Friday, December 31, 2010

So that was 2010

we didn't get to Jupiter, but we got Angry Birds
So that was the year.  Well, whatever.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts on 2010 below.

Signal Watch Watches: True Grit

I don't really know what to say about True Grit.  I assume many of you have seen the movie at this point.

I give it...  eight and a half thumbs up. 

I was very pleased with the stylized dialog (which I took as the mannered retelling of Mattie's tale, to some extent), which the actors all handled remarkably well. 

The past few years Jeff Bridges seems to have moved from all-purpose leading man to top-flight actor in the public esteem (he was always good, and I don't dispute this), and here he seems to really earn it as Rooster Cogburn.  And if you've been watching Matt Damon the past few years, I don't think its any surprise that he's really very good as LeBoef, the flashy Texas Ranger in search of the same man as our unlikely duo.  As Mattie Ross, young actor Hailee Steinfeld really does go toe to toe with both Damon and Bridges, and no doubt we'll see her again, hopefully not moving into the typical fare offered up to young women in Hollywood.  With a Coen Bros. pedigree, I assume she can continue to find A-List work, but we'll see (I weep for young Dakota Fanning blankly wandering through scenes in the Twilight series).

The story isn't anything that new or innovative (but may appear so to film viewers in 2010 who rarely touch Westerns).  What's striking is that the Coens so deftly move from a film like A Serious Man (which I really need to rewatch now that its on HBO), to a remake of a legendary piece of genre film and manage to put their stamp on it while staying within the confines of the Western.

Brolin's part is perhaps smaller than you would guess, he being Josh Brolin and all, but he leaves an impression, and I loved how the role was scripted.  Add in the best use of Barry Pepper I think I've seen, and the supporting cast gets a nod, too.

I could have gladly stayed with the characters and story for an additional half-hour, had the story sprawled a bit more.  And when was the last time you weren't doing mental calculus based upon where you knew you had to be in the plot, versus how long you were going to have to sit there?  I had a theater director once tell me that he knew a play was good if he didn't check his watch, and at no point, was that what I was doing.

Unlike at least one of our Corpsmen (Nathan C.), I am not a film score aficionado.  But I had no doubt I was hearing Carter Burwell's work about 1/4 way into the movie.  I like Burwell's work, and its always good to see him working again with the Coens.

Anyhow, I don't really want to go on and on, but I did want to salute the movie as one of the best things I saw in the theater this year and recommend you catch it in the theater.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Future Taste Test? "Adult Chocolate Milk" is 40 Proof and a Grand Idea

There's a Chocolate Milk party going on!

2011 is going to be the year I quit giving a damn, and we're going to start by picking ourselves up some "Adult Chocolate Milk".  According to the website:

Featuring real cream and rich chocolatey flavor, Adult Chocolate Milk tastes just like the original classic - with a very adult alcohol update. Break out the curly straw and cookies and prepare to be flooded by fond memories.

Indeed.  Only, the KareBear was pretty iffy about letting us have to much sugar.  Forget about letting us booze it up while watching SuperFriends or The Muppets.

Its full of calcium for strong bones and booze for making the sad go away

The great thing is I know I can rope a few folks into taste testing this stuff with me (Wagner.  Cough.).

The site makes no bones about this stuff being 40 Proof, so while I am sad they are taking away my Four Loko (I kid, I've never found the stuff), it seems they're giving us a consolation prize.  I have to salute the sheer bad-idea-ness of this entire enterprise.  But as your duly appointed representative, I feel its my duty to let you know if this is a good idea or bad idea.

Now:  to appropriate funds.

UPDATE:  Apparently the puritanical lords of the Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission haven't approved Adult Chocolate Milk for consumption within the Great State of Texas.  People, I am putting out a call to my comrades in arms.  If you want for the Taste Test to happen, Adult Chocolate Milk will need to be smuggled across state lines.  You know you can do it!  Help a brother out!

In the meantime, I will make do with White Russians, Black Russians, Irishing-up my coffee, and making my own special Adult Ovaltine.

365 Days of the Guy Freaking Out On the Cover of Action Comics #1

Some ideas are just straight up hilarious.  And among those?

Bully The Little Stuffed Bull has, for two years now, managed to come up with a theme that he covers every single day.


For a year.

Last year it was 365 Days of Hank McCoy (you know him better as the "The Beast" from X-Men, Defenders and Avengers comics). But it seems Bully is pulling off a seemingly crazy stunt this time, and he's going to find 364 homages to the cover of Action Comics #1, specifically focusing on the fellow freaking out in the bottom corner of the famous first cover.

If you weren't following Bully and you like comics: for shame.

Get on board!

So, here's our original image:

For some reason, people really like the freaking guy.  Myself included.
 And here's a typical homage:

he he he he he
Now repeat.  Every day for a year.  That's a lot of homage.

The first homage of this sort I recall was from a Wacky The Squirrel comic back in the 1980's.  I thought that was wildly subversive, crazy stuff.  Ah, hell.  I still feel that way about Wacky.

Man!  A $1.75 back then?  I must have thought this was HILARIOUS.  Note, freaking bulldog.
This is the kind of stuff I wish I was creative and patient enough to pull off.  That's just good stuff.

But if you want to know what the other meme is around this cover... look at the tire bouncing around on the cover.  Now figure out the physics of how that tire ended up over there as, clearly, the tire had to come from the other side of the car. 

Its focusing on this stuff and not the GRE why I never got an advanced degree.

Holy Smokes! 2010 is practically over with!


How did 2010 come to an end?  It seems like just yesterday I was holding a flaming Roman Candle in one hand and an American Flag and a cocktail in the other and celebrating America.

Wait...  that was yesterday.  Nevermind.

Anyhow, 2010 was NOT a year of big changes.  Hooray!  Sometimes you need a year where virtually nothing happens, I think.  No moves, no career change, no white knuckling about this or that...  maybe in 2011.

Now, that doesn't mean the folks around me didn't see some changes.  You know who you are and what you did.

I don't plan on any end-of-year lists because, well...  I'm not feeling the need to catalog that which you've all already read or seen here.  Or on Facebook or whatever.  And I don't know what I'd Top Ten this year, anyway.  Comics?  Movies?  I don't think I dealt with either enough to put together a useful list.

I have no idea what 2011 will bring.  I've got some resolutions, so we'll see if I keep them.  The Steans Boys are headed for London in April, so you can expect some cross-continental reporting and cultural confusion.  The Admiral and KareBear are set to move operations to Austin by this time next year. 

But, hey, yeah.  I just looked at the date on my computer and realized we're pretty much wrapped up here.  Another trip around El Sol and another year as determined by some Caesar 2000 years ago is done and done.

We're not doing much for New Years.  No big parties and I suspect I will be watching Snooki drop in the ball on New Year's Eve by myself once Jamie's turned in.  That's why I picked up a bottle of Welch's Sparkling Cider.  Drinking by myself in the dark on my way into 2011 just seemed...  well, let's not start the year off on the wrong foot.

Thanks for a great and strange year of blogging here at Signal Watch.  I appreciate you bearing with me through my stops and starts.  Now... on to 2011.

