Tuesday, December 6, 2011

From the Bully Pulpit: Confronting the Truth

By now this video has been all over the world and back again. The raw hurt shown here is hard to watch. It can make people uncomfortable. In fact, it's made a few people so uncomfortable, they've manufactured a controversy over the veracity of this video.

I'm uncomfortable with the volumes that speaks about them.

While some may have honestly mistaken this video as an admission to lying...

...it is obvious that this video was made much later after the outpouring of support and concern the former video rightfully elicited.

These videos elicited much worse responses from a few particularly poisonous personalities, though. Particularly noticeable among the usual homophobic bile was the use of a common tactic bullies employ when bothered by the facts: smear victims further by attacking their credibility.

There are a number of ways bullies go about this.

Downplaying the pain bullying inflicts is not an outright denial of responsibility, but accusing the victim of overreacting is a ploy to shift blame away from the bully. Attacking the victim's overall personality is even more common. A person branded a crybaby or drama queen will have a hard time feeling like he or she can be taken seriously.

Questioning a victim's mental health and how it affects credibility is even worse, from kids simply calling each other crazy to adults arming themselves with a cursory knowledge of psychology and publically sharing their "diagnoses" of their victims. If the victim has a known mental health history, bullies will stoop to playing up old stereotypes and stigmas associated with mental illness in order to make it look like the victim simply imagined he or she was bullied.

Last but not least is outright accusing the victim of lying. I won't deny that false accusations do fly- usually from bullies trying to hide or justify their own behavior. 

But the young man in this video didn't name anyone, didn't name his school, didn't even leave any hints as to who exactly was bullying him, which makes me wonder why some of the people who've responded so harshly got so defensive. There is also nothing in it for anyone to lie about being bullied. It's not fun for victims to even tell the truth, fearing as we do exposing our vulnerabilities to others and opening ourselves up to more bullying.

And given how many people have died because of bullying, the stakes are too high for us to not take it all seriously.

That's why I never doubted Jonah Mowry.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Comics for Causes: Superior

As cliche as it may sound this particular time of year, my thoughts often turn to how grateful I am for my children and their health. Like most parents who have a "NICU graduate" or who have ever whisked a sick child off to the hospital, I learned early on just how precious every single breath of theirs is. So it was with that in mind that I eagerly picked up Superior, a benefit comic book for Yorkhill Children's Foundation.

Other claims about this comic book were just icing on the cake as far as I was concerned. That it broke the record for the most contributors to a comic book can be disputed unless we exclude anthologies. I won't dwell on that, though, because to convince sixty or so artists from all over the world to work for free and get their work in on time to break the record for the fastest produced comic book is nothing short of amazing.

And that says nothing of the comic itself. While there are a few rough patches in the art, the book looks pretty good for having been put together by so many creators in less than twelve hours. It also is a very sweet, heartwarming story that I would recommend for anyone, especially this time of year, full of heroics to inspire both awe and "awwww."

At a lean $2.99, the book also makes an excellent and affordable gift for all comic book fans on your list. But I would recommend this book because even a modest contribution to help our littlest people can do immeasurable good.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Wolverine and the X-Men 2: Review and Spoilers

I can't quite recall how long it's been since a comic book made me laugh with the very first panel. "Two weeks ago..," and already in nostalgic grayscale! It's a record!

The book was not completely flawless. There was a moment when reading the captions, which started off in first person and from Iceman's perspective, I noticed the perspective change, and I wasn't quite sure who had taken over narrating the story. While it built up to a nice reveal at the end, that moment of wondering detracted...

... but only a little, as I was too busy laughing most of the time. Never have I found the idea of a school fending off mortal peril so entertaining. Furthermore, I've done something I don't often do with my comic books- I've let the kids read it.

My daughter thought the exchange between Broo and Idie was particularly cute. My son liked everything to do with the Frankenstein monsters and commented that Iceman was "cool" before catching his own bad pun.They both said the book was very good and that they wouldn't mind me getting it for them, which is a very good thing because I plan on continuing to get it... for me!

Put this one on my pull list!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Kickstart This Comic: Dr. Goyle

I'll be the first to admit that most of the comics I've reviewed here are not appropriate for younger readers, and to be perfectly frank, I have mixed feelings about that. See, on one hand, I really love the meatier, heavier themes that comics geared toward older readers can address- and can sometimes do quite well. On the other hand, I often regret that I can't share such comics with my kids.

On another hand, comics that are geared toward kids tend to be quite a bit of fun and, when done right, can also be intelligent enough to keep older readers engaged. But on yet another hand, such comics, once in the mainstream, are not as available and are not marketed to the extent that the sex and violence in the current mainstream is.

This four-armed thorny behemoth of a problem is just one of the many monsters Dr. Goyle aspires to tackle. Creators Mark Stegbauer and Mike Norton have, as they put it, mashed together Hellboy, the Tick, and Sherlock Holmes with the campiness of the Batman TV show in a six issue series that promises to entertain readers aged six through, oh, at least a hundred and six.

Making this project even worthier of support, each issue will feature pinups by previously unpublished artists, giving up-and-coming talent a much-needed leg-up in the industry. The Kickstarter project also offers creative incentives to supporters like a chance to appear in the books as well as to acquire art, posters, and books up to the complete series that can make terrific gifts for your kids or yourself.

So check this out, and prepare to enjoy!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

TPB Thursday - Worst Case Scenario: Outbreak

Stephen Lindsay, in the foreword to FUBAR: European Theater of the Damnedacerbically described zombie fiction as a "dead genre that continues to sell more and more books." And movies, video games, television programs, what have you. Quite unlike too much of popular culture, the forgettable flashes in the pan made popular by marketing and manufactured appeal instead of by quality and genuine cultural resonance, the zombie genre appropriately doesn't die easily and keeps coming back- and for good reason. Zombies represent, as Mr. Lindsay also says, "everything we as a society fear." There also seems to be little limit to what creative talent can do with the zombies that shamble from the imagination onto the page. They serve as vehicles of gore and terror, true. They also stand not just as threats to our stories' heroes but as ruthless, unflinching, slavering reflections of our own less than heroic qualities,  bringing with them meaty social commentary and sometimes biting comedy. Finally, as Mr. Lindsay said, they bring out the best in writers and artists.

I think the same can be said about Guild Works Publishing's recent contribution to the perhaps saturated but definitely insatiable market for zombie comics. Worst Case Scenario: Outbreak contains thirteen tales so fast-paced and jam packed with excitement, I could devour all 120 pages in one sitting, but with all the satisfaction of a much longer, richer read. Even better, rereading hasn't gotten repetitive yet. The stories constantly offers morsels of sweet romance here, bitter despair there, zingy humor, tangy irony, tough questions, cold vindication, and fiery notes of bright inspiration.

And right now this probably reads too much like the review of a synesthesiac oenophile restaurant critic, so I'll make this simple.

Chris Buchner, Carlos Granda, Alex Rivera, and Johnny Lowe start the book off with "A Space Oddity," which is quite simply the origin story of this anthology's zombie apocalypse. Rather than pin it on supernatural villainy or something as scarily mundane as a virus, this brings to mind Slither or Night of the Living Dead, with their strange somethings from outer space. However, this also combines elements of inevitable natural phenomena with a little bit of human ineptitude to set its own stage for a perfect sci-fi/horror disaster. An accident aboard the space station sends some biological matter of extraterrestrial origin dispersing through the earth's atmosphere. The only thing that could have made it better was perhaps if we got some on-panel reaction or post-outbreak follow-up with the astronauts and ground control to better complement the characters that drive the rest of the stories.

