Monday, February 28, 2011

Month in Review: February 2011

How many milestones and significant events can we pack into one month? Between the Big Life Stuff, Big Blog Stuff, and Big World of Entertainment Stuff, we hardly had to put any effort into coming up with a topic for any given post. As a result, there was a little more continuity between our posts than usual, and I think I speak for the both of us when I say how pleased I am with the quality of the content.

Here's a retrospective look at February, one of the biggest months we've ever had:

- The romantically geeky story of my engagement, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4

- Alex's weekly comics news / cathartic rambling / philosophical musing feature, Waiting for Wednesday, Volume 3, Issues Five, Six, Seven, and Eight

- Alex's Super Bowl post about baseball

- Reflections (and spoilers) on the significant Fantastic Four #587, and follow-up thoughts

- My tale of pity and woe about catastrophic computer failure

- A plug for the Creators Front for Diversity in Comics

- The final apology for filler posts on this blog

- How to enjoy Valentine's Day whether you're single or attached

- A report on Borders and bankruptcy, and a reaction to the news

- A tasty introduction to Nabisco Toasted Chips

- A celebration of our blog reaching well over 50,000 hits, and encouragement to join our new Twitter...account, or page, or whatever it is you call it on Twitter

- The tale of my trip to Otakon, the Japanese anime festival I 2008

- News that you could decide what video game art to display at the Smithsonian

- A review of Daytripper, a work of impactful magical realism

- A respectful farewell to comics animation writer and creator Dwayne McDuffie

- A review of the computer game novelization / hint book, The Space Quest Companion

- A review of the first two geektastic seasons of The Guild

- A recap of my contributions to GameCola, the videogame humor website, in February

Sunday, February 27, 2011

GameCola Recap: February 2011

Most of my writing time in February for videogame humor website was spent prepping for big posts that probably wouldn't get finished until March, but I managed to contribute my self-imposed minimum of three articles nonetheless. If you've been following this blog for a while, you won't find anything here to be utterly groundbreaking, but by reading this sentence you agree to being coerced into reading whatever I write.


- Another GameCola Staff Member Falls to the Lure of Eternal Wedded Happiness


- Versus Mode: Friend Codes, The Last Story, Region Coding, and More [NSFW] - That "not safe for work" bit is courtesy of Meteo Xavier, this article's second player

- The Ten Reasons: Space Quest Collection.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

So, Twitter

Yep. We're on Twitter. And, yep, we have, as of this writing, 6 followers. Actually, it's now 7. I just got an email. We have 7 followers. On Twitter.

So we're not Neil Gaiman, what do you want from us?

But we all have goals, and one of mine (since Nathaniel has all but sworn off Twitter forever, despite the fact that he's never used it) is to up that follower count. Yes, I know I sound like a cult leader. And yes, I know you all get more than enough of me here on the blog.

But I'm trying to up the profile, if you will, of this blog, and I think Twitter is a good way to do so. Of course, I'll need to actually learn what the heck I'm doing on Twitter first, but I'm a believer in doing, and failing, as opposed to not doing, and thus not failing.

So I'm planning to (continue) failing in this Twitter attempt thing for as long as it'll take failing, I guess. But I have to admit, I think I might keep on failing for a while, because this whole Twitter thing is a lot of fun.

I'm kind of figuring things out as I go, and I'm sure I've managed to annoy several people that I admire and respect. But them's the breaks, I guess, so I plan to keep Tweeting away. Until someone tells me to stop.

(And, no, Nathaniel, it doesn't count if you tell me to stop.)

So I'll keep Tweeting. And, hopefully, someone will start listening.

In the meantime, happy Saturday, everyone!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Exfanding Review: The Guild Seasons 1 & 2

Flashback just about a year ago, and your intrepid blogger had no idea what The Guild was, as evidenced by these two posts.

But Dark Horse was just about to release a mini-series, written by Guild creator and lead actress, Felicia Day, and the book sounded interesting. So I bought the series, enjoyed it thoroughly, and since its completion, I've gone on to order the various one-shots that have followed.

Even so, a year after first hearing about The Guild, and after following its quirky cast of characters in the comics (alliteration, much?), I still had not watched the (insanely popular) Web series on which the comics are based.

That is, until this past week, when I finally realized that I could pick the DVDs up on Amazon. What can I say? Sometimes it takes me a little while to get places.

As I've mentioned in past reviews, I really enjoyed the comic series despite the fact that I'm not a gamer. Sure, I've play (and still play, sometimes) video games, and I've even played a game of Dungeons and Dragons, but I haven't ventured off into the world of multi-player online gaming.

And I probably won't anytime soon, mostly because of how horrible I am at pretty much every video I play. Ask Nathaniel and his soon-to-be bride. In just over an hour's time, I manged to break every record ever at being killed in GoldenEye. And only sometimes was I killed by something/someone other than my own grenade launcher.


So, back to The Guild.

This show rocks. It's just...good. Well-written, witty, funny, and realistic. It's a slice-of-life show focusing on people we kind of know. Or we kind of are. And it doesn't make fun of us--sure, it pokes fun--but the show laughs with us, and not at us.

Like every great show or movie or comic or novel about geek culture, The Guild focuses on the geeks, and keeps the culture constantly playing, softly, in the background. The attention here is on the characters, and their lives. Sure, they do a lot of gaming, but the show is really about relationships and life.

Felicia Day's main character, Cyd Sherman (who goes by the online moniker Codex), is at a bit of a low point in her life. She's just been dumped by her boyfriend, and her therapist has decided to drop her as a patient. To counter all of this unhappy, Cyd throws herself into online gaming, where she's part of a guild filled with...interesting...characters.

There's Vork, the anal-retentive, socially inept combat leader, and Clara, the mage who might just be the worst mom on TV. Tinkerballa and Bladezz are the youngest members of the guild crew, and Zaboo is hopelessly in love with Cyd.

Real names and online aliases are interchangeable on the show, as season one revolves around the guild meeting--in person!--for the first time after playing together online.

While there are a couple of bumpy moments in the earliest episodes, the acting and the writing really finds its stride in season two.

Clocking in at 130 minutes over 22 episodes, each show in this two-season collection is fast-paced and tight, and the seasons flew by. I'm officially emotionally invested in these characters, and I'll be picking up seasons three and four (season four was just released on DVD this week).

You can get started on the series by checking out the official website, which has all of season four loaded up and waiting for you.

I'm very glad I found my way to this series, though that way was a bit longer than it could have been. I'd originally posted about the comic series as a way to introduce some of our gamer readers to the funny books, and the book ended up having the reverse effect on me.

Pretty cool.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Exfanding Review: The Space Quest Companion

If a particular hobby or fandom lasts nearly a decade before fading into obscurity, there's usually some trace of the fandom left behind in another medium. I'm talking about officially sanctioned memorabilia and merchandise that some corporate bigwig somewhere signed off on. I'm talking about celebrity action figures, or novelty songs like "Pac-Man Fever," or licensed breakfast cereals. I'm talking about The Space Quest Companion.

Fans of the Space Quest series have been given six games, a remake, and a handful of fan-created games to keep them happy, but Space Quest in any other medium is virtually unheard of, save for the fan-designed creations such as the t-shirts on CafePress that say, "I lost all my Buckazoids in Ulence Flats."

That's part of why The Space Quest Companion is such a treasure for SQ fans--it is a comprehensive hint book that was once sold in actual stores, containing novelizations of the first five games, and authorized by Sierra. Whoa.

