“Yeah, I’m Ready.”

After I spent a lot of time mulling over the second volume of The Wicked + The Divine, I more or less read the third volume and then put it on my shelf without too much reflection.  I always intended to do a write up of what I thought about it, but that was back in the spring of 2017, and a variety of things seemed a little more worthy of my intellectual attention, not the least of which was my impending move across the country.

I love the headshot covers so much. (Cover by Jamie McKelvie & Matthew Wilson; Image credit: Comic Vine)

Once we arrived safely in Portland, one of the first things I did was order the next volumes in the comics series that I’ve committed to following closely for now: Ms. Marvel and The Wicked + The Divine.  Ms. Marvel partially felt like a duty purchase; my issue-to-issue series on that book is ongoing, and I have to have copies of the comics if I’m to read and analyze them.  The Wicked + The Divine was more of a personal enjoyment purchase.  Every time I read a volume, I want to spend some time thinking deeply about what’s going on.  The first two volumes elicited long posts from me as I tried to figure out what I thought.  The fact that the third didn’t seemed like it was more a result of it being a sort of standalone collection of side stories.  After Gillen and McKelvie ended issue #11 with Laura Wilson’s apparent death, I wondered where the series was going to go, and the subsequent five issues felt a little bit directionless.  There was also the fact that Jamie McKelvie and Matthew Wilson took a break from doing the art for the series, and the look that they gave it is so iconic in my mind that fill-in artists, regardless of their skill, just wouldn’t be able to compare.  I enjoyed it as a volume, but it didn’t capture my imagination the way the first two trades did, and I wasn’t sure if the fourth volume would hold a similar disappointment.

It didn’t.

I don’t have much to say about The Wicked + The Divine‘s third volume, Commercial Suicide at this point other than it’s a fun exploration of the backgrounds of a bunch of characters who don’t receive much attention and development in the first two volumes; Tara’s issue is particularly affecting since it explores the intense pressure that celebrity must exert on artists who have to contend with their fans’ constant attempts to impede on their personal boundaries and their own artistic impulses.  Tara’s largely a mystery throughout the main story, and her one spotlight issue demonstrates that the extreme revilement she receives from the public stems from a profound failure of pop culture consumers to engage with her work separate from what they want her to be.

As for the fourth volume, Rising Action, I can sum it up at best as an extremely action movie sort of story arc.  Laura makes her grand reappearance (we discover that reports of her death were greatly exaggerated, and you can stuff a lot in the gutters between two panels) and succeeds in exploiting the already deep divisions within the Pantheon to recruit allies in the war against Ananke.  It turns out that everyone loves Minerva because she’s still a kid (all the gods are still kids, but that’s beside the point; Minerva is the kiddiest of the lot) and they don’t take kindly to the idea that Ananke is going to sacrifice her for some still poorly defined purpose.  I mean, most of them don’t; Baal is too caught up in his (misplaced) anger at Baphomet killing Inanna and Sakhmet only cares that there’s a fight she can join.  Woden has a sudden blooming of moral shame, but it’s only enough for him to sabotage Ananke while maintaining plausible deniability that he had anything to do with Laura’s faction getting through their defenses.  All of this is built up around a metric ton of spectacular moments that McKelvie and and Wilson work hard to present (in the bonus material at the volume’s end, Gillen notes that this arc is the most reminiscent of the team’s work on Young Avengers which would obviously have been a much more action-oriented series).

Aw, Laura. (Artwork by Jamie McKelvie, colors by Matthew Wilson)

The result of all this is an arc that’s much less meditative than previous ones (besides the flashback to explain how Laura survived and Baphomet didn’t kill Inanna; also, he’s apparently not Baphomet but Nergal, which seems like a way more legit deity except that that’s also the name of a character from The Grim Adventures of Billy And Mandy, which I’m assuming is the reason Baphomet objected so strongly in the first place) with a lot more happening in rapid succession.  Laura’s insurrection ultimately succeeds, and she kills Ananke in retaliation for the loss of her family (sadly, the part where Ananke killed Laura’s parents and burned down her house did happen the way we thought), leading to the sudden realization that the Pantheon now exists without a mentor to guide their actions.

Ananke’s end is an interesting one, because her breakdown just before Laura kills her hints at some deeper things that are going on in this world.  On the one hand, Ananke seems to legitimately fear the potential that Laura as Persephone has to disrupt the process that she’s maintained for millennia.  On the other, it’s clear that she actually holds the gods in supreme contempt, and she views them as a necessary component in a plan that she believes is necessary to stop something much worse from happening.  Also, as we’ve seen more and more ascensions over the course of the series, it’s begun to appear as though Ananke doesn’t seek out reincarnations of deities in the way that we think about it, but she brings out the divine potential of people she thinks will make useful additions to the Pantheon of each generation (in one of her monologues, she explains that the gods she’s murdered so far have been a combination of convenient sacrifices and necessary removals of hard to control upstarts).  It’s still not clear what Ananke is trying to prevent, but I suppose that’s something that we’ll see play out more fully in the coming arcs, since the gods now have no really constraints on their behavior, and the only grown up in the room is Cassandra, a role I’m sure she absolutely relishes (no, no she doesn’t like that prospect at all).

