Monday, September 19, 2011

One of the best nights...They Might Be Giants and Jonathan Coulton come to Grand Rapids!

Looking back I can say that I have maybe been to two or three actual concerts. When I write concert here I mean a rather large event that is nationally publicized and one for which I have to fork out money. There was Lord of the Dance (really) when I was younger and then some big-name DJ shows after I first met my wife. This isn't counting the dozens of local shows I've attended.

Last night my wife and I had the pleasure to attend a concert (definitely fitting the above definition), and it was one of the best I have ever seen or could possibly imagine. Jonathan Coulton, one of my long time favorite musicians, opened for They Might Be Giants at The Intersection in Grand Rapids, MI. This was a show we had been anxiously anticipating for a long time.

From the beginning of Jonathan Coulton's "Code Monkey" to They Might Be Giants' "Dead," in their second encore, I knew that this was an event I'd remember for the rest of my life. The crowd was feeling the music and the musicians seemed to be enjoying themselves. The combination of these elements made for a beautiful atmosphere. I felt the urge to drop everything and follow this show around the country for a month or two. If only I could.

Jonathan Coulton's set was energetic and humorous, as I expected it to be, but it felt like it was far too short. I guess I neglected to remember that he was the opening act, but his set was the reason I wanted to attend in the first place so I naturally wanted more. He opened, as I previously stated, with "Code Monkey" and played several songs from his terrific new album "Artificial Heart." I managed to pick up a signed copy while at the show. In regard to the quality of his set, backed by a skillful, cohesive band and leading with his rocking guitar and vocals he managed to put on an exceptional performance. He even managed to fit in "Still Alive" which folks who have played Portal should recognize.

They Might Be Giants flat out blew the place up, which was something I honestly did not know to expect. All of them talented musicians they pulled off a successful show with pogo-inducing music and crowd interactions that I find seriously lacking from most other shows I've experienced. They started out with new material from their fresh album "Join Us" and they smoothly curved back into their catalog to delight of the pulsing mob. Their return to favorites like "Istanbul (not Constantinople)," "Dead," and "Birdhouse In Your Soul" plastered a stupid grin on my face as I happily joined in the stage-front throng. What a show!

I spent most of the show up next to stage right's speaker and am still nearly deaf as I write this. My thoughts and feelings on this experience have given me a drive to go out and attend as many concerts of interest as I can find. I hope to see Jonathan Coulton perform again soon, preferably with the longer set his talent is due, and I wouldn't mind catching They Might Be Giants again in the near future. Chicago on September 23, anyone?

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The New 52 Continued and Finally Purpose for the Ultimate Universe

Another Wednesday has come and gone. The last time I picked up comics, especially those from DC's new line up, I had a thing or two to say (see previous entry). Now I'm sitting here with a brand new pile in my lap which consists of a few offerings from good old, inconsistent DC, and two neat titles from another member of the League of Inconsistency, friendly Marvel. I feel that for once most of what I picked up was worth the effort and money.

I only bought a few of the new titles from DC this week (I'm not a 52-whore like some people who are full of collector madness). For the reading I have Batman and Robin #1, Green Lantern #1, Red Lanterns #1, and Frankenstein Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #1. So, for starters, we are back in Gotham City guided by the words of Peter J. Tomasi and the crisp artwork of Patrick Gleason. This issue left me feeling more satisfied than Detective Comics #1, but it caused some irritation due to the continued presence of the character of Damien (Wayne) in the world of Batman. This is a character I'm not too fond of but it seems other fans insist that he remains, so the publisher makes sure he does. It started by addressing the terribly unfortunate Batman Inc. idea of pre-52 days and then moved into Bruce Wayne's traditional tribute to his murdered parents. I appreciate that this new numbering begins back where they man, the hero found his beginnings. If only we didn't have the uncaring commentary of Damien to ruin a special moment for the one character in the book that actually matters. Anyway, I'm probably going to be picking up the next issue because of the collaboration of talent on the book and to follow the story line that has piqued my interests (no spoilers).

