Friday, December 30, 2011

my faves of 2011.

Here's the thing: those who know me know that I'm not terribly current on all the things that I love. With the sole exception of comics books, which I always will stay current on, I don't make it to the movies as often as I used to (or should, depending on your interpretation). I also don't read all the hot new books of the year. I try to listen to as much current music as I can, but sometimes, that shit just doesn't compare to The College Dropout. So I put that album on for the 5,000th time. So this is a list of the best movies, books, and music that I listened to this year. I'll have a section for each, and a note on whether it was new or old. But if that bothers you...well, no one's forcing you to read. I've also renamed this from the Best of 2011 to My Favorites of 2011 to acknowledge that my list is supremely biased and the reality that I just don't see and hear and read everything that I should.

Books

I read a lot more books this year than last, I think. I'm going to say it's because of my Nook, but I don't know if that's the truth. I do know that it was a conscious decision and that I plan to keep it up. These aren't in any order, except for 1 and 2, and they're a mix of fiction, non-fiction and, of course, comic books.

7. Freedom - I'm putting this in the last spot because I have two terrible confessions regarding it. Number one, I think I like Franzen more than DFW. You'll find no mention of The Pale King on this list, and that's because I started reading it and I had to stop. I couldn't keep going. It wasn't that good. Maybe that means I'm not as smart as I'd like to imagine I am, but I prefer to think it means that novel wasn't ready to be released. Franzen's Freedom, on the other hand, is a perfectly crafted picture of people who are fucked up. Confession two, I'm not even done with this novel yet. I've been desperately trying to finish it for this write up, but between the end of the semester and the holiday season, I just haven't gotten to it. However, even without finishing it, I'm confident enough in what I've read so far to put it on this list. It's a fantastic look at who we are and how we get to be that way. We're not perfect, we're fucked up most of the time, and only some people really get that.

6. The Family Fang - Another novel that truly realizes that last point. Man, having kids will fuck everyone up. The parents, the kids. Everyone. It's even worse if they think of themselves as artists in some ways. Seriously. A great novel that looks at the family dynamic though that lens.

5. The Magician King - Lev Grossman is the new boss. He's writing the best fantasy. That's all there is to it. I didn't get to read The Magicians until this year, but as soon as I did, I knew that I would love the sequel. It was, perhaps, even better than the first, and there's word that there's going to be a third. Everyone knows that the best media comes in trilogies (ever wonder why we have so many names for threesomes: troika, triumvirate, trio, etc.?) and Grossman seems primed to take his place among those classic stories. The saga of Quentin continues in the tradition of "Return of the Jedi" insofar as it takes the darkest imaginable turn and yet, still manages to tell a story you're interested in continuing.

4. Born to Run - This book changed my life in a pretty literal way. I've now embarked on a journey of refusing to run in shoes for more than a year, which I'm hoping will keep me in the habit for the rest of my life. If you think of yourself as a runner and you haven't read it, you owe it to yourself to check it out.

3. You Can't Win - The other huge non-fiction book I read this year was a gift from my former roomie/best friend Derick, of tattoo fame. It was a sobering account of how some of the other people in this world used to live, and how some people still live. It was so good that I was encouraged by it to read more non-fiction; this is something I haven't followed through with yet, but something that will definitely follow me the rest of my reading life.

2. Daytripper - At this point, the books switch drastically. Daytripper was a comic that was published in 2010, but the TPB came out in 2011, so I feel OK with including it here, even though I should have been getting it monthly. This book is so damn good that I get mad at people who haven't read it. Which, you know, is most people. I don't wanna spoil some of the premise, but suffice it to say the book takes you through the life of a semi-ordinary guy in that new post-modern way that is so effective. Namely, there's a big twist and it's thoroughly entertaining.

1. Locke & Key - I've been repping this comic on my weekly reviews ever since Dave Jordan recommended it to me. I won't stop until it's done, and even then it'll have a permanent place with me. This is, by far, the best discovery of my comic life, maybe since I started comics. Definitely since Kingdom Come. It's an ongoing that's telling a whole story. It's got something different for so many different kings of people. It's horror. It's a love story. It's revenge. It's mythology. It's beautiful. It's an homage to Bill Waterson. It's everything a comic book can and should be in this post-modern age, and it's amazing and it's happening right in front of us and most people aren't enjoying it. It's a tragedy is what it truly is. Buy it. You won't regret it.

Other than those top 7, I read the His Dark Materials trilogy which were all good, but not as good as I wanted them to be, The Destructors which I thought was bad, The Historian, which wasn't great, but made me want to travel Europe and Asia extensively (oh yeah, and live forever), Hatchet, The Island of the Blue Dolphins, and We All Fall Down for school, the last of which was great, if highly disturbing, the former two of which I'd read before but were solid reads again. I've also gotta stick up in a major way for everything that Scott Snyder wrote on Batman, whether it was Grayson or Wayne in the costume. The J.H. Williams Batwoman is head and shoulders above all other comic books in the superhero vein. Lastly, Jason Aaron's Scalped is damn near an epic saga. Great, great comics.

Movies

Same deal. The ones that came out this year make the list, and a few comments about the other great movies I saw.

1. Crazy, Stupid, Love. - The best movie I saw this year? Yep, I'm gonna say it was. Sorry, critic's favorites which I haven't seen yet. This movie had it all. Some laughs, some tears, some drama and some loving. It was great. Everyone seemed pitch perfect, playing their role and not chewing into others territory.

2. 50/50 - The second best movie I saw this year was a bit more depressing. The story of a guy my age who's a little bit anal retentive and cautious and gets cancer nonetheless is super sad in places and yet still manages to come off as a great story, without much moralizing. How? By dealing with a crappy topic head on, instead of giving us parables or inspirational montages. It says, hey, this is what it is, it sucks, but there's a chance that it'll get better. Really, really solid film.

3. Harry Potter 7.2 - You would think that the end of a story that everyone knows would kind of have nowhere to go but down, but you'd be so wrong. This might be the best Potter film since the middle of them. The ending was satisfying, I'm glad they kept the epilogue, I wish there had been even more of it. The Weasley Mom's line was satisfactory, but I wanted more. The Harry/Voldemort battle was great. The death tolls were emotionally wracking. It was great. I bought the 8 disc set on Bluray and I can't wait to relive all of them.

4. Moneyball - A good enough film, but more here for the great acting job. I knew the story, I was expecting it to be good enough. But what I wasn't ready for was how well Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill would inhabit their characters and how hard I would root for them. That, to me, was the triumph of the movie.

5. Captain America - The best of the comic books movies this year. The way it set everything up was masterful.

Hanna was fun, but not deserving of a spot on the list. Super 8 was cool, but not deserving of the worship that I was more than ready to pour on it. Thor was good, but I feel like all the ladies loved it more than the gentlemen.

I raced to see some movies at the beginning of the year that had come out previously, most of which were award winners last year. Some of these were older, such as The Darjeeling Limited, but count me as a late believer in Easy A, True Grit, The Kids Are All Right, Winter's Bone, Love & Other Drugs, and Blue Valentine.

Green Lantern and Scream 4 were the notable exceptions this year, movies that I was expecting to like for a variety of reasons, and which turned out to be less than watchable.

I haven't seen Take Shelter, Young Adult, The Muppets, Tree of Life, The Descendants or Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy yet and I think (hope) they would make my list. I'm probably not going to see Drive and I'm not sure I see the appeal.

Music

8. The Weeknd's Mixtapes - Get them all here. They're worth your time, although if you're only now discovering them through my blog, you need some other kind of musical input in your life. I laughed when I heard the new wave of R&B called PBR&B, but now that's all I can classify The Weeknd as. Music to fuck or make love to. Either will work. For what it's worth, my order of greatness for these mixtapes goes 1, 3, 2. House of Balloons is definitely where you want to start if you haven't gotten anything yet. That start...Jesus...

7. Childish Gambino - I'm not gonna give it to Camp although it's the only one (I think?) to actually come out this year, but rather, him as a concept. I just found him this year and I know that lots of people rail against him as kind of indicative of the new rap that's semi-lazy, but I find him entertaining. Plus, anyone who's a true double threat as opposed to just dabbling in another genre because they're famous deserves respect. You can tell that he truly cares about both rapping and acting, and I think that's laudable.

6. Radiohead - King of Limbs - While at first I didn't care for this album, as the year has passed, I've really come to see that there are some great elements to it. It's extremely short, that's true, but I'm not sure that's the knock that I once saw it as. The mere fact that they're able to do what they want when they want, and that people will still buy their albums is a testament to the fact that they continue to put out great music. It may not be what any of us expect from them, at any given time, but hell, that's been true since OK Computer. I, for one, have come to see this as, perhaps the third or fourth best Radiohead record.

5. Wild Flag - Wild Flag - I got to Sleater/Kinney late, so when they broke up, I took it hard, with the passion of the convert. When I read that the Wild Flag record was coming, I tried to tamp down my expectations, because we all know what those flights of fancy can do to a product. But then, when the record actually dropped, I thought, "This might be the album of the year!" (It's not, obviously, according to my list. But...) The fervent energy of grrl power that infected so many of those stellar records of the 90s (not just S/K!) is present here, but some of the maturity that living the years since then (not to mention playing in a band with your ex-lover and going through the ups and downs of fame) plays a tempering role, as well. If you didn't listen to this record, and you don't consider yourself a hip-hop head, I honestly don't know what you were wasting your time with.

