Thursday, January 28, 2010

Shallow Thoughts - 1/28/10

My commute from my idyllic suburban town to big ugly Manhattan normally takes two hours. Now I know that if I attempt it when it’s snowing, it takes closer to three. This is good for blogging, but terrible for every other conceivable reason. Oh well. Here we go.

• Everyone’s abuzz about yesterday’s iPad announcement. I have very little to add to the discussion about how terrible the name is or how it will or will not revolutionize comics or publishing or any other industry I’m involved in. On a personal level, it hits me in the “it would be neat to own it but I can certainly imagine my life without it” zone. But I’m definitely not the target audience—other than the computers I use at work, I haven’t owned an Apple product since the IIGS that was my very first computer. No, not even an iPod. Yeah, I’m the one. I think part of the reason I’m not fully drooling over it is that I prefer electronics that fold up and offer some sort of protective outer shell – like the laptops, Nintendo hand-helds and cell phones I’ve owned over the past several years. It’s a fundamental departure point between me and the way Apple has been designing products, and it’s also why, in the realm of e-reader type things, I’m more excited about Microsoft’s rumored Courier than the iPad. Something about how book-like it seems appeals to me more than the admittedly sexy and futuristic iPad. Not that I’ll end up owning either one, mind you. But I think it would be cool.

• Don’t forget: other than my renewed focus on blogging here, I’ve also been blogging a lot more on the day job blog. Yesterday you could have seen me link to some new Transformers toys, wax poetic about Marvel’s new Heroic Age, and share the wackiest press release I got on that particular day. I get a lot of wacky press releases, and I’m going to be posting them over there whenever possible.

• I really want to hope that last night’s State of the Union address actually does usher in a wave of politicians acting like adults, and I’m trying really hard not to put a qualifier on this sentence. It’s the post-cynical age. Conan said so.

• Brooke and I have been watching thirtysomething (it’s spelled with a lower-case t) on DVD, and we’re in the middle of the second season now. It’s been really interesting to watch for a few reasons. First, because we are—if not the same age as the characters (we’re a bit younger)—at least in the same boat as some of the characters, as regards children, homeownership, etc. Secondly, because when the series first aired (which seems like 100 years ago, but is just over 20), our parents were just about the same age/same boat as the characters. So it’s interesting to note which things remain utterly relatable one generation removed (primarily the many ways in which having kids sets you apart from your childless friends and changes every facet of your life) and which are unrelatable. In the latter category, I find the characters’ preoccupation with authenticity pretty amusing. I’m sure there are people out there my age who can relate to these former hippies-turned-yuppies and their anxiety over selling out to corporate culture, but I certainly can’t. My aspirations always involved making a living doing what I love and being able to support a family, and never involved (for better or worse) changing the world or bringing down “the man.” On a side note, every single male character on the show is various shades of despicable, although Brooke and I figure they must have counted as “sensitive New Age guys” at the time the show aired. Apparently, the ruler for what constitutes a sensitive guy has slid considerably in the last 20 years

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Shallow Thoughts - 1/24/10

My long-form blogging is tending to be pretty...long. So here's an experiment in short, bite-size blogging.

• First and foremost, happy "dating anniversary" to my lovely wife. 15 years ago today she asked me out in between high school midterms. It is my sole mission in life to make her happy that she made that decision.

• Despite the fact that we could have caught it any time in the past couple of months, we watched the Caprica pilot when it aired on SyFy on Friday. Before it aired I wasn't sure I even wanted to venture back into the Battlestar universe, after so much closure was achieved in the finale (I'm one of those people who really, really liked the finale). After watching it I think it'll be interesting, but I can't see how it can sustain as a series for much longer than a season. It seems (and I'm basing this at least partially on the teaser poster I've seen everywhere around the city) that they're going to be exploring the "original sin" that started the Human/Cylon war, or at least the most recent iteration of it. The thing that most struck me after watching it was realizing how there were absolutely no teenagers on Battlestar, and how they play such an important part on this show. Teenagers are annoying.

