Friday, June 30, 2006

LIFE: Stop the presses

Geez, some days I wish I worked at a gas station. It's a truism in newspapers that whenever someone essential in the newsroom goes on vacation, all hell breaks loose. Since my city editor is gone all week and I'm running a newsroom of 28 people, I feel like I've been at ground zero all week. Breaking news, breaking news, breaking news.

Since Monday, we've had – 2 drownings in local rivers and lakes, one of a 5-year-old boy; a terrible freak accident that killed an off-duty cop; and the start of an attempted murder trial for the school shooting we had here earlier this year. Egad. Happy news, where are you?

On the bright side, I did get to see "Superman Returns" last night and quite enjoyed it. Will try to post some thoughts in next day or so as the chaos fades.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Sweet Spider-heaven.
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The Spider-Man 3 teaser is here!

Yeah, it's Superman's week and all, but man, "Spider-Man 3" looks cool. I was a little wary of them trying to cram at least two, maybe three villains in this one (Sandman, Venom, and Harry Osborn) but I've got pretty high faith in Sam Raimi after the very good part 1 and downright superlative part 2. If they can make the comics' rather convoluted Venom backstory into something that works, it could be fantastic. Summer 2007 suddenly seems a long time away...
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LIFE: Hot hot hot

Whoo-ee, it's been hot 'round these parts. Temperatures right up around 100 last few days, which is on the "oh my god" side for our corner of Oregon. Fortunately we beat the heat by heading to a local riverside haunt Sunday afternoon (where you can examine the colorful local folk and count their horrible apparently self-applied tattoos). Then Monday, which I had as my day off, we fled to the oh-so-fine Oregon Coast, specifically the Coos Bay area. Amazing how a mere 70-80 miles west, the temperature can be a good 25 to 30 degrees cooler. We hung around the very scenic Cape Arago area west of Coos Bay, one of our favorite spots, which has some fine beaches surrounded by rugged rock formations. Here I help Peter develop that incredibly important manly skill of building, and then smashing, sand castles:
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It was strange to realize that just might be our last trip to that particular part of the Coast. At just a hair over two months until we leave Oregon for New Zealand, I'm starting to realize we might just be doing some things "for the last time." I'm really glad we got in our fine John Day camping trip a couple weeks ago because that was on my list of things to see before leaving Oregon. But Oregon is an extremely cool place with so many sides, and there's still so much I want to try and do again and only a limited number of free weekends remaining -- we have to visit our favorite coastal haunt of Bandon again, of course, and do the Eugene Saturday Market another time or two; by gum we simply must go to the big city of Portland one more time and visit Powell's and all that jazz...

And then there's all the things we've NEVER done in Oregon in our 4+ years here and it's starting to look like we won't get a chance. Never really spent much time in Salem, Oregon's capital, or visited the Oregon Caves National Monument deep deep in the country past Grants Pass (which doesn't allow kids under 4 in most of the caves). Never made it to the far, far reaches of Oregon like Baker City, Ontario or Hell's Canyon. We've done about 75% of the coast but I always wanted to go to Tillamook and visit the cheese factory there. Only been to Corvallis, home of Oregon State University, once, and that was just driving through. Ah well... it's 96,000 square miles of space to see, after all. And who knows, we might well be back someday...

Sunday, June 25, 2006

MOVIES: 'We are … The Three Amigos!'

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingMan, I saw this for $7.99 at Fred Meyer yesterday and couldn't resist picking it up. "Three Amigos!" may not be the best movie ever made, but by gum, it's a charming and funny little romp, one I've always had an unaccountable minor fetish for. I actually saw it in the theater when it came out, exactly 20 years ago now. It's not one that'll be mentioned in the obituaries of Steve Martin, Chevy Chase or Martin Short, but for my money it's a lot funnier than many of the movies those three have made solo.

