Resolute: firm, unyielding, determined.

I've often described Transformers as the gateway drug to my geekdom. Oh, there were cartoons I'd watched prior to it, but it was the one I truly obsessed over, and when my fellow third graders were playing with the toys and drawing the characters, I had to follow suit. Eventually, when the toy and cartoon fervor began to die down, I started to collect the comic book, which led to other comic books. Who knows what my life would have been like without Transformers? Would I have gone into another field besides art? Played sports? Would I be married now, own a house, and/or have a high paying job involving math or architecture? I still lean towards Faraday's initial theory of “Whatever Happened, Happened.” Not only would changing past events create a paradox since your new path would never lead you to change them in the first place, there's also a flaw in his theory that free will makes us variables, because we're all variables so we don't know what another person might do.

And so, my path up to this point in my life is fixed. Of course, it was not a path without branches, and one cannot mention Transformers without mentioning G.I. Joe for several important reasons. My friends and I were not rushing home after school for one half hour cartoon, but two. For one hour, Sunbow Productions brought us two mesmerizing shows. I didn't care quite as much about G.I. Joe, but there were plenty of connections between the shows. Both shared voice talent. Both shared various bits of background music. Both were promoting Hasbro toy lines. One was a show about a civil war between giant alien robots, while another was about an elite unit of soldiers defending the world against the very comic book-ish terrorist organization of Cobra.

I had a few of the Joe figures, three inch plastic soldiers with a penchant for losing their legs when an internal rubber band inevitably rotted away. I had no idea at the time of their history, of the larger figures or “kung fu grip” variations that existed decades before my birth. The G.I. Joe cartoon often had five part events, stories that lasted through a week of episodes and spanned the globe. Mention a ”Weather Dominator” to just about any geek in his mid-30s, and he will know exactly what you're talking about. These episodes were a lot more “must see” for me than the regular standalone episodes.

Just as one cartoon led into another, so too did one comic lead to another. The shows only crossed over once, in the Transformers episode Only Human, set in the distant “future” of the year 2005, an older Cobra Commander appears. There is also strong speculation that the recurring season 3 character Marissa Faireborn was the daughter of Joes Flint and Lady Jaye. But the strongest crossover happened in the four issue limited series, G.I. Joe and the Transformers. A completist, I had to buy all Transformers-related comics, and after that series I found myself going back to check out back issues of G.I. Joe.

Larry Hama did an epic job writing the series. I dare say his run can be compared to Chris Claremont's Uncanny X-Men or Peter David's Incredible Hulk. Hama was not only responsible for the 155 issue series, but wrote the descriptions of each character that appeared on the back of the toy packaging. The figure for Tunnel Rat was actually based on Larry Hama's likeness.

Hama, himself a Vietnam vet, brought a gravity and realism to the comics that just wasn't there in the cartoon. He created real political situations and mirrored various conflicts on things that did or could happen in our own world climate. He had his own brand of humor, and his dialogue mirrored the way soldiers he knew spoke. Many concepts were fleshed out in the comics, such as Springfield, a town in the middle of the United States under which was concealed Cobra's main base of operations. His ninja characters had a richer history, with both Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow training with the Arashikage ninja clan. When Storm Shadow's uncle, the Hard Master, is taken out by an assassin's arrow, he is led to believe the scarred, mute Snake-Eyes, once considered a brother, is responsible. For this reason Storm Shadow joins Cobra, and the truth behind the Hard Master's death would not be revealed until years after Storm Shadow's first appearance in the historic Silent Interlude, a story told in pictures without words.

I could go on about Hama's run, how he took the ridiculous notion of Serpentor, a genetically-engineered hybrid of the world's greatest military minds, and made it work. Hama crafted a schism in Cobra, in which some took Cobra Commander's side while others were loyal to Serpentor, leading to the epic civil war storyline with the Joes in the middle. Destro in particular makes good use of this conflict to achieve his own goals. A Scottish lord and weapons supplier in the comics, Destro was often portrayed as a complex character with a very specific code of honor who respected his enemies though he saw everyone in his life as chess pieces. Hama introduced a wealth of supporting characters, family and friends to Joe and Cobra alike, to show how high the stakes were. Characters were injured and characters died. In one shocking issue, Destro's paramour The Baroness shoots Snake-Eyes' love Scarlett in the head at point blank range! Scarlett barely survives and is rendered comatose, while a furious Snake-Eyes goes into a trance to focus on a ninja vengeance spree. It was heavy stuff, but the gloves really came off when Hama had permission to kill the characters of some discontinued figures, and sent the Joes into the fictitious Middle Eastern nation of Trucial Abysmia where we finally saw what we never saw in the cartoon: soldiers die in battle. I still get chills thinking back on those dark issues.(“He popped caps on the Doc! Doc's DEAD!”)

This trip down memory lane was sparked when I read Sean's review of a new series of webisodes, G.I. Joe: Resolute, written by Warren Ellis. It's phenomenal. Ellis takes a lot of the Hama concepts and translates them into an updated version of the original animated series. Some elements of the show's best five-part episodes are there, with Cobra employing some device to threaten the world and the Joes confronting them on multiple fronts. Scarlett is also paired with the Joe first sergeant Duke, as she was in the original cartoon, and not Snake-Eyes as in the comics. The stakes are as high as in the Trucial Abysmia storyline, with major casualties in the first episode setting the tone that no one is safe, and anyone can perish. I was glued to my computer screen, and subsequently had to share the link with as many friends as I knew that grew up on the old cartoon.

