Saturday, December 6, 2008

Thoughts on Secret Invasion

So Marvel has just wrapped up their latest "event" storyline, Secret Invasion. The Skrulls have been turned back, human civilization in the Marvel U. will go on, and The Green Goblin is in charge of the Avengers.


All in all, I thought Secret Invasion was one of Marvel's better crossover stories. The Skrulls for a long time have been a joke, and it was nice to see one of the cornerstones of the Marvel U. reestablished as a serious threat, the most serious they've been since the Kree/Skrull war 40 years ago. The "death" of the Wasp (come on, not even Bucky stays dead anymore. If Uncle Ben comes back in Brand New Day, I quit) was handled in a exquisitely cold and brutal way, and the backlash from the heroes was masterfully done.

As Civil War tackled the idea of security over liberty and how it pertains to life in 21st Century America, I enjoy how Secret Invasion made s statement on how American society will take that freedom from whoever looks the part. Norman Osborn icing the Skrull queen and becoming grand poobah of national security only because it was seen all over television in the Marvel U. was a masterstroke, and I can't wait to see what the "Dark Avengers" have up their sleeve. Naysayers might argue it is insanity that the Green Goblin could be put in charge of national safety, but I would contend that believing a idiot cocaine and alcohol abuser could keep us safe in our universe is ridiculous as well. Norman Osborn has become the premiere villain in the Marvel U., and I can't wait to see how a trillion dollar budget is put to use torturing Spider-Man.

Speaking of douchebags in charge of our safety, what happens to Tony Stark? The man who has been King Douchebag since Captain America was killed has lost everything, and much like the "Demon in a Bottle" story, I'm curious to see how he'll pick up the pieces. All the Iron Man books have been written marvelously since Civil War, and I'm sure the creators are going to have a field day turning the former top cop into one of the vigilante's he was hunting. The fact that Thor and Cap still want nothing to do with him was beautifully captured at the end of Secret Invasion, and we'll see how many friends Tony Stark truly has left.

Lenil Yu's pencils were extraordinary, and I know some people have complained about Brian Michael Bendis' Avengers run, but looking back on how he set Secret Invasion up, weaving clues in here and there, I'd say he, Ed Brubaker, and Geoff Johns are the absolute best writers in comics today. There will be some headaches trying to weave characters who have been gone back into continuity (Mockingbird is back?), but overall, Secret Invasion was just as powerful and earth-shaking for the Marvel U. as Civil War. And Invasion actually came out on time! When the collected edition comes out, anyone who has ever read a Marvel comic should pick it up. 9 out of 10.

Gabbin' About God

I'm not a religious guy. Do I think there is something out there, that the universe isn't simply a cosmic accident? Yes. Do I think that human beings have figured out what that "something" is? No. Organized religion has done far more harm than good on this earth, and I think it's the height of arrogance to tell someone you've got the inside track on the meaning of life and what waits in the afterlife. Me? I just don't know what waits in the great beyond. But I decided long ago if I love my family and friends, and treat people with dignity and respect, in any decently run universe I'm gonna be okay.

So as a result, I haven't really talked to god for years. As a kid, no matter what your religious leanings, you talk to god all the time. Especially when you get in trouble. "God, help me out of this jam, and I swear I won't do anything bad again." As if god, whatever it may be, is going to buy that. But as I got older, as I took a deeper look at the world around me and the atrocities people carry out in the name of "god", I phased the "help me out, god!" phrase out of my lexicon.

That has changed slightly, now that I am mere days away from being a Dad. Ten days until our "official" due date, I've become that celestial deal-making teenager that I was 15 years ago. When your wife could pop any minute, you don't sleep too deeply, and late at night, I have discovered to my great surprise that I'm starting to converse once again with a mythic figure I'm not sure exists.

"God, please let my son be healthy. Let everything be okay. That's all I ask."

I even start negotiating, as if I'm asking too much.

"He can even be on the fugly side. I can work with that. Just let him come out whole and hearty."

