Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Raising the Debt Ceiling - Call Your Congressman

Update: Well, an agreement was reached between The Democrats, Republicans, and the President - ensuring America wouldn't default on it's bills. Everyone equally dislikes this bill, it seems. It's obviously not great, but I'm glad the President managed to make a deal happen. He's catching a lot of flak from Democrats who hate this bill - and while I agree with them on the merits of their comments, I'd like to remind everyone that the alternative was default, which would have had apocalyptic economic repercussions. The Tea Party backed Republicans must be very proud of themselves - they managed to bring America to it's knees during this process, and nearly blew our economic brains out. If you want to ensure politics of this nature don't happen again in the future, I'd urge everyone to vote those Tea Party Republicans out of office. They may have pleased their base, but I hope independent voters will remember what they put this entire country through going into the next election.

As for me, I'm going to be voting Democratic on every single ballot. And, honestly, I don't consider myself a Democrat. I use to consider myself a Republican. I suppose I should consider myself an independent; but a independent who isn't going to vote Republican for a VERY long time.

I hope our country continues to do well, and that the economy is spurred on by whatever short-lived peace that's been achieved today. But it's going to take independent voters to ensure this never happens again. I'm not speaking of voting all incumbents out of office (that's how we ended up with the Tea Party), but to pray and consider thoughtfully wether the person representing you in your state or congress will contribute to this problem happening again in the future. I'm not talking about just voting Democratic, either. There where plenty of responsible Republicans who still represent a more respectful way of governing. Even those Republicans I vehemently disagreed with - I felt could have achieved something better, and more responsibly, simply because they are willing to compromise. I'd just like to urge anyone reading this to remember what happened this week going into future elections.

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I typically will gripe about a political issue, but actively getting involved sometimes is another matter. Even more, is urging other people to get involved as well; it just too often feels like campaigning, which there are always other people much more aggressive and better at that than me. Yet right now is a time I feel the need to speak out, and urge anybody who reads my blog, who live in America, to please contact their congressman about raising the debt ceiling.

I have been infuriated and disheartened by the political bickering and posturing on both sides of the political spectrum. I have consider this crisis more the fault of the Tea Party backed GOP - but pointing fingers is not the issue here.

The Debt Ceiling has to be raised, and by August 2ed. The sooner, the better. From all I've heard on the news so far, we're already too late. The market is already scared enough by Washington's failure to act - and even if a 6 month extension is done, America is still at risk of loosing it's AAA Credit Rating.

A lot of people don't necessarily know about the Debt Ceiling, or don't care; either that or they feel the country has spent too much, and has to live more within it's means. That's a very valid point, but one of the biggest faults of this crisis is the misguided belief that America's economic woes can be solved in a single fell swoop. Cutting to shreds entitlement programs will only plunge already suffer Americans into even more economic hardship; and the flip side is that raising taxes on the the higher income earners (so they pay about the same as everyone else) is not going to solve things long term either. Real consideration needs to be given to each path, and while both won't solve things overnight - a balanced approach of some cuts, and some taxes would have been a right step in both of those directions.

But the that time is past. That time was past a week ago, and already our credit score is at risk. If we default, I cannot express to you the dire consequences that will have; both immediately and long term. Higher interest rates will be the least of our worries - everything that has a foreign parts or is made overseas will instantly cost more; from iphones, ipads, tvs, cars. This is in addition to Social Security Checks not being sent out, for retirees, the disabled, the unemployed, and veterans. And if you don't live in America, and think this doesn't concern you: it does. The entire world is deeply connected and invested in America. We've never defaulted on our loans - which has made us a reliable bet over the years. Already struggling foreign economies are going to be deeply affected by this.

America simply needs to pay it's bills. People can complain all they want about how much Obama has spent during this term; but I'd urge you to remember that Obama walked into one of the worst economies on record. The GOP has argued that they do not want to give Obama a blank check anymore. This isn't a blank check -- this is the business of Washington, of staying in business, period. Every single President in American history has received a debt increase when needed. The raising of the debt ceiling is so vitally important, that it's even construed that the 14th Amendment gives the President the power to raise the debt limit by himself, and without Congress or the Senate's approval. To the President's credit, he has not opted not to use that option. It would be surely be challenged in court (as it's never been tested), but right now I wish he would risk it. I believe the President didn't imagine it would ever come down to the wire like this. Every single President before this, from Reagan to Bush, have received a raising of the debt ceiling. I think Obama never thought it would come to this, because on such a vital and necessary process of government, no one imagined we'd still be playing Russian Roulette with America's Economy, let alone with only a week left.

