Another Year Over

Today is my last day of work at the school where I’ve been teaching for the past year.  While this post sits and accrues the modest number of eyeballs from people that care about the goings on of my personal and professional life, I’ll be off at work doing last minute packing and sorting.  These activities will honestly not take that much time, so I expect most of the day will be spent enjoying the company of my coworkers (this is generally the way that post-planning always goes; you just don’t have as much to do in the time given as you think you will).  I think this is a fitting way to spend the last day of the school year, especially since I won’t be returning to this job in the fall.

How the last professional year began for me: with a trip to the local jail to get my fingerprints taken so everyone knew it was safe for me to work with children. Forgive the goofy face; I have a lot of trouble with selfies.

It’s no real secret among my friends and family that Rachael and I are in the process of organizing a move across the country to Oregon.  She just graduated from her degree program, and we find ourselves, for the first time in eight years, not bogged down with the need to live near a university and get by on a single income.  We’re ready to go on an adventure like we’ve discussed doing ever since we got married, and this is the moment to do it.  Rachael has always loved the Pacific Northwest, and I’m up for seeing something new (I’ve lived in Georgia my entire life and only ever traveled significant distances on a few special occasions), so that’s where we’re setting our course.  It’s a happy turn of events for us, and we grow more excited as each step in our plan comes to fruition.

For me there is some sadness mixed in as well.  After five years working at my last school, I was very much approaching burnout, and the transition to the school where I’ve been was a happy one.  I’ve made friends and done well professionally in this latest setting; in many ways it feels like a good fit for me.  As I’ve said many times to many people, if the plan were to stay in Georgia then I would absolutely want to stay where I am; that’s not the plan though, and I can’t.

If I had to sum up the last year of work briefly, I would have to describe it overall as restful.  My previous job was very high stress with a challenging student population and limited professional resources; I can’t say that it was a bad experience, but it’s definitely not the sort of environment that most people can work in for an extended period of time.  I’m perpetually amazed by the folks I know who had been working there longer than me and who are still going strong a year after I decided I’d had enough.  In contrast, I’ve felt incredibly supported in this most recent job, and I could easily continue doing this kind of work for many more years.

I’ve found the co-teaching model quite agreeable all around.  I understand that there are potential pitfalls if you don’t get paired with a co-teacher who meshes with your classroom style and personality, but I was lucky enough during this year to not run into those issues.  All of my co-teachers were wonderful, and they did a lot to help me navigate this transitional year into a new paradigm for classroom work.  I hope that I was equally helpful in making their classrooms welcoming places where our students learned stuff that they wouldn’t have learned otherwise.

That’s all for today, I think.  I’m entering another transition, and there are a lot of feelings mixed up in it; it’s probably better to just sit with those feelings for a bit for now.

Reading “No Normal (5 of 5)”

The conclusion to the first arc of Ms. Marvel is a really strong one with all the parts of the series that I love represented.  We get to see more of Kamala’s personal relationships developing, Kamala finalizes the look of her costume, she learns some more about how her powers work, the action climax is relatively short (I am apparently so not here for the bof and the pow), and we finally get the reveal of the super villain that’s going to be Kamala’s first nemesis.  There is a lot to like, and it more than makes up for the relatively thin feeling of the fourth issue.

I really like the empty space on this cover. It feels very contemplative. Also, I love any scene where Kamala is just hanging out. (Cover by Jamie McKelvie & Matthew Wilson. Image credit: Comic Vine)

Because the last issue left off with a cliffhanger involving Kamala being trapped by a kid, Doyle, with a mohawk and a laser gun, this one has to start off with a rapid resolution of that conundrum.  Kamala has her first real setback as she realizes that she’s outmatched by Doyle’s sharpshooting and spider drones, so she needs to retreat, leaving Vick still held captive the Inventor’s henchfolk.  I like this decision because it underscores (like the rest of the arc) that Kamala is still just learning about her powers (total time that’s passed within the story is about four days) and becoming a superhero doesn’t automatically confer expertise in rescues and big battles and such.  Kamala’s infiltration of the gang’s hideout, which is pretty haphazard on its face when you consider how she handles the overwhelming numbers of the drones (that is, she doesn’t), doesn’t really involve an exit plan for getting both herself and a non-powered person out.  Her retreat is smart, and it teaches her that she needs planning as well as powers.

