Friday, December 30, 2005

Board Games for Christmas!

Here are three board games we all got for Christmas, with my thoughts.

Duel Masters: The Board Game - Honestly, I do not like the Duel Masters CCG (Collectible Card Game) or any of its contemporaries: Pokemon, Yu-gi-oh, etc. However, this board game was on sale for 2 bucks at the local Kay-Bee toy store (which is closing for good). After playing it a few times, I found this to be a near perfect family board game: up to 5 people can play, the game has some room for strategy and (best of all) most games won't last more than 20 minutes. Perfect for a quick family game, or you can play several rounds if you have more time. This is a great game for those times your kids want to play a game, but you don't have the few hours needed to play Clue or Monopoly.

Stratego: Duel Masters - Again, I'm no fan of Duel Masters, but this was one-fourth the cost of the normal Stratego game, and it can be played with standard Stratego rules (or you can add special "elemental powers rules" that add a little spice to the game).

Risk: Lord of the Rings deluxe edition - Risk on Middle Earth map. I usually play this with standard Risk rules, but there are optional rules that allow you to add in more Tolkien-ish elements (including a quest to destroy the ring). Very fun - a great game for when you have several hours and a few friends over.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Okay - time for more updates! Comics for 12/29

Christmas is over. Grades are in. NOW I have some time to blog. I plan to review some of my gifts (board games and such), and get around to some more serious book reviews. But since today is new comic day, here's a round-up of comics purchased by me (with BLOOD MONEY* even):

Marvel Comics:

Daredevil #80(#460): Brian Michael Bendis' best work for Marvel outside of Alias (no connection to the TV show). Yes, New Avengers and House of M sell better, but those are "event" comics about heroes in tights. This is gripping crime drama that just happens to have a guy who wears red spandex and horns. Lots of good stuff dealing with Journalistic ethics as well.

Nick Fury's Howling Commandos #3: These commandos are literally howling, as some of them are werewolves. A supernatural based comic. It started off fairly oddly and the first two issues made little sense, but it seems to be finding it's place and pace with this issue.

Exiles #74: The "World Tour" continues as the Exiles wreak havoc in the "New Universe" Marvel created back in the 1980s. Fun stuff, and Longshot returns, though nobody from the New Universe joins the team.

IDW Comics:

Fallen Angel #1: DC comics acted a bit like the FOX network when it cancelled Peter David's Fallen Angel comic book. Luckily, IDW stepped up to the plate and bought the rights. This is easily PAD's best work. Set around 20 years after the end of the DC comics version, it treats the events of that series as backstory, making this a great place for new readers to jump in and see the series that has Harlan Ellison raving.

Fables vol. 6, Homelands: This series I buy in Trade Paperbacks rather than the monthly issues. It takes longer to get the next installment, but it also is a lot cheaper (and the TPB has only in-house ads). Find out who The Adversary is! What evil, dastardly figure caused our beloved fairy tale figures to flee into our mundane reality and set up a gated community? Find out. Hint: It's not the Blue Fairy, but you would be close if that was who you guessed.

*Blood money = My twice weekly compensation for donating blood plasma.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Semester's Almost Over....

I will probably have a mega comic post on Wednesday, though I will still have freshman essays to grade then (still not as tough as writing my own for graduate seminars).

As for TV - Well, I'm mad as spit that FOX is canceling Arrested Development. I'm happy they kept it around as long as they have (despite the constant pre-emptings and reschedulings so typical of Fox), but -

well, I wonder why I even watch Fox. After Firefly, John Doe, Dark Angel, Futurama - etc. etc. I think that network exists to make sure quality shows get cancelled.

And because of the disappointment known as "the last season of Simpsons" I haven't even bothered to check that show out. And whatever happened to Malcolm in the Middle?

Except for the last few episodes of Arrested Development, and Teen Titans and Bobobo-Bo-Bo-Bobo on Cartoon network, there's not much on worth watching. Lost and Battlestar Galactica come back in January, and The 4400 and Dead Zone are "good enough for summer" type tv series, so we won't see them until at least April or May (although I hear there's going to be "A Very Dead Zone Christmas" TV special in a few weeks. That oughta be trippy). And I've given up on Monk, as it seems the series has lost all life with the new "nurse."

Of course, since I've had so little time this semester because I took on an extra job to help pay off some debt, I was looking for excuses to stop watching some TV shows.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

I'm not even gonna try to catch up....

on comics, anyway. I still have a few serious book reviews to post, but they may have to wait until Christmas break. Terms papers are coming due very, very soon.

However, I have a few spare moments to do mini-reviews of comics I purchased this week:

DC Comics:
Supergirl #3: Why do I even bother? Supergirl used to be a very interesting character (back in the 80s and 90s). But this series stinks, and there's way too much T&A for a comic starring a 15 year old girl.

Wildstorm comics:

Robotech: Prelude to the Shadow Chronicles #3: I still have no clue as to what is going on here, but the articles in the back are good and give a reasonably detailed history of why it took so long to get a sequel to the old Robotech series.

