Monday, August 31, 2020

Marvel Immersion Project: Uncanny X-Men #112-116

Chadwick Boseman

Chadwick Boseman | Disney Wiki | Fandom
via Disney Wiki


Wakanda Forever

My Recent Reads

Uncanny X-Men #112
Originally Published August 1, 1978
Writer: Chris Claremont
Artist: John Byrne
  • The X-Men do battle with Magneto in a carnival trailer as said trailer flies to Antarctica where Magneto has a secret base under a volcano.
  • Magneto wins, confining our heroes in a powerless state.

Uncanny X-Men #113
September 1, 1978 (note the switch to monthly release; the series is doing well)
  • The X-Men manage to break free from Magneto, though only Jean and the Beast appear to have survived the ensuing melee.
  • Some fun background on Storm from her days learning to pick locks as an orphaned child in Cairo.

Uncanny X-Men #114
October 1, 1978
  • Ah, but the others have survived!  Though they have no idea where Magneto is or whether or not he even survived the destruction of his base (he did).
  • Cyclops and company tunnel their way to the Savage Land, a mysterious tropical sanctuary - still in Antarctica - where prehistoric creatures run wild.  Apparently Scott knows all about it.  There, they encounter the friendly Fall People.
Sauron (comics) - Wikipedia
via Wikipedia
  • Unfortunately, this is no vacation.  Storm is attacked by a seeming human who absorbs her life energy to become a pterodactyl called Sauron (quite different from the Middle Earth Sauron).
  • Meanwhile, Jean and the Beast are rescued and returned to Westchester where they break the news to Charles that they believe the rest of the X-Men have perished.
  • The artwork has definitely been upgraded since Byrne came on board.  We're seeing full-page and even double-page panels of a quality I haven't seen in this journey since Jack Kirby's best Fantastic Four work.  The stories have improved, too, demonstrating once again that the artist matters in this medium

Uncanny X-Men #115
November 1, 1978
  • The X-Men battle Sauron who, once defeated, reverts back to his human form, known as Karl Lykos.
Ka-Zar (comics) - Wikipedia
via Wikipedia
  • Before Wolverine can finish off Sauron, Ka-Zar and Zabu (he's the cat) show up, claiming Lykos is their friend.  We're all buddies now.
Garokk - Wikipedia
via Wikipedia
  • Lykos tells a tale of witnessing the transformation of a man into the living embodiment of the deity Garokk.  Since then, Garokk and his minions have built a city within the Savage Land which threatens the survival of all.  
  • Ka-Zar and Lykos ask for the X-Men's help.  At least for the moment, our friends decline.

Uncanny X-Men #116
December 1, 1978
  • At the end of the last issue, a snowstorm had hit the Savage Land.  Ka-Zar emphasized to the X-Men that the Savage Land could never survive the full brunt of an Antarctic winter so they agree to stick around.
  • Cyclops, Colossus, Banshee and Ka-Zar are captured by Garokk's pterodactyl riders.
  • Wolverine sends Zabu back to the Fall People village to get help while he, Storm and Nightcrawler head for Garokk's citadel to rescue their friends.
  • Garokk is defeated and his city destroyed.  He is presumed dead, though not for lack of Storm trying to save him at the last moment.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Star Trek: Evolution

Episode: "Evolution"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 3, Episode 1
Original Air Date: September 25, 1989
Evolution (episode) | Memory Alpha | Fandom
via Memory Alpha
Paul Stubbs, an eminent scientist, is aboard the Enterprise to conduct a career-making experiment.  Unfortunately, Wesley's own school project has gone awry.  A couple of nano-bots he had been working with have gotten loose, reproduced and taken over the ship. 

First the best news, Beverly Crusher is back.  Maurice Hurley, the head writer, left the show after Season 2.  It was his personal beef that resulted in Gates McFadden's firing so once he was gone, she was invited back.  Equilibrium is restored.  Before we go any further, a quick update on the Uhura chair:

Uhura = Dr. Crusher = Pulaski = Dr. Crusher

Another considerable improvement, especially from the actors' perspective: new uniforms!  William Ware Theiss, a veteran from the original series, was out as costume director.  Robert Blackman was in.  In Patrick Stewart's words, "The new uniforms don't hurt."  Enough said.  There are personnel moves in story, too.  Both Worf and Geordi got rank promotions between seasons.

"Evolution" is primarily a Wesley episode and those are rarely strong.  And as much as I like Ken Jenkins the actor, his character, Stubbs, is annoyingly arrogant.  Anyone who constantly refers to Wes as "my young friend" is already losing with me.

That said, there are a few gifts.  The nano tech story in itself is definitely interesting, presenting genuine ethical quandries.  Plus, it's a great Guinan episode.  Guinan development is always more tease than substance but I'm alright with that.  This time we learn: she's been married multiple times and was perhaps not the most faithful wife, she has multiple children and both she and they are hundreds of years old.  Good stuff.

Acting Notes

Ken Jenkins | Scrubs Wiki | Fandom
via Scrubs Wiki
Ken Jenkins was born August 28, 1940 in Dayton, Ohio.  Without a doubt, his best-known role is Dr. Bob Kelso on Scrubs and he has a respectable resume on both stage and screen.  Once again, the Trek connections to the musical Big River are strong.  For starters, Ken's son Daniel was the original Huck Finn on Broadway - Tony-nominated.  Daniel also played Mark Twain in the 2003 revival.  Ken himself appeared in the original Broadway production as the Duke, creating a rare father-son Broadway combo.  For those keeping score at home, the part of the Duke was originated by DS9's Rene Auberjonois (also Tony-nominated) and later played by Brent Spiner (Data).

