
  • Spock: "You, of all people should know that a captain cannot cheat death." Kirk should have responded with, "Your mama."
  • Kirk bumping his head in the shuttle was like Scotty's similar move in Star Trek V. Still funny.
  • I really liked the effects of going to warp.
  • When the Enterprise enters the battle site with shields up, pieces of broken hull bounce off the hull, not the shields. With the shields up, that shouldn't happen.
  • "Hi, Christopher. I'm Nero." WTF was that? A meet-cute?
  • Spock's eyebrow raise was cool. But it was the wrong eyebrow. I myself can only raise my right eyebrow. Maybe Quinto can only raise his left.
  • When Kirk and Sulu are beamed aboard at terminal velocity, they should have made a big splat on the transporter pad.
  • Old Spock: "James T. Kirk, how did you find me?" Me: "Bad writing, Spock."
  • "Are you out of your Vulcan mind?" Classic Bones.
  • Reference to Admiral Archer's prize beagle was a nod to Enterprise.
  • Scotty's learning of something he hasn't discovered yet harkens to Star Trek IV's transparent aluminum paradox.
  • Kirk to Old Spock: "You're going with us, right?" = Luke to Obi-Wan: "I want to go with you." I get the parallel now. Luke is a farm boy, Kirk is a farm boy.
  • Loved the bridge sound effects but not the lighting.
  • Kirk slapping Spock on the shoulder was funny.
  • Pike's uniform at the promotion ceremony was similar to Admiral Kirk's uni in Star Trek the Motion Picture.
  • Kirk, in the final scene: "Bones." Holy Shat!

I'll give them a mulligan on this one. There was enough cool stuff to keep my interest.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Left Behind, Part 2

Same class as the last one: "If he ain't got blue eyes and blonde hair, he ain't Hitler."

Can you feel the accountability?

Left Behind

One of my students picked up this photograph and asked, "So is this guy named after the battery, or what?"

No Child Left Behind, indeed.

Monday, May 18, 2009

A Sad Day--for XM Radio

I canceled my XM Radio account today. I have been an XM subscriber since 2005, and the service has given me hundreds and hundreds of hours of listening pleasure. I remember spring break of that year, listening to the Tigers from the patio of the condo we used in Gulf Shores, thinking that it was amazing technology that allowed me to listen to my favorite team while almost a thousand miles from home.

Now, sadly or not so sadly, I have that technology at my fingertips every day in the form of my Blackberry Storm. Using its 3G connection, I pay only $19.95 for the entire season of baseball. Not only do I get to listen to every game, but I can even choose which broadcast to listen to, home or away. I can watch video highlights using the same application, and check box scores too. I can also listen to music channels on my phone, which makes the XM pretty much obsolete. I'll miss it, I suppose, though I really don't know why. Just habit, I guess.

Where Star Trek Fell Apart For Me (Spoilers)

I've been giving this a lot of thought. Star Trek got a 95% positive rating on the tomatometer, and I just wonder if I'm too close to the subject to see it objectively, like when I didn't like the Dark Knight when nearly everyone else did. After two days, I've found the point where it falls apart for me. It's not about the time travel or the new continuity or the design of the ship or the plot structure. As it should be, Star Trek is about characterization.

Where the movie goes flying off the track is the point when Spock kicks Kirk off the ship. It was the "Wait...what?" moment of the whole film. I can see punishing the insubordinate cadet who messed up your Kobayashi Maru test. There's this thing called a brig on most ships. It's a place where people can be safely contained until such point they can be dealt with with due process. But essentially throwing him overboard in a life raft was, well, extreme to say the least, and a very un-Spocklike thing to do. Where is the logic in sending the guy that the captain made your first officer to a hostile, alien predator-filled environment, landing him 14 kilometers from the nearest Federation outpost, which is manned by two engineers? In my wildest imagination, I can't see any incarnation of Spock doing that. It just seemed to serve the plot points of picking up Scotty and meeting old Spock, and no other reason.

Speaking of old Spock, why in the hell did Nero drop him off on a little planet to watch Vulcan be destroyed, and then allow him to go free? I felt like it was a Dr. Evil moment where Scott Evil suggests shooting Austin Powers in the head, rather than Dr. Evil's idea: I’m going to put him in an easily-escapable situation involving an overly-elaborate and exotic death."

I'm pretty sure that's where the wheels came off for me. I really wanted to like this movie, and to a certain extent I did. But when characters go that far away from who I think I know them to be, it takes me right out of the drama and makes me start thinking critically, and that's never a good thing for me when watching a movie, particularly when it's a subject about which I care deeply, like Star Trek or Batman.

By the end I was thinking, let me get this straight: Kirk went from a third-year cadet on academic suspension to captain of the Federation flagship in (more or less) one day? Riiiiight.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Star Trek

Spoilers follow.

Gene Roddenberry's original pilot for Star Trek was deemed "too cerebral" by the network, and they ordered a second pilot made. There was never any danger of that criticism for this movie.

