Flood- Andrew H. Vachss (audiobook). I’ve gone on in my zine before about how I’ve been a Vacchs fan since college. It was when I was in school that I found an old, ragged copy of Sacrifice and I remembered his name from Dark Horse comics, though I hadn’t read any of the issues he wrote at the time. The book was a buck or so and I was just getting into crime-fiction at the time and I read it and really dug it. A while later I got a few of the books after that one, then another one later on, and it’s his Burke series that I thought about getting on audiobook when started getting through books that way. Usually I’m a completist, and part of that is starting at the beginning, but for some reason with his books I just jumped in with Sacrifice even though it wasn't the first in the series. I didn’t have any of the earlier books or any ready access to them, and I may not have even liked the book enough that I would have wanted to make the effort, so there was no reason to not start wherever I wanted. As far as I’ve read the books I’ve never felt I missed anything by not getting the earlier books -- the references he makes to the characters’ past could have played out outside of the books just as easily as they could have been included in past stories. But once I got back into the books and amassing them (with the help of paperbackswap.com) as well as getting the audiobooks, there was no reason to not start at the beginning and make my way up. Of course, that led to the dilemma of what to do when I got to the books I’ve already read. Yes, I’ve read those books but should I read them again? The stories will make more sense since I can put them into the context of the series but it was a while ago that I read them and my recollection isn’t completely clear. I was hoping to remedy this by looking up some kind of detailed synopsis, like on Wikipedia, but I couldn’t find anything in numerous Google searches. There would be a jump in the over-arcing story to skip books, even if I’ve read them, then continue on later. The audiobooks make this easier, since it takes a lot less time to get through a book, so re-reading one wouldn’t take so much time. I’m still a few books away from catching up to what I read originally so I’m still working this out.
Flood is the first book in the Burke series. I’ve properly started the story on the character and his world. It’s as formulaic a detective story as you can get: a classy dame hires a private dick on a dangerous mission, they get involved with each other, bullets, violence, etc. Vacchs’s novels in their way rarely are conventional in the hard-boiled detective mode but Flood is uncharacteristically traditional, enough to make you think that the rest of the books would follow a similar format. In that way the book isn’t terribly interesting but its subject matter, intensity, depth of character, and the approach it takes to the genre set it apart. It's almost a deconstruction of the hard boiled tradition but it's more him following his own path in what he pursues with the story. It's like he had in mind do his own kind of detective novel but had to subscribe to a traditional structure to get it published. Vacchs has never been interested in writing a simple detective story, no matter how gritty or hard-boiled. He takes those tropes and takes them far beyond into something more realistic, maybe so much so that the books go from crime-fiction to horror. It’s the greatest terror to imagine these things could happen in real life, and there's no reason to think that they wouldn't just because you never thought that humans could go to these depths, but you wouldn’t even hear about the crimes because they would be too much for a newscast. Vacchs not only heads right into these dark places but he lives in them, exploring every corner, shining a light in the worst darkness, not confident that it’s always going to do much good but if no one else is going to have the courage to do it, he’ll take the hit and do it himself. There's a scene late in the book that is as terrifying as anything I've read in any other horror story.
There’s a great introduction to the book that reveals a few things that even I, who have been reading Vachss’s work for almost 20 years now, didn’t know. His first published book was actually a non-fiction book about child abuse, his favored subject. When that work went nowhere he shifted gears and wrote a fictional book which could present the truths he wanted to reveal, but, in a fictionalized story, would be easier to get in front of people, and it took off from there. He’s had great success in his writing and while he hasn’t been as successful in his crusade, I’d hope that he’s made any kind of difference. The most fortunate thing about his writing is that his cause doesn’t get in its way. He presents his facts, which might be hard to believe but they're also a thing that most civilians (as he would call them) don’t consider; his writing moves so quickly and he doesn’t get preachy about it and even his statistics don't come across as dry information. His mission gives fuel to his stories, otherwise it would just be another crime story trying to be more dark and violent than everyone else’s. That there’s some kind of truth and a look into a dark, truthful corner gives it some power. But it’s great writing too. As crime fiction it holds up just fine. Though if you read enough of it, you might be tempted to wonder what kind of story that Vachss might be able to put together if he was writing on any other topic. Without their crusade the stories might not have as much life and there would be little reason for them anyway. For whatever reason that Vachss has written his books, they are worth reading (if you can bear to look into a dark mirror on society's underbelly).
