Monday, February 27, 2006

In Defense of "Surface"

I don't watch very much television. I used to watch basically nothing, except an occasional episode of The Simpsons and The Daily Show and then some Red Sox and Patriots games. But then we got DVR in the fall as part of a package deal and watching HD shows on our big tv is just too pleasurable to resist. So I started watching a bunch of shows last fall. It sucked up a lot of my life. And here's what I learned:

Surface was the best of the new hour-long shows. I watched all 15 episodes (okay so I missed one--that episode where they first go down in the homemade bathysphere--stupid DVR didn't record it), and it was good. Everyone else talks crap about the show, but unlike Invasion it doesn't suck, and unlike Threshold it actually finished a season (and Threshold was unwatchable after the really cool pilot anyway).

So I feel like I need to stand up for Surface since nobody else seems to be.

The stuff early in the season with Miles and his sister's hot friend. That's classic high school awkwardness. And his sister's development over the course of the 15 episodes has been believable and nice. You like to see bad guys turn good and vice versa.

And Lake Bell is a great protagonist. She's a terrible mother, she's attractive but not in a typical hollywood way, she is convincing as a scientist--unlike say Denise Richards in that horrible Bond movie where she was the nuclear physicist or whatever she was supposed to be, and her stubbornness leads her into trouble. She's the most interesting lead in any show this year.

The other dude--the crazy insurance guy--he's a great foil for her.

The three main characters not meeting until the final episode of the season. Also a genius move.

The CGI creatures? Not so genius. I hate CGI, and if that's the reason you can't watch the show I can sympathize, but at least they're trying to show you the creatures instead of teasing you for episode after episode.

I know it probably won't come back next year, but I will miss it. It was like a fun catch-the-Spielberg reference game every week, and my Mondays just won't be the same. I'll have to find something more productive to do, like write crap like this.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

More Pages from the Sketchbook

These are a few things I've sketched over the past months. I like drawing squid. Why? Tentacles are fun, I guess. Does this look anything like a real squid? I have no idea since I didn't even bother to look up a reference on it. I really should do another Squidhunter story, though. He's the coolest character ever. Except for Ninja Wolf.

Here's another undersea sketch. I like the idea of a guy exploring the ocean depths in a big bulky armored diving suit. Who doesn't?

This is just me playing around with a brush pen. Looks like a Rat Creature out of Jeff Smith's comics, but it wasn't meant to be. It was just strokes of the brush that turned into a shape and I went with it. This fuzzy guy has nothing to do with undersea adventures, but if I put a bubble helmet on him, he'd be a cute sidekick for Squidhunter. It could be Squidhunter and Hooch.

A Sketch

So here's a sketch I drew last week. I think I'm going to start posting sketches here You are a witness to history.

It's a nice drawing right? I'm pretty happy with how it turned out.

We Survived the NYCC--Part II

So more reasons why the Con turned out to be a good time:

Additional Reason # 1: Judy and I got to talk with Paul Levitz for a few minutes because we were at the DC booth right at the beginning and nobody was there. No fans. Just my wife and I with Paul Levitz. So my wife starts talking to Paul about our kids and his kids and comic books and I come over and geek it all up with some talk about his new JSA arc and he turns out to be a super nice guy who just seems really glad to be in the business he's in. I told Judy afterwards that he was the President of DC and she just said, "oh, he just seemed like a regular guy." So there you have it.

#2: I was the only one at the Marvel booth standing in front of Michael Gaydos and Paul Gulacy. Nobody was there either (where had the thousands of other people waiting in that line on the stairs go?) So since I hate getting signatures for no good reason, but I didn't want to be rude, I just starting chatting it up with these two, except all I could think about as I was talking to them was how much I hated that horrible Powerless series that Gaydos worked on (although I actually liked the art--but the story was unreadable and ultimately pointless), and how much I used to like Gulacy, but I think his characters look like Michael Jackson these days. So that stuff was in my brain, but what I said to them instead is, "oh yeah, I like your stuff. Love some of your upcoming covers, Paul." And they just nodded at me, and Paul said, "check out Punisher," and I said "okay," and he said, "seriously, check out Punisher" all serious-like. Guess what. I'm not going to check out Punisher. Punisher and I are done. Forever.

