Entries from January 2011 ↓

Cautiously Whelmed by Thrun, the Last Troll


Thrun, the Last Troll :: Sun Titan :: The Rock
Young Justice :: Tom Martell :: … and Thrun, the Last Troll

If you watched the first couple of episodes of the new “Young Justice” cartoon, you know that Dick Grayson is wondering why no one is just whelmed. First Mr. Freeze is underwhelmed at Robin coming after him; then the future Young Justice kiddies are overwhelmed at the majesty of entering the Hall of Justice and seeing the gigantic statues of the League founders. Underwhelmed… overwhelmed… surely you grok at this point.

But as for Thrun, the Last Troll… I think I may fulfill Robin’s requested measure of whelmed-ness.

Thrun, the Last Troll

First, let me tell you a story.

Pro Tour LA (Antoine’s)… I am 1-0 after a haymaker-after-haymaker-exchanging brawl with Dragonstorm.

Second round Feature Match against Hall of Famer-to-be Raphael Levy. Raph was on B/G beatdown and I was playing B/W cycling. Sadly, the format was Extended. I felt like I had a heavy absolute advantage in the matchup with lots of creatures elimination and sweepers, but Raph had the edge in speed and skill, so I had relatively little margin for error. We split the first two games and were deep in the third.

Unsurprisingly, Levy has the early lead but I battle back with a lot of cycling… Undead Gladiator helping me hit my land drops and relevant removal spells; Eternal Dragon fueling Undead Gladiator (and obviously helping me hit my land drops). I get Raph to no cards in hand and tap for an Eternal Dragon to hold off his squad (headlined by a Troll Ascetic).

He topdecks Putrefy and smashes.

Raph’s mid-game topdecks are pretty lame, as he can basically draw Birds of Paradise and Llanowar Elves… and does.

I manage my life total and figure out how I am going to win. I need to get a little bit up in cards (Eternal Dragon for that), then use the bonus to bring back Undead Gladiator (cheaper to play), and chump his Troll for a couple of turns until I can play two Eternal Dragons and start attacking with one of them. Three turn clock, max, once those paps are online.

My plan is to just cycle up lands and pitch them into Gladiators. I have 10+ lands in play but I still need a couple more to be able to re-buy, chump, other re-buy, and hit double Dragons; I should have just enough cards to keep chumping, provided Levy doesn’t play another relevant threats (that is, something big enough to knock over a Dragon) in the next couple of turns. Over the course, Raph draws another Putrefy to get damage in through a Dragon, but I think I am okay (if armed with relatively little margin for error).

Then tragedy strikes.

I draw Haunting Echoes.

“Ooh,” I think. “New plan!”

I mean “maybe” new plan, right? New-ish. I can pitch a Haunting Echoes for an Undead Gladiator as easily as I can discard a Plains. Plus, if I topdeck a Wrath of God I can just go for the throat and win on the spot. So I hold Haunting Echoes as my card for the turn upon starting to set up my game plan.

Remember how Raph was topdecking irrelevant Birds of Paradise? Amazingly you can convert one of those into the Flashback on a Cabal Therapy. Sure, Raph missed the front side (I mean who else in this tournament was playing Eternal Dragon, Undead Gladiator, and Skeletal Scrying)… But the second time around?

Goodbye Haunting Echoes.

So now I no longer have the card I need for next turn’s Gladiator re-buy as I set up another Eternal Dragon. Had I held a Plains instead, he wouldn’t have been able to strip me of the required Gladiator re-buy. Plus, Raph has a Sword of Fire and Ice on his Troll Ascetic, so when I have to block with my Eternal Dragon, he flaps his wings sloppily into ye olde graveyard.

Uh-oh about that new plan.

Now I really have to mise up a new plan.

I vigorously cycle on my upkeep, needing Wrath of God. Then, with six maan remaining, Undead Gladiator answers my call.

Akroma’s Vengeance!

I have just enough to take out Levy’s Sword, plus sweep all his irrelevant little dudes alongside his Troll Ascetic.

I sit back in my chair, thanking God and library manipulation for my luck.

“Um… Regenerate?”


No! Stupid Troll Ascetic!

Raph swings in for the kill.

The real story here is how I should have played with focus and follow through, but the immediate issue for the present case is that Trolls regenerate.

Thrun, the Last Troll is Troll Ascetic, ostensibly improved.

If the match were taking place in the present, I wouldn’t even have been able to cycle into Wrath of God for the win; because now Wrath of God — that is Day of Judgment — lets Trolls regenerate out.

The fact is, there are relatively few answers given our current Standard framework for Thrun. You can’t point a Mana Leak at it, and — at least the turn after the turn it hits — Thrun is difficult to remove with spells. Earlier this week I expressed underwhelmed-ness to some friends RE: Thrun… Sure, you can’t target him — but I kept forgetting that on top of all that other text, on top of the pretty resilient body, the last Troll also regenerates.

Thrun, the Last Troll is reminiscent of Troll Ascetic, with an additional layer of defense against Blue permission spells. It costs one additional mana but gains hugely in power and toughness; a 4/4 for four mana considered highly efficient given the presence of three relevant abilities. The second one is in particular worth a mention given that Thrun should be a heck of a swordsman. If you improve it just a little bit via equipment, Thrun jumps the power curve more than most any other creature in Standard, combining superior size with essentially extraordinary resilience. Answering Thrun will often be a test balancing patience and timing.

I think Thrun is exactly as good as a creature has to be to be seriously considered at four. Its perceived over-the-top-ness in terms of power level relative to curve point is essentially necessary considering it is actually competing with cards like Oracle of Mul Daya or Garruk Wildspeaker, rather than combat creatures for space (given the marketplace).

My question, though, aesthetically… What is Tom Martell going to do in a world with no more Trolls?

