Sunday, January 31, 2010

Fours and Two

My January pop culture consumption has had an abundance of fours: I read 4 books, 4 trade paperbacks, 4 single issues of comics, and bought/downloaded for albums (one of which has 4 discs). In fact, the only thing I didn't manage 4 of (besides TV, but who can keep track of all that) was short stories, having read only one. There's no big significance to any of this, of course, but I found it interesting.

Here are some quick reviews of two comics I read yesterday...

Joe the Barbarian #1 - This is a new Vertigo series from Grant Morrison and Sean Murphy and this first issue costs only a dollar. As far as the story goes, it's definitely a set-up issue about a geeky diabetic who is either hallucinating or actually traveling to a world where all his toys are real and "the drains are choked with guts and stuffing." Interesting. Even better, though, is the art by Murphy (who also drew one of the short stories in that first House of Mystery). I'm not very adept at talking about art, so I'll just say that his work makes me feel like I could visit the places he's drawing. More than that, I want to. Looking forward to seeing where this goes.

Astro City: The Dark Age Book Four #1 - This is the final book of the long-running Dark Age storyline, where Charles and Royal Williams are out for revenge for their parents' murder. This is not a good place for newcomers to start, as this is the 13th issue of the story. For long-time readers like me, I'm looking forward to finding out what happens, especially filling in the pieces of Silver Agent's time jumps.

Sunday Shuffle #169

I can't believe we're at the end of January already. I'm four weeks into my session at the Y and three weeks into my college semester. Mid-winter break at the day job is less than two weeks away as well. Anyway, here is today's music...

1. Last Day Of Magic/The Kills (1)
2. Darling Night/J Tillman (1)
3. Summer Babe (Winter Version)/Pavement (1)
4. Jen Is Bringin the Drugs/Margot & The Nuclear So & So's (1)
5. Swedes In Stockholm (Acoustic)/Tokyo Police Club (1)
6. Hostile, Mass./The Hold Steady (1)
7. You Really Got a Hold on Me/She & Him (2)
8. With Arms Outstretched/Rilo Kiley (1)
9. Brown Paper Sack/Reigning Sound (1)
10. A Bottle of Buckie/Ted Leo & The Pharmacists (1)

Saturday, January 30, 2010

I'm With Them

I've taken the last few weeks to play With The Beatles repeatedly, letting the music soak in. It was the second album from the Fab Four and other one I'd never heard in its entirety. To be honest, there were quite a few songs I'd never heard at all. Still, that's the fun, isn't it?

For me, this is an album that gains steam as it goes along. Sure, there's fun in the descending chords that end "It Won't Be Long" and the nifty bassline working with McCartney's melody in "All My Loving." I was surprised to hear "All I've Got To Do," which feels like it could be a protoype for low-fi indie rock - the instrumentation is sparse but effective.

George Harrison really shines on his first Beatles original, "Don't Bother Me." It has a nice groove to it and a short, sharp guitar solo. The harmonica comes out for "Little Child," which feels like a 50s-style rocker. "Till There Was You" has such a pretty melody but such goofy lyrics - "There was music and wonderful roses." You know, I don't remember that song from The Music Man but it's been a long time since I've seen it.

The covers continue with the great "Please Mr. Postman" as the boys harmonize and a solid take on Chuck Berry's "Roll Over Beethoven." The one original stuck between all the covers is "Hold Me Tight" with its fun call-and-response vocals.

I love their version of Smokey Robinson's "You Really Got a Hold on Me." John and George sound great together harmonizing on the verses and when Paul joins in on the Plus, Ringo's drum fills are great.

Speaking of Ringo, he rips it up on "I Wanna Be Your Man" along with some cool Hammond B3 organ and nice lead work from George. What a great little tune. And speaking of George, he's back in the lead with "Devil In Her Heart" and so are the great three-part harmonies. Then speaking of Ringo again, his drum work and the piano are highlights of "Not A Second Time."

By the time we get to their cover of "Money (That's What I Want), I realize the album has just gone full-speed ahead and it brings it on home is a rocking way. Hey, this band was pretty good!

