Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Tuesdays with Mollari

Hello again, Readers Mine, and welcome to another "Tuesdays with Mollari," where I regale you with my adventures while writing Dreams Given Form: The Unofficial Companion to the Universe of Babylon 5 (forthcoming in fall 2016 from ECW Press). My co-author, K. Dale Koontz, and I have both had some unexpected things on our plates this fall, so we're not as far along as we'd like to be, but I feel confident that our deadline will be met! Rather than regale you with yet another post gushing about Babylon 5, I thought I would dedicate this week's post to some of the nuts and bolts of writing the book.

The main alien cast of Babylon 5. From left to right: Vir Cotto (Stephen Furst), Londo Mollari (Peter Jurasik), Kosh (Ardwight Chamberlin [voice]), Delenn (Mira Furlan), Lennier (Bill Mumy), and G'Kar (Andreas Katsulas).
So tomorrow I will finish my "annotating rewatch" of season 1, which means that Thursday will begin the actual writing process for that season. Fortunately, this isn't our first time at the rodeo. We learned a lot about writing a companion guide with our first book: Wanna Cook? The Complete Unofficial Companion to Breaking Bad (which, by the way, makes the absolutely perfect gift for the Breaking Bad fan in your family or set of friends - and for under twenty bucks!).

Dreams Given Form will include episode guides for each season of Babylon 5 (and for Crusade, Legend of the Rangers, and the other B5 films) which will look at each and every episode individually. There are some tricks here, though. First, we need to stay spoiler-free for those who might be coming to the series for the first time, so while we can point out things that a new viewer might want to look for in the future, we have to do it in a very careful fashion. Second, we can't write an episode summary, because that's illegal when you are doing it for financial gain (which we hopefully are!) So the write up is more of a critical look at what's going on in a given episode, an analysis of the action rather than a retelling.

Then comes the nitty-gritty stuff: a humorous quote or two, a section pointing out some things that the casual viewer might not have immediately noticed, any continuity or plot errors, elements of the episode that fit in with the master story arc, interesting facts about the production of the episode, and an explication of the episode's title if necessary. Occasionally, we will also include a paragraph or two focusing on a certain element of the episode or series that might benefit from some further investigation, like the Earth Alliance rank structure. The goal is to create a write-up that offers something to the existing fan and the new viewer alike.

Here's the trick, though: we have a maximum word count. In other words, our publisher doesn't want us to exceed a certain number of words, total, so the book won't become huge and pricey. That means that we have to do all of the above in a manner that is informative, entertaining, thorough, and brief. Look, if you are reading this blog you are likely already a fan of B5, so you know how easy it is to go on and on about all of the amazing things in and around this show and JMS and the actors, the technology, etc, etc. The realities of the publishing business, however, force us to winnow things down to the essential information (and the stuff that is just entirely too cool to leave out). Remember that we're covering B5, Crusade, The Legend of the Rangers, all of the TV movies, The Lost Tales, the canonical comics, books and short stories - and we hope to include at least a few interviews with cast- and crew-members to boot! That's a lot of stuff, which means that there is simply no possible way that we can fit everything about everything in the book. And that's the hard part for fans like Dale and I, and it's also why we have a really good, really gentle, and completely ruthless editor to help us hack and slash all of the unnecessary stuff out, no matter how cool. So the writing process is always an adventure, always a fight keep things tight while also keeping the soul of the series intact.

It's a lot of work, and it's often frustrating as hell, and twice as annoying. I can't wait to get started! Because no matter what else it may be, this is the opportunity I've been waiting for since 1993 - I get to write about Babylon 5!!! Really, it just doesn't get any better than that! So, until next time -

Hold the Line!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Tuesdays with Mollari

Hello Readers Mine, and welcome to another installment of "Tuesdays with Mollari" here at Solomon Mao's. I suppose I should begin with an apology and an explanation for having been off the air for so long a stretch. I am truly sorry, but things have been a bit hairy at the Guffey household these past few weeks. There has been sickness of both the hacking-and-coughing variety and sickness of the much more terrifying cells-growing-out-of-control variety. Once we reach the end of things I think that all will be well (we caught those nasty cells very early) but getting there is more than a bit stressful. (Talk about really wishing we could call Dr. Franklin and some 23rd century medicine!) I'll also make a note that beginning with this post "Tuesdays with Mollari" will be going bi-weekly (the every other week biweekly, not the twice a week kind). There's just too much going on right now to try and keep to a weekly schedule. Nonetheless, after a hiatus of a few weeks, the rewatch of Babylon 5 for our forthcoming book Dreams Given Form: the Unofficial Companion to the Universe of Babylon 5, continues!

The great John Vickery as Neroon in "Legacies" (1.17)
So today I watched "Legacies" which features the first appearance of Neroon, played by John Vickery (whom you might also recognize as Mr. Wells from the clip I posted a few weeks ago). Neroon is one of my favorite recurring characters in all of Babylon 5, and Vickery pulls of an incredible performance every time he's on screen, embodying the Minbari loyal opposition to perfection. Neroon is also a wonderful example of Straczynski's attention to detail when it comes to character. From his first appearance here in the last few episodes of season 1 to his powerful final appearance in season 4, Neroon has one hell of an arc. He appears a grand total of five times during the series, and each time he has obviously changed and grown off-screen. The combination of Straczynski's meticulous concern with character and Vickery's acting chops give the viewer a three dimensional character every time, and one that never feels like he has just been placed in suspended animation while he's been absent.

This is great storytelling. Sure, it can seem a bit obvious, but it is astonishing how often writers and showrunners don't bother to create a narrative universe that demonstrates the effects of everything happening off-screen, that convinces the audience that we're only seeing a small part of the universe, and that in huge swaths of the parts we're not seeing, people are living, loving, fighting, dying, growing, and shrinking all of the time. That's what happens in the real world, after all. We have all had the experience of meeting someone again after a long absence: old friends, friends of friends, former co-workers, former lovers, etc. and being surprised and taken aback at how they have changed in the interval, how the image of them we have fixed in our memory has become outdated thanks to the simple fact that their lives have continued even when we weren't around. We generally get over our surprise pretty quickly, because of course their lives have gone on! So have ours. That's just the way things work. To see this done so well in a work of fiction is something else again, and brings an entirely new  level of verisimilitude to Babylon 5. In part, it is all of the little licks like Neroon's character that drew Dale and I to write about the series, and the comics, and the books, and movies. The Babylon 5 universe is so intricate, and so beautifully, wonderfully realized across the media. Things happen there, even when we're not looking!

Well, that's it for this week, Readers Mine. Tune in two weeks from today for the next installment of "Tuesdays with Mollari," and tune in every week over on Unfettered Brilliance for my co-author's "Third Age Thursday" posts, because she is a blogging machine! Between posts here, you can find me throughout the interwebs by clicking on the various social media buttons in the upper right of this page and following/friending/stalking me as appropriate. That way you'll get all of the cool B5 and StudioJMS news that comes across my screen, and you'll likely see some other good stuff as well. You can also find Dale and I over on Biff Bam Pop! every other week for our regular "The Ten Percent" column, so check us out here, there, and everywhere. Until next time, then -

Hold the Line!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Tuesdays with Mollari

Hello, Readers Mine, and welcome to another installment of "Tuesdays with Mollari." I've taken a couple of weeks off from working on Dreams Given Form: The Unofficial Companion to the Universe of Babylon 5 in order to keep some other plates spinning properly, but now I'm back. Work on Dreams Given Form continues to be more fun than anything else, and season 1 of Babylon 5 continues to reward a close and critical rewatch. Today I took notes on "Grail" (1.15), which features David Warner as Aldous Gajic, a human who has dedicated his life to the search for the Holy Grail.

