Saturday, December 26, 2009

It's a bit late, but here's my report on my second dinner at Sage, last Friday, December 18. I freely admit my bias, but I'm not the only one who had a great dinner there that night. Here's another review from a more objective source.

Sage, and ARIA, were a little busier on Friday. I had a little more trouble finding a parking space, although it might not have been quite so hard if only alternative fuel vehicles had been parked in the alternative fuel vehicle parking. So it goes.

I arrived early for my reservation, so I took some time to explore the casino a little more thoroughly. I went upstairs to look at the buffet and the shops. The buffet looked okay, but I didn't get a chance to check out the prices or menu. They were accessible via a touch-screen, and somebody else was playing with it. I also found some sort of upscale clothing store upstairs, an ice-cream parlor, and the arcade.

Overall, I thought the upper level was kind of dull compared to the downstairs. The color scheme was more whites, beige, and creams, and reminded me of a shopping mall. The arcade was particularly brightly lit, and the machines were evenly spaced out along the wall. It looked more like a video game museum than an arcade.

On my way to the restaurant, I stopped to look at the menu for Cafe Centro, which appears to be the hotel cafe. The prices looked pretty high for what appears to be standard coffee shop food. $15 for a burger? Entrees starting at $25? If I'm going to pay that amount of money, I might as well just pay a little more and go to Sage.

Which I did. This evening, I started with the Beef Tartare, based on yet another recommendation from Lura. It tasted very nice, with the chocolate stout enhancing it nicely. What I really liked was the slow poached egg. I had never had anything quite like it before. It looked like an egg yolk over easy or medium, but it was thick and creamy, not runny at all. I realize that I must sound like the complete rube describing it like that, but I really wasn't expecting it to be quite so, well, spreadable.

This evening, instead of selecting my own wine, I put myself in the hands of a sommelier. And he recommended I accompany the beef tartare with the same Syrah I had enjoyed the previous evening. So maybe I'm learning something about this stuff after all.

For my entree, I had the Roasted Day Boat Scallops. Like the veal cheeks the night before, they were so tender, it was almost like eating scallop-flavored butter or jello or something. Some of the scallops had some grit, but since we experienced the same thing at Chez Panisse, I'm thinking that's just what happens with scallops.

The braised oxtail and wild mushrooms served with the scallops were very rich and flavorful, and helped keep the dish from tasting too fishy. Obviously, with a seafood dish, you expect it's going to taste like fish. However, this dish avoided the blandness of the scallops we had in Berkeley, while not going down the easy path of just adding spices. Nor did the flavors of the oxtail and mushrooms overwhelm the scallops. It was a great balance, and I really enjoyed it.

The sommelier recommended a Joseph Drouhin Mersault to go with the scallops. I'm not a particularly big fan of white wines. Too often, they either taste too dry or too fruity for my taste. This one--I say, at risk of sounding like Goldilocks--tasted just right.

Then came the most important part: dessert. This time around, I opted for the Roasted Winter Pear Tarte Tatin and the Warm Sugared Beignets. (The menu calls them Warm "Sugared" Beignets, but they really are sugared, so I'm not sure why the quotes. Trying to court favor with the illiterate, perhaps?)

The pear tarte was something I had sampled in its development phase at home. We had also had a similar dish at Chez Panisse. Lura's was better than Chez Panisse: more pears, and a stronger flavor. To be honest, I think I preferred the one she made at home to the one in the restaurant. The earlier version had a softer crust, which I actually like a little better. I'm kind of a spaz, and if I'm trying to cut through a harder crust with my fork, I end up knocking all the fruit and stuff off. But that's me. It was still great.

The tarte is served with blue cheese ice cream, which sounded kind of gross at first. Actually having it in the restaurant, with the dessert it was intended to be served with, was a revelation. The two together matched perfectly.

The beignets resulted in a bit of confusion. They were served in a warm apple sauce, and came accompanied with a small cup of jasmine tea cider. I had forgotten that, and my server just described the jasmine tea as a sauce for the beignets. So they were already sitting in the one sauce, and I thought I was supposed to dip them in this other sauce. Too confusing, but not my fault, and not Lura's either.

Of course, they tasted great. However, because they were all piled up in a bowl on top of the apple sauce, the ones on the bottom ended up pretty soaked and soggy. In a perfect world, I would have liked the beignets to be served separate from the sauce (or sauces, as far as I knew). That way, I could mix them or dip them or whatever as evenly as I wanted.

Still, how many James Beard awards have I won? What do I know?

This evening, the restaurant was kind enough to pay for my wine. Unexpected, and very much appreciated.

It'll probably be a month or so before I go back to Sage. I just can't afford to eat like that all the time. But I will definitely be going back, and not just because Lura works there. It's good, straightforward food that I can understand and appreciate, with enough twists to keep things interesting.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Happy holidays!

Last year has been interesting. At the end of 2008, the Green Valley Library--where I had been Children's Services Department Head--closed, and the entire staff transfered up to the new Centennial Hills Library. This is a brand-new building--the district's first completely green building--and it took us maybe three weeks to move in. I was a little nervous going into that process, feeling very uncertain about what to do, and worried that I'd end up screwing things up by not being prepared or knowing what I was doing. It turned out that nobody really knew what they were doing, that nobody in the district had made this kind of move before, and everybody was winging it. Well, winging it or no, we got it done, and were ready to open (just!) on January 16, 2009.

The building is kind of interesting, beyond the eco-friendly thing. It's very wide-open, so there isn't as clear a division between Adult Services and Children Services, not like we see in our other branches. That's forced us all to become more well-rounded, helping whoever comes to our desks, regardless of what they're looking for or how old they are. I think that's a great thing. Also, more than 50% of the floor space is devoted to the children's collection, so that's cool.

Almost a year later, things are still going okay. We're still trying to see who our real audience is, separating that from the big crowds we had coming in when we were the hot new thing. We've undergone some staff changes in my department lately, including some cutbacks. But nobody has been laid off or had their pay cut, so we can be thankful for that. So while we've been there for a year, we still haven't quite settled down yet.

At home, the big news is that the household has two new members, and that I've gotten engaged. The two new family members are Lura, my fiancee, and Zhanti, her parakeet. Details of how we met and stuff can be found at my wedding blog, so I won't repeat them here.

Lura moved in in late January, after I moved out just enough of my junk to (barely) make room for her stuff. She is gradually transforming this house, which used to just be a big box to hold my stuff, into a real home. We have furniture, decorations, kitchen appliances, and everything.

I don't want to be all, "She has made my life so much better," but having her in it really has improved things. We have furniture, we eat better, we hike, we exercise. I cook for us. My life wasn't particularly awful before Lura entered it, but it wasn't exactly heading uphill, either. With her, I feel safe to try to be the person I want to be, because I've got her to watch my back.

