Tuesday, December 16, 2008

My Buffy Novel (Part I)

In the Spring of 2002, I fell in love. With a t.v. show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The affair started off innocently enough--a friend loaned me the Season One DVDs; but soon enough, things between me and the show were hot and heavy, eventually leading to a pop culture obession the likes of which have never been repeated in my life. This is the story of Hell Frozen Over (www.geocities.com/jhaeman), my unpublished Buffy novel.

In the Spring and early Summer of 2002, I was still living in Lincoln, Nebraska. I had finished law school but knew I would be moving to Toronto with my ex later in the summer, so I had several months of nothing but free time. The idea struck me--why not write a Buffy novel? I had seen several in the stores and it seemed like a fun way to occupy some time.

The first thing I did was figure out how long a Buffy novel should be. I counted the number of words on a few different pages from one of the first published Buffy novels, averaged them out, and then multiplied by the total number of pages in the book and got a total of around 30,000 words. I promptly set to work writing, with a goal of ten 3,000 word chapters.

The plot involved Buffy and her friends getting lured away from Sunnydale with "free tickets" to a largely defunct ski resort. In retrospect, quite Scooby Doo-ish, but at the time it seemed like a clever way to tell a story that hadn't been done before--how does the gang fare outside of Sunnydale and in cold, snowy conditions? The villains, from what I recall, were a nasty corporate-raider vampire and a Pentagon bureaucrat out for revenge, who had outfitted himself with stolen government technology to become a vampire hunter.

Now, when I wrote the novel, I had only seen Season 1 and part of Season 2 on DVD and I fastidiously avoided spoilers. The show itself was up towards Season Six and Angel had also aired a few seasons. I explain this because I had no idea that evil corporate types were a major theme on Angel (Wolfram & Hart) and that high-tech government vampire hunters was the main story arc for Season Four of Buffy (The Initiative). Heck, even the idea of Buffy, et al. encountering snow had been done before (in an episode titled Amends).

Anyway, although I had a great time writing the book, I began to flag a bit there near the end and I was glad when I was finished. I put it away for a few weeks to get ready for the move to Toronto and then, after getting settled in, I poked around on the Internet to see where to submit it. Now, I can't say I had high hopes of getting it published--I knew they must receive a lot of submissions; but on the other hand, I was quite proud of it and thought it had several original ideas and exciting action scenes. But when I found the submission guidelines, I saw they wanted a minimum of 60,000 words--twice what I had written!

How can this climactic cliffhanger be resolved? Find out next time on Jhaeman's Detritus!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Hex


After watching the first season, I'm not sure what I think of the short-lived British series Hex. It's a supernatural-oriented show set at an upper-crust boarding school and the plot centers around a female student who learns she's a witch and is being hunted by a fallen angel named Azaezel. The supernatural+high school element draws inevitable comparisons to Buffy, but Hex has a very different style--more soap opera and less episodic, and with far fewer action scenes. What Hex does have going for it is one of the best title sequences I've ever seen for setting tone (on par with Carnivale's), a great supporting character (a lesbian ghost), and a little more leeway in terms of profanity and nudity. Only the first ten episodes are available on DVD in North America, although a second nine episodes aired in England before the show was cancelled. I'd definitely be interested in watching more to see how the show ends, but I don't think it'll be one I'll mourn its early cancellation.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Timecop


I was lucky enough the other day to find (in the bargain bin) a copy of the movie Timecop to add to my "movies based on comic books collection." Or, at least, I consider myself lucky--my sig-other was horrified at the purchase; but I say, a collection's a collection, and if you exclude bad things from a collection, well then it becomes a selection, not a collection. Anyway . . .

Timecop was (according to Wikipedia) one of Jean-Claude Van Damme's most successful movies, both financially and critically. The story, which you may manage to surmise from the title, involves a law enforcement agency charged with making sure that time travellers don't go messing with the past for their own illicit purposes. As far as I'm concerned, it's not a half-bad movie, with solid special effects, old-fashioned kick-boxing action, and even a nice twist about halfway through. Like every story involving time travel, it creates headache-inducing paradoxes, but c'est la vie.

Now, the credits to the movie say that it was "Based on the Dark Horse comic book", which was the basis for my including it in my collection. A Internet search reveals only one Timecop comic, which was an adaptation of the movie. So there seems to be a chicken and the egg conundrum (perhaps time travel was involved?). It's possible that the Timecop idea appeared first inside another comic, but my guess is that Dark Horse simply pitched the concept to a studio as a property and then came out with the comic once the movie got the go-ahead. It certainly wouldn't be the first time successful movies were based off of concepts that were barely noticed in the comics world--Men in Black being a good example.

Apparently the Timecop movie spawned a short-lived t.v. series, a novel line, and even a sequel movie--I can't wait until my sig-other sees Timecop 2: The Berlin Decision in my collection!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Betrayals

The sixth book in the Babylon 5 series, titled Betrayals, continues the generally high quality of the novel line. The book reads much like a two-part episode, with a handful of subplots and one main plot (admittedly somewhat cliched), involving a peace conference between the Narns and the Centauri which may be disrupted by terrorists. Unlike previous novels that focussed mainly on a couple of characters, each of the cast members gets several scenes and their personalities and dialogue fit well with what's presented in the show. In terms of larger significance, the novel doesn't drastically expand our understanding of the Babylon 5 universe, but it does add a little more background into Ivanova and Na'Toth. Now, I wouldn't call the novel line an "electrifying series of original, breathtaking outer-space adventures" like the back cover does, but on the whole I've been happy with the B5 books and Betrayals is no exception.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Clone Wars Campaign: Recap # 6

This begins the Ansion story arc. Ansion is a planet featured in the pretty good Star Wars novel The Approaching Storm, and I always like to create continuity between my campaign and the EU whenever possible. Similarly, the character of I-5 (who quickly became one of the players' favorite NPCs) came from the novel Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter. Ignatius was a character I based on the protagonist from the very non-Star Wars novel A Confederacy of Dunces; I thought he would be funnier and more interesting than he turned out to be. This particular session was one of my favorite individual efforts as I think I created quite the haunted atmosphere for the radiation-filled space station (I even used a red bulb in the room's only light to increase the players' apprehension).


Episode 2.2, The Ominous Silence, Session 2

The Clone War has engulfed thousands of planets throughout the galaxy. But here are still sectors left untouched by battle--sectors too remote and of little apparent strategic value to either the Republic or the Separatists.

On the farthest edge of known space, Ansion seems to be just such a system. Only nominally a member of the Republic, the isolated and technologically backwards planet has little to offer--except for a rare substance that could save the lives of thousands of the Republic's clone troopers.

But why have there been no transmissions or ships from the sector in months? With time running out, a group of travelers from the other side of the galaxy have come to find out . . .


Ycram wakes up and reveals he saw the Rodian Twitch running away from the ship on Mongui just before he was knocked unconscious. The ship docks at the Skyhook, and the group encounters I-5YQ, a silver protocol droid (and Ignatius D'avilos' majordomo). Marpa spacewalks to investigate the power leak on Delia's Ultimatum and recovers from the outer hull a sophisticated tracking device that signals whenever coordinates have been entered into the ship's hyperspace computer. Meanwhile, Arresta, Tarn, and Ycram meet with Ignatius.

Ignatius outlines why the facility is unable to process and ship Xoorzi kelp: (1) a radiation bomb was smuggled in and detonated on the third level of the facility (causing a severe power loss), but radiation-scrubbing droids are always destroyed by unknown causes shortly after entering that level; (2) constant attacks by the same group of terrorists have disrupted operations; (3) months ago, a strange object appeared in the system and, ever since, no hyperspace communications or ships have been able to leave.

Ignatius also reveals that one of the terrorists has been captured and is being held in the Skyhook's anchor facility on Ansion. Ignatius plans to quit and sell the station to Soergg the Hutt, but Tarn convinces him to wait a few days to see if they can get power back on line. Tarn meets with a Kaminoan named Ceela Selu. She reveals that she and her partner, Gemma Vous, came to the Skyhook to study the Xoorzi kelp and its effects on clone troopers, but that Gemma was trapped on the third level when the radiation bomb exploded. Since then, Ceela has been studying the anomaly. She has learned that every 19 days it opens up (the next time will be 77 AG) and sends out a strange pulse of light and theorizes that that may be the only time to enter it. She also says that a Jedi Master named Sarigar had sent a message stating he would be arriving at the station, but he never did (a raider attack has occurred near his expected arrival time).

The group decides to don radiation suits and enter the third level to reset the reactor. They encounter grotesque radiation-scarred Ugnaughts and the clearly insane Kaminoan Gemma Vous, who has been conducting strange experiments. Ycram retreats to the safety of a shuttle and I-5 is heavily damaged. After a series of battles, the group manages to reset the reactor but are forced to flee in escape pods.

