Friday, March 30, 2012

Netflix Friday: Budgeting In The Entertainment!

When it comes to budgeting your entertainment, as in everything else, it's important to get a lot of bang for your buck.With the cost of movies, plays and museum trips these days it's usually cheaper to stay at home. And, if you use the right entertainment services, it can be just as fun!

My wife and I use a combination of OnDemand and Netflix to satisfy our streaming/instant entertainment needs. OnDemand is a built-in service that comes with our Comcast Cable service. There are no monthly fees or charges unless you rent a new movie or select a paid event on concert. In the past three years, my wife has only paid $1.99 for one old Turner Classic Movie that she wanted to watch. The rest of the time we use it to catch up on TV shows and select old movies to watch.

Since OnDemand is not available unless you have Comcast Cable, I'm not going to spend much time on it. Suffice to say, it's got a lot of free content (or content that you're already paying for) and it's worth looking through it each and every month because the content changes on a regular basis. Movies come and go, so just because there's nothing you want to watch this month doesn't mean you can't watch it there next month.

Getting Netflix up and Running
Now let's move on to Netflix streaming. This service costs $7.99 a month and is a recurring charge. This comes to just under $100 a year. That's not bad for a whole year's entertainment... but there's a catch. This is an online service and you will either need a way to connect it to your TV or you will have to watch it on your computer.

WD TV Live Plus
Now, this isn't really as bad as it sounds. Most game systems can stream the content: Wii, Play Station and XBox are all set up and ready to go with Netflix. Also, most new BluRay players come with the Netflix application pre-installed. I'm lucky: I already had three Netflix-enabled devices ready (including the one in the photo) before I even started thinking about giving this service a test run. I had also already wired my living room for Ethernet (as my wife can tell you, I had a cable running down the stairs and into the living room for about a year before I broke down and wired things correctly). Which also brings up the point that you will need to have a good Internet connection for this to work. Standard cable or AT&T connections will work great, but if you're still using dial-up or have a satellite Internet connection, forget it. It won't work or you'll use too much of your data allotment.

What you get
Netflix is a great service for people like me and my wife. When we want to watch a specific movie, we want to watch it now. We don't want to select a drama and put it in a queue and have it show up -- maybe -- next week or so. By the time it shows p, we may have had a hard day at work and be craving a comedy the day it shows up. Or vice versa. That's why the streaming service is a great value for us. We can pick what we want and watch it right now... assuming that they have it, that is.

And that may be a fairly big assumption because it's rather hit-or-miss as to what you'll find at Netflix for instant viewing. For example, there are no Star Wars movies, nor are there any Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter or most any Disney cartoon. But you will find A Knights Tale and all the Star Trek TV series (but not all the movies). When it comes to classics, it's also hit or miss: You'll find many great old movies like Royal Wedding, About Mrs. Leslie, Mr. Peabody and The Mermaid, Cleopatra, True Grit (classic John Wayne version and the new one), The Longest Day, and more. You'll also find plenty of classic adaptations of works by Shakespeare with numerous versious of Macbeth, King Lear, Romeo and Juliet.

For the teens you'll find lots of anime, and for the tweens and kids, there is also a decent list of DCOM movies (for us old folks, that's Disney Channel Original Movie, meaning live-action Disney movies staring young people your kids or grand kids know very well). Here you'll find Camp Rock, High School Musical, Lemonade Mouth, Frenemies, and other films staring the likes of Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato, Miley Cirus, Brenda Song, Mitchell Muso, Jason Earls and many other Disney Channel favorites.

Also, the service is pretty good at taking a look at the movies you've watched and suggesting things you might like. It's not perfect, but it does a good job. I think it gets confused because my wife and I have different taste in movies, so between her old classics and my strange sci-fi and anime, it gets confused. But other than that, it does a decent job of suggesting things we like.

The Bottom Line
If you are looking for a specific movie at a specific time, then Netflix streaming may not be exactly what you're looking for because some of the offerings here are hit-or-miss. But if you like browsing for movies and discovering new movies by genre (or rediscovering old classics you had forgotten about), then Netflix streaming is a great choice that offers a lot of bang for your buck. At only $7.99 per month, if you watch one movie a week, you're paying about $2 per movie. That's a great price, especially considering you don't have to go out and rent one at a Red Box (or even more if you still frequent rental stores like Blockbuster Video). And it's a LOT cheaper than going to a theater and having to put up with rude people texting and talking through the movie. Plus, you get to decide how much butter (if any) you put on your popcorn!

See ha next week for some long-overdue reviews!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Gettin' muh 3D on...

Sorry for another delay, folks! But I'm gonna have to postpone the conclusion of my Blackmark review until next week. What with all the work I seem to be putting into it, you're probably expecting an epic of some kind. Truth be told, I've been busy with other projects this week (work and otherwise) and one of them has taken a day or two longer than I had hoped.

You see, over at Hawgleg Publishing, we're getting ready for a big deal: Our annual April Fool's Day story!

Our joke product from 2010
Every year we claim to be releasing some wild and bizarre product -- usually a type of game. We started this tradition waaay back in 2005 when we announced we were producing a miniatures game based on the then-hit film, Brokeback Mountain. The game would have miniatures with "removable chaps and boots." The cool thing was, we actually fooled a few people until the end of the story where we announced that the whole thing was a gag.

Since then, we've released stories claiming that we were doing games based on Cowboys vs. Godzilla, Cowboys vs. Cthulhu, and even Cowboys & Indians game that was based on Bollywood Musical Movies!

The funny thing is, we always get comments from people saying, "Darn it! I'd BUY that if you'd make it!"

You can read all of our stories over at our Website... but be warned, this is the one day a year we stretch that "PG-13" rating on our site and the stories are a bit naughty... We never use dirty language or curse words, but there are a few jokes in there that might not be "work safe." Read on only if you're brave!

Gutshot April Fool's Day Story Work In Progress
(Click on image for larger view)
This year, we're doing something a little different. Instead of a simple game product, we're going to claim that we're releasing our own line of Whiskey. So, for the past two days, I've been working on the artwork for the story. I'm using a 3D software application (Strata 3D CX) to create a cool bottle and label for our new product.

Here's a sneak peak at what I've been working on. The bottle to the left was the first bottle I created, but I decided it was too ornate and looked more like a fancy wine bottle. So I switched to something more basic like a square bottle. I then added the badge (our game's logo) to the bottle to give it some character.

I'm not going to include the wine bottle in the final illustration, and I'm also going to have a label ready for the bottle (actually, I just finished it but decided to keep it under wraps until April Fool's Day on Sunday).

Right now, I've got to admit I'm pretty pleased with the way this has come out. The lighting and textures are very realistic (and this isn't even the best render I can do -- this is a fast render).

