Friday, October 29, 2010

Just One More Set, then I'm Off the Stuff for Good

My youngest son’s birthday was several months ago. My eldest son’s birthday is still over a month away. Anyone with a calendar and passing knowledge of department store sales can tell you that Christmas is two months off. I’m left in quite the predicament because of this.

I’m experiencing toy withdrawal. I’ve had no excuse to buy my sons new toys that I’m excited about (and let’s be clear, it matters most whether or not I’m excited about them) since the beginning of the summer.

Of course, that hasn’t stopped me. There have been a number of made up excuses for buying them the new Lego set they were eyeing or a package or four of Marvel Mighty Beanz. If they help me with chores around the house or read a book I’ve come to decide that deserves a toy. With school in session, finding excuses has become a bit easier.

“Wow, you got 100% on this worksheet you did in school with your whole class working together? In the car, everyone. We’re going to Target.”

Of course, this lends to teaching them that everything they do requires some sort of payment. When I want them to clean their room, they expect a toy. Put their bikes back in the garage at the end of the night? Toy. Eat that last chicken nugget? Toy. Wipe their own butt? Toy, and you have not seen leverage until you have negotiated with a child who has just finished creating something stinkier than you ever thought possible and is threatening to rise from the toilet unwiped and wander through your home, sitting on every surface imaginable, leaving a path of destruction and permanently useless furniture in his wake.

It has gotten to the point where even the things they want to do are refused until a toy is promised because they know I want to do it too.

“I’m not going to Six Flags and eating ice cream until my head explodes unless you take me to Toys R Us after.”

I’m fairly certain this is the definition of being spoiled. And I can’t blame their grandparents on this one (believe me, I’ve tried). It’s my own want for new products. Still, this was considered a small price to pay for keeping a steady stream of new entertainment coming into the house.

Plus, I found a way to counteract their being too spoiled. Their threats began to be met with statements that I was pleased I wouldn’t have to spend money on toys, Six Flags or dinner for them that night (since they’d be going to bed without it). Such claims combined with a smug smile of self-satisfaction (which I’m frighteningly good at making) and they were back on the right track. If they knew the true nature of my personality, that I would happily accept Lego bricks as payment from my employer in lieu of a salary, they would have called my bluff. Thankfully, they still distrust all adults and assume we are greedy, money-hording monsters (which most of us are).

Anyway, eventually, even I run out of reasons for buying toys that don’t make me feel ashamed of myself. You’d think I’m buying crack, not pre-owned DS games with the self-loathing I experience after hitting Game Stop. Stocking up on Nerf darts leaves me doing the walk of shame in from the car with a toy store bag in hand as if I’d been out binge drinking all night.

With excuses running thin, I’m itching to open up a new toy. At one point, I’d gone so low that I nearly found myself opening a Lego box meant for another child’s birthday party and arriving with the set already assembled. Were it not for my intense respect for the Lego process, I may have traveled down that dark path.

That’s when it hit me. In Lego, there not only lies temptation, but salvation. Sure, I may not buy a new set anytime soon that won’t be hidden away in the corner of a seldom used closet or crawl space for Christmas, but I do have the thousands of previously purchased bricks down in the basement. That could be just the therapy I need to keep my sanity over the long fall months as I wait for the holidays.

This is me, stepping out from the shadow of addiction and into the light of creativity. I will dedicate myself to building my own creations out of Lego until the craving to buy has passed. Together, Lego and I will confront and conquer my compulsion.

(Note to consumers: should you notice a sudden dip in the economy over the next month, it’s just because I stopped buying new toys for a while. Don’t panic, it’ll pick back up come December.)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Exceptional: Book 2 - Part 4

“So you really don’t know anything more about your powers than you did before you went to see him,” Dave said, disappointed.

He and James walked home from school in the cold air. Air cold enough that it forced everyone else to find rides and left the sidewalks vacant and ideal for discussing sensitive information.

“I think the answers are just coming slow because he couldn’t get my blood,” James said. “He seemed upset about that.”

“Why couldn’t he get your blood?”

“He tried. Needle wouldn’t go though my skin. It still hurt though and left a bruise.” James rolled up the sleeve of his jacket to reveal a deep purple circle the size of a dime on his right forearm.

“Nice,” Dave whispered, taking James’ arm in his hands to get a better look at it. “Like Luke Cage.”

“Exactly what I said,” James remarked as he removed his arm from Dave’s grip and rolled down his sleeve.

“There has to be some sort of quest you need to go on,” Dave suggested and instinctively rubbed the whiskers that weren’t there on his chin. “I’m sure he’s giving you clues. You need to start thinking harder about what he’s said.”

“I think he’s just as clueless about how we got our powers as my dad and I are. He’s just smart enough to try and figure it out.”

“No,” Dave shook his head. “There’s a quest in there somewhere. Some sort of enlightening, life-exploring journey you need to embark on in order to unlock the secrets in your past.”

“Then why doesn’t he just tell me what to do?”

“It works better if you figure it out yourself. It’s more powerful that way. You have to look within yourself and discover what the true meaning of life is or something and then face a bunch of dangerous challenges and junk and at the end, you’ll understand everything and he’ll be standing there, nodding his consent and looking all proud of you and shit. It’s like in the kung fu movies where the master always holds something back that the pupil needs to figure out for himself.”

James stared sideways at Dave. Dave paid no mind as he looked off into the distance, deep in further thought.

“You’re insane,” James pronounced, “and you’re a total geek. You really need to stop with the comic books and movies.”

“Trust me,” Dave said confidently, “he has some sort of agenda you have yet to discover. Otherwise, his interest in your life would be totally selfish and it wouldn’t fit at all with the mentor role we’ve decided he’s supposed to take.”

Suddenly, Dave looked around, concerned. They had been walking for some time and he had not paid much attention to where they had gone.

