Two unrelated things

I’ve been thinking about an Iron Man video game lately. Now, to my knowledge, there’s not one currently in development; my point is there should be, and after the huge success of the Spider-Man and Miles Morales games, I would love to see Insomniac take a whack at it. I’m watching a playthrough of the new Guardians of the Galaxy game (which I don’t currently intend to play) as well and that seems to have captured pretty well what a team-based video game ought to be.

What’s got me excited is the prospect of customizability. Imagine a game where you’re constantly unlocking or finding or inventing (call it what you want) new modes and upgrades and powers for your armor, and then give you the ability to swap those pieces out at will, then skin everything however you like so that you can use whatever classic Iron Man colors you want, from the classic red and gold to the Silver Centurion to the short-lived-but-gorgeous black and gold suit to the Superior Iron Man white suit. Ideally you’d end up with something similar to Ghost of Tsushima where there are tons of reason why you might swap out a suit or a few pieces for a specific purpose. I loved how that game never let you get comfortable with a suit of armor; some would be better for stealth, some were straight-up dueling armors, some were more suited for archery and so on. And if the character is Iron Man, someone who could literally be fighting in dozens of different environments? C’mon.

There has not, to my knowledge, been a really good game yet featuring a character who can fly. The Spider-Man games have come the closest (and yes, I have played the Xbox 360 Iron Man game from 2008) and obviously Spider-Man doesn’t actually fly but they nailed the way he moves. C’mon, y’all, make this game happen so I can play it for a thousand years.


On the way home from my dad’s house this evening it crossed my mind that I’ve been stuck at 42 followers for my YouTube channel for a minute now. I am putting a lot of work into this channel, and (and this is not just me, for the record) it is significantly more difficult to pick up followers on YouTube than any other form of social media I’m aware of, and frankly right now the only strategy I have is “make good content and wait for people to find it,” which … well, that’s certainly not a bad strategy, but what it also isn’t is fast. Ironically, I realized just after getting home that that elusive 43rd follower had found me– and, as it happens, he’d left his followers open, so I could see who he was. Typically YouTubers keep their follow lists private, so most of the time when someone follows you only know because the little number ticks up by one and you don’t get any information about who’s followed you.

And he appears to be a middle-school-aged black kid, which immediately brought up the obvious question of whether he was one of my students. And here’s the fascinating bit– I don’t think he is, but I’m not 100% sure despite the fact that he’s posted a couple of videos where his face is visible. Why am I not sure? Because I don’t really know what most of my current students look like, since they wear masks all the fucking time. Especially given how fast these kids’ faces change at this age, if the video I’m looking at is more than six months or so old it’s entirely possible that he’s one of mine and I just don’t recognize him.

Fucked-up, that.

In which apparently these assholes are real

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These are not the assholes to which I am referring.  I’m a big fan of one of them and I’m sure the other one is a perfectly nice person.

The news hit earlier this week: that Brian Michael Bendis had signed an exclusivity contract with DC Comics.  This news probably means precisely nothing to you unless you’re a fairly hardcore comics person; if you aren’t such a person feel free to skip this post entirely as it will hold little relevance to you.

For me, it was really Goddamned bad news.  Now, to be perfectly clear: I don’t begrudge Bendis a single dime of the no-doubt enormous check DC has written him for this; the man has the unquestioned right to do whatever he wants with his career.  He doesn’t have to ask me shit, and he doesn’t owe me anything.  But as Bendis has become, for me, the definitive Spider-Man writer over the seventeen years he’s been writing the character, and as he invented Miles Morales, who for me is now a better Spider-Man than Peter Parker ever was, and as he’s also currently writing both Jessica Jones, which I love, and Iron Man, who is my favorite comic book character of all time… well, the news that he wasn’t going to be writing any of those books anymore is insanely Goddamned depressing.  I’ve been reading Iron Man since I was nine.  He’s had a lot of writers during that time.  Jessica Jones is great but I can live without it.  But the idea that I won’t be able to read any more of Bendis writing Miles is deeply upsetting.

I mean, I’ll get over it.  I’m sure whatever he ends up doing at DC is going to be pretty awesome.  But… shit.