So, I hope you'll all excuse me for getting sidetracked from my Blackmark review for another week. It's just that I really want this to come out nicely, so it's taking a bit of work to get the results I want.

Mosey on back Friday and find out what I've got cooked up for the weekend!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Comics: My hunt for a comic book database pt. 3

The next product I reviewed in my hunt for a comic book database was, apparently, the 400-pound gorilla of products. It has the most features, the most detailed info, and it can actually calculate the current value of your collection. This product was ComicBase 15.

At a glance, this program has it all:

Keeping track of your comic book collection. The new ComicBase comes with built-in listings on virtually every comic published in the English language since the late 1800s, cover more than 450,000 issues and more than 30,00 titles. 

With free, downloadable price and title updates each week for a year and current pricing based from real-time market data—we work hard to keep you current on the comics that matter to you!

  • ComicBase will automatically price your comics according to their condition
  • Grading Wizard will help you determine its grade if you’re not sure about the condition of a comic you own.
  • Use our barcode support jump feature (available in all versions) to go straight to a comic using the EAN/UPC number printed on the cover
  • Track the purchase cost of your collection and generate a wide variety of reports and labels—including the new Collection Inventory Report—based on the criteria that you choose, like publisher, issues in stock, publication year, and more!
  • With the ability to interface with Atomic Avenue, ComicBase also allows you to create your own comic book store online.

Yes, at a glance this had what I was looking for. But then it came to the price...

You pay for what you get
ComicBase has four different price-levels that range from FREE to $400. Yup, you read that right. That's a lot of smack, Jack. Now, the tiered pricing is kind of cool. The Free edition supports up to 500 comics, and the paid versions support collections of unlimited size... but there are limitations on key features like searching by creators and the number of color cover scans included.

Here's a breakdown of the versions (for a full comparison sheet, check out this PDF at their Website):

  • ComicBase Free (500 comic limit)
  • ComicBase Express: $49.95 (unlimited comics, but only 5,000 covers)
  • ComicBase Professional: $129.95 (200,000 covers custom fields)
  • ComicBase Archive: $299 (20 GB of covers & content)
  • ComicBase Archive Blu-Ray: $399 (46 GB on one dual-layer Blu-Ray disc)
I set up a free account and, for the most part, liked what I saw... it was clean and easy to use. In fact, I liked a lot of things about its sleek, modern interface.

But the reality was, I couldn't get past the price. The minimum level that would be of any use to me was the Pro Edition for about $130. And even then, I couldn't be sure it would have the covers I wanted (I have a lot of Archie, Gold Key, Gladstone and other "unusual" titles... at least unusual when compared to standard fanboy fare of Superman, Batman, Spider-man, Wonder Woman and the more mainstream titles.

So I passed on ComicBase. It might be most of what I'm looking for, but it was out of my price range because I was pretty sure I would, eventually, have to upgrade to the Archive edition to get what I was looking for. Since it was out of my reach, I didn't use it more than a single day before I uninstalled it. I didn't want to get attached to something I couldn't afford to keep.

No, it was time to move on to and see if they could deliver what I needed at a price I could afford.

Return Wed. for the conclusion of my Blackmark Review
Also, come on back to see what I discovered for this week's NETFLIX FRIDAY

Friday, March 23, 2012

Netflix Friday: Cave of Forgotten Dreams

In the past, when I've taught Freshman English in college, I like to open my first lecture with a PowerPoint presentation discussing the origins of written communication. My goal was to give the students an overview of written and visual communication and get them thinking about writing as a technology that evolved over centuries into what we have today. At that time I used pictures of the famous 17,500-year-old cave paintings in Lascaux, France to illustrate my points. Back in the 1980s when I was in college, those were thought to be the oldest cave paintings on earth, and thus the some of the first visually encoded communication by mankind.

Since the, explorers have found paintings twice that old, dating back about 35,000 years. No matter what age you ascribe to the existence of modern man (100,000 - 200,000 years or less), that's still a long time. These paintings are located in Chauvet Cave in France, and are the subject of a fascinating documentary by Werner Herzog. And, of course, it is available for instant viewing on Netflix.

From the IMDB Website:

Cave of Forgotten Dreams
2010, 90 min.
Dir. Werner Herzog

In 1994, a group of scientists discovered a cave in Southern France perfectly preserved for over 20,000 years and containing the earliest known human paintings. Knowing the cultural significance that the Chauvet Cave holds, the French government immediately cut-off all access to it, save a few archaeologists and paleontologists. But documentary filmmaker, Werner Herzog, has been given limited access, and now we get to go inside examining beautiful artwork created by our ancient ancestors around 32,000 years ago. He asks questions to various historians and scientists about what these humans would have been like and trying to build a bridge from the past to the present. Written by napierslogs  

The movie was created in 2010 and was shot in 3D. Netflix only has the film in 2D, which is perfect for me (if you cruise back through my blog archive, you'll find a rant against 3D movies and how they leave me out in the cold). Even in 2D on my smaller screen (it's only 46 inches, but someday I'll buy a big screen!), this is an incredible record of some amazing images that, in many instances, look so modern that they look like they could have been drawn yesterday.

Just take a look at those pictures to the right. They look like they could be for an art student's sketchbook. The horses have a dynamic sense of movement and, if you look at the center of the image you'll see what I first thought was some kind of hog, but it actually is a Rhino! Yup, a wooly rhino that was native to France after the Ice Age!

Totally cool!

There are also wooly mammoths depicted among the more than 130 paintings in this cave. Some of them are as simple as hand prints on the wall, others are as stunning and look as though they were painted yesterday. All of them are spellbinding.

When I looked at them, they actually reminded me of some early sketchbooks of Pablo Picasso that I had seen in a museum when I was in college (his sketches weren't abstract sci-fi fantasies like his famous paintings -- okay, not all of them were).

But even more than the images is the story of how hard the French Government is working to preserve this site. They have locked it up and only allow a few people in to see it in order to prevent damage from careless footsteps and eliminate the threat of mold growing from the increased carbon dioxide emitted by people's breath. Yes, these are that fragile. For this reason, the film crew was only allowed in for a few short hours each day, and they had to walk on metal pathways that had been placed in the cave to preserve the floor, which actually has footprints in the sand that are as old as the paintings (more on these shortly). The sort of fervor for preservation is fantastic! This is the sort of find that belongs to the world and must be respected and protected beyond normal means because its existence is so fragile that even our breath could destroy it.

Cue up the Video, please!
The imagery in this film is stunning. Herzog does an able job of making the tight and difficult conditions work for the narrative of the story (limitations include not being able to step off the metal pathways, so they can't actually film everything they wanted). The pacing is what you would expect in a documentary -- leisurely and scholarly.

