Saturday, March 31, 2012

On the Coffee Table: Peter Parker's Love Life

Title: The Amazing Spider-Man (Marvel Masterworks, Vol. 2)
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Steve Ditko

Image via Barnes & Noble

Peter Parker/Spider-Man is, by design, a fairly static character. One of the great strengths of the franchise is that one can pick up a Spidey comic from any decade and instantly recognize the goofy, aw-shucks persona of our dependable web slinger. He's always worried about Aunt May and ready to drop everything for her. He's always nervous about someone discovering his secret identity. J. Jonah Jameson always hates him. As such, long-term engagement in the Spider-Man saga is, at least for me, largely dependent on the supporting cast. The Amazing Spider-Man (Marvel Masterworks, Vol. 2) covers issues #11-19 plus the first annual, all originally published in 1964. The story element which is most intriguing to me at this stage is Peter Parker's love life. The rivalry between Betty Brant and Liz Allan is a recurring theme in this time period and there is also occasional mention of Mary Jane Watson, though she won't make her first actual appearance until issue #25.

Betty Brant is Peter Parker's first real girlfriend. Peter met her as Jameson's secretary at The Daily Bugle and twice already, Spider-Man has had to save her from great peril. I like Betty but her jealousy of Liz Allan (more on her shortly) is her undoing. Peter's bumblings in trying to balance having a normal life with maintaining a secret identity aren't much help, either. By the end of Volume 2, Betty has taken up with someone new but still has unresolved feelings for Peter.

Image via What Were They Thinking?

Liz Allan is a fellow student at Peter's high school. She hangs with the cool crowd. Flash Thompson, foe to Peter Parker but Spidey's biggest fan, is in love with her and, though she resists the idea, thinks of Liz as his girl. In the beginning of the Spider-Man saga, Liz tormented Peter along with everyone else but she changed her tune once Peter stopped showing interest in her. Liz's infatuation with "Puny Parker" drives Flash nuts. Liz's affection for Peter seems genuine, though she clearly enjoys the power she has over Flash as well. Peter spurns her affection but she needles Betty mercilessly whenever she's around so Betty is intimidated by her.

Image via Comic Vine

Aunt May isn't impressed by either girl. She's continually trying to set Peter up with Mary Jane, niece of her neighbor. We have yet to see Mary Jane but nearly 50 years on, I and probably you also know the importance she will play in Spidey's story long-term. I'm looking forward to seeing how the next part of the story plays out.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Rock Stars: Basel

Image via World Curling Federation

The 2012 World Men's Curling Championship kicks off in Basel, Switzerland tomorrow. Basel is, of course, Roger Federer's hometown. There's an ad in a recent issue of The Economist for a job in Basel. I've been joking to My Wife that I'm sure Fed would put us up for a while as we got settled. He seems like an awfully nice guy!

Back to curling, while the Canadians are always among the favorites for the women's event, they own this one. Canada has won 33 world titles in men's curling. Scotland and Sweden are tied for second with - ready for it? - 5 each. Only three other countries have won titles: USA (with 4), Switzerland (3) and Norway (3). Quick math, Canada's won more than everyone else put together. So, it should come as no surprise that this year's favorite is...


Photo via Gripper Bits

Glenn Howard is the only skip in this year's tournament who has won a World Championship before. What's more, he's won three: two as a third for his brother Russ and one as a skip in 2007. It can only be considered an upset if anyone manages to wrest the gold medal from the Canadians.

Here's a quick rundown of the top challengers:


Photo via Canadian Curling Association

The Norwegian rink led by Thomas Ulsrud deserves enormous credit for putting curling on the pop culture map. Their snazzy pants were an overnight Internet sensation at the 2010 Winter Games and they have not lost their sense of style yet. However, they have yet to win gold at either the Olympics or the World Championships, though they have a perfectly respectable silver and three bronze to show for their efforts. They are the current European champions and probably present the strongest threat to the Canadians.


The hosts are led by Jan Hauser, who skips the team from the third position (most skips play fourth, meaning they throw last stones). Perhaps the home crowd can cheer his team to glory.


The sport's inventors should never be discounted. Skip Thomas Brewster, Jr. has won two medals at this level: a bronze in 2002 and a silver last year.


Photo via Curl for SickKids

The American representatives are based in Irvington, New York. Skip Heath McCormick is a dual Canadian-American citizen. He's been competing in the United States for the past two years after a long career in Ontario.