Kamala GTFOs after her rescue attempt goes sideways. (Artwork by Adrian Alphona, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

Kamala’s parents have different approaches to encouraging her not to be reckless. They both love her a lot though. (Artwork by Adrian Alphona, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

Before we get to the obligatory training montage that shows Kamala spending the afternoon with Bruno figuring out how to do things like run faster (she grows longer legs), hide (she makes herself look like a mannequin in a dumpster), shrink (she hangs out in Bruno’s pet hamster’s cage) and whatnot, Kamala has to have one last run in with her parents in this story.  Continuing with the motif of her last few interactions with her parents, this one involves Kamala getting caught coming home late from being out against her parents’ wishes and her having to run the gauntlet of parental questions.  Kamala’s mom continues to be flustered with her disobedience and demands an explanation for why Kamala is dressed in her burkini and coming home after one in the morning.  Her mother makes such a fuss that she wakes Kamala’s father, who calms his wife and tells her to get some sleep.  This is a replay of the dynamic we saw on display back in issue two where Kamala’s mom is typically the more hotheaded of the parents and her father tries to be the levelheaded one.  I really like this portrayal because it shows Kamala’s dad respecting his daughter’s autonomy.  He doesn’t like that she disobeys her parents, but his first impulse is never to react angrily; he wants to understand what she’s going through.  In this moment, Kamala takes advantage of her dad’s relative leniency to explain that she can’t tell him what she’s dealing with.  He doesn’t freak over the secrecy, but instead tells Kamala about how her parents named her and why they worry for her safety.  His final judgment is that she needs to speak with Sheikh Abdullah at the mosque, which is really reasonable; I like it especially because it highlights how Kamala’s father wants to give her space to deal with her problems in a mature manner.  It’s this family dynamic where Kamala’s parents don’t just punish her for disappearing at weird intervals that I find really appealing, but it wouldn’t be unreasonable for them to just declare her grounded all the time given how bad she is at sneaking out.

Kamala fires a well aimed laser pew off panel. (Artwork by Adrian Alphona, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

Following all the family togetherness, Kamala persuades Bruno to help her train for a second run at the rescue mission; Bruno feels obligated because she is trying to save his brother from hoodlums with laser guns and spider drones.  We see Kamala finalize her costume (I am a sucker for explanations of how superheroes put their costumes together) and then the issue’s key action sequence happens super quickly (it’s four pages total, which is a really good pace to emphasize that Kamala has a plan to rescue Vick, executes it, and then hightails it out of there).  Kamala appears to know what she’s doing here; this is probably the first time that she’s fully prepared for what she’s doing, and it shows.  It’s a lot of fun with cute moments like Kamala riding on the back of one of the drones while miniaturized so she can use its laser to disable Doyle (by shooting him in the crotch; presumably the drones’ lasers aren’t nearly as powerful as the one from Doyle’s pistol that very clearly burned Kamala when it grazed her).  It’s a compact sequence that underscores that Kamala is just trying to get Vick out safely this time; she’s not trying to do anything fancy like apprehend Doyle and the other kids.

The issue ends with Kamala taking ownership of her new role as Jersey City’s local superhero (in front of the Circle Q, which is probably the absolute best unofficial base of operations you could imagine for a teenager superhero) and the big reveal that the Inventor is a dude named Mr. Edison who is actually a humanoid cockatiel who wears a waistcoat.  It’s not the strangest super villain to ever appear in comics, but it’s pretty out there.

Ms. Marvel makes her public debut to the citizens of Jersey City. (Artwork by Adrian Alphona, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

ABC’s

  • Fight Loser II
  • Custom spider drones with different decorations including a flower print casing, a gray wig, wraparound shades, a viking helmet, and a bandana
  • Olive Oil?
  • Nanana Bat Milk
  • Cobra Halalala Hot Sauce: Yoga Fire
  • Yoga Flame or Yoga Fire
  • Cromulant Crunch
  • “Hey kids try a maze”
  • “LoL -> Life lesson”
  • Low Hanging Fruit Juice: Adequate Apple
  • Pedestrian Pear
  • Radoslav’s Fantabulous Hakka
  • GM-O’s
  • “Frook Toes Freddie’s FAQ for the Kiddies”
  • “Q: (Billy) Can we – A: No.”
  • “Ingredients are on a need to know basis”
  • Thugs at Brunch 2014 Calendar: October
  • McDude
  • Radoslav’s Outrageous Pakistani Cuisine
  • “Pardon our dust, friend!!  We’re Renovating! – Circle Q”
  • blue print: [picture of an outhouse]
  • Gigawatts 1.21
  • Eau de Super Snot by Bruno
  • The owl living at the dock reappears!
  • Blerf World Famous Alley Boxes
  • Ralph’s Fashion
  • Shakes!
  • “Introducing the Poison Dart Frog Burger: As seen on the news”
  • Bullet Ant Shake: $4
  • The Birdman Cometh

Master of None Is My Favorite Thing! Master of None is My Favorite Thing!

