Saturday, February 10, 2018

Geek Origins

I'm a fairly huge geek, which falls under the category of the least shocking news about me ever. One day I will do a blog post about my geek office here, in all it's glory. I'm keep waiting because it just needs one or two more things for it to be finished.

I've been saying that for several years now. It's never going to be finished. It will only ever be "done for the moment."

Now the origins of the geekery....that's something a bit more complicated.

Honestly, no one was geeky in my family when I was growing up. I'm pleased that I have cousins who have come after me that are geeks. And if my niece isn't going to be a geek, then she's going to be exposed to it and have the option available to her if she wants to pursue it.

At best the early origins of it come from Archie digests and the comic book publisher Gold Key. They used to print these old UFO and Other Stories comics and digests. I have no earthly idea where they came from. I sincerely doubt my parents bought them for me. I seem to recall them just being there when I visited my grandparents around the bay.
I remember reading this story.


I just did a little research into them online, and there isn't a lot. The Wikipedia article is kind of mediocre. The comics were originally printed in the late 60s, but I doubt that's what I was reading. I think there were reprints in the mid-70s, which was more likely. Back in those ancient days, I could wander down to a convenience store and buy comics. But for an idea what I'm talking about, this article is a good taste. I remember some of those covers and the one page of interior art tripped a memory.

Honestly, I loved those stories. I'm sure I must have bored family with wanting to know about UFOs in the Bermuda Triangle, Area 51 and why aliens kept stealing cattle. I know they probably wouldn't hold up to a reread now, but for a 7 year old, they got the imagination going.

For years I just assumed that age 7 - this would have been in 1977 - was when my geekery exploded. Star Wars came out that year. I'm not sure when I saw it for the first time, but I know I saw it at least three times. And despite having been previous exposed to comics (I think), I mark 1977 as the first year I started collecting them.

And here's where memory gets tricky. The first three comic series I remember collecting (Oh, let's be honest, buying. It's not like I was bagging and boarding these things), were all based are toys and movies. They were Godzilla, Shogun Warriors, and Micronauts. The last two were based on Japanese toys. The first one, well, I think we all know Godzilla.

I would have sworn all three of those comics came out around the same time. They didn't. Godzilla came in August 1977. Shogun Warriors came out in February 1979 and Micronauts came out in January 1979. So I was wrong about the timing. The geekery actually came later than I thought.

But I still have Godzilla. My memory of that is rock solid. Right?

Well, I have a memory of seeing Godzilla movies at the old Capital Theatre in downtown St. John's. I seem to recall my parents dropping me off to watch the movies because they didn't want to see them. But I have no idea how old I was at the time. I keep thinking I was around seven, but I have some difficulty believing they would let me see a monster movie alone at that age.

(Some, but not beyond the realm. My parents gave me a huge amount of freedom at a young age.)

But my first Godzilla comic was #4. It featured Godzilla fighting a monster called Batragon on the cover. And this is my memory: Going into Trans Canada Drugs at the Avalon Mall (bonus points if you remember that drug store), seeing the comic on the stand and begging my mom for the 35 cents for the comic.

Look at that awesomeness. How can you resist that if you're a 7 year old geek. Oh, and thanks to the magic of the internet I can now say the begging probably happened around November-December 1977.

I don't have the comic anymore. Had it for years, when it was basically tattered pages in a plastic bag before finally tossing it.

There's also one funny story that goes with this comic. In 2012 I went to New York Comic Con and one of the artists I was excited to meet was Herb Trimpe. He drew Godzilla back in the '70. Now Trimpe was one of Marvel's big artists back in the day, and it wasn't because of Godzilla. He did a little thing known as drawing Wolverine for the first time. He was actually selling original pieces of Wolverine art at his table which I didn't buy because:

A. I'm an idiot.
B. I was so excited to get him to draw Godzilla. Which he did. And he jokingly cursed on me for making him draw all those scales.

Herb's Godzilla drawing in my sketch book.

And I told him that he drew the first comic I ever bought - Godzilla #4. To which he very gently pointed out to me that while he drew most of the series, in fact Tom Sutton drew #4 and #5.

Well.....shit.

Trimpe was still awesome. He passed away a few years ago, which shocked a lot of people because he was so energetic and outgoing at cons. It was a genuine thrill to get to talk to him for a few minutes. He also loved baseball and sympathized with my love of the Expos.

This Godzilla series is delightfully insane, by the way. It effectively ruined me for Godzilla for life because nothing was as nutty as this comic. This is a good article explaining why it was nuts, but I think it can be adequately explained by one of the central premises of the comic. That SHIELD, the premiere espionage/defence agency in the Marvel universe, consistently manages to lose a giant radioactive T-Rex. And not it's not like they're tracking him around world or the Pacific Rim. No, the western United States. Could not find him for big stretches. Even at 8 years old I was wondering how hard could it be to find a giant radioactive dinosaur.

I was devastated when they cancelled it. For years I assumed it was for poor sales, but Marvel lost the rights to do the series. However, it was an early lesson on how the people who make the things you love will eventually break your heart.