Return to Clone Wars Campaign Main Page

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Man-Thing Movie


This is one of those films that you would miss if you blinked. Released straight to DVD, I was lucky enough to snag a used copy in a bargain bin and have never seen it anywhere else. The Man-Thing is a Marvel Comics character created in the 1970s during one of the company's relatively rare weird horror phases. The Man-Thing and DC's Swamp Thing are characters that, to the untrained eye, appear incredibly similar, but to the trained eye appear incredibly similar. (kinda sorta just kidding--the Man-Thing in the comics has this thing about how people who feel fear burn at his touch, but those who aren't afraid will survive unharmed; this concept doesn't make it into the movie). Anyway, the movie is actually half-way decent, and definitely as good or better than some other comic book projects that did receive mainstream release (like Elektra or Catwoman). The movie Man-Thing has an origin related to industrial pollution in the swamp (which I do remember from the comics) and cliche Native American spirituality (which I don't). It's more or less a standard horror flick, as people idiotic enough to venture into the swamp get killed one-by-one until a Yankee sheriff and his blond girlfriend come to save the day (more or less, after pretty much everybody else has already gotten themselves offed). Anyway, for diehard comic book turned movie collectors like myself, it's a fun addition to the shelves.

Monday, November 24, 2008

My Teaching Year (Part V)

After months of leaving tantalizing tid-bits in my epic five-part series, My Teaching Year, I am now prepared to deliver the stunning conclusion!

After several months in Windsor, my sig-other and I finally came to the realization that we really, really missed Toronto and that Windsor (even with her favorite restaurant, the Pitt for Pasta) just wasn't cutting it. It didn't take long for her to get a promotion and raise at the Toronto company she had left just six months before, so we rented an additional apartment in Toronto and I commuted back and forth on the train every few days. The arrangement worked really well, as I got a ton of class prep done during the four-hour train ride and got to keep teaching at Detroit Mercy, while still enjoying my sig-other and Toronto life on Thursday through Sunday.

My decision to leave Detroit Mercy altogether came about when I learned that one of the administrators (not the Director of the J.D./LL.B. program who was great) expected me to submit all my class assignments to her for approval before I gave them to the class. This was something that definitely had not been disclosed during my hiring process, and might have kept me from taking the gig in the first place, as it wasn't something any of the "doctrinal" professors had to do and I felt it was a real infringement on my academic freedom. This low-level admin and I went back and forth for a while and eventually took it to the Dean. I was willing to compromise, by consulting with the admin before giving out assignments (after all, I had usually used assignments that were the same or similar to other legal writing profs, and my student evaluations were always great), but my proposal didn't work--it was either her way or the highway.

Still, the decision wasn't an easy one. After I had been there a semester, the faculty voted to allow legal writing profs to convert over to tenure track positions on a rolling basis--something quite sought after in the legal writing field and still relatively rare among law schools. In addition, I had to make the decision to leave before making sure I could find work elsewhere (something most rational people avoid!). Still, I'm one of those stubborn people who puts principle above pragmatism and I gave notice that I wouldn't be returning for the 2007-2008 year.

The next few months were a bit scary--although my sig-other made enough money that we wouldn't be in dire financial straits if I didn't land another position, I still didn't want to just sit around for a year or more and feel like I had given up a rare opportunity to break into teaching at the law school level. Although I interviewed for a few other teaching spots (and got a free trip to Washington, D.C. out of it), my main desire was to get into either U of T's or Osgoode's Ph.D. program--the "master plan" being to get a degree and possibly a scholarly book out of the deal that would place me in my best possible position for landing a tenure-track job a few years down the line.

I had applied to both programs a couple of years earlier, and had been rejected by both. This time around, however, I was a Canadian permanent resident (thus making me eligible for the "domestic" spots) and spent a lot more time on my dissertation proposal. Still, U of T gave me a quick kiss-off and Osgoode waitlisted me, making for a tense several months. In the end, things turned out nicely for everyone: I got into Osgoode, my sig-other loved getting back to her old job, and Detroit Mercy quickly found a highly-qualified replacement for me. My Teaching Year was definitely a good experience, as I learned (obviously) a lot about teaching, but also how to interact with fellow faculty and administration--most of all, I learned the type of position I do and do not want in the future. And hopefully, in a few years, you'll be able to read a series of blog posts entitled "My Tenure-Track Teaching Year(s)".

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Sociology of Religious Movements

I just finished reading William Bainbridge's The Sociology of Religious Movements (1997). The book contains several fascinating case studies of "new religious movements" (I prefer the shorter sociological term "cult", but I understand that the word carries negative connotations to laypersons) such as the Family/Children of God and the Process Church of the Final Judgment, as well as on older fringe religious movements like the Millerites (which kept setting a date for the Second Coming and then revising that date as the old ones came and went). The book alternates case studies with theory chapters, but the case studies aren't integrated especially well with the theory. Indeed, the theory chapters seem more like literature reviews than independent original contributions to the sociology of religious movements. I also would have liked to see more discussion in the "Future of Religion" chapter about how "low-tension" mainstream denominations, "high-tension" cults, and non-religious groups interact. In other words, how does the familiar Church-Sect-Cult process incorporate non-religious individuals? Has the percentage of the population that is non-religious reached its zenith, or will it remain stable or even continute to grow? Still, this was an interesting and worthwhile book.

Blasphemy in New France

My research on the history of blasphemous libel in Canada has led me to some interesting finds in the Quebec National Archives. I've come across several prosecutions for blasphemy in both military and civil contexts in New France as early as the late 1600s. Reading the documents isn't easy (I've often had to rely on the archivists' written descriptions), not just because French isn't my first language but because the writing is an older form of French, is often faded, and is in difficult-to-decipher handwriting. Still, it provides the earliest examples of blasphemy prosecutions I've yet found in (what would become) Canada. The only odd thing is that my electronic keyword searches in the archives brought these very old examples up, but didn't bring up any blasphemy prosecutions after the 1700s; this is doubtless an artifact of the archive's record-keeping system, but I've now got to figure out whether/how I can access more recent prosecutions.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Go Ask Malice



Go Ask Malice: A Slayer's Diary


Robert Joseph Levy (2006)


RATING: 5/5 Stakes


SETTING: Season Three


T.V. CHARACTER APPEARANCES: Faith, Kakistos


MAJOR ORIGINAL CHARACTERS: Diana Dormer (Watcher); Faith's Mother; George Lehane (Faith's Father); Kenny (psychic & boyfriend); Vanity Collins (social worker); Alex (imaginary friend/Slayer soul?)


BACK-OF-THE-BOOK SUMMARY: "Faith has always been a loner. Growing up in a broken home in South Boston, shuffled from relative to relative, her only companion was an imaginary friend named Alex, who helped her escape into a fantasy world of monsters and the supernatural, far from the real-life horrors of the waking world. Now, taken away from her mother by social services and shipped off to a foster home, Faith learns that some nightmares are all too real, that the inventions of her childhood really do haunt the night, hungry for blood. Enter Diana Dormer, a Harvard professor and representative of the Watchers Council who has come to tell Faith of her destiny, to train her, to prepare her for what is to come: Faith is the Chosen One. She alone will stand against the vampires, the demons, and the forces of darkness. But she's not alone. When Alex, her childhood companion, returns in her dreams, she warns Faith that someone else is coming to her, a force so deadly and unforgiving that it has inspired fear in the underworld for a thousand generations. Its name is Malice. As memory and fantasy begin to merge, Faith's two worlds collide, with cataclysmic results. A violent battle for the Slayer's soul is staged, winner take all. This is her story. . . ."


REVIEW


The stylistic conceit behind Go Ask Malice is that it is the diary of Faith found in an archaeological expedition of Sunnydale after the end of Season Seven (though the last entry takes place just prior to Season Three). The concept works beautifully, as Faith has a strong first-person voice and seeing events from her perspective offers insight in to her character and background that would be much harder to achieve in normal third-person storytelling. The television show hinted that Faith had a troubled upbringing, but this book really fleshes it out as we encounter Faith's frequently-absent mother (who becomes a prostitute), her incarcerated father, her bouncing around foster homes, and more. We're also introduced to Faith's first Watcher, Professor Diana Dormer and learn much more about the backstory of Kakistos, the demon responsible for killing Dormer and driving Faith out of Boston. Kakistos was polished off in a single episode in Buffy (and probably wasn't handled very well), but here the demon has a nice menacing aura and build-up through prophetic dreams that Faith is having. The fact that the reader already knows that Kakistos kills Dormer lends a pall of impending tragedy over the book that works very well because the reader is constantly kept guessing as to how and when it'll happen.


