Entries from December 2011 ↓
December 22nd, 2011 — Comics, Reviews
In the introduction to Justice League: Cry for Justice, writer James Robinson claims that it is maybe the darkest Justice League story ever.
I actually bought and read this comic after buying Robinson’s first regular old Justice League story (which read like a mish-mash of semi-related stories with an inconsistent lineup of superheroes, but referencing Cry for Justice somewhat)… and the two could not be more different (despite featuring some of the same characters).
This story is a combo of a “gathering of eagles”-type that brings together some seldom-seen heroes (the 1970s blue Starman, Congorilla) and an overall tone of “man, bad spit be happenin'”.
And boy, is it bad.
Grant Morrison JLA villain Prometheus gathers any number of villains to do some science-disaster stuff, and it is really bad. I don’t really want to say specifically what, as the unfolding of the threat and how heroes in geographically different areas uncover the elements to its mystery is the essential process and experience of Cry for Justice, but it is quite bad.
The cast of characters includes big names like Green Lantern; “super pinups” like Starfire, Zatanna, and primarily Supergirl; and oddball heroes you have never heard of that James Robinson has a soft spot for, like a gigantic talking golden monkey. Per usual, he does a good job putting a story together.
From the other side, the Big Bad is the aforementioned Prometheus, and a cast of villains (many of whom I had never heard of before) used as chess pieces to get the good guys, often with no regard for their own safety. It is cool seeing super-torture from the side of ultimately lilly white souls, and bad guys misleading heroes mid-combat only to ultimately throw their own lives away in explosion after fiery holocaust (I told you it was the darkest Justice League story ever, already).
What’s Great About Justice League: Cry for Justice:
IMO, Three [big] Things:
- Its Gorgeous.
- The Story
- The Significance
I don’t know what the exact process is, but Mauro Cascioli’s art comes across like fully-rendered oil paintings. For the most part, only Alex Ross does that kind of stuff well, and the also-rans come off looking stiff or traced (or both), or badly sacrifice rendering and storytelling for the perceived painterliness of an end result. None of that here; Cascioli’s art has the fluidity and grace of storytelling indicative of a well-rendered conventional comics page, but just happens to be finished by a richer and more varied box of colored pencils, china markers, and oils (or maybe just really, really exacting Photoshop… who knows?).
I know I just got done publishing a comics review where I said the book [Batwoman: Elegy] didn’t look like anything else on the stands, and I certainly don’t want to make visual uniqueness unintentionally trite, but this book doesn’t look like anything else on the stands, either. Cascioli doesn’t have the variety of different finishes that JH Williams III does in Batwoman, but the cross-section of “good art” and “looks like a painting” is just a few microns sub-Ross (I mean that in the best possible way).
As for the story, I don’t buy many books on the strength of the artist, and I wouldn’t have known that Justice League: Cry for Justice was beautiful anyway, because I had never previously heard of Mauro Cascioli. However James Robinson is one of my all-time favorite comics writers (mostly on the basis of his [primarily] 1990s run on Starman). Robinson has some Starman favorites like the Shade and the blue Starman Mikaal Tomas (characters he didn’t create but most people either have never heard of or don’t care much about but he made layered and absolutely great in his own stories) feature prominently in the story; you can really see his love for comics and old / forgotten / still cool or rich characters unfold on the page.
I had heard about some of the crappy stuff that happened in this story from reading upcoming comics listings on various websites, and again, from the first Robinson Justice League trade (with Mark Bagley, that comes after Justice League: Cry for Justice), but rest assured, the bad things that happen are the kind that have a lasting effect on a character, like a bullet to the spine or a brutal beating at the hands of the Joker.
You would literally have to re-boot an entire universe to…
Oh wait… Never mind.
What Gave Me Pause About Justice League: Cry for Justice
While the core cast of characters — Green Lantern and Green Arrow primarily, along with Starman and Congorilla separately — is pretty constant, there often seemed to be minor stuff going on that was disconnected to what was actually going on. Like why bother putting Mon-El into one panel in the whole book? Let’s just randomly put Starfire in a bikini scene and joke about her being naked poolside sometimes! I mean sure, that is good for a LOL, but I get the feeling there were tie-ins with other titles or something that I wasn’t 100% apprised of as a trade paperback reader. I don’t know if the story would have suffered much with no Mon-El, no Starfire, whatever. As long as we follow around GL, GA, Supergirl, Starman, and the big golden monkey (and I guess the Jay Garrick Flash and his onetime archenemy Shade), we get more-or-less everything we need to out of the main story.
I didn’t / don’t hate-hate the side stuff like that, but it is semi-annoying.
Also, Scott Clark takes over the illustration chores for an issue or so. His pictures are reasonably pretty, but not as pretty — and certainly not as unique — as Cascioli’s in the majority of the rest of the book; that makes for a semi-jarring twenty-odd pages, especially given the expectation set up for the preceding 100 or so.
None of this really bothered me that much; quality book overall.
Why would someone buy Justice League: Cry for Justice?
I think the majority of buyers are either JLA zombies or like James Robinson. He is certainly not guilty of plastering an excess of commercially overblown characters all over every page, though he does an artful job of casting the absent Batman’s long shadow across the story entire; Prometheus has a very distinct agenda: He sees how Batman, “just a guy,” can terrify into submission not just cowardly criminals but also his crimefighting teammates. Prometheus wants to be — bereft of any Kryptonian DNA, magic words, or power rings — the villainous equivalent of Batman, the master strategist who bosses other villains about.