• It was actually weird to watch SyFy again - I've barely turned it on since they lost Doctor Who to my new favorite cable channel, BBC America. Right now they're showing my favorite Hitchcock film, Rear Window. I love you, BBC America.

• If you're still interested in buying a copy of my book, it's now in-stock and shipping from Barnes and Noble. Thanks again to all my friends who Tweeted about it.

• I didn't watch Conan's last episode, but I read the transcript of his farewell speech. That guy is a class act.

• My buddy Sean T. Collins just put up a downloadable mix of his Best Songs of 2009. Even though our tastes don't seem to overlap...barely at's definitely worth checking out. This set off a spate of mix-making amongst my friends that I'd love to get in on, but I've literally just been listening to the latest albums by Vampire Weekend and Phoenix over and over and over lately.

• And finally, I got really depressed this past week about events in the political realm, but I found a comforting thought Friday night that helped me, and I figured I'd share it in case anyone else out there is having a hard time. Basically, it occurred to me (and it's fairly simplistic) that if you pay attention to every election and poll and decision and all that, things can seem very discouraging. But if you pull back...WAY back...and just look at the flow of human history, things are always improving. I look at it this way: if you could be living in any time period, not as a royal but just as a regular person, when would you live? I think I'd choose right now. Brooke says that she'd live as a Baby Boomer, because they got everything easy and then kind of ruined everything for the rest of us. She might be onto something there...

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Doctor Without Borders

I know the rest of the world took a break from writing about Doctor Who a couple of weeks ago, but what can I say? I’m slow. I will say that even though we saw the end of David Tennant’s reign as the Tenth Doctor back in early January with the broadcast of “The End of Time, Part 2,” Brooke and I haven’t stopped thinking about Doctor Who since. If anything, it’s gotten more intense.

I’m a Johnny-come-lately to the world of the Doctor, but for Brooke it’s part of her earliest memories. She can remember the show being on around her, if not her actually watching it, from very early childhood, and the haunting theme song and the blue box feel like they’ve always been a part of her life. So back in 2006 when I got my hands on an early set of the DVDs for the first season of the Who reboot, even before it aired on SciFi Channel here in the U.S., I knew it was a chance to get in on the ground floor with Brooke on a show that could potentially mean a lot to her.

It ended up meaning a lot to both of us. Fans certainly have their complaints about Russell T. Davies’ recently completed run on the show (I could have done with fewer farting aliens myself), but he certainly made the show come alive for a new generation of fans. If nothing else (and there’s plenty else—his method of slowly weaving hints to the final conflict for each season throughout every episode has had a big impact on how I’m approaching long-form storytelling), his casting instincts were impeccable.

I’ve since learned that, from our vantage point in the States, it’s hard to understand how big an institution Who is over in England, or how crazy some of his ideas must have seemed at the time. We first met Billy Piper as Rose, but in England she was a washed up teen pop star, and Catherine Tate (Donna Noble) was a well-known comedienne. Imagine if someone over here were to make a sequel to the Star Wars trilogy, then cast Joey Fatone as Luke Skywalker and Kathy Griffin as Princess Leia and you’ll get the idea.

But both Rose and Donna (and Martha, and Mickey and even Donna’s grandfather) were excellent companions. And as for the Doctors…I know Brooke and I thought that Chris Eccleston would be irreplaceable by the time they did replace him at the end of the first season. It’s to Davies’ credit as much as David Tennant’s that, now that he’s left, the fact that he’s being replaced seems not just unthinkable, but heartbreaking.

Brooke and I rewatched the Christmas Invasion recently, which is Tennant’s first full episode, and Davies uses a really amazing device to get us past our initial reticence about Tennant—he spends nearly the entire episode comatose. By that point we’ve gotten to know and care about Rose, and she’s feeling just as cagey about this new guy as we are. But when she and her family our placed in danger, she comes to want the Doctor to save them, no matter what he looks like. By the time Tennant finally wakes up and swashbucklingly saves the day, we’re so thrilled we don’t care what he looks like, either.

