Archive for the brilliance Category

Bewitched – My review of Witches, Stitches, & Bitches

Posted in book review, brilliance, evil with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 22, 2013 by vagabondsaint

(AUTHOR’S NOTE: In the interests of disclosure, I’ll tell you now that I am friends with Katie Cord, founder and CEO of Evil Girlfriend Media, and am acquainted with several of the authors featured in WSB. At least, I was when I started writing this review. Given my penchant for brutal honesty in reviews, we’ll see how many are left after it’s posted.)

Witches, Stitches, & Bitches (hereafter WSB) is an anthology of short stories, with each story featuring, in some interpretation, a witch, stitches, and *sigh* a bitch. (I really don’t like that word.) WSB is also the first book published by Evil Girlfriend Media, a new publisher founded by Katie Cord. WSB came out on September 13, 2013, so why am I doing a review two months later? Because I’ve been really busy and am horribly behind on my reading, that’s why.

I’ll start with the cover (which is a great cover, by the way). It feels good, it looks good. It doesn’t feel or look cheap, flimsy, slapdash, or anything other than professional and well-put-together. It’s a little thing, I know, but how a book looks and feels are important qualities to me.

On to the anthology itself!

On my second reading (and yes, I liked I enough to read it twice without another book between), I took notes on each story to base my reviews upon. Here we go, into the world of WSB!

1. “Blood Magic” by Gabrielle Harbowy – I loved “Blood Magic.” It’s an artful, graceful take on a horrible situation. It intrigued me that the standard victim trope is turned on its head, in that the method of the abuse ending is – well, you’ll just have to read it. I’m trying not to give spoilers here. The way in which Harbowy describes Aya’s feelings as she suffers and struggles through the day are a master class in gently describing a terrible circumstance without losing any of the emotional impact. I also liked the lack of padding and unnecessary details – it is a short story that tells the tale, engrosses you in the heroine’s plight, gets its message across and gets out before you have time to get tired of it. Short, elegant, beautiful, and sad, “Blood Magic” is a really strong start for this anthology.

2. “Urgent Care” by Christine Morgan – The opening line really sets the tone for this story: “Once upon a time, there was a little girl whose dumbass big brother got caught up in an occult gang war.” This story is going to be very real, very gritty, and lets you know that from the jump, which I appreciated. It’s unapologetic urban fantasy in a style very reminiscent of Kim Harrison and Jim Butcher, but with its own distinct voice. It is also to Morgan’s credit that she employed one of my least-favourite literary devices, past flashbacks that continue throughout the story, and I hardly noticed it until the second read. The flashbacks are smooth with the flow of the story and don’t disrupt it at all, which is lovely to read. The romantic aspects of the story are a little obvious, but not enough to detract from the grim tone and feel of the setting. The dialogue is well-done, and I ended up really liking Larrah, despite her. . .we’ll be polite and call it “brusque”. . .demeanor. It’s obviously part of a larger story, one I know I’ll be eagerly waiting to read.

3. “The Knitted Man” by Bo Balder – This is a very charming, enjoyable short story with a, I think, a larger meaning about love that I couldn’t entirely grasp, but I think that’s more my fault than Balder’s. Even with that, though, it’s still an interesting story, and the Aunties were amusing.

4. “Spare Parts” by Stephanie Bissette-Roark – From my notes: “Mary Shelley meets Jim Butcher at the Punisher’s house.” Violent, gory, funny, and sad, Stephanie (I do know her) runs an emotional gamut in this story. It’s a bit long, and I learned things about crime scene cleanup that I never needed to know, but it kept me enthralled throughout. The last scenes were a bit more convoluted than the straightforwardness of the rest of the story, with a main character making some odd choices, but that could easily be explained if the story is continued (hint, hint). A quality read that slips just a little bit at the end.

5. “The Secret Life of Dreams” by Tom Howard – In my notes, I wrote that this story is “a brief burst of wonderful strangeness that leaves you confused, curious, and smiling in its wake; tells you exactly everything you need to know to follow the story and exactly nothing more.” I don’t really have another way to describe it – you have to check this story out for yourself. It is absolutely worth it.

6. “Frogsong” by Kate Brandt – The straightforward storytelling of “Frogsong” makes it a great follow-up to the previous story. It’s a nice modern take on a morality tale, and has a closing line I wish I’d written: “The powers of our hearts call to us, and generally we follow the song.” I so wish I’d written that! Alas, Kate Brandt beat me to it, and I begrudge her nothing for it. As for how I liked the story, well, I loved Daphne, didn’t feel sorry at all for Frank, and did feel sorry for Nellie, so I think Brandt hit exactly the emotional evocations she was going for. That is indeed a mark of high-quality writing.

7. “No Substitute” by Caren Gussoff – Whereas the weak point of “Spare Parts” was its convoluted ending, “No Substitute” is weakest in its beginning. On the first page, 8 character names (I’m counting “Delanor sheriff” as a name) are thrown at you with no context and not much about their relationships (Kate is a friend of Poppy’s, Jonquil is Poppy’s mother, Wisteria is Poppy’s aunt). It’s like the story hits the ground running too fast and stumbles. The relationships between those people are explained early on, so the story does get up to its own speed after that stumble. There is a bit of a “whodunit” element to the story, though the suspect list is pretty short, and one character makes a really odd decision that drives the story forward but just doesn’t make much logical sense (read it and you’ll see what I mean). It’s a solid story, but not without its flaws. Also, the name “Ber Breyan” kept reminding me of longtime University of Alabama football coach Bear Bryant, and I couldn’t quite get the mental image of him out of my head when I read the name.  I think that says more about me than it does about the story, though.