The Pick

Gold: Canada
Silver: Norway
Bronze: Switzerland

The Answer

In Sunday's curling post, I noted a similarity between The Squid's three favorite sports - tennis, baseball and curling - with the promise of sharing my findings today. It occurred to me that the role of time is very similar in all three games. Generally speaking, the period of game play is not ultimately determined by a clock. A tennis match ends with the final point of the final game of the final set. A baseball game ends with the final out. A curling game ends when the last stone is thrown in the last end.

I also mentioned in that same post that curling merits an asterisk in this regard. Curling does use a clock but it functions more the way a chess clock does - i.e., each side is allotted so much time to hem and haw between throws. The intention is to keep things moving. At least in my limited experience, a game rarely comes down to a time forfeit. Interestingly, there is occasional discussion in both baseball and tennis of similar limited clock usage, allowing only so much time between pitches or serves. Looking forward to this summer's Olympics, I think of three other sports that share this characteristic: badminton, table tennis and volleyball - all net sports, interestingly.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Play Ball!

The 2012 Major League Baseball season gets underway at the Tokyo Dome today. This is Year 3 in my bold proposal experiment. The basic concept is explained here. The basic idea is to mimic European soccer's promotion/relegation model, eliminating all pretense that more than a handful of teams have a legitimate shot at winning the World Series each year. Last year's final standings, which determine this year's division alignment, are presented here. Here are my divisions for the 2012 season:

First Division

Red Sox

White Sox



Second Division

Blue Jays


As always, I will consider the experiment a failure should a Second Division team ever win the title in the real world.

Once again, I will be following my childhood team, the woeful Baltimore Orioles. The biggest off-season news for the Birds was the hiring of a new general manager, Dan Duquette - not their first choice. There have also been murmurings that owner Peter Angelos may be shopping the team. Expecting anything beyond incremental improvements would be expecting too much. Breaking their streak of 14 consecutive losing seasons would be great but I'd settle for an improvement over last year's win total of 69 games. I'm trying a different approach to my Orioles posts this year. Stay tuned.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Rock Stars: Why Curling Is Awesome

Photo via Ford World Curling Championships

I first got caught up in curling during the last Winter Olympics and resolved to follow the sport as best I could in the off years. There are many things I love about the sport. Among them:
  • A sport involving brooms and 40-pound rocks is inherently awesome.
  • Sportsmanship is central to the game's culture. Check out The Spirit of Curling. It's not mere lip service. The curling world takes this very seriously.
  • Teams are expected to concede once a win is out of reach and they usually do. Nothing in any sport is more boring than a blowout and this helps to prevent them, or at least to keep them from going on forever.
  • Olympic curling coverage in the US is not on the main NBC channel which means the sport avoids the nausea-inducing human interest stories altogether.
  • Players qualify for world tournaments as a team, not as an assemblage of all-stars as with other sports. It's the equivalent of sending the NBA champions to the Olympics en masse.
  • The sport favors the middle-aged. Mirjam Ott, skip of the newly-crowned world champion Swiss team, is 40 years old.
  • It looks like fun! One could easily imagine a casual game with all participants standing around the ice with beers in hand.

As Mock's comment on my last curling post suggested, we have been keeping our eyes out for a place to try the game ourselves. I have found two ice rinks in Vermont which have curling regularly but both are at least a two-hour drive for us. Furthermore, their intro programs tend to be on Sunday and Wednesday evenings - not exactly convenient. Canada is an option, though as we are closest to Quebec and at least my own French is minimal, finding someone to teach us in English could be tricky.

Mirjam Ott and her rink won Switzerland's third women's world title and their first since 1983. She is also a two-time Olympic silver medalist and a two-time European champion. Canada, the host nation, finished a disappointing third. Team USA managed to finish fifth after a miserable 0-4 start in the round robin stage.

I recently figured out that the three sports The Armchair Squid follows most closely - baseball, tennis and curling, at least according to mission - have something very interesting in common. It has to do with the basic rules of the sport. One is easy: all are oppositional, meaning one has to contend with an opponent directly. But there's something else. Curling, I will admit, requires an asterisk at least as far as "official" events are concerned but I think the similarity still holds, big picture. I'll reveal the answer with my men's World Championship preview on Friday. Anyone have a guess?