I believe the poisonous atmosphere in Washington has never been greater - and the last few years of the GOP Demonizing Obama has left them little political room to move back from previous statements of not compromising. Yet that is exactly what needs to be done here. I've witness in dismay as offer after offer from Obama was rejected by Boehner. The Republicans where given victory after victory -- deals that normally would have been herald as a decisive victory over Obama. But the Tea Party backed Republicans have gone so far to the extreme right, that anything short of a wish-list of cut and shredded entitlement programs wouldn't be enough. This is not politics as normal. I shudder to think weather many of the Freshmen Republicans really are interested in re-election; because the minute any senior citizen or disabled person fails to receive their check in the mail....... This crisis could not be more disastrous for everyone involved.

Right now, as of writing this, I've heard Senator Boehner is rewriting his proposal. I hope it will be something which will be able to be passed through Congress and the Senate, and be able to be accepted by Obama. The previous plan Boehner suggested was not acceptable, because it only extended the Debt Ceiling for another 6 months, with another vote to be done later. While it has been suggested that Obama doesn't like this plan because of his re-election, I do wish to stress that this plan reportedly would not save us from a decease in America's credit rating. Any type of short term plan, that doesn't result carry us well into next year, will no appease the already skittish markets. It is not a political ploy for Obama to avoid a short term bill like this; it's simply a fact that we have waited too long, and played politics (on both sides) too long for a short term solution to be acceptable.

Harry Reid's plan is equally viewed by the markets as a band-aid to the situation, but supposedly his plan would allow us to keep our AAA Credit Rating.

It's simply too late for a long term solution, with lasting and effective modifications to entitlement programs or the tax code. All we can push for now is a plan that hopefully gets us through to the next election, and lets us retain our credit rating.

Whatever the case - whatever side of this fight you fall on - what is agreed by all parties is that the Debt Ceiling MUST be raised. Yet talking is not doing; and far too many Congressmen and Senators are already posturing their talking points for expected failure. That is why I'd like to urge everyone to please call your congressman and tell them to get the debt ceiling raised.

You can find you're congressman here, Write Your Representative; which will lead you to their website, where you can usually find an email form or phone number to contact them. Their servers are already experiencing overload and high call volumes -- but keep trying. Just in the hopes it will help, I would also suggest contacting you're state senator, and Republican and Democrats Party leaders as well. (Republicans: John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Mitch McConnell, Democrats: Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid)

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On a personal qualifier, I feel the need to mention my stake in this is not as a bystander, but as a disabled person who relies on public programs. I fear I will not receive the money which I rely on. Even if you yourself do not rely on such programs, I'd like you to look at you're loved ones and consider wether they will be affected by this as well. Any retirees, disabled, unemployed, veterans, or government workers are all at risk. So please contact you're congressman.

I'd also like to add that I can only give my best and most informed opinion on all of these matters. If I got something wrong, of if you disagree - my stance, I hope, still remains valid - that the Debt Ceiling Must be Raised. (I just don't want to start a shouting match here. Tensions and emotions are running high for everyone in these matters.) I am only trying to advocate that we, as the American people, have to directly get involved and contact our leaders, if anything is to be done by the end of this week. Time is very short.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Dragon Quest Monsters Joker 2 - September 19th Release Date!

There are so many bad surprises you have to prepare for in life, that it becomes strange to be blind-sided by a good surprise. Not only did I not know about the a sequel to Dragon Quest Monsters -- but I also didn't know that it was due to come over to America on August 28th! (That was the original date. It's been changed to September 19th.) It's coming out next month - and I found out about it just when calculating how much my expenses next month are going to be like. (A DS game fits into my budget quite nicely.) So this is quite a happy surprise to find out about! (It pays to check Video Game Releases)

The Dragon Question Monsters Joker series is really great. It's simple and fun, and easily accessible to new players. It takes the concept of Pokemon, but using the monsters of the Dragon Quest series. If you don't like Pokemon, though, you're in luck - this series is a much better experience - traditional RPG gameplay being at the core. You're character commands 3 different monsters. You don't control the monsters entirely, using a selection of different tactics for the monsters to use in battle -- but it's all very intuitive and easy to use. Plus you can make calls during battles, selecting from the menu exactly what you want the monster to do.