So anyway, I went to the comic shop on Wednesday, as I do.  And I (no doubt as 90% of his customers for the day had done) asked the owner (who, by the way, is the cover artist for Skylights) what he thought of the news, and we got into a brief conversation about it. Now, Casey pulls my books for me every week, and it’s literally his job to know the tastes of the various people who frequent his store, so he knows good and well I’m a fan.  And I’m reasonably sure he is as well.

This dude comes up behind me while we’re talking.  This isn’t unusual, mind you; I’m at the counter, so “behind me” is the place where other people who want comics will naturally end up.  And I hear him mumble under his breath:

“Yeah, maybe Marvel will finally start getting good again.”

I glance at him and don’t respond, opting to continue my conversation with Casey, who gets a very brief pained expression on his face and then also moves on.  I’ve seen this guy in the store plenty of times before, and as much as my physical appearance screams Comic Book Guy to most normals this guy has me beat by at least a few levels.  Anyway, we conclude– I’m not enough of a dick, and Casey is too much of a professional, for either of us to monopolize the counter when there are people waiting.

“See you next week,” I say, as I damn near always do, and I head for the door.  And then this guy starts in on Casey.

“Yeah, he’ll probably end up getting Justice League, and then he’ll make Batman gay, and Superman black, and who knows what else he’s going to ruin…”

…and it hits me.  Bendis is married to a black woman, right?  His kids are biracial.  He was pretty explicit that he created Miles Morales because he thinks (correctly) his kids need superheroes to look up to.  And not for nothing, the person running around in red and gold armor in the Marvel universe right now is a black teenage girl named Riri Williams:

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Holy shit.  This guy is one of those fuckers who thinks Marvel screwed up comic books by getting too much brown in them.  One of those stupid, stupid bastards.  Right here!  Right in front of me!  Trying to argue with me, in fact!  Or at least inflict his stupid opinion on the guy who owns the comic shop, somebody who by definition really can’t argue back, after making at least a halfassed attempt to insert himself into our conversation and being rebuffed.

Most of this is unfolding in my head as I’m walking to my car.  And I resist the urge to go back into the store and start some shit, because part of me thinks that this type of racist asshole needs to be made unwelcome everywhere he goes all the time forever and ever, but the rest of me really doesn’t want to start a row inside this guy’s comic shop.

That said?  Next time I see Casey, I’m asking him for permission.

#REVIEW: Captain America: CIVIL WAR

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And now, let me geek the hell out for a few minutes.

We’ll start with the tl;dr version: Captain America: Civil War: The Search for More Colons is the best Marvel movie.  You should go see it.  There’s really no reason to read the rest of this.  Just go see the damn movie.  Get it?  Got it?  Good.

Minor spoilers beyond the line, but nothing huge:

Continue reading “#REVIEW: Captain America: CIVIL WAR”

In which I #review things

…a whole bunch of things, actually, none of which are really worth a post on their own.Invincible_Iron_Man_1_Cover-720x556

INVINCIBLE IRON MAN #1.  Let’s start with this:  I’m not a fan of the new armor design, particularly given how awesome the last two suits were.  I don’t like the faceplate at all, although I can’t put my finger on exactly why, and the whole suit seems a little too streamlined for my tastes.  That said, Brian Michael Bendis is one of my favorite comic book writers, and David Marquez’ art is excellent throughout– I’m just not a fan of the design itself.  This first arc is bringing back Madam Masque, who I haven’t seen in a long time, and the villain who shows up at the end is, without spoiling things, a hell of a surprise.  I’ve been really happy with Iron Man for quite some time, so it’s good to see the book is still in good hands.  My only complaint: BMB is fond of multi-panel layouts that stretch across two pages, but isn’t a hundred percent about doing it that way, so there are occasional moments where it takes a while to figure out the panel flow on any given two-page spread.  I attribute this to Marquez not being used to working with him; Mark Bagley, his frequent contributor, hardly has pages like that at all any longer.  I’m sure it’ll get better.

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DOCTOR STRANGE #1.  Doctor Strange is one of those characters who I have historically not been a fan of, but have always sorta wanted to be a fan of, if that makes any sense.  And he has an axe on the cover of his new book, which pretty much guaranteed I was going to pick it up.  I know little about the character other than what you’d pick up via osmosis after 30 years of buying comic books, so it’s possible Jason Aaron’s take on him as a sort of exhausted, cigaretteless John Constantine is going to annoy longtime readers, but I liked the book enough that it guaranteed a few more issues.  Chris Bachalo’s art is superb, too, which doesn’t hurt at all, and the book was way more action-packed than I was expecting.  The axe comes in handy; let’s put it that way.

