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Thursday, April 30, 2009

X-amining X-Men #9

"Enter, The Avengers! "
January 1965

"Savagely written by"
Stan Lee
"Supremely drawn by" Jack Kirby
"Superbly inked by" Chic Stone

The X-Men arrive in Europe at Professor Xavier's request. Xavier has located the lair of Lucifer. Xavier is captured and learns that Lucifer has wired his heart to an enormous bomb that will explode if Lucifer's heart rate stops. The Avengers arrive on the scene, having followed emanations of evil that Thor's hammer sensed, determined to defeat Lucifer. Professor X telepathically warns the X-Men they must stop the Avengers from harming Lucifer, but can't explain further. So the X-Men and Avengers fight, with the Avengers more or less taking it easy on the teenaged X-Men. Meanwhile, Professor X manages to knock Lucifer out without disturbing his heart rate, and he explains everything to Thor. The Avengers vote (literally) to leave Lucifer to the X-Men and depart. Cyclops and Professor X work together to diffuse Lucifer's bomb, then let him go.

Firsts and Other Notables:
Lucifer makes his first appearance. He's referred to as human, but later stories establish he's an alien doing recon work for his race's planned invasion (the same race to which Dominus, a similarly one-note West Coast Avengers villain, belongs). Like many non-Brotherhood villains from this era, he never really catches on, which is problematic for reasons I'll get into below.

Professor X says Lucifer is responsible for putting him in a wheelchair, but doesn't elaborate (he will in issue #20).

The X-Men and Avengers meet (and fight) for the first time. The Avengers are the first real high profile guest-stars to appear in the book. The two groups go on to share a unique relationship, born of their similar publishing history (both titles began in September 1963) and character connections (Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch leave the Brotherhood to join the Avengers, bringing the X-Men's mutant- and Magneto-related baggage to that title) making this issue notable for the start of that relationship.

A Work in Progress:
A narrative caption states only Professor X and Magneto are capable of astral projection. This turns out to be wrong on a number of counts.

Ah, the Silver Age:
The X-Men meet the Avengers and proceed to fight them before the entire situation is made clear, because that's what Marvel heroes did in the 60s.

The X-Men travel from New York to Europe (the story can't decide if it's somewhere in the Balkans or Bavaria) via a cruise liner.

Professor X's fairly macho wheelchair in this issue has convenient "extendo-arms."

In a scene clearly designed to illustrate everyone's powers for first time readers, Jean telekinetically places a log over a hole she's about to step into because she doesn't have the time to stop running...but she does have the time to say as much before putting the log in place. Also, did she really need the log? The hole isn't that big.

Iceman calls Thor "square."

The Avengers love their parlimentary procedure. After the Avengers learn about Lucifer, they call off the fight with the X-Men and vote to leave him for the X-Men to handle. I'm sure the X-Men appreciate the Avengers respecting their turf, but at the same time, I don't think the X-Men would mind the Avengers' help in defeating the villain with an apocalyptic bomb ready to explode...

After defeating Lucifer, the X-Men let him go because "we X-Men are pledged never to cause injury to a human being" (but the Blob gets beat up for refusing to join the team). Um, yeah...I know that villains usually "get away" in the Silver Age, but that's the lamest excuse for it I've ever heard.

Young Love: Jean wants to comfort Cyclops with her lips. Easy there, Jeannie: this is an "all ages" comic. She believes if they were all ordinary humans, they'd be "free to follow the urgings" of their hearts.

Wasp pretends to be enamored of Angel in an attempt to make Giant-Man jealous. It doesn't work.

The Awesome and Terrible Power of Cyclops: In the midst of this little love-fest, Professor X proclaims Cyclops disarming Lucifer's bomb his "most glorious moment." I still think he'd rather be comforted by Jean's lips.

I think they're going to make out.

It's in the Mail: The ongoing debate about Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch's loyalties rages on. A few letters are complaining that the Brotherhood are overexposed, including this one, whose author has come up with a hilariously exact number for how often a villain should appear.

Apparently, Marvel used to send a response card to everyone who wrote them a letter. I never knew that.

And here are the results of X-Men's reader mail poll.