Where can I see Thrun, the Last Troll fitting in?
I think that Thrun, the Last Troll will be very Tarmogoyf-ish… Played heavily by decks that capable of casting it, but not played everywhere. For example, Tarmogoyf was often passed over in more controlling versions of The Rock; it was more desirable for them to play Sakura-Tribe Elder and Kokusho the Evening Star, rather than the uber-two. Great card, cross-deck Staple… But not everywhere-played.

Now obviously the decks that can — or are willing to — pay 2GG for a creature are far less common than those that can pay 1G for probably a larger creature. That will cut into Thrun’s market share, but it will still probably be everywhere-played. I don’t know that Eldrazi Ramp decks would play Thrun, even though they can; same reason Death Cloud The Rock didn’t play Tarmogoyf. Eldrazi Green, though? Probably. Aggressive two-color decks with GG capabilities will likely make room in the curve, though it is unclear whether Thun gets played over, say, a Vengevine. My intuition is that decks that want a Vengevine will still want a Vengevine, but that there can be decks that want both; say… six fours.

The biggest question mark around Thrun (I mean other than what Tom is going to do with his time) is around its cost. It’s a bit of a sell, especially given its initial non-invulnerability. Is Thrun better than Vengevine? Do you play more fours? How does it intersect relative to Baneslayer Angel? A Titan? The answers are not obvious and I don’t know that the right deck yet exists.

Snap Judgment Rating – Staple (low, Standard; Role Player – low elsewhere)


Currently Reading: What Every BODY is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Speed-Reading People

PS For more somewhat conflicted thoughts on mid-range-ness, consider Terrified of Sun Titan

Week-style TeeVee Update


I like television!

Before we continue, I updated the recent post RE: Consecrated Sphinx. Nico Boshoff from ye olde Unstoppable Twitter Army threw me a great idea combining the [+2} ability on Jace Beleren with the mise-tacular misings of Consecrated Sphinx, which I think upgrades the 4/6 quite a bit.

But enough about Magic: The Gathering.

“Big Love” is back. However I did not realize that until this AM, taking Bella to her first grownup karate class. Ergo I have to catch up on that one before tomorrow night’s ep.

“Episodes” has been entertaining so far. There are multiple layers of “fish out of water” (sophisticated British writing couple in cutthroat LA, dopey Joey from “Friends” in sophisticated British boarding school comedy) going on that play together well. Not my favorite show or anything, but fun to watch and I don’t plan on missing any.

Last season was the best so far for “Californication” … This season hasn’t really maintained the quality so far. It is still event tv for me, but — I almost can’t believe I am saying this — it’s semi-tiresome that Hank just mono-nails whatever hot woman happens to walk by, regardless of age or circumstance.

I don’t remember what happened on “How I Met Your Mother” and the only thing I can remember from the return of “House” is that the guy who played Shaggy was the guest star.

“V” is sitting on DVR. I don’t remember what I was doing on Tuesday but probably there was a tv conflict with Nintendo Wii usage. Basically we figured out how to set up our Wii to run Netflix streaming, which is not actually an upgrade relative to the iMac (or for that matter the Air I am typing this blog post on), but there is just something symmetrical about watching television on your actual television. In terms of Netflix streaming, Katherine has been burning through seasons of “Bones” and I have been spending my late nights writing to the battle cries of blood-soaked “Spartacus: Blood and Sand”.

“Spartacus: Blood and Sand” is quite simply like nothing else on television. It is like “Rome” to the nth power. All the stuff that was over the top about “Rome” … the idea that someone might be crucified — motherloving crucified — for slighting his commanding officer is amplified to someone actually getting crucified (after other nasty stuff has already happened to him). It is bloody like nothing I have ever seen on the small screen (basically nonstop dismemberments), and the show boasts more nudity — male and female both — than “Californication” does. I can’t stop watching it.

For those of you who don’t know, the “Spartacus” franchise is in trouble. The star was diagnosed with cancer in between the first season (the one I am watching now) and the second; so the second was replaced by “Spartacus: Gods of the Arena”, a six-episode prequel series focusing on other characters (including my favorite, onetime Xena and Cylon, Lucy Lawless)… that doesn’t actually feature the character Spartacus himself. It is unclear if there will ever be a third season (second season?) at all.

Oh, I have a fair number of girlfriends (no, not that kind of girlfriend) who think — or at least used to think — that the dudes in The 300 were really built like that. The gladiators on “Spartacus: Blood and Sand” are all musclebound and running around half-naked, slashing each other for 42 minutes at a time; I mean, if you’re into that kind of stuff.

Wednesday is “Top Chef: All Stars” day, and you know what that means… Update to Top Chef Draft!

Skip ahead if you fear a spoiler.

This space intentionally left blank.


Okay! Warnings over!

This week  was nearly optimal for the home team. A Quickfire win by Filipino Dale was yet another one point boon for Phil Napoli. Good lord Phil’s draft is looking good right now. He has Angelo (probably the 2d most favored chef in the competition), Mike Isabella (meaning just another competitor to help out points-wise), and motherloving Filipino Dale. Filipino Dale went fifteenth pick out of sixteen, and has already solo-crushed multiple Elimination Challenges.

I came off best on the week, with three points over Phil’s two points, because all three of my remaining horses — Tre, Carla, and Fabio — were in the winners’ circle, though overall winner was Richard (probably the most highly favored chef, and a member of Luis’s stable). Megan took a dagger with the loss of Marcel, her first pick (+9 points), but I felt awfully justified in not taking him at that point… despite the fact that my own first pick left the show two weeks ago.

Current standings:

  • YT – 1
  • Phil 1
  • Luis 17
  • Megan 31

Lots of stuff on Thursday to talk about, in particular “30 Rock” moving to head-to-head time slot battle against “The Mentalist” (Katherine says she watched “The Mentalist” this week “while eating fiber” if you grok), but the tops has to be the return of “Parks and Recreation” mid-season.

I already liked “Parks and Recreation” but I loved the reference to UCLA coach John Wooden during the basketball rivalry section, specifically the great basketball coach’s Pyramid of Success. Many of you have no idea what I am talking about. I don’t care.


