Wednesday, September 30, 2009

It's wednesday again!

And what a blissfully light week it is...only 2 titles, and both under $3!

Gotham City Sirens #4

Written by Paul Dini
Art and cover by Guillem March

Ah, Paul...Really, I'm LOVING Batman: Streets of Gotham, it's classic Batman storytelling transferred into the post-Morrison "New Batman" era.


I know you have a thing for the girls of the DC Universe, and the Batman girls, in particular, as the creator of Harley Quinn, we can thank you for that. You've used this to great effect when you were writing for Batman: The Animated Series, giving us some terrific "side stories," getting us away from the staid Dark Knight for 20 minutes. The thing is, what works as a "one off" TV episode is not enough to hang an ongoing series on. Gotham City Sirens reads like "Paul Dini's fetish show," it's a great fetish, I dig it, but....the series seems really thin.

Green Lantern #46

Written by Geoff Johns
Art and cover by Doug Mahnke and Christian Alamy
Variant cover by Andy Kubert

Geoff Johns was born to write mainstream comics. There are other comic writers that might be better, more technically proficient, or adventurous in terms of structure, but Johns is the guy who sits down with the sandbox he's given and starts seeing all the things that can be done with that sand without breaking the box. His work is always good, sometimes inspired. His Superman: Secret Origin went from something I thought would be a pointless retread to pretty darn interesting in one issue, kudos. (The Gary Frank "I'm just going to draw Christopher Reeve, OK?" artwork only adds to the package.)

But I digress....

Johns has been building up to this Blackest Night event for a long, long time. Through the Green Lantern: Rebirth return of Hal Jordan, through The Sinestro Corps War, and the constant build up to Blackest Night in the Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps series over the past year. All of that material has been terrific, Johns in full creative flight...

So why am I feeling "Meh" about Blackest Night now that it's here? I trust Johns, and I'm in for the long haul on his Green Lantern era. It's just that, for all the build-up, I'm just thinking "huh, Zombies...great."

Now, since this is a very light week, I usually use that for an opportunity to pick up something that I haven't been, and with Wednesday Comics now done dealing, I have a bit in the budget to play with, so....I MIGHT pick these up this week.

Batman: Widening Gyre #1 & #2

Written by Kevin Smith
Art by Walter Flanagan and Art Thibert
Cover by Bill Sienkiewicz

Earlier this year, Kevin Smith and Walt Flanagan (of View Askew movie pseudo-fame) jumped into the DCU with Batman: Cacophony. A really enjoyable little tale using a villian Smith created for his run on Green Arrow years back, Onomatopoeia, who's gimmick was that he didn't speak except in sound effects. He would, literally, say "BANG! BANG!" when firing a gun, for example. I found the tale fun enough, and Smith did some really twisted things with The Joker, that some folks objected to...Me? I just figure...He's crazy, right? I don't see why people are so willing to accept a twisted character in the terms of violence, but when it touches on something's "defiling" the character.

How, exactly, do you defile a character like The Joker?

Anyway, long story shot...I enjoyed the previous mini-series, so I'll might give this one a shot.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Isn't technology supposed to make life easier?

So, about a year ago, I picked up a multi-effects pedal board for my guitar.

To be exact, this little number. Supposedly "the most advanced guitar effects pedal, ever." It's got some good tones on it, I admit, but it broke down after about 6 months. I took it in for repair, as it was still in warrantee, and that took about 2 months. I honestly don't blame Line 6 for this at all, I have several of their products, and this is the only one that's ever given me problems. As for the repair time, that's more a problem with the local repair guy.

I've gone around and around with this thing for most of the year. The "flight manual" (yeah, that's what they call it) is about an inch thick, and I'm a guy...I don't read manuals. So, I've never really figured out how to use the damn thing. That's compounded with the fact that I go back and forth on it.

Sometimes, I just get annoyed with the board, and play through my amp alone (also a Line 6 product), and I'm super happy with the tone I get that way. Then, that starts to wear on me, and I plug the X3 back in. So, it's like a circle of annoyance...I had settled on a plan to trade the X3 and my amp in for an upgraded version of my amp, but...the plans of mice and men, y'know.

How this relates to my weekend, you may ask.

I spent a goodly number of hours this weekend trying to put some music down on my recorder. This led to a few frustrations...

  1. At the fact I have to rely on a drum machine for percussion tracks. There is no ebb and flow to the drum tracks, no organic give and take. I keep thinking I want to get an electronic kit, so I could get somebody to come over and lay down drum tracks for me, or give it a college try myself, but I doubt my downstairs neighbors would deal with that very well.
  2. With my recorder. Somehow, 8 tracks doesn't really seem enough anymore, which is silly. I toss around trading in the recorder and buying a copy of pro tools, to see if I can work that out. I'm told the learning curve is steep, especially for a guy who doesn't like to read manuals (see above). Plus, I can't help but feel that my Fostex 8-track, and earlier version of this, muddies my sound. The way the thing is set up, you have to bounce tracks to use all 8 available. There are times when I feel it all turning to sludge, especially when I'm trying to create something with a harder edge.
  3. With my own playing. *SIGH* I kinda lay this on my drum machine's feet as well, but that's probably just passing the buck. I start every song with the drum track, I build something on the drum machine that gives me some room to play around, then I try to come up with some guitar line over that, then bass, then more guitar, etc. I feel myself falling into some ruts, rhythm-wise. I feel like I'm pulling the same beats to work with. Again, I'd like to have someone to play off of, and bounce ideas off of.
  4. With my voice. I haven't recorded anything worthwhile in over 2 years. Fact. I've also not even gotten to the singing point with most of the stuff I do work on. This is mainly because I can't really sing. I can croak a bit, and occasionally I can hit a vocal line the way I want to, but it's rare. Frankly, I just don't have a voice, and I certainly don't have a voice to do the things I hear in my head.
So, working on music, which used to be a great diversion for me, has become pretty frustrating. Mainly because, while it's primarily a hobby, I want to create things I can be proud of, and I want to improve my work. When I feel like I'm stagnant, well...I start to lose the desire to really dig into it.

that is not a good thing.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Boss' Birthday

Bruce Springsteen turns 60 today.

