Friday, May 31, 2013

Catchy Single or Nostalgia Taken Too Far? A Critical Examination of Ariania Grande's "The Way" featuring Mac Miller

There was a song I kept hearing on the radio that at first I thought must be some old Mariah Carey song from the 90's or early 00's. Then I got to thinking about how I didn't recognize the rapper's voice, and instead of sounding quite like a Mariah Carey song, it sounded as if a slightly higher-pitch voice was in fact singing--and that piano riff was way too reminiscent of the classic Big Pun song, "Still Not A Player" for me to ignore. Here's a video of the song in all its 90's-feeling glory:

Therefore, I did a bit of digging and lo and behold I discovered that, "The Way" is the title of the song and it is in fact sung by some young lady named Ariana Grande. Grande is apparently a popular teen-star on Nickelodeon. She's almost 20 so the songs I was reminded of this new jam sounding like would have been on the radio while she was in diapers or quite possibly before she was born--God, I feel old, and I'm just 25.  The rapper is a slightly-older (aged 21) gentleman named Mac Miller and has been rapping since he was a teenager, so kudos to him for having good-if-not-great raps.

So, let's step back and examine what we have here. A young singer with a wide vocal range on a catchy R&B single with a guest rapper providing some rhymes. I can't be the only one getting flashbacks to Mariah Carey's stuff? Seriously, let's just examine the "Fantasy" remix with the ever-incredible and still-missed Ol' Dirty Bastard:

Interesting, wouldn't you say? I'm not the only person to notice how old-school this sounds, and it gets me wondering, is this nostalgia taken too far?

Let's give this thing the benefit of the doubt first. This song maybe isn't just a cash-in on older folk's nostalgia and young kid's love of bubbly pop, perhaps it genuinely is being done as a sort of homage to the old songs it is reminiscent of? It states at the start it is intentionally going "way back," so that must mean something? Plus, Mac Miller actually spits the line, "I'm not a player, I just crush a lot (although the video edits out "crush" for some reason)," as if he wants us to know how he is aware that piano riff sounds straight outta the original joint. Ariana at the end of the track does some high-pitched wailing as Mariah would often engage in at the end of a song, too. Yeah, maybe this a true tribute piece? Eh, its probably just cashing in on my and other folk's love of things from the past, AKA nostalgia.

Nostalgia can be a dangerous thing. Anyone of a certain age longs for the things of their youth. Just as I feel the music of the 90's and very early 00's had the best rap and rock, in a few years when kids are my age they will fondly recall the days of LMFAO and Taylor Swift while dismissing the new music as dull noise.* That makes this song interesting, because while it clearly appeals to today's youth it also is something I find myself really liking. I know I should be offended at this faux-90's song, which is basically taking old things I like and repackaging them for a new generation...but isn't that a lot of today's entertainment?
The New Star Treks. Playing to older fans' nostalgia and the eagerness of younger fans to see stuff blow up, but in the end still making something decent.
How many movies are remakes, reboots, or at the very least liberally borrow from past films? How much of the original rap music I so love wasn't just sampling other beats to create something new? Let's think this over, and it becomes apparent we can't be too mad at this song for existing--it merely is continuing the time-honored trend of taking old things, polishing them up, and giving them to us as new. Plus it is just so damn catchy.

"The Way" is most likely not so much a tribute to classic tracks as it is a somewhat soulless cash-in on nostalgia and kid's today not knowing how unoriginal this song is. Even if this is just the cynical use of a teen starlet the youth love to sell as many iTunes singles as possible, I can't deny that the part of me that longs for those old days really likes this song. It may be an imitation of the old good stuff with a slightly weaker singer and decent-enough rapper, but I guess due to nostalgia I'll accept even "substitute" meat instead of the real stuff--with meat in this case being quality music. This may be nostalgia taken to a dangerous extreme, and I may be embarrassed to say it, but I really like this song and how it makes me feel young again. I guess I'll just put this on the list of my guilty pleasures.

*Side Note: This isn't the complete case, as while I do tend to prefer music from when I was a youth, I still quite enjoy some modern acts and really adore a variety of quite old stuff that predates me by decades, e.g. Miles Davis is the bomb. Still, other than some notable enjoyment of much older music and some new music, the majority of my favorite stuff is indeed from when I was a teenager and child.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Super-Hero as an Aryan Ideal, Jewish Power-Fantasy, and the Question of the Lack of Muslim Super-Heroes

The super-hero seems too often be written about as the Aryan ideal--you know, the Ubermensch AKA Super-Man. He is the epitome of all that is good, white, and Christian. However, I've read in some literature another theory I can agree with, namely that the super-hero often has been a Jewish power-fantasy.

Back in the late 1930s and through much of the following decades, as super-heroes grew in popularity Jews were making these characters (Siegel and Shuster were sons of Jewish immigrants, Stan Lee was originally named Stanely Martin Lieber, the list goes on). Back in those times a Jewish person couldn't get much work because people wouldn't hire them (or the Irish, Chinese, Black folk, or basically anyone who wasn't White and Protestant). Therefore, you got Jews in the few fields they could work in with one being writing and drawing comic books. Characters were imagined who in their "normal" identity were taken advantage of or mocked, but these characters could change. Change into something super.

These fictional beings could become a super-hero everyone looked up to. They transformed from their weak civilian identity into the "mainstream" ideal so that they could be accepted, even worshiped in a way. They had to keep their true-self secret, however. Then there were Jews who would change their name, act a certain way, and hope to be accepted by Christian society, all while hiding their "secret identity" of being a Jew. The common theme is apparent. Imagine being a Jew back in 1938. You would be insulted, spit on, and called names--but if you could simply duck into a phone-booth and become the uber-gentile it would be a power that the greatest effort would be expended on keeping a secret.
A quick change of identity and suddenly you're accepted and loved.
Nowadays within America Jews are more accepted (for the most part), but the Muslim population of our nation sure isn't. Simply being Muslim has you eyed with suspicion or threatened with attack in much of America. People don't really understand Islam well in the US other than from limited exposure to the culture in the media--and most of that coverage is quite negative. The US hasn't had a ton of a Muslim population until the more recent decades, so just as other groups were persecuted or feared when they first came to America such treatment is now being given to Muslims. With the way Muslims in the US are being treated I've known some followers of Islam who keep it quite secret. This raises the idea that the Jewish power fantasy of a super-hero could just as easily be thought up by Muslims. Therefore, where are the Islam-inspired super-heroes?

Is it the general lack of Muslim writers and artists in comics that contributes of the dearth of Muslim characters? Yes within DC we have the new Green Lantern Simon Baz and Bilal Asselah AKA "Nightrunner" whom was introduced in "Batman Inc.", plus Marvel has Dr. Faiza Hussain to name one Islamic hero, but all of these characters have been introduced somewhat recently, and if we look back in time there are Muslim characters in comic books but they aren't always portrayed in the best light (it is sad but not shocking to see Muslim villains outnumber Muslim heroes on a database that tracks the religion of various super-heroes). Publishers who aren't necessarily big-names have made super-heroes too--just look to "The 99" for an example of this--but when it comes to the popular US comics full of character and continuity that people love the sad truth is you won't see much of any Muslim representation. Besides the general lack of Muslim writers and artists what else is a potential issue?