I think the quality of both the writing and animation could have merited a DVD release; I'd certainly buy it. It's interesting that they chose a web approach, perhaps to gauge interest. I'll be happy if the upcoming live action movie is half as good as this animated epic. In eleven 5-10 minute chapters, Ellis managed to make all the familiar faces we remember shine. There were no “magic parachutes” when planes got shot down. The old cartoon had a ridiculous color coded laser system; the good guys always shot in green. Resolute uses real ammunition, and flying bullets find targets as surely as the swords of the iconic ninjas. And Snake-Eyes is even deadlier in this than he was in the comics. His confrontation with Storm Shadow is what fans of the old cartoon dreamed of seeing for years. For some reason, Storm Shadow often had one-on-one battles with any Joe but Snake-Eyes, most notably the Native-American warrior Spirit.

Will Resolute lead to a sequel or a new ongoing series? Neither side pulled punches, but there were still enough key characters left standing at the end of the series. Zartan, the devious master of camouflage makes a sick appearance, but we don't get to see his biker lackeys The Dreadnoks. And I would loved to have seen a modern look at the twin Crimson Guard Commanders. I didn't even know about the webisodes, so I'm glad I came across that review. They were definitely successful in sparking new interest in the franchise; I haven't been this stoked in years about G.I. Joe. Now I know, and knowing is...something something...


PBW: Around the Lake

Summer is here with a vengeance. In April. A month after it was snowing. That's not weird. Not at all.

What is weird is that I took off from work on Monday, and it was actually gorgeous outside. With my luck, I expected no more than hail, and no less than a continuation of the weekend's unbearable heat. Instead it was just right for a Photo Blog Wednesday hike, and circling the trails of Wantagh's Mill Pond I found some great subject matter. My only regret is that I was too startled by the arrival of a daytime raccoon to get his picture. There were a variety of pipes running through the woods to some red brick structure, and after I followed one to the building, I began to follow another away from it when I heard rustling. A raccoon walked out on to the pipe, and froze when I saw me. We just sort of stared at each other before he made the first move, turning right back around and heading back into the bushes. I guess I was making a lot of noise walking on the pipes those things probably sleep in during the day. Still, waterfowl and plantlife aplenty more than made up for missing one rare opportunity.



Without Whom

I've been thinking a lot about my college years lately, mostly because my old friend Rey recently started a mass e-mail chain with a variety of friends and fellow alumni reminiscing about the professors who influenced us the most. Lately, things keep reminding me of my age and the passage of time. I read an article about the final issue of the Tim Drake Robin series and couldn't believe that comic had been around for 16 years, or that the character first appeared twenty years ago. It seems like yesterday. I had a similar experience after chuckling at a Matrix reference in the mind-blowing thrill ride that was the (season?) finale of the ever-awesome Chuck. Perusing message boards after watching the show, I caught a comment from someone who pointed out that it's already been 10 years since the first Matrix movie!

So time flies, and memories make us feel like we're always where we were, even though we're all so much further from there now. I'll share some of my professorial recollections here, keeping names anonymous of course:

Professor B was the first one I met with, who reviewed my portfolio a few months before I started, and steered my parents and I in the direction of a graphic design career. I didn't even know what “graphic design” was at the time and thought I was going to learn to draw comic books. 17 years, 1 university, and 3 companies later and I realize it was the right move. Professor B also taught me a lot about drawing, from blending light and shadow in charcoal to rendering negative shapes, the space between objects, so we could draw what we actually saw, not what our brains expected to see. And the guy is an amazing photorealistic airbrusher too.

Professor R was the Dean of the art department, and an excellent illustrator himself. The last semester before I left the school to tackle an internship was the first one in which I finally had an opportunity to take one of his drawing classes. He taught us about professional illustrators, showed us what people were rendering beyond comic books, to raise the level we were striving for. He could draw with pencil on mylar, a great skill given the risk of smudging.

Professor H taught us color theory. She was tough old bird who demanded perfection in all of our swatches. Our color mixes had to match hers exactly. We were all a little horrified that she would sometimes lick a brush to give it a perfect point, but perhaps watercolor paint was non toxic since it never slowed her down. It was a hard class to endure as Freshman, but those of us who stuck with the program still hold the benefits today. I can sit in a meeting with my marketing team and make valid arguments in defense of my color choices.

Professor S taught us graphic design before our school got a computer lab. I had to do calligraphy and letter things by hand, and learn to mock up various formats with a metal ruler and an X-acto blade. I'm glad I have those foundation skills and still use some of them in my career today.

Professor DG brought us into the modern age with computers. He was a bit of a nerd and a nervous laugher, but he had real world experience and a wealth of digital knowledge. Though I appreciated the skills Professor S imparted, I never would have had the patience to stay in this field if it hadn't gone digital.

Professor D was a friend of Professor R's, a young guy working professionally as an illustrator who brought not only new techniques, but real business sense to his classes. We learned about dealing with clients and how to market ourselves professionally, in addition to innovative new techniques and use of the tools our other professors had given us.

My Peers were My Peers. My interest in art started in 2nd or 3rd grade as a competitive thing, me trying to draw robots as well as the kids in my class who could draw. It evolved into something more serious, and it helped that I had friends with the same interests to push, challenge, or help me, whether making fun of a drawing and goading me to be better to just helping me understand some of the more complicated lessons.