Apparently in Japan there are two version of this game already released -- the enhanced version being called "Joker 2 - Professional", which adds 100 new monsters and new areas into the game, but with the same story. Sadly it seems we're not getting a version like Professional, which is really a shame given that version already released in March of this year, and would have been a nice addition for American fans already a year behind. I suppose Square-Enix could release the Professional Version for us at a later date - but minimal-updates of titles that aren't big smash hits are pretty rare to see in America. (The new addition of Marvel vs Capcom 3 is a good example of that. Same game re-released, but with extra content.)

While it's disappointing we might not get the Professional Version, this is still extremely good news that the game is coming over to America, period. (And remember, I could be wrong - they can always release Professional Version later.)

Here's a trailer that I obviously missed during the coverage of E3:

Monday, July 18, 2011

Comic Review: Superman #713

I wrote a review for Superman #713.

You can find the review here at Comic Book Revolution: Superman #713 Review

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Problem with John Stewart -- UPDATE

The concluding chapter of "War of the Green Lanterns" finally came out - and I have to give credit to DC; they really did surprise me. Warning, Spoilers! I'll also be adding this to my original post Green Lantern: The Problem with John Stewart.

The Shade Returns


The Shade is getting his own 12 issue mini-series from DC, due in October. You can read an interview James Robinson gave to CBR here. Ever since Robinson came back to writing at DC again, we've perpetually been waiting for some kind of a return to the amazing type of stories we saw him weave in the pages of Starman. Robinson took an under-utilized hero and gave him kind of rich and expansive history you'd otherwise expect from a character as popular as Superman. From Ted Knight, the first Starman from the 40s, all the way to the modern day with his son Jack taking over as the new Starman of Opal City - every point of Starman's sparse and previously unconnected history was suddenly woven beautifully together. It was simply a master piece, which I feel glad to have even stumbled upon reading in the collected TPBs. Jack Knight, the star of that series, still isn't returning (DC have been extremely gracious in respecting Robinson's decision to leave the character untouched since he wrote him.) Instead, we're getting a mini-series about the Shade.


One of the best additions to the Starman lore was an old Flash villain named the Shade. Not the Silver Age Flash (Barry Allen), but the original Flash from the 1940s, Jay Garrick. The Shade was a low rent villain using technology to create shadows to perpetrate crimes. James Robinson stepped in and gave us a wonderfully morally ambiguous character, who while still notorious for being a villain of the elder Flash, became an ally to the new Starman.


No longer was the shade using electronic trinkets for his abilities - this new Shade had command of all shadows, able to make them become whatever he wants. He's also immortal, having lived since the 1800s, which is also why he's often depicted as a proper English Gentleman. All of the Shade's previous history was combined as well, taking the once corny origins of the character and using that as a frame-work against this new dark and sinister version of the Shade. The Shade simply considered his rivalry with the Flash as a time when he decided to simply have fun and engage in comic book-like villainy. (That story goes much further, though, at the end of the Starman series.)


Over the recent years Robinson has been working on some decidedly less obscure titles, like Superman and Justice League of America -- but somehow that Starman-like touch of taking obscure characters still wound up being Robinson's mission. When Superman went off to New Krypton, in his stead he left Mon-El (awakened in the 21st century, before his time with the Legion of Superheroes in the 31st). It was simply an astounding series, even after Superman left -- and Mon-El was given wonderful new depth as a character.


Next Robinson did a 7 issue series Justice League: Cry for Justice, which then spun into a great run on the JLA. Yet, once again, obscure characters became the head-line. Instead of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, we instead had Supergirl, Dick Grayson (as Batman), and Donna Troy. Add in the alien Starman (Mikaal Tomas), left over from the Starman series, and a Giant Magic Golden Gorilla - and you have one of the more obscure mash-ups of characters to ever appear in the JLA since Justice League Detroit.


The Shade made a few brief appearances during Robinson's JLA run - most notably when Eclipso took control of all the Shadow-Wielding Heroes and Villains of the DCU, the Shade included.


The prelude for this mini-series, though, took place in a one-shot issue, during DC's Blackest Night event. Since the dead where coming back alive in the DCU, there was a cleavery marketing idea to revive canceled series for a single extra issue. Starman #81 featured the Shade having to confront the body of former Starman David Knight (the brother of Jack Knight, who first took up the identity, and tragically died at the beginning of the series.) It was really like the Starman series hadn't missed a beat -- and I should know, it was around that time I was finally finishing the final Starman TPB, and saw plot-treads in issue #80 being continued almost a decade later with issue #81. So I really feel confident, that after Superman, the JLA, and Magical Golden Gorillas - we'll finally be getting a true return to the Starman-style stories of old....

