Entries from November 2012 ↓

New Top8Magic Podcast!

In case you missed it, a long-awaited podcast with YT, Brian David-Marshall, and Steve Sadin is now up at MTGCast:

Top 8 Magic #329 – The 13 Lucky Charms of Fichael Mlores, Reality Bender

It took a couple of weeks to get up and onto the Internet due to some (admittedly understandable) stumbling blocks on the MTGCast side, so some of the discussion is a little dated [like whether Craterhoof Behemoth is good in Standard or not — LOL]. But… hopefully Top8Magic fans will love it anyway. On deck is our Thanksgiving podcast that is, like, only one week old 😉


Show notes I wrote /+ pilfered from MTGCast:

  1. A bunch of excuses as to why Mike and Brian started podcasting Podcasting in September… and then, you know, stopped.
  2. Brian is a big traitor that goes and hangs out on Limited Resources.
  3. Name dropping Brandon Sanderson (Mike — aka Fichael Mlores, Reality Bender — is the Brandon Sanderson superfan)
  4. Lots of stuff about Standard (“lots of” being “relative”)
  5. STAFF OF NIN! -Mike // Abrupt Decay? (“It probably isn’t good enough,” -Brian)
  6. Brian talks about baseball. Mike doesn’t know anything about baseball.
  7. Whew! Basketball! (“He doesn’t coach defense… AND he doesn’t coach offense!” -Sadin [Sadin appears])
  8. Talk about Magic some more (“… Guess you can play whatever you want” -Mike)
  9. Apparently Lingering Souls is bad in every format (Reid Duke is the nicest man in Magic)
  10. Mike, Brian, and Steve talk about some podcast they never put up where Steve turned out to be right about a bunch of stuff but you will never know for sure. Brian blames Will (not pictured) for saying “something unseemly”.
  11. What it’s REALLY like to do coverage. (gray hamburgers, “Brains! Brains!”)
  12. Shout out to Douglas Scheinberg (not actually in the podcast).
  13. Surprisingly, lots and lots of discussion about Legacy combo decks! (“lots and lots of” again being relative)


Stuff that you probably already know but is awesome to mention anyway:

Mike – @fivewithflores
Brian – @Top8Games
Steve – @SteveSadin

Stuff Brian and especially Mike really really want you to buy (also awesome):

Go listen!

More this week!



What’s a Good Comic for Beginners?

Interesting social media / Twitterverse domino-falling from yesterday’s post on Locke & Key. There are big brags to be had so might as well get those out of the way first…

What’s that, MichaelJ? Casual retweets from the best artist in comics?

Why yes it is, MichaelJ 🙂 How nice of you to notice!

/ big brags

Anywho, Diego Natalino asks what might be a good comic for beginners?

Here are some random guidelines I thought up in response:

  1. It is my general belief that comics are at their best when doing superheroes. Superheroes are kind of ridiculous (check more-or-less any movie prior to Batman Begins)… But comics can make you take them seriously! There has to be something special there (plus most every comic is a superhero comic, so…)
  2. That said, I don’t think anyone is default-wired to like superheroes. I think most comics fans are somehow conditioned to like them through I-don’t-know-how. I am not sure I would put a superhero book in front of a new reader, necessarily (especially a girl) (BTW half the population is girls).
  3. Comics have some of the best writing on the planet, but writing without pictures is just prose. Comics at their best have not just some of the most beautiful pictures on the planet… They have pictures that are lined up in a special way to tell a story; but pretty pictures without the accompanying guidance of the story is just a portfolio. I would want any recommendation to have both a great story and great art.
  4. Comics have a tendency to feed into a particular audience. The active comics-reading audience for the most part has been reading comics for 20 or even 30 years at this point. Many of the best stories are written for people who have decades of comics-reading under their belts. My friend Chris Pikula in particular was insistent on recommending Watchmen (BTW I consider Watchmen not only the best ever comic book but a pinnacle of fiction in any genre)… I am resistant to recommending Watchmen as a first comic because in order to “get” even 25% of its storytelling innovation and richness, you would have to be steeped in many volumes worth of DC superhero lore. “Anyone” can “like” Watchmen but — maybe it’s just me as a territorial comics fan — I don’t think you can fully appreciate it as a neophyte. Corollary: I would want to recommend something anyone can pick up and like and read without a huge amount of background.

