Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Spending Some Time Wondering About Cremation

This past weekend found me being part of something that I've never done before. My uncle passed away from cancer a little over a year ago and he was cremated instead of burial. On the first anniversary of his passing, it was decided to have a family ceremony to spread his ashes in San Francisco Bay. After a little time spent to find where it was legally allowed to do this, we hopped on an extended family member's boat and chugged our way out to Angel Island on Saturday afternoon. It all went down between 11am to 3pm.

While there were some laughs and tears, there was something that really kind of struck me as odd about the whole cremation process. The thing that really stuck in my brain was when I first saw the box that my Uncle's ashes were held in. It amazed me to see a box that small that could contain all of the non water based parts of the human body. We always see the human being as sort of a big and chunky thing that takes up a large amount of space in whatever environment the person is in. My brain kind of got stuck on this aspect of the whole thing. You don't contemplate that a 6'2" 230lb person would shrink down into a little box.

This also led to one of the most humorous moments on the trip and one that seems it was perfectly timed for the ceremony. When we reached Angel Island, the boat was sort of put into hover mode due to the odd currents and wind forming the need to keep the engines set on idle and we all went to the back of the boat for the ceremony. As the music was keyed up on an iPod and flowers were handed out, there was a sudden problem that no one really thought about - We couldn't open the box. There were no latches or hooks or buttons or whatever else you can come up with to get the thing open. Everyone seemed to have an idea about how to get it open but none of these seemed to work. It probably should have been something that we thought of before we left the dock but that just would be too much forethought on our part. We could actually hear my Uncle complaining about how silly we all were for not being able to open his box.

The ride there and back went well though it wasn't the most happiest of trips. It just kind of leaves a person feeling very opened up to the world around you and you kind of just look around you as you remember past times. The way that you look at the whole situation adds to the quiet mood when you realize just how small we can all wind up looking. It is true that they say that the human is made up of around 60% water which leaves a small amount to be turned to ash but it still doesn't help to calm the mind on how small in physical content we all really are.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

My Comic Store Pull List - July 25, 2007

Invincible #44
It amazes me when I realize just how fast a single issue of this comic moves all of the different storylines along. There is a major switch to the Mark/Atom Eve relationship that leaves it all up in the air. You can then mix in bits about Mark's Mom and his school status. Finally, Mark has a slight run-in with a woman from his Dad's planet (long story) that starts out questionably and winds up getting worse. This comic just keeps moving but always has time for character development which makes me very happy. Throw in a great joke about hurting a monster in battle and it's all good in the hood for me.
My Rating: A

Buffy The Vampire Slayer #5
After the end of introductory story, it's kind of nice to have this issue to both clense the pallete and also add a little danger to the comings and goings. We're given a view of what it's like to be one of the decoys that Buffy has running around the world masquarading as her. While it does read a little jarring since the whole story exists in just this issue but it does give us a view of what some people are asked to do to help keep the peace in the supernatural world. Bittersweet is the taste that you'll have at the end of the read but it shouldn't chase you away.
My Rating: B

Countdown #40
This is a definate step up from the last couple of issues which might not be saying much when it comes down to it. All of the major and even a couple minor plots start moving at a very rapid rate. From the microscopic world to Metropolis to Apokolips, there are all kinds of things happening in a short space of time. With the quick jumping, it still flows nicely and doesn't get too congested. It might have been better to move a plot point or three to previous or upcoming issues for a little breathing room but it made me happy to finally have some movement. Be sure to not miss what is quite possibly one of the meanest and funniest bit of dialogue coming from Darkseid. Sometimes it's good to be the king.
My Rating: B-

Hellboy: Darkness Calls #4
The mystical world can be quite a bitch when you have to put up with all kinds of things like Hellboy does. Stuck trying to make his way back to our dimension while being hunted by an ancient evil, you have to feel for the guy. The plot flows really nicely though I think that the monthly reader might be helped with one of those plot recap pages that many of Marvel's comics have. With all the stuff going on and all of the different characters popping in and out of the action, a little help would be nice.
My Rating: B