David Warner as Aldous Gajic, complete with Big Stick.
Gajic (named by writer Christy Marx for Mira "Delenn" Furlan's husband Goran Gajic) is regarded by the Minbari as a True Seeker, leading to one of my favorite Delenn lines:
"It does not matter that his Grail may or may not exist. What matters is that he strives for the perfection of his soul and the salvation of his race, and that he has never wavered, or lost faith."
Later in the episode, Aldous himself will note that "Sometimes it's the search that counts, not the finding." This is one of several themes that JMS returns to again and again throughout Babylon 5, as pretty much every character on the show continues to search for - to paraphrase Delenn - "a reason for everything."

In fact, a lot of what we humans do comes down to the act of creating meaning - for ourselves, for our communities, for our posterity. We are creatures who crave significance and the security of there being a reason for everything. This sometimes doesn't work out for us, of course. The universe, as Babylon 5 never fails to remind us, is both more wonderful and more chaotic than most of us are really comfortable with. Yet, as "Grail" suggests, and as JMS will reiterate again and again, the true significance of our lives is the act of seeking, the attempt to create meaning in things great or small. We make houses into homes, lovers into family, strangers into communities, duty into honor. The end result isn't the point. It's all about making a house a home, all the lived experiences that go into that process. It's the journey, not the destination. In the end, we all go "beyond the rim," so all we have is the seeking.

It is also worth remembering that twenty-some years ago, it's likely that JMS was telling himself something along these lines regularly. Babylon 5 can seem kind of inevitable, a brilliant story well and completely told, but in 1994, no one knew if the show would get a second season, much less a fifth. Everyone had hopes, but that's all they were. In television production as in life, an appreciation for the value in the process itself can be the one thing that keep you sane!

In the end "Grail" is a self-contained, "monster-of-the-week" episode, with nothing much to do with the great arc of the series. Yet it fits, because the macro is in the micro. Sinclair's journey, and Sheridan's, and Delenn's. and Londo's, and G'kar's are all just beginning, and even with the final episode of the final season, they have not ended. We know all along how Londo and G'Kar will go out, but what's relevant is everything that happens before that final, deadly embrace. Ends are just punctuation. The meaning is in the sentence before.

That's it for this week. I'll see you next time around, and in the meanwhile, be sure to check out my co-author's brilliant "Third Age Thursdays" over on her blog, Unfettered Brilliance, and be sure and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, or even Google+, for all of the latest B5 news that comes across our screens. Until next time -

Hold the Line!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Tuesdays with Mollari

Hello, Readers Mine, and welcome to another "Tuesdays with Mollari!" Unfortunately, I have come down with a head cold so viscous that either Warmaster Jha'Dur cooked it up in one of her laboratories, or some kind of Pak'ma'ra virus has jumped the species barrier, so this will likely be a short check in as I have largely forgotten how to brain.

One of the things that science fiction does best is to ask the hard and the really big questions. Babylon 5 is a prime example of this. Besides "Who are you?" and "What do you want?" one of the most interesting and longest running questions asked by the series might be phrased as "Who is the Other?" A narrative universe that contains sentient non-terrestrial life can automatically open up some really interesting avenues for discussions about race, creed, gender, or any combination of "otherness." After all, when dealing with the Cantauri or the Narn or the Dilgar or whoever, humanity is dealing, for the first time in our history, with different races, different species, than our own.

Like human societies throughout history, the humans of the late 2250s and early 2260s, have a real tendency to put aside their differences when something comes along that we can all hate together. From the earliest episodes of Babylon 5, we hear reports of so-called "Earth First" organizations, which want to limit or end human contact and trade with aliens of all types. As the series progresses, we see both Sinclair and Sheridan derided in the Terran press as "alien lovers" a phrase that should immediately resonate in a nation which not too long ago hurled "Indian-lover" and "Nigger-lover" at citizens who began to look beyond what a person looked like in order to find out who they actually were.

In Babylon 5 this racism is brilliantly, and unfortunately, quite realistically mixed in with the goals of a security state under President Clark. Fear of the other is developed by official organizations like the Night Watch into fear of dissent and fear of disloyalty to the human race, and EarthGov. Disloyalty is framed as coming from people who have been confused or unknowingly subverted by vague and unspecified "alien influences." Such people are misguided, and need "reeducation." It kind of makes me sad that this theme is one of the things that gives Babylon 5 longevity beyond its original broadcast in the late 1990s. Oh, there are the good things about us homo saps in there too, but how prescient does JMS seem when rewatching the series after 9/11/01? The tensions between security and freedom, between our willingness to exercise our rights and our equal willingness to curtail them when the world makes us afraid, or when we are made to be afraid of the world and each other by people who have a vested interest in making us afraid are all there in Clark's government, the Night Watch, and the hatchet jobs performed on the crew of Babylon 5 by ISN.

Fear of the other rode to the stars with us in Babylon 5, and continued to manifest in some very, very ugly ways. Here as elsewhere in this tremendous series, JMS' fiction - isn't. It is said that great fiction is universal, by which people mean that it deals with eternal human truths - William Faulkner's "human heart in conflict with itself." Babylon 5, is just such a great fiction, and Straczynski, bless his writerly heart, always managed to remember that while we may carry the better angles of our nature into the future, we can be counted on to bring along our demons. We always struggle with Shadows.

John Vickery as Mr. Welles (hummm.... sounds familiar!) in 2.22: "The Fall of Night."

Until next time - Hold the Line!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Tuesdays with Mollari

Hello again Readers Mine, and welcome to "Tuesdays with Mollari," where I'll be yammering on about writing Dreams Given Form: The Unofficial Companion to the Universe of Babylon 5. My co-author, K. Dale Koontz, and I have signed a contract with ECW Press (who also published our first book Wanna Cook? The Complete, Unofficial Companion to Breaking Bad), and Dreams Given Form should be hitting bookstores in the fall of 2016. That may seem to be a ways off, but when you're planning to cover 110 episodes of Babylon 5, plus 5 B5 TV movies, the 13 aired and 6 scripted episodes of Crusade, the 9 canonical novels based on J. Michael Straczynski's  (JMS) outlines, 12 canonical comics, 1 mini-comic, 6 short stories, Babylon 5: The Legend of the Rangers, and Babylon 5: The Lost Tales... well, you begin to see the work-load we have before us. Dreams Given Form is an ambitious project, and getting all of the above into a single volume is not only going to be tricky, but also will require us to be ruthless when it comes to the length of each piece within the book. Still, B5 itself remains one of the most ambitious shows ever to air on broadcast television, so how better to honor it?

Michael O'Hare as Commander Jeffery Sinclair

So we have begun at the beginning, with a rewatch of Babylon 5, season 1. This isn't a matter of just sitting down and watching the show (again), but of pulling out the trusty lap-desk, legal-pad, and pen and watching it actively, critically, taking notes all the while. At this point I have to confess that I have never been a fan of the season 1 commander of B5, Jeffery Sinclair (played by Michael O'Hare). I have always much preferred Bruce Boxleitner's John Sheridan, who comes on in season 2 and remains the lead for the rest of the series. Yet in carefully rewatching season 1 this time, I have become more and more impressed with Michael O'Hare's chops as an actor, and find myself liking Sinclair far more than I ever have. He exercises a quiet power, with a soft voice that can suddenly take on a frozen razor's edge when it needs too. O'Hare does a tremendous job of creating a man who is easily underestimated, but is utterly in command of himself and of any situation he finds himself in. I think Sinclair is in many ways a more subtle character than Sheridan, and O'Hare realizes that brilliantly.

