Archive for November, 2010

Batman: The Return #1/Batman Incorporated #1

“Planet Gotham”

Writer:  Grant Morrison

Artist:  David Finch

Publisher:  DC Comics

Price:  $4.99

Grant Morrison (Arkham Asylum, JLA, X-Men) makes a major shift in the status quo of the Batman mythos  after he has Bruce Wayne publicly announce that he has been funding the Batman’s war on crime.  While this may seem reminiscent of Tony Stark’s revelation of being Iron Man, this actually seems to be the plan of Batman hinted at in Mark Waid’s classic mini-series, Kingdom Come.  A world of multiple Batmans and increased tech to keep the streets of Gotham safe (also the plan Batman would return to in the sequel to Dark Knight).  In other words, it’s still Batman working his same plan only thinking bigger.

Like with Batman/Bruce Wayne, Batman:  The Return pretty much declares this new vision and direction while at the same time hinting that there will be a shift in tone to the dark, brooding Batman we have come to know over the last few decades.  We see the obligatory check in with the Bat Family, starting with Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne, entrusting them with protecting the streets of Gotham.

“Starting today we fight ideas with better ideas.  The idea of crime with the idea of Batman.” –Batman

In a lot of ways, Batman/Bruce Wayne has shifted into visionary mode, a person with so many ideas that it is difficult to keep up with them.  This in and of itself is a shift from the ultra-focused Batman we’ve come to know.  This Batman is … enthusiastic.  Before, folks were swept up in his mania; now they are carried along by his passion.  And it’s too early to see if this is a brilliant or fatally flawed plan, but Morrison displays a confidence in his handling of the characters as well as the story.  Like Batman/Bruce Wayne, Morrison brings a lot of ideas to the table, not all of them are carried off perfectly, such as his extended metaphor of the wounded bat that opens the book.

David Finch’s art, interpreted by Batt, Winn and Steigerwald, was dark and moody.  His art direction is both eye catching and engaging, creating a motion to the story.

“Mr. Unknown is Dead”

Writer:  Grant Morrison

Artist:  Yanick Paquette

Publisher:  DC Comics

Price:  $3.99

At first blush, my instinct, based on experience with tie-ins to mega events, screamed that if you bought one book, you wouldn’t need the other.  That is far from the case here.  If Batman:  The Return laid out the mission statement, Batman Incorporated is the test run.  And from early on, it’s apparent that there’s a new story telling sheriff in town.

We begin with a journey to Japan and a world of Japanese crime fighters.  A global vision has to have global stories.  However, the new direction wasn’t in the setting, but in the jovial atmosphere of the book.  There is a buoyant humor, not to mention the innuendo laced, Nick & Nora-esque dialogue between Batman and Catwoman.  It seems like Batman isn’t operating from the wounded little boy who lost his parents and whose heart was set on vengeance, but that of a man who had found a measure of healing from that pain.

I was not a fan of the art.  While Yanick Pacquette and Michel Lacombe ably handle both Selina Kyle and Japan, something about it didn’t quite appeal to me that I still can’t quite put my finger on.

“No one can run from death forever.” –Mighty Lord Death Man

We know (and I use the word “we” to refer to those of the comic book intelligentsia familiar with the origins of Batman) that it is the tragic loss of his parents at the hand of a street criminal, and his subsequent thirst for Justice, that drives him into his new life.

Batman has always been a dangerously focused character. The death of his parents at the hands of a criminal gave him a mission in life, but how he went about his mission has led writers to depict him as either a revenge-driven psychopath (continuing to punish the man who killed his parents) or an ardent pursuer of justice (pursuing a higher calling and mission). So this hero’s journey has always been as much internal as it was external.

Similarly, the church already has its mission, the missio Dei, joining in God’s mission to be a blessing to the world. We are called to a mission of reconciliation: one to another and one another to God. God’s reconciling act is centered on the cross, a gift of freedom. The resurrection is a sign that the powers have been defeated, though still active. The cross transforms our condition while also providing an example of hope. A faith with present-future components: the present reality lived in light of a future one. Being united in mission is a sanctifying process. To fight injustice and oppression; ministering to neighbors; not putting up fences or moving away develops disciplines needed for growth. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we practice Pentecost and live out the Gospel. Reconciliation touches the most hidden parts of our souls. God gave reconciliation to us as a ministry that never ends.  One that we need to think locally as well as globally in terms of how we carry it out.

