Wednesday, April 25, 2012

hockey's post-season heating up.

As the weather in our fine city finally begins to warm up, it's appropriate to turn our thoughts to yet another major league sport in which we have no representation: the National Hockey League. While the NHL's playoff coverage seems to fall short of even the Winter Classic, it's no doubt the most exciting time for any fan of the game. And, despite our desert climate resulting in balmy temperatures that have touched the 90s during the last few days and the absence of a truly local team to root for, even Burquenos can cheer during hockey's post-season.

Unfortunately, our seems-to-be-practically-local team the Denver Avalanche did not make the postseason this year. However, our next closest consolation team did, and the Phoenix Coyotes beat the Chicago Blackhawks in six games. The Coyotes will next meet up with fellow Western Conference victors the Nashville Predators, who took out the Detroit Red Wings in the gentleman's sweep of five games. On the other side of the Western bracket sit the Los Angeles Kings and the St. Louis Blues, both of whom dismissed their competition in five games as well. The Kings' victory over the Vancouver Canucks was particularly dramatic – if only for the fact that the Canucks were the top seed in the West. All three other winners in the West have been the better seed.

In the Eastern Conference, things are a bit more complicated. ThePhiladelphia Flyers are the only team to make it out of the first round so far, and they did so in a violence-filled series with the Pittsburgh Penguins – in-state rivals, recent winners of the Stanley Cup, and, the higher seed. The bad blood between the two Pennsylvania teams has been well-documented, and the Flyers seemed extremely pleased to grab a measure of respect back after the Pens took home the Cup in 2009.

Meanwhile, all the other series in the East are still being played. The New Jersey Devils held on Tuesday night, to force the Florida Panthers to try to close the deal on Thursday. The New York Rangers, on the other hand, are in the midst of a furious dog fight that few saw coming. As the top-seeded team in the East, their ascendance over the Ottowa Senators was supposed to be a preliminary battle. However, the two teams have traded games over the past two weeks and on Thursday, they'll settle things in New York.

Last and not least, our defending champions the Boston Bruins will play a Game 7 against perennial choke artists the Washington Capitals. While not the presumed-cakewalk of a 1-8 matchup, Boston's 2 seed should have given them plenty of advantage over the Caps, but after finding themselves down 2-3, they stormed back in overtime against Washington, setting up the greatest of sports showdowns.

With three game 7s in the next two days, it'd be foolish to let the opportunity to see some great hockey slip away.

Monday, April 23, 2012

comics for the week of 04/18/12.

After the solidity of last week, I was a little bummed at some of the twists and turns here this week.

Batman 8 - Night of the Owls begins! And...it's kind of underwhelming. I get that this was just a prelude, but it's still pretty weak. The whole book is basically taking us through what we've already done the last two issues of Batman, and the call going out to the Bat family was weird to me. (In fact, if I can continue talking shit just real quick about the DCnU, I want to point out that, apparently, in five years as Batman, Bruce has saved Dick Grayson from the circus, had him grow up enough to abandon the role of Robin, found Jason Todd, had Jason Todd murdered in front of his eyes, went through a dark period where he didn't want or need any help, had Tim Drake convert him into a believer, have his back broken by Bane, stepped out of the cowl [did AzBats exist in this universe? I mean, he should have, given all else that we've seen, right?], took time away, had a triumphant comeback, was Batman for a while, was then killed by Darkseid, at which point Dick, who's now been Nightwing for a maximum of four years, comes back to be Batman, but then Bruce returns as Batman and now we're through the five year time span. What the hell?) Ugh. Now I'm so off track with my review that I don't even know how to continue, other than to say I've got faith in Snyder's storytelling and Capullo's art was still gorgeous. I have pretty regular problems with the DCnU and it's unfortunate that this book has to pay that price.

Fables 116 - Therese takes her place on the throne of the Land of Lost Toys and Darien sets off with a magical tiger (Lord Mountbatten?? What a name!) to search for her. Meanwhile, the Oz backup wasn't complete shit! Hey! Poor little Therese has no idea how far over her head she's gotten, but when the toys continue to bring out plastic for her to eat, I think she's going to get a pretty good idea pretty dang quick. Happy to see that Bufkin was saved over in the backup.