I found the second story, by Dino Caruso and Paul Houston, rather sweet. "Rained Out" follows a young couple's attempt to escape a baseball game that gets uglier by the second. Interspersed throughout are newspaper-like blurbs and captions that link Ellie and Leonard's plight to events taking place around the world. The captions read, "While global panic escalates and economic costs from the rampant destruction rise, it is important to not lose sight of individual hardship and suffering." It's also important to not let desperation blind one to every last, precious opportunity to make another person's day- even if it is their last.

"Poisoning the Well" is the first of a few breaks from comic book storytelling. Written in prose by Melvin Eudy and interspersed with illustrations by Roger "Chainsaw" Harris and Keith Murphey, the story is a pure beach side bloodbath. Imagine Jaws 3D, except there isn't just one shark swimming rampant through the aquatic theme park and munching on the patrons. My suspension of disbelief lapsed a little with the birth of a baby zombie dolphin. A few issues with writing mechanics also caught my insufferable editor's eye, and I did not feel the story was as cohesive as most of the book's other offerings, but if you're just along for a terrifying ride, you may not even notice.

"Misfortune," by Steve Kanaras, Matt Ryan, and Steve Kuster, is the only story in which supernatural elements put in a major appearance. A fortune-teller who's made her living tantalizing desperate people with vague hints of good things to come makes her first real prediction, but the cards can't help her avoid what is to come. The dilemma she faces between telling the truth and causing panic or lying to make someone happy and the tension it causes the characters comes across beautifully, as does the ultimate futility of it all. The more I read it, the more I see Greek tragedy in it.

"Learning to Walk Again," by Jeff Prezenkowski, Carlos Weiser, Keith Murphey, and Mindy Lopkin also puts situational irony to good use. Most of the story is told from the perspective of a hard-partying extreme snowboarder who's lost the use of his legs to a spine injury. Thinking he'd give anything to walk again, he's lost interest in everything else. An attack by a zombi-fied girlfriend ends the pity party and restores him to his senses. As he makes a bold escape from the hospital, he considers signing a new lease on life. But just when we think he'll triumph, the last page blows it all apart- and transforms the story into a lesson on being careful what we wish for as well as appreciating the life we have while we have the time.

"How I Lost My Cherry," by Keith Murphey, Jet Amago, and Matt Mundorf chronicles the misadventures of a couple of army buddies who hope to escape their workaday troubles at a strip club only to find out things only get much worse. The story could have benefited from more thorough editing, and I personally didn't find the characters quite likeable enough for me to comfortably say I enjoyed the story. But then, comfort doesn't seem to be the point, as the last page raises a very thorny and unforgetable question that will haunt you long after you've finished reading.

"One Way Street," by Alex DeGruchy, Michael Kennedy, and George E. Warner is just a simple tale of how quickly things go from bad to worst for a couple of crooks making a desperate getaway. It also contains some of the funniest lines in the book, like "This is not how I thought today would go."

"Hearts and Minds" is the second prose story in this book, written by Liam Webb with illustrations by Lonnie DiNello. It details the adventures of a middle-aged cardiac patient who, as he hears increasing news of this "flu" spreading through the hospital and the surrounding community, determines that he will not receive his scheduled bypass surgery and resolves to get home and spend his last moments, however many or few they may be, with his wife. I found it very sweet, though not without its scares, its moral quandaries, and a generous dose of socio-political comic relief to balance out what could, in less capable hands, be a pretty depressing story.

"And He Always Seemed Like Such a Nice Man," by Alex DeGruchy, Mike Kennedy, and Mindy Lopkin starts off like any other tale of someone who isn't as ordinary as he seems. But just like the main character, Jeff, the story turns out to be much more than it first seems. I found it very well paced and tightly, skillfully plotted right up to an ending that ultimately made perfect sense.

"Bleeding Out," by Keith Goodeson, C. Granada, Hector Rodriguez, and Mindy Lopkin, puts solid black panels to interesting use to depict the blindness of one character and the death of another. The dialogue and sound effects are so skillfully written and lettered, it's easy to deduce what's going on in the darkness without any literary or visual exposition.

"No Place Like Home," by Andre Saunders, Albert Luciano, and Alex Rivera, with Mindy Lopkin taking one more turn lettering, and "A Girl and Her Dog" by Valerie Finnigan with illustrations by Matt Ryan may both feature child protagonists, but they could not be more opposite. The two stories illustrate by contrast with their back-to-back placement in this book of just how teaching and upbringing can make the difference between life and death and the remarkable tendency of kids to fulfill whatever expectations they have of themselves.

In "No Place Like Home," Ty needs liberation from and vindication for the abuse he takes from his murderous, criminal uncle. The "killer rain" provides Ty with an opportunity for vengeance, but it comes at a terrible price. He becomes exactly what he's always felt like.

In "A Girl and Her Dog," JoJo is well-loved and supported by family and friends. She has hopes and dreams, and though she has doubts as her world falls apart around her in this grim coming-of-age story, she strives to overcome them.

And that brings us to "The Beast" by Niall Presnall-Kelleher and Steven Yarbrough. That a firefighter would stick a baby in a butcher's display case to protect her seems very disturbing, but the point of the story is a very nice one on which to end the book.

A promise and a little someone depending on you to keep it can be reason enough to keep up the good fight.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Comics for Causes- Code Word: Geronimo

The American Veterans' Center was initially established to educate young people about the legacy of the World War II generation, particularly of World War II veterans, their motto being "From the Greatest Generation to the Latest Generation." Recently, though, they decided to live up to that motto in even more ways, eventually broadening their mission "to preserve and promote the stories, experiences, and lessons of our military men and women of every generation."

IDW got behind that with Code Word: Geronimo, which chronicles the raid against Osama bin Laden. Weighing in at a hefty seventy-four pages worth of fast-paced graphic novel storytelling and a dozen or so more pages of timelines and other informative tidbits in hardcover, but with a relatively lean pricetag, this book is already an excellent value for the money. That part of the proceeds are going to the American Veterans' Center makes this an even more valuable investment in preserving the well-being of our veterans and especially the lessons they can impart.

Given my support for similar projects such as Untold Stories from Iraq and Afghanistan, I would have felt remiss if I did not pick this up the second I saw this at my local comic book store. I did not regret it in the least. Not only is it a substantial read, but the writing by Capt. Dale Dye and Julia Dye flowed seamlessly and in most places unobtrusively, though not without plenty of helpful footnotes to explain some of the tougher military jargon. Though obviously the sensitivity of the subject required some changes, it did not detract from the flow of the story or the portrayal of all involved, even those whose true identities we will not know, as well-developed characters.

I found the artistic team- Gerry Kissell, Amin Amat, David Enebral, and Rubin Cubiles with lettering by Robbie Robbins and additional colors by Marc Rueda, Alex Towers, Miquel Diaz, Lucrecia Fraile, Ego, and Nieves Fernandez- larger than usual for a graphic novel. That could have posed a challenge, but it looked to me like they all worked very well together, accommodating and blending their different styles with the grace that comes with the best teamwork. They all worked so well with the story and the writers that they could convey not just each person's actions, but emotions and motivations clearly enough that often no written words needed to appear on panel to guide the readers.

