Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Dark Times Ahead

I'm gonna level with you, folks. I will not be a fun individual to be around for at least the next 4 years. Things are going to get bad and dark really fast. My best hope is that we have an incompetent bumblefuck of a president that just embarrasses us internationally and domestically.

There's also the incredibly dark scenario where he becomes a rubber stamp for every bad idea the Republicans have and there is virtually no way to stop them. And he'll stack the Supreme Court so wholly in one direction that we'll be dealing with the constitutional turmoil for very likely the rest of my goddamned life.

The worst case scenario--and it's looking more likely with every passing day--is that Trump will actually make a move to take over this country. He's an idiot, but he knows how to exploit things for his own benefit. He's stacking his staff with family and literal nazis, already talking about creating a database that Muslims need to register in (which...uh...Hitler did, too), denying the presidential salary (also a Hitler move), and did I mention that actual white supremacist? Not to mention, in spite of his family also running his business, he wants to wiggle his way around anti-nepotism laws, he's has an horrifyingly close relationship with dictator Putin, and did I mention the white supremacist nazi that's his Chief Strategist.

Like, we are for such dark times. I see people saying they're gonna get out and rock the vote and get congress to flip in 2018 to at least mitigate the damage, and I'm impressed with their optimism--I'm not 100% convinced that we will actually have midterm elections.

At this point, I'd be positively giddy at a President Romney.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Aftermath

I've spent a lot of time processing the results of the election. To be frank, I still haven't processed it--not really. On a purely intellectual level, I understand that Donald Trump won the most electoral votes in spite of losing the popular vote, much like Gore v Bush in 2000, and that he will be our next president barring virtually impossible circumstances.

My friends and I had an election party. We had red and blue jello, we all wore patriotic shirts. We had "campaign trail mix," and ate tacos because #tacotrucksoneverycorner. There was no possible way, after everything we've seen this election cycle, that our country would choose this man, who cavalierly describes sexually assaulting women, who's appeared in pornos, who describes Mexicans as rapists and black folks as thugs, who called for the execution of the Central Park Five even after they were proven innocent, who has called our sitting president a Muslim, Kenyan, Socialist, who pushed a campaign for Barack Obama to reveal is his birth certificate in an attempt to de-legitimize our first black president, who admires the authoritarian regimes of leaders like Vladimir Putin, who threatened to jail his political opponent, who had to be locked out of his Twitter account to keep from going off on even more hate-filled rants, who encouraged his supporters to assault protesters and offered to pay their legal fees, who used money from his charity to commission an oil painting of himself, who was actively endorsed by not only racists, not only anti-semites, but the actual KKK, who has proven himself to be a hateful, vengeful person in every opportunity.

Hillary Clinton's ad campaign against him wasn't even a smear campaign. It literally consisted of quotes and videos of things Trump said.

Surely, surely the American people could see the convergence of these two issues--electing the first woman president and voting against one of the worst presidential candidates in the history of the country, and choose appropriately.

And after half of the country decided not to vote, and white people showed up en masse to prove what PoC have been saying about white people all along, here we are.

I drove home in a state of shock. How could I have been this wrong about my country? I knew we had problems. I was #woke. I understood the role racism played in shaping our policies, our country, our implicit biases, our work force. And yet, I never thought that we would do this. I wasn't the only one, although that's not much of a comfort. Journalists that I respect a great deal, journalists of color, didn't think this would happen. We underestimated the amount of a barely contained rage bubbling below the surface of our country.

I only slept about 3 hours the night after. We didn't get home until 1 or 1:30 AM. I was awake and online when Clinton conceded.

The next day, I found myself alternating between numb shock, rage, and tears. I broke down crying in the shower at one point. I saw a man parading up and down the street wearing a Trump shirt and carrying an American flag, gloating. Every time I thought I had it processed, something new would hit me and I'd break down into tears again: the first time I thought "President Trump," seeing women planning to get IUDs and stockpiling birth control while it's still covered under the ACA before the Republicans eliminate it and health care coverage for millions of Americans, watching Muslim women debate whether it's safe to wear the hijab in public anymore.

That these conversations are even happening is an unspeakable horror, a disgusting reality. The world feels grimy, coated in a blanket of filth.

When people said that racism didn't end, it just went underground, this is exactly what they meant.


I was going to write a post before the election about how hard it was to empathize with the other side, and really try to dig down into how we can do that going forward to heal the divide. There are a lot of white people who do not consider themselves racists, but who absolutely hold bigoted views. I have literally had someone start a conversation with "I'm not racist but..." in the past 2 months. Literally. That happened. And then she went on to spout awful things about Mexicans. These people are also frequently very nice people, people we love, people that are important in our lives. White people accepted the Hollywood narrative that racists were villains in movies and books that needed to be defeated and cast out, and therefore they and their loved ones can't be racist because they're not bad people.

At my best moments, I find myself thinking that the best way to deal with those that oppose us, those that identify as Republican and are scared economically, that are afraid of the Other, of what this means for them and their place in the world, is with compassion, empathy, and patience. It means uncomfortable talks around the dinner table, being willing to have people you love be mad at you. It means that you have to unmute your racist aunt and uncle on Facebook and engage with them, but politely and with understanding and kindness. At my best moments, I believe that most of them aren't the type to go out and harass women and minorities and gay people, that a good portion are economically frustrated, and that while a lot of them are probably racist, it's driven by fear of class displacement and change. Those things can be fixed, or at least improved, through education, compassion, patience.

At my worst moments, I'm filled with rage and disbelief at my family, friends, and fellow citizens that chose to ignore the awful things and elect a man that has shown time and time again that he will abuse his power for petty vendettas and vengeance, and who has also shown that he has zero to no grasp of the fundamentals of anything that makes our country or the world function. At my worst moments, I want to scream at those that voted for hate. I want to cut all ties and move somewhere where I will not be embarrassed to call myself a citizen. Arkansas went overwhelmingly for Trump. At my worst moments, I believe that straight white people are too broken and that we deserve the destruction that we've brought on us and that the biggest shame is that we will drag marginalized people down with us through the sheer gravity of our numbers. At my worst moments, I fear that these people that claimed that it's about hating politicians and politics as usual and economic fears are as racist as they seem and that we will see this country descend into a darkness we haven't seen in a long time, that humanity is at its core evil, and not good like I've always believed, and that there's no saving these people.


I have a feeling that the cultural idea of "don't discuss politics or religion" is what got us into this mess. We stopped talking about this among each other because we knew we disagreed. And so opinions went unchanged, uninfluenced. White liberals with conservative families moved away to liberal cities, muted and/or unfriended their friends and relatives on social media, and surrounded themselves with people they agreed with.

If PoC and other marginalized people find themselves wanting to do the empathy approach, that's fine, but honestly not expected of them. If someone has a boot on their neck, you can't expect them to calmly and politely ask that you remove it. But for white liberals, this is what we have to do. We have to start talking to other white people. We have to try to fix things.


I worry about what's coming next.

I worry because one party has complete control of the house, and that party--Republicans--has proven what they stand for and what kinds of morals and beliefs they have when they backed and supported their presidential candidate.

I worry about freedom of speech--that dissenting speech will begin being targeted. That people who are marginalized or who protest and resist this administration's goals will be targeted much like they were in the years after the 9/11.

I worry that things will get even worse for PoC--I worry about "special police forces" for those "high crime areas." After all, Trump said he wanted to run on "law and order."

I worry about gay marriage rights being rolled back, gay marriages undone.

I worry for people like my wife, who are disabled and rely on medication in order to live and function with a bare minimum of comfort.

Even when I'm not worried about the very real threat of following Germany's path to a Nazi regime, I worry about the worst and most hateful Republican policies being enacted with little-to-no political resistance because of their overwhelming majority.

I worry about the damage this new Supreme Court will do to our nation in the coming decades as it's packed with justices from the Tea Party.


I think at my best, I become galvanized between the two emotions. My anger at the racists and misogynists crystallizes into something pure--an actionable anger. I will be watching for opportunities to do good in my community and show solidarity and support for those marginalized folks that will be disproportionately affected by this administration's policies.

I will no longer sit quietly and cringe when my friends/family/coworkers say something racist or misogynist or homophobic or otherwise hateful.

Now, more than ever, I will promote art and criticism by marginalized people. I will educate myself in their worldviews, and I will work to do better, to be better, to make the world do the same.

I will art harder than ever before. I will write diverse folks into my books, and I will strive to tell true, hard stories that make people feel things. Because art is perhaps most important when the world turns dark and the monsters come out.

