Wednesday, August 31, 2011

let's talk about michael vick.

When word broke that the Philadelphia Eagles were going to make Michael Vick a one hundred million dollar man (again, for what it's worth), commenters on the Internet immediately dug into their trenches and started lobbing grenades at the other side. After all, this is Vick we're talking about. If the hype on either side is to be believed, he's either a vicious, unrepentant dog killer who deserves nothing, or he's the greatest quarterback of our modern era - possibly of all-time.

All this controversy came on top of an earlier explosion, this one being totally out of Vick's control. On Thursday of last week, ESPN ran a piece that will appear in the September 5th issue of ESPN the Magazine titled "What if Michael Vick were white?". The author of that piece, Touré says that he asked ESPN not to title it as such but, obviously, that request went unfulfilled.

Touré's article was actually a nuanced piece on how asking such a question is, in the world we live in, impossible. However, the title was what a vast majority of people saw. Those who did not see the title nor read the piece, though, had plenty to take away. Accompanying the piece, ESPN commissioned a photo illustration, literally depicting the titular question. All subtlety and nuance from a gifted writer went out the window.

Instead what we were left with was very reminiscent of the political landscape of today. The aforementioned trenches were dug, opinions were honed to an even finer point, and pithy, five- to ten-second commentary abounded. No one's mind was changed by Touré's article, nor by the comments that followed it on site after site the reposted it. Those who thought we live in a post-racism world before reading the article still do. They hold up the article as an example of minorities harping on a problem that no longer exists. Those who were sympathetic to possibilities of racism in the world finished the piece by shaking their heads, finding yet another text book case of proving their view point right.

It's difficult (nigh impossible) to honestly discuss these sorts of issues nowadays. If you want to talk sports, you've got to be able to get on TV and give a thirty-second opinion. If you're not screaming, you've got to be issuing some sort of fierce rebuttal to the person who screamed before you. If you want to discuss things at length, you're an academic: out of touch with the world and only interested in perpetuating ideas, refusing to deal in reality.

There are serious questions that are raised by the Touré piece, including but not limited to: race and racism, black style and black lifestyle, the ever-changing morals of bringing up children in America, regardless of race, but keeping in mind how that race (something no person has a choice on) affects that upbringing. There are questions on the American judicial system and the penalties that any person should have to pay for any crime, whether it's against human, animal or another form of life. There are questions on how worthy any thought experiment really is.

But, at the end of the day, instead of those questions being discussed, most people saw the picture, read the headline, and started screaming.

Monday, August 29, 2011

comic for the week of 08/24/11.

Next week. Everything's been building up to next week.

FF 8 - Even though I said I was gonna abandon it after the god awful art of the Black Bolt arc the last two issues, I can't just walk away from Jonathan Hickman's writing. And, honestly, it's paid off. I like where this story is going and we're finally back at the interesting part of a thread that's been drawn out for a long, long time. Doom is, of course, always the wild card, but the multiple Reeds have a lot of draw. Nathaniel Reed has always been one of the best characters in Marvel's First Family and I like that he's back now, using what he knows to help out in whatever ways he can. I'm curious how much longer this is going to stretch out but I like what's happening thus far.

No book of the week this week. Next week is what we've been looking forward to forever.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

pat summit needs to be remembered now.

Yesterday, CBS broke the news that Pat Summitt, current head coach of the Tennessee Volunteer's Women's basketball team, is suffering from early onset dementia. Summit plans to coach this season and beyond, but this revelation casts quite the pall against her tremendous record.

Now is not the perfect time to recount Summitt's record. The perfect time would have been upon her entry into the Basketball Hall of Fame. Or upon her 1,000th win. Or at almost any other point in her storied career.

No doubt, though, today's headlines will be full of memorials and tributes and toasts to the sublime Summitt, including this one. Despite how well as Summitt's been treated, with the landmarks and accompanying stories above serving as reference, let the record show that she has not been regaled nearly enough. With a lifetime record of 1071-199 (for a ridiculous win percentage of 84.3) and having served as the head coach of the Lady Vols since the mid-1970s, she is, arguably, the most successful coach of all time, in any sport. Add in 8 NCAA championships and her team's championship in the SEC 16 times and it's hard to match up with her no matter where you're coming from. Phil Jackson is feted as a king for his 11 championships in the NBA, but he also earned 10 million dollars last season. For comparison's sake, Summitt pulled down a mere 350,000 as her base salary last year.

