Take a Letter Jamison…

Review: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Century: 2009

Posted in Books, Comics and Graphic Novels by djtrudeau on June 28, 2012

This is my GoodReads write-up of the latest, and last, LoEG chapter.

While I’ve enjoyed the post-Black Dossier LoEG work more than others I speak to, I still find myself disappointed by its conclusion. I respect Moore and O’Neil’s changing of the tone from adventure to meditation on fiction and have been happy to flow with the change as it happened. I’ve always enjoyed walking through the world, fictional and real, from Moore’s perspective.

This latest book, however, reveals his Achilles heel: satirizing modern culture despite his shallow experience in it. I understand his points about franchises and corporate entities spoiling imagination but I don’t know if current popular fiction is really worse than the era his main characters come from. This is especially true of the Harry Potter series, which he puts in the cross hairs in 2009. His criticisms of the boy wizard and his world ring hollow. It makes me wonder if he knows anything about the series beyond the first two books, as the themes and characterizations Rowling presented are far richer than he acknowledges.

It’s likely he hasn’t dug deep into Harry Potter or much else and that becomes a problem when you’re looking to skewer it all.

That said, the book is still full of surprises along with some great character bits. I personally love the James Bond concepts he throws around. Also, I can forgive a deus ex machina when the person delivering it is that unexpected. As always, O’Neil’s artwork is great and I’ll have fun poking through the details over the next couple of days.

Alan Moore and Frank Miller were the great comic creators of my youth. While they’re both no longer creating their best work, I’ll take Moore in a reduced form any day over Miller’s descent into (unintentional) self-parody.

I was in a car chase once…

Posted in Uncategorized by djtrudeau on June 12, 2012

I’ve never been in a gun fight. Ninjas have never jumped out of the shadows to attack me. Not once has a mercenary hit team tried to take me out only to have me turn the tables on them with my lethal skills. I have been in a car chase, though.

It happened while I was staying with my dad outside of Houston, TX. That’s appropriate, because almost everything insane/cool I’d done in my teenage years happened there. I washed cars with future NBA players, broke into private docks with my dad to repo offshore racing boats, and once had a picture taken (at age fourteen) with about twenty exotic dancers. Somehow that picture never made it into my mother’s hands.

The said car chase happened the summer after my junior year of high school. I spent much of that trip hanging out with my step-cousin, Brandon. Brandon and I got along just fine though we were wired in very different ways. Despite the things written above, I was laid back and didn’t like to cause waves if I didn’t have to. Brandon, on the other
hand, had a wild streak in him. It wasn’t constant or I wouldn’t have hung out with him for more than a day or two. When the mood hit him, however, it could cause problems.

I was seventeen at the time and he was either fifteen or sixteen without a license, as I drove us everywhere in a red Duster off my dad’s lot.  We went out almost every night for a week.  On each of those evenings, Brandon would partake of his favorite activity: hanging out the window, sticking up his middle finger at a passing car, and screaming “Fuck you!”

I can’t put into words the joy doing this brought him. I wasn’t so enthused but tolerated it.

One night we go out to some theater close to Houston proper to see The Last Action Hero.  We headed to a Whataburger (a Texas fast food chain) afterwards. After we sat down to eat, Brandon noticed something behind me and his eyes went wide.

“What?” I asked.
“There’s a gang in here.”
“A gang?  As in a real gang?”
“Yes.”

I tried my best to look behind me without looking like I was looking behind me, which is impossible. It didn’t matter, as I was well beneath the notice of the five or six young men who were hanging out in the seats against the back wall. I’d never seen a real gang before but because of movies like Colors, I expected them to be color coded. They
were and the color was black. Most had black ball hats and I remember one had a black bandanna around his head.

I may have spent a good deal of time in Houston but I was still a Marine City kid. Being that close to a gang was both cool and scary, which is a feeling you love at that age and avoid in adulthood. By that point you’ve lived long enough to not care about cool and know it’s scary you should pay attention to.

They left before we did and I finished eating without giving them much more thought.  As we pulled out of the parking lot into the wide, four-lane road, Brandon spotted a car coming the other way and started rolling down his window with a big grin on his face. He hung half his body out, flew the finger, and yelled “Fuck” with great gusto followed by a weak “you”.

“That was the gang,” he said as he flopped back into the seat.

I looked behind me to see their car pull a fast U-turn and accelerate right at our rear end, flashing its brights. This is how I learned to pay attention to scary.

“Floor it!” Brandon yelled and I did with no further prompting. I hoped they just wanted to scare us and laugh while we fled but they hit the gas and stayed right on us.

I didn’t know the area at all but Brandon did and he yelled directions to me as we darted down streets and around blocks without losing our pursuers. The whole thing is a blur to me now but I have a clear memory of flying down a service drive behind a Kmart plaza with their headlights bobbing behind us. We eventually wound up back on
the road we started from.  

Brandon pointed to the expressway on-ramp in the distance and I gunned it, hoping maybe they’d give up if they saw we were getting the hell out of Dodge. I started down the curving ramp and saw they were still after us.

“The other side,” Brandon said, pointing a frantic finger at the off-ramp curving the opposite way. I yanked to the left and went over the wide curb separating the two. As I pulled back onto the road, I saw them continue down the on-ramp to the expressway and away from us.

The experience was everything Brandon could’ve hoped for. He laughed the whole ride home. Part of me wishes I could say that I, as the level headed one, realized how close we’d come to serious trouble and shamed him. That would be a lie. I felt the same surge of triumph and we talked about it constantly for several days after, though never in front of my dad.