Here are some of my recommendations:

For someone who likes Harry Potter: Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things.
You can actually read Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things #1 for free on Comixology (so you might as well do that). Courtney Crumrin is basically Harry Potter, if Harry were a girl, and a bit of a jerk. Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things #1 is probably my all-time favorite first issue of a series. It has literally no continuity requirements; is written and drawn by former Magic: The Gathering artist Ted Naifeh. Just a note of forewarning… Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things #1 is my all-time favorite #1, but it is more for the story than the art, and as this comic was fairly early in Naifeh’s comics illustration career… Let’s just say he has progressed since.

For someone who likes Dexter: Stray Bullets
Great suggestion from Big Jon Rudd on Twitter! BDM used to work at one of New York City’s big comic shops; next time you see him, ask the Pro Tour Historian the story about Stray Bullets #1 coming in… The book was really something special, and surprising; different and new. David Lapham self-published Stray Bullets after his departure from Valiant comics; he was eventually rewarded with an Eisner for his work on this series. The only problem?

You might have a tough time getting a copy 🙁

Stray Bullets looks fairly out of print, back issues and trades look pricey on Amazon, and I didn’t see digital offerings.

For someone who likes Star Wars or Lord of the Rings: Saga
Saga is the new smash-hit comic from my old high school buddy Brian K. Vaughan. It is freaking awesome, absolutely gorgeous, and actually the book that got me into reading digital comics in the first place. I paid $3.99 for my debut copy, but Brian is literally giving away the first issue on Comixology (so go read that).

For someone who likes The Walking Dead: The Walking Dead
Yes, before it was the inheritor to Mad Men and Breaking Bad on AMC, The Walking Dead was a hell of a comic book. It remains one of my favorite books after all these issues. Not for the weak of heart.

There are all kinds of superhero books that you can knock yourself over with, but I wouldn’t necessarily block those off as gateways to comics-adoration. If you want to know some of my favorite ongoing titles, I’d say American Vampire, Chew, and of course Locke & Key (which according to Matt Sperling, was quite the serviceable first foray into comics).

Very curious about any comics readers’ thoughts on this. If you have a particular thing you like (Vampires, fairy tales, torn blouses, pirates, etc.) I would be happy to try to field some further recommendations in the comments below.


Locke & Key is BY FAR the BEST Comic Book Currently Published


the awesome end of recommendations :: my all-time favorite post :: the bestest comic
the bestest artist in comics :: the bestest issue of the bestest comic, drawn the bestest

Yesterday I mentioned a model of review — specifically comics review — that I learned from former Psycomic Editor-in-Chief (and all-around oft-quoted reviewer of yesteryear) Randy Lander. Randy taught a younger me that harsh / negative reviews didn’t really do much for our community or the industry, and that the best thing we could do with our online influence was to spread the love. Again, Five With Flores is supposed to be where you learn to love what YT loves.

I get a lot of pats on the head and thank-yous about recommending Young Justice; but most everybody who follows my podcast has basic cable and Cartoon Network, and given the feedback I got from this all-time favorite blog post there are more than a few Five With Flores readers that fondly remember the super heroic animation of our collective youths. So trying out a cartoon isn’t much of a stretch.

This is more special to me:

Grand Prix Champion Matt Sperling — not a comics reader at all coming in — went out and tried Locke & Key (which as you can read from the post title is the best comic book currently published) on my Twitter recommendation, and liked it. Yay!

Now I’m recommending it to you.

Lockey & Key isn’t your typical four-color superhero comic. It is quite simply a work of fictional genius; supernatural horror that almost could not be told in any other genre. It is a kind of haunted house story with a unique angle on superpowers and magic; I don’t want to give too much away in case you like the sample and go back and read it from the beginning (pretty sure more than a few of you will). Every issue of Locke & Key has been written and drawn by the same two collaborators — Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez — and perhaps the greatest thing about this journey has been watching how they two have progressed and grown.