4. Frank Ocean - Nostalgia, Ultra - Easily the best mixtape of the year, and the one that makes the most sense as an album, too. This write up on his show presents the case that maybe Def Jam had a legitimately confusing case when they were trying to figure out what to do with this album, but the bottom line is, if you can't figure out how to make a star of this kid, you shouldn't have that job. His voice is powerful and his production is top-notch. (Remind you of anyone?) Between this, The-Dream and the Weeknd, 2011 really kind of snuck up as the year of revamped R&B, huh? Well, between all of it, Frank Ocean stands as king.

3. Wilco - The Whole Love - Wilco remains the steady companion, the one who consistently puts out great music that people seem to make less and less a big deal of since Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. I will never understand the undying devotion that album gets while they've done better and better things and gotten less and less press. The last three albums from Wilco's studio sessions hold up to anything they did before, while being pretty radically different. The Whole Love continues that trend, pushing the boundaries of what can truly be called pop music (they're not alt.country any more, if they ever truly were, if such a label ever truly existed) and still challenge our expectations; no signs of banality here. The way that the record starts, with "Art of Almost" and devolves even in the middle of that very song shows that Wilco is a band content to push against what people expect of them, in the best way.

2. TV on the Radio - Nine Types of Light - Quietly, surely, TV on the Radio are taking over the world. When their next record drops, don't be surprised to come back here and hear me call them out as the next biggest band in the world. Their power has been there since the first album, and I'm not trying to showcase some awesome premonition skills, I think it's just a matter of common sense. They've been grinding year after year, turning out some of the most spectacular product that we as music fans have seen and yet...somehow, improbably, they haven't blown up. That's due to change. With Nine Types of Light they continue on the course, pushing the boundaries of what people will listen to, while also proving that you can thoroughly enjoy something that you wouldn't ever have had the balls to come up with yourself. Remember you read it here first when everyone, including your mother and the neighbors are wondering why they hadn't heard of TV on the Radio before.

1. Jay-Z & Kanye West - Watch the Throne - I'm not gonna waste a lot of time here. Kanye's my favorite rapper alive. I honestly think Jay is pushing the point where he's gotta be the best rapper of all time ("I'm leading the league in at least six statistical categories right now!"). When they get together for an album, even if it's got some duds in it, I'm going to put it on top of my list. The hits are hits anyway you slice it (although I can't understand all the love that "Welcome to the Jungle" is getting!) and the duds are still a lot better than most of the crap on the radio. Amazingly, some people I know still haven't heard this record. Do yourself a favor.


Lupe's Lasers disappointed in a pretty significant way, but other than that, I didn't have any albums that I was really looking forward to that threw me off track. I didn't listen to the new Foo Fighters, so I'm not bummed by it, and the Strokes' album probably deserves a note about how much better it was than I expected. Cut Copy's Zonoscope also has earned its playcount in my library. I came late to the bandwagon for Fiction but I'm more than pleased to ride it.

Songs

Tyler's "Yonkers" has no place on my list, nor does any of Adele's material. While I appreciate their brilliance, in totally different ways, I just didn't like them that much. Wayne's single ("6'7"") has no place on here because it came out so much earlier than the album and the album sucked. I've never listened to Gaga.

7. Chris Brown featuring Busta Rhymes and Lil' Wayne - "Look At Me Now" - The production and the Busta guest verse make it. I hate Chris Brown with a deep passion, so I'm not going to talk about anything else.

6. The Weeknd - "House of Balloons/Glass Table Girls" - Even with "D.D." out on the new mix, I think this stands as the highlight of a year ruled by dirty, dirty, dirty R&B. It's damn near impossible to truly separate these songs and if you haven't heard any of them, I guess I'd suggest you start with "D.D." but if you're looking around all three albums, I'm not sure I'd believe you if you said one was better than "HOB/GTG".

5. Mr. Muthafuckin' Esquire featuring Despot, Das Racist, Danny Brown & El-P - "Huzzah" (Remix) - In a year where underground hip-hop seemed to make a comeback, this stood out as the best. I can't believe this didn't make it to the radio, except for a few totally believable reasons: the main artist's name, Danny Brown's voice, and the total sonic dissonance with everything else that's popular right now.

4. Lana Del Rey - "Videogames" - I don't care at all about the controversy regarding her creation. All I care about is the fact that this song got stuck in my head and it was good as hell. I can't wait for her record. If this is what we get due to market-testing and A&Rs creating what they think the people want, I'm all for it. I dare you to listen to this song, sans knowledge of who she is and where she comes from, and tell me it's not solid.

3. M83 - "Midnight City" - I had this track as my number one for a long time, but it just felt dishonest. As crazy as "N****s in Paris" makes me "Midnight City" does so even more. This is the song that single-handedly slapped me and made me ashamed that I hadn't listened to M83 before. Great as "N****s in Paris" is, I'm not sure it'd be anyone's choice for introducing Kayne or Jay. The atmosphere of this song, on the other hand, the way it didn't care about anything that was on the radio, the way it was refuge from the too-sweet-ness of Adele (which was everywhere and I liked, but shit, enough is enough) made it just overwhelming in a manner that was necessary and is always welcome. Easily one of my favorite songs of the year...but not the best.

2. Pusha T featuring Tyler, the Creator - "Trouble on my Mind" - When it comes to sound, the Neptunes ruled this world, once upon a time. (And speaking of sound, this has gotta be the incestuous cousin of "Huzzah" - both so spare, both so dark, and yet...so different.) Between this and Buddy's "Awesome, Awesome," things really picked up for them. But that's not the sole reason for this track making it. (You'll notice no Buddy here.) The way that Pusha T raps, I really feel, he has potential to go up against the greatest to ever do it. I'm not sure he's got the potential to be the best, but he's so menacing. This song, more than any other, conveys that menace. It's the sonic equivalent of bullying and it's so damn satisfying to put it on, close your eyes and picture some serious shit-wrecking.

1. Jay-Z & Kanye West - "N****s in Paris" - The biggest song of the year and easily (through their own doing) the most over-played. When people started flipping for this song (on the very night the album dropped, we could tell it was going to be the biggest), nobody had any idea they would eventually play this song 11 times in a row. (Not. Exaggerating.) However, even overplaying their own song that many times hasn't managed to dull its impact. It can be critical studies or it can be pure pop enthusiasm but either way it's a hell of a jam.

That's it for me, for 2011. See y'all next year.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

football begins its (long) wind down.

After Thanksgiving, football of all kinds starts to wrap up.

College football is finished in most places – especially Albuquerque, especially these days – long before Christmas. The bowl season extends further than it has in the past, sure, but that's mainly due to the proliferation of the so-called bowl games. We start with the New Mexico Bowl, which Temple took, over Wyoming on December 17, and continue all the way to the BCS.

The title game occurs on Monday the 9th, when number 2 Alabama will face first-ranked LSU. Between now and then, plenty of pretenders to the bowl-throne have arisen in the last decade-plus, but few of them are worth the time it'll take to play, much less to watch. Of course, no disrespect is intended, as I'm sure Michigan State and Georgia, at numbers 17 and 16, respectively, are great football teams and their fans care very much who wins the game, but outside that constituency, its hard to muster feelings for the Outback Bowl, amongst others.

(The day before the title game, in fact, is somehow, improbably, perhaps even unbelievably, occupied by Arkansas State versus Northern Illinois, on January 8, in the GoDaddy.com Bowl. Just for fun, although I'm sure it's been done before, let's look at some of these corporate sponsorships: Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl, Little Caesar's Bowl, TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl! All of these games have been or will be televised nationally. Advertising really has changed the world.)

The end of the college football season dovetails nicely into the end of the National Football League, where things are already getting fired up by this point. The titanic Green Bay Packers are obviously still a favorite, but the Philadelphia Eagles (preseason favorites who have already been covered) have now been officially dismissed from the playoffs. Perhaps another year to gel will help them live up to the lofty expectations, but with the height of competition amongst elite teams in the NFL right now, it's hard to see another competitor rising to that level.

While Green Bay has wrecked the regular season (save a blip two weeks ago), the New England Patriots have gone under the radar to resume their traditional position atop the AFC. Plenty of spoilers await a slip from either side, including the surprising stories of the San Francisco 49ers and the Houston Texans.

With only one more week in the regular season, plenty of teams are still itching to play spoiler. The biggest match-up, however, seems guaranteed to be the Dallas Cowboys playing in New York against the Giants. The teams will play for the NFC East Championship in the last game of the regular season, on New Year's Day.

Football's finale is always the best, save the drama regarding the need for a true playoff system in college football. This year should be no different, whether you'll be watching the boys play in the BCS title game, or following the pros as they make the final cuts for the playoffs.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

comics for the week of 12/14/11.

Balls. What a week. This was probably the best week in comics all year, and I didn't even buy everything that was great. I haven't jumped into Atomic Robo yet, despite my friends' urging, and I'm not buying Uncanny X-Force, but the Dark Archangel Saga wrapped and damn, it was emotional. And that's just the stuff that you're not gonna get to read reviews of below!