Some Film Noir Recommendations/ Discussion

This is kind of fun.  CanadianSimon has asked that I put together a list of recommendations for noir cinematic viewing.

I don't pretend to be an authority on Noir, and, in fact, feel like I'm just getting on the learning curve about the mega-genre.  At best, I feel like I've taken some noir classes at the community center, whereas I feel like I'm in my second year of PhD work if you wanted to talk Superman (or Masters level in DC Comics).  I feel like I'm just dipping my toes in the water here, so I'm very reluctant to say much more than "yeah, I liked that movie".

But its fun to talk about.

One thing that's become clear to me is that Noir isn't just lighting, it isn't just guys in natty hats and ties, it isn't just tough, good looking dames...  It definitely can have all those things (and good looking dames never hurt), but it seems its as much about a mood that was going on in the culture that a lot of cinema of the crucial 1940-1960ish era was pushing under the rug.  Its interesting that the push starts just prior to WWII, and less surprising that its at full boil as GI's came back from overseas and had ideas about what people might really be like that didn't fit in with the domesticity of post WWII America.

I also think there's a difference between a gangster or crime movie than Noir.  It doesn't mean that they can't share qualities or share a whole lot of real estate on a movie Venn Diagram, but a movie like, say...  Goodfellas doesn't say Noir to me (that doesn't mean I don't love Goodfellas, by the way).  Nor would I categorize The Godfather as Noir - and I think few would.  I think its interesting that when you get to the Warner Archive sets you can buy at Amazon, the WB curators clearly think there's a difference, too.  The Cagney movies show up as Gangster pictures (White Heat = Gangster picture.  The Roaring Twenties = Gangster Picture), whereas the Noir pictures tend to be a smaller scale and more personal (and rarely follow someone over years, Mildred Pierce as an obvious exception and reminder that Joan Crawford was a stunningly good actress.  Jamie and I fell into Mildred Pierce a few weeks ago on cable, and I'd forgotten how much I liked it.).

Here's Volume 1 of the Film Noir Classic Collection.
Here's Volume 1 of the Gangster Films Collection.

Detective pictures aren't, by default, Noir.  Clearly a lot are.  The Big Sleep seems to me to be a great place to show where the two genres synch up to the point where there's no real difference.  But you get near Sherlock Holmes territory or even The Thin Man, and not so much. 

Double Indemnity is often held up as a sort of quintessential Noir.  I like Stanwyck as much as the next guy, but it isn't a detective picture or gangster picture.  Its an insurance agent who falls for the wrong (married) girl and it ends poorly for everybody.  Similarly, Eddie Muller came to the Alamo this summer and lectured on The Prowler, and I'd say that movie still rattles around a bit in my head as a sort of archetypical noir, about an amoral cop using his position to get what he wants, everyone else be damned, but its not a detective or gangster movie.

So its hard to pin it down. 

In a lot of ways, asking "what is "Noir?" hits the same depths as when you say "what is a Western?".  Anyone who spent more than ten minutes with the genre knows that "Western" has a certain indefinable quality, but the plots and themes are all over the map.  Shane is not The Cowboys is not McClintock! is not High Noon is not Paint Your Wagon is not High Plains Drifter.

I should also mention, I've read the original book of some Noir films and so I tend to get a bit confused by plot points if they deviate significantly (see:  The Big Clock), and some I've not ever seen the movie (They Shoot Horses, Don't They? - which, oh my gosh, great book, which is why I've avoided the movie).

Watching The Big Heat, it occurred to me that Noir presses a lot of the right buttons for me not just aesthetically, but as much as I like a good, character driven movie or TV show (see:  Mad Men) I also really like to see well constructed stories where the pieces are there for a reason and every part is used.  It may be that Noir comes up from short and often cheap books where a lot of story was packed into a limited amount of pages, or the writing flair of Chandler and Hammett to say everything you needed to know about a character in a cutting half-sentence, but a lot of these movies trade on the idea of narrative economy. 

Cross-pollination is also a lot of fun.  Ridley Scott's adaptation of Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? to Blade Runner saw a sci-fi cop story make the full-blown transition to something resembling sci-fi Noir (its not a mistake the producers decided to add what was supposed to be a Marlowe-esque voice-over to the proceedings for the original theatrical release).  Stuff like that is kind of cool, or more subtle variations like The Big Lebowski's subversion of the genre.

So what do I like?

The Asphalt Jungle - a group heist flick, directed by the great John Huston.  I rented this in college and it broke my fragile little mind.
The Killing - the kind of movie that I think a lot of people think they're making, but somehow just can't seem to pull off.  Early Kubrick, by the way. 
The Killers - I rented this because I loved (LOVED) the Hemingway short story of the same name that it uses as its set-up.  And then the rest of the movie was good, too.  Maybe there's a secret noir story behind Hills Like White Elephants that I just haven't seen envisioned yet.
Sunset Blvd - A shame that I just saw this for the first time this year because...  wow.
The Big Sleep - probably a great place to start for your classic detective Noir story.
The Prowler - Which isn't available, so go rent Double Indemnity, which is as good as they say it is.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Signal Watch Watches "The Sniper"

3 things before we begin:

1)  A few years ago DC Comics had a monthly comic series going called Gotham Central which was about police work in Gotham City.  It took the look of a cop movie or TV police procedural with Michael Lark's illustrative art and it asked "what do the guys wearing ties and drinking coffee who have to do the paperwork when fighting crime do in a city with arch criminals in clown make-up?"

There was a great run (written either by Ed Brubaker or Greg Rucka... I was never sure.  They both got credit.) that had the Major Crimes Unit on red alert in the middle of the holiday shopping season as The Joker decided it would be "funny" to start randomly sniping people in the middle of a snow storm during the holiday buying season.  If you can find that collection: it is fantastic and disturbing.

2)  A few of you are going to jump up and down and say "Did you see the Homicide episodes about the sniper?"  No, I missed them, but they were apparently good enough that I've heard about them from several sources.

3)  If you ever want to know what sort of effect the random violence of a real-life sniper might have on a place, I work at the University of Texas and can see the UT Tower every day when I walk out the door of my building.

Look out for snipers, indeed.

The Sniper was included in the box set of Noir films Jason got me for Christmas, and its an interesting selection.  If you want to check its bona fides, (a) Scorsese discusses the film quite gleefully and (b) Noir historian Eddie Muller provides a running commentary track to the whole movie.  At first blush, I wasn't entirely clear how the picture tied in with my own concepts of what constitutes Noir.  There's not really the erasing of a secure world for a protagonist, no femme fatales per se...

But in the end, I think I get it (and I'm writing this without the benefit of having yet listened to Muller's commentary, which I will do this week).  It does feature a protagonist/antagonist for whom the world is slipping away and is in over his head.  A woman is involved, but its an abstraction by the time we catch up with the sniper.  And, absolutely there's no way out for our sniper.  Still, its an odd fit, right down to how the movie is shot.

