Three guys talking about comic books, sports, movies, TV shows and the numerous other pastimes that make us Gentlemen of Leisure.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Brief Thoughts About Baseball (6/23/2009 - 6/29/2009)

1. On Monday, Donald Fehr retired from being the chief of the Baseball Player's Union. Many people will remember his reign for making the players a lot of money. But because of when I grew up and when I became interested in baseball, I will simply remember him as a giant obstacle to getting steroids out of baseball.

2. Manny Ramirez was getting ready for coming back from his suspension by playing in the minor leagues. Does any one else find it ridiculous that a suspended player is allowed to play in a MLB sanctioned minor league game? (I also find it humorous that many sports analysts have no idea why a minor league team would name themselves the "Isotopes".)

3. On Tuesday, for basically the first time this season, Mauer is hitting under .400. He's slipping, I say the Twins should trade him.

4. Milwaukee Reliever Mitch Stetter had a streak of 15 strike outs "in a row". However, that just referred to a streak of strike outs against batters who were retired, so other batters got hits amidst those strikeout. Basically, that stat is meaningless and should be put right up there with the 4 strikeout inning and hitting for the cycle. (Also, I'm personally fond of this pitch thrown by Stetter earlier this season.)

5. Notice anything different about Magglio Ordonez? No? Well, this is how he used to look and I guess it had a reverse Sampson effect because that day he did this. It was his first home run in 40 games. (Longest home run drought of his career.)

6. It's always nice when you're wife sings the national anthem and then you do this during the game.

7. If you're the Tigers, how do you not argue this and get it reviewed?

8. Albert Pujols pretty much single-handedly beat the Twins on Saturday with this and this...he's good.

9. Hanley Ramirez nearly single-handedly beat my fantasy team this week with this and this...I lost the RBI category.

10. Something you don't see every day, one historic closer pitching to another historic closer...and he WALKS HIM WITH THE BASES LOADED!? K-Rod should be ashamed of himself. (Also, congrats on number 500, Mariano.)

11. I was going to say that Justin Morneau is officially in a slump, but then he did this on Sunday. He also hit the ball well two other times on Sunday. So maybe he's coming out of his slump? Only time will tell.

12. I suppose I'm should also alert you to this highlight. (If he was a Twin he would have just plowed into the catcher.)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Blood is FUNNY ! ! !



.

Double Down On Oscar

Surprise announcements are few and far between in these days of 24/7 news, paparazzi and Twitter, but the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (aka the group that hands out the Oscars) manged today to announce a fairly significant change to the format of the Academy Awards that wasn't leaked beforehand. Starting with the telecast in 2010 (for films released in 2009) the Academy will now be nominating ten films for best picture instead of five.

This marks a return to a practice that hasn't been seen since 1943, when the number of nominees was trimmed from ten to the five, the standard until now (in 1934 and 1935 there were twelve best picture nominees, and in 1931/32 there were eight, with ten in all other years).

Of course, the initial thought regarding the motivation behind this change is that the studios want more best picture nominees, because such nominations open up new marketing opportunities for their films and help increase their box office take. In this article by Roger Ebert, noted Hollywood-insider blogger Nikki Finke firmly states this to be the case. Another "well-placed industry insider" in that article refutes this notion, basically saying that the studios aren't smart enough to come up with the idea, let alone successfully lobby the Academy to adopt it.

Instead, believes this insider, the change is just one more in many changes made to the Academy Awards telecasts of late (including cutting the musical numbers and altering the order in which awards are presented) intended to help boost flagging ratings of the broadcasts.

It is widely considered a fact by many that had "The Dark Knight" been nominated for Best Picture last year (and many speculated it had a good chance of doing so, firmly believing that "The Reader" edged it into "sixth place" at the last minute) more people would have watched the show as a result and ratings would have been better. The thinking is the more popular a film nominated, the greater the ratings of the Oscar telecast. Careful research (by which I mean my vague recollections and no actual research) suggests there is a correlation between popular (i.e. high-grossing) films being nominated and an increase in ratings for the corresponding ceremony. The 1997 Oscars (in which "Titanic" was nominated and won) was one of the highest rated on record, and the ratings for the 2003 Oscars (in which "Return of the King" won) were the highest since then.

So either way, whether this change was brought about by movie studios looking to boost their films' revenues with a "best picture nominee" label or by the Academy itself in an attempt to increase the ratings of its broadcasts, the change seems to be business-motivated and a further challenge to the integrity of the awards, which are, remember, supposed to theoretically award the best in American film each year, regardless of commercial considerations (and yes, we all know that doesn't always happen in reality).