Suffice it to say, Go Ask Malice is a very dark book--something the too-sacharine Buffy novel line desperately needed. If you only like happy endings or can't stand Faith, this isn't the book for you. Otherwise, I highly recommend it (and hope the author can get talked into writing some stories for the Buffy comic).

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Salome



Last season, I really enjoyed catching a few productions of the Metropolitan Opera through their HD satellite broadcast at movie theaters. I was bummed this time around not to be able to see Doctor Atomic because of other commitments, so I made the rookie mistake of simply showing up to the next production that fit my schedule: Richard Strauss' Salome. I thought it was so terrible I couldn't even stand 45 minutes, and I usually have the patience of Job for such things. Although the sets and wardrobe were an incoherent mixture of a 30s black-tie gala, a turkish prison, and a medieval village well (simulataneously!) what really drove me was the female lead. The Biblical Salome, of course, is the young femme fatale of such seductive beauty that her step-father lusts after her; Strauss imagined a girl in her late teens in the role. The painting at the left is another representation. But instead of casting a beautiful young singer, the Met chose a 48 year old woman in the role. I can suspend my disbelief in stories involving super-powered mutants or alien empires, but that's just pushing things too far! Her "girlish" mannerisms and "seductive" gyrating were both grating & repulsive. Think me uncharitable? Imagine remaking movie Lolita starring Meryl Streep in the lead role. Streep is a great actress (and perhaps this woman was a great singer) but it just doesn't work. Anyway, a lesson learned on the need to be better informed on what I'm about to see before I trek down to see it . . .

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Clone Wars Campaign: Recap # 5

This was very much an in-between session which served to bridge the gap between the Mongui storyline and the upcoming Ansion storyline (in which the major "myth-arc" of the campaign would begin). For the Jedi character of Tarn Tamarand, it served as one of the many comical times he would try to use his Force powers and fail miserably. And irony will rear its head in future sessions as here the Princess plays the "the Jedi got me pregnant!" line for a distraction.

Episode 2.2, The Ominous Silence, Session 1

The Galactic Civil War continues. The strategic spaceport of Mongui is in flames as a now leaderless droid army continues its surprise attack on the Republic's skeleton garrison of clone troopers. The stalemate on Mongui is just one of the battles raging on a thousand planets.
Yet there is one place the war cannot touch--the void of hyperspace, where a stolen Separatist shuttle has plotted a course for Bothawui, capital of the Bothan people and a hotbed of espionage and intrigue. And on the other side of the galaxy, in a sector called Ansion, an ominous silence continues to spread . . .


[64 AG] Marpa, Tarn, and Arresta arrive in Bothawui, only to find Korg has been clinging to the outside of their ship. He jumps on a Bothan escort fighter and disappears as the ship spirals away. The group identifies themselves as refugees and are taken to an internment facility. Surprisingly, they are released without incident. Planetside, Marpa has dinner with an old Duros acquaintance, while Tarn meets with a Gran Separatist Jedi Padawan named Fallael.

[65 AG] Marpa & Tarn try to infiltrate the Separatist embassy by using Fallael to arrange a meeting with the Separatist ambassador, under the guise of Tarn being interested in joining the Separatist cause. Arresta sends the embassy an urgent message for Tarn (saying that she is pregnant) which succeeds in getting Tarn and Marpa into the communications room alone with the ambassador and Fallael, but Tarn's attempt to create false sounds of blaster fire fails and Tarn and Marpa leave without planting the listening device. Later that night, Delia's Ultimatum arrives. Ycram is unconscious from a blow to the back of the head and keeps muttering something about "Twitch". The crew set course for the Ansion system and notice a minor power drain on the outer hull.

[68 AG] Delia's Ultimatum arrives in the Ansion system and sees the Xoorzi Skyhook under attack by a pair of battered and pitted Cloakshape fighters. Responding to the Skyhook's distress call, Delia's engages the fighters and destroys one while a second one flees. After a standoff with Arresta, Tarn unlocks the encrypted message on the data crystal and learns that their mission is to bring about resumed shipments of the Xoorzi kelp, an exotic substance that is necessary for the war effort because it is becoming increasingly clear that traditional bacta is largely ineffective on a certain batch of clone troopers. A hail is sent to the Skyhook and arrangements are made with Ignatius D'avilos (Arresta's uncle) for the ship to dock.

Return to Clone Wars Campaign Main Page

Monday, November 10, 2008

Terrible Trousers

From Quebec Newspaper The Axe on February 1, 1924:

"Jack Johnson's Pants Peril His Life!--See Page 11"

Page 11 reveals that the aforementioned Jack Johnson found himself in a bull fight and wanted to run, but determined that his pants were too tight and would rip if he tried to climb the fence. "So I just had to stay there and fight that bull. I don't know how many years it took."

Thursday, November 6, 2008

MST3K @ 20


For several years now Rhino Home Video has been releasing Mystery Science Theater 3000 boxsets. Except for the first few sets, the DVDs had pretty generic packaging and little in the way of special features--they were also a bit pricey, at $ 60 to $ 80 for four episodes. Just a few months ago, however, a new op called Shout Factory! took over the license and have released the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Twentieth Anniversary Edition.

I just received my set and I'm extremely impressed--it comes in a cool tin box, each of the four movies has its own jewel case with cute original artwork, and the set has an 80-minute documentary on the history of MST3K, a Crow T. Robot figurine, and (best of all!) the price is the same as the old Rhino sets. This is the sort of thing that makes a great gift, though I couldn't wait until Christmas. I hope Shout Factory! keeps the license and is able tokeep putting out quality products like this.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Yes We Can

CNN has just officially announced Barack Obama will be President of the United States. I'm not at all ashamed to say that I teared up.

Blasphemy Archives

I'm come across some interesting materials while researching Canada's blasphemy law for my dissertation. The Ontario Archives have proven fruitful in looking at old common-law prosecutions for blasphemy as early as 1805, while also providing 1920s Attorney General files that contain memos showing an internal dispute as to whether the prosecution of Ernest Sterry should go forward (the decision was that since religious groups were backing the prosecution, it was too late to stop). The National Library has also had some good material. Debates over J.S. Woodsworth's bill to repeal blasphemous libel show that he didn't understand that if the statute were repealed, the harsher common law prohibition would remain. Perhaps my most interesting find so far is that in the 1950s the federal Cabinet debated sending the blasphemous libel statute to the Supreme Court of Canada as a reference in tandem with a Quebec provincial law that had been used to suppress religious freedom. However, concerns over angering the province led to the idea being shelved. The archival work is time-consuming, but then, I've got 2 1/2 years left to finish the project.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Countdown to Final Crisis Vol. 1


DC's first experiment with a weekly "Big Event" comic (52) was a well-written and interesting series that could easily be read as a standalone comic without buying various spin-offs. Unfortunately, its sequel (Countdown to Final Crisis) is quite poor in comparison. The writing is bog-standard, the characters are flat, and (most annoying to my mind) the stories don't make sense unless (presumably) one were to have bought and read several other series at the same time. The overall big idea is that a race of super-powerful aliens called the Monitors are trying to kill the various time-travellers, dimension-hoppers, and other heroes & villians in the DC Universe that are messing up continuity. I know the writers want me to side with the victims, but I can't help rooting for the Monitors--kinda like rooting for Lucifer in Paradise Lost I suppose. I always find that my interest in super hero comics waxes and wanes every few years--an exciting storyline or series (like Marvel's Civil War) will draw me in, but then the realization dawns that nobody ever really dies and nothing ever really changes, and then I gravitate back toward creator-ran non-shared universe series like Preacher, Transmetropolitan, and Sandman where the author is able and willing to tell a complete story.
UPDATE (Feb. 16, 2009): Hmm, for some reason, when I re-read this and it's sequel, most of the things I complained about above didn't bother me nearly so much. I think that knowing the story's flaws in advance made them far less irritating. I still wouldn't call this a good read, but I probably wouldn't be so quick to label it as terrible.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Clone Wars Campaign: Recap # 4

This was the final session in the Mongui story arc, a planet which I created mainly to have a very controlable location in which to start the campaign and because the Arresta character needed to be a Princess somewhere. The reveal that the Regent himself (Arresta's father) was actually a Separatist went over well and was a good surprise for the players. As a good surprise to me, I had no idea they would try (and succeed) in taking over Seige Commander Korg's shuttle (I had a whole spaceport battle scenario in mind). This session also marked that last one for Ycram as a PC, as his player dropped out of the campaign (though she remains friends with us to this day).


