Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Pearls Before Swine Occupies Sesame Street

Back in January of this year, one of my favorite comic strips, "Pearls Before Swine" took on the Occupy Movement and illustrated how ridiculous much of it is when one of the characters in the strip (Rat) Occupied Sesame Street. Here are the three main strips from that storyline. I think they're hilarious. Maybe Stephan Pastis will finally win the Reuben Award this year.

-Monday, January 9, 2012, "Pearls Before Swine"

-Tuesday, January 10, 2012, "Pearls Before Swine"

-Wednesday, January 11, 2012, "Pearls Before Swine"

Geology and the Flinstones

--Jonny Hawkins, 2011 Teacher Cartoon-a-Day Calendar

Happy Leap Day!


In the world of comic books, ask someone if they prefer DC or Marvel and the answer can tell you a lot about a person. I’m a DC fan myself. Even though I enjoy Batman, I’ve always been more of a fan of Superman myself (and Green Lantern). The DC and Marvel universe have similarities, but they are very different worlds. The writers and execs for each company would do well to remember this. What often happens is that sales for comics slide (across the board) and the execs at DC start to panic and then they hire people to start copying Marvel or they completely reboot the universe (like what happened last year with the New 52). Personally, the stories I find most interesting from the DC world are the ones that stay within the established rules of the DC universe, but that tell new stories within those confines. THE BLACK MIRROR is a storyline that pretends to be one of those stories, but when examined at a deeper level it reveals itself to be just another mimicking stuff that happens in the Marvel universe.

THE BLACK MIRROR collects Detective Comics issues 871-881. These stories were written by Scott Snyder, the guy responsible for the new comic book horror series, AMERICAN VAMPIRE. The stories are set after the events BATMAN R.I.P. and BLACKEST NIGHT. Batman has returned from his trip through time. However, he decides that it’s time to set up a global organization. So, while he’s off traveling around the world to set up Batman Incorporated, he leaves Dick Grayson (the first Robin and Nightwing) behind in Gotham as Batman. What happens is one of the most bizarre and unusual cases that either Grayson or Commissioner Gordon have ever faced.

THE BLACK MIRROR is a fascinating story full of loops and twists connected to the premise that Gotham City is itself an evil place that somehow corrupts anyone who lives there. However, though the overall story is interesting, it’s an extremely violent story with really unbelievable situations even for a comic book. For instance, how does a giant man-eating killer whale appear in the middle of a bank lobby within a couple hours without anyone knowing? I mean that really seems like a stretch. Of course, how does Commissioner Gordon get that animal transported to Wayne Labs so Dick Grayson can perform an autopsy? None of that is really ever explained. There’s also the idea that somehow villains weapons have been sold on the black market for decades and Batman has never heard of this before. Batman is supposed to be the world’s greatest detective, but he’s never heard of this underground weapons dealer before? Really?

As briefly mentioned before, the story is extremely violent. In one segment a woman is found almost dead, bleeding in a shower. This is shown in graphic detail. In another scene a man is shown with his limbs cut off, part of his tongue removed, and an eyeball poked out. Some people might be impressed by all this blood and gore, but personally I found it a bit too much, even for a Batman comic. It reminded me more of all the over-the-top violent stories DC started putting out in the late 1980s and early 1990s because new execs at the company didn’t think DC characters were relevant anymore. One of the pinnacles of all of this was the one shot story, THE KILLING JOKE, a great story, but one which was never intended to be a part of DC canon. THE BLACK MIRROR is full of moments like that.

