C!TB’s Best of the Week | December 29th, 2011

Ta-daaaahhh

Howdy, sex pardners!  How were your respective holidays?  Did you get that copy of David Bowie’s Erotic Labyrinth you wanted?  Good!

Because of the holidays, we’re getting a late start to the week, but we hope you’ll forgive us when you get down to reading.  First up, we look at last week and make pronouncements about which comics we enjoyed the most!  Just like old times, except now Brandon is missing an arm.

Wait, what?

COMICS RULE EVERYTHING AROUND ME

MY DOG ANNIHILUS, STARRING JOHNNY STORM

I think we need to all step back and appreciate the full scale of Jonathan Hickman‘s success with Fantastic Four and FF.  Besides the fact that his entire run on those two series has been incredible and without a single weak issue, he is one of several writers recently who has been shattering the idea that superhero deaths don’t mean anything.  Not only did he and Steve Epting make the “Three” story arc featuring Johnny Storm’s death both surprising and emotionally powerful (Read: I cried like a baby) despite the story’s outcome being part of a giant advance marketing push, and that they turned that into a sustained rise in sales against a lot of people’s predictions, but that they just brought Johnny Storm back in a way that was equally organic and powerful (Read: I cried twice).

Fantastic Four #601 is full of perfectly realized scenes and images that don’t shortchange Johnny’s return after the incredible (not to mention quadruple-length) #600.  Peter picking up Johnny in his arms and giving him a bear hug.  Sue crying.  Ben crying.  Reed’s subdued relief and happiness.  Johnny’s flaming “4” in the sky.  Each member of the team got a fantastic moment that showcased their characters perfectly, and it was an exceptional example of brevity in storytelling.

We’ll get more of Johnny’s return later, but in this issue, things needed to be brief because while Johnny is a big part of the story, there’s also that part where the Kree are preparing to destroy the Earth as a culmination of two years of Hickman‘s long form storytelling.  The Human Torch is back and he is immediately put to good use saving the planet.  That’s the bigest success of the last two years of storytelling: it’s returned the Fantastic Four to their rightful status as one of the premiere superhero teams in the world.  It’s a story about adventure!  And exploration!  And family!  And heroes!  It’s a big book full of big ideas and every month it moves and excites me.  No other comic has earned the Fire in the Sky Award more. (J)

STEP BY STEP, DAY BY DAY

It takes balls to create a story with 54 different collaborators. Forget the living nightmare that has to be keeping those deadlines on track – think about the logistics of keeping 54 different people on the same track, more or less at the same time. It’s mind boggling. If a project with that many creators even gets done it should be considered a victory… but hell, if it’s good??! It should be considered a god damned miracle on ice.

(You can probably tell the direction I’m taking this…)

Nelson was a book that shouldn’t have worked. The idea, as you might have guessed, was to take 54 creators, and tell a complete story. Each collaborator would focus their attention on one year in Nelson’s life. Each story would take place over the course of a single day, and be no longer than 5 pages long (or so). In the end, what would emerge would be a life well lived, with victories and hardships, and whatever. And damn if they didn’t accomplish what they set out to do.

Nelson is a stunning achievement, no matter which way you cut it. Right from the first page (provided by Paul Grist), where the clock starts with the mere picture of a hotel. Buckets of story contained in a single picture, presented without comment. And that’s the first god damn page. The story rockets through the years, and is made coherent through the efforts of the book’s editors, and a fairly strict adherence to the old improv rule of saying “yes”.

If you see this book in a store, buy it. If you don’t, order it. You’ll be very glad you did.(B)

According to Clarissa.

I can’t lie, it was very difficult to make even the symbolic distinction between Awards and The Best this week.  Batman was great.  Batman Incorporated: Leviathan Strikes was great.  Birds of Prey was great.  Comics that didn’t start with a B were great, too.  But one comic tickled my particular fancy just a little bit more:

*I* do!

Know who that guy on the cover of a Wolverine and… comic is?  It’s okay if you don’t.

That in itself is part of the big miracle that is Wolverine and the X-Men #3.  Superhero comics are not a genre that often tolerates or rewards not knowing who a character is, especially one that is such a big part of an issue that they’re on the cover.  Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo subvert that convention in a few big ways:

The first is Bachalo‘s frankly incredible cover that conveys everything you need to know about who Quentin Quire, the character on the cover, is:

  • He’s a student.  Given that he’s at a school for mutants, that makes him a mutant.
  • He dislikes Wolverine (his professor and headmaster).
  • He’s generally a disrespectful little shit.

It doesn’t matter what his powers are.  That can be – and is – taken care of with one line and it can also – and is – shown through the story action itself.  That’s easy.  What’s difficult is conveying a character’s core succinctly.  It’s especially hard to do in a single image, but Bachalo does an incredible job here.  A cover like that might excite readers who have been waiting for a Quentin Quire story for a few years, but more importantly, it tells people like me who don’t know about him or only know about him from Wikipedia or Schism that this is a comic we can understand, that it’s okay to pick it up.  That’s huge.

The second part of the comic’s subversion of the convention of reliance on knowledge of canon comes from Aaron‘s script.  Don’t know who Quentin Quire is?  Most of the characters don’t, either!  The students at Wolverine’s school weren’t students at Xavier’s when Quire was, so they don’t know who he is.  Quire, fashioning himself as one of the most important people in the world like only a teenager can, is incredibly pissed off at this, and his petulant adolescent foot stomping because of that is incredibly hilarious.  More importantly, the students’ ignorance of Quire, mirroring that of many readers, encourages them to identify with the students instead of being alienated.  If people who know him don’t really know him, then it’s okay for us not to.  These two tricks prime the reader to come along for the ride, and it’s the job of the rest of the comic to take advantage of that opportunity.

It does not disappoint, either.  Wolverine and the X-Men #3 completes the story of the first day at the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning in a big, exciting way.  Quentin Quire’s frustration at not being known?  That dovetails wonderfully into the fight against Krakoa, the Living Island and the way that part of the story concludes is both heartwarming and ridiculously funny.  How do you take down a group of super-smart, super-rich evil children who are trying to destroy you with a combination of monsters, demons and superweapons?  Probably not through what you normally think of Wolverine as being the best at.  For a comic whose last issue featured guns that shoot out Frankensteins with flamethrowers, this issue somehow raises the bar even more.  It’s funny, thanks in no small part to Chris Bachalo producing the best work of his career.  It’s whimsical.  It’s got explosions and heroes rising to the occasion.  It’s also brilliantly written so as to welcome new readers despite the fact that it’s basically a continuation of a storyline from ten years ago as well every other X-Men story since.  This is not an easy thing to do, but Aaron and Bachalo do it with aplomb and have made perhaps the best new continuing series of 2011. (J)

This is Comics! The Blog. We now commence our broadcast week.

