Saturday, January 9, 2010

Review: Siege #1

A few nights ago, I wrote an entry about New Year’s resolutions, and my decision to finally give them a try. In that same entry, I resolved to update my blog a lot more often – something I’ve pulled off rather well as of late, considering my past track record. Of course, this entails me constantly looking for new things to write. Seeing as how I’ve reignited my passion for comics after a few years’ dormancy, it only seems natural that I give writing comic reviews a shot.

(Sorta-long aside: in that very same entry, Paolo pointed out a rather embarrassing oversight on my part – I credited Foreigner with a Survivor song. As much as I’d like to sulk about my mistake, especially since MY FATHER HAS BEEN MAKING ME LISTEN TO THE SONG EVER SINCE I WAS A KID AND IT’S BEEN A PART OF MY SOUL SINCE GOD KNOWS WHEN SO I NEVER SHOULD HAVE GOTTEN IT WRONG IN THE FIRST PLACE, I’ll suck it up, blame it on my current bout of insomnia, and repay Paolo’s call by plugging GeekFight, which he hosts. It is, by far, the most fun Trivia Night series I’ve attended, and the next one’s on this coming Monday, January 11, at Last Home, near Robinson’s Pioneer. Also, this coming Monday will serve as Paolo’s de facto birthday party, so it’s bound to be dripping with awesome.)

Anyhoots, I figured I’d kick off the year’s reviews with an event that started the moment Brian Michael Bendis pretty much took over the Marvel Universe – Siege. To be precise, I’ll be reviewing Siege #1, written by the infamous bald scribe and illustrated by Olivier Coipel.

Siege is hyped up to be culmination of all the Bendis-helmed major crossover events, making it a project that was at least seven years in the making (the event has its roots in Avengers Disassembled, which ran in the late parts of 2004). It’s this fact alone that has me a little disappointed in the series from the get-go. As of now, Siege’s main series is scheduled to consist of just four issues, which is an extremely short payoff for something Marvel’s been trying to make you drool over for the past year or so. This theme seems to carry over into the series’ debut issue, as one-third of the main story has already been released via previews and teaser comics. Six of the 23 story pages have already seen print, and the rest of the 38-page comic (discounting ads) consists of Joe Quesada’s obligatory primer on the event, supplementary material on Siege, and a preview for Fall of the Hulks. In terms of page count alone, Siege #1’s new content fails to live up to the insane hype machine that’s been running since BEFORE the event was announced.

That said, the content does show that Siege has the potential to be an awesome event. People tend to hate on Bendis a lot, but you can’t argue with the man’s ability to create plots that mirror American society today without really being too preachy. Siege is no different. The whole idea behind the crossover is that Norman Osborn’s attempts to “purify” America under his image have reached insane heights. He believes that the realm of Asgard (the home of the Norse gods which for reasons too long to explain now floats over Oklahoma) is a threat to his rise to power, and so he crafts a plot that paints Asgard as a foreign threat to the American way of life, one that needs to be removed from American territory immediately. And so he wages war. On a city of fucking GODS.

The previously-released pages provide the most relevant plot points of the issue, and parallel the events that led to a past Bendis crossover, Civil War. While many fans on the net cry foul at this supposed lack of originality, I see it as bloody brilliant. If Osborn’s goal is to gain support for his assault on Asgard, what better way to do it than to manufacture an incident that so closely mirrored what ignited public outrage against the superhero community as a whole? We all know how society is prone to knee-jerk reactions when it comes to history potentially repeating itself, and Bendis was all too eager to point out how this tendency can be manipulated by people in power.

The rest of the issue lays the foundation for the many side-plots that arise from Osborn’s insane agenda – Victoria Hand’s growing doubt, Ares’ wavering loyalty to Osborn, the Dark Avengers’ motivation for engaging in this suicide mission despite their diminishing trust in Osborn, the White House’s indignation at Osborn’s course of action, and Loki’s cunning manipulation of the events that transpire. You just know that Bendis is setting Stormin’ Norman up to fail, and yet, in the pages that follow, you can’t help but think that the megalomaniac will come out on top. The final panel presents a glimmer of hope, however, in a manner that seems almost poetic when Civil War is taken into consideration.

