Monday, January 31, 2011

comics for the week of 01/26/11.

Huge stack this week, for me, in comparison.

Action Comics 897 - Lex and the Joker take us closer on Lex's journey for the Black Spheres and the countdown to issue 900. This book is so good that, honestly, I didn't even realize that we were so close to 900 and that that was probably what everything's building toward. The way that Lex and the Joker interact, plus Robot Lois' machinations make this a solid issue. The My Little Pony reference to Death was clever and the way they're shadowing the Joker (as having been shot, as being genuinely crazy and hearing voices, as having some kind of honest connection with all of the shady stuff) really makes me think of Darkseid. Is he on the same level? He might be, after this arc.

Age of X Alpha - Nowhere near as good as I wanted it to be. The art was middling and uneven and I don't have the hook of the Age of Apocalypse. We had Legion traveling back in time, wanting to kill Magneto, accidentally killing Xavier, and then...madness! Here...well, to be fair, I haven't been reading the X books, but they even say in the back of the book that this is just jumping out of nowhere and that's part of the plan. Unfortunately, with this as the first part of that plan, I won't be sticking around for the rest of it.

Detective Comics 873 - So, I was right to say last week that I was a bit behind with the last issue. Only I had no idea how far behind. But that was a super satisfying mistake to make as the conclusion to this story was here so quickly and ran so well. The auction and the gas combination lead to Dick recalling some of the lessons that he learned as one of the Flying Graysons, and this is something that I hope we can get more of, as this book continues. Maybe that was part of the idea behind the 'Grayson-ifying' of the Penthouse, to reflect the fact that he truly is Batman now, and that it's going to be all about him. If that's the case, mark me down in the happy column, because he makes a great Batman, and I love the narration that he's got going. The story, honestly, was almost secondary, with how happy I was with Dick's development, but count Etienne Guibourg as a new, worthy addition to the roster of rogues, like what's happening over in the Batman book, and the little touch with the Joker's crowbar (used against Jason Todd) made for a perfect wink and nod to be long-time crew. This was a solid issue and I'm firmly on board with the idea that Detective Comics might be the best Bat book on the market right now.

Fables 101 - The single weakest issue of Fables so far. I know they have to break things up after the epic builds to 75 and 100, but this just felt so flat. Maybe it was the fact that I saw Wicked this weekend, but Bufkin's journey to Oz just fell short this month. The interaction between the Magic Mirror and Fankenstein's Monster was solid, but Bufkin is a weak character and the premise of him climbing a tree didn't do anything for me. Even the delight of seeing Jack Pumpkinhead didn't make up for the fact that this issue felt like mostly filler. And I'm sure it's going to continue for a while, which makes it even harder to stomach.

Fantastic Four 587 - Casualty. I read the previous Hickman arcs in trade, and jumped on board for the Three storyline, Byre-stealing the issues and buying 587 for posterity's sake. I've never been a Fantastic Four fan and I won't pretend that I'm going to start being one now - though the stories that Hickman's been telling have been solid, for the most part - but I will say that, honestly, the end brought me to the verge of tears. Maybe that makes me a wussy, for caring about characters I don't honestly care about, but I prefer to think that it's a great sign of Hickman's writing, to make me believe that this actually matters. I'm not going to get into spoilers about who dies, even though it's out there, mainly because all I want to say about this issue is that it felt real and that I think they did a good job and I hope it's not made irrelevant too soon. Bravo.

New Avengers 8 - Despite how truly great this issue was (and it had some phenomenal moments) the issue was a terrible read, purely because of Daniel Acuna's pencils. I can't stand his art, I never could. The conversations between Luke Cage and Jessica Jones were pure Bendis, but I didn't even get to delight in them because every other panel Jessica's face looked like there was a different source of light shining on it. The Doombot plot, and the Spider-Man quips, and the Power Woman gag, they all fell off the edge of a cliff for me, purely because of Acuna's pencils. I'm sure his art appeals to many people, but for me, this one was negated,

The New York Five 1 - Picked this up on the strength of word of mouth, which was completely justified. I'll be picking up the trade of New York Four. A solid story of four roommates who are all real people and hence have real problems. This could be my new Strangers in Paradise, except for the facts that it's a limited series and I'm assured that it won't go off the deep end of mobs and millionaires and secret conspiracies. All of which is my way of saying that it might be my favorite book in a long time.