I have no reason to worry. My wife and I are both in excellent health, all of our tests have come back with happy results. I even shouldn't worry about Max's looks, as my wife is beautiful (and I think I'm no slouch in the cosmetic dept.)

But until that peanut shows up, I find myself imagining every nightmare scenario that has very little chance of happening, but there's still that .000009% chance, dammit!

I won't be going to church anytime soon, and this certainly isn't a call for all expectant parents to become over-protective whack-jobs. All I'm saying is that when you become responsible for that little person who comes into your life, your perspective changes greatly. I have every reason to believe that Max will be fine, but until I see with my own eyes that he is fine, I'll continue to imagine everything that could go wrong and try to strike some deals with some spooky ethereal father figure. I when I can see for my own eyes that said father-figure exists, then I'll pop into the nearest church, synagogue, or mosque. We're human beings, and by nature we're skeptical of things we can't see, whether that's some kind of god, or a child who is hale and hearty.

So next time you see your folks, tell them you understand why they worried about you so much. Becoming responsible for that little person changes everything, even if that little person is 23. We even start making deals with mythic figures!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

William Shatner's Raw Nerve

Bill Shatner. So many things to so many people. I find it funny that the one thing he was known for for so many years, Star Trek, is now one of the last things I associate him with these days. Word association with William Shatner usually pulls out of me the terms "egomaniac", "Price line guy", "good natured self-parody", "Futurama guest star", and of course "Denny Crane".

No matter how you view William Shatner, one thing cannot be ignored: The man has an uncanny ability to reinvent his career and make himself relevant to each ensuing pop culture generation. His latest project appears on the Biography channel, and it's called Shatner's Raw Nerve. In a series of (supposedly) unscripted interviews, Shatner talks to famous folk who have had their share of challenges and and setback in their careers. While I wonder how "raw" the show is, it does have a raw feel while not looking cheap, and it fosters an engaging ambiance. Oprah Winfrey can have her massive stage and hundreds of in-studio audience members. Raw Nerve is just two people, sitting in opposing love seats, talking to each other for half an hour. It's an intimate show, and you feel like the only audience member in the world because of it.

Another distinction from the Oprah style of interview is that none of the questions are softballs. Again, who knows how "unscripted" this show is, but the dialogue comes across in a much more improvisational style that a pre-planned one. In the first episode with interviewee Valerie Bertinelli, Shatner presses her on her past addiction problems, and before you know it the conversation has spun into Catholic ideals and how deeply Bertinelli truly believes in the concept of heaven or hell. And she gets a little flustered about it to boot!

The biggest knock on the show is this: If you care about the guest, you'll probably love the episode. If you don't care however, you probably won't care at the end of 30 minutes, either. Whether it's Shatner, the questioning, or the style of the show, something about the program falls just a little short. I really don't care about Valerie Bertinelli, and I started tuning out as the interview went on. However, the next guest was Tim Allen, someone I'm a little more engaged in, so conversely I was a little more engaged in the show.

Talk shows are a dime a dozen today (Tyra Banks?), and interchangeable, in my opinion. But Raw Nerve is fresh and different, and everyone should give it a try. I wouldn't jump into it as appointment viewing right off the bat, but check your listings for a guest you're interested in (Tuesday nights on Bio) and see what you think. For all the distance he's achieved from the Star Trek days, Bill Shatner has once again started to explore the final frontier: A fresh talk show format.

WCCW Review 5/21/83

Let me say for the record, I love the conversational chemistry between Michael Hayes and Kevin von Erich. Kevin puts Terry Gordy over huge, and Hayes gives us his "total restaurant experience" metaphor again to explain that World Class was becoming more about the Freebirds v. The von Erichs, as the influx of talent was setting the promotion on fire (Iceman Parsons, the Vachons, ect.) Fine, but let's not fool anyone: WCCW was about the Freebirds v. The von Erichs.