Osyp Lebedowicz posted The New York Times posting the Swanson Pyramid of Greatness. Not what the great coach Wooden used to command his mastery of basketball, of course, but well worth the LOL.

Click the Swanson Pyramid of Greatness image for full size.

“Young Justice” fell like a stone this week.

Somehow, after the awesome two-part opener, the third episode managed to lapse severely in terms of animation and color quality… The story was only okay… But at least the question I had RE: Speedy / Red Arrow was answered… dude has no interest in joining up.

So… Get it while you still can:

Every time I embed, say, the best ever episode of “Doctor Who” or the entirety of The Hobbit, The Man comes down with the ban-hammer. But until that happens, you can check these out.

That’s it for now!


Some Thoughts on Consecrated Sphinx

Consecrated Sphinx

My general dislike of certain Sphinxes (Sphinx of Jwar Isle) and approval of other Sphinxes (Sphinx of Lost Truths) is fairly well known to readers of this blog.

With Consecrated Sphinx we have yet another Sphinx that I like better than Sphinx of Jwar Isle.

What is so cool about Consecrated Sphinx?

Its size isn’t remarkable for a modern Magical creature / fantastic beast / &c. A 4/6 is about as good as a 5/5… A turn off in terms of racing, but 5/5s and 4/6s bounce off of each other like superballs… We certainly can’t say that a 5/5 is strictly better than a 4/6 or vice versa. Mahamoti Djinn — once a premiere Big Blue flyer — was 5/6 for six, a bit better than Consecrated Sphinx’s 4/6… but then against Mahamoti Djinn lacked Consecrated Sphinx’s text box.

So how about that text box?

You tap out for Consecrated Sphinx; ka-boom… you draw two cards. (Pretty much.) You play a high toughness creature that probably isn’t going anywhere; your opponent untaps and draws the next turn: there are your two.

I mean if your opponent gets another draw, that’s going to be fantastic!

The first super cool thing I thought of when considering this card was Jace, the Mind Sculptor. I was like “how cool will it be to draw six cards?” Then I realized no one in his right mind would ever Brainstorm with Consecrated Sphinx in play. One card for six? That only happens in the movies.

Where can I see Consecrated Sphinx fitting in?

Obviously some kind of Blue control in Standard… Pretty much the only option. The issue here is that the six is extraordinarily competitive right now; there are Titans aplenty depending on whether the deck in question wants Frost Titan or one of the other Titans. Plus, there is Wurmcoil Engine, which seems like it will pick up in Standard popularity on the coattails of Treasure Mage. Drawing cards is super cool and all… I just don’t know if it will be good enough given the level of competition at the six.

The question is ultimately going to be about cards in hand v. battlefield, based on the metagame. When we were innovating tap-out in 2005, our desire was 100% driven by battlefield considerations. Keiga was a nightmare to get through, Meloku impregnable. Meloku in particular could close out games like lightning. I don’t get that read from Consecrated Sphinx… Even its 4/6 stats (already addressed) speak to a bit of a disconnect RE: this value.

However, it is possible that, given the grinding Planeswalkers and two-for-one-tastic cards, from Lead the Stampede to Treasure Mage, we are going to find ourselves in a Standard dominated by card advantage. If that is the case, by all means Consecrated Sphinx might be a hell of a grinder.

But it’s like Tsuyoshi used to say – “Depends on the metagame.”

Snap judgment rating – Role Player


This came in via beloved Unstoppable Twitter Army:

Great idea from Nico! Jace Beleren actually makes Consecrated Sphinx a good deal better than I originally thought. Provided you have battlefield control for the creatures that are too big for it to battle straight up, I think this may end up a premiere six.

Still sub-Staple IMO, but we’ll see.


Review – Ursula

“Ursula” was my first exposure to the work of Brazilian twins and artists Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba.

I still don’t get how they are twin brothers and have different last names, but I don’t particularly care as much as I like their art. Moon and Ba often collaborate on single projects (at least up until “Smoke and Guns” which I intend to review soon); and on Ursula they actually alternate pages, each doing a couple at a time.

While the styles page-to-page aren’t identical (and you can often find an Easter Egg signature by the brother who did a particular page), the art blends together; if not seamlessly, so well that the differences don’t bother you. I know that 1) not only have I read “Ursula” at least a dozen times and I still don’t know who did which page most of the time, but 2) I became so addicted to Moon and Ba after reading “Ursula” that I will basically buy any project that either brother does, almost unconditionally.

It started with “Smoke and Guns” but I have “Casanova” (which I didn’t like as much, honestly), but “The Umbrella Academy” and its sequel by My Chemical Romance’s Gerard Way.

I don’t want to say it’s a “Latin American” sensibility, even though the most obvious comparison to the twins would be Eisner Award winner Eduardo Risso of “100 Bullets” … Risso is Argentine and whereas Moon and Ba are Brazilian. However it is probably accurate to say that they are all cartoonists rather than what we would think of as mainstream “comic book” artists. All of them are superb storytellers that utilize exaggerated expression, heavily stylized figures, and heavy — but slick — ink work.

It’s hard to describe just what makes the art by Moon and Ba so addictive, so I thought that I would show it to you; please forgive the image quality… I took the pics with my dumb Palm Pre, and they really don’t do the brothers’ art justice.

One of the things I love about this book is how varied the art is. Here is a “typical” — yet anything but typical, in terms of skill level — page, I think by Ba. Notice how he uses “mere” black ink so many different ways on one page: Loose lines suggesting the weathered face of Miro’s father; slick shadows across Miro’s face or even the stone railing behind the conversing King and Prince; solid, shaped, black space for hair; and more than any of these, incredible brush work telling us so much — using so little — for the pair’s fur coats:

And from Moon:

This page, existing in the dreamscape of Ursula’s magical imagination, is reminiscent of Bill Watterson on a Sunday.

In the context of “Ursula”, it all makes sense, all works together, without a drop of red, green, or blue.

So what is “Ursula” about?

