Monday, April 30, 2012

Centurion Six—Issue #1, Part 2

First a quick note: I’ve been struggling with what to call this book for a while now.  And yes, I still think of it as a comic book.  Anyway, it finally occurred to me that I’m getting too wrapped up in the concept of this being a team book that’s named after The Team.  That is totally unnecessary.

I am therefore changing the name from E.F.D., which was terrible, to Centurion Six, which I think is both a stronger name and far more indicative of what the thing actually is.  I also created a Centurion Six tag, which will allow you to read the story from the beginning.

So, without further ado…

Our Story So Far:
Captains Blaine “Centurion Six” Winters and Jacob “Zulu” Mbeke have been called out by the NYPD to help investigate what appears to be a routine but grisly gang-related multiple homicide in the south Bronx.  Their expertise is needed because they are ultra-human members of the New York State National Guard’s Enhanced Forced Division (EFD), and the victims in the case were skrags, i.e. mundane humans attempting to gain ultra-human abilities through illegal drug and mutational gene therapies. 
Unfortunately for our heroes, however, their presence makes the local cops almost as nervous as do the bodies of the dead skrags.
Issue #1, Part 2
Rebecca lay in bed with her sheets and blanket pulled carefully over her.  She was fully dressed.  Her makeup was, she hoped, artfully applied.
Her phone beeped softly.  “Where the Hell are you?” it asked.
Rebecca whispered softly into the screen.  “I had to wait ‘til the guard dogs fell to sleep.  I’ll be there in a minute.”  She hit the SEND button, and the message sped off.
She pulled the sheet and the blanket away and stood up, checked herself in the mirror.  Neither the pink top nor the skirt looked rumpled, but she wondered again if maybe the top wasn’t a bit much.  It showed a lot of skin, and it was tight.  Her nipples stood out sharply against the fabric. 
Maybe I should wear a bra? she thought.  Then, Fuck it.  This is New York.  I want people to see me.
Rebecca stood for a moment and listened, first with her ears and then with her mind.  Nothing, neither sound nor stray thought.  She grabbed the heels she’d stolen from Shelby and turned, opening the door to her patio slowly.  The lights of the City blazed below; traffic sounds called out an invitation.  She slid into the heels and stepped out onto her balcony.  At this height, the wind was a caress, cool and energetic.  Possibility hung in the air.  She drew a breath and enjoyed the moment.
When she closed her door, though, she heard the lock click shut.
“Dammit!”  She’d forgotten to block the auto-lock.  Sneaking out this way might be easy, but getting back in was going to be a serious pain in the ass.  She shook her head.  “This had better be worth it.”
In the end, though, she couldn’t make herself worry.  The night was young, and so was she.  She closed her eyes and sighed, feeling the breeze and the pulse of the City.  Her Power came up, and she was aware that she was glowing.  Her balcony fell away, and she was out, hanging over Manhattan like a goddess.
All hail Rebecca Rodriguez, the Queen of New York City.
* * *
“So what’d’you think, Zee?” 
Blaine held the flashlight, let it play over the bodies.  One in particular caught his attention.  Like the others, it had been slashed open.  But on this one several of the ribs were snapped, their ends protruding outward from the upper abdomen.  And there, where the body’s meat had been tougher to cut through, Blaine could see four individual claw marks leading to the general ruin of the thing’s lower half.  The sight made him shiver, and not just because of the gore.
“It looks like a drug lab.”  Zulu shrugged.  “A bunch of dumbass skrags couldn’t handle their high.  The mutation itself was probably unstable, and God knows what all they mixed with the mutagen.  It’s the usual story.”
“Yeah?”  Blaine let the light play over the body with the snapped ribs.  “See anything else?”
“Like what?  Some skrag grew claws.  Nothing weird about that.  Nothing at all.”
“The attacker made this wound with four claws—all four fingers on his right hand.  And he didn’t just rip this guy up, he actually tore through the bone.”  Blaine looked at Zulu.  “You seen a lot of skrags who could tear through bone before?”
“So… what?  You’re thinking this was Jason now?”
“I don’t know what to think.  But it’s possible.  Last I heard, he was knocking over convenience stores down in Jersey.”
The cop looked annoyed.  “You two mind tellin’ me what you’re talkin’ about?”
“Yeah.  The boss thinks this might’ve been the work of a friend of his.  A guy who washed out of the E.F.D. back in the day.”  Zulu looked meaningfully at Blaine.  “But he’d just being paranoid because he got promoted to Team Leader.
“Listen, Blaine, with all due respect, this was a skrag meth lab.  These guys get hopped up, who knows what they’re capable of?  There is no reason to suspect that Jason King was anywhere near this.”
“I hope you’re right,” Blaine said.  Then: “Mainframe?  Begin recording.”
The computer answered through the link woven into Blaine’s uniform blouse.  MAINFRAME ONLINE.  RECORDING.
“Take atmospheric samples.  Can you determine what these guys were processing?”
The filters in Blaine’s uniform inhaled inaudibly.  A mass of complex data was transferred wirelessly back to Blaine’s office, and somewhere, a very large computer began doing calculations.
“If this comes back as crack cocaine or crystal-meth, can we please agree that you are over-reacting?” Zulu asked.
And just like that, the skeptical look on Zulu’s face fell away.  “Oh shit…”
The cop looked confused.  “What the Hell does that mean?”
Blaine wasn’t surprised, but he couldn’t have explained exactly why not.  “A.M.P. is a Chinese Battle Drug, sergeant.  Turns regular infantry conscripts into steely-eyed berserkers.  And it’s not that hard to make, but you need a stabilizing protein that, quite frankly, I can’t believe even well-connected gangbangers would be able to lay hands on.  Not in this neighborhood, anyway.” He looked at Zulu.  “You still think I’m over-reacting, Zee?”
Blaine looked around, but of course, there was nothing to see.  He heard the metallic whine of a capacitor charging.
And then the world blew up.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Westport Minuteman 10K Results