Paul "The Butcher" Vachon v. Tora Yatsu. More of this goofy heel v. heel action. How can you be a dreaded Asian assassin while wearing bicycle pants? Armand Hussien wants Vachon out of the ring so Yatsu can do his warm-up. Of classic heel stalling tactics, that's one of the lamer ones. They test each other off of lock-ups and chops, which Vachon wins. Yatsu tries some dirtier tactics, including a knee lift and a throat thrust, and a power slam finishes this for Yatsu at 3:30. WTF? 2 minutes of that was stalling! I don't think I've ever seen a Vachon job out that fast. DUD

Armand Hussien doesn't sweat Kamala, and Tora Yatsu is ready for him. Lord, that match is going to be the shits. And that's shits plural for you kids out there. That makes it bad, as opposed to the shit.

Chris Adams v. The Mongol. Oh, the Mongol. The low card in the poker hand that is Devastation, Inc. He jumps Adams to start with the dreaded CLUBBING FOREARMS, then settles into a front facelock. Snapmare, but Adams reverses into a hammerlock and works the arm with some fancy flipping in between. Then they do the exact same sequence over again. Meh. Marc Lowrance makes the funny of the night, climing that the Mongol is the warrior that Devastation, Inc. sends out to win matches. Right. Mongol takes over with his earth shattering offense of elbows and forearms, then settles in with another facelock, but Adams reverses again. Shoulderblock sequence and both guys go down, with Adams going to the floor. Mongol sends Adams into the turnbuckle, but he goes out After Adams and gets some kicks and a tope suicida for his troubles. Superkick for Mongol not once, but twice, and the Mongol is trapped in the ropes. Adams charges, however, and gets tied up in the ropes himself. The Mongol unleashes some fearsome choking, won't break, and gets DQ'd at 6:52. Fine on Adams end, but the Mongol was a lump. *3/4

"Gorgeous" Jimmy Garvin v. Johnny Mantel. I'll never know why Vince didn't pick Garvin up, because the character and his charisma were incredible considering this is 1983. Jimmy wants David von Erich anytime, in any kind of match. Can he take Mantel's place? Mantel goes for the legs a few times, but gets hammered in the corner for his insolence. Garvin with a few dropkicks, then a sweet flying headscissors into the rest hold, as Jimmy tells the camera how good he is. Note to all the kids who don't know their wrestling history: what WCCW was doing in the early 80's made Vince's show look like it came out of the 19th Century. WWE is still using the setup World Class invented today, just with more expensive cameras. Mantel fights out of the headscissors, fires back with his own dropkicks, then settles into an armbar. Jimmy only tolerates that for a few seconds, then gets bored and drops some knees on Mantel's head. HE'S GARVIN-ING UP!!! Nah, just a slam and another armbar. Lots of armbars in the early 80's. Lots. Mantel reverses the hold into a slam, and it's his turn again to slap on an armbar. Hoo, so many armbars. Heel Mick Foley would be proud. Garvin gets out of the hold, nails Mantel with some knees, but a slam into the turnbuckle gets nothing as Johnny Mantell makes the SUPER BABYFACE COMEBACK! That consists of a few forearms, as Johnny runs the ropes, gets caught trying to execute a cross body block, and Garvin turns it into a side backbreaker for the three count at 6:33. What, no brain buster finish? Too short to be much, but Jimmy Garvin's charisma carries this to at least **. Jimmy looks for that coward David von Erich as we go to break.

Video package for Kevin von Erich. Again, just revolutionary stuff, and something WWE is going back to these days to get their talent over (gotta try something...)

