Saturday, September 12, 2009

Just Keep Making the Point Yourselves

Yo, Joe! Episode 29

The Viper Is Coming

This episode opens with a party at a firehouse. Barbecue has apparently renovated an old firehouse and thought it would be a swell idea to invite some of the Joes over while he, well, barbecues.

I don't know if I've mentioned it before, since he hasn't really had a starring role yet, but I hate Barbecue. Cool uniform, sure, but the guy's a stooge. He just looks creepy, and he's got this dumbass, unemotional voice that's like a terrible parody of John F. Kennedy. He just sounds like an asshole, and has this overly casual attitude that just makes him seem like a joke. I have an irrational hatred of Barbecue.

And meanwhile, take a look at this.

Snake Eyes is picking out records. And snapping. It's scenes like this that make it hard to remember just why everyone thought Snake Eyes was so damn cool. But it could be worse...

He could be embarrassing himself with a histrionic "dance," like Gung Ho is. Not shown: the look of mounting horror on Lady Jaye's face. Gung Ho's dance looks to be of the St. Vitus variety.

And then everyone destroys the place. Roadblock is playing basketball indoors and ends up doing a header through a closed window. "Guess I won't be needing that window cleaned," Barbecue jokes to Scarlett like a douche. He's, like, okay with everyone treating his newly renovated firehouse this way? It's just, I don't know, this sort of false sense of being laid back, like the new girl in the sorority who invites everyone to her parents' cabin because she wants to be liked so bad, and then acts like it's no big deal when they trash the place.

And Roadblock isn't even the worst of the guests. No, that prize goes to Alpine and Footloose, who seriously think it's a great idea to try and rappel down from the wooden railings on the second floor. And this place looks like it's made from cheap wood, anyway, but of course it snaps and sends them into the table. What a couple of assholes. Seriously, where are your manners, guys? And Barbecue's just all like, "Oh, um, er, uh, looks like this party is a success," in that creepy faux-Massachusetts cadence of his. Barbecue is a jerk with no self-respect.

Then Barbecue gets a phone call and a voice says "The viper is coming, five seventy-five." Viper, eh? Must be Cobra. A team of Joes heads to the coordinates five degrees east and seventy-five degrees south: the South Pole.

And you know what they find under the snow? Not a Cobra base, no...

No, a robot welcoming them to Cobra Recreational Base Number Three.

Yeah, they can play table tennis and swim in the Cobra Commander Gymnasium, eat lunch in the Destro Dining Room, or watch the Cobra Cuties in the Zartan Entertainment Center. "No tipping, please."

Seriously, how much money does Cobra actually have? Are they an uneasy collection of like-minded terrorists and mercenaries, or are they basically a nation unto themselves? Because they seem to have the income of Saudi Arabia. Why do they even need to take over the world?

Well, there's a fight that just gets way too big and complicated for its own good, and everyone gets captured, including the smartly-dressed manager.


But the whole thing doesn't make sense. Where are the calls coming from?

Good question! Hey, we're G.I. Joe, let's use our millions of dollars of communications technology to trace the call! No, wait, they don't do that. They just sit around and Barbecue gets another phone call: "Start at the west corner."

Well, obviously this means an attack on West Point Military Academy. Which leads to another long, complicated battle scene in which Major Bludd and Cobra forces try to take out the top military brass. Hey, at least Major Bludd gets captured! Oh, no, wait, he doesn't. Well, at least the Joes kick a lot of ass. Or something. And there's a cheesy scene with the graduating cadets joining G.I. Joe in the fight.

Well, another phone call: "Start on the top floor."

Scarlett decides this means the Extensive Enterprises Tower, which just kind of annoys me. I'm just... so irritated that Extensive Enterprises hasn't been shut down because its top officers are engaging in terrorist activities. But let's not go into this again. Instead, let's cut to a ransacked office where everyone is having a fight over how G.I. Joe is getting all of this intel and who the traitor in their midst must be. Destro thinks it's Major Bludd, and anally rapes him in revenge.

Well, not really, but come on, that looks like some intent there.

Anyway, big fight scene, bad guys escape, etc.

So who is this Viper? Who?? WHO?!?!

Well, the Viper is coming "today," and G.I. Joe is ready to meet him.

A little overkill, maybe, but I guess this whole thing is a mystery.

And then, walking out of the sunset comes... The Viper!

"I am the viper. I come to vipe your vindows. Five seventy-five an hour. I start on west corner, top floor first."

Yes, this episode is built around a pun so bad that it wouldn't even fly in Mad magazine.

This episode is really, really, really fucking stupid.


Yo, Joe! Episode 28

The Germ

This episode opens much the same way as the episode "The Greenhouse Effect" (both episodes are very similar) with a Crimson Guard operative being contacted to steal something from a laboratory. In this case, it's something imaginatively called Bacteria X. The Guard, Agent X-99, grabs the vial and escapes, taking it straight to Destro.

Once delivered, Destro has a little hissy fit because Agent X-99 won't leave his lab. Apparently he only takes his orders from Tomax and Xamot and Cobra Commander, and he's got orders signed by the Commander. What bearing this has on Agent X-99 simply remaining in the room I have no idea, but I found the signed orders delightfully goofy.

Yes, he really signs things that way.

Destro walks out in a huff and Agent X-99 doesn't know what he's supposed to do. Contacting the Crimson Twins, they order him to bring Bacteria X to Extensive Enterprises. For whatever reason--up for promotion?--Agent X-99 also steals a vial labeled "Experimental Growth Serum." A Tele-Viper catches him on camera and sends a couple of Cobra soldiers after him.

During the fight, the vials break and the bacteria and serum combine and immediately form an unstoppable growth. It's, well... the blob. It absorbs Destro's base and heads into the river and then starts absorbing everything in its path like Nick Nolte at the end of The Hulk.