It's hard to put into words what the man has meant to me, over the last several years, especially. I think moving to Chicago has made the meaning of his music that much more clear to me. Chicago is the "city of the big shoulders," we work for a living here. We have dreams, and sometimes those dreams don't come true, you may join up with the Big Man and "break the city in half," or you might walk out to the highway in the middle of the night and "find nothing but road." You don't get things handed to you, you have to work for them...

But you also get a fair shake. You get your fair shot to make those dreams come true.

A lot of people have taken Springsteen to task for his political stance in recent years, as if his leftist leanings were something new. I want to punch people who think "Born in the U.S.A." is some sort of jingoistic Regan-era anthem, if for no other reason than they're too damn stupid to listen to the fucking words. When Regan tried to appropriate it as such, Bruce denounced the whole administration from the stage.

What Springsteen wants is a fair shake for everyone. Not for everyone to have success handed to them, but for everyone to have the opportunity to carve out their little piece of the American Dream no matter where they started from. For, you see, there is a difference in how you are treated, the opportunities you get, depending if you're the son of a corporate CEO, the son of a New Jersey factory worker, or a black kid from the Chicago projects.

Anybody who can't see that is living in fantasy land. I'm sorry but it's true.

A completely free market is a wonderful idea, but, like Communism, it doesn't work worth a damn in practice. Why? Because people are no damn good, and there's always some dirt bag ready to take the system and squeeze it until it breaks.

Of course, we're all too busy defending our precious idealogical ground, and we've forgotten that the idea is to give everybody a fair shot. And, YES, the idea IS to give everyone a fair shot, not to prove your economic theory is superior, and MOST LIKELY that means something in the middle.

Because, "Nobody wins unless everybody wins."

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Never thought I'd hear new Alice in Chains

But here I am, writing a blog and listening to the new album, When Black Gives Way to Blue, streaming on their website.

Good stuff. I'll probably download it next Tuesday morning.

Yep. Download.

I gave in.

I have to admit, it has more to do with space than anything. I have a ton of DVDs and Blu-Rays, and the CDs have become something I'd like to slip into storage, and use that space for more movies. It's gonna be a little while before I want all my movies on a computer. Plus, I mostly listen to music on my Zune now, I rarely put in a CD at home.

It's gonna be a long damn time before I want to watch a movie on my computer.

Like, forever.

This is barring travel and such...I can certainly see myself watching a movie on my laptop during a flight or something. Even HULU, can't stand it, can't stand watching stuff on my computer. Don't even get me started on watching somthing on the Zune. I mean, it's neat to watch The Guild or something on the train, but if you think I'm EVER going to think watching The Dark Knight on my Zune is anything more than a novelty, you are seriously high.

We've already ruined the moviegoing experience because Bob and Jane Idiot can't understand there's a difference between renting a movie and watching it in your living room and GOING TO THE MOVIES. Y'know, sharing an experience with others means shutting your mouth and not having a full-volume conversation because Jane can't make heads or tails out of the plot for Austin Powers. Or my personal favorite, when the complaints begin because the plot isn't crystal clear from frame one. Does no one understand the concept of WATCHING THE MOVIE, and maybe getting what's going on from that?

No wonder Hollywood makes movies for morons, this is the audience. This is why we have Transformers 3 coming, folks....


Gives me a headache. Seriously.

Now you can watch on the train! The time when a movie was an event to give your full attention to is long gone.

Yet, I keep going, because I LOVE movies, and because I believe that in a crowded room of people is the way they are to be seen. When it works, and we all work and react in consort with the's transcendant, beautiful.

You can't put that on a Zune.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Day After

So, last night I saw what had only been done once before...

I saw Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band play Born to Run in it's entirety. So, so very cool. I have to say I was a little disappointed to be in the rafters for this show, after having made it to the pit in front of the stage the last two tines we'd seen the band at the United Center. CByrd's mom was with us, and we did have a great time, but looking down into the crowd down front...I did have moments of real envy.

Oh well, we can't all make it up front every time.

Colene had a brief chat with a gentlemen coming from the bus to the arena, he asked her how many times she'd seen Bruce, she answered 10 times. He responded that it was only his second, and the last time was 32 years ago. It was a nice moment to remind me of how far Springsteen's reach is, and how many people his music speaks to.

No Surrender
Johnny 99
Cover Me
Outlaw Pete
Hungry Heart
Working on a Dream
Thunder Road
Tenth Avenue Freeze-out
Born to Run
She's the One
Meeting Across the River
Waitin' on a Sunny Day
The Promised Land
Radio Nowhere
Lonesome Day
The Rising
* * *
Hard Times
Da Doo Ron Ron
Rockin' Robin
I'm Goin' Down
American Land
Dancing in the Dark

So, we started with the very welcome "Seeds," I've loved that song since it first appeared on the Live '75 - '85 box set. So powerful and angry, and so very appropriate for the current state of the US. The whole first bit of the show, from Seeds to Cover Me, were clearly the "recession set" for the night. Ending with Bruce repeating "Times are tough now" several times over to end Cover Me.

After that things got more fun, with Bruce going into the crowd for "Hungry Heart," crawling along the wall that separated the pit from the rest of the general admission floor, singing, and calling for the audience to sing along, the whole way. It was quite a moment, and my pang of envy was very, very strong for a few minutes there.

"Working on a Dream" was rough, and Bruce laughed that "Ladies and gentlemen, I hear the sound of the E Street Band fucking up! It can still happen after all these years... It ain't pretty." Little Steven Van Zant sidled up, and Bruce continued, "Steven said I missed a verse, so it was the Boss-man's fault."

Then, Bruce stopped....

