Sunday, January 31, 2010

Minimate Customs: Commishioner Gordon & Oracle

Dammit, I've really fallen behind in posting these. And this is one of the only reasons that I wanted to start a blog. Even if no one read the blasted thing, at least I'd have a little place to post my Minimates. And I haven't even gotten to most of the cool ones. Hell, I haven't even taken pictures yet of most of the cool ones. So we'll start catching up with a two-fer, which also begins our look at the Batman family. I've done more Batman related customs then anything else, with the goal of having the Batfam as complete as possible. It won't happen (Two-Face, for one, is beyond my abilities), but it's good to have goals.

This is really more of a Lt. Gordon, what with the light hair... but so what. It was a bigger deal to me to get the right hair style then the color, in this case. And the glasses... just what I wanted. I've seen other Gordons with drawn-on glasses, but I like this better. And, until they make a head with glasses and a mustache, I'll be happy with it.

So the head comes from one of the "Man With No Name" Minimates; this one, I think. And the hairpiece comes from a Jack Bauer. As you will see, I've made extensive use of 24 Minimates in my customs. Not much to say about his clothes pieces, except to say that I recently upgraded his trenchcoat to this one here, which was just released. One of the more baffling omissions among Minimate pieces was a good, simple brown trenchcoat. We've got lots and lots of black ones, and brown ones that have been styled a certain way, but no brown ones... until now. It always bugged me that Jim had a black coat.

Oracle was actually the one that sparked this whole customizing nonsense in me in the first place. For those of you that don't know, Oracle is the former Batgirl, Barbara Gordon, whom was shot by the Joker and paralyzed in The Killing Joke. Later writers gave her new life by turning her into an expert computer hacker/analyst. Anyway, the Batgirl Minimate happens to have a removable mask, and extra hair, allowing you to make an unmasked Batgirl. So I got to thinking that it wouldn't be that hard to make Oracle... and here we are.

The hair comes from the aforementioned Batgirl, the hair and torso come from BSG Gina (by the way, it was a big deal to me when I figured out that was the perfect Oracle head. Ah, memories). And her chair comes from Professor X. Sadly, the one accessory I really want to complete the whole thing- a laptop- was set to come with 24 Day 3, but that set was cancelled before release.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Blackest Lost

Okay, so just bear with me a minute here. This will be cool. I promise.

So DC Comics is doing this big event right now called Blackest Night, which flows from what has been going on in the Green Lantern comics the last few years. You all know about the Green Lanterns, right? They're an interstellar police force that use Power Rings guided by their willpower. Anyway, writer Geoff Johns has been riffing on the concept by creating new Lantern Corps, using different colored rings powered by different emotions (I know, willpower isn't an emotion... just go with it). Red ring bearers, for example, are filled with rage. Yellow Lanterns (led by ex-GL Sinestro) instill great fear, blue lanterns inspire hope, and...

I'm loosing you, aren't I?

Okay. Blackest Night. Basically the dead have risen, powered by Black Lantern rings. And, as there has been a lot of death around here in the DC Universe the last few years, the whole thing seems centered on Earth. We've got a Black Lantern Aquaman, and a Black Lantern Martian Manhunter, and now a Black Lantern Hawkman (he died in the first issue), and many, many others. And representatives (the nominal leader) from each Corp have formed a little band, because only by the rings working together can the Black Lanterns be destroyed. That's the gist of it.

There, that wasn't so bad, was it?

Only in the last issue, and I suppose this is a spoiler, but the damn thing's been out since Christmas, so you only have yourself to blame if you don't know this, it was decided that one of each lantern isn't enough to kill all the Black Lanterns on Earth. So the rings duplicated themselves, and hastily chose deputies from amongst Earth's heroes and villains. The Flash, for example, inspires great hope, so he's the Blue Lantern. The Atom feels great compassion, so he's the Indigo Lantern... yes, indigo. I'm not making this up.

Look, it might be easier at this point if you go to the Wikipedia page. I'll wait.

So the wife and I read this, awhile back, and she asked me what I thought of Johns' choices for Lanterns. And I think they're fine, mostly. Scarecrow, as the Yellow Lantern, makes sense, but is a little too obvious. I like Lex Luthor as the Orange Lantern, which feeds off greed (my friend Kevin was especially unimpressed by Luthor as greed agent, suggesting that he should be the Blue Lantern, because he fights Superman, and you've got to feel a lot of hope to do that. I think it's an interesting premise. I don't agree with it, but I think it's interesting). The only one I really have a problem with is Mera, Aquaman's little-used wife (who has, at least, played a big role in the series thus far) as the Red Lantern. That's the best you could come up with? Mera?

Anyway. While we were chatting about this, and probably because we were finishing rewatching season 5 of Lost on DVD, I started speculating which characters on Lost would wear which rings, if the same thing happened on the Island. And, you know, there's a lot of dead people on the Island with axes to grind. Who represents will? Fear? Rage? Love? Hope? And the rest?

