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Commentary Track: The Buy Pile for November 25, 2009

Posted in comics reviews on November 27th, 2009 by Hannibal Tabu

First of all, let’s be completely clear: this joint was done Thursday morning. Some little known holiday made CBR’s leadership wanna hold off posting that day. Didn’t stop Bleeding Cool, but they’re from England, where Warren Ellis said, “Here in Britain, of course, it’s ‘Thank F**k We Got Those Weird Jesus Bastards On The Boat Day.’” I have no beef at all with that.

Anyway, on to the reviews.

I will say that for all the talk about Ultimate War Machine’s capacity, I’d like to see some of that happen — if his chest beam can level a major city, I need to see a major city leveled. It’s like the old saying about drama — if you see a gun in the first act, it has to be fired before the final curtain calls. Let’s give Ultimate War Machine a chance to shine one day soon, shall we?

People think I hate Brian Michael Bendis. To be honest, people think I hate a lot of stuff that I just barely pay attention to. In any case, I’ve been critical of a lot of Bendis comics for the same reason I’m critical of some of Jeph Loeb comics or Warren Ellis comics or Jonathan Hickman comics or Peter David comics. I know they can do better. I can go pick up Batman: The Long Halloween or Transmetropolitan Vol. 01: Back on the Street or The Nightly News or Incredible Hulk Visionaries – Peter David, Vol. 6 (do you have six plus volumes of anything in print calling you a “visionary?” Me neither … I should get to work on that) and point out, panel by panel, how they can do better. Every page won’t be our best, but I need for the disparity to be less striking.

So when I pick up an issue like this, or some of his Dark Avengers stuff, where the script really hauls ass and the art keeps pace, I give praise where it’s due. I have nothing personal against anybody in comics. Not the major company editor who acted like I was gonna rob them when I asked a question at SDCC one year, not the major company writer who’s reputed to toss racial slurs around in casual conversation, nobody. I have artistic beefs with some people, and in some cases (one leaps to mind, as I see his Twitter updates) was settled quite impressively and said creative person has upped the game a hundredfold. I like that. Moving forward, doing better. It’s tough love, but love nonetheless. Never forget I freaking love comics.

Moving on: I would tune in every single week if Chew were on TV. I’ve made many death threats against its writer John Layman (most of which were jokes), I’ve participated in his foolish blog challenge, and so on. But beneath the cloud of questionable smoke and the dazed look in his eye, he’s actually pretty talented, and Chew is a great showcase for the twisted, multi-layered humor-slash-action-slash-drama style he has honed into something great. However, saying all that, the comic’s good, but it’s not “oh my god” good. There were a few issues that elicited such a reaction, ones where I re-read it and was like, “I can’t believe this!” But most are just below that point, and I need that in a title like this which can allow Layman to be quirky without really needing to go very far with it.

A similar concern happens with Star Wars: Legacy. In my brain, I want so badly for this series to be good. I honestly want every Star Wars book to be a guaranteed purchase — ditto for G.I. Joe and Transformers. These are, for better or worse, part of mu cultural inheritance, etched into the permacrete of my upbringing like tagger’s legacies in the sidewalk. The threshhold between “good” and “great,” to me, is the difference in what I’d watch on TV because it’s tolerable and it’s on and the stuff I watch with fervor, working hard to sit down with it and pay attention. If I’m happy to multi-task while it’s on, it’s not good enough to pay for, and the same goes for comics (although I can’t multi-task while reading comics, or I’d get a lot more done).

While I’m at it, the same goes for Immortal Weapons this week, Criminal, Son of Hulk, Wildcats, Wonder Womanand probably a few more.

Now, for the SPOILERS. I dunno if Dove’s white light shtick showed her as the first of the “White Lanterns” or not (now appearing all over Idaho), but the idea that all life comes from white light and all death from black light sounds like the same old 3rd Bass complaints. “Black cats is bad luck, bad guys wear black/ Must have been a white guy who started all that.” (Fun fact, MC Serch is white, which is why I love using that line — that sort of thing and singing rock music at karaoke are as close as I’m likely to get to reparations). Better yet, as Ras Kass said, “Black is the combination of all colors/White is the lack thereof/Darkness is beneath the ground, and in the skies up above.” That’s just science. So that stuck in my craw pretty badly.

I can’t say how excited I am about the new Dingo comic that’s coming from Boom! Studios. I read the original novel when it was chapters in a dude’s blog and remember anxiously waiting for the next installment to drop. I’m so pumped, because I already read the preview PDF and I’m seriously walking right in and buying that bastard. Such a great story.