Here's the official trailer for the movie:

Thank you, YouTube!

Although I love the images in this movie, the narration does get on my nerves a bit. I would have preferred a little more hard science about who made these images, pigments they used, and other facts or suppositions about the origins of these incredible paleolithic artwork. Instead, we get a lot of talk and, to be honest, babbling, about what's in the cave and the origins of... well, whatever he was going on about. I finally had to filter some of it out (one of the things you get with a college education is the ability to filter out the babble while still retaining the pertinent facts).

One of the things that bugged me was when they said they could see the footprints of an 8-year-old boy in the dirt toward the back of the cave.  Really?  He was 8? And how, pray tell, did you determine that? Did he have it etched into the heel of his right foot? Of course not. This was just pure speculation on their part. All anyone can say for sure is that there was a small footprint, probably of a child between 7-10 years old.

This is the sort of thing I hear on documentaries all the time, and it never fails to annoy me. I don't mind speculation, but I really demand that it be presented to me as such and not stated as fact. That's probably my Technical Writing background kicking in, but I can't help it -- it just makes me mad.

A lot of my anger dissipated after watching an interview with Werner Herzog on the Colbert Report. I've embedded it below, but it appears to be a bit wide for this page layout, so if you're interested in watching it without seeing it cropped down like this, you can view it by clicking here.

My annoyance with the flaky narration aside, this was a great movie! I heartily recommend you settle down and be prepared to be amazed by what our ancestors did in a cave all those tens of thousands of years ago.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

My other hobby: Gutshot

I'm still reeling from the weekend and am not back on schedule. I am just too far behind schedule to do justice to the second half of my Blackmark review, so please forgive me while I take a detour to tell you a little something about myself and my hobby outside of comic books.  That hobby is historical miniatures gaming. Yeah, I play with little metal men... as though I wasn't geeky enough before.

Of course, I'm not just a geek. I'm an award-winning geek with a very minor level of celebrity (if Kathy Griffen is on the D-List, then I'm probably on the Z-List). You see, I don't just roll dice and play with tiny metal men, I also publish a rule book on the subject. And yes, it won an award. A big award, but I'll get into that more in a minute.

In 1999, my old buddy Mike Murphy approached me about joining him to develop a Wild West miniatures game called Gutshot.  For the next five years we worked on it, and in due course dragged in my friend Paul Mauer. Together we completed and published a historical miniatures game and released it on Feb. 4, 2005.

Here's the official description from our Website,
At its most basic level, Gutshot is a game where you put toy buildings on a table and move around little metal cowboys, pretending they are shooting at each other. It's a lot like playing "Cowboys and Indians" when you were a kid. Except now, of course, there are rules to govern how far figures move, how fast, what kind of guns they have, different kinds of horses, and all sortsa fun stuff like that. Rules are good. After all, it'd be pretty embarrassing if someone walked in on a group of grown men and women who were pointing their fingers at each other shouting, “Bang bang, you're dead!” “Am not!” “Are too!” The rules in this book will spare you from that fate, and open up for you a whole new world of Miniature Wargaming.
In more advanced (and fun!) terms, Gutshot is a fast-paced, easy-to-learn game that has you slappin' leather and blowin' away the bad guys in a matter of minutes. Using 25mm miniatures and some dice, this game is a simple system for running one-on-one and small-scale combat set in the American Wild West. By one-on-one, we mean that each miniature represents one person. There are no armies or mass combat here - everything stays up-close and personal.

I'm still not sure what Gutshot is, exactly...
Even after explaining the game to people, I'm still sometimes met by blank stares, or by people who ask if it's a computer game. At that point I have to explain that Gutshot is a book that has the rules. In addition to the book you will need paper, pencils, dice, miniatures and buildings/terrain. Most of this stuff you can buy almost anywhere, and the buildings and miniatures are readily available online (and we even sell some of them ourselves).

The book retails for $25 in our online store or you can buy it from one of the many stores that carry it. We also have a lot of free material online: Character Sheets, Horse Record Sheets, Game Marshal & Player Handouts, injury tokens and more:

Right now we are also running a contest for our readers/players to submit ideas for adventures for use with our game. We had about 50 submissions and we published 12 of them online as free PDF downloads. If you're interested in learning more about Gutshot, these would be a great place to start as they really demonstrate how our game is played (objectives, Characters, maps, etc.). Plus, if you vote in our online contest to help select the second-place winner, you could be eligible to win a prize.

Oh, and as for that aforementioned award... In 2006 Gutshot was won the Origins Award for "Historical Miniatures Game of the Year." This is the longest-running industry award and the most prestigious. In short, it's the Oscar of the gaming world. Murphy and I were very fortunate to be able to actually be at the Origins Convention in Columbus, Ohio to accept our win. It was the highlight of my gaming career.

So... that's what else I do
Gutshot takes a lot of my time, as does trying to promote it and develop new projects. It's also the reason I only blog here three times a week. Tuesdays and Thursdays are dedicated to working on the Hawgleg Blog. I hope that interests you enough to mosey on over to the Hawgleg site and poke around a bit. There's a lot of fun stuff there.

See ya in two days for the latest installment of Netflix Fridays!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Comics - First Impressions: Stan (the Man) might still have it...

I hope you'll all forgive me for shuffling the schedule around this week, but I had a busy weekend and am just now getting back into town (plus, the frames to my glasses broke, so I will need to spend a big chunk of Monday getting them replaced). So, rather than rush out with a shortened review of Comic Base, I'm going to give you a quick first impression of a new comic that just came out: Stan Lee's Mighty 7.

Yes, you heard right. That's "The" Stan Lee, releasing one of his first new titles in years. First of all, the basics:
  • This is a standard-format news stand comic
  • It is a six-issue mini-series
  • It is published bi-monthly.
  • It has a cover price of $2.99
  • There are three variant covers (I've got the issue pictured below)
  • 24 pages of story on slick paper
  • Although it says "Stan Lee Comics" on the cover, it is published by Archie Comics

Facing Down My Own Preconceptions
Now, although Archie comics has published a lot of superhero comics over the years (including the first patriotic hero, The Shield), they've been so focused on their humor books that they have never really done a good job with superheroes since the 1940s. This alone was enough to give me pause when I first heard about this comic... but it IS Stan Lee and I decided I would give it a chance, so I subscribed to it over at

The second thing I had to get past was the name: Mighty 7. It just sounds juvenile, as though it was the title of an early 1980s direct-to-syndication cartoon. A little bit of research quickly revealed that he wanted to call it "Super 7," but that name was already in use, so a quick reshuffle and these seven heroes are mighty, instead.