Could it be that the idea of how the Jewish superhero wanted to pose as a gentile makes the idea of a super-hero being openly Muslim counter-intuitive? Openly-Jewish super-heroes such as Kitty Pride or Ben Grimm often have faced discrimination, Magneto himself suffered through the Holocaust due to his Jewish and Roma background. Wouldn't the troubles Jewish characters face in a world that is supposedly more accepting of them make it even more likely a Muslim hero want to keep their beliefs under wraps, one would wonder? For some time readers were never told Ben Grimm (of the Fantastic Four) was Jewish, he kept it secret more or less. How many other heroes could be secretly Muslim but not reveal it (for example sometimes-member of the X-Men, "Monet," pointed out she is Muslim much to the surprise of the current team she is with, X-Factor. Are there heroes just waiting for the right writer to discuss that yes, this character is Muslim--or introduce a new Muslim character?
Ben Grimm on the left, Monet on the right, "coming out" about their religions.
Part of the reason we may not have writers doing this is they don't understand Islam. This leads to the thought of how if popular culture helped Jews gain acceptance through mediums as varied as television, movies, and comic books, comics could be used as such a tool to introduce Islam to people in way that makes it less scary and more normal in the eyes of the "mainstream" American, but due to a lack of knowledge from the writers it just isn't being done. Comics could show that just as while there are some crazy Christians but most are fine, the majority of Muslims are as pleasant as your Jewish or Protestant neighbor.

The debut of Baz in "Green Lantern" was arguably such a big deal because while there have been some Muslim heroes, being a Green Lantern means you are "known" super-hero to popular culture instead of just being another small-time comic character only dedicated fans of DC, Marvel etc. know about. To be a Green Lantern means you possess great will and the ability to face fear, and when it feels like you are more likely to see a Muslim portrayed as terrible monster in popular culture, having a character who fights against fear is in some ways a big step forward against the scare-tactics our media and politicians have generated within the US about Islam.
Simon Baz
In some ways it is apparent how writer Geoff Johns was aware of the cultural views of Islam, as within the first issue of Green Lantern where we meet Baz he accused of being a terrorist due to being in the wrong place, at the wrong time, with the "wrong" religion for America. It also makes sense that once Baz gains the Green Lantern ring it causes a panic among America's security forces, because it reflects how in real-life if someone who followed Islam gained powers much of American society would probably have a fear of him or her wreaking havoc and trying to force Sharia Law on everyone (whereas if a white person in our country gained powers everyone's biggest concern would probably be what color spandex he or she should have for their new hero-costume).

The lack of Muslim super-heroes in US culture is not necessarily indicative of xenophobia or an anti-Islam sentiment  but it sure doesn't help counter the negative perception of Muslims that often seems to be pervasive within America. If a hero whom is Muslim can be as accepted as our Christian heroes, Jewish heroes, or heroes of any other religion that may be a sign of progress.  Just as Jews over time were able to take their "secret identity" public, perhaps before too long Muslims in America will be able to do so also without fear of persecution. Maybe with some more characters like Simon Baz things can be better in America for those who follow Islam. After all, if comics both influence and reflect popular culture, having a hero whom is Muslim make people as excited as one whom is any other religion is a positive thing.

 Perhaps it'll just take time, but wouldn't it be nice if instead of decades as it took the Jews to gain acceptance in America, those who were Muslim could feel welcome in the US in a matter of years? Those of us who want happiness and love for all can dream...

Side-Note: Thanks to Farah Wardani of the Indonesian Visual Art Archive for feedback on this big essay of an article. She can be found on twitter at @farahwardani.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Today is my Birthday, I'm 25!

Hello readers of my blog! Today is my birthday and I am officially a quarter of a century years-old! Hooray!
I found this t-shirt design on the internet, I sadly don't have enough time to have the shirt made
I already did a big ol' post of remembering stuff when I hit 700 pieces so I'll spare you the nostalgia. I just wanted to share how it was my birthday so that you could all mentally hug me with your well-wishes.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

My Girlfriend and I Share Our Reviews On "Injustice: Gods Among Us"

As I am a fan of doing, I bought and played a video-game some time ago around when it came out--and as she is a fan of doing, my girlfriend watched me play. That game was the popular DC-heroes-fight title, "Injustice: Gods Among Us". I shall now share our thoughts.

Main Thoughts
The basic plot of the game is that this is a universe where the Joker tricked Superman into murdering his wife, Lois Lane (who was pregnant with their baby), and Superman proceeded to kill the Joker and basically use his rage as an excuse to take over the world. This universe's Batman hates all of this of course so he brings the DC heroes from the "normal" world (which seems to be a pre NU52 one as Green Arrow is like his old self) to try and help fix things. This "fixing" is done through lots and lots of fighting.

I thought the game had a plot that was very silly, and threw in excuses for random fights, but I still found it fun. Samii felt that the game started out kind of stupid but while the fighting was dull the story bits were so absurd and silly sometimes that the game ended up being pretty fun. This is a game where Aquaman's special move involves his opponent getting eaten by a shark, so it isn't a stretch to say this is a silly title. As Samii isn't versed in the DC-lore that much, it is worth noting she was able to follow along pretty well as someone who doesn't know a ton about the heroes outside of the basic stuff--Superman is really powerful, Green Lantern flies and makes green objects, etc.
I enjoyed the segments where I would play the fights, which is saying something as usually I am not too good at fighting games. I cannot memorize all the combos and make the super-fast button presses required to do all those crazy "juggles" or whatever, but I can mash the buttons and still be pleased that the fights look cool regardless of how good or bad I am at fighting games. Samii actually cared for the fights the least as it would get old to see the same locales with the same folk smacking each other around--she did find the level transitions when a character knocks one into another "zone" hilarious though (nothing beats watching someone get thrown through an office building). While Samii wasn't too big on the fights themselves she did (as I mentioned) like the aforementioned cinema scenes that would occur. They were silly but interesting, and you grow to care about these alternate-universe heroes and villains and their troubles--except for Superman. At first the alternate-Superman seems a bit easy to empathize with, but over the time of the game he becomes more and more hilariously over-the-top evil that by the end of your play-through you are happy when the "good" Superman from another dimension beats-up this evil one.

It is worth noting how the game is kind of short, taking me all of six or so hours to beat, but the idea is you will do the fun mini-modes with various challenges or play against other players online so I suppose there is plenty of replay-value for those who want to do more fighting and don't care as much about seeing the story.

