A Sense of My Humor

You probably don’t need to read this entry. But maybe you do.

So yesterday we were on coffee break, and for some reason (probably because several of us were twisted individuals) the conversation turned to clubbing seals. J asked if any of us had ever seen the Greenpeace video of seals being clubbed, and then described it to us. (Yes, it sounds pretty horrible.) Then the conversation went like this:

“What I wonder,” said J, “is how people who club seals for a living live with themselves. I mean, imagine you club seals day in and day out, and one night you’re at a bar and you’re talking to an attractive woman, and she asks you what you do for a living. What do you say? ‘Well, I go out and club–”

“I go out clubbing!” says A, and we all collapse in laughter. “Want to go out clubbing with me?”

“You say, ‘I’m in procurement,'” I say.

With increasing silliness, J says “Hey, I can get you a fur coat – cheap!”

“It was -” I splutter, “It was on seal!”

Five other people around the table groan loudly.

(Sadly, the domain punmaster.com is already taken.)

Weekend Project

Our project for this weekend was to turn this:

(click for larger image)

…into this:


The right side is what we installed in 2005, but the center and the left side are new.

Last month we ordered custom-built shelves from Storables, and I picked them up on Monday. Thursday night I ripped out the old wooden shelves and hanger, and spackled all the holes in the wall. Saturday I sanded down the spackling and then painted everything that needed painting – I gave it two coats. Then today we installed the shelves. Very easy, really! (And a lot easier than removing the old shelves that used to be on the right side of the closet.)

The cats in the “after” photo did not come with the shelves. They are demo models only.

One of the best parts was while we were putting things back into the closet: Debbi was being careful to try to divide up the space evenly (since we’d had a bunch of go-rounds about that when she moved in), but after putting in many of the hanging clothes and our exercise clothes, she asked how to divide up the other shelves, and I said, “Actually, I think almost all of my clothes are already in the closet.”

Debbi got this look in her eye and said, “You mean the rest of the closet is mine?”

We have a crapload of space. We even have some shelf space in there (especially on the top shelf, which you can’t see in the photos) which isn’t being used. Amazing.

Now I’m getting excited to do the same to the front room closet, which is where all my games and various other crap live.

Comics I Bought After They Jumped The Shark

Greg Burgas writes about comics he bought after they jumped the shark. (Everyone here knows what jumping the shark means, right?) Rarely one to miss a chance to beat a few dead horses, I figured I’d write my own entry.

I grew up reading comic books, and by the early 1980s was buying a large number of titles, but four of them formed the core of my buying habits. All four of these jumped the shark in the 80s, but it took me a while to realize it and to stop buying them. Here they are:

  • The Uncanny X-Men:
    • My first issue: #126 (1979)
    • When it jumped the shark: #201 (1986)
    • My last issue: #229 (1988)

    I count myself pretty lucky to have started reading this just as Chris Claremont and John Byrne were hitting the best part of their run. After all, their run is my pick for the most influential comics series since Lee/Kirby’s Fantastic Four, so I’m very happy I got into it when I did. Byrne left after #143, and Claremont’s scripts got increasingly byzantine; eventually, it was a common joke that many storylines in X-Men never actually completed.

    That said, the comic was actually quite readable – if uneven – for several years following Byrne (with Dave Cockrum and Paul Smith illustrating), culminating in #175 (1983), in which Cyclops – always the series’ main character, for my money – marries Madeline Pryor and gets his happy ending (and they even get their own spotlight issue in which they head off on their honeymoon).

    At this point John Romita Jr. took over as penciller. Romita has always been a decent nuts-and-bolts layout man, but his designs and faces have always seemed uninspired to me, and Dan Green’s inks were especially unsympathetic. The book went off into la-la land in #201 (1986), when – for marketing reasons – Cyclops returned to duel Storm for leadership of the X-Men, and lost. What? By the time I picked up my last issue the even-less-inspiring-than-Romita Marc Silvestri was drawing the book, and I realized that not only did I not have any idea what had happened in the book for the past year, I no longer cared.

    I’ve rarely ever checked in on Marvel’s merry mutants since then. There’s really been no point, since the series for all intents and purposes reached its dramatic conclusion decades ago.