Family Adventures: The Cost of an Early Spring

After a glorious week of sunny days and temperatures in the 70s, we got back to more typical early spring weather this weekend: rainy and chilly. Due to our mild winter in Vermont, there are already buds on the trees - about a month earlier than usual. It will be nice to see green soon but, as we will address shortly, the early spring has come at a cost. On to the highlights of a busy weekend...

Maple Open House Weekend

Early spring, a.k.a. Mud Season, is arguably the most miserable time of year in Vermont. As the snow melts, all of our charmingly rustic dirt roads turn to goop. Winter's beautiful white is gone and the glorious green of seasons to come has not yet taken hold. Instead, there's wet, brown muck.

Photo via Elsie's Daughter

The annual payoff for this gloomy time of year is an awfully good one: maple syrup, a substance for which Vermont is justifiably well-known and very proud. This weekend was the official open house weekend for the sugar shacks statewide. Unfortunately, everything I wrote last week about this being a good year for maple sugaring was completely wrong. Once the trees bud, the sap stops running. It's all over. Last year, they were able to tap the trees until mid-April - brutal.

Undeterred, we dutifully visited our closest sugaring house, owned and operated by the family of one of Our Girl's good friends. They didn't have any grade B, our favorite, and are unlikely to given the weak harvest. We got some grade A medium amber and also some maple sugar for toast and such - a perfectly respectable haul but one hopes for better next year for their sake more than ours.


Lost again, 1-0. It's a distressing pattern. I do feel like we get better each week and I think we can be particularly proud of how we played in the first period as most of the action was in our opponents' end of the ice. I'm working on being a better passer and that was going well - for a while.

What's killing us is a lack of subs. There were only six of us on Saturday night, just enough to field a team. For next season, we need to find people who will show up. Those of us who've been playing regularly have improved and others would, too. Playing thirty minutes with barely a chance to catch your breath between periods is just too much. It was my own errant pass that started the other team on their breakaway for their only goal. I take full responsibility. But, if I hadn't been exhausted, it might not have happened.

Green Mountain Film Festival

Focus on Film is currently in the midst of the 15th Annual Green Mountain Film Festival. Most of the festival takes place in Montpelier but there will also be screenings in St. Johnsbury next weekend. We went to see A Cat in Paris this morning. The film was shown at the City Hall Arts Center, a fairly large space that I was sure couldn't be filled on a Sunday morning. Boy, was I wrong! This was the festival's big kid-friendly feature but there were plenty of all age groups in attendance. Everyone applauded at the end, too. I love it when people clap at the end of a movie.

Image via Unseen Films

The film is very charming, well-deserving of its Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature. The story is pretty straight-forward: a mute girl living with a single mom and a cat who goes on nightly adventures. There's more, of course, but I won't spoil the fun for anyone interested in seeing it. The animation was very nice, mostly cell-animation, I think. The plot is simple, easy to follow and moves along at a fair clip. My Wife didn't like the Olive Oilish chests on the women and I didn't care for the lines on the faces - looked like whiskers on the men and freckles on the women but they just made everyone look untidy. But overall, all three of us enjoyed the film very much. Four out of five stars from me.

Editorial Note: Suze's comment below made me think that perhaps one might get the wrong idea from my previous paragraph. There's not a thing wrong with freckles on women or whiskers on men. But they were drawn similarly so it looked like the women had whiskers high on their cheekbones. It just didn't look right.

My Wife commented that perhaps next year, we'll see nominated movies before the Oscars. I think she may have been a little embarrassed at the Oscar party that we hadn't seen more of the films. Seeing as Our Girl has come to terms with the fear of the dark element, our cinema attendance has increased dramatically over the past several months. I think we'll be in respectable shape in time for next year's party.

Coffee Corner
“I went into a restaurant. The menu said, ‘Breakfast anytime.’ So I ordered French toast during the Renaissance.” - Steven Wright
In my opinion, the three most beautiful words in the English language are "Breakfast Served Anytime." Such is the promise at Coffee Corner, just down the street from City Hall. Our wait for a table was a bit long and I was more than a little grumpy by the time we were seated but all turned out fine in the end. I had a half-stack with a side of corned-beef hash. I initially ordered the full stack but our waitress advised against. "Most people don't finish the full stack," she said, "I don't want you to waste your money." So, I ordered the half and she promised to bring me more if I was still hungry. Fair enough.

The half stack was plenty - and glorious. I love a good pancake - a spongy one that melts in your mouth. In truth, I probably could have had more but it seemed silly to do so just to prove a point. I was happy with my meal.