Teebore's Take:
Lucifer's role in Professor X's origin has always been troubling. It seems only logical that whomever caused Professor X to spend his life in a wheelchair should be someone of some importance (Magneto seems a blisteringly obvious candidate, though their shared history hadn't been established yet). Instead, this place of significance in the X-Men mythos is held by Lucifer, a one-note villain whose motivations are never made clear until he's later revealed to be a conqueror from a relatively trivial alien race. Not a lot of mythic weight to that.

Granted, Stan Lee couldn't have known how popular and long-lasting the X-Men would become, and we can look back on this reveal with the benefit of hindsight and 40+ years of stories to declare it lame, but he should have realized this pivotal element of Xavier's origin deserved something special. And let's face it, cover hyperbole aside, Lucifer is no Dr. Doom. Heck, Lucifer is no Unus the Untouchable; at least he's a mutant.

Beyond that, this issue has little going for it beyond the novelty of the X-Men/Avengers confrontation. It's never made clear (either in this issue or via the subplots setting it up in the previous two issues) why Professor X chose to go after Lucifer at this exact time, nor why he suddenly needs the X-Men now whereas before he was content to work alone. In the end, their only contribution to the story is to delay the Avengers, who didn't arrive until after the X-Men, and to help defuse a bomb Xavier didn't know about until after he summoned them. Lucifier's ultimate plan or goals go unmentioned; the main threat of the issue, his enormous bomb, is a defensive measure, meant to destroy the world in the event of his death, giving no indication of what he hopes to accomplish in the meantime.

And of course, there's that ending, in which the X-Men let Lucifer walk away while standing next to a defused bomb with which he threatened to destroy the world.

But it does have Iceman calling Thor square.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Brief Thoughts About Baseball (4/20/2009 - 4/26/2009)

1. Well the Twins couldn't sweep the Indians. I knew they were in trouble in that final game when A) The Twins were going for a sweep and love to pull the Meat Loaf "Two out of three ain't bad" B) Glen Perkins was starting and is also on my fantasy baseball team and C) My fantasy baseball team could have REALLY used a win by Perkins.

2. Perhaps I spoke too soon about the Marlins. (They've lost six in a row.)

3. Two to three years ago I used to take note at how the Twins always do well against the Boston Red Sox. That hasn't been the case lately. This point was emphasized this week when the Twins were blown out in two games on the same day at Fenway. That was ugly.

4. Speaking of the Red Sox, I'm always annoyed by the off the charts hype each Yankees/Red Sox series gets by the national media. However, with each over-hyped series I find myself watching a game or two.

5. I don't know why but I get annoyed by teams that get on a long winning streak when they aren't the Twins (like the Red Sox). I especially get annoyed when that team starts pulling wins out their asses from games they had no business winning (like the Red Sox).

6. Whatever happened to Boof Bonser?

7. Jordan Zimmerman is looking like the rookie phenom pitcher the Natinals are in desperate need of having. Too bad I've ruined his promising, young career by picking him up for my fantasy team.

8. Speaking of which, "Mr. Grand Slam" Alexei Ramirez can thank me for stupidly dropping him. (That's a long story.)

9. I heard a friend of mine say that Jusin Morneau is the least clutch player in baseball. I think that's hyperbole, but he certainly isn't the most clutch player in baseball.

10. For those of you curious about #6:
"The Twins will likely be without pitcher Boof Bonser for the entire 2009 season after doctors discovered partial tears in the labrum and rotator cuff in his right shoulder during arthroscopic surgery on Wednesday."
I probably should've known that.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Heroes 3x24: I Am Sylar

Wesley Snipes*: Agent Taub
Heroes, of late, as been in the disquieting habit of inserting scenes cut from previous episodes into the "Previously On" segment preceding a new episode, but never has it been more egregious than in this episode, in which the entire plot point upon which this episode hangs (Sylar is having identity issues while masquerading as one of Danko's agents), not to mention the implication that Danko is "feeding" his own agents to Sylar and all that entails for Danko's character, is introduced in the "Previously..." segment. Wow. That's Talk about telling and not showing: "Oh, and Sylar's been pretending to be another agent for awhile now, and it's causing him some problems. It was never important enough to establish before now, but it's important now. Trust us."

