Archive for May 2009

Comic Art Friday: I hear red thunder

May 29, 2009

Sometimes, what makes one of my Common Elements commissions fun isn’t the mystery of the connection between the characters involved. Rather, it’s the ineffably bizarre nature of the combination itself. I just love a Common Elements scenario that makes the viewer stop and wonder, “What incredible sequence of circumstances would lead to these two characters meeting?”

Then, when the artist assigned the project absolutely rocks the execution, it’s money.

Bending the bow is Red Arrow, currently a member of the Justice League of America. Wielding the sword and shield is Red Sonja, heroine of the Hyborian Age. The talent behind the pencil is Lan Medina, best known as the artist of the fantasy series Fables.

And yes — I chortled in my joy when I saw what Lan had envisioned.

Red Arrow probably ranks right behind Dr. Henry Pym — a.k.a. Ant-Man, Giant-Man, Goliath, Yellowjacket, and just plain Doctor Pym — in the Most Superhero Identities sweepstakes. Roy Harper began his crimefighting career as Speedy, the juvenile sidekick of DC Comics’ durable bowman, Green Arrow. In addition to his adventures alongside the Emerald Archer, Speedy was also one of the longtime stalwarts (replacing founding member Aqualad) of DC’s youth brigade, the Teen Titans.

As Speedy, Roy became one of the first costumed characters in mainstream comics to struggle with drug addiction, in a landmark 1971 storyline (entitled “Snowbirds Don’t Fly”) by writer Denny O’Neil and artists Neal Adams and Dick Giordano.

The clean-and-sober, and now adult, Roy later changed his superhero name to Arsenal, apparently having recognized that “Speedy” was not a sobriquet designed to strike terror into the hearts of malfeasants. The new moniker allowed Roy to expand his weapons expertise beyond the bow and trick arrows that had been his mainstay, apparently having also recognized that as a close-quarters fighting tool, a bow leaves something to be desired.

More recently, with his stormy relationship with his mentor and surrogate father Oliver (Green Arrow) Queen resolved in positive fashion, Roy changed his nom de guerre once more, to Red Arrow. In this new guise, he joined the Justice League, where he remains a prominent member of DC’s headline team.

Given his reliance on technology, as well as his history of substance abuse, Red Arrow is one of comicdom’s most thoroughly modern heroes. How cool is it, then, to see him battling shoulder-to-shoulder with Red Sonja, a heroine of the long-distant past?

Pretty darned cool, if I say so myself. (And I just did.)

I left the design of this piece — as I nearly always do with my Common Elements commissions — entirely to the imagination of the artist. Lan Medina devised an action-packed scenario that perfectly (and rather cleverly, in my rarely humble opinion) displays the specific skills of these two amazing heroes. Lan also added a number of subtle details that underscore the contrast between ancient history (the dinosaur skeleton) and 21st century (the “Biohazard” warning seal) represented by the pair. The scene is both intricately plotted and beautifully rendered.

Best of all, the picture implies an entire tale. Wouldn’t you just love to know what led up to this moment? Where is this battle taking place? Who are the unseen adversaries? What power snatched these two heroes from their respective, far-flung time periods and deposited them in this moment? Just what the heck are Red Sonja and Red Arrow doing here?

Perhaps, someday, I’ll write that story.

For now… that’s your Comic Art Friday.

[You can view previous Comic Art Friday posts here.]

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What’s Up With That? #77: Teaching a pig to sing

May 27, 2009

Here’s an example of why the word “landlord” is synonymous in the minds of most people with “used car salesman” and “politician.”

We’ve lived as renters in the same house for the past 15 years. We love the place — obviously, since we’ve never felt compelled to move — but the management company that oversees the property doesn’t have a clue. Whenever we’ve needed something repaired around the property, it frequently takes repeated contact before we get any action, and when the management company finally does decide to send someone out, they’ve usually hired the least expensive (and thus, least competent) help.

A few weeks ago, the property managers hired a company to conduct a termite inspection. When the pest report was filed, the inspector identified about $10,000 in repairs — including several items we’ve reported to the management outfit previously, without response. So the management company sent three people — two of their own staffers, plus a general contractor — to assess the items in the report.

The guy who runs the management company still wasn’t satisfied after his people did their review. (Translated: They told him he actually needed to spend money.) He decided to come take a look for himself. He called to let me know that he would drop around at noon one day last week.

The noon hour came and went. So did the next couple of hours. Finally, the guy shows up at 3:30 — three and a half hours after his scheduled appointment. No call to let me know that he was running late, or to reschedule, or to verify that he was even still planning to show up.

