Monday, August 29, 2011

Earth-Two's Company

Great news came from the convention circuit this week: DC has confirmed that the Justice Society of America will be returning to the DC lineup in the near future, courtesy of writer James Robinson--and they've confirmed that it will be set in Earth-Two.

Now for those of you who don't read comics (what's wrong with you?...) or don't read DC comics (what's wrong with you?...), Earth 2 was a concept introduced into the DC comics line in 1961, when the Barry Allen Flash of the DC Universe crossed over into the world that was home to Jay Garrick, the Flash whose comic book exploits Barry Allen had read about prior to his gaining his super-speed powers. This Flash existed in a different vibratory plane, an alternate universe that DC referred to as Earth-2 (although I agree with my pal Ed Thomas that it really should have been called Earth-1, since it was the first DC Earth).

I presume that this means that there will be a world in which the Golden Age heroes exist, even though in the new DC relaunch, there were no Golden Age heroes in the DCU. Superman made his first super-powered appearance five or six years ago, according to the revamped DC continuity, so that means that there wasn't even a Superman at any point in the 20th Century!

As far as I'm concerned, the return of the JSA and of Earth-2 is perhaps the best news to come out of this relaunch. When the two Earths became conflated in the aftermath of Crisis on Infinite Earths, the Golden Age heroes lost the distinctive qualities that defined them. These heroes worked best when they existed in a world based on the Golden Age values, drawn from the Golden Age stories. This universe should have its own Batman, its own Superman, its own Wonder Woman--and these characters should reflect the Golden Age values and ideals that defined them when they originally appeared. Trying to fold them into the current DCU removed the most striking elements of that continuity.

What I'd love to see them do is to take the Earth-2 concept one step further: in the world of Earth-2, contemporary time should be the 1940s, the era of WWII and the Hitlerian menace. There's no reason it has to be 2011 in both Earth-1 and Earth-2; if they exist in different realities, their timelines can be skewed slightly, too, so that it is 2011 in Earth-1 at the same time it's 1943 in Earth-2. Don't present the JSA and the Golden Age heroes as old men and women who did heroic things seventy years ago; likewise, don't present their WW2 exploits as the past adventures of much older heroes. Instead, make it clear that the war era is the here-and-now for these heroes. Their Golden Age adventures now become the norm, not the antiquated framework upon which a series of new adventures can be built.

Furthermore, make it clear that the events of our reality are not necesarily mirrored in Earth-2. That is, just because the good guys won WWII in Earth-1's history, there's no reason to assume their victory is guaranteed in Earth-2's history; these are different worlds, and the flow of history can follow different paths.

I have no idea what DC has planned for Earth-2, but I'd love to see them take this approach. Make the Golden Age real; likewise, make the Silver Age real as a part of another multiverse. Let each version of these heroes exist in its own reality; that way, none of the past has been negated by the events of Flashpoint. Instead, we've just seen one modified multiverse rise to a new fictional ascendancy, while the other versions still exist.

(And as a side-note, the project I think most ill-served by this relaunch is the just-completed DC Universe: Legacies, a ten-part series that set out to define DC history from the early days of the Golden Age to the present. Even before the collected volume could make it onto bookshelves, the whole series had been rendered irrelevant.)

Friday, August 26, 2011

"Time hurries on..."

Fifty-eight years ago yesterday, I wasn't. Fifty-eight years ago today, I was.

Pretty good, when you think about it. All the millions of events that, had any one of them occurred differently, could have precluded my existence. And yet somehow, here I am.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The End of an Era

That phrase is used a lot, I know... but I feel it is absolutely true in this case. Steve Jobs, the man whose vision took Apple from a niche-market player to one of the world's most successful companies--and whose concepts changed the way people listen to music, interact with their smart phones, utlilize the internet, and intertwine entertainment and computing in their everyday lives--has resigned as CEO of Apple.

Jobs wrote:

I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple's CEO, I would be the first to let you know. Unfortunately, that day has come.

I hereby resign as CEO of Apple. I would like to serve, if the Board sees fit, as Chairman of the Board, director and Apple employee.

I infer from his opening sentences that his continued health issues make it impossible for him to continue as CEO; I can't think of any other reason he'd leave the CEO position of the company he loved so much. That's somber news, if it's the reason for his departure. Steve Jobs has changed the world of technology as intensely as did Thomas Edison before him; like Edison, he had his admirers and his detractors (as does every man of great vision and influence). I fall into the former category, of course; over the years, I have benefited tremendously because of his foresight, his vision, his innovation, and his determination. Comic Shop News has been done on a Mac since we launched in 1987; were there no Macs, it is doubtful we would have been able to do the publication in the early days. I utilize iPods, iPads, iPhones, iMacs, Macbooks (both Pro and Air), and AppleTVs on a regular basis.

On two or three occasions, I have reached out to Steve Jobs for personal assistance with an Apple-related issue that seemed unsolveable; in every case,he has responded personally, has subsequently had someone contact me on his behalf, and has found solutions to the problems. Steve Jobs took the time to involve himself directly with an individual, and he followed through. That's something that few CEO's have ever done.

I hope that his health isn't as bad as the resignation letter seems to indicate; even if he's not CEO, I'd love to know that he has many years ahead of him, and I think the world can still benefit from his brilliance and insight.