The afterword by John Del Vecchio is just as worth reading. In only a dozen pages or so, it provides a few insights into military history, a timeline of Osama bin Laden's life and atrocities, a history of the Navy SEALs and particularly SEAL Team 6, and even a biography of the Apache warrior whose name would go on to be used to inspire courage or, such as in this case, to signify the success of a dangerous raid- Geronimo.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Comic Book Reviews and Spoilers: The Walking Dead 90 and Wolverine and the X-Men 1

Yes indeed, it was a big Wednesday, so big I have to write twice the review.

The Walking Dead 90 felt like a roller coaster all in one issue, tying up points from the previous couple of issues like the standoff between Rick and Nicholas, addressing their fallout, and introducing new themes all very satisfactorily without letting us think anything is really resolved. Nicholas and Rick reach a peaceful if tenuous understanding. Carl goes home. Andrea reaches out to Rick and says something so warm, hopeful, and life-affirming it made me look forward to the next issue with almost reckless optimism.

Of course, the key word is "almost." We can count on Robert Kirkman to not let us remain long on top of the world before taking us down. Rick's uncertain of his place in any "safe" society. It's becoming clearer just how deep Carl's own scars run. Glenn is nervous about Nicholas and has more reason to be worried about Maggie, who says she can't live "like this." And Abraham's new girlfriend seems to be using him to make a play for power within the community. While the issue ends on a very high note, I'm still on the edge of my seat anticipating the next issue with equal parts hope and dread.

On the other hand, the inaugural issue of Wolverine and the X-Men left me feeling rather elated. For too long, I'd felt that the X-books had been too bogged down with darkness, imminent extinction, and Cyclops's more militant brand of leadership to be any fun. Jason Aaron effectively threw all of that out the window. The school is back. The themes of coexistence and misfits struggling to find their places even among fellow misfits are back. The characters are relatable and even likable- warts and all. Small tidbits of realism like the inspectors' concern over Headmistress Pryde's lack of academic credentials stood out nicely and balanced out what might have otherwise been a roiling cacophany of hyperkinetic craziness.

My only complaint is about how some of the "interdimensional gremlins" Beast mentioned were drawn. I wasn't sure what exactly those creatures who each resembled a nudist, chaotic neutral Nightcrawler on a perpetual sugar rush were supposed to be. Bamfs? They certainly weren't the cuter, cuddlier Bamfs as I remember them. Maybe they just need their "daddy" back to keep them in line. In any case, I hope there will be no Bamf-hunting.

Overall, though, the book was chock full of laugh-out-loud moments such as hadn't been seen in the X-books in a long time- I'm thinking since Excalibur's whackiest moments. As Kade Kilgore (who, now that I think of it, may well be a better villain than I at first expected) said, "The very idea of a 'Wolverine School for Gifted Youngsters' is utterly absurd."  And it just may be extremely entertaining, too.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Walking Dead 89: Review and Spoilers

Upon the first reading, there doesn't seem to be much to this issue- just the simmering tensions within the Community escalating to a fever pitch! And do they ever! Once I started reading, I couldn't stand to put the book down.

The issue starts right where 88 left off, though it's not necessary to have read 88 or really any previous issue to understand what's going on. I think Kirkman may have mastered the delicate art of writing an ongoing series in which almost any issue can serve as a good "jumping on" point. Members of the Community grumble about Rick and his band of newcomers moving in and taking over, so Nicholas formulates a plan to take Rick out permanently and tries to get Spencer, Olivia, and eventually the rest of the community to go along with him. While it remains to be seen how successful he is, there is no doubt about his methods. He insults Olivia's intelligence, Spencer's manhood, and the loyalty of anyone who, even if they disapprove of Rick's leadership, doesn't agree with what Nicholas has planned. As his bullying becomes more violently apparent, it becomes more evident that his hatred of Rick has blinded him to his own actions. He threatens Glenn, Maggie, former friends, even little Sophia, all while blaming Rick for making the Community more dangerous.

There are a couple of breaks from the tension. Rick discusses with Andrea his changing relationship with his son, and a scavenging party kills a few roamers while they find little food. To those unfamiliar with the book, it may seem odd that in a post-apocalyptic comic book, the part where zombie heads get smashed constitutes a break, but this is perfectly in accordance with this series' running theme. The monsters against which we need to be most vigilant are not mindless ghouls, but very much alive, very human, and all too real.

The extras in the back include the conclusion of the interview with The Walking Dead: The Rise of the Governor author Jay Bonansinga which offers some helpful advice for aspiring writers. A rather amusing couple of letters also poke some gentle and affectionate fun at the practice of shameless self-promotion. And then they allow Arcadio Bolaños to promote in one of them his work for Grayhaven Comics. This further proves to me that whoever the real monsters may be, Robert Kirkman is not one of them.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Film Review: Dolphin Tale

These days I don't often see movies in the theater. A tight budget and a Netflix/Quickster membership have made it necessary to limit my theater-going to movies I believe will be worthwhile.

Two years ago, my daughter went whale watching for the first time and completely fell in love with the sea and all life within it. Last year, she adopted a humpback whale through The World Wildlife Fund. This year, she'd been particularly excited about two things. One of them is the movie Dolphin Tale. And since it came out so close to her birthday, I figured it might be worth seeing in the theater- perhaps even in 3D, and I never pay extra for 3D if I think the movie would be just as good without the glasses and gimmickry.

I was not disappointed. The 3D effects did indeed enhance the moviegoing experience without being obnoxious. Similarly, the star power of the cast showed best by not showing at all. I found Austin Stowell's performance as a wounded veteran heartrendingly perfect right down to his eight mile stare. Every actor in the cast could have easily overpowered the entire movie, just as the family movie schmaltz also could have, but they did not. Instead, barring a scene with a remote controlled helicopter I found took excessively long, the focus of the whole film remained right where it needed to be. Based on the true story of a remarkable bottlenose dolphin named Winter who'd lost her tail after getting tangled in a crab trap line, the movie focuses on her and her ability to touch so many lives- from the alienated young boy who found her, to the doctors and biologists who worked with her, to disabled children and wounded veterans who understood her plight and were inspired by her triumph.

And this leads me to mention one other problem. I forgot to bring a hanky.

I rate this movie four and a half boxes of Kleenex out of five, and my daughter gives it two pectoral fins up.

Friday, September 30, 2011

A Post on the Poster

By the poster, I can mean only this:

Sigh. Fantastic, right? But since Adirondack ComicFest was cancelled, one might wonder where and if it might be possible to obtain Matt Busch's remarkable artifact of movie memorabilia. Rest assured, the poster is available. Don't try to buy it on Ebay, Craigslist, or anywhere, however, but here!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Abe Sapien: The Devil Does Not Jest pt. 1 - Review and Spoilers

I'll give this review more of a preamble than this story gets. If you are familiar with Abe Sapien, BPRD, or anything else Hellboy- related, you should enjoy this issue. And the more immersed in it you are, the more you'll like it. However, if you go into this not even knowing why Abe's got gills, you might be a little at sea. There is no recap, no introduction. Thankfully, all the details the story requires are- courtesy of John Arcudi and, as expected, Mike Mignola- woven skillfully enough throughout that even new readers can extrapolate what they need to know without the benefit of a recap page.

