Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Bot Picks 21: Grumpy Bulldog vs. the National Football League

From November 18, 2016:

It's been a heavy week so let's end on a light note!  Also I haven't watched new stuff so I'm not doing a "Stuff I Watched" this week.  Mostly I've been watching stuff already watched but got on DVD recently including both Ghost Rider movies for $6 at a KMart Going Out of Business Sale.  Did I get ripped off?  I don't know, I consider them in that middling part of the superhero movie pack along with Green Lantern, Daredevil, and most of the X-Men movies.

Anyway...the NFL (or National Football League as idiot announcers like to remind us 40 times a game) has seen ratings decline.  Is it because of the election?  Because of players protesting the national anthem?  Me, I think in part it's because the game has gotten to be so shitty to watch.  People complain that baseball is slow but every football game is 3-4 hours between commercials, injuries, and plays being reviewed and the stuff between all that often isn't great.  So here are some suggestions to fix things:

  1. This comes from the Tuesday Morning Quarterback column that used to be on ESPN:  eliminate DirecTV's monopoly on Sunday Ticket.  That's the satellite package where you can see most every NFL game instead of the ones on your local airwaves.  That would allow cable subscribers to get the package and watch more games.
  2. Along with that, give more people access to the "Redzone Channel" where you can see scoring plays.  That's a big thing for fantasy football so the more people who have that the better
  3. Thursday football should be reserved for Thanksgiving only.  The Thursday Night Football games are usually a dumpster fire with bad matchups and crappy "Color Rush" uniforms.  (BTW, attention Packers, white is not a "color" really.)
  4. Just have 1 London game if you must.  Having one football game on at 9:30am is neat but when you do it 3 or 4 weeks in a row it starts to get lame. And why has it always been London?  Why not some of the other former NFL Europe cities?  Though Amsterdam might have too many players failing drug tests. Zing!
  5. End tippy-tappy penalties.  Stop killing scoring drives with "holding" penalties that cost 10 yards and 90% of the time stop a drive dead.  Either dial it down to 5 yards or say fuck it and let them hold all they want.  As well, end "block in the back" penalties on kickoffs that take away great returns.
  6. Simplify Catches.  Use the college rule that only one foot has to be down and enough of this "process of the catch" bullshit where a receiver has to catch the ball, fall down, get up, and do a fucking tap dance without juggling the ball.  No one likes sitting around debating what is or isn't a catch for five minutes.
  7. Speed up reviews!  This crap of waiting 5 minutes to review the spot of the ball is so ridiculous.  Lower the number of challengeable plays and get those replays in there faster so we don't have to wait forever.
  8. Go full college OT.  A few years ago the National Football League changed overtime from sudden death to a half-baked system where if the first team who gets the ball gets a touchdown they win, but otherwise the other team gets the ball.  Just use the more exciting college system where each team gets the ball on the 20 and try to outscore each other.
  9. For NBC only:  stop with the stupid player introductions.  We got bored of this on Monday Night Football years ago and there was no need to transfer it to Sunday Night except maybe Al Michaels is too lazy to read names.  Sorry, players, but we've heard every variation of your jokey introductions:  using high schools, junior highs, elementary schools, or made-up schools like "The school of hard knocks" and we're sick of hearing THE Ohio State and THE U.  It's especially sad for 30-something players to brag about where they went to college.  You got a stupid college ring to show while you're at it?
  10. Let some fun in, but not too much.  I was as sick of Terrell Owens and Randy Moss, etc.'s inane touchdown celebrations in the 2000s as everyone else, but as usual the NFL took things too far by fining players for wearing different-colored socks or refusing to let Antonio Bryant wear shoes with Muhammad Ali on them.  Hidden Sharpies and mooning crowds are bad but no one cares what socks the players wear.
  11. Speaking of, stop letting Commissioner Roger Goodell be judge, jury, and executioner.  The punishment system of the NFL is a joke.  A kicker gets suspended 1 game for beating his wife but smoking a joint gets you a 4-game ban?  2014 was a dumpster fire of a season for NFL punishment as Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson were suspended for abusing a girlfriend and child respectively only AFTER the word of the crimes got out to the press.  Goodell should have lost all power then, but for some reason he's still calling the shots and the system is as inconsistent as ever.
  12. This is cruel but:  get injured players off the goddamned field!  I know it sounds mean and it risks legal action to do but look the NFL is in part like NASCAR:  people come to watch the wrecks as much as the race.  Let's not pretend like we really give a shit when some poor guy goes down on the field.  Sure we all gasp and applaud when he's carried away, but then guess what?  We applaud the next bone-crushing hit.  Football is a gladiator sport only the bodies are weapons.  Let's stop pretending we're worried about their collected health and just keep the game going.  Are you not entertained!?  And especially if the dude just has a fucking cramp or something wimpy, push him to the sideline and keep going!
  13. Stop "freezing" kickers.  One of the lamest things coaches started doing in the 2000s is calling a timeout right before a kicker would kick a field goal at the end of the game or half.  Much of the time they would wait until just before the ball was snapped so the kicker would get a practice kick.  To me it's as lame as the dude who goes on The Price is Right, sees the highest bid is $900 and bids $901 just to be a dick.  Make it so you have to call the time out by the time players are set instead of when the ball is hiked so we have less fake kicks.  And it would eliminate those ironic moments when a coach "freezes" a kicker who misses the first time and nails the second attempt.

Those are just some ideas, some good and some maybe less good.  The idea is speed things up and eliminate some of the bullshit that makes watching a football game such a chore.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Bot Picks 22: Comics I Read, Mostly Featuring Transformers and Dr. Strange Because They Were On Sale

From January 6, 2017:

Happy Epiphany!  At least that's what it is in some religions in parts of the world.  The whole "12 Days of Christmas" thing is supposed to be between Christmas and Epiphany.  Still don't know who wants all those birds and servants and musicians.