Yep, that's it. That's what this post is about. Sure took a while to get here, huh? But moving on. Hillary and I talked about it for a while (meaning: most of the rest of the night, and I think it probably kept both of us up), and we managed to assign rings to everybody. I think it's a fun game, and I encourage you to try it. Pick your favorite show- or, better yet, your family and friends- and try to decide who would get what ring, if the dead were rising. Only they're not zombies. Just very, very zombie-like.

1. Green Lantern/Willpower: Jack Sheppard. I know: too easy. But it's the only real choice. Jack is the guy who's totally dominated by his iron, stubborn, will. He's the guy who is always chasing off into the jungle, and carrying dynamite in his backpack, even though he's the doctor and the survivors' most precious resource. He's the guy that wanted to perform his own appendectomy. Hell, he's the guy who refused to believe that Locke had moved the Island even after watching it disappear. So this isn't really a validation of Jack as a hero, just an admittance that he is... shall we say focused to the extreme.

2. Yellow Lantern/Fear: Sayid. Well, duh. I think that the Yellow Lantern Corps might have been invented with Sayid in mind. I also think that Naveen Andrews would make an excellent Sinestro in the upcoming Green Lantern movies, but I digress.

3. Red Lantern/Rage: Sawyer. I thought about this one for quite awhile. Both Ben and Sayid would have a great claim on this one as well, but I think Sawyer takes the cake. His entire life (much like Batman) has been built around revenge for his dead parents. His personality for much of the show was really just a mask; it's not until this last season, trapped with the Dharma Initiative in the '70s, that Sawyer begins to come into his own. And then it's all taken away, the life he's built, and he watches the woman he loves pulled to her death, knowing that she goes to her grave doubting his love for her. So yeah, I'd say rage is Sawyer's primary motivation.

4. Orange Lantern/Avarice: Ben.
If we'd done this around seasons 1, 2, or 3, no doubt this would be Sawyer. And I don't really like reducing Ben to being all about greed. But he is still a villain, after all. And almost every action he's ever made has been about preserving himself and his power. And, I think, his speech to Jacob, his declaration of "what about me?" ultimately reveals a lot about him.

5. Blue Lanterns/ Hope: Locke.
What is Locke's defining character trait, it it's not hope? He wants to be special, desperately, and on the Island he finally succeeds, or so he thinks. Unfortunately, this optimistic desperation seems to leave him constantly exploited by others: first his father, who tricks him into giving up a kidney; then the cult he joins, and the police that see him as an easy way to infiltrate it; Ben, over and over again; and finally Jacob's unnamed enemy, who uses Locke as a pawn to both manipulate Jack into returning to the Island (to, ultimately, be involved in the Incident), and to get close to Jacob. I'm not saying these are their best traits, only their most dominant....

6. Star Sapphires/Love: Juliet.
This one was all Hillary. It was definitely the toughest one to identify. For one thing, the Star Sapphires are only women, so that eliminates much of the cast (including Desmond, sadly). Kate? Please. Sun? Oh, don't give me Sun. Anyone that would abandon their child, perhaps forever, on a wild revenge kick doesn't know a damn thing about love. Even amongst the dead, there's not much. Thought about Penny, but she's not really a part of the main cast, and she's never even been on the Island (that we know about.... bum bum BUM). But Juliet...? Yeah, Juliet works. First off, her whole reason for accepting Richard's offer is to help her sister. And she keeps working to try and save the women impregnated on the Island, even after watching so many die. And there's Goodwyn, and Jack, and Sawyer... she does crazy things, for all of them, because she loves them. We watched the season 5 finale after talking about this, and Hillary must have said 50 billion times "she's so the Star Sapphire", to the point I almost had to slug her. But she's right.

7. Indigo Tribe/ Compassion: Hurley.
This stems from my belief that Hurley is the heart and soul of the show. He was always the great mediator amongst the survivors, while never wanting to be the leader. I think it's telling that, on an island full of liars- Ben, Kate, Sawyer- people don't lie to Hurley often. Even Jacob, when he visits him, is entirely straight with him. Perhaps that's why the dead want to visit Hurley.

Okay, I lied. That wasn't cool at all, was it?