Olivier Coipel does a decent job of handling the issue’s artistic duties. I never really followed the guy (the last I’ve seen of his work was House of M, another Bendis collaboration), so I can’t really provide a solid critique of the artist in general. From what he’s done in the first issue of Siege, though, we can see that he’s more than capable of making Bendis’ story flow visually. The information in the story is so condensed that it’s better suited for a 32-page spread, but Coipel manages to make everything feel just right despite the lack of space. His visual style is a fine match for the story’s tone, as the whole shebang comes off as one of those epic action movies. Think Black Hawk Down as compared to Rush Hour, and you’ll see what I mean.

I do have one teeny-tiny nitpick, however. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by Ivan Reis’ fantastic work on Blackest Night, but Coipel’s last panel didn’t seem to give off the impact it should have. It was potentially one of the series’ most defining moments, but while the intention was clear, the execution seemed lackluster.

All in all, if the mega-crazy-super-duper-hyper-hype is disregarded, Siege #1 feels like an excellent kick-off to the final part of Bendis’ nearly decade-long saga. The man has done an impeccable job of returning the Avengers to relevance and defining Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor as the foundations of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. I never really cared for these characters before, but now I find myself clamoring for their long-anticipated reunion.

Read on >

Friday, January 8, 2010

On Pubic Hair, Politics, and Progressive Thinking

I’ve been relying on taxis for quite some time now, and I’ve developed a sort of love-hate relationship with them. I love that they can get me to wherever I want, but I hate that getting one can be so inconvenient. I love that they’re a lot more private than the sweaty, squishy trains, but I hate that a lot of the drivers can be total assholes. What I really, really love about cabs, though, is that I sometimes get the most amazing stories and meet some really fascinating people.

This is why I’ve decided to introduce a new subsection to my tiny little blog: The Taxi Ride Diaries. For as long as I am utterly dependent on cabs as my main form of transportation, I’m bound to come up with stories worth sharing. I’ve actually had this idea in my head for quite some time now, but tonight’s escapades gave me that final push I needed to get started on it.

The first cab ride was rather inconsequential, other than the fact that it had me fearing for my life. I was on my way to Lauren’s place, and as a pleasant surprise, I had no trouble getting a ride during the taxi rush hour on my street (around 7:00-8:00pm). The driver, unfortunately, must have been high on something, as he was noticeably twitchy as he drove. Things got scarier when I noticed his legs fidgeting, causing his feet to occasionally slide off the pedals. He seemed to be in enough control to get me to Lauren’s place, though, so I figured I may as well just stick with him. Thinking back, that wasn’t really the smartest option, was it?

I got to Lauren’s safe enough, and had a great time eating brownies and chatting with Tita Noemi and watching the animated joy that is The Venture Brothers. It was getting pretty late, and so I went on my merry way home. Now, the walk from Lauren’s home to her village’s gate is a good ten minutes or so, and I sometimes catch taxis on their way out. I usually hail these cabs as they NEVER turn me down (a rarity in this country), and I get pretty spooked by the village late at night. I, uh, kinda imagine seeing dead people where there aren’t any. Stupid overactive imagination.

Sure enough, a cab arrived to spare me from my own silly thoughts. To my surprise, I didn’t even have to hail him. The driver (who unfortunately I never got the name of) was a pretty old man, the kind who shouldn’t be driving at his age, and he was lost. He pulled over to ask me for directions to the gate. I told him that I was actually on my way out, and could use a ride. I hopped into the cab, and directed him to the gate. When we got there, though, the guard told us that the driver’s pass was from the gate on the OTHER side of the village, and that he had to exit from there. Although I was really, really tempted to get down from there and get a cab from where it was closer to my place, something in my gut told me I should stick with the old man. He looked like he’d been lost for a while, and probably wasn’t going to be too good with directions.