8. “Forgetting Tomorrow” by Bob Brown – I will say this now: I think fables are overdone in current pop culture. Between TV shows Once Upon A Time and Grimm, movies like Snow White and The Huntsman, Tangled, Hansel and Gretel, and of course the Disney Princesses, and comic books Fables and Grimm Fairy Tales, and numerous other novels out there, fables are just being done to death right now. All that said, “Forgetting Tomorrow” manages to stand out in that crowded field by following a character that I haven’t seen in any of those other fable interpretations (no, I’m not going to say who). Kudos to Bob Brown for writing a fast-moving, engaging story that stands apart in a saturated market!

9. “The Bitchy Witch Queen And The Undone Stitches” by Garth Upshaw – I guess it’s only fair that the longest story in the book should have the longest title, right? Also, I guess it would make an interesting band name. Anyway, don’t let the light tone of the lengthy title fool you – this is a pretty heavy story. It’s a fully-realized world, with details given aplenty in drips and drabs as opposed to flow-breaking info-dumps, which I liked. It’s also, I think, a fair approximation of what our world would be like if magic really existed – there would still be social inequality and class warfare, just along different lines. That’s the world this story occupies, and Upshaw really makes the world live and breathe. In terms of world-building, I would say this story is the best in the book; the characters are also pretty well-developed, but given the length, they’d damn well better have been. The somewhat preachy ending, along with Lianne’s choice to make it so, detracted a little from my enjoyment of the story, but not much. Upshaw built a good world here – I hope he’ll return to it to tell more stories.

10. “Not Even If I Wanted To” by Kodiak Julian – It’s an interesting modernized take on Hansel & Gretel, from a very different perspective than other tales and, thank God, not starring Jeremy Renner. It’s by no means a bad story, but it really didn’t grab me and pull me in as much as the other stories did. That may be down to Julian’s stark, this-is-what-happened style. The first-person narration here seems to be a little detached, and that carried over to me in reading it – I felt detached from the story, not engrossed in it. Again, by no means a bad story, but not as vibrant and alive and the others in this book.

11. “Yes, I’m A Witch” by Julie McGalliard – The second page of this story contains a line I absolutely fell in love with: “It tasted of chemicals and disappointment.” Brilliant. McGalliard has an attention to small details that speak volumes, such as the mismatched door on the otherwise undescribed car of Sharyn’s sister’s car; it’s such a little thing but it told me so much about Sharyn’s family and home situation. I love writing like that, that gives me meaningful small details instead of walls of miniscule, unimportant ones. Also, the primary setting of this story makes perfect sense: 1981, at the beginning of the Satanic Panic. That societal fear of basically things that were not mainstream, so encouraged by and ensconced in the rise of the religious right, is perfectly reflected in Tabby’s mother. No other time would have had that movement in society, so this is that rare gem of a story in which the setting really matters to the story. Not many stories are that way nowadays, and I loved it here. Granted, it also brought back painful, awkward 80s memories, but I’ll not hold that against McGalliard. It also reads a little like a cautionary tale, but isn’t heavy or preachy in its message. “Yes, I’m A Witch” is one of my favourites of the anthology, no question.

12. “The Far Horizon” by J. H. Fleming – As I think I mentioned before, I’m not a fan of stories that switch back and forth between past and present for their entire length. Fleming employs that technique here, and does okay with it. This is also another example of a story with just the right amount of detail – not too much, not too little, and that’s a technique I am a HUGE fan of. This story zips right along at a great pace, starts off greyish in tone and gets darker as it goes, and wraps up in an open but very satisfying conclusion. It’s a very good story overall.

13. “The Three Gateways” by Eva Langston – This is another story with a “cautionary tale” feel to it, but one that wraps up really well and in an unexpected way. Langston does an excellent job of characterization here as well’ there’s no pure saints and no pure sinners. I like that. In all of it, Langston writes really well and sucks me into the story. I even liked Luci the Teenage Goth Witch, mercenary though she was, and the spells described feel pretty real to me. It’s a great grey story, well worth the read.

14. “For Want of a Unicorn” by Camille Griep – This story is hilarious. I cracked up several times reading about the worst Fairy Godmother ever and things working out for the heroine in spite of the FG more than because of her. I love this story so much! It’s a take on a fable-ish world rather than directly on a fable, which is good, and it’s very smartly written. I love a good humour story, one that doesn’t insult the readers’ intelligence for the sake of a joke, and Griep pulls that off very, very well here. Definitely one of my favourites, if not my outright fave. LOVE IT! More from Camille Griep, please, now, thank you!

15. “Blood of the Mother” by Alaina Ewing – I began this story with a bit of apprehension, becomes it starts closer to the middle of the story than the beginning, and I am automatically wary of stories that start off that way and then flash back to the earlier bits of backstory. THANK GOD this story doesn’t do that. The necessary backstory is filled in through dialogue and the narrator’s thoughts, a much more less obtrusive method that didn’t pull me out of the story. (Hear that, writers? If you can’t start me at the beginning, then catch me up along the way; don’t put the story on pause to go back to what happened before.) It’s a well-written, solid witchy adventure story that moves along at a quick, smooth pace. My only complaint is that, at times, Terra feels like the sidekick in her own story.

16. “Dress of Fur and Fangs” by Rebecca Fung – Last but not least, we have this story, which starts off light in tone but gets very dark around the middle, when the “bitch” shows up. This story had, in my interpretation, a running theme on body images, filtered through a Potter-esque world, with a message on the dangers of envy as well. I can’t say much more than that without spoiling it, and I have no desire to do that, but I can say that, for me, it made me really think about the messages society tells women about their bodies. It’s an intriguing and thought-provoking story that loingers in your head after reading it, and concisely written to get its point across without being heavy-handed about it. (I should probably learn from that.) A very good read, and a great way to bring this anthology to a close.

So, now you have my review of these 16 stories. Now I’ll answer the most pressing question: is WSB worth buying?

