God Bless America!

Right Hulk?

Uh. . .

Happy Independence Day everybody. From Jonathan Hickman's Ultimate Comics Ultimates.

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China Trip Pt 1: Flying and the Great Wall

Last month, I took a Spring Break trip with my family to China. It was my first time there, and I spent a week while everyone else took 3-4 weeks. It was my first international, overseas trip, so I wanted to take thorough documentation via pictures. We went to Beijing, the country's capital and then Taishan, my parent's hometown. Everyone else went on to places like Hong Kong.

Did you know that international flights have tablets on the chair backs? It was a 13-hour long flight, so we had amenities like a care package of socks, toothbrush, eye mask.

It was a unique flight for me. My fiancee and I sat in a row of three, with one unoccupied -- meaning we enjoyed the privilege of 1.5 seats! We watched Charlize Theron's Atomic Blonde, a movie I've had on my list for a while. The plane air system creates a lot of ambient noise that made it difficult to hear. I had earphones, but it must have been a better experience for my fiancee, who had a bulky pair of Beats.

I was thinking it was a modern spy thriller story, but I was completely wrong -- it's a spy thriller told in the era of Cold War Berlin, coated in a thick layer of contemporary German techno/pop music. Would have been nice to know beforehand, previews.

The meals are very fancy, though I was dismayed by the amount of packaging and tray usage on the flight.

Did you know? In 2016, airlines produced 5.2 million tons of waste. Reading that article, all of the packaging makes sense, but I still think they could use less trays. We flew Hainan Airlines, which was a good experience, as far as 13-hour flights go.

I also watched the animated movie Batman and Harley Quinn on the flight, and have some words on it. It's in the style of Batman: The Animated Series and retains the voice of B:TAS icon Kevin Conroy, but it's much more racy than the original children's cartoon. There's a steamy scene between Harley and Nightwing, when Harley (gasp!) strips down in front of Nightwing, tied to a bed (gasp!). Your children's Batman, this is not. There are also fart jokes. If anything, this is a cartoon comedy that happens to involve Batman. The Batman show this ain't.

I also caught all four Island Guardians in my Pokemon Sun game! Outside of my productive flight with video games, movies, and power naps, eventually we landed in Beijing Capital International Airport.

The Airport is optimistically a half hour away from the heart of Beijing, but getting out is a little different. The plane taxis you to the ground, but from there you need to take a shuttle bus to the airport proper. It's your job to know which shuttle to take (there are people with signs), so you can take your correct transfer/exit/baggage claim. Not a user-friendly experience, but survivable.

Our tour guide was outside the gate waiting for us, and from there we checked in to our hotel at the evening. The next day, we had breakfast like you wouldn't believe.

Fried noodles? Check.
Kimbop? Don't mind if I do.
Long johns? Yes please. The breakfast had everything we needed and more. Not pictured: bacon, congee, soup noodles, more long johns.

Our first day was a visit to a Jade gallery and then the Great Wall of China. There are some tours that are pushy and try to force you to buy something. In the past, my mom has spoken of the tour waiting hours for you to buy something, like some kind of high-noon showdown!

Thankfully that was not the case for us. Our tour guide snuck us in with someone giving a tour of the gallery, and jumped off when they started pushing products on us. I took it as a chance to walk around and take some sweet pictures of jewel art.

Jade is a special mineral in China and one of the country's biggest imports. Different emperors/empresses in history have valued it, and our tour guide told us of one who was given a Jade mouth in her grave!

Like many other things in China, Jade is subject to counterfeiting: here are a couple tips to help you not get bamboozled: hold the jade up to a light and it should be translucent, and, when you knock it on a hard surface, it ought to make a pleasant knocking sound. Jadeite is second to Diamond in hardness (6.5 and 10, respectively), and it's said that if you nourish your Jade for 3 years, it will nourish you for life.