Okay, not really, but you try to get Dev and Arnold’s stupid jingle out of your head.

Master of None Poster

Promotional poster for season 2. (Image credit: IMDb)

I enjoyed the first season of Master of None.  It had some flaws, and a few episodes were incredibly uncomfortable (Dev is bad at babysitting and Dev becomes a pawn in the power games between a rich white couple come to mind), but overall I thought it was a really engaging examination of the struggles Millennials tend to have in their professional and romantic lives.  I wrote before that the arc that Dev’s story follows isn’t totally relatable to me simply because I made some unusual life choices in my twenties (Rachael and I got married when we were twenty-two, and I’ve known for the better part of a decade what I want my career trajectory to look like).  Also (and this is something I only realized with this season of the show), I’ve never lived in a big city like New York, and so much of Dev’s life appears to be reflective of living in that kind of environment.  Also also, I’m still befuddled by the amount of expendable income he has; dude took three months off from working to fly to Italy and learn how to make pasta, and then when he comes back to America he still spends money like mad.  I suppose it’s part of the fantasy element of the show; Dev has lots of struggles, but because his life is lived in social spaces that usually cost money to inhabit we need to hand wave the logistical questions so we can get to the story (this is a sharp contrast from Aziz Ansari’s character on Parks & Recreation who, while certainly more of a caricature of the materialist Millennial, was undercut by at least occasional references to the crippling debt he must have assumed to maintain his lavish lifestyle).

Setting aside my gripes about the peculiarities of how a show portrays Millennials, I did genuinely enjoy the second season of Master of None.  All ten episodes in the season are highly engaging, and more than a handful of them are sublime bits of storytelling.  The two long arcs of the season revolve around Dev landing a steady job hosting a competitive food show and his pining after Francesca, a woman whom he befriends while staying in Italy and falls in love with despite her having a very long term boyfriend.  The romance plot is clearly the primary focus of the season, but the career stuff gets some major attention, particularly towards the end as Dev prepares to launch a new show with a more established television personality and has to deal with the fallout from revelations that his costar is a sexual predator who’s harassed women working on his shows for years.  This sequence is one of the season’s high points because it’s communicated clearly that Dev never doubts what he hears from one of his coworkers who was victimized by the dude; we know that Dev has a lot riding on the scandal going away, but (aside from one misstep that’s very clearly unintentional on Dev’s part) he never sides with the dude.  It’s nice to see a plot line about a guy who seemed relatively benign suddenly being revealed to be a predator and have another guy react with sympathy for the victims; I like to think this is an extension of the episode from the first season where Dev got 101ed on feminism by his girlfriend at the time.

The Francesca plot line is handled similarly well; Dev has a lot of complicated feelings, and much of his frustration stems from his recognition that Francesca is in a committed relationship and that he has a responsibility to respect that boundary regardless of his own feelings.  There’s a ton of ambiguity throughout most of the season whether Francesca reciprocates, and that ambiguity helps build the tension on Dev’s part.  One complaint I do have about the story is that because Francesca’s feelings have to remain an unknown quantity in order for the audience to feel invested in Dev’s story, there isn’t a whole lot of time given over to exploring how she’s coping with Dev’s affections.  In the third season, whenever they make it, I’d like to see more exploration of how Francesca’s life gets upended by this sudden major decision she has to make.