As as side note I thought I would mention how in a clever example of marketing and story-telling, there is currently an "Injustice" comic book which is a prequel to the game and fills in a few plot-points this game just makes reference to. It can be bought digitally and also has a paper-version coming out. This comic existing is both good and bad because the comic has been pretty decent, but I kind of wish the game would show more of--SPOILERS--How the one universe's Green Arrow died and how Batman's son Damian became Nightwing and sided with Superman after killing Dick Grayson--END OF SPOILERS. As things are though, it is still a fun story even if it is a bit mindless--sort of like the game.

While I found the fighting in the game interesting and challenging (while also staying fun), that was the part of the game that actually bored Samii the most. I suppose this is worth buying when the price goes down or renting from one of those Redbox kiosks.

My Review: 3.5 out of 5
Samii's Review: 3 out of 5 

Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Xbox One Looks Disappointing

The Xbox One had a big reveal this week, and if Microsoft had any particular sort of plan things definitely did not go according to it. Seriously, after hearing about the Xbox One people started actually buying more Wii U devices, Gamestop saw their stock-shares plunge, Playstation fans were saying Sony actually was going about things smartly with the PS4, and everyone's first-born son died overnight. Okay, that last one is an example of me exaggerating. However, pretty much everyone on the internet is saying Microsoft botched this whole thing, big time. Yeah, not a good time for Microsoft.
One of countless memes making fun of the Xbox One, I'll explain what it's talking about shortly.
What is causing all of this vitriol from the press, gamers, and basically anyone except employees at Microsoft? Perhaps it is the issue of how for a gaming console we have seen barely anything about games outside a few brief mentions of titles and some images of a cute dog in the new "Call of Duty".  Maybe it is the fact Microsoft has said that while the Xbox One doesn't have to always be online, it has to be connected quite often for seemingly innocent sounding, "checks". I suppose these checks are necessary to make sure you aren't playing any borrowed games--that's right, Xbox One basically shuts down the whole idea of loaning your game to a friend so they can try it out, or selling your used game on Amazon--but don't worry, because retailers will still apparently will be able to sell you used Xbox One games by just paying a fee to Microsoft and the game's publisher, one that theoretically won't affect you until stores start charging extra for used games to make up for this cost. What about all those old Xbox 360 games you own, will those have any weird new draconian rules affecting them? Good news, they won't! Why, you may ask? Well, because this new Xbox doesn't play all your old 360 games. Progress!
Basically, I can bring a game to a friend's house, it installs itself on their console and let them play it as long as it is signed-in to my account, but the moment I leave, that game is inaccessible data unless my friend pays a price to buy it--never-mind Kindle somewhat solved the question of how to go about "loaning" digitial goods some time ago by making it you so you can transfer the digital "rights" to a friend for at least a period of time (but of course this makes it harder for Microsoft to make a profit from used games).

I may be getting some of this wrong about used games, and internet connectivity, but it is not my fault things are vague--Microsoft has been the reason. They have been annoying vague in answering questions with mumbles and non-answers to things they should have realized would immediately be asked. When folk asked if the PS4 had to be online the answer was a simple, "No, unless a game's publisher requires it [such as for an online game I suppose]." Why couldn't Microsoft give a "Yay" or "Nay" to these absurdly easy questions? Perhaps because they were too busy promoting how now you can use your Xbox to watch TV with handy voice-commands (as long as you have a cable box, so don't get excited) and possibly even get achievements for it! Plus you can interrupt your TV time by Skyping a friend while watching the big game to annoy them about how their team sucks! The question becomes how this stuff nobody asked for is possible, and the answer is even more horrendous! Well, the Kinect 2.0 theoretically is always watching you, which is great for when you're naked and accidentally make a Skype call to Grandma!
Don't mind me, just take your clothes, slower

I have so far described a terrible way to handle used games, the creepy idea of how your Xbox could always be watching you and your friends, how now you can watch TV by yelling at instead of simply picking up a remote, and of course that there is a cute dog (not everything is bad). Upon hearing all this do you feel excited for the Xbox One? I sure don't, and unless Sony reveals an equally-horrendous used-games scheme, decides we have to always be online, or starts encouraging us to not mind an ever-watching camera in our living-room, I'm thinking the PS4 is the way to go, or even a Wii U despite how terrible things were going for it until the Xbox One came into the picture and made it look good.
Lastly, please note that I own both a PS3 and Xbox 360 and am not biased toward one or the other. I have played the PS3 more however because online multiplayer is free for most games as opposed to Xbox requiring a "Xbox Live" subscription. Other than that, I consider both consoles to be of a great quality and hold no ill feelings toward Microsoft or Sony. Therefore, I didn't say all those mean things about the Xbox One out of spite, but as a form of tough love so that Microsoft gets their stuff together before this thing comes out and makes everyone really sad.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Half Comics, Half Art-Pieces, All Awesome AKA A Review of "NEGRON"

Jonny Negron (note how that's not a typo, there is a lack of "h" in his spelling of "Jonny") has been around for a bit in the independent comics scene making strips and art pieces. He has contributed to various magazines and comic anthologies but to my knowledge the publication of "NEGRON" marks his first truly solo book. Negron is a masterful illustrator of male characters and action, with the strip "Violence City" and its fighting-game-esque antics being a big part of this 80-page, glossy-paper book. However, it is his work drawing the female form that has garnered him much attention because of how he doesn't hesitate to draw beautiful, fully-figured women. Observe a piece from the book:
 While many comic-strips or pin-ups show the slimmest of females within their pages, Negron  prefers to draw more larger-bodied women. You could say he is more realistic, but these women are still quite curvy, and wear clothing and makeup best described as "technicolor" by fashion-writer Annie K who styled herself after Negron's women for an article to dramatic effect. His females still have somewhat exaggerated proportions (large bust, prominent hind-quarters/bottoms) but in their hyper-realism they are just all the more gorgeous and still relatively rare in an industry that (with hero-comics at least) seems to prefer its female characters have improbable physical attributes to go with their impossible super-powers. Negron has shown he can draw slimmer women, but why would he when he can make works like this next one?
This above image is so packed with sexual and symbolic imagery it is mind-blowing  You have a metaphorical Eve holding the forbidden apple whilst a small snake crawls up her leg as a phallic symbol and the large snake-man hiding in the brush behind tempts her. It is clever, beautiful, and otherwise just one awesome piece within the comic. Just for fun let's look at another illustration of a pretty lady:
As I said however, Negron can illustrate a variety of things, and the strips within his self-titled book do not disappoint either. The aforementioned "Violence City" is a treat in its stark dark colors and exaggerated violence. A scene:
Negron is quite simply amazing and this book is a wonderful assortment of his work--albeit by no means a complete collection so much as a smattering of some of his popular stuff. This is definitely worth a purchase and you should go to Picturebox's website (they are the publisher) and buy a copy. In the meantime I also would encourage you to check out Jonny Negron's tumblr to see more of his great work.
5 out of 5 stars.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Afternoon Rant-Reviews--Some DC, Boom, Image, and Other Indie Comics

As I spent the morning discussing Marvel comics, I thought it would make sense to now discuss some of the other varied stuff I've enjoyed/had to endure lately.