Even if Trump doesn't follow through on his promises, the GOP has shifted so far to the right that they will do real damage to people. As much as I'd like it not to be true, things are going to get really, really bad. Knuckle down folks. We can come out of this on the other side, and we can make this world better.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Why I'm Voting for Hillary Clinton

Gage Skidmore of Flickr  Some rights reserved
This election may be one of the most important ones I've ever seen. As Trump continues to blow through norm after norm, leaving our old traditions a fragmented, pathetic pile of matches on the road behind him, it is vital that we go out and vote. But I know that some people aren't happy with the choices we've been faced with. Sure, Trump is a swirling vortex of hatred, flop-sweat, and orange Tang, but they're really not excited about voting for Hillary Clinton. They think that she's truly the lesser of two evils, and because of that, they feel the only thing to do is vote for a third party candidate.

I'd like to explain to you why I'm voting for Hillary Clinton, and why I think you should, too.

I did this last time with Barack Obama, and I'd like to do it again.

1) Pros for Hillary

Hillary Clinton is one of the most qualified candidates for president in our country's entire history. She's been working in government for forty years, starting in local and state government and working her way up to federal work. Unlike Barack Obama, who I feel has been a great president but I think went into the presidency underestimating the difficulty of the job a tad, Hillary Clinton knows exactly what's at stake. She was married to one of our presidents, so she's seen his own struggles. She was a senator, where she fought for funding for recovery efforts in New York after 9/11, has been a voice for 9/11 workers who have faced health issues since the attacks, fought against the Bush tax cuts that paved the way for the financial crisis of '08. She also co-sponsored the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009.

After being a senator, she became Secretary of State where she worked with foreign leaders to help build America's relationship with them. It's easy to naysay over one thing or another you don't like about our foreign policy and our relationship with one group or another, and every politician has their faults as they are human beings, as I've mentioned before. But think about this: the Secretary of State negotiates with foreign powers, advises the President about foreign policy, and works with foreign powers over the terms and conditions of treaties, among a host of other things. Consider all of that, and that Hillary Clinton did that AS A GODDAMNED WOMAN. That is so kick ass, I can barely form words to express my awe.

If you're a woman reading this, you already know, but dudes, women get condescended to all the time. The number of times Gail Simone has had someone explain to her how comics work on Twitter--Gail Goddamned Simone--is baffling. Those pictures of men saying, "you didn't read the article, it says blah blah blah blah," and a woman responding, "I wrote the article" aren't photoshops. That's men getting their "aww shucks little lady" on. And I'm sure that's no different when the men you're dealing with are frequently old men used to having people do things the way they want. The fact that we haven't seen her ambling on all fours from Washington with a sack of freshly cleaved scrotums testifies to her cool and calm.

Additionally, because she has been in the public eye for so long, Hillary Clinton has been as thoroughly vetted as someone can be. She has been scrutinized up, down, top bottom, inside out and sideways. Every possible scandal that can happen to her or those around her, has happened to her and those around her. Part of this is called "being in politics." You can't do a job like that without occasionally drawing attention. She's been found squeaky clean in any wrong doing. If there were any proof of anything, it would have come to light a long, long time ago. And when it looks like advisors to Trump's campaign might actually be getting leaked information from the FBI, and Russia might be leaking information to the supposedly hacktivists-for-the-people Wikileaks, we really would have seen something come up.

On top of all of this, I like Hillary Clinton. She's not as charismatic or personable as Bill, but who is? George W. Bush looked like a fun guy, but he was a shit stain on our nation's history and his policies resulted in some awful, awful things. Hillary Clinton has my respect because she approaches things like a policy nerd. She's not super cuddly, but when asked a question, you can practically see the light turn on. She clearly gets legit geeked over numbers and figures and facts. AND THAT'S EXACTLY WHAT WE WANT IN A PRESIDENT! Someone who enjoys those boring meetings over figures and facts and nuances. We want someone pragmatic that will make the best decision. She is someone who is willing to compromise--figuring it's better to do some good and compromise than to do get nothing she wants to stay ideologically pure. And that's a good characteristic in a leader.

And she's willing to change her mind if she's presented with persuasive information. She has expressed regret for using the dog-whistle term "superpredators," and she's since gone on to campaign about the dangers and evils associated with mass incarceration. She's one of the only presidents that's addressed issues of race outright in a positive and comprehensive manner. Obama, given his race, was actually a bit handcuffed in how much he could say without it blowing up in his face, but, ironically, because Hillary is white, she has more privilege to talk about these things without freaking the white folks out and hurting their feelings.

It's no surprise that when I took my quiz this year? Yeah, I side 99% with Hillary Clinton.

Also, and this is absolutely not the sole reason I'm voting for her, but: how cool will it be if you can tell your children/grandchildren that you voted for the first woman president?

2) Cons Against Trump

Everything. Absolutely positively everything. Please see my previous blog post about him.

Seriously, there is no secret about how bad Trump is. He is the worst presidential candidate in our history, most definitely in our modern era. He would be a disaster of uncalculated proportions if he won.

3) What about Third Parties?

Look, like I said at the top of this post, I understand that some might be less than thrilled by our major party choices this year. But when you vote, you know 100% that the third party candidate will not be president. So voting third party absolutely, 100% is taking a vote away from one of the major party candidates.

But I hear some of you say, "But that's okay. Something something South Park something something Shitsandwich and Turdburger."

No. No, okay? No. You have every right to dislike Hillary Clinton, even diametrically oppose everything she stands for. But there is no way to spin this as "both are the same." There's just not. Anyone that makes that argument is being willfully ignorant, intentionally obtuse, or is justifying their shittiness.

I hope most people know at this point what kind of disastrous black hole of despair and wet farts Trump is. can you not? Literally most of Hillary Clinton's campaign videos are just quoting Trump. It's not even taking his statements out of context. It's literally just, "here's a list of things Trump has said." So no. Not the same. Not different sides of the same coin. No.

At this point, and I know how disappointing it is to hear, a vote for a third party is a vote for Trump. If you're voting Gary Johnson or Jill Stein or Angewoman, the Angel of Light? You're voting for Trump, effectively. Because you know they won't win. It's a "protest vote." What you're saying is, "Well, I don't want Trump to win, so I'm not voting for him. But I'm really hoping enough people will 'dirty their hands' and vote for the person I find distasteful so we can avoid the apocalypse and I can still act morally superior."


Hillary Clinton isn't perfect. She is, however, pragmatic, data and policy driven, vetted to the teeth, and pretty much grown in a lab to be president. Someone willing to hear others' ideas and legitimately consider them is someone that should be celebrated in our increasingly polarized political environment.

Donald Trump is a tire fire that grew legs and a mouth and inundates us with his pestilence daily.

Third Party Candidates won't win, and this is not the election to fuck around with that nonsense.

Links to places where I pulled a lot of my information for this:

Monday, October 17, 2016

Writing Goal for 2016

Fredrik Rubensson on Flickr  Some rights reserved
I went through a weird emotional spell that you can notice by checking my reading list page. I have pretty much only read comic books this year. Part of that is finally getting to place financially where I can spare a few bucks here and there to get some comics, but part of it was also just being emotionally exhausted this year, and comics provided a safe, comfortable place to retreat to.

That said, I'm working to get stuff read with the time I have left--including my friend Brooke Johnson's great new book The Guild Conspiracy, which you can order here, and nab the first one here. It's a bit embarrassing that I've only completed 4 books this year. I've started several, but I just haven't had the drive to finish them.

Moreover, I've been using most of my spare time to finally work on my novel. The last update that I had on here about it was almost exactly one year ago, but in that time I'd replotted the book again, restructured it, and reimagined the characters. But after I did that, finding the energy and time to put words down and get it done was almost impossible. That's roughly around the time I went comic crazy and dove head-first into that. The first I can really find on my blog of this was August, but it definitely started several months earlier than that--probably around February, if I had to guess.  Anyway, I was going through a lot of stuff, and I feel much better now.

So around September, I started circling my book again. I'd just finished the great The Devil in Silver by Victor LaValle and was inspired by both a great book and the note at the end where LaValle talked about how he wrote his book 2 hours a day after work every day in a coffee shop. It was so "back to basics" to me. No mention of word counts, fancy word processors, writing spaces, rituals, carrot and stick methods. Just, "show up, do the work you can in the time allotted, and get the shit done." It was just what I needed to hear.

I read through my notes to refamiliarize myself with the world, the voice, and the themes. I also received a very nice and positive rejection in that time, and I wanted to channel that into my book. When drafting, I worry about choosing the right words. My zero drafts and first drafts feel clunky, amateurish, cliche-ridden, and just awful, and it stresses me right the hell out that the words don't come out perfectly. But looking at the story that got rejected, and reading the notes from the magazine, I felt validated probably for the first time ever as a writer. It made me feel like I can do this.