The Culture Hole, Episode 15: 2011's End, Being a Nerd and a Good Dose of Crazy

The Culture Hole! For all your cultural orifice needs (logo adapted with love from http://emnla.deviantart.com/)

Episode 15: 2011’s End, Being a Nerd and a Good Dose of Crazy

I do not think it will come as a surprise to anyone that I, a Person Who Writes About Comics On The Internet, has a healthy interest in things that are geeky, nerdy, or whatever-you-want-to-call-them-that-is-literally-the-most-ridiculous-argument-I-think-it-is-possible-to-have-and-I-once-argued-about-the-lyrics-to-Rainbow-Connection-for-two-hours.  Neither will it come as a surprise that when it comes to these sorts of topics, I have certain… compulsions.  No, it’s nothing dirty, and I’m not talking about the counting-things-or-else-something-terrible-will-happen-to-your-family kind, though I have those, too. But “James’ potentially serious mental health issues” don’t really make for a cheery feature.

I feel like I am getting off-topic.

It’s the end of the year and, customarily, it is the time to reflect on the twelve months past and assess both where you are and where you want to be.  All things considered, 2011 has been a pretty good year.  I started this site with my closest friend, got to do some fun pieces and interviews and received a great response.  I moved into a great apartment and have fallen in love all over again with the revitalized downtown of my home.  And, of course, I fell in love with a bunch of new comics, shows, movies, games and activities.  Of course, what I’ve truly realized this year is that I am incapable of liking something without being an obsessive nerd about it.

It might have been the move that kickstarted this realization; when you have to move a few hundred pounds each of comics, books, DVDs, CDs and video games and then organize your plastic Batmen, Batgirls & Simpsons/Futurama characters, it is hard to avoid the fact that you tend to Get Very Into Things.  I’m not sure why I do; it might be an ingrained desire to know and experience as much as possible – my dad is very much the same way – or it could be something slightly more sinister.  Whichever it is, I figured it would be interesting to look at some of the things my obsessive side has turned to this year that aren’t comics, because I write about those frequently already.  I’m highlighting three different things – some new to me, some with which I was already familiar – that fell victim to my inability to not be a nerd in 2011:

01. DOCTOR WHO

I know!  A nerd who likes Doctor Who, the longest-running science fiction television series in history?  Who knew?  Truth be told, I’m not surprised that I have fallen in love with the show as much as I have, but that I fell in love so completely and absorbingly as I did.  This is a show I “decided” to watch in 2009 and then didn’t for almost a year and a half, but that I finally watched in the spring and immediately started inhaling.

Of course I’m absorbing the series like a madman.  Of course I watched the 2011 Christmas Special with my family earlier this week.  Of course.  Again, that in itself is no big deal.  However, I didn’t just watch the series.  I threw viewing parties.  Not singular.  Plural.  I debated plot points in person while eating TARDIS-blue cupcakes and comparing my 11th Doctor sonic screwdriver flashlight with the toy replica Brandon’s girlfriend has.  Last weekend, I realized that I was watching Doctor Who while drinking tea out of a TARDIS mug, wearing a shirt with hundreds of damask TARDISes on it and tweeting about it on my iPhone with a TARDIS case.  Afterward, I might have read a Doctor Who comic.  This is more or less par for the course.

Of course, I got Brandon into it too, since we share a brain and it was literally as simple as showing him a single episode.  I at least try to be a good friend.

02. BASEBALL

This is one that, technically speaking, is nothing new.  I enjoyed baseball as a kid, and staying up late with my mum watching the Toronto Blue Jays win the 1993 World Series is still a fond memory almost 20 years later.  During the mid-90s, I frequently attended games of the local Triple-A team, affiliated at first with the Oakland Athletics and finally the Montreal Expos before both teams moved on.  My grandpa had season tickets and attendance was a family outing.  During these years, my dad taught me how to keep a box score on a hot summer night in the back yard while listening to a game on the radio.  And if you think following baseball closely can be nerdy, then you need to be introduced to the practice of charting a game play-by-play so that you can revisit it in the future.

In the 90s, I was absolutely a baseball nerd.  But then I fell away from it for some forgotten reason (I’m guessing it was the New York Yankees), and excepting the rare World Series game I caught on TV and the 2002 Oakland Athletics’ 20-game winning streak, I didn’t really pay attention to it anymore.  Until Matt Fraction and John Siuntres, that is.

Now, I’m pretty sure that if it’s not necessarily nerdy to fall back in love with a sport, it’s at least a little bit nerdy to fall back in love with it because of a 15-minute tangent your favourite comic book writer went on with an interviewer during a two-hour podcast.  I did, and that was it for me.  Suddenly I was watching games on TV again, reading game recaps and buying $15 iPad apps so that I could watch games even when they weren’t on local TV and analyze every single pitch and call, which I compared to statistics popularized by Bill James.  Suddenly, I was looking for a new Oakland Athletics cap.  I convinced people to see Moneyball.  I had an opinion about the Boston Red Sox again.

The cap to everything was that when pressed for weeks to actually give my mum ideas for things she could get me for my birthday, I immediately wrote down:

Baseball, A Film By Ken Burns (DVD)

That’s right, my ideal holiday gift was a 23 hour-long documentary about the history of baseball.  And I got it!  And I am incredibly excited to have literally a full day of baseball ephemera to nerd out over.  That is a real thing that I now have to accept about myself, that I cannot just like baseball, I have to obsess about it.

03. COOKING

I’ll confess, I have been a bit of a nerd about cooking for a lot longer than just this year.  I remember the first thing I ever cooked, an Egg in a Basket I saw the kids on Camp Cariboo make in the early 90s and immediately woke up my dad at 7am so that he could teach me how to use the stove.  I was raised to cook.  I have a lot of cookbooks, read food websites, pay Eat Your Books a monthly fee to keep the two organized and pay three different branches of America’s Test Kitchen subscription money.  A couple of years ago, I even took over my parents’ backyard with an ambitious garden so that I could have access to cheap organic fruits and vegetables.  I am not, strictly speaking, new to being a cooking nerd; 2011 was just the year that I started really obsessing about it all.