Scarlet 4 - I've said this before, but I'm honestly not sure why there isn't a bigger protest presence about this book. It's incendiary. But...it's also one of the best books on the market right now. Bendis and Maleev might be one of my favorite teams of all time. Scarlet 4 picks up literally where Scarlet 3 left off, with the video tape of her shooting a cop. The FBI's involved and the lead detective in Portland is beyond frustrated. A flashmob is organized and...the issue ends. So basically, we have no development of Scarlet, but we get to see some things from the other side. While that's all well and good, I can't believe we spent the whole issue talking about the gathering, and then the last page is her in the middle of the crowd and we don't even get a teaser! Looking forward to 5, loving this book.

Book of the week goes to Action Comics 897 for the way it's working its magic slowly but surely. There were no big deaths (a la FF) and it wasn't a premiere (like New York Five) but it does the job of keeping the overall story going while taking a brilliantly entertaining sidetrack. If only all writers could handle a long beat like Cornell's done here.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

comics for the week of 01/19/11.

Killer B's, just like the Lakers bench. A day late, but still just as good.

Batman 706 - A killer continuation of what's easily been Tony Daniels' best work in a long time, Dick Grayson is pitch-perfect as Batman. The arc with Sensei and Peacock and Riddler (and Riddler's daughter!) and Damian and Reaper (it keeps going!) arrives at its penultimate point. This was a great issue that continues a great story. I love how Alfred interacts with both Dick and Damian in this book, and I'm still loving the new characters. The only misstep seems to be the placement of the Riddler, but even Dick acknowledges that, by assigning Damian to figure out what the heck his role is in all of this. It'll be interesting to see how Daniels ties all this in, even if we do have to suffer through the regression of the Riddler from his detective persona as well as the addition of his daughter to he mythos. This has been a solid title since Dick took over.

Buffy: The Vampire Slayer 40 - And, it's finally over. To be honest, I don't know what to say. After the underwhelming feelings that I got from the last issue, I thought this one would be the wrap-up that I desired, the one that made everything OK. And I have to admit that it wasn't. It was good. But it wasn't good enough. The letter column in the back of the book admitted as much, copping to the fact that this season was uneven and that there seemed to be mixed desires, especially in the beginning of the book. Joss said that the Fray future had a lot to do with some of the...ambiguities (is that what we want to call them?) and I have to say that I can see that, but... it didn't have to be that way! Leave those problems (of rectifying the end of Buffy with the beginning of Fray) for some other story! There's hundreds of years in between! It'll be OK. The Angel thing...I was happy. Then I was confused. Then I was confident that it wasn't over. Then I was vindicated. Now I'm back to being confused, with more than a side helping of frustrated. The Giles thing? I didn't really believe it, to be honest, and now that it's official and it's through...I'm confused. And upset. The Spike thing? I love him more and more. It started with re-watching the series for the second time, but I can really see where people were coming from, now that I'm semi-over the Angel/Buffy angle.

I'm anxious for Season Nine, to see where they go. There's no way the Buffy franchise could lose me at this point, but I will say that this was not how I pictured it ending. Based on the great words of Joss at the end of the book, though, I'm more optimistic for Season Nine than I would have imagined myself capable of being, if I'd known ahead of time how Season Eight was going to end. So, you know, hope and all that good stuff...seems like it's still a Slayer book for sure, then, right?

Detective Comics 872 - Easily the best cover of the year thus far, to start with. Secondly, the story is the best in all of the Bat books. (I'm not reading Streets of Gotham, which I hear good things about, to be fair.) Jock and Snyder are destroying their competition in the art and script category. The pencils fit the mood of the book so well, it's dang near perfect. Dick as Batman has a completely different feel here than he does in Batman, but it works so great, especially with the difference in the story. The secret society, their sickening auction, the great way the cover turns out to tie into the storyline, and the twist at the end all combine to make this the best book of the week, even though I think it came out last week.

Book of the week should go to Detective, but for two facts: like I said, I think it dropped earlier, and...well, Buffy is over. I wasn't over the top for the issue, but I can't give another book that honor when we're sending the Scooby Gang off into the sunset. I know they'll be back, but they get this much, at least, until then.

Monday, January 24, 2011

superbowl XLV.

Comic Reviews will be up tomorrow, as the prominence of the football news takes precedence.

*

The field in the National Football League has been officially narrowed to two teams: the Green Bay Packers will play the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, February 6, 2011 in Arlington, Texas, in the new Cowboys Stadium.