Why "Three Amigos"? It's basically a poor fifteenth-generation riff of "Seven Samurai" (which is ripped off so often it's practically its own genre). Poor village hires strange gunmen to help defend them against evil bandits … except in this case, the gunmen are actually three deluded, out-of-work Hollywood silent-film actors who think it's all a show. Of course, in the end, the bumbling actors become real-life heroes, the village is saved from the evil El Guapo, and so forth.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingI'll be straight – "Three Amigos" isn't really a good movie, but watching it on DVD last night, I still laughed a lot. Director John Landis can't figure out if he's making a comedy or a lighthearted action flick like his "Blues Brothers", but oddly enough, Chase, Martin and Short have a real chemistry together. Martin's the wise-ass self-deluded amigo, Chase the moron, and Short the sensitive man-child. A pretty darn great Martin overshadows Short and particularly Chase, who'd just started to morph into the arrogant, couldn't-care-less personality that eventually ended his career.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingThere's a nice surreal sense of humor in the movie, and several lines that never fail to crack me up ("You shot the Invisible Swordsman!"). It's the wacky moments that stick, like the laconic Mexican bartender (who is played by an actor with the name of, I kid you not, Fred Asparagus. Why couldn't I be named after a vegetable?) or the Amigos doing an impromptu dance number to "My Little Buttercup." And as the menacing El Guapo, Alfonso Arau has a sleazy wit and knows what the word "plethora" means.

Curiously, at one point the movie was considered for Martin, Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi, which would've been a very different movie – probably better, certainly more unhinged. But I admit to liking "Amigos" just the way it is, not trying to be the world's most epic comedy, but just a simple, kind of sweet diversion.

I leave you with this from Steve Martin's Lucky Day:
"In a way, each of us has an El Guapo to face. For some, shyness might be their El Guapo. For others, a lack of education might be their El Guapo. For us, El Guapo is a big, dangerous man who wants to kill us. But as sure as my name is Lucky Day, the people of Santa Poco can conquer their own personal El Guapo, who also happens to be *the actual* El Guapo!"

Words to live by.

Friday, June 23, 2006

ETC.: Link-a-rama!

Nothin' but links!

Here I stumbled upon a very nice article that explores my old hometown of Oxford, Mississippi, and its musical and literary heritages. Great to see old favorites of mine like Blue Mountain, Beanland and The Kudzu Kings getting a shout-out.

Ever wonder what it'd be like to meet one of your idols? San Francisco Chronicle writer Steven Winn got to meet John Updike, one of his and my literary lions in this life. Here's an excellent piece about what it was like to meet one of America's finest living writers, who knows more than 10 of me put together.

I'm a member of The Cult of Klosterman, that fine pop culture sex-and-death-obsessed scribe Chuck Klosterman. He's one of my top-five pop culture writers these days and I found a most excellent interview with the man over here in a Colorado newspaper, revving me up with excitement for his August collection of columns and reviews, bearing the classic rock-esque title of "Chuck Klosterman IV." I can't wait!

Classic movies it's OK to hate, according to The Onion A.V. Club, which apparently only thinks classic movies started being made after 1970. And it's so edgy to bash the original "Star Wars", ain't it? Still, agree with 'em on "Shawshank Redemption," which I never quite understood all the fuss about – the novella is much better and a lot less sappy. And I have to agree on "The Big Lebowski" – in my humble way, I consider "Raising Arizona" a far better Coen brothers comedy.

Do you have the Perfect Penis? Egads. Work-safe post, but it'll still scar your mind.

Long Box Dave looks at Marvel Vs. DC, that crossover clash comic from the late 1990s that was a tremendous disappointment to all of us who always wondered who would have beaten whom. Dave tells us who REALLY would have won in Superman vs. Thor, Batman vs. Captain America, etc. And read the comments. Man, Dave gets lots of comments. (Beware: If you are not a nerd, you will be after reading this.)

Thursday, June 22, 2006

ETC.: Deep Thoughts

It's the first day of summer and my brain is cooked already. Incapable of longer coherent posts, so here are things to watch, hear and read as you lie on the beach or carpet or what-have-you.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingWATCHING "Entourage" co-star Jeremy Piven as Hollywood agent Ari Gold may just be my favorite character on TV. Just finished watching Season 2 of the HBO comedy on DVD and Piven, dammit, should have an Emmy for this stuff. He makes Ari a compelling, complex bastard, a standout among a superb cast. Watching his meltdown against boss Malcolm McDowell at the end of Season 2 was fantastic teevee. The rest of the show's pretty swell too. I only wish us poor HBO-less folk didn't have to wait a year or so to see the now-airing Season 3 on DVD.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingLISTENING to Bob Dylan "Live 1975" (The Bootleg Series Volume 5). Yep, still on my dedicated (some, wife Avril, would say obsessive) Bob Dylan kick, and got a copy of this recently, a fantastic souvenir of Bob's rollicking "Rolling Thunder Tour." From the very first track, a fiery, stomping take on "Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You," it's tremendous stuff, with an amped-up, rocket-fueled Dylan sounding more passionate than I've ever heard him before.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingREADING James Kochalka's Superf*ckers #3 from Top Shelf, the latest issue of his extremely sick and twisted take on superheroics. Imagine an extremely talented, Tourette's-afflicted 10-year-old doing a scatalogical superteam comic. It's disturbing, gross and hilariously funny stuff. Neon-colored and brutal satire.