Rather, upon opening the book, we see the end- and what we might well believe is the end of our favorite semiaquatic supernatural sleuth if it didn't say "1 of 2" conveniently on the cover. The remainder tells in flashback how our hero got into this perilous predicament and introduces us to the Van Laers, a family with a very- shall we say- fishy history. My only quibble (and it isn't really a complaint) is that- at twenty two pages, most of which have no more than two sentences of dialogue or narration- the book is pretty light reading by my standards. Then again, I tend to prefer comic book writing that's more substantial and literary (you could say wordier) than just the plot and layout. I like it best when the comics I read invite me to linger over the words on the paper as well as the pencils, inks, and colors.

That being said, though I finished this book in probably a third of the time it takes me to read other favorite comics with similar page counts, the pencils, inks, and colors kept me engaged for two  reareadings- at the very least. The pencils and inks by James Harren run the gamut from pretty loose to excruciatingly detailed, but always when appropriate. The fight scenes which made up most of the book rose to the occasion. The colors by Dave Stewart  convey the mood of each panel perfectly, sometimes taking on an almost painterly look that I found distinctive and refreshing. I absolutely love how the cover by Dave Johnson evokes the best of old movie posters. But the main reason I will be reading the next issue is the first page, both the book's beginning and its cliffhanger ending. I have to see how Abe gets out of this!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

From the Bully Pulpit

I've got no witty subtitle for this entry. No bad puns. Nothing to soften the blow.

Ryan Halligan, Kristina Calco, Tyler Clementi, April Himes, Jared High, Phoebe Prince, Brandon Swartwood, Desire Dryer, Austin Murphy, Corinne Wilson, Jeffrey Johnston, Cassie Gielecki, Eric Mohat, Megan Meier, Carl Walker-Hoover, Alexis Pilkington... and now Jamey Rodemeyer... make up only a portion of a tragically long list of people who have died- I must emphasize DIED- as a result of being bullied.

When examining the research, it's easy to see how bullying, far from "harmless fun" as some bullies would try to rationalize it, can kill. A study released by the US National Institute of Health cites a high risk for personality disorders as well as high risk behaviors like substance abuse and other criminal behavior among bullies. Those being bullied are more likely to suffer from social or generalized anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, a variety of physical ailments associated with stress, and depression. And it concludes that bullying is associated with "multiple health, safety, and educational hazards" for both bullies and victims, citing a high risk of death from "self-inflicted, accidental, or perpetuated injuries," and the affects of bullying, both physical and psychological, can linger for years.

Even people who witness bullying are at higher risk of suffering adverse mental health effects.

The message for bullies is clear, even without the increasing attempts to further criminalize bullying and give more legal recourse to victims or- as the case too often is- their surviving families. Stop it now! Even if you don't care about your victims or anyone else, stop it at least for your own good and get help.

As for those who have been bullied, as proven by Jamey Rodemeyer's death, we have a lot more work to do than sing upbeat songs and make feel-good videos. The sad truth, as I'm sure I've said before, is that bullying doesn't just go away. It doesn't get better on its own. We have to make it better.

One way to do that, in my opinion, is to do away with describing bullying by its targets. When we treat gay bullying, race bullying, et cetera as if they are separate and unrelated problems, we're divided and conquerable. Regardless of what the excuse, whether it be race, religion, sexual orientation, disability, or just being an oddball, bullying is bullying is bullying. We're in this together, and that's how we'll best overcome bullying.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Smart Alex on the Road: More to Con-sider

Adirondack ComicFest, which was scheduled to take place Veterans' Day Weekend in Old Forge, New York, has been cancelled. Meanwhile, alternate Veterans' Day activities are in the process of being scheduled for some of the guests who had been originally slated to attend. More on that later...

Meanwhile, Detroit Fanfare is just around the corner, slated for September 24-25 at the Cobo Conference and Exhibition Center. Setting this convention apart from the rest is the presentation of The Shel Dorf Awards, previous winners of which include Carl Lundgren, Marvin Giles, Greg Theakston, and Stan Lee. The events include some of the usual costume contests, auctions, and raffles, but also an art contest and Shots for Sketches in which some of the pros attending will draw to raise money for charity. Most importantly, the Detroit Chapter of the American Red Cross will be on hand to accept donations- financial or, if you can handle a needle and spare a clean pint, hemolitic. Guests also include many illustrious sorts like Larry Hama, Tom Orzechowski, Billy Tucci, and perhaps literally hundreds more.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Comics for Causes: Untold Stories from Ground Zero and Beyond

September 11, 2001 tested American mettle like nothing since the bombing of Pearl Harbor or even since the Civil War. Everyone with a television could see the gravity, the scope of need so suddenly thrust upon those directly affected, and the rush from all over the nation or even the world to help made me dare hope our society would emerge from the ashes permanently transformed, and for the better.

The comic book industry responded by churning out no less than six books to support a variety of charities, all but one of them anthologies that represented the cumulative efforts of hundreds of creators. Dark Horse, Image, and Chaos! brought us 9-11: Artists Respond, Volume 1. DC published the second volume, with proceeds from both to go to the World Trade Center Relief Fund, the Twin Towers Fund, the September 11 Fund, and Survivors Fund. Marvel gave us Heroes and A Moment of Silence to benefit the Twin Towers Fund. Alternative Comics put forth 9-11: Emergency Relief and Joe Linsner did I Love New York Benefit Book to support the American Red Cross.

Just after the tenth anniversary of 9-11, it seems that most Americans haven't suffered from 9-11 beyond holdups at airports. If they even talk about the ongoing war that's resulted, it's to complain about how long it's taking and how much money it's costing. A lot of charities established in memory of 9-11 victims or to support those still suffering as a result of 9-11 have even closed their doors, including most of the ones the aforementioned books have supported.

Yet the need continues. Men and women who've worked rescue and recovery missions at Ground Zero are coming down with cancer at alarming rates. Fire departments all over have to step up training on reporting or responding to terrorist incidents and how to avoid being attacked themselves. Most of our nation's fire departments, like that of Shanksville, Pennsylvania are staffed by volunteers and get by with help from their communities, from donations, and sometimes even from charging their members dues. Even bigger fire departments that can afford paid personel cannot afford to meet all the needs their personel and the communities they serve may have. Too many firefighters still have to make do with old equipment and radios that too often prove ineffective. And as recently happened, when first responders are injured or sickened in the line of duty and ask for help with their medical bills, even if they take the matter all the way up to the federal government, they're too often out of luck.

Still, those who can run often keep at it and keep putting their lives on the line for us. Some of them still fall in the line of duty. Mercifully, many organizations remain to help out our firefighters, EMT's, police officers, and their families in their times of need. The comic book industry has not forgotten them either.