There's one more professor I'll refer to as “Jordan” since I can't remember his name but know he was a big Michael Jordan fan and spent a class discussing him when he retired from basketball the first time. Jordan taught an English literature and creative writing class which I took as an elective, and part of the class involved keeping a daily journal of sorts. Every day we had to write a page or so about something, anything that was on our mind. It could be about family or food or popular culture or whatever we felt like writing about, just so long as we wrote. At the end of the semester, he offered to write a recommendation if I ever went to grad school or pursued my writing, but I stuck with the graphic design major. Writing is still important to my career, from understanding the content of the ads I design and having a stronger marriage of pictures to words, to simple communication whether writing letters to prospective employers or efficient and clear e-mails among coworkers once I was employed. And, as I look back, I'm realizing that those sheets of looseleaf with hastily scrawled thoughts written on them were probably an ancestor to this very blog. And that's pretty cool.

So here I am, an art director by day making money, and a blogger by night sharing my thoughts and maintaining my sanity. I owe it all to my professors and my peers, without whom I wouldn't be here.


Phantasmic Links 4.27.09

My father survived his first Italian band procession since his shoulder infection and nursing home stay back in January, but he didn't make it all the way through. About three songs and two blocks into the gig, he stepped off to the sidewalk. I joined him once we finished the song we were playing and he said he was just having trouble walking. He returned to wait at the church where we started while the rest of us finished the procession. The band leader was understanding, though I could tell my dad was disappointed.

I think it was a case of too much too soon, and I think an unseasonable 95 degrees in April didn't help. He was fine after he rested, but feels depressed and disgusted that he couldn't do more. It takes time to recover, and he's not a kid anymore, so I think his expectations may be a little high. For now, I think he'll be sitting out jobs for the foreseeable future. I'm glad he knew when to drop out, and didn't push himself until he had a heart attack or worse; given my mom's superstition about the April 26th date, my imagination certainly played out a variety of scenarios. Everyone is home and safe now, and apart from a little too much sun, I think my own head is clear enough to gather some PHANTASMIC LINKS:

(1) A man and his mix machine are OUT OF CONTROL. Hawt.
Hat Tip: Rey.

(2) Marvel at the mechanical sculptures of Nemo Gould

(3) A woman opts to send a stripper in her place to her high school reunion. Awesome.

(4) Now you can Trek yourself into a talking Vulcan and other Star Trek characters. I'd post mine, but it changed depressingly little from my actual features, proving my elementary school bullies right...so I used Rey instead:
Create Your Own

(5) Shaper up or ship out in this challenging puzzler.

(6) J.J. Abrams tackles the downside of spoilers and shares an early adventure with Greg Grunberg playing Super Mario Bros. 2...
H.T.: J-No/Rey.

(7) This bar has a train you'll definitely want to catch. Conductor! Beer me!

(8) Be sure to exercise proper manners in your social network of choice.

(9) With this Burger Bed, you can finally have it your way!

(10) Rotatspin will leave you dizzy with delight as you decipher 47 stages and jump your way to safety and your stolen hat.

Have a link to a game, movie, article, or anything else you think might be “phantasmic”? E-mail me and it just might appear in an upcoming PHANTASMIC LINKS!



Umm, No.

• In Chain Reaction, Keanu Reeves portrayed a young machinist working with a team of physicists on a project to separate hydrogen from water and create a clean and limitless energy alternative. He succeeds in finding the necessary frequency, and subsequently outruns a massive nuclear-level explosion on his motorcycle, outruns a mob of police officers by darting up a raised drawbridge, reprograms computers in a secret underground base to initiate a chain reaction and shut themselves down while e-mailing massive amounts of data on the project to the FBI, and later safely rides the blast of another explosion while in a rickety metal conveyance on a cable, with barely a scratch. Credible?

Umm, no.

• My mom is superstitious about the date April 26th. Her father died on that date. Her Godmother died on that date. Her son split his face open on a shard of glass and scarred himself for life on that date. Various bad things have happened in various years on that exact date. Should she remind her son this the day before he has to drive his father and another elderly trumpet player into Brooklyn on that very date? Is it better to make someone nervous in the interest of telling that person to be careful?

Umm, no.

• As part of his sermon on Saturday afternoon, our pastor reminded us of the Burger King slogan, “Have It Your Way”. The company, or at least the marketing for the franchise, prides itself on giving customers options. After mass, we stopped there to pick up dinner as we do every week, ordering the same items we always do. My dad gets a grilled chicken sandwich with lettuce only. My mom gets a Whopper Junior without onions. I get an original chicken sandwich, a cheeseburger, and medium fries. We don't order drinks. There was a new girl being trained at the register, and she asked the same questions as the regular cashier. “Number eight?” she asked after my mom asked for the first item. “No, not the meal,” my mom explained, “Just the sandwich.” The girl looked bewildered, and tried to get the attention of one of her superiors who was busy conversing. She finally got her attention and asked something in Spanish; the only word I understood was “Ocho”. The older woman showed her the button on the keypad, then the trainee asked her something else. The older woman looked at my mom and asked, “Just the sandwich?” My mom confirmed, and after another minute, they found the right button. I noticed the small screen didn't have the usual “Lettuce-only” message, but it was hard enough communicating the sandwich itself. We went through this two more times with the next two items, and ultimately my mom ended up forgetting to order the cheeseburger. She tried to get the girl's attention but I stopped her; a line was forming and I didn't want to gum up the works any further. I did tell my mom that I didn't think she'd entered the sandwich correctly for my dad, so she got one of the other workers attention and made sure there was only lettuce on his sandwich. Hopefully we managed to be patient and polite enough to avoid any nasty surprises added to our food. Is there any truth to that “Have it Your Way” slogan?