Anyway, I've mostly watched Christmas stuff recently so I thought I'd instead review some comics that I bought over the holiday season.

Transformers:  Dark Cybertron:  IDW's Transformers series tries to mesh together pretty much all the non-Michael Bay incarnations of Transformers, including Beast Wars characters.  It can be kind of confusing.  And especially because a lot has happened in the series up to this point.  Starscream is heading a unified government on Cybertron, until Shockwave (who is kind of like a Star Trek Vulcan, all logic and no emotions) launches an elaborate scheme to take over the planet and the universe.  There are a lot of moving parts with things happening on Cybertron, in deep space, and in the "dead universe" which is some kind of netherworld dimension.  I enjoyed it even though I didn't really understand all that happened up to that point. (3/5)

Transformers:  Combiner Wars:  The series eventually continued with the relaunch of combiner teams.  They were Hasbro's answer to Voltron where five mini robots formed one super robot.  The evil Menasor is let loose on a Cybertronian colony and then the heroic Superion is sent to fight him.  But then there are more combiners introduced (reintroduced) like Devastator, Defensor, Bruticus, and Optimus Maximus, which was something that would have been neat in the old series since it features Optimus Prime and four other Autobots.  Like the other it was fun even if I didn't get all the background. (3/5)

Dr. Strange Masterworks Volume 1:  This is the original Dr. Strange series featured in Strange Tales back in the early 60s, written by Stan "the Man" Lee.  Like Spider-Man it started as a backup feature with the Human Torch carrying the main title for a while and then Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD.  Those parts are not included so you just get the 8 page stories of Dr. Strange.  Somehow they became popular despite that they were pretty corny.  The writing was pretty lame.  Everyone uses exclamation points!  All the time!  It gets annoying!  Most of the stories are Dr. Strange fighting his nemesis Baron Mordo, Nightmare, or Dorammadu.  It didn't really pick up until the last six issues or so where there's a continuous story of Mordo and Dorammadu teaming up and Strange going on the run.  Still, it's really hard to imagine how this launched a title popular enough to get a big movie made. (2/5)

Dr. Strange:  The Oath:  This 2012 version written by Brian K Vaughn has an almost noirish feel as Dr. Strange is shot by a burglar armed with Hitler's suicide gun, a weapon so evil it could penetrate Strange's magical defenses.  Saved by the "Night Nurse" (you might have seen her on Daredevil, Luke Cage, and Jessica Jones on Netflix) Strange, his servant Wong, and the nurse go on the trail of the killer.  It soon leads them to a pharmaceutical company and a cure for any disease known to man.  It was fun without seeming generically so.  Strange has kind of a stuffy know-it-all quality that conflicts perfectly with the more down-to-earth Night Nurse with Wong as the intermediary between them.  The story of evil Big Pharma also is pretty relevant to our times. (4/5)

Dr. Strange:  The Way of the Weird:  I think this was the latest relaunch of the title, but with Marvel who can tell anymore?  Dr. Strange faces a threat outside our dimension as some outside force called the Inquisition is tracking down and killing magic users.  This is making magic harder to use and eventually the war is going to end up on Strange's doorstep.  This story is largely a copy of "Spider-Verse" where an evil family was hunting and killing all the Spider-Men (and Women) from other dimensions.  The writing wasn't bad but it just felt generic with the bland, wise-cracking hero.  Pick up pretty much any other Marvel title from 2015 and it'll feel exactly the same.  I suppose being bought by Disney has led to this homogeneous feel. (2.5/5)

Dr. Strange & Dr. Doom:  Triumph & Torment:  This graphic novel from the 80s or something pairs up Dr. Strange and Dr. Doom.  A wizard has a challenge to see who will be the Sorcerer Supreme of Earth.  Dr. Doom shows up because he has some magic ability.  Of course Dr. Strange wins but Doom asks him a boon that he can't refuse.  That boon is to go to Hell and rescue the soul of Doom's mother.  So they go to Hell and fight Mephisto who is the Marvel Universe's Lucifer or whatever.  The hell part wasn't as epic as it could have been but the end was good.  To pad the book's length they add a couple of random Dr. Strange, Dr. Doom, and Sub-Mariner comics that tangentially apply to this, the Sub-Mariner ones mostly because they're drawn by the same artist, Mike Mignolo, who gained recognition for his Hellboy series.  That was kind of lame but oh well. (3/5)

Justice League 3001, Vol 1:  Sometime during the New 52 DC started Justice League 3000, which was kind of like Futurama--with superheroes!  Cloned versions of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, etc are created to save the universe from "the five" that's like the evil Empire or whatever.  The clones are imperfect, though, without all the memories of the originals and in Superman's case he can't fly or use heat vision.  Anyway, 3001 obviously picks up a couple of months later.  The head of the League has been possessed by an evil Lois Lane who sends them on dangerous missions hoping they'll die.  Meanwhile a gender-swapped Guy Gardner Green Lantern joins the team, in case you thought I was the only one to do that sort of thing.  It's pretty fun but confusing.  For one I didn't read the first year of issues and for another there are a lot of loose threads.  I want to read the second (and I think final) volume to see how much gets resolved.  This volume has a killer ending (pun intended) where Superman literally loses his head.  I'd worry about spoilers if I thought anyone who reads this would ever bother to read it. (3/5)

Amazing Spider-Man, Worldwide, Vol 2:  Peter Parker's globe-trotting adventures continue.  In this volume he battles Mr. Negative in China and then Scorpio in Paris/England.   It's a good continuation of Slott's Spider-Man that has been going for over a decade.  (3/5)

Friday, November 9, 2018

Bot Picks 23: The Monetary Economy is Doomed

From November 28, 2016:

Before the election I talked about how all those good factory jobs from the 50s-70s aren't likely to come back.  But that's only one threat to the working class.  In the next 20-50 years even low-class jobs are going to be hard to come by thanks to the seeds of destruction already planted and rooted in modern technology.