A big part of it was my aforementioned move.  In my old area of town, the main restaurants available are generally chains, with the occasional family restaurant thrown in.  The downtown, however, has started to see an explosion of restaurants and food trucks dedicated to adventurous cooking that’s locally sourced.  Why get tacos that aren’t authentic Mexican ones at Tres Carnales?  Why get a fast food breakfast sandwich when I can stop at the Elm Cafe and get a giant one made entirely with entirely local food?  Why go to Starbucks, as much as I like them, when Transcend Coffee (host to Canada’s currently crowned best barista) roasts everything in-house based on beans the owner personally sourced from Latin America and serves it alongside coxinhas, pao de queijo and pupusas?  The places I eat out got exciting this year and it inspired me to get a bit more serious about things.

So did having a farmer’s market literally two blocks from my apartment.  On a Saturday morning in the summer, all I have to do is walk out my door, turn right and walk for a couple of minutes.  I will physically run into small local businesses selling fresh ingredients and artisan products.  It’s easy to get really into food when there are so many wonderful ingredients, so close.

It also helps that I started watching shows like Chopped.  I’m not generally into reality competition shows, but when I watch some chefs open baskets full of mystery ingredients, I’m impressed with the improvisation and technique they have to show just to make something that is technically submittable to the judges.  For all the drama the show tries to create – and is usually pretty good at, actually – what I really love is watching people who know food just trying out new things.

All of these things got me interested in not just trying making new types of dishes, but going even more basic than that.  I have two recipes for homemade sriracha sauce and I want to see which is better.  I want to learn about butchering my own meat from primal cuts and how to make exciting loaves of bread.  Every staple in my fridge, freezer and pantry is now looking like a challenge.  Can I make it myself?  Can I make it better?  Can I learn techniques well enough to truly improvise with whatever I have on hand?  I’m looking at classes.  I’m seriously considering starting at the beginning and working my way up systematically.  I’ve made a connection at a local brewery who wants to help me learn how to make my own beer.  I want to make my own sausage.  Why should I have to pay for mayonnaise?

Goddammit, I’m a nerd.  I don’t know how not to be.  At work I play with numbers and turn them into manuscripts.  At home, I’m no different.  It’s how I view the world, and I’m wondering what 2012 will do to bring it out in new and interesting ways.

Happy everything, everybody.

Drunk Comic Recaps | Uncanny X-Men #435

What is up nerdlingers? Do you guys know what time it is? It’s time… once again… for Drunk! Comic! Reeeecaaaaaaappps!!!!

It’s been a while since we’ve rocked this shit like so many casbahs, so let’s run down the rules: during the night I will drink things, and then I will also read comics. And then I will write about those comics. At some point, I post the dang thing without ANY edits, except for adding tags and images so that the site works super nice. And then everyone gives me motherfucking high fives and such. ANyway, the night is not young, so let’s get TO THIS.

Uncanny X-Men #435: Anger Management with Charlie Sheen

Look. Okay. So a recap. In the last arc, the Juggernaut (who used to be a bad guy) tried to stop a dude from beating the shit out of his son, who was Juggers’ young BFF.. And NOW, he is in super jail. Or something. What we know is She-Hulk is reading a list of all of his crimes, and being all WTF, Juggernaut, and he’s all “I got anger management issues” (a thing he really says).

<Meanwhile, the X-Men are talking with their seemingly albino attourney about the case. He says that the Canadians are going to want to try the Juggernaut up north because that would be “highly presigious”. But who the fuck does this albino douche canoe think the Juggernaut is, Brian Adams? Howsabout fuck you albino attourney man.

The attourney then says to Chuck, he says, he wishes that he had the power to change people’s wills so he could win cases, and when the Professor is all “dude, that’s not cool”, the lawyer is all “ha, totes kidding guy” and then starts talking about paperwork and negociations. There’s a bit of terse words exchanged when this happens, as the albino rhino (not a real rhino, I just wanted to SAY THAT) tells Chuck he thinks Chuck is losing his shit or whatever. Not keeping things together. Anyway, that’s neither here nor there. Back in the Juggernaut’s cell, the Juggers is making fun of the Canadians for having a shitty prison, and not having enough super villain incareation budgets. Seems the Canucks can only afford one power dampener which is why the motherfucking Rhino gets loose, you guys, I didn’t even know when I made that albino rhino joke!! Fuck, I’m a god damn psychic.

Anyway, the Rhino is totlally going to kill people, which is when the Juggernaut gets loose slash is let loose? It’s not clear (or maybe I;m just drunk?) and then the two of them fight like MEN do, with hands. They tussle for a bit until the Juggernaut puts an energy gun in the Rhino’s mouth and fires it and the dude’s eyes get crispy and smoke and the fight is done. Then, the Juggernaut surrenders, because you see, he is not a complete dick right now.

Soon after this, She-Hulk asks the Juggers why he’s being a good guy. He tries to explain it to her, about how he’s just a dude with opinions, and then she asks what he thinks of women’s rights, and they bang. Also, when they bang, he says “sometimes women are just plain BETTER then men.” I think he’s talking about when he wants to put his dick into someone.

Next time! The second part! In which more things happen! And then, swfitly after THAT one… the arc Chuck Austen wrote based on Romeo and Juliet! Seriously!

Until then….

Komitchiwham, bitches!

Skyward Sword Caps 25 Wonderful Years of Zelda

Not pictured: sex parties.

01. MEMORIES, AS SEEN IN BROADWAY’S CATS

I have been playing The Legend of Zelda for almost as long as I remember.  It’s one of the first video gaming memories I have, after Super Mario Brothers/Duck Hunt and Super Mario Land.  It’s burned into my memory; my parents rented me the game – because I was a kid and didn’t have my own money, shut up – and I didn’t start playing it right away.  I wanted until the last weekend before it was due to be returned to start playing it, which of course coincided with my soccer team’s year-end party, and I distinctly remember at that moment not caring at all about soccer because I had fallen in love… with adventure.

Thus began my love of video game’s lifetime battle against my physical health.

A couple of years later, I saw a commercial for a new Legend of Zelda game for the Game Boy and, through a patented program of rigorous whining and attempts at not being completely awful, I convinced my mother to buy it for me.  The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening took up months of my life, but I emerged fully to what I would later come to regard as the pre-eminent franchise in video games.

When I was just barely a teenager, I went to a friend’s house for his birthday party, at which point he regaled all of his guests with the Stunning Majesty of a Nintendo 64 and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, the first Zelda game in 3D.  It captured my imagination all over again just in that few minutes, and eventually I saved up for the system and game myself.  It was one of the best gaming experiences of my life.