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INJECTION TPB, by Ellis, Shalvey & Bellaire.  I almost didn’t buy this.  I bought INJECTION in single issues as it came out, and by the end of the six-issue run I had no damn idea what was going on at all and was basically only buying the book because I was too lazy to take it off my pull list– which, I think, comic fans know happens a bit more often than it probably should.  So why spend more on the TPB?  Because I had a hunch that the book would work better if I sat down and read it at a gulp than it would have in singles when I’ve read 30 comics since the last time it came out.  And… man.  Yeah.  That’s exactly what happened.  INJECTION is complicated enough that honestly I feel like it should have just come out as a trade paperback rather than bothering with the singles, and I’m glad I jumped at it twice.  Warren Ellis doesn’t do bad work, guys.  I shoulda known better.  Check it out.

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EMPIRE, the entire first season.  I had to stand up and walk away for a bit before I wrote this part, because I’m still sort of in “What the hell?” mode on this show.  Some facts: We watched the first season in maybe three or four big gulps.  The acting is, by and large, phenomenal.  And the characters and story arcs and quite possibly the entire setting of the show make no goddamn sense at all, especially if you know anything about the music business.  Watch this show for Taraji P. Henson as Cookie, because she’s Goddamned amazing, and she needs to win all the awards.  Pay no attention to the fact that the show seems to have no goddamn idea what year it is, or to know anything about trends in music at all, and definitely ignore the guy in the first couple of episodes who appears to have been unsealed from a time capsule first buried in 1985.  Do not think too hard about consistency, because this is a soap opera, and holy shit is it a soap opera, and it’s probably best if you go in knowing that and don’t have to figure it out like I did.  But watch it anyway.

The 10 SF/(mostly) F Works that Meant the Most to Me

To state the obvious right away:  I have blatantly stolen the topic of this post from John Scalzi; his (original, better-written, much more SF-heavy) entry with the exact same title can be found here.  In fact, I’m going to steal his idea to the extent that I’m actually going to quote him from his intro:

What does “meant the most to me” mean? Pretty much what it says — that these works are the works I returned to again and again as pieces of writing, as stories, and as experiences. I’m not interested in arguing whether these books and works are the “best”; I couldn’t possibly care about that. I am interested in explaining why they mean as much as they do to me.

Other than the first few entries, and particularly the first, these are in no particular order.  Oh, and since I might as well put this here:  One thing that has sort of annoyed me as I’ve put this list together is that I can’t honestly put many books by women or people of color on it.  You’re gonna see Margaret Weis and Salman Rushdie and that’s about it; the list would be very different if I were including books from, say, the last ten years and not my entire life.  Go find something by N.K. Jemisin or Cherie Priest or Saladin Ahmed or Sheri Tepper or Helene Wecker or Nnedi Okorafor or Seanan McGuire; they’re all gold.  I just can’t put them on an “entire life” kind of list just yet.

341) The Hobbit/ The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien:  The one everybody who has ever met me could have predicted was going to be on this list.  I first read the One Trilogy to Rule them All in something like second grade and have tried to reread them at least once a year since then; there have been many years, especially when I was younger, that I read them multiple times a year.  I’m 37; I wouldn’t be surprised if I’ve read them 35 to 40 times by now, if not more than that.

My uncle gave me these books– The Hobbit first, and LOTR soon after when it became quickly clear that I was not yet satisfied.  By doing so, he became more responsible than any other living human– and I think I include my parents in that; my personality is in many ways much more like my uncle than either my mom or my dad– for me developing into the enormous unwashed nerd you see before you now.

(Oh: he also told me that “mutton” was gorilla arm when I first asked him about it, a lie I continued to believe for far, far longer than I ever ought to have.)

I still own my original copies of all of these books.  I do not intend to be buried, but I do want them with me when I’m cremated.