"What we are about to do we've only done once before, in a little theater in Red Bank.” He added, “When we made this record we were close to being dumped by our record company. This was our last chance."

I gotta say, seeing the band run through the album in toto (in red above) was a real emotional experience for me. CByrd and I had our first dance to a live version of "Thunder Road" at our wedding, and she and I held each other as the song invited us into the album. I found tears on my cheeks during "Backstreets," which always makes me think of my closest friends, no matter how far away they may be, and how long it's been Dave, Larry, Ken, Shea...the whole "San Diego Crew." Then again with "Meeting Across the River" (With Richard Davis guesting on stand-up bass, just as on the record, and Curt Ramm, who also played on "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out," on trumpet) going into "Jungleland," which is just a musical statement that I find amazing every, single time I hear it. Bruce's wails as the album closes out are simply heart-wrenching to me.

After they wrapped up Born to Run with Jungleland, the band took a deserved bow, then went into a string of what have to be called tour staples at this point. "Promised Land" is a very important song for Bruce, so I always welcome that, but I may start adding my voice to those who say we don't have to hear "The Rising" at every show anymore. I love it, it's one of my favorites, but it would've been nice to see something that we don't see all the time. Hell, I'd even welcome "Born in the USA" at this point. "Waiting on a Sunny Day" was fun, with Bruce pulling a kid from the pit to sing a chorus, and almost not making it all the way there tossing the acoustic to his guitar tech. "Uh, sorry," got a laugh.

The main set ended with "Badlands," but you'd hardly know it, as they were pretty much right into the requests/stump the band/sign collection section without leaving the stage. This has become a huge highlight of shows for me. I love watching the band scramble to figure out a song and almost always pulling it off. We got a bonus with two "stump the band" requests, "Da Doo Ron Ron," and "Rockin' Robin," neither ever played by the E-Street Band before. Good fun, but I have to say the "Mony Mony" from the Spring was more exciting (of course, I was in the pit). Then to "I'm Going Down" by request, "American Land," "Dancing in the Dark" (with a whole chorus line of kids from the pit), and the always-welcome "Rosalita" ending the night.

A few thoughts from the rafters....

Who are these people who go to shows and act like they don't want to be there the whole time? The family of three right next to me, well...they never cracked a smile the whole night. I understand some people don't dig Springsteen (philistines, but whatever...), but why in the hell are you at the show? Why sit there with a sour look on your face the whole time? And it wasn't like dad dragged mom and son out, he looked like he was pissed off, too. Amazing.

Very much looking forward to Milwaulkee in November. Back into the general admission, and another crack at the pit.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


Ladies and gentlemen it's one of "THOSE" days....

I am tired, cranky, and I didn't run this morning, which means I MUST use some of my precious night off to do so, AND we have to clean for the impending arrival of CByrd's mom for the Springsteen show. Add various other frustrations and challenges, shake and...

One of "THOSE" days.

One of those days when I feel a ton of guilt over my schedule, and how it means I have to miss two nights of rehearsal going into tech week.

One of those days when I spend a lot of time thinking about how badly my auditions have been going lately, and I indulge a bunch of fears that I have reached the peak of my abilities. The fear that it's all downhill from here, and maybe quitting while I'm ahead is a good idea. Or at least switching to directing.

There are times when I feel uniquely untalented. When those old fears that, in fact, I am a sham, and that any work I've gotten over the last 15 years has been solely on the basis of my being able to fool a bunch of people into thinking I know what I'm doing. I mean, if I was REALLY talented I'd be making a living doing this, wouldn't I?


Yeah, one of "THOSE" days.

Intellectually, I know this is just a phase, a cycle that every creative person goes through. Things don't go your way for a while, you don't get those roles you wanted, you can't get the guitar to make the sounds you want to hear, you're not getting any feedback on that play you wrote. Little things, but they start to pile up, and grow bigger in your head. It's insidious, really, and also inescapable. There's NO WAY to avoid it, it's as much a part of the creative life as rejection and critics that see our work far too clearly for comfort.

Yeah, one of "THOSE" days.

It's part of the deal.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

New Comic Wednesday

Perhaps I ought to be clear...I don't always get my books on Wednesday. This week, for example, I'll be putting it off until Friday or Saturday, most likely. However, this is the release day, when nerds all over the US stumble into their local comic shops and plunk down their greenbacks for their overpriced graphic storytelling pamphlets of choice. Hence, a good day to go over MY particular pamphlets of choice...

So we begin.

Batman & Robin #4

Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Philip Tan and Jonathan Glapion
Cover by Frank Quitely
Variant cover by Philip Tan

Frank Quitely's speed as an artist means, frankly, he can't keep up on a monthly book. So, smartly, this title has been designed to change artists from arc to arc in order to maintain the schedule. Why don't more companies/editors/titles see the smarts in this? I'm not advocating replacing artists on mini-series or special events, but how about a little planning and forethought, guys?

Anyway, I'm quite fond of this title. This current run with former Robin Dick Grayson replacing the presumed dead Bruce Wayne, with Wayne's illegitimate son, Damian, as Robin (and that's the last time I'm recapping that in this blog) has been working wonderfully. This is especially true with Frank Morrison's writing. I was never very happy with Morrison's take on Bruce Wayne, which seemed way too odd, flat-out insane at time. However, this new tone with Dick behind the cowl is working just fine. I'm excited to see what Philip Tan will do with it.

Batman: Streets of Gotham #4

Written by Paul Dini
Co-feature written by Marc Andreyko
Art by Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolfs
Co-feature art by Jeremy Haun
Cover by Dustin Nguyen

I love Paul Dini. One need only play the recently released Batman: Arkham Asylum video game to see that the man has an extremely firm grasp on The Batman and his world. He's a master storyteller. However, unlike Morrison, I feel like Dini is far more comfortable with Bruce Wayne behind the cowl. Dini's work since the presumed death of Wayne, in this title and Gotham City Sirens, has been less focused and sharp. I don't think he could write a bad story, but I think we're not seeing the best he can be right now. I don't think I'd drop this title, but the $3.99 price tag doesn't help matters.