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Squid Mixes: Amaretto Sour

An amaretto sour combines amaretto, an almond liqueur, and lemon juice.  I got my recipe from The New York Bartender's Guide

As discussed last week, I am developing a cocktail for my friends Mock and Nancy Mock to celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary.  In our previous installment, my wife had suggested more almond and less lemon in a vodka sour variation.  I decided to ditch the vodka and orgeat syrup in favor of amaretto.  Looking around online, it would appear either lemon or lime juice is acceptable for an amaretto sour so we tried both.

I made the lemon (photo above) first.  My wife's reaction was a simple "lovely."  She did think, however, that it might still be a little too sour.  The lime was even better.  I've written this before: lime and almond are an astonishing combo, definitely a whole more than the sum of its parts situation.  The flavor explodes spectacularly in your mouth.  But this time, perhaps not sour enough. 

Maybe split the difference?

Stay tuned.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Marvel Immersion Project: Uncanny X-Men #106-111

This week's run includes a major personnel change in the art department.  Before we get there...
Dave Cockrum - Wikipedia
via Wikipedia
Dave Cockrum was born November 11, 1943 in Pendleton, Oregon.  He grew up an Air Force brat, then joined the Navy himself when he graduated high school.  Before Marvel, he revamped the Legion of Super-Heroes at DC.  For the X-Men, he was the co-creator of Nightcrawler, Storm and Colossus.

Cockrum died November 26, 2006 of complications from diabetes.

My Recent Reads

Uncanny X-Men #106
Originally Published August 1, 1977
Writer: Chris Claremont
Artist: Dave Cockrum
  • New X-Men are pitted against old X-Men (haven't we already done this?) in the Danger Room, though the old ones are actually mental constructs generated by Charles Xavier's evil entity.
  • Another brawl.  I'm getting tired of this, especially since it pulls us away from another story that was actually starting to get interesting.
  • Then it occurred to me: this is what comic book writers do when they're struggling to meet a deadline.  They throw up some meaningless drivel with lots of action in order to buy time for the next chapter in a story arc.  This is what Steve Gerber, Howard the Duck's co-creator, could never quite manage.

Uncanny X-Men #107
October 1, 1977
  • The issue's title is an homage to Star Trek: "Where No X-Man Has Gone Before."
  • You know what this series needs?  More characters!  How about 20 new ones all at once?
  • Please forgive me, I've been a little confused about who's who in the gradually developing Starjammer/Lilandra story (see here).   Lilandra isn't a Starjammer.  She is a Shi'ar.  So are her brother, the Emperor, and Eric the Red who has been making trouble for the X-Men for several issues now.  The Starjammers, meanwhile, are space pirates, natives of various worlds (including one Earthling, as we shall learn in time).  They met one another as Shi'ar slaves.  So, to catch you (myself) up on the current story:
    • Lilandra is trying to stop her brother from gaining the M'Kraan Crystal which would grant him absolute power.
    • She has enlisted the help of the X-Men who have just followed her through a stargate.
    • Eric the Red is on the Emperor's side.
    • The Starjammers are on Lilandra's.
  • Got it?  I think I do...
  • When D'Ken, the Emperor, refuses to hand the captured Lilandra over to Cyclops, the X-Men do battle with the Imperial Guard, a colorful crew.  I wasn't exactly kidding about the 20 new characters.  The Imperial Guard is led by Gladiator.
Kallark (Earth-616) | Marvel Database | Fandom
Gladiator via Marvel Database
  • The battle is going against our friends but the Starjammers come to their rescue.  We meet some new characters among their ranks as well:
Hepzibah (comics) - Wikipedia
via Wikipedia
    • Hepzibah
Raza Longknife (Earth-161) | Marvel Database | Fandom
via Marvel Database
    • Raza

Uncanny X-Men #108
December 1, 1977
Claremont/John Byrne
  • This is John Byrne's first X-Men issue and that is a very big deal.  Claremont and Byrne were the dream team.
  • The battle over the M'Kraan Crystal continues. Everyone ends up inside the crystal.  Jane Grey bales everyone out again and gets everyone home.  Before they take off, though, she also tells Corsair she knows he's Scott's father.
  • Dave Cockrum gets a very nice tribute on the last page.

Uncanny X-Men #109
February 1, 1978
James Hudson (Earth-616) | Marvel Database | Fandom
via Marvel Database
  • Weapon Alpha is introduced.  Eventually, he will be better known as Guardian and lead a Canadian-based team called Alpha Flight.
  • Alpha is after Wolverine, still classified by the Canadians as a rogue agent.

Uncanny X-Men #110
April 1, 1978
Claremont/Tony DeZuniga
  • The X-Men play softball!
  • Another Danger Room gone berserk story.  This time, Warhawk is the troublemaker.  

Uncanny X-Men #111
June 1, 1978
Mesmero (Vincent) (Earth-616) | Marvel Database | Fandom
via Marvel Database
  • Mesmero has hypnotized all of the current X-Men and is keeping them as carnival performers.  The Beast, worried that he hasn't heard from them, comes to see what's going on.  He saves them.  Actually, it's Jean who saves everyone - again.
  • On the last page, it is revealed that - who else? - Magneto is behind the whole operation.

State of the Blog 2020

Year 12, here we go!

I don't foresee any major changes for The Armchair Squid in the coming year, at least not to the basic structure.  The current schedule is working well for me...

Mondays: Marvel Immersion Project
Wednesdays: Family Adventures
Fridays: Star Trek

I am certainly learning a lot about the Marvel Universe in a hurry, as was my intention.  Reading a comic book more or less daily will do that!  It's possible I will change course at some point as to the exact material I feature - all of those Star Wars comic books on Marvel Unlimited beckon - but count on Monday posts continuing through the blogging year.

Family Adventures posts will continue to be food-driven.  I'm excited by where the cocktail hobby is heading for me right now.  Exploring bitters and French ingredients (with David Lebovitz as my guide) is adding new flavors to the tool box and I am simultaneously gaining confidence in my capacity to design my own recipes.  Stay tuned on that last one.  Expect developments in the next couple weeks.  I should also get back to mocktails.  I said that last year, too, and only got so far with it.  If I keep saying it, maybe it will be more likely to happen.

