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Hugh Likes Comics: The Infinity Gauntlet

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Infinity gauntlet

Written by:  Jim Starlin
Drawn by: George Perez
Published by Marvel Comics

As a rule, I really don’t like crossovers.  They’re messy, over-crowded affairs where heroes act out of character to fit the story, and their endings tend to be unsatisfying piles of continuity.  Event full of sound and fury where “everything changes” but at the end of the story, everything is pretty much back where they were.  Oh, she might be in a different costume and he might have been replaced with his sidekick, who looks the same except for the cybernetic arm.  The status quo remains king.
And then there’s “The Infinity Gauntlet.”  This is the one that got it right.  It’s a threat that is based off of years of continuity, but clear enough that one doesn’t need to invest a college savings in back issues to know who’s who.  It’s a threat that is credible, active, and present, not only for the heroes, but for the entire fictional universe.  A threat that is credible enough to not only bring the Marvel Universe together, but also put their backs against the wall.
It also manages to balance character study and knock-down, drag-out, cosmic-level fighting.  In the first issue, Thanos, elevated to genuine omnipotence thanks to the eponymous gauntlet, snuffs out half the life in the universe.  He does this because it turns out that he’d like to hook up with the Universe’s personification of Death.  Death is, naturally, a hot lady, because Comics.  Unfortunately, all of his god-like power fails to catch her eye.  Having gained unmatched power, and being unable to effectively use it is the core of Thanos’s character, and it is an interesting contrast to the surviving heroes and villains, who are left with the task of fighting a hopeless battle against the Mad Titan.
The climax of the series is a fight where he faces of and wins against first every hero in the Marvel Universe, and then the super powerful Cosmic Forces.  It gets a bit metaphysical, but the thread of the story never gets lost, and Perez’s expressionistic art captures it all perfectly.
The Infinity Gauntlet isn’t just a cheap cash in.  It is the basis for twenty years of comics storytelling, and possibly the endgame Marvel’s cinematic universe is heading towards.  Even if you have no interest in those things, it is the Platonic Ideal of a Marvel comic.  A story of superhuman power filtered by the lens of the most human emotions.
The Infinity Gauntlet is available from Comixology, Amazon, or Your Local Comics Shop.

Hugh Likes Podcasts-The Drabblecast

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Staff:  Norm Sherman (Editor in Chief) Nicky Drayden (Managing Editor) Nathan Lee (Submissions Editor) Matthey Bey (Editor at Large) Bo Kaier (Art Director) Tom Baker (Archivist)

The Drabblecast is one of the first fiction podcasts I listened to, and it is still my favorite.  Hosted by musician and madman Norm Sherman, The Drabblecast is strange fiction, by strange authors, for strange listeners, such as yourself.  They present ‘weird’ stories:  horror, science-fiction, and fantasy that you wouldn’t hear anywhere else.  While genre fiction is a staple of fiction podcasts, The Drabblecast is instantly recognizable and distinct.  This is the place to go to hear stories about reformed zombies and Lovecraftian mythos tales related through passive-aggressive post-it notes.  These stories are never what you expect, and they’re always executed with a high degree of artistry and technical skill.
The Drabblecast is named after the drabble, a kind of flash fiction that is exactly one hundred words long.  Norm usually opens the show with one sent in by a listener.  Drabbles are tricky because a hundred words is just about too long for a joke and too short for a short story.  Writing a good one is a balancing act, and so is writing the sort of odd stories that are The Drabblecast’s style.
The show is also notable for its high production values.  They produce a variety of narratives, from solo reads to full-cast productions, but Norm and his crew’s distinctive voice and excellent ear for music elevates the work.  His skewed sense of humor is icing on the cake.
If you’re looking for a fiction podcast that is a step away from the ordinary, The Drabblecast has a huge archive of stories for your listening pleasure.  They recently began a curated best-of feed as well.  Check them out at drabblecast.org.