Monday, January 25, 2010

And Then There Were Two

I don't have all that much to say about yesterday's championship games; I only watched a few minutes of the AFC game, and I was doing something for school last night so I wasn't paying close attention to the NFC game. I'm glad the Saints won, because I like Drew Brees and always have been. I don't think people call the Chargers on the carpet enough for giving up on Brees so quickly; he had a decent first year as a starter, then struggled, and they gave up on him and drafted Phillip Rivers. He's been brilliant since then. Because Rivers worked out for the Chargers, it never gets mentioned, but if San Diego knew what they had in Brees, they could have used that pick on someone else (although looking over the draft, no one jumps out as the obvious choice. If only Larry Fitzgerald had gone after Rivers...). And then, even though Brees had developed into a Pro Bowler, and San Diego was by now a legit Super Bowl contender, they decided to let Brees go and start over with Rivers as the starter. And then, in one of the all time great personell blunders, the Miami Dolphins decided to go with Dante Culpepper (coming off knee surgery) instead of Brees (coming off shoulder surgery) as a free agent. Culpepper was 1-3 in 4 games in his only year with the Dolphins.

Of course, it was the other quarterback in the NFC championship game that's the big story. I suppose, if one believes in karma, one might think it finally stepped up and smacked Brett Farve around. But, if that was the case, it would have been the Green Bay Packers, not the Saints, to perhaps finally end the Neverending Quarterback. Peter King, in Monday Morning Quarterback today, pointed out something really interesting about Farve the last three years: in each season, the last significant pass that he threw (he would throw one more for the Jets last year) ended in an interception. Not exactly the way a legend wants to go out.

Of course, I fully expect Brett Farve to play next year. At this point, why not? Until he's dead and buried, I think the threat of Brett Farve playing another year will last. I have no idea what drives him; at this point, he's nothing else to accomplish. But I suspect that he wants to go out like John Elway. He, of course, was widely viewed as a "yes but" quarterback: "yes, he was great, but he never won a Super Bowl". Then he won two, retiring after the last, and many now started to call him the best ever. Farve doesn't quite have that problem-- he won his title, but it was 13 years ago, and since then the playoffs have not been kind, including a Super Bowl loss, ironically, to Elway.

Well, whatever. We'll all have to endure another "will he or won't he" offseason with Farve. You know what I don't get, though? Every story I read about him retiring basically makes it seem as if he has two choices in life: play football or mow his lawn. That's always given as his retirement options. Is that really why you keep playing, Brett? You don't want to mow your lawn, day after day? I just picture him waking up each day, walking to his bedroom window, staring out at the endless grassy hills of the Farve ranch, and sighing deeply. You really need to take up golf or something, Brett.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Clip Show? Seriously?

Let me start off by saying that I haven't found the new season of The Office to be particularly compelling. The two big storylines this year- "Jim's now a boss too!" and "Dunder Mifflin's in trouble!"- have been pretty blah. I don't know why they decided to change Jim's character so fundamentally; he was always supposed to be our anchor, our window into this wacky little world. And now he's... I don' even know what. The Man, I guess. Anyway, his struggles to be taken seriously by the staff as the new co-manager is just not that interesting, and I even relate to that, having been in that situation a time or two myself. And then there's the other thing... Dunder Mifflin's in trouble... who cares, really?

I also think that the writers have run out of funny ideas for the characters. The only thing they've done this year that stand out is to try and recapture the old Pam and Jim Unspoken Crush dynamic with Andy and Erin ( Oh, and have Ryan wear funny outfits. Seriously, that's what they've been doing, having Ryan in some crazy getup each week. That's it. No jokes or anything, just Ryan and his bow tie or glasses or... who cares, really?

I think that Parks and Recreations has really hurt The Office. Not just because they lost Mike Schur (AKA Mose Schrute, AKA Ken Tremendous of Fire Joe Morgan and the writer of this and this. Really, I think this whole post is just an excuse to link to my two favorite Fire Joe Morgan posts. That's a victory in and of itself.), but because Parks and Recreations has so completely co-opted The Office's formula that the latter no longer seems remotely special. The fact that Parks and Recreations is seemingly not remotely funny in the least (in fairness, I've only watched two episodes, but the only thing that made me laugh was Will Arnet, as a guest star) makes The Office seem less funny, somehow. As if they pointed out that The Office was really just a pseudo-documentary about a bunch of goofy characters stuck with a bumbling boss, and you could do that with anyone, really. Heck, maybe NBC should have tried to get Jay Leno to give it a shot.

But I digress. Yes, I realize this is my opening, and so I haven't really digressed from anything, but I digress. Last night The Office hit what was, let's hope, the nadir in this season of discontent by running a clip show. You all know what a clip show is, right? I mean, it even has it's own Wikipedia entry. So I don't have to explain that a clip show is where a long running series spends an entire episode running clips from old episodes, loosely supported by a framing sequence that's usually painful in it's execution. If you ever watch the commentaries to the clip shows on The Simpsons DVDs, they explain that clip shows are often the result of networks wanting to have as many hours of a popular show as possible, but not wanting to pay for a full season. So a clip show is a cheap way to present a "new" episode. And they are lame, lame, lame.

