Archive for November 2014

SwanShadow Gives Thanks: Live From the East Bay

November 27, 2014

Well, it’s that time again: the day we Americans celebrate turkey, football, and sharing a friendly repast with indigenous people as a prelude to overrunning their entire continent. (Okay, maybe we don’t really celebrate that last part. Still happened, though.)

Here at SSTOL, it’s become an annual tradition to reflect for a moment on some of the many people and things for which we have been made grateful over the past year. Because counting one’s blessings can be an overwhelming task without some parameters, in 2004 I developed the device of an alphabetical Thanksgiving — one item per letter.

So, without further ado, here’s my 11th holiday sampling of what’s best in life. (Aside, of course, from crushing your enemies, seeing them driven before you, and hearing the lamentation of their women. That goes without saying.) On Thanksgiving 2014, I’m thankful for…

Apogee MiC. This handy-dandy gizmo served beautifully as my travel microphone on several out-of-town trips this year, including a week in Hawaii that proved to be one of my busiest audition weeks ever. Plug it into my iPad, open my Twisted Wave recording software, and I’m good to go. A sturdy pillow fort helps too.

Battle of the Decades. Even though I lost the Fan Favorite vote to participate in Jeopardy’s 30-year retrospective tournament, I had a blast watching 45 of the show’s greatest champions — including many old friends and more recent acquaintances — return to the stage. It doesn’t always happen this way, but the three best players of all time (Brad Rutter, Ken Jennings, and Roger Craig) emerged in the finals. I’m pleased to say that I’ve gotten to know all three gentlemen over the years, and each is as good a guy as you’d want your heroes to be.

Comets. Dude, we landed a probe on one this year. How awesome is that?

DVR. Sometimes, multiple TV programs you want to watch come on at the same time, or at times when you can’t be parked in front of the flat screen to view them as broadcast. I know, I know, it’s a First World problem. But it sure is nice to have a solution that works.

Elton John. We saw the Man with the Million Dollar Piano live in concert this summer. His voice isn’t quite the instrument it once was, and he’s toned down the outrageous showmanship of his Captain Fantastic days. Still, Sir Elton is one of the legends of modern music, and he still puts on one heck of a performance.

Frontier — my current League within LearnedLeague. When I look at some of the big-time quiz mavens who inhabit Rundle A Frontier, I’m humbled and honored to play among such estimable company.

Gail Simone, one of my favorite current comics writers. I don’t find as much to interest me in today’s comics as in decades past, but when I pick up a book with Gail’s byline on it, I know that I’m in for an entertaining read. She’s also one of my favorite folks to follow on Twitter.

Hilton Hhonors. Here’s an example of quality customer service. I signed up for the Hilton hotel chain’s loyalty program a while back. I don’t travel all that often, but I make at least a couple of trips each year, and I frequently stay in a Hilton-associated hotel. At my request, the Hilton Hhonors folks went back and credited me for points earned for stays I made before I signed up for the program. They could have said, “Sorry, no,” and been perfectly well within their rules. Their positive consideration, however, makes it much more likely that the next time I travel, I’ll bunk in at a Hilton property.

Improvisation. Always looking for ways to up my acting game, I took an introductory improv class at American Conservatory Theater this year. It helped, I think.

Jellied cranberry sauce. Because it just isn’t cranberry sauce unless it comes out in the shape of the can.

Ka’anapali Beach. Our base of operations for our vacation junket to Maui. From here, we drove up to the summit of Haleakala on Super Bowl Sunday, cruised the Hana Highway, saw some spectacular sunsets and scenery, and dined in fine style.

The Ladies in my life — specifically, the Pirate Queen and The Daughter. My existence would be far less beautiful without them.

Madison Bumgarner. The lefthander from Hickory, North Carolina threw the Giants over his shoulder and carried them almost single-handedly to their third championship in five years. He pitched a shutout against the Pirates in a one-game wild card playoff to start the team on its postseason road. He threw 7-2/3 scoreless innings at the Cardinals in Game 1 of the NLCS, in the process setting a major league record for consecutive shutout postseason road innings. Then, in the World Series, MadBum pitched in three of the seven games, winning Games 1 and 5 and pitching five scoreless innings of relief in Game 7. Many baseball watchers, myself included, rank Bumgarner’s achievement as the most outstanding postseason by any pitcher in major league history.

The Neon Boneyard in Las Vegas. For someone who loves Vegas glitz and history as I do, a nighttime tour of the place where old signage goes to die is like a pilgrimage to Nirvana. (Not the one with Kurt Cobain.)

OpenTable. All restaurant reservations, all the time.