Harrison Ford: Shapeshifting
I was all ready to flame the show for having Sylar impersonate Nathan despite the heavy implication in previous episodes that shapeshifting requires physical contact with a subject, and Nathan and Sylar never met after Sylar acquired that power, but the show sidestepped my criticism by not only confirming how the power works, but by making Sylar's acquisition of Nathan's DNA a plot point. Kudos.

Wesley Snipes: Shapeshifting
Of course, the show then squanders that goodwill by showing Sylar's clothes change when he shifts to another person, despite the fact that in previous episodes this wasn't the case. And by having Sylar talk about how the power changes his DNA, despite the fact that when the original shapeshifter died with Sylar's form, he possessed his own DNA, not Sylar's. And the confirmation that physical contact is required to assume someone's form begs the question of when the original shapeshifter had contact with Sylar in order to impersonate him.

Wesley Snipes: Hiro and Ando
Their constant bickering about Ando's power and the nature of their relationship (partnership vs. mentor and sidekick) is becoming as tired as the Claire-Noah "I love him-I hate him-I love him" merry-go-round. Enough already.

Wesley Snipes: Hiro's glasses
Seriously, it took THAT long for one of the agents to realize one of his team members was wearing glasses when he never has before?

Wesley Snipes: GPS

Based on Hiro's ability to use an agent's GPS device to locate Building 26, are we to assume that every agent has the location of their secret headquarters programmed into their GPS units? That seems pretty sloppy.

Furthermore, didn't Hiro inject Ando and himself with GPS tracking chips? Meaning Hiro wouldn't have had to tag along in the van with Ando to keep dibs on him and track him to Building 26?

Harrison Ford: Danko's Watch
I enjoyed the scene between Sylar and Danko, in which Sylar studied Danko's watch and knew the make/model and how off it was. It was a nice throwback to Sylar's origins.

Harrison Ford: "I Am Sylar"
Similarily, Sylar writing "I am Sylar" in blood on the wall of Clint Howard's apartment was a nice nod to his mysterious, pre-Zachary Qunito season 1 days.

Wesley Snipes: "I am Sylar"
Yet at the same time, that bloody scrawl didn't make any of the non-Danko agents suspicious that Sylar was alive? No questions along the lines of "if Sylar is dead, why is someone killing using his MO and proclaiming themselves to be Sylar via blood on the wall?" It seems like they just shrugged and moved on.

Wesley Snipes: Rebel's operation
Mrs. Teebore wondered how Danko was suddenly able to locate Micah when they hadn't been able to do so before. My answer was that since the show has yet to show us how Micah operates as Rebel beyond the vague implication of "he can talk to machines, that's how," it's difficult to ascertain how those methods might have led Danko to his location.

Also, assuming that's the last we'll see of Rebel in this volume, I should add that, overall, I was dissappointed in the Rebel subplot. I LOVE that they brought Micah back (now, where's his cousin?) but it seems far-fetched that he was running an entire counter operation by himself, even with his power. It sure seemed like the show was setting up "Rebel" as a network of agents, including Micah, some of which had access to future info (suggested when Hiro and Ando were in India-Rebel knew they'd be there before they arrived). It's mildly disappointing that in the end, it was Micah and Micah alone.

Wesley Snipes: Parkman and Janice
I get that Matt wants to be a part of his child's life, and that's fine. I have no problem with him attempting to work things out with Janice to make that happen, and going out of his way to protect them both. But yeesh, Matt, you're already talking about romantically getting back together with Janice? Already? Is Daphne's body even cold yet?

Wesley Snipes: Sylar's meeting with the President
So Sylar can enter Clint Howard's apartment, pour himself some hot chocolate and sit down on the couch, all without making a sound or otherwise making his presence known? Fine, I'll grant some artistic license in the name of making the villain creepy and whatnot. But then, shouldn't Sylar be able to similarly sneak undetected into the President's office, nab some DNA and take his shape, all without having to perpetuate the entire "pretend to be Nathan and force the President to meet with me" ruse?

Harrison Ford: Things I liked about the episode.
Wesley Snipes: Things I did not like about the episode
Tommy Lee Jones: Questions, comments or other non-qualitative items about the episode.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

To Better Know A Hero: Flash

Real Name: Barry Allen

First Appearance
: Showcase #4 October 1956

Nicknames and Aliases: The Scarlet Speedster, Fastest Man Alive.