Hugh Likes Comics: Dragon Ball

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Hugh Likes Comics:  Dragon Ball
Written and Drawn by Akira Toriyama
Published by Viz/Shonen Jump

Although it is a big part of my own path through comics, I haven’t talked about manga in this space.  Manga, broadly speaking, refers to Japanese comics, or occasionally comics drawn in a Japanese style.  These comics have a visual language all their own, enjoy vast popularity the world over, and one of the best loved of these is “Dragon Ball.”
Spanning over forty volumes, spawning four long-running animated TV shows, a vast collection of movies, and enough merchandize to sink a container ship, Akira Toriyama’s “Dragon Ball” is a full-fledged cultural phenomenon.  Originally a goofy, cartoonish Sci-Fi retelling of the Monkey King legend, this is the story of Son Goku, an incredibly strong, perfectly innocent child as he travels with teenage prodigy Bulma to gather the Dragon Balls, seven mystical stones which, when brought together, will grant any one wish.  Along the way, he becomes the greatest martial artist in the universe, and saves the world a few times, to boot.
With its beyond epic length, the thing I find really interesting about Dragon Ball is that it so completely documents the evolution of Toriyama as an artist.  His style is very round and iconic, and at the beginning of the comic, much more rooted in sophomoric humor.  It certainly isn’t what you’d expect from the martial-arts action story it becomes.  While Toriyama never completely lets go of his comedic side, the series becomes more and more of an action comic as the tale unfolds, until we reach halfway through and it becomes “Dragon Ball Z.”
With its focus on space adventure and over the top martial arts, DBZ is what got translated first.  It appeared in incomplete forms on American and Canadian TV in the 90’s.  And I fell in love with it.  But now I think I prefer the original stories about Goku’s childhood.  The adventures are more fun, more playful, and less reliant on gimmicks and ‘power levels’ to keep the tension high.  “Dragon Ball,” by contrast, remains delightful and ridiculous throughout, including a cameo crossover with his earlier work “Dr. Slump,” in which just about every character tries to squeeze into a panel for a fourth-wall breaking cameo.
“Dragon Ball” comic is particularly a comic of its time and place, but like its protagonist, it mixes goofball humor, iconic visual style, and thrilling action in perfect amounts with a perfect garnish of child-like whimsy.  Go pick up a copy, and be a kid again for a few hours.

Dragon Ball on Amazon.com (Affiliate Link)

Dragon Ball on Comixology.com

 