Episode 2.1, The Shadow Rising, Session 4


Although the Clone Wars rage elsewhere throughout the galaxy, the city-moon of Mongui is at peace. Jubilant residents crowd the street during the day to celebrate the withdrawal of the Separatist siege. The Republic fleet had withdrawn to aid in the defense of Kamino, leaving only orbital satellites and a small garrison of clone troopers to defend the city. But rumors are beginning to spread about a surprising amountof activity in the small Separatist camp that remains outside Mongui's energy shield, and even more ominous stories are told about murder and betrayal within the palace itself. And a few hours before dawn, as a cold rain pelts the city, a solitary figure makes his way through the darkened streets.

Ycram has a secret rendezvous with the head Republic spy on Mongui. The spy passes Ycram a data crystal but is then killed by mysterious attackers. Ycram manages to bluff his way out of danger. The group is then summoned to the throne room, where Ycram plays the data crystal, which among other things instructs Tarn to take the Regent to the Ansion system where additional encrypted information will be unlocked. The Regent activates an energy shield around his throne, signals a Separatist shuttle to begin landing on the roof, and reveals to the group that he is the "traitor." He has made a deal with the Separatists that he will be made Governor of the entire sector if he helps them out. To ensure his loyalty, he must deliver his daughter to them to be put into suspended animation as collateral. He broadcasts a fake message to the populace saying that the palace has been captured by the Separatists and that everyone should surrender and lay down arms. Tarn and Marpa rush to the roof to see the Separatist shuttle landing. It contains Seige Commander Korg and his contingent of B-2 battle droids. Tarn is stunned unconscious and taken aboard, but Marpa sneaks into the ship's cockpit and begins the take-off sequence. After stunning her father, Arresta surrenders and is taken on board, but then tries to escape and joins Marpa in the cockpit. Tarn regains his senses and fights off one of the B-2s and the shuttle rises, but Korg leaps and grabs the landing ramp. Tarn joins the others in the cockpit and they take evasive maneuvers and presumably shake Korg off. Quickly reaching orbit, the group decides to set hyperspace coordinates for Bothawui. Meanwhile, Ycram is left behind. He makes his way out of the palace and heads to the spaceport.

Return to Clone Wars Campaign Main Page

Friday, October 24, 2008

Nuclear Tape


I know what you're wondering--is there really such a thing as nuclear adhesive tape? According to Captain America # 103 (1968) the answer is: YES! That evil Red Skull places a strip of it on the back of Cap's neck & plans to detonate it! An exact quote: "Just in time. And best of all--he cannot be aware of the deadly nuclear tape upon his neck!"


I'm wearing turtlenecks for the foreseeable future.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Rifftrax


I'm surprised by the number of people I meet who were fans of Mystery Science Theater 3000 who have never heard of Rifftrax. Mike Nelson & the actors who voiced the bots have gotten together and made MST3K-style commentaries for dozens of recent movies. The tracks can be downloaded from their website and automatically synch up with the movie when played on a computer. I haven't seen them all, but my two favorites so far are Battlefield: Earth (yes, it's as bad as you've heard--the massive codpiece worn by John Travolta's character makes me smile just thinking about it) and The Fifth Element.

Monday, October 20, 2008

L'Avventura Meets the Philistine


Through my Rogers Netflix-style delivery of movies, I've tried to broaden my filmic (?) horizons by getting more "Classic" movies. After watching several, my only conclusion is that I'm simply a Philistine. L'Avventura, for example, which won several 5-star reviews in the guide books (and apparently "invented a new language of cinema" or something) seemed to be simply slow, plotless, and incredibly boring. By summoning unbeknownst reserves of willpower, I managed to finish it. But man, it was not easy.

The Way It Works: Inside Ottawa


On the whole this book by Eddie Goldenberg (Senior Advisor to Jean Chretien) was fairly bland and contained fewer surprising insights into how government works than I expected. There's also little in the way of the political gossip or drama that can liven up a dry read, and Goldenberg is so devoted to Chretien that he has almost nothing critical to say about the PM. It was interesting to see a view of Stephane Dion written before the Liberal leadership race of a couple of years ago. Dion comes across as an enormously respected, principled, and successful advocate of Canadian unity, with the ear of Chretien and a major role in how the Federal government dealt with Quebec--definitely a different picture than I gathered over the past several months from newspaper accounts.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

A Tale of Two Sisters


I recently watched A Tale of Two Sisters, a great horror movie dubbed into English. It's one of those movies where you don't know what's "real" and what's the paranoid delusions of the characters, where you don't know which characters are the victims and which are the threats, etc. It has stuck with me in the days since watching it, unlike most movies. The ending was a bit flat, but this is definitely one worth watching.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Under Arrest


Ironically, a few weeks after turning in my edits in my forthcoming UBC Law Review article Not Dead, Just Sleeping: Canada's Prohibition on Blasphemous Libel as a Case Study in Obsolete Legislation, I came across this 2007 book by Toronto lawyer Bob Tarantino: Under Arrest: Canadian Laws You Won't Believe. Although it's too late to integrate the book into my article, I'm glad I found it in plenty of time to use in my dissertation. It's a fascinating, well-written book on a wide variety of obselete but still-in-force Canadian criminal laws, including bans on comic books that depict crimes ("real or imaginary"), witchcraft, dueling, and yes, even blasphemy. If you're a devotee of the obscure like I am, this is a boon.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Clone Wars Campaign: Recap # 3

Episode 2.1, The Shadow Rises, Session 3

The Galactic Civil War continues. Two months after the battle at Geonosis, the Republic and the Separatists skirmish on a hundred planets. Each tries to consolidate gains but the availability of hyperspace travel makes it difficult to establish a secure front line.

A fierce battle rages on the Outer Rim planet of Kamino, where the Republic has its secret cloning facilities. The defenders knew of the impending Separatist attack but were unprepared for its intensity and the facilities have been breached. On the other side of the galaxy, Jedi Master Mace Windu has been dispatched to an obscure planet to mediate a schism within the Jedi Order.

And on the desert moon Mongui, the Republic's soldiers are beginning to relax as the Separatists appear to be withdrawing their seige. Now only a small Separatist camp remains outside the city's perimeters. Far above, in orbit, an impressive collection of Republic warships defends the sector.

Tensions are rising, however, in the Mongui Royal Palace. The Steward has disappeared, the Commander of the Guard has been eyeing everyone suspiciously, and the Regent himself has been the subject of a highly visible assassination attempt. Moments ago, the body of the Steward was discovered in Commander Alann Drazi's quarters.

And right in the middle of the conflict are three off-worlders sent by the Republic on a mysterious mission . . .

[62 AG]

While transferring Alaan through the palace, Marpa, Ycram, and Arresta are attacked by a rebel group led by Corinne. Marpa and Ycram fall prey to a stun grenade, leaving Arresta to try to track down the rebels. However, Corinne and Alaan escape. Later that morning, Marpa searches Alaan's quarters and finds a hidden datapad listing "400 units" as having been delivered. The group then discovers that Tarn has been kidnapped, and travel to the Spacer's Cluster looking for information. Marpa learns that Twitch duels at an establishment called The Vector and that he pilots a ship called the Sun Runner. Arresta makes a reservation for the surprisingly fancy Vector, and they return to the palace. Marpa and Ycram interrogate a communication's technician and suspect she has helped the rebels by turning off the monitoring systems. Word comes that the Regent is trapped in an elevator and being attacked by Corinne and Alaan. After a furious gun battle, Marpa captures Alaan and Corinne. Arresta takes a speeder to the top of the palace and rappels down the elevator shaft to save her father seconds before he would bleed to death. The group then rushes to bacta tanks to heal their wounds.

[63 AG]

Arresta finds "John Doe" Tarn at the clinic. Tarn interrogates Alaan and is told to go the southeast corner of the palace. There, the group finds a secret passage. Behind DNA-locked doors, crates of B-1 battle droids have been secretly stockpiled, with B-2 battle droids set up as guards. After a series of battles, the droids are all destroyed. After leaving the tunnels, the group runs into Lt. Jaarza (Alaan's replacement), who says that he never received their call for help and informs the group that Alaan was "killed while attempting to escape". The party is taken to a clinic to heal.

Return to Clone Wars Campaign Main Page

Monday, September 29, 2008

Working for the Devil


I recently finished Working for the Devil by the impossible-not-to-be-a-pseudonym Lilith Saintcrow. Apparently this is the first in a series of novels about a half-demon "Necromance" bounty hunter chick with a sword in a future where supernatural abilities and denizens are commonplace. It's one of those few books where, even after finishing it, I'm not sure whether I liked it or not. The protagonist is bisexual which is something I would love to see more of in genre fiction, and some of the scenes are well-written. On the other hand, it lacks the wit or originality that makes me really want to keep turning the pages. I think it's one of those books that I would read the sequel if someone gave it to me or I saw it in a bargain bin, but I wouldn't actively go out and buy.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

My Compulsions

1. I have a book queue. If I buy or am given a book, it goes at the end of the queue and I read books in the queue starting from left to right. In other words, sooner or later I get to every book in the queue, but it could be a couple of years from the time I receive a book to the time I read the book. The thesis is that the queue ensures I don't have a bunch of unread books sitting around for years cluttering up my shelves.