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Star Trek: Voyager Holodoc Episodes Ranked

Rachael and I have been watching a lot of Star Trek: Voyager over the past couple months.  It’s a great nostalgia trip because it’s the Star Trek that was really prominent when we were kids; I remember that I asked my parents if I could have my bedtime extended to nine o’clock so I could stay up late enough to watch the show when it first premiered.  I didn’t watch it consistently (I remember having no clue who Seven of Nine was when I saw a later season episode randomly a few years on), but it was the Star Trek that I first tried to enjoy back when I was of an age where you couldn’t like both Star Trek and Star Wars because they were obviously rivals.

Star Trek VOY logo.svg

Star Trek: Voyager logo. (Image credit: Wikipedia)

Anyway, what Rachael and I have realized as we’ve been watching through the series is that the Emergency Medical Hologram–the Doctor–is easily our favorite character.  Seven of Nine is probably a close second (her arc in the fourth season reads like a person with autism being taught how to socialize with neurotypical people, and I am so down with that), but both our hearts belong to the Holodoc.  He’s a fun character who gets tons of great moments in his journey to become more than his original programming.  You can be guaranteed that if you’re watching a Voyager episode that stars Holodoc, you’re going to have a fun time.  Still, Voyager does have better and worse episodes (even among the ones that star the Doctor), and it’s good to have a viewing guide for these things.

  • “Heroes and Demons” – Holodoc plays Beowulf, gives himself a name for the first time, totally falls in love with a shieldmaiden.
  • “Projections” – Holodoc’s program malfunctions so he thinks he’s a human trapped in a holodeck simulation
  • “Lifesigns” – Holodoc makes a holographic body for a Vidian woman while he tries to stabilize her physical body, and they fall in love.  They totally do it.
  • “The Swarm” – Holodoc experiences dementia while the crew tries to figure out how to fix his program.  Tearjerker.
  • “Future’s End” – Two-parter where Holodoc gets taken hostage by a twentieth century tech tycoon with twenty-ninth century technology.  Holodoc acquires his mobile emitter so that he can roam freely.
  • “Real Life” – Holodoc makes himself a simulated family in the holodeck to spend his free time with.  B’Elanna decides to make the program more realistic and Holodoc has to deal with the fallout.  Tearjerker.
  • “Revulsion” – Holodoc meets another sentient hologram on a deserted alien ship.  He’s too excited about finding someone who’s like him to immediately realize the other hologram is homicidal.
  • “Message in a Bottle” – Holodoc gets beamed to an advanced experimental Starfleet ship in the Alpha quadrant in an attempt to let the Federation know Voyager and its crew are alive and well.  He teams up with Andy Dick to save the day from Romulans.  Totally boasts about doing it to the other EMH.
  • “Retrospect” – This is technically a Seven of Nine episode, but Holodoc is a total badass the way he immediately believes and advocates for Seven after she has flashbacks of being assaulted by an unsavory trader with whom Voyager is doing business.  The ending’s disappointing.
  • “Living Witness” – A backup copy of Holodoc explains to future aliens that archaeology is really hard.
  • “Nothing Human” – Holodoc has to contend with the ethics of using medical research obtained through torture by a Cardassian war criminal to save B’Elanna’s life.  Also, the pattern of other holograms just being bad friends continues.
  • “Latent Image” – Holodoc learns that some of his memories have been forcibly blocked, and as he tries to recover them he finds himself grappling with the problem of arbitrary life and death decisions.
  • “Bride of Chaotica!” – Holodoc has a small but important role as Voyager‘s ambassador to a race of aliens who only exist as light and believe that beings made of matter are illusions.  He plays President of Earth with great aplomb.