Over at his blog United Monkee, I recently got into a comment discussion with my friend TJ Dietsch about the Series 3 two-parter Human Nature/The Family of Blood. TJ had high hopes for it because it was written by Paul Cornell (writer of fantastic comic books like Captain Britain and the MI-13—if you’re a Who fan reading this, go pick up the trade paperbacks!), but he found himself let down by it, because (again, much like Christmas Invasion) the Doctor is absent for much of the two hours, even though this time Tennant is onscreen the whole time. For me, this is one of my favorite storylines in the whole series, and when Brooke and I recently went back and started rewatching episodes after End of Time aired, it was the first one I chose. (And Brooke went along with it, bless her, even though she finds the end truly heartbreaking and upsetting.)

If nothing else (and, again, it’s plenty else), it’s certainly an acting showcase for Tennant, who reminds us he can do much more than just play brilliant and scattered and on top of things. Here we see the Doctor as a mere man, not very brilliant and definitely not on top of things. And though, once again, we need him to come back by the end of the second episode and fix things, we’re not quite so thrilled to see him come back this time. Because this human persona, John Smith, has developed a life and a love of his own, and he’s not so thrilled with the idea of forfeiting it all just so some wacky alien can take over.

TJ’s main complaint about the two-parter was that it’s one of those things, like Christmas Invasion, where they keep the main character away from it to make you realize how cool he really is, but by this point the audience is well, well aware of how cool the Doctor is. I feel it’s the opposite—the audience is SO used to the Doctor being cool, that it takes an episode like this, showing you what the Doctor ISN’T, to remind you that his coolness and brilliance and zaniness and everything we love about him sometimes disguise one important fact. He’s alien, more alien than he seems sometimes, and though he admires humans he can’t really understand us on an emotional level, and in some way that makes him even more frightening than his Time Lord powers and near-immortality. He claims that humans look like giants to him, but here he’s given a chance to lead an amazing but normal life as a man, and he can’t bring himself to take it. Like I said, heartbreaking.

Now Tennant’s all done, and it’s up to the new kid (and I do mean kid—he’s younger than me!) to carry on however he can. I (and much of the rest of the world) would be a lot more nervous if the man taking over for Davies weren’t Steven Moffat, who’s been responsible for a lot of the best episodes of the recent run (not to mention the BBC mini-series Jekkyl, which I believe is available on Netflix Instant Watch and you should really go instant-watch it right now). (Speaking of Moffat and Instant Watch, is anyone else having trouble getting his episode Blink to load on their Xbox? We wanted to rewatch it, but for some reason it’s the only episode we can’t get to work).

Part of the reason I’ve spent so much time thinking (and now writing) about the older episodes in the past couple weeks is that I found Tennant’s last two-parter, the End of Time, so disappointing. (BEGIN SPOILERS NOW FOR THOSE WHO HAVEN’T CAUGHT UP) I could go on and on about it, but suffice to say: the villains were anti-climactic, the scene with the face-off and the gun made absolutely no storytelling sense because either of the people the Doctor was pointing a gun at could have blasted him at any time at no harm to themselves, and the long, drawn-out death scene, although obviously intended as a victory lap and acting showcase for Tennant, did him no favors. Eccleston’s regeneration was brief, memorable and dignified. Tennant raged against the dying of the light and ended up coming off as petulant, nearly souring some of his tenure in retrospect. Which is why I choose to ignore The End of Time and pretend it didn’t happen, starting…now. Boy, wasn’t it great when Davies wrapped up all his storylines at the end of Series 4’s The Stolen Earth/The Parting of the Ways (he did), and then Tennant regenerated? SO dramatic. (END OF SPOILERS)

That’s the great thing about time travel (and DVDs)—you can always go back and revisit your favorite periods. And that’s just what we’ll do.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Once more, with feeling...