Phoenix Books

Image via Essex Shoppes & Cinema

Our final stop on the way home was our local independent book store, Phoenix Books in Essex. Business must be going well as they're opening a second location in Burlington. The reason for our visit today, however, was an art display by Our Girl's after-school art program. We got to see animal paintings by Our Girl and her friends - impressive work by all, especially considering the age. She loves art and I'm very pleased that we've found such a meaningful outlet.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Sunshine Award

A big thank you to Heather Murphy for presenting me with the Sunshine Award. Heather's over at Random Interruptions. Go pay a visit!

In accepting this award, one must answer the following questions, then nominate others to receive the award. Here we go...

Favorite color: Red. It's the color of love and revolution. Seriously, what's not to like?

Favorite animal: Our cat, The Big Lug. I love animals and feel very lucky to live in a place where woodland creatures visit us in our yard on a regular basis. We've seen birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals galore. But my favorite critter is the fuzzy little guy curled up next to me on the couch. Before becoming a cat owner, I never would have believed that they can show devotion comparable to a dog but he's remarkably loving.

(Side note: I know this is my second award post in which I've sung his praises. If my blog ever devolves to the point where I only ever post about my cat, it's intervention time. I'm counting on all of you!)

Favorite number: 37. Why? Because 3 x 37 = 111. Who would suspect that an unassuming prime number had the capacity for such elegant symmetry?

Favorite non-alcoholic drink: Coffee. It owns me. I gave up alcohol (for the most part) in sympathy during My Wife's pregnancy but I knew I stood no chance at giving up java. The stuff is pure evil, but I love it.

Facebook or Twitter: Twitter. I use Facebook a lot more and I definitely appreciate the fact that it has brought so many people back into my life but I feel as if my Facebook experience is always on Facebook's terms. On the other hand, I feel like Twitter can be whatever one wants it to be. For me, it's a customized news feed with easy networking capacity. That's all I need. That's all I get.

My passions are: I love a good story and I have tremendous admiration for anyone gifted in the telling.

Getting or giving presents: Giving. I'm the easiest person in the world to buy a gift for - free stuff? Cool. There is no comparison with finding the perfect gift for someone and seeing that look on their face, as if to say "Wow, you really have been paying attention!"

Favorite pattern: Plaid. I'm especially fond of the Stewart tartan:

Image via Wikipedia

I only recently learned that the Welsh have tartans, too. Here's the Jenkins tartan, for instance:

Image via The Scottish Register of Tartans

Favorite day of the week: Saturday. To teach is to live for the weekend and vacations. Don't trust anyone who tells you otherwise! Even when Saturday's busy, Saturday is a change of pace. Sunday's great, too, though bittersweet.

Favorite flower: Roses - red, naturally.

I'd like to take the opportunity to extend goodwill to new friends. My nominations for the Sunshine Award:

Feed Me a Stray Cat!
Universal Gibberish
Revolution ~ Evolution
Daily Dodo
Living 2012
Geeky Tendencies
life of riles

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Off My Duff: St. Patrick's Day Broomball

Image via Chateau Montelena Winery

St. Patrick's Day probably wasn't the best time to schedule a broomball game, at least not for our team. At least two of our team members arrived already quite merry (and no, I wasn't one of them). I won't blame the result on that, though. It was a hard-fought 1-0 loss and overall, I think we played well. We could use a more developed offensive concept - i.e., I'd like to better understand what I'm supposed to be doing. But what we really need is more players. We only had seven last night, which meant only one sub. I didn't have much left in the tank by the end of the game.

My Wife is out of town for work so a big thank you to Mrs. Mock for looking after Our Girl while Mock and I were at the game. Our Girl and their son (Mock Boy?) have gotten to be pretty good friends. We got in some nice visiting time before the game, too.

It's been a beautiful weekend. We never got much of a winter in northwest Vermont this year. There was some snow but none of the 18-inch blizzards we've come to expect. We've been in a constant state of thaw for what feels like months - not actually very pleasant. But now it feels like a real spring is on its way. And while the ski resorts have been hurting with the weather, apparently it's been great for maple sugaring. The sap is running fiercely. So, there should be plenty of syrup on offer soon.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Versatile Blogger Award

A big thank you to M. Hufstader for nominating me for The Versatile Blogger Award. She has a great movie review blog at Feed Me a Stray Cat! Go check it out.