For the curious, Sally was only 40 seconds behind me.

Sunday Comics--Bronx Angel: Born Leader (Page 14)

Bronx Angel: Born Leader--Page 14.
Click here to see the page at full size.
When I came up with the idea for Bronx Angel, it was originally 135-pages of sequential art.  There was a whole issue's worth of material that was set in Iraq, and then there was the rest, which was set in the Bronx.  But I thought that a lot of the Bronx flashbacks were redundant with the stuff that had already been set in the initial part of the story.  So I cut it up, creating this #0 story that I then printed as a $1 zine for the first annual New York City Comic Con, and I (eventually) shortened the rest to a 66-page 3-issue arc, and that's the main story, Bronx Angel: Politics By Another Method.

As a matter of full disclosure, pretty much everybody likes this first part of the story.  It got reviewed favorably at places like The Fourth Rail (back when they were still in business), and folks at the NYC Comic Con really liked the idea of the $1 zines.  It's the next piece that struggled, mostly for the same reasons that movies like Stop Loss struggled.  First, because I think folks expected the story to be super-anti-Iraqi invasion, and it isn't, and secondly because when folks sit down to read comics, they mostly aren't looking for a treatise on either war theory or the costs of war to the folks doing the fighting.  

I personally didn't understand that until the movie Stop Loss actually came out.  Until then, I kind of figured that folks just didn't get what I was trying to say.  When Stop Loss came out, though, what I realized--because it applied to me, too, this time as a potential customer--was that folks want to be entertained.  They want to be lifted up.  And here I am, writing this story that's basically throwing them off the emotional cliff.  They want to sit there and see the good guys win, and they want to feel good about that.  Meanwhile, I'm trying to get up on their desk, kick all their crap out of the way, and get them to stop being so passive and lazy all the time.  This proved to be a serious issue for me as far as sales were concerned, and that's before we even get into the issues of art-style and story execution.  I mean, Bronx Angel was my first novel, and it has all the problems that a person's first novel is apt to have.

I would, in time, resolve the commercial issues that this particular novel brought up with a later piece of work called Green Mountain Gunslinger.  I've gotten close to being famous with my writing a couple of times, but it's my inability to get GMG made that really put me off writing comics long term.

Anyway, I wrote a little afterword for the BA: BL zine.  At the time, I thought that we were embarking on a beautiful venture.  Take that for whatever it's worth.

Click here to see this thing at full size.
You're probably gonna have to if you actually want to read this.
As always, to read the story from the beginning, use the Sunday Comics tag.  That's what it's there for.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Six Essential Books

1.        Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan.
When someone asks me what they
ought to read next, I always recommend
Altered Carbon first.
Richard K. Morgan is my favorite author, and this is his best, most well-known book.  Part sci fi, part hard-boiled detective novel, part social commentary.  This one’s really on another plane.  It goes beyond science fiction and straight into the realm of actual literature.

2.       Fletch by Gregory MacDonald. 
You ask me, MacDonald is the most talented English language writer who’s still alive and actively working.  The whole series is an amazingly minimalist, dialogue-driven experience that’s hard to do justice by mere explanation.  That these books are pulp mysteries makes them all the more remarkable.

I liked the Chevy Chase movie version of Fletch okay, but the movie doesn’t even get close to doing this series justice.

3.       Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith.
If Gregory MacDonald isn’t the best currently-working English language writer, then that title certainly belongs to Martin Cruz Smith.  This series is remarkable, and the first two books in particular are absolutely amazing.  Gorky Park is a literary thriller of the kind that I’ll bet John Grisham dreams of writing.  The follow-up, Polar Star, is probably the most curious and inventive novel I’ve ever read.

4.       The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller.
Folks can argue about what the greatest graphic novel of all time is.  Most comic aficionados would probably argue for either V for Vendetta or The Watchman, but I’ve always (much) preferred DKR.  Not only did Miller change the industry with this book, he also blew my mind.

Why do people love Batman so much?  Read The Dark Knight Returns and find out.

5.       So Far from God: The U.S. War With Mexico, 1846-1848 by John S. D. Eisenhower.
So Far From God is my favorite non-fiction book.  Written by President Eisenhower’s son—a successful guy in his own right, but far less famous—this book is about the Mexican-American War and especially Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s part in it.

I met Ambassador Eisenhower back when I was a cadet, and that’s how I discovered this book.  At the time I was fascinated by the fact that someone had written about the heroes of the Civil War and their experiences as company-grade officers.  And to be honest, that’s still my fascination with it.  This book doesn’t get the recognition that it deserves.