Well, again, the Cobra base seems to be somewhere down the street, because it ain't long before Colonel Sharpe contacts Joe HQ about a blob moving "downstate" and absorbing everything in its path. Scarlett, Snake Eyes, Shipwreck, Dusty and Ace jump in some Skystrikers and take off to confront the blob. Missiles have no effect on the blob; it simply absorbs the missiles and spits them back at the planes, crashing Ace. You weren't really surprised by that, were you?

Every time with this guy...

Ace manages to down his plane on a farm and borrows a farmer's old crop duster. ("So long as you don't bring it back lookin' like yours," the old farmer says.) G.I. Joe starts to evacuate the area as the blob absorbs farmland and homes. Ace tries to pour insecticide on the blob, which doesn't work at all--the chemicals aren't absorbed, so they waft back up to Ace and nearly kill him. Ace crashes his second plane of the first act. Airtight rescues Ace while Flint shows up to explain that the blob trail starts at a ruined Cobra base.

Airtight is going to be the hero of this episode, and that suits me just fine. I love the guy; he's such a nerd. He explains that it's no blob, but some kind of bacterium. Plans are made for Airtight to fly into the germ using some kind of rigged-up giant hypodermic--basically, a timed explosion that will disperse antibiotics over a wide range. (For some reason, the plans are made aboard the USS Flagg--what state is this again?)

Airtight is awestruck by the makeup of the germ, but doesn't have too long to appreciate them: explosions start going off inside the Cobra base inside the germ. Airtight likens it to driving a truck in jello across a minefield. Ace orders him to get out, but he can't steer the plane. Following his path, Airtight soon finds the nucleus of the germ.

Airtight's cut off his radio, so there's no way to know what's going on inside the germ. The scientist who created Bacteria X shows up and tells Flint that Bacteria X was created due to a "misuse" of antibiotics, so now no man can stop the germ and the explosion of antibiotics might make it even stronger. I'm a little unclear on the exact science of all this, so I'll just go with it.

Besides, even as the scientist is saying this, Airtight is swimming toward the nucleus with the explosives and setting the bombs. A couple of Cobra Eels are inside the germ and decide that, instead of trying to figure out what the hell's going on, they're going to kill Airtight.


Well, Airtight gets the explosives in place, but it turns out there's a Crimson Guard in his ship--it's Agent X-99, looking to get the hell out of the germ. He's smarter than those Eels were and works with Airtight to detonate the explosives and pilot to freedom. Then the germ explodes into two smaller pieces. Flint thinks the doctor must have been wrong and the antibiotics worked. And then one of my favorite single exchanges ever in G.I. Joe occurs.

Roadblock: "That germ's doing the squirms!"
Flint: "I couldn't have said it any better."

Roadblock: "Nobody could."


Anyway, the doctor notes that the germ isn't dying, it's going through mitosis: there are now two germs, one headed toward New York City. (Seriously, where the hell are we right now? The United States of G.I. Joe is about the size of the map in Sid Meier's Civilization III.)

It's Shipwreck who gets the idea that the germ can still be poisoned, but "what we need is a candy-coating." Airtight jumps on that and he and the doctor come up with the idea of apple seeds. They have a small amount of poison--maybe they can get the germ to absorb a bunch of apples.

The rest of this gets silly.

The Joes use missiles to herd one of the germs into an apple orchard; after consuming the apples, the germ explodes in a shower of applesauce.

Applesauce? I'll say.

So we get to a bunch of Joes ready to cut off the germ's entry into New York City with a blockade of apples, and Shipwreck kills time trying to hit on Cover Girl.

Again, if he would just turn off the fake charm and the cheesy lines, she'd be so into it.

Anyway, the germ shows up, and we get Joes firing rocket launchers and tanks with fucking apples as their artillery, and it it just gets really, really silly. It literally comes down to this:

Then an apple explosion and everything's done. That pretty much sums up this episode: it's silly and lame but it has a couple of good gags.

In fact, there's time for one more rhyme. When the germ explodes, those two Cobra Eels come flying out of it and Roadblock captures them even though he's treading water, because he's just that damn cool.

"It must be a worm from the germ!"

Gung Ho: "I guess that germ found Cobra as hard to swallow as we do."


Like I said, some good gags, but I'm surprised how much this episode just suffers for lacking any central villainy. The germ is a force of nature, but not a force of narrative. Not that this silly narrative has much force on its own...

Aw, applesauce!


Friday, September 11, 2009

Larry Gelbart 1928-2009

All I can say about this legend is that I grew up on M*A*S*H and that A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum is the best farce ever, so this man is responsible for a lot of how my sense of humor works. Thank you for that, sir.

Friday Playlist

1. Bee Gees: I.O.I.O.
2. Joni Mitchell: Big Yellow Taxi
3. Talking Heads: Electricity (Drugs)
4. Renaissance: The Vultures Fly High
5. The Beach Boys: Good Timin’
6. Lene Lovich: Lucky Number
7. Willie Nelson: Changing Skies
8. Jim Croce: I’ll Have to Say I Love You in a Song
9. Elton John: Nikita
10. The Beach Boys: I’m Waiting for the Day

1. Neat little track from one of their best "old-style" albums, Cucumber Castle.
2. I love this song. My wife really, really hates it. She hates this kind of folksy hippie tune.
3. Bouncy from The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads, one of the best live albums ever.
4. Renaissance is one of the better over-indulgent prog bands.
5. I love this groove from the Beach Boys. When I first moved to DeKalb, I had this song on while I was driving near the school. I saw the most beautiful, curvy, luscious black woman walking up the street slowly while I was stopped at a light. She just swam through the air, seemingly in perfect time to this tune. It's that kind of song.
6. Great little track from Stiff's Lene Lovich, who also had a great cover of "I Think We're Alone Now."
7. Just under a minute from Willie's Tougher Than Leather. Willie Nelson is an artist who can do a lot with less than a minute.
8. Beautiful. Just beautiful.
9. Huh, the first Elton John song my iTunes has picked out for the Playlist. Not a bad track; I remember seeing it quite a lot on MTV back when it first came out. Elton was a big deal on MTV; now I don't think he could pay to get a video on that channel.
10. My iTunes has never picked out a Beach Boys song, and this time, it picks two. I'd say this was one of my favorite tracks from Pet Sounds, my all time favorite album ever of anyone's, but every track on that album is my favorite track.

