Saturday, June 30, 2012

Series Review: The New Avengers, Volume 1

The New Avengers, Vol. 1, TPB #1
I started reading comics again about a year and a half ago, partly because I'd missed comics after having taken a break from them for a couple of years and partly because my kids had finally gotten old enough to read on their own, and I wanted to share with them the joy that I remembered from reading comics back when I was their age.  The nice thing about having kids and reading comics with them is that they bring such a fresh perspective.  As an adult comic fan, I'd gotten totally away from traditional superhero comics just because I felt like everything that the Big Two were doing, I'd already seen it and read it, and it just wasn't interesting anymore.  I'd started reading Vertigo and a bunch of indies, looking for a more complex kind of comic storytelling that was more suited to my adult tastes.  But a lot of that stuff is so self-referential or deconstructionist that it gets old fast.  Having kids changes all of that, however, because for them, all of the heroes are new.  And exciting.  And awesomely heroic.  For example, I saw The Avengers twice, and it was a very different experience each time.  The first time I saw it, I was with my wife, and the way I saw it was as a 39-year-old man, a guy who was already familiar with the backstory from all of the movies and from all of the decades of storytelling that underlay the entirety of the film.  Moreover, I was familiar with Joss Whedon's work, was an established fan of it, and wanted to see the movie at least as much because it was a Whedon vehicle as because it was a vehicle for Iron Man and the rest of the actual Avengers.  When I saw the movie with my kids, however, I saw it differently.  That second time, I saw it as a giant action spectacle, a fresh and spectacular event experience that showed me things I'd never seen before.  I saw it a way that only a child could see it, and I thrilled at every moment, especially when the Hulk "smashed".  With all of that in mind, I started reading a bunch of the Avengers' trade paperbacks (TPBs) from the various libraries around Fairfield County a few months ago.  Perhaps the most interesting part of that was Brian Michael Bendis's New Avengers, Volume 1, currently available as a collection of something like twelve TPBs, all of which reside in the Milford, CT, public library.

Yes, they have the entire series.  Yes, I read all it.

The answer was to "Disassemble"
the Avengers, in Issue #503.
Unfortunately, the story here is basically corporate.  Bendis and the other thought-leaders at Marvel got together and decided that what they really needed to do was to make the Avengers more central to the Marvel Universe's focal storylines.  Which is to say that if the Avengers is supposed to be the company's flagship title--it's Justice League, if you will--then it ought to have all of Marvel's top-line characters.  But before the New Avengers, the title didn't have all of Marvel's best characters; in fact, it didn't have any of the company's best characters except for Captain America.  Recall that before the first Iron Man movie, Iron Man himself was a B-level character who's book was an at best median seller.  Thor wan't even that, and Hawkeye and the Black Widow were outright niche characters who couldn't even stay in other peoples' team books with any regularity.  This is why Spider-Man and the X-Men got movies made first; they were the more valuable properties, and as such, Marvel was able to license them out for big money to other major studios.  It was only after those movies were making big money that Marvel itself took out a billion dollar line of credit and established a movie studio of its own.  The problem then was how to get Spider-Man and Wolverine into the Avengers.  The answer was to "Disassemble" the existing Avengers and introduce a new team, the New Avengers, this time with all the company's top characters and a few notables that the company wanted to push for the future.

Still, the series starts out pretty strong.  There's a prison break at Ryker's Island, and the New Avengers assemble quite by accident to help with containment and clean-up.  Bendis uses this event and subsequent events to start putting forward a couple of over-arching story questions: What's wrong with SHIELD?  Why is SHIELD, and thus the informal leadership of the entire superhero community, all screwed up?  To the extent that this series can be taken as a whole, it's these questions that drive the story.  And they're interesting questions.  Eventually, our heroes find themselves on the run, out-gunned, and out-manned, and all of that makes for some pretty nice storytelling.

Heroes for Hire are street-level heroes,
almost by definition.  The fact that
Power Man and Iron Fist are also
now Avengers is, to me, part of the
problem here.
The problem, to the extent that there is a problem, starts to come in what we might think of as the Second Act of the overall New Avengers story arc, i.e. Civil War and the Secret Invasion.  In the first place, Civil War and Secret Invasion were both major company events which got their own mini-series.  That's fine.  But the events of the actual New Avengers stories are intimately tied to the events of those two mini-series while the events of the various mini-series are only vaguely recapped in the actual New Avengers books themselves.  The storytelling narrative of the actual New Avengers volumes themselves therefore breaks down right in the middle, and that stinks.  Especially with Secret Invasion, first there was no actual invasion--at least not in the pages of New Avengers, and second, the climax of the story takes place immediately off-panel.  That is utterly maddening.  That strategy might have worked in the monthly magazines because the various issues came out in the same weeks or whatever, but reading it back in trade, it makes no sense whatsoever.  If you're gonna repackage the material as a trade, it's very important to make sure that all of the pivotal issues are repackaged together into a single volume.  In this case, I don't even know where to go to read what all I've missed.

The other problem here is more meta.  The Avengers is supposed to be Marvel's cosmic team, but the story Bendis wants to write is obviously not a cosmic story.  Just look at the heroes: Spider-Man, Spider-Woman, Echo, Clint Barton, Wolverine, Iron Fist, Luke Cage, Captain America, etc...  These are all street-level super-heroes.  They are massively overpowered, even by guys like The Wrecking Crew who're traditionally jobbers for Thor and other established bad asses.  There is no one in the New Avengers who can go up against, say, Ronan the Accuser, and it gets ridiculous after a while.  Even when the team is augmented by Carol Danvers and Dr. Strange, they still get their asses kicked with amazing regularity.  To be honest with you, that wouldn't be so bad if this weren't supposed to be Marvel's flagship book about it's flagship team.  I mean, if this was Heroes for Hire, it would've worked fine with the same cast.  But as an Avengers book?  Like I said, it's a little frustrating.  In truth, I wonder if maybe Bendis didn't really wanted to write Heroes for Hire, but the company needed him on Avengers, so he just shoe-horned his Heroes for Hire idea into the Avengers book that he was being paid to write.