Well, the A+ grade from Variety so proudly boasted on the cover says it is…

A strange and beautiful emotional journey into the heart of love, A+

My translation: Fuck if I know.

“Ursula” is a mix of fairy tale, magical realism, and window into the minds — quite literally — of the creative twins. I don’t know if I “get it” get it, but I have still read the tiny graphic novel three times this week alone. To me it is mostly about the awesome art; which, I have tried to make clear to you, is awesome.

Like I said, after reading this the first time, I became completely addicted to Moon and Ba, buy everything they draw, &c.

The cover price on “Ursula” is $9.95, but Amazon has new copies at less than $6 the last I checked. Per any ads from here to there, I may earn like $.24 if you make a purchase. Honestly I’d rather you support your local comic book store; regardless Moon & Ba receive my highest possible recommendation.


Five With Five With Flores Friday – TeeVee [and] Everything

Ironic note: Yes, I know this is actually being published on a Saturday 🙁


Star City Games Questions :: Top Chef Draft :: The Cape
Young Justice, episode 2 :: P!nk’s new video :: … you know, “everything”

ONE – Star City Games Questions

Most of you probably know that I started writing for Star City Premium [again] last week. Now I am going to answer all the questions you asked around this possibly (?) surprising (?) return.

yes, i have a question: why did you take so long to come back? 🙂

Unfortunately, I am not sure how to answer this question. I mean, what is “so long” in this context? If you want to submit a follow up question, I will try harder?

Err… I do everything my wife says.

Though I understand your motivations, but this marks the end of Michael J Free-ness! 🙁

It absolutely does not mark the end of Michael J Free-ness. I still write Top Decks every week on DailyMTG; and I think I’ve updated this blog more this week than I have in certain months!

They better have backed up a truck.

Can you give us an idea of how long the contract lasts so that we can know which subscription to sign up for.

I left premium with you and now will sign up as they got you back.

There is no specific termination date to my writing at Star City, so I can’t tell you to only buy such-and-such package if your interest in Premium tracks only to my being there. I can tell you that I have planned about 20 pieces over the next two months, as well as another as-yet unannounced large-scale project (um… oops?) 🙂

Damn, does this mean I have to start getting SCG Premium again? Also, what does this mean about TCGPlayer? Are you writing 2-3 articles per week plus making videos?

I am doing about 10 total pieces on Star City this month and next (articles and videos), plus Top Decks. I am not currently writing at TCGPlayer. We haven’t plotted out what I will be doing in March yet, but I would expect to still be at SCG then 🙂

It’s all a trick. Really it’s BELLA under contract to SCG now, not Mike

This isn’t a question. Think “Jeopardy”.

I have a question, when are you sending me Blightning? :p

Um, you have my phone number.

[From Twitter] I have a question. Why did you make me spend money again?! Damn yooou! Should @SteveSadin share some blame?

[Separately, here on the blog]I think I have a real question. In your explanation article, you talk about How to mashup. My question is – Why mashup (in the abstract)?

Also (there’s always more <_<) specific to the decks involved with the UW Mashup – What does mashing up the two decks in question gain rather than porting them to current extended? Did you prior/have you since tried extended versions of those decks, and if not do you have any gut feelings as to how they would go?

[Twitter question] – Yes, you have to. It is required. On the check you send, write “Michael J. Flores” on the “memo” line.

[Regular questions] – A couple of reasons… 1) Opponents are more likely to make mistakes when playing against mashups because they don’t anticipate the other awesome thing you are going to do when they put resources towards the first awesome thing, 2) different decks have different matchup advantages in the context of a metagame and mashup decks can often take advantage of multiple predator positions, and 3) the cost is relatively low in many cases, certainly in this one.

TWO – Top Chef Draft

Sick week for the home team on the Top Chef front. For those of you following at home, this is how the draft went:

This week my horse Carla took down the elimination challenge for (-2) points and I got an extra (-1) from Tre’s appearance in the winners’ circle.

It was a double elimination week, so double dagger for Luis (Tiffani) and Megan (Jamie… who was more than due to go).

Current standings:

  1. YT: 2
  2. Phil: 3
  3. Luis: 20
  4. Megan: 23

I am once again in the lead, but the long odds have to be on Phil right now… He has Angelo (one of the two favorites) and Filipino Dale (a surprise monster this season). Many pundits probably have Megan more likely to win than YT (she has Marcel, who can win) when I lost my first pick last week… But for now, I’ll enjoy my lead 🙂

THREE – The Cape

From BDM’s Twitter feed / Facebook:

The Cape was not good.

I don’t think it’s as bad as BDM apparently does, but I think his 140-character analysis is pretty hilarious.

The Cape is full of ludicrous comic book cliches. I would tell you some of them but you would never believe me. Okay, you twisted my arm / pulled my leg. The hero is an ex-cop on the run after being framed for being — you guessed it — a supervillain mastermind… by the actual supervillain mastermind (because, you know… cops are fierce fighters adjacent to hand-to-hand vigilantes on the metagame clock of “what to do on a Saturday night”).

He is recruited by a carnival of crime (btw there is such a thing in the Marvel universe as the Circus of Crime), who taps him (as a former police officer) to pull of some, you know crimes [I didn’t really understand this part, but I was playing MTGO at the time]. Then, inexplicably they turn good, start risking their lives for his quest to redeem himself and unseat the supervillain mastermind, and, you know, train him to be a superhero.

Two paragraphs ago I said The Cape is full of comic book cliches; what I mean was just cliches. The supervillain mastermind is the boss of a security firm that is privatizing the police force. So it is also a diatribe against privatization.  Because, you know, companies are bad. Or something.

Did I mention the show isn’t good?

Yeah, I’ll probably watch the show until it gets canceled around ep four or whatever; but don’t expect me to like it.

FOUR – Young Justice, episode 2

I liked it!

The first episode ended with our heroes being decked by a then-enslaved Superboy. Predictably (if only from the promo art), Superboy turns face, frees Robin, Kid Flash, and Aqualad, and the four go on to found the as-yet-unnamed [on-screen] squad of Young Justice.