TV Report: 90210 and Melrose Place

No, I'm not watching either of these programs, I just wanted to mention that I read that both shows premiered last Tuesday and got abysmal ratings. 90210 was down 50% from last year's premiere and Melrose Place had numbers in the toilet. A repeat of America's Got Talent had six times the number of viewers of 90210.

So now it looks like Melrose Place, currently shooting the eighth of its thirteen ordered episodes, might not make it to a full season order--in fact, there's already talk that the CW might not air all 13 shows.

And all I want to say is... good. That's what you get for canceling Reaper.

(Yes, I'm vindictive. I'm a fan.)

Superman/Batman: Public Enemies

This is pretty high on the list of things I'm looking forward to.

An Open Letter to WGN News on 11 September

Dear WGN News (specifically WGN Morning News),

I know today is the anniversary of 9/11. It's important that we remember it. But that doesn't mean that I want to see the footage of the World Trade Center collapsing every fifteen minutes this morning, as though I've forgotten watching it live on television on the day itself. These things tend to stay with you for the rest of your life, and this is no exception.

The Morning News tends to be run like one of those idiot morning shows. It's not a serious journalistic enterprise, and something doesn't sit right with me about the constant cutaways to the event itself. It's especially galling that you seem to be using the clips to advertise a movie about 9/11. And I understand the reason for that, too, but does it need to be constantly thrown in my face this morning? I'm trying to enjoy my Cream of Wheat this morning, and instead of the usual inane chatter I get the fucking entertainment reporter talking about 9/11 and, with almost no warning, people screaming "Oh, my God!" and running away from collapsing rubble and buildings on fire.

There's a difference between solemn remembrance, exploitation, and total insensitivity.

Eat it,

TV Report: God Damn It, SNL

So, Saturday Night Live is coming back this fall without Casey Wilson and Michaela Watkins. I think that's a terrible decision, letting these two go. SNL is always (and be honest, has always been) scattershot in its quality, but I really enjoyed the last couple of seasons, and those two were a big part of the reason why. For a show that has always felt it was perfectly reasonable to have a stable of guys and only a couple of women on the show, it was nice seeing them start to sort of build up a supporting cast that was a little more diverse and, for the most part, actually funny. (And to be honest, I don't think Kristen Wiig is that funny--she's good, but she's really mannered and obvious. And to be more honest, I didn't think Maya Rudolph was ever funny once.)

Michaela is moving on to some kind of sitcom Lorne Michaels is producing, so she's basically being promoted, but Casey Wilson was just let go. Fired, basically. I don't know why, but there was a story going around that she reacted badly when the producers told her to lose 30 pounds. NBC finally got around to issuing a statement saying that wasn't true (and even if it was true, they have to say that), but it looks like the damage has already been done. There's a big debate now over whether or not Saturday Night Live has a double standard about weight. I think if you've been paying attention, it's glaringly obvious they've always had a double standard about everything when it comes to women. As much as it's obviously not true, there's still the prevailing notion that women just aren't funny so they're not as important to comedy.

And when it comes to weight, certainly no one ever told Chris Farley to lose weight. It got to be one of the most predictable and unfunny excesses of his later years on the show that, at least once, they were going to take his shirt off and expose his man boobs for hilarity. And Chris Farley was funnier than just being the fat guy.

There's always been the double standard, too--and not just in comedy--that the professional value of women somehow comes down to their attractiveness. It's not enough for a woman to be funny, she's also got to be fuckable in some way. That's really Sarah Silverman's only shtick--"Tee hee, I'm a sexy little Jewish girl who says disgusting things for shock value!" So if you want to talk double standards, it's hard not to argue over it when one of the funniest people on the show (I said it and I believe it) gets fired for no discernible reason and then happens to be slightly overweight. Make of it what you will.

Either way, Casey Wilson is funny and will continue to be funny with or without Saturday Night Live.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Alright, One More Sesame Street Song

"Born to Add" -- an all time favorite.

Republican Piggies as Classless as Ever

The majestic elephant is too dignified to be the symbol of the Republican Party. They should change it to the pig. Greedy, dirty, willing to swallow anything to get fatter, and completely rude. Joe Wilson sure did exemplify those attitudes last night.

The defining moment in President Obama's speech last night was Hecklin' Joe Wilson screaming "You lie!" And, really, his tacky, boorish, classless, uncivil, impolite, weaselly move was pretty much the defining moment of the way the GOP has acted during the barely-10-months-old Obama presidency. It personified exactly what the Republicans have been doing all summer long, with less crazy nuttiness but no more dignity: screaming into the wind with nothing to back it up.

I hope this moment provides a rallying point for the Democrats. I hope it makes Obama realize that no matter how nice he plays with the right and how fair he tries to be and how much he may even genuinely believe bipartisanship is possible, the right will never rally to him. After the last eight years--hell, after the last 13 years, since the 1996 Republican victory in Congress--they will never be willing to sit and work with the president and the left to get things done, because they cannot accept their loss of the majority and they cannot accept that a black man is now leading this country.

I like to think President Obama's speech got to the heart of that, denouncing death panel alarmists as the liars they are and warning Republicans that he wouldn't deal with people trying to kill the reform. He showed that he was aware of the "partisan spectacle that only hardens the disdain many Americans have toward their own government." He's remarkably aware of what's been going on, saying "Too many have used this as an opportunity to score short-term political points, even if it robs the country of our opportunity to solve a long-term challenge. And out of this blizzard of charges and counter-charges, confusion has reigned."

Is he finally going to get tough about this? I felt some of his language when it came to the public option was still a little vague. Is he aware how much confidence many Democratic voters have lost in him? He needs to present a clear plan, and he has yet to do so. He needs to put together votes, and he has yet to do that, too. And he needs to stop acting like passing a bill with a public option is a political liability.