And last night was no exception. The setup, in a nutshell, is that Dunder Mifflin is being sold, and so an auditor is coming to look at the branch's assets and speak to the HR guy (Toby). So you might expect hi-jinks as Michael and the gang try to put their best faces forward. And you get a little bit of that-- Michael rides a Segway! But then the bank guy sits down with Toby, and asks him if there's any safety issues that he should know about. And Toby says nothing, as the camera tightens on him, and several scenes of Michael and co. being decidedly unsafe rolls. Now, at first, I thought this was a clever little joke, a way of saying "oh yes there is!" before Toby says "oh no there's not!" But it kept going. And going. And then he asked Toby a question about sexual harassment, and the same thing happened. And I said to Hillary, "Is this a clip show?" And she said "I think it's a clip show."

And I promised, "Well, I'll be blogging about this tomorrow!", which she applauded. And I always keep my promises. When it comes to blogging. So here you go. That was the whole point. Go read those Fire Joe Morgan things, they're really funny. Not lame. Like The Office has become. Or clip shows. Or this blog. Hey, do you like the new name?

Avoiding Clever Names No More

Well, it had to happen... I thought of a name for my blog. It comes from an old Calvin & Hobbes strip; I think you'll see that the sentiments shared between the two in the last panel sum things up around here nicely. Update your bookmarks accordingly!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Just How Much is a Championship Worth, Anyway?

There was an interesting story on the other day by Tom Verducci, one of the most thoughtful baseball writers around. Verducci decided that he wanted to determine the most efficient franchises over the last decade (even though, of course, 2000-2009 isn't a decade; we'll let that go). So he put together a pretty simple formula. First, he started with cost per win, basically dividing the number of games a team won per decade by their aggregate payroll. And this alone is a pretty interesting. We see that the Yankees, despite winning the most games in the decade, still had the highest Cost Per Win (CPW) because their payroll is so freaking high. Just glancing at the list, you can see that the Angels and Cardinals were the big winners, because they were the only teams that won over 900 games (900 and 915, respectively) with a CPW under 100. And the Orioles are the biggest losers, because they had a CPW over 100, but failed to win 700 games (the Tigers are not much better, as they were over 100, and won 729 games).

Verducci wants to take it further, though, as he should, since CPW doesn't include postseason performance. So he devises a formula in which he rewards various milestones: one point for being in a pennant race (defined as finishing within five games of a playoff spot); two for a postseason appearance; three for each series won; four for making it to the World Series; and five for winning it all. And that makes sense, I suppose; each successive level of success should be rewarded. He adds all these scores up, meaning that a team that wins a World Series earns 21 total points for that year. He then takes the point total (called Achievement Points [AP])for the decade and subtracts it from the CPW, for a new score, Efficiency Rating (ER).

This all seems well and good, but Verducci's results should have told him that there's a flaw in his logic. Why? The Marlins win.

The Marlins. The team that has twice in it's short history won world championships and turned around and torn up the team immediately thereafter. The team that was just told to either put more of their revenue into their payroll, or the union can sue them. That team, they're the model of baseball efficiency.

Let's take a look at their Achievement Points. They get 22; 21 come from their World Series title year, and the other from being in a pennant race (I've no idea what year that was). So the message here is: Be really good one year. Win the World Series. And then suck. Don't even try. Repeat every ten years.

Verducci is overvaluing postseason success in his formula, I think, especially because (as he's said several times) the postseason has become a crapshoot. Were he to redo his calculations, and award one score per year (meaning you'd get five points for the year you won the World Series, four for making it there, ect.). Otherwise, one year of success ends up meaning too much; in this case, the Marlins one year of extreme success trumps the other nine of mediocrity.

And this got me thinking (and is the reason I'm writing this post); how much goodwill does a championship earn, anyway? It certainly isn't as much as Verducci suggests; otherwise, coaches and managers that win championships should have ironclad job security for at least the next five years, and we know that's not the case. I'd say it earns you one year, two tops. If the Phillies had fallen apart this year, I don't think anyone would be calling for Charlie Manuel's head. But next year? All bets are off.

And then there's that other Philadelphia team. You may have heard that the Eagles were very successful in the Aughts; in fact, they were the best team in the NFC, by a wide margin. And you may have heard the the postseason for the Philadelphia Eagles has been... a mixed bag. But what would you rather have? Unwavering consistency, with your team always in the playoff/ championship mix, or that one great year? Would fans really trade one championship year for several wasted ones? The answer, of course, is that neither is acceptable. We want our cake and we want to eat it, too. Win over the short term and the long term, that's the only acceptable result.