I don’t know what would’ve happened if they’d caught up with us. I don’t even know if they really were a gang.  Again, as a Marine City kid I’m not an expert on these things.  One thing I do know is the story could’ve ended as a cautionary tale. The fact that I got away still makes me smile, even though I should know better.

The following October, my dad shipped up the same red Duster for me to drive, not knowing how I had already broken it in.  It was my car through college.

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The Wind Through the Keyhole (Quick Review)

Posted in Uncategorized by djtrudeau on May 17, 2012

From Goodreads:

I’m a Dark Tower fan, even enjoying the later books better than others, but I wasn’t chomping at the bit to read this book. As far as I was concerned, the story of Roland’s ka-tet was over. I’d closed the cover on the last book and moved on.

What I’ve learned reading this book is though I’m not interested in hearing more “what happened between the books” stories about Roland, I’d love to get more stories that take place on his world. The story of Roland and company surviving a starkblast is really just a framing device for two other stories.

The first is another from Roland’s youth. He and a fellow young gunslinger travel to a distant town to investigate deaths related to a skin-man, which is like a werewolf on steroids. That story is entertaining but slight.

The second story, which gives the book its name, is the real meat of the book. It’s about a boy, Tim, who lived in Mid-World’s distant past. After his father dies, his mother remarries her husband’s partner, who quickly turns abusive. After a brutal attack that leaves her blind, Tim is set on a quest to find the wizard Maerlyn deep within the woods his town borders. Like the early Dark Tower stories, it’s a mix of old-fashioned fantasy with modern sensibilities. It makes the book.

I’d give this 3.5 stars if possible because while it isn’t really a four star read, three stars seems too slight.

The Not-So Golden Age of Superhero Movies

Posted in Comics and Graphic Novels, Movies by djtrudeau on May 1, 2012

There have been many times in my adult life where I’ve longed to go back in time, grab my twelve-year-old self, and bring him to the present day to blow his mind.  “What is it,” you may ask, “that would blow his mind?”  I’m sure he’d be impressed by things like streaming films on Netflix and modern video games but it’s superhero movies that would knock his socks off.

Superman: The Motion Picture came out when I was three years old and Superman II followed a short time later.  From there, it was a long wait until Batman in 1989 (June 23, 1989 to be exact).  Outside those three films, every other superhero movie from my childhood was garbage.  And let’s face it, out of the three I mentioned, I’d only consider the first Superman great.

I still read superhero comics on a weekly basis but it’s impossible to love them as much as when I was a kid.  What I wanted more than anything was to see live action versions of my heroes.  There was something about seeing them as flesh and blood people that was exciting beyond measure.  It’s why I, and many others, tortured myself time and time again with low budget direct to video and made for TV versions of my favorite characters featuring men in cheap spandex engaging in not-very-convincing battles with evil.

So on the week of The Avengers premiere,  a movie the twelve-year-old still inside me can’t believe is actually happening, I thought take a look back at what we had to settle for back in the day.  If, like me, you have a young child who shrugs at the sight of The Incredible Hulk swatting a space ship out of the air, take him through some of these movies and shows.  Maybe then he/she will understand why you’re so excited.

We’ll start with DC’s offerings:

LEGENDS OF THE SUPERHEROES
I missed these two one hour specials as a kid but had heard of them and daydreamed about how awesome they must’ve been.  They were produced by Hanna Barbera to capitalize on the popularity of the Superfriends cartoon series.  Starring almost every member of the Justice League, except Superman, these were shot mostly on one stage, on videotape, with a laugh track.  The first special was a straight (kind of) adventure story featuring a Legion of Doom-style super villain team.  The second was a “hilarious” roast of the heroes with special guests such as Hawkman’s mother and Ghetto Man.  Yes, I said Ghetto Man.

You can check out the intro here.

SHAZAM!
I saw this one on reruns when I was really young and later thought it had been a figment of my imagination.  I was an adult when I discovered that yes, it had been a real show but upon seeing it, I wish it had been a figment.  In the show, Billy Batson and his mentor, named Mentor, traveled around the country righting wrongs.  Unfortunately, these wrongs involved things like stopping a kid from stealing cars with hooligan friends.  Sounds like a pulse pounding adventure!

 
Now those were terrible but at least DC had the old Adam West Batman show, the Wonder Woman show, and the Superman films to hang their hat on.  Back in those days, the words “Marvel Superhero Movie” were synonymous with a steaming pile of horse manure.  It’s true.  I looked it up.

Now Marvel did have The Incredible Hulk to its credit.  The show hasn’t aged gracefully but it’s on par with other shows from its era.  Plus it’s still fun to watch Lou Ferrigno toss around 1970s criminals and hillbillies in slow motion.  The same thing can’t be said of these others:

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN
From 1977-1979, CBS aired thirteen episodes and a feature-length pilot of a live action Spiderman show.  Now, even as a DC kid Spiderman was all kinds of awesome to me and I flipped my lid when I came across a rerun of this.  The show would float in and out of UHF schedules and I was always keeping my eye out for it.  I guess the idea of a “real” Spiderman was all it took to make me happy because this show is awful.  Spiderman doesn’t talk past the pilot, he shoots unconvincing nylon spider webs, and it’s all so damn boring.  If you ever feel bad about the hours you spent watching Spiderman 3, just watch this and you’ll feel better.