So it's time to buckle down. I'm giving myself until the end of 2016 to finish this draft. That's two and a half months. I want to have a draft finished for the start of 2017.

I don't know if I'll be able to do it. I'm not great, even now, with writing every day. But I'm going to try. Because for the first time in a long time, I feel like I can do this. I've talked about writing for a long time, I've started and stopped and angsted over my writing for years now, but all of that bullshit will mean nothing if I don't have a finished book in my hands. So that's the goal.

Plus, what a great way to start the new year, right?

Bear with me on this because I have a feeling it's going to be hard, and I'm fantastic at quitting things that are hard. But if I can do it, or even come close, it will be a big deal to me.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Trump, Pence, and the GOP

Gage Skidmore of Flickr  Some rights reserved
The second presidential debate has come and gone, and the multi-season television horror event that is our election cycle continues to play out in soul-crushingly slow fashion in front of not just our nation's audience, but the audience of the world.

Our international reputation has already been stained. Even if Trump isn't elected, he will have been only a hair's breadth from it, and what does that say about the American people and the stability of their government that they could come so close to electing a militant, sociopath demagogue to one of the most powerful political positions in the country.

What started as a chuckle--ha, ha, Trump will NEVER get the nomination, but it'll be fun to watch him bumblefuck around playing politician like a drunk, Cheeto-coated toddler--has become a waking nightmare and left many moderate and left-leaning folks wringing their hands and wondering how on Earth this could happen.

I remember very early on saying to some of my friends, "I know Trump's fuckery is funny, but it's honestly a little scary, too. Like, if the nation was stupid enough to elect George W. Bush--twice--it's something to worry about." And I mean, the longer he talked, and the fouler the things dumping from his face hole seemed, the easier it was to sigh and say, "Oh, thank God. No way he rebounds from that." But he did. Again, and again, and again. He was like those old inflatable toys for toddlers--Weebles wobble, but they don't fall down.

The tape of Donald Trump admitting to and supporting sexual assault may be the thing that finally ensures he doesn't win the presidency, but the vehement support he's gotten from certain factions of this country means that there will likely come another, possibly worse if simply because they'll be more polished and have more self-awareness to avoid some of Trump's more fatal fuck ups. After all, a lot of Republicans have mentioned wanting Trump to drop out and Mike Pence to take over as the head of the ticket. That would not be better.

For one thing: while Trump may be a venomous, aspiring tyrant, a white nationalist, and a deeply malignant tumor on the anus of this country, he's also a bloviating idiot who considers himself much more strategic and clever than he actually is. He's impulsive, thin-skinned, and prone to throwing tantrums--like he did in the second debate when he began attacking moderators for trying to keep him confined to his time. And while that's a terrible thing for a leader to be on it's own, Pence took all of the hateful, awful things that we have actual video and written proof of Trump saying and bald-faced lied to the American people about him ever having said it. He legitimately looked directly into the camera and said, "That's not true, he never said that," when everyone--EVERYONE--knows he has and there's widespread and obvious proof.

When Trump lies, it's a sweaty desperate, stammering thing. When Pence lies, it's as smooth and cool as an ice cube.

Pence's ability to flat out lie--not massage facts, not throw around faulty data, but LIE--is terrifying to consider. Pence has legitimately used his power as governor to kick a democratically elected official out of their office in favor of being replaced by someone that he and his subordinates got to choose*. Add that into the mix with his ability to unashamedly, flat out lie, and his support of the torture* of gay kids until they want to kill themselves or deny who they are--which is what conversion therapy* is--and you have a deeply unsettling picture of a Pence presidency.

We didn't arrive at this place by accident either. The fragility of the white male ego has been something people in power have used to keep black folks subjugated for centuries, but the Republican Party started using it with gusto in the 50's when Democrats started winning black folks and pushing for civil rights and desegregation.* Republicans saw unrest in the south that never fully got healed post-Civil War, and stoked that racism, government, and ignorance. Nixon intentionally stoked racism against black folks in the south to win the presidency,* and Reagan intentionally buried his racism in "conservative" sounding policies like "cutting taxes" and "states' rights."* The GOP acting like the horrible things Trump says are him being a loose canon and not the GOP's platform made into saggy flesh incarnate is hilarious and astoundingly disingenuous.

Even today, racism is an integral part of the GOP's platform. They pass laws like voter ID laws that far and away impact people of color.* They gerrymander districts to keep areas with heavy democratic populations and high amounts of people of color lumped together,* which in doing so ensures that Republicans have an all but indefeatable lead. It's no wonder that someone like Trump was able to grab the reigns of this shit chariot and ride that fucker until the wheels come flying off.

Trump has even been encouraging people to poll watch and try to run off people that they suspect of "committing voter fraud." To these scared and riled up white folks, that's more coded "dog whistle" talk for brown folks. In fact, voter fraud is essentially not a thing at all.*

As of this writing, Trump's shot at the presidency looks very bleak, but as I mentioned on Twitter earlier, I'm worried about the Jack that we can't put back in the box. There's a small, extremely vocal minority of repugnant white nationalists, men's rights activists, and ignorant, frightened white people that have led to some horrifying decisions in the past. And even they're a swiftly vanishing minority, the amplifying power of the internet makes them much more easily heard than would otherwise be the case. And I'm both worried what happens when they don't get their way, and what lessons the GOP will take away from this.


Washington Post: "How Gov. Mike Pence worked to undermine the will of Indiana’s voters" -

The Guardian: "'Praying the gay away': Trauma survivors crusade to ban conversion therapy" -

Politifact: "True: Mike Pence advocated for 'conversion therapy'" -

New Republic: "How the Southern Strategy Made Donald Trump Possible" -

Salon: "The racism at the heart of the Reagan presidency" -

Washington Post: "New evidence that voter ID laws ‘skew democracy’ in favor of white Republicans" -

NBC News: "Study Finds No Evidence of Widespread Voter Fraud" -

Sunday, October 9, 2016

My Comics Project Update: September 2016

As part of my on-going comics project, I update monthly with what comics I bought and anything weird or interesting I stumbled across. Each post will have a running list, and I'll update with the new titles where they fall chronologically.

I came up with the order of the books from this comment of all the Batman trades in chronological order (up to Flashpoint), this trade reading order list for Superman, and this one for Batman. I judged the rest for myself based on release dates and what the story depicted.

I want this list functional and readable, so I didn't focus on perfect chronological order. I tried to keep decent chunks of individual runs together where possible, then backtrack chronologically if necessary for a chunk of a different title--except in cases where something important was introduced, like a character dying, coming back to life, etc.

Below you'll see the list of canon DC titles that I own at this point. The ones in bold are the ones that I got this month.
  1. Crisis On Infinite Earths
  2. Batman: Dark Victory
  3. Justice League International, Vol. 1
  4. Justice League International, Vol. 2
  5. Justice League International, Vol. 3
  6. The Death of Superman
  7. Impulse: Reckless Youth
  8. Young Justice: A League of Their Own
  9. JLA Titans: Technis Imperative
  10. Birds of Prey, Vol. 1: Of Like Minds
  11. JLA: The Hypothetical Woman
  12. Superman/Batman Vol. 1: Public Enemies
  13. Superman/Batman Vol. 2: Supergirl
  14. Teen Titans Vol. 1: A Kid's Game
  15. Teen Titans Vol. 2: Family Lost
  16. Teen Titans Vol. 3: Beast Boys and Girls
  17. Teen Titans Vol. 4: The Future is Now
  18. Teen Titans/Outside​rs: The Insiders
  19. Teen Titans: The Death and Return of Donna Troy
  20. The OMAC Project (Countdown to Infinite Crisis)
  21. Infinite Crisis
  22. Batman: Face the Face by James Robinson
  23. Superman: Up, Up, and Away!
  24. Superman: Back in Action
  25. Superman: Last Son of Krypton 
  26. Superman: Camelot Falls, Vol. 1
  27. Superman: Camelot Falls (Vol. 2)
  28. Blue Beetle (Book 1): Shellshocked
  29. Blue Beetle (Book 2): Road Trip
  30. Superman: The Third Kryptonian
  31. Superman: Redemption
  32. Superman: Escape from Bizarro World
  33. Superman: Shadows Linger
  34. Time Masters: Vanishing Point
  35. Superman: Action Comics, Vol. 1: Superman and the Men of Steel
  36. Justice League, Vol. 1: Origin (The New 52)
  37. Batman Vol. 1: The Court of Owls
  38. Batman Vol. 2: The City of Owls
  39. Batgirl Vol. 1: The Darkest Reflection (The New 52)
  40. Batgirl Vol. 2: Knightfall Descends
  41. Batwing Vol. 1: The Lost Kingdom
  42. Justice League Vol. 2: The Villain's Journey
  43. Aquaman Vol. 1: The Trench (The New 52)
  44. Aquaman Vol. 2: The Others (The New 52)
  45. Aquaman Vol. 3: Throne of Atlantis (The New 52)
  46. Batman Vol. 3: Death of the Family
  47. Batgirl Vol. 3: Death of the Family
  48. The Movement Vol. 1: Class Warfare (The New 52)
  49. Secret Six Vol. 1: Friends in Low Places
  50. Bizarro
  51. Cyborg Vol. 1: Unplugged
I actually managed to snag a lot of comics this month, because I hit two amazing sales at the beginning and middle of the month.