I'll be starting Season 3 of Star Trek: The Next Generation this week.  In other words, we're about to dig into the good stuff.  Barring major unforeseen life changes, I anticipate seeing TNG all the way through to the end at this point.  Whether I'll eventually take on Deep Space Nine, too, remains to be seen.  Definitely not this year, though.  The overlap didn't begin until TNG Season 6.  So maybe Blogging Year 13.

As ever, I am grateful to those of you who tune in to read my drivel.  If you enjoy reading The Squid half as much as I enjoy writing it, we're all doing alright.

Let's have a great year, folks.  If you're a US citizen, please vote in November.  For the rest of you, please enjoy the fact that you have better public health policies than we do - probably best you don't vacation here this year.  For everyone, be safe and be well.

Squiddies 2020

The Armchair Squid turns eleven years old today!  It's time to hand out some hardware.  And the Squiddy goes to...

Biggest Surprise: The Beatles' Appearance in Strange Tales #130

To say the Beatles were a big deal in 1965 would be a ridiculous understatement.  The band was frequently mentioned in the Marvel comic books of the era.  However, a special treat was prepared for Strange Tales #130: the Fab Four actually appeared on the page!
The Beatles in Strange Tales #130, 1965 | Vintage comics, Comic ...
via Pinterest
In 1978, Marvel published a Super Special called "The Beatles Story," an unauthorized history of the band.  Skrull Beatles impersonators would eventually feature in the fictional Marvel universe, first appearing in Wisdom #6 in July, 2007.

Biggest Disappointment: COVID-19

This one's obvious, right?   I can't say I've been entirely miserable personally with social distancing.  To be perfectly honest, it suits me just fine most of the time.  But that's the selfish view.  People are dying and my own government is doing an absolutely pathetic job of managing the pandemic.  I hate when people talk about this as the "new normal," as if we've already embraced it as an acceptable state of affairs.  It is anything but.

Best Read, First Time Category: March: Book Two by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin

Lewis and Aydin's March series did an outstanding job reminding me how little I know about the American Civil Rights Movement.  It's not easy picking a favorite out of the trilogy but, as is often the case, the middle volume represents the heart of the story.  In particular, Book Two introduced me to the Big Six: Lewis, Martin Luther King, Jr., James Farmer, A. Philip Randolph, Roy Wilkins and Whitney Young.  Lewis and King are the only ones I already knew.  Biographies for the other four went immediately on the wish list.
John Lewis - Wikipedia
via Wikipedia
Sadly, John Lewis passed away on July 17th from pancreatic cancer.  Generous to the end, he left us with a final message of hope and inspiration.

Best Read, Re-Read Category: The Calvin and Hobbes Lazy Sunday Book by Bill Watterson
The Calvin and Hobbes Lazy Sunday Book (Volume 4): Watterson, Bill ...
via Amazon
Calvin and Hobbes is the best of the best.  Lazy Sunday Book collects the Sunday strips from May 24, 1987 to July 30, 1989.  It's glorious.  Yup, better than Harry Potter.

Best Comics Find: Marvel Unlimited

Marvel maintains its back catalog - 27,000 issues and counting - online and available at a highly reasonable subscription rate, especially if your intention is to read one comic book a day for at least a year.  My Marvel Immersion Project would have been a lot more expensive and a much bigger hassle - i.e. impossible - without it.   An additional benefit I haven't even tapped into yet: Marvel owns all Star Wars comic book series now!

Athlete of the Year: Joe Frazier (1944-2011)
Joe Frazier - Wikipedia
via Wikipedia
I finished Ali: A Life, Jonathan Eig's excellent biography about Muhammad Ali in January.  Here's what I wrote about Frazier, Ali's greatest rival:
For me, the most sympathetic character in the Ali saga has always been Joe Frazier.  Their three encounters are probably the most celebrated matches in boxing history.  Smokin' Joe never had Ali's flash but he more than made up for it with a nasty left hook.  Beyond the ring, the Ali-Frazier story is one of betrayal.  Frazier was supportive of Ali during his exile, even lending him money.  Frazier came to see Ali as a friend.  In the lead up to each of their matches, Ali resorted to low-ball attacks, calling Frazier out as a gorilla and an Uncle Tom.  Ali always defended his actions as gamesmanship.  Frazier carried the grudge for the rest of his life.

Best Family Adventure: Zoom Gatherings

Social distancing came with an unexpected silver lining.  If anything, I have been more sociable than I was before.  Zoom and its many competitors have inspired me to "get together" with several friends I hadn't seen in years.  I even have a (more or less) weekly board game night (via Board Game Arena) with a group of childhood friends, all of whom live in other states.  Yes, Zoom meetings for work are annoying but as a social avenue, they have been essential to my happiness in these troubled times.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Star Trek: Shades of Gray

Episode: "Shades of Gray"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 2, Episode 22
Original Air Date: July 17, 1989
Shades of Gray (episode) | Memory Alpha | Fandom
via Memory Alpha
While exploring the planet Surata IV, Riker is bitten by... something.  Back in sickbay, the infection advances rapidly through his nervous system, threatening to kill him.  Dr. Pulaski fights back by inducing emotionally intense memories.

Basically, "Shades of Gray" is a clip show.  More specifically, it's a Riker-themed clip show.  We get a little tour of some of the more intense Riker moments over the first two seasons: getting it on with various women, watching Tasha die, fist fights, brushes with death, etc.  Having stayed with the series through the screenwriters' strike and ponied up for big budget episodes like "Elementary, Dear Data," the studio insisted on one more, low-cost episode.  "Shades of Gray" is what they got.

