Friday, April 21, 2017

Checking In; Cosplays and Stuff

I can't believe it's been over a month since I checked in here!  Lots going on; sadly, not much of it good.  As many of you know, one of the treatments I received for my Crohn's Disease had some very unpleasant side effects which have turned out to be permanent; namely, a form of ALS-like nerve damage to the myelin sheaths of my sensory nerves.  Mostly I just feel cold when I'm not, or the odd occasional false sensation, but recently the false sensations have been extreme, and extremely painful.  I've also noticed that the damage is finally bleeding over into my motor nerves, which is very disconcerting indeed.  My feet and hands have a permanent stiffness that was never there before.  I can still safely drive and walk and get around, but geez.

Recovery from last summer's foot surgery continues on very, very slowly.  I tried cutting the lawn for the first time since last August a couple of days ago and have been quite miserable ever since.  Honestly, the one time I can actually feel something in one of my extremities, and it's the feeling of being clocked by the Incredible Hulk....

So in my various stages of discomfort, I've been spending more time on Tumblr and Blogger and whatnot, and I've noticed some things in the cosplay community which I find upsetting.  Here they are in no particular order:

• Patreon.  Using Patreon is way, way up.  For those unfamiliar with it, Patreon is a website for artists wherein sponsors pledge a certain amount of money every month to an artist or costumer in exchange for access to exclusive content.  Now, originally I thought that Patreon was a great idea.  There is a lot of cost associated with cosplay; materials alone can run into the hundreds if not thousands of dollars.  So putting oneself on Patreon to get monthly sponsors to help foot the bill seemed like a great idea, and one I was wholeheartedly willing to support.  Unfortunately, most of the cosplayers I used to follow and admire have discovered that pornography is where the real money is.  So many costumers have started doing "boudoir" versions of characters that it's getting a little ridiculous, and if you subscribe to their "platinum tier" pledge levels, the NSFW porn-y stuff can be yours to see.  I think this started when the Playboy Bunny version of characters such as Thor and Hawkeye began to catch on.  From there it was a short trip to posing in a bra and panties and white wig and calling yourself the "bedroom version" of Storm from the X-Men.  I'm happy to help support elaborate costume builds like Halo armor, but I'm damned if I'll pay for your lingerie.  If I want panty shots, I'll read Maxim.  (I don't.)  I don't mean to be prudish, I really don't.  I realize that there are some guys who have always had the hots for Velma from Scooby Doo, and who love seeing sexy versions of that character.  It's the crass commercialism of it all that I find offensive, and costumers who I really used to admire, costumers who have a tremendous amount of skill and love for the characters, have fallen into this trap of purveying soft-core porn.  And you don't really need financial help to put together a Velma costume.  C'mon, it's an orange turtleneck, nerd glasses and knee socks.   We're not talking a suit of armor from World of Warcraft here....

It's just greed, pure and simple.  And please don't tell me that the money from the bedroom shots goes to pay for the more elaborate character costumes.  Most of the cosplayers haven't shown off anything more elaborate than their underpants since they discovered how lucrative Patreon can be.  There are several well-known names from the cosplay community earning over $1,500 a month -- more than my income, for sure! -- for sharing pictures of costumes consisting of cat ears and a lacy bra.  And while most of them don't show actual nudity, or only "tasteful nudity" there is usually a "platinum plus" level where one can almost, almost, see what Monty Python used to call the "naughty bits."

I do not, nor will I ever, subscribe to Patreon, but I became aware of it because it is relentlessly promoted in the social media feeds from these costumers, along with teaser images and promises that even more can be seen in the higher-level tiers of support.  Once I see this, I unfollow, because I know that there won't be much coming in the way of costumes any more.

• The "Virgin Killer" pictures.  Enough already with this.  As I understand it, some idiot in Japan came up with a design for a cable-knit sweater with a really low cut back and lots of side-boob that purportedly will so arouse even the most timid of virgin males that he will approach the woman wearing it and have sex with her.  This is so wrong, on so many levels, that I don't even know where to start.  And 80% of the cosplayers I used to follow (note the use of the past tense) are putting up teasing pictures on their websites and their Patreons of their version of the Virgin Killer.  It's another symptom of this recent descent of cosplay into pornography, and I really hate to see it.