Umm, no.

• It was 85 degrees in New York on Saturday. 85. In April. A month ago I was still shoveling snow. Now I start sweating any time I blink. Am I going to enjoy marching in a three hour procession on Sunday when it's supposed to be even hotter?

Umm, no.

• Apparently, the rumors about a new Three Stooges movie starring Sean Penn, Benicio Del Toro, and Jim Carrey is true. Is this a good idea?

What do you think?


My Small Screen Villain Five

It's a little known fact that I spend far too much time watching television. Or is that a well known fact? I forget. But there are definitely some memorable performances on the old hypno-box, so let's take a gander at My Five Best Small Screen Villains:

1) Sylar (Heroes):
At times, Heroes can be an uneven show, with characters making foolish or inexplicable decisions inconsistent with their past experience. Among the ups and downs of its Heroes, Zachary Quinto's portrayal of their greatest villain remains consistent and scary, even through tangents of losing his powers, questioning his lineage, or seeking redemption. Sylar's base ability is “intuitive aptitude”. The adopted son of a watchmaker, his ability to know how anything works led him initially to continue the family business. He would soon learn that he could understand the abilities of other superhumans just as easily as he could understand the inside of a watch. He does this by exposing and studying their brains, killing them in the process. With understanding comes acquisition, and after gaining the powers of a telekinetic he went on to cut open the heads of future victims with a wave of a finger. Even though he eventually learned it was possible, with effort, to acquire new abilities without killing for them, he soon reverted to his old methods. His array of powers and detachment from humanity make him deadly, and at times he seems to really enjoy taunting his prey. His latest acquisition is shapeshifting, which means this known murderer can walk freely through the streets. Quinto genuinely seems to have fun with the role, and having only seen him previously on 24, I'd have to say this is the best work of his career. A tilt of the head, raise of an eyebrow, or twitch at the corners of his mouth accompanied by his “ticking” and “chiming” theme music always precedes his characters most diabolical deeds.

2) Benjamin Linus (LOST):
I could probably refer once again to the Michael Emerson nursery rhyme clip that Rey posted and that would sum up this creepy little guy quite nicely. The son of an abusive, alcoholic father who worked as a janitor for a team of scientists based on a mysterious island, Linus grew up to betray his own people and kill them all, in the process taking command of the island's apparent natives. He often lies or tells half-truths without blinking his beady little eyes, and despite his reputation has still managed to manipulate the good guys on more than one occasion. Linus has a knack for getting to know his enemies, to predict how they will respond to certain situations. The one time he was wrong about a foe it cost him his adopted daughter's life, but that only led him to seek vengeance on a biblical scale. His small size and at times helpless appearance are as deceiving as he is, and he's one of the most dangerous characters on the show. He's at his best when he's in control, when he can coldly and blatantly admit his true plans and intentions while barely suppressing a smirk. Even with his reputation, he can still surprise those around him as well as the show's viewers.

3) Arvin Sloane (Alias):
Sloane ran a fake CIA operation for years, with many of his operatives unaware of the true evil nature of their division. He was a cold and calculating liar without remorse, and didn't hesitate to have Sydney Bristow's fiancée killed and lie to her face about. Bristow would learn the truth about her employer and eventually work with the real CIA to bring him down. Sloane would go on to apparently turn over a new leaf and run a charitable organization, but it was all a ruse in his master plan of gaining immortality through the miraculous devices of Milo Rambaldi, even at the cost of loved ones. His obsession with the works of made him dangerous, and often overrode any brief moments of remorse or glimmers of humanity beneath his cool exterior.

4) Theodore “T-Bag” Bagwell (Prison Break):
Actor Robert Knepper has a talent for infusing charm and humor into an otherwise unsympathetic sadistic serial killer. In the first season, he was definitely the worst of the criminals to escape as a result of Michael Scofield's actions to free his brother, and in the second season his lack of remorse and trail of blood illustrated what a dire price his freedom was. T-Bag is a devious serpent, and even when playing the part of an ally he's always scheming and looking out for himself. Losing a hand only seemed to make him more dangerous, and his way with words can definitely lead people to mistakenly trust him. Over the years, the show has toned down some of his violence, having him grieve for the loss of an ally/former nemesis and show concern when his mother's life is threatened. He's been forced to work alongside some of the show's protagonists lately by the larger threat of a corrupt company, but it's only a matter of time before his murderous ways resurface. Going against his killer instinct and sparing someone's life led to his current predicament, and it will be a scary day indeed when he is unleashed once more.

5) Sideshow Bob Terwilliger (The Simpsons):
No list would be complete without Kelsey Grammer's greatest (vocal) role. The former sidekick of Krusty the Clown, he was sent to prison for trying to frame Krusty after Bart proved his favorite clown's innocence and Bob's guilt. Bob swore revenge has returned to kill Bart time and again, nearly once every season. Some of my favorite appearances include a spoof of Cape Fear and references to Frasier with an appearance by David Hyde Pierce(playing Bob's brother Cecil. Grammer lends class and dignity to the voice of a character prone to evil schemes and acts of violence, and it's a wonderful contrast that makes every appearance a treat.



Poll of Randomosity Fifth

It's another poll, my friends, a poll of Randomosity. Why? Because I don't care. I mean because I do care. Whatever; here are some random questions:

1) What if, halfway through a shower at your gym, you notice someone else's chewed gum in the drain?

