Fearmongering. Again. Must be Hurricane Season.

We had our pre-Parade meeting yesterday. This Saturday the City of Stafford will be holding their annual 4th of July Parade (which is, I realize, not the 4th at all, but that’s just the way it goes). Work assignments were hashed out, crew calls, that sort of thing. Like most large enterprises, this thing starting eating its own tail fairly quickly, as things were repeated and confirmed, and then repeated; but the worst thing for me that kept getting repeated was, “But what about the hurricane?”

In case you’re not in Texas or Mexico: Hurricane Alex will be making landfall sometime early tomorrow morning in Mexico, or what cartographers (and people who can read maps) refer to as NOT HOUSTON (sometimes “Nowhere Even F@#king Close”). This has not stopped local news media from addressing the storm’s approach with all the excitement and rapturous verbiage of a cheeseburger commercial. My friend Rick pointed out that local weathermen are relying more and more on infra-red photos of the storm complex because they make it look BIGGER and even MORE MENACING. According to those, we got hit with outlying bands of heavy rain last night, because we’re on “the dirty side of the storm”.

SPOILER ALERT: We didn’t.

DEAR GOD THIS IS OBVIOUSLY US ON SATURDAY AAAAAAAAAAA

This hasn’t stopped normally sane people from being tipped over into panic by breathless pronunciations. There is a chance that the Parade will be rained out, and I will lose out on some of my overtime. But there are precisely two chances of it being called on account of Hurricane Alex: slim, and nil. As ever, when somebody starts babbling to me about the approaching watery doom, I click on The Central Florida Hurricane Center and, if necessary, click over to their awesome array of maps and forecasts. This is what hurricane tracking should be: sane and scientific. I have found you can no longer rely on getting either from the news media.

In short, to paraphrase the emperor Caligula, I wish the creature the news media has become had a single throat, and I had my hands around it. Some idiot made the decision years ago that the news had to operate as a profit center, and desperate outlets rely on reporting rumors, unfounded attacks, mere surmise and outright fearmongering as news in order to get ratings and page views. It’s not a game I am even remotely interested in playing anymore – if in fact I ever was. Having been told the last ten years how afraid I am supposed to be, I am apparently going to spend the next ten years wondering how disgusted I’m going to be.

Oh, and safety tip? If you start grunting to me about the “lamestream media” expecting me to nod in approval, I am going to punch you in the neck. That’s something you picked up from said media, and you’re part of the problem.

Or, to put it in MySpace terms – Today’s Mood: Acrimonious.

Batman’s Body Count Mounts

Not much time to read last night; my wife finally got a netbook and I spent some time cleaning out all the “free trial” and “buy me”
garbage, and getting updates, virus protection and the like worked out. Nonetheless got a little more read in Batman Chronicles;  that first Joker story really is one of the best of the Golden Age stories, and I really forget how striking it is when the character doesn’t smile. A 20 page deep search on Google Image shows that nobody seems to have scanned or posted that remarkable first image. Perhaps I will see what I can do.

The Joker, just as I had recalled, had an impressive body count, but I hadn’t expected Batman to try to top it in the next story. Hugo Strange breaks out of prison, liberates five very insane dudes from an asylum, then uses his weird science and growth hormones to turn them into fifteen foot-tall monsters. Batman punches Strange out a window and over a cliff (though, to be frank, even at this early point in the series, Batman might as well have stuffed him into a blast furnace and cheerfully waved, “See you later!”), strafes a truck carrying a monster with the Batplane’s machine guns, then plays King Kong with the last monster as he climbs the highest building in Gotham.

In any case, I’m a few minutes away from a meeting in which we will plan out how exactly my job will attempt to kill me this Saturday at our coverage of the city’s 4th of July parade. As we’re looking at a 50% chance of rain currently, it may not even happen. Talk about mixed emotions – the overtime would be very nice. We can but wait and see what the universe holds for us.

Meantime, here’s the 1943 Batman dealing with ne’er-do-wells:

Robin, the Boy Psycho

Yeah, I just did a few hundred words on Jose Mojica Marins in an e-mail to some friends. Sorry kids, I’m movied out. So I guess I’ll talk about some comics today.

And there is the sound of a thousand computer mice clicking elsewhere.

