Thursday, May 31, 2007

In Other Blogging News...

May, it turns out, is going to be my lowest blogging month yet. It doesn't look like I'll quite make the 70 post mark, compared to 75 in my inaugural month of October last year. On the other hand, I'm still averaging over 2 posts per day, so it's all good.

Nothing to see here.

Move along.

Too Busy Blogging To Blog!

Since I didn't get a post done on my work blog today, I decided to tackle that tonight, for a change. My co-workers' gain is your loss, or possibly vice versa. Unless you work with me, in which case.. oh, never mind!

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Magnolia Box Set Coming In August

As Tim brought to my attention last week, word was leaked recently that Magnolia Electric Company's next release is a box set called Sojourner. I read a bit more about it here. I know the $50 price tag will scare off some, but 4 new recording sessions plus a DVD of MEC travelling through the Canadian Prairies is worth much more than that paltry sum to this rabid fan! Release date: Aug 7th!

The summer just keeps looking better and better, as the new Babylon 5 DVD comes out just a week earlier, and I'm still hoping Battlestar Galactica Season Three will follow later in August.

Is It Really Time For Another Crisis Already?

There's a growing belief among comic fandom that what Countdown is counting down to is yet another Crisis, DC-style. Now, I like a DC Crisis tale as much as the next nerdy, geek fan-boy, but wasn't it just a little over a year ago that Infinite Crisis wrapped up? Maybe I'd be more jazzed at the prospect of another one had the last one not fizzled out the way it did. There's also been speculation that this Crisis will be called Final Crisis, which seems a little unlikely to live up to its name (if true) considering how quickly new Crises are breaking out these days. (Of course, the so-called Infinite Crisis was far from being true to its title, too!)

Anyway, this latest teaser image from DC (shown here) implies an impending Flash death (or something similarly traumatic) which is, after all, a typical DC Crisis move (Barry "Flash" Allen was killed in Crisis on Infinite Earths and Wally "Flash" West was sent away to parts unknown at the end of Infinite Crisis). I guess we don't really know enough yet to draw any conclusions, except to say that that's a pretty cool cover! (I especially like how the last word of "THE FASTEST MAN ALIVE" has been trashed!)

Parenting: An Opinion

It occurred to me recently that the best parents - in my opinion - that I know always seem to be people who are good with kids... all kids. By contrast, what we seem to get lots of these days are the uber-parents whose lives go from being about whatever eclectic collection of hobbies and vices they were interested in before they reproduced, to their kid(s), 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. That sort of parent is boring to talk to (unless you find their children as fascinating as they do), not the least of which is due to the fact that they seem to think anything their kid does is intrinsically more incredible than anything over the history of mankind - including the colour of the poo in the diapers! They're not bad parents in the sense of being neglectful or setting anti-social examples; they're simply guilty of instilling their children with an inate sense of entitlement that the rest of us have to deal with from friends and co-workers once those kids grow up! It's natural that your parents would think you're the most special person in the universe; but they shouldn't raise you to expect everyone else to treat you that way!

All of which got me thinking about men and women I've known who seemed - to me - to be really good parents. One common denominator among them was that you could put them in a room with anyone's kids, and they'd do well: they'd play with the children, and be comfortable doing it. They'd talk to them, not down to them. They'd have an good sense of what interests a three your old versus an eight year old versus a teenager. And the kids would always have fun with them!

Vicki had the misfortune of marrying someone who said he loved kids, when in fact he'd never really spent much time with any! That inexperience, and his difficulty in adapting to parenthood, ended up killing their marriage (it wasn't all gloom and doom, though, as that opened the door for me to enter Vicki's life). What I took away from that was an idea that I'd urge any young person to consider before ever having any children: find out how your co-parent-to-be is with kids long before you start a family with them! Whether it be with nieces or nephews, or by babysitting your friends' kids, look for opportunities to see how he or she interacts with the younger set. If they're comfortable in that role, chances are they'll make good parents; if they can't seem to figure out what to do with them, then the best you can hope for is that they'll become an uber-parent, fixating on your children to the exclusion of all else, and spoiling them for the rest of the world. And if you're unlucky, they won't even be able to do that!

Tony Bedard: The De-Skankifier?

When I heard the news not long ago that comic writer Tony Bedard would soon be taking over the monthly Supergirl title, it didn't really fill me with explosions of joy. Nothing against Bedard, whose style I barely know - he did a recent Legion of Super-Heroes that I liked enough not to drop the title after Mark Waid left it - but more a reflection of just how bad this portrayal of Kara Zor-El has been to date in other hands. (Remember "Worst. Version. Ever." recently?)

Then I read Bedard's interview regarding the character, where he said, among other things: "She's not a dark avenger or Goth punk. She's a strange visitor from another planet who should embody all that's best in humanity and in America." and "I have basic expectations about what's appropriate for a character with the 'S' on her chest."

And I thought,

YES! He may actually write a Supergirl I'd like to read!

So I'll at least give the title another chance, when he arrives with Supergirl # 20 in a couple months.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Exciting Comics Coming Out Tomorrow Or The Day After (May 29th Edition)

It's not clear whether this week's comics are coming out tomorrow (Wednesday) or the next day (uh, Thursday?) on account of the U.S. Memorial Day long weekend. Last week, all of my stories were unexpectedly delayed by a day, and it was laid at the feet of our very own Canadian Victoria Day long weekend. Seems funny that a holiday on either side of the border could really have the same effect, but then again, it could also be caused by sunspots. Or Global Warming. Or terrorists, like George W. Bush says.

Action Comics # 850 - Hey, Action hardly ever makes this list! What's up with its appearance this time? Well, it's a double-sized issue (celebrating # 850) and features a Kurt Busiek-written tale of Superman visiting the 31st century. And you know what that means: Legion of Super-Heroes, including Supergirl, who's been hanging out there in addition to somehow being in the present in her own title! Maybe Busiek'll explain that away, while he's at it!

Amazons Attack # 2 (of 6) - Those of you who read my review of the first issue of this mini-series will recall that it was just too weird for me not to come back and see what # 2 holds in store! And that's a pretty cool cover, too (shown here)!

Countdown # 48 - Still on the fence with this one, but I guess I've been enjoying each issue a little more than the one before it. Which is kind of ironic, considering the issue numbers are counting down (so it might almost seem like I'm actually liking each subsequent one a wee bit less...)

Green Lantern # 20 - I really dig what Geoff Johns has done with this title since it was relaunched. Like he did previously with Hawkman, he's boiled a Silver Age character down to his essence and made him relevant again without really changing him. Of course, he seemed to be the only Hawkman writer who could pull that off, so I'm not sure that bodes well for Hal Jordan when Johns leaves this title. Until then, though, I'm in!

Justice Society of America # 6 - More Geoff Johns goodness, as well as the next chapter in the JLA/JSA/LSH saga. I'll admit that the crossover hasn't really lived up to my expectations so far, but I'll reserve judgement until it's finished, and I get to re-read it in one sitting. I was hoping for a 9 out of 10, and up to this point I'd only call it a really strong 7.

Daredevil # 97 - I just can't get enough Ed Brubaker at Marvel. In fact, if things keep going like they've been, he may be the writer of the only ongoing titles on my pull list from the House of Ideas! Good thing for them he's writing so many!

Silver Surfer Requiem # 1 (of 4) - JMS on the Surfer... it'll either be pure poetry, or extremely inappropriate slapstick. I'm hoping for the former.

For Those Who Think Of Me As "Low-Tech"...

... I give you Miranda July, author of "No One Belongs Here More Than You" (a collection of short stories). You truly owe it to yourself to experience her website, and then come back here and just try to tell me I'm low-tech, bunkie!

I laughed out loud at several things on her webpage, as I'm sure she intended. Thanks to Neil Gaiman's blog for pointing me in that direction, and as he said, "That's the kind of website that makes you want to buy the book and give chocolates to the author." Maybe Vicki will buy Ms July's book for me one of these days, as she likes to do that sort of thing. Just one of the many, many reasons I love her so! (And she's waaaaay lower-tech than me, too!)

Monday, May 28, 2007

Ducks And Senators Continue Close Trend To Start Finals

Yet another 1-goal win in the 2007 NHL Playoffs, this time by Anaheim over the Senators, to go up 1-0 in the Finals. People have complained about the lack of goals in this year's postseason, but I think it's actually been a good year, if you like to watch the games right to the end. We've had a lot of tight scores, where the play in the final minute was frantic (if one team was up by a goal) or lead to overtime. The Rangers alone played in 7 1-goal games (1 & 2 against Atlanta, 2 thru 6 against Buffalo), along with an empty net result (4-2), out of just 10 games! Only the 7-0 laugher against the Thrashers and the 5-2 opening loss to the Sabres didn't feature a fantastic finish in games involving the Boys from Broadway.