2) Would you rather drive in a driveway or park on a parkway?

3) Which LOST character are you most like?

4) Would you drape yourself in velvet if it was socially acceptable?

5) Spandex?

6) Wazzzzuuuup?!

7) If you could add one quality to yourself, what would it be?

8) Do you ever worry about being replaced by machines?

9) Who is the most annoying Transformer?

10) If I left here tomorrow, would you still remember me?

For me, the answers are don't step on it and never use that stall again, drive on a driveway where there's less traffic, Hurley dude, no, only if I was socially acceptable, watchin' my shows then postin' a blog, confidence, I focus on being one of the ones who will control those machines, Wheelie, and I forget myself all the time.

I'd love to know what you think...



T.I.L.T. Things I've Learned Thursday XXVI

I'm the type of guy that learns from his experience, who knows the exact outcome of any past situation based on precedent and then, frustratingly, exhibits the exact same behavior that yielded unfavorable results in the past. I think that's not far off from the definition of insanity, and though I may not be qualified to share my knowledge, here are some Things I've Learned Thursday anyway:

* I used to hate reruns and clip shows when I was younger. Now I welcome even one unexpected hour of freedom to watch movies or do some writing. It's like finding a pocket of time. As most of my favorite shows are a month or less away from Summer hiatus, I'm at the point in the year where I anticipate putting a dent in my to-do and to-watch lists, at least for a few months before I get bored all over again.

* When I read that Charlie Hunnam was auditioning for the role of Thor, I had no idea who that was. I've never seen Sons of Anarchy. But then I read he was an alumnus of Undeclared, and totally remembered who he was. That was the short-lived(thanks FOX) but awesome Judd Apatow college comedy that introduced us to the likes of Seth Rogen and Jay Baruchel, who have gone on to theatrical careers. Rogen, one of the supporting characters in Undeclared, is carving out a nice comedic leading man niche for himself and is reportedly getting in shape to play The Green Hornet alongside martial arts comedic genius Stephen Chow. Baruchel, who was more or less the main protagonist in Undeclared, has become the go-to geek for Hollywood, although he does a decent job playing a jerky loser ex-boyfriend in Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist. With Michael Cera in the lead doing that thing he does, there wouldn't have been room for another geek anyway. I hope more of the Undeclared stars catch breaks like this, especially Monica Keena. She was hot; what happened to her?

* Sometimes, just sometimes, I go off on tangents from my original thought. Sometimes.

* You can lead a horse to water, especially if it's thirsty.

* I am not The Pumpkin King.

* Benjamin Linus reading to children would surely traumatize them for life.

* After two years of being relentlessly hounded for blood after my company's annual blood drive, I finally learned to leave my phone number off the application. I put my e-mail address so that, in a dire emergency, they can still reach me for my apparently-miraculous-blood-that-must-make-everyone-feel-great-except-me. But for the most part, it's easier to ignore an e-mail than that telemarketing style phone call I'd get around 4:30 in the afternoon at work, that telltale pause after answering before a live operator, realizing she'd reached a living person, gets on the line and begins reading a script. I can't say I've really had a bad experience with it, and this year I didn't even have a bruise and finished filling a bag in record time. The nurse told me men's veins were different than women's, since I arrived after a female coworker but finished before her. Bleeding was already something of an ability of mine to begin with. In any case, it's just more convenient to donate when they hold a drive in my office. It's easier to walk down the hall to the dining area where they have tables set up than to drive to some random location or hospital. And psychologically, I tend to make a bigger deal about it until the actual needle is in my arm and I remember that, at least with a good nurse, it doesn't hurt. I even looked this time, something I haven't done since the first time I donated way back in high school. I was done so fast, I wanted to make sure they didn't “cheat” because it was close to the end of the day, but sure enough there was a thick bag of red stuff next to my arm; a pint is no joke.

* If random letters in a paragraph arbitrarily disappear, you may have a font conflict, either too many active overall or too many variants of a specific font with similar names. Deactivating a whole family then activating only the ones you need may resolve the problem, although better font management applications may avoid it altogether. In my experience within companies, central server-based systems were superior to managing fonts on every individual work station.

* 25 is just another number, like XXV or Twenty-Five.

* A bullet format allows one to string together a series of random thoughts, each of which would be insufficient for a post alone, even if they don't all fit a particular theme. Of course, I'd never be guilty of anything like that....



PBW: Milburned

In choosing subject matter for Photo Blog Wednesday, my process is sometimes as simple as looking for green and blue areas on a map of Long Island and zooming in. That's how I discovered Milburn Pond Park and Milburn Creek Park in Freeport. Merrick avenue separates the two, and while the pond is on the north side, the narrower creek runs from the South side to Atlantic Avenue, underneath it, and eventually out to the Atlantic ocean. It's not too shabby a site, as you'll soon see:

Click on any or all of the following images to see them in much larger, 1024 x 768 pixel glory:



Question Re-Animation

You can always tell a new Netflix user from an old one. A friend of mine who joined less than a year ago was surprised to hear I rarely visit my queue to rearrange and organize my movies. Indeed, after a few years and having seen most of the films I needed to see, I sort of stopped visiting that page. Whenever I add a film I want to see immediately, I can hit a button to bump it to the top of the list without visiting the actual list. Since my list is consistently close to the 500 DVD limit and the page takes some time to load, this is an appreciated feature.

