Archive for December, 2013


Stuff I Liked in 2013: Loving Bas-ket-ball

December 30th, 2013 Posted by david brothers

Takehiko Inoue - Slam Dunk - 01

Takehiko Inoue’s Slam Dunk (manga, anime) is basketball. Inoue is a tremendous talent, one of those guys who I always forget is a favorite artist until I trip over his work or am reminded of it. Inoue worked on Slam Dunk from 1990 to 1996, long before he reached the heights he would achieve in Vagabond and Real. It’s interesting as a time capsule. There are a couple moments where Inoue’s art takes a leap forward, becoming closer to what we’re used to seeing from him. I think volume 12 was the first major one, but even the gradual growth is pretty impressive.

There’s a story in Slam Dunk, full of cute characters and motivations and things that make for good comics. It’s geared toward children, so the bad guys are rarely out-and-out bad. They all have their reasons, and most of them are very good. But what I’m here to talk about isn’t stories. I want to talk about basketball.

Part of the reason why Slam Dunk is so good is that it’s about the fundamentals. Kuroko’s Basketball, the current hit basketball anime, works on magic. The main guy is invisible and racks up dozens of assists per game, other characters have unlikely specialties, and there’s generally not much real basketball to be found. It’s all right, but it’s not real. In Slam Dunk, every character has a skill, but that skill’s the result of practice based in real world fundamentals. The main character sucks at basketball, so they make him shoot two thousand shots as practice. Another character may be the greatest one-on-one player in Japan, and it’s a direct result of not just his drive, but the fact that he played against his father since he was knee-high all the way up through to high school. He put in the hours and earned the results.

Inoue will explain basketball terminology in the middle of a story, but generally in a natural way. The eyes of players or journalists will widen, they breathe the name of the move that they just witnessed, and break down how and why it works, but only rarely dip into Naruto-style “Here’s a few diagrams and charts and exposition.” It feels more like commentary than edutainment, but like good sportscasting, you come away from it with new or deepened knowledge.

Takehiko Inoue - Slam Dunk - 02

That grounding makes Slam Dunk really enjoyable. Kuroko’s isn’t bad by any means, but it’s not basketball basketball. It doesn’t scratch that same itch for me. It’s a drama set in a basketball gym, rather than a basketball drama. Slam Dunk is all ball. The realism makes the cartoonier aspects work, because you’ve already bought in. It feels like the real thing.

I’m knee-deep in basketball right now. I was reading Slam Dunk and playing NBA 2k14 before the season started, and now I’m doing both of those, watching NBA games a few times a week, and going to a game a month or so. Next year, I’m going to start going to pickup games with a coworker, because why not?

There is something about that is pleasing, relaxing, stressful, and wonderful. I was watching Hawks @ Cavs on 12/26 while I cooked. I was listening mostly, but the closer they got to the end of the 4th quarter, the more time I spent standing in front of the TV while mixing or waiting out a cooking time. At the last play of the quarter—in a game that I did not bet money on and have no stake in beyond liking the Hawks—I threw my arms up and cheered when Jeff Teague hit a deep three to tie at 108 with 0:04.2 left in OT. I was into it, I was feeling it, and that’s a feeling that’s worth chasing.

That feeling has levels, too. Slam Dunk is by far the most passive basketball experience, but it’s still incredibly deep. The NBA season has narratives and storylines, but they’re nothing like the stories in Slam Dunk. Slam Dunk will squeeze tears out of your cold heart when you realize what’s at stake for the cast and how bad they want a win. The non-basketball parts, the relationships and history, are lethal when combined with Inoue’s storytelling abilities. In real life, it’s never so cut-and-dry, which is fine. They’re serving different masters.

Takehiko Inoue - Slam Dunk - 03

Watching ball is active, especially with friends. You’re critiquing the game as it evolves, hoping for your team to come home with a W and maybe a few good highlights you can brag about and watch on youtube or tumblr over and over. You then take that experience to work with you the next day and talk about your favorite plays, like this absurd Iguodala almost-highlight that dominated my day job. The athleticism and acrobatics will stun you in every single game if you let them. I’ve got an NBA League Pass account, and being able to watch replays on demand is incredible. (Not being able to watch Warriors games live, however, is garbage.)