In the first game of the day, Green Bay crushed Chicago in what ended as a closer game than it ever was in reality. Despite the low score, Chicago never seriously threatened. And when Jay Cutler went down in the first half, not to return for the rest of the game, the Bears seemed lost. However, third-string quarterback Caleb Hanie stepped up to his role in a big way and made something of a game of the second half.

Chicago didn't even manage to put points on the board, in fact, until the fourth quarter. By that point, it seemed certain to most people watching the game that the game was over. Hanie refused to let things end quietly, though.

The Packers have done a great job of stepping up their game as the season has wound down week after week, and they refused to do any different on Sunday. Aaron Rodgers, more than proving his place as the post-Brett Favre quarterback for Green Bay, ended the night with a somewhat ugly line, but did everything that was asked of him - most importantly winning. Along the way, he threw for 288 yards and 2 interceptions, while running for 1 touchdown. He had a passer rating of 55.4, by far the lowest of his post-season. Despite all this, Rodgers and the Packers came out triumphant, defeating their long-time rivals in Chicago and setting up a meeting in Super Bowl XLV with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The New York Jets played in the same style of the Bears, refusing to put up points in the first half. It could have been considered a charitable gesture, if it had been done on purpose, but no one believes that, and the Jets dug themselves too big a hole to get out of. The Pittsburgh Steelers, with their championship pedigree proved to be too much to overcome.

While Mark Sanchez has been impressive since begin drafted last year, he was no match for Ben Rothlisberger. The Jets and their vaunted defense allowed twenty-four points in the first half, while only scoring 3 of their own on offense. The good news was, the defense woke up in the second half, and held the Steelers scoreless. After the Jets managed a safety and a touchdown in the short span of just over 4 minutes, it seemed like hope was alive.

But, Pittsburgh's defense isn't nicknamed the Steel Curtain for nothing, and they held up their end of the defensive bargain we were promised.

The Super Bowl, then, will feature two young quarterbacks who are at different stages in their careers: while Rothlisberger has been to the Super Bowl twice already and, despite the trouble he's been in, is accepted fully by his team and his city, Aaron Rodgers is taking that last step. If there were any people in Green Bay who hadn't bought fully into Rodgers, surely this Super Bowl trip convinces them. Win or lose, Rodgers is now firmly in command of the Packers and the Cheesehead Nation. Combined with Rothlisberger's previous wins, this will make for an entertaining game between 2 quarterbacks in total control, with nothing really to lose, and everything to gain. Tune in to the game in 2 weeks.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

comics for the week of 01/12/11.

Pure DC. Pure happiness.

Batgirl 17 -A great stand-alone issue...as long as you like as much Damian-Robin in your Batgirl as you do Batgirl. (Did that make sense?) The oil-and-water combo of Steph and Damian makes for entertaining comedy, and we actually get a decent story in the meantime. Peppered with good little bits about the over-arching story, this made for an entertaining issue that also serviced the overall plot. Worth the price of admission for the visual of Damian undercover as a normal kid alone. I'm a fan of the new art, like I've previously said, and Miller appears more than capable of making this book what it seemed like it could be in the first year. Here's to more of that.

Batman and Robin 19 - This book, on the other hand, just keeps letting me down. This storyline with the Absence quickly went nowhere (was that some sort of post-modern wink and nod? Because if it was, it was a bad one...). The only good part of this book was the deepening of the relationship between Dick as Batman and Damian as Robin. Plus, we had that explicit refutation of the killer last page from last month. Boo on the Absence and her paper mache tricks. Pick it up, Cornell.

The Unwritten 20 - Last, but certainly not least, comes the best book of the year, the best book of the week, etc. etc. etc. I can't heap enough praises on this book. In this issue, we get Tom literally taking up residence inside the text of Moby Dick. After the surprise of seeing his Dad as Captain Ahab at the end of last issue, he tries to take the direct approach this week, and it winds up placing him in the Brig. While there, he gets to speak with Frankenstein's Monster, and comes, as he puts it, within inches of some straight answers. Super intriguing conversation between the two of them and, meanwhile, Lizzie is cool as a cucumber when it comes to Savoy's revelation about his vampiric ways. They both get along fine, until the end, when the puppet lady captures them pretty convincingly. This book kills.

Book of the week is obviously the Unwritten. The way that Moby Dick is affecting this story, and the way it played thoughout the entire Bone series makes me think that I'm a bad English teacher for never having even attempted to read it.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

it gets better.