Then we hit the cover itself, and this is the hardest thing to get past. These heroes look like a retread of the Legion of Superheroes. And this makes me very worried that Stan, fearing that he might inadvertently rehash some of the material he created for Marvel, decided to raid his competitor's back catalog for ideas. Or maybe this is just something left over from the Stan Lee/DC Comics experiment a while back where he reimaged DC's classic heroes, Superman, Batman, and others? In any case, by this point I was more than a little bit worried about what I would be getting. 

The Comic Itself
The first issue of my subscription arrived today and I read it while winding down for the evening. I approached it with a few trepidations (as I described above), but an otherwise open mind and more than a little bit of curiosity. The cover is decidedly (and, might I say, almost refreshingly) old-school. A group of heroes battle some big, mechanized bad guy. How 1977 is that?  

But there were the heroes again, looking very much like a nice fanzine version of the Legion. At the top it looks like we've got Dawn Star and Colossal Boy, that girl in the middle looks a lot like Light Lass, and then there's the dead ringer for a suitless version of Wildfire. And how on earth could I miss the Bouncing Boy lookalike at the bottom? I mean, why on earth would anybody parody a hero who is, by his very existence, a parody of a superhero?

Still, I sat down and read it. You know what? If this had come out in 1977-1982, I think it would have had a decent chance, in spite of being an almost blatant Legion rip-off. That probably sounds harsher than I mean it to sound. This is a cool comic that really relishes its old-school vibe and classic artwork. Here's the basic plot:

Stan Lee is talking to Archie Comics about writing some new material for them. He's got some ideas for Betty & Veronica (there's a sketch for "Betty and Veronica in the Moshpit of Doom" -- oh, and we get a cool Millie the Model joke, too). Archie comics John Goldwater (looking very nice) tells Stan he was hoping he would bring him some new superhero ideas. Stan says he's written so many of them that he just doesn't know if he's got one left in him...
On a planet far away, a renegade Star Marshal named Blastok is about to kill a businessman who poisoned and killed hundreds of people just to improve sales of his water purifiers.  As I said above, he reminds me a lot of Wild Fire, but he's also got a little Timber Wolf vibe about him. He's stopped by two current Star Marshals -- his former friends and cadets, naturally -- named Asoara (she's the flying woman) and Vallor, who reminds me of a cross between Colossal Boy and Mon-El. The two Marshal's capture Blastok and throw him in a cell with five other criminals and then proceed to haul them back to their home planet. The five of them band together and use their powers to escape just when the ship jumps into hyperspace (which will cause a very quick fluctuation in the forcefield, so it's their one shot at getting out of this).
Meanwhile, back on earth, we get a quick cutaway to a scientific experiment that is trying to control earthquakes. A no-good scientist tampers with the controls and it blows up,  releasing the mysterious "P-Waves." At this same time, Stan Lee is musing over his future in the desert and decides that he is going to retire and stop writing superhero comics... and then something crashes into the desert near him...

This isn't my first inter-stellar rodeo, so it's obvious that the criminals destroyed the navigation system in the ship, the P-Waves drew them through hyperspace to earth, and Stan Lee will actually mentor these aliens on how to become "real" superheroes.  Okay, that last bit would be a stretch for me to figure out if it weren't for the fact that Stan explained this in a previous Bullpen Bulletins column... uh, errrr, that is to say, I read it in an interview and it's mentioned on his blog:

 So, aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, How was the play?
As I said above, I tried to keep an open mind and, for the most part, I kind of enjoyed this because it had such a nice old-school feeling to it. By that, I mean it reminds me a lot of the fun comics I read back in high school and my early college days.

I had to work to get past the feeling that this is a Legion copy... and for that matter, I also felt like it has similarities to Chris Claremont's Sovereign Seven (super-powered aliens arrive on earth and make do as heroes). But this was new work by Stan Lee (doesn't he look dapper in this portrait?), so I'm willing to give it a chance just to see if there is any of that old creative spark there.

Also, it should be mentioned that although Stan's name is on the cover (he is, after all, one of the greatest self-marketed writers since Mark Twain himself), he probably only came up with the idea and then passed it off to writers Tony Blake and Paul Jackson (who, I might mention, are actually better know for writing television shows, so that makes me wonder if my Saturday Morning deja vu might not be so out of place, after all). The artwork is by Alex Saviuk, inks by Bob Smith, and the very capable lettering by John Workman are nicely finished by the bright, exciting colors of Tom Smith.

BOTTOM LINE: If you're expecting to read the next great thing in comics, you should pass on this. If you're curious to read something new by one of the greats in the field, you might enjoy reading this just so you can say you were there when Stan sang his swan song. And finally, you should pick it up it you're tired of cynical, gritty modern comics and would like, for at least 22 pages, to go back in time and read something  that feels like a recently discovered series from the heydey of 1970s and 1980s comic book storytelling.

See you back here Wednesday when I try to get back on schedule!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Rant: I'm a 40-Something Check-Out Boy... or why I hate Randall's at night

I hate checking out at Randall's at night. I really hate it. Don't get me wrong. There are some good things about it... no crowds, no screaming kids, and you can actually hear the easy adult listening music on the speakers overhead.

BUT... I hate self check out.

I MEAN I REALLY HATE IT. Heaven forbid you can check out without the dang thing freezing in the middle of a transaction. And heaven help you if you can check out with beer (please wait while someone comes up, glances at you and quickly appraises that you are old enough to have children of legal drinking age). And don't get me started on when I have a lot of things in my basket I have to pick up each and every one of them.

I have eight containers of diet coke. Eight. And their stupid system wants me to pick up and move every single one of them. Of course, the store is only two blocks from my house. I just need some milk or some coffee it is just too far to drive to Krogers. But that doesn't mean I have to like it. In fact, when my wife is not with me I usually do drive farther and go somewhere else.

The whole experience drives me crazy. Customer service is one of the things I go to a store to find. And let's face it, I am way too rude to be in the public service sector. Sometime in the near future people are going to start wondering why the sales at this store have gone down. For some reason I doubt you'll ever know the real reason that it was because penny-pinching tactics took the place of customer service.


Anyone else with a pet peeve about self-check out or the grocery store? Let me know what you think!

Comics Talk is continues on Mon.
Check back next week for Netflix Friday!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Comics Review: Bring on the Barbarians -- Blackmark

I decided to take a quick break after that long evaluation I wrote on Monday about Comic Collector Live. So I decided to write a review of the graphic novel I'm currently reading (well, technically re-reading, but I'll explain that shortly. But first, some background about my reading habits.

I have to be in the mood to read something and enjoy it.