NBA 2k14 is video game ball, a fantasy land where you can make anything happen, assuming you’re good enough. In previous versions of the title, I binged hard on a single mode (create a player, Jordan, Association, whichever appealed) and playing online with a friend. In NBA 2k13, before we called it, I’d won 57 games and the homey won 66. We kept a spreadsheet, too, so I knew that I’d racked up 8489 points to his 8498, and we were both averaging around 69 points per game—69 on the dot for me, 69.098 for him. Keeping track of that stuff changed the game, in a way. The stakes changed from trying to beast him in one game to trying to match him in dozens. That changed how we played, and I think made the games even more interesting and intense for us.

I’m taking it easy in 2k14 this time around, though. I play a few times a week, usually the featured game of the day or whoever the Hawks or Warriors are matching up against that day. (Sometimes I use it for revenge, too.) I’m only dabbling in the Lebron James fantasy mode, and I’m not playing a full season or two in a sports game for the first time since they put seasons into sports games. It’s all about will and skill this year, because the AI is punishing enough that if you slip for a quarter, you’re going to have to fight to get it back. But it’s all about you. It’s what you can and cannot do, your own personal talent for fake basketball. You can’t re-create things you’ve seen in real life, but you can get into the ballpark and make highlights of your own. I’ve been paying closer attention to how the commentary will guide you or subtly suggest tactics or players to focus on. If you pay attention, they can give you vague hints that’ll let you turn a game around or avoid a pitfall you keep running into. (I shoot a lot of frustration threes, and the gang is rarely happy about it.)

I can’t get enough of basketball, be it drawn, broadcast, or programmed. It’s my favorite sport, hands down, at this point. It feels good.

Takehiko Inoue - Slam Dunk - 04

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This Week in Panels: Week 223

December 29th, 2013 Posted by Gavok

The week didn’t give us much to play with. Outside of the digital stuff, Marvel and DC released two comics each and the third parties didn’t bring much to the table either. Luckily, Gaijin Dan is able to pick up the slack by not only giving up the usual supply of manga, but tossed in some extra. It seems Viz has been doing a manga competition and released six finalists. Dan decided that Sweat Man wasn’t even worth cutting down to a panel and had a field day with the rest.

Otherwise, I got help from Matlock, who read all four of the Marvel/DC releases.

Avengers #24.NOW (Matlock’s pick)
Jonathan Hickman, Esad Ribic, Salvador Larroca, Mike Deodato and Butch Guice

Avengers #24.NOW (Gavin’s pick)
Jonathan Hickman, Esad Ribic, Salvador Larroca, Mike Deodato and Butch Guice

Batman ’66 #24
Jeff Parker and Craig Rousseau

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Stuff I Liked in 2013: Bleach Back

December 27th, 2013 Posted by david brothers

Tite Kubo’s Bleach always had one thing over its peers: it was cooler than anything else out. It had a swagger, a style, that couldn’t be beat. From the title pages to the fashion, Bleach was cool, even when it was bad. After a point, the bad started to outweigh the good, so I bailed.

After a break earlier this year, Kubo is back at it and Bleach is in its final arc. Bleach was soft for a long while. Now that we’re in the home stretch, though, Kubo’s clicking again, and the proof is in scenes like this, from a recent chapter in Weekly Shonen Jump:

tite kubo - bleach - root for the - 01

tite kubo - bleach - root for the - 02

tite kubo - bleach - root for the - 03

tite kubo - bleach - root for the - 04

A little cool goes a long way. Turning aside the blast at the last minute, the fur, a timely one-liner, a cool gimmick, impeccable title placement, and an unavoidable sense that it’s about to go down: Bleach is cool again.

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Ghosts of Retail Past

December 26th, 2013 Posted by Gavok

Christmas is over. I hope yours was nice. Mine was pretty great. Here’s me wearing the stuff my best friend got me.

In return, I got him this pillowcase.

There are a lot of different things that made this holiday season great, most of all being that it’s my first Christmas with my two nephews, Jack and Syd. Being an uncle rules.