For now, though, I want to say, "Thank you, Mr. Jobs." And I truly do believe I'm witnessing the end of an era, perhaps the last moment in modern techonological history where one man's drive and vision has reinvented and redirected both a company and an industry.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

One Step Beyond

Had a chance to read Superman Beyond #0 tonight (it goes on sale tomorrow), and I was thoroughly taken with the oneshot. Tom DeFalco, Ron Frenz, and Sal Buscema (the team who produced all those great Spider-Girl near-future tales over at Marvel) have done a wonderful job of exploring the future DCU as seen in the pages of Batman Beyond. This story explores Superman's role in this universe--a retired Superman who comes back out of retirement to confront a menace in a manner that is pure Superman. DeFalco may not be a DC writer per se, but he gets Superman--he understands who the character is, how he functions, and what he believes in, and DeFalco manages to convey that in this well-structured oneshot tale. We also get a look into the relationship of Superman and the original Batman in the last pages of this issue, and it's a nice wrap-up to a very satisfying story.

Frenz and Buscema may lack the flash and fine linework of any of a dozen fan-favorites, but these guys know how to tell a story. They convey action in a clear and distinct manner, they communicate emotion, and at no point is the reader visually confused by poor visual design. And their characters actually look the same from one panel to the next; you'd think this would be a requirement for comic book artists, but pick up the average comic today and notice how few artists can actually maintain a uniformity of appearance throughout the entire issue!

If you're looking for a solid, well-constructed Superman story, you could do a lot worse than Superman Beyond... in fact, a lot of writers working on mainstream DCU Superman tales today could take some notes from the pages of this oneshot.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Turbulent Economic Times

The economy continues to take its toll on comic shops. Late last month we learned that a local comic shop was closing its doors at the end of August. A week after that we learned that another local shop is struggling but hopes to straighten things out. Then I heard this evening that an Arizona comic shop owned by someone I've gotten to know through a comics retailer forum may be closing as well. (And no, I'm not going to name specific shops--it's not fair to them, since in some cases those shops may prefer to notify their customers on their own schedule... and if a shop is struggling, the dissemination of that information can make the situation even worse.)

There's no doubt that economic turbulence impacts entertainment media like comics; the old saw that comics were recession-proof has proven to be totally untrue. I've seen friends who've been in the business for decades forced to close down stores that I thought were too well established to fail. We've seen customers forced to cut back or curtail comics buying because of job losses.

It's not just comic shops, of course. Every small business is facing the same turbulence; some are better positioned to succeed than others, but a few months of severe setbacks can put a strain on any business.

I hate to hear about a comic shop closing; not only does it put friends and acquaintances out of work, but it also means that a certain number of comic book readers just disappear. Even if there are other shops in the immediate area, some readers don't migrate elsewhere--it's a phenomenon we've seen again and again.

I've said a few times that every business has a lifespan; nevertheless, I feel that the current economic climate is killing some businesses before their time. We're very fortunate to have a loyal clientele to carry us through turbulent times; I'd hate to think how challenging it must be for a newer shop that hasn't had a third of a century to build its clientele and inventory.

Garden of Forking Paths

Jorge Luis Borges' story "The Garden of Forking Paths" has always been a favorite of mine; Borges packs an alternate-realities tale, a mystery, a puzzle, and an adventure story into a very concise package, and each time I re-read the tale, a different aspect seems to rise into prominence. Because of my predilection to alternate-realities stories, however, that's the part that I always remember the most. The main character postulates that life is an infinite series of forking paths, and each time we take a different fork, we create a new reality... but there are nevertheless realities in which we took the other path instead, leading to an all new series of forking paths on their own.

Ever wonder about your life's own forking paths? I recognize many incidents in my life that seemed uneventful at the time, but each of which led to major changes in the direction of my life. What if I had asked my parents to buy me comic books prior to my tonsilectomy; would I have ever become so involved in the medium that helped to redefine my life? What if I had never paid any attention to that ad for a fanzine; would I have ever become involved in fan writing, which paved the way for Comic Shop News? What if I had never bought that issue of Batman and noticed a letter of comment from a high school girl in Cedartown, Georgia; I would have never contacted her, and thus I might have never met my future wife. As a result, I might not have gotten married right away; had I not done so, would I have continued to pursue my future as an artist rather than a writer? Would I have ever become a teacher?

Were Susan and I not married, would I have ever moved to Marietta? After all, we made the move because Susan had gotten a job in data processing in the Lenox Square area, and Marietta seemed like a midpoint between my Rome job and her Atlanta job. Had I not moved to Marietta, I would have never worked with Benny at Book Trader, and later with Artie at Dr. No's, helping them order comics. Had I not done that, I would have never have had the opportunity to buy Dr. No's; then, years later, I would not have produced a store newsletter that metamorphosed into Comic Shop News.

Were I not to move to Marietta, I would have never have become involved in Atlanta SF fandom, and I would have never met my long-time friend and business partner, Ward Batty. I might have instead spent my years in Rome, making a home there; perhaps I would have gone into teaching, perhaps not.

What if, instead of selling our Rome farmhouse/weekend retreat in 1999, we had kept it? Then I would have been there the weekend I had my heart attack, at least twenty minutes away from medical assistance... at which point I would have been permanently dead rather than temporarily.

So many pivotal moments, so many forking paths. Is there, somewhere, a me who took the other fork at each of these moments? How did his life progress? Does he in turn wonder about the other forks he might have taken, and how it would have altered his future?


Today I received another batch of Rocket's Blast Comicollector, the comics fanzine/adzine that had been such a vital part of my movement into fandom in the 1960s. I now have #s 43-61 (the entire run to which I originally subscribed) with the exception of #54, a Wally Wood-cover issue that can only be found for an exorbitant price on eBay. While the collector part of me would like to have it to complete the run, the practical part of me said that there's no way I need to spend $60 on a little bit of nostalgia.