It isn't.

Not when polls show that 77% of the American public wants a public option. And when the lies that the Republicans have scared people with never happen, they'll pay the political price, and they'll pay it long-term. 47 million uninsured is a national crisis.

Put it this way: health insurance companies are corporations. Their only responsibility is to their shareholders, not their policy holders. Like every corporation in America, they are in the business of making money, not handing it out. And they do not have a legal responsibility to provide health care to anyone, even though they're the primary means of access to medical care in America. How is that even conscionable?

It's because America has been run like a business for 40 years. How about we run it, for a change, like a damn government?

Republicans have made it clear that they're not going to be part of the solution. They don't know or care what the American people want. They only care what they want. As a body, the Republican Party has broken the public trust by refusing to take steps to solve a national crisis simply because the black guy is leading the charge and because of the potential danger to their wallets. Let them hang themselves and just get this finished.

The best example of Republican sleaze was the comment from Senator Lindsey Graham: "I was incredibly disappointed in the tone of his speech. At times, I found his tone to be overly combative and believe he behaved in a manner beneath the dignity of the office. I fear his speech tonight has made it more difficult--not less--to find common ground. He appeared to be angry at his critics and disappointed the American people were not buying the proposals he has been selling... If the Obama administration and congressional Democrats go down this path and push a bill on the American people they do not want, it could be the beginning of the end of the Obama presidency."

Of course the president was combative--he's an embattled president. You made this so.

Middle ground? There's no middle ground with Republicans. Not at this point in history. You've made that so, too, by dealing in bad faith and trying to obstruct. Compromise does not mean that one side gives in to the other. You're unwilling to meet in the middle.

Angry at his critics? And why not? His critics have spent the summer spinning lie after lie about the public option in order to panic the American people.

The American people aren't buying? Bullshit. 77%, Senator. 77% of Americans are willing to buy this, and a lot of us are pretty angry we haven't gotten it yet. We're frustrated that it's taking so long while we have to listen to crazy people make specious claims based on outright lies, and then had to listen to news outlets act like there's some kind of legitimate objective balance in taking this claptrap seriously.

The end of the Obama presidency? I doubt it. Not after last night. Not after that piggish outburst. I think--I hope--that President Obama and the entire Democratic Party looked at that and realized what rude little piglets they've been dealing with and how chasing after them is only going to get them stuck in mud and pig shit. I hope this provides a reality check. A wake-up call.

If it does, ol' Hecklin' Joe may unwittingly be the man who ends up saving the Obama presidency.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

I Love Counting

Just to lighten things up here a little, check out Feist on Sesame Street performing "1234." Genius. This made me smile and smile and smile.

The Public Option

Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich explains the public option in less than three minutes:

(Thanks to Firedoglake)

Seems simple enough, but there are apparently a lot of people who need this explained.

I don't know if I can watch President Obama's address to Congress about health finance reform. He seems to have thrown the public option out the window, which was supposedly one of the central pieces of his platform. Everything now seems headed towards compromises with the insurance companies, which is not only politically disastrous for Obama (77% of this country wants a public option, 47 million people in this country are uninsured, and lots of these people vote) but disastrous for America.

The problem with this issue is that there's no debate. On one side, we have a shameful lack of support in Washington for this, with the exception of some true progressives and true liberals who may not be enough. On the other side, we have people on both the right and the left who are in the pocket of insurance agencies. Added to this is the president's ineffectual "I believe a public option is a good thing" and people on the right who are only stirring up the crazies with outright lies about socialism and Hitler in order to obstruct. I don't know what this must look like from outside this country, but from here, it looks like the monkeys have taken the controls and the plane is in a downward spiral.

Look at the example of other countries. Has Canada gone bankrupt because they have public health care? No, anyone with two eyes and a brain that connects to their spinal cord can see that it hasn't. Do they pay more in taxes? It depends on what you consider taxes; in this country, we pay taxes and then pay more money on top of our taxes and call it "fees" and "co-pays" and "tuition." And separate from our taxes, a significant portion of our wages go to an employers' health insurance plan.

So, imagine you or someone in your immediate family gets sick. Not sniffles-and-headaches sick, but will-die-without-expensive-treatment sick. You don't just take advantage of the insurance you pay for. There is a person or group of persons at your insurance company who decides whether or not to approve the expense. Often, they deny it because of a technicality or a loophole or a pre-existing condition or because they just don't consider it cost-effective or justified or necessary. If they can't deny you, they can limit the amount of time they allow you to stay in a hospital. When you most need the benefit and support of a system you pay for, you can be harassed and harried and denied and driven into bankruptcy. The majority of bankruptcies and home foreclosures in this country are because of medical costs.

Is this a worst case scenario? Depends on how sick you are.

It doesn't make sense to me that in this country we have a loud faction who honestly thinks that it's okay to let people die because they don't make enough money. But that's too sentimental an argument for some people. You know what else doesn't make sense? The fact that people don't see this as an issue of dignity or of freedom or of basic rights of access to something fundamental--the means to live.

It doesn't make sense to me that people don't see this as a good thing for a free market that will be forced to be more competitive--which means lower prices and better quality. Or that people haven't processed what it might mean for their wages if the company they work for isn't forced to provide insurance coverage for their employees.

What about what it means for productivity in this country? Sick people don't just go away and wait to die. Isn't it a good thing for our country to give people the means to stay well and keep being productive?

Come on, people, your taxes pay for the free health care of government workers, why aren't you griping that you don't have access to that, too? You should be.

I'm tired of this fake debate. The fact is, this isn't a partisan issue, and making it one is ridiculous on both sides. I'm tired of hearing from the people who lie about the cost or about the supposed inefficiency of government programs or the "socialist agenda" of the left. 77% of the country is not the left. It just isn't. And I don't hear you whining about your ability to use bridges and roads and public libraries and the police, all of which are paid for by your taxes and are government programs.

Put it this way: if your house was on fire in the middle of the night, you'd call the fire department. And if, God forbid, you had a loved one trapped in the house with no way out, you'd expect the firefighters to save that loved one. There'd be no debate, no second thought.