A lesser, but still important, factor into what made this season so fantastic was that it’s the first time in nearly 10 years that I haven’t been working holiday retail. I had worked for Barnes and Noble for seven and a half years and with that was there for eight holiday seasons. When I discuss my time there, I tend to tell people, “I worked there for seven and a half years and enjoyed seven of them.” For a long while, I felt very loyal to the company and did my best. That got chipped away as the years went on, mainly towards the end.

There were a lot of things that set me astray, I suppose. I remember finishing off the 2012 holiday season with a feeling of, “Never again,” without putting much thought into it. Shortly after, a managerial miscommunication over a necessary day off I asked for a month in advance soured me pretty badly. Everything was beginning to wear on me and I started feeling like Randy the Ram during his last day at work in the Wrestler. Another big thing was how we got a new, stricter district manager and that led to a big “shit rolls downhill” environment in the store. Everything became more corporate and less fun, even though we were a store that consistently met our goals.

I can bore you with specifics, but one of the big things was selling the membership. Or more importantly, selling new memberships. We had quotas on that and the increased pressure made it unbearable due to the “lead a horse to water” mentality of it all. Even if you had a good week, it didn’t matter because maybe next week you don’t do so well and you get talked down to for your failure. I had my opinions on it and I had my own methods of motivation, which got results. Those got me in trouble to the point of being told I was on thin ice.

Initially, I became emotional. I was afraid for my job and I felt that I was one misstep from being let go. I told myself and my coworkers, “I need this job. Barnes and Noble is all I have.” Then I calmed myself and realized that that wasn’t true at all. I wasn’t happy anymore. I used to be, but not anymore. Even if I didn’t feel like my employment was in danger, what was I working towards? A management position? I’ve been wanting one for years, but with my patience for the more rotten customers wearing incredibly thin, all I’d be doing would be dealing with the negative aspects of my job for a little more pay. Nah, I needed to just secretly find a new job and then give my two weeks.

The moment I made that decision, I felt so free. It was amazing. I was quick in finding a place that wanted me and was able to say my goodbyes and move on. It was a good thing too because while I certainly had my problems with the place’s new direction, I wasn’t the only one. In the month or two surrounding my leaving, there was an exodus of like a dozen employees for a variety of reasons.

Oh, and they changed it so that people can only apply for jobs there via online and that slowed down the process so much that it was like four months before they finally filled my position. Jesus.

This year, I didn’t have to deal with all the holiday madness. Sure, my current job got pretty busy in the last week, but it was a drop in the bucket compared to B&N making $7,000 an hour in sales. I didn’t have to spend hours cleaning up messes of people who decided to take out ten books and leave them in a pile in the café. I didn’t have to endure the impossible parking and extended hours. I didn’t have my Christmas ruined because I’d need to get to sleep early and wake up at 4am because I was scheduled for a 5am shift on the 26th. I also won’t have to deal with two months of assholes wanting cash back for a gift that somebody else bought them with a gift card.

As a way to celebrate, I thought I’d tell some stories. I have a million tales from that establishment and since they most certainly didn’t want me mentioning them while I was on the payroll, I guess I might as well have some fun. These are just some from the top of my head.

– I once gave a piggyback ride to a customer. It was a weeknight and the place was pretty dead. I was at the information desk and a couple showed up to ask me about a book.

“It looks like we have it.”

“Can you show me where it is?”

“Hell, I’ll give you a piggyback ride if you want.”



“Yeah, sure.”

“All right, then. Let’s do this!”

Then I walked over, had him hop on my back and walked him over. He proceeded to give me a $5 tip. I went back to the info desk, feeling pretty good about myself. Then I saw that the next customer was like 300 pounds and knew that wasn’t going to be a repeat.

Later on, I was reading my horoscope and it said that I’d make a small fortune in an unorthodox way. Swear to God.

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This Week in Panels: Week 222

December 23rd, 2013 Posted by Gavok

Triple 2s! Neat! And with a Two-Face comic in there also!