The Search for the Sorcerer Supreme
was the high point of this series.
None of that is to say that I didn't like these books.  I read all 58 issues (or however many there were), and for the most part, the stories were very good.  The beginning was strong, and the stuff after Secret Invasion ended was very strong.  In fact, I'd call The Search for the Sorcerer Supreme one of the best trades I've read all year.  These are books that are worth your time, especially if you also have the means and/or the patience to dig up the separate Civil War and Secret Invasion collections concurrently.  However, I still like Bendis's work better when he's working on smaller stories about smaller teams and/or sets of individuals.  Bendis's run on Daredevil was excellent.  His run on Moon Knight was also very, very good.  Likewise, the issues in New Avengers that focused on Hawkeye's return from the dead or on Luke Cage's commitments to his family and his beliefs were also strong.  But when we get into the big action with all of its many players and disparate events, that's where the narrative here falls down, and unfortunately, it's that stuff that makes up a substantial part of what the Avengers, as a concept, is supposed to be about.  There is a lot of :"fighty-fighty" here, but it's a mess, often without any narrative through-line.

So.  New Avengers is good.  Sometimes even very good or excellent.  But I think it'll be a better reading experience if you go into it knowing what to expect.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Friday Hair Metal: Styx's Crystal Ball

This is from a live performance last year.

By comparison, this is from...  I'm gonna guess a reunion tour, maybe 10 years ago.  This second video is definitely worth your time.  They've got the entire original lineup, including Dennis DeYoung.

Anyway, Snowblind is another of my favorite Styx tunes.

BTW, I accidentally posted Friday Mad Science earlier today (instead of at noon like I usually do).  So if you're looking for it, it's down below instead of up above.

Friday Mad Science: A Guy's Guide to Fifty Shades of Grey

Alright, I’ll admit it.  I wanted to know what the fuss was about, so I swiped my wife’s copy of Fifty Shades of Grey this week and read maybe a third of it Tuesday night.  Fair warning: I’m about to get into that in some detail, so if you’re not ready for that—or you’re under seventeen—you probably ought to turn back now.

Fifty Shades of Grey
Fifty Shades of Grey isn’t what I’d call scintillating reading for the most part—at least the first seventy pages or so weren’t—so I skimmed it until I started getting into the freaky parts.  With that said, once this book gets freaky, it gets really freaky.  The male lead in the story is a control freak whose parents beat him as a child, and as a consequence he comes to see love and sex through the prism of discipline, obedience, and violence.  Thus, this is a story with hard core bondage and beating and even talk of fisting (!), and frankly, some of that stuff, I can’t believe the women of America are going for it.

Still.  The fact that the women of America are getting into a story about bondage and violent sex doesn’t necessarily mean that their husbands need to go out and buy a pair of fur-lined handcuffs, a cat-o-nine-tails, and a size large butt plug.  I mean, if your wife does want that stuff, then by all means have at it, but I personally think the reality is a little different.  For example, I really liked the movie Die Hard.  But just because I thought it was badass when Bruce Willis fought European terrorists in his bare feet and then pulled out the shards of glass afterwards on camera while he was talking to his “pal” on the radio, that doesn’t mean that I’m looking to re-up with the Army, so I can personally fight the Taliban without any shoes on.  The same principal applies with women and this book.

And yet, there is something here.  I mean, there’s a lesson if we have the wit to see it.  There’s something in the characterization of Christian Grey that appeals, or else the book wouldn’t work.  And it’s not just his money (although I don’t discount the money’s value).  It’s this: Christian Grey’s ultra-human ability is his supernatural attention to detail.  As it happens, that level of attention to detail is worth a lot more than you’d think. 

Consider: Mr. Grey is a super-rich corporate CEO, but he still has time to learn literally everything that there is to know about Ana, the book’s protagonist, right after their first meeting.  Even his gaze is “intense”.  He obsesses about everything.  This is not the guy who’ll show up for a date with no clear picture of how that date itself is gonna go.  No.  This is a guy who knows everything in advance.  He has it planned to the minute, and he has the resources to make sure that absolutely nothing is gonna go off script.  This is a guy who shows up for a date with reservations for a specific table at a specific restaurant at a specific time with a specific waiter.  He brought the outfit that he wants his girl to wear with him, and it fits perfectly because he had it tailored even though she never realized that he’d taken her measurements.  And he’s already ordered dinner ahead of time because he did the research in advance in order to find out what his girl’s favorite foods are.  And all of that is sexy (rather than creepy) because this is a guy that Ana likes.  He’s good looking, he’s successful, and bottom line, she’s literally overwhelmed by the power of the attention he’s paying to her.  That, all of it, makes her feel incredibly special.

To feel that special, I think a lot of women will put up with an awful lot.  Maybe even zip cuffs and ball gags, and the occasional I’m-not-fucking-around spanking.  And really, even if they won’t, I’m pretty sure that they’d like to pretend that they would.

To an extent, I think this might even be a universal issue for women, especially young women in relationships that they’re not sure about.  They want the undivided attention of their men, they want to return that attention and show their love, but they don’t want to have to compromise themselves in order to do it.  That’s the tension in the book, and it’s a tension that I think exists in real life.  The fun of it then comes when we see Ana redefine herself and her definition of appropriate.  Ana really likes Christian, and she’s willing to do “pretty much” anything in order to show that to him.  This is where the book succeeds—in defining and then redefining that idea of “pretty much”.