Lura just started a new job at Sage, a restaurant in ARIA in the new City Center, which just opened on December 16. She's the pastry chef, which is a big step up for her, but something she has totally earned. I am so proud of her. Plus, it gives me an excuse to go to the restaurant every month or so, which is fine, because the food is really good.

Penelope, the cat, is still pretty much the same. She has kind of adjusted to having Lura in the house, but is a little grouchy about it. I'm still her favorite. Zhanti, she pretty much ignores. (Which is funny, because she is mesmerized by a DVD we have of birds. Actual bird in the house? Completely off her radar.) She's had some health issues this year, but seems to be doing okay now. She'll probably outlive us all.

So that's about it for this year. Next year, the big goal is to get ready for the wedding, on October 10. (10/10/10, so I will remember the anniversary.) You can read about how those preparations are going on the aforementioned wedding planning blog.

You can also keep up with my hijinks by following this blog, by following me on Twitter (Penelopecat is my user name), or finding me on Facebook (using my real name).

Happy holidays from all of us!

Monday, December 21, 2009

So last week saw the opening (finally) of Sage, the restaurant in new hotel/casino, ARIA where the lovely fiancee is the pastry chef. I had dinner there on Thursday and Friday, and had a great time.

I arrived with a big bunch of roses for my love, so it was no secret who I was or why I was there. Everyone was very nice to me, and those who had gotten to know her had all kinds of nice things to say about Lura as well. From what I could overhear at other tables, the staff were just as friendly and polite to the other customers.

My server was very personable and down-to-earth, talking to me about items on the menu without being pretentious or snobby, which I appreciated. I'm not really a foodie, but I'm not a complete idiot, either. If I go to a nice restaurant, I want to feel like I'm welcomed and appreciated. I don't want to feel intimidated by a confusing, pretentious menu and unhelpful staff who can't offer advice or guidance.

The physical restaurant was nicely laid out and decorated. It feels very warm and friendly, in shades of brown, gold, and purple, with these big, illuminated murals that look like turn-of-the-century pen & ink drawings. The lighting is comfortably dim, by which I mean it creates an air of privacy and intimacy without it being too dark for me to read my book. (I bring a book when I go out to eat alone.)

I'm a little ashamed to admit that Thursday's meal was a tribute to cruelty to animals. I ordered the foie gras custard brulee and the braised veal cheeks. Both came highly recommended by the fiancee (who also felt bad), and both were excellent.

This was my first experience with foie gras, but Lura tells me that this isn't a normal preparation method. As the name suggests, it really is like a smooth custard with a caramelized coating. It was creamy and light, and served with a salted brioche that was fantastic.

Because of my "VIP" status, the kitchen sent me their escargot & pork belly agnolotti starter. Totally caught me by surprise, and I thought they might have accidentally brought me somebody else's order. (I am a moron, sometimes.) It was also very nicely done; I particularly appreciated the hints of citrus in the bacon.

I felt guilty for ordering the veal cheeks, and even guiltier saying that they were fantastic. So tender that they almost fell apart when I just pointed my fork in their direction. They came served over a "piperade" (I'm getting the spelling from the menu here) which nicely accented the flavor of the beef.

Of course, I had to save room for dessert; in fact, I had two. I had been told I should order the chocolate dome, because it tasted great and was easy to plate. Besides, I was curious to actually see and taste it, after hearing about it for so long.

I also decided to try the warm almond financier cake. Lura had struggled with this recipe, after her boss said told her that while her initial attempt wasn't too dry, he wanted it to be a "different kind of moist." After much experimentation, it turned out that the solution was to make a different kind of cake altogether, and surround it in a financier cake shell. So I call them "faux-nanciers." Whatever; still tasted great. (What did you think I was going to say?)

I had a couple of glasses of wine: two glasses of a Syrah-like red, which I didn't make a note of the name, and a sparkling dessert wine called Bigario Elio Perrone. The latter came at the recommendation of my server, and I enjoyed it so much, I ordered it again the next night.

Coming soon: Friday's dinner.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Suffering from a cold, so this will probably be short.

I saw Avatar yesterday, and really enjoyed it. The IMAX 3D version was spectacular; unlike other 3D movies I've seen in the past year or so, the process of watching through the glasses didn't result in a darker image.

The film is a phenomenal technical achievement, managing to so thoroughly and believably create an alien world that I quickly stopped wondering how they did it. I just found myself completely caught up in the story.

That story, it must be said, is pretty straightforward and black and white. Not only were there no real surprises, I think I actually predicted everything after seeing the trailer. But, you know, that doesn't matter to me. Because it's a story about big guys trying to oppress little guys using strength and force, and as regular readers of this blog should know, that's been something that's been on my mind lately. So this is totally the movie I needed to see.

Okay, I have to go sneeze a lot right now.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

"Christmas ought to be brought up to date, it ought to have gangsters, and aeroplanes and a lot of automatic pistols."

For me, this line perfectly sums up The Box of Delights by John Masefield. I have decided that rereading it will be an annual Christmas tradition for me, as well as watching the BBC television adaptation. At least, that's the plan; this is the second year I've read the book, and will the the third year in a row watching the TV series.

It's this weird, modern (for it's time; published in 1935) fantasy story that moshes up modern-day religion, pagan religion, talking animals, Roman armies, Herne the Hunter, magic, gangsters, Punch and Judy, flying cars, time travel, and Christmas. The (extremely) simple version of the story is that young Kay Harker finds himself caught up in a plot by evil gangsters/magicians to get hold of the Box of Delights. The Box (held by centuries-old philosopher-turned-Punch & Judy man Cole Hawlings) has the power to make people "go swift," "go small," or travel through time.

That simple description doesn't really do it justice, though. It doesn't take into account the nonsensical digressions and plot twists that come from out of left field and disappear just as quickly. At one point, while Kay and his friends are hiding from the gangsters, using the box to shrink themselves, they encounter a race of fairies who have been transformed into paintings, with no real explanation. When Kay frees them, they reward him by allowing him to visit their realm one day a year.

And then the kids leave, and the incident is never brought up again.

The book is full of stuff like that, and trying to follow it expecting everything to tie together or make some kind of sense is a fool's errand. Last year, I watched the TV series with the lovely fiancee (just the lovely girlfriend at that point) and watched her get more and more confused and bewildered at each new, weird incident. By the end, she was kind of curled up in a fetal ball, whimpering. And the TV series leaves out a lot of stuff from the book.

(There's a really good piece on the TV show here. They pretty much say everything I would want to about the show, so I refer you to it rather than just say it all again.)

I don't think watching the show is going to become a shared tradition for us, and that's fine. It's got some great performances, particularly from Robert Stephens and former Doctor Who Patrick Troughton, but it's weird as all get-out. But it's also a great Christmas story.