Powers and Abilities: Super-speed, including the ability to run up walls and over the water, to create powerful updrafts of air by running in a circle, and to vibrate his molecules at such a speed as to pass through solid matter and the walls separating different realities. And yes, he's faster than Superman.

Weaknesses and Achilles’ Heels: Punctuality

Gadgets and Accessories: The Cosmic Treadmill allows Flash to travel through time and into other dimensions; his entire costume can be compressed to fit inside his ring for storage.

Friends and Allies: Iris Allen West, his wife; Kid Flash (Wally West), his nephew and sidekick; Bart Allen (Impulse/Kid Flash), his grandson; Green Lantern (Hal Jordan), his best friend; Jay Garrick (the Flash of Earth-2); the Justice League of America; the Justice Society of America.

Foes and Antagonists: The Reverse-Flash, Captain Cold, Captain Boomerang, Mirror Master, Heat Wave, the Weather Wizard, the Trickster, Pied Piper, the Top, Gorilla Grodd.

Movies and Appearances: Barry Allen was the Flash featured in the Super Friends cartoons. He was also the Flash in the short-lived live action show from the early 90s, played by John Wesley Shipp. "Barry Allen" was one of the alias used by Frank Abignale (Leonardo DiCaprio) in the film "Catch Me If You Can."

One-Sentence Origin: When a lightening bolt strikes his lab, police scientist Barry Allen is doused in chemicals that transform him into the Flash, the fastest man alive!

Memorable Moment
: Crisis On Infinite Earths #8 1986: Captured by the Anti-Monitor, Flash escapes and sacrifices his life to save the remaining universes in the "multiverse" and all their inhabitants.

Fun Fact: In Flash of Two Worlds (The Flash (vol. 1) #123) Barry Allen met the star of DC's Golden Age Flash comic, Jay Garrick, establishing for the first time that the Golden Age heroes existed on a parallel Earth-2, giving birth to the DC multiverse.

Teebore’s Take: The first appearance of Barry Allen as the Flash in Showcase #4 is considered by most comic fans and historians as the start of the Silver Age. Barry later planted the seeds of the DC multiverse by meeting his Golden Age counterpart. When DC decided to prune that multiverse, Barry died in the process, which seems fitting.

Because I started reading comics post-1986 (after Barry's death) Flash has always been Wally West, who took over the Flash mantle after Barry's death, to me. I've always thought of Barry less as a character and more as a martyr and a thematic representation of DC's history: the herald of the Silver Age who died when DC made a conscious decision to move away from the style of storytelling that had defined that era for them (even if, as a kid, Flash I was most familiar with thanks to cartoons and whatnot was Barry).

Barry's death also established a theme almost exclusive to DC's comics, a unique element of their characters I find captivating: legacy, that of one hero training another to someday take over for or otherwise honor an existing hero. No "family" of characters illuminates this more than the Flash family: Barry mentored a sidekick, his nephew Wally, who after Barry's death "graduated" from being Kid Flash and became Flash in his own right. Wally, in turn, eventually mentored his own Kid Flash, Barry's grandson Bart, and so on.

Which is all my long-winded way of saying I don't "get" the recent resurrection of Barry Allen as the Flash. While I don't care enough to cry out for the blood of the creators responsible for the resurrection, I don't see the need to bring the character back. Even by Silver Age standards, and amongst some of his most fervent fans, Barry, as a character, was considered fairly dull, a straight-forward do-gooder that put on the visually stunning Flash costume and got involved in zany Silver Age adventures. His most defining character trait, beyond the virtues shared by all heroes of that age, seems to be the running gag of how, despite being the fastest man alive, he was constantly late for dates with Iris. Flash was a great character; Barry himself was fairly lackluster and undefined. Barry passed on while the Flash continued.

All of which makes it seem as though Barry works better dead than alive, as a martyr and an important part of the Flash legacy, than as a character in his own right. Hopefully, the resurrected Barry Allen will show us why he deserved to come back.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Lost 5x13: Some Like it Hoth

Any episode following the theologically and mythologically heavy "Dead Is Dead" was likely to suffer a bit of a let down, but "Some Like It Hot" managed to keep up the pace while striking a more lighthearted tone.

