Category Archives: Collecting

Political Superheroes

I saw this on a forum, someone was trying to argue that the difference between Superman and Batman was the same as the difference between conservatism and liberalism, with Superman being conservative and Batman being liberal.  Now while I can kind of see what he’s trying to get at, I really don’t think you can make those distinctions, especially since I disagree with a lot of what he’s said so I’m going to go through his list and see what makes sense and what doesn’t.

We’ll do this one at a time and by all means, if you have other opinions, let me know below in the comments.

Batman

Was orphaned as a child but rich
Believes in helping the poor and underprivileged of Gotham
Is unlike many of the rich people in the city not a snob
Will not kill people sometimes since its against his ethics(Against death penalty)
Sends all criminals to the insane Asylum instead of jail
(Even though its been proven some of them are not criminally insane)
Is a bit of a player

Okay, being orphaned has nothing to do with your political ideology, it isn’t exactly something that you have any control over and there are plenty of people on both the left and the right who have been orphaned.  Likewise, while being rich is more often thought of as a conservative trait, it’s important to realize that Bruce Wayne is not a self-made millionaire, he was left Wayne Enterprises and all of his millions. so I can see that as a possible liberal trait.  However, where he says that Batman believes in helping the poor and underprivileged, that depends on the writer.  It certainly hasn’t been true in all cases, in fact, I’d argue that most of the time, catering to the poor is just part of his business strategy, he never loses money on any of these ventures and he’s shown living a life of excess pretty consistently.  Big cars, huge mansions, flashy suits, Bruce Wayne is the Tony Stark of the DC universe.  That doesn’t strike me as someone really giving his money to the poor.  He’s also a snob plenty of times, the Nolan Batman movies portray him as a reclusive rich guy that doesn’t want to bother with the little people (or any people).  And being a “player” doesn’t make him liberal, he’s only done those things when he’s been single, when Bruce Wayne has been in a relationship, he’s been very monogamous.  Not seeing the case to be made here, sorry.

Further, his code against killing comes from the death of his parents, but it really makes no sense whatsoever. See, there is a fundamental difference between Batman and Superman that I want to explore here. Superman is essentially indestructible and so are his family.  Supergirl, Krypto the Superdog and all the rest of the menagerie, they are impervious to harm. None of his human friends, Lois, Lana, Jimmy Olson, Perry White, they have been kidnapped plenty of times, but they have never been seriously injured by villains.  Superman’s parents, again depending on what writer you’re reading, are still alive.  So Superman really has no reason whatsoever to kill anyone, yet he has killed.   Batman on the other hand, his parents were killed by a criminal. Batgirl was shot and crippled by the Joker, who also murdered one version of Robin.  Yet Batman continues to fight and arrest the same group of villains, put them in Arkham Asylum, where he knows they will repeatedly escape and murder members of the public as well as going after his own family and friends, yet he still never kills.  He has a reason.  He just refuses.  That makes Batman crazy, which I guess is the same as liberal in a lot of situations.

Superman

Country boy born in Kansas
Very reserved and actually kind of shy
Has very traditional upbringing
Believes in sometimes killing people who are a danger to the world(Believes in the death penalty)
Gets a job in an office and probably doesn’t make very great pay
Is this very wholesome image
Trys to be the good guy, and not confident enough to ask out a girl without his superman persona(Similar to Peter Parker in that)

On the other side, there’s Superman.  While he was raised in Kansas, he certainly wasn’t born there, I can’t really take anyone who doesn’t know that seriously.  He is reserved and shy, at least in his Clark Kent persona, but not so much as Superman because he really doesn’t have to be.  His upbringing certainly was traditional, but so to are most people’s, so that really doesn’t say anything about his political ideology.  He has killed to protect others, although let’s be honest, this is a comic book and nobody ever stays dead so I’m not sure how much that means.  He is wholesome and does work for a living, as opposed to Batman, who just lives off his inheritance.  The one thing I disagree with is that he’s not confident enough to ask out a girl, I’m assuming he means Lois Lane here.  The problem is, Lois only had eyes for Superman, but couldn’t see Clark if he was standing right in front of her.  The real point wasn’t that he couldn’t ask her out, it was how to separate the two halves of himself, one of which she loved and the other that she didn’t.  What is important to remember here is that when Lois and Clark eventually did get married, she knew both sides of him and loved both sides of him, unlike with Batman, where he keeps the bat-side of himself a completely separate entity, rarely coming clean with whoever he is with and being honest about who he really is.  The same is really true of Peter Parker, when he and Mary Jane got married, it wasn’t Spider-Man she was interested in, it was Peter, although she knew about both and accepted both.  So if the point is that Superman is more honest than Batman, I’ll agree with that.  Is dishonesty something that marks liberals?  You tell me.

What any of this means, I don’t know.  You can make a case for things like personal responsibility for both characters, both of them give up their own comfort and happiness because they are convinced the world needs them.  They are both selfless individuals.  They are both hard-working.  Neither of them are on the public dole.  All of those seem to be conservative characteristics to me.  Take it as you will, I guess, but let me know what you think below.  Can you make a case that these, or any other comic book superheroes, display the conservative or liberal political ideology?  I’d like to know.

Business with Racist Overtones

mighty2I get really tired of having to explain reality to liberals.  I’ve talked about this a couple of times before, but the liberal stupidity keeps rolling along and I’m putting this here to keep from overly politicizing my other blog. For those in the dark, there’s been a “movement” of sorts, I suppose, to pressure Marvel Comics to put out more predominantly black comics and if they don’t do so, they’re clearly racist.  This whole  debacle started when it was revealed that the new Mighty Avengers comic, which has a largely non-white cast of characters, was being “underordered” by comic retailers, thus, comic retailers must be racist!  These people are clueless in the highest degree and have no clue, or interest, in how business actually works.

Comic book retailers operate on a shoestring profit as it is, they have to be very careful what books they order for their shops and which ones they don’t.  They have to gauge, based on their experience, which ones will likely sell immediately and which ones will just sit around for months and have to be sold at a loss to clear space.  By and large, and I certainly can’t say this is true of everyone, but for the vast majority, the owners don’t give a damn who the team is or what color they are, they just want to make money.  The lowest-selling comic in July, 2013 was Aspen’s Legend of the Shadowclan.  The fact that most retailers didn’t order many, if any, of that title doesn’t mean that they’re biased against ninjas.  It’s absurd.

The fact is, comic shop owners have no control over who comes into their stores and buys what.  Neither does Marvel for that matter.  It is a fact, whether anyone likes it or not, that the top-rated comic superheroes, both for Marvel and DC, happen to be white characters.  That isn’t necessarily a racist thing, these are almost all characters that were created between the 1930s and the 1970s and have demonstrated their popularity and longevity.  It is an undeniable fact that, in the comic book world, the overwhelming majority of characters created in the past 20 years have failed to garner much popularity or  traction with comic book fans.   Therefore, it’s only common sense that a company would cater to their demonstrable audience and sell things that people have proven they’re willing to buy.

See, that’s how business works.  I know liberals seem incapable of understanding this so I’ll go slow.  Business exists to make money.  It does not exist to make social statements, it does not exist to engage in social engineering, it does not exist to push a social agenda.  It’s there to make a buck.  Full stop.  Sure, some companies can work some social justice into their business plan, lots of companies donate money to different causes, both for the tax write-off and for the customer good will and additional purchases that it invariably creates.  Charitable donations are not losing any of these companies business, trust me.  Liberals seem to think that business exists to make them feel good and if the business has to lose money to give them an ego boost, so be it.  They don’t seem to care that they’re wrong about pretty much everything across the board.  These are the same folks who are out trying to get minority actors in movies and on TV, just because of the color of their skin.  Movies and TV producers aren’t racists either, they’re trying to make a financially successful product.  They want to keep their show on TV so they keep getting paid.  They want to be high in the ratings so advertisers are willing to spend more putting their ads on during the show.  This is how it works.

Yet these crazy liberals are convinced, for some reason beyond my comprehension, that there are secret back rooms right now where rich white men are twisting their mustaches and working out devious means to put even more white actors on TV.  It’s utterly insane.  I just don’t understand where they get the absurd idea of racist bugaboos hiding under the bed, waiting to pounce on the unwary.  This is the stuff of the conspiracy theorist, not of any rational, intelligent person.

Now you can argue until you’re blue in the face why some characters are popular and some are not, it doesn’t change the fact that, at least at this moment in time, characters that happen to be white happen to have the most popularity.  But it isn’t the fact that they’re write that makes them popular, it’s the fact that they’ve had a long history, have been well written and have struck a chord with comic book readers.  Whether those readers are reading them because they’re white or not, I can’t say, all I can say is that I pay absolutely no attention whatsoever to the skin color of the characters I like.  Heck, in comics, half the time the characters are green or blue!  It doesn’t matter, to anyone, except these people!  They’re the real racists!  They’re the only people who are making a big deal about skin color!  And they’re the ones who scream the loudest when you point that fact out to them.

I guess that’s yet one more thing liberals are clueless about.

More Liberal Shenanigans on Racism

bullshit-o-meter1
The dial spins when liberalism is involved.

There are reasons I really hate getting into discussions with liberals on controversial topics, because I know, pretty much without a doubt, that most of them are going to engage in blatantly dishonest tactics instead of just dealing with the actual argument being made.

Case in point, I was having a discussion about racism in comic books, I actually have a post scheduled on that actual debate over on my other blog, but it’s the response that I got there that I wanted to talk about here, since it’s largely off-topic on Cephus’ Corner.  The other article is scheduled to post 8/20 /13 and I’ll put a link to it here when it does.

Very briefly, the discussion started over an assertion that comic writer Christopher Priest was drummed out of Marvel Comics because he objected to being asked to write primarily black and hispanic characters.  The assertion is, he was black and therefore, being given black characters to write was inherently racist.  That Priest decided, of his own accord, to walk away from writing comics for Marvel was the very height of racism, evidence that the entire industry hates black people.  Never mind that there are plenty of black writers and artists working in comics today, it’s got to be racism!

So I pointed out that there are many other explanations, such as the very real, and I think probable, possibility that Priest’s writing talents run to writing ethnic characters.  He’s good at it!  There’s nothing wrong with that, a person’s past experiences often strongly influence their writing and creative style.  I happen to very much enjoy how Christopher Priest writes and he single-handedly revitalized the  character of Black Panther with his run. Let’s not forget that Priest also wrote an excellent run of Deadpool, a white character, but liberals don’t talk about that.  However, just  because Priest claims it was racism doesn’t mean that it was, all he’s shown is that Marvel didn’t let him do whatever he wanted to do.  So what?  They don’t let anyone do whatever they want to do, they are in business to make money and they put people on books where their talents are most likely to garner them more money.  Priest’s considerable talents lent themselves to a particular style of comic book.  If he didn’t like writing those comics, he should quit, which he did.  Such is life.

But of course, the loony left liberals don’t like to have their racism screed questioned so I was immediately attacked, not for what I said, but for my assumed racism.  Yes, I was being declared a racist because I didn’t buy into the “institutional racism against blacks” nonsense that serves as a political platform point for the Democrat Party.  I got instantly attacked, piled on with personal insults, someone even went back and found posts that I wrote back as far as 2005, pulled entirely out of context, to suggest that I was a racist. Nope, doesn’t fly, I own everything I’ve said, in the context in which I said it, but this is really beyond the pale.

Unfortunately, it’s also standard liberal operating procedure.  If you can’t address what someone actually says, pretend they say something else and attack that straw man.  When leftist extremists are involved, it’s not a debate, it’s a witch hunt.  We see the same thing recently in the atheist “community” with PZ Myers and the Shermer claims.  If you say something I don’t like, I’ll do everything in my power to destroy you.  It’s the liberal mantra.

I’ve spent years railing on the failures of liberalism, a rather pointless gesture in the midst of a liberal-heavy atheist “community”, but the more I do it, the more I see former dyed-in-the-wool liberals, the ones who are capable of actually thinking about their positions rather than emotionally reacting to them, admitting that maybe they’re not as liberal as they once thought they were.  Liberalism, like it or not, is a failed political and social philosophy.  It doesn’t do anything to strengthen a society, it doesn’t do anything to improve a culture, it doesn’t produce demonstrably better results.  It makes people weak.  It makes them more dependent on the government. It makes them poorer and less prepared to climb out of that poverty.  It is totally unsustainable, as we see from the world around us today.  Cities fall into bankruptcies due to liberal politics, countries like Greece fall apart because they’ve gone too far into liberal loony land, things are only going to get worse until people realize that having their hand out for a government check isn’t the solution to the world’s problems, it’s the cause.

Liberal dishonesty, like neo-con dishonesty, ought to be expected because both are positions which cannot be rationally justified.  They rely on emotion, not intelligence, which is why, when backed into a corner, they lash out emotionally, not rationally.  It’s no wonder that this planet is terminally screwed up if these are two of the major choices people have to contend with in social and political ideologies.

Considering DC Superheroes

BatmanComic5I was talking today with a friend who went to see the midnight showing of Man of Steel.  Now I am not a Superman fan, in fact, I’m not a big fan of any of the major DC superheroes, I have a fundamental problem with the way that DC handles their characters.  DC, at least traditionally, is more concerned with having costumes than characters.  They always want a Superman.  They always want a Batman.  They always want a Wonder Woman.  If anything happens to their characters, say… Doomsday comes along and “kills” Superman (we know nobody ever dies in a comic book), they find someone else to get into the costume, or at the very least, someone with very similar powers to put on a very similar costume so that the fung shui of the DC universe is not damaged.

Now it’s been decades since I first made that observation and I will admit that Marvel has tended to do the same thing for it’s big properties, although at the time they didn’t.  There is only one Wolverine.  If Logan goes down, they don’t find someone else to don his duds.  I can only think of a handful of times where someone jumped into another man’s outfit in the Marvel Universe, Captain America and Winter Soldier comes to mind, it’s just not the way they do business.

Anyhow, this isn’t about costumes and it isn’t about Superman.  I told him I’m not a big DC guy and he asked if there were any recent DC superhero movies that I liked and… nope, not really.  Didn’t care for the previous Superman outing, Superman Returns.    Didn’t like Green Lantern.  Didn’t care for Watchmen, which isn’t really a DC universe movie, but still.  In fact, to get back to some DC movies I liked, you’d have to go back to the Burton Batman in 1989 or the first two Christopher Reeve Superman movies.  But what about the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy?  Nope, not my thing, and in fact, my least favorite of them was The Dark Knight.  I hated Heath Ledger’s version of Joker, but then again, I hate Joker.  Worse than Joker, I hate the whole Batman menagerie of villains and how they are handled in the DC universe.