The other part of why The Space Quest Companion is such a treasure for SQ fans is the high quality of the content. The screenshot-filled game walkthroughs are detailed and clear, the maps are easy to read, and the point lists tell you exactly what you forgot to do the first time around. Despite all this, the real selling point of the book is the fictional account of hero Roger Wilco's progression from lowly janitor to five-time savior of the galaxy.

The Roger we know from the games is not the brightest or most eloquent bulb in the knife drawer, but the Roger who narrates this book is highly articulate and tells stories as though he's getting paid by the SAT word. Impressively, the father/son duo who wrote the book managed to capture Roger's character perfectly by making him a very human character who just happens to have extraordinarily spectacular Dumb Luck(TM) at all the right moments. Roger is just a guy who's devoted to his work and has spent way too much time watching holovids, and the things he's experienced often give him the inspiration and knowledge to figure out how to survive against impossible odds.

There's a deliberate atmosphere of vintage pulp sci-fi novel throughout much of the book: The term "puny human" is bandied about liberally, and each game's story starts off with a daydream of some thrilling heroics involving a space vixen and some dastardly aliens and an appropriately pulp-styled illustration to go with it. The book honors its source material by keeping a sense of humor at all times, yet the absurdity of the Space Quest universe almost begins to make perfect sense when Roger begins spinning his yarns.

It's entertaining to read the explanations for how this klutzy space guy who used to trip over thickly painted lines suddenly became coordinated enough to leap into the air off of a conveyor belt and pull himself up on top of an overhanging beam in the garbage freighter of SQIII. It's also fun to get a first-person perspective on how some of the more ridiculous puzzle solutions (especially in SQII) are rationalized by someone who's living out these situations.

Though there's a little bit of "fudging" here and there, the stories are utterly faithful retellings of Roger's exploits--you can actually use the novelizations as hint books and not miss a single point. There's a lot of backstory that is inferred or extrapolated from what the games tell us, and some things are entirely made up, but it all works. Just like the Mega Man fan movie, The Space Quest Companion stays faithful to the spirit of the games while offering a fresh take on the universe.

All in all, The Space Quest Collection is almost certainly the single greatest purchase a Space Quest fan can make (outside of the games themselves, of course). Well, that, or possibly a mug featuring the Two Guys from Andromeda.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Waiting for Wednesday, Volume 3, Issue 8

Hopefully I’m able to actually post this up to the blog. Blogger is experiencing some difficulties this morning, you see, and as usual, I’ve waited until the very last moment to actually write anything post-able.

Now, it’s quite possible that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with Blogger, and instead, there’s something wrong with me. It wouldn’t be the first time, and I’m sure it won’t be the last.

So I’m currently typing this into a Word doc, and hoping that I’ll be able to copy/paste it onto the blog later on. (Preferably sometime before comics shops open up on the East Coast, because we all know how integral this column is to the publishers’ sales charts.)

We’ll see how that goes.

In the meantime, I wanted to touch upon the death of comic and animation writer and creator Dwayne McDuffie, who passed away suddenly yesterday.

As I mentioned yesterday, I am a fan of McDuffie’s writing, and that, in a single issue of JLA that he penned--and, more specifically, a single spread in that comic--he managed to nail the heart of the Batman character.

McDuffie's comics were often like that--character studies; little conversations amidst lots of action.

More than just his writing, however, McDuffie brought attention to the fact that comics were almost completely devoid of diversity. And he worked to change that.

CBR has a really nice feature on McDuffie, where friends talk about his life and his work. You can check that out here.

-- -- -- --

There's really no good way to transition from the above, so I'm just going to get right into this week's new comics.

First up, we have The New York Five, issue 2, from Vertigo.
I know it doesn't make much sense to recommend a number two issue--and especially one that requires some knowledge of the characters, but this book is too good not to mention.

This series is the sequel to the now-collected New York Four ($9.99 in trade paperback, from DC), and follows the college lives of four young women. Written by Brian Wood, who is quickly becoming one of my favorite comics creators today, and drawn by the amazing Ryan Kelly, the original series debuted under the now-defunct DC Minx line.

The New York Five has made the move over to Vertigo proper, and so far, the series picks up right where volume one left off. And, while I'll give you the solicitation information for issue two in just a minute, this is really a recommendation to run out and buy volume one.

Because of the price point, I've noticed that several stores in my area are carrying the trade, so chances are the book might be there when you hit your store later today. If you like slice of (New York) life stories, then this is the book for you. Check it out. You will not be disappointed.

Here's the solicitation information for this week's issue from Vertigo:

Everyone has secrets, and Riley's are well documented! But what about the other girls in THE NEW YORK FIVE? In this second issue, Merissa and Lona deal with ghosts both at home in Queens and coming into JFK on the red-eye...

This book is excellent, and it gets the Official Exfanding Seal of Approval.

That's it for comics today, but I'd also like to remind you that the direct-to-DVD feature, All Star Superman, written by Dwayne McDuffie and based on the Grant Morrison classic, is out in stores now.
It was released yesterday, and I'm heading to Best Buy to procure my own copy tonight. From all accounts, it has received good reviews, and it looks pretty great. Morrison's story probably wasn't the easiest to turn into a film, but DC's direct-to DVD features have been solid overall, and I've enjoyed each of the ones I've purchased.

And with that, I need to get a move on. Before I do, though, what are you Waiting for?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Dwayne McDuffie

Incredibly sad news to report, unfortunately.

Comics and animation writer and creator, Dwayne McDuffie,has passed away. McDuffie wrote countless comics, he founded Milestone Media, he created the popular character Static Shock, and he wrote for and produced the beloved Justice League Unlimited cartoon.

Most recently, McDuffie penned the animated adaptation of Grant Morrison's seminal Superman tale, All Star Superman, the DC Comics direct-to-DVD feature that was released in stores today.

On a personal note, McDuffie wrote one of my favorite JLA stories, in an issue dealing with the death of Bruce Wayne. It was touching, and poignant, and to me, the best thing that came out of DC in regards to that particular event.

It's a little odd to use the phrase, "a personal note," simply because I never had the good fortune to meet Mr. McDuffie. But that's the case most times with authors and writers and creators and artists that I look up to and whose work I enjoy.

With regards to that particular JLA story, I've read that issue several times, and each time I've closed the pages and felt the emotional weight of the story. I felt a connection to that story, and so, that story--written far away and without even a thought of my existence in mind--became something special for me.

Thank you for that, Dwayne. Fortunately, we'll always have your stories.

Our thoughts and best wishes go to Mr. McDuffie's family and friends.

The State of Books

We've been following the unfolding story of Borders Books for the past several months now, and as noted last week, the retail giant has finally filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Additionally, they've announced the closing of 200 retail locations in the United States. Well, when the news came down, it started a bit of speculation as to which stores would close.

But, since we now have things like the Internet, that list managed to leak online not even an hour after the news broke, and any such rampant speculation was rendered pointless.

Ah, technology.

When I checked out that leaked list, I was surprised to find pretty much all of the Borders shops in my area on it, other than one store in my home city and another about 20 miles away, just over the state border.

As far as Borders go, my state was routed.

I knew things were going to be bad when I read about the Borders on Park Ave. closing, and about the closing of a store near my office whose rent is paid by another large retail chain in the area.

I thought for sure that store would be safe, because they didn't have to worry about things like rent.

But I guess even a store with (relative) minimal overhead couldn't earn out enough money in this weird publishing environment to avoid closure. For anyone wondering, you can check out the complete list of store closings, right here.