Rachel Rising 7 - The entire issue was amazing until the kind-of laugh-worthy ending. This book is still scary as hell and the amount of dead people rising is really giving me serious cause for concern here. But that panel with the dead bodies popping out of the graves and into the air? Does that scare anyone? It looked straight up humorous to me, nothing cringe worthy about it at all. The way that Jet comes back to life, though, is truly troubling and I don't know where it's going. Beautiful.

Wolverine and the X-Men 9 - What a book! The Phoenix Force is coming back, as we all know, and Cap comes to the Jean Grey school to check which side Wolvie's gonna take. Although we all know what side he's on, too, Jason Aaron's writing makes it clear what a conflict this is for him. Honestly, at the end of this book, I was near tears. The last time the Phoenix was here on Earth, Logan had to watch the love of his life die. How many times is this poor guy gonna have to go through this? Meanwhile, the students are in for a hell of a shock after this A vs. X stuff is over.

Book of the week goes to Wolverine and the X-Men. Superb writing by Aaron and wonderful to have Bachelo back on the pencils.

Monday, April 16, 2012

comics for the week of 04/11/12.

A big haul; at 8 comics this week it might be my biggest in a while.

Batwoman 8 - There's no doubt that I have been disappointed in Amy Reeder's art, especially in comparison to J. H. Williams, but the story is still plugging away in the Williams-esque manner. While the constant bouncing bothers a lot of people, I think it's clear that there's a grand narrative that's being unfolded. All that being said, I'm not sure that this title needed the DCnU. (This is a long-standing beef and bias, I acknowledge that point.) This go-round, we get to see some of the new toys that Batwoman got from the DEO and the way they're affecting her fighting technique. Also, there's some backstory business with Sune, who seems to be related (in some way) to the semi-Big Bad of this arc. There's larger business afoot, as I've already noted, though, and I'm ready for that story to be told, as opposed to this (kind of) filler arc with Reeder in charge of the art. I know that Williams is not going tobe able to handle a monthly book on a regular basis, but...it's almost enough for me to wish for it just to be a series of minis.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer 9 - While I'm happy to see that the robot issue is being resolved immediately (stupid Andrew) this was by far my least favorite issue of Buffy Season 9. I don't like this bait-and-switch and I don't like the fact that I still have no idea where this story is going, especially since it feels like the last few issues were wasted effort on my part. Wasted time and emotion is not something I expect from the Buffy series. I'm unhappy with this book at this point.

Fantastic Four 605 - Still happy I didn't ditch this book already. Hickman tells another tale here worth reading: Ben Grimm is a survivor! Through no effort on his own part, the lovable Thing gets to see almost 4000 years of progress here on Earth. It feels completely believable and Reed learns a valuable lesson. I hope that this is affirmed as continuity in the near future and that the writers-to-come on this title utilize this amazing turn of events.

Green Lantern 8 - This was the best issue of the run so far. Abin Sur is a bad, bad man, and it's going to be revealed next issue. However, given the fact that last issue's cover promised the "Secret of the Indigo Tribe!" and we still don't have it this issue, I'm a bit disappointed. Sinestro comes across as a badass at first and ultimately as a punk as the Indigo Tribe gets him, too. This story is what Green Lantern should be at this point, telling the stories of the other Lanterns slowly but surely.

Resurrection Man 8 - I'm not super psyched on this issue of the book, but it still feels like a fun blast from the past. Here we get two different types of detectives hunting down Mitch Shelley and both being outwitted by him, after a fashion. We get some more clues as to Mitch's origin (in the DCnU, and it's been retconned, of course, stupid reboot) and we have an unnecessary crossover with the Suicide Squad. I'm not even going to bother reading that issue, because I bet I can hazard a guess as to what happens: they fight, he dies, he comes back, he beats them, they realize they were on the same side all along. Resurrection Man, by definition, should be a self-contained story. Still a blast, but this was the weakest thus far.