Of course, it IS possible that the Academy made this change simply to bring attention to and honor a larger number of deserving films, both art house Indies overlooked by mainstream audiences and high-grossing, audience-pleasing films with some greater artistic merit (like "The Dark Knight" last year). Which was, in not so many words, the explanation given by Academy president Sid Ganis when the official change was announced. If that explanation seems naive and unlikely in the face of the commercial motivations, well, that's the world we live in. But it is worth considering.

Commercially motivated or not, it is important to remember that the Academy consists of thousands of members, from all walks of Hollywood life (editors, writers, actors, directors, producers, costume designers, fx technicians, etc.). I don't know how changes like this are decided upon by the Academy (if every member has the right to vote on such a change, if some kind of "Academy Ruling Council" makes these kinds of changes independent of the entire voting body, or if Sid Ganis has the dictatorial power to make sweeping changes as his heart desires) but most Academy members, I imagine, could care less about the ratings success of the Oscar broadcast or the box office returns of the nominated films. If such a change truly is commercially motivated (as, in some part, at least, it most likely is) it doesn't automatically mean the integrity of the awards are damaged beyond repair. The Academy is large and diverse, and in the end, while this change may have the desired commercial impact on both box office grosses and television ratings, it will probably just allow the voters to spread the accolades to a greater and (hopefully) more diverse number of films. As Roger Ebert said, "taste does remain a factor."

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Retro Review: Bart the General

Or The One Where: Bart builds an army of kids and goes to war with Nelson

The Setup: Bart defends Lisa from one of Nelson's toadies, drawing the wraith of the bully himself.

A Work In Progress: Nelson appears for the first time. While he always maintains his status as a something of a bully, he is never again as menacing as he is here, and obviously becomes one of the show's most well-known supporting characters (his even more well known catchphrase is not used in this episode, however). In the first wave of Simpsons action figures, Nelson was one of the only non-Simpson family characters to warrant a figure, ostensibly because the line was trying to sell him as the villain of the piece, due to this episode.

Herman, the one-armed owner of the military surplus store to which Grandpa takes Bart, is also introduced. Harry Shearer voices the character in a voice inspired by Bush the Elder. Herman is another one of those early season supporting characters that faded into the background while others rose to prominence.

Favorite Lines:

Marge: Well, Bart, I hope you're going straight to the principal about this.
Bart: I... guess I could do that.
Homer: What!? And violate the code of the schoolyard!? I'd rather Bart die!
Marge
: What on earth are you talking about, Homer!?
Homer: The code of the schoolyard, Marge! The rules that teach a boy to be a man. Let's see. Don't tattle. Always make fun of those different from you. Never say anything, unless you're sure everyone feels exactly the same way you do.

Herman: How many men do you have?
Bart: None.
Herman: You'll need more.

Bart: Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls. Contrary to what you've just seen, war is neither glamorous nor fun. There are no winners, only losers. There are no good wars, with the following exceptions: The American Revolution, World War II, and the Star Wars Trilogy.


Teebore's Take: After "Bart the Genius" this was the episode that really cemented Bart as the star of the show in its early goings. I've always had a certain fondness for this episode, though it isn't the best of the first season. Marge's naivete regarding Nelson (she suggest they try talking it out) is hilariously frustrating, and I love the fact that even when Bart fights back one-on-one against Nelson, nothing Homer teaches him works. Also, watching it again recently, I questioned the effectiveness of Bart's army using water balloons as their primary weapon against Nelson at the end. Even in terms of non-lethal, kid-friendly, network-appeasing weapons there has to be something better than water balloons: what's the worse thing that can happen? Nelson gets wet? And once he's wet, why would he care if he continues to be pummeled by balloons?

Classic:

Bart's star continues to rise while a bully is born.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Brief Thoughts About Baseball (6/15/2009 - 6/21/2009)

1. Here's a heads up play.

2. Not that people really want to hear about my fantasy team, but it was a light Monday as far as games go, so I only had one batter going and so did my opponent. I was excited when my player did this for the first time in his career. But then his player did this...and then this. I wasn't so excited anymore. But I ended the week well so I really can't complain...much.

3. Since we're in the middle of interleague play, I suppose I should make my opinion known. The NL's no DH policy is vastly superior to the AL. The Designated Hitter has never made much sense to me. The NL feels more pure.

4. Blackburn got a complete game for the Twins on Thursday. That's the first complete game for the Twins since 07/28/2008.

5. Kerry Wood came back to play against his former team, the Chicago Cubs. He apparently is still fond of them because he gave them a couple of gifts.

6. So Saturday night's Twins game started off with the opposing pitcher, Brian Moeller, taking the mound. Moeller then bent down and inscribed "FM" into the mound. The announcers commented that he does that in honor of his father Frank Moeller, who died before he could watch his son pitch in the major league. Then, on the second pitch, this happened. Good for the Twins (if ultimately meaningless), but still I had slightly mixed feelings. I just needed a few more buffer pitches.