It's fascinating to go through these adzines again--not only because I get to remember the excitement I felt when I looked at these ads originally, but also because every article in each of these issues is virtually burned into my mind. I must have read and re-read each RBCC a dozen times while waiting for the next issue to arrive. There are great articles in here chronicling the early development of fandom and the growth of comics as a major part of popular culture; among those whose work is represented in here are Mike Kaluta, Bernie Wrightson, Jim Jones, Roy Thomas, Jerry Bails, Vaughn Bode, Jim Starlin... the list goes on and on, and it's fascinating to see these major talents represented so early in their careers.

The ads are always intriguing, of course; every page is a wistful look at what I should have bought, had I been able to afford it.

(Since I don't have #54, I'm presenting the other Wally Wood cover, the one he did for RBCC #56, depicting Daredevil tossing Dynamo off a skyscraper under construction. Alas, it turned out to be an all too accurate metaphor for the fate of Tower Comics in the towering shadow of Marvel a few years later...)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Sum of All We Are

I'll never be one of those who say that family and genetics is entirely responsible for who we are and what we become—but I know it's a factor in my life, and it's one that I appreciate more and more with each passing year.

Earlier this week, my Aunt Carolyn passed away at the age of 72. I found myself wishing I had been closer to her in recent years; I also found myself remembering Carolyn and Uncle Jerry at my grandparents' house when I was much younger, and that led to other memories of family. Holiday gatherings, family get-togethers, Sunday dinners, casual conversations with adults, time spent with cousins... there are so many interrelated memories that rise to the surface at times like this.

When Susan and I went to the family visitation at the funeral home tonight, I had a chance to see Aunt Barbara and her daughter Pam; Jerry, Tammy, and Kathy; and Donna, Martha, and Paul. They're also my aunts and uncle, but I can never think of them as such because we're very close in age (Martha is barely older than me, and Donna and Paul are both younger). They're much more like cousins; we played together as children, we shared summer nights at my granparents' house when I'd stay there for the summer--and as Martha reminded me tonight, we even took baths together when we were young children! You see, my grandmother hated to waste bathwater for three individual kids when we'd all fit in one tub--but she did insist that we wear our underwear in the tub, just for propriety's sake!

Aunt Barbara is a wonder; she's the sort of person you feel close to immediately, and as you talk to her, you want to hear more about her life, her memories, the things that matter to her. She's inspirational in so many ways. And I particularly love hearing Barbara tell us stories of her life because she was so close to my father when they were younger. She is a link to my heritage, and she knows things that I could never know unless she shared them with me.

Because I hadn't seen Carolyn in a while, I wasn't sure how I'd feel when I saw her at the funeral home. When I did see her, though, tears welled in my eyes; this was a soul whose life had touched mine, and I realized that she had lived her life and had left it behind. I felt the loss very vividly, and I felt for her family who had lost her.

I looked at Carolyn's face in her repose and saw aspects of grandmother and granddad and my own father. I see similar aspects in Donna, and in Martha, and in Barbara, and in Paul. They carry the heritage of their parents and their siblings in the contours of their face, in the wrinkles of their eyes, in the bend of their smile, in so many little ways. They truly are a part of me in ways both visible and intangible.

They ended up gently urging us to leave the funeral home a while after the visitation should have ended; had they not, we might still be there, sharing stories and reminiscing and discussing where life has taken each of us (Donna and Tommy, for isntance, have followed a life path that has uncanny parallels with the path that my and Susan's lives have taken--the more we talked, the more surprised I was to learn that we had each made so many of the same decisions and made them come about in so many of the same manners). I'm sure, though, that the people who run the funeral home had their own families they wanted to get home to...

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Fickle Fans

On one of the forums that I frequent, there's been some discussion of a very negative advance review of the upcoming Conan film. Most of the responses have been along the lines of "I knew this one was going to be bad," or "I never had any expectations that this film would be good," or "this is just what I expected," or "based on the trailer, I didn't expect anything more."

Problem is, a lot of these same fans were saying something quite different a month ago. "What a great Conan trailer!" "Can't wait to see this!" "Looks like they've finally done Conan right!"

I don't know if a lot of fans are so gullible that their opinions are swayed by what they're reading at the time, or if they're succumbing to the internet tendency towards schadenfreude--an eagerness to see the misery or failure of others. Either way, it makes me aware of what a fickle bunch it is that so many filmmakers and television series producers spend so much time courting...

Back to School Ritual

Yesterday, Cobb County started back to school--and as I've done every year since I retired from teaching, I got up early so that I could get in a morning walk while the kids were at the bus stops for the first day of school. Since Cobb County staggers the start time for elementary, high school, and middle school in order to utilize the same buses for all three runs, I ended up taking a long, leisurely walk so that I could observe both the elementary and the high school students (I didn't feel like stretching my walk out to see the middle school students as well--because, to be honest, I find "middle school" and "student" to be an oxymoron anyway).

It's always interesting to watch the first-day reactions. There will always be one elementary school student crying because he doesn't want to go to school; there will always be one or two parents who'd made posters for their kids to mark the first day of their school year; there will be some kids very excited to get on the bus; there will be some who look positively dejected; and of course, there will be some with a "deer in the headlights" expression, wondering just how the first day of school got here so very quickly. I saw all of those yesterday, along with a lot more parents than are typically found at the bus stops; the first day of school is sort of a family event, with everyone gathering to make sure the year starts off right. Give 'em a few weeks, and a lot of those parents won't be making the hike from the house to the bus stop--but there are always a few parents who make sure that the kids get off to school safely.