The change in direction heralded by Batman:  the Return and Batman Incorporated is a welcome one, a great start to this series.  Face paced, funny, and filled with a vibrant energy (words I wouldn’t have expected to describe any Batman work these last few years), I hope this direction continues this strong for a long time.

Ultimate Avengers 3 #4

Writer:  Mark Millar

Artist:  Steve Dillon

Publisher:  Marvel Comics

Price:  $3.99

Previously:  The Avengers have met their match:  a horde of vampires looking to recruit super heroes into their ranks.  Led by the mysterious man in an iron suit, Anthony, the vamp army has just enlisted the newly turned Nerd Hulk and Kid Daredevil.  After the first battle between the Avengers and vampires goes south, Blade descends on the Triskelion to take out the vampires’ biggest asset, the recently infected Captain America.  It doesn’t go so well.

“There’s a world beneath your world, Mr Stark, and you can build all the cities and towers you like.  It ain’t gonna go away.” –Blade

Sometimes the Ultimate universe comes off as if Marvel has given license to do a “What If …?” universe.  A place where history and continuity have little meaning or long lasting consequences, almost like a disposable universe.  Where writers can be as over the top with beloved characters and it doesn’t matter because these stories take place over here and aren’t part of the “canon” anyway, so just sit back and enjoy them.

That said, now throw in the second wave of horror tropes riding a wave of resurgent popularity.  First zombies running amuck in the Marvel universe, now vampires.  Add to the mix Mark Millar’s patented over-the-top sensibilities and snappy one liners, and you have Ultimate Avengers 3.  Mark Millar’s Ultimate Avengers still carry the spirit of The Authority, moving at a cinematic scope yet filled with plenty of Millar being Millar:  mocking the Twilight phenomena (which, cranky as I sound, believe me, this sequence alone is worth the price of admission); Blade as a smartass not a taciturn vambot, shooting folks to get them to shut up for a minute; and the Hulk vs Anthony.

“We don’t bow to any made up God.  Defer to any man-made law.  We just submit to our most basic values and follow even our darkest desires.” –Anthony

Like the vampires in 30 Days of Night, these vampires seem to roam about at will, eat from a buffet line of non-powered humanity, and basically give into their gluttony and excess. Their lives are reduced to wild, wanton wastes of wants and needs, being driven solely by desires, much like children without any parental supervision.  In a lot of ways, they are like us, striving to live life on our terms, for our maximum happiness, not realizing how selfish this is. This points to our secret desires to set ourselves up as our own gods, determiners of our fate, and not realizing that we’re the problem.

We all have desires. Desires are good in and of themselves; it’s when they stray from their intended purpose that things go awry. Desires are also potential areas of temptation and sin. The desire to enjoy things can lead to evil desires that express themselves in physical activity (“lust of the flesh”); the desire to obtain things can lead to a covetous heart (“lust of the eyes”); and the desire to do things can lead to focusing our lives around such activity (“pride of life”).

But the purpose of desires is to lead us to right relationships, with God, with each other and to live in harmony with creation. We have to be met where we are, broken and lost, in order to move where we need to be.

The bullet point review of Ultimates 3 is … it is what it is.  Seriously.  Mark Millar scripting the Avengers will give you a romp that doesn’t always makes sense, have the characters acting in ways that often seem incongruent to how we’ve come to know them, but service the story/mood/joke, and in general be a good time.  It is what it is, so you will either love it or loathe it, your mileage may vary.

Shadowland #1 – A Review

Writer:  Andy Diggle

Artist:  Billy Tan

Publisher:  Marvel Comics

Price:  $3.99

Previously:  They are called The Hand – an organization of ninjas, thieves, and assassins.  Originally banding together 800 years ago to fight off the oppressive system of feudal Japan, The Hand turned to corruption and darkness when the mutinous Snakeroot Clan seized power.  Over the years, they’ve come into conflict with many superhumans—Spider-Man, the Avengers, and the X-Men to name a few—but none of their feuds compared to their war with Daredevil.  Murdock’s ties to the hand run deep; his mentor, Stick, died trying to destroy The Hand, and his former lover, Elektra, served The Hand as an assassin for many years, nearly losing her soul in the process. So when The Hand sought Daredevil out to become their new leader, he was understandably confused.  He initially rejected their offer, but eventually consented, plotting to use the organization as a force for good.  When his arch-enemy, Bullseye, destroyed a city block – and killed 107 people in the process – Murdock resolved to turn The Hand into an army of protectors.  Over the ensuing months, they’ve confronted crime and corruption on the streets of new York – with brutal force.  As Daredevil’s power within the group has grown, so has his willingness to push the limits in order to keep the peace.  He sought to change The Hand but it appears The Hand has changed him.