Yet even I have to admit that, like many many shows, B5 definitely had a case of the First Season Blues, where everything isn't quite running smoothly, and people aren't quite fully settled into their characters. Again this isn't uncommon, particularly in television SF (remember Star Trek: The Next Generation, season 1? "Encounter at Farpoint"? Yeah, First Season Blues.) Despite the often story-halting awkwardness of the Sinclair-Sakai relationship however, Babylon 5 comes through better than most, and JMS is already planting the seeds for the grand arc of the series. Things begin to sprout in the last episode I watched, "Signs and Portents" (1.13), where Ed Wasser (last seen as random C-in-C technician in the pilot movie Babylon 5: The Gathering) returns to the series as the darkly charming,and oh so very dangerous Mr. Morden, asking one of what I term the Two Great Questions of Babylon 5: "What do you want?"

Seems like a simple enough query, albeit it a bit vague, but only one person is able to answer it to Mr. Morden's satisfaction: Ambassador Londo Mollari (Peter Jurasik), The resulting scene is a classic, and Jurasik's phenomenal embodiment of  Londo's frustration, disappointment, and passion makes things suddenly very real, and very interesting:

This, however, is just the beginning. As the Lady Ladira remarks in this episode: "The Shadows have come for us all." Until next time -

Hold the Line!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Meth Monday: Cookin' in the UK!

Hello, Readers Mine! Well, just as soon as I put "Meth Monday" on hiatus, some cool stuff popped up that I figured I probably needed to share with you. First up, to all of our friends in the UK and Republic of Ireland (which are two separate entities, btw!), keep in mind that we have a great UK publisher in the form of Myrmidon Books, which means that Wanna Cook? The Complete, Unofficial Companion to Breaking Bad, is readily available throughout England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland!

In fact, a good friend and fellow Whedonian, Dr. Matthew Pateman, recently sent us this pic of our book on the shelves at Waterstone's Scarborough:

Wanna Cook? on the shalves at Waterstone's Scarborough! Thanks to @ProfPateman for the pic!
You can also pick up a copy of Wanna Cook? and while away a few hours in a lovely bookshop at O'Mahonys Booksellers in Limerick, as well as fine booksellers throughout the Isles. So get ready to stream all five seasons, pick up your copy of Wanna Cook? and go deep!

In other news, Bryan Cranston continues to prove he's not only an incredible actor, but one hell of a human being too, taking time out of his schedule to allow a very sick fan right here in our home state of North Carolina to cross something off of his "life list":

You can read the whole article and see some of Brad's conversation with Cranston right here.

Seriously, how can you not love a show that inspires so many feels?!!!?

Keep Cookin'!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Tuesdays with Mollari

Hello Readers Mine, and welcome to the first of a new regular column here at Solomon Mao's! "Tuesdays with Mollari" will function similarly to "Meth Monday" as a space where I'll document my and Dale's adventures as we take on our latest project, a companion guide to the incredible TV series Babylon 5! Our working title is Dreams Given Form: The Unofficial Companion to the Universe of Babylon 5 (the subtitle will likely get tweaked, but the main title is firm). As we did with Wanna Cook?, Dale and I will be using social media to spread the word and (hopefully) build up some excitement, so look for the hashtags #DreamsGivenForm and #DGF on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and yes, even LinkedIn, for all the latest on the book and Babylon 5 as it comes across our screens.

Londo Mollari (Peter Jurasik) and G'Kar (the late Andreas Katsulas)
who are a huge part of what makes Babylon 5 Quality TV.
Babylon 5 aired from 1993 - 1998, roughly twenty years ago, so some may be wondering why we've decided to concentrate our efforts in the past when we're right smack dab in the middle of a Golden Age of television here in the 2010s. It's simple, really: Babylon 5 is one of the places where the Golden Age began. Created by J. Michael Straczynski (who also wrote an astonishing 92 of the series' 110 episodes), Babylon 5 gave American television an array of firsts: B5 was the first show to introduce the long arc to television, with a pre-plotted storyline that stretched across all five seasons. It was also the first show to use the nascent internet to connect directly with fans as Straczynski reached out through newsgroups and BBS on USENET, GEnie, and CompuServe. This proved so effective that it spurred Warner Brothers to create one of the first official websites for a TV show - ever. To round up this truncated list, B5 was also broke new ground with its use of state-of-the-art (for the time) CGI, which, while it occasionally looks clunky today, nonetheless often remains breathtaking in scope and scale.

And then there are the fans - like me. I watched Babylon 5 as it aired, and where I lived at the time, the one station airing the show did so at 1 am on Sunday mornings as part of their "Sci-Fi Saturday Night" programming block, and I would stay up for it every Saturday, without fail, just to see what happened next. Babylon 5 was the first show that made me realize that TV fiction could be something greater than it usually was, that it could be as rich, complex, and rewarding as a great novel, as powerful, moving, and thought provoking as great cinema. For me Babylon 5  was the first show to combine the best of these other media with the serial nature of an ongoing TV show to create something new, and entirely wonderful. Nor was I the only one.

Babylon 5  has never been in syndication (though this has recently begun to change), but its fan-base has been tenaciously loyal, keeping the show alive via a host of internet forums that carried over into a myriad of groups and pages on every social media platform. With the advent of the series on DVD, we have acted relentlessly to bring new viewers to the series, who have in turn done the same. With the twentieth anniversary, Straczynski (who has remained an active creator in comic books, film, and television) and the cast and crew have reunited at various cons, bringing a new level of visibility to the show, and making the time ripe, we think, to revisit it with Dreams Given Form.

Most of all, perhaps, this is an opportunity to write about the first time I fell in love with a TV show, the first time I experienced the sensation of being in a deep relationship with a show that lasted for years. Not the torrid affair of a binge-watch, or the light friendship of the ongoing sitcom, but a real relationship  to which I was deeply committed and devoted,and which broke my heart when it ended, and even more so because it ended so damn well. If that's not something worth writing about, then I don't know what the hell is.

So keep an eye out here every Tuesday for "Tuesdays with Mollari," and together we'll see what it's like not only to write about Straczynski's dream given form, but also my own. I'm looking forward to the trip <*>!

Until next week,

Hold the Line!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Meth Monday: Myrtle Beach Days

Hello, Readers Mine! Yes, my "Meth Monday" streak is well and truly broken. *sigh* I blame higher ed, and my being on the other side of the desk for the first time - things have been crazy busy! Yet fear not, Wanna Cook? goes on!

The big news is that Wanna Cook?  is going into it's second printing! Which means that the first printing has pretty much sold out. This is great news because it means that we have not only made back our advance, but should actually get a check along with our first royalty statement! And that is all thanks to you guys. Thank you so much for continuing to make Wanna Cook? a success. Your posts, pics, reTweets, shares, and - most of all - purchases have made my longest-standing dream come true. Each and every one of you rocks like Dethklok!

If you haven't gotten your copy yet, Dale and I will be at Books-A-Million in the Myrtle Beach Mall this Saturday, 13 September, signing books and talking meth from 2 - 5 pm. Is there a better excuse to go the the beach this weekend? Do you really need a better excuse? It's the beach! And Breaking Bad! And us! What more can one ask for?