The only actors in the movie I recognized were Marie Windsor* and Frank Faylen who played Ernie the cab driver in It's a Wonderful Life.  Our titular sniper, Eddie Miller, is played by Arthur Franz.

"So what's a nice sniper like you doing in a kitchen like this?"
Like many movies of the era, which was turning to science and psychology in new ways, Miller's psychosis is investigated for the audience by way of calm and understanding Voices of Authority as heard through the mouthpiece of the film's young psychologist. However, this movie makes a clear point that the public doesn't really care about the root causes or possible prevention of future outbreaks of violence from a societal and financial standpoint, and is happy to blame the police for not immediately solving random crimes. And, of course, a medical community that doesn't even understand what sorts of signs it should be looking for.

Certainly, the movie is using the story as a pulpit, but its interesting to see the gears of this kind of scenes working through these challenges play out, especially in a movie released in '52, from the dismissive nature of the cops wanting to work through things with a blunt instrument to the power players of the city strong arming political appointees to get results as if the police are sitting on their thumbs.

The movie is absolutely trying to make a statement about understanding violence and the psychology of aggression tied to sexual issues. The producers rightly work to dissolve accusations of exploitation with a pre-title sequence text message about the number of crimes against women in the country, which, in 1952, you have to assume was grossly under-reported. But the pre-credit message is still an interesting way to frame the movie for the audience.

From the first scenes, the movie is on a boil, with Miller a spring so tightly wound its just a matter of time before he snaps. Perhaps its not as masterfully executed as Psycho, and while you may sympathize with both main characters, at no point do you come into the odd place of cheering for the killer in The Sniper (except in sympathizing that the sniper actually does want to be caught), but its interesting to note that this movie precedes Psycho by a full 8 years. The tension starts high and just keeps going.

The film is shot seemingly mostly on location in San Francisco, so our Bay Area readers may get a kick out of seeing their hometown in 1950ish, including neighborhoods right underneath Coit Tower (I checked addresses mentioned in the movie, and they all appear to be fictional, so I was pleased when I saw the tower poking up in one shot to give some reference). The steep terrain is used to great effect, and I had a passing thought that somebody cleverly used the terrain to push the narrative forward as a sort of real-life, naturalistic backdrop that provides the same effect you might have seen in something like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, but that may be me reading a bit much into the movie. Parts are shot almost as if from a documentary, including a chilling scene where the sniper is seen by someone working on the side of a tower, and absolutely the final shots of the movie. For some reason San Francisco just flat out works in Noir and crime movies as a backdrop in its own way and as a character just as much as LA and New York.

ironically, they can both see their houses from up here
It doesn't push the city scape to the same degree as Kubrick's Killer's Kiss from 1955, but it would be interesting to know if Kubrick had watched The Sniper.

Anyhow, I look forward to listening to Muller's commentary track. Its a fascinating movie, and I'd guess it has an interesting production history.

*whom I think I fell in love with just a little bit while watching Narrow Margin.

Reason #347 for why I'm not buying that many new comics these days: Stop With the "Death of" Stories Already

The most refreshing thing about the recent Death of Batman storyline was, of course, the crazy good story Grant Morrison wove across months and months of Batman comics.  But the second most refreshing thing was that within a few dozen pages of Batman "dying" in Final Crisis, we saw Batmas was actually and okay and doing landscape paintings or some such in a cave at the dawn of humanity.

It wasn't even particularly shocking in 1992 when DC "killed" Superman for a few months, as part of the meta-narrative all along was that the story was more of an exploration of what would happen if Superman died (your mileage will vary on the success of that mission), but we all knew DC wasn't actually killing off Big Blue.

The only deaths that were taken as "permanent" in comics, until a few years ago, were Uncle Ben in Spider-Man, Bucky in Captain America and Jason Todd in Batman comics.  Of those, only 1/3rd remain stone-cold chilling beneath the earth.  And I guarantee its a matter of time before some "edgy" writer and editor cook up a plan to bring back Uncle Ben, revealing that he didn't really die, but went to Europe where he plotted his revenge against Spider-Man.*  Or, if they're really edgy, he'll be resurrected as an undead cyborg thing that terrorizes Peter Parker and becomes a hot, hot property for intellectually challenged comic fans.

But...  hey, comic sales are slumping.  That "The Punisher is now a Frankenstein monster!" bit didn't pull you out of the hole.  Why not kill off both Spider-Man and 1/4 of the Fantastic Four in the same news cycle?

Le sigh.

Spider-Man is getting dead, at least in the parallel Ultimate universe.  (I so gave up on the Ultimate titles about four years ago.)

And I guess Marvel is going to kill Sue Storm, because, you know, emotional impact, yadda yadda.  At least that's what Vegas odds-makers are guessing.

I know I'm DC centric, but one small part of that is that I think DC is often a little quicker to stop running a particular idea into the ground, whereas the Quesada-era Marvel seems to think that you must beat a concept into the ground until someone begs for mercy.**

Word is that Didio and Co. kind of decided the Death of Batman thing was kind of it for them, and Blackest Night certainly indicated that they don't want to go any further with deaths and resurrections. And I hope that's true for a good, long while.

And while its possible the death of Spidey in the Ultimate Line could, in fact, be permanent, scientific polls suggest that absolutely nobody cares.  And absolutely nobody believes that any of the FF is actually off the board.  (And I'd argue that Marvel handles this stuff a lot more clumsily than DC.  I liked the Captain America stuff okay, but....  that return of Cap story was some pretty awkward stuff from Brubaker.  It felt far more deus ex machina than Morrison's extended albeit similar plot for Bats).

But:  Its done.  Its played out.  I can't even pretend this could be good anymore.

*because this is exactly what Marvel did with the Green Goblin after he'd been dead a good, long while
**Your shame-centers have to have been surgically removed to approve as many Deadpool titles as I see on the shelves these days, and...  really?  There's that kind of demand for Thor?  I'm not buying it.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Signal Watch Watches "The Big Heat"

Gloria Grahame cannot just come over to say "hi"

For Christmas Jason got me two Noir collections, and I kicked off watching them by, oddly, turning to the one movie I had previously seen, Fritz Lang's The Big Heat. I remembered having had watched this on cable a long time ago, that it had Gloria Grahame* and that I'd really liked it it, but I didn't remember: The Big Heat is a startlingly good movie, and not just in a "wow, that was a fun thing to watch" sort of way.

I don't think I need to tell anybody here that Fritz Lang knows how to put a movie together, but, holy smokes... if you're looking for a movie that fits together like the innards of a Swiss watch, its going to be tough to beat this one. Even the humdrum domestic situations shown are part of definite narrative and character arcs. And for a film from 1952, there's some pretty tough stuff that happens to all of our characters.

The movie follows the course of what happens when a good/ virtuous cop in a corrupt department investigates the suicide of a high-ranking police official. There's dames, gangsters, Lee Marvin, Glenn Ford and all kinds of good stuff in what's almost more a good cop thriller than true Film Noir.

Across the board, the actors playing our main characters put in solid performances.  Ford and Grahame have a lot of territory to cover from the start of their arcs to film's end, and you always believe them.  A young Lee Marvin shows signs of the ass-kicking Lee Marvin we'd all come to know and love.  Like a lot of Noir, but different from a lot of other movies of the era, the women in the movie are sharply written and are as much a part of the story as the men.

