December 29 2008
 

In the original Marvel Comics' Tales to Astonish stories featuring Ant-Man, bio-chemist Henry "Hank" Pym discovers a way to shrink himself to the size of an ant. In an attempt to keep real ants from killing him, Pym next invents a helmet that allows him to communicate telepathically with ants. What does he do with these two amazing bits of technology? He becomes a superhero, of course! Pym knows that shrinking to the size of an insect is a technology "far too dangerous to ever be used by a human again," so he keeps it to himself and immediately launches a crusade against Soviet spies.

I'd never really realized it before, but most of the signature characters of the Marvel Age were all grounded in the Cold War struggle against the U.S.S.R. The Fantastic Four had to beat the Soviets into space. A Soviet spy triggered the bomb test that birthed the Hulk. Iron Man was a casualty of the escalating "limited conflict" in southeast Asia that would become the Vietnam War. Spider-Man and Thor are notable exceptions: their careers triggered respectively by an accidental spider-bite and an alien invasion -- another common Marvel adventure even to this day. (In hindsight, it's probably not much of a coincidence that I lost interest in Marvel Comics about the time the Soviet Union collapsed.) For Pym, the battle against the Reds was personal: they killed his wife, an Hungarian freedom fighter. Sure, she'd given up fighting for freedom when well-to-do American biochemist Hank Pym came along, but she was really serious about it in college.

Did you really think that shrinking to the size of an ant would be enough to save the world? Ant-Man, you're an idiot.

However, don't expect to see any of this lunacy in the long-rumored Ant-Man movie. If the thing is even made, they'll no doubt ignore the fact that Pym changes his superhero moniker from Ant-Man to Giant-Man mid-conversation if he changes his size. (Freud would have a field day with that.) Or the fact that he grafted biological wings and antenna into his female partner, the Wasp, but neglected to give her the ability to change her size without the aid of his size-changing gas or pills. (Pym kept for himself the cybernetic helmet that allowed him to change size at will. Dick.) Not to mention the fact that when Pym is ant-sized, he inexplicably maintains his full-size strength while growing stronger when he gets larger-than-life size. Or that his rogues' gallery consists primarily of such forgettable nutcases as Egghead, Human Top, Magician, Porcupine, or the scientist Garrett, who mixes eagle blood with horse blood to create a flying horse in order to exact revenge on Giant-Man. (They market these books to children and they wonder why Americans lag behind in science.)

No, they'll put Ant-Man in a black costume and pit him against the evil robot Ultron. Because mark my words, nothing ruins a computer like a bug. (Don't blame the messenger: it's just how Hollywood thinks.)

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  December 26 2008
 

Christmas has passed, which means that everyone can go back to being the curmudgeonly malcontent and general all-around asshole that I usually am. Hooray! (Though, I'm sure that if you asked my family, they'd say that I was pretty malcontent and an asshole all day yesterday. And I was on my good behavior! Not my best, just better than usual.)

Look out, 2009, here I come.

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  December 23 2008
 

It's the holidays, which of course means that I'm dog sitting. (Better than chicken sitting, I tell you.) Meet Ruby, the English Bulldog.

Ruby, the bulldog

Once you get past her hideous appearance, breed-defining stubbornness, and unchecked jealousy, she's actually quite sweet. Although at this moment, she's yelling at me because I won't let her play near the computer power cords. Did I mention the stubbornness?

Ruby, the painting

I had painted a picture of a younger Ruby last year for her owner. (Sorry that the camera flash above doesn't quite do it justice.) Now that I'm keeping her for a week, I'm rather impressed that I captured her "what you gonna do about it?" demeanor.

Now if you'll excuse me, Ruby says she has to go outside. Loudly.

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  December 20 2008
 

I just spent the better part of 5 hours in a bowling alley not bowling followed by an hour in a parking lot not parking and an hour in a Waffle House not eating. I'm such a rebel. (It's worth noting that of the three, the only one I was kicked out of was the only one that was free: the parking lot.) I have to admit, it felt a lot like being in high school again, which is somewhat ironic.