I know that's not odd and most people would say the same thing about their own reading/viewing tastes. In my case, though, those moods can be long and far between. Like years between. Back in the 1980s and early 1990s I dove deep into classic Disney characters like Donald Duck, Uncle Srooge and Mickey Mouse. I bought -- and devoured -- hundreds of classic comics by Carl Barks and Floyd Gottfredson. If you're not familiar with their work, you really do owe it to yourself to pick up one of the great collections out there and expand your mind with some of the best comic book art ever put to paper. This particular obsession ran for about 7-10 years, then I kind of moved on (oh, I still like the stuff, but now I mostly reread what I've already got, rather than acquiring new material).

Right now you might say I'm in the middle of an Archie Comics bender. This one's been going on for a while longer, although lately I've been happily picking up some of the reprints they are doing for Archie Comics' 70th anniversary. How does this "getting in the mood" stuff figure into this tale? Read on, true believer... read on!

What I'm reading now: Blackmark
Image courtesy of Cap'n's Comics.
While cataloging my comic books, I've been more than a little surprised by how many barbarian comics I have. So many so, that I've actually dedicated a short box to the miscellaneous issues I've got of Kull, John Carter of Mars (by the time you read this I should have seen the movie!), Ka-Zar, Iron Jaw, Wulf, Beowulf, Arak, Almuric, and of course Conan and The Warlord. And then there is the classic, unfinished epic that I am now reading by the legendary Gil Kane: Blackmark.

I hope I don't have to tell you who Gil Kane is. Suffice to say, he's one of THE masters of comic book art and is justly famous for his ground-breaking work for DC, Marvel and other publishers. He's also the one who designed the classic costumes of Hal Jordan's Green Lantern and Ray Palmer's The Atom.

Blackmark is an almost legendary sword & sorcery/sci-fi epic that Gil Kane originally published in paperback back in 1971. He had a contract with Bantam books to produce an 8-issue series that would mark the humble-but-unique origins of a young man from his being sired through his journey from slave to rebel leader to gladiator to king of a ravaged, post-apocalyptic world. If it had been finished, it would have been a grand epic. But, alas, only one-quarter of it was ever completed. In its shortsightedness, Bantam only published the first book and then pulled the plug while the second issue was finished. It took a few years for the second volume to see print in the pages of Marvel Premier, which is where I saw this raven-haired, wild-eyed conqueror for the first time.

This, as it turns out, was the second chapter of this epic. It was published in late 1979, although to be honest, I don't think I discovered it until around 1986 or '87 in a bargain bin at Rita's Fantasy Shop in El Paso, Texas.

The magazine was oddly formatted and that affected my interest in it at the time. Marvel and Kane had split the vertical pages of the paperback art up into separate panels and Kan even added some artwork to fill the space of the more rectangular pages of the magazine. Coupled with the fact that the art had been blown up quit a bit (this produced thick lines and very coarse zip-a-tone shading), the entire experience was less than idea.

I think I skimmed it at the time, enough to remember some of the details, but not all. That's why, reading it now, it's almost as though I'm reading it again for the first time.

So, years pass and it's 2002. For the 30th anniversary of the original publication of Blackmark, those great guys over at Fantagraphics Books reprint a special edition in a 6x9 inch trade paperback with crisp white paper. This size, as they say in the essay at the rear of the book, is a nice compromise between the original paperback size and a new size that increases the size of the art and text without making the zip-a-tones overpowering or making the line art too thick and coarse. And, for the first time ever, they reprint the second chapter, "The Mind Demons," in its original format for the first time. The essay in the reprint even has a few comparison images that show how Kane reformatted this book for the magazine version.

So... I bought the book in 2002. And I read the essay. And I put it on a shelf for 10 years. I didn't open it again until last week.

Yup, I knew I would want to get to this someday, but that day wasn't until recently when (I guess) all the hubub about the John Carter movie and finding all my old barbarian comics (I have more than I thought I did) got me in the mood to read this for "the first time." See, I told you that stuff I wrote about way up there would tie in eventually. So now I'm in the mood to read this and enjoy it.

And enjoy it, I am! And we'll get into the specifics of why next week (yeah, I know... I'm a blog tease).


By the way, there are some fantastic Gil Kane Blackmark images over at Cap'n's Comics: You really should do yourself a favor and cruise on by to take a look.

Comics Talk returns Mon. with a discussion of Comic Base
Wed. I'll complete my review of Blackmark
And be sure to swing by for my rant about why I hate to buy groceries at night!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Comics: Bring on the Bat Computer! My hunt for a comic book database Pt. 2

As I said last week, I did a google search and started my hunt for a good Comic Book collecting database with these three options:

I had heard of the second title before through my friend Paul, who has a DVD Collectors' software package that he uses to track his obsession with buying more movies than he can ever possibly watch. A few months back I had mentioned that I was thinking of cataloging my comics and he mentioned that the DVD software people made a comics version. The other two titles were new to me.

The first thing I noticed when I went to their Website was that it was pretty darn busy. Lots of covers, lots of ads, lots of... well, everything!  In fact, at first glance, the site looked like it was owned by an online comic book company that sold collectibles along with new and back issues. I actually had to read the details on the home page to figure out that they did, indeed, have a software solution available for comic book collectors. Here's a shot of their Website home page on March 9, 2012.

I certainly don't mind that they have a lot of irons in the fire, as that probably means that they could help me monetize my collection when and if I'm ever ready for that. But still... it did give me pause. Nevertheless, I downloaded the trial software and took a look at it.

I downloaded and installed ComicCollectorLive 3.1.4, It installed on my Windows 7 computer in a few minutes without any problems. When I opened the software, I was greeted with this message:

Comic Collector Live 
Subscription Only $29.95 per year! Get hundreds of hours of fun, enjoyment, and the most up-to-date comprehensive information about all of your collections.
  •  Live New Release Updates.
  •  Live Data Change Updates. 
  •  Live Downloads of Covers and Item Images. 
  •  Track Variant Covers Create a Wish List. 
  •  View Gaps in Your Collection. 
  •  Much Much More 
Collector Live lets you organize all of these items:
  • Comic Books 
  • Graphic Novels 
  • Trade Paperbacks 
  • Comic Related Magazines Action Figures 
  • Statues & Busts 
  • Original Comic Art 
  • Trading Cards 
  • Much Much More 
Enjoy tracking your comic books, action figures, and more using this great community system. Built and managed by fans just like yourself, you will find Comic Collector Live to be the most fun and productive tool you have ever experienced for this industry.

Although this is a very comprehensive list, I was put off by the yearly subscription fee. As you may recall, that was on my list of things I didn't want. Still, I pressed on, as the software itself looked promising. The software is designed to conform to modern Windows design standards: It has a ribbon across the top with icon groups, there is a navigation pane to the left with collapsible panels that expand and contract to allow you to quickly switch between Publisher/Title/Character/Story Arc. The Publisher view has a standard treeview that, unfortunately, only allows one folder to be expanded at a time (i.e. if you have a folder open and then click on another folder, the first one automatically collapses).

