30 September 2008

Comicsin' It Up Volume 4

Here are today's additions to my comic book marathon.

Identity Crisis
, written by Brad Meltzer, was excellent. It's really a thriller, or a murder mystery, except its cast features all the great heroes of the DC Comics world. Good storytelling, apart from the beginning part being a little confusing with the story leaping through characters, many of which weren't very familiar to me. It soon develops into a gripping and moving story, though. It was interesting to read this shortly after Marvel's Civil War, because it touches on similar issues, albeit from a very different, more personal viewpoint. In my opinion, Identity Crisis worked better as a story.

Thor: Vikings is from Marvel's MAX imprint, which is targeted to a more mature audience. And, indeed, it's delightfully gory. It's written by Garth Ennis, who's work on Hellblazer was spectacular. This wasn't quite on the same level, but it was still lots of fun to read. The story features Thor and Doctor Strange taking on a horde of cursed 1000 year old vikings. Art's not bad, although the book features some of the ugliest computer lettering I've seen.

Domestic pick of the day is Jadesoturi: Sangfu. It's a prequel to the awesome Finnish movie Jade Warrior (Jadesoturi), drawn and written by first time comic book artist Tuomas Lius, in collaboration with the creators of the movie. It was a pretty cool addition to the movie, but rather too short to work as an independent work.

28 September 2008

Comicsin' It Up Volume 3

Another handful of comics read. Still plenty to go, but I've managed to read more than half of the pile I got from various local libraries.

Fantastic Four Visionaries: George Pérez vol. 1 collects Fantastic Four stories from the mid 70s, all drawn by Pérez and written by Roy Thomas and Len Wein. These were plenty of fun. The art style can only be described as classic superhero comic book style. It might be a little crude by modern standards, but I found it quite pleasing, almost more so than some modern comics. The stories were of varied quality, some rather cliched and even campy, some pretty cool, some simply hilarious.

Daredevil: The Man Without Fear, written by Frank Miller himself, is a re-telling of the origin of Daredevil, dating from the early 90s. Story's well written, as might be expected from Miller, and the art by John Romita Jr. is quite good as well. I enjoyed this a lot.

I also read another domestic album by Petri Hiltunen, Laulu yön lapsista. This one's a vampire story set in 16th century Russia, and pretty good too.

Last, but not least, I re-read Hellblazer: Dangerous Habits, the first story arc by Garth Ennis after he took over the comic from Jamie Delano. This is one of my favourite Hellblazer stories, if not the favourite. The story is excellent, classic Hellblazer at its very best. The art is pretty good too. My only complaint is that the colours, at least in this edition, were a little bland. But, on the other hand, that fits the grim subject quite well... Much of the subject matter for the movie Constantine was taken from this story, and, alas, totally butchered. We can only hope that some day they'll make a real Hellblazer movie.

24 September 2008

Comicsin' It Up Volume 2

I've read a couple more comics since the last post.

Koston merkki is a collection of short Praedor stories by Finnish artist Petri Hiltunen. They're pulp fantasy stories in the tradition of Conan and the like, and quite entertaining in their own way, if you enjoy that kind of thing. I do.

Banner is a Hulk story written by Brian Azzarello and drawn by Richard Corben. This pair was also responsible for the Hellblazer story Hard Time. Which is, I must say, my least favourite of all the Hellblazer stories I've read, so I didn't have my hopes up. I'm not sure what to think of this comic. The story had one or two good moments, but mostly it was barely average, just Hulk smashing the military to bits. I didn't like the art much. That was one of my main objections to Hard Time as well. Corben's characters look rubbery and bloated. They might look ok in a humorous cartoon, but not in a serious superhero comic. Honestly, there were one or two moments that looked like they could've come straight from an Asterix story! Ok, so it was a short comic and fun enough to kill half an hour, but the Marvel universe would not be any poorer if it had never been made.