#3: I got two cool t-shirts and a third friggin awesome t-shirt. The friggin awesome t-shirt you ask: ACTION PHILOSOPHERS. The shirt is so sweet that you can't even stop me from wearing it. Don't even bother trying. Plus, it says, "Plato Smash!" So now I have a shirt that expresses how I feel inside.

#4: I tried to convince Peter Laird to come back and visit Drury High School. I teach there now, and he graduated from there, but I know he hasn't been back since. He probably has horrible memories of high school. But I told him he should come back, famous people always go back to their high schools to speak, right? He should, so we could hang out and he could donate a new graphic narrative wing to the building or something. I mean, just because he established a philanthropic foundation which donates hundreds of thousands of dollars to comic book creators who want to self-publish their work, well that doesn't get him off the hook. Nope, he's gotta give something back to the community that probably mocked him and/or beat him up as a kid.

#5: The guys at the Wizard booth. I haven't read Wizard since they invented the internet, but the guys at the booth were running a fun game involving trivia and/or physical challenges. You got to name a category of your choosing, and then they gave you a question from that topic. Then you got it right and spun the wheel or you got it wrong, did a physical challenge, then spun the wheel. The guy in front of us said "Quentin Tarantino movies," then he was asked to name three people Uma Thurman kills in Kill Bill and he couldn't do it. He could only name two, so they made him dance like John Travolta. But the guys started doing these wierd moves and we were all like, "huh?" and then we all simultaneously realized he was trying to dance like Vincent Vega because we all said "oh." Anyway, he spun the wheel, landed on atomic wedgie, and got a free comic. Judy was next. She picked Math as her category, because she is asian and a racial stereotype of herself, and the Wizard guys and to confer because they didn't know any math questions. They asked her the Pythagorean Theorum and of course, she knew it, spun the wheel, landed on Free Comic and got a free comic. My category was "Stuff I have in my pocket" and they were stumped for a question until one of them said, "what is your driver's license number" and of course, I knew it because it's just my SSN, so I spun the wheel, landed on Swirlie, and got a free comic. The free comic was that New Avengers issue where The Sentry sits around with his possibly imaginary wife all issue and looks grumpy because David Finch can only draw grumpy people. So that's kinda like getting a Swirlie, right?

#6: We ended up leaving the convention at 1:45 because it was so packed that we couldn't move around. We'd seen every booth, talked to everyone who was cool that we could find. Spent some money. It would have been nice to see a few panels, but the layout was so screwy, you couldn't go to a panel without giving up your right to ever return to the convention floor. Or something. It was all locked down and guards were posted and it was CRAZY. So we just left rather than deal with all that. As we're walking to our car, a guy stops us and says, "I'm buying bracelets. Got any?" and I say, "nah, don't bother, they're not letting anyone in anyway. Even if you have one." He seems to really want them, so I rip mine off and hand it to him and he says, "I'll give you $20 for both." Okay. I help Judy rip hers off and we're now $20 richer. Had he said "I will give you $1 for both," I would not have asked for more. They were just going into the trash anyway. So that was cool for us.

As for what was bad about the Con:

--I saw a guy waiting in line for Frank Miller and the guy had 50 copies of All-Star Batman and Robin issue 1 for Frank to sign. That just pisses me off. I hope Frank punched the guy. Although perhaps the guy was going to ask Frank for a refund, in which case that guy is my new best friend.

--The layout and entrance to the convention floor was ridiculously complicated and inefficient. Just like New York City (oh--I made a funny!)

--Art and Franco weren't there with Patrick the Wolf Boy. Art does the best 1-minutes sketches ever. Also, the Caveman Robot guys weren't there. And those guys are wicked cool too. Especially Britton Walters--he's the coolest ever because he wrote me a fan letter after seeing the Ninja Wolf: The Movie Super-Spectacular minicomic I distributed in San Diego. But yeah, I didn't see him there. Nope.