Project READ Trivia Bee. For the 25th annual contesting of this popular charity event, I teamed up with two of the smartest people I know for an evening of Q&A. To our utter surprise, we came away with the championship trophy, against some extremely tough competition.

Quadratini. The Pirate Queen loves these little wafer cookies. I gave her a bag for her birthday. When the Pirate Queen is happy, I’m happy.

The Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. Here in the Bay Area, where we have no shortage of spectacular spans, the utilitarian Richmond-San Rafael often gets overlooked. The fact that the R-SR launches from our most famously crime-ridden communities and terminates alongside the state penitentiary housing California’s Death Row inmates probably doesn’t help. But that isn’t the bridge’s fault. It didn’t ask to be built there.

The Splash Brothers. Sharpshooting Steph Curry and Klay Thompson have the Golden State Warriors off to their best NBA season start in… well… ever. After two decades of mediocrity, it’s exciting to see the Dubs maturing into one of the Association’s premier franchises. You can thank the Human Torch and Kavalier Klay for most of that excitement.

Tazz, my Studio Assistant, who joined our little household in March. He’s half Chihuahua, half rat terrier, and all Tasmanian devil. Hence the name.

USB. Whether it’s my recording gear, my printer, my scanner, or my backup drive, I’m grateful every day for those tiny rectangular ports that allow my computer to interface with the peripheral equipment I need to get stuff done.

Va de Vi, a nifty dining spot where we celebrated the Pirate Queen’s birthday earlier this week. To borrow a line from a former governor, we’ll be back.

Walnut Creek, our new home. As most of you know, we moved this summer, across the Bay from San Francisco to Walnut Creek. There’s yin and yang to life in relative suburbia, but all in all, it’s growing on us. We hosted Thanksgiving dinner today at the Kasbah — as we’ve named our new house — and had to admit the advantages of more living space. It’s not The City, but it is The Creek.

X-rays. I’ve become acutely aware of the importance of imaging in the maintenance of sound dental health. Of course, I’m now radioactive.

YapStone. Meet the YapStones. They’re the modern payments family.

ZippGo. To facilitate our move, we rented reusable plastic totes from a company called ZippGo. They delivered the totes to our previous residence, we filled them with our worldly possessions, the movers loaded them onto a truck and unloaded them at the new abode, we unpacked our material goods, and the ZippGo truck hauled the totes away again. No boxes to acquire or dispose of, no cardboard waste, no muss or fuss. I’m a believer.

As always, friend reader, I’m thankful for YOU. I appreciate your stopping by here periodically to read whatever it is I’m babbling about. I hope you find your visits here entertaining, and perhaps occasionally even thought-provoking. May you and yours experience gratitude for the blessings in your life, and value those special people and things all the more.

Happy Thanksgiving.

 

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Comic Art Friday: No love for the Valkyrie

November 14, 2014

Those of us who follow comics news — and, more specifically, news of appearances by comics characters in other media, i.e., film and television — have heard quite a bit in recent weeks about the increasing profile of female superheroes in the live-action universes of Marvel and DC.

Wonder Woman finally received the green light for her own solo film, following on the heels of her debut in the upcoming Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.

Carol Danvers, the former Ms. Marvel turned newest Captain Marvel, is now slated to headline a movie as well.

The Scarlet Witch will be joining the Black Widow on the roster of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes in next summer’s Avengers sequel, Age of Ultron.

The TV series Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD recently introduced Bobbie Morse, better known as the heroine Mockingbird, to its cast of characters (although I don’t believe she’s actually been referred to by that code name on the show).

And Jessica Jones (who once used the superhero handle Jewel, and is best known as star of Marvel’s private detective saga, Alias) has been tapped to star in one of Marvel’s impending Netflix programs, culminating in the team epic, The Defenders.

Speaking of the Defenders, there’s at least one key name missing from all of this chatter: The Valkyrie, longtime stalwart in the Defenders superteam, and one of Marvel’s most recognizable (to comics geeks, anyway) heroines.

Valkyrie, pencils and inks by comics artist Leo Matos

To me, Valkyrie is a no-brainer for the silver screen. She’s a powerful visual — a badass blonde in Viking garb who slings a wicked sword and spear. She even rides a winged horse, named Aragorn. Who wouldn’t want to see that in IMAX?

And Val isn’t just a pretty face. She’s a warrior to the stone core, who takes neither guff from nor back seat to any man (not unlike the Lady Sif, who’s already been portrayed in both of the Thor theatrical films, and has guest-starred on the SHIELD TV series). She’s exactly the kind of strong female image the audience is clamoring for, and that the studios keep promising, without much actual delivery to date.

