Tuesday, May 31, 2011

the changing of the guard has already happened.

There are a lot of times where something only looks clear in hindsight. And when we look back, people, mainly historians and those who want to appear smart, remark, "Oh, we should have seen this coming. Look at all these signs..." And they'll point out Exhibits A, B, C, etc. as though, had they been living through the times, they would have seen with crystal-clear precision what exactly was happening and where it was leading.

This is one of those times.

The NBA Finals haven't even started yet, but the guard has already been changed. The NBA landscape seems as though it'll be forever altered after this season, but especially after this post-season. All year long, the Miami Heat have been carefully watched and dissected, their every move either a cause for rejoicing or anguish. This was inevitable, of course, after LeBron James decided to hold "The Decision" - depending on your viewpoint, either a success of the modern athlete asserting their own destiny, or a callous young man stabbing his hometown in the back, on national television - and join forces with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in South Beach. They held an infamous preseason celebration for the titles they swore they would win and battle lines were drawn. There were people who couldn't wait for the spectacle of two of the best basketball players in the world (plus Chris Bosh) on one team and there were those who were so turned off by the megalomania they rooted against the Heat in a passionate manner. There weren't many people halfway in between.

When the Heat stumbled, all of the Heat's Big Three seemed to get punished - but none moreso than James. He was seen as the face of the unit (rightly so) and he would take the most criticism. However, when the post-season arrived, he was also the one who turned it on. The man some accuse of quitting last year against the Boston Celtics suddenly had every answer. He made shots he'd missed previously and, when it was over, he celebrated - perhaps accordingly, perhaps in an over-the-top manner.

But while the Heat were winning, the Atlanta Hawks and the Chicago Bulls were serving notice that, despite the Celtics' sudden over-the-hill appearance, the Eastern Conference would be a dogfight for the next few years.

Meanwhile, when the season began with all the attention on the Heat, it apparently escaped the notice of the mainstream media that Jason Terry, one of the Dallas Mavericks had gotten a tattoo of the Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy! The fact that this story is only now coming to light shows the extent to which the media wore horse blinders in regard to the Heat. The only other team that garnered near as much attention as the Super Friends in South Beach were the two-time defending champions, the Los Angeles Lakers. When the Mavs dispatched of the Lakers in an unceremonious sweep, it was suddenly time for a new narrative for the season.

So here, today, it's upon us. The Dallas versus Miami rematch. The teams met last in the 2006 Finals, and that's all that anyone can talk about now. The narrative has been building all season, but it hasn't been clear until now. Either Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry will have their revenge on the team that psychologically damaged them, or James, Wade and Bosh will be proved right - they did the right thing, made the right decisions, and the trophies are theirs for the foreseeable future.

There may be people, in the future, who will tell you they saw this coming, that it was inevitable, that it was destiny. Those people are liars. But, that doesn't mean that this isn't going to be a great series and that we'll have plenty to talk about, not just during the matchup, but in the weeks and months (and yes, maybe even years) to follow.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

dirk nowitzki with an all-time effort.

Last night, the Dirkus Circus put forth an offensive effort that should be talked about forever. Dirk Nowitzki has been one of the top guys in the NBA for a long time, and he's obviously been the top gun in Dallas for the Mavericks since getting there. But last night, in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, he did something special.

After Nowitzki and his Mavs swept the two-time defending champions, the Los Angeles Lakers, things were looking rosy for them. But against a young and enthusiastic Oklahoma City Thunder and the youngest scoring champ in NBA history, Kevin Durant, things were supposed to be tough.

Game 1 might have gotten as close as 5 points in the last 4 minutes, but it never felt that close. With Nowitzki nearly impossible to guard, the Thunder did the even worse thing - sending him to the free throw line, where he was 24-24.

Nowitzki, of course, has been long-regarded as one of the premier talents in the game, but the soft label chased him around the league like a persistent bloodhound. After going up 2-0 on the Miami Heat in 2006, the Mavs suffered a psyche-crushing loss in Game 3 and promptly lost the series.

The next year, in 2007, as the overall 1 seed, the Mavs were the first team to lose to an 8 seed in a 7 game series. The Golden State Warriors capitalized on several advantages and continued the Mavs' woes.

In 2008, the New Orleans Hornets got to play the spoiler to the Mavs, brushing them aside in the first round 1-4.. In 2009, they lost in the Conference Semifinals to the Denver Nuggets, again 1-4. In 2010, it was the San Antonio Spurs who got the best of the Mavs, again in the second round, 2-4.