And so we turned back and made our way to the other side of the village. I had no idea how huge Lauren’s village was, and I was worried that me and the cab driver might end up getting lost again. The driver was the type of old man who seemed borderline senile, muttering about how he got lost and talking about a truck that he used as a marker but couldn’t find again, mostly because he had confused other trucks for it. Luckily, though, there was a bunch of people along the way, and we were able to get directions to the exit. We found the gate easily enough, handed the guards the driver’s pass, and got back on the road.

The old man turned to me and snickered, telling me he felt like NoyNoy Aquino back there. I asked what he meant by that, and he said (in Filipino)”Like I had absolutely no idea on what to do or where to go. I felt completely incompetent.” I couldn’t help but giggle back. The driver must have taken this as a hint that I was one of those passengers up for a little conversation, as he became more animated and started talking about anything and everything. In this regard, “anything” meant him talking about how he started wearing Crispa briefs when he first got his first bulbol (pubic hairs), and “everything” meant how that very fact was tied into the sorry state of Philippine politics.

He told me about how much he missed Crispa briefs, about how nice they felt, and how they were a far cry from the shorts his mother made for him out of flour sacks. He told me how sad he was that Crispa wasn’t around much anymore, as compared to the brand in its heyday. He found it rather depressing that his favorite local producer of underwear and shirts was taking a backseat to foreign brands, and how that lack of support for local brands was taking its toll on the economy. He made a lot of sense, to be honest, and he got me listening.

He went on to talk about a variety things, like the origins of Ukay-Ukay and where you’d go to buy surplus appliances back in the day, and he somehow managed to connect it all to politics and the economy. I don’t really remember how we got there, but the conversation went back to NoyNoy, and how it worried the driver that NoyNoy might be too-heavily influenced by the Catholic Church.

This was something I didn’t expect to hear from a cab driver, especially an aged one from one of the most strongly-Catholic countries in the world. I asked him what he meant by this, and he went on to tell me something I never saw coming – he used the RH Bill as an example. He said it was a downright shame that the RH Bill wasn't passed. He saw it as a step in the right direction for the country, in that it was a positive method of helping solve overpopulation, which in turn would help improve the economy. He said that the local clergy got in the way, telling people that the Bill was immoral and promoted abortion. The driver argued that the Bill did no such thing, and merely wanted to ensure that students were educated about alternative ways of avoiding unwanted pregnancies, rather than the ineffective withdrawal movement the Church suggested. What we needed, the driver said, was a leader who could stand up to the Church, who’d ignore their outdated badgering and take an active role in shaping the country with a State separated from the Church, as it should be.

Clearly, these weren’t thoughts I imagined my aged cab driver would be sharing, especially since he told me that he never went to school or anything. And yet he was able to argue a most progressive argument for the RH Bill, which was unpopular among many Filipinos because of the Church’s influence. I’d have listened to more, but by then we had arrived at my place. I paid the man, thanked him for the ride, and thanked him for the talk. He let out a kind laugh, smiled, and drove away.

I don’t know why, but the experience made me feel a little better about the country’s fate. Maybe it was because the old man showed me that there really are intelligent, forward-thinking individuals out there who can see beyond the mass hysteria of public opinion. With the elections coming around, I can only hope that these people step forward and take action.

Read on >

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Cute Meet

I love my friends. That’s why I can’t really write about the night I met Lauren in full, explicit detail. Doing so might make a lot of my friends laugh, while some of them might remain indifferent. One of them, though, might get hurt, and that’s something I definitely want to avoid. If you want the complete story, you’ll have to ask me in person. Thankfully, though, that particular section of the night Lauren and I first caught each others’ eyes happened in the beginning, and waaaaay before all the mushy stuff. Without further ado, here’s my I-really-love-this-story-and-I-wanna-share-it-to-the-world-but-I-can’t-without-potentially-losing-a-friend-so-here’s-the-best-I-can-do account of that evening:

I was on the road with a bunch of my college friends, and we were on the way to Cantina at Katipunan. My friend JC got word of some late-night escapades in the area that somehow involved Paula, Rica, Kimi, some other Psych people that I’ve embarrassingly forgotten were there, and oodles and oodles of alcohol. More than anything, it was the oodles and oodles of alcohol that beckoned me.

