Wednesday, July 27, 2016

I've Finally Done What I've Always Hated Bloggers Doing

I’ll admit I've been slackin' on here for a while now. Work's been crazy, summer's been in full swing so a lot of busy weekends, etc. have kept me from writing in the blog as much as I would like to.

As far as comics go, I've read a LOT, though. I'm torn between which books I want to write reviews on right now, but I'll admit that working through Grant Morrison's "New X-Men" Omnibus epic took a lot of wind out my sails. As soon as I finished and began writing my review, found I had no interest. Assuming I ever get around to it, I'll preface by saying this, I didn't like it. (Waits for gasps) I didn't think it was that good and it was a chore to force myself through it.

After that I read a handful of awesome graphic novels and I'm deciding now which review I'll post first.

Besides all that I've been spending most of my nights (when I usually write) on my ass watching Netflix while icing my left rhomboid muscle (where the back meets the shoulder blades for you laymen out there) after pulling it, like, frickin' months ago at the gym. On the plus side, leg day has been awesome and I've made alotta gains on that front! (Colossus can suck it - just give me a few more weeks!)

I'm still deciding what other reviews I may do. Possibly some upcoming films, maybe some video games if I ever get around to it... (how about that Pokemon Go thing, huh? Team Instinct FTW, Valor is cool, but Mystic can suck it!) We'll see, though.

Until then, keep reading those DC Rebirth books, and don't skip leg day!

Monday, June 13, 2016

Comic Review: Robin: Son of Batman Vol. 1: Year of Blood

I’ve been a Damian fan for a while now, I’ll admit that right up front. So it didn’t take much convincing for me to go out and buy the newest volume of the youngest Robin’s solo adventures after his disappearance from Gotham City.

Robin and Goliath
Get-up's fresh, Damian.
Now for those who don’t know, Damian Wayne was a creation of Grant Morrison during his epic Batman run that started in the 2000s and ended with the 2nd volume of Batman Incorporated in the early 2010s. Morrison wrote Damian as the spoilt, athletic, prodigious son of Talia Al Ghul and Batman during a sordid affair the two had previously. In a way, he was a sort of second try at a character like Jason Todd; a troubled youth who would pose a challenge to Batman as a sidekick.

Well over the course of the next ten years, Damian proved to be just that. A well-spoken but arrogant and entitled brat with admittedly unparalleled fighting skills and a highly advanced intellect. On top of all of this, he was a killer. Over the course of Morrison’s early run, Bruce had to deal with all of these traits in his long lost son, helping turn him from a killer for the enemy, to a killer for the righteous – not a huge improvement. It wasn’t until Dick temporarily inherited the Bat-Mantle that Damian really started to show holes in his borderline sociopathic persona. Dick-Bats ended up being one of the greatest role-models for the young assassin, showing him how to tap into his empathy in the way only the optimistic Richard Grayson could.

The following Tomasi run during the New 52 went even further, showing Batman (now Bruce Wayne again, back from the dead because, you know, comics) work with the young Damian to almost completely change him from an unrepentant killer, to a much more subdued and at times sympathetic fighter for justice.

In Gleason’s Robin: Son of Batman, we find the young Robin on a redemption quest to make up for the violent and wrongful acts committed during a trial year staged by Talia during his early childhood known as the “Year of Blood”. During this test, Damian had committed numerous acts of theft on ancient peoples and guardians from an exotic island. Each of the initial 6 issues takes us back and forth between the Year of Blood and Damian’s current redemption quest showing us the parallels as well as highlighting the difference between the unrepentant asshole Damian began as (and who I initially despised) to the rough-around-the-edges, still-spoilt, but empathetic and highly complex character he has become. So does the privileged spoilt son of the Dark Knight stand on his own two feet without the Caped Crusader in this series?

Oh, he fuckin’ does.

Damian and Goliath
Damian... bruh... :'(
Along with the daughter of one of Damian’s previous victims, a giant flying Bat-Monster named Goliath, and an uneasy temporary alliance with Talia, Damian kicks absolute ass as he goes from location to location on the exotic island returning stolen treasures and atoning for his past sins to the locals. Throughout the process, we watch Damian redeem himself not only in his actions and to himself, but in the eyes of those around him – an acknowledgment that is important as it acts as a sort of final nail in the coffin of his past life as a ruthless assassin. Damian may have proved himself changed in Gotham, but it took a homecoming to face his past ghosts and atone for them to those whom he really hurt.

One of the interesting aspects of the book is how it addresses Damian’s nature. How does a sociopathic child even manage to make a real change for the better? Not just start killing for the “right” team, but actually feeling empathy and realizing an actual difference between right and wrong? Gleason answers these questions by using the flashbacks to the Year of Blood to show us that perhaps Damian had the seeds of empathy in him after all, in which case, Talia's upbringing clearly played a larger role in fostering Damian's garbage demeanor.