Marvel Comics:

Fantastic Four #532: JMS plagarizing himself. Many of the lines of dialogue come straight from JMS's Babylon 5 TV series. It seems he needs to start singing a new tune.

Hulk: Destruction #4: Peter David finally gives us a Hulk/Abomination fight, and manages to erase (retcon out of existence) Bruce Jones' entire Hulk run with three lines of dialogue. Amazing.

Marvel Monsters: From the files of Ulysses Bloodstone #1: Set up as a blog, this gives profiles on some of the more famous Monsters from Marvel comics of the 50s and early 60s - the era just before Fantastic Four and Spider-Man changed comics forever. Fun, but light on pictures and heavy on text.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

What's up in TV land?

As the semester nears crunch time, blogging gets much lighter. I may post everyday over the christmas break, though.

I should be able to catch up on comic mini-reviews over the weekend, though. As for the serious book reviews? Who knows?

As for TV this season:

The best shows are Battlestar Galactica on Sci-Fi and Lost on ABC. That's all that needs to be said. Lost is a great character driven drama that just happens to be sci-fi, with mysteries that get revealed only in scattered bits and pieces - just enough to keep me hanging on. BSG on the other hand, is a great sci-fi show that happens to be a character driven drama as well. The cliffhanger with Admiral Cain (sorry for saying Commander Cain in an earlier post) in the last new show (no new shows until January!) was heart-pounding and intense. TV has never been this good.

Other shows?

Alias is still interesting, though it seems to be treading water. Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis have the same problem: There's just no that much more they can do in their respective universe. One full length TV movie could wrap it all up easily. Plus, the villains in SG-1 are too transparently allegorical.

Invasion and The Night Stalker had promise, but both fail to live upto that. Night Stalker is just too damn depressing (where's the humor that made the original Kolchak series work?) and Invasion seems like a mess (unlike Lost, I don't get the idea the creators actually know where they're going).

Over on the Cartoon Network, Teen Titans and Justice League Unlimited continue to provide excellently well-written fare both adults and kids can enjoy. But the best show on Cartoon Network is one of their many shows imported from Japan: Bobobo - bo - bo - bobo.

Twin Peaks? A wannabe! French Avant Garde films? Can't hold a candle! Experimental German expressionistic films? Boring! There is no trippier, more random, bizarre show anywhere in space or time. Great stuff - my highest recommendation. It's on late Saturday nights on Cartoon Network. Check it out.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Comics for the last couple weeks.....

I have other, more serious books I've finished, but I want to give them serious, lengthy reviews. Graduate school gets in the way, of course.

Oh, well.

Marvel comics:

Essential Ghost Rider vol. 1 & Essential Werewolf by Night vol. 1: Marvel loves me! (well, maybe not me specifically). The Essential volumes are great - low priced phonebook sized Black and White reprints of Bronze and Silver age comics. Since this is October, they're reprinting their more "horrific" super heroes. Ghost Rider is my favorite character, and Werewolf by Night I like because of the affinity with my last name (and the fact it's well written stuff).

Marvel Milestones: Blade, Man-Thing and Satana: In keeping with this month’s horror theme, this reprints classic tales of the titular characters. Fun stuff.

Marvel Monsters: Devil Dinosaur #1: Independent comics creators take on Marvel's Monsters from the brief period before the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man debuted. Here, the Hulk battles Devil Dinosaur, and much hilarity ensues. Plus it reprints the first appearance of the Hulk! (and it's not the green skinned dude! This Hulk was a space alien that tried to take over the world).

Marvel Monsters: Where Monsters Dwell #1: Tremble in fear at the Walla Walla Bing Bang! I haven't laughed this much in a long time. More silver age monstery goodness by more independent comics creators who normally wouldn’t go near a Marvel comic.

Marvel Knights 4 #23: The Impossible Man (a green guy who can shape shift at will, but makes a popping sound while doing it) shows up, and the writer toys with breaking the fourth wall. A light-hearted read that doesn't quite live up to its premise, though perhaps the second part of the story next month will be better.

Exiles #71: A good read that gives the Exiles another reason to go hopping around the multiverse. The ending seems a bit anti-climatic, but that's because it's dependent on the ending of another comic this month (House of M #7). My budget doesn't allow for mega-crossovers, so I felt a little lost when it all wrapped up.

Mega Morphs #4: Fun little comic based on a toy line. I bought it because Ghost Rider appears in it, even though there is no good reason for him to appear here (other than he has a toy in the toy line).

Ghost Rider #2: Garth Ennis on cruise control. It's basically a tale from his Hellblazer run, but with Ghost Rider as the protagonist. Ennis has also obviously not read any Ghost Rider comics since the early 70s, and is relying on his vague memories of 30 year old comics. The art shimmers and amazes, but the tale is only typical Ennis.

The Incredible Hulk #87: Peter David's second (or is it third?) swan song on this title. No one else writes the Hulk better - mainly because Peter David realizes the Hulk is NOT a super-hero, but rather an egotistical time bomb.