When this season began, the Mavs had made a couple trades to beef up their team, but no matter how impressive they looked, they were dismissed. They were the cowards and the chokers who couldn't get it done in the post-season. Nowitzki was an all-time talent, but he'd never live up to the disappointment of his '06 Finals collapse against the Heat. It was smart money to bet against the Mavs.

Unitl, all of a sudden, last night, when Nowitzki decided to make all the pundits look like fools. He shot 12-15 from the line along with the aforementioned perfection from the free throw line, for 48 points. He also managed 6 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 blocks. He posted a ridiculous 93.89% on true shooting percentage and put on a clinic on how to shoot that should e part of any teaching highlights film.

The only question now is whether the fans of the Dallas Mavericks feel comfortable enough to start rooting for the Miami Heat to beat the Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals so that they can exact their true revenge.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

comics for the week of 05/11/11.

Some nice variety. For a change.

Batgirl 21 - The Reapers continue their assault, this time with a music student who can transform sound into energy. Batgirl has a few problems with her, but, spoiler alert, manages to defeat her. The real point to this issue was the development with the Grey Ghost, as he's getting primed to become her nemesis. He's a lame one at this point, but she's still getting her feet wet and it'll be cool to have them develop and come up together.

FF 3 - Nice twist to this issue, even though I should have seen it coming. Basically anytime that Dr. Doom is involved with the FF or with the Marvel Universe at large, I think, is a good time. So, has all this stuff with the other Reeds been happening in the background this whole time? Is that the takeaway that we're supposed to grasp? Because I want this action to build to a head sooner rather than later. I want a major war and I want to see some hardcore Doom action. And I think I will. It's gonna be awesome.

Flashpoint 1 - Way better than I expected it to be. I was discussing with Dave Jordan that I don't really care for either Kubert's art, but it didn't bother me too badly in this issue. I was intrigued by the different world stuff, as I almost always am, but it also felt like it would, inevitably, not matter. The twist at the end with Batman was cool, and I didn't see it coming, which was refreshing, but I also have this feeling of ennui when it comes to this book that nothing is going to matter and it's all a big waste of time. I'll stick with it, though, because that's what addicts do.

The Flash 12 - This one had mixed art from Kolins & Manapul, which is an improvement over just Kolins, but still isn't the book as advertised or promised. Zoom getting to kill alternaBarry (or Hot Pursuit, who proves with his immediate death what a worthless character he was) was the best thing about the issue, which is good for the villain sympathizers, but bad if you're pulling for the hero of a book. Barry Allen just feels so flat. It was a mistake to bring him back and it's a waste of Geoff Johns and Francis Manapul's talents to have them half-assing this book.

Moon Knight 1 - Well, even though I saw the preview of the art, I still thought it would be all right. And the last page was a cool reveal. But I just don't know if I can justify buying this book for Maleev's art when it's soooo different. I don't mind change, but this is clearly change for the worse. His art does not look as good as it normally does (and I know someone told me the real reason why and, more importantly, I know that's a totally subjective thing, but...) and I don't care that much about Moon Knight, so I don't see myself continuing with this book.

The New Avengers 12 - Surprise, that Cap at the end of last issue turned out to not really be Cap. And...Mockingbird is still on the operating table. Meanwhile, some stuff happened back in the 1950s but none of it mattered or matters because we haven't heard about it until now. Oh, but Victor Creed, Sabertooth, in case you forgot about him, was still a badass. Like you always knew he was. The good news? That waste of a story is done and it looks like we'll actually have some plot development with Victoria Hand and the HAMMER issue. That'll be good. Or just get Bendis back to writing pure dialogue issues between Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, Spider-Man and Wolverine. Those are gold.

The Unwritten 25 - The second arc of the story begins with a bang as Tom spits out of a jar of water and immediately gets to work with Lizzie and Savoy on perpetuating his myth as well as getting back some old belongings of his father. Savoy seems to have taken to being a vampire exceptionally well, and Lizzie hops right back in the sack with Tom, so things are going well. That is, until they fall into a trap. Which, you know, is a drag. I don't know how many other ways I can put it: if you're not reading this book, and you claim to like comics, you're doing yourself a disservice.

Book of the week goes to the Unwritten in a runaway. There were some otherwise good books, but this one is head and shoulders above the rest.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

comic for the week of 05/04/11.

As predicted, a short stack. The shortest stack possible.