I'd be doing a huge injustice to artist Mick Gray if I didn't mention his work, alongside writer Gleason's contributions, to create an incredibly vibrant world for Damian and Co. to inhabit. The bright colors and expressive faces as well as fluid line-work make every scene look like a living, breathing cartoon. Damian has never looked more adorable/dangerous. When he scowls, you feel the shade he's throwing. When he cries, your own eyes well up too, its simply some of my all time favorite comic art and I will be searching for more of their contributions to the comic world in the future!

When you boil it down, the entire book is a tight, self-contained work of pure art. Damian lovers rejoice, the best Robin is getting his due.

4/5 returned artifacts

Now leave a pissed off comment about how Dick/Tim is the best Robin and why I'm completely wrong.

Edit: So I've just found out that Gleason is doing the art for the Superman Rebirth ongoing... pretty pumped!

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

How My Pre-Workout Became a Crutch

This morning, for probably the 4th time this month, I woke up at 6:30, had a slice of toast with peanut butter, chugged back some pre-workout, and then sat down on the couch and started reading the first volume of Robin: Son of Batman (fantastic read by the way, will post a review when I finish). 30 minutes later, I’m halfway through the book when I realize that my window for heading to the gym before work is closing, and fast.

My face is sufficiently tingly, my left heel is tapping on the hardwood, and I feel great; ecstatic, actually. After 10 more minutes of feeling good and not doing anything, I jumped in the shower, threw on some clothes, grabbed my bag, and headed for the metro to work.

When I first started lifting seriously back in my freshman year of college, (like most American guys tend to do), I couldn’t wait to head to the gym to get that rush that made me feel alive – that alleviated any anxiety I had and made up for the crippling Seasonal Affective Disorder caused by ridiculously long and dark North-Eastern winters. Once I had reached a sufficient level, I incorporated pre-workout into my routine. I’ve never been much of a coffee drinker so, in my mind, that Kool-Aid-concentrate-flavored combination of barely legal chemicals (the ingredients list looks like a cheat sheet for an AP chemistry class) was a perfectly acceptable substitute.

Soon I was using it as a way to get my ass to the gym even when I didn’t feel like lifting. I never understood how my friends never seemed to get the motivation to go to the gym; ten minutes after throwing down a scoop of powder amphetamine-substitute I was barely able to sit still without sweating and my face going slightly numb. I was chomping at the bit to get to the Iron Throne and start making gains.

In the past year I’ve left college, got a new job, and moved to a new city. Working 9-5 (realistically longer) now dominates my life and as much as I love the gym and even prioritize it, it’s not always easy to find the time to go. Worse, having left most of my best friends who are now all over the country, and having to make new friends in a non-collegiate environment, I’m finding it more difficult to find gym-minded friends who can workout with me around my schedule.

This lack of competition and mutual gains-making has taken a toll on me that I’ve only recently come to realize: I simply don’t have as much drive or energy to go to the gym.

This morning when I sat on my couch with that fantastic feeling washing over me, I wasn’t getting ready to go to the gym. I had already, however unconsciously, made the decision not to go. The artificial feeling of the pre-workout had completely changed its job. It no longer acted as the extra boost I needed to get my tired ass to the gym and earn the release of cortisol and endorphins in my body; instead, it replaced it.

Pre-workout and the artificial positive feeling and energy it provides, became the end rather than a means. I used it to replace my workout; so I could go to work and feel good without having really earned it.

Luckily, admitting this flaw in a public forum is gonna be my first step in forcing myself to go to the gym in the morning – that and the ridiculous price of Mr. Hyde and even that shitty new formula for C4.

…Do they call it Mr. Hyde because it turns you into the energetic, ecstatic, crazy foil to Dr. Jekyll?

Anyway, leave a comment in the comments section if you have something you wanna say!

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Comic Review: Green Lantern by Geoff Johns Omnibus 3

I’m realizing I’m probably going to have to go back and start re-reading some of the books I’ve already read, because making the decision to review my most recent read: the 3rd and final Omnibus in Geoff John’s completely game-changing Green Lantern run, while excluding the 1st and (arguably best) 2nd omnibuses (omnibi, omnibii, omnibus’?) was not easy.

But here we are.

Green Lantern Omnibus 3

For those who are familiar with Geoff Johns, you already know his reputation. He’s essentially the boy-scout of DC comics; the golden boy if you will. While other writers may be more popular, divisive, or notable, Johns is easily the most prolific writer in DC’s stable. He pumps out more work than Arnold Schwarzenegger in the early 80s on a chest day.

Now, I’ve always considered him to be a very “safe” writer, in that he’s going to compliment continuity, entertain in some way, never fully disappoint, but rarely change my life. If I were to give Johns a score as a writer, I would give him an 8 out of 10.