That’s enough about the main story.  The aspect of Master of None that I liked the best in the first season is carried over here; the show’s structural premise is that we’re seeing stories about Dev and people in his life.  The creators feel a lot of freedom to take this premise and stretch it so that Dev becomes more of a supporting character in other people’s stories, and those episodes are my favorites.  The standouts in this season are easily “New York, I Love You,” an anthology episode where we see three vignettes about people that would usually only play background roles (a doorman at an upscale New York apartment building, a Deaf woman who works the register at a bodega, and a Rwandan cab driver), and “Thanksgiving” which chronicles the Thanksgiving dinners of the family of Dev’s friend Denise (this episode centers around Denise growing into her identity as a lesbian and the gradual changes in her relationship with her family).  Neither episode has anything to do with the main plot of the season, but they’re such rich stories.  These breaks from the plot highlight one of Master of None‘s chief strengths: the creators approach each episode as having the potential to stand alone as a short film.  It helps to know about what else is going on in Dev’s life at any time, but it’s not essential to understand the topics that are being explored in any given episode.

Overall, this season is a far superior offering than the first one, which was still pretty good.  Give the whole thing a watch, or at least hit up those side episodes.

On Technology in Education

My friend James is going back to school to learn more about learning, as it were, and he’s decided to blog his way through what he’s learning and just share general anxieties and thoughts about the experience.  Earlier this week he wrote a post discussing general trends in education with regard to technology use in the classroom.  My general opinion of James is that he’s a remarkably thoughtful person, and when he takes the time to write things down they’re worth reading.

James’s observations about educational technology revolve primarily around the problem of poor imagination about application of educational tech.  He describes the uniformity of technology use across multiple classrooms that he’s had access to (James has worked in education in three states across the East Coast); tools like laptops and Chromebooks are used to access traditional forms of educational activity (things like worksheets and such).  I’m not above valuing a good worksheet, but it is sort of an underwhelming application for tools that cost school districts thousands of dollars.  You want to imagine that the monetary investment should be giving teachers the ability to help their students learn in new, more student-centered ways (this phrase, “student-centered,” is a buzzword that I’ve seen on a few evaluations that were looking to recommend better practices for the school where I’ve been working this year), and the realization that most of the application of educational technology still centers on traditional teaching methods just dressed up with a slightly flashier interface, you begin to wonder about the return on investment.  I suppose that it’s fair to acknowledge that student engagement is a valuable ingredient in effective learning, and a little bit of flash can be useful in improving engagement; there are other net positives like improved convenience for the teacher (through indirect benefits like needing to make fewer copies overall and a more centralized system for evaluation that doesn’t require keeping up with tons of paperwork; these benefits are highly situational though), but it still seems like a disappointing return on investment.

The kicker for me is the fact that educational technology is constantly spun as an investment of sorts.  This is an old hat observation, but the thing about technology is that even though it is pretty expensive, it’s a cheaper investment than other avenues to improved educational outcomes like (evidence-based) professional development and just hiring more staff.  You throw a few hundred thousand dollars at buying new computers and then tout them as the route to more immersive learning without being thoughtful in how the resource is deployed, and you get a lot of wasted time, effort, and money.  I suspect that part of this failure to connect the tool with an effective use comes from general technophobia in education.  It’s not universal; I have met and worked with educators who are extremely comfortable integrating technology into their classrooms; however, so many teachers are intimidated by the application of relatively simple tools (by today’s standards) like interactive white boards and document cameras.  These are not magic bullets by any stretch; they’re just the most recent iteration on tools that teachers have been using for decades (I harbor a secret desire to just once make use of an old transparency projector in my classroom even though I know that a document camera could achieve the same effect).  Considering this reality of iterative tools that so many people expect to operate in some miraculous new way, I tend to come down on the educational technology issue with the opinion that it’s all a fig leaf meant to cover for the fact that educators don’t like to consider how they might implement substantial change in their teaching models when they can slap a proverbial coat of paint on the old methods and come off as innovative.

That last bit probably came off as a bit cynical, so it needs a caveat; in the realm of education I am not generally the sort of teacher who looks to do new things in the classroom just because I think that novelty equates with quality; if a strategy is backed up by solid evidence then I don’t see a reason to discard it.  If new technology allows me to implement those strategies in a more streamlined way, then I’m all for it.  I think this is the way that a lot of teachers actually approach technology in their classrooms with greater or lesser animosity towards the tech depending on the individual’s comfort level with learning how to use new tools.