The answer is a heartfelt, enthusiastic OH HELL YES WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR. If you like witches, stitches, bitches, and/or well-written, intelligent, engrossing stories, this is the anthology for you! It’s available on Amazon in both ebook and paperback formats (I haven’t jumped onto the ebook bandwagon yet, because I am old and set in my paper-reading ways) so whatever your preference, it’s easy to get your hands on a copy.

Which you should do.

Like now.

Don’t make Katie have to put a curse on you.

UPDATE: Because I don’t think clearly at 3 AM, I made a mistake.  I did not mention the terrific editing job on WSB done by Shannon Page.  Having been an editor myself, I am very vigilant for editorial errors when I read; in the past few years, most books have driven me to conniption fits over how many errors make it to print.  I am pleased to report that, thanks to the diligence of Shannon, there aren’t any.  Seriously, none.  No typos, no continuity slips, no nothing.  Clearly Ms. Page is a superhuman editor, perhaps editor of the Xavier School’s monthly newsletter, and deserves to be recognized as such.  I apologize for the oversight.

Life With Archie: The Bravest Comic On The Stands?

Posted in book review, brilliance, comic books, politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 6, 2013 by vagabondsaint

AUTHOR’S NOTE: When I posted my last entry (Unhappy Trails:  A Farewell To “Scalped”, 12/13/12), I also had this entry in mind and had, in fact, planned to write it that night.  However, by the time I finished that entry, it was 4 AM, I was tired, and decided instead to write this article the next day.  That next day, I didn’t wake up until after noon Pacific Time.  As a matter of habit, one of the first things I do after waking up is read online news, and after reading of the events of December 14, 2012, I decided to delay this post. I think it’s been long enough now.

I’m going to go ahead and say this:  Life With Archie is the bravest comic book on the stands today.

Why, you ask?

Because they’re not afraid to take a stand on issues.

Take, for example, marriage equality.  (I don’t call it “gay marriage” because that implies an explicit difference between “straight marriage” and other types of marriage, and since all marriage is two people that love each other making a public, legal commitment to each other, I see no need for the distinction.)

Gay characters are not new to comics.  Underground comics have had homosexual acts and characters depicted since the late ’60s. . .but of course, that’s the underground stuff, and who pays attention to that?  Mainstream comics publishers largely ignored homosexual characters until the 1980s, when DC published their first obviously gay character, Extrano (“strange” in Spanish) for the mercifully short-lived series The New Guardians in 1987.  The biggest reveal, however, was that Marvel’s character Northstar, longtime member of the Canadian super-team Alpha Flight, was gay (because he’s already French-Canadian, so why not make him gay?), though his creator revealed later that he was supposed to have been gay from his first appearance in 1979 but wasn’t due to an anti-gay character policy at Marvel Comics.

After that, gay and bisexual characters fell out of the woodwork.  The Authority’s  Apollo and Midnighter were the world’s finest gay couple; Gotham City detective Renee Montoya, a major supporting Batman character, was outed as a lesbian by Two-Face; John Constantine of Hellblazer was revealed to be bisexual (though he mostly sleeps with women and is married to a woman);  Hulkling and Wiccan of The Young Avengers were a gay couple; the new Batwoman is a lesbian; and in revising their entire universe, DC Comics made Alan Scott, the Green Lantern of Earth-Two  gay (sorry, Jade and Obsidian, the guy who was your dad pre-revision is now gay, so I guess you won’t be coming back for the New 52). . .the list goes on and on.  By 2010, you wouldn’t think a gay character would make news anymore.

But it did, when Archie Comics, long thought of as the most traditional, wholesome, conservative, “safe” comics company out there, introduced an openly gay character named Kevin Keller in Veronica #202.  It made news worldwide that gay had finally come to Riverdale, and at that point, it was a surprising move but not exactly a groundbreaking one.

Until February 2012, when, in the pages of Life With Archie, Kevin Keller married his boyfriend, Dr. Clay Walker.  Gay kissing was still new to comics then; longtime homosexual Northstar had just finally kissed his boyfriend on-panel the year before (after almost 20 years of being out of the closet); although The Midnighter and Apollo had been shown kissing before then, Neil Gaiman had been exploring gay and transgender themes in Sandman, and John Constantine had been in several homosexual sex scenes, they weren’t as mainstream and being written by mostly British writers besides.  At that point, marriage equality was only the law of the land in six states and the District of Columbia, with many many more states having laws on the books specifically preventing same-sex couple from getting married, so it was a pretty bold move for “traditional, wholesome” Archie Comics to make at the time.

Just to add a little more controversy to Kevin and Clay, their story was that they met in the military, when Kevin was injured fighting in Iraq and Dr. Walker had been his medic. . .and this was just after the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.  Archie Comics wasted no time jumping on that subject, and the issue containing the wedding (#16, if you want it; it sells for $20-$40 now) of Keller and Walker became one of Archie Comics’ fastest-selling issues of all time (which is no mean feat, considering they’ve been going for over 70 years).

But that’s not why I call Life With Archie the bravest book on the stands.

(SPOILERS FOLLOW.)

In issue #22 of Life With Archie, Clay Walker is shot while attempting to prevent a robbery. (Had to be the black guy, didn’t it, Archie Comics?) Luckily, he survives the shooting and the would-be robber is captured after being clocked with a hammer by the store’s owner.

In issue #24, Kevin discovers that the unnamed shooter was a previously-convicted felon who bought the gun from a licensed dealer through a “loophole” (it’s later stated that he’s talking about the gun show loophole).  Kevin then rattles off a few statistics (“gun-related homicides are more than twenty times higher than in other developed nations”) and announces he is retiring from the Army to do something about it. . .and his “something” is. . .

Wait for it. . .

Kevin Keller decides to run for the US Senate on a gun-control platform!

Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin) just proved in November that an openly-gay candidate can win a Senate race; she became our first openly-gay US Senator and was sworn in on Thursday, January 3, 2013.  So you could say the precedent has been broken. . .except that #24 came out in November and was solicited three months earlier (as all comics are), so the story was written before her election, when she was still running a very tight race against Tommy “I’m gonna kill me some Medicare” Thompson.  (It’s worth noting that Tammy Baldwin still can’t legally marry in her home state, though she can have her same-sex marriage from another state recognized in Wisconsin as a “domestic partnership,” so Kevin Keller’s still got one up on her.)

In issue #25, Kevin expounds more upon his gun-control views, states a strong view that the Second Amendment pertains to the right to bear arms for “a well-regulated militia” and asks “why do we need an estimated 200 million guns in the hands of this country’s 300 million citizens?”  (His number is actually quite low; the 2007 estimates are 88.1 guns for every 100 US citizen,which comes out to about 274 million guns in this country, a figure that has no doubt gone up, since there were massive spikes in gun sales every time a black guy got elected President.)

Now, I am sure that some of you are saying that it’s not such a big deal to jump on the gun-control bandwagon now, after what happened in Newtown.  You’d be right; that terrible tragedy has changed a lot of views on gun control for many people, as it and numerous other tragedies before it should have done.

And I’d agree if it wasn’t that Life With Archie #24 came out in November 2012, and #25 hit the stands (and my greedy little palms) on Wednesday, December 12, 2012. . .two days before Newtown.

And that’s why I call Life With Archie the bravest comic book on the stands today:  it took on marriage equality before the 2012 electoral sweep that nearly doubled the number of states with legalized marriage equality with a firm, unmistakable statement of support; it took a strong pro-gun-control stance before the tragedy that catapulted gun control back into the national conversation; and it’s poised to do even more with Betty-and-Veronica rival Cheryl Blossom having been ravaged by breast cancer and now starting up her own foundation to fight breast cancer.

I never thought I’d say this, but here it is:  I wish Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, Image Comics, and IDW had half the intestinal fortitude that Archie Comics does when it comes to addressing relevant social issues.

Life With Archie: the best-written and bravest comic book on the stands today.  Go read it, it’s brilliant.

VS – 1.6.13

Unhappy Trails: A Farewell to “Scalped”

Posted in book review, brilliance, comic books with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 13, 2012 by vagabondsaint

Holy crap, what a ride.

After five years and 60 issues, Jason Aaron and R. M. Guera’s noir masterpiece, Scalped, came to an end a couple of weeks ago with the release of Scalped:  Trail’s End, the tenth and final collection.

And just. . .wow.

There is s spoiler below, just so you know, but it’s given away at the end of the first issue.  If you absolutely can’t stand spoilers, stop reading this and go read Scalped.  It’s that good, just go read it instead of my craptastic review.  Everybody else, you’re going to be a little spoiled.

Scalped is the story of a Lakota reservation in South Dakota, seen through the eyes of its inhabitants, most notably: Lincoln Red Crow, the bloody-handed chief and community who wants nothing more than prosperity for his people at absolutely any price and may have killed some FBI agents in the 70s; Catcher, the enigmatic loner who still follows the old ways and has visions of their gods; reservation officer Falls Down, who may be the most (and nearly only) genuinely good person in the whole story, and Dino Poor Bear, a single father with a family that is physically and/or mentally ill and who wants nothing more than to leave the reservation once and for all.  Our protagonist, our guide to the reservation, the eyes that show us this poverty-ridden, drug- and alcohol-ravished community, is Dashiell Bad Horse.

Dashiell left the reservation – more to the point, was sent away from the reservation – 15 years ago by his mother. Dashiell returns seemingly for no apparent reason 15 years later, angry, full of piss and vinegar, and eagerly kicking the crap out of Lincoln Red Crow’s soldiers.  This of course gets him pulled into Red Crow’s office, who decides Dashiell Bad Horse would make a better soldier than an enemy, and because Dashiell’s mother, Gina Bad Horse, leads the protests against Red Crow’s soon-to-open casino.

So remember when I said that Red Crow might have killed some FBI agents in the 70s?  FBI Special Agent Bayliss Nitz certainly remembers, and will do anything he can to inflict pain and suffering on three of the people that were involved: Gina Bad Horse, Catcher, and Lincoln Red Crow.  Agent Nitz figures the best way to nail Red Crow is to send a mole onto the reservation and into Red Crow’s organization to find evidence of wrongdoing and nail Red Crow on murder charges.  His choice?

FBI Agent Dashiell Bad Horse.

And that’s where Scalped begins:  Dashiell returns to the rez, and is revealed (to the reader) as Nitz’s mole at the end of the first issue.  That’s the spoiler.

Believe it or not, being caught in the war between Red Crow and Nitz is pretty much the high point of Dashiell’s life for most of the series.  This is a story that takes its noir very seriously: each story arc, rather than presenting some happiness here, some sadness there, a problem, and a resolution basically boils down to the philosophy “things always get worse.”

And things always get worse.  Unrelentingly, unrepentantly, unmitigatedly worse.  Poor decisions are made, worse consequences follow, violence and drug addictions spiral out of control, body parts get lost, Red Crow’s hands only get bloodier the harder he tries to clean them, Dino Poor Bear falls in with a bad crowd, Falls Down falls down, Catcher starts losing his mind, and Dashiell. . .the shitstorm around Dashiell is just terrible.

And it’s still one of my favourite comic book series of all time.

Scalped wears its influences proudly.  You can see bits of old Westerns in the behaviours of some of the characters (especially Sheriff Karnow of the neighboring county in Nebraska, where rez people go to buy alcohol).  The dialogue, character complexity, and noir nature are deeply reminiscent of my favourite TV show ever, Deadwood, which Jason Aaron specifically cites an an influence and also took place in the Black Hills of South Dakota.  There is also a bit of Garth Ennis’s Preacher in the writing, which Aaron also cites an influence.

