Monday, June 30, 2008

This Week's Comics

Sorry I didn't post about last week's books-- there were some good ones in there but I had a lot to do and not much time for blogging.
But here's what I have my eye on this week:

BOYS #20
FX #5 (OF 6)

The ones in italics are ones I'm not sure about. If I miss them or they sell out, I won't be traumatized but I might look for them in future weeks.
Got anything you're eager to see this week? Comment away!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Michael Turner, comic book artist- RIP

Artist Michael Turner, owner and founder of Aspen Studios, has passed away at age 37, following a long battle with cancer. Part of a group of young artists whose work was fostered by Homage Studios, he achieved tremendous success and a huge fan following with his work for Top Cow Studios, including Witchblade, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and more. His own creations included Fathom and Soulfire. He was considered one of the industry's best artists, particularly when it came to drawing beautiful women.

A personal anecdote: Back in '96, when I was working for WildStorm, a bunch of us went to a club in the Gaslamp District for a party. I'd caught a ride with a young lady who was working in the industry, but she ditched me there (without saying goodbye, she just left) after some of my co-workers basically slandered me to her. Anyway...

There I was, stuck downtown without my car and feeling pissed off. Mike Turner was there, with a bunch of folks from Top Cow. I heard he was leaving and asked (before I'd really even met the guy) if he could drop me off in La Jolla. He said sure, but wanted to grab a bite first with the folks he was already driving, so we ended up hitting the Denny's just outside La Jolla around 1am. We ended up, the bunch of us, sitting and talking for a couple of hours, then I got dropped off at my front door.
Mike probably never knew my name, who I was or what I was doing at the party... but he drove me home. I tell that story sometimes to highlight how generous people can be toward those they don't know.

I never saw him again after that, but can't forget his act of kindness.

He was a great guy and will be greatly missed.


Aspen Studio's announcement can be found here.
Mike's Wikipedia entry here.
Announcement on Jim Lee's blog here.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

INCREDIBLE HULK- a very late review

By now, if you're a comics fan, you've seen THE INCREDIBLE HULK. I've seen it twice and, why not, I'll share my opinions with you, my loyal blog-readers.

While not quite reaching the heights of IRON MAN, INCREDIBLE HULK does a great job of presenting the character (for the second time in five years) to the movie-going public. Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) is a scientist whose experiment five years ago went horribly wrong; whenever he grows angry or scared, or is hurt, he transforms into a nine-foot-tall greenish-gray engine of mass destruction. He's been on the run since the day of his first change, hounded relentlessly by Gen. Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross (William Hurt) and a team of Hulkbusters that now includes top soldier Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth).

Banner is hiding in a favela (ghetto) in Brazil, where he hopes a flower can lead to a cure for his condition. A mishap at the soda bottling plant where he works leads to a gamma poisoning in the US (Stan Lee, in an extremely brief and uncredited cameo), putting Ross's troops on his trail once more. Banner tries to elude them but complications ensue, and the Hulk smashes the Hulkbusters--and leaves Blonsky burning for a rematch.

Banner's best hope of a cure now lies in returning to the US, so he heads north and makes his way to Culver College, where he once studied with Betty Ross (Liv Tyler), Gen. Ross's daughter. Betty and Bruce have a relationship that is true love-- once she realizes he is back, after he's tried and failed to retrieve crucial data for a mysterious colleague, she cannot dump her boyfriend Leonard (Ty Burrell) fast enough or do enough to help his mission.

Unfortunately, Ross and the Army are on the scene. They corner Banner in a glass walkway and try to use knockout gas, but the Hulk breaks loose and mayhem ensues. A very cool pair of sonic cannons have him on the ropes briefly, then Blonsky gets his rematch--with crushing results, courtesy of the Hulk making a vicious punt.

The Hulk, carrying Betty, manages to escape the battlefield, but the damage is done; college students have caught footage on their cell phones and even dub the green monster "a hulk" (hence the name). Ross's best soldier is crippled, the word is out and his daughter is in the hands of a monster (literally). Clearly he is not having a good day.

With the necessary data now in hand, Bruce and Betty head to New York to meet "Mr. Blue," aka Dr. Samuel Sterns (Tim Blake Nelson)--a name that will be familiar to readers of the Hulk comic book. Sterns is an eccentric, ethically challenged biochemist who thinks he has a fix for Banner, though he cheerfully admits that a mistake could be fatal. They concoct a trial run, where Betty manages to keep the Hulk calm enough for the antidote to work, just before the Army arrives in force... and Blonsky has a little chat with Sterns.