I always think of bowling as a middle-aged man's game. Yet the alley, Fun Time Bowl -- named by a 12-year-old Japanese schoolgirl -- was packed with young people, participating in "cosmic bowling." "Cosmic," it seems, is a euphemism for "black lights." While I was previously aware of this particular "cosmic bowling" phenomenon, I've just never previously quite understood how fog machines and ceiling-mounted Lasek machines is supposed to make bowling more fun. And I still don't.

I certainly shouldn't be surprised by the age of the bowlers, as when I was in high school (which is likely the last time I actually bowled unless you count Wii Sports) the lanes were packed with people my own age. But that's the sort of thing that age does to you: it makes you misremember your youth. I suspect that this is nature's way to help you win arguments with your own children. (My father frequently told me, "when I was your age, I had to walk 20 miles uphill in the snow to school." I have always been suspicious of that claim, namely because he grew up in Miami, FL.)

I'm sure that at some point down the road, I'll misremember tonight. So as a friendly reminder to Future Me, let me just say: you bowled a 241 and were the highlight of the evening for everyone present. Need proof? Just read this blog. I wouldn't lie to myself, would I?

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  December 17 2008
 

New York Governor David Paterson has proposed an 18% "obesity tax" on soft drink sales in New York state. The American Beverage Association objects ('natch), claiming that this tax will put the squeeze on the middle class. ("In an economy like this, the last thing we should do is raise taxes on hardworking families." -ameribev.org )

Let's say I consume a single 2-liter Coca-Cola every 2 days. That's 180 2-liters per year. (Don't judge me.) At $1.50 per 2-liter, that's $270 I spend on Coke per year. I already pay 7% sales tax for Coke, meaning that $270 of Coke costs me $288.90. If I were forced to pay an additional 18% tax on top of that, those 180 Cokes cost $337.50, a nearly $50 increase over the course of a year. (That's a lot more than I spend on comic books these days.)

Even in these hardscrabble times, that's not really a lot of money. And I drink a LOT of Coke. (Don't judge me.) How many families in New York consume as much soft drink per person as I do? Turns out that according to the National Soft Drink Association, the national average is somewhere near 105 2-liters per American per year. For the average New Yorker (at, say 1700 Broadway in Manhattan, the home of DC Comics) paying a sales tax of 8.375% on that same $1.50 Coke, they'll be paying $199.04 instead of $170.69, an annual difference of about $30.

Needless to say, ABA, I don't think this will break the back of New Yorkers. And the number is so low, that it is unlikely to really discourage that many obese middle class buyers. (Though I do think of my dad, who won't buy any 2-liter soft drink at a cost greater than $1.00, because "the price was never that high when I was a kid!")

But don't take this article as me supporting the government involving itself in my buying habits on the grounds that it knows better than I do what's good for me. I'm the guy that opposes seat belt laws, remember? If I want to get too fat from sipping sugary beverages to be thrown to my death from my car in an accident, I think that's my right!. And I'll let the ABA use that argument if they think it will help them.

Now if you'll excuse me, I think I'll go to work saving my life by pouring another Coke.

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  December 14 2008
 

I keep hearing NFL commentators calling football plays "unbelievable." Are all these football commentators atheists? I'm pretty sure that nothing that could happen during a football game qualifies as unbelievable. San Francisco and Moscow instantaneously switching locations is unbelievable. Suddenly growing a third arm would be unbelievable. World peace is unbelievable. Catching a football one-handed or scoring 14 points in 2 minutes, however, while impressive, is quite believable.

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  December 11 2008
 

At long last, I've seen it.

As promised, the producers didn't get a cent out of me, as I watched The Dark Knight when my brother rented it to watch with his girl.

And as much as I'd like to say that it was the worst movie I've ever seen, I can't. Which is not the same as saying that it was good. It wasn't. I won't ever watch it again unless I'm in traction and have weeks of laying immobile in bed to kill. In fact, it was only made watchable the first time through by the magnetic performances of Heath Ledger ("if you've got to go, go with a smile") and Aaron Echkart. (Two-Face was fucking awesome! Two thumbs up, so to speak.)