Now imagine that instead, when the firefighters reached your house, they asked for proof of insurance and a policy number. Hope you didn't leave those in the house when you ran out. Imagine that a representative of the fire department needed to process your information and charge you a co-pay for their services. Would you feel that that was fair? Or would you feel horrified, even violated, to be so harangued in such a time of need?

There are a lot of people out there who are asking the same thing of people who get sick: to simply suck it up and accept that if they can't afford health care or if they're denied coverage, they're just going to die or go broke. And that's just not a solution. We've tried it their way for decades, and it's a system that's broken. America deserves better than what those people want for it. Whatever happened to preserving the American standard of living?

Those people can always opt out, anyway. It's a public option.

Matt Taibbi's Rolling Stone piece is required reading.

UPDATE 6:28 PM: I wanted to mention: I've been hearing a lot about swine flu and how bad it's supposed to get this fall and winter. Swine flu is in DeKalb. I know who has it, where they work, and who's keeping it quiet so they don't start a panic. It seems like this could be a major public health concern. Keeping people from access to affordable health care is just insane in that kind of climate. And if it does become something as bad as they're predicting, it's going to be interesting to see if the political climate changes. It's easy to be high-handed when you're comfortable, isn't it?

Marvel, Disney, Boom

Now that the smoke from Disney's acquisition of Marvel Comics has cleared, people seem to have gotten over their initial stupid overreactions to the whole thing and some interesting questions are being asked. What I'm most interested in is what will happen to BOOM! Studios, the publisher doing excellent business with comics based on Disney and Pixar, and especially the Muppets.

Disney has been involved in the world of comics pretty much since the start. Walt Disney realized that comics were a fertile ground for marketing and publicity, and took advantage of it right away. The Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Silly Symphonies newspaper strips all cropped up pretty early, and for years Disney stories and art appeared in Good Housekeeping. Disney spent years with comic book tie-ins and original series at Gold Key, Dell, Gladstone, etc.

What's really sad is that a lot of the overreaction to Disney being in comics seems to come from people who don't know that there's a rich history of Disney in comic books. Courtney Love's daughter, for example, took to Twitter to rant of Disney "we won't let you taint the world of comics, ASSHOLES." But Disney's been involved in comic books since long before there was such a thing as Marvel Comics.

Jeez, doesn't the name Carl Barks mean anything to anyone anymore? Because it really should.

As I said recently, anyway, it's not like the Marvel comic books themselves have anything to do with keeping the characters alive. They're really beside the point. It's the movies, the merchandising, the TV shows, the action figures... I think it's really hilarious--I mean genuinely, head-shakingly, laugh-out-loud hilarious--that there were so many people who took to the web to announce their horror that a multimedia conglomerate more interested in profits, crossover appeal, marketing, merchandising, and putting Mickey Mouse on every pair of socks than they are in creating something new, would dare to buy the hallowed House of Ideas, Marvel Comics--a company more interested in profits, crossover appeal, marketing, merchandising, and putting Spider-Man on every pair of socks than they are in creating something new.

Yeah, comic book characters are pure and Marvel has integrity. Just ask anyone wearing a Hulk tee shirt and they'll tell you.

So, yeah... except for their value as trade collections and graphic novels, the comic books are beside the point. And, frankly, they're stupid. I used to love Marvel Comics, but 96% of them are virtually unreadable. It used to be the complaint that Marvel pitched their comics at 15 year-old boys. Sadly, that's not even true anymore. Now they're pitched at the same audience who's been reading them for 20 years and seem only to be able to enjoy a comic book for how it relates to every other comic book, as though Marvel's continuity is their own life's continuity.

And I don't mean to insult everyone who likes Marvel Comics. It's just that, really, if you can't divorce your general love of a comic book character from your need to see everything line up in some kind of slavish, complex, defining continuity, I kind of feel sorry for you. (And that goes for anything--movie remakes, comic books, new adaptations of Shakespeare, new versions of old TV series, the new Star Trek movie, etc. If your love of a story absolutely depends on its fidelity to something else, I don't know what you're getting out of that thing, but I'm pretty sure it's not entertainment.)

What I meant to get at in that tangent is that Marvel Comics is breaking their backs bending over backwards to maintain the same audience they've always had. Even with hit movies like Spider-Man and Iron Man, they haven't been able to capitalize on those successes to help the sales and visibility of the comic books themselves. And I don't think it has as much to do with the fact that there are a lot of people who will just never be interested in reading comic books (or books in general) as Marvel Entertainment just doesn't care. They care a lot more about selling the ancillary merchandise of the films themselves than they care about getting people who otherwise wouldn't to go to a specialty shop and pick up a copy of Iron Man.

Anyway, to get back to my original topic, what happens to BOOM! Studios? (And if you haven't read The Muppet Show by Roger Langridge, you're missing some of the best Muppets stuff in years.) Well, in the short term, nothing. BOOM! has licenses on Muppet comics, Disney comics, and Pixar comics, and Disney has to honor those deals. The Muppet comics are so successful (and Disney's just starting their push to restore the Muppets to the place in pop culture they deserve) that Disney might not want to mess with them at all, honestly. Just because Disney owns Marvel doesn't mean that they're now going to force or even want Marvel to publish their comic books. They're not buying a publisher; they're buying characters. And it's not like Disney pays anything for those BOOM! comics--BOOM! pays for the licenses and does everything themselves, and Disney reaps some profits and sees increased visibility for their characters in comic book stores.

Personally, I'd like to see Disney get deeper into the comic book business. Maybe Marvel could start some kind of Disney imprint and see what they can work with there. Years ago, Marvel abandoned their comic books for younger kids. They got back into it a few years ago, though I don't know how successful the books were (although Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane was an excellent retelling of the Spidey mythos from another point of view).

Here's why you never underestimate the power of licensing and comics for young kids. You know what got me into comic books? Star Wars and Disney. Not movies, not comic book stores, not merchandising, not Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends. No, it was Star Wars and Disney.