Saga 2 - Brian K Vaughn is back in a major way! This issue was even better than the first, because now we're getting a serious sense of long-term story. The relationship between Alana and Marko feels real already, and Hazel continues to develop as a reliable narrator, despite her being only a couple days (weeks?) old at this point. The Prince has something truly odd happening with his TV screen face and the Stalk is scary as hell. The Horrors, on the other hand, aren't scary, especially to our vaunted heroes. I can see why bad guys would be frightened, but it's clear they're going to be some helpers for our protagonists. Great work all the way around.

Ultimate X-Men 10 - The art by Paco Medina is the best thing about this issue, but I'm still upset that we had this two-issue flashback when there's a huge storyline happening in the rest of the Ultimate Universe. While the art is the highlight, there's some pretty serious issues with Storm's appearance in the book: she varies from beautiful to tank-like chunky. (Not that there's a problem with that, as if it's anti-beautiful, but the change is the issue.) The ending, though, is reassuring in its promise to take us back to present day.

Unwritten 36 - A perfect epilogue to the War of the Words. We meet back up with Milton Walzer, the Tinker, and Pauly Bruckner in the most unlikely of team-ups. We get to see Pauly's kids, all grown up, a ton of references from stories as diverse as the Wizard of Oz to the Dark Tower, and we see The Wave. The sackful of goods the Tinker carries with him produces an unimaginable number of swords and the pre-Wave even turns Pauly back into a human. This book is getting disgustingly great and it's getting ridiculous to have to say the same thing about this book month after month, but it's always true: The Unwritten is (obviously) one of the best comic books on the market right now.

Book of the week goes to the Unwritten. There's no need for more effusive praise when I've already talked about how good it is. If you're not reading it, you're a fool.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

baylor under investigation.

College basketball should be basking in the post-March Madness limelight. The entire world seems to take half-breaths while the the season-ending tournament is going on, and it had another successful go-round this year. The men's winner Kentucky seems to be in good shape, besides the pre-existing Coach Cal doubters and the seemingly inevitable mass exodus of their starting five.

The women's champion, Baylor, on the other hand, is capturing all the wrong kind of attention with the recent revelations about NCAA violations. Coach Kim Mulkey is not alone in her troubles at Baylor, though, as the men's basketball team is lumped into this NCAA case. However, only one of the teams at Baylor just finished their season 40-0 as the national champions. The spotlight, therefore, on the women's program, is understandably both larger and brighter.

The case stems from an NCAA rule concerning out of season contact by coaches. The numbers are stark: 1,200 phone calls and texts during a 29-month period between the men's and women's programs. In the case of the women's program only, possible face-to-face contact – and even accusations by some of collusion – when none should have been had. The calls and texts might be an excusable thing in some peoples' eyes. The personal contact that Coach Mulkey had, because of the DFW Elite Basketball club team, on the other hand, is something that she should have known better about. Coaches have to be hyper-sensitive when it comes to even the appearance of impropriety. Coach Mulkey is not new to this rodeo. As a uniquely qualified coach due to her prowess on the court as a player, she's been surrounded by these rules for more than thirty years.

These rules obviously have shifted and changed over the course of those last thirty years. Some of those changes are common sense – the restriction on text messaging springs to mind, as that technology didn't even exist fifteen years ago, much less when the rules were instituted – and some are still puttering along on their debut iterations. However, as all-consuming as the job of coaching at the Division I level can be, there's no doubt that these coaches are made perfectly clear on what the rules are, regardless of how inane they those rules may be.

NCAA president Mark Emmert drew praise for an interview during the tournament wherein he said some of the NCAA rules needed to be looked at again. Obviously, in the digital age, one of the rules that needs some serious reconsideration is the contact, during all periods. However, the fact remains that rules were broken. Baylor, therefore, finds itself in the position of watching and waiting, trying to figure out what's going to happen with a program where that shouldn't be an issue.

Monday, April 9, 2012

comics for the week of 04/04/12.

Things are going well in comic land. I've just finished with Breaking Bad, so I'm finally gonna try Firefly again. This'll be attempt three. Here's to hoping my love for Whedon's magic will finally transfer to this one.