And that's why I love the book, as well. As the opening quote suggests, it isn't trying to be a warm, cozy, traditional tale, but it never forgets that it's a Christmas story. When Kay is listening to the villains plotting, he goes through a whole series of speculations about their plans in his head, but the last thing he thinks about is what he's going to get his governess for Christmas. When Maria Jones (one of a family of children staying with Kay and his governess) appears to go missing, Kay and the other Jones kids worry... until it's time for a Christmas party at the parish cathedral. Then they forget all about Maria, until the party is over. And part of the villains' plot involves kidnapping clergymen in order to prevent Christmas services from being held.

Paul Magrs has written a pretty through analysis of the book on his blog. He also compares it to The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper, so now I want to read that. But I can't imagine it's got the same sprawling holiday insanity as Box of Delights. And I won't have the same childhood connection to it (I saw the TV adaptation of Box when I was a kid.)

Even though it's a kid's book, and a story I first discovered as a kid, I think it's only come to define Christmas for me as an adult. For one thing, it's not about family and love and home and hearth in the same way most Christmas stories are. Having lived alone for the past 20-some years, and spent many of my Christmases with just my cat, Christmas isn't about that stuff for me, either. It's about the surface trappings (Christmas music, TV specials, movies, stories, and decorations) overlaid onto and mixed into everyday life. This book may be a weird, twisted hybrid that often makes no sense, but I guess that's what Christmas is to me.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Finished reading Midwinter by Matthew Sturges. As I've mentioned already, I came to this book familiar with Sturges' work as a comics writer, but this is his first prose novel. I thought it was great. He sets up an interesting world that's more complex than it initially appears, and populates it with characters who are interesting to spend time with. The story is a fairly straightforward quest tale (and pretty much lives up to the high-concept description "The Dirty Dozen with elves") but it's told well.

I have a lot of trouble with this sort of otherworldly fantasy, and probably wouldn't have read this if I wasn't already a fan of the author. It's really hard for me to get a picture of a place in my head, or to keep characters straight if they've got weird names. Sturges makes his setting and characters distinct enough that I never had any trouble. He also connects his world to our own in some interesting, unexpected ways, which I thought were pretty cool.

While Sturges' next book--due next year--is set in the same world, it doesn't seem to be a direct sequel to this one. Similarly, this book does drop hints for what the future may hold, but it's complete in its own right. That's great; I read enough stuff as it is. If I read a new book, I want to know I'll be completely satisfied when I get to the end. That's the case here, but I'm so completely satisfied that, paradoxically, I can't wait for the next one.

Monday, November 30, 2009

I read the Batman/Doc Savage Special comic this morning, teaming two of my favorite characters. More than anything, it's pretty much a prologue to a new series, First Wave, which sets up a new fictional universe where traditional heroes like Batman and Black Canary are given more of a crime/noir/pulp feel, interacting with actual pulp characters like Doc Savage and the Avenger. The series will also be featuring Will Eisner's Spirit, and a new version of the WWII fighter pilot team, the Blackhawks. All characters I love, in a world designed to evoke the spirit of the 30s and 40s. It's written by a writer I like (Brian Azzarello) and drawn by an artist I love (Phil Noto). It's almost as if someone had decided to create a comic book series just for me.

So it's pretty impossible for me to be objective about it. I loved it. (And I'm not the only one.) The only thing I would have prefered is if it had been a bit more self-contained, instead of mostly introduction and setup for the main series. But since it was always intended to be a piece of something bigger, that's not really an issue.

Setting this series in its own fictional world, with new, slightly different, versions of familiar characters, is probably a good idea. Comics (and comics fans) have become so continuity-dependent that this is the only way to team Batman and Doc Savage (and all the other characters) without shoehorning in a contrived reason for how they can somehow coexist without ever having met before. This way, Batman, Doc Savage, the Spirit, and all the rest can have adventures together because, in this context, they've always been together.

Perhaps more importantly for the success of the story, this new pulp/noir/superhero world allows the characters to coexist with integrity. One major problem with reviving pulp heroes like Doc Savage is that they are very much of their time. Put them in the modern world, where everyone now carries a pocket-sized computer, and Doc and his companions either need to be changed radically or they seem out of date. Keep them in the period the pulps were written in, and the stories become period pieces, and consequently quaint and charming and cozy. And they become as much about the period as they do about the adventures, which isn't really in keeping with the spirit of the originals.

In this version, we get the style and panache of a period piece, but the characters can still take advantage of technology like cell phones and tape recorders. Doc Savage doesn't use a lot of gadgets here, but presumably we will get to see him using stuff like his little capsules of anesthetic gas, or his aides using their supermachine guns, and they won't look silly or old-fashioned next to a Batman using the latest high-tech computers or a super-slick Batmobile. (And, really, does anyone want to see Doc Savage driving a Corvette? Or a Prius?)

By "creating" a new version of Batman for this world, Azzarello gets to add some new twists. The obvious one that everyone seems to have seized upon is the fact that he's carrying guns, but that's just a throwback to the character's earliest appearances. More interestingly, this is a Batman at the start of his career, and it shows. Instead of a mature, experienced Batman, master of all the world's martial arts, confidently taking on Doc Savage, we see a Batman who barely escapes from that fight with his life. Because this Batman may not yet be this world's greatest detective, he won't necessarily be the dominant character in the First Wave story. (For that matter, he doesn't necessarily even have to survive.)

We may also be seeing Doc Savage at the beginning of his career. In the books, he starts his "mission" after the death of his father; in this story, his father has recently passed away. Azzarello even hints at the parallels between these two men: both orphaned, both set on their missions by their parents, either directly or indirectly. It suggest a more complex relationship than the usual (and facile) "dark/light" contrast that gets played up whenever we get a team between characters like Batman or the Shadow and Superman or Doc Savage.

No idea how long-time fans of Doc Savage will react to this new version, but I'm also not sure that matters. Purist fans can reread the original stories if that's what they're looking for. Those stories tend to be much more plot and action based, at the expense of character, and also pretty formulaic. I think today's comics audience is looking for more depth of character and variety of plots. If Doc Savage (or any of the heroes of yesteryear) are going to find favor with today's audiences, they need to be presented in a style that feels fresh and contemporary. Batman/Doc Savage accomplishes that without losing what makes the characters special.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

At the end of last Friday's episode of Smallville, they showed a teaser for the upcoming two-hour episode featuring the Justice Society of America.



I'm excited. I had read that the episode (written by comics writer Geoff Johns) would be featuring Hawkman, Dr Fate, and the Star-Spangled Kid, but from these clips, it looks like we'll be catching at least glimpses of a couple of other characters. And I admit, I squeed like a little girl (or a middle-aged comics fan) when I saw the Alan Scott Green Lantern ring and the gas-masked visage of the Wesley Dodds Sandman.