Brian Michael Bendis and Ed Brubaker have had the best Daredevil run since the days of Frank Miller being on the book.  Andy Diggle picks ups after Brubaker and with Shadowland demonstrates that he has a firm handle on Daredevil.  Like Batman, Daredevil is interesting because he walks that fine line of being a vigilante while battling with his demons (with more than his share of manias and mental issues).  So to see him flirt with this walk on the dark side isn’t entirely surprising.  In fact, it seems to be the familiar watering hole his character seems to return to periodically whenever he’s hurt or going through something tough.

After years of epic, global, cosmic, paradigm shifting comics events that reset everything, it’s nice to get a street level event where the non-/not-as-powered folks get some run.  Daredevil’s arch-enemy, Bullseye, chews scenery with every panel he’s in (at one point having him in a Hannibal Lector get up, still oozing sinister charm).  Diggle uses Bullseye to great effect and lets him steal the book.  The rest of the heroes’ reaction to Daredevil is a little puzzling as they’ve seen variations on his act before (“Kingpin of Hell’s Kitchen” anyone?).

“Matt Murdock dared evil and lost.”

Shadowland explores a kind of moral ambiguity, as Daredevil begins down a well-intentioned slippery slope.  His goal is to leap into the heart of an evil organization and use it as a force for good.  As laudable as that is, there are two things that he forgets:  1) while all things can be redeemed, evil has a way of baiting traps to take down good; it’s not going to go down quietly or unopposed; and 2) evil is real and exists, demons and the like; and that while evil is to be opposed, it can’t be opposed with evil, because that only strengthens the cause of evil. Evil must be opposed with good.

“He cannot be corrupted from without.  He must damn himself.” –The Hand

At the core of Matt Murdock’s sense of woundedness are a litany of regrets and spoiled/frustrated dreams.  We long to be rescued from our past transgressions, from those out of control elements of our lives. Yet, too often, we believe ourselves too far gone, too sinful, too tainted to be loved or accepted. It’s never too late. We can be met where we are, by finding a community, and with their help, become the people we were meant to be. No matter our past and how many mistakes we’ve made. We are never so far gone that we can’t turn our lives around, starting now. The path sounds “easy” (though not really because there are costs and sacrifices to changing our lives around, and we still have the consequences of our choices to date to deal with). However, it starts as simply as asking for and accepting forgiveness (from others and yourself), then going and “sin no more.”

This is a series not to be missed and it’s no wonder it’s in its fourth printing.  The compelling premise, exploring the dark side of Daredevil against the backdrop of Bullseye (ending with a panel sequence those familiar with the history of Daredevil and Bullseye can appreciate) and ninjas … you can’t turn the pages fast enough.

X-Factor #211 – A Review

Staying in Vegas

Writer:  Peter David

Artist:  Emanuela Lupacchino

Publisher:  Marvel Comics

Price:  $2.99

Previously:  X-Factor was hired by a mysterious woman to track down an equally mysterious reprobate who had supposedly stolen an ornamental hammer-shaped pendant.  As it turned out, the mysterious woman was Hela, Norse goddess of the underworld, and the reprobate was that cosmic fun-lover, Pip the Troll, who was trying to escape back to Las Vegas, telling the detectives that their job was done.  Seeing Pip’s terror and feeling responsible, Madrox and company headed to Nevada to try and sort matters out.  Longshot then went on a massive winning streak throughout the city in hopes of catching her attention.  The good news is:  it worked. Bad news is:  it worked … and the team now find themselves under attack by undead Viking henchmen.

Peter David (Hulk, Fallen Angel) is one of my favorite writers and it had been a while since I checked in on X-Factor.  From beginning to end, X-Factor continues to be an entertaining and good read.  David brings a certain air of fun to comic book experience.  There’s a joy to the story telling and to the approach of the characters.  It’s obvious that he not only has a deep love for these characters, but he has a strong sense of them as individuals and has a firm handle on their journeys/arcs.  Not to mention that his trademark snappy banter still bubbles throughout the issue.