This year the weather chose to be kind; for the first time that I can recall, our morning temperature on the first day of school was 64°--and that's most definitely not a typical August low in Georgia. It reminded me once again why I never thought that starting school on August 1st was a good idea; those school systems that did had to work through extreme heat, burdensome humidity, un-air-conditioned buses, and the inevitable non-functional school HVAC systems. Georgia just doesn't have the proper weather for an early August school start; Georgia's typical hottest period will occur at the end of July and the first week or so of August. For almost the entire time I taught, we brought kids into the classroom on the third week of August, more or less, and I found that to be much more tolerable.

(I also never had a problem with a semester that ended after the Christmas holidays, but now there are some who push for an early start so they can wrap up the first semester before the holidays. I figure that if a kid has learned the subject matter so poorly that they forget most of it in a two-week holiday, then they didn't really learn it at all--and if a teacher's final exams focus on such minutia that the test seems more like a trivia quiz designed to stump the student, then they've missed the whole point of a final exam anyway.)

A Family Loss

My aunt Carolyn died this morning; from what I've been told, she passed away in her sleep, and the family found her this morning.

I know very little about the cause of her death, but I know she suffered from many of the same health problems that plagued Dad during his last few years. I am thankful that she at least was able to pass peacefully in her sleep rather than living her final days in pain. It is probably the most gracious passing any of us could hope for.

But I still find myself thinking that the world seems a little emptier with each family loss. One by one, it seems that many of the family members I remember with such love from my youth have left this world, and the vacancy they leave is never really filled. John Donne said that every man's death diminishes me; that is all the more true for family, because with their passing we realize that a part of what made us what we are is lost.

I won't mislead you and claim that Carolyn and I had remained close; alas, I am all too guilty of getting so wrapped up in my own world that I don't maintain the contact with family that I should. Facebook and other social media help, but none of that can replace a conversation, a little time spent together. Now I'll never have that chance.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Jet's Soars

A few days ago, I detailed my disappointment with the pizza we got at the new Jet's Pizza location that opened in my neighborhood (on Shallowford, near the intersection with Johnson's Ferry, in the Publix Shopping Center, for those of you who'd like to try it for yourself).

Well, the manager of that location, Casey, read my comments and immediately got in touch with me. He was most concerned that I hadn't gotten a pizza that was up to Jet's standards, and he said that what I had described in my blog post was most definitely not what a Jet's Pizza should be. He added that one of the people on his team worked at a Mellow Mushroom in the past. "If you got more on your Mellow Mushroom pizza than you got here, we did it wrong," he said. So he asked if I'd be willing to try his location again. I was quite impressed by his demeanor and his pride in the pizzas that his restaurant produces, so I was quite eager to give it a second shot.

Tonight Susan and I tried another Jet's Ten deep-dish pizza, and Casey threw in a pepperoni deep-dish pizza so that we could see the differences in a single-ingredient and a loaded pizza. "We do put a little less cheese on the Jet's Ten pizza, so that it'll cook right," he said, "but it's very, very little difference, and you really shouldn't be able to notice it."

Then he said something that really impressed me: "I watched them make your pizza to Jet's specifications, so that I was sure it was made right." Anyone could have made one pizza that was loaded with extra toppings and extra cheese, but that would only have led to disappointment down the line when the next pizza didn't measure up to the one we got tonight. Instead, Casey made sure that the pizza we got was exactly what every Jet's pizza should be--and that tells me that he is very proud of his store and the franchise. So I was eager to get it home and try both the Jet's Ten and the pepperoni deep-dish.

Both pizzas were impeccable. The crust, crisp on the bottom with a little crunch and a lot of flavor, was well-cooked throughout--no doughiness, none of the heaviness that so often passes for deep-dish pizza around here. The ingredients--including the cheese and sauce--were plentiful and flavorful; I got an abundant variety of toppings in every bite, and the meats and the vegetables were fresh and distinctive.

The pepperoni pizza was a real surprise. I rarely care for single-ingredient pizzas, but the this was an exception. The pepperoni was based to a savory crispness, which perfectly accented the toasted, slightly stringy mozzarella (just the way a real mozzarella should be) and the baked-to-perfection crust.

I have to retract my earlier dismissal of Jet's. By making a pizza to Jet's standards, Casey has proven to me that I can expect this sort of quality in the future--and that means that Jet's is on our regular pizza rotation.

Furthermore, I can't say enough about what an asset a manager like Casey can be to any team. He saw a problem, addressed it, found a solution, and made it clear that he had absolute confidence that his company's food was as good as any other pizza out there... and then he proved it! Managers like Casey are all too rare--Jet's should be glad to have him representing them.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

A-List Creators and B-List Publishers

Steve Ditko has always been enigmatic; in his prime, he was one of the most skilled illustrators and storytellers in comics, a star at Marvel Comics whose genius gave them their most famous hero, Spider-Man (certainly, Stan Lee was involved in the creation as well, but a look at Ditko's body of work makes it clear that a lot of what made Spidey a success came from Ditko); however, at almost the same time he was doing some of his best work at Marvel, he was also working for far less money at Charlton Comics, the industry equivalent of a movie B-studio.

This is the equivalent of a big box-office movie star leaving the major studios to work for a low-budget independent. While it's not unheard-of, it's certainly uncommon. But Ditko always valued respect, autonomy, and creative freedom--apparently more than money. While Charlton was always short on the latter, they apparently made up for it by letting Ditko do what he wanted with minimal editorial involvement.