LAUGHING at the things a toddler says. Peter's most recent curious statement, which can sound quite bad out of context:
"There rice on my penis!"

Ah ha ha.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

LIFE: 'The more thou dammest it up,
the more it burns...'

...Egad, two days of not going to bed until after 1 a.m. aren't as easy as they used to be. Thank God I'm off work today. Had to work the Saturday night shift, then last night, made the trek down to Ashland for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and their opening weekend media nights. (One of the few perks of the job, free tickets and I get to pretend I'm a bona-fide theater critic.)

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingThey always invite folks from my paper (and, um, slightly bigger ones like the SF Chronicle, Seattle Times and New York Times) down for several nights of performances to review. So last night my buddy Patrick, his partner Karen and I saw "The Two Gentlemen Of Verona," which I'd never seen performed before. Always a blast visiting Ashland, browsing bookstores and eating at good restaurants, not to mention the festival... It was a bummer to realize it's probably the last time I'll be at the festival. (And next summer they're doing "The Tempest," dammit.) Bought myself a souvenir T-shirt as solace.

"Verona" was good fun -- it's one of Shakespeare's earliest plays so it lacks a little polish, but you can see him trying out a lot of his comedic themes (cross-dressing, people falling in love at the drop of a hat, etc). Best of all, it's got a dog in it, and the trained pooch they had onstage Sunday was amazing. It was a lively production that had lots of flash that helped skim over some of the play's inherent faults.

Yesterday was Father's Day too, my third one since I became a dad. After working the night before and going to Ashland in the evening, didn't plan too much activity, although I did have an awful craving for IHOP so we went out to breakfast there and witnessed the menace Peter can create in a crowded restaurant (two words: thrown toys). Ah well. It was a nice day anyway as (cue sappy music) pretty much any day with P in it is. Being a dad is a lot of work, but it's a hell of a lot of fun too.

Friday, June 16, 2006

COMICS: Spidey's got a secret

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingWell, if you don't troll the comic book shops and haven't heard the news, there was a minor earthquake in superhero comics this week. In the pages of "Civil War" #2, the latest "everything must change"-type miniseries from Marvel, we had a heck of an ending – Spider-Man calls a press conference, and in the view of the entire world, reveals his secret identity: "My name is Peter Parker and I've been Spider-Man since I was 15 years old. Any questions?"

It's a bold storytelling move, although how strong the tale is ultimately depends on what's done with the idea. I liked the first two issues of "Civil War," which manage to combine writer Mark Millar's knack for shock theatre with a genuinely interesting political hook – what if superheroes were forced to register themselves with the government? Would they agree, or would they go underground? Who would fight, who would give in?

But right now, I'm just interested in how this story will affect my favorite superhero, Spider-Man. One of the things I've liked the most about reading Spider-Man comics since 1982 or so is that the character has grown and matured over the years. We've watched Peter Parker grow up, from a 15-year-old in his earliest adventures to whatever age he is now (nearly 30?). He's fallen in love, gotten married, gone from outcast to team player, and now discards his secrecy. Lots of fans seem to hate the move, but I'm cautiously interested in seeing what happens next.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingHaving a secret identity was an integral part of Peter Parker's character for the first 25-30 years of his existence. He started out as "puny" Parker, teenage outcast and glasses-wearing nerd, picked on by bullies and only able to enjoy himself as the wisecracking, carefree Spider-Man. Gradually, Parker became less of a failure in his civilian life – he bulked up, lost the glasses, found steady girlfriends. Tragedy still dogged him, but he had come a long way from the sweater vest-wearing egghead seen back in "Amazing Spider-Man" #1.

I've actually really enjoyed the changes to the Spider-Man dynamic the last few years have wrought, even if the execution of the stories isn't always great. His joining the Avengers, being part of a team rather than the weird loner, offers real opportunity for his talents to be appreciated. (Although in "The New Avengers," very little of this has been explored to its full potential.)