CAPTAIN AMERICA
While the Spiderman show was wrapping up, CBS produced two live action Captain America movies.  These movies are just….I’m not sure how to put it into words.  Making Cap’s costume look good in live action is a tall order but I know you don’t do it by replacing his mask with a bulbous motorcycle helmet.  He looks like a lollipop on a motorcycle.  And, oh, the action!  Thrill to the sight of Captain America fighting…..(wait for it)…..two dogs!

THOR
I mentioned The Incredible Hulk above.  As popular as the show was in its prime, it was cancelled before it could conclude its story.  To rectify this, the cast was reunited in the 80s for three made-for-TV movies.  That was exciting enough but to make it even better, the first two teamed him up with other Marvel superheroes.  The first one, The Incredible Hulk Returns, featured The Mighty Thor!  Well, he was Thor but not so mighty.  They played him as a unlikable jackass who looked more at home in a hair metal band than The Avengers.  Also, not to nit pick but would it have been too much to get him a decent hammer?  I have a hard time not laughing when he throws it at The Hulk.  There aren’t great clips of this out there but here’s one featuring the “showdown” between the two main characters.

DAREDEVIL
Now this is one I was really excited about.  Daredevil had become a favorite character by the time he showed up in the second Hulk movie, The Trial of the Incredible Hulk.  I think one of the biggest issues with this is the costume.  I guess he was supposed to look like a ninja but it looks more like a ninja Halloween costume purchased at Kmart.  Also, if he’s not dressed in a devil costume, why would they even call him Daredevil?  Clips are really hard to find but here’s a video someone made using clips from the movie and the feature film, which stunk in many of its own, unique ways.

CAPTAIN AMERICA (1990)
Most discussions about this movie center on the fact that Cap’s cowl has rubber ears.  Why this instead of just having holes in the side his ears would go through?  Figuring it out would take more brainpower than this awful train wreck deserves.  It was supposed to be released into theaters but the executives couldn’t bring themselves to do it.  What did they expect when they hired Albert Pyun?  The guy directed Cyborg starring Jean-Claude Van Damme.  I thought that movie was awful back when I thought Bloodsport kicked ass.  You can see the trailer here.  Don’t bother with the movie itself.  It’s not even “so bad it’s funny” bad.

FANTASTIC FOUR (1994)
I haven’t seen this movie, so I can’t tell you for sure it’s terrible.  That said, I’m pretty sure it’s awful.  How can I be sure?  Well, it was made for a super low budget by a production company who never intended to actually release it.  Their production rights on the film were set to lapse if they didn’t use them so they slapped this together at the last minute, lying to everyone involved about their intentions.  So, yeah, I’m confident putting it here.  Check out the trailer here.

That gives you an idea of what we had to deal with growing up in that era.  Superhero comics had never been more exciting and we would’ve given anything for the movies to be even half as good.

Justin Pierre: My Favorite Minnesotan

Posted in Music by djtrudeau on February 18, 2012

Music, rock music in particular, is one of the few art forms I have a great passion for as a consumer but not as a creator.  I’ve written comics and short stories, directed and performed in my material on stage, and even made some short films but I’ve never been in a band.  The closest I’ve come is performing in musicals, singing songs I didn’t much care for.  The exception was 1776 but I couldn’t even hit my harmony part in “The Egg”.

There are several bands and performers I’ve put on a pedestal starting in high school (Public Enemy, REM, They Might Be Giants, Social Distortion) to college (The Beatles, Green Day, Elvis Costello, The Ramones, The Replacements) and into adulthood (The White Stripes, Ben Folds, Chuck Berry).  I could keep going but once I start lists, it’s hard to stop.

Since late 2008, I’ve been laid off, looking for work, starting my own sales business supporting three clients, getting up to speed as an independent recruiter (with my old client as a partner), continuing to work on being a writer when I grow up, and maintaining the dad/husband thing.

While music has always been important to me, those experiences made it vital to my being.  It’s always playing when I’m working (and not on the phone).  I listed some all-time greats above but there’s an artist I’ve listened to more than any of them in the last four years: Justin Pierre.  Justin is best known as the lead singer and songwriter of Motion City Soundtrack.  He’s also in the band Farewell Continental and is recording with a third, The Company We Keep, right now.  I think he’s trying to beat Jack White in the “How Many Bands Can I Be In?” contest.

I discovered Motion City Soundtrack by accident.  I was flipping through On Demand music videos on my TV and misread their name as “Motor City Soundtrack”.  I hit play thinking they must be a new Detroit group (they’re from Minneapolis).  The song was “LGFUAD”.  The reason the name is spelled in letters is because the “F” stands for a word you can probably guess.

I’m glad I discovered that song first because it’s a good example of the tightrope Pierre walks in his best songs.  This is how it opens:
Let’s get fucked up and die!
I’m speaking figuratively of course.
Like the last time that I committed suicide.
Social suicide. 

I love how he starts with two over-dramatic statements then backs off them right away.  The song is all about insecurity and not being able to find your footing in life.  I’ve been there and remember all-too-well bluffing with fake bravado (“I’m a crazy rebel, but not really”).  Frankly, that’s what most of the songs on that album, Commit This To Memory, are about.  That’s not an uncovered area in popular music, especially during the pop-punk years MCS came up in.  A lot of the post-Green Day bands sang about misery or being screwed up because that’s the template they were filling.  The difference here is Justin seems to be expressing his actual feelings.  There’s an air of authenticity to MCS music missing in many of their peers.

I should also mention, in deference to the entire band, that the music itself is more ambitious too.  Tony Thaxton is a great drummer and very popular with my four-year-old musician-in-training, Evan.  When we got him a little drum set for his birthday, he made sure he was playing with his arms crossed, just like Tony on his YouTube videos.

