Monday, January 19, 2015

Ultimate Marvel Reading 2: Ultimate Marvel-er...?

It's been a little bit since I checked in in the Ultimate Universe. Before I got too far ahead of myself I thought I'd check in again. If you missed the first installment, you can find it here.

What did I read?
Ultimate X-men #1/2, 7-14
The Ultimates #1-3
Ultimate Marvel Team-Up #10-13
Ultimate Spider-man #14-21

What did I skip?
Ultimate Marvel Team-Up #9, #14

I do have Team-Up #9, but it's a silly non-canon story where Spider-man visits the Fantastic Four (who don't exist yet) and fights off some Skrulls (who are called Chitauri on this universe and haven't shown up yet), so I skipped it this time.

What happened?
Spider-man faces off against Doctor Octopus, while reality TV star Kraven the Hunter decides to hunt Spider-man for his show. After a couple failed run-ins work Doc Ock, he ends up defeating both him and Kraven on live TV, finally winning over some of the general public.

Also, the X-men get abducted by the evil Weapon X program, and are forced to work for them, until Wolverine teams up with Nick Fury to rescue them.

In other corners of the universe, Nick Fury has begun to recruit members for his Ultimates team, including a recently thawed out World War II hero Captain America.

There's also a random two issue Gambit story in Ultimate X-men written by Chuck Austen. He doesn't join the team or anything and just hangs out in his own corner by himself. If he does show up again in the Ultimate Universe again it's in a book I haven't read yet, and if not, it's a really weird use of a character.

What did I think?
Ultimate Spider-man continues to be the strongest title in the line, but that's to be expected as it's written by Brian Michael Bendis. It is much more character driven than either of Mark Miller's books. The Ultimate X-men are still fairly unlikable, but the Ultimates aren't as bad as I was afraid they'd be. At least not yet. 

Ultimate Marvel Team-Up took a turn for these issues. Where the first three story arc's featured fairly well known artists like Matt Wagner, Phil Hester and Mike Allred, these stories had art by a bit of obscure indie artists like Ted McKeever and Terry Moore.

One thing I'm noticing in this current read through is that there are quite a few early references to Reed Richards, The Baxter Building and Doom in these stories, implying that they're all known entities even this early. This can't be the case as we don't get to the Ultimate Fantastic Four for a while yet, although in this universe Doom is named Van Damme, and the Baxter Building is a thing before the Fantastic Four ever move in there. Also, that book was launched by these same two writers, so maybe they to salvage it more than I remember. Or maybe it's just a continuity error. That happens sometimes too.

Finally, in the first chunk of books I read I found an error on the reading order list I was using right away, so I moved to a different list. This one isn't perfect either. I'm kind of going off of two different lists now, trying to make do as best as I can. But there should be a better order. I understand it's probably impossible to get perfect, but it can be better than these I I've been finding.

Currently reading: The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract
In the stereo: Resurrection by New Found Glory

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The All-time All-Minnesotan Team

I've recently been reading The New Bill James Historical Abstract, and at one point he offhandedly mentioned who would be on an all-time Oklahoma team. Naturally like most Minnesotans, this made me wonder who would be on an all-time Minnesota team. But unlike most Minnesotans, I actually sat down and tried to figure it out.

First I went to's bio search for all players who were born in Minnesota. I'm sure this presents a few problems, like players who were born out of state but were raised here, but it also presented me with an opportunity to claim Roger Maris, who only lived in Minnesota for like the first 8 years of his life. And anyway, it works good enough for my purposes.

Then I listed off all the position players from that list who had played at least 300 games at any given position, just to make the amount of names more manageable. I didn't want to do a ton of research here, so I made extensive use of Wins Above Replacement (WAR), looking at each player's average WAR per year, their WAR total for their peak 3 years, as well as their single season high. Then looking at all of this, I was able to create my all-time Minnesotan team.

Catcher: Joe Mauer (Twins; 2004-2014)

At this point in his career I guess whether or not Joe is a Hall of Famer is debatable, but whether or not he's the best Minnesota born catcher is not.

First Base: Kent Hrbek (Twins; 1981-1994)

I'll be honest, there were a couple positions I didn't even bother research. First base was one of them, although when I decided to add a DH to my team I did check some other options, and with a .282/.367/.481 career line he definitely warranted my belief in him.

Second Base: Jack Crooks (Colts, Browns, Senators & Colonels; 1889-1898)
Third Base: Paul Molitor (Brewers, Blue Jays & Twins; 1978-1998)
Shortstop: Gene DeMontreville (Pirates, Senators, Orioles, Orphans, Superbas, Beaneaters & Browns; 1894-1904)

Molitor is a Hall of Famer. He was a shoe in for this team, the question was what position would he play? The guy played pretty much everywhere, but spent the most time as a DH, at second and at third. So the question became, who are my other options at second and third? It ended up coming down to Jack Crooks (.241/.386/.322) and Gene DeMontreville (.303/.340/.373), both second basemen, putting Molitor at third. Once discovering that DeMontreville was also the only Minnesota-born player to play over 300 games at shortstop, that left Crooks at second.