Blackest Night #3 (of 8)

Written by Geoff Johns
Art and cover by Ivan Reis and Oclair Albert
Variant cover by Ethan Van Sciver

I love Geoff John's work. He's clearly become a favorite over at DC editorial, and he's earned their respect and trust with sharp, economic tales that are packed with lots of widescreen action. This particular "event" mini-series has been building for a long, long time in the Green Lantern titles, and while the general tenor and content of the event is not surprising, I have to say, I, personally, am a little underwhelmed. It's a great book, good writing, good art, well paced, but, essentially it's a huge intergalactic zombie invasion story. I, unfortunately, have never been a fan of zombie stories in any form. That's MY block, and I fully admit it's a great series, just not my cup of tea.

Brave and Bold #27

Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Art and cover by Jesus Saiz

Ah, now this is old-school comics. An old-fashioned team-up book. This will be the first issue with writer J. Michael Straczynski, who's announced his intention to use the most obscure DC charaters he can find in this book. Starting here with "Dial H for H-E-R-O," I won't even try to explain. Really looking forward to "Brother Power the Geek" in two months. Series like this often don't last long, as there is not ongoing character to be a draw month-to-month. (That's why Batman was a permanent co-star in the 80's version of Brave and Bold) I have every issue of this run, and while it's not always perfect, I usually enjoy something about each issue.

Wednesday Comics #11 (of 12)

Various Writers and Artists

My feeling remain unchanged on this series. You can read what I've written in the past. However, I am REALLY looking forward to this run ending, and not having a weekly book to buy. It's quite a drain. Before this, I religiously bought and read Trinity, DC's prior weekly book, but between 52 issues of that, and 12 of this...I could use a break.

Captain America: Reborn #3 (of 5)

Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Bryan Hitch and Jackson Guice
Cover by Bryan Hitch

Ahh, well DC is bringing the Barry Allen Flash back to life, or has. So, Marvel is bringing back the Steve Rogers Captain America, y'know, the guy they made such a big fuss about killing about 2 years ago? That doesn't bother me, really, it's comic books. What does bother me, slightly, is the way it's being done. Ed Brubaker's Captain America run has been one of big, but generally realistic stories. The focus has been with over-the-top spy action, not unlike a James Bond movie or the old Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D comic series. To have Steve Rogers "unstuck in time," and reliving events of his past seems...a little too sci-fi for what we've seen before. I admit, I have no idea how Brubaker will wrap this up, so he may address that concern.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Ahh, Tuesday

This is a "down" day for me.

Nothing really specific, but I simply feel really off. I'm feeling better, I ran this morning for the first time in about 2 weeks, so that's good. I dunno. Tired, I guess. Making it hard to be very excited about getting up from this desk for rehearsal tonight, that's for certain.

I've been really busy the last few weeks. I'm working on reading/development project called Musica Mundana with some folks about 2 nights a week, rehearsals for Plans 1-8 From Outer Space about 3 nights a week, or so, and various meetings for Stage Left. It really is becoming a bear. Thankfully, the reading goes up Monday night, and Plans opens on the 25th, that'll free things up.

I am looking forward to this weekend, as Sunday night Springsteen returns to the United Center, and he and the E-Street Band will be playing Born to Run in full. CByrd's Mom is coming in to join us at the show. My only regret is that we'll be in the rafters. We just couldn't get any closer in. The Milwaulkee show in November will make up for it, as far as CByrd and I go, as we're on the GA floor then. CByrd reminded me the other night that the first time we saw The Boss we were in the nosebleeds, as well, and still blown away. So, I won't agonize over it too much.

Otherwise...Making a bit of headway on music. I was originally intending to put together a "Wet Denim" album, try to be loud and obnoxious, but, believe it or not, the joke has worn thin on me. Plus, I was just getting very little inspiration along those lines. I've kinda taken inspiration from one of the fake album covers I put together via that little quiz/exercize thing that was going around on facebook for a while. I made a ton of them, got fairly addicted to the randomness of it.

There was one I kept coming back to. I think that's going to be what these tunes end up being.

Of course, I could change my mind at any given moment, or the inspiration could dry up. The well has been pretty damn dry for the last...good lord...three years since I unleashed Where Have All the Heroes Gone? on my friends and family. My intent was always to do a disk every year.

Well, missed that deadline, eh?

I still yearn for real people to play with. A real drummer, and not the canned beats I get from my drum machine. A bass player to play off of. A real singer instead of my croaking and off-key wailing.

I'm also actively tossing around the idea of getting rid of my 8-track digital recorder and jumping head-first into Pro Tools. I'd probably thrash around for awhile, but I have faith I'd eventually figure it out. I just don't even know what I'd do with, essentially, unlimited tracks....The mind boggles.

However, before I make that leap, I really think I ought to be getting inspiration on a regular basis.

Monday, September 14, 2009

A quick one...

So, last week I picked up the remastered Beatles box set. Wanting to get into the groove with it, I started listening from Please, Please Me through the entire catalog in chronological order.

I didn't actually make it the whole way...I stopped for a break after Magical Mystery Tour for a listen to Damn Yankee's self-titled debut. Yeah I know, I almost stripped the gears on that shift.


The mixes on all the albums are really clear, as advertised. However, the early records, frankly, lack the technical "punch" that make you sit up and go, "wow!" I mean, really...they were recorded on 4 tracks in the early 60's, they simply cannot hold up to even "minimalist" productions we hear now. I always chuckle at how on, say, the first four records, ALL the vocals are on the right track for every song. It's a nice time capsule for a production team that wasn't thinking about stereo mixes, at all, and was so limited in what they had to work with.

The really revelatory moment, for me, came during Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, on the track "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds," I suddenly heard the bassline. I was kind of in awe, I had never in my life really heard that bassline, of course it was there, but it was very interesting and kind of left-field. So, that was my first "sit up and say,'wow'" moment.