These are only the Holodoc episodes that we’ve watched up to this point (we’re nearly to the end of the fifth season), and it’s perfectly possible that there are some more amazingly fun episodes ahead.  You can watch them in chronological order (that’s how they’re organized above) to get a sense of how the Doctor develops as a character throughout most of the series, but if you’re just looking for a quick fix of Holodoc awesomeness, then these are the episodes I would recommend:

  1. “Message in a Bottle” – This episode is undiluted fun.  It highlights how Holodoc has developed so far beyond his original programming that he’s able to improvise a plan to disable the Romulans who have taken control of the ship without the support of any flesh and blood Starfleet crew.  He meets the EMH Mk 2 (Andy Dick!) who finds him both insufferable and inspiring.  Then they pilot the ship together.
  2. “Real Life” – This one is a great episode that starts out extremely light and ends in a really dark place.  It’s all about Holodoc learning that part of being human is coping with all the things in life that are terrible and outside our control.  The ending can be tough to watch, but I found it to be really cathartic.
  3. “Heroes and Demons” – This is the first episode in the series that really focuses on Holodoc as a character.  It’s an incredibly fun episode because it retells parts of the Beowulf story, but with Voyager crew members taking the place of the eponymous hero and reacting in the way you would expect them to react to an epic tale about a hardy warrior culture.  Holodoc’s romance with Freya is a little silly, but it sets up early on that he’s a complete romantic who just wants to be loved.
  4. “Nothing Human” – I love any episode where Holodoc makes a friend.  In this episode it turns out that his friend is the holographic recreation of a war criminal who conducted unethical medical experiments on prisoners.  The hologram doesn’t have knowledge of any of that, but his attitude towards medical ethics makes it clear that he’s not too heartbroken that his real self did such things.  Holodoc has to make a hard choice about whether to keep a genuine colleague around or to respect the damage his legacy caused.
  5. “Latent Image” – This episode starts off kind of slow, but the ending where we see Holodoc unravel as he tries to make sense of an arbitrary decision his program wouldn’t have been able to make before all of his personal growth is incredibly touching.  This is also one of the few episodes where the rest of the crew genuinely tries to deal with their own bias against Holodoc’s status as a sentient being.

And those are my top five Holodoc episodes.  They’re a mixture of pure fun and incredible angst, which I think is a pretty good summation of Holodoc’s character.  He’s an inherently silly character in some contexts, and in others where the writers use him to explore how a newly sentient being learns more about the human condition he’s remarkably sympathetic.  His character arc throughout the first half of the series is so satisfying, and the point where we are in the series, where he’s actively mentoring Seven of Nine on the finer points of human socialization, is a delightful dynamic.  The Doctor has learned all these lessons himself, sometimes in much more awkward ways, and he has a chance to pass his experiences on while still learning more about what it means to be human.

Reading “Last Days (2 of 4)”

It often feels like much of the first volume of Kamala Khan as Ms. Marvel has been a series of increasingly high profile team-ups.  Beginning way back in the very first arc following Kamala’s first encounter with the Inventor’s minions (not even the Inventor himself!), every story arc has involved at least one prominent guest star to help bolster the book.  I get the sales motivation behind doing this; when I was a kid buying comics in the early ’90s, I absolutely gravitated towards books that featured characters I liked on the cover (back then it was pretty much a given that if a hero appeared on a comic’s cover, then they would make a substantial appearance in the book itself–at least, that’s the logic I operated by at the time), and Marvel made more than a few sales on my impulse to get anything that featured the X-Men.  Still, understanding a strategy and enjoying it are two different things; I read this series because I’m invested in Kamala and her supporting cast.  Wolverine and Lockjaw and Loki make fun cameos, but I don’t particularly care about seeing them in this book; I’m just thankful that G Willow Wilson is an adept enough writer to make the likely editorially mandated guest stars fit well within the stories she’s telling.  They’re fun bonuses, nothing more.

Good cover, still hate the Last Days text across the top. (Cover by Kris Anka; Image credit: Comic Vine)

I don’t feel that way about Carol Danvers’s appearance in this arc.

One of the guiding motifs of Kamala’s ongoing story is her hero-worship of superheroes, particularly the Avengers, and how she works constantly to emulate her role models.  Way back in the beginning, before Kamala has officially claimed the mantle of Ms. Marvel and her shape-shifting powers are significantly more flexible, she expressly models her superhero persona on Carol Danvers’s heyday as the original Ms. Marvel.  It’s not discussed explicitly, but Kamala’s defaulting to the old Ms. Marvel and her use of Captain Marvel as the focal point of her vision during her time in the Terrigenesis cocoon strongly suggests that out of all the Avengers, Carol Danvers is the one that she most strongly connects with.  Kamala becoming Ms. Marvel is largely unintentional happenstance, but the desire to emulate this person in particular has been there all along, and so Carol Danvers showing up to help out here at Kamala’s lowest moment makes tons of sense both emotionally and narratively.  The world is literally ending over Manhattan, and someone needs to help Kamala focus on doing what she can in her community.  It’s not really clear precisely why Carol Danvers shows up to pep talk Kamala at this moment (I have my theories, which I’ll elaborate on in the discussion of the next issue), but we’ll just accept for the moment that she’s here and she’s willing to help.