For me, that’s a problem. I work from a home office, I’m here most of the time. However, due to the creative nature of my work, especially when I’m writing marketing copy or recording audio projects, interruptions are a challenge. If I’m expecting someone, I don’t get deeply into a project. For this reason, I lost three and a half hours of production time waiting for this guy to appear.

But, as I’ve indicated, this kind of ineptitude is par for the course with this outfit, so I let it go.

As the property manager was leaving, he told me that he would be bringing the owner of the house around to take a look on Tuesday of this week. He agreed to call and confirm a time, and on Monday, he phoned to say that they’d arrive sometime between 11:30 and 1:30.

On Tuesday, the specified time window came and went. As did the three hours following, right up until the moment that I needed to depart for chorus rehearsal. Again, no call from the property manager. Since he had come three and a half hours late the time before, I had every reason to expect that he would show up eventually.

But he didn’t.

This time, I didn’t let it go.

After a couple of exchanged messages over the next two days, I finally got the guy on the phone to express my displeasure. Not only did he not apologize for wasting my time, but he accused me of being “too sensitive” about the issue. As he put it, what difference did it make if he didn’t show up — late or simply not at all — if I was at home anyway? “You weren’t inconvenienced,” he said.

Never mind the fact that I put work on hold for two entire afternoons due to his lack of consideration. Never mind the fact that I might have had other things to do rather than hang out waiting for his incompetent self.

As the old saying goes: Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time, and annoys the pig.

We’ll see how the pig feels on the first of the month, when my rent check is attached to an invoice for the eight and a half hours of my time he wasted over the past week.

National Sorry Day

May 26, 2009

In Australia, today is National Sorry Day.

This incredibly thoughtful observance is the opportunity for Aussies of European extraction to say to their Aboriginal neighbors, “Hey, mates, we’re sorry that we stole your continent… and hacked down a boatload of your eucalyptus trees… and raped your local culture… and built that ridiculous-looking opera house… and foisted Paul Hogan on you.”

I’m thinking that we could use a National Sorry Day right here in the U.S. of A.

Oh, sure, we could start with apologies to the indigenous people of North America for 400 years of murder, disease, reservations, alcoholism, and abject poverty, and to the folk of African heritage for that whole slavery / Jim Crow / back-of-the-bus debacle.

But why stop there? I have a whole list of suggestions for America to be sorry about on National Sorry Day.

To wit…

We’re sorry for boy bands.

We’re sorry for professional wrestling and NASCAR (which, if you think about it, are kind of the same thing).

We’re sorry that The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. got canceled.

We’re sorry for Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, and Ann Coulter. Dr. Laura, too.

We’re sorry for fake fingernails, and weirdly colored nail polish.

We’re sorry for PETA, except for the fact that their existence means more meat for the rest of us.

We’re sorry for Jerry Springer and David Hasselhoff.

We’re sorry for “grim and gritty” comic books.

We’re sorry for Chicken McNuggets.

We’re sorry for cell phones whose owners are too self-absorbed and inconsiderate to turn their ringers off in theaters and restaurants.

We’re sorry for mullets. (The haircut. Not the fish.)

We’re sorry for people who saddle their children with ludicrous names.

We’re sorry for breast implants for anyone who isn’t a mastectomy patient, and cosmetic surgery for anyone who isn’t a burn victim, or born with a disfiguring birthmark or cleft palate. (Basically, we’re sorry for Joan Rivers, Michael Jackson, Kenny Rogers, Pamela Anderson, Bruce Jenner, and everyone who’s mutilated themselves in their likeness.)

We’re sorry for Scientology, although if you bought into pseudo-religious mumbo-jumbo invented by a money-grubbing hack science fiction writer, you have no one to blame but yourself.

We’re sorry for Michael Bolton.

We’re sorry for paisley and polyester.

We’re sorry for the Oakland Raiders, the Golden State Warriors, and the postseason San Jose Sharks.

We’re sorry for all those American Pie movies.

We’re sorry for anabolic steroids.

We’re sorry for the Olsen twins.

We’re sorry for instant coffee.

And we’re really, really sorry for George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. But we’re trying to undo all that stuff.

A Memorial Day thought

May 25, 2009

As we pause in the midst of our frenzied technological whirlwind to honor the men and women who have sacrificed their lives in service to this country, we offer these words — all the more powerful today, given the current holder of the nation’s highest office, than they were when first spoken.

Until justice is blind to color, until education is unaware of race, until opportunity is unconcerned with the color of men’s skins, emancipation will be a proclamation but not a fact. To the extent that the proclamation of emancipation is not fulfilled in fact, to that extent we shall have fallen short of assuring freedom to the free.