I'm going to jump back in to The Beatles (a.k.a The White Album) sometime in the next few days, and just ride it out to the end. It's a great ride, I gotta say, but, man, pace yourself, it's easy to overload on the Fab Four.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Catching up...

Missed an entry yesterday. So, my weekly comic buy list, which I KNOW you are all, literally, DYING to read each week, was not published...

So, here we go. Thankfully, I have a light week after the last few very heavy ones. Always nice to get one week where you don't have to shell out quite so much. Only 4 titles.

Red Robin #4

Written by Christopher Yost
Art by Ramon Bachs
Cover by Francis Manapul

This series is kind of the red-headed stepchild of the Batman line. Tim Drake is ousted as Robin, and replaced by Bruce Wayne's illegitimate son, Damian (LONG story), when Dick Grayson (The first Robin) takes up the mantle of The Batman after Bruce Wayne's apparent death. Tim, you see doesn't believe Bruce is really dead. We all know he'll be back sooner or later, as readers, but within the story, Tim's the only one holding out hope. So, he takes on this new identity of Red Robin, and apparently grows into adulthood very quickly, and is scouring the globe looking for clues as to Bruce's location. I think the series stands out like a sore thumb because it's the only place where the characters aren't trying to forge ahead. Dick, Alfred and Damian, representing the core characters for 3 of the 6 Batman-related titles, are trying to find their way without Bruce, and that storyline is strong, and working well. This is the only title where we're being reminded, over and over, this is only a temporary storyline and Bruce will return. Even if Tim never really finds anything concrete to base his beliefs, it's still flying in the face of what's working so very well in the other titles.

I'm still buying, mainly because I like Tim as a character, but it is on the bubble for getting dropped.

Wednesday Comics #10 (of 12)

Various Writers and Artists.

My thoughts on this series are unchanged. You may go back and look at last weeks comments.

Kick-Ass #7

Written by Mark Millar
Art by John Romita JR. and Tom Palmer
Cover by John Romita JR.

So, here we have Mark Millar's latest "I sold it to Hollywood before the first issue hit the shelves" series. Millar, I have to hand it to him, can spin high-concept like nobody's business. The one line description, "normal real-world kid decides to be a super-hero, and gets in over his head," is just the sort of think Hollywood snaps up. The question is always execution, and things get especially foggy when the development of the film is going on as the series is playing out. I have no doubt that Millar and Romita have changed things because they new a "major motion picture" was in the offing. I just don't know how to feel about the series. I do enjoy the issues as I read them, but I can't say I'm chomping at the bit for the next. The fact each issue takes 2-3 months to appear doesn't help. It's not bad, but it is yet another example of Millar's over-hyping and early media sale of his idea making the ultimate product seem...underwhelming. That being said, John Romita Jr's art is, as always, stunning.

Ultimate Comics Avengers #2

Written by Mark Millar
Art by Carlos Pacheco and Danny Miki
Cover by Carlos Pacheco

Ah, More Mark Millar. I have to say, my favorite Millar writing is within Marvel's Ultimate line. I'm still angry about the Ultimatum event, even now it feels like a useless exercise for a line that was always intended to be a easy way in for neophytes. Suddenly, this title and Ultimate Comics Spider-Man are carrying the baggage of a bloody-minded, and relatively failed story that forced them to change the tenor of their stories. I mean, that can be a good thing. Brian Bendis has used it to really change the game with Spidey, but I still resent that such a bad mini-series caused all this. What about this title? I can't remember what's going on, so that may tell you something.

So, what for Friday?

I stumbled across a blog for a Chicago theatre company, who shall remain nameless, in which they put forth, once again, this idea that theatre professionals need to "educate" the audience. That audiences need to understand the work we do in order to appreciate it.

This, my friends, is bullshit. In fact it's not only bullshit, but it the kind of arrogant attitude that is slowly killing our artform. It's proceeding from the idea that if only the poor public could understand what we do, they would love it. It's the kind of stupid, elitist thinking that allows an art form to slowly, forcefully insert it's nose up it's bellybutton and keep on going.

This blog offered several ideas, such as that we ought to strive to make the purveyors of the craft draws in themselves. For example, that a skilled sound designer ought to be able to bring audiences with them. Also that the proliferation of "Computer programs like Word, Garage Band and iMovie have opened up the practices of graphic design, music composition and filmmaking to the public," yet no such "in" exists for theatre. Well, frankly, I think those programs, while, yes allowing some truly skilled individuals to spread their work to the world, have facilitated the ability for people with relatively weak skill sets to feel validated because they can publish sub-par and half-baked ideas on the web.

I mean, seriously...Have you heard my music? Take a listen. I can play guitar, I think. I am a mediocre singer, and my songwriting skills could probably benefit form collaboration. Yet, I can record 2 CDs worth of music. This is not changing the world of music, or improving it, I'd hazard to say it's probably watering it down.

My point is, understanding and having access does not create better art. In fact, I would say in emboldens people who, honestly, lack the skill to do what they are trying to accomplish. Trying and failing is not a crime, but before the digital revolution there was an editorial system in place, publishers, record companies, movie studios, (I know, I know...Corporations, SO EVIL!) that would, generally reserve mass exposure to those with the experience, talent and skill to create the best material. You had to WORK to get a mass audience, not just buy the right equipment.

Enough of that, to the point; what would improve theatre? What would excite audiences and get buts in the seats?

Follow this link. Then come back, I'll be here.

Anthony Neilson is, frankly, my new hero. Why? Because he looks out at the state of theatre, and instead of thinking "what's wrong with the audience?" he asks "what's wrong with us?" The fact is, there is plenty wrong with how we are going about what we do. Theatre has been hijacked by a group of people who have tried to elevate it to "high art."