Now I understand that everything I’m about to talk about is a marketing and merchandising decision, but I don’t buy into the idea that marketing and merchandising ought to fundamentally affect the way you tell stories, even if, in the real world, they often do.  See, I think Batman should have killed Joker a long time ago.  Yes, I understand Batman’s “code against killing”, but the fact is that Batman doesn’t kill Joker because Joker is a valued licensed character (see the aforementioned marketing and merchandising).  However, in the context of the Batman storyline, it makes no sense that he, or someone else, shouldn’t have offed the majority of the Batman rogues gallery long ago.  Now depending on what version of Joker you’re going with, he may have been the guy who killed Bruce Wayne’s parents.  He’s certainly the madman who has killed thousands of innocent civilians, who crippled Batgirl (in the pre-New 52 continuity), who killed (with the help of fans) Jason Todd, and of course the whole “Death of the Family” thing, when does there come a point in time where enough is enough?  It’s not just Batman’s family that has suffered greatly from this madman, but all of Gotham (and the entire universe if you read the Emperor Joker stuff).  When does it end?

And even if it isn’t Batman that takes him out, I have a hard time believing nobody else would.  Why, in all this time, hasn’t a guard at Arkham Asylum pulled his sidearm (or any weapon for the matter), stuck it in Joker’s mouth and pulled the trigger?  But let’s talk about Arkham for a moment, it’s just a  giant revolving door for psychos.  Why is it still open with as many escapes as crazies have made from there over the years?  Batman drops someone off at the front door and it’s about 30 seconds later that they’re running out the back door.  What gives?  The whole criminal justice system of the DC universe is absurdly flawed.  It’s not just Joker that should have been offed years ago, it’s the majority of Batman baddies.  Penguin?  >BLAM!<  Clayface (any version)?  >SQUISH!<  Killer Croc?  Poison Ivy?  Mr. Freeze?  >KA-BOOM!<  Give me one rational, legitimate, comic-world reason any of them should be kept around.  It’s clear that none of them can ever be rehabilitated, it’s clear they’re going to escape from Arkham over and over again.  Why hasn’t there been a public uprising demanding the heads of these villains?  Makes no sense to me.

comic_06Now outside of the mainline DC universe, people like Frank Miller have turned Batman into the semi-badass that he should be, in fact it was Frank Miller who came up with the Dark Knight concept, but he’s still not open to really protecting society and getting things done regardless of the circumstances.  I always thought that Batman should be DC’s version of Punisher, without the insanity and without the utter bloodlust, someone who was willing to do the job that needed doing.  If Batman was introduced today, without the 70 years of history and backstory, maybe that would be possible.  Now, though, rebranding Batman as anything other than a non-killing hero is virtually impossible.

Now I know I’m railing against the Warner Brothers marketing department, nothing really bad will ever happen to any of these villains, or to any of these heroes.  As I said before, nobody ever dies in comics because they’re too busy milking their properties for money, both in comics, and now in the movies.  That’s why the Arrow TV series is such an anomaly, it doesn’t follow the “code against killing” schtick from the comics, the Hood kills a dozen bad guys an episode.  Yes, they are faceless minions, by and large, but big-name baddies always get away, but it’s a show where people die and I suspect, nobody besides Oliver Queen is really truly safe from the writer’s hatchet.  That’s the way I’d like to feel about comics and about comic movies.  The story is the thing and anyone who gets in the way of the story is expendable.

I know that’s too much to ask from Hollywood, or from the comic producers.  I guess that’s why I pay so little attention to what they produce these days.  Oh sure, I’ll buy Man of Steel when it comes out in DVD, just like I did with the Batman trilogy and Green Lantern, but I suspect it’ll get the same kind of negative reviews from me that the others did.  I don’t expect absolute realism from a comic book movie, after all, we’re talking about people flying around in spandex fighting crime, but I do expect some human reactions and some human behavior, something that we largely don’t get from these movies.  That’s why so many of them are so utterly forgettable and that’s a shame.

Positive Outcomes in Media

bright-future-ahead
I’d really like to think this was true in entertainment media.

Believe it or not, I’m a die-hard optimist.  I know it might not seem that way to read some of the things I write, but I want people to generally succeed, I want the situation to generally improve and I want people to overcome obstacles and become better people for it.  In fact, that’s one major reason I want to do away with religion because I don’t think the human species can really improve while it’s so weighted down with irrational beliefs.  I want a better world.

Perhaps nowhere is this more clear than in the entertainment media that I consume.  I want to watch generally hopeful stories about a future world that I’d actually want to live in, where the people can and do overcome their problems and generally end up in a better situation than they started in.  Yes, I understand this isn’t necessarily always realistic, but it’s my enjoyment, I can make whatever requirements I wish.

That’s why I generally dislike dystopian futures, where mankind generally fares badly.  I want a story where the “heroes” have issues, and they can be truly horrific issues to overcome, but they succeed in the end and the future looks, if not bright, than at least brighter than it had previously.

This applies to all forms of entertainment: television, movies and books.  It also applies to all genres of entertainment, including, and this might surprise people, horror movies.  I love good horror movies, I’ve talked about it before, but a lot of things that go on in the modern horror genre really are a turn-off for me.  I want humans to win in the end.  I want the monster to be defeated.  That is  very, very important to me. There’s been an unfortunate trend in recent years where the people are doomed, the zombies are going to win and the only point to the movie or the TV show or the book is to put off the inevitable extinction of the human species for a few more days.  Why would I want to read that?

It doesn’t necessarily mean that the heroes in the story have to survive at the end though.  I watched John Carpenter’s 1982 remake of The Thing the other night and I think that’s one of the top 10 best horror films I’ve ever seen.  It hits all of the bases.  It’s got a moderately realistic monster, it sets up the situation well and in the end, while we’re supposed to be left wondering if the monster really died, both MacReady and Childs sit in the snow waiting to freeze to death, with the understanding that they’ve saved the world from alien takeover.  It’s very dark, it’s very depressing, nobody survives and you’re not even positive that the alien isn’t going to go dormant in the snow and still take over the world when the rescue crew shows up in the spring, but there’s a certain hope that these twelve men have, through their sacrifice, saved the world, even if you never know for certain that it’s so.  Take that and compare it to a movie like Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, where the characters spend the whole movie fighting the zombies, finally getting to an island where they’re supposedly safe, only to find that the island is overrun with zombies and they all die.  The end.  Um… what?  Why did I just waste two hours of my life on that depressing crap?

Every book I read, every movie I watch, I want to feel like the people are going to win in the end, that they are going to improve their situation, that they are going to be better off than they were when they started.  It might not be a huge improvement and I certainly don’t want any utopias, but moving forward, even incrementally, is what I’m looking for.  It’s such a shame that so many movies today, especially in the horror genre, but in most genres to a certain degree, only want to show the most dark, dank, awful future possible, one where people are destined to fail, where everyone is going to die and where the bad guys, be it a criminal or a monster, is going to win in the end.

Someone please explain where the positive outcome is in that!

I Know How to Piss Off Collectors

Inverted Jenny
Why not take credit for an error?

There was a thread on a stamp collecting forum lately where collectors were gushing over the place the Post Office had in American history and how we all ought to be thankful for the job that they’re still doing.  It all started with a graphic put up by the Post Office, bragging about all the things they’ve done.  Of course, it doesn’t tell the whole story.  It says they made $65 billion in 2012, what they conveniently forget to mention is that they lost $1.3 billion in just the first quarter of 2013 alone.  The Post Office operates at a loss, it fails to cover it’s own operating costs to the tune of $14 million dollars per day.  They claim not to take any tax money and a lot of those losses are on paper only, but shortfalls have to come from somewhere and when they have legitimate losses, that money has to be made up, it doesn’t come from thin air.

Then they point out how many U.S. stamps are valuable, but they don’t bother to realize that all of the stamps they list are over 95 years old and the most valuable U.S. stamp on their list is an *ERROR*!  Yes, they’re trying to take credit for a mistake that they made.  Of course, we realize that value, in general, is a product of rarity and because the 1918 inverted Jenny was a single sheet of 100, it’s going to be very valuable.  The fact remains that there are very few modern expensive issues because they’re just released in far too massive quantities.

Next:  charity!  Except the figures taken in by semi-postals are misleading at best.  There are only two semi-postals that have been issued since 1998 and, on average, they bring in 10 cents per stamp for the charitable cause.  $76 million raised for breast cancer research might sound like a lot, but that’s spread over the course of 25 years so far, it’s a mere $3.04 million raised per year, a squirt of piss in the $6 billion breast cancer research industry raised each and every year.  Somehow I see this as a complete failure of the program, certainly if anyone was impressed with it, they would have released more charitable semi-postals over the years.  If they want to help charities, the Post Office could donate half-a-cent from every one of the 27 billion stamps sold every year in the United States and donate $135 million dollars to the charity of their choice each and every year.  Come on guys, what you’re doing is less than impressive.

Then, they talk about commemorative stamps and how many they sell.  You’ll notice that almost all of them are recent issues, dating from the time that the Post Office has been whoring stamp designs to collectors.  They produce tons and tons of individual stamps and most of them never sell.  There was a recent story that the Post Office got stuck with 682 million Simpsons stamps that they had to destroy because they couldn’t get rid of them.  Of their list, only a single large volume stamp (actually a collection of 50 stamps), made in 1992, was produced before I stopped collecting new U.S. issues.

One thing I skipped over, on purpose, was their little whine that 66% of Americans have access to e-mail and that’s only going to rise in the future.  Yes, much of the purpose of the Post Office is going to go away entirely in the very near future, in fact, their mainstay business, sending letters, has largely evaporated already.  I don’t see this as a bad thing.  Oh sure, for postal employees it certainly is, but every industry has to deal with reality and technology marches relentlessly onward.  Trying to cling to how it used to be is generally pointless.  I wouldn’t mind if daily mail service went away entirely, the overwhelming majority of crap I get in the mail is junk anyhow, it all gets dumped in the recycling bin before it reaches the house.  Virtually all bills are electronic these days, there are only a few companies that still send paper bills and there isn’t a single bill now that isn’t paid online.  We very rarely buy stamps anymore, we might buy a book or two a year and that’s really limited to sending out birthday cards and the like.  I can’t tell you the last time I stepped foot inside a post office except to pick up a package and even that’s rare.  As I said on the stamp forum, if every post office vanished tomorrow, I probably wouldn’t notice.

But wait, what about the stamps?  Surely as a stamp collector, that matters, right?  Not at all because I gave up on the United States Postal Service decades ago when it became clear that they were whoring themselves to the collector market, putting out hundreds of designs per year, not because the American people demanded it, but because they thought they could make a buck selling bits of colored paper to collectors.  They aren’t even attractive bits of colored paper, it’s something that a 4-year old could create in Microsoft Paint in a few seconds.  What’s the point when you have ugly stamps, created only to make a buck and appeal to a tiny demographic who want some event or person immortalized on a sticky-backed square?  No thanks, I’ll pass.

stamps-5Besides, there’s a whole world of stamps out there to collect, it’s not like anyone will ever run out.  In just the first century of stamp production, between 1840-1940, over 90,000 stamps were issued worldwide.  That number more than quadruples if  you add in the next 60 years alone, to a total of 527,628 stamps.  It really gets absurd when you think about it, virtually all countries produce more and more and more stamps every single year, some of them just flood the market to make money.  Take Liberia, for instance, which issued 771 stamps in just the year 2000 alone.  That year, 17,836 were released worldwide, with a face value of $8,876.   In 2009, there were 15 countries that issued more than $200 in face value stamps, to buy a complete worldwide set at catalog value would cost $35,050.  Does anyone have over $35k to spend on stamps each and every year, not to mention getting older stamps?  Not many people, I’m sure.

Maybe it’s time to accept the eventual extinction of the postal service.  It’s fighting a losing battle anyhow, it’s hemorrhaging money and the signs clearly show that it’s only going to get worse.  Why are we wasting so much money on a service largely dedicated to delivering a daily dose of spam to our mailboxes?  Get everyone on e-mail and stop pretending that paper-mail makes much sense in the modern era.  There are plenty of companies out there to deliver our packages and if the USPS wants to become competitive and do that, more power to them.  I just don’t see why we should continue to do something that’s useless and financially wasteful, just because it’s in the Constitution.

And I don’t even mind if my stamp-collecting brethren hate me for saying so.

Jamestown Stamp Company: Geez, These People are Dumb!

facepalm
You can’t be this dumb!

You know, I’ve written before about how stupid the Jamestown Stamp Company is.  I collect stamps and I used to take their approvals, it was interesting to see what they’d send and I bought a lot from them, even though they were clearly overpriced.  I had sent them want lists of things that I was interested in receiving, I was very specific about what quality I wanted (mint only) and even specific lists of what I’d be happy to buy from them.  However, it became painfully clear that they were just sending whatever crap they had laying around the office, they weren’t even making an attempt to fill my requests and, as I said, I could just buy all of it cheaper online, so I told them to stop sending, it’s been nice doing business but I’m through.

The problem is, they just keep sending things!  I’m not talking once or twice, I’m talking about 5-6 times now!  I got yet another one today!

This is not some screw-up in their computer system, this is not some technical error, this is on purpose.  They keep sending me these letters that way “please reconsider and come back to us!”  The one I got today says:

We have enclosed a Special Gift just for you as a valued past customer.  There are NO STRINGS attached to this gift.

Yup, you’re right, since I not only didn’t ask you to send it in the first place, and in fact have asked you several times to stop sending things, there are no strings.  I am not going to be returning your free gift, with an attached bill for $27.  I have no legal, moral or ethical requirement to pander to your abject stupidity.  It’s not only an unsolicited product, but a product I have specifically, on several occasions, told you to stop sending me!  Thanks for the free gifts, keep it up.

Or don’t.  See, the problem is, they’re still sending the same old crap that I didn’t want in the first place, that made me cancel their service to begin with.  It’s piles of crappy old overpriced used stamps that I wouldn’t put in my collection if  you paid me.  Maybe if they’d send me something I had actually asked for, it would be different.  I might even pay them for it, but no, it’s cheap garbage that I have no use for and this has been going on for over a year now.  Every time I get one, I say to myself “they can’t be stupid enough to send another one when they don’t get this back” but invariably, they do!  I’m sure this won’t be the last time either.

Seriously, if you’re going to be giving away your inventory, at least have the decency to send something I want, or something valuable enough that makes it worth my while to sell.  I just added this to the large pile of other crap you’ve sent and thrown away the bill.  Keep it up.  I don’t mind fleecing idiots whatsoever.