To that end Prometheus can convincingly hold his own against the entire cadre of assembled heroes. In a scene borrowing from Deathstroke the Terminator against the whole JLA in Identity Crisis (how great was it when Deathstroke swung his sword at Green Arrow, with GA ducking and Deathstroke “missing”… only to reveal the ends of all of GA’s arrows had been de-feathered by the “missed” sword-stroke?), Prometheus has a silver bullet for every good guy, moves around, dodges expertly, predicts who is going to attack from what angle, and manages to tear off heroic arms, burn off faces, break legs, split bodies in half, and generally kick buttocks aplenty.
You also get a chance to see the good guy equivalent of water boarding (along with the requisite objections from the team’s resident bleeding heart). Still, something some readers will cheer for.
Buy / Don’t Buy:
This is a strong superhero story. It touches on a sort of Authority-esque notion of proactive super heroics (the opposite of the traditional X-Men stance of waiting around for someone to attack them), but beyond a couple of questions of superhero morality (do superheroes kill? under what circumstances? should superheroes use torture to extract information? even from known killers? does giving someone a sinus headache count as torture?), it is “just” a darker look at a superhero team book.
If you love superheroes, again, this is a strong superhero story.
The art is very beautiful (for the most part).
The story is very engaging.
I personally adore James Robinson’s work.
(but not like “highest possible recommendation” buy, or anything)
December 19th, 2011 — Comics, Reviews
I probably would have read Batwoman: Elegy
anyway, as I am a gigantic fan of Greg Rucka comics from his Oni Comics Queen and Country
[think girl James Bond, but like with real-life spy stuff / issues instead of teleporter wristwatches and Astin Martin black hole projectors] series, and of course wonderful runs on both Gotham Central
[Bruce Wayne’s gritty war on crime, but from the other side of the Bat-Signal] and Checkmate
[international espionage meets flowing capes and power rings]… But this comic came especially highly recommended.
In the foreword to one of his glorious Batman & Robin hardcovers, Grant Morrison said that he was going crazy over Rucka’s work with Batwoman… and… well, good enough for me.
Batwoman: Elegy has two big things going for it.
1. It is absolutely gorgeous. I mean beyond anything JH Williams III has done in the past. JH Williams III has worked on some pretty fantastic comic books in the past but he uses every part of the buffalo on this one. It is pretty clear, panel to panel and page to page that the same hand laid out the illustrations, but Williams communicates in half a dozen different visual languages with his finishes… Matte finish, richly layered colors, big bold flats, gray tones. It is like several different specialists all running different riffs on a single master’s core idea… Except that he is the engineer of all of it (JH Williams III is running the post-New 52 Batwoman comic as well… But I only read trades).
2. Rucka does what Rucka does well. He takes real-life military issues and blends them into a four-color superhero world, and makes them work well together. Kate Kane (the “modern” take on the Batwoman) is a capable military operative from a family of superb soldiers… Who happens to be a lesbian. She isn’t a lesbian in the ooh, ah, hetero-porn sense, but a very three-dimensional woman facing a very human problem at the crossroads of career choice and sexual orientation. She deals with it in what she thinks is the most honorable way… and through a series of struggles, ends her military career, and ends up a kind of super-soldier superhero.
Now a comic book that is grounded in real-world military concerns isn’t the kind of comic book where the protagonist is struggling against alien invasions or 1,000,000 malicious former corpses, all armed with otherworldly power rings. Kate Kane’s struggles are about social status, somewhat relatable stresses, romantic relationships, family problems none of us would wish on our worst enemies, and the rising influence of the so-called Religion of Crime in Gotham City. She works with a much more realistic palette of crimefighting tech than Batman and his Science Fiction Closet, and if she takes a knife to the chest, her recuperation has to be dealt with in a very different way than the default superhero three-world Ultra Combo Finish of “I got better.”
This is a book of emotional highs and lows, tragedy, perversion, betrayal, and personal loss; yet also of punching a room full of criminals into red-gloved KOs; of crashing through skylights in a flutter of wing-reminiscent crimson bat-cape. It is gritty and visceral as it is gorgeously rendered. Unlike even some pretty well realized telekinetic possessions and galaxy wide gamma irradiated rampages, Batwoman: Elegy makes you feel something (made me feel something anyway).
Pretty obvious that: I loved it and.
What is Great About Batwoman: Elegy?
The writing. Also the art. One thing that I really liked about this book, especially as I don’t read monthly floppy comic books, is that even though Batwoman’s adventures take place in the greater DC superhero universe, you don’t really have to know that much about whatever the hell else is going on to appreciate and enjoy this story. I was vaguely aware of the Religion of Crime, and I remembered even some of the more obscure Batman-borrowed villains from my days working on the Vs. System card game; but whatever. You don’t really need to know anything about superhero comics to drop your jaw at JH Williams III’s illustrations or wipe away a tear summoned up by Rucka’s prose.
What Gave Me Pause About Batwoman: Elegy?
I had a theology class back around 1993 where the instructor’s main criticism of comics — the medium that I was then growing to really love — and loved to relate to many different philosophical discussions and situations — was that they were taking themselves too seriously. I do think there is something to be said for “comics allow us to tell stories about superheroes without making superheroes look silly” (which is the point of differentiation that a fairly famous reviewer who used to work for me said was the main thing that made comics special… though this was years before amazing works like Batman Begins, X2, or Iron Man); if you are in that camp, and you mostly want to see Superman punch a planet so hard it shatters into 1,000,000 irradiated pieces, then weld together a bent-backed concrete bridge using his laser vision lickety-quick (forget about the underlying structural damage that crashing through it at the speed of sound might deal in the first place)… then this comic might not be for you. If your criteria for female-fronted superhero comics comes out of the 1990s bikini-blur of bad girls and butt shots (the last comics review I did on this blog spent several paragraphs talking about the specific rendering of Emma Frost and contrasting January Jones in X-Men: First Class relative to Andrews illustrations)… This might not be the comic for you. Kate Kane is “hot” (would be considered “hot” by a fair number of people), but despite the flowing red tresses of a Batwoman, her civilian persona has stereotypically clipped short hair. She is covered by tattoos and looks like she would be able to beat you up, even when there is no Bat-Shield emblazoned across her bust.