For guys then, I think the key is to find a way to make your girl feel special.  Find some way to show her that you’re paying attention.  Make her happy, so that she’ll want to make you happy.  Be honest about it.  And then maybe you’ll be in a position to start pushing boundaries and exploring that idea of trying “pretty much” anything.

As a last thought, let me just say that Fifty Shades of Grey is very reminiscent, at least to me, of American Psycho.  So much so that I kept waiting for Christian to handcuff Anastasia to the bed, give us ten pages of why the music of Phil Collins is a seminal part of Eighties pop culture, and then cut Ana in half with a chainsaw.  That never happens (I don't think), but I'm just saying... it's freaky.

* * *
One of the guys in my office sent me a pretty interesting article from the New York Times this week about differences in voting, beliefs, and outcomes between younger and older Americans.  The upshot is that while older Americans have suffered in the downturn, younger Americans are suffering a lot more.

Younger adults are faring worse in the private sector and, in large part because they have less political power, have a less generous safety net beneath them. Older Americans vote at higher rates and are better organized. There is no American Association of Non-Retired Persons. “Pell grants,” notes the political scientist Kay Lehman Schlozman, “have never been called the third rail of American politics.”

Bottom line, older voters tend to vote, and most of the systems in place in this country’s social safety net are and have been designed to support the Baby Boomers’ generation.  In contrast, unemployment and under-employment are brutally bad for recent college graduates, and no one cares.  Baby Boomers are worried about their retirements; today’s recent college grads can’t find jobs in the first place.  Given that government is even now choosing to cut funding for education instead of funding for social entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare, the problem looks to get worse long before it even thinks about getting better.  And the way that the government propped up the housing market means that even if you are young and well-employed, it’s still difficult to afford to live anywhere nice.

* * *
Thursday was a tough day for Conservatives.  The Supreme Court upheld the President’s health care reform law but struck down the Stolen Valor Act.  That’s not the way I’d have bet in either case, and what’s even weirder is that Chief Justice John Roberts, a conservative from George W. Bush’s presidency, cast the pivotal vote in the case.  He actually sided with the Court’s liberals to uphold the law.

With all of that said, I think the health care law has gotten more than its fair share of coverage.  However, the Stolen Valor Act is much less well-known.  It’s meant to protect military veterans by making it illegal for a person to falsely claim that he or she earned military honors.  In this specific case, the Court ruled that false claims of valor are still legal forms of speech, and bottom line, the First Amendment protects liars. 

As I said in the opening, the success of that argument surprises me.  One would expect that the First Amendment would protect both the truth and statements of opinion, but I’m surprised it protects blatant falsehood.  That protection is certainly not universal.  For example, liable and slander are both examples of falsehood that are specifically disallowed, and speech that does harm is not protected either.  With that in mind, it’s hard for me to understand how the public good is served by protecting blatant lies, especially when the subjects of the claims are a matter of public record.  But I’m not a lawyer, so perhaps there is some aspect of this that I simply do not understand.

* * *
So it’s been a weird week, right?  Maybe the weirdest (and worst) part of it came from a National Geographic poll: over a third of American’s believe that UFOs have visited Earth, and a full tenth of Americans believe that they’ve actually seen a UFO.


* * *
The John Hancock building
where Bain keeps its

Yeah, that’s politics.  But as a matter of reality, it’s also a cheap shot.  Bain specialized in buying out troubled companies with private equity, cutting their costs, and then reselling them on the public market one their profitability was improved.  That may or may not be a good qualification for a potential Commander-in-Chief, but even if it’s not, the reality is still this: if a business is going down, it can either cut its costs or die.  In either case, workers are likely to lose jobs and/or face wage and benefit pressure.  The difference is that if the firm goes out of business, everyone loses.  However, if the firm survives, but only some people lose their jobs, well, in that case it’s only the losers who lose.  And if the firm does turn around, the folks who made it happen often also make a lot of money.  That is the free market at work.  It’s not always pretty—in fact, reality is that it’s rarely pretty—but it is effective.  Bain, and the way that Bain operated, was a legitimate part of the free market system.

* * *
Finally, here’s a sign of the Apocalypse for you: Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen are releasing a $39,000 backpack through their high end fashion line, The Row.  If you’re wondering, thirty-nine grand is supposedly a lot of money to spend on a purse/backpack, even for the well-heeled.  The price, apparently, is mostly driven by the kind of alligator from which it’s made.

Word on the street is that The Row already has orders for two.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Tour is Coming!

Apropos of nothing, I can't wait to get out on my bike this weekend.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Fairfield Half-Marathon 2012 Race Review

As I noted over the weekend, the Fairfield Half-Marathon was Sunday, and at least for me, it was kind of a disaster.  With that in mind, I don’t really feel like doing a full Race Report.  But I always autopsy these races—good or bad—to try to figure out what lessons I can learn, and this particular race is no exception.  So this is more of a Race Review than anything, and with any luck, it’ll be a bit shorter than these things usually are.

The backstory here is that I’m a former Division 1 swimmer turned triathlete.  My wife Sally is a pure runner, and though she never competed back in school, she’s become talented enough lately that she’s often in a position to place—and sometimes even to win—her age group when we run smaller local races.  Last season I taught Sally to swim, and we did a couple of triathlons together.  Then we closed out the season with the Hartford Half Marathon in October and decided to focus the next season on running.  Given that Sally had just focused a season on my sport, I thought that seemed fair.

So far, so good.

With all of that said, the season itself has been kind of a wreck for me.  I got a flat during Brian’s Beachside Boogie, was less than a minute off of the lead for my age group at the only triathlon I did this season without even knowing it, and then tried to set myself up for the Fairfield Half, knowing that for personal and professional reasons, it was likely to be my last race of the season.