And now it's time for one more announcement: after today "Meth Monday" will become an occasional feature on Solomon Mao's, with posts only popping up as we schedule signings and events, something really cool and/or newsworthy about Breaking Bad comes across our screens, or other Wanna Cook? news crops up. This is to make way for a new, regular column here: "Tuesdays with Mollari," which will document the journey of our next book Dreams Given Form: The Unofficial Companion to the Babylon 5 Universe, coming from ECW Press in 2016.

Wanna Cook? and "Meth Monday" have been wonderful rides, and my love affair with Breaking Bad is anything but over. Yet, like all fans, I'm polyamorous, and my passion for Babylon 5 can no longer be denied! I hope you'll stick with Dale and I as we embark on our next project, and that if you are not already a B5 fan, you'll become one as you journey along with us. In any event, thank you again, and be well.

Keep Cookin'!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Meth Monday: Beach Signing & the Emmys

Hello! Readers Mine, and welcome to the Emmy Awards edition of "Meth Monday"!

That's right, beginning at 8 pm eastern, and going on until the stroke of 11 tonight, the 66th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards kick off, and Breaking Bad is once again, and - sadly - for the final time, a major contender. Nominated for 16 Emmys, including Outstanding Drama Series, Outstanding Writing for a Drama (Moira Walley-Beckett for "Ozymandias" and Vince Gilligan for "Felina"), Lead Actor (Bryan Cranston), Directing (Vince Gilligan for "Felina"), Supporting Actor (Aaron Paul), Supporting Actress (Anna Gunn), and Dale and I are especially excited for friend-of-the-book Michael Slovis' nomination for Outstanding Cinematography for "Granite State." The competition is tough, but for my money Breaking Bad is the show to beat - again. In fact, Cranston and Paul - along with Julia Louis-Dreyfus - have cooked up a little teaser for Emmy night complete with a raft of inside jokes:

In other, Wanna Cook? related news: Dale and I will be signing copies of the book at Books-A-Million in the Myrtle Beach Mall at Myrtle Beach, SC on Saturday, 13 September, starting at 2 pm! That's right, it's a beach-side book signing. Well, okay, not beach side, but beach-close. Like maybe eight blocks? That counts, right? Seriously, if you're down at the beach, or have merely been looking for an excuse to go to the beach, what could be better than attending a book signing about the greatest TV show in history? Plus, you know, free meth! This lady loves the stuff:

My mom, with "meth" at our book-launch.
She may well kill me for this but: WORTH IT!
So come on out and see us at the beach, and follow us on social media (to the top right on this blog, and look for #WannaCook everywhere) for all of the latest Breaking Bad news that crosses our screens. And if you can't make it to Books-A-Million for the signing, don't worry, you can pick up Wanna Cook? The Complete, Unofficial Companion to Breaking Bad at their website, and nice people in uniform will bring it right to your door! Also, don't forget to check in with my co-author, K. Dale Koontz, this week for her post-Emmys "Walter White Wednesday" post at Unfettered Brilliance.

Until next time -- Keep Cookin'!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Meth Monday: It's Tuesday Bitch!

Yes, yes, I know, I had an actual streak of weekly "Meth Monday" posts going there, and then I took a few days at the beach and blew it. Oh well. Honestly, since I did spend much of last week at the beach, there's really not all that much to report anyway.

However, AMC's Breaking Bad Binge is officially underway every Sunday from 5 pm until 1am. Importantly, AMC is not merely re-broadcasting the episodes, but also putting out a lot of brand new extras to go along with them, including new interviews with the cast. Most recently, we heard from Aaron Paul about what his favorite Jesse moments were, and it's no surprise that they included this gem, which is one of my favorites:

So that's about it for this week. We hope to be announcing the date and location of our next book signing soon, but until then, you can fins Wanna Cook? at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, and Powell's Books. And follow me on the social medias (upper right on this blog) for all of the Breaking Bad news that crosses my inbox.

Also be sure and look for Dale's and my latest "The Ten Percent" column over on Biff Bam Pop! It'll be going live Thursday morning, and you don't want to miss it. So until next week, Readers Mine,

Keep Cookin'!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Paving With Good Intentions

You know, Readers Mine, I had planned to get another "Comics At War" post up this week. I even know what I'm going to post about, but it's just not going to happen. See, I'm in the middle of a 4 week online class to get up to speed on an online education software suite, as well as attending various meetings as I move towards my first semester of teaching (plus some other gigs), and, well, tomorrow Dale and I are going to the beach. So in order to stay caught up with the things that simply have to get done, I had to let the blogging slide this week, and I'm sorry about that, because I'm really enjoying doing this regularly these days. That being said, I', going to the beach with the love of my life tomorrow, and I have no intention of feeling bad about skipping a post. I'll see you next Monday with another "Meth Monday," and I'll get the "Comics At War" post up next week instead. Until then, here's a public service announcement:

Monday, August 11, 2014

Meth Monday: Slinging Books

Hello Readers Mine, and welcome to "Meth Monday" at Solomon Mao's!

Last week was pretty busy in terms of getting out there and talking about our book, Wanna Cook? The Complete, Unofficial Companion to Breaking Bad. ECW Press is an incredibly supportive publisher, but they're also a small press, and -- the size of our egos and ambitions notwithstanding -- we're not NY Times bestselling authors, so we knew from the get go that much of the burden of marketing Wanna Cook? through things like book signings, teh interwebs, etc, would rest on our shoulders. Hence the rack of social media buttons to the upper right on this blog.

Don't get me wrong, ECW helps out a lot. They print up posters, bookmarks, and business cards for us that are very slick and professional, their publicists Jenna Illies and Michelle Melski rock at getting the word out through review copies, media blasts about signings, etc, and they cover both traditional and online sources. But it is up to Dale and I to get out there and hustle for signings, con appearances, talks, podcasts, webcasts, etc, etc. I guess in biz-speak what we're doing is building a brand as we try and sell our book. It turns out that this process can be a lot of fun.

So last Wednesday we had the opportunity to talk Wanna Cook?, Breaking Bad, and the week in pop-culture with the crew of the CultureSMASH! Webcast, which turned out to be a total blast, and I think we made some new friends along the way. You can check it out on the CultureSMASH! site, or right here:

Stephen, Nicolas, Catherine, Mike, and the rest of the SMASH Cast made us feel incredibly welcome, and even did me the courtesy to laugh at a few of my snarky comments. It was tremendous fun, and they produce a hell of a pop-culture site, so bookmark 'em! Then on Thursday, our first regular pop-culture column premiered over on Biff Bam Pop! We call it "The Ten Percent" and I'll quote the set up for you:
“Ninety percent of everything is crud.” – Theodore Sturgeon
Hello, and welcome to the first installment of “The Ten Percent,” a regular column where every other week we’ll look at the corollary of Sturgeon’s Law: ten percent of everything is not crud. In terms of television and film, Sturgeon’s Law and its corollary have been operative even before Georges Méliès built his glass-walled studio in 1897, and continue to hold true today. For every film or television show that gets people talking years or even decades after its premiere, there are probably a thousand others that may have been seen once, and never thought of again. To be clear, we’re not talking high culture and low culture here. In fact, we think those categories are complete BS. What we are talking about are the works which last, be they drama or comedy, animation or live-action, documentary or wildest fiction. They last because they are high quality productions, even – dare we say it – works of art which demand more of their viewer than passive reception. They are the “Ten Percent.”
Where did we start? With Breaking Bad, of course! Check out the full article here, and look for us every other week at Biff Bam Pop! -- another pop-culture site that's well worth following! Finally, we spent a lovely few hours at Barnes & Noble in Winston-Salem, NC on Saturday meeting folks and signing copies of Wanna Cook? This was our most successful signing to date, and the management and staff at B&N were absolutely fantastic. So thanks to everyone there and everyone who came out for making our day a so much fun!