2. I finish every book, movie, computer game, and t.v. show season that I begin. Even if I hate it. In theory, this gives me the chance to not miss out on things that get a lot better as they go on (the t.v. show Tru Calling, for example, got really interesting near the end of Season 1).

3. Every weeknight I read three comic books, 10 pages from a novel in French, and 40 pages from a book in the queue. This ensures I make slow but steady progress in my reading material.

I confess that these things make me seem weird--but I haven't even talked about my toenail collection yet (just kidding!).

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Browns

The city of Cleveland is derided enough; why must the gods punish it more by making the Browns begin the season at 0 and 3? Especially after having won ten games last season, this was supposed to be The Year. Yes, the year in which the Browns could make it to the Super Bowl for the first time ever (the team did want some championships back before the merged NFL came into being). As others have mentioned, the powers-that-be have even committed to showing three Browns games on Monday Night Football, a decision they are doubtless regretting at this very moment.

Then again, perhaps this is simply the prelude to a wondrous 13-3 season.

Yep, that must be it.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Clone Wars Campaign: Recap # 2

Continuing the series of unearthed re-caps of the on-going Star Wars role-playing game. The first several of these early re-caps are quite short, as they were written long after the original sessions. In this session, the PCs encounter the corsair Jocasta and her crew, who would prove to be major adversaries throughout the campaign.

Episode 2.1 "The Shadow Rises" Session # 2

Commander Alaan arrives with several palace guards and Clone troopers. Arresta and Corinne are taken to a private clinic and the others are taken to the Republic garrison for healing. After healing, the group learns that the Royal Steward is missing. Tarn, Ycram, and Marpa come up with a plan involving a faked kidnapping at the Spacer's Cluster cantina to flush out the traitor, but it doesn't work. Marpa kills a spice dealer for insulting his honor, and Tarn encounters a band of rogues led by Jocasta (other members including a Rodian named Twitch and a pair of Gammoreans named the Blood Brothers). Jocasta reveals that she sold Corinne's lover into slavery with the Hutts, but claims that she's been hired by Commander Alaan to discover who the traitor is. After a police raid of the Spacer's Cluster, Jocasta's group is captured but Tarn intercedes and they are released. Back at the palace later that night, the Regent turns over evidence implicating Commander Alaan as the traitor and sends the group to arrest him. They take Alaan into custody after finding the Royal Steward's body hidden in a secret compartment. Tarn receives a private call from Mace Windu, who reveals that the Republic fleet around Mongui is departing within hours for the Defense of Kamino. Mace also says that he has been unable to uncover who in the G.A.R. assigned Tarn to this mission, one he was clearly not qualified for. After finishing the conversation, Tarn is ambushed by persons unknown and rendered unconscious.

Return to Clone Wars Campaign Main Page

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Clone Wars Campaign: Recap # 1

Over a year ago I started directing a Star Wars role-playing campaign set during the early months of the Clone Wars (i.e., in between Episode II and Episode III). The game is still going strong, so I've decided to occasionally post a recap of each session. At the very beginning, the adventuring group consisted of Arresta D'avilos (Princess of Mongui), Tarn Tamarand (young Jedi apprentice), Ycram Notwal (50ish man with a mysterious past), and Marpa Zalon (Duros technical expert). Each recap will start with the session's "Opening Crawl" and will have information only some of the players know redacted. Dates are signified in brackets with the designation "AG" which stands for the number of days After the battle of Geonosis.

Episode 2.1 "The Shadow Rises" Session 1

It is a time of Galactic Civil War. Spurred on by corruption in the Republic Senate, an overreaching bureaucracy, or simple greed, Separatists of every persuasion have convinced hundreds of worlds to secede from the Republic. Led by the respected philosopher and former Jedi Count Dooku, Separatist supporters like the Trade Federation and the Commerce Guild have built millions of battle droids to fight the Republic's Clone Troopers. Now, on the edges of Both and Hutt space, a key planet has fallen under attack by the Separatists. If Mongui falls, the Separatists will have a staging area of attacks on the Core worlds. As the battle on Mongui wages, the Republic has sent a curious delegation . . .

Tarn Tamarand seeks out Master Horellius Creen at the Jedi Temple. Creen tells Tarn that the boy can become his Padawan if he is able to return from a mission with the answer to a question. Creen forwards Tarn's name to the available mission queue, and Tarn eventually receives an order to proceed to Mongui to retrieve the Regent or one of his daughters (for unspecified reasons). Marpa Zokol is hired as a bodyguard for Tarn's expedition. Ycram Notwal is hired as an interpreter. The three board the ship Delia's Ultimatum piloted by a Bothan named Maytoc Kolene.

[60 AG]

The hyperspace coordinates they are given lead them to a trap near Mongui, as the ship arrives right in the middle of a Republic/Separatist space battle. The ship is heavily damaged by two droid starfighters, but the attackers turn back as Delia's Ultimatum limps into the atmosphere. Upon landing at the palace, the ship is greeted by the Regent (Alphon D'avilos), his daughter (Princess Arresta D'avilos), the Guards Commander (Alaan Draazi), and the Royal Steward (Jacque Duran). However, an airspeeder full of B-1 battle droids attacks. Tarn leaps aboard and quickly destroys the droids. The trio learn that there is a traitor somewhere within the palace, who has been providing information to the Separatists, including the security codes to the energy shield surrounding the city.

[61 AG]

Arresta takes the team in her personal landspeeder out to the scavenger yards to investigate her sister, Corinne D'avilos, who was disowned by her father for becoming involved with a drifter named Miklos. While in Corinne's trailer, a Separatist patrol attacks. The Separatists flee after taking heavy casualties, leaving one prisoner behind. Corinne is knocked unconscious during the fight.

Return to Clone Wars Campaign Main Page

Thursday, September 11, 2008

One Thing or Your Mother

I've now written something in the range of 50 reviews of various Buffy the Vampire Slayer books (all on my website at www.geocities.com/jhaeman). My latest review was made easy with the extremely long summary published on the back of the book.


One Thing or Your Mother

Kirsten Beyer (2008)

RATING: 4/5 Stakes

SETTING: Season 2

T.V. CHARACTER APPEARANCES: Buffy, Angelus, Drusilla, Spike, Willow, Principal Snyder, Giles, Joyce, Xander, Cordelia, Larry, Johnathan, Oz, Detective Stein, Detective Winslow, The Mayor, Allan

MAJOR ORIGINAL CHARACTERS: Josh Grodin (demon summoner), Paulina Snyder (Principal's mom), Todd Harter (tutor), Callie (child vamp)

BACK-OF-THE-BOOK SUMMARY: "It's tough being a teenage Slayer. On the verge of failing her junior year--thanks to annoying Principal Snyder, who seems to be acting even stranger than usual lately--Buffy agrees to meet with a tutor. Not helping her studies is the fact that lately she's been exhausted, waking up each morning feeling more tired than she did the night before. To make matters worse, she's tasked with investigating the disappearance of a child . . . a little girl who happens to have gone missing mere hours before a child vampire surfaced in Sunnydale, accompanied by a wheelchair-bound male who fits Spike's description perfectly. Fighting off exhaustion and uneasy at the prospect of staking a child vamp, Buffy learns that Principal Snyder is the target of a sleep-deprivation spell that has taken over Sunnydale. Putting aside her fear that her tutor is out to get her, and hoping that the sleeping spell is affecting both humans and demons, Buffy investigates Snyder's off behavior. She follows him to his childhood home to discover that he has arranged to have his abusive mother banished to the demon dimension. Meanwhile, Drusilla, who has been playing mother figure to the child vampire, is learning how difficult it is to be a parent. As sleep takes hold of the citizens of Sunnydale, Buffy beings to realize that unless she breaks the spell soon, the nightmare is just beginning."

REVIEW

Whew! The summary on the back of the book is almost as long as the book itself! With such a thorough description of the plot already provided, I can move right into some commentary. One Thing or Your Mother is set in Buffy Season Two and the author has paid close attention to continuity and included several minor characters from the show, like Larry, Allan, and police detectives Winslow & Stein. The revelation that Principal Snyder had to make a deal with The Mayor to have the abusive Mrs. Snyder sent to a demon dimension is done quite well and adds some strange sympathy to the figure of Principal Snyder. The subplot involving Drusilla deciding to be "mother" to a vampire child is also well-written and includes excellent portrayals of Drusilla's fickleness, Angelus' volatility, and Spike's ability to show tenderness as surprising times. Overall, the book has a creepy, dark feel that is missing from too many Buffy novels. It's one worth picking up.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

My Teaching Year (Part IV)

The penultimate post in this exciting series!