6.        Once an Eagle by Anton Myrer.
If you’re a graduate of West Point, Once an Eagle is the answer the Academy would like for you to give when asked the question, “What’s your favorite book?”  Part war story, part treatise on leadership, Once an Eaglewas by far and away my father’s favorite book.  He read it at least thirteen times, and when he was still a Marine, people used to tell him that he should play the part of Sam Damon when they made the inevitable movie.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Friday Mad Science: The Romney Alternative

John Huntsman caught some political flack for pointing out how fucked up the Republican Party is this week.  Newsflash: He’s right.  The GOP is all fucked up.  It is, in fact, a complete fucking trainwreck.  Hopefully they’ll realize that after they get the ever-living Hell beaten out of them in November this year, but unfortunately, I can’t quite bring myself to believe that that’ll happen. 

What makes it worse, though, is the way that the political media is covering the thing.  They make it sound like Huntsman has sour grapes—and to be fair, he probably does, considering that he was probably the best qualified candidate in this year’s GOP primary field, and yet he never polled above about 5% in his party’s primaries.  But his actual point, that the Republican Party has gone so far to the right that they’ve actually alienated the county’s center, and that having done that, they’re now doubling down and pruning centrist non-believers, is spot on.  The GOP has no ideological base right now save that they don’t like President Obama, and to be honest, even that is couched in terms that make the guy out to be a bunch of things that he in reality isn’t, i.e. Muslim, Socialist, not a citizen, etc.  Bottom line, the sitting President is “different” than what these guys think a real American ought to be, and they’ve completely lost their shit about it.  And now they’re losing their party’s ideology, too.  Certainly they lost me.

Maybe I’m crazy, but I honestly believe that I’m a perfect example of why the GOP is gonna get pounded this year.  With the exception of the second Bush-Cheney election—when I re-registered Democrat and actively supported John Kerry to the extent of even baking something for Fairfield County’s “Support John Kerry Bake Sale”—I have been a lifelong Republican.  I voted for Bob Dole.  I voted for Bush the Elder.  I voted for John McCain.  Hell, I even voted for Bush Jr. when he had Colin Powell on the ticket.  But I am not going to vote for Mitt Romney because:

  a) He has already held every possible position on every topic of interest in every ongoing national policy debate.  IMHO this makes him a unique kind of political spineless jellyfish.

  b) I would never vote for a guy who has so little empathy that he’s actually capable of strapping his own family dog to the roof rack of his car for a cross-country drive.  A man who can do that simply cannot be allowed to make foreign policy decisions.  If he doesn’t care about his own family’s dog, I don’t believe for an instant that he would care about the lives of American soldiers, either, except in that excessive deaths among service members would make him look bad.  I don’t know about you, but my personal bar for Presidential character is a little higher than that.

  c) He wants to cut taxes more?  Seriously?  I’m sorry, but I care about my kids’ futures a lot more than that.  We’ve already run up the tab on the charge card.  Now it’s time to start actually paying on the balance.  Or, shit, at least we ought to pay the interest on the balance.

I simply don’t understand what all these right-wing assholes are thinking when it comes to the budget.  Honestly, they take the concept of Voodoo Economics to a whole new level.  This is not just Voodoo Economics; it’s full-on Economic Satanism.

Like it or not, Huntsman was the only member of the GOP who was willing to meet the President half way last year and actually balance the budget.  All those other ass-clowns merely talked about balancing the budget.  Only one guy was actually willing to do it, and he couldn’t even get a whiff of support amongst his party’s fiscal-hawk rank and file.  And people wonder why he’s mad?  I don’t wonder.  I wish the guy would go through on his threat to form a Centrist party and give what I sincerely believe is a solid majority of Americans someone who’s worth a rat’s ass to vote for.  People are tired of the ideological bullshit.  We want and deserve governance.  But right now we have a system where one party doesn’t have the courage of its convictions and the other has completely broken faith with its founding ideologies.  The “Party of Lincoln” now hates black people.  The “Party of Theodore Roosevelt” no longer cares about the environment and actively supports business monopolies and trusts.  People, this is not the way to set up a successful system of governmental checks and balances. 

Why are serious folks talking about a third (Centrist) party?  Because we are desperately in need of one, even if it is only, in John Huntsman’s words, a vehicle to bring some basic ideas back into the big tent of the base of the Republican Party.

With all of that said, let me admit—in the interest of full disclosure—that I did, in fact, vote for Mitt Romney in Tuesday’s Connecticut State Republican Primary.  I did that because—SURPRISE!—John Huntsman wasn’t on the ballot. 


In the end, I decided that the best way to voice my disapproval of the GOP’s Tea Party influence was to vote for the most moderate guy on the ballot, even if he is an insincere dog-abusing ass-clown.  That’s still better than being either a homophobic reactionary fundamentalist or a serial adulterer/faux-intellectual who thinks planting a Moon Colony is a viable foreign policy.  Beyond that, I’m willing to admit that Ron Paul is an interesting and important voice in the Party—because, like Huntsman, I am a Big Tent kind of guy—but I personally am not a libertarian, nor am I looking to become one.  Paul may be a smart man, but his ideas would be disastrous for the nation, and I’m not going to vote for them just because I happen to find the candidate himself intellectually interesting or entertaining.