The Character sort option looked promising, but as we'll see, it really didn't pass muster because, apparently, there isn't enough info in their database.

To give the software a shakedown, I quickly entered a few titles. I found this to be awkward, as I first had to browse for the title and, after it was selected, I was able to select individual issues. I'm not saying it's a bad system, but it didn't seem intuitive to me. I figured any database worth its salt could handle all the geek chic titles like Batman, Superman, JLA, Spider-Man and the countless X-Books.  So I decided to enter some comics that were a little more esoteric: Archie Comics.

I added Archie and Veronica as titles to the catalog, which appears to download issue info in a batch and only covers as needed (fortunately I have a fast Internet connection, so this wasn't an issue). Also, I do prefer that it only store the covers of issues I actually have (I have a big hard drive, but there's no reason to waste space). With these two titles in place,

I decided to go way out there and add another oddity: an old Gold Key comic called Space Family Robinson (this is an odd title from the 1960s that actually pre-dated the Lost in Space TV series: for the odd back-story, check out the Wikipedia article about it).

Now with a few titles to work with, I gave the software a shakedown. I poked around and figured out how to add titles/series, but I couldn't figure out how to add individual issues to my own collection. I finally had to resort to the help file to find out that you could add single issues or runs of issues by looking at comics in the Inventory View (there are three views for the main part of the screen: Folder, Inventory and Image). Once I understood that each issue was a single row that could be expanded with a treeview option that let you look at multiple copies of the same issue, I quickly added some comics to my own collection.

I actually liked this option because it let you easily track multiple copies (and multiple grades) of the same issue. But I DID NOT LIKE that you could only enter single issues or "runs" of issues that do not have gaps. So, if I'm missing a single issue in my Jonah Hex collection (say #47), I would either have to enter issues #1-46, #48-up or just enter them all and then go back and delete what I don't have. This was not intuitive or time effective.

I was also VERY DISAPPOINTED that you cannot add comics by right-clicking the cover image in the catalog view. In this image below, you can see the image area (this is actually a picture of comics I added to my collection, but it looks the same as the catalog view with the Image View tab (bottom of screen) selected. I mean, really? I have to go to the spreadsheet and remember each issue number? That's very slow and annoying. This may not seem like much when dealing with a modern title like Veronica or Archie, but some of those old Gold Key and Whitman comics don't have issue numbers on the cover, making it time consuming to open them and then select the number. I wasn't happy with this.

On the other hand, I was pretty happy with the depth of their cover database. It had a lot of variant covers (including the Gold Key and Whitman variants of the Space Family Robinson #44 that I show up above). Ditto for the Veronica #202 (I have three copies of the white dress first printing and two copies of the red dress second printing).

I poked around with the application for about three or four hours before I decided that it wasn't for me. Although some of the features were cool, and it did do everything it said it would do, it just wasn't for me.

CONs - Things I couldn't live with:
  • The catalog view was very clunky. Since it only downloads covers when you are browsing, this means you have to wait to see the covers as they appear. So, if you want to see Veronica #202, you have to scroll down, wait for two rows of covers appear, then scroll down again, wait... scroll down again, and so on. It took 2-3 minutes to get through to the end of the Veronica series (around 230 issues). I shudder to think of how long it would take to go through Archie (630+ issues) or Action Comics (more than 900!)
  • I hated the "enter runs" feature. I would much prefer a checklist approach that let me pick any issue (or skip any issue) in a run. Their method was just too time consuming.
  • I found that there were a lot of Archie comics that did not have any creator or plot info listed in their details. I know I shouldn't expect too much because these are not highly collected, but nevertheless, I've got to be picky before I spend my hard earned cash.
  • I also did NOT like the idea of a subscription. $30 a year can add up, especially when you consider that I'm looking for an "evergreen" solution to cataloging my collection.
  • The interface just didn't suit me.

PROs - Things I did like:
  • Cover database was VERY thorough. 
  • Software was modern looking
  • Quick response time, except when scrolling for covers in the catalog
So, as you can imagine by comparing the Pros and Cons listed above, I did not choose this software package. But before I close the page on this, I do want to say that just because I didn't like it doesn't mean you might not like it. If you are into more modern comics (i.e. 1990s - up) and you plan to sell comics, then I think Comic Collector Live could be right for you.

Check back Wed. for my review of a classic comic I'm reading now.
I'll continue my hunt for the best comic collecting database next Monday with a look at ComicBase.
And Friday I will finally run my long-promised Rant about why I hate grocery shopping at night!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Netflix Friday: National Lampoon Presents Dorm Daze

Way back in the halcyon days of the mid 1980s, National Lampoon magazine was one of the funniest, most irreverent things on the news stand (okay, we've had this discussion before -- on the magazine rack at 7-Eleven). These days, its name lives on only to market cheap comedies filled with sex and drug references.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. After a long week, sometimes that's exactly the sort of thing I'm in the mood for. The other day I saw a trailer for the upcoming American Pie Reunion movie, which put me in the mood to find something of similar ilk. Friday night after my wife went to bed, I browsed Netflix and found something that -- for no discernible reason I could fathom at the time -- I selected National Lampoon Presents Dorm Daze.

I went in with low expectations, hoping for a few funny gags and some non-gratuitous T&A (that's right, I wanted T&A that was essential to the plot, not just extraneous -- you know, like you find in your better slumber party pillow fight scenes). Well, there were no pillow fights in this movie, but I was wonderfully surprised by a rather enjoyable farce that moved at a pleasantly brisk pace. Of course, you would never know this from the official description from the Netflix site, or even from the movie's trailer (both included below).

-- Description from Netflix Web siteAs Christmas break approaches, coed college students run amok in their dorms in this comedy of misadventures. It's a case of mistaken identity when two girls who are both named Dominique visit campus: One is a hooker hired to deflower a male virgin, while the other is a foreign exchange student who speaks only French. Other higher-learning high jinks involve a couple of gossipy girls, a geek, a gangster and a missing purse full of cash.

Ignore the official info and read on as to why you should watch Dorm Daze.

Dorm Daze is a classic drawing room/manor house play set in a modern dormitory. The classic roles of servants, cooks, maids, valets, master, mistress, rich sons/daughters have all been replaced with about 11 college students and a few other characters (like the aforementioned hooker named Dominique). Honestly, with very little work this screenplay could be rewritten and would do quite well as a Masterpiece Theater production with the BBC.