Motion City Soundtrack has released four albums and their last one, My Dinosaur Life, came out in 2010.  It’s their best and I think it was well-timed with how I felt at the time.  That’s not to say I was going through the exact things the songs describe.  While they cover topics such as devastating splits (“Her Words Destroyed My Planet”), substance abuse (“Delirium”), and being afraid of intimacy (“Stand Too Close”), I had been through heavy self-doubt and the realization I’d spent the last year way too angry.  His experiences are more extreme than mine but the feelings come from the same place.

I hope that doesn’t sound depressing because one of Justin’s saving graces is that his lyrics don’t wallow in their own misery.  He’s not in love with being unhappy (I’m looking at you, Morrissey).  In fact, My Dinosaur Life gives you a sense of someone working for something better, especially the song A Lifeless Ordinary.  That’s why I connected with it as strong as I did.

I think the band is often dismissed by people my age (and, ironically, Justin’s age) as just another pop-punk group.  Their loss.  I’ve heard people complain that we don’t get many albums like Weezer’s Pinkerton anymore but here’s a band working at that level now, especially compared to what Weezer’s done since.

Last year, Justin’s other bandFarewell Continental, released their first full-length album, Hey, Hey Pioneers.  While not a confessional album like My Dinosaur Life, it’s grade-A stuff.  I wrote a review for it last year.  I’m looking forward to hearing what he does with The Company We Keep.  The group’s female lead singer is a Detroiter, so it does come full circle.

As I’ve headed into my mid-thirties (which is what I consider thirty-six and I won’t say late-thirties until I’m thirty-nine and a half), I don’t feel the same level of hero-worship I used to for writers, directors, and musicians.  I am very appreciative to Justin Pierre, though, for giving some crazy years a solid soundtrack.

Before Watchmen: The Year’s Biggest Non-Event

Posted in Books, Comics and Graphic Novels by djtrudeau on February 4, 2012

If you heard a popping sound  this week, chances are it was the sound of geeky heads exploding over DC Comics’ announcement of their Watchmen prequels, all printed under the banner Before Watchmen.

For those of you outside the comics community, who may know of Watchmen because it’s one of the few series to escape into the non-comics world, this is the equivalent of someone making a sequel to Citizen Kane.  Watchmen is our sacred cow and not just because it’s one of the greatest graphic novels of all time (it is).  What makes Watchmen special is because it was instrumental in pushing the boundaries of what superhero comics could be.  There was nothing like it before its debut and creators have killed themselves to make something like it since.

Alan Moore (the writer) is angry about this.  Alan Moore is always angry but it’s worse when he has a reason.  Dave Gibbons (the artist) gave a weak statement of support with a clear “I really wish you wouldn’t have done this” subtext.

The biggest surprise is the talent they lined up for them.  Two, Brian Azzarello and Darwyn Cooke, are favorites of mine.  Their inclusion gave pause to what would’ve otherwise been an immediate feeling of disgust.  Since then, I’ve read several opinions, pro and con, and have a clear feeling on the subject.

When it comes to the books themselves, I’m indifferent.  It doesn’t matter who is working on them.  Watchmen is a complete work and I have no interest in digging further into its back story.  I don’t mean this to reflect poorly on the talent.  If Darwyn Cooke he has a story to tell about The Minutemen, who am I to tell him he can’t?  Just don’t expect me to buy it.

Here’s what irritates me:

“It’s our responsibility as publishers to find new ways to keep all of our characters relevant,” said DC Entertainment Co-Publishers Dan DiDio and Jim Lee. “After twenty five years, the Watchmen are classic characters whose time has come for new stories to be told. We sought out the best writers and artists in the industry to build on the complex mythology of the original.”

Really?  Hey Dan and Jim, Rorschach isn’t Superman.  He’s not an open-ended character without a complete story who gets reinterpreted over multiple generations to keep him relevant.  We know everything important about him.  His story has a beginning, middle, and end.  He’s a complete creation.  You don’t need to “keep him relevant”, just visible. You’ve done that.  You’ve sold a lot of Watchmen books in the last five years and he’s so interesting people went to the movies to see a so-so interpretation of him.

You know what, though?  I shouldn’t be arguing with their statement.  Why?  Because it’s BS.  Anyone with a brain in their head knows this isn’t the result of a creative impulse.  DC has a bankable property, they don’t need its creators’ permission to use it, and they’re confident they can finally get away with doing this.

I don’t know Brian Azzarello (which might be good because I’d probably annoy the hell out of him) but I have enough respect for him to assume he’s doing this out of a true creative impulse.  But his book wouldn’t be happening at all if not for DC’s desire for a cash grab.

I’m not against said cash grab for moral purposes.  Moore feels DC screwed him on Watchmen and he may be right.  I know they’re not keen on him either.  I’m not interested in reffing a fight between an increasingly bitter man and a bottom-line minded company, even if the man is my favorite writer in any medium.  These things are murkier than many want to acknowledge.

What I’m irritated by is that DC has a lot of momentum right now and a rare chance to grab readers’ attention for almost any project.  They can put great writers and artists to work creating this generation’s Watchmen.  Instead they’re wringing everything they can out of the original.  It runs counter to what they were doing in 1986, when they opened up the potential for sophisticated artistic expression in mainstream comics.

Don’t get me wrong.  I read a lot of DC Comics.  I’m a defender of the New 52 initiative, if not all the individual books.  That’s why I’m so disappointed to see them drop the ball on the follow through.