Then there's Green Lantern #1, a book that pretty much looks and reads like it did before the renumbering. Another title that shouts, "What was the point?" The universe of Hal Jordan, still penned by Geoff Johns with art by my old Darkhorse favorite Doug Mahnke, is the same except it's not. Apparently Sinestro was granted Jordan's ring, something I missed during my period away from DC when they started up Brightest Day. That's definitely an interesting twist except that it leaves our favorite cocky test pilot looking like the rest of America, slave to a stack of bills without any employment or discernible purpose. I guess that means that I'll be coming back next month to see what the heck is going to happen. Though while I wait for the calendar to roll around to next issue I can read Red Lanterns #1. This selection from the new number ones I really looked forward to when DC initially released their teaser promotional art and synopses. It's too bad that it read like it did, even though it was written by Peter Milligan. An entire group of Lanterns based on anger and a lust for pain with Atrocitus as their headman? If only the story could redeem that idea for me. Too bad it didn't. I guess my $2.99 will be spent on something else come the time of next issue.

The last of this week's DC comics I thought worthy of my attention was Frankenstein Agent of S.H.A.D.E. (damn acronyms), or should I say Super-Frankenstein and his merry band of government agent-types acting as Universal Monsters. I picked this up because I really enjoy the writing of Jeff Lemire, who did a wonderful job on last week's Animal Man #1, and in pursuing this new work from Lemire I had the privilege of discovering the artwork of Alberto Ponticelli. This title is cleverly odd from its sci-fi, super hero-world beginning to its monster, JLA-like, combat-heavy end. Frankenstein's history in the DCU is unknown to me, but for some strange reason in the few pages where he speaks or gives glimpse of his personality I find myself liking his character. I also like the idea that the book's resident mad-scientist swaps bodies on a regular basis and is currently a little girl in a domino mask. Then there's the crack team (BPRD-like) of government agents-turned-creatures of the night. Their introduction was silly and made it difficult for me to keep smiling through the rest of the book. To sum up my impression of this title, it's like the Justice League of Monsters fighting other, more chaotic monsters whilst employing the best technology Ray Palmer can throw at them. I'll be back next month for this one for sure.

My search for comics definitely paid off on the Marvel end this week. I picked up Captain America #1, written by Ed Brubaker with artwork by Steve McNiven, and even though I have no idea how Steve Rogers returned from the dead or what happened to Shield, I found this to be a fun return to the way Cap should be. McNiven's artwork was phenomenal as usual and Brubaker's handling of Cap continues to work for me. What will happen to Steve and Nick Fury next? I'll find out next issue.

My second selection from the House of Ideas was one I hope every fan of comics was open-minded enough to buy. Now, I usually dislike the Ultimate books which Marvel has milked since the early 2000s, mostly because they tell new versions of old characters when all I want are better tales from the classic Marvel canon, but Brian Michael Bendis, a writer whose work I don't worship like other Marvel readers, has given us, especially me, something in the Ultimate Universe that is finally worth reading. Ultimate Spider-Man #1, featuring Miles Morales as the new Spidey, was a book that gave its readers the hero stories they crave while introducing a different take on an old character. Finally we have some fresh and non-typical material. I enjoy Peter Parker as Spider-Man, in fact he's one of my favorite characters, but we already have him in the main Marvel Universe doing his thing. Why do we need him in an alternate continuity doing the same? Thankfully young Mr. Morales is on the scene to change stuff up, give us a new take on what it's like for a boy to gain super powers, and finally, in my opinion, justify the Ultimate Universe. I look forward to issue two and have to thank Mr. Bendis for being awesome.

I'll return next week to review more from DC, see if Marvel can continue to entertain me, and ask the questions most elderly, Alsatians are afraid to ask. Till then.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

DC Comics...a name that screams "Wallet Rape"

So this month there are, or will soon be, a full set of fifty-two number one issues from DC Comics. I, like most of my kind, have known about this for some time, but I think I was probably the least excited. In my lifetime I've seen several of these sudden, over-hyped renumberings and have yet to find one that actually produces something completely new and surprising.

The sad thing for me has been the fan response. Stopping in at my local comic book shop I've discovered that Action Comics #1 and Detective Comics #1 have become instant-rare issues, and what few extras the store had of Detective they've already marked up to ten dollars a copy. The collector mentality, something I've struggled to overcome for myself and understand, is a disgustingly unreasonable thing that I find, like most disgustingly unreasonable things, originates in the heart of good old, let's fuck up culture-America. The 1990s was a bad period for the comic book industry not just because publishers were mass producing books and creating pointless special collector editions but because the fans of the industry and enterprising outsiders hoping to do as little as possible to pay for their fuck-up child's possible future education created an insane demand. It was this demand and stupid fan response that caused the over-publication which glutted the shelves of direct market stores and weighed down the value of supposedly priceless books till they were value-raped beyond recovery. Here we are again with a news-catching publicity ejaculation from old DC that has spurred slackjaw, funny-book-philiacs into action with wallets bared like virginal lady bits to a pack of rabid, erection-baring nymphos.