“What the hell, James! Where are we?”

The streets were vacant in this area of town as well, but this time it wasn’t because of the temperature. It was because James had unwittingly led Dave into a neighborhood where people generally stayed off the street unless they were looking for trouble.

“Just wanted to take the scenic route today,” James explained with a smug smile on his face.

“This is not cool. You could have at least warned me,” Dave growled.

“Relax. I just want to see if I can sniff anything out.”

(May 1945)

Cornelius Caine sat on the rigid wooden chair in his single room apartment with his head in his hands. On the meticulously clean desk beneath the apartment’s lone window, a window which looked out toward an alleyway, sat two sheets of paper. The first, a recently delivered telegram, the second a white sheet of paper with hastily scribbled pencil marks covering it.

Over the last several months, he had increased his pace. He had barely slept. With the completion of each new assignment, he hoped he would bring his country back from the brink of failure. Inside, he prayed that he might be the glorious hero his homeland would forever speak of in legends.

He had arrived in America, already successful in tracking and eliminating his targets throughout Europe and Asia. While he was surprised that so few would elect to join the Nazi ranks when faced with death, he had come to take a certain satisfaction in killing them. He had once heard there were those who held another’s life in their hands and experienced a euphoric high from extinguishing it. But to hold the life of such a superior individual, one of such strength and ability and to crush the life from them still, that was a feeling of true power.

As much as Cornelius had hoped to further his country’s aim, to ensure his place in the hall of heroes, he also hoped that his legacy of carnage, of dominance over those thought to be the ultimate representation of human kind, could remain intact for just a while longer. After all, could he not be a ruthless hunter to his enemy and a mighty savior to his people? Cornelius thought it could be so.

Alas, the decoded message on the desk told him this was not to be.

Upon its arrival, Cornelius had dropped what he was doing. Frantically, he ran to his desk and began deciphering it, hoping that its message would contradict the reports in the American media that his nation’s brave leader was no more. But there, in pencil lead, read the facts that Cornelius had feared.

“Third Reich no more.

Assignment terminated immediately.

No record existence Germany remains.

Current resources your disposal.

Suggest blend American society.

Service forever remembered.”

With his original purpose of traveling to America deleted from the memory of anyone but himself, Cornelius sat in his chair, lost and alone. He wondered then for the first time in ten years what had happened to his father. Surely, if the fuehrer had killed himself, his father was dead, imprisoned or in hiding.

There was nothing of his Germany left. The regime he had gone forth to serve and elevate to its rightful place atop the globe had fallen. All that he had given his life to gone.

Cornelius arose suddenly and tipped the desk over onto the floor. He screamed as he hurled the lamp across the room, shattering it against the opposite wall.

And just as suddenly as his outburst began, it ended. He righted the desk and aligned it precisely where it had been below the window. He carefully collected each pencil from the floor and returned it to its previous location. He fetched the broom from the closet and swept up the remains of the lamp, depositing it in the waste bin.

Finally, Cornelius gathered the two documents that had been on the desk. He straightened his shirt, brushed the hair from his forehead aside and made his way out of his apartment and down the stairs.

He still had two bodies to dispose of: his latest target and the target’s son. Cornelius had killed the latter just to be on the safe side. He would incinerate both of them with the same flames he would use to destroy the papers that had been on his desk, the last such papers in existence linking him to Nazi Germany.

As he locked the cellar door behind, he thought that doing so might provide him some solace.

James and Dave peered around the corner of the brick building. In the adjacent parking lot, partially obscured by the supports from the elevated train, three men stood near a red sports car. One looked around nervously while the other two tried to open the door using a long metal rod.

“Can we just get the hell out of here?” Dave implored.

“This’ll be real quick,” James said, not taking his eyes away from the would-be thieves. “It’s been a long time. I just want to feel like I’ve helped somebody.”

“You can help me get out of this neighborhood. How did you find these guys anyway?”

“Adrenaline,” James explained. “You know how you get that intense rush of nervousness when you’re doing something you know is wrong? I’m probably smelling it off the look-out.”

“Well, if you can pull yourself away from the smell of that guy’s sweaty armpits, I’d like to go home.”

“You want to go home, then let me take care of this real quick,” James said and stepped out into the parking lot.

“Aww, come on,” Dave said and crouched down next to the wall as he watched james approach the three men.

The nervous look-out looked right at James and his eyes bulged. “Uh, guys?” he called to his companions. “Guys? There’s a kid. Some kid’s walking through the lot.”

The other two looked up from the car. While one went back to his work immediately, the other stepped away toward the look-out and James. “Hey, kid. Get outta here,” he called.

“You guys lock your keys in your car?” asked James.

The two looked at each other. “Yeah, that’s it,” the less nervous of the two responded with a chuckle. “Now get outta here.”

“Or is that not your car at all?” asked James, knowing the answer.

The man doing the talking sighed. “Look, kid, it isn’t your car either, is it? Now get lost or you and I are gonna have a problem. You hear me?”

“I hear you,” James said. He hadn’t stopped or even slowed his advance on the men. He walked steadily toward them as they conversed. “But I think you guys should leave that car alone and go now.”

“Who the hell is this kid?” one man asked the other. Then he turned back to James, reached into his coat pocket and declared, “You are really starting to piss me off. You don’t turn your ass around right now and start walkin’ back where you came from and I…”

James had gotten close enough that he was able to lunge forward and strike him in the throat with one hand while using his other hand to swipe the man’s hand from his pocket. As he staggered backward and gagged, a knife fell to the pavement and skidded below another car.

“Jesus Chri…” the look-out exclaimed until James’ foot met his chest. He left his feet and landed on the pavement, skidding just like the knife until his upper body was also beneath a nearby car.