This was a nice summer popcorn movie during which I felt perfectly safe not thinking too much. If I had, I might have wondered where the mile-deep chasm in Iowa was located. I might have wondered why the starship Enterprise was being built on the ground in Iowa, and how it was supposed to get into space from there. I might have wondered how JJ Abrams felt that he had captured Gene Roddenberry's optimistic future by portraying Starfleet officers as drunken bullies who beat up townies in Iowa's bars. It's a good thing I didn't think about that in the first 15 minutes. I might not have enjoyed the other 112.

This was a fast-paced action/adventure movie with enjoyable stunts, gunfights, explosions, and lots of laughs. It didn't say anything about the human condition. There was no allegory for present-day culture, morals, or beliefs. There was no lesson to be learned. In other words, it wasn't Star Trek.

I'm sure this will be a hit with the masses. It will serve to spark new interest in what was an ailing franchise and effectively reboot it. I'll enjoy the new films, as I did this one. I just hope that now that they've hit the reset button that next time they'll actually have something to say.

Friday, May 15, 2009

"Crank It" Songs: REO Speedwagon's "Take It on the Run"

"Heard it from a friend who
heard it from a friend who
heard it from another
you been messin' around..."

There are just some songs that play on the radio (especially XM's Classic Rewind, channel 49) where I have to crank it. I am forced by nostalgia to turn the volume up as high as I can without disturbing the the other classrooms around me.

This morning's "Crank It" song is REO Speedwagon's "Take It on the Run." Back in the glory days of 1981 our Mesick High School football team had won its first game of the season, after successive 1-8 and 0-9 seasons. Our coach, Bill Hollenbeck, had thought to inspire us by playing college fight songs on his stereo system, which inspired us to ask if we could play something else. The first cassette we played (yes, kids, before there were CDs) was REO's "Hi Infidelity." The locker room was rocking out and we killed the team we were playing that night. Rock music won out over college fight songs for the rest of the season, and we went 6-3. It was the first winning season in years in Mesick football.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Not Losing?

Ten days after my last weigh in, I'm still at 286. Not bad, considering I didn't work out while camping and we ate either in restaurants or at carnivals for all three days. Elephant ears and Eggs Benedict are not really considered health food, I'm told. Now it's time to focus on losing again, though.

Some of my colleagues and I are going to the Tigers game in Detroit on July 11, and that will include a stop at Cabela's to buy a school wardrobe that will fit. I've been wearing pants that are four inches too large in the waist for weeks now. I hope I haven't stabilized already and that I'm just at a plateau brought on by a three-day break from my routine.


I never thought of a year with such a sinking feeling until ABC teased the last season of "Lost" by using "2010." I really have to wait that long??

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


I know I'm doing this backward, but the last morning we spent camping this weekend gave me one of the most beautiful sunrises I have ever seen. Of course, it was 27 degrees the night before in our tent and we froze all night, but I guess there has to be a price for beauty.

Photo taken at Northern Exposure Campground, Mesick, Michigan.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

The Rob Liefeld Name Game

Back in the late eighties when I was just out of college and doing substitute teaching, I was also an aspiring artist and a gamer. I loved to create characters. My main source of inspiration was a dictionary, which could be found in most of the classrooms in which I taught. Most lesson plans left for me included the words, “Press play,” so I was often left to supervise a few dozen kids who promptly went to sleep when the lights went down. This meant lots of quiet time to create characters! I searched the dictionary for cool words and latin roots that could be turned into superhero and supervillain names. I came up with some pretty good ones, too. It turns out, though, that I was not as smart as I thought because the new wave of characters being created didn’t require that much creativity. Rob Liefeld showed me the way.

The first Liefeld character I noticed was Deadpool, recently portrayed by Ryan Reynolds in X-Men Origins: Wolverine." “The Dead Pool” was a Clint Eastwood movie featuring the character Dirty Harry, and it was released just three years before the character first appeared in New Mutants #98. There was never really any good reason for an assassin to be named Deadpool, so I just chalked it up to an homage. Then, when Liefeld’s Youngblood was released just a few years later, a pattern emerged. It wasn’t enough that his group was named after a bad Rob Lowe movie. Characters named Shaft, Diehard, Vogue, and Riptide appeared, confirming his method of creating many character names: Just steal them from popular movies, songs, and horrible Stephen J. Cannell TV shows! At the next gaming session I attended, I suggested that during the character creation process that we just play the “Rob Liefeld Name Game.” Hilarity ensued.

“I’m the Rockford Files,” urged one player.
“Lethal Weapon,” offered another.
“Material Girl,” said the female among us.
“We can gather to form…the A-Team,” said yet another.

Almost twenty years have passed since those halcyon days and thousands of movies, songs and television shows have been brought forth. What would Rob Liefeld name his characters and superhero groups today?

Let’s play!

Monday, May 04, 2009

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

We had fun at the drive-in Friday night seeing X-Men Origins: Wolverine. I don't have to write a review, though. This guy did it for me!

Losing, Losing, Losing

Down to 286 this morning. I've lost 30 pounds since coming back to school after winter recess, 56 pounds lighter than my heaviest.

I rode my bike outside yesterday, enjoying the beautiful weather as well as an exciting Tigers game that I listened to on my BlackBerry Storm. Despite a late night, I still rode this morning while watching the second episode of my new guilty pleasure, Castle.