"Shades of Gray" is a popular choice for worst episode of the entire series.  In fact, it has the lowest IMDb rating of all.  The writers themselves were embarrassed by their own work.  Admittedly, clip shows are inherently lame and the plot they tried to build around this one wasn't great.  And it's not as if they even mined all of the best material available, failing to document the very real progress in Riker's character.  That said, I don't hate it.  If anything, it's fun to see how far the show has already come in two years: improvements in Data's and Worf's makeup, for instance.  Other episodes, even in this second season, were more painful to watch for me.  I'm not saying "Shades of Gray" is good.  I'm saying there have been worse.


Thoughts on Season 2

General Impressions

My friends, it looks like we're actually going to have a tolerable show!  After the limping mess that is Season 1, skepticism was merited.  But even with ups and downs, the pieces were starting to fall into place.  Most of the principal characters were granted meaningful background development and the relationships between them became more clear.  The world aboard the Enterprise got welcome expansion with the addition of Ten Forward and its proprietor, Guinan.  A compelling arch-nemesis was established in the form of the Borg.  Perhaps most importantly, especially for a Trek series, the moral compass was clarified.

Favorite Episode: "Peak Performance"

Case in point: this was a much easier choice in Season 1 with far fewer viable candidates.  I would say Season 2 has three classics worthy of the name along with a robust second tier.  "Elementary, Dear Data" is an art direction masterpiece.  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's London and particularly the period costumes for our Trek friends are expertly designed.  Plus, Moriarty is the best villain we've seen so far.  Meanwhile, "The Measure of a Man" left me with the most to write about as the clearest expression yet of TNG's moral intent.

"Peak Performance" is the true gem, so understated in comparison to the other two.  I feel the series settling into itself.  It's been a rocky first two years for TNG.  They've had to weather the writers' strike plus the loss of two principal cast members.  Here, finally, in the season's penultimate episode, one senses everyone feels comfortable with their own characters and with each other.  All of the principals get quality material - even Wesley, no small feat.  The relationships feel credible and dependable.  They're not just saying they care about each other, believe in each other - we can see it.  Maybe context matters.  Perhaps without knowing where we've been and also what's coming, this story isn't such a big deal.  But it is a big deal.  This is the show I love, not because it's Star Trek but because it's The Next Generation.

Least Favorite Episode: "The Schizoid Man"

Of all the main cast, Brent Spiner is the most susceptible to Shatner-esque overacting.  As such, Data is the perfect character for him, a reasonably confining box.  I don't mean that as a criticism.  He's an excellent actor for the part.  But if you let him out of that box, there can be trouble.  I can't stand Lore and his "possessed Data" performance in "The Schizoid Man" is definitely over the top.  Plus, I want to vomit every time he refers to Dr. Graves as "Grandpa."  Maybe I'm meant to feel uncomfortable.  If so, it worked.

Favorite Recurring Character: Guinan

Guinan | Memory Alpha | Fandom
via Memory Alpha
I love everything Whoopi Goldberg brought to Star Trek.  She has the acting chops to field memorable, serious moments - she gets one of the very best in Season 3 - and also a comfortable, professional ease with the comedy.  Her screen time is minimal but she always adds value to the story.  The enigmatic character history - only hinted at - is highly intriguing.  Plus, she's a civilian and that should not be underappreciated in regards to the franchise as a whole.  She is not a principal - too many movie commitments at that point in her career - but she kicked open the door for civilian principal characters in future, spinoff series.

Favorite Blast from the Past: Diana Muldaur

Diana Muldaur - Wikipedia
via Wikipedia
Okay, I've been critical of Dr. Pulaski and I'm hardly alone in not caring for the one-season, Dr. Crusher stand in.  But let's give some credit to the actress herself.  It's clear she wasn't promised much, only ever listed as a "special appearance by" guest star.  Nor did she benefit from strong writing.  It wasn't her fault that Gates McFadden was fired, though perhaps it's inevitable that the fans - and the cast? - would hold it against her.  I am certainly glad that Dr. Crusher came back but Muldaur made a genuine contribution.

Why does she qualify as a blast from the past?  She had two guest-starring roles in the original series: Ann Mulhall in "Return to Tomorrow" and Miranda Jones in "Is There in Truth No Beauty?"  Interestingly, both characters also held the title of Doctor.

Favorite Guest Actor, One-Shot: Daniel Davis

Daniel Davis | Memory Alpha | Fandom
via Memory Alpha
Easy choice.  Moriarty ("Elementary, Dear Data") is the best villain TNG has had so far.  Here's what I wrote about the character in my original post for the episode:  "...charming yet deadly.  One gets the sense Dr. Pulaski doesn't half mind being kidnapped.  Moriarty accepts defeat graciously, though not with total resignation."  As soon as the story ended, I was already eager for more.


Season 3 awaits.  Folks, we're about to dig into the good stuff.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Squid Mixes: Vodka Sour

A vodka sour combines vodka, lemon juice and sugar.  I got my recipe from The New York Bartender's Guide which calls for both cherry and lemon slice garnishes.  Wanting to conserve lemons, I went with just the cherry.

The drink is definitely sour.  Apologies for the photo.  I'd already finished about half of it before I remembered to take one.

The vodka sour was the first step in a broader project: designing a drink for my friends Mock and Nancy Mock for their 20th wedding anniversary.  They both expressed interest in a sour drink.  Naturally, my wife is my expert taste tester so I asked what, if anything, she felt the drink was missing.  She suggested orgeat syrup so I added 1/2 oz. for version 2.0.

The result was interesting.  As discussed in previous posts, lime and almond is a magical combination and lemon and almond isn't half bad either.  This time, my wife advised more almond, less lemon.

Tune in next week for the next stage in the process.

Vermouth Battles

Noilly Prat vs. Boissiere
Boissiere is a relatively new product on Vermont shelves.  Originally developed in France in 1857, the company moved over the Alps to Turin, Italy in 1971.  The infusion includes elderflower, chamomile and coriander.