So from time to time, surprises rise to the top of the list, movies I didn't remember adding in the first place. Such was the case with Re-Animator, a cult ‘80s zombie flick based on the works of H.P. Lovecraft. There was blood and violence and gratuitous nudity, all on par with the likes of Evil Dead. There was a certain tongue-in-cheek quality as well, dark humor mixed in with the gothic tale of a young scientist who perfects a reagent, a chemical that can re-animate dead tissue, bringing corpses to life but inducing violent reactions as well. The acting was, for the most part, on par with a bad soap opera, but then one doesn't watch gore for acting. As the film went on, I found the most over the top performance by Jeffrey Combs as Herbert West to be a major saving grace.

Combs delivered his lines with cold affectation and restrained glee, laughing at inappropriate times like a nerd with no social skills, speaking to professors and doctors not just as equals, but as inferiors. His detachment gave his character a certain freedom in the face of things that horrified his companions. In one scene, he casually strolls into a morgue, gently pushing aside the arm of a zombie to confront the evil severed head of a rival professor tormenting a helpless coed. Honestly, how many films can be described with a sentence like that last one?

I was surprised I'd never heard of the actor, although there was some familiar quality I couldn't place. There were two sequels to the film, which I discovered were already on my queue, likely added at the same time as this one. 1990's Bride of Re-Animator picked up roughly where the first movie left off, ignoring certain things to make the plot make sense. It took itself even less seriously and bordered on comedy as West, in full mad scientist mode, experiments with cobbled together body parts. One horrific creation is an eyeball attached to several fingers, and the thing runs around like a spider. By the time a head is flying around on bat wings, you're either along for the ride or you've already removed the DVD and placed it in a return envelope. Again, Combs' performance made the film more than watchable, and by the third movie, Beyond Re-Animator, the actor is practically the only good thing. That one reminded me of Prison Break with zombies, and might have been better if the majority of the cast were not speaking in badly dubbed English over their native Spanish.

Still, I was surprised this guy hadn't achieved a Bruce Campbell status. Perhaps he had, and simply lacked the mainstream exposure that Campbell gained with his television work and smaller roles in bigger budget films. I was probably out of the loop, and yet I couldn't shake that I knew him from somewhere. In my research I found a variety of credits throughout several Star Trek series, almost always playing an alien in heavy makeup. At one point he apparently played two different characters in the same episode of DS9, a series I've yet to go back and watch beyond the first season. When I saw he played Shran, the lead blue alien on Enterprise, I finally connected the dots. I gave up on Enterprise by the second or possibly third season, but caught enough episodes to realize the voice coming out of that recurring alien was quite similar to that of Dr. West. And yet, that wasn't the voice credit I was most familiar with.

One of the best story arcs in Justice League Unlimited involved the crazed conspiracy theories of The Question, whose discovery of the horrific actions of his fellow heroes in an alternate reality lead him to take drastic steps to prevent the same thing from happening in his own. I hadn't been all that familiar with the character prior to that series, a ‘60s noir character with a fedora and a faceless mask. Rorschach of the Watchmen was a direct homage to The Question. He was definitely one of my favorite characters in JLU, a surprise “B” level character that gained more importance and significance in the animated series than he had in the books. It was also not Combs' first outing in the DC Animated Universe, and when I first heard The Question I should have remembered his stint as Scarecrow in Batman.

Going forward, I'll probably recognize Combs' work now, whether from a sound booth or beneath face paint and prosthetics. On September 11th, Combs was mistakenly reported dead when a Jeffrey Coombs was listed among those on board one of the crashed flights. Combs is still with us and still working, and a new Re-Animator sequel is set for a 2010 release date. Like Herbert West, he'll likely inject life into a franchise that most would not have expected to last beyond the first film.


Phantasmic Links 4.20.09

Don't ask me how I managed to mow two lawns, repair a gate, trim fig trees, clear grape vines, watch five movies, go to church, wrap a present, go to a birthday party, go on a hiking photo expedition, watch television, do laundry, and blog all in the same weekend. Ask me how I'm going to make the transition back to office life after all of that. The answer, as one might expect, starts as always with this week's PHANTASMIC LINKS:

(1) Is Megan Fox She-Hulk? As rumors go, that's an interesting one...

(2) Ever wonder what The Cheat does all day? Yeah, me either...

(3) Bacon: The Other White Heat. That's hot.
Hot Tip: B13.

(4) A home invasion is foiled when a woman notices the intruders on her webcam. Go, technology!

(5) There are some funky lobsters out there. I didn't see Rock Lobster on there....

(6) Behold a beautifully rendered, if apocalyptic, vision of the future.
H.T.: J-No.

(7) Snatch Wars isn't what you might think it is, but it just might be better...

(8) Auditorium is an incredibly mesmerizing mix of light and sound. Ow, my free time!
H.T.: Rey.

(9) Hugh Jackman endorses Free Comic Book Day.

(10) Gemcraft Chapter 0 was released this week, because I really need to get addicted to another tower defense game. Someday, I'll get a life. Maybe.

Have a link to a game, movie, article, or anything else you think might be “phantasmic”? E-mail me and it just might appear in an upcoming PHANTASMIC LINKS!



My '90s Cartoon Five

When last we visited my fives, I was breaking down my Five Favorite ‘80s cartoons. Flash forward a decade to the ‘90s, and an age at which society would have me discard my love of animation, and we have at least five more great shows:

1) Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1999):
Who knew that Bruce Timm and Paul Dini's retro-modern take on the Dark Knight Detective would last so long, or spawn several related series in the DC animated universe? There was a theatrical film, several DVD exclusive films, and Kevin Conroy established himself as the definitive voice of Batman. It premiered in the Summer between my Senior year of high school and Freshman year of college, and as it continued into the Fall it gave me something to race home to watch after classes, something I hadn't done since the mid-80's. I was quiet about this until I realized I had several like-minded classmates all with the same love of a show that would lead to fourteen years of excellent all-ages animation.