As the choking man regained his balance, he rushed at James in an attempt to tackle him. James welcomed his open arms, grasping one of them while using his hip and the man’s own momentum to toss him into the air. When he landed, James heard a definite crack.

Ribs, he guessed in his head, though he was open to the possibility that it might have been a hip or any of the various leg bones.

As the look-out scrambled to his feet and ran off, James turned to the vehicle. He ran a few steps toward it and was surprised to find the man trying to gain entry was gone.

“Chicken shit,” James said to himself out loud and turned to see if the other man had gotten to his feet yet. He was still rolling around on the ground, holding his sides and moaning.

Yep, ribs, thought James.

“I don’t know who you are kid,” came a voice from the direction of James and Dave’s original hiding spot.

When James turned to see who it was, the third man emerged from behind the building with his arm around Dave’s neck and a small caliber revolver to his temple.

“But whoever you are, I hope you’re not to fond of this guy.”

James’ heart sunk. Dave looked absolutely terrified. The smell of adrenaline he had picked up earlier on the lookout and of fear that had come from the girl in the trunk hit him in the face like a strong breeze. He also smelled something else he recognized and when he looked down, he noticed Dave’s pants were soaked with urine.

“Ok, take it easy,” James said, his hands in the air. He didn’t move. “He didn’t do anything. He wanted me to leave and not mess with you guys.”

“You’re damn right I did,” Dave agreed.

“Shut Up!” the man with the gun screamed at Dave.

“He did. He really did,” James shouted. “Now, you can do whatever you want to me. Just let him go.”

“Fine,” the man said and fired at James, striking him in the chest.

James spun backward and landed in a heap on the ground.

“Oh my God, James!” Dave cried as James lay there motionless.

“Not so tough now,” the man with the gun said as he pushed Dave away and stared at James.

For a moment, Dave stood there, horrified, tears in his eyes. This was all happening too fast for him to process. Before he knew what to do, the man leveled the gun at him.

“Your buddy shoulda listened to you,” he said.

Dave closed his eye. As he prepared to find out what a bullet felt like, he wondered if he should have run when he had the chance. Yet, a small part inside of him knew that he couldn’t leave his friend lying on the ground, shot, with some scumbag car thief as his last human contact. While this whole situation sucked, he felt his last decision had at least been a respectable one.

Eyes still closed, Dave heard the gunshot and fell to the ground.

That didn’t really hurt at all, he thought and waited for the pain to start. It never did and eventually, Dave opened his eyes to a clear blue winter sky. Soon, the sky was obscured by James’ face leaning over him.

“Oh shit, oh shit,” James mumbled and moved his hands all around Dave’s body, looking for something.

“What the hell!” Dave shouted and sat up. He then saw the two remaining men on the ground beside each other. He looked back to James to see the gun in the waistband of his pants. There was also a small hole in the chest of James’ jacket where Dave could see the white polyester stuffing sticking out.

“Are you hit?” James asked, excitedly.

Dave jumped to his feet and searched himself. He wasn’t hit.

“No,” Dave said, relieved. Then he shouted at James, “No thanks to you!”

Dave stalked off, toward the building they’d been hiding behind and grabbed his book bag. Then he kept walking.

“Where are you going?” asked James behind him.

“Home,” Dave said, “where I should have already been going before your stupid ass got me into this mess.”

“I’m sorry.”

“You better be sorry,” Dave shouted. “You almost got me killed. If I get shot, James, I die. That’s what happens to me. I don’t know about you, because you…” Dave’s voice lowered suddenly as he leaned in and squinted at James’ chest. “Holy crap, you did get shot.” Dave stuck his finger through the hole in James’ jacket and shirt. “No blood or anything. That’s is…”

“I don’t care!” Dave interrupted himself angrily as he turned away from James and started walking again.

“Dave, I’m sorry,” James said and ran up alongside him. “I hadn’t done anything in so long and I thought you might like to see it and…”

“I’m not Jerry Hart,” Dave looked James in the eyes and said. “I’m not some idiot who worships you and wants to teabag you and follow you around so that I can be there to wipe the sweat off your balls. I’m your friend, James. I was your friend when you were regular and didn’t think you finding out that you were different changed that. I thought we were still friends and friends don’t almost get each other killed.”

Dave looked down at himself. “I pissed my pants, James. I pissed my damn pants. Happy?”

“No, I’m not happy,” James said. “Why would you pissing your pants make me happy?”

“And the worst part is that I was more afraid you were dead. Just don’t talk to me,” Dave said. “I don’t even want to look at you. Just get away from me.”

“Okay. I’m sorry,” James said again as Dave walked away.

“Yeah, just stay close so that if anyone else decides to try and kill me on the way home, you can kick their ass too. But don’t talk to me and I don’t want to see you. So walk behind me, but, like, twenty feet back so you’re still close but not too close. And don’t talk. Got it?”

“Fine. I'm…”

“Ah! No talking. Let’s go.”

James followed silently behind Dave the entire way home, suspecting he’d broken another rib.

James’ father’s phone rang just as he opened his car door.


“Samuel,” Doctor Caine’s voice spoke, “thank God I reached you. Are you alone?”

“Yes, Doctor, I’m just leaving work. Is everything okay?”

There was a pause. “I just finished some tests, Samuel and I need to speak to you right away. Can we meet?”

“Absolutely. What is it? Has something happened?”

“I’m afraid I’ve discovered something that causes me great concern. It’s something that requires immediate attention, otherwise I wouldn’t bother you like this.”

“It’s no bother at all. Should I meet you at the regular place? Should I bring James?”

“The same place, my boy, but come alone. And, Samuel?”

“Yes, Doctor Caine?”

“Once again, if it weren’t absolutely necessary, I wouldn’t dare ask so much of you, but…” the doctor paused again. “I believe I may need a few days out of you this time. I do hope that’s possible. It really is of the utmost importance.”