The first volume of Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter was pretty cool. It's an adaptation of a novel series by Laurell K. Hamilton. I've never read any of the novels, so I don't know how they compare, but I liked this comic. It's published by Marvel, but it has nothing to do with the Marvel universe, being, as I said, based on a novel series, which tell of a world where vampires are legal citizens. The storytelling could have been improved in one or two places, but mostly it was fun and with a few original twists too. The art looks quite modern and glossy, which I'm often not all that crazy about, but in this case it worked well. And, perhaps most importantly, the lead character is very cute. Only one real problem: it ends in a cliffhanger, and, to my knowledge, further volumes have not been published yet!

It won't end here. I've got enough comics for several posts still to read. But bye for now.

22 September 2008

Comicsin' It Up Volume 1

I consider myself a comics fan. Hardly an expert, though. There are a million things I haven't read. I've never gotten into the habit of actually buying comic books, either, mostly relying on what I find at the library, mostly trade paperback versions. There are several reasons for that. For one thing, English language comics aren't exactly available at every corner where I live, the selection of comics that get translated is fairly limited and I've never been that keen on translations anyway. But mostly I've never really had that much excess cash.

Strangely enough, I've only become a comics fan in my adult years. Of course I enjoyed comics as a kid, mostly reading humorous adventure stuff like Lucky Luke, Asterix and Tintin. Then in my late teens I discovered the world of Japanese comics. But it took me a long time to discover the more interesting, "grown-up" comics of the western market. Sandman was the one that first got me hooked. I'm a huge Neil Gaiman fan, so I decided I had to read it sooner or later, and was impressed. Then followed Hellblazer and Alan Moore's take on Swamp Thing...

Anyways, back to the real subject. Recently I raided local libraries for interesting comics that I hadn't read before. Some by authors or about characters I was familiar with, some entirely random picks.

The Goddess by Moebius was quite interesting. I enjoyed his drawing style as well. I can't believe I've never read anything by Moebius before. I'll have to keep an eye out for his works in the future.

The City, written by James Herbert, was amusing enough. Not the most original story of all time, but a suitably gruesome vision of a post-apocalyptic world.

Civil War from Marvel, written by Mark Millar, was quite cool. I'm not sure the story in itself was so amazing, but the idea of bringing together pretty much every big hero from the Marvel universe was simply insane. The art is quite good... but I'm not really sure I like the glossy, modern look. And the lettering is typeset. That's all wrong. Even though at first glance the font may look handwritten, it's just too even and clinical. It lacks soul. People don't appreciate quality lettering these days, which is a real pity.

Nightwing: Ties That Bind collects the first issues of Nightwing from DC, written by Alan Grant and Dennis O'Neil. I didn't know that Dick Grayson begun a career as Nightwing after leaving Batman. Shows just how little I know of even the most famous comics series. Artistically this collection, compared to Civil War, is very old school, even though it's from the mid 90s. And I almost like it better than many more modern comic books. It has real lettering, to boot. The story itself is pretty ordinary superhero stuff, nothing original, but entertaining enough.

I'm also getting acquainted with the works of domestic artist Petri Hiltunen, of whose comics I must shamefully admit I've read very little, despite having met him on a few occasions. Kuolleen jumalan palvelija, which draws influence from pulp fantasy, wasn't half bad. I also read the first Lordi comic, with which Hiltunen was also involved. That's likely to be of interest mostly to Lordi fans, though. Although it's largely the fact that the band members have cool fictional backgrounds that made me a fan...

This'll do for now. But I've still got a big pile of comics waiting, so it won't end here.

21 September 2008

First but Not Last Blood

Can you believe I only recently saw the Rambo movies for the first time? Yeah, I couldn't either.

For long I wasn't all that interested in them, as I thought they had a reputation as kind of macho, brainless action flicks. Well, I was wrong. Ok, the sequels, Rambo III in particular, are more straightforward action movies, but they're still relatively well made and entertaining in they're own way. (I haven't seen the new one yet, so can't say anything about that.) Undoubtedly the original is the best, though.

If I were to hear someone now connecting the name Rambo to cliched, macho action heroes, I'd have to object. Rambo is a true anti-hero, a tragic character who knows nothing but war and is forgotten and abused by the very people he went to war for.

I enjoyed the movies also as a video gamer, as it was immediately obvious that the Metal Gear series, which I'm a huge fan of, has taken lots of influence from these movies. The colonel, parachute drop, even the electric shock torture in Rambo II, and lots of other stylistic things seemed very familiar...

