Why Penny Won’t Win Next Food Network Star

I’ve been watching a lot of shows about food lately. Not necessarily cooking shows, but a mixture of traveling chef (No Reservations, Bizarre Foods when it’s not too gross) and food competition shows (Iron Chef, Chopped, Best In Smoke, Top Chef). I’ve been getting really into seeing how different cultures cook and how chefs use their skills in competitive scenarios. I want to be able to eat the things they eat and cook the way they cook. Maybe some day.

The most recent food show addition to our viewing schedule is Next Food Network Star, a pretty self explanatory viewing experience. What I like about this set up is that it’s being judged by people who do the thing the contestants want to do (actual FN stars like Bobby Flay) or who choose the people to be on said shows (FN execs). Given the show’s long running time (90-120 minutes per episode so far) I haven’t actually seen a full episode yet, but I have seen most of the first two. You’ve got your general cast of people, some have had bum luck, others clearly don’t have the stage presence or temperament to be TV chefs, but one has started to stick out like a sore thumb: Penny. I’ve missed the very beginning of the first episode several times, so the developing and heated rivalry between Penny and Alicia (who doesn’t seem to be able to speak like a normal person at a normal volume or give me any reason to want to watch her show) completely befuddled me. For whatever reason, Penny seems to have set her sites on Alicia and continued to give her trouble throughout the episode, which of course included her and Alicia being put on the same team. Did something go down between these two in the first 15 minutes? Did Alicia run over Penny’s cat on the way to the first day’s taping? I must be missing something because Penny spent the rest of the episode throwing shade, but she didn’t reserve it for interview time, she just kept spouting off insults and character assassinations left and right WHILE THEY WERE COOKING. I also missed the beginning of the second episode, but I gathered through context clues (ie, outright statements by other contestants) that Penny won a lesser challenge early on and was able to choose teams for the final challenge and possibly ingredients. She used this power to hamstring the first episode’s winner and early frontrunner Orchid. When asked about it later, Penny basically owned up to it. So here’s the problem. This isn’t Survivor or a VH1 dating show. The point of Next Food Network Star is to present yourself as the kind of person that Food Network viewers not only like, but want to learn from. What I’m saying is that Penny’s playing the reality show game, but this isn’t your typical reality show, so it’s not going to work. There’s that age old reality show quote that ALWAYS pops up where the bitchy girl or asshole guy says “I didn’t come here to make friends.” Well, that might be the case, but you did come here to impress us and to come off as friendly. Can you think of any jerky chef with a cooking show on the Food Network? Nope, that’s not the point. So, Penny, I’m sorry but you’re just playing the right game on the wrong show. You’re a fun reality show villain, but playing the role completely discounts you as a viable candidate for the show’s final prize. I wonder if that’s what she’s going for. If so, I’m not sure why. Maybe she realized how gross her “kitchen sex” attitude was and just decided to play the bad girl? Now that you’ve shot yourself in the foot, keep switching up the theme of your show until you finally lose out to one of your competitors who’s actually charming and please don’t try and do the midseason turnaround after realizing the error of your ways. In fact, go balls to the wall with it and maybe you can get a cooking show on VH1.

A Few Thoughts On The DC Relaunch, Comic Commercials & Digital Comics

There’s been a lot of talk t few weeks about DC Comics’ decision to relaunch and reboot all their major characters starting in September. My initial reaction to this was highly negative. “I’m too old for this shit” essentially. A whole new continuity to learn? No thanks. Then I got over my continuity bias and started looking at things a little differently. Some of these books actually look pretty interesting. Decluttering continuity isn’t always a bad thing and really mixing up the characters will hopefully result in some fun, new stories (like Martian Manhunter joining Stormwatch and being part of the DCU). The goal for this relaunch seems to be getting new readers by either appealing to a potential reader’s (not just comic fans, but anyone) genre of preference (everything from big time superheroes and westerns to horror and sci-fi comics have been announced) or appealing to comic readers in the know by tossing out juicy names like Geoff Johns, Jim Lee and Grant Morrison. I’ve read a lot of talk about how some creative teams and projects seem doomed to failure, but my general thought process right now is “Let’s wait and see.” September is pretty far away after all.