To me, that treatment of female Bat-hair is kind of a hat-tip to the original Batgirl from the campy Adam West Batman television show, even though Barbara Gordon is a completely different character. I liked it regardless.
Sometimes you can have a great, or well-written, technologically useful, or otherwise +EV piece of writing, art, artistry, craft, self-expression or article that has some element that some people just “can’t get over.” In Magic articles some guys don’t like name drops or humor, or are incredibly myopic. They will fixate on something (whether or not that is the central thrust of a piece) and judge it on some detail without being able to appreciate it for its whole (I am sure you know what I am talking about). Ultimately, I know that my vast blog readership crosses many backgrounds and demographics and maybe you just don’t want your comics to be progressively preachy. Batwoman: Elegy isn’t MOSTLY progressively preachy but an inability to empathize with how a talented lesbian might be dealt with by the US military might translate into an inability to appreciate Batwoman: Elegy despite how gripping and well-illustrated it might be. Me? None of these things bothers me (in some cases quite the opposite); but they gave me pause insofar that they might have given some of you pause.
Why Would Someone Want to Buy Batwoman: Elegy?
It is already great in every way that I care about. My ability to appreciate comics translates across fairy tales (Stardust and Fables) to Superman deconstruction (Miracleman and Supreme) to trippy Brazilian author autobiography (Daytripper) to regular old four-color superhero adventures (Invincible). I love any kind of comics that are well-written (Sandman) or well-rendered (WildCATs); sometimes we get both (She-Hulk… or Batwoman).
Buy / Don’t Buy:
I can’t give this book a “highest possible recommendation” without a perception of watering down future highest possible recommendations, but it is pretty great (if you are into liking things that are pretty great).
Make me a millionaire (a couple of pennies at a time, it turns out):
December 18th, 2011 — DVD Extras, Wrestling, Writing
A few months ago I referenced to professional wrestling in the 1980s in my DailyMTG column Top Decks, in relation to the explosion of popularity of the Legacy format. This is how it came out in published form:
Some readers sometimes enjoy finding out what gets left on the cutting room floor. So I figured I might share the original (check my emphasis):
Thirty years ago, professional wrestling consisted of two burly — if “manly” and hairsuite — fat men overacting across a padded square, catering largely to regional audiences. First Vince McMahon, then billionaire Ted Turner, the emergence of high production value cable television, and even the emergence of mixed martial arts as a national phenomenon transformed the rasslin’ landscape… And its audiences. We have gone from thuggish strongman contests in smokey high school auditoriums with tabacco spit all over the floor to multimillion-dollar IPOs, high resolution video games played on your iPad, movie stars, and — by force of competition and focus — in-ring performances of such grandeur and violence that the long ago regional beginnings seem a different animal entirely. Once upon a time, Legacy was played infrequently at a large scale and the highest levels (maybe one domestic Grand Prix per year) and catered to a comparatively small and specialized audience; but today, the Star City Games Open Series highlights a competitive Legacy event almost once a week. As a result, we have a format that is full of lively, week-over-week, innovation and give-and-take, with many of the greatest minds in the game devoting time, care, and technology to curating the still-emerging metagame.
My original assumption was that then-editor Kelly Digges didn’t want me comparing longtime Legacy aficionados to chaw-spitting West Texas rednecks (not actually my original intention), but just thought the cut-down version read better.
I liked the original 🙂
This past week in my Flashback review, Flashback to Flashback, the DailyMTG folks exercised some good judgment and edited an old Kibler deck list to “something uncouth” …
Wonder why Brian played One Deep Analysis in the sideboard of his ‘Tog deck?
Here is the original text (emphasis, again):
To be fair, at the time, we got to play with Fact or Fiction, and it wasn’t immediately obvious that Deep Analysis was that good. Kibler played the one copy — in his sideboard no less — simply so that he could call his deck “Deep Anal Probe” (notice the three copies of Probe in the main deck).
Yes ladies, even nine years ago, he was a dreamboat of unparalleled wittiness.
Well, it turns out that that one Deep Analysis was better than anyone had anticipated. You could discard it to Psychatog or Probe and it would be a fine two mana draw two. Other players were even more focused and aggressive with Deep Analysis, pairing it with faster discard outlets like Wild Mongrel, Merfolk Looter, or Aquamoeba.
Such a dreamboat 🙂
Take care of each other.
December 3rd, 2011 — Tall Dark and Handsome
Mostly about that time, starting about a month ago, when my apartment building caught on fire… and everything that happened next.
VII. November 7, 2011
The first thing I remember is the dripping.
Then, the scent of… of… The only way I can describe it is the smell of a double-boiler I put in the microwave as a seven-year-old; you know, to boil water. Some grownup stick-in-the mud said you can’t put metal in the microwave, so I did; and watched the lightning dance across the dull gray curves as that burning-smell accumulated… and… and… I figured I should stop the microwave.
Anyway, that’s what it smelled like.
