Critical Response Time: Sean T. Collins on Batman: Knightfall Part I: Broken Bat

In response to Sean T. Collins' review of Batman: Knightfall Part I:  Broken Bat. Please read  before continuing for fuller context. I thought this first volume was great as well. The build up was terrific, as best I can remember, which does seem pretty vivid now that I've read your review, as I've not read this since 1994 or so.

I thought the remainder of Knightfall was lacking, didn't read much of Knightquest and Knightsearch, but Knightsend, Prodigal, and Troika were great and it seemed Batman and Detective Comics were on this great high for years (Dixon, Moench, Rucka, Brubaker) until around War Games. It seems that around the time of Identity Crisis, things got dark.

Yes, in the nineties Batman had his back broken, but it didn't have the uncomfortable feel that I got from War Games and many other stories from the Big Two over the past five or six years. It's like there's no more heart (maybe those dumb monkey moments) in storytelling and it's all about topping the previous writer's over the top ultraviolence. I don't care anymore, with few exceptions, like Bendis and then Bru's Daredevil. That works for me.

I'm wondering if post-modern has taken over the mainstream of the Big Two and is as far as superhero stories can develop, stories constantly regurgitated, each time a little more nasty and that much less satisfying.

It's like beginning with Alien, heading into Aliens, then the first Predator, and Alien 3 to end up with AVP: Requiem and being throat-raped a lot more violently and being aware while it's happening by the Alien/Predator hybrid instead of the unconsciousness-inducing facehugger, which by name alone doesn't sound so bad.

This is something I think David Wolk, in Reading Comics discusses some (Only about half way through myself). Where is the fun? Marvel's G.I.Joe series is one of my favorite and is so fun, but Casey's America's Elite... Not fun. A few characters, some favorites died in Hama's original stories, but when Casey or others kill Joes or Cobras...it's not fun. Why is this?

Is comics violence becoming hyper real, and therefore taking away from the fantasy element in regard to the violence?

Plastic Attack - A Rant

Nope, this isn't a rant about the plastic credit cards I use to spend money (that doesn't tangibly exist) on Lego and other fine goods. This is a rant that may be somewhat based on the ridiculous oil prices, because the same oil that makes our gasoline probably goes into making everyone's favorite yellow people, and I ain't talking the Simpsons.

When I first saw images of this Lego set, 852331 Vintage Minifigure Collection (above), I got pretty excited. It's the Lego brick's 50th anniversary, the minifigure's 30th anniversary, and Lego is commemorating the latter event with the release of a set of five minifigures that were released over the past 30 years. Aside from commentary (which includes my own) on the fact that the helmet the red astronaut* is wearing is not the original helmet design for the space/diving minifigures, and the fact that the goofy mad scientist is included, the price is a bit ridiculous. I figured, like the new Castle series five-packs, this set would be around $13 American (a bit high, in my humble opinion). When I received today's (shrunken) catalog I saw that the set sells (if people actually buy it) for 20 clams. If I do some math for you here, that's...20/5=4. Four dollars each!? The little product description does not mention any additional accessories or bricks or anything. Perhaps there is some awesome display stand inside? A plethora of tools for the various figures to do their jobs with? I'll never know unless this set gets marked down adequately.

Despite the somewhat poor choice in figure type inclusion, I would like to have one of these sets, but additionally considering the base price, sales tax (Us New Yorkers have to pay sales tax on the items and shipping and handling fees and my Maryland sister prefers I stop having stuff mailed to her this avoiding this tax-I hope that's not illegal), and shipping, it's a no go for now, and maybe for good.

The Lego Shop at Home website now allows customers to post reviews for all the current products. Based on mostly ratings only (commentless feedback), only 75 percent of customers recommend this product. This may seem pretty good, but compared to many of Lego's other product reviews I've seen, this is a poor showing.

This seems like a set that's not worth opening, and a toy not worth opening isn't much of a toy at all. According to the Oxford American Dictionaries, the definition of a toy is as follows: an object for a child to play with, typically a model or miniature replica of something. The second definition is: an object, esp. a gadget or machine, regarded as providing amusement for an adult. It's difficult for me to make a judgment as a five-year-old, but I can't say this set makes me want to buy multiples to build up an army of scientists or gas station attendants. On the other hand, I could construct a nice prison scene, probably a riot, to express how I feel about how this set fails to meet expectations.