2) Beast Wars (1996-1999):
I basically hated this Transformers spin-off the first time I saw it. I watched the first episode and didn't understand that these characters were descendants of those from the show I grew up with, since several had the same or similar names to those I was familiar with. Though initially excited about computer generated animation, it was fairly rough, and robots falling and folding into animal forms looked unnatural. I forgot about it for a few years, then happened to catch some of the later episodes of the first season and early episodes of the second season by accident. The animation had vastly improved, the cast had expanded, though there were also several significant deaths, and the storyline became more intricate and linked to the original series with one of the greatest time travel twists of any series ever. The show ran at the nearly unwatchable time of 6:30 AM on Sundays, but my VCR served me well when my fanaticism faltered in favor of sleep. The second season ended on an insane cliffhanger, and the third proved to be the best of all in both animation and story, leading to a remarkable and, dare I say, perfect conclusion. Beast Machines picked up where Beast Wars left off, at a much more reasonable and mainstream Saturday morning timeslot, but with a new creative team and direction, it never quite compared to its predecessor. If nothing else, the shows proved that transforming robots and a related toyline could be popular to nostalgic older fans as well as a new generation of young fans, and sparked a resurgence of the original line in comics and toys even as a live action film, something I only dreamed about in 3rd grade, finally became a reality.

3) The Tick (1994-1996):
Ben Edlund is an evil genius. These days, you might catch the writer's name in the credits for some of the more offbeat episodes of Supernatural, and he certainly put his mark on the final season of Angel, most notably with the infamous puppet episode. But before all that, Edlund created The Tick, an underground independent superhero spoof with enough of a cult following to lead to a faithful animated series. The Tick was mighty, but a moron, especially in contrast to his beleaguered sidekick Arthur, a meek accountant in a moth suit. In The Tick's world, superheroes are common, and often as disturbed if not moreso than the villains. Townsend Coleman brought the larger than life super idiot to life on an animated series so faithful and wacky that the rest of the world could finally see what comic book geeks were cackling about. Who could forget the first time he uttered The Tick's ill-conceived battle cry of “SPOOOOOON!!” or his dazed infatuation with Speak, a capybara he repeatedly mistakes for a talking dog after head injuries. It was quirky and hilarious, and I still miss it. The short-lived Patrick Warburton live action Tick definitely lacked the scope of its animated predecessor, although Nestor Carbonell's Batmanuel had his moments.

4) X-Men (1992-1997):
I remember my excitement the first time I saw a commercial for this show. The X-Men would finally have their own series, after a failed pilot and guest appearances in Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends. The roster and general look of the team mirrored the Jim Lee artwork of the contemporary comics, and over its run the show adapted many of the most popular stories, most notably the Dark Phoenix Saga. In hindsight, the animation and dialogue do not hold up over time, but the show retains significance for opening the door, not just for a new Spider-Man animated series, but for future X-Men series such as X-Men: Evolution and the current Wolverine and the X-Men, both of which took nods from the comics while building their own unique mythology.

5) Gargoyles (1994-1997):
To this day, I can't believe this series was part of the Disney Afternoon. Every other show in that lineup was based on previously established anthropomorphized animal characters from classic movies and comics, while Gargoyles was a much more mature and epic saga that borrowed heavily from mythology and Shakespeare. In medieval Scotland, a clan of gargoyles and their leader Goliath(voiced inimitably by Keith David) are cursed and betrayed by their human allies. Flesh by night and stone by day, they are trapped in their stone forms for a thousand years, until a corrupt industrialist voiced by Jonathan Frakes transplants their castle to the top of his Manhattan skyscraper. The curse would be lifted when the castle rose above the clouds, and so the gargoyles awake. Frakes' Xanatos intends to manipulate the noble creatures for his own ends, but they cannot be corrupted and eventually catch on. The show had many mature themes and the characters faced real threats as they struggled to fit into a city and a time that had only fear and hatred to offer, save for a few bright spots like their friend Elisa Maza, a NYC detective and love interest for Goliath. It's a tragedy that low sales kept more than one and a half seasons from being released on DVD, and hopefully someday the whole series will be available for fans old and new.



Fire and Water

”Blazin' Bobs is OPEN!!” said my friend excitedly, popping his head into my office.

“Cool...” I murmured, half-listening and half-focused on my computer screen, not really knowing what crazy thing he was talking about.

“When we going?” he asked.

“Going where now?”

“That new BBQ place in town!”

I still had no idea what he was talking about, but at that point didn't need to. If there was a new BBQ place, I was there. And so, on Friday, we headed out to lunch at a place that turned out to be called Badbob's BBQ.

I had never heard of the franchise, nor does the snarling pig on the opening page of their website capture the environment we walked into. Brick walls, a high ceiling, and elegant lighting all suggested a Manhattan environment, which was kind of cool to discover on Long Island. But would the upscale decor mean anything if the food wasn't up to par?

In the dining area, water ran down either side of a large sheet of glass, disappearing into a rock garden at the base on either side. Reading through the array of choices on the menu, my friend already knew he'd be back again with his wife for dinner later on. While we made our decisions, the waiter brought a plate of freshly fried potato chips as appetizers. There are two other BBQ places in the town where I work, and only one other place served potato chips, while the other had nachos. Badbob's chips were thinner slices of potato, and crispier than the local competition's. So far, things were looking good.