American Heavyweight Championship Match: Kevin von Erich v. Terry Gordy. Man, I miss Terry Gordy. The guys feel each other out at first, doing some classic reversal sequences, as the girls orgasm for Kevin's every move. Headlock takedown by Kevin, and Terry tries to roll through into a pin a few times. But as they say in Bronson, MO "No dice." Shoulderblock and hiptoss by Kevin, and he starts to work the arm. So much arm working. Sooooooo muuuuuuch. Kevin shifts to a body scissors, but Terry decides that punching might break the hold. Well, what do you know? Kevin gets tossed into a few corners, but when Terry goes after him, Kevin hooks him in a standing body scissors in a pretty cool spot. Remind me why Kevin von Erich stayed in Texas, and drug-addled one-footed Kerry von Erich is listed as an IC Champion? A sunset flip by Kevin gets two, but Terry pops him with some elbows. Irish whip turns into a von Erich abdominal stretch, but Terry rolls Kevin across his back to break it. Kevin nails Terry in the corner a few times, then signals for the dreaded Iron Claw. Terry blocks after an epic struggle, and tags Kevin with a few right hands for trying to use such a lame submission hold. Really, both Vince and Bill Watts shit on the Mandible Claw at first ("why couldn't I just bite your fingers off?") yet the Iron f*&%ing Claw is a realistic match-ender? Anyway, Terry throws Kevin to the ropes, but misses an elbow and Kevin is able to slap on a sleeper hold. Terry gets his foot on the ropes for the break, and now he puts Kevin in a sleeper, as the crowd reaction builds to an incredible decibel. Kevin breaks with an elbow, then rams Terry into some turnbuckles. But as with Samoan wrestlers, you don't go after Terry Gordy in the head, and Gordy chokes Kevin on the ropes to remind him. Kevin with shots to the gut, but Terry counters with a knee. They trade dominance for a few seconds as I'm stunned at how good the ebb and flow of this match is. No wonder it carried the territory single-handedly. Suplex by Terry gets two, then he attempts the piledriver a few times, as they do another epic struggle spot. Terry misses Kevin's trademark backwards splash, but Kevin doesn't, and he gets the three count at 12:26. Awesome psychology with some awesome workers. ***1/4.

Mark Lowrance and Kevin von Erich in a post-game recap, talking about Kevin's upcoming match with Ric Flair, and a six-man with the Freebirds.

Back in studio with Michael Hayes and Kevin von Erich. They put over WCCW innovating the video package concept, and Kevin admits that Fritz of all people came up with the idea. Michael with a dig at the legendary von Erich stiff working style, and we're out.

While the wrestling wasn't all that epic, this was a great, quick-paced show with tight focus on all the major angles of the territory at the time. ECW could learn something from WCCW.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Did Bill Richardson Get a Raw Deal?

It was a bold move. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were running neck and neck for the Democratic presidential nomination. Every vote of support from fellow Democratic leaders mattered. He had close ties to the Clinton administration. He had developed a friendship with the former President and First Lady. Hell, he even went to Bill Clinton's superbowl party.

Then Bill Richardson went and threw his support behind Barack Obama.

In the days that followed, Richardson made the 24 hour news show rounds. He talked about how it was a tough decision, how tense his phone calls to Bill and Hillary were, and how he hoped the friendships he had fostered over the past 20 years would not be damaged. Most of us watching at home were thinking, "If Obama wins, Bill Richardson is in for a great big 'Thank You' gift."

Then Obama did win, and the speculation began flying: Where would a man with an impressive resume like Bill Richardson fit into an Obama administration? Secretary of the Treasury? Secretary of Homeland Security? No, no. His work as U.N. Ambassador and his Nobel Prize nomination for negotiating hostage release pointed to only one prize.

Secretary of State? Nope, apparently Secretary of Commerce.

Did Bill Richardson get hosed? A lot of people seem to think so, but let's break this down. First of all, Obama doesn't want to fall into the Bush trap of rewarding loyalty for loyalty's sake. Putting people who worked on your campaign (or even just random friends) into positions of governmental power as a payoff is what fostered our current environment of cronyism in the first place. This isn't to say tha Bill Richardson isn't qualified. He certainly was my first pick. But Obama is too savvy a politician to waste his honeymoon period with the electorate by obviously favoring the people who aided him and snubbing the people who opposed him.