If the story seems to spin its narrative wheels it’s because the issue largely delivers what it promises:  if you put an all out battle between our heroes and Viking zombie warriors on your cover, then you better have some full splash page takeovers of our heroes vs. Viking zombie warriors.  And Emanuela Lupacchino’s art is beautiful and reason enough to pick up this book.

“I am the only God you should be swearing to.” – Hela

I couldn’t help but think that in the age of super heroes and immortals, it must be hard to believe in God or gods, even when confronted with them.  Supernatural beings become commonplace, people bear witness to the supernatural and the miraculous and it must do strange things to people’s faith.   Yet we continue to look for miracles. They are God’s calling cards. We believe that if only we could have some proof positive of God at work in our lives, in our world, then it would heal our faith and sooth our doubts. What we fail to take into account is that people can see the exact same things, the exact same set of circumstances and evidence, and come to very different conclusions … We can’t go through life solely seeking signs of the miraculous out in order to build our faith upon, nor should we deny them when we come across them.

We continue to look for miracles, to see some true sign of God’s presence in our reality. Miracles are God’s calling cards. We believe that if only we could have some proof positive of God at work in our lives, in our world, then it would heal our faith and sooth our doubts. If God burst in with full revelation, as He was often recorded doing in the Bible, I don’t think we could handle it. Look at those same stories in the Bible: after every miracle, it was like people embraced a type of amnesia. They either forgot what they just witnessed or became blasé with a “yeah, but what have you done for me lately?” attitude. We want a God we can control and understand, but by losing the idea of what it means to have a fear of the Lord, we end up trivializing God. God is God. Either way, an encounter with supernatural would rock our worldview to its foundation (and that’s even if you already believed in Him in the first place).

From beginning to end, this issue is packed with action.  If you’re a fan of Peter David’s witty banter, you will be taking a breather on this issue.  That’s is more than made up for with plenty of splash pages worth of art of our band of heroes vs, well, zombie Vikings.  Zombie.  Vikings.  No character is left stranded, each having something to do that contributes to the story, and you can feel the story building in momentum like a freight train.  Interestingly, David manages to jam so much into the action pages that you still may have to read the issue a second time to make sure you didn’t miss anything.

The New Avengers #6 – A Review

Writer:  Brian Michael Bendis

Artist:  Stuart Immonen

Publisher:  Marvel Comics

Price:  $3.99

Previously:  A series of demonic possessions of the most powerful mystical figures in the Marvel universe has given way to a full-scale dimensional invasion.  The invasion comes to a head when the Avengers discover that the once-great former Sorcerer Supreme, Agamotto, needs his enchanted eye back to protect him from the other members of the mystical Vishanti.  Current Sorcerer Supreme, Dr Voodoo, declares a contest with Agamotto to decide who would retain the eye.  The Avengers decide to send a mystically powered up Wolverine as their challenger.  Meanwhile, Daniel Drumm, Voodoo’s brother’s spirit, is wandering lost inside Agamotto’s light dimension.

One of the best thing about Brian Michael Bendis’ work is how he takes second and third tier Marvel heroes and builds them up.  He fleshes out their characters and makes them real and interesting so that you don’t care that the pre-eminent super hero team in the Marvel universe is made up of the big guns (Spider-Man, Wolverine, etc) and also-rans because it doesn’t feel like that.

“We combined all our knowledge to give you all that we have.” –Dr Voodoo

As the first arc of the New Avengers wraps up, the chemistry of the team is still coming together.  There are a lot of character voices to juggle and it’s hard not to feel like they all sound like Brian Michael Bendis talking heads.  All of the action flows through Wolverine as he faces down Agamotto (who uses images from Wolverine’s past against him).  If there’s a constant nit to Bendis’ run on the Avengers it revolves around whether or not he lets the iconic nature of characters he’s using do the heavy lifting of the story he’s trying to tell as well as the characterization.  For example, Wolverine gets to be “Wolverine” rather than be explored as a character.

Stuart Immonen’s art is amazing.  The fight scenes felt like movie posters filled with a dynamism that propelled the story line even more so than the actual scripting.  It was the equivalent of a popcorn movie spectacle.

“This is a battle of spiritual integrity.” –Agamatto

We often end up fighting our spiritual battles both alone and with the support of community.  We have our struggles, our battles, our weaknesses, our (inner) demons and our culture teaches us that ultimately we are alone in fighting those fights.  Yet, we don’t have to be.  There is strength in numbers and unity.  A community of like minded folks can support and join in your battles with you.  Wholeness can be found in continuing your battles, despite the occasional setbacks, as that community speak wholeness, life, hope, faith and love into each other’s lives.  Darkness may win some battles, but light wins the war. Justice is real, if sometimes slow in coming. Love, true love, forgives, heals, and triumphs. And humanity can find redemption.

