Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Charles Atlas Method: End of Week Six

Okay.  It's time to reset.

It may come as no surprise to people who know me personally, or even those rare souls who have been following this blog for any length of time, but I have not been taking this Charles Atlas project seriously.  I started it in good faith, and every intention of following the instructions to the letter.  As often happens with projects that I take up, my dedication has wavered.

Lessons 4 and 5 were difficult.  I discussed Lesson 4 in depth in my last post.  Lesson 5 involved a lot of neck and back exercises.  I was doing a lot of twisting, and a lot of moving my head back and forth while resisting with my hands.  (There was also a weird thing where I had to lean over and repeatedly karate chop my kidneys.  Don't ask me why.)  Said exercises were causing me a sore back and a stiff neck, so I didn't pursue them too diligently.  I did them perhaps one day out of every three, so needless to say I didn't get a lot of results.  I also didn't hurt myself, which is probably more important.

So where to from here?  I'm going to continue, with Lessons 6 and 7, and I'm still doing Lesson 1 almost every day.  That's the only one I've seen any results from, because I've been at it for over a month now.  It's hard to get anything out of the others, because they're over after two weeks.

Starting tomorrow I'm moving on to the next two lessons.  Lesson 6 has more back exercises (yay) and Lesson 7 is called "The True Tonic of Life", so there's bound to be some gems in that one.  I'll be back to discuss those in further depth next week.  Will I actually get my shit together and follow the instructions?  Probably not, but there's always hope.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

All The Things I Did: 25th April 2015

 I read some stuff, and I watched some stuff.  Now I'm writing some stuff about the stuff I read and watched, starting from the worst and ending with the best.

WORST: Avengers Annual (2014) #1 by Kathryn Immonen and pencilled by David Lafuente: It's a Christmas issue, which automatically puts it in my shit-list: there exactly one thing I like about Christmas, and that's Doctor Who.  It's also by Kathryn Immonen, whose work has a madcap tone that just irks me.  I'm not sure that this is a bad comic, but it's certainly one that I don't like.

WWE Smackdown episode 819: Nothing actively bad happened on this show, but it was back to the standard quality of Smackdown, with loads of storylines treading water and no memorable matches.  My highlight was probably the New Day, who continue to be amazing as they vainly try to stay positive while the crowds rubbish them mercilessly.

WWE NXT episode 274:  This is the first NXT I've seen that featured all of the top people, and it really made a difference.  I'm still not blown away by it, but seeing guys like Hideo Itami, Finn Balor and Kevin Steen do their thing is entertaining.  I have a lot of time for Steen, who looks more like Kevin Smith than any wrestler should, but somehow still manages to kick arse convincingly.

WWE Raw episode 1143: This was not a great episode, or even a very good one, but I was still into most of what was going on.  Unfortunately, none of the storylines can progress until Extreme Rules on Sunday, so a lot of plate-spinning gets done here.  I have to give credit to any episode that has Randy Orton just hitting RKOs on every random person he encounters, though.

Iron Man (2013) #1-12, written by Kieron Gillen, pencilled by Greg Land and Dale Eaglesham: This is, of course, quite a fun read: it's by Kieron Gillen after all.  The first story suffers, though, from being a retread of the Extremis arc from 2005.  (Holy shit, a decade ago?  Really?)  The second, in which Tony goes to space is an improvement, but where I'm at now they're doing some seriously dodgy stuff with Iron Man's origin.  I'll reserve judgment until I see where it goes, but it's looking a bit iffy.  (Bonus points for the appearance by Death's Head, who is never not awesome.  Anti-Bonus Points for the Greg Land art, which is superficially great looking but stiff and lifeless.)

Avengers (2013) #29-37, 34.1, written mostly by Jonathan Hickman, pencilled mostly by Leinil Yu: These are still good comics, but I feel like Hickman has gone a bit off the rails here.  It starts well, with Captain America finding out what Iron Man and the Illuminati have been up to (destroying planets, mostly), but then it veers off into weirdness with the Time Gem, and Cap being thrown further and further forward in time.  I'm sure it will make sense when the whole story is over, but right now I'm not entirely sure what the point of it all was.

Game of Thrones season 5, episode 2: So, they're serious about deviating from the books, aren't they?  Jaime Lannister never went to Dorne, and Brienne never found Sansa Stark.  To be honest, I'm fine with it.  Now I can enjoy the show without feeling like it will spoil the books when it inevitably overtakes them.  Conversely, I can watch the show without knowing everything that's going to happen.  It's a win-win, really.

Daredevil season 1, episode 8: How did I only watch one episode of Daredevil this week?  I should be done by now!  Anyway, this featured the origin of the Kingpin, and it was very good.  It wasn't exactly super-happy fun times, but what TV show is these days?

BEST: New Avengers #22-25 and Annual #1, mostly written by Jonathan Hickman, mostly pencilled by Kev Walker: This title continues to be the best of Hickman's Avengers work, and one of the very best Marvel comics out there.  After Namor's actions last issue the Illuminati disintegrates, but Namor continues their work with a team of villains.  It's the highest of high-stakes drama, and smarter than any Marvel comic has a right to be.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

All The Things I Did: 20th April 2015

WORST: WWE NXT episode 273: After last week's unusual episode, NXT gets back to normal, and I get back to not quite understanding the hype.  I suppose I should cut the performers some slack, because they are in developmental after all, but I don't see how they are better than the main roster as the hype would have me believe.  What I do see is a lot of talent that's not quite polished, an uninvolved crowd, and a collection of meaningless matches.  Only the main event, featuring Sami Zayn vs. Rhyno, was worth watching, and those two guys are veterans who shouldn't be in developmental at all.

WWE Smackdown episode 273: Smackdown has been surprisingly enjoyable for the last few weeks.  Adrian Neville has been an exciting addition to the roster, and his match with Sheamus was no disappointment.  The all-champions tag-match was a welcome, if meaningless, novelty for the main event, and The New Day have made one of the quickest turnarounds on record, from one of the least interesting things on the show to one of the most entertaining.  My only complaint is the way they're handling the Miz/Mizdow feud, which ought to have been a slam-dunk.  But hey, it's wrestling.  If there wasn't a part of the show that sucked it wouldn't feel right.

WWE Raw episode 1,142: Raw was in London this week, which guarantees a hot crowd, and a hot crowd usually means an entertaining show.  Not necessarily a good one, but in this case the good outweighed the bad.  Adrian Neville and Dolph Ziggler had a top-notch match, as did John Cena and home-town hero Wade Barrett, who got to look competent for the first time in months.  I'm into Kane's gradual face turn, and I flipped out for Fandango's return to his original music.  All that, and Roman Reigns having his head slammed into a taxi.  What's not to enjoy?

Avengers (2013) #15-28, written by Jonathan Hickman, drawn by loads of people: I feel like this series has taken a dip since the end of the Infinity crossover, which I discuss below.  With the threat of the Builders done for now, the focus shifts to the machinations of AIM, the sinister cabal of scientist/terrorists that's been plaguing the Marvel Universe for decades.  It's a bit of a step down, especially in terms of epic scope, but these are by no means bad comics.  They're excellent, they just happen to not be as good as what came before.

Infinity #1-6, written by Jonathan Hickman, drawn by Jim Cheung and others: I honestly don't know how this series became Marvel's major crossover of 2013.  Don't get me wrong, it's very good.  It is, though, intrinsically tied to everything going on in Hickman's Avengers books, and any casual reader coming into this must have been utterly lost at sea.  The story is a double-pronged one, with one group of Avengers fighting a space war against the mysterious Builders, and another defending Earth from Thanos, the Mad Titan (coming to an Avengers movie sequel in a few years time).  It's epic, it's intricate, and it's gorgeously pencilled, but the story is a little disjointed at times due to its nature as a crossover.  There are also some pivotal characters that don't get nearly the development they need for their role in the plot; Thane, son of Thanos, being chief among them.  I feel like this one might have done better simply as an arc in Avengers, rather than the centrepiece of Marvel's whole line.

Game of Thrones season 5, episode 1: It's back!  And as usual, the first episode is a slow burn serving more to reintroduce the characters than to push the plot forward.  I was a bit dubious about this season, as it's reached the point where the novels faltered under their own weight.  So far it's holding up well, and steering clear of the obvious mistakes that Martin made.

Tear the Roof Off 1974-1980 by Parliament: Yes, it's a compilation, and I tend to steer clear of those nowadays.  But this one is so damn good, and Parliament's funky grooves so consistent in quality and tone that it holds together better than any compilation ought to.  The songs are deeply silly; most of them are about Afronauts bringing funk from the stars to save the galaxy.  But they're catchy, and infectious, and their message is ultimately an uplifting one about bringing all peoples together into one funky whole.  That's worth a little bit of silliness, I reckon.

New Avengers (2013) #8-21, written by Jonathan Hickman, drawn by various artists: Whereas Avengers lost a step in the wake of Infinity, New Avengers has only gotten better.  This is the point where the crisis facing the Illuminati peaks, and they're forced to decide whether they can destroy a planet to save their own.  It's a level of moral greyness that mainstream superheroes rarely goes to, and the way it plays out is intense, deeply satisfying, and true to the characters.  Anyone who accuses Hickman of short-changing the emotional aspects of storytelling should read these, because his skills are on full display here.