JSA #78: A bit more comprehensible, but I'm getting annoyed at all the Infinite Crisis tie-ins. Not having enough money to buy the approximately 45 comics this month that are a part of that mega-event, I feel lost (though not as lost as I was last issue).

Robotech: Prelude to the Shadow Chronicles #1: I am a bit of a Robotech geek, but this has me lost. I recognize some of the characters, but I have no idea what's going on. I guess this will appeal to only hard-core Robotechers.

Dark Horse:

The Curse of Dracula: A bit more "mature" in content than I would've liked, but a nice little take on the Dracula mythos that, while not totally original, at least has enough energy to carry it through this thin little trade paperback collection.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Catching up - last week's comics

Graduate school comes first!

Marvel Comics:

Ultimate Iron Man #4: Orson Scott Card writes a comic book! Despite some similarities to his other work (good child genius fights psychopathic child genius) this is a well told tale. This issue is the best one so far, with the stakes clearly amped up, and with the Iron Man armor finally taking shape.

Fantastic Four #531: Haven't I already seen this on Babylon 5? I mean, JMS is a great writer and all that, but haven't we already sang this song and done this dance a few too many times?

Hulk: Destruction #3: The Hulk (well, Bruce Banner) finally arrives, after 3 issues of backstory on the abomination. Methinks he artist needs to work on his interpretation of the script. In one scene, the art made me think Mercy (the lady) was trying to seduce her boss, yet the dialogue indicated she was upset because she found out she had a terminal illness and not long to live, so her boss was offering her the chance to undergo crazy, weirdo experiments to try and cure it. Bizarre dichotomy.

Defenders #3: Okay, DeMatteis and Giffen are funny guys, but male rape is hardly a joke. Yeah - it's the Hulk getting raped, but still - they'd never get away with this if was the Hulk raping Umar. But when Umar rapes the Hulk, it's a barrel of laughs, I guess.

[Of course, now that I think about it, male rape is a joke, apparently. In The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan, Matt gets raped several times and the narrative (as well as many other characters in the tale) regards it as a joke. I get it - men getting raped is comic gold!]

Daredevil #77: Don't you just hate it when you're getting "alone time" with your wife, and then several of your half naked, drop dead gorgeous ex-girlfriends show up? Nope, neither do I. But I'm guessing Daredevil does. Oh, yeah - there's something about the Kingpin in here too.

The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe: Alternate Universes 2005 #1: A quick tour of all the "alternative" universes in the Marvel Megaverse. Useful for the newbie who wants to understand what the heck is going on and for the old time fan who needs to refresh his/her memory.

IDW comics:
Angel #4: This series started out strong, but this was a weak, confusing issue. Here's hoping the conclusion will be better - Especially since it looks more and more likely comics will be the only place to get Whedon approved post-TV series Angel tales.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Comics 8/21/05

Marvel Comics:

Exiles #70 - A fun little jaunt through alternate worlds - this is the only Mutant/X-men type comic I care to read. This issue has a lot of heartbreak, as one character has lost his wife and kids due the reality change, but the other Exiles aren't sure if they should change reality back to the way it was, especially since it seems the new reality is better than the old one. Then a serial killer shows up, so things get complicated.

1602: New World #3 - I wasn't sure how well Iron Man would work in this Jacobian setting, but the concept translates pretty well. My one complaint: Not enough Virginia Dare!

DC Comics:

JSA Classified #3 - Nearly incomprehensible to all but the hardcore fan immersed in DC comics lore, this is still a fun little read - especially the way the writer pokes fun at many fanboy's obsession with the main "attributes" of this character. It seems writer Geoff Johns cares a lot about Power Girl, and wants to make her something more than just a joke character (the jokes often being about how she is the most "well-endowed" character in all of comicdom).
I'm not sure if it will shut the adolescent fanboys up, but he's made me care about a character who, previous to Geoff John's run was a no-personality third tier character.

Supergirl #2 - I was upset when Peter David's brilliant Supergirl series was cancelled, but I decided to give this new treatment of Kara Zor-el a try, especially since having Supergirl be Superman's cousin (as she was in the Silver age) is less convoluted than the protoplasmic earth angel from an alternate pocket dimension that Peter David had to deal with in his series.
However, while Jeph Loeb is generally a brilliant writer, this series (which has had three issues so far (if you count #0), as well as an arc in the Superman/Batman series) uhm - where was I?

Oh, yeah - Loeb seems to not get this character at all, or any of the other characters. The Teen Titans show up and everyone starts fighting for no particular reason. Loeb tries to hint that there's something dark and hidden in this new version of Supergirl, but it all comes across as rather overblown and melodramatic.

Plus, what is up with this 14 year old superhero being drawn in an overtly sexual outfit? And why is her torso so dang long? The artist on this series has no idea how to draw women at all, it seems (actually, his men aren't much better). Bizarre art with only passable storytelling. It had better pick up or I may abandon this series soon.

Thursday, September 22, 2005



LOST on ABC is back. Great show last night. I have seen what is in the hatch, and it's the apartment of someone stuck in the 1970s.

This show keeps getting better and better.

