Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween: I've been leapt into

My Halloween costume: I'm "that guy" Sam Beckett (aka Scott Bakula) leaped into in that one episode of "Quantum Leap."

Friday, October 28, 2011

Eisner’s Tenement Trilogy — A Contract with God (pt. 1)

Will Eisner (1917-2005) was probably the most-influential comics creator from which most casual fans had never read anything. Unlike publicity hounds like Stan Lee, trendsetters like Jack Kirby or unsung heroes like Julius Schwartz and Carl Barks, Eisner has flown beneath the popular radar.

But his influence was so great that the comics industry’s equivalent of the Oscars — awarded each year at Comic-Con — is known as the “Eisners.”

Eisner’s most-famous creation was the noir-ish hero The Spirit, which became a big influence on Frank Miller’s Daredevil and Batman work and the subject of a horrible 2008 movie. But his most personal work is his trilogy of graphic novels inspired by Eisner’s depression-era childhood in New York. The “Contract with God” trilogy (named after the first book in the series) is a series of vignettes set in tenement housing, centered around the (fictional) residents of 55 Dropsie Avenue in the Bronx.

A Contract with God, and Other Tenement Stories, the first book in the series, was released in 1978 and is widely (if apocryphally) considered the first “graphic novel” — a work released in book form from the start and not simply a collection of previously published comic books.

The volume, both written and drawn by Eisner, starts with the eponymous first story, outlining the life of an Orthodox Hasidic Jew named Frimme Hersh, as he immigrated to the United States after a pogrom and became a pillar of the community. The titular contract with God is made in exchange for good fortune, then broken when the protaganist’s daughter dies (not a spoiler, that’s within the first few pages). The developments from there take a twist right out of EC Comics’ horror stories.

A page from the eponymous "Contract with God"

The second story, “The Street Singer,” about a drunken alley singer’s encounter with an over-the-hill opera diva, also has a twist, but is the least compelling story in the volume.

If the first story had a twist out of EC Comics’ horror stories, “The Super” has a twist out of EC’s crime stories. Telling the tale of 55 Dropsie’s alternatively hated and pitied superintendent, it’s a tightly wound, yet disturbing tale dealing with ambiguous victimhood centered around an accusation of pedophilia.

A page from "The Super"

Finally, “Cookalein” deals with the country jaunts from the city that Jewish families who could afford to do so often took in the 1930s. It also has by far the most characters to keep track of: a poor boy and poor girl both pretending they're rich, a teenage boy subjected to the advances of a married woman, small kids discovering the joys of “camping.” Plotwise, it includes portrayals of date rape, infidelity and true romance. This story was confusing at first with its myriad of characters, but developed into an interesting case study of how fish (repressed ones at that) deal with being out of water.

One of the few pages from "Cookalein" printable on a family blog.

The book deals with some heady topics for something written by a Depression-era kid in the ‘70s, and the art and storytelling are fine. But I had issues with the book. Eisner’s stories in the first volume aren’t much more than a series of vignettes centered around the same neighborhood — without much of a unifying thread. It’s a piece of Americana, but A Contract with God’s contents feel like they’d fit in a simple anthology, rather than a groundbreaking piece of comic literature.

But one of the biggest criticisms I have was made in other reviews as well: Eisner’s art is great for the pulps, but when dealing with serious subjects it seems a bit cartoony for the matter at hand. Not to say that simple art is bad for serious subjects — Craig Thompson’s Blankets is an example where simple art works well with adult themes — but Eisner’s characters almost look like caricatures in some places.

Still, A Contract with God was a good read and a great look into multiculturalism for the uninitiated. The next volume, A Life Force, is purported to be the best of the series. Expect a review of it soon.

Note: This is a review of the first book in Will Eisner’s Tenement Trilogy. The next two books, A Life Force, and Dropsie Avenue were later reviewed in November and December.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

An instant classic -- 2011 World Series Game 6

Tonight's Game 6 of the World Series at first looked like it would be a forgettable one: a sloppy game with multiple errors, a letdown for the National League. Instead, by the end of the night it turned into one of the all-time classic baseball games.

Four hours and 33 minutes is a long time for a baseball game, but the tension, the back-and-forth reversals and the thrill of seeing a "goat" redeem himself Thursday night made every moment exciting.

The Texas Rangers would have won the series with a victory Thursday, and if you weren't watching, the St. Louis Cardinals not once, but twice, were down to their last strike.

In the bottom of the ninth, David Freese (right) -- who had a committed a costly error earlier which the Rangers took advantage of to take the lead -- tripled to score two and tie the game. An inning later, Texas took the lead again in the top of the 10th and got one strike away from victory in the bottom of the frame, but Lance Berkman drove in the tying run. An inning after that, Freese struck again with a walkoff home run to win the game for the Cardinals and force a seventh game on Friday.