By that point, I was old enough to understand that games didn’t just appear and that I could use the internet to keep up with everything.  I spent most of my Grade 9 computer class obsessively following Majora’s Mask developments online.  I loved that game, too.  Over the years, I haven’t played every Zelda game.  I’ve missed a few, loved some and merely greatly enjoyed others.  The ones that have been most successful to me have been the ones that weren’t just great from a gameplay mechanic or in terms of visuals, but which felt like that first game I played until a few minutes after I had to leave for that soccer party.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is absolutely that kind of game.

02. DIFF’RENT STROKES

The remarkable part is that for all the ways Skyward Sword feels the same, it does so despite featuring some of the most fundamental changes in gameplay and mechanics since Ocarina of Time introduced 3D gameplay and Z-targeting.  Ever since then, while each game has introduced a new hook or mechanic, most have been relatively minor ones.  Wind Waker bucked the trend of photorealistic graphics in favour of a lush and gorgeous cartoon style.  Phantom Hourglass introduced the stylus as a controller.  Majora’s Mask tried some innovative time-based gameplay.  And these were all great games, but ultimately they didn’t veer far away from the 3D or overworld mechanics that had come before.  I had a lot of fun playing them, but over the years I started to wonder what the next great jump in the series would be.  With the Wii, it seemed like we were going to find out, and with Skyward Sword, I think it’s arrived in the form of the 1:1 motion controls afforded by the Wii Motion Plus.

Just as the game was being released, I saw a lot of people complaining online about how it looked the same and how nothing was different.  Of course, they hadn’t played it yet, and I can only hope they gave it a shot because the simple idea of controlling your sword and shield by how you hold the Wiimote honestly feels like a revelation to me.

It means you have to think about what you do.  It’s that simple.  Before, in just about every game, you could press the B button in a fight and more or less be fine.  Even with more difficult enemies, you could wait a while, find an opening, and… press B.  In Skyward Sword, however, the first enemy you come across that has a shield – and you come across them right away – will be almost impervious to careless or frantic mashing.  You have to hit the right place, at the right time… in the right direction.  Even if you want to play the waiting game, you can’t just hold up your shield and stay safe, because if you don’t use it with the right timing, it will take damage and eventually break.  As a result, every fight feels vital and dangerous.  Even if you win, will you break your shield?  Will you take damage and have to scrounge for hearts, which are considerably rarer than they have been before?  Smaller slip-ups mean more than they have before, all because of a couple of “minor” changes: 1:1 controls and item damage.  It’s more difficult, risky and fun to use bombs than ever, with the motion controls.  Skyward Sword feels more dangerous than Zelda games have in years because of it.

This isn’t where the changes stop, either.  Dungeons have changed, too.  Before, you would go in, solve some puzzles, beat a miniboss and get an item that would be key to defeating the boss.  Not so this time around.  Sure, there might be a miniboss.  There will probably be a new item.  But that boss?  They’re something else entirely.  The first boss of the game – the first – had me stumped for a half hour because all it was was extremely difficult swordplay.  This is a part of the game I’ve been used to walking through for almost 20 years and the fact that I can’t has me extremely excited.

Dungeons are redesigned, too.  Less formulaic (and I’m someone who treasures the franchise’s beloved formulas) and more open.  They’re not just a hole you walk into anymore; they can be entire areas.  Between this and the need to collect materials to upgrade and repair your equipment, what I’ve found is that I pay more attention than ever to my surroundings.  Skyward Sword punishes lazy, rushed playing in one way or another, and it’s a treasure to be so encouraged to soak everything in, especially in environments as pretty as the watercolour-inspired ones here.

03. EMOTIONS AND JUNK

The environments aren’t the only part that sucked me in, either; right from the start, the game is designed to make you care about Link, Zelda, their relationship and their community.  Unlike most games, you don’t meet Zelda and then get sent off to save the day right away.  You spend a lot of time in Skyloft, your home, and you spend a lot of time with Zelda.  You’ve known her all your life and the designers make it feel that way.  You share emotional moments with her, you might even realize you’ve always loved her.  The game makes you feel like Link that I don’t think the franchise ever has before, and it does so by keeping things relatively slow at first.  Through something as simple as slowing down, it gives you something to care about right away that it hasn’t done as well since Ocarina of Time, and perhaps even better.

And the flying!  Oh god, how it feels to hop on your Loftwing for the first time and hit the skies.  It’s magical and beautiful.  Maybe it’s the flying mechanic, maybe it’s the time it takes before you can even do it that makes it feel so very important, but that first time you fly, it really feels like the game’s world is opening up to you.  It’s a simple thing, but it makes me so very happy each time I get to do it.

04. MIDDLES AND ONWARD

That’s what the core of the game is to me.  Truth be told, I’m not done the game.  I’m not even halfway through it.  Still, the core reaction I have when I’m playing is that I’m so very happy each time.  Through a relative revolution of control and a skillful touch with pacing, it’s made me care so much about the world, and have so much fun in it, that it feels like playing The Legend of Zelda for the first time all over again.  It’s not perfect, and sometimes rolling a bomb is more than a little frustrating, but it does what it needs to: it feels like something very familiar while also being something very new.  A lot of games try and most don’t succeed anywhere nearly as well as Skyward Sword does, and I’m glad I get to experience it.

A Very Special Journey Into Mystery: Loki has puppies!

At least it's not kittens.JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #632 (Marvel Comics)
By Kieron Gillen, Mitch Breitweiser, Bettie Breitweiser & VC’s Clayton Cowles

Synopsis: If a comic where Kid Loki has to find homes for evil puppies doesn’t make you smile then you’re a goddamn communist.

01. I want to get something out of the way: this is a comic where Volstagg is Broxton, Oklahoma’s mall Santa and that is literally just the first two pages.  That is one tenth of the issue and it is already better than most comics released this year.  Kieron Gillen is not fucking around.

02. I have spoken before about why I love Journey Into Mystery so much, but as crazy as it sounds, this is a series that has only improved throughout the year.  The first arc, a Fear Itself tie-in about Kid Loki assembling a black ops team of myths and legends to defeat the Serpent, recently wrapped with a bang, and by “bang” I mean “Loki writes his own brother’s tragic death into prophecy because the pen is mightier than the sword.”  It was incredibly moving, and in the months that followed it, Gillen has stepped back and told some smaller stories that were no less moving or rewarding.  With #630, he focused on the guilt and sadness that Volstagg hides from everyone, even his family, and as amazing as that was, with #632, he accomplishes an even greater feat: he and the Breitweisers have made a Christmas special about Loki finding loving homes for evil puppies.  And why does he have to find homes for them?  Because his Hel-wolf had sex with Garm, the dog guarding Hel, and now the All-Mother is making him clean up that mess, even if it means cold-murdering 6 adorable-if-slightly-evil puppies and one with demonic Tourette’s.