But it's not about just the wins and it's certainly not about the money. People have been paid more and there have been record-breaking win-streaks around Summitt. Rather, it's about the gravity that Pat Summitt brings to the game. She's a fierce competitor and she refuses to let things idly pass. She started at Tennessee in 1974 before women's basketball was even an official NCAA sport. She's coached some of the all-time greats in the women's game (including Candace Parker and Chamique Holdsclaw). Her battles with the University of Connecticut and coach Geno Auriemma are the very thing that attracted many people to women's basketball in the first place.

To say that Summitt's diagnosis is a blow to the sport would be an understatement. However, the tributes that will undoubtedly (to be frank, are, right here, before your very eyes) be unfolding in the coming days are premature. Summitt is a fine coach and will do everything in her power to continue with those responsibilities. Most appropriately, Summitt herself laid out a very Pat-Summitt-statement: "There will be no pity party." This woman is a warrior. Regardless of your feelings on basketball in general or women's basketball in particular, take a moment today to appreciate what she's done for the game. For almost four decades, Summitt has patrolled the sidelines in Tennessee in that famous orange and, as she herself has said, as long as the "good Lord is willing," she will continue to do so.

Monday, August 22, 2011

comic for the week of 08/17/11.

Just one this week. I did flip through Batman xxx in the store, though. So glad that I'm not picking it up anymore. It was a neat enough little tale, with Damian narrating the history of Batman and Robin, but it was almost the antithesis of the last issue of Tec. The only truly intriguing part was when he described the Robin-hood of Tim Drake as a mistake. (Perhaps not the exact phrasing.) I wonder if they'll pursue this in the new universe. Regardless, I didn't pick it up and only got the one Vertigo book. I'd love to move away from Marvel and DC overall and more toward Dark Horse, Image and Vertigo, even though I know the last is only an imprint. But if I'm going with an imprint, I'll take Vertigo over Icon any day. On to the book!

Fables 108 - Inherit the Wind was exactly what any level-headed person would have expected it to be and that's definitely a good thing. The story continues back in Haven, with the Fables sending Rose Red back to the Farm to explore how bad things are (not that bad...just wait till y'all try to go back to NYC!) and Bigby and Snow White are off in the realm of the North Wind. Rather, the former realm, as the North Wind is dead and his minions are in the midst of trying to locate an heir. Their speech was surprising, not what they were saying as much as how they were saying it. I didn't remember them being such filthy-mouthed little buggers. But it was a funny little aside and this was a great intro chapter. We can see where conflict is going to come in, and there's plenty of angles for great surprises, so I'm definitely looking forward to this storyline. I'm less enthused about the next issue box, where we see that we'll be joining Bufkin in the Land of Oz (or Ev, or whatever district number they want me to pretend it is now) but I'm willing to go that journey with the 'Hams - they've earned more than a little trust with 100+ solid issues under their collective belts.

No book of the week this week as I think it's insulting to call the only book I get the best, since it's got no competition. However, let me repeat how I looked through the Bat book and it was disappointing. Add Daredevil to that list, too. Boo on the Big Two.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

jim thome hits for the good guys.

A round of applause is quietly - very quietly- going around those who love sports in America. Those who love baseball in particular had reason to celebrate on Monday night as veteran Jim Thome smacked the 600th home run of his career. As a bonus, lest we forget what we've been told should be the focus of sports in our era, Thome's Minnesota Twins even picked up a team victory against the Detroit Tigers - no powerhouses themselves, the Tigers certainly have the Twins in their rearview mirror. All in all, a great night for the Twins, Thome and the sport of baseball in general.

Thome has long been one of the game's graceful elders, beginning with a bang in his time with the Cleveland Indians before moving to the Philadelphia Phillies for a brief stint. From there Thome did time as a member of the Chicago White Sox. He moved to the Los Angeles Dodgers for a the shortest of quick trips, finally ending up with the Twins. Along the way, he garnered a reputation as not only a true baseballer, a lover of the game, but as one of the nicest guys you'd ever meet, as one of the teammates you'd dream about having.