The Big Heat is a popular movie among a certain crowd, and so its no huge surprise that almost 60 years on its been imitated to the point where some of the shock value of the original is diluted.  But that doesn't mean it doesn't hold up to a viewing today.  And a darn good one at that.

Anyway, recommended.

Clark Kent's Dad will choke a lady for getting in his way!

*always a good reason to watch a movie

Sunday, December 26, 2010

So what hath The Dug and K wrought this year? "Eclipse" and "Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny"

Twilight: Eclipse

A lot could be read into Stephanie Meyers' seemingly anti-introspective creation of the Twilight "Saga" with Meyers-cipher Bella Swan at the center of the mess.  And one could raise an eyebrow at what equates to a smashingly successful (financially) look into some version of an adolescent power/victim fantasy that blissfully surrenders the right to snark at what media studies classes sneer at as "adolescent male power fantasies" with this movie (are we at the dawn of the ineffectual victim fantasy genre?).

I can't imagine navigating this Mary Sue celebration of passivity and bad decision making without the power of RiffTrax and Bulleit.  Bad FX, a 22 minute plot strained out over two hours, a lack of direction more than bad direction, stale and stilted line delivery passing for acting...  it all makes for terrific fodder for the RiffTrax guys who guided us through the last two Twilight installments.

At the movie's finish, Jamie informed me that the final book (Breaking Dawn) will actually be split into two movies. When one considers how thin the plot was for Eclipse, a title which seemed to mean nothing more than "hey, that's a Moon-related word", its kind of mindboggling to imagine HALF of that plot smeared like too little cream cheese over two enormous bagels of movie

Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny

Were RiffTrax not to exist, its difficult to imagine why anyone would ever watch this movie, or, indeed, why this movie was made or how it was distributed.  But exist the movie does.

As near as I can tell, Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny was a promotional film intended to draw people to now-defunct Pirate's World, a Florida-based amusement park which opened an unfortunate handful of years prior to Walt Disney opening the doors of Walt Disney World a few hours' drive away.  Sort of how Uncle Walt staked out network time each week with the Disney Movie of the Week, which he'd introduce and use that time to plug the parks, perhaps the drunken buccaneers running Pirate's World believed they could create a similar vehicle to success in the greater Florida area.

Unlike Disney, however, how made his bones by synching sound with 1928's Steamboat Willie, this 1972-ish movie has a complete lack of synch sound, comedy, joy, production value or common sense. Its the true rare, utter failure of vision and competence.

And so, Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny follows what happens when Santa crash lands on a beach near Ft. Lauderdale and his reindeer, complete bastards all, abandon him on the beach and head home.  Santa lacks any sense of agency other than to telepathically summon neighborhood kids to make them solve his problem, which they fail to do (even after employing a guy in a gorilla suit).  Inexplicably, this leads Santa to tell the story of, as near as one can tell from the movie, a girl going to Pirate's World (which looks like a cross between a county fair and the lobby to the DMV) where she, in turn, hears the story of Thumbellina over a PA system.

Its not clear what any of this means, but the movie ends sometimes after Santa finishes telling about how the girl heard the story of Thumbellina at the DMV, the kids run off and return with the freakish and terrifying Ice Cream Bunny (a guy in a bunny suit who, in costume, drives a literal truck full of unbuckled kids down a bumpy road, occasionally swerving off the road and losing at least one kid.  I am not kidding), who saves the day by giving Santa a ride.

Loses a kid off the moving truck at:  4:35  (you can see his feet hit the ground as they go around the curve)
Almost hits dog around:  4:52
drives off the road at:  8:45
Generally freaks my shit:  duration of the video

Its a really, really good RiffTrax, and I can't recommend enough, if that sort of thing is your bag.


You have your holiday traditions, we have ours. It was great seeing Dug and K, and god bless Dug-less for bringing only the finest in awfulness to my TV each and every holiday.

2010 Christmas Loot Wrap-Up

Anybody get their Red Ryder BB Gun with the compass in the stock and this thing which tells time?

Christmas has come and gone.  I haven't fully completed my present exchanges as I haven't seen my folks and brother since Christmas Eve, and I need to catch up with my Uncle, Cousin and Cousin's daughter.  We're going to do all that stuff tomorrow, I think.

Thus far, my Christmas Loot-Getting was all right on the money. 

My gift from Jamie was not a surprise.  I've needed a computer for a while, and in October I got the very laptop upon which I'm typing.  Merry Christmas to me from Jamie. 

Superman's plot to redistribute wealth?  No wonder the cape is red...

As the field of gift-giving and givers has narrowed over the years, the odd, wacky and unexplainable loot has dwindled to the point where, these days, I no longer am left looking at a nose hair trimmer or other such assorted gifts on Christmas morning wondering "how does one even write a thnk you note for this?".

Kind of sad in a way.  Those inexplicable gifts are always fun to ponder. 

Also got:
  • Star Trek Movie Blu-Ray set - its the first six Trek movies with Shatner and Nimoy, plus a bonus disc
  • A book:  Diary of a Lost Girl
  • a gift certificate to Austin Books and Comics (I think I know how to use that)
  • dog toys - and if you think, "oh that's for the dogs".  No.  Keeping dogs happy is one of my primary functions at home.  I am very pleased to find dog toys in my stocking.
  • A sort of electronic pen that you can hook up to your PC that will digitally record everything you write or presumably draw.  Expect some experimentation to show up on this site in the near future.
We had also been sent to Wootstock about two months ago by The Dug, and that was a Christmas Gift. 

So, yeah, its been festive.

Non-Corpsman MattyM spent Christmas Eve with us, and it was great having him around.  A very lovely Christmas, all told. 

If you have time, write in and tell me (a) one outstanding or surprising gift and/ or (b) one "WTF?" generating gift.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

I hope you got just what you wanted!

I did.

Pretty good present each and every year

Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy Christmas Eve!


The Big Man is coming!

This dude is totally wasted
Merry Christmas Eve, Signal Corps!

May your Christmas be jolly and bright!

Now get out there and listen for sleigh bells.

everyone in this picture needs less sugar

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Dug and I watched (and Tweeted) the Prequel to "Santa Buddies"

So, you may recall that last year The Dug, K, Jamie and myself watched and reviewed Disney's 9th or 10th installment in the Air Bud series, Santa Buddies.  No longer about a lively golden retriever who can shoot free throws (because this was an actual thing, and it was kind of neat), by the time Santa Buddies rolled around, the original Bud is out of the picture and The Buddies, his offspring, are now CGI'd little monsters who have been in space.  In Santa Buddies, they meet Santa, Santa Paws and Puppy Paws.

Read here.  Or, you know, here.

Well, today we watched Disney's Buddies-free Prequel to Santa Buddies and live-tweeted the movie.  And had a cocktail or three.

You can read our review at One Wall Cinema!