My LCS was having a buy-one-get-one-free sale for labor day weekend where I found Batman: Dark Victory, Superman/Batman vols 1 & 2, and JLA: The Hypothetical Woman.

I'm making another judgement call to include that last one in the list. I googled it, and I couldn't find anything that said it was or wasn't canon. After I read it, I might remove it, but that remains to be seen.

I got Secret Six Vol. 1 (New 52), Bizarro, and Cyborg vol. 1 (New 52) at Hastings while on a road trip with my wife. Sadly, Hastings is going out of business, which hurts because that store was incredibly important to us in college. They were selling graphic novels 70% off, so I grabbed up those three and a couple Marvel titles. I'll have to write up how bizarre it was to experience that, but I was still stoked at the amazing deals I got.

I liked Batman/Superman Public Enemies--Super Friends is my second favorite version of Clark and Bruce, after Super Dads. Supergirl was...fine. She was okay. But I had a hard time connecting to her, and she was obviously just there half the time for boobs and butt, which got old and annoying incredibly fast. And by "incredibly fast," I mean the instant she appeared wrapped in blanket, I said, "Nope!" closed the book, and went to bed for the night.

I haven't read Dark Victory yet because I don't have The Long Halloween--it was at my LCS the day before the sale started, but when I hurried over at lunch to check the shelves, it had already been snatched up, sadly.

And finally: I do not like the Outsiders at all. what little I read of them was weird, grim, and annoying. Very 90's tastic. I rolled my eyes so much, I upset my equilibrium and nearly fell out of the bed. I only bought The Death and Return of Donna Troy because the Teen Titans series I'm collecting starts right after Donna's death, and when she popped back up in the title, I didn't want to be like, "Wait wait wait...when did she come back???" But honestly, the book sucks. Both stories included suck.

The Death of Donna Troy--aka Graduation Day--is awful because it kills off one of the early members of the Titans with essentially a shrug and is overwritten in the kind of narration heavy, tell-don't-show bullshit that plagued the 90's and the New 52 when DC decided to be "Comic's Industry's 'I Love the 90's!'"

The Return of Donna Troy--aka ...well...The Return of Donna Troy--sucks because it is heavily entangled into the Rann–Thanagar War, which I could not give a shit about. Space stuff is a hard sell for me in comics sometimes because it seems like characterization gets neglected in favor of SPAAAACE BAAAATLES. Maybe I'm just not familiar enough with the pre-New 52 Olympian gods, but the entire story--Donna dying, but also not really because she came back to life and only remembered being an Olympian Titan, and she's married to and loves her Brother-Husband and they needed the Rann-Thanagar's to die or something because alternate universes and blahblahblahblahblahblah.

The writers picked possibly the most convoluted way they could have brought her back possible. I know that for Donna Troy, that's sort of a given since her entire existence is one massive series of retcons, but...Jesus I just didn't care.

Anyway, so this month was mostly exciting stuff, and some stuff that I only got because of completion's sake. I look forward to getting some new stuff (and maybe raiding a Halloween sale?) this month.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

This Election is a Shit Show

Gage Skidmore from Flickr -  Some rights reserved
I've been unusually quiet about the election this year. Last election, I had at least a few posts, and I was very active on Facebook among my friends and family arguing that Romney was the wrong choice for our country.

The reason I've been quiet about this is because I am horrified beyond words with what is happening in my country. Beyond the memes, beyond the funny late night talk show skits, beyond all of the jokes and bullshit, we are a hairsbreadth away from electing a tyrant in the White House.

This isn't hyperbole. Donald Trump isn't just a blithering, gibbering idiot fucksponge. Trump has been proven to be a racist, a liar, and a swindler over and over and over and over. I would be genuinely curious to see the results of a psychological evaluation to see if he is a sociopath, or if being so rich and powerful is enough to strip a normal human of every shred of intelligence, common sense, humility, and humanity.

The system being what it is, each party generally gets about 40-ish percent of the vote and they fight for the last 20, with a meager smattering of votes going to any third party candidates. However, I was hoping that in the face of such unprecedented awful, the vote would be a near unanimous rejection of him. But, unfortunately, it's not.

I genuinely did not expect Trump to get the nomination at the start of this election. I know we've had a few cases of celebrities moving into politics with varying degrees of success, but I'm not sure we've ever had someone like Trump. He's so openly hateful, thin-skinned, and conniving that everyone treated it like the joke that it should be. When he got closer, and it looked like he might actually gain the nomination, I believed that if he did get it, it would be the end of the Republican Party as we knew it. After all, there have to be conservatives that aren't weeping, petulant white people mad at the brown folks for taking their jobs, right? Surely there are rational ones that have watched their party stray steadily away from what they know and love and decide to split off and form a third, fiscally conservative, socially liberal-ish group right?

Apparently not--at least, not yet. While there are some, thank goodness, that have at least temporarily defected to the Democrat side to vote Hillary, the polls so far have shown an unsettlingly tight race.

Watching the Republican leadership--not just the Tea Party fringes, but the rest of the party as well--either line up behind Trump or quietly step out of his way to avoid going against the party trend has been horrifying. As much shit as we give Congress for being do nothing, and as racially charged as the Republican Congress has been toward Barack Obama, I didn't think they were so filled with hatred and/or cowardice to allow this to happen.

I'm sure part of my surprise comes from my own sheltered life as a cis-het white dude. Deep down, the I guess the country has always been this ugly. And I guess, as a white person, it's easy to view some of the ugly racism that has bubbled back up as a relic of Back Then. But Trump has proved that Back Then is not as Back as it seemed, and we still have a long way to go.

If I try to be empathetic toward Trumpkins, I do see a group of people that have been told their entire life that their way of life is correct, right, and expected. And to see that steadily upended as they learn that everything they once believed is wrong must be scary. I think it's likely that some of that fear comes from housing segregation--huge swaths of our country are laid out in such a way that it is often exceptionally difficult to meet and regularly interact with people of color. Suburbs were specifically created as a white attempt to "Go Galt" and separate themselves from other races and cultures. It's been showing that regular interaction with those different than you can influence you and make you more empathetic understanding to those that are different to you. The key is exposure, and a lot of white Americans have grown up in a system that keeps that exposure from them by design. However, that's not an excuse for openly supporting hate and burying their heads in the sand about very real issues that  a good many Americans face on a daily basis.

The fact that Trump has made it onto the world's stage as a potential national candidate--one who is accused of rape, of using money donated to his charity for personal enjoyment, of dog-whistling to and refusing to refute the alt-right and extreme racists, one who is so misinformed he argued with the debate moderator Lestor Holt about Stop and Frisk being ruled unconstitutional and praised it for its effectiveness even though it's been demonstrated with study after study that that's not the case--is so embarrassing, disturbing, and sickening, that it's difficult to express the full depth of negative feelings I feel at the situation, and that our nation should feel.

What I hope this means for our nation is that the truly backward thinking folks are on their way out. I hope that year after year, they're watching their numbers, power, and influence dwindle, and we'll see more progressive and tolerant politics come in to take it's place. I hope this is the last gasp of a group that will effectively vanish into the ether.

I hope.


Further reading on various terrible things about Trump is below--from various sources. There are lots more. Just use Google.

Don't forget to register and vote. Vote early if you need to, but it's been shown that while the system is stacked against us, voter turn out really is the best way to enact change--and that means on a local level as well as a national one.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Writing Post: In Which I Ruminate on Scheduling and Try to Come Up with Answers

I haven't been doing much writing lately. Some, here and there, but not a lot. I did finish revising 2 stories and sending them out to some magazines/anthologies. I'm honestly not expecting anything, but I'll keep my fingers crossed. And I'm currently working on another story.