Pardon the really bad chronology for now, but we’ll need about three flashbacks to paint the picture of that car ride right. The first flashback happened months ago, when my ex dumped me in August. Shortly thereafter, my manager in my former office decided to pounce on the opportunity to take her crush on me to the next level (why she crushed on me, I’ll never know). The days and weeks and months that followed were a harrowing ordeal that involved a lot of inappropriate touching, Miley Cyrus songs, and The One Cup of Pudding I Would NEVER EVER Eat.

The second flashback takes me back to one extremely slow day at the office. My mind started to wander out of sheer boredom, and I found myself realizing that I *needed* someone to love. I couldn’t quite explain it at the time, but I think I’m one of those people who genuinely feel an incredible amount of emotion, and without someone or something to share that emotion with, get unbearably restless and frustrated. My singlehood wasn’t characterized by a void, but by an upwelling of feelings that threatened to spontaneously combust within me. I told all this to one of my better friends at the office. I never felt like a bigger pansy for doing so.

The third sorta-flashback was that whole awkward stage after the epiphany, where I, for the very first time in my life, was actively looking for love. Eek.

It didn’t go very well, and after a lackluster experience and three rather frightening ones, I decided I had had enough of it all, which brings us back to the car ride. I resolved to stop looking and just live. I was tired and drained and I just didn’t want to put any effort into finding someone to love anymore. I was done with being single-and-seeking, and wanted to be just single. Most of all, though, I was frustrated – why couldn’t I find a smart, funny, sexy, cute, intelligent, dorky girl who wasn’t bat-shit crazy??? I wanted to cut my losses and ditch the whole “wanting someone to love” bit. I remember telling all this to everyone in the car. I never felt like a bigger douche for doing so.

When we finally arrived at Cantina, I was surprised to see more people than I expected, including a few unfamiliar faces. The group was way too big for the table we were at, so we moved to a bigger one. Since I was closest to the new table, I ended up being the first to sit. That’s when I found myself cut off from my Psych friends and surrounded by three long-haired strangers – Helga, Luis, and Lauren. What seemed like the perfect opportunity to make new friends was an incredibly terrifying experience for me. I’m incredibly awkward at these sorts of situations, so I made a hasty retreat to my beer.

Then, for some strange reason, something in me kind of just switched on. I figured since there was no way I could weasel closer to my college friends, I may as well make the most of things and *gasp* be social. I acted completely out of character and started blabbing away, although occasionally bringing the beer to my mouth at times of awkwardness. I didn’t realize it until long after that evening that Girl to the Left (Helga) did a fantastic job of facilitating conversation between me and Girl to the Right (Lauren), who I couldn’t help but notice was pretty damn cute. Helga asked if I liked zombies, to which I replied with a resounding yes. Lauren then followed up with “What’s your favorite zombie movie?”, and I told her I had to go with Romero’s rather visceral piece of social commentary, as it showed that zombie flicks could actually be quite profound. Helga asked if I liked cats, and I told the group I actually grew up as a cat person, but recently learned to appreciate dogs, too.

Then Helga asked if I was gay. I imagine Lauren looked mortified at this moment, but I was actually kinda glad Helga asked. I know I don’t necessarily look like my personality, so I took this as an awesome conversation starter. I asked them what I looked like, and after a few queasy replies, we determined that my overall aesthetic was that of a gay management student. I found this really funny, and I explained to them how far off that image was from the actual me. Somehow I got into joking that I was actually this totally emo character, and talked about how I love to slash my wrists and about how all I really wanted was to be hugged. Lauren kept laughing along with me, and we didn’t really notice that the conversation ended up being between just the two of us.