Strange Conversations at Conventions about Non-Sport Cards

GPK_8a_adambombI ran into someone I knew from way, way back at Wondercon and  got to talk to him for a couple of minutes.  He’s a non-sports card dealer, although he didn’t have a booth this year, he was just attending the show.  Many, many, many years ago, both my wife and I collected non-sports cards, back in the day of dusty bubble gum stuck in the pack and a few printed cardboard rectangles came out of a pack for a dime or a quarter.  It was a lot of fun while it lasted, at least until the industry got taken over in the 90s by companies with holograms and other gimmicks who introduced artificial rarity as a means of upping sales, pushing the price-per-pack to a couple of bucks each and, in a lot of ways, ushering in the age of the Collectible Card Game (CCG).  We talked about how many people lost their shirt in the madness of the 90s, when they were spending tons of money on cards that would ultimately be worthless.  Today, full sets of cards issued in the 90s can be had for a couple of bucks.  He said he finds it interesting that companies are trying to recapture the classic nostalgia of old cards with the release of retro sets like Garbage Pail Kids and Wacky Packs.

Of course, that got me thinking.  While the new cards may not be worth much, I do have a complete set of the first 15 series, plus all variations, and those are worth a decent price, if I ever decided to sell.  The first set alone, which I have in perfect condition, all variations, in both glossy and matte backs, sells for almost $500.  The price for all 15 sets is around $1300.  Add in the UK 1st series and the Giant Size cards and it’s up to $1600.  Not bad for a bunch of cardboard.

star-wars-1Or heck, how about the original Star Wars cards.  I’ve got all of those too.  They put out five different series with differently colored borders in 1977.  Each set came with 66 cards and 11 stickers, it was always the stickers that were the biggest problem to get in mint condition because kids would… well, stick them on things.  A complete set of all five series goes for over $300 today.  Of course, Topps put out multiple sets for Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi as well and for all 10 sets, which I have, you’re looking at about $600.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t long until the goofy gimmick cards came along.  I remember the first set of Star Wars Galaxy cards, where it seemed that the regular cards were almost an afterthought.  You had promos and foil cards and redemption cards and hologram cards and prism cards, all of which were ridiculously rare.  Getting a full set by buying packs was virtually impossible unless you were buying cases and cases of cards, a lot of them were packed 1 to a case.  In fact, it was this kind of thing that made collecting cards no fun.  You knew you were getting screwed without lube and the only rational way to collect cards was to go buy them as complete sets, which made the hobby little more than a credit card exercise.  There was no point in hunting for cards, you just shelled out a ton of money for a complete set all at once.

So I looked around the convention at the few booths that were selling cards and realized that most of them were either selling sets from the 70s and 80s or they were selling more recent sets for a couple of bucks each.  How much money did they lose when they realized that those overpriced cases of cards, with all the hours it took to open and sort them, essentially amounted to a few dollars?  I’d be pissed!

We no longer collect cards, it was fun while it lasted but once companies got greedy, or thought that they could get greedy on the backs of collectors, the market largely fell apart.  Whereas most popular movies had a set of cards come out with it, today, I doubt that more than a handful, if that, ever do.  I don’t know that I saw any new sets, or to be honest, any non-CCG cards sold in packs at the convention.  I guess this is just another reminder of another hobby that we once had that’s gone to hell because the people involved lost sight of what made it fun in the first place.

Wondercon Day 3

Zombie Jesus Day Deadpool
Happy Zombie Jesus Day!

Well, it’s all over.  Three days of Wondercon behind us and we had a great time.  Yesterday, the religious lunatics that I wrote about on the first day were gone, but today, they were back, although in smaller numbers.  Oh well, I thought, at least there are only two of them instead of a dozen, but when I went outside, we had Deadpool Jesus and his “Happy Zombie Jesus Day” sign standing right next to the religious nutters.  It was hysterical.  Deadpool was carrying an Easter basket and giving away little bottles of bubbles and the whole area was covered with bubbles for a while.  In fact, I noticed a good deal of sacrilegious cosplay today, there were a couple of people dressed as Jesus.  One guy was disco Jesus with a big afro and sparkly glasses.  I saw at least two Buddy Christ’s, I thought it would have been funny to get them outside with the faith crazies, but, at least while I was out there, it didn’t happen.  Again, pretty much everyone just ignored the nutballs, which is a good thing.

Today, I finally got to get into the convention floor for a while and my suspicions from the first day were confirmed.  It just wasn’t that big.  I could walk the entire convention floor and look at any dealers I was interested in, which frankly wasn’t a lot, in about an hour.  Comicon, even on the days with the lightest crowds, took 5-6 hours to do a sweep.  Now granted, some of that was my fault, so much of what they had at the convention, I wasn’t interested in.  Since I don’t really Batman & Wonder Womancollect action figures anymore, I initially didn’t look at those booths, although in the end, I did buy two things that filled holes in my existing collection, just because it was a good price.  But let’s talk about prices.  By and large, they sucked.  There were cases where someone had something I needed, but not at the price they were charging.  Plus, I’ve got a real serious bugaboo about vendors who do not price their merchandise so  you have to go ask what everything costs.  Put a tag on it so we know what it costs, not your “I’ll make some shit up on the spot” pricing.  There were some figures that I would have bought, that at retail within the past 6 months went for $8.99 each.  I’d have paid $10.  I might have paid $15 if I really  wanted it.  No price tags.  I asked and the guy wouldn’t commit to a price, he said “oh, I can probably sell them to you for between $20 and $30…”  No, for that price, I’ll tell you what you can do with them.  And this is Sunday, the day everyone is making deals so they don’t have to drag all this crap home with them!  While I did pick up a couple of things here and there, I didn’t come anywhere remotely close to my “budget” for the con.  I can come home, hop online and buy it for 1/2 the price, including shipping.  Heck, there are figures they were selling for $20 each that I could literally walk out of the convention center, drive a couple of blocks to Walmart, and buy off the pegs for $5.88.  That was really, really disappointing.

Mickey Vader
When Disney Owns Too Many Properties

You want to know what else was disappointing?  We went to a panel this morning for Boom Comics.  My wife is a reviewer of children’s books and comics and this was supposed to be their “all ages” panel discussion.  We showed up, the people who were giving the panel didn’t.  No, I don’t mean they were late, I mean they just never showed up.  Never called.  Never let anyone know they weren’t coming.  Nothing.  There were a couple of people who worked at Boom who just happened to be in the room and they jumped up and held an impromptu Q&A session to entertain the crowd so it wasn’t a complete loss, but this was supposed to be a panel where they were doing major announcements for popular new properties and… nothing.

Hopefully those people don’t have jobs on Monday.

Afterwards, we hung around outside and talked to people and the rumors, entirely unconfirmed at this time, are that Wondercon Anaheim has been so tremendously successful, even more so than the 27 years they’ve done it in San Francisco, that even if they do move the con back up north, they will keep Wondercon Anaheim as a permanent convention.  I really hope that they do.  Last year I gave a list of things they should do better this year and, while I think they made some traction on the list, they didn’t accomplish all of them by any means so let’s look at what they did and did not improve.

1.  Lack of signing.  While they did improve (except for parking signage on the first day), it isn’t enough.  They really need to work on their signage so people know where to go and what to do.  Even more important though:

2.  Organization.  They have none.  Or at least, they haven’t passed on their organization to the rent-a-cop security types that they have keeping order.  The security team just does whatever the hell they want because nobody has told them different, they just randomly reorganize lines, then move them back… someone needs to tell these idiots what to do because clearly, they don’t know.

3.  Busses weren’t an issue this year, but they need to work out parking.  They have six separate lots at the convention center, plus they had two overflow lots.  They didn’t seem to have much of a plan how to tell people what lots to park in and honestly, some of the lots were really far away from the convention center.  Either get them all close or find a big lot they can use somewhere (stadium parking worked fine last year), have the majority of people park there and bus them in.

4.  It could still be bigger and significantly so.  Clearly, it is growing and successful, so why do they leave some portions of the floor space they are paying for unused?  They could have put in another 50 dealers if they had just used all of the halls they had available.  Now who knows, maybe nobody else wanted to come, but if that was the case, they should have made all the aisles wider to avoid the convention crushes.  It made no sense to have 10% of the space in one hall completely empty, no carpet, no nothing.

5.  Stuff is still missing.  They have added a couple of things that I complained about last year, but they weren’t done well.  They did have a con suite of sorts, but when we tried to go there on Friday, we were told it doesn’t open until 7pm.  What’s the point of only opening the con suite when the convention is closed?  They did have an anime room this year, they did have an open gaming area this year and while they didn’t have an actual art show, I suppose that kind of thing just doesn’t matter anymore.

6.  I don’t think it’s too short anymore.  Now granted, I’m getting older and that might have a lot to do with it, but by the end of every day, I was in agony, I could hardly walk, hell, I could hardly move.  Then, I had to get up the next morning and do it all over again.  When I was young, I used to go to a 4-day con and just stay up for 4 days straight, no problem.  Now, 3-days just about kills me.  I seriously gave consideration to not going back today, although I’m glad I did.

Farewell Wondercon, come on back next year, maybe take a couple of suggestions to heart and you can be sure I’ll be there again.

Wondercon Day 2

Wondercon Crowd
One of the least crowded sections of the convention floor

Wow, I’m getting too old for this shit.  That’s really how it feels after long, long day after long, long day at a convention.  It just never stops!  As I said yesterday, this was the big day, the only day out of the three that was sold out in pre-registration, so I was really worried that it would be awful.  And… it was, but not as bad as I thought it might be.  There were moments where, like at Comicon, you were wedged in tight by a mass of human bodies and literally could not take a step in any direction until the gridlock loosened, but it wasn’t like that every step of the convention floor like it is at Comicon.  That’s the primary reason I don’t go to Comicon anymore.  We met a friend there and we were thinking that the Wondercon crowd from last year was sort of like Comicon circa ’92-93.  This year, it was closer to Comicon circa ’96-97, right after Hollywood started showing up.

Yesterday, I spoke primarily about panels we attended, but today, there weren’t that many we were going to go to and the first one, we couldn’t get into anyhow.  It wasn’t really our fault though, the convention was so crowded that it expanded into overflow parking and the streets were all stuffed.  It literally took 45 minutes to move 2 blocks and the convention, smart people that they are, instead of having a sign saying “Turn here for overflow parking!” put the sign a block down the road that said “Do a U-turn here and go back a block!”  Keep in mind this is directly in front of Disneyland right as it’s opening and you can imagine the zoo.  Therefore, when we got to the convention and headed straight up to the largest ballroom in the place, the line to get in was absurd.  There were at least 4-5x as many people in line as could fit in the ballroom so most people couldn’t get in.  Ah well.  It gave us time to get downstairs and try to attack the dealer’s room.

Deadpool Dress
Because psychopaths belong in dresses.

I said try.  However, due to the crowds, I couldn’t take the pictures I wanted to and getting to most booths was difficult if not impossible so I’m going to put that off until tomorrow when it should be much quieter.  Today though, I want to talk about the cosplaying.  For those not in the know, or for fuddyduddys like me who grew up before the anime revolution, cosplaying, or just costuming, is dressing up like your favorite TV/movie/comic/anime/whatever character.  While I’ve never really been into it, I guess you could say I did it a couple of times in the past at various places, but some people really get into it.  Here’s a guy dressed as Deadpool wearing a dress.  If you don’t know about Deadpool, that’s probably a good thing, save your sanity.  Yes, he actually did that in the comics too.

Cosplay has become a really, really, really serious thing and if you’ve ever been to a comics or sci-fi/fantasy convention, it’s everywhere.  If I had to estimate, I’d say that between 30-35% of convention attendees have some level of costuming accessory going on, but some go all out and wear full body, often Marvel Lineup 1professional-quality costumes and when these people get together at conventions, it can be really amazing to see.

This is a small part of a Marvel Superhero lineup that must have had 60-70 cosplayers dressed in Marvel outfits, getting ready to pose in front of the convention center all at once.  Some of the costumes were really amazing and clearly cost thousands of dollars to build, many complete with elaborate electronic setups.  Some, unfortunately, were not.  That’s a pet peeve of mine.

See, maybe it’s just me, but I guess I’m somewhat of a perfectionist in some ways.  Well, maybe that’s not the right word for it, it doesn’t have to be perfect, but if you’re going to build a costume and take it out in public to be seen by thousands of people and you’re not 12, at least take some pride in your craftsmanship and do your absolute best in making the costume that you can.  It doesn’t have to be absurdly expensive, but if you’re going to make a costume, at least pretend you care what it looks like at the end!  There’s a case in point but I had just put my camera away when he walked by so I didn’t get a picture so I’ll try my best to describe it.  The guy was trying to be Beast from the X-Men, he had done a really, really, really bad blue bodypaint job, you could clearly see lots of places that were just not painted at all, he was wearing a filthy labcoat, those cheesy plastic vampire teeth and had hung a piece of blue carpet around his neck that covered his chest, I suppose for a “furry” effect.  It looked like something he had thrown together in about 20 minutes.  Pal, you knew the convention was coming up, why wait until the last minute?  That kind of thing drives me crazy.

Wondercon Humans
My daughter “Jade” is in there somewhere.

And speaking of making costumes, my youngest daughter decided she wanted  to go today as Jade from the online comic Homestuck.  We had put together the costume for a Halloween party last year so it wasn’t hard to recreate and we already knew that there were a lot of Homestuck characters walking around the con.  We just didn’t realize how many.  In fact, we started to see a ton of people in Homestuck costumes heading a certain way so we followed them and found a massive photoshoot and meet for Homestuck cosplayers.  How many?  Hundreds.  And they’re all stupid.  Seriously, they were putting together photoshoots for all of the different character types in the comic and the rules for the cosplayers were simple.  Come in from the left.  Center yourselves around the pole you see above.  Pose for 10 seconds so people can take pictures.  Exit to the right.  Now keep in mind there are tons of different groups doing this, at least 40 different groups, yet *NONE* of them could come in from the left, none of them could find the damn pole and absolutely none of them could figure out how to exit to the right.  Every single group, without exception, went right back to the left where they interfered with the next group trying to line up.  Thank you to the American educational system.

Rainbow Dash Dog
My Little Poodle

Finally, it wasn’t just people who were dressing up, we found this one example of someone who dressed up their poodle as Rainbow Dash from My Little Pony (don’t ask me how or why I would know such a thing, it’s a long, painful story).  Immediately, I’m telling my wife we need to shave our cats and dye them different colors.