My big concern (aside from the fact that the number of bookstores in my state was just reduced by 70%) is, what happens next? Will the remaining 400 or so Borders stores stay in business, or will there be another round of closings?

Are they using these big, Final Days Sales things--which are generating lines of people outside their doors, by the way--to get some quick cash flow to pay down some of their debts, and then focus on further cut backs? Will Borders even be a viable option for publishers in the coming weeks and months?

And, since we're seeing these huge lines at Borders since the sales announcements were made, doesn't that tell book stores and publishers that, yes, people want books, but they don't want to pay upwards of $25 for new product?

Will that change the way we look at price points?

Obviously, I have no answers to any of the above. But to think that this is the last we'll hear of Borders' problems is naive.

So, how about you guys? How many stores in your area are getting the axe?

Monday, February 21, 2011

Exfanding Review: Daytripper

Even though I only write a limited number of reviews on the blog, I do actually read a lot of books. And I read a lot of books from across lots of different genres and styles. I read plenty of comics, sure, but I also read my fair share of novels, short stories, biographies, political news, and random dissertations found online.

Also, I like plays. Beckett, mostly.

And being fairly well-read, I have come across many pieces of work that I put down, and, while I enjoyed the contents, I mostly just forget about. That kind of thing tends to happen when you have more books than you have room for your books. As with anyone who reads often, though, once in a while, there's a book or a comic or a play or a short story that makes me stop and go, "huh."

And I mean that in a good way.

For the most part, I only read what looks interesting to me, so the great majority of what I read has that, "huh" effect on me. But then there are those works that just...linger. They stay with me. They haunt my dreams, and they tend to not go away for a while. If ever.

Daytripper, written and drawn by brothers Gabriell Bá and Fábio Moon, and published by Vertigo, is one of those books.

A graphic novel about the most important days and moments in a life, Daytripper is that rare comic that manages to absorb the reader, wholly, into its world. The settings, the characters, the landscape.

And, while this book is filled with elements of magical realism, the world created by the extraordinarily talented brothers seems so real, so much like something you've lived through, that this sweeping narrative about lovers and friends and goddesses and murderers manages to feel familiar.

Which, I suppose, is a trait found in literature's greatest stories of magical realism.

In Daytripper, the main character, Brás de Oliva Domingos, is an obituary writer for his local newspaper. In each issue of the series, we see Brás at a different stage in his life. Accordingly, chapters are titled by Brás'age during that particular story--21, 11, etc.

There are alternative realities revealed here; different paths that Brás might have taken, or should have taken, or actually did take. We meet women that Brás may or may not have met and friends who may or may not be alive. If he does one thing, his life veers off to the right. If he does another thing, his life moves left.

And each issue is self-contained, for the most part, but there's a cohesive narrative thread that runs through the entire series.

I don't want to keep writing about this book, simply because I don't want to spoil anything for anyone out there who's interested in giving it a try.

So I need to wrap this up soon, but I don't feel like I've given this book enough credit. I certainly have failed to express my love for this work in words, which makes me a pretty lousy writer, and a complete failure as a guy with a blog about comic books.

Oh. The art. I can talk about the art.

Oh, my goodness, the art. Anyone familiar with the brothers' other work (Umbrella Academy, Ursula) knows just how special these guys are as illustrators.

The covers are ink-washed and beautiful and the interiors are filled with expressive faces, beautiful, real women, and landscapes that you know and have been to, even if you haven't.

Daytripper is that rare comic that, if it had no words, I would happily buy it for the art. And if it had no art, I would happily buy it for the words.

There. That says it all.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Van Gogh, Picasso, Nintendo: Smithsonian Recognizes "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial" for the Atari 2600 as a Work of Art

This is your chance to sneak video games into the Smithsonian! From February 14, 2011 - April 7, 2011, anyone and everyone can vote for which games will be included in an exhibit called "The Art of Video Games," scheduled to be on display at the Smithsonian American Art Museum from March 16, 2012 - September 30, 2012. Which is funny, 'cuz half the games on the list are Japanese.

A whopping 240 video/computer games are up for consideration, from systems as far back as the Atari 2600 to as recent as whatever newfangled gizmos you kids play these days. Naturally, there's a strong presence of mainstream series such as Mario, Final Fantasy, and Halo, but there's also a terrific number of more obscure games that are present for their artistic merit, such as Flashback: The Quest for Identity and The Typing of the Dead, which made me REALLY HAPPY to see on the list.

You can vote for 80 games in total, and the voting is broken down into categories so that you're not pitting the GameCube's elegant Metroid Prime 2 against the original NES Metroid, a color-blob masterpiece. You are given three choices per genre per system per era, which is actually tougher at times because Chrono Trigger, Link to the Past, and EarthBound all fall under the same category. Augh, the delightful agony of deciding!

That's part of the fun in voting--it's not all about how much you love the game, but about which of the three options is the most beautiful, the most unique, the most indicative of the category, or the most deserving to hang on a wall in the Smithsonian.

Read more about the exhibit, or go vote already!

Remember, your vote counts! Unless you don't vote for Mega Man 2, in which case I can find out where you live.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Otakon 2008: A Belated Retrospective

A good story is worth telling more than once. Or, if you prefer, a story you've already told is a perfect candidate for an easy blog post. In either case, I wanted to share with you the story of my trip to Otakon, the yearly anime convention held in Baltimore, MD, PhD.

This story was originally told on Facebook in 2008, just after the convention had ended and just barely two weeks before Alex and I started this blog. I've adapted the tale slightly for reasons too inconsequential to discuss, and I've changed the names of my friends to protect them from the shame of being associated with me.

Those of you who've been interested to know what my fiancée looks like after all that talk about an engagement will be pleased to find a picture of her here. However, she will be in disguise and referred to as neko-chan to be protected from the shame of being associated with me. You may recall neko-chan as an occasional guest contributor; if you've read her post about the New York Anime Festival, then you've already seen her costumed as Yomiko "The Paper" Readman from the anime Read or Die. Actually, she'd be the first to tell you that the costume was an excuse to be herself in public, what with the book reading and the life-sized paper airplanes she flies around in.

...But I digress.

It's a long story (as far as individual blog posts go) that's best read in one big sitting, so settle down for a spell and enjoy yourself.


THURSDAY: Neko-chan and I both took the day off from work to get to Baltimore in time to pick up our badges at preregistration. However, because we decided to do this last-minute, and because all our plans fell through at the last minute for staying with people we knew who lived close by, we booked a super-cheap hotel about 20 minutes from the Inner Harbor. But more on that in a minute.

The drive down was a little slow because of typical traffic on the George Washington Bridge, and we continually ran into the same two trucks hauling manure ("I hate manure!") about every time we got back on the highway after stopping for something, but we made it there in decent time, got our badges quickly, and then ate dinner at Tir Na Nog, an Irish pub-type-place; that was the best meal I've had out in I can't remember how long. Perfect Roy Rogers, potato leek soup with cream, crisp Caesar salad, Drunken Beefsomething entree, and a Boston Cream Cheesecake shared with neko-chan...Yeah, the trip was worth it just for that. So then we turned around and drove home.

Wait! No! We didn't! We drove to our hotel, a Red Carpet Inn that I believe had merged with an Econo Lodge. The hotel staff was very pleasant, but the hotel itself was...sketchy. The two buildings that housed the rooms were positioned around what probably used to be a swimming pool, but was now filled in with dirt and a few random dead plants. A shady guy was digging through garbage cans. No cars or other people passing by along the road or the buildings around us. All of three or four cars parked, and lots of empty rooms and parking spaces.