3 New Stories
Dash Shaw is a fabulous artist, and even if these three new stories are mostly just funny weird yarns it still is a pleasure to read them. As these are short tales you get nothing as expansive or insanely complex as his other works, but sometimes bite-sized chunks of an otherwise gigantic meal can be satisfying in their own way too.
4 out of 5 stars.

Storm Dogs #5
David Hine is a great writer and this mixture of sci-fi and police procedural is fascinating stuff which proves his skill. In the span of these five issues I care so much about these characters and really hope this sells well enough to get more "seasons" as it is stated by Hine he is eager to do. Plus, the book does a spectacular job asking questions that make you think, be it about sexuality and gender, or what it means to try and "save" a culture by basically destroying it (in this case that culture being all the native aliens our team encounters). Superb stuff even if all the plots being juggled can result in one needing to slow down and think about everything that is going on--but is it ever a bad thing if a comic actually makes you think?
4.5 out of 5 stars.

Green Arrow #20
I honestly did not read this series at all until I heard about it getting what was basically an entirely fresh start under Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino, with them providing quality writing and beautiful art, respectively. Once I learned of this soft-reboot (that basically followed the Nu52 hard-reboot of the character, but whatever) I checked the comic out and was extremely impressed by the aforementioned writing and gorgeous drawing. I've been enjoying this series since and this issue was no exception. We get some conclusion to Oliver Queen's conflict with "Komodo" but clearly a lot of the story is still just beginning. Pick up that first Lemire & Sorrentino issue and give this a chance, you'll be glad you did--even if just for the amazing art.
4.5 out of 5 stars.

Rogues #1
Ah, the debut issue of new publisher "Amigo Comics" pirates-tale (that actually features a cast from past comics, apparently). This is basically pure fan service with its violence and sex, but the comic's writer El Torres says in the back of the comic book that is kind of the whole point of what he is going for with this series--bringing back that feeling of 1990's excess. It helps that he has the spectacular Juan Jose Ryp on art as there has never been an attractive woman or spurt of blood Ryp would hesitate to draw the heck out of. That said, it is unfortunate that the art is the biggest selling-point of this book because Ryp is no longer doing it after this first issue. Still, it might be worth a glance along with the other upcoming releases from this new comic imprint.
3 out of 5 stars.

Parker VS Aliens #2
I picked both this and the first issue up at once because I have enjoyed watching writer Paul Scheer in his normal work as a comedian ("Human Giant" is one of the best comedy shows ever, for real). That said, while this comic does finally pick up some steam in the second issue I still found myself a bit bored by the plot, characters, and--worst of all considering Scheer wrote this--the jokes. We have the various cliches making up the crew of space deliverymen and the requisite mystery on a strange planet they set off to explore where things unsurprisingly go horribly wrong. It's just all so dull, which is quite unfortunate as I really was hoping for this book to be good. Oh well.
1.5 out of 5 stars.

Suicide Risk #1
Mike Carey returns to hero-styled comics! I enjoyed his work on (the older) "X-Men Legacy" and his contributions to the "Endangered Species" back-up/mini that a lot of folk hated but I loved was some of his best stuff too--not that "The Unwritten" is bad, I just kind of quit reading it when I moved almost two years ago and didn't bother to start picking it up again. Anyways, we've now got Carey writing this whole new world where it seems by having a special genetic marker you can pay to have something done to you that grants you superpowers. The problem is that most of the people with these superpowers seem to be villains, so being a hero is a...Suicide Risk (and now you see where that title came from). Carey faces the classic 1st-issue problem of trying to build up a new world and introduce us to our main character, a police officer named Leo. The thing is, Carey takes that problem head-on and does a pretty good job making us care about Leo and also be intrigued by this depressing universe where there are more bad-guys than good. I still am not quite sure what possesses Leo to try and gain powers at the end of the comic (I'm not spoiling anything, the solicit for this series said as much happens) as opposed to just shutting the dealers down, but perhaps as the issues continue things will become clear. A good return to super-heroes for Carey and I am eager to see what happens next.
3.5 out of 5 stars.

Justice League of America #3
This is interesting enough, with its mystery of just what a secret society of super-villains could be up to. However, as it has already been basically revealed that all of that ties-in to the upcoming "Trinity War" cross-over I suppose I'm not too excited as what seemed like an interesting story-line is in fact just a lead-up to a big event (kind of like how that Bendis-penned "Moon Knight" series was a big 12-issue promo for "Age of Ultron"). Still, the book looks pretty snazzy, is written decently, and otherwise is an example of how a comic can be good enough to be better than average, without achieving anything resembling greatness.
3 out of 5 stars.

Between my morning-post full of Marvel comics and this afternoon one of a variety of stuff I would hope there is a comic I've discussed that you now know to go and pick-up, or one you are now aware you should avoid like the plague. Whatever the case, have a great rest of your day.

Morning Rant Reviews--Four Marvel Comics Of Varying Quality

I of course read a variety of comics, but I thought I would kick-off this morning with some reviews of Marvel comics (as I suppose that is a chunk of what I read) and follow-up in the afternoon with a smattering of other stuff.

Avengers Arena #9
From the start a lot of people were against this book. From the whole thing with it being fan-favorite teen-characters forced to kill each other making those aforementioned fans angry, to the idea that Marvel is no way in hell actually going to let these characters stay dead. Still, this has actually been a pretty good series, and even if it turns out none of these characters are actually killed (or come back to life really soon) this comic has at least done one thing I thought impossible--namely, made the villain, "Arcade" a bit less of a laughingstock (which was cleverly acknowledged and discussed in issue 7), so that's impressive. All of that said, this issue left a little to be desired with more instances of us getting a character's back-story than actually seeing all the conflict in the present. This wasn't bad by any means, however.
3 out of 5 stars.

Uncanny X-Force #4
We are on the fourth issue and I still have little-to-no clue what is going on. Apparently this comic is going to work on hand-waving away why Bishop was trying to kill Cable's adopted daughter, Hope, by throwing in mind-control or something. I find this annoying because pretty much none of the Marvel comics pointed out that Bishop was basically right about Hope as the Phoneix-force-infused X-Men almost destroyed the world and then she came close too during AVX before instead reigniting the mutant race. Doing this whole, "Oh, Bishop was just being made to act weird," story-line sort of ruins all that. Besides that matter though, we have a team that doesn't seem to gel together that well besides the rapport between Storm and Psylocke, and Fantomex is fun but as we don't fill the whole comic with him/her (there are 3 versions now, it's complicated) that can only go so far. At least the art is pretty to look at, but I'm basically underwhelmed by this comic.
2 out of 5 stars.