Lately it feels like there's something buzzing in my brain. Whenever I sit down to write, I can't concentrate, or by the time I finally get to that place where I can focus and really start making progress, I have to stop.

This is partially because of my living arrangement. We live in a one bedroom apartment at the moment, so the computer is in the bedroom. Which means I'm partially at the mercy of when my wife wants to go to bed. It also means I'm a simple shout away, so it's easy for my wife to want to share something with me and yell to interrupt me. But if I'm being honest, there have been several times where she's called for me, and I'm not actually doing anything writing related. I turned on the computer, I opened the word document, I started at the text for a good minute or two, then I decided to open the internet browser and check Twitter, or Facebook, or window shop on Amazon, or watch a YouTube video, so it's not like she's interrupting anything important.

My "writing time" lately has been a lot of Best Intentions leading to Stupid Nothing.

Another issue that I run into is my schedule. What days I have off in the week float, and it's not always two days off in a row. Additionally, I don't work a traditional 8-5 shift. That floats somewhat, too, and my usual schedule frequently leaves me feeling like a big chunk is being taken out of the middle of my day since I go to work late and leave work late.

I do have a decent amount of time in the morning before I go to work, and I've tried utilizing it to write, but I find it taken up with a lot of stuff 1) getting ready for work, 2) making breakfast, 3) talking to my wife, 4) staring blankly at the wall because I am not immediately active when I wake up, 5) cleaning the apartment before I go to work--usually undoing whatever damage we've done the night before.

I've used my time in the mornings a little, but all of the little things that I usually have to get done before I go to work end up eating up my time and by the time I sit down to do some writing, it's time for work. Or I'll sit down and my brain is fifty other places.

I actually just had 2 days off. And my excuse for the days leading up to those 2 days was, "Bah, I'll write a whole ton when I have 2 whole days to myself." And the first day, I didn't. "I just want to relax today. It's been a hard week. I'll get some writing done tomorrow. I'll have all day." And the next day, I kept pushing it later and later in the day. And then it was, "Well, I can still get stuff done in the evening." And then it was, "Well, I needed those two days off to relax anyway."

Writing, as much as I love it, has a tendency to fill me with anxiety. I want to write frequently, to get better, to pursue publication, but I find myself choosing the worst option over and over again, and torn between making myself sick over the guilt of not doing it while claiming I'm "a writer," and telling myself not to stress because writing should be fun.

These are all excuses. None of them are unique. Everyone has to deal with them. And I'm not writing this to give excuses for why I haven't been writing, but rather to take a hard look at the things that have been stopping me and figuring out what I can do to empower myself to make better choices, and to work around my turbulent brain.

I just finished Victor LaValle's excellent The Devil in Silver, and at the end, he talked about how he and his wife had just had a baby when they were both working on their books. He set aside 2 hours a day to write, going to a local coffee shop to do so.

It sounds super old school and basic, but it's something I've considered doing. I need to stop giving myself an out if the writing isn't flowing. It hurts because the older I get the more precious and finite a resource time feels, but I think I might need to set aside, if not a word count, then a time where I write, and that is all I do. If I don't get but 5 words, I still make myself sit there--not online, not on email or Twitter or whatever--because that is my writing time and I will use it only for that. This might force my brain into actually engaging since lately the first sign of resistance, or the moment the writing stops being easy, I usually derail the whole thing by checking Twitter.

I don't think that 2 hours every day is feasible for me, so I'll need to work on how much and how often during the week.

I also want to work on finishing and submitting a new short story a month. I've got a lot of short stories that I wrote when I was trying to finish one every two weeks, and I did a good job of getting stories done, mostly, but I never revised them. I just moved on to the next project. And if nothing is getting revised, nothing is getting submitted. So that's something I need to work on. I looked at the spreadsheet where I track what stories I've submitted, and to where, and it was embarrassing and sad how few stories I've actually finished and submitted.

So that's where I am right now writing-wise. I'm working on making some sort of concrete plan that I can implement. Hopefully I can some up with something that I'll stick to, and that will work for me, at least for a little while.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Awesome Comic Finds - Justice League: The Secret Gospel of Maxwell Lord

After reading the first volume of Justice League International, I absolutely wanted to read more. This was, in part, because I obviously liked it. As I said before, I dug its offbeat, oddball sense of humor, and while it was unique for its time, it was also a breath of fresh air in the present since DC's trades are still infected with the awful retro-90's nonsense that was the New 52.

On top of that, it featured the Blue Beetle, and Linkara's retrospective on the Blue Beetle had me eager to read more about it--both because the JLI days are covered a bit in his videos on Ted Kord, and because I'd grown to appreciate the ol' goofball and his epic bromance with Booster Gold.

Side note: my second favorite type of superheroes are super buddies. More superheroes that are best pals and less of them punching each other because of vague, poorly defined reasons, okay?

When I went hunting for the second volume of JLI, though, I felt like I'd been sucker punched. The price was astronomical. I don't know what sort of trickster gods control the prices of comic trades for the online market place, but their decisions seem arbitrary and cruel.

Case in point:

You may be wondering, "Why in the good goddamn is the SECOND volume in this series starting at $35 for the hardcover, and $50 for the SOFTCOVER??"

To which I would reply: yeah...weird, right?

If I'm collecting something, I want it in my hands. As I stated in an earlier post, I will buy the digital forms of a comic if I have to in order to fill in the gaps of something, but I really, really don't like it.

Luckily for me, I stumbled across another listing--Justice League International: The Secret Gospel of Maxwell Lord. I looked it up, and while they don't contain exactly the same comics, it's very, very close.

From what I can tell, JLI vol 2 is basically a reprint of Secret Gospel but with 2 extra issues--a crossover with the Suicide Squad. Since I honestly don't really care about Suicide Squad, and don't care about a random crossover to drop $30 extra, I went with the older, cheaper option.

As for the contents? It's not bad. The biggest problem is that it crosses over with an event from the time--Millenium. The reviews online for the event don't make it seem particularly good, but I figure I'll get around to it at some point just to see what the hell was actually going on during this volume.

On the one hand, there are text-heavy recap pages between most of the issues that you have to read so that you actually understand what's going on. And that's kind of annoying. If that sounds terrible, just skip this.

On the other hand, this volume features the gang moving into a new headquarters and fucking everything up, and the most bizarre Green Lantern I've ever seen. Plus some stuff with Maxwell Lord that would be sweet if not for the spectre of Countdown to Infinite Crisis looming over it.

All in all, it's a decent volume, but if you want it, I recommend picking up Secret Gospel instead of the "proper" vol 2 unless you HAVE to have those two issues featuring the Suicide Squad.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Gene Wilder: June 11, 1933 - August 29, 2016

Public Domain Publicity Photo of Gene Wilder in 1970. - Photo from Wikipedia
Gene Wilder passed away on August 29th, and like the passing of all great comedians, he left a dark hole in his absence. They don't make many comedians like him anymore, and he was very, very funny. Anyone who has seen Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, or Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory knows that there was an irresistible charm to him that made him instantly likeable on screen.

One thing that I sometimes feel maybe got lost was that, yes, he was funny. But more than that, he was brilliant. Willie Wonka was one of those childhood movies that you watched over and over and over again, and he was always brilliant--mischievous, charming, silly, and at times, even sinister. The scene where he yells at Charlie, the final test to make sure that Charlie is, in fact, as pure of heart as he thinks, is goddamned magic.

Hell, we rewatched Young Frankenstein again in honor of his passing, and it struck me that Wilder didn't play Frankenstein (Fronkensteen!) like some goof nitwit. He played him with exactly the same passion, madness, and menace that Colin Clive played Henry in the 1930's movie.

Seriously, compare these two scenes, one of Wilder as he brings his monster to life in Young Frankenstein, and one of Colin Clive as he reacts to his own monster's reanimation in Frankenstein.

Wilder beat Nicolas Cage in the screaming freakout performances by decades, but Wilder's range stretched much farther than that. His ability to shift on a dime from soft to loud, from manic to gentle, was not easily matched. And his subtlety of delivery on point. Where many comedians would deliver something hammy with a big wink and a nod, Wilder delivered lines almost off-handedly, letting the joke hit you on a delay when you finally process just what he said.

One thing that I wish I could have seen but never got to was Gene Wilder in a legit western. My favorite movie of his is Blazing Saddles. It's not my favorite Brooks movie, but Wilder's performance as "The Waco Kid" convinced me that if he'd ever been given the opportunity, he could have put in an amazing performance as a Pecos Bill-type western hero--like a softer, gentler John Wayne.