I won’t be buying these books.  They may turn out to be solid reads but I don’t like what they represent.  I also won’t spend any more time writing or arguing about it online.  Ignoring them is the best way to insure they fade away.  The only exception is if you’re at a book store and you see someone checking out the Watchmen books on the shelf.  We have a responsibility to make sure they know which one is the real thing.

What I’m Reading: All the Rest

Posted in Comics and Graphic Novels by djtrudeau on December 28, 2011

Because you demanded it, I’m going through the rest of my comic pull list to share what I’m reading and what I think of each book.  Last night, I covered the mainstream DC books and tonight I’m picking up where I left off with my comics from other publishers (and Vertigo).  Without further ado…

Daredevil
Though I spent last night going over DC superhero titles, this is my favorite superhero book being published.  I love Daredevil but the book had gone over the deep end on its quest to make Matt Murdock more and more miserable.  Along comes Mark Waid with the great idea of making things fun again.  Even better, he does it without stepping on anything that happened before.  And that’s not saying anything about Paolo Rivera’s art, which has been outstanding.  Did I mention the covers?  They’re some of the best I’ve ever seen.  You should be reading this if you already aren’t.

Captain America
Moving along to my other regular Marvel book, this one isn’t at the lofty heights it was two years ago but still manages to tell a good yarn every month.  Ed Brubaker has a talent for making fantastic stories feel down to Earth and I’m a Steve McNiven fan, so there you go.

Criminal/Incognito
Speaking of Ed Brubaker, 2011 saw the end of his latest Incognito series and a new story for Criminal, both with regular cohort Sean Phillips.  While Bad Influences may have not gotten the praise of the previous Incognito story, I still really enjoyed it.  And CriminalLast of the Innocents may be its best storyline yet.  These will stay on my pull list as long as these two keep returning to them.

Pigs
This is a new series from Image about a second generation KGB Cuban sleeper cell being re-activated to wreak havoc in the US, despite the Cold War being over.  The problem is a key member has gone native and has no interest in working against his adopted home.  The others aren’t taking no for an answer.  The book is four issues in and off to a strong start.

Buffy, the Vampire Slayer (Season 9)
So far, Whedon and company seem to have learned their lesson from Season 8, which started strong before going off the rails two-thirds of the way in.  They’re keeping things down to Earth and it’s enjoyable watching Buffy adjust to her new status quo.  Let’s hope they can keep it together.

RASL
After finishing the epic that was Bone and having fun with Shazam, Jeff Smith has moved into more adult territory with RASL.  It’s the story of a scientist, turned dimension hopping thief dealing with the consequences of his, and his colleagues’, dabbling in Tesla’s unfinished work.  It’s not the triumph that Bone was but it’s an interesting story and unlike anything else coming out right now.

Hellboy
2011 saw the conclusion of what creator Mike Mignola calls the second phase of the Hellboy story.  At the end of this last series, Hellboy was able to defeat the witch queen Nimue and the Great Dragon but his soul was pulled into hell as a punishment.  The ad at the back of the book promised a new series, Hellboy in Hell, coming in 2012.  Sounds good to me.

Spaceman
This series, by the 100 Bullets team of Azzarello and Risso, is about Orson, a man bioengineered to live on Mars.  That project was scuttled, though, and he spends his days as a scrapper in a flooded out, gloomy future while daydreaming about his adventurous life that should have been.  Things get interesting when he winds up in the middle of a high profile kidnapping case.  The little girl involved is the star of a reality series where poor kids compete to get adopted by a celebrity couple.  Sound a little crazy?  It is but these are two creators who know what they’re doing.  There was complaining when the first issue came out that you couldn’t follow the dialogue, as Orson and his friends speak om a strange slang, but for me it just added to the book’s character.

 

That’s about it for my regular pulls, though I’m catching up on the two Vertigo series The Unwritten and Scalped in their trade collections.  I highly recommend those two.  Scalped doesn’t really take off until the third book but once it does it becomes one of the great all-time crime books.

What I’m Reading: The DC Edition

Posted in Comics and Graphic Novels by djtrudeau on December 27, 2011

I started 2011 looking to cut down the number of comic series I bought.  Though there were some titles that scored on a regular basis (like Captain America) there were many more not getting the job done.  The slow start to my business in January forced me to make cuts I probably should have made a while ago.  Away went the Bendis Avengers books, which I liked but hadn’t ever really loved, and several DC books that had been at the brink.

The picture at the end of the year is much different.  This is due to several factors, such as my business getting back to normal, the DC relaunch, and several favorite creators jumping into new titles.  I thought it would be fun to go through my current pull list and what I think of each book.

The big news of the year has been DC’s New 52.  For those of you outside the loop, DC Comics relaunched all of their mainstream books, putting them back to #1 with new continuities (mostly).  It might be early to call whether it was a success or not but I think the results have been mostly positive.  I’m reading a LOT more DC now and there’s a new energy going through the line.

I’ll start tonight with those titles and go into the rest tomorrow:

Justice League
I’m really curious how I’ll feel about this book several months from now.  I’m having fun with the way Geoff Johns is writing the characters at the beginning of their careers.  I know their cockiness, especially Green Lantern’s, is a turn off for some but I’m enjoying it.  They’re young, after all, and haven’t been humbled yet.  I also still enjoy Jim Lee’s pencils (if not his costume designs).  The only problem I’m having is the book so far has consisted of heroes fighting monsters as they get introduced at the rate of one or two per issue.  That’s fine but to have staying power, the book has to start building some dramatic meat.