The hotel room itself was decently spacious, but the lone ceiling light was pretty dim; a wall panel was open, revealing exposed wires; the bathroom, despite its brand-new towel rack, had grunge stains on the sink and severely cracked wall tiles; and neko-chan found a cockroach in her hair not long after entering. Lesson #1: Take the hit to your wallet. Invest in a two-star hotel.

FRIDAY: We had stayed up late figuring out what we wanted to do at the convention, and neko-chan had been doing the last of her costume preparation, so we were already looking at maybe 5 hours of sleep. However, I got up earlier than anticipated because neko-chan had become seriously ill overnight (I chalk it up to prolonged exposure to me), so I dashed out to find a place that sold medicine.

There was a gas station around the corner, and I rushed in wearing yesterday's rumpled clothes and with my hair completely disheveled from sleeping and begged the man there for drugs as I darted over to the fridge to grab some water. I asked him how much for everything, and he took one look at me and what I was buying and said "Two dollars," despite the fact that such money wouldn't even cover the two waters, let alone the medicine. I thanked him profusely and sprinted back to the car, my faith in humanity a little bit restored.

The rest of the morning was spent lugging things out to the car and assembling my costume, and by the time we got to the convention, neko-chan was already feeling better; perhaps it was the medicine, or perhaps it was sheer willpower of wanting to attend the con and feel good that prevailed. We were late, so we showed up in the middle of an episode of Steam Detectives, which we walked out of after about two minutes for various reasons.

Neko-chan and I spent a lot of the convention apart, so I'll leave her to probably not tell about the things that she went to. As for me, here's a glimpse at what I attended:

SONIC THE HEDGEHOG PANEL: I was hoping for something like a retrospective video of the evolution of Sonic, with fun facts and informativity and whatnot. Instead, we got two girls raving and ranting about various Sonic games, roughly in order of their release. Having only played the ones for the Genesis and having a little bit of exposure to Sonic Heroes, Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine, and a few other titles, it was hard to follow along.

Fortunately, the girls were amusing enough to listen to:

[Audience Member]: Sonic was originally supposed to be named "Needlemouse." If that had happened, would you still have played all the games?
[Girl 1]: Sure! (Blah blah, something about stupid names don't matter, blah.)
[Girl 2]: Yeah. "Needlemouse." And, "Tails-On-Butt."

GETTING HOME: A Chinese live-action black comedy about a man who is trying to bring his dead friend back home to be buried properly. This was everything I had expected and hoped for: a lighthearted, slightly predictable buddy comedy (though one of the buddies is dead) with just enough seriousness to provide interesting conflicts and thought-provoking meaning. One of the best things I saw at the convention.

LUCKY STAR: I blame this one on my one friend, the same guy who introduced Alex to anime. I popped in to see what this so-called "Lucky Star" was all about, and because I couldn't get a seat with a clear view of the subtitles, the best I can figure is that the show is about a bunch of girls who sit around talking about phallic things in a way that seems innocent enough but is actually dirty when you think about it. Or maybe they're Russian spies. I really don't know. I left after about 10 minutes.

LUNCH: Lunch was awesome. A bacon-onion-lettuce-mayo-BBQ-cheeseburger of joy at a burger joint called Five Guys, along with a chocolate malt shake of bliss from the Marble Slab Creamery across from it. Both the burger and shake are easy contenders for my Top 10 list for burgers and shakes, respectively, and possibly even the Top 5 for the shake. It was worth coming down to the convention just for lunch. Satisfied, I got in the car and drove home.

Wait! No. I didn't do that.

DIRTY PAIR: PROJECT EDEN: Girls. Guns. Exploding mutants. Need I say more?

FRIDAY NIGHT FAN FILMS: Technical problems with the VHS player caused the show to start late, so we watched a short, hilarious, and completely not-safe-for-work DVD while they tried to get things working: HERE COMES DR. TRAN!

DR. TRAN saved Friday Night Fan Films! DR. TRAN blew away the sad-sack competition! Only the long fan video that officially kicked off the event could truly compete with DR. TRAN! The movie trailers were fine, but probably illegal, and nobody knows illegal like DR. TRAN!


(Dr. Tran!)

Some time during the day we had transferred our stuff from the car into our new hotel, the Brookshire Suites; the room wasn't quite as swanky as it had looked online, but it was still very comfortable and pleasant. We left the car parked in a parking garage a few blocks away, and hoped that it would still be there on Sunday when we left.

SATURDAY: ...Started off much better than Friday did, except Midori Days, which they promised would be showing at 9 AM, was replaced by Teeny Witches for some reason, which I wasn't going to watch. Fortunately, DR. TRAN set them straight with a good, hot...

GAOGAIGAR: There was nothing else during that time frame that I was really set on watching, so I decided to join neko-chan for an anime that was two parts Transformers and one part Power Rangers.

Pretty sure that's Duo from Mega Man 8 on the right.

We technically watched two episodes, but if you take into account that the second half of each episode is exactly the same with the transformation sequence and the big robot almost destroying the mysterious sphere and the angel boy appearing at the last moment just long enough for people to wonder who he is before the episode ends (and everybody seems to forget about the angel boy by the next episode), then we really only watched an episode and a half. It's not a show I'd probably ever watch again without coercion, but it was nice to spend some time attending the same show with neko-chan; we didn't spend nearly enough time together during the weekend.

[NOTE]: There was a lot of shopping and browsing in the Dealer's Room and the Artist's Alley, but I'll leave those out. Aren't I sweet? (And then I looked at a funny shirt, and it was funny, but I can't remember the punch line, but it was funny, and...)

AMV CONTEST: When I was at Otakon in 2005, I really loved the anime music videos. For some reason, I wasn't as psyched for them this time. Neko-chan and I watched the first two categories—Serious and Action—and then left for other things we wanted to see. They were enjoyable, but I really wanted to see the comedy ones; I was so disappointed by the majority of the supposedly-humorous fan films that I was craving something fan-made that was funny.

RAKUGO PERFORMANCE - KAISHI KATSURA: Rakugo is a very old Japanese form of performance in which a single actor takes the stage and tells a story by taking on the roles of the various characters involved, aided by nothing more than a folding fan and, I believe, chopsticks. There are no costume changes; the performer changes his or her voice, gestures, posture, etc. to distinguish between characters. It requires a lot of imagination and attention to watch, but it's fascinating.

Kaishi Katsura is a tremendously famous Japanese Rakugo practitioner, and the show alternated between an amusing video teaching about the history and culture of Rakugo performance and Kaishi Katsura's stories and interactive Rakugo lessons. Fun, educational, and fascinating.

CASSHAN: ROBOT HUNTER OAV: The plot of Casshan is all but identical to the plot of Mega Man X, which means that I started liking it right away. No doubt Capcom "borrowed" a great deal from Casshan; just replace X with Casshan and Sigma with a not-racially-insensitive-in-any-way robot named Black King Boss, and you've got Casshan (also known as Casshern, depending on which show you're watching).

Pretty sure that's the Falcon Armor from Mega Man X4.

Super-cool, but neko-chan and I were physically incapable of staying completely awake to enjoy the show, so we decided to leave and watch it another time when we could give it the attention it deserved.

DINNER: After waiting in line for the Rakugo performance forever, I wasn't feeling up to waiting in another interminable line for the OC Remix panel, which I would have liked to have seen (along with the Mega Man panel on Friday), but things just didn't end up working out that way, for better or for worse. J. Paul's was, I believe, the name of the restaurant we went to instead; absolutely everywhere was jam-packed with people on a dinner rush, and we went to the place that looked like it had the least amount of people that wasn't too far away.

