Wednesday, July 28, 2010

what's wrong with baseball?

Alex Rodriguez is one home run away from one of the most exclusive clubs: In Major League Baseball history, only six players have hit more than 600 home runs. Once Rodriguez hits number 600, he's going to bound past Sammy Sosa, number six on that list, who stands at 609. Ken Griffey, Jr. presents a bit more of a challenge, as he stands at 630, but if Rodriguez doesn't pass that mark this year (it seems very unlikely that he will) his averages dictate that he will next year. After Rodriguez surpasses Griffey, it's a virtual Holy Grail until the top. The list from fourth to second goes from Willie Mays, Babe Ruth, and Hank Aaron. Then, on top, we have Barry Bonds. We're going to sidestep the Bonds moral dilemma for now and focus on the man who's still playing, who's going to make history, any day now: Rodriguez.

A-Rod began his career in Seattle, playing for the Mariners and moved to the Texas Rangers before settling (where he'll probably retire) with the New York Yankees. Always considered one of the finest to play the game, he broke a sixty-eight year record by becoming the youngest player ever to hit 500 home runs, in 2007. A mere three years later, he is in line to make history with 600. Rodriguez's accomplishment, however, seems to be drawing (relatively) little media attention. Some of it has to be Bonds-related. The lingering effects of the Steroid Era still taint MLB, in the minds of fans and sportswriters alike. Rodriguez is not Bonds, but he's not without sin: Just over a year ago, he admitted to using steroids, claiming that he only did so during his time with the Rangers, due to the tremendous pressure to perform. Baseball purists and armchair pundits can argue all day long whether the state of the game merits an asterisk or whether this entire generation does, but numbers speak: Barry Bonds is the all-time home runs leader, and Alex Rodriguez will probably surpass him, if he continues on pace and plays for long enough.

So what's the deal with Rodriguez? What's the deal with the media? What's the deal with MLB? Why isn't this a bigger deal? It'll be celebrated in baseball circles, sure, but it won't be the all-out fete we had when Sosa, or Griffey, or even Bonds passed the mark. Maybe it's the afore-mentioned taint of the admissions we've seen in the papers, but maybe it's just a product of the slowing-down era. Twelve years ago, in 1998, we had Mark McGuire and Sosa (and Griffey) battling it out in the newspapers for the single-season home run crown. This year alone, we've had five no-hitters pitched. The game has changed dramatically from a (probably-) steroid enhanced hitter's game to a pitcher's game. It's been coming for a long while and some purists will try to convince you that it was never anything but. The records say otherwise.

Rodriguez will hit 600 any day now. He should have already done so, to be honest. When he does, it should be a celebration. But it's probably a good sign for the emotional and mental health of baseball that active player closest to him in the chase is Jim Thorne of the Chicago White Sox, a pretty non-controversial ball player. After that, well, we have Manny Ramirez, who comes replete with his own issues.

Friday, July 23, 2010

comics for the week of 07/21/10.

Man. If I only get two comics in a week, most of the time, does that mean that I'm not really a comic book fan? Am I just going along to go along? Regardless...

New Avengers 2 - Bendis is still writing all the Avengers books? Is this true? Well, all I can say to that is, after a seven-year plan (their own words), things seem pretty wacky. Couldn't we just have broke the teams up and got them to this point without all the Disassembled, Civil War, Secret Invasion, etc.? I don't know. These questions are perhaps pointless, and definitely beside the point: New Avengers 2 was good. But it's weird to see these guys on a team together, and the adventure they're having is weird. Let's see if I can get this right: Brother Voodoo is now Doctor Voodoo, Sorcerer Supreme. Doctor Strange is still around, and for some reason, so is Damien Hellstrom. Some demons have come to get the Eye of Agomotto, which we know from the Strange days. Somehow, the New Avengers get involved, Luke Cage gets possessed and then Danny Rand does. Danny Rand may or may not have vanished from this plane of existence. Oh yeah, and meanwhile, these New Avengers consist of Wolverine, Spider-Man, the afore-mentioned Danny Rand and Luke Cage, as well as Jessica Jones (maybe?) and the Thing. Huh? I know. It doesn't make a lot of sense. But...it's good.