The Man Called Cash- Steve Turner (audiobook). Surely there have been a great many volumes written about Johnny Cash’s life but this one may be the ultimate of all of them. I haven’t read any of the other books about him so I can’t base that off of anything except that it seems the most complete and does not skimp on the details. At the very least, I don’t feel the need to look for any other biographies on Cash to get a more complete story. There is no controversy, fabricated or otherwise, to make this into some juicy scandal rag, it is just an appreciation of a legend. The scandals in Cash’s life, the most interesting parts to a low common denominator, were already shown in the movie, which was at least partially based on this book. The drama works better in a movie than in a book so there’s considerably less here. The movie is easier to watch, and it puts the events of his life into a nice, concise, consistent story, but the book can be counted on for a more accurate telling. There’s not actually a lot of depth to read into, since it’s just as honest a depiction of a man’s life as can be written (as far as we know). Cash’s music and work reflected so many of the depths of his life and can be explored by experiencing what he did, and a lot of the meanings behind his songs are well-known stories anyway -- June writing “Ring of Fire,” the dedication of “The Man in Black,” etc. I’d assume it’s as complete a telling of a man’s life as you’re going to be able to get. Any further details would just be obsessive, and probably wouldn’t contribute to much, at least not to the legend that was his existence; I can’t imagine getting much more out of any other telling. There’s really only so much information you can squeeze from a person’s life. There might be some work written from an earlier perspective and maybe there were details from then that were more relevant than they would be now, but this is a look at the totality of the man’s life, nearly to the very end. There might be some words said about the last few years of his life but those may not be the most interesting or complimentary, perhaps not fitting of a man who is so well-regarded. There aren’t a lot of people in the world who aren’t Johnny Cash fans so I don’t know why anyone would have no interest in this. And if you’re not a Johnny Cash fan then you and I are probably not friends in the first place.
Kris Kristoferson reads the audiobook. To get such a well-known name to narrate, you know the project must be a big deal. He actually doesn’t have a talent for voice acting or spoken word but his voice, as gruff as it is, is comforting. His voice is its own star. He seems to be making a great effort in the reading, whether that’s because he has a problem with doing such narration or because the material, about a friend who was very dear to him, is so close. There are even passages that mention him that he gets through. Reading lists in particular seems to be a great effort, and whenever we has to read a sequence, the flow drags. But, for its faults, his voice has a charm and the fact that he did it lends the audiobook a great cache.
Fast Food Nation- Eric Schlosser (audiobook). I hadn’t planned to listen to or read this book but I happened to have it on my computer, probably something that was buried in a file amongst some music I got from a friend’s flash-drive or something. I was ready for a new book to listen to and this sounded interesting enough so I jumped in. Sometimes you just luck into an interesting read.
I don’t remember when this book came out but it seemed to have a seismic effect on the world since you can feel the results of what it did even now. It was one of those big, important books that came out and seemed to change a lot. Yeah, it’s an expose on the practices of how food, especially fast food, is made and sold. It’s amazing to consider it now more than a dozen years on but the contents of fast food before this book came out was something like a secret. It’s doubtful that anyone thought that that stuff was actually good for them, but it was easier to turn a blind eye on it since it tasted good and was so cheap. And as bad as it really was, no one probably even realized how bad it was for them. And not just the ingredients of the food but also how those businesses affected so many economic systems, locally to globally, and how it even changed culture. This book was probably a nuclear bomb when it came out, though it’s hard to get perspective on it now since it’s so much easier to acquire information on such things (or anything) but, in that time when information was more difficult to acquire, this opened floodgates. It’s still an interesting read, especially since a lot of the practices of making and selling fast food are the same. There are some facts that still hold to this day, some changes that still haven't been made, and fast food still affects people on levels they probably don't even realize. But at least people were interested enough to ingest this information, even if they probably kept eating the junk.
It’s hard to think that this book is complete, since it could be an running project still going to this day and it still wouldn’t be airing all the information there is to get. It actually looks at the topic in a narrow lens, taking observations from a local level, talking to people working at a hick-town McDonald’s, discovering where this food comes from, back to the farms, and blending the stories with a history of how fast food restaurants came to be. Carl’s Jr., a southern California staple for longer than I’ve been in California, and one that I’ve noticed doesn’t go outside of the area, is actually tied to McDonald’s more than I ever would have thought. That was an interesting tidbit. The book, predictably, takes aim most at McDonald’s; it’s not really so much a vendetta against McDonald’s but of course it would be the biggest target. And while, with what we know now, most of it is no surprise, it’s also interesting to note that of all the restaurants the book cites, McDonald’s has changed the most since the book was published. But it’s certainly an example to show to any other restaurant in the world, maybe for the good as well as the bad. And Mickey D's keeps making money, probably more than they ever have.