Countdown to Sleigh Bells

This Christmas, may you retain all your illusions.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Merry Christmas from The Signal Watch

This is pretty much my optimal tree lighting ceremony

Merry Christmas from all of us at The Signal Watch!

I am expecting limited posting for a few days to spend time doing Christmas-type-stuff (The Dug and K will be here in a few hours!), but I also wanted to get out ahead of the curve and wish everyone a very Merry Christmas as you head off to your respective destinations and settle in for a festive Yuletide Season.  (What is a Yule, anyway?)

I'll be honest, my idea of a good Christmas does not include being covered in mice.

Its been a fantastic year here at our house, and its been a great year getting back into the swing of things with this site.  We hope you've enjoyed our return to blogging (which, I hear, is now a dead use of technology.  I'm retro!).  

I like to think this is a season for giving, so I'll make two quick suggestions for a couple of international charities to give to this Christmas, as I know you're all good to your local charities, already (right?).

Ms. Brooks thinks giving to charity on the holidays is a great idea
As always, at the top of my Christmas wish list is Peace on Earth and Goodwill toward All.  May that goodwill spill over all the year-round to everyone we meet in hopes of better understanding between us.

In the past few years, the Christmas Story which comes back to me again and again is that of the 1914 Christmas Truce, when German and British soldiers put down their arms and their differences and took time to remember what it was that they had, instead, in common.  Soccer, carols, battlefields and the knowledge that under other circumstances, they'd be sharing tobacco and stories, and not hurling bullets at one another across an apocalyptic landscape.

Call it a miracle.  Call it an act of humanity at its finest.  Its what should be.

I hate to send you to Wikipedia, but they have a detailed synopsis of the event

How odd and strange, and yet... exactly what it should be that the better parts of our nature should know that we can live better with one another, no matter what we hear about those on the other side of the battlefield, or what those who have something to gain from division and anger have to tell us.  If only for one day.

Peace on Earth.  Goodwill. 

We wish you a very Merry Christmas.  Here's to you and your loved ones! 

now dash away, all!

We'll be back at blogging cruising speed after the Holiday.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Tron: Legacy - That is a whole lot of somethin'


No, seriously. If you haven't seen the movie, run away now.

I didn't wait 28 years to see a sequel to Tron. I was a kid when the movie was released, and only the word-of-mouth hype machine that existed back then let me know that Star Wars would have sequels. "Franchise" wasn't thrown around a whole lot, but I was kind of aware that Jason and I liked the movie more than our peers. I was the only kid I knew with a Tron lightcycle toy and Flynn action figure and we may have been the ones most interested in chucking frisbees at each other (and you know what's a tough translation?  BMX bikes as light cycles).

Time marches on, and, of course, for most folks Tron had fallen off the cultural radar.  Nerds had been saying for years "oh, what they could do now with CG", but the original process of the movie is so little known and poorly understood, that I sort of just admired the original for what it was. I have fond memories of the summer when The Admiral waved his hand at the dinner table and pronounced "Enough.  We're not talking about Tron anymore at the dinner table."  As an adult, I now have fonder memories of Cindy Morgan in a helmet running around The Grid.

I do own the movie on DVD. It's some sort of super-collector's pack thing, meant for the hardcore Tron fan. I'm not sure I meet that description, but I did find the movie interesting on a lot of levels.

No matter what, I do not love Tron as much as some other people
Like everyone else, when I saw the first test footage for the new movie, I did that whole "hold your breath, is that what I think I'm seeing?" thing.

So did I enjoy the new Tron?   Sort of.  I mean, its an absolutely beautiful movie.  Somebody put a lot of love into that thing.  Its an immaculately realized vision of a fictional world, at least from a set-designer's point of view.

I have to believe that the final cut was either completely butchered by producers into a nonsensical mess or the producers turned in a trilogy, tried to shoot it, and lost sight of the forest for the trees once they needed to trim the running time down to a length that wouldn't test the sitting-powers of the 18-40 age bracket.

A colleague who attended the movie with me commented that he "wasn't looking for a story" when he went to see Tron, and I am hard pressed to argue that going to see Beau Garrett walk away from the camera (in 3D!) is worth the price of admission.  Or, you know, the prettier set pieces with light cycles, etc...

Essentially, the movie just doesn't make sense.  There's just not enough explanation, really, of almost everything, to hold the thing together, let alone maintain an internal logic.

Whereas the first movie was sort of an over-extended allegory for freedom and artistry versus the despotism of corporate management for software, the new movie begins exactly where that thought left off, with Encom now 30 years on and a fight for the soul of the company lost to a Jobs-like (interestingly, not a Gates-like) Chairman who has taken the OS and made it "the world's most secure" rather than the most innovative.  But it sort of totally forgets about this concept and goes for some DC Comics Earth-2 invasion thing that lacks motivation, an explanation of what will happen, or a narrative build.

A powerful argument for running Linux

This throughline of open source versus corporate greed, which is true to the first movie and completely relevant today, and would have made for a fine allegorical little story within "The Grid" as freedom overcomes tyranny, gets inexplicably shelved in the second act and a whole new problem begins for our hero.

Part of me was sort of self-aware that Steve Jobs does, in fact, sit on the board for Disney, the film's producers and distributors, and wondered if that hadn't had a chilling effect on the whole production.

Now...  In watching the original Tron, I never took the adventure in the movie literally, not even as a kid.  I assumed it was sort of a metaphor for what was happening within the computer, and I don't think I'm necessarily wrong about that reading.  I could understand a "program" was being tested "inside the grid" to see if it held muster as it was absorbed into the MCP.  But Tron: Legacy makes it very clear: No, seriously, there's a whole civilization of nano-things living inside your computer, like sexy, glowing sea-monkeys.

That, in some ways, sort of makes the movie a whole lot... dumber. I mean, that might have played in 1982, but when you're walking around with a phone in your pocket with more computing power than the entire system that got the Eagle to the moon...  well...  It's like telling me my TV is really a bunch of different elves putting on plays behind a magical mirror.

this is living in your Apple IIe
As an allegory, I could assume that some thought wento every decision that was made about "well, X actually means Y, so when a lightcycle falls off a wall, its going to de-rez..."

Under this model we could understand if a "program" needed "more power to run" and water was power, or accessing the users was actually Allan taking advantage of a hack in the MCP.  But then to see Flynn sitting around in the new movie eating asparagus?*  It poses so many questions...

What I found curiously irksome was that the world of the movie deals in physics as we know them on Earth (which the first movie suggested didn't really apply in Computer Land).  Part of the magic of the first Tron was seeing "oh, when a lightcycle crashes, here it just sort of... ends."  And, yes, of course a digital light cycle turns at 90 degree angles, and of course the landscape is made of hastily rendered polygons....  So during T:L, I knew the producers had kind of missed the point when they showed the Recognizers (the sort of arch-shaped ships from the first film) using thrust.  I don't want to see gears turning wheels in Tron.  That's missing the point, it would seem.  If you have a cargo loader, why isn't it a representation of a loader, just sleekly moving along a track?  Why the need to build in mechanical efficiencies?  Especially in a world we're told was built to be "perfect"?