INVASION, on the other hand was dissapointing. Lame dialouge, one-dimensional characters and unsympathetic protagonists. A decent set-up, but as my time as a grad student is precious, I'm sitting this one out for now. If I hear good things in the future, I might tune back in.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Sci-Fi Fridays: 09-16-05

6:00 Firefly - A good episode, alternately gripping and humorous. The preview for the Serenity movie was nothing special as most of it was already featured in the trailers.

7:00 and 8:00 Stargate SG-1 - One of those episodes where everything that can go wrong goes wrong and at the last minute, leaving us with about 3 different cliffhangers. The religious themes being explored are still waaaaaaay too obvious and, at times, preachy as well. Subtlety has not been this season's strong point.

9:00 Battlestar Galactica - I ain't buying it. Either the producers and writers are geniuses or they're winging it. This episode had everything that makes this new BSG series great - lots of human moments, especially as war weariness begins to take a serious toll. However, this episode just confirms my suspicion that the cylons could wipe the fleet out at any moment. IF the producers of the show actually mean to insinuate humanity has really been surviving due to its own luck and/or skill, then they're failing badly, because the cylons look either incompetent or lazy.

I'm in for the long haul. Plus - next week we get Commander Cain!

Friday, September 16, 2005

Comics 9/14/05

Marvel Comics:

Mega Morphs #3: Sean McKeever rocks! Super heroes in giant robots - plus Ghost Rider! Feeds my inner child.

Marvel Knights 4 #22: What with Ben Grimm (the Ever lovin' blue eyed Thing) being Jewish and all, I'm surprised no one ever pitted him against the Jewish myth of the Golem before. Very touching tale.

The Pulse #11: The first Super-hero giving birth in a long while. Bendis does well with dialogue and character driven bits, and so he shines here. No action to speak of, but lots of mothering advice given by the Invisible Woman of the Fantastic Four.

Franklin Richards: Son of a Genius #1: Calvin and Hobbes (Franklin and H.E.R.B.I.E.) meets the Fantastic Four. A fun comic kids can enjoy (my six year old loved it). Since there are so few comics aimed at kids anymore, this is a welcome sign. Plus, adults will love this as well.

DC Comics:

JSA #77: An incomprehensible mess. I realize that since Warner Bros. owns DC and treats it as an R&D studio, they can afford to lose money, but this is ridiculous. This issue makes no sense. I suppose if I was following all the tie-ins to the "Infinite Crisis" mega-crossover I might understand this, but I have a limited budget.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Unacknowleged bias, but still fascinating to hear

Walter Cronkite Remembers (audio cassette)
(audio CD here).

Despite the ubiquitous clarinet motif that sounded oddly similar to the opening notes of the My Little Pony theme song, I enjoyed this brief trip down Walter Cronkite's memory lane. He's seen a lot in his life and been more places than I'll ever be - plus his voice could make the phone directory sound like poetry.

Filled with snippets of archival material and brief statements by friends and acquaintances, this audio book was a fun listen. It's light and brief, though. Anyone expecting in-depth analysis or startling revelations will wind up disappointed. This exists on the level of casual, dinner conversation - albeit highly entertaining and informative dinner conversation.

The one thing that did bother me was Cronkite's constant refusal to admit his clear liberal bias. Time after time, he trumpets his objectivity, but then mentions that he sorta liked Ronald Reagan "despite his politics" (said in a tone that indicates any reasonable person would find Reagan's politics despicable) and that when Barry Goldwater spoke at Knot's Berry Farm it was more akin to "Barry's Nut Farm." He even ends the tape with a list of too typical liberal complaints about how the poor get poorer, the rich get richer, race relations are getting worse, etc.

But that's a minor nit - This tape serves as a quick and enjoyable guide to most major events of the last 60+ years as seem through the eyes of a man who saw as much of it as possible.

This makes a nice companion to his more in-depth book A Reporter's Life - y'know - if you're into that kinda thing and want to see the way it (sorta) was.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Sci-Fi Fridays 9-9-05

6:00 Firefly - A funny, moving episode (with bonus futuristic folk song!) - including a moral dilemma with no easy answers. The preview for the upcoming movie seems to indicate that Jayne's character arc in this episode (and over the whole series) has been abandoned for a more simplistic (more accessible?) portrayal.

7:00 Stargate SG-1 - Good character development for the new guy on the series, with some nods to the overall series arc. A bit predictable (especially if you've seen the classic Star Trek episode "Amok Time") but still fun to watch.

8:00 Stargate: Atlantis - Finally! A well written, taut episode with little fluff and excellent direction. I might like this series after all.

9:00 Battlestar Galactica - The "trick" ending was visible a mile off, but other than that, a near-perfect episode. After the hit and miss mini-series I was unsure about this series, but when the regular series started with "33" it hit the ground running and hasn't let up. This episode mainly dealt with media ethics and "the right for the public to know" but it still managed to be gripping and moving. I just want a little more info about what the Cylons are up to. It's fairly obvious that, if they really wanted to, they could jump in and destroy the entire fleet (and the last remnants of humanity) in a few minutes. Why are they holding back? I don't know and I really, really want to know.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Comics 9/8/05

Due to the Holiday, comics came out on Thursday this week.