BEST: Daredevil season 1, episodes 1-7: The entire season of Daredevil dropped on Netflix last week, and I've been trying my best to get through it.  Don't have Netflix?  Get it, because this show is that damn good.  It follows Matt Murdock, blind lawyer and vigilante, as he tries his best to clean up the area of Manhattan known as Hell's Kitchen.  It's nominally set in the same world as the Avengers movies, but the tone is worlds away.  This is gritty crime drama (though not without humour), with a level of violence that Marvel Studios has previously shied away from.  It does get a little flat around episode 4, but episodes 6 & 7 are superb, probably the two best episodes of anything I've seen this year.  Get on it!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Charles Atlas Method: End of Week Four

I've come to the end of Lessons 2 and 3, although I suppose that I should continue with Lesson 2 all through the program.  It contains no exercises, only dietary guidelines.  I haven't been following them so far, and I really should do so at some point during this program.  I need more incentive, such as the ghost of Charles Atlas showing up to kick sand in my face every time I look at a can of Coke.  That or some willpower.  One of those would do it.

Lesson 3 was nice and easy, with nothing more than a trio of stretching exercises.  Did they strengthen my inner abdomen, as they were supposed to?  There's no way of knowing, unless I rupture my insides at some point during the next lot of exercises; then I'll know it failed.

I'm going to spare my readers any photos of my lily-white chest this week.  It's cold, and I don't want to get out from under my doona.  Maybe next week.

So it's onwards to Lessons 4 and 5, and I have to say that these are going to be time-consuming.  Lesson 4 has nine separate exercises, and Lesson 5 has thirteen!  Hey Charles, some of us have lives to lead!  Seriously, any extra lifespan I gain from doing these exercises will be pointless, because I have to spend all that extra time exercising.  It's a zero sum game.

Anyway, I'm only going to cover Lesson 4 this week, and I'll tackle Lesson 5 next week.  There's a lot to go over, and I really want to watch Daredevil.

Lesson 4 is all about the abs.  Charles Atlas promises that these exercises will give me a washboard stomach, but I estimate that I will end up with something that more resembles a washcloth.  He'd be very disappointed with my negativity.  Anyway, onto the exercises.

Exercise 1: So I'm supposed to lie on my back in "loose or breathable clothes", raise my feet in the air as high as possible until they are "in close proximity to the head", then let my feet go slowly forward.  That bit about being in close proximity to the head is confusing; I'm not the most flexible dude around.  I think he means that my feet should be directly above my head, which is a bit more plausible for me.  (Also, Charles Atlas' mention of clothing is an odd one, because he seemingly never wears anything except for a pair of white undies.)

Exercise 2: Sit-ups, although the book is once again so old-timey that they aren't named that.  I'll have to be careful with these, as I have some back problems.

Exercise 3: Lying on my back, I have to bring my feet up, then out to the sides as far as possible.  After that I bring them together again and cross them over.

Exercise 4: With this one I'm meant to push myself up on the arms of a chair with my feet sticking straight out, but that's going to be problem.  Not because I'm incapable (although I very probably am) but because I don't own a chair with arms.  I might have to skip this one, because I'm not buying a piece of furniture.

Exercise 5: I honestly have no idea.  here's the text: "While standing, with arms outstretched at
the sides, bend far downward to the right, come slowly back to an upright position and bend
down far to the left. Now vary the movement by swinging the body in a half circle while bending
to the left and then to the right.
"  Is it as confusing as it sounds, or am I just being willfully stupid?

Exercise 6: This one is kind of a reverse push-up.  With my feet on a chair and my back to the floor, I have to lower myself down with my arms.

Exercise 7: I find this one very amusing for some reason.  First I have to firmly rub my abdomen with my palm.  Then, after a few moments relaxation, I tense my stomach muscles and tap my abs with a clenched fist.  Apparently it brings blood to the area, or something?  This is useful?

Exercise 8: This is another one I might not be able to do.  I'm supposed to sit on a chair next to a bed, hook my feet under the bed and do some sit ups.  Our beds are all pretty close to the walls, so I probably won't have the space I need.

Exercise 9: Okay, so I'm suppose to crouch like a monkey, with my hands back between my legs?  And stretch while tensing my stomach muscles?  I think that's what's going on here.  It's another ambiguous one.  I'm beginning to question the wisdom of this endeavour.

Alright then, so as of tomorrow I have about thirty exercises to do, morning and night.  I am not looking forward to the next two weeks.  Screw you, Charles Atlas!  Screw you so hard!

Friday, April 10, 2015

All The Things I Did: 11th April 2015

Ugh, writing this bit at the start is what I hate the most.  Anyway, here are all the things I did.  The worst one's at the top, the best one's at the bottom, the rest are in the middle.  I wish I could just leave this bit blank.

WORST: Penguins of Madagascar: At the risk of sounding like a bitter old man, I have to say that this movies exemplifies the worst excesses of the Dreamworks style.  The plot jerks from set piece to set piece with no regard for logic, and though the jokes fly thick and fast the movie is neither funny enough nor charming enough to outweigh the irritatingly spasmodic pace.   I should also say that I hate the "references for adults" that Dreamworks throws into their movies.  They should really forget about that rubbish and focus more on telling a solid story.  So yeah, Penguins sucked.  My son loved it, but alas for this film, he ain't writing the review.  Now get the hell off my lawn, you young punks.

WWF Madison Square Garden on 23/1/1984: It another plodding wrestling event from the early 1980s, but this one is historically significant as the first WWF Heavyweight Championship win for Hulk Hogan.  Most of the matches are dull, but the nuclear crowd in the Hogan match carries it, and "Mr. Wonderful" Paul Orndorff puts in the performance of the night.

WWE Smackdown episode 817: The WWE put on some top-notch programming last week, but now it's back to business as usual.  That said, there are always things to enjoy even in the most mediocre of wrestling shows.  Adrian Neville continues to impress with his crisp acrobatics, I liked that Bray Wyatt tried to give some meaning to his match with former teammate Erick Rowan, and I thought that the Mix/Sandow fued got back on track after a poor outing on Raw.  Too bad the rest of the show was so middling.

WWE Raw episode 1141: This was a show that started well, but it became all too apparent that they were working with a restricted roster, with several wrestlers pulling double duty.  The match between WWE Champion Seth Rollins and rookie Adrian Neville was a cracker, with both guys coming out the other end looking really good.  I'm also enjoying John Cena's open challenge, and he had a great match against Stardust.  The rest of the show, alas, was inconsequential filler.

WWE NXT episode 272: Okay, I think I'm starting to get it.  This wasn't a regular episode of NXT, but a flashback to the tournament they did in the lead-up to Wrestlemania 31.  The wrestlers in the tournament were competing to appear on Mania, and the three matches shown here were excellent, especially Adrian Nevilla vs. Hideo Itami.  Itami won the tournament, and the show had been good to that point, but from there it became mini-documentary about Itami's Wrestlemania experience, and it was pretty great. 

Avengers (2013) #1-14, written by Jonathan Hickman, drawn by Jerome Opena and others: The all-important Secret Wars event is coming soon, so I decided that I had better read the comics leading directly into it.  I should have done so sooner, because Hickman's Avengers is everything I want from a super-hero book: epic stakes, an intricate and multi-layered plot, and great art.  I've heard people describe it as overly cerebral, and that's fair, but I happen to like my comics on the cerebral side.  It's amazing that such smart work is appearing in the most mainstream title in comics.

BEST: New Avengers (2013) #1-7, written by Jonathan Hickman, drawn by Steve Epting: The companion book to Hickman's Avengers, New Avengers is one of the best things Marvel is doing right now.  And unlike Avengers, it has a great central hook: what do the heroes do when they have to destroy a world to save their own?  What do they do when faced with this choice over, and over, and over again?  Hickman does a good job of presenting a desperate situation that the big brains of the Marvel Universe can't find a neat solution for, and ratcheting up the tension as they exhaust their options one by one.  It's very good, and I have high hopes for Secret Wars.

Monday, April 6, 2015

The Charles Atlas Method: End of Week Three

I'm still plugging away at the Charles Atlas Method, trying to chisel my pale, flabby body into something recognisably human.  Attentive readers will have noticed that I have skipped a week.  I should be at the end of Week 4, but for a while there I came down with some nausea and flu-like symptoms which set me back a bit.  I'm back on track now, and ready to talk about some exercising.

But first, some photographic evidence!

I'm not sure that any differences are coming across in the photos, but I certainly feel different.  I'm not exactly popping out of my skin, but I've noticed that my chest and shoulders are a bit firmer and slightly larger.  I started by doing 15 of each of the exercises from lesson 1 at morning and night, and have increased the number by 5 each week.  Tomorrow I'll start doing 30, and by the end of the twelve weeks I should be doing 70, by which point I expect to be shattering glass at a hundred paces with just a flex of my biceps.

I started doing Lessons 2 and 3 a week ago.  Whereas Lesson 1 is done all through the twelve week course, the other lesson cycle in and out every fortnight.  At the end of next week I'll drop these two lessons and start doing 4 & 5, and then in a fortnight I'll progress to 6 & 7, and so on.  I'm not sure what good a mere two weeks will do, but I suppose I'll find out.

Lesson 2 is about nutrition, and I have to say that I was dreading this one.  I am basically fuelled by chips, chocolate, Coca-Cola and apathy.  I held out a vain hope that this course would be old-timey enough that nothing would be mentioned about soda.  After all, Atlas did have to explain what a push-up was.  No such luck.  Soda is mentioned specifically, and so my life-giving nectar must be abandoned.  The rest of the advice is common-sense stuff.  Eat lots of fruit and vegetables.  Vary your diet.  Avoid white bread, white rice and white sugar.  Don't eat too much candy, chocolate, or fatty foods.  Drink a load of water.  I'm not sure how wise it is to be following nutritional advice that's older than my dad, but it sounds above board to me.