7. I'm probably alone on this one, but I've always been for standardizing the dimensions of baseball fields. I know it's sacrilege and that it will never happen, but when this hit ends the game...something doesn't feel right. (And the fact that MLB referred to it as a "wallop" is just plain embarrassing.)

8. Thursday's Yankees game was the first game in the new Yankee stadium not to have a home run hit by either team. So the record of most consecutive games with a home run hit to start a new stadium ends at 35. And what juggernaut of a team had the pitching chops to shut out the vaunted Yankees offense on that day? Why, the mighty Natinals, of course.

9. I know Gardenhire has been wanting to rest Morneau more this year and I know Morneau has been in a minor slump lately. But with Denard Span out of the lineup, should they also be taking Morneau out? Especially after Kubel is taken out of the game for an illness?

10. Speaking of the Twins, they usually use interleague play to get on a hot streak. Not this year.. On their latest 6 game interleague homestand they went only 3 and 3, losing a series to the Astros. The White Sox, on the other hand, are doing extremely well. Not a good sign for the Twins.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Retro Review: There's No Disgrace Like Home

Or The One Where: Homer takes the family to therapy.

The Setup: Bart, Lisa and Marge's behavior embarrasses Homer at the company picnic, leading him to seek help in fixing his dysfunctional family.

A Work in Progress: Eddie and Lou, the two cops that work with Chief Wiggum, appear for the first time. Both are colored yellow, though Lou will be black in all subsequent appearances.

This is also the first appearance of Dr. Marvin Monroe, the psychiatrist who was a minor supporting character in the early seasons, before dyingoffscreen (as revealed in the "133rd Episode Extravaganza" episode in season seven).

An "Itchy and Scratchy" cartoon is seen for the first time.

Stately Burns Manor appears for the first time, and Burns threatens to release the hounds at the end of the picnic. The house is drawn to resemble Charles Foster Kane's Xanadu in "Citizen Kane", making this episode the first of several that will parody or homage that film.

Smithers is now colored yellow.

Favorite Lines:

Homer: Sometimes I think we're the worst family in town.
Marge: Maybe we should move to a larger community.

Moe: Eddie! Would you like some pretzels?
Eddie: No thanks, we're on duty. A couple of beers would be nice though.

Homer: When will I learn? The answer to life's problems aren't at the bottom of a bottle, they're on TV!


Teebore's Take: There's some good gags here (the scenes at Marvin Monroe's clinic, for example, especially the end with everyone shocking each other) but really stands out about this episode now is how out of character everyone is. Lisa is relatively underdeveloped and basically just plays off Bart's mischief, but how odd is it that HOMER is the oneembarrassed by the family, striving to make them more "normal", even willing to sell the TV to do so, while Marge gets drunk and basically shrugs off Homer's concern about the family? The plot reads like a Marge episode with Homer cast in the lead, and it's hard to get past characterization that reminds of us just how early an episode this is.


Classic:

An episode that stands out by being atypical, not exactly a classic. Though the sequence at Marvin Monroe's clinic IS classic Simpsons. So kind of a draw...

Retro Review: Homer's Odyssey

Or The One Where: Homer gets fired from the power plant (for the first time) and becomes a public safety advocate.

The Setup: While visiting the nuclear power plant on a field trip, Bart distracts Homer, who causes an accident and gets fired.

A Work in Progress: Smithers makes his first appearance (his voice was heard in the Christmas episode) and he's famously black (or really tan, as the producers told us to think of him in this episode), a mistake credited to the color stylist. The intention was always for the sycophanticSmithers to be Mr. Burns' Caucasian (so, in the world of the Simpsons, yellow) yes man.

Homer loses his job at the power plant, only to be rehired at the end as a safety inspector, the title most often used to describe his position at the plant. This makes this episode arguably the first of many, many "Homer loses his job" episodes. His middle initial, "J", is also established.

Chief Wiggum, school bus driver Otto, Jasper (Grandpa's bearded friend), the Winfields (the Simpsons' elderly neighbors), Sam and Larry (the two barflies that often appear alongside Barney and Homer at Moe's, who, surprisingly, have never developed into full-fledged supporting characters), and Sherri and Terry (the twin girls in Bart's class) appear for the first time.

Mr. Burns is voiced by Charlie Collins instead of Harry Shearer.

Also, we see Bart crank calling Moe for the first time. These crank calls were a well known element of many early episodes.


Favorite Lines:

Announcer: Loaf-time, the cable network for the unemployed, will be back with more tips on how to win the lottery right after this.
Duff Beer commercial: Unemployed? Out of work? Sober? You sat around the house all day, but now it's Duff time! Duff, the beer that makes the days fly by!
Homer: Beer. Now there's a temporary solution.