Scarlet 1 - On the other hand, this book definitely makes sense. (And yes, I'm including it in books for this week, even though it came out earlier, because I just bought it this week.) Scarlet is kind of a normal girl, insofar as she's got no powers and she appears to live in the real world. When her boyfriend-at-the-time gets gunned down by a cop (as revenge for having the temerity to strike the cop), the boyfriend-at-the-time is subsequently framed as having been a major player in the drug game and Scarlet has what we call a serious revelation: Things are not right in the world. So she appears to be setting herself up to go on a mission against those things that are wrong. The thing that's gonna have people talking about this book is that Scarlet regularly breaks the fourth wall and narrates directly to the reader. Cool idea, it's been done before in movies and books (and maybe comics?) but it's certainly not played out. We'll see, after five or six issues, if it's really necessary, though. For now, the art by Alex Maleev is more than worth the price of admission.

Book of the week goes to Scarlet for taking a unique position, and bringing Maleev's art back to a world that needs it.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

breaking: lance armstrong will not win the tour de france.

Actually, at this point, that's old news. Everyone who follows cycling (and pretty much everyone who doesn't, as well) has long since come to terms with the fact that the previously-unbeatable Armstrong is, at this point, old. In his own words, he's “just not fast enough.” He has acknowledged that, “Lance Armstrong is over in about four days,” joining the rest of the world in celebrating and mourning his last race. So why does this matter? Cycling always was and always will be bigger than just one man, right? The Tour de France this year is coming down to the wire, with a mere 8 seconds separating the current leader, Alberto Contador, from the second-place rider, Andy Schleck. The next stage, taking place in the Pyrenees on Thursday, promises to be drama-filled and heart-racing.

But still...at least here in America, there's Armstrong. He of the superhero name. He of the gravity-defying odds. He of the Livestrong organization. Armstrong captivates our collective imagination because of his story, because of his proto-American attitude and, perhaps most of all, because of the way he refused to quit. However, there are more than a few people the world over who do not believe that Armstrong accomplished what he did by legal or fair means. The constant hunt for him in the French press has gotten plenty of attention in the past, and just this month Andrew Corsello wrote a damning piece for GQ (which doesn't appear to be online in any version other than PDF for the iPad) where he claimed that Armstrong has lied so vehemently and for so long, that now he has no choice but to continue the lie.

So why does it matter that Armstrong will not win the Tour de France? It matters precisely for the afore-mentioned responses: People the world over, not just in America, react viscerally to Armstrong as a person and as a symbol. His story sparks people's hopes and dreams and the accusations against him spark our fears and nightmares. Beyond the overt symbolism, though, he matters as a person, too: He is a seven-time winner of the Tour de France, a feat unmatched in history. He grabbed all of his victories in that race on successive trips. And he did all of this after being diagnosed with stage three testicular cancer. When he arrives on the Champs-Élysées, it will not be as a champion, almost against our expectations. And that's worth watching for.

Monday, July 19, 2010

comics for the week of 07/14/10.

OK. So I've been on vacation and thus not blogging, but if we're being honest, we'll admit that I was slacking even before I left. But even if this space only constitutes reprints of my Alibi articles and these comic reviews, at least I'll be writing two things a week, bare minimum. With that in mind, these will be the comics I picked up from this week, as well as last, skipping over three weeks ago (when, for what it's worth, I got Powers 4 - good, Green Lantern 55 - better than expected, and Flash 3 - great) and just trying to move on from there. Without further ado.

Batgirl 12 - The conclusion of Flood. Batgirl's been around for a year now, and it's hard to say that it's a truly great book. But it's fun, and I love the relationship between Barbara and Stephanie. I like the setting up of Calculator as a rouge for the duo, but this issue seems to have put an end to that? I don't really like the shoe-horning in of Wendy, previously of the Wonder Twins, but I'll take it. I love the art. I like the cops, the department, and the ways in which Jim interacts between all those worlds. This issue was a nice conclusion to the Batgirl Rising story, and I'm hopeful of bigger and better things at this point.