My first suggestion for maximizing sales would be to lower the price by at least five dollars. My second suggestion would be to revamp the concept for this line and have each set include the new figures that were released each year: a 1978 set, a 1979 set, a 1987 set, etc. Criticism on sites like Eurobricks, a, duh, European Lego fan community site, also point out a lack of variety, in that most of these figures are from the Town/City themes. There is no knight. There is no pirate. One could argue that the mad scientist is practically a Town/City minifigure as well (Though I believe he was a part of the Lego Studios theme, which was based on some classic horror and action movies). I think theming these sets in at least some way would make them sell much better, whether it's by system theme, like five town figures, five pirate figures, five castle figures, or as mentioned earlier, by year. The hodgepodge works better in a bucket of Lego at a thrift store, not on the web site.

Despite all this criticism, I still love Lego, their toys, their site, most of their ideas, but I'm lost on this set. The catalog labels this set as Volume 1. I'm hoping the second volume will be a much improved set. As it is, I'm looking more forward to the Advent Calendars that will be released come the holidays.

*Of course, the red astronaut is probably in reality a cosmonaut and this is all some Red trick to make us Lego fans, child, or adult, waste our hard earned capitalist money on a crappy, overpriced set.

A History of Tolerance: A Look at Literacy, Literature, and Life, Featuring the X-Men

An essay on a book, or literature that has influenced me. A History of Tolerance

Large, heavy balls rolled on slick smooth surface with dastardly determination. Thunder rolled down the alley ending with the clacking and clattering of up to ten white, wooden pins lying about. This is how I remember it.

My first memory of reading comic books is from 1988. “Happy Birthday to you,” screeched more than a dozen seven year olds, all out of tune. At the conclusion of Tommy’s birthday party we were given plastic goody bags, which contained colorfully wrapped candies, as well as two comic books each. One of the comic books I received was Uncanny X-Men 237 (cover date: Early November 1988). I don’t think I had heard of the X-Men before then. The X-Men comic was incomprehensible to me at that time, because of the locale, the cast of characters, all with their strange personas, and the story’s placement within a larger, rich context. The comic book featured some guy with metal claws on each hand, named Wolverine, who said things like, “Yer gonna get us in trouble, Bub.” The other protagonist, Rogue/Carol Danvers (Rogue's ability to absorb the powers and minds of those she touches led to this strange situation), was having some sort of identity crisis. Also contributing to my inability to comprehend and enjoy the comic is the fact that it was the “conclusion” of a multi-issue (multi-episode if you prefer) story-arc involving a fictional African island nation named Genosha. On this island mutants were “gengineered,” transformed into tattooed mindless slaves, not unlike Holocaust victims. My seven-year-old mind could not handle all these new concepts and crazy ideas. “Comics are for kids”—I think not! I did not read comic books again for several years more.

I wonder if I remembered issue 237 of Uncanny X-Men when I again found X-Men difficult to understand four years later, at age 11. Chris Claremont, the writer, was the same writer from my experience years earlier. He's a writer who has a penchant for writing out dialects, which took some getting used to since I lived in one place all my 11 years. The variety of New York accents are one thing, but Creole from New Orleans, Mississippi twang, and Wolverine “rough neck” are another story all together regarding my reading comprehension. At the time cast of X-Men (not to be mistaken with its predecessor and companion title the The Uncanny X-Men) consisted of Wolverine (that guy with the metal claws), Rogue, Beast, in addition to Gambit (Remy LeBeau) of New Orleans, who would say things such as, “Le bete petite, chere.” Despite the difficulty I had with comprehension of the dialogue and dialects, the action was incredible and the character drawings (by legendary Jim Lee) were very animated for a static medium. The colorfully costumed characters and their super powers leapt from the pages at every turn. These latter exciting attributes, if not the overall story and themes, managed to engage me as a young reader.