Spider-Man's "secret" identity has gradually been less and less guarded the past few years anyway. Dozens of his allies have learned his identity, many of his foes. Some of these came in great stories – the "Sin-Eater" tale in the late 1980s where Daredevil and Spider-Man learned each other's secrets, or the superb "Spider-Man/Human Torch" miniseries of 2005. The final issue of the latter series, where clueless Johnny Storm finally figured out after all these years that Peter Parker = Spider-Man, was a real pleasure, particularly in the warm inviting scenes at the end where Peter's family and the Fantastic Four "family" enjoy some leisurely family get-togethers without a supervillain in sight. It felt like the "happy ending" Peter's so long been denied. Even Peter Parker's ancient Aunt May has learned the secret in the comics. So "coming out" to the general public has been foreshadowed for a few years now in the Spider-Man comics.
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Of course, there are purists who want Spider-Man to eternally be the outcast teenager, always falling short in love, affection and success. Even Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada has frequently voiced his disapproval of Spider-Man's marriage (as if this were a recent event; it took place in 1987, after all, nearly 20 years ago now!). Yet what appeals to me about Spidey is that he DOES grow – other characters, like Batman, Superman or Wonder Woman, seem mired in a stasis, with little real changes over the years that aren't quickly fixed. But Spider-Man's stayed married, he's stayed out of high school and he steadily continued to age (at a far slower ratio than the 44 years worth of comics he's starred in, obviously).

"Civil War" is only two issues in of its seven, and it's uncertain which way Millar & co. will go yet with the unmasking story. I'm genuinely curious to see what comes next. How can Spider-Man remain married, protect his aged aunt, or have a normal life now? Is his stand of principle worth the cost it'll demand? Nothing lasts forever in comics (the list of characters who've died and come back could fill Valhalla), and the cynic in me is pretty sure they'll come up with some giant deux ex machina to correct it all (alien memory-erasing pixies? plastic surgery? it was all a dream?).

But the fan in me kinda would like to see them ride with this a while, explore the idea of a public identity and what it would really mean for our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. Done right, it would provide further opportunities for growth for Spidey – and change is far better than stagnation for comics' most fascinating, multi-layered hero.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

LIFE: Out into Eastern Oregon, part 2

…Continuing our travelogue of last weekend's Eastern Oregon adventures at the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. We left off Saturday, where we continued our trek east to the final section of the John Day Monument, Sheep Rock. They had an excellent visitors center there full of paleontological goodness. Couldn't linger too long with a fidgety toddler who wanted nothing more than to touch all the "dinosaurs," though.
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Sheep Rock, right, is a really cool eroded mountain that looks nothing at all like a sheep.
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You get some really beautiful close-up views of the rock formations out there. Each layer of rock had a completely different color. Mighty purty.
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I particularly liked this overlook of much of the monument – the mesas in the background look like they were cleanly sliced off at the hands of some giant's axe, don't they?

We spent the night at a campground near John Day, which is a town of about 2,000 people that's the biggest town in a 100-mile radius or so I think. Very podunk but kinda quaint place, it's hard to imagine living so far from any major cities. It makes rural Roseburg feel like downtown Tokyo.

We drove on all the way down south from John Day to Burns, basically a town-slash-truck stop on Oregon's Highway ... It's a beautiful drive south, across high alpine plains that reminded me somewhat of Alaska. We saw a ton of wildlife in general on this trip – deer, elk, hawks, rabbits, snakes and coyote, plus about a zillion chipmunks. They swarm over the road like dust at some points; you can seem them scurrying out of the way as you hurtle down the empty highways (and it's almost impossible to avoid running over a few of the fuzzballs).

Once you're at Burns, you hit the highway west toward Bend. The scenery here is pretty much what I expected all of Eastern Oregon to look like – two-plus hours of this:
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But we stopped in civilized Bend, ate takeout Indian food and basked at their lovely riverside park before taking the final lap homeward. If you look on a map of Oregon, we basically drove in a gigantic loop over the Cascades to the East and back. And how did Peter feel about his 937-mile trek of a weekend?
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Tuesday, June 13, 2006

LIFE: Out into Eastern Oregon, part I

...Whew, 937 miles of round-trip driving later, I return! We ventured far into the dusty ragged outlands of Eastern Oregon over the weekend for a fine camping trip, and here's a few photos of our journey for you.