After Ditko's stellar years at Marvel, he worked for Charlton for a while, creating his iconic objectivist hero The Question and rebooting Captain Atom, among other things. He left Charlton for a short while to work with DC, but the arrangement fell apart, and soon thereafter, Ditko was back at Charlton again.

Ditko's fans know his early work at Charlton, his Marvel years, his superhero time at Charlton, and his brief run at DC... but his 1970s work at Charlton is largely overlooked. Certainly, it's not as artistically appealing as his early 1960s work; by the 1970s, Ditko was generally inking with a pen, using brush very little if at all, and the result was a very even line that clarified the art, but rarely enhanced it. Even so, it's obvious from reading these stories that Ditko was doing something he enjoyed. These tales were often reminiscent of his pre-hero Marvel work (although writer Joe Gill and the other scripters of the stories--perhaps Ditko himself in some cases--lacked the Serling-esque storytelling skills of Stan Lee's collaborations with Ditko), and were always illustrated with great skill and finesse. Even later-period Ditko is better than a lot of the best work from other creators.

I've recently been reading through a heaping helping of Charlton 70s mystery-suspense-supernatural comics, and I've really come to appreciate what Charlton did. Working with a minimal budget, they managed to get great work from Ditko, Gill, Pete Morisi, Sanho Kim, Wayne Howard, Joe Staton, Pat Boyette, and many other talented creators. There must have been something to be said for Charlton as an employer--they managed to keep some top talent working for them for years when many of them could have sold their talents elsewhere.

That's what's missing from the comics field today--there are no mass-market mainstream B-level publishers producing quality material in a professional package targeted not to the collector, but to the mass market reader. While Marvel, DC, and a few key independent publishers get a lot of attention when talk turns to the later years of the Silver Age and the Bronze Age, I think that publishers like Charlton, with their full line of genre comics (war, romance, racing, martial arts, horror/mystery, and humor) are underappreciated. The fact that we see so many Charltons in late 60s and 1970s collections indicates that they had a strong market presence, even if all too few fans gave their work any respect.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Foods From the Past

Susan and I were talking about places where we used to eat, and that led to conversations about now-nonexistent foods that we ate regularly at one point or another.

Anyone remember the BellBeefer? First time I took Susan to Taco Bell, she had never had Mexican food of any sort, so she ordered the BellBeefer (taco beef on a bun with various accoutrements); it took three or four more trips to the West Rome Taco Bell to get her to try anything else. (This was the early 1970s, when there were no authentic Mexican restaurants in Rome... Taco Bell was all there was!)

Susan also enjoyed the enchirito, a cross between an enchilada and a burrito that Taco Bell offered for a while. Beef and bean filling, along with chopped onions, in a flour tortilla, topped with generous helpings of Taco Bell red sauce and black olives (Susan always asked for extra black olives). That was her Taco Bell item of choice for years. I understand they brought it back for a while in the late 1990s and early 2000's, but we were no longer eating at Taco Bell by that time, so it slipped past us.

At Village Inn, we used to get a shrimp and black olive pizza. I no longer have any desire to eat shrimp, but we used to love getting a shrimp & black olive pizza and a sausage, pepperoni, and mushroom pizza and alternating slices of the two.

The McDLT, one of my favorite McDonald's hamburgers (another place where we no longer eat)--it came in a special container with the meat and the bottom of the bun in one compartment and the lettuce, tomato, and top of the bun on the other. The package kept the hot side hot and the cool side cool, or so the advertising claimed.

From time to time, we ate at Lum's where we'd have a hot dog steamed in beer. Neither Susan nor I drink beer at all, but for some reason this approach made for a very tasty hot dog!

I have hardly ever found a deep dish pizza that I liked, but the Upper Crust at the Galleria in Marietta was the exception. They had a stuffed crust pizza--basically a pizza crust, oodles of ingredients, cheese, and sauce, topped with another crust and baked into an incredibly dense, fully loaded "pizza pot pie," as one friend called it. I mourned the loss of this restaurant, and have never found a deep dish style pizza I liked as well.

Butch's hamburgers. When I first bought Dr. No's in the 1980s, there was a restaurant in the shopping center known as Butch's, run by a burly fellow named Butch (what a surprise!). He made one of the best burgers we ever ate--a heavy, loaded burger topped with generous helpings of mayonnaise, mustard, and ketchup. Alas, Butch got out of the restaurant biz in the late 80s, and nothing ever came along to take his place. Don't know what he did to give his burger such a distinctive taste, but no one has matched it.

Cool News

The issue with the wall between the dining room and the garage seems to be moving towards resolution. Bob Helgesen from John Wieland came out, cut away part of the drywall, and showed me where the sheet metal venting in the wall (which is there intentionally, he explained, to keep pipes warm during the winter) was very close to the wallboard and thus causing condensation on the outside of the wallboard. Today Coolray (our HVAC company of choice) came out and put some thin insulation between the sheet metal venting and the wallboard. Bob said that they'd send someone out to repair the drywall once we knew the condensation issue was resolved.

Can't say enough about John Wieland and their customer service. We've been in this house for more than fifteen years, so the warranty was long since passed. Even so, Bob came out as soon as I called about the problem and set out to find a solution. That's one of the reasons that we now own our second John Wieland house; I have great respect for the company, like their homes and their construction standards, and appreciate the fact that they stand behind their product.