Hey, it sounded like a good idea to me!

The last thing we did for the day was to attend the 35th Anniversary panel for Elfquest, something my wife has read since it started, but I’m really not into, it’s far too much high-fantasy for me.  Still, it was nice to see Wendy Pini, I haven’t run into her for a couple of years, although it was sad that Richard couldn’t make it to the convention this year.

All in all, it was a fun day, although I’m absolutely exhausted and we still have another day to go!

Wondercon Day 1

Wondercon Front ViewI’ll be honest, there were some good things and some bad things about this years’s Wondercon.  I suppose that’s inevitable, everything isn’t going to be perfect, no matter where you go, but there were some things they did very right and some things they did, and will probably continue to do very wrong.  I’ll start with the good.

We spend most of the first day in panels, it is, by far, our most panel-heavy day that we’re going to have, which I suppose is good as it gets a lot of them out of the way early on.  The panels we attended were excellent and I had a lot of fun in them.

The first one was on teaching with comics, it was an educational panel, part of their Comics Arts Conference track.  It was a discussion of how teachers can get comics into the classroom and use them to both increase the educational effectiveness of a class and to interest students into reading sequential and comic art.  The room was packed with teachers and future-teachers and it was an interesting discussion on how, even at the highest levels and even with the most complex topics, some comic writer has created a story based on old mythology, classical literature, etc.

What You Believe
The front of the shirt says: “I Teach Science”

However, the one thing I got a real kick out of was an older gentleman who sat in front of me who wore this shirt.  The front of the shirt said “I Teach Science” and you can see what it said on the back.  That’s one thing that I really feel about these conventions, they really attract a skeptical audience.  Yes, there are some religious groups at the convention, and in fact, I’ll look at one of them in a minute, but overall, the vibe that I get is generally non-religious and definitely skeptical.

It’s funny because on the way to and from the convention, my wife and I were listening to a podcast that Grundy over at Deity Shmeity turned me on to, Geeks Without God.  It takes the best of the geeky podcasts I listen to and the best of the atheist podcasts I listen to and smashes them all together.  It’s really hysterical stuff and each episode is only a half hour long so it’s easy to squeeze into whatever free time you happen to have.  I highly recommend it, they’ve got 36 episodes out so far and we got through the first 5 while on the road.  Thanks again Grundy!

Bible NutsAs for that religious group, and honestly, I have no idea why the hell this seems to happen at every single comic or sci-fi convention I go to, you had these retards hanging out in front.  It wasn’t just one guy, they must have had a good dozen people holding these signs, some of them were young kids during school hours.  They were all trying to engage anyone passing by and, almost without exception, people were not very happy to have them around.  Most ignored them completely, I flung a healthy amount of four-letter invectives their way every time I passed one, although most of them were clearly so religiously-addled they probably didn’t hear or understand me.  To be honest, I find the whole point of the sign ridiculous, we all die, sinner or not.  What difference does it make?  I watched these morons stand out in the middle of the street for years at Comicon, screaming through bullhorns until the cops carted them off, exactly what makes them so concerned for the souls of people attending comic conventions.

Oh yeah, my previous comments on the non-religious and skeptical…

Strong to the Finish
An Embarrassing Fact About Popeye

Regardless, our second panel is a yearly tradition at Wondercon, we go to the Quick Draw panel where they get cartoonists who quick-draw funny pictures as suggested by the audience and the moderator.  This year, they had Scott Shaw!, Jeff Smith, who created Bone and Bobby London, who created Dirty Duck and did the Popeye newspaper strip for years.  Some of the topics for this year, multiple instances of “What if X and Y had children?”, “Draw the best and worst picture of yourself” and the funny “There was controversy on The Bible because some said the devil looked like the President.  Show us what the devil really looks like!”  This has been ongoing for many years and there are many different cartoonists usually involved.  This is the second year in a row that Sergio Aragones has not been there, last year he was sick and in the hospital, although they called him from the convention and this year, he’s just had an artificial hip installed and wasn’t up to the trip.  I wish him a speedy recovery.

The final panel, although I have no pictures of it, was on Science in Science Fiction, it was very interesting to see how close a lot of modern-day science is to some of today’s speculative fiction.  In a lot of ways, it reminds me of a panel that Robert Forward used to do at Loscon many, many years ago.  Artificial intelligence, bio-engineering, prosthetics, etc. were all discussed in relation to many of the films and TV shows that are on the air today, geeks are just getting more and more savvy and it’s getting harder to tell science fiction stories without including the technology that is a common place part of our every-day lives.  I love living in the future.

We were going to hang around and watch the world premiere of the new episode of Dr. Who, it showed a full day before it’s premiere in the UK, but honestly, we were just too tired and hungry and if there was any event in the place that would be packed to the gills, that would be it.  Ah well, I’ll just see it in the comfort of my living room on Monday night.

But I said there were some bad things too, right?  Unfortunately that’s true.  Last year I wrote a bit on what they did wrong in their first year in Anaheim, as well as the hope that it was just growing pains and they’d figure it out for this year.  Well… not so much.

First off, they didn’t do parking at the Anaheim Stadium this year, which I suppose was both good and bad.  Last year, Wondercon shared the convention center with a cheerleading convention, this year, it has the whole place to itself, so all of the parking is on-site.  They said on their website that there would be plenty of signage directing people to whichever of the six lots were available.  They lied.  No signage at all.  In fact, instead of having all six lots open, they tried to funnel everyone through a single entrance and it took forever to park.  Then, we got in to pick up our badges and it took FOREVER!  Remember, we’re in professional registration, the lines are short, but unlike San Diego Comicon where they have scanners and computer systems, here everything is done by hand.  No clue why since it’s all run by the same company, presumably with access to the same equipment.  We stood in a relatively short line for more than 45 minutes to get to the front, have them manually look up every name on a list, etc.  Come on guys, join the 21st century.

And, just like last year, there was no communication between the convention staff and the convention center  staff.  One would arbitrarily decide to move a line somewhere, only to be followed up by someone else who would simply decide to move it somewhere else a few minutes later.  We spent more time moving around and waiting for things than we did sitting in some panels.  Honestly, this can’t be that difficult!  It isn’t like the convention center isn’t used to having a ton of people at their center, it shouldn’t be beyond them to know where to have people stand.

That was maybe the biggest disappointment though… the people.  We stopped going to San Diego Comicon specifically because it was so absurdly overcrowded.  It was wall-to-wall people every second of the day, you could never stop and look at anything, much less buy anything because there was a never-ending tidal wave of human flesh sweeping you along.  Today felt just like that.  Much of the time, I felt packed in like a sardine in a can and it’s not just that there were a lot of people, but that there were a lot of STUPID people.  These are people who are either ignorant of basic human interaction, or just don’t care.  I mean people who will stop in the middle of an aisle, blocking traffic both ways, and talk.  They have no concept of getting the hell out of the way.  Perhaps the stupidest example were the two morons who were ahead of us on the down escalator, who decided to stop the second they got off the escalator and have a discussion, blocking the exit to the escalator.  Asshats, it’s not like the people on the escalator can stop, they’re coming down whether you like it or not!  Unfortunately, that’s something that I see all the time, people who either don’t know enough, or don’t care enough, to think about the people around them.  They’re far too self-centered to be bothered.  That’s not a Wondercon problem, that’s a modern human being problem.

And so, that’s the end of day one, tomorrow we don’t have a lot of panels to see so I can get in and really see the dealer’s room.  Hopefully the crowd won’t be too absurdly bad, but I fear it will be.  It’s the only day of the con that is completely sold out. Wish me luck!

Diary of a Fanboy: Pet Edition

CrowFrameI was thinking, for some reason, about pet names, probably in regard to the puppy that I’m going to have coming home in a couple of weeks, and I realized that fannish people are typically not likely to name their pets the standard Spot or Fluffy that are overdone to death.  In fact, most of the people I know who are collectors or fans of science fiction, fantasy and related genres tend to come up with creative or unusual pet names, often based on the very movies, books or comics that they enjoy so much.  I realized that I’ve done that for years so I decided, maybe it might be an interesting idea to present a couple of my current pets with unusual names, that come from books or movies or TV shows.  So here goes.

To the left is my 2-year old yellow-sided green-cheek conure, one of several birds I have.  If you listen to the podcast, you might occasionally hear him making noise in the background, although I try my hardest to edit that out.  He’s a very smart bird, he speaks a few words and phrases here and there, but his real expertise lies in mimicking sounds.  He seriously thinks he’s a cockatiel, his best friends are two cockatiels belonging to my daughters and he calls for them, in their “language” all the time.  They carry on “conversations” and apparently, he knows what they’re saying and he knows the reverse.  He can also “meow” like a cat, do a perfect version of the doorbell, and, to my eternal regret, my kids have taught him to bob his head while saying “derp” over and over.  If you have no idea where his name came from, his full name is Crow T. Conure, which is a reference to the Mystery Science 3000 character Crow T. Robot.

CrookshanksFrameNext comes a cat, the only to currently have a fannish name, but it’s clear where it comes from.  We got him just after Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban came out in book form, back in 1999 and while the cat that portrayed him in the movies isn’t that similar looking (and it’s damn ugly IMO), Crookie is a big, fat, happy 13 year old cat that, for some weird reason, loves sticking his face in shoes.

He spent the first 5-6 years with us afraid of everything.  I have no idea what his life was like before we got him but he hated everything and everyone in the house.  I can’t imagine it had time to be too horrible, we got him at 3-4 months of age, but he hissed at all the other cats, ran from the dogs and hid from us, he’d only come out when nobody was watching and if you tried to pick him up, he’d scratch you.  Luckily, over time he’s mellowed to the point that he likes being pet, he purrs up a storm and he at least tolerates all the other animals in the house.  I don’t know that he’ll ever be a lap cat, you can put him in your lap and as long as  you pay complete attention to him, he might stick around for a few minutes, but unlike most of the other cats, he won’t seek you out and, except to go ears-deep in your shoes, won’t even lie down close to someone.  That’s alright, he’s a good cat anyhow

MistyFrameNext, we get two dogs whose names go together.  I found them wandering down our road about 4 years ago, it was clear that they were used to being together, although I have no idea if they got thrown out of the same home or if they found each other on the streets.  We never intended to keep them, I just wanted to nurse them back to health and find them good homes, but they were such good dogs, that very soon, they won our hearts.  They were terrified and clearly had been abused.  Misty, on the left, had his tail broken and it had healed badly and Scarlet, on the right, had his tongue split at some time in the past.  Both were loaded with fleas and ticks, both were covered in scabs, malnourished and terrified.  In fact, Misty still is, even after 4 years of nothing but love, if anyone raises their voice, he runs and hides, if you lift your hand around him, he cowers, hopefully over the years, this will eventually go away.  However, Misty is, by far, the most loving dog I have ever had.  He wants to be around you all the time.  He wants to live in your lap.  He wants your attention constantly.  He will jump up in your lap, roll over on his back and go to sleep like a baby.  If we let him sleep with us, he is the only animal in the house that will curl up under the covers and sleep the night through.  My wife calls him pathetic.  I think he’s a fantastic dog.  As near as we can figure, he’s a beagle/corgi mix, he’s got all the classic beagle traits, plus super-short legs and a tail that wags up and down instead of side to side.

ScarletFrameOn the right though is Scarlet.  He’s a full-blood American Cocker Spaniel and, aside from his split tongue and a couple of scars, he’s in very good shape.  I’d say that of the two, he was the worst off, he had an injury under his left eye when we got him that had almost swollen his eye shut and that, if you know where to look, you can still see a crease around his eye where it was forced closed.  That said though, he’s full of energy, too much energy sometimes, and always wants to be the center of attention.  Whatever happened to him before we got him, he’s long since forgotten all about it.  Cockers are supposed to be smart and he is, but he’s got the attention span of a lima bean.  That said, he’s fully trained, unlike Misty, he can sit, stay, come and beg on command, although if you tell him to stay, he’ll do it until you stop looking, then forget what he was supposed to be doing.

So, why are their names fannish?  When we got them, I wanted names that fit the dogs and that went together.  It wasn’t too hard to come up with the combination, especially when you look at Misty’s forehead.  Yes, these two are Captain Scarlet and Mysterion, from the 1960s Supermarionation series from England, although in reality, it was probably more based upon my recent viewing of the 2005 updated New Captain Scarlet.

TorgoFrameAnd finally, the patriarch of the house, the oldest dog we have.  He’s a chihuahua mix, although I have no idea what he’s mixed with.  Of all of the animals I’ve discussed, he’s the only one to be taken directly out of an animal shelter (the rest were off the street or from a breeder).  Back around 2006, I had a small cocker/doxie mix dog that died of old age and while thinking about a new dog to get, I decided that instead of some of the larger dogs I had owned, I wanted something small.  Ideally, I was thinking of a small chihuahua, although not one of the yippy teacup varieties, and started looking at local shelters.  Nobody had anything close to what I was looking for. We were even in a raffle at one shelter for a single, injured, chihuahua, where several dozen people were fighting over her.  We lost, but that’s fine because right after, I ran into this dog at my local shelter.  He was an older dog, they estimated around 8, but he was friendly and happy and loving so I took him.  He was a bit off breed standards, if you know what I mean.  Only one of his hears goes up.  His tail curls to the right.  However, he was a really, really sweet dog and we’ve had him for around 7 years now.  He’s gotten beaten up because of the typical chihuahua attitude and has the scars to prove it, but he’s still happy, healthy and feisty.  His name?  It came from an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, from the movie Manos: The Hands of Fate, where a bumbling villain with comically large knees aids his supernatural master in gaining victims for his cult.  It was actually a fluke that he came to be named that, we couldn’t agree what to name him, everyone was just throwing out names and I said, as a joke, “how about Torgo?”  It just stuck.  Unfortunately, full-blooded chihuahuas live 10-18 years and he’s right in the middle of that range.  He’s no longer as spry as he once was and I know that one of these days, his time will come, which is why…

Yes, we decided to adopt another chihuahua.  Normally we wouldn’t do it until he was gone, but this opportunity fell into our lap and we decided we’d be happy to take  care of another dog.  We have no idea what her name will be, yes, it is a girl, we won’t even get her until at least the last half of March and certainly won’t start thinking of names until we know her personality.  I’m sure that a bunch of fannish names will be suggested though, we’ll keep the tradition going, as we have for many dogs and cats that we’ve had throughout the years.  It makes life with pets a little more fun.