I wanted a sit-down restaurant, and boy did we ever sit down. Neko-chan noted that her salad was "very comprehensive." I had salmon and grits fries, which are pretty much what they sound like. I had my heart set on clam chowder or lump crabmeat of some variety, but it was not to be. Weep...

They promised us GREAT TEACHER ONIZUKA: ...but we got The Melancholy of Harui Derui & Liui, or whatever the name of that show is. I've heard good things about it, but my experience doesn't match up with what I've heard. It might have been okay if we could have watched it from the beginning, and if it weren't running late, and if we weren't so eager to watch what was promised us, but we waited through the end of an episode, thought Onizuka would start, and watched in horror as Harui just... kept... going.

That's okay, though. 'Cuz we made it to something awesome:

BLACK LAGOON: A girl. Guns. Exploding helicopters. Need I say more?

PANEL SUPPOSEDLY ON THE LEGACY OF PIRATES IN ANIME: Neko-chan, who loves pirates, was rather excited for this. I was excited, too. We stayed long enough to realize that it was going to be one big fan discussion about One Piece, which we hadn't seen. Oh, and one or two fleeting references to Captain Herlock. Which we had seen. Boo.

SUNDAY: We brought just about all of our bags back to the car, which was thankfully still in the parking garage. Of course, I realized too late that there were two other garages right in front of the hotel, but oh, well.

PANDA-Z: I managed to rope neko-chan into seeing this, and it was one of the highlights of the convention for me, in part because neko-chan and I got to sit through an entire show together and just relax for a change. Panda-Z, created by the same person responsible for Ranma 1/2, is this cute, simple anime/computer-animation show about a robot panda and his robot friends and the big mecha robot battles the panda has with his enemies. The episodes are just barely longer than the theme song and end credits combined, so we got to watch 10 of them. Hooray for simple fun.

HOTEL CHECK-OUT: Officially checking out of the hotel was quick and painless, but I estimate it took 20 minutes for me to get to the lobby from my room on the 7th floor. The hotel is something like 10 stories tall with maybe 10 rooms per floor, and the two elevators would not stop on my floor. I was waiting there for quite some time with a mother and daughter. Eventually we got impatient and took the stairs, but discovered that the stairs lead to an alarm-rigged emergency exit and went as far down as the floor above the lobby, but not to the lobby itself. Whaaa???

AMV CONTEST, TAKE 2: After finishing up my shopping in the Dealer's Room and having a quick lunch (oh, and I forgot to mention the hot dog I got off the street on Saturday—that was yummy. No, silly. Not actually off of the street itself. There was a man on the street with the hot dog. Ah, forget it), I headed off to catch the AMVs I had missed.

I walked in at the beginning of the Action section, and I didn't feel like waiting through it (plus, it felt a little empty without having anybody I knew to sit next to, even though almost every seat in the auditorium was taken), so I wandered for a while, sat down in a cozy chair for a spell, and returned in time to catch the Comedy videos, which were entertaining, but not as funny as the ones I remember from 2005, and relied more on the audience having seen the shows used in the AMV to get most of the humor. Having seen a bit of Harui actually came in handy here, as I was able to get the punchline of the Yaoi-type video they showed for that show. And if you need to look up "Yaoi," then you really don't need to look up "Yaoi."

Neko-chan and I met up, took a few pictures of folks and finally had a picture of us together on our own cameras (neko-chan was something of a minor celebrity, and I actually had a few people recognize me and ask for pictures this time around!)—we cosplayed as Lucca and Gaspar (the Guru of Time) from Chrono Trigger. (Quote of the Day: "Wow! Somebody remembers Chrono Trigger!" -Some Dude)

Then, finally, we went home. Or... at least, we tried. MapQuest says is should take about 4 hours to get home.

Try 8 hours.

We were OK for a little while, but the New Jersey Turnpike was all but completely stopped. When we finally reached an exit that wasn't another highway or downtown Whoville, we stopped for dinner at Burger King (at 8:15, having left Baltimore at 4 PM), and found a glorious map of New Jersey posted on the wall on the way out. With the help of the manager and the Burger King Janitor (I think), we mapped out a better course back home that would be a bit out of the way but ultimately faster, on roads I was actually familiar with.

I dropped neko-chan off at her apartment. The drive home was so satisfying that I got in the car and drove home. I walked into my room just after 12:30. I had anticipated something like this happening, so I had already arranged to have Monday off from work. Good thing, too: I was almost incapable of walking after all the walking and driving I had done over the weekend.

Overall, the convention was a great success, I think. We both had a lot of fun, regardless of the grumpy and unpleasant times along the way. I ended up buying a few gifts for people as well as a Portal turret sticker, two t-shirts, a some-assembly-required Mega Man X action figure for my office, and all of Neon Genesis Evangelion and Panda-Z (note the contrast) on DVD for myself; neko-chan also got me one or two items of wall art from the artist's alley. I also got to see two friends who were unexpectedly there, and I met a surprising amount of people just due to talking to strangers.

To sum everything up in one word, Otakon 2008 was pretty much mostly...

Now, if you'll excuse me, there's work to be done. The world doesn't save itself... unless the world is told to do so by DR. TRAN!

Friday, February 18, 2011

51,000 Hits!,000 Hits!

As promised earlier in the week, today's post will, indeed, feature an announcement of some sort.

But first, some back story, and some patting ourselves on the back.

As we've done in the past, we like to celebrate the fact that people actually find their way to this little blog by marking different milestones in the history of the site.

Typically, we "celebrate" by me having to sit down and watch three Star Wars movies, or by me having to sit down and watch Nathaniel's Mega Man YouTube videos, or by me having to watch the entire Firefly series (and a movie!), or...ya know, I'm starting to recognize a pattern here.

And I'm not saying I didn't like doing those things. I am saying that, once a milestone is reached and one of us needs to be Exfanded on something, things have seemed to be rather lopsided.

As in, "Hey, Alex, I don't like anything you like, so why don't we make this milestone a 'you watch one of my things' milestone?"

So, to rectify that, for this momentous [fill in number of hits here] post, I was tasked with getting us a Twitter account! And Nathaniel has washed his hands of it, leaving this not-so-new-or-brave world of Tweeting up to me.

So, finally, we get to do something I want to--waittaminute.

He did it again.

He used the psychology on me.

Gah! Every time.

At this point, I might as well give you the official info. As a way to celebrate the fact that Exfanding has (somehow) managed to accumulate over 52,000 hits, WE ARE NOW @Exfanding ON TWITTER!

Please give it a look, and if you're so inclined, follow us! What will we write about? No idea! Check it out, though! Please!


Thursday, February 17, 2011

Nabisco Toasted Chips: A Legitimate Snack

When somebody (usually me) suggests we grab a snack, the only things that come to mind are overly sweet foods, such as cookies, cakes, ice cream, and liquid sugar delivered through an IV. As I've stated before, I'm not a big candy fan, but I'd sooner take candy as a snack than, say, potato chips. People who say, "Let's grab a snack" and then head for the Doritos are strange to me.

To me, chips are just one option in an ensemble of party food, or something to accompany my sandwich so it doesn't need to meet its cruel, devoury fate alone. The only time chips qualify as a standalone snack is when I've already had my lunch break and I still need some kind of sustenance to propel me through the rest of the workday. Even then, I'm much more apt to lean toward "snack crackers" such as Wheatables and Wheat Thins, which at least have the illusion of being healthy because they've got "wheat" in their names.