Speaking of that character complexity:  Aaron nails it very well here.  No one is pure.  People do bad things for good reasons and good things for bad reasons all the time in Scalped.  There are no real heroes or real villains; even Red Crow comes off a lot like Al Swearengen of Deadwood, doing bad things for the good of his people.

That’s what makes it  noir, and that’s what makes it good.  Guera’s art is a bit too dark at times; some scenes are difficult to make out, but that’s a small complaint to make in comparison to the rest of the fantastic work done on this series.

Best of all, the ending is neither overly sappy nor overly dark – it simply fits.  Consequences come back to haunt everybody in the end, and that’s really as it should be.  No one gets out with clean hands, and some do not make it out alive.    It’s a dark story, and glorious in its darkness.  It’s a simple story made wonderfully complex by its characters – just like life.

So why are you still here?  Go read Scalped.

Oh, by the way:  Scalped is violent.  Nearly everybody gets shot at least once, there are vicious beatings, stabbings, and horrific crimes committed by terrible people (also by well-meaning people).  If you can’t handle violence, this is most definitely not the story for you.

Hoka hey.

VS

Best Comics-Related News Story Of 2010

Posted in 2010 in review, brilliance, comic books with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 7, 2011 by vagabondsaint

The year of 2010 was filled with superhero-related new stories, as more movies, events, and merchandise based on comic books made their way to Hollywood and retail stores.

But the best story, to me, was about a character that had not, until December, appeared in a single comic book.

I’m sure you’ve heard of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, but in case you haven’t, here’s their deal:  they grant “wishes” for children with life-threatening medical conditions.  These wishes run the gamut from going to the US Open to being a pyrotechnician for Disneyland.  (My personal favourite was the wish for a pirate-ship playhouse; hell, I want one of those.)

Enter 13-year-old Erik Martin of Seattle.  Erik is living with cancer and had one wish:  he wanted to be a superhero.  One Thursday in April 2010, he got his wish.

The day began with a phone call from Spider-Man, who told Erik that the Seattle Sounders (our local soccer team) had been trapped in a locker room by the villainous team of “Dr. Dark” and “Blackout Boy.”  Erik was needed to defeat them in his alter ego of “Electron Boy.”  Taking up his provided costume and lightning rod, Erik was taken by his sidekick Moonshine Maid (who has an entirely different set of powers, several of them inappropriate for children, in the South) to Qwest Field (in a DeLorean, no less), where the Sounders were trapped in a locker room.  After freeing them with the aid of Lightning Lad (whom I hope was not forced to evade lawyers from DC Comics), Electron Boy posed for pictures and received an autographed ball and jerseys.

Good day, right?  And a good story?  Of course it is.  But it’s not even half over yet.

The Jumbotron sparked to life and showed the villains, cackling and taunting Electron Boy with pictures of a utility worker that they’d trapped in the top of his bucket truck.  Again, it was Electron Boy to the rescue, as he, with a 25-vehicle police escort, traveled to Bellevue to rescue the worker.  That job done, there was only one thing left to do: capture Dr. Dark and Blackout Boy!

After getting a tip that the villains were in the Space Needle and had trapped people on the observation deck, Electron boy and his team raced back to Seattle to free the trapped people and have a final showdown with Dr. Dark!

In the end, the villains defeated and Electron Boy stood triumphant, posing for pictures with the vanquished villains.  Electron Boy was presented with a key to the city and had the date of his adventures declared “Electron Boy Day” by the Seattle City Council. Said Erik, “This is the best day of my life.

Before you think, “Well, that was easy; you just get some people to dress up in costume and there you go,” well, you’re wrong.  This took hundreds of volunteers, some of them semi-famous (the Sounders themselves, and Dr. Dark and Blackout Boy were played by two of the stars of The Discovery Channel’s hit Deadliest Catch). The 25-vehicle police escort required off-duty officers to give their time and close I-90 and I-405 for brief periods.  It was a massive effort from local actors, police, politicians, and athletes to give one little boy his greatest wish.

And it was totally worth it.  If you read that story without at least getting a lump in your throat, you have no soul.

But it’s not over yet.

In December, Capstone Comics published a comic book of Erik’s adventures defending Seattle, with all proceeds going to Erik’s family.  As everybody knows, you haven’t made it as a superhero until you have your own comic book, and now Electron Boy has been immortalized in print.

There was definitely bigger news in comics, but nothing so heartwarming, touching, and providing such a positive statement on humanity in general and Seattle in particular as this story.  It should be obvious as to why this was my choice for Best Comics-Related News Story of 2010.

2011’s winner will probably be about the team of real-life superheroes running around the Seattle area, but the year is young, so who knows what will happen.

VS – 1.7.10

The Best Book You’re Probably Not Reading, #1

Posted in brilliance, comic books with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 10, 2010 by vagabondsaint

If you’re like me, or millions of other people out there, you probably spent at least a little bit of your childhood reading Archie comics.  Archie, for the 6 people out there who have no idea who I am talking about, is the red-headed all-American caucasian teenager growing up in the all-American small town of Riverdale, umm, Riverdale. . .okay, it’s never actually said what state Riverdale is in, but I’m gonna guess it’s not far from Springfield, where The Simpsons live, and only a couple hours west of Gotham City.  Hope that helps.  Anyway, Archie Andrews is has been in high school forever and is perpetually trapped in a love triangle between two unreasonably attractive women:  blond, girl-next-door-type beauty Betty Cooper, and rich-girl princess Veronica Lodge.  The comics have always been compilations of vignettes about his adventures with his best friend Jughead, romantic rival Reggie, and peripheral characters like ill-tempered and highly jealous Moose, Moose’s girlfriend Midge, Sabrina the Teenage Witch (yes, the one played by Melissa Joan Hart in the ’90s TV series), L’il Ambrose, supergenius Dilton, soda shop owner Pop Tate, and Chuck and Nancy, apparently the only people of colour that live in Riverdale.  The stories are always pretty basic, humourous, and the end of each story usually returned things to the status quo.