Marvel Comics:

Ghost Rider #1: A return to my favorite comic character, this new series ignores the 90s series without discarding it. The story is typical Garth Ennis, though without the cussing (but with the usual level of vulgarity). I can see why the top brass thought Ennis would be a good fit for the Spirit of Vengeance, but it seems off somehow. On the plus side, the art is absolutely gorgeous.

Exiles #69: Part Quantum Leap, part What If? - Reality hopping fun with the only mutant group I care to read (I honestly can't stand the X-men comics).

The Incredible Hulk #86: A tie-in to the big reality spanning crossover "House of M" (don't ask). Peter David writes well, but I'm not following the main thread of the big crossover, so the story seems incidental and I have no idea how it all ties in.

Dark Horse:

Serenity #3: The final issue of the comic series that bridges the gap between the TV series Firefly and the movie Serenity. A good read, but this last issue seems rushed. A good read for a fan of the series, or for anyone curious about the upcoming movie.

Silent Devil:

Dracula vs. King Arthur #2: A guilty pleasure. Dracula travels back in time to do battle with King Arthur and turn his enemies and friends into vampires. 'Nuff said.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Tales from the Tummy Trilogy audiobook

Tales from the Tummy Trilogy (Audio Cassette) Written and Read by: Calvin Trillin

I have never heard of Calvin Trillin, though apparently he was rather popular in the 1970s. This Audio book features him reading selections from his trilogy of essays about food. This food expert eschews pretension, and while enjoying fancy food as much as the next guy (and will even travel to other continents for a good meal), he mostly extols the virtues of the Buffalo Chicken Wing, the New York City Bagel, American BBQ and Louisiana Hot Sauce (also - the Chinatown noodle and pretty much any Mexican dish). His main point can be summed up by this paraphrase: "The good food, the really good food, is not at the restaurant you took your parents to for their 25th or 50th anniversary - it's at the restaurant you first go to when you return home after you spent three years on a tour of duty in a foreign country."

Beyond that, he details his travels across the USA and the world, looking for regional cuisines and local variations. Of course, this comes with its own set of trials - I nearly collapsed laughing when he discussed getting invited to dinner by a politician who had married an Italian war bride from a town famous for it cuisine - only to find nothing makes her feel more American than to prepare frozen fish sticks (he has nothing but scorn for frozen processed foods).

Besides, he's the sort of guy who can slaughter a monkfish (read or listen to find out what that refers to).

Mr. Trillin has a nice deadpan sense of humor that appeals to me. Overall, this little compilation has opened my eyes about the wonderful world of "everyday" foodstuffs.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Comics purchased (and read) 8/31/05

Marvel Comics:

1602: New World #2: If you haven't read the brilliant but overhyped 1602 written by British author Neil Gaiman, this won't make a whole lot of sense. That said, the 1602 concept (what if Spider-Man, the X-men, etc. started out in 1602 rather than the 1960s) is a fun one, and writer Greg Pak does a decent job following in Gaiman's footsteps.

Wha Huh? #1: An utter travesty of a humor book. Not funny and vaguely insulting to the reader and comic fans in general.

Speakeasy Comics:

Beowulf #4: Not a comic version of the Old English Epic. This series has the original Anglo-Saxon superhero resurrected in modern times, where he fights the Dragon that killed him (now residing in the subway tunnels of New York) and does battle with a shadowy government organization. A fun read, with moody art.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Finally Finished

The 60 Greatest Old-Time Radio Shows of the 20th Century selected by Walter Cronkite

Finally finished this huge set - and guess what? I can think of several dozen episodes of the Simpsons that make a WHOLE lot more sense now.

Highlights (based on my own subjective impressions) follow.

Five Best (no particular order):
1. The Shadow, "White God" - Not the best Shadow episode, nor even the best Shadow episode featuring Orson Welles, but I am irrationally in love with the Shadow tales and mythos.
2. Quite, Please, "The Thing on the Fourble Board" - I learned what a fourble board was, and the story scared me spitless. Educational and frightening!
3. Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, "The Todd Matter" - I never would have guessed insurance investigations would have made for good radio noir.
4. Columbia Presents Corwin, "The Undecided Molecule" - Not quite up to the level of Dr. Seuss, but the all-star cast more than makes up for shortcomings in the rhyme schemes and story.
5. The Lux Radio Theatre, "The Jazz Singer" - Starring Al Jolson who played the lead in the movie. Better than the movie, IMHO.