Wild Again

I mentioned the other day that I was reading Suicide Kings, the latest novel in the long-running Wild Cards series shepherded by George R.R. Martin. I had lost some momentum in my reading but I rebounded yesterday and then finished the book this morning. There often comes a point in a book where I can no longer put it down as it powers to its end.

This book is the final of a recent trilogy within the Wild Cards universe and the 20th overall. It continues to track a group of characters we were introduced to in Inside Straight and their journey from hero wannabes to actual heroes. At this point, I'd grown attached to several of the characters and this chapter was not always kind to them. There is that sense of heroism and redemption, though.

I'm not going to natter on about plot. This book hinges on the previous two and a new reader would be well-served to start with Inside Straight. Some of these characters hearken back to the original set of Wild Cards novels, many of which I read but haven't owned in a long, long time. In any event, there are a bunch of new writers who have signed on for more books and look forward to seeing what happens.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Life in Miniature

Here's a quick encapsulation of my week for you - from Saturday to Monday, I read 230 pages of the latest Wild Cards novel, Suicide Kings. On the other hand, I've only read 34 more pages since that time. I do hope to finish the 175 pages or so that are left this Saturday, if possible. We'll see.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sunday Shuffle #168

Here's some music for Championship Sunday - Go Colts!

1. Pride of the Yankees/Patterson Hood (1)
2. That Is All/Slobberbone (1)
3. Blue Headlights/Shout Out Louds (1)
4. From/Dr. Dog (1)
5. Like Egypt Was/Michael Penn (1)
6. Cindy Tastes Of Barbecue/Luna (1)
7. The Return of Jackie and Judy/Tom Waits (1)
8. The Re-arranger/Mates of State (2)
9. I Walk By Your House/Reigning Sound (1)
10. Nowhere/Frankel (1)

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Corn Flake Mysteries

Some quick thoughts on things I've read recently...

House of Mystery - There are quite a few mysteries laid out in the first volume of this series, which is as it should be. What connection does Fig have to the titular house and why is she the only one who can hear it talk? Why can it talk? Who are the mysterious figures that chased her to the house? Why are only five people not allowed to leave? Plus, we get stories within each story, as story is the method of payment in the bar. Matthew Sturges is the driving force behind the title, though Bill Willingham sometimes writes the stories within. The main artist is Luca Rossi, who reminds me of Tony Harris back in his Starman days (that's a good thing)); backups are by a variety of artists, like Jill Thompson and Sean Murphy. After reading this volume I went out and bought the second; I look forward to it reaching the top of the stack.

Adventure Comics #6 - The momentum on this title was slowed by the Superboy Prime two-parter (which I did like quite a bit) but this issue finishes up Geoff Johns and Francis Manapul's brief run on the book. Their work on this book has been so good that I wish they were staying on the title instead of moving to Flash (still not sure how I feel about Barry Allen's return but I'll have to check it out). The Legion back-ups disappeared but it looks like they'll soon have this book and a new Legion book in a few months, so I can probably wait.

The Unwritten #9 - This closes up the second storyline with some horrifying developments. Next issue appears to be another one-off like the brilliant Rudyard Kipling-centric #5. I love this comic book.

Corn Flakes with John Lennon - This is a memoir from rock critic Robert Hilburn and is an interesting look at the artists he got to know a little bit - Lennon, Dylan, Springsteen, and U2, to name a few. If you love any of them (and how could you not at least love one or two), you'd find plenty to enjoy in the book. I do and did.

Ex Machina - It feels like it's been forever since I read Vol. 7, so I was happy to sink into Dirty Tricks (Vol. 8). I'm guessing there are only two volumes left to go in this political/super-hero book by Brian K. Vaughan and Tony Harris and I'll be sad to see it finish.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Sunday Shuffle #167

I am very happy that the Colts won last night and disappointed that Kurt Warner won't be moving on - the Saints were impressive. I'm hoping for two good games today. Meanwhile, let's start the music...