I was going to insert an image of the sweater here, but I couldn't find one that wasn't offensive.  Maybe one of the cartoon ones, but even they give me a bad taste, just because of the whole concept of the thing.  You can search for "virgin killer sweater" or "virgin killer jumper" if you're really curious.  The number of DIY patterns for the thing will amaze you.

I'm really sad to see a hobby that I love go down this path.  A couple of years ago, comic conventions had to start banning costume weapons from the convention floor because the level of detail and accuracy -- organizers were afraid of actual weapons slipping into the convention.  Now they're going to have to start becoming decency police as well.  When I bring my kid to a con, the last thing I want to have to do is explain "Virgin Killer."

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Movies Of My Life (Age 64 Edition)

Recently one of my friends on Facebook shared a list of her favorite films, year by year starting the year she was born.  (Thanks, Jo!)  I thought this looked like a fun idea, but I didn't want to fill up an entire page on Facebook -- 64 is a long list, after all!  So instead I thought I would do it here.

It was hard!

My birth year alone (1953) included From Here To Eternity, Stalag 17, Shane, The Wild One, Invaders from Mars, The Robe, How To Marry A Millionaire, Mogambo, Peter Pan, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Salome, Barabbas, I Vitelloni, It Came From Outer Space, Roman Holiday, Kiss Me Kate, The Master of Ballantrae, Hondo, Dangerous Crossing, Donovan's Brain, Beat the Devil, and House of Wax.  All favorites of mine.

Not to mention Abbot and Costello Go To Mars.

Here is the list.  There were no critical criteria whatsoever in the selection; just a gut reaction.  This is not a list of the Best Films Made During My Lifetime.  Instead, the films that made the list are the ones that gave me the biggest "Oh, I love that movie!!" feeling in my gut as I paged through the film almanac year by year.  And of course, as you will see, there is a ton of equivocation regardless....

1953:  The War of the Worlds
1954:  Rear Window
1955:  The Ladykillers
1956:  Forbidden Planet (Another hard year, with The Wrong Man, The Man In The Grey Flannel Suit, The Man Who Knew Too Much, The Searchers, The Killing, Bus Stop, Giant, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers!)
1957:  The Bridge on the River Kwai
1958:  Vertigo
1959:  North By Northwest
1960:  The Magnificent Seven (but...but...Two Women, The Time Machine, Psycho, Never On Sunday, Inherit the Wind, La Dolce Vita, The Apartment....)
1961:  The Guns of Navarone
1962:  The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (but...To Kill A Mockingbird....)
1963:  The Birds
1964:  Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
1965:  Alphaville
1966:  The Good, The Bad And The Ugly
1967:  The Dirty Dozen
1968:  The Producers (Yup; picked it over 2001: A Space Odyssey; no contest.)
1969:  True Grit
1970:  Patton
1971:  A Clockwork Orange
1972:  The Godfather
1973:  Don't Look Now
1974:  Young Frankenstein  (incredibly tough choice; Blazing Saddles a close second!)
1975:  The Rocky Horror Picture Show
1976:  Carrie
1977:  Star Wars
1978:  Superman
1979:  All That Jazz
1980:  The Empire Strikes Back (narrowly beating The Shining)
1981:  My Dinner With Andre (yes, over Raiders of the Lost Ark)
1982:  Blade Runner (although I also love The Verdict, the last film I saw with my mom.)
1983:  A Christmas Story
1984:  Ghostbusters (but...The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across The 8th Dimension....)
1985:  Ran
1986:  Aliens (but...Stand By Me....)
1987:  Raising Arizona (yeah, I know; not The Princess Bride?  What am I, nuts?)
1988:  My Neighbor Totoro
1989:  Batman
1990:  Miller's Crossing (believe it or not, the first "meh" year on the list.  I picked it as the best of a mediocre bunch.  It's merely OK in my book.)
1991:  The Silence of the Lambs
1992:  Aladdin
1993:  Jurassic Park
1994:  Clerks
1995:  Apollo 13
1996:  Fargo
1997:  Princess Mononoke
1998:  Run Lola Run  (Hell, yes!  No contest!)
1999:  The Iron Giant
2000:  Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (but...Memento....)
2001:  Spirited Away
2002:  Bowling for Columbine
2003:  Love, Actually
2004:  The Incredibles (but...Shaun of the Dead....)
2005:  March of the Penguins
2006:  An Inconvenient Truth
2007:  Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
2008:  Wall-E
2009:  Up
2010:  Toy Story 3
2011:  The Descendants
2012:  The Avengers (Marvel)
2013:  Philomena
2014:  The Grand Budapest Hotel
2015:  The Martian
2016:  Deadpool
2017:  The Lego Batman Movie (so far, anyway....)

