Thursday, January 2, 2014

Best albums of 2013

It's time for another installment of my best albums of the year list! Now that I'm not working at a store that deals in new releases my knowledge of them could very well disappear going forward, so these lists may get harder in the future. That said, I only bought one of these albums at HT anyway, so that might not effect things that much as much as you'd think.
So without further ado, in alphabetical order:
Vinnie Caruana - City By The Sea
Childish  Gambino - Because The Internet
Dustin Kensrue - The Water & The Blood
Matt & Toby - Matt & Toby
Moving Mountains - Moving Mountains
Relient K - Collapsible Lung
Saves The Day - Saves The Day
Streetlight  Manifesto - The Hands That Thieve
Frank Turner - Tape Deck Heart
Kanye West - Yeezus

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Always nay-saying, everything I create!

Sarah and I recently decided we should come up with a name for our house. The following is a list of actual names I have come up with that she has (for some strange reason) rejected.
1) Xavier's School For Gifted Youngsters
2) The Baxter Building
3) Wayne Manor
4) The Watchtower
5) The Silent Castle
6) Castle Greyskull
7) Greymalkin
8) Wallace Wells' Apartment
9) The Batcave
There may have been more, but that's all I can think of at the moment. I'm really pulling for a change of heart in regards to "Xavier's School For Gifted Youngsters". While writing this or I've also come up with "Avengers Mansion", "Stark Tower" and "Battle School", but I can't imagine those ones passing either. Apparently I'm twelve?
Currently Reading: X-Force (1991)
Currently Reading: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith
In the stereo: Farewell, Old Friends by Bleach

Sunday, July 28, 2013

X-Force vol. 3, or reading 1/4 of X-Cutioners Song makes about as much sense as you'd think it does.


As I predicted, X-Cutioners song (issues 16-18) didn't really make a ton of sense. Currently in comics, if there's a crossover series, it usually is in a limited series and any individual titles can tie-in in some way. X-Cutioners Song on the other hand, is one ongoing story that jumps between four different titles to get a year's worth of story in in three months. (I'm realizing a recent example that follows the 90's crossover format is the 2009 Dark Avengers/X-Men crossover Utopia which jumped back and forth between those titles.) 

This was probably a beneficial tactic at the time because they got to involve all the different X-characters in one story and if you were only reading one title you had to go buy all four for a couple months if you wanted to keep up, temporarily boosting sales. But if you're just reading one title it just makes things confusing and annoying. Doing a little research I discovered that one of the X-Factor chapters didn't even involve a single Factor team member, it only followed Wolverine, Bishop, and Cable. That would be even more annoying. At least I had an X-Force character as a main player in the story in Cable.

It probably wouldn't have been as bad if they had just bothered to take half a page to fill me in on what went down previously instead of quick, unhelpful, one sentence summaries like "Assassination attempt on Xavier!" How am I supposed to know that it was Stryfe posing as Came to attempted said assassination, causing the X-Men to decide X-Force was involved and THAT'S why they're all fighting?

Other than all that complaining, not a whole lot else of note went on for our team, except for Cable sacrificing himself at the end to save everyone. But he'll be back so it's not like he's gone forever, this story mainly just served as an opportunity to hint at his origin a bit.

Stryfe does unleash the Legacy Virus at the end of X-Force 18, which would be a huge plot point in all the X-titles for close to 20 years, but the way it's done is such a teaser that there was no way you'd ever know reading it at the 
time that Mr. Sinister's assistant just opened such a huge can if worms. (Although I didn't notice until now that I actually own both the issue where the Legacy Virus is unleashed and the issue where it's cured. That's kind of neat I guess.)