Huge, huge week this update, breaking forty images, which may be a ThWiP record. Helps that I have Matlock, Gaijin Dan, Space Jawa and Was Taters backing me up.

My time’s been eaten up by a lot of personal things, but I have some stuff coming up in the next couple days. A really nice guest article and a little something different. In the meantime, here’s a review I wrote for Den of Geek US on a comic called Rainbow in the Dark. It’s the Matrix meets Pleasantville meets They Live as a rock opera with Sam Elliot as the wise mentor character.

Animal Man #26 (Gavin’s pick)
Jeff Lemire and Cully Hamner

Animal Man #26 (Matlock’s pick)
Jeff Lemire and Cully Hamner

Avengers Assemble #22
Kelly Sue DeConnick, Warren Ellis, Matteo Buffagni and Paco Diaz

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Our Mutual Experience Gap b/w Feeling Bad About Feeling Mad

December 16th, 2013 Posted by david brothers

There’s a Village Voice piece on R Kelly going around. Voice writer Jessica Hopper interviews Jim DeRogatis, a journalist who helped break the story of R Kelly being a sexual predator years ago. It’s a good read, very thorough and timely, and it looks like it’s getting the reaction the writer (presumably) hoped for: people are reading and talking about it. Which is good.

I’ve been watching it spread over Twitter since I first saw a link this morning. My black friends have met it with a “yep :/” or whatever whatever, acknowledgement that it’s real, true, and that they’ve been known that fact. My non-black friends and followers, though, are coming with surprise, shock, “I can’t believe it,” that kind of thing.

The reactions from non-blacks tend toward the sympathetic and horrified almost universally, which is entirely appropriate and (for lack of a better word,) welcome, but—and you’ll have to pardon me if this is too flowery, but I’m trying to choose my words very carefully—the reactions feel like what happens when someone is initially dragged from ignorance toward knowledge. That combo of shock and acceptance, horror and belief…

I remember when the George Zimmerman thing happened, and myself and several other black people spoke out like, “Hey, this is real life, this happens all the time, our mothers constantly live in fear.” The reaction from black folks, men and women, then was “Right on, I’ve been there, keep your head up, stay safe.” A lot of us had shared stories or tips, too, like driving to a well-lit area when you’re being pulled over because you should never be alone with a cop. From non-blacks? “Holy crap are you for real? You have to live with this? I’m so sorry, I had no idea,” and so on.

I can’t fault somebody for not knowing, and I try to avoid treating people who don’t know the things I know differently. There’s a lot I don’t know, and there are some things I definitely should know that I don’t. Learning is part of being alive, possibly the best part of being alive. I think it’s important to educate, to put people up on game, before you condemn them for not having had the privilege—no matter how painful or ugly—of knowing what you do.

And part of me knows this is unfair, but the other part of me just watched a group of black women take part in a wide-ranging Twitter conversation on R Kelly with first-person accounts not two weeks ago. The other part of me knew about him messing with girls in the ’90s, despite living in Virginia and Georgia, away from the girls he preyed on. The other part of me has a mom who told him how to stay safe when dealing with the police before he was a teenager. The other part of me knows men who got beaten up, stabbed, and kidnapped for garbage reasons. The other part of me spent forever pulling teeth to write about race and comics and watched white people eat while I got stuck with the beef. That part of me says “Fuck fair.”

There is a gap, a gulf, between us. Between me and you, between black and white, between Latino and Japanese, between everyone. Every time one of those “This is what racism is” things roll down tumblr, and it’s somebody getting dragged behind a truck or beaten up on account of their skin or left in poverty because it’s economically convenient, I want to roll my eyes, which is a terrible reaction to sympathy. But I have that reaction because sure, this over-the-top and horrible example is racism, and that’s bad! But so is you calling your butt a “ghetto booty,” so is what motivates that dude at parties (literally every party I’ve been to with strangers as an adult) asking me stupid questions about my hair, like if I can store things in my afro. Racism is the Klan, but racism is in us, too. Racism is a lot of things. It’s the death of a thousand minor humiliations.