Batman 701 - "The Missing Chapter" of RIP. And yes, I said that I was dropping Batman. And yes, Morrison is tricking me into reading something again. But I'll tell you what: This issue was good. I liked seeing Alfred welcome Bruce back to the mansion as though it was just another day. I liked the counting backwards, down toward the Final Crisis 'death'. And I like the fact that this part of the story is being filled in, because back during RIP and Final Crisis, this was a huge question that people had.

Batman and Robin 13 - Continuing the reveal of Oberon Sexton. And yes, I said I was dropping Batman and Robin. And yes, Morrison is still tricking me into sticking around. What can I say? He's good at that. I'm not honestly sure what's going on with the Thomas Wayne subplot here in this book, but it can't possibly be real, otherwise we'd hear mention of it in the other Bat books, as well as across the rest of the DC universe...right? So where does that leave us? The Joker has come back, he says, to try to help out one last time, since he's realized this isn't "his Batman." But then, when Damien is in the room with him, the Joker says, "You sound like...like him!" which I think is a promising direction to take the relationship. Plus, all this is only secondary to the first six pages, set three days ahead of the main story in the book, where we see Dr. Hurt shoot Dick Grayson in the head! This book is good, it's got me hooked again, after a bizarre mid-section to it's first year. Strong starts and Morrison kind of go hand-in-hand, but I'm (as usual) worried about the ending.

Booster Gold 34 - Continuing the story of Max Lord. And yes, I said I was dropping Booster. We can see how well my willpower is working out. However, after this issue, I'm pretty sure that I've got to drop Booster. It's nowhere near the book it used to be and this devolving approach isn't working for what used to be one of the most fun books out. The thing is, Giffen and DeMatteis write fun books. They always do, they always have. And they have a great take on Booster. Or...at least, they did in the past. For now, their screwball take just feels wrong on this book. It had so many layers working for it, and Booster actually mattered in the grand scheme of things. Now, he's just off gallivanting in the past with Ted. Sorry, it's got to go.

Daredevil 508 - Shadowland...Part 2? So, I obviously missed some pretty huge things in Shadowland 1 because, well...I had no idea that Matt killed Bullseye. I mean, I knew Shadowland was going to be huge, and I knew I wanted to get it, I guess I just...missed it? What a bummer! I'll go back and get it, but I've already read it at a friend's house, and it was good! DD continues the great storyline and, honestly, at the end of this story, I think Matt might have to die. Of course, there are other options, and no, I don't want the Marvel Universe to be sans Daredevil, but damn! he's just too far gone at this point. The fact that Luke Cage and Danny Rand were there and saw it in person is really going to damn Matt in the future. This book has been getting better and better for literally years at this point and I'm both excited and worried that this might be the biggest crescendo we've seen yet.

Red Hood: The Lost Days 2 (of 6) - Jason Todd finds out that Batman didn't kill the Joker in revenge. And he's a little pissed off about it. Jason, of course, immediately goes off to Gotham, grabs a bunch of tech, and plants a bomb on the Batmobile in a way that only he could. However, when he sees Bruce returning, he realizes that he doesn't just want to kill him; he wants Bruce to know that it was him, he wants Bruce to see him as he dies. Talia's relationship with her father and with Jason is fleshed out a little more in this issue, definitely a good thing. All in all, a good, solid issue of an interesting mini-series.

Spectacular Spider-Girl 3 (of 4) - The battle between Punisher and Spider-Girl continues, takes a turn when Wild Card shows up, and April goes headfirst off the deep end. This book is so much fun it consistently makes me regret that I didn't read Spider-Girl when it was a regular series (sorry y'all). Even the Punisher isn't bugging me like he normally does. The Gang War is heating up and May is trying to do her best to prevent it from happening. She fights the Punisher, April, and Wild Card in this issue, and there's even room that another fight with Black Tarantula might have happened. Ultimately, we see an interesting reveal about Wild Card (making me want to track back his appearances) and we see April getting ready to make the most serious mistake she'll have an opportunity to. Great issue, can't wait for the conclusion.