There are more important things to discuss than how you acquired your nom de guerre. (Artwork by Adrian Alphona, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

What Captain Marvel’s arrival does narratively is give Kamala another mentor figure to bounce her feelings and thoughts off of as she copes with another new experience in her life as a superhero: the unwinnable fight.  There are a lot of instances where much more powerful heroes have been in situations where everything seemed lost but then a last minute miracle/plot contrivance helped them save the day, but it’s also not uncommon for heroes to experience genuine defeat.  Kamala has been exceptionally lucky as a brand new superhero who has had relatively few failures.  Yes, she got chased away by the Inventor’s henchlings when she was first starting out, and the whole previous episode with Kamran and Lineage culminated with Kamala being abducted and forced to flee from New Attilan, but those can be viewed as small defeats in longer-term conflicts (the fact that we’re continuing the Kamran and Lineage arc while editorial is demanding that Kamala’s world be destroyed two issues from now underlines that perspective).  This is a hard thing for anyone to learn how to process, but especially a teenager who has taken it upon herself to defend her community from weird stuff that generally falls outside the purview of normal neighborhood problems.  The complete mental breakdown Kamala is on the verge of having at the end of issue #16 would make sense under less stressful circumstances.  Fortunately, Carol shows up just in time to offer the perspective and advice that any teen hero needs.

Captain Marvel lays down a basic tenet of self-care and human limitations. (Artwork by Adrian Alphona, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

The point that Carol tries to drive home while she’s assisting Kamala in tracking down Kamran and Aamir is that Kamala needs to understand she can’t win every battle she’s faced with.   The crisis in Manhattan is just too big to worry about.  It’s beyond Kamala’s ability to help, and so stressing about it is just going to deplete her available resources for doing what she can: organizing her community and saving her brother.  It’s a tough lesson that’s best illustrated by a brief scene where Kamala finds a makeshift shelter that someone has constructed for a bunch of cats.  She wants to rescue the animals, but Carol sensibly points out that doing so will make it harder to find Aamir, and the cats seem as safe as they can be where they are.

Carol, I relate so much. (Artwork by Adrian Alphona, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

The issue’s big climax is a brief confrontation with Kaboom, which is sort of laughable because it ends abruptly when Carol grabs Kaboom by the collar and tells her to give up Kamran and Aamir’s position or she’s going to get angry.  The dynamic here reminds me a lot of moments in the classroom where I have to swoop in and tell bickering teens to knock it off before I have to resort to consequences.  While Kamala’s problems are real and legitimate, this whole situation is so far below Carol’s pay grade that it’s clear she’s just here because she wants to do Kamala a favor (even if we still don’t get a real explanation exactly why that is).  Kaboom gives up immediately, and the issue ends with Kamala and Carol finding Aamir in the middle of something that might be Terrigenesis, although it seems off.

ABC’s

  • “Gyros 4 Heroes”
  • “Pants on Demand” trailer
  • Guys spelling “hlep” on a rooftop with belly paint
  • Dudes meditating on how they crashed a car upside down on top of a roof
  • “Lil Anya’s Body Disposal”
  • “West Side Pets & Spices”
  • “Count Docula: Benevolent Family Physician”
  • Inventor’s “Unscoopulous” ice cream truck
  • “Keith’s Van Horns”
  • “Bank Anncroft”
  • “Radoslav’s Korean BBQ”
  • Yet another guy carrying around livestock
  • “Fair & Pastey Econo-Size”
  • “Dance Dance Confusion”
  • “Jersey’s Finest Punk Electricians”
  • “Nermal’s Choice Cat Food”
  • “Hi-Quality!”
  • “Great 4 Kids!”
  • “Dear Queen of England, do you like karate”

Pokemon GO Babbies Ranked

There are a few preliminary observations that have to be made before I get into the meat of this post (which is an arbitrary ranking of baby versions of Generation One Pokemon who were added in Generation Two and can be acquired through hatching eggs in Pokemon GO).  The first is that Pokemon GO is a far better game now than it was last summer when it first released.  The second is that this game is way, way more fun to play in a city than it ever could have been in the suburbs (country folk, I am so sorry that you can’t enjoy this game in the way it’s meant to be enjoyed).  The third is that this is all an entirely pointless exercise, but it’s fun and goofy and occasionally you need to talk about fun, goofy things instead of dwelling on the bad parts of the world.

So there’s all that.

Poke-babbies

  • Pichu
  • Igglybuff
  • Cleffa
  • Elekid
  • Tyrogue
  • Magby
  • Smoochum
  • Togepi

Between Rachael’s and my Pokedexes, we have all of the babbies except for Smoochum, which just might not be possible because Jynx is exclusive to another part of the world and we don’t know if you can hatch geographic exclusives from eggs.  Given that, we won’t be bothering to rate Smoochum, but everything else is fair game, even Togepi despite the fact that it evolves into a Generation Two Pokemon.  Let’s get to it!