The story follows a post-Crisis history, which left me a bit confused. When I was a kid, Barbara Gordon was the actual daughter of Jim Gordon. Now I find out, she’s his adoptive daughter (I wasn’t aware that this had changed during the whole Crisis debacle). In addition, Jim Gordon has one biological son, James Gordon, Jr., born with his second wife. I realize that this stuff has been part of the DC canon for about twenty-five years now, but it comes as a bit of a shock. Also, I found it confusing for a story that prides itself as being rooted in Batman history how it ignores much of that history. For instance, there’s a moment in the story when a character comments how he knows this Batman (Dick Grayson) isn’t the real Batman because this Batman smiles and the real Batman doesn’t smile. Well, that’s just not true. Bob Kane always drew Batman smiling (go back and re-read the original Detective Comics and you’ll see that). It was later writers, especially those in the mid-1980s and early 1990s (here’s that period again), that stopped drawing Batman with a smile.

Besides all that, the other thing I didn’t like about THE BLACK MIRROR was the creation of a new villain. Aren’t there already enough villains in the world, particularly Gotham City to keep Batman busy? Why is it necessary to go and create another one? And (SPOILER ALERT), why is it necessary to take an innocent character who hasn’t been seen in decades and turn them into a villain? I get tired of Joker stories all the time, too, but Batman has a massive rogues gallery. Why create a completely new villain when one of the lesser-known villains from the rogues gallery would have been more impressive?

Overall, THE BLACK MIRROR is a good Batman story that’s not told very well. It’s destined to become a Batman “classic”. However, with the elements reminiscent of the late 1980s and 1990s DC comics, that’s not saying much. This could be the start of a great new Batman or it could be the beginning of what might turn into the Batman version of AT EARTH’S END.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

A Port-a-potty in the Middle of the Interstate

Two-and-a-half years-ago, I directed a production of TWELVE ANGRY MEN. I had a great cast and it was truly one of the finest shows I have ever seen performed. On the opening night of the production, the night of my directorial debut, my father died unexpectedly. The night that was to be my greatest theatrical achievement (at the time) was forever tainted by tragedy. I’ve thought back to that night many times because it sums up the way I’m tempted to perceive much of what happens in my life: when something good happens, that goodness is stolen by the arrival of something bad. Take a couple of weeks ago.

Two Mondays ago was not a good day. We’ve had a relatively mild winter this year, but that Monday we had a major winter storm come through. In the midst of driving home from a cancelled meeting, my car began acting up. Automobiles have been the bane of my family’s existence. If we go more than six months without some sort of mechanical automobile calamity, it’s a miracle. When the car was looked over, at first it didn’t appear there was nothing serious. However, when the initial repairs didn’t fix the problem, further investigation revealed there was a hole in the transmission. Next to a motor, the transmission is the most expensive part of a car. This was not good news, but I took things in stride as best I could.

Around the same time this happened, I received notice that I got an audition for a pretty prestigious professional theatrical production in St. Louis. For an actor who doesn’t have an agent, who doesn’t actually live in St. Louis, and who (beyond a commercial and some industrial work) hasn’t had any paid work, this was huge. My Mom let me use her car so I could attend this audition. The audition went well. I was asked back for the callbacks and during those I got to read for a specific part a couple of times. I know that the chances of landing a role are slim, but I felt invigorated by the process and at end of the day I left very happy and joyful.

While driving home from the audition, I found myself behind a large semi-truck. I was going to pass the semi when he turned into the passing lane and there, in the middle of the Interstate, was a port-a-potty. I was faced with an imminent threat of a head-on collision with a port-a-potty, so I swerved over and ran over a pile of lumber that had apparently fallen from the same truck as the port-a-potty. Later that night as I was driving home, my Mom’s car died in the middle of the Interstate. I thought back to the port-a-potty incident and believed the lumber was the cause for this. I ended up having to be towed and what began as a day I had been looking forward to, turned into a very long night.

We found out a few days later that the port-a-potty incident had nothing to do with the car dying. However, the car did have some sort of freakish damage to the engine (“we have no explanation of what caused this and have never seen anything quite like it”) and the entire engine had to be replaced. For two days, my mother and I were completely without any transportation. For some that might not seem like a big deal, but when you live in a rural area where there is no such thing as public transportation and you need a vehicle to get back and forth to work, this can pose a problem.