I've been a fan of Smallville since the beginning, although my affection for it waxes and wanes. I think I was losing interest a little the first half of last season; the Doomsday story was a little too dark and depressing, the show seemed to be having trouble adjusting to the loss of two regular cast members, and I was distracted by a new relationship in my life.

My excitement was reignited with the episode last January (written by Geoff Johns) guest-starring the Legion of Super-Heroes. I have blogged previously about how I loved those characters as a kid, but didn't know what to expect from their Smallville appearance. Would they be the characters I knew and loved, or would they be radically changed (like not even from the future) to make them "cool" and "hip?"

Turns out, while some of the less-cool-for-TV elements were downplayed (they didn't have names like Cosmic Kid or Lightning Lad, to my recollection), they were very much true to their origins. And when I saw them wearing Legion flight rings that looked like they came straight out of the comics, my heart grew three sizes that day. Much the same as seeing the JSA characters in this teaser.

I've lost count of how many times I've had conversations with friends about how cool it would be to see our favorite comics or books turned into movies. I don't actually look forward to that stuff all that much. If I like a particular story or set of characters, it's because I like the stories in whatever medium they're told in. If the stories are about characters I like, then I would like more stories, but not necessarily the same stories retold in a different way. Movies based on books are necessarily going to eliminate things; even a movie or TV show that adapts every scene and every line of dialogue is still going to lose the style of the prose, and still won't match the pictures in my head. Even if you adapt a comic panel-for-panel, like Sin City, what I see on the screen is still not going to be exactly what I imagine happening between the panels.

And adapting comics superheroes to live action? Changes are going to have to be made, just in the costumes alone. For example, when you try to do a Batman costume that looks just like the one in the comics, you get the Adam West version from the 60s.

(I've read some online complaints about the Hawkman picture to which I've linked above. I don't know; I think it looks okay. Smallville has done a good job making their superhero costumes look a little more reasonable on TV, like giving Green Arrow a dark green leather costume and dark glasses instead of a bright green cloth outfit and mask. The thing about Hawkman, though, is he's got big wings. And his mask has a beak. I'm not sure there's a way to make those elements look realistic.)

Having said all that, while I don't particularly look for the things I love to be adapted into other media, I still get excited when it happens. And when it works, like The Dark Knight or the Hellboy movies, it's really cool.

But the JSA and Legion are hardly as well-known as Batman or Spider-Man or the X-Men. So to see them come to life? This really is very close to a dream coming true.

Can't wait for January to come.
We've been traveling a lot this month, first to North Carolina (as mentioned in my wedding planning blog), then a couple of trips to California. So I haven't been able to post as often as I'd like. Once Lura starts work again next week, I'll have more time on my hands needing filling, which means more regular blogging.

So in the time since my last post, I've read a couple of books. The first, Peter & Max, by Bill Willingham is thematically tied to the last book I read, James Owen's The Shadow Dragons, in a couple of ways. For one, it's a prose work by a creator I first discovered through his comic book work. His current big claim to fame is Fables, a series bringing together characters from fables and folklore across various cultures, refugees from their war-torn homelands, now living together in a small neighborhood in New York. Peter & Max is a prose novel, but still part of the Fables series.

Like The Shadow Dragons, Peter & Max draws together a bunch of different folk tales into one cohesive story. The book tells the story of the Piper brothers, Peter (of Pumpkin and Pickled Pepper Eating fame) and Max (the Pied Piper of Hamelin), from childhood to the present day. It's a tale of bitter sibling rivalry taken to the extreme, and Willingham effectively shows how the characters grow and develop from their humble beginnings as part of a family of traveling entertainers. The historical flashbacks alternate with the present day, as we see the resolution to their centuries-old conflict.

I love how Willingham takes the stories we all know and adds real depth and human emotion, fleshing them out. Here, we see how events come together to help foster a psychopath. We see how gentle Peter is forced to adapt to the harsh circumstances with which he is confronted. Despite its origins in a comic book series, this story is perhaps best told as a novel, allowing for a storytelling style that gets right into the characters' heads.

While the comic series deals with the ongoing relationships and political situations within the Fables community, the story of Peter and Max takes place on the sidelines. This helps make this novel completely accessible to new readers. Willingham gives enough background information to understand the setting, but this could easily be someone's first visit to this world.

The writing is clear and precise, focusing more on telling the story than fancy literary tricks. Willingham's voice still comes through clearly, with his characteristic dry wit. According to his blog, he is working on a new novel already, and also has several short stories appearing in various anthologies. That's good news; I like his comics work just fine, but, based on this example, more prose from him will also be something to get excited about.

And while this is notable for being the first prose Fables novel, I don't want to forget the illustrations (and short comics-format epilogue) by regular series inker Steve Leialoha. I've been a fan of his for even longer than I've followed Bill Willingham, and it's nice to see him doing the full art for this book.

I also read the latest Gabriel Hunt novel, Hunt at World's End. I talked a little about the Gabriel Hunt series in a previous entry. Nicholas Kaufman wrote this installment, but I'm not familiar with his work, so I can't pick out his individual style. Like the previous Hunt novels, it's a fast-paced action-adventure story with a supernatural MacGuffin at the heart of it. As always--similar to the Indiana Jones movies--the supernatural element is secondary to the action, so they're not really fantasy novels.

I don't have a lot to add to what I said about the last book. After three books, the Gabriel Hunt formula is becoming pretty apparent: Hunt and a beautiful companion race against a larger-than-life villain to uncover some mysterious and powerful ancient artifact. They're well-written, entertaining diversions, but they're not particularly deep in terms of theme or character, and beyond the surface details, there's not a lot of variety among the stories.

Arguably, the Doc Savage novels that helped inspire this series are pretty formulaic as well. And there's something to be said for knowing what to expect from genre fiction, because sometimes you want the comfort of the familiar.

Since the next Hunt novel isn't due out until next spring, I'm planning on continuing to read them. But if the frequency were to ever increase, I would hope the variety of stories would increase as well.

And now, I'm in the middle of Midwinter by Matthew Sturges. (He's another comics writer turned novelist, and a longtime collaborator with Bill Willingham. No coincidence I'm reading this so soon after Peter & Max.) It's been described as "The Dirty Dozen with Elves," and I'm enjoying it a lot so far. More about that once I've finished.

Monday, November 09, 2009

The other day, I finished reading The Shadow Dragons by James A. Owen. It's the latest in his series, Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica, which I love, despite the somwhat unwieldy series title.

The series focuses on the caretakers of the Imaginarium Geographica, a book which contains maps to all the lands of fantasy and literature and myth which once existed side by side with our world, but have since vanished to another plane. The caretakers, who defend the borders between this other plane and our world, are drawn from the greatest artistic and academic minds throughout history. The current caretakers are J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Charles Williams, all members of the Inklings, an early 20th literary group at Oxford university.