Perhaps more important than the health factor is the crunch factor. Crunch equals satisfaction in my book--anything I can sink my teeth into or that loudly acknowledges its acquiescence to my superior pearly whites is probably significant enough to sate my hunger.

Yet, too many chips have that thin, greasy feel that accomplishes nothing productive for my hunger (or my girlish figure). That's part of why I'm so pleased and surprised at how much I enjoy Nabisco's line of toasted chips (which are really snack crackers, but I'll let it slide).

I'm trying to avoid making this sound like a bad infomercial for Nabisco Toasted Chips, but they come in an eco-friendly bag that is supposedly recyclable and they're the best darn chip cracker snack thing I've had in recent memory. Theoretically healthy, and supposedly Earth-conscious, and verifiably delicious--how could I not give these little crackers a plug?

Of the Ritz varieties, I've tried Dairyland Cheddar and Sweet Home Sour Cream & Onion. Of the Wheat Thins varieties, I've tried Great Plains Multigrain and North End Parmesan & Herb. As you might be able to tell from the names, Nabisco has an "Americana" theme going on, where each of the flavors is inspired by a different part of the country.

The cute explanations on the back of each package tend to romanticize their geographical source material, but this also lends an air of artistry to the flavors you're about to experience--and I'm pleased to say that everything I've tried so far is closer to art than munchy snack.

Whereas many chips and crackers do quite well with their artificial flavors, these toasted chips actually taste like real cheddar or parmesan or...herb. Tastes like real herb. It's like I'm a food critic in Dragon Warrior. But whether artificial or not (I can't be bothered to look at the bag now), everything tastes all-natural.

There's even a little bit of creativity in some of the flavor blends, making it seem like somebody experimented with different ingredients until they found something they liked, rather than saying, "Let's do sour cream and onion! How do we make it taste like sour cream and onion?"

Bravo all around to Nabisco for coming out with these toasted cracker chip things. They're just delicious enough that I might even snack on them outside of work hours.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Waiting for Wednesday, Volume 3, Issue 7

Okay, lemme say this right up front, if only for my own sake. I am going to my comics shop today, no matter what. Seriously. I swear. It's been a month of Wednesdays since I've gotten to the store on time, because of little things like tons of work and feet of snow.

This is madness.

And it has to stop.

So, hopefully, by this time tomorrow I'll have been to the store and I'll have a (ridiculous) pile of books to read over the coming long weekend. Hopefully.

But for now, let's focus on the things I am yet to purchase, since I won't be able to get to my shop until later on. It's a pretty big week of books, but I think I've managed to keep my list within reason.

Actually, before we get to all that, some breaking news. In a follow-up to yesterday's post about Borders Books, as of this morning, Borders has officially filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, citing a total debt of $1.29 billion.

While they are in talks to pay back an estimated $230 million in debts to a long list of publishers, in an official statement this morning, Borders Group says that, in the next few weeks, it will close around 200 of their 642 stores in the United States.

If you'd like to read more about it, you can check out, a new site put up by the company to address issues relating to the restructuring.

Well, obviously, this whole thing comes as no surprise. Still, I have to admit that my stomach did that weird, pull-y thing when I read the words early this morning. Sad to see, and I wish everyone who is losing a job over this mess the best in the coming weeks.

On that wonderful note...

There are a few big comics releases this week, like the final issue to the lead-up to the next big Green Lantern event, but I'm most excited about a couple of Image books.

One of them is a trade paperback collection of the first arc to 2010's break-out hit, Morning Glories, and the other...well, the other is something else, entirely. First to Morning Glories, though.
This was a book that we here at Exfanding told the whole world about, prior to its release, and, apparently, the whole world listened.

Because the issues sold out before they hit stands (something unique...and the comics industry) and the series is officially a Big Hit for Image.

As mentioned, the issues--especially first printings--became quite difficult to track down, as earlier issues in the series were heavily under ordered by retailers (apparently they don't read the blog).

But now is your chance to jump on, because the perfectly priced trade ships to stores today. At $9.99, for six issues, this is definitely a bargain. Here's the solicitation information from Image:

Morning Glory Academy is one of the most prestigious prep schools in the country, but something sinister and deadly lurks behind its walls. When six gifted but troubled new students arrive, they find themselves trapped and fighting for their lives as the secrets of the academy reveal themselves!

Check it out.

Up next, we have something called the Captain Wonder 3-D One-Shot, which will feature, according to Image, the most advanced 3-D tech ever used in print.
Like Nathaniel, I am not the world's biggest 3-D fan. But this book has me very interested. With story and art by Brian Haberlin and Philip Tan, this 48-page issue isn't cheap. It carries a $4.99 price tag, but, as the solicitation mentions, that includes the 3-D glasses.

Here's the blurb from Image:

Captain Wonder is the superhero of this world—he’s saved millions during his twenty-four year career. But now everything is going to Hell in a hand basket. You see, Captain Wonder has been missing for the last two months, and things don’t look so good.

Now meet Billy Gordon, ten years old and it seems someone is stalking him. What’s going on? Featuring the creative duo of Brian (Witchblade, Spawn, Aria) Haberlin and Philip (Green Lantern, X-Men, Spawn) Tan.


Image is on a major league hot streak with their books lately, and I'm more inclined to try their stuff than ever before. I find myself pre-ordering almost everything they're putting out, and hopefully Captain Wonder keeps that trend going.

Okay, gotta cut this short. But first, a quick teaser--since we've officially passed the 51,000 hit mark on this here blog, we're gonna do something special. And, since we're now officially important on the Internet (note that we're not actually officially important on the Internet, but our moms think we're cool), the announcement will be something Internet-y.


That's coming soon. Like, Friday, soon.

In the meantime, what are you Waiting for?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Hear That? It's the Other Shoe Dropping

So, it's now all but official that the Borders chain of bookstores will file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and that upwards of 250 retail locations in the United States will close their doors in the coming weeks and months.

According to several sources, and most notably in yesterday's Wall Street Journal, the bookseller has given up on its efforts to refinance and to secure loans from outside companies.

From all reports, it seems like the retail giant was in too deep, and their debts were staggering. There was a brief period of hope, as GE recently became interested in keeping Borders afloat, but that fell through, and now the Michgan-based company has no place left to turn.

While filing for bankruptcy doesn't always mean The End of All Things (Marvel Comics did it back in the 90s), in this pretty much means The End of All Things.

And while it will be bad for me--both personally (I love bookstores!) and professionally (I am still in this wacky publishing industry, you know)--this announcement means a lot more bad news for a lot of people.

First and foremost, thousands of jobs are going to be cut as a result of this, and a lot of good people will be left looking for work in this exceedingly difficult job market.

I've always said that working is retail is one of the toughest things to do, and working at a big bookstore is certainly at the top of that Tough Things to Do list. Especially at the big stores, where questions like, "What do you think my dad will like?" are heard on an almost daily basis.

Additionally, the publishing industry itself will be affected by this, obviously, as Borders has been responsible for a large percentage of overall book sales.

Amazon and Barnes & Noble have seen stock prices jump in reaction to this week's reports, but let's be realistic here when it comes to B&N. Brick-and-mortar book stores are in trouble. Lots of it. And Amazon is the main reason why.

Now, clearly, Barnes & Noble has been much, much more savvy in terms of their anticipation of digital product and their attempts at creating an online alternative to Amazon with their Web store. They've obviously done a better job than anyone else in their efforts to maintain the relevancy of a shop.

