December 28, 2007

One Peice at a Time

DNA is the building block of life. And Legos are the building blocks of life's lessons. I'm sure if putting together DNA was as simple and accessible as putting together a Lego set we'd solve all manner of world problems and health problems. Yet, there are still few things we'd learn along the way about ourselves.

Admittedly, I am a kid at heart and am not ashamed when it comes to doing anything which revisits my youth no matter how peculiar it may be to another adult. Thus, while Christmas shopping with my friend Colleen last week I decided to buy a Lego set. And not just a simple 30 piece car or truck, but the 200 some piece Arkham Asylum set from the Batman collection.

I ripped open all the clear cellophane bags and let all the pieces large and small clutter my coffee table. I wondered how big, how intricate, and how challenging it would be to build the different parts of the prison, vehicles, etc. I pondered and laughed at how Lego has stayed true to their simple Lego people (you're either sitting or standing; arms are always bent at a 45 degree angle; hands are also formed to grip things) and marveled at some of the new accessories and different designs they've been upgraded with (the heads of the legos are not bright yellow any more, they all have different and respectable skin tone colors). And as I started following the step by step instructions I started seeing the parallels between building toward something and building toward something in your life.

Separating the Pieces
Despite my J tendencies when it comes to Legos I'm all about throwing everything in one pile. As long as I don't lose a piece (see below) I'm ok with there being no flow to what I'm building. What I noticed haphazardly was that the big pieces easily blocked many of the smaller pieces you need to initially build with (in fact most of the things built either began or ended with a big piece leaving all the little ones to be at the core of the structure). I started thinking about how when our larger problems start to consume us in life it's real easy to miss the small things which allow us to focus back on our life and where we're headed. Not that you can ignore the 'big pieces' but there's a time and place to deal with them and if you're constantly keeping them in your view you start to miss out on the day to day smaller tasks and joys which life brings.

Taking Shape
I'm still amazed how Lego creators come up with these designs. As I'm putting together two pieces to start a truck my first thought is, this doesn't look anything like a truck. Even as I'm getting a few steps in, even after adding wheel wells, it doesn't quite start taking shape until the end. There's something magical in those early moments because you're focused on those small steps, on those building blocks and not in a rush to just get it done. Moreover, as you're finishing up you start to appreciate the work you've put yourself through.

Oh, They're All There
When my grandmother was still alive she'd put together jigsaw puzzles. I can't begin to describe to you the let down feeling about finishing a 500 piece puzzle only to see that one piece is missing. The cool with Legos is that rarely (if ever since I cannot say I've experienced it) are pieces missing. Yet, rarely do you have more than 1 or 2 extra pieces and these are usually unimportant to the overall build. When you get down to the last structure or even the last few pieces you start to get a little worried that you're missing some. But somehow, and each time, it magically works out. Life is a lot like that. It's not that you're always gonna have good times but really as things play out in life the pieces start to fall into place. Something which one day you thought was bad, turns out to be great or at least not as bad, a couple days later.

Oh, They're All There pt. 2
The other beauty to this phenomena is that as you're looking for the piece that you need in the large pile of Tetris like blocks you get frustrated when you don't spot it right away. You think "how can it be missing?" or "how am I that dumb that I can't spot a right angle piece which is the only blue brick in the whole batch?" Then you find it. Patience is never the easiest lesson to learn or relearn if you've forgotten it. But it's something which is always good to revisit through activities which may not have specific deadlines (ie building a Lego set) since you have the ability to step away from it for an hour or a day and resume it when your head is more clear. Practicing patience in that arena strengthens us to practice it elsewhere.

Breaking 'em Down
Truthfully with some of the bigger ships, buildings, sets, etc. I didn't take them apart as much as I did with the smaller things (although the Lego police headquarters I had as a kid went through a little Trading Spaces renovation without the eclectic interior designer barking orders at you every three minutes). But the beauty of Legos vs. a model kit is that you can either tear it all apart and rebuild or make something new (or reuse a piece or two in another set). Back in the day Lego used to actually show you what other things you could build and it was always humorous because you'd buy the Viking Death Ship 3000 only to see that one of the things you could use the pieces for was a makeshift tanning salon. Memories and our strengths are a lot like that. My friend Kristin reminded me of that in an e-mail she sent me the other day. She recalled how an earlier memory of our friendship still gives her food for thought to this day. If you don't keep a journal, take some time to write out several good memories, or things you've succeeded at, accomplished, overcome, etc. and keep them in a jar. On a bad day, or in any random moment open up the jar and check one of them out. Remind yourself that no one can take those memories away from you.