Tonight's game joined a number of famous World Series Game 6s: 1975 (Fisk's blast at Fenway off the foul pole), 1986 (Bill Buckner's error), 1993 (Joe Carter's walk-off to win the series) and 2002 (the Angels rally to beat the Giants). Of course, none of those games had Twitter through which far-off fans could commiserate. To wit:

As Texas pulled ahead and the game went into the ninth, I posted the following:

Dang, what an entertaining baseball game this has been. #WorldSeries#Postseason
Oct 28 via webFavoriteRetweetReply

(Times and dates shown on these Tweets are GMT.)

A few moments later, the Cards were down to their last strike when Freese tripled to right just past the reach of outfielder Nelson Cruz, scoring two to tie the game and make up for an earlier error. That hit brought the following reactions online:

When Freese made that error earlier, I thought "what if he redeems himself later with a walk-off homer?" Here we are
Oct 28 via UberSocial for BlackBerryFavoriteRetweetReply

best fucking sport on the planet.
Oct 28 via webFavoriteRetweetReply

Heck, even I got a little excited:

Man, I'm gonna retweet myself here, with emphasis: DAMN, what an entertaining baseball game this has been! #WorldSeries#Postseason
Oct 28 via webFavoriteRetweetReply

Outspoken Florida Marlins Manager Ozzie Guillen and Braves Pitcher Peter Moylan (writing from his native Australia) were also impressed:

Wuaoooooo crazy game
Oct 28 via txtFavoriteRetweetReply

What a game, what a series!
Oct 28 via Tweetbot for iPhoneFavoriteRetweetReply

The game now tied, it went into the tenth. Reining AL MVP Josh Hamilton then blasted a monster shot into the bleachers to once again put the Rangers on the brink of their first world title:

1er hr des Séries d,après-saison de Hamilton et bon pour 2 points et contre Motte! Ah la la, Texas sont trop dûs, 9-7 Texas en 10e
Oct 28 via FacebookFavoriteRetweetReply

Oct 28 via webFavoriteRetweetReply

Cardinals fans looked forlorn, with good reason. They had the bottom of the lineup coming up, including the pitcher with no pinch hitters left on the bench:

I hate baseball. Not only does it break your heart, it takes five hours to do it.
Oct 28 via twiccaFavoriteRetweetReply

If Cardinals find a way to tie game with the hitters they've got coming up, Spielberg should be filming.
Oct 28 via Twitter for iPhoneFavoriteRetweetReply

But, whaddya know? Rally time! St. Louis gets two runs with a ground out and -- after a fan-infuriating intentional walk to superstar Albert Pujols -- an RBI single to right from Lance Berkman:

I haven't followed the Rangers but I find it hard to believe that Darren Oliver was the best option to get the last 3 outs to win the WS
Oct 28 via Twitter for iPhoneFavoriteRetweetReply

People saw this game was becoming a classic:

All fans of other sports will now bow down before their intergalactic overlord
Oct 28 via TweetDeckFavoriteRetweetReply

Well, most people did:

WHAT'S HAPPENING?! Do I need to be watching this World Series?!
Oct 28 via webFavoriteRetweetReply

As the game moved past midnight (Eastern Time), this became a game not to go to bed during -- even if you start work at 4 a.m.:

Looks like KTVU gets a slightly tired Sal Castaneda tomorrow.
Oct 28 via webFavoriteRetweetReply

Told u before we were excited now u see why
Oct 28 via webFavoriteRetweetReply

Of course, politics gets into everything:

9-9, someone alert Herman Cain
Oct 28 via Twitter for iPhoneFavoriteRetweetReply

Then Freese strikes again ... home run to straightaway center and we're off to game 7! The reaction, by now, is predictable:

Jesus, Mary and Joseph
Oct 28 via TweetDeckFavoriteRetweetReply

Amazing! Game 7 here we go!
Oct 28 via webFavoriteRetweetReply

Freese's story will be the headlines tomorrow, if Twitter's any indication:

The night of Freese! From goat to redemption to hero. Wow #WorldSeries
Oct 28 via UberSocial for BlackBerryFavoriteRetweetReply

Personally, I had to give a shout out to the sports editor at Santa Clara University's student newspaper. He called it:

Posted 47 mins before it happened MT @nicko229 Freese made that error, I thought "what if he redeems himself later with a walk-off homer?"
Oct 28 via webFavoriteRetweetReply

Dang that rain that postponed game six until tonight instead of last night. Now Game 7 will be Friday night, when I have to cover a football game for the San Mateo Times. At least I'm not the only one who'll miss out:

As much as I love covering HS football... I wish I had tomorrow night off...
Oct 28 via TweetDeckFavoriteRetweetReply

Well, time to DVR the game, hope the PA announcer at Terra Nova High says nothing and keep the radio off on my way home!

(Go Cards!)