--We spent like $100 just to get into the convention between tolls and parking and gas and admission, and we only spent 2 hours and 45 minutes there. That's 60 cents a minute. Let's compare that to a movie--now we haven't paid to see a movie in years because we know the theater manager and everyone who's in charge, but if we did it would be $8.50. So figuring two tickets, that's like 20 cents a minute on average. A hardcover book costs about $25, and takes about 4 hours to read, so a book is worth about 10 cents a minute. A Marvel comic, on the other hand, costs $2.95 and takes three minutes to read, so that's 98 cents a minute. So the bottom line is that the NYCC was not as good as a book or a movie but better than a Marvel comic.

Overall, we felt like most people, I think. It was crazy and too small but we'll be back next year because they will fix all that stuff for the second year, right? Right?

We Survived the NYCC on Saturday!

So Judy and I went down to New York for the big hoo-ha 1st Annual Yadda Yadda New York Comic-Con. I've been to San Diego for the past two years and Judy came along with me last year, so I think she was hoping it would be something like that. We had a lot of fun in San Diego last year, she got to meet a bunch of cool comic creators like the guys who do Patrick The Wolf Boy (Art and Franco rule), and she got really excited about all the free stuff and contests she could enter. Basically, we had to borrow an extra suitcase from my brother to bring everything back because we got so much stuff between us (I mostly spent a lot of money and she mostly got every free thing possible). She had a great time and she doesn't even read comic books.

So then, New York.

I told her it wouldn't be like San Diego.

And I was right. But we still had a good time. Here's why:

(1) We got there at the perfect time. I had applied as a professional via e-mail because both Judy and I are educators and unlike San Diego, educators were supposed to get in free at the New York show. So we would have ended up with Professional badges and been allowed to get in during the trade show on Friday. Even though we applied several weeks ago, we never received e-mail confirmation, so we decided just to go down for Saturday (which made it easier on my parents as well, since they were watching our two kids while we were going to be geeking it up at the con). I voted for taking the train from Wassaic to Grand Central, but the stupid train schedule meant that we'd have to leave our house at 6:30 AM, and that was just a little too early. So, instead, I woke up at 6:30 and we left at 7:!5. Not a big difference, right? But it was an extra 45 minutes of sleep and since I didn't end up getting to bed until 4:00 (for no good reason), it helped a lot. So anyway, we pulled into the parking lot across from the Convention Center at 10:15, and the guy said it would be $40 in advance for parking and I figured that was steep but fine because it was such a convenient place to park and it would only have been like $10 cheaper on another street anyway. So right after I pay him the $40, he tells the guys behind me it will be $45 even though they have the same size car we do. I guess he decided to jack up the price as the cars kept on a'comin'. So good timing there. Then we waited in line only about 30 minutes to get our wristbands (they didn't have our names in the computer, so my online registration didn't go through--no wonder we didn't get the confirmation e-mail--so we had to pay the $25). So by then it's almost 11:00 and they're letting people on to the convention floor. Except the only way in is down the stairs, because they're saving the escalators for the important people. And there's a line that's half a mile long winding up the stairs and around and around and around. So my wife decides that she needs to find a bathroom first and I go to help her find one. We find, instead, THE ELEVATOR. So we take it down. And there's the bathroom, right there, and there's the convention floor right there. And we could just walk right in. So we bypassed the entire stairs/escalator problem and relieved ourselves in one fell swoop. The lesson to be learned here is that when you're given a choice between A and B, choose C.

(2) We got two cool gifts for our kids. We bought Andrew a cool Ugli Doll (which he's wanted since we saw Zathura on dvd last week), and we bought Lauren a Mr. Toast plush toy because she loves toast! And it's one of only like 20 words she can say, so now she runs around the house saying "Toast" and hugging her toy. It's cute. I like cute.

To be continued...(naptime for the kids!)