Batwoman 4 - Yeah...Flamebird. She messed up. Things are going to get worse for Kate Kane and the world she's inhabiting. I don't think that Bruce is going to be happy about all this, as they're trying to maintain a kind of cohesive universe and we've seen him turn up already. But the biggest thing is: THIS BOOK IS AMAZING! I'm not gonna waste any more of my time trying to convince y'all.

Buffy: The Vampire Slayer 4 - The Siphon gets smacked up, as we knew he would, but his mysterious benefactor stands revealed! This is what people were talking about when they wanted the quote-unquote old Buffy back. More relationships. More people. More believability. (Yes, people want their fiction to be grounded in truth. How odd we are.) I'm not of that mind, as I didn't really rage against Season 8 the way others did, but I will say this: It's nice to have the old Buffy back. The inclusion of Spike in this book, as noted before, is a solid touch. He brings something to the group that no one else could, even when they tried, in the TV days, to force the role on Andrew. The commentary from Dawn and Xander seemed on point, and the development of a maybe-friendship with the police offers an interesting angle for the future.

Green Lantern 4 - The Manapul variant was awesome and this was the best single issue of the run since the relaunch. Sinestro is finding that his home is not quite as pleasant as he thought he made it. Jordan pays the price for not listening to instructions, and Sinestro gets tortured. Of course, he's not gonna break, which you think the characters that he trained would realize a whole lot faster than us readers, but, alas (for them) it's not the case. The issue does move slow, though, and we don't have a lot of change from last issue. However, I'm glad to see that something is finally going to happen next month. Let's go.

Locke & Key 3 - God! This book is ridiculously good! I'm not even going to get into the buying advice. You're dumb if you're not getting it yet. In this issue, we get to travel back in time with Kinsey and Tyler, while Bode (as Dodge) doesn't move much, due to the aforementioned time travel. We see some of the origins of Keyhouse that we've already been privy to, but Ty and Kinsey get to see so much more that isn't detailed for us. The only problem with this issue is that it leaves you wanting so much more, so soon, and it's going to be so long until we get another issue. The cover to the next issue, by the way, is a fantastic change on this one.

Resurrection Man 4 - Seriously fun. You're missing out if you're not getting this. The old man supervillain turns out to be a kid who invented his suit, which artificially ages him. (Of course he does.) The Body Doubles actually have a conversation with Mitch. (Of course they do.) And, at the end, it looks as though Mitch has died. (Of course it does.) It's pencilled in a style that looks like some of those shitty comics from the 90s and it feels like the plotline is going to go that way, too. But there's nothing wrong with that; not everything has to be a classic album. Sometimes, it's just fun to go for a ride.

The Unwritten 32 - Tom's magic is not working out quite as well as he'd like it to, and it seems as though Frankenstein is the one who's going to have to pay a price for that. Poor bastard. The relationship between Tom and Lizzie and Savoy is going to take a turn during this story line, I think. They just all are approaching this from such disparate angles that it's hard to believe that it's going to turn out OK for everyone. The Cabal gets to planning their counterattack, thanks to Pullman's advice. It looks like Tom's in for a world of hurt.

Ultimate X-Men 4 - A bit of the backstory on Stryker, but good God, the thing that stands out about this book is the art. It's almost perfect comic book art. Paco Medina just kills it. Also, Kitty and Johnny get into quite the tiff. This book is good, but not as good as I originally was excited about. It's definitely the weakest of the new Ultimate Universe, but when you're dealing with something that's at a high level to begin with, that's not a bad thing. The threads are there, but the execution just isn't coming together. Yet. I'm willing to give it some more time, but this book might be on the chopping block if it doesn't step up to the rest of the Universe pretty quickly.

Book of the week is Locke & Key. I'm almost unwilling to give it to anything else, no matter what came out that week. Spidey could get remarried to Mary Jane and I think I would love Locke & Key too much. They printed another comic from the Kate or Die! lady, which was awesome. They've crafted an impeccable story. And, lastly, it's gorgeous. You're a fool if you haven't jumped in yet.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

the tebow dilemma.

Almost everyone in the world has weighed in on Tim Tebow. From his General Manager – former Denver Bronco great John Elway – saying a few weeks ago that he wasn't quite sold on the young gun as a franchise quarterback to former greats in entirely different sports, like Charles Barkley publicly pleading the Chicago Bears to beat the Broncos. (By the way, they didn't.) The discourse even turns up in seemingly tangential corners, such as Young Adult author John Green's Tumblr and the pages of Rolling Stone. So what has Tebow done to deserve, in either sense of the word, all the chatter? Let's review.

Tebow, as we see him now, is a two-time national champion, from the University of Florida. He is a Heisman Trophy winner, and one of the rare college athletes who succeeded so spectacularly, yet played all four years, instead of making the jump to the pros early. He is enthusiastic in his love for the game and most of his former associates, whether those be coaches or teammates, are nothing but effusive in their praise for him.

He also just so happens to be over-the-top religious. This, for a lot of people, is a deal breaker. Tebow's parents were missionaries, and he was raised with those beliefs. He has given numerous interviews stating that his ultimate goal in the NFL is to make enough money so that he can live the same kind of lifestyle as his parents did. The religious viewpoint is not unique to the NFL, nor to the Denver Broncos, but Tebow seems to raise a fervent attitude to people on both sides of the issue.

The real crux of The Tebow Dilemma, though, comes when examining the Broncos' record since Tebow was moved into the starting position as the quarterback. In the words of DJ Khaled, all the Broncos have been doing since is winning. Often in ridiculously convoluted, dramatic fashion.

The Broncos were an anemic 1-4 before Tebow was slotted in to start, and have gone 6-1 since. The schedule, derided by critics at the beginning of the win streak, has gotten more difficult. The wins, counted as lucky by those same critics, have only gotten more and more tension-filled and climactic.

By most measures, Tebow is not, and should not be counted as, a good quarterback in the NFL. Objectively, most scouts looked at him two years ago, before the draft, and said that he would not amount to much. (There were, of course, notable exceptions, such as Jon Gruden.) Subjectively, though, those critics, along with those who doubted his starting position or his worth to the Broncos at all, have had quite a few words to chew on in the last seven weeks. The wins keep piling up and, as of now, Denver sits alone in the top spot of the AFC West.

Steering away from the personal reasons people may or may not like Tebow, it seems now is a good time to remind everyone that we truly do live in the Moneyball age. Will Tebow continue to defy the numbers, or do statistical averages rule all? Will he break the numbers or eventually conform to them? A third path exists: perhaps Tim Tebow is making his own numbers, improving as he goes along. For now, the best advice that any football fan can hear on any given Sunday is made up of the following words: "It's the fourth quarter. The Broncos are down. But Tebow's got the ball." Tune in. Something amazing is going to happen.

Monday, December 12, 2011

comics for the week of 12/8/11.

It's funny to me how the people who were defending the whole New 52 are now silent. It's clear that the idea was a bad one and that the implementation, while it may have move a whole lot of copies in the first few months, is now falling off. The books are, for the most part, by and large, not very good. By my count, there are only four truly great books; only four that count as gotta-get-em-all Pokemon level. There are at least 8 more that could be good, depending on your taste, but that's way less than a quarter of the books. That's a failure no matter how you cut it. However, here's where the exception comes in: This week? Both of the books I picked up are in that Pokemon category.

Animal Man 4 - The weirdest book of the relaunch and still one of the best. The one I was looking forward to the least out of all the books I was excited for, and, perhaps, in the top three overall. This week, we got to see the continuing development of Wing, the daughter, as well as some explanation from the totems (the guardians, if you will?) of the red. Plus, mom and little Buddy are in trouble from the dead cop, but we knew that from last issue. This one took place more in the red, which is OK with me. The backstory that we're getting fits in perfectly with how truly odd Jeff Lemire is and how his comics get, and yet it's coming from the mainstream DC Universe. This, alone is worth the price of admission.

Swamp Thing 4 - Issue three seemed like it might be bordering on moving toward the disappointing, but this issue solidified the truth: This comic will kill until Scott Snyder decides he's done with it. He might be the best consistent writer in the biz now? The relationship that's brewing between Alec and Abby is not only interesting because of her character's past with Swamp Thing, but her relationship with the little boy, William, who is turning into quite a formidable villain right before our eyes. This comic is solidly one of the best being put out right now and I love how it walks the line between straight horror comic and telling an overarching story at the same time. A lot of the times, all the straight horror lines want to do is shock, shock, shock, with no concern for what has to come after, nor for what came before. That clearly is not the case here.

Book of the week is Swamp Thing. The way that Snyder crafts a comic is unique in this world, and he's nearing the height of his powers. Get in while you can.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

why are the eagles so bad?

As sports fans, we're accustomed to a few of the more major tropes that often dominate our storytelling: the underdog winning it all, the come-from-behind victory, the epic collapse and so many more. However, it has to be said that one of the more rare tales to be told is the complete and total eradication of preseason predictions. Sometimes a team will delight in confounding expectations, exceeding them at a far greater than normal pace. This has, in fact, become its own story, with the NCAA Tournament for college basketball now looking to designate certain teams as the Cinderella year after year. It's harder, though, to think of a team that was so talented that they were supposed to win it all that has underperformed on the level of the Philadelphia Eagles this year.