I had a pretty bad heat stroke back when I was in the Army, and I’ve struggled with the heat ever since.  In fact, during my heat stroke, my body temperature got up to 107-degrees, and it stayed there for damned-near two hours.  Fact is, I almost died.  I remember that the docs were vaguely surprised when I woke up that day, and it’s something of a miracle that I didn’t wake up with permanent brain or liver damage.  With that said, the event did permanently change my body chemistry a little.  It took me about eight months to fully recover from that injury, and I’ve never felt like I was the same guy, athletically speaking.

So bottom line, making my A-Race a half marathon at the end of June was something of a risk.  I knew that at the time.  However, it’s been more than ten years since my heat stroke, and I thought I could manage it.

In the event, I don’t think that was a correct assumption.

Leading up to the race, I ran a lot.  Not necessarily a lot of times per week, but I’d been putting in 10-mile-plus runs for at least a month before the race.  In addition, I’d been swimming once a week, and I ride part of my commute every day on my foldie.  If you read this space regularly, then you know that I feel like I was running like crap in the weeks before the half, but I’d been riding well and swimming well, and I don’t think the problem was my overall fitness.  Maybe that was wrong, but at this point, it’s a little hard to judge.

Anyway, we had ninety-plus degree heat the week before the race, and I rode in it twice and felt fine.  However, the weekend before the race, I put in my last long run, a twelve-miler, and felt like utter garbage.  Maybe I was over-trained at that point?  Maybe I needed a little more rest?  I don’t know.  Regardless, when we got to race day, I felt much worse running than I’d felt in the weeks prior, and that after doing very little for a full week.  Truth is, I don’t know how to explain it except to say that the race start was about an hour and a half later than I’d been running in the weeks prior, and as a consequence, it was much hotter outside.

Race Day and the Race
Sally and I hoped to get to the race at around seven or seven-fifteen.  However, there was a ton of traffic trying to get into Jennings Beach that morning, and we wound up getting there at about seven-fifty, for a race start at eight-thirty.  I had to rush the kids up to check-in, find Sally’s mom and drop off the kids, check us in, check our bags, wait in the line to pee, and basically run around like a maniac for thirty-five of the forty minutes we had pre-race.  That wasn’t good, but I got to the race’s start line with about five minutes to spare, and I stretched as best I could.  I only saw Sally long enough to hand her her race number and grab her bag so that I could check it.  We’d been arguing all morning—actually, that little fight was one of the worst we’ve ever had in ten years of marriage—so frankly, it was fine with me that I was on my own.  Still, when the race started, I was already sweating, and I would have been hard-pressed to give a good reason for even being there in the first place.

Given all of that, it’s maybe no surprise that I made it a little over an hour before I fell apart.  The weather had been predicted for the low- to mid-seventies, but it was at least in the high seventies when the race began, and the course itself has very little shade.  I was in a bad mood, and I was thirsty when we started.  By the time the first hour had passed, it was probably eighty degrees, and I just didn’t want to be there.  I started getting light-headed around Mile Seven, and unwilling to risk my health on what at that point felt like a fool’s errand, I decided to run-walk the rest of the race.

After that, it was weird.  The Fairfield Half has plenty of water stops, and I took two or three cups of water or Gatorade at every one.  So I had plenty of fluids.  But I still couldn’t control my body temperature, and I couldn’t run more than ten minutes at a stretch.  Needless to say, that second hour was its own special kind of Hell.  I kind of pulled it together when we reached Mile Eleven, but even then, I had to walk a part of Mile Twelve.  I wound up finishing the race in 2:19:19--having averaged almost eleven minutes per mile—and that's more than twenty minutes slower than I’d been in the Hartford Half just eight months prior.  It was a good bit slower than I’d been on a similar twelve-mile course just a week earlier.

At this point, my season is over, and I don’t know what the point of it was.  I’m sore—more from dehydration more than from exertion—and I’m frustrated, and more than anything, I’m determined to spend more time racing bikes next season.  Beyond that, I don’t know what to tell you.

The Fairfield Half is a well-run race, and there're plenty of water stations along the way, but it's crowded as all Hell, and it starts at least an hour later than a summer race has any right to start.  You want to ight through that?  Go ahead.  Me, I'm gonna do something different next year.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Centurion Six #2: The Devil and the Agent from the FBI (Part 2)