Superboy 6 - The artist changed on this book and I didn't mind it. The direction of the story, though, felt too much like same old, same old. We've seen the terrible future in every comic book story by now, but it feels especially played out with the Teen Titans and their current (former?) members. The only good thing was the presence of Valentine as a possible evil ally. This is going to trouble for Conner because he's going to think about this vision often. Meanwhile, he actually needs all the help he can get from Valentine to fend off the coming attack from Psyonic Lad. (Did anyone else think, practically all issue, that this was a plot of the Lad's? That it still might even be?) Lemire's writing is still going to draw me into this book and I'm good to give it more than its fair share of the leash, but it's got to have something other than a story I've already read four times (bare minimum) with this character. And quick.

I refuse to name a book of the week when I only pick up one book as that seems like more of a diss than a compliment. However, it should be said that, as I'm buying less than 20 books a month and Superboy is one of them, I'd recommend it to most people.

Monday, May 9, 2011

things done changed.

Every time there's a seismic shift, things feel more important. And this year, in the NBA, things feel important. It feels like something is happening. It feels like a changing of the guard.

When the San Antonio Spurs were taken out by the upstart Memphis Grizzlies, it was clear that the times, they were a'changing. The Boston Celtics are still clinging to life, thanks to a one-armed Rajon Rondo, but their title window has always been supposed to be "only this year" - regardless of what year it is, and despite the fact that the pundits said the same thing last year. Finally, with the sweep of the Los Angeles Lakers by the Dallas Mavericks, the icing is on the cake and the writing is on the wall.

There can be no doubt about a Playoffs where the Atlanta Hawks refuse to bow to the best-record-in-the-league Chicago Bulls. And when those Grizzlies, who never seemed to doubt that they'd triumph over the Spurs, are challenging the Oklahoma City Thunder in ways that no one predicted, it's time to realize that a movement has already overtaken the league. It's not creeping up. It's not approaching. It's here, it's now, and it's too late for anyone to say they saw it coming.

The coronation of Derrick Rose as MVP was a nice nod to the coming youth movement, but Rose has already been acknowledged, as a high school prospect, as an elite college player, who took his team to the promised land, even if they fell short, and even if that run has since been negated. When he said that he wanted MVP his rookie year, people looked at him like he was crazy. No one's doing so now. But Rose has never been the ringleader of this movement - that honor falls to Kevin Durant. As the youngest scoring champion in the history of the league, and the fresh, smiling face of the Thunder, he was supposed to be the one. And he still might be.

But he'll have to get past Tony Allen and Marc Gasol and - most of all - Zach Randolph, if he wants to continue his assault on the league. With the Grizz taking the fight right to the jaws of the Thunder and the Hawks battling the Bulls like no one expected, it's clear that the league is shifting right from under the feet of those who were privileged to come before, and even more quickly from those who just assumed they got next.

Who got next is a persistent question in basketball. If you keep winning, you get to keep playing. You see the faces across from you shift, and you don't really care, you don't take time to honestly evaluate the opposition, because it doesn't matter. All that matters is the fact that you're winning, your time is now. But sooner, rather than later - because time bows to no man, woman or team - you will slip. The Spurs, Lakers, and maybe the Celtics are learning that lesson now. And when you do slip, as they have (or will) it can be disorienting to look at the face of the team that beat you. You might find yourself wondering, "Who is this? How did they get here? How did they get me?"

But by that point, it's too late.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

comics for the week of 04/26/11.

A thick week for the stack. Which probably means that next week I won't get any books. It's a weird time for me as a comic fan. Add in some of the news that I'm legally not allowed to talk about, and it's been a fun time.

Action Comics 900 - Lex. With the power....of a GOD! And it's handled damn well. Seriously. It might be hard to believe, but it shouldn't be for anyone who's read any of Paul Cornell's run on Action Comics. It's sad to lose the Lex Luthor on the front cover, but this is a fitting end. And the real end, the one that's been in the news, with Superman...wow. It's impressive. If they stick with this, and they really roll with it the way they can and should, it can entertain for years. I'm confident in DC right now, and a big reason why is because of the fact that they've made me care about Superman. From "For Tomorrow" on there have been great arcs pretty consistently on Superman. It's all because of a guy named Geoff Johns. You might have heard of him and he's left a legacy here. 900 issues is a hell of an accomplishment, and Superman keeps on prevailing, even in a world that's gone through the likes of Batman, Wolverine, Image, and back all the way around.