Each book tells a complete adventure, but together, they tell a continuing, ongoing story, each installment building on what came before. So I recommend starting at the beginning. Every time I finish a new book, I want to go back and reread the earlier volumes, so I can appreciate the foreshadowing and the history Owen is building in this series.

The Shadow Dragons, detailing yet another attempt by recurring villain The Shadow King to conquer both the realms of fantasy and our own world, represents something of a turning point for the series. A lot of the story threads set up in earlier volumes pay off here, and the series seems poised to head off in a new direction. Which is cool, because I prefer the sorts of series that grow and change as they go, as opposed to the "just another adventure" type of series.

Back in the 90s, James Owen published a comic called Starchild which dealt with similar themes, bringing together characters from different myths and folklore into one story. It was very well-written, and drawn in a very detailed, intricate style. I loved it, and was very sad when it ended due to economic reasons. So I was always going to pick up anything new by him, whether it was comics or prose. (And he does an illustration for each chapter of his books, so I still get to see his artwork.)

I particularly enjoy this series because its heroes are writers and artists and scholars. Lately, ever since the accident, I've been feeling pretty down because of the sense of powerlessness. If I were to ever be a hero, it wouldn't be because I'm a big, macho strong guy. So, as much as I like tough heroes like Batman or Superman or Indiana Jones, I probably gravitate more naturally to guys like Doctor Who or Sherlock Holmes or the caretakers of the Imaginarium Geographica.

I also like a good, twisty plot, and Owen's books provide those in spades. And the more of his books you read, and you see how events in one book affect events in others, they become even more complex and twisty. Then, as if that weren't enough, there's time travel.

If I had one complaint about this series, it's that there always seems to be more of an emphasis on plot than character. We don't really get into the characters' heads that much. Even though decades have passed for the characters over the course of these first four novels, I can't really say that they've seemed to grow or change all that much. Having said that, though, it's not a problem that ever bothers me when I'm reading the books.

Owen has made a committment to having a new book come out every October, and so far he's been on time. So that gives me something to look forward to every fall. And every fall so far, the new book has lived up to my anticipation.

I'm sure the series will eventually reach a conclusion. (I think he's said between sequels and prequels, it'll be about 12 books in all.) Until that happens, we've got a bunch more Octobers to look forward to. And after that, I'll be looking forward to whatever James Owen does next.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

So I watched the premiere of V Tuesday night, and I have mixed feelings. As a huge fan of the original series, I was kinda let down. In the original, we see the Visitors arrive, tell us that they are here to be our friends and to help us, and then see them doing just that. We gradually get hints that things aren't quite as simple as they seem, with reports of people disappearing mysteriously, and word of a conspiracy of scientists being bandied about. Finally, we learn the true nature of the Visitors when reporter Mike Donovan sneaks aboard their ship and sees them eating rodents, and then gets in a fight with one of the aliens and rips their fake human face off, revealing that they are actually big-@$$ lizards.

(I wrote all that without looking anything up. Nerd!)

In this new version, we see the Visitors arrive, and they tell us that they are here to help us. We hear news reports that they are giving us cures to all sorts of diseases and stuff, but we don't really see them working with humans. We see humans who don't trust the Visitors, but aren't given any concrete reasons why.

The first time we spend any real time with the Visitors, it's their leader telling a news reporter to not ask any questions that will paint them in a negative light. We also see a meeting of an underground resistance against the Visitors (all of whom have either witnessed, or know someone who has witnessed, something that makes them aware that there's more to the Visitors that meets the eye, even though we don't see any of that evidence). At the resistance meeting (and it's not clear what they're resisting, since we haven't seen what the Visitors are actually doing) we are told that the Visitors are not as human as they appear, but are actually literally lizards in human clothing.

Then there's a big fight, and we see Visitors with their skin ripped, and it's really shocking. But not as shocking as it might have been if we hadn't just been told five minutes earlier!

That's my big problem with last night's episode: a lot of telling, not showing. It was slick and well-acted, and I like the idea that the Visitors have apparently been around for a lot longer, infiltrating humanity before going public. And a coworker, who had no history with the show, was really surprised at the actually revelation that the visitors really were lizards. So maybe it's just the baggage I brought with me that hurt my enjoyment of the show.

Regardless, now that the big reveals are out of the way, the show needs to forge its own direction. So I'm going to give it a few weeks to see how I feel about it before I decide one way or the other.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Getting away from the whining about human nature in my previous post, here's what I'm watching on TV on Tuesdays:

On CBS, I watch NCIS. While the cool kids probably don't consider it hip and edgy, I've been a fan since the very beginning. (And when I say "very beginning," I mean I saw the characters in their very first appearance in a two-part episode of JAG, another favorite series.) I like the crime stuff okay, but I could get that from any number of shows. I watch NCIS for the characters.

As soon as I'd heard that Mark Harmon was going to be the lead, I was probably sold on NCIS. He's one of those old-school TV stars, like James Garner or Robert Conrad, who just seems to slip effortlessly into the roles he plays, and totally owns the screen when he's on it. As NCIS agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs, he epitomizes cool on TV like nobody else I can think of. He's such a force for calm and reason on the show, which really helps sell it on those occasions that he explodes into righteous anger. He also balances the zanier, more extreme characterizations of the other members of his team, and it's those characters that make the show so watchable.

This season, NCIS is joined by spin-off NCIS: Los Angeles. It would be easy to dismissively say, "It's just like NCIS, only in LA," but I'm happy to say it's not quite that simple. Like the parent show, it's got a distinctive visual style, and it's got the same sense of humor. But instead of dealing with a team of characters, it pretty much focuses on a pair of partners, played by Chris O'Donnell and LL Cool J. The interplay between them is like watching a fun buddy movie. It doesn't have a complex, twisty mythology involving time-traveling islands or anything but, like Castle, which I talked about last week, sometimes a show can keep you coming back by giving you characters you want to spend time with.

The third Tuesday night show I'm watching is also new this season, The Forgotten, produced by CSI/Pirates of the Caribbean/Big Explodey Action Movie guy Jerry Bruckheimer. It's a crime/procedural series about a group of civilians who try to identify unidentified victims of crime after the police no longer have the resources to devote to now-cold cases. And it's got that Jerry Bruckheimer TV series dark, moody, broody look and feel to it.

It's also got Christian Slater as the lead. I like Christian Slater just fine, but that wasn't the selling point. No, it was a combination of Michelle Borth (from the HBO series Tell Me You Love Me) in the cast and Stephen Gallagher as writer/producer that got me watching. Gallagher has written books and other TV shows that I've really liked, most recently creating last season's short-lived Crusoe. And Michelle Borth is hot.