Back when I was a kid, when we went to the grocery store, all the cash registers were manned by people.  When you wanted to return cans and bottles for the dime deposit, you had to have an employee count them and give you a receipt.

That started changing in the 90s when U-Scan lines began being installed and recycling machines replaced the human at the counter.

The scanning technology is spreading to restaurants now.  At Chili's there's a computer on tables so you don't need to order from a waitress.  At some Panera Breads there are kiosks you can order from and get your food delivered to your table or left on a counter for you to grab.  I think some McDonald's restaurants have also been experimenting with this.  Which means that not even low-income jobs like fast food will be safe before long.

Amazon and pizza places are testing drone delivery, which threatens parcel and pizza delivery jobs.  In Nevada they have tested self-driving semi-trucks.  That could eventually replace truck drivers.

This is just the tip of the iceberg with advancements in robotics and AI.  So really not only are those blue-collar factory jobs not coming back, the subsistence jobs many people have taken to replace them are going to disappear as well.  To make it worse, the population is growing and people are living and working longer.

That means that our whole economy is facing an inevitable collapse.  Short of euthanizing hundreds of millions of people or shooting off an EMP that sends technology back to the Middle Ages, what can we do?

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are good reminders that what drives most of our economy is conspicuous consumption.  It's buying those TVs, video game systems, toys, and so forth that keeps manufacturers in business and employing people.  Yet as we've already started to see when manufacturers move overseas, then less of that money is going to help American people.  Eventually you get an imbalance when the people supposed to buy the products no longer can afford to.

Adding to this is the greedy 1% and their new government (the kleptocracy as Offutt and others have called it) stuffing their pockets with cash.  They give us that crap about trickle-down economics, but the problem is the 1% already have so much cash just sitting around not doing anything and yet we're going to give them even more to just sit around in investment accounts or private hoards.  They don't seem to know or care that the more they squeeze the 99%, the quicker the monetary economy reaches the breaking point.  The irony is most of their "wealth" will then be worthless because most of it isn't backed by anything tangible.

Already there are signs of trouble on the horizon.  Chains like Ruby Tuesday have reported decreased earnings in recent years.  Why?  Because people can't afford to eat there very often, if ever.  One department store chain after another is either shuttering its doors or on the brink; Sears and its KMart subsidiary will be in bankruptcy before much longer after more than a century of business.  Why?  Because people don't have money to throw away at Sears; it's cheaper and easier to buy from Wal-Mart and Amazon.

To solve the problem, Americans are finally going to have to stop seeing socialism as something evil and embrace it.  Eventually we're going to reach the point where there simply aren't enough jobs thanks to advancements in technology and global competition.  Either we can embrace socialism or just devolve into a class war.

A few years ago I read one of those old sci-fi books that got turned into a movie in the 70s like Make Room, Make Room (ie, Soylent Green) and in it the government basically had to give people a stipend to sit around and watch TV and stuff because there was nothing else for them to do.  That's what we will inevitably have to do.  Maybe after experimenting with backwards authoritarianism we'll finally have the wake-up call that the old ways simply aren't going to work going forward.

If you want to think it's all bad, just think about Star Trek.  When people are freed from the monetary economy, they're free to pursue their real interests.  All my writer friends, how great would it be to not have to worry about going to a job and just write books?  When I was unemployed for most of 18 months, I didn't really miss the commute and grind of going to work; I just missed the money to pay for stuff.  Imagine if we didn't have to worry about that anymore?  And I could stop writing gender swap stories (mostly) and maybe try to find something more literary to write about.

The problem though is most people if they have no job to go to will simply sit around watching TV or something useless like that.  So obviously it wouldn't be all sunshine and roses like Gene Roddenberry envisioned.  Still, even now I think we have to believe in people and that given the chance people would eventually turn off the boob tube and find something more enlightening to do.

One thing is certain:  it's going to get worse before it gets better for most of us.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Bot Picks 24: Amazon KDP and CreateSpace: Worlds Are Colliding!

It's taken nearly 2 years for Amazon to finally absorb CreateSpace as anyone with sense knew they would.

From December 5, 2016:

Saturday I went to look up my book sales as I do about thirty times a day and noticed the sales graph was a little different:
Click to embiggen as Offutt would say

In case you don't notice, I circled what they added:  a third line for your paperback sales.  Which as you can see, my line is flat because I hardly ever sell paperbacks.

When I went to the dashboard I saw they had added more stuff for paperbacks:

Basically what they're doing is combining your KDP dashboard with CreateSpace, probably because they think it'll make it easier for people to create paperbacks and help with their master plan to dethrone and demolish all traditional publishing. (Mwahahahaha)

It's pretty similar to what you can already do on Draft2Digital.  I don't know about B&N since I haven't actually published a book there in a long time.  Anyway, you can just click the link to "create paperback."  As you can see with Choose Your Own Gender Omnibus I actually clicked it to see how it worked.

With Draft2Digital it takes your ebook file and converts it into a PDF that isn't exactly perfect formatting but isn't terrible; I actually used that for a couple of Transformed series books I published through CreateSpace.  But of course Amazon can't do that.  Instead, they still want you to create your own interior file like you do with CreateSpace.

Which made me snort and say, "What's the fucking point then?"  Why merge the platforms if I still have to do all the fucking work of making the fucking book?  I mean you have the ebook file already loaded, so why can't you just convert it automatically like Draft2Digital does?

Yes I'm lazy that way.  Formatting paperbacks is annoying, which is part of the reason I don't have more of them.  The lack of sales is the more important reason though.  So I can't imagine I'd have much use for this in the future, but other writers might.