This time, his Hulk reflex numbed by the antidote, Bruce and Betty are captured and taken into custody. As they're being taken away, a new monster--something Sterns calls "an abomination"--shows up to wreak havoc in Harlem. Suddenly, the Hulk is their only option for preventing thousands of deaths and billions in property destruction... but is even the green monster powerful enough to take on this brand-new beast?

Marvel Studios has another hit on their hands, there's no denying it. The movie, directed by Louis Leterrier and written by Zak Penn, contains amazing amounts of action, matching Bruce Banner and his emerald alter ego against some powerful enemies. The clash between Hulk and Abomination at the film's climax is a feast for anyone who loves superhero movie action.

There's also some good chemistry between Edward Norton and Liv Tyler, who make viewers believe that these two have a long history and a powerful emotional bond. There are great little touches that drive this home, from Betty's ability to reach the Hulk's gentler side to Bruce's fleeting looks of yearning when he sees Betty with another man. It's good movie work, supplemented by William Hurt's portrayal of Ross as a man whose ambition long ago overwhelmed his basic humanity--in some ways, he's a bigger monster than the Hulk. And Nelson is manic and almost giddy as Sterns, foreshadowing a major threat on the horizon in his final scene.

On the other hand...

Tim Roth is a fine actor but I felt he was miscast as Blonsky. He has the emotional intensity of a man who simply cannot accept second place to the Hulk, but his physicality just isn't persuasive; he doesn't look like a career hardass. That's just my opinion and it's a minor quibble.

What isn't a minor quibble is how the film makers treated 'Leonard' (aka Dr. Leonard Samson), Betty's transitory boyfriend. We see them together twice--in the quad and in a pizza parlor--before Betty takes Bruce home and then goes with him in the morning. We also get a very brief scene where he gives a psychoanalytic snapshot of Ross. Essentially, his presence in the film was a waste of time. He could have been used to illuminate a romantic triangle with Bruce and Betty, or give Liv Tyler a chance to agonize over leaving a good man for the guy she loved but lost, or even highlight the benefits of a safe, comfortable but unchallenging relationship over a much more dangerous true love.

But no. Instead, we get a general dismissal of the character as unimportant, so that we get no idea why Betty ever dated him. It's a feeble attempt at fan service (see more on this below) but it was entirely wasted and the biggest disappointment of the movie.

As for fan service, gee, did we get a lot of it. Much like IRON MAN, this is a movie that rewards being a comic book reader. Among the touches:

  • lots of SHIELD logos popping up on computer monitors, along with Nick Fury's name;
  • ditto Stark Industries requisition forms;
  • discussion of a "super soldier" project in World War II (i.e., Captain America);
  • a liquid nitrogen canister holding a blue serum, with a metal label that reads "Dr. Reinstein" (the scientist who turned Steve Rogers into Captain America);
  • a scene where Blonsky shows off amazing acrobatic combat moves, while the Hulk (in an interesting twist) is holding a shield (foreshadowing how they would show Cap in action);
  • an exchange between Ross and Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), wherein Stark alludes to a team being put together (a reference to the AVENGERS movie being planned for 2011);
  • a running gag involves Bruce buying pants that will stretch enough lest he have an incident--and Betty buys him purple sweats at one point;
  • and probably more than I didn't catch (though I hear a deleted scene involves Captain America as well).

It also rewards familiarity with the TV show of the 1970s:

  • there's a quick glimpse of Bill Bixby on TV (he played "David Banner" on the TV show);
  • Lou Ferrigno, who played the Hulk, provides the Hulk's voice AND makes an appearance as a security guard (geez, he's a big guy!);
  • a few notes of the familiar "walking man" theme are heard during one stretch
  • Bruce's eyes flare with intense green light (like David's did) prior to his change--there's even one moment that's an exact recreation from the series-- and finally,
  • the accident that turns Bruce into the Hulk is nearly an exact repeat (this time including Betty, who was not a character in the TV show) of the experiment David Banner tries on himself, even down to the green crosshairs that appear before the gamma pulse.