I was really impressed by Joe Hill and when I got finished reading the first several Locke & Key adventures I went and looked him up. It turns out his dad is Stephen King (yes that Stephen King). Hill was born Joseph Hillstrom King, but operates as “Joe Hill” so as to succeed as a writer on his own efforts rather than courting comparison (or unfair advantage) due to his famous papa. All the more admiration, am I right? Hill just won the 2011 Eisner award for Best Writer (the Eisners being “the Oscars” of comics).

Rodriguez is a different story. Locke & Key is a relatively small story published by IDW, which I assume most of you have never heard of as it isn’t either Marvel or DC (i.e. Disney or WB); Rodriguez was a relative unknown when he sat down to draw the first volume. To be honest I didn’t particularly like his art at the onset… I am just not into that cartoon-y style, even well done, and especially on a deadly serious supernatural horror adventure like Locke & Key.

But the real triumph of this book is that over the first four volumes, Rodriguez makes some kind of light speed leap, and transforms himself from a guy lucky enough to be on the “best story in comics” ride to simply the best visual storyteller in comics. By Volume IV he more than equals Hill’s contribution, which is stunning considering how good Hill is.




There are a lot of good artists out there, but by Volume IV, #1, Gabriel Rodriguez is a lone comic book conductor atop a lofty mountain juggling half a dozen different, disparate, tools… and kicking ass with every one.

Seeing as I actually paid for it, I was kind of stunned that YOU CAN READ VOLUME IV / #1 FOR FREE on Comixology (Comixology is the official site for digital publication used by pretty much everyone; I have switched from trade paperbacks to buying like 80% of my comics on the iPad at this point).

So you can see for yourself.

Here are two preview pages, 1 and 2 actually:

See how on one page Rodriguez apes a near-perfect Calvin & Hobbes Bill Watterson, then shifts to a kind of more precise Arthur Adams? He uses the two aesthetics to signal two different POVs throughout the issue (which itself is a heartbreaker) to give an already-effective script the push, not from “good” to “great” but from “great” to “best”. Back when I reviewed-reviewed comics ten years ago, I once gave Carlos Pacheco an “issue of the year” nod for Fantastic Four for half the storytelling chops; this is just typical Locke & Key at Gabriel’s current level.

Go read Locke & Key: Keys to the Kingdom Vol. 4 #1 for free; then do me a solid and tell me how much you liked it, like Matt did 🙂

There is literally nothing I would rather read in any medium right now. Hope you like anywhere near as much as I do. As this ish is free, I figure thousands of you will at least try!

Or, if you want to go the old school route (like Matt did):


Thea Steele’s Five [with Flores] Favorite Lana Del Rey Songs

My bud Thea Steele (formerly of the Darksteele Cube over on Star City Games) recently shamed me into updating This Here Blog on multiple social media fronts.

Thea is a big fan of Lana Del Rey and suggested I review her five favorite Lana Del Rey songs.

Aside: Why Review Anything?

I can’t say that I am entirely sure. Any of you have a good idea?

I actually told my friend Mark Young not long ago that I thought reviews (Mark is the keeper of the Movie Klub blog, and hence our resident reviewer) tend not to be value-added.

I think reviews tend to be best when 1) you are going to buy / consume something anyway and just need to know which to buy / read / listen to (product reviews on Amazon, or movie reviews, many times) or 2) you actually just want to share something you love. I don’t know to what degree you would consider my gushing about Locke & Key, Young Justice, or Sons of Anarchy count as “reviews” but dozens of Top 8 Magic listeners have thanked me for recommending these.

This is kind of in diametric opposition to what I once thought I was going to do with my life. At age 23, full of stock options at The Dojo, I assumed I’d be a cash millionaire at 24, and would just kind of spend the rest of my career reviewing comic books (I founded PsyComic, which like The Dojo, was acquired by USA Networks back in 2000); neither of those things ended up being facts, BTW. I learned something from Randy Lander, the great comic reviewer (whom we brought in from Texas)… Randy saw our job as comics reviewers as being in service to comics readers. I mean who else is interested in reading a comics review? Or worse, what if a non-regular comics reader reads a negative review? All we can do by spreading frowns is shrink an industry and art form we ostensibly love.

So our best angels must be to lift up and point out the things that we love… You know, kind of like the top-left hand of this website.