It's still a "beta feature" so if you use KDP and don't see this yet then I guess you just weren't special enough for the beta, but eventually it will be coming.  For all the good it will do you.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Bot Picks 25: On the Eighth Day of Indie Bookmas...Seasons' Beginnings by Sandra Ulbrich Almazan

From December 21, 2016:

On the Eighth Day of Indie's Chicago's #1 Jawa Sandra Ulbrich Almazan

Kron Evenhanded is an artificer, able to enchant any man-made object, but he finds people more difficult to work with. After many years studying at the Magic Institute, he leaves to return to his childhood home. When he visits the city of Vistichia, he encounters Sal-thaath, an extremely magical but dangerous child created by Salth, another magician Kron knew at the Magic Institute. Kron attempts to civilize Sal-thaath, but his efforts lead to tragedy. Salth, who has gained additional magic from the stars, vows revenge against Kron and his beloved Bella. Kron is forced to ally himself with a quartet of new deities and their human Avatars, including Bella. Kron must help the new Avatars defend Vistichia as Salth attempts to drain its life and magic. But Salth has Ascended halfway to godhood over Time. Will Kron’s artifacts be enough to protect the city and the Avatars, especially the woman he loves, or will Time separate them?

Get it FREE on Amazon!

Friday, November 2, 2018

Bot Picks 26: Working for the Man: 99 Homes

From November 16, 2016:

Recently I watched 99 Homes, which stars former Spider-Man Andrew Garfield as a construction worker in Florida in 2010 who loses his family home to eviction.  In order to make money, he goes to work for the guy who evicted him, a sleazy real estate agent played by former General Zod Michael Shannon.  Soon Andrew Garfield is evicting people himself, along with stealing air conditioners and pool pumps from abandoned homes so his boss can file claims for them to Fannie Mae, who then pays him to essentially reinstall the stolen property.  Things start to escalate as his boss prepares to make a deal worth millions in foreclosed homes, but when his family finds out what he's been doing, Andrew Garfield starts to get cold feet.  It all culminates in a standoff at a former neighbor's house.

I found this movie really relevant for a few reasons.  First off, it displays the massive corruption between the banks, real estate brokers, courts, and cops.  At one point Andrew Garfield has to deliver forged papers to the city clerk in order to prevent a guy from keeping his home and spoiling the big deal.  The sheriff's department is pretty much on the real estate agent's payroll and act like they're doing evicted families a big favor by giving them a couple of minutes to gather things to take with them.  The deck is completely stacked against homeowners trying to keep their homes:  besides dirty tricks by the banks and real estate brokers, the judge barely glances at the files before ruling in favor of the bank.  And of course being in foreclosure, these people can't afford decent lawyers to fight back.

What was more relevant to me is the idea of working for an industry that is not really in a good business.  After almost 18 months of unemployment I finally found a job in a legal office processing debt payments.  The legal office I work for specializes in what's often called "zombie debt" because it's often old debts that people think are gone before coming back to haunt them.  There was a story on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver that actually mentioned one of the big debt debt firms my office collects for.

Most of my job is processing the payments of people in debt.  It's kind of a bummer, especially the people who owe tens of thousands of dollars.  Sometimes people send in nasty letter or write snarky things on their checks or payment coupons.  Which always is kind of annoying because I'm just a part-time employee who has nothing to do with their situation.  Don't shoot the messenger--or the accounts receivable clerk in this case.  But saying that makes me feel like one of those Nazis at Nuremburg saying "I was just following orders."

My dilemma is the same for Andrew Garfield in this movie:  sometimes you get so desperate that you have to do things you're not proud of.  Not just writing erotica books, but also working for an industry that isn't exactly doing the public good.  Because let's face it, the world revolves around money and to make money you need a job.  And hey I applied to jobs all over the place and that's the only place that would hire me.  Which is actually a difference between me and the guy in the movie:  he pretty much the next day starting (literally) shoveling shit for Michael Shannon while it took me a lot longer to reach that point.  But then I don't have a kid and mom to support.  Though if I'd been offered that job from the start I'd have still taken it.  Money is money.

Something to remember when a debt collector or telemarketer calls:  these people are just doing a job.  There's a 99.9% chance that they didn't really choose this work and they sure as hell never dreamed of doing it for a living any more than 99.9% of clerks at Wal-Mart or McDonald's or baristas at Starbucks.  We like to talk about "careers" but for so many of us it's simply a J-O-B to pay the bills.  It's a sad fact of life.

You can say you wouldn't do something like that but when your bank account balance is near 0 and you're losing your home, you'll probably start singing a different tune.

Now of course the movie being a movie Andrew Garfield's family moves out on him when they find out what he does and tries to buy a new house for them.  And then he pretty much confesses to a crime to probably end up in jail, though it's never said for sure.  I don't think many families would be quite that melodramatic about it.  Though they might be sentimentally attached to their old home, I don't think they'd run off to Tampa just because the dude works for the guy who evicted them.  Because I'm sure that like Andrew Garfield, they'd do what they had to to survive and thrive.  That's what people do, which is how we've managed to make a go of it for so long, even in places like burning deserts where no sane human should live.  It ain't always fun or pretty, but it's what we do because what other choice is there?

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Operation Shutdown Begins Friday!

Happy Halloween!  Ready for a trick?

A funny but sad story from sports:  Derek Bell, a veteran outfielder on the Pirates, had a pretty lousy first season with the team.  In spring training the next year everyone but him knew there was a competition for his roster spot.  When confronted by a reporter, he proclaimed he wasn't going to compete for a spot and unless he was made the starter, he'd commence "Operation Shutdown."  It was pretty outrageous--and the last time Bell played professional baseball.

Now it's time to commence my own Operation Shutdown!  Blogging just seems pretty pointless anymore.  I don't have any books under this name so it's not like I need it for marketing.  Hardly anyone seems to read it and even fewer care.  There is at this point only 1 blog I follow that still posts fairly regular and a handful of others that post occasionally. 