The book takes the details and assumes that anyone can apply those to the bigger picture, which works well enough since it’s so hard to get the broadest view of the companies that conduct that kind of business, and it doesn’t go as wide as it could but what there is is good enough. That they even exposed a few of these stories and practices would have been enough, but it’s actually a book full. That this book investigated the major points for enough publicity to get some of the fast food places to reconsider what food they offer and how they sell it, it’s good that the people could finally discover what they are really buying and eating. If that was the mission of the book then it was highly successful. That this exists now more as a document of that time and shows the catalyst for change make it interesting as a historical document but it doesn’t make much of a compelling read now, this much later. It’s a shame that this kind of book doesn’t come out regularly to expose corporate tricks and schemes (or maybe it does but it gets buried or people are over getting such useful information that should change their lives for the better). Maybe a book like this has been replaced by the Internet and the ease anyone could have to look up information like what is in this book, but a compilation in an easily accessible form could be greatly valuable. It’s true that there is still some valuable information to be dug up from these companies that would shock but inform the general populace, and now that these businesses know that this information can be acquired and consumed by the rest of the world, they’ll be even better at keeping it hidden. But for a while it seemed easy enough to get and expose, and when it happened, things changed, to some degree, more than had happened before.
The book’s narrator in the audiobook version is clear enough but the reading is weakened by the execution. The book’s tone is snarky enough, for the subject matter if nothing else, and the added snootiness in the narration only makes the reading come across as pretentious. The narration almost adds its own point of view, bordering on judgment that undermines a lack of bias in the book's reporting. It’s a lot of dense information that is presented well enough in text but it can be a bit dry to listen to. It’s probably similar to the dredge of getting through the long chapters in the printed book so at least with the audiobook you can power through those bits just by listening. A less-judgmental reading might have been more boring but it might also, in being less pretentious, have been easier to agree with. The printed version might have had charts or images to help convey the information, and obviously the audiobook doesn’t have any of that, but it's not lacking for it.
I admit it: Listening to this book, among all the horrible, sickening stuff about what's in that awful food, it actually made me hungry for McDonald's. Hey, I grew up on that stuff, it still has a place in my heart (maybe literally). So one night when I didn't have a lot of options, I went through a drive-thru and got some cheeseburgers. Hopefully it scratched an itch because they were awful. I'm not above saying that I have McDonald's from time to time, though it's usually when all other options have been exhausted, and it's years between visits. But I was glad that fixed my wagon, whether the book helped or didn't.
Sleepwalk with Me- Mike Birbiglia. I wouldn’t usually review a comedy album (kinda like how I don’t review albums in my zine, though those aren’t really connected) but this CD was included with some audiobooks that I was planning to listen to so I didn’t see a real distinction. The CD is funny. Birbiglia is funny. His delivery is much like Emo Phillips, seemingly brain-damaged (unless that's really how he is), but with the wackiness of early Steve Martin. The latter comparison is high praise but it's deserving. Much of his act is based off his experiences with sleepwalking, some of which have been life-threatening, and he gets a lot of mileage out of it. That’s the centerpiece of his routine and he's got some other stuff but that's really most of it. It’s great for but hopefully he'll have more material to keep going (unless his sleep-walking goes undiagnosed and he just gets more funny stories from it). His best bit, for me, was “Goddammit, I’m eating waffles” that had me in pain and gasping for air; it was the hardest I’ve ever laughed while at work and it was a great challenge to try to keep quiet in my workplace. It was as funny a thing as I’ve heard on a comedy CD. (Don’t worry: I didn't give away a punchline. It’s a stray line he throws in but the randomness of it and the delivery just nearly killed me. It might be different for you but that did it for me.) I don’t listen to a lot of comedy albums, and he’s not Mitch Hedberg, but it’s funny enough to be worth a listen. There is a film connected with this album, though I don’t know how much material they share. I don't feel like I didn't get enough with just this CD.
Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Marvel). The follow-up volume to the collection of Jim Steranko's issues of Strange Tales, this one Steranko's Nick Fury series. Obviously those Strange Tales issues were enough of a hit that Stan Lee thought to give the creator and character their own series. Lee might have been right but it was also a gamble. Steranko doing half an issue with low expectations is a lot different than the monthly grind. Of course I always knew about Steranko's Strange Tales and I knew that Steranko kept going with Nick Fury in his own series but I never knew how long it went for. I was reading the volume and realized in pretty short order when I was already halfway through it. I looked at the rest of the book and came to find out that Steranko only did four issues of the regular series total. That was the legend? That whole series could almost be a king-sized single comic rather than its own trade paperback. (Not that it could be fit alongside the first volume outside of an omnibus since the first one is already nearly a monster. It would be the most ideal way to collect the two, even though it would be really lopsided, with the first one covering a stack of issues, a lot even though the content of concern was only half the issue). It's also possible that Steranko did his most noteworthy work in the first volume. By the time he got to his own monthly series he was taking fewer chances even while he was honing his craft. He also clearly didn't have the guidance of Lee, writing the issues himself, and while he could make the stories the way he wanted, he didn't have a flair for coming up with a plot truly deserving of the characters or his art, and his dialogue was only acceptable until it's compared to the considerably sharper scripts that Lee wrote. While Steranko was still doing some innovative work with his art, the stories weren't following and sometimes the plot is going in so many directions and there are so many characters that get stuffed into it, seemingly for little reason, that it gets to be a jumbled mess. Still readable, and certainly its own corner at Marvel unlike anything else being done at the time. Steranko deserves his status as a legend for the work he did, though it was surprisingly little, considering how much an icon he became after. It will always be the legendary question of what Steranko might have accomplished if he'd kept going with comics, but I also wonder how he could have changed the comics world if he'd done something besides stories with Nick Fury. Maybe he took Lee's first offer, and Lee had nothing else going on with the character so Steranko jumped at it, but if he'd had a choice with any other character where would he have taken them? Nick Fury probably would have disappeared into obscurity if Steranko hadn’t gotten to him, and the other Marvel characters did all right without him, but maybe there were some other, more obscure heroes that could have been something with Steranko’s touch? Nick was in the same book as Dr. Strange, maybe Steranko could have done something with the latter (unless Stan was still waiting for Ditko to come back to him). Interesting trivia: That iconic cover of Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. #4, the one with the photo collage with the striking woman from behind and that's been ripped-off and parodied more times than you can count? Steranko didn't do the interior art for that issue. Imagine getting a good copy of that original issue with the awesome cover only to find out that that's only as much as Steranko did.
Iron Man: Extremis (Marvel). Warren Ellis’s most notable (for bad or worse) work generally falls in one of only a few categories: cynical superhero stories, almost-unforgivably self-indulgent science-based work, and stuff clearly written for the artist. But if it’s possible that he could split all of those into one book, it’s this one. However, all those parts don’t make up for a great work and the weak parts of it drag it down. It’s more of a Tony Stark book, though that’s not a horrible thing, and it leans a lot on the science-based elements of Ellis’s work, which is way more researched than it needs to be. There’s something to be said for not writing down to readers but there’s also something about writing more into a superhero comic than anyone is interested in reading, or more than needs to service the story. There’s still plenty of Iron Man, though it’s pages of wide-paneled, minimally-worded fight scenes where you know Ellis just left a hole in his script to let the artist do what he wanted. It’s actually not a bad balance between Tony Stark and Iron Man, as far as both of them feeding into each other to keep the story going, but it’s very insular, as far as any development on the character goes. In that way it’s not too bad. But from there it goes off the rails. The science bits come off as a bunch of mumbo-jumbo and any other character is completely forgettable. There’s not a even a good villain. Transmetropolitan always worked well with the same combination of science-fiction and character, even some humor, but those were Ellis’s creations and here it’s clear that he wasn’t going to be able to take the character too far, even though he gets to change the character more than he’s been in a long while. There’s something about drug abuse that could be read into the character's situation but it only uses that as a device for Tony Stark to do something beyond pilot a suit of armor yet again. It’s clear that Ellis wrote the story specifically for artist Adi Granov and he tries to put enough words back into the script to take it back though it doesn’t really work. It could be inferred that the book was written Marvel-style since Granov takes so many luxuries with wide-ranging fight-scenes, but there are also swathes of pages of people sitting and talking endlessly so it’s hard to say. Ellis usually writes full-script so he probably just yammered on and left a few holes to let Granov do whatever he wanted, as long as Iron Man wound up battered and beaten at the end of a few pages. Granov is pretty good, though it seems odd that he came out of nowhere to do this book and it was a big deal then he disappeared into working on the Iron Man movies. His stuff is quite good here and there but the rest is pretty stiff; if he did this after having a few other series under his belt, it would probably be extraordinary but as it is it’s a lot of work by an artist who hasn’t really gotten his sea-legs in doing comics. Notably it’s painted, or least mimics the painted comics of the ‘80s. Those were always special comics (mostly because they had to be printed on different paper to make it look the least-bit serviceable) and maybe Marvel had the same thing in mind for this book. It’s more likely to be computer-generated art made to look like it’s painted, and while it’s not nearly as warm as truly painted work, it’s close enough. Painted comics don’t seem to go anywhere anymore (Alex Ross doesn’t even seem to draw much excitement these days) so it’s nice that this came out and made an impact.