Burns: You mean you're willing to give up a good job and a raise, just for your principles? Homer: Hmmmm, you put it that way it does sound a little far-fetched, but that's the lug your looking at... and I vow to continue spending every free minute I have crusading for safety. Of course, I'd have a lot less of those free minutes if you gave me the job.
Burns: You're not as stupid as you look, or sound, or our best testing indicates.

Teebore's Take: This is one of those episodes I often think about whenever Homer loses his job (or orchestrates some sort of expensive, zany scheme) in recent episodes, because this episode focuses almost entirely on the ramifications of Homer being unemployed, including Homer struggling with his identity when no longer the family provider and Marge getting back an old waitress job to help make ends meet. Whereas nowadays, such real world concerns are swept aside in favor of the outrageous plot or more gags. Not that this episode is all that great either, as it's largely forgettable, playing more like a traditional sitcom than an episode of "TheSimpsons." One thing that did stand out while rewatching it was Homer's attempted suicide in the second act. It's dealt with very causally, and while the gag of him dragging a boulder to a bridge, only to find a boulder there already is funny, the fact that Homer's situation leads him to suicide seems very morbid. It's the kind of plot that wouldn't occur in a traditional sitcom, but because this episode IS so traditional, it seems out of place.

Crank Call: Bart asks for Mr. Freely, I.P. Freely.

Classic:

Homer gets his well known position at the plant, Bart makes his first crank call, and a host of supporting characters debut, but the episode itself is fairly forgettable.

Retro Review: Bart The Genius

After finishing the eleventh season of "The Simpsons" Mrs. Teebore decided she hasn't seen enough of the early episodes, and would like to go back and watch the show from the beginning. Who am I to argue with watching more Simpsons?

And so "The Simpsons" Retro Reviews jump back to the very beginning of the show. With that in mind, I've added a "work in progress" field in which I'll point out character first appearances,significant continuity developments, and other items of note as the show grows into what we all know and love. And since the consistently zany episodes are several seasons away at this point (and because Homer is a vastly different character at this point) I'll be passing upGazoos and Jerk-ass Homers in favor of ranking how classic each episode is, on a scale of one to five decapitated Jebediah Springfield statue heads. As always, such rankings are completely arbitrary and not at all scientific.

Or the One Where: Bart fakes being a genius.

The Setup: Bart puts his name on Martin's aptitude test, prompting the school psychologist to diagnose Bart's misbehavior as acts of intellectual boredom, enrolling him a private school for geniuses.

A Work In Progress: This is the show's first regular season episode* and as such the full title sequence, including the chalkboard and couch gags, are seen for the first time. The idea behind the extra long opening (even by 1990s standards) was to eat up some time that didn't require new animation every episode. The couch and chalkboard gags were then added to prevent the entire title sequence from being a complete waste of the viewers time.

Martin Prince, and Bart's teacher Mrs. Krabappel, appear for the first time, as does school psychologist J. Loren Prior, one of the few supporting characters who disappears later in theshow's run.

Bart's catchphrase "eat my shorts" is said for the first time.

Homer's voice is slightly different from what we're used to in these early episodes. The story goes that Dan Castellenetta was originally going for a Walter Mathau-type voice for the character, before settling on the voice with which we're all familiar.


Favorite Lines:

Lisa: `Id', triple-word score!
Homer: No abbreviations.
Lisa: Not I.D., Dad, `id'. It's a word!
Bart: As in "This game is stoop-id''.

Bart: Here we go. Kwyjibo. K-W-Y-J-I-B-O. Twenty-two points, plus triple-word-score, plus fifty points for using all my letters. Game's over. I'm outta here.
Homer
: Wait a minute, you little cheater! You're not going anywhere until you tell me what a kwyjibo is.
Bart: Kwyjibo. Uh... a big, dumb, balding North American ape. With no chin.
Marge: And a short temper.
Homer: I'll show you a big, dumb, balding ape!
Bart: Uh oh. Kwyjibo on the loose!

Krabappel: Now I don't want you to worry, class. These test will have no effect on your grade. They merely determine your future social status and financial success.

Teebore's Take: I've probably seen this episode more than any other first season episode, not because I particularly enjoy it, but because, being the first episode of the series, it gets replayed more than other early eps . I may not love it as much as some other episodes (even in the first season), but it's a good episode, establishing the tone of the series early on and while the jokes aren't as quotable or memorable as what will come, it definitely has its funny moments. The focus of the episode is squarely on Bart, which makes sense as the first two seasons or so are considered the "Bart-centric" seasons (until Homer slowly edged his way into the spotlight starting in seasons three and four). As such, the early days of "Simpsons-mania" revolved around Bart and his catchphrases, and all that started here. However, for all of Bart's "problem child" rebelliousness and pranks, he's always been surprisingly sensitive at times. This episode showcases this as well, something I'd forgotten. In the end, what Bart finds himself enjoying the most about being considered a genius is the attention and respect he gets from Homer as a result. It shows that while Bart's "underachiever and proud of it" attitude is what made him popular, the character was more than that from the very beginning.