It looks like a playground bully who makes questionable fashion decisions. (Image credit: Pokemon GO Wiki)

7.  Elekid

Electabuzz is not a terribly exciting Pokemon on its own.  It looks kind of like an electric sasquatch, and in Generation One where you have a bunch of other way cooler electric types (Pikachu, Jolteon, Zapdos), Electabuzz just feels sort of ancillary to building a good team.  It’s babbie form, Elekid, is much cuter, but it also looks like it’s going to stick its head in a power outlet, and that’s just not something we should be encouraging in children in general.  Also, what kind of name is “Elekid?”  The English localization team couldn’t think of anything more clever than, “It’s an electric type, right?  And it’s a kid, right?  Let’s just mash those together and be done.”  Sorry Elekid, you come in last because no one cared enough to give you a good name or a proper haircut.

“Are you my mother?” (Image credit: Pokemon GO Wiki)

6.  Magby

Coming in just ahead of Elekid is its fire type equivalent.  Fire types are high on aesthetic points, but generally disappointing in other ways, and Magby is no different.  This isn’t really Magby’s fault; it’s actually a very cute creature, but its evolution, Magmar is perhaps even more boring than Electabuzz.  At least the electric type is strong against a lot of other types; Fire types were infamously under powered by type advantages in Generation One.  Magmar just doesn’t capture the imagination, unless your imagination runs on fire ducks which, let’s be honest now, are not nearly as cool in practice as they are in conception.

Tyrogue’s the kid who took everything way too seriously back in elementary school. (Image credit: Pokemon GO Wiki)

5.  Tyrogue

Putting Tyrogue in the fifth spot doesn’t seem very fair except you must understand that the other remaining babbies are just so incredibly amazing that there’s no room for it to go higher on this very scientific list.  Depending on how its stats shake out, Tyrogue can evolve into one of the three Hitmons.  They’re a pretty cool bunch, so Tyrogue gets cool points by virtue of being their annoying younger sibling.  It helps that this Pokemon actually looks a little like all three of its mature evolutions, but in a smaller, more fun package.  Way better than socket-hair and fire-duckling.

What’s not to love? (Image credit: Pokemon GO Wiki)

4.  Togepi

Togepi is adorable, and its gets a bunch of bonus points for being a regular character on the original Pokemon anime from the ’90s before Pokemon Gold and Silver had even been released.  Togepi’s evolutions are not part of the original one hundred fifty-one, but it gets a pass because we all wanted to know what that egg creature was going to turn into when it grew up.  Besides that, it’s just so adorable!  Rachael and I put a bunch of babbie Pokemon in local gyms the other day as a way of spreading joy around our neighborhood, and we’ve discovered at the time of this writing that it was a little too effective as most of them have not yet been sent home.  My personal theory is that we’ve stumbled upon a cuteness gambit where no one wants to eliminate babbies because then they will feel like bullies; this can all be traced back to the way that no one ever wanted to mess with Togepi in the original series.

“It’s so fluffy I’m gonna die!” (Image credit: Pokemon GO Wiki)

3.  Cleffa

Cleffa looks like it has giant marshmallow ears, and it grows up to be a magical creature.  Honestly, the whole Clefairy line is pretty remarkable since they retain their cuteness all the way to maturity (fairy Pokemon get all the good stuff–well, some of them do).  If you had to decide which Pokemon babbie you just wanted to snuggle, Cleffa would win hands down every time.  Just be careful you don’t accidentally eat it while you’re giving it warm hugs.

If you only knew how your cuteness would fade, you’d stay young forever, Igglybuff. (Image credit: Pokemon GO Wiki)

2.  Igglybuff

The Jigglypuff line is an unfortunate exercise in de-cutification.  The more mature these Pokemon get, the less cute they are.  This is why you just don’t see Wigglytuffs around that much; no one likes them enough to take care of them, so many Jigglypuffs simply resist evolving into their floppy rabbit final form.  I think this is for the best.  It is rational to question why any Igglybuffs ever evolve into Jigglypuffs.  They are the cutest babbies (plus you can tie a string around their feet and use them as balloons), and the instinct to care for young cute things is most clearly being exploited in the physiology of the Igglybuff.

Yeah, it’s cute, but there’s not a whole lot that makes this one really special. (Image credit: Pokemon GO Wiki)

1.  Pichu

There is precisely one reason Pichu tops this list: hats.  I have a Pichu with a witch’s hat, and it is the best Pichu in the universe.  Nothing else makes this little shiny mouse more endearing than seeing its giant ears flopped over under the weight of a good hat.  Observe:

SO MUCH BETTER, RIGHT?

And that is the totally scientific, not at all arbitrary ranking of babbie Pokemon in Pokemon GO, as determined by me.  If you disagree, then you’re just wrong.

Pumpkin Pancakes

It’s fall!