The physics of a stall for airplanes can get pretty complicated, but there's a scene were the engines stall during a climb in a dogfight, and it felt so... weird.  Does the thing have an engine?  Does it not compensate for the digital winds?  I...  It just asked so many more questions than it answered, and somehow having these glowing jets behave like common aircraft just didn't work.

But, again, one would also assume computer programs don't eat asparagus (let alone all the parts of agriculture that would have to occur to have fresh aparagus in Tron land), and there the program was... at dinner.  Dinner?  I....

The movie also dodges some complications modern technology would bring into the equation.  Flynn's make-believe world seemingly does not have internet access (and Flynn's disappearance seems to predate Tim Berners-Lee getting other people to get onboard with this whole crazy hypertext idea), let alone massive global networks, all of which would have been interesting concepts.

The villains plot, of course, makes no sense and seems to lack in motivation.  And you kind of wonder why anyone would stop him.  If the program has the ability to learn (and he does, that's demonstrated), let him go nuts and go out to the real world on his own. Help him out!   (A) It would have to be pretty interesting to see what would happen, and (B) he's not going to get too far toward a nefarious plan before the practicalities of living in the real world would slow him down.

He's sort of the Professor Chaos of movie villains, but Kevin Flynn is terrified of the guy.

Our antagonist
There are, of course, all kinds of other practical issues that come up in the movie when you consider that it hangs on the fact that it doesn't pay any attention to computing past 1985.  It also doesn't bother to explain how any of this was programmed/ built into existence, all of which would have been nice, but seem to have been killed during the editing process.**

I have to assume dangling plot threads around the titular Tron, the actual Encom Corporation, and the iffy promises of  the first act will get sorted out in Tron II: 2.  Maybe.  If they spent an hour just dealing with the issues set up in this movie, I think I'd be happy.  As it stands, right now I'm a little baffled.

Oh, the kid who plays Sam Flynn is fine, I guess.  He walks with a weird trundle that's, like, super obvious thanks to the circuit lines, and he sort of had "angry" as his full range, but...  He's also given some clunky lines that Jamie described as "a little Jake Lloyd", so, you know, your mileage is going to vary.

Because, really, this is the Jeff Bridges show much more than a showcase for the kid.

I got a little short changed on my Boxleitner, and I'm a little confused why they didn't try to do more with what they had there (and that is clearly not Boxleitner in the Tron gimp suit for much of the movie).  And no Yuri?  Bad form, Tron movie.

All of this said, its a very pretty movie, and I think if the first Tron didn't weigh so heavily on the mind, it would be fairly easy to see how people could buy into this (they seemed to not even blink at the ridiculous plot holes The Matrix, so....).  I recommend seeing it in 3D on the big screen, because it is that kind of movie.  But also know, its not exactly going to astound you at every turn.

The visuals are relentless and almost always fascinating.  There's some neat little bits in there that manage to show rather than tell, and I think anyone could appreciate what they were at least trying to do with the skyscapes, wide open gamegrid, the crazy outfits and toy-friendly world of the whole thing. And as I think a lot of that takes a front seat, you know, you might get something out of that.  I did.

But expect for it to feel like the first act.

**why Kevin Flynn had to die if Clu died made no sense whatsoever and needed at least a phoney-baloney explanation

Stay Up Late or Interrupted Sleep? Lunar Eclipse Tonight!

I think I'm just going to stay up late, but this evening will see a total lunar eclipse around 12:30 AM Central time.

I plan to see this as a sign that the gods are angry with us, and use this as an excuse to smite the non-believers.

For more info on the Eclipse, check out the Star Date website.

Coen Bros.

Somebody asked which Coen Bros. movies I had seen and not seen, and which one I did not like.

Good questions.

I am mostly just "in" when it comes to the Coen Bros. I stumbled across Miller's Crossing and Raising Arizona around the ages of 14 and 16, and it was my first understanding of anything resembling auteur-ship.

At the end of the day, I think these guys are at their best when they work in the crime mega-genre, which is more or less where they work most of the time. And of late, since Big Lebwoski, I kind of keep my mouth shut about their movies for a day or so, because I want to wait for the movie to sort itself out a little more in my head. Most certainly Blood Simple is noir, and Miller's Crossing is pure American gangster picture. I'd argue that the Coen's played with noir with Fargo and No Country for Old Men, and that's where they're excelling. They've dropped some of the post-Sam Raimi early career eccentricities for more nuanced story-telling, and I don't mind the switch.

I, initially, didn't really groove to The Big Lebowski, but a week later, I feel like I'd given it time to marinate, and the whole "it's classic noir, just with a completely detached protagonist" joke the Coens were laying down finally really caught on the gears.

Similarly, the more I think about A Serious Man, the more I like that movie, too (and I read it as sort of a modern, Minnesota-based Book of Job).

Anyway, here's a fairly complete list, omitting movies where I think the Coens were only loosely involved as executive producers.

I should note: The two Coen Bros. movies I did not see came out when I lived in Arizona. The cinemas in Chandler absolutely would not have carried a Coen Bros. movie. It was a lot of Hillary Duff, Disney movies, whatever... but that's part of how I missed them. Also, again, when movies come out at Christmas, its very hard for me to get out to see them.

At the theatrical release, neither The Ladykillers nor Intolerable Cruelty were terribly loved either by reviews or word of mouth, and I just never bothered.

True Grit - plan to see it

2009 A Serious Man - seen it

2008 Burn After Reading - seen it

2007 No Country for Old Men - seen it

2004 The Ladykillers - did not see it

2003 Bad Santa - only producers on this, but I finally saw this last Christmas, and its really good

2003 Intolerable Cruelty - did not see it

2001 The Man Who Wasn't There - this is the one I didn't like, but I saw it

2000 O Brother, Where Art Thou? - seen it

1998 The Big Lebowski - seen it

1996 Fargo - who didn't see it?

1994 The Hudsucker Proxy - saw it for my 19th birthday in college

1991 Barton Fink - seen it

1990 Miller's Crossin - seen it

1987 Raising Arizona - seen it

1984 Blood Simple - seen it

Wish It Was Christmas Today

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Things I am up to that will ruin my Street Cred

1) This week, I watched The Princess and the Frog

and I really liked it. It was super cute and one of the best Disney animated movies in 10 years or so. That said, I haven't seen Tangled, but I think that Princess and the Frog made it look like Disney is back on trajectory to get somewhere near their 80's/90's hey-day that started with The Little Mermaid.

The music was catchy, they didn't depend on celebrity voices, and they didn't go for all the post-Robin Williams wackiness that eventually made Disney movies a real slog to get through. And whomever was responsible for the character of Charlotte deserves a slow clap. That was brilliant.

2) Jamie and I took her parents to see The Nutcracker

Not just going to a ballet, but to a family/ children's show with an audience at least 30% comprised of little girls in holiday dresses.

Look, the ballet was lovely, and I will fight you if you say otherwise. And I am pretty sure every one of the lead male dancers could beat me up with one leg tied behind their back.