Tonight's game was thoroughly entertaining from start to finish, although I'm sure the Ottawa fans aren't happy with having blown two 1-goal leads. I don't have a favourite in this series, so I'm hoping for a long one, and lots of close games!

Comics: Then And Now

(This is an expansion of a passing remark I made back in January about comic writers diluting their scripts.)

I've said it many times: This is a great time to be a comic fan! There's all kinds of variety to be found out there for those who don't like their comic book characters to wear their underwear on the outside, and some pretty impressive superhero titles for those of us who do! In fact, with the Hollywood attention comics are receiving right now, we're probably in the midst of a second Golden Age of Comics, and just won't know it until it's over.

Within my own particular corner of comics - the aforementioned superhero universes - there have been some amazing strides made over the past decade. The paper quality is generally much higher than the newsprint stock we grew up with - although crinkles in the pages seems to be a worse problem than ever before, making the selection of my comics each week a harrowing experience - and the colouring on those pages is amazing! We have artwork that's allowed to bleed right up to the edge of the page, instead of being contained to the panel borders like it use to be. And while there are still bad artists showing up occasionally in the titles I read, more often than not I'm treated to a level of art that would've popped our eyes out of their sockets twenty years ago. Series like Planetary and Starman and maybe even Preacher will be cited for years to come for their consistent excellence and revolutionary contributions to the genre. While it's hard to imagine any period as influential as the mid- to late-80s ever coming around again, what with Maus, Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns and the start of Sandman, the last ten years have definitely been no slouch!

But having said all that, there's one aspect of current comic storytelling that's really wearing thin on me of late. It's known by various names, but one I've seen that works as well as any other is "decompression." The name stems from the belief among many current comic scribes - most of them very good writers! - that comic stories were historically too compressed in order to fit into their artificial framework of 22, 24, or 32 pages. In other words, among the newer generation of authors working in the field, there's a general eschewing of the need to tell a whole story in the confines of one single issue. The growing popularity of trade paperbacks - collections of a half dozen or more issues into a single volume - has fed into this development as well. And, if that were all there were to it, I'd have no axe to grind. I like extended stories, as shown by my love of the TV shows like Babylon 5, Lost and Heroes, where stories develop gradually, over many episodes or even seasons.

But where comics seem to have gone off the rails in this regard is in how much of their content often reads like filler these days. There are a couple ways I measure this, neither of which are particularly scientific, I'll admit. The first indicator for me is how long it takes to read a comic. Clearly, a long read is not necessarily a good read. I've had to slog through some awful writing, over the past nearly four decades, that's required almost twenty minutes in order to get through a 32-page comic. So I'm not suggesting an automatic correlation between the time a comic takes to read, and its quality. But on the other hand, when I spend $3 and can read the damn thing in less than 5 minutes, I start to wonder if it was really worth the dough! Not to mention, I scratch my head as to just how long it really took to write! More on that shortly.

The second clue as to how under-written many of the current comics are comes over me anytime I take a few minutes to recap the events of one to Vicki, or someone at work, or even right here on this blog. The reality of this period is that, in a typical superhero comic: not much happens! There are lots of splash pages (full or double pages with only one scene, or panel, included), tons of panels filled with people talking about minutiae - often at the same 'deep' level of the Big Mac discussion in Pulp Fiction - and no shortage of pages dedicated to capturing characters moving from Point A to Point B (because there's nothing quite so interesting as watching someone leave an office, walk down a hallway, get on an elevator, ride it down to the lobby, get off the elevator, and exit the building, and God knows you couldn't have simply put a caption that read: "After he left their offices, Tony Stark headed back to Avengers Tower"). To me, as a writer not nearly as talented as any of the people crafting comics today, it seems like that's not the stuff I'd focus on if I were trying to entertain tens of thousands of readers. Or, rather, I'd show it once in a blue moon, as a change of pace, or to provide a brief respite in the action. What we often get, though, is very nearly a steady diet of that sort of thing!

So is this approach a valid tack to take in decompressing comic stories? What I'd hope for would be actual longer stories, with bigger arcs and a greater sweep to them. Instead, I interpret what I'm seeing as being a case of taking what used to fit within a single issue, and simply stretching it out to fill several. In other words, imagine I wrote a short story that told a lovely little tale in five thousand words, and you asked me to keep the story the same but make it twenty thousand words long. I'm sure there's a way to do it such that you'd actually get a better experience than the shorter version; and then there's the method that just pads it out to four times its original length by adding in filler everywhere! I fear we're seeing more than a little of that in the comics being published today.

Why do I think this is happening? Well, for one thing, I'm sure I've read it somewhere, even though I can't think where right now. Plus it makes a certain amount of sense, for a number of reasons. If you're a writer with an idea for a kick-ass Batman/Two-Face tale, and you can easily stretch it into five issues, instead of one or two, you're going to make more money off that one plot. Sure, to sell all five scripts you need to fill it out with stuff that you wouldn't bother with if it were only 22 pages long, but that's easy! Throw in some full-page spreads, and several pages of Bruce Wayne and Alfred bantering about the relative merits of reality TV as a social barometer, and you've just made enough money to buy your own bigscreen! Along similar lines, there've been rumours for awhile that artists were imploring the writers to include less and less actual story in their scripts, because lots of things actually happening slows down the drawing, compared to repetitive shots of talking heads - where sometimes you can even copy one panel many times! If you can skew the plot the right way, it increases the number of pages an artist can crank out (and be paid for). I don't know if there's any truth to that theory, but it wouldn't surprise me if at least some of that were happening.

And of course there are great comics coming out today that don't fall into this trap. Kurt Busiek's Astro City continues to be a joyous - and not quick! - read each time a new issue comes out. Joss Whedon wrote for TV for years and presumably gets the need for making each installment special. The same is true for JMS, although both gentlemen have seemed more inclined to work in a slightly more decompressed (diluted?) manner of late. Maybe their artists have finally gotten to them... :-)

Anyway, in the final analysis, I still love the state of comics right now. I wouldn't want to go back to the days of densely-written crap, thousands of examples of which are filling boxes in my basement. I just wish more of the current crop of authors would read their own product, and ask themselves, "Was there enough actual story there to make it worth $3 or more?"

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Worlds Apart

I knew it was wrong, but I did it anyway because I loved her so much. Once you've heard my story, I'll bet you'll agree that you'd have done the same thing I did.

We'd only been married a little over three years - three years, two months and thirteen days, to be precise - when my darling Anne was taken from me. She stepped off the curb without looking, and became a hit and run statistic instead of a living, breathing person. It had happened at night, as she left her office after working late, and none of the handful of people who saw it happen could ever agree on a vehicle colour, let alone produce a license plate or description of the driver. None of that mattered to me, anyway, as I stood in the coroner's viewing room and identified the love of my life through the bruising and blood.

I sleepwalked through the funeral arrangements, little realizing that even the small distraction all of that provided would be missed once it was over. As the reality of my situation crashed in on me in the weeks that followed, I retreated further and further from my friends and family. Oh, I was there physically as various well-intentioned folk would visit and try their best to console me, but my mind was filled with dead thoughts. I'd only met one woman, in thirty years, who could make me feel alive, and now she was gone. Three years of marriage, and the year we'd dated before that, as amazing as it all had been, hardly seemed fair payment for a lifetime of emptiness. As time went on, refusing to even close, let alone heal, the wound in my heart, I became increasingly bitter.

About eight weeks after she was taken from me, I lay awake in my bed in the middle of the night. I'd stopped going into work and had been put on longterm disability, so money was still coming in to pay the bills but that was about it. My mind couldn't come to grips with how I'd ever return to any semblance of a normal life, and so my thoughts that night kept slipping back to the accident. How could such a combination of unlikely events have come together to take her life away, and leave me so devastated? She didn't usually work late, but had on that particular day, because a foreign client of her office had been in the country for a visit. Unlike me, Anne was level-headed and cautious, making it so uncharacteristic for her to have stepped out into traffic carelessly. Others from her work were right there with her, and yet not one of them was able to place a restraining hand on her arm, or shout a warning, or do any little thing that would've possibly turned a deadly, full-on collision into a glancing blow. How could this be? It seemed to me that the odds against all of those improbabilities converging into a single moment were inconceivable. And yet there it was.

That line of thinking, which I couldn't shake as the hours fell by that night, lead me down the path that I'm here to describe. All I ask is that you consider yourself in my place, and be honest about what you would have done.