One other thing that I wonder ties in again to what I said last time, which is "was all this planned?" This crossover was originally pitched by Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld before they left to form Image Comics. Obviously there's no way the new writers could have known what kind of story they had in mind for it, but I can't help but wonder about their plans for Stryfe and Cable. Before Liefeld left, he had revealed Stryfe and Cable have the same face, but not of they were the same person, time lost versions of the same person (ala Immortus/Kang the Conquerer) or clones or what. Now at the end of this story it's pretty clear that one or both of them are Cyclops' son and Stryfe is dead. Was that their original intention for their creations, or was it something the new writers thought up?

Lastly, I haven't had a lot to make fun of art-wise since Rob Liefeld left, so this time we're making fun of the new letterer:
The accentuations in these issues are ridiculous!

This was the third in a series. If you missed the first two installments, they are here and here.

Now reading: Roadwork by Richard Bachman
In the stereo: Fashion Focus by Starflyer 59

Thursday, July 25, 2013

X-Force (vol. 1) vol. 2

When I decided to write along as I read through X-Force, I figured I'd be checking in every six issues or so as storylines came and went. Clearly I was thinking of modern age, written to be sold in trade paperback form clean with six month long stories. Much has changed. In the early 90's they really took their time and let things drag out. 15 issues in and we've finally reached our first clean breaking point.

So what's happened? Well, Black Tom Cassidy and the Juggernaut took a bunch of businessmen hostage at the World Trade Center and X-Force (with the help of special guest star, Spider-man!) had to stop them, a new Brotherhood of Evil Mutants teamed up with the Morlocks and attacked the team at their own secret headquarters, and then Domino was revealed to be a traitor working for the mysterious Mr. Tolliver, leading to the destruction of their HQ.... at the same time a SHIELD strike team with a grudge against Cable shows up for a fight. Oh, and then Domino is revealed to be an imposter and the real Domino was really Tolliver's captive the whole time. So Cable killed him. And even with all this action, they still had time for a couple filler, nothing's happening, let's take a couple pages to check in on each team member while they train for battle issues.


The World Trade Center issues were kind of interesting. They blew up one of the towers! Oops. Also, that story contained a crossover with Spider-man so I kind of missed out on part of that one. Mind you, I have that issue of Spidey, but I'm reading through X-Force, if I was going to try to read all the crossover events that pass through I'd never finish!


In issue 3, right before the Spider-man issue, we discover some new and exciting lesser known mutant powers! For example, did you know Black Tom had the ability to suck in and regrow his beard at will? Check it out!

Amazing! And as if that weren't impressive enough, check out Gideon's hair:
In the first panel he's got that stupid, gravity defying ponytail. In the second, he seems to have added a mullet? But wait, in panel three you see that it's not a full mullet, it's just long hair right behind the ears. But that's not all folks! When he gets attacked, he seems to lose control of his hair growing mutant power and everything goes awry:
MUTANT POWERS! 

Issue 4 was also cool in that it was sideways. You had to turn the book 90 degrees and flip the pages up as you read. You don't see that very often, so that's neat. According to Wikipedia, Rob Liefeld had previously gown in trouble while working for DC Comics because he drew an entire issue of Hawk & Dove sideways without the editors' OK.

Also cool was issue 8's guest penciler, Hellboy's Mike Mignola! It's pretty cool. Mignola makes no attempt to ape Liefeld's art style or anything Marvel was doing art-wise at the time, and just does all the characters in his own bold, heavily shadowed style. It's kind of awesome. According to this Rob Liefeld blog entry (which also contains an interesting comparison of Liefeld's layouts with Mignola's final pages), he was getting fatigued and needed someone to spell him for an issue. That seems a bit fishy though, as Liefeld would only draw one more issue of X-Force... ever! He was having issues with Marvel over merchandising rights for X-Force and this was when he left along with other Marvel superstars like Todd McFarlane and Jim Lee to form Image Comics. So was he really just needing a breather, or was he already on his way out by then? You start seeing ads for his debut Image title, Youngblood as early as the next issue.