It's terrific, and shows that Marvel is serious about building an integrated cinematic universe, building upon the great start made by IRON MAN. Sure, they might not have the X-Men, Fantastic Four or Spider-Man, but they will have (soon enough) THOR, CAPTAIN AMERICA, ANT-MAN and IRON MAN 2.

I said at the beginning that the movie doesn't reach the heights of IRON MAN. Why is that? I think it's because Bruce Banner is a less fun character than Tony Stark. They both have their demons to overcome, but Bruce is a more melancholy figure; he's not the guy you'd want to invite to your party, lest he "hulk out" and destroy your home. Maybe it's the more somber tone, but HULK is just a less exhilarating movie than IRON MAN, which is probably exactly right.

With INCREDIBLE HULK carrying the torch, the future is looking very bright indeed for Marvel Studios.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Butterfly Exhibit at the National Museum of Natural History

Kat and I were in the mood to have lunch together yesterday. She's going to be moving offices soon and we won't have this opportunity again for some months, so we went to the National Gallery of Art's Sculpture Garden to meet for lunch. The Sculpture Garden, for those non-DC-locals reading this, is one of the best places to sit, relax and people-watch on the Mall. The centerpiece is a huge fountain (which becomes a skating rink in the winter), where ducks and sparrows bum bread crumbs from picnickers. Really, it's a great place to go, plus they have jazz concerts on Friday evenings during the summer. Check it out!

Anyway, we decided to walk around and our wandering took us near the National Museum of Natural History. Kat said the butterfly exhibit was free on Tuesdays, so why not check it out? We went in, headed upstairs, found the ticket booth, and then stood in line. Didn't take long before we were in a metal 'pavillion' in which about thirty species of butterfly wing back and forth amid giant eruptions of flora. It's kept very hot and humid inside (apparently butterflies like it hot) and we were cautioned not to touch any of the butterflies, even if they land on you (and they do).

I have a few pictures on my cellphone camera, and if I can transfer them, I'll post them here. The sight is really spectacular and I suggest that you make it a point to visit if you're in town.

Later today: my comic book reading list for the week.

Friday, June 20, 2008

John Nee Leaves DC

Hey folks,
If you read the blog, you'll have seen the name John Nee here before.
Well, I read online today that he's resigned from DC Comics. No idea if it is effective immediately or what-- I haven't talked with him since learning the news.
My two cents:
John is a complicated guy, extremely smart and farsighted. He knows a lot about many, many subjects. In some ways, he is a bigger than life character.
I have faith he'll be fine coming through this time of transition, and look forward to talking with him soon. He knows he has an open invitation to come to DC (Washington) any time he likes--Kat and I always have a place for him.
Take care, John-

I spoke with John this past weekend by instant message; he seemed to be doing well. There are no details I can offer on the overall subject of his departure-- I didn't ask. Kat and I consider him a good friend and continue to wish him the very best.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

A Light Comic Book Week for Drew!

I didn't really buy very much yesterday, but... here's what I got (with remarks):

  • GEORGE R.R. MARTIN’S WILD CARDS #3 (OF 6) HARD CALL - haven't read it yet, want to take some time and enjoy this one
  • JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #22 - is it me or is Dwayne McDuffie just not doing it in this title? I love the guy's work but his JLA run is disappointing me.
  • TRINITY #1-3 - haven't read it yet; Kat borrowed issues 1 and 2 last night.
  • ULTIMATE FANTASTIC FOUR #55 - what is the story with the new Salem's Seven? Geez, talk about an aggressive new superteam. Leave it to Mike Carey to reinvigorate a bunch I considered "morts" back in the day.
  • ULTIMATE X-MEN #95 - last issue, the X-Men got their asses handed to them by one badass Alpha Flight; now we're seeing a bit more about the mutant-amping drug Banshee, Cyclop's first optic blast (in flashback, natch), a secret agenda at work, and Vindicator showing signs of being a serious A-hole. Hm.

I'll post more opinion here as I finish the week's books. In the meantime, I'm reading OUT OF THE WILD by Sarah Beth Durst (see the link to her site on my home page). It's as fun and wacky in its sensibilities as INTO THE WILD (her first novel) and I'm enjoying it quite a bit.

Till then!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Why America is Great

I have a theory about why the United States may be the greatest nation in the history of the world.

We have, more often than not, chosen optimism and hope over fear and despair.

Historically, most of our choices have endorsed the idea that tomorrow will be better, no matter how bad today might be. We choose greatness, we choose ambition, we choose the positive. In that ideal we have of ourselves, our national character is upbeat, our mood one of self-confidence.