Michael Golden drawing of Acroyear of
the Micronauts from NYCC 2015,
But by then I was onto Micronauts and Shogun Warriors. Now, you might thing the main premise of these comics was to sell more toys. And I'm sure they did. But Marvel also had another premise - work in their super heroes. So Godzilla featured SHIELD, the Champions, the Avengers and the Fantastic Four. Shogun Warriors featured the Fantastic Four. Micronauts featured Man-Thing, the Fantastic Four, X-Men and others.

You might have come for the toys, Marvel made sure you left wanting to read their superheroes. Perhaps not surprisingly my first super hero comics were the Fantastic Four. And after that, well, I was off to the races.

The comics vary in quality, looking back. Godzilla is goofy fun. The first 12 issues of the Micronauts hold up surprisingly well, mainly due to Michael Golden's art and a fairly dark sci-fi premise. It's sunk a bit by some very clunky dialogue. And Shogun Warriors, well, I haven't read it in decades.

Which is kind of a frustrating thing for me. Unless you want to go back issue hunting, or digging around on torrent sites for illegal downloads, there's no other way to read these comics. Because of complicated rights issues, they haven't been reprinted. I have a copy of Essential Godzilla, which is a cheap b/w reprint which is nice and all, but I'd love a proper full colour HC. Same thing with Micronauts. Marvel owns some of the characters in the book, Haboro the others. Another publisher - IDW - currently prints a Micronauts comic. It'd be nice if they reprinted those old 70s comics.

As for Shogun Warriors, well, if that ever gets reprinted, I'll be astonished.

But effectively I've been at this for 40 years. Digging up some of this was a nice trip down memory lane, but also a useful reminder that no matter how certain you are about something in the past, odds are you're not remembering quite the way you originally thought.

Last Five
1. Big parade - The Lumineers
2. Love me like a man (live) - Bonnie Raitt
3. Kiss that frog - Peter Gabriel
4. We got the power - Gorillaz
5. Striptease - Hawksley Workman*




Wednesday, January 17, 2018

48

Despite the best efforts of the current president of the United States and the early warning system in Hawaii, I've successfully managed to go around the sun one more time.

Let's face it, from a global perspective all but three day of my 47th year sucked. And they were the three days when Obama was still president. After that, well, we knew Trump was going to be awful but this was a touch beyond most people's worst case scenario. Unless you thought he was going to end the world. In which case, congrats, it wasn't as bad as it could have been.

As for things on a personal levels....well, I honestly thought about griping about a few personal things. My 47th year managed to give me a new level of disdain for contractors and insurance companies. The former for managing to spectacularly mess up a bathroom renovation, the later for being not able to master the simple process of taking my money so that my car can stay insured. Those two things caused more than their fair share of stress the last few months.

And I could mope about not being happy with my weight. Right after Christmas Cathy gently nudged me into donating a truly depressing amount of clothing that no longer fits.

But as Cathy says, that's just "Adulting". Everyone has this crap they deal with. And if that's the worse you have, well.....

But I'm reminded of other things. That we had a great vacation, spending time in Portugal, Spain and Gibraltar. They we went back to St. John's at Christmas and I got to spend some quality time with my niece, who has started calling me Uncle Cag, which is just about perfect.

However, there are three specific moments that come to me, and they are small moments. Fleeting, but they stuck in my mind.

1. In the Fall, when all hell was breaking loose around the #metoo movement, Cathy and I were talking about it. We're both on the same page about those men (and more) deserve what's coming to them. But she looked at me at one point and said "You've never been scared to walk alone in a city in your life, have you?" And I had to respond truthfully, "No, I haven't."

Now, it's not like I've strolled solo through the streets of Kabul or anything. But I've walked home from a movie in Iqaluit at midnight. I've walked home from downtown St. John's at 3 am. I've wandered around Manhattan after midnight. Never thought twice about it.

I'm an upper middle class, heterosexual, white male from a Christian background living in a Western nation. My level of privilege is pretty god damn high. Occasionally it's good to be reminded of that and to try and be a better person.

2. When we were back in St. John's there was a Duke night. Which was a blast. My only regret is that we couldn't stay later, but we had a 6 am flight the next morning. There were jokes about just staying up all night, but I said I was getting too old for that shit.

But I was chatting with Jocelyne, who I haven't spoke to in an age, and she was saying how much of a blast her 40s have been. And I was agreeing with her. It was a nice chat about how we were just relaxing and enjoying life more, and trying not to let silly bullshit throw things off course for the important things.

A quick conversation in a bar, but again, a good reminder.

3. And the final one came last week. I was driving to work, running through things in my head when the news came on with the latest inanity from Trump. I just had a moment of exhale. A moment where I went "You're healthy, happy and have a good life. And you're not American right now." I genuinely feel awful for a huge chunk of the country. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, as they say. Assuming they make it to 2020 those people are going to be the Hulk by then.

So, what to do for my 48th year?

1. Make my peace about getting healthier. Losing nearly 70 pounds in 2012 was an aberration that had as much to do with my mental health at the time as any diet and exercise regime. Just keep going to gym, eat a bit healthier and let the chip falls where they may. Hopefully not in my mouth.

2. Read more. I'm reading lots of graphic novels and lots of news and magazine stories. But I'm not reading enough books. I'm going to try and read 50 this year.