/ end aside.

I. Video Games

This was the first Lana Del Rey song I listened to from Thea’s list. I tend not to like music the first time I listen to it (rare exceptions would be Jill Sobule’s Pink Pearl, Loreena McKennitt Live, [which are the only two albums I’ve ever bought, while browsing the store, that I had never heard before] or of course “anything” Rilo Kiley [my favorite band, introduced to me by Josh Ravitz]), so I listened to a bunch of these almost obsessively, and in a row, to see how they grew on me.

Which is kind of appropriate, as “Video Games” is itself a song of obsession.

I am not sure I would categorize it as a “love” song as I am not convinced the fella on the other side is particularly in love with Del Rey’s speaker, back.

“Video Games” depicts a character that is perhaps less cheery than Samantha in Samantha’s Perfect Saturday* if you take the reference. The instrumentation combined with Del Rey’s strained, almost monotone, vocals descend together into a kind of quiet 1950s madness. I don’t know about you, but to me church bells = “horror movie”.

Del Rey is certainly successful in creating a particular tone in this. I have a set of songs I listen to when I need to tap into my reservoir of madness. I can see this one fitting in there.

II. Dark Paradise

This was by far my favorite song of Thea’s picks.

I like pretty much everything: instrumental variation, singing, beat, switcheroo near the end.

Well, maybe not the grammar. Lana, you wish you “were” dead, not was.

III. Off to the Races

Two angles on this one:

  1. As a song “Off to the Races” is pretty listen-to-able. As in, I liked it musically, more or less. I think that Del Rey could probably use an editor on this one (to polish the best bits, but rub out the excesses), but that is kind of a flaccid criticism. Happy to listen to this again, especially the thirteen-year-old me that I hope I never lose. The speaker in this one is baaaaahd. She is a Bad. Girl. She kisses with an open mouth and talks about her bikini and stuff.
  2. I am both attracted to and repulsed Del Rey-slash-the character-she-is-trying-to-depict here. She is both a bad girl and bad news. I don’t know how many of you have spent your one scarce resource** chasing after girls (or whoever) that were just going to drive you nutso. I have. Cried. Wrote innumerable teenage (nineteen is still a teenager) journal entries about this kind of stuff. I mean none of those chicks has ever gotten me a knife in the gut, though. Attracted. Repulsed. More attracted than repulsed. Knife in the gut 🙁

IV. Ride

The Top 10 Assorted Things That Occurred to Me Watching the Official Music Video for “Ride”

  1. I am in the bubble.
  2. Shut up, you are not in the bubble. “The bubble” is for beautiful women who think that a handsome older man will appear to buy them a steak dinner if they somehow run out of Jimmy Choo money.
  3. On second thought… Definitely in the bubble on this one. Some kind of bubble for sheltered [honorary] White males, even those not as good looking as Jon Hamm.
  4. I think I know what Lana is going for at this point. Is she actively trying to drive me miserable? I HAVE VERY GOOD EMOTIONAL CONTROL YOU KNOW.
  5. Nope. Miserable. Full-on life tilt by her high note “fucking crazy” at 7:04.
  6. Pretty good high note, that one. Would listen again.
  7. Since I started watching Sons of Anarchy I have stopped being afraid of / actively avoiding bikers. For instance last year I was in a club in Cali and started chatting up this huge, silent biker bouncer. Is it super fun working here?
  8. (it’s pretty fun, apparently)
  9. On the subject of bikers, Clark has this Amelie-esque project to take home the class stuffed animal, and take pictures of him doing interesting stuff.
  10. This is by far the coolest one we took today:

Even though I am not-scared-of-bikers enough to chat one up in a strip club, I still was really nervous on this and made Katherine hustle up with the pic already. I also told Clark that if we got caught, the Harley owner would probably beat him up and steal his girlfriend. Well I would have if Katherine hadn’t stopped me.

V. Body Electric

One of my favorite ideas in all of literature is from Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell, where a skilled wizard learns to distill madness into a tincture that he can take a dropper of, every now and again, to connect to his crazy-style on demand. I admire that because, as a writer, there are certainly times when being able to turn the crazy on might be advantageous.