At the end of the episode they are joined by the uber-cute Miss Martian, shape-shifting “niece” of the Justice League’s Oreo-addicted JJ. So at this point they are  just missing the female archer shown in much of the promo art. I don’t consider any of this spoiler-iffic as the first two eps are just a “gathering of eagles” and that you could imagine into place by watching a commercial.

Dissatisfying plot points:

  • Speaking of archers… I would have liked to see some on-screen attention to getting Speedy / Red Arrow [back]. What? Does Robin not have his cell phone number?
  • Annoying – Cadmus has Robin, Aqualad, and Kid Flash tied up. I am not sure Kid Flash even has a secret identity, but Dick Grayson’s real name would be at a premium… But Robin still has his domino mask on while shackled. Not only that, but they leave him his utility belt, lock picks, holographic iPads or whatever… Everything he would need to bust out (which he does).

What I loved: My favorite character is Aqualad. I talked about him in the last post, and I like him even more now. They haven’t explained his water manipulation or electric eel powers on-screen yet, but I like how he uses them in the battles!

Old buddy Marc Aquino pointed out that there is an all-new Aqualad in the DC Universe that was recently introduced in Brightest Day (I obviously wasn’t aware). The Young Justice Aqualad seems to be based on that cat, instead of the original:

The new DC Universe Aqualad character.

Overall, loved Young Justice and plan on watching every ep ever… With Clark and Bella of course.

FIVE – P!nk’s New Video

A lot of you cats know who Bella Flores is. For example you have seen this video:

Now because Bella loves Batman more than some of her own family members, wants to major in “fighting badguys” in school, and has deep interests that include karate, chess, and Sorin Markov, lots of peeps on the outside think that I have exerted some kind of undue influence on her young opinions.

The truth is, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Bella has a strong affinity with… understanding things. About three years ago, we let her use the computer to look at like Mickey Mouse Club videos on a Disney website. Despite being three and (at least as far as we knew) incapable of reading, Bella successfully navigated to the [more interesting] Batman- and Power Rangers-themed action video games that were also present on Disney properties.

Power Rangers was her gateway drug, but now Bella likes heroes the max.

So in terms of my being an undue influence on her… not true. In fact, she is more of an influence on me than you might expect. P!nk is Bella’s favorite artist (primarily due to hit “So What”), and because she tends to like stuff I like, I decided to try stuff she likes…

… which is how we are concluding with P!nk’s new vid. It is my early pick for video of the year (last year’s nod would have gone to “Telephone” by Lada Gaga + Beyonce). Enjoy!

“Raise Your Glass” by P!nk

This is a video of memorable, somewhat shocking, and generally effed-up visual images; my personal fave (I don’t know if the word “fave” actually applies here) is at about 1:11.

That’s it!


Young Justice – First Impressions


This review post pertains to the new Young Justice show on Cartoon Network rather than the comic book of the same name, and “Independence Day Part 1” in specific.

Commenting on last week’s post There is Nothing on TV, jmdjr — correctly drawing on previous posts where I had written about mostly watching Cartoon Network on Friday nights — pointed out the premiere of Young Justice. So you have jmdjr (at least in part) to thank for this review.

In the opening scene of “Independence Day Part 1” we see Mister Freeze attacking families a-picnic. Freeze is the first of four different cold-themed villains quashed by four different superhero duos… Flash and Kid Flash over Captain Cold, Batman and Robin over Mister Freeze, Green Arrow and Speedy  Red Arrow over Icicle, and Aquaman and a re-imagined Aqualad (see below) over Killer Frost. All four young heroes express the desire to end their fights quickly because “today’s the day”.

Everyone arrives at the Hall of Justice (very “Superfriends” if you grok), with Robin, Speedy, Aqualad, and Kid Flash being given access to the gym, kitchen, and library… but none of the real Justice League resources; in fact, there are tourists looking down into the library as the four kid heroes are supposedly given increased Justice League access. The conflict begins as Speedy expresses dissatisfaction and walks out. Then the stuff starts.

Nostalgia Alert: Flash and Kid Flash — the super speed duo — are the last to arrive at the Hall of Justice.

Poor Kid Flash: No one seems to know his name. Is it “Flash Boy”? At one point there is a hilarious moment where a civilian bystander asks if he is Speedy, remarking that “it makes no sense” that Speedy is Green Arrow’s sidekick.

Young Justice — at least based on the first episode — is simply awesome. I already like it more than Ben 10, and I like Ben 10 more than Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Batman: The Brave and the Bold. It is written by Greg Weisman, the genius behind Disney’s Gargoyles, and you can see Weisman’s able hand in the combination of attention to detail, humor, world building, and just plain good writing. While lots of the Cartoon Network shows are worth watching, Young Justice is both well written (again going from just the first episode), and absolutely gorgeous.

Often you will see superior character models on the animated versions of characters over the comics versions. Consider the model of Triplicate Girl from the too-short-lived Legion of Super-Heroes:

These two images show Triplicate Girl in “three bodies” form. Notice how — in addition to the cute miniskirt uniform — good the animated version’s model is in terms of carrying her three colors across the three bodies. The elements play effectively together when she is in unified “one body” form as well:

All three bodies’ colors are represented when she is all together; we even see elements of the different girls’ hair… But it all works and fits together, resulting in a superior superhero uniform!

Contrast that to the Zero Hour-era Triplicate Girl / Triad uniform (I think of the Zero Hour reboot as “my” Legion BTW):

Despite having Adam Hughes — the best of the “babe” artists — on this illustration, we see a distinct lack of playfulness and life to Triplicate Girl’s uniform, hair style, or overall model. It’s just not as fun and doesn’t work together as well. To be fair, Hughes shows a wicked emotional range here… But that has no bearing on Triplicate Girl’s model / uniform.