Let's go back to Verducci's piece, because there's still some value there, despite it's flaws. For one thing, the Mets have been exactly as bad as you think they have. Despite making it to the World Series in 2000, the Mets managed to be the most inefficient franchise in baseball. The Orioles, in addition to their rather pathetic win total mentioned above, managed to not even contend for the entire decade. Not enough is made about how bad the Orioles are; they (and Toronto and Tampa) often get a pass for being in the middle of the Yankees-Red Sox turf war, but there's no excuse for having spent all that money without even giving your fans one meaningful late season game in ten years. And the Cubs sure spent a lot to try and not become the first sports franchise to go a century between championships... and it wasn't enough, apparantly, because they became the first sports franchise to go a century between championships. That really is amazing, when you think about it. I mean, they haven't even played for a championship since World War II. That's inefficiency for you.

When do pitchers and catchers report again?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Yes, I'm Still Watching 24

I really don't know why I'm still watching 24. I can't say I was anticipating the show beginning; honestly, it felt like a bit of a chore, knowing that I'd be stuck with the damn thing again for the next four months. So why don't I just not watch? Well, you have to understand that I'm not like you jonny-come-latelies; I'm an original 24 fan. I watched the pilot. I've sat through this show for seven goddamn years now- a full week in real time!- and I'll be damned if I'm going to stop now just because I know the show's long since peaked creatively and should just be canceled.

And, God help me, I still like the show. I like Jack. I like all the twists and turns I know it's going to take, even if I know they are stupid and won't make any sense if looked at in context. 24 is not a show that holds up to repeated viewings, I think, because knowing where the train is going ruins the whole thing. I also don't think it plays well on DVD, because getting to the end of the hour, and then waiting for the next week, is a big part of the fun. There are a lot- A LOT- of shows that do serialization better then 24 (funnily enough, this season has added cast members of several of those shows), but none does episodic television better.

Plus, I've sacrificed for this show. I've changed plans. I've forced myself on friends, when I didn't have cable, that I'm sure would rather be doing something else. I've dragged my wife into this. I need to see it through to the end.

But man, I really hope this is it. Last season gives me some hope that the show won't go out on a down note, because it was a huge improvement over the horror that was Day 6. But it wasn't up to the standards of seasons 1,3, and 5. See, that's one of the things that makes me apprehensive about this year: it's an even year, and my theory (which not everyone may agree with) is that the odd numbered seasons have been vastly superior to the even ones. Day 1 was great. Day 1 was one of the best TV seasons I've ever seen. I bought the DVD, very cheap, a year or two ago and was surprised how well it held up. I would have been happy if it ended there, especially after watching Day 2. Which is probably really better then I think, but my only real memory of it was Kim caught in a bear trap being stalked by a puma.

But Day 3... oh man, Day 3. Everything about it is perfect. I know a lot of fans don't agree, but Chase Edmuns was the best sidekick Jack ever had. Jack was given a believable failing (a heroin addiction that he'd picked up while under cover... okay, maybe believable isn't the word I'm looking for) that made him fallable for the first time; the White House subplot is actually interesting, and leads to David Palmer's resignation; Kim actually has something to do; Sherri Palmer and Nina Myers finally die; and I think this is even Cloe's first season. And Tony's in charge and Michelle is awesome and the villain is the best one ever...

And then there was season 4. Which was okay. Had some moments. But there are several tedious subplots involving these new characters that we don't give a shit about. And in the Day 8 premiere tonight, they already started this with Starbuck from BSG. Hey everybody, see this character that you've known for the last hour? Well, she's not who she says she is! She has a secret!

This has always been the downfall of 24: nobody other then Jack is particularly interesting, but he can't be on camera all the time (after all, he has to drive places), so they have to have other things going on. Affairs and personality clashes and just all sorts of stupid crap. Now, if these characters last long enough, like Tony and Michelle and Cloe and several others, then we get to like them and their subplots are interesting. And then they kill them, for drama, and we have to start with a whole new bunch. It's like freshmen initiation.

Where was I? Oh yes, Day 5. Glorious Day 5. Where the ridiculousness factor was cranked to 11. It's probably the most over the top 24 ever was, but it worked. Jack utters my eternal favorite line, in threatening this year's traitor: "you've read my file!" The Nixonian president is revealed as the bad guy, even though it made absolutely no sense. Jack steers a plane from the baggage compartment; best of all, he does so after grunting "okay, you son of a bitch!"

And then Day 6...God. So bad. I don't even really want to talk about it. Except to say that Wayne Palmer was pretty hard to accept as president, since it was his affair with the wife of David Palmer's main financial backer lead to the deaths of the aforementioned backer and wife, and the death of David's ex-wife Sherri, and David's resignation as president. Seems like that would probably have come out during the campain. And another Palmer sibling is introduced, and even gets star billing, only to disappear after about three episodes, pop back up, do one thing, and disappear again. Oh, it was not good. And the producers knew that, and you get the sense in watching it that they were just trying to get to the end of the day. Just like Jack.