But, of course, as we’ve already established at some length, there is no one for me to vote for this time around.

* * *
Speaking of moon colonies…

Asteroid mining has been one of the backbones of near-Earth science fiction for as long as I can remember.  As a kid, one of my favorite books was Ben Bova’s The Privateers.  More recently, I enjoyed the first of John Ringo’s Troy seriesLive Free or Die.  Both books employ asteroid mining as a central plot point.

Well, now there comes word that James Cameron and the founders of Google are launching a real-life asteroid mining venture called Planetary Resources.  The plan is to use unmanned spacecraft to mine asteroids for gold and platinum as well as for water, which they plan to break down into hydrogen and oxygen by way of creating rocket fuel outside of the Earth’s gravity well.  The article claims that most scientists are skeptical, but after reading a few of these articles for myself, I think I’d describe it more as intellectually skeptical but also curious and cautiously excited.  The founders are all certifiably smart guys after all, and they have deep pockets.

Is there money to be made here?  Who knows?  Still, it’s nice, at least, that some part of humanity’s business community is still willing to dream big and to aspire to something more uplifting than simple profit-mongering.

* * *
Need a job?  The Pentagon is apparently reorganizing its spy-type efforts, creating a new Defense Clandestine Services agency.  Now I’ve read several articles on this thing, and frankly, I still have no idea exactly what these guys are changing.  It sounds like they’re developing a human intelligence asset inside the Pentagon, and I guess that’s fine, but I’m not sure how it’s anything but redundant with the CIA’s existing clandestine services branch.  Maybe they’re just developing an analysis branch inside the Pentagon to analyze what they already get from in-country SF teams?  I don’t know.  That makes more sense, but if that’s what it is, I don’t see the point in announcing it to the press.  I mean, who cares?

True story: I got recruited by the CIA’s clandestine services folks back when I was at Fordham Business School, and I damn near took the job.  Apparently, they recruit at Fordham a lot.  Who knew?  In any event, Sally and I talked about it for a good long time—she was in the Peace Corps for 4 years and knew quite well what I was asking her to sign up for—but ultimately I decided that for better or worse, that ship had sailed.  One, I didn’t want to send our kids to an American School in Kenya or Moscow, and two, I felt like if was gonna kick in doors, I should’ve stayed in the Army where I’d at least have had a tank company to help out with the heavy lifting. 

I mean, signing up to do covert research and analysis on Moscow’s evolving financial markets would’ve been one thing; recruiting disgruntled assholes in some backwater province of Iraq was a totally different story.  I was not gonna leave a good job in the City and take a pay cut just to go to some shithole.  And since the CIA doesn’t make guarantees, that was a deal-breaker.

* * *
One of my co-workers put me onto this: PBS’s series America Revealed is doing a segment on the electric utility industry called Electric Nation, and apparently the New York Independent System Operator is going to be involved.  I don’t personally work for the NYISO, but I certainly work with them, so if you’ve ever wanted to try to understand exactly what it is that I do, you might want to watch. 

‘Course I’m not saying that there’s any actual reason for anybody to want to know more about my job.  I’m merely pointing out that if you do happen to want to know more, more is apparently going to be out there pretty soon.

It’s been a Rest Week for me this week.  I took Monday and Tuesday completely off, swam easy with my Tri Team on Wednesday, and I’m taking tomorrow completely off.  Then on Sunday, Sally and I running theWestport Minuteman 10K.  It’s kind of a hilly course, especially towards the end, but I managed to go under 50:00 last year—for the first time since high school—and I hope to do well again this year.  I suppose we’ll see.  In any event, I’m sure I’ll tell you all about it later.

Have a good weekend!

With the first pick of the 2012 draft, the Tennessee Titans select...

The punditocracy didn't like this pick a lot.  But the fact is that the Tennessee Titans badly needed another WR because Kenny Britt, though talented, can't stay on the field.  

Is Wright the right guy?  I have no idea.  But I do know that it's a passing League, and that the Giants won the Super Bowl last year because they had three good wide-outs and a nice pass rush.  The Titans had TWO good wide receivers--only one of whom could stay healthy--and a maybe one really good pass rusher.  

Hopefully now they only need pass rushers.

Friday Hair Metal: Pushin' Too Hard

I don't love the new Chickfoot album, but there are parts of it that I like.  In particular, I like the fact that it sounds, for large parts, like a Joe Satriani album rather than an album where Satriani is merely doing an impression of Eddie VanHalen.

This song is called Lighten Up, and it's my favorite cut off the new album.  This particular version is especially awesome because it focuses on Joe, and you can barely hear Sammy Hagar's inane lyrics.

If you get bored with the first half of the song, do yourself a favor and skip ahead to the 3-minute mark.  Starting there, Satriani blisters it for the rest of the clip.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

I Dreamed Last Night...

...that I joined the U.S. Coast Guard.