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Top 10 Comics This Week--Reviews!

Okay, so I buy too many comics. We all know that. And I'm in the midst of reading the Zenith arcs from 2000 AD (actually, I just finished Phase 4, and I will comment on them all soon. For real), so most of the stuff I see at the store---Fantasy Realms, word to James Arlemagne--just doesn't hold up to classic Grant Morrison vs. Lovecraft via the multiverse crazy fun times that I find in the Zenith stories. Nevertheless, here's the 10 wicked awesomest comics that I bought this week. Some of them I've just read, some I'm waiting to read later, but that won't stop me from commenting, so don't you worry.

You'll notice, by the way, that the list is all Marvel and DC. I love the mainstream superhero stuff when it's done well, and I think it's being done well more often than ever these days (as in, there are MORE good titles, even if the best stuff isn't as good as some of my favorites from the past). But I would definitely pick up more small press stuff but my guy doesn't carry anything good by the little people. I could order it via Previews, yes. I should. But I don't. So screw all y'all. (I lash out because of my guilt).

#10: JLA: CLASSIFIED issue 17 (Simone/Garcia-Lopez)
Makes the top 10 because it was a shabby week, and Garcia-Lopez is always a pleasure. Over the past few months, everything I read is talking up Garcia-Lopez and saying how great he is, etc etc. I agree, but I have NEVER heard anyone mention him with such praise before. I've been a big fan since Atari Force, personally, and thought his highlight was on Chaykin's Twilight, but through all that stuff I've never heard him acclaimed like he is these days. Was it the TwoMorrows' "Modern Masters" book that gave him this popularity blip? As I said, it's always a pleasure, so I guess it doesn't matter who liked him first. But seriously, I did, so deal with it.

But when I buy this title I wonder why it even exists. Is there seriously a demand for more JLA, especially when the main title has sucked tremendous suckage and is actually cancelled at this point? Yet I buy this issue anyway, and give it a top 10 spot. Such is my life.

#9: ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN issue 90 (Bendis/Bagley)
Here's another title that I wonder, why? Is it good? Not really. Do I enjoy it in general? Yes, it's pleasurable without being bold, interesting, or creative. But let's face facts, Bagley is the most generic superhero artist ever, and Bendis can't tell a story in less than 10 issues. So here we are, at issue 90, and if the average price has been around $2.25 per issue, that means I've spent over $200 on this series so far. Am I ever going to re-read these issues? No. And even if I did, it would take me about one hour to read the whole series, which I wouldn't even need to do anyway because I can just refer to this chart that reminds me what happens in each 6-issue story arc: Issue 1-4--nothing happens, but characters, especially Peter Parker are worried. Issue 5, tension mounts as the fight between Spider-Man and random re-imagined villain with a blander look and more "realistic" origin begins. Issue 6, lots o' punching, and then maybe SHIELD shows up or Spider-Man wins kinda but is real tired. Repeat.

Yeah, I know the whole genre of superhero comics is formulaic. But still, at least give me pretty pictures and some crazy crap happening in each issue. More on this later.

#8: ULTIMATE WOLVERINE VS. HULK issue 2 (Lindelof/Yu)
At least the pictures are pretty.

And when I said, "more on this later," that means now.

Here's the deal: I have a 5-year-old son, and he's just getting excited about comic books. He loves superheroes, and he loves cartoons and action figures, and he saw the first issue of this series in my pile of stuff and he wanted me to read it to him. So I did. If you didn't see the first issue, you didn't miss much. It had one super-violent image of Hulkie tearing Wolvie in half (should I have shown such a gruesome image to a 5-year-old? Maybe not, but I'm not one to crush the curious spirit), and then it had a whole lot of Wolvie's torso crawling around and some internal monologue goodness (and by goodness, I mean pointlessness). Anyway, he thought that issue was dull, but then today he saw that I got issue 2 and he was excited because he figured that this issue has to show more fighting and less chit-chat because hey, it's friggin Hulk VS Wolverine! That's the title! So he asked me to read this issue. And the whole issue, literally, is just talk. And then the next issue blurb says something like, "no more chit-chat--time for the Fight!" as if to mock his little 5-year-old brain.