It only seems like Brian Michael Bendis is writing the whole Marvel universe. The climactic death scene didn’t quite work for me.  For one, the action was muddled, but more importantly, as a reader I felt short-changed.  I felt cheated out of a character who still needed to be explored.  Still, he has to be commended for turning the Avengers into a top selling book.  Plus, I love the oral history of the Avengers supplement.

Captain America #612 – A Review

The Trial of Captain America part 2

Writer:  Ed Brubaker

Artist:  Butch Guice

Publisher:  Marvel

Price:  $3.99

Previously:  After the apparent murder of Steve Rogers, the former Captain America, Cap’s partner from WWII, James “Bucky” Barnes, took on Steve’s mantle and his mission.  Even now that Steve Rogers has returned from the grave, Bucky continue to wield the shield as Captain America.  But Bucky has a dark and secret past as the Winder Soldier – an assassin trained employed and mentally manipulated by the KGB to stymie U.S. efforts in the Cold War. A past that Baron Zemo has exposed to the world.  And with the media frenzy building, Steve Rogers can’t stand to see his wartime partner’s name stained anymore; he knows Bucky wasn’t acting of his own accord, and he is determined to prove it.  For now, though, it seems that Bucky Barnes run as Captain America is over:  he turns himself in…to await the trial that will decide his fate.

Ed Brubaker continues to make Captain America riveting and relevant, probably the most the character has been explored in most of his storied history.   He has been filling issues of Captain America with political debate and drama, the exact sort of things that should undergird the character of Captain America (as much as his ties to the military and espionage worlds).  If Captain America is the symbol of the country, then through him the country gets examined.  He’s the stand in as well as the ideal, the mirror the country—it’s political and military side—has to face.

Story-wise, the comic has the feel of a of a gritty crime book and isn’t a slave to the splash page.  Unlike many super hero comics, there isn’t the rush to fill the pages with action packed fight scenes, but rather the tension is cranked up and threaten to bubble over.  There is so much going on, Brubaker becomes guilty of Bendis-esque talking heads, which is almost unavoidable considering the legal and media examinations involved in the story line.

“If this is my path to redemption, I’m sure as hell earning it.” –Bucky

On the character front, Bucky has to deal with his past in a much more fundamental way as it will set the course of his future.  He has been publicly outed and has to face the consequences of his sinful past.  He had committed some atrocities yet seeks redemption.  Does he have the right to wear the uniform of Captain America and take on the honor and responsibility that goes with it?  There will always be those who will hate him and not give him the chance to show that he is a different man, but for that matter, has he been disqualified from being a hero and leader?

Bucky doesn’t just want the mantle and title, but he wants to be worthy of the responsibility of leadership and the burden of being a symbol.  It’s a tough issue to wrestle with. There are some behaviors which should “disqualify” you from the mantle of leadership. On the other hand, a you still have gifts and you are obligated to use them.

Our cultural ideas of leadership tells us that leadership is about power, prestige, and possessions.  Kingdom leadership is informal, without many official positions. Not everyone is meant to “lead” or, better said, hold office. Those who aspire to leadership, realize that the more “power” you have, the more you are called to serve.  The model of leadership we present is Jesus and yet, he led by serving. He saw needs–physical, emotional, or spiritual–met them, and THEN spoke. It was more important for him to walk alongside his disciples and pour himself into their lives—getting a towel and washing the feet of those who walked beside him—rather than isolate himself so that he could prepare sermons every week.  And through him we know redemption is possible for anyone no matter what their past.

Between Bucky and his lawyers, Steve Rodgers, the Falcon, Sin and Master Man, and all of the media scenes, Brubaker has a lot of threads to keep track of and weave together.  He is ably abetted by the photo-realistic art style of Butch Guice.  With all of the political intrigue and social commentary, this arc of Captain America continues to build organically.  It feels like an extended story arc, with a lot of history behind it, but one definitely worth reading (and going back and reading if you’ve missed any of it).