Given all this, I’m inclined to view educational technology as a weird feature of the educator culture.  There’s a real tension between people who badly want it to be that silver bullet (typically administrators who are working with a limited budget and want to be able to point towards something that they’re doing to improve the educational experience) and people who think it’s just a mess that complicates the business of getting students to learn.  Existing between these groups is sort of complicated, because conversations about technology use often end up going nowhere; you can’t convince the technophiles that the benefits have a limited scope without additional supports and reflection on system-level implementation, and you can’t persuade technophobes that the tools really can offer concrete improvements to the classroom if you’re willing to work through the learning curve.  Usually it’s easier to just say, “Hey, white boards are technology.  Let’s talk about something else.”

Reading “No Normal (4 of 5)”

This is a great cover, but there is, unfortunately, no Aamir in this issue to act as surprised as he looks inside the diner. (Image credit: Comic Vine, cover by Jamie McKelvie)

The fourth issue of Ms. Marvel is a little weaker than the previous issues; the main reason for this is that there’s less of the fun stuff surrounding Kamala’s personal life and more straightforward superheroics.  It’s possible this is primarily a personal preference; I enjoy reading about Kamala’s troubles trying to manage the logistics of being a superhero with a personal life more than I do reading about a person being a superhero.

The best part of Kamala’s conversation with Bruno is her series of expressions while she’s searching for the bullet that fell out of her when she shifted back to her default shape. (Artwork by Adrian Alphona, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

The issue can be broken down into three broad scenes: Kamala telling her secret to Bruno and getting his help protecting her secret identity from the police, Kamala gathering the basics to make her final superhero costume, and Kamala breaking into the hideout of some kids who are working for the as yet unseen Big Bad, the Inventor.  The stuff between Kamala and Bruno is good, as they hash out the complicated feelings that arise from the fact that Bruno was a total snitch about the party, but he did it because he was worried about Kamala’s safety, but also he’s sad that she didn’t tell him right away about her superpowers (keep in mind that we’re still only three days out from the incident, and Kamala has spent most of that time figuring out the implications of her powers, managing her own feelings about what’s happened, and also getting into ever more trouble with her parents).  We also get more romantic drama as it continues to be painfully apparent that Bruno is super into Kamala even though she’s totally unaware.  This will be a long-running subplot of the first twenty or so issues of Ms. Marvel (leading all the way up to the Secret Wars relaunch), and I have to say that I really appreciate Wilson putting a slow burn on it; we won’t even see Kamala begin to deal with this aspect of her relationship with Bruno until well into the third major arc of the series some time from now.

The fanny pack is a delightful throwback, and I regret to inform you all that it does not remain a permanent part of Kamala’s costume. (Artwork by Adrian Alphona, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

The middle segment of the issue where Kamala scrounges up materials to make her superhero costume (after the laughable impromptu costume she uses to hide her identity from the police after recovering from her gunshot wound) is cute, and it gives Kamala a chance to interact directly with her mother, who has played a slightly background role during other family scenes.  Kamala’s mom constantly frets over the influence American culture has over her children, and here that comes out when she whinges that Kamala is being sarcastic in a way that isn’t appropriate for talking to her mother.  There’s also a warning that Kamala’s mom is totally going to set her alarm for one in the morning just so she can check to make sure Kamala hasn’t snuck out of the house following her incredibly suspicious, inexplicable interest in her burkini on a school night when she’s still grounded (this exchange is remarkably true to life; teenagers, particularly the ones who usually try to please adults, are terrible at coming up with lies on the spot to cover for doing something they know that adults don’t want them doing).  I like Kamala’s mom a lot, and her suspicions here highlight the regular tension that Kamala will have to deal with balancing doing something that makes her uncomfortable, like lying to her parents, with doing something that’s genuinely helpful to others, like being a newbie superhero.

The final act of the issue sees Kamala staging a rescue of Bruno’s brother, Vick, who through a series of stupid decisions has apparently gotten tangled up working for the Inventor.  After Vick botched the robbery of the Circle Q, he ran away to his gang’s hideout, and now Bruno is worried that his baby brother needs help.  It’s a bit of a rocky transition here (we know that Bruno is worried about Vick, but there’s nothing to indicate that he and Kamala understand that Vick is now being held hostage; still we’re getting to Kamala’s first outing as Ms. Marvel for real, so some things can slide).  Nevertheless, we get to see Kamala owning her superhero identity for the first time; she doesn’t try to hide behind someone else’s face and she takes the opportunity to claim the Ms. Marvel moniker as her own (she did this earlier with the police, but that time it feels more born out of necessity and a need for a silly moment than as serious character development).  Kamala’s interaction with the kids guarding Vick is a lot of fun because it’s so good-natured.  Instead of just whupping the kids, Kamala gives them a gentle toss to let them know she can overpower them, and then she asks them to tie themselves up instead of trying to tangle with her.  The kids, to their credit, go along with this plan, even as they warn Kamala that she’s getting in over her head with the Inventor.  The ending pages, where Kamala fights off a bunch of skittering mechanical spiders with frickin’ laser beams before finding herself trapped by the sudden appearance of the gang’s local leader (sporting a very menacing laser pistol), are good, fun action with lots of emphasis on the way that Kamala is relying more on her brute strength than finesse to deal with the emergency.