The other–and I think larger and potentially more important–announcement to come out of the reboot is the fact that all of these new comics will be available in a digital format the same day that they’re available in comic shops (a practice dubbed day-and-date on the nets). I know other companies have done this already, like Archie, but to see one of the big two companies doing so will be very interesting. I’m assuming this digital venture is an effort to get normal people to know about this relaunch and comics in general. You like the new Green Lantern movie? Check out the comics on your iPad!

Last week, Bleeding Cool posted a rumor that DC might actually be creating commercials to attract an audience. As I’ve mentioned a few times before, I am in complete favor of this practice. Getting the word out to people about how easy it can be to read your company’s comics could be a huge boon right now. There’s lots of theories as to why the general public doesn’t read comics: they don’t know comics exist, there’s no comic shop nearby, they don’t care, they’ve got other entertainment to keep them busy, etc. Commercials would go a long way to helping a few of those problems while digital distribution would deal with another. The necessity of getting those commercials in front of a wide variety of people is also important. Is there a western on TV? Try and get your western comic advertised in that time slot. Hey, WB has the money to try, right? I would also try and get the commercials in front of or behind some podcasts to reach out to early adopters of tech products (Diggnation, Totally Rad Show, that kind of thing).

Overall, I love the idea of digital comics. Last year I wrote a post about how much I enjoy the GIT Marvel comic book DVDs. These are discs with simple PDF versions of every comic from a particular character or book from his first appearance to the then-most recent (circa 2005). I’m now the proud owner of four of these: Avengers, Iron Man, Fantastic Four/Silver Surfer and Ghost Rider. I’ll probably never have time to read through all those comics, but I like the fact that I could if I wanted to. Anyway, being cheap, I’m a fan of getting a lot of comics for not a lot of money. As such, the idea of paying a couple bucks per digital comic just doesn’t excite me very much (not having an iPad also kind of puts the kibosh on that I guess).

So, is there a digital set-up that I would like aside from DVDs? Yeah, I’ve actually long hoped for a kind of comic book subscription service. This could be something through a particular comic company or maybe even a comic shop (I don’t know how that would work, but you get the idea) where you pay one flat fee and have access to all kinds of comics. I personally don’t need to keep the digital versions, so assuming I could read them easily on my computer/tablet/future-goggles, I’d be happy. At this point, I’m done being a comic book collector and just want to read stories. If it’s something I really do like, I’ll probably pick up or Swap for the trade.

Also last week, Brigid Alverson over at Robot 6 asked “Would you buy a digital comic book subscription?” My initial answer was “Definitely,” but then I read on and the piece set up a slightly different scenario than I imagined. Essentially, this idea would be to pay a yearly fee for one particular book, like getting a mail-away sub back in the day. I would be less inclined to get in on something like this for the exact reasons brought up in the piece: the inability of comic people to hit deadlines. If I’m getting less than 12 comics for my sub, but I’m still paying for all 12? Not cool. But it would be an interesting step. Maybe if the overarching subscription system wasn’t available, there would be one for say a group of titles like Batman or X-Men.

I think this is another thing comics will have to deal with–DC specifically–if they really want to compete with/move and shake alongside TV, movies, podcasts and the like. Scheduling is super important, especially to legitimately new readers. We’ve been programmed to expect new stuff on a pretty consistent schedule as a general public, but if you really start messing with that (say something like Dark Knight) those brand new readers will absolutely find something else to go look at. Comics need to be thought of not just as a niche market aimed at collectors, but as a legit form of entertainment that can be easily digested (whether that be thanks to product availability or story accessibility).

At the end of the day, it will be interesting to see how all this plays out. As someone who doesn’t read new comics on a regular basis, I don’t feel like I have as much of a dog in the fight with this. Were I a regular buyer, I’d probably be looking at the list of new books a lot more closely, making a list of the ones I’m most interested in/seem the most important and checking that list against my comics budget. It gives me a headache even thinking about it, so I’m going to stop and go watch some TV.