1. Finer Feelings/Spoon (1)
2. Got It Bad/The Broken West (1)
3. Say You/Liz Phair (2)
4. Time Bomb High School/Reigning Sound (1)
5. The Compromise/The Format (1)
6. You're Never Gonna See Me Cry/Mary Weiss (2)
7. Islero/Crooked Fingers (1)
8. A Heartbeat/Roman Candle (2)
9. Crackin' Up/King Khan And The Shrines (1)
10. Tiger, Tiger/Bishop Allen (1)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


My biggest Christmas present was the stereo boxed set of the remastered Beatles albums. After listening to them all once, I'm going to try and spend some time with each one over the next few months. First up has been Please Please Me, an album I'd never heard before.

Now obviously, I'd heard a number of the songs from this album - it's hard not to have heard "I Saw Her Standing There" or "Love Me Do" or "Twist and Shout" (which always makes me think of the great scene in Ferris Bueller's Day Off). And while I love hearing those songs start up and love singing either harmony part on "Love Me Do," it's the songs I didn't know so well that are stuck in my head.

I love the piano part on "Misery." I love how Ringo tells George to take it away during "Boys" and I love the guitar solo that George plays after that. I love the harmonies and guitar work of "A Taste of Honey." I love "Baby It's You" as a song (and yes, I realize they didn't write it...but it's also possible I love the song because of how they interpret it). And I love the Roy Orbison feel of "P.S. I Love You."

It's an album that is 47 years old but doesn't show its age at all. That's great music, people.


It's not unusual for a writer of a successful series of books to create another set of characters for another series. It is unusual for a writer to then create a third world and group of characters for yet another series. That's what Jasper Fforde has done with Shades of Grey.

I am a big fan of his Thursday Next books, of which there have been five so far. In fact, they are some of my favorite books of the past decade and one day I will reread them with a great deal of joy. I also quite liked his two Nursery Crime books starring Jack Spratt and wouldn't mind seeing some more in the future. I don't love the new series quite as much but I definitely enjoyed the first book.

His new world is one of color. Society is sorted by the amount of true color people can see. Those who can see lots of color are made prefects and help to run society, those who don't are expected to contribute meaningfully to that society. There is a definite hierarchy, with those who are labeled Grey at the bottom.

Our introduction to this world comes through the eyes of Eddie Russett, a Red who will soon take his Ishihara, which will determine his fate by testing how much color he can see. He and his father are sent to East Carmine, a more remote village where the Rules are not as solid as they seem back home.

Eddie is a bit of a dolt, though he definitely grows (and grows on the reader) over the course of the book. He is in love with a Grey and through his eyes (and hers) we are awakened to the oddness of the world. This is a world somewhere in the future, after the fall of humanity. This book doesn't give us all the answers to what happened and I'm okay with that. Fforde seems to be after something deeper and a bit darker than his usual work.

At the end of the book, Fforde promises two more books in this series and I look forward to reading them and discovering the mysteries.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Sunday Shuffle #166

Doing the shuffle the other day made me remember how much I like doing one every Sunday. My Sundays don't feel complete otherwise (watching The Sports Reporters and reading the "What Are You Reading?" post over at Robot 6 are the other two traditions), so I'm going to get back to them. It'll take a long time before any songs get to double digits but whatever. So once again, the Sunday Shuffle...

1. I Wanna Know Girls/Portastatic (1)
2. Cavalry/Pela (1)
3. Cold Snap/Harvey Danger (1)
4. Rake/Steve Earle (1)
5. Valerie/Crooked Fingers (1)
6. Oliver James/Fleet Foxes (1)
7. Sweet Tooth/King Khan And The Shrines (1)
8. Claws Tracking/Spoon (1)
9. The Mercy Wheel/A.A. Bondy (3)
10. Whitey Hands/Saturday Looks Good To Me (1)

Saturday, January 9, 2010

2010 Preview

One of my favorite parts about the calendar flipping over is getting all the previews as to what pop culture goodies are coming our way in the new year. Here are some things I'm looking forward to...