Action Comics
When I read the first issue of this title (the one this year, not 1938), I was over the moon.  It was the return of the Superman I’d wanted for years.  The one that proved he could be more than a Boy Scout.  Here was the “hero of the people” shaking up the forces of the status quo, just like in the original Action Comics #1.  I still felt that way through the second issue.  Now we’re past issue four and it’s stumbling.  I’m hoping Morrison and Morales can find their footing again because I want their take on the character to have a lasting effect.

Batman
I’m enjoying this book though I think some are over-praising it.  The story isn’t Earth-shattering.  It’s simply a solid, basic Batman tale.  The big surprise is Greg Capullo’s art.  I’d only known him as the guy who replaced Todd McFarlane on Spawn.  This has shown he has skills beyond what I’d realized.

Animal Man
I didn’t think I’d ever enjoy this character again.  After Grant Morrison’s triumphant run around twenty years ago (that doesn’t seem possible), one creative team after another tried their take on him and failed.  This one found an angle to make everything new, both for old fans like myself and those approaching Buddy and his family for the first time.  The result is one of the DC relaunch’s surprise successes.

Frankenstein: Agent of SHADE
The first issue of this book is a shining example of how you start a new series.  It mixed high concept science fiction (a miniaturized headquarters drifting in the Earth’s upper atmosphere) with old-fashioned comic book concepts (a team consisting of classic monster agents).  For four issues they’ve been fighting horrific creatures from a monster planet and I’m still having a good time.

Grifter
I’m on the verge of cutting this book.  I’ve loved Grifter since he was first introduced in WildCATs #1.  Something about his attitude and the costume  just worked for me.  That character has yet to show up in this series.  I think the art is top notch and the writing isn’t terrible.  The problem is it’s so by-the-numbers.  It’s got two or three issues left to surprise me.

Batwoman
There’s not much I can say about J.H. Williams III’s art that hasn’t already been said.  It’s always impressive and the writing hasn’t suffered like I thought it might in Greg Rucka’s absence.  This is the DC book you open up to impress people with.

Justice League Dark
So far, so good with this one.  I happen to love the idea of a Justice League team with members like John Constantine and Shade, the Changing Man.  They’ve managed to strike a nice balance of weird, supernatural elements and classic superhero storytelling.

Aquaman
Okay, Geoff Johns, we get it.  Everyone thinks Aquaman is lame but he’s awesome.  You’ve proven the awesome part so let’s just drop the meta-commentary.  Especially since the main story has been solid so far.  It’s nice to know you can still create a fun superhero book.  Unlike…

Green Lantern
Geoff Johns reinvigorated the entire Green Lantern concept when he brought Hal Jordan back.  There’s no questioning that.  For the last several years, though, it’s been treading water.  On the surface, it all sounds good.  Hal Jordan has been kicked out of the Green Lantern Corps and Sinestro has taken his place.  He’s enlisted Jordan to take on the Sinestro Corps he founded.  This should be awesome but I find myself skimming every issue.  This book was on the brink at the beginning of the year and it’s back there again.

Wonder Woman
More than any other book in the relaunch, Wonder Woman feels like it’s building a long-term story.  It’s written by Brian Azzarello, after all, who showed over one-hundred issues of 100 Bullets that he knows how to plant seeds that take years to grow.  I hope he gets that long because in four issues, he’s already creating the most immediate, compelling Wonder Woman story in forever.  On top of this, Cliff Chiang has showed me he’s everything he was hyped to be.  Plus, I love their take on the Greek gods.  They’re strange and terrifying, just like they should be.

Stormwatch
I’d argue that Warren Ellis’ work on Stormwatch and The Authority created a new dynamic that’s effected superhero books from The Ultimates to the new Justice League to even the Marvel movies.  After reading Paul Cornell’s run on Action Comics last year, I thought he’d be the perfect guy to carry the torch.  Instead, he’s dropped it.  It’s not all his fault.  The art looks good in single panels but is a jumbled mess when they’re put together.  In other words, the book is a storytelling failure across the board.  I feel like there’s good stuff under the surface but they can’t quite bring it out.  It is, hands down, the biggest disappointment in the New 52.

The Shade
Picking up where James Robinson’s classic Starman series left off, this book finds the sort-of reformed Golden Age villain getting to the bottom of who wants him dead.  It’s a tough riddle to solve, even given the number of times he’s had to do it before.  Robinson’s superhero stories of the last several years felt phoned-in.  This is the work of an engaged writer creating stories he loves.  More people need to be reading this.

Batman, Inc.
This book is the New 52′s great orphan.  It doesn’t fit in with the new status quo but was so successful it’s still going anyway.  Well, kind of.  We just got a special that collects what would’ve been #8 and #9 of the series, finishing up  “Season 1″.  How will Season 2 fit in with the new continuity?  I don’t care.  It could not fit in at all and not bother me, as long as it keeps up the quality level.  Though the digital issue was a flop, the rest of the series has been a real hoot.  Not all of Morrison’s Batman stories have been a home run but at least there’s real ambition in them.  I’m game for wherever he takes things next.

There was another solid DC book I read last year that was cancelled six issues in.  That book was Xombi.  The tragedy is it would’ve fit in with DC’s new direction.  And like Animal Man, it could’ve found itself an audience who wouldn’t give it a shot under normal conditions.  It’s a lost opportunity and a real shame.

 

A Hiccup in the Force

Posted in Humor, Movies by djtrudeau on November 30, 2011

Here’s a little something I wrote to amuse myself…

Jedi Master Danjo Troodoa walks down a tall hallway in the Jedi temple.  He arrives at a large door and before he can press the button next to it, it opens.  He steps in to find Yoda sitting on a round cushion chair, in deep concentration.