Here's some twisted highlights (and no, I don't think I can make it much clearer because it's one of those types of movies); One of the girls is about to lose her scholarship when she receives a package containing a plaid purse with $30,000 and a note. She calls a phone number on the note and meets a guy who thinks she's some sort of hit woman or criminal; she's not sure which, but she plays along and cooks up a scheme to get the money so she can stay in school. Meanwhile, Styles hires a prostitute for his younger brother's Christmas present (now that's brotherly love), but the brother doesn't want it because he's in love with his girlfriend. Then we've got the hooker and the foreign exchange student, both named Dominique, who naturally get mistaken for each other; so Styles is trying to get the French girl to do his brother, whereas the hooker is getting upset about not getting paid. Then there's a visiting guy named Cliff who doesn't want to talk to anyone, so he pretends he can't speak English (which means that other people talk freely in front him, wherein he learns about the money and figures out who the hooker is). Then there are the romantic entanglements: Geeky Newmar likes Adrienne (she got drunk and made out with him last night), but she has feelings for local hottie Foosball, who is actually gay. Things go wild from there, with four notes (love poem, instructions to the criminals, love letter and a phone number) all get mixed up with predictable results. We even have trouble between long-term girlfriend/boyfriend Claire and Tony with a subplot where he accidentally keeps banging into her, so the local drama/gossip queens Marla and Lynne are convinced that Tony is beating Claire, and cheating with Adrienne. Honest-to-gosh, they do the old bit where Adrienne and Tony are rehearsing for a play and are overheard through a door, after which many misunderstandings ensue. Until, of course, true love finds its way at the end and all is right with the world... or is it?

In the "Hey, I know that actress file": Marla is played by Danielle Fishel who played Topanga in Boy Meets World, and Claire is played by Tatyana Ali who played Ashley in the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

By this time, though the pace has picked up so much that if you're still watching, you're going to just dive in and enjoy the ride. This is not a serious movie, but it's actually better written and better acted than you would suspect from the official descriptions and from my babbling on about it here. If you want something a little more cogent than my fanboy ramblings, check out this fairly detailed plot summary from IMDB.

The IMDB summary calls this a "collegiate comedy of Shakespearean proportions." I find that really apt since, as I said above, this really felt like an old-fashioned play. While watching it, with all the door slammings and note swappings, I couldn't help but think of the classic play (and movie), Noises Off! You could almost swap out the play-within-a-play -- Nothing On! -- with a reworked Dorm Daze, and you would still have a hit on your hands.

If you like classic comedies built on mistaken identity, misunderstandings, slamming doors, running down hallways, misplaced notes, and duplicate bags of money, then this is definitely a movie you should watch. Fair warning: it does have an R-Rating, so there are a few curse words here and there (nothing much, though), and a little bit of completely necessary nudity (okay, it wasn't necessary but that doesn't mean I didn't enjoy it). All in all, the naughty bits are pretty mild and were not included for shock value.

Out of five stars, I give this movie ****
Summary: "If you give this movie 15 minutes, you'll get sucked into a modern update on a classic drawing room/manor house comedy."

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Comics: Looking for a "Super Computer" to catalog my comics - Pt. 1

So I've decided to figure out what I've got and (if the Joker #1 has taught us anything) where it is. For this, I obviously decided to turn to my computer. Or maybe even a Super Computer!

Okay, I guess my computer doesn't need super powers, but it does need the right tools to do the job. Here's what I was looking for:

  • Easy to use
  • Must have database of covers (including variants)
  • Windows based (online components are okay, but I want this hosted on my own computer)
  • Extensive database of creators, plots, characters, publication year, etc.
  • Lets me enter multiple comics at a single time
  • Let's me record when I have multiple copies of the same comic
  • Not overly expensive (I would prefer not to pay any on-going subscription fees
  • Ability to enter "location" information so I can keep track which long/short box a specific comic is in (curse you, Joker, this one is a deal breaker!)
With these requirements in mind (yes, that's actually the way I think) I hit google and started to search for reviews of comic book database software. This was one of the first reviews I found at, and it actually added a few items to what I already knew I was looking for:
  • Browse and search capabilities
  • Wishlist. This one is so obvious that I can't believe I didn't think of it. Just because I'm missing Marvel Comics Mighty Mouse # 7 - 9 does not mean I'm really in any hurry to find them. Oh, sure... if I found them in a bin for 25 cents a book, I'd pick them up because I'm that compulsive, but it doesn't mean I'm itching to get them).
  • Determine the value of your collection. Okay, this one did cross my mind when I was thinking of my original criteria, but I wasn't sure it was feasible because comic prices are so darned subjective these days. Honestly, the only way to accurately gauge the street price of a comic is to monitor ebay and see what they're going for (my quick hunt for those Mighty Mouse comics shows them to be worth about $1 - $2 each, depending on condition; a similar hunt at concurs with those prices.
  • Web access to my collection so I can use my smart phone at the comic shop before I spend money on a back issue.
This article also pointed out the fact that I wanted a flexible system that could handle graphic novels, digests and other formats beyond the "standard" comic book. I was also going to be aware of the fact that some of the software solutions were more geared for entering new comics than for cataloging vast, ongoing collections. Even though  I only buy a few titles a month these days, my horde is still growing and I need to make rum for my new stuff.

These were all cool features and reviewer Ben Sweetser did a very thorough job of examining three products. After reading his review, I promptly investigated each and every one of them (another bullet list? I think I'm setting myself up for an intervention: "Mike, your use of bullet lists is affecting the people who love you and we would like you to see help. Perhaps someone could help you re-learn how to make quick, valid points without them?").

I now had a starting point for my quest... now it was time to soldier on and see which (if any of them) was worthy of putting on a cape and becoming my Super Computer!

Comic Talk continues Monday as I start to review each of these products
Netflix Friday is a blast as I review a cheesy little movie that is MUCH better than I thought it would be

Monday, March 5, 2012

Comics: Where did I put that copy of Joker#1?

One of the main problems I'm having is that, with 10,000 comics stored in about 30+ boxes, I just can't find anything. In general, the stuff I packed up prior to moving off to college in 1984 is actually in pretty good shape. Comics are boarded and bagged and alphabetized from A-Z (roughly Alpha Flight to Zot!). But after that, things begin to get a bit chaotic.

Even back in the early 1980s and 1990s, I was buying about 30+ comics a month. And sometimes significantly more than that. When I was single and had a good job and a low car payment and rent? Fergitaboutit! I was hauling in danged near 50 comics a month for quite a few years. Funny how marriage and a mortgage cuts into your buying power, eh? And no, I don't regret it a bit! :-)

But during these days, I didn't take the time to board and bag everything, and I certainly wasn't spending the time to go back and reshuffle things to insert new issues into the old alphabetized collection. This meant that I was just kind of putting comics together by title and general time period. For example, X-Men wound up next to X-Force from the same year, but if the box I was putting them in got filled up, I just moved on to a new box and continued putting them in there. So, about five years of various X-Titles are scattered through three long boxes. Along with lots of other stuff, naturally.