I couldn’t help but realize how good it felt to make Lauren laugh. There was just something about her that made me want to bring that beautiful smile out over and over again. Before I knew it, I was crushing on her.

It was getting pretty late, and people wanted to go home. Those of us who arrived late to the party, though, wanted to keep drinking. We decided to head out to Meat Shop 2.0 for a little more inebriation. To my surprise, Lauren didn’t leave with Helga and Luis, and instead came with us to Meat Shop. I was noticeably quieter at that point because of three things: 1) I was getting tired; 2) I was doing so well with this amazing new girl and I didn’t want to fuck anything up; and 3) HOLY SHIT SHE’S FUCKING SITTING RIGHT BESIDE ME DON’T DO ANYTHING STUPID. Yeah, I was majorly crushing.

Thankfully, I avoided almost all sorts of I’m-a-cool-guy-and-totally-not-dorky faux pas. Almost. My friend Dino offered to drive Rica home after Meat Shop, to which a slightly tipsy Rica happily agreed. We all got into Dino’s car and headed out. After we dropped Rica off, Dino felt like driving a little longer and offered to drive Lauren home as well. I have no idea what possessed me, but when he offered, I found myself singing Drive by The Cars. Oops. For one thing, making a 80s reference was sooooo 90s of me. A poor rendition of the song, as performed by a tipsy talentless buffoon, is just plain sad. To my surprise, Lauren was perfectly fine with my act of dorkery. I found out weeks later that she actually thought it was kinda cute.

We dropped Lauren off at her place (during which I expressed my awe at the Big Boy-ish statue in her village), and that was the end of the evening. As I headed home, I remember thinking “Did I really just meet a girl who was smart and funny and sexy and cute and intelligent AND dorky???”

It’s been a year since then, and I can attest to the fact that Lauren really is smart and funny and sexy and cute and intelligent AND dorky.

And she’s bat-shit crazy in love with me. <3

Read on >

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Resolutionary War, or How Survivor will Change My Life in 2010

I fucking hate New Year’s Eve. There, I said it. Every year, my hearing gets a little worse thanks to the fireworks that go BOOM in rapid, obnoxious succession. The smoke from said fireworks is pretty smelly, and it colors my boogers black (heehee, I said “boogers”). I stay up ‘till ungodly hours (read: 9am) because my family heads on over to my lola’s house in DasmariƱas Village AFTER 2am, and we party until after the sun comes up.

Perhaps the thing I dislike most about New Year’s Eve, though, is the resolution-making. Every year, people ask me what my New Year’s resolutions are, to which I mumble incoherently so as to disguise the fact that I don’t have any. I don’t make any resolutions because I think they’re silly, desperate attempts to correct the previous year’s mistakes. I mean, most of the resolutions I’ve heard were all based on what my friends should’ve done in 2009. I should’ve been friendlier, therefore I resolve to be more social this year. I should’ve taken more care of my figure, therefore 2010 will be the year I diet and exercise! I should’ve fallen in love, therefore I will leap at the opportunities that present themselves in 2010.

Blah-dee-blah-dee-blah. I don’t see why people should start their years by thinking immediately of their regrets, nor do I see why they attempt to make up for these regrets by making these vague, impossible-to-fulfill promises to themselves. Saying “I promise to be better” opens you up for disappointment, especially since the goals set during New Year’s Eve are usually too hard to reach.

But this isn’t some rant entry. In fact, it’s supposed to be quite jolly and optimistic and motivational. Let’s rewind and brighten things up, shall we?

In retrospect, New Year’s Eve isn’t too bad. Sure, the fireworks can be deafening, but they’re also really pretty, and I happen to find them very romantic. The smoke does get pretty gross, but the awesome Silent Hill-like fog the morning after makes the city look a lot more interesting. I may lose sleep over the holidays, but that’s because I’m drinking and partying with people I really, really love.

The resolutions, though, I still find kinda silly and desperate. I guess it just isn’t my thing.