3. Write more. For a job that involves communicating, it's really killed some of my creative writing. So at least 50 blog posts this year. Many of them may involve comics and movies. Sorry, you've been warned. But we'll see. Maybe I should try some creative writing. My friend Seamus is publishing his first novel this year. I'm tremendously proud of him, but it's also one of those things where "I can do that, I just need the discipline." So we'll see.

4. Restrain the geekery a bit. Seriously. It might have gotten a little out of hand this year. I might do a post at some point showing my current geek den/office/sanctuary. I love it, but I know the effect it can have on others.

5. Be a better husband. That's an evergreen resolution.

There's a lot to look forward in my 48th year. We're in the early stages of planning a nice vacation in Europe. Gods willing and no more hiccups, our mortgage will be paid off. Hopefully we'll catch up with friends and continue to be healthy and happy.

As plans go, it's not dramatic, but it sounds pretty good to me.

Last Five
1. Street fighting man - The Rolling Stones*
2. Fallen from grace (live) - Blue Rodeo
3. The Bagman's Gambit - The Decemberists
4. Parts and accessories - Josh Rouse
5. No one - Ron Sexsmith

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Comic Book Movies 2017

So I've now seen, I think, all comic book movies for the year. I didn't see the latest Transformers or My Little Pony, which certainly have comics based on them, but didn't start that way. And even if they had, I still would have missed them. I'm not sure there's ever been a good Transformers movie (maybe the first one) and My Little Pony just isn't my cup of tea.

It was not a pretty good year for comic book movies. There were also nothing that I would consider an abomination before God (see: Fantastic Four, Suicide Squad, X-Men: Apocalypse). So even the bottom of the list was still a reasonably entertaining movie, if not flawed.

So, here we go. This is my list. Your mileage may vary:

8. Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Any other year this is a perfectly fine movie, and it's flaws would be annoying, but not impossible to overcome. But it suffers from not being as surprising, which the first Kingsman was, and from bloat and poor story decisions. The deaths in the first Kingsman were shocking and served the story. In this one they were...actively annoying. Plus they criminally underused Halle Berry.

It really felt like they needed to another pass on the script to tighten it up. But on the upside it was nice to see an actual romance happening in the movie. And the Elton John cameo was pretty fun.

7. Lego Batman

I don't think there all that much wrong with the movie, actually. I just don't think I was the target market for it. Which as a geek who loves comics and Lego may sound weird. But even with all the pop culture references thrown in (I'm not sure how many 7-year-olds are going to be thrilled to see Voldemort and the Eye of Sauron as cameos), it still skews pretty young. And its message is delivered with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Which is fine, it's a kids movie.

But it's telling that we bought the movie but haven't been in any hurry to rewatch it. Batman was a great part of the first movie, but maybe a little Batman goes a long way in the Lego world.

6. Justice League

On the upside, it's not the complete disaster that I thought it was firmly tracking to be. It had every right to be one. Zach Snyder has had virtually no clue how to handle DC characters and his departure from the film for tragic personal reasons should have been one more nail in the coffin. Instead, thanks largely to Josh Whedon's touch, it's a perfectly watchable blockbuster. Deeply flawed, mind you. The pacing is all over the place and Stephenwolf doesn't even count as a F-level villain to rally the heroes to fight. I'm a pretty decent-sized DC comics fan and until this movie I'd never heard of the character. So there's that.

The best that can said for the movie is that it's a soft reset of the DC Extended Universe. Snyder brought the cool, but he never brought the fun. There were a couple of scenes, especially towards the end, that made me want to jump up and go "See, that's who they're supposed to be!" The movie is tracking to be a disappointment at the box office, but it's the first DCEU movie that's given me hope that they're on the right path for future stories. Stick around for both in-credit scenes. One is funny. The other is deeply intriguing.

5. Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2

If Kingsman suffered from not being a surprise and being bloated, so did GotG2, it just handled it better. The first GotG was such a shock, even to me, that I still can't believe they pulled off a great movie from D-list characters. It's impossible to match the surprise of the first one, so director James Gunn falls into the semi-predictable trap of trying to just give more....all over the place. Scenes run longer than they should, there are too many plots going on and, of course, the ridiculous number of end credit scenes.

Having said that, when it works, it works. Yondu is by far the most interesting character in this movie. The opening sequence is great and the last scene is genuinely moving. And you want to see more of them. Now that the "mystery" of Peter Quill's dad is over with and, presumably, the Infinity Stones storyline, it'll be interesting to see what they do in the third movie.

4. Wonder Woman

I will commit the small sacrilege of saying this is not the greatest movie of the year. In fact, I'd consider it mid-tier Marvel in a historical complex. It's just the minor miracle that Warner Bros./DC finally managed to make a good DCEU movie that kind of makes its accomplishments overblown. So what's my problem with it? Well, the third act is a special effects nightmare, don't get me started on defeating the God of War by beating him up, and I'm still deeply annoyed that they completely cut any reference to the Greek goddesses in her origin. There are two versions of Diana's origin kicking around....that the Greek goddesses gave her powers and life, and that she's a demi-goddess daughter of Zeus. For such a feminist icon character, I prefer the former.