(A thousand? Talk about hubris.)

As both of my regular readers know, I’ve been ransacking my county library system for the comics collections I haven’t been able to afford over the years, and what should crop up from my maddeningly long list of requests than the first volume of The Batman Chronicles, which promises to be “every Batman story in exact chronological order”. That’s a damn tall order, but you go, DC. You keep crankin’ em out and I’ll keep whining to my county board to keep buying them. Unless of course either the Aladdin’s Lamp or Lottery fantasies come true, in which case these sonsabitches are all going in my new mahogany-paneled personal library.

I wake myself from that particular pleasant dream to continue: I’ve had a fascination for the Golden Age stuff since I was a kid, and all we really got by way of a taste was the annual team-up of the Justice League with the aging Justice Society of Earth-2, and those were just enough to tickle a craving into existence. There was an occasional reprint as a bonus, the odd book like All in Color for a Dime, but unless you had the money to pony up for plastic-wrapped pulp, you didn’t see much in the way of Golden Age material.

More and more reprints came to the mass market when it was determined there actually was a mass market for this stuff, and that’s great. I don’t necessarily need to own it, but I do want to experience it. And I don’t need to own it because, um, it’s not that good.

Yeah, it’s really unproductive to judge a medium in its infancy by the standards of three-quarters of a century later, but they’re the only standards I’ve got. The best descriptor for most Golden Age comics is quaint. Watching creators of the period struggle with what Scott McCloud calls “the unseen art” is fascinating, the art of telling stories in a series of sequential panels. Also courtesy of the library, I’m reading Sandman by Kirby and Simon and the improvement in storytelling dynamics made in only a couple of years is dramatic.

A  flatness in the emotional contact with the story aside, the stories in Batman Chronicles 1 are interesting for what was allowed in those days, or what was lost over the years as opposed to what was eventually gained. There are, of course, the infamous shots of Batman actually using a gun, a nod to the inspiration of the Shadow, if nothing else. Those are pretty minimal, though, and the only incident outside a splash page is Batman shooting some supernatural creatures with silver bullets – a forgivable lapse, much like the modern Batman mortally wounding the evil god Darkseid by shooting him with a quantum bullet because it was necessary.

No, I’m talking about Batman’s cavalier attitude toward his secret identity. He tells two people who Bruce Wayne has decided to help, “Let me change,” and steps into the next room to put on the Batman suit; he keeps dropping little hints to criminals while he’s pummeling them that he was the man who bought a pound of sugar earlier, at their grocery store front. In one instance, he’s in France, and the people could be expected to not know Bruce Wayne, and in the second, the bad guys are going to be more concerned about their nasal septum getting kicked back into their brains than picking up clues, but jeez, Bruce!

There’s also a lot of Disney villain deaths. You know, environmental hazards. The very first Batman villain, upon getting punched by the caped crusader, falls into an acid vat. One falls onto a sword he threw at the hero. These are the sort of things the modern day Batman would go to (obviously) heroic, and athletic, lengths to avoid. The Golden Age Bats is more of the “Ha! He deserved that!” school.

The other surprise was how relatively few stories it took for Robin to show up.

Let me be clear: I hate Robin. I hate kid sidekicks in general, but Robin gets some special ire because he’s a flashpoint. I always know I can never discuss my love of comics with a person when they say something along the lines of “Batman keeping company with an underage boy, hurr hurr.” In fact, conversation usually gets shut down altogether with my usual rejoinder, “Would you be any more comfortable if he was hanging around with an underage girl?”. Which is good, because then I don’t have to get to the “THEN SHUT THE F@#K UP!” stage.

Intriguingly, I don’t mind Robin apart from Batman. Well, apart from that stupid circus-inspired costume. Then, I suppose it depends on the writer, as I’m thinking quite warmly of the Marv Wolfman New Teen Titans or anything Grant Morrison has done.

But, theoretically we’re talking The Batman Chronicles 1, and the last story I read, which is Robin’s origin story.  I had forgotten that Boss Zucco was behind the death of the parents of Dick Grayson, which ups my respect for the movies that reference him. Batman’s training of his new aide seems to go very quickly, but then, the kids is a trained aerialist. But what is most remarkable, is how much Batman and Robin are smiling once the action gets going. Bats has been pretty grim up to this point, but these two working together are displaying a hell of a lot of enamel while they’re extracting justice.