I'd love to see your lists!  Please post a link in the comments and I'll make sure it's visible to everybody.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

What I'm Reading Now: An Actual Comics Post!

Here are some books you should be reading.  All of them are available at your local comics shop, either as original issues, collected editions, or both:

FINDER, by Carla Speed McNeil, available in collected editions and currently serialized in Dark Horse Presents.  FINDER is hard to describe.  "Aboriginal science fiction" has been used and comes closest.  The adventures of a character who works as a "finder" in an amazingly complete and richly textured alternate reality.

MONSTRESS, by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda, from Image Comics.  Yet another science fiction/fantasy book for which the phrase "lavishly illustrated" was invented.  A basic hero quest book, but with lush, detailed illustrations combining the sensibilities of Ambrose Bierce and the finest manga and anime.  Not to be missed.

MOTOR GIRL by Terry Moore, from his self-publishing house Abstract Studios.  Something completely different.  Terry Moore writes and draws the most amazing stuff.  He came to fame with Strangers In Paradise, which redefined romantic comedy.  He followed it with the sci-fi story Echo and then the horror epic Rachel Rising, all of which are worth your checking out.  His latest is the story of a young war vet who works as a mechanic in a remote desert junkyard and who copes with her PTSD with her imaginary friend and assistant who happens to be a gorilla.  But the UFO's which come to her for repairs might just be the real thing.  Black and white, beautifully illustrated -- nobody draws facial expression, women -- or aliens! -- like Terry Moore.

And finally, the antithesis of wholesome family entertainment:  CLEAN ROOM by Gail Simone and a couple of different artists, depending on which arc of the story you're reading.  CLEAN ROOM is from DC Comics' "Vertigo" imprint.  Ms. Simone has brought new depths to horror with this title.  You will be profoundly disturbed and upset by the goings-on at Ms. Astrid Mueller's facility and its so-called "clean room."  (I will never look at monkeys the same way, ever again.)  This book explores an interesting idea on where evil and our ides of demonic possession might really come from, and like everything Ms. Simone writes, is worth every second of your time.

So, yeah, while I consider myself a diehard DC Comics guy who never misses his monthly fix of Green Lantern and Batman, I also can't recommend these books strongly enough.  And like I said, you can find all of them right now, from the beginning, at your local comics shop.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Take Your Kids To The Dentist!

I'm sitting at home recovering from some oral surgery.  Last August I lost most of the teeth on my lower left due to a rampaging infection.  The surgery is the first of several to remedy that situation; in about a year or so I may have fully recovered what has been lost.

When I was a kid -- this was in the late 1950's/early 1960's -- my parents only took us kids to the dentist when we were in pain.  And I hate to say it, but our dentist wasn't a very good one.  He was not current with treatment.  His drill was powered by a foot treadle, not electricity.  He still used mercury to make amalgam fillings.  He would occasionally leave cotton packing under the fillings which would cause more trouble down the road when the cotton started to break down.  He was terrible.  A lot of his "work" had to be re-done, often more than once, once I was an adult.

Consequently I have a mouth full of fillings and root canals.  Cut ahead to the present day, when the best treatment for my Crohn's Disease involves severely suppressing my immune system.  Short version: I am very prone to infection.  Because my teeth are already "dead" thanks to root canals, I had no idea I even had the infection in my jaw until a lot of damage had been done.  (I feel so crappy most of the time anyway that it really did go unnoticed, and because the involved teeth had no nerves, I had no pain until the jawbone itself began to sustain damage.)  There was no other recourse; the teeth had to be extracted.

This was last August; it's now February and the bone has healed enough to begin preparation for dental implants.  This will take another few months to heal; then the implants can be screwed into my jaw; more months to heal; posts will be installed in the implants and the gum will be reshaped to accommodate crowns; finally, when that heals I'll get crowns and be able to chew again.  It is going to cost us thousands of dollars.  With luck it will all be over before something bad happens to me on the other side.  Which I have no doubt it will, eventually.