Still, I wouldn't be surprised if we're having a very similar discussion about them in a couple of years. Publishing in general is a scary place to be, but at least publishers can rely on digital press to keep their books going.

For publishers, content rules.

For retail stores? Paper rules.

I hate to think that the bookstore--the bookstore, for goodness sakes!--will go the way of the five and dime, or Saturday morning cartoons, and become this nostalgic thing from our childhoods.

Because that's just too depressing to think about.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine's Day for Single People, etc.

In some part of the world right now, it might still be Valentine's Day, right? If you've come here in search of advice about picking up a romantic movie that both you and your better half can tolerate, check out last year's post. For everyone else, I have nothing for you.

No, really. Alex tasked me with writing a Valentine's Day post like I might actually know something about the subject matter, now that I'm engaged. (Spoiler alert: I'm engaged.) In truth, I don't know any more about being romantic or Valentinesy than the next guy. As far as I can tell, being romantic involves knowing the person you fancy well enough to do something that's unexpected and shows you were thinking of them. Thus endeth my expertise.

I know at least one or two people who are happily un-romanced, and probably couldn't care less about little heart-shaped sugar candies with messages evidently written by lolcats on them. Perhaps you are one of them. Most people have some sort of instant reaction to the mention of Valentine's Day, usually either "Yay!" or "Ugh!" or "You're totally missing the point of what today is all about!" As for me, I'm indifferent.

Whether single or attached, my best Valentine's Day memories are from the times when everyone involved in celebrating was on equal footing. When single, it's been fun to be around other single people, lamenting about how single we were. (Last time I did this, I was the only guy in a group of about four girls.) When attached, it's been fun to do something together, as a couple.

It's no fun to watch everyone you know go out to celebrate with their lucky, lucky, beautiful, wish-you-could-be-them boyfriend / girlfriend / spouse / whatever. It's also no fun (or less fun) to work your butt off for the person you're involved with simply because "romantic" somehow equates to paying for everything.

I've always thought of Valentine's Day as a day for the couples to block out the world and focus on each other, and for the eternally single to unite and block out the couples. It should be a celebration of your relationship status, not a reason to suffer because you are or are not coupled.


Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Final Apology

I'm instituting a new rule for all our creative endeavors: They will be done when they get done.

For the past two days, Alex has mentioned how little time he's had to write. Just before that, I mentioned how my computer underwent a forced reinstallation of Windows. Well, I've now had to reinstall Windows twice in the same week (don't ask), and I just discovered that all my Mega Man 6 project files aren't opening with whatever default version of Movie Maker I just reinstalled, so there's my technological setback for this round of videos.

Every time. Every single time. Truth be told, I would have been disappointed with myself if something catastrophic didn't happen this time; it's that obligatory plot twist that everyone's counting on.

We're still posting every day, and I'm still working toward releasing my next Mega Man 6 video. I know Alex has been on the verge of falling into a black hole for weeks now, but I've been occupied with any number of items, and I've been cheerfully crossing off one or more things from my to-do list on a daily basis. Every tick mark and strikeout is a step closer to having the ideal conditions for writing and recording. Fewer things to think about or interfere with the creative process.

Alex is welcome to abstain from following this decree--he's a nice guy, and writing about why he can't write has proven to be cathartic in the past. As for me, I will be bringing you unapologetic filler posts from now on. In addition to the regular and beefy posts, of course. I just won't make any more excuses for the filler or promises about the good times to come.

So, I'm sorry this wasn't much of a post, but I'll definitely have something more worthwhile tomorrow.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Creators Front for Diversity in Comics

I've been meaning to write about the Creators Front for Diversity in Comics (led by Goon creator Eric Powell) for a while now, but my schedule just hasn't afforded me the time to sit down and do so.

Unfortunately, today is no different. Working another weekend means no bloggy for Alex.

Still, I wanted to mention this, and to provide you all with the link, above. (Just a head's up that the video found at that link is NSFW.) For those not interested in clicking, here's part of the Front's message on the current state of the comics industry:

No other entertainment industry is sustained from one genre and 50 year old material. The comic book industry is living off of decades old company owned super hero titles while shoving new original content to the side. The result is the industry has slowly been losing readers for years and alienates anyone who is not interested in reading books about guys in tights.

It's time to change. Support original creator owned comics and diversified content.

Obviously, there's a lot to be said about Eric Powell's efforts to diversify comics, and the way in which he has decided to go about doing so.

And I have plenty to say about it. I just don't have much time to write today.

As anyone who's followed this blog for a while knows, Powell is my favorite comics creator, and The Goon is my favorite book. So, call me biased if you'd like, but when I do get around to writing at length about the subject, I'm going to be in Powell's corner on a lot of things.
As a reader of both mainstream and indie comics--and I mean a LOT of indie comics--I appreciate the need for different types of stories, put out by different creators.

So, even though I can't go in-depth on this at the moment, in the spirit Powell's crusade, I'll say the following. It's Saturday. It's (probably) not snowing where you live. Go out to a comics shop and buy a book you've never heard of, by creators that you've never heard of.

It'll be good for you. And it'll be good for comics.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Friday Fantastic

For the first time in quite a while, I was a little nervous about coming up with a post for today. I've been pretty much quarantined to either my office chair or my car seat for the better part of the past two weeks, and I really don't do much besides eat and go to sleep once I get home at night.

Which means that I haven't had the time to sit down and read, or to hit up all of the comics sites online that keep me so hip, cool, and informed. So now I have to walk around being simply hip and cool.

Right. So,on my drive in to the office this morning, I tried coming up with a post for today. I was thinking about simply writing about how busy I am, and how I have no time to figure out what to write about for today.

And I was more than happy to go that route, until a co-worker walked over to my desk and said the following, in his classic, dry, annoyed tone:

"So. Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four. That's pretty stupid."

And I said, "Yeah...Wait. What?"

"Spider-man's in the FF now. But they're not called the Fantastic Four anymore. They're going to be the 'Future Foundation.'

"That doesn't seem like a thing," I replied. "Are you sure?"

And then I was directed to, of all places, the Daily News and CNN.

And I found out that, yes, it is indeed a thing. There's even solicitation information, and a cover shot, for issue one of FF, written by Jonathan Hickman and with art by Steve Epting, the creative team behind the current "3" storyline.

The following is excerpted from Marvel's February 9 press release:

There is no more Fantastic Four, so just what is the FF? This March, the superstar creative team of Jonathan Hickman and Steve Epting present the over-sized FF #1, introducing the biggest new super hero team of the century!

After the death of the Human Torch, the surviving members of the Fantastic Four—Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Woman & Thing—join with Spider-Man and some top secret members to form an unstoppable force: The Future Foundation.

Their mission is simple: save the Marvel Universe from its greatest threats and prevent future dangers from arising. But even with knowledge of what’s to come and one of the most powerful teams ever assembled, just what villainous force could stand in their way?

How about overexposure? Sorry. Couldn't help myself. With The Thing and Spidey currently on both the New Avengers and now this new FF, they're gonna be two very busy super-heroes.

As with everything else in comics, I'm certainly willing to pick up issue one and see where things go. Here's the cover image that Marvel released the other day:
Which brings me to the main point of this post. What do you guys think about the new direction? The new team member? The new uniforms?