My wife initially picked the Boissiere but said she could go either way.  I would say it's an even split for me.  The Noilly Prat was a touch sweeter, not necessarily a good or bad thing but I have found that sugar detracts from the other ingredients.  I feel part of the beauty of a Manhattan is the equal partnership of whiskey and bitters.  The vermouth's role, as discussed previously, is more important than I would have expected.  It doesn't need to supply much additional flavor but it also shouldn't detract from the balance between the others.  So, give the Boissiere a slight edge, bolstered by the fact that it's also $1 cheaper.

New Champion: Boissiere

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

On the Coffee Table: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Title: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Author: J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: Rowling, J. K. ...
via Amazon
Sirius Black has escaped from Azkaban, the high-security wizard prison.  The faculty at Hogwarts are worried he has it in for Harry so he's kept under unusually close watch.  Azkaban's ghoulish guards, the Dementors, have been enlisted to protect the school, much to Dumbledore's frustration.

For every classic book/film/TV/etc. series, there's one story that sets a launch point for broader exploration.  Message to the audience: we're in it for the long haul if you are.  For Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back sets a moral spectrum with Yoda at one end, the Emperor at the other and then drops a bombshell that challenges every assumption we had made about the story to that point.  Star Trek's "Balance of Terror," an episode in the first season of the original series, introduces the Romulans, the initial arch-nemesis.  More importantly, it offers a glimpse of a complicated history for the Federation, narrative gaps still being filled 54 years later.  For the Potterverse, the key story is The Prisoner of Azkaban.

The first book established Harry's dismal expectations regarding life with the Dursleys, all blown to smithereens when the Hogwarts letter arrives.  As this third volume begins, we all know the basics of Harry's wizarding life, too.  He loves being at Hogwarts.  He has good friends and loads of people looking after him but at the end of each year, he's alone again - no real family worthy of the name.  I won't spoil the ending for anyone who hasn't read it except to say that all of the assumptions he has made about even his own wizarding life are changed with one astonishing revelation.  There's a lot more to his own past than he realized.

It's on now!

Strong world-building elements:
  • The Dementors are brutally effective.  Several years ago, when I posted about The Muppet Christmas Carol, I noted that the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come in that movie had been my mental image for the Dementors.  Even after having seen the film adaptation of Azkaban, it's still my go-to.  Five points to Kermitdor!
  • Chocolate has healing powers in the wizarding world.
  • The Hogwarts-scape expands as Harry and friends visit the nearby village of Hogsmeade, specifically Honeydukes, the candy store, and Three Broomsticks, the pub.
  • I feel as if I should learn to make butterbeer.  Naturally, there are recipes: this one, for instance.
  • We get our first named Ravenclaw students in Prisoner of Azkaban.  Penelope Clearwater is Percy Weasley's girlfriend and, not coincidentally, Head Girl.  Cho Chang is the Seeker for the Ravenclaw quidditch team and also has an evident crush on young Master Potter.
I'd forgotten - or entirely failed to appreciate - that Cedric Diggory, the Hufflepuff Seeker, was introduced in this book, not The Goblet of Fire.  Those who know the saga are well aware of his significance...

In this re-read, I was particularly touched by the Weasley twins' gifting of the Marauder's Map to Harry.  It's such a selfless act.  Obviously, it's essential for moving the plot forward but that's not why they did it.  It was simple kindness.  They love Harry.  They love him in a way they don't even love Ron.  All of the Weasleys love Harry (save Percy, who only loves himself).  They essentially adopt him, though Harry never fully grasps that fact (not officially, of course - good thing given Ginny's long-term designs).  Overall, I was struck in this reading how many people are looking out for Harry and how little he seems to notice - consider all of the presents he gets; we hardly ever read about the ones he gives.  For many of the adults, it began as a sense of loyalty to his parents but over time, that same devotion shifts to Harry himself.  It's a strong reminder of how much we all depend on the selfless and unappreciated help of others to make it through this crazy, often cruel world.

The fundamental moral question of Star Trek is tolerance.  For Star Wars, it's power and how we choose to wield it.  For the story of Harry Potter, it's loyalty.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Marvel Immersion Project: Uncanny X-Men #99-105

Generally speaking, I find the X-Men stories rather exhausting, particularly the one damn fight after another story pattern.  However, every once in a while, something genuinely intriguing pops up.  In particular, it's encouraging to see that the X-Men of the Chris Claremont era do well by female characters.  The best story lines in this week's run focus on the women, Jean Grey and Ororo.  Misty Knight, Jean's roommate in New York, also promises to be interesting, as does the newly introduced Lilandra.

Before we dig in, some love for the head writer...
Chris Claremont - Wikipedia
via Wikipedia
Chris Claremont was born November 25, 1950 in London.  His family lived in a kibbutz in Israel before emigrating to the United States, settling in Long Island.  Originally, his writing aspirations were in straight prose but he took as a job as a gofer at Marvel when he was 19.  He got his first writing assignment in 1973. 

Claremont was the head writer for the Uncanny X-Men from 1975-91, building what had been a struggling series into one of Marvel's most popular and important titles.  X-Men #1, a spinoff released in 1991, remains the best-selling comic book issue of all time.  He was inducted into the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame in 2015.

My Recent Reads

Uncanny X-Men #99
Originally Published June 1, 1976
Writer: Chris Claremont
Artist: Dave Cockrum
  • Marvel Girl, Banshee, Wolverine and Professor X are being held captive in orbit above earth by Steven Lang, mastermind of Project Armageddon.
  • The remaining X-Men head to outer space to rescue them.
  • On the final page, it appears the original X-Men and the newbies are to be pitted against one another in a battle royale!