Miles was due a flashback episode since the writer's strike cut his introductory season short. Like many reveals of late, the fact that he was born on the island and that Dr. Chang is his father are, after months of fan speculation, less revelations and more confirmations. It was nice to have his "talk to dead people" ability explicitly confirmed, if not explained, along with some details as to how it works and what its limitations are. The scene with his momentary abduction by one of Ilana's Hydra Island cohorts was, perhaps, the most suggestive scene in the episode. Ilana and her crew, it would seem, either work for Ben (as they're similarly anti-Widmore) or represent a heretofore unknown third faction in the war for the island. Perhaps a reborn Dharma Initiative (as suggested by last summer's ARG's recruitment drive)?

On the island, Hurley continued to be a great foil for snarky Miles, just as he was for the now-reformed Sawyer (though the Star Wars fan in me is compelled to point out that Hurley's conclusions regarding Empire were a bit off, though I'll give him a pass since he was trying to make a point to Miles). Hurley definitely doesn't seem to be buying what Miles is selling regarding the "whatever happened, happened" approach to time travel, as he suggested carpooling to help stop global warming and seems determined to write an improved Empire Strikes Back script. After his visit to the under-construction Swan station, might Hurley get some other ideas about things he wants to try changing? If so, it'll be interesting to see how his attempts to make those changes cause things to happen the way they did.

Meanwhile, the threads of the Losties Dharma existence are slowly unraveling. Miles couldn't erase the tape, Kate stupidly attempted to comfort Roger, Jack vouched for her, linking them together, and Sawyer, of course, knocked out Phil. One has to wonder, with that punch, if Sawyer gave up on preserving their story and has settled on damage control, on delaying the inevitable as long as possible. Because short of killing Phil and covering it up, it's hard to see how Sawyer will get out of this with their cover intact.

Favorite Bits:
Hurley telling Miles how he can talk to, and play chess with, dead people too.

Hurley's visit to the under-construction Swan, and his realization of what it was.

Tidbits of Note:
The microwave in the apartment Mrs. Chang was checking out in the beginning read "3:16."

Young Miles found the dead guy in apartment 4

More bunnies: the key to that apartment was hidden in a bunny.

Miles was reading a Sports Illustrated with a cover story about Tommy Lasorda joining the Dodgers.

Sawyer needed Miles to erase the tape from camera 4

The Swan is presumably being secretly built on Hostile territory.

The chalkboard Jack was erasing had some Egyptian stuff on it.

Miles' "audition" seems to suggest that Tom got the paperwork regarding the faked 815 (that he showed Michael in "Meet Kevin Johnson") via the death of an operative of Widmore's named Felix.

Now we know why Miles asked Ben for exactly 3.2 million back in "Eggtown": its double what Widmore was paying him. Now we have to wonder about the significance of 1.6 million: that amount also seems awfully specific. 1.6, of course, if one of the numbers. 3.2 is one of the numbers, backwards.

The person who accosted Miles in the van was Bram. He was seen with Ilana, carrying a gun, when she knocked out Frank in "Dead is Dead," and asked Miles the same question in the van that Ilana posed to Frank.

Miles' island birth explains why he started having nosebleeds after Charlotte but before everyone else when the island was skipping through time.

Baby Miles and Daniel's return suggests that the Dharma events of the season premiere are fast approaching.

How and why did Dr. Chang part ways with his wife and infant Miles?

What happened to the body brought to Chang after he examined? And why did that examination lead to him needing to see Radzinsky at the Swan?

Why is the Valenzetti Equation (Hurley's numbers) being used as the serial number for the hatch door?

For whom are Ilana and Bram working? Ben? Another faction? A resurrected, modern day Dharma Initiative?

Juliet said in "Whatever Happened, Happened" that the sub wasn't due back for a few months. Is it safe to assume the general Dharma population isn't aware of the scientist delivery, of which Daniel was a part?

So what has Daniel been up to in the three years since last we saw him? When did he leave the island?

Still curious where Sayid is at.