Iron Man 3 wasn’t truly based on this book but it took some of the ideas and mixed them together with a few others and a better villain and got something out of it. Though it leaves this book separate enough from the movie’s story that it could be enjoyed on its own. Not the best Iron Man story but the art is good enough for a quick read. It’s a shame that Ellis didn’t stay on to do more with the character; if he could find that balance with the science- and superhero-stuff, he could write Iron Man like no other. But that’s probably more work than he’d want to do if he doesn’t own the character.
Astonishing X-Men: Dangerous (Marvel). Whedon and Cassaday's second volume of their X-Men story. This one doesn't match the electricity that the first volume had by either creator but it's still a worthy effort. There's still a lot of great stuff but where the first trade couldn't seem to contain all the wild things both creators wanted to do with the characters, this one seems to stretch out what they had left over just to fill it. I might be looking at it from the wrong perspective, not knowing how much they set up in this one for stories after it, though there's a character they spend most of the arc developing and I can't say if that character has lasted until today's stories. As it is, it's an adventure with the team, something that would have been a fill-in story or an annual as far as story relevance goes, but it's the modern thing to stretch it out to an entire story arc. It's a shame to see both creators starting to coast so soon after starting, especially after making such a thrilling initial splash, but I trust both men enough to know that they'll take the story and characters and readers to a thrilling, unique place most of the time. And my own minor quibble about ending a collection with a cliff-hanger (though one that only an ardent X-Men fan would be moved by). I could also as equally complain about story arcs being too self-contained and not blending in with the overall series but it also seems like an incomplete story when it so eagerly leads into the next one, which a reader might not have. Though I'm fortunate to have the rest of the series that Whedon and Cassaday did so I get to see how it all plays out.
Marvel Heroic Role-Playing Game. It’s never been a secret that I was an role-playing game nerd back in the day. My uncle was a big Dungeons & Dragons player, and since I was already into comics, it was an easy connection to go between the two. Griesbach and I bonded over RPGs and comics when we met early in our freshmen year of high school. I always seemed to find the people who were into RPGs wherever I was and whatever friends we had that weren’t already into them, they soon were. None of us were dating (role-playing games because we weren't dating anyone or not dating anyone because of role-playing games?), and especially before we had easy transportation, we’d just camp at each others’ houses every weekend and play endless hours of RPGs (though about half of that time was always creating characters for whatever new game we were going to start). I was never as big on D&D and fantasy games as Griesbach was; I was always into the superhero and cyberpunk games. The Marvel Superheroes Role-Playing Game was the first RPG I ever really played. The rules were their own thing, definitely not the best out of any game I’d ever played, but it tried to capture the power and excitment of superheroes. We always made up our own characters so we might never have tapped into the worlds of established heroes as much as we could have but playing characters in that universe was always a thrill. We played MSH for a while, and it was one we would often come back to. Later in college it was Vampire: the Masquerade and those related games, then I left them behind when I came to L.A. and got a career, since Griesbach and I didn’t live near each other and the Internet hadn’t been around for us to harness and continue to conduct those games. But even as I got further from them, those games were in the back of my mind, and I wondered about what we could do today, using the Internet as a tool, not just to use to conduct games but also for research, seeking out rules and information (since we didn’t have to buy as many books anymore), and especially character-creation that could be done in advance. But it didn't go beyond idle wistfulness. Griesbach got his own RPG group going and they had a few games but they were playing stuff I had no interest in, as well as their being in San Diego, not somewhere I went every weekend. Griesbach got an MSH game going a few years ago while I was there for a Saturday, with a group of friends who made up their own characters, while I played Captain America. (After we stopped playing I wondered why we always insisted on making our own characters and didn’t play established ones. Playing already-made characters made so much more sense.) The game fell apart after a few hours, as they often do, but maybe it planted a seed in my head. At the very least I’d picked up an RPG again and had fun with it, even if MSH was just as simplistic and bland then as it always was. Then last year Griesbach moved to Texas and started talking about getting a Shadowrun group going, with sessions played over video chat on Google Hangout. It was a good idea. It took a while to get together but it opened up a whole new world of possibilities: we could play RPGs over the Internet, no matter how far away we were. We just needed an Internet connection and our schedules to meet up. That became its own thing, but in the time that we were getting that together, Griesbach sent me a Christmas gift: the Marvel Heroic Role-Playing Game (note the difference in name from the original Marvel role-playing game). We’d talked about the game system a few months before and how different it was from what he and I had experienced in other games, the current player and the lapsed player, respectively. It sounded interesting but I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to get into any new RPGs. As a novelty it was nice. I was fascinated by the game system. And while I didn’t think I could do anything with it, on Thanksgiving Day I started reading the rule book (game systems anymore just need a book, not a big box-set with dice and maps). And from that point I knew I had to do something with it.