Casting Internets

I wrote a piece about the Walking Dead Board Game for CBR.

I’ve talked to Todd McFarlane a few times and he’s always a pleasure. This time was about Haunt for CBR.

I also did a fun list for Topless Robot about the best comic book watering holes.

I’m also the main toy guy for Wizard World, go check out what I wrote in #15 and 16.

My friend Sam made these awesome R2-D2-themed wings. They are awesome, as I said.

Kevin Huizenga showed off the cover to Ganges #4 last week. That should be a great comic.

Drawn & Quarterly‘s having a sale, go pick out something pretty.

Brian Moylan’s Gawker post about the most recent episode of Real Housewives of New York is amazing. Need proof? “She’s just reaching into that Jonathan Taylor Thomas Trapper Keeper brain of hers and pulling out these crazy things to say that make no sense. They’re about as appropriate to the situation as a light dusting of glitter, which is what Kelly would like to sprinkle over everything—and then give it a slap bracelet.” Boom. I’m jealous both at how funny Moylan is and the fact that he gets paid to be that snarky.

A new Aerosmith record being recorded? I’ll believe it when I see it. (via Rolling Stone)Phil Noto‘s Thundarr the Barbarian artwork makes me wish that someone was making comics of old cartoons like these.

Wired‘s piece about The Beatles “Tomorrow Never Knows” and Paul McCartney’s long-time interest in electronic music is pretty fascinating.

I’m definitely curious about Esquire‘s recipe for the Arnold Palmer martini. Now I just need a spare liter of vodka and a half cup of black tea…
This “Plastic Villains” T-shirt I saw in Shirtoid is pretty awesome.

I don’t want to get too excited this far out, but I like the sound of the American Gods TV series being six seasons with a huge budget. Let’s hope it does well enough to not only make it to TV but also last longer than the two to three seasons HBO tends to give things. (via /Film)Ulises Farinas‘ Doctor Strange commission makes me wish there was a really good Dr. Strange comic out there.

Finally, Robot 6er Michael May has a really interesting piece about comic companies perpetuating this myth that there’s a huge plan in place for their universes. The more embedded you become in the industry the more you realize this is true. The fact that he based the piece on a How I Met Your Mother bit makes it all the better.

How I (Kinda) Got Into Hockey

This was supposed to be the season I started watching hockey. It wasn’t. So why am I enjoying the Stanley Cup finals so much? That’s what this post is about! When I say I was supposed to be watching hockey this season, it’s because of a podcast. I’m a big fan of the Tell ‘Em Steve-Dave show on the Smodcast Network. Basically, some of director Kevin Smith’s friends from when he was younger who still live in the Tri-State area get together and talk about pretty much everything. Before this season began, Walt Flanagan talked several times about the New Jersey Devils signing a player by the name of Ilya Kovalchuk who sounded like he was supposed to be the Michael Jordan of hockey. They talked about this guy a few times and even created a brand new hockey-themed podcast called PuckNuts, my excitement grew.

Now seems like a good time to talk about my history with hockey up until this time. Frankly, it’s a sport I didn’t care about even when the Red Wings were on their mid-90s Stanley Cup streak. To me it was a bunch of guys fumbling around on ice, trying to score and mostly missing, which made it only slightly better than soccer in my mind. Yes, those were snap judgements and no, they weren’t well thought out, but that’s how it was. I wound up being friends and bandmates with a dude (hey Chad) who actually played hockey in high school, but (sorry Chad) that was only interesting when he was on the ice. The future-missus wound up being a pretty big hockey fan and even took me to a minor league game once which was fun, but I didn’t catch the fever.

I wanted to catch it this year, though. I don’t think I could ever bring myself to root for a major New York team. I’m not the biggest fan of Jersey, but listening to Walt and company’s love of the team was pretty infectious. Plus, being a Pittsburgh Steelers fan in Giants and Jets country, I wanted a team that I could reasonably watch on TV without having to go to a sports bar or something. The Devils are on all the time here, plus we’ve got friends who are big Devils fans, so it seemed perfect.