I'd like some more behind the scenes information about this period. Liefeld hadn't actually been scripting issues since it was called The New Mutants (he was plotting them while Fabian Nicieza was writing them). So since he stopped drawing issues and was only credited with plotting from 10-12, how much input did he really have on those issues? Was Nicieza just writing based on some notes Liefeld left for him at that point? Did Liefeld have grand plans in store for X-Force that never came to fruition? Tolliver gets killed in issue 15 after he was done even plotting, did he have more plans for him as a villain that never happened? Did he have plans for a full story arc involving the Externals and Cannonball being the immortal savior of mutantkind or was it just a loose idea he came up with that would have eventually faded away and gotten forgotten anyway? It'd be interesting to know. 

It's also kind of strange to me that there was no announcement of any kind in the book about Liefeld's departure from the book. If you were reading at the time (pre-internet) the only way you would have known he was leaving the book was from people lamenting it in the letter column. I understand he probably wasn't leaving on the greatest of terms, but he had created what was one of the best selling comics on the shelves, you'd think they'd at least mention he was leaving.

Finally, now that Rob Liefeld has left the building and I won't get to enjoy his beautiful artwork anymore, let's send him off in style with this.

Well, time to get lost in X-Cutioner's song (An X-Men crossover saga). And I don't mean get lost in the story, I mean literally not knowing what's going on. I've been informed (by the letter column) not to read issue 16 until I've read two issues of X-Men and an issue of X-Factor. Then I'll miss the same amount of story before it returns in issue 17 and again for 18.

Currently reading: Roadwork by Richard Bachman
In the stereo: Sings Live by Colin Meloy


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

X-Force... it begins!

I couldn't tell you exactly why, but I've always been a fan of X-Force. I think it was in college when I discovered Deadpool. Deadpool's first appearance was in New Mutant 98, which was only 3 issues before X-Force 1, he was created by Rob Liefeld who also created X-Force, and many of his early appearances were in early issues of X-Force so when I started gobbling up all Deadpool's appearances I ended up with quite a few issues then too. Add to that how prevalent they were in the old Shinders quarter bin and it was an easy title to decide to collect every issue of.

Fast forward to late February and I finally completed my collection; I now own every issue of X-Force. Well... Sort of. In 2001, after the team was seemingly killed off in issue 115, Peter Milligan and Mike Allred rebooted the title with an entirely new team and direction. I bought those first 6 issues in trade form as they were very scarce at the time, but for my purposes here I'm only looking at the traditional, Cable-led, Rob Liefeld X-Force and I do have all of those. Jump ahead 5 more months and I'm finally ready to start reading through all 115 issues of X-Force. So I've decided to keep tabs on my progress here. Every time the creative team changes or a storyline ends I'll give my thoughts. Not necessarily as a review, just some observations and fun. 


We shall start with issue one:


As I alluded to earlier, X-Force was a follow-up title to New Mutants. The New Mutants had been running since the early 80's as kind of a "junior X-Men team," being trained by Professor X at the school to maybe someday graduate into X-Men. Around issue 85 or so, Rob Liefeld took over on art duties, bringing his terribly drawn feet and horrible sense of proportion with him, eventually taking over plotting the book as well. During this time a number of new characters were introduced while he "revolutionized" the book, including the "mysterious" Cable. He ended up being a popular enough character that they had him take on the role as team leader and the new mutants proceeded to go rogue and become X-Force, just in time to wrap up The New Mutants title with issue 100. X-Force 1 would go on to be the best selling single issue of all time... at least until X-Men 1 came out later that summer and took that title away.

The crazy thing to me is how this was basically a continuation of New Mutants, but almost all the characters in this issue were introduced within the last year of that title! The team consists of Cable, Cannonball, Boom Boom, Warpath, Feral, Shatterstar and Domino. Cannonball, Boom Boom and Warpath had been around for ages, but Feral just debuted in NM 100, Shatterstar in 99, and Domino in 98! Then the villains: Stryfe and the Mutant Liberation Front just made their first appearance in the late 80's, and G.W. Bridge was a new character in this issue! So this huge "1st issue collectors item" consisted of like 75% new, unestablished characters.
Finally, let's talk about the art. It's Rob Liefeld. It's kind of terrible. The guy has no sense of proportion and couldn't draw feet. But he was really popular at the time, so whatever. Done. What I really want to discuss is the character designs. Like I said most of these characters had recently been introduced by Liefeld himself. And you can tell! Look at this:
Why do Wildside and Feral have the EXACT SAME HAIR? Who else has ever had that hair?