* Before we continue, I obviously stole those stills from a Triplicate Girl-themed YouTube video. If you want to watch the whole thing, here ya go:

As I said, it’s not uncommon. Barbara Gordon’s uniform on The Batman was better than either of her uniforms from the Batman: The Animated Series or Gotham Knights eras; certainly better than her actual DC Comics uniform pre-The Killing Joke. The reason I bring this up is that the re-imagined animated Aqualad from Young Justice is another great example. He is just great.

Check out Aqualad’s uniform design. His shirt is very reminiscent of a wakeboarder’s. He is an aquatic hero, so that makes sense. The thing that really got me, though, is the fact that he isn’t wearing any shoes. Taken as a still this fact might not be that striking, but believe me, in the context of the television show — especially when Aqualad was brawling — the absence of shoes served as a cool contrast to, say, Robin’s chunky boots… and just looked cool.

As a point of contrast, this is what Aqualad is “supposed” to look like:

As you can see, the artists working on Young Justice were able to pay tribute to Aqualad’s original color scheme while updating the costume itself to seem more aquatic-appropriate… Simultaneously making the hero look not at all like a ridiculous water clown.

Overall, the art / animation was great; which I think was a big reason why I like it best amongst the Cartoon Network options right now. I don’t know that much about anime, but it had a very “good anime” feel and color palette, without making the heroes look Japanese (which would have been out of place for these characters).

I mentioned before that I admired Weisman’s attention to detail. There were all kinds of Easter Eggs and mini-puzzles in the episode that can enrich your viewing of it if you pay attention. Just one example: The name of the episode is Independence Day. The opening shot was of Mister Freeze attacking a picnic area where families were cooking hot dogs at (presumably) a public grill. Can we figure out what day it is?

Trivia Question: Can you figure out on what day Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” occurs?

Each Justice League member has a number; for example Batman is designated 02 and Red Tornado is designated 16. Is this indicative of their order in joining the League? Who is 01?

Neither of these points actually has to do with the plot of the episode, and neither deciding that the opener takes place on July 4, nor guessing that Superman is League member 01 is required to enjoy the 22 minutes of animated action… But thinking about these things was fun for me, and the opportunity to think about these things seems to indicate that Weisman was thinking about them while he wrote it.

Overall, I absolutely loved it and can’t wait for the next episode. I’ve actually already seen “Independence Day Part 1” three or four times, and I anticipate watching it again tomorrow.

This blog post has lots of images and videos already… so what’s one more? This is a vid I found on the WB where some of Young Justice’s creators talk about the show, characters, and development. Worth the watch IMO.


Stuff to Watch (in the theater) – 2011

2011 looks like it is going to be a big year for movies; the kind of movies that get geek blood pumping, especially comic book fans. Here’s my initial overview of stuff to watch.


“The Green Hornet”

I mean I am all for running any and all superhero / comic book-type adaptations, but this one just seems even awesomer than usual. I don’t remember the last movie I saw featuring Cameron Diaz, but I think I’ve at least medium-liked everything I’ve ever seen starring Seth Rogen.

But what really put this one on the list for me was this story from The New York Times RE: director Michel Gondry:

But the director was unable to work with Nicolas Cage, the film’s original villain. For reasons known only to him, he insisted on using a Jamaican accent.

“I was quite relieved when he announced he no longer wanted the part,” Mr. Gondry said.

Mr. Cage was replaced by Christoph Waltz, the Oscar-winning SS colonel in “Inglourious Basterds.” The character lost the accent but gained a midlife crisis.

One of the greatest bad guy performers of this generation directed by one of the most innovative directors? With like domino masks and solving problems with fists?




Incidentally I was a bit surprised RE: Nic Cage… I mean the guy loves superheroes and was an important part of “Kick-Ass” … without a Jamaican accent 🙂

Passing on: “The Mechanic” (I love Jason Statham but watch DI on video).


“Just Go With It”

MovieFone.com did a great job summarizing a movie that I had never heard of in such a way that I 100% want to see it. So rather than pretending that I have an independent thought on this one I am just going to paste a screen shot of what they said.


“Sucker Punch”

This trailer is unreal:

“300” is a movie I watch whenever I need to get pumped up. Snyder didn’t really do “Watchmen” justice, but it’s hard to follow Alan Moore at his best, so I’ll give him a pass on that one. Plus, that trailer was just unreal, right? It seems like a combination of “Kick-Ass”, “Kill Bill”, “Special” by Garbage, “Reign of Fire” and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” … But with shorter skirts.

Just can’t wait.


“Scream 4”

I mean, mise.

The “Scream” franchise was actually fairly pivotal in my becoming a movie buff… or at least movie zombie. I think I saw every movie that played in the local cineplex in the year 1998-1999. “I Still Know What You Did Last Summer” might have ruined me for movies for all time; luckily I recovered via “Shakespeare in Love”.



/ crosses fingers

On the fence: “The Hangover, Part II” (probably catch it on vid), “Kung Fu Panda: The Kaboom of Doom” (ditto… although the first “Kung Fu Panda” is about the best martial arts movie of all time).

Passing on: “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” (I didn’t even see the third one, the second one was so bad).


“X-Men: First Class”

“Kick-Ass” and “Stardust” director Matthew Vaughn is directing a James Bond-esque 1960’s X-Men prequel starring January Jones as Emma Frost of the Hellfire Club.

Trivia question – Do you know what the Hellfire Club-era Emma Frost dresses like?

Second trivia question – Have you ever heard of Betty Draper?

Sounds gorgeous / awful / awesome.

“The Green Lantern”

Weird how X-Men prequel star Ryan Reynolds is starring opposite the most recent X-Men prequel the same month.

More comics – Hopefully all these movies will be awesome.



“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II”

All the other movies on this nerd-list put together pale in comparison to the culmination of this mighty franchise.

I have never really loved any of the Harry Potter movies; like I adored each and every book, but I didn’t particularly like any of the movies; maybe number three (I didn’t think they could really do a better job). But for example Order of the Phoenix and The Half-Blood Prince both seemed rushed to YT.