Classic:

Well, this is the episode that started the 20-year-old (and growing) phenomenon, and established Bart as the show's go-to character in the early goings. It's also a well done and funny episode, even beyond season one standards.


*Yes, the Christmas episode "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire" aired before this episode, and appears before it on the season one DVD set, but I'm starting this series of reviews with the first episode of the full season, because "Simpsons Roasting..." aired several weeks before "Bart the Genius" as a stand alone Christmas episode, and because I try to avoid watching Christmas-themed things when it's not Christmas. Maybe I'll do a full Retro Review for it when the holidays roll around again.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

X-amining X-Men #15

"Prisoners of the Mysterious Master Mold "
December 1965

Writer:
Smilin' Stan Lee
Designer: Jolly Jack Kirby
Penciller: Jovial Jay Gavin
Inker: Darlin' Dick Ayers
Letterer: Adorable Artie Simek

Plot:
The X-Men survive the assault of the Sentinels' base and retreat to a distant beyond the range of their weapons. Meanwhile, the Sentinels take the captured Trask before Master Mold, their leader, and the Sentinel who, with Trask's help, manufacturers the other robots. He intends for Trask to help him create an army of Sentinels with which to enslave humanity for their own benefit. Outside the base, Beast and Iceman are captured attempting to infiltrate, and Iceman is knocked out while Master Mold uses a device called the Psycho Probe on Beast in an attempt to discover the location of the X-Men's headquarters. Cyclops, Angel, Marvel Girl and the astral form of Professor X invade the Sentinels' base. The three X-Men revive Iceman and tussle with some Sentinels while Professor X manages to free Beast from the effects of the Pyscho Probe. But the X-Men are ultimately overpowered by the Sentinels and with them defeated, Master Mold orders Trask to help him create an army of thousands of Sentinels.

Firsts and Other Notables:
Master Mold, the gigantic creator and leader of the smaller Sentinels, debuts. He will earn place his own place in the X-Men's rogues gallery as a standalone villain apart from the Sentinels en masse, most notably by fusing Nimrod (an advanced Sentinel from the future) to form Bastion, the villain of the 90s "Operation: Zero Tolerance" crossover.


Beast's origin is detailed.
Essentially, Hank was ridiculed for his animal-like appendages until finding success as an athlete, which brings him to the attention of Professor Xavier. When his success leads some to suspect Hank is a mutant, Xavier invites him to his school. This origin will be elaborated on later in the series, but aside from the addition of a one-note super-villain to the proceedings, little is changed.

Beast's parents also appear for the first time. Moreso than any of the other original X-Men, very little is ever done with them.

A Work in Progress:
The credits now refer to the team as "the most unusual fighting team of all time" instead of "the most unusual teenagers of all time."

Trask says that he didn't create the Sentinels; he created Master Mold, who created the Sentinels. But Master Mold still needs Trask's help to create more Sentinels. It's all a bit dodgy.

Jean is able to use her telekinesis to essentially fly alongside Angel.


While in his astral form, Xavier bombards Beast with "sharp thought particles." That frankly doesn't make much sense...


Ah, the Silver Age:
Beast attributes his mutation to the fact that his parents worked at an atomic facility, further strengthening the correlation in these early issues between radiation and mutation.

The Sentinels fire "nature activator rays" at the X-Men, causing the landscape around them to go wild. They, of course, no exactly what they are.

Those same rays are being fired by three Sentinel gunners. And Professor X manages to knock them out using telepathy.


Iceman and Beast attempt to infiltrate the Sentinels' base by creating an ice glider then having Cyclops use the force of his optic blast launch them towards the base. The glider turns out to be less than aerodynamically sound, and when they are about to tumble off it, the Sentinels capture them and take them inside the base. Seems like that all "ice glider" plan wasn't too well thought out.


For Sale: "No real 'X-Ray' vision is obtained, but you get an illusion of 'X-Ray' vision so amazing you'll hardly believe your eyes."

What do you mean, I don't get real X-Ray vision?



Teebore's Take: Aside from the introduction of Master Mold, this issue is little more than one long fight scene. Even Beast's origin is pedestrian and feels shoe-horned in to draw out the story (if making the X-Men mutants is an easy way of explaining how they got their powers, the downside, as we'll see further down the road, is that their "origin" stories are fairly dull and repetitive. Beast's, for example, follows the standard pattern of radiation-ridiculed for being different-feared for being different-running from a mob which garners the attention of Professor X).