I've always wanted to go into Eastern Oregon, but the furthest I've ever been is Bend. The "east side" is the size of about 2/3 of the state, but the vast majority of the state's 4 million people live in a narrow strip of the western state along Interstate 5. The images you have of Oregon being wet, green and leafy don't apply to the east side. East Oregon is big, open and empty, but it's a pretty gorgeous place. I was expecting it to look kind of like most of Nevada does – big, empty hills – but instead it turned out quite different, alternating forests with high plains, massive monoliths and eerie rock formations.

We spent most of our weekend checking out the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, which is 14,000 acres of raw, epic landscape spread out over three separate locations around the wee town of John Day, Oregon. It's land that looks like it was cracked open at the hand of giants, with amazing colors, rocks of every shape and size, and a sense it's all barely been disturbed in the last zillion years or so. And because it's so far from everywhere and still early June, it was nearly deserted out there this weekend.

Here's a few photos from some of our weekend trek:
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We camped our first night a bit south of the flyspeck town of Fossil, Oregon, and Friday night we went out to check out the most remote part of the John Day monument, the Clarno section. It's a huge rocky section of eroded palisades cliffs, erupting out of the sagebrush. You can hike right up to the base of them (not the easiest activity carrying a 2 1/2-year-old) and they're as impressive as they look.

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Then on Saturday morning bright and early, we headed out to the Painted Hills, about 70 miles south of Fossil along Oregon Hwy. 26. These hills are impossible to capture on film – basically enormous mounds of clay and minerals that are filled with a dazzling array of colors, reds, golds, browns, etc. They range from mountain-size to ten feet tall.
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Up close, you get an idea of the shifting colors, which change depending on the angle you look at and the time of day you seen them. Poor Peter really really really wanted to climb on them. Unfortnately this is forbidden, because these hills aren't as sturdy as they seem –
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Extreme close-up view! If you look at them they're like crumbling clay, you can pick them apart with a finger. It's almost like they're held together by force of will.

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And here's Peter, surrounded by the awesome glory of Eastern Oregon's bounty … and playing with dirt. The toddler mind, ladies and gentlemen.

I don't want to overwhelm with the photos of rocks and hills, so we'll continue our journey to the rest of the monument and through Eastern Oregon tomorrow!

Friday, June 9, 2006

Been meaning to jump on the YouTube bandwagon... Toddler Peter, ain't he a ham? (Sorry to those with dial-up connections, er... like myself at home, actually.) Let me know if it works for you!

No more posting until Monday or Tuesday likely, as we're off for a belated Memorial Day weekend camping trip to far-off Eastern Oregon and scenic desert adventures!

Wednesday, June 7, 2006

....Spent some of the weekend catching up on various reviews for BlogCritics. Go hither and you can read:
• A review of the entertaining memoir 'Becoming Almost Famous: My Back Pages in Music, Writing and Life' by former Rolling Stone editor Ben Fong-Torres;
• Watch as I tie myself in rhetorical knots trying feverishly to link Sly and the Family Stone and the Stone Roses in my look at two new books in the fab 33 1/3 music-criticism series;
• Or, alternately, witness as I give in to '80s cheese-rock with this …

MUSIC: "The Best of Survivor,"
or, how Nik lost all his street cred

Click hereSurvivor is one of those bands I'd never put in my personal top 10, but sometime in the summer of 1982 or so, they were the soundtrack of my prepubescent life. The song? "Eye of the Tiger," of course, from the soundtrack for that modern classic, "Rocky III."

Man, that slashing guitar riff that I'd air-thrash along to as it blasted out of my cassette player, imagining I was Rocky Balboa. I will still listen to it today without irony and bang my balding head repeatedly. It's the kind of chugging riff you just don't hear anymore, and gosh darn it, there's something wrong with that. "Eye of the Tiger" is still a cool song and I'll pull a Clubber Lang on anyone who disagrees.

What's surprising to me is that there're several other guilty-pleasure '80s songs I didn't even really register were also by Survivor, included on their new 12-track collection, "Best of Survivor." Mock their Members Only jackets and mullets in the vintage photos included in the CD booklet if you must, but Survivor had their nice little niche in '80s rock. They weren't just the poor man's Journey.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingLike many moderately successful '80s bands, there are about a thousand different CD compilations out there for Survivor. This one has all you need for a little retro rocking, including the band's soundtrack hits, "Eye of the Tiger," the "Karate Kid" tune "Moment of Truth," and from "Rocky IV," "Burning Heart." Yeah, it seems like Survivor was the theme band of choice for mid-1980s rising-against-the-odds sports dramas, huh?