03. This comic took me about twice the time that Journey Into Mystery issues normally take me to read, if only for one simple reason: I had to stop every page because I was laughing too hard to focus on what was on the page.  This is a comic where Loki and his friend Leah fool Warlock of the New Mutants into taking a Hel-puppy, give one to the Devil and make the other a Tumblr celebrity so that donations can support its presumably lavish lifestyle.  That’s not the best part, though.  The best part is the montage of Loki’s attempts to give away the evilest puppy (the one that won’t stop screaming “Bastard” and “Murder”) to the people who took the other six, including it chewing on the devil’s shoe, terrorizing children via YouTube and – this is maybe the funniest thing I have seen all year – trying to bite off the dead god Tyr’s sole remaining hand while Tyr screams, “NOT AGAIN!”

Journey Into Mystery: making amputation funny.

04. What does Kid Loki end up doing with the other puppy, even as it screams about how it will kill him?  Well, between murdering it like the SPCA and adopting it while naming it after Thor, there’s only one holiday-appropriate answer.

I would read an entire comic just about paper training evil puppies, I am not joking.

05. I don’t think it’s crass to describe Journey Into Mystery #632 as a Christmas miracle.  This is a comic that started off as incredible and ended 2011 with one of the best single issues released all year.  The Breitweisers‘ art looks like it stepped out of the classic era of comics, and in a holiday issue, that invokes nostalgia like Rankin-Bass Christmas specials (or “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas”).  It’s funny, it’s sweet, it’s shockingly dark and it has puppies!  Even evil puppies are loveable at Christmas.

God bless us, everyone.

The Blue and Gold: The Thing About Kevin Keller

01. He looked like a man who could murder you if he wanted to. Decked out in leather and tattoos, he was all muscle and weathered skin. His eyes carried a tone of anger, telling you to try something. Seriously, just do it. See how it ends for you. I wasn’t quite sure why he had walked into a comic book store. Certainly, we get all types (especially when you consider the very artsy area of the city our store is located in) but for whatever reason, the man seemed a bit out of place. Trying to put my finger on what felt off, a good year past the experience, I would say it would be the way he moved through the store. While he carried himself with a dangerous confidence, he was clearly lost inside the store, looking for something, just unaware as to where that something would be. Being a legit professional comic book pusher, I asked the man if he needed help with something. He replied in the affirmative, his voice much warmer than his demenour.

“I heard about this comic,” he explained, “Where they introduce a new gay character in Archie.”

“Yes!” I exclaimed (nothing gets me more excited than talking about Archie Comics), “Veronica #202! That’s not going to come out for a few months, I’m sorry.”

The man swore.

“They let everyone know early so that shops could place orders properly,” I explained, “Would you like me to give you a call when the book comes in?”

He seemed to like this idea. He replied that yes, of course he would put his name down, and then proceeded to explain why.

“I’m gay,” he began, “But also, you’re never going to believe this.”

“Hit me.”

“My name,” he said, putting a hand on his chest, “Is Archie, and my partner’s name is Kevin.”

I laughed and the dude smiled, and I told him, “Wow, that is insane!” between fits where my brain would short out as it attempted to comprehend the situation.

For the rest of the time that dude was in the store, I ended up grinning like a madman. Because check this out:

One time, Archie Comics introduced a gay character named Kevin Keller. And this was the comic that brought a tough and rough biker to the store. An Archie Comic.

And not only that, once he got to the store, he was genuinely excited and enthused, and was excited and happy and, dare I say, giddy that someone was finally making comics like this.

Comics for a gay biker named Archie and his partner Kevin.

02. Over the past couple of years, something wonderful has been happening over at Archie Comics. While other comic book companies have seem fit to stay within certain comfortable boundaries, Archie (of all the publishers) has been pushing further and further away from what could be considered a comfort zone.

The first big push in this outwards direction came when they announced they would be marrying Archie off in a six part storyline. Set just a touch into the future, the series showed what life would be like for Archie if he finally smartened up and picked between Betty and Veronica. For three issues, we were treated to life with Ronnie, and for the next three, life with Betty. At the end, things reverted back like they do in comics. That is, until the company decided to continue both storylines in the pages of a bold new magazine.

Life with Archie became a magazine that housed both of these stories, combining two planned ongoing comics into a giant magazine designed to appeal to a wider market. The stories contained within weren’t your typical Archie fare. In the reality where Archie chose Veronica, Archie’s life was fraught with the perils of the so-called “good life” – and while he was always financially comfortable, it came at the cost of a certain level of comfort – and his intended career as a musician. Over in the Betty reality, Archie and Betts were constantly worrying about money while they both pursued their passions. Not only were they constantly hounded by cash flow problems, they were also beset with questions regarding their talent. Would they be able to make a life for themselves doing the thing that they loved? Were they talented enough? Would it be worth it?

These were (and continue to be) completely different kinds of stories for the company – not the usual gag oriented storylines, or even the cleaner dramatic stories of old. But of course, the magazine wasn’t the only way the company was pushing outwards. They would be the first to offer all of their print related content digitally on the same day of release. They would be one of the first to put out digital only content. They would start to go heavy into the trade paperback business, collecting multi-issue story arcs into nice, affordable bundles. And, they would introduce Kevin Keller to the world.

03. When the news of Kevin hit the media channels, there was a flurry of activity both within comic shops, and without. Prevailing wisdom said that the idea of a gay character moving to Riverdale would not be a good fit for some reason. When asked why, I know a lot of my customers couldn’t come up with a better reason that “it seems weird“. The fact of the matter was this: everyone saw Archie Comics in a certain light. They saw them as that company who put out a certain product. It was what it was, and it never changed, providing similar stories for generations. It was nostalgia given form, and nostalgia… well, it’s not so accepting. It’s regressive, not progressive, which was why the idea of Riverdale and Kevin Keller didn’t seem to go together, at first.