There is a difference between my experience and yours, is what I’m getting at. I don’t know the fullness of your experience, and you don’t know mine. I figure if you aren’t in it, you aren’t in it, so it’s unfair of me to expect you to know. I know that intellectually, as someone who makes a little bit of money spitting words for profit on occasion. But it still sucks to see your reality treated as a source of surprise. “It’s like that?” hurts when it’s been like that, when it’s never not been like that.

The gap in our experiences is real and the reasons for the gap are complicated. Sometimes it’s down to happenstance. Sometimes it’s thanks to the white supremacist standards that this country was founded on and which still infests a significant part of it today. “Black” news is special interest news. “White” news is the punchline to a joke. There’s a reason for that. And for situations like this, where R Kelly raped a lot of girls or a lot of boys live in fear of the police, that’s painfully relevant. The girls and boys are black, which makes it a “black problem.”

Knowledge is key and spreading that knowledge is vital. But at the same time, it’s draining to see people demonstrating their ignorance of something that is very plain to you, something you took for granted as being a capital T Truth, something you’ve lived with so long you can’t imagine life without that weight on your back. So you feel triple-bad. You’re frustrated at the situation and the country that let it happen due to malicious negligence, you’re frustrated at your friends for not realizing how much it matters to you, and you’re frustrated at yourself for being frustrated at your fam for matters beyond their control.

Y’all really shoulda known about him and Aaliyah, though. That’s on wikipedia.

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This Week in Panels: Week 221

December 16th, 2013 Posted by Gavok

Welcome to This Week in Panels. This week, we see the return of Matlock, who has sent a bunch of Marvel panels. This includes Mighty Avengers, which frustrates me. Not only is it supposedly really well-written and fun, but the latest issue just brought back Luke Cage’s old sidekick DW Griffith. I would LOVE to go read it, but… Greg Land is drawing it. Damn it.

Also with us are Gaijin Dan and Space Jawa. Jawa pointed out to me this video of Lego Venom going on a rampage and God bless him for that.

At Den of Geek US, I did an article on 10 Marvel What If Concepts That Actually Happened. Unfortunately, I totally forgot about Sentinel until after the fact.

Oh, and this week’s Batman ’66 is pretty interesting. It’s a King Tut storyline, but it’s also an origin of a Batman villain who never got a chance to be on that show. That little insignia should be a big hint.

Avengers A.I. #7
Sam Humphries and Andre Lima Araujo

Avengers Plus X-Men #15
Jai Nitz, Gerry Duggan, Greg Smallwood, David Yardin and Cam Smith

Batman #26
Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo

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Stuff I Liked in 2013: Momentary Catharsis

December 13th, 2013 Posted by david brothers

I’m a simple man who enjoys simple pleasures, like this clip from Trisha Goddard’s tv show.

The woman in red’s laughter is the sound of the pain of centuries of oppression finally finding an outlet. It reminds me of a moment from Howard Chaykin’s issue of SOLO, when a Neo-Nazi finds out that he’s part Jewish.

It’s not a victory. That would be overselling it. This guy is still walking around North Dakota and actively trying to turn a town all-white using terrorism.

But it still feels really, really good. I laughed until I cried watching this video. It was one of those things that can totally make a night. It’s worth hooping and hollering.

Sic semper tyrannis.

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Stuff I Liked In 2013: Discovering Vince Staples

December 11th, 2013 Posted by david brothers

I didn’t have a name for it until I read music critic Andrew Nosnitsky talking about Vince Staples, but I got into dead-eyed rap and Vince Staples in a big way this year. When it comes to threats, rap’s usual mode is like something out of John Woo’s heroic bloodshed films. The threats are amped up past the point of believability and into the realm of myth. I love 50’s “If you was smart, you’d be shook of me/’cause I’d get tired of lookin for you, spray your mama crib, and let your ass look for me.” It’s a threat, but there’s a playfulness, an exuberance, that makes it great. It’s showing off and showing out, a threat that’s a boast simultaneously.