But obviously there's a lot to love here. The relationship between Steve and Trevor is great. The Amazons are spectacular and the No Man's Land Scene remains the most emotionally powerful action sequence of any movie so far this year. And Gal Gadot is a treasure. Wonder Woman's quality and it's success make it one of the most culturally important movies of the year. I'm thrilled it did well and look forward to the sequel in 2019. Mainly because I can't wait to see when they're given more room to cut loose. And hopefully design a non-stupid third act.

3. Spider-Man: Homecoming

Exactly no one was in a hurry for another Spider-Man after one mediocre (Amazing Spider-Man 1) and two head pounding against the wall pieces of shit (Spider-Man 3, Amazing Spider-Man 2). But then Marvel and Sony struck a deal. If you ever want proof of what Marvel does looks simple but is in fact phenomenally hard, compare this movie to Sony's last three failed attempts. Marvel knows what's it doing.

It took guts to go "You know what, you know his origin and about Uncle Ben so we're not even going to mention it." Let's cast an actor who looks like he could be in high school and not attending its 10th anniversary reunion. Let's make Queens actually look multi-cultural. And how about making the Vulture....The Vulture... a scary and culturally relevant villain.

It's a fun movie with a charming cast. Yeah, I'm not overly fond of souping up Spider-Man's suit so that he's Iron Man Jr. at times, but it's a forgivable sin and explained well and funny in the context of the movie. Marvel remembered that Spider-Man is supposed to a fun, lovable loser. You'd think that would be an easy trick to master, but the last three Spider-Man movies say otherwise.

2. Thor: Ragnarok

Look, it's funny. Every review says that this movie brings the funny. Up until now the funniest Marvel movies have been Guardians of the Galaxy and the Marvel-but-not-really Deadpool. This is funnier than both of them. How you make a funny movie about the apocalypse does take some skill, and director Taika Waititi has it in abundance. Thank god someone watched Ghostbusters and realised that Chris Helmsworth is better as a comedic actor than as a dramatic one. Plus, everyone else looks like they're having a blast.

But the awesome thing about the movie is all the subtle little things the movie also manages to get in there. Hela's rage about how Odin covered up everything the two of them did together to make Asgard. "You never asked where the gold came from!" Which is a lovely shot at colonialism and as Waititi is of indigenous descent, he would know a thing or two about it. And there may well be no spectacularly gay scene this year than Valkyrie strutting across the Rainbow Bridge with fireworks exploding behind her. My sole annoyance with the movie is cutting a scene which shows a woman coming out her chambers.

It's a fun movie, with great action scenes and some subtext. It makes me want to see Waititi do another Thor movie (maybe with a female Thor, as is now in the comics. That hammer is just lying around, even if it's currently in pieces). Can't say I ever thought I would want another Thor movie before this.

1. Logan

For a beloved character Wolverine has had very few good cinematic experiences. The first X-Men was pretty good. X-Men 2 was great. Days of Future Past was pretty good. That's about it. After that most of his appearances have been blah, terrible or frustrating. The Wolverine, for example, took perhaps his best story based on the classic Claremont/Miller story of the 80s and absolutely lobotomised it in the third act. They cut a scene with Wolverine fighting a hundred ninjas, for god's sake, but left in an idiotic CGI fight was a giant samurai robot.

But Logan does a whole bunch of things right, finally, for Hugh Jackman's swan song. It's R-rated so they don't have to play cute with the violence. It does a seamless job of combining genres, which the best super hero movies do. So it's not Logan in the tights fighting bad guys, it's Logan as the ageing gunslinger who just wants to be left in peace, dragged out for one last job.

And here's the amazing thing. Jackman and Patrick Stewart are fully invested in this movie. They know this is their last go at these characters and want to send them off on a good note. So these are their best performances as these characters. Stewart seems to particularly relish being able to curse like a sailor in the movie. But they are left in the dust by Dafne Keen as Laura. That young woman stole the movie clean out from under their feet. If Fox isn't working on a spin-off for her, they're idiots.

Not everyone gets to walk away from a character on a high note. Very few do, actually. But Logan is not only the best comic book movie of the year, it should get Oscar consideration somewhere along the lines. It's the grimmest and most violent of the list, but the most emotional. If you don't well up during the final scene of the movie, then there's no hope for you....

Last Five
1. Wake me up, when September comes - Green Day
2. The complex - Blue Man Group
3. Night windows - The Weakerthans
4. Back at your door - Maroon 5
5. Sherry Darling - Bruce Springsteen*

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Desks

For nearly eight years I've been assembling my geek room in our house. This has been a careful process of jamming as much stuff in as I can, but yet still making it look like there is a plan other than "Let's see how much stuff I can put in here before Cathy loses her mind and sets it all on fire when I'm at the gym."

For the most part I think I've managed. There's probably a blog post coming on that at some point showing it off. I figure somewhere out in the world there will be people who will appreciate it. I think there's been a grand total of about three visitors to our house that have looked at my room and went "Cool!" as opposed to "wow" and then looked at Cathy with eyes that conveyed "you let him do that?"

One of the big pieces missing was a proper desk. For most of the last 8 years I've just been using an Ikea table, which has been perfectly serviceable but lacked character. And because it was five feet long, it tended to become a place where clutter accumulated. I have a lot of stuff in this room, but I try not to have a lot of clutter. There's a line there.