Secondly, Hillary Clinton is very qualified for the position. I don't like the fact that she decided to make video games her "this is what's wrong with our kids" pet project, and the way she let her campaign run amok was positively shameful, but let's look at her qualities as a politician: Smart, tough, savvy, and perhaps most importantly, the Clinton brand name. Meeting with foriegn heads of state means confronting a lot of big egos, and big ego is something Hillary has vast amounts of experience handling. Both Hillary and Richardson are competely capable for the task, so we then look at what makes the bigger statement: Hillary as SoS says about Obama "I'm willing to mend fences and make compromises to ensure the right person gets the job." Bill Richardson as SoS says "I reward those who have been with me from the beginning." Since Obama built the majority of his campaign on his ability to be a bridge-builder, Hillary makes a lot more sense as a message.

And let's remember what the Commerce Secretary actually does. He is the government liason for business and industry. With the American economy in the crapper, Richardson has the tough, but potentially very rewarding job of guiding government and business on a course to right the ship of commerce and getr us back on our feet. If Obama is going to propose a "New" New Deal, Richardson will be a major factor there. And if it succeeds, Richardson will also recieve a great deal of credit. Don't forget, the vast majority of the electorate was concerned with domestic issues when they walked into the voting booth on November 4th. The recent attacks in Mumbai have brought foreign issues back into the American conciousness, but most people in this country are still more concerned with keeping their jobs through the end of 2008. If Bill Richardson can forge a concerted coalition between government, business, and industry to climb out of the economic hole we find ourselves in, the position of Commerce Secretary could be a bigger starmaker than SoS.

Yes folks, Bill Richardson will be just fine. And for those of you who still are upset about his "snubbin'", take heart in the fact that there's a possibility Hillary won't want to serve 8 years. After all, Condi Rice took over after Colin Powell left (hmmm, bad example). Besides, Bill Richardson already has impressive foreign policy credentials. The gig as Commerce Secretary adds a new demension to his domestic experience, and makes him an even more viable candidate for President after Obama. Beacuse I've got to tell you folks, unless some brilliant young Democratic superstar comes out of the woodwork, I think you're looking at candidate Richardson in 2016.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Code Monkeys

Ah, Space Ghost Coast to Coast. At a time when other than The Simpsons, the closest this country got to an "adult cartoon" was lame pop-culture references in Animaniacs, the brain trust at Cartoon Network figured out that reusing cheap animation along with a bizarrely fresh (and often edgy) script could result in an American animation revolution. Space Ghost C2C was, in the beginning, nothing short of genius. Not only was the show itself wonderful, but it gave us Adult Swim, an onslaught of programming that spanned the gamut of brilliance (Robot Chicken, Harvey Birdman) to the "quality depends on how much pot was smoked while writing the script" (Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Frisky Dingo) to the simply unwatchable (anybody ever seen an episode of Tom Goes to the Mayor?).

But it all began with Space Ghost, and the invention of a new genre: Cheap animated programming targeting men who were boys in the 1980's and grew up with GI Joe, Transformers, and Nintendo. And in that vein, the G4 network has given us Code Monkeys.

The concept is simple enough, and hardly new. Dave and Jerry are programmers at video game publisher GameAvision, headlining a cast of bizarre characters where wackiness ensues. But the premise and plots aren't important. What makes Code Monkeys fascinating is that the animation is stylized to look like a crappy 8-bit NES game. There are video game in-jokes aplenty, enough for any nerd of my generation to have a few belly laughs. But the best thing about the show is it's the first since The Simpsons to be a true "freeze frame" show. Given the video game nature of the style, every episode has multiple "menu bars" where tangential jokes are taking place, constantly supplementing the plot. It's a brilliant concept that guarantees Code Monkeys needs multiple viewings to get everything contained in each episode.

I wouldn't recommend the show for anyone who doesn't have a VCR or DVR, as it's on an obscure network at ungodly hours (and I can't do appointment viewing when the appointment is at 1:30am), but if you can record it, Code Monkeys is worth a look. Some of the jokes flop, and it has a certain South Park "we're doing this to be outrageous, not because we really have anything to say" quality to it, but the style is so incredibly innovative, you just might get sucked in. That, and it's funny to see the commercials as well. Ever wonder what advertisers think will appeal to 30-something men who watch G4...?