That said, I haven't been doing very well.  I spent a few nights over at a friends house, so there were a couple of trips to Nando's and McDonald's.  There was Wrestlemania 31, which involved lots of snacks and beers.  There was a 40th birthday party.  There was a George Clinton concert.  Basically, life has been making it very difficult for me to eat healthily, and I am particularly weak-willed in this area.  I definitely need to strive to do better.  I'll never kick the Coke and fast-food habit entirely, but I know that I need to cut down.

Lesson 3 is also about food, in a roundabout way.  More accurately, it's a whole chapter about constipation.  Charles Atlas seems to be very fixated on the subject, and discusses it at length.  The various troubles that it causes don't really bear discussion here, but don't think that Atlas doesn't spend a good seven pages going over them.

He does have some practical advice, though, which may or may not be useful.  He advocates drinking a glass of warm water and lemon juice every morning upon waking, and I've been doing this.  I happen to like lemon juice, so it's no big deal to me.  I'm not certain if this has affected my bowel movements at all, but it may have been responsible for the somewhat unpleasant and explosive clean-out of my system that I experienced a few nights ago.  Or it could have been the Nando's, it's hard to be sure.

Atlas advocates avoiding spicy food, and at this point I'm about ready to reach out across the barrier of time and slap his head in.  I love spicy food.  Nando's is my favourite restaurant, I love a good curry, and a good salami, and a good chilli...  This is going to be a tough couple of months, if I actually follow the advice given.

He also writes about chewing your food thoroughly, so that it's already partially digested by the time it hits the stomach.  I'm trying this as well, but Christ-on-a -bike it takes a long time to eat a meal.  I don't have a lot of patience, and I'm basically always looking to finish my meals quickly so that I can get to more interesting things.  I've tried to slow down, but it ain't easy.

There are a few exercises in Lesson 3, intended to strengthen the insides of the abdomen to prevent constipation.  Needless to say, I won't be providing any photos.  There are only three, and they all involve various stretches.  They're not too strenuous, and make for a nice break between the chest and shoulder exercises from Lesson 1.

In a week I'll be back to talk about Lessons 4 & 5, which will see me working on my six-pack and my back muscles.  I've got a bit of a recurring back problem, but hopefully that won't impede my progress too much.  I already have enough of a problem with my lack of willpower, and there's a Coke in the fridge right now that's calling my name...

Sunday, April 5, 2015

All The Things I Did: 5th April 2015

A lot of stuff and things I did in the last week, ranked from worst to best.  Note that I watched a lot of wrestling.  #DealWithIt

WORST: WWE NXT episode 271: This is the second time I've tried NXT, the WWE's developmental show.  Wrestling nerds rave about, but I don't quite get the hype to be honest.  It all felt very flat and unpolished (as should be expected from wrestlers still learning their craft) and the legendarily fanatic NXT crowd was subdued.  Nothing kills a wrestling show faster than a dead crowd.  I'll give it a few more weeks to grab me, but at the moment I find it terribly dull.

The Punisher (2014) #7-10 written by Nathan Edmondson, drawn by Mitch Gerads: I only read these a week or so ago, and I barely remember anything about them.  They're not bad comics; in fact they're quite competently done, and I was entertained while reading them.  They just weren't memorable comics.  I'd rather a comic to be memorably terrible than competently forgettable.

WCCW Parade of Champions 1984: I'm doing a chronological trip through wrestling history, starting in the early 1980s, and this was the second show I watched.  It's full of the tedious back-and-forth clubbing that old-timey wrestling tends towards, but a couple of matches saved it.  I got my first ever glimpse of the Freebirds, who are glorious mid-80s southern trash.  Michael Hayes' bleach-blond mullet is a thing of beauty.  The card finished with a championship bout between Ric Flair and Kerry Von Erich, and that was also a good, technical match.  I wouldn't recommend it for anyone who isn't already super into 80s wrestling, though.

NWA Starrcade 1983: More old-timey wrestling!  This was the first thing I watched in my wrestling chronology, and I enjoyed it a lot more than I have other shows from this era.  It was surprisingly bloody, and the hot crowd made everything feel like a big deal.  Ric Flair and Harley Race put in a pretty good championship match, and the Roddy Piper/Greg Valentine match was probably the best thing I've seen either men involved with.  (Wait, hang on.  Piper was in They Live, so I have to strike that statement.)

The Walking Dead season finale: Season five closed out with a tense final episode, but I can't help feeling that the creators chose the least interesting direction to go in.  We'll see next season.  I always enjoy the show when I'm watching it, but there's a nagging sense that it's going around in circles.

Uncanny X-Men (2013) #1-18 written by Brian Bendis, drawn by Chris Bachalo: Speaking of which...  This series follows the team of X-Men lead by Cyclops, and is supposed to focus on his "mutant revolution".  In practice what they do is recruit new mutants and train them in a secret hideout, while talking about a revolution that is never adequately defined.  They're not meaningfully different from the regular, non-fugitive X-Men.  Like most Bendis books, it's a lot of fun in the moment, but it meanders in the long term.  I get the feeling that the end of his run is going to be a gigantic mess of witty banter and unresolved plot threads.

WWE Smackdown episode 816:  It's Wrestlemania week, so I'm super-excited about wrestling right now.  So super-excited that I'm back to watching the WWE's b-show.  It's usually redundant to Raw, and it's pre-taped, so it loses a lot of the spontaneity of a live show.  But this episode was really good, especially the final match between Daniel Bryan and Sheamus, a violent brawl that ended with Sheamus covered in Bryan's blood.  Blood!  On fucking Smackdown!  Also, Dean Ambrose got forced into a match for taking a shit in Kane's toilet, and that's the kind of petty motivation I can get behind.

Mothership Connection by Parliament: Classic 70s funk.  It's not quite front-to-back classics, but it's not far off.  Take a listen, it's the coolest album you'll hear in a long time.  More on Parliament ring-leader George Clinton below.

WWE Raw episode 1,140: Ah, the post-Wrestlemania Raw is always a cracker, and this didn't disappoint.  Brock Lesnar provided the segment of the year by flying off the handle and killing the announce team, and in any other week that would have netted it a Best.  Special mention must be made of the crowd, who were hot throughout, and took the show over towards the end with a load of amusing (and some horrible) chants.

BEST: George Clinton live in concert: I saw funk legend George Clinton live at a small bar in Melbourne, and it was even better than I thought it would be.  Clinton was in fine form, especially considering his age, and his afro-futurist funky grooves were amazing to hear live.  The only disappointment was that he didn't look like George Clinton: he's lopped off his signature rainbow dreadlocks, and the outlandish outfits were nowhere to be seen.  It's a small complaint, though, the guy still puts on a hell of a show.

ALSO BEST: Wrestlemania 31: Yeah, it's a double-best this week.  I could not in good conscience do anything else, because both the George Clinton concert and Wrestlemania 31 were off the charts amazing.  It's weird, because the build-up for Wrestlemania this year was terrible, but the actual show ended up being one of the best ever.  Although there were no standout matches in terms of wrestling quality, the spectacle and theatrics more than made up for it.  Rusev rode an actual, for real tank to the ring!  Triple H dressed as a fucking Terminator carrying Terminator skull heads in his fists!  And yes, the main event was perfectly executed, with the right man coming out on top.  Seth Rollins was the MVP of 2014, and he really deserved to get the nod.  Wrestling, guys; it usually sucks, but when it's great it's so great.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

All The Things I Did: 29th March 2015

WORST: WWE Raw episodes 1138 & 1139: Wrestlemania is two weeks away, and still the WWE can't be arsed to tell any actual stories in the lead-up.  The closest we're getting is with Cena vs. Rusev, and that one involves the supposed hero trying to choke his opponent to death to get what he wants.  Still, the pre-taped Brock Lesnar interview was a delight, as they always are.  And Sting's surprise appearance at the end had me marking out.  Like most episodes of Raw, it's like sitting through two hours of shit for fifteen minutes of gold.

Black Widow (2014) #1-9 written by Nathan Edmondson, art by Phil Noto: This comic is a series of taut, single-issue spy stories starring Black Widow from the Avengers, and on that level it's pretty good.  It executes the formula well, but it does feel like a formula, and the Widow is a little too dry as a protagonist to carry it with any particular verve. One for the spy fans, I feel.

The Punisher (2014) #1-6 written by Nathan Edmondson, art by Mitch Gerads: Right off the bat this book got me on its bad side by ignoring the conclusion to the Punisher's last series.  It also features an uncharacteristically sociable version of the Punisher, one who frequents the same diner regularly and has real conversations with people.  These odd irritants aside, it's a decent action book that maintains a down-to-earth tone while also revelling in how absurdly badass the Punisher is.  He's played here as the guy who deals with problems too big for the police and too small for the Avengers, which in this story means he's shooting up a drug cartel that's hired Spider-Man villain Electro.  The book is well-crafted, and the action scenes rattles along nicely, but just as with Edmondson's Black Widow it feels a little flat.

Magneto (2014) #1-10 by Cullen Bunn and Gabriel Walta: This series is doing some interesting things, as it follows X-Men villain Magneto on a mission to take down the enemies of mutantkind, and explores whether his brutal methods are justified.  It's not afraid to go to some dark places, and never takes sides, which can make for some uncomfortable reading.  There was definite potential here, but I feel like it got derailed by its tie-in to the Axis crossover.  There are bound to be some strange tonal clashes when you do a story that evokes the Holocaust where the main villain is a telepathic ranting Nazi with a red skull for a head.