But, it turned out Kovalchuk was more Jordan-playing-baseball instead of Jordan-playing-basketball. I watched a game or two and wasn’t super impressed or excited. Then I started listening to PuckNuts and neither were they. To use an expression, the Devils shit the bed. I can’t talk from experience of actually watching the games, only what I heard on the podcast, but they just couldn’t get their game together and win games. They were in last place. Eventually they fired their coach, got a new guy in and started winning games. It was too late for me to get really excited, but I was kind of tangentially paying attention thanks to the podcast and occasional talks with our Devils-loving friends. It actually got kind of exciting towards the end of the regular season as it looked like the Devils might actually make it. If they won all the games and lots of other teams lost. It didn’t happen. I stopped paying attention.

Then a few weeks later–or was it a month, how long is the hockey post season?–the missus told me that the Boston Bruins were actually doing pretty well. As we tend to do when a Boston team starts doing well in any sport, we watched the games starting with the end of the finals leading up to the Stanley Cup. Much to my surprise it was exciting! Great hockey being played by great players. THIS is what I wanted to see. Now, here we are with the time ticking away on the seventh game of the Stanley Cup. I’ve watched six of seven games and actually gotten really into them. Not Steelers or Notre Dame football-level excited, but it’s been fun. I don’t know if the victory will make me a Bruins fan or not. They’re still pretty far away and not likely to be on TV in the NY area next season. Also, I’m hoping the Devils can get their stuff together and actually have a winning season next time. We’ll see.

I should also mention that, teenage arrogance notwithstanding, I actually have a lot of respect for hockey, even before I got curious about the sport. It’s just such a crazy game. Strapping skates on your feet so you can play a game on ice where you’re trying to hit a tiny black thing into a not-very-big net is nuts! But, because there’s so much going on (skating, stick control, field of vision, goalie stuff, hitting, not dying) I think it’s also the major sport that requires the most skill from the average player. I can barely keep track of the puck on TV, I have no idea how they do it. I can ice skate alright, but you put a stick in my hand a puck in front of me and you’ll be scraping me and possibly my teeth off the ice in about 2.6 seconds.

Congrats Bruins! You guys–and Vancouver–showed me some pretty impressive hockey, both offense and defense. I’m excited for next year. Not football-excited mind you, but you get the idea.

Trade Post: Legion Of Super-Heroes The Beginning Of Tomorrow

LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES: THE BEGINNING OF TOMORROW (DC)
Written by Tom McCraw, Tom Peyer & Mark Waid, drawn by Lee Moder, Jeffrey Moy, Brian Arthorp, Scott Benefiel, Stuart Immonen & Yancy Labat
Collects Legion Of Super-Heroes #0, 62-65, Legionnaires #0, 19-22

Even though I had a few Legion comics in my collection coming up, it wasn’t a concept that captured my attention. Honestly, if I hadn’t gotten a few issues in a random DC 10- or 12-pack from Toys “R” Us in my youth, I probably wouldn’t have even heard of the book until they eventually crossed over into the regular books I was reading. At the time I wasn’t intimidated by the vast, X-Men like continuity of the franchise because I didn’t know about any of that. They’d just gotten a reboot during Zero Hour which made the Legion surprisingly accessible. Since then I’ve read some comics from the original Legion run, specifically An Eye For An Eye (I’ve got my eye on that new Great Darkness Saga hardcover), really liked Mark Waid’s reboot that lead into Supergirl And The Legion Of Super-Heroes and even kind of sort of enjoyed Geoff Johns bringing back the originals. That was mostly because he was writing them and the amazing Gary Frank was drawing them. Aside from that I didn’t see the point in jumping backwards and making things even more confusing, though I guess that won’t be a problem moving forward with DC’s line-wide relaunch.

What I’m saying is that I’m nowhere near a Legion expert, but I’ve read bits and pieces here and there. And the great thing about this collection is that you don’t have to be. Like I mentioned, this trade features a newly rebooted Legion. The collection shows Cosmic Boy, Saturn Girl and Live Wire (formerly Lightning Lad) meeting for the first time and eventually becoming the first three Legionnaires and the team getting put together. From there, it’s adventure time and, with one exception, I thought they were actually pretty boring.