William Shakespeare did not write "high art." He wrote rabble-rousing plays about sensationalized topics, with lewd jokes and an entertainer's heart. I am firmly convinced that, were he alive today, Shakespeare would be happily working right in the Hollywood system, grinding out films like Armageddon. Shakespeare never lost sight of the basic point of theatre TO ENTERTAIN. Yes, his plays also exposed many, many truths about the human condition, but that was a sideline to giving the groundlings a good show.

Why do we treat our classics like something to be embalmed? Why must Chekhov always seem slow and ponderous? Why can't we take these plays and not just fall back on the old thought process, but make them our own. Make them vital, alive and ENTERTAINING for our audiences today?

That spreads to every facet of our work. Yes, we want to challenge our audiences, but if that challenge comes in the form of two characters debating the culpability of auto dealers in the environmental crisis for 2 hours, the only challenge you're offering is to stay awake. There are so many ways to make a point in drama, why do we always seem to fall back to lecture? Allegory can be such a strong platform, look at District 9, which is one of the strongest films about race relations and the way we treat the lest fortunate and "different," yet is exciting for almost every moment of it's run time. Clearly you couldn't do District 9 on stage, but you could do something like that.

Stop thinking that the problem lies in changing our audience, and change yourself.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Random Wednesday thoughts...

Yeah, usually it's New Comic Wednesday, but that's postponed due to the Labor Day thingamajig.

Let's start with some brilliance from The Comics Curmudgeon:

"Or — and it’s just a suggestion — you could tell Diana! I mean, I don’t want to tell you how to do your job as an irritatingly cryptic jungle seer, but … maybe tell Diana?"

I love that site.

Spent some time this morning putting together a Rush mix CD for a friend. I saved the mix as a playlist, and was struck once again by the brilliance of Neil Peart's lyrics.

Hold your fire
Keep it burning bright
Hold the flame 'til the dream ignites
A spirit with a vision is a dream
With a mission

I hear their passionate music
Read the words that touch my heart
I gaze at their feverish pictures
The secrets that set them apart

When I feel the powerful visions
Their fire has made alive
I wish I had that instinct
I wish I had that drive

Or another favorite:

From first to last
The peak is never passed
Something always fires the light that gets in your eyes
One moment's high, and glory rolls on by
Like a streak of lightning
That flashes and fades in the summer sky

Your meters may overload
You can rest at the side of the road
You can miss a stride
But nobody gets a free ride

More than high performance
More than just a spark
More than just the bottom line
Or a lucky shot in the dark
In the long run...

Love that stuff. The music's awesome, too. Sometimes, I feel like the get labeled unfairly as part of the whole "sci-fi/sword and sorcery progressive band" thing, I mean, sure the concept side of 2112 is very sci-fi, but Peart also has a tremendous ability to speak right from his heart about so many topics. Maybe I'm crazy, but this is a band that can raise the hair on the back of my neck, or bring me to tears. Few others do that, Springsteen, King's X....Bands I really, really admire. So, I hate that many people hear the strange wordplay of Tom Sawyer, and write off the band completely. There's more there.

Of course it's also "Beatles Wednesday," and man, I'm all sorts of amazed. Cbyrd and I have always intended to get the entire catalog, but just sort of ran out of steam. The new remastered box set offered a real opportunity to get it in one fell swoop. When you break the cost down to 14 CDs, it's really quite reasonably priced. Well, getting the thing has become a bit of a crusade.

Amazon sold out before the release date, all gone in pre-orders. I planned to swing by the Best Buy downtown here and get it over lunch, but they "sold out" (meaning all copies claimed in pre-order) before they opened. I THINK I got one at the Best Buy a little north of downtown. Ordered on-line for in-store pick up. Yet, they haven't confirmed my order yet.


Then the video game. People are rabid for it, or maybe I just know a lot of Beatles fans. CByrd even bought it herself. Let me say that again...MY WIFE BOUGHT A VIDEO GAME, not for me, but because she wants to play it. I think something has happened to the space-time fabric of the universe...Is it 1964? What is going on?!?!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

It Might Get Loud

A documentary bringing together three electric guitarists representing three eras. Jimmy Page representing the 70's, The Edge representing the 80's-90's, and Jack White representing the current decade. Basically designed to let these guys chat about what they do and how they do it.

Your reaction to this film will probably change based on how you react to these personalities.

For myself, the footage of Page was amazing. Especially enchanting is his air guitar antics to a Link Wray record. It's a moment that brings the circle back around to completion, as we can see, with our mind's eye, the young Page, and why he picked up the guitar in the first place. His journey to the locations where the history of Led Zeppelin was formed, and his clear memory of such tidbits as where microphones were hung, is astonishing.

Likewise, The Edge takes us around Dubiln, from the music schoolroom where U2 first rehearsed to the "war house" where they created their arguably best album. The Edge comes off as clear-headed and introspective. He's also unfailingly honest about how his sound is achieved, mainly through effects and signal manipulation. He's not really playing much, at all, and he knows it.

Then Jack White...

Here's the deal, I find Jack White to be an interesting character, but he's clearly developed a persona for himself, and he sticks to it. It's kinda annoying, when you see the Edge allowing a spotlight into the simplicity of what he does, for White to still be playing his game. I mean, we never see where he really lives or works, because I absolutely REFUSE to believe the ramshackle farmhouse where they shoot most of his solo footage is where he lives.

He does cop to the image building in regard to the White Stripes, claiming that he needed to build a "childlike" image in order to excuse the simplicity of what they do. Fine, but the story of a 7 by 7 room with two drum kits, so that little Jack had to sleep on a sheet of foam on the floor? Maybe it is true, but this guy has spun so many tales about himself, I can't take it on face value.

And the kid? Supposedly "Little Jack," following him around? What is that?

They are three distinct, accomplished personalities, but I couldn't help but wonder....Why these three? Seriously, if you asked me to name 3 innovators of the electric guitar, Page would jump right out, but I doubt The Edge or Jack White would even cross my mind. Eddie Van Halen? I understand you might not want to have three guys from the same genre, but I'd also argue that White, Edge and Page all play hard rock. How about jazz? Allan Holdsworth?