The original Marvel Superheroes RPG and Marvel Heroic systems are vastly different, though anyone unfamiliar with table-top gaming wouldn't know the difference if they didn't play either, and they wouldn't care in that case anyway. MSH was stat-based, like a lot of the old RPGs: here are your stats, here's what you can do and how well you can do it, and you fit those numbers into the rest of the world however you can. You roll against the chart to see how you did, if you did at all, then something rolls against you. Along the way you could put character stuff into it, more a part of the world around your character. In Marvel Heroic, your stats are liquid, more like a range rather than an exact number (it's a die to roll, not a hard stat) and you mix that with the rest of the environment. Instead of having a threat you have to roll higher than to overcome, you help put together how you fit into the story and how you can overcome the threat, not just head-on but also how you can out-think or out-strategize it. You work with, not against, the game-master (called the Watcher) on how you both can put together the story and what your character does. The Watcher plans what will (likely) happen and plays out all the non-player characters but the players have much more of a hand in guiding the course of the overall story. More than anything I've ever seen before, it's collaborative storytelling. The Watcher and the players aren't adversaries, they're working together to construct the story, though having events and outcomes based on dice rolls there's some chance thrown into the mix, and along with it some excitement. Since I've had e-mail I've tried to figure out some way to with a story with one or more other people and this is the closest I've found, and it's a game, and something that comes from what I played back before I reached puberty. It's one person who comes up with the story, and the main characters in that story are on their own, not controlled by the main storyteller, and are a part of that world on their own. I would love to be able to take this system, or something like it, and put together some kind of story with collaborators taking over the parts of the characters. We wouldn't even have to call it a game. But in Marvel Heroic you also get to roll five kinds of dice, sometimes handfuls of them, so that certainly makes it a game, yet it's all what you want to put into it. It's also an easy system to learn. It's a little harder to get your head around if you come from the old-school games, but for someone with an open mind and no problems working together on a story, it would probably be so easy to pick up. It's easier for writers, since they're used to having to come up with the next thing that their characters do, though it might be tougher for a gamer who just wants to be told what's in front of him and what he has to roll to kill it. Again, for anyone wanting to work together to make a story, it's amazing. Heck, at Christmas I even got my nephew into it, and he's the age I was when I started on this stuff. Hmm, funny how cycles can be.
(That story about playing Marvel Heroic on Christmas: my brother Dylan (16) was Spider-Man, my other brother Taylor (27) was Black Panther, my nephew Ethan (11) was Iron Man, and my other nephew Gavin (9) was Wolverine (though he quit early) -- none of them ever having played a role-playing game (though Taylor and I used to play HeroClix). I put them in a burning building in a slugfest against the Constrictor, Armadillo, Tiger Shark, and Hydro Man. They worked together to put out the fire: Spider-Man made a giant web to capture water which Iron Man flew over the building and Wolverine tore it open to dose the flames. I forget what Black Panther did, but at some point I let him run so quickly through the building he put more of the flames out, and I let him burst through a wall to get the villains' attention, which is terribly un-Black Panther-like but Taylor was excited to do it. The Constrictor went down easily (as he always does) though Armadillo and Tiger Shark, who teamed up on Iron Man, were more difficult. And I still have no idea how any hero would ever be able to defeat a villain who can instantly turn himself into water. We stopped playing when dinner was ready.)
