Friday, May 24, 2013

Man of Steel -- What's YOUR House?

This is fun.  If you're any kind of comic book fan, like I am, then you're probably at least interested in how director Zack Snyder will be approaching his reboot of Superman's origin mythology in a few weeks when Man of Steel opens on June 13th.

In the meantime, while you're waiting for the movie, you can answer a few personality-profile questions and determine to which Kryptonian "House" you would have belonged.  You can go to the Man of Steel "glyph app" here and give it a spin:  Man of Steel Glyph Creator App

You will remember, of course, that Superman's birth name is Kal-El.  He is the son of Jor-El of the House of El, and Lara Lor-Van.  (On Krypton, women take their father's full name as their last name.  Only DC Comics knows why.)  Other Houses, both great and infamous, include the Houses of Ur, Em, Van and Zod.

I have to be honest; I did mine twice.  The first time I was sorted into the House of Ak.  Although it had a much cooler shield than does the House of Zar, it was, well, Ak.  It sounds like a hairball.  "Thomas-Ak" just did not have the Kryptonian ring that Tom-Zar does.  And, to be fair, I was a lot more honest about answering the questions the second time around.  So there's that.

["Thomas-Ak" -- see what I mean?  Nice shield, but...Ak.]

Monday, May 20, 2013


Last evening, CBS News aired two stories that really ticked me off.  The first story was about the survivors of the recent swarm of tornados in Texas.  One family survived in their bathroom, huddling under a mattress in the bathtub.  When the storm passed, the only portion of the house left standing was the bathroom where they sheltered.  They were pretty lucky.

When interviewed, the Dad said something along the lines of, "We were in the arms of God; we could feel His arms wrapped around us."  Well, fine.  I don't share your religious beliefs -- I don't share any religious beliefs at all.  But in addition to thanking your Invisible Friend, it might have been nice to save a shout out for THE GUY WHO DID SUCH A GREAT JOB BUILDING YOUR HOUSE!

If you've ever lived in tornado country, you know that you are advised to find shelter in a basement, an interior windowless room, or the bathroom, because, thanks to masonry, load-bearing walls, pipes, wiring and plumbing, the bathroom is the most sturdy and reinforced room within the structure.  Never mind the Arms Of God; the family was lucky that their builder didn't stint on construction and built them the room that saved their lives.

Later in the same newscast, as a sidebar to the $590 million PowerBall Jackpot story, CBS ran a feature on a family that had run into financial difficulties and was about to lose their home when they discovered that they had purchased a winning lottery ticket some months before that had been sitting, forgotten, in a jar on their kitchen counter.  Unfortunately for this family, their teenage daughter had recently died after suffering seizures.  It made their winning bittersweet, to say the least, but they were able to keep their home thanks to the winnings and were thus able to preserve their daughter's room as it was before she died, instead of having to move out and keep her things in a box.

Which was all interesting and heart-warming and thought-provoking until Dad said something like, "I just know that as soon as she passed, my daughter went to Heaven and kept nagging God that He needed to do something for us.  Now whenever we get that check in the month of the anniversary of her death, we'll know that she's up in Heaven still pushing for this family."

Yeah, that's the way it works, I'm sure.  Nice of God to drop you that big check after taking your little girl, though.

I hope it was just a fluke, or maybe a new editor for the news, because I really don't want my news stories, human interest or otherwise, filtered through God-colored glasses.  I'm sorry that the family won the lottery too late to do anything for their daughter.  I'm glad that the other family survived a horrific storm with their lives, albeit at the cost of everything they owned.  But that's life on planet Earth, folks.  There are good things and bad things and they happen every day to all of us.

Let's just keep God out of it, OK?

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Star Trek: Into Darkness

Well, the video game may suck, but Star Trek: Into Darkness does everything the opposite of that.  New to Star Trek?  You will love it.  An old school fan of Star Trek II?  You will love it.

This is the movie that all summer franchise movies wish they could be.  Everything about it is great, from the casting to the special effects to the story.  Lots of Easter Eggs for long time Trekkies like me (and yeah, I don't hold with that "Trekker" nonsense, I am and always have been a Trekkie) and more than enough to hold the interest of even those of you saying, "Star what now??"