In case that got boring, though, there were always the spy stories of Archie as “The Man From R.I.V.E.R.D.A.L.E.”, Archie as superhero Pureheart the Powerful, The Mighty Archie Art players taking on Shakespeare and various other plays with a humourous take, et cetera. . .there were many variations of the character, but one thing remained constant: nobody ever grew up, nothing really ever changed.  Archie and friends never graduated, the 50s-style soda shop they frequented never closed down. . .in short, nothing real ever happened, and the comics were kept strictly divorced from whatever was going on in the real world.

Growing up, you probably read a little of these comics, maybe a lot.  But then you started changing, and Archie and company didn’t.  You sprouted hair in odd places and got funny feelings whenever non-familial members of the opposite sex (or, for some of you, the same sex) were around.  Archie never seemed to experience these things.  You had to start wearing deodorant; Archie never seemed to have body odor issues.  You faced all the myriad dramas of high school and found they didn’t end after five pages; Archie always had his problems solved in usually less than that and everything was cool again.  Archie never got drunk or hacked his lungs out trying to smoke a cigarette because he thought it would make him look cool.  Archie was only broke when it was funny; you learned the hard way it’s never funny to be broke.

In short, you grew up.  Archie and his friends did not.

So you left them behind, probably without even so much as a wave.  that’s how it’s been for the past 60 or so years of Archie:  he never changes.

Until this year.

Earlier this year, Archie comics ran a six-issue miniseries in the pages of Archie called “Archie Marries Betty/Archie Marries Veronica,” in which Archie walks down a strange path and is shown a future in which he married Veronica.  After three issues of that, Archie walks back down the path, takes a different fork, and is shown a future in which he married Betty instead. (I haven’t read this story yet, but I may buy the trade paperback when it comes out.)  It was a well-received story that got a lot of media coverage, but ultimately, it wasn’t real and Archie comics went back to their static world.

Sometime between then and now, Archie had his first interracial relationship with Nancy (there really weren’t any other black people in town besides Chuck, and I don’t think comic readers are ready for Archie to go black and bi at the same time), which was a bit of a long-overdue shock, but also a sign that maybe Archie’s world was opening up to the changing face of America and different societal attitudes towards interracial relationships.  It’s not much of a step for ward for Archie – really, that’s just taking him from the 50s to the 70s – but it’s a step nonetheless.

After that, someone had the idea to introduce a gay character to Archie’s world (the first openly gay character; Pop Tate’s always been in the closet), and so, that happened this year, a sign that Riverdale is becoming more diverse (and more fabulous!)  That was pretty recent, so we’ll see how that goes over with Archie’s fan base, most of whom may be asking their parents some uncomfortable questions soon. (To be fair, I did have some people that don’t normally buy Archie comics buy the issue debuting the new gay character.  I hope they do right by those new fans.)

And finally, someone at Archie Comics Publications headquarters said, “Hey, what if we kept telling the story of Archie being married, in two separate stories?  And we made it a lot like a soap opera?  And Mr. Lodge, Veronica’s dad, was a prick in both worlds?”

Ergo, Life with Archie: The Married Life, the best book you’re probably not reading.  In Life with Archie, Archie has finally followed you into adulthood. . .and found that life sucks.

Life with Archie contains two serial stories: one of Archie’s life being married to Veronica, one in which he is married to Betty.  While you might think this is the same thing as the miniseries I mentioned before, there is a difference, one I won’t discuss here so as not to give out spoilers.

To not give away too much, Life with Archie is the BESTEST MOST AWESOME ARCHIE BOOK I’VE EVER READ. This is a more mature book, though minus the more mature language and sex, keeping it still safe for more mature kids.

In the first serial story, Archie’s married to Veronica, wealthy, and unhappy – his wife is his boss and too busy with work and her father to pay much attention to him, he’s in charge of ruining the soda shop so Mr. Lodge can buy it cheap, his best friend won’t talk to him, and there’s nothing he can do about it.  His friends aren’t doing much better:  Midge left Moose because of his temper and jealousy, Jughead is fighting a losing battle to keep the soda shop afloat, Reggie works for Veronica and hates it, Betty is lonely and miserable, Dilton has mysteriously disappeared, and Mr. Lodge is secretly buying up the city as fast as he can to put up shopping malls and condos (okay, that part kind of has a populist-leaning edge to it – the wealthy millionaire as greedy, heartless money-grubbing developer – that’s all too close to the real world; if you live in Seattle or most other major cities you know exactly what I’m talking about). . .this is not the happy and unchanging rainbow-laden Riverdale you remember.  It’s roughly 3 million times better.  Yes, it’s a fresh coat of soap-opera paint on old Riverdale, but Archie wears it so well that you won’t care.

Between the two stories lies a vale of ‘tween-age crap that you’re better off skipping over and forgetting you ever saw.

In the second story, Archie marries Betty and is. . .also miserable.  He’s just miserable and poor, which is always worse than being miserable and rich.  Archie and Betty have moved to New York, so that Betty can work in the fashion world and Archie can make a go of his music career. . .which of course didn’t happen.  Archie can’t get decent gigs to save his life, and Betty, who works at Sacks 6th Avenue, has to take a pay cut in order to keep her job, when her earnings already were barely keeping them afloat.  Back in Riverdale, Jughead is having a hard time keeping the soda shop afloat, Moose has been dumped but he’s not ready to let Midge go yet, Reggie’s broke and unemployed, Chuck and Nancy are encountering difficulties in keeping their comic book shop going, and their old high shcool teacher Mrs. Grundy is dying of cancer, a revelation that causes the principal to propose to her. . .and Dilton has mysteriously vanished while studying parallel universes.

And that’s all in the first issue.