Anointed before the season began as a behemoth that would crush the regular season, the Eagles were loaded up with talent, and had the makings of an all-time great. The storybook year that Michael Vick had last season was the most obvious sign, but there were plenty more: the signings of Cullen Jenkins, Dominique Rogers-Cromartie and, most of all, Nnamdi Asomugha seemed to signal that this was a team that learned from their buzzsaw encounter last year with the Green Bay Packers.

So, with the players there, all performing at a level that could at least reasonably be expected, with the possible exception of Vick, the attention has got to turn to the coaching staff. Previously hailed by some as one of the best coaches in the game, Andy Reid has had his turn in the spotlight this year. That light has changed from glowing to harsh, and some say it's justified. There are almost perpetual calls for his firing. His use of a zone, even with the acquisition of the aforementioned Asomugha is one of the most glaring examples detractors will cite.

Even the players on the team realize they're not living up to expectations. Brent Calek says it's "embarrassing," to play on the team that was supposed to win the Super Bowl and now is in serious danger of not making the playoffs. Of the teams predicted to win big this season, the Eagles are joined only by the Indianapolis Colts in disappointment this season, but the Colts have the excuse of their lifetimes: the absence of Peyton Manning. The Eagles, on the other hand, have nothing.

So what does it take, to go from most favored to least talked about? How does it happen? The conjecture above centers around the players, the coaches, anything to try to help us, as sports fans understand how we could be so wildly off the mark? But how about another theory? Maybe the problem isn't with the players or the coaches or any combination thereof. Maybe the problem is the whole equation. Maybe the overrating of Vick, based on exceptional play last season, combined with a huge payday for the man, led to wildly unrealistic expectations. Maybe the Eagles, at the end of the day, were just never supposed to be that good. Spending a boatload of money on individual talents, after all, might not be the best way to build a true team.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

comics for the week of 11/30/11.

The world of comics is shifting drastically, with the advent of digital publishing and the new 52 and the integration of Image as one of the Big Three and the emergence of viable options for printing short runs on books and still making money. And yet...Marvel and DC still seem to rule nearly everything. Is parity really achieved if nothing changes?

Angel and Faith 4 - The end of the first arc and it's a good one. Faith confronts Angel about his plan, but he dodges it in a way that makes Faith pull back on a bit of her criticism, which might have been his intent. The ex-Slayers still want to kill him, his ex-servants got what they wanted after all, and Angel just might be...well...becoming Giles. The last two pages were magnificent.

FF 12 - After the brilliance of Fantastic Four 600, I wasn't sure if I was going to jump back into bed with the Future Foundation, but I'm so glad I did. Despite some subpar art, I think the saga of Franklin Richards is really one that needs telling. If it requires Doom, his son, Nathaniel Richards and (maybe he's gone, but I doubt it) an alternate universe Reed to do so, let's get it on!

Fables 111 - I really don't know how to review this issue. The sad fate of Bufkin hangs over everything else that happened, but I'm not really convinced that it happened. Winter is the new King, as she's been fated to be, and Bufkin appears to have been killed. But are either of those things truly firmed up? I, for one, am not a believer. Not yet. Not totally. All that being said, the book continues to be one of the best on the market, numbing in its brilliance. This must be what it feels like to be Federer or Djokovich - so good, so often that it's just unfair to the rest of your competition and, when you're off, it feels like a much bigger deal than it really is.

The Ultimates 4 - This, though, is the book that I get most excited about, week in and week out. (A note here to say that, if Locke and Key came out on anything resembling a regular schedule, it would fill that spot. But it's not even close.) The revelation that took place in this issue is one that any comic fan worth their salt already knew was coming - it was so obvious! Yet, it's a sign of Hickman's superb writing that it still felt fresh and shocking when we actually got to see the Maker's face. Thor got his ass handed to him, Nick Fury's gonna have to compromise and Tony got put in check. Still no sign of Steve. I wonder if he's really out. And now, does this mean that the World (how funny that this term is being thrown around in two totally dissimilar books) will be here, with us, for the foreseeable future in the Ultimate Universe? Great potential there.

Book of the week is Fables. I've written it before, and I did above, but it's kind of awesome how consistent this book is. It kills so predictably month after month after month after month that it's easy to look at it and say, "Yeah, it was just great. Again." But we shouldn't overlook that.

the nba is back.

Over the Thanksgiving break, there was no happier news than the revelation, entirely unexpected, that the NBA would in fact, have a season this year. With game's slated to begin on Christmas Day (although the schedule appears to still be in doubt), this is the best present a basketball fan could ask for.

Of course, almost immediately the attitude of reporters and bloggers went from grateful for having a season to their default setting of cynicism and calling out trade rumors as legitimate news. This is shocking, given the national media's earlier restraint.

The rumormongering might not be so prevalent, however, if there were more concrete facts available. Billy Hunter claims that the players will be getting 51.2% of the aforementioned Basketball Revenue Income (BRI) and there's not much reason to doubt him. However, we've yet to see an official schedule of games from the NBA. While there's no conspiracy theorizing (yet) going on, there certainly is a dearth of information in a culture that is starving for sustenance.

Current Las Vegas odds favor the Miami Heat to win the season, with the Toronto Raptors clocking in with the lowest chance. The Los Angeles Lakers, of course, figure into that equation, as do the Chicago Bulls, the San Antonio Spurs, the defending champion Dallas Mavericks, the Oklahoma City Thunder, and, of course, the Boston Celtics, who introduced their own trade rumors just recently.

Regardless of the odds, though, of a season that wasn't even in existence a mere week ago, the simple truth is that NBA fans have a lot to be thankful for. The usual doldrums of the season might be lost in this proposed-66 game schedule, and the traditional masterpiece of Christmas day games appears to be standing strong.

As a dyed-in-the-wool basketball fan, I know this might sound a little bit like sacrilege (even though every serious basketball fan has had this discussion at several points in their fandom, it seems like the stink eye is alway the response) but it might be time to think about shortening the season and making this a regular season. Football as America's religion is not just a trope as this point; it's a fact. So, if the NBA can make a splash by starting the season on Christmas and then playing out their "It's early in the season, no one cares about these games," period in January and early February, while the NFL is building to the Super Bowl, maybe that's not a bad thing.

The time for longterm plans, now, thankfully, seems far off. The time for celebration? Just about to begin. Welcome back, NBA.

Monday, November 28, 2011

comics for the week of 11/23/11.

The shock of the DCnU is fading a bit. There's things about it that kill me still, but, overall, I just don't care enough to continue raging against it. The couple good books are great, but overall...I'm just tired of it.

Fantastic Four 600 - 100 pages of amazing. This book was frustratingly priced when I bought it, but I don't understand how anyone could regret paying for it after reading it. What a great read. Every single story was good, the different illustrators all brought their strengths and we've got several stories that are still intriguingly going. There were some resolutions, but not many; more like halfway points. Hickman's got a gift for the long view and I'm really enjoying the way he's weaving together disparate elements. Johnny Storm's story is the one everyone's going to be talking about, but I think it's clear that Franklin Richards has been the simmering star of this book since Hickman's taken over. This is just another aspect where Marvel, tragically/unbelievably not DC, has been pushing their legacies in a true, meaningful way.

The Flash 3 - Perhaps my least favorite issue of this run so far. Manapul's art is as beautiful as ever, but it's just not enough. The story is cool enough, I guess, but I'm having a hard time caring about Barry and his relationship with this woman, when we all know that Iris is waiting in the background. Plus, his buddy, whose name I can't even remember, doesn't feel like a character I care about, nor should. He's been introduced, I've been fed their retconned history, but I don't believe that he's going to stick around, so why get attached? The biggest compliment I can muster for this iteration of the Flash is that I would love to own any page of the original artwork.

Invincible 85 - I'm not going to insist on my viewpoint having to be right, but damn, how great would it be, after Oliver's monologue in this issue, if he ended up having to protect Earth from his brother? Robert Kirkman has such a wide lense available to him insofar as storytelling and it's magnificent to see that he's able to continue in such diverse ways. The only bad note on this book was Cory Walker's art, which is a sad thing to say, given that he's the OG, but let's all just be honest: Ryan Ottley is a far superior talent. The art looked flat compared to Ottley's brilliance and it took away from the story, even if just slightly. The battle between Nolan and Allen has been brewing for a while now, and I'm looking forward to seeing the two of them truly go at it.

Locke & Key One-Shot - I had told myself that I was going to stop buying the individual issues of Locke & Key. The wait between issues is just too frustrating, and the hardcover trades are just too appealing, so it made little sense to spend double on this title. But I just couldn't resist its appeal on the shelves and I was right not to. At first blush, this book seems like a short, unnecessary read. But upon reading the guide to the keys in the back and going back through the story to see who the characters actually are, and their relation to the characters we know, it seems like some of this info might come back in a useful way. Bode's hand-drawn additions to that appendix, also, are a totally great touch, indicative of the level of thought that's going into this title, making it the best comic book on the market.