A tune like "Is This Love" isn't the world's most sophisticated expression of adoration, with lyrics like "I need to know that there's someone who cares / Could you be the angel to answer my prayer?" - yet, y'know, there's something urgent and appealing about it in Survivor's hands. Maybe it's just growing up with the band constantly on the airwaves, but listening to The "Best of Survivor" kinda felt like a homecoming for me. Some of the cheese-rock love songs on "Best Of" haven't dated as well, such as the weepy "Ever Since The World Began." Their best tunes come from the up-tempo rockers.

Curiously, Survivor actually switched vocalists in the middle of their fame. As a fair-weather teen fan at the time, I admit I didn't even realize this. Founding vocalist Dave Bickler, voice of the "Eye of the Tiger," had to step down due to vocal problems in 1983, and former Cobra frontman Jimi Jamison came on board for the band's later 1980s hits "High On You," "The Search is Over," and "I Can't Hold Back," all included here. Jamison is ultimately probably the stronger singer, with a go-for-broke vocal delivery that meshes well with Survivor's driving, straightforward arena rock.

Bickler returned to Survivor in the 1990s for a time, but Jamison was also still in play. Wouldn't you know it, the two dueling vocalists eventually led to two bands calling themselves "Survivor" out there, lawsuits and more. It was all settled and Survivor is still out there somewhere today, with Jamison on lead vocals. Their first new studio album in 18 (!) years, "Reach," just came out. What I like about Survivor is that they never pretended to be anything other than what they were — a blue-collar, rockin' 1980s band. Jamison's Web site biography notes, "He'll have your grandmother onstage singing 'Eye Of The Tiger' or he'll hold your toddler while he's singing 'High On You.'"

God love him. Would Bruce Springsteen do that?

Tuesday, June 6, 2006

COMICS: Quick Comics Reviews!

A handful of ramblings on comics I've been reading lately....
52 #1-4
Photobucket - Video and Image HostingAnother month, another "event comic" begins. 52 is actually a kind of neat idea, a weekly 52-part series spanning the entire DC Universe in the "lost year" between the recently concluded mishmash of "Infinite Crisis" and the "present day." Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, the "big three," are all out of the picture here, so the series focuses on lesser lights like Steel, Booster Gold, The Question, Elongated Man and more, with a fistful of overlapping serial stories being told dealing with a world without the big heroes. So far, it's actually a pretty entertaining read, with contributions by Grant Morrison, Mark Waid, Geoff Johns and Greg Rucka and steady art by Joe Bennett. The serial nature of the stories means that if you don't much like one tangent, there's several more to dig into. The story of Black Adam, a former villain who's become much more interesting as a character than his nemesis (Captain Marvel) ever was, is pretty good, as is Booster Gold, a hero who's not afraid of selling out. As always, Grant Morrison's contributions leap out from the rest of the pack. The question, though, is whether it will all add up to anything. Two of DC's "event" stories in a row have fizzled out for me at the end – both "Identity Crisis" and "Infinite Crisis" started off well, but ended with a whimper. And 52 issues is a lot to commit to as a reader. That said, this is entertaining superhero comix. Geez, tho, the DC Universe is a violent place lately – what's with the splatter gore of seeing a character torn in two on panel? "Infinite Crisis" boasted a lot of off-putting dismemberments as well. It's like "Friday the 13th" in spandex lately. A little restraint would've gotten the same idea across in a slightly less excessive fashion. Grade: B

Ultimate Fantastic Four #30
I've been enjoying Ultimate Fantastic Four lately as a kind of high-octane, low-calories version of the "real" FF. Writer Mark Millar is revving along with the big explosions, big ideas plots and artist Greg Land, while his photorealistic art is sometimes a little stiff, does have a gorgeous slickness to his style. However, this issue isn't quite as cool as I'd hoped – part one of "Frightful," a story that holds a fun premise in teaming up the "Ultimate" Dr. Doom and the zombie version of the Fantastic Four that crept through the pages a few issues ago. But very little really happens in this issue other than set-up: Johnny Storm's got a nasty disease, evil plots are in motion, etc. I expect a three-part story to have a little more meat in part one than this; good, but not a smash hit start. You've got zombies, Doom and more, why not mix it up right from the start? Grade: B-