One thing that took me a while to get used to while being a professor was the feeling of being under constant observation--and I don't just mean at the law school. I seemed to constantly run into my students at restaurants, on the train, walking down the street, etc. (even though the Detroit-Windsor metropolitan area is pretty sizable). Because Detroit Mercy faculty (unlike most laws schools I've been in) have an unspoken shirt-and-tie dress code, I always felt a bit weird encountering my students outside of the school while I was out for a jog or wearing jeans and a t-shirt. Similarly, it made me far more conscious of all the stuff about comic books or Buffy on my website and those old newspaper columns I wrote for the student newspaper. There's a 99.99% chance nobody gave a damn, but it was always in the back of my mind--"what will people think?"

One of the highlights for me at Detroit Mercy was when the moot court team I coached won the Niagara International law competition, the first time a team from UDM had ever won first place in that tournament. Coaching the team was an unusual experience because I had no idea how much control I should try to exert over the team. The fact that it was my first experience with a formal competition and that I lived in Windsor (and so couldn't attend some late-evening practices) led me to choose a mostly hands-off approach (trusting the team to come up with the substance of their arguments, with my role as offering feedback and critiques every few practices), which then got me in trouble with another faculty member (who I had had run-ins with before) who stepped in to provide much more direction. Still, I was the one who went to the competition with the team and advised them from round-to-round. In the end, I have no idea how much of a contribution I made compared to other faculty members, but I am certain that any responsibility for the victory ultimately lies with the students.

The last thing I want to mention in this post is the astounding difference in workload I found between teaching legal writing and constitutional law. Each course required preparation before class, but the constant reading of drafts and papers for the legal writing course consumed far, far more time than grading a single paper and exam for the constitutional law course. It certainly made me sympathetic for the Legal Writing Insititute and other associations of legal writing profs around the country whose members do a lot more work for a lot less money. (Not surprisingly, it also helped cement my decision to be a "doctrinal" professor instead of a legal writing prof).

Friday, September 5, 2008

Goddamn Godstorm

As an addendum to my last post, I can now report that I have lost 6 out of 7 games of Risk: Godstorm against my sig-other, including five in a row. However, I have prepared an excuse for each defeat:

1. The sun was in my eyes.

2. The dog ate my "Sink Atlantis" card.

3. I let her win because otherwise she cuts me.

4. Godstorm? I thought we were playing Chinese Checkers!

5. Parallel Universe Jeremy has also won 6 out of the 7 games. So there!

6. This is all part of my long-term plan to lull her into a false sense of invincibility. Her uppance will come!

Stay tuned for more in this epic saga.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Godstorm


This past week, my sig-other and I have played several rousing games of Risk: Godstorm, a variation of the classic Risk that has an ancient mythology theme. Each player has several gods drawn from a different ancient patheon that they can call upon to aid their armies in battle, and there's also the chance to get miracle cards which can do some cool things, such as sinking the entire continent of Atlantis, raining down plagues on opposing armies, etc.. The downside is that my sig-other keeps amassing massive armies and sweeping me off the board, so I've done what any good lawyer tries to do when losing: change the rules! With my sig-other's kind approval, we've instituted some new house rules to make the game more strategic and less about whoever can amass the largest single army first. All in all, it's a really cool game. Now I can't wait for my soon-to-be-delivered Risk: Star Wars.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

That Silly Wasp!

Real dialogue from Tales of Suspense # 59 (1964):

Scene: The Wasp is looking into a mirror while the other Avengers sit and wait for her.

Wasp: "Stop being so impatient boys! I'll be with you in a jiffy!"

Giant-Man: "Sure, Wasp--that's what you told us a half-hour ago!"

Captain America: "The trouble with girls is they all act like females!"

Iron Man (entering the room): "Say! Haven't you left yet?? You'll be late for that out-of-town charity benefit show!"

Thor: "We're ready to go! But Wasp decided to change her makeup!"

Wasp: "Okay, I'm ready now! Gosh, look at the time. C'mon boys--let's not be late! See you later Iron Man."

Ant-Man: "Just like a woman. You make it sound as though you've been waiting for us!"

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Comics Round-Up, Part the Third







One of the two major Star Wars releases this summer is The Force Unleashed, a story told through a novel, a graphic novel, a computer game, and with several accompanying toys. I thought the graphic novel told a pretty interesting story. Set two years prior to A New Hope, we see Darth Vader take on an apprentice to help hunt down the few remaining Jedi. The story ties in the development of the Death Star, the birth of the Alliance, and more in a fairly seemless continuity implant. It's not ground-breaking stuff, but interesting.


I've generally liked Christ Claremont's work on X-Men, but the X-Men: Die By the Sword mini-series was a trial to get through. Focusing on Captain Britain and the multi-verse, other-dimensional "Captain Britain Corps", the story is one of those cosmic "all of creation is doomed unless the villain is stopped" pieces that tends to make my eyes glaze over. Basically one extraordinarly long fight scene after a decent first issue, this contained way too many characters I've never heard of and really couldn't care less about. Unless you happen to be a major Captain Britain fan, skip this.



The best part about the second volume in Spider-Man's Tangled Web? The story "Ray of Light" by Kaare Andrews. Drawn in almost photo-realistic style, it's the touching story of two young brothers and their differing beliefs about the existence of Spider-Man. The rest of the collection is just average, however.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Boba Fett # 1


For the past year I've been running a Star Wars role-playing game set during the Clone Wars. My completist tendencies have led to me learn more about the era through comics, the novel line, and more. A few days ago, I picked up Star Wars: Boba Fett, The Fight to Survive, a young adult novel and the first in a series of books set right around Episode II: The Attack of the Clones movie.


The book is actually pretty good, and I quite like the colorful cover. It tells the story of 10-year-old Boba Fett in the lead-up and shortly after seeing his father get killed in the Geonosis arena battle. Count Dooku and Aurra Sing make an appearance in the latter third of the book, and I assume the next novels in the series start to show us the makings of a young bounty hunter. Kinda fun if you're looking for a quick & low-vocab read. Is it goofy of me to read kids' books like this? Yes. Will I still buy and read them? Yes.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Comics Round-Up, Part Deux


I have to say my favorite read of recent months has been the (justly ballyhooed) Runaways. I found the first digest-sized trade paperback for $ 4 and I can't wait to pick up more. The story begins with an original twist, as a group of teenagers discover their parents are cold-hearted, murderous super-villians. Each of the teens has a unique and interesting personality, and their dilemma in trying to figure out what to do is really well-written with just the right amount of tension and humor. I wasn't quite as big a fan of the ending which makes it seem like this might become yet another teen super-hero book, but I'm willing to see what happens next.




Of a more mixed quality, the first volume of Spider-Man's: Tangled Web was another find in the bargain bin. The conceit here is that the stories are designed to feature Spider-Man only as a supporting or occasional character, with the spotlight on friends, family members, bystanders, villians, or basically anyone who gets caught up in Spider-Man's web. Each story arc is written by a different author. The first few issues, featuring a new villain named "The Thousand" felt pretty blah, but the last story arc centering on long-time enemy the Rhino was a really fun read. Long Spider-Man's doormat because of his sheer lack of intelligence, the Rhino finds some mad scientists to amp up his brain power with interesting and ironic results. A good read if it can be found cheaply.

I'm not really sure what the thought-process was behind Omega Flight, the heir to the long-standing Canadian super-hero team Alpha Flight. The beginning of this limited series holds out promise, as refugee villains and heroes from America's super powers registration act (the driving force behind the major Civil War event) flee to Canada and cause all sorts of trouble. Since all but one member of Alpha Flight was killed in two panels of an issue of New Avengers a couple of years back (an event I still find annoying and unworthy of twenty-year old major characters), the Canadian and American governments decide to field a new team in Canada to deal with the mess and named it Omega Flight. The odd thing is that they fill it with American heroes like U.S. Agent, Spider-Woman, and an American in the traditionally Canadian Guardian suit. The first couple of issues are halfway decent and it's always fun seeing some Canadian landmarks (poor ROM!), but the second-half of the series devolves into a long and somewhat indecipherable slugfest versus The Wrecking Crew. Disappointing on the whole, and not something that makes me yearn for more Omega Flight adventures.