Avengers #7 – A Review

Writer:  Brian Michael Bendis

Artist:  John Romita Jr

Publisher:  Marvel Comics

Price: $3.99

Previously:  After an amazing power play for control of the criminal empire of the Marvel universe, Parker Robbins/The Hood, was depowered and imprisoned by the Avengers.  Longtime Hulk nemesis, General Thunderbolt Ross, was irradiated and transformed into the Red Hulk.  No one knows who he really is or what he plans to do next.  Former Avenger, Wonder Man, has taken a surprisingly anti-Avengers stance and has gone so far as to attack them.

“Arbitrary Heroes”

While I’m usually a huge fan of Brian Michael Bendis  (Powers, House of M, Secret Invasion), so much felt completely arbitrary about this issue.  It’s hard to judge an arc by one issue, and in some ways quite unfair, each issue has to be self-contained in many ways for a satisfying reading experience.  Too much felt like this was an “in between” issue, strictly a function of setting up the next story arc.

One thing that Bendis does extremely well is capture the bickering spirit of the Avengers.  After all, this is a collection of individuals and loners who don’t always play nice together.  The chemistry isn’t that of family, like say the Fantastic Four, or those united by threat of persecution, like say the X-Men, but the best and or most popular characters tossed together, like say the Justice League.  This constant thread of their “antisocial tendencies” is the heart of what makes the Avengers so compelling.  They’ve always had a bit of a soap opera nature to them as we watch the interplay of the characters.

That said, some of the characters are a little … off.  The recent characterization of Wonder Man seems abrupt.  It feels as if we’ve missed a lot with the character and we’re dropping in the middle of his character arc that has gone unseen.  Then there’s the addition of the Red Hulk, which doesn’t seem to add much to either his character or the team.  So we’re left in wait and see mode to see if these additions will pay off.

John Romita Jr’s art wasn’t doing it for me.  I lay this at the feet of inker Klaus Janson, whose work has notoriously not appealed to me.  Romita’s art needs a lighter touch and Janson seems to blot everything he touches.

“If we do not fight, who will?”

The Avengers have always functions in a manner analogous to the church.  For example, take the Red Hulk.  All we know is that he is longtime Hulk nemesis, Thunderbolt Ross, and he’s taken a taciturn and surly turn.  No one knows what to do with this character and he’s certainly tough to love, as it were.  Yet this is the team that has a history of opening its arms to villains looking to rehabilitate themselves, from Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch to the Swordsman to Sandman.  The group takes a chance when someone wants to turn their lives around.

Also, the team, as a community, has to regularly take a step back and re-examine their mission or, more specifically, how they go about living it out.  It’s not bad for a community to step back and reassess itself. After all, the mission for the church was set out by Christ to go forth and make disciples. How each church body does it is up to them. There’s mission drift and there’s a change in focus or a re-prioritization. Not all change is bad and sometimes communities need to accept that’s what they are now and strike a new vision.

The Avengers has a cool roster and most of the time, there’s simply not enough space to devote to the rotating cast much less watching them relate to one another.  This being the first arc of the series, the issue felt like a trailer for coming attractions with little intrinsic pay off for this issue.  So we’re left waiting for the pay off and hoping that all of the arbitrary changes and subplots eventually come together.   But for the cost of the issue, we want more than “here’s what’s coming up.”

Raising Money for The Butler Scholarship

We’re in the last two days of a drawing to raise money at the Carl Brandon Society.  The Carl Brandon Society, an organization dedicated to racial and ethnic diversity in speculative fiction, will hold a prize drawing of five eReaders and a signed copy of the award winning anthology, Dark Matter, to benefit The Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship Fund, a fund that sends two emerging writers of color to the Clarion writers workshops annually.

Look here, you all fail to understand:  K. Tempest Bradford has a goal.  She wants to raise enough money to cover one full tuition to Clarion Diego, which is currently over $4900.  This is not a woman you want to play with.

I don’t think you hear me.

We have TWO days for the eReader drawing.  If you haven’t bought tickets yet, please do! Or, if you don’t care about eReaders or the autographed Dark Matter, just consider donating directly.

As if you need any other reasons, here’s a link to five good reasons to support this scholarship.  When people complain about why there aren’t as many people of color writing genre fiction or wondering what we can do to encourage young writers of color, we can point to the efforts of the Carl Brandon Society.  That should be a good enough reason.  I, however, only need this one:  the image of K. Tempest Bradford being displeased.

No one wants that.

My Pastor Irritates the Crap Out of Me

Church is not always enjoyable.