“Um, I think I can do that. Let me call my wife an explain…”

“You musn’t worry her, Samuel. And you shouldn’t let anyone know that you are meeting with me. It’s a very delicate matter. I’ll be able to explain everything to you when I see you in person.”

James’ father’s heart dropped. Perhaps the doctor had discovered something terrible. Maybe it was something that was placing his life, or worse, James’ life, in jeopardy. Perhaps whatever it was would explain his uncle’s disappearance so many years ago.

“I’ll tell my wife I need to be away on business. That ought to buy me two days. Let me just stop home and pack a bag or she’ll wonder.”

“Absolutely, my boy. Very good. Two days should be more than enough to accomplish what I need. I’ll be seeing you soon, then. Do hurry.”

“Alright doctor. Thank you.”

“Oh, no, Samuel,” Dcotor Caine said and coughed loudly into the phone. “Thank you.”

James’ father hung up the phone and raced home. He was eager to know what the doctor had discovered.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Boy Who Cried, "Oh My God! This is Awesome! Come Look at this Right Now!"

“Dad! Come look!”

This call from my sons usually only comes from down in the basement after I just sat down upstairs on the couch with a book or in my office to pay bills. For some reason, this is the only time my sons have anything important to show me. Not when they come out of school and I ask if they did anything cool. Not when they beat a new level on the video game we’d been working on together and an awesome movie sequence I had yet to see is taking place.

“You guys got to level twelve already?! I thought you were still on eight! Was it cool?”


The tone of this “come look” cry is not one that suggests there may be a large spider on the wall that has them paralyzed with fear and hoping their father will arrive just in time with a rolled up newspaper or shoe in his hand with which to smite it. It’s not even a tone that begs me to check if the bone is supposed to be sticking out of their shin like that. No, if one of them were to have suffered a significant injury while I was in the house but out of sight, they would most likely figure out a way to sterilize, bandage and conceal it until they could show it to their mother.


“What was that?”


“Are you guys okay?”

“Ye-es!” Then one whispers to the other, “Clean up the blood, then get some rubbing alcohol and ace bandages.”

While the call from the basement is most definitely an impassioned plea to rush downstairs and observe something, it never seems to be something as time sensitive as they make it seem. Instead, it’s usually a commercial for something like Moon Sand, PixOs or Bendaroos, which there is no chance in hell that I am ever going to buy them. On a side note, I think their interest in toys they see commercials for is directly related to how much of a mess said toy could potentially make or how many small pieces it contains that could be left all over the house, preferably where I might step on them.

Should I not get down the stairs in time to see the commercial for the glorious product they just viewed, they will inevitably come to me. What’s worse is that they will be so excited to tell me about what they just saw that it becomes like the tale of Paul Bunyan. The product is so spectacularly mind blowing that there is no way I could be anything less than excited enough to soil myself at the mere opportunity of buying it for them for Christmas. In fact, it’s so cool that I should just buy it now while supplies last or we might miss out.

In this way, it’s sometimes better that I see the commercial for myself. If my boys see me look at the product and then announce, “No,” it carries weight. If it’s just the image of a product in their minds, my “no” is nearly meaningless. They figure that I couldn’t possibly refuse without having seen it for myself. Had I witnessed what they had, I would certainly be swayed.

It’s an issue of credibility. The more often they do this, the harder it becomes to get me to react to something they want me to see. Credibility, however, is a two way street or a double-edged sword or a door that swings both ways or some other overused cliché about there being two sides to something.

While working on this blog, I often check the sights I have linked to in the left-hand column. I realized that I hadn’t taken a peek at the Marvel website in quite awhile. In less than a year’s time, we will see Thor and Captain America in theaters and I became concerned I may have missed out on some movie production news. The site led me to the following link for the Thor teaser site.

“Oh my God! Guys, come look at this!” I shouted.

My sons obediently came running to my side. I refreshed the site. I was then surprised to see a reaction other than pure joy on their faces. On the contrary, they seemed unimpressed.

“It’s just thunder and the word, Thor,” my six-year-old accurately pointed out. And between the lines I heard, “Even I could have written the html code to make that. Hmph.”

I had no response and they walked away, back to the books they were leafing through.

I decided that the next time they call me to see something, I will respond immediately. I’ll say, “Cooo-ol,” and break the bad news that thereis no chance in hell I’m buying that to them afterward. I’m hoping that this will elicit a mirrored response to my calls for attention. That way they won’t miss out on the stuff that I want them to see, which actually is really awesome.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Review: Avengers - Earth's Mightiest Heroes on Disney XD

Disney’s ownership of Marvel has recently distressed me (see, Drop That Shield!). I’ve feared that my beloved heroes would be watered down into characters I barely recognize whose main purpose is to hock mouse-ear hats and encourage you subliminally to become a fan of Hannah Montana.

I apologize, Disney.

I apologize because Disney XD now has the two best cartoons currently running on television. The delightfully geeky Phineas and Ferb have rocked that network for a few years now. And just last week, they added the Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.

I was worried when I heard an Avengers cartoon was going to be released. When Fox tried it in the nineties. The show was terrible. Sure, Vision (one of my all time favorite Avengers) was in it, but that hardly made up for the terrible mistake of placing Hank Pym as Ant Man at the helm. I seriously doubted anyone at Marvel had input over that decision, but if anyone did, I hope they have long since been fired.

But the creators of this new series have stepped up. Iron Man, Thor, Hulk and Captain America are featured. The new writers had enough sense in their heads to realize that the Avengers begin and end with those characters. If they aren’t included, it’s not worth trying.