The climax of the story takes place at the top of a skyscraper under construction. Robin jumps the gun on attacking Zucco and his thugs and there’s quite a donnybrook betwixt Robin and the bad guys, and there’s at least one – and I’m going to say more likely four – guys who plunge to their doom as a result of the fight. At least one more is thrown off by Zucco after the quisling signs a confession to sabotaging the Grayson’s trapeze, which turns out to be set up by Batman, so Robin could snap a picture of Zucco himself killing the traitor. Which is another notch in Batman’s personal kill list.

After this is Batman #1, and the first appearance of the Joker, who will in time eclipse Batman’s body count and make us forget all about it.

I’d like to say we’re better than that now, and our heroes are better than that, but I know that neither is the case. I’m going to have to settle for the writers and artists being much better, and that is cause for celebration. I am still looking forward to going through the rest of this series, to track the mellowing of the characters, and discover exactly when the Joker goes from being a homicidal maniac to the Clown Prince of Crime.

I realize it sounds like I’m hating on the Golden Age comics, but that would be like hating on Walt Whitman poetry. Not all that great, but it’s the first. Quaint, charming, and… hey, according to Amazon, not all that expensive. Hmmmmmmm…

7 Bizarre Ways Google Chrome Can Kill You Instantly

First, let me quickly point out that the post title was created by the Linkbait Generator, providing some of the best laughs I’ve had since, basically, ever.

I didn’t have much luck with Google Chrome when it first hit the Web. I’m willing to take the blame for that. I’d been using Firefox for a long, long time, even after people I trust had warned me that it had turned into a real resource hog. It was familiar, it was comfortable, it was serviceable. The bookmarks folders were bloated, hideous things, like long-ignored crisper drawers, in dire need of trashing and steam-cleaning.

So. I’ve been moving toward an Android phone (a process rendered much more gradual lately), and in the process I’ve been exploring a lot more of Google’s offerings. I don’t know how long Google Calendar has been staring at me from the iGoogle page, but I do know I’ve been pining for a calendar as effortlessly and elegantly simple as iCal on my work computer for over a year. And there it was, begorrah, right on me home page. Fancy that.

Now, wait a minute, Chester, you might say in an inexplicable fit of Band quotation, you have a Crackberry – why haven’t you been using Outlook Express? Sorry, mate, I come from a generation that regards Outlook and Outlook Express to be horrible cesspools of virus and hack bait, oscillating its hips on a street corner of the Information Superhighway, and saying Oo-la, sailor, fancy a butcher’s at me user’s contact list?

I have no idea where all this strange dialect stuff is coming from. It may be time to explore medication.

ANYWAY. This has led me to explore other Googlesque offerings, and as I am sure you know, there are many.  Poking around the “Labs” tab on many of the apps brings up even more chimerae lurking in the menagerie. I’ve been using Gmail for years, but I’ve now unlocked functionalities within it I had only dreamed of, previously.

So obviously, it was time to revisit the Chrome Plunge, which should really be the name of a techno pop group.  My first encounter with it was marred by the fact thatit was just different enough to put me off my stride, and, remarkably, the Scott McCloud comic that accompanied its launch didn’t help – in fact, I may have been suffering from sensory overload, much like the first time I read Understanding Comics.  McCloud’s a smart guy, and unfortunately, I think he believes I am just as smart. No, don’t be put off by my blitherings, this is good stuff. I can’t read philosophy texts either, I’ll read the same paragraph three times and then wake up covered with brightly colored scraps of paper and a slightly inebriated pug-dog.

Man, all this just to turn on a light switch. (Ah, Rube Goldberg, you are the gift that keeps on giving!)

So I eschewed McCloud’s illustrated tract, uninstalled the old version of Chrome lying fallow on my hard drive,  installed a new one, and found the process unexceptional and friendly. That was two days ago, and I have not yet turned into some sort of cyber-zombie or suffered any other sort of doom normally associated with mucking about with alien technologies one does not fully comprehend.