The X-Men are a group of superhumans with amazing powers, such as optic force blasts, regenerative capabilities, control of magnetism and metals, and a plethora of other capabilities. The X-Men are mutants, to be technical, outcasts amongst “normal” humans. In the comics many humans fear and hate mutantkind. Over the years the X-Men characters had become family to each other (and to me, an outcast in my own way). Some of them were lovers, some siblings, and others were teachers and learners at a school for "gifted" youngsters. Beyond the flair of bright spandex costumes and paranormal energy blasts, this idea of a tight-knit family captured my interest, because I did not have many friends then. Many members of the X-Men teams, Gambit and Beast, became important to me and lived in my thoughts. In my mind the erudite Beast and the clever and mysterious Gambit were people to look up to. I felt like I belonged in that world, having been fully engaged by the characters and situations within the comics.

By age 12, less than a year later, I was completely drawn into the epic X-Men mythos, a mythos that was created over nearly 30 years of publication by Marvel Comics.1 By the mid-nineties the mutant line of comics consisted of no less than nine monthly titles featuring a rich, grand extended cast. I actively sought back issues featuring my favorite heroes and villains by scouring the dozens of comic book stores that existed in the pre-implosion2 year of 1992.

During my formative teenage years, from ages 12 through 17, I would read the latest issues as well as back issues from 20 and 30 years earlier. Within the first two years of its publication in 1963, the X-Men comics focused on (and sometimes, but not too often heavy handedly) with social issues such as racism, tolerance, poverty, the ecosystem, politics, power, war, death, coming of age, family, love, hope, education, the future, in addition to other world problems.

During early classroom discussions in English 500, a question was raised during class. Part to my group’s discussion over what “literature” had influenced the members of my group led to the idea of comics as literature. Hannah had mentioned X-Men specifically, rather than simply using the word “comics” as one of her strongest influences. Though she read The Uncanny X-Men from a decade earlier than what I had started reading, many of the same themes from the early eighties carried through to the early nineties, including a version of mutant AIDS, known as the Legacy Virus. The relevance of the story elements within the X-Men comics allows me to consider these comics as a form of literature. The X-Men as a metaphor for anyone who is different will never die so long as diversity and intolerance amongst humans exist.

What is literature? A text (the X-Men titles, or segments of them combined into a whole) that potentially includes all the socio-political human (and mutant—mutants as part of humanity, despite their genetic differences) concepts listed earlier in this essay. As a class we were asked, why do we read? and many answers were given: therapy, fun, tricks of the trade, identification, the search for justice, empowerment, and many other reasons that, as I grew older and gained more awareness of the world, I recognized existed within X-Men and comics in general. If a work can inspire people to read and join that fictional world generation after generation, whether it’s 10 years apart, or 30, then the medium those stories appear in can be defined as literature. If works within a medium can be analyzed critically and discussed for decades, by academics, and especially by the literary “novices” who frequent comic book shops each Wednesday3 and discuss the latest implications in the world of mutantdom, which is metaphorically humankind, then it is literature.

From this comic book literature I received an education in tolerance. I also gained an awareness of other social issues from reading from the X-Men universe comic books for so many years. It is a series that survived the upheaval of the comic book industry in the nineties and continues to awe and teach teenagers and adults today. The world would be a better place if more people had read X-Men growing up. Professor Charles Xavier espoused tolerance to his first class of students and then all of humankind in that fictional universe of marvels, but Helen Keller conveyed this message about humankind best when she said, "The highest result of education is tolerance.”

Endnotes: 1. Comic book historian Peter Sanderson explains the X-Men’s history and popularity as the title has expanded to include many other forms of media, such as cartoons, and video games on the dust jacket introduction to Marvel Masterworks: The X-Men Nos. 1-10, by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (1987). 2. The early 90s gave way to an implosion in the comics industry due to gimmicky sales strategies and buyer speculation. 3. Wednesday has been “new comic book day” since the early 1990s.