We need to choose greatness again.

It is time to turn the page.

Our next President has enormous challenges ahead. Do we want someone who will bring us more of the same, more of what we've had for the past eight years? Or do we want something new?

Will we choose optimism and hope, or fear and despair?

I choose optimism. I choose to believe in the things that have made the United States great-- things that we have forsaken in a dark era of fear, but that we can rediscover, reaffirm, and restore. It will take a lot of work, and it will not be easy, but after all... we believe in overcoming great challenges, and will overcome these.

That's what I believe.

Good for Justice Kennedy!

I want to applaud Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. Siding with the law-minded half of the Court, he was the pivotal vote in a key verdict, granting habeas corpus rights to the detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

I have never believed that those kept prisoner in that facility should be denied the rights afforded those accused under the Constitution. Keeping them offshore, in a Naval facility, was never in the best interests of justice. Now that it has been torn aside by this third judgment against the Bush regime, perhaps we can hope to see real justice done.

Are the men in Guantanamo angels, entirely innocent and blameless of any wrongdoing? I have no idea; I doubt it, but don't know anything about them.

But... the way our government imprisoned, mistreated and denied them even the most basic human or legal rights for years will prevent us from ever getting a straight answer to that question. Evidence produced by the interrogators is suspect; testimony offered by those who arranged this incarceration is equally suspect.

So where does that leave us? It leaves our next Administration the unenviable task of trying to make something legitimate and honest out of this travesty. Perhaps this ruling by the Court--derided, as expected, by Scalia, Alito, Roberts and Thomas, not to mention McBush--will be one step closer to bringing our country out of the darkness and restoring our good name.

One can only hope.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Tim Russert, 1950-2008

When Katherine and I went to see Bruce Springsteen last year, we didn't know that we'd have a really nice encounter on the way out of the Verizon Center. Heading for the exit, the guy next to us said, "There's Tim Russert." And sure enough, it was.

I knew his face well, having become a politics junkie since moving to DC in 2002, but Kat had to be reminded, "Meet the Press."
"Oh yeah! Wow, he looks younger in person!"

We stepped up and said hello, then I said that this was Kat's first Bruce concert. He lit up with a huge grin and said, "My first was 30 years ago," or something to that effect. (I read later that he'd booked Bruce for a college concert for $2500 back in the day.) He asked if she enjoyed the show and Kat had a minute to talk with one of the most famous faces in TV news. She couldn't have been happier--being asked a question by Tim Russert? Out of this world.

We were at the Newseum yesterday evening and saw a page taped to one of the panels out in front. It was a picture of Mr. Russert with a note from Cleveland-Marshall College of Law alumni (his alma mater)... and it mentioned "the sad news." Naturally we assumed the worst and confirmed it by cellphone-delivered news a few minutes later.

It's a shock to lose someone who's so much a part of one's informational universe, especially so young. We met him for all of three minutes--and his gracious wife Maureen was there with him, together seeming so happy at seeing a terrific show--but he impressed us both deeply with his generosity, his friendliness, and his enthusiasm at sharing something (Bruce's music) which he clearly loved so much. We could not have had a better, finer moment with this icon of TV news and political coverage.

We've lost more than an exemplary television commentator and interviewer; we've lost a fine American.

Rest in peace, Mr. Russert, and our deepest condolences to your family, friends, associates and all those who looked to you as an authoritative, tough but fair-minded gentleman. You will be greatly missed.
Photo Alex Wong/Getty Images

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Blogging the London trip- Day 5 (part 1)

Okay, I'm finally back to blogging about our trip to London. Geez, was it really a month ago we were in the UK? Sure enough...

This post promises to be an extremely long one, as we had an action-packed day. So I'm breaking it up into smaller chunks.

Our second field trip day was to be spent in Oxford, the Cotswolds, and Stratford-upon-Avon. (The last should be familiar to English students everywhere as the birthplace of William Shakespeare.)

We got up early and headed to breakfast, then to the bus. This might have been the morning that the breakfast area was overloaded, so we were redirected to the upstairs restaurant (which, I guess, handles overflow). We managed to grab a quick bite then head out. Once we were properly sorted out at Victoria Station (which is where Evan Evans bus tours departed), our bus headed out... and we were bombarded with the shrieks of one very unhappy baby. Our tour guide acted with astounding speed and courtesy, asking if the couple might prefer to sit out this trip (and get a full refund), given that they would be on the bus for several hours and the baby seemed extremely unhappy. They assented, perhaps sensing that the rest of us were NOT in love with their infant (or at least its antisocial behavior), and hopped off before we got out of London.