I’m left feeling very uneven about this book having just finished it. I like how the writers handled such a large cast. I don’t know everything about all of them, but that’s fine, those are things that should be revealed in time. I want to learn more. The problem is that missions they go on felt very familiar, in fact, two of them were basically Alien take-offs, one with an actual slime-spitting alien on an abandoned space ship and another with the kids trying to hunt down a killer on an artificial space station. I’m not much of an Alien fan because I’ve only seen the movie a time or two, but I absolutely despise Alien rip-offs that don’t change much up.

But then, the collection ends with a pretty great story showing the Legion trying to save a prison full of the galaxy’s worst that’s set in the center of a star. The systems are failing and when they do finish off, the whole prison will be destroyed. I haven’t seen this kind of story a million times and the solution wound up being pretty smart, so all that was fun. The problem is that the art in those last three issues gets far too loose for my tastes. I get that the artists involved were trying to replicate the look and feel of a place that’s completely surrounded by a sun, but it just didn’t work for me. The lines were too squiggly and loose for my tastes. It’s kind of like a director throwing in an effect in a movie that has good intentions but winds up distracting from the story.

While The Beginning Of Tomorrow has a lot of good and bad elements within it, the biggest disappointment for me is that DC did not follow this collection up with any more (until the recent Legion Lost book which I also want to read). I assume, like all things, this decision came down to money. Considering that this version of the Legion hasn’t been mentioned in a decade aside from their appearance in Legion Of Three Worlds (a comic I adored as it came out and really want to get back to in the near future) I would assume their run will not be collected in the near future unless that Legion Lost thing sells gangbusters and raises interest. It’s a run that my buddy Ben Morse considers underrated as well as overlooked, so I want more! Maybe I’ll just keep an eye out for them in the cheap boxes. This trade alone probably isn’t enough to earn a spot in my permanent collection, but if it was the first in a series of increasingly improving comics, I’d be keeping it.

Oh, also, one last thing I liked: the writers were really forward-thinking in their tech. Brainiac 5 and some other people in the books were essentially using tablet computers!

Ad It Up: Secret Wars II #8

What a difference a year makes. Last week I posted the lead-in ad for the original Secret Wars from 1984. It was a pretty epic grouping of heroes changing into presumed danger. For the penultimate issue of Secret Wars II, though, you get some shrunk-down images, basic text and one of the ugliest yellow backgrounds of all time. It’s especially interesting because that cover to Secret Wars II #8 is actually pretty rad and would have made a solid ad. Ah well. Scanned from the 1985 Punisher miniseries issue #2.

Quick Movie Review: Holes (2003)

A few weekends back, the missus and I watched part of Holes on TV, but neither of us were very focused. We liked what we saw enough to move it to the top of the Netflix Queue. I assumed we’d just turn it on at the moment we stopped watching (probably 20-30 minutes before the end, maybe less) and just see how it ended. However, the missus wanted to watch from the beginning because she was in and out of the room the first time around. No big deal, I figured I’d read comics while it was on, but I actually found myself drawn back into the story.

The movie–based on a book I never heard of before the movie came out–stars Shia LaBeouf as a kid whose great great grandfather got cursed because of a pig and a girl way back in the day. That bad luck carries through to Shia as he gets unfairly sentenced to a work camp after a pair of stolen autographed shoes literally fall out of the sky and are found on his person by the cops. Said camp is run by the warden played by Sigourney Weaver and her underling Jon Voight. Shia and the other kids are made to dig holes five feet deep and five feet across one a day for as long as they’re there to build character. They’re continually told they’re digging for their own good, but if they find something, they’re supposed to tell one of the adults. Meanwhile, we get multiple flashbacks to Shia’s relatives getting cursed as well as the inhabitants of this area back when a lake was in the place of a desert.