To celebrate, Rachael and I have been very happily indulging in several recipes involving the use of copious amounts of pumpkin.  One of our perennial favorites is a recipe for pumpkin chili that we’ve been playing with; our preference this year is to season it with pumpkin pie spices so it’s more of a slightly sweet chili.  We’ve also been playing with the protein; the base recipe calls for turkey, but in the last week we decided to be lazy/creative and substitute chicken meatballs from IKEA (we live close enough to an IKEA that we can go every couple weeks and get Swedish foodstuffs!).

The latest bit of culinary joy we indulged in was a round of pumpkin pancakes.  I’d link a recipe except that in this case I can’t; I mixed up the batter with our remaining pancake batter mix and a fifteen ounce can of pumpkin (note: this was way too much pumpkin).  There were a handful of spices thrown in (pretty much just a teaspoon of all the typical spices you’d put in a pumpkin pie), and then enough water to get the batter to a thin enough consistency for pan frying.

The end result of my bit of experimentation was a pancake that was super thin, extremely wet, and not terribly appetizing (I mean, I still ate it; it just wasn’t the Platonic ideal of a pancake).  Thankfully, Rachael got home just as I was beginning to fry up the batter, and she pointed out that I had added too much pumpkin, so I probably needed more flour or an egg to bind everything together better.  We tossed in an extra half cup or so of flour and poof the batter was just right.  You can see the end result of this adjusted recipe below.

Yes, they are as delicious as they look.

These pancakes were good.  They’re great with some maple syrup for topping (the slight vanilla flavor from the syrup really complements the pumpkin pie spices and sweetens the whole dish), but they’re flexible enough that you could really use whatever topping you prefer.  Give them a try while pumpkin’s easy to find (and probably look up a recipe instead of just making the whole thing up like I did; that could have been disastrous for dinner).

Reading “Last Days (1 of 4)”

Back in 2015 Marvel did this thing where it decided that it was going to reboot its entire universe in an effort to do away with the multiverse concept that I personally find so lovable about Marvel’s comics.  I don’t know what the heck is going on with DC’s universe (and mostly I don’t care), but I hear from DC fans periodically that it’s a long slog of messiness that occasionally is made much worse by attempts to clean it all up.  Marvel, conversely, has always embraced the idea of multiversal chaos and just let it be a given that alternate timelines, dimensions, what-have-you coexist with the primary universe that the publisher tells stories in, and that’s okay.  That is, until they decided to reboot Secret Wars.

This is an appropriately dramatic cover, but that “Last Days” logo splashed across the top is rather obnoxious (mostly because it uses the Secret Wars font, which just reminds you that this is part of an editorial event). (Cover by Kris Anka; image credit: Comic Vine)

The premise behind Secret Wars was to collapse the entire Marvel multiverse into a single dimension by way of a Very Bad Thing happening and then following the event there would only be a single Marvel (comics) universe populated with the versions of heroes that readers are most familiar with plus a few really popular refugees from other prominent universes (the most notable beneficiaries of this were Miles Morales, aka Ultimate Spider-Man, and Old Man Logan).  Though it’s not important to dwell on it too much (kind of like transporter technology in Star Trek), the events of Secret Wars do essentially erase everyone from the Marvel universe and replace them with exact copies of themselves.  From that vantage point, “Last Days” is a story about people coping with their imminent death.  Yes, following this story line Ms. Marvel resumes without any narrative bumps as though Secret Wars never happened, but the last four issues of Kamala Khan’s first volume are about how she behaves in the face of a lost cause and then that’s it for this iteration.  The fact that long-form serialized storytelling is predisposed towards maintaining some kind of status quo offers the temptation to treat this story as an interesting diversion that doesn’t matter that much (it is, after all, part of a line-wide mandate where every Marvel comic that was publishing at the time had a “Last Days” story arc); I reject that because I get hung up on the problem of character consciousness and the whole duplicate thing; our first Kamala dies at the end of this story along with everyone in Jersey City and Earth-616.  It sucks, a lot; it’s still a really good and worthwhile story.

This is perfectly normal behavior, given the situation. (Artwork by Adrian Alphona, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

The issue begins with Kamala stuck on the precise thing she should be stuck on; with the last issue ending so abruptly without any time given to let her begin to decompress after her trauma with Kamran, I’m glad that Wilson decides to open on Kamala trying very hard not to think about what she went through.  The ending of romantic relationships is hard regardless of the circumstances, and given the extreme nature of Kamala’s first one it’s understandable that she’d be dwelling on it.  Kamala has no one with whom she can process her feelings in her social circle (Kamran’s status as part of an Inhuman supremacist movement precludes discussing the incident with anyone who doesn’t know that Kamala is Ms. Marvel, and Bruno has too many of his own feelings to be a good recipient of Kamala’s romance angst).  Strangers are just about the best bet for sorting anything out, and so we get to see Kamala slamming down hot dogs while the vendor gives her worldly wisdom about relationships.