Being a Rational Skeptic: The Hobby Edition

Planet RationalI’ve spoken at length about being a skeptic, as opposed to just being skeptical about a few sundry subjects.  We even dedicated a segment to it on our podcast, The Bitchspot Report.  I made it very clear that you can differentiate between someone who is skeptical, that applies logic and reason to one or to several areas of their lives, and someone who is a skeptic, who applies those logical rules to every aspect of their life without exception.  I definitely fall into the latter.

However, I find that most people simply cannot manage it, they cannot maintain their skepticism full time.  Hell, for a lot of people, they cannot even maintain it a small percentage of the time.  Nowhere is this more plain to me than when it comes to hobbies.  I know I’ve talked about some of these things before, but not from this particular angle, so please bear with me.

Collecting: Stamps – It really doesn’t matter what you collect, it seems, there are always complaints about how it’s produced, how much it costs, how hard it is to find, etc.  Take U.S. postage stamps for example.  Everyone always complains how many stamps are released each and every year, the USPS releases even more stamps than the year before.  In 2013, for example, they’ve already either released or announced for release in the first quarter, more than 100 face-different stamps, making 2013 almost certainly the history-leader in number of different stamps to be issued.  Why?  Certainly it isn’t for the envelope-mailing public, it is aimed specifically at the collector market and designed to bring in more revenue for the nearly bankrupt USPS.  Collectors everywhere complain long and loud about how expensive it is to collect U.S. stamps and condemn the USPS for their tactics,  yet they refuse to consider the obvious solution to the problem:  stop collecting new U.S. postage stamps!  In fact, not only do they refuse to consider it, they refuse, by and large, to even talk about the possibility.  The moment the idea even comes up, conversation virtually stops.  The very idea of not mindlessly buying everything that comes out, no matter how ugly, overpriced or overproduced it is, it’s like suggesting sawing the head off their cat.  The same person will scream about how terrible what the USPS is doing and then, in the next breath, say they’ll be in line Friday to buy a whole pile of these stamps, in every conceivable format, to stick them in an album.  Seriously?!?!?!?

Collecting: Action Figures – It’s not like  action figure collectors are any better.  The whole of the collector fanbase has been abuzz with the severe reduction in articulation in both Hasbro and Mattel figures.  Many lines are now coming with 5-points of articulation, which is utterly absurd considering at one point, some figures were coming with 30-35 points of articulation.  Lots of modern action figures are essentially lumps of poorly painted plastic that hardly do anything, they’re more like inaction figures.  The prices suck too.  The figure quality becomes cheaper, the prices become more expensive, the selection of figures becomes more limited as well as companies are taking fewer risks and over-producing the most popular characters again and again.  Add the fact that so many stores, after getting burned by the poor case packing schemes, are just not ordering much, if any, new product and the shelves are bare.  So what do action figure collectors do?  Do they rationally consider their purchases?  Of course not!  They whip out the credit card and buy everything, no matter how badly made or how expensive it happens to be.  In fact, some of them are convinced that if they only support the manufacturers who, according to them, are doing everything wrong, that maybe things will improve, so they’re buying even more things that they scream about!  How is this rational?

Pets –  Yes, I know pets really aren’t a hobby, but I see the same kind of fanatical nonsense here as well.  So many people act like their pets are really their children and treat them better than they treat themselves.  Of course, don’t dare suggest that people with a dozen parrots, who can hardly afford macaroni and cheese for themselves shouldn’t have that many birds, or that they should stop desperately looking around for more birds to adopt, or that they should stop treating their birds lavishly, they’ll scream at you and call you names.  In fact, if you don’t adopt their methods, they’ll call you names anyhow.  That’s not how rational people work, it’s how fanatics function.  If you remember, not too long ago I wrote about a bruhaha that happened on a forum where the bird crazies were criticizing the ASPCA for giving what they viewed as a bad impression of the costs of pet ownership.  While I agree there may be some bad numbers in there, they screamed because they viewed their absurd spoiling of their birds to be the norm that everyone ought to be doing.  I think it said that for a small bird, $25 a year in toys would suffice.  Oh hell no!  These people spend over $100 a month on toys!  they order raw materials online and spend all their time building toys!  They spend half their days arranging and re-arranging the toys in the cage!  They have tubs of toys that have never even been used and they’re still getting more!  They feed their birds the most expensive premium food money can buy and that’s not even good enough, they have to cook their own organic food, designed just for the birds, as a supplement.  In fact, I know of at least one person who planted a variety of fruit trees in their back yard because they didn’t trust any other source for fresh fruit without pesticides, etc.  Then, these people take their birds to the vet several times a year, just to have a battery of tests done, on the off chance that something might be wrong.  They spend thousands of dollars a year in preventative care and all they accomplish is keeping their vet in BMWs, while they drive around in beat up 20-year old cars.  And then, because that’s what they do, they expect that everyone else out there ought to do the same or they’re a bad pet owner.  It’s just ludicrous.

Gaming –  Yup, it happens here too and for a lot of the same reasons I noted above under collecting.  If you’ve ever hung out in a gaming forum, you’ll see all manner of bitching and whining about how horrible MMOs are today, how there isn’t a single game out there worth playing, that the  games are all stupid and dumbed down and the people are horrible, but these same people who complain about every aspect of gaming will advance purchase every damn new MMO that comes on the market!  Every single solitary one!  And then, they’ll sit there and complain how awful they are, while plunking down a monthly fee every month!  But don’t suggest that if they hate these games so much, they should go find something else to do.  Oh no!  They think they deserve to have the perfect game to play, even if it would be a massive financial failure in the real world.  Many of them are convinced that because they’ve been playing these games that they now hate for so many years, they are uniquely qualified and somehow deserving of being able to define what they games are and how they’re made and damn it, everyone ought to listen!

It’s not just the religious people who are fucking stupid, it’s EVERYBODY!  Is it any wonder I spend so much time looking at humanity and being frustrated?

Hobby Loyalty

Einstein InsanityEinstein InsanityI seriously don’t get the desire of hobbyists to have utter loyalty to the source of their hobbydom, even when that source is really screwing up.  I see this kind of fanatical devotion in a lot of hobbies, in fact, maybe in all hobbies, where people think they somehow owe it to companies or organizations to overlook their shortcomings, even when they have nothing but criticism for those shortcomings.

Case in point, as everyone knows, I collect stamps.  I have been highly critical of the number of stamps the United States Postal Service releases every year, it’s an absurd amount and increasing year after year, specifically to sell more stamps to collectors.  There was a time when you could buy an entire year’s output of stamps, adjusted for inflation, for a few bucks.  Today, it’s a few hundred dollars.  There’s no reason for it, other than to screw the collector.  So in 1993, I opted out.  I no longer collect new issues of U.S. stamps and have never regretted that decision.  However, holy shit, you tell most U.S. collectors that you’re not buying everything the USPS puts out and they are aghast.  How dare I not support them to my very last dollar!  In fact, when I tell people that I hardly send anything through the mails, I get criticized for sending the USPS spiraling down into bankruptcy.  Sorry, their mismanagement is not my problem and since I couldn’t care less what stamps they put out today, I really don’t care if they go out of business entirely.  In fact, I hope they do.

The same is true of action figures, which I pretty much gave up on this year.  I still keep a toe in the hobby so I know what’s going on, but likewise, there are people who think that no matter how expensive it gets, no matter how bad the quality gets, no matter how horrendous the distribution of action figures gets, we somehow owe it to Hasbro and Mattel to keep buying every crappy thing they put out, no matter how much we don’t want to.  It’s our responsibility to prop up an industry, no matter how bad it gets, because we’re fanatically devoted to getting our new plastic fix.

Another group that has this same problem are MMO gamers.  Over the years, many of them assert that the MMO industry has gone downhill, the games are simplified to the point of absurdity, they’re not fun, they’re stupid, yet the concept of not playing an MMO, even one they hate with a passion, is beyond considering.  They will pay money month after month for a game that they detest and spend all of their time sitting on a forum bitching and whining about because they cannot bring themselves to admit that they’ve outgrown the industry and they want something that so few people want, there’s no chance that a developer is ever going to make a game they’ll like.

To be honest, the more I think about it, a lot of hard-core comic book fans are the same.  They complain long and loud about how awful comics have become and how much they hate all the decisions made by comic companies.  When DC came out with their New 52, lots of people were up in arms, claiming it would ruin the industry.  However, suggest to those people that they stop buying the comics they detest and you hear cries of “heresy”!  They can’t possibly do that, how else will they get their comic fix?  They would rather pay for things they detest and then complain about it than to take a stand and vote with their wallets and just go find something different to do.

Hey, not to leave anyone out, what about music or movie fanatics?  I can’t tell you how many times I see people whining loud and long about how bad music is or how expensive it is or how horrible anything coming out of Hollywood is, but they’re the ones with terabytes of music on their MP3 players and they’re the ones standing in line all night to get into the first showing of the next movie.

Sorry, that’s not for me.  I have never been fanatical about, well, anything.  I collect because I want to collect.  I get what I want to get.  When I stop wanting to collect a particular thing, I stop.  I don’t get the jitters.  I don’t get upset.  I don’t have withdrawal symptoms.  I just stop.  It was fun while it lasted.  I will enjoy what I have and move on to something else.  I do not understand the kind of obsessive/compulsive personalities that have to get a particular thing, no matter how awful it gets.  I play games because they’re fun.  When they stop being fun, I stop playing them.  When books stop being good, I stop reading them.  When movies aren’t interesting, I stop watching them.  I don’t have any absurdly strong attachment to any particular thing, my life does not revolve around any specific action or event.  If I stop wanting to do something, I simply stop doing it.  I just don’t get people who cannot bring themselves to do the same.

Unfortunately, I see the same thing happening in the atheist community as well.  So many people bitch and whine about how much they hate Atheism+, how they wish it would just go away, yet they spend all their time following all the asshats around, following their every move and commenting on their every word, even though they know for a fact that it’s that very attention that keeps Atheism+ going.  It’s about as ridiculous as the people who hate religion, who say they wish religion would vanish, who adamantly want religion to stop impacting on their lives, then they follow the religious around like rabid lunatics, they constantly harass them on Twitter, post to religious hashtags specifically to cause an adverse reaction, then whine about how the religious are bothering them.  It really gets ridiculous.

People seem to be their own worst enemies, they don’t seem to be able to just walk away from things they hate, they don’t understand that nothing will change for the better if they keep up the status quo.  You don’t like how video games are?  Stop playing those video games.  Vote with your wallet.  You don’t like those toys or stamps or comics?  Don’t buy them!  You can’t stand being around a particular group?  Stop being around them!  I don’t think this is rocket science, it’s common sense, but unfortunately, as is all too painful these days, common sense isn’t terribly common.

I Could Use Some Input

johnny5-need-inputAs anyone who reads the blog regularly knows, I write about a wide variety of subject matter here, from atheism and religion to movie and TV reviews and I think that a lot of the non-atheism-related posts go largely unappreciated.  You know me, I don’t really care about readership, but as I was talking to someone on Twitter earlier, my TV Thursday posts, for example, hardly get any hits, they virtually never get any comments, and while I like doing them and want to continue, it’s become pretty clear that Bitchspot may not be the venue for them.

So I’ve been kicking around the idea of spinning off a new blog that only focuses on the more geeky subject matter so that this blog can just be about atheism and religion and closely related subjects.  It’s not like I don’t have a ton of posts available to fill in the gaps here.  I have no idea if anyone else does this, but I am scheduled out an absurd distance at all times.  As I write this, I already have posts scheduled 5 days in advance and it could be more except some things, like TV Thursday, require writing almost up to the deadline.  I also have other complete or near-complete drafts that I could schedule, currently I have 35 drafts in my queue, over and above what’s already scheduled, and I tend to add 3-4 new post ideas every day.  I’m not going to be hurting for posts, I tend to write so damn fast that it honestly bugs me to have so many things sitting in the queue for so long.

Now we come to my questions.  Does anyone actually read or care about the non-atheism material?  I know there’s an audience out there, probably even a bigger audience than for my atheism material, for TV and movie reviews, books, comics, collecting, games and the like, I just feel like I’m boring people with it where it is and probably driving away any legitimate audience with all the anti-religious stuff.  It’s two separate interests that really don’t go that well together.

I’ve been trying to expand my reach a little, people are aware that I rejoined Twitter a while back and have now added a Tumblr account, both of these really function in a lot of ways as a means to keep the blog interesting, Twitter lets me post short comments, etc. that really don’t qualify for full blog posts and Tumblr is a means to post pictures and videos that, again, aren’t interesting enough to make into a real post.

Therefore, I beg of people, please give me some input, tell me what you think I ought to do.  Keep it here or move it elsewhere?  My inquiring mind desperately wants to know.

Is Every Discussion a Debate?

Don’t you dare question my opinions!

I get challenged on this from time to time, but it’s something that I’m really interested in.  I like to debate.  That much is a given fact.  But I also like to discuss less heated topics, where one side or the other may not be “right”, but I’m still interested, just as I am in a religious debate, what someone believes and why.  However, I get a lot of flack for daring to question the validity of an opinion, no matter how calmly or dispassionately I do so, because apparently, people’s opinions, like their beliefs, should not be open to question.

I don’t get it.

Let me give you an example.  I was having a discussion with someone a couple of weeks ago regarding comic books, specifically why we prefer one “brand” of comics over another.  I took the position that I liked Marvel comics better than DC.  He took the opposite position.  I could present a lot of reasons why I thought Marvel was better in my eyes, I might even do a post about it sometime, but then I asked him why he held his position?  What brought him to that conclusion?  The guy pretty much had a fit and accused me of trying to turn a friendly discussion into a debate.

Um… what?

I never said he was wrong for his opinion, or that he should feel stupid for holding that position, I just wanted to know why he picked it so I could compare it to why I picked my own.  I even went into considerable detail, explaining my reasoning and the facts along my path that led me to adopt my position.  I have my reasons for thinking the way I do and I have no problem enunciating those reasons.

To be honest, the whole situation confuses me.  It’s not like any of these people have seen my bulldog attacks on religion, they have no clue I’m capable of such things.  They’ve never seen me be anything but kind and polite and nice.  I never denigrated the other person’s preference, I never suggested that DC comics suck or that they were stupid to read them.  It really seems that there are people who just hold opinions and have never given a moment’s thought to why they hold them and they get upset if anyone even points out that fact.  It’s like having an exchange like:

I like chocolate ice cream.

Oh?  And what it is about chocolate ice cream that you like?

FUCK YOU!

How do you have a meaningful discussion with someone like that?  It really feels very much like a religious discussion where the theist just assumes their beliefs are true and they shouldn’t have to say anything beyond “I’m right, screw you.”

Sometimes, just trying to communicate calmly drives me crazy.