“There’s a man on the fire escape!”
Groggy at first, I snapped to almost total alertness as the flashlight caught us from the fire escape. The comforter was wet.
“The building is on fire!”
What happened next was at once impressive, brief, and anticlimactic.
Impressive, as my quick-witted wife managed to disengage both of our iPhones, stow a laptop, dress all four of us and have us out the door in — I spit you not — one minute. Literally one minute and we were out of the apartment. Cell phones, sure; who knows if we are ever walking back into our apartment? I still can’t believe she had the presence of mind to grab the Mac Air and its electric cord, though. I did a good job with that one.
Anticlimactic in part because it was so brief. By the time we got to the increasingly-crowded foyer, the firemen were already proclaiming it safe to go back to our beds (it was about four or five in the morning).
There had been some kind of a fire on the sixth floor — to this day, about a month later — I still don’t know what happened, exactly. The sixth floor apartment was wholly consumed by fire.
In order to quell that fire, the firemen ended up flooding the apartment directly beneath it on the fifth floor. Mine is directly beneath that one, on the fourth floor. To be honest, we didn’t lose a lot, but it turns out that in order to save the building, the firemen didn’t just flood the fifth floor apartment, but they seeped tons and tons of water into ours, too (and maybe even the one under mine, on the third, but that one was being renovated anyway).
We ran industrial strength dehumidifiers for a week or two, but the damage had been done. There was just too much water in the walls and floor (it turns out the floor was warped like a rainbow, and we just didn’t notice on account of the rugs). We couldn’t close wooden doors any more, as they no longer matched their doorframes.
blah Blah BLAH
… And that’s how I ended up homeless.
I didn’t take a lot of pictures, partly because I didn’t know what was going to happen at the time. Here is the one I did take, on account of it was hilarious:
Katherine painted the paintings; she is good at everything.
Water seeping in from the apartment above created a massive bubble behind the paint. Clark was actually terrified of the ever-growing paint-pregnancy. We weren’t really sure what to do, because at the rate it was happening, it probably would have torn / burst / been a huge mess. I elected to poke a hole in the paint and catch it with a bucket. What remains looks like the remnants of massive weight loss.
We were basically vacated from our apartment soon after; we only thought we were going to be out for maybe six weeks so we didn’t pack very much.
It turns out the damage to our condo was massive, and that we will be out for three or four months, at least, while they tear it all down to put it back together. There are good and bad things to this. Good because I actually love where we are staying, my kids love it, and Katherine (who set it up) loves it. I think there is a strange irony to the fact I haven’t eaten beef in weeks [deliberately changing my diet incrementally] and I now live around the corner from the original Plataforma.
Bad because we don’t have anything. Like I said, we packed for circa six weeks, so we don’t have a lot of basic stuff. I don’t have very many sets of clothes, or socks; my kids have next to no toys. We don’t have our DVDs… None of that.
It was a little jarring to be living in a glorified hotel over Thanksgiving, but now we are going to be living here through Christmas and my anniversary. I am going to Honolulu ironically a week after PT Hawaii in February (we have planned this trip since literally Heezy’s first PT Hawaii) for my anniversary. I know this sounds like first world problems, but none of our things are accessible and Katherine is stressing about stuff like sifting through the kids’ bathing suits and her string of cute little bikinis she bought for the trip amidst the chaos and storage units.
Katherine went back to our apartment last week to see what was going on. It’s basically… Well… Look at the pictures:
This used to be the room where the greatest [Legacy] deck (Legacy or otherwise, actually) was brewed by Billy Moreno.
This used to be my bedroom. On the up-side the apartment looks really spacious.
The bathroom is kind of a heartbreaker; Katherine had just had it re-tiled a week or so before the fire.
And that’s basically it.
How to Grow Taller:
What happens to us isn’t even that interesting.
Oh my gosh! Your apartment burned down! You’re homeless! Homeless for the holidays!
Well… Kinda, and not really. My apartment didn’t actually burn down, it flooded (but thank goodness we have fire insurance). As far as homeless goes, I’m living pretty well for a homeless cat to be honest.
What is interesting is what happens next.
I look back and think about what it means to be without the vast majority of my material possessions. I had the foresight to bring my trade binder (admired even by Jon Medina) and most of my physical Standard deck with its in-print dual lands and Snapcaster Mages… Though now that I think about it, I think my Druidic Satchels are in the big trunk with everything else.
It’s a little bit annoying to have no comic books (or books) whatsoever.
I don’t have my shaving mirror, or my superhero t-shirts (Katherine refused to pack any), or my Wii.
But as far as I can tell, very little of any of that matters.
I think about what my apartment represents, and how my outlook might have been different if things really were much worse in terms of material destruction. The things I am separated from represent thousands upon thousands of dollars “worth” of… stuff. Most of what I have worked towards for most of my adult life was in that apartment; things.
And you know what?
I have my iPad, my wife, and my kids… and I don’t really miss much else.
There is this great scene in Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles. The main character [to that point] had been a kind of ultra-violent (but super cool) zen assassin. However after being captured and grievously wounded, he decided to reinvent himself into a different kind of ultra-cool heroic terrorist (think going from Deadpool to Elijah Snow over night).
To show how starkly — and ultimately how easily — anyone could transform himself, that character blew up the Stately Wayne Manor-like mansion of his billionaire bankroller, with the latter watching.
Is it really so easy to let go of an accumulation of stuff that physically represented your time, for quite some time?
Turns out it is.
Like I said, what’s really interesting is what comes next.