No, not the YouTube series. (Although that's important, too.)

But I thought it was worth pointing out this article, where Rep. Mary Helen Garcia, a Democrat from Las Cruces, is saying things that make a lot of sense.

I love personal freedoms and choices, but if a kid can't read, they shouldn't be passed on to the next grade.

And when a teacher recommends holding them back, the parents shouldn't have a veto power just because the kid won't like it.

This is a step in the right direction.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

when does it get better?

Below is an op/ed piece that I just submitted to my local paper.

Winston Brooks wants to know how we can help with the crisis that APS is facing. (http://www.abqjournal.com/education/112154591693education01-11-11.htm)

As both a taxpayer and an employee of his, I feel that the best thing to do is to get serious about education. At no time during his tenure have I felt that the job has gotten more serious. Among the things that have continued as they were before, or, in some cases, gotten worse:

Virtually worthless in-services, where material is repeated day after day, week after week, and year after year. Differentiation is spoken about as a must for the students, but teachers have no opportunity to prove themselves masters of a certain subject, or to extend their own learning. Rote memorization of scripts and call-and-answer rules the day.

Experimental features like the student parent conference, which reportedly have a high satisfaction rate, but are obviously in need of a lot of work. (http://www.abqjournal.com/opinion/editorials/122148177689opinioneditorials01-12-11.htm)

Ridiculously bloated software that crashes once a week bare minimum, so-called upgrades to our email interface that remove modern features such as POP or IMAP access, which then get dealt with in completely ignorant ways by the help desk. (The help desk email that all users got read, "At this time we cannot support email access...We cannot support Droids, Jest, Pantec’s, or any non-aps phone at this time. I don’t have personnel to support those." This has nothing to do with the issue. All that needs to happen is not disabling an option that is practically a default. Instead, we've turned it off.)

Oh yeah, and now, a girl that I wrote to the Journal about four years ago (http://www.abqjournal.com/opinion/letters/0610239opinion05-06-08.htm) is in the news again. This time it's significantly more serious. (http://www.abqjournal.com/news/metro/12231092552newsmetro01-12-11.htm)

Why do the schools of this city let so many through their grasp? Winston wants to make sure that you know that administrative costs are only 1% of the budget. But he's proud of the electronic billboards that are going up around the high schools. Those billboards will bring in $40,000 per year. If we factor in the $64 million budget shortfall, that represents 0.0625% of the shortfall. (http://www.abqjournal.com/news/metro/0623367metro01-06-11.htm) Where are the priorities?

Why the constant misdirection?

If we're in trouble, stop creating new positions to see what we can do about the trouble. Liaisons? Why does this position need to be created, if you've done their job in this article? Open the forum that is talked about and listen to all voices.

I have a few suggestions of my own:

Offer an incentive to teachers to use some of the built-in positive functions of the job. There is already an option to take a year off and come back next year to the same job. Offer employees a one-time (this year only) bonus of paying for a college class, or two. Teachers take a year off, enhance their learning, and come back when the district is more ready for them as better teachers.

Eliminate the process of re-upping the computer library of schools every 2 years or so. Or, if this isn't a program at every school, spread the wealth. Take the computers that some schools are tossing aside every few years and give them to the schools where they're still operating on the one computer per classroom mandate of history.

Either make the test scores that we value so highly matter to the students in some way, or stop valuing them at such a high level. How can we talk about evaluating teachers based on a test score that students have literally no incentive to try on? How does that make any sense? Positive reward systems have been proven time and time again to work the best. Put pressure on the Legislature to follow through on proposed ties between the Standards Based Assessment and New Mexico Driver's Licenses.

Don't reward good teachers/administrators by moving them to schools that are almost universally seen as worse schools. If it's bad form to claim that these are worse-off schools, then why do the consistently high-performing administrators end up there? What's the reasoning?

I know this one will make me unpopular with my friends in the union, but negotiate some kind of new contract where it's easier to fire bad teachers. There are horrid, horrid teachers in our system, simply in the system because it's almost impossible to rid ourselves of them, and they've put in so much time that they think they're owed a retirement plan.

Stop letting legislators determine what and when we are supposed to teach, and stop threatening to evaluate teachers by some arbitrary rubric. Much like the forum idea discussed in Mr. Brooks' article, open up the floor to ideas. Accept them all. Weed the bad ones out. Start again. Eventually, something approaching rationality will emerge.