The costume still needs some work. (Artwork by Adrian Alphona, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

Overall this issue is probably the narratively weakest one out of the first arc, but I think much of that can be attributed to the need to devote a decent amount of space to Kamala’s first real superhero action sequence.  I’m more of an interpersonal drama lover at heart, so the lack of more interactions with the supporting characters disappoints me, but I understand that this is the last bit of setup before the series hits its first big climax in issue #5.

ABC’s

  • Asian Wedding Leftovers (Yowza)
  • On th’ Adobo Filipino Takeout
  • Torpedoes: Half Price!
  • “Ooh La La”
  • Roundhouse Cola
  • Orphan Farms OJ
  • Asian River Water
  • Blech
  • Nuclear Clean
  • Birdy Num Nums
  • Coma Chameleon super Comfy Sleepmask: Prolonged use may cause nightmares
  • Tape Worm
  • Fair & Pastey
  • Grin & Bear It
  • “Grin & Bear It toothpaste 2 for 1”
  • Bruce Lee Wataaa
  • Speshal Soda
  • Smushee
  • A bystander jumping out of the way of an empty ambulance speeding away from the scene of a crime
  • “Self Destruct Magazine”
  • “Eating Underwater”
  • “BboyKoi”
  • “The Joy of Cooking Rare Animals”
  • “Say Yes to Lobotomies”
  • “Momjitsu”
  • “Superhero Paparazzi”
  • “Dropkick Enthusiast”
  • “Karachi Chop Jones”
  • Auntie’s Modest Swimwear
  • The Birdman Cometh
  • Property of the Inventor
  • Ima Bad Guy

My Top Three Episodes of the New Mystery Science Theater

Mystery Science Theater 3000 just released a new season on Netflix a few weeks ago, and after making my way through the entire season, I have decided to compile the three episodes I think are absolutely worth watching (if you enjoy that sort of thing).

Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return Poster

Promo Poster for Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return. (Image credit: IMDb)

The whole season is worth watching, and the comedy bits in between the movies actually work to form a cohesive narrative, which means that it’s certainly preferable that you watch the episodes in order (some of the better jokes build on familiarity with gags from earlier episodes), but if you just want to see bad movies get riffed in delightful ways then there are better and worse episodes to view.  With all that in mind, here are the three that I think are most worth your time (and one that is only worth watching for bits with Jonah and the robots).

Episode 2: “Cry Wilderness”

I don’t know how to describe the plot of this movie.  There’s a kid at boarding school who befriended Bigfoot one summer when he was staying with his father in a nature preserve, and then Bigfoot shows up to warn the kid that his father’s in some kind of vague danger, and then the kid hitchhikes across the country to find his dad and his dad’s incredibly problematic Native best friend of indeterminate tribe Joe who only laughs when it’s highly inappropriate as they’re trying to hunt down a wild animal that’s been attacking other wild animals.  There’s also a dude who wishes he were John Rambo and really likes cold chicken.  Pad the movie’s run time out with random bits of nature documentary footage that marvels at the beauty of nature and its creatures, and you have Cry Wilderness.  In case you’re wondering, Bigfoot really isn’t that important a part of the story, but he’s… there.

Episode 6: “Starcrash”

David Hasselhoff stars in the third act of this blatant Star Wars ripoff that follows the adventures of Stella Star (I know) and her buddy Akton (he has ill defined space powers that let him be a walking, talking plot device) as she tries to save the galaxy from some evil dude with a funny looking mustache.  It’s very progressive for having a female lead who’s an expert space pilot, but then that all gets undermined by the fact that she’s constantly being saved by her all male crew and inexplicably changes into ever more skimpy outfits as the movie progresses.  The third act goes on a little too long, but there’s so much absolutely bonkers stuff happening in this movie that it’s an easy one to enjoy.