After some deliberation, I went with a BBQ chicken sandwich. As an afterthought, when I heard my friend order an iced tea, I told the waiter I'd like a lemonade with my order. When the drinks were brought, mine seemed a little clear. It didn't quite taste like water, but it didn't have much of a lemon flavor either. We noted that the table was a Constructicon green shade, so it was hard to tell. I opted to stick with my original glass of water, which at least had the lack of taste water is supposed to have.

The sandwich and fries proved much better, especially when I added some of the hot sauces from the table. I'm not a fan of Coleslaw, which they put in the sandwich rather than on the side, but it wasn't a bad combination of flavors. Hot enough hot sauce can kill almost anything. Perhaps that's the secret to get me to eat some of the vegetables I've managed to steer clear of for a little over 30 years. Perhaps not.

In the end, it was a decent lunch. I don't think it's the best BBQ place in the area, and the lack of a full roll of paper towels on each table that a Famous Daves might have should have been a clue. I'd give the decor a 10, the food a 7 or an 8, and the beverage a 1. There's still pulled pork, beef brisket, and even basic burgers among the many menu items left to try, so I'll probably be back at least once. They could definitely benefit from a much stronger hot sauce, the kind that even burns finger tips. But I guess it just wasn't that kind of BBQ place, at least not that particular location. The snarling pig leads me to expect better...


Poll of Randomosity. FOUR!

Poll. of. Randomosity. QUATRO! Tell me what you think about:

1) Did you know that the contraction “it's” could represent “it has” as well as “it is”?

2) Would you quit working if you won a large sum of money?

3) Is your last name “Whorenelli”?

4) Are you ever going to win the Mushroom Revolution?

5) Is Amy Poehler channeling a bit too much Michael Scott in her new show?

6) Do large groups of shifty-looking loitering teenagers make you nervous?

7) Is it possible to walk past a plate of homemade brownies in an office without taking one?

8) Paper or plastic?

9) Is it better to remain silent and be thought a fool, or open your mouth and remove all doubt?

10) What's that behind you?!

For me, the answers are now I do, no because then I'd have to join a fight club to combat brain atrophy, perhaps not, 8 out of 10 worlds say yes, sometimes, they always have, not for me, both, ...., and wher--...



T.I.L.T. Things I've Learned Thursday XXV

You know what I've learned? I've learned a lot of valuable, important lessons in my life, most of which I've forgotten. And then there are the Things I've Learned Thursday:

* I am not a garbage disposal for junk food. The older I get, even with regular exercise, my tolerance levels still decrease.

* If at first you don't succeed, move on. This will free up an amazing amount of time.

* I was super-excited when my accountant reminded me that I bought a car last year and could deduct the sales tax. I thought for the first time in years I might actually be getting money back. Despite my large purchase, as well as putting an additional $5K into an IRA for 2008, I owed even more money this year. I'm starting to believe in “change”...

* Speaking of my car, those things have to be inspected once a year which, having a mechanic for a father, I never remember on my own. Since his shoulder infection and the discovery that his left rotator cuff is gone, I've been handling the maintenance on my car, and did the last two oil changes, with him directing. Had he not asked me whether we'd inspected the car yet during a commercial break while watching television on Wednesday night, I might not have gone outside to check the sticker and discover that it's due for inspection before the end of this month. It should have clicked when my accountant reminded me about the car that it's been a year now. I need to start remembering important things like that without someone else reminding me.

* Like van Gogh, I probably won't be appreciated within my lifetime, but subsequent generations might stumble upon my likeness and/or words and get me. Unlike van Gogh, I plan to keep both ears.

* When dealing with business e-mails, never respond in anger and, if you feel the tone of an e-mail you received seems antagonistic, it might be a good idea to pick up the phone and speak to the person directly. Professionals don't pepper e-mails with emoticons, and we might sometimes take the written word the wrong way. A co-worker recently shared an experience in which she felt like an e-mail was directed at her in a scolding tone, and she immediately replied to everyone on the thread with a sarcastic remark and defensive attitude. “I had to write back and cc everyone to defend myself!” she insisted while I thought, “Are you 12?”. Rather than say that, I translated my thoughts into more diplomatic and hopefully helpful advice. If anything, e-mail correspondence should allow for more time for someone to “count to 10” and think of the best response.

* Geese are surprisingly casual about speeding cars, while drivers are often too confident that the creatures will move out of the way, or simply don't care if they hit them. As I rounded a bend on my morning commute one day this week, a goose stepped off the curb near a pond and began waddling out into the road. I slowed down and veered around him, noting the car in my review mirror continue at the same speed and same course, nearly hitting the thing. The goose stumbled back on one foot an inch from the car's right front wheel, flailing both wings out to their full expanse to balance itself, which would have been a lot less comedic if I saw the bird get crushed. What's wrong with geese? What's wrong with people? Can't we all just get along?

* We all can't get along.



PBW: Easter with Uncle Jerry

I spent Easter with my folks and my Uncle Jerry(pictured above with his kid sister, my mom). Through Photo Blog Wednesday, you can too. After all, who doesn't like candid photography?

My dad doesn't look too happy about it...maybe I'll just stick with some of the scenery in and around my Uncle's apartment complex:

In the hallway, someone mounted a finished jigsaw puzzle of Dalmatians that I like. Click below for a larger version of the image: