Monday, July 21, 2014

Geek Summer 2014

We're only halfway through the summer of 2014 and it's already been an interesting time for geek culture.  There's been the usual mix of the good, the bad and the ugly, and San Diego Comic-Con International hasn't even started yet.

Definitely on the "good" side, it's been a really good summer for one of my favorite writers in comics, Gail Simone.  Simone has written for both of the Big Two comics companies, as well as some indie work and work for smaller publishing houses like Dark Horse Comics.  She is currently writing two of my absolute favorite books, Batgirl from DC and Tomb Raider from Dark Horse.  Sadly, she will be leaving Batgirl in a few issues over creative differences with the publisher, but her run on the book has been absolutely amazing, including the addition of Barbara "Batgirl" Gordon's transgender roommate Alysia.  I'm not a comics historian, so I can't state for a fact that Alysia is the first transgender character in comics, but she is certainly the first one in a major title from a mainstream publisher.  Simone's writing is thoughtful and deeply complex and personal and her characters are utterly believable, even in a setting which involves the lead character putting on a costume and going out to fight crime as a vigilante.  Her additions to this portion of the Batman canon will give other writers inspiration and material for years and years to come.

She is also the writer for Tomb Raider, a book based on the recent hit videogame which revitalized the classic videogame character with a complicated retelling and reimagination of the adventure which turned archaeologist Lara Croft into the badass character which has been depicted in the Tomb Raider games for over a decade.  The comic takes up immediately following the events in the game and is the sequel that gamers only dreamed about.  It's wonderful.  Search out Gail Simone's work, even if you don't read comics.  You will not be disappointed.  If you are, contact me here and I'll buy the book back from you.  But I think my money is safe.

As for summer movies, the one I've been waiting for all summer is just a couple of weeks away now:  Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy.  If you had asked me ten years ago to name the least likely comic book to be made into a movie, Guardians would have been on the short list.  But here we are, and it looks great.  Review to follow once the picture opens on August 1st!

This week also marks the 75th anniversary of the first appearance of the Bat-Man in Detective Comics #27 back in 1939.  There are all kinds of events planned for the anniversary, including an appearance by Batman himself at my local comics store, Comix Connection on the Carlisle Pike in Mechanicsburg, PA.  I think it's pretty amazing that the character has survived through repeated reinventions of itself, even with the campy 1960's Adam West TV show.  Just about every Bat-book DC publishes will be out this Wednesday to commemorate the anniversary, as well as a variety of free Batman masks from the various eras and incarnations.

Finally, the thing that I am least looking forward to, the Batman origins television show due out from Fox this fall, Gotham.  I haven't seen it, and it may yet prove to be a pleasant surprise, but there a lot of little signals that are warning this fanboy to stay well away from Gotham.  Not the least of which is how the inevitable committee of writers is yet again (A) making seemingly unnecessary changes to the Batman story in order to put their own "artistic" spin on it, and (B) how they are in particular messing with one of the iconic Batman characters, Poison Ivy.  In the comics, Pamela Isley was the victim of harassment and experimentation by her mad scientist boss, the end result of which was her transformation into the ultimate femme fatale, Poison Ivy.  In Gotham, the character's name has been changed to "Ivy Pepper" -- apparently we viewers are too stupid to realize that Pamela Isley was going to be turned into Poison Ivy at some later point without her having "Ivy" in her name.  I can't tell you how much I hate this.  They kept Selena Kyle, who will become the Catwoman, and they kept Edward Nygma (yeah, I know) who will become Riddler, and Oswald Cobblepot, someday the Penguin.  Why mess with Ivy?  It just doesn't bode well.

There are some other things later on this year that I'm looking forward to, notably comic book adaptations for television like The Flash and Constantine.  But that's fodder for a later post.  Meanwhile, enjoy the rest of the summer, including all of the insanity that is Comic-Con which, as usual, I will attend only from the safety of my living room.  No overnight lines to get into Hall H for me!