Avengers Unplugged


In my continuing quest to re-read my complete Marvels, I've reached Avengers Unplugged, a short lived (six issues) series from 1995. Like its sister publication, Fantastic Four Unplugged, the main conceit behind Avengers Unplugged was its price: $ .99 an issue, about half the price of what a "normal" Marvel comic was going for at the time. The idea, I think, was to offer a comic with popular characters that could be read apart from the "main" team book and see if the difference in price would drive sales. Obviously, the plan didn't work since cancellation came quickly.

The first couple of issues are standard slugfests versus super-villains like Nefarius and Graviton, while the third offers something a little different in teaming up two of the Avengers' female members (Crystal and Black Widow) for the spotlight in a rather boring battle against the android Super Adaptoid. The last few issues are better, as #4 features the wedding between long-time super-villain lovers, Titania and the Absorbing Man (with the nice turnabout of the heroes being the interfering problem-makers), # 5 resolves which hero should bear the name "Captain Marvel", and # 6 follows up a plot thread from elsewhere about the Black Knight's cursed sword.

All in all, Avengers Unplugged consisted of standard super-heroics that could have fit into the main Avengers title. Still, it's regrettable that the experiment with lower prices didn't bear fruit.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Comics Round-Up

Summer's usually a good time to catch up on a stack of unread comics, and here's some of the stuff I've gone through recently (spoiler-free, to boot):

Dr. Strange in Shamballa: This is one of the original Marvel graphic novels from 1986, written by J.M. DeMatteis, a writer whose work is sometimes profound and sometimes strays into goofy New Age territory. Shamballa makes the most out of the large-size graphic novel format, however, with beautiful artwork and calligraphy, along with an epic story that fits nicely into the format. I found it in a used book store, but it's long out of print and probably not worth tracking down unless you're a huge fan of Marvel's Sorceror Supreme.


52 # 4: The fourth and final volume in DC Comics' 52 series, which tells what took place during the "missing year" in the DC Universe (in which all of the regular comics "jumped forward" a year in time). 52 is made up of several different story threads: Lex Luthor creating an "Everyman" gene to give super powers to anyone who wants them; Elongated Man, Ralph Dibny, trying to resurrect his dead wife, the Animal Man and other heroes trapped across the universe trying to return home, and more. My favorite thread and the one that kept me comic back for each volume is the story of The Question and his protege, Detective Montoya of the Gotham Police Department. I won't go into spoilers, but The Question storyline is both tragic and excellently written. On the other hand, I wasn't a huge fan of the ending to 52. The suddenly revealed "villain behind it all" seemed random and kinda goofy, and the apparent resurrection of 51 other-dimensional universes seems to undo one of the few good things to come out of the original 1986 Crisis. I should mention one great thing about the 52 trade paperbacks is that for each issue, one of the writers or artists has written a text piece commentary--it's always fascinating to see what's going on in the creators' heads when they put together a comic.

Clone Wars Adventures # 1-4: Each of these is a 96-page, digest-size collection of three of our stories set during Star Wars' Clone Wars era. They're intended for kids, with very little dialogue and simple stories. Like everything Star Wars, they're in continuity, but adults aren't missing much of significance and would be better off focussing on the traditional-size (but similarly named) Clone Wars trade-paperbacks, which collect far more interesting and important comics set during that era.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

My Teaching Year (Part III)

Third in my (very occasional!) series of posts about the year I spent teaching at Detroit Mercy law school:

Like most new profs (I assume), I was quite nervous about teaching for the simple fact that I had never done it before, and unlike many other academic disciplines, there's not much in the way of teaching assistantships in school to prepare. I did gain some confidence from all of the lectures on civil liberties I had given to high school & college students while working at CCLA, but going into the first class at law school was still a scary experience. Fortunately, my first class went great as the students seemed interested and willing to participate, I covered the topics I wanted to, and didn't do anything to embarass myself.

The best advice I ever got about being nervous about teaching came from an unlikely source: random small-talk from some stranger at a cocktail party, who told me "If you're worried about being a good teacher, you're probably going to be a good teacher--it's the people who don't care about it at all who can be the terrible ones." I definitely think that's true--some of the hallmarks of being a good teacher (listening to students, doing the necessary prep work for each class, grading assignments on time and as fairly as possible) don't require some sort of "innate talent" as much as they simply require time and dedication--stuff that anyone can bring to the profession if they care enough about it.

As the weeks progressed, I fell into a rhythm: spend a few hours before each class prepping for the lecture, nap in the afternoons (shush!), and then grading in the evenings and Sundays. I was fortunate to have to teach only a couple of times a week, and no one expected me to do much in the way of scholarship in my first year and as a legal writing prof. I took the administration's advice and did informal evaluations in class after about a month of classes. That, combined with the end-of-semester formal evaluations, was very encouraging--I felt for the first time that I had some "objective proof" that I was good at this whole "teaching thing." I did learn what may be one of those eternal truths about teaching: there's always going to be one or two students who think you are the messiah, the best teacher they have ever encountered, and, simultaneously, one or two who think you are the worst teacher in the history of the world and have no idea what you're talking about. But, hopefully, the majority of students think you're pretty good . . .

While the teaching went quite well, I did feel a curious vacuum with the other aspects of what I expected being a professor meant. There was very little interactions with colleagues apart from faculty meetings and hardly any talk about scholarship or intellectual ideas. Part of this was certainly my fault--I'm a shy guy and don't make friends quickly, my area of scholarship is often obscure, and it's hard to want to spend a lot of time on campus when you live across the border and have to take an hour bus trip to get back and forth. Still, it was an early sign that maybe Detroit Mercy wasn't the best place for me.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Résumé with Monsters


Résumé with Monsters is an interesting and unusual book: a humorous parody of Lovecraft's Cthulu mythos. The main character, Philip Kenan, is a typesetter for various printing companies and believes that various denizens of outer space and other dimensions are personally intervening to destroy his life and career. It's not laugh-out-loud funny in most places, but it is smile-inducing and has great atmosphere.

Friday, July 25, 2008

McCain Gains Ground

Today's CNN "Poll of Polls" shows Obama with only a 3 point national lead over McCain, down from 6 points last week and 8 points a couple of weeks ago. Given that McCain is gaining ground even in the face of some high-profile gaffes (his campaign co-chair calling the U.S. a "nation of whiners", his inability to answer a question about health insurance paying for birth control, etc.), this may shape up to be a closer race than many Obamanauts thought. Of course, U.S. elections aren't determined by a national popular vote, but even on CNN's electoral college analysis, McCain is narrowing Obama's lead in several battleground states. The one piece of good news for Obama is that the aforementioned polls are conducted as if it were a two-man race; when Libertarian Bob Barr and independent Ralph Nader are factored in, Obama opens up a sizable lead over McCain (since the two third-party candidates siphon far more support from McCain than Obama).

Monday, July 14, 2008

Comic Book Killer


Another book I bought when I was 13 and have been lugging around ever since is Richard Lupoff's The Comic Book Killer, a mystery novel I must have bought solely because of its title. The book is the first mystery novel by a long-time fantasy author, and in places it's a bit clunky (way too much description of what the protagonist has for lunch, for example). The novel's about an insurance adjuster named Hobart Lindsey who gets put on the case of $ 250,000 in stolen comics. The author clearly has a real love & knowledge of Golden Age comic books, but the story itself is a bit dry. After reading the book, I was curious to see whether this was a one-shot deal or the beginning of a mystery series and it turns out there are several books starring Lindsey (and/or his girlfriend, a black L.A. cop unlikely named Marvia Plum). This book didn't jazz me enough to want to rush out and buy more in the series, but my collection obsession means that if I saw # 2 in a used book store I would likely pick it up anyway . . .

Friday, July 11, 2008

Democracy's Discontent


Michael Sandel's Democracy's Discontent: America in Search of a Public Philosophy is one of those books at the outermost periphery of my field, famous & cited enough that I feel obligated to read it, but not anywhere close enough to the actual subject of my work (law and religion or civil liberties) that it has been a priority. Anyway, the thesis of the book is that political debate in modern America has become almost exclusively centered around the liberal axes of fairness & liberty, while omitting the core value that animated American political life since the Founding: civic virtue, the idea that laws and debates should turn on the question of what will make us better citizens, better able to participate in a democracy and weigh the common good. Sandel's historical analysis of how the notion of civic virtue was the preeminent American political philosophy for well over a century is quite persuasive. The book is lacking, however, in putting forth a substantive analysis of how things would be different if civic virtue came back into vogue. (it's also a bit boring, but that's a failing common to many academic writers).

KFC's "Vegetarian Sandwich"

Who says nothing good ever comes out of litigation? A couple of months ago, KFC settled a lawsuit with PETA, one of the terms of which was that the restaurant chain would introduce a vegetarian entree. I'm happy to report that the result, the faux-chicken patty "Vegetarian Sandwich" is damned good and it's nice to have an additional fast-food option (though I still wish McDonald's would bring back the McVeggie, but such is life . . .).