And I also have to offer kudos to Coolray; they were responsive as well, and worked to find an effective and aesthetically pleasing solution for a very minimal charge. That's the reason they handle the HVAC work for both my house and my business...

Monday, August 08, 2011

Neon News

Yesterday I got a Facebook friend invite from John Crowe, who used to be a customer at Dr. No's back in the 1980s. Turns out that John is now living in the San Francisco area, where he is one of the principals in a comics and popular culture store, Neon Monster. John reminded me that when he was a kid, he would ride his bicycle to our store almost every day in the summer, looking through the comics and picking up something new and exciting to read.

I never really expected that a former customer would end up opening his own comic shop on the other side of the country. John thanked me for being his "gateway," and it made me feel good that someone enjoyed the Dr. No's experience so much that he decided to become a comics retailer.

(Interestingly, Geoff Johns credited Comic Shop News as being one of the main factors in his professional writing career: Geoff send us a spec piece, an interview with Jerry Ordway that we ran in Comic Shop News. When he got the check, Geoff said that he decided he liked this idea of getting money for putting words on paper. As you've probably noticed if you've followed DC for the past few years, Geoff became very, very good at putting words on paper... and he has, I suspect, earned a lot of money for himself and for DC!)

We never really know how our everyday actions might influence others...

Good Monday

Two of this weekend's problems moved towards resolution today. First, a representative of the company that built our house back in 1996 spoke to me about the vent problem I mentioned yesterday; he thinks the problem will be an easy fix, and he offered to come by tomorrow, investigate, and if it's what he thinks it is, he said he can have the company fix it for us. This was a most pleasant surprise, and it certainly relieved me to know that the problem might be remedied in a minimally intrusive manner.

Secondly, Casey from Jet's Pizza saw my review, contacted me, and said, "If you got a Mellow Mushroom Pizza that had more cheese on it than our Jet's Ten Pizza, then you definitely got a Jet's Ten Pizza that was mismade. One of our team members worked for Mellow Mushroom before he came to Jet's, and he was amazed at how much more cheese we put on our pizzas." Casey said they'd like a chance to make it right, so we're going to give them a try this weekend.

It's always gratifying when things work out so well!

Happy Birthday, Reed, Ben, Sue, and Johnny!

Today is the fiftieth birthday of Fantastic Four #1!

Or at least, it's the fiftieth birthday as close as anyone can determine.

Back in the 1960s, some magazine distributors (often called "rack jobbers" because they were the ones who stocked the racks in grocery stores, drugstores, convenience stores, newsstands, etc., putting out the new magazines and pulling off the old magazines) would stamp the arrival date on the cover of comics. The most common date stamp on copies of Fantastic Four #1 is August 8, 1961 (although there are a very small number of copies stamped a few days earlier and a small number of copies stamped later), indicating that this was the date when the bulk of the rack jobbers in the country began to process the book.

Thus, the Marvel Age of Comics is officially a half-century old today.

I remember buying Fantastic Four #1 on the stands, and I was absolutely fascinated by the mix of two different genres. I recognized the cover art style (even though at the time I had no real idea who Jack Kirby was) as the style that had graced so many of the monster comics that I loved; I presumed, therefore, that Fantastic Four was going to be a book pitting four monsters against one monster (after all, that's what the cover looked like). But once I read the book, I realized that these weren't monsters--they were people changed by cosmic rays. They were heroes.

But they couldn't be superheroes, could they? they didn't have any costumes!

Stan Lee & Jack Kirby settled that confusion for me two issues later when they gave the FF their familiar blue uniforms. But even by the end of the first issue, I realized that this was a different sort of hero team... and I knew that I wanted more.

For years, FF claimed to be "The World's Greatest Comics Magazine." And for several years, the claim was absolutely correct. And to this day, I will always see FF as the flagship title of the Marvel line.

Another Vent in the Wall

Now here's an odd problem I've never heard anyone mention before...

Last week, I noticed a problem with condensation on the wall between our garage and our dining room. Wasn't sure what could cause such an odd problem in one very small area along a sixteen-foot wall--but when I touched the wall, I realized that the area where the condensation was occurring was very, very cold--twenty or more degrees cooler than the rest of the wall. I went in the house and discovered that the wall in the dining room was also very cool--but there was no condensation because that wall was in a climate-controlled area where humidity was much lower. The cold area was only a foot or so wide, but it extended several feet up the wall, warming gradually.

Our AC repair people are sending someone out to take a look tomorrow, but I think I know what the problem is: I am pretty sure that the builder and his contractor ran a flexible duct into the wall in the dining room, intending to put in a vent--and then forgot the vent. As a result, the AC and heat are blowing into a space between the walls, with no way for the air to escape. This summer has been so humid that the condensation has begun to form on the very cold wall.

I'm going to call the builder tomorrow as well. While the house isn't under warranty any longer (we bought it in 1996), this isn't a typical warranty issue. I think we all presume that the builder is keeping up with where the flexible duct tubing has been run and is subseqently ensuring that vents are installed there.

The frustrating thing is that I suspect this will pretty much guarantee they're going to have to cut into walls, replace wallboard, etc., and that's more of a mess than I really wanted to have to deal with--but it'll have to be done, I'm pretty sure.

I'll let you know what the A/C guy and the builder have to say about the problem...

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Jet's Crashes

A new pizza place, Jet's Pizza, opened in our neighborhood a few weeks ago, so we gave it a try (gotta try every new local pizza place, after all). We ordered two pizzas, both Jet's Ten (a pizza topped with ten of their most popular ingredients). The crust was good, the ingredients were okay... but the pizza itself seemed lacking. Virtually no cheese, hardly any sauce.