How to Grow Darker:
I was halfway through editing the original version of this blog post, which was about how I dealt with a layoff in 2007 when I read a Tweet by my man / longtime Top 8 Magic listener / frequent commenter on this blog Voltaire Abaya:
Part Six was my favorite segment and I realized I really was going to disappoint with the Part Seven I had planned.
While I could tie in my experience four years ago with stuff like Occupy Wall Street or go a different way with pulling yourself up from a massive disappointment (I would not likely have earned what level of professional notoriety I have if not for that layoff, or at least not as quickly and luckily). But in no way was I going to be able to equal 02 02 02’s emotional catfight of tragedy and adoration with “I got laid off. / Best thing that ever happened to me.” [which was the entirety of the pre-“How to Get Taller” section].
So I went with this, instead.
Raise your hand if you noticed the date, noticed the destruction, mixed it in your imagination with the holidays, and felt a little bit of empathy for YT.
Just kidding! I appreciate it, and every drop of well wishing you felt up until this sub-section’s big reveal 🙂
How to Grow More Handsome:
Don’t be too old when you die.
Carrie Fisher has this section early in her one-woman show where she talks about how people comment about how hot she was thirty years ago, and that she didn’t realize she was making a pact with half the population of the galaxy when she donned that metal bikini back in 1983.
All the positive reinforcement I have gotten with new Facebook friend requests spurred on by this mini-series to the big props from Pat Chapin, Jon Finkel, and the dozens of other people who have sent Tweets, and Likes, and personal recommendations to the blog this week are much appreciated (though, you’d think as much as everyone proclaims to love “Tall, Dark and Handsome” it might have competed with the voluminous likes of that one wrestling post I did a few weeks ago).
I know how lucky I am and cherish every pixel and byte.
Part of me thought to myself “I could probably keep doing this forever…”
But you know what?
At some point it would probably suck.
So I’m ending it here, for now at least. Sure, we’ll probably get an echo of “Tall, Dark and Handsome” someday in the future, maybe the next time my condo burns down or I learn something, but for now I just want to look back at this as a week I updated my blog seven consecutive times and reminded my readers why they liked me in the first place.
Katherine has actually been getting after me all week.
“Work on your book!”
Lauren Lee has been great, shipping edited chapters back for audio transformation. We are working really hard to get it to you by Christmas (crossing my fingers on this one), and I am skipping the Invitational to get those precious hours into the microphone.
So, of course, because this is how these things go, I lost my voice immediately after recording Part Three of “Tall, Dark and Handsome”. I’ll get you yet, Murphy!
What’s the new book like? It’s more-or-less a combination of recent Star City articles like Picture This and Cards, “Facts,” Mentors, Multipliers, And Using Every Part Of The Buffalo mingled with “Tall, Dark and Handsome” in thirty-odd twenty-minute chunks… all in audio format. With homework assignments.
It’s exactly that cool 🙂
And because this is a blog post about my life, today, in pictures… I’ll leave you with just one more:
Some people have complimented me that “Tall, Dark and Handsome” is the best thing I’ve written in ten years. The Official Misers Guide (or, lovingly, OMG) respectfully disagrees.
December 2nd, 2011 — Tall Dark and Handsome
For this section, please consider the following timeline:
- August 2, 2001 – A Thursday; my first date with Katherine (aka KFlo)
- August 5, 2001 – A Sunday; I officially girlfriend her up
- September 9 – A Sunday; last day of Pro Tour New York
- September 12 – A Wednesday; (note the date) get engaged
- February 2, 2002 – Wedding day
So I met Katherine on a Thursday.
Like I said in the previous section, I had pre-existing plans on Friday and Saturday, which allowed me to seem less-than-overeager about our next date, and granting me important leverage when dating someone several levels above my station (which I would later cede by giving her all my money, complete and slavish lifelong devotion, and so on); that Saturday I was hanging out with BDM and we were debating whether it was the best or worst first date of my good dating year. On the one hand I was already pretty sure I was going to marry her, on the other hand… never mind the other hand. BDM pointed out I should probably clear it with her that she was officially my girlfriend, which I did the next day (you know, the day I had already told my mommy I had met the woman I was going to marry).
About a month later was Pro Tour New York 2001, which was my first Pro Tour money finish, and still my best one, at 17th. At this point, Katherine identified [playing] Magic as a +EV activity.
Two days after that Katherine had to go on a business trip to… Somewhere. We were already spending most of our time together, but I stayed at her place to take care of her then-dog Frank. It turns out I was feeling a bit ill that Tuesday, so I didn’t go to work. I worked in downtown Manhattan at the time, and would often switch trains through the World Trade Center, which was just a few blocks from where I worked, as well as the block of a falafel place I would sometimes frequent.
So… That was lucky!
Many New Yorkers have stories about how they avoided the chaos on September 11, 2001; mine was just that I stayed home sick, dogsitting. My office-mates from that era have pictures of themselves fleeing, mummified head to toe, and covered with snowstorm mantles of gray dust. One of them broke her ankle leaping to the Staten Island Ferry, in retreat; she did nit live on Staten Island.
Katherine was in Queens; LaGuardia Airport, attempting to get out of her cab as she was flooded with a tidal wave of humans fleeing the airport. Obviously she lost her cab, and was stranded without transport. She took in a penniless but wildly attractive Australian couple (if you took her new buddies as a microchosm of “down under” you would be convinced of a populace exclusively composed of young Ben Afflecks and Gwyneth Paltrows), and let them share her hotel room for the night. The Aussies had what we presume is the last-ever footage ever taken from the top of the WTC, which they had acquired sightseeing the previous day.