For me, as my downward spiral continued, there was only one logical outcome to arrive at. I started to wonder about a world where what had happended hadn't happened. Certainly I'd encountered the notion of alternate realities before, in various pieces of fiction. Whether it be Spock-with-a-beard from the old Star Trek series, or any number of science fiction novels dealing with what-if scenarios, I was familiar enough with the concept. Therefore it wasn't long before I began to consider that there might be other versions of me out there, somewhere, who hadn't lost their Anne's. I vacillated back and forth between finding the whole idea comforting - the thought, after all, of her still being alive somewhere, filled my heart with joy - and becoming even more frustrated by the unfairness of my plight, in comparison to those other me's.

Regardless of my emotional response, however, as I lay there, the seed I'd planted began to grow within me. My thoughts began to be consumed by imagining what that world would be like. I could picture that other-me, in my mind's eye. His life had been identical to mine, in every respect, right up to that night. Then, where I'd received a phone call that was to bring my world crashing down around my ears, he'd simply welcomed home his darling Anne from work, and fed her a late-evening dinner of spaghetti with meatballs - the one I'd been preparing that night had sat, unfinished, on the kitchen counter for days until my cousin had thrown it out, causing me to fly into a fit of rage and scream at her to get out of my house. Probably they'd made love that night; her, appreciative for the thoughtfulness of him having had supper ready for her; him, because he was always horny. And they'd gotten up for work the next day, and the sun that had shone hadn't mocked him at all, as it had done to me.

The more I thought about those other-two, the more details I could see. Days flew by in the world behind my eyeballs. I saw a weekend shopping trip that she'd planned, that as soon as I thought of, I realized was exactly the sort of thing my Anne would've sprung on me, if only she hadn't taken that fateful step that night. And there were the two of them, going to visit my mother and father, and it was all smiles and stupid jokes and subtle inquiries after grandchildren, not the tears and downward cast eyes that had marked my own time with my world's version of them recently.

As I continued to fastforward their lives mentally through the ensuing days, I came to a point where they were lying in bed, sleeping. I couldn't seem to imagine them beyond that, try though I might. Were children going to come for them? How would they mark their 10th wedding anniversary? What would Anne look like at 40? I'd hit a wall of some sort, and couldn't get past it. All I could see was them, in the same bed in which I rested, eyes closed and at peace with the world.

Slowly, the truth dawned on me. I was seeing them right now, at the exact same moment in time that I was at. But why? What did it mean? I wanted to see more; no, I had to see more. This was the first time in two months that Anne had felt alive to me again, and really the only time I'd felt that way, either! I knew with every fibre of my being that I had a thousand times more interest in watching the rest of their lives unfold than I had in living my own dismal existence for another day, but it seemed like even that faint hope would be denied me. I squeezed my eyes shut so hard it hurt, and tried with all my might to make the movie inside my head begin moving again.

And that's when it happened. I'm no scientist, and even if I were, I doubt I could explain the physics of that moment. Nor do I really care to try, because all that mattered to me at that moment is that I found myself lying in his place, still in the same bed but with my beloved Anne beside me! I remember that my heart stopped beating, and then a rushing sound filled my ears as it started up again. And as the scent of her body hit my nostrils, I gasped!

Anne rolled toward me and said, "Honey? What's the matter? Are you feeling OK"

Tears were welling up in my eyes, and I quite honestly feared that speaking, or even moving, would break the spell and send me plummeting back to the Hell I'd come from. But I could also sense her apprehension growing as a result of my silence, and even in the darkness of our bedroom I could make out the sudden concern on her face.

"I'm fine, sweetie," I said quietly, and braced myself against the expected splintering of this dream I'd found myself in.

"OK. I'm gonna go pee, and then I'll be right back." With that, she got up and padded softly to the ensuite, and I saw the light appear under the door after she'd closed it - ever considerate Anne, not wanting to blind me in the darkness!

When she returned to the bed a minute later, I hugged her tight and kissed her neck, and forehead, and her beautiful lips.

"Huh, somebody certainly missed me," she joked, completely unaware of the irony of her words. "I should go pee more often!"

We made passionate love a few minutes later, and then I collapsed beside her in a pile of sobs and gasps. When she reached over and wiped my brow with the back of her hand, I knew that I owed her an explanation for my inexplicable behaviour.

I decided that the full truth was so impossible that even I wasn't sure I believed it, so I opted to tell her only as much of it as I thought a reasonable person could take in. I explained that I'd just had an incredibly vivid dream, that had seemed to last for weeks - as dreams sometimes do - in which she'd been killed in a freak hit and run accident. I'd had to live through her funeral, and in the days that had followed I'd fallen deeper and deeper into depression. As she listened, with just enough serious concentration on her face to convince me that she could tell this had affected me more than most dreams, I described how I'd stopped going into work, and had shut myself off from both friends and relatives.

"That's a pretty bad dream, alright," she said, "but it was just a dream. Look at me. I'm alive! And we just had sex! You wouldn't do that with a corpse, now would you?"

I laughed, and shook my head. "But here's the kicker, Anne," I continued. "Don't ask me how, but those events in my dream: they seem more real to me right now than anything you and I have done in the past eight weeks! All of that time with you, that's what feels like a dream to me!"

She suggested that I'd probably feel better in the morning, as things always seem strange in the middle of the night. After making sure I was OK, she hugged me for a few minutes and then rolled over. Before long, I could hear her regular breathing and knew she'd already fallen back asleep.

As for me, there was no chance at all that I was going to fall asleep and risk waking up back in the world I'd come from. After awhile, I got up from the bed and went out to explore the rest of the house. Things were just as I'd seen them, as I'd watched the other-two go through their lives while I'd laid in my own cold bed. Nowhere to be seen were the heaps of take-out containers and unopened mail that littered the home I'd just left.

Presently I logged into my work e-mail system, and read all of the updates from the past few months that the other-me hadn't deleted. If I was going to head into work anytime soon - I hadn't made up my mind yet about when I'd try to pull that off - then I'd need to know what I'd missed. Already my brain was starting to adjust to the inconceivable, incredible situation in which I'd found myself an hour or so earlier. I found that I had to remind myself to take deep breaths every once in awhile, as I discovered I was almost literally holding my breath, fearful that I'd end the illusion.

By the time Anne woke up, I'd decided that I'd call into work sick that day, just to give me a full day of acclimation before I had to deal with that challenge. I was a process manager at a software company, and I worked with a very clever group of geeks. The last thing I wanted was to have people think I'd lost my memory or had a breakdown of some sort. No, actually, the last thing I wanted was to lose Anne again; but staying gainfully employed was clearly going to be important to our mutual happiness, and something I'd always taken seriously when we'd been together. So I knew I needed to somehow not look like a man who'd forgotten the last eight weeks of his life!

My first day, with Anne off to work right after our shower and breakfast, gave me ample opportunity to think about what had happened. Everything was exactly as I'd seen it in my mind's eye, right down to the new clothes Anne and the other-me had bought on their shopping weekend. Had I created this world out of my imagination, then? That didn't seem possible, for any number of reasons, not the least of which was that I knew I wasn't nearly imaginative to be able to accomplish it. The only solution that seemed even remotely capable of being true was that I'd somehow transported myself to a parallel world that had diverged from my own at the moment of my-Anne's death. How, I had no clue. If desire factored into it, then clearly I'd had the equivalent of the power of a thousand exploding suns at my disposal. But since when did wanting something ever make it real?

Eventually, I decided that I'd probably never know the answer. The important thing was, Anne was still with me, and my life had meaning again. I certainly wasn't going to look the proverbial gift horse in the mouth, and so I set about integrating myself back into daily life.

Anne would remark upon the change in me many times over that first week, as I heaped affection on her even beyond my traditional level. She probably assumed it was "the dream", still bothering me, and generally simply chose to enjoy the attentiveness that any woman in love would bask in. While my apprehension over this bliss turning out to be a fantasy continued to hang over my head, my appreciation for the blessing I'd been handed was boundless. This world, my world now, was filled with love and joy, and so we lived happily ever after.

Or we should have, at least. My own fears, in the end, were my undoing. Or perhaps what happened was inevitable; you'll have to judge for yourself. I certainly can't claim to have any objectivity on the subject, considering the way things worked out.

And what happened, was this: I began to believe that Anne and I were being watched. It started about a month after I'd found her again. By that point, I was quite comfortably adjusted to my new life. I was doing well at work, once again, and Anne and I were talking about starting a family. There was absolutely no reason for me to entertain dark thoughts of any sort, and yet they formed nonetheless. One night, as I lay in bed, I suddenly wondered: If I was here, in this life, where had the other-me gone whose life I'd claimed? Until that moment, such a concept had not even occurred to me. But once it did, an incredible chill ran through my body. My heart began to race as this particular train of thought thundered through my brain.