But finding a desk in Iqaluit with character is a little difficult. Not much in the way of antique stores. And when we're in Ottawa doing sealift, we are on a timetable. So again, not much time to go wandering around looking for a cool desk. Most of the desks we looked at are crappy computer desks.

Still the lack of desk was bothering me. So after some research on Amazon (Wayfair won't ship to Iqaluit, in case you were ever thinking of using it), I managed to find a perfectly serviceable desk. It has a little shelf unit on the side for keeping things like plants, docking stations and whatever figurine I've bought this week. Problem solved.

Except, of course, there's always a twist when you do these things. I ordered that desk on Thursday and Amazon shipped it at warp speed. It went from BC to Montreal in a night and should be here by Wednesday. On the other hand, the replacement copy of Pacific Rim I ordered will not arrived until October 18. The new desk weighs 30 kg. The blu-ray might weight 500 g.

If you can figure that out, you're doing better than me. I've long lost the ability to figure out Canada Post and Amazon.

Anyway, on Saturday, right before a blizzard blew in, we went to an estate sale for Bryan Pearson.

Before I get too much into Bryan, let me say one thing....2017 is going to be a year of transition for Iqaluit. From now on, new arrivals in town are always going to have a proper swimming complex instead of what used to be at Astro Hill Complex or nothing at all. There will be a real airport instead of the old yellow death trap, where once you cleared security you were put into what was called "the holding pen". Forget there not being a bar or restaurant, there wasn't a bathroom. The new airport might as well be the Taj Mahal in comparison.

And Bryan Pearson is just going to be a story long timers tell instead of the guy at Astro Theatre who would drag kids out of the theatre by their ear for talking or leaving voice recordings for movies playing this week describing them as "pieces of shit, but you bugged me to bring them in, so here they are."

I couldn't begin to do Bryan justice. Start with the Nunatsiaq article if you're curious for more. He passed away a year ago.

So this weekend, they began selling the contents of his house. I heard his house has already sold. Given its condition, location and nature of Iqaluit development, I wouldn't be at all surprised if it's torn down and they put a hotel there instead.

Curious, Cathy and I went for a visit. And it was filled with marvelous stuff. I really should have taken more pictures, but it seemed rude. But here are a few things I grabbed pictures of quickly.
It's in beatmax. I desperately wanted to buy
it, but he didn't have a betamax player for
sale.

It was a pretty ratty couch. I don't think it sold. I guess
there aren't many Diefenbaker fans in town.

He has several chairs like this. The man loved an ornate chair.


So yeah, just piles of stuff. The cookware he had that was already sold killed us. It was beautiful stuff. Plus they were giving away all his old books, there was a ton of vinyl there and just lots and lots of stuff. It was worth it just to be able to wander through the place.

And there was a desk. This desk. Because of course I bought it.



Sadly, I do not know the history of the desk. I have no knowledge of these things. It could be 20 years old, it could be 50 years old. But it came from Bryan Pearson's house, so the one thing I can be sure about is that it has character.

(Btw, I really recommend the experience of moving a 100 pound desk from inside a house, into your car, and then into its new house in the middle of a blizzard. Because we're dumb like that.)

I still have another desk coming, though. I'll give this one a week or so just to make sure it works fine for me. If it does, I guess the new one on its way will go up on the local Sell Swap. But seriously, I found two desk in three days after searching for years. Bloody typical.

Last Five
1. Burned - Dear Leader
2. Rain and snow - The Be Good Tanyas
3. How bad can a good girl be - Imelda May*
4. In my command (live) - Crowded House
5. Just like me - Brendan Benson

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Roundabout ways

Just after we started vacation in Portugal I read this story and heard about people freaking out about roundabouts. People just don't like them. For years this has baffled me, and I think I finally figured out the reason why. When people here roundabout, their minds go to this.


Look, this advanced madness roundabout theory. Only crazy people design them and utter lunatics attempt to drive them. If the first time you've ever come up to a roundabout and it looks like this, just hit the brakes, park the car, get out and go "nope" as you walk away. Most of the local drivers will probably thank you.

Most roundabouts look more like this.


These are dead simple to navigate. You come up to it, and glance left. If there's a vehicle coming, you yield. If not, head on out, loop around the circle until you come to your exit, then turn off.

Dead simple.

I mention this because for two weeks while we were in Portugal we rented a car (a slightly infamous Volkswagen Pony, which was in the middle of their diesel fuel scandal). I drove through hundreds of roundabouts. I'm not kidding. I put over a thousand kilometres on that car, drove all around the Algarve, and over to Seville in Spain. Hundreds of them. And 99% of them looked like the second roundabout. I ran into maybe a half dozen that were slightly more complex, but still easy to manage.

And look, Google Maps is your friend on these things. "At the roundabout, take the third exit." Ok, don't mind if I do. And if you miss you turn, well, you just keep going around until you find it. Ta da.

And what was the benefit? Traffic flowed. I'm not kidding. We encountered two traffic snarls on the entire trip. One was getting near Gibraltar, and the other leaving the Capo de Sao Vicente lighthouse after sunset. And those were extraordinary circumstances.