In the post-steroid era of baseball, where every single accomplishment has to be super-critically analyzed, Thome's purity stands as its own testament. (Although, it should and must be noted, its not a flawless purity.) There can be virtually no doubt that this feat will be run through the ringer, whether it's now or twenty years from now, when future sportswriters are debating whether to elect Thome to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Hand in hand with those assurances of debate, however, is the knowledge that Thome will most assuredly get into hallowed company. The 600 home runs all but guarantees it, but if there's more proof needed, there are ample examples abounding.

In the era of doubt and self-incrimination, Thome stands head and shoulders above his peers in a classy way. You won't catch him in a poker scandal and it's already been established how far away from the Bondsian steroid suspicion he is. (Could all this backfire and he be proven guilty? Absolutely. Which is the ultimate shame of our time with the national pastime.) Thome is so universally liked that even those who overshadow him love to heap praise upon him.

So, at the end of the day, why isn't this a bigger deal? Thome just joined one of the most exclusive sports clubs: only seven players before him have hit 600 home runs. Is it a pure reaction to the steroid era? Is this a validation of those who claim that Major League Baseball only celebrates those who play in major markets, those who are marketable in a major way? Regardless of what people may think, Thome deserves respect as one of the greatest to play the game. Ever.

Monday, August 15, 2011

comics for the week of 08/10/11.

This week was the beginning of the end for my renewed love affair with DC Comics. When Geoff Johns essentially took over the company, I was a diehard Marvel kid. I had read Spider-Man forever, and nothing would ever change that. (Just goes to show...all it took was a deal with the devil.) DC was the old people's version of comics, with Superman unappealing and Batman a mythological beast who was best dealt with by Grant Morrison in the pages of Tower of Babel and no one else came close. The second tier characters of Green Lantern, Wonder Woman and Flash held no sway with me, except for my occasional flirtation with the Scarlet Speedster. And don't get me started on C Level and below... Worthless, because I knew that DC would never give them the time of day to take them to the heights they were capable of. Characters like Batgirl, Green Arrow, the Martian Manhunter, Deadman, etc. were the building blocks of DC's generations, but they didn't have the balls to use them the right way. Then, Johns came along and made me flip my thinking. Now, with the end of several of the titles that have been as good as they've ever been, I'm worried that my allegiance is about to switch back. I'll give DC time to impress with the reboot, but I'm wary.

Batgirl 24 - The end of a run and what a spectacular way to do it. The single page imaginations of what she could have been in other worlds, under the spell of Black Mercy were gorgeous. The cover was frameworthy. And the story? Well, it was as nice and neat as one could ask for, with all being revealed as the biggest of big bads was logically revealed last issue. The chat with Barbara at the end of the issue was bittersweet, given what we know is going to happen next month, but I'm trying to stay away from that.

Batman and Robin 26 - Not quite as good as Batgirl, but then, it hasn't been for its entire run. Batman and Robin was a hot and cold book, and this issue demonstrated that perfectly: what an insane idea, and what a great ending. The whole book was divided into mini-chapters (one to two pages long) that were intriguingly titled. The cover gave the whole thing away, in retrospect, and was great to draw people in. This issue felt like what the whole run of the book could have been like, if they'd caved to the weirdness that Morrison had embedded in it from the get go. But...as it is, again, I'm going to have to end this recap with a note bemoaning the fact that a month from now it won't be Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne's unique relationship we're exploring, but rather just a stale old remake of the Bruce Wayne and Robin dynamic that we've seen for forty years. What a shame.

Detective Comics 881 - And this is where the shame gets to the biggest point. This book is what Batman could be. Dick Grayson operating with the Gordon family in the big closing climax. Barbara was pitch perfect, Jim was sad with just the right note of knowledge, and Dick accepted it all in a way that Bruce will never be able to. The art, by both Francavilla and Jock was at the top of its game and the cover was a sweet nod to the Long Halloween, even if it wasn't intentional. The creepiness of James proved that he would have been a worthy adversary for Dick, if circumstances were different and the reboot wasn't happening. The lack of Robin was perfect for this story, as it was more about the past than the future, but that's what's so good about the books right now; there's room for everything. The only quibble I had with this book is the price increase, but I was (and am) more than willing to pay for the extra pages. This book was the celebration of 900 that we'll miss thanks to the mucking machinations of the higher ups in a company that, perhaps, isn't thinking about their characters in the way some of us would prefer.