The second issue of Life with Archie is filled with even more twists and catches; there’s a happy scene in the “Archie Marries Betty” side that seems great. . .until the next page makes you realize that lifting your arms to cheer good news only makes it easier to get punched in the gut by bad news.

As Bill Ellis (one of my English professors) would say, “It’s good stuff!

And indeed it is.  It’s so good, in fact, that I was interrupted while raving about it to a customer in the shop I work in by another customer who said, “I’m sorry, I know you weren’t talking to me, but you just totally sold me on that book.  Where is it?”

If you have any fondness at all for Archie and his friends, you have to read Life with Archie.  You owe it to yourself to see how well Archie has grown up, and how fascinating this trip into soap-opera real-life drama is.

If you don’t have any fondness for Archie, read it anyway.  It’s solidly-written and drawn in an art style that’s a beautiful homage to the late, great, definitive-yet-tragically-underappreciated Archie Comics artist, Dan DeCarlo.

Basically, go buy the book.  Now.  It’s worth it.

VS – 9.11.10

Cirque du Soleil Kooza: A Brief And Overpriced Review

Posted in brilliance with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 2, 2010 by vagabondsaint

So, last night (July 1st), I went to see Cirque du Soleil: Kooza, currently playing at Marymoor Park in Redmond, just east of Seattle.  I went with my 9-year-old daughter, as the tickets were my Father’s Day present.  It was the best Father’s Day present I’ve ever gotten, and yet it was also the most expensive for me, due to the ABOMINABLE PRICE GOUGING.  Let me say now that the HORRENDOUS PRICE-GOUGING did not in anyway detract from the show itself, which was more incredibly freaking awesome than the human brain can tolerate.  I recommend buying the DVD of the performance, because there’s no way you’ll be able to remember all of the unbelievable feats of acrobatics and gymnastics that you’re going to see.  You will, however, have no problem remembering the TERRIFYING PRICE-GOUGING.

Before I talk about the show itself, let me take a few minutes to discuss the RELENTLESS PRICE-GOUGING that occurred every step of the way, from parking to seating.  In fact, I’ll just give you an itemized list:

  1. Parking that was less than half a mile away from the door: $15 (Dear Downtown Seattle:  I will not complain about your high parking lot prices ever again for a long time for at least a month.)
  2. One hot dog that was clearly the runt of the litter, one large popcorn, one “souvenir cup” orange Fanta: $16.20
  3. One souvenir program that was only 1/2 advertisements: $13
  4. One hat ($19, but it was a really cute hat for my daughter), one DVD of a previous Kooza performance ($25,) two buttons ($1 each), one pencil ($2): including tax, $51
  5. Gummi Bears, Peanut M&Ms, 20 oz. Minute Maid Pink Lemonade: $12
  6. Gas getting there and back: $12 (I can’t blame them for that one, though)

So, if you’re keeping track, I’ve already spent $109.20, thanks to the GODAWFUL PRICE-GOUGING, and haven’t even seen the show yet.  I spent nearly as much as was spent for the tickets.  I swear, going to see DMB at the Gorge is actually cheaper (including gas), but let’s see those guys do high-wire acts.  I haven’t had a date that expensive since the one that earned me a daughter, and even then only if the price is adjusted for all subsequent costs.

Okay, enough about the MULE-CHOKING PRICE GOUGING. On to the show itself.

After the PRICE-GOUGING THAT MADE BABY JESUS CRY, we found our seats and waited for the show to begin.  Clowns and performers did various sketches in and with the crowd while we waited for the show to begin; one gave my daughter a balloon sceptre with a heart on top that was very cute (and free, which made the DANGEROUSLY VIRULENT PRICE GOUGING a little easier to take).  They even chided members of the audience that were late arriving (“Eight o’clock looks like THIS!” said one clown, spreading his arms in mimicry of a clock.)  Then the show began.

Kooza is the story of a young, innocent clown, who is just trying to fly his kite and having no luck when a Trickster appears (in the most awesome pimp suit imaginable) and uses his powerful wand to whisk the boy away to Kooza, a land of many mysterious and magnificent wonders.  The Trickster takes the boy to meet the King and his two clowns (one of whom has a leg-humping addiction) and see the many sights of Kooza.

Where to begin?  The dancers/tumblers were great in their own right, but warm-ups for what followed.  The band and the singers performed excellently, and I may be in love with one of the singers.  Let me also mention now that the costumers for this show deserve every praise that can be heaped upon their heads; the costumes were always elaborate, always stunning, and eye-catching without being distracting.  They were as fantastic and colourful as the world they were supposed to represent, and I fervently hope the costumers get their fair share of the CORONARY-INDUCING PRICE GOUGING money.

The first jaw-dropping, eyes-widening, heart-stopping moments for me, though, came with the contortionists, two ladies who are either quadruple-jointed or do not actually have bones.  I didn’t think human bodies could be bent that way even once, let alone repeatedly, and still survive; I do believe that, during their performance, several chiropractors fainted.  The part that sticks out most in my mind is one of the ladies, who I may also have fallen in love with, doing the familiar breakdance move “The Helicopter,” in which a person rotates their legs in the air from side to side while also rolling their upper body on the ground.  Imagine that, but imagine the upper part of the body not moving at all, laying fixed upon the ground as the legs spin around and even touch the ground in what appears to be a demented, but fascinating, lower-body tarantella, pivoting 360 degrees at the spine.  Seriously, get the DVD, because my feeble description does not do it justice.

This act was followed by the trapeze artist, a lady who also claimed a fair stake in my romantic future by sheer dint of having far more testicular fortitude than I ever could possess.  My daughter assured me that she could do some of the moves this lady did, and I’m sure she could given her gymnastics training, but as a father I could never allow her to try until cybernetic replacement body parts become widely available.

Next came the unicycle duo, about whom I will say this:  any man who can ride a unicycle in a steady circle while spinning a woman about his head and shoulders is a man I will never, ever f@$% with.  Not even if he was directly responsible for the APOCALYPTIC PRICE GOUGING.