It's always fun to see the X-Men fighting big robots, and this issue does have some Silver Age quirkiness to it, but has little beyond that going for it, especially coming after last issue.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Teebore's Tidbits

Batman and the Monster Men: A well-crafted "year one" style Batman story, the concept of this story, the first of several such by writer/artist Matt Wagner, is to expand on an existing Golden Age Batman story. I've never loved Wagner's art as much as some people, but it's not bad. The story itself is fun, and it's especially fun to see a more human, rookie Batman struggle against savage, super-strong Monster Men that would likely be little trouble for his modern self. The transition from villainy in Gotham caused by the the mob to the "freaks" of Batman's rogues gallery is also featured, something I always enjoy reading about. Plus, Julie Madison, one of Batman's earliest underutilized girlfriends, is a featured character, and she's interesting enough to make the struggle between being Batman and being Bruce Wayne more enjoyable than it usually is.

Amazing Spider-Man: Brand New Day vol. 1: Longtime readers will remember that I swore off "Amazing Spider-Man" after the "One More Day"/Spidey sells his marriage to the Devil fiasco. A friend of mine (who loves Spidey like I love the X-Men, so one prone to be more forgiving of stupid storylines due to a love of the characters) insisted that "Brand New Day" (as the post-marriage retcon stories are collectively known) was at least worth a look, so look I did (it certainly helped that I was able to get a hardcover collection of the first few stories used with my employee discount, so I paid significantly less than had I purchased these issues individually as they were published). The stories weren't bad, but they weren't all that good either (and I realize such a declaration isn't exactly breaking new ground in terms of "Brand New Day" criticism).

If anything, I was struck at how terribly desperate the creators were to establish that the new post-demonic divorce status quo was just like the swinging Spidey stories of the seventies that all the older fans grew up reading and loving. Harry Osborn is back. Peter's looking for a job. A criminal steals one of his webshooters. Later, the police accuse Spider-Man of murder because a thug he put a spider-tracer on shows up dead. He spends the second story without web-fluid because he can't afford to buy the ingredients to make more. And so on. Again, these weren't bad stories, but they weren't terribly original either. Most importantly, absolutely nothing that happened in them couldn't have happened if Spider-Man was still married. Still, they were good enough to make me want to pick up the next volume (at half price, and discounted, of course). Hopefully the stench of desperation will be gone, and they'll do something that couldn't be done with a married Spider-Man in an attempt to at least try to justify the "One More Day" debacle.

The Stand by Stephen King: I recently finished re-reading this, and apparently, it's been awhile since I last read it, as I'd forgotten large swaths of the book such that certain parts read like new to me (and last time I also read the expanded edition, so that's not the explanation). As before, the first third of the book (detailing the release of the apocalyptic 'Captain Trips' superflu plague and the resultant breakdown of society) and the last third (chronicling the survivors attempts to create a post-apocalyptic society leading up to the titular stand against evil) remain my favorites, while I was still significantly less interested in the middle third (focusing on the main characters immediate reactions to the death of 99.9% of the population and chronicling their various wanderings as they come together). The ending was still as anti-climatic as I found it before, though I appreciated the thematic elements and the craft involved more this time around. And I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed the final chapters of the novel, detailing in vivid detail Stu and Tom's hazardous winter return to Boulder, especially considering that, for all intents and purposes, the main conflict of the novel was resolved before they even set out.

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles: This show was such a slow-burner that it was tough to get real excited about any one episode, and that (combined with its Friday night timeslot) led to it languishing on my DVR for awhile, so I only recently finished the show despite it being off the air since early April. Which means that, for the most part, I was watching the latter half of its second season knowing it wouldn't be getting a third, and it's a shame. The slow-burn may not have always been exciting but it was unique, and it served the characters (the show's real strength) well. Brian Austin Green's Derek Reese, in particular, has become one of my favorite TV characters and a worthy addition to the "Terminator" franchise. The last half dozen or so episodes were particularly strong, and if I was saddened by the show's cancellation before watching it, then the finale really rammed it home. While it did manage to answer most of the major lingering questions, a few smaller one remain (what was the deal with Derek and that creepy Terminator basement in the future, exactly?). More importantly, while the finale didn't exactly end on a cliffhanger, it did introduce an intriguing new status quo for the show that makes me wish it was coming back even more to see how it would have played out.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Brief Thoughts About Baseball (6/8/2009 - 6/14/2009)

1. This is always scary.

2. On Tuesday the Twins win the game 10 to 5...but it was 10 to 0 going into the 9th inning. They bring in Baker and proceeds to not get an out. So they go to the bullpen, who can barely get an out themselves. Finally, Nathan has to come in up by 5 with the bases loaded and gets the save (because the tying run was on deck). I can't recall a 10-5 win feeling more like a loss than that game.

3. On Wednesday the Twins beat Oakland 6 to 3, but it felt like a better win than Tuesday's 10 to 5 victory. Go figure.

4. Milton 'Candyland' Bradley needs to learn a game called "Count The Number of Outs."

5. Last week I talked about that time Randy Johnson hit a bird with a pitch. Well, I guess that was some sort dark prophecy for birds.