Flashpoint 4 (of 5) - Now that I've had the longest intro I've ever read and three reviews where I don't really get into the books at all, while simultaneously dogging the company that put out those books while claiming that I was trying not to, let me say this: Flashpoint is not good. I don't feel any draw to these characters (although I was intrigued when Arthur said he had loved Wonder Woman) and I don't care about how they're going to go from DC Universe I love (above) to this one (which I don't care about) to the DCnU (which I'm ambivalent about). The war between the two seems interesting, but I know it's not going to be the focus of this book. In fact, when we got our final page visitor, I was delighted, because I know that maybe his exposition in the next issue will actually lead to something. The book and the story in general has done a poor job of drawing me into the conflict, most especially because I feel like we all know that it's doomed to failure. One more issue to go and then we can all start actually talking about what we've been talking about for months now anyway.

The Unwritten 28 - I'm not sure that I'm actually liking this storyline as much as I thought I would. First of all, Tom seems annoyingly blockheaded, as Lizzie has to remind him to use the power of the journals to see the past. Secondly, the story in the past, while I can see its importance and the way that it's going to tie into Tommy, is limited by a love aspect with a character that we've never really had a chance to fall for. Why do I care if Wilson loved this woman? He's never done anything to make me care about his affections. The most interesting part of the issue is the Cabal ruthlessly moving around the world and killing all the people who ever knew anything about Wilson. And the worst part of the issue is Richie Savoy complaining about running a website - even though he's right to be worried and seems to be the only one with his head on straight at this point. Hopefully next issue will bring a bit more urgency to what is still one of the best books on the market.

Book of the week goes to Batgirl and Detective Comics. That's right, I'm giving it to both. Beautiful bookends to beautiful stories, these books were so, so, so different and yet, so similar. I noted in the 'Tec review how Robin wasn't there, but the two panels he was in Batgirl were so perfect. The covers were total opposites (gigantic group shot versus one-character action shot) and yet spoke volumes about where these books have been. Really, if these two hadn't come out on the same week, I would have been pissed. As it is, these will stay two of my favorite single-issues (even though they're almost impossible to read as single issues) for a long, long time.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

lobo football is moving forward.

The University of New Mexico's football team is getting ready to begin their season in just over three weeks. The team is currently playing its way through training camp in Ruidoso – a matter of some controversy – getting ready for the season.

While the specter of the near-fruitless previous season is sure to rest on many of the Lobos' minds, the simple truth is that it would be difficult to do as poorly as the team did last year. Opening the season against Colorado State gives the Lobos and their fans something to cheer for. That being said, the next two gams will be shocking if they're not blowouts, with the Lobos on the losing end. However, for the fourth game of the season, if the Lobos don't defeat Sam Houston State, we can all expect to read many, many appeals for the firing of head coach Mike Locksley.

Besides the first four games of the season, the Lobos appear to be getting ready in the only way a team can: by putting the past behind them and refusing to look back. The painful one-win season is but a memory and any lingering distractions that continue to pop up are being summarily dismissed by the team at large.

Of course, the biggest game of the season, for native New Mexicans at least, is always the New Mexico State game, which will be played this year in Albuquerque on October 1. Given the way last year went, the restrictions on the program from former head coach Rocky Long's tenure, and the promise that the Lobos showed in a handful of moments (if not full games), the mood seems cautiously optimistic around town. Certainly, no one is singing the praises of the team non-stop, but the Lobos have always been a proud football team, if not a winning one, and the return to better days appears near.

Monday, August 8, 2011

comics for the week of 08/03/11.