I went through my reading list and fully half of them hadn't posted anything at all in over a year.  Many of them hadn't posted in years!  It just seems like blogs are heading the way of CDs, floppy disks, and MySpace.  They're old news.

But I'm not shutting down completely.  I'll still post when I feel like it.  No more schedule--except April.  I'm still going to do the A to Z Challenge next year.  It gives me an excuse to reread all my Robotech books (on Kindle now!) and rewatch the series.  Other than that, fuck it.  Let freedom ring!  Or chaos reign.

Over the next 2 months I'm going to do a Best Of.  Not the ones I think are the best, but the ones the bots think are best.  I'll be counting down the most viewed posts from 26 to 1.  It'll start November 2 and end New Year's Eve!

You scared yet?

Monday, October 29, 2018

Being Wrong Without Being Wrong

Being right is usually great, but sometimes being right causes more trouble than it’s worth—especially on the Internet.

Looking back, being right has caused a lot of headaches on the Internet.  In the end, is it worth it to be right?  Probably not.

It all started back in 1996 on the Transformers newsgroup.  A poster named HooksX and a poster named Qweena were arguing back-and-forth and I said they should both shut up because no one cares.  Was I right?  Hell yes!  They were annoying and taking up space that could have been put to better use.  Better meaning just about anything.

Of course this was before I really understood that Internet forums of any stripe pretty much thrive on flame wars.  So you can blame inexperience for stepping on this particular hornet’s nest.

Even though I was right, HooksX took it personally for some reason, despite that I didn’t really say anything about him.  For some reason he singled me out for not apologizing to him later on.  Which, if you want to get me pissed off at you, demand an apology from me when I’m right.  That was not the last time we tussled either.  So if you pro/con it: 
  • Pro:  I was right
  • Con:  Made a mortal enemy
The same group a year or so later I posted evidence that Optimus Primal was not actually “dead” and returning to the show.  To which people got all up in arms about it.  In this case there was no doubt about it:  I was right.  History bore that out as he did return to the show. 
  • Pro:  I was right (demonstrably so)
  • Con:  Made more enemies
I didn’t really make mortal enemies in this case, but you know people don’t like being wrong.  Even if I didn’t necessarily go, Neener, neener, told you so! They still don’t like getting shown up.  So when I tussled with HooksX or someone else, who was going to have my back?

There were probably some other incidents on writing groups and stuff after that, but let’s move forward to the last battle I had on  Some dork was being a total ass; he made it pretty clear he was just going to post his story and leave.  I had some fun with him by cutting and pasting Jay Greenstein quotes as critiques until he got all pissed about it.  Which wound up getting me tossed from the group (and the group pretty much shutting down) and as I figured, this dude left anyway. 

Was I right to play my little prank?  Meh, maybe not.  But his story sucked so even if I was borrowing words, my sentiment was right. 
  • Pro:  I was right that his story sucked and he had no intention of staying
  • Con:  Got tossed from, which turned into a ghost town (seriously)
Speaking of, a couple of years ago I read Tony Laplume’s Pale Moonlight.  Or I suffered through it is more accurate.  If it had been a print copy I might have thrown it in a fire like Chevy Chase’s wife in Funny Farm urges him to do upon reading his dreadful book.  So in the spirit of “honesty” I gave it one star.  And then had to bear his ill will about it to this day.  If he reads this I’m sure there will be more ill will, but the book sucks.  Sorry.  It’s just a long, dull ramble.  (And while I’m being honest that Monkey Flip one sucks pretty bad too.  Not because it’s about wrestling but because there are no characters, settings, atmosphere, or anything else to make scenes; it reads like a bunch of sports page clippings.  Maybe that was the point?) 
  • Pro:  I was right that the book sucked
  • Con:  The author holds a grudge
The issue of honesty of course leads into the Andrew Leon Fiasco ™.  Andrew, Sandra Ulbrich Almazan, Briane Pagel, Rusty Webb, and me had worked together on a little magazine thing for a few months.  Shortly after this disbanded—seemingly without hostility—Andrew launched a sneak attack on Sandra by giving her book 1 star with an “honest” review.  And I’m sure he thinks he’s right.  And I still think I’m right that it’s a shitty thing to do to another author you’re acquainted with—see the previous incident.  It’s like if we’re all working in the same office and someone makes a big presentation and I say a bunch of mean shit to sabotage him/her.  Maybe I’m right, but it’s a dick move.  That’s what this was:  a dick move.  And I don’t apologize for opposing that. 
  • Pro:  I was right that it was a dick move
  • Cons:  I lost a bunch of blog followers
And really as part of the cons, the person I stood up for didn’t really give a shit and didn’t do anything for me in return.  So the regret there is I gave away about 75% of my blog following away for what, the moral high ground that people shouldn’t be assholes to each other?  It’s not a good trade-off.

The thing is, in pretty much all those scenarios I didn’t have to agree with the assholes.  I didn’t have to voice support for HooksX or Andrew Leon or anyone else.  I should have just done what I’d do in real life:  nothing.  I mean, in real life if I see trouble I’m just going to ignore it most of the time.  I see someone getting mugged, you think I’m risking my neck to save that person?  Probably not.  Maybe I’ll try to sneak off and call the cops.

So here’s 22 years of experience talking:  walk the fuck away.  Like this entry.  Maybe you got some disagreement here and want to argue with me.  Walk the fuck away.  Got it?  It’s just not worth it.

But as a final point I will say in all of those instances above, what did I really lose?  I mean, were any of those people really doing anything for me?  They weren’t really helping me to achieve my goals.  The Andrew Leon Fiasco ™ I lost blog followers, some of whom reviewed my books and posted about my books, but did that really matter?  Meh, not really.  And none of them are Vlad Putin having me poisoned or anything—that I know of.  At most these incidents gave me a few headaches and cost me a little sleep.