Some very kind people at the church I work at let me borrow their extra vehicle for the week and some other church people are helping me pay for the repairs. God is providing.

So, other than helping me clear my head by writing this out and sharing, what does this all mean?
Well, I’m an Eagle Scout and the Boy Scout motto is “Be Prepared”. In Scouts, you’re taught to plan and prepare and to be ready for whatever might lie ahead. However, there are times that no matter how much you plan and prepare, life will throw something at you completely unexpected and standard operating procedures just won’t apply and won’t work. What happens when you’re driving down the Interstate of Life and out of nowhere a port-a-potty appears? What do you do? How do you handle it?

Personally, I’ve discovered and am discovering it is in those moments where God can really reach out and speak to us. I’m not saying it’s easy, because it’s not. You feel like you’ve been doing all the right things and have been following the right path and all of a sudden you’re world starts falling apart. You feel like you’re being punished for some sin and abandoned to struggle on your own. Yet, though, that’s what you feel like, that’s really not what’s happening. It is in these moments of our greatest weaknesses and vulnerabilities that God reveals himself in powerful and nearly unimaginable ways. In the past couple of weeks, I’ve been forced to be dependent upon others. In our self-reliant society, this is difficult to do. Personally, I find it’s much easier to give than to receive. However, the past couple of weeks I’ve been forced to receive. People who I barely know have poured out love. Through their actions, I have seen God at work and that is a truly remarkable thing.

Life is hard. Bad things happen to good people and we don’t always know why. Yet, despite this, God has not abandoned the world. Jesus is here and he walks among us in the hands, feet, tongues, tools, and talents of his followers. I’m sure there will be more things like a port-a-potty in the middle of the Interstate that happen to me. Despite all that has happened, I can’t say for sure how I will respond or act when an event like that happens again. However, I do know that I will be just a little bit more at peace and just a tad less worrisome because of what I’ve been through so far.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Standardized Test Scores and the Average Bear

--Jonny Hawkins, 2011 Teacher Cartoon-a-Day Calendar

How George Lucas Plans to Redeem Himself

--"HijiNKS Ensue" Feb. 20, 2012

The Most Vulgar Character of All Time

Book Review: American Vampire, Volume 1

Created by Scott Snyder, AMERICAN VAMPIRE VOL. 1 will always be remembered for being the “Vampire comic book that Stephen King wrote.”  I’m a fan of Stephen King’s writing. However, King is only responsible for part of this volume. The book is actually split between two different stories split into four different chapters. One of the stories deals with the origin of the Skinner Sweet, the title character of this Volume of the comic. This is the story that King tells (though as he explains in the Introduction, he had to stay within the master framework of the story from Snyder). The second story takes place in 1920s Hollywood and isn’t really about Sweet, but is about a young woman named Pearl Jones.

The origin story is told from the perspective of an aging author who is giving a lecture upon the re-release of his very popular horror Western, “Bad Blood”. In 1880, the notorious outlaw Skinner Sweet has finally been apprehended and is placed under the custody of James Book of the Pinkerton Agency. Sweet is a man who has robbed lots of banks and killed lots of people in cold blood. He also has a penchant for eating candy. He knows he won’t ever make it to jail because his gang is going to derail the train and set him free. Indeed they do, but what no one considers is that one of the financial backers of the Pinkerton Agency is actually a vampire who needs Sweet dead for his plans in the Wild West of America to come to fruition. That vampire kills Sweet and his gang, but before Sweet dies a drop of the vampire’s blood splashes into Sweet’s eye. So, Sweet comes back as the “first” American vampire (the story hints that there might be other American vampires out there). Unlike the European vampires, Sweet can walk in broad daylight and appears immune to many of the other weaknesses of those vampires. Oh, he’s also got that arrogant, can-do attitude typical of all Americans.