The craziest part: the kids in the audience were so good. It was amazing. Kids can't sit through pretty much any movie, no matter how much ADHD-friendly fodder is thrown their way, but throw a tutu and slippers on some dancers and the kids, apparently, will totally will sit through a 2 hour ballet where nobody talks.

Who knew?

3) Responsibly done with my Christmas shopping

And I only did a small portion of it online. No, you aren't getting anything, so don't ask, Paul and/ or Randy.

4) Keep tuning into those sequel "Rudolph" things on ABC Family

To my credit, I never make it more than five minutes.

Trololololo! Chlidren's choir makes Christmas Magic/ Nightmare Fuel

People, I have no idea...

but I do like that V, Hilary Clinton and Superman are all in the choir.

This is some of what my brother does for a living

Hey!  I always like to trumpet the accomplishments of our SignalCorps.

It is with great pleasure that I point to this article in the Austin American-Statesman which is discussing the newly formed Veteran's Court for Travis County here in Texas.

Now, Jason isn't mentioned as the journalists seem to have interviewed the chief prosecutor for Travis County, but he's doing a lot of the day-to-day work for the prosecutor's office.  I very much like the idea behind a court centered around rehabilitation in general, but particularly for our veterans. 

So, yeah, good on Jason for being a part of this one.

Friday, December 17, 2010

So help me, this is the actual letter we sent out in cards to family this year

Merry Christmas to Our Friends and Family,

I hope 2010 has found you well. We’ve had a fine year, but an unremarkable year. Ryan is in the same job and continues to enjoy working at the Texas Digital Library, Jamie remains healthy and happy, and, frankly, if you check last year’s letter, there’s not much to update. Our two dogs mostly stick to dog-type activities, and Jeff the Cat remains, as always, Jeff the Cat.

None of that, of course, is terribly exciting. So, this year we’re providing a fictional accounting of 2010:

We were of course all thrilled when, this year, Jamie became the first woman alive to partake in a jet-pack powered flight across the length of the Ural Mountains. Many didn’t believe that Jamie had the spirit or determination, but those people didn’t know about all of the months of hard work that went into planning the flight, let alone the work she had done with her design team to perfect her “rocket wing”. 

Jamie is happy to keep the dream alive of the jetpack becoming as common as Hyundais. We’re currently considering test flights over the Grand Canyon or Mt. Fuji. Next steps will likely be determined by sponsorships and international laws regarding air space.

Early in July, Ryan was lucky enough to participate in a study at the University of Texas in which there was a terrible and unpredictable mishap that sent him spiraling through time and space. We’re glad to say that Ryan returned to the present, none the worse for wear. Legally, we’re not allowed to discuss much more, but we know the researchers are still working on their publications and we look forward to the article appearing in The Journal of Unreproducible Results. Ryan is mostly looking at his little mishap in the lab as one big summer adventure and hopes to volunteer again next year.

As the year draws to a close, we look back on all of our adventures, from the Gorilla issue we had in the yard, to the ghost of Benjamin Franklin appearing in our coat closet, and can be grateful for our friends, our family, stable livelihood, good health and the surprisingly flexible laws of physics.

Happy Holidays,

Ryan and Jamie

"Santa with Muscles" is one of the worst movies I've ever seen, holiday or otherwise

And, yes, I've seen it. Which is why The Dug and I are bad for each other.

I only ask that you watch the trailer and feel a small part of you die inside.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

I plan to see True Grit

I suppose this should come as no surprise, but I'm quite excited to see the upcoming movie True Grit.

I have never seen the original, although I actually am a bit of a John Wayne movie fan.  I have seen about 80 - 90% of the Coen Bros. output, and only once have I really felt like I didn't get something out of the movie.  I'm a self-confessed Matt Damon fan, and I trust both Brolin and Bridges.

The Coens shot part of the movie in Central Texas (although from the terrain and snow seen in portions of the trailer, I can assure you, a good portion of the film was also most certainly not shot in these parts).  And while I understand some people say they don't like "westerns", its a genre that transcends itself every time someone decides not to settle for making a B-picture.

But I will go ahead and guess that I'm preaching to the choir talking to you guys.  I suspect that the same sized audience (or larger) that turned up for No Country for Old Men (one of my favorite movies of the past few years) is going to turn out for this one, too.  And I suspect a lot of you are planning to see this one.

It does remind me, though...  once again the distributors and studios are dumping movies I'd likely go see at a fairly busy time of the year.  I get that its closer to Oscar voting season, but... I kind of have stuff going on right now, and getting the family together to go see Black Swan doesn't sound like a scenario that's going to formulate in too many households (sure, I hope to make time to get out and see it - but, realistically, likely won't make it.).

The effect,  I have to assume, is that accountants look at the numbers for a "type" of movie and declare it can't be greenlit because it didn't do as well as, say, Bevery Hills Chihuahua might have in December.  Which means critics beat their breast and wag their finger at the public, and we get a trend where we see a lot more talking dog movies and a lot fewer movies that make a good case for getting out to the theater for people over 30.

That's a rant and a tangent, but it also points out that, heck yeah, I'm making time to go see True Grit.  And then I'm going to watch the original to see how they stack up.

Mr. Walls ate a lot of McRibs

For over two decades, I have had the terrific pleasure of having been acquainted with Mr. Trey Walls.  I do not say this lightly, but Trey is, possibly, one of the most fascinating people on Earth.  He built a wet bar in his bedroom (for convenience, one supposes), he is the proprietor of Texas' foremost Spice Girls fansite, and he never does anything in half-measures.

Today I received this email from Mr. Walls:

This season saw me reach a goal of 50 McRibs eaten.  I cannot say I have enjoyed the last 15, but I was set on reaching 50 and with that I am announcing my retirement from eating McRibs.  I have been to the promised land and I have seen the mountain top!  I feel that there is nothing left to accomplish with this sandwich.  I am not against doing guest eatings with my dear friends, but am leaving the competitive eating world after 3 straight championships with (name of Trey's workplace).
2008 - 37
2009 - 33 (short season)
2010 - 50
Eat well my friends! 
For those of you who do not know:  The McRib is a delicious sandwich sold at McDonald's that is not a permanent fixture on the menu.  It usually appears in Texas right around the start of the holiday season, and disappears immediately afterward.  You cannot take the McRib for granted.  And you must respect it, for it is unkind to the GI tract of most mortals.

As someone who has only ever eaten 5 of these delectable sandwiches in a year (and who swore off them after last year's 3-sandwiches-in-one-sitting debacle, but went ahead and got one this year, anyway), I can only tip my hat.

I plan to submit an email interview to Trey.  If you have any questions you'd like to ask, submit them now!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Old, Cranky Comics Fan 2: The Ambivalenting

I know I am getting old in the world of comic fans.  I'm passing through some veil that makes me the old guy wandering the aisles of the comic shop that the younger readers look at with an odd mix of pity and curiosity. 

There's a certain... dustiness to me as a comic reader.  I'm not as jazzed by particular artists or movements in comics as those 10 years my junior.  I'm as much or more interested in the nostalgia factor of the whole enterprise as I am with the latest, greatest storyline from the Big 2.  Heck, I've enough insight to trade-wait on DC's current big push with Brightest Day, knowing its okay if I miss out on the "real time" experience of keeping up.  Oh, I still pick up new issues of Superman series.  But... I mean, come on...  its SUPERMAN.