Who is in Control?: Power Struggles in the World of Love and Sex

They grappled near the edge of a dark chasm. They were both sure they would be the one left standing, and their lover, their lover would be laying at the bottom of that lightless chasm. They struggled further, and like out of some comic book, they spoke in grunts as they vied for better footing, an advantage over their opponent, on this springy ground. These lovers negotiated like the German and Russian leaders of times past, on how Poland would be divided amongst them. Would they stop grappling and speak peacefully to form some lover’s accord, or would they continue to openly fight for ultimate control, only one left standing in the end, on this bed? Power struggles between the sexes are a common theme in entertainment, including film, television, and literature. These struggles can be resolved in several ways, often based on real life relationships and situations. Writers often use what they know, what they have experienced in their own lives. In Sandra Cisneros’ “Never Marry a Mexican,” from the collection Woman Hollering Creek, Clemencia drops her lover’s wife’s toy into a creek as an act of spite. Cisneros, in an interview, speaks of how she had similarly taken a toy from her lover’s apartment and dropped it down a storm drain. Raising Victor Vargas is based on writer/director Peter Sollett’s life growing up in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn.

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Loving Across Boundaries: Life & Death and Indian & White in Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine

Through multiple characters’ perspectives and relationships, Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine explores the two concepts of love and identity in a variety of ways. With each chapter narrated by a different character, they each tell their stories and an overall story about the interconnectedness between several family clans on the Ojibwa reservation in North Dakota. Some characters define their identity by their expression of love and could not define themselves otherwise. Lulu Nanapush is one such example. Sometimes the idea of love is misunderstood and parents are forsaken by their children, as is evidenced by the case of Lipsha Morrisey, whose own identity is a mystery to no one but himself. Nector Kashpaw is a great example of the concept of searching for identity, loving two women and two worlds, the Indian world and the white man’s world, which both of his lovers exemplify. He is an educated man, having gone to boarding school like his lover Lulu, “Lulu Lamartine sniffed down her nose at the length and bagginess of old-time skirts. She led her gang of radicals in black spike heels and tight, low-cut dresses blooming with pink flowers,” (p 303) while his wife Marie (Lazarre) Kashpaw had remained on the reservation and gone to the convent for her education, “…A determined bunch who grew out their hair in braids or ponytails and dressed in ribbon shirts and calico to make their point,” (p 303). Marie did not take in a lot of the white man’s ideas and culture as had Lulu and Nector.

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Fear and Loathing on the Silver Screen (1998) and in Book Stores (1971). - A Movie and Novel Review

Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1971/1998) is a brilliant novel that translates well into a Terry Gilliam film with few changes. Both the book and film chronicle the journey of famous gonzo journalist Raoul Duke (Thompson), played by Johnny Depp, and his demented attorney Dr. Gonzo, as portrayed by Benicio Del Toro (his real-life attorney Oscar Z. Acosta). Their adventure takes place in the “foul year of our lord, 1971” and takes the duo across the barren desert from Las Angeles to Las Vegas in search of the “American Dream.” Their philosophy is to take on this assignment by getting buzzed, high, ripped and stoned on every drug known to man since 1654. The plot is clear in both media, but stands out more in the novel. The film leaves out one scene in particular, where Dr. Gonzo and Duke drive to the outskirts of Vegas seeking the physical manifestation of the “the Dream,” a club named The American Dream. In the novel, the twisted pair stop at a drive-thru for thirty-nine cent tacos and ask the teller where the can find this club they’ve heard about. Receiving the location of the Dream, they go to find a rundown building. The two figure, in the end, the club has become a trash hole filled with junkies, drug dealers and other losers before finally, it had been abandoned. Had this scene been included in Gillian’s film, the plot would have been easier to comprehend. The Circus-Circus, Bazooko Circus in the film, scene has Duke attempting to purchase a chimpanzee from one of the casino’s employees. The man tells the story of how the owner had always wanted to run away to join the circus as a child. “Now the bastard owns it,” he says. Duke sees this as pure Horatio Alger. “Rags to riches” and “Go west, young man, go west.” He sees it as the American Dream achieved for one man. Doing what you want to do and getting what you want in life.