Had he and I simply changed places that fateful night? Had he woken up the next morning, only to discover the bed beside him empty? What would he have made of the sudden disarray that he'd have found the house in, along with the cards of sympathy and dead flower arrangements? How could he possibly have coped with calling around, to Anne's work, and to her parents, and to friend after friend, and at each turn being told, in compassionate but confused tones, that his beloved wife was dead, and had been for two months now? Would this other-me have gone on a rampage, believing that he was being made the victim of an impossibly-cruel prank? I, at least, had lived through the painful series of events around Anne's death, had received whatever consolation there was to be found in those first weeks, and could rail against the unfairness of it all, but not the reality. He, on the other hand, would've had none of that buffer, but simply the ice-cold shower of awakening to a world which believed that his wife was long-since dead and buried, despite the fact that he'd made love to her just the night before.

The horror of his situation washed over me that night, and filled me with first guilt, and then dread. I knew that I was responsible for his fate, that every wonderful moment I'd enjoyed over the past month had been at his expense, and the direct inverse of what he'd been enduring. But worse than that was the feeling that, by making this connection, I'd possibly provided the means by which he could get his own life back. After all, if the depths of my own misery had been sufficient to allow me to supplant him all those weeks ago, how much greater was his personal Hell now, in comparison? And whereas I had unknowingly stumbled upon the notion of parallel universes as a means of dealing with my grief, he had every reason to believe in just such a thing, having been ousted from one to another! Surely he must've realized what had transpired by now, and was working day and night to figure out how to reclaim his life that I'd stolen!

Needless to say, I didn't get any sleep that night. Anne noticed the downturn in my mood that next morning, but of course there was no way I could confide in her the reason for it. Over the course of that long night of sleeplessness, I'd begun to believe that the other-me was already observing us, just as I'd done, in his place. I wouldn't have told Anne anything regardless - what could she possibly have made of such an insane tale, not to mention that I would've risked her recoiling from me as the intruder I was, if she had believed it! But with the chance of his eyes now being fixed upon us, any such confession was doubly out of the question as I certainly didn't want to confirm his suspicions. Instead, I kept my dark secret to myself, and guided my behaviour as would any man who believed his every move were being monitored by his mortal enemy.

I resolved not to sleep, if at all possible, because it had been while the other-me had been just so defenseless that I'd made my crossing over. For all I knew, that was a key characteristic of the event. Perhaps staying awake was all it took to fend off any such attack. Naturally, I discovered I couldn't really avoid sleep entirely, but I did manage to catch my rest in short, fitful snatches during which I kept the proverbial one eye open. I found that even a few 20-minute naps over the course of the night were enough to allow me to operate for the rest of the day, albeit somewhat zombie-like at times.

As the days went by, I could sense the other-me watching me, more and more. His hatred of me grew to the point where I could feel it, palpably, through the connection between us. Because of this, I found that any guilt I'd felt previously was gone now, replaced by the overwhelming desire to keep him at bay. I knew that I'd taken what was rightfully his, but it was mine now, and there was no way I was going to let him steal it back.

At some point during this period, I lost my job. Apparently my work had suffered of late, they said, and my behaviour was described as paranoid. That turn of events barely registered on me, though, between the deathly fatigue I was feeling and the arguments I'd been having with Anne. She couldn't understand why I refused to make love to her anymore - how could I, with him watching? - nor why I wouldn't tell her what was bothering me. I could feel everything slipping away from me, but it didn't seem as real of a threat to me, then, as the other-me did. There was also, I'm ashamed to admit, a small part of me that regarded the deterioration of my life somewhat happily, knowing that, were he ever to succeed in replacing me, he'd be coming back to just as much misery as he'd left.

This latter notion grew and grew within me, with each new day. I felt as though I were slowly losing the battle against the one I'd replaced, and that he was soon going to swap us back to our original worlds, and there was nothing I could do to stop it. This thought eventually turned to conviction, and that conviction lead me to act as I did.

I can't say whether it was desire to keep him from having the happiness I felt was intended for me alone, or a protective instinct toward Anne and the thought of her suffering unimaginable indignities at his evil hand. Regardless, it was clear to me that the only way out of the situation was to kill Anne, and so I did. I smothered her while she slept, knowing that he was watching, and that finally there'd be no reason for him to ever return to this world. And sure enough, the moment that the death rattle sounded in her soft, white throat, I felt the relief I'd longed for wash over me. I slept that night as I hadn't slept in weeks.

When they arrested me for Anne's murder, I decided to tell the whole story. I didn't really care if they believed me or not; I was simply tired of keeping the truth to myself. The shrink who examined me listened attentively to all of it, and even asked many questions that showed she was following it all. Despite that promising sign, though, the report she filed on me was disappointingly lacking in insight. Unable to grasp the enormity of it, I suppose, she concluded that I'd harbored an insane desire to kill my wife for months, but had kept it below my conscious mind. As a result, she speculated, I'd manufactured a fantasy in which Anne had died and I'd been subjected to weeks of depression before escaping through the science fiction of a trip to a parallel universe. Her theory was that this was my mind making one last ditch attempt to avert the violence, by making me deal with the pain of her loss as a cautionary tale, as it were. But that proved unsuccessful, she concluded, based on the fact that the murder still sadly came about. Quite the interesting case study, blah blah blah.

I suppose I shouldn't have expected anything different. My story's no easy thing to take in, I realize. I would hope that you'll never have to face the types of decisions that I wrestled with, but if you do, I suspect you'll do just as I did. After all, it's not like I feel that I had a lot of choice in the matter. These things just happen.

Coming Your Way Next: Post # 900

I just finished writing the short story that will be the nine hundredth post on this here blog. It's entitled "Worlds Apart." It benefited somewhat from discussions I had with Vicki during the writing of it, so credit where credit is due! Hopefully you'll enjoy it, but either way: I had fun writing it!

If It's Raining, It Must Be The Weekend

We seem to be mired in a particularly-unpopular pattern of weather right now: Friday through Monday are generally cool, or rainy, or both. Tuesday through Thursday tend to be gorgeous, often 10 to 15 degrees warmer than the weekends, and typically sunny. Rinse, repeat.

For those with a pool, this sequence, as it happens over and over, can be quite frustrating. (It's great for biking to work, though, so I guess it's not a total loss.) I remember a few years back we had the same deal, and after a few weeks of it, morale among employees really started to take a hit. It's almost enough to make you think about shifting your workweek (maybe working Friday through Tuesday, with Wednesday and Thursdays off?)

Anyway, it can stop anytime now. Really.

The Birds Have Taken Their Crap Elsewhere

For no apparent reason - not that I'm complaining! - the Birdshit Saga has ended of its own accord. We had put the fake owl in place, but I suspect that preventative attempt had less to do with the problem going away than something migratory or seasonal. In years past, we've had the same issue as this year, only much less in magnitude. Each time, though, it's lasted for only a week or two, and then stopped suddenly. Since this year was worse than ever before, I'd dearly love to figure out some way to nip it in the bud, since I can only imagine how many hundreds of droppings we'll be dealing with next year or the year after if we don't.

Today's heavy rain seems to have washed away much of the remaining signs of this year's attack. Saves me the trouble of rinsing the deck, I guess...

Is There Life After TV?

With the 2006/07 seasons of all our favourite TV shows now wrapped up, there's the inevitable feeling of emptiness that always descends in late May. This year's cream of the crop - Heroes, Lost and 30 Rock - provided thrills and laughs aplenty, so I have no complaints. Also, we're getting the last few Studio 60 episodes now - which I can't help but liken to the experience of finding a wrapped gift from a recently-dead relative when going through their affairs - but even that's not going to last much longer. Then what?

For Vicki and I, it'll be more episodes of Angel Season One, courtesy of Tammy's DVD collection, along with selections from our stack of unwatched movie DVDs, and maybe some game-playing (although I haven't solved the PS/3 situation yet, now a month later!) Buddy Tim also mentioned something about lending us some favourite show of his on DVD (The Wire, perhaps?) but that's yet to materialize. And of course there's always baseball, the only sport in town once you hit mid-June anyway.

What about the rest of you? What's your life after TV like?