But then Veronica #202 hit. And wow, that was a comic. Within the pages of that issue, Kevin Keller was introduced quite matter-of-factly by Dan Parent, who treated the character’s sexual preference not with shock and awe, but with a shrug. When Kevin first came out (to Jughead, and then to the rest of the cast), nobody made a big fuss. In fact, Jughead greeted this information without so much as a second thought – because while many people think of Riverdale as a throwback to a simpler time gone by, it’s not. Riverdale is a place that accepts people for who they are, a place that respects and rewards kindness above all else. It is not exclusive, and it’s never mean. And so Kevin was greeted with open arms, without a big fuss being made. He was just another guy. The excecution of this introduction was flawless, and it would only be a sign of great things to come.

04. Kevin was recently given a test mini series to see how he would be able to sell a book. That mini series has done so well that he’s getting his own ongoing in the coming year. Having read all of the Kevin stories to date, this is unsurprising. All the stories have been wonderful and strong, simultaneously fleshing out the newest addition to Riverdale’s cast of characters while dealing with the kinds of issues you sort of have to tackle when dealing with the subject matter at hand.

In the most recent issue, Kevin runs for president, and is faced with an opponent who tries to use the fact that Kevin’s gay against Kevin. This opponent assumes that if Kevin is forced to come out to the population of the school, people will hate him for what he is, and vote for him. As it turns out, when he’s being faced with the jerk trying to out him in front of his classmates, Kevin stands up for himself, tells everyone that he’s gay and that he’s proud of it. The response is wonderful and amazing, because Riverdale, above all else, is kind and accepting. Kevin ends up winning the election, and everything comes up Milhouse. Reading it, you can’t help but wish that Riverdale really existed – that the story you were reading wasn’t just an Aaron Sorkin type of “people are generally decent” story. Because you know if something like that were to happen in real life, the person in Kevin’s shoes, proud or frightened, would be in for a rough ride. But dammit, in fiction, we can be better. We can hope for better, and Archie delivers better – and they look like they will continue to do so for quite some time.

05. While some have argued that Archie is getting away from their core – whatever that may be – I think that the introduction of Kevin and the various directions that they are going are completely in line with what they’re all about. The company and the stories they create have always been about reflecting the better qualities of our society. (Except for, you know, the whole “Archie being a scumbag and dating many much women” thing.) The recent changes allow them to better reflect the times, such as they are, and they’re helping create a world where books and characters like Kevin Keller are hopefully not a huge deal.

Here’s hoping.

You Read These With You Eyes! – December 21st, 2011

Hellooooo, nurse!

Every week, Comics! The Blog goes through the list of new releases and we tell you which comics to plug into your mind hole. Your mileage may vary.

AVENGERS #20 (Marvel Comics)

Oh no guys, Norman Osborn is back.  Sure, this is comics and of course he was coming back eventually – as told so exquisitely by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma RiosOsborn miniseries earlier this year – but I didn’t quite expect him to return on the front lawn of Avengers Mansion with a legion of the press covering his every word.  Whatever you say about the dude, you have to admit he’s got chutzpah.

This is the next big arc of the Avengers story that Brian Michael Bendis is telling, and together with Avengers Vs. X-Men, this is going to be a big year for the team.  And sure, AvX has a great superstar team behind it, a headline-friendly concept and will most likely be awesome.  But for my money, Norman Osborn has always been the quintessential Marvel villain to me, and he fills me with a certain unease.  A good writer can exploit that and leave me reeling with uncertainty and anxiety, and Bendis is definitely one of those people.  I don’t quite know what Norman’s up to yet, though the seeds and hints have been peppered for quite some time, and not knowing has me antsy.  That’s the best feeling to have with Norman, though, so I’m ready to dig in.

BATMAN #4 (DC Comics)

I think it’s safe to say that after last issue, when the Council of Owls blew up a building with Batman in it, that the Caped Crusader died for good.  It’s a weird choice, given that we’re only in Month 4 of the New 52, but it’s bold and I trust that they’ll see it through.

Wait, what?

Huh.  I guess Batman made it out of a deathtrap once again, and is about to share his sense of justice (hint: it’s super violent) on the Council of Owls.  Of course he was going to make it out; when you see a cliffhanger at the end of a Batman comic, you tend to know that Batman will be okay and the villains will be punished.  It’s how it’s always been and it’s how it will always be.  But you know what?  Honestly, when I saw that final page of Issue #3 when the building blew up, for a half second, I thought, Oh shit, this is it.  For that half second, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo had me completely fooled.  For a brief moment, I legitimately thought that was it for Bruce Wayne, even though it made no logical sense, and that’s a testament to the creative team’s skill.  Snyder first impressed me with his run on Detective Comics, but with Batman he’s taking a slightly different approach that shows how completely he understands Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson, and how great he is at building atmosphere.  What will happen in Issue #4?  I have no idea and that makes me so very excited.

BATMAN INCORPORATED: LEVIATHAN STRIKES (DC Comics)

Remember how when the New 52 was announced, one of the biggest questions about the stories being abandoned was what was happening to Batman Incorporated, Grant Morrison‘s crazy story about multicultural Batmen and the exploding blue radioactive scorpions that loved slash were trying to kill them?  And remember how we were told that it would be getting a wrap-up miniseries in 2012 called Batman: Leviathan?  Well, Christmas has come early, in the form of a giant 80-page one-shot wrapping up the first “season” of Batman Incorporated.  When will we get more?  How will this play into the New 52?  I don’t know.  But what I do know is that one of the utterly craziest series in comics is back, at least for now, and there is zero way that is a bad thing.

The end of this issue promises to give us a big reveal regarding the identity of Leviathan, the evil force/organization/person/anthropomorphic rabbit terrorizing our hero and the world, so if you’re interested in yelling out, “What the fuck?” at least once tomorrow, you should pick this up.

DARK HORSE PRESENTS #7 (Dark Horse Comics)

Listen, I am going to list a few things that are in this month’s giant issue of Dark Horse Presents, and you decide that you want to buy this and start rending your clothing because you can’t yet.  Deal?  Deal.

  • New Hellboy by Mike Mignola!
  • New Age of Reptiles by Ricardo Delgado, easily the best wordless series about dinosaurs and the circle of life out there.
  • New Skeleton Key by Andi Watson, who recently brought you 15 Love!
  • Chaykin!
  • Neal Adams!

Every month, this series delights with some great stories from incredibly cool people, and despite its slightly higher price, it’s also one of the best deals out there.  Even if you buy it for Hellboy, there will be a bunch of other stuff you discover and love, and it’s the best possible advertisement for Dark Horse as a whole.