Still, as fun as it might be at times, it usually ends up not being worth it just to be right.  As I said above, just walk the fuck away.  Life is hard enough without creating obstacles for yourself.

And here's sort of an appropriate song:
I really like this group, BTW.  If you have Amazon Prime you can listen to some of their albums for free.  Maybe it's on Spotify too?  It's pretty funny stuff if you're into geek humor.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Finally, You Can Say You Don't Read Comics--Or At Least These Comics

After the last few times talking about comics I assured you there was a greater point, this time there's not.  I just want to yammer about some I read in the last few months.  So now you can say "I don't read comics" or "I haven't read those."  Go ahead, knock yourselves out.

Back in the mid-90s, not long after longtime X-Men writer Chris Claremont left the title, Marvel embarked on a bold experiment.  For about a year in 1994-1995, every X-Men title was rebooted as an alternate universe in The Age of Apocalypse.  The idea was Charles Xavier's son Legion (the dude the FX show is loosely based on) decides to go back in time and kill Magneto to make his daddy proud.  But in the past, Charles Xavier jumps in the way of the shot and is killed instead.  This kills Legion and also creates a new timeline, where for whatever reason Apocalypse has taken over North and South America while humanity is huddling on Europe and preparing a desperate nuclear strike.

The X-Men are now led by Magneto, who's married to Rogue and has a young son named Charles.  His son Pietro (Quicksilver) has taken up the second-in-command role traditionally held by Cyclops.  Cyclops is a bad guy along with his brother Havoc.  He lost an eye to Wolverine (or just Logan) but shot off Wolverine left hand in the battle when Logan came to New York to free Jean-Grey.  Logan and Jean-Grey have been freelance ever since.  Storm is still on the X-Men but into Pietro.  Colossus and Kitty Pryde (Shadowcat) are married and training a group of recruits known as Generation Next.  Angel runs a nightclub sort of like Rick's in Casablanca, only it's in New York, the heart of Apocalypse's empire.  Nightcrawler is kind of jerk who doesn't really work for either side.  Gambit is still a petty thief with his own crew known as the X-Ternals and he had a falling out with Magneto after Rogue rejected him.  And instead of Cable, Nate Summers is a powerful young telepath, who instead of traveling back in time was created in a lab by Mr. Sinister until he was broken out, but he's still the genetic son of Cyclops and Jean-Grey.

Only the time traveling mutant Bishop still has any memory of how things were supposed to be.  He goes to Magneto and so they set a plan into motion to go back in time to put things right.  This plan of course requires different teams to do different things so they could support all these titles.  The main X-Men title focuses on trying to save humans.  Generation Next focuses on Colossus and Shadowcat's students trying to free Colossus's sister who has some special power.  Nightcrawler and his mom Mystique go to what was the Savage Land in Antarctica to find a woman known as Destiny.  The X-Ternals head into space to find a special crystal.  Logan and Jean-Grey work with the human government (led by Bolivar Trask of Days of Future Past and a de-mutantized Emma Frost) to help set up a fleet of blimps to drop nukes on New York.  Meanwhile Nate Summers is traveling with a troupe of actors led by Forge and learning to use his powers.

Oh and you might wonder:  what about all those superheroes?  You know, Iron Man, the Fantastic Four, and all that?  Well despite that this timeline shift happened "twenty years ago" when the Marvel Universe had already existed for 10 years, there were no superheroes.  In a couple of issues called "X-Universe" we find out that the Fantastic Four and Dr. Doom never went into space to be changed by cosmic rays, Tony Stark is just a dude with some tech but not an Iron Man suit, Peter Parker and T'Challa are dead, Thor is just Dr. Donald Blake--the original person who found Thor's hammer--and presumably Captain America is still frozen.  Bruce Banner is caught in an explosion that turns him into the gray Hulk, but he just goes on a rampage before being put down.

You can pretty much figure how this is going to go:  in the end Bishop is able to go back and stop Legion and everything goes back to how it was.  Which after all the set up I guess it might be disappointing it was such a predictable ending.  But it was one of those stories I had heard about and never gotten around to reading, so it was good to finally be able to read it.

This was a pretty ambitious idea with a lot of stuff to read.  I don't think I even read all of the issues, though the main ones at least.  The thing is that the original trade collections Marvel put out were pretty poorly organized by reviews I read.  The ones I read were put out later in a better order.  Especially if you're a big fan it would be neat to see how the characters are changed.  Even a casual fan like me can get most of the references.(3.5/5)

I've talked about Transformers: Lost Light before--first when it was More Than Meets the Eye and then in its reincarnation as Lost Light.  It's such a fun series and yet it has heart too, which most people wouldn't really expect from a series featuring giant robots.  The gist of the story was that a group of misfits led by Rodimus Prime took off from Cybertron to find the mystical Knights of Cybertron.  Along the way they had a lot of adventures, which included being attacked by the evil Overlord, Sparkeaters, and the Decepticon Justice Division.  More recently they went back in time to stop Brainstorm from killing Megatron before his rise to power, which created a tyrannical government called the "Functionists" who brutally enforced a sort of caste system where every Transformer was assigned a caste based on what he turned into.

The last two volumes continue the story and wrap it up.  Most of the main characters are packed into a dead Decepticon who turned into a spaceship.  Strange things start to happen though and ultimately the entire crew is "killed" and finds themselves in the Transformers version of the afterlife.  But is it?  No!  It's actually a place where Transformers would be shown elaborate fantasies to make them happy before being euthanized.  And it turns out the whole "Knights of Cybertron" story was created by someone's vision in this "afterlife."

Though they escape being euthanized, the crew faces an even bigger threat when the Functionists cross over into their reality with a giant robot based on the Transformer god Primus.  Along with the giant robot is a group of rebel Transformers led by Megatron, who was thought to be dead.

It all leads to an epic showdown.