I’ve talked a lot about The Untamed #1 from Stranger Comics (and yes, I’m sorry about the Flash, it’s so not my idea and/or fault) which is coming up, but it hits stores next week and I’m very jazzed about it — and not just because I’m working with the publisher. It’s a mean spirited dark fantasy set in a world that’s equal parts Kurosawa, Tolkien and Sergio Leone. I love the tone of it and the pacing’s measured, not slow. Due to the conflict of interest, I won’t review it next week (I read the first two or three issues months ago) but I didn’t wanna let it go unheralded.

That’ll do for now. Have a good weekend.

Playing (Music): “The Professional” by Black Thought

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Happy Anniversary 2009

Posted in anniversary on November 23rd, 2009 by Hannibal Tabu

I met my wife on this day in 2006.

I wasn’t, at the time, looking for a wife. I was doing some lazy womanizing with people I didn’t really have much interest in, floating from here to there while engaging in the deep hedonism of fifteen-hour stretches of sleep, fifteen-hour stretches of video games and a relentless number of late nights out in bars, singing and carousing with my friends. Probably still reeling from the wreckage of a failed marriage that haunted me even then. I wasn’t looking for anything, just taking what I found.

Apropos of nothing, a young woman caught my eye on the MySpace profile of a promoter I was working with, and her profile was filled with things that made me smile and laugh — her greatest fear and greatest disappointment, for example, listed as “the US government.” Seven years my junior and more beautiful than anyone had a right to be, I thought, “if she’s not a nutjob, she’ll probably make some young brother very happy one day.” I sent her a message noting that I had no intentions towards her and that I wanted to encourage her to keep on with such ideas and such spirit. Given the ladies of ill repute with which I trafficked at the time, I couldn’t see my darkness clouding her brilliance.

When she responded back with flirtation, I was shocked. Movie star good looks taking an interest in me? I’d always considered myself a solid second option, the Scottie Pippen of dating (not with the head ridges or camel face, though) — damned good but not the superstar that got everybody’s attention. She was everything that I’d never been able to reach before, so I shrugged in the leather couch dimness of my Jungles apartment and wrote back, opening myself up to possibility.

Our first date was supposed to happen on a Friday night, but a freak bathroom fire at the bar where I hosted karaoke changed my plans. I was sitting at my aunt’s house, lazily flipping through Black Friday sales circulars and ignoring whatever game was on the TV when her text messages came through like a ray of light. Accepting her invitation, I skipped a long line at Best Buy and turned down another invitation to see what dreams might come.

The night was nothing I expected. Often great looking online photos are an indication of a past state, but she was as striking as the digital representations had suggested — lean framed, expressive eyes, waterfall crown of reddish dreadlocks and a smile that could illuminate galaxies. She beat me relentlessly at a game called Pente, then mixed her crass nature (which I later learned) with an up-front shyness as she put down romantic themed words on a Scrabble board. She wanted to put down an abbreviation, “lube,” which I offered to allow for the cost of a kiss. I thought that was too forward when she recoiled, until she softly asked, six turns later, “is that offer still on the table?”

The kiss led to holding while we traded crazed queries — I asked her thoughts on stem cell research, she insisted that the Smurfs were analogues of the Ku Klux Klan — and she didn’t want me to leave. I was intent on not besmirching this star with my really forward advances, but eventually agreed to stay, sleeping clothed by her side.

When a bundle of cheeks and whimsy toddled in between us the next morning, describing an imaginary backpack and showing no trepidation at the weird guy in mommy’s bed, I had to smile. It felt normal. It felt good.

Three years later it still does. She’s managed — if you let my friends tell it, laughing at the car seat in my sedan — to brighten my blackest fires. I fear, however, that darkness within me may have shadowed her sunshine somewhat, but we’re walking through this life together and the story’s nowhere near it’s end. In just a few weeks, she’s going to give me the finest gift of all — a new baby daughter to go with the promise of forever we shared in March.

I’ve told this story before — I meant to grab the copy off of our wedding website before it fell victim to time — and I tell it again, with great joy. It’s been a hell of a ride so far, and I can’t wait for the next twist and turn, holding her close by my side.

Playing (Music): “Defying Gravity” by the cast of Glee

… or you could read her take on things

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The Jedi Temple: Rumond Taylor

Posted in torch-passing, writing on November 20th, 2009 by Hannibal Tabu

Once upon a time, I had a wacky idea that I’d teach a lot of the things I learned as a professsional writer. I picked people with a mix of talents and ambitions and figured I’d have a go. This was a terrible idea, because real life had no desire to feed this particular ambition of mine.