On September 12 Katherine finally walked in the door, exhausted and crying. “They’re all dead,” she said, talking about a floor full of financial clients her agency had – she had – based in one of the two fallen towers. “And yes,” she concluded. “Yes, I’ll marry you.”
Now I had started bugging K about marrying me starting with… Probably our first phone call.
Obviously, as an HB10 with quite a bit more dating experience than I had, she thought I was a lunatic. I mean she had told her best friend on August 3, the day after our first date, as she unwrapped the single white orchid I had sent to her office, that she had met the boy she was going to marry; but she still – to my face – accused me of immature hysteria.
So that is the story of how, about one month after we met, we decided to spend the rest of our lives – however long they might be – together.
It’s been ten years, and I realize most of you don’t live in New York. But having even my own small experience, I can tell you that we didn’t know how long those lives were going to be. Was the world going to end tomorrow? Most people weren’t going to work, we didn’t know what the protocol was; we didn’t know what we were supposed to do, or how we were supposed to feel.
Wasn’t this supposed to be the greatest city in the world?
Weren’t we invincible Americans anyway?
For her – she wanted to spend however long she had left with who she wanted to spend it with; lucky for me, that was me. For me – Honestly I had quickly figured out that I was never going to do any better. I have had modest success dating some pretty decent looking girls, but my wife is a stone kold 10. She’s dropped two kids and just crossed into her fourth decade and still has a – I spit you not – a six pack, and is a size 0-2. Given that she eats better than anyone I’ve ever met and loves yoga and running, I can only presume she is going to be exactly this gorgeous well after I have been returned to the earth. Katherine is an unambiguously awesome person; the most loving mother I could ever hope my children could have, and amazingly, good at everything. She’s won awards as both a writer and an advertising executive, modeled for Levis, run a sub-four-hour marathon, finished second in her class in college… and holds Masters Degrees in both Philosophy and Theoretical Physics. I don’t think it is sexist to observe how uncommon it is for a young girl to be completely driven and focused on math, science, and overall excellence at age seven… By my best guess Katherine is more a reason we have one of those than I am.
Sure, she likes to spend money… But luckily (and largely due to her continued support) we make a fair amount of money. All marriages have their ups and downs, trials and tribulations, but I can tell you that given what my little family has been through, she loves me completely and unswervingly and I could not have chosen a better partner. Her greatest quality today — among quite a few fine qualities of intelligence, good looks, and success-driven mindset — is her constant drive for self-improvement. Which is infectious. So in a masterstroke of gamesmanship and decisive bias for action… I had to put the platinum shackle on her before she figured it all out and married someone else! There is no doubt as to who got the better end of the deal.
Katherine had this awesome idea of getting married on 02/02/02, which was the six-month anniversary of our first date. It was also just an awesome day to get married from an aesthetic standpoint. If we didn’t get married then, we would have to get married on 03/03/03, 04/04/04… or like Thea Steele did, 10/10/10 (obviously copied me).
We decided to basically elope, shoestring it together, get married in our new apartment (which we moved into less than a week before 02/02/02) and all of that. We were just going to City Hall it, but 02/02/02 was a Saturday, meaning that City Hall wasn’t open; and we would have to find our own Justice of the Peace or whatever.
I used Google* to find ours and we ended up with this goofy lady with tons of hair who prayed over crystals and was also a part-time life coach or therapist of some kind. Her “office” was the lobby of an Upper East Side luxury hotel (she said “they had an understanding”) and the whole initial interview ended up exactly how you are picturing it in your head right now.
On the downside, getting married with very little notice, in your apartment, by the crystals healer you found on the Internet limits your guest list somewhat, so the birth of Team Filipino Dress Shirt would have to wait for some months. Katherine just had her superhot best friend, her sorta-sister (and that sister’s new husband and rugrats) on her side; I had my parents and kid sister, and in terms of friends, Jeff Wu, altran, Tuna, and John Shuler. So, super small, etc.
I mean there were countless adventures leading up to this date.
For example the previous month Katherine had the trial of meeting my mommy. She was basically terrified of my scary old mommy. Today mommy likes Katherine much more than she likes me (not uncommon amongst non-Josh Ravitz humans who know us both), but that was a stress that could only be alleviated by diamonds. Luckily (or probably unluckily) my parents’ hotel was near New York’s diamond district, and just walking by a showroom window tragically reversed our original decision of not getting a stupid engagement ring.
But she was just so cute bouncing up and down chanting “Ooh can I have one please?”
Or there was the first meal we shared in our new neighborhood. We walked by a local BBQ. Katherine grilled the waitress over every appetizer and side dish. “Is there pork in that? Well… Is there pork in that?” I don’t remember what she ordered but I can be reasonably sure there was no pork in it. So when I got my dinner she gave me the stinkeye, leered over the tops of her Lisa Loeb cat’s-eye glasses, and queried, “Aren’t you going to ask me if I want to try some?”
“Um,” I responded. “I would, but I am pretty sure there is pork in this.”
Or there was the Thursday before 02/02/02, my bachelor party, which – I don’t know how much better or not-better it was than April 1, 1999 – but I declared it the funnest night of my entire life. A cadre of mono-Magic players including Jon Becker – all the way up from Philadephia – Brook North (master of the tournament report), and the local members of Team Discovery Channel took me for an orgy of crackling pork butt, braised lamb shank, and assorted other prime, dead animals served with firecracker apple sauce (exactly what it sounds like).
Because New York is awesome like that, we came into our Round Two venue at the same time as Ice-T from Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. Brook went up to Ice-T, stuck out his hand with that friendly Southern boy man-shake of his, and said “Mr. T, great to meet you; I am a big fan of your work.”