Green Lantern is the exception.

Now at the time of “Rebirth” Johns’ introduction to the GL series, the Ring Slinger was not an exceptionally popular character. By the end of his run in 2013 (included in this omnibus), Lantern was able to go toe to toe with the Caped Crusader himself.

Now compared to the first 2 omnibuses (which I may review later), this was probably my 2nd favorite. It had a slow start coming out of the Legendary “Blackest Night” event which was the culmination of years of careful world/plot building by Johns who had introduced such concepts as the emotional spectrum as warriors and entities beyond the green, and the history of the Guardians of the Universe. However, this “down-time” was still very active by any other writer’s standards (especially Bendis’) and we were quickly whisked into a plot involving the scattering of the emotional entities across the Universe.

With the largest prophesied threat apparently taken care of, it seemed like all that was left to do was round up these emotional entities that had escaped. However, in an interesting twist, Sinestro, our main antagonist for much of Johns’ run became a green lantern again, and Hal, our vanilla-as-all-hell-but-apparently-still-the-best-green-lantern was dismissed from the Corps. What ensues is an interesting tale that adds a new layer to the relationship between Sinestro and Hal as they work together to stop a renegade Guardian, the resurrected Black Hand, and ultimately the Original Lantern.

There’s a lot to love here. From the return of my favorite Orange Lantern of Avarice: Larfleeze, who steals every scene he’s in, to the revelations concerning the Guardians, and finally the introduction of (yet another) new Green Lantern human, Simon Baz, character development gets kicked into high gear on a scale not seen in the first 2 omnibuses.

And that brings me to my main realization.

I think where this book shines is in highlighting the complex relationship between two men at odds who still want what’s best for the Universe. They have wildly differing ideas of how to go about accomplishing this, and there’s no doubting Sinestro’s significantly more of an ass, but the lines of good and evil become blurred, especially when dealing with the likes of the Red Lanterns and a PARTICULARLY interesting revelation about the Indigo Tribe.

Throughout the book, you really get the sense that while the past GL omnibuses were setting up an extraordinary event with fantastic characters, this 3rd omnibus is giving us a much more personal look at these characters as they take on the final threats prophesied in the Book of Oa. As always, Johns writes a fantastic Sinestro – one who is nuanced, easy to hate, yet also easy to understand the motivations of. The extra layer of having Sinestro be a Green Lantern again – shackled in some respects to Hal Jordan adds more to his character as well. His constant highs and lows of successes and failures, more of the latter, add more drama to the events that unfold. Hal, who I largely found to be an absolute wall of drying paint in previous issues, also comes into his own here, and the extra attention to their relationships – as well as relationships in general, is a nice change of pace.

Now don’t take this the wrong way, there are plenty of epic moments in the book, (although not as many as in omnibus 2), the final issue alone clocks in at 60+ pages of pure epic/emotional goodness, I had moments of extended frisson for a solid 20 pages as I closed out the back cover of “The End”! But there is a lot in here that deals with personal relationships and interactions, with the complicated concepts of morality on an intergalactic scale, with responsibility, with emotion and its role and relationship with logic and reason.

The most poignant aspects of the closing pages are not the ones that deal with the defeat of evil, but rather the glimpses of redemption, of requited love, of a never-ending friendship, and of bitter-sweet reunions that are a much-welcomed far-cry from Johns’ usual bombastic, action-oriented storytelling.

I will say this, it’s hard to even fathom continuing ANY Green Lantern after the conclusion, because almost every plot thread and relationship is tied up with a nice little bow in the most satisfying and consistent way as far as I’m concerned.

Luckily, the following issues sucked, so you really don’t have to.

I’ll definitely return to review the first 2 omnibuses at a later date, but for now, the closing to this epic masterpiece gets…

Green Lantern Splash Page

4.5/5 Green Lantern Rings

The funny thing is, until specifically this omnibus tremendously fleshed him out, I thought Hal Jordan was the blandest superhero ever. This was the summation of my opinion of him; I wrote this before really getting into Omnibus 3: “He’s like the default setting to a create-a-character in every video game; he’s like white person averaged out to the lowest common denominator. His defining trait is that he can overcome great fear – like every other fucking hero in any fictional universe ever. He’s also got brown eyes, brown hair, and a boys’ regular haircut. If Superman is jacked, Batman hulky, the Flash cut and wiry, Hal Jordan is whatever generic distillation of “muscular” you need to be to manifest green light objects that do all the work for you. His personality is “cool guy with no real flaws”. Kyle Rayner, Guy Gardner, hell even John Stewart each have more personality in their pinkies than Hal has in his whole body. He’s the male equivalent of that Bella chick from Twilight – My only real complaint about the way Johns writes Hal, especially considering he used to be hilarious and more dynamic in earlier comic runs.”