I can't say I've completely embraced the show in the same way I have NCIS: Los Angeles or other new shows this season. I watched the pilot, skipped the next episode, but came back the following week and have stuck around since. What keeps me interested, I think, is the focus is more on identifying the victims and learning who they were than on solving the crime. Instead of focusing on forensic detail, we see the characters talking to people to learn about the victim as a person. That feels just a little more positive and interesting to me, and that's what keeps me coming back.

As I write this, I haven't seen the premiere of the remake of V but I'm totally planning on watching it. I loved the original V miniseries as a kid, and this one is produced by Scott Peters, creator of The 4400, another much-missed favorite. Plus it's got Elizabeth Mitchell, Morena Baccarin, and the chick who played Supergirl on Smallville. So, you know, totally there.
Sunday before last, my car got hit from behind while stopped at a stoplight. By a guy in a big pickup truck on his cell phone. With his kids in the car.

As of today, his insurance company still hasn't gotten a hold of him. So I'm in limbo until that happens. And, before anyone asks, I was stupid and didn't call the police when the accident happens. I figured nobody seemed to be injured, our vehicles were driveable, and the police have better things to do with their time. And, before anyone asks, I realize now that was stupid, and will probably end up causing me huge frustration and problems.

I hate that we live in a world where the police aren't just there to protect us against crime and enforce the law. We need them to make people do the right thing, to just stand up and be honest.

The other day I was driving down to the insurance place to have the damage to my car appraised. The freeway on-ramp is metered, and there's a carpool lane for cars with more than one person in them. And as I sat in the line of cars waiting to get onto the freeway, I saw one car after another zip down the carpool lane with only one person in them. And that's when I think I snapped. Or just broke.

I try to be a nice guy. I try to be polite and courteous and follow the rules. And what's the point? People push in front of me in lines, they race past me on the freeway, they get whatever they want in stores and restaurants and wherever because they know that if they push and shove and shout they can pretty much bully the rest of the world into giving them whatever they want. And they know that, because it totally works for them.

A friend of mine told me that she's reading a book that says just that: if you raise your kids to be polite and caring and to follow the rules, they're just going to get screwed later in life, because nobody else is raising their kids like that. And that upsets me on a fundamental level.

Don't get me wrong; being who I am has benefited me in the only ways that are really important. I have people who respect and love me because I'm not a pushy jerk. Lura wouldn't be with me if I was that sort of person.

More importantly, I can live with myself. Maybe I feel bad or tiny or powerless because I can't even get a fucking store clerk to back me up when I ask people to not cut in front of me in line, but I'd rather feel all those things than how I know I'd feel if I pushed in front of people or treated them badly. And I'd rather live with the frustration of getting stepped on all the time than the knowledge that I had chosen to be a jerk.

But that doesn't make it any more fun.

Monday, October 26, 2009

As part of my (once again) renewed committment to try to post a blog entry every week, I'm going to go through the TV shows that I'm watching. Rather than try to say it all in one huge, boring post that becomes a struggle to finish, I'm going to break it down and write about one day each week.

On Mondays, I watch The Big Bang Theory on CBS. I can best sum up its appeal for me when I tell you that after my lovely fiancee and I watched it together for the first time a couple of weeks ago, she started laughing hysterically, then turned to me and said, "I'm marrying the Big Bang Theory." I wish I could say that there were moments on the show that weren't exactly like times spent with my friends, but sadly, that's not the case.

Part of what makes the show great for me, besides it being really funny, is that it treats the geek characters with warmth and sympathy. They're funny because--like all geeks--they're obsessed with things outside the mainstream, and this makes them outsiders to a certain degree. But while this may make them awkward, it doesn't make them stupid, or unemotional, or whatever. Penny, the "normal" woman in the cast, doesn't treat them like they're any less human just because she doesn't understand all the things they talk about. And that's what won me over from the very first episode.

(Also, producer Chuck Lorre's vanity cards at the end of each episode are hilarious, if you take the time to freeze and read them. Or you can just read them online at the handy link I just posted.)

A new show I'm watching on Mondays is Castle on ABC. It stars Nathan Fillion, of Firefly/Dr. Horrible/Buffy fame, but I'm not just watching it for the geek casting. I skipped the entire first season, because the concept just sounded DOA. Fillion plays Richard Castle, a mystery writer who helps the NYPD solve crimes while working with them for research for his books. It's Murder, She's Old, only tonight the part of Jessica Fletcher will be played by Nathan Fillion. At least, that was my initial perception.

Now that it's made it to a second season (and been renewed for a full 22 episodes) I'm willing to give it a shot, especially since it comes highly recommended by a friend whose opinion I trust. And it's a lot of fun. It's got a police setting, but it's not a cop show. It's an old-fashioned mystery/romance show, kind of in the vein of Moonlighting but more grounded. The dialogue is snappy and witty, and the characters are engaging. It's got nothing really to do with police procedure, but Columbo isn't any less of a show than Hill Street Blues for the same reason.

Coincidentally, the two shows I watch on Mondays star actors from Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog: Nathan Fillion and Simon Helberg. Maybe I should start watching How I Met Your Mother again for Neil Patrick Harris, but there's just not enough time.
The last book I finished reading was And Another Thing by Eoin Colfer.

As a kid, I loved the works of Douglas Adams, and that probably had more of an influence on my sense of humor than anything (except maybe my Dad). Loved the books, the TV series, the radio series... I even got to go hear him speak once (with my Dad) at the University of California, Berkeley. He may have been the first one of my idols I actually got to see live, if you don't count the guy in the Darth Vader costume we could barely see in a crowded Fisherman's Wharf T-shirt store one day back in 1978. (Which I was also taken to by my Dad. I miss him.)

Those books are products of such a distinct voice, I--quite reasonably--balked when I heard that his estate had approved a new book in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series, almost a decade after his passing. It's one thing for an author to be one of a crowd writing a series of media tie-in books. It's also one thing for an author's estate to commission someone to finish a series left incomplete by an author's untimely passing. But this... It's not like Adams had left notes about a new Hitchhiker's book, or even had anything beyond vague plans to write another book at some point, reportedly.

However, this was going to be written by Eoin Colfer, who I also like. I really liked the first three Artemis Fowl books that he wrote. (I thought the third one ended the series so perfectly I really don't have any interest in reading beyond that.) I also loved The Supernaturalist by him, and have Airman on my to-read stack.

So it became clear to me that I was going to have to read And Another Thing... I planned on just getting it from the library, but as the publication date approached, and Internet buzz from folks who had read preview copies of the first half seemed good, I decided I didn't want to wait, and went ahead and ordered the book.

It's hard for me to really articulate my opinions about it. It's not just a new Eoin Colfer book; it's a new book by him about somebody else's characters, continuing somebody else's story. It's not just a new Hitchhiker's Guide book; it's the first one not written by Douglas Adams (something which would have once seemed unthinkable). So I come to this book with more baggage and expectations than I might if it was just one thing or another.