My co-author, K. Dale Koontz, in full regalia (including BrBa earrings!) at our table at Barnes & Noble in Winston-Salem 
So that was our week of getting out there and talking Breaking Bad and Wanna Cook? if you're in the Winston-Salem area, missed the signing, but still want an autographed copy, swing by Barnes & Noble -- we signed a few for the store before we left. And that's it for this week's "Meth Monday," Readers Mine/ Join me again next week, and be sure to catch Dale's 'Walter White Wednesday" posts over on Unfettered Brilliance, and follow us here, there, and everywhere for all the latest Breaking Bad and pop-culture news that comes across our screens. Until next time,

Keep Cookin'!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Meth Monday: Webcastin' 'Bout My Generation

Hello Readers Mine, and welcome to another "Meth Monday" at Solomon Mao's!

So the last episode of Breaking Bad aired about a year ago, the complete series in out on DVD, Blu-ray, and even streaming in 4K on Netflix, and yet the show is still in the news, and still winning awards, most recently Best Drama Series from the Critics Choice Television Awards and Program of the Year from the Television Critics Association for its final eight episodes. What's more, Breaking Bad is nominated for thirteen Emmy's this year, including Best Drama Series and Best Actor. Seriously, this is the show that keeps on giving (and getting!) Why? Because:

Fortunately for Dale and I, people still want to talk about the show, and people still want more of and about it, and many of those fine folks seem to enjoy getting it from Wanna Cook? The Complete, Unofficial Companion to Breaking Bad. Which is how we came to be guests on the Culture Smash Cast this Wednesday, August 6, at 8 pm. It seems that Catherine Holder got a hold of a copy of Wanna Cook? after the Culture Smash Cast Breaking Bad wrap-up and, judging from her review, really dug the book. This leads me to this week's Valuable Lesson Learned: social media is worth paying attention to. See, after I read Ms. Holder's review, I went out and found her Twitter handle, as well as that of CultureSmash, and Tweeted them a "thanks" along with a link to the review. Shortly thereafter, I got a message from CultureSmash editor Stephen Lackey asking us if we'd like to come on the Cast and talk about the book and Breaking Bad, to which we said "YEAH BITCH!" (Okay, so not really, but I'm sure Stephen took the "bitch" part as read.)

Nor is this the only time that a thank you Tweet sent out to a reviewer and site garnered us an opportunity. I did the same for Glenn Walker's review over at BiffBamPop.com, and the end result of that is that Dale and I will be writing a regular column for BiffBamPop premiering this Thursday, 07 August. We're calling it "The Ten Percent," after Theodore Sturgeon's Revelation that "90% of everything is crap." We will be focusing primarily on film and television, and every two weeks we'll pop up to take a look at something we consider a part of that magical 10% that isn't crap, and is therefore worth the time it takes to give it a closer look. Guess what show we'll be starting with?

Finally, You can also get a daily dose of Dale & Ensley on the latest episode of the Gobbledygeek Podcast where we join AJ and Paul to talk about Neil Gaiman's Sandman, the truth about polar bears, and big-beaked bastard birds.

So that's it for this week's Wanna Cook? doings, but we've got some more stuff in the works as we get closer to AMC's binge re-broadcast of Breaking Bad starting on 10 August, so keep an eye out here, and over on Unfettered Brilliance and look for us on social media (hint: click on the various symbols on the upper right of this page) for all the latest Breaking Bad news that comes across our screens.

Keep Cookin'!

Friday, August 1, 2014

Four Color Culture: X-Men: No More Humans

Hello Readers Mine! Welcome to another installment of "Four Color Culture." This week I'm going to be looking at X-Men: No More Humans, a Marvel Original Graphic Novel (OGN) which hit the stands (are there really any stands left anywhere?) in early May of this year. Written by Mike Carey with art by Salvador Larroca, color by Justin Ponsor and letters by Cory Petit, No More Humans turned out to be a really pleasant surprise.

X-Men: No More Humans, cover art by Salvador Larroca. Marvel Worldwide, 2014.

Full disclosure here: despite an early, passionate, and ongoing love of the X-Men, I don't currently have any X-titles on my pull list. Like many comic fans my age, I dropped out of buying comics regularly in the early 1990s when every time you turned around there was a new foil-hologram-cover, factory-bagged #1, 1.5 million copies printed "collectors issue" launching yet another new book from one of the Big Two. These were the days when the proliferation of the X-titles began, and yes, I admit it, I still have all five variant covers of X-Men #1 (Volume 2, 1992). But shortly thereafter I no longer bothered trying to keep up. So it went until the fall of 2012, when I found myself in a city with a really good comic shop (Atomik Comiks in Johnson City, TN - hey guys!), and a budding career studying and writing about pop-culture. So back to comics I went. And boy were there a lot of X-titles! And literally about seventeen years worth of continuity I had missed and which was still playing out with no scorecard in sight. I came in right at the very end of the A vs. X cross-over, just in time to read the last issues of Uncanny X-Men (volume 3,487), and the birth of All-New X-Men and Marvel NOW! (the first one).

Honestly, I wasn't impressed with All-New's first few issues (though people whose taste I generally trust have assured me I should go back and read the series), nor did Wolverine and the X-Men  do it for me, and fuck me if Marvel wasn't launching even more X-books, and who the hell knows what's going on or who's on which team anymore anyway, so the only semi-X-title I kept on my new list was Uncanny Avengers (and yes, I realize the irony in that the one title I still get has relied so much on back-stories and continuity from the years 1995 - 2012 that, despite having collected every issue since #1, there have been entire runs of four or five issues where I had to read Wikipedia for three hours just to kinda know what was going on). Since then, every time I think about catching up on the X-Folks, I look at the sheer amount of reading it would take, and I just go re-read the latest issue of Saga or Astro City.

Girls! Girls! You're both pretty!
 Carey, Larroca, and Ponsor, page 20, panel 1.
Even so, X-Men: No More Humans is the first X-Men OGN since the magnificent God Loves, Man Kills, and it promised to be a stand-alone work, so I ordered it. I'm really glad I did. Basically, all of the various X-People wake up on morning to discover that every non-mutant has disappeared from the face of the Earth. Both Cyclops' and Wolverine's X-teams investigate and wind up joining forces in order to solve the mystery of the humans' disappearance. Personalities and agendas are still present, but you really don't have to know any back-story to jump right in to this. A half-paragraph synopsis of the current state of X-affairs sets things up, and the two teams are working together by page 21. Carey and Larroca tell a really good story here. There's angst, action, betrayals, battles, old loves come back, and at the end of the day, the best that can be hoped for is the status quo ante bellum.