Next up was the Great Wall of China. Some parts of the Wall are closed off for reconstruction, and it took us quite a while to get up to the right spot: a little village called Mutianyu. We went through the mountains and passed numerous villages, some that had even built an economy as resorts for Great Wall hiking. It was an enjoyable hike, not longer than 2 hours perhaps, and the top was a rewarding view. My poor mom got tired halfway, and sat down in the cabin area while the rest of us got to the top of our particular section of the Wall.

The Great Wall is also known as China's largest cemeteries -- peasants and prisoners were conscripted to work on the wall, and when they died of exhaustion (which was often), their bodies were buried with their work. Yikes.

The rest area was a halfway point that also included a toboggan area. Fiancee and I took the toboggan, while everyone else walked the rest of the way down. Billed as "the Michelle Obama experience" (there are photos!) by our tour guide, it was a hoot. It moved quickly and while the line was long, we were consistently moving along. My one complaint was the slow people in front of me. You need to use the control stick on your toboggan: push it forward to go forward, pull it back to brake, and there was more than one person who didn't get it. Heck, the man in front of me was using his hands to push himself along the rail -- idiot!

We met up at the bottom, washed our hands and left. An interesting note about sanitation: things are generally more dirty on our trip than in the states. It may be partially due to the mugginess, but I never felt quite as clean as I do normally. The water isn't potable, and so if you want clean drinking water you need to boil your own water or purchase bottled water. Most toilets are squat toilets, although our hotel had sit-down toilets. Squat-ies aren't too bad. After an emergency at the Temple of Heaven, I got accustomed to them, and if you ask me, they seem more maintainable than sit-down toilets.

That'll do it for this post. Next time: the Forbidden City and Peking Duck! Have you been to Beijing before? Used a squat toilet before? Leave your comments below, and I'll reply!

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Spectacular Spider-Man Vols 4 and 5: Disassembled and Sins Remembered

Volume 4: Disassembled
by Paul Jenkins, Michael Ryan, Humberto Ramos and more
collects Spectacular Spider-Man #15-20

Issues 15-16 tell the two-part story "Royal Flush," featuring Captain America foe Ana Soria, AKA "Spider Queen," a woman who's able to control folks with the "insect gene," which Spider-Man apparently has. It's an extremely straightforward story, one that could be told in the (kid-friendly and now defunct) "Marvel Adventures" imprint of Marvel.

Well, it would be extremely straightforward, if not for the fall-out from Peter's forced kiss with the Spider Queen, leading to some tension between him and MJ for the next arc, and a terrible, horrible, no-good very-bad transformation for Peter.

That first kiss was all part of Ana Soria's plan to reshape Manhattan into a world of insect drones. Predictably, it doesn't work out, and I can't help but feel this was only a re-hash of another "Peter almost undergoes infidelity" story, similar to 2003's "Peter kissed the bug lady Shathra" in J. Michael Straczynski and John Romita Jr's Amazing Spider-Man. But worse, and, combined with Stan Lee's "Peter almost becomes a Spider" story from Amazing.

Somewhat redeeming is the process of Peter's transformation. Superhero action almost becomes superhero horro, as you see the little details from Peter transform, and how the world around him reacts. The dog across the street, who never liked him to begin with, now barks at him even more than usual. A smart detail to convey Peter's transformation, almost like Jeff Goldblum's transformation in The Fly (1986), one of my favorite sci-fi movies. I will never forget the scene where his fingernails fall off. Yeesh.

All in all, a re-hash of earlier, better stories.

Volume 5: Sins Remembered
by Barnes and Eaton
collects issues 23-26

So, back in 2004, the Spider-teams revealed that Gwen Stacy had an affair with . . . her murderer, Norman Osborn, and bore two children out of it, Gabriel and Sarah.

The less said about it, the better. But they had to wring four issues out of the fallout, where Peter visits Sarah in her home, Paris, after she's taken to the hospital for a potential suicide/overdose. You know, the girl who's rapidly aged to her twenty-somethings (it's kind of like progeria?) and looks just like Gwen Stacy, the love of his life. In, you know, the city of love, Paris, away from his wife in Manhattan.

What could go wrong?