When I was a kid, I used to go the barber shop with my dad and we'd get our haircuts. And this was a real, old-fashioned, pole-outside-the-door barber shop. Their magazine rack had three shelves--the top was Playboy and Time, the middle was People and that ilk, and the bottom was full of Little Golden Books and comic books. I tried DC Comics (this would have been mainly 1981-1986) because I loved the Adam West Batman series, but I couldn't get into them. I tried out Marvel Comics, and sometimes liked them, but sometimes didn't. But I always, always, always read Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck. I loved those comics and always looked forward to getting a haircut. And that was my introduction to comics.

Of course, back then, every grocery, convenience, and drug store had a spinning comic book rack. So comic books were always there. You didn't have to hunt for them. So I usually got Disney comics. Soon, I discovered that Marvel had a Star Wars comic, and that's what pulled me into the world of comic books. For a while, I read Star Wars, G.I. Joe, and Transformers. When Marvel published a comic book adaptation of The Muppets Take Manhattan, I got that, too, and it hooked me on Marvel's new Star Comics imprint for young readers. They published Fraggle Rock, Muppet Babies, Star Wars: Droids, Star Wars: Ewoks, Masters of the Universe, Heathcliff, and one of my most beloved series of all time, Peter Porker, the Spectacular Spider-Ham.

From there, it was a short jump to Marvel's superhero comics. A friend of mine was given, as a gift, an entire box of comics (this used to be something you could get from the Sears catalog). I was first exposed to Uncanny X-Men and naturally (being a Spider-Ham fan) gravitated towards The Amazing Spider-Man. My library had Stan Lee's books Origins of Marvel Comics and Son of Origins of Marvel Comics. Wow, there were lots of fun old comics to read, and these characters had so many adventures to enjoy. I got hooked on The New Mutants--a whole team of heroes who were kids, and here I was, 10 years old--and fell into a tradition of going grocery shopping with my mom once a week and buying a comic book and a generic strawberry soda. Sometimes I'd even be allowed a candy bar, and then I'd go down to the basement and sit and drink my soda and eat my candy bar and read my comic. And then someone bought me a bunch of Classic X-Men digests, and my fate was sealed.

Now cut to all of these years later, and I still love comic books. I don't read them as much as I used to--I can't afford it--but I still love the characters I grew up with and I still love comic books.

So, really, instead of worrying that Disney executive decisions will interfere with the comic books themselves (something Marvel has long been proficient in on its own), I'd think fans would be glad that this opens up a very, very slim possibility that Marvel has the means to really hook young readers again instead of having to cater to people who, as they get older, seem to demand more and enjoy less.

If you're a fan of something, do you want to selfishly keep it for yourself, or do you want other people to enjoy it, too? Sadly, for too many people, it seems to be the former.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

President Obama Encourages Kids; Parents Horrified

I saw a woman crying on the news this morning because she just couldn't stand the idea of her children having to sit in a classroom and listen to President Obama tell them how important it is to do well in school and work hard in life.

She was literally in tears, barely able to speak, because of her certitude that, in just a few hours, her children will be strapped to a chair and indoctrinated by Obama's political agenda of socialism and godlessness and being black.

This is what our country is up against. The absolute, unwavering, willful stupidity of people like this Illinois woman who was unloading a bevy of tears over the idea of her children not being dumb.

I still have no idea how this country breeds people who are so proud of their ignorance. Actually, the pride's not even what scares me. It's the way people are so protective of their ignorance. The people so happy to be used by the very people who are disgusted by them, the people who show up at a town hall meeting with a loaded gun, the people who will honestly believe Glenn Beck when he tells them that Obama's health plan is socialist, but who won't take the time to educate themselves on the realities of both the plan and their own insurance system. The people who hear buzzwords like "death panel" and "communism" and let their imaginations run wild, willing to shoot someone to protect their corporate servitude and their non-coverage for pre-existing conditions, simply because someone louder tells them it's good for them.

I am so beyond disgusted with this country.

Everyone is so hell bent on needlessly politicizing every aspect of life that we actually have schools in this country who are opting not to carry the President's school address today. And while you certainly have the right in this country not to listen to what anyone has to say, I'm uncomfortable with the idea that schools--government buildings--are able to simply opt out of an address by the President of the United States.

Have you read the speech? The full text is here. Read it. See what you're protecting your children from. This is the indoctrination you're afraid of? This is the message you fear?

Here are some of the quotes that caught my eye.

"... at the end of the day, we can have the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents, and the best schools in the world - and none of it will matter unless all of you fulfill your responsibilities. Unless you show up to those schools; pay attention to those teachers; listen to your parents, grandparents and other adults; and put in the hard work it takes to succeed."

"Take responsibility for yourself" is indoctrination? Man, I wish. I sincerely wish all it could take to get kids to do better in school is to give them a speech. As a teacher, I can tell you how hard it is to get kids to sit down and pay attention to anything, let alone a presidential address.

But the fact is, and I see this at work all the time, kids today aren't exactly raised to take responsibility for anything. They're not encouraged to do well, they're just encouraged to behave. I see entire classes fall behind because kids won't pay attention. If a kid is too disruptive, he's taken out of the class and put in a class that goes at a slower pace, and this is somehow seen as progressive. I saw a fourth-grade girl take three hours to finish a standardized test because she just couldn't pay attention to it. How is catering to her problem supposed to get her to overcome it? She should be encouraged to work harder. Instead, she'll be put in a class that doesn't demand any more of her than she can do at the age of 8. Good luck in your future endeavors, little girl.

There are parents out there who want to keep their kids ignorant of the idea of personal responsibility. And that's not just overstating or making a false connection. Again, this is what I see as a teacher. There are parents out there who are just utterly offended by the idea that their kid should have to be responsible for anything, should be beholden to any code of conduct, or should have to suffer any consequences. Most of those parents also think that forcing a kid to follow the rule and do his/her homework is "stifling their creativity."