Speaking of Wildside, check out Domino and Reaper:
WHY DOES EVERYONE HAVE DOTS OVER THEIR EYES!?!?

If you ask me, that's just lazy character design.

Going forward I'm sure I won't dwell on a single issue as much as I did here, but there's a lot of background here too. And it's the first issue! Sorry I mean, 1st Issue Collectors Item!

Now reading: A Game Of Thrones by George R. R. Martin
In the stereo: Palms by Palms


Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Twins Way: The Worst Way?

A couple weeks ago someone was talking to me about a local radio personality freaking out about playing "the Twins way" and how that needs to stop because "the Twins way is the worst way". That got me to thinking, are the Twins still playing "the Twins way"?

I've always thought of "the Twins way" as being "doing all the little things right." Things like running the bases, sacrificing runners over, not committing errors, throwing strikes and not walking batters.

For base running I decided to use fangraphs.com's Ultimate Base Running statistic. UBR uses linear weights to determine how much value a player gives (or loses) doing things like going first to third on a single, getting thrown out trying to stretch a hit, or advancing on a throw. It uses 0.0 as league average so a negative number is below average and positive is above. This is an individual stat so I may be using it out of context taking the team's UBR, but work with me here.

I'm not trying to say sacrifices are the best way to win games, but I am saying the Twins have always valued it as a skill and talked up their players being able to get it done.

We could get into a debate about errors if we wanted to, but again since that's what the Twins organization likes to talk up (instead of other more useful stats like UZR or TZL) that's what we'll use.

For pitching we're going to look at zone% (the percentage of all pitches thrown in the strike zone) and BB/9.

Below all the playoff teams' stats are in bold while all stats that were below league average (American league average in the case of sac hits) are italicized. (Also, I projected sac hits and errors to a full 162 game season.)

Year       UBR       SH       E       ZONE%       BB/9      
2002       1.8         33        74     57.4             2.73
2003       4.3         31        87     53.3             2.48
2004       -5.5        38        101   56.1             2.63
2005       -4.1        51        102   56.0             2.14
2006       10.1       52        84     54.6             2.23
2007       1.3         34        95     52.5             2.63
2008       17.8       31        108   53.6             2.50
2009       21.0       42        76     50.3             2.89
2010       -2.0        46        78     48.7             2.37
2011       -2.4        42        119   45.9             3.04
2012       3.6         34        107   45.4             2.91
2013       1.1         58        72     46.2             2.56

Conclusions:

  1. The Twins have not, as a team, run the bases well with any sort of consistency regardless of whether they were good that year or not.
  2. The Twins sacrifice A LOT! There were years (2005, 2006, 2009, 2010) when they sacrificed more than double the American league average. There were years when they sacrificed more than the major league average. That's crazy to me.
  3. Certainly pitching the Twins way has not changed at all.
  4. The past two years errors became an issue (also in 2008, which was not a playoff year, but still above .500), but improving that this year has not made a significant difference in overall team performance.
  5. Clearly four of these five categories strongly represent the Twins philosophy as they are consistently above average. But their record hasn't been nearly as consistent, especially the last couple years. It can't be the worst way, it helped contribute to six division titles in nine years. But there are obviously more important things that need to be focused on.

Currently reading: A Game Of Thrones by George R. R. Martin
Currently reading: Marvel Knights Spider-Man (2004)
In the stereo: Tape Deck Heart by Frank Turner

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

my first ever blog in which i discuss things I wasn't thrilled with.