The story once again deals with infidelity, and is kind of a crime/mystery/family drama. It's just unfortunate they had this material to deal with, an ugly retcon of a dearly-loved character's history. There's no denying that Sarah's a bombshell like her mother, but it's way too weird knowing that we're expected to expect this amorous tension between him and Sarah. God no.

Paul Jenkins isn't a bad writer, and I don't think Sara Barnes is either, but these were way off the mark. A forgettable volume 4 followed up by a wish-you-could-forget volume 5. I'm willing to believe in Spider-Men that can shoot webs out of their hands. But not a guy who will go to Paris and go on dates with the girl young enough to be his daughter, but just so happens to look like his dearly-departed high school sweetheart. Yeesh.

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I'm Feeling a Little Hungry Today. . .

Thanks Hobby! And Happy Pi Day! Courtesy Hobgoblin, and Amazing Spider-Man #651.

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Thor Vols 1 and 2: The Goddess of Thunder and Who Holds the Hammer?

Volume 1: The Goddess of Thunder collects Issues 1-5 by Aaron, Dauterman, Molina, Wilson
Volume 2: Who Holds the Hammer? collects Issues 6-8, Annual #1, What If? #10 by Aaron, Dauterman, Stevenson, CM Punk, Guillory, Sauvage, and Truman

Jason Aaron continues his run on Thor with the new, adjectiveless 2014 series, "Thor." As a result of the "Original Sin" crossover event, the male Thor (he-Thor?) had secrets whispered to him by Nick Fury, making him unworthy of the magical hammer Mjolnir. What follows is the aftermath, of a woman picking up Mjolnir on the moon and becoming, Thor, the goddess of thunder.

The series of events spans wide, from the inter-realm invasion of the Frost Giants into a Roxxon Headquarters on Earth, to the bar conversations between Thor Odinson and his friends. Jason Aaron knows how to set up a story, how to tell a story, and by Odin's beard, it's good. The first volume uses the Frost Giants story to usher in the new Thor. Literally, Odinson and Thor get into a fight, and when Odinson sees the way she wields Mjolnir, he cedes to it, and gives her his namesake. Just look at this superb use of sound effects:
Dauterman's pencils have a rough, indy feel with them especially on the fantastic creatures, but the clean lines in his characters manage to maintain this dignity of a God. Who else is going to draw all those ice barnacles on the Frost Giants of Jotunheim! It's a hell of a read.

Jason Aaron is telling so many stories at once here: The rise of Roxxon Industries, Odin's return to the throne of Asgardia (formerly Asgard) and the politics that it entails, Odinson's (and everyone else's) quest to discover the identity of Thor, Malekith's political machinations, and most of all Thor's new role as the Goddess of Thunder and the protector of Midgard. And it's all done in 5 issues, and it sets up the next volume. Aaron is just on a whole other level when it comes to comic book storytelling. This is the kind of comic that's so good, it makes me feel bad for missing it in singles.

Volume 2 collects the final arc of the series, issues 6 through 8, as well as the annual and a "What If?" story from the 70s', what if Jane Foster found the hammer. In the main story, Odin the All-Father unleashes the Destroyer Armor to bring Thor back and reveal her identity, but she isn't going to comply with that, leading to the first fight between the (all-old) Destroyer and the (All-New) Thor! Along the way, we check in with S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Roz Solomon and Midgard Ambassador Jane Foster.

Along the way, Odinson finally completes his list of potential Thors, and accuses the identity of the new Thor! Except he's wrong, and only we get to see who she really is on the final page. . . This story's got it all: family drama, political intrigue, superhero action, buttressed by the energetic art from Russ Dauterman. I love the way he incorporates sound into the page:

The Annual collects three stories, of the current Thor the Avenger, King Thor, and young Thor, all of them a fun, thoughtful take on the character, and the final story is a "What If?" from the 70's, asking what would happen if Jane found the hammer instead of Donald Blake, in the original Journey into Mystery. It's a far more complete story than I expected, going over that initial day, and then going through the 150 issues that Thor incurred since, but with Jane as Thordis instead.

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