This conclusion feels like it was a little rushed.  I'm sure it would have played out differently if the series weren't wrapping up after issue #25.  Which I don't think was based on sales so much as Hasbro wanting to introduce a new line of toys.  That's the problem when you have a series based on toys, I guess.  Anyway, it was a fond farewell for this ragtag group of misfits and while everything wasn't wrapped up perfectly, it pretty much covered everything.  A little sad that some characters like Whirl "died" in the final battle, but on the plus side we finally learn what Rung's seemingly useless alt mode is for--creating Matrices!  Because of course Rung, the seemingly useless character, is actually the god Primus!  That's something I'm sure will be overwritten soon enough.  I just wish they'd make a Rung figure, though they'd probably just recolor some other figure.  Sigh.

It's disappointing the series is ending because it was the only series I ever liked so much I subscribed to it because I wanted to support it.  But my $3.99/issue couldn't save it from Hasbro's greedy machinations. (4/5)

I read DC's Dark Nights: Metal and thought it was pretty dumb.  One dumb thing is it introduces 7 evil Dark Knights but except for "the Batman Who Laughs" the main line of comics doesn't do much with those characters.  Since it was on sale, I decided to buy the supplemental collection:  Dark Knights Rising which has all the spin-off issues for the evil Dark Knights.  I thought maybe it'd help things make more sense, but not really.

The first story presented is the Red Death.  On an alternate Earth, Batman's "family" (the Robins, Nightwing, Batgirl, etc) are all dead and so he captures Barry Allen (the Flash) to access the Speed Force.  Thus Batman becomes the fastest man alive!  And goes on a killing spree.

This pretty much sets the pace for most of the stories.  The Dawnbreaker is based on an Earth where after Bruce Wayne's parents died, the Green Lantern ring found him and he became a Lantern.  His will was so strong that he overpowers the ring's prohibition on killing to murder the man who killed his parents.  Then he murders Gotham's criminals.  And when Jim Gordon tries to talk him out of it; Dawnbreaker kills him too.  When the Green Lantern Corps comes to stop him, he kills them too.  Sort of wondered why he didn't get a red Lantern ring since rage would have been more appropriate.

Merciless is from an Earth where Ares became really powerful and Batman and Wonder Woman tried to stop him.  They knock off Ares' helmet, the source of his power, but Wonder Woman is killed.  Batman puts on the helmet and turns into a bloodthirsty god of war.  There's a twist at the end when he reveals Wonder Woman wasn't dead--she was just stunned and he killed her before she could get to the helmet, his precious.

The weakest story was Murder Machine.  On this Earth the villains break into the Batcave while Batman is gone and Bane snaps Alfred in half.  With Cyborg's help, Batman makes an AI Alfred that begins murdering Gotham's villains to protect Bruce Wayne.  Then the AI merges with Batman and he becomes a cold, unfeeling cyborg.  I dunno, couldn't he have just hired a new butler?

The Drowned is a gender-swapped Batman named Bryce Wayne whose lover Sylvester Kyle (Sylvester?  Seriously?  Amateurs.  Or maybe because it's the gender-swapped Catwoman and Sylvester is a famous cat?) was killed by meta humans and so she goes out and kills all meta humans.  (None of this is actually shown, though.)  Then Aquawoman shows up and asks if Atlanteans can live in peace with the surface, but Bryce ends up starting a war instead.  To fight the Atlanteans, she implants amphibian DNA so she can breathe underwater.  And so she defeats the Atlanteans, though most of the world is drowned.  (Fun Fact:  My Batman character in the Gender Swap Heroes series was named Wynn Bryce, so I was thinking along similar lines.)

Devastator is a Batman who took a Doomsday virus, not a giant Transformers combiner.  On his world, Superman went evil for...reasons and when traditional means (Kryptonite spear) don't work, he injects himself with the Doomsday virus to turn into a Doomsday monster that then kills Superman.  Probably the second-weakest story of the bunch.

The Batman Who Laughs is the one that got all the attention.  On his Earth, the Joker had kidnapped Batman and a bunch of families.  He was using the families to recreate the murder of Bruce Wayne's family over and over until Batman gets free and strangles him to death.  When he dies, the Joker lets out a burst of Joker gas.  For a few days Batman pretends to be normal.  He lures the "family" into the Batcave and when they're not expecting it, he guns them all down.  (They really should have made their costumes bulletproof.)  Then he sets about killing all superheroes.  He uses black Kryptonite to make Superman go crazy and kill his own family before killing himself.  He's then recruited by the evil god Barbatos to recruit the other evil Dark Knights and do...whatever.

The last story is called The Wild Hunt and like the main story it makes no sense really.  The Flash, Raven, and Cyborg are flying a ship...somewhere to do...something and the Dark Knights stop them.  It's one of those that probably makes more sense if you're a total comic book nerd and not a casual fan.

Most of the other stories would have been better if they'd been longer.  Like I said about The Drowned, there was half of the story that wasn't even shown; I would have liked to see "Sylvester Kyle" and how he died.  The Dawnbreaker it would have been good to make the battle with the Green Lantern Corps a little more epic.  The Batman Who Laughs it would have been nice to see why his son decided to Jokerize himself.  Stuff like that would have made it better.  At least it largely made sense except that last story. (2.5/5)

It seems around the time each Marvel movie comes out, Amazon Prime has a couple of related graphic novels you can read for free.  So with the release of Ant-Man and the Wasp there were a couple of Ant-Man titles released.

Astonishing Ant-Man Vol 1 (2015ish) is the most relevant to the movies since it stars Scott Lang and the suit pretty much looks the same as the movie one.  Only in this Scott has moved to Miami where his daughter (a teenager, not a little girl) is living with her mom.  He recruits a couple of henchmen to open a security business.