The Walking Dead season 5, episode 14: Holy shit, this show has done it again.  Another black male cast member has been killed off.  Seriously, do the creators of this show have any idea?  Are they just taking the piss?  They've killed off three this season already, and the last black guy left is a traitorous priest, so the odds aren't looking good for him.  If I'm being honest this was actually a really good episode, the kind of supply-run-goes-horribly-wrong episode that this show can now do in its sleep.  But I'm too dumbfounded by the decision to kill of yet another black guy to get over it.

Amazing Spider-Man (2014) #1-8 written by Dan Slott, art by Humberto Ramos: Peter Parker is back in control of his own body after a year or so of Dr Octopus masquerading as him (seriously, don't ask) and now he has to deal with all of the things that Doc Ock changed in his life while he was gone: mostly his new girlfriend, his position as CEO of a major tech developer, and the fact that his old ally/girlfriend the Black Cat wants to kill him.  It gets a little too goofy for its own good at times, but Dan Slott hits the right tone for Spidey more often than not, and knows how to craft a fun superhero yarn better than most.

The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett: I remembered this book having a lot of different settings and stories, but I had never realised just how disjointed it was.  It's more a collection of short stories than a novel, linked by its main characters and a few plot strands, but little else.  It is, of course, set on Pratchett's Discworld, and follows the adventures of the wizard Rincewind and the tourist Twoflower.  I'd always enjoyed this book as a kid, but I got a lot more out of it now.  It parodies a lot of the fantasy stories from the pulps of the mid-20th century, stuff I hadn't read back then.  I get it now, and as a result the book holds up much better than I had expected it to.  It's an enjoyable ride, just as long as you don't go in expecting a coherent story.

Uncanny Avengers (2012) #18-25 written by Rick Remender, art by Daniel Acuna: If I was just basing this on the wrap-up to the Kang/Apocalypse Twins arc, this would be higher on the list.  Yes, it erases most of the events of the previous issues, but it is a crazy time-travel epic; what do you expect?  The payoff more than delivers on the build-up, providing one of the most satisying Avengers stories I've read in years. Once that wraps up the story moves on to the Red Skull, and the lead-in to the Axis crossover.  You might recall that I didn't care for that one much.  The lead-in here strikes a bleak tone; Remender is very good at embracing the weirdness of superhero comics without sacrificing the drama and tension.  But it feels a little choppy, as it drags Magneto in from his own series, and the conclusion is very abrupt.  Ultimately, it pulls in too many elements from other comics, then has to serve as the launching point for another comic, and the story feels disjointed as a result.

Low by David Bowie: After Bowie hit rock bottom in the late 1970s, he disappeared to Berlin with Brian Eno.  This is the album he came up with, one half made up of strange, fractured disco tracks and the other a wash of ambient synthesizers.  It's odd, it's idiosyncratic, and it's often difficult to come to grips with.  I love it.

Guardians of the Galaxy: So yes, it's taken me a long time to get to this movie, and I've heard nothing but amazing things about it.  I spent about the first third of the movie thinking that I must be broken as a human being, because I wasn't loving it.  I was liking it quite a bit, but on the whole I felt that all the scenes not featuring Peter Quill were a bit crap.  I was all prepared to write this review saying that it's an okay movie elevated by a killer soundtrack.  Perhaps I was just annoyed at how wrong they got Thanos.  But you know what?  It won me over with an onslaught of charm, and a whole lot of heart, and I ended up loving the hell out of it.  And it really does have a killer soundtrack.

Monday, March 16, 2015

On the Passing of Terry Pratchett

As soon as I heard about it I wanted to write about the passing of Terry Pratchett, but what is there for me to say?  I never knew him, and I have no special insights to offer.  I felt a twinge of sadness when I first heard the news, but there was no great outpouring of emotion.  I was (and am) just a fan, and I really only know him through his work. So I suppose that's what I'll write about: Pratchett's books, and how they affected me.

It was Christmas of 1990 that I received my first Pratchett novel.  It's written there inside the front cover of my copy of The Colour of Magic, my name and the date underneath.  I had no idea what it was, but I was a die-hard fantasy nut by that point, and I fell in love with his work.  The genre parody was spot on, even though it was a parody of fantasy I had yet to read: Lieber's tales of Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, Howard's Conan, McCaffrey's Pern series.  It still worked when held up against the more modern works I'd been devouring, and as I said, I loved it.

From there I read as much as I could: as many of the Discworld books as I could get my hands on; the Truckers series; The Carpet People; even his sci-fi novel Strata (don't ask me about that one, because all I can remember about it is the large-breasted woman on the cover).  The Discworld books featuring the City Watch were favourites.  After a few years I drifted away from the Discworld series as a whole, but I always kept up with the Watch.

Pratchett has often been likened to Douglas Adams, and that's a fair comparison.  Both are very funny, but Pratchett has Adams beat when it comes to sheer volume.  There's also a lot more depth to Pratchett's books, on the whole.  While the Discworld series started as a parody of the fantasy genre, it gradually morphed into an astute look at our own society through a fantasy lens.  I'm not sure when it first happened, but I first noticed it in the book Night Watch, where he explores themes of revolution and authority.  I was astounded by that book in particular, and from then on I couldn't help but notice the little things in his books, the sublime moments that captured the human experience so perfectly.  More than just the funny moments, Pratchett sprinkled his books with moments of pathos, and I hope that isn't something that gets forgotten in all the restrospectives to come.

I've been meaning to embark on a big Discworld re-read for a while now.  It's been decades since I've read most of them, and there are about thirty or so that I haven't read at all.  It's sad that it took Pratchett's passing to give me the motivation, but as I said, I'm just a fan, and reading his books is the only form of tribute I can give.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

All The Things I Did: 14th March 2015

All of the things.  From Worst to Best.  Go.

WORST: WWE Raw episode 1,137: Wrestlemania is two weeks away, and the build-up for it is alarmingly underdone.  The major problem is that for three of the top feuds one of the major stars is missing.  Roman Reigns vs. Brock Lesnar: Lesnar works limited dates, and when he does show up it's usually just to stand in the background and hop from foot to foot menacingly.  Triple H vs. Sting - Sting has appeared maybe twice in the last six months, and otherwise communicates via monitor screen.  Bray Wyatt vs. Undertaker: The Undertaker isn't appearing until Wrestlemania, and the entre build-up consists of Bray desperately calling him out, and Taker sending a mystical lightning bolt to blow up Bray's rocking chair (really).  The only reason I'm excited for 'Mania is that I'm confident that all of those guys will deliver on the night.

The Walking Dead season 5, episode 13: This show has taken a definite upswing since Rick and co. found a safe place to live.  They're telling a different kind of story now, and it's one I'm a bit more interested in than the relentlessly grim survivalist tale that was going on before.

Amazing X-Men (2014) #1-12, writing by Jason Aaron and Chris Yost, art by Ed McGuinness: This run of issues features two stories: one about the return of Nightcrawler from the dead, and the other about an army of Wendigos.  The first is a swashbuckling action romp, as Nightcrawler summons the X-Men into the afterlife to stop pirates from stealing souls from Heaven and Hell.  It's exactly a absurd as it sounds, but it gets away with it through sheer charm and exuberance.  In the second, the Wendigo curse is activated when a human corpse is fed through a grinder in a meat-packing plant; hundreds of Canadians end up eating human flesh, and all of them turn into the mythica Wendigo.  Cue the X-Men, and another story that hits a very similar tone to the Nightcrawler one.  It's a bit throwaway, and not quite as good, but it's in the same ballpark.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle: This is a collection of the first twelve Sherlock Holmes short stories, and it's immediately apparent that the character works better in this format than in his first two novels.  All of the fat is cut, and what is left is a dozen or so lean stories that give every chance for Holmes to display his genius without too much clunky exposition.  Still entertaining over a century later.

Young Americans by David Bowie: Bowie's first post-glam album may be one of his weaker efforts from the 1970s, but that still makes it pretty damn good.  He's in full-on Philly soul mode, and doing it very well.  It's an underlooked album.  The only bad track is his cover of The Beatles' 'Across the Universe', and even that pulls out a surprisingly gutsy outtro.

Uncanny Avengers #1-17, writing by Rick Remender, art by John Cassaday and Daniel Acuna:  In the wake of Avengers vs. X-Men, both teams have formed a squad together to promote mutant/human unity.  It all goes pear-shaped when the Nazi Red Skull shows up wielding the brain of Charles Xavier as a weapon, and it gets even worse when the grand-kids of Apocalypse show up.  Remender is drawing on plot threads from his amazing run on Uncanny X-Force, and weaving them together into a balls-out, high-stakes superhero magnum opus.  It does get a little ham-handed when Remender starts moralising about race-relations and cultural identity, but the rest is solid gold.  Plus, it has Kand the Conqueror, and I am a sucker for a good Kang story.

Station to Station by David Bowie: Right from the middle of Bowie's cocaine-addled peak, this album is masterful.  He's shed the glam by this point, and is working more with funk and soul influences.  There may only be six songs on the album, but every single one is a winner.

BEST: A Night at the Hip-Hopera by The Kleptones: Hip-hop classics meet Queen backing tracks, in what may be the greatest mash-up album of all time.  This is probably my favourite album of the last decade.  Check it out, if only for the amazing combination of the Beastie Boys with 'Radio Gaga/I Want to Break Free'.  It's free if anyone wants to check it out here.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Hero of the Beach's Journey

Anyone who read a comic between 1960 and 1990 has probably seen the ad above.  It was ubiquitous and inescapable, and so became iconic as it imprinted on the brains of millions of impressionable youngsters.  I never knew anyone who took the course, and I never took it myself.  Who knew if it would even work or not?  Not me.  Until now, that is.