My crazy is different than Lana Del Rey’s crazy though. My crazy is like a million exploding shades of orange. It’s kinetic and moves at the speed of a car crash. Sometimes it’s fun. Things might break, but — maybe because of that handy bubble — there is little sense that they can’t be fixed. Here is one of my favorite bits of writing, from an old Planar Chaos set review:

My two-year-old daughter has a crazy hat. It is a knit cap woven out of multicolored orange, red, and yellow yarn. She gets this glint in her eye and will pull it on and suddenly go berserk. She will run in a five-foot circle until she falls down, or failing that, up and down the hallway, arms in the air. She screams and tumbles and does I don’t know what else. I’d try to describe it further but she is still bound by the physical laws that affect two-year-old girls and I wouldn’t be able to convey the manic energy that comes over her, Bruce Banner-like, when she puts on the hat, anyway. Just this morning I surprised her and pulled it down over her ears when she came up to me in the kitchen, just to see what would happen. I wish I had my video camera. My wife says she’s like a pinball, but you know, less metallic and shiny… which is ironic, because pulling on the crazy hat is like Bella’s Autobot Matrix of Leadership, transforming her into something pumped full of energon and impossible to injure.

Mire Boa is my crazy hat. When I look at it I just want to punch the screen to pieces and then drown my enemies in the blood running down my slashed knuckles. I want to hurl my arms into the air and cry to the moon… but I remember that I’m not physically very imposing and that I wouldn’t be scaring anyone. This card is just so exciting to me and you know why. It’s a bare half-degree off of my favorite two-drop ever. I played its predecessor over Wild Mongrel in U/G in Extended and won $250. Sol Malka used to play the River-style slitherer in The Rock, or The Rock’s great grandfather, whatever. I can’t wait to drop a Mire Boa on turn 2. I love a crazy hat. I hate Crovax even more than I want to play him.

Staring at YouTube videos and listening to Lana Del Rey nonstop over the past three or so hours, over and over again to try to understand what makes Thea like this music so much, I come away, more than anything else, with a sense of deep respect for this artist. On the one hand she has this veneer of “a painted porn star is singing this song to you” which I think is fairly intentional. My recession, thoughts of bubble-in-ness, even revulsion at the idea of a beautiful woman assaulting me with that aesthetic come down to essentially a sense of discomfort. One of my colleagues in my other life likes to remind me that all good advertising makes you uncomfortable.

I didn’t actually do any research into Lana Del Rey’s background before I listened to any of these, or started writing this up. Maybe some of you who are devotees of her oeuvre will see this as a critical weakness, but I come from a school that tries to analyze the content, experience, and tone of a work itself, rather than its relationship to its creator. But my experience of these songs leads me to feel that the work is more the snowball-character that the songs, linked to one another by their singer and collections, as much as the music, lyrics, and individual performances.

And my conclusion is this: Lana Del Rey has a tincture of madness in her pocket.

Not only does she have a tincture of madness, she has a special madness that she can wield like a can of mace. Del Rey can force her crazy hat onto listeners and pull it over their ears and eyes, even without the help of willow wands, sacred circles, or rings of power. Lana’s particular madness is a very different madness than a pinball Bella at age two. Her madness is the madness of isolation, neglect, abandon, despair, disuse… perhaps excess. It is a last gasp, exhaled four minutes at a time.

And for other people — probably other young women especially — who feel put through life’s wringer by lost love, substance abuse, or living on the wrong side of the law; I get it, she can create a connection, and a crystal route to a specific emotional response.

But did I like the songs?

Some. I liked “Dark Paradise” and “Off to the Races” the most; “Body Electric” the least among these five. But even that one I listened to twenty times or so trying to figure out what I felt about it. At this point, I don’t see Lana Del Rey as go-to playlist stuff for me (I became a Taylor Swift convert in essentially one sitting about two months ago on the other hand), but I can certainly see revisiting this position with future listens.


* “Samantha’s Perfect Saturday” is a bonus track on The Official Miser’s Guide, my 30-day audio course at Star City Games. It is an example of how to target a specific audience; as stated above, the character in “Samantha’s Perfect Saturday” resembles a less depressing version of some of Lana’s songs’ speakers.

** Time.