Heroes Fallen Studios, which brought us Untold Stories from Iraq and Afghanistan to support veterans and their families, is also directing their attention to our heroes on the home front. Work has already started on Untold Stories from Ground Zero and Beyond to benefit the law enforcement, fire, and emergency services of New York City, Washington DC, and Shanksville. The stories come from all over and, rather than just rehash the attacks, focus also on how people have chosen to remember, how lives were changed, and how people have coped over the years. Those confirmed to be working on this book include some familiar folks from all over the industry who worked on Untold Stories from Iraq and Afghanistan such as Peter Palmiotti, Richard O'Hara, Tom Orzechowski and Valerie Finnigan. Other notable volunteers include Paty Cockrum, who, besides having worked in the Marvel bullpen of old, also served as a volunteer firefighter in upstate New York. I will help provide updates as the work progresses. Until then, here's a reminder- just because ten years have gone by doesn't mean people aren't affected, aren't still hurting, and don't still need help. We still need to do all we can, especially to honor those who'd given all for us.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Uncanny X-Force 15: Review and Spoilers

So Archangel's evil plans are well under weigh. A town in Montana has been completely wiped out, the stage set there for he and his minions to restart evolution and for Jerome Opeña to really show off. Besides the impressive artwork, I found quite a bit more to enjoy. I found Deathlok interesting for the first time ever- even though I generally don't like it when characters happen to save the day by going all murderous psychopathic all over people. Of course this means I find the very existence of a kill squad among the X-Men disagreeable- even repugnant in less capable hands. Rick Remender continues to show the characters still have consciences that are somewhat functional. I look forward to seeing where this will go, and how it will lead to the big lineup changes in the upcoming months.

That also ended up being one of the drawbacks. Despite cramming thirty million years of surreal alternate evolutionary history in one book, the plot moved a bit more slowly than I would have liked. And one line had me wondering when Fantomex started listening to Danzig.

But enough about that. Onto the real reason I bought this book. I'm partial to extras, though I believe the tenth anniversary of 9-11 warrants more than a reprinted short story in the back of Uncanny X-Force, which perhaps isn't the most appropriate book to have a 9-11 tribute in the back. I'll go into that more in my next "Comics for Causes" entry but I digress.

Marvel Comics first released A Moment of Silence in the fall of 2001 to support the Twin Towers Fund. This collection of four short stories details a few different perspectives on 9-11 silently, as the title suggests, with no dialogue or caption boxes to get in the way of what we're supposed to see. "Moment of Truth," by Bill Jemas, Scott Hanna, and Mark Bagley, with Hi-Fi on colorist duty and lettering by Sharpefont's PT could be effective either way. But all we need to know about Tony Savas, a true hero of the Port Authority as well as of this story, is written in an introductory panel and a two sentence epilogue. The art tells the rest of the story clearly, and the pacing is perfect, building up to the point when he made a decision that sealed his fate- and probably helped save countless lives. This extra brought a lump to my throat, brought to mind how heroes are supposed to be written better than too much fiction these days, and proved to be a poignant highlight to my reading experience.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Tales from the Long Box: X-Men Age of Apocalypse

I always had a pretty jaundiced view on grading comics, my opinion being that comics are meant to be read, good comics are meant to be re-read, and the best comics get better with age and with re-reading. A poster can accomplish the same thing as a graded comic- look pretty hanging on a wall- at a much lower cost. That being said, there are worse things that can happen to old comics, like wasting an increasingly pointless existence languishing unread in a long box. So every so often, I open up a long box and read what I pull out.

In light of the Age of Apocalypse's big anniverssary, Uncanny X-Force's recent adventures in that reality, and speculation that characters from AoA will appear in the mainstream X-books, perhaps permanently joining one of their rosters, I decided to take a trip down dystopian memory lane.

It was a trip well worth taking. I remember how the art, even at its worst, caught my eye. Even when the fight scenes looked cluttered and confusing, or the perspective was off, the art was still very sharp and vibrant. The biggest draw, however, were the characterizations. I figure the only misstep was with Juggernaut in X-Calibre 1-3, not because it would be so far-fetched for a completely different, alternate reality version of the character to become a monk. Rather, I felt it implausible that an ostensibly Catholic monk would feel conflicted to the point of giving himself a lethal aneurism over taking up arms to defend the innocent.

While I absolutely love Morph in the comic books, I felt that his over-the-top brand of comic relief wasn't always a good fit in the AoA universe. Even so, it proved again impossible for me not to like the guy. One character who I like upon rereading that I didn't like at all at first was Blink. I always did like the AoA take on Cyclops, but in light of the way he was written for the past couple of years in Uncanny X-Men, I enjoy reading the conflicted "lawful evil" he was in AoA even more now.

Overall, I think most of the Age of Apocalypse books stood the test of time well. My opinion on them has improved upon rereading and probably will even more with future rereadings.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Uncanny X-Force 14: Review and Spoilers

There are two reasons why I have thus far not reviewed any superhero comics. One is that I expect a lot of characters pushed on the public as superheroes. They may have shortcomings. They may face hard ethical dilemmas. They may not be perfect, but they have to be heroic. I have to not only find the stories entertaining, I have to admire the characters. The other is that I wanted to avoid turning this blog into a forum where people- myself included- behave like so many angry primates flinging complaints like so much excrement. Sadly, there may be some reason to be angry, or at least disappointed.

The X-Men haven't been anything like what I'd call heroic since Decimation. Furthermore, they hadn't faced what I would consider logical consequences for their unheroic actions, such as the formation of an assassination squad that has to debate among themselves whether or not it's acceptable to kill a child. But writer Rick Remender has accomplished the difficult task of bringing around what comes around while also making me care again about the characters. I could even almost admire Psylocke for the first time in years. Deadpool, whom I always found amusing though not heroic, I actually loved for the nerve and caustic wit he showed in pointing out that X-Force had brought their current spate of problems upon themselves- and upon the rest of the world.

Most moving is the child reassuring his very pregnant mother that everything will be all right, because Archangel and Holocaust are superheroes- just as Holocaust/Genocide incinerates them. I don't think Remender meant it that way. It's entirely possible that I'm overthinking this or reading too much into that brief scene, but it tragically illustrates the disconnect I see some fans make between actions and character. Even in the midst of the atrocities various X-Men characters have committed, some still brand them as heroes. It's refreshing to see that finally addressed in the X-books, as well as to see Archangel basically admit he's not a superhero.

The work of colorist Dean White is well worth noting for its appropriately moody range from dim, dingy gloom to fierce, ruthless vibrance. Artist Jerome Opeña could benefit from tightening up the pencils in some panels, but he demonstrates an excellent grasp of sequential storytelling, especially of how to draw a fight scene. Most importantly, however, is the story itself, and Remender's writing may well put an X-book on my regular pull list again if he keeps up the good work.

The preview of New Avengers: Fear Itself 16 proved a nice and hilarious bonus that addresses and piques curiosity about the following questions: Exactly what's Daredevil doing on the Avengers, how will he do, and how will his teammates deal with him?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

TPB Tuesday - FUBAR: European Theater of the Damned

A smidge of R&R and an overabundance of time meandering from one convention to the next means this hardy captain of the road trip war (who's never, ever sick in the car) has been doing a lot of reading. I was overall very pleased with this twisted, spooky, sometimes triumphant, often bitingly (pun not intended) hilarious mashup of alternate military history and zombies. This anthology takes a variety of figures from World War II- from anonymous Jewish refugees to the most famous and notorious players on the world stage- and puts them in some of the creepiest or craziest post-apocalyptic scenarios imaginable. And yes, they thought of a way to make General Patton seem even tougher and larger than the real life legend.