The Unwritten 31.5 - The backstory of Pullman - and he's old as hell! I mean, we knew that, but damn. This got the point fives off to a great start and now I'm looking forward to these supplements even more than I was when I first heard of the idea. I loved the mini-stories, each with its own art team, and I loved the fact that the character they were profiling didn't even appear in each. This is how a story can truly be broken down (or decompressed, if you prefer that Bendis-ian term) in a way that is enlightening for the reader, not just padding for the company.

Wolverine and the X-Men 2 - This is what I've been waiting for! The X-Men are not only good again, they're great. Bachelo's art is hitting the spot and Jason Aaron (remarkably) is writing this book in the perfect manner: it's got nods to the past (check the big bad) and a deft handling of a group cast. I can see myself reading and loving this book for a long, long time. The only bad note is the acknowledgement that, yes, the kiddie Hellfire Club is ridiculous. I can't take them seriously. If they get replaced or aged, this book will be perfect.

Book of the week would have been Wolvie, but Fantastic Four was just too epic. If this isn't your book of the week, that's because you didn't pick it up and if that's the case, you made a huge mistake.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

lobos beat duke.

If the headlines referred to basketball, this would be a big deal. However, seeing as it was the second round of the NCAA Tournament for soccer, it's hard to see why this isn't a bigger deal. Granted, it's not one of the magically large college sports that dominate not only the media but the social atmosphere. Regardless, a sell-out crowd of 6,200 (and then some!) at the UNM Soccer Stadium acted like it was a big deal to them.

Due to the intricacies of the selection process, the Lobos, ranked number one in the country in almost every poll – and certainly by every poll that matters to the NCAA selection committee – and the only undefeated team in the country, got a 10 seed. This afforded UNM the luxury of a bye in the first round of the tournament but also presented a tough match up in the second round: Duke.

UNM seemed to control the first half, running ahead on corner kicks 4-1, forcing the Duke goalkeeper to make 2 saves to UNM's one, and staying ahead in the foul count 7-4. The only area where UNM was behind, in fact, was shots, where Duke led 8-6. All the breakdown of stats, though, could not prepare the Lobos or the crowd for Duke's Nick Palodichuk breaking free of the defense a mere six minutes into the second half and putting one in the back of the net. Playing a goal down, UNM had to increase their pressure, whereas Duke settled into a deep freeze, content to push when the opportunity seemed ample, but happy to let their lead win the game for them otherwise. The change that allowed UNM back in the game was a red card received by Chris Tweed-Kent, forcing Duke to play the last 15 minutes of the second half a man down. The equalizer came in the 82nd minute on a solo blast from Blake Smith. The crowd, teetering on the edge on nervous insanity mere moments before, burst into cheers. The undefeated season still had a chance!

The overtime goal to win the game was a thing of beauty: Matthew Gibbons sent in the perfect cross, Devon Sandoval headed it back across the net, and Carson Baldinger sent it straight to the back of the net. The crowd erupted, the UNM players held up their arms in triumph and Duke sank down to the field, justified in feeling they'd missed their opportunity.

The next game that UNM plays will be in South Florida, against the number 7 seed. Thanks to the aforementioned 10 seed that the number one Lobos received, they are unlikely to play any more home games. However, the game will be played at 4 PM (MST) and will be broadcast online, through golobos.com. It might not have the air of the more-prestigious football or basketball programs, but it is the number one team in the country, fighting for every inch – and it's a beautiful game.

Monday, November 21, 2011

comics for the week of 11/16/11.

The quirkiest thing about the DCnU is how it plays havoc with all the other numbering systems. Rachel Rising, the new Ultimate books, etc. just so happen to be closely aligned with the relaunch which means that some weeks, all of the books I pick up are the same number. This might have never happened before.

Batman 3 - The Court of Owls is here! People are freaking out over this issue (in a good way) and it was good, don't get me wrong, but where were these people's cheers for the last two months? Batman by Scott Snyder has always been this good, maybe even more so when Batman was Dick Grayson. (Although that might be the bitterness speaking.) The rich backstory that's being weaved here feels much less like a retcon and much more like something that would actually happen in Gotham. I'm still really interested in the reason for the Grayson DNA, but I'm sure that's not the type of detail that Snyder hasn't got planned all the way out. If you like your Batman to be the best, you should accept no substitute for Snyder. Just because people were pleasantly surprised by how not bad Tony Daniels was on Detective is no reason to act like there's not a clear king. This is it, folks.

Justice League 3 - Wonder Woman is a weirdass who acts more like an alien than Superman and Aquaman is gonna try on his badass act for a little while. Overall, it's kind of a drag. We have the re-introduction of Darkseid happening and I guess it's cool for people who have been out of comics for 20 years, but for the rest of us, there have been so many spins on him in the last 5-10 that it's just more of the same. He's bounced from Superman/Batman to Infinite Crisis and everywhere in between and I don't care how much faith I previously had in Geoff Johns, there's no way that I think he's actually gonna get a fresh take on the New God. Especially not when so much of that supposedly fresh take depends on Jim Lee pencils making the paratroopers look 'different', hinting that Darkseid might be infinitely powerful, and alienating voices coming out of characters that I've known for a long, long time. I'm off this book at the end of the first arc and if I wasn't such a junkie, I would just drop it now.

Ultimate X-Men 3 - Wolverine's kid returns with a friend and Bobby, Johnny and Kitty don't actually go anywhere or do anything. This was a disappointment after the excitement of issue two, and I feel like this book will probably get dropped soon, as I don't actually care about most of these characters. Jimmy is interesting, Pietro looks like he might go somewhere, and I want to see Johnny meet up with the new Spidey, but I feel like that's more likely to happen over in Ultimate Spider-Man. As for the rest...how compelling are the X-Men? It always depends on Magneto. And if they're just struggling against the specter of his ghost (yes, I did that on purpose)....well, I don't think the draw can last very long at the level that it did previously. I reserve the right to be pleasantly surprised, though.

Book of the week is Batman. Between this and Batwoman, it's clear that there are some great things happening at DC. Too bad it took such a piss-poor drastic measure to get some great titles, which, for what it's worth, were already being produced. The sweet with the sour, I guess.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

comics for the week of 11/9/11.

Apparently I forgot to put this up. My bad.

Batwoman 3 - The fight with La Llorona gets real and Batwoman comes out a victor in at least one sense. However, her relationship with Maggie takes a bad turn, and she kicks her cousin out of the fight, setting up some bad circumstances. The DEO takes on the Colonel and he shuts them down. The art, as always, is the most beautiful thing I've seen outside of Locke & Key. The premise, the setup, the follow-through...everything is good here. This book delivers on a level that no other books even aspire to.

Buffy 3 - The reveal of the Siphon was well done, and Spike gets to fulfill his promise of becoming a more major character again. However, I do have to say, this book is falling a bit behind for me insofar as its booming start. The lack of the Scooby gang, and the casual way they were dismissed in this issue, is starting to bother me. While it's funny to see Andrew spacing on Lady Gaga and I know that Willow will come back and star, it was sad to see Xander and Dawn kind of turn their backs on Buffy. Spike alone cannot take those places. And the last-page reveal sets me up for next issue, but I'm curious how long this can last. I want the band to get back together.

Green Lantern 3 - Sinestro's battle with his Yellow Corps begins - and Hal messes up as only he can. The biggest part of this issue, though, seems like the long-term plans with Ganthet. I'm intrigued by this development with the third army. This book is maintaining its pace as one of the best in the DCnU, but is the most obviously non-rebooted book.

Rachel Rising 3 - This book continues to baffle in the best way. We have a clear bad guy, we have some bad shit going on, but I'm not quite sure who the good guy is or what exactly is happening, either. All that being said, I love this book. It's so odd, it's so different than the rest of the books that I'm reading, it makes me want to go back and pick up Echo. Terry Moore is a great storyteller.

Resurrection Man 3 - The Body Doubles really get this issue to themselves, other than Mitch's conversation in Limbo with...a demon? It's a fun issue, but it's also indicative of how this book is probably going to be canceled. There's just not a lot of room for books where we just have fun...which is a shame. The ending, with the obvious not-a-surprise, was worthy of a chuckle, but not much more.

The Unwritten 31 - The War of Words begins here (as it says on the cover) and it's going to be awesome! Tom's mastering his magic and Lizzie is worried it's not gonna last. Spolier: she's right. Tom's gonna be in a world full of hurt at the end of this war, would be my guess. But he'll score at least one important victory. The end of this series might be a lot closer than some people realize.

Ultimate Spider-Man 4 - I wish this book came out more frequently. It's so good. The only bad part is the compressed storytelling, where we get to (have to?) see the death of Peter Parker and his funeral over again. The scenes with Gwen were nice, though, I didn't mind seeing a new angle on that. Also, the ending was killer.

Book of the week goes to Batwoman. This is, by far, the best superhero book being made now.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

lobo soccer continues to impress.

Both the men's soccer program as well as the women's team continue to dominate their respective fields, with each capturing important wins over the weekend.

The women cliched the Mountain West Conference championship in the finals with a pair of goals that mirrored each other in time. Scoring nineteen seconds into the game, Natalie Jenks put away the quickest game-winner in MWC tournament history. The game ended with the Lobos on top 2-0 and they secured an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. They will begin play at UCLA on Saturday, November 12. The Lady Lobos are playing in only their second NCAA Tournament and hope to surpass last year's first-round exit.