Uncanny X-Men #100
August 1, 1976
  • Naturally, those who appear to be the original X-Men are robotic impostors.
  • As noted last week, these stories are generally far too busy for my tastes: so many characters, one huge fight after another, no subtlety at all.  Just as was the case with the Avengers, it taxes my capacity to care.  I was really struggling until...
  • On page 14, Jean Grey (Marvel Girl) has a total badass moment and takes over.
  • After the X-Men achieve their escape from Lang, they're headed back to earth, Jean realizes she is the one with the necessary powers to get them home through a solar storm by linking telepathically with Dr. Corbeau, a pilot.  But that's not even the badass moment.
  • Scott Summers (Cyclops and Jean's boyfriend) is freaking out a la Reed Richards over his little lady willingly risking her own life to save everyone else.  Jean proves she's no Sue Storm, knocking Scott unconscious with her telepathic powers to get him out of the way.  She takes down Wolverine, too, though strictly through conventional verbal methods.
  • Total badass! 
  • Her plan works, too.  Unfortunately, it may also kill her.

Uncanny X-Men #101
October 1, 1976
Jean Grey - Wikipedia
via Wikipedia
  • Jean gets them through the atmosphere, then crashes into the ocean.  The others rise to the surface and wonder at Jean's fate.  Just then, she rises from the sea like a Phoenix, reborn.  She passes out and they take her to the hospital.
  • Sherlock Holmes reference!
  • Naturally, all are worried.  However, wanting to limit the fuss over Jean as she recovers, Professor X sends all but Scott and himself on vacation.  Banshee offers up his ancestral home in Ireland, Cassidy Keep.
Black Tom Cassidy - Wikipedia
Black Tom Cassidy via Wikipedia
Juggernaut (comics) - Wikipedia
Juggernaut via Wikipedia
  • It's Marvel so no one gets to relax for long.  Lying in wait for our friends are Black Tom Cassidy, Banshee's brother, and Juggernaut, the professor's step-brother.

Uncanny X-Men #102
December 1, 1976
  • Back to the brawling: X-Men on one side, Black Tom Cassidy and Jurggernaut on the other.  
  • Fortunately, there are still a few treats mixed in:
    • We get Ororo's (Storm's) back story.
Misty Knight - Wikipedia
via Wikipedia
    • Appearance: Misty Knight, Jean's roommate in New York
    • Juggernaut calls Nightcrawler "Spock-Ears."  Ha!

Uncanny X-Men #103
February 1, 1977
  • Knocked out last week during the brawl with Black Tom and Juggernaut, Nightcrawler is rescued by a group of Leprechauns.
  • Tom captures all of the remaining X-Men but Nightcrawler frees them and the melee continues.
  • Our team appears to have triumphed but then the scene shifts to Eric the Red, the mastermind behind Black Tom's sinister maneuvers.  He intends to draw an old X-Men nemesis into the struggle...

Uncanny X-Men #104
April 1, 1977
  • The X-Men, some coming from Ireland, others from New York, converge upon Muir Island where Moira MacTaggert had built a facility for mutant research.  It would seem there's a lot more to Moira than previously suspected.
Jamie Madrox - Wikipedia
Jamie Madrox via Wikipedia
  • Moira's assistant, Jamie Madrox, aka The Multiple Man, had been out of contact.  Moira and Cyclops find him just as he is coming to after being knocked unconscious.  He explains that he had been attacked by Eric the Red, Havok and Polaris.  The latter trio then enlisted the help of Magneto, the X-Men's arch-nemisis.
Magneto (Marvel Comics) - Wikipedia
Magneto via Wikipedia
  • Naturally, much brawling ensues between the X-Men and Magneto.
Christopher Summers (War Skrull) (Earth-616) | Marvel Database ...
Corsair via Marvel Database
Ch'od (Earth-616) | Marvel Database | Fandom
via Marvel Database
  • Meanwhile, in deep space, we meet the Starjammers, introduced for the first time, including space pirate Corsair and his shipmate Ch'od.
Lilandra Neramani (Earth-616) | Marvel Database | Fandom
via Marvel Database
  • Another Starjammer, Lilandra, has been haunting Charles Xavier's dreams.  Now, she's on her way to Earth, hoping the X-Men will help her in her struggle against her brother, the Starjammer emperor.

Uncanny X-Men #105
June 1, 1977
Pyreus Kril (Earth-616) | Marvel Database | Fandom
via Marvel Database
  • Now back in Westchester, the X-Men brawl with Eric the Red, though the latter has enlisted the backup of a more interesting character, Firelord.  Firelord, like the Silver Surfer, is a former herald for Galactus.  It would seem I have missed a few things in the Galactus story.  I may need to go back for further explorations at some point.  Eric the Red has duped Firelord into believing the X-Men are the bad guys.
  • Getting back to the Starjammers story, an imperial cruiser lead by Captain K'rk and piloted by Mr. S'lar is trying to stop Lilandra from reaching Earth.
  • This issue is dripping with Star Trek references, both direct and indirect.  In addition to the character names above, the banter aboard the cruiser employs such terms as M-Class planet and Prime Directive.  Later, Misty Knight speaks of "that Star Trek transporter effect."
  • Lilandra makes it through to Professor X, interrupting an intimate gathering at Jean and Misty's apartment in the process.
  • After further brawling, Eric the Red grabs Lilandra, builds a star-gate on the apartment building roof and whisks Lilandra through it.  Ignoring Professor X's warnings, the X-Men run after them through the star-gate.
  • The star-gate looks an awful lot like the one used in the later Stargate film and television franchise.  I wondered about a connection but couldn't find a direct link.  However, it occurred to me that the basic concept is nothing new, remembering the Guardian of Forever from Star Trek's "City on the Edge of Forever" and, of course, Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There by Lewis Carroll.

Friday, August 14, 2020

Star Trek: Peak Performance

Episode: "Peak Performance"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 2, Episode 21
Original Air Date: July 10, 1989
Starfleet stages a war game exercise.  Riker and his select crew take over the ancient USS Hathaway to oppose Picard on the Enterprise.  Strategist Sirna Kolrami is aboard to advise - and snark.  Riker proves a more worth adversary than Kolrami anticipated and, of course, there's an unexpected external wrinkle as well...