6. And if that's tough way to lose a game, this takes the cake!

7. You know Mauer, Morneau, and Kubel are all great. But part of me thinks the player the Twins can least afford to lose is Joe Nathan.

8. Remember Torii Hunter?

9. Have rumors of Big Poppi's demise been greatly exaggerated? (Also, Boston...you can quit the curtain calls anytime.)

10. Since Tuesday Justin Morneau is 5 for 22 with 2 Runs and that's about it. Nothing to panic about just yet, but Morneau is more than capable of going into extended slumps and it looks like he's trying too hard to home runs right now. I'm getting a little concerned, but I'm no expert. So take that for what it's worth.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

A Fresh Take

I'm never quite how to review a documentary, or even if I should 'review' one at all. The purpose of 'traditional' movies is to entertain (using the broadest sense of the word). If you end up learning something or thinking about the world after the movie, well that's just a bonus. The purpose of a documentary is to learn. If you end up being entertained in the process then that's just a bonus. The documentary Fresh may not be traditionally entertaining, but it certainly is interesting.
The movie is about how we get our food. The short answer is that most food we eat comes from giant factories designed to produce one type of food. It examines this way of cultivating food and compares it to a more organic approach. You're probably not surprised to hear that the organic approach is better.
Now, some of you may know me to be a vegetarian. So I should note that this is not an anti-meat film. In fact, this documentary makes no assessment at all about the morality of meat. Like-wise, this movie does not resort to gross-out tactics such as showing the inside of a slaughterhouse or anything like that. This movie is solely focused on the advantages to multi-cultured, organic farming opposed to the mono-culture 'big box' food factories. The main crux of the film is that we are currently fighting nature in the production of our food as opposed to letting nature work for us. It seems so obvious once you think about it.
The end conclusion of this documentary isn't surprising. I suppose I'd compare it to Supersize Me. Everybody already knew McDonald's food is bad for you. The surprising part came in just HOW bad McDonald's food is for you.
Likewise, the conclusion of Fresh isn't surprising. The surprise comes from the unsustainability of the way most food is produced and in just how much better organic food is, and not just health wise, but economically speaking and environmentally speaking.
So, if you're ready to really think about where your food comes from and why that's important in the first place, then I'd suggest checking out the documentary Fresh.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Hockey Hijinks

Alright, so apparently a radio announcer for the Florida Panthers NHL team is ex-NHL player Randy Moller. The interesting thing about him is that he does a radio show with Dan Le Batard where they take suggestions from callers regarding what phrase Randy Moller should use after the Panthers score a goal.

The results can be pretty hilarious:



Wednesday, June 10, 2009

X-amining X-Men #14

"Among Us Stalk...the Sentinels!"
November 1965

Stan Lee, D.S. (Doctor of Story)
Jack Kirby, D.L. (Doctor of Layouts)
Jay Gavin, M.A. (Master of Art)
V. Colletta, B.I. (Bachelor of Inking)
Artie Simek, T.O.L (Tired of Lettering)

Plot:
Having recovered from their injuries suffered at the hands of Juggernaut last issue, Xavier sends the X-Men away on vacation. Meanwhile, anthropologist Bolivar Trask announces to the world that he believes mutants to be a threat to humanity. Catching wind of his beliefs and fearing that the public will begin targeting mutants, Professor X arranges a televised debate with Trask to argue that mutants are not intending to enslave or eradicate humanity. During the debate, Trask unveils his Sentinels, advanced robots he intends to use as humanity's defense against mutants. The Sentinels quickly rebel, determining that the best way to save humanity is to rule over it. Professor X telepathically calls the X-Men for help while the majority of the Sentinels leave with Trask. After defeating the remaining Sentinel, Xavier and the X-Men manage to locate the Sentinel's hidden base but trigger its automatic defenses in the process.

Firsts and Other Notables:
The Sentinels, robots designed to hunt and kill mutants, make their first appearance. In all their varied forms, they've remained a mainstay of "X-Men" mythology since this issue, coming to personify the human/mutant conflict that underscores so many "X-Men" stories. They also get trotted out whenever the X-Men need to get involved in a big fight scene without the audience worrying about any moral implications as they tear into their opponents.

Bolivar Trask also appears for the first time. He and his various family members, particularly his son Larry, are firmly entrenched in the X-Men mythology and will continue to plague the X-Men for years to come, whether creating some new form of Sentinel or generally representing human bigotry and antagonism towards mutants.

Angel's parents also make their first appearance. They seem nice, he gets along well with them, and they are rich. They are not aware, however, that Warren is a mutant. Later stories will dabble a bit with Warren's family (particularly a criminal uncle) but for the most part, his parents are notably only for eventually passing along his inheritance.