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Tim Kring Discusses Heroes Season One

Lots of interesting commentary by Tim Kring, the creator of Heroes, can be found here and here. Some of his comments about the upcoming spin-off Heroes: Origins are reassuring, as it sounds like there's more to it than simply milking the popularity of the "mother ship," as he calls it. On the other hand, the threat of a writer's strike could certainly make a mess of next season, across the board. I'm just hoping a work stoppage like that doesn't result in more vapid reality shows, as a way of reducing the importance of having good writing staffs.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Heroes (The Other Kind)

Today while I was reading through some of Time's 100 Most Influential People, I came across a story that I'd missed when it was in the news early this year. You probably already know all about Wesley Autrey, but I didn't. His story, at least as far as having 15 minutes of fame is concerned, goes like this: He was on a New York City subway platform when he saw someone having a seizure nearby. He tried to help the man, but in the process the seizure victim stumbled away from him and fell onto the train tracks. Autrey jumped down to retrieve him, but quickly realized he wouldn't have time to get him back to safety before an incoming train hit them. Rather than just abandoning him - which, I have to think, is what most people would've done - he pushed himself down flat on top of the ill man, forcing both of them into the hollow between the tracks, just as the braking (but not in time) vehicle thundered over top of them. One of the chilling taglines from this story is that the bottom of the train was so close that it left grease on his jacket as it passed! He achieved quite a level of celebrity out of this, which may or may not, in the end, tarnish the story somewhat. But the mere fact that he'd react the way he did, at a moment during which he couldn't do anything but act on instinct, speaks volumes about the man's character.

The word "hero" has been applied to Wesley Autrey many times since then, and it's no wonder. I personally wish we'd reserve our use of the word to things like that, instead of applying it to movie stars, professional athletes and other celebrities, when what we really mean in their case is usually "really good at what they do." You'll hear young girls claim that Britney Spears is their hero, or sports commentators wax poetic about the "heroic efforts" of a hockey player in leading his team's comeback in a playoff game. While it's certainly possible for a celebrity to be a hero, it's not for selling lots of CDs or being a leader in their sport. When I watched a segment on TSN tonight about a 3-year-old Senators fan who several members of that team took into their heart, while he was dying of an incurable disease, I can recognize heroism aplenty: the young boy for remaining so upbeat while in so much pain; his parents for soldiering through what must've been an impossible ordeal and still remembering to make it about him, and not them; and the professional athletes who not only gave of themselves at a time when millionaire sports stars get quoted in the media as saying they "ain't nobody's role model!", but also set themselves up to have their hearts ripped out in the process (the youngster died just a couple hours after Ottawa scored in overtime in Game 5 against Buffalo). Those are all examples of heroism; hitting 70 home runs in a baseball season, or being on a hit TV show, just aren't.

We definitely need more real heroes, and a lot fewer of the other kind.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Lost: Third Time Lucky

Warning: There be major spoilers ahead!

I didn't get to "sleep on" my reflections on last night's Lost Season Three finale, thanks to a midnight call from European traveller Tammy who'd managed to have her purse stolen ("... it was right on the seat beside me!") in the first 24 hours of an 8-week trip (how's that for Instant Gratification?) She was smart enough to have a moneybelt with her along with a plan to keep her passport, credit and debit cards in it, and stupid enough to not use it while she was out painting the town red at 4:00 in the morning. After several phone calls and mad scribbling of information by Vicki, along with all kinds of worrying by both of us, sleep proved to be elusive for most of the night.

And yet... I do feel better qualified now to ponder what we watched last night. It just so happened that we saw the 2 parts with a 2 hour break in the middle, because CTV devoted 8:00 to 10:00 to some crap called American Idol, and bookended it with our finale. I'm not sure if that helped or hurt the experience, but I mention it for posterity.

I also noticed that both the 24 and Lost season finales this year featured scenes with the lead hero - both named Jack - standing on a high ledge, contemplating suicide. Coincidence? Well, yes, but kind of weird, wouldn't you say?

It seems to me that any consideration of this episode - "Through the Looking Glass" - has to deal upfront with what has to be one of the best shock endings in TV history: the revelation that Jack's misadventures back in Los Angeles, interwoven with the Island scenes throughout this double-length episode, are actually from the future, rather than the past! We've been well-trained, over three seasons now, to expect that these backstories are flashbacks, of varying vintages. The notion that we're being shown even a glimpse of life after the island should be so foreign to us by now, that this shock ending can knock your socks off. And, speaking for Vicki and I at least, it did! The one thing that bothered me about it, though, which I need to get off my chest right off the bat, is the cheat scene that seems to invalidate the ending. That scene occurs during one of Jack's drunken rampages in L.A., where he says in the hospital, "You get my father down here right now... and if I'm drunker than he is, you can fire me!" That piece of dialogue makes absolutely no sense if spoken in the future, when both Jack and the hospital staff all know Christian Shepherd's been dead for months (or years). It obviously makes us think this is happening in the past, when the senior Dr Shepherd was still alive. That's a cheat, if you ask me. And it's not like the episode would've been significantly dimished without that line, either.

With that out of the way, there's still so much to take in that it's ridiculous. The scenes in L.A., that we now know are in the future: are they the end of the story, or the middle? Will Jack and Kate get off the island, and never get any closure to whatever and whoever they left behind, or will their attempts to return and find the rest of the survivors make up the final arc of Lost? What's the lie they're having to keep that's tearing Jack apart, and what was the mistake he thinks they made? And having seen Jack sunk so low, is it possible to even believe he'll ever recover?

Here are just some of the other questions that occur to me:

- what's the temple that the Others are headed to?
- why was Benry so willing to re-unite Alex with her mother, after 16 years of lying to her (was her betrayal really enough to turn him against her)?
- was Naomi really "one of the bad guys," as Benry stated, and if so, why did she have that photo of Desmond and Penny, and does her real agenda put into question her comments regarding Ocean 815's remains having been recovered (maybe not, as didn't Locke's dad say something similar during his time on the island)?
- how did Desmond get out of the water and into the locker without the girls hearing him or seeing the water trail he would've left? (I doubt we'll ever find out on that one!)
- was the woman, whose car accident Jack inadvertantly caused, anyone we know? (she sort of looked like Sawyer's girlfriend/con artist, which would make her son Sawyer's kid? probably not, as he's 8 years old and that's likely too old)
- why did Juliet really volunteer to go back to the beach with Sawyer? (and was "Don't wait up", to Jack, as she left, the coolest exit line all year?)
- what was the "assignment in Canada" that the two girls in the Looking Glass were supposed to taking care of?
- is Benry really in contact with the island, or just plain crazy?
- how many lives does Mikhail really have?
- why's Walt appearing to Locke looking so much older than he did before (just the reality of the child actor having noticably aged in 2 years, or some plot-based reason)?
- was Locke actually right for a change, and this time it was Jack who was making a grave error by using the satellite phone to contact the ship?
- what kind of guy just throws out a "because I love you" line to one girl before walking off, right after he's kissed his other girl goodbye in front of the first girl?
- is Jack's screwed up state, back in the real world, simply the result of getting off the island without rescuing everyone else, or is there more to it than that?
- who's the dead body in the funeral parlour that Jack visited (and no one else did) and why are they "either" friend or family to Jack? (or was it "neither" that Jack said, as the closed captioning seemed to think it was?) Vicki guessed it was Locke inside the casket...
- what does it mean that the first real words exchanged between estranged mother and daughter (Danielle and Alex) are, "Will you help me tie him up"?
- why have the bad guys on the freighter, if they really are bad, been trying to find the island for years?
- has Jack ever had a harder decision to make than letting the one-minute countdown run out on Sayid, Bernard and Jin?
- was it just a coincidence that Charlie was the one 'destined' to turn the jamming device off and it required knowledge of musical notes to do so?
- did Sawyer really care so much about Walt being taken off the raft at the end of Season One that he'd kill Tom over it, or was it just payback for things Tom had done to Sawyer while on the second island?
- will Hurley ever have another moment like the one where he drove the van onto the scene to save the day?
- how did Charlie know what tones buttons 1 through 16 would play, anyway?
- is Charlie really dead, just as I was starting to like him?
- where the Hell's Penelope, anyway? (she's not on the freighter, obviously)
- will "Through the Looking Glass" ever replace "Z'Ha'Dum" as my all-time favourite cliffhanger season finale? (unlikely, but it's probably moved into the Top 5, which is quite the feather in Mira Furlan's cap, let me tell you!)
- and since when did Sawyer start calling Kate "Kate"??

Wow. Any episode that raises that many questions, and makes me desperate to come back to find out the answers, is pretty damn impressive.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

As With Heroes' Season Finale, This Requires Some Reflection

I'll post my thoughts on the just-aired Lost Season Three finale tomorrow, after I've slept on it. There was so much going on there that I can't process it all just yet. I will say that it was definitely thrilling, from start to finish.

Wish Me Luck!

Tonight I spent some time trying to prepare for a potentially-all-day meeting tomorrow with one of our Feature Teams. The goal of that meeting is to get that team using Story Points, in place of the duration-based estimates they've been using for their product backlog until now. One of the biggest challenges I face is convincing some - maybe all! - of the members of the team that there's any advantage to having size estimates instead of duration estimates. I already know that some of them believe there's no difference, which means that this whole exercise will seem like a complete waste of time to them. And, unlike some groups at work, this team isn't the type to simply take something on faith and give it a try to see where it leads. They're more inclined to want to argue every assertion as soon they hear it, with arms folded and disapproving frowns firmly affixed. Hence my "potentially-all-day" comment.