Friday, November 28, 2008

Thankful That I DON'T Have Xbox Live

After a wonderful holiday at my in-laws, consisting of great food, good conversation, and mediocre football, I take stock of what I have to be thankful for. It's a lot, quite frankly. I'm thankful that my wife and TBA son are healthy. I'm thankful that President John McCain isn't going to happen. I'm thankful that I'm sitting at home with a cup of coffee, not running around looking for holiday deals and raising my blood pressure. I'm very thankful to be starting a new job soon. But what I'm most thankful for at this particular moment is that I don't have Xbox Live.

Let's be clear: I'm a member of the video game generation. All you kids out there who enjoy the most sophisticated electronic gaming systems ever seen? Next time you see a 30-something guy on the street, take time out to thank him. If it weren't for my generation freaking out about Super Mario Bros., Zelda, Mega Man, and of course, that amazing Nintendo Entertainment System sitting under the Christmas tree in the 1980's, gaming would have died with Atari and you'd all still be playing with Pogs to pass the time.

As I've gotten older and responsibilities have mounted in my life, my time to devote to one of my favorite hobbies has diminished greatly. I also realize that once Max gets here, my gaming time will practically vanish. And I'm okay with that. I still sneak some time to bust out some Wii or DS here and there, but what was my obsession a decade earlier just isn't feasible in the here and now. My days of blowing off astronomy class at UCSC in favor of playing Final Fantasy VII all day (f*&%ing Ruby Weapon...) have been replaced with getting an hour of Super Smash Bros. Brawl in while my wife is at prenatal yoga.

If I were rich and never had to work again, I would make sure I had a lot more gaming time, but all the gaming time in the world would not make me get Xbox Live. In the most recent issue to EGM, there is a hysterical article about the "Top 10 Things We've Learned About Ourselves from Xbox Live". It seems that the XBL experience consists of 12 year olds you've never met talking smack over a headset, while screaming at their mothers to bring them drinks while they sneakily frag you in Halo 3.

How on earth is this supposed to entice me? When I was younger, I loved getting together with my friends for some friendly competition, be it Street Fighter II, Mario Kart, or Dragon Ball Z. And you know what? I can still get together with my friends for a little Guitar Hero or Mario Party, and still have a good time. There's a healthy level of competition, and everybody wants to win. There may even be a little trash talking that takes place. But the important thing is that when the night is over, we've all had a good time.

I can't grasp the joy there is in a wifi battle for supremacy with a group of people you've never even met. At least at competitive gaming events, everybody is in the same place, and you can actually see the person you're playing against. The concept of playing against some teenager I don't know who doesn't have any responsibilities so he can devote his time to mastering the latest version of Call of Duty isn't appealing in the least. Not only are you going to lose to him, but he'll insult you in that simplistic manner that once you graduated from high school, you were guaranteed not to have to put up with anymore. And all of this in a faux-slang accent that he picked up from his 50 Cent albums, even though he really grew up on the mean streets of Dixon, TN. I was supposed to be able to leave that behind in high school as well, DJ Jazzy Trevor.

And if you do beat him? What joy is there in crushing a child? Who are you going to brag to? You Mom? In my case, my wife? Neither of them are going to be terribly impressed, I can tell you.

Yes, I'm becoming an old fuddy-duddy. My gaming skills are diminishing, and it's a little sad. I remember being much more adept at Super Mario Bros. than my poor Dad, and I'm sure a little part of me will die when I'm playing the third iteration of the Wii with Max and he totally schools my ass. But the madness of XBL and Playstation Network is indicative of a major problem we have in this country. We Americans have a tendency to take great ideas, and blow them out of proportion to a level of largess and excess that becomes ridiculous. Trading insults over a group game of Halo isn't social interaction; It's mocking an abstract concept of another human being. Gaming parties are awesome, and I'll have them as long as I can. But battling people I'll never know for a position of gaming supremacy? Pass.