Animal Man 8 - The battle is on! This issue of Animal Man proved that it belongs on the top tier of the DCnU. Maxine dies, and sends her soul (?) to a fox's body! She's already more powerful than her father, and yet, he can't recognize it. The cat does, of course, but there's nothing to be done regarding her fate; she's going to suffer along until she is absolutely needed. Speaking of, Buddy's fight with the Rot doesn't go as well as it should, and the issue ends with some very intriguing cliffhanger potential.

Invincible 90 - Mark is still in trouble. Dinosaurus proves to be his best friend. And General Thragg is seriously a very, very bad man. Dino tries his damndest to take him out, but, whoah...he's no match. The biggest thing that won't even really get play is Zandale's crazy hitting on Eve. There are so many great plot points happening in this book that it's really hard to believe how many things are going under the radar right now. Kirkman is really improving his writing insofar as bringing the simmer to the forefront. It's incredible that this is issue 90 and he continues to improve.

Swamp Thing 8 - The first time that AM has been better than its sibling book, ST? This book is still so so so good and I've talked enough about Scott Snyder's writing, which is amazing, yes, but Yanick Paquette is just killing the art right now. The look of Swamp Thing with wings and Lady Deathstrike-like claws is unbelievable. The worst thing about this book is how much Alec Holland is still inside of Swamp Thing and that really costs him at the end of the book. This, however, is a seriously minor quibble, because the way that Holland is influencing Swampy is one of the most unique things happening in comics right now. I love this book.

Ultimate Spider-Man 9 - Spider-Man's encounter with Quaid the cop. The Prowler's encounter with Scorpion. Miles and Ganke's encounter with the RA and Judge. And a fantastic cliffhanger. This issue has pretty much everything any comic book fan could possibly want. Humor in the first instance, deadly threats in the second, and amazing interpersonal relationships in the last. David Marquez's art was also spot-on. This is the most fun book of the Ultimate Universe, no doubt about it.

Wolverine and the X-Men 8 - First of all, the cover was intense! I want to see Wolverine going old school nuts sometime soon. Annnnnnnd, Sabertooth is still insane. I'm always happy to see him murderously rampaging on some people, but I did find this one a little unlikely. (He's working for the kids? Maybe the idea of the kids just bothers me.) Plus, Beast's scene without the helmet in space really pissed me off. I know we're talking about comics, and there's a certain suspension of disbelief, but... Damn, come on. The kids going to Sin to get the matter transmuter, though, was a great touch. I know that Angel can come across as a little annoying, but I'm very, very interested in Genesis and what his role is going to be. This book is great fun.

Book of the week goes to Animal Man. The sheer insanity of the book takes it over all the other books this week which were all solid in a superb way.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

kentucky confirms coronation.

ESPN recently replayed the Michigan Fab Five documentary and, on Monday night, as the newest national champions were crowned, it seemed perfectly appropriate. If Michigan and their fabulous freshmen broke barriers insofar as starting lineups, it's been pointed out that Coach John Calipari's Kentucky Wildcats have now broken barriers insofar as winning it all.

The Wildcats won the biggest prize of them all for men's college basketball on Monday night, vanquishing the Kansas Jayhawks and setting a whole lot of people to doubt the whole college basketball scene. Regardless of that doubt, however, there can be none that Kentucky was the better team. They were a better team all season, and they were a better team on Monday night. Wooden Award-winning freshman Anthony Davis seems to be the best collegiate player in the country and, with this win, seems virtually assured of going first in the upcoming 2012 NBA draft. He scored a mere 6 points in the game, but grabbed 16 rebounds, smashed 6 blocks, and secured the Most Outstanding Player trophy. Although he will have spent merely a year in college, he emerges more of a finished product than some of his soon-to-be-peers in the NBA.

Kentucky's ascension to the top of college basketball seemed like a foregone conclusion for much of the season. They lost only two times all year, to Indiana and Vanderbilt, but they looked dominant at almost every other opportunity. Near the middle of the NCAA tournament, Charles Barkley even had the gall to make the inevitable, approximately twice-yearly, idiotic statement that the top college program could beat the lowest professional team - this time that Kentucky could and would beat the Charlotte Bobcats, the Washington Wizards, or the Toronto Raptors. (Things like this always get tossed around. In football, we occasionally have to endure the pundits engaging the same lines of fallacy. Luckily, not everyone agrees.)