However, a lot of good work was done while it lasted, so I’d like to present some of it. The work here is from Tennessee-based writer Rumond Taylor, often known online as Encyclopedia Black. He’s smarter than he lets on, he’s funnier than he knows what to do with, and he’s a diamond in the rough shining through the muck of the mundane. Enjoy …

HISTORICAL FICTION: My Dearest Sally

Whilst I was vacationing in Paris, a Frenchman sought me out the other day to ask me what he considered a fair query.

I dismissed him quickly as I had chapters of John Locke’s manifesto to complete, and returned to my residence on the Champs-Élysées. (By the way, I must bring you with me some day. Your eyes have not dined until they have feasted upon Paris at daybreak).

His words were not quickly forgotten, however, and I have come to an important decision that will affect you and your children.

As I stare out of the window of this residence, I am reminded of the sweet taste of your fair skinned bosom. I think of the horrors I have imposed upon you, seeking you out in the dark, feeling my way through the warmth of your knickers.

And I am ashamed.

I’m sure you think me some monster, but I am not. I am merely a man with little time for the courting involved with carrying on affairs. Were I a more virile man, like that cursed Aaron Burr, strutting about with my chest poked out, always challenging people to duels, perhaps I would acquit myself better with the fairer sex.

But I have devoted my life to seeking and acquiring knowledge, and as such must seek pleasure where it finds me. I am not at all implying that this relationship (such as it is) is one of convenience, but a man of my means has had greater things to consider other than the feelings of a half-breed slave.

But no more. Effective immediately I am freeing you and your siblings. By law you have one year to leave the commonwealth of Virginia, and I will support freedom for your children as soon as they learn a skill trade.

Should you decide to remain at Monticello, I will see to it that you are relieved of your duties, and you and your heirs share lay claim, upon my passing, to your rightful throne as a member of the Jefferson Family.

I am sorry for any pain I may have caused you, and I hope in some small way, this gesture can begin to rectify the situation.

Yours truly,
Thomas

P.S. I was just stricken by the fact that I haven’t yet taught you to read. Please disregard this letter.

RECORD REVIEW: Damn Near Perfect: Lupe Fiasco’s The Cool

Lupe Fiasco has engendered the most online animosity of any new-school MC other than Lil’ Wayne. His failure to remember the words to ATCQ’s song during VH1’s Hip-Hop Honors (dubbed “Fiascogate”) and his stubborn refusal to apologize made him a frequent target of ridicule. So how did he respond?

He made a damn near perfect album.

The Cool is based on a song from Lupe’s first album, Food and Liquor, about two characters, the Streets and The Game (not to be confused with the British and West Coast rappers, respectively). On the song “Put You On Game,” Lupe brilliantly personifies The Game as the darkness that lies in the heart of man over a threatening murmur of a track. Lupe raps:

“I am the American dream/The rape of Africa/The undying machine/The overpriced medicine/The murderous regime/The tough guy’s front/And the one behind the scenes.”

Unfortunately, this theme is not followed throughout the course of the album, but is only hinted at on a few tracks. Had Lupe decided to make the entire album in this vein, it may have produced a dark classic like Ready To Die. As it stands though, the album is filled with enough solid songs that dropping the theme isn’t entirely regrettable. Lupe’s flow is so varied; meticulous and dense that deciphering the lyrical content is like pursing a novel.

Both the production and guests (save a lazy cameo from Snoop Dogg on “Hi-Definition”) on the album are entirely from Lupe’s 1st & 15th in-house production crew, which are both a gift and a curse. While the mixture of beats keeps the album from treading familiar ground carved by more famous producers, some of the beats, notably on “Gotta Eat” and “Intruder Alert” don’t match up with the verbal dexterity Lupe brings. (though to be fair, the metaphor laden “Gotta Eat” is the weakest song on the album.)

Overall The Cool is a remarkable album that while notable for what it could have been is highly respectable for what it is.

OPINION-EDITORIAL: The Vanishing

Tragedy is defined in the dictionary as “an event causing great suffering, destruction, and distress, such as a serious accident, crime, or natural catastrophe” or “a play dealing with tragic events and having an unhappy ending, esp. one concerning the downfall of the main character.” But in simpler terms, I think of tragedy as “just some plain ol’ messed up stuff.”

Case in point: some years ago I worked at a medical facility with a developmentally disabled man that I will call “Chris.” Chris was a friendly guy with a sunny disposition who loved singing songs from commercials and watching cartoons. He could read, write, and had graduated high school. He was also diagnosed as having schizophrenia.

On my first day working at the facility, Chris greeted me by singing the theme from the “Tootsie Roll” candy commercial. You know, the one that goes, “Whatever it is I think I see, becomes a Tootsie Roll to me.” I laughed, and we became friends.

I learned from his family that Chris’ schizophrenia hadn’t revealed itself until his junior year in high school. Chris was completely “normal” and was even a member of the track team. Then, out of nowhere, he began hearing voices and having visions. The family, not knowing how to deal with his outbursts and hallucinations, sent him away to receive medical care.