The trip to Oxford was about an hour in duration, affording us another view of the countryside. Oxford itself is a fair-sized city that contains 38 different colleges under the very loosest of administrative umbrellas. Applicants apply to the individual colleges, not to the university as a whole, and while the costs are (currently) rather low, prices have been rising sharply in the past few years.

We toured Christ Church, founded in 1546 by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey (advisor to King Henry VII and King Henry VIII). There are about 600 students in total in this college, which is the oldest and perhaps most prestigious of Oxford's colleges.

We visited the dining hall, where there is a stained glass window celebrating Alice Liddell (aka Alice's Adventures in Wonderland), because Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) was a mathematics professor there before he became a storyteller to the children of other faculty members and then a novelist. The dining hall was rumored to be the basis for the dining hall of J.K. Rowling's Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry (of Harry Potter fame), but our guide debunked the rumor by saying that there are easily a dozen locations that could make an identical claim. However, part of "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" was shot at the entry to the dining hall in Christ Church, so there.

Our tour continued with a walk through the church that is the heart of Christ Church. It is truly a beautiful building, impressive in every way, with exceptionally friendly reverends on hand to welcome visitors.

We walked through Oxford, taking in other colleges (some of them truly tiny) and enjoying the hustle and bustle of a college town in late spring. Our destination was the Martyr's Memorial, where three men were executed for heresy in 1555. (Supposedly this execution was the basis for the childhood rhyme "Three Blind Mice.") Kat grabbed a sandwich while I snapped pictures.

I was mostly interested in the pub where J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis met with their fellow Inklings. Turns out we were to pass it shortly afterward-- it's The Eagle and Child (at least, that was their hangout from '39 to '62). We would have enjoyed going in, but it was well off our touring area. Ah well, maybe next time.

Our trip was then into the Cotswolds, which are truly "countryside" in England. The landscape is rolling and absolutely gorgeous, featuring scattered flocks of sheep and cattle, along with the now-ubiquitous fields of rapeseed plants. Many of the cottages are positively ancient and sport thatched roofs (we heard that the thatch need only be replaced every 10-15 years if done right, but it is costly--probably only slightly less than having a new roof put on a conventional ranch home).

If you're in the UK and minded to get out of London, you should make a point of seeing the Cotswolds.

Tomorrow I'll resume the narrative with our arrival in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Blogging the London trip- Day 4

Two days of our trip (Wednesday and Thursday) were set aside primarily for out-of-London field trips. The first of these was to Bath, then Stonehenge, and finally Winchester Cathedral. It would mean a long day on the bus, since Bath is about two hours from London, situated right about on the western edge of the island. It doesn't overlook the various bodies of water that surround England but it is darned close.

On the ride out, our guide described the agriculture of the British countryside, especially the vast fields of bright yellow plants that are called rapeseed or canola. They are grown for export to make biofuels (canola oil) and currently comprise about 11% of the total acreage under cultivation, if I remember correctly.

The British countryside is absolutely beautiful. Seeing the tiny farms, diverse herds of sheep and cattle, hedge rows and expansive farmlands, it made me think of Tolkien's Shire. It didn't hurt that the weather was incredible, with clear blue skies and cool temperatures; there probably isn't any better way to see the land, unless it's flying over it in a small plane (one of my favorite ways to see landscapes).

If the country is beautiful, Bath is ten times more so. The town lies atop a natural hot mineral water spring; per our guide, the water down in the depths has been there for about 80,000 years and is making its way up through some very hot subterranean spaces. We hopped off the bus and had about two hours to view the ruined Roman resort and wander the town before embarking for our next destination.

Bath was built by Roman occupiers who found the hot springs and decided to make a spa. The construction was elaborate, making great use of the Romans' legendary skill as engineers, and enjoyed considerable popularity until the Romans retreated from England. Once that happened, the natives lacked the skills necessary to maintain the buildings, and they slowly fell into ruin and collapsed atop the springs.