But Batman sucked. Regarding the disparity of respect shown by director/screenwriter/all-around-terrible-filmmaker Christopher Nolan for the principle three characters, note specifically that in the scene following the energetic and dangerous Joker's dramatic first meeting with Gotham's hoods, Batman appears as a short, stiff midget in his first group meeting with the more heroic Harvey Dent and Captain Gordon. >sigh<. Couldn't someone have at least gotten Bale a box to stand on? One of the first rules of cinema is that heroes are tall, not hunchbacks wearing Phantom-of-the-Opera cloaks with the mobility of Frankenstein.

You want realism in comics why again?Once again, Batman is squeezed into a suit that makes his chin look like toothpaste oozing from the mouth of an extraterrestrial. He is involved in choppy fight scenes where the action is merely suggested between camera blurs. And, capital of sins, he performs with almost no moral responsibility. Refusing to unmask and letting someone else take the fall in an attempt to continue the mission is one thing, but firing missiles into the cars of civilians with no concern for property damage or the possibility of collateral damage -- such as the two children specifically shown witnessing the event -- is another thing altogether. For all of Hollywood's attempts to place superheroes in a "gritty," real-world scenario, I'm quite sure that the citizens of a real-world city would would not tolerate a vigilante who spread such a wide-swath of destruction as Batman has in two films. (And no, "but the Joker was doing it, too" is NOT a valid argument against this complaint.)

And that doesn't even begin to cover the terrible technology Batman uses. I'm just going to gloss over the suit here other than to mention that a Bat-Suit with no Bat-Symbol is pretty darn pointless, if you ask me. Sure, it was there, but a matte black symbol on a matte-black suit is about the worst branding ever. If I were a crook, I'd aim for the mouth, as it's the most visible target on his entire suit. That's good costume design.

In addition, he's got a motorcycle hidden in a murderous ATV (don't think I'm going to let the assassination of that garbage truck driver pass without a mention) that requires a 60-second mechanical release reconfiguration in the event of a "damage catastrophic" situation. (It may be stupid, but at least it's slow!) And then his little motorcycle-thing doesn't have any equipment to deal with the scenario of a human standing in the street in front of it. Really? Batman, if you're inclined to play high-speed games of chicken with pedestrians, I recommend that in addition to engineering for such commonplace events as flipping tractor trailers or driving up walls, you spend some time on what to do in the far-fetched scenario of children crossing the street.

At least in comics, the Joker isn't the only one with style.But the secret failure of this movie is that its two principle characters don't follow their own stated principle philosophies. The Joker, who claims to the world to be an agent of Chaos, doesn't just opportunistically out-think, but seriously out-plans every other character in the film, including the stupidest police force outside of Keystone (which is coincidentally the home city of the Flash who is actually capable of being everywhere at once: Batman's most grievous limitation in this film). And don't think for a minute that I didn't notice that the film borrows heavily from Alan Moore's brilliant The Killing Joke comic while managing to twist events to provide exactly the opposite philosophy with which the comic concluded. In comics, the Joker loses, failing to corrupt James Gordon. In the movies he succeeds in throwing the city into chaos, turning the citizens against themselves and their heroes, corrupting the police force, corrupting Harvey Dent, corrupting Batman, and proving that in the end, it does take just one bad day. I'd call that a win. (But I guess he still doesn't get Gordon, who fakes his death to save his family only to have his family come into jeopardy anyway. Now that's irony! And a pointless way to add another 10 minutes to an already too-long film.)