Episode 10: “Wizards of the Lost Kingdom”

This one is actually the first of two movies in this franchise that MST3K tackles in the new season.  For some measure of “better” the first Wizards of the Lost Kingdom is a better movie than its sequel Wizards of the Lost Kingdom II, but (let’s be honest) if you have time to watch one you’ll probably make time to watch the other.  Both movies have pretty much the same plot: young boy with magical talent goes on a quest to save the land from an evil sorcerer but is very bad at avoiding the temptations of women.  Also, there’s an older mentor figure who enjoys drinking and chicken.  The details beyond that are mostly irrelevant, but you will definitely want to see MST3K‘s take on this movie because they somehow manage to seamlessly turn the bad guy’s hat into a fully functioning character who has just as much impact on the story as anyone else.

And the one to skip:

Episode 12: “Carnival Magic”

Just don’t.  The conflict is nearly nonexistent, the characters are bland even by bad movie standards, and the music choices are invariably the wrong ones for the mood any given scene is trying to create.  The only redeemable part of the episode is the guest appearance by Mark Hamill singing about how awesome his invisible circus in the dark is.

Free Comic Book Day 2017

My trip to the local comics shop this year took in a considerably smaller haul than last, but that was because I stuck with just going to my local shop instead of driving around town to hit up bigger book stores that were also participating.  After wading through over twenty titles last year to share my thoughts on the ones that I liked best, I figured a smaller pile would be better.  I also picked up the sixth volume of Saga (it is so good!) along with Saladin Ahmed and Christian Ward’s first issue of the new Black Bolt ongoing series (it’s only polite to buy something when you visit a shop for Free Comic Book Day).

Anyway, let’s get to the comics.

Bad Machinery: This FCBD issue is the first chapter in the latest arc of a series about a group of middle school aged children who solve mysteries.  It’s very English in all the ways that you want a series about a grammar school to be.  Of the six main characters, the three girls have delightfully distinct personalities (the boys don’t really stand out too much in comparison, but it’s possible their blandness is just a byproduct of not being the focus for this issue), and I would love to read more about their adventures.  This one was a random pickup, and I’m really glad I got it, since I love discovering entertaining all-ages books (they’re so refreshing in comparison to the gloom that typically accompanies more adult-oriented stories).

Buffy: The High School Years: Sometimes it’s a nifty cover that draws you to pick up a book.  I went with this one both because it’s a Buffy story (Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a lot of fun in the right context) and because I thought the cover, where Buffy is reading the comic that she’s featured on, charmed me.  The story inside does take place inside a comic shop, and it’s cute enough, but this one’s largely forgettable.  I didn’t even bother to read the backup Plants vs. Zombies story because I was so underwhelmed with the one that I picked up last year.

Catalyst Prime: The Event: I follow Joseph Illidge on Twitter because he used to write editorials discussing the comic book industry’s need for more diversity among its creators at the big publishers and highlighting instances of better representation among currently running books.  The project he’s been working on for a while now is the launch of a new shared universe from Lionforge Books called the Catalyst Prime universe.  The main selling point of Catalyst Prime is that it’s going to be a shared universe that takes representation and diversity seriously with a lineup of heroes that come from a large variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds (they seem to be trying to follow in the footsteps of Dwayne McDuffie’s Milestone Comics of the early ’90s).  The FCBD offering for Catalyst Prime’s launch is a prequel issue that recounts events in the lives of key people in the lead up to The Event, the moment that jump starts all the stories of the universe.  It’s a solid story by itself, but there’s a lot that’s just teasing readers with glimpses of major characters from the universe.  I’m not a floppy buyer, so I doubt I’ll read more for now, but there’s some promise here if Lionforge puts out some trades here once they wrap up the first arcs of their various titles.