Our Story So Far:
Last night, Captains Blaine “Centurion Six” Winters and Jacob “Zulu” Mbeke of the New York State National Guard Enhanced Forces Division (EFD) were called out by the NYPD to consult on a multiple homicide in the south Bronx.  The case seemed like routine “skrag” gang violence until our heroes stumbled upon evidence that implicated a former teammate in the murders—ultra-human drug addict Jason King.  However, before Blaine and his team could begin to investigate, they were attacked by a killer cyborg robot-monkey mounting a highly advanced stealth/security system and a small-caliber machine pistol.  In the ensuing firefight, a police officer was killed, the crime scene burned to the ground, and the cyborg robot-monkey escaped.
EFD commander Colonel Joachim “Aguilá” Rodriguez calls in the FBI to help with the investigation, and Special Agent Nora Mahoney is assigned to the case.  But Ms. Mahoney finds the EFD to be a strange and disconcerting assignment.
Note: To read the story from the beginning, click the Centurion Six keyword down below the post.
* * *
 “Ma’am,” the devil said.  He nodded and walked past.
Nora watched him go.
“You’re starring, Ms. Mahoney,” the Colonel said. 
A beat passed, but Nora couldn’t tear her eyes away from Satan, who was walking away like it was a normal, everyday occurrence. 
“Agent Mahoney!”
“Huh?  Oh!  I’m sorry Colonel.  It’s just—“
The Colonel did not look happy.  “Lieutenant Delaney is a good you officer, Ms. Mahoney.  He doesn’t deserve to have you starring at him like he’s some carnival freak.”
“Yeah.  Uh, sorry about that.”
Colonel Rodriguez leaned in close.  “Look Ms. Mahoney, you said you could handle this assignment.  That you wanted to get some experience working with ultra-humans.  If that’s not the case, let me know now, and I’ll have you replaced.  Otherwise you need to get it together and keep it that way.  I can’t have you gawking at my officers and making them feel uncomfortable.  It’s gonna be hard enough having a mundie involved with the team.  Got it?”
“Yeah.  Like I said, I’m sorry, it’s just—“
The Colonel cut her off.  “No excuses.  I need to know we’re clear, Agent Mahoney.”
Nora nodded.  “Yes sir.  We’re clear.”
“Thank you.”  The Colonel turned and started back down the hallway.  “Now, I need to introduce you to my New York field team leader, Captain Blaine Winters.  Callsign: Centurion Six.”
“Blaine Winters?” Nora said.  “Wait.  I read about this.  He’s the son of—“
The Colonel cut her off again.  “Blaine’s not here because of anything his father did, Ms. Mahoney.  Trust me, he’s his own man.”
“Of course,” Nora said.  “But still, the papers made a big deal about it when he signed up.  I remember; it was on TV.  Having the son of the Ice Queen and the original Centurion agree to join the EFD was quite a coup, no?”
The Colonel shook his head.  “Despite what the papers might have you believe, Ms. Mahoney, the real truth is that Blaine’s father, Macon Winters—the so-called original Centurion—was nothing more than a hyper-violent vigilante sociopath.  He had no respect for the law or for the value of teamwork, and he left several men crippled who were later proven to be innocent when the so-called ‘evidence’ of their crimes was examined using actual forensics.  I would never allow someone like that into the EFD.  However, as I said Blaine is his own man.  He is respectful, reasonably intelligent, and far more… circumspect… in the use of his abilities than was his father.
“Now, if you’ll come this way, please.”
As Nora followed Colonel Rodriguez down the hall, she remembered—belatedly—that El Aguilá and the original Centurion had had something of a history back in the day.  Sure, they’d teamed up that time against the Super-Socialists’ Society, but before that there had been something else.  Something different.  After the Radical Robot Rampage, Aguilá had tried to arrest The Ice Queen for her part in it.  The details hadn’t made the papers, but there had been plenty of coverage of the event itself, and all the pictures showed the Ice Queen right there in the middle, riding a giant robot gunship next to Doctor Destructo himself.  Having now met Joachim Rodriguez, Nora felt sure that whatever else had happened that day, Aguilá had been right about the Ice Queen.  But for whatever reason, the original Centurion hadn’t seen it that way.  In fact, he andAguilá had thrown down about it, right there in the middle of 125th Street, amidst all the rubble and the smoking hulks of Doctor Destructo’s smashed robot tanks. 
Nora almost shook her head as she remembered watching it as a kid.  Aguilá famously had little in the way of ultra-human abilities—just slightly enhanced reflexes or something like that—but he was a soldier and a trained fighter, and he knew how to get everything there was to be had out of whatever abilities God had given him.  But the Centurion—the original Centurion—that dude had been a badass in the biblical sense.  He’d beaten Joachim Rodriguez to within an inch of his life right there on national TV and then dared the police to do something about it. 
In the end, no one had even tried.  Centurion had just walked away with the Ice Queen in tow, and six months later they’d married.  The Post had covered it like it was a society wedding, and the government had played along.  What else could they do?  Nora could only imagine the sighs of relief in City Hall when the Ice Queen changed her costume and started fighting crime alongside her new husband.  Had things gone the other way, there would have been literally no one who could have stopped them.
And now I’m supposed to meet their son, Nora thought, whom they named Blaine for some crazy reason, and we’re supposed to work together to find the guy who sold a Chinese battle drug to another would-be costumed lunatic—a guy who’s half alligator and half grizzly bear.  And oh by the way, that dude kicked Blaine’s ass up between his ears last night.  Blaine, who is the son of the original freaking Centurion—and practically indestructible. 
“So… Blaine,” Nora said, “does he know I’m coming?”
“No.  He’s been in medical all morning getting stem cell injections.  Like I told you when we came in, he got pretty torn up last night.  Why?”
“Just wondering how he’s gonna take the news that the FBI is taking over his case.  Some guys can get a little touchy about that sort of thing.”
They reached the door at the end of the hall, and the Colonel turned.  “Blaine’s a soldier.  He’ll do what he’s told.  It would be better if you were an ultra, but—“
“No excuses, Colonel.  Isn’t that what you said?”  Nora eyed him, and the last of the hero worship from her childhood memories finally fell away.  The Colonel was a professional soldier and a talented leader, but Nora could see that in his own way, he was as nervous about her meeting Blaine as she was.  “Look, I can handle it, sir.  I promise you that.  But I do need to know what I’m walking into.”
The Colonel sighed.  “The truth is, Ms. Mahoney, that’s why we need your help.  Countering ultra-human threats?  That we can handle.  But investigating a multiple murder?  Busting a drug ring?  That’s a little outside our comfort zone.  Still…  the answer to your question is ‘no.’  I doubt strongly that Blaine will appreciate your coming in run this investigation.”
“Fine,” Nora said.  She smiled.  “Now let’s get this over with.”

Monday, June 25, 2012

July Previews Reviews

The race yesterday was kind of a disaster.  That's the second race of the season that's gone like that for me, and truth to tell, I'm not quite ready to talk about it yet.  So here's a video I found on YouTube reviewing the comics in Previews for the month of July.  If that's your thing, enjoy!