Of course, then you get into "who the hell is that?" territory. It's a film, you have to look to the general audience.

The selling point of this film is seeing these three guys come together, in a room, and jam. This does happen, but not nearly as much as I expected. It is interesting to watch the dynamics. White and Page are blues players, at heart, The Edge is not, that comes out in the jams. The Edge always seems just a bit out of his depth.

I did laugh out loud at the moment when Page starts into the "Whole Lotta Love" riff, and the other two just sit there...mouths open, watching.

The final song also is an interesting choice for a film about, specifically, the electric guitar. It's fun, and may have simply been the song all of them knew. Still I was sorta thinking, "really?"

I give this four stars as a film fan and a guitar player. If you're not the latter, or at least a big music fan, it may not be as fun for you.

Friday, September 4, 2009

What if I was Editor in Chief of DC Comics?

I spend some time on the message boards. I find them an interesting group of people, who, amazingly for the internet, get along pretty well.

Today I noticed an interesting discussion;

Basically, you need to select no more than 20 ongoing comics for DC. That's it. (Events, minis, and non-DCU stuff like Vertigo notwithstanding)

What would you choose?
I thought about that for a minute. There are easy ways to answer that, fanboy favorites, all Batman titles, etc...

But what would I REALLY do?

1. Batman
2. Detective Comics
3. Superman
4. Action Comics
5. Flash
6. Green Lantern
7. House of Mystery
8. Wonder Woman
9. Brave and the Bold
10. JLA
11. Teen Titans
12. Doom Patrol/Metal Men (11 page stories each)
13. Adam Strange
14. Birds of Prey (Oracle/Black Canary/Huntress/Manhunter/The Question)
15. Doc Savage/The Shadow (11 page stories each)
16. The Spectre/Zatanna (11 page stories each)
17. Aquaman/The Atom (11 page stories each)
18. Green Arrow/Hawkman (11 page stories each)
19. The Power of Shazam!/Plastic Man (11 page stories each)
20. Jonah Hex

Now, I don't pretend that I've got this all figured out, or that this would even work. It could add up to complete disaster, honestly. I, personally, would just be curious to see how my "plan" here might, or might not, work.

Now, what was the thought process here?

Starting from the top:

Batman and Superman are your cash cows, so the impulse is to do a bunch of series featuring them and/or tying into their series (Robin, Supergirl, Nightwing, Superboy, Gotham City Sirens, Streets of Gotham, World of New Krypton, World of Metropolis, I could go on.) I wonder if this doesn't dilute the brand?

What if we held these characters to their two traditional titles, Batman and Detective Comics for Batman, Superman and Action Comics for Superman? what if we increased the size Detective and Action, so as to make them able to present the entire "families" of these heroes? Rotating back-up slots for Robin, Supergirl, et al? Perhaps the fans of these characters would stick for the long haul?

Perhaps we also try to broaden the idea of what a DC Comic is? Try other genres, or at least styles? Adam Strange (Sci-fi), Jonah Hex (Western), and House of Mystery and The Spectre/Zatanna title(Horror/Magic) allow us to try some different genres within established DC Universe characters. The Doc Savage/The Shadow shared title can allow a bit more pulp adventure /noir style. Lastly, the Shazam/Plastic Mantitle can allow a more tongue-in-cheek, Golden Age superhero style to play out.

I think the dual headliners series is an idea that needs to come back. DC has lots of recognizable 2nd and 3rd-teir heroes that could be a draw if paired with a appropriate co-headliner. Plus, it would keep these characters in the spotlight on a regular monthly basis, and hopefully allow them to gain fans and popularity. Meanwhile, we allow those 2nd teir character that have proven followings (Flash, Green Lantern) to carry books.

I was very concerned, after my first run at this, that I had little to no female-dominated books. Wonder Woman has always been problematic, she's never had huge sales in the modern era, and never been able to cary a second title. However, we have to publish Wonder Woman. We also need other female-led series, so we bring a few more female crimefighters into Birds of Prey, and run with it.

Anyway...I'm sure that's totally disjointed and rambling, but...It's a blog.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

John Fogarty The Blue Ridge Rangers Rides Again

Or, how you can't go wrong with a $3.99 download.

I have a fondness for roots music. Country, early rock and roll, blues. Not my favorite stuff in the world, but I love how you can see how everything we know as modern rock grew out of it. I also have a very large fondness for John Fogarty and Creedence Clearwater Revival.

In 1973 John Fogarty released an album of country and western covers called The Blue Ridge Rangers. The genesis of that album reportedly lay within Fogarty's deal with Fantasy Records and Saul Zaentz, which left Fogarty in a position where he didn't own any of the songs he'd written for Creedence. Now, 36 years later, he gives us this grammar-challenged follow-up. I mean, shouldn't it be "Ride again?"

Never mind.

This is a fun record. It's country, without a doubt, be aware. Pedal steel guitar and fiddle saturate the songs. We have a couple of high-profile guests (Timothy B. Schmit and Don Henley (The Eagles) on Rick Neilson's Garden Party, and Bruce Springsteen (The Boss) on When Will I Be Loved?), but for the most part the focus is squarely on Fogarty's distinctive voice, and a bevy of session players. Quite different from the first Blue Ridge album, where Fogarty played everything.

Now, to be sure, I'd rather have a new Fogarty album proper, but this is a nice side trip for him to take. It suits his voice and style, and is currently available on Amazon as a $3.99 download. It's more than worth that.

Favorite tracks:
- Paradise

- Garden Party
- Back Home Again
- Heaven's Just a Sin Away
- When Will I Be Loved?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

New Comic Day 9/2/2009

I knew I said this would be a weekly feature, but the last couple of weeks have been really busy.