I've been meaning to do something about my fitness for a while, but I am - as you may have noticed - a bit lazy.  I also don't have money to join a gym, or hire a personal trainer.  What I do have is an unhealthy fascination with comic books and the ephemera surrounding them.  What better way for a comic nerd with no money to get fit, than to follow the advice of a man who died over forty years ago?

So this is the deal: for the next twelve weeks I'm going to be blogging about the Charles Atlas course.  I've been working on pretty much everything but my novel, so it's not like my mind is on writing these days anyway.  I intend to complete the entire course, following all of the instruction (except for a few that I flatly refuse to acknowledge), and write about my progress as I go.

Before I begin, this is what the Atlas method has to work with:

As you can see, neither exercise nor photography are things I've had much practice with.  I like to think that I'm giving the Charles Atlas method a blank canvas to work with.

The Atlas Method (which I have as a handy PDF) is split into eleven lessons, with a few appendices at the back.  The appendices are hilariously macho, with instructions on boxing, wrestling, and jiu jitsu, but I won't be tackling those.  I ain't here to hurt nobody.  Atlas' writing style is also quite startling.  He's fond of highlighting key phrases with ALL CAPS.  He'd be a real nuisance on message boards.  Mostly he bangs on about HEALTH and STRENGTH and POWER OF WILL, and the idea that ALL EVIL HABITS MAY BE DESTROYED BY THE PERSON WHO REALLY DESIRES TO CONQUER THEM!  He'd make a great super-villain.

The first thing that Atlas talks about is oxygen, and the importance of good, clean air.  It boils down to this: leave your windows open, and breathe deeply.  I'm a shallow breather by nature, so this one is going to be tricky to remember.  And as much as Charles would like me to leave my windows open at night, I have family members to consider.  That ain't gonna fly.  I'll just have to get my fresh air during the day.

Good posture is next on the agenda.  It's like Charles Atlas is talking right at me, because years of reading, writing and computering have left me with a curved spine, and I'm not about to give any of those things up.  I have a habit of slouching when I sit on the couch, but I'll try my best to remember to sit up straight, at least for the next twelve weeks.

And now, on to Lesson 1 proper.  This lesson is about exercising the chest and shoulders, which is why I provided the photos above.  There are seven exercises, to be done in the morning and at night.  I'm currently doing 15 repetitions of each, and I plan to increase that as I go.

1) Push-ups.  You know this is an old-timey course, because Atlas has to describe how to do his 'special dipping exercise' instead of just saying 'do some push-ups'.  He advocates doing them with feet on the floor and each hand on a different chair.  When I'm alone I'll do them with the chairs, but otherwise I'll be doing them on the floor.  I'm too shy to do these exercises where my family can see me.

2) This one I'm not certain about: I'm supposed to throw my hands up to the ceiling while inhaling, then cross them over and bring them down while exhaling.  It's a breathing exercise, but I'm not entirely sure I'm doing it right.  The diagrams aren't always the clearest.

3) Pulling an invisible rope while tensing my chest muscles.

4) Locking my middle fingers together and bringing my arms over my head.

5) Pressing my fist into my other hand at about hip level, and pushing with both arms.

6) Another one I'm not sure about, where I have to "bear down the shoulders and arms" while contracting my chest muscles.  I'm doing it, but I ain't sure I'm doing it right.

7) Pushing myself up with my hands while sitting in a chair.

So, that's my regimen for the next fortnight, and indeed for the entirety of the course.  While the other lessons will come and go, this one has to be done over the full twelve weeks.  I'm not complaining, it's actually not too strenuous so far.  I did my first round of exercises this morning, and I'm about to do my second before I go to bed.  I don't feel any different yet, but it's early days.  Time will tell if I become THE HERO OF THE BEACH, THE WORLD'S MOST PERFECTLY DEVELOPED MAN, THE MASTER OF DYNAMIC TENSION or if I just tone up a little bit, maybe.

WHAT MY OTHER BLOGS SAID THIS WEEK: - My dissection of the AD&D Monster Manual continues.  I'm up to letter T!  After years of toil, I'm nearly done! - In other ultra-nerdy doings, I've got an in-depth examination of The Citadel of Chaos, the second Fighting Fantasy gamebook.  Enter at your own risk, there's some hardcore nerd shit going on in there. - I'm still playing Orthanc, one of the very first computer RPGs.  If you like making dungeon maps on graph paper, this one's for you.


What I'm Reading:
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
The Complete Robot by Isaac Asimov
Amazing X-Men by Jason Aaron and Ed McGuinness

What I'm Watching:
The Walking Dead season 5

What I'm Playing:
Crossy Road

Saturday, March 7, 2015

All The Things I Did: 7th March 2015

All the things, ranked from worst to best.

Resurrection season 2, episodes 11 to 13: I'll admit that I was getting into this as it started drawing more and more on apocalyptic imagery, and supposedly heading towards an epic climax.  But if there's one thing I can't stand, it's an anticlimax.  This series spent hours building up the premise that "if this baby is born it could mean the end of everything!!!!!".  Of course the baby is born, millions of people return from the dead, and then the show cuts to a "one year later" transition and shows that everything is fine and dandy, aside from some irritating bits of anti-Returned legislation.  It's the textbook example of how to get me to stop watching your show.

Marvel 75th Anniversary Celebration #1:  This comic is mostly full of throwaway anthology stories.  The most notable are a look at what the other Marvel characters were doing during the origin of the Fantastic Four (a story which contradicts continuity in a number of places) and a Darwyn Cooke adaptation of a prose story that was Stan Lee's first published work.  The latter is a fine example of what a great artist like Cooke can do with an execrable piece of writing.  It's fun, but not enough to save the rest of the forgettable material.

WWE Raw episodes 1,135 and 1,136: Speaking of forgettable...  WWE is on the road to Wrestlemania, which is supposed to be the biggest event of the year, but you'd never know it.  The same story beats are being hit week after week, the champion Brock Lesnar never bothers to show up, and the wrestling has been decent at best.  Who would have thought that the highlight would be Curtis Axel, and his delusional #Axelmania rants? 

The Walking Dead season 5, episodes 11 and 12: Interest is picking up here, as Rick and co. move into a community that, shockingly, seems perfectly safe.  It looks to me as though they're heading for a story where we explore whether Rick's crew can still function in a normal society, and I'm cool with that.  It's a change-up from the same old formula, and that's exactly what the show needed.

WWE Fastlane 2015:  Most of the matches here were dull, and the crowd didn't help.  Why would you pay to go to a wrestling event, and not react to anything?  The last two matches saved it, though.  John Cena and Rusev had a good back-and-forth match that went a long way to cementing Rusev as a legitimate main-event heel.  The ending, with Rusev hitting a distracted Cena then making him pass out with the Accolade, was the right one, and sets up their Wrestlemania rematch nicely.  The Roman Reigns/Daniel Bryan main event was a corker, but that's to be expected when Bryan is involved.  And as much as I would rather see Bryan head to Wrestlemania as the top guy, I'm kind of glad that the WWE doubled down on Reigns in the face of negative crowd reactions.  Bryan was the safe option, but they're trying to make a new star here, and even with Reigns's obviosu deficiencies that's commendable.

Thunderbolts #13-32 by Charles Soule and various artists: I hadn't really enjoyed the first twelve issues of this series by Daniel Way, but with Charles Soule taking over the book improved a lot.  It got a genuine premise, for a start: the group do one mission for the Red Hulk, then one mission for another member, alternating each time.  It also gained a sudden self-awareness of it's own absurdity, which it needed.  You can't put so many grim killers on the same superhero team and expect the book to be taken seriously.  The highlight of the run was the team's trip to Hell, which embraced the silliness of the situation and had some clever tie-ins to other Marvel books.  The book tailed off a bit at the end, and got cancelled before it could get around to giving every character a mission, but it had its fun moments.

Powers: The Bureau #1-12 by Brian Michael Bendis and Mike Oeming: This series has been running for about 15 years now, but this is the first time I've tried it.  The premise is that the world has superheroes, and the FBI deals with them.  It's pretty simple, and the opening arc sets the tone immediately by featuring a case involving superpowered semen being sold on the black market, and some highly entertaining foul language.  The plotting is a lot tighter than Bendis's mainstream work, and the characters are entertaining on a superficial level.  I was with it until he introduced a pregnancy plot for the main character, had her lose the baby after being kicked in the stomach, then didn't mention it at all in the nest story.  Perhaps it will be explored going forward, but it's not the sort of thing that I feel can be dropped like that.

The Sign of the Four by Arthur Conan Doyle: The second Sherlock Holmes novel is better than the first, mostly because Holmes is actually in it the whole way through.  It still falls into the same narrative trap that A Study in Scarlet did, though: the last chapter is a massive block of exposition detailing how and why the murder was done.  The plot is cliched from a modern perspective, being a murder mystery involving missing treasure and an island native, but Holmes himself remains entertaining enough.

Nova #1-16 by Jeph Loeb, Zeb Wells, Gerry Duggan and various artists: Young Sam Alexander finds his dad's space helmet and becomes the star-faring Nova, in a solid execution of the teen superhero formula.  There's nothing new on display here, but it has a lot of exuberance that carries it through the standard tropes.

Foundation's Edge by Isaac Asimov: How often does someone create a sequel to their most famous work decades after the original, and pull it off?  Not often, but here Asimov has managed to do it, writing a novel in 1982 that's just as good as the Foundation stories of the 1950s.  Foundation is a hard sell as a series, being a story about a fellow who maps out the future using maths, then sets up two organisations whose goal was to see that the best possible future comes about over the coming centuries.  This story involves the technologically superior First Foundation and the psychic Second Foundation being drawn into a conflict revolving around the mysterious planet Gaia, with the fate of the galaxy at stake.  There are no space battles, or exciting things like that, just politics and space exploration.  This is hard sci-fi, by one of the masters, and if you're into that sort of thing it's a series you really ought to read.