"Every single one of you has something you're good at. Every single one of you has something to offer. And you have a responsibility to yourself to discover what that is. That's the opportunity an education can provide."

Yes, telling kids about the benefit of a good education must be indoctrinating them into some kind of socialist agenda that only exists in the heads of idiots like Rush Limbaugh.

"And no matter what you want to do with your life - I guarantee that you'll need an education to do it. You want to be a doctor, or a teacher, or a police officer? You want to be a nurse or an architect, a lawyer or a member of our military? You're going to need a good education for every single one of those careers. You can't drop out of school and just drop into a good job. You've got to work for it and train for it and learn for it."

There was a time in our country--I was a child at the very tail end of it--when it was considered a good things to teach kids to be smart, responsible, good citizens, hard workers, and interested in what happens to them. Apparently, this is bad now.

"We need every single one of you to develop your talents, skills and intellect so you can help solve our most difficult problems. If you don't do that - if you quit on school - you're not just quitting on yourself, you're quitting on your country."

That's a message kids don't just need to hear, they need to internalize it. I think reinstating government classes into the school curriculum would go a long way towards teaching these kids just how big our problems are, how far backwards we're sliding, and the importance of government in their daily lives. Kids are supposed to go to school to develop themselves and to equip themselves with the tools they need to do well in life.

I especially dug this:

"... at the end of the day, the circumstances of your life - what you look like, where you come from, how much money you have, what you've got going on at home - that's no excuse for neglecting your homework or having a bad attitude. That's no excuse for talking back to your teacher, or cutting class, or dropping out of school. That's no excuse for not trying.

Where you are right now doesn't have to determine where you'll end up. No one's written your destiny for you. Here in America, you write your own destiny. You make your own future."

Anyone who thinks this is a poor message for students is an imbecile. Pure and simple.

What are you supposed to teach kids? That they don't have to make an effort? How's that doing? How has our self-esteem-is-more-important-than-facts education system benefited the future of America? Because not only has the idea that teaching kids to feel good about themselves totally backfired--and its educational benefit completely debunked--it hasn't equipped my generation, for example, to maintain, to innovate, or to progress.

I remember a prevailing attitude when I was in elementary school that you could be whatever you wanted to be as long as you wanted it bad enough. That's a poor, poor message. The message should've been that achieving anything takes hard work and determination, that you don't get anything simply because you want it badly, and that you have to keep trying if you want to succeed.

The woman I saw bawling on the news that her kids were going to have to sit and listen to the leader of their country was obviously not told any of those things.

This was my favorite part:

"Whatever you resolve to do, I want you to commit to it. I want you to really work at it.

I know that sometimes, you get the sense from TV that you can be rich and successful without any hard work -- that your ticket to success is through rapping or basketball or being a reality TV star, when chances are, you're not going to be any of those things.

But the truth is, being successful is hard. You won't love every subject you study. You won't click with every teacher. Not every homework assignment will seem completely relevant to your life right this minute. And you won't necessarily succeed at everything the first time you try."

That's the kind of realism that too many people try desperately to shield their children from.

I had a fifth grader once tell me that he didn't need math in his life. I told him that I'd try not to say "I told you so" in the future when he couldn't figure out how much change to give me at the gas station. And this was considered controversial by the school. The kid told me that he was going to be a great drummer--and I'd heard him play, he's a very talented drummer, and he's obviously worked hard at it. I told him that he had talent, but that his skills were only developed by working hard at the drums every day. I told him that if he wanted to go into music, he should learn math so he knows if he's getting ripped off.

The reality was that the kid got frustrated with math because he wasn't good at it right away. But while that kind of kid benefits from specific attention, he doesn't benefit from getting shunted into a classroom where he learns at a slower pace than everyone else. Maybe it's insensitive, but that caters to his problem. He's got to be made to work. He's got to see how the subject is relevant to his life and what he wants to do. And he's got to be given a real chance to overcome the problems he's having with numbers.

You know what got him to work? I had a discussion with him about how music is math. And when he saw that, he got right to it. So now he beats out the numbers in his head. But you know what? He knows how to multiply now.

"... you can't let your failures define you - you have to let them teach you. You have to let them show you what to do differently next time. If you get in trouble, that doesn't mean you're a troublemaker, it means you need to try harder to behave. If you get a bad grade, that doesn't mean you're stupid, it just means you need to spend more time studying."

Also: "No one's born being good at things, you become good at things through hard work."

Understand, we live in a country that thinks small. We used to dream about going to the stars and revolutionizing travel and curing diseases. Now we dream about having a personal data device that can tell us what time the movie is starting and what restaurants to avoid. Our dreams have gotten small, so our problems seem insurmountable.

What the President of the United States is telling you is that no problems are insurmountable with hard work and dedication. That pushing yourself to do better helps us all succeed.

He's not telling you to narc on your friends, like George H.W. Bush did when he made a similar speech (with the same request that students write letters and essays) in 1991. He's not trying to make you afraid of the future, they way Bush the Smarter certainly did (I was in the audience, I remember it all too well).

President Obama wants to tell your kids that--with responsibility, hard work, and an education--the future is theirs to make brighter and better.

If you're trying to protect your kids from hearing this because you think he's some kind of socialist who's going to teach your kids to be communists--well, not only do you know nothing about either ideology, you're also an idiot. There's no way to be nice about that. You're a moron.

One more quote from Obama's speech: "The story of America isn't about people who quit when things got tough. It's about people who kept going, who tried harder, who loved their country too much to do anything less than their best."

If you want to be mad about something, you should be mad that it takes a special presidential address for your kids to hear this when, really, it's something their teachers and their parents should be telling them every day.

Monday, September 07, 2009

An Anatomical Experience for Children

What do you call a designer who creates a slide that looks like a giant penis that spooges children? A mad genius, that's what.

My 25 Favorite Video Games of All Time

As I'm sure I've mentioned time and again, I'm not really a video game guy. I find them unusually frustrating and hard to deal with; it's been a problem ever since I was about 11 years old, actually. But that said, I've certainly enjoyed my fair share of games, enjoyed them, and have fond memories of many. And since there is just nothing to do today, I decided I'd make a list of my favorites.