So Griesbach and I wouldn't be able to play the game together, though I tried to get something set up on Google Docs for us to play it out in text. I had high hopes for it, even wanted to bring in more people once we got it down, but it wasn't the best venue for it, and the adventure itself spun out when I was a little too overbearing too quickly and we both got bored of the character Griesbach chose -- Colossus, the most boring character ever in all of comics. But a short time after that I was looking at gaming groups on message boards and found my way to a Marvel Heroic group that played by posting actions and the narrative on the boards. I originally wanted to start a group as a Watcher but I feared I didn't know the game or the play-by-post system well enough yet. Luckily someone jumped in as Watcher and started their own game so I could be a player. I'd still like to conduct my own game as Watcher but I know how time-consuming it is. Maybe later in the year. I'm trying to decide if I want to come up with a new adventure or adapt an adventure from the original Marvel Superheroes game (of which I had many, all of which are now available for free download). I even have the adventure book based on Civil War but I'm not taking it out of the box it was shipped in until Griesbach wants to play the game. I've got an idea for a campaign that would start in one small adventure and branch into a universe-spanning series that would involve any characters that anybody would want to run. Could be a lot of fun but it would be a lot of work. As usual I need to remember to control my ambitions.
Color Me Obsessed: A Film about the Replacements. A documentary about the Replacements? The only question about me watching it is why it took so long to get around to it. And I might even have taken longer if the Consequence of Sound blog hadn’t linked to where it was streaming for free, and I could watch it at work. Technology still amazes me, though that really runs counter to the material of the film, who seemed to be perplexed by TV, but that’s not what this review is about.
Of course it’s a fan film. No surprise there. It was clearly made independently, and it’s probable that it wouldn’t get a theatrical release (or, most likely, much beyond online streaming). It’s basically made by fans, with fans, for fans. Anyone outside of those circles would be lost, though those who are on the inside will find it invaluable. Replacements fans are a special breed, a point which the movie really presses, but a deep fan of nearly any artist will find great wealth in a decently-made documentary on their beloved subject. In this case they didn’t even necessarily have the consent of any of the Replacements’ members. Like the All Over but The Shouting biography, the band members weren’t interviewed. Whether this was on purpose or because the band refused to do it might be beside the point. As it is, the movie is a love-letter, with a surprising number of attesting fans that you might recognize, though none of them any more revelatory or less passionate than the no-names. The best bits are the anecdotes from the fans who saw them back in the day and personal accounts of knowing the band members personally. There are a few tangential relations to the band that are included at length, as well as critics who championed them from the beginning, in particular Robert Christgau, the king of all critics in the alt-rock world of the last 30 years. There’s also no music in the movie, which is a shame, less for the fans who already know the band since they’re already intimate with the songs but more for new fans since they’ll watch the testimonials about the band but won’t have any reference for the source of that devotion. With any luck the folks who come onto the movie fresh (though there’s no reason for them to; it’s not something that will be easy to find accidentally unless they’re encouraged to watch it by an already-existing fan, and that relationship shouldn’t have gone along that far without the ‘Mats fan pushing the music on the newbie) will have their interest piqued by the interviews and will seek out the music for themselves. But as resistant as the movie might be to new fans, it will certainly be a treasure for real fans, of which there should have been many more. But those that knew them know what they were (and are, as the music lives on). And though it might not be necessary to have a document to reaffirm devotion, it can be inspiring and reassuring to discover and connect to other fans who share the same love, if only from seeing them on a (computer) screen.
My Top Albums of 2012:
10. The Only Place- Best Coast
9. Suicide Pact- JJAMZ
8. The North- Stars
7. Neck Of The Woods- Silversun Pickups
6. Lex Hives- the Hives
5. Observator- the Raveonettes
4. Not Your Kind Of People- Garbage
3. Hallelujah! I’m a Bum- Local H
2. Attack On Memory- Cloud Nothings
1. Boys & Girls- Alabama Shakes
My Top New Order Songs of All Time:
15. “Vanishing Point”
13. “60 MPH”
12. “The Him”
9. “Every Little Counts”
8. “Mr. Disco”
7. “Face Up”
5. “Subculture” (Substance version)
3. “Perfect Kiss”
2. “Bizarre Love Triangle” (Substance version)
Online Games I’m Currently Playing:
* Words with Friends (on phone). About seven games going, not always with close friends or even people I talk to regularly; about 50/50 as far as how many times I win and lose.