Five worst (no particular order):
1. The Baby Snooks Show, "Report Card Blues" - I can see why this was included on the set, but rather than endearing but reckless (like Dennis the Menace or Little Lulu) Snooks comes across as a spiteful vengeance demon sent to torment her father for his sins.
2. The Jack Benny Program, "Jack Benny in the Show after 'Money or Your Life'." - Despite Jack Benny being overexposed on this set (he gets three episodes of his show on the set, leaving no room for other worthy shows), this is included only because "Money or Your Life" (the previous episode) was very funny, but also ends on a cliffhanger (of sorts). Too bad this follow up feels as though all the humor was used up on the previous episode.
3. Vic and Sade, "Muted Silver Moonbeam Chimes" - the title alludes to the only mildly funny joke in this rather bizarre show. Not very entertaining, and it feels a little like listening in on your neighbors for juicy gossip, only to find out their conversations are all very boring.
4. Grand Central Station, "Miracle for Christmas" - I found this one to be condescending, not to mention theologically suspect.
5. The Bickersons, "3-16-47" - I get it. They don't get along. I don't find listening to married couples argue all that entertaining or worthwhile.

Five most bizarre and/or most worth mentioning (no particular order):
1. The CBS Radio Workshop, "Brave New World" - Narrated by Aldous Huxley, and despite radio censors, it manages to keep most of the risquéness of the novel. Most of the story is there as well, despite a lot of compression.
2. The Mercury Theater on the Air, "War of the Worlds" - See previous post here.
3. The Chase and Sandborn Hour, "10-30-38" and "12-12-37" - for the first episode, see here - for the second: Mae West on the radio? And they expressed shock when the censors complained? No matter what she says, it sounds like a double entendre.
4. The Cavalcade of America, "Native Land" - Interesting retrospective on Carl Sandberg, but Carl Sandberg has such a horrid radio voice, it nearly ruined it for me.
5. Big Town, "Death Rides the Highway" - A radio reporter crusades against reckless drivers - however, this crossed the line from pathos into bathos (if you drive recklessly, you will cause a semi to run into a school bus! Full of orphans! With Nuns on board!)

There’s a lot more on this set, but that's good for now.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Sci-Fi Fridays 8-26-05

6:00 Firefly: I got distracted a few times, so if there was any special behind the scenes footage for the upcoming movie Serenity (based on Firefly), I missed it. Plot wise, this was an unremarkable episode, but arc-wise it established that River was a bit more than just a girl the eeeeeeeeeeevil (*cackling laughter*) government experimented on - there are hints she can read minds or see the future.

7:00 Stargate SG-1: An okay episode - a break from the unsubtle main villains this season - this episode tries to clean up hanging plot points from last season without eliminating them entirely. Clones are involved.

8:00 Stargate: Atlantis: About as predictable an episode as possible. I guessed the ending (both of them) ten minutes into the show. The characters are unremarkable and unlikable, and the plots mundane and recycled.

9:00 Battlestar Galactica: Honestly, TV sci-fi has never been better than this. [side note: Richard Hatch has never done better acting, even when he starred in the original BSG.] Commander Adama gives up some of his hubris, and he and President Rosalyn reach an understanding.

On the religious note, the colonies have a very odd set of scriptures: They read like watered down Isaiah (and without the calls for morality). In fact, they aren't gospels in any sense (despite one character referring to them as such) - they predict the future but prescribe no code of conduct. This makes me wonder if the this is deliberate on the creators part, or if the creators of the show are as clueless about religion as recent shows have lead me to believe. Don't get me wrong - the show is gripping, moving and well written - and it has one of the (so far) best treatments of religion on TV. This will not be a typical Hollywood-ized version of religion - but I also get the idea the writers/producers aren't particularly religious themselves and have only glanced at any actual real life scriptures.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Comics this week.....

Every Wednesday is new comic book day.

The educated elites out there may scoff, but I figure that just shows their lack of open mindedness. Comic books are a serious medium for adults as well as kids - just like novels, films and music. I think it a shame many people feel they "outgrew" comics - but that shows their lack of education concerning what the comic medium really is. I suggest - to those who feel comics are unsophisticated kids material - read Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics and Comics and Sequential Art by Wil Eisner before making any careless and uninformed condemnations.

That said, I sell my blood plasma twice weekly so I can afford to buy comics. Usually I get one or two a week, but the last few weeks have been pretty dry, but this week made up for it.

Here is this week's list, with mini-reviews:

From Marvel Comics:

Mega Morphs #2: Okay, this one is a kids comic book and based on a toy line. A fun little read with absolutely no significance and nothing to enlighten the human condition. But it has Ghost Rider in it, so that's all I need.

The Incredible Hulk: Destruction #2: A look into the history of the Incredible Hulk's greatest foe, The Abomination (and whose wife Bruce Banner got jiggy with a year or so ago). A decent read, it spends a lot of time clearing up contradictory histories of the Abomination (such as revealing he's been married twice, or saying that one conflicting account of his origin was government propaganda rather than the truth). I ordered this because I'm a fan of writer Peter David, who is one of the most talented writers in comics today (he also writes Star Trek novels, but those are pure hackwork).

Spellbinders #6: I'm a big fan of magic and supernatural themed comics, especially the ones that mix them with superheroes (hence my love of all things Ghost Rider and Dr. Strange). This series, however, was confusing and made little sense. It may make more sense when read straight through in the inevitable trade paperback reprint, but I spent too much time scratching my head.