A lot of people stopped at that point. But not me. And I was rewarded with a pretty decent season, a return to form, kind of like U2's All That You Can't Leave Behind. But one that really didn't hold up all that well next to the show's peak, kind of like U2's All That You Can't Leave Behind. Tony came back, but as a bad guy, only he wasn't actually a bad guy, he was under cover. Only he wasn't actually under cover, he was pretending to be a good guy to use the feds to trick the bad guys so that he could get his hands on some chemical weapons for some other bad guys. Only he wasn't actually on their side, he was just using this as a way to get close to their leader, who somehow had his wife Michelle killed. So in the end... wha?

And then there was the president. This is what I find hardest to believe, perhaps about anything over the course of the whole series: people actually liked President Allison Taylor, and Cherry Jones portrayal as such. She won an Emmy. And I have to say: I was surprised that she was the one named Cherry Jones. I like to try to guess which characters have which real names from the credits, and I was sure that hot FBI agent/ Bauer sidekick Renee Walker was Cherry Jones, and frumpy President Taylor was Annie Wersching. But no, it's the other way around. And I still can't believe that. I mean, doesn't this look like a Cherry Jones?

And this like an Annie Wersching?

But I digress. She was the worst part of Day 7. Each time they cut to the Oval Office, I groaned. What's funny about 24 is that the producers keep trying to tweak the format, to keep the show fresh, but they still keep all the White House stuff, even though it's all totally played out. David Palmer was the good-guy President; he's dead. Charles Logan was the bad-guy president; he should be dead, but for some reason will be returning later this year. Because that's just what they do on 24.

The show tonight was fine; I'm sure tomorrow will be fine as well. I didn't buy for a second that the reporter chick was the traitor, so I'm glad they didn't try to make us believe it for longer then the break between episodes 1 and 2. And I really wish Freddie Prinze Jr. wasn't on the show. But Jack's leather jacket tonight was wicked cool; so was his little bag. Say what you want about the man, but he's got style.

Well, Thank God for that

This just in: The Dallas Cowboys won't be going to the Super Bowl either. Guess I can watch it now.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Marvel Comics is Run by a Bunch of First Graders

I just wanted to take a minute to talk about a little controversy that the so-called House of Ideas stirred up in the nerd-verse earlier this week. Here's the gist: longtime rival DC Comics recently hit upon a neat marketing thing by offering them rings based upon the various Lantern Corps running around in Green Lantern and Blackest Night. Retailers could order bags of the rings and do whatever they wished with them, and collectors could have fun putting together a set of power rings. Here's the catch: in order to a bag of rings, retailers first had to meet a minimum order number of a certain comic book. In other words, to order a bag of blue rings, retailers had to order, say, 25 copies of Booster Gold (I'm just guessing at the exact criteria). Nearly all of the books tied to the ring promotion were among DC's lower selling titles, and each jumped up several thousand units for the ring tie-in issue.

In order to understand this story fully, you must understand how comic books are sold to comic book shops. Comics are sold as a non-returnable items to shops at a deep discount; it's been this way since the direct market supplying comic book specialty stores began three decades ago. The reasoning then for non-returnability (unlike traditional newsstands, which have always been able to return their materials) was that comic shops were also in the back issue business, so why would they want to return comics? They'll just sell them later. So comics remain an unreturnable item, even though the back issue market for comics published after 1980 or so has long since collapsed, and most stores have tons of leftover, overordered merchandise with very little hope on which to turn a profit. Some store discount this stuff almost immediately; it's not uncommon to find comics selling for a fraction of their original price within a few months of their release.

This is very important to remember, whenever you read anything about comic book sales, positive or negative: those figures represent sales to retailers, not readers. I often hear retailers shrug and happily say, "hey, we screwed up and ordered too many". Which is true, I suppose. But the fact is that retailers bear all the burden whether a book is a success or not. If Marvel or DC promote something as being the be-all and end-all event that every comics fan must take part in, and it flops, well, the editors have to read some nasty posts in the forums, and have some uncomfortable moments at convention panels. But the retailers are the ones stuck with the comics.

So back to the main point: DC offered a cool promotional item, and used it as a chance to prop up some of their lower-selling titles. Or they inflated the sales of several of their weak titles for a month by bribing retailers. I guess it all depends on how you look at it. Keep in mind that DC didn't say anything to retailers about how they distributed the rings. Some offered them for free with the purchase of the title they came with (which is what I would have done, were I a retailer, incidentally). Others just gave them away. Some probably sold them individually, or as sets, for an inflated price, because there are some shady comic book dealers out there. Whatever.

So we've got most of the factors here: nonreturnability; a promotion tied to comic book sales. Which brings us to what Marvel did this week: they announced that they would send retailers a free variant comic book for the covers to the unsold comics tied to the ring promotion. Let me make sure you've got this straight: Marvel announced that they would take returns on DC comics. And they were offering to give retailers a bribe for taking part in their little scheme.