To be fair, most of the dream revolved around me trying to figure out how to explain my decision to my wife.  "Um, honey?  This engineering thing isn't working out for me.  So I joined the Coast Guard.  I leave for Basic Training on Saturday."  Heh.  In the dream, I had to put off my initial training for a week because of the 10K we're running this weekend.

Being in the Coast Guard does look cool, though, right?  Eh, maybe it's just me.  But I can think of worse ways to spend your time than cruising around in a small ship rescuing drunk dudes from their capsized boats and busting drug dealers in super-small mini-subs.

Unfortunately, I never have the dreams anymore where it's just me and a giant bed and a beautiful woman, at the center of Giants' Stadium, with the crowd screaming my name.  I used to have those, but sadly, I think my testosterone level has dropped too much for that anymore.

* * *

As you may've guessed, there's nothing much going on today.  Got the NFL Draft starting tonight, but I can't work myself into a frenzy about it.  The Titans need a ton, none of it exciting, and the Giants are picking last.  I think I'm gonna wait and catch the results in the New York Times instead of watching it live.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

E.F.D. #1 (Part 1)

As promised, here's the first part of my prose "webcomic" experiment.  Notice that when I envisioned this story  it was as a set of comic issues, and although I think the story works better as prose--hopefully you'll see why in a minute--I decided to leave the issue breaks in place instead of trying to break the story into more traditional prose chapters.  What that means long-term, I have no idea.

Anyway, this first part was the first three pages of sequential art when in script form.  It's about the same length in prose but broken out a little differently.  Enjoy!

Our Story So Far:
In the near future, tailored genetic mutations become the new weapons of mass destruction.  Easier to hide, cheaper to control, and with far less long-term clean-up costs than so-called “dirty” bombs, non-persistent chemical agents, or even conventional munitions, soon every tin-pot dictator, cult-leader, and nefarious non-state actor on the planet is developing some kind of “ultra-human” capability to push its agenda or just keep its people in line.  Against this, the United States initially deploys small numbers of home-grown uniformed ultra-human soldiers, augmented by an array of costumed vigilante “superheroes” with whom it has a close but unofficial working relationship.  Unfortunately, the mid-21st Century is a litigious place, and in time, this unofficial relationship becomes untenable.  Costumed ultra-human battles create massive property damage as well as frequent civilian injuries or even losses of life.  Moreover, vigilante superheroes are themselves little better than non-state actors once they become involved in international affairs. 

All concerned soon realize that a better strategy is needed.

The Enhanced Forces Division (E.F.D.) is a pilot program that seeks to answer America’s ultra-human security needs.  In exchange for scholarships in the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC), a handful of the country’s best and brightest ultra-humans—many the sons and daughters of well-known costumed superheroes of yesteryear—are recruited into the New York State National Guard where they are trained, commissioned, and placed on assignment in New York City. These young officers represent America’s first, best line of defense against the genetic monstrosities the outside world now has on offer.

 For the officers themselves, however, the E.F.D. is more than just their job.  This is their story.

E.F.D. #1 (Part 1)

The moon was full overhead, but the lights of the City below outshone the stars in the sky.  In a thirty-third floor penthouse, Captain Blaine Winters lay quietly, trying not to think. 
When his phone rang, it was almost a relief.
“Pick up.  Audio only.”  He sat up.  “Centurion Six.  Go.”
“Hey Blaine, sorry to wake you.  But you said to call if—“
“It’s alright.  I wasn’t asleep.  What’s up?”
“NYPD called for a consult.  Some skrag gangbangers got torn up in the Bronx.  Down around 149th Street.  Looks drug related.”
“What time is it?”
“About midnight.  Listen, I can take this solo if you want.  It’s only a consult.  No big deal.”
Blaine sighed, hoped the sound didn’t make it through the phone’s mike.  “Nah,” he said, swinging his legs around.  His feet hit the floor.  “I’m already up.  You there yet?”
“En route now.  Trying to figure out which exit to take off the freaking Sheridan.”
Blaine walked to his closet, pulled a uniform blouse down off a hanger.  “Alright Zee.  I’ll be there in twenty.  Tell those asshole cops they better have some coffee for me when I get there.
“Will do, boss.  Zulu out.”
* * *
Blaine wasn’t exactly happy about being out on the streets of New York at half-past-midnight on a Thursday.  But it wasn’t all bad.  The streets were empty—a legitimate rarity in the City.  He was able to get the Ducati up to a hundred and ten. 
All too soon, Mainframe was beeping in his ear, telling him to get off the Expressway.  A minute later, he was pulling up to the flashing lights of a south Bronx crime scene. 
The scene was at a rundown row house, one of many in the neighborhood.  Most of the houses in the row had boarded up windows behind black iron bars that were, in many cases, missing some of the bolts that secured them to the sides of the houses.  One on the top left of the crime scene swung free, hanging down below its window by a single attachment.  The entire neighborhood was then embellished with graffiti tags and empty fast food wrappers.  All around, folks sat out on their porches, watching the excitement of local police activity.  Blaine saw bottles passed, cigarettes burning.  He got the feeling that these folks would be out, police or no.  As it was, NYPD was just the night’s entertainment.
The police themselves had come in three cars.  Most were standing around.  A couple were stringing crime tape across the scene’s front door. 
Zulu was standing, talking to one of the cops.  He broke away and headed towards Blaine, carrying a cup that looked like coffee.
He handed Blaine the coffee.  “Damn boss.  You look like Hell.”
“Thanks Zee.”
“Seriously, Blaine.  Coffee is not sleep.  You didn’t need to come out here tonight.”
“I told you.  I was already up.”
“I mean it.  You’re letting this promotion thing get in your head.  Just because you are leading the team now doesn’t mean—“
“Enough Zee,” Blaine said.  He needed to cut that off before Zulu got lathered up.  “I get it, man.  But we’re here now, so let’s just do the job, okay?”
“You’re the boss, Blaine.”
Blaine let that go, walked up to the oldest of the cops.  “What’ve we got, sergeant?”
The sergeant took one look at Blaine, at the uniform, and shrugged.  “Drug lab.  Bunch’a cut-up skrags.”
Blaine thought, Yeah?  If it was that obvious, why’d you call us for the consult?
Zulu arched an eyebrow, let an edge of disbelief creep into his voice.  “Skrags?”
Suddenly the cop looked uncomfortable, realized what he’d said.  “Uh… no offense.”
Zulu let a beat pass before replying.  “None taken.”
Oh lord, here we go, Blaine thought.  He led the way into the scene with his flashlight out.
The scene was a horror show.  Blood spattered walls and the shit-smell of death.  There were several bodies, all looking like they’d been mauled by an angry grisly.  One had been eviscerated, its guts flung against a wall and left in a pile.  Beyond that, the place was an obvious drug lab.  Blaine could tell by the smell of acetone in the air—overpowering even with all the bodies—as well as by the sheer amount of glassware in the room.  There must’ve been twenty beakers, now all smashed along with the tables on which they’d sat, and at least a dozen Bunsen burners.
“As it happens, sergeant,” Blaine said, “I’m guessing that these really were skrags.”  Blaine shook his head, couldn’t quite resist adding, “I don’t know if you know this, but ‘skrag’ is actually our term.  For ordinary humans who try to acquire gifts through artificial means.  Usually leads to the kind of chemistry-shop set up we’re seeing now.”
Blaine couldn’t help feeling smug when he saw The Look flash across the sergeant’s face.  “Uh… ‘our’ term?”
“Sorry.  Guess we should’ve introduced ourselves.”  Blaine stuck out his hand, and the sergeant shook it.  “Captain Blaine Winters, Ultra-Human Enhanced Forces Division, New York State National Guard.  Callsign Centurion 6.  My associate is Captain Jacob Mbeke, on permanent assignment with the E.F.D. from the South African Army.”
Jacob smiled.  “Callsign Zulu.  And before you ask, sergeant, the answer is yes.  We are both legitimate ultra-humans.  Not ‘skrags,’ as you might say.”

Monday, April 23, 2012

Beer Review: Ithaca Beer's Flower Power I.P.A

I put in forty-four miles on the bike on Saturday and then ran a little more than seven miles this afternoon--I'm writing this on Sunday--and now it's time for a beer.  To be specific, the Ithaca Beer Company's Flower Power I.P.A.

This is an awesomely funky bottle.  Straight out of the 70's.  Frankly, it looks like something Shaggy and Scooby would drink right after they bust the crooks who're trying to scare everybody away from the abandoned gold mine.

Pour it out, and this is a beautiful amber ale, translucent with just a bit of creamy white head.  Very nice.  And right now, I am seriously looking forward to drinking this thing up.

A very fresh smelling beer.  The flowery hops jump right off the top, promising a beautifully clean and bitter experience.

Mmmm...  Now that's a nice beer.  As expected, a very clean taste.  Strong but not overwhelming hop presence, nicely balanced with a malty drinkability that's sometimes missing in the craft brew I.P.A.s.  I really dig it.  And right now, I'm too thirsty to say more.

Mmmmm...  Delicious!
Final Verdict
I've been wanting to sample some more local beers, and now I have.  The Flower Power I.P.A. is a fine example of the beauty of the craft beer movement.  It's a beautiful and beautifully balanced I.P.A. that's strong without going overboard and well-balanced for drinkability.  If you see this out in the stores, and you want to know what the fuss is about with all these crazy I.P.A.s, I strongly recommend picking it up.  It's a great beer and a great example of its style.  I'll definitely be buying more.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Real Steel

This is the poster for a real movie that
made real money.
I watched the movie Real Steel last night, and while I liked it, I also think it's the final proof that story execution is more important than story concept.  I mean, in concept, Real Steel is idiotic.  A loser on bottom rungs of the independent fight circuit suddenly learns that he has a son, and together the two of them build and train a champion fighting robot.  On top of that, the movie leaves several plot threads hanging with little or no resolution.  And yet... a hit!

The movie works, I think, because the script is pretty good, because it's well-acted, and because it's well-produced.  Most important, to me, is the script.  This movie has A LOT going on, but the screenwriters manage to keep it balanced.  Yes, they leave a couple of plot threads hanging, but consider: this is a Sci Fi-Sports Movie-Romance.  All of those elements have to get screen time, and the characters have to have room to breath.  In the hands of lesser writers, this movie would have run three-and-a-half hours!