I only have two nitpicks. One is that the theme of suicide echoed perhaps too often. It's one thing to highlight the sheer desperation of the circumstances, but when it occurs again and again, it feels too heavy and depressing. On a lighter note, the epilogue done by Stephen Lindsay (of Jesus Hates Zombies and Lincoln Hates Werwolves fame) presented me with the only moment in the book that made me scratch my head in confusion. The book, though an anthology, stuck consistently with George Romero's version of zombies- ghoulish, cannibalistic undead that can be taken out with a blow or bullet to the head. And then zombie/ghoul Abraham Lincoln showed up with a bullet hole in his head, taking me out of an otherwise perfectly sick, twisted, and funny vignette to wonder if he was supposed to be a Romero "zombie" or a more traditional ghoul.

Otherwise, it was a wonderful way to pass the time on the road. It read like a literary horror candy shop crammed cover to cover with so many gory and grotesque goodies I couldn't possibly list them all. "Killroy Was Here" by Jeff McComsey, artist, writer, and "supreme commander, allied forces" featured my favorite moment of sheer awesomeness. "The Brief" by Phil McClorey, Steve Willhite, and Jef McComsey highlights the ruthless, deliberate, devious, and all-too human evil behind the zombie apocalypse. "Stalemate" by Dominic Vivona and Jeff McClelland succinctly highlights the desperate position, motives, and modus operandi of all the major players in the war."Golem's Last Stand" by Shawn Williams, Darrin Stephens, and Stephen Lindsay combines different, contrasting kinds of undead lore to fascinating effect. I very definitely want to read more of "Mother Russia" by Jeff McComsey. Thanks to all the creators involved for making my latest cross-country road trip this memorable.

Monday, August 22, 2011

From the Bully Pulpit: The Buzz from the Hive

"Ever wonder why nobody says anything nice about Jamie?"
"Nobody likes Susie."
"Everybody who's ever done business with Mr. Smith says he's bad news."

"Nobody will sit with me at lunch."
"All my coworkers hate me."

Is it possible for an entire classroom, workplace, or community to be wrong? Yes, absolutely! Neuro-linguistic programming counselor Carolyn Laithwaite described this quite frankly as "gang bullying." She describes it as a phenomenon resulting when a primary bully gathers followers. "He may be a loud, highly visible leader. If he is a quieter sort, his role may be more insidious," she says. "Some members of the group may actively enjoy being part of the bullying. They like the reflected power of the primary bully. If the primary bully leaves the organization, and the institution does not change, one of these individuals may step in to fill the shoes of the primary bully. Others of the gang join in because they feel coerced. They fear that if they do not participate, they will be the next victims. Indeed some of these individuals do become victims at some point in time."

Latricia Wilson calls it "mobbing" and describes the behavior as "acted out by groups of individuals to protect a job position or a status/ranking... that mobbers have little confidence they have secured. So incompetent bullies attack competent employees because they are seen as threats by the bully." She says this behavior flourishes in mismanaged corporations, but it is also very common among contractors or freelance workers who often have to compete more fiercely for work.

In cases of mobbing (a word I like in this case, as it brings to mind lynch mobs and mob "justice"), it can very well be instigated by a "queen bee" type, but sometimes there is more than one instigator. Bullies in bigger and more sophisticated mobs may even specialize, each employing different tactics with the same purpose- to harm the target. The mob may not always employ overt coercion, but branding anyone who disputes their claims or tactics as an "enemy" and potential or even actual target is very common. Many people involved in a mob may not even see themselves as bullies. They may be convinced that the target is indeed "bad news" or that the bullying is just addressing some wrong, whether fabricated or real, that the target has committed. Or they may fear that standing up for the target will make targets of themselves, and understandably so, for the mob is woefully intolerant of dissent.

Dissent anyway. Targets and witnesses alike may feel powerless against the mob, but there are some things we can do. If it's safe to do so, discuss the matter privately and individually with members of the gang. Some hangers-on may only participate in the bullying out of fear, as I'd already mentioned, and may need support in distancing themselves from such activity. Some may not know just how detrimental their actions are, not just to the target, but to the entire work, school, or social environment. Sadly, some won't care, but may back off if you stand up for yourself. If the bullying takes place in school or at work, take it up with a teacher or supervisor. Be prepared to take your complaint all the way up to the top. If that doesn't work, prepare to take legal action and take hope in how more states are enacting or enforcing laws and courts are more willing to protect adults as well as children from such harmful behavior.

Smart Alex On the Road: Suitcase Con-tents

Okay, so I thought I'd run out of bad convention-related puns, but I was recently shown a video that absolutely rocked this Indiana Jones fan's world. It also got me thinking about the various souvenirs offered not just by merchants, but by the conventions themselves, or the unique sales and gifts artists may offer just for conventions.

Let's start with the free tables. A Memorial Day weekend spent in Missoula, Montana can net you a good haul of free sci-fi, fantasy, and horror books at MisCon, even at the end of the weekend when the table's relatively picked-over. The free table at Nampa, Idaho's Fandemonium practically overflowed with a variety of movie posters. Every convention with a free table seems to offer up something different, reflecting something of each convention's unique character.

Fandemonium also featured young aspiring manga artists giving out free, hand-drawn stickers. Chicago Comic Con also netted me a lot of free bookmarks, of which I seem to find myself in constant need, including one for the Explosive Comics Kickstarter project. Individual artists and merchants abounded with unique deals. Besides the raffle for original Dan Jurgens art, Heroes Fallen Studios offered free prints from Untold Stories from Iraq and Afghanistan to veterans who came by their table at Chicago Comic Con. I was also able to spot fantastic deals from the comic book retailers at Fandemonium and Chicago Comic Con. (Ungraded, readable 1940's issues of The Spirit for twenty dollars!) Star Wars Celebration has been well known over the years to offer limited edition toys for those willing to brave the lines, free finds for the sharp-eyed souvenir-hunter, and some of the best costume contest prizes I've seen at any convention.

Some might think that after all the conventions from which I've returned with my suitcase much heavier, I'd be rather blase about more stuff, but Matt Busch's complete reference work of all things Indiana Jones on one poster has me geeking out on behalf of everyone who can get their hands on it at Adirondack ComicFest.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Smart Alex On the Road: Con-flicting Schedules

Since I'm running out of bad puns, perhaps it would be best to take a break from the convention circuit for a little while and rest. Nonetheless, I was indeed presented with an interesting conflict- SpoCon and Chicago Comic Con occurred on the same weekend, and since I'm not Jamie Madrox and can only be one place at a time, I had to choose.

SpoCon offered the same coziness and familiar craziness I've come to enjoy about the smaller conventions, particularly those of the American Northwest. Though some of the faces, like that of the multitalented Tanglwyst de Holloway, were familiar to those who attended Fandemonium just the weekend before, SpoCon also featured some different offerings.

Moving the event to the Doubletree Hotel went over well with convention-goers, as did the greater emphasis on events for children. As always, the writers' workshop proved a source of sage advice for the aspiring author. Of course, that's to be expected when the likes of John Dalmas and Patricia Briggs attend. The inclusion of an actual writing contest provided further incentive to get involved. Congratulations especially go to Esther Jones, Scott Janke, Natalie Rogers, Greg Schneider, Margaret Lang, Kaye Thornburgh, and Brianna Harper.