Vince Staples goes in the other direction. I first really noticed dude on Earl Sweatshirt’s “Hive” from Doris, though he’d made appearance on a few other projects I’ve dug. But his verse there made me sit up and take notice. Doris is full of fallen world music, and Staples absolutely nailed the mood Earl was going for. It’s more fatalistic than braggy, more flat than simple posturing. Which isn’t to say that it isn’t a pose, but it’s a pose that Staples performs very well.

It’s the fatalism that gets me. 2012 was tough, and 2013 has been tough in an entirely different way. Things I took for granted aren’t there any more, habits I used to have don’t work, and things are complicated. I can be mad and feel bad about it, or I can accept that it is what it is and still feel bad about it. “It is what it is,” like its sisters “that’s life” and “that’s just the way it is,” is inherently fatalistic. They indicate acceptance of the fact that you can’t fix or control everything because it’s bigger than you. It’s an indicator that since you can’t win, you’re gonna make do.

Staples does a lot of making do. On “102,” he says, “Never could be rich enough/’cause I grew up broke as fuck.” “Trigga Witta Heart:” “Rap ain’t never did shit for a nigga with no options/ You want some positivity go listen to some Common.” “Versace Rap:” “I asked my mama what’s the key to life, she told me she ain’t know/ She just try to take it day to day, and pray I make it home.”

He talks about his mom a lot. She plays a variety of roles in his songs, but rarely hope. She’s reality, responsibility, love, missed opportunity, better, and worse. A few examples:

“Stuck In My Ways:”

Mama trying to figure what the fuck my problem is
And why I gotta live this way
I know my path ain’t straight
But in the field, don’t nothing but grit matter
Just get it how you live, and figure the shit after
Nigga, gotta get it before I die out here
Don’t wanna see my momma cry out tears

“Beeper King Exclusive:”

Hit a couple hundred licks, stash the money at the crib
Mama going through my shit, had to pass it off to Nick


Watch the shit that you talkin’, promise it’s with me often
I got to stop with the trigger talking, I promised mama


My momma told me I’m living crazy
I’m just being what she made me
Dealing with the luck she gave me

“Thought About You:”

Just found God and I still don’t pray
’cause Satan prey on the weak, swear I can do it myself
Soul stuck in the beats, it’s like I’m crying for help
Still my expression is bleak, because my mama ain’t raised no bitch
Never take no shit from no nigga unless he want to see the black four-fifth

“Winter in Prague:”

Now, back to the story at hand:
They handed me nothing, I took it in stride
Take a shot at your head for taking shots at my pride
The only son my mama got that she can talk to…
So you don’t want no problems. That’s never been a smart move.

There’s a lot going on here, a lot to chew on, and all of it’s dark. It’s not music to feel sad to. It doesn’t have the uplifting punch of songs that are meant to get you hype when you’re blue, nor the “You’re not alone” message the blues has. There’s no glory, no joy, and no hope, just expressionless faces and dead eyes that hide dark thoughts. It’s music to feel bad to, flat and hopeless raps.

Staples hasn’t had a proper album release yet, but he’s got three mixtapes I enjoyed a lot. Shyne Coldchain is good, and Winter in Prague (a collab with Michael Uzowuru) is a lot of fun, too. But the one that stole the show for me, upsetting expectations and surprising me with how solid it is, was Stolen Youth. It was produced by Mac Miller under his Larry Fisherman alias and features a fistful of entertaining rappers. This one made me go back and re-evaluate Mac Miller, because I’d honestly written him off before 2013. But his verses are good and his beats are a great foundation for Staples to show out on. “Guns and Roses” is fantastic and totally unexpected.

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This Week in Panels: Week 220

December 9th, 2013 Posted by Gavok

Ahoy, friends. Welcome to another edition of ThWiP. I have my usual backup in Gaijin Dan and Space Jawa with me today. This week gave us a goofball story in Avengers Annual, some great closure in Young Avengers and the stupidest, most amazing reveal in DC Universe vs. Masters of the Universe. I think Keith Giffen must have been watching the Scooby Doo movie when writing this one.

Also, Deadpool visited 1960’s Marvel and that was a good time.

Avengers Annual #1
Kathryn Immonen and David Lafuente

Batwing #26
Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti and Eduardo Pansica

Bleach #559
Tite Kubo

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