I'll have something up on the race later in the week.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Fairfield Half Marathon: Pre-Race Jitters

The Fairfield Half Marathon starts in about two hours.  I've been resting my legs all week, and I've spent a ton of time training for this race, but I still can't shake the feeling that this is really Sally's race.  As I said the other day, if it was up to me, I'd rather we were doing a bike race, a metric century or something like that.  I mean, I'm ready to run; it's just that I know that the last two or three miles today are gonna be a slog, and at this point, there's no dealing with that besides to just gut it out.

Thankfully, the heat around here has finally broken.  It was in the mid-nineties all week and the mid- to upper-eighties yesterday, but it's only maybe sixty outside right now, and it's not supposed to get above the high seventies before the end of the race.  That's good.  Still, I already told Sally that my goal today is just to finish.  Hitting Mile Ten in seventy-seven degree heat is gonna take everything that I have.  I know this because we ran 12.5-miles last weekend in similar conditions, and the last mile and a half was imminently painful.  Compare that to the fifty-degree weather we had during the Hartford Half, and you can see why I personally prefer that race; I'm a much better runner when it's cool.

Well.  It's about time to start getting ready.  I'll let you know how the race went a little later.

Sunday Comics: The Adventures of Hiro Arturian, Samurai (Day 8)

The Adventures of Hiro Arturian, Page 8.
To see the page at full size, click here.
Whoops!  Uh oh, looks like Hiro's got a little problem here.  Heh.  Who will come to Hiro's aid?

As always, to read the story from the beginning, just click the Hiro tag.  Or, if you want to read all of the Sunday Comics entries, you can use the Sunday Comics tag.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man Looks... Amazing.

Cover for ASM #650, by Humberto Ramos.

From Newsrama:
The first reviews of the big-screen Spidey reboot Amazing Spider-Man are beginning to emerge online, and despite some misgivings amongst fans about the successful film series being rebooted so quickly and the origin story being retold so soon, the early word is nearly universally positive.
Of the 11 reviews currently tracked by as of Friday afternoon (mostly UK based publications), only one has been negative, giving director Marc Webb’s Amazing an early but highly encouraging 91% approval rating. Critics so far have been drawn to the balance of romance, humor, and characterization that gives life to what Boyd van Hoeij of Variety calls, "a mostly slick, entertaining and emotionally involving recombination of fresh and familiar elements."
I’ll admit, I’ve personally been less than excited about the new Spider-Man movie, both because there are already a lot of superhero movies in the theaters this summer and because I really, really liked the first two movies of the last series, and they were relatively recent films.  But if this new movie is actually good, well, that changes everything.  I mean, I read The Amazing Spider-Man every month—I’ve been loving what both Dan Slott and Humberto Ramos are doing on the book—so it’s not like I’m not a Spidey fan.  I just wasn’t an optimistic Spidey fan.

Mary Jane Watson by Humberto Ramos.  This image was the cover for ASM #671.
Anywho, here’re the numbers from Rotten Tomatoes.  

Spider-Man from the Avenger's Alliance game on Facebook.
He kicks ass in the game.
And here's the official trailer.  Are you excited yet?

Friday, June 22, 2012

Friday Mad Science: Microsoft's New Tablet and the Genius of Kurt Busiek, George Perez, and Ed Brubaker

Before I get started this week, let me just say up front that this site is not for everyone.  If you read through this and hate it, by all means leave a comment.  


If you find yourself reading and hating and reading and hating and reading and hating, and we start arguing in the comments...  at that point, it might be time to reassess your commitment.  

'Nuff said.

* * *
I read the first part of Ed Brubaker’s run on Captain America this week and the first year or so of the George Perez/Kurt Busiek run on The Avengers, and I enjoyed both tremendously.  For those in the know, that’s the first Winter Soldier arc and the first of two volumes marked “Avengers Assemble!”, both of which were in TPB form in the Milford, CT, library. 

Avengers Assemble, Volume 1 (TPB).
I really, really liked this book.
Avengers Assemble! was especially satisfying.  I’ve liked what Brian Bendis has done lately with some of the New Avengers stuff—pre-Siege, at least—but I found Busiek’s run to be more authentically “Avengers” in the classic style, especially in that it had a lot of the old school team in it.  At this point, I kind of wish Marvel would pull Bendis off of The Avengers and give it to somebody who juggles big teams and big team action a little better—like current Amazing Spider-Man scribe Dan Slott.  One of the best things about the Busiek run is that he introduced and used so many great B-List characters from the Avengers back catalogue, dudes like Justice and Firestar (yes, the one from the old ‘80s TV show).  Dan Slott picked most of those guys up when he wrote Avengers: The Initiative, and I loved that book.  It would be awesome to see him get back in the saddle and get the Avengers back to the kind of big-ticket cosmic action that guys like Busiek seem to do so well.  Bendis, for all the great dialogue that he writes, always seems to fall a little flat when it comes to the Event-level stuff.  In fact, I could do with fewer Events and more just plain-old serialized storytelling.

For what it’s worth, I also think I need to put Captain America on my pull list, at least while Brubaker is still writing it.  Brubaker’s work is terrific, and reading Winter Soldier has reminded me how much I enjoy it.

* * *
Microsoft is introducing a new tablet computer, and right now the thinking is that it’s primarily a way for the company to showcase its new Windows 8 operating system, the operating system that’s designed for tablet and touch-screen computing.  Bottom line, Microsoft seems to think that the end of the desktop computer is pretty much here, and for what it’s worth, they’re ready to move on.  I don’t know if I can agree with that—based solely on the fact that having a real computer makes doing real work easier.  Which is to say that you can play on the web and watch movies on a tablet, but if you need to write a letter or run a electric load flow analysis, it really helps to have a full keyboard, a mouse, and a full-sized screen regardless of how much computing power your tablet has available. 