And I’ve got to hand it to the series producers for the micro–series concept. I, personally have never seen anything like this done before. Prior to the full episode series premier, Disney XD ran seventeen micro-episodes, each only about six minutes long, each setting up the various characters that are to appear regularly in the series. There was Iron Man (with an obvious Robert Downey Jr. sound-alike voice but, whatever, it works) worried about theft of his tech, Nick Fury imploring him to work with S.H.I.E.L.D., Thor arguing with Odin over his want to protect Midgard, Bruce Banner being chased by Thunderbolt Ross, Hank Pym telling Janet Van Dyne they should stay out of crime fighting and Captain America and Bucky fighting side by side in WWII.

The story was so much closer to the original than I had expected, relying mostly upon the initial comic version, borrowing some points from the Ultimates series and tossing in a few new twists. So what if Hawkeye is already working for S.H.I.E.L.D.? Who cares if the Red Skull is piloting the rocket that results in Captain America’s plunge into the frozen depths when it was supposed to be unmanned and launched by Baron Zemo? What do I care that they introduced Man-Ape and a new version of Claw into the Black Panther story line? Is it that big a deal that I noticed Wolverine as part of the Howling Commandos circa the mid-1940s?

All of this is forgivable because the series treats each individual character with the respect they deserve. That was always the great thing about the Avengers, anyway. Each character had their own back story. Most of them had their own comics where they handled their own issues. Yet, here they were, working together to solve problems that none of them could solve alone.

If you want your kids to see the Avengers done the right way, watch this show with them. Hell, if you like the Avengers, watch this show by yourself. The animation isn’t mind blowing, but it’s made up for by strong story telling, good action sequences and the bad-ass characters you want to see in an Avengers series.

Tune in to Disney XD on Wednesday nights at 8:30PM Eastern, 7:30 Central, and tell me if I’m wrong.

Review: Kings of Leon, Come Around Sundown

It’s been awhile since I’ve reviewed anything. That said, you’ll be seeing two reviews here today. The first is my first music review of one of my favorite bands.

Kings of Leon released their fifth album, Come Around Sundown, last Tuesday. Determining whether or not you will enjoy it depends on how you feel about the band along several categories.

If you’re like me, you like Caleb Followill’s unique vocal sound. The scratchy yet strong, desperate yet mellow quality of his voice comes through in this album. If he is the main reason why you listen to this band, you won’t be disappointed. The already popular radio single, Radioactive, demonstrates this.

The rest of the band is what really seems different to me on this album. The Beatles meditated with the Maharishi. You could hear a certain influence on Magical Mystery Tour, The White Album and Abbey Road. It seems as if Kings of Leon held a weekend retreat with The Fray before hitting the studio to record their latest album.

Much like the vocals, on previous releases, Kings of Leon had a desperation to their musical sound. Each instrument in the band could be picked out from the rest on nearly every song. It gave the music a lonely, meaningful power as if each member of the band was doing their own thing, dealing with their own issues, yet it sounded great together. What you hear on Come Around Sundown is significantly different. There is a lot of blending of distorted instruments. What results is more of an overall background sound similar to other light, adult contemporary rock bands than the driving, definable melodies KOL had gotten me accustomed to hearing.

While disappointed that their music was more mashed together than usual, I still enjoyed the album. They still sound like Kings of Leon. Songs like Pickup Truck are still unique and, for lack of a better word, edgy (eww, I need to take a shower now after using that word). You will still like the sound of a song, read the lyrics and like it even more. It’s just not their best album.

Since I enjoy this band so much, I suppose I expect each release to get better. Maybe that’s fair, maybe its not, but in the end, I still like the product. If you’re a KOL fan, you will too. If you liked their old stuff, you won’t like this as much, but if you haven’t listened to their back catalog since their rise to popularity within the last two years or so, you might like this album more.

Happy listening.

Halloweekly Features

Time to get on the weekly feature update.

This week's top five is costumes that will result in extra candy at my doorstep:

5. Avatar Na'vi - Extra points go to those who opt for spandex body suit and full face paint.

4. Super Grover - I saw this in a catalog while trying to help my kids pick out their costumes and wished it was in my size.

3. Iron Man - All Marvel costumes, in fact, get my full support. I call it positive reenforcement of tomorrow's geeks.

2. Star Wars Clones - While I have yet to be able to tell them apart, they still make cool costumes and anything that keeps interest in Star Wars alive in our youth works for me.

1. Super Mario Bros. Characters - The Mario and Luigi costumes are funny, but there are also Toad and Princess Peach ones out there.

This week's cool-ass thing you will never own are Pym Particles. Dr. Henry Pym spent years in his lab developing these things and is a certified genius. Personally, if I had the money, I'd invest in repulsor technology, indestructible shield construction, the price of Mjolnir on Ebay or even advanced archery lessons and try to make myself into a much cooler Avenger.

This week's sign you are a nerd is your insistence on using full names for organizations instead of their commonly accepted acronyms. Just sat NASA, FBI and CIA. You don;t need to try and impress us with your knowledge of the full titles.

This week's nemesis is socks. Now that the weather requires I wear them daily, I'm having trouble keeping them matched, free of holes or just in existence after spending time in the trans-dimensional portal known as my washing machine.

This week's lesson learned is to stay out of arguments between seven-year-olds. Nobody will win. logic and reason do not work. They are going to end up playing together just fine in five minutes anyway. Let them handle it and don;t get dragged in by one kid trying to snitch on another.

This week's equation is:
Not to be disrespectful, but I've noticed a lot of similarities between Easter and Halloween.

You have to dress up.

You get more candy than you can realistically eat before it goes bad.

Both involve somebody rising from the dead. With Easter, it's Jesus. With Halloween, it's back-up dancers for Michael Jackson. Perhaps it will be Michael Jackson this year too.

Oh, come on! You laugh at the Jesus part, but get offended by the Michael Jackson joke?