It was to the point that on the rare occasion we encountered a traffic light I was actively annoyed. It always significantly slowed down traffic (not helping is that I have the worst luck with traffic lights you've ever seen. I can hit five in a row at 3 am with no traffic on the road).

Look, I've driven roundabouts in Australia. You want freaked out, try hitting three roundabouts in a row less than 10 minutes after you've started in your first left-hand drive car. Did not die. Managed it just fine.

So yes, I'm all in favour of more roundabouts in St. John's. Hell, Iqaluit is getting to the point where there are a couple of intersections that could use them. Build them. Put some nice local landscaping in the middle to pretty it up. Maybe put up a non-offensive statue of some kind.

You drive these things enough and you realize what a pain in the ass most traffic lights are. Europe has the right idea...

Last Five
1. A Reminder - Radiohead
2. Begging Bone - Garbage
3. Genius Next Door - Regina Spektor
4. Reach Side - Kings of Leon
5. Goodbye Earl - Me First and the Gimme Gimmies*

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

LIsbon: Day 1-2

I got out of the habit of doing these things when we're on vacation. Last year we stayed mostly in Canada on a quiet vacation. The year before was awesome, with a Viking River Cruise from Budapest to Amsterdam. Unfortunately the Bluetooth keyboard I use to write on my iPad died, making writing difficult.

But this time I'm back on vacation and with a proper keyboard ready to go. This will probably be more general notes and observations as I save the stories for my long suffering editor who buys my travel pieces from me. But I've noticed that if I don't write the day's activities right away the little details, which are often the fun ones, will slip away.

So a few odds and ends from our first days in Lisbon.

1. The red eye flight from Toronto to Lisbon is pretty easy going and I don't have any complaints about TAP, the national Portuguese airlines. Easy boarding process, reasonable seats and most people slept through the flight.

2. Having said that, everyone has the right idea of taking red eyes, but it does mean that customs on the other end can be long. I think we spent about 40 minutes going through a massive line, as at least five flights arrived within 45 minutes of each other.

3. We bought new SIM cards at the airport just so we would be able to have access to our phones right away. The line is long, however, so patience is a must.

4. Lisbon card is a decent investment. Got us on trams and buses during the first two days. Also got us on the bus for free to downtown Lisbon within a block or two of our hotel. So that was nice.

5. We're downtown about a block away from the waterfront. So it's tourist central. But it's still nice to walk on cobblestone sidewalks, dodge tuktuks, look at giant statues of men on horses, and big open market squares. Could do without trying to walk past restaurants with waiting trying to drag you in to sit down, but that's Europe.

6. Jet lag knocked us out early Day 1, and we were late getting going on Day 2. But then we hopped on a massively crowded tram to Belem. The area is known for its monastery, tower and a particular custard pastry. It was crowded, especially in the morning, but the crowds did easy up a bit later in the day. The monastery was nice but I'm not sure it was worth the epic lines. We spent probably 45 minutes in line. Early in the morning it was probably closer to 90 minutes to get in.

7. The Tower of Belem also had lines to get in, but we didn't brave them, as they looked like it would have taken two hours to get in. There's some nice historical features to the place, but if you're going just for the view there's the padrao dos descobrimentos, which gives you a better view, with less price.

8. But honestly, I think the reason most people go to Belem is Pasteis de Belem. At it's most simple it a custard tart. But they are beloved in Lisbon. Upon checkin at our hotel the lady at the front desk listed things we might want to do. Getting a custard tart might not seem a big deal, but the line was long, the crowds slightly frantic and everyone was determined to get a custard tart

And they were pretty good, I have to say. An article I read says they make 20,000 of them a day. I can believe it.

9. Random bits:
- You play games sometimes as you wander a city. Cathy and I have decided that instead of playing "Punch Buggy" we're playing "Man Bun". Everytime we see one we punch the other person. I suspect we'll be black and blue by the end of the trip if the last two days. There have been a tragic amount of man buns walking the streets of Lisbon.
- How to tell you're Canadian. When crossing a street, Cathy was approached by a drug dealer offering pot. The conversation went something like this:
Dealer: Hey, would you like some pot?
Cathy: No, thank you.
Me: It's always nice when we can take the time to be polite to drug dealers.
At least Cathy got offered pot. I was offered hash and cocaine.
- I will say this much about Lisbon, the breeze is lovely. There's an almost constant breeze, which helps keep things from getting too hot.
- I might have loved the pastries in Belem, but I did managed to get punched by a Japanese tourist when I didn't move out of her way fast enough. Thus continuing my streak of having a bad experience with a Japanese tourist on nearly every vacation I've been on.
- English is understood almost everywhere but funny enough, it's not the language of conversation in the streets in the tourist areas. There simply doesn't seem to be many Canadian, American or British tourists around, which is interesting.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

What to get if you loved the Wonder Woman movie

I've been waiting for a long time to see the Wonder Woman movie, and it seems I'm going to have to wait a little while longer. While Astro Theatre's is not bad at bringing in big movies on their opening weekend, they obviously don't get them all in. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 opened here a solid three weeks after it opened everywhere else, for example.