Daredevil #76(#456): (re: the two issue numbers - The numbering system at Marvel comics is a little wonky right now, so just go with it). Brian Michael Bendis writes slow, character driven tales that take anywhere from 4 to 9 issues to tell. This is the opening chapter and not much happens, but it sets the stage. It's like the opening teaser of a TV show just before the credits. Of all current comics writers, he paces his comics for the inevitable trade paperback reprint, but he does it well enough I don't mind.

Fantastic Four #530: One of the few comics my wife really enjoys, probably because of the family dynamic (and that the main characters have two children). The current author is J. Michael Straczynski, creator of the TV show Babylon 5. Those who are familiar with that show will recognize the themes that JMS worked with over there. There is one funny subplot: Child protective services is trying to decide if the FF's children should be taken out of the "dangerous environment" created by having super powered parents (it makes an odd sort of sense, since Valeria was possessed by Dr. Doom and Franklin spent time in Hell a few story arcs ago), but that subplot gets little play this issue.

DC Comics:

JSA Classified #2: A fun tale for a comic geek like me, but totally inaccessible to anyone who is new to comics or hasn't read them since the 80s. If you don't know what the terms "pre-Crisis" and "post-Crisis" mean, or who Power Girl's Earth 1 counterpart was and when she died, stay away.

IDW comics:

Angel: The Curse #3: Fully approved by Joss Whedon, this Buffy/Angel spin-off series explores what happens to Angel after the cliffhanger of the series finale. It takes place some indeterminate time after the series, though apparently Whedon himself has saved the actual resolution of the cliffhanger for himself. A fun read, though it is paced like a TV show rather than a comic book. The writer needs to adapt the material to the comics form better.

Spike: Old Times #1: Also approved by the Joss man himself and Written by Peter David, this comic nails the tone and pacing of the Buffy TV series while remaining true to the comics form. The story idea seems to come from Peter David wanting to clear up a bit of unclear side mythology in the Buffyverse, but the tale itself is darkly humorous and quite entertaining.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Sci-fi Fridays

My wife and I cannot miss the Sci-Fi Channel's Friday night block. So, some brief capsule reviews of yesterday's (8/19/05) episodes.

Well, we actually have this entire series on DVD, and despite FOX's boneheaded cancellation of this brilliant series (from the mind of Joss Whedon), it is gearing up for release as a motion picture franchise under the name SERENITY. The main reason to watch it on Sci-Fi is the "behind the scenes" extras for the movie that are interspersed throughout the hour. However, they weren't anything special. The episode was funny, as usual, but I've seen it several times already.

7:00 Stargate SG-1
This season has "gone in a new direction" that I'm not sure I like. It's even more jokey than before, and the subtext the new villains add to the series (dealing with religious fundamentalism and terrorism) is as subtle as a slap upside the head with a spiked mace. The addition of Farscape regulars Ben Browder and Claudia Black seems to actor recycling, but is actually inspired. Ben Browder who takes over for Richard Dean Anderson's recently promoted character Jack O'Neil plays, in essence, the same character he played on Stargate. Cynthia Black comes across as a more versatile actress, playing a much different character than the one she portrayed on Farscape.

However, this episode, which was mildly suspenseful, gets rid of (at least for the next few episodes) Black's highly entertaining character - and at the same time Amanda Tapping's character returns. At the end of the episode, my wife turned to me and said "What? They can only have one female on the team at a time?"

8:00 Stargate: Atlantis Nothing to see here. Move along. We only watch this because it's in between Stargate SG-1 and Battlestar Galactica and it ties into the same mythology as Stargate SG-1. Last night's episode, wherein an arrogant scientist taps into knowledge beyond his ken and nearly destroys the universe, is too hackneyed and old to be truly entertaining, and I have yet to actually care for a single character in this ensemble cast.

This is the best SF show on TV period. Taut, gripping, well written, full of moral pratfalls and potholes, yet with a core of goodness. And I was one of the fans of the original series hoping this series would fail (since I wanted a continuation of the original series).

The mini-series that started it all off was okay - the actors were mostly stiff and looked unnatural - except for Edward James Olmos, who made it impossible to turn away from the screen (during the mini-series I kept yelling "Get back to Adama!")

But after the first season premiere "33" I was hooked. Unlike the half-jokey tone the original series took, this series feels like this IS what it would be like if humanity really was on the run and near extinction. Also, this series has focused more on the fleet of ships the Galactica is guarding, as well as human resistance movements back on the homeworlds. In nearly every way, it's deeper, richer and more satisfying than the original.

The one thing that bugs me is the religious angle. In essence what we have are the Cylons, who are monotheistic fundamentalists who feel that their God justifies genocide and inhumane scientific experiments (as last week's "The Farm" revealed). On the other hand, we have the pluralistic, polytheistic (and sometimes atheistic) humans. There is a holy book, but religious belief is considered private and not something you talk about. (For example, when the President asked Starbuck if she "believed", Starbuck said "yes - not that it's any of your business.") There also seems to be little in the way of personal morality required by the vague pluralistic religion followed by some humans, whereas the Cylons seem to have some very specific guidelines (some of which have yet to be revealed).