The differences between the film and novel come mainly via imagery. With any novel, the reader’s imagination forms the images of scenes and characters from the author’s descriptions. When Thompson writes about Duke’s “trips” and hallucinations, the read can get a minute idea of what Duke is seeing and feeling. It seems if one hasn’t taken the same “rides” as Duke/Thompson, then they may not be able to understand so well. The film translates these feelings and visions well. With the aid of computer-generated imagery, Gilliam incorporated some fantastic visuals during such scenes. When Duke checks into the Vegas Mint Hotel tripping out on LSD and sees the desk clerk’s head swell and contract as she inhales and exhales before it turns into a moray eel slithering at a cringing Duke. As he looks down the carpet pattern flows like water before creeping up the walls. That would be the paranoia and hallucinations that particular drug causes. In the book the reader is told that Duke is high and the feelings he experiences without letting in on what he sees, most of the time. The film is very effective in showing Duke’s hallucinations.

Later in the story the audience is introduced to Lucy, played by Christina Ricci. Lucy is a young girl who likes to paint portraits of Barbara Streisand, and has become involved in a “preternatural courtship” with Dr. Gonzo. She’d like very much to present these portraits to Ms. Streisand herself, because Gonzo told her he could get them backstage at a show that weekend. In the novel, Duke informs Gonzo that Streisand won’t be in town for weeks, as stated on all the flyers plastering the hotel’s walls. The audience also learns that Lucy is a minor and had never taken a drink or hit in her life before. The film leaves out the details of involving meeting Streisand. The film and book then relate the demented duo’s less than discreet expulsion of Lucy from their lives.

The majority of the remainder of this tale follow similar avenues in both media, with the exception of a brief encounter with a highway patrolman, played by Gary Busey, that pulls Duke over for speeding as Duke attempts to flee the huge hotel bill he’d help run up in Vegas. In the book we learn that these expenses would have normally been taken care of by his pressman’s pass and other credentials, but those were all forged by his warped “Samoan” attorney. Duke is pulled over after a thrilling 90 mile per hour chase and is then questioned by the male patrolman, who, in the film, stating that he’s very lonely, asks Duke for a kiss before letting him go.

The movie then leaves out part of the reason for Duke’s firing his .357 Magnum into the desert. Duke find out he must return to Vegas to cover another story and becomes frustrated. Despite its earlier visual success, the film does not show or mention the swarms of lizards he sees coming at him. Duke imagines Gila monsters and other poisonous lizards sneaking across the desert floor to kill him. She shoots as many of the bastards as he can before jumping into the abused rental and returning to Vegas.

Compared to many films based on books, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas encompasses most of Thomson’s ideas and situations. Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park became a successful movie that failed to mention why many of the situations in the story arose while also leaving out a good portion of the overall story. It seems as though Thompson must have had a lot of control in the making of this film, because it translated so well and left out very little as compared to many other novels made into films.

An Inconvenient Truth (2006) - A Movie and Forum Review

An Inconvenient Truth, 2006, features former Presiden... I mean Vice President only, Al Gore's well-traveled Global Warming presentation. The film presents much evidence of the consequences mankind has already reaped from its environmental apathy and gives dire projections about our future if we continue to do so little in regard to our world's stability. Entertaining while educating. Amazing visuals, easy to understand and plain good film making. How can you not want to make a difference? For more information on how to help yourself and the world around you, please visit ClimateCrisis.net.

I managed to attend a free screening of this film at Northern Arizona University (NAU), followed by a Q&A forum headed up by a panel of experts; environmental activists, as well as a graduate student in environmental studies and several professors within that same focus. Many good questions were asked and received thoughtful, thought-provoking answers. As always, there are those who like to hear themselves speak, who asked questions that are completely irrelevant. You know, those questions that don't really have answers, or are can only be answered with inconsequential opinion-based speculation--answers that don't really provide any useful information. Still, this is America and I don't fault the panel for such answers, as they are only trying to respond respectfully.