    A lot of people started reading X-Men during Jim Lee’s run in the early 1990s, and I sometimes take delight in telling them that I’d given up on the series long before they read their first issue. 🙂

  • The New Teen Titans:

    This was DC’s ground-breaking series of the 1980s, making superstars out of Marv Wolfman and George Perez. While there’s some truth to the notion that it was intended as a knock-off of (or competition for) the X-Men, it quickly found its own voice with a completely different set of characters. For 50 issues of the first series it was absolutely outstanding. As DC’s best-selling title it was relaunched in 1984 using higher-quality paper.

    But Perez left following vol. 2 #5 (1985), and the series was never the same after that. Wolfman was struck by a lengthy bout with writer’s block, and the stories dragged on and often didn’t make much sense. Even when Perez returned with #50 (1988) for a few issues, the magic was gone. The last issue I bought was part of an ill-advised Batman crossover. I’ve come back for the occasional Titans story since then, but none of them have been anywhere near as good as Wolfman and Perez.

  • The Avengers:
    • My first issue: vol. 1 #179 (1979)
    • When it jumped the shark: #239 (1984)
    • My last issue: #306 (1989)

    This is the only one of these four series where I got on board after the series’ heyday. Really, its first heyday was in the late 60s under Roy Thomas, John Buscema and Neal Adams, but it had a couple of nifty runs in the 70s, first written by Steve Englehart, and later by Jim Shooter. My first issue was just after the Shooter run, and although it was a fun period – with art by John Byrne and then George Perez – I learned years later that the earlier stuff really was better.

    Shooter returned for a controversial run in which one of the heroes has a breakdown and goes to prison. A lot of people hated that run, but I thought it was okay. No, it was really when Roger Stern came on board as writer that the series lost me. To be fair, he was hobbled for a while by the mediocre art of Al Milgrom and Joe Sinnott, but even though I’ve loved most everything else I’ve read by Stern, his Avengers run just never clicked for me. I think the series reached its nadir when the team appeared on Letterman.

    After this, Buscema and Tom Palmer took over the art chores again, and it was a very pretty book, but the series lost many of its stars and the second-stringers who came on board just didn’t interest me. It seemed like the series became one long soap opera with rather uninteresting characters. I can’t honestly say I remember exactly which issue was my last, but I know the overhaul in #300 (by which time I think Stern had already departed) killed whatever interest I’d had left.

    The book got amazingly worse throughout the 90s, but after Marvel’s “Heroes Return” relaunch it experienced a new golden age for nearly 5 years under Kurt Busiek and George Perez.

  • The Legion of Super-Heroes:

    I started reading LSH at the tail end of their second golden age, as #223-224 were Jim Shooter and Mike Grell’s last issues. But, things didn’t go downhill from there, as they were followed by Paul Levitz and Jim Sherman, who produced several great stories. They took over the title from Superboy with #259 and went into something of a tailspin, but actually there was a bunch of fun stuff during this not-much-heralded era (I enjoyed the Reflecto storyline, for instance). Levitz came back a few years later and began his well-known and lengthy run on the title, first with Pat Broderick, and then with Keith Giffen.

    I didn’t care for it.

    Giffen’s art was inventive, but his characters’ postures and faces were very stiff. Levitz turned many of the characters on their heads and although it became a more plausible science fiction superhero title, the spirit of the book seemed to have vanished. But the book truly jumped the shark after it, like The New Teen Titans, was relaunched as a higher-quality-paper series, which started with a 5-part story which culminated in one of my favorite Legionnaires, Karate Kid, being killed off for really no good reason and to no good effect (since his wife, Projectra, largely disappeared from the book at the same time, thus destroying any character drama the death might have had).

    I kept reading the book for years afterwards, and it had a few enjoyable periods, but was never really good again. The series got re-envisioned, then rebooted, and it was again somewhat entertaining for a while, but the magic was long gone at this point. Again, I’m not sure exactly when I stopped reading, but the issue above is my best guess.

    On the bright side, the Legion has been relaunched at least twice since then, and has been fairly entertaining for long stretches. The current series by Mark Waid and Barry Kitson is fun, actually.

Since the 80s I’ve generally been more severe about dropping comics that aren’t doing it for me anymore, mainly because I finally had the revelation that it’s the creators, not the characters, that make a book worth reading. And really, there isn’t enough time to spend reading comics that you just aren’t enjoying. No doubt this is a big reason why I still read comics, after 30+ years.