Behold: Magneto! Because... Magneto!
Carey, Larroca, and Ponsor, page 20.
The art is lovely. Larroca's style is largly realistic, he pays attention to details, particularly when it comes to faces, and his figures move well. His weakness is female faces and body-types, which sometimes look so much alike that it is difficult to tell Emma Frost from Jean Grey except for the hair. He's not afraid of blacks, but doesn't over use them, and his sunny day scenes keep the shadows in their proper places. There are a few obligatory and predictable splash pages, but whether it's Magneto, Storm's team, or Scott's the X-Men have always  liked to make an entrance, so I'll give the splashes a pass. Juston Ponsor is invaluable throughout, but particularly in panels where he unerringly uses color-washes and shading to evoke mood or to show various powers reaching right out for you.

Carey flat-out nails the voices of Scott, Storm, Wolverine, Magneto, and the Hanks, but, most of the other X-Men are more seen than heard, and the passive-aggressive dialogue between past Jean Grey and Emma Frost feels forced and tired. Plot-wise, Carey is tight and his pacing is spot-on, slowing down for ye olde X-speeches and statements of integrity when he should and smoothly letting the punches fly fast and relentlessly when all hell breaks loose. No More Humans  is basically a common foe/problem story, but it is well told, and neither X-team is forced to break their established worldviews. Most importantly, this is an X-story that can be read and enjoyed without having read All-New or Uncanny (volume 3,488) or whatever. In fact, it's the first book in a while that has made me want to go back and catch up on my X-reading. Maybe.

So check out X-Men: No More Humans if you get a chance, and check back here at Solomon Mao's every now and again for more of my musings on various comics and other pop-culture productions.

See ya next time!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Meth Monday: Talkin' Blue

Hello Readers Mine, and welcome to another "Meth Monday"!

As you know Dale and I were privileged to hold a book signing this past Saturday at Books-A-Million in Gastonia, and we had a blast. The folks at BAM were incredibly nice (and even gave us free beverages from Joe Muggs!) we met a lot of folks, and even sold some books. All in all a successful day. And we always learn something from a signing, or at least get things we already knew reinforced.

For instance, we will never again put the word "cook" into the title of a book. Yes, we agree that Wanna Cook? is a really cool title, and we're proud of coming up with it, but you would not believe the number of people who come up to us and wind up saying something like "Oh. I thought it was a cookbook." Of these it's generally an even split between those who are disappointed and those who are relieved. Another lesson learned on Saturday was how little attention we tend to pay when going about out day. We were set up just inside  and to the left of the only entrance to the store. Directly in front of the entrance was a display of best-sellers, new releases, and staff picks. To the right was a display of Harry Potter books and merchandise (including two really cool Hats of Sorting which provided some serious entertainment and cuteness as all these kids kept trying them on). So there was a lot of stuff right there as you walk in.

And about 60% of people just breezed right by all of it - and us. Seriously, I don't think they even saw any of it except as obstacles to maneuver around on their way to the cafe, or whatever section they were interested in. It was both weird and funny to watch. We generally said hello to anyone who made even glancing eye-contact, but again, that was only about 40% of the people who came through the door. And I began to realize that I tend to do the same thing. I love bookstores, and browsing, and it was really weird to spend several hours in a bookstore without browsing, but I too tend to make a b-line to whatever section of the store it is that I want to start looking around in: science fiction, graphic novels, bargains, whatever. Many days I am a part of that 60% who completely tune out all of the stuff that is right there when I walk into a bookstore - or any retail joint, for that matter. So now I think I'm going to try and slow down and see what I'm missing.

Here's a picture of Aaron Paul as Jesse Pinkman - just because!

So, some lessons learned and a fun day spent meeting new people and signing books. If you couldn't make it to the signing in Gastonia, but still want a signed copy, we left a few at the store, but you'd better hurry, we didn't leave all that many! Otherwise, you can come see us in Winston-Salem, NC at Barnes & Noble at 1925 Hampton Inn Court on Saturday, 9 August, starting at 3pm! We'll be signing copies of Wanna Cook?  as part of Barnes & Noble's "Get Pop Cultured" event, so it should be a blast. As always, you can count on more details as we get closer to the event date both here, on social media, and over on Dale's blog.

Coming up next week (Wednesday 6 August) though, look for us on CultureSmash.tv's weekly webcast where we'll be talking about Wanna Cook, the week in pop-culture, and various and sundry other things that might come up. It's a fun and snarky group of folks at CultureSmash, so it should be a blast. Dale and I will also be returning to Gobbledygeek Podcast  (probably available the first full week of August) in order to trade insults with Paul and AJ and to take part in Gobbledygeek's ongoing revisiting of Neil Gaiman's Sandman. This week, we'll be talking about Volume 5 "A Game of You."

So that's what we've got coming up for the moment, and we're always working on new ways to get out and about and talk Breaking Bad and Wanna Cook? So stay tuned here, on our various social media channels (see buttons to the upper right on this blog), and to Unfettered Brilliance  for all the latest news, reviews and doings. See you next time!

Keep Cookin'!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Comics At War: The Viking Commando

Hello, Readers Mine, and welcome to what I hope will become a regular feature here at Solomon Mao's: "Comics At War." For the past three years I have been reading and researching war comics as part of my academic work in popular culture, and also because of a deep and abiding love of the genre. What I want to do with "Comics At War" is let my fan-scholar flag fly and mix some critical examinations of these works with some good, old-fashioned, fan-boy love for the genre.

And what better way to start than with DC's The Viking Commando!

All-Out War 1 (1979), featuring the Viking Commando. Cover art by Joe Kubert.
Photo from my collection.

Stay with me here. Valoric was a Viking warrior who heroically rescued his king and the royal princess from the clutches of the Huns in the 12th century. In order to allow the royals to escape, Valoric and his men formed a forlorn hope in which all were heroically killed, thereby guaranteeing their places in the Hall of Heroes in Valhalla. At least, so it appeared. In Valoric's case the undying love of the Valkyrie Maid Fey caused her to try and take him before he was actually dead, resulting in a kind of temporal storm which threw them centuries into the future and into the middle of World War II.

He's a Viking, who fights Nazis. I'll let the sheer awesomeness of that sink in for a moment.

All-Out War ran for all of six issues in 1979-80, when I was eight years old, and I thought Valoric was the most incredible thing on paper. Seriously, the guy carried a tommy-gun, grenades, and a freakin' axe! An axe which he used to take down a Focke-Wulf Fw190 by throwing it into the diving plane's prop and engine! This, Readers Mine, is the stuff that eight year-old boys' dreams are made of. Now, does any of that make any sense? Does the historical timeline add up? For that matter, how can Valoric suddenly speak and understand 20th century English, French, and German? How does something like this even work?

Because Robert Kanigher. That's why.

One of the most prolific, sometimes brilliant, sometimes frustratingly formulaic, and sometimes completely, wonderfully, insane writers in American comics history, Kanigher wrote and created the Viking Commando. (and Sgt. Rock, and the Haunted Tank, and Mlle. Marie, and The War That Time Forgot, and that's just in DC's war line.) In fact, Valoric was something of an update of an even earlier Kanigher creation, the Viking Prince, who dates back all the way to The Brave and the Bold 1 (1955). Kanigher and artist Joe Kubert (who had originally drawn the Viking Prince), would bring him back in Our Army at War 162-63, when Sgt. Rock discovered him frozen in ice, and the Prince too would fight Nazis. The Prince also had a semi-corporeal Valkyrie lover, only, unlike Valoric, the Prince was eager to meet his heroic death to be with her. Valoric, on the other hand, tended to prefer the charms of the various beautiful and, you know, living women who crossed his path, secure in the knowledge that his busty Valkyrie would be there, waiting.