Here are the instructions for the lucky recipients:

1. Nominate 15 fellow bloggers for the Versatile Blogger Award.

2. In the same post, add the Versatile Blogger Award.

3. In the same post, thank the blogger who nominated you in a post with a link back to their blog.

4. In the same post, share 7 completely random pieces of information about yourself.

5. In the same post, include this set of rules.

6. Inform each nominated blogger of their nomination by posting a comment on each of their blogs.

7 Random Things About Me:

1. My Wife and I met at her housewarming party in New York. In search of something to do, I called a couple of friends to see if they might be free. They said they were going to a party. One of them joked that I could be the gift. Little did they know... My Wife has always joked that she only kept me because she couldn't get store credit. At least, I think she's joking.

2. I wish I could be better at many things without having to put in the work. My first choice would be basketball. I adored playing as a kid and probably still would now, given the opportunity. Over time, I got better at aspects of the game - rebounding, defense, passing - but I was never a very good shooter. I love watching people who are really good. In total honesty, if I could choose superpowers for myself, they would be superhuman basketball powers.

3. My second choice would be chess. I think chess is beautiful. As with basketball, I've learned a lot over the years but I'd love to have a more intuitive sense for the game.

4. I've always thought of myself as a dog person but My Wife has converted me to cats. We used to have three cats, which was far too many. But now that we're down to just one, he's lovely - playful at times, affectionate at times but ultimately very independent. I admire such qualities in people and animals alike.

5. Ever since my stint teaching English in Japan (1996-98), my anxiety dreams usually involve trains - missing trains, missing stops, boarding the wrong train, etc. As I was preparing to go to Japan, all of my anxiety dreams involved not having appropriate shoes.

6. Much of the fun of parenting is having a second go-'round with toys, books, children's television and so forth. Unfortunately, my favorite of my daughter's TV shows only survived a run of 13 episodes: The Upside Down Show.

7. My friends and I played a lot of Dungeons & Dragons from the ages of about 9-14. We took many liberties as far as "rules" were concerned. My favorite character was a gnome thief (can't, for the life of me, remember his name) who somehow managed to marry Ishtar. Obviously, what Babylonian love goddess wouldn't fall madly in love with a gnome thief? (In hindsight, Ishtar would have been a great choice for my '80s crush.)

My nominees:

Wikes! Hikes on the Long Trail
Stay on Target...
Exclamation Point (!)
The Ubiquitous Perspective
Analog Breakfast
Geek Banter
| Snap out of it Jean There's beading to be done |
Random Interruptions
Spunk on a Stick
inspire nordic
Drama, Dice and Damsons
Welcome to Author Stephen Tremp's Web Site
Jennifer Lane
The Quintssentially Questionable Query Experiment

Friday, March 16, 2012

Rock Stars: Lethbridge

Image via World Curling Federation

I know you've all been wondering when I was going to back to curling, already! Well, wonder no longer. The 2012 Ford World Women's Curling Championship gets underway on Saturday in Lethridge, Alberta. As far as I know there is no US television coverage but please let me know if you've heard otherwise. TSN is having online streaming but only on weekdays during the day and experience has taught me that the Canadian channels don't always stream in the States. Even so, I'm excited. In addition to offering its own spoils, this is the first tournament to have any bearing on qualification for the 2014 Olympics. Here's a quick rundown of the prime contenders.


In any international curling tournament, Canada is always among the favorites. This year's representatives will have extra incentive for a strong showing as the host nation. Heather Nedohin's rink (team) hails from Edmonton so they've got provincial pride on the line as well. This is Nedohin's second World Championship appearance though her first in 14 years and her first as skip.

Photo via Saville Centre


The only curler in this year's tournament to skip a world champion before is China's Wang Bingyu. Bingyu won her world title in 2009. She and her rink won bronze at last year's tournament and also at the 2010 Olympics.



While curling is far more popular in Canada than it is anywhere else, the game was born in Scotland. Eve Muirhead's rink is the reigning European champion. Only 21 years old, Muirhead already has a very impressive resume: a silver medal at the 2010 World Championships and four golds at the junior worlds.



Allison Pottinger, skip of the St. Paul-based American squad is a former world champion, having served as third for Debbie McCormick's rink in 2003. She also has three career silver medals at the World Championship, though she has never skipped a team at this level before. She has a very practical day job: marketing research analyst.