The last act of the first half was the double high-wire act, and, as any good high-wire act should make happen, this one stopped my heart a few times.  It’s one thing to stand still on a high wire with a pole to help your balance; it’s quite another to be the guy who has to leapfrog over the first guy and land on your feet.  (He blew it the first time and spun around the rope, but nailed it the second.  I often wondered if the “mistakes” were intentional and designed to heighten the tension; if so, they worked very very well.) And it’s another thing all together to be the guy that has to stand on a chair balanced on a pole held up by two people riding bicycles that are balanced on the tightrope.  That caused some breathless moments too.

At the end of this, the innocent naive clown gets hold of the Trickster’s wand, and manages to use its power in the exact wrong way; as the Trickster laughs maniacally, the world of Kooza is plunged into darkness, and the first half ends.

I should mention that between the acts, while the stage crew is doing setups and such, or even just to fill breaks, the King and his jesters are on stage, performing hilarious acts of silliness and performing magic tricks with the audience.  The balloon-gifting clown also reappears, being pursued by the police (who would also be wise to investigate the CRIME-AGAINST-HUMANITY PRICE GOUGING going on outside); there is also a pickpocket/magician providing entertainment as well, when he is not being pursued by the police.

Second half.  Kooza has been plunged into a dark, nightmare world; the King and his jesters are chased away by an army of rats and the dancers/tumblers, brightly clad in red and white in the first half, are now dressed as skeletons with an awesome fashion sense and led by a Skeleton King in a pimp suit every bit as awesome as the Trickster’s, but a lot more sparkly.  After some dancing and tumbling, we finally come to the act that truly took my breath away banished all thoughts of THE PRICE GOUGING MOMMA WARNED YOU ABOUT:  The Wheel Of Death.

The Wheel Of Death is actually two wheels, joined by struts and suspended around a suspended floating axis.  The wheels are hollow, allowing someone to stand inside of each as they rotate, and you’ll come to realize it is their motion that dictates the revolutions of the wheel.  Then you’ll forget about science the first time you see them jump inside of the wheels as they rotate and realize they could very easily fall to a messy death.  It’s an incredible feat of balance and motion and rotation that is only matched in spectacle by the point at which they stand on top on the wheels, riding them around and jumping rope on them in a heart-stopping, breathtaking, jaw-dropping, eye-popping, physics-defying display of gymnastics and. . .hell with it, just buy the DVD already.  It will really just blow your mind.

The Hoop Mistress came next, and really, seeing a woman that’s able to rotate several hoops around different parts of her body at different speeds is just incredible.  She’d make one hell of a dance partner, and I may be in love with her as well.  At the very least, I want her to be my date to the next hula-hoop contest I go to, and if you thought you were hot s#!^ for getting 1000 spins on Wii Fit, she’ll make you feel really really bad.

After the hoops, the chair-balancing act, and I have to give that guy a lot of credit for both being willing to get up on a 30-foot-high stack of chairs and for wearing a sumo diaper while being the size of Bruce Lee.  He was good, but just not as breathtaking as some of the other acts were.

Last, but certainly not least, was the teeter-totter board, which was a see-saw put to gymnastic use.  Tumblers were launched onto pyramids, off of pyramids, through the air. . .and as difficult as that looked, imagine people doing it on stilts and landing standing up – on stilts.  It was, well, awesome.  Their costumes, it should be noted, reflect the brighter colours of the first half of the show, signifying, I think, that the darkness wrought by the innocent clown is finally wearing off.

At the end, the young clown bids farewell to Kooza and returns to his own world, albeit with a new crown, courtesy of the King, and a new, much more colourful kite that he now can actually get to fly.  Maybe a little thin on story, but on performance, there’s no beating it.

Kooza was awesome, incredible, fantastic, unbelievable, smooth, breathtaking. . .every adjective I can throw at it.  It was the best circus of any sort I’ve ever seen, and one of the best parts is that there wasn’t a single mistreated animal within miles of the place (unless you count the contortionists’ spines).  If you have a minimum $200 to spare, and don’t mind GIANT ALBACORE PRICE GOUGING, I heartily, fully, and fervently recommend going to see Cirque du Soleil: Kooza.

VS – 7.2.10

A Great Voice From The Greatest Generation

Posted in brilliance, politics with tags , , , , , , on October 22, 2009 by vagabondsaint

For those of you that don’t know, a battle has erupted in Maine.  The state legalized gay marriage earlier this year, and immediately, one of those reactionary, backwards, right-wing organizations of insecure people who somehow feel their rights are threatened when other people are given the same rights started a ballot initiative to overturn the legalization of gay marriage in Maine.  This has turned into a huge campaign, with the same backers as the people that supported Proposition 8 last year in California. Hell, they didn’t even bother to change commercial scripts. (Why pay the writers twice for the same message?  It makes financial sense, at least.)

I am, in fact, a supporter of gay marriage.  I could make an impassioned plea on behalf of gay friends and relatives about justice and equality.  Instead, I’ll let Philip Spooner, a decorated World War II veteran and lifelong Republican, make a better case than I ever could.

I salute you, Mr. Spooner.

VS – 10/22/09

P.S.  An interesting aside:  over the weekend, I overheard a Mormon friend explaining how her babysitter quit because of the church’s support of Proposition 8.  Her defense?  “The Mormon Church wasn’t the biggest supporter, nor did it put in the most money.”  She either didn’t hear me or ignored me when I said “But it was a supporter.”  To me, her argument was like saying, “Well, I wasn’t the highest-ranking klansman, I wasn’t the most muscular klansman, and I wasn’t the richest klansman. . .but I helped keep minorities down anyway.”  Then again, she had already offended me not ten minutes earlier, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by anything else ignorant coming from her. . .not that I’ll hear it, because that friendship is pretty much over.