Last but not least, we have this week's Star Wars quote of the week:

"The dark side of the Force is a pathway to many abilities some consider to be unnatural."

Be sure to check out the list of new junk due out this week and check back for other posts. Remember, we will continue our story Exceptional on Thursday.

Thanks for reading, everybody.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Drop That Shield!

My wife ordered me ESPN the Magazine through a promotional trial and I've been receiving it for a few months now. While I love ESPN, the television network, and watch Sports Center fairly regularly, I don't care much for their magazine. It's mostly ads and the articles that are contained in it are about subject matter I don't care much to read about. If I were you and wanted to read about issues in sports, I'd subscribe to Sports Illustrated.

When the most recent issue arrived in my mailbox yesterday, however, I gasped as I looked at its cover. Disney's ownership of everything has apparently come full circle. They own ESPN and they now own Marvel. So, the artists from Marvel were assigned the task of creating thirty different comic book covers to sum up what challenges each NBA franchise faces in the upcoming season.

If you are a fan of comic book or basketball, flipping through the layout is a lot of fun. I enjoyed the presentations of the different Marvel characters melded with NBA stars. Kobe Bryant is shown in the process of being outfitted with a Lakers colored Iron Man suit. The headline mentions his iron will and he is also shown wearing his five championship rings, resembling the Mandarin in another drawing. The Boston Celtics are portrayed as the Fantastic 5. Carlos Boozer stands behind Derrick Rose as the Red Hulk. New Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov looms as Galactus with Devin Harris as his herald, the Silver Surfer, in his palm.

The art in these mock covers is amazing. On top of that, Marvel does a great job at connecting each team to a character or theme that makes sense and sheds light on their current situation. Very clever work, and very insightful. In fact the thoughtfulness and effort that was obviously put into this project far exceeded everything contained within all the prior issues I've read combined. ESPN had nearly won me over to their magazine.


I had one major problem.

I make no secret of the fact that Captain America is my favorite Marvel character (Steve Rogers specifically, but that's not the point right now). Cap's red, white and blue shield, to me, is a beacon of all that is good, unselfish and truly American. Captain America stands for strength, honesty and fairness.

Thus, I was more than a little pissed off when Lebron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh were drawn using Captain America's iconic shield. But there the scheming three were, crouched, shields above their heads, prepared to deflect the glare of the glare of the world's scrutiny upon them.

I don't necessarily think James should have stayed in Cleveland, nor am I bitter about my team not landing him. I do, however, have a problem with the way he strung everybody along. I feel it was obvious that he was going to sign with the Heat form the start of free agency. The way he lied to everyone, the flashiness of the news conference in prime time and the firework laden pep rally in Miami after he signed are all the exact opposite of how Captain America would conduct himself. Humility, honor and respect are not what I picture when I think about the team Pat Riley has assembled.

I suggest that James and Wade should have been represented by the Red Skull and Baron Zemo. Captain America could have been showed unconscious and tied up in the background in order to make it clear that they stole his shield. Chris Bosh, meanwhile, could have been represented by some other, less important, overrated villain with a weak low post game.

Whoever had the idea to connect these guys with Cap out to be fired. I call now for that Marvel or ESPN employee's resignation. I further plan to tear out the offensive Captain America/Heat page of the magazine and then keep the rest of it around. The covers really are cool to look at. If you want to see it for yourself, pick up a copy, just be prepared to avert your gaze from page 92.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Exceptional: Book 2 - Part 3

“This is an unexpected predicament.”

The old man stood before James and smiled with yellowed teeth. To James, his teeth seemed to have grown too long the way his grandfather’s fingernails had before he died. While James was happy that the doctor had given him more personal space than his eye exam had afforded, he could still smell his breathe and the sting of his body odor lingered in James’ nostrils.

James thought that all the time Doctor Caine spent leaning over lab equipment must have left little time to work on his hygiene. Or perhaps the doctor was just so intelligent that he never worried about such things. He remembered hearing such things about Einstein’s wardrobe. Then again, maybe it was just because the Doctor was old.

“Heightened resistance to puncture has rendered me unable to extract a blood sample from the subject,” Doctor Caine spoke into a small recorder he had taken from his pocket. He stood at the foot of the examination table James still sat on.

As James’ legs hung over the end, the doctor turned to his father and dropped the recorder back into his pocket. “I suppose any research worth conducting involves surmounting obstacles.” He flashed a yellow smile and turned back to the table containing various medical instruments.

Every time the old man moved, James could smell the air that stirred around him. To keep his mind occupied and not focused on the fact that he would rather be somewhere other than a cold, musty warehouse, James made a game of identifying the odors that emanated from the doctor.

Doctor Caine had leaned in uncomfortably close to check James’ pupils earlier. He exhaled while practically nose to nose with him.

Coffee. Cheese. Garlic, James thought.

As the doctor walked around him, performing various minor tests, James picked up on more.

Sweat. Mildew (that might be from the walls). Foot odor.

The loose sleeve of the doctor’s lab coat nearly draped over his face as he lay down on the table at one point.

James noticed, Bleach. Formaldehyde. More sweat. And something else. Something…metallic.

“While less than ideal, an alternative should be explored until some measure by which to puncture the subject’s skin can be obtained.” The doctor was speaking into the recorder again. This time, James hadn’t seen him produce it from his pocket. He seemed to take it out and replace it like the action was second nature to him. Like it came as easily to him as breathing or beating his heart.

“The compatibility issues between whole blood and saliva derived DNA samples shall pose a significant setback to the research. All the same, I will collect multiple saliva samples at this time in order to bolster the amount of DNA collected and provide enough such that numerous trials may help correct variations in the data.”

Click, the recorder was off and dropped back into his pocket. Doctor Caine approached James with a box full of glass tubes, each containing a cotton swab on the end of a wooden stick.