On the other hand, with their number one ranking secure, and an unbeaten streak that is the talk of the town, the men's team has a bit higher expectations foisted upon them. The men's team also performed admirably over the weekend, shutting out UNLV in an ugly game that saw two ejections from the opposing side in the second half. No doubt frustrated by the score, the Lobos' ability and the fact that they'd already been eliminated from the post-season, UNLV turned what had been a pretty even affair in the first half into a slogged-down, foul-filled game in the last half.

Both teams, obviously, will be cheered for, but there's no denying that, between the rankings, the press and the past history, the men's team will be waiting with bated breath on Monday, November 14, when the men's NCAA Tournament bracket is revealed. Because of the afore-mentioned circumstances, the clear hope – and expectation – is for a healthy slate of home field advantage for the early rounds of the tournament. But no matter where they play, the Lobos are sure to have a target on their backs.

Monday, November 7, 2011

comics for the week of 11/2/11.

I can't believe it, but...I might be delving back into the X books. More than one of my friends has been pushing X-Force on me (and he's right! Read those TPBs, they're so incredibly good) and now I bought Wolverine and the X-Men. Next week, a week late again, yeah, but still, I'll probably pick up Uncanny. Never thought this day would come, but, if you read below, you'll see that I don't regret it, either.

Animal Man 3 - I made the crack on Twitter that between the Red and Black here and the Green (and alluded-to Black) in Swamp Thing the DCnU is starting to look like Magic: The Gathering. But that's not necessarily a bad thing, if it's revealing a deeper focus on in-line continuity. Lord knows they could use some, and if Jeff Lemire and Scott Snyder are the men to do it, then DC is all the better for it. As for the actual story here, there's a pretty strange revelation, which I think could be incredibly great: the Red tells Animal Man that he actually doesn't matter, except for the fact that he brought his daughter into the world. This has great potential for future storytelling and I'm psyched to see if they'll (DC editorial) allow it to bear fruit. That's the problem with new directions: they're so tempting, but rarely are shown the patience they need. I'm firmly on record as not liking the DCnU, but I'm more than willing to give it time and chance. We'll see if the people pushing it are as willing. Last notes: Travel Foreman's art is nearly as ground-breaking as JH Williams III's, but it's nowhere near as pretty, so it won't get (nor does it deserve) as many accolades. The ending, with the cop? Pure terror. Great book. Buy it.

Invincible 84 - This month: Invincible hints at Darth Vader. Seriously. I'm very concerned. The all-black (except for Mark) cover is the perfect tonal preview for this issue, as we see Mark taking his realization that perhaps he's been approaching things wrong to the penultimate degree. Cecil brings an army and next issue it looks like we're getting the classic dodge; Nolan and Oliver are on the cover next month. Dinosaurus is turning into quite the important character, which is a Kirkman classic: bring someone in for a bit part, revisit them months and months later and look at how there's a whole world around them. This is where Kirkman excels in a very 21st century, post-modern way - he's a storyteller, not just focused on his one baby that he thinks is so important. Lastly, we only got one page of Rex and Monster Girl (who, yes, seriously, is now amazingly hot), but their mystery continues to be dangled in a totally satisfactory manner. This is a comic where at least three stories are being told, and all three of them are fantastic.

Swamp Thing 3 - The other half to the new mystical team of the DCnU and the one I was more excited about originally finally pays off for me. This issue has a little bit of everything: some backstory, some revised history and some new developments, all while being gorgeously illustrated by Yanick Paquette. The story with the kid, William, was disturbing in the best kind of way. I called this the mystical book (with Animal Man) but that's obviously the wrong term. These are clearly horror books, harkening back to the best aspects of the old EC line, but with some nouveau elements that make it impossible to think they're actually relics. The shots of how William kills his victims, and the grim look on his face is deftly handled. And the coolest page in the book is the non sequitur of the little girl in the dress that, I think, is supposed to indicate Alec accessing his powers? It was so out there I had to look at it four or five times to verify that it wasn't just a misprinted page. But it's part of an overall message that this book (and Animal Man) are pushing. Purposeful chaos. It's wicked.

Wolverine and the X-Men 1 - I'm breaking my own rules for this, I know, because this book did not come out this week, but I'd heard such good things about it that I had to get it. And boy am I glad that I did. This could easily be the best book of the week with all the throwback references (Kitty talking smack to the Prof, Logan jokingly asking if Scott had gotten rid of their rooms, Logan vetoing baseball in his chat with Xavier, etc.) and the amazing throwback art. Bachelo has always been a favorite, but when he's getting to play in the X-Universe, it's clear that he's having the most fun. The way the group is going to interact is going to be the best part of this book and I am excited to join the ride. I'm curious if Jason Aaron will be able to keep up his impressive run with a cast that I think is insanely different than I've seen him succeeding in (solo focus or groups that can't stand each other versus this X-Book where they're supposed to be more of a family) but I have enough confidence in his writing ability to trust that he'll get it done. Whether you're an X newbie or an old hand, this book is worth getting, just for an injection of the fun the X books used to be. Plus, come on now: they killed Jean and have kept her dead for how long now? Give them applause for following through!

Book of the week goes to Invincible. This book is incredible and, just when I thought I had an idea of where it may be going, it takes a sharp, drastic turn - maybe. This is the way to stay engaged with a readership, even when you've been at it for more than half a decade.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

no nba.

Tuesday night was supposed to be Opening Day for the National Basketball Association. Instead, we have headlines like "The Opening Day That Wasn't" and New Mexico residents got to see UNM beat up on NAIA Davenport. The defending NBA Finals MVP is saying things indicating that the NBA might lose some of their star power. And, of course, the long shadow of the dominant face of American sports (the NFL, of course) only grows longer.

Basketball should have learned its lesson from the National Hockey League. Even if NBA commissioner David Stern had somehow succeeded in making basketball the most popular sport in America, he should have taken one long, hard look at what happened to the NHL after their lockout and done everything in his power to avoid this. Of course, there are those who claim that he still is. There are those who claim that this lockout is simply about greedy players wanting more money. The refuting of this point having already been done, let's go ahead and assume that people on both sides are working – just not hard enough.

An intermediary could not get the two sides close enough. The cancelation of at least one month of the season is not going to do it either. So what's it going to take?

The economics of the lockout have been broken down so many times that it feels a little frustrating to go over them again. Instead, a little speculation.

There had been talk that the owners were simply waiting for the season to start, for the players to miss their paychecks. This theory held that the owners felt that once money started not appearing, the players would break. With the dawn of new media and the way players are directly connected to both their fans and their sponsors, this seems like a shoddy theory to base your entire game theory around.

On the other hand, how many of the NBA players have super-popular Twitter accounts – or websites, failing that? How many of them have such airtight endorsements that they won't feel the pinch once money is supposed to be rolling in?

The players can present a united front all they'd like (and they really, really, really want to) but there will surely be some cracks in the armor soon. It all depends on how large those cracks appear, and how violently they assert themselves. If guys stop getting together and planning flag football games, you'll know something else is wrong.

For now, the only thing that's wrong is that baseball's over, football's at its midway point and yet, for some reason, there is no NBA on television. It's a sad day for a basketball junkie.

Monday, October 31, 2011

comics for the week of 10/26/11.

A short stack this week, as it seems is the new norm for me. Representing something from (almost) everything, though. That seems good.

Angel & Faith 3 - The search for the demon's blood to bring Giles back from the dead continues, but we get some good characterization of both Angel and Faith in the meantime. We also see some neat demons, some of the world after magic (this isn't new, in fact, it feels like the only thing that's already tired from both books – I can see how this trope is going to wear thin very, very quickly) and some more of the ex-Slayers. The way Faith talks to them, and the way they talk to her, is really the biggest sign of the progression of her character. She's definitely not the young, pissed off girl who's been passed over one too many times anymore. In fact, she doesn't even think of herself that way, even if she's shocked at her own journey into old age. But the biggest part of this issue is the introduction of a new secondary character I hope they keep around: an ex-mage who knew Giles (at least in a second-hand manner) and who guesses at Angel's motivation pretty quickly. As I said, Faith has progressed as a character, but there's still something to be said for having that old voice of reason around.

FF 11 - Building into 600, it seems like nothing more is happening in this issue. We've got the continued domestication of Reed, his censure at the hands of Sue becoming more and more clear. We've got Ben returning home. We've got the kids working on a secret project, which Reed surmises rather quickly (which will change in that good Hickman way to be something completely different, I'd guess) and we've got some guest spots from Marvel's best and brightest. The real meat of the issue comes in the way the Inhumans (or just the Kree, I really can't tell if they're truly working together) deal with the Alterna-Reeds. (And how sad was it that we didn't see Victor, Other Other Reed and Nathaniel at all in this issue?) But it's clear that the battle that's coming up is going to be huge. It's going to involve diverse and multitudinous sides and, honestly, I'm not sure what each side is going to have to sacrifice if they want to win. Here's to looking ahead.