FANTASTIC FOUR #601 (Marvel Comics)

If you liked the end of the main story in Fantastic Four #601 at all, this is a comic you should be rushing to buy.  After a year away, Johnny Storm, the Human Torch, is back!  Of course, it’s not exactly time for hugs either: there might be an invading Kree armada prepared to destroy the Earth, so before Johnny and Ben can make out in a buck wild frenzy, they’re going to have to save the world first.  Just like old times!

I cannot speak highly enough of Jonathan Hickman‘s work with the team over the last few years.  This is a man who not only took Marvel’s First Family and made them a centrepiece of the Marvel Universe again, but got them to a point where they can support not one book but two.  This wasn’t lowest common denominator thrills, either; this is some of the most sophisticated, complex storytelling in comics today.  How elegant and thorough is Hickman‘s plotting?  We’re seeing payoffs right now for things he put into motion two years ago.  Between that and Steve Epting‘s amazing art, this is, month by month, one of the must reads on the shelves, and I’m incredibly thankful for that.

These are just five-ish of the many great books being released this week! You can find the full list of comics being released here. If you have any other recommendations, let us know in the comments below.

C!TB's Best of the Week | December 19th, 2011

Ta-daaaahhh

Greetings sex lizards and welcome to our weekly Best Comics Bacchanal! The day is getting long in the tooth (or something) so what say we get right to the pickins, yeah?

COMICS RULE EVERYTHING AROUND ME

A HERO’S WORK

Joss Whedon is kind of a dick. Or rather, Joss Whedon is kind of a dick to the characters that he writes. By all accounts, as a human being, he is perfectly decent and humble and whatnot – but woe unto you if you’re a fictional entity in one of his stories. Every relationship developed under his pen has a note of impending doom – one that he disguises with near misses and hopeful glances, giving the audience just enough hope to hang themselves with when the trap door drops. His heroes are always doomed to a life of sadness because of their sense of duty – though that trait is by no means exclusive to Mr. Whedon’s work. No sir. Fact is, heroes never end up winning the day. Not for themselves. Theirs is a self-less existence, their wins helping everyone but themselves. Sure, we always cheer for the heroes, but the simple fact of the matter is, we would give two flying fucks about them if their lives were nothing but sunshines and lollipops. We demand sacrifice, we demand hardship, and most of all, we demand blood. Otherwise, where’s the fun?

This week Rick Remender brought some of the old heartache to bear in the Uncanny X-Force #18 – the long awaited conclusion to the Dark Angel Saga. In the story’s closing moments, after all of the action and loss, Remender treats us with a vision of a life that could never possibly be. He gives a hero a life of happiness, perfect in its simplicity. No loss, no fights, just companionship, and love, and life.

While we watch all of this unfold, we all know its nothing but a lie. Everything we’re being shown – a happy ending for someone who deserves a happy ending, for all that they’ve done – we know that this future can not ever be. It will never be, because we don’t want it to be. We want the action, want the hardship, and more than anything, we want death. We want their blood, or else what does it all mean? To go back to the Whedon well, the moment offered in this issue reminded me quite heavily of Wesley’s final moments in Angel. While dying on the ground with Illyria holding him, he wishes to be lied to. Illyria dons the appearance of Fred, and allows him a fake bit of peace as his last breath escapes. It’s a heartbreaking scene, and one that underscores the fate of all heroes – at least in serialized fiction.

Needless to say, I think Rick Remender is kind of a dick – first penning the similarly heart-wrenching end of Heath Huston over in Fear Agent, and then what happens in the pages of this issue. But again, it’s the only way a life like that ends. Hurt the ones you love, love the ones you hate and blah blah blah.

And so we bestow upon him (and the incredible Jerome Opeña) the Everybody Knows I’m A Motherfucking Monster Award. For being dicks. Not that we’d have it any other way… (B)

AND ALL THE TRAPPINGS

Batwoman has been a phenomenal book, but there’s no denying it. This iteration of Kate Kane, while she’s still being drawn by J. H. Williams III, is slightly different than the one we got during Greg Rucka’s run in Detective. I will grant you the differences are subtle – for the most part, she remains as she has always been. The general tone remains intact and her reactions and interactions are ever the same. When you come down to it, I suppose the difference aren’t found so much in the character herself, but in the way she’s being presented within the story. For instance, where Rucka would have probably shown the cause and effects of Kate’s night with Maggie, Williams and W. Haden Blackman lay all the cards on the table – more showing, and less implying. Both are valid ways to present the story, but the difference can still be felt.

Another slight difference between story-telling styles, is the employment of what I call bear traps. In the current run, you can see the writers setting up little traps for the protagonist in each issue. You can feel the noose tighten with each new issue. In Rucka’s stories (which were still amazing), you were given more character driven drama than plot driven drama – once more, not a huge difference, but one that can be felt. All told, I have to say, I love both versions equally for their strengths. Without Rucka’s fantastic sense of character and character building, this run wouldn’t be possible, and this run, while very different, still functions within the set up, and draws you in with some new and exciting plots. The result of both means that there’s an exciting new entry into the superhero genre, one that feels as exciting and vital, fresh and new. One that I would love to see continue in this fashion indefinitely.

So I’m rewarding this book the Taller Comma Baller Award for being both of those things. Kudos and whatnot. (B)

Better than alllll the rest

Folks, sometimes a comic arrives that is just so unique and crazy that you find yourself eagerly and nervously awaiting its release, because what if it is not to your liking?  Or even worse, what if it’s GOOD?!

Wait, that’s not a problem.  I have problems with words.

If you heard of Sam Humphries this year, it was likely for Our Love Is Real, the one-shot self-released (now picked up by Image!) he made with Steven Sanders that gave you a funny feeling in your giblets.  But if a science fiction story about a future where people have sex with animals, plants and minerals [Ed. Note: OH MY GOD I *JUST* GOT THAT] isn’t quite your speed for some weird reason, then how about Sacrifice, a nice, down-to-earth story about a Joy Division fan recovering from a suicide attempt who has seizures that send him back in time and space to the peak of the Aztec civilization, where he becomes embroiled in the political struggles of two competing churches?

There are so many mostly naked dudes in this.

Wait a minute, I’m beginning to think this isn’t any simpler at all!  I must have gotten so caught up in the atmosphere and fun of it all that I didn’t even notice that this is one of the craziest comics released all year!