All Star Batman & Robin, The Boy Wonder #6
Pardon me while I am amazed at how fast this issue came out following the last one. When it took almost a year between issues #4 and #5, having the next issue appear on time makes a person go "Wow!" Snarkiness aside, this is probably the first issue of this series that I can say that I enjoyed. It's nice to have a little less of the whacked out Batman and he now reads like a badass more than anything else. The Batgirl story fragment felt awfully short to warrant having her on the cover and it seems like the freckles and red hair would be a dead giveaway to her identity. Black Canary pops in for a little fight that turns into something even worse for everyone concerned. If the future issues read as well as this one does, then I might feel the need to hang around a lot longer than I had originally planned.
My Rating: B
Choosing What The Truth Is Supposed To Mean

This might just show that I'm older than any of the rest of the world but I'm kind of feeling really let down by the current people hanging out in the White House. I know that many of you won't be too amazed by that thought but it seems like there is a big ball of bad starting to build up in front of me. It doesn't even really include the standard things, like the Iraq War or other similar stuff, though it can kind of fit in there if it's turned quite right.

What is making me so flumoxed?

The way that several members of the government seem to feel really no worry over telling a lie.

This has nothing to do with those little white lies that we all tell. Those kinds of things tend to read more like fibs than out and out lies. Fibs tend to be those things that kind of help to get us through the day without additional interpersonal stress and humiliation. Most of the fibs also tend to be more of an innocent nature and don't stray too close to the danger of being a lie.

I just can't seem to understand why these people feel that they have the ability to tell outright lies with no repercusions coming their way. It could be all about the Attorney General throwing out all kinds of conflicting stories during his multiple testimonies in front of the different Congressional groups. It might be when Cheney decided to say that voting for anyone that isn't a Republican was voting for the victory of the terrorists. But then it might be all of the stuff about the attorney firings and who is and was actually involved in the situation.

All of those things could be seriously heinous and probably is at least against their supposed moral codes. After all that, it appears that the thing that has sent me over the edge is the newly released information about the death of Pat Tillman. After all of the previous things that have come from this event, be it death by enemy or friendly fire, it all left a bad taste in my mouth.

From paperwork acquired by the AP, it appears that there was even more people involved in the cover-up and the assorted cover stories that followed. It starts with doctors that checked the body stated that the bullethole placement in Tillman's head didn't jibe with all of the previous explanations. Their decision was that the bullets probably came from an M-16 and only about 10 yards away. Then there are the emails sent between multiple Army attorneys congratulating each other for keeping the criminal investigation at bay which led to administrative and non-criminal charges. An additional bit of lie comes from the fact that there was no proof of any kind of enemy fire found in the area of the shooting or in any of the vehicles used by the squad.

All of this just gets balled up into one colossal lie that makes me wonder how these people can sleep at night. This lie is bad enough but they shared it with the rest of the world as a truth. You have to either have balls of steel or a heart of stone to feel it's okay to tell the story that they spun to his Mom as she was still reacting to her son's death.

I guess I could say that maybe they just have a different set of mental priorities and leave it at that. Those are priorities that no rational human being should have but I guess it takes all kinds of people to run or ruin the world.

Friday, July 20, 2007

My Comic Store Pull List - July 18, 2007

Brave And The Bold #5
This is kind of the oddest comics on the racks right now. You see it seems to me that this is a gloriously retro kind of book, both in writing and art. And the larger truth about it? I love it! Unlike most of the other currently produced super hero comics from the "Big Two", this comic is a wonderful team-up series done without a whole lot of interest with continuity. They might drop a hint here or there about something going on with a given character but it doesn't really factor into the story. It's all about the enjoyment of seeing your favorite heroes working together to fight evil.