The Fearless Defenders #4
I like Cullen Bunn as a person, I do. I really enjoyed interviewing him, and I'm a fan of his work on those "Deadpool Kills The Marvel Universe/Deadpool Killustrated" mini-series along with his writing on "Venom". All of that said, I'm still just not really digging this series. New character Annabelle Riggs is fun, as she provides a viewpoint like that of what a normal person would feel surrounded by all these heroes, but I just don't really care about all this Doom Maiden stuff no matter how big a threat it is made out to be (and it doesn't help that the villain, Caroline Le Fay, talks like a big baddie but seems to keep screwing up and acting like it doesn't matter)--and the whole "everything you know about this character is wrong!" twist for Valkyrie is another played out technique comics seem overly prone to using. I'll give this another issue or two to come around but right
2 out of 5 stars.

X-Factor #256
How many times did I have to tell you people this was one of the best comics out there? I said as much from the earliest days of my blog, all the way to today. I guess I didn't say it enough though for it to matter though because now the series is ending (ostensibly on writer Peter David's terms, and I hope that is true). This issue marks the end of the "Hell on Earth War" story-line and now we'll be going into the book's last arc, appropriately titled, "The End." All of that said, this has been one of the best series ever and this issue helps continue to illustrate that point with a twist ending I would have never seen coming, accompanied by the usual strong plotting and witty dialogue David seems to write with ease. The series will be ending soon but I'll always remember it fondly...and hold out hope that maybe David is ending this series just so he can do something else really cool with all the characters. This is just an awesome issue of a spectacular comic, why do good things have to end?
5 out of 5 stars.

There you have it, come on back in the afternoon for more comic-y goodness.

Monday, May 20, 2013

A Review of "Gargoyle By Moonlight" Mixed With A Rant About The Hurdles of Continuity (and How It Avoids Them Successfully)

The gift and burden of continuity as illustrated by an indie comic
I've discussed the "Gargoyle By Moonlight" comic before (when talking about running into its creators at various comic conventions) but realize I have not actually ever reviewed it. I shall now correct that mistake and share my thoughts about this comic I was happy I bought as I feel it is quite fun.

One thing worth leading with is a question I often find myself faced with when reading super-hero comics that are independent and not a part of some large company. That question is, "What sets this apart from those hero titles at Marvel and DC?" After all, there are plenty of hero comics one can read from the "big two" and if a person wants heroes with a twist they can always turn to Image--plus Dark Horse is actually releasing more hero titles now too. Therefore, what makes this comic worthwhile compared to all those other titles? The fact that it has its own self-contained continuity, which is both a gift and a slight burden--plus that there is a lot of self-aware hilarity within the pages of "Gargoyle by Moonlight", are what makes this worth reading.

I mentioned Marvel and DC and while they do indeed have lots of heroes they suffer from so much continuity it can boggle the mind. You will pick up the first issue of a title but it actually features a character with years and years of back-story that can take forever just to get up to speed on. I'll have friends who see some of the super-hero movies that are popular right now and they'll ask me, "Hey David, I enjoyed that new [inset hero-movie name here] flick and was wondering where a good place to start would be if I want to read about that character/team, what do you recommend?" At this point I can only stare at them blankly and try to think of how in the hell I can get them into Avengers comics or Batman comics when the sheer volume of the stuff is insane. Generally I'll just end up recommending the more self-contained and/or alternate universe stuff as that requires less encyclopedic knowledge. They liked "Avengers"? Here, try "The Ultimates". A fan of the Nolan-directed Batman movies? Take this copy of "Batman: Year One".  Yes, continuity can be a good thing as it makes us feel like we really "know" these fictional characters thanks to all their stories, but its sheer metaphorical weight can be crushing to many folk. That's why "Gargoyle By Moonlight" is a good example of how to balance your continuity.
"Gargoyle By Moonlight" is one comic, a self-contained tale. It creates the perception of there being a continuity through references to past events, but it doesn't let all that bog it down. We don't have to worry about a six-issue series with the origin of Gary Doyle, we just are given a quick premier on how he ended up the way he is, and what he does as a Gargoyle at night (namely, fight crime and try to reverse the curse that makes him transform). Past events are referenced, but a reader doesn't have to seek out tons of back-issues to understand Gary, we get all we need to know from this issue. Also, in its self-contained nature this actually tells a complete tale without resorting to the aforementioned tendency mainstream comics have to be highly decompressed in their story-telling and stretch a plot out over months of issues. Doyle faces a villain who is powered by the sun (a clever counter to his nighttime-Gargoyle power) and defeats him. There is of course room left open for future stories, but everything is nice and clean in its encapsulating everything we should hope for in a comic within a single issue. Oh, plus this is a pretty funny read too.

"Gargoyle by Moonlight" both celebrates superheroes with its fun story of Gary Doyle fighting a villain, and also mocks them gently. There is a slightly sardonic sense of humor in Doyle talking about being a hero and facing all sorts of absurd conflicts. Often we'll have comics be utterly dry and rarely if ever address the absurdity they contain of these garishly outfitted individuals engaging in conflicts with one another. "Gargoyle By Moonlight" knows it has slightly silly situations and isn't afraid to address that fact--making this comic self-aware enough to be clever, but without outright breaking the 4th-wall as Deadpool does in his comics (a rare of example of comics being aware at their silliness to perhaps too great a degree).

Continuity can help one really feel immersed in the world of comics, but sometimes it is better to just have a really good self-contained story that can entertain you without doing hours of research on a character or team so you understand what's happening. "Gargoyle by Moonlight" is both nicely self-contained and self-aware to a point that what would maybe just be a good story is given that extra boost into being quite great. While it would be good fun to see the series continue, I hope if future issues are made they will strive to keep the focused nature of this first issue. It also helps that the artwork is quite well done, but it is the humorous writing that really drew me in along with the much-discussed self-contained aspect. I would recommend visiting the website for "Gargoyle by Moonlight" here at this link and purchasing a digital or physical copy of the comic. It's great fun, check it out.
4 out of 5 stars.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

I Have Graduated With My MPH

I don't say too much about what I'm up to on the blog usually because most of my readers would probably rather have me insult a comic-book than share about my life. That said, I thought it was worth telling all of you that I am now done with graduate school and a proud holder of a Masters in Public Health as of Friday, May 17th, 2013. Here is a picture of me decked out in regalia with my girlfriend by my side:
I of course plan to continue working on my blog while I look for a job and after I acquire one, so don't worry about that. I just thought I would tell all of you what was up with me, and perhaps hope you might know of any good careers in the Saint Louis Metro-area. Now to resume regular posting about popular culture and all the ways it is wonderful and horrendous.

Monday, May 13, 2013

An Essay-Post on Sexuality and its Expression As Something Positive or Horrific Within Two Different Comics

I read two graphic novels that both dealt with one subject extensively, but with completely separate tones. That subject was of course the ever popular activity of sex. The completely different ways the books dealt with the topic of sex really struck me as interesting as they showed sexuality in such vastly different lights. The two books were Jess Fink's "Chester 5000 XYV" and Josh Simmon's "The Furry Trap".