Kamala has to quickly set aside the Kamran problem because a mob of people fleeing Manhattan arrive with vague references to an event that’s happening across the river.  Kamala rushes to the rescue while making use of her physics knowledge (kids, do your homework because it might have practical applications in superheroing!) to do an innovative thing with her powers, but she’s stopped in her tracks when she reaches Manhattan and sees that the problem is a planet inching closer to Earth.  It’s not discussed in detail here, but this is an Incursion, a collision between dimensions as the multiverse collapses on itself.  Kamala recognizes that this is above her pay grade, so she decides to focus her efforts on trying to keep people safe in Jersey City.

The first stop is at the Circle Q, where Bruno and Vick are busy fortifying the convenience store from a group of masked vandals who have begun looting in the chaos.  It’s a very teenager thing that their top priority is protecting the squishee machine, but I admit I’d probably prize that thing above anything else in the store too.  Frozen drinks are delicious.  Kamala gets the scoop from the brothers Carrelli, and she formulates the plan to have everyone hole up at the high school since it’s just been rebuilt to withstand giant robot attacks and magically warded by Loki.  This is a good plan; Kamala should be proud of herself for coming up with it, even though she doesn’t really have time to think about it too much in the middle of the emergency.

Best detail here is Vick’s continued unspoken love of cricket (he even has his own bat!). I don’t recall Bruno ever looking so buff before; has he been working out to impress someone? (Artwork by Adrian Alphona, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

The next stop is the Khan house where we learn a few important things: Adrian Alphona draws Kamran to look waaaaaay douchier than Takeshi Miyazawa ever did (it’s kind of magical how the change in artist so effectively conveys the shift in perception towards this character we’re supposed to feel) and Kamala’s parents have names.  I mean, I knew that they had names, but I’m pretty sure this is the first issue where their first names are used instead of the filial honorifics that Kamala and Aamir usually use.  So, henceforth, let it be known that Kamala’s parents are named Yusuf and Muneeba Khan (you have no idea how relieved I am to finally be able to construct sentences referring to members of the Khan family without having to describe everyone as “Kamala’s _______”).  Most importantly of all though, we learn that Kamran has abducted Aamir on the theory that Aamir may also have Inhuman DNA; if Kamala won’t join Lineage’s crew, then maybe someone like Aamir (read: a young, devout, Muslim man living in an Islamophobic country) can be persuaded to do so instead.  This is… less than ideal news for Kamala, but she doesn’t have time to go save Aamir just yet; the world is ending, after all.

Seriously, don’t you just want to punch the guy? (Artwork by Adrian Alphona, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

The issue concludes with Kamala seeing that her neighborhood is pulling together to create an effective shelter at Coles in response to the crisis in Manhattan.  It’s really heartwarming, but Kamala is so overwhelmed with everything that still needs to be done that she’s about to have a panic attack when the guest star of this arc makes a dramatic splash page entrance: Captain Marvel.

Captain Marvel just totally Batman’d Kamala. (Artwork by Adrian Alphona, colors by Ian Herring, letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna)

ABC’s

  • Asian Riverwater
  • Roundhouse Cola
  • Soulsonic Frank’s
  • “Go Sport”
  • “Kosher Soulsonic Frank’s: Hot Dog, Hot Sausage, Pretzels, Panda, Soda, Water”
  • Pigeon with a First Nations headdress
  • Pigeon tugging Kamala’s Ms. Marvel scarf out of her bag
  • “Blerf”
  • Dude pouring soda on a kid’s head (what the heck, dude?)
  • Guy sitting next to Kamala at hot dog stand in ripped up suit
  • Pigeon with viking helmet
  • Ol Dirty Mustard
  • Hot Sauce
  • Mild Sauce for Sucka MC’s
  • Crowd running toward Kamala with money flying out of suitcases
  • Count Orlok with stethoscope
  • Baby “woo!ing” as its mom runs by pushing its stroller
  • Inuit person driving pigs out of the river
  • Dude with foot being pinched by a crab
  • Hazmat folks pushing a guy off a sinking boat
  • Police dumping box labeled “Evidence” complete with skull with knife embedded in it
  • Big cat in the midst of large crowd of fleeing people
  • Robot dude
  • Octopus tentacle wielding a knife
  • “Toads Legit Cricket Club”
  • “Fisticuffs”
  • “The Corn Chronicles”
  • “I told u the end was nigh!! please buy my Mixtape”
  • Guys carrying various farm animals
  • “It was a stooone groove” (emergency clothes after Kamala leaves her regular outfit under the pier)
  • “Ball don’t lie”
  • Family in their car with jars of assorted herbs and… a ghost trap?
  • Car with a torpedo strapped to the top
  • Herd of pigs
  • Inventor junk for sale
  • Dude reclining for a portrait
  • “Radoslav’s Chinese Food”
  • Sheikh Abdullah trying to get a bunch of guys to not play indoor sports

Navel Gazing Ahoy!