— President Lyndon B. Johnson, Memorial Day Address at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, May 30, 1963

And, oh yeah…

Captain America and the Red Skull, pencils by Kevin Maguire, inks by Joe Rubinstein

Take that, Red Skull.

When the ivy walls are far behind

May 23, 2009

My daughter KM graduated from the local community college this morning.

To me, it seems a bit peculiar to refer to the end of KM’s two-year stint as “graduating,” given that she’s already been accepted to a four-year state university and will continue there as a junior in the fall. Still, the event marks a considerable achievement and a bargeload of hard work on her part. Even if it’s more a new beginning than a conclusion, I’m delighted for her to graduate — if only from one collegiate experience to another.

Certainly, for many — perhaps most — of KM’s fellow commencees (um, sure, that’s a word), an associate’s degree from the JC will be the end of their educational journey. For those folks, I’m glad that they received all of the pomp and circumstance (the song of that same name included) that their accomplishment merited. They each seemed just as thrilled to receive the purple folder that will eventually house their junior college diploma as if they had earned a four-year degree. And I’m certain that quite a few of them had invested far more than just the two calendar years that an AA or AS implies.

KM glowed in her black gown and mortarboard, draped with a gold satin stole representing her status as an honor student. I could not have been more proud when she stepped across the lawn to accept her diploma cover from the college president, as a faculty member read off her remarkable academic record:

  • University transfer.
  • Doyle Scholar.
  • Candidate for highest honors — an indication of a cumulative grade point average in excess of 3.6.

Those of you who know me know that I’m not sentimental about all that much. My daughter is the universe’s loftiest exception to that rule. As I tried to keep my hands steady to snap KM’s photograph, tears streamed down my face.

I don’t know whether she heard me shout, “Way to go!” as she shook the president’s hand.

But I meant it, with all my soul.

I have an amazing daughter. She may not always believe I think so, but I do. She’s going to accomplish great things in this world someday, if life, breath, and grace allow, and I pray that they will. The world needs more young people like her.

Then again… she’s one of a kind.

Comic Art Friday: One-way ticket to midnight

May 22, 2009

People (at least, they look like people — they might be aliens in clever disguise) ask me, “How do you come up with the ideas for your Common Elements theme?”

Since there may be folks who are just discovering us in our new WordPress digs, I’ll briefly explain what Common Elements is all about. (You old-timers can feel welcome to skip the next paragraph.)

Common Elements is an ongoing series of commissioned original artworks — 82 entries, at this writing — each of which presents a combination of comic book heroes who, though otherwise unrelated, share some feature in common. Sometimes, the “common element” is obvious — one of the earliest entries, drawn by Scott Rosema, spotlighted a match-up of Iron Man and Iron Fist. In other cases, the common element is more obscure.

Here’s one such case.

The masked gent wielding the gas gun is Wesley Dodds, comics’ first and greatest Sandman. His blade-brandishing companion is Taarna, heroine of the tentpole sequence in the classic science fiction anthology film, Heavy Metal. The artist who brought this tableau to potent life is Edgar Tadeo, who, though primarily known as an inker (on such series as Wolverine and X-Men: Worlds Apart), is a gifted penciler as well.

Although the Sandman moniker has been worn by several characters over the decades, gas-masked, fedora-sporting Wes Dodds was the original. In fact, the Dodds incarnation of Sandman ranks as one of comics’ oldest costumed superheroes, having debuted in Adventure Comics #40 (July 1939). Sandman was also one of the charter members of comics’ seminal superhero team, the Justice Society of America, when that august body first appeared in late 1940.

Like his contemporary Batman, Sandman possessed no superhuman abilities. Instead, Dodds relied on highly developed detective instincts and specialized technology — specifically, a gun that emitted gases which Sandman could use to put criminals to sleep, or compel them to tell the truth. His mask protected Wes from the effects of his own gas. (Say… I know a few people who could use a mask like that.)

A couple of years after his premiere, Sandman underwent some radical changes. He scrapped his fedora, business suit, and gas mask in favor of a more typical superhero costume — purple and yellow tights. Sandman also, like many heroes of the ’40s, took on a teenage sidekick designed to appeal to younger readers. In this instance, Wes adopted the nephew of his murdered fiancee, a boy who adopted the nom de guerre Sandy. Sandman and Sandy continued as the cover feature of Adventure until 1945.

As with most of the “mystery men” of comics’ Golden Age, Sandman disappeared from view by the late 1940s. He and his Justice Society comrades resurfaced in the pages of DC’s Justice League of America two decades later, by way of periodic team-ups between the old-school heroes and their Silver Age opposite numbers.