And besides, Gail Simone isn't going either.  ;)

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Post 9/11, No News Ain't Good News

At least, not for me.  It's almost 13 years since 9/11, and I'm finding that I have developed an interesting neurosis:  the longer I go without news in the morning, the more anxious I become.

On September 11th, 2001, I was at home, alone, with my wife at work and my daughter at her 4th grade class.  I was cleaning the house and had just turned on the television in the family room "for company" while I was vacuuming.  I don't recall what network was on; I think it might have been the Today Show on NBC, but whatever it was, the reporter had a view of the city behind him and I tuned in just in time to see the second plane crash into the Towers, live on TV.  (The only other time I saw anyone actually die on television was when I was in the 4th grade, and I saw Jack Ruby gun down Lee Harvey Oswald during that now-infamous prisoner transfer.  Needless to say, I did not cope very well with either one.)  Later in the morning I saw the Towers fall, fully realizing how many lives had to have been lost.  Later in the week I learned that a friend who worked at the restaurant at the top of the Trade Center narrowly missed being killed when he ran home to get the eyeglasses he had forgotten.  He suffered terrible survivor's guilt for this, and ultimately took his own life a few years later.  A devastating day for so many.

There are mornings when the three of us might like to sleep in and enjoy the quiet of the season, whatever season that may be.  But now, for me, the longer I go without checking the news, the more anxious and worried I become.  I worry that some new awful thing has happened, something that will change our world entirely and forever, and I worry that I am enjoying my peaceful ignorance at some horrible, horrible expense.  To the point where I am, in fact, enjoying nothing at all.  I try to cope, I really do, but I only find some peace when I turn on NPR and realize after a few minutes that nothing has crashed, the President is still alive, and to the best of our collective knowledge, no meteors or comets are about to crash into the planet and extinguish all life.

It's sick, I know.  It's a neurosis.  I'm not sure what to do about it.  I guess as neuroses go, it's relatively harmless, since the worst thing that happens is that I interrupt the peace and quiet of the morning to turn on Morning Edition to make sure that everything is still the way it was yesterday.  I will say that seeing the new World Trade Center building fill that awful hole in the New York City skyline on my last visit to the City helped quite a bit.  But I think I will never be able to spend the day completely unplugged from the news, not ever again.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Short Points

It's been 18 days since the last update -- sorry about that!  Here's why:

• Crohn's Disease has been enjoying a major flareup this summer, with no sign of abating.  I had been putting out the fire, so to speak, with large doses of Prednisone.  Turns out I can't do that any more, because:

• Sustained use of high-dose Prednisone has knocked my blood pressure wayyyy up into dangerous territory (160/98!) and also knocked my fasting blood sugar levels wayyyy up into, you guessed it, dangerous territory (131!) as well.  So I can now add hypertension and pre-diabetic to my list.  Yay!

• All of the above has left me a prisoner in my own home most days, as I simply cannot be far from a bathroom any more, at least not until things settle down or I major-medicate with stuff to keep me out of the bathroom...but using this stuff always comes with a heavy price later.

• My only remaining relative from the previous generation (apart from my father, about whom the less said the better, except to mention that whoever said, "Only the good die young" must have known him) is my mother's kid sister, my aunt, and she is dying of liver failure due to complications from iron therapy for chronic anemia.  She is not expected to survive the summer.

• Two dear friends have died from colon cancer recently, practically back to back.  As I said a few weeks ago, for the sake of all  the people who love you, get a friggin' colonoscopy.

• My daughter is going through some rough times herself, dealing with depression and feelings that she has little worth.  She is probably not going to go back to University in the autumn.  Her stint there has been both expensive and unsuccessful, and until she finds some direction, as well as some help for her depression, she has returned to the nest and is attempting to enter the work force while figuring out what she wants to do with her life.  Right now she is working your basic college-kid summer job at an amusement park, and hates it.  We are hoping she will turn up something that better suits her soon.  (On a side note, be nicer to the kid who makes sure your seat belt is fastened on the roller coaster, OK?)