Once upon a time, I was obsessed with Strangers in Paradise. I went to APE in San Fran just to meet Terry Moore. I spent an inordinate amount of time on the unofficial SiP message board. (This is, amazingly, still how and where I know the majority of my Internet-friends.) I bought prints, trades, single issues, coffee mugs, etc. Then, SiP ended and I was disappointed in its end, and Terry Moore went on to do Echo, which I didn't care for, so he kind of totally dropped off my radar. Which meant, on Wednesday, that I was delightfully surprised to see a new Terry Moore book. Moral of the story? I may be an obsessive comic book fan, but I'm a casual one, at that.

Rachel Rising 1 - Solid intro. Zombie book? I don't honestly know yet, but it's cool. I like the way that we're drawn into the main character so intensely. I like the mystery that's already presented itself in multiple ways. I like the cliffhanger ending. I like the dramatic irony. On the other hand, I didn't like so many panels with no words whatsoever. I love that two weeks in a row, I got a Terry Moore-pencilled book. This may be the only time that's ever happened? Pick it up, give it a try.

Shield 2 - Another issue that is convincing me that the only way to read this book is via TPB. It's sooooo good. And yet...so confusing. So little. So unsatisfying. Not dissatisfying. Just un. There's so much more to this story, so when I only get these tiny little chunks, I'm just not sure it's enough. In this issue, we see Stark and Howard reunite Tesla with his son. Leonid gets to serve as a judge between the methods of Leonardo and Newton. We know how he'll probably choose, but, of course, there's a monkey wrench that gets thrown into the process. Seriously, if you're not reading this book, I don't know how to market any comics to you at all.

Book of the week goes to Rachel Rising for doing something that's kind of formulaic in a different sort of way. It's always weird to see Moore drawing characters who are supposed to be other people, because they always (and will always) look like Katchoo, Francine and David to me, but it's great to see him doing other things. This book may or may not stay in my must-read pile, but I'm happy that he's getting to do what he loves, and I'm more than willing to support him for now.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

nba lockout continues. no progress.

While last week saw the recociliation of the NFL against its lockout, to the joy of football fans across America, the NBA lockout seems to be getting worse.

Every other day, it seems, a new NBA star is rumored to be looking into signing overseas to play in some other league, and David Stern, the commissioner of the NBA, seems to be taunting those who have done so already as well as those who are thinking about it. The fight in the NBA is almost purely over money, as opposed to the NFL, where there were (and still are, for many) concerns over the length of the schedule and rules for the schedule and intensity of practices, among others.

The owners in the NBA want more share of revenue and seem to be more than willing to give up this season to get it. The players, on the other hand, are reluctant to give up more than they already have. The owners claim that the NBA as a whole is losing money and that the league cannot continue on the course it's on. The players counter that, more than any other league, the NBA is star-centric. People don't come to NBA arenas to watch the big hits, like they do for football, nor do they come for the history of the park or the team, like they do in baseball. Some of them come out of fervent support for the team, like we see often in hockey and soccer, but mostly, the players contend, the audiences flock to the arenas of the NBA for the players.

The last season in the NBA was one for the ages. We had a young, rising star in Chicago win the MVP award, reminding the world that Michael Jordan doesn't play basketball anymore, but the game is in good hands. We had the near-unanimous consent of the sporting nation in rooting against the Heat. We had the lowly Mavs overcome those same Heat in a surprisingly great NBA Finals. We had Blake Griffin as Rookie of the Year, robbed of his real rookie season and then proving that he was the real thing.

Now, we have football back and a populace that was already barely borderline with basketball seems poised to lose any of the respect that the last few post-Jordan years had seemingly cemented. We have that same Rookie of the Year lamenting that in his first three season, he might get to play a mere 82 games. We have players taking to their Twitter accounts in a style far less aggressive than when James Harrison called out NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in the pages of Men's Journal Magazine, while the NFL was still locked out. The degree of severity doesn't matter, though, for a sport that plays second-fiddle in America's eyes, at best.

The worst news for basketball fans is that most owners didn't get rich by owning NBA teams. The teams are a side business at most, a fun distraction at least. If they have to lose this season in order to get the profit sharing margin down to the levels where they think it needs to be in order to continue having their fun, they seem more than willing to do so. The silver lining is that there is plenty of basketball still being played. But that's about it.