My lovely wife had marginally better dental care than I did growing up.  She at least had regular checkups, but grew up in a community without fluoridation of the water supply.  So she also has a fair number of fillings and crowns, although not nearly as many as I do.  So when we had our daughter, we both agreed that proper, regular dental care was a must.

My daughter started seeing our dentist every six months once she turned 4.  She has never missed a checkup.  She has complied with all of his recommendations regarding fluoride and treatments.  It was not always easy; we did not always have dental insurance and often had to make financial arrangements with the dentist in order to maintain her care.  But we managed.

She is 24 now, and has never had even a minor cavity.  Her only dental trauma was an impacted wisdom tooth.

She has a perfect smile.

I know that not everyone has the financial wherewithal for regular dentistry, but I can't stress firmly enough how important it is to make it happen.  It will save your kids thousands of bucks and countless hours of pain down the road.  There are programs and dental colleges and dentists who work pro bono if you can't afford it.  Look into it.  Find something.  Do the leg work.  Don't put it off.

Treat yourself to a perfect smile from the people you most love.  It's totally worth it.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

"In Brightest Day, In Blackest Night"

The Green Lantern Oath.  It still resonates with me.  Especially now, because I believe my country is experiencing a pretty black night right now....

Clearly, one of my great childhood influences has been the character of Green Lantern.  I can't say why the character speaks to me.  I tried to explain it a little in the blog description.  As a kid I knew that I could never be a Superman, because I was not rocketed to Earth from another planet and had no inherent alien ability to change the course of mighty rivers or bend steel in my bare hands.  And I knew I could never be a Batman, because I was not an orphaned billionaire with access to all kinds of research and development hardware that I could use in my personal war on crime.  But I could be a Green Lantern.  He's a space cop.  He works on the side of the good guys.  His particular good guys are ancient alien immortals who figured out how to channel willpower into a force for good.  They invented a ring that can turn that willpower into reality.  Anything you can think of, you can make with a Green Lantern ring.  You can fly; you can breathe in space; you can build or make anything you can imagine out of the green light of willpower.

The only things you really need to be a Green Lantern are to be able to use your willpower, to overcome your fear, and to be The Right Guy.  The right guy (or girl) in the right place at the right time.  What a brilliant, amazing, empowering idea for an eight-year-old boy to wrap his mind around.

When I first discovered Green Lantern, I was indeed an eight-year-old boy.  I was not allowed to buy comics.  I did not get an allowance -- my parents didn't believe in giving kids an allowance, not even to reward chores -- and all the money I earned from my paper route went straight into my parents' pockets.  Seriously -- all of it.  Every penny.  Since my dad worked on Saturdays and my mom wouldn't (or couldn't) pay for a sitter, she would bring me with her when she went to "get her hair done" at the local mom-and-pop "beauty parlor" (which was literally in some nice lady's parlor, but never mind.)  My mom was not the only one who brought her kids with her, so the beautician had a basket of comic books for kids to occupy themselves while Mom had her head under a hair dryer the size of R2-D2.  The comics were a pretty mixed bag.  There were Archie Comics (including Archie's Pal Jughead, Betty and Veronica, Little Archie and Archie's Pals 'n' Gals), some Disney Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge comics, and a handful of whatever National Periodical Publications were on the rack at Carlino's Drug Store that month:  Batman.  Superman.  Detective.  And Green Lantern.

The first Green Lantern comic I read was number 4.  "The Secret of Green Lantern's Mask Revealed!" and "The Diabolical Missile from Qward!"  It blew me away.  I was immediately hooked.

Today a similar brand-new comic book from DC costs about three bucks.  As you can see, back in 1961, it cost a dime.  From this point on I lived the Great New Jersey Lost Quarter Hunt.  I walked with my head down so much that my parents were convinced I was depressed.  (Well, I was, but that's another story, and it's not why my head was down.)  I was looking for lost change in the gutters of Raritan, New Jersey.  Shortly after my first Green Lantern comic, the price went up from 10 cents to 12 cents, which meant that for a quarter I could still buy two comics and a piece of penny candy at Carlino's.  Sure, I had to sneak the comics home because my mother was convinced that comic books were responsible for everything from gang violence to moral turpitude, but it was still totally worth it.  Like most kids, I tried to hide the books under my mattress and like most moms, mine found them when she changed the sheets and promptly threw them away and gave me a lecture.  It didn't matter.  In a few days I had found or scrounged another quarter and blew it on a copy of Green Lantern, a copy of Justice League of America (because Green Lantern was a member) and a piece of Bazooka bubble gum.