Of course, it help to have a good formula to work with, and this particular film has three.  At base, we have the Sports Movie Formula, in which a talented loser finds a reason to get his life together and become the champion that the people around him always believed that he could be.  Layered over that is the Romance--executed here as a budding Father-Son relationship--in which two people are made for each other, but something ridiculous keeps them apart.  Finally, there's the Sci Fi formula--here, a human boxer struggling to make it in a world where actual humans no longer box.  Of course, it's this last plot thread that gets left hanging.  It's implied that Hugh Jackman's character misses traditional boxing, but we never actually see that, and moreover, the guy seems to actively like playing with robots.  Yet, it's his skill as a boxer--a human boxer--that actually turns the plot, allowing our heroes to successfully resolve the primary plot thread.

Still, people like sports movies, and they like good romances, and this movie is both of those things.  You can see most of that in the clip below.  And that, I think, is what makes this movie work--good formula that's executed well.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Friday Mad Science: When is a Scandal REALLY a Scandal?

Alright.  I have to say this.  What is the big fucking deal with this Secret Service scandal?  From what I understand, these guys went to Columbia, hired some rather higher-priced escorts than they realized that they were hiring, and then tried--with only moderate success--to try to stiff the poor girls the next morning.  And, oh by the way, there was alcohol involved.

So, okay, yeah.  I'll agree that that's not good behavior.  It's distasteful and disreputable, and it's in really bad form to try to stiff a girl after you've already agreed on a price, regardless of whether or not you were drunk during the initial negotiations.  But.  Prostitution is legal in the part of Columbia in question, and in any event, there are always two sides to every story.  I mean, yeah, a smart guy would've either avoided the situation or paid to make it go away quietly, but at the same time, it's also at least somewhat possible that these girls realized they had a chance to make some money, took it, and made a scene.  I mean, extortion can be a money-making opportunity.  And in any event, no laws were broken at the end of the day, and while I think we can all agree that prostitution is both immoral and unfortunate, I think we can all also agree that the practice isn't going to end any time soon.

My question is this: What does any of this have to do with these guys' professions?  No one is alleging that they sold information or compromised their actual job performance in any way, so why is this news?

Is it bad form?  Yes.  An international incident?  I'm sorry, but that I don't see.

* * *
After much wailing and gnashing of teeth, I've finally decided to write my little comic story up as prose fiction.  I got into actually scripting it, realized it was likely to run to something like thirty-two pages of script, and realized in turn that that fact alone made the story totally unmanageable.  I mean, it's not that I think this is the story that's gonna make me famous or anything, but... it's hard to write something when you know ahead of time that it's a dead end.  So prose it is.  I know you're excited.

Anyway, I'm hoping to run the pieces here, in weekly installments as if it were a webcomic.  As I said earlier, I was initially thinking of the story as The-Son-of-Avengers-vs.-the-X-Men, but as I was writing it up, it became a kind of police procedural.  I went with that.  So now I'm thinking of it a "Post-Superhero Military-Sci Fi Procedural".  Which is glorious, if you ask me.

Look for it, starting next week.
* * *
And now it's about 9:30pm, and I just got back from dinner at the Barnsider in Albany.  Finally got my Stella, along with a nice Pinot Noir and a Fillet Mignon.  Finished with a giant bowl of vanilla ice cream.  All of which is to say that business trips aren't always a riot, but they don't have to suck.

I'm going to sleep.  Have a good weekend.

Friday Hair Metal: Going Home!

Cause my trip ends today!

How can you not love Dire Straits?

Really?  Well, how about Neil Young?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

An Evening at Delmonico's

Me: So, what do you have on draft?

Waitress: Oh lots.  I couldn't even name them all.

Me:  Yeah?  Awesome.  Well how about an IPA.  What IPA's do you have?

Waitress:  Uh...  Harpoon.

Me: Oh.  Well then, how about a Czech pilsner?

Waitress:  A what?!

Me:  Fine.  I'll just have a Sierra Nevada.

Waitress:  Oh.  We don't have that, sorry.

Me:  *sigh*  Okay.  Umm...  Stella Artois?

Waitress:  We used to have that.  But we don't any more.

Me:  Fine.  I'll just have a Sam Adams.  You must have Sam Adams, right?

Waitress:  All we've got is the seasonal, is that all right?  Well, it's gonna have to be, because that's all we've got.

Me:  Yeah, that's fine.  Especially since I don't have any choice.

In Albany This Week...

Not much to say about it.  It's a simple business trip--training with the New York Independent System Operator, the guys who run New York State's electrical market.  This week's training is semi-annual, and this is the third time I've been.

So far, the highlights of my week include:
 - Last night's dinner.  We went out for hibachi.
 - Watching Ultimate Avengers II on Netflix last night.
 - A short run this morning, in which I managed to give myself a charlie-horse in my left quad.
 - Working on the new comic idea during lunch today.

The local area is pretty hilly, and while I didn't mind the uphill sections too much, the downhills were murderous.  My quad locked up on me right at the 29-minute mark--just before I got back to the hotel.  *sigh*  Luckily, I don't seem to be injured, just a little sore.