I figured we must have just gotten a mis-made pizza (sometimes happens with a new restaurant, since the staff has to be trained), so we called again this weekend and I spoke to the manager, Casey, who had helped me before. I mentioned the problem, and he told me it wasn't an error--Jet's intentionally cuts the amount of cheese (and I believe, the amount of sauce as well) on their Jet's Ten pizzas. "With all those ingredients, it would take too long to cook if we put the full amount of cheese on there, so we reduce the cheese." I asked him to verify that I understood him correctly: when you pay extra for a pizza with the works on it, you get less cheese and sauce.

"Yes," he said.

And as a result, we ate at Mellow Mushroom yesterday, where they still understand that a fully-loaded pizza has more stuff on it, not less.

While Jet's crust (particularly on their deep-dish) is quite good, I can't recommend the place, unless crust is the only thing you like... There are too many good pizza places around here to continue to go to a place that intentionally shorts its most expensive pizzas.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Suddenly I'm 14 Again...

Just got in a package containing several back issues of Rocket's Blast Comicollector, a comic book fan magazine I had ordered on a whim. As I've mentioned before, RBCC was the magazine that first turned me on to the greater world of comic book collecting. In the pre-RBCC days, I was limited to buying back issues from friends, used bookstores, and Marvel Comics (in those days, Marvel actually had a back issue department, and I ordered several books from them).

When I ordered my first issue of RBCC in response to an ad that publisher Gordon Love ran in the pages of Marvel Comics, I wasn't sure what to expect. The idea of a fanzine was foreign to me; I had never conceived of fans writing their own magazines about comics. The concept of an adzine was also unfamiliar; I had never thought of finding other fans (and a few professional comic book dealers) who'd sell me the back issues I needed.

RBCC #53 was one of my particular favorites; the eye-catching John G. Fantucchio cover featuring the Shadow in both his pulp and superhero guises caught my attention immediately. Fantucchio was a fan artist who really should have been pro (and eventually he was, albeit for only a short period--he did a couple of stories for Warren Magazines in the early 1970s). His work was bold, stylish, and distinctive--and in an era when most fanzine artists were little better than I was, Fantucchio stood head and shoulders above the others.

This issue is also one that I actually ordered from.. and a few that I wish I could have afforded. Robert Bell had a complete set of Flash #105 up for $35; a complete set of Brave and Bold for $45; a complete set of Green Lantern for $20; and a complete set of Justice League (in mint condition!) for #30. Fantastic Four #1 could be had for only $14; Spider-Man #1 for $7; Daredevil #1 for $3.

However, I had a complete collection of Marvel superhero comics at this time, so my interest was focused on DC back issues (and alas, I couldn't afford those high prices for complete series). So, from advertiser Edward Gee, I actually did order and receive Aquaman #s 3, 4, & 5 for 40¢ each, Showcase #34 (first Atom) for $1.25, and Detective #275 for 75¢. I think I ordered a few other books as well, because I remember the total cost of the order being over $10, which was a substantial amount at the time. Shipping was 25¢ for orders under $5, but my massive $10+ order qualified for free shipping.

I also ordered at least four different fanzines from this issue: Comic Showcase, Fandomonium, On the Drawing Board, and Star Studded Comics. These weren't just fanzines about comics; most of them featured original comics produced by fans like me! My inspiration for fanzine publishing came from those early issues of RBCC--and from that, my involvement in science fiction fandom, my owning a comic shop, and the launch of Comic Shop News--in addition to my meeting the girl who would eventually become my wife!

Great stuff here--and while I can't order any of the books from these more-than-four-decades-old advertisements, I can still vividly remember poring over every page, marking the books I hoped to buy in colored pencil. And I still can feel the excitement and exhilaration that accompanied my discovery of the world of fandom...

Friday, August 05, 2011

A Thorny Problem

The strangest thing happened a few days ago. I was removing miscellaneous weeds from a bed of day lilies when I ran across several thorny weeds like the one pictured here. I wadded up a paper towel to protect myself from the thorns (which are located along the length of the stalk) and went to work removing them. One of them, though, wrapped slightly around the paper towel, jabbing a thorn into the large middle joint of the ring finger on my left hand (well, it would be the ring finger if I wore a ring, I guess).

Okay, I got stuck by a thorn--no problem. But it turned out that there was a problem. Within three hours, the finger showed every symptom of being severely jammed (although it wasn't): the joint itself became stiff, reddish-purple, and painful to move, while flexibility in the joint was severely limited. (Susan commented that the symptoms were also remarkably similar to osteoarthritis.)

I've never had this problem before. I've been stuck by this plant's thorns in the past with no odd side-effects; in fact, I was stuck on the back of the hand by the same plant on the same day, and no reaction at all.

Took about 24 hours for the hand to return to normal. When it did, it was rather sudden; almost 23 hours later, all the symptoms were still there. An hour after that, they were pretty much gone.

Have no idea what caused the odd reaction to a routine thorn scratch... Probably never will. I've considered sticking another finger with a thorn from the same plant to see if I can duplicate the reaction, but it was unpleasant enough that common sense tells me to reconsider...