I love this episode.  For starters it's one of the few Star Trek stories of any series that affords meaningful material to all of the principal characters.  Picard defends Riker to Kolrami - what could have been a simple "don't undermine my First Officer on the bridge" was a more interesting direct challenge to Kolrami's doubts.  The Riker-Worf bond is strengthened.  Wesley gets a shining moment when, as a member of Team Hathaway,  he sneaks dilithium off of the Enterprise - all is fair in love and war games.  We even see the growth in Pulaski's regard for Data, one of the more interesting sub-plots of Season 2.  As I near the end of the second year, "Peak Performance" has put itself in late contention for best episode.  I feel the series settling into itself.  The characters (and actors?) are more comfortable with each other now, making the audience more comfortable, too.

Board Game Notes

The game Stratagema makes its only canon appearance.  Kolrami is a "third level grandmaster" and he plays both Riker and Data over the course of the story.  For Data, his initial loss causes a self-confidence crisis, one that threatens to derail the war games.  This final scene is the rematch:

Acting Notes

Image result for roy brocksmith
via Wikipedia

Roy Brocksmith (Sirna Kolrami) was born September 15, 1945 in Quincy, Illinois.  After graduating from Quincy University, he embarked on a stage career.  Broadway credits include Louis XIII in The Three Musketeers and the balladeer in The Threepenny Opera.  Films include Total Recall, Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey and Arachnophobia.

Brocksmith died December 16, 2001 due to complications from diabetes.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Squid Mixes: Tenner Martini

A tenner martini combines gin, dry vermouth and grapefruit bitters.  I got my recipe from Difford's Guide.

Generally speaking, we are not martini people.  It's worth noting, though she admitted it was flavorful, my wife didn't finish hers.  However, I have found with this and other recipes that the addition of bitters to a martini helps to take the edge off.  The grapefruit bitters are a particularly exciting addition for the aroma alone, which exploded the instant I added it to the mixing glass.

Vermouth Battles

Noilly Prat vs. Tribuno

Going in, these were our co-champions so a direct face-off was essential.  This time, we agreed.  The Noilly Prat is better.

New Champion: Noilly Prat

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

On the Coffee Table: Katie Novak

Title:  UDL Now! A Teacher's Guide to Applying Universal Design for Learning in Today's Classrooms
Author: Katie Novak
UDL Now!: A Teacher's Guide to Applying Universal Design for ...
via Amazon
I can't help it.  Summer reading - as assigned by my employer - always feels like a brutal imposition.  All education professionals need an emotional break from school from time to time and having to think about the job during what's supposed to be vacation can be really hard.  Plus, it cuts into my other reading.  The nerve!

Universal Design in the new buzzword at our school and probably many others.  To make my own position clear up front, the idea is awesome.  Rather than differentiating instruction to meet individual student needs, you build the accommodations into the curriculum and allow everyone the choice of using them, whether they "need" them or not.  In simplest terms, you would provide written instructions for the hearing impaired and those and spoken instructions for the seeing impaired, but all students in the classroom would benefit from the fact that you're doing both.  It's more complicated than that but it's the gist. 

Initiative fatigue is very real in education - probably other industries, too.  Throw out last year's greatest idea ever in favor of a new bright shiny object, sure to be abandoned in turn.  If you stick around long enough, you learn to hold on to what's useful from each one as it passes through.  Still, it would be nice if the powers that be could just let a concept sit for a while and we could all learn from the long-term effects.

But as long as we're here, and preparing for what is sure to be the least predictable year of my entire teaching career (let's hope so, anyway), let's focus on what I would like to remember from Katie Novak's thoughtfully written book...
  • You don't need to change everything all at once.  This is always important advice when incorporating new thinking.  Nearly every book says it but admins - mine, at least - still push for complete overhaul right now.
  • Student choice in how to meet learning standards is central to universal design.  Choice is something I've already been working hard to incorporate into my own curriculum so I find the material on the subject meaningful.  An important reminder from Novak: "When giving students choice, you are still in control since you are presenting them with acceptable choices."
  • Novak provides loads of good apps and websites for student projects and for varied means of presenting material.
  • An excellent section on e-mail etiquette, important for students and teachers alike.
  • Inspiring words: "We have a responsibility not only to teach our content but to teach our students how to access our content."
That last bit is especially important to me as a performing arts teacher.  Our subjects usually get short shrift in teacher professional development texts but Novak does right by the arts.  She uses visual art as her model when she initially presents a basic UDL curriculum - most would use literacy or math.  When she discusses the importance of literacy in the arts, her wording is thoughtful, stating that one should learn to read music or read artwork - not that one should learn to read in music and art classes.  Semantics?  The difference is crucial.  I believe that my subject has value in its own right, not merely as a vehicle to teach more language skills.  Don't get me wrong, I believe it does have value in the latter instance.  I just don't want to be told that's its only value.  Novak implies that teaching my students to read music notation is just as important.  I like that.

It's a good book.  Novak could use a better editor - lots of typos, particularly for a "Revised & Expanded Edition."  I will keep it around as a resource, even after we move on to something else next year.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Marvel Immersion Project: Howard the Duck #32-33 and Uncanny X-Men #94-98

Howard the Duck: what started as an admittedly dark breath of fresh air in the late '70s was unbearable a decade later.  And yet, I have to admit that going from those final, bitter dredges back to the unsubtle X-Men (pun intended) feels like a huge let down.  Back to too many characters in too many fight scenes.  Back to villain of the week.  In short, back to formula.  Howard, for all of his ups and downs, was never formulaic, not for a single panel.  Even when Gerber was barely holding things together, he generated an issue (#16) unlike any other in the history of the company.  Howard was the jolt the entire industry desperately needed.  Now, I go back to the pre-Howard world...
Professor X - Wikipedia
Professor X, via Wikipedia
I will say this for the X-Men: it's a lot easier to keep track of everyone than it was with the Avengers.  There are still too many characters but I know for certain who is in and who is out at a given moment.  The stories are way too busy for my tastes.  Why bother with a gradual narrative build when you can get right to the brawl while everyone's sitting around the living room? 