Reading Challenge: Avengers vs. X-Men

I’ve been an open critic of the modern endless “event” mentality that has been going on in Marvel comics for a number of years.  In the past, they’d have a major “event” once every couple of years.  By major, I’m referring to events which affect most of the Marvel Universe and have far-reaching effects on almost every series they produce.  They did Secret Wars from 1984-1985, followed by Secret Wars II from 1985-1986, but thereafter they didn’t have a massive “event” on that scale, maybe until 1993’s Mys-Tech War.  Frankly, I’m glad I took most of the 90s off from reading comics, it was just an awful decade.

However, these days, they’ve figured out that having constant events is a money-maker so they have an almost endless series of “events” going on.  Just the big ones include 2005’s House of M, 2006’s Civil War, 2007’s The Initiative, etc.  In fact, there are so many “events” these days that if you just compare the raw numbers, even including minor events and crossovers, the total number of “official events” from the 1970s-1990s totals 39, including just long runs in closely-related books.  However, just 2000-2012, the number is absurd.  In 12 years, the number of “events” has been 67.  There were twice as many events in the last 12 years as there were in the previous 30 combined.

As a comic reader at the time, I had recognized this attempt by Marvel to milk more and more money out of the readers by having these absurd mega-crossovers that often branched out to a dozen or more individual titles as well as it’s own core story, so beginning with Civil War, I simply bowed out and jumped off the “event” train.  I carefully avoided reading any of those stories or any comics that were directly affected by those stories.  It saved me a lot of money, I’ll tell you, especially since the majority of those stories just weren’t that good.  Civil War, for instance, was the era where Iron Man took over running S.H.I.E.L.D. and Spider-Man took off his mask in public.  It was the time of mutant registration and I detested every bit of that, hence I didn’t miss not reading it.  Oh sure, I ended up dropping some of my favorite books, like Spider-Man and Iron Man but at least I retained my sanity.  I want good stories, not blatantly obvious cash grabs.  In fact, it was the prevalence of the Marvel “event” that eventually led me to give up reading comics at all.

But you know, it’s hard, after having read them for many decades, to give up cold turkey.  Even though I probably “officially” stopped reading comics around 2007, I’d still pick one up occasionally, just to see if it grabbed me.  None really did but I kept checking in with my fingers crossed.

In 2012, Marvel started releasing it’s most recent “event”, Avengers vs. X-Men, an event which they promised would completely change the way we looked at the Marvel Universe.  With a great deal of trepidation, I decided I’d break my years-long boycott of  the Marvel crossover and give AvX a shot.  It would be just a read through the 12 issues of the maxi-series, I wouldn’t touch any of the crossovers, any of the tangential material, just the main story.  Now that AvX has finally finished, let me give you a rundown of what I thought, from the perspective of a former Marvel reader with virtually no knowledge of the current state of the Marvel Universe.

To be totally up front about it all, it wasn’t bad but it certainly wasn’t great.  There are elements that I enjoyed and frankly, things I thought were ridiculous.  I’m going to give a very cursory explanation of the series, there will certainly be spoilers but nothing too in-depth.  I’m sure anyone who really wanted to read it has done so already anyhow.  The story begins as the Phoenix Force, the same cosmic energy that turned Jean Grey into the Phoenix/Dark Phoenix, is headed for Earth.  Hope Summers, the time-travelling future relative of Jean Grey, is assumed to be the natural host for the Phoenix.  The X-Men, still devastated over the events of House of M, where the Scarlet Witch’s powers erased every mutant from the planet except 198, are seeking a way to revive their race and see the return of the Phoenix as their ticket to renewed mutant-dom.  However, the Avengers see it differently. They think the Phoenix is coming to destroy the planet and they can’t allow that.  Both sides begin a long, drawn out fight over the future of Hope, dragging her one way and then the other until she gets upset and tells both sides what to go do with themselves.  It becomes a free-for-all, the X-Men trying to keep Hope safe so she can rebuild mutant-kind, the Avengers trying to take her into custody so they can prevent her from merging with the Phoenix.  Captain America splits the Avengers into different task forces and sends the most powerful to slow down the approach of the Phoenix, which they fail miserably.  I think it’s important to see that even against the most powerful of the Avengers, the Phoenix kicks their ass with no problem whatsoever.  After all, it has always been a god-like power, an elemental force of nature, even someone as powerful as Thor shouldn’t have a chance to stop it.  As the Phoenix approaches, Hope starts to draw power from it and become exponentially more powerful, easily defending herself from the wishes of both sides.  Everyone worries what will happen, but once the Phoenix arrives, she refuses to bond with it, rejecting it’s energy, afraid she may not be able to handle it’s immense power.  Tony Stark, however, uses experimental super-science in an attempt to break up the Phoenix Force into smaller, more manageable parts, but instead causes it to bond with the five X-Men, thus creating godlike beings out of Cyclops, Colossus, Namor, Emma Frost and Magik.  These five mini-Phoenixes, led by Scott Summers, set out to change the world for the better.  Scott, after all, has been trained by Professor X, the morality is strong with this one, he doesn’t have a self-centered bone in his body.  They make crops grow in deserts, they clean up the environment, they purify the water, it seems like they’re actually doing a lot of the things they had hoped that Hope would accomplish as the Phoenix.  However, there is a dark side to the Phoenix and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  When you can do virtually anything, no matter how moral you are, chances are that eventually you’ll give in to your baser impulses.  Instead of saving the world, the X-Men decide they ought to rule it.  Instead of fixing the planet’s problems, they start thinking it may be better to wipe everything out and start with a clean slate.  The remaining X-Men and Avengers, hunted by the mini-Phoenixes, join forces begin covertly attacking individual Phoenixes from their hidden base in a pocket dimension.  Namor is the first to fall and when he does, his portion of the Phoenix Force is split among the rest, increasing their power.  Next, realizing that they are being hopelessly corrupted by their power, Colossus and Magik take each other out, greatly increasing the power of the remaining two.  Cyclops and Emma Frost give in to the dark side, which isn’t that much of a surprise, and while engaged in a battle against the Avengers, Cyclops shoots Emma in the back, thus taking all of the power.  He transforms into Dark Cyclops, the Phoenix-powered agent of evil.  Professor X shows up, demanding that Cyclops stop before it’s too late, but he is summarily killed by the now evil Cyclops.  No human or mutant can now stand against him, it’s up to Hope, who they’ve been secretly training on K’un-L’un.  With the help of the Scarlet Witch, Hope wrests control of the Phoenix Force from Cyclops and together, they destroy the Phoenix, but only after Super-Hope repairs all the damage to the world caused by Cyclops and, surprise surprise, brings back all the mutants!  Cyclops and his depowered cohorts are placed in chains for their crimes and Captain America announces a new team of Avengers, this time made up of X-Men.

She’s crying alligator tears, everyone knows he’ll be back…

It’s not the greatest story ever but it could have been worse.  Maybe the biggest problem though, as anyone who has read a Marvel comic, or any comic for that matter, knows that Professor X isn’t dead and the Phoenix Force sure isn’t destroyed.  Nobody ever dies in comics, not really.  They just sit it out for a while until someone comes up with a reason to bring them back.  Especially in this currently movie-dominated genre, copyright laws require the characters to keep appearing in the comics every now and then to keep them as viable candidates for big-budget box-office blockbusters.  This has been going on for so long now that nobody with even a passing familiarity with comics cares if anyone dies.  It has no emotional impact.  They’ll be back.  It’s only the clueless noobs who don’t understand that death is for… a while, make a big deal about it.  Remember 1992’s Death of Superman and the media hype?  Tons of mainstream, non-comics people crying that Superman, the cultural icon, was dead?  Sorry, just a cash-grab.

So why do comic companies keep playing these games?  Why do they keep hyping the death of major characters when they know nobody believes them?  Certainly, it can’t be for emotional impact, we just look at Spider-Man splattered all over the concrete or Batman blown to kingdom come and shrug.  It’s no more real now than it was the last 47 times they did it.  Professor X is dead?  How is this any different than Uncanny X-Men #167?  Or during Legion Quest? Or Messiah Complex?  Or Ultimatum?  Or heck, if you want entertaining, the new X-Treme X-Men where alternate universe Professor X’s are killed repeatedly and he ends up as little more than a head in a jar?  He’s dead?  So what?  I guess it could have been worse, the cover to issue 11 could have been emblazoned “In this issue, an X-Man will die!”  It wasn’t that hyped, even though Marvel blew the surprise in interviews done the same day the issue was released.

I guess the biggest problem is that it was a stupid fight to begin with.  Where Captain America started out wanting to protect Hope from the Phoenix Force, he ended up doing exactly what Cyclops wanted to do the whole time.  There was never a reason for both sides to start swinging, had Cap and Cyclops not been acting like immature asshats.  You’d think that after all these years, both of the, would have learned to talk things out before unleashing superhuman abilities?  But no, if any of these characters were actually reasonable, they’d actually have to work to come up with decent storylines.  Another absurdity comes with the fact that Cyclops really only killed one person throughout AvX, yet he’s being treated as one of the greatest monsters in history, yet he stands beside Wolverine who has killed hundreds or thousands of people in his day and the Phoenix caused Jean Grey to detonate a star and kill millions.  Sorry, Cyclops just doesn’t seem that bad, especially since he was being controlled by an extraterrestrial elemental force.

So now that it’s all over, we move into the ridiculously named era of Marvel NOW!  Sorry, frankly not impressed, any more than I was with DC’s New 52.  I guess we’ll see if decent writers can save anything from this mess in their Avengers vs. X-Men: Consequences.  I’m not really holding my breath, but we’ll see.

No Means No: Stamp Edition

Yes, I collect stamps and yes, this is a rant.  I used to have a couple of companies send me stamps on approval.  Yes, I know I’m paying a healthy premium for that but I can afford it.  It was always fun to see what came in the mail, sorting out what I already had from what I needed and deciding what to purchase.  I did my best to advise them on what areas I needed the most help in, to maximize the purchases I might make.

However, there came a time with my U.S. collection where virtually every approval packet that came was sent back intact, there were so few things I needed and the things I had to get were so expensive, they weren’t going to send those through the mail.  So I told all of them, thank you for all the approvals, but please stop sending them.  Most listened.

One didn’t.  After a couple of months, they sent me a packet out of the blue that said “please reconsider!”  I don’t need to reconsider, I already made a decision, I told them to stop sending and they ignored me.  My immediate reaction was to just throw it all back in their post-paid envelope and send it back, probably with a nasty note.  Then, I swung the other direction.  I didn’t ask for this and as such, I have no obligation to send it back.  I could send a note back thanking them for the gift and tell them to respect people’s wishes in the future.

Then I looked at the stamps they sent.  Oh brother, what a load of crap!  The majority of them are pointless, useless and virtually worthless stamps.  Most catalog far below their asking price and I can go anywhere and buy stamps for maybe 25-30% of catalog all day long.  The prices on the picture above represent the 30% catalog norm.  They expect .75 for each one I keep, but the majority of them are worth a few pennies at best.  The worst part, a huge portion of the stamps are horribly damaged, with bad staining, tears, etc.  Not one single stamp is actually in mint-never-hinged condition, at best, they’re hinged, the majority are lacking gum entirely, like they soaked them off of mail that didn’t get properly cancelled.  I’m sorry, but you not only do you ignore my specific wishes, then you send me a bag of shit and hope that’s going to change my mind?  “Why don’t you look at this absurdly over-priced, ridiculously low-quality, damaged merchandise and tell us you want to keep doing business with us!”

So congratulations, Jamestown Stamp Company, you’ve gone from having a satisfied former customer who would have given you good reviews to any other collectors who may have asked for recommendations, to a pissed off, never-to-buy-from-you-again ex-customer who will now tell everyone how crappy your company really is.

Updated: Collector or Investor?

There’s a new show on Syfy called Collection Intervention starring Elyse Luray, who goes around to out-of-control collectors and tries to get them to sell off parts of their collection.  So far, she’s talked to crazy Barbie collectors, over-the-top Star Wars collectors, massive comic collectors etc.

But in watching the show, I’ve realized that she’s really not a collector, or doesn’t seem to understand collectors, she’s used to dealing with investors.  All she tells these people is how much it’s worth and how they ought to get rid of things.  That’s just not the collector mentality.  She seems utterly clueless and doesn’t comprehend that the vast majority of collectors just don’t care what their collections are worth because they’re never going to sell them!

Now myself, I am a collector.  I collect things.  I do not do it because someday I’m going to get a payday when I auction it all off, I will never sell a single piece of my collection in my lifetime at any price.  I’m just not interested.  If she came here, I’d tell her to get stuffed.  I don’t need her because I don’t have a problem.

My wife knew I was a collector when we met.  She’s a collector too.  She understands me.  I understand her.  Neither of us is out of control and both of us have realistic expectations.

Unfortunately, there are people out there who have problems, but it isn’t a problem with collecting, it’s a problem with not knowing when to stop.  It’s a problem with self-control.  Now if she actually wanted to curate people’s collections, help them focus their collections, help them organize their collections, I wouldn’t say.  A lot of these people really do need help in that direction and they may find, in the organization of said collection, that they have some elements that could be sold off.  That part is fine, but when you walk in the door and immediately declare half of this collection has got to go, that’s stupid.

The other big problem that I see in most of these cases is that the spouse/significant other really is a jerk.  Let’s be honest, these people should not be together.  Collectors and non-collectors just don’t work most of the time.  They are fundamentally different and they will never truly understand each other.  A collector has a drive to collect.  It’s something inside of them.  It will never go away.  They should never be asked to get rid of their collection, yet that’s exactly what every single one of these non-collector mates want.  When I watched the episode with the guy who had 30,000 comics, his fiance was a total bitch at the beginning.  It’s not like she didn’t know he was a comic collector, she has no room to complain because she made the decision to move in with him.  My solution to that problem immediately would have been “pack your bags and get out bitch”.  She did improve toward the end when she saw him struggling, but I still don’t give them a very high chance of a long-term relationship.  She just  doesn’t understand what drives him.

The show would be much better if, instead of Elyse trying to get people to part with their collections, it was a show about organizing and understanding their collections.  It should be a show about “wow, look at what you’ve got here!” and not about “how much can you sell it for?”  This isn’t “Collection Intervention”, it’s “Collection Destruction”.