So then I guess the question is, could this story have been told in fewer pages without losing the drama or character development? Yes! I like character stuff. I like drama. But seriously? You need to spend three pages with Bruce Banner talking to the guy who opens the door for the mystical Buddha guy. One panel is not enough for their "witty" banter? You need like 12 panels? Really? And Lenil Francis Yu has to keep drawing these people standing there talking? Fun for all.

Yet, it's #8 on my list, isn't it.

#7: SOLO featuring SCOTT HAMPTON
I don't like painted comics art. So I was pleased to see that most of the work in this issue is line art with watercolors, pastels, and/or wash. I like that stuff. It's purty.

I haven't read this yet, so I can't comment on the writing. But here's my guess. The stories will be forgettable. But at least they won't be just people talking. Please Scott Hampton, make sure they're not all talking stories. I like kicking, and ninja stars, and plasma bolts, and some repulsor rays, and some flying puches with electric fists! I have never seen Scott Hampton illustrate any of those things. He's kind of a "quiet pastoral scene" type of dude isn't he? Damn it! Guess I'll have to wait for the next issue when Damion Scott, clearly one of the greatest artists of the age, takes over. Ha ha! Damion Scott!!! Man, who's going to follow that issue? Wait. I know: Mark Bagley! Then, every comic I buy could suck! Yes!

#6: CAPTAIN AMERICA issue 15 (Brubaker/Perkins)
I've heard people say this incarnation is the best Captain America run ever. Yes, it's better than Cap vs. Al-Qaeda, it's better than Cap vs. Flag Smasher, it's better than Cap vs. almost all the dudes who were like snakes, and it's better than Captain America: Sentinel of Liberty. But is it better than Cap vs. Scourge? That dude killed all the badasses in the Marvel Universe! He killed that guy with the porcupine costume and even some snake guy and then he killed that other guy with the roller skates. Scourge vs. Bucky? Scourge every time. It's a good thing Bucky was cryogenically sleeping and/or in Russia during those Scourge days, baby.

So as long as Brubaker brings back Scourge with the cosmic cube, and also that dude with the roller skates, then I will concur. Best. Cap. Ever.

One complaint though. The colors look too computery. Make them look less computery.

#5: GREEN LANTERN issue 9 (Johns/Van Scriver)
I have not even opened up this issue because I'm expecting it to be good. I know it will be. It's got that Bianchi cover--pretty--and you know that GL vs. Bats is not going to be all talk. Actually, it probably will be, won't it? Damn. Maybe Bats will punch Guy Gardner at least or something. Also, this is the issue where the Tattooed Man is coming back, right? I think so. Kid love the Tats these days, so this villain will be hip with the kids, which means my son will like it. Do 5-year-olds like tattoos? I'm told they do.

Plus Van Scriver! I didn't really like him on X-Men. I like him on GL. That's that.

#4: ASTONISHING X-MEN issue 13 (Whedon/Cassaday)
It's a Marvel comic. It's a superhero title. It's written by a human. That's right, it must be another ALL-TALK ALL-THE-TIME issue! Yes!

What makes this one make it all the way to sweet #3? Cassaday. Muy beautifico. Also, the talk is actually character-based and not time-wastey. And Emma Frost is gonna be a villain. I hope. So all of this is good. Talk isn't always bad. Yes it is! More kicking and fastball specials and friggin Optic Blasts! Wahoo (assuming those are coming in future issues).

#3: CATWOMAN issue 52 (Pfeifer/Woods)
This series has dragged me along for nearly 5 years now and I think this current creative team is nearly as good as the guys who launced the series. Pfeifer and Woods have reinvigorated this title after some HORRIBLE dog fighting issues and some crappy Gulacy Black Mask crossover BS that I barely even managed to finished. It's one of those series that I bought even when I hated because I had faith that guys like this would come along, and they have made me grateful. (I know I could have just not bought the crappy crappy issues but I was compelled to keep the collection going, knowing that it would get better and then I would have been missing issues and it would have made me feel incomplete--sad, but very true).