There’s a subgenre of blog posts on the internet that are intensely interested in the business of writing and sharing blog posts.  It’s kind of a weird thing.  People who write blogs as a hobby spend a not insignificant portion of their mental resources on talking about how cool it is that they write blogs and what that means for them as citizens of the internet.  There’s more than a small sense of elitism that you get from these posts–“I blog and that means that I am a serious person from the serious part of the web, not a passive consumer like folks who sequester themselves on the *shudder* social media networks!”

It’s a little obnoxious, but mostly harmless, I guess.

I write all this because I recently had a post on this very subject catch my attention while I was reading the news, and because I am just like every other person on the internet, I fell for the clickbait (if you claim to never fall for clickbait then you are a liar and probably not a good person).  Here’s the post, if you have any interest in reading it yourself (I understand if you don’t click the link; most visitors don’t bother, and that’s totally okay).  It’s over a year old, which is fine (the art of the evergreen post is a strange one that eludes me; I only ever seem to write them by accident, and then they annoy me for months or years as they dominate my web traffic over the more current posts that I actually care about that week), and it does have more than a little of that pretentious, “How great is it that you blog?” attitude.

Still, one salient point from the post did grab my attention, and I do think it’s a valid one (this is where I reveal my blogging hypocrisy because, you guessed it, I’m already waist deep in a meta post about the benefits of being a blogger; flee now; it’s not too late for you to escape to some other less self-absorbed digital island).  The writer whom the blogger quotes (because how bloggish is it that one blogger extensively quotes another blogger making a point and then just reiterates that same point?) points out that the value of writing a daily blog comes from the intellectual exercise of picking a thing to take an opinion on every day and practicing defending that opinion in a public space.  Realistically, most people will not care about your opinion (actual discussion in this space is so vanishingly rare that I just accept the majority of my posts will simply float unobtrusively in the ether of the internet for the remainder of human civilization without ever drawing so much as a passing thought from another person), and to expect otherwise is a vanity that only has the lie put to it in the most exceptional of circumstances.  Still, the act of taking a position on an issue and breaking down for yourself why you hold that position is an invaluable one.

I began blogging because I was in the middle of a summer break where I was overcome with endless boredom; I had far too much time on my hands to just while it away playing video games and watching movies.  By starting my blog, I gave myself an artificial structure around which to build a schedule for regularly formulating thoughts about something.  In the four years that I’ve been maintaining this blog, I’ve run the gamut from thoughts on faith to video games and gamer culture to movies to politics and more.  The only set rules for my blog are that I must do it on the schedule that I’ve set for myself and I need not constrain myself from whatever subject catches my attention.  Generally I try to aim for posts that can be read in three to five minutes (a thousand words is not a bad goal) and I must remain mindful of my probable audience–primarily family and friends.

By traffic metrics, I’ve been moderately successful with my blog; every year I pull in more views than the previous year, and if I maintain my current level of output it’s conceivable that I could have enough of a web presence to consistently garner over ten thousand views a year before I reach my ten-year blogging anniversary.  As a game of how many eyeballs can I draw to corner of the internet, I’m doing decently well for someone with no professional credentials that would justify attracting a large readership.  Even so, that’s just a game, and it’s not the primary reason that I continue to maintain this blog.

The primary reason has to do much more with the mental health that I associate with regularly engaging in intellectual exercise.  I feel better about myself when I take time to form opinions about things and express those opinions, even if I understand that most of the time no one will hear or care.  The practice of trying not to be a passive consumer of culture is a useful one because it cultivates critical thinking skills in a way that’s not generally encouraged if you don’t take the time to produce your own intellectual product (I am aware that this is coming dangerously close to blogging elitism).  Though most opinions on the internet are worthy of hard eye rolls (Sturgeon’s Law applies to all intellectual output, not just stories), it’s still good to celebrate when people take the time to try to reason through why they hold the opinions they hold (except for Nazis and white supremacists; any rationale that leads you to promote genocide as a solution to your problems is pure garbage and should be condemned in the strongest terms).  Explaining why is a skill that I see so rarely exercised in my day job as a teacher that I’m always happy to see it being used by adults in a recreational capacity.

So yes, this post is hypocritical for its blatant indulgence of the undying idea that blogging is a virtue in and of itself, and I expect full and throaty rebukes to my elitism in the ensuing firestorm.  Or no one will care, and I’ll have spent some time sussing out thoughts about a thing that I have a passing interest in, and I’ll feel better about my place in the world as a result.  Either way, this was a worthy endeavor.