I was going to evaluate Elyse’s “advice” from the website, but I think a better way is to just look at the cases in detail, since we’re only 3 episodes in and 6 actual cases.  So here we go:

The first episode started with Consetta and Garet, whose Star Wars collection went wild and consumed their lives.  Yes, they have a lot of stuff and it does take up every square inch of their house, but I’m not convinced the answer is to start selling things.  The collection didn’t seem to be causing any problems, except for space.  There didn’t seem to be any monetary issues or relationship issues, a better solution, IMO, would have been to sign a deal with, say, Rancho Obi-Wan, to display portions of the collection.  Consetta could have loaned items to the museum on a rotating basis, which would have cleared up space in her house.  When things come back, more things go out.  There was no need to sell things, just because Elyse said so.

The second part was a Catwoman collector, Mark, whose wife, Lolly, was upset because he was amassing a huge collection.  Now here, I will agree with Elyse that he had to sell some things because he was driving the couple into bankruptcy.  You have to be financially responsible for your life, you can’t just buy things because you want them and go into debt.  However, this is where we first see a non-collector wife becoming a problem.  She doesn’t understand her husband.  Then why in the world did she marry him?!?!?  He had to hide all of his collectibles in the garage because she didn’t get why he collected.  Another marriage destined for failure.

Moving to the second episode, we start off with Beverly, a fanatical Barbie collector.  Again, Elyse immediately starts pushing her to sell things and only focusing on things that are worth big bucks.  She’s filled up the closets of her sons with Barbies and they’re complaining.  Well here’s an idea, over-18 sons, why don’t you go get your own places?  I kind of doubt you’re paying rent.  Eventually, she starts getting rid of some of her contemporary items when she realizes she’s not that interested in them, which nets her a Barbie #1.

Second, we get Jack, fanatical Hot Wheel and G.I. Joe collector and his bitchy wife Debbie, who wants him to get rid of it.  Elyse suggests they drag his collection out onto the lawn to take a look at it and doesn’t understand that he doesn’t want his collection exposed to the elements, particularly the beating sun which fades colors.  Even after she agrees to put up a tent, they’re still piling his stuff out on tarps.  I’d be pissed too!  Jack and Debbie weren’t financially hurting, what was wrong with renting a storage unit, or heck, building an outbuilding on their extensive property to store the collection?

Finally, at least so far, is comic-collector Joe and his whiny fiancee Rebekah.  She acts like she had no idea he was a collector.  Hey bitch, don’t like it, move out.  Yes, I can understand not wanting boxes of comics piled all over the house, but find a solution for the problem, which is better organization, don’t go trying to sell things off.  Joe was entirely right when he said he didn’t want to sell anything.  Why should he?  The biggest tactic that Elyse uses is guilt.  Other people are sad because of what you do!  You owe them!  He doesn’t owe them shit.  They chose to be there, they knew he had a collection, he’s hardly the worst collector I’ve ever seen.  Either accept people as they are or take a hike.

Then comes Transformers collector Dahveed who can’t tell the difference between his collection and his toy-store inventory.  Here, I admit, this guy has a problem.  It’s not that he collects, it’s that he’s already said he’s going to sell some of the toys, he just can’t bring himself to do it.  And of course, Elyse, instead of looking at his inventory piled all over his condo, she goes straight to his collection and starts pointing out pieces he ought to sell.  WHAT ABOUT ALL THE STUFF HE’S SUPPOSED TO BE SELLING?!?!?  What an idiot.  He goes out and buys cases of figures because he can’t buy just one from his sources, then all the extras are piled all over.  There are plenty of shots in his condo where he has piles of identical figures and she ignores them, she goes straight for the rare stuff in his personal collection.

In the end, collections are a good thing, they are a positive thing, but only when they are kept under control.  Someone who goes bankrupt to buy collectibles needs help.  Someone who just hoards mounds of stuff needs help.  Yet that help is not “sell it off”, it’s “be in control”.  Elyse doesn’t understand how to help people be in control or be organized or be intelligent in their collecting habits.  All Elyse understands is “SELL!  SELL!  SELL!”  This is not a show for people who revel in collecting or enjoy seeing what people collect, it’s a show for people who want to point at the freaks and laugh as their life’s work is ripped asunder.

Update:  I wasn’t going to do this, but the 4th episode was perhaps the worst example of this kind of behavior out of Elyse.  She meets Howie, an Americana collector who has his house piled high with movie posters, books, albums, etc.  He says he’d dreamed of putting on an exhibition for years and she suggests that he do that, plus take other things he’d like to sell along so he can get rid of the stuff he doesn’t want while sharing his collection with the world.  So far, so good, I thought it was a good idea, plus it got him sorting through his collection to find out what he wants to display, and hopefully, organizes it better.  We get to the exhibition and not only is Elyse clueless about how to treat collectables (putting them in direct sunlight, see episode 2), then she starts pushing Howie hard to sell the material he’s exhibiting!  Whatever happened to the stuff he’s supposed to be selling?!?!?  It’s like walking into a museum and telling people not to buy from the gift shop, go for the exhibits!

What a fucking bitch.

End of an Era?

I’ve been collecting action figures for decades, in fact, for as long as I can remember.  I’ve never been a fanatic about anything I collect, I get what I like, I keep it pristine and I put it away.  I did that when I was 10, I do it today in my 40s.  There just has never been any other way for me.

A while back on a forum, someone started asking what people collected in 2012 and I was forced to admit nothing.  My reasons for this are twofold.  First, the one that I detailed on the forum, that the figures that are coming out today are simply not cost effective.  There’s not enough value for too much buck.  It’s not because I can’t afford it, I can afford pretty much anything, it’s just that I look at these figures and the prices they’re charging and shake my head.  It’s just not worth it.

But as I start to look at it, I realize that it’s not just the cost/benefit, but the lack of anything worthwhile.  The quality of figures has been going down for a while as the cost has been going up.  Instead of figures getting better and better, they get worse.  Worse sculpts, less articulation, worse paint jobs, etc.  The manufacturers are getting cheaper and cheaper while their products are getting more expensive all the time.

Finally, it’s hard to find anything to buy, even if I wanted to.  You get wave after wave of pretty much the same figures, peppered with a few new things, but rarely anything I’d ever want to own.  Looking at Marvel Universe, for example, they haven’t released a single new figure all year and when they finally get around to it, I want less than half of the wave.  Of those figures, yet another one is Spider-Man.  I lost count on how many Spider-Man figures I have already.  Or how many Iron Man figures.  Or how many Wolverine figures.  Every single wave seems to have one of them, or someone just as common.  It’s the same thing that eventually had me quit buying Justice League Unlimited figures from DC.  Every pack had Superman, Batman, Green Lantern or Wonder Woman.  The prices kept going up and seriously, how many of the same damn figure can you really have?  I’m even looking at the Halo line and finding the same thing.  Same characters over and over and over, very rarely anything entirely new.

As I look back at it, I realize I haven’t bought a single action figure in over to 6 months.  There just hasn’t been anything worth buying, or anything on the shelves if I want to buy.  Oh sure, I occasionally walk through a toy department and see what they have and invariably, most stores haven’t stocked a thing since Christmas.  The aisles are full of empty pegs and what they do have, I don’t want.

So I made a decision.  I actually made this decision a while back but I’ve wrestled with it for a couple of weeks now.  I’m no longer collecting action figures.  It’s not that I don’t want to, it’s not that I can’t afford it, it’s that the joy I used to get finding that hard-to-find figure in a store is just gone.  It’s not exciting.  I just don’t care.

Maybe a vacation is what I need.  Ignore the action figure market for a couple of years and hopefully the situation will improve.  Hopefully the companies will start to take pride in what they produce.  Hopefully it won’t be “let’s stick this head on that body and paint it badly and hope nobody notices”.  I notice.  I expect quality.  I expect value for my collecting dollar.  So long as I’m not getting it, they’re not getting my dollars.

It’s sad but that’s the way it’s got to be.

Comic Regrets: Teen Titans

I was a huge fan of the “original” Teen Titans, well, maybe not the originals, but the New Teen Titans which started in the comic to the left.  It started in 1980 and I was really about the same age as a lot of the Titans, which probably explains why the team appealed to me.

However, after being dead and gone for a while, DC resurrected the Titans with lots of new characters.  That was the problem.  The Teen Titans became little more than JLA Jr. once again.  It was for the “next generation” characters, all miniature versions of the big existing heroes.  You had Superboy, Robin, Wonder Girl and Kid Flash, along with a few select members of the old Titans grown up.

The problem is, I don’t want to read about JLA Jr.  If I wanted that, I’d be reading JLA.  I don’t like Justice League.  I can’t stand Superman, I really  don’t like Batman much and Wonder Woman, Flash and the rest bore me to tears.  I’ve already written about how much I hate the DC method of filling suits.  Those are all suits that have been filled time and time again.  I don’t care about suits, I care about characters.

That’s unfortunately all that Teen Titans turned into.  It’s just suit-fillers.  It’s Superman Jr. and Flash Jr. and Wonder Woman Jr. and Batman Jr.  Okay, yes, the “original” did have three of those characters, but the stories were rarely about their older versions, nor did their older versions show up much.  In the new one, it seemed like every episode was about getting the Junior members ready to take over their older version’s cape.  After all, they’re going to have to go up to the Big (Justice) Leagues, right?

In the same general timeframe as New Teen Titans was Batman and the Outsiders.  It was, again, a series about young heroes being guided into adult roles, but, like NTT, the Outsiders were never being groomed to fill a suit, they were almost all original characters and none of them, outside of Batman who left the comic entirely in issue 32, had any connection to the JLA, and even Batman wasn’t a current member at the time.  You had Geo-Force, Katana, Halo and Looker, all new creations, along with Black Lightning and Metamorpho, existing characters who were entirely independent in the DC universe.  All of these characters grew and changed in Outsiders, Geo-Force becomes seriously involved and then leaves his girlfriend, Looker leaves her husband, etc.

Likewise, the New Teen Titans grew in their series.  Robin became Nightwing.  Donna Troy got married.  Wally West stopped being Kid Flash.  They fought new enemies including Trigon, Brother Blood and Deathstroke the Terminator.

I always hate it when companies take something done right and ruin it.  Marv Wolfman and George Perez had it right with New Teen Titans.  Jim Aparo and Mike Barr had it right with Batman and the Outsiders.  There was a good formula, good writing, good art, the characters gelled and the quality was more or less consistent.  Then, DC tried to “improve” on the formula and ended up ruining it, which seems to be very common.  Instead of going back to what worked, they keep retrying different things and none of the titles lasts long as people reject it.

And so, while I’m keeping the whole 130 issue run of New Teen Titans, issues 1-33 of Teen Titans are going away.  Likewise, my collection of Outsiders that ran 2003-2007 is going away but I’m keeping the original.  Both should have been better, but they lost the magic.

The Look of the Future

I’ve been kicking this around in my head for a while now.  Originally, it started as a comparison of the DC and Marvel superhero universes and why I preferred one over the other.  Then I realized that it applied not just to comic books, but to TV and movies and books and, honestly, to my very outlook on the future.  It colors why I enjoy some genres and why I hate others.  I think that’s worth exploring.

See, I want a future that’s hopeful.  I want to see a future that’s bright.  It doesn’t have to be rosy and perfect, certainly I’m more realistic than that, but I want to think that tomorrow is going to be better than today, or at the very least, no worse than today.  That’s why I reject some futuristic genres out of hand.  I detest cyberpunk, for example because  I hate the concepts that make up the genre.  I don’t want a dystopian future where people are just tools, where society has broken down and where throwing away one’s humanity is not only expected, but glorified.

This is true across pretty much every type of media.  In film, I conceptually dislike movies like Blade Runner and Gattaca (although artistically, that may be another matter).  In books, I hate the writings of William Gibson and Neal Stephenson.  In fact, now that I think about it, this is one of the major reason I hate most zombie movies, and in fact, most modern horror films.  There’s usually no indication that the humans are going to survive or triumph over the bad guys, at best, they buy themselves another few days before their utter destruction.  I really hate films which depict humanity as a rapidly devolving, failing or doomed lifeform, buried beneath an ineffective government, corrupt corporations and abusive technology.  I don’t necessarily mind if those things appear as elements of a storyline, so long as we see, through the plot, that humanity is improving in relation to those things.

Take, for example, the movie Aliens.  It’s certainly the best of the Alien franchise, but it does give us a lot of the elements I would normally hate.  You have the Weyland-Yutani Corporation, which we see through the story uses humans as pawns and has no problem sacrificing them for profit.  You have monsters which are portrayed as superior to humans in just about every way, which, very much like zombies now that I think about it, will continue to replicate and grow stronger so long as humans exist, and will go on long after the humans are extinct.  Yet, humans in the movie do survive and defeat the enemies.  Burke, the representative of W-Y, gets captured after trying to sacrifice Ripley and Newt for the profit of the corporation and ends up getting killed, very satisfyingly, by the very aliens he sought to smuggle back to Earth.  The humans struggle and are nearly defeated, but in the end, the alien nest is destroyed by human technology and the survivors get away.

By the same token, I don’t care for post-apocalyptic stories either, for much the same reason.  I view the future through the lens of advancement.  We get better.  We get smarter.  We get more advanced.  Anything that interferes with that metric doesn’t get much admiration from me.  Sure, there may be things that happen that cause a misstep, we can have disasters, we can have problems and wars and the like, but those should be pebbles in the road that trip us up, not massive boulders that smash us down again.

Even if we look at a movie like Mad Max: The Road Warrior, which happens long after the apocalypse, it has a brighter future as the survivors escape the horrors of the desolate future and head for a safe place to rebuild.  Sure, along the way you’ve got the crazies in the wasteland, in a future where, strangely, they fight over gas but spend most of their time just driving around, yet nobody knows how to make bullets.  It’s not a bad movie, certainly it’s the best of the Mad Max films, but it’s not those elements that make it good.

And hey, since I mentioned zombies, which are my most detested horror movie monsters, let’s touch on them for a moment.  I hate zombies.  Sure, they can produce some fantastic comedy, such as Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland, but if you think about it at all realistically, just about every zombie movie or TV series is a long-term death sentence for humanity.  Once the plague starts, you just can’t realistically stop it.  To kill a zombie, the human typically has to score a clean head shot and destroy the brain.  Shooting it anywhere else just delays the beast.  Zombies, on the other hand, just have to land one of their infected teeth into any convenient piece of flesh and the infection takes it from there.  You can go human-to-zombie but you can never go zombie-to-human.  Zombies “reproduce” much faster than humans can, they have every advantage and eventually will win, unless you catch the plague in it’s infancy.  In fact, most modern “serious” zombie movies never show the zombies losing, the “victory” for humans is getting somewhere not currently infected and eking out a primitive life until you die of natural causes.  Not exactly an uplifting moment.