The Flash 2 - There are a couple pages in this issue, like the title page and the pages where Barry is learning at super speed, that seem truly revolutionary. Francis Manapul's art is truly the best thing in the comic industry right now, and the fact that he's been given free reign on a flagship DC title is promising. However, it's not all wonderful news here, as the story seems...well...kind of dull. Maybe it's the reboot retreading over ground I've already run (pun intended) but it felt very static. As though we were supposed to be amazed at what was going on with the plotting, but, as I started this recap with, the only thing groundbreaking about it is (was) the art. That art, like I've already said, is indeed fresh. But it's not quite enough to be the product it could be.

The Ultimates 3 - This was a bit of a disappointment after the greatness of 2, but, again, it seems like a set up issue and, given the goodness that's happened before, I'm willing to accept that. Hickman paces himself on a scale that a lot of other people can't see most of the time, so I'm more than willing to go along for the ride. It's just like FF; I acknowledge that the end game might be invisible to me, but I know it's worth sticking around. This issue reverts back to the first issue formula: BATTLES! That's pretty much all there is for it, and after the cerebral way that we get our reveal last issue, it kind of felt like a let down, but I know that Thor getting over to the Tomorrow City is going to play out in a way that I can't foresee. And I love that. Meantime, in this issue, we have some Fury, some Hawkeye, a whole lot of Iron Man, and still no Cap. My guess is that's going to have to change next issue. Looking forward to it.

Book of the week goes to the Flash. In a world without Manapul's art, people would still, somehow, realize they were suffering. They would feel that absence. Thank God we don't have to be those poor fools.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

lobos men's soccer reaches number one in the country!

By some counts we are number one. (Of course, by one other we are number two.) It's a good time to be a fan of Lobos soccer.

The men's soccer team, as previously mentioned, has been here before. Ranked first in the country. A team full of athletes dedicated to a common cause. The same coach. The atmosphere drowning the city. It didn't end as well as it could have. Ironically, the team that is ahead of UNM in the NSCAA poll is Maryland, the same team that beat the Lobos in 2005 for the national championship.

The Lobos soccer team is the only unbeaten team in the nation at this point, and is looking to finish up their schedule on a strong note. Two of the last three regular season games take place this weekend at the UNM Sportsplex, and tickets are still more than available.

The truth at this point, though, is that UNM has got to start thinking about the NCAA tournament and, perhaps, let some of the thoughts regarding their now-record-breaking win streak go by the wayside. The MPSF tournament comes first and a respectable finish there is more than hoped for by now – it's expected. The expectations are high for this team. The team will refuse to look past opponents, giving everyone their due respect, but we have the luxury of looking ahead.

When the Lobos were making their earlier runs, they had the benefit of some serious home-field advantage. We can hope for the same here, but it's only useful if the stadium is packed. With the lofty goals of a sport-starved city foisted upon them, the Lobos certainly have more-than-ample excuse to crumble. These men, though, seem up to the challenge. The season is almost over and the time for marking true accomplishments is practically here. Make sure to get out to the Lobos soccer field to see what happens.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

comics for the week of 10/19/11.

Short stack. All DC (including Vertigo). I'm sticking with them despite my beefs with the DCnU. Guess they're not foolish to think they can punch me in the mouth and that I'll be back, because here I am.

Batman 2 - The Court of Owls makes its debut and Nightwing and Bruce have a chat. The storylines that are running concurrently in Nightwing, Batman and even (maybe) Batman and Robin really make me feel hope for this New 52 Universe. However, that's kind of beside the point. Here, we have some solid art from Capullo as well as more great storytelling from Snyder (although I have to say - it reminded me of the David Finch run on Dark Knight before the DCnU and that's not a good thing at all. Here's to hoping it'll get off that style) combining to introduce this retcon of the Court of Owls. It'll be cool, but everytime they introduce some supposedly always important architecture in Gotham, it always makes me think of some fanatic who's got a model of the city in his basement and curses their compulsions. (Theirs?) Capullo's Gordon still looks a bit odd, but I love the way that he's trying to ape some of the greater B:TAS elements, in the big heads and the pointy cowl ears. Good stuff here. You're a fool if you're not reading.

Fables 110 - Some great characterizations of the various Winds! The tests of the baby Wolves continues and the last page of baby girl Wolf finding that box...wow. Good things are ahead. Fables is a book, like the Walking Dead, that I hope continues (almost literally) forever. There are so, so, so many things they can do with it and, honestly, if you've been reading since the first issue, it's progressed so much. It's an incredible read in a great time for alternacomics. In this issue, we saw the other Winds and we got to see some of the backstory between the family. The OZ adventures continue, but that's the weakest part of the recent run. And, of course, the baby Winds are going through their tests, which we know mean nothing, but they don't. The last-page discovery has some serious ramifications.

Justice League 2 - Superman, Batman, Green Lantern and Flash fight, of course, but it's actually pretty good. The issue felt thick, which was good, cuz it was still 3.99. Now that we've had a whole month of other books and we see where the characters are on their own, I'm liking the 5 Years Ago setting of JL. It works better for me because I have a contrast for it, while the first issue was our big get to know you, this one felt fresh, even though we just had fresh. Not a bad thing. The Jim Lee pencils are so sweet, I don't understand people who claim not to like them. I'll include that Johns' scripting felt better, but I can't shake the feeling that he's lost it. Especially in the moments with Vic Stone (the soon-to-be Cyborg) it just felt awkward. I don't care about this character and it doesn't feel like the writer does either. You lose a lot of momentum/impetus when it comes across lazy. Here's to hoping it'll come around.

Book of the week goes to Fables. This book is everything I thought it could be when it first debuted and I am shocked that I can continue to say that, month in and month out. Bravo.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

texas vs. st. louis.

Every year, every major sport comes down to two teams. Usually, there's some sort of narrative framing that championship match-up. This year, MLB does not disappoint, and gives the people a trope they've come to expect: team on a roll, usually through some sort of improbable circumstance, versus a team that is defying some odds.

The St. Louis Cardinals get to play the role of the former, shocking most casual fans with their astonishing run through the post-season and winding up only four wins away from the ultimate validation. The Texas Rangers, on the other hand, are a firm lock in the latter category, having raced to the World Series last year, after a long, long drought, and battling all year to get back.

When these two teams meet on Wednesday night, they'll start things off in St. Louis, which has home-field advantage thanks to the All-Star Game. The best of seven series follows a 2-3-2 format, ensuring that Texas' fans will be packing the stands in the middle of the series, regardless of the result.

There's the mini-drama over Lance Berkman, a free agent last year who was pursued by the Rangers, but ultimately spurned them for the Cardinals. There's the amazing rate of the Ranger's bullpen, which is producing at a rate that is almost embarrassing for the starters. And, of course, there's the danger of St. Louis' powerful offense, combining Albert Pujols – perhaps the best hitter in baseball – with David Freese and the aforementioned Berkman.

Predictions, however, are hard to come by. These teams, with their varied styles and the differing ways they got to this point, play a somewhat even game. When forced to come with a prediction, though, I've got to go with the Rangers in seven games. These teams are so close, it's going to be a full series. We're going to see some beautiful baseball. But ultimately, only one of the familiar stories will get to be told. This is the year for the Rangers.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

comics for the week of 10/12/11.

Somehow, I missed FF 10 this week. I read it at a friend's house, but I didn't buy it, so I'm not including it here. You should hear me, though, when I say that it was good (not Book of the Week good) and you should buy it. This book keeps getting better and better, except for that very, very odd misstep with the art on the two-part arc devoted to Black Bolt. Other than that, not much to note..

Batwoman 2 - As good as it gets. This book is what comics should be and it's what comics could be Unfortunately, not too many people are going to pick it up. It'll sell enough copies to keep going, because what JH Williams III is doing is so revolutionary, but it's not going to be up near the top like it should be. This comic should be getting written about the way the Unwritten was when it first dropped and yet (maybe because of the reboot?) it's just another new hot piece. In this issue, we got great development between Kate and her sidekick (and how brutal was the line from Bruce about Jason?) as well as Kate and her (maybe) girlfriend. We've got great movement on the La Llorona case and we've got an interesting new angle on the DEO. (Is that right?) Really, really, really great stuff. There's no doubt that this is the second-best book on the market, after Locke & Key.

Buffy Season 9 2 - Buffy continues to run away from the Season 8 debacle (that I didn't really feel was as bad as others made it out to be) in a stunning fashion. After the ending to issue one, it was clear that this was going to be a tonally different book and that's not a bad thing, even though I didn't dislike Season 8, as others did, like I've said. However, there can be no doubt that this is going to be a different look. The relationships are back at center-stage, notably focusing on Willow and Buffy. The role that Spike is going to get to play in this drama, really though, is going to be the biggest change in this book. He was a bit-player in Season 8 and it's looking like he's going to get center stage in Season 9. Other notables include a detective and his partner working on Buffy's case, Buffy being arrested and the reveal at the end of the issue that there might be some alternative slayage happening. This is interesting, but it's a slow build, as opposed to Angel & Faith's right out the door excitement. I'm not against it, but...it's not fantastically compelling either.