The hammer of internet nerdom was swift. Most felt that Marvel was being juvenile. Some were offended that Marvel was encouraging retailers to destroy perfectly good comic books (by allowing the retailers to send just the cover, not the whole thing). Marvel editor Tom Brevoort tweeted about the controversy (and I know what you're thinking: if this is a tweet, why is it so long? Did he really just keep typing all these entries in little 140-character bursts, stringing them all together until they made sense? Yes, actually, he did. Which proves the problem with Twitter: you can't make any kind of substantial point. Imagine if I was tweeting all this crap right now. What a pain in the ass that would be). I give Brevoort credit for standing up and responding to the critics (especially because, as an editor, he probably had nothing to do with it). But his response is bullshit, and here's why.

Brevoort says that Marvel is "in the business of selling content rather than Cracker Jack prizes...[w]e're not making any money on the deal, but we are helping our retailer partners during a tough economic time." Oh, that's nice. See, they're not trying to embarrass their competitor by pointing out that people were more interested in the toys then the comics. Nope, they're just trying to help out. Which means that they'll be taking back returns on their own unsold comics, right? Well no: "[Marvel won't be accepting trade-ins for unsold Dark Reign and The List books] because there, what we were selling and what the retailers were buying were the books."

Now, that doesn't sound like bullshit, does it? Here's the thing that Brevoort so conveniently overlooks: variant covers. And what are they? Well, they are a marketing stunt, an incentive that comic book companies regularly offer to retailers for ordering a certain number of comic books. And this is something DC does all the time, yes, but nowhere near the extent of Marvel Comics.

Here's an analysis of Marvel's month to month sales, courtesy of The Beat. They do this every month, and as I read them, one thing keeps popping up to me, over and over: variant covers. Some months, it looks as if Marvel is publishing more comics with variant covers then without. Retailers order a certain number of copies of books (a number set by the publisher) and they can order the variant, or variants, as there are often more then one per comic, each with an escalating order number. So here's what happens: retailers hit these thresholds, order the variant, and sell them at inflated prices. Ebay's loaded with them, conventions are flooded with them. It's hard to say how much Marvel's sales month to month are inflated by variant covers, and I'm not about to try and figure it out, but it's safe to say it's a significant percentage. After all, they keep doing them.

This damn post has gone on much longer then I expected. I just wanted to make a simple point: Marvel engages in the very practice they are decrying- offering retailers a carrot to inflate their orders- multiple times a month. And this whole return offer is just a naked attempt to embarrass DC, plain and simple. So here's my challenge, to Brevoort and his bosses: stop the variant covers. Offer returns to retailers for comics that have been bought solely to hit the variant cover insentive. Shore up your own glass house before you go thorwing stones.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Sesame Street: Ernie and Bert Fish

After writing my long, depressing summary of the 2009 Philadelphia Eagles (which is right below this post, but also here), I thought a little pick me up is in order. So here it is: the funniest damn Bert and Ernie sketch I've ever seen. Delia and I first watched this a couple weeks ago and both burst out laughing.

Putting the 2009 Philadelphia Eagles to Bed

Sometime in the middle of last week I had a dream about the then-upcoming Eagles-Cowboys rematch in the NFC Wild Card game. In it, the Eagles went up on their first drive with a field goal; then, after being pinned deep on the ensuing kickoff, Tony Romo fumbled, and the Eagles recovered in the end zone for a 10-0 lead and all the momentum in the world. Things got a little loopy after that- at one point, I think I was playing cornerback- but the message to me was clear: subconsciously at least, I still had hope.

It was, in retrospect, a false hope. In the end, we ended up suffering through the worst week in Eagles history, with two losses to our most hated rival by an aggregate score of 58-14. What makes it even harder to swallow is just the week before the Eagles had the look of the Super Bowl favorite: the Saints and Vikings, the favorites all year, had faltered down the stretch; the Eagles, riding a six game winning streak, had not only overtaken the Cowboys for first place in the NFC East but had even caught the Vikings for the second seed in the playoffs, and the first-round bye that accompanies that distinction. But in four quarters on Sunday all that hard work in getting from 5-4 to 11-4 was squandered; and then, next Saturday, it actually got worse.

I honestly don't know how much I have to say about this; I'm just going to type for a while and try to get it all out of my system and move on with my life. Cynics will tell you that the real key to the NFL's success is gambling, and while I am a cynic, I fully believe that the reason football is so captivating is because each team plays one game a week, no more. Each game is like a new episode of an ongoing series, with the goal to avoid cancellation until the big finale airs. We spend the first few days of the week going over what we've just seen before turning to the installment to come. The NFL banks on anticipation, and this Eagles season my expectation level had gone to eleven.