However, I really feel I'm going to have to re-evaluate my current pull list. I had to pick up two weeks worth of books last week, and it was a pretty big hit. I blame this mainly on the price increase from $2.99 to $3.99 of some DC titles, and, it appears, most of the Marvel line. (at least the popular books)

Anyway, this week's pull...

Batman #690

Written by Judd Winick
Art by Mark Bagley and Rob Hunter
Cover by Tony Daniel

Mark Bagley is my favorite modern artist, hands down. I'm really of the opinion that the man is the most skilled monthly artist working today. His layouts are dynamic as hell, his work detailed, but cartoony enough to simply be fun to look at, but, and this is what really makes him unique, HE GETS THE WORK DONE ON TIME. No one is as fast, and good, as Bagley. Winick can be hit-or-miss as far as writing, but I generally like his Batman work, and he seems to be right on top of this "Batman Reborn" arc, with the apparently dead Bruce Wayne replaced by former Robin/Nightwing Dick Grayson. Winick seems to understand Dick, and the weight he's carrying, quite well.

Jonah Hex #47

Written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray
Art and cover by Cristiano Cucina

I will say this over and over until more people start buying this book; the most consistently good monthly book on the shelf. It also rises to excellent quite often, usually depending on what artist in on the job. The title has been known for single-issue tales since it's inception, but "The 6 Gun War" brings us the first multi-part epic from Palmiotti and Gray, who've been on the title from issue #1. I wish I could say this tale lived up to the one-offs, but it doesn't. It's good, definitely worth reading, but I think the writers are struggling a bit with pacing. I quite like Cucina's art, but he doesn't reach where, say, Jordi Bernet or Darwyn Cooke have with Hex.

Justice League: Cry for Justice #3 (of 7)

Written by James Robinson
Art and cover by Mauro Cascioli

*sigh* I cannot for the life of me tell where this mini-series is headed after the first 2 issues. Other than to Robinson's run with the aforementioned Mark Bagley on the regular Justice League title. I think I'm still buying this with the idea that it's going to inform their run on the regular title. There's much to like, the heroes involved are a really odd mix (Congorilla, really?), and the artwork is pleasing to the eye. However, on the flip side, Robinson's dialogue is a bit simplistic (which is really odd for him), and Cascioli art, while pretty, also suffers the problem with all painted art, it feels a bit stagnant and undynamic. A $3.99 price point, without the back-up feature that DC has, smartly, offered (Learn something, Marvel) with their other $3.99 books, doesn't help.

Wednesday Comics #9 (of 12)

Various Writers and Artists.

Three more to go. I'm so torn on this series. I'm, flat-out, in love with the format, and I accept that there will be serials I love (Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Connor's Supergirl -Adam and Joe Kubert's Sgt. Rock), mixed with those I hate (Eddie Berganza and Sean Galloway's Teen Titans), or just do not work at all (Ben Caldwell's Wonder Woman, where the main sin is ambition. The art is finely detailed with many, many panels on the one page. The coloring on the newsprint muddies the entire thing. I have no idea where the story is going anymore, because I simply cannot read it.) It's a turkey shoot. Some work, some don't, but the art is almost always stunning. The problem is, at $3.99 every, single week for 12 weeks. It's an expensive Turkey shoot. I hope DC continues this exploration, but I would really suggest a lower price point.

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #2

WRITER: Brian Michael Bendis
PENCILS: David LaFuente
INKS: David Lafuente Garcia
COVER BY: David LaFuente

I know, I know, I said I was getting off this train. The Ultimatum crossover, and it's path of wanton destruction bored me, and the restart with new numbering, along with the price jump to $3.99 (with no content to compensate...MARVEL, LOOK AT WHAT DC IS DOING!), had left me bitter and angry. Then I read the first "new" issue. Damn you Brian Michael Bendis, once again your utter magic with these characters has sucked me in. Plus, the art by David LaFuente is far more suited to this title that what Stuart Immonen was doing. I'm in, Brian, as long as you keep this kind of quality up....even at $3.99.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

I don't even know what to say...


It's Headbang Hero

"Batman: Arkham Asylum" at about 20%

Short version of my thoughts:


Longer version:

I'm at about the 20% point, as far as getting through the game, and I'm not rushing. I am savoring the game, and already excited to go back and collect some of the Riddler's, well....riddles that I couldn't get to, or figure out the first time.

The mechanics of the game are top notch, the controls are fluid, and responsive. The camera work is well handled. I rarely feel like I can't see what's going on, or that one of the baddies got the drop on me because of the game. Because I mess up? Oh, hell yeah.

The graphics are excellent, and Batman looks as he ought too. A little too big, for my tastes, but I'm a guy who thinks most superheros ought to look like gymnasts, rather than weightlifters. The Joker is a little odd and plastic looking, but also very creepy and evocative. I'll roll with it.

The one area of gameplay where I can pick a few nits is in terms of figuring out how things work. Specifically, in regards to the Riddler's challenges, I only recently realized I missed solving a lot of them because it wasn't really made clear how to do so. (Essentially lining up day-glo question marks correctly in the "detective" mode.) I'm also curious about messages I see that say "every weapon has a special view, have you figured it out?" Puzzles, clues within the game? I'm A-OK with working those out, even the question mark thing is "fair," but game features really ought to be self-explanitory.

Where the game excels, beyond all my hopes is in the "feel." I feel like Batman when I play, and the game has mastered the multiple elements that make up Batman's skill set. Detective work, searching for clues? Check. Utterly brutal, dominating hand-to-hand combat? Check. Strategy? Laying in wait, planning stealth attacks from above and below? Check. Much like the recent Ghostbusters game, the victory here is in allowing the player to really feel immersed in the world presented. When Keven Conroy and Mark Hamill (from the AWESOME 90's Batman: The Animated Series) spar as Batman and The Joker, you feel like these are the real deal.

Good work. I want a sequel that leaves Arkham Island and goes into Gotham City proper...