Hundreds of years later (12th century, I believe?), a bishop rediscovered the springs and created a resort for himself. It became popular quite awhile later, when Queen Anne was recommended to the hot springs to ease a chronic discomfort. That assured its rise as a place to be, such that the nobles built elaborate houses for themselves and the townfolk prospered.

Bath fell into decline with the ebb of its popularity, but enjoyed a third rebirth when the Roman ruins were found and excavated in the 19th century. Nowadays, the town enjoys a thriving tourist business, trading on its great natural beauty and history. Tours of the Roman baths are fascinating, and though they tell you not to touch the water fresh from the springs, you do anyway. (It's hot--not scalding but warmer than you'd think.) In the Pump Room, you can actually drink the water... which tastes like hot mineral water. No surprise, hm?

We wandered the streets for awhile. The Starbucks in town made one of the best peppermint mochas I'd ever had, and Kat loved shopping in the maze of streets, side streets and alleyways that comprise downtown Bath. We thought about going to Jane Austen's home but that would have been a trip beyond our temporal means-- we would have had maybe five minutes in the building before having to run back to the bus, which is not enough. We settled for buying postcards.

Once back on the bus, we headed for Stonehenge. Our guide gave us the story of the structure, which is the third and last of three great cycles of construction. The most ambitious, apparently, was the second one, wherein the handful of locals carted stone from Wales (about 300-350 miles away) without the use of wheels. Think about that, hauling multi-ton stones that distance. Let's say this: they were motivated.

Stonehenge may not be vast in size but, considering it was built using Bronze Age (or maybe Iron Age) technology, was torn up to scavenge stone by latter-day locals, and yet has lasted about 2500 years, that isn't bad at all. Kat and I, needless to say, were greatly impressed.

Not so much with Winchester Cathedral, our final stop of the day. We didn't pay to go inside, but instead glanced in the vestibule and then walked around the town for a bit. Kat did a little clothes shopping, then we were on the road back to London. We got off at Knightsbridge and busied ourselves with finding a place to eat (which proved to be a challenge). Ultimately we found a tapas place, then bought souvenirs and headed home by way of Pall Mall (taking a peek at 10 Downing Street), the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Bridge and then along the Embankment.

We were ready to crash by 11pm that night, having had an exceptionally busy day.

Blogging the London Trip- Day 3

If memory serves, Tuesday was the day we walked our feet off.

We stayed in London, having no official tour activities but a day of leisure instead. So we made our way around London and saw... pretty much everything.

Our first foray out was a walk to Westminster Abbey. It's about a fifteen minute walk from our hotel. We headed out and paid the ten pounds price of admission (the museums are mostly free but the cathedrals charge admittance during non-worship hours to cover their expenses). The place is staggering in size and roomy, despite being the final resting place of a colossal number of people. I think you could fill a small stadium, honestly. The Abbey also boasts enormous cenotaphs and memoria to great individuals of British history-- Charles Dickens, Winston Churchill and many more have large plaques celebrating their lives and contributions.

Our next stop was the British Museum. A selection of major "ooh" moments:

  • a crystal skull (referenced in INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL, no less);
  • an amazing Egyptian exhibit;
  • the Elgin Marbles (a collection of Greek marble statuary, most of it in fragments, retrieved from the Parthenon and various sites);
  • a collection of books and curiosities compiled by the museum's chief patron, Edward III (IIRC); and
  • some remarkable items from around the globe including a massive totem pole and Assyrian sphinxes.

We had a late lunch at the museum, then pushed on to the British Library (which is a moderate walk distant). This was a treasure trove, really. The new complex is only about ten years old or so, completely modern, and packed with stuff to see. Our chief goal was the Treasures of the British Museum room (aka the Sir Ritblat Collection), which includes:

  • one of four surviving copies of the Magna Carta (and the only one with a vestige of the royal seal), including a copy of the baronial grievances letter that led to Magna Carta;
  • one of two surviving copies of the first time Beowulf was written down;
  • pages from Leonardo daVinci's notebook;
  • a letter from Lewis Carroll discussing his literary Alice;
  • the journal of Captain Cook;
  • letters from Charles Darwin on his theory of evolution;
  • a display of Beatles memorabilia, including handwritten lyrics to "Help!," "Hey Jude" and more;
  • and LOTS of other stuff.

If you go to London (or already live in/near there), you absolutely must see this display. You owe it to yourself to see these foundations of our (Anglo-American) civilization.