Don't believe me?

Again, watch:

Wilder has some serious shades of Val Kilmer's Doc Holliday in this performance. When Bart says, "Well that's no contest. You a mile away," Jim is, like, two seconds away from, "I'm your Huckleberry. You're a daisy if you do."

Wilder was an incredible talent. Not just as a comedian, but as an actor. Full stop. The world is a sadder place without him. But, thankfully, he left us behind some amazing mementos to remember him buy. Go watch one of his movies if you haven't in awhile and revel in just how great this man was.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

My Comics Project Update: August 2016

Part of my on-going comics project will involve monthly updates of what comics I bought and anything weird or interesting I stumbled across. Each post will have a running list, and I'll update with the new titles where they fall chronologically.

You might be wondering why, in the photo above, Batman: Noel, Kingdom Come, Superman: Earth One, and Superman: Red Son aren't shelved with the rest of the DC titles. That's because I'm eccentric (read: extremely weird), and I want my Elseworlds trades kept separate from the main DC continuity.

Although, one could argue that Batman: Noel isn't an Elseworld comic since there's nothing that specifically places it in or out of canon. However, since it's a holiday book and only really likely to be read around the holidays, and since it doesn't reference anything immediately identifiable as in-canon, I prefer to keep it with the rest of the Elseworlds books.

(Newbies may be wondering: what the hell are Elseworlds books? Technically they're a line of alternate universe reimaginings of DC heros--but mostly Batman--specifically published under the "Elseworlds" banner. But it's easier to refer to all the non-canon DC graphic novels as Elseworlds because...well...they are, just not published under that banner anymore.)

Ignore the non-DC titles. They're pretty self explanatory, but there's a few that I want to write about in greater depth some other time.

I came up with the order of the books from a few sources. Since Batman and Superman have the most books BY FAR, I used 3 different lists as the backbone for mine: this comment someone posted on Comic Vine of all the Batman trades in chronological order (up to Flashpoint), and two trade reading order lists from Comic Book Herald - one for Superman, and another for Batman. From there, I either read the book description and tried to judge for myself roughly where it fell, or I looked up which issues were contained in the book and figured it out based on their release date.

One of my goals of this project is readability. One should be able to start at the first book, read straight through, and make sense of things as they progress from era to era and event to event. Readability means I can't focus on perfect chronological order. Some titles were published concurrently, and I think jumping from Batman to Blue Beetle to Superman would be exhausting from the tonal shifts. Because of that, I tried to keep decent chunks of individual runs together where possible, then backtracking chronologically for a chunk of a different title.

If there was a book that introduced something important, however, I made sure to shelve that accordingly, even if it interrupted the flow of a title. That'll be a little more apparent in some places, especially around Infinite Crisis since all of the books published after that event jumped forward a year to serve as a jumping on point for new readers.

Below you'll see the list of canon DC titles that I own at this point. The ones in bold are the ones that I got this month.
  1. Crisis On Infinite Earths
  2. Justice League International, Vol. 1
  3. Justice League International: The Secret Gospel of Maxwell Lord
  4. Justice League International, Vol. 3
  5. The Death of Superman
  6. Impulse: Reckless Youth
  7. JLA Titans: Technis Imperative
  8. Birds of Prey, Vol. 1: Of Like Minds
  9. Teen Titans Vol. 1: A Kid's Game
  10. Teen Titans Vol. 2: Family Lost
  11. Teen Titans Vol. 3: Beast Boys and Girls
  12. Teen Titans Vol. 4: The Future is Now
  13. The OMAC Project (Countdown to Infinite Crisis)
  14. Infinite Crisis
  15. Batman: Face the Face
  16. Superman: Up, Up, and Away!
  17. Superman: Back in Action
  18. Superman: Last Son of Krypton
  19. Superman: Camelot Falls, Vol. 1
  20. Superman: Camelot Falls (Vol. 2)
  21. Blue Beetle Vol. 1: ShellShocked**
  22. Blue Beetle Vol. 2: Road Trip**
  23. Superman: The Third Kryptonian
  24. Superman: Redemption
  25. Superman: Escape from Bizarro World
  26. Superman: Shadows Linger
  27. Time Masters: Vanishing Point
  28. Superman: Action Comics, Vol. 1: Superman and the Men of Steel
  29. Justice League, Vol. 1: Origin (The New 52)
  30. Batman Vol. 1: The Court of Owls
  31. Batman Vol. 2: The City of Owls
  32. Batgirl Vol. 1: The Darkest Reflection (The New 52)
  33. Batgirl Vol. 2: Knightfall Descends
  34. Batwing Vol. 1: The Lost Kingdom
  35. Justice League Vol. 2: The Villain's Journey
  36. Aquaman Vol. 1: The Trench (The New 52)
  37. Aquaman Vol. 2: The Others (The New 52)
  38. Aquaman Vol. 3: Throne of Atlantis (The New 52)
  39. Batman Vol. 3: Death of the Family
  40. Batgirl Vol. 3: Death of the Family
  41. The Movement Vol. 1: Class Warfare (The New 52)
There's a few titles mentioned above, both bolded and unbolded, that I want to go more into about in the future, but for now I want to talk about the two starred books: Blue Beetle Vol. 1 & 2. Vol 2 is starred because it hasn't come in yet, but I'm sure you noticed that Vol. 1 isn't bolded. Instead, it's italicized as well as starred. There's a good reason for that...I don't own it.

Then why did I include it on the list? Because I kinda sorta own it.

I've been holding off on purchasing the Jaime Reyes Blue Beetle trades because the first volume in the series is extremely expensive. For the longest time, it hung around $40, and it only recently had a volume go up for $25. That's still pretty expensive for a used trade, especially since it's listed as "Acceptable."

I keep hoping I'll come across the trade at my LCS like I did with Impulse and JLI Vol. 1, or that some kind soul will list it on Amazon for a reasonable price. But no such luck yet. Thankfully, the whole run is available on Comixology, and they had a big Blue Beetle sale recently, so I snatched up the first six issues (which is what would've been in the trade) for less than $6, and then bought the second volume off of the Book Depository.

If I weren't afraid that the FBI would show up at my door and spirit me away to some remote desert cell somewhere, I'd use Lulu or a similar service to get the digital files bound in a book. I personally don't see how it would be different than buying print back issues of a series and getting them bound--apparently there's a small but solid community online devoted to that kind of thing. But I get the feeling the digital rights would be different than the physical.

And maybe that's the answer--maybe I should track down the first six floppies online and get them bound. Then again, I don't think that'd be any cheaper than just dropping the absurd cash for the trade. At this point, I'm content with having the digital file and purchasing trades from there. But I check back often, just in case.

I'll be posting more Awesome Comic Finds along with things not comics related in the coming weeks. Thank you for indulging me in my weird little project. If you have any tips, pointers, thoughts, or whatever, feel free to throw them down below.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Awesome Comic Finds: Justice League International Vol. 1

It's time again for my new feature: "Awesome Comic Finds," in which I detail...well...particularly great comic finds. Not every comic I purchase shows up here, but when I find either unexpectedly amazing comics, unheard of comics, or comics at a super cheap price, I blather about them here.

I've made it no secret over the years both here and on Twitter how much I love the internet comic review show Atop the Fourth Wall. Lewis "Linkara" Lovhaug lays out comic history in an engaging and entertaining way, and his explanations for what makes a good comic or doesn't make a good comic altered the way I viewed comics and got me back into collecting and reading again after letting my Adventures of Superman subscription lapse back in the early 2000's. One of the things that Linkara has spent quite a bit of time talking about is how awesome the superbuddies duo of the Blue Beetle and Booster Gold are. While I'd never heard of them before, Linkara's enthusiasm got me interested in looking them up.

As a lot of these stories go, I was taking one of frequent trips to my local comic shop to check out their stock. I was actually in the middle of collecting the full Post-Infinite Crisis run on Superman that Kurt Busiek wrote in the mid-to-late-2000's. But something caught my eye. To my surprise, they actually had two used copies of Justice League International Vol 1.

One advantage to buying the used copies in the store over Amazon is that while Amazon has a huge, huge stock of basically every trade ever released, it's also at the whims of whatever weird economics the online marketplace follows. You'll have titles that will, for no explicable reason, balloon in price by 10, 20, 30 dollars or more, and sometimes they don't ever go back down to what they once were. At the time, JLI Vol 1 was going for something around $25, although it looks like the price has dropped back down to a more reasonable $12 or so as of this writing. Either way, finding it for $7.99 at my LCS (local comic shop) was still a great deal.