For some reason, I have never lost my fascination for the character.  I have pretty much every Green Lantern toy and action figure ever made, including some pretty high-end ones aimed at adult collectors such as myself.
(My favorite:  Cloth uniform; alternate heads...set me back a cool 70 bucks.)

I also have a fair amount of Green Lantern paraphernalia, including a "working" life-size replica of his Power Battery.  (See, the gimmick with Green Lantern is that his powers come from that ring given to him by the Guardians.  But the ring only holds a charge for 24 hours, after which it has to be recharged with a Battery, which looks like a GREEN LANTERN.)  When the price came down to below $300, my lovely wife finally relented and I brought home this baby:

She relented even further and lets me keep it in the living room.  And yes, I occasionally light it up by touching a GL ring to it.  (Whether or not I recite the GL Oath is my business and my business only.)

And then there are the rings.  Yes:  rings, plural.  This is my current favorite:

It's reasonably subtle, and fairly dressy, and I can get away with wearing it in public without most people noticing.  Just my little secret.

So in spite of the fact that I only rarely use this blog to talk about GL and pop culture, I think I'll keep its title "Citizen of Oa," and the colors, and the artwork by the great Howard Chaykin.  

And don't be surprised if every now and then I comment on the comics.  :)

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Shining Some Light

It's no secret that I think that we have come into some pretty dark times.  We have a new administration that seems to be using the Nazi playbook.  In just a couple of weeks, orders and bans have come down from on high that make no sense at all to any right-thinking American.  The defenders of the new regime call those of us who are concerned "snowflakes" and worse.  And I won't lie; I have been hideously depressed, all the while on hold for my senator's voice mail, but hideously depressed nonetheless.  It has been enough to affect my health, which has suffered a rapid and surprising decline.  There are days when it's all I can do to go about my normal business.

One aspect of that "normal business" is what I do on Thursday mornings.  Y'see, new comics are published and available every Wednesday.  I give the hustle and mayhem of New Comics Day a miss, and instead I pick up my books on the following day, Thursday.  There are less people in the store and a better chance of a nice conversation with the person or persons behind the counter, most of whom I am proud to call my friends.

I'm blessed in that I am able to really indulge my comic book habit.  I usually leave with a good-sized stack, and sometimes I don't get through them all before the next Thursday.  That happened to me this past week.  Now like any collector/reader of comics, there are favorite books that I have to read right away (hello, Walking Dead!) and there are some that I save for the "right moment" (whatever that might mean.)  Two that I usually save for later are Green Lanterns and Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps.  This past week the latter title, issue #13, really saved me.  As Green Lantern so often has throughout my life.

I don't know when it was written, or if it was put together as a subtle response to the election, or if it was just fortunate happenstance.  The story is called "Heroes" and it was written by Robert Venditti.  It's on newsstands now, if you're interested.

At first I thought it was just what comics readers know as a "fill-in" issue.  It doesn't advance the current storyline, and it stands alone as a story -- in short, it fills in a gap while the regular creators get caught up with their work.  There is one quote from the issue that really got me:

" The evils of the universe are many.  Threats old and forgotten worm their way back.  Threats new and fearsome arise and stake their claim....  Evil occurs, and it's evil things that do it.  They want you to be afraid there are too many of them.  That there is more evil than good.  Many people think that way.  Because fear is easy.  It's instinctual.  You don't have to think about fear.

"I could've done what was easy...lived the rest of my life afraid.  Instead...I made the far more difficult decision.  I pushed my fears away.

"It's called will.  Will isn't instinctual.  It's never easy.  But will chases away fear and rage and greed.  It inspires.  Illuminates.  Shines through the dark where evil things hide.  But will needs help.  You have to choose it.

"Keep it your hearts and evil can never win.  You can be a hero."

Nothing has given me as much comfort since this whole nightmare began as this little graphic story has.  Not even knowing that we tightened our belts here at home as much as we could to donate to refugee and ACLU and NAACP causes.  

We can all be heroes.

But we're going to have to choose to make it so.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Naming He Who Shall Not Be Named

From now on, I will only refer to him as "Trumplethinskin."

That is all.