I was at this point unused to the luxury that my friends were heaping on me.
“Never get divorced,” said Brook. “Because if you do, the party’s all on you.”
How to Grow Taller:
I have been trying to step up to this challenge for literally the last nine years. Katherine challenges me like no one else I’ve ever met.
When I talk about the circumstances surrounding the opening salvo of my marriage, listeners are often shocked. We knew each other for the blink of an eye. I really did hire some kind of crystals life coach off the Internet to legally staple us together. We got married in our apartment instead of a synagogue or whatever.
But you know what?
Do exactly what is right for you. Be brave. Take a stand and stand by what you’ve done.
The eleven-year-old version of me would be proud.
How to Grow Darker:
I wish I could tell you. But there is absolutely nothing that stems out of this seemingly-impulsive, best, decision I have ever made that would lead me to believe I could.
How to Get More Handsome:
This is a trick that I have picked up, but unfortunately it is ultimately pointless, like nipples on men, or for that matter, on Joel Shoemacher’s Batman costumes.
All you have to do is stand next to someone super good looking, and you automatically seem more handsome! It’s like it rubs off or something, or maybe actually good looking people have a halo of attractiveness you can share or whatever.
One weird side effect of isolated perceived possible increased attractiveness is that your life flashes into stark relief. Once upon a time I had a lot of women friends, some of them pretty cute. About five minutes after I met Katherine, they all disappeared without a wink, which I didn’t realize for years later.
Additionally Katherine basically jettisoned my entire wardrobe from before we got married (I used to have so many black tee shirts because instead of doing laundry, I would just buy more black tee shirts), and has re-made me in whatever image she thinks I should dress as.
So instead of black tee shirts I mostly have brown tee shirts (she assures me this is better with my coloring). And instead of lots of casual slacks from Banana Republic, I now have lots of Levis jeans. My daily uniform is usually a nice oxford shirt, a kicky tie she probably bought and certainly chose to go with the shirt, and Levis; in addition, I have a girl-like collection of shoes; more than my wife, in fact. I guess the sad part of that is that I almost always wear Crocs sandals in the summer and Adidas Sambas all the rest of the time.
I don’t know how effective this ultimately is, because even if I got infinitely more handsome, I get no utility out of it, on account of being stapled to Katherine in perpetuity.
In 1999 Dave Price told me that the line between his “friends” and his “Magic friends” had blurred almost to nothingness. At the time I still had girls bucketed in a different group, and even if I hung out with certain girls alongside Magician friends, I would still think of the girls one way and the Magicians another way.
Today I still hang out with people I know from Magic. I would wager that I spend more time talking to Brian David-Marshall and Patrick Chapin than anyone other than my wife. My groomsmen and bachelor party friends were all Magicicians. Today – almost ten years later – the social center of my week is Movie Klub, the stone nuts put together by Lan D. Ho at Jon Finkel’s apartment.
Who are some of the founding members? Jon’s Antarctica teammate Daniel O’Mahoney-Schwartz, troll-slaying Tom Martell, and secret MTGO grinder Webb Allen. An early irregular was – and this was amazing to me – Eric Tam, Canadian National Champion and alumnus of the Top 8 of Pro Tour One. Who did I bring in later? Luis Neiman (aka Luis not-Vargas), who himself brought in the first-ever StarCityGames.com Premium writer Mark Young to join the squad. Late Wednesday nights who am I hanging out with after Movie Klub? Tony “the Shark” Tsai and his lovely gf Hsiao (who isn’t a Magician but actually one of my ex-co-workers)!
Jamie Parke told me if I could guarantee we would just run Role Models every week (or at least switched over to Survivor Klub), he would join, too.
What a stack of misers! Might as well be a squad of Grand Prix grinders. But like, with jobs.
* This is a complete lie. It was 2001 and I used Yahoo. Don’t tell anyone.
December 1st, 2011 — Tall Dark and Handsome
Various parties have asked that I flesh this story out, so I will tell the official King James version (more or less).
I was having a bad day, but was in the Barnes & Noble on Union Square, New York, NY. Across a long aisle looking for an Oscar Wilde collection of fairy stories I spied a frankly gorgeous woman flipping through the pages of a children’s picture book. As is generally the case with men in these situations, I stared.
Now usually in one of these situations, the target of our gazing desires in question will go hide behind the nearest book shelf, shuffle off avoiding eye contact, or, depending on how unkempt you are, move to summon the local constabulary.
Instead this one looked me straight in the eye and said, “Hi, my name is Katherine.”
I was like “huh”?
“Hi, I said,” she said. “Katherine. My name is Katherine.”
She — this Katherine apparently — stuck out her hand, as a fella might.
Was she talking to me?
I looked over one shoulder, then the other.
Did I mention “huh”?
“Look,” she continued / concluded / commanded, “You wanna get a Starbucks?”
I finally realized she was attempting conversation with YT and responded, “Starbucks is like my favorite place.”
“How lucky,” she responded. “You get to see your favorite place on every street corner.”
We ended up going to Starbucks, having a famous time over iced teas, and then attempting to dine at Sushi Samba. I was pretty shocked we didn’t get in, despite the fact that Sushi Samba was an it-destination popularized by Sex in the City at that point, because I had gotten in the previous Thursday with a WAY less good looking date. Like WAY. Katherine and I ended up going to a little Chinese / sushi place by West Fourth Street. At the end of a few plates of sashimi, we agreed to cancel our other dates.