Lost - The final season starts on Feb. 2!

Chuck - I love this show and it's been way too long since its game-changing season 2 finale. We get it back tomorrow night!

Big Love - How much more adorable can Margene get and what will Nikki get up to? Tomorrow night we get to start finding out.

24 - I enjoyed last season quite a bit and hope this season can stay that course. We'll see starting next Sunday.

Treme - The new HBO series from David Simon (The Wire). Yes, please. It starts it April, I think.


Kick-Ass - I read the first 2 issues of the comic and decided to wait for the trade. While that hasn't materialized, the trailers for this movie make it look like a ton of fun. Man, I hope so. (Apr. 16)

Iron Man 2 - Duh. (May 7)

Shutter Island - I liked the book it's based on (by Dennis Lehane) and I really liked the last movie Scorcese and DiCaprio did together (The Departed). (Feb. 19)

Hot Tub Time Machine - It looks supremely silly and will be a perfect movie to see while I'm on spring break. (Mar. 26)

Date Night - Steve Carrell and Tina Fey together? Sold! (Apr. 9)

Inception - The trailers for this Christopher Nolan movie have me very interested. (July 16)


Scott Pilgrim - I'm not sure when it will be out but I can't wait for the 6th and final volume.

Planetary Vol. 4 - Last fall's long-awaited release of the last issue means I will soon be able to read the last 9 issues of the series (and I'll probably reread the rest of the series in anticipation).

Astro City - This year will see the conclusion of the epic "The Dark Age" storyline and the return of the book as an ongoing comic.

Adventure Comics - At some point this year, Paul Levitz will return to writing the Legion of Super-Heroes on a regular basis in this book. I'm nervous but hopeful.

Flash - I'm not in love with the fact Barry Allen is back, as I'm a huge Wally West fan. That said, Geoff Johns and Francis Manapul were awesome on Adventure Comics and I hope they can continue to produce at a high level.

Casanova - Matt Fraction has been tweeting about work on this series; I hope its return is accompanied by a trade of the second storyline, which I've still not read.

Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne - Grant Morrison writes (and a bunch of artists draw) about Bruce Wayne working his way through time to come back to Gotham. Sounds fun, doesn't it?


The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris - I enjoyed his debut and am looking forward to the new one.

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell - This is the follow-up to Cloud Atlas, one of my favorite books of the last decade.

Wild Child by T.C. Boyle - A new book of short stories from one of my favorite writers.

The Ask by Sam Lipsyte - I loved his last book, Home Land, and hope this one is as entertaining.


Vampire Weekend/Contra - I should listen to this over at NPR before I buy it. (Jan. 12)

Eels/End Times - Six months after the highly-underrated Hombre Lobo, we get another one? Joy! (Jan. 19)

Spoon/Transference - Can't wait! (Jan. 19)

Midlake/The Courage of Others - It's been a while since their last one and we supposedly get a bit of a different sound. (Feb. 2)

Jason Falkner/I'm OK You're OK - This has been out in Japan for years and it's been years since we got the Bliss Descending EP. High hopes. (Feb. 16)

The Whigs/In the Dark - They've put out 2 great rock albums; here's to a 3rd! (Mar. 2)

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists/The Brutalist Bricks - Really looking forward to this one. (Mar. 9)

Drive-By Truckers/The Big To-Do - This is supposed to be pretty-rocking but it's the DBTs, so I'm buying it no matter what. (Mar. 16)

She & Him/Volume Two - Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward back together again. (Mar. 23)

We should also see new releases from Arcade Fire, The National, and New Pornographers this year too!


Back in the summer I started hearing buzz about a new comic book called Chew. It was from Image and it was selling out of its printings. I tried to get some later printings but it was impossible. I used an early Christmas B&N gift card to pick up the very affordable ($9.99) first trade, Chew Vol. 1: Taster's Choice.