Drawn & Quarterly Presents: Hostage: I like to pick up the Drawn & Quarterly issue because they put out stuff that’s less superheroes and more just about exploring interesting subjects through the comics medium.  This year’s issue has excerpts from Hostage by Guy Delisle, a nonfiction account of Christophe Andre’s time as a hostage in Chechnya, and Poppies of Iraq by Brigitte Findakly & Lewis Trondheim, a memoir of Findakly’s life growing up in Iraq.  The Hostage excerpt conveys the tension surrounding an instance where Andre, while attempting to break his restraints, accidentally tightened them to the point where they cut off circulation to his hand and had to spend the better part of a day trying to manage the pain while he waited for his captors to unbind him so he could eat.  Poppies of Iraq employs a simple, six panel layout with childlike illustrations to convey the social upheaval and uncertainty that followed the coup in Iraq in 1958.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess: Like a few of the other books that I picked up this year, this one was taken mostly on a whim.  It has the first chapter of Akira Himekawa’s manga adaptation of Twilight Princess, recounting Link’s history prior to the beginning of the game.  It’s perfectly serviceable manga, and Himekawa’s illustrations are beautiful, but there’s not much here that’s super enticing if you aren’t already a mangaphile of Zelda fan.

Malika: Warrior Queen: This book caught my eye because it features an all-Black creative team from a small Black comic publisher, Youneek Studios.  The story follows the eponymous Malika, an African queen who rules the empire of Azzaz as she leads her army to quell a rebellion in one of her empire’s outer provinces.  The action is straightforward, and the art serves the story well, though something about it lacks the polish that you see in a book from a bigger publisher.  My biggest complaint is that the story beats feel pretty rote, but I’m not going to be too hard on a series from a small publisher.

Riverdale: I’ve not watched any of the new Archie television show; I took the year off from almost all my regular television, so the thought of picking up something new to watch on a weekly basis did not sound appealing to me, even though I hear that Riverdale is a delightfully soapy take on the Archie universe.  The FCBD issue that is set in that universe is meant as a prequel of sorts for Riverdale‘s first season, setting up the events that happened prior to the start of the show and giving some background on the key characters.  It’s perfectly cromulent, though I’m a little weirded out by Archie’s casual hooking up with a high school teacher (this trope just sets my teeth on edge; perpetuating inappropriate sexualization of teenagers much?).

Secret Empire: Y’all, Steve Rogers is a Nazi now.  I know that by the time Secret Empire is over he won’t be anymore, but the fact still remains: he’s a Nazi.  The purpose of this issue is to give some background on the big fight that the Avengers lost to Hydra after Cap went public with his Nazism.  It’s beautifully illustrated, and as a simple depiction of a hopeless fight, it works well enough.  Still, it does end with Cap lifting Thor’s hammer (a thing that Marvel’s version of Mjollnir only lets you do if it likes you) to declare a Nazi victory over the globe.  Given the history of Nazi iconography and their appropriation of Norse mythology, this is more than a little problematic.  You have Cap, heading up a fictional organization that is a stand in for actual Nazis, lifting an icon of actual Nazi ideology.  That’s a bad move; I’d highly recommend that you just skip Secret Empire completely, because apparently Marvel needs their wallet to hurt to understand that you don’t do this kind of stuff.

Star Trek: The Next Generation: Mirror Broken: The premise of this upcoming miniseries is that it’s a story set in the Mirror Universe of Star Trek, but while following Picard’s crew rather than Kirk’s.  It’s a lot of fun, with more than its fair share of backstabbing and creepiness (Data has Borg implants!).  I’m not a massive Trekker, but if I came across a trade of this series once it’s done running, I’d look at it.

Wonder Woman: The Wonder Woman movie is coming out in a few weeks, so I guess DC figured they should do a promotional tie-in for Free Comic Book Day.  The issue they decided to put out is a reprint of the #1 for Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott’s Wonder Woman Rebirth series.  Rucka’s a perfectly good writer, and he does a nice job in this issue of alternating back and forth between scenes from Diana and Steve Trevor’s lives leading up to the fateful plane crash where they first meet.  It’s nice to see Rucka thinking about things like the fact that a society of only women probably wouldn’t be asexual (Diana is apparently a ladies’ woman among her peers).  Scott’s art is gorgeous; there’s enough good stuff in this issue that I want to look up what else she’s done.

Black Bolt #1: I bought this issue (again, because Saladin Ahmed), and it is definitely money well spent.  My biggest regret after reading it and seeing the cliffhanger that it ends on is that I know I won’t be reading the series on a month-to-month basis, but it’s definitely a strong contender for me to pick up the first trade when it all gets collected probably early next year.

Saga Volume 6: I really need to spend a whole post on this one, but my initial thoughts after the first read through are essentially this: Saga is good.  You should be reading it, either in floppies or in trades.