Friday, February 20, 2015

All The Things I Did: 20th February 2015

Another week, another lot of things I read, played, watched and listened to.  As always, they're ranked from worst to best.

WORST: The Walking Dead season 5, episode 2: This wasn't exactly bad; it's still quite a well put together piece of television.  I'm just getting bored with the whole enterprise.  There's only so much I can take of the characters killing zombies and being depressed.  I also had to dock it some serious points for the moment where Rick declares that "we are the walking dead".  THANKS MATE, I HADN'T NOTICED THE SUBTEXT.

Thunderbolts #1-11 (2012 series) by Daniel Way and Steve Dillon: The Red Hulk has gathered some of Marvel's most ruthless characters (Deadpool, Elektra, the Punisher, Venom), and together they're taking on arms dealers in the Middle East and south-east Asia.  This book is really flat.  Daniel Way has assembled a cast of strong, silent types (except for Deadpool, but even he's a little bit subdued) and the result is a book seriously lacking in empathy and character interaction.  The plot is tedious, the villains barely have a presence in the story at all, and Way keeps to his usual sluggish pace.  Steve Dillon is the only saving grace, and I really wish that he would stop doing books with Daniel Way.

Resurrection season 2, episodes 7 to 10:  Things are starting to happen, although there's still far too much time spent on the cast talking about their feelings.  Still, on the whole I'm mildly engaged with it, although I am trepidatious about the religious iconography that's starting to take over.  Given the subject matter I expected it earlier, but the show has mercifully held off.  Now we're getting a sinister preacher and plagues of locusts, and I expect that the biblical overtones will only grow stronger.  I can't say I'm looking forward to it.

Pretties for You and Easy Action by Alice Cooper: In my ongoing quest to find more things like David Bowie, I've turned to the other great rock persona of the early 1970s, Alice Cooper.  As it turns out, the original Alice Cooper was not just a bloke but a whole band.  Their first two albums are unfocused and a bit wild, with a hint of psychedelia thrown in.  They're fun, but they're also a bit of a mess.  There are hints of the 'sinister rock fairground' approach that Cooper would take in later albums, but it's not quite there yet.

WWE Raw episode 1,134: This is the last episode before the Fast Lane pay-per-view, with the focus mostly on building the rivalry between Roman Reigns and Daniel Bryan.  There's some strange storytelling going on here.  Both of these characters are supposed to be good guys, but with this current feud they're both acting like massive tools to each other.  By the end, though, they had me buying how much they want to beat the hell out of each other, so good job even though it's not clear who the audience is supposed to support.  The rest of the segments were a mixed bag, with the Seth Rollins/Dolph Ziggler match probably being the highlight.

Love It To Death by Alice Cooper: The third album by Alice Cooper sheds the psychedelia in favour of short, focused rock songs, and it's altogether a stronger effort than their first two.  There aren't any stand-out tracks, but the album hangs together nicely, and it's starting to sound like the Alice Cooper that I recognise.

A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle: I've started reading the Sherlock Holmes books, and this is the first.  It's a solid mystery story, and Holmes is a fascinating character from the start.  I question the structure of the book, though.  The first half features Holmes and Watson investigating and solving a murder involving Mormons, and then the second half veers off into a flashback about said Mormons and the build-up to the murder.  I can understand why Doyle wrote it this way: he needed to present the murder as a righteous one, and to do that the reader needed to be shown what led to it.  But the result is that Holmes is absent for about six chapters, and I found myself impatient to return to him.  Sometimes the needs of the reader trump the needs of the narrative, I'm afraid.

Cyclops (2014 series) #1-5 by Greg Rucka and Russell Dauterman: This series follows the young version of Cyclops, who has discovered that his long-lost father is alive, and a space pirate.  The heart of the book is the touching father-son relationship, but there's plenty of space adventure to go around as well.  Greg Rucka is incapable of writing a bad comic, and Dauterman is a great find on the art.  It's a warm, fun book that never loses sight of the human story beneath all of the crazy alien shenanigans.

Billion Dollar Babies by Alice Cooper: This is the band's sixth album, and considered by many to be the best.  I'll echo that, because it really is a top-notch rock album.  Cooper's theatrics are in full effect, and the result is operatic and subversively tongue-in-cheek.  To be honest, the rebelliousness and shock tactics are kind of quaint, but they're always charming.

Daredevil (2011 series) #22-36 by Mark Waid and Chris Samnee: Waid's amazing run on Daredevil continues, barely losing steam at all as it enters its third year.  I said it last time, but it bears repeating: this is the best superhero comic of the last five years.  The pay-off for the first two years is a storyline with Bullseye that goes to some intense, disturbing places without ever compromising the lighter tone of the book.  The run concludes with a story about the Sons of the Serpent, basically the Marvel equivalent of the Ku Klux Klan, and their infiltration of the New York justice system.  The finale is surprising, and takes the character in an interesting new direction.  I can't wait to get to the next volume.

BEST: Tardis Eruditorum by Philip Sandifer: I almost forget this, because I haven't been writing about other blogs here, but this is one of the best.  Tardis Eruditorum is ostensibly a chronological journey through the fifty year history of Doctor Who, but it's so much more than that.  It's also a lens into British politics and society of the late 20th century and early 21st, with digressions into alchemy and radicalism and so many other things.  It's a masterful piece of work, and easily the best long-form blog I've ever read.  The final post went up during the week, and it's a doozy: a 100,000 word history of Doctor Who as a whole.  I'd recommend, though, that any Doctor Who fan go right to the beginning and take it from there.  It's really that good.  (And yes Phil, if you ever track this back here I admit that I totally stole the worst-to-best format from your comic reviews.  Mea culpa.)

Sunday, February 15, 2015

What I Read in 2014

About this time last year I did a retrospective on the books I read in 2013, so I suppose I should do the same again.  This is nothing to do with me scraping for content.  I could write a meaningful post if I wanted to.  I'm just doing this now.  Here's the list.

About Time Vol. 6 by Tat Wood
Daredevil by Brian Michael Bendis Collection Vol. 1 by Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev
Marvel Masterworks: The Silver Surfer Vol. 1 & 2 by Stan Lee and John Buscema
Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Jungle Tales of Tarzan by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Tarzan the Untamed by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Tarzan the Terrible by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Thuvia, Maid of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs
The Chessmen of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs
At the Earth's Core by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Pellucidar by Edgar Rice Burroughs
The Land That Time Forgot by Edgar Rice Burroughs
The People That Time Forgot by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Out of Time's Abyss by Edgar Rice Burroughs
The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle
The Hobbit J.R.R. Tolkien
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
The Marvel Timeline Project: Book 1 by Jeff Diescher & Murray Ward
The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan

The Great Hunt by Robert Jordan
The Dragon Reborn by Robert Jordan
King Solomon's Mines by H. Rider Haggard

Allan Quatermain by H. Rider Haggard
Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

I only managed to read 31 books last year, which is significantly down on 2013's total of 52.  I had set the goal of reading some more contemporary authors, but obviously I failed there; most of the things I read were written before I was born, and a decent number were written before my grandparents were born.  What can I say, I read a lot of audiobooks, and the ones in the public domain are free.

Edgar Rice Burroughs came out on top, as I read eleven of his books last year.  I'm pretty certain at this point that I've exhausted the good part of his catalogue, although I really would like to finish all of his John Carter books.  Second was J.K. Rowling.  About halfway through the year I got the itch to reread some of my favourite series now that they're done.  I got through Harry Potter (which holds up rather well) and the first three Wheel of Time books before moving on to some things I've never read before.  I'll get back to it, but The Wheel of Time is a hefty series.  Reading it all would eat up a lot of 2015.

The Worst Book I Read in 2014: This is a difficult category this year, because I didn't read anything I would classify as bad.  The award probably has to go to one of the many mediocre Edgar Rice Burroughs affairs I trudged through, but as those books tend to merge into one in my mind it's hard to differentiate. And let's be honest here: I enjoyed them all.  They ain't good, but I'm a sucker for a trashy pulp adventure novel.  In the end the one that sticks out is Tarzan the Untamed, for the sheer amount of anti-German vitriol that oozes from every page.  It may not be the worst, but it's the worst one I remember.

The Best Book I Read in 2014: No contest, hands down, it's Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut.  I read it before about 15 years ago, and it was one of the best damn books I'd ever read.  It still holds that distinction, and nothing else I read last year can touch it for inventiveness, humour and pathos.

Marvel Year By Year: How the Blog Works - In which I explain how my Marvel blog is going to work.  This post, like the blog, is a work in progress, so it might not be the most coherent thing I ever wrote.
AD&D Monster Manual part 52 - In which I dissect the entries for Sylphs, Su-Monsters and Thought Eaters.  You can't go wrong with a creepy psychic platypus, people.


What I'm Reading:
A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle
Foundation's Edge by Isaac Asimov

What I'm Watching:
The Walking Dead season 5
Resurrection season 2

What I'm Playing:
Crossy Road on my phone
Orthanc on a PLATO emulator
Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess on the Wii


Friday, February 13, 2015

All The Things I Did: 13th February 2015

Here it is, for the third week running: everything I read, watched, played and listened to in the last week ranked from worst to best.  And here's a warning in advance: there are spoilers for The Walking Dead's latest episode.

The Wheel of Time: Winter Dragon TV Pilot:  Okay.  This may take some explaining.