...Just starring the Shade, instead.


For both comic fans and non comic fans alike - I think this series will work well for both sets of people. The Starman series was based in super-heroics, but it always felt like a serious drama, more about the daily life of a superhero, and the legacy he was unwittingly inheriting. It felt like a creator-owned title, which I again have to point out DC have respected and not brought Jack Knight out of retirement since. This series was essentially Sandman (Neil Gaiman) level quality. So I'd urge anyone to give issue #1 a try.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Demon


I was very excited about the upcoming new OMAC series being released by DC Comics in September. This prompted me to read the collected hardcover edition; it was a short lived but wonderfully imaginative and weird series. (You read about it here: OMAC One Man Army Corps) After that I began looking at another of Kirby's creations: "The Demon". Perhaps not surprisingly, my interest in reading the hardcover edition for The Demon was simultaneously sparked by my sudden interest in the New "Demon Knights" series coming from DC.


I'm most pleased with the issues I've read so far, and amazed at how versatile Jack Kirby's artistry really is. You see, the introduction to the volume held a secret I never knew about the Demon series - Kirby didn't originally want to write it! You see, Kirby wanted to edit comics, and help shepherd different series while other writers and artists worked on the actual material. DC was having some good success with horror titles and less super-hero comic books at the time. The creation of Kamandi was a suggestion for Jack to do something similar to Planet of the Apes. Jack was likewise asked to come up with a horror title. Kirby came up with a great concept, and DC loved it. They just wanted Jack to actually write and draw it - no one else would do. The eventual cancelation of his remaining Fourth World books made Kirby's tenure writing and drawing the Demon a surety.


Jack Kirby had a love for a lot of different genres. Demons and sorcery, though he had done issues like them in the past, was not among his favorite genres - especially long term. Yet Kirby never let defeat keep him down - and with the Fourth World canceled, Kirby plunged head first into the Demon character he had created. For a genre not being his first love -- Kirby did a magnificent job of depicting the more adult, adventurous and atmospheric world of the Demon.


The series began with the fall of Camelot. Morgaine Le Fay had won a deciding victory against Merlin and the forces of Camelot, destroying the fabled castle. The castle did not fall easily, though, as Merlin possessed control over a Demon who laughed at danger as he spread destruction over the Morgaine's army. The battle was still lost, but Merlin managed to keep a powerful spell out of the hands of Morgaine, by giving it to the Demon to keep hold of. To help the Demon escape into obscurity, until Merlin needed him again, a mortal form was created - that of Jason Blood.


Jason Blood lived throughout the centuries all the way into the modern age. It was the return of Morgaine that made it nessessary for the Demon to rise again.

Change! Change, O' Form of Man!
Release the Might From Fleshy Mire!
Boil the Blood in Heart of Fire!
Gone! Gone! --- The Form of Man!
RISE THE DEMON, ETRIGAN!!


When those words are spoken to Jason Blood, he transformed into the uncontrollable Demon Etrigan. While having the blood-lust and thirst for battle of a demon, Etrigan is guided by the spirit force of Merlin - always pointing him in the right direction.

The spell listed above is the long version. Usually the end of the spell, "Gone! Gone! The Form of Man! Rise the Demon Etrigan!" will suffice. To reverse the spell, and return Jason to his normal from, has a little more leeway; sometimes exhastion or defeat from an enemy can revert Etrigan, but for the most part these words are used:

Gone the Demon, Etrigan
Rise, Rise, the Form of Man.

This ending rhyme takes different forms on occasion. The rhyming scheme of Etrigan in fact became one of his most note-worthy traits. For the issues I've read so far, it appears Jack Kirby didn't have Etrigan rhyming all the time -- but over the years, in the hands of other creators, Etrigan began making a rhyme of every single thing he said.


The adventures Kirby wrote and drew where simply spectacular - with his art style flourishing like never before. Maybe it was because the series was more grounded, and not taking place in space or in cities - but the haunting atmospheres of older-style villages, crumbling castles, and scary woods made Kirby's art look more stunning than ever. I suspect Kirby might not himself have been up to date on the real mechanics and lore of witch craft -- but he successfully worked around that, using standard horror-movie cliches, and making it all his own. An adventure facing a werewolf, is a good example -- as Kirby tweaked the concept, by calling it the Howler, a being infected with a primordial curse from ancient times. It was still a werewolf story, but it became something much more haunting and dynamic as envisioned through Kirby.