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Dinner With Friends

I know I've mentioned our Wednesday night dinners at El Rodeo here before, but tonight was so enjoyable that I thought it was time to mention them again! We've been eating at the same restaurant almost every Wednesday for more than two decades now, with the lineup changing over time. I think the only people who have been constants throughout the entire time are Charles, Ralph, and me; over the years, we've also shared our meals with Brett, Chris, Ed, Jim, Lanny, Buck, Trish, Jared, Jenny, Allyson, Angie, Whitney, Amy, Jason, Josh, and others. Tonight, in addition to Charles, Ralph, and me, Jim Moore came back from a two-week trip through New England, sharing tales of his journeys; Chris joined us to catch us up on goings-on in his life; Ed helped us to remember how much fun comics always are (the conversation turns to many topics when Ed is around, but politics and comics are the two mainstays--and tonight, Ed gave me one of my favorite lines, via his brother Joel: "I collect stamps, coins, and rent. I find rent to be the most profitable.").

A always look forward to Wednesdays--and while the fact that it's new comics day is a big part of my enjoyment, the chance to visit with old friends is an even bigger part of the my enthusiasm for mid-week.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

I Think I've Made My Point....

...regarding AccuWeather's inaccurate forecasting, but I'll end this little analytical experiment with the results for 8/1 and 8/2 (forgot to post yesterday's results).

8/1 - 80 - 84 - 78 - 79 - 79 - 84 - 93 - 94 - 96 -

8/2 - 76 - 79 - 82 - 88 - 86 - 84 - 97 - 94 - 95 -

And the real temperatures? 8/1 topped out at 83° thanks to some unexpected cloud cover and a surprise rainstorm. 8/2 came in at 89° and sunny.

Now take a look a the forecasts. There was a a 17° spread in the 8/1 forecasts and a 19° spread in the 8/2 forecasts The closer we got to the actual date, the more inaccurate the forecast was; in these cases, they actually had two days' worth of guesses that were pretty close, but they seem to be just that--random guesses that they abandoned a day or so later.

If you ask me to guess your age and I start throwing out years in a 17 to 19 year range, odds are I'll get it right at one point or another, but I'm not going to be dishonest enough to claim that there's a science to this system. Too bad AccuWeather isn't so frank about their weather guesswork.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Mexican Mishaps

There's a new restaurant, Chepe's Mexican Grill, that opened up about a mile or so from the house; we tried it for the first time two months ago, and have gone back three more times since then. When they're on their game, Chepe's is quite good (although their food is not very spicy--they have a pleasant, fresh taste, but it's on the mild side); however, the past two trips have revealed the restaurant's weaker points.

Two weeks ago, they were out of Sweet and Low. I know--most of you didn't even know they still made that pink stuff. The thing is, that's the only artificial sweetener I use, and I don't care for the taste of sugared drinks. I was surprised that a restaurant could run out of Sweet and Low--particularly since they share a parking lot with Target, which sells the stuff, and there's a Kroger and a Publix right across the street from them. Sure, they don't want to pay grocery store prices every day for their Sweet and Low--but since they said a delivery was coming on Monday, they could have bought a $2 box to get them through the day.

A good manager could have turned this loss into a win--either by saying, "We'll send someone over to buy a box if you don't mind waiting a few minutes," or by saying, "We're sorry we're out, but I'd like to offer you a free Diet Coke to make up for it." I don't much care for carbonated drinks with my meal, but the gesture could have done a lot to convince me as a customer that they were willing to go a little extra to make me happy. (And while I'm not an extravagant tipper, I often leave 30%-35% tip--but in this case, I reduced that 30% tip by $2, the cost of the drink. The staff still got about 20% as a tip, but it could have been more--and I could have gone away very happy with their extra effort.)

Today, we tried 'em again (and I carried my own Sweet and Low, just in case). They had Sweet and Low this time, but they also had very, very scorched refried beans; it gave an unpleasantly harsh burned overtone to the beans, which are normally quite flavorful. I mentioned it to my server, who said something like, "Huh." I mentioned it to the assistant manager, who said, "I'll check it out," but never came back. And I mentioned it to the manager ten minutes later, who said "I'll check it out" and did--he came back and said, "You're right--those are bad. It tastes like they burned something," which was exactly what I had said.

And that was the end of it. He never said anything about taking them off my ticket (which he did--but I had no idea if he was going to or not), nor did he say anything about offering another side dish as a replacement. Since the final bill did not include the bad beans, I tipped the server 30%, because it wasn't her fault (although offering me another side dish would have been another great way to turn a losing situation into a win).

As it stands, I think we're going to pass on Chepe's Mexican Grill for a while; they can be excellent, but they apparently have little idea how to deal with a problem when it does arise. Neither situation left me thinking the restaurant was bad, but both situations left me thinking that the management and staff could think things through a little more fully and see how to make customers happy when things to wrong. That's a flaw that I hope they address--for the sake of the customers and for the sake of the restaurant.

Another Day, Another AccuWeather Fail

Sunday was a warm late-July day, topping out at 90° at about 4pm and holding there for about two and a half hours. So what was AccuWeather's forecast for 7/31?

81 - 85 - 81 - 89 - 83 - 94 - 92 - 95 - 96

Early on, they forecast extremely cool temperatures, as is AccuWeather's "tease the customer" norm; as the date got closer, their forecast temperatures soared. As it turned out, their lowest high forecast was 9 degrees below the actual temperature; their highest was 6 degrees too high. Again, they never actually forecast the temperature we had, instead just offering scattershot guesses so that no matter what the weather was, they could say that they were pretty close on one day or another (when you forecast highs have a 15° range, it's pretty easy to find at least one day that's close to the mark).

This is telling me that I need to create a subscription weather-forecast site. Apparently there's lots of money to be made in being wrong.