I enjoyed it enough that I read it all the way through, but I found it ultimately dissatisfying. For one thing, it's mainly a Zaphod Beeblebrox story, and he's not really my favorite character. Everyone else pretty much spends most of the book sitting around doing nothing. Not saying a Hitchhiker's Guide book needs to give everyone equal time; I love So Long and Thanks for All the Fish even though it's mostly an earthbound romance story featuring Arthur Dent. But this isn't just another book in the series.

To Colfer's credit, he doesn't try to write a pastiche of Douglas Adams' writing style. But this may also be a reason for my ambiguous feelings. He gets the characters' voices right--I can totally hear the radio/TV actors saying the lines--but the story they're in isn't written like any of the others I've read. So it feels a bit different, because it is a bit different. Also to his credit, he describes his own book as "authorized fan fiction," instead of claiming his is the official continuation of the series.

There are funny bits, which made me laugh out loud. It feels true to the spirit of the original series, which is good. It's also kind of unnecessary, and if someone--Colfer or anyone else--were to create another Hitchhiker's book, I'm pretty sure I'd wait to get it from the library this time.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

So the big comics news of the day is the restructuring of DC Comics, with Paul Levitz (who I once met, and is a really nice guy) stepping down as publisher.

For me, though, that's all business stuff. Another story, bigger for me, because it's more personal, involves Adventure Comics. A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about how much I loved the first issue. I haven't even received the second issue yet, but yesterday, I learned that the creators were leaving to work on a new Flash series. Now, I loved Geoff Johns' work on Flash in the past, but I was disappointed to read that he wouldn't be staying on this new book that had already grown so dear to my heart.

Today, it was revealed that the new writer on Adventure will be Paul Levitz. So now I feel much better.

Paul Levitz is the writer who got me to fall in love with the Legion of Super-Heroes in the first place. Back when he was writing it, it was one of my favorite comics. (One of? Probably my favorite comic.) He did a great job of creating a believable, vivid, consistent future, and managed to balance a huge cast of characters. Each one felt unique and distinct, with their own personalities, and their personal lives were every bit as interesting as the adventures they had.

They say you can't go home again, and maybe his return (and Johns' to the Flash) will end up disappointing. But right now, I'm excited. Which is a lot better than being disappointed and depressed.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Here's something for me to look forward to...

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Here is a confession that will surprise absolutely nobody who knows me: I love old pulp fiction. Particularly the adventures of the Shadow and Doc Savage, currently being reprinted in very nice editions by Anthony Tollin's Sanctum Press. Obviously, I only know the books from reprints, and I haven't read too many of those.

A lot of what passes for "new pulp fiction" comes across to me as poorly-written fan fiction. Particularly with the print-on-demand options available through places like Lulu.com, it just seems too easy for a pulp fan to churn out a dull, overwritten story about characters called "Prof Brass" or "The Silhouette," sell them for $20 a pop, and call themselves pulp writers. Fortunately, there are new stories that pay tribute to the old pulps without sacrificing quality or imagination.

A particular favorite of mine right now is the Gabriel Hunt series, created by Hard Case Crime editor and publisher Charles Ardai. The series, credited to Gabriel Hunt, is being written by multiple authors, with Ardai writing the second volume, Hunt Through the Cradle of Fear. So far, both Hunt books feel like contemporary adventures with their feet planted in the pulp tradition.

In Hunt Through the Cradle of Fear, Hunt finds himself on a quest for a mythical creature. Ardai skillfully blends elements of adventure and the fantastic, balancing them in a style reminiscent of the Indiana Jones movies. It's not an out-and-out fantasy, nor is it a real-world adventure. In this way, it effectively captures the genre-bending spirit of the old pulps, while still feeling fresh and contemporary.

The Hunt books are fun and fast-paced, action-packed without sacrificing character. (Yes, Guillermo Del Toro's Strain, I'm looking at you.) In this installment, we learn more about Hunt's family and background, in addition to his quest. The information is smoothly integrated into the adventure, instead of feeling like a forced break in the action just to insert exposition. The villain is colorful and just a little over-the-top, but it works in the world that Ardai and his fellow authors are building. The action sequences are fairly easy to follow, and the story is pretty unpredictable.

It's not a perfect book; Ardai inserts a cameo appearance by himself and his wife that--to me--stuck out like a sore thumb. On the other hand, he also includes a second, weird-tales adventure story in the book, completely unrelated to Gabriel Hunt. It's fun, and makes the book feel even more worth the money.

I also read Lobster Johnson: The Satan Factory by Tom Sniegoski, featuring the pulp crimefighter from the pages of Mike Mignola's Hellboy comics. It's less twisty and antic than the Gabriel Hunt books. Because it's a spin-off from the comic book series, it's also a bit light on character development. The character of the Lobster is a complete man of mystery in the comics, and the comics are rightfully where the details should be revealed. Having said that, I still had fun reading this book. Sniegoski did a great job fusing the masked hero genre with the sort of weird, Lovecraftian horror that features in Mignola's comics.

Finally, I read Doc Wilde and the Frogs of Doom by Tim Byrd. This is an exception to my earlier comments about writing characters that are classic pulp heroes with the registration numbers filed off. Doc Wilde is absolutely a stand-in for Doc Savage (or, perhaps more accurately, his son). The difference is, he isn't the main hero. Instead the book focuses on the young Wilde siblings, Bryan and Wren. Like the Gabriel Hunt books, it tells the sort of fantastic, over-the-top adventure that the classic pulps specialized in, but in a style completely appropriate for its audience.

Byrd is writing a story designed to excite and inspire young readers, and he understands that he won't do that by writing a story that reads like it was written sixty years ago. The story is as full of gadgets and weird monsters and action as a Doc Savage novel, but feels contemporary and up-to-date. Pulp fans will probably squeal like little girls at the in-jokes--because that's the indication of a quality story, of course--but pre-teen readers will get a kick out of this, too.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Took the cat to the vet this morning. Even with Zhanti (the parakeet) and Lura (the fiancee) in the house, it still feels empty with Penelope gone.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Yesterday, I raved about how Adventure Comics lived up to my lofty expectations. Unfortunately, that's not always the case.

Last week, I read The Strain by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan. I'm a fan of Del Toro's films, and Chuck Hogan has apparently won awards for his mystery writing. (I thought I had read good reviews of his novels, as well as comics by him, but I was confusing him with Charlie Houston, I only just realized.) Unfortunately, this book, the first of a trilogy, wasn't particularly good.