Is this another stunt, or will Spidey stick around (ha!) on this new FF for a while? Let us know what you think!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Breaking and Entering, and Exiting and Reinstalling

Despite the fact that I work in front of a computer all day, when I return home from my job the first thing I usually do is boot up my computer and stare at a screen some more. The Internet keeps me connected to my biggest side projects--GameCola, my YouTube channel, and this blog. I write occasional journal entries and (at least once upon a time) electronically scribble down ideas for my next Dungeons & Dragons campaign. I waste hours and countless thugs in all manner of PC games. Though I can certainly function without it, my computer is very much a part of who I am.

Imagine how I felt when a rogue virus snuck onto my computer a few weeks back. My memory of the whole situation is a mite fuzzy, but I'll recount it as best I can.

I had been doing absolutely nothing all day but checking my e-mail and editing a GameCola article when I got a popup advertisement in the middle of not actually surfing the web at all. I instinctively closed the window immediately, but by the time it registered that this random popup was highly suspect, things had begun to fall apart around me.

For one thing, my desktop background spontaneously changed to an alarming warning message about a horrible virus being detected and I should get virus protection immediately. AVG 2011 Free was doing just fine, thank you, aside from the part where I'd been having a few quirky issues since upgrading from 2010, and aside from the part where AVG was clearly not doing its job. Moments later, another popup arrived with a message telling me that a virus had been detected, and I should click here to purchase virus protection right away.

Off to the Internet I flew like a flash, in hopes that I could research this "System Tool" "program" that had instantly manifested and kill it before something bad actually happened. I was concerned, yes, but still keeping a level cool in the face of very clear scare tactics. It wasn't until I was unable to open my virus scanner that this program began to damage my calm.

"This program has been detected as a threat, therefore we won't let you open it. Give us $40 and we'll go away," is effectively what the popup message told me. Fine; let Spybot do the work. No dice; Spybot was also a threat. Not to me, of course. It wasn't long before every program, including Firefox, was classified as a threat. I started calling people up for assistance as I found the folder where the problem resided. My attempt to delete the program outright was met by a jolting reboot of my computer.

I was able to defeat the monstrosity through Safe Mode, but my trust in the antivirus software that had kept me protected since graduating college had diminished significantly. Worse than that, I felt like my home had been violated. Fighting to regain control of my computer was like breaking into my own apartment after a burglar had locked me out. Everything seemed to be in order once the situation returned to normal, but how was I to know that nothing had been stolen or destroyed? Or that the perpetrator wasn't still there, in hiding?

This incident, on top of all the minor issues I'd been having with AVG 2011, led me to invest in the trustworthy Norton 360. I had used a few different iterations of Norton in the past, and I don't ever recall a successful invasion. I also don't recall my computer slowing down to unusable speeds or swatting away popups every ten minutes.

Norton 360 required a lot of processing power. I could tell just by listening to my computer's fan, which sounded like the entire unit was going to blast off after half an hour of the computer being on, regardless of whether any programs were open. Even if the microphone barely picked it up, the frustratingly distracting noise put a serious damper on my recording efforts.

Norton 360 also appears to have been designed for nincompoops who might pluck the keys off their keyboard and try to eat them if they weren't labeled with letters and numbers to indicate that they aren't chocolates. From what I'd read and seen, Norton 360 effectively turned my computer into a fortress, but a fortress where all the soldiers ran around in giant plastic hamster balls so as not to injure themselves. What I'm getting at is that, while I felt secure, I felt almost like Norton had taken over my computer instead of any potential viruses, and confined me to quarters "for my own good."

No matter what settings I commanded Norton to follow, it kept running a scan every time I left the mouse alone for more than ten minutes. It got to the point where I was running a manual full system scan, and because I wasn't moving the mouse, Norton decided to start another full system scan. Between the constant scanning and the popups every five seconds about one thing or another, I felt I had just hired a bodyguard who kept trying to sell me life insurance every time I looked away from him.

As if this weren't bad enough, it was about a week or two before I was no longer able to open Firefox. I would've been able to live with a message telling me that I was locked out because Firefox was a security risk (which it is, if you browse the web the way overprotective Norton 360 assumes you will). I got upset because there was no message. Was there a conflict with Norton? Had one of my Firefox plugins decided not to play well with the latest version upgrade? Was Norton hogging so much of my system resources that I couldn't open Firefox?

Other programs were slowing down, too, and I kept getting alerts that some random website was trying to access my computer--but Norton never told me how to fix the problem, or even where I could begin looking for a solution. Either Norton was messing up everything, or else Norton was so intent on keeping me from using my computer happily that it had failed to detect another virus.

I couldn't use Firefox to look up solutions, so I turned to Internet Explorer. After about three uses, I got locked out of IE as well. I could open the programs in Safe Mode, but at this point, I was greeted with a blank desktop sans taskbar 50% of the time I tried to reboot the computer.

Unable to come up with or search for any more solutions, I resorted to "uninstalling" Norton (I say this in quotation fingers because there's always something leftover from Norton, like when you try to wash a dirty casserole dish that's been sitting out for a week). I had downloaded the installer for AVG 2011 Free again, and was going to start over with what I knew. No more rocketship computer towers, no more problems opening basic programs, and no more continuous popups and scans.

Except AVG wouldn't install. The files got unpacked, and then...nothing. And I couldn't even get online to figure out why.

My computer had been in a state of gradual decline since the first time I installed AVG 2011 Free, and this was the last straw. My fragile computer had been attacked by a stranger and then battered and bruised by the doctors and policemen who were supposed to make everything better. I had been contemplating a full reinstallation of Windows for some time, but I wanted to wait until I was done recording my Mega Man 6 videos before initiating such a major disruption.

Well, the last time I tried to record commentary, my recording program locked up while saving my audio file, presumably because Norton thought my voice sounded suspicious. I was fed up, and I trusted nothing. It all had to go.

While others were watching the Super Bowl, I was backing up every file on my computer except the semi-important things I completely forgot about because of how obvious they were. I pulled the trigger somewhere around dinnertime and started the reinstallation process.

When it was finished, I went to get the essentials set up on my computer before bed. Internet access, firewall, better virus protection. I had everything in order before the reinstall, so this should have been a relatively quick and easy process. Assuming I still had the reinstallation CD containing all the important drivers, such as a driver that would allow my computer to establish a functional Internet connection.

I save everything, and I still can't think of where the install CD went. I sent my fiancée to a public computer lab to toss the driver on her flash drive. Public computer labs don't always approve of downloading executable files. I had to delay watching more Venture Bros. with friends that evening to download the drivers I needed. But it's all back now, at least the fundamental stuff.

On the one hand, it's refreshing to have all that clutter removed from my computer. It was good to spend all that reinstallation and copying-from-external-hard-drive time reading or doing dishes, or staring contentedly at the wall, simply because I could. On the other hand, I feel like a refugee who's hiding out on this computer until a more permanent one arrives. It's the same machine, and all the same programs, but something feels off, and I can't explain it.

Perhaps it's an increased desire to sit around reading instead of expending creative effort writing a blog post or recording a video; Sunday marks the longest period of sustained non-comics reading I've had since The Time Traveler's Wife. It was refreshing. It's the way I used to be about reading, before high school kicked in and all those extracurriculars took on such importance. Maybe the pain of my computer falling apart is still too recent in my memory to feel completely confident that this time is going to be any different, and I just need some distance.

I won't be able to stay away too much, though. I've got a review copy of Gemini Rue to try out so I can add another article to my surprisingly full GameCola pipeline. I've got people asking about my next video, and I myself am curious to see what I'll do. And, of course, the blog must go on.

Still, I've recently picked out a few books that, when added to the small pile of things I've been meaning to read since last year, should provide some friendly competition. We'll just have to see where things go from here.