We then went to Kings Cross/St Pancras Station. Since it was late afternoon by this point, we figured we'd grab an early dinner. We thought we were in the place where they'd filmed part of Harry Potter (the train scenes), but that was obviously the other station. Ah well. Maybe next time.

Next was a walking tour (courtesy of London Walks) of pubs in central London. Being cash-poor by then, we tried to find a Barclays ATM but there were none around (which was aggravating); we hiked along with our tour group and our grim spirits soon lifted as we drank as much as we could afford. We hit a series of pubs, including the Old Bank of England (which was converted from a bank to a pub after WWII-- the Crown Jewels were kept in that building during the War). We saw a bit of the City of London, via Fleet Street, and heard many stories about the legendary journalism wars that are now history. Our tour ended near the home of Dr. Samuel Johnson and one of the pubs he was said to have visited.

After that, it was about 10pm and time to head home. We had to hurry, since the Victoria (Tube) Line was scheduled to close at 10pm for ongoing maintenance... and that was the only Tube near our hotel. Took some jogging and some prayer, but we made it onto the last train, got to Vauxhall Station, and headed home, footsore but exhilarated from a wealth of new experiences and sights.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Blogging the London Trip- photos!

Kat added our photos to her Facebook page, so let me share some links.
There are seven sets of photos:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Take a look, enjoy and comment away! (BTW, a couple of them are misidentified; see if you can find them before I fix the mistakes! It's a game the whole world can play!)

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Odds and Ends

Hey folks,
Took a short break from blogging the London trip, partly to give Kat a chance to organize the photos. 900 shots takes awhile to manage.
In the meantime, I'll talk about a couple new things...

ANDROMEDA STRAIN on A&E. Based on the book by Michael Crichton, this new four-hour mini takes the story far beyond the Wildfire Lab and poor Piedmont, AZ. A satellite crash is followed by the deaths of everyone in a tiny Arizona town, save two: an old alcoholic and a colicky baby. Cause of death: near-instant coagulation of a victim's blood.

The Army cannot handle this biohazard, so Project Wildfire is activated by Gen. Mancheck (Andre Braugher). A team, led by Dr. Jeremy Stone (Benjamin Bratt), includes an ex-lover (Christa Miller), a military doctor with whom Stone has clashed before (Rick Schroder), a married biochemist (Viola Davis), and a Chinese expatriate doctor with a shady past (Daniel Dae Kim); they have a super-secret and ultrasophisticated laboratory under the desert, where they will try to save the world from this fast-acting and universally lethal organism.

Trouble is, the Army is keeping secrets of its own, not the least of which is a conspiracy between a presidential advisor and an ambitious colonel to secure samples of Andromeda, while a brazen reporter (Eric McCormack) struggles to unlock the mystery of the Andromeda Strain... and survive the conspiracy's murderous intentions when he gets too close to the truth.

The miniseries is well-acted and moves at an appropriate pace. Suspension of disbelief becomes a bit difficult when time travel and suboceanic thermal vent mining and other bits of weirdness are invoked-- Crichton has become a "kitchen sink" type of science fiction writer of late, and this mini plays into those tendencies-- such that the clean, linear storyline (and climactic race against the clock) are souped up with lots of explosions, teams of killers stalking busybodies, and more.

It's definitely watchable, but re-watchable... not so sure.

Dr. Jeremy Stone - Benjamin Bratt
General George Mancheck - Andre Braugher
Dr. Charlene Barton - Viola Davis
Major Bill Keane, M.D. - Rick Schroder
Dr. Tsi Chou - Daniel Dae Kim
Jack Nash - Eric McCormack
Dr. Angela Noyce - Christa Miller
President Scott - Ted Whittall

WRITING- I'm getting a bit done here and there. I have two competing storylines that are taking up my thoughts these days. Gonna have to figure out which one I can ride to victory, so to speak. Lucky for me, neither one's been done in the urban fantasy genre.

Speaking of which, I'm pretty damned sick of vampires and werewolves. I know they're popular but c'mon, there are OTHER supernatural critters out there! Argh.

INCREDIBLE HULK- Just read the novelization last week (I know, I'm spoiling the movie for myself, big deal), but if they make the movie Peter David novelized, it'll kick ass. That's all I'm sayin'. Get the taste of Ang Lee's HULK out of your mouth and go see this. Should be awesome.

That's all I have for now. More London blogging soon!