So what we’re really getting at here is, as a geek, I am sadly lacking. I continue to poke at Chrome, and I am finding it a slightly different beast on my work computer (which is a Mac) than I am at home (a PC). Wrestling it into a form on the Mac similar to what I was using at home was more involved than I had assumed, but the dust has settled, I’m still standing.  I’m looking at an extension list quite different from what I use at home, because I use Chrome for different things at home, and that is one of the best things I’m finding about the browser – I am loving the customization. There have been a few times I’ve been surprised by what it won’t do – with an unspoken “yet!”  lurking somewhere in the background – but overall, I guess I’m ready to be welcomed into the fabulous world of  2008.

And I’m going to take another crack at that Scott McCloud comic. Maybe I got smarter.

The Axis of Evil Insists on The Star Wars Holiday Special

There has been a small, but vocal contingent of our little movie group that is demanding the Star Wars Holiday Special. I have been putting them off for most of a year. Occasionally they listen to me, but they seem uninterested in reason this time. Fortune may be with us, as our usual host and Master of the Projector Dave and his long-suffering wife are closing on their first house Tuesday, so they’re going to be more concerned with moving than with hosting a bunch of film masochists.

I keep referencing this classic XKCD strip. though again, this could be losing its efficacy through repeated exposure:

Honestly, Randall Munroe is one of the few cartoonists who can make stick figures look suicidal.

The real problem with the Star Wars Holiday Special is that, unlike The Paul Lynde Halloween Special, the entertainment factor is precisely zero. Paul Lynde’s was hoot-worthy in its every aspect, from the cameos to KISS lip-synching to their albums to the cornball humor. Star Wars Holiday on the other hand, is merely tedious, which is not only the kiss of death for any enterprise that aspires to entertainment, but also means that it lacks the gusto which can transform bad into tacky enjoyment, which is what drives most Bad Movie Nights.

For instance: take in this, which pulls your favorite Star Wars character through ten layers of unbelievable shame, but still manages to be fun, because it looks like the actors are having some fun:

And then compare it with this, which simply screams – no, screaming takes too much effort – it moans with “contractual obligation”:

Although… I was alerted by Mike Sterling, the proprietor of Mike Sterling’s Progressive Ruin, that apparently Bea Arthur’s character in the Star Wars Holiday Special is a character in a new Star Wars novel, Fate of the Jedi: Allies, and you know what that means. THASS RIGHT, BITCHES! IT MEANS THE HOLIDAY SPECIAL IS NOW CANON!!!!!!

Aw, Poor Geek

Yesterday was a day of surprising highs and lows.  Finished the dinosaur story in one day instead of the expected two (the music of Akira Ifukube was a definite help), and the response to it was quite positive. Then off to avery nice lunch meeting, and an afternoon that ended in severe disappointment when I discovered we had been misinformed, and my cell phone account was not yet eligible for an upgrade. Especially sorrowful, as I had been playing with the display Droid while waiting. Sob wail choke boo hoo.

So close. So. Very. Close.

If there’s any upside to the gadget-lust heartbreak, it’s that by the time I am eligible, the next generation of smartphones will have been out for a few months, and I’ll be a little snappier for it. In the meantime, I soldier on with my Crackberry.

There is nothing wrong with Crackberrys, per se – the Blackberry is a damned fine smartphone. I love mine almost unreservedly. The “almost” comes from a flaw in the Tour model, which renders my trackball occasionally – and by occasionally, I mean far too frequently – unusable horizontally, reading rightward motion as leftward. When I correct my tweets or e-mails, I have deleted entire lines of text rather than try to wrestle the cursor to the point I require. There’s a reason all the newer models have a touchpad instead of a trackball. Past that, the damned thing’s magic.

But the Droid is close to black magic.

Lisa continues to improve; the majority of sugars have fallen below 100, and when spikes occur, they’re below 200. I’ll take that, gladly.

Great Googly Moogly!

So my producer got back from vacation and discovered that the schedule she posted before she left was incorrect and my story was actually due last Friday. I think the proper response is “Um, gaaaaaaaaaaah!” I’m going to be humping today, probably tomorrow, too.

Instead of tossing you another pic of T. Rex from my cameraphone, let me show you the Zoo’s own YouTube teaser.  Good shots of the dinos, and it’s only a minute long. I have six minutes to fill, two interviews, and unloading footage.  That will take a little longer to untangle.