Sexuality As A Pleasure
"Chester 5000 XYV" is a wordless tale which through its images is able to impart a story of love, longing, and happiness. A woman (whom the book identifies as "Priscilla" in the description even though a name is never said) has a husband (whom the website which continues the story past the book says is named "Robert") who wants her to be satisfied, but  is busy with all of his scientific inventions. To try and make everyone happy he creates a robot for her to have relations with--the titular Chester 5000 XYV. Things begin to go awry however when Priscilla and the robot fall in love. Robert becomes jealous and sells it to another woman, but Chester loves Priscilla too much to even touch the other female. After a confrontation between Robert and Chester--but then some apologies afterward--it is realized that Priscilla and Chester are meant for each other, and Robert and the lonely lady he sold the robot to are themselves in love. There is of course also a lot of sex in the book.

Seriously, in explicit detail we see Priscilla and her husband Robert, Priscilla and Chester, The  Robert and and the other woman, and there is a bit where Chester, Priscilla, and the lonely woman all are intimate with each other together. The only people who aren't intimate with each other in the book are Chester and the husband, which makes sense as if I were in a knock-down drag-out fight with someone over the woman I love I probably wouldn't want to have sex with them afterward, even if they apologized.
Despite the drama of Robert's jealousy and his conflict with Chester the book is very light-hearted and fun. Sex is shown as something to be excited about, enjoyed, and most importantly of all, something which should be fun! Not once in the book is sex treated as something sinful or wrong--remember, the husband isn't mad about Priscilla having sex with the robot, he is mad about them falling in love--but instead shown to be a wonderful thing. "Chester 5000 XYV" is the sort of erotic tale you can show someone without being embarrassed about because it isn't "dirty" in the same way pornography may make a person feel--this is fun, happy, and sex-positive. Don't get me wrong, this is book that is definitely only for adults, but it shows sex in a way more people should feel about it, not as something to be ashamed of, but something to enjoy! This makes it interesting how "The Furry Trap" is basically a complete 180 degrees from that.

Sexuality As A Nightmare
"The Furry Trap" collects a number of Josh Simmon's short comics he has done for various other publications or posted online. Not every entry in the book deals with sex, but enough do--and in a certain way--that a theme emerges about sexuality, namely, that it can be a scary, horrible thing. Some of those stories will now be looked at.

The first story is titled "In a Land of Magic" and starts out as a seemingly sweet tale about a male adventurer and a fairy-woman, before things get incredibly disturbing. You see, a wizard wants to kill them and the boy easily kills the wizard's dragon and paralyzes the wizard. Then the adventurer finds himself incredibly aroused by the fight and proceeds to rape the wizard in a way that is basically physically impossible, gruesome, and bloody. Afterward the "hero" declares how good has conquered over evil and his fairy girlfriend is clearly upset having witnessed all this, but he reassures her, "I love you." The whole thing made me feel incredibly uncomfortable and disturbed--which was clearly the point. In this story sexuality isn't something special shared between two consenting individuals, but a way the adventurer tortures his enemy. In this tale sex is a punishment, a violent act, and it sets the tone for the the rest of the stories in the book that deal with sexuality.

The story "Night of the Jibblers" is about these strange monsters that lurk out in the forest and eat people. Toward the end the protagonist of the story encounters a Jibbler touching itself to the fact that it and its fellow Jibblers are going to kill him. Again, sexuality as something related to violence, full of anger, and otherwise horrific.
The family of the story "Cockbone"
One of the longest stories in the collection has a name that says a lot, "Cockbone". It is about a nightmarish future of war and scarcity where a strange family of a mother and her sons survives on the little food they can find and engaging in oral sex with the son/brother, Cockbone, a well-meaning but slow-witted man. Apparently something within him gets people high for hours and helps them escape for a bit from the terrible world they live in. However, once Cockbone suffers an injury to his member everything falls apart and before the end of the story everyone meets an unfortunate end in their attempt to fix Cockbone's penis and make life bearable again. Clearly, in this tale you have a very unsettling incestuous relationship with the characters not really thinking they are engaging in sex so much as an activity that helps them get out of their terrible, even if only for a little while. Sex in this story isn't violent so much as it is something twisted into the realm of being immoral from this family taking advantage of their simple-minded sibling/child.

The Complexity of Sexuality
Here we have one book that upon finishing reading it you feel good and another where once you close the covers you feel upset. "Chester 5000 XYV" is a read that leaves you smiling from the thought that all the characters have found pleasure that is both erotic and emotional thanks to finding someone they care about. "The Furry Trap" is full of stories with no happy endings, only violence and terror, with sex serving as at best a temporary escape from misery and at worst as a tool of violence. I wouldn't say, "The Furry Trap" is sex-negative so much as it just shows the absolute worst aspects of sexuality and relationships while "Chester 5000 XYV" shows the best (besides the brief animosity between the husband, Robert, and Chester).

As these two comic works illustrate, sexuality holds many potential uses as a storytelling element, be it to impart a happy story or one that is highly disturbing. While both are interesting works I personally preferred Jess Fink's stuff because it was happy and fun, and in an era where sexuality is often treated as a dirty or "wrongful" thing it is good to see something sex-positive.

Friday, May 10, 2013

"Right State" Review

An Interesting View of the Present as Glimpsed in a Possible Future
"Right State" is an original hardcover from Vertigo that takes place in the relatively-close future of 2020 when the 2nd-ever black President faces the risk of being assassinated and an unlikely hero works to stop it.

The protagonist is Ted Akers, a conservative media pundit who says he is an independent but clearly "leans" right.  An ex-girlfriend of his who works for the President (whom is interestingly never named) asks Ted to help investigate a militia that it is suspected may post a threat to the President, and with Akers being a darling of the right-wing he makes the perfect undercover agent.
Writer of the comic Mat Johnson isn't really interested in prognosticating who this future President could be or what our world will look like a little under a decade from now so much as he is reflecting what society looks like today. We have a severely divided  nation, militias springing up everywhere (which the book makes mention of how they've been increasing ever since Obama was elected), and basically the country is one big wreck of people and politicians yelling at once another about how wrong the other side is.

Johnson does a good job at making Akers come off as a sympathetic character regardless of the reader's political views; while Aker may be pretty conservative and a hint xenophobic, he still is a caring individual toward others who wants his country to succeed regardless of who is in power. While Akers comes off well, a few of the characters seem a bit one-dimensional in being "good" or "bad". The main "villain" as it were is Ezekiel Dutton, a former Homeland Security agent who went rogue and joined a militia some time ago. However, he appears so little in the comic--instead being talked about highly by other characters--that when he does actually appear it is underwhelming compared to all the miraculous things we have heard about him. Whether this is intentional on Johnson's part to show that beloved "leaders" of groups rarely live up the hype or is just poor characterization I cannot say for sure. The main character is intriguing enough however that it is alright a few individuals in the book come off as lacking personality.