766202)  Watership Down, by Richard Adams.  “Silflay hraka, u embleer rah” may be the only example of a line from a book in a foreign language that I have memorized; it’s Lapine, rabbit-language, for “Eat shit, stench-king.”  Wait, no, there are two; Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani is floating around there somewhere but I likely only know that one because of hiphop.  I actually don’t remember how I came across Watership for the first time– honestly, it was probably uncle Dave again, which is gonna be a theme– but it’s another perennial, a book I read at least every year or two.  I’ve done class projects on this book, I’ve read it to kids, I’ve written papers on it, and my wife and I have semi-matching tattoos from it:  I have el-Ahrairah on my left shoulder blade, and she has the Black Rabbit of Inlé in the same location.  Oddly, nothing else by Adams has managed even close to the same impact.

Some may dispute this book’s status as fantasy; it features psychic rabbits that go on an adventure together; shut up.

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3)  Haroun and the Sea of Stories, by Salman Rushdie.  I suspect I’ve bought more copies of Haroun than any other book other than the LOTR series and the Bible; I’ve certainly given away more copies of it than anything else I can think of.  I don’t get Haroun, it’s as if Salman Rushdie killed Neil Gaiman and J.K. Rowling and then spent a long weekend dismembering them and smoking their ashes.  It’s not like anything else he’s ever written– it’s a fairy tale, first and foremost, cloaked in dozens of mythical and literary and historical allusions and yet still written in language that is clear and accessible to anyone literate.  There’s none of the pretense that shows up in Rushdie’s other work; this is unapologetically a book that can (and should be) enjoyed by children.  And it’s meant to be read aloud– when I was a language arts teacher in Chicago, I used this as a read-aloud for both of my classes both years I taught there, and it worked wonderfully both years.  The recently-released sequel, Luka and the Fire of Life, was good but not as magical.  This is my favorite book that I don’t have a tattoo of.

tumblr_m64pypQpDn1qb735zo5_4004)  His Dark Materials trilogy, by Phillip Pullman.  Wait, no, I lied; I don’t have a Dark Materials tattoo yet, although one’s been in the planning stages for a while.  These books are special because I read the first one really not expecting much of anything out of it– in fact, I may have actually been coerced into reading it.  I loved it and by the third book I was as hooked as I’ve ever been into anything.  I love the hell out of this story; the third book may be the only book that’s ever made me cry on a goddamn reread, which ought to be impossible.  Bits of it were quoted at my wedding, for crying out loud.

The movie was godawful, from what I heard, and they never made any sequels– which is fine, because the subject matter (“little children try to kill God” is not a totally unfair paraphrase) is absolutely unfilmable.  I don’t care; this is one of the most wonderful, life-and-love-affirming series I’ve ever read, and I’ll fight you if you try to tell me different.

I’ve read nothing else by Pullman.  I’m almost afraid to.

chronicles5) Dragonlance: Chronicles trilogy, by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman.  I like that the cover image I was able to find for this is kind of beaten up, because I read the everloving hell out of these books in fifth and sixth grade and my copies look just like this.  The Dragonlance books were probably the first fantasy series that I got really into that didn’t have my uncle’s fingerprints on them either metaphorically or literally– I don’t know that he’s ever read the series, and since I’ve read Weis and Hickman’s work as a grownup and not terribly enjoyed it it may be too late for him.  But, man, in fifth grade, where all I thought about was girls and Dungeons and Dragons and really didn’t have enough opportunities to play with either, these books were what I marinated my brain in when I didn’t have any other opportunities.  I haven’t reread them in a good long time– mostly because I suspect the charm will have worn off– but I could polish off a Dragonlance book in three hours in sixth grade, so I read them all the damn time.  I may have read Autumn Twilight more often than any other book than Fellowship of the Ring, and that’s really saying something.

a-game-of-thrones-book-cover6) A Game of Thrones, by George R. R. Martin.  Did you notice how this one was a reference to a single book, and didn’t include the word series or trilogy or heptalogy or whatthefuck ever?  Good, it’s intentional.  Thrones is fucking brilliant, the best introductory novel to a series I’ve ever read.  And each book in the series after that has gotten progressively worse (with a brief uptick right around the Red Wedding) to the point where I’m not sure I’m even buying The Winds of Winter and I might punch George R. R. Martin if I ever meet him.  But, God, Thrones was freaking amazing: unpredictable, fresh, treading the same ground that Tolkien inspired but managing to do it in a way that felt like something new and not a retread and also no elves, which was a plus.  And he managed to surprise me– and if you’ve read the book you know exactly the part I’m talking about– in a way that no other book I’ve ever read in any genre has managed.  I literally had to put the book down and walk away for a while after That Part because I couldn’t believe what had just happened.  Game of Thrones is a wonderful, astonishingly good book– good enough that the sequels keep getting worse and are still “great” on book three– just pretend that after that the series ends and that Feast for Crows and especially the execrable Dance with Dragons never happened.