Detective Comics 876 - This is the best Bat book. Period. Scott Snyder is writing the hell out of this book and Jock's pencils are pitch perfect. I love the idea that this book is actually embracing its title and looking at some of the darker mysteries of Gotham City. I love that Dick Grayson is the guy who's solving those mysteries. I hope this book never changes. This issue starts a new three-issue arc called Hungry City which starts with one of the more impressive two page spreads that I've seen in a long, long time. The interaction between Dick Grayson and Jim Gordon is also super impressive, and I LOVE the fact that we don't see as much of Batman with the Comish, in contrast to this relationship. The way that the past has come back, here with Zucco, and in the last arc with Jim's son, James, seems to be a speciality of Snyder's and I'm quite a fan of it.

FF 2 - I didn't think I was going to buy this book. I thought it would be a one and done for me, just out of curiosity of what Hickman did at the end of Fantastic Four. I liked all that, but I'm not an FF Fan. But when I saw Doom on the cover and I flipped through the book in the store, I couldn't help myself. And I was right! This book was so, so, so, so good. The way that Hickman nails the family interactions of Reed, Sue and Ben is everything I've ever wanted from a FF book and the interloper nature of Spider-Man proves that he's in the right place. This book is going to be amazing for as long as it lasts.

The Flash 11 - This one, on the other hand, is going downhill ridiculously fast. I don't care how much other people love the art of Scott Kolins, the simple fact is he is not as good an artist as Francis Manapul. And when Manapul is (at least!) half the draw to the book, the book suffers when he's not there. I don't care about the reasons. I just care that the art doesn't look as good. Plus, I don't care about Flashpoint, I don't care about alternate Barry Allen, and I don't care about the so-called intervention for our Barry Allen. This book is slagging in a major way and I can't see myself sticking with it much longer if we can't get a major recommitment from Manapul.

Green Lantern: Emerald Warriors 9 - The War of the Green Lanterns continues and it's great. Here we see Mogo coming after our four Lanterns and the rings are obviously starting to affect them. (Kyle is the most obvious, but he's also the best one to watch.) Whatever this character is that's introduced as a police officer ("To Protect and Serve"?) of the Green is someone to watch out for, because you know that Geoff Johns doesn't introduce these sorts of concepts without a great reason that's going to pay off much further down the road. The way this story isgoing makes me feel that it certainly won't be as epic as the Sinestro Corps, but it might be just as important in its long-lasting ramifications.

Jimmy Olsen 1 - This one shot collected the backups from last year, which were fun at that time, and read great as a complete story here. The art is cartoonish in the best way possible and it really fits the tone of Jimmy Olsen and the story that's told here. There's not a lot more to say here, other than I didn't remember the end of these stories (were they published?) and I enjoyed the book. IF you didn't pick it up, you missed out.

The New York Five 4 (of 4) - This was a great experiment for me. I enjoyed it and this issue was a hell of a conclusion, but I won't be repeating it. When the next arc comes out, which I'm sure it will, I won't be buying it. I loved the art, I loved the concept, but I didn't really care about the story. Maybe this is because I've already done my Strangers in Paradise thing, but I just wasn't compelled by it. Not in any bad way, because, like I said, it was good, I enjoyed it. BUt it's not my cup of tea. I'm glad I read it, because I'll recommend it to a lot of different people, but I won't be continuing.

Book of the week goes to Action 900. Even if it wasn't the monumental anniversary issue that it is, it's a truly satisfying conclusion to a great, slow burn of a story arc. That's got to be rewarded and I hope the sales back that point up.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

tomorrow will be the most beautiful day of raymond k. hessel's life.

I already presented my own thoughts on bin Laden's death. Here, I try to tie them into sports. If it gets put up on the Alibi as it should, I'll edit to include that link.

*

Yesterday, the news was delivered that Osama bin Laden is dead. And while this might not be the most logical link with sports, it defies expectation to remember 9/11 and not have a memory of a sporting event.

When that day passed, a lot of people questioned whether irony was dead, whether we would live in a state of permanent seriousness, whether the little things would ever matter again. But, of course, they did matter again, and they mattered again very quickly. One of the things that we consistently do as humans is underestimate our ability to adapt to changes.

When then-President Bush threw out the first pitch for the New York Yankees, that was a cathartic moment for many people. It mattered that we were able to get back to something that, mere days before, commentators and newscasters had been discarding as trivial. The little things, as it turns out, are the ones that matter the most.

This was, of course, most famously said by Jon Stewart. "They said to get back to work." And today, we will, perhaps finally, perhaps ultimately, be able to do so.