Spokane also boasts an active and imaginative filk scene. I very strongly regretted not being able to listen to or participate in any of the informal jamming that took place there. Thankfully, Chicago Comic Con had...

Ethan Van Sciver, almost as famous (or notorious, depending on your outlook) for his musical interludes as for his work with DC Comics. So it's not like we were left musically bereft in Illinois.

The masquerades and costume contests at both SpoCon and Wizard World Chicago featured a variety of talent and much hilarity, but my favorite of both conventions has to be...


A whole murder of ghoulish characters also roamed both conventions, though the presence of Walking Dead cast members such as Norman Reedus and Mike Rooker seemed to attract a more substantial horde to Chicago.

Firefly fandom was also well represented with the Browncoats of various affiliations present at both. I have mentioned before the charitable work the Seattle Browncoats have done. Unfortunately, I did not get to spend as much time as I would have liked with their Chicago counterparts and learn more about what they were doing. However, a couple of tables down from them, Heroes Fallen Studios boasted a table full of copies of Untold Stories from Iraq and Afghanistan for purchase and original artwork donated by Dan Jurgens for raffle to benefit numerous veterans' organizations. They reported having a weekend full of fun, some tears shared with veterans or their families, and great success.

Now that I've finally returned safely to the middle of nowhere and recovered, I can safely say the same while I rest up and shift my gaze to upcoming conventions. Some interesting developments have cropped up about November's Adirondack Comic Fest, for instance. Valerie Finnigan, Clayton Murwin, and Michael Kellar will not appear there. On the other hand, John "Waki" Wycough and Chris "Batjeepster" Hollars have recently joined the list of those slated to attend. Stay tuned for more updates.

Also check here for Jeff McLelland's report and pictures from Baltimore Comic Con.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Smart Alex On the Road: Con-templation

Time to rest after Nampa, Idaho's Fandemonium may be a scarce commodity before the next convention, but sharing the highlights is always worthwhile.

The Pros (in either sense of the word):

Jacob Bear and Steve Willhite hosted an informative panel on the basics of making a comic book. They provided a wealth of helpful tips on how to visually direct the flow of a story, when and how it's appropriate to break panels, how to work well with writers and editors, when it's acceptable to "cheat," and suggestions for lettering software.

They spent most of the rest of the convention in the artists' alley, taking commissions and offering a variety of sketches, prints, and books. (Coming up soon, by the way, will be a review of FUBAR: European Theater of the Damned, which Steve Willhite helped illustrate.) The artists' alley also featured purveyors of manga sketches, stickers, buttons, and clothing items and accessories, most notably writer, costumer, and panelist Tanglwyst de Holloway. In fact, the artists' alley was so populated, creators spilled over into the dealers' room. Writer Valerie Finnigan spent most of the weekend there with her friends from Fat Dog Comics promoting a variety of projects, especially Hero by Force and Untold Stories from Iraq and Afghanistan. The dealers' room featured some of the more usual and unusual offerings. My favorites included Everett Comics, Phoenix Fire Games, and one table that my friends and I had a hard time figuring out, but served up a delicious weighted companion cube cake and a host of excellently costumed characters from all over pop culture. There is a reason I took most of my pictures there.

The Cons

I unfortunately could not stay for all the after-hours fun. I was not allowed to pet the adorable creatures the Brothers Thir13en brought out. (Yes, I understood the legal mumbo jumbo. Yes, I know the germs those critters carry. Yes, I know how to wash my own hands and take responsibility for myself. And yes, I still followed the rules.) The presentation of the Real to Reel panel could have been better. But still, I look forward to returning next year. They're promising even more fun for "the end of the world."

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Comics for Causes - AD: New Orleans After the Deluge

The late summer of 2005 reduced one of the United States' brightest, most colorful cities to bleak, abject horror. People could do little more than try to get out of the way before society, like the levees protecting New Orleans' Ninth Ward, crumbled. Too many couldn't even do that. All have their stories. Some were lucky to have them chronicled by Josh Neufeld and Nick Micciola in AD: New Orleans After the Deluge.

As you may gather from my post on Voices from the Storm, I find the comic book medium not only suitable for this subject matter, but better for maintaining each individual story's narrative cohesion while also showing what happened to everyone day by day. This book illustrates exactly why. Of course, it also helped that it focused on the accounts of fewer people, so it is all the easier to keep track of who was doing what, when, and where.

AD is also in a fairly unique position of being available both in print and as a slightly different web comic. Each comes with some advantages that are not available with the other. The web comic comes with links to a wealth of facts about the storm, helpful tips on disaster preparedness, and unique aspects of local culture with the appropriate panels. For example, the panel of a writer finishing up work on an issue of AntiGravity Magazine includes a link to that publication.

The print edition doesn't come with all the fun and informative links, but it does come with more story, more art, and a different reading experience. There are no ads, no links, nothing to distract the reader, nothing to get in the way as the reader comes face to face with the stark reality and tries to fathom it.

The creators behind AD have used the incredible attention this book has received to provide continuing support to the community even well after Katrina and the BP oil spill. Some of the links in the web comic promote area attractions, helping support the local economy. The release of the print version was accompanied by a fund-raiser for Common Ground Relief. The web site has an entire section of links and resources where readers can learn more about New Orleans, about Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, and how to help.

And yes, when word got out via AD that Leo McGovern had lost pretty much his entire extensive and expensive comic book collection to Katrina, comic book fans and pros like Darick Robertson mobilized to help him out. This is just one especially unique example of AD inspiring people to lend a hand. Or send a book. There are many, many more.

Read the the book if you haven't already. Prepare to have your guts wrenched by both the subject matter and the moody art. And get ready to be inspired. Help keep up the good work.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Positive Prose: Voices from the Storm

Because I am interested in far more than just reviewing and promoting comic books, I figured it's high time I paid tribute to a favorite prose book that proves to be more than just a good read. Voice of Witness is a non-profit organization that aspires to motivate people to correct social injustice around the world by educating them about it and by providing the people affected a forum to discuss their experiences. Their book Voices from the Storm provides firsthand accounts of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath from thirteen survivors.

Comic book writer Valerie Finnigan's review of this as well as AD: New Orleans After the Deluge (the subject of another upcoming Comics for Causes entry) proved to be much less a review than one of many personal, visceral reactions as she relived when a relative had gone missing in the wake of "The Storm." He mercifully survived and became one of the thirteen whose experiences are chronicled in Voices from the Storm.

I found the book not without its flaws. The book focuses more on the overall chronology of the hurricane, breaking the accounts up day by day rather than letting the stories of the people involved flow without interruption. The result is that we know a lot about what happened on August 30, 2005, the next day, the day after that, and so forth, but because of the way the stories are choppped up and broken up by day, I found myself having to flip back to the introductions just so I could remember who all these thirteen people were. This might have worked better in a more visual medium such as comic books, when all it takes is a caption to remind people of who is who and where they are, and you always can see the faces that go with the names.