(By the way, in writing this I was pleased to discover The Big Comic Book Database. Its content is still pretty raw, but the issue lists and covers alone make it a pretty valuable resource.)

This Week’s Haul

Comic books I bought the week of 21 February 2007.

  • Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis #49 (DC)
  • The Brave and the Bold #1 (DC)
  • 52 #42 of 52 (DC)
  • Wonder Woman #4 (DC)
  • Red Menace #4 of 6 (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Brit: Old Soldier vol. 1 TPB (Image)

The Brave and the Bold revives a very old DC title. Best-known for being dedicated to team-ups between Batman and other characters, this new series will feature rotating team-ups each issue. The first issue is Batman and Green Lantern, while the second will be Green Lantern and Supergirl. But the real attraction is the all-star creative team: Writer Mark Waid, and artists George Pérez and Bob Wiacek. Waid is an always-entertaining superhero wordsmith, and Pérez – as I’ve said before – I think is the best artist in the business. Wiacek is no slouch as an inker, and it seems like it’s been years since I saw his name on a book. The first issue is a fun romp involving 64 identical bodies all murdered in the same way at the same time, and a trail leading to a Las Vegas casino. It’s too early to tell whether the story will make a lot of sense, but it sure does look good. The kicker is that Waid plays up the differences between Batman and Green Lantern – in both their identities – but has pleasantly put all the horse-hockey involving Hal Jordan’s murky story of the last decade behind them. Go Mark Waid!

52 resolves the ongoing Ralph Dibny (the former Elongated Man) storyline. His wife Sue was pointlessly killed in the pointless mini-series Identity Crisis a few years back, and he’s been muddling around ever since, most recently palling around with the helmet of Doctor Fate to cast a spell to pull her back from the afterlife. It all comes to a head here, with several nifty revelations, although a ending which seems far too unfortunate given all the build-up. Hopefully this isn’t the end. It’s also a rare issue illustrated all by one artist, Darick Robertson (Transmetropolitan), whose style suits this issue very well. Well done, guys.

Brit is yet another book written by Robert Kirkman (Marvel Zombies, Invincible, The Walking Dead). Brit is actually an American government agent, who is an older man who’s completely invulnerable. He’s the government’s last line of defense. Kirkman writes that he wanted Brit to be a “widescreen” fight book, with big panels and lots of violence. In this, it succeeds.

Kirkman also misses a bet completely: The first issue teases us with the view of a long-standing hero (well, sorta-hero) who’s perhaps nearing the end of his career and perhaps losing his powers, but who refuses to see it. Given Brit’s take-no-shit attitude, this could have ended up as an interesting character story, but instead it’s just a big fight book. Pity. The art ranges from good to merely passable, steadily declining throughout the three chapters in the volume.

Very Limited

We’ve been playing semi-regular games of Magic lately, I’m almost sorry to admit. Lately we’ve been doing booster drafts using the two most recent expansions, Time Spiral and Planar Chaos.

We had another one on Sunday, a 7-person draft at Subrata‘s. My goal was to have a better all-around draft than I’ve had recently, drafting a deck with more possibilities and fewer limitations than in the past. For instance, I’ve read up on the color combinations and how they work in a TTP draft (a draft from two Time Spiral packs and one Planar Chaos pack).

Unfortunately, I really flubbed it this time around, and ended up drafting a Black/White deck, which is really one of the weakest combos. Heck, Black is an all-around disappointing color in Time Spiral, and Black/White together lacks both clever tricks to play, and big monsters to crush the opposition with. I ended up drafting a halfway decent deck, but mainly because I sort of backed into a couple of tricks which could lead to victory if I could stall the opponent long enough.

Nonetheless, I ended up drafting a number of cards which just weren’t as useful as they looked: Expensive but underpowered creatures, and some artifacts that look cool, but in practice don’t provide enough bang for the buck. So overall I didn’t have as much flexibility as I’d hoped. Sigh.

Practice makes perfect, I guess. But I still need a lot of practice.

Upgraded to WordPress 2.1

FP has been upgraded to WordPress 2.1. For some reason DreamHost‘s one-click upgrade wasn’t working for me earlier, so I shot them an e-mail, and a little later (after dinner and a coffee shop run) got back a “Huh, I don’t know what went wrong, I put through another request for you and it worked this time” response. So the upgrade has occurred.