But most of all, let's end this ridiculous notion of social promotion. If a student proves that they have no mastery of a subject (or all subjects in some cases) for any reason - if they don't care, or if they're absent 50% of the days in a semester, they shouldn't be advanced, where progressively worse options are increasingly appealing to them. By letting these students slip through the cracks, we increase the chances that they'll be caught up in violent, terrible circumstances, like we've seen today.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

bcs national championship.

Setting aside all the drama of Cam Newton and his possible, or alleged, violations of NCAA rules, the stage has been set for quite a while for an excellent championship game. Last night, that game unfolded in almost every great way it could have. After a scoreless first quarter, the action finally got started with Oregon chipping in a field goal. Replays quickly after those three points showed that Oregon's quarterback Darron Thomas missed LaMichael James for what could have been a touchdown. By the end of the game, Oregon would regret missing out on those four points.

Things continued as Auburn marched quickly down the field and scored a touchdown to put the Tigers up on the Ducks seven to three.

Oregon threw a gutsy play from their own five yard line and ultimately netted a touchdown from the resulting plays and then made it even better with Oregon coach Chip Kelly calling for a two point conversion and sealing it.

Auburn, again, came down the field with Newton doing the lion's share of the work. However, this time Auburn was the team that should have settled for the field goal. Newton threw the ball just a bit low, missed his target, and turned the ball over, and Oregon took over on their own two yard line.

The Auburn defense saw their chance, though, and forced a safety, the craziest play in football. (Seriously, it is the craziest play. You score and then you get the ball back? That doesn't happen with any other play in any other sport, right?) Auburn tacked on two points and got the ball back. The Tigers continued down the field and Newton threw for an easy touchdown.

On the ensuing Auburn kick, there was a penalty for 15 yards and Oregon capitalized to begin their drive. (Replays later showed it was a particularly dirty play by Eric Smith and it was good to see Auburn coach GeneChizik get all over Smith in reaction to the play.) Oregon, however, couldn't get the job done and settled for the punt on fourth and 10, giving the ball back to Auburn for the final couple plays of the first half, where the Tigers had a chance to set up for a field goal and ultimately settled for a Hail Mary just to see if they could grab some points. The game broke for halftime with Auburn up 16-11. (Another weird aspect for this game, that score seems suspiciously un-football-like.)

Auburn started the second half with the ball and quickly got down to business. After making it to the 11 yard line, Auburn came up short on third and five and settled for a field goal.

When Oregon received the ball, another Auburn personal foul (or dirty play, depending on your read of the situation) resulted in a 15 yard penalty and the Ducks moving quickly onto the other side of the field. Oregon stalled out midfield, though, and punted from the 41 yard line.

After Auburn had a four and out, Oregon took control of the ball and had a poor series followed by a faked punt for a first down. The next play was a long pass, setting up a goal line stand where Oregon simply could not force its way into the end zone. Auburn's defensive line held strong and received the ball on their own one yard line.

After a series of back and forths between the two teams, the fourth quarter was riddled with subpar offense from both teams, until Oregon forced a turnover around the five minute mark. They advanced the ball, finally converting in the red zone and securing a two-point conversion on a gutsy play.

After Auburn was conspicuously not tackled on the biggest play of the game, Michael Dyer broke free for what could have (and, perhaps on Oregon's part, should have) been a touchdown. However, Wes Byrum got the opportunity to kick the game-winning field goal. With two seconds left, the ball was snapped, set, held, and kicked good.

Oregon had their chance, and the game was a great one, but, ultimately, Cam Newton and the Auburn Tigers rolled to the SEC's fifth consecutive Championship games.

Friday, January 7, 2011

comic for the week of 01/05/11.

Yup. Only one.

Superboy 3 - This is the first DC book that I've got that had the big Iconic! cover and, while I hated the idea at first, I've got to say that I really liked this cover. I might buy some of these covers just for those covers. (Or I'll search the images online and have forever copies of them for free. Win-win.) Anyway, the story was good, as the last two issues of this new book promised. It's definitely got this weird tinge to it, and I've got some ambiguous feelings toward Simon Valentine after Conner blew him off this issue. But I love where they're going with this, just making the book as weird as possible. Lemire's gonna do some cool things here, I think.

Book of the week would be an insult to bestow, seeing as there was only one, but let me say that Superboy is a solid title and if you're not picking it up, you're missing out. What books came out this week that I'm missing out on?