Even my nostalgia is getting old. 

There's been an interesting shift as the 20-somethings have done what they're supposed to do and replace the last batch of 20-somethings who woke up and found themselves 30 and 40-somethings.  These fans don't know a world without Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  They were kids when they saw The Matrix or The Phantom Menace.  They have nostalgia for things like MegaMan (which I guess was a popular video game) and ask questions like "when did Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers start to suck?" without a hint of irony, and which I can only stare at, goggle-eyed.  And they love Street Fighter.  Like...  they love the characters from that kind of idiot-simple video game, as if they did anything but punch and kick, and  which...  Street Fighter?*

In comics, they actually really have an affection for the 1990's.  They like the Spider-Man story of The Clone Saga, and really don't get why Vertigo might have been the big deal it was when DC created the imprint (for which I was 18 and not so sure about comics anymore, and then...  thank you, Karen Berger). 

Its a generation that can't visualize comics fandom as less than some sort of co-optive ownership.  And whether its reading manga or American comics, many read their comics for free online from illegal scans, which is considered a perfectly legitimate way of enjoying your favorite creators.**  Somedays the comics internet seems like an endless game of looking at images of superheroes redrawn as anything from dinosaurs to basic iconic components or colors.

Reviews and criticism are increasingly less a part of the landscape, and the self-deprecating admission of their internet forebears that they were just suckers for certain characters, etc... by insisting certain characters, etc...  were always "awesome" has come to take the place of anything resembling online discussion.  Writer Brian Michael Bendis wasn't actually wrong when he said that there isn't much out there for longform comics discussion.  The geeks got upset because, apparently, putting up tumblr posts declaring ironically cool hero of the week awesome isn't longform criticism, and they didn't quite get that.  And The Comics Journal guys got wound up because it means (a) no, really, nobody is reading us anymore so much that bendis forgot about us, and (b) if every article you publish for fifteen years is about how comics that actually sell suck and all this hip indie stuff or stuff that's impossibly hard to get due to age or limited availability or price is awesome...  sooner or later you've niched yourself into irrelevancy, then... 

yeah.  You know, I thought we had a shot at that back when I wrote at Comic Fodder, but I'll be honest.  (a) Its not so much fun tow rite term papers on superhero comics every week as you'd think, and (b) nobody cares, so you might as well have fun by scanning in images of the Avengers as dinosaurs.

The kids pick up old battles as new ones, because that's what you do.  And they assume nobody ever noticed the outrages of society, and that if you're not furious, too, you didn't notice...  because that's what you do.   I'm glad they're doing it, and I'm glad nothing is ever settled in comics, just as its never really settled in the world.  A fresh batch of female readers outraged at the depiction of women in comics is a good thing.  Readers demanding prices stabilize to whatever price they were when they started reading is also good (and voting with your wallet is even better, but be prepared for the return to quality of presentation on paper what it was when I started reading comics.  Don't worry, you'll barely notice it.). 

The thing is, I don't really care so much.  I click on a lot fewer things online these days, just as I pick up a lot fewer comics.  I'm 35, soon to be 36.  I think I've figured out what works for me and what doesn't.  I'm imminently more aware of my complete lack of relevance as a guy with a keyboard and an opinion on comics than I was 5 years ago. 

And in some ways I'm having more fun with comics than I have in a while.  In some ways, less.  The rush of "oh, gosh, Wednesday!" isn't a part of my life, the occasional and often invigorating bouts of internet-based debate have dried up, but I think that was something that almost distracted me from enjoying comics the way I did when I was a kid.

I don't know how many comic readers were kids like me, I've genuinely no idea.  I read and traded comics with friends for maybe two years, and that ended by high school.  Since then, its been a fairly solitary thing.  At 35, I still read a lot of stuff I don't talk about here, both comics and stuff about comics.  Its never been a terribly social experience no matter how much I've tried to make it so from this and other sites.  Certainly the friends I see in person here in town really don't care about comics at all (although they're keenly aware of both my love of comics and especially Superman, and occasionally get more of an answer than they bargained for when they ask a question).  And that's sort of a standard operating procedure with which I'm very comfortable because, heck, its always been that way. 

I simply do not expect anybody else to give a flip about musty, old Jimmy Olsen comics.

Sure, I'd like more longform comics discussion online.  Sure, I'd like to not feel ancient when I see somebody waxing rhapsodic about the MegaMan cartoon or video game rather than pondering health PSA's on the Super Friends, which is something I could understand. 

But mostly I'm just sort of trying to understand my position in this odd little hobby.  I guess in many ways, since I underwent a sea change in my comics buying and spending habits over the summer, the return of this blog, and, sincerely, my utter shock at seeing 20-somethings sort of shrug off The Dark Knight Returns this summer, I've been trying to sort things out.

Thank you for bearing with me on this post.  Its been a long time brewing, in many ways.

*and not the Jackie Chan movie of the same name
**I hear nightmare stories about Manga "scanlations" and how the audience doesn't understand that they're killing the American manga market while simultaneously being a vocal fanbase who likes to give publishers lots of grief

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

I got nothin'

Ms. Hendricks and Ms. Moss will have to fill in for me.

Liu Xiaobo

Editor's note:  This post is a repost from Steve Harms' website, published with permission by the author.

We talk about comics, TV and movies a lot here, and in those media, the term "hero" is thrown around as if it means something.  Xiaobo is a reminder of what true heroism can look like, an image that bears all too little relation to dreams of revenge and glory that we usually use as our common image of "hero".

Like most Americans, prior to last week's Nobel Prize ceremony, I was unaware of Liu Xiaobo.  Like most Americans, as China has blazed a path into a position as a power player in the 21st Century, I often forget about the endemic human rights violations and extreme censorship that the Chinese government employs on a routine basis.

Below is Steven's post and Xiaobo's acceptance statement.

Liu Xiaobo, Chinese dissident and anti-party activist received the Nobel Peace Prize on the 10th of this month.

In his acceptance address, Liu espouses the usual high-minded views that one would associate with a Nobel-winning dissident: free expression is a right of all men, democratic reform is coming to China, social diversity is better than a master-planned autocracy, etc.

What was most surprising to me was the poetic description of his love for his wife:
I am serving my sentence in a tangible prison, while you wait in the intangible prison of the heart. Your love is the sunlight that leaps over high walls and penetrates the iron bars of my prison window, stroking every inch of my skin, warming every cell of my body, allowing me to always keep peace, openness, and brightness in my heart, and filling every minute of my time in prison with meaning. My love for you, on the other hand, is so full of remorse and regret that it at times makes me stagger under its weight. I am an insensate stone in the wilderness, whipped by fierce wind and torrential rain, so cold that no one dares touch me. But my love is solid and sharp, capable of piercing through any obstacle. Even if I were crushed into powder, I would still use my ashes to embrace you.

ed.  You can read the full transcript here.