It's also worth noting that, unlike many of Kirby's previous youth-filled series - The Demon took a change of pace with a more adult atmosphere in Jason Blood's personal life. He essentially had an entourage of friends; Randu was an Indian UN Delegate who also possessed ESP powers; and for the non-occult crowd we had Harry Mathews, and Blood's romantic figure Glenda. While a bunch of middle-aged men and adult woman don't scream "Excitement" - Kirby used this cast as a sounding board against all the strange happenings in Jason Blood's life, which gave the series a much needed sense of normalcy; but only to ground you and prepare you for the regular leaps into the macabre and supernatural!


The Demon only lasted 16 issues before being canceled. Over the years there have been some attempts to rise the Demon concept - but Etrigan eventually feel into the roll of an often-used guest star.


He's appeared in a wide arrange of titles, from Supergirl, Green Arrow, Batman, Justice League of America, Neil Gaiman's the Sandman, and many many more.


One revival for the Demon stands out for me, though - and that's John Byrne's time on the title. I never had the chance to read those issues, but I've heard good thing about it. One thing I remember reading about is how Byrne wanted to return the concept of Jason Blood only being a created-person to house Etrigan. Over the years, and in different media, it's been interpreted differently as to weather Jason Blood is a real person or not. So that at least sounds like Byrne was trying to bring back the Demon more like when Kirby used him.


Another character in The Demon series worth noting is Klarion the Witchboy! He appeared only sparingly during Kirby's issues, but left a definite impression of readers and creators. The mischievous Witchboy wanted to learn more powerful magics, against the wishes of his fellow Witch Elders, who did not like seeing a boy become more powerful than them. A vicious hunt was had in the search for Klarion, which soon involved Etrigan. Klarion immediately latched onto Jason Blood for protection from his elder statesmen. The kid was annoying and off-putting - but a delight to read.


The character can bound between just being mischievous, and sometimes being a spoiled brat (with powerful magics to employ in a temper tantrum) One such turn was illustrated by Peter David, where Klarion transformed all the Superhero adults into children, and all the child superheroes into adults. It was a great deal of fun to see role-reversals like Batman now being as young as Robin, or Star Girl suddenly being the only adult around to take care of a gaggle of child-like JSA members.


Klarion got a huge boost in visibility when Grant Morrison recruited him for his Seven Soldiers series. Klarion's origins where changed, but from what I've seen they remained true to who the character is. After that four issue mini-series Klarion became, like Etrigan, a frequent guest star in DCU titles.


The Demon has also proved quite successful as a guest start in DC Animation. The Demon and Klarion are introduced in an episode of Batman. The merging of Bruce Timm's style of animation worked perfectly with Kirby's angular art style. The Demon made a return in a two part episode of Justice League, where he helped the league battle the machinations of Morgaine Le Fey. This is where the idea of Jason Blood was altered the most -- as Jason was introduced during the days of Camalot, and was the one who was seduced by Morgaine into letting her take siege of the castle. As punishment Merlin bound Jason to Etrigan.


Etrigan didn't get as much screen time in the next Justce League series, JL: Unlimited - but he had quite a memorable appearance during an episode where heroes where reduced to the age of children; and that included Etrigan, who made an adorable little baby Demon!


Etrigan also made appearances in episodes of Batman Brave and the Bold. The best episode was when Etrigan, Batman, and Sherlock Holmes teamed up to defeat the Gentleman Ghost.


The new series coming from DC, titled "Demon Knights" is going to be written by the wildly talented Paul Cornell (Doctor Who). The series is going to be set in medieval times, hundreds of years after the fall of Camelot. The Demon is supposedly going to be leading a group of medieval heroes - ala the Magnificent Seven. Reading these interviews Cornell did really psyched me up for the series: Comic Book Resources Interview, and An Interview on the DCU Blog.


Along with OMAC, I feel like this DC Restart is featuring a mini-Jack Kirby renaissance. I feel bad that I almost skipped past Demon Knights, as I figured it wasn't taking place in the present day, and thus wouldn't be as important. There is a ton of hype around Cornell, and it's well, well deserved. So I hope everyone might give at least issue #1 of Demon Knights a try!