I think people tend to think of me as someone who doesn't like anything. And I guess that's not entirely unfounded. But I'm also someone who generally likes things. If it's something I want to like, more often than not, I'll find something to enjoy about it.  I like new Alkaline Trio. I like Angels & Airwaves. I like the Fantastic Four movies. I'm not saying they're great, I'm just saying I enjoyed them. I liked Spider-Man 3. Everyone else seems to hate that one too. The point is, I usually like stuff, so that's why it's so weird to me that 3 times in the last week or so I've disliked (or at least been very disappointed in) something that everyone else seem to love.

Example 1:   Man Overboard's new album, HEART ATTACK. It's not bad, but it's going to have to grow on me. Not like their self titled album which completely blew me away. So I was pretty shocked when in the new issue of Alternative Press they write an article about MAN OVERBOARD being a ho-hum record that paled in comparison to what The Wonder Years were doing at the time. I've never liked The Wonder Years (they rub me the wrong way) and have never talked to anyone who preferred them over Man Overboard. They also write about how the new album will give The Wonder Years a run for their money because it's immediately captivating. Who are these people who didn't like MAN OVERBOARD? Who are these people who prefer The Wonder Years? And how is HEART ATTACK in any way better than MAN OVERBOARD? Or even BEFORE WE MET, which was all old songs!? Dumb.

Example 2: Jimmy Eat World's new album, DAMAGE. To be honest, I haven't liked a new Jimmy Eat World album when in was first released since... Ever. They always have to grow on me and then I end up loving them. But I cannot imagine this one growing on me. It's boring. There's nothing as poppy and fun as A Praise Chorus or Pain. There's nothing as dark and moody as Polaris, Goodbye Sky Harbor or Disintegration. It's all just mid tempo, bland rock songs. So I look up some reviews of it, expecting everyone to feel the same way I do about it and instead they love it! Allmusic.com gave it 4 1/2 stars, better than any album since BLEED AMERICAN. AP gave it 4 stars, on par with FUTURES and CLARITY. There is no way it is that good. I'll keep listening to it (and hopefully end up eating my words again), but I just do not understand how anyone could be that pumped about this album. Also dumb.

Example 3: Man Of Steel. (There may be some spoilers below, continue at your own risk) I wanted to love this movie. I really did. The trailers would give me the chills. Zack Snyder always showed promise as a director and a story by David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan should have been amazing! Reviews were good, word of mouth was good, I'd read good things about test screenings, all signs pointed to amazing. Now I didn't hate it, but I certainly didn't love it. There were a couple issues early. I didn't like how Lois immediately figured out Superman's identity, and the first half was kind of disjointed and had some weird flow issues, but I could look past all that pretty easily. But then I kept noticing all sorts of awkward product placement that completely pulled me out of the story. Did they really need to fight inside both an IHOP and a Sears? And most of the fight scenes were really cool, but the collateral damage seemed a bit out of hand. I understand that it was Superman's first fight as Superman, but even then, he should have been a lot more concerned about how many innocents were hurt or killed when he went flying through a gas station, blowing it up. Do you realize how many innocent people had to have been killed during their fight? I feel like Superman would never have allowed that. Then at the end, one family is in danger and suddenly he cares so much about innocents that he has to snap Zod's neck to stop him? Superman doesn't kill. It wasn't enough to make me grind my teeth (X3 was), but it still didn't follow the spirit of what a Superman story should be. So again I checked reviews, expecting others to agree with me. Instead Harry at aintitcool.com called it the best super hero movie ever made, everyone else I've talked to loved it, and even the City Pages, who hate EVERYTHING, liked it!  Dumb.

Of course I don't think I'm the only person to ever disagree with popular opinions of things, it just struck me odd how it happened three times over the course of about a week. And even more odd that I was the one who didn't like said things while popular opinion did.

Currently reading: A Game Of Thrones by George R. R. Martin
Currently reading: Silver Surfer (2003)
In the stereo: Yeezus by Kanye West