To me, it reads like the treatment for the first act of a movie. It's 401 pages long, and not only does nothing really happen, but the characters are almost nonexistent. Only one is really fleshed out to two dimensions, and he's still not that interesting. I can see that if the characters were played by charismatic actors, and the action was unfolding visually on the screen instead of being described--sometimes in excruciating detail--on the page, this could be the first third of a cool movie. Instead, it's a fairly uninvolving opening installment to a prose trilogy, and there's not really enough there to make me want to read part two, a whole year from now.

Also a bit disappointing--though nowhere near as much--was the first issue of Doom Patrol from DC Comics. I've been a Doom Patrol fan since the 80s, through all its various permutations. I was particularly looking forward to this one, because it features the original characters, and it's written and drawn by creators who I like. And it is very pretty, and the characters are fleshed out more than those in The Strain.

Unfortunately, it's not a particularly good first issue. It opens at the tail end of an adventure that doesn't seem very well set up, and the rest is follow-up on the consequences of that adventure. I didn't feel as if it really established the current status quo for the team so much as it expected me to already know it.

I get that I'm not always going to be completely up to speed on every comic book character, because I don't read every comic. But if any issue of a series should help the reader get caught up on background and current events for a character, it should be the first one. I felt as if this would be an effective second or third issue, but as a "welcome back" for the Doom Patrol, something felt missing.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

I now have a Twitter account. Feel free to follow me; my user name is penelopecat.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

I have a confession: Several years after lambasting Geoff Johns for his comic, Green Lantern: Rebirth, Green Lantern has become one of my favorite superhero comics. It's got just the right mixture of Hill Street Blues, Star Wars, and superheroics. Instead of an endless string of battles against supervillains, one after another, Johns' Green Lantern is pretty much just one big story, which has gotten even bigger as it currently embraces the rest of DC Comics' superhero universe in the pages of Blackest Night.

I'll probably write more about Green Lantern and Blackest Night at a later date. But today I want to rave about Geoff Johns' newest comic, Adventure Comics #1. Certainly my favorite comic of the week. If it keeps up, probably my new favorite superhero comic.

While I try not to be too much of an old man, bitching about why can't comics be just like the ones I used to read, truth is, there are comics I used to read and love and can't find anything like any more. One of them was The New Adventures of Superboy. I liked the small-town setting, and the fact that, unlike Superman stories, the Superboy tales were less about him fighting supervillains and more about his life on the farm and his relationships with his friends and family.

(Of course, it's possible that the actual comics were nothing like that. But that's the thing about nostalgia, isn't it? You don't want to reexperience something just like you did before; you want to reexperience it the way you remember experiencing it the first time.)

I'm not a huge fan of the current Superboy. Nothing wrong with him; in fact, I really liked his earlier adventures by Karl Kesel and Tom Grummett, with their neo-Jack Kirby vibe. But that's because I was a fan of those creators, not of the character specifically. I was planning on buying this new Adventure Comics series, because I like Geoff Johns and the artist, Francis Manapul, not because it was about Superboy. (Oh, and because it has a Legion of Super-Heroes backup.) It was a comic I was anticipating enough to order, but not one I was necessarily more excited about than the other superhero comics I get.

Then I was listening to the podcast of the Superman panel from this year's San Diego ComiCon, and James Robinson (one of my all-time favorite comics writers, and the man responsible for my reading Superman comics again) described Adventure as having a Ray Bradbury or Norman Rockwell feel to it. And I realized that's how I remember those older Superboy comics feeling. And while I love the comics I am currently reading--otherwise I wouldn't be buying them--I'm not getting anything that feels quite like that. So I started getting excited.

The comic totally lived up to my anticipation. We see Superboy on the farm, going to school, rescuing a girl who falls in a river, and talking to his friend/father Superman. (He's not a son; he's a clone. Not sure what the right term for his relationship to Superman would be.) No supervillains, no fights. And while there are hits of trouble down the road, they seem more rooted in character than plot contrivance. It's exactly the comic I was hoping for.

And the art is nice, too.

Plus, it's got the Legion of Super-Heroes as a backup feature. I first discovered the Legion when it was being written and drawn by Paul Levitz and Keith Giffen, pretty much universally recognized as one of the team's golden ages. I kept reading it even after Levitz left, but gradually drifted away. It just wasn't the same for me, and apparently I wasn't the only one. DC has tried numerous revamps and reboots for the series, none of which have restored it to its former glory (by which I mean sales).

I think switching to the backup format may be the best idea yet to rebuild interest in the feature. It keeps the Legion in the public eye without the burden of carrying their own book. Perhaps more importantly, the short page count forces Johns and his fellow creators to focus on one or two characters at a time. One of the Legion's selling points--at least for me--has always been its big cast. However, I can see why trying to learn all those characters can seem off-putting to new readers. Giving the Legion a format that allows more of a focus on the individuals will help ease readers into the series, instead of dumping them in the deep end.

Will the series continue to hold my interest and excite me? Only time will tell. But for now, I'm hooked.

Friday, August 14, 2009

So I haven't seen Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince yet (but I want to), nor have I seen GI Joe yet (although that's not necessarily a must-see). However, we did go to see Julie & Julia yesterday. Not a particularly explodey movie, but probably more relevant to our lives than the other two.

It's based on a book by Julie Powell, detailing a year she spent cooking every recipe out of Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking and blogging about it. It's also based on Julia Child's autobiography of the years she spent writing the book, and her relationship with her husband. It stars Amy Adams (Amy McAdams? Rachel Adams? Can't keep them straight) as Julie Powell, and Meryl Streep as Julia, with Stanley Tucci (one of my favorite actors) as Julia's husband, Paul Child, and some Hollywood pretty boy as Julie's husband.

I had read Julie Powell's book, and enjoyed it. I liked the movie, too, but I think I liked the "real" Julie better. The movie just didn't really give a strong sense of the reasons why she decided to take on the project of cooking her way through the book. I get that a book is always going to be deeper and more introspective by its nature, but considering that the movie is about the Julie/Julia Project, explaining its origins is pretty much a necessity. Following on from that weakness, the movie Julie and her husband come across as fairly shallow, and a little too cute. When they do have problems, they seem to come out of nowhere, and get resolved just as easily.

The Julia Child segments, on the other hand, are a lot of fun. Perhaps there is nothing particularly earth-shattering about writing a cookbook, but that doesn't make the story any less interesting. Even more interesting is her relationship with her husband, Paul. Meryl Streep's portrayal of Julia Child is perhaps a bit broad (in the way that Las Vegas in the summer is a big hot) but Stanley Tucci--as Paul--is so grounded and down to earth and believable, he helps bring Meryl Streep down with him. He makes you believe that these are two people completely in love. And when we see them together like that, we understand that she isn't just some easily-parodied crazy chef. While perhaps best known for her passion about food, she was clearly passionate about all things in life, as this movie illustrates.

So, while perhaps not a completely successful movie, it's certainly one that I enjoyed.