It looks like my plugins came along for the ride (to my surprise – I’d expected to have to reinstall them), and they seem to be working. The exception is that the category list in the left sidebar is completely borked: It looks like it’s showing my Blogroll categories instead. But if that’s the worst that’s happened, then this has been a smooth upgrade indeed.

That and any other glitches will have to wait until tomorrow evening, at the earliest, for me to look into them. I’d hoped to iron out any lingering problems tonight, but that had been predicated on the one-click upgrade occurring on demand, and since something went wrong there, I’ll need to make time later. So please be patient if anything seems to be amiss. (And a quick e-mail telling me if you find anything else that’s not working would be appreciated, too!)

Pan’s Labyrinth

Review of the film Pan’s Labyrinth.


Last night we went to see Pan’s Labyrinth, the (sort of) fantasy film by directory Gullermo del Toro (Hellboy). It’s in Spanish with subtitles, and was originally titled The Faun’s Labyrinth, but the title was changed for the English version for unknown reasons.

The story is fairly simple: Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) is a girl about 10 years old in 1944 Fascist Spain. Her mother Carmen (Ariadna Gil) married Captain Vidal (Sergi López) and is pregnant with the Captain’s son. Carmen and Ofelia move to the Captain’s country house where he is entrenched in fighting the socialist rebels. Ofelia is befriended by the Captain’s aide, Mercedes (Maribel Verdú).

In the country, Ofelia is contacted by a mantis who turns out to be a faerie, and which takes her into a hole in the middle of a nearby ruined labyrinth, where she meets a faun (Doug Jones) who tells her that she is the reincarnation of the Princess Moanna of an underground kingdom, and that she must perform three tasks before the full moon in order to return to her kingdom. He gives her a book which reveals its pages as she accomplishes each task, but finds that her tasks considerably disrupt her comfort and standing in the Captain’s camp.

I knew going in that this would be a dark film, that it would contrast its fantastic elements with a full-on war, but it greatly exceeded my expectations in its darkness and its graphic brutality: The Captain is a hard, cold, calculating man, who takes pride in the impending birth of his son, but has little use for anyone else who can’t help him in his task of eliminating the rebels. He beats, kills and tortures people and many of these scenes are vividly depicted. The fantasy scenes also contain graphic violence at times, and slimy yuckiness at other times, so there’s really little respite.

I thought this brutality made the film a lot less enjoyable than it might have been, as I periodically winced or turned away when something espcially nasty happened, which put me on my guard and made it difficult to enjoy the rest of the film once I realized that was how it was going to be.

There is some method to this madness, as the film leaves ambiguous whether Ofelia’s adventures with the faun are real, or simply he product of her imagination: She might be so horrified by what’s happening around her that she might be imagining the adventures as a form of escape (for example). So the point might be that this is an extreme which war drives people (children) to. While I can understand this, I still think the brutality could have been handled less graphically, cutting away rather than focusing on it (as happens when one person has his face beaten in with a bottle, for instance – only one example among many in this film).

The real disappointment, I think, is that the film opens with such promise of the wonders of a serious fantasy (as opposed to a light Hollywood fantasy), before it turns violent and gross. There are aspects of the film which are fascinating even though they’re terrifying: The scene with Ofelia stealing from the dining hall of the Pale Man (who is a really cool-looking monster, as you can see from photos here and here) is tense, arresting, and visually fantastic. But there’s frustratingly little of it, the film’s sense of wonder is just too rarely revealed to carry the day.

So while the acting is good and the story interesting, I can’t really recommend Pan’s Labyrinth. I think it was working at cross purposes with the film I really wanted to see, and consequently I was disappointed in it. Oddly, the film it most reminds me of – mainly in its serious tone and dark visuals (not to mention very similar opening scene) – is Memento, but the latter is a much better film (despite a few squidgy moments of its own) because it manages to be horrifying in a more thoughtful way, and ultimately it’s the more rewarding of the two.

The Complete Pogo

Fantagraphics Books to publish the complete Pogo comic strips in hardcover starting in October 2007.

Fantagraphics published 11 softcover volumes reprinting the early Pogo strips during the 90s. They were pretty entertaining. I’m not a huge Pogo fan (this announcement doesn’t excite me nearly as much as the complete Peanuts series announcement did), but I’ll be on board for the first few volumes, no doubt.

(via Comics Worth Reading.)