iron_man_2007) Iron Man #200, by Denny O’Neil and M.D. Bright. Shut up; what’s the second word in “comic book”?  Book.  Iron Man #200 was the first comic book I ever read; I still have my copy, and since then I’ve managed to acquire something like 85-90% of all the Iron Man comics ever published in some form or another.  This is the comic that launched a lifelong hobby even if I do want to get rid of some of the evidence nowadays.  (Weirdly: that’s my most popular post ever.  By a decent margin.  Go figure.)

Looked at another way, this book cost me thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars over the last 28 years, just so that I can have a bunch of huge boxes that I hardly ever open taking over a third of my office.  You know what?  Never mind.  Fuck this book.

(No, really: the Obadiah Stane storyline that culminates in this issue is seriously one of the best Iron Man stories ever told; there’s a reason they pirated it for the movie.  I just wish we’d have seen the Silver Centurion armor; it remains one of my favorite designs all these years later.)

(Oh, right edit:  I can add one more person of color, as I’m pretty sure Mark Bright is black, for whatever that’s worth.)

11253258)  The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams.  This is another entry in the “brilliant launch, weaker sequels” category, unfortunately, but holy crap I cannot even imagine how different high school might have been had I never read the Guide.  Yes, I was that much of a geek.  I reread this for the first time in a few years earlier this year, and it astounded me just how many huge chunks of this book I have committed to memory, a claim I can’t really make for anything else, even books I’ve reread far more times.  When I first started going online– local BBSes in the early nineties, on a 300-baud dialup modem attached to a Commodore 64/128 computer– I used to play a game called Trade Wars all the time.  Every Trade Wars game I ever played was replete with Hitchhiker’s references; there are probably still BBS leaderboards out there somewhere with Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz at the top all these years later.

(Well, no, there aren’t; that would be ridiculous.  But it’s fun to imagine.)

9) The Belgariad, by David Eddings.  Pawn_of_Prophecy_coverThe last two entries in this piece are going to be a trifle more difficult to write about as they’re functionally the same book, but The Belgariad goes first because it leads into at least ten books or so before the quality starts falling off.  I was introduced to the work of David Eddings– and later, co-writer credit with his wife Leigh– by, say it with me, my uncle David, and now that I’m sitting here thinking about it my lifelong obsession with redheads may be a result of the massive crush I had on Ce’Nedra from this series.  Eddings was Tolkien with a clearer system of gods and magic– the Will and the Word was great– and a young protagonist who I could relate to in a way that Frodo and Sam weren’t good for; Belgarath and Polgara were awesome, and the first book of the series contains one of the most epic dressing-downs of a main character’s idiocy that I’ve ever read, as Garion literally magics up a storm and Belgarath has to cope with the continent-wide weather disturbances that that engenders.  “Do you know how much all that air weighs?” 

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10) The Sword of Shannara, by Terry Brooks.  As I said, this is sort of functionally the same book as Pawn of Prophecy above; a young protagonist and his family, an older, wizardly mentor figure (this time the druid Allanon, who had me fantasizing about being able to fire blue flames from my hands for years oh hell I’m still doing it today who I am I kidding) and a mystical/magical threat to all humanity that can only be defeated by finding the MacGuffin.  Shannara may be the greatest MacGuffin fantasy literature ever, actually, as the sword, when they finally actually find it (spoiler, I guess) turns out to not at all be what they think it will be, which just sorta makes the whole plan to Find The Sword and Beat the Baddie all that much more MacGuffiny.

Oh, and the cover was great.  Yes, great.  The Hildebrandt brothers were gods, and– again– I will fight you if you disagree with me.  This one comes in slightly after the Belgariad because the sequels weren’t as tightly linked to it and because honestly they stopped being as good faster than the Belgariad/ Malloreon /Elenium / WTFever series…es ever did.

(Phew.  Did you finish that?  Go write your own; I want to see more of these.)