Next up: comics.

18 September 2008

If You Need Me I'll Be at the Cheer Market

Continuing the series of silly headlines, BBC today states that "Central bank moves cheer markets".

It took me a moment to figure out what 'cheer markets' are exactly and why they need moving.

16 September 2008

The Occult Significance of Magpies

Update: New article discussing magpie divination

The magpie rhyme is a quaint bit of folk superstition. There are many versions, but one of the more common goes like this:

One for sorrow, two for joy
Three for a girl, four for a boy
Five for silver, six for gold
Seven for a secret never to be told

The idea is that if you happen to see a group of magpies, their number will tell you your future. Whether it has ever been used very seriously for fortune telling is not known, but it does seem a little unlikely. But why not? I wrote a little article which discusses a possible way to actually use the magpie rhyme for divination purposes, based on ideas from traditional occultism. (I first started to write a blog post on the topic, but it grew much too long and I decided to make it into a page of its own.)

This also marks the creation of a new section for articles on spiritual and occult topics. For now it'll be just a subsection of the Elcalen's Homepage area, as it's still quite small.

12 September 2008

A Cold Summer Turning Into a Freezing Autumn?

LOL. You might expect something like this after a night of drinking, but I'd only had one glass! I was attempting to pour a glass of (quite cheap) Merlot and was baffled as nothing came out of the bottle. I then realised I'd left the cap on! In my defense, I had the lights off at the time.

Just having a relaxing evening with a couple of glasses of wine, some crisps and Spaceballs on DVD. Call it a celebration of the beginning autumn, or a wake for the passing summer or whatever. You need to do something like this every once in a while. But now I fear I'm starting to sober up, so I guess I ought to be heading for bed...

9 September 2008

Chillin' Words

these are chillin' words
late night words of
candle light, essential oils
of trying to find
a balance between the music and
the soft, soft sound of the rain
falling all day long
but only heard when something equally beautiful
threatens to drown it
in soft, black velvet blankets
or crimson perhaps
or deep, deep summer night's blue

chillin' words
an escape perhaps
from a world I do my best to block out anyway
escaping from escape
no stories tonight
just me
a moment of blissful oblivion
and the soft, soft sound of the rain
wrapped in its velvet blanket
that flows through me
with such beauty
as these chillin' words
mark the beginning of another autumn

2 September 2008

Thirity One?

What is it with people who submit album information to CDDB and the like? Just how hard can it be to spell song titles correctly? Or pick a genre that fits even remotely to the music?

There's hardly an album I rip that I don't need to make corrections to. And with today's media players and services like Last.fm, correct tags for music files are absolutely crucial. So if you're unable to read and write, or just thick enough to think no one else can, you might bloody well consider not making others suffer from your mistakes, thank you very much.

1 September 2008

The Curse of iTunes

Since I started using a Mac about a year ago, I've grown very accustomed to iTunes, almost dependent. There's a lot to speak in favour of it. It looks pretty. It's easy to use. It has lots of handy features.

But there's just one major issue. It's not free software.

Apart from Mac OS X itself, iTunes is almost the only piece of proprietary software I use on a daily basis. There are a handful of proprietary Mac applications I use occasionally, like iDvd, but iTunes is the only one that's a major part of my life.

If there was a free software solution that could replace iTunes, I'd be happy, but I haven't found one yet. Since iTunes is free to download anyway, I don't see why Apple doesn't just make it truly free. Perhaps there are issues involving the use of the iTunes store, but I don't really see why making the software open source should have any bearing on it.

And while we're at it, I don't see what's keeping Apple back from making Mac OS X free software in its entirety. They've taken huge and important steps in making parts of it free and utilizing free software tools, but when they wrap it up with a proprietary interface, what's the point? It should be all or nothing when it comes to freedom. Certainly many GNU/Linux distributions, like Ubuntu, and other OSs have proven how successful free software can be. If money's the only issue, they can still sell versions, convenient installation DVDs with additional support, documentation etc, to people who want such things. Or just put up hardware prices slightly.

Corporations. They try sometimes, but they just don't get it.