29 June 2009

RECENT READS: 52

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When I started reading comic books again last year I remember paging through the first volume of the 52's collected issues at the library and thinking "This looks [visually] soooooo silly and the concept.... ummmm I don't get it. I don't think I can care about this."

I was wrong, at least partly. Background first.

52 was a weekly series put out by DC Comics that ran for, you guessed, it 52 weeks over on year. The point was to cover the period of time following a DC Universe-wide event called INFINITE CRISIS after which all of the comic books skipped a year. During that year Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman - their three biggest heroes - where out of commission and so 52 tells us all about what happened and if the world could survive without its biggest heroes.

I hadn't, and still haven't, read INFINITE CRISIS so I had no motivation there. What finally piqued my interest a few months ago, aside from the challenge of the weekly concept, were the authors:
Geoff Johns (Green Lantern, JSA, Superman, Flash),
Grant Morrisson (Final Crisis, JLA, Batman, The Invisibles),
Greg Rucka (Detective Comics, Queen and Country, Action Comics),

and my all-time favorite
Mark Waid (Flash!!!!!, Legion of Superheroes, Kingdom Come, Empire, Impulse, The Brave and the Bold).

These writers are some of the most well known and loved in all of comics let alone just DC. Sure they have their detractors as well but mainly the complaints are that they do the same sort of stories, characters, and use certain plot devices too much. Some of those complaints are valid enough and they perhaps reinforce what a great idea it was to put them all together. The series was co-plotted and co-written by all four authors not each on their own story exclusively but messily and with plenty of checks on each other. In this format each author gets to shine at what they do best while also stretching a bit at the prodding of the others and sometimes just because no one will quite know who wrote exactly what, even the authors themselves it seems.

Each issue, in the four collected volumes, is followed by a two page behind the scenes essay with one of the authors, editors, Keith Giffen - layout overseer (rough panels and sketches for each script for the group of artists to work from)-, or JG Jones - cover artist - revealing the process, what worked and what didn't, personal preferences, headaches, worries, and victories of the project. I wish more collected comics devoted as much space to this sort of thing.

A few of my highlights:
- Finding enjoyment in humorous characters like The Metal Men
- Black Adam's struggle with redemptive violence, love, and societal betterment
- Booster Gold's outrageous sense of self
- The passing of a detective torch (without giving too much away)
- A mindless, prophecy driven group of fanatical criminals
- Diverse and fair treatments of homosexual superhero characters, if sometimes risque
- Lex Luthor's Everyman Project

So, still it isn't my favorite series, run, art, dialogue, or characters ever but I applaud it in pulling off unique tones for each story (slapstick humor, mystery, tear-jerking moments, suspense, horrible feelings, relief ... etc). Also, I am thankful to the authors for using characters such as Booster Gold, The Question, Batwoman, Elongated Man, Metal Men, and Steel who I knew little of before and therefor I found their actions, reactions, and personalities more exciting and revealing. Like watching a decent popular serial-style television adventure mystery I enjoyed this read.

Three and a half stars (out of five).

15 June 2009

FAVORITE THINGS: ABC Coconut Macaroon Cookie

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This is my favorite cookie.

I loooooooooooooove this cookie.

Every year it is available for a few months from the wonderful folks at Alternative Baking Company as their seasonal selection which rotates four or five times a year. I go a little nuts during this block of time and eat at least a few a week. If you can't find this one, hate coconut, or read this too late, check out the Colossal Chocolate Chip a year-round option from this wonderful vegan and more healthy cookie company.

My serving suggestion: Dip it and/or eat it with a glass of good black coffee.

In Lancaster Pennsylvania you can pick this up at Rhubarb's Market where you can also say hello to me if you like. Otherwise, many natural grocery stores are likely to carry it and even a few fine coffee shops. Cheers.

02 June 2009

WHERE I STAND [1]: Following (Soley or Mainly) Because of Claimed Divinity

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Last night during a free roaming discussion in our home, ranging from the fall of Lucifer and the origin of evil to comparative religious studies and truth, the group of thirteen decided to carry part of our talk through to next week with the question:

Why you do follow/believe/claim Jesus and/or Christianity?

Each of us will summarize our own answers to this question next week and I'm betting the answers will be very diverse. This is a question that I have reassessed and answered for myself many times with many different versions having not thought about it for more than half of my life. I want summarize it here but I would like to talk about a former belief rational that I held: believing and following (?) based soley or mainly on claimed divinity.

It is like this. Being (person or otherwise) tells person(s) that Being is divine and so the person(s)
should believe in Being. Being may add that if person(s) do not believe in Being person(s) may not receive the benefits of the Being's blessing and may incur Being's wrath. Notice that there is no demonstration that Being actually is divine nor that if they are that the Being's intentions are good.

This in some ways reminds me of the elementary school bully. Of course the bully most often isn't claiming to be immortal but similarly the most powerful and therefor the most worthy of devotion. What kind of belief does this bring? "Being (or bully) is awesomely powerful and so out of the idea that I may otherwise be pummeled in one way or another I proclaim my belief in Being (or bully) so that all might be saved [Uh-oh!] from Being's wrath."

Generally, this was the belief of the ancients: unity through a religion of fear. I know, not all of them, but at least the one's the most informing our present idea of civilization. I won't detail them here but certainly Greek, Roman, and, even, Jewish mythology (fact or fiction) has elements of this. Yeah, it is true, the Israelites had some pretty interesting views about the character of God (Yahweh, YHWH). And honestly, many of these ideas don't work well with Jesus' view of God, His Kingdom, and the point of following said God.

Richard Dawkins, world famous ethologist, evolutionary biologist, atheist, and author, had this to say in, his book, THE GOD DELUSION: "The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully."

Pretty strong language there wouldn't you say? Sure, Dawkins is trying to prove that not only is this God unlikely to be real but that even if He was you wouldn't want to serve Him. On the second count, I agree. Even though sometimes we read that the God of the Old Testament is loving and forgiving, it is true, but almost always only to His believers/chosen people.

So, am I convinced to believe in THIS God? No. Even at the threat of this God's wrath, I refuse. It is not that I deny the existence of God, quite the contrary. I believe in the God that Jesus preached. The God that saw that His creation didn't understand what He really wanted and so after sending countless prophets who tried their best in their flawed human way to point to God's message, God sent Jesus. Is it any wonder that a people, all people then and now to some degree, who didn't really get God's message, didn't record an accurate view of God? No. I don't blame them any more than us.

In short, I follow Jesus' message of the Kingdom of God because, frankly, it works. The means and the end are the same in the way of Jesus: selfless love. Is it supernatural? At times yes, as it defies what is reasonable in our responses and yet it makes perfect sense. Is this all I believe? No. But this is a good start.
 
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