Another is that the book was compiled with a pretty obvious agenda that does not entirely jibe with the message I got from reading the stories themselves. There is absolutely no denying that politicians from the local all the way up to the federal level let selfishness and incompetence get in the way of their jobs as civil servants. The opinions expressed by the survivors of their civil servants are not all very well informed, but they come honestly nonetheless from their perspectives and, as such, are all very deservedly harsh. But these survivors are not passive victims who sat around waiting helplessly for the government to rescue them. From the mother who shared her own bottled water with her fellow refugees, to the "neighborhood group" that tried to maintain peace and safety where the local police failed, to the men who set out in boats to rescue stranded families, to the parish priests, artists, and musicians who lost no time helping rebuild- they won't admit it, but they're heroes. To correct social injustice takes more than just pointing out where the government's going wrong in hopes that politicians will listen. It requires individuals to step up and do as much good as they can, on their own if need be. As one survivor said, "You don't need a leader to do the right thing."

Books like this are needed not to just lambaste governments when they fail (as they all do from time to time). They are needed to amplify the voices of people who might not otherwise be heard and to encourage everyday, unsung heroes to be ready to step up in a crisis. This is why, flaws and all, I wholeheartedly recommend this book.

Friday, July 29, 2011

From the Bully Pulpit: Dealing With the Oppressed Oppressor

One of the most dangerous characteristics of bullying is that it is infectious. That is most often apparent when a ringleader or "queen bee" secures a complicit or at least silent audience, getting them all involved in bullying or at least in silently condoning bullying. However, it is more tragic when the victim becomes so infected he or she- often unknowingly- also becomes a bully. Even worse is when the victim is aware of his or her behavior, but feels justified or uses his or her status as a victim as an excuse. Pop culture and even history itself are rife with examples. In the Harry Potter books, Severus Snape performs his job faithfully, but doesn't lose any opportunity to vent some anger in the direction of his bully's son. The downtrodden kids in  Saved use bullying tactics to bring down their "queen bee" oppressor.  Linsday Lohan's character in Mean Girls is an even better example, as her transformation into a "mean girl" is noted and she is held to account for her actions.  Comic books give us a good example in X-Men's Juggernaut, who was abused as a child and grew up feeling an almost constant need to take his anger out on others. The most extreme example pop culture has to offer (and I'm open to hearing different suggestions) may be Magneto, who, when written well, believes he's acting in the world's best interests when his attitudes and aspirations echo those of his old Nazi oppressors.

History offers much harsher examples of bullying victims gone bad- from individuals seeking revenge, to school shootings, to murderous dictatorships. The details are easy enough to read elsewhere, and I won't go into them here, mostly because I don't want to come across as making excuses for their actions. Being bullied, insulted, or otherwise wronged does not justify returning the favor. Period.

So how do you deal with someone who is bullying someone who allegedly wronged them? Suppose they really have been wronged? Suppose they're trying to get even with you?

First of all, if you're a bully getting some of that right back, stop bullying. If you've wronged the person who's targeting you, try to apologize and make it right. Recognize the difference between self-defense and retaliation. If you are in the process of doing wrong, and they stand up to you or do whatever they need to defend themselves, they are not retaliating and not bullying you. They are justified in their actions. But if they're trying to get even after the fact and outside appropriate channels, you're not at fault for their behavior. You just need to gain the moral high ground.

If you are a third party or a bystander to retaliatory bullying, try to discern if the person seeking vengeance has actually been wronged, is feeling genuinely hurt, or is just trying to keep an uppity victim under his or her thumb. The last scenario is all-too common. Too often, bullies respond to victims who stand up to them by escalating the bullying. Sometimes the bully will play the victim and misrepresent the real victim's attempt at self-defense as bullying and mischaracterize retaliation as self-defense. If you know the difference between retaliation and self-defense, that will help you see through their victim facade.

In any case, you should refuse to participate and state clearly and firmly why. But if someone is retaliating against someone who really hurt them, that calls for a little finesse and diplomacy. Right is right, wrong is wrong, and you do not want to give the impression in preventing one wrong that you're condoning or defending another. Ensure the legitimately hurt retaliator that you have their best interests in mind, and then offer or help find better means to address their grievances, because repaying bullying with bullying will only damage their credibility and cause nothing but more harm in the long run.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Web Comic Wednesday

Well, I ventured into my friendly neighborood comic book retailer today not expecting anything unusual, and sure enough, I got what I didn't expect. Granted, there was nothing new in my pull box, and the one title I wanted to check out that wasn't on my pull list sold out before I got to the store. I kind of expected that. I did have an entertaining conversation with the staff and a couple of the other patrons about Captain America, the DC relaunch, conventions, and RPG's. I definitely expected that. Quality time with fellow fans is most of the fun of visiting the LCS, after all. But I found some unexpected freebies on the counter, including a coupon for a Dark Horse retailer exclusive. I snapped that up, logged in and entered the code, and got a nice look at B.P.R.D. Casualties. I say "nice look," because while I found the art quite dynamic and enthralling, I could kind of get the gist of what took place, and I always love to see what more of what Mike Mignola and company can come up with, I had difficulty actually reading the comic. Apparently figuring out how to toggle and zoom on individual panels in just the right way is a somewhat complicated art. Who knows. Maybe it's just my computer, though.

Now urban fantasy is (my admiration for SpoCon guest Patricia Briggs notwithstanding) a genre that has yet to grow on this more old school horror fan, but Blake Chen's Twilight Lady (which I saw fit to mention here before), may just do it or me. Excellent, engaging characterizations all around, some comic relief always when appropriate, and yes, some very good, strong scares  maintained my interest throughout. Przemyslaw Dedelis and Sean Burres maintain a fairly consistently high quality of art and help maintain that creepy atmosphere I find so appealing and appropriate for the subject matter. The site is also very user-friendly and easy to read, with archived pages and short stories easily accessible to people who would want to read more than just the latest update. And you will very likely want to read more. I sure did.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Kickstart this Comic!

Here we go with the first of many discussions on Kickstarter projects I believe deserve the extra attention. Explosive Comics is a new company trying to get its first anthology to print. As this anthology will showcase a variety of its comics, there should be something in it to suit all tastes. One thing is certain- this anthology's take on superheroes promises to be very unique.

Mr. Massive, by Michael Oeur and Jeff McLelland, chronicles the adventures and misadventures of a boy who uses his superpowers as any typical boy would- particularly if he never had an Uncle Ben Parker telling him, "With great power comes great responsibility." Given Jeff McLelland's previous work on a variety of comics including Teddy and the Yeti, the zaniness of his "stupid" Youtube show Franks and Beans, and the premise of Mr. Massive, I think it's safe to say we'll see hilarity ensue.

The premise of Hero by Force, by Michael Oeur and Valerie Finnigan seems simple, exploring what can happen when a team of diverse individuals is forced to work together as a superhero team against their will. The questions such a premise raises, however, will not be so simple. I expect that this will appeal to the thinkers in comic fandom.

Bloodspade by Michael Oeur promises quite simply to terrify on every level, raising these scariest of questions: who will protect those who protect us, and how?

As for The Hair, I'm not the kind of person who thinks a favorite writer can do no wrong or that a comic book can be judged by good art alone, but the creepy, evocative art and the involvement of the versatile and seemingly omnipresent Michael Oeur and Twilight Lady's Blake Chen would by themselves make me consider pledging my support.

And these are just the highlights so far!