I did actually buy a couple, even though I'm not the guy who was in the shop to salivate over getting two copies of every single issue. I did have a genuine interest in finding out how they revamped Action and Detective, but now I'll never get a chance to inform that interest. What I did manage to purchase were two of the fifty-two. I picked up a copy of Jeff Lemire's Animal Man and Scott Snyder's Swamp Thing. I really didn't want to buy Swamp Thing back when I first heard that they were throwing old green into the main DCU, but I was interested and a $2.99 price wasn't really preventing me from checking out what could be utter crap. I have mixed feelings about the book. I miss the Bernie Wrightson and Len Wein days, hell even the Alan Moore days, of Swamp Thing, but it seems like Snyder might have something with this new book. Hell the artwork is damn fine spiffy, too. I can't say I like that Superman (in his new blue armor?) would think to visit Alec Holland, the two shouldn't even be in the same goddamn universe as far as I'm concerned, but the idea of Dr. Holland having escaped the Green only to be nearly pulled back at issues end is intriguing. I will probably see where that goes.

In regard to Lemire's Animal Man, I miss when Jeff Lemire was an independent creator turning out quality. That's not to say that this book wasn't fantastic. I found the writing to be what I'd expect from Lemire, and the artwork, by Travel Foreman, was energetic and stylishly sloppy. This is one book I think needed to happen.

I guess my biggest problem is that it doesn't feel like this was at all necessary, and it seems like this was in many ways a money-grab by the publisher. If anything quality comes from this it's incidental depending on the creative teams responsible. I'm thankful for Animal Man #1, miffed about Action and Detective, and am very blah about Swamp Thing #1. Let's hope all this actually goes somewhere. Until the whole venture really proves itself I shall remain a bitter, irritated fan of the medium and sometimes customer of a publisher I really don't believe in.

Watch where you spend your money, comic fans. To paraphrase a dusty old knight, you must choose, but choose wisely. Make yours DC if they deserve it, otherwise I'd recommend avoiding them and most of their fifty-two. Give Animal Man a shot though, if you'd like.

Till next time.

In case I haven't raved about it yet...Spaced!

I spent a lot of time in front of a television growing up. Let's go ahead and move past whether that was unfortunate or not. Looking back I know that I enjoyed myself and had the opportunity to discover a significant number of inspirations. Sorting the good from the bad became second nature after the first few years, and thanks to my brilliant uncle who was present for most of the earliest of my Tube-years I was exposed to some of the best television ever made.

In color and black and white I had a chance to see programs such as Doctor Who, Black Adder, The Young Ones, Monty Python's Flying Circus, Mr. Bean, Are You Being Served?, Mystery and the list goes on. Obviously, unless you're an uninformed twit, you can see that this is a list of British television series (don't get me wrong I did watch a lot of American cartoons). It might be safe to say that I grew up in the humid, wilds of Florida but developed in the glow of British social commentary, absurd comedy, and incredibly imaginative science-fiction. I couldn't possibly be more thankful for such a cultural upbringing.

So now I'm an adult. A socially labeled and testosterone-endowed man who reminisces like an old woman wrapped in so much lace with a never-ending tea time. I look back on the programs of my youth with a warm fondness recalling memories like the time a tweed-jacketed Rowan Atkinson made tea with a sock or the time Rik Mayall held a benefit concert in his living room alongside Nigel Planer's Neil where Alexei Sayle (who is that fat bastard?) sung about Doctor Martin's boots or contemplating the range a cybermat must have had to be able to leap at the throats of its victims in the black and white, spine-tingling Tomb of the Cyberman. What a childhood to have grown up with such splendors born out of the minds of scrawny, pale, beautiful Brits who possessed incredible talent. All this leads me to my praise-rant for the direct descendant of all that English wonder, Spaced.