Non-Hero House blogging will resume soon, with my tragically late thoughts on the David Tennant Doctor Who finale and his tenure as the Doctor. It'll no doubt be epic.

But in the meantime, I wanted to bring you some actual important Hero House news. The graphic novel will be out in stores tomorrow. Yes, I know I said something similar two months ago, but that didn't pan out. This time, though, it's showing up on Diamond ship lists, which gives me extra confidence that it's actually happening this time.

Same rules apply as last time - if you're going to try to pick it up, call your local comic shop first and make sure they're stocking it. Not every single shop ordered it, but if you find it you can be as happy as those two happy fellows at the top of the post. Anyway, thanks for putting up with me talking about it for this past year (or, if you're my wife, these past six years). Stay tuned for me talking about other stuff!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

In This Metaphor, the Movie Theater is the Frog

Brooke and I took our newly four-year-old daughter to see Disney’s ‘The Princess and the Frog’ recently – her first film. It got me thinking about my first film –1983’s ‘Return of the Jedi,’ when I was approximately three. In retrospect it’s a little hardcore for a three-year-old, and on later viewings as a kid I’d always have to leave the room during the Rancor scene. Not because I was scared of the Rancor, but because it always upset me when Luke kills it and the Rancor Keeper starts sobbing for his buddy. I was a weird, sensitive kid.

‘Jedi’ kicked off a lifetime of movie viewing for me that’s only been slowed in recent years by having kids. I always loved the idea of going to a theater, even if a film wasn’t great – just the idea that you’re sitting in a room, in a building even, that’s entirely devoted to entertaining you. I always enjoyed it. But lately, and I know I’m not the only person to be saying this, the nature of going to the movies has changed, and the cost/benefit analysis seems to be swinging against it. I can’t help but wonder if my daughter’s first film won’t lead to a lifetime of filmgoing like it did for me.

Or, it did for me for a while, at any rate. I’ve had my share of movies ruined by uncooperative audiences and compared the price of two movie tickets to the price of a DVD enough that I barely even miss going to the movies anymore. And I was, admittedly, a little nervous about bringing our daughter to the movies. Would the screening be hampered by screaming kids? Would our kid BE one of the screaming kids?

I needn’t have worried. Not only was the audience quiet and cooperative, my our daughter was a wonder. She sat quietly through the entire movie, and the look of wonder on her face just during the previews was worth the price of admission. It took my own princess (groan, ugh, sorry) to remind me that, under the right circumstances, there’s still something about sitting in a darkened theater with a giant screen that no TV, no matter how large nor high-def, can yet duplicate. And when we left, she was already asking to go see another.

As for the movie itself, I loved it. John Lasseter deserves the Congressional Medal of Honor for bringing back 2-D animation at Disney, and giving it just a touch of that Pixar magic. When I need to feel inspired, I tend to watch one of the making-of documentaries on my Pixar DVDs. The way those guys talk about and approach storytelling always make me want to write, the way seeing a great band live makes me want to make music (only I can actually write and I’m a terrible musician).

Brooke was impressed with what a beautiful film it was, especially in the Bayou scenes, and it’s true. There’s an organic quality to 2-D animation that CGI still can’t capture. I was really impressed by the themes of the movie, which I found a lot more mature (in a good way) then typical Disney princess fare, which usually is about dreaming big or not judging a book by its cover or something to that effect. Basically, the two main characters are the hard-working New Orleans cook Tiana, who never has any fun because she’s too busy working towards a dream she’s had her entire life, and the shiftless Prince Naveen, who never takes any responsibility because he’s always been too fabulously wealthy and handsome and charming. And the film advocates a middle ground – Tiana has to learn how to enjoy herself, Naveen has to learn how to work hard and care about someone other than himself, and they both learn that no pursuit in life is worthwhile without someone to share it with. It’s not quite a message of “love conquers all,” but that love is the spice that makes a great dish perfect. That’s a message I can get behind.