And it seems the same thing will happen with Wonder Woman. Barring a miracle, I suspect it'll be close to the end of June before it shows here. Annoying, but I'm not about to drop $2600 to fly to Ottawa to see it.

However, I am relieved to that it's opened to critical acclaim and very solid box office. For a number of reasons, I consider it the most important movie of the year. If it had bombed it might have been years before a woman got the chance to direct another big budget movie. And plans for the next woman super hero movies probably would have quietly been pushed back. Is that fair? Not even remotely. Welcome to Hollywood.

Now? Expect to see more women getting the chance big budget movies. Along with Captain Marvel I suspect you'll see an increased push on movies like Batgirl, Gotham City Sirens (Catwoman, Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy), Silver and Black (Silver Sable and Black Cat from the Spider-Man universe). Maybe Marvel even might wake up and give us the Black Widow movie we've been begging for for years.

I'm not the biggest Wonder Woman fan in the world, but I do have a love of the character. Here's a sample of my collection.

Yes, I own more than this.
However, with so much focus on the movie, it occurs to me that not everyone may know where to start with the comics. She's 75 years old. There's a few books been published over that time. Most of the links I'm going to put here go to Amazon (ironic), but whenever possible I recommend going to your local comic book store and supporting them.

1. If you want to read her early adventures, then the best place to start is Wonder Woman: The Golden Age Omnibus, Vol. 1. These are her first stories written by William Marston (with uncredited help from his wife Elizabeth and their partner Olive Byrne. Read The Secret History of Wonder Woman for more on their relationships). Golden age comics can be...challenging if you're used to more modern books. The stories are simpler, the production values are cruder and the art can be rougher. The book is worth a look if for nothing else for just how blunt Diana was in her dealings with men. It would be unusual today, it's extraordinary for the 1940s. And yes, there is a lot of bondage going on.

After Marston left the character a lot of the comics are, to be kind, pretty unremarkable. She was treated pretty badly by DC for years, often turning her into another woman pining after a man, or stripping her of her powers. I'm sure there are good books in there, but for simplicity sake, let's skip ahead to 1987.

2. This is around the time that DC relaunched most of their major comics. After decades of convoluted continuity, they decided to blow the whole thing up and launch everything fresh. For Wonder Woman, that meant a brand new and desperately needed origin and launch. And for that they brought in George Perez (with big assists from Len Wein, Greg Potter and Karen Berger). Marston created Wonder Woman, but Perez saved her. Wonder Woman has been gifted with any number of great artists in the last 30 years, but Perez remains the best. There are few in the business better at detail, conveying action and drawing beautiful women without distorting their proportions. Even in a book that does not have modern production or colouring, that occasionally crams too much dialogue in, it's a beautiful book to look at. (the sketch on the right side of the picture above is something Perez did in about 5 minutes at a comic con. It's a treasured possession)

But along with the art it's the gold standard origin that every other one has tried to top. You can read it here with the second volume just coming out about now. Or you could get ambitious and buy the first omnibus

It's a remarkable bit of world building and crafting. The first issue has the history of the Amazons and the origin of Wonder Woman. In 40 pages. It's astonishing. But among its tricks is to make the Greek Gods more prominent - Demeter, Aphrodite, Athena, Artemis, Hestia, and Hermes are her "patrons". Perez's Diana is younger, maybe 19, when she first enter's Patriarch's World and much of his early run centres on her adjusting to a radically new culture. He changed Paradise Island to Themyscira, the ancient name of the Amazon's city. It also features, to this day, the single best explanation for her costume looking so American.

Yes, it's a bit dated, but they're fun, fun books and let's be blunt, Wonder Woman as we know her today does not exist without this run. That's pretty much ever comic in the last 30 years and the movie. It's that important.

Perez stopped drawing the book around issue #24, but stayed on for several more years as writer, which you can read here if you have the money.

After that we have another dry spell. There are some stories there that are well received., but nothing that jumps out as a must read.

3. From there we can skip ahead to the early 2000s and Greg Rucka's run. If the Perez books are about a young Diana trying to find her way in the world and her naive beliefs in teaching peace, Rucka features a more mature, wise and focused Diana. Not a princess, but now an ambassador between Man's World and Themyscira. 

There are three things you have to get right if you're doing a long run on Wonder Woman. Diana, the Amazons, and her the Olympian Gods. It's a harder trick than you think. Rucka manages to nail all three. His Diana is much more interested in starting a debate with conservatives as she is fighting a bad guy. The Amazons are smart, fearless and as much in awe of Diana and frustrated by her convictions. And his take on the gods, especially Athena, are probably some of the best in the run. Also noteworthy was Drew Johnson's art early in the run which made the "controversial" decision to make Diana look more Greek.

I love Rucka's writing, so I'm always going to be biased, but this is a great, fun, thoughtful run. It also shows exactly how dangerous Diana is when she puts her mind to it, kicking the crap out of the Justice League, even when at a considerable disadvantage. It sadly goes off the rails a bit towards the end when the book gets looped into a DC crossover.  But until then go and get Volume 1 and Volume 2. Volume 1 also includes the standalone "The Hiketia" which is being mentioned on a lot of Best Of lists. I like it, and the art by J.G. Jones is great, but I think too many focus on Diana beating up Batman than the fact the story is a little light and the ending a touch too pat.