During the seven years that I worked with him, I never saw any signs of his schizophrenia. He had his bad days like everyone else, but his medication helped control the more difficult parts of his schizophrenia. I brought him to college parties with me, he visited my family during the holidays, and I took him home to see his family several times. I looked forward to going to work, and he became more like a brother to me than a client.

Then things started to change.

Over a gradual period of time, I began to notice a change in Chris’ demeanor. He began sweating profusely. He began shaking uncontrollably when performing basic tasks. He stopped reading and talking. Our nursing staff was drew blood, ran tests, but couldn’t figure out what was wrong. Doctors were puzzled as to what could be causing his downward spiral. Chris couldn’t tell us, but obviously something was going horribly wrong.

I spoke with his family to update them on Chris’ condition and I learned that Chris’ father was displaying similar symptoms. As it turns out, both Chris and his father had Parkinson’s disease. Chris’ Parkinsons was compounded, however, by a lifetime of taking schizophrenic medications. Things went from bad to worse.

Chris deteriorated quickly as the muscles in his body betrayed him. The simple act of lifting a fork caused food to be flung across the room. His hands were clinched so tightly his fingers dug through the skin on his palms. He was unable to walk without assistance due to his leg muscles stiffening. Imagine flexing your muscle and holding it tightly. All day and night.

In less than two months, Chris’ appearance changed drastically. He lost 40 lbs. He couldn’t walk. He couldn’t stand. His jaw was set so tightly his teeth grinded against each other. His body was so contracted his shoulders were swollen. Pressure sores covered his entire body. Drinking Ensure through a straw was the only way he could eat. But even that became a problem.

Chris began to choke on the Ensure we were serving him, putting him at risk for pneumonia. Our facility wasn’t equipped to feed Chris intravenously, so the State Board told us that we had to find alternate placement for Chris, or stop feeding him meaning that he’d starve.

Until he died.

His family and I searched frantically for an open bed that could accommodate him, but many facilities refused to accept his insurance, thinking he’d die before they made enough to cover their expenses. I flatly told my superiors that I refused to watch him die due to lack of food and that I would feed him regardless of the consequences. I was told that if I fed him the facility would be forced to take action against me. I would not budge. We were at an impasse.

Thankfully, Chris’ brother-in-law found a nursing home about 70 miles from Chris’ hometown that would take him. The nursing home was small and understaffed, but at least it was an alternative to watching him die of starvation before my eyes.

As I packed his belongings in the van, Chris laid in a on his bed, his eyes watching my every move. I tried to explain to him that this was the best thing for him, but I didn’t believe my own words.

The five and a half hour drive to the nursing home was the longest drive in my life. I knew that the next time I saw Chris, he would either be emaciated beyond recognition or worse, dead. As I drove, I sang all of the songs he enjoyed, and I could see him struggling to use his remaining energy to hum the theme to the “Tootsie Roll” song one more time.

We arrived at the home, and the orderlies helped me unload his things and check him in. I wheeled Chris down the hallway as we both took in this new environment. The walls were pea green and the floor tile had the faded look of a place built long ago. An old black and white television hung on the wall showing “Wheel Of Fortune.”

I tried telling the orderlies about the way Chris laughed when someone told a joke, or how he liked to say that girls would get him in trouble. I told them how smart he was. They looked at Chris, and I could see them wondering how this desiccated shell of a man could be capable of the things I was describing. I realized that I was still remembering the person that he was, and not the person that he had become.

I stayed by his bedside longer than necessary, watchinghis eyes sizing up all these new faces. He seemed confused and scared, and I couldn’t blame him. These people weren’t his family. These people weren’t the friends that he had known for the past 25 years. These people were strangers, and he was going to die here.

Alone.

I hugged him and lied through my teeth, telling him everything was going to be okay. He smiled at me.

That was the last time I saw him alive.

I cried as I got in my car, not wanting to look in the rearview mirror for fear that my guilt would make me go back into the nursing home and take him with me. Rain began to assault my windows as I drove home, and I thought briefly about pulling over but I couldn’t take my foot from the pedal. I wanted to get as far away as quickly as I could. I kept driving.

When people tell me that their life is hard, or claim that something tragic happened to them, I think of Chris. I think of someone who never caused another living soul a second of grief, and all of the misery and suffering that was heaped upon his shoulders. And through it all, he still managed to smile.

Tragic, ain’t it?

These are the final drafts of assignments he was given, and I believe they’re top-notch and publication worthy. I hope to see more of his writing, and not just on the weekends when he watches sports.

Playing (Music): “The Professional” by Black Thought

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