This caused a big problem whenever I might want to find something that had been put away. For example, there was the time I wanted to sell my copy of JOKER #1.

The Joke's on me!
Back in 2008 when they released the movie, The Dark Knight, Heath Ledger's portrayal of the Joker was setting fire to everyone's imagination. It was an amazing performance and rightly earned  an Oscar for it. At that time, interest in the Joker had bumped up the price of any early comics featuring the Clown Prince of Crime.  I happened to have The Joker #1 and #2 from his short-lived series from 1975. The comic, which normally sold for about $5-$7 on ebay had climbed north of $40. I reckoned that I could easily get $50 for the pair.

My plan was simple: I would sell the comic now at a higher price and then, later, when the price came back down, I would rebuy it. You see, movies and TV shows do not seem to have a permanent effect on comic prices. The interest they generate is artificial and any price spikes you see will almost certainly be temporary.

I went to my storage facility (that's where the books were at the time) and I moved all the boxes around so I could get to the J-M Longbox... and it wasn't in there! I cracked open the B box in the off chance I had stored it with Batman... and it wasn't there, either. So, there I was, with thousands of comics, and I couldn't find the two I was looking for. The movie passed, the price peaked, and the price of the comic has gone back down to about $10-$15, depending on condition.

By the way, I finally did find the book. Apparently I had moved it in with some miscellaneous Batman titles (Catwoman, Birds of Prey, etc.). So that leaves me with the another aspect of the problem I'm facing: It's not just about keeping my comics stored and safe from moisture and damage, it's about putting them into a system of organization that will let me find what I want when I want.

And for that, I've decided to turn to software.

Comic Talk continues on Wed. when I tell about my search for the "perfect" comic book database.
Netflix Friday continues with a surprising find that was much better than I expected it to be.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Comics: A Rant and a Review/Commentary on Life With Archie #16

I was out reading comics news and stumbled across a bit of liberal bigotry over at It seems that a conservative group is protesting the gay marriage of Kevin Keller in Live With Archie magazine #16.

Here's a CCN news clip about the event:

Comics Beat ran a story about the event (with a link to a longer news story that's well worth watching):

The comments on the page were full of the usual narrow-minded name calling that the left often engages in. Isn't it funny how everyone who disagrees with them is an ignorant bigot who is full of hate? And this from a group of people who preach tolerance! Honestly, I sometimes think that a dose of self-awareness would hit some (not all) of them like being Ben Grimm bitch-slapped.

Here's my comments on their comments

Ahhhhh, nothing like a "hot-button topic" to bring out the name calling (shame on you, As stated above, not everyone who disagrees with gay marriage is a bigot, and OBVIOUSLY not everyone who supports it is tolerant of other views. In fact, the anger generated by this topic on the "Pro-Gay Marriage" side is unacceptable in our society. If you cannot maintain a level of civility in your discourse, then you should just shut up until you grow up enough to recognize that opposing views are not always based on hatred or ignorance.

Oh, and as for an activist group promoting its views on this issue? That's the way our society is SUPPOSED to work. Now, while you get worked up and ready yourselves to type some nasty (and probably poorly written) missive in response... pause for a moment and ask yourself: Is he talking about the Million Moms, GLAAD... or both?

NOW, on the the comic, of which (apparently) I am the only one who read it?

For those of you who don't follow LIFE WITH ARCHIE magazine, each issue presents two stories set in parallel universes (take that, DC Comics!) where he has married Veronica and where he has married Betty. Each story appears to follow the same general time period (the seasons in each story are the same, and each seems to be set about a year after they got married... more or less). Each issue is odd, but lately the parallel universe bit has actually been worked prominently into both storylines with Dilton Doiley working with Mr. Lodge on some kind of project involving the multiverse, and a new creepy guy (Fred Mirth) working against them. Some of the characters from the two universes actually seem to be able to cross over from one side to the other (what role does Mr. Blast-From-The-Past Ambroce play? -- he says the adventures he had with Little Archie were real and not imaginary).

Wow, that sounds harder to explain than sorting out the various earths in DC's 52 Universe. But it's not bad. Keep in mind, this new magazine is more of a soap opera than a humor book (kinda like the "relevant" last issues of the series, That Wilkin Boy, which dealt with teen issues like crime, bullying, runaways, the illness of a pet, etc.).

LIFE WITH ARCHIE #16 was a bit of a change of pace for the series so far. The Kevin Keller storyline actually didn't change much between universes. Oh, and by the way, I admit I haven't read it in a month or so, but I don't recall them mentioning Iraq as where Lt. Keller got shot. It just said "Somewhere in the Middle East..." In the Veronica story we learn that Kevin took a bullet to the back while under fire in combat. In the Betty half of the book we find that Clay Walker is his physical therapist and that -- while working through Kevin's anger about his injuries -- the two fell in love and subsequently returned to Kevin's parent's home in Riverdale to get married. I guess I'm an old man now because I worry that 10 months may be a bit hasty to rush into a wedding... but then again, I did it in 18 months, so who am I to judge?

I thought the wedding was pretty, and I loved in the Veronica storyline how Archie finally stood up to Ronnie and kicked her out of the wedding. They've been separated for a while and she's been acting like a celebrity heiress like Paris Hilton for a few months now -- she showed up at Kevin's wedding to steal the spotlight and have her picture taken and Archie tossed her out on her ear. About time, red!

As far as the soap opera elements of the series go, I really enjoyed this issue. Paul Kupperberg is doing a great job taking over for Michael Uslan (he wrote the original "Married Life" series that ran in Archie #600-606 and the first issue of the magazine). I like the balance between soap opera and sci-fi and am glad I'm following this series. That being said, this issue did feel like an intrusion into the regular storyline. Kind of like a "Very Special Episode" that might run during sweeps week, or something like that.

As for political/social analysis? I have to agree with John Goldwater: A gay marriage doesn't seem out of place in Riverdale. It is a welcoming place that represents an idealized view of society. It seems to be a place that has found a balance between social concerns on both the left and the right. In this issue, any sort of protest against gay marriage would have been out of place in the comic itself.

As for protesters on both sides of the issue? Please argue more about this! I have multiple copies of the first printing of Kevin's first (and second) appearance and I would really love it if everyone drove up the prices for me!

Your Regularly-Scheduled Comics Talk blog returns on Monday. 
My Rant about Grocery Shopping at Night has been rescheduled for Friday, March 16.
Tune in next Friday for another cool edition of Netflix Friday.