The Wheel of Time is a series of fantasy novels/paving slabs by Robert Jordan.  It's immensely popular, and in the wake of Game of Thrones there has apparently been some interest from TV and movie studios.  Unfortunately, many years ago Jordan sold the licensing rights to a company called Red Eagle, which has done nothing but cock things up ever since.  The rights were set to return to Jordan's estate on February 11th, but lo and behold, look what showed up at 1.30 am on the FXX channel, right in the middle of the infomercials: a completely unheralded TV pilot.  In other words, a hastily slapped together bit of telly made so that Red Eagle can retain the rights to the series.

This show has to be seen to be believed.  It's one of the worst things I've seen in years, and I watch wrestling.  Billy Zane is in this, playing one of the major villains of the series.  Billy freaking Zane!  It's a delight watching him attempt to deliver dialogue about "the nine Rods of Dominion" and the "One Power", all while smiling affably.  Here's a link:  Check it out, Wheel of Time fans, and see just how bad an adaptation can be.  This may be the worst thing on my list, but to be honest it's one of the things I enjoyed the most.

A Beard of Stars by Tyrannosaurus Rex: Okay, so bear with me: I'm going to write about some music here.  This is not something I know how to do, so forgive me if I make even less sense than usual.  I'm in uncharted waters.

With that out of the way, can we all agree that A Beard of Stars is an amazing, incredible album name?  Okay?  Good, because understanding how radical that name is will help you to know how let down I felt by this album.  A few years ago I went through David Bowie's entire catalogue, and that was a positive life decision.  T Rex is a band that often gets mentioned in the same breath as Bowie, so long as we're talking about his glam albums, so I thought I'd check them out.  I went with A Beard of Stars because it had the best title (it was a toss-up between that and Futuristic Dragon), and I think I may have gone a little too early in their chronology.  Instead of glam I got psychedelic folk rock, which is a genre I have an affinity for, but I didn't exactly warm to this album.  Most of the melodies felt awkward, and I found Bolan's voice grating.  Don't hate me, Bolan fans, I'll probably give one of their later albums a spin at some point.

Resurrection season 2, episodes 2 to 6:  I'm still not loving this show, but I am getting a little more invested in it.  Some of this is the growing focus on the conspiracy angle, which is more interesting than how such-and-such or so-and-so is feeling about their emotions this week, but mostly it comes down to Michelle Fairley, and her portrayal of the newly revived family grandmother.  She's the most heinous character I've seen on TV in a while (and yes, I do watch Game of Thrones).  Basically, I'm sticking with this to see her get set on fire or something.

The Walking Dead season 5, episode 9:  The Walking Dead is back from its mid-season break, and it's also back to its old trick of killing off all the black men.  Seriously, it's absurd how many have pegged it at this point.  Have the creators not noticed, or are they taking the piss?  There are still two left in the cast, but one has a gammy leg and the other is a nervous priest.  The odds don't look good for either of them.

As for the episode itself, it was decent enough, but it still feels like the show is treading water, and has been since half-way through season 4.  Rick and co. have decided to go to Washington, and see what's there, which I guess is a direction, but it's not really a compelling one.  I think I know what's in Washington, anyway.  I'll give you a hint: more zombies.

All-New X-Men #18-21 by Brian Michael Bendis and various artists: In the aftermath of Battle of the Atom (which I reviewed last week) the original X-Men have defected, and are now living with Cyclops and his team of revolutionaries.  It's a move that makes sense, as it gives the core cast a whole new set of characters to interact with, and that's what Bendis does well.  That's not the focus here, though.  Instead we have the introduction of X-23 to the team (she's a female clone of Wolverine.  Don't ask.), and a battle with the Purifiers, a group of militant religious mutant-haters.  Bendis gets good material out of X-23, and particularly her rapport with the young Scott Summers.  Not so much the religious fanatics, but those stories tend to be pretty one-note anyway.  The series is holding up quite well so far.  (I hate the new costumes, though.  So much uglier than the 1960s designs.)

Morning Phase by Beck: Like everyone I saw Kanye making a knob of himself at the Grammys, but it did have the positive effect of reminding me that Beck is a thing that exists.  His latest album is a mellow acoustic affair, with a lot of heartfelt, slightly melancholy tracks.  I can see why Kanye dissed it: it's an album for introspective middle-aged white people.  I liked it a lot.

Daredevil (2011 series) #1-21 by Mark Waid and Chris Samnee: I'm revisiting this run of comics before I read Waid's final issues, and I feel pretty safe in saying that this is the best super-hero comic of the last five years.  Waid took the character back to his swashbuckling roots after a decade of unrelenting noirish misery, while never ignoring the many terrible traumas that exist in Matt Murdock's backstory.  The action is sharp and inventive, the emotional beats hit hard, and the art is crisp and sublime.  If you want to read some Daredevil before the TV series begins, this is the one.  (Oh, okay, there's also the Frank Miller runs.  And the Bendis run.  And Brubaker.  But I like this one the best.  It has Stilt-Man.)

Monday, February 9, 2015

Goals for 2015

Last year I made a list of goals that was, dare I say it, a little ambitious.  I was fresh off of self-publishing my first novel, full if vim and vigour and ready to take on everything life could throw at me.  Unfortunately, the one thing I wasn't ready to take on was myself, and my own tendencies toward laziness and defeatism.  As you can see, I didn't to so hot.

So this year I'm setting my sights a bit lower.  Basically, I just want to finish up all of the things I'm already working on.  Which means I get to make a list!  I do love a good list.

Goal 1: Finish The Lightless Labyrinth:  I'm already a good two-thirds of the way through the first draft, so I have a much more realistic shot at this than I did in 2014.  At the very least I'll be able to get the first draft done; whether I can publish it or not depends on how much rewriting I need to do.  So far it's turning out to be much tighter than Jack Manley was at a similar stage.

Goal 2: Get Ug and the Giant's Backyard republished: I'm not sure whether I've mentioned this before on the blog, but I had a children's picture book published through a small press.  (Okay, so it was a small press run through the school I attended, for which I was part of the editorial staff.  Nepotism is a hell of a thing.)  I did the writing and the illustrations, and I have all of the rights, so there's no reason I shouldn't get it back out there.  The main stumbling block is that I want it to be in colour this time around, which is a lot of extra work.

Goal 3: Maintain a regular blogging schedule:  I have a load of blogs on a variety of subjects: writing, computer games, gamebooks, Dungeons & Dragons, Marvel comics...  Anyone who has followed my blogging career will know that I am, at best, an erratic poster.  This year I'd like to keep up the pace a little better, and post to each of my blogs once a week.

So that's it.  Three goals, none of which are out of the realm of possibility (though that blogging one may be stretching things a bit).  Join me in 2016, when I once again recount my failures.

Marvel Year By Year: The Beginning - The introductory post of a new blogging project about the Marvel Universe.  It doesn't reveal what the blog's about just yet, but it does detail my first brush with Marvel.  I'm really looking forward to continuing with this one.
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual part 51 - In this blog I'm reading through every D&D product in chronological order, and attempting to craft a cohesive game world using everything I find therein.  It's an exercise in folly, basically, but D&D nerds may enjoy it.


What I'm Watching
Resurrection season 2

What I'm Reading
Foundation's Edge by Isaac Asimov
A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle
Daredevil by Mark Waid, Paolo Rivera and Marcos Martin

What I'm Playing
Orthanc on a PLATO emulator
Crossy Road on my phone
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess on the Wii

Friday, February 6, 2015

All The Things I Did: 6th February 2015

Here we go again, with all of the media I finished in the last week, ranked from worst to best:

WORST: Resurrection season 2, episode 1:  Now, technically this isn't a bad show.  It's a perfectly well-executed mix of small-town drama and government conspiracy, revolving around the premise of dead people returning to life.  It's decent, but it's exactly the sort of thing I dislike.  Mostly it involves miserable people standing around and talking about their emotions, and let's just say that's not something I go to for entertainment.  It's especially not something I ever wanted to see from Kurtwood Smith, aka That 70s Dad aka the villain from Robocop.  Still, my wife likes it, and I don't find it offensively bad.  For me, it's filler until Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead return.

Tarzan and the Golden Lion by Edgar Rice Burroughs: This is the ninth Tarzan book by Burroughs, and it doesn't bring anything new to the table.  Like most of Burroughs' work it's plotted rather shambolically, though I must say it hangs together better than many of his other books.  The main story involves a group of ruthless treasure seekers who come to Africa with a Tarzan impersonator.  In typical Burroughs fashion there's a lengthy sequence in which Tarzan finds a hidden valley ruled by sentient gorillas and overthrows their society, and it has no bearing on the main storyline at all.  Still, despite its shortcomings its a diverting adventure yarn that doesn't outstay its welcome.  It's exactly the sort of unchallenging material that I find perfect for audiobooks.

X-Men: Battle of the Atom by Brian Michael Bendis, Jason Aaron, Brian Wood (writers) and Frank Cho, Stuart Immonen, Chris Bachalo (artists), among others: This story was created to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the X-Men in 2013, but in many ways it's decided to celebrate the worst aspects of the franchise.  The premise is pretty gonzo, but I'll try to outline it as simply as I can: the original X-Men have been brought forward from the past, which is causing damage to the timestream.  Two rival X-Men teams come from the future with opposing views on how to solve the problem, while the X-Men from the present are caught in the middle.  Not too hard to figure out the problem with this story, is it?  Surprisingly there are quite a lot of good character moments, and it begins well with the original X-Men on the run, but by the end it gets swamped by the sheer number of characters, many of whom only exist for this story.  The number of characters isn't the only problem, as the constant switching between writers and artists results in a jarring read at times.  That said, this is exactly the kind of story I love.  I didn't care for the execution so much, but the madcap scope of it is right in my wheelhouse.