I guess we definitely won’t have that issue having split Number Seven into two parts.

Anyway – I’m really looking forward to this one… Probably not a surprise.

“Captain America: The First Avenger”

I never really liked Captain America (at least not before the Ed Brubaker run). His costume is ridiculous I think you will agree.

That said, you have to watch this one, right? The Avengers crossover coming up basically requires complete devotion to Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, and now Cap.

Is it just me or are there DI comics movies this year?

“Green Hornet”, “Thor”, “X-Men: First Class”, “Green Lantern” and “Captain America: The First Avenger”? It’s like Wednesday, every day.

“Cowboys and Aliens”

Some of you who have been following me for a few years know that I did well in a comics-drawing contest and landed a graphic novel contract with Platinum Studios back in 2003. My Magic writing took off soon after, and I was never able to realize that particular dream of making comics professionally.

What does that have to do with “Cowboys and Aliens” you ask? That was / is a Platinum Studios property!

They seem to have gone full bore on this one, with “Iron Man” director Jon Favreau directing, with basically the nut high nerd-gathering cast of James Bond, Indiana Jones, and the hottest woman on earth as his cast.

One more comics movie it is!


“The Smurfs”

Definitely not seeing this.

I actually hated the damn Smurfs as a kid, and the movie looks insufferable.





So it looks like I will go four months without seeing a movie in the theater. The most interesting thing between July and December is “Moneyball”, which despite my interest in sports economics and quite liking basically every Brad Pitt movie I have ever seen, doesn’t seem like a movie I would go and see in the theater.

Might see: “Sherlock Holmes 2”, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” … Honestly, both of these will probably be straight to video releases for YT.

So… How about you?


Review – Preacher: Tall in the Saddle

A few years ago my tax attorney / son’s godfather / longtime friend Jonathan Becker advised [tax-advised] me to read a book called The Polysyllabic Spree by celebrated High Fidelity and About a Boy author NIck Hornby. The Polysyllabic Spree is a list of all the books Hornby bought and / or read over the course of a year, and his thoughts around them.

I attempted to do the same [kind of] thing a few years ago on my then-blog http://madmanpoet.livejournal.com but didn’t do a great job. I am actually going to try to make a more “real” attempt at a long reading-and-writing project this year, while using this blog to talk about some pieces of it all (something more than one reader has asked about).

The first thing I am going to talk about is the first thing I completed this year; a re-read of Preacher: Tall in the Saddle.

Tall in the Saddle is a 48-page one-shot by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon (the unbent, unbowed, unbroken duo that brought us all sixty-six regular issues of the monthly Preacher comic), but joined by Ennis’s frequent co-collaborator and Hitman artist John McCrea on inks.

Tall in the Saddle is a prequel done-in-one adventure that features Preacher principles Jesse Custer and Tulip O’Hare years before Jesse received powers equal to God’s, when he was just a rebelious twenty-year-old Texas redneck with a good heart, a superb left hook… but a terrible attitude. Jesse and Tulip open up the ep with a James Bond-esque chase scene stealing one million dollars in sports cars, ultimately evading their police persuers by Tulip going all Burbon Street beads-on-Fat Tuesday in their faces.

It is a largely not-serious romp, despite an overload of typically Ennis comic book violence that colors one’s reading of Preacher in the main not at all… But is well worth the time you put into reading it; mostly for the dialogue.

Ennis is absolutely on point on this one, and Tall in the Saddle is chock full of memorable lines and hilarious one-liners. You will discover the separate fates of rich sidekick Amy’s waywardly lesbian mother and dead-Senator father; how she managed to lose eight million dollars by trying to resurrect Betamax [err… probably obvious at this point]; and why a French villain doesn’t speak German. After learning why one shouldn’t hire a bedwetter as his getaway driver, on the last page, Jesse — the sometimes-preacher / sometimes-sheriff / moral straight arrow of the series main — gets a knowing piece of advice on seducing up a threeway… from his rescued horse.

Best line: Zoink! Can’t pick. Too many.

The art: I actually prefer Steve Dillon all by his lonesome on Preacher to the Dillon-plus-McCrea team of Tall in the Saddle, but John’s inks are in no way disruptive. This reads as a pretty straight Preacher flashback story; if you aren’t super aware of artists, you might not even notice the difference in inks.

Amazon only has about four copies of Preacher: Tall in the Saddle left, and they are going for basically pennies* (between five and seven bucks). Put another way, this one-shot is better than any half-movie I have seen in the theater in years.

Highly recommended.


* If you buy from such an Amazon ad on this site, I may earn something like sixteen such pennies.

So… Any Questions?

I suppose y’all have seen this already at Star City Games:

So… any questions?


There is Nothing on TV


There is literally nothing on television.

We are in this weird lull between the launches for the second half of the various television seasons, and the Christmas… But that doesn’t mean that the tube isn’t a turnin’.

For kicks let’s start this post with Thursdays.


30 Rock
People ask me what my favorite television show is. Hands down it is 30 Rock. Tina Fey is more than just the Mike Brady of my Celebrity Crush matrix. She is basically my hero, and the mastermind behind probably the greatest sitcom on all time.

I also watch The Office religiously, but am not married to any other show on Thursday nights, though I have watched most of this season’s Community and Outsourced on demand (’cause mise).

My wife, being an adult, loves both fiber and The Mentalist, so we have that playing on Thursdays as well.


I don’t actually watch Smalliville any more.


Dr Who
Please come back!

A week or two past there was actually a new one hour Christmas special, which was basically The Doctor v. Albus Dumbledore. Seriously.

Sadly, the folks over at Fox are peppering the leftover episodes of Running Wilde into whatever night / time slot seems to be available; I think I saw the most recent one with Sopranos alumna Drea de Matteo last Sat, but it could have been Sunday.

Seriously, how lame is Fox this season? They axed Lone Star — probably the most engaging new drama of the year — after two episodes, and already cancelled Running Wilde (essentially the second coming of Arrested Development, but starring Felicity). I just don’t understand some of these exec decisions, especially given the continued ability of AMC, FX, USA, and even TNT to produce sweet shows on basic cable.