“I apologize, son, but I am going to attempt to swab a great deal of saliva from your mouth, so do open wide, please.”

James held his mouth open. One swab at a time, the doctor swiped at the insides of his cheeks. After each, he carefully placed the cotton swab back into the glass tube and sealed it.

“You may close your mouth now, son,” the doctor smiled and said to James as he capped the last of the tubes. “Impenetrable skin, while quite impressive, causes me some amount of inconvenience, I must confess.”

“Luke Cage,” James said, mostly to himself.

“Pardon?” asked the doctor.

“One of the Avengers. Luke Cage. He has unbreakable skin.”

“Comic books again,” James’ father spoke up from the chair he sat silently in most of the examination. Then he added, in a frustrated tone, “He thinks he’s going to learn more about himself by reading comic books. Super heroes running around in tights.”

Doctor Caine chuckled. “Be just as careful about how quickly you dismiss a potential source of information as you would be to trust it implicitly,” he said to James’ father. “Often nuggets of wisdom, absolute gems of truth, can be discovered hidden deep within the most seemingly outrageous works of fiction. I’ve often believed that these super hero tales may have originated by someone who had at least heard stories passed via word of mouth about somebody much like you and your son, Samuel.”

James stared at his father. When they made eye contact, James did his best to say, “I told you so,” with his facial expression.

“Of course, it is unlikely that anyone ever became an enhanced human after the bite of a radioactive spider. We know now that radioactivity does not alter DNA, but perhaps there was something to the bite. And perhaps it was not a spider, but some other animal and perhaps the effects were not so extreme, but some DNA transference may have taken place. We do not know. But there may be something there and the rest was filled in by someone looking to entertain us.”

“I doubt there’s a word of truth to any of it,” James’ father said with a face like stone.

“Samuel, you need only look at the history text you read as a child and compare it to the one your son learns from now to see how the details of history become filled in by those who write the books.” Doctor Caine had been marking the label on each glass tube with a black permanent marker as he spoke. Meticulously, he wrote, James – Generation 5 Sample #1…Sample #2…Sample #3. Twenty-four in all.

“I commend young James for seeking enlightenment, regardless of the origins,” Doctor Caine said as he picked up the box now full of saliva samples and carried it to the refrigerator. “But do be careful how much stock you put in those stories,” he warned James and opened the refrigerator door.

James noticed several shelves of in the refrigerator, all filled. As Doctor Caine carefully moved aside several trays of vials to make room for the saliva samples he had just collected, James realized what he had smelled on the doctor’s sleeve.

It had been blood.

“A warehouse?”

“I guess he owns it, used to have some kind of business there and it’s like a secret location, you know?”

“A warehouse. A big, abandoned warehouse?”

“It was big and it was abandoned.”

“Just seems…creepy.” Dave stirred the tapioca around in its plastic cup and when it dawned on him no amount of stirring was going to make it any more appetizing, he pushed it to the corner of the lunch tray where it belonged and picked at what was left of his cold fries.

“It was creepy,” James replied. “And smelly.”

“If this guy’s a reputable doctor, why doesn’t he have an office where he can see you like a normal patient?” Dave questioned.

“I don’t know? I don’t think he’s that kind of doctor. I think he’s more like a scientist, like a research kind of doctor. Besides, the guy’s like ninety years old. There’s no way he could still be practicing anyway.”

Dave shook his head. “I don’t like it. Old doctor who does business in an abandoned warehouse. Being a doctor doesn’t mean you’re all about healing and helping your fellow man, you know. Look at Doctor Doom and Doctor Octopus.”

“Were either of them actual doctors?”

“You’re not sure this guy is either!” Dave almost shouted.

James shrugged, “Touché.”

“Wassup, ladies!” Jerry Hart called as he slapped Dave on the back and sat down next to him.

“Eh,” Dave sneered.

“Hey, Jerry,” James said. Despite a near crippling blow to the crotch during a dodgeball match several years back, Jerry Hart had forgiven James and taken quite a liking to him. They now played football together and Jerry, though larger and more squared in body style than James, seemed to look up to James’ natural ability. Because he liked James, he tolerated Dave, despite his non-athlete status, which went against his standard principles.

“So, Jimmy, wanna lift after school?”

“Okay,” James nodded. “Sounds good.”

With the bulk of their normal conversation already behind them, Jerry nodded and looked around the table, mouth agape, from James to Dave and back again. They both figured Jerry would eventually become bored and walk away.

“So what are you homos talkin’ about?” Jerry asked instead.

“Comic books,” James replied and Jerry laughed.

This upset Dave. For as much as Jerry Hart annoyed him, a part deep inside felt the need to impress him. Dave didn’t want to be categorized as the geek of the group. He knew he wasn’t going to play an organized sport anytime soon, but he had his manhood to protect nonetheless.

“Yeah, we were talking about which super hero you’d most want to bang,” Dave said in his best jock voice, which didn’t sound natural on him, “Ms. Marvel, Spider Woman or the Scarlet Witch.”

James laughed inside at how ridiculous Dave sounded. “I wanted She-Hulk included as an option, but Dave refused,” he secretly mocked.

“Whatever,” Jerry said. “Aren’t all the comic book chicks drawn the exact same way, just with different color hair?” Then he stood up from the table and walked off. “Later. After school, Jimmy, don’t forget.”

Dave looked sullenly down into his tray. Soon, he began picking up fries and stabbing them violently into the tapioca.

“I’ll say one thing,” James said. “He just made a pretty good point. Especially for Jerry.”

“What does he know,” Dave said without looking up. “Ms. Marvel obviously has a more muscular and athletic build. You need to seriously do something about the man crush he’s developed on you. It’s starting to annoy me. Anyway, we were talking about important shit before the mongoloid showed up.”

“Yeah, so important I can’t remember what it was.”