Love triangles with one part temporally displaced bearded hunk, one part spunky girl war-reporter, and one part mythical, incorporeal Norse demi-goddess? Gotta be Kanigher. No one, and I mean no one, does high melodrama mixed with high explosives like Kanigher. Unlike much of his stellar war genre work in the late 1960s and early 1970s, though, there is little nuance or subtlety in the Commando tales. Everyone speaks in exclamations! While shouting out their motivations, their interior monologues becoming exterior! But then the Nazi's show up and Valoric takes on a Tiger tank with an axe and a hand-grenade and who the hell cares how he's talking?!? I'll be writing a lot more about Kanigher here in the future, believe me.

Plus, you get George Evans. Yes, that's right, the Viking Commando stories in All-Out War were all drawn and inked by George Evans, who was part of the incredible EC Comics stable in the early 1950s (including  Frontline Combat and Two-Fisted Tales), drew for Archie Goodwin's ground-breaking Vietnam era comic Blazing Combat, and was a regular for National Lampoon and Marvel's mystery-horror lines.

All-Out War 5, page 7. Art by George Evans, Script by Robert Kanigher.
Photo from my collection. 

Evans combined a minute attention to detail with an incredibly flexible line that could range from photo-realism to exaggerated cartoonishness, particularly when it came to the appearance of the Nazi officers who generally served as the villains of the Commando's stories. Exaggerated chins, noses, ears, and beady-eyes always set apart the ugly "Huns" from our handsome, bearded hero and the all-American boys and men he served with.
Gruppenfuhrer Heinrich Scholz
All-Out War 6, art by Evans, Script by Kanigher.
Photo from my collection.
Sometimes Evans' roots in the war, crime, and horror comics of the 1950s are cringe-inducingly obvious, as with his rendering of Gruppenfuhrer Heinrich Scholz ("The War Without a Name,"All-Out War 6) whose face is not merely a masterpiece of the grotesque, but also deliberately invokes the worst racist Asian stereotypes of the war genre, because the story winds up with Scholz's decedent leading a band of "Mongomutants" in a post-apocalyptic America (goddamn Kanigher, man!) that have more than a little of the Mongol Hordes about them - if the Mongol Hordes had also absorbed Nazi racial theory, that is.

Still, Evans was always masterful with mood, and used deep blacks and impressionistic backgrounds to evoke the feel of the battlefield and of combat while still staying within the constraints of the Comics Code. Evans' life-long love of aeroplanes is evident in every scene which involves an aircraft, from German fighters and gliders to American B-17s and light scout aircraft, every line, gun-port and antenna is accurate. Unfortunately, Evans is not as comfortable with combining a realistic line with effective movement. In panels where mist, fog, or smoke allows him a looser line, Evans machines and characters are fluid and leap across the panel. In panels where Evans is using a detailed line, his figures here are often stiff and posed.

So there's the Viking Commando (seriously: Viking, axe, Nazis - how can you go wrong? WHY IS VALORIC NOT IN THE NEW  52?!!?). He is one of the first comic book characters that I remember, one of the first that captured my boy's heart and foredoomed me to a sometimes heartbreaking, nearly always frustrating, but never-ending love affair with comics. There were others, and they all came from DC's war line. It would be a few more years before the capes and spandex crowd caught my interest. How could they even begin to compete with a Viking Commando, a Haunted Tank, an Unknown Soldier, the beautiful Mademoiselle Marie, or, most of all, with Sgt. Rock and Easy Company? Thirty-five years after All-Out War 1 hit the stands, I'm still entranced by these stories, and I have no doubt that they form a vital part of my enduring fascination with World War II and pop culture. From such beginnings spring advanced degrees in history.

Also - dude, he's a Viking who fights Nazis with an axe!!!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Meth Monday: Book Signing this Saturday (26 July)!

Hello, Readers Mine! This one is going to be short and sweet, but it counts!

The big news this week is that I and my co-author, K. Dale Koontz, will be signing copies of our book, Wanna Cook? The Complete, Unofficial Companion to Breaking Bad at Books-A-Million in Gastonia, North Carolina, from 2 -5 pm this Saturday, July 26! We'll even be giving away samples of the Blue! (First one's free anyway, after that, you have to buy the book!) So tell your friends, tell your family, tell your co-workers - hell, tell your enemies, we'll take their money too - and help us make this signing a smash success!

BAM Gastonia is at 3710 E. Franklin Blvd, and for more information feel free to call them at 704-824-0221.

We'll see you Saturday, and, until then, contemplate the idea of Bryan Cranston bringing his Tony Award-winning role as LBJ to the small screen. I shit you not!

Bryan Cranston as LBJ in All the Way coming soon to the small screen via Stephen Spielberg and HBO!

Keep Cookin'!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Four Color Culture: Problems With the New, Female Thor

Thor by Russel Daughterman
Hello, Readers Mine! Well, I've been thinking about starting a regular comics column or two here for a while now, but I didn't expect to begin quite like this. So on Tuesday, Marvel took to The View to reveal that, come October, there will be a new, female Thor in town.The announcement, followed by an official press release, included a sneak peek of the new Thor by artist Russel Dauterman. Jason Aaron, current writer for Marvel's ongoing Thor: God of Thunder title will also be writing the new Thor (which will be an entirely new volume, titled simply Thor.)

Aaron also commented that "This is not She-Thor. This is not Lady Thor. This is not Thorita. This is THOR. This is the THOR or the Marvel Universe. But it's unlike any Thor we've seen before." (Except for, you know, that AWESOME time Storm picked up an uru hammer, or that time Wonder Woman did, or Rogue, or Jane Foster, or You Getting My Drift Yet?) Of course, the argument is that the latest female Thor is not some temporary storyline, or alternate reality/continuity, but the actual, official Thor of the Marvel Universe (MU). Except no.
Also Thor, also by Daughterman.
You see, Marvel also released another image of the now unworthy former-Thor, sans most of his left arm and hefting a great big axe. Readers of Thor: GOT or Uncanny Avengers will recognize the axe as Jarnbjorn, the dwarven-forged axe wielded by Thor in his callow youth, before he originally became worthy of the hammer Mjolnir. Importantly, the missing arm also connects the image with Aaron's King Thor of Asgard, the familiar male Thor as he will be in a far (and I mean FAR) future, where his left arm has been replaced by the arm of the Destroyer. (King Thor is made of equal parts awesomesauce and whup-ass, BTW) So this all appears to fall in line with Aaron's long-term arc where Thor is definitively male.