That doesn’t mean that I think Microsoft is making a mistake with either the tablet or its strategy with Windows 8.  The tablet market definitely looks like the future.  But if that’s true, then the best thing that the new Microsoft table has is its in-built keyboard, and that doesn’t even rely on touch-screen software.  With that said, I’d very much like to see some more competition—and more effective competition—in the tablet market, so at least for me, it’s hard to see how the new product’s launch is anything but an unalloyed good.

* * *
Wednesday was the summer solstice.  That’s interesting basically because Sally and I got married on the winter solstice nine and a half years ago.  So we’re almost through our first decade!

* * *
Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei was back in the news this week.  You may recall that I showed some pictures of his work that I saw on display at the Hirshhorn in Washington, DC.  Anyway, Mr. Ai’s company has been under threat of a lawsuit in China for alleged fraud and tax evasion, a charge that most western observers have accepted as little better than a trumped up excuse to persecute Mr. Ai for his criticism on the Chinese state.  This week made news because Mr. Ai’s company actually sued the Chinese government for harassment, and the suit has been allowed to go forward, but Mr. Ai himself has been barred from the trial.  This has led to some calm but definite protesting in Mr. Ai’s hometown, all of which is unusual in the PRC.

Personally, I find the whole spectacle fascinating.  On the one hand, it makes me proud and happy to see this kind of thing and acknowledge that it doesn’t happen (much) in America.  But then, too, I think it’s kind of a cautionary tale.  Repression can begin as a subtle thing.  That’s why you have to fight it from the outset before it gets out of hand—as it clearly has, at least for Mr. Ai.

* * *
I liked this article on amateur fashion photography.  Sally likes to shoot photographs and has several really nice cameras.  Reading this makes me think I need to get her some lights and a plain white backdrop as well. 

I have no intention of hiring a model for her, but that’d be an interesting experiment.

* * *
Slate.Com ran an interesting article yesterday explaining why so many spammers claim to be Nigerian.  I’d always assumed that it was because they were from Nigeria, but apparently that’s not it at all.

* * *
I don't know the first thing about Rick
Scott's politics, but I can tell you that I
like his hair cut.
Finally, Slate is alleging that presidential candidate Mitt Romney has asked Florida Governor Rick Scott to tone down his talk of Florida’s recent economic success.  This apparently highlights one of the problems that Republicans feel like they are having this year, namely that Republican governors have been largely successful stimulating growth at the state level, and that this is likely to make the Democratic President’s reelection campaign a lot easier.  You may recall from last election that many observers assumed that regardless of who won, be it Obama or McCain, that President would only win one term due largely to the extended nature of the then-forthcoming downturn.  Studies have shown that incumbent presidents generally win or lose on the perceived strength of the economy at the time of the election, so bottom line, Romney needs for Americans to at least think that the economy is bad in November.

The interesting thing about this election cycle, at least to me, is the way that Obama has lately been targeting specific interest groups of voters in order to create wedge issues and peal voting blocks off from the pool of potential swing voters in an election that is, on both sides, largely centrist.  Which is to say that Obama looks like he’s trying to insulate himself from the economy by picking policies that appeal to different groups that otherwise might have considered voting Republican.  Gay rights, contraception, immigration policy, etc.  It’s a strategy that’s only possible in a closely divided country with a winner-take-all representative system (like the Electoral College), but as I’ve said here before, I also think it’s going to work.

* * *
Well, that’s about all I got.  Have a good weekend.

Friday Hair Metal: Working for the Weekend

I spent about an hour trying to get this link on my phone.  Finally, I just gave up and waited until I got home.  Anyway, this one's for Chi Chi.  It's Chi Chi's song.

Heh.  Here's one more from the same era.  More of an early hair metal song.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Idle Hands

It's a hundred degrees in the City today, and I got stuck in a crowded, slow-moving subway car. No connectivity, just me and my phone. And the Dress Up! app I got for my daughter Hannah last weekend.

As it happens, Dress Up! can be used for evil.


I don't know how we got on the subject of sharktopi yesterday, but we did.  And I laughed so hard when I watched this trailer yesterday that I embarrassed my boss in the middle of a conference call.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Someone I Used to Know

This is my kids' favorite song.  Uptempo but strangely sad.  My man obviously lost his manic pixie dream girl.

Anyway, you've probably heard the song, but maybe you'll groove to it anyway.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Centurion Six #2: The Devil and the Agent from the FBI (Part 1)