And then I remember that 2010 is the Year of the Tiger, which to my overly-cheesy mind reminds me of Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger. This, my friends, is THE YEAR OF THE THEME SONG FROM ROCKY. Because The Immortal Power Ballad of Triumph now plays in my head every time I think of what year it is, I must pay due respect to it. I must overcome physical exertion, mental exhaustion, and an indecipherable Italian-American accent. I must challenge myself and succeed. I must… make some New Year’s resolutions.

See, I like to approach life with a little spontaneity. Resolutions kind of take away from that, like planning what you’re going to have for dessert before raiding the fridge does. Telling yourself, “I’m soooooo gonna have ice cream,” before opening your freezer door can have one of two effects – A) You get your ice cream, and you are satisfied over getting exactly what you want; or B) You find that there’s no ice cream, and you’re left with that lingering craving for cold, creamy goodness. Opening the ref without really planning your dessert brings the possibility of pleasant surprises. You can peek into the freezer and go “HOLY SHIT ICE CREAM FUCK YEAH EXPLETIVE EXPLETIVE JOY”. You can find that there’s no ice cream at all, but you weren’t really looking for it anyway, so there wasn’t really any loss. Or you can look into an empty freezer, have your eyes wander downwards, and find cookies that you didn’t know you wanted until you saw them. Approaching life with light expectations (because, of course, you’re still hoping to find dessert in the ref) just brings you more avenues for happiness through serendipity. Heck, the night I met Lauren was a prime example of that (you can read her fantastically-written account of that evening here while I'm still writing my own).

This outlook towards expectations has never really failed me, and I really like the ways things are now. I don’t really put too much pressure on myself or on the things (or people) that make me happy. But then Survivor’s words echo through my mind, and I recall the sweet, sweet feeling of triumph that Rocky reveled in when he got past that final step at the end of the classic movie montage, and it makes me want that feeling. Bad. And if New Year's resolutions can give me that feeling, well... Maybe they aren't so silly after all.

And so, with Eye of the Tiger playing in the background, here are the steps to my Philadelphia Museum of Art:

1. Write all those blog entries I wrote in my head these past two months and finally post them, GODDAMMIT! I’m giving myself until the end of next week for this one.

2. Update my blogs a lot more. Attempt to write an entry in either blog at least once a week. This one counts.

3. Once I’ve gotten the hang of writing more often, shoot for an entry a day for an entire month (probably May or October).

4. Give my sister the Most Awesome Palanca Ever for her final high school retreat.

5. Learn to draw better poses for my doodles.

6. Unlock the mysteries of perspective drawing.

7. Finish a painting I’d actually be proud of.

8. Make my girlfriend insanely, butt-wigglingly happy through some sort of gesture (although this is always a goal).

9. Gain five pounds. Preferably of muscle. Preferably before I take my 6-foot+ junior varsity cousin on in a basketball game I challenged him to.

10. Stop making such stupid challenges.

11. Make enough money to be able to buy myself a Wii, a Rock Band set for Susan (my shiny new Xbox 360) and still have enough left over to keep myself comfortable.

12. Make myself a kick-ass personal calling card.

13. Learn a new skill, or refine an existing one. Drawing doesn’t count.

14. Make at least two more fwends. Two because I’m kinda shy. *blush*

15. Travel one more time (domestic or international) this year, after Bangkok this April.

Okay, so maybe my list is 57 steps short of the 72 that Rocky ran (does this appease you, fellow trivia nerds?), but I’m all about consistency, and staying consistent with myself means keeping my expectations for myself light. I’m also pretty good at disguising my inability to think of more goals (at least those that I think are achievable) through semi-believable rationalization. It’s going to be fun coming back to this list in the future and checking to see what I’ll have achieved by then. I have a horrible feeling I’m going to fail number 10, but 14 out of 15 ain’t so bad. I think. Anyway, I’m going to attack this list and do my goddamn best to rise to the challenges.

Eye of the Tiger, bitches. It’s my year. Roar. Meow.

Read on >