Left Field: Dave Winfield (Padres, Yankees, Angels, Blue Jays, Twins & Indians; 1973-1995)
Centerfield: Mike Kingery (Royals, Mariners, Giants, Athletics, Rockies & Pirates; 1986-1996)
Right Field: Roger Maris (Indians, Athletics, Yankees & Cardinals; 1957-1968)

Really, Winfield was more of a right fielder than left, but he did have over 300 games at both and as I said earlier, I'm claiming Maris as a Minnesotan here, and he pretty much only played right. As for Kingery (.268/.330/.391) in center, well I'm not claiming he's an amazing player, but he was the only person on my list who played at least 300 games as a centerfielder. He was generally a role player, although he did get into more than 100 games in his last three seasons with Colorado and Pittsburgh.

Designated Hitter: Terry Steinbach (Athletics & Twins; 1986-1999)

I very well could have gone with Chick Gandil here. He had a higher average WAR per season as Steinbach as well as a higher peak three seasons (although their single season highs were the same). But I didn't because he was also the ringleader of the 1919 White Sox players who threw the World Series, and by all accounts was just a generally unlikable guy. So I didn't want him on my team.

Starting Pitcher: Chief Bender (Athletics Terrapins, Phillies, White Sox; 1903-1925)

I actually had the hardest time deciding which pitcher to choose. I could have just said Bender's in the Hall of Fame, he's in, but I wanted to give Jack Morris a chance too. Morris actually has the higher average WAR, but it could be a lot closer. After Bender's career was over in 1917, he became a coach and actually pitched one more game for the White Sox in 1925! It didn't go very well as he pitched one inning without a strikeout, but gave up a walk and a two-run homer. That one inning was worth -0.1 WAR according to baseball-reference. Bender does have the higher peak 3 years (16.3 to 15.1) as well as peak single season (6.0 to 5.8). So while I was leading toward Bender, I probably could have gone either way on that. The problem is WAR isn't as effective for players who played in such different eras. In the early 1900's it was a lot easier to get a higher WAR because the variance between good and bad players was much bigger. So I also consulted their career Win Shares, which is more consistent through time as a measuring device. Win Shares also showed that Bender wins. It was still quite close, but even with Win Shares, he had the better peak, a better three year peak, and he also had the better average Win Shares per season (even including that one inning in 1925 as a season).

Relief Ace: Glen Perkins (Twins; 2006-2014)

This was another close one. If you're using Perkins' entire career, Tom Burgmeier beats him, but since I'm looking for a reliever (and because I'm hugely biased), I only used Perkins' stats as a reliever. Burgmeier had some good seasons, especially with Boston in 1980 when he was an All Star and had a 4.1(!) WAR, but Glen Perkins still has time to build his relief stats a bit, and Burgmeier had some weak years as well. Only we can't write them off, because he was always a relief man.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Ultimate Reading Update

So a while back when I read through all of the original X-Force I thought I'd try to write about it as I did. It didn't last too long. I didn't do a very good job of it and lost interest pretty quickly. So what made be decide it would go better now as I read through Ultimate Marvel? I don't know, it probably won't. But we'll give it a shot.
What did I read?
Ultimate Spider-man #1-13
Ultimate X-men #1-6
Ultimate Marvel Team-up #1-8 

What did I skip?
Ultimate Daredevil and Elektra #1-4
Ultimate Elektra #1-5
I did read read the Ultimate Daredevil's back in the day, but I had checked them out from the library and never owned them. From what I remember they were pretty self contained and didn't have much of (if any) effect on the overall Ultimate Universe, so I decided not to sweat skipping those.
What happened?
Spider-man's origin is pretty much what it is at this point: Peter Parker gets bitten by a radioactive spider, gains spider-like super powers, starts wrestling to make some money, declines to prevent a petty theft by a robber who turns around and kills Uncle Ben which teaches Peter that with great power must also come great responsibility, Spider-man is born. This all remains unchanged, but this time Norman Osborne sees what the Spider has done to Peter and tries to recreate it, but just ends up turning himself into a giant green.... goblin. Spider-man defeats him and then goes on to pick on the Kingpin for a while, eventually exposing him and causing him to run and hide. Unfortunately while doing this he hurts Mary-Jane's feelings a couple times and decides to tell her his secret.
Meanwhile, Professor X recruits a team of X-Men consisting of Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Colossus, Beast Storm and Iceman to stop Magneto and his terrorist group and spread Xavier's dream of peaceful human/mutant relations. Magneto hires Wolverine to infiltrate the X-men and assassinate Xavier, but apparently the world's greatest, most deadly assassin is easily swayed by a pretty face and switches sides, just in time to help save the world from Magneto and an army of reprogrammed Sentinels.
What did I think?
At this point I've already read all of these books, so nothing is new or shocking. This is the first time I've read them in order like this though, so it's interesting to read Spider-man's first encounter with the Hulk before he shows up in the Ultimates, as they make references to his rampage through New York in that book.
The thing of note for Ultimate X-men was that I had never noticed before how there is not a single likable character in that whole first arc. I had read that book at least 2 or 3 times already before this and it never stuck out to me like this before. Every single charger comes across as a pompous, egotistical, piece of crap. All of their dialogue is super conceited and braggy. The heroes, the villains, the side characters, all of them. It kind of made it tough to read this time and I was really looking forward to finishing those issues and getting back to Spider-man. But as I recall, the Ultimates kind of come across that way too, so maybe it's just a Mark Miller thing I get to look forward to.
Either way I guess, onward we go.
Currently reading: The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract
In the stereo: Everything Will Be Alright In The End by Weezer

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:

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