Next Week
No new episode tonight; instead, another Lost clip show...sorry, "special." A week after that, Lost's 100th, Faraday-centric, episode.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Brief Thoughts About Baseball (4/13/2009 - 4/19/2009)

1. I had a paragraph all planned out about how the Twins always end up settling for taking two out of three in a series but then they ruin it by sweeping the Angels. The Twins had a come-from-behind victory, a blow out, and won a tight pitchers' duel. All ways you need to win if you're a good team. But the question must be asked, are the Twins turning it around or are the Angels just that bad?

2. So, if my math is correct, the Twins have lost ten of the past eleven times they played the Blue Jays. I've never understood how a relatively decent team could be dominated by another team over different seasons. Perhaps it's just coincidence.

3. I may hate the White Sox, but it is impressive that two guys hit their 300th home run in back-to-back at-bats.

4. How weird is it for Gary Sheffield that his first home run as a Met was also his 500th home run in his career? And it's kind of weird the fans and the team celebrated it like he hit all his home runs with them.

5. Ian Kinsler's cycle with 6 hits was pretty good, but it came in a blowout. I'll take Kubel's cycle capped off with a go-ahead grand slam any day of the week.

6. I saw Jorge Posada's home run that the fan interfered with and I think it should have been an out, although the umpires disagree. But that seems consistent with all those other fly balls that should be outs but magically float over the right field wall in the new Yankee Stadium.

7. I have no idea how a professional sports team could let this happen, but it's hilarious.

8. People like to talk about how the Twins are the best franchise at being competitive with a low budget but that's not true. The Twins are OK but they're no Florida Marlins.

9. Jon Lester and Edinson Volquez can thank their great pitching performances on the fact that I dropped them.

10. I also dropped Chien-Ming Wang....apparently there's no help for him.

Friday, April 17, 2009

X-amining X-Men #8

"The Uncanny Threat of Unus the Untouchable! "
November 1964

Stan Lee
Penciller: Jack Kirby
Inker: Chic Stone

After a training session led by Cyclops, Beast saves a young boy but is attacked by a mob for being a mutant. Fed up with being an X-Man and protecting those same types of people, he quits. Beast becomes a professional wrestler, where he fight Unus, a wrestler with a force field that protects him from harm. Petitioning to join the Brotherhood, Unus robs a bank, which draws the attention of the X-Men. Unable to touch him, he escapes and the X-Men return home to find Beast devising a ray that will increase Unus's power. Instead of explaining himself, or asking for an explanation, the X-Men try to stop him from leaving with it but fail. Beast zaps Unus, making him so powerful his forcefield is always on and he's unable to eat or drink. Beast returns Unus to his previous power level and Unus vows to return to wrestling and avoid the world of super-heroics. Beast rejoins the team.

Firsts and Other Notables:
Unus the Untouchable makes his first appearance. Like the Vanisher before him, he remains a C-list villan through the years, popping up now and then. His daughter becomes one of Magneto's Acolytes in the 90s.

A Work in Progress:
Iceman, under Cyclop's instruction, leaves behind his "snow" form and takes on the "ice" form with which most of us are familiar.

While Beast's intelligence has been established previously, this is, I believe, the first time his skill at high tech inventing comes into play. He'll continue to make MacGuffins and Deus Ex Machina's for years to come.

Marvel Girl is back to wearing her skull-cap mask that covers her head.

Ah, the Silver Age:
The X-Men are out patrolling for Unus because Cerebro detected a new mutant...except Unus has been using his power in the wrestling ring for some time. The only reason he's a "new" mutant is because we, the readers, haven't met him before. But Cerebro shouldn't know that.

Pro Wrestling was a lot different back then...

"Professor Xavier is a Jerk!": Professor X isn't (he's still off on personal business), but the X-Men kinda are towards Beast.

Young Love: Cyclops and Marvel Girl continue to both secretly pine for the other.

Human/Mutant Relations: Beast is mobbed for being a mutant despite using his powers to save a young boy.

It's in the Mail: There's a letter war raging about whether or not Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch should become good or stick with the Brotherhood.

Here's a letter discussing Jean' being too "way out"...

Teebore's Take:
An enjoyable enough diversion from the usual Brotherhood-on-X-Men action, but, like Unus himself, not all that memorable, either. Beast quitting the X-Men and storming off is very much a sign of the style at the time, something born of a plot requirement rather than of character. There is little in the previous issues to suggest Beast would be so affected by anti-mutant sentiment, nor is it followed up on in later issues.