I finished Arkham Asylum and it sits atop my entertainment center for now. The four plus hours it took me to put it together was enjoyable and very therapeutic. More reason to invest time (and sometimes money) into a hobby and how hobbies contribute positively to our daily grind.


December 22, 2007

DC vs. Marvel vs. Scud

Warning: The following is a heavy dose of comic book rambling on the current state of the two major labels and a much anticipated release within next two months...we will return to your regularly scheduled blog soon after. Enjoy!

My history with comics is a bit erratic. My brother collected and I know I only read a sample of his collection when I was less than 10. I remember the Marvel storyline 'Fatal Attractions' which essentially sets the stage for Wolverine (big harry claw guy from the X-men movies) to find his admantium (indestructible metal which lases his bones) and for Magneto (old guy who controls metal, actor also plays Gandalf in the LOTR) to eventually become Onslaught, which was another well written series I remember reading. Thus, for most of my life, I was a Marvel kid. At the time the characters seemed deeper than the DC ones.

Halfway through graduate school I got hooked on DC mostly through the writing of Peter David ( He wrote Young Justice (Robin, Superboy, Impulse, Wondergirl, The Secret) and Supergirl (this would be Linda Danvers not the current Supergirl). They were very funny and David has a great command of dialog. This got me back into comics full time, collecting those titles and JSA, JLA, Green Arrow (when Kevin Smith started to write), and Impulse. After about five years, as some of those titles died or were reinvented, I'll admit that my interest started to wane and I noticed Marvel had some pretty cool story lines starting up.

For you non-comic book type people allow me to explain the concept of crossovers. Superman (guy with the red cape from Krypton) decides he can't fight Luthor (bald villain who hates Superman) alone so he calls Batman (I'm not even gonna explain this one). For the next two months these two titles could have a couple of issues where storyline follows between the two titles. Really, this is a great financial ploy from the publisher to get you to either buy more comics, read a comic you wouldn't normally read, or both. I won't lie, to me, the only real creative genius behind crossovers are the continuity editors who make sure the whole universe stays form.

Each label has had two major crossover events: in Marvel it was the Secret Wars (buncha good guys and bad guys get whisked away to an alien planet, they fight, neither side really wins, but it's cool to see them battle a la WWE style); in DC it was Crisis on Infinite Earths (DC bought a bunch of smaller publishing houses and needed to find a way to fit ALL characters into their continuity...this was probably the MOST creative way to do so).

Recently both comic labels have also had some pretty cool and interesting crossovers which unfortunately are unraveling into complete crossover duds. This is where I get bitter and start to hate comics...which is like an accountant refusing to use his calculator during tax season.

For the record, for the same reason I hated many of Dreamworks first few movies, it's all about the writing...once you sacrifice a strong plot for something unique you start to suck...see Anaconda for a good reference.

Marvel Comics
About three years ago, or so, Marvel had a great crossover with their X-Men (mutants lead by Patrick Stewart) series called House of M. In short, the Scarlet Witch, who happens to be a tad crazy, decides to create a utopia where mutants rule over sapes (slang for us). This works out for pretty much every hero involved since they get a life they wanted to lead. However, Wolverine wakes up to realize it's a dream, and wakes up the rest of the crew to make things go back to normal.

Why it was good: It's a great philosophical piece. If everything is ok, do you keep it, or do you return it back to where it was supposed to be? Almost all of the heroes had BOTH sets of memories after everything was changed back. And at the end, the scarlet witch gets rid of all the mutants (which leads to multiple story lines and offshoots like...

Civil War
Again great concept. The government wants all heroes to register their secret identities. This is all fine and dandy for some, but Captain America (blond guy who took the super solider formula and has a star spangled shield) doesn't care for it; spider-man (Tobey Maguire) unmasks himself and a lot of superhero in-fighting breaks out. GREAT concept because in this day and age of government possibly being more big brother, it makes you think. BUT....the ending was really quick and sudden...Cap kinda realizes that it's not worth it, gives up, gets arrested, gets shot. Snooze. AND...this has lead to...