Books of Doom #1-6
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As an old-school "Fantastic Four" fan and a big admirer of the evil menace of Dr. Doom, I figured I'd check this miniseries out, which retells his origin with new details. Writer Ed Brubaker puts a nice spin on the tale of Doom, from gypsy outcast to scientific genius to lord of a nation. He's got a lot more space to breathe than the old Stan Lee tales do, and gives Doom plenty of humanity as the world and his own hubris warps him. It's not essential reading, and it doesn't quite change the readers' impression of Doom, but it is a tale well told. Pablo Raimondi's art is dynamic and clean, if occasionally a little stiff. The kinda banal "twist" ending at the end of this issue I could've done without, but overall, a pretty solid tale for fans of the good (well, bad) doctor. Grade: B+

Sunday, June 4, 2006

Our neighbor Eleanor died this morning. She was 93, so it wasn't totally unexpected, and she went on pretty good terms. She lived next door to us and across the street from her daughter and husband, and had been declining the last three months pretty rapidly. She was pretty much living with her daughter recently, and according to her, earlier this week said, "I'm ready to go." Like I said in an earlier post, she was one of the best neighbors we've ever had. As she became less able to leave the house, she got a lot of joy out of simply watching Peter run around in our front yard.

Eleanor had a life that wasn't easy – her husband was killed in an awful explosion that blew up about half the town here in 1959, and she'd been widowed ever since. A couple years ago, when I learned about her past, I had one of the reporters at the paper do a profile of her (didn't do it myself as living next door it seemed a bit unethical.) Anyway, Paul did an excellent profile of Eleanor. I was a little uneasy about having us exhume all those old feelings for Eleanor, but she and her family really liked the story, and often remarked on it to me. As her obituary for tomorrow's paper puts it, she managed to live "with great dignity and grace."

Saturday, June 3, 2006

LIFE: Thinking different as they say

Old and stodgy

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New and sexy!

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Yep, the new MacBook arrived yesterday (just a week after I ordered it!) and it now replaces the cat as my favorite material possession, because it doesn't have fleas and can be wireless. Still working out a few bugs (the USB modem is not working real well, but I think that's the fault of the 40-year old phone wiring patched together by retarded chimpanzees in our house), but it's a beauty, about a zillion times faster than ol' Betsy the iMac. Technology is cool!

Update: Fixed the modem issue it seems, thanks to a little advice. Hoo-hah!

Thursday, June 1, 2006

ETC.: Roley, Macs and Dylan again

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting…Yeah, not a lot to say right now. Weather's taken a turn for the better for a few minutes after a couple weeks of rain, so Peter has been outside instructing me in the art of throwing dirt and of taking scoops of sand and moving them to one part of the beach and then back again. He's also been happily playing with his beloved new "Roley" the steamroller from "Bob The Builder," his current obsession. He begged us and begged us for a "Roley" after learning there were toys of the show and like the softies we are we got him one when he had a particularly good day. (How can anyone resist this face asking you "Pweez pweez? I be good!")

Peter also told us yesterday, "I not robot, I Peter." Which is always good to know about your kid.

ITEM! We did order our sexy new Mac Book computer last week — hopefully our old iMac will sputter along until it gets here. Thanks to the miracle of Fed Ex, I can tell you that as of 2:37 a.m. this morning it was in Indianapolis, fresh from Anchorage, Alaska, and before that, Suzhou, China! Supposedly we'll get it by Thursday, although I don't see how it will come from Indianapolis to Oregon in that time. More likely Friday. Either way, I'm itching for the shiny new laptop to arrive. Why, I'll be able to blog wireless at last!

ITEM! Many thanks to reader Chris down in Australia, who read my Bob Dylan post last week and offered to send me a recording of Dylan performing "Oxford Town" at that long-ago show I attended at Ole Miss in 1990! Apparently, according to those who know, that was perhaps the only time Dylan has performed the song live, and a bootleg of the tune has been making its way around for years. The beauties of the Internet – a guy in Australia can read a post by a guy in Oregon about a concert in Mississippi 16 years ago and actually have a tape of some of it! Anyway, many thanks, Chris, can't wait to hear it!