Seriously, other than our jobs or school, it’s rare that we willingly choose to be in a place where we “have” to be with people and “have” to forge some sort of relationship with strangers.  People who we don’t necessarily like and probably wouldn’t choose to hang out with under different circumstances.  People who get on our nerves and are difficult to like.  The difference being the church’s mission is for us to long to do this, yet it’s equally rare that we reflect on just how hard it is to do so.  And too often the word “community” is reduced to little more than a buzzword.

I was struck by a comment that a Christian lady made to someone in her church.  She said something along the lines of how great it was that he was so willing to love those difficult to love.  What struck me was how she inadvertently revealed the truth that, as the church, this isn’t how we typically operate.  It’s easy for us to love people who act like us, speak like us, think like us; where people are like you and believe what you believe.  Of course that’s easy fellowship:  it’s an extension of loving ourselves!  It’s natural to only want to be someplace that’s comfortable, that instinct is what drives many of our race and class problems.  Most of what we call fellowship remains social and superficial and shouldn’t be confused with true unity.

With a great uniting element like being brothers and sisters in Christ, it should theoretically be easier.  But anyone who’s experienced a Thanksgiving dinner knows how trying connecting with family can be.  Because we don’t always like family.  Church family is no different.  What it’s like to be with people who you don’t always like.  Who get on your nerves.  Who are just SO different from you.

Within church and without, many of us settle for 4th grade relationships/love:  “I like you, you like me, we can chill together.”  We form little (religious) clubs that end up not being particularly welcoming because we wait to see how well the new people fit in before we’re willing to hang out with them.  The onus is on them to prove they’re easy to get along with and not too much relational work.  Because it’s hard to truly engage with people and we don’t like to work too hard at relationships.

This extends to how we work through problems within community.  It’s easier to leave people alone, to “let them think about what they’ve done” and let them “come to us when they’re ready” rather than pursue them.  We also want people to be fixed quickly (“what do you mean you’re still hurting?  I’ve put in two weeks.  Get over it already.”)  And I’ve seen people simply withdraw or (fake) “getting over it” because they don’t want to be a burden or a downer.

This is an immature form of relationships and what we call love.  Even “sinners” (the unchurched or whatever we want to label those outside of our little religious clubs) can love those who love them or who are easy to love.  Us united by Christ, no matter where we are, is how we like to say that’s the way church is supposed to be.

When you think about it, of course “being united in Christ” isn’t always enough.  We don’t all agree or even have the same idea of who Christ is and why He came.  And that’s assuming everyone in the community even believes in Christ as you don’t, or shouldn’t, have to believe before you belong.  People come to church for all sorts of reasons from being entertained by the pastor, loving the music, kids programs, their friends are there, or even cause there’s a free meal involved.

And a lot of our version of fellowship and discipleship seem focused on correcting behaviors and getting people to act a certain way—making it easier for us to like them—rather than learning what it means to love each other.

The church, since the church is people, is made up of people who irritate us, people we don’t get along with, people so different from each other.  We don’t want to struggle.  We don’t seek discomfort out and we do all that we can to avoid it.  This makes us perfectly human.  Loving relationships correct as well as affirm.  Loving relationships, loving accurately and well, mean we can say hard things and still stay in relationship with one another.  Loving relationships are marked by compassion, understanding, and love.

My pastor irritates the crap out of me.  He “demands” to be in real relationship with me.  He wants to speak into my life and wants me to speak into his.  He once randomly sent me a note telling me how much he loves me, like hearing what I think, and appreciates how much I add as a part of their church simply by being me.  So I avoided him for a week or so because I didn’t know what to do with that.  That wasn’t in my usual experience with pastors.  The same thing happened a week later when I went to visit my friend Rich Vincent at his church.  He had me stand in front of his congregation while he told them and me how much he loved, valued, and appreciated our friendship.  That simple act of love and appreciation about reduced me to a puddle of tears.  Neither of these guys—unlike me, of course—are easy to love.  They are full of quirks and eccentricities which can drive a person nuts.  But they’ve nailed what it means to love well.

Think about what it means to live in relationship and community with one another.  Just like there’s no “I” in “team,” there’s no more “me”, only “we”, in community.  Everything is done together and this bumps against just how much of an idol we have made of individualism in Western/American society.  For example, it impacts how we view sin because there are no “personal sins”:  our decisions impact each other.  It’s easy to not be in relationship, that is, to hide from one another, because we’re relationally lazy.  We’re all irritating, frustrating, and difficult to love and be in relationship with.  Too often we try to mask our differences under the banner of a shallow unity through (or to) theology.  Being in constant communication, speaking into each other’s lives, requires intentionality and work.