A Work in Progress:
This is the issue that really establishes the theme of the X-Men as we know it. Previous issues had flirted with the notion of humans fearing and mistrusting mutants, as well as Xavier possessing some kind of agenda for the X-Men beyond "fighting evil mutants." All of that comes together in this issue, as the notion of humans fearing and hating mutants because they believe mutants mean to enslave/eradicate humanity is spelled out. This conflict between humans and mutants, and between mutants who embrace the public fear of mutant dominance (Magneto) and those who refute it (the X-Men) is such a bedrock of X-Men mythology now it's hard to believe it took fourteen issues (and almost three years) to really coalesce.


The Sentinels in this story are only slightly taller than humans, as opposed to the several-stories-tall variety of later incarnations most familiar to casual fans. They wait approximately four panels before rebelling against Trask and humanity, deciding that the best way to protect humanity is to enslave it. This is a key element of many Sentinel stories, regardless of their creator/model: if the Sentinels aren't hunting mutants for their master, they are rebelling against said master in order to enslave humanity for its own good.

Angel says that his wings began to appear when he was in military school and that he left because he couldn't risk having them discovered during a physical exam. This is largely forgotten and later contradicted by his "official" origin, which has Warren acting as a quasi-vigilante before Professor X recruits him to the team.

This is the first issue that Hank and Bobby's friendship stood out to me as being unique beyond just hanging out because they're on the same team.

Professor X can vaguely read the thoughts of the Sentinels. It doesn't come across as ridiculous as it sounds.

Due to "unprecedented demand" "X-Men" is published monthly as of this issue.

Ah, the Silver Age:
Here's how Warren's wings get strapped down when he goes out in public:


Beast wears "specially hinged shoes" for some reason.

Trask says that everyone is too busy worrying about the Cold War and atomic bombs to see the mutant menace before them.


Professor X calls the "National Television Network" and demands to speak to the programming director. Within seconds, he's arranged a nationally televised debate between himself and Trask, which airs the next evening, preempting "two soap operas and a wildly heralded adult Western."


The moderator of the debate interrupts Trask's Sentinel demonstration to plug their sponsor.


Professor X blames the Sentinels' rebellion on the fact that Trask was an anthropologist, not a robot expert. Apparently, as far as Xavier is concerned, ALL anthropologists are capable of creating sophisticated, artificially intelligent robotic lifeforms. But if you don't want said robots to rebel and enslave humanity, well, THEN you need a robot expert.

Hank and Bobby are spending their vacation at the now-officially christened Coffee-A-Go-Go. Because Jack Kirby, for all his skills, apparently had no idea what teenagers in the sixties wore, both are attired in their usual stuffy suits.
And check out that groovy dialogue.


Young Love: Scott secretly pines for Jean, Jean secretly pines for Scott, and Warren forms the third side of triangle he probably doesn't even know exists...


Bobby strikes out with Zelda after Professor X calls the team into action.


Human/Mutant Relations: An angry crowd watches Professor X's attempts at standing up for mutants and can't decide if he's a mutant, a communist or a Republican, apparently.


After his glasses accidentally fall off (...okay...) an angry mob chases Cyclops. It seems there's an angry mob just waiting to be formed on every New York corner.


The Awesome and Terrible Power of Cyclops: Behold Cyclops' greatest fear:


Later, Scott resigns himself to Jean leaving with Warren.


But it's okay, because Professor X feels his pain.


It's in the Mail: One letter writer asks how Cerebro detected Juggernaut when the story made it clear Juggernaut wasn't a mutant. The question is promptly dodged.

And why DIDN'T Dr. Strange help out against the Juggernaut?


Teebore's Take: This is arguably the most important issue of the series since #1. For all the talk of "evil mutants" and the vague unrest between humans and mutants, the book really suffered a lack of theme and focus to contextualize the otherwise standard Silver Age slugfests. By moving the human/mutant conflict to the forefront, "X-Men" gains a theme that will not only define this title in the decades to come, but an entire sub-genre of books within the greater Marvel Universe. Even Magneto, though he doesn't appear (or warrant a mention) in this issue, gets immediately re-contextualized as the kind of mutant Trask built the Sentinels to stop. Suddenly, all of Magento's past appearances resonate beyond his vague pronouncements of superiority and acts of super-villainy. While the human/mutant conflict doesn't become the book's sole focus moving ahead, it remains the defining characteristic of the book.

Beyond all that, the issue is fun to read, with several character moments further fleshing out the cast and some enjoyable fight scenes featuring the X-Men fighting big robots (which, of course, is why the Sentinels themselves stick around as well as the themes they helped introduced). Toss in some Silver Age silliness as well as some Cold War commentary (the cure is worse than the disease, as Trask's attempt to prevent enslavement by mutants results in enslavement by robots) and this is easily one of the best issues thus far.