Benedict Cumberbatch is a revelation.  This is the guy who held his own with Gary Oldman in the recent Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.  He is riveting as John Harrison.  Sherlock fans better hope he likes the role enough to stick around for a while, because television is too small a medium for Cumberbatch's talent.  His are the most nuanced performances I've seen since, well, Gary Oldman's.

The rest of the cast, all returning from 2009's Star Trek reboot, do a bang-up job as well.  The scenes between Chris Pine's Kirk and Zachary Quinto's Spock are priceless.

So go.  Go now.  You won't be sorry.

Monday, May 13, 2013

"Star Trek" The Video Game--A Review (Or "Someday I'll Learn My Lesson")

I am a science fiction fan.  I don't belong to any one camp; I don't prefer Star Trek to Star Wars or Doctor Who to Red Dwarf (well, actually, I do prefer Doctor Who to Red Dwarf, only because it's apples and oranges, but I digress.)  The long and the short of it is that I will pretty much give anything remotely resembling science fiction a try.  This includes video games.  For example, I'm a huge fan of the Halo franchise.  Who wouldn't love a game based on a cyborg warrior with a cute girl AI helper who goes after hulking evil aliens who want to exterminate humanity because their religion tells them to?  I mean, it's a no-brainer.

So when I read that there was going to be an Xbox 360 game based on J.J. Abrams' reboot of the Star Trek franchise, I was pretty excited.  It was going to be an original adventure bridging the time between the end of the 2009 film and the new adventure Star Trek: Into Darkness which opens in a couple of weeks.  Even better, the entire core cast was involved in providing the voices for their characters in the game -- Chris Pine is Captain Kirk, Zachary Quinto is Spock, Karl Urban is Dr. McCoy, Simon Pegg is Scotty ... you get the idea.  Sulu, Chekov, everybody -- all there.  Add that to an original adventure involving one of the cool villains from the original Trek series, the reptilian Gorn, and I was sold.

Unfortunately, I forgot something very, very important.

There is a rule that I keep forgetting.  A simple rule, which, when followed, keeps money in your pocket and a song in your heart.  The rule?

Video games based on movies ALWAYS SUCK.


Without fail.

And "Star Trek, The Video Game" is no exception.  I have been playing it (or more accurately, attempting to play it) for about a week now.  The list of problems and flaws is long.  Here are the worst offenders:

• Control of the characters is clunky and unresponsive.  They don't jump when you want them to jump; they keep getting stuck in the furniture -- it's downright embarrassing.

• Control of other elements is equally unresponsive.  There is a recurring puzzle wherein you are required to divert power from one element to another across a partial grid.  It's pretty third grade.  The joystick is supposed to change the direction of the moving line as you negotiate its path from Point A to Point B.  Except it doesn't, which results in repeated failures at an insultingly simple puzzle until you get lucky enough to have a sequence when the joystick actually works the way it's supposed to five times in a row.  It's maddening.

• Other puzzles are equally simple.  Memory matching of wave patterns, matching a sine wave, etc.

• The game is meant to be played cooperatively with Spock and Kirk.  Which is great, except when you're playing alone.  Then the AI controlling your fellow character becomes moronically infuriating.  "He" will stand in the middle of a field of fire and get killed, or wander into electricity, or run into a wall and get stuck as he beelines toward the door or the goal or whatever.  It reminds me of the original series episode "Spock's Brain" when said brain is removed to run a civilization's master computer.  The Spock body that was left behind was about as bright as the Spock I'm currently trying to play with.

• The Gorn look nothing like the Gorn.  Not even a little bit.  They tried to give them different classes of reptilian badness, but they just look silly.  There are raptors, commanders, warriors, etc., and they all look worse than the rubber suit that the original Gorn wore in the "Arena" episode.

• And all of the usual complaints that go with any bad game -- gameplay is repetitive.  Level design is poorly thought out, often leaving you stuck because things can't progress until you kill all the bad guys and the last bad guy is stuck behind a locked door.  Scenery, although otherwise pretty, glitches in and out of existence.  Controls are terrible:  in addition to the complaints outlined above, camera control is a joke and characters are extremely slow and unresponsive.  Stealth missions are almost impossible because of how difficult it is to move and stay in cover because you keep getting "stuck" behind a box and can only get "un-stuck" by standing up and being seen.  Not that the enemy is always looking, because the AI of the bad guys is just about the stupidest I've ever experienced:  often Gorn just stand there blinking at you until you kill them.