Dalton Rose’s incredible art definitely helps ground the series in a way that keeps the comic from veering away from itself.  Rose’s thick, expressive linework and Pete Toms’ bold colours look deceptively simple, too, until they toss out a two-page spread of the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan that literally took my breath away, or a full page of a mystical, cosmic happening that could have been straight out of Jim Starlin’s brain:

Let the dulcet sounds of Berlin take it from here.
Art by Dalton Rose and Pete Toms

Right?  And not only is this a wonderful-looking comic, but it’s immediately emotionally engaging.  Without telling the reader Hector’s whole story, do you know how long it took me to get fully wrapped up in his life and his struggles?  Two panels into the second page.  Not even two full pages in, and I was hooked.  From there, the comic took me into a world that I hadn’t ever really thought about, and at the end of the issue it pained me to leave it.  Sacrifice might only be here for six issues, but the next one can’t get here fast enough.

Unless your comic store is lucky enough to be getting some of the very limited copies of Sacrifice, your best bet is to head over to the comic’s website and go from there.  I purchased it in Comixology and couldn’t be happier. (J)

This is Comics! The Blog. We now commence our broadcast week.

Reaction: The Dark Knight Rises Prologue

Fun Fact! One in three cities is designed to recreate this.

Last night, Brandon and James were lucky enough to see a screening of the prologue for The Dark Knight Rises, which is probably the most hotly anticipated movie of 2012 unless you hate joy or something.  Like the prologue for The Dark Knight that was attached to IMAX screenings of I am Legend, the prologue for The Dark Knight Rises prologue is the first six or so minutes of the movie and introduces the primary villain, Bane, plus a montage of shots and images from the rest of the movie.  While we can’t (and simply won’t) give too many details about the plot of the prologue, we can share our reactions to the prologue and how it serves as a prelude to the movie’s wide-release in July 2012:

EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!

(Also we got shirts)

The prologue for The Dark Knight Rises will play before IMAX screenings of Mission Impossible: Ghost Patrol starting this Friday, December 16th. 

There Are No Guilty Pleasures, Episode 6: Fear Factor, the American Dream

Grab my glasses, I'm out the door, I'm gonna hit this city.

Episode 6: Fear Factor, the American Dream

I am absolutely not joking when I say that I love Fear Factor.  When it debuted, there really wasn’t much of a genre of television for people who wanted to do stupid or disgusting things for the chance at money that they don’t remember is fully taxable.  This was all we got and we made the best of it.  Did we like Joe Rogan?  Not particularly.  Did we care for these grinning, confident people who smiled too much to have actually realized that in like twenty minutes they were going to have to eat a maggot chalupa?  Probably not.  I’m Scottish Metis, so I am not, strictly speaking, comfortable with the idea of feeling good.  People who smile too much raise my suspicions.

But we had it and we loved it because it was new, bizarre, and, let’s be honest, outrageously mindless.  It was what it was and we didn’t pretend it was anything else.  It was fun.  Then it was gone.  Tears were shed.

In the half decade Fear Factor was gone, reality TV became a behemoth.  Cheap and easy to produce, it’s taken over a massive portion of the airwaves, with entire cable channels devoted to it.  But it was… incomplete.  We lost our way.  People no longer ate bees for fifty thousand taxable dollars.  Reality TV wasn’t expressly trying to murder its contestants.  And in the 63rd year of our Lord, The Boss, our prayers and those of NBC’s depressed stockholders were answered:

Fear Factor is back.

Again: I am not joking.  There is a deep, abiding joy in watching smug people think that they have what it takes to not break down in tears while trying to stuff a fifth and final live scorpion in their mouth.  And they never seem to remember that the second of the three stunts in an episode will be something just awful, I mean the worst.  In the two episodes that aired as part of the series’ return last night, the two disgusting tasks were:

  • Eating live scorpions
  • Bathing in cow’s blood and spitting hearts into a bin

Everybody is surprised and disgusted, and then everybody thinks they are going to be awesome at it, but those aren’t the rules.  The rules say that one team always loses, and then there is a moment when you see the look on a man’s face as he realizes that he wasn’t good enough at eating live scorpions to not disappoint his son and wife.  And you would feel bad for him if you didn’t realize that two minutes ago he was smack talkin’ everybody else and bragging about how nobody could eat as many scorpions as him.  Also, that whole part where he signed up for a TV show where the middle twenty minutes is designed to degrade him as a human being and he described himself as a fan of that concept.

The other two stunts in an episode will be of one of two types.  One will basically be an action movie, involving a moving vehicle, helicopter, giant explosion or all three of those, if last night is going to accurately predict the rest of this season.  And if you can honestly tell me that you wouldn’t fundamentally love to be in a giant playground where you get to trigger explosives and hang from a helicopter, then we are very fundamentally different people because that sounds genuinely incredible to me.  To be able to have that much fun without having to give much, if any, consideration towards your own safety?  I think that is literally what the word “ballin'” was created for.

Of course, the third event will genuinely try to kill you.

I am not joking.  That is a fact.  Do you know what the first event was in one episode last night?  You had to drive a convertible into a pool and stay underwater until you completed a task.  If you couldn’t swim, they either didn’t ask or didn’t care, leading to a scene where one team member (who has a book!) left his ex-girlfriend to drown, requiring that she, after starting to sink and genuinely thinking she was going to die, be rescued by the on-hand team.  Then he treated it like a favour that he’d done her.

That, of course, raises the spectre of the fact that the people on the show are generally not particularly likable.  To be honest, it limits how much I watch the show because at the end, no matter what, one of them wins.  But if I didn’t watch, I wouldn’t get to watch a stunt where a team is strapped to the front of a cement truck as it drives through a series of crates and obstacles.  That mother-son team that is maybe a little too physically intimate?

BAM!

That guy who makes his pecs dance and calls it an earthquake?

TRUCK!

I don’t care if you have football pads on, being attached to the grill of a semi like a set of reverse Truck Nutz and slammed into wooden crates is probably going to hurt.  And there is a 50/50 chance that will have been for nothing.

When I was a kid, I read a Calvin and Hobbes strip where Calvin says, “I wish I could just take a pill to be perfect and push a button to get anything I want. . . Why should I have to work for everything? It’s like saying I don’t deserve it!”  At the time, Hobbes somewhat glumly commented on Calvin’s wish being the American Dream, but listen, tigers don’t know shit, because that misses something very, very crucial: being on TV.

Can you think of a better example of the quintessential North American desire than being strapped to a cement truck, rammed through a bunch of heavy obstacles and, at the end, covered in an unspecified white foam all for the possibility of being mildly famous and winning money from a company that will pretend to be concerned when you get injured?  Money for nothing isn’t enough.  We’ll gladly do worse if we’re on TV, too.

God, I can’t wait for next week.