Green Lantern 2 - Repeat my comments from last month on GL. I'm happy with this book, but neither happier nor more upset than I was before the reboot. It's the exact same book. The wrinkle with Sinestro is going to start playing out, though, either next issue or the one after, when we get to see him taking on the Yellow Corps with a green ring. I'm also intrigued by this idea of his creating a green ring. If this is a common thing, that's going to represent a lot of trouble. If this is uncommon, it's going to mean a lot of trouble from Sinestro, as he's evidentially extremely powerful. The Guardians are idiots, Hal is not compelling if he's not a GL, and Sinestro is evil. This doesn't feel like a change and that's not bad. But...I'm confused.

Resurrection Man 2 - This book, on the other hand, is such retro fun. The Body Doubles are back (and they're got a DCnU upgrade! or, at least, in my faint memory of the 90s, it seems like they do) and Heaven and Hell continue to fight over Mitch. The deal with his Dad is sad and the friend of his Dad's is odd (usually, I expect this to go to the typical reverse shock route, but I'm left wondering with this book, given the overall tone) but overall, things are great here. If you want some nostalgic fun, pick this book up.

Shield 3 - This issue is what finally convinced me that if I'm going to continue loving Shield the way I say I do, I've got to stop reading it monthly. (Or bi-monthly. Or whenever the delays allow it to come out.) I've known for a long time that this book is best enjoyed as a TPB, but this (near-) wordless issue is the one that convinced me. If I can breeze through an issue that should be this dense in less than two minutes, I think it's clear that there's something wrong. And since I genuinely believe that the problem isn't with the book, per se, the problem must be with me, how I'm taking this title on. The fight between the warring sides of the Eternal City goes down here and it's epic, but not so epic that we had to be without any words. This, to me, was a mistake. They're losing my monthly dollars, but I'll still be there when the trades come out, because it really is that good. I just can't handle the wait between issues and the ambiguity I always feel when I've lost track of the somewhat tenuous plot.

Ultimate Spider-Man 3 - This is what Spider-Man should feel like! Oh man, it's so good. This is how I imagine people who didn't hate One More Day felt after Brnd New Day, when things were fresh and picking up steam. My problem with that? I've already felt that way towards Peter Parker. I'm not here to tell you that I won't or can't feel that way for Pete again, but damn, Miles will do the trick for now. He's discovering his powers, confiding in his best friend, getting to be a kid, and, at the end of the issue, finding out that Pete has died.

The Unwritten 30 - The finale of On To Genesis really, really hit a homerun. After starting out a bit sluggishly, the last two books really killed. This issue in particular, though, with the epic conclusion that sets up the war, was magnificent. The similarities between the Tinker(er?) and Tommy were striking and the way that the former aged so rapidly was both amazingly disappointing as well as extremely appropriate. The way Frankenstein keeps popping up is both of the same. The reunion of Tommy & Lizzie with Savoy was also appropriate, leading me to totally believe the ending. I can't wait for the war. It's been well set-up, it's been well-done, and now, we're going to seriously get somewhere.

Book of the week should go to Spidey, but it's hard to not give it to Batwoman. I'm going to pull a bit of a cheat and, for the first time (and hopefully, the only time) give it to the both of them. I've compared Batwoman to Locke and Key, and Ultimate Spider-Man is clearly not on that level, but it's so fresh and exciting that I would hate to skip it over. Batwoman will continue at this level...who's to say about the Ultimate line?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

nba lockout becomes official.

The NBA has been officially locked out since July 1. But on Monday night, as the two sides failed to reach a compromise on a new collective bargaining agreement, the lockout reached a new level: the first two weeks of the 2011-2012 NBA season have been canceled. This is not virgin territory for the NBA. With a lockout-shortened 1998-1999 season still fresh on fans' minds, and the success of the 2010-2011 season, it seems poor timing for the perennial middle child (if that) of America's sports love to lose any part of a season.

With the NBA locked out and a shortened season the best thing fans can hope for, it's helpful to break down a few misconceptions about the circumstances that got us to this point, as well as the reality of the situation we're in.

First of all, this has been coming for quite a while. Everyone knew it was going to happen. And, despite the fact that everyone knew it was going to happen (perhaps even as far back as the last lockout), the two sides – represented by David Stern and Billy Hunter – didn't meet until August. Now that the first two weeks of the season have been canceled, at least one ESPN reporter claims that the real work will finally begin. That's a pathetic effort from a sport that isn't entitled to anywhere near the rate of audience-retention that big brother NFL is.

Secondly, despite the above griping, those who say this is just millionaires and billionaires fighting over money are dead wrong. The fight is over money, certainly, but only one side is demanding more. While the owners were previously receiving a paltry – in their eyes – 43% of the BRI (the Basketball Related Income), the players came to the initial meetings willing to move down, from 57% to 53%. While some speculated this might be an acceptable compromise, initial reports claimed the owners wanted the players to bump all the way down to 39%. Then it looked as though the owners were only willing to meet if that figure was at 50-50. Finally, it's been reported that the owners want to take as much as 54%. All these figures have been thrown around as a precondition on the part of the owners to the resumption of meetings. It's hard to call those kind of tactics good faith negotiation.

An underreported angle to the story – at least in the mainstream media – is how the second-tier people will be affected by this. While SLAM Online reported NBA players' reactions to the announcement, there have been no in-depth stories on the hundreds, if not thousands, of employees at the arenas, ticket offices, concession stands and security. Surely these people, for whom this is presumably their job, the main source of their income, need a their paychecks more than any of the players do, not to mention the owners, for many of whom owning an NBA team is a literal luxury. Make sure to include the third-tier layer of ramifications, such as lowered airline revenue from fewer people traveling to games and lowered restaurant revenue from fewer people going out for the night to watch the game and it's easy to see how this lockout spawns beyond the simple degree that many want to classify it as.

It's easy to look at the NBA lockout, in the era of the Occupy Wall Street movement as just another sign of corporate greed. However, like all economic situations, the truth resists simplicity. The players union and the owners have a complicated battle ahead of them, culminating not in the moment that the season is saved – or doomed – but rather in the rehabilitation of their image after that fact. To say that greed got them to this point is ignorant. But if you're looking for a simple tagline, some of that elusive truth, it's relatively easy: the players want to play (and get paid) and the owners want to make money. They'll come to an agreement sooner or later. It's only a question of how many people will still be watching.

Monday, October 10, 2011

comics for the week of 10/5/11.

The second week of the DCnU. I'm still crazy upset about this, but I don't think that I'm going to do a long post here about it, seeing as I've already kind of summed up my feelings over here. Suffice it to say, there are some great books (see below!) that have come out of this shitstorm, but for the most part, it feels like they're making it up as they're going along, and that's the ultimate disrespect.

Animal Man 2 - I read this after Swamp Thing, so the connection between the Red and the Green seemed super obvious to me. I'm not sure that'll stand out so much to people who aren't reading them (essentially) back to back, but it's great to see writers taking advantage of this newly blank slate. Insofar as the story, it was a bummer to see Buddy up and leave his family on such a whimsical note, but I do think his daughter's manifesting powers would scare the crap out of her mom. The dialogue between Animal Man and his wife rang pretty true, too; it's a fact that she didn't sign up for this kind of life. It's a hell of an adjustment to make. I only hope this isn't foreshadowing of a divorce-style conflict coming up - it makes for a way better story to see the two sticking it out together, even if it is hard. The book is building on a pretty slow pace, especially compared to Swamp Thing, but that's all right with me. I want to learn more about this tree and, of course, about the daughter's powers.

Invincible 83 - You know, just Kirkman doing what Kirkman does best: using superhero stories to actually tell super-detailed character stories where we care so much about so many different people. The main focus (and the twist ending) here go to Robot Rex and his lady friend, Monster Girl, in the most roundabout way. There's a party welcoming them back, couples are all around and everyone seems kind of happy. And then...no one really is. Of course, along the way, we get to see more developments of Mark's evolving personality, Cecil's confusion and Eve's smartness (and also a laughingly kinky side to her). This book does so well not because it's got huge space battles, but rather because Robert Kirkman succeeds in making each of his characters so human. Form Eve's weight gain (and the way it hasn't been in an issue in the actual comic, as opposed to the letters column, where you'd think that's the only thing that's been happening in the book!) to Rex's plead to help, all of these people are actually people. Great work, as always.

Swamp Thing 2 - This book is where things really got going. There's a menace on the loose and his name is The Seethe. He's coming for Dr. Holland, as Swamp Thing (the elder?) explains to him, so Alec had better accept those powers tout suite. The whole issue is essentially dialogue/exposition, explaining what's happening with the Swamp Thing entity, how Dr. Holland is wrapped up and what's going to happen if he doesn't accept his role in the drama. We've got a nice jiving of the past (Brightest Day & The Search for Swamp Thing) with some nods to old continuity and we've got forward momentum in the current story; what more can you ask for? The beginning of the book is consumed with the origin of Swamp Thing the elder and meanders its way to Alec in a pleasing way. The enemy is moving quick toward Alec and we have a great action sequence to end the issue. Fantastic.

Book of the week goes to Swamp Thing. When I first started writing this, I thought it was going to be Animal Man, but I guess my need for a bit more action took over. However, let me be honest and say that if you picked up all three of these books this week, whether you're an old vet or a newbie just dipping toes in, you'd be neither disappointed nor confused. This is a refreshing thing to be able to say.