In a nice parallel with the Yankee game, there will be sports on tomorrow. It will be, just like yesterday and the day before, just another ordinary day. But there will be something special in these sports, the ones that don't matter to so many people. These things especially seem to not matter to arty types of people, the people who read alternative newspapers, because sports is seen as a somewhat mainstream interest. Those things are both usually true.

But today, starting at 1:35 PM local time in Oakland, the Texas Rangers will play the Athletics. The National Anthem will be sung, and it's my guess that that rendition of the song will sound sweeter than it did yesterday, or the day before. It's my guess that'll be the case at most of the baseball games scheduled. And the basketball games. And any other games that are scheduled that escaped the national scope.

Because, in the end, it is these little things that matter. They remind us that, despite tragedy or triumph, life goes on the way it has before: slowly, sometimes good, sometimes bad, one day at a time.

*

It didn't go up yesterday (and yeah, I'm keeping the time frame in the piece, even thought it doesn't make sense reading it on Tuesday as thought it was supposed to be read on Monday, but that's the way it is) and I don't care.

But what I do care about is the fact that, 24 hours later, things seem a lot more clear. Mindy C left a great comment on my last entry, as she is wont to do. And, really, the sports things weren't as big as I thought they were going to be. And I think that's a good thing, because, unlike 10 years ago, we didn't need the catharsis. It was still a big deal, and it was a nice thing. But more than needing that, we processed things in a calm and rational way. There were great articles saying much the same things I said yesterday and one of those was from an athlete on Twitter!

Things are getting better.

Monday, May 2, 2011

osama bin laden is dead.

Last night, President Barack Obama announced that Osama bin Laden has been killed. There were tons of reactions, and I'm sure I'm not delivering this news to you for the first time. But I did think it interesting when one of my Facebook friends put up the famous Gandhi quotation, "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind." In the midst of an almost universal (at least, as far as the media I was consuming) celebration, I was slapped back to reality by an old idea that I definitely believe in. And that's when I realized that I was processing this on many different levels. And I think that it's important that I get these levels down, mostly for myself, if not for other people, maybe to think about the fact that we probably all are doing this as well. These reactions might not be the same as yours, or some of them might, but I think it's mainly just an exercise for myself.

The first thing that I felt was pride. I think I felt this mostly as an American. We undertook this task almost ten years ago, to kill the man who was responsible for this great, national pain. And we did it! Team America: World Police threw a party in my head!

Then, I felt pride as a liberal, or more specifically, as a Democrat: Barack Obama will be reelected! He did in 2 years what George W. Bush couldn't do in 8! God, I'm so happy!

Then it went back to unified American and I was reminded of the pain we suffered on 9/11 and I thought of people like this and I realized that this day was so much bigger than one side of the political equation. It was a proud moment and I was happy to bask in that joy of a man being killed.

Then I saw my friend's Facebook post and I realized that I was overjoyed about the death of another person. I asked if we could remember a time when so many people were so happy over the death of a person? I heard Hitler, but I said we couldn't remember that - this is fresh. This is here and now. And we're all celebrating. It felt weird for a semi-pacifist, for a liberal who's not a huge fan of the Army or death or war or any of those things to be reveling in the fact that someone had died.

And then, finally, I tried to process this is a philosophical way: I am happy he's dead. Some of the families who need it have closure now. I believe in Gandhi's words. I really do. I think war is never rarely the answer, and I think that when you take revenge, all you're doing is extending a vicious cycle. But I'm older now than I was yesterday, and thankfully that will always be the case. And I think the single thing that growing older has taught me is that things are not black and white. (A black and white statement if there ever was one, eh?) There are shades of grey. And Osama bin Laden, despite being a human being, deserved to die. I know that's a heavy label to throw around, but I'm pretty sure I'm comfortable with it.

I don't think we should make exceptions to the rules every time we feel we've been slighted. I think rules are good things, and I don't believe in anarchy. I love my government and I love my country. If I was drafted, even though I'm not a fan of the Army, I would go and fight, even if I thought the war was idealistically wrong. I think there are such things as good and bad. I think that, for the most part, we've been on the side of good. And I think, for the most part, killing someone is bad. But I think that this was a good thing. I think that this was something that was deserved.

Most of all, at the end of the night, I felt optimistic for the future. I'm a pretty optimistic guy for the most part, but last night, I felt hope in a way that I hadn't for a long, long time. There was a sliver of my brain that said it was wrong to feel that way over a man's death. But the larger part of me said, it's not about his death. It's about the feeling that people like this embodied. If that's wrong, if that leads me down the path to the dark side, then I have to think that the sides are closer than anyone could ever imagine.