* Scramble with Friends (on phone). Two games going consistently, one I usually win, one I always lose as horribly as I’ve ever been beaten in anything.
* Avengers Alliance (on Facebook). See previous zine. 10 heroes but more than half of them at level 12. Still on mission 3.3 but I keep finishing in Diamond League in PVP.
* Shadowrun (over Google Hangout). A live RPG group, playing over video chat. I’m playing a street-mage who makes for a pretty good thief, the sister of a character I played when we were doing the game originally back in college.
* Marvel Heroic (play-by-post on a message board). See above. Among a pickup Avengers team, I’m playing Captain America. Iron Man and I keep fighting over who will (or will not) be leader. Already we’ve cleaned up the Wrecking Crew and a bunch of gamma-mutates and currently we’re fighting a Hulk robot.
* Supremacy (on http://game.asup.co.uk). See a few zines ago. Just finished (lost) one game a few weeks ago and now I keep checking it and might even get into another game, just to keep my hat in.
* Marvel: War of Heroes (on phone). I thought it might be connected to Avengers Alliance but apparently it’s just an effort to put Marvel heroes in a phone app. It’s a big mess and it doesn’t make much sense. There’s not much point to keep playing it. I just got it recently and I've already let it go.
Voice recognition on my phone. Speech to text. When I found out that my old phone had voice recognition I got really excited. It could really increase my productivity in writing if I could dictate into it and it would translate into words that I can edit later. But the software on it sucks and it was a bigger mess try to figure out what I was talking about and edit into some kind of usable form so I gave up on it. But the new phone is more responsive. I started using it just to do short text messages and it worked well enough. Voice recognition works whenever I have a keyboard on the phone up so whenever I can get a signal (sometimes if I don't have a signal but it's more of a pain to put into a text app) I've been able to put speech-to-text right into a Google Doc. It actually works pretty well, though as much as the words and text come through clearly, sometimes it's like something written by someone mildly- to thoroughly-retarded. But it's working well enough and I'm starting to get some of the tricks down -- maybe it's getting used to my voice. And indeed it served its purpose of increasing my productivity: a lot of the reviews I wrote here I used the voice recognition to write. I wrote this using voice recognition.
The discount meat section at the supermarket. We've had great luck finding cheap meat at the store in the (very tiny) clearance area. It's perfectly good meat, just that the expiration date has nearly come up, usually the next day. Of course they need to get rid of it and they might as well sell it cheap rather than throwing it out. We just put it in the freezer then thaw and cook and eat it later, good as new. We’ve got great cuts of meat, stuff we wouldn't normally make, and had special dinners on nights that we wouldn't usually. We’ve had steak on a Tuesday and barbecue ribs on a Sunday night. We get a part of a great dinner for cheap. I don’t know if all supermarkets have this -- you might have to dig for it. The Fresh n’ Easy clearance area is even better but that stuff is about to go bad in, like, minutes.
Imposed structure. I've said more than a few times that I seem to get more done when I have less time. In times when I've been in school or working, I have much less time than when I'm off, so what little time I have I have to very seriously manage. If I only have half an hour a day to get to things, I have to get things done. When I have time off I can put off things to when it might be a better time to do it, then I wind up not having time at the end to do it all. I might be organized like a motherfucker about most things but I've gotten progressively worse at time management. It's the main reason I'm late so often (enough that I've become known for it). I might have weeks off at a time, like I did recently, and I look back on it and wonder how I got so little done. And I really can't come up with an excuse. In this recent time off, I didn't get one reply to old e-mail out. It's frustrating. But, as always, I'm trying to do better. Now I've been back at work but I don't have Internet access, which is great for getting work-stuff done but doesn't help for my own projects I work on during the down-time. But though I'm limited, I can still write and do some editing to plug in to projects later, and that's getting something done. I often do best when I'm pushing against limits. With no limits, I'm lost; when I know how far I need to go, I can do it. It's why I used to get zines out quicker than every six months.
I had some problems with the HTML in this when I started cut n' pasting text into the module but when I did the pictures they went in just fine, and that's usually the problem I have with it. Now I know a few workarounds that hopefully I'll remember the next time I do this and I won't want to throw the entire Internet through the window when I have to deal with HTML.
More stuff next time. I’ve already got a start on my next zine just from overflow from this one. Next I’ll get to long-overdue mailing comments on the last issue of the APA, Rock Stars Whose Autobiographies I Would Totally Read, and some thoughts on Spotify, which is increasingly taking over my life.