This volume was kind of confusing because the first two books aren't even the same title!  One was I guess sort of a prologue and then another was a lead-in to the Secret Wars II "event" around that time.  Then there are like 4 issues of the actual title but there's still not a really coherent story.  Mostly as Scott tries to get his life going in Miami, some bad guy has created an Uber-like app for henchmen.  With just a few taps on the screen you can have a bad guy go do your bidding!

If you like the movies then this is pretty much the same tone.  (2.5/5)

Irredeemable Ant-Man was from a few years earlier and really has nothing to do with the movie characters.  It focuses on a low-level SHIELD flunky who steals an Ant-Man costume Hank Pym is working on.  Instead of using to fight evil, mostly he uses it to spy on and pick up chicks.  That is while he's not trying to avoid being captured by another SHIELD agent wearing the more traditional Ant-Man costume.

If you like Deadpool then this is pretty much along those lines.  The book is written by Robert Kirkman of Walking Dead fame.  He probably should have asked Marvel to delete the letters column where at the end of one issue he jokes about using his female editor's panties as a prize for readers.  That might not play well in the #metoo #timesup environment. (2.5/5)

Ant-Man and Wasp:  From a forgettable period when original Wasp Janet Van Dyne was dead and so her former husband Hank Pym took up the mantle.  Meanwhile the irredeemable Ant-Man was still the Ant-Man of record.  In this 3-issue miniseries, they do battle against AIM, those jerks from Iron Man 3.  it was fine, but definitely not essential reading.  If it weren't free with Amazon Prime I wouldn't have bothered. (2.5/5)

Azrael/Ash:  I read this a few months ago after Arion talked about it on his blog.  I was stunned to realize there was an Azrael comic from the 90s I hadn't read!  I mean I had painstakingly accumulated the entire DC series from 1995-2003 and the 4-issue original series and read most of the Batman comics when Azrael was Batman, but I hadn't heard of this!

The reason is it wasn't really a DC comic.  It was a crossover with now-defunct Event Comics who had a character named Ash.  He was a dude who could control fire while Azrael has flaming swords, so they kind of meshed.  This crossover is basically two issues where Jean-Paul Valley travels to New York and he and this Ash dude team up to fight a bad guy burning down shit.  It's not essential reading unless you're a fan of Azrael or that Ash dude. It wasn't on Comixology or anything so I had to buy it off eBay.  (3/5)

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

What Rian Johnson Could Have Learned From Transformers Cartoons

Last month I finally got around to watching Hasbro's Transformers: Prime Wars trilogy on YouTube.  There were three series to correspond with the toy series:  Combiner Wars, Titans Return, and Power of the Primes.  The first series had 8 episodes but the other two had 10 episodes, each roughly 6 minutes so they were about 50-60 minutes total.

Anyway, in Combiner Wars new Autobot leader Rodimus Prime gets an arm ripped off by the combiner Devastator.  In Titans Return then he decides to give back the Autobot Matrix of Leadership and just be plain old Hot Rod again.  But in Power of the Primes he's given the "Matrix of Chaos" by Overlord and turns into the evil Rodimus Unicronus--or whatever.  Basically an agent of Unicron who kills the dinobot Sludge, combiner Victorion, and some others.

This actually corresponded to the 80s Transformers cartoon.  In the 1986 Transformers: the Movie, young Autobot Hot Rod rescues the Autobot Matrix of Leadership from the evil Galvatron, hurls Galvatron into space, and then opens the Matrix to destroy Unicron.  He was a total badass.

But then in the following cartoon series he became this whiny wimp with no confidence.  He was always bitching that he couldn't measure up to Optimus Prime and wasn't worthy of the Matrix.  Whine, whine, whine.  At one point he lets the Decepticon Scourge take the Matrix from him and in another he gives it without any hesitation to a zombie Optimus Prime.

The end result was this character who was so awesome in the movie became reviled and ridiculed.  And so Hasbro brought back Optimus Prime to retake the Matrix.

Finally rewatching The Last Jedi about this same time, it occurred to me that Rian Johnson made the same mistake with Luke Skywalker that the Transformers writers made with Rodimus:  they took a badass character and turned him into a whiny, cowardly wuss.  The same way viewers of Transformers: the Movie didn't want to watch Rodimus whining and whinging, fans of the original Star Wars didn't want to hear Luke Skywalker whining that he came to an island to die and the Jedi should die and whine, whine, whine.  I screwed up once so let the whole damned galaxy die--including my sister and friends.

If you're reading and not skimming--or just reading the description or first paragraph or two--then you might say, Well it was a story of redemption!  Uh-huh.  So basically the son of Darth Vader, who personally witnessed the horrors unleashed by the dark side until he saved his father from that dark side, loses his nephew to the dark side...and runs away to an island to hide.  Leaving his sister, friends, and countless innocents to the mercy of that evil.  Though he of all people should know that turning to the dark side isn't forever.  His own father killed probably millions of innocents and yet was able to turn.  But, nope, Ben Solo turned and he's never coming back.  No way.  It's not even a believable redemption story!  At least Rodimus could claim being young and inexperienced; Luke damn well knew better because he fucking lived it!

And what is Luke's redemption?  He beams a Force ghost across the galaxy to buy the leftovers of the Resistance time to escape.  Then he dies from too much Force.  Which is a thing, I guess.  It'd be like a soldier deserts his unit and then later when they're cornered he remotely flies a drone in to give them a distraction to escape by and then dies of a heart attack.  Really inspiring stuff.  Give him the Medal of Honor!

Anyway, the point is if Rian Johnson had watched those Transformers cartoons,  he'd have realized that people don't want their heroes reduced to simpering cowards.  Fuck "redemption."  That's for villains.  Or those who were somewhat in-between like Han Solo.  Not heroes, especially heroes who should know better.

If you want to throw how much money the movie made into my face, fuck that.  Money isn't a barometer of quality.  Look how much money those Fast & Furious movies have made. lol


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