Photo via Twin Cities Business Magazine


The Swedes are the defending champion, though there was a bit of a coup at the Swedish national championship. Margaretha Sigfridsson and her crew bested the legendary Anette Norberg (2 Olympic golds, 3 World Championship golds) to earn the trip to Alberta. Whereas most skips play fourth position, thus throwing last rocks, Sigfridsson serves as lead , throwing first.

Photo via Team AllTelle


German prospects dimmed considerably when skip Andrea Schöpp broke her leg in practice this week. Schöpp, a university statistics lecturer in her spare time, is a two-time world champion and she will be missed. As yet, a skip for the tournament has not been named, though Melanie Robillard will take over Schöpp's fourth spot.

The Pick

Sure, why not...

Gold: China
Silver: Canada
Bronze: Scotland

Monday, March 12, 2012

Family Adventures: Pina

Image via Wikipedia

Every week, I pick up a copy of Seven Days, Burlington's weekly newspaper to plot out potential weekend adventures. This week, the film Pina caught my eye. A documentary about dance seemed promising given Our Girl's enthusiasm for ballet so I suggested we head to the Roxy, our local art theater, for a Saturday screening. Despite the fact that this was my idea, I had two misgivings about the movie. The first was the subtitles. Pina is a German film but also includes interviews in French, Spanish, Russian, Japanese and probably other languages I didn't recognize. The review, though, suggested that the dancing is precedent with the interviews voiced over the dance sequence. Our Girl has sat through subtitled movies with us before. While she's a solid reader, we do occasionally have to read some of them aloud to her - won't fly in a movie theater.

My second concern was the PG rating for "some sensuality/partial nudity and smoking." Hmm. Our Girl is 8. Not sure. Further research attributed the concerns to some see-through clothing and artistic nudity. Hmm.

My Wife and I talked it over and she said she wasn't too worried, about either the subtitles or the rating issues. I suppose this is what the rating system is meant to do - to inform families about film content so we can make thoughtful choices - and better that we watch it together and give her the chance to talk about anything that bothers her or us.

All of that aside, the film itself is very good - Germany's submission for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars. It demonstrated a lot about what a documentary can be. The dance scenes were moved to different locations around the city of Wuppertal, including one particularly funny segment shot on a monorail car. There were a lot of interesting camera tricks, too. Special effects in a documentary? Is that kosher?

As for my concerns, the language was no big deal at all. Our Girl said she could read the subtitles just fine - silly me for worrying! As for the sensuality matter, it was definitely risque. I would never be able to show it in school, to be sure. But as for actual skin, I only caught one nip-slip.

("But you had to be looking for it," says I.
"Oh, and of course, YOU were looking for it," says My Wife.
"Yes," I respond, "but only because I was worried!")

Regardless, Our Girl seemed undisturbed and claimed she really enjoyed the movie. I feel a bit more justified in worrying about this one but I think we were right to take the chance. If she brings it up in therapy years from now, we may have to answer for it.

Overall, I'd give Pina three stars out of five. It's a great film and certainly a strong three but I don't feel a need to ever watch it again - my criterion for a four. The dancing can definitely tend toward the weird - I prefer ballet to modern, as does Our Girl - but it was undoubtedly technically solid. Particularly memorable was a dancer diving head first from a chair onto the stage before being caught by one of her male counterparts.

Broomball Update

Overall, last week was a very positive week. School budgets passed in both the town where we live and the one where I work. My re-licensing paperwork was approved. And, I scored my first broomball goal!

The ice rink was out of commission for the past two weekends - something wrong with the freezing apparatus or some such. So, we had a couple of unexpected bye weeks before Friday's game. My goal was set up by a pretty pass from our best player. We shall call him Slim - because he is. Slim had the ball just to the right of the goal, facing away from me, drawing the defense. I snuck in front of the goal and said his name, not yelling but just loud enough for him to hear. He passed it to me between his legs and I just had to knock it into the net - pretty slick, I must say. For me, it was mostly a matter of being in the right place at the right time. I was glad enough not to screw it up. Now that I have that monkey off my back, I'm going to work more on my passing.

Oh, we still lost: 4-3. Maybe next time.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

On the Coffee Table: A Long Time Ago....

Title: Star Wars Omnibus: A Long Time Ago...., Volume 1

Image via Wookiepedia

Let me begin by saying that I love the blogosphere. I can post about Chewbacca, then thoughtful, articulate people will read my post and even offer differing opinions about Wookiee linguistics. Ours is a beautiful, beautiful world.