This issue continues the introductory story concerning, among other things, Destiny's book and the Lords Of Luck. You've got Batman stuck in the 30th century with the Legion of Super-Heroes and dealing with the only object that could get him back home. Along with that, you have Supergirl arriving at the planet of Rann to help out Green Lantern and Adam Strange. It's all about leading into the big finale of the story next issue and it will be interesting to see how all of this dovetails together. All in all, it's nice to have a series that doesn't have to worry about what everyone else is doing.
My rating: A

Countdown #41
I honestly don't know what is causing me to feel that this book isn't working right. It seems like it should be humming along but it always seems to read more disjointed to me. Unlike the preceding weekly series, Countdown doesn't quite have the same flow as 52 did and it also lacks the previous series hold on all of the plot lines. Each issue is set up in the same manner as 52 but Countdown reads like seperate pieces stuck together and not a more complete story. All of the seperate plots are interesting but it feels like they're all going off into different directions and not towards a similar end. I'm going to keep reading but I hope that the story will gell together in the future.
My rating: C+

Justice League of America #11
This stand alone issue is a very interesting thing to read following the first two multi issue arcs. Instead of the big sweeping adventure storys, this is a much smaller story concerning the survival of two members of the team who are trapped inside a collapsed building. The whole story feeling of claustrophobia especially due to the guest art by Gene Ha. With it's all black pages and jagged open spaces wedged into each page, the reader can really feel how compressed the environment is for the heroes. I was kind of disappointed with how fast of a read this issue wound up being but the issue was still stong enough to work without being giant sized.
My rating: B+

Birds Of Prey #108
I'm not sure if this is Gail Simone's last issue as writer of the series but this issue really reads like it is. It seems to function both as a finale for the current storyline and an opening for the new writer to come in and do what they want to do. While the field team comes back from their mission in Russia, Barbara waits for the return to make the stand to return the team to her control. After a couple issues of Babs seeming more docile than in the past, it is really nice to have her back to her old personality. Add in a kind of altered 4 page spread of all of the people that have been members of the team backing Babs up (though I was kind of confused to see Power Girl there after their past problems) and it feels even more like an ending than anything else.
My rating: A-

Ultimate Spider-Man #111
After all of the histrionics of the last two plots, it is really nice to finally get the chance to take a breath. A reader can get buried mentally from all of the fights and explosions so you just want to feel for the characters more than it's possible to do in a plot like that. The main part of the issue is the discussion between Peter Parker and Aunt May about his heroic identity. Instead of all of the standard written issues, this one feels really real and solid in a worldly kind of way. The talk flows and you can feel it move without being forced at all. This issue also has the pedigree to be the final issue by artist Mark Bagley (who has drawn the entire series up to now) and his replacement, Stuart Immomen. Both artistic looks fit together nicely and both seem to have the same sense for design which leaves a long time reader like me looking forward with hope.
My rating: B

All Flash #1
It struck me as funny when I realized that I've actually bought every Flash first issue since the relaunch following the Legends mini series back in the day. I never seem to stay around for very long but there must be something in the character that keeps drawing me back. The opening of the issue helps to fit all of the odd temporal difficulties that have crept into the continuity since you have events happening in a couple different comics. It's nice to have that to link the points together and give you a knowledge of where the story is coming from. It might seem like they're spending a lot of time just to wrap up all manner of plot points but it reads more or less like a way to clear the deck for the return of Wally West as the Flash. And I really don't have a problem with that.
My rating: B+

Monday, July 16, 2007

Calling Shenanigans On The Video Game Industry

Among my many interests, playing video games tends to fit in right in the middle. While I've grown up with the hobby and still enjoy it, I'm not one of those people that have to own the latest consoles as soon as they're released or play my favorite games incessently. I guess you could factor me into the casual gamer category. That being said, I do find it fascinating to watch the ways and means that the different companies go about promoting themselves at their big yearly event - the Electronic Entertainment Expo or E3 for short.

This trade show, held every July, is the big coming out party for the next fiscal year's video games and the industry as a whole. All of the big announcements are made there along with all of the different game creation companies showing off their wares. This year's E3 was being promoted as a return to being just about the games and moving away from all of the hype and hyperbole of the recent years. That means all of the big extravegances were removed, from big flashing marquees to booth babes to easily attainable tickets for those not directly in the business. Thie year's E3 was a leaner and meaner entity but that didn't stop each major hardware company from tossing out an odd choice during their keynote presentations.