WWE Raw episode 1,132: It's that rare gem, a really rather good episode of Raw.  The matches were mostly high quality, the storyline segments made sense, and there was nothing that left me shaking my head in disbelief.  It's a low bar to clear, but it's shocking how often the WWE fails to do just that.  Special props to Damien Sandow, for making me laugh simply by standing still.

All-New X-Men #1-15 by Brian Michael Bendis, Stuart Immonen and others:  These are the comics that set up the premise of Battle of the Atom (described above).  With the X-Men in an ideological split, the Beast decides to bring the original team from the past to show Cyclops the error of his ways.  What results is some quality interpersonal drama, as the original teenage X-Men react to all the terrible things that have happened to them over the course of five decades worth of comics, and everyone else reacts to having these kids around.  Bendis excels at this kind of stuff, even if I do find his pacing a little too slow at times.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

A Look Back On My Unrealistic Goals for 2014

I had some new content on Friday, but now it's back to the same-old same-old: ruminating on my failures.  I set some goals for last year, and now that I'm ramping up for 2015 it's time to look back and see how poorly I did.

Goal 1: Get Jack Manley and the Warlord Infinity onto Smashwords, and promote the thing.

I'm calling this half a success.  Jack Manley is on Smashwords - go and look! - but I didn't do any promotional work.  I have neither the time, the money nor the inclination.

Goal 2: Finish The Lightless Labyrinth.

Is this where I'm supposed to burst out laughing at myself?  No, I didn't finish the book, and I knew it was an unrealistic goal when I set it.  I got about two-thirds of the way through the first draft, though, so at least I made some progress.

Goal 3: Start Jack Manley and the Interchronal Deathmatch Tournament.

Once upon a time I had the grand idea to write a serialised Jack Manley novel, which would be released a chapter at a time for free, then collected later for cash money.  I've scrapped that idea, I think.  I'll still be writing the book, because I really like what I've got outlined, but I will probably release it all in one hit.

Goal 4: Release Volume 1 of a Marvel Comics Guidebook.

Aaaaaand NOPE.   Not even close.  I'm in the process of getting this up and running as a blogging project, though, so we'll see what happens.

Goal 5: Write every day.

I probably managed to write every third day or so, which is a marked improvement on my life to date.

Goal 6: Stop writing about being a lazy writer.

See the rest of this post.  How do you think I did?

So that's my last year as a writer summed up, I think.  Make no mistake, though, 2014 was probably the most productive year I've ever had.  It was only a failure by the standards I set for myself, and the standards of actual dedicated people.  I have the feeling I'll do even better in 2015; I'm nearing forty, and I'd like to become at least a mild success before I have to call myself middle-aged.

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual, part 50


What I'm Reading:
Tarzan and the Golden Lion by Edgar Rice Burroughs
All-New X-Men by Brian Michael Bendis and Stuart Immonen

What I'm Watching:
Guardians of the Galaxy

What I'm Playing:
WWE Supercard on my phone
Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess on the Wii
Orthanc on a PLATO emulator

Friday, January 30, 2015

All The Things I Did: 31st January 2015

In an effort to get some more content onto this blog that isn't me banging on about how I'm very slowly writing a novel, I'm introducing a new feature for Fridays.  The plan is to do capsule reviews of every piece of media I finished during the previous week, starting with the one I enjoyed the least and working my up to the one I enjoyed the most.  Longtime readers of any of my blogs will be rolling there eyes right now, because I've never been good at maintaining a schedule.  I make no promises, but here is the first extra-sized installment, covering the last fortnight.

Painkiller Jane: The 22 Brides #1-3 by Jimmy Palmiotti and Juan Santacruz: This feature is getting off to a bad start, with some truly terrible comics. Painkiller Jane has been around since the mid-90s, but this is my first time reading one of her comics. As far as I can tell, she's an ex-cop with a healing factor, an attitude, and a tendency to remove her clothing on-panel. She has a bunch of female helpers, all interchangeable, and just as likely to grace the reader with their nudity for no discernible story purpose. The murder-mystery plot is meandering, and rather than resolve it the finale veers off so the characters can talk about their emotions at length. This mini gets the distinction of being at the bottom of my first lot of capsules; it might be a while before I encounter something worse than this.

Axis: Carnage #1-3 by Rick Spears and Alexander Lozano: Serial-killer Carnage has been turned good by events in the main Axis series (see below for an explanation), and this mini deals with his attempts at being good.  Mostly this involves him stopping crimes with extreme violence.  There's some absurdist fun to be had here, but the story never quite decides whether to play Carnage's transformation for laughs or for drama, and as a result it feels rather muddled.

Axis: Revolutions #1-4 by lots of folks: Yes, it's Axis again.  Axis: Revolutions is the obligatory anthology book that we always get during a Marvel event, and it suffers from the usual problems.  The majority of the stories are barely stories at all, and the creators don't get much interesting material out of the flipped heroes and villains.  The highlights are Simon Spurrier's 'Doctor Strange' story and Kevin Maurer's 'Thor' story, both of which play the situation for laughs.  Howard Chaykin turns in a pretty good story about the resistance movement in Latveria.  The rest are decent, if forgettable, except for an Iceman tale by John Barber that us outright baffling.  I wouldn't be upset if these anthologies went away forever.

Avengers & X-Men: Axis #1-9 by Rick Remender, Andy Kubert, Lienil Yu, Jim Cheung and Terry Dodson: The curse of the Marvel event continues. Rick Remender is a very good writer, but like so many before him he's turned in a pretty bad event comic. It's bizarrely paced, with the crux of the event (where goodies become baddies, and vice-versa) not coming until almost halfway through, and some events that ought to be significant done in an almost throwaway fashion. And honestly, the inverted heroes and villains aren't interesting enough to hang a story of this scope on. It's issue after issue of sound, fury, and characters acting out of character.

WWE Raw episodes 1129 and 1130: The undercard and the mid-card are a shambles, but the performers at the top are still able to make for a watchable show. Brock Lesnar can keep calling people 'baby' forever, as far as I'm concerned, and Seth Rollins has rapidly become the most valuable guy on the roster.

WWE Raw episode 1131: The storm sweeping across the northeastern USA meant that the WWE couldn't travel, so instead of the regular live show we got highlights from the Royal Rumble and a bunch of pre-taped interviews hyping the Brock Lesnar/Roman Reigns match coming up at Wrestlemania.  The format was novel, Brock Lesnar excelled at being a thuggish bully, and Paul Heyman did a masterful job at making this match seem like a big deal.  I wouldn't want it to be like this every week, but as a one-off I really liked it.  Best of all, I could fast-forward through most of the show and was done in half-an-hour.

She by H. Rider Haggard: It took me three months to finish this book, which says something. It's not that it was bad, or that I hated it, but it never really grabbed me.  It's most striking feature is the character of 'She' herself, the immortal Ayesha, who is a genuinely captivating figure. Sadly, the book takes too long to get to her, and when it does it spends a load of chapters stalling and delaying her meeting with Leo, her reincarnated lover. I can see why this was popular at the time, but for a dude from 2015 (even one so attuned to ye olden books as I am) this couldn't hold my interest.

Mighty Avengers #1-14 by Al Ewing and mostly Greg Land: You know, it was nice to read some comics that weren't a part of Axis.  The premise here is that Luke Cage puts together a team of Avengers that operates out of Harlem, supposedly to help whoever comes to them with a problem.  The team just happens to be mostly black and Hispanic characters, which is no doubt a calculated move by Marvel, but not an unwelcome one.  The result is a fun, straightforward super-hero book that manages to be traditional without feeling retro.  I'll have to keep an eye out for more stuff by Al Ewing, because he's rather good.

Axis: Hobgoblin #1-3 by Kevin Shinick and Javier Rodriquez: In the entirety of the Axis event, this is the one story that really succeeds.  After having his alignment flipped, the formerly villainous Hobgoblin becomes a self-help guru leading a cult of low-level super-heroes.  It's clever, funny, and far better than it had any right to be.

WWE Royal Rumble 2014: If there's one thing I love, it's a good wrestling train-wreck.  The Royal Rumble is one of the most important events of the year for WWE, as the winner goes on to main-event Wrestlemania and thus becomes one of the central figures in storylines going forward.  This year the winner was Roman Reigns, a large Samoan fellow with, shall we say, more looks than wrestling talent.  He's been reasonably popular over the last year, but this event was in Philadelphia, a city of notoriously hardcore wrestling fans, and let's just say that they were not pleased with the result.  It's obvious that the WWE want Reigns to be the next big thing, and just as obvious that the hardcore fanbase doesn't, at least not yet.  I'm super-interested to see where this goes.

Oh yeah, there was also a triple-threat match between Brock Lesnar, John Cena and Seth Rollins that was amazing.  Brock came out looking unstoppable, and Seth Rollins put in the star-making performance of his career.  Amazing.

The Wolverine: This could have been a really good movie, but ultimately it came undone at the end, dragged down by the wild tonal clashes between its action thriller elements, and its superhero elements.  The more grounded elements, with Logan's character arc and the focus on Japanese family crime worked rather well, while the more fantastical elements really jarred me out of the movie. I liked what was there enough to place it second, but there's plenty of stuff I wish wasn't there (I'm looking right at you, Viper, and your stupid robot).

Young Avengers #1-15 by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie: This is a series that shouts its young adult metaphors from the rooftops, and revels in everything that is great (and not so great) about being a teenager. The art is slick and stylish, the writing crackles, and the whole thing is just a bundle of fun. I usually hate teen superhero books, but I bloody loved this one.