One of the more interesting aspects of this whole thing is the reason for this change. Their Product Owner has been pushing them to use size estimates, instead of durations, because duration estimates have a tendency to look like firm commitments to some. Size estimates, on the other hand, look like they're in some kind of code that only the team can understand. And even once the team establishes a sense of their own velocity - say, around 35 Story Points per Iteration - there's something about the fact that Story Points come in weird increments like 5, 8, 13 and 20, that just screams approximation! But as of right now, I'm not sure the team is buying this argument, so I'll be trying to sell them on the other advantages to Story Points, like how using them focuses you on more of the things that trip up product delivery, like complexity, unknowns, risks, and dependencies. But I suspect it's going to be a hard sell.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Is This You?

So, maybe you're a hockey fan, who follows an Original Six team - because everyone knows those are the teams with the rich history - and whose mood can be measured by how well your team did in their last game.

And possibly this has been a good playoffs for you and your team so far, as you both worked hard together to win an early series or two, and started allowing the Stanley Cup Dream to start forming, just a little bit, in that brain of yours.

So when your team found themselves tied going into Game 5, you knew this was the pivotal match that would likely determine the outcome of this key step in the Quest for the Cup. With less than a minute to go in that crucial game, and your team up by a goal, you had every reason to believe that you and the boys were well on their way to Something Special.

Except that your opponents in this series had other ideas, and a late tying goal sent Game 5 into Overtime. Bad turned to worse, as you knew it had to, and suddenly your fortunes were reversed faster than you could say, "Jeremy Irons!" Instead of being up 3-2, you were faced with the prospect of having to fight off elimination for one game, or two, if you were lucky.

And when Game 6 was over, and despite a Hell of a comeback attempt by your team late, your team had lost both the battle and the war, you couldn't help but sit back and think, "But... we were so close!"

Was that you? If, like me, you're a New York Rangers fan, then it was. And, as of tonight, it was also you if you leak Detroit Red Wing crimson when you bleed... You know who you are. And I share your pain.

The Real Reason I Don't Have My Own Comic Series

Proving once more that no theme is too strange or specialized to warrant its own webpage, now you can visit this site dedicated to comic covers showing women being carried in the prone position.

Despite the fact that I own dozens of the examples cited there, I have to admit I'd never consciously realized it was such a common image to grace a cover. I'm pretty sure the only time I ever carried Vicki in that position was for the obligatory "crossing the threshold" entry to our honeymoon suite in New York City back in 1991, which was clearly not enough to win me my very own comic book cover. On the other hand, this nifty Captain Science # 2 cover does a damn fine job of recalling that scene, now that I think about it...

Heroes Season One Finale: Bang Or Whimper?

If you're a Heroes fan - like me - then I wonder how you're feeling today? I resisted the urge to post anything last night, right after the finale wrapped up, because I wanted to think about it some more first. I even had some dreams and not-quite-asleep, not-quite-awake musings about it overnight. So clearly it had some effect on me!

I can't say that I didn't enjoy the episode, entitled "How To Stop An Exploding Man". It completely pulled me in and held me there for the duration. There were quite a few moments to like, after all: most of the regulars finally met up all in one place - Holy Superhero Team-Up, Batman! - and got to react to each other in fun ways, as well as use their powers in service to the story (even Micah, getting the elevators to run again). The final scene, with Hiro landing in 17th century Japan, looking like he just stepped into an Akira Kurasawa film, was amazing, and certainly left me wanting more. And I loved the interaction between Noah - yes, Noah! - Bennet and Peter, where the elder of the two pays homage to the other for having saved his daughter at the homecoming dance, and the debt he feels he owes him as a result.

But then there were the litary of scenes that just... felt wrong!

Hiro voicing his battle cry before running at Sylar to pierce him through... and Sylar does nothing to stop it? It was that easy to shish kabob a guy with a mastery of telekinesis, ice powers and nuclear fusion, just to name a few? I was expecting something really clever in the taking down of Sylar and instead got... that?

And speaking of powers, did Peter forget that he knows how to fly? After all, he gets the powers of other people if he can remember what he felt like when they were around - or something like that - so why did he need Nathan to fly him into the sky? He couldn't remember his own brother well enough? And if he needs to be able to concentrate to use a power, then how in the world did he ever use Claire's power of regeneration/mutant healing after she pulled the big shard of glass out of his head? Wouldn't he have been too... well, dead?... to have pulled that off, if it's that hard to do?

Continuing along the same line, subtle clues were dropped last week to make us believe that sexy young Candice has been using her power of illusion all along to make herself look so sexy, and yet when she was knocked out by Nikki, her form didn't change. (The indicators that she was a fatso projecting a skinny image were in her comment to Micah about how eating all that junk food would make someone huge, like her, and in the way she hugged Linderman, which was more of a Big Person hug.) So are we to believe that her illusions persist even when she's not awake to maintain them? Would they continue after she died? Is she actually re-shaping reality rather than just casting illusions? Will we ever find out?

There've been two high level areas that have bugged me about Heroes pretty much from the start. The first is what I've touched on above: the inconsistency of the powers. Without speaking a word of a lie, I can say that I've had the pleasure of reading tens of thousands of stories about people with superpowers of every sort you can imagine. That makes me, in this lowered standard world in which we live, something of an expert on the topic. And I have to say that I've found the application of the powers introduced by the writers of the show to be quite frustrating. I realize that part of the tale they want to tell is about how all of these characters are experiencing their new abilities for the first time. And yet they always seem to somehow master those powers just when it most suits the story, and forget about them or are totally inept with them the rest of the time. It takes me right out of the story when there's an obvious resolution that one or another of the characters has within their reach, only to have it not be addressed in order to prolong the tension.

The other nagging pattern exhibited by the show, which I mentioned in my very first post about it, is the lack of believable follow-through. This has showed up in nearly every episode, and the finale was no exception. Sylar, the master villain, who several of the heroes have regarded as their nemesis for weeks, is lying on the ground, bleeding out. And yet not a one of them thinks to keep an eye on him so that he can't crawl off to bedevil them again in Season Two? Now, the cops who arrive on the scene are similarly incompetent at making sure someone's watching the corpse, but I can forgive them (they're not used to bizarre happenings). The heroes, on the other hand, have two of their numbers who've come back from the dead - Claire and Peter - so why wouldn't they worry about Sylar doing the same? A simple, precautionary decapitation might've seemed... I don't know, prudent?

And there are moments like that, all the way through the season. It's unfortunately one of those things where, as a viewer, you start to realize that the only possible way events could play out in the manner they're being shown would be if they were... you guessed it, written that way! Nathan having to fly Nuclear Peter up into the sky, so that Nathan can die a hero's death - if, in fact, he did die - only works as such if you turn your brain off and just enjoy the ride.

Which, I suppose, isn't the worst of fates.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Blogger's Block

As should be obvious to any regular visitor to these parts, I haven't had all that much to say recently. Not to the degree of ignoring my blog for two months like somebody I could mention, but just not cranking out commentary at the rate I'd been doing for months. Even over this long weekend that's just hours from ending, I didn't have much in the way of inspiration for what to write about here. I've got another comic rant in me, wanting to come out, much like the one I did about DC's lapsed editorial judgement of late. Hopefully that'll see the light of day in the next week or so. I've also started a new short story that should end up being post # 900, as that rolls around in the near future.

The whole death by a thousand craps fiasco in our backyard has depressed me lately, as well. Trying to solve this particular problem has been occupying way too much of my dubious-to-begin-with brain power, I'm afraid. Such is Life in the Ecological Warzone.

Hulk Smash!

The toys Marvel gives us to play with...

Isn't this counting down to a Tuesday, though, rather than a Wednesday (when comics come out)? Am I doing the math wrong? Hinnnnnnnckley!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Hitchcock Was A Prophet

This Spring, we here at Casa Kimota have been inundated with some dirty birds. Where normally we get a few robins, and the odd cardinal, along with assorted others I couldn't name, this year we've been saddled with a significant number of some larger avian species (crows? blackbirds? ravens?) that have taken to using our backyard deck and pool as their toilet. Every day we have to clean up 20 to 30 white, round droppings from where they've been deposited on the solar blanket and patio stones, each of them about the size of a marble. If we can ever manage to get rid of the buggers, we'll have to replace our solar blanket, as it's already stained to the point of being disgusting. As of right now, though, we're not even sure how to get the defecaters to leave.