4. Next would be Gail Simone's run on the series. Unfortunately it's out of print (and judging by some of the prices on Amazon, my signed copies could get a decent price). You can buy it digitally through Comixology.

If it's difficult to buy, then why recommend it? The run is beloved in some circles and it's easily one of the most quoted runs of the series. It includes what many consider to be the most famous line, summarizing who Diana, and the Amazons, are supposed to be - "We have a saying: Don't kill if you can wound, don't wound if you can subdue, don't subdue if you can pacify, and don't raise your hand at all until you've extended it first."

Simone's run is five books - The Circle, Ends of the Earth, Rise of the Olympian, Warkiller, and Contagion. It's not a perfect run....too much of it feels like cleaning up other people's messes rather than striking out on her own. But she's gifted with some amazing artists such as Terry and Rachel Dodson, Bernard Chang, Aaron Lopestri, and Nicola Scott. And while the overall arcs might be a bit wobbly, few are better at hitting individual scenes or understanding what makes Diana tick. And the first story arc, The Circle, is top notch if for no other reason than it has gorillas and they're awesome.

5. I mention this run not to encourage you to read it, but to warn against it. About six years ago DC did another relaunch called The New 52. I never liked it and the fact that they're in the process of wiping it out goes to show I'm not alone. They relaunched Wonder Woman with another new origin written by Brian Azzarello with art by Cliff Chiang. Unless you want to just look at the art, then by all means go ahead.  Diana has always been gifted by great artists, and Chiang is up there with Perez. His Diana is sharp and powerful and his visual take on the gods is unique. But Azzarello's story can be deeply unpleasant.

Remember what I said about Diana, Amazons and Gods? Well, he makes the gods interesting for the most part. Diana he does ok (although I loathe the change from her origin of being created from clay and her mother's prayers to more...conventional means). But his treatment of the Amazons is so horrific (please, let's make them into slavers, rapists and murders) that pretty much every female geek I read online disavowed the book.

It's beautiful to look at, but a frustrating slog to read. Buyer beware.

6. In the last year or so, there have been two Wonder Woman books of note. The most straight forward is The Legend of Wonder Woman (the paper back comes out later this year) by Renae De Liz and Ray Dillion. Bizarrely, given her appeal to young girls, Diana has never had an all-ages comic. This is as close as you get. It's another origin, but this one set in the 1940s. It's a slower reader, with more character study on Diana on Paradise Island and adapting to Man's World, but it's still entertaining. It also has one of the best uses of Etta Candy, Diana's friend and sidekick, that I've seen in years. And De Liz art is beautiful. A second volume was planned but sadly one of the creators mouthed off about DC on social media. DC has no patience for that sort of thing and the volume was cancelled, which is a tremendous pity. However, this certainly stands on its own.

7. The others book(s) are by Greg Rucka, Liam Sharp and Nicola Scott. DC lured Rucka back by basically promising not to mess with his run like they did last time. It's an odd run, because the series ran bi-weekly with one issue set in the current time (art by Sharp) and Diana tries to determine who has been messing with her memories and history, and a Year One story (yes, again. With art by Scott). Vol. 1: The Lies and Vol. 2: Year One. Of them, the Year One story is the easiest to get into for a new reader. The Lies is a great read, and Sharp's art is fantastic, but again, a lot of this is continuity cleaning. Neither of these stories are complete right now, and additional books will be coming out later this year, concluding the stories.

Oh, it's also of note that this is the book that makes it fairly clear that Diana is queer. Obvious, really. But yes, she has a girlfriend in the Year One book on Paradise Island.

8. These are the major ones. There are others that may be of interest for different reasons. I also recommend:

Bombshells, which is not exclusively a Wonder Woman book, but is set at the start of World War 2. It's all of DC's major super heroines (my favourite remains Batwoman, who is a former woman's baseball player, turned super hero/secret agent), in pin-up style outfits, fighting the Nazis. With scarcely a male hero to be found. I love the costumes, it's fun, and writer Marguerite Bennett is making it as gay as she can. Not bad considering the idea started as a bunch of variant covers, then moved to statues, and is now a series of graphic novels.

If you want an assortment of Wonder Woman, including some of the stories I mentioned above, there this Best Of collection, featuring stories over her 75 years.

New Frontier is another team book, featuring DC heroes in the 1950s. Worth it just for how the amazing, gone way too soon Darwyn Cooke drew Diana, and for her scene chewing out Superman. But she only plays a small part in the book.

Earth One is another origin, by Grant Morrison and Yanick Paquette. I haven't read it, and like most of Morrison's writing, people either love it or deeply loathe it. Paquette's art is quite lovely, however.

The True Amazon is another one I haven't read, but it's written and illustrated by Jill Thompson. I might not be able to speak to the quality of writing, but Thompson's art is always fantastic, so it'll be at least pretty to look at.

And there you go. She may not have the volume of top notch material to choose from, like Batman, but there are still plenty of good Wonder Woman books out there.

Last Five
1. Strobelite - Gorillaz
2. Relative surplus value - The Weakerthans
3. Our time - Lily Allen
4. Lights - Interpol
5. Strike the band - Amelia Curran*