However, rather than a simplistic "strict monotheism bad/vague pluralism good" moral in the same vein as the movie The Chronicles of Riddick, both sides seem to have good and bad points. It's all very complex and nuanced, and there are hints that there's always a little more to be revealed about what's going on behind all the religious dogma.

Last night's episode advanced the mythology a little bit, but it felt more like a set-up for next week's episode, where it appears a lot of important "stuff" is going to happen. What I'm looking forward too is the revisiting of one of the best story arcs from the original series - The return of the Battlestar Pegasus, which will happen sometime in September.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

A "classic" read

Deathworld Trilogy

I just finished Harry Harrison's Deathworld trilogy. It's widely available in combined or separate editions (the link above is for the first book in the series. I read from an old out of print omnibus edition, though there are omnibus editions currently in print).

As far as a quick, easy, fast paced action scf-fi thriller, this series delivered. The plot of the first book is the most exciting - it deals with survivors fighting off a planet where it seems everything (and I mean everything, right down to the blades of grass and the minerals in the rocks) in inherently deadly to humans. A galactic adventurer plops down in the middle of this survival tale and notices that almost none of this makes any sense, since 90% of the time these deadly features have no evolutionary advantage. And then there's those humans who farm the countryside and aren't getting attacked by the flora and fauna every waking hour....

Each volume moves at a quick pace, never giving you time to think to deeply about what is (or might be) going on. Characterization is at a minimum, but it's a fun read. At least the first book is. The second book is mildly offensive, since Harrison decides that to provide comic relief he needed to ridicule religion. But that's a minor nit. The real problem with volumes two and three is that after dealing with a planet where everything wants to kill you and there is no chance for rest or relaxation, adventures on a slave planet and amidst a hunter-gatherer society just seem anti-climactic.

Also, the last volume paradoxically endorses both capitalism and totalitarianism, since the hero uses terror and mass murder to unite all the tribes under one powerful leader. In the end, he manages to get them to embrace capitalism, and thus a relative peace, but *never mind* all those people you helped kill along the way.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Just finished

Rise and Fall of the Media Establishment
by Darrell M. West.

I'm using this book as the cornerstone of my Rhetoric 309 class here at UT-Austin. Though this book is aimed at the undergraduate textbook market, it is well written and accessible for the modern reader. I doubt a better, more concise history of the news media exists today.

This tome should be required reading for everyone interested in the debates over media bias or the quality of news reporting in general. This book traces the American news media from the early days of the partisan press that existed before and after the revolutionary war, through the days of a switch to a commercially based media, up to today's "fragmented media" (as West terms it).

In this book, West succinctly shows where our idea of an "objective" news media comes from, and shows that this idea is of (relatively) recent vintage and is an almost purely American ideal (for example, in Europe the news media is often openly partisan and proud of it).

The last chapter suggests possible directions for the future of the news media. Despite the fact this book came out before blogs took off, he is amazingly prescient.

This book has a very neutral tone - West (mostly) avoids making value judgments. There's fodder in here for all sides of the debates over the current state of the news media. This is the rarest of rare books on the news media - one that is objective, informative and useful.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Currently I'm listening to

The 60 Greatest Old-Time Radio Shows of the 20th Century selected by Walter Cronkite

I'm about halfway through. As a kid, I stumbled upon some old phonograph records of old 1930s radio shows like The Shadow. Ever since then, I've been nostalgic for something that my Grandparents barely recall. After seeing this collection at the local library, I knew I had to listen to it.

So far it’s quite a mixed bag. There seems to be no clear criteria for "greatest." Some shows were "events" others are presented as merely typical of the show they are representing, and some shows are there for mere historical curiosity. For example, the Chase and Sandborn show that was playing opposite the (in)famous Halloween scare on CBS is included in this package not because it was a great example of radio, but because it was what most people were listening to the "night that America panicked." Apparently a lot of listeners turned over to CBS during the musical numbers, intending to turn back for the comedy segments. Since many then missed Orson Welles' opening, a lot of the listeners thought they had stumbled upon real newscasts.

Anyway, some of the shows are real gems. Aldous Huxley himself narrates a radio adaptation of Brave New World and there's a moving tribute to the end of World War II. Vincent Price turns up several times, as does Orson Welles and Jimmy Stewart.

The advertisements interest me the most, though. The old time radio shows seemed to have a love/hate relationship with their sponsors. Some shows worked them into the skits, and other ruthlessly mocked their sponsors. The Arthur Godfrey show, for example, was fairly boring and unfunny (even though it was apaprently a comedy), but I'm guessing it was included because the host spends much of the half hour making bizarre jokes about Kleenex Tissues (his sponsor).

Some shows were "sustainers" i.e. they didn't have a sponsor and existed to fill the air time between sponsored shows. Those shows were disproportionately science fiction and suspense. Comedy and variety shows had all the big, important sponsors (mostly tobacco, coffee and alcohol products - good family fun sponsored by all your sinful vices!).

Once I'm finished I'll likely list my favorite (and least favorite) from this box set.

First post

Just a test to make sure this is working......