“About this doctor dude. What’s his story?”

“I don’t know, Dave,” James sighed. “My dad trusts him, so I guess I shouldn’t be so creeped out by him. He’s just old. Besides, he agrees with you.”

“With me? Who?”

“Doctor Caine. He thinks comic books are partly true, too. You should’ve seen the look on my dad’s face.”

Dave nodded thoughtfully. “Doctor Strange was always wise and insightful. And I suppose Doc Samson tried to help the Hulk. Captain America always looked up to Doctor Erskine and the X-Men had Professor Xavier who practically saved them all. Maybe this guy could be a good mentor for you.”

“I’m glad you suddenly approve,” James laughed. “Now, I want to know who you would pick.”

“Scarlet Witch,” Dave replied immediately. “Crazy chicks just do something for me.”


(Europe, Summer 1934)

In the cellar of a tavern, as muffled noise from the patrons above could be heard, a man in a sharply pressed grey suit sat alone at a table with a glass of brandy. He stared straight ahead at the wall before him and waited for his guest to arrive.

Soon, a young man was led down the stairs, each arm held at its elbow by large men who barely let his feet touch more than air. After shoving him against the wall, the two men searched him to their satisfaction. Then one pointed abruptly at the chair across form the solitary man.


He sat. Further satisfied, the large men retreated up the stairs.

The young man sat stiff. He had no idea who the man he sat across from was, but he knew he was the kind of man who you let talk first. So, he waited and watched as he produced a cigarette from a shiny metal case, cupped it in his hands and lit it. He watched as the man took three long drags and made three long plumes of smoke from his mouth as he stared at the wall.

Finally, the man turned to look him in the eyes and said, “Your father tells us that you are our man.”

The young man knew better than to answer an unasked question. He remained silent.

“Coming from anyone else, I would be skeptical. What man does not think his son can handle any job he is tasked with? But from your father, this means something.”

The man’s gaze returned to the wall and he took another long drag from his cigarette.

“Your father,” he continued, “would do anything for his country. If his country asked a service from his son and he thought his son unfit to perform, he would sooner kill you himself than allow you to fail his country and disgrace his family. This is the depth of your father’s loyalty to his country.”

The man looked at the mere boy across the table from him again.

“I know that is not a pleasant thing to hear, that your father would do such a thing, but I assure you it is true. As sure as I sit here, I know it to be so. In time, this is something you will come to respect about your father. But if it upsets you now, I would not think less of you. You are young. Very young.”

He leaned across the table and blew smoke in the young man’s face. “We argued that you were too young, in fact. But your father, your loyal country bound father, insisted that you were our man. Still a boy, certainly, but our man. So it matters not to me if knowing your father would sacrifice you for the glory of our motherland upsets you. It matters only that he has said you are up to the task.”

A long silence hung in the air then. The young man suspected it was a test to see if he would speak out of fear or impatience. He said nothing. His father had, in fact, taught him well.

Furthermore, he was not distressed to learn that his father thought him expendable. On the contrary, he knew all the same things this stranger told him about his own father. Knowing that the task ahead was great and that his father still presented him like a gift to these men was flattering. But this was nothing he need explain to this man. He suspected that he would never see this man again after tonight.

“Do you know what you are to do, boy?”

“No, sir,” he answered promptly, for you do not leave men like this awaiting answers.

The man smiled at his younger counterpart. “Then I will take pleasure in telling you.” The man then took a deep breath and leaned back in his chair before beginning.

“During the years of the Great War, an experiment was underway in Oslo. It was named Project Midgard, as it was designed to bring the gods to Earth. You see, the experiment involved the enhancement of human abilities.

“Even as a young man, to think that people may be willing to partake in such experiments may not surprise you. People have gone to great lengths before to try and enhance themselves. What might surprise you is that this particular venture was successful. I can tell you this because I have seen its results with my own eyes. Men who could run faster than any beast on Earth. Men who could jump onto the roof of a building from two planted feet. Even men who could strike this stone wall and bring this entire building down upon us and then emerge from the rubble, unscathed.

“These men walk among us. They hide among us. They shall be allowed to hide no longer.”

From somewhere next to his chair, the man pulled a paper envelope. He held it up high and allowed the younger man to look at it awhile before dropping it dramatically to the table.

“Contained there is every secret to be told about Project Midgard. Sadly, there are many secrets that have yet to be told. Discovering them is of great interest to us.

“Times are changing quickly and soon your country will be ready to assume its rightful place atop this world. But to do so with confidence, these men, these enhanced men, these…gods on Earth are to be dealt with. Your country needs you to find these men, one by one if necessary. It must be determined where their loyalty lies and if their loyalty may be bought. Should they choose correctly, they will be heroes, assuredly. Should they refuse, they must be destroyed. Any one man possessing such power would pose an immediate threat to your country’s supremacy. Should our enemies or those who would see us denied our rightful place sway any of these men to their cause, it could mean disaster. Do you understand what we are asking of you?”

“Yes, sir,” he answered sharply.

“Your life is not your own anymore, my son. It belongs now to your country as, being your father’s son, I suspect it always has. Your training begins immediately. There is much to learn.”

The man stood quickly and, in a flourish, donned the long coat and hat hanging in the corner. The younger man was about to stand out of respect.

“Remain in your seat,” he was instructed and did so. The standing man smiled broadly. “You have a long road ahead of you and need all the rest you can afford.”

The man walked around the younger man and stood behind his chair, placing a hand on his shoulder. “May you serve your country and assist in its rise to power. And may all the world fear us.”

The man then took the needle he had produced from his sleeve and injected something with it into the young man’s neck. Instantly, his head slumped forward. He then leaned down and placed his mouth next to the ear of the unconscious young man.

“Good luck, Cornelius,” he whispered.