Secret Invasion
The premise is that all the cool stuff you liked about Civil War could have been manipulated by Skrulls (really kick ass aliens with a lot of powers who hate earth...and the Kree, which is another race of aliens). This means that really Tony Stark (Ironman, recovering alcoholic who flies around in a metal suit all day) and Cap fought for no reason and no one is really at fault because they may have been a skrull in disguise. BORING.

Why I'm Pissed: There's no reason to erase the civil war. Let the heroes figure their shit out and bring a DIFFERENT cataclysmic event to their doorstop which will unite the beyonder...after reading some of the crossovers I'm only thinking..."Really, you're gonna be like that, just let iron man and everyone else off the hook...have speedball die for nothing and turn into the humorless punk known as Penance?"

DC Comics
Not that they're any better. A couple years back, they didn't have a big cataclysmic event which had a zillion crossovers. But they did have one of the best written series (by Brad Meltzer) of all time:

Identity Crisis
Someone knows all the heroes' secret identity and goes after their loves ones. Tim Drake 's (Robin) dad dies, Sue Dibney (married to elongated man, the more uncool version of plastic man) dies as well, Lois almost dies...the heroes band together and find out that the killer is...yeah you have to read it.

Why it was good: HUGE repercussions throughout the DC Universe. Batman now distrusts the JLA (kind of a switch there), the atom disappears, Deathstroke goes billy bonkers on Green Arrow trying to kill him...and all of this comes from only a few well written issues by Brad Meltzer (anything Meltzer writes is gold by the way). The events of Identity Crisis leads to:

OMAC, Day of Vengeance, Rann-Thanagar War, Villains United, Infinite Crisis
Yep...that's right, FIVE different titles, with a bazillion crossovers with each other and other titles in the DC Universe (IC only had two other comics it crossed over with...2...that's it...). In all fairness Villains and Day were pretty solid; I'd rather take a bath in acid than have to read OMAC and Rann again...ever...and infinite crisis was ok...mostly because this attempt to recreate history lead to...

Decent concept, where some minor characters were highlighted, and DC had the chance to explain and re-explain the history of the DC Universe, and it was a good risk which paid off, except they had to justify why Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman were all gone, so this lead to...

One Year Later
Mildly ok in theory, which means that YOU SHOULDN'T do it!!! So DC releases a bunch of comics which take place one year after the 2nd crisis and all the titles SUCK! Moreover this leads to an interesting problem because as your building one timeline, and connecting another timeline, that means that all continuing series are technically one year later. Huh? Then in order to explain some missing plot lines (like where the hell did Martian Manhunter go?) they decided to launch...

World War III
Have you ever seen the SNL sketch the Anal Retentive Chef...that's what a certain Executive Editor did with DC (not mentioning any initials but I'm sure this won't land me a comic book writing gig any time soon...Dan Didio). This, and the wrapping up of 52 (which was mildly intriguing) leads to...

I don't even know how to really describe this because there are so many smaller crossovers and one shots that all I know is in a couple of months DC is gonna have ANOTHER crisis, and it somehow involves the multiverse.

Why I'm Pissed:
You can't tell? Look at how many comics you have to buy from DC in order to understand, while this is a mildly creative way to weave every elseworld comic (and Wildstorm comic) into the DC Universe, it's also totally EXCESSIVE. My conspiracy theory is that DD hates Peter David and wanted to find a way to erase every David storyline (congrats because Aquaman has his hand back, Linda Danvers hasn't been heard from in forever, and over 50% of young justice is either dead or obsolete).

Now where does this leave us...why, it leaves us with this notion if you're looking to buy comics and not spending your entire life savings:

First, read House of M. Then read the first 15 issues of New Avengers. Finally go find the New Avengers Illuminati collection, and read.

First, read Identity Crisis, then Infinite Crisis (no spinoffs), then the first five and last five of 52.

No moral of the story, no lesson, just wanted to vent about comics.


PS Head to and see that Scud: The Disposable Assassin is being released in February! Hooray!