Our Story So Far:
Last night, Captains Blaine “Centurion Six” Winters and Jacob “Zulu” Mbeke of the New York State National Guard Enhanced Forces Division (E.F.D.) were called out by the NYPD to consult on a multiple homicide in the south Bronx.  The case seemed like routine “skrag” gang violence until our heroes stumbled upon evidence that implicated a former teammate in the murders—ultra-human drug addict Jason King.  However, before Blaine and his team could begin to investigate, they were attacked by a killer cyborg robot-monkey mounting a highly advanced stealth/security system and a small-caliber machine pistol.  In the ensuing firefight, a police officer was killed, the crime scene burned to the ground, and the cyborg robot-monkey got away.
Fortunately, Blaine managed to subdue Jason King with the help of teenaged ultra-human club girl Rebecca Rodriguez, daughter of Colonel Joachim “El Aguilá” Rodriguez, following a brutal fight just outside of Central Park.
Note: To read the story from the beginning, click the Centurion Six keyword down below the post.
* * *
Danny Delaney sat next to the bed where Jason King lay unconscious.  He’d brought one of his textbooks with him, but Jason was in bad shape, and it was tough to concentrate.  Jason had gone up against Blaine Winters and Rebecca Rodriguez both—a monumentally stupid move.  He’d come out of the fight with a skull fracture and three fractured cervical vertebrae, and on top of that, the E.F.D.’s docs thought that he might be going through the initial phases of withdrawal now that they’d leached the last traces of Amphetamine Methyl-Phencyclidine, also known as AMP, out of his system.  Why he’d been using a dangerous and highly addictive battle drug like AMP in the first place—apparently with some consistency for the better part of a week—was just one more mystery in a night that was already chock full of them.  Unfortunately, Jason was in no position to give anyone any answers.  What with the fight and the skull fracture, the E.F.D.’s docs had decided to put Jason into an induced coma. 
Compared to that, Corporate Contract Law wasn’t holding Danny’s attention very well.
Danny sighed, stared at his friend’s face, and knew himself to be the only person in the building who didn’t see Jason as a monster.  Even here.  Even in the E.F.D.’s very own headquarters.  Jason had a reptile’s skin, elongated facial features, and feral fangs and claws.  It was a decidedly non-human look.  Not so much ultra-human as anti-human.
Danny knew the feeling.
“You can’t go up against guys like Blaine and Rebecca, Jason,” Danny said.  “You knew that.  Hell, you’re the one that taught that to me.”  Danny shook his head.  “What the Hell were you thinking?”
Danny looked down to where his hand held the rail on Jason’s bed.  His own claws weren’t functional like Jason’s were.  Jason’s would rip through bone like it was paper-mache; Danny’s were basically just decorative—sharpened fingertips to match his red skin and devil’s horns.  Had God not also given Danny bat-wings and the gift of flight, Danny wondered if he might not have put a gun in his own mouth back when he was in high school.  Flying and having friendships with other extreme ultra-humans like Jason were the only things that had kept Danny going during the really bad times.  Danny shuddered to think of what it would have been like to meet normal-looking guys like Blaine Winters without having had others like himself—like Jason King—around to keep him grounded.
“He’s gonna be alright, y’know.”
Danny looked up, saw Blaine standing there.  He hadn’t heard the door open.
Wonderful.  Cue Mr. Perfect to spin me some bullshit. 
Danny packed the thought away, let military bearing drop down around him like a mask, and stood up.  “I know, sir.”
“The docs say that his regenerative processes have already kicked into overdrive.  He ought to be awake by the end of the week at the very latest.  And then we’ll find out what’s going on.  We’ll—“
 “I know all that, sir.  It doesn’t stop me worrying, but… Look, if you’ll excuse me, sir, I just stopped by to see how he was doing.  But I’ve got some real work to do, too.”
Blaine nodded.  “Right.  Well, don’t forget the briefing, Danny.  It’s at ten-hundred hours, and the Colonel’s expecting all of us to be there.  Don’t be late.  He’s been in a mood, as I’m sure you can imagine.”
“Yessir,” Danny replied.  Privately, he couldn’t help hoping that Blaine would catch Hell for the way that things had gone down last night.  He knew it wouldn’t change anything, but that didn’t change how he felt.  He kept that packed inside, however.  All he said was, “I won’t be late, sir.  I promise.”
* * *
FBI Agent Nora Mahoney followed El Aguilá through the halls of the E.F.D.’s medical wing trying hard to fight down a feeling of unreality. 
No, she reminded herself, that’s not his name.  His name is Rodriguez, Colonel Joachim Rodriguez.  And you can’t forget that because it’s practically the first thing that he told you. “Please, call me ‘Colonel,’” he said.  “I hate it when people who know call me El Aguila.  It makes me feel like they’d rather know the legend than the man.  I’d like to think I’m more than just a bunch of stories you saw on TV one time.”
  Still, it was bizarre.  Nora had admired El Aguilá ever since she was a kid.  Everyone had.  He’d become a national hero way back in the Seventies, during the Great New York Riots.  And then there was that time he took on Doctor Destructo and The Ice Queen—the Radical Robot Rampage through Harlem.  That’d been back in Eighty-Six.  Nora had skipped school to watch it, hadn’t turned the TV off for three whole days.  And then there was that time when the Super-Socialist Society had attacked Wall Street…
Damn it, Nor thought.  That’s not what he wants.  And it’s not what you need for your career. 
The Colonel was a man, an officer in the U.S. Army, and a professional.  Moreover, Nora was herself a full agent of the FBI and not some stupid, starry-eyed kid.  Not anymore.  And the fact was, the Colonel had treated Nora with the utmost courtesy and respect from the get-go.  The least she could do in return was to try to see him as he really was and not as some stupid symbol of American freedom or whatever.  All that symbolic stuff obviously drove the man crazy.
And yet… El Aguilá! 
The one and only Eagle.  And no one called him that.  Apparently all those old, goofy nicknames were just for the press or for when the team was talking to each other on the radio anymore.  Nora had no idea what to make of that.
“… so we brought the suspect in last night,” the Colonel was saying, “on a backboard, as I’m sure you can imagine.  But that still leaves the problem of where the AMP came from.  And then, too, there’re the murders in the Bronx—the initial cause of the investigation.  My people aren’t trained to deal with any of that.  That’s why we need you.”
“Of course, Colonel,” Nora said automatically.  She’d been working homicide for three years, and this case represented a big opportunity.  “I’ll be more than happy to help out in any way I…” 
Nora’s voice trailed off when the door in front of them opened, and Satan himself stepped out into the hallway.
“Good morning, Danny,” the Colonel said.  “How’s Jason?”
The devil didn’t answer.  Instead, he starred at Nora, and despite herself, Nora starred right back.  A beat passed, and she felt her feet take a tiny step backwards.  Oh dear God, she thought, what have I gotten myself into?