The Unwritten 15 - The best book on the market right now? It's damn good and it keeps getting better. In this issue, we see the return of Wilson Taylor, we have a confrontation with Count Ambrosio and we get another literary quest, showcasing this book's strength. That's not even getting into the subplot with Lizze Hexam, which speaks volumes about things we should learn in the future about Savoy. This book is great in its layers, great in regards to both the writing and the art, and great with its pacing as well! I've loved the issues that have diverted from the main plot, they've never felt too intrusive. Every time we get a normal issue, though, we get so much detailed and discovered, though, that's probably to be expected. If you're not reading the Unwritten, you're missing out.

Book of the week is obviously the Unwritten.

Friday, July 16, 2010

even in california.



Vacationing continues to otherwise occupy me, so enjoy this lazy blast from the past of unnecessary quotation marks, proving that, even in California, people are oftentimes silly.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

the king leaves the city.

I'm on vacation and won't be posting anything, but, of course, I had to get out to the bars to see the LeBron decision. And I was kicking myself from the get-go for doing so. But here's a little reaction piece I wrote for the Alibi upon viewing.

So. LeBron James is going to join the Miami Heat. He's going to join Dwyane Wade's team. The team that Chris Bosh has already joined. He's going to join Mario Chalmers and Michael Beasley, whom everyone in the NBA knows the Miami Heat are actively shopping, in an effort to pay their two new superstars (and their old one) as much money as possible. And this, they all think will be enough to win them not only a championship next NBA season, but the championships for the next couple of years.

Let's start with disagreement. Obviously, James, Wade and Bosh are all great players. All-Stars if not superstars, these are the guys who make the records and then break their own records. That being said, if three players take up the majority of a team's salary, who else is going to play with them? Ask Kobe, he played a few years with Smush Parker - it isn't fun, and you (and your team) don't get far. So they're going to be looking for guys who will take a little money, in anticipation of winning a ring with one of the most star-studded rosters of all time. That's definitely good. Every team needs role players. But role players are not just the minimum-salary guys. They're not Mario Chalmers, who might have hit a miracle at the buzzer to send Kansas to the overtime that they won in the NCAA Tournament Championship game, but hasn't amounted to much in the NBA. They're not guys like Mike Miller, who's been rumored to be heading to the Heat. (At this point, the Heat can't possibly pay him that much money, can they?) If the Heat can surround Bosh, James, and Wade with quality, or ever nominal, role-players, they've got to be the favorite to come out of the Eastern Conference. But if they can't there are teams that have already proved they're more than willing to take that crown.

As a sidenote to the basketball negativity, Sports Ilustrated has a great report on what this story meant to ESPN and its advancement of cronyism, nepotism, or any other inside-job -ism you want to label this story. In addition, Dan Gilbert, the majority owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers posted an incendiary takedown of LeBron James less than two and a half hours after the decision. The media ramifications of one man's decision to sign with another team in NBA Free Agency are remarkably long-reaching.

The positives can be summarized thusly: The Miami Heat will be a hugely entertaining team to watch for the first few weeks of the 2010-2011 NBA season. Also, it will be absolutely amazing to see what they do in the playoffs, which they're virtually assured of making. Lastly, it seems as though Dwyane Wade, who's actually the only one in the bunch who's already won a championship has solidified his alpha-dog status by bringing two other stars to his team.

LeBron James may have commanded the attention of a nation last night with his ESPN commercial, but he will command a different kind of attention all NBA season next year. He will learn what it's like to have a target on his back much, much larger than the one he wore as the King of Cleveland, as the Chosen One of Nike. It will be endlessly amazing to see how he (and Wade and Bosh) handle that pressure.

*

Let me add below this official newspaper style that, if these guys sign for something ridiculously under the near-max deals they could get, and bring in other quality players by sacrificing their own money, I'll root for them hard. But I'll be damned if I honestly think that's going to happen. Secondly, if Chris Paul jets to Miami next year, I'm gonna be twice as pissed. Lastly, Joey wrote a lot of these same-ish things last night before it was even official.