So far, however, Marvel Studios isn’t showing the love. There are no plans, so far as has been reported, for Val to make an appearance in any of the company’s movie or television properties. That’s a missed opportunity, in my opinion.

Here’s hoping that Valkyrie gets her day on camera sometime soon.

It’s what America wants.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Comic Art Friday: You don’t have to be a star, baby, to be in my show

November 7, 2014

Gamora and the Black Panther, pencils and inks by MC Wyman

Those of you who have followed the development of my Common Elements commission theme know that I maintain a lengthy to-do list of Common Elements concepts. (And for those of you who are new: Common Elements is a series of themed original artworks, each of which brings together otherwise unrelated comics characters who share some aspect in… wait for it… common.)

Some of these concepts have been on my list for years, awaiting assignment to artists who will bring them to fruition. In fact, there are still a handful of unused ideas that date back to the start of Common Elements, nearly a decade ago.

The concept illustrated in today’s artwork by former Marvel Comics stalwart MC Wyman has been collecting dust for a few years now. Back in February 2011, the Black Panther took over the lead role in the monthly series that had belonged to Daredevil, a.k.a. “The Man Without Fear.” Retitled Black Panther: The Man Without Fear, the series continued — using the existing Daredevil issue numbers, beginning with #513 — for the better part of a year. Then, with issue #523.1 (November 2011, and no, the “.1” is not a typo), the series was again retitled, this time becoming Black Panther: The Most Dangerous Man Alive. The book carried on under its new moniker through issue #529, when the run concluded.

At the time the “Most Dangerous Man” title surfaced, it occurred to me that there was already a Marvel character with a similar tagline. Gamora, an interstellar assassin who first turned up in Jim Starlin’s Warlock series in the mid-1970s, then reappeared as a key player in the Infinity Watch/War/Crusade saga in the early 1990s, had long been known as “The Most Dangerous Woman in the Universe.” Recalling that fact, I made an entry in my Common Elements log entitled “Most Dangerous,” that would match the two characters who now had borne that description.

Little did I know that in just a couple of years, Gamora would become a major movie star as one of the leads in Marvel’s cinematic blockbuster, Guardians of the Galaxy. When the film was announced, I didn’t even know that the Guardians in question were not the team I associated with that name from my comics-reading youth.

I’ll explain. Back in 1969, the Guardians of the Galaxy debuted in Marvel Super-Heroes #18. This team of weirdly mismatched, far-future space rangers was co-created by writer Arnold Drake, who had a penchant for off-kilter characters. (Drake was also responsible for DC Comics’ Deadman and Doom Patrol.) The original Guardians crew consisted of Vance Astro, an Earthman who’d spent a millennium in suspended animation; Charlie-27, a being from Jupiter whose stout, powerful physique reflected his home planet’s intense gravity; Martinex, who hailed from Pluto and whose body was formed out of crystal; and Yondu, a bow-slinging soldier of fortune from Alpha Centauri. The foursome eventually added a fifth member, a mysterious mutant who went by the name Starhawk.

Like many of the peculiar super-teams Marvel cooked up during the Bronze Age (the Champions, anyone?), the Guardians popped up mostly as guest stars in other teams’ ongoing series (in particular, the Avengers and the Defenders) in and around brief runs in their own stories. They pretty much disappeared once the wild and wacky ’70s ended. Marvel resurrected the Guardians for a while in the early 1990s — because no property ever goes away permanently in comics — then once again allowed them to fade from view.

In 2008, Marvel restarted the Guardians, this time with a new collection of characters, including Gamora. Although I was aware that there was a new Guardians series on the market, I never read an issue, and was unaware that the team had been completely reimagined until news of the film began leaking out. And I was as surprised as anyone — except, obviously, the folks at Marvel Studios — when the Guardians movie exploded into theaters as a massive hit. Who’d’a thunk that a flick about a talking raccoon and a sentient tree would make megamillions?

Now, the once-obscure Gamora is a household name, thanks to the Guardians film. Even better, my longtime favorite Black Panther is finally getting his own big-screen presence, with a guest-starring role in the third Avengers movie to be released in 2016, and headlining his own motion picture in 2017. Chadwick Boseman, brilliant as baseball pioneer Jackie Robinson in 42, seems like a near-perfect choice to bring T’Challa of Wakanda to life. I can hardly wait until the aforementioned titles hit the silver screens in my neighborhood.

Until then, we have this pairing of the Most Dangerous Man and Woman Alive… two unlikely cinematic stars.

Ain’t Hollywood grand?

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.