I like to think of the church ideally being sort of like an AA group (ironic considering the origins of AA).  Where we are united by a common pain or brokenness.  Where we come together in our woundedness, with that sense of “I’m among people who ‘get this’”.  People who accept one another where they are, how they are, build them up, affirm them, and encourage them to wholeness because of what Christ has done for all of us.

If you’re only in relationship with people who agree with you, you don’t know about love yet.  Not mature love.  What it means to love the difficult, those different fromm us, or our enemies.  To love well and deeply—in a way so profound it transforms lives and brings people to wholeness—not easy.  It’s not comfortable.  But when the church becomes comfortable, it becomes irrelevant.

Skyline – A Review

It’s a bad sign when the sneak preview for a movie is an hour before its release date.  Seriously.  Sure, we could believe that the studio didn’t have time to organize screenings or that this movie “isn’t for critics,” but most times it’s because the movie is garbage and the studio doesn’t want advance word to leak out before folks shill out for the opening weekend.  Though judging from the audience I watched Skyline with, folks couldn’t wait to tweet their outrage at this pile of cinematic poo.

“Where do you see yourself?” –Terry

The movie is directed by the Brothers Strause, whose company Hydraulx has provided visual effects for AvatarIron Man 2The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and 300.  At an hour and a half, they could have still snipped the first twenty minutes of Skyline as it gives you nothing but exposition about characters you won’t like anyway.  Seriously.   You have a couple, Jarrod (Eric Balfour, Haven, 24, Six Feet Under) and Elaine (Scottie Thompson), who fly to L.A. for Jarrod’s buddy, Terry (Donald Faison, Scrubs), who has made it big and is having a party.  After the party, mysterious lights appear and aliens invade.

The aliens use this like to lure and suck up humans like some science fiction version of the rapture, which, mind you, would have made a much more interesting movie complete with allegory.  No such risk of depth here.  This movie is what it is, aliens running around in essentially “Mars needs brains” mode and a handful of humans doing their best to elude them.  That’s it.  Seriously.  You start rooting for the aliens to hurry up and eat all of them if only to spare us the pain of watching anymore of the movie.  I will point out that the aliens pland demonstrates poor recon on their part as they could have just raided us on college football Saturday and sucked up a bunch of stadiums worth of people with no effort.  I will also say that we have come a long way as a people when it’s the black guy in the horror/sci-fi movie that says “let’s check it out.”

“Once you look at the light, it grabs hold.” –Jared

You learn to not ask why in this movie.  The most satisfactory answer you have is “just cause”.  So we got aliens running around like a pet dog, just cause.  A strange light that draws people out, just cause.  The light having some sort of effect on bodies, just cause.  People who feel compelled to shoot hand guns at vessels that have traveled through the rigors of space, just cause.

So you have a few humans running around trying to survive.  Mind you, since all of the budget went to the effects, the only set they really have is up and down a building. What are they?  Who are they?  Things like that don’t seem to matter.  You are supposed to enjoy the ride or sheer spectacle.  A rollercoaster ride of survival against an implacable enemy.  But most of the action plays out as if you’re watching a video game.  Worse, watching someone watch a video game play out.

With no plot really to work with—they aren’t trying to escape, they aren’t trying to find their way home a la War of the Worlds, they aren’t even having any end of the world conversations; they just hole up in a building and wait—the movie becomes about the characters.  Again, for emphasis, none of whom you know or much like.  The only thing worse than a character being a cipher is a character being a cipher you don’t want to get to know.

“How can you be so sure?” –Elaine

Considering the directors pedigree, obviously some of the special effects were nice.  So someone somewhere along the line was willing to spend money.  Just not on things like a coherent script.  There is literally not enough story to latch onto any sort of deeper meaning.  It’s … alien invasion porn:  no story, just folks going through the motions.

To sum up, Skyline is Cloverfield plus War of the Worlds with a dash of The Matrix (the second two) combined for a huge pile of suck.  And just when you think it’s over, it has a whole new level of untapped suck to take you to.  The sad thing is that folks are going to read this review then I’m going to get e-mails about how it “wasn’t that bad.”  You’re wrong.  It was worse.  Seriously.