Over the succeeding years, several characters other than Wes Dodds have picked up the Sandman mantle. Most notably, popular fantasy writer Neil Gaiman created a version completely unrelated to the costumed heroes of the same name — Morpheus, the mythological Lord of Dreams. Gaiman’s Sandman helped launch DC’s mature-readers line, Vertigo Comics, with dark tales of the macabre.

In current continuity, Wes Dodds is deceased, and the now-adult Sandy battles evil in the reconstituted Justice Society as Sandman — complete with gas mask and fedora.

By now you may be wondering: What’s the common element shared by Wes Dodds and the silent, mysterious avenger Taarna?

As previously noted, Taarna appears in the 1981 animated film Heavy Metal. Ten years later, the rock band Metallica made a song entitled “Enter Sandman” the centerpiece of their eponymous album.

Call it heavy metal.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

[You can view previous Comic Art Friday posts here.]

What’s Up With That? #76: Reward Zone? More like Twilight Zone

May 21, 2009

The following is an example of how NOT to provide an incentive for your business’s customers.

Earlier this year, I bought a new HD plasma TV at Best Buy. This purchase garnered me a membership in Best Buy’s bonus program, Reward Zone, and $35 in free merchandise of my choosing. (Say it with me: If it’s free, it’s for me.) The company mailed me a bright blue Reward Zone card a few weeks after the TV arrived… a card which I tossed into a stack of paperwork and largely forgot about.

Forgot, that is, until a Best Buy representative called me the other day to remind me that my $35 reward expires on June 13, and encouraged me to redeem it promptly.

Online shopping being as efficient as it is, I rarely make a trip to Best Buy these days. But hey, for $35, I could use a little fresh air and sunshine. I’d been looking at desktop microphone stands on eBay — just the ticket for lengthy narrative and audiobook reads — and I knew that Best Buy sold such an animal. So, off to the Big Blue Box I travel.

A quick cruise around the musical instruments and audio department turned up the mic stand. I picked one up and proceeded to the register. I handed the box and my Reward Zone card to the young man behind the counter.

“I’d like to get this with my Reward Zone bonus,” I said, just in case the combination of merchandise and reward card wasn’t self-explanatory.

“Do you have a certificate?” the clerk asked.

“Certificate?”

“Yeah. A certificate that says how much your Reward Zone bonus is.”

“I don’t have a certificate. They mailed me this card.”

“You have to go online and print a certificate.”

“Umm… I went online and registered the card like the instructions said. Can’t you just scan the card and see how much reward money I have coming?”

“No, you have to have a certificate.”

Clearly, this conversation was going nowhere.

My next stop was the customer service desk. The young woman there was, at least, more enthusiastic than her counterpart in the audio room.

“Yes, you do have to print out your Reward Zone certificate in order to redeem it. But let me scan your card, and I’ll print your certificate right here.”

She brought up the information and directed me to key in my password. In moments, she handed me a certificate for $35 in Reward Zone funds. Oh, frabjous day!

“Did you want to use this to buy that?” the clerk asked, pointing to the mic stand in my hand.

“Yes, please.”

She scanned the bar code on the box.

“Oh, this is only $12.99 before tax.”

“I understand that. But that’s less than $35.”

“Yes, but the way the program works, you have to get a combination of merchandise that’s a minimum of $35 before tax. The system won’t break up the amount. You have to use it all at once.”

“Okay. How about if I just take this one item, and you guys keep the $22 balance?”

“The system won’t let me do that. You have to get $35 worth of merchandise.”

“Even if I only want one $13 item?”

“I don’t know why they set up the program that way,” she said empathetically. “But that’s how it works.”

Thus, having already wasted an incredible amount of time on what seemed at the beginning like a simple project, I now found myself trolling the aisles of Best Buy, trying to find something worth at least $22 that I might actually use.

Twenty minutes later, laden with a 2 gigabyte flash drive and a six-outlet surge protector strip in addition to my mic stand, I approached the checkout counter. With dispatch, the clerk processed my merchandise, collected my $35 certificate — plus $7.61 from my debit card — and sent me on my way with a bright blue bagful of Best Buy gear.

So, here’s the bottom line.

In order for me to get the one $13 item I wanted in exchange for my Best Buy Reward Zone bonus, Best Buy…

  • Gave up a total of $42 in merchandise.
  • Wasted a half-hour of my Thursday.
  • Involved three members of its customer service team.
  • Raised my already hypertensive blood pressure with pointless exercise.
  • Got seven bucks of my money in the bargain.
  • Frustrated me to the point that it’ll be a snowy August in Fresno before my shadow falls across the threshold of another Best Buy store.

Is that any way to run a rewards program?

While I’m on the subject: Why is the name of the store Best Buy, if your best buys are always at Fry’s, guaranteed?

For that matter, why can’t you get fries at Fry’s?