Now we’re talking… Sunday is the richest night of television, from engaging competition tee eve like The Amazing Race, to the best in HBO and Showtime and AMC programming, from Entourage to Dexter to Breaking Bad, right?

Well… Not so much.

More tumbleweeds.

Is there anything to watch on television?


There was actually a new episode of How I Met Your Mother this week!

Katherine and I recently discovered Men of a Certain Age; it is hitting its season finale at just six episodes in. I wasn’t initially attracted to this show (and I doubt a lot of you have even heard of it) but it is kind of like a mishmash of Everybody Loves Raymond and Quantum Leap, but with more MILFs.


V came back this week!

I was staying up — and nodding off — until the wee hours of the morning this past Tuesday finishing an article, so I somehow ran the season premiere of V about five times without a whole lot of comprehension attached.

My general feeling is that I didn’t love it.

I super loved V last season, though; and Elizabeth Mitchell was my favorite cast member on Lost; plus we have some Firefly alum action, all wrapped up in a brand that I have fond memories of as a laddie.

I am going to keep watching as long as they keep making eps.


So I started with Thursday specifically so I could end on Wednesday, because in the dusty, tumbleweed-choked world of today’s television landscape, Wednesday is the one flickering birthday candle that banishes more than its share of oppressive shadow.

So, of course, Wednesday is the one night that I am almost never home to watch television.

Just finished – Survivor and Psych.

Survivor ended on a great note; I found myself liking a Fabio from the first couple of episodes, but Shark told me I was crazy to like him. If we had done a Survivor Draft on Twitter, I for sure would have shotgunned that famous-model-to-be early.

I was especially impressed with Fabio’s ability to switch gears and win puzzle challenges late in the season. Great job to him.

Psych is a top-five show for me. I watch a lot of television because I am up and active so late on a consistent basis writing, but there are relatively few shows that a really and truly look forward to, week in and week out. 30 Rock. Dr Who. The next tier would be Dexter, Mad Men, Breaking Bad… But the dark horse favorite, right up there with Karen Gillan and a “woman so talented she could keep the name Krakowski” (ironically, Jane’s birth name was Karajkowski) is the team of James Roday and Dule Hill. Dule Hill played my favorite character on The West Wing — I totally would have loved to be bff with Charlie Young — so it is amazing that he has been able to reinvent himself into another role, so different, and yet so charmingly successful.

This wasn’t my favorite season of Psych, but I watched and [mostly] enjoyed every ep. In my opinion it is the best written comedy outside of 30 Rock.

But as we said, Survivor and Psych both just passed.

What’s left?

Top Chef.

Specifically, Top Chef All-Stars.

As you know from here and here, I crushed our Worlds Draft on Twitter. The challenge? To repeat with a win in Top Chef draft!

Here is how the draft went:

We started Week Three, so there had already been some eliminations; but conveniently we had exactly sixteen chefs, so four to each of the four of us.

Now the problem here is that there are three chefs that can cook the pants off of the entire rest of the cast, Richard, Angelo, and Marcel.

I was in arguably the worst spot, picking after Luis and Phil had (predictably) taking Richard and Angelo in the correct order. Now I am in the position to take Marcel. Why didn’t I?

I look at basically everything as a basketball team.

In order for a team to function optimally, everyone has to be running the same direction. A team member running off in a different direction, moving out of position, et cetera is going to reduce the efficiency of the whole; or at worst, can be disastrous.

For example, in LeBron James’s first year on the Cavs, one of his teammates was approaching a triple-double (ten or more tallied in three different statistical areas; generally points scored, rebounds, and assists), and knew it. He took a shot on the Cavs’ own basket in order to nab a rebound.


Put another way, I didn’t want to be in a position of cheering for Marcel, whom I don’t like; so I chose Casey. My thinking was that Casey is the best looking contestant ever to compete in Top Chef, and the best gamer ever (Angelo is the only other gamer on the season, at all, as far as I can tell). I figured a combination of charisma and cutthroat might make for a reasonable pick there.


  • The goal is to score the fewest points.
  • For a QuickFire win, a chef loses one point.
  • For a winner’s circle appearance in an elimination challenge, a chef loses one point, and a win loses two points.
  • When eliminated, a chef accrues points equal to the number of remaining chefs. Ka-pow!

Here is how the game has gone so far:

Week Three:
Double elimination week; so both Megan and Luis took beatings. Phil had slightly better horses in the challenges.

  • Phil -4
  • YT -2
  • Luis 12
  • Megan 13

Week Four:
With Spike’s elimination (a lucky 13 point tax on Phil), I jumped ahead. Especially lucky, my horses won both QuickFire and elimination challenges.

  • YT -6
  • Phil 9
  • Luis 11
  • Megan 12

Week Five:

Not only did I lose my first pick, but the bottom was littered with my horses, making it next to impossible to recoup points. Luis and Phil both improved, while I took a 12 point beating with very little buffer via Fabio.

  • Phil, YT 5
  • Luis 10
  • Megan 12

The future:
I think things are going to get worse for Megan before they get better. The MTGMom is stuck with Jamie, who has been the consistent worst performer of the season, poised to exit soon.

Luis is out of the lead by five points right now, but has arguably the strongest chef on the show in his stable.

Phil looks like he is probably going to win from where I am sitting. Filipino Dale, whom Phil picked up 15th pick, has been one of the strongest chefs so far, and Angelo isn’t going to finish out of the final three. Yes – Phil’s horses did in fact win both challenges this week.

Fabio went deep his season; Tre went too soon on the vicious Restaurant Wars loss, and Carla probably should have won her season if not for some bad advice from gamer Casey. So YT ain’t out of it… But for heroes to take Top Chef Draft, there is going to have to be some kind of dark horse long ball… You know, like picking Guillaume Matignon with your last #WorldsDraft pick or something.


Happy New Year!