When came my turn to nervously take the stage in the freezing Prochnow Auditorium, I asked a simple, but important question. Of the current candidates on the ballot, who has done the most for the environment and of the current statewide propositions dealing with land conservation, which of those best serve us and our environment? Sadly, the two-part question received few responses. The initial response regarded the Navajo nation, which I will not say is not important, but most of the remaining audience did not seem to be made of indigenous peoples, therefore that answer did not help those of us planning to vote in the impending state elections. My question then received a response from one of the professors who mentioned (R) Tom O'Halleran , incumbent State Senator for District 1, apparently takes on some issues generally not associated with Republicans, and his voice may be heard, considering he is a Republican in a fairly conservative state. Secondly mentioned was (D) Ellen Simon running for Arizona's 1st Congressional District. Though there are dozens of other names on the ballot, the only other one mentioned was incumbent governor Janet Napolitano, who has committed Arizona to the environmentally friendly Kyoto Accord, which the Bush administration will not ratify. One of the professors was not sure of the number of the proposition, but mentioned proposition 106 (it is 106, Conserving Arizona's Future, that is, vote YES on 106!). This 106 answer was clarified by the environmental student organizer-facilitator after the panel concluded answering. There is another similar, and confusing land conservation proposition, 105, State Land Trust Reform (to which I imagine the vote should be NO, since it would conserve less land) on the ballot.

Knowledge, consisting of statistics, and facts, as well as projections, is great to have, but when they are not applied, and when we do not know who to elect to use this information to help us, they are all fairly useless.

For more information to help you decide your future, please visit the following web sites:

Project Vote-Smart: bipartisan information on candidates for the whole nation!

The League of Women Voters of Arizona: also bipartisan, but only helpful to us Arizona residents.

Information has been gleaned from the forum mentioned above, as well as booklets from the Citizens Clean Elections Commission as well as the League of Women Voters of Arizona Education Fund, both regarding the primary election, this November 7, 2006.

UPDATE: Read what I have to say about politics in 2008.

*If any of the organizers of this event have corrections or additional information, pleas contact me at: armzrace at armzrace.com.

Worst Email of the Week! #1

It seems I receive at least one offensive email a week. I do enjoy jokes of all kinds, usually ones most people may consider offensive themselves, whether they are about sex, religion, etc., but some of these emails are pure examples of horrible ignorance and xenophonbia. From now on, I will respond to as many of these emails as possible in an attempt to educate ignorance and add some humor when I can. I recently received an email with the following comment and map: "A GUIDE TO HELP MEXICANS UNDERSTAND-SIMPLE @ TO THE POINT."

"Simple @ to the point?" The creator of the email doesn't know the difference between an @ and (&) an ampersand (&)? Just further examples of ignorance.

This is how the email should look and read:

A GUIDE TO HELP THOSE PEOPLE OF EUROPEAN DESCENT UNDERSTAND, SIMPLE & TO THE POINT.

OH YEAH, SOMEONE ELSE WAS HERE BEFORE US!

UP UNTIL ABOUT 160 YEARS AGO (the American invasion of Mexico for imperialist Manifest Destiny purposes), ARIZONA, NEW MEXICO AND AT LEAST MUCH OF, IF NOT ALL OF, CALIFORNIA, TEXAS, COLORADO WERE A PART OF MEXICO. MEXICANS COMING OVER THE BORDER AREN'T FLEEING THEIR COUNTRY, THEY'RE SIMPLY RETURNING TO PLACES THEIR ANCESTORS USED TO LIVE. ALSO, MANY OF THOSE COMING ARE FROM CENTRAL AND SOUTH AMERICA, SURVIVING GREAT PERIL TO GET HERE.

BEFORE THAT THERE WERE INDIANS/NATIVE AMERICANS/INDIGINOUS PEOPLES ON THESE LANDS FOR THOUSANDS OF YEARS, BUT THAT'S ANOTHER SAD & LONG STORY.

My (Waste of Time &) Space.

Once a good place for meeting fellow creators and for self-promotion of one's work, whether in comics, music or other creative endeavors, it hardly seems worth the time it takes to sign into the popular social networking site, Myspace.com. No matter what computer I use (always with high speed internet, mind you) it takes incredible amount of time for any of the pages to load up while signing in and while navigating throughout the site, likely due to the incredible amount of ads and files on each page. I can't take it anymore.