So clearly my attention has been focused more on the day-to-day rather than on you, my dear audience, although I love both of you dearly.

More when I can!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Jekyll & Hyde Club, NYC

OK, this is a shameless (and uncompensated!) plug for one of my favorite places to dine in New York City, the Jekyll & Hyde Club on W. 44th St.  I've been a couple of times now, and it's become a staple of any visit I make into the City.  The place has a definitely-theme-park kind of a vibe, but since it's all steampunk Victorian horror, it's a vibe I thoroughly enjoy.  This past weekend we went into the City to see a show and grabbed a bite and a drink afterwards at J&H.

My favorite part of the evening was when my daughter, who had never visited, asked me if I knew where the bathroom was.  More accurately, it was the expression on her face when I replied, "Go into the Library, find the secret door in the fireplace, go down the hall and find the second secret door in the bookcase."  Her puzzled "Is he kidding?" face that slowly morphed into "Cool!" was the best!  (Needless to say, she shares a lot of my sensibilities regarding what is "cool.")

The library fireplace, secret entrance to...

...the bathroom hallway.  It's down there, somewhere.  Not where you think, though.

The food is good, the drinks are excellent, and the staff all seem to be enthusiastic about being there.  Expect to have your table visited several times during the evening by various creepy folk, and for various interruptions both human and animatronic.  Might be an attempted Frankensteinian revival of a corpse.  Might be a visit from the Elephant Man.  It's always different.

Whoever decorated the place did a fantastic job.  The place is busy, eclectic, and authentic.

The bar.

The entryway, as seen from the bar landing.

One of the many, many dining alcoves.

There is also a decent little gift and souvenir shop, and an excellent "haunted house" type of attaction which is accessed from the bar.  Worth it, but do it before you eat anything.  It's extremely, shall we say, atmospheric, and most people are glad of a drink afterwards.

If you do visit, sure, you can walk right into the lobby if you wish and go through the gift shop area into the restaurant.  Or, you can approach the doorman in his somber attire and ask for the day's password.  You then enter the black British phone box out front, speak the password into the antique telephone, and enter the fun way.  Or perhaps "funhouse" way is a better adjective.  In any event, go in via the doorman.  You've already gone to all the trouble to get there; you might as well go all the way.

The exterior.  You can just see the tophatted doorman and the telephone box/secret door.

Don't be afraid to interact with staff.  They won't be afraid to interact with you.  And if the girl dressed as an undertaker comes to your table with a bucket full of syringes and asks if you want to be say "Yes, please!"

(As I stated above, I have received absolutely no compensation from the Club.  It's simply one of my absolute favorite places in New York City.  More information can be found at the club website: 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Get Ready For Your Close-Up

As I write this, I am home from one memorial service and getting ready to attend another one next week.  I realize that as an old fart in his 60's I am at the age where friends and acquaintances of a similar age are starting to, shall we say, shuffle off this mortal coil, but it doesn't make it any easier to deal with when it happens.

The point of this brief column is a very simple one.

If you are age 50, or older, and have never had a screening colonoscopy, GET ONE.

Two friends have died of colon cancer and a brother-in-law had a narrow escape this year after much fear and surgery.  None of them had had a colonoscopy when they reached "a certain age."

Is preparing to have a doctor insert a camera up your behind unpleasant?  You bet it is.

Is it inconvenient?  Yes, inconvenient as Hell.  You can't drive for 24 hours after, which means that you not only miss a day of work but a friend or loved one has to take time off as well to be your chauffeur.

Is it worth it?  Completely.  Peace of mind if you have an "All-Clear," and early diagnosis and treatment in the worst case scenario.

In my almost-half-century-long love affair with Crohn's Disease, I have had to get a colonoscopy every two years.  (For you normal folks, it's usually every five years.)  I can tell you that it's saved my life at least twice, with the early discovery and removal of polyps that almost certainly would have become cancerous.  I hate colonscopies, I dread them...and I always do them when it's time.