Since I'm in a nice mood, I'll start this off with Nintendo. Their shenanigan was more humorous than just plain wrong so it's not like I'm coming down hard on them or anything like that. My mental tick comes out of the announcement of the new game Wii Fit, which is obviously meant for their Wii system. This is a video game that is actually meant to get the player up and moving. It might be even more healthy to get them to put down the controller and play outside but that might just be splitting and unecessary amount of hairs.

Wii Fit will come along with a new peripheral device called a "balance pad", which looks like a standard scale except without the readouts. This pad is seperated into two sections that can read the amount of pressure being put on it and will help use that to figure out how well the person is playing. The game appears to be full of all kinds of excercise based games, including yoga and low impact aerobics.

All of this leads me to the point of my confusion. Back when the Wii was first introduced, there were reports all over the news about how the players in the US seemed to be getting a bit overzealous while they were playing. For example, they wouldn't feel the need to just flick their wrist for the Wii Bowling game. They would do the whole motion and sometimes even let go of the controller like it was the ball itself. With the speed and velocity that those throws might have had, it is totally understandable that the wrist straps on the controllers, which I'd bet weren't designed for that level of play, had a tendancy to break which would then send the controller flying across the room at a serious rate of speed.

Now we come to the "balance pad". If there was that much trouble with the initial release, what makes them think that we aren't going to do the exact same thing to this pad? I can just see someone firing up their Wii Fit and switching to the hoola-hoop game only to cause their pad to break when they start really swivelling their hips back and forth. Since the entire game is based off of that peripheral, it would seem to me that the level of enjoyment would decrease rapidly if the only means of controlling the game is broken.

My other shenanigan is actually more or less a two parter. It concerns both Sony and Microsoft and their attempts to make it seem like their hardware is the best availble and the best seller. Both use a large chunck of questionable math to reach their conclusions and that just makes them look worse for it.

The award for cutting to the chase has to go to Sony. A week ago today, Sony announced that they were reducing the price of their 60GB PS3 by $100, down to a retail price of $499. While everyone else said that it was a price cut, Sony said that it was only an adjustment due to the introduction of a new version of the PS3 that will come with an 80GB hard drive. This new model will be priced at $599 like the old one was. Why anyone would want to pay $100 just to have 20GB more of available storage space is beyond me but that's not what I'm talking about.

Sony had their big presentation Wednesday afternoon and part of the financial section talked about how the PS3 had been the top console seller at Amazon since the price change. This even made it into the powerpoint presentation showing on the big screen behind the speaker. Along with the console popularity, they mentioned how well their BluRay game discs sold and how much information they are able to fit on them. There was even mention of how Blockbuster now will only carry BluRay discs and will remove all HD DVD discs from store shelves.

For the former, it struck me as slightly disingenious to promote your console's level of popularity after literally only 2 days of a price reduction. The news of the reduction was still being seen as fresh with many news outlets so there is a good chance that many people hadn't even heard about what had happened. Try quoting those same figures in a couple weeks and lets see how true they still are. Also, it doesn't help to say that your sales have increased 9 fold since the price change when we have no clue what the starting sales numbers were. By using this math, you could say that the PS3 sales increased 100 fold the day after it's launch and it would still be true.

For the latter, it's very simple. BluRay technology is a media system created and designed inhouse at Sony. Next time they might want to slip that bit into the speech somewhere so they don't seem like they're trying to work around the corner before they even tell us the wall is there.

The last entrant in the shenanigan derby would be Microsoft. Their odd use of math looked immediately kind of dubious but became even worse in hindsight. During their presentation, it was stated that, during the period of January - June 2007, both their console and games were outselling their competitors at an almost 2 to 1 ratio. That being said, it was actually something akin to comparing apples to a piece of cheese and saying that you won. It is a given that the XBox 360 would have a larger install base and game sales number since the console had been out a full year by the time they started counting all of the data shown. You had two competing consoles launching almost simultaneously which tends to drag down the market for both. Toss in the on release shortages and that will seriously decrease the amount of sales. Like Sony, let's see what is happening at this time next year before we start patting ourselves on the back.