Danjo:  Master Yoda.
Yoda:  Master Troodoa.  Expecting you today, I was not.
Danjo:  I’m sorry for coming unannounced.  Do you have a moment?
Yoda:  Always. 

Danjo sits on a cushion across from him.

Yoda:  Troubling you, something is?
Danjo:  Yes.  Ever since the start of the Clone War, I’ve had some concerns.
Yoda:  Speak freely, you can.
Danjo:  Thank you.  Anyway, my concerns mostly revolve around the clone troops.
Yoda:  Performing well, they have been?
Danjo:  It’s not their performance that concerns me.  If I understand things correctly, they were ordered more than ten years ago, correct?
Yoda:  Correct.
Danjo:  And though the Kaminoans believed a Jedi commissioned their creation, it was actually a bounty hunter, right?
Yoda:  Also correct.
Danjo:  We then found out the bounty hunter worked for Count Dooku, who is now a Sith Lord leading the Separatist army.
Yoda:  Known to me, these facts are.
Danjo:  So we’ve placed the entire security of the galaxy into the hands of clone troops created by a Sith lord we’re now fighting.
Yoda:  Yes.
Danjo:  (pause) And you’re okay with this?
Yoda:  I am.
Danjo:  You said I could speak freely, right?
Yoda:  Always, Master Troodoa.
Danjo:  Are you out of your green f****ing head?
Yoda:  Not necessary, this language!
Danjo:  Well, sorry, but I can’t be the only one who sees how screwed up this is.
Yoda:  Making great gains against the Separatists, we are.
Danjo:  Yes, with the army created by their leader.  You haven’t, for one moment, considered the idea we’re being screwed with?
Yoda:  Sensed nothing amiss, have I.
Danjo:  Aren’t the clones created to follow orders without questions?
Yoda:  They are and have.
Danjo:  Then how do we know they haven’t been programmed with secret instructions to, I don’t know, wipe us out the moment their leader sees an opening?

A quiet moment passes.

Danjo:  That hadn’t occurred to you, had it?
Yoda:  Of course it had.
Danjo:  Because when I said it, you looked surprised.
Yoda:  Surprised, I was not.
Danjo:  Then what was that look?
Yoda:  Matter, it does not.
Danjo:  Whatever.  I’m just saying, don’t turn your back to them.
Yoda:  Under advisement, I’ll take this.
Danjo:  That’s all I’m asking.  Maybe by the time they make their move, it won’t be such a big deal anyway.
Yoda:  What is meant by this?
Danjo:  The first batch of clones were complete bad asses.  Have you seen Commander Cody in action?
Yoda:  I have.  Very impressive, he is.
Danjo:  Right but the new ones just arrived and aren’t looking so great.
Yoda:  How so?
Danjo:  To begin with, they can’t hit a target to save their lives.  I was doing a sweep on one of those Outer Rim planets and we ran into a handful of battle droids.  These bozos open fire and hit everything but the droids.  If I wasn’t there with Skywalker, they would’ve been hosed.
Yoda:  That bad, they are?
Danjo:  The only creatures that shoot worse are Tusken Raiders on Tatooine.  Compared to those things, even the troops are precise.  And have you noticed the new ones don’t have the same accent as the first ones?
Yoda:  I had not.
Danjo:  I’m starting to think they lost that bounty hunter’s DNA and used some janitor’s instead.

The door opens again and Mace Windu steps into the room.

Mace:  Am I missing something?
Yoda:  Just sharing some concerns, Master Troodoa was.
Mace:  Is he complaining about the clone army again?.  I told him to stop making this into an issue.
Danjo:  Why am I the only one who understands the problem?
Yoda:  Made your case, you have.  Follow Master Windu’s advice, you should.  One of the greatest Jedi ever, he is.
Mace:  I even have a purple lightsaber.
Danjo:  You know, I’ve always wondered about that.  Is it because you’re the most skilled warrior or an indicator of rank or what?
Mace:  (pause) I have a purple lightsaber.
Danjo:  Great.
Yoda:  Get going, you should.  Anakin Skywalker waits for you to join him on a sweep.
Danjo:  Skywalker again, huh?
Mace:  Is there an issue between you two?
Danjo:  Nothing major.  He just broods all the time and goes on and on about how much power he should have.  It’s irritating.
Mace:  You feel he has issues?
Danjo:  Duh!  The other day I asked him how things turned out with his mother situation and he blew a gasket.
Yoda:  Speak highly of him, Senator Amidala does.
Danjo:  No shock there.  You know how it is with girls like that.
Mace:  I don’t follow.
Danjo:  Oh, come on.  I know we don’t have lady friends but you guys can’t be that dense. 

They stare at him blankly.

 Danjo:  She’s a rich girl who grew up on the straight and narrow.  They’re suckers for bad boys.
Mace:  You think Skywalker is one of these bad boys?
Danjo:  Hell yes.  He’s always pissed off and breaking the rules.  He’s got that angry look except once in a while when he gives that devilish smirk.  A princess like Amidala sees him and thinks “he’s nothing like the guys my parents want me to date.”  A couple years later, everyone else is telling her he’s bad news and she’s all, “you just don’t understand him like I do.”  

They again stare at him blankly.

Danjo:  I know what I’m talking about.
Mace:  We’ve heard your concerns.  If we observe anything to back them up, you’ll be the first to know.
Danjo:  Alright.
Yoda:  Feel down, do not.  These are dark times but the light of a new day will follow.