"Right State" is good read with a solid plot that only falters in how it makes some of its characters pretty bland. Enough good shines through the book though that I would definitely recommend it for a read. A paperback version will be coming out soon so it shouldn't cost too much either!
3.5 out of 5 stars.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

"Jerry's Journal: Volume 1" Review

Jerry's Journal is a collection of short comic strips starring the titular bird, Jerry. Author Neil Fitzpatrick gives Jerry an equal amount of self-loathing and humor to make this a fun comic. Most of the short strips involve Jerry ruminating on life, death, and his distaste for himself. There isn't really a continuity to the strips but a theme of so-dark-its-funny runs through all the comics.
If Jerry were a person you knew, the odds are you would hate them. He's so negative, such a downer, and otherwise a sad little bird. However, as he is fictional you end up liking Jerry quite a bit and hoping maybe he will break out of misery--although if he did the comic wouldn't be nearly as funny.

Much of the strips are about death, which is probably one of the most depressing things there are, but Neil Fitzpatrick makes it humorous. The strip made me smile quite often even if I only burst out laughing on one strip. Namely, this one:
Jerry's Journal is a fun little read. It goes by quickly, but you you will probably re-read your favorite strips so that you can smile and/or giggle at the jokes again. You can buy issues of Jerry's Journal and other comic-goodness at Neil Fitzpatrick's website along with viewing other strips by him completely for free!
4 out of 5 stars.
Read more work and buy Neil's comics by going here.

A review copy of this book was provided by the creator.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

My 700th Post! Also, Free Comic Book Day!

It is fitting that my blog which discusses comics so often reaches its 700th post on a Free Comic Book Day, and if you'll excuse some "navel-gazing" I'd like to reflect on how I/we got here.
This was me in October 2010 around when I started thinking about making a blog.
It is crazy to think how I started my blog back on that faithful day, December 3rd, 2010. Back then I was new at this whole "blogging" thing and while I wouldn't say my writing style has changed too much in the intervening 2+ years, I have gotten better at the act of blogging itself. My original blog-page was kind of a mess of images, would have too many posts on a page with "breaks" so you had to annoyingly click an article, and maybe got one or two viewers every couple of days. I wanted to share my thoughts with people who shared my interests though, and a blog seemed like the best way to do it so I kept typing along.

I wasn't discouraged by the low views and complete obscurity, however. I knew if I just kept posting I would get noticed, and slowly but surely I gained some more readers, started communicating with comics professionals and doing interviews with them,  and expanding out to various writing stints for other websites now and then. From that first time a comic creator contacted me a little after a month of my blog existing (John Arcudi to thank me for naming his graphic novel "A God Somewhere" as my favorite graphic novel of 2010--and it continues to be one of my favorite comics ever).

While I may have slowed down on the posting once I moved from Upstate New York out here to Saint Louis in the Fall of 2011, I like to think that despite less articles the effort I put into making longer and more in-depth pieces made up for the somewhat sporadic posting I still sometimes fall victim to.

As I said, it is just crazy how within the time of starting this blog I went from NY to STL, met the love of my love out here in Missouri, and now will be graduating with my Masters in Public Health this May 17th (which is also my sister's birthday, funnily enough). Some of the things I attempted on the web failed (Having a tumblr to go with the blog, doing a regular podcast with little more than myself rambling on), but through it all the blog itself remained a constant, chugging along and commenting on the world.

It is amazing how time flies when you're talking about comics, movies, music, television, the news, and whatever else one feels like yakking about it. I'm just lucky that there are at least some people out there who enjoy reading what I think--and whom I enjoy reading the thoughts of if they have a website or blog.

While my life will keep changing once I graduate and look for a job, get married, have kids, and all of that, one thing I hope will remain constant. Namely, that I'll have "The Newest Rant" and folk will continue to take pleasure in reading it.

Thanks for having read my blog whether this is your first time reading a post or your 700th, I hope to make many more--now go get yourself some free comics!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Film Friday: Iron Man 3

Iron Man 3 AKA Stellar Stuff
I saw Iron Man 3 this weekend and will try to offer a relatively spoiler-free review before having a small segment with spoiler-tastic thoughts. I think that makes sense seeing as how the movie has only been out in the US for less than 24 hours and you may want my opinion, but not want the flick revealed right away.

As this was a movie starring Robert Downey Junior you already know there was plenty of great acting on his part. Between the deadpan jokes, charm, and occasional dramatic moment or two, Downey is fantastic as Tony Stark, but as I said, you probably already knew that from his turn in the first two Iron Man movies and "The Avengers". Plenty of credit should be given to Gwyneth Paltrow for her work as  the energetic Pepper Potts however, along with Don Cheadle bringing impressive bravery to James Rhodes. Two actors new to the series do a bang-up job too. Ben Kinglsey is awesome as The Mandarin, with his growling voice and some surprisingly funny moments from his character too. Guy Pearce is also great as Aldrich Killian, bringing a level of pathos to his portrayal that works expertly.

As has been hinted, this really is a movie about putting Tony back-to-basics and in his cave from the first movie, so to speak. Instead of always seeing Stark with his fancy and over-the-top gadgets throughout the whole movie, there are times when we see the character at his most resourceful and creative. Also, the film draws from the comics expertly while not holding itself hostage to them. All Iron Man comic fans know who the Mandarin is, and lots of people are familiar with the, "Extremis" story-arc that the comic had, but this film takes those elements and makes something quite new with them. Comic fans also may recall Aldrich Killian as a smaller character in the "Extremis" arc but he is much more interesting in the film.

There are some twists and reveals in the movies I knew were going to happen as someone familiar with the comics, but a few things did genuinely surprise me which is always good. Between the great action scenes, funny jokes, and awesome acting, Iron Man 3 is a delight. It is maybe not as amazing as the first movie, but that was just such a revelation, it is better than the 2nd one (which I actually did like quite a bit unlike a fair amount of people) however. You should definitely see this if you were a fan of the earlier Iron Man movies or enjoyed "The Avengers" as this builds off of all of that expertly--both in terms of continuing to grow the Marvel movie-brand and as its own stand-alone film. Go see it and be impressed!
4.5 out of 5 stars.

Now My Random Thoughts That Involve Spoiling The Movie
I was quite impressed by how Marvel and the press managed to keep the big reveal that The Mandarin isn't the true bad-guy a relative secret. I've seen some discontent on the internet with the idea that The Mandarin is little more than a faux-terrorist persona cooked up by Guy Pearce's character, but it kind of works if you just think about it. The Mandarin when he was first created as a comic character was little more than a, "Yellow Peril," straw-man who existed to further the idea of outsiders coming into our nation and stealing our jobs, causing us harm, etc. While the character has evolved over time in the comics to be much more interesting and not a mere racial stereotype, taking that original idea is kind of genius. Aldrich knows that by making a sort of scary terrorist he can be sure he gets all the military-money he could ever need. That's some pretty smart writing.