On the comic--what can I say?  I've got the thing planned, and I've got the first three scenes drafted, but I've not had the time to sit down and finish hammering out the whole script.  What's more, I've discovered how out-of-practice I am with scripting, so it's taking me longer than I think it normally would, on top of which, I've no idea how my final page-count is gonna look.  I mean, not that it matters, but when I do something, I do try to do it right.

Anyway, tonight we're headed to a local Italian steakhouse called Delmonico's for dinner.  Exciting, no?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

E.F.D. (Working Title): A New Story Idea

I wrote a few days ago about a new story idea I'd had.  Well, I actually started writing it up!  That may not seem like a big deal, but it's more story-work than I've done since 2007.  I mean, I doubt the story has a future or anything, but I am at least going to write it up and share it.  That's something.

Anywho, here's a teaser.  Enjoy!

Page 5 of the E.F.D. Script.  Click here to see the page at a size you can actually read.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Are You A Climate Change Skeptic?

Consider the last 12 months in the greater New York City Area:

1.  Second hottest summer on record.
2.  Freak October snowstorm.
3.  Earthquake!
4.  Hurricane makes landfall in Brooklyn!
5.  Winter so mild that I could put in an average of 45 miles per week on my bike.
6.  86-degree day in April.
7.  A spring drought so severe we're seeing daily forest fires in Connecticut and Long Island.

More Flags! More Fun!

We're playing hookie today.  Takin' the kids to Six Flags: New England!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Sunday Comics, Day 12. Bronx Angel: Born Leader Pages 11 - 12

Bronx Angel: Born Leader--Pages 11 - 12. Click here to see the page at full size.
Here's the money shot.  I strongly suggest you view these pages at full size.

In storytelling terms, this is the second of the Bendis-inspired two-page layouts.  And Randy did such a great job with the spread that, really, what more do I need to say about  it?

As always, to read the story from the beginning, click the Sunday Comics tag.  That's what it's there for.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Saturday Morning: Counting Down the Minutes

Let's start with the Drug War, okay?

First off, it depresses me.  Addiction in general is one of the most depressing things in the world, and the fact that folks--generally nice, well-meaning folks--use drugs to voluntarily destroy their own lives...  It makes me unbearably sad.  It's how my father died, and my mother, too, from a certain point of view.

Dad drank himself to death and died of liver failure and "acute ethanolism," according to his Death Certificate.  Personally, I'm not so sure that "ethanolism" is a word--I think maybe that's what you call drinking when you're a doctor living in Tennessee, and you want to write something official-sounding on somebody's Death Certificate--but be that as it may, the reality of the situation is that my dad got depressed, chronically, and he tried to self-medicate.  And that got out of hand, as it is wont to do.  Ultimately he chose to push us away instead of trying to change his life for reasons that I cannot understand no matter how long or hard I think about them.  He died in 2007, and I have written literally hundred of pages about it since them, and I'm still no closer to understanding how a guy who was motivated enough to run two marathons and finish U.S. Army Ranger School doesn't somehow have the will to kick the bottle when he knows damned well that it is rining his lives and hurting his wife and son.

My mother's case is a little different.  She ultimately died of complications brought on by repeated bouts of bladder cancer, which you can only blame on addiction if you consider smoking to be an addiction.  Of course, smoking is an addiction, but it's one that my mother never even attempted to give up, so... I mean, how can you work with that?  Moreover, my mother was not one to change her life.  She made the world change to fit the way she chose to live.  And then, too, there were some mitigating factors.  Were she alive today, my mother would swear that her cancers were caused by the anti-rejection drugs she took as a result of her kidney transplant.  That might even be true, but it doesn't change the fact that I was there when they removed one of her lungs because of lung cancer, and I know for a fact that she kept on smoking even after that operation was a success, and she was, against all odds, given a second chance.

My point in all of this is merely to say that I do not want to be on the side of drug legalization.  Drugs, addiction... these things destroy lives.  I've seen this up close now a couple of times, and it really sucks.  And then, too, I ride through Harlem every day on my foldie.  Granted, 125th Street is a Hell of a lot nicer, safer place than it used to be; still, there are more than a few drug-addled street people wandering around under the train tracks.  You can tell 'em, 'cause they're the ones who're hunched over and staring at their feet.

With that said, we are losing the War of Drugs, and to be honest with you, it's not even close.  Prices have dropped 80% in the last three decades?  Good God, that makes drug enforcement a fucking joke.  When even George Will is in favor of legalization at this point, it makes me think that this isn't a battle we need to keep fighting, that even getting into the fight in the first place was a kind of defeat in and of itself.

* * *
On a happier note, we've got our first big brick workout today with the Milford YMCA Triathlon Club.  I'm psyched.  Up to now, I've been taking it pretty easy on my nascent triathletes, but these week we put on our big-boy pants and get out there and go!  This week, my guys and girls finally learn what it really feels like to do a multi-sport race.  I can't wait!

I also have no idea who's going to show up.

If you're wondering, I've broken our workout down into two groups.  The Bike Group is gonna ride 15-miles and then run for half an hour.  The Run Group is gonna ride 10-miles and then run another 5.  Me, I'm personally gonna ride the 10-mile course but then go out for my long run of the week.  My plan is to put in about 6.75-miles running after I get off the bike.

Eh.  We'll see how that goes.