In comics, which started this whole thing I’d like to thank Grundy who commented on my article for reminding me of this, but about the same time as Ex Machina, another Brian K. Vaughn vehicle, Y, The Last Man was going on.  It was the story of a world where almost all of the men were killed by an unexplained plague, leaving one man and his male monkey pet in a world of women.  Sure, that might be the dream of lots of men… immature men, but in reality, that’s a death sentence for the species.  Genetic diversity has gone down the drain, no matter how many of him they can clone, or what few other men they manage to make copies of.  You need many thousands of different men, at minimum, to guarantee species survival.  From issue 1, it was the end of the human race, no matter how they tried to get around it, and it was just delaying the inevitable.  Bad future?  Absolutely.  Why should I want to read about it?

Seriously, let me ask people who like this kind of fiction, what it is that they enjoy about it?  The more I look at it, the more I think about it, the more I encounter it in games or TV or movies or books, the less I want anything to do with it.  Isn’t the future supposed to give us hope?  Isn’t it supposed to show us the way to improve?  If I want to know about the problems the world faces, I can just look outside.  Entertainment is supposed to make us feel happy, it’s supposed to show us that the future is a place we can look forward to, where they’ve solved the problems of today and, even though it has it’s own problems, it’s not the end of the world around every corner.

So what is it that appeals to people about these dystopian, apocalyptic futures?  I honestly don’t get it.

Comic Regrets: DC Focus

This time, my regrets aren’t focused toward a single comic, but toward an entire imprint, put out by DC, called “DC Focus”.  It was a very short-lived imprint, consisting of 4 titles, where the superpowered individuals didn’t necessarily become heroes.

Now as I’ve said before, at the time I was really looking for stories of superpowered individuals that didn’t fit into the typical four-color superhero mold and on the surface, DC Focus offered just that.  It was around for less than a year and really didn’t fare well in sales, the majority of books were cancelled in 8 issues or less.  Here’s what they offered:

Fraction was the story of a top-secret military powered armor suit that was stolen by a group of four criminals, each one of which took part of the suit.  As you might expect, their major activities included in-fighting over who should control the whole suit and committing crimes.

Hard Time told the story of a 15-year old kid who was involved in a fatal school shooting and put into prison for 50 years, only to discover that he was starting to develop psychic powers.

Kinetic was the story of a disabled youth who lives vicariously through the comic book adventures of Kinetic, but doesn’t realize that he’s actually got powers of his own.

Touch was the story of a Las Vegas promoter who finds people with superhuman abilities and tries to market them into a financial success.  Little does anyone know that he, himself, gives people these abilities, but only to one person at a time and with no ability to control which powers each individual actually gets.

The real problem that I had with all of them is that they went too far the wrong way.  I did want non-traditional superhuman books, but all four of these ended up making the “heroes” complete douchebags.  They just weren’t people you’d want to have special abilities, even though, I’ll admit, some of the things that happened were probably more realistic than putting on a costume and fighting crime.  Still, I really wanted people who weren’t heroic to begin with, who weren’t necessarily good people who did nice things, but who came to that realization once they had special abilities that working to help people was a good thing to do.

While I’ll be the first one to say that an integral, objective moral code doesn’t exist, we all do share in the inherent social contract and we are all evolutionarily programmed with an understanding of enlightened self interest.  We know that if we want others to treat us well, we need to treat others well.  We reciprocate good treatment with good treatment, we reciprocate bad treatment with bad, but we understand what kind of behavior we ought to engage in, unless we’re mentally unstable, that brings about the best result for ourselves and for society at large.  I don’t think I’d even mind if you had someone who had been a criminal, who found themselves with a super suit or amazing powers, continuing that life that they had known for a while.  However, as time goes on, as they realize that they don’t have to hurt people, they don’t have to break the law to be successful, that they can go from being an underground criminal to an above-ground citizen, the overwhelming majority of people would do so if given the chance.

That reminds me of another, entirely unrelated comic done by DC called The Power Company.  It was a great concept, someone who decided that instead of fighting crime, they’d charge companies and individuals to protect their assets and serve as bodyguards.  It’s hard to understand how they hadn’t come up with that idea before.  Very early on, they decided that they’d also do some pro bono work for those who couldn’t afford to pay and that was a good thing, but unfortunately, the comic decided to go largely down that road, with the freebie cases being much more common than the pay cases.  That’s not how capitalism works, sorry.  I want that reality.  I want the recognition that these superheroes need to eat too.  They need to make money.  They need to put a roof over their family’s heads.  That doesn’t mean they can’t also be decent human beings, it doesn’t mean they’re going to ignore the cries of the victim if they’re not getting paid, it’s just a bit closer to reality and, at least to start, Power Company did it well.

It’s unfortunate that so many of these comics that, I suppose, have a shot at being more “realistic” also fail so badly.  Power Company never gained a strong readership and died at issue 18.  All of the DC Focus books died within their first year.  There are others that I’ll go into in later posts which did the same thing.  Either they were too dark and gritty and failed to attract a readership from comics fans who wanted a more upbeat tempo or they started out light and eventually slid right into the same old tired superhero stereotype.

Why can’t we find stories that have a well understood goal and can walk that tightrope, balancing realistic stories against dark realities?  I know if they could, I’d be reading it.

Comic Regrets: Firestorm

Actually, this is the story of two regrets.  See, I loved the original Firestorm.  It’s one of the few comics from DC that I ever really got into, the tale of Ronnie Raymond and Professor Stein, two men who were stuck together through accident and had to find a way to coexist.  It was a great story, it originally ran, in 2 series, from 1978-1986.  It also had wonderful writing, something that I think was missing from DC comics.  Series creator Gerry Conway introduced a great sense of humor into the pages, expertly walking a narrow line between being too serious and too silly.  The original run lasted 5 issues and the second, 100 issues until Conway left the title and it took a turn, tragically, to the absurdly serious and topical.  Firestorm became a crusader against nuclear proliferation and as Professor Stein was dying of terminal cancer, Firestorm was transformed into a combination of Ronnie Raymond, Russian superhero Pozhar and the disembodied Stein running the show.  It just wasn’t the same and I left it then, really missing the original series and hating what it had become.  It wasn’t too long until, in DC’s 2004 Identity Crisis saw the death of Ronnie Raymond.

That didn’t stop DC though, shortly thereafter, DC revived Firestorm with a new character taking over the reins.  This is one of the things I absolutely hate about DC, they are very costume-driven.  It doesn’t matter who wears the suit, the only thing anyone reads the comic for is the suit, not for the character inside of it.  This time, they put Jason Rusch, who had received the “Firestorm matrix” from the dying Ronnie Raymond, into the suit.  I never cared for Rusch.  I gave it a shot, but Rusch came off as a “token black kid in a superhero costume”.  He was purely stereotype.  Smart kid, living in the ghetto, with a single parent who wanted to do good by him but never could.  I don’t remember the details anymore, but at the time it occurred to me that his father kept pushing him to be “blacker”.  I couldn’t stand it.  It lasted a couple of issues before I dropped it.

More recently though, they gave it another shot with their “New 52” reboot in 2011, this time teaming Jason Rusch and Ronnie Raymond together as Nuclear Men.  They hated each other, they fought and frankly, the chemistry was awful.  It was a complete reboot, nothing from their past ever happened and that could have been either good or bad.  Both Jason and Ronnie were high school students from “different sides of the track”.  They were involved with an accident, caused by Professor Stein’s “god particle” that gave them both the ability to transform into different versions of Firestorm.  While the concept, I suppose, was interesting in theory, in practice it was horrible.  They spend more time squabbling and beating each other up than they did actually learning how to work together.  They could combine their powers into an incredibly powerful nuclear monster, but even when combined, they still yelled at each other.  It was just a mess, I think I made it through 6 issues before throwing in the towel.

It’s really a shame because the original 2 series were really excellent, but I have to chalk that up to the writing of Gerry Conway.  After he left, the series was never the same and it devolved into the same kind of suit-swapping nonsense that makes up the majority of the DC universe.

I still miss it, but I think I’ll give up trying new Firestorm offerings in the future.  It just doesn’t look like they’re capable of recapturing the original magic or fun.

Comic Regrets: Ex Machina

This is probably going to turn into a short series, focusing on comics that I once collected, but I realized, over time, that I just had no interest in where they were going.  Since my wife and I have been going through boxes of comics, trying to figure out what to get rid of and what to hang onto, there’s a massive amount of stuff that we bought, we thought we’d like, but ended up not being able to stand.

One of those comics was the Brian K. Vaughn vehicle, Ex Machina.

Now at the time, I was really looking for more “realistic” superhero comics.  I was hoping to find something that presented superheroes as they might be in the real world.  Marvel and DC were really pimping fantastic tales with guys in flashy costumes who were largely loved and/or tolerated by the non-powered public and allowed to run wild by the government and frankly, I had enough of that.  So I was hoping to find something that showed how someone with extraordinary powers might fare in the modern day real world.  Certainly I expected it to be relatively dark, as I didn’t think your regular Joe would embrace the idea of someone who could do superheroic stuff with open arms, more likely it would be met with fear, but it had to be better than everyone waving at the guy flying by in his underoos.

Ex Machina is the story of Mitchell Hundred, a guy who found he had the ability to talk to electronics and influence their actions.  He donned a costume, took on the mantle of The Great Machine, and ended up changing history on 9/11 when he intervened in the terrorist attack.  As such, it launched a political career as mayor of New York City and set him on the path toward the White House.

So far, so good I guess.  It was certainly realistic, it certainly had a lot of the elements I wanted.  People admired the Great Machine for what he’d done, but people also hated and feared him because he was different.  It could have been exactly what I wanted, except Vaughn turned it into a liberal political comic and the superhero elements became entirely secondary.  You saw lots of flashbacks with the early days of the Great Machine, but once Hundred was in office, he rarely actually used his powers for anything significant and getting into costume?  Forget it.  The comic became about liberal politics in New York City.  It was about gay marriage.  It was about racism.  It was about political backstabbing.  It was really about everything but being a superhero in the real world.  Maybe that made it even more realistic, but that wasn’t what I wanted to read.  Even though I knew it was ending with issue #50, I dropped it somewhere in the early 40s.  While the writing and art was always good, it just wasn’t the story that I was looking for.  It isn’t that I didn’t enjoy it for what it was, at least in the broad strokes, but when you had issue after issue after issue of “is Hundred gay?  Is he going to support gay rights?  What does his staff think?”, it got tiring.  What did any of that have to do with the genre?  Nothing.  Therefore, I, as a genre-enjoying reader, just couldn’t stick with it.  I moved on.  Ex Machina might have been a critically acclaimed comic that busted genre stereotypes, but that’s not what I wanted.  I wanted superheroes in the real world.  I got liberal politics on a barely-superhero backdrop.

Thanks but no thanks.

The Good Old Days of Comics

About a week ago, my wife and I had nothing to watch on TV so we pulled out Iron Man to watch.  It’s probably my favorite of the current crop of superhero films so I never pass up a chance to watch it.  Immediately following, I threw in Iron Man 2.  It’s not as good a film, but certainly I enjoy it so might as well make it a two-fer.

That got me thinking, especially since my wife and I had just gone through about a dozen long-boxes of comics deciding what to get rid of.  So much of what we’ve bought in recent years is just taking up space and we’re never going to read it again so we decided we might as well dump it on eBay.  We don’t care about making money, just in freeing up space.  These boxes are only comics that have come out in the last decade or so, we have lots of other boxes of classic comics that we’re keeping in storage.

So I started reading through the digital copies of Iron Man that I had stored away.  I downloaded them years and years ago, I got them because if I ever wanted to read some of the comics I have in storage, I didn’t want to dig through boxes, I might as well read the scanned versions because it’s more convenient.  I have full or near full runs of Iron Man, X-Men, Fantastic Four, Avengers, Daredevil, Spider-Man and many, many more.  Before you ask, no, I don’t feel at all bad pirating all of them, I actually own most of them anyhow.

The first thing I must say is that the stories back in the old days were much better than the stories in modern comics.  I occasionally look in on some of the modern comics, in fact going back to 1963 also made me grab some of the current issues and there just isn’t any comparison.

That’s not to say there’s nothing wrong with the old comics, especially to modern eyes.  Comics from the 60s and 70s read like a thesaurus exploded.  My memory might not be that great, but I don’t recall anyone talking like that back in the day.  You have street thugs talking like Rhodes scholars.  Nobody ever talked that way.  There are also stories that come across rather silly to modern eyes, they dealt with social issues of the day that simply have no application today.

So far, I’ve only read up to about issue 45 and when I started reading comics, the first Iron Man I ever bought was #68, issued in April 1974.  The first run of Iron Man comics had 332 issues and I plan on reading through them all.  This includes some of the most classic, essential storylines that Iron Man ever had, including the Demon in a Bottle storyline that ran in issues #120-128 and Armor Wars which appeared in #225-231.  I honestly don’t think that Marvel has come close to some of these classic stories past the Volume 1 series.

See, I love Iron Man, just as a concept.  My three favorite Marvel superheroes are Iron Man, Spider-Man and Daredevil and I like them all for the same reason.  They can take off their costumes and be normal people, living normal lives.  They are superheroes by choice, not by chance.  Unlike so many other Marvel heroes, they’re not green, they don’t have wings or tails, they are not forced into the role by the physical freaks that they are.  That was sort of the X-Men schtick and while there’s certainly a place for that, it’s not what really drew me to it.

Especially in the case of Tony Stark, when that costume comes off, he’s just a normal guy.  He might be a billionaire playboy, but he has no underlying abilities.  Peter Parker and Matt Murdoch, even in civilian garb, have abilities to call on in an emergency, Stark has none of that.  Without the suit, he might be a genius but he’s a powerless genius.  I think that draws me to the character most of all.  In more recent incarnations, where they’ve tried to do Extremis and the Ultimate version, where the suit is a part of the man, I’ve been much less interested because he’s no longer human, he’s superhuman.

In fact, this has gotten me into re-reading tons of old comics.  We sat down to watch The Incredible Hulk and yes, I loaded up a bunch of old Hulk comics on the tablet and am reading them.  I also stuck on a pile of John Byrne Alpha Flights.  It’s been a lot of fun, “paging” through old comics that I know and have loved and recognizing how much better they are, even 30-40 years later, than the crap that’s coming out today.

It’s no wonder that the comics industry is in the dumper today.  There just isn’t much quality and the stories that appeal to a wide audience certainly aren’t there.  They’re just a vehicle for getting movies made today and when that goes away, as it inevitably will, where does that leave the comics?

Spiraling into oblivion.