Now I know that shenanigans like the ones metioned about tend to appear at these kinds of presentations. These events are meant to build up the fanbase and also get a little bit of drooling out of the fanboys that have not purchased their wares. That being said, it just struck me as foolhardy to flaunt all of these numbers without actually noticing how wrong the ways and means of retrieving them was. It must be that new math that I hear so much about...

Thursday, July 12, 2007

My Comic Store Pull List - July 11, 2007

X-Factor #21
This reads like the first part of a big upcoming event. Madrox spends the issue trying to keep the whole group moving and getting everyone together to work together. This includes everything from a meeting with a new client, attempting to make some kind of peace with Monet and Teresa, and getting his drink on. A well rounded story that even has room for a medical test and the arrival of what could be a major factor in the future of the series.
Decision: A

Countdown #42
The continuing adventures of the DC universe as it wanders through all manner of escapades. While it does move along at a good pace, I have to admit to feeling a little let down by a good portion of this issue. Many of the main characters seem to be more or less in a holding pattern which leaves a lot of scenes of people sitting around and talking. There is also an odd bit of conversation involving Karate Kid that left me wondering about the time frame of when the scene happened and how it fits into the whole "Lightning Saga" bit. Mary Marvel works in a little action with Clayface along with the forshadowing about her powers and the Trickster and Pied Piper get up close and personal with what appears to be a new version of the Suicide Squad. All in all, a nice read but not a lot hoding it up.
Decision: B-

Justice Society of America #7
We return to the bedside of Mr. Nathan Heywood, who has been stuck there in a coma since the start of the series. From the explanation given, it looks like he's wound up with a power not unlike his crime fighting relatives and doesn't like it. The plot of the issue flowed really nicely though it did feel like it was jumping ahead a bit too quickly from time to time. This is sort of the "one and done" origin issue that introduces a new character to the team which left me feeling a little let down at how fast it was moving. I would also have to question the way that they give him his costume, if only just because it seems like they would want to choose an easier means to do it if there is a good chance that it will need to be repaired on a regular basis. Either way, this is a nice little story to keep the plots going until the next major story arc.
Decision: B

Fables #63
While the most recent issues of this series have been mostly character based, it looks like "The Good Prince" is finally starting to really get moving. There is action on multiple fronts, including nearly all of the characters on both sides of the conflict. While there is no actual fighting, this issue reads like a primer for the battles to come. All of the different chess pieces are moving into position for the coming war and this issue really defines and shows how many of the characters will be experiencing the events to come.
Decision: A

Madman Atomic Comics #3
This issue made my brain hurt but in a good way. Our hero is trapped in the odd netherworld of his subconscious and needs to find a way out to stop his arch enemy. This journey is aided by an interesting choice of person though they don't quite end up where they thought they would. This story is filled with a lot of heavy psychological ideas and beliefs that can sometime leave you wondering where the story is actually heading. A special word must be made about the artwork. While we travel through the subconscious, we travel through many different worlds that resemble all manner of illustrated stories. This includes picture books, comics, paintings, comic strips, and even a certain television show that will soon be a movie. While it does lead to a "spot the influence" moment or three, the effect is still really creative and fits in well with the story.
Decision: B+

Freshmen II: Fundamentals of Fear #6
Can someone please explain to me what has happened to this story? The original mini series was so well written and this sequel just seems to be grasping at things to do. There are a bunch of events in the lives of all of the main characters but none of them really seem to stick in the mind very strongly. It would seem that they were trying to go for a way to show the characters growing up but there are some large leaps taken and a couple questionable decisions in the case of the writer's need to keep the story going. If the next mini series starts off like this one has ended, I'm not sure if I'll stick around to see what happens next.
Decision: C