With that let me say: go grab this while it's cheap. This is a historical little book because of the audacious way Keith Giffen and J.M Dematteis approached the characters.

At first glance, it might not be something the mainstream person would likely pick up. If they're like me, they were raised on the Justice League and Justice League Unlimited cartoons. Those shows had the Big Heroes--Superman! Batman! Wonder Woman! The Flash! Green Lantern!--names that people recognize. But this cover features a bunch of nobodies, a luchador, and Batman--who might be the only reason someone picked this up. That, to me, is this book's biggest plus.

After JLA's lagging sales, Giffen and DeMatteis were tasked to reinvent the team, but weren't allowed to use any of the big named superheroes that might draw people in as they were tied up in their own stuff at the time. Because this group was made up of a bunch of odd-balls and lower tier heroes, the book seems to naturally take on a humorous, off-beat tone. The team is constantly struggling, both with their own weird interpersonal dynamics, but also with the general public questioning their methods and denigrating them because they're not the JLA that everyone is used to--which serves as a metacommentary on how the book was almost certainly viewed by some at the time--"but this isn't MY league! What are you doing??"

This run is often referred to as the "Bwa-Ha-Ha" era of the League in online comic circles, and for the most part, that's pretty accurate. For this first volume, the real standout to me is Batman, who is allowed to have a personality outside of the grim and grimacing dark avenger that people constantly want to dress him up as. I'd be curious to read overlapping Batman titles at the time to see how the tone of those books squares with the tone of this book.

The book isn't perfect--the women often come across as nagging wet blankets, or they're written off without anyone taking their opinions or concerns seriously. There's times this almost maybe seems like it's supposed to be a joke, but it's hard to tell, and either way it's not funny, nor fun. And there are a few unfortunate moments where even the "good guy" male characters--namely, anyone not Guy Gardner--objectify women in gross and uncomfortable ways. Of course, this came out in 1987, so it's of it's time, and while it doesn't ruin the book, it is there, and it's disappointing. 

All that said, the character dynamics are great, the stories are fun, and it's honestly refreshing to read a book that expands its view beyond the more commonly recognized characters. It makes the universe feel more fleshed out. I'd recommend checking your LCS to see if they have any old trades or back issues of this series, but if you can't, it's currently relatively cheap on Amazon and definitely worth $12 or so.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Thoughts on Suicide Squad

Property of DC/Warner Bros.
DC attempts to snatch some of Marvel's box office success have been less than stellar. Their movies have a tendency to garner a lot of lead-up hype, open well, and then crash on the second weekend because everyone that sees their movies comes away thinking they're, at best, average and overhyped. And that really is at best since the last four movies DC has put out has been surrounded in controversy:
  • Man of Steel had a joyless, gray, Superman violently murder his opponent, and that's after a 30 minute fight in which Superman and Zod level at least half of Metropolis. 
  • Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice only had the titular fight for about 15 minutes and ended with the characters becoming best bros because their mom's had the same first names. 
And now Suicide Squad. Early critics reports already had people uneasy when the fun, gonzo tone of the trailers didn't match the more apparently more reserved tone, darker tone of the movie. Before even that, the Juggalo Joker design was causing people to tilt their heads and wonder just what we were getting from what was touted as the "last hope"* of a stumbling studio trying to regain their footing and start matching Marvel's audience and critical success.

Instead of a dumpster fire, I found a movie that was flawed, nonsensical, but ultimately enjoyable. The plot was an everloving mess, and the more you think about it, the worse it holds up--which is saying something because it doesn't even hold up under a surface-level cursory glance, but the characters were fun, the cast engaging. They had good chemistry, and I found myself looking forward to the few moments the movie slowed down and let them just be around each other.

Ultimately, I enjoyed the promise of the movie more than the execution. It was sprinkled with good ideas, but squanders almost every one of them by surrounding it in a shit sundae of a plot.

If you want a good example of a movie length Suicide Squad story, I'mma stop here and encourage you to read Colby Park's review of Batman: Assault on Arkham, and after you've read that review, go buy the movie because honestly it's the best Suicide Squad movie that's out and available to watch right now.

That said, there's something to be said about seeing our heroes re-imagined on the big screen. That's part of the draw of the live action adaptations--seeing drawings and words on a page come to real, physical life. And I think we honestly get some of the best live action adaptations we could've hoped for: Margot Robbie was great as Harley Quinn, Will Smith is fun in most everything, and I kept being reminded how much I miss him in big expensive action movies where he smirks and snarks and shoots things, and Viola Davis turned in a tense performance as Amanda "The Wall" Waller.

Hell, Jai Courtney turned out a fantastic performance as Captain Boomerang. This may be the first movie I've seen that I will remember Jai Courtney being in.

That was this movies biggest strength. The characters were well cast with good caliber actors with good chemistry, and it shows. When the characters were just hanging out, shooting the shit, this movie lit up in a way that I haven't yet seen in a DCCU film. If this movie had just been a series of vignettes of the characters hanging out, it would've been great.

Before I go heaping too much praise on the performances, I want to note that even the good performances feel a little restrained at times--especially Viola Davis.

Davis occasionally seemed a little unsure of herself, almost like she was holding back. Quiet performances aren't bad, but while Waller is definitely a sly, calculating woman, she's also not afraid to get in someone's face and tell them to fuck right off. With a little more coaxing from the director, I feel like Davis's performance could've been elevated to something phenomenal.

That said, not every actor was gold. I actually really like the concept of Leto's Joker as a modern day gangster--replacing the old 20's and 30's trappings with grills, tattoos, and big rings. In fact, there's one moment where the concept tried to proved it could work: the Joker's goons bring in a guy and tie him to a chair. The Joker comes in, holds out his ring like he's fucking Marlon Brando in The Godfather, and when the guy kisses it, the Joker grins, climbs up on the guy's lap, and drolls, "I can tell you meant that." That got a chuckle out of me.

Unfortunately, the rest of Leto's performance was not that good. His performance was just...weird. It's hard to put my finger on specifically why it didn't work, but it didn't. His quiet, whispery voice and delivery were almost too borrowed from Ledger's Joker, while everything about the character seemed like he should've been bombastic and over-the-top. Like, Johnny Knoxville could've played the hell out of this type of Joker.

Also, I hated Leto's Joker laugh. It was a weird quacking laugh, sounding more like a sarcastic laugh given at a really stupid joke than the manic laughter that even Cesar Romero gave as the Joker. When the 60's Batman nails the Joker closer than you, you've misstepped.


Speaking of the Joker, I want to get into some of the more spoilery choices the movie made that I found very interesting. With the exception of one uncomfortable and violent scene in a flashback involving Harley Quinn and electroshock therapy, the Joker is actually less violent toward her, instead coming across almost more romantic--or at least manipulative, depending on your read. Again, that electroshock scene.

In the New 52, they revised Harley Quinn's origin to include the Joker throwing her into the same acid vat that made him the way he is. This movie borrows from that new origin, but instead of Harley being thrown in by the Joker, she actually jumps in on her own. But what really makes the scene interesting is after she jumps in. The Joker turns to walk away...and then turns back and dives in after her and pulls her to the surface.

There are moments throughout the movie where you can see cracks of what could've been bleeding through. There's another great scene at the end of the movie where the Joker breaks Harley out of prison. He and his goons are all dressed like SWAT cops, and after they cut the door to her cell open, he pulls his helmet off and the camera zooms in on him like some cheesy romance hero complete with Harley's cry of, "Mistah Jay!"

For those few seconds, you can see a dark humor that should've been in this movie all along, a juxtaposition of the insanity and cruelty that these bad guys engage in with the more common tropes and portrayals. If this movie was made with the craft and humor of, say, Fido, we'd be having a whole different conversation.

And that's the biggest problem with this movie. You can nit pick this thing to death because it's full of bad or confusing choices. Take the character of Diablo. I saw a lot of fervor made online about how Diablo is a Latino man who's a gangster, one who murders his wife and children.

Maybe it's because I'm a white guy and therefore a lot of this stuff isn't personal to me like it is to Latin@s, but the character pretty compelling. The thing is, I didn't get that Diablo was abusive to his wife like I saw some alleging online. I did see him smack her on the ass at one point playfully as she walked past, and while this movie's objectification of woman bounces between annoying and yawn-inducing, it seemed like he genuinely loved his wife.

His backstory plays out like something you'd see on a supernatural version of the Sopranos. Diablo is a criminal, and while is wife is aware, she doesn't seem to care that much as long as he keeps it away from the. One day, his wife finds that he's been keeping some of his criminal stuff at the house--money and guns and stuff if I remember--and she gets pissed. They get into an argument, and eventually he loses his temper--and control of his powers--and accidentally burns his house down, killing his wife and his kids.