Don't make the people that love you watch you die from one of the most easily preventable and treatable forms of cancer ... IF it's caught early.

Get a damned colonoscopy already.  (Or whatever other tests are appropriate for your age and/or gender.  See your doctor, get a physical, and get tested, and stop putting it off.  Please.)

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Misogyny and Murder

While I was celebrating the long-overdue legalization of same-sex marriage in my current state of residence, Pennsylvania, I heard the incredibly sad news of yet another incident of gun violence and mass murder, this time near Santa Barbara, California.  A young man who had previously posted hate-filled and misogynistic videos on YouTube had gotten himself a gun, gone on a killing spree and only after the police were close to stopping him did he take the coward's way out and put a bullet in his own head.

Why these asses don't do that first, before they go on to commit horrific acts that destroy families, is a complete mystery to me.  To paraphrase something Dennis Miller once said (before he became Rush Limbaugh), if things are so bad for you that you are contemplating hurting other people, especially children, you need to step up to the plate, put your gun to your own head, and take one for the team.

I know that nothing will change as a result of yesterday's tragedy.  I know that we have no political will to curb gun violence in this country, nor any real desire to get some kind of control over the huge number of guns in our population -- they outnumber us, by the way; more guns than Americans -- because, quite simply, if the murder of over two dozen elementary school children -- babies, for all intents and purposes! -- cannot give us the political will to make the necessary changes, then nothing can.

So nothing will change.

This latest lunatic spouted his misogynistic hate on YouTube.  His own mother turned him in to police as a perceived danger.  These same police gave him a clean bill.  The next thing we knew, he was pounding on the door of a sorority with the intention of killing all the young women that he felt slighted him.  When they didn't answer the door, he essentially opened fire into the crowd.

Ultimately, he blew his own brains out rather than be captured by police, but not before killing and injuring many innocent young people who had the misfortune of being out and about that day.

So instead of celebrating the removal by Pennsylvania of a great injustice and rejoicing that standing on the side of Love all these years was not in vain; that all those freezing cold Valentine's Days spent protesting in favor of marriage equality was not for nothing...I find myself grieving, instead.  I have a daughter who is the same age or thereabouts as the victims who died in Santa Barbara yesterday.  I can't imagine what those families are experiencing.  I can only hope I never have to find out.  I do know that one of the grieving fathers was screaming that he personally blamed the NRA for the murder of his child.  And he's not wrong.

I urge people to support former New York Mayor Bloomberg in his effort to fund an anti-gun lobby with the same money and power and influence as the NRA.  I know I plan to.  And I will hug my daughter a little longer tonight, in gratitude that, at least for today, I still have her.

Because in this country, with all these weapons, with all this hate, especially hate directed towards women, and especially hate directed at women who are perceived as being different, or gay, or otherwise "unusual" mainly for the reason that they have, oh, short hair, for example, I don't honestly know for how long.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Mother's Day

As a stay-at-home father, I have a particular fondness for Mother's Day.  Mother or father, as a parent you have the most difficult and unrewarding job:  you must construct the exit ramp for your child while in your heart never wanting things to change.  And certainly never wanting that child to leave, even when you know damned well that they must.

Some thoughts from others who said it better:

"The natural state of motherhood is unselfishness.  When you become a mother, you are no longer the center of your own universe.  You relinquish that position to your children." -- Jessica Lange

"The heart of a mother is a deep abyss at the bottom of which you will always find forgiveness." -- Honoré de Balzac

"An ounce of mother is worth a pound of clergy." -- Spanish proverb

"All women become like their mothers.  That is their tragedy.  No man does.  That's his." -- Oscar Wilde

"Sweater, n.:  garment worn by a child when its mother is feeling chilly." -- Ambrose Bierce

"My mother had a great deal of trouble with me, but I think she enjoyed it." -- Mark Twain

Happy Mother's Day, all.