Spaced was a show I caught glimpses of, heard rumors about, and read praise for till I eventually broke down and acquired myself a copy. I don't think I have adequate words to express just how much I adore this program and the creative talent behind its production. The references throughout the show, the odd asides made by the characters, and the perfectly-timed humor all come together to honor my upbringing and the only culture folks of my generation have ever intimately known. Sure there were obscure British references, naturally, and sure there where moments where viewers without any background in the television of Britain would have been thrown off, but I got the jokes and laughed all the more because it felt like I was finally watching something made for someone like me.

The cast consisted of characters I wish, and sometimes am sure, I knew. Simon Pegg's Tim Bisley was the geek-skater of the late 90s I spent so many evenings talking to at coffee shops or watching movies with on the weekends. Jessica Hynes' Daisy Steiner was the cute girl in my class I was never brave enough to ask out but was glad to moon over from afar. Nick Frost's Mike Watt was the odd fellow and true friend-type that was fixated on something for which I had no shared interest but was someone I was always glad to have around. Mark Heap's Brian Topp was in many ways me in high school except I never really could express myself, either properly or ridiculously. Katy Carmichael's Twist Morgan was like too many girls I knew and actively avoided, and Julia Deakin's Marsha Klein was like an aunt I'd like to have around though might have avoided. What a terrific group of flavorful folk.

Often throughout the show I would catch nods to various movies and comics with which I was very familiar. Hearing someone geek out over X-Men or hate The Phantom Menace was fantastic. Seeing the copies of 2000 AD lying about or hearing bits of various Star Wars themes always, always brought a grin to my face. Knowing that Tim shared my love for Gillian Anderson was strangely comforting, and seeing his focus shift towards Buffy was just natural. The rave scene in the first series was all too accurate and brought strange cravings back from a few years ago (the less I write there the better).

If it wasn't for my Uncle Adam, the folks on the Mike Allred message board, random ads in comics, Simon Pegg's reference to the show in the special features for Shaun of the Dead, and my old roommate I'd never have found this lovely series. Now every once in a while I get a hardcore urge to put it on, sit back, and absorb the magic of the Wright-Pegg-Hynes brain-trust. I hope they do something together again real soon, and I know I can't be alone in wishing that.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Strange awakening

I awoke this morning at exactly 6am to the feeling of fingers running through my hair. My hand in response shot immediately to my head to investigate. In a mad panic I ran through the potentials and came to a conclusion that sent a shiver down my spine. What if another bat made its way in and wished to harass me in my then vulnerable, drowsy state?

My frantic, searching digits found nothing atop my head that might have caused such a sensation. It was then my imagination began to take hold of the situation and generated a possibility even more horrifying. I thought of the fact that once in this very same apartment an old woman died. I know this is as a fact because her aged sister still lives in the building, next door to my wife and I actually. What if there's a special significance behind 6am or the intimate gesture of feeling another's hair, for the spectral old maid ?

I couldn't return to sleep but instead sat for a while imagining, dreaming possibilities. Stories bubbled and churned in my brain like the vibrant, dense substance inside a lava lamp. If Wynken, Blynken, and Nod were fisherman of the night's sky I'd like to perhaps hire them out some time to sail my dreaming unconscious. I wonder what returns they'd present. I wonder what mysterious items they'd dredge from the depths of my inner-self, as unknown and as enchanting as the unfathomable depths of vast mother ocean.

One of those days...

At times I can see in the corner of my room the faint outline of a spectral 19th Century physical medium in the process of defecating ectoplasm into a dress hat. I'm not really disturbed by the spectacle as much as I'm curious why this individual chose to haunt such a drab corner of a fairly untidy room. Tastes vary, sure, but I guess the old saying says it best, "It takes all kinds."

So I write hunched over a keyboard, glaring at a loud flat screen display wishing I could think-write the shit that builds up in my head. No such luck today. The projection of thought leads to a slight headache or a need to use the facilities. I'll try again tomorrow after I've freshened my resolve.

I find those greater than or equal to five years younger than myself to be completely, irredeemably repulsive and worthy of much scorn and condescension. The real trouble with this feeling is that it surfaces often as I'm currently a full-time student surrounded by such people. Pain has apparently become my hobby because I find ways, both consciously and subconsciously, to inflict it upon myself. I think I'll start poking kids with needles so they stay away. You say share the love, I say why not the pain, too.

A bat moves in such an unfamiliar way that my naive human brain wants to call it unnatural. There's nothing more natural actually. My ignorance shames me, and the gliding shadow that mocks me from the its orbit around my kitchen light feels pity, I'm sure. I'm glad I showed that smug little shit the door.