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Solo Avengers


In my on-going quest to re-read my Marvel comics from A to Z (complete series only), I recently finished Avengers Spotlight, formerly known as Solo Avengers. The series only lasted 40 issues in the late 1980s and was probably the first series I collected from issue # 1 until it was cancelled--I therefore hold a great deal of nostalgia for the comic. It was one of Marvel's attempts to revive the "split-book" format popular in the 1960s, and starred Hawkeye ("The World's Greatest Marksman") for half of each issue and another Avenger for the other half. The Hawkeye stories tended to be very light-hearted super hero stories, putting the expert archer up against goofy super villians like The Bullet Biker (yes, a guy who rode around on a bike with machine guns), The Orb (a guy's who helmet was a giant eye, which I think shot laser beams), and The Pernicious Plantman (the name says it all!). I still find the stories fun and refreshingly different than the grim and gritty trend that struck super hero comics for quite a while in the late 80s and early 90s (eventually, however, even Hawkeye was struck by the bug near the end of the series, as he gets gunned down by a drug gang and, after his recovery, dons bullet proof armor and makes it his mission to stop the L.A. "gang menace").


Sunday, July 6, 2008

Blasphemy in the Toronto Star

An op-ed on blasphemous libel appeared in today's Toronto Star: http://www.thestar.com/comment/article/454787

I hear the author is really cool and should be sent money.

The Dungeon


My plan upon turning thirty is to spend the year re-reading books I've already read--some of which I've carried around with me from place to place since I was 11 or 12 and have only the vaguest recollection that I liked them.

First on my list were Philip Jose Farmer's The Dungeon series of fantasy novels, which appeared in the late 1980s. The series consists of a single story told through six volumes, with each book written by a different individual author: The Black Tower by Richard Lupoff, The Dark Abyss by Bruce Coville, The Valley of Thunder by Charles de Lint, The Lake of Fire by Robin Bailey, The Hidden City also by de Lint, and The Final Battle also by Lupoff.

The idea behind the series is that the writer of volume 1 would start things off, the writer of volume 2 would continue that story without having any input into the earlier book, and so forth until the story was finished with the sixth and final book. This idea probably created some fun juggling as each author had to both pick up where the last book left off and set things up in an interesting way for the next book.

The first book works wonderfully. Set in the mid 1800s, it begins as a pulp adventure story as English soldier Clive Leighton travels throughout the Orient and Africa to find his missing brother. Deep in the heart of Africa, he ventures through a strange opening in a boulder and finds himself on the first level of The Dungeon, a place strange and exotic. In it and succeeding books, we follow Clive's voyage through the Dungeon (almost always a step behind his brother, who leaves him mysterious and tantalizing clues) and meet several companions along the way: the cyborg Chang Guafe, the giant arachnid Shriek, Clive's great-great-great-something grand-daughter Annabelle, and more.

The Dungeon, however, isn't simply a series of caverns--each of the nine levels is anything from an alien city to another world. My description is no doubt doing the series an injustice as it probably sounds incredibly cheesy--and to a degree, it is almost like every possible fantasy and science-fiction idea was thrown into a blender and mixed up: the series contains everything from time-travel to cloning to aliens to ray guns to telepathy to demons and more.

It's a wild ride but one that doesn't lose focus on Clive and his companions, each of whom is given an interesting personality. In many ways, the books remind me of Lost, where you sometimes feel the writers are making things up episode-by-episode and sometimes things seem to have been set-up years prior. The downside (much like I unfortunately predict is inevitable with Lost) is that not everything is completely explained--there are characters, clues, plot threads, and more that are left hanging in earlier books and not wrapped up in the final book. Indeed, the last book was somewhat disappointing as the focus is solely on Clive and most of his companions are relegated to occasional cameos.

I don't think I can give the books an unqualified recommendation, but at least the first one is worth reading . . . so I'll probably carry them around with me for another couple of decades.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Antoine Sharpe, The Atheist



I picked up a trade paperback called Antoine Sharpe, The Atheist: Incarnate the other day for two reasons: it had a cool sounding title and it was in the bargain bin because of "corner damage". I was extremely impressed by this book and I hope the creators do more soon (one gathers from the introduction that they have major deadline problems). The lead character is "slightly autistic" and has amazing powers of deduction and problem solving; he's also a cold-hearted skeptic and occasional investigator into "occult" mysteries. I know the book sounds a bit like the X-Files, and in a way it is--but it's got a nice edge that that show always lacked, a really creative creepy storyline, and a great ending. In fact, the story told in the TPB would make a great pilot episode or standalone movie.

Psycho Beach Party


Rogers recently sent me Psycho Beach Party, a movie I knew nothing about and added to the list solely because I was curious to see Nicholas Brendon (a.k.a. Alexander Lavelle Harris) in a non-Buffy role. I expected a dumb, cheapie comedy but I was pleasantly surprised that this dumb, cheapie comedy was actually funny a respectable portion of the time. Brendon's "beach stud" character is accompanied by Thomas Gibson (Greg of Dharma fame) and the excellent Lauren Ambrose in the lead role as wannabe surfer/possible crazed psycho killer.

Friday, June 27, 2008

The Heller Second Amendment Case

Most of the legal blogs I regularly read have posted extensively on the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Heller that the Second Amendment creates an individual right to own firearms, subject to certain undefined limitations. I don't have particularly strong opinions on the case itself, one way or the other, but I do want to briefly mention a couple of points.

First, many are celebrating both the majority's and the dissent's frequent citation and discussion of scholarship. Like most legal scholars, I love to see legal scholarship invoked as it gives me the hope that what legal scholars produce has a real role to play in shaping the law. However, it's not clear to me that in a 5-4 decision like Heller, where the Court is predictably split on conservative/liberal lines, whether the scholarship actually influenced the decision or is merely used to help explain a previously reached conclusion about how the case should be decided. A Canadian lawprof named Allan Hutchinson has also warned, rightly in my opinion, of law professors who write only with an eye to being cited by the courts, as if a count of citations was necessarily validation of the quality of one's work. Cynically manipulating one's writing in order to make it judicially palatable can be demeaning to true scholarship.

Second, Heller is another good example of the dangers that surround lawyers (advocates by nature) attempting to answer questions of historical or empirical fact. Judges and scholars are easily tempted to zealously embrace their position whole-heartedly and, in doing so, to argue that the opposing position is completely wrong and almost frivolous, when often the evidence is contradictory and the facts ambiguous. Such one-sidedness is laudable for a lawyer zealously representing a client but quite problematic in judging, where the goal is (or should be) an objective analysis of the relative merits of various positions. In other words, deciding that Position A is best doesn't always require treating advocates of Position B with thinly-veiled contempt. However, that's been the norm between majority and dissenting opinions in far too many recent Supreme Court opinions.

Monday, June 23, 2008

My Teaching Year (Part II)

One of the weird things about academic jobs is the time lag involved. You interview in October, get an offer in November or early December, and then sit on your heels for a good eight months until you start teaching the following August. I tried to use the time as wisely as possible by reading scholarship about legal writing, looking at lesson plans from other teachers, going to a conference, etc., but like with most things there's a limit to how much you can learn about something without actually doing it, which means you really have to learn on the job while in the meantime desperately hoping you meet the minimum expectations of students, the administration, and other faculty.

Between accepting the job and starting teaching, there were both fun and stressful moments which I won't go into much detail about: finding a beautiful apartment overlooking the river in Windsor; having my boss at CCLA call me the wrong name at my going away toast; my sig-other losing out on a great job in Detroit because they wouldn't sponsor her for a visa; and the Worst Moving Experience in the History of Mankind. But I digress . . .

One thing I had only the fuzziest impressions of as a law student, but that was very important to learn for my particular teaching position, was the great dichotomy between regular "doctrinal" law professors (those teaching torts, constitutional law, etc.) and "legal writing" professors. In short, although things are starting to improve, legal writing profs at most law schools make far less money, are ineligible for tenure, and (at some schools) can't even vote at faculty meetings. On the other hand, legal writing profs are usually not required to produce scholarship because the positions are designed with former practitioners in mind.

Now the great irony of my becoming a legal writing professor is that I'm primarily a legal scholar and have never "practiced law" in the traditional sense: I've never taken a bar exam, clerked at a law firm, articled, or represented a client in any context other than in a law school clinic setting. Legal research and writing are my strong suits--after all, that's what scholarship requires--but it's fair to say I had a very different background than all of the other legal writing profs at Detroit Mercy and most other law schools.

In my next post, I'll talk about my actual teaching experiences.