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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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Hugh Likes Comics: X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga

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Uncanny X-Men 129-137
Written by Chris Claremont
Drawn by John Byrne
Published by Marvel Comics
Fire, life incarnate, etc.
If there is one X-Men story you should read to try and understand anything that came afterwards, The Dark Phoenix Saga is it.  There is a lot of hype in superhero comics.  But in an industry where the status quo is king, this is a story whose repercussions have lasted for almost thirty-five years.  It’s important.  This is the story that introduced Kitty Pride.  It introduced Emma Frost and the Hellfire Club, a central antagonist.  This was the story where Wolverine finally came into his own as a character, shifting in one issue from whiny creep to the premier mysterious badass anti-hero of the Marvel Universe.  This is the story where the X-Men stop being just another team of super-heroes and became something greater.  Fortunately, it’s also one of the best stories Marvel has ever produced.
The story is actually a good jumping-on point, too.  It opens with the X-Men reunited for the first time after a fight with Magneto left them separated, and assuming that each other were dead.  Jean Grey has been having strange visions, which she assumes come from her semi-possession by The Phoenix, an energy being of incredible psychic power.  She is in fact being manipulated by Jason Windgarde, a mutant and member of the Hellfire Club, who wants to manipulate her for his own ends.  The Hellfire Club is a society of the elite, but their Inner Circle are a secret society of rich and powerful mutants seeking more.  And they attempt to control the Phoenix to do it.  I won’t spoil any further, except to say that the saga ends with a epic battle on the mood between the X-Men and three space empires for the fate of Jean Grey, and the Universe itself.
Claremont and Byrne are at the top of their game here, and their work here echoes through the Marvel Universe to this day.  In reading through this collection, I was surprised at how familiar some of the art and story seemed, because it has been referenced so heavily.  And not without good reason.  From the point he came onto the series as writer, Claremont built to something more for these characters than ‘Teenagers sworn to protect a world that hates and fears them!’ from the original run.  This is what he builds to.  The Dark Phoenix Saga is an examination of the uses of privilege and power.  The Hellfire Club use their power against others, especially other mutants, because they expect that they are above repercussions.  Shaw, the Black King of the Hellfire Club’s Inner Circle, actually builds Sentinel robots, never even thinking he’d ever be hunted by one.  At the end of the series, the X-Men, and specifically Jean are left with a choice between the embrace of god-like power and their humanity.  The choice they make is subtle and intriguing.  And while the impact of that decision has been undone many times since, (most recently in the mega-crossover Avengers vs. X-Men) The Dark Phoenix Saga is still required reading for long-time and new comics readers alike.

In addition to the graphic novel, the podcast Rachel and Miles X-plain the X-Men was an invaluable resource for this review.  Check out their excellent weekly show HERE!

Hugh Likes Podcasts: Flash Pulp

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Flash Pulp is the work of Skinner Co, a three-person team of Canadians, and just about the most friendly bunch of podcasters you’d ever want to meet.  With an impressive catalog of episodes already online, Flash Pulp presents short pulp fiction with a more modern slant than Howard and Boroughs.  The universe is a massive web of stories, featuring a variety of characters across different times.  There’s Frontier Occultist Blackhall, and his modern counterpart Will Coffin, private detective Mulligan Smith, and zombie outbreak survivor Ruby.  And at the center, at the end of all things, is Kar’Wick, the Cthulhu-like spider-god.  These stories all bend and twist around one another in interesting and unexpected ways, leading listeners deeper into the over-all story of Skinner Co’s universe.
Flash Pulp is a perfect example of serialized storytelling done right.  Every story is a jumping-on point for new listeners, while at the same time rewarding fans who have heard all of them.  It’s a tricky maneuver to pull off, but Skinner Co does it with skill.
Their process is also worth nothing.  JRD writes the stories.  Opopinax narrates them and creates episode art.  Jessica-May records and edits them.  The shared workload keeps everything moving smoothly, and prevents the prolonged delays and pod-fading that plagues the medium.
The other very cool thing about Flash Pulp is The Mob.  Flash Pulp’s loyal and very cool fan community, of which I am a part.  The Skinners work very hard to cultivate the Mob, and stay connected with them.  It’s not a fandom.  It’s a network of friends, and also a fictional evil corporation, but that’s neither here nor there.  The podcast also has a (nearly) weekly Flash Cast episode, where the three  hosts catch up, read from the mail bag, and share segments recorded by members of the Mob.
If you have any interest in podcast story telling, check out the Flash Pulp podcast, and get to know these classic characters and their creators.

Visit Skinner.fm to listen for yourself!

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