The other story in the book is set in 1920s Hollywood. Pearl Jones is an aspiring actress. When she’s invited to a private party thrown at the home of a major film producer, she thinks it might be the break she’s been trying to get. As it turns out, the reason the party is so exclusive is that it’s a special feeding party for vampires. Pearl is practically left dry and is found the next day by her roommate and boyfriend wandering in the desert with massive bite marks all over her. Pearl dies, but not before the creepy guy next door (Skinner Sweet) puts some of his blood in her eye. When she wakes up, Pearl is in the morgue and Skinner informs her of what he’s done. He goes over a few “rules” with her and then leaves. As it turns out, Pearl is even a different type of vampire than Sweet. She grows massive monstrous claws and saber-toothed tiger fangs. Like Sweet years before, she’s sets out to get her revenge (something Sweet approved). Along the way, she confronts her boyfriend Henry who loves her just as much even after finding out what she’s been turned into. It’s a love story far more interesting and realistic than the one in the Twilight books.

The illustrations of the series are done by Rafael Albuquerque. Besides just vivid pictures, he does a great job of using different color tones to capture the mood of the age. Sweet’s death takes place in 1880 and though in color, it has a sepia-feel to it similar to that of old movie Westerns. Also, though it’s a slightly different time frame, his 1920s Hollywood has the perfect blend of both the blithe and bleakness of the period.

I really enjoyed AMERICAN VAMPIRE VOLUME 1. Both of the stories were really interesting. The stories are intertwined, yet they are very distinct stories. Also, the conclusions of both tie-in nicely with the next Volume of the series. I enjoyed Sweet’s origin story, but in all honesty I found Pearl’s story the more interesting of the two tales. She’s a much more likeable character than Sweet. Overall, this is a solid opening chapter to what appears to be a very interesting American comic book horror saga.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Why Real Books Will Never Die

Kevin DeYoung has a great post about why real books will never die. Here are a few of his thoughts:

"The other problem with ebooks is their bland sameness. This is why I can’t make it much farther than two books on any electronic device. The books don’t feel like anything. The font is the same and the white space is the same. There is no variance in paper or size or weight. Each book, when read on an ereader, loses its personality. I can’t quite explain it, but I simply couldn’t read the new Jeeves and Wooster book I downloaded for my iPad. On my computer screen–looking and feeling like the last book I read–there was no joy in Wodehouse, no novelty, no new experience to be had. It was just another PDF or Word document sent my to inbox.

"Books have not been around forever. There are other ways to put words together on paper, papyrus, or cow’s hide. So it’s possible something else will come along to take the book down from the shelf. But it won’t be the iPad I’m using right now. It won’t be the laptop on which I’ve written books and blogs and sermons. In a virtual world, with all its ethereal convenience, there will be many–an increasing number I predict–who long for what is real. Something solid. Something you can hold. Something that hangs around even when you are finished with it. Something like a book.

"And kind of like an old friend."

You can read the entire post here.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Food Police in North Carolina

When I first heard this story earlier today, I thought it was a joke. As it turns out, it's not. A little girl in North Carolina who brought a lunch from home consisting of a turkey and cheese sandwich, banana, potato chips, and apple juice was told it didn't meet the proper U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines and was given chicken nuggets instead. If that's not bad enough, they sent her parents a bill for the school lunch. Read the whole story here. This is seriously reminds me of Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia. There's not much I can do about it, but pass along the information and try to change and influence things when given the opportunity.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

What I'm Reading Right Now

Wednesday, February 08, 2012


This is a picture I came across the Internet. It was created by Cynthia Rodgers. You can check out more of her work here.

OK Go's New Video: Needing/Getting

Check out this new fascinating video from the band OK Go.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Aquaman Gets His Due

Aquaman has been the brunt of jokes in comic book and geek circles for a long time. I feel sorry for the guy. He's mostly been hampered by bad writers; if he had people writing his stories like the one in the "Brightest Day" saga from DC, he wouldn't be such a laughingstock. Anyway, here's a little comic where Aquaman gets his due.
-"Pop Culture Shock Therapy" January 19, 2012