In the summer of 1977, not long after the release of the original Star Wars film, Marvel Comics launched a comic book series to capitalize on the mania. The comic was so successful that many within the company have claimed that Star Wars practically saved Marvel from financial ruin. Dark Horse Comics, the current license-holders for Star Wars comics, have included the old Marvel books among their Omnibus collections. I just finished Volume 1 which includes Marvel Star Wars issues 1-27. I have many thoughts to share so I'd better get cracking.

Film Adaptation

The first six issues of the Marvel Star Wars series comprise the comic book adaptation of the original movie. Most of the material used would be very familiar to anyone who knows the film, although there are a few extras drawn from other Lucas source material. Luke's Tatooine back story, for instance, is better developed. We also see the Han Solo/Jabba the Hut (notice, just one t) docking bay confrontation which was missing from the original film but which George Lucas managed to work back into later, updated versions. Jabba's physical appearance, however, was remarkably different in this early interpretation (Jabba's on the left):

Further Adventures

Star Wars #7: New Planets, New Perils! is where Star Wars's Expanded Universe begins. This was the first new story in the Star Wars galaxy after the original film, in this case following the further adventures of Han Solo and Chewbacca on a Seven Samurai-inspired story arc. It is only appropriate that the first new SW story should follow the plot of an Akira Kurosawa film as A New Hope was largely modeled on the Japanese master's Hidden Fortress.

Star Wars #16: The Hunter contains the first story led by characters other than the originals. In fact, our familiar gang is only mentioned in passing. The main good guys are Jaxxon, a six-foot tall, green, carnivorous rabbit (Star Wars meets Harvey?), and Amaiza, his buxom, scantily clad sidekick. Both were initially introduced as part of Han's posse in the Seven Samurai arc.

The bad guy is Valance the Hunter. Apparently, the idea of a story without Luke, Han or Leia wasn't too appealing as it's the only one of the 27 collected here that strayed so far. #16 is, in fact, the last appearance for either Jaxxon or Amaiza. Valance is actually a pretty intriguing villain and he managed to hang around a bit longer. His story extends to issue #29, as yet unread by me.

Image via Comic Vine


There are five official levels of Star Wars canon. I won't bore you anymore than necessary but here's the Wikipedia link if you'd like to learn more about them. The Marvel comics are an interesting case. They are officially S-canon, a lower level than the more recent Dark Horse titles. As the entire Star Wars concept was so new, Marvel took the story in directions that were eventually contradicted by the films themselves. However, since the Marvel storylines have nearly all been referenced in other C-canon stories, many individual Marvel issues can be considered C-canon.

Archie Goodwin

My Wife has what is best described as an eye-rolling tolerance for my Star Wars enthusiasm. There are, however, occasionally moments when my interests intersect with hers. She is a big fan of mystery novels and the Nero Wolfe series is one of her favorites. We are both big fans of the TV series and have recently introduced the shows to our daughter as well. Those of you familiar with Mr. Wolfe already know that his legman, and the narrator of the stories, is named Archie Goodwin. Archie Goodwin is also the name of the main writer for Marvel's Star Wars series. The real-life AG was told by his first publishing company that he couldn't use the name as a nom de plume because of the fictional character. When he explained it was his real given name, they were delighted by the promotional opportunity.

Final Thoughts...For Now

I'm definitely up for more. This series provides what I've been yearning for with the Dark Horse books: stories with the characters I know and love, as opposed to reasonable facsimiles. I'm also now curious about older sci-fi comics, particularly the old Flash Gordon and Buck Rodgers strips. Flash Gordon, especially, was another big influence on George Lucas.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Chewbacca: A Lost Opportunity

Photo via Wookieepdeia

I love Wookiees. To love Star Wars is to love Wookiees. In fact, I've long held that R2-D2 and a dozen Wookiees could have taken out the Empire in short order. Alas, Chewbacca, of all the original Star Warriors (as they are charmingly referred to in the old Marvel comics), is by far the least developed character, droids included. His species and their home world seem such an obvious direction for exploration and yet they have been largely neglected. Yes, we got a glimpse of the story in Revenge of the Sith but I, for one, hunger for more. I've only just begun to scratch the surface of the Expanded Universe but scanning titles, Wookiee stories are notably rare.

(Side note: Yes, I've seen the unspeakably horrible Christmas special of old which features Chewbacca's family. I think it best that we follow Papa George's example on that one and pretend that it never happened!)