Meanwhile, the Batman, who vows never to break his "one rule" of never taking a human life, kills Two-Face. Although, in his defense, Newtonian physics don't seem to consistantly apply to Gotham City, where it's demonstrated that a human body falling 3-stories will generate only enough force to sprain the ankle of an adult human, and no fall from any height apparently harms Batman or damsels in distress, as he clearly follows the advice presented in The Batman Handbook, "Chapter 3: How to Jump Out of a Tall Building" [ISBN1-59474-023-2]. So maybe Batman didn't realize that a six-story fall would be fatal to most people when he throws Two-Face off that building. And heck, taking credit for killing a few guys only gives you better street cred, right? I swear, the ending is just plain retarded: make the world a better place by letting well-funded vigilante DA killers loose on the streets? Only in Hollywood does that make sense.

That'a way to put Batman in his place, Christopher Nolan!

Lest you think that these two were the only culprits of idiocy in a movie filled with ugly bullshit (and I'm not specifically referring to Maggie Gyllenhaal, who, while being a decent-enough actress trapped in the part of a whining, hypocritical bitch, is about as attractive as Eleanor Roosevelt -- I swear the only actual joke that the Joker tells in the movie is when he calls her character "truly beautiful"), I refer you to the blackmail scene in which a Wayne-employed accountant tries to squeeze Lucious Fox for $10 million under threat of revealing Wayne Enterprises association with the Batman. Having uncovered only a direct link between Wayne Enterprises technology and the Batman, the blackmailer doesn't have any evidence to suggest that Bruce Wayne is the Batman until Fox directly tells him so. Damn, Lucious, for a guy who has a problem with Batman using your technology for what you designed your technology to be used for, you sure don't have a problem with spilling his secrets, do you?

As our DVD drew to a close after nearly 3 long hours, we were treated to a disclaimer note that proclaimed that Warner Brothers does not support cigarette use. Since no major character in the film smokes (even Gordon, long presented as a pipe smoker in the comics, goes without), we could only assume that the filmmakers were warning us not to take up a 10-pack a day habit in hopes of emulating the Batman's voice. (To say that the voice is gravelly would be to do a grave disservice to rock quarries everywhere.) Well, Warner Brothers, I accept your disclaimer, and you have my word that I will never intentionally emulate anything I've seen in this movie.

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  December 08 2008
 

Ah, Christmas, a time of year to put aside my daily troubles, spend time with family and friends, and beg for phat loot from Santa.

Can you find 9 Shipwrecks in this picture, boys and girls?

I was always kind of pissed that Santa never gave me a 7-1/2 feet long G.I.Joe U.S.S. Flagg Aircraft Carrier, but maybe he was doing me a favor. I'm not sure that I've ever been "ready for action" with a navy's worth of sailors. (Look, kid, you better be careful what you Wishbook for.)

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  December 05 2008
 

I know the Hulk is a few cucumbers short of a salad, but I'd certainly expect the Leader to know better.

No glass bottle can hold the Hulk!

"Without limit"? The speed of light is 186,000 miles per second. The speed at which electrical impulses travel along the brain's neurons tops out at .075 miles per second when you're drinking Red Bull. Therefore it would take a month for a thought to travel as far as light does in one second.

But what should I expect from two fellows who think that bathing in highly-lethal gamma radition is a sure path to fun and profit? No doubt, the Leader also thinks he uses the "unused" 90% of his brain that the averge human doesn't and that if he sneezed with his eyes open, they would pop out of his head.

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  December 02 2008
 

As the year end approaches, brace yourself for the deluge of retrospective lists for 2008. For example, it's only the second day of December, but the dam is already bursting:

  • Yahoo has announced that "Britney Spears" was their most-searched subject for the fourth consecutive year (which may say more about the remaining users of Yahoo than Britney Spears' popularity).
  • Ask.com announced that their top question in 2008 was "how do I get pregnant?" (pushing "what is the meaning of life?" to fall to lowly 7th place).
  • Merriam-Webster has announced that the word of the year for 2008, based on online web searches, is "bailout," not "change." (Always a bridesmaid, "misogyny" barely cracks the top 10.)
  • iTunes announced that Coldplay sold more digital album downloads than anyone else in 2008. (I suspect that no one even keeps track of cd sales anymore, but I'm sure that there is a list in the works that will prove me wrong.)

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