She was like, “What about tomorrow?”
I was like “I have plans.” (I had plans to hang out with altran… We lived together but at this point hadn’t been very good at cultivating our once roaring bromance).
She was like, “Okay. How about Saturday?”
I didn’t tell her that I had a PTQ, but that was the reason I turned her down.
I was like “How about Sunday?”
Starting that Sunday, we have spent time apart from each other only due to work-related travel (which, in my case, can probably includes Magic: The Gathering tournaments and appearances).
How to Grow Taller:
Stand up for yourself. I had a date at 11am with Katherine that following Sunday, but called my Mommy before I left Brooklyn.
“So… I pretty much met the girl I am going to marry.”
My mother asked me if I had gotten her pregnant.
“You are a doctor, Mom! I met her three days ago, so even if I had gotten her pregnant, I wouldn’t know. Also I wouldn’t have told you.”
Talk to your father!
My Dad was pretty cool with it.
How to Grow Darker:
Go ahead and look.
Look. Stare even.
Is this terrible advice?
BDM recently told me I am maximally inappropriate during essentially all dealings with women. I was like “Yeah, name who,” and he was like “Lauren Lee.”
“She doesn’t care,” ran BDM; “but you’re still inappropriate.”
What is a LOL to YT is that I was way worse when I was younger. Like unreal worse. At 18 I was coming off of four years at all-boys school, so I had essentially no frame of reference in dealing with any girls I didn’t already know. The only way I knew how to make them notice me was being mean to them in public and pouring salt all over their food.
The odd thing is that most of the women I have IRL interactions with basically love me. I am hilarious. Chats with me – enthusiastic chats, at least – are high value, especially when I am teaching something or I am talking about something I am interested in or at least have an opinion on (which is like everything).
I would suggest becoming hilarious, knowledgeable, or otherwise high value. Did you notice the first interplay between K and YT? She asked me for a Starbucks, and we engaged in a super duper post-modern moment of banter.
- Her: You wanna get some Starbucks?
- Me: Starbucks is like my favorite place.
- Her again: How lucky. You get to see your favorite place on every street corner.
What can girls learn?
In a decidedly un-darker / rather counter-darker sense, I would suggest showing value of a different sort. Katherine’s quick wit immediately earned my respect, which colored the next ten years of dealings between the two of us. For instance:
Early in our dating I was doing something annoying (I don’t remember what, and it doesn’t matter) and she threatened to pour her drink on my head if I didn’t stop. I didn’t stop.
And though I was sitting on her couch, watching her HBO, she calmly got up, poured her drink on my head, and walked to the kitchen for a refill.
She poured her drink on my head.
Katherine was ruthlessly awesome ten years ago and is even more so today.
How to Get More Handsome:
I gotta say: There is nothing more attractive, apparently, than already having someone.
As you know, I was out with altran that next night, and K wasn’t even my official girlfriend yet (but I knew in my heart she was). I was in the West Village, and inexplicably, I caught countless superhot hotties checking me out. I had spent quite a bit of my twenties trying to get superhot hotties to notice me at all, but my success was… Not that successful for the most part. But that night, over and over, had me wondering if I had been missing something all this time.
Via trickery, salesmanship, wordplay, sustained charisma, and a willingness to invest, I had by that point proven capable of making girls like me back… But that usually took work.
This, on balance, was unprecedented. I was pretty sure I could have cold opened on most of them and gotten a number or even instant date. Unfortunately (rather, fortunately) I was already in love, so I spent the evening arm-in-arm, in the West Village, skipping down the street (you read that right, “skipping”) with another dude (‘cause mise).
… So of course I ran into one of my kid sister’s inner circle, from back home in Cleveland while skipping around a brownstone corner locked arms with fella. In the West Village. When I say “ran into” I mean “literally collided with,” like on a sitcom.
Charlie Brown… Will you never win?
Homework – I have never tried this, and to be fair, it has never occurred to me despite having seen the movies Can’t Buy Me Love and Easy A, but why don’t you try intersecting August 1994 and August 2001 superpowers and just declare yourself as having an HB10 girlfriend? If science is any indicator, your con-fusion of frame, reality control, and willpower will trick every girl in every direction into finding you “taken” and therefore increasingly attractive when they wouldn’t normally ever talk to you. Try it and report back!
Being with Katherine radically pruned my tournament attendance.
I used to game, like constantly.
Now if I get one PTQ a season that is probably above average. However, my overall contentedness in life, and how successful I am at being a human being has skyrocketed to such a degree that there has been more than enough of a tradeoff.
That said, I scored my best PT finish – 17th place – within one month of meeting her; and numerous PTQ wins and money finishes throughout 2001 and 2002.
By 2004 I was about to have my first child.
Something, the first of many somethings, changed in me right before Bella appeared. I got serious about my writing, began my run on what would become DailyMTG, and forged what can only be considered almost any Magic writer’s finest run on a Website, over on StarCityGames.com with “Sullivan, Nimble Mongoose, and Sullivan”.
Not too long ago Teddy Card Game wrote me a series of scathing Tweets and emails – not to be mean, and they are none of your business – but they got me thinking. Ted has on a couple of occasions compared the now-me unfavorably to the 2004 or so version of me (when he was my editor). If anything I was much more motivated by money back then. I actually needed the money to pay for my apartment and take care of my family.
Now I care about the money only insofar as we are keeping score. We are all gamers and of course I am intent on winning. I approach writing like a job because the sites that pay me to write for them rely on me; I am what you call “a professional” … I do it for the money from that sense, but I do this for the love, bro; especially as detailed in section VII.