Photo via

Chewbacca has had undeniable success as an icon of the brand. After all, one of the best online resources for all things Star Wars is called Wookieepedia. However, George Lucas & Co. painted themselves into a corner as far as Wookiee narrative possibilities were concerned. Could a civilization evolve with the mechanical facility to fly and repair spacecraft but only sub-verbal communication skills? Perhaps, though it does strain credibility. Lucas has more or less admitted to the problem. He originally intended to employ the Wookiee home world in Return of the Jedi. He created Ewoks instead because he thought a "primitive" Wookiee world would not be credible for devoted fans well-acquainted with Chewie's capacities.

Photo via io9

I believe the early and tragic decision to limit Chewbacca's lingual abilities has been the main hindrance to his story. The Jawas got a language in the films. The Ewoks got a language. Heck, even the ill-fated Greedo got a language. In the original trilogy, only Han Solo and C-3PO appear to understand Chewie at all. We, the audience, are never privy to a direct translation. In the Marvel series (debatable canon value but we'll address that another time), Threepio even goes so far as to say that Wookiee is not a language in his database.

The Expanded Universe has done somewhat better by Wookiee linguistics. According to the above-mentioned Wookieepedia, there are in fact three Wookiee languages: Shyriiwook, Xaczik and Thykarann. Perhaps there is room yet in fan fiction for Chewbacca and his kin to finally get their just due.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Family Adventures: Hugo

Image via Kidsmomo

In some ways, it seemed kind of silly to go see a movie in the theater the weekend after it had been released on DVD. But Essex Cinemas had a 10:15 a.m. showing of Hugo today and, as it turns out, Sunday morning's a great time to see a film. We were the only ones there - essentially a private screening! And now, I can definitely say that it was worth seeing this particular film with the big screen, the 3D glasses, the surround sound - the works. It was, after all, Our Girl's introduction to Martin Scorsese films. Mind you, I expect we'll hold off for a while on the others...

Last week's Academy Awards reminded us how few of the nominated films we'd seen this year. Hugo, in particular, had been on our to-see list for a while but we just never got around to it before this. We were lucky that it stayed in our local theater for so long. The Artist, of course, was the big winner last Sunday, beating out yet another Scorsese film for Best Picture. Scorsese's woes at the Oscars are well known. The almost undisputed greatest director of his generation has only ever won the Best Picture and Best Director awards once each - both for Departed, a film which most who know his work wouldn't even put in his career top five. His masterpieces - Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and GoodFellas - all fell short. With 20+ years hindsight, all three are seen as seminal films of the era, far better than Rocky, Ordinary People and (really?) Dances with Wolves respectively. If time be the true test, Marty always wins.

Scorsese photo via Rotten Tomatoes

I expect the same will be true for Hugo. I'll admit to skepticism during the early part of the film. The movie was dazzling to the senses but the story was slow and lacked the sort of hook to draw you into the narrative.


But once the big revelation hit about the true identity of Ben Kingsley's character, Georges Méliès, the legendary French filmmaker, the real magic kicked into gear. I'll admit upfront that I'm a sucker for movies made for people who love movies and Scorsese's homage to early film is simply divine. The tale of Hugo Cabret, an orphan living on his own in the clockworks of a train station, is a wonderful parable for the true tale of Méliès, a genius lost to the wilderness of obscurity only to be rediscovered later in life. Oscars or no Oscars, Scorsese's legacy is secure and I love that he's chosen to use his high pedestal to celebrate a forgotten titan of his medium.

My favorite film geek moment actually comes up twice, the shot of movie goers ducking in reaction to the image of an oncoming train in a very early 2D film. It's a nice little joke in our current cinematic age, and Scorsese's first 3D movie.


Five out of five stars for Hugo. On my Netflix profile, I don't give five stars very often. For me, this highest rating is reserved for those films against which I judge other films. The Empire Strikes Back is a five. The Wizard of Oz is a five. GoodFellas is a five. Now, not only might Our Girl be inspired to see more of Scorsese's films once she's older, but might also be curious about the history of the art form and be eager to learn of its early masters. That's the true gift of Hugo.

On the way home, we stopped at Pulcinella's for lunch. I had the polpette parmigiana panini - a nice choice but, as usual, My Wife ordered better. She got the salsiccia e broccoli rapini panini. The highlight of the meal for me was dessert, a sinful chocolate stout cake made with Guinness.