Aside from all the hyperbole, though, Monday night's game proved that Kentucky was the better team. While the first half of the first period was a back and forth affair, with Kansas refusing to fold, the simple truth was that Kentucky continued to pull away. The defense of the Wildcats proved to be the bigger determining factor. With Kansas wanting to push the tempo in the beginning minutes, Anthony Davis picked up his first nasty block, and the Wildcats clamped down. On the other end, the Wildcat offense proved capable of overwhelming the Jayhawks' defense, including 2 of Jeff Withey's blocks. However, as the first half wound down, Kentucky put firm distance between themselves and the challengers, concluding the bracket up 41-27.

The second half looked like it was going to be more of the same, but Kansas decided, with about 4 minutes left in the game, that the fight had not gone out of them. For the first time since early in the first, they trimmed their deficit to single digits. Suddenly, with just over a minute left, the Wildcats led by a mere five points, and Kentucky looked shell-shocked. The upset was still possible! Alas, it was not to be. Five made free throws for Kentucky versus a lone made field goal for Kansas provided the final margin at 67-59.

Kentucky's coronation may bring some doubt for those who claim to love the NCAA game for its purity, but there are ample examples, including the conclusion of that Fab Five story, that shed more than a bit of a shadow on that purity. Regardless of its implications, the simple fact remains that the NCAA men's basketball tournament is the most exciting postseason of any sport and the title game between Kansas and Kentucky was a great basketball game.

Monday, April 2, 2012

comics for the week of 03/28/12.

Intro.

Angel and Faith 8 - At this point, I'm kind of in stand-by mode with the Buffy- and Angel-verse. I'm happy with where Angel & Faith is heading, and, at one point, I might have even been enjoying it more than the Buffy book, but with the revelations in Buffy, I'm not sure where anything is going! That said, this was a solid issue that stayed away from any mention of that stuff. I love that Faith's dad is a solidly bad guy and that Faith, as opposed to Angel, is now the one on the verge of cracking up. A great issue.

FF 16 - Of course I didn't drop it. And I'm glad I didn't. Hickman is still crafting one of the finest stories I've ever read, and I'm going to go on record as saying this is the best Fantastic Four story ever. Granted, that's coming from a non-FF fan. I haven't read a lot of FF stories. I know this. But I'm familiar with the mythos and I've read a decent share. I've been a comic book fan for 20+ years, and this is as good as I can remember ever feeling about the First Family. Regardless, this issue focuses on the cleanup on New York as well as Valerie's side of things. It appears as though older Val mindreads younger Val at one point, but I'm sure that's not the case. I'm sure she's just remembering. The end, with Doom, is impressive in so many ways. When this omnibus comes out, collecting all of Hickman's story, you'd be a fool to skip it.

The Ultimates 8 - This book gets things back on track, because at least now we're dealing with the present. The Hulk is tearing up the city and Zorn goes after the Children. The President authorizes the Ultimates being taken down, as well as launching all of the US' nukes at the City. Xorn is still up with Fury and Clint while all this is going on, but I can hazard a guess that none of them will be too pleased at this direction. I'm not really sure where they're going to go from here, as I can't see much coming back, but if I've learned anything, it's not to doubt Hickman. And also, that future-Reed-with-helmet is impossible to overestimate. He might just stop all those nukes with a wave of his hand. He's worked his voodoo on Bruce already, I'm looking forward to seeing what he's going to do next.

The Unwritten 35.5 - An interesting direction to go, but I guess I shouldn't be second-guessing this book at this point. It appears as though we've got a new intermediary for our new (from last issue) big bad, but who knows if that's actually going to play out the way I've predicted. The fact of the matter is that I was a little worried about ending the story two weeks ago, and how this issue would fit into the grand scheme of things, but it was great. It was intriguing to see a lot of the events that we're familiar with from the other side of things. Good work.

Book of the week goes to FF for proving me wrong in the best kind of way.