Danjo rolls his eyes and leaves.

Mace:  He bothers me.
Yoda:  A point, do you think he has?
Mace:  Hey, we’re Jedi Masters.  If anything like that was going on, we would’ve sensed it.
Yoda:  Correct, you are.  Meeting with Palpatine, I am.
Mace:  You’re passing along our secret attack plans for the next campaign?
Yoda:  I am.
Mace:  Good.  This war is finally starting to go in our favor.

Danjo Troodoa was killed by clone troops after Palpatine issued Order 66.  His dying words were, “I frigging knew it.”

An Idea for the Economy

Posted in Business, History by djtrudeau on November 16, 2011

I had an idea tonight.  I don’t know if it’s the right idea and maybe I shouldn’t write a blog about it.  After all, it usually takes a day or two for the flaws in my own thoughts to become apparent to me but what the heck.  If there are flaws in this, getting it out there might be the best way to tackle them.

Anyway, I was thinking about Henry Ford and how he changed the economy in the Twentieth Century.  I’ve brought this up before and I keep coming back to it but that’s okay because it’s significant.  When he realized the value of the assembly line and the money it would make his company, he did what no “smart” businessman does.  Instead of just maximizing his profits, he used it as a way to fund our greatest social experiment ever.  He paid his workers more money for significantly less work with the idea that with the extra money and leisure time, they’d pump more dollars into the economy.  This led to the industrial boom that put our country at the top of the economic world.

Fast forward to the present.  Because of advances in communication and information technology, we’ve had a productivity boom creating similar windfalls for companies now.  This isn’t just for large corporations.  I’m now an independent consultant working from my home, partnered with the two owners of my former employer.  The three of us are almost accomplishing as much as two offices did in the past.

This has been fantastic and tragic for us all.  It’s fantastic because it’s created new ways to work and companies can make more money with less overhead than ever before.  It’s tragic because one part of that overhead is employees.

I’ve heard the statement a thousand times: companies are making record profits but unemployment is still too high.  How is that possible?  The answer is in the question.  They aren’t hiring any more because they don’t have to.  It takes less people to make a car, connect phone calls, sell a book, or get you your medication than ever before.  Plus, new breakthroughs happen every day to make us more and more productive.  Yes we’ve lost manufacturing jobs to other countries and yes that’s not a good thing.  But even the number of people needed on overseas production lines will continue to shrink.  The government can blunt the problem but they can’t create a business case to hire out of thin air.

I have yet to be convinced this isn’t a bigger issue than tax rates, government debt, entitlements, or all the other stuff we turn blue arguing about.  Those things are important, yes, but this is at the heart of it all.  Our growth, success, and ability to support entitlements are all tied to jobs.

So that’s the problem.  It’s a problem that I’ve heard no one in power offer an answer to.  It’s much easier to stir people up about taxes than a chronic issue with a fuzzy answer.  I think the idea I had tonight addresses a lot of it, though.  I don’t know if it’s the answer.  For all I know there are a bunch of economists who thought of it a while ago and I’m just treading on well worn ground.

My idea is that some corporation or corporations are going to have to make a strategic decision to start taking their profits and using them to increase the pay and benefits of their “bottom rung” employees beyond what most would call sensible.

For the educated, highly skilled employee, this is already happening.  Trust me, as I recruit these guys for a living.  We have a huge shortage of key skill sets and as anyone who has taken Economics 101 can tell you, that equals more pay.

But for the person on the customer care line, store floor, or administrative desk, things are either getting worse or staying flat (which over time is the same as getting worse).  And why should they get more?  They haven’t acquired in-demand skills or done the hard foot work to make up for that.  If they haven’t done anything to make themselves valuable to the economy, then it’s logical they won’t be very valued.

Except that the people on Ford’s line hadn’t acquired any special skills either.  They were just there first.  The line was the value generator, not them.  Almost anyone can bolt in a tire over and over again.  Yet he paid them more for less work and it somehow became the greatest business idea ever.

It’s, of course, easier to do this when you’re a privately held company in a new industry.  If a public corporation did the same thing today, the stock market would kill them for it the next day.  We’ve allowed stock MBA thinking to turn us into greedy cowards.  But somewhere in the business community there has to be some leaders who can convince their corporations to weather the storm for greater long term gain.

Because even though we’ve been trained to look at a call service rep as unskilled and not valuable, there are those who work harder and smarter than others.  A company that pays them a lot more will have more of those folks flock to them.  Better customer service agents will give better customer service which will lead to more loyal customers which will lead to expanded sales.  Over time this becomes a reputation for quality that can put you at the top of your industry.

On the bigger scale, other companies will have to increase their pay to compete for people and more money for customer service agents means more money for the economy.  More money in the economy means growth, maybe even enough to close the productivity gap.  A growing economy means more tax revenue for the government.  More tax revenue for the government equals shrinking debt.

Now we still need to right-size the government, stop getting into useless wars, etc, but those are issues that have dogged us throughout our history, no matter what shape the economy has been in.  This is the unique, bigger issue.

To get the ball rolling, though, companies need to start taking those record profits and make it happen.  So who is the first one to defy “common sense” and pull their money out of financial market shenanigans?  Who will be the first to stick their thumb in the eye of conventional wisdom?  Who is going to be Henry Ford this time around?

Those are my thoughts, many of them coming together for the first time as I wrote them here.  So am I crazy to think that upping the pay on unskilled labor is a key to solving our problem?

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