Yes, despite it all. Despite the five NFC Championship game losses, and the Super Bowl loss, I'm that rarest of beasts: the optimistic Eagles fan. Why? Because I still believe that Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb have been too darn good, too darn successful, to not finally get the job done. Of course, that's the thing that separates sports from all other forms of entertainment: failure is always an option, even for the elite. Fran Tarkenton and Bud Grant went to four Super Bowls and lost them all; so did Jim Kelly and Marv Levy.

And now I, finally, am left wondering if this isn't the end, if this isn't as far as this era can go, or should go. Because, really, there's no excuse for what we saw the last two weeks. There's no excuse for getting smoked by a team that you know so well, in the last game of the season, where everything you worked for is up for grabs. And there's really no excuse for coming back out the next week against the same team and playing the same lousy game, as if not one adjustment had been made, and the whole thing was just one long, eight-quarter nightmare.

So where do they go from here? Well, one thing we have to remember is that the Eagles were a very young team this year. The Eagles have always been cruelly efficient in turning over positions, letting valued veterans go when it looks like they might be slipping. This last offseason saw John Runyan and Tra Thomas, whom had anchored the offensive line for the entire Andy Reid era, be allowed to leave, and once-promising players like Lito Sheppard and L.J. Smith were sent packing. Oh, and Brian Dawkins left.

I say that flippantly, because Dawkins is quite possibly the greatest player in franchise history-he's on the short list, at least- and his being allowed to leave as a free agent was a cloud over the Eagles that they never quite overcame. Ultimately, I think his absence made a big difference; his veteran wisdom and leadership might have made the difference in steadying a young defense when they ran into trouble the last few weeks (not to mention that he still played at a Pro Bowl- level this year). We'll never know, just like we'll never know if Jerimiah Trotter, the All-Pro linebacker released suddenly before the 2002 season, would have made the difference against Tampa Bay in that year's NFC championship game that I always suspect he would. The loss of Dawkins leadership, I think, played a big factor in bringing Trotter out of retirement this year at midseason, but even the Axe Man was unable to steady a defense in flux.

But the offense was a different story. This was the best Eagles offense I've ever seen, even better then the 2004 Super Bowl team led by Terrel Owens, varied and deep and explosive. Brian Westbrook missed half the season, which in the past would have doomed the team, but he was hardly missed. Kevin Curtis, quitely productive over the last two years, missed almost the whole year and no one seemed to notice (I guess that's what you get for being "quietly productive"). The offensive line, rebuilt in the offseason, was in flux all year, but it never seemed to make much of a difference on the field. And then there was the Michael Vick experiment, which I still think is more about getting a draft pick from someone desperate for a starter then whatever Vick brought to the field (which was probably just enough for said draft pick).

McNabb, as he has been for much of the decade, was the rock that held it all together. McNabb gets pissed on by Eagles fans all the time, and it's grossly unfair. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: anyone that doesn't appreciate Donovan McNabb as the greatest quarterback in the history of the Eagles is a stone-cold moron. What people fail to realize about McNabb is that he's spent his career in a system that doesn't really match his skill set; the so-called west coast offense that Reid runs relies on timing and accuracy, two things that have never been among McNabb's strengths. It wasn't until T.O. arrived and the team began going downfield regularly that McNabb really began to shine. Yet he's persevered and built himself into a borderline Hall of Fame candidate.

I wonder, though, if we have in fact seen the last of McNabb in an Eagles uniform. This has been the talk going into the offseason for several years now, but this year feels different. For one thing, young backup Kevin Kolb, who just this preseason looked like a wasted draft pick, proved himself a quarterback with a future in two starts for McNabb this year. It would fit the Eagles' modus operendi of moving out veterans for young players, and would allow Kolb to develop with DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy and the other young players on the offense. If it is the end of the McNabb era, it's a shame that it ended the way that it did. I almost wish for one more chance for Donovan, so that he can go out the right way, but how many more chances should he get?

I also wonder if it isn't time for Reid to step down as head coach. Again, unlike most Eagles fans, I've always been a supporter of the coach, who has long since proven himself an excellent head coach with over 100 wins and a winning record in the post season. But, year after year, the same problems persist: the Eagles can't run the ball with any kind of consistent success, and are always quick to abandon the run at the slightest sign of ineffectiveness; the clock management is baffling; gadget plays are called at awful times, killing promising drives. That Reid has never been able to correct these and other problems has been a sore spot among critics and fans alike. But the man wins, sets the right tone, and has a great eye for talent. I would not be at all surprised to see Reid give up the coaching reigns to someone like Marty Mornhingwig and moving to the front office full time.

Jesus, that's a lot of stuff, isn't it? Guess I did have a lot to say. Anyway, I'm done thinking about the Eagles until the end of this season, and most likely done watching football for the rest of the year. At the very least, I won't be watching any more games with the !@#$ing Dallas Cowboys and !@#$ing Tony Romo.