Tony Chu is a cibopath. That means that he gets impression from whatever he eats, from where it was grown to when it was picked and so on. If he gnaws on flesh, he can find out things about that person. Why would he eat flesh? Well, he works as an FDA agent and sometimes it's helpful. Did I mention that this takes place in a world where the FDA is all-powerful because bird flu killed a lot of people and chicken can only be purchased on the black market? Yeah, there's a lot going on and I haven't even mentioned his erudite cibopathic partner Mason Savoy or Amelia Mintz, a saboscrivner (which means she can write about food and make the readers taste it) who Tony falls for.

John Layman (writer) and Rob Guillory (artist) have created a comic that is original, funny, gross, and interesting. After the events of the last issue in the trade (#5), I can't wait for the next collection to see where things go.

Definitely More

The first book I read in 2010 was Total Oblivion, More or Less by Alan DeNiro. After reading his story in Interfictions 2, I was looking forward to reading his debut novel and I was not disappointed.

It is a cracked coming-of-age story, where a Minnesota family travels down the Mississippi River in hopes of finding some semblance of a normal life after technology has failed and the Scythians have invaded. Sixteen year-old Macy and her family have to deal with plague, death, and the dissolution of the family unit. Life is very different (one of her brothers ends up being a talking dog) and yet life it the same - how do you deal with your family whom you love but who also frustrate you to no end?

The structure of the book is also interesting. The chapters tell the story from Macy's viewpoint but after each chapter is a small section that gives us the history of the Palmer family or bits of information about the weird new normal in America. One of those sections even tells of the death of one of the characters via a trial transcript. It actually is effective.

After reading this, I think I need to go back and pick up DeNiro's short story collection. He has become a writer on my automatic-read list.

Back Under the Umbrella

The first thing I read in 2010 was Umbrella Academy Vol. 2: Dallas. Actually, I started it on New Year's Eve but I read the majority on New Year's Day, so I'm counting it for this year.

This comic features time-traveling killers who were giant animal masks and are addicted to sugar, a monkey in a Marilyn Monroe wig, an interesting subplot, sibling rivalries, fashion, obesity, the death of President Kennedy, and the destruction of Earth. Gerard Way knows how to write a weird and fun comic but it wouldn't be all it is without the wonderful artwork of Gabriel Ba (who is adeptly assisted by colorist Dave Stewart). It's a blast and if everything I read in 2010 is around the same quality, it will be a very good year.

Friday, January 8, 2010


My boxes of comics have finally arrived. Here's what I picked up...

Criminal Deluxe Edition
Ex Machina Vol. 8: Dirty Tricks
Jack of Fables Vol. 6: The Big Book of War
Scalped Vol. 3: Dead Mothers

When I'll get to read all of them is a mystery but I'm happy to stick them in the pile. Thanks to everyone who gave me Barnes & Noble gift cards for Christmas!

Snow Day Shuffle

The school system I work in started out with a two hour delay this morning but it didn't take long before they called the whole day. We have gotten quite a bit of snow the last few days but I think we could have managed with two hour delays both yesterday (when we had nothing) and today. I'd rather have the day in April than today, especially since this is the first week back and we already have a scheduled day off next week. What can you do?

I've been doing a little of this and a little of that today, including a nap. Right now, I'm waiting for the UPS truck to arrive with a box of comics I ordered from Barnes & Noble the other day, though I do have plenty to read.

Obviously, I haven't figured out how I want to attack the blog this year (the idea of writing about everything I read, watch, or listen to has already fallen by the wayside). I know I said I would get away from the shuffle posts but today kinda lends itself to the idea. So, here are 10 songs...

1. Uncovering The Old/Dr. Dog (1)
2. Sukie In The Graveyard/Belle and Sebastian (1)
3. Snakes of Hawaii/Army Navy (1)
4. What New York Used To Be/The Kills (1)
5. Impossible/Shout Out Louds (1)
6. Decora/Yo La Tengo (1)
7. Passing the Hat/Cold War Kids (1)
8. The Shape of the Sum/I Love Math (1)
9. Rhthm & Soul/Spoon (1)
10. On The Horizon/Sloan (1)