So these are the 25 games I've enjoyed playing the most. They're not necessarily my out and out faves (from a pop culture standpoint, those would be Pac-Man and Space Invaders), but the games I've had the best times with. So, in ascending order...

25. Gauntlet (NES)
My sister and I used to get into this game and play it for hours and hours. It looks so simple, but it had its overwhelming moments, especially in 2-player mode, where any mistakes you made could get the other person killed. This game may actually be a huge factor in the fights I had with my sister; we both get frustrated pretty easily, and this game could get you like that.

24. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (PS2)
Kind of like a more fully-animated version of Gauntlet, in a way. Becca and I had hours of fun getting lost in this game and journeying through Middle-earth and killing lots and lots and lots of orcs. I like games where you just get thrown in and have to fight your way out, and this was one of the best times I had doing it.

23. Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES)
I liked all of the Mario games for NES, but this was far and away my favorite. Frustrating as hell in some places, but really fun.

22. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Arcade Game (arcade)
I don't know how much money in quarters I must have fed into this machine. I remember playing this game with my sister at the arcade over and over and over again. It was one of those sideways scrolling action games, and we just played and played and played until we'd won the damn thing. Carl and I played this game, too. Konami also made an X-Men game like this, and it's still the best X-Men game I've ever played (although I haven't played any since the Capcom arcade games and Sega Genesis).

21. LEGO Star Wars: The Video Game (PS2)
All of the LEGO games will be on this list. Are they all the same game? Sure. But they're also all fun. They're the perfect combination of an action game and a puzzle game.

20. Metroid (NES)
Another game I just loved to play for hours at a time, even though I wasn't always as good at it as I wanted to be. I played this at a friend's house and then took off and bought my own copy of it.

19. LEGO Batman: The Video Game (PS2)
Easily the most fun I've ever had with a Batman game.

18. Galaga (arcade)
When I could get my mom away from it, this was always a neat game to play.

17. Medal of Honor: Rising Sun (PS2)
I like these kinds of first-person shooter games. I especially enjoyed this one just because Becca and I got so into it. She was on vacation from work and we just sat and played this game for a few days until we beat it. I enjoyed the heck out of that.

16. Tetris (PC)
Well, come on, who doesn't love Tetris?

15. Pokemon Snap (N64)
I generally found this to be a relaxing (if sometimes difficult) game. It was a neat premise; you got in a cart and went through a Pokemon habitat and tried to take really good photographs of them. A charmingly simple concept that took a surprising amount of skill to master. And it was a nice break from action games.

14. Army Men: Sarge's Heroes (N64)
Damn, I enjoyed the hell out of this game. This was just a fun game. It was one of the few video games to teach me the value of patience, too. I tend to overreact.

13. LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy (PS2)
The major reason this scores over the other LEGO Star Wars game is that you can import the characters from the first game and you can play bounty hunting missions. The most fun I've ever had with a Star Wars video game.

12. The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask (N64)
This and The Ocarina of Time are my two favorite Zelda games ever. Appropriately epic, the way I'd always imagined them to be in the eighties.

11. Mario Kart 64 (N64)
I'm not usually a fan of racing games, but this one was a lot of fun. Plus, I dig all the Mario characters (nearly making this list: Super Smash Bros. for the N64). I don't know, it was just a lot of fun to play. Is it true they've added Pac-Man to the lineup for the Wii version? Because that's just too freaking awesome for words.

10. Dr. Mario (NES)
I got lost playing this game during the summer of 1993, when there was all the flooding. When I wasn't working, I sat and zoned out on Dr. Mario. It was very relaxing. Well, focused, maybe. Took my mind right off of how tired and annoyed I was.

9. Banjo-Kazooie (N64)
This game was really weird and really neat. A lot like the puzzle/action combination of Mario or the LEGO games, but really, really bizarre. It was a little extra neat because the main character, Banjo the Honey Bear, reminded me so much of Billy Bob from Showbiz Pizza. I can't explain it, but playing this game made me feel like a little kid in a really good way.

8. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (GameCube)
This has the distinction of being one of only two games I've ever played on GameCube. It's also, in my experience (so far), the Zelda game with the best animation. It looks like a cartoon, and I love it for that.

7. Ms. Pac-Man (arcade)
All due respect to my beloved Pac-Man, but Ms. Pac-Man did have way better game play. This is the first and last arcade game I was incredibly good at.

6. Space Invaders (arcade)
The experience of playing this game at a loud arcade is something everyone should enjoy at some point or another. I remember when this game was so popular there was a line to play it.

5. Super Mario 64 (N64)
After getting the NES around 1987 or 1988, I didn't make a major platform upgrade until Becca bought the Nintendo 64 around 1997. It was a real jump in quality, and I have really fond memories of that platform because it was mine and Becca's first together. It came with this game, and we sat and played it together for hours and hours during a particularly heavy winter. I will always have fond memories of this game, no matter how much it frustrated me.

4. The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time (N64)
I've always loved the Legend of Zelda games, and this was such an improvement over the last one I'd actually played, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, that I was blown away. I'd always wanted to see Link fully formed in an epic landscape, and this was certainly it. What I love about the Zelda games is that you can just play these things forever and ever. There's so much to them that it's not over and done so quickly. Of all of the Zelda games, for whatever reason, this one is my favorite.

3. LEGO Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures (PS2)
The perfection of the LEGO game, at least for me.

2. Sid Meier's Civilization III (PC)
It caters to everything I want: it's long and involved, it takes strategic planning, it's a world-building game, and it's based in history. There are entire days of my life that have gone missing because of this game. I played it so much that I had to take it off of my computer. But it's just sitting there, waiting to be reinstalled...

1. Centipede (arcade)
There was nothing to this game but a rolling ball and a button. And yet, it was awesomeness in video console form. Sometimes the simplest things are the most wonderful.