That's certainly a dark backstory, but they're criminals. Of course they're going to have dark backstories. And while it also falls into fridging territory, it does add some compelling reasons for him to hold back and not fight--he doesn't want to lose control like that again, to cause harm and potentially kill someone when his powers have already cost him dearly.

But then they go and do something like reveal that apparently Diablo is, like, an Aztec fire god or something? There is zero hinting or foreshadowing of this. It comes out of nowhere during the fight against one of the big bads and then they just shrug it off. Like...y'all don't want to talk about how seemingly human Diablo just turned into a giant flaming skeleton wearing an Aztec headdress? No? You're just going to let that go unremarked on? Okay...just seems like something you might want to talk about.

The movie isn't just riddled with bad decisions, unfortunately. It's structurally a mess. I've seen some people say that Marvel's movies are getting formulaic, that they all seem to rely on the same beats. And that's probably true. I would argue those beats are mostly versatile enough that you can tell a gritty political intrigue story like Winter Soldier and a irreverent, galaxy-spanning romp like Guardians of the Galaxy, but I see their point. And while I appreciate movies trying to buck that structure, a big budget comic book movie was maybe not the time to try that, especially so early in DC's shared universe.

The trailers pull a fast one in making you think Enchantress will be on the team--and the movie kinda tries to do that, too. They introduce Enchantress like she's going to be a member of the Squad, with her own little flashback and everything. But the very first time that Waller tried to use Enchantress for anything, it goes wrong within seconds. Literally seconds. Like, so fast, it makes me wonder why the movie bothered wasting time trying to set her up as a team member--she never even gets to actually join the team. It's like, "let's use her to go somewhere we can't because she can teleport--wait where are you going?? You're only allowed to teleport where I tell you to!!!"

Amanda Waller says that she can control Enchantress because she has her heart separate from her and she can stab at it to hurt her. This, also, is immediately undercut. When Enchantress goes rogue, she frees her brother from a little husk voodoo doll thing, and then he gives her some of his power so that her heart getting stabbed over and over doesn't kill her. And when he does that, she basically becomes fully powered, he doesn't seem any weakened by the effort, and the entire heart thing is basically dropped until the climax when suddenly the heart becomes important again.

But what I still don't understand is, instead of scrambling the Suicide Squad...why didn't Waller just destroy the heart. If the point of the Squad's mission was to kill and stop Enchantress and her brother, why bother with the squad at all? And if the point wasn't to kill her, what did they think sending three people who can shoot good and three people good at punching was going to accomplish against a reality bending magic user??

I thought maybe Enchantress would decide to fight with the squad. Maybe her brother gets too power hungry and she sides with them to stop him out of spite. Or maybe Dr. Moon (the person Enchantress is possessing) gains control over the powers and sides with them. Something. Anything to provide dramatic structure and tension to the film. But no. There are no twists and turns. No revelations. No surprises. The one thing treated as a big revelation to the cast--that Rick Flagg is sleeping with Dr. Moon--lands with a huge shrug because we've known that from probably the first 20 minutes of the movie, and it doesn't seem to matter to the mission that they're on anyway. Again, if the goal was to subdue Enchantress without killing her, how did they plan on doing that when she immediately teams up with her equally powerful brother and creates a swirling vortex of city destroying power in the middle of downtown? Waller has no qualms killing the fuck out of the rest of the squad if they go rogue, but she doesn't want to kill Enchantress? Why??

This going rogue and becoming the villain of the movie? That's in the FIRST THIRD! From a structural standpoint, it makes no sense because the movie introduces a huge and deadly threat, and then goes back to meandering and teambuilding that feels almost like a derailment when you're imagining while these people are being all cute and snarky, a whole damn city is being destroyed--which is exactly what is happening. Imagine if, in Man of Steel, Zod started fighting Superman in the first third. and then, while Metropolis is being decimated, it cut over to Bruce Wayne going around and recruiting the Justice League like we saw in the sizzle reel from Comic-Con. That's what happens in this movie.

It would've made more sense to introduce some smaller token threat, and then escalate the situation when Enchantress gets involved--like how in Guardians of the Galaxy, the team starts out trying to steal and deliver a priceless artifact, only to eventually run afoul of Ronan.

Enchantress was a bad choice for a first movie villain. Maybe in movie 2 or 3 when the character dynamics are a little more established and you need to up the tension by pitting them against a threat that hopelessly out-matches them. Maybe as the dark final chapter were a few team members actually die? But not as a first villain.

Another of example of this movie introducing and immediately dropping ideas is in the climactic final fight with Enchantress. She puts a spell on the team, tempting everyone with visions of what their heart most desires. But Diablo, in a decent bit of character building, isn't fooled by the false reality where his wife and kids are still alive because he's already owned that he killed them, and while he hasn't really moved on from it, he's not going to pretend that he didn't do it just because it's more comforting.

That in and of itself would be fine, but then he turns to everyone else and basically says, "Hey, guys. This isn't real." And everyone goes, "Oh? Yeah, I guess you're right. Okay." And that's it. They held the tension for all of maybe 60 seconds before it was over.

And that's a damn shame. The heart's desire fantasy sequences could've been used to great effect to develop everyone's characters. People have already been talking about Harley's fantasy--her and the Joker dressed looking normal and dressed in 1950's style clothing, kissing and tickling their baby. Harley even presses the "normal" cycle on her dishwasher. It's sad and funny in the best way, but entirely too short because it's there and gone in a flash.

This scene should've been used to really dig into the hearts of these characters. Deadshot could've been spending time with his daughter somewhere free from the fear of persecution, Killer Croc could be enjoying life as a normal looking person, and maybe just for a humorous cut away, Captain Boomerang's fantasy is just him, like, drinking a fuckton of beer and eating fried chicken or something.

Instead, Deadshot's heart's desire is apparently to kill Batman in front his daughter. How...sweet? Rick Flagg's was obviously him sleeping with June Moon. And, as I already said, it amounts to nothing because they all just shake it off.

Imagine if Diablo was able to sort of sour everyone's fantasies with reality. Like, his protestations that the dreams aren't real seeps into the fantasy and changes them. Suddenly, the cops bust in and arrest Deadshot while he's with his daughter, the Joker turns violent and hateful against Harley, Dr. Moon turns into the Enchantress and starts killing flag--everyone's piece of heaven turns sour and they wake from their nightmare.

For an example of how this exact concept can be done to great effect, go grab a copy of JLA/Titans: The Technis Imperative. In that book, Cyborg--who is currently a planet eating spaceship (don't ask), starts gathering up all of the former Titans and putting them in virtual reality pods in which they live through what he think is what they want most and will make them happy. That is met with humorous and heartbreaking results, as below.

Property of DC/Warner Bros.


Ultimately, Suicide Squad was an enjoyable mess. The plot is riddled with stupid or baffling choices, false starts and stops, and clear studio intervention, but that doesn't stop the cast from being charming and fun. It doesn't stack up against any of the Marvel movies on a structural level, but I actually probably like this movie more than either of the Thor movies--which may be blasphemy to some, but honestly while the Thor movies are obviously better made, they're boring to me.

I actually think I would watch this again. It's almost definitely not worth theater prices, but maybe buying from the $5 bin at your local grocery store, or renting it from a Redbox isn't out of the question. And obviously, I would strongly suggest you get Batman: Assault on Arkham first because it is an example of what this movie could have been.

With news that DC is pushing Man of Steel 2 into production, I can only hope that maybe this movie will get a sequel with a better script. Or hell, DC, just go ahead and get that Gotham City Sirens movie started. Because I'd love to see more Harley Quinn sooner rather than later.

As for the DCCU? It doesn't appear that they're learning from their mistakes. For one thing, they're making Man of Steel 2--blech. But for another Justice League is teasing a black suited Superman--ala from The Return of Superman. Yay, more stupid 90's garbage. Let's just keep our fingers crossed that the Wonder Woman is good, eh?

*I'm honestly not convinced that these movies will have a "last hope" type situation. For one thing, the movies make more than enough money overseas to continue justifying their existence. Additionally, DC has staked their reputation on their approach to these movies. At this point, changing direction would look either like they were copying Marvel, or admitting that their first attempts sucked, and they don't want to do either of those things. So with each movie met with a collective shrug, I think the "last hope" will just shift to the next one, making it not really a "last hope" but more a desperate stupid optimism that maybe MAYBE the next one will be good, while watching DC continue to double down on the same decisions every time.