So I haven't actually read this issue though. Maybe it sucks. Nah, it's gonna be good. I can tell.

#2: IRON MAN: THE INEVITABLE issue 3 (Casey/Irving)
Frazer Irving is my favorite artist of the moment. I loved his Klarion stuff so much I tracked down some of his earlier stuff like Necronauts and Fort. He draws like I wish I could, which is how I judge all creative acts. I don't think he's the best or most dynamic artist, but he's my favorite, and I love him. He's mine, and you can't take him away from me.

Haven't read this issue either, but the first two were the best Iron Man issues I've read since Bob Layton was puting the shine on the armor. And the issues back in those days weren't that good anyway. So I'm going to say this is the best Iron Man story I've ever read in my life. (I just hope he puts on the Space Armor soon!)

#1: LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES issue 15 (Moore/Olliffe)
This is the state of the industry. A fill-in issue featuring "imaginary flashbacks" takes the #1 spot. Why? Have you read all 12 volumes of The Legion of Super-Hero Archives? Well neither have I, but I'm up to Volume 9 and they totally kick ass. I've been an occasional Legion reader over my 20 years of collecting, but recently I've immersed myself in the Archives (speaking of the Archives--I used to think they were ridiculously overpriced, but they AREN'T because you can get them for like $32 at Amazon or wherever, which averages out to be like $3.50 per issue or something, which is basically the cost of a new comic except the stuff in the Archives is waaaay cooler and waaaay more stuff happens. Same thing with the Masterworks, except they are harder to find for some reason--but anyway, I have seriously considered just buying Archives and skipping all new comics--and if it wasn't for the horrible, horrible addiction, and weekly cravings, I would), and anyway, the Legion is the coolest of the cool. More superheroes for your hard-earned dollar.

I actually read this issue! For real!

It's really good. And It's got my favorite cover of the week. And stuff happens! Even if it turns out to be imaginary. It's still stuff! Stuff is better than no stuff.

That's my motto.

Zenith--not the television

So I've been amassing 2000 AD issues over the past year so I can finally read the entire Morrison/Yeowell "Zenith" run. I don't know the legal situation with this thing, but you just can't find the collected Zenith stuff anywhere. Every once in a while the albums collecting the various Phases will pop up on ebay, but it will inevitably end up costing about $50 per book by the time you pay shipping (every seller I've seen so far is from the UK, and in aquiring these 2000 AD issues I've dealt a lot with the exchange rate and high shipping costs and it's not fun, unless fun=spending a lot of money and waiting months for the items to arrive. Me, I call that fun, but who else does?).

Anyway, I've got nearly the entire collection of Zenith stories--at least the main Phases (I think I'm missing like some anniversary cameo or maybe an epilogue, but that's about it). So now that I've got a critical mass of issues, I've actually begun to read them. And to kick off this blogtastic bloggy blog, I'm going to write about them. So take that, suckers!

Here's my first observation: do they even make Zenith televisions anymore? I know I could easily find that information out, but I'd rather just speculate. I've bought a couple of new televisions over the past few years and I really don't remember Zenith being a brand name that I even looked at. It used to be all about Zenith and Magnavox, didn't it? Or was that just because I was poor? A possibility. None of this has to do with the comics at all, or does it???

Observation #2: The Zenith storyline is just better by far than anything else in those particular issues of 2000 AD. And when I post next, I will go into more detail. You just wait.

Observation #3: Remember when Grant Morrison used to revamp every superhero by having them wear jackets? That was good times wasn't it? He even did it with the X-Men. Furry little a jacket! I mock, but seriously, it was, and is, my favorite stuff. But the cool thing about Zenith is that it's the 80's, so you not only have the jacket, but the jacket has shoulder pads, and the shoulder pads are studded. Grant Morrison and Steve Yeowell, I bow to you.