Gamora Vs. Gwen Stacy

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The other day I rewatched “Guardians of the Galaxy,” and finally feel comfortable discussing it, even if at this point I’m shouting ‘and another thing’ into the void two weeks after everyone else is on to something else.  While I shall do my best to avoid spoilage, there will be some minor spoilers for Guardians, and some major spoilers from earlier summer blockbusters, particularly “The Amazing Spider-Man 2.”
Let me start off by saying I really liked “Guardians.”  It’s a well-paced, solidly acted space opera with plenty of witty dialog and gorgeous design work.  Let me also say that my opinions are my own, and that if yours differs, that’s totally cool.  The things that cause offense are deeply personal and based on life experience, and the things I find troublesome are different than yours.  We all have our own buttons.
That being stated, I’m gong to dive right in and examine the state of women in Guardians of the Galaxy.  And to that end I took another look at the film with a particular eye towards how the film treated the three female characters with the largest presence:  Gamora, Nebula, and Nova Prime.  Aside from these three, the Galaxy is still mostly populated by dudes.  Nearly all of the Nova Corps dudes.  Likewise the Ravagers are mostly dudes.  The scene with the Collector and his ‘attendant’ is super gross.  The language in this movie is a little sketchy.  But it isn’t overtly gendered or sexualized.
Gamora and Nebula are straight up bad-asses.  And no one ever calls on them to be more feminine or pats them on the back.  There’s never a sense that they need to prove it.  There is never a scene where they are portrayed as emotional or irrational, or trying to keep up with the menfolk.  In fact, it is quite the opposite, as the irrationally emotional scenes end up getting chewed by Drax and Rocket, respectively.
And while the gravity of the plot seems to pull Gamora towards Quill as a romantic partner, and he does put his goofy, space-pirate bro moves on her, It is telling that they are friends, rather than lovers, at the end of the movie.  It is visually implied that they could form a romantic relationship, but they don’t end up kissing, or banging.  There is no high-five from the director of the hero getting his ‘reward’ from the princess.  Much could be made from the scene at the beginning, where Peter Quill’s one night stand is still aboard his ship because he ‘forgot she was there.’  But that is his starting point, and Gamora’s starting point is being the bagman for Ronan, and looking for the way out.  They end with both of them nodding their heads to 70’s pop music.  As a sequel to their scene on Knowhere, it signals that both of them have grown, at least a little.
The other major scene for Gamora is the assault of The Dark Aster.  As their inside man, it is Gamora who plans the assault, Gamora who fights with her cyborg sister Nebula, and Gamora who shuts down the device preventing the rest of the heroes from saving the day.  She’s Obi-Wan Kenobi, not Princess Leia.
But the best context for Gamora as a Female Lead in an action movie is to look at the background radiation of the blockbusters around it.  And here, Gamora is leaps and bounds ahead of her colleagues.  In “Captain America:  The Winter Soldier,” Black Widow is a full on bad-ass spy, but she spends most of the film following in Cap’s heels, trying to set him up on dates and listening to him lecture her about how untrustworthy she is.
In “Amazing Spider-Man 2″ Gwen Stacy is a brilliant science student with a bright future and a prestigious opportunity to study overseas.  This is exactly the kind of role model young women should be getting, but the movie focuses solely on how bad this is for Peter, her on again/off again boyfriend who is obsessed with protecting her from harm.  And then (spoiler alert,) she dies at the end of the film so that Spider-Man can have his contractually obligated ‘sobbing in a graveyard’ scene that is in every one of those films.
In “Godzilla” the main character’s wife, both of whom are so bland that I’ve forgotten their names, tells her husband to come home, because she doesn’t know what to do without him.  The frail, beautiful woman shatters under pressure without her man to protect her.  In spite of the fact that she’s a doctor in a city emergency room, married to a bomb disposal tech who literally just got back from a year of duty the day before, raising a five year old.  Somehow, that character should have known how to deal with stress.
And let’s not forget “X-Men:  Days of Future Past,” where the terrible, emotional decisions of woman result in the downfall of civilization and require Hugh Jackman to travel back in time to fix.  While Jennifer Lawrence gives a great performance, there is a lot of troubling things going on with Mystique in the X-Men movies.  She is caught in the middle of the dualistic struggle between Magneto and Xavier, and any notion that she could, or should, have ideas of her own are disregarded.  And of course, because of her shape-shifting powers, she is portrayed nude with blue body paint.  This might seem as just a tiny bit of fan service, but consider the example of the old Disney cartoons.  Pluto and Goofy are both dogs, but the difference between the ‘human’ characters and the dog is that Goofy wears clothes and Pluto wears a collar.  Mystique is naked for the whole movie.
Marvel hasn’t done everything right with Guardians.  Gamora hasn’t necessarily received her due in the marketing, and there have been issues with Director James Gunn downplaying the involvement of original screenwriter Nicole Pearlman.  But Gamora, while not being a final step towards gender equality in action movies, is a hell of a sep in the right direction.  She isn’t a woman in a refrigerator.  She’s Bill “The Refrigerator” Perry.  And that’s pretty heroic in a place as fearful of change as Hollywood.

You can see the blow coming, but you can’t brace for it

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So it’s been a bit of a rough week here at headquarters.

On Friday, my grandmother, Ann Kontos, passed away suddenly at the age of 90.  She died suddenly, without pain, surrounded by family.  You can read her obituary here.  In 2012, she took a very bad fall on her driveway and we thought we would lose her then.  But she pulled through, bounced back, and every day from then on was a gift from her.  I hope I appreciated them enough.  Nothing mattered more to my grandmother than family, particularly her grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and nieces and nephews, of which there is a mighty profusion.  This weekend, I’ve met a whole busload of relations that I’ve only heard of in her stories, and seen through pictures on her refrigerator.  It has been a sorrowful experience letting Grandma go, but it has left me much to think on the nature of family, and love, which filled her long and remarkable life.

Which brings me to Sunday night, when messages began spreading around the podcasting community, very much a second family to me.  If you have not heard elsewhere, PG Holyfield, the author of Murder at Avedon Hill and proprietor of Specficmedia.com is in the last stage of a sudden and brief fight with terminal cancer.  His friends Chooch and Viv have set up a Go Fund Me drive to help his family defray costs and support his two young daughters.  You can find it at gofundme.com/pgfund.  PG is a pillar of the podcast fiction community, and an amazingly nice guy.  He has been instrumental, more than he could possibly know, in my creative work, and probably the work of many others as well.  Go give anything you can.  I got to see PG very briefly at Balticon in May.  I feel blessed that I got to see him again, even if it was just a brief exchange in a hotel hallway.  The unfairness of it all just staggers me.

But like my grandmother, PG surrounded himself with astounding people.  In his case, not flesh-and-blood relations, but friends and artists and fellow geeks.  This morning at the funeral, my brother said this in his eulogy.  “She was a woman who took her gifts, and multiplied them.”  This would be just as apt a description for PG.  He took his love and he shared it with the world.  They were both beacons.  The world was a brighter place for their being in it.  It is going to be that much darker without them.

But the best we can do is follow their example.  Please, give generously to the fund.  And gather your family, both biological and non, tell them you love them.  They know, but tell them anyway.  And share with them.  Share stories, share jokes, share joy.  Their light is going out of the world, and we need to keep it shining.

Hugh Likes Podcasts: Rachel and Miles X-Plain the X-Men

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As regular readers of this blog may know, I am somewhat fond of comic books, and I also enjoy comic book podcasts.  This is a relatively new one, but it is already one of my favorites.  Hosted by Dark Horse Comics editor Rachel Edidin and her husband Miles Stokes, the title says it all for this one.  This weekly, hour-long show attempts to shed some light on one of the most convoluted and complex franchises in modern comics, the X-Men, starting from Giant-Sized X-Men Number One right up until the present day.
Rachel and Miles take a breezy, tongue in cheek look at the history of the comics, and they both celebrate its heights and condemn its excesses, with appreciation.  It is clear from the start that they love these comics, even the ones they know are ridiculous.
The show opens with a scripted bit examining a particularly thorny bit of cannon, such as X-characters frequent habit of dying and coming back to life, lamp-shading the week’s topic.  This is followed by a forty-five minute or so discussion of that topic.  They recently covered the famous Dark Phoenix Saga in two episodes that is a great place for new listeners to begin.
The podcast reminds me of the now defunct Tom vs. The DC Universe podcast, but rather than simply reading and reacting to one issue, they cover and critique an arc or particular topic.
Rachel and Miles X-Plain the X-Men is a delightful look at the Marvel Universe from two witty and engaging hosts who really know their stuff and celebrate it without putting it on a pedestal.  They also release a weekly visual companion with panels and fanart from the latest episode.  I recommend it for New Fans and Uncanny X-Perts alike.  Listen for yourself at RachelandMiles.com/xmen

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Queen City Adventures: The Taste of Buffalo!

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Every year, local restaurants take over Niagara Square and a few blocks of Delaware Avenue in downtown Buffalo for one of the largest food festivals in the country.

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Buffalo is definitely a food city, from chicken wings to beef on weck, so it is always a delight to try new places and see what they have on offer. Here is a sample of my selections:

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Indian Falls Log Cabin: Beef on Weck Ravioli

This beef and cheese ravioli was served in savory beef broth complete with caraway seeds. It was a nice mix of surprising ingenuity and hometown pride. Very good.

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T. C. Wheelers: Reuben Pizza and Pizza Nutella with Almonds

Of all the pizza places that had tents at this year’s events, this was the only one that felt creative, which is usually what I’m looking for at the Taste. The Reuben Pizza was outstanding. It had a nice, thick crust and delivered what it promised. The Pizza Nutella was more akin to fried dough, and the hazelnut spread made it a bit heavy, but it was quite good as well.

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Kabob and Curry: Cheese & Veggi Tikka

Selected by my husband, who is vegetarian. He enjoyed it, and I liked my nibble, but I’m a wuss when it comes to spicy food, and it was a bit too much for me.

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Carribean Expirience: Beef Patty

An excellent meat pastry that was nicely spiced but not hot. My husband had the vegetarian version, which was also good.

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NIck Charlap’s Ice Cream: Raspberry Custard

While they had the standard flavors, we opted to try something a bit different from this local ice cream shop. It was excellent.

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The Lodge: Civiche

Raw fish in a citrus sauce with gaucamole and chips, this was like sushi and nachos combined. It was delicious and refreshing on a hot Saturday afternoon. The Lodge’s other options, including venison and wild boar, looked interesting as well.

Over-all, I would say that I enjoyed the Reuben Pizza the most out of my sampling of this year’s entrants, although the civiche was a close second. Buffalo is a treasure trove of fantastic local restaurants, and I always enjoy sampling them.

Next week: The Italian Festival!

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