(And I SO wanted to love this game.  Image courtesy of Xbox The Official Magazine.)

Some of the puzzles and levels could have been really fun and interesting, like the one where you have to manually guide a photon torpedo to a weak spot on an enemy ship.  Except that, as usual, you tweak the joystick to dodge a piece of space debris and absolutely nothing happens.  I wound up playing that over and over until I was sick of it.  I finally had a run where the joystick actually worked all six times that I needed it and could move on.

In short, it's a terrible, terrible game.  If it's not too late, save your money.  And whatever you do, never, ever, EVER forget:


Saturday, May 11, 2013

Fun Stuff

It's always a treat when an atheist like me is asked to give their thoughts on something religious, in this case, re-writing a much beloved hymn for our departing minister so that whenever he hears said hymn from now on, he will always pause for a moment to think of us.

The hymn in question was "Come Thou Fount Of Ev'ry Blessing" and the new lyrics made their debut last night at the minister's farewell bash.  It seemed to be well-received.  The choir did a bang-up job with it, too, for which I am very grateful, and it left the minister misty-eyed, which I also found very gratifying.  I would aspire to be the Weird Al of Unitarian Hymns for my generation, were Weird Al himself not already the Weird Al of my generation.

This won't mean much to anybody not from the Unitarian Church of Harrisburg, but for what it's worth, the lyrics to "From A Ranch Out In Montana" --

On the list of UU preachers there are many famous names.
Some were writers, some were teachers, each one had their claim to fame.
There is one who is a master and who has a unique pow'r.
Yes, his name is Howard Dane:  he does service in an hour.

To be done in sixty minutes with a service from the heart
is a gift when there's two buildings and the choir must depart
To go to their other church home and sing once more through the chorus
In their mediocre Spanish of the hymn called, "De Colores."

As our UU congregation looks back o'er the past twelve years,
Reminiscing about laughter, reminiscing about tears,
We shall always think back fondly on the minister who came
From a ranch out in Montana to the church on Clover Lane.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

FCBD 2013

This Saturday is Free Comic Book Day!  Support your local comics shop by turning out and getting an absolutely free comic book just for walking through the door.  There will be books available at most stores for all ages and tastes -- grim and gritty graphic novels for adults, superheroes for kids of all ages, and stories for the youngest kids in your home.

My own comics shop, Comix Connection of Mechanicsburg, PA, really pulls out all the stops for Free Comic Book Day.  They will give you THREE free comics, not just one, and for every can of food you donate to the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank they'll throw in yet another comic book.  Bring a can of food, get four comics.  Bring 12 cans, get 15 comics.  In addition, members of the 501st Legion's Garrison Carida, Vader's Fist, will be there in their incredibly accurate Star Wars costumes.  If you like, you can bring a toy to donate for their charitable work with children in hospital.  It doesn't even have to be a Star Wars toy.  The work that they do cannot be overstated.  Can you imagine how much it means to a sick or dying child to have Darth Vader or Boba Fett show up to their room and spend some time with them?  They bring toys, they stay and visit and color pictures or whatever the child can handle.  They alone are worth coming out to support, along with a local small business.

Free Comic Book Day at Comix Connection holds a very special place for me.  It's where my daughter Olivia got to distribute and autograph her first comic book, a project in self-publishing she did while still in high school  The store's owner, Bill Wahl, graciously let her have an "author's table" among all the other free comics while she handed out her book to anyone who was interested.  We gave out every one.  I can never pay back Bill and the rest of the CC staff for the kindness they did me, but I can surely help promote their event in whatever way I can.  This is my girl autographing her book:

So Saturday, come out to 6200 Carlisle Pike in Mechanicsburg, PA, and visit my comics store.  You won't be sorry.  Details at the Comix Connection website here:

And now a word about FCBD from Wolverine himself, Hugh Jackman!