In the reading I did last week on the topic, I saw such suggestions as bird of prey decoys and sonic or ultrasonic devices that emit sounds that mimic distress cries of various bird species. We've tried one instance of the former ploy - a life sized plastic owl, perched up on a pole near the pool - that seems to have had limited or no effect. That was a $20 expense; the sound boxes are more like $100 to $500, depending on the level of sophistication. I've also considered buying a pellet gun and giving them something to think about the next time they're taking a crap in our yard.

The most disturbing aspect of what I read, though, was the cause attributed to most of the bird anomalies in this area of Canada. Virtually everything I found on the Internet indicated, usually in passing, that the increased influx of birds into our towns and cities is tied to the rising temperatures we've been experiencing. The milder winters, it seems, have allowed their populations to grow beyond what they used to. Chatham had something like a quarter million crows to deal with in 2000, to the point where they spent $50,000 to have an expert come in and help scare the noisy and filthy pests off. Woodstock has had similar issues recently. And now we're having our own, albeit on a (so far) much smaller scale. What does this say about the direction the environment is heading?

As the planet warms up, we expect sea levels to rise and coastal land to be lost. Maybe New York City will end up under water, along with densely populated parts of Asia. But before we get to those apocalyptic events, though, which might still be a few decades away if they're not somehow averted, are we going to see more and more of these less drastic signs of natural unbalance? What other species are going to start being a problem in areas where they previously hadn't been? How would you feel about having a rat infestation in your neighbourhood? Or bigger and more dangerous spiders to have to contend with? Swarms of mosquitoes, bees or blackflies? Things like that are what I'm starting to think we're going to face first, before the big stuff, thanks to decades of treating our planet so carelessly.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Mess That Is The DC Universe

Lately I've been struck by the thought that many of the current DC titles are behaving very much likes ships without a rudder. That's not an easy revelation for me to accept, having been a big DC booster for most of the nearly 40 years I've been reading comics. And so many of my favourite stories, both of the Alan Moore variety and the rest, came from a DC that employed some of the greatest talent in comics history. I want DC to be great!

But some of the stuff coming out under the DC banner these days... Here are a few of the more odious developments that've really pushed my fannish loyalty to the edge, keeping in mind that I'm only covering titles I've bought (who knows how bad the others are):

1) All Star Batman & Robin the Boy Wonder - This sounded like a comic fan's dream come true when it was first announced: Frank Miller writing, Jim Lee providing the art, and an iconic take on the Caped Crusader. When an issue actually comes out, which isn't very often, we are getting a Miller/Lee extravaganza, alrighty! But the Batman within those pages is more ironic, than iconic. As in, "Wouldn't it be ironic if someone wrote Bruce Wayne as a total nutbar, instead of the man-on-the-edge that we're used to, and portrayed every female as a hooker?" I'm willing to accept a lot of different takes on Batman - after all, he's been re-imagined more times than just about any other fictional character - but this one: blechh!

2) Superman Confidential - Not only did it seem odd to add yet another monthly Super-title to the market, but the first storyline has been ridiculous: turns out Kryptonite is.. what?... intelligent? and has been aware of what's been happening to it since it first arrived on Earth? Where the Hell did that come from?

3) Batman Confidential - Again, a seemingly redundant title, and a stupid opening storyline. This time, we have Lex Luthor running afoul of Bruce Wayne, early in Batman's career. Which would be fine and good, except the most recent issues have Luthor attacking all of the U.S.'s military posts in a very aggressive, open manner. Wasn't the post-Crisis Luthor supposed to be the slimy businessman who manages to keep his public image clean by being smart? And yet we're supposed to believe he did something like that and stayed out of jail? Did that part of DCU history change again? Is there an editor on this title?

4) Hawkgirl - For its first couple of years, this title - or, rather, Hawkman, before the title change - was one of the strongest titles DC had. I'm sure writer Geoff Johns had a lot to do with that, and it's not like DC could force him to stay on it forever. But couldn't the subsequent writers, each of whom has been worse than the one before, have at least tried to keep some of what worked so well during Johns' run? Fortunately, Hawkgirl's been cancelled - or put out of its misery, as I like to say - but what a waste.

5) JLA Classified - It takes a lot to get me to drop a JLA title (it's only happened a handful of times in my life) but after about five or six issues, this flop was gone. I've sampled most of the storylines since then, but usually one issue is enough to put it back on the Discard pile. Its sister title, JSA Classified, while not consistently stellar, has at least managed to have more hits than misses. Is that so hard to achieve on a title with ever-changing creative teams?

6) Flash: The Fastest Man Alive - One of the worst developments of the past couple years has been the unceremonious replacement of Wally West by Bart Allen as the Scarlet Speedster. The story made no sense, including that they aged Bart through a contrived manner just so they could have the demographic they wanted for the lead. As much as I loved Barry Allen, I totally accepted Wally as the Flash. Bart? No. Then they put a couple writers from the old Flash TV show on the relaunch for the character, who, it turns out, couldn't write a good comic to save their lives! Luckily those bozos are gone back to TV land (or unemployment) and the current writer's better, but the damage appears to be done as this one's just messed up. Bart has barely any personality, they're throwing every rogue in the book at him, and they're trying their best to convince us that big things are coming... but is it really worth sticking around to find out?

7) Supergirl - Worst. Version. Ever! (And she's had some stinko series before this!)

8) Wonder Woman - Note for the future: Never do a major relaunch of a title with Allan Heinberg writing, unless you've got all of the scripts in hand already. The first four issues took forever to come out, and then eventually they gave up on ever getting the concluding fifth chapter, promising to deliver it to us someday, in a Wonder Woman Special. Maybe in 2011, for the fifth anniversary of Heinberg's debut issue?

9) Trials of Shazam - Whoever greenlit this series - in which Captain Marvel is reinvented as a hip magic-maker who meets up with modern incarnations of classic figures in a riff on the trials of Hercules - ought to be fired. Seriously fired. Fans of the original character will hate this; and the 21st Century equivalent to beatniks probably aren't reading comics, anyway. I tried two or three issues before I couldn't stand it anymore.

In all of these cases, I hold the editor more responsible than the creative teams. Writers always think they're spinning gold; it's the editor's job to tell the crap from the gold and keep the former from being published. If DC doesn't start cleaning up their act soon, I'm going to be as busy dropping DC titles as I've been reducing my monthly Marvel purchases. And that would be a sad thing.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Farewell Hearty Traveller

Tammy was over for a visit tonight prior to leaving for Toronto tomorrow, and then Europe on Tuesday. She's modified her plans from what I'd heard months ago, most notably by increasing the # of days per city. At one point, she had a schedule where many of her stops were only a day or two in length, whereas now it sounds like she's averaging more like three days. Having done the Europe-between-university-and-working thing myself - 21 years ago now - I definitely worried that she'd wear herself out at too hectic a pace to make it through two months on the road. But now she's got a little more slack in the trip, which is great. And she's done a whole lot of research into everywhere she's going, so I expect she'll be better prepared for what awaits her than I ever was (I'd never even flown in a plane before; she's not only been to England, France and Ireland before, but travelled a lot within this part of the world).

Anyway, here's hoping she has lots of fun and is extra careful, in just the right measures.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Someday I Expect This Might Make Me Sad

It sounds like Veronica Mars isn't being renewed. I know a few people for whom this will be sad news, indeed. After sampling the first couple episodes of Season One, courtesy of Tammy, I couldn't really get into the bizarre blend of ultra-realism and Nancy Drew-ism. But I did say I'd give it another try at some future date, since it wasn't like I hated it or anything. And meeting Kristen Bell in Chicago last year, where Tammy got a signed autograph and was able to exchange a few words with her heroine, didn't hurt her case - Kristen seemed friendly, was gracious to her fans, and the half hour wait we had in line while she was "on break" probably wasn't entirely her fault.

Anyway, I figured I should share.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

How Daunting Is Buffalo's Challenge?

The Sabres, down 3-0 in the Eastern Conference Finals going into tonight's game, have to do something that no other Eastern Conference playoff team has done this year: win, when facing elimination! That's right.. according to my research, all six series prior to this (four in the 1st round, two in the 2nd) have ended as soon as one team had a chance to close it out. In Round One, the Rangers swept Atlanta, the Sabres beat the Islanders in five with NYI winning Game 2, the Devils beat Tampa Bay in six after the series had been tied at 2-2, and Ottawa lost Game 2 to the Penguins but took the series in five. In Round Two, the Sabres prevailed against the Rangers in six after the series had been tied 2-2, and the Sens dispatched the Devils in five after losing Game 2. All in all, not a single win could be bought by a team facing elimination! That's pretty wacky, especially when you consider how many close games there've been! (And obviously this stat implies no Game 7's, which is also true.)