"I'm not who/what you think."
I and my girlfriend thought it also was good how the movie put a focus on Stark's emotional damage as well as physical. As she pointed out, you see all these heroes go through craziness like aliens and seeing people die, and they act like it doesn't phase them, but you know it does. Therefore, it was good to see Stark behaving like a normal human and having some panic attacks and nightmares from those tough times in New York City during "The Avengers".

Was I the only one who thought the whole deal of making Happy Hogan/Jon Faverau gravely injured was a bit meta? With the film having a new director in the form of Shane Black but Faverau still on staff it almost was kind of a weird, "passing of the torch".

I also loved how after the credits we get it revealed to us just whom Stark has been telling his story to, none other than his science-buddy Bruce Banner/The Hulk played by the always-good-to-see Mark Ruffalo! I was very happy to see the movie kept the idea of them being good friends going, what with their both being geniuses who might have trouble relating to other people either because they can be kind of rude (Stark) or turn into a gigantic rage-beast (Banner).

All-in-all yeah, a pretty great movie.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Two Cool New Kickstarters--A Comic and a Game

Kicking it Starter-Style
I enjoy using Kickstarter although in the past few months I have had to basically stop funding things because I was spending way too much money on the website. However, I have made an exception to my, "Don't buy anything on Kickstarter" rule for two projects that are just looking awesome. Read on to hear about an interesting comic and fun-sounding game.

A Voice In The Dark Volume 2--Killing Game
Larime Taylor ran a successful Kickstarter for this first volume of this series which is out now digitally to backers with a printed trade coming soon. In a smart move by him there are tiers for this project that make it so those new to his series can get those earlier issues too in addition to these. Why should you back this though? Let's discuss.

When I saw Taylor list Warren Ellis' "Fell" as an inspiration for his first Kickstarted comic he immediately had my money. Then he discussed how it was a comic about a woman who was basically normal except for the fact she was a serial killer that had to hide that dark secret and his noir-ish story had me excited. Plus, it helped that the art is quite nice too.

I mention the art for two reasons: The first is that oftentimes independent comics can have pretty questionable art because even though the person doing the comics may be a great writer, if you aren't a huge-name having quality art can be too expensive. Taylor does his own art though and is good at it so that's a plus. The other reason I mention the art is that he does all the penciling, digital-inking, lettering, etc. by mouth. You heard me right, mouth. Taylor doesn't do his drawing-by-mouth as some sort of weird publicity-garnering stunt, it is because he has a disability that makes drawing by hand impossible. He hasn't let that stop him though so the very fact he can draw by mouth is impressive, and how it looks better than most independent comic-book art is just stellar too.

This 2nd volume of his comic will be published in physical form by a company Taylor cannot yet name, but those copies won't be out for some time and by getting this 2nd volume digitally you will be able to enjoy the story sooner and get some perks. Check out the Kickstarter for Volume 2 of his series here!


A "sandbox (open world)" game where you build a village, fight creatures, and otherwise have fun exploring, plus it looks adorable with its Minecraft-inspired graphics? This sounds like it was made just for me!

Between the crafting, farming, and combat that this Kickstarter boasts, I am quite excited to give this a try. Plus, it will be fully moddable so people will have no trouble making the game even more fun with various alterations. I also enjoy games where I can build a city and having the ability to level-up characters whilst making the mini-metropolis of my dreams sounds like a gas.

You can get a digital copy of the game for only 15 dollars but pony up 30 smackers and you'll enjoy beta access and a cute cat companion. If you are a fan of city-building, strategy games, or survival simulations this should be right up your alley. I'm quite eager to play this! See all about Stonehearth at its Kickstarter page here.

Crowd-Funding, "For The Win!"
There you have it, two Kickstarter campaigns that I feel look worth supporting. If you know of any others that look cool please tell me as I'm always happy to talk about fun Kickstarters.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Why Jason Collins Coming Out Is Important And A Good Thing For Society

Jason Collins
I've expressed support for LGBTQ rights on my blog, because gay rights are simply human rights. That is why when I heard about Jason Collins coming out and receiving mostly support I was happy. I was happy that our society is getting to a point that a professional athlete can be different from the perceived  "norm," and still be supported. Not too long ago in history if an athlete wasn't white, straight  and Christian they faced scorn and even violence. We have long viewed athletes as role models in our society (for better and worse), so for someone to not be afraid to say they are different should be an inspiration to youth. I am bugged by people who say, "Why does this mater?" though.

If you've talked with enough people about Jason Collins or listened to the news you have probably heard some variation of, "Good for him coming out, but it doesn't matter. What matters is how good he is at the sport." This whole line of thought is seemingly delightful with its, "Live and let live" philosophy but just doesn't work. The idea is that a person should be true to themselves and not be afraid to openly discuss who they are, and the person they love. Someone can be a great basketball player, writer, or doctor, but if they have to hide who they are it is sad. That is why the whole idea of brushing things off with a, "I don't care," is just annoying to me.

This does matter because there already are people who are reacting to Jason Collin's announcement in horrendous ways. I've seen too many pictures and ".gifs" on the internet saying something like, "Tim Tebow discusses being a Christian and is insulted, Jason Collins says he is gay and is called a hero," as if Tebow's choice of religion and Collins being born gay are somehow entwined. Last time I checked Collin's hasn't tried to force homosexuality on anyone while meanwhile Tebow espouses about his views all the time and crusades against a woman's right to choose. Tebow has every right to be whom he is, but I get angry when I see him trying to force his ways on other people. This article sums up the strange way people are linking Tebow and Collins, and I agree that it is ironic people who have persecuted others (anti-gay people) are now playing the victim.
LeRoy Butler
I'm not anti-church, I just think we should treat everyone with love and not all people think that. I tip my hat to LeRoy Butler who proudly says he was raised in the church and tweeted his support to Jason Collins. It causes me to become very upset however when I then see Butler share that a church he was going to speak at canceled on him because apparently the very act of supporting a gay person violated a, "morals clause". Seriously, a former athlete does little more than offer praise to a fellow sports-player for being open about who they are and suffers consequences--yeah, don't tell me Collins coming out doesn't matter.

I want this to be a nation where both Tim Tebow can be looked up to for being open about who he is, and Jason Collins can be equally lauded for not hiding a big part of himself from society. As long as they both are respectful to others I see little problem with Tebow's faith or Collin's sexuality. I just think that instead of brushing either's actions off with an uncaring shrug, we should think carefully about how both men are looked up to now for very different reasons by potentially different people (although there could plenty of gay evangelical people out there who are fans of both now), and at the end of the day other than professional sports being a bunch of folk playing a game, it also is about people showing us how to be the best we can be--whether in terms of physical ability on the field, or in being good role models off the field.

I'm proud of Jason Collins, and his coming out is as important as all the other trailblazers in professional sports doing their part to make our games not just exciting to watch, but a reflection of what makes us as a society so wonderful. Namely, a diverse group of people working together toward a common goal--whether that goal is as big as striving for equal rights or as simple as getting a ball down the field/to the other side the court.