I so wish I were exaggerating.

I know there are good stories on the way and the X-Men have strong individual characters among them, including my personal favorite: Wolverine.  The X-Men were the heart of the Marvel universe in the mid-'70s.  I could not reasonably immerse myself without spending some quality time with them.

X-Men - Wikipedia
via Wikipedia, the original X-Men, clockwise from top right: Angel, Iceman, Cyclops, Beast and Marvel Girl

The Comic Book Catacombs: 1970's Flashback: Giant-Size X-Men # 1
via The Catacombs, the 1975 X-Men, left to rightish: Storm, Wolverine, Colossus, Cyclops, Banshee, Thunderbird, Sunfire and Nightcrawler

My Recent Reads

Howard the Duck #32
Originally Published January 1, 1986
Writer: Steven Grant
Artist: Paul Smith
  • After a near seven-year hiatus, Marvel revived Howard just in time to promote the Howard the Duck film which premiered in August 1986.
  • Opens with an origin story for Howard.
  • Howard is stranded in Utah but gets picked up by a trucker, the lovely Ceci Rider.
  • Ceci and Howard discover an underground housing development run by the natural resource guzzling Morgan Erg, aka The Gopher.
  • The movie was, by all accounts, truly terrible.  It won four Razzies, including Worst Picture, and was one of the candidates for Worst Picture of the Decade along with Star Trek V.  Thank goodness for Mommie Dearest.

Howard the Duck #33
September 1, 1986
Christopher Stager/Val Mayerik
  • The final issue for the original series.
  • Howard wins $10,000,000 in a publishing sweepstakes, awarded by an Ed McMahon-type character at his front door.
  • Naturally, everyone wants a piece of the riches and Howard is a changed duck.  He's finally reunited with Bev but she doesn't like what wealth has done to Howard so she leaves him.
  • Howard throws out the first ball at a Cleveland Indians game.  There's a running gag through the story that the newly wealthy duck is rumored to buy the team.
  • The magic is gone.  I can see how anyone discovering Howard the Duck in 1986, either through the movie or these last two comic book issues, would have been severely disappointed.  How did anyone think this was such a big deal?
  • In truth, the series was never quite the same after co-creator Steve Gerber was let go.  He was fired because he couldn't meet deadlines - completely understandable but the material suffered.  Other Marvel characters - Spidey, for instance - survived changes in creative staff just fine.  Not so here.  Howard needed Steve.  Without him, the satire was merely a joke.   
  • There are some wonderful musical references in this last issue:
    • The issue's sub-title is "Material Duck," a play on Madonna's "Material Girl," released in 1984

    • Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi"

    • Diana Ross

    • Doc Severinsen, the Tonight Show's longtime bandleader 

    • Judy Garland 

Uncanny X-Men #94
August 1, 1975
Chris Claremont/Dave Cockrum
  • We join the series at a moment of transition.  Most of the original X-Men say goodbye to the team, making way for the new kids.
    • Departing:
      • Havok
      • Marvel Girl
      • Angel
      • Sunfire
      • Iceman 
      • Lorna Dane
    • Remaining:
      • Colossus
      • Cyclops
      • Nightcrawler
      • Wolverine
      • Storm
      • Professor X
      • Thunderbird
      • Banshee
  • The greatest significance of this issue, however, is that it marks the beginning of Chris Claremont's run as head writer for the series. 
Count Nefaria | Villains Wiki | Fandom
via Villains Wiki
  • There is also an external adversary in this story.  Count Nefaria and his Ani-Men take over Mount Valhalla, headquarters of NORAD.
  • Cameo: Beast, former X-Man, now an Avenger

Uncanny X-Men #95
October 1, 1975
  • The X-Men defeat Count Nefaria but at a high cost...
  • Thunderbird dies.  After Gwen Stacy, all bets are off.

Uncanny X-Men #96
December 1, 1975
Moira MacTaggert - Wikipedia
via Wikipedia
  • Introduced: Moira MacTaggart, the X-Men's new housekeeper.
  • Brooding over Thunderbird's death, Cyclops lets loose with his laser eyes in a fit of fury, accidentally unleashing two demons.  Said demons attack the X-Men in their living room.  Really, I wasn't kidding.
Steven Lang (comics) - Wikipedia
via Wikipedia
  • Also introduced: Steven Lang, leader of Project Armageddon.  He hasn't struck yet but he makes clear he has it in for the X-Men.

Uncanny X-Men #97
February 1, 1976
  • Professor X has nightmares about an inter-galactic race war.  Or are they premonitions?
Alexander Summers (Earth-616) | Marvel Database | Fandom
via Marvel Database
Polaris | X-Men Wiki | Fandom
Polaris via X-Men Wiki
  • Havok and Polaris (Lorna Dane's new superhero name) are possessed by Eric the Red and turned against the X-Men.

Uncanny X-Men #98
April 1, 1976
  • It's Christmas Eve and our gang are celebrating at Rockefeller Plaza.  There are many cameos by both fictional and real world characters: Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Clark Kent, Lois Lane, etc.
  • With no regard for peace and goodwill, Steven Lang sends the Sentinels to attack.  They kidnap Marvel Girl, Banshee, Wolverine and Professor X, who had been on a fishing vacation in the Caribbean.
Peter Corbeau (Earth-616) | Marvel Database | Fandom
via Marvel Database
  • The professor's companion on his fishing trip is Dr. Peter Corbeau. 
Amanda Sefton - Wikipedia
via Wikipedia
  • Introduced: Amanda Sefton who would eventually become Daytripper, then later Majik