Here's the thing that grinds my gears, though: Aaron and Marvel's disingenuous language about the new take. Thor isn't like Captain America or Iron Man, where if a different person puts on the uniform/suit, they can still claim the character's title. Thor is a unique, discrete, individual entity, and even without the hammer, he is still a God, still the next best thing to immortal,and STILL FREAKING THOR!!!! Thor is his name, not his title, not his nom de guerre, but his very own name. Over the decades a lot of people (Seriously. No, seriously A LOT) have proven worthy of Mjolnir  
and the power of
King Thor, by Jason Aaron and Esad Ribic.
 Note the left arm - and the hammer.
Thor, but none of them has been Thor, because, you know, Thor's his name.  Look, Thor has always been a drama queen, so maybe as he goes on his quest for redemption and worthiness he renounces his name or something, leaving it to be picked up by the next person who can use Mjolnir. Could be. But make no mistake, somewhere along the way, this story WILL be about the original Thor redeeming himself and becoming worthy of Mjolnir again. That's not to say that the female Thor won't continue. After all, Beta Ray Bill is still out there with Stormbreaker. But mark my words, Marvel simply will not get rid of male Thor forever, just as they will not kill off Wolverine for good, or Professor X, or Jean Grey, or Gwen Stacey, or Peter Parker, or Bucky, etc, etc, etc. Plus, Jason Aaron himself has called this a "Beta Ray Bill-style story about someone else wielding the hammer for awhile" (emphasis added). In the same interview Aaron also carefully refers to Thor Odinson to differentiate male-Thor from female-Thor, and hints that Thor sans-hammer is just not up to snuff. Against Ice Giants. Yeah. Ice giants, the big blue guys whose butts Thor has been kicking since he was the Asgardian equivalent of 5 years old. Because the hammer isn't where all of Thor's abilities come from. He should still have basically super-strength, super-toughness, be able to survive in the vacuum of space, swing a mean axe, and let's not even get into his girdle of strength and his chariot pulled by the goats Toothgnasher and Toothgrinder. My point is, even without Mjolnir, Thor of Asgard ain't exactly Caspar Milquetoast, Esq. Plus, again, still Thor. So, sorry Aaron, but just because some one has the powers of Thor, doesn't make that person Thor, because that just not how identity works.

Finally, there's a whole other level where I'm raging about Marvel's idiocy in ignoring a pre-existing, truly great Asgardian female character with a built in audience: Sif. Do you remember Journey Into Mystery? It was one of Marvel's longest running (albeit often interrupted)  titles (and where Thor first appeared waaay back in the Lee/Kirby days), and Marvel cancelled it last year in the wake of Marvel NOW! Well, the last arc in JIM starred Sif. Lady Sif, the warrior woman of Asgard, played to tremendous fan acclaim in film and on TV by Jaimie Alexander. In the last 9 issues of JIM, Kathryn Immonen (scripts) and (mostly) Valerio Schiti (pencils) were giving us one of the most beautifully realized, kick-ass, complex, female heroes that Marvel has ever done. So of course, they cancelled the series - not because sales were particularly bad, but because, in the wake of the films, they wanted to concentrate on Thor and Loki stories. So why not relaunch JIM with Sif, or giver her her own title, rather than gender-swap Thor?

Alls I'm sayin'.... The Lady Sif in Journey Into Mystery by Immonen and Schiti.

Well, because Marvel is still the same "readers don't buy comics with female leads" place it always has been despite the phenomenal success and stories in Ms. Marvel and Captain Marvel. They are unwilling to gamble on Sif's name recognition to sell, so they are trying to cash in on Thor's, and to garner some free press (mission accomplished!) and attention to their supposedly newly progressive attitudes. The new Thor will run for a while, likely usually in tandem with an accompanying subplot dealing with unworthy Thor's search for meaning/redemption/worth, and eventually Thor will either spawn two ongoing titles (a la the multiple X- and Avengers books), or female Thor will quietly fade away. This isn't a breakthrough, or a new direction, or a significant shift. It is merely the latest Mighty Marvel Marketing Magic. I plan to continue reading Thor: GOT, male, female, or neuter Thor, because I'm a fan. But I'm also not a fool.

UPDATE: Marvel has just announced that "Superior Iron Man" will be joining Avengers NOW! , so the pattern has become crystal clear: new and sometimes clashing personalities in traditional character roles. We say it with Spidey/Doc. Ock (marketing test-run anyone?), and now we'll have Sam Wilson's Captain America, female Thor, and Superior Iron Man. So, yeah. Excuses for more #1 books, yet more short-lived volumes, and More Money For Marvel!!!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Meth Monday: Breaking Bad Fest

Hello, Readers Mine! Well, it's Monday again and it appears I have managed to put together a two-week posting streak so, you know, good for me!

Just as a reminder, Dale and I will be signing copies of Wanna Cook? The Complete, Unofficial Companion to Breaking Bad at Books-A-Million in Gastonia, NC on Saturday 26 July, beginning at 2 pm. So if you're in the area, come and see us, and make a day of it: have lunch or dinner at Portifinos or Sakura, come see us and grab a copy of Wanna Cook? to prepare for AMC's Breaking Bad Binge starting next month, and then catch a flick at the coincidentally named AMC theaters right next door. It's a great way to spend a Saturday!

Now that my pitch is over, in other BrBa News, a group of die-hard fans in Albuquerque, NM decided to hold a Breaking Bad Convention and see if anyone would come. They started on Kickstarter and raised enough money to get things rolling and now Breaking Bad Fest is a real thing hppening on 8 November 2014 from 4-8 pm at the Albuquerque Convention Center. For more information and tickets, check out their site and keep up with the latest from the con organizers by following them on Twitter or Facebook .

Finally, Wanna Cook? keeps getting gratifyingly great reviews like this one from SF Book Review, or the one from Culture Smash!. We may be doing a bit more with the folks from Culture Smash int he coming weeks, so stay tuned here and over on Dale's blog Unfettered Brilliance for more details as they come.

That's pretty much it for this week, so I'll leave you with a picture that is in the book in black and white, but is most definitely cooler in color, and which was given to us (squeee!!) by Michael Slovis, Breaking Bad's cinematographer:

Michael Slovis checks the light levels on the set of "Peekaboo" (2.06). Photo courtesy of Michael Slovis.
Keep cookin'!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Meth Monday: Book Signings!

Hello, Readers Mine! It seems like I start off every one of these blog posts off with an apology for not writing regularly, and a promise to do better in the future - promises which I never seem to keep. Since doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results is one of the primary definitions of insanity, I think I'll just skip all of that this time. I may up my involvement here in the near future, but I can't guarantee it. However, I am annoyingly present in all sorts of social media and micro-blogging sties, so if you click on one of those nifty symbols to the right of the page here, and follow me on the network of your choice, then you'll get more than enough of my worldview.

So then, catching up:

Dale and I spent a week in Sacramento, CA at the always exhaustingly incredible and inspiring biennial Slayage Conference on the Whedonverses, about which you can read more here. After the conference, we were lucky enough to be able to hold a signing at Beers Books, a truly awesome independent bookseller in downtown Sacramento. We saw plenty of old friends and made a few new ones, and sold some books to boot. Interestingly enough, the TSA didn't even blink when we carried a pound of "the Blue" in our carryons.

Dale (right) and I at our signing table at Beers Books in Sacramento, CA. Photo courtesy of Michael Starr.
Look! Our book is on the shelf
at Books-A-Million!!!
Photo courtesy of Laney McDonald.
Shortly before we headed out to the West Coast, on a family shopping trip I discovered copies of our book on the shelves of Books-A-Million in Gastonia, NC. Besides always being a kick to see your book on the shelves of a bookstore, the manager, who happened to be shelving books nearby, was really excited to meet me, and even more so about having a books signing at his store. So HEADS UP GASTONIA!! We'll be in town and signing books at Books-A-Million on Saturday 26 July, starting at 5pm! This is excellent timing, as AMC will be kicking off their binge-broadcast of all five seasons of Breaking Bad on 10 August, so this is the perfect time to prepare for your re-watch or first time viewing of this incredible series with your very own copy of Wanna Cook? The Complete, Unofficial Companion to Breaking Bad, and how cool would it be to really do it up right with a signed copy? So, if you can, come out and see us on the 26th!

Otherwise, you can find Wanna Cook? at all the usual places like Amazon, Powell's, and Barnes & Noble, as well as at Got Books? in Shelby, NC. So really, you have no excuse not to get a copy!

Until next time - Keep Cookin'!