The Western Conference teams have fared better, with a 3-5 record when facing elimination, although no team actually came all the way back to win a series after being on the verge.

[Update:] The game's now over, and Buffalo managed to avoid elimination and force a Game 5 back at home. With the 3-1 series here and a 2-1 lead by Detroit in the other one, there'll be no sweeps in Round 3, just like there were none in Round 2. In fact, the only sweep so far in the 2007 NHL Playoffs was masterfully delivered by... you guessed it, the New York Rangers! If we don't have a sweep in the Final series - whoever makes it there! - then the boys will be the only broom-holders for the entire year! That's another nice feather in the cap of a great playoff year.

Even I Can Still Be Surprised With Comic News Like This

I always knew that Spidey's black costume had a convoluted history, having appeared first in Secret Wars # 8 as a convenient replacement for Peter's tattered red-and-blues, eventually morphing into Venom but only after escaping from the captivity Reed "Mr. Fantastic" Richards had engineered for it. And then today I read this and go, "Wow... that's really something!" Assuming this doesn't turn out to be a hoax, the real originator of the black duds has quite the tale, now that he's finally decided to tell is.

Heroes Coming To A DVD Player Near You

Sure, we all know it's only 5 days until the season finale for Heroes, but did you know that approximately 100 days after that, you'll be able to own Season One, if you want to? It's true!

August 28th was announced today as the release date for the Heroes Season One DVD. Price is expected to be $59.98 (one assumes that's the US price), or $99.98 for HD-DVD. Now, I'm all for better picture quality, but is the difference in quality between standard DVD and HD-DVD really worth a nearly 70% price increase? I just don't think so, personally. The difference between SD broadcast and HD broadcast is huge; between the two DVD formats in question? Not so huge. Even if a Blu-Ray version comes out, at that sort of pricing, I wouldn't be tempted at all. The studios need to come to their senses on this topic.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Exciting Comics Coming Out Tomorrow (May 15th Edition)

Been a few weeks since I did one of these, so let's get right to 'er!

All Star Batman & Robin the Boy Wonder # 5 - So what's the bigger story here? That it's been about a year since the previous issue came out? That the series has been almost universally criticized for portraying an almost unrecognizable, not to mention unlikable, Caped Crusader amidst a bare bones story? Or that it's Frank Miller writing and Jim Lee on artwork, which - prior to this series, anyway - would seem to anyone with a brain to be a virtual license to print money?? I hate to say it, but this is the car crash you can't look away from. I'll certainly be buying # 5 tomorrow...

Batman # 665 - More Grant Morrison/Andy Kubert goodness to be found under the cover shown here, one hopes. But also a reminder of just how poorly DC has handled what looked like it was going to be a new Golden Age of the Big Three, between Action Comics, Superman, Batman, Detective Comics, All Star B&RtBW (ridiculed above), All Star Superman, and Wonder Woman. Not a single one of them has avoided significant delays or fill-in material, just in the last six months alone! Sometimes I think Marvel hasn't won the popularity contest so much as DC's handed it to them. Sigh.

Countdown # 50 - What multiversal wonders await us in Week Two? If I went to MySpace I suppose I could find out now via the preview of the first half of the comic there, but where's the fun in that?

Ex Machina # 28 - Last issue it really started to look like we might have a time traveller on our hands, as the mysterious figure behind the blackout of 2003 dropped more hints about his origins, and he was sure sounding like he was from the future! This continues to be one of the "under the radar" great comic titles of this era.

Justice League of America # 9 - Part 3 of the I've-lost-track-of-how-many-parts-it-is JLA/JSA/LSH crossover. I wish Meltzer and Johns were pacing this a little faster, as it really feels like not enough is happening each issue. But I guess that's just the genre as it exists today. Beggars really can't be choosers, it seems.

Mighty Avengers # 3 - Last issue was suuuuch a boring read, that this title's definitely on the bubble right now. It'd be really smart if they managed to make this one a bit more exciting. I'm just sayin'!

Ultimates 2 # 13 - The poster child for Series That Are Always Delayed, this long-awaited final issue concludes the 2nd volume of Ultimates stories. Writer Mark Millar and artist Bryan Hitch wrap up their association with these characters here, which not-too-coincidentally marks the end of my interest in them, as well. Quarter- to half-year delays in any future Ultimates series will fortunately mean absolutely nothing to me, for a change. But it certainly was a great ride, for 26 issues!

Wacky Weather

After nearly reaching 30 degrees today, the high temperature for tomorrow is forecast at 13 degrees, and that's in the morning! By the afternoon, the temperature's supposed to be down to 9 degrees. All of this in the middle of May, with our pool open and the water having already been warmed up once, to get it into the high 70s F. I swear we didn't used to have these wild swings of temperature like this back before we, y'know, got really good at screwing up the planet's ecosystem!

It also seems like a good time to ask: anyone want to go on record as predicting this won't be one of the top 20 Hottest Years On Record by the time it's over? Before you do, though, you should know that 19 of the 20 hottest years since 1880 have come since 1980, and 9 of the top 10 happened between 1995 and last year (2006 was the hottest year on record, replacing 1998 for that distinction).

Monday, May 14, 2007

Hard To Believe He Wrote The Best Comics Ever

Alan Moore & Melinda Gebbie Getting Married 'In Style' (photo by Neil Gaiman)

Read all about it at Neil Gaiman's blog. And if that doesn't make you envious enough, read the previous entry where Neil offhandedly mentions having had dinner with J. Michael Straczynski prior to heading to the wedding (eat your heart out, PeterJ!)

Some people have all the luck... and all the talent... and all the fans...

Assorted TV News

As Tammy mentioned in a comment to another post, NBC's announced a Heroes: Origins miniseries for next season (sounded like 8-ish episodes). Coincidental with that good news, comes the sad proclamation of Studio 60's demise (boo), and a re-iteration/confirmation of the Bionic Woman series coming from NBC. I can't decide how I feel about that. You couldn't find a bigger Six Million Dollar Man/Bionic Woman fan than me (well, OK, you probably could, but why bother?) and yet I can't help but worry that they'll totally destroy the concept in attempting to modernize it. We do have Battlestar Galactica as a counter example of that, though, so maybe all I need is a little faith? Anyone else thinking about this stuff, or is it just me?

Click here for more details about NBC's fall schedule.

Comic and Lost writer Brian K. Vaughan has been quoted of late as saying that he now knows the big picture behind what's going on on the island, and that there's always been a master plan among the writing staff there. No big surprise to me, but some people have had their doubts. He also admitted that he's the one responsible for Charlie and Hurley's amusing Superman/Flash ponderings.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Small Comics Can Be Good, Too

During this period of "event comics", when DC and Marvel are battling it out to see who can publish the biggest intra-company throwdown - House of M, Civil War, Infinite Crisis, 52, JLA/JSA/LSH, Countdown, Amazons Attack and World War Hulk, just off the top of my head - a little standalone gem like JSA Classified # 25 comes along and really impresses the Hell out of me!

I'm sure part of it is that I'm a sucker for the JSA to begin with, although most of the tales in this particular spin-off title have thus far managed to only bore me silly. And it may've helped that I had no particular expectations about a story written by Tony Bedard - recent successor to Mark Waid on Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes - and drawn by Dennis Calera - who I'd never heard of before this. But whatever the case, I thoroughly enjoyed this comic!

The story's full of human interest angles, as the original Green Lantern pays a visit to a long-retired ex-villain named Johnny Mimic. Mimic's game, for the short period of time in the Golden Age when he was still active, was that he'd recreate famous crime scenes... though we're not exactly sure why! He'd been caught in the act by a much younger GL, decades ago, as he broke into the JSA's HQ, but promised the hero that he'd quit if he could just avoid jail time. Both men had been as good as their word, until today, when Lantern has to ask him to use his abilities once more to help solve a classic "locked room mystery." I was drawn right in from about the second page on, because both Johnny and Alan "GL" Scott are so strongly characterized by their moral codes. The resolution of the mystery also pays off big-time, which isn't always the case (some of Paul Dini's recent "done-in-one mysteries" in Detective Comics have left me scratching my head, for example).

The cover sports a strking image (shown here), and the interior artwork by newcomer Callero is just beautiful. Chances are this comic flew under the radar of most comic fans, but that's a shame, if true. This is one of those books you can read and enjoy without having ever encountered any of the characters before, because everything you need to know is right there, on the printed page. In some ways, this is an example of a comic that you almost wish could be someone's first. Except, of course, that the next one they'd read would probably be part 3 of 7, and involve another series, as that's a lot more typical these days. (And, as I've blogged about previously, that's not necessarily a bad thing.)