I was really impressed with how well put together this movie is. You can pick up what’s going on and how the different stories relate to what Shia’s going through, but if not, they’re explained soon after. There were parts I caught on to pretty early on and others the missus explained to me right before the movie did. The whole thing plays out as a pretty interesting mystery, which makes sense considering you get the feeling there is a reason for them to be digging holes aside from, as the adults say, building character. It’s funny though, as Shia continues to dig the holes, he does wind up building character thanks to his growing friendship with the younger character Zero, a fellow “camper.” Anyway, the movie has a bit of a fantasy bent to it but more in the fairy tale sense. In fact, that’s what the story reminded me of the most a really well put together fairy tale complete with curse, witch, moral and most importantly kids throwing off the yokes of adult oppression and proving that they’re smart enough to get by.

I highly recommend the movie. I’m still thinking about it now and it inspired me to start eating sunflower seeds again (I literally saw Voight eating them on screen and ran out to buy some from the nearby gas station). It can be a nasty habit, but I love them.

Late To The Xbox Live Party: Prototype (2009)

Much like the last game I finished–Red Faction Guerrilla–and the next game I just started–Crackdown 2Prototype is an open world sandbox game that allows you to run around doing side missions while also taking care of the more important missions when you want. Once again, I didn’t pay attention to any of the cut scenes, so I don’t really know what was going on with the story, but you’re a dude named Alex who gets different morphing abilities as the game progresses. You run around NYC fighting increasingly hard to kill monsters and military people because some virus has been unleashed and you have a version of it, but you’re also trying to stop it. Your different abilities include super strength, a huge blade hand and a whip-like stretchy arm among others. You can also glide, jump really high and not get too damaged if you fall from a great height. Combine that with the fact that Alex is running around none other than New York City and it becomes pretty clear that Prototype is, essentially, an updated version of Spider-Man 2, another game that Activision created back in 2004. On one hand, I’m cool with that because I like these kinds of games, but on the other hand, it feels like it should have been bigger and possibly more open than it was, like the game engine could use not just a face lift but a reconstruction.

As I mentioned, in addition to doing the main missions which usually pit you against the military, some crazy zombified citizens or both, Prototype lets you do all kinds of side missions. These vary from vehicle-based and destruction based to foot races and a jumping game where you need to land as close to the bullseye as possible. Fun stuff, though I certainly liked the last two kinds more than the others. Had I been more interested in some of these side challenges, I probably would have earned more points which would have in turn made me fight better. Ah well, I’m not that invested in these things.

I wish I could say that I loved the game, but I didn’t. I had a somewhat deja vu feeling as I traversed places in the game that I remember visiting as Spider-Man and some places in real life. Another negative I found was that the controls weren’t very crisp. You can select a variety of different offensive and defensive abilities using the D-pad, but I can’t tell you how many times I went to select one and another popped up for no reason. I could reasonably blame my less-than-dexterous thumbs for that, but what makes it all the worse is when I went to hit that button to turn said power off, it would continue on. Not sure what the deal was, but precision wasn’t the name of the game. Speaking of which, the aiming function was pretty annoying. If you were facing one enemy or a group of the same kind, it worked great, but if you’re trying to fight one very powerful villain in a crowd with the less-powerful, the targeting got wonky. You’d think it would zero in on the most powerful and dangerous (especially in the final boss battle) but nope. I’d be in the middle of a pretty heated battle, grab something heavy to throw at the big bad guy and all of a sudden would be aiming taking out some chump with a gun by way of thrown helicopter. Wah wah. There were other control or focus problems, but I would generalize them as being part of a game that wasn’t completely hashed out by the time it was released.

However, I think I liked the game overall. I didn’t pay too much for it used and considering the sandbox format is a favorite, I had a good time running and jumping my way around NYC. I think it nailed the parkour aspects better than something like Mirror’s Edge (which I quit). Maybe the developers just tried to put too much into the game and certain things suffered. While the city searching was great, the vehicle stuff just seemed tedious (but that could be because I don’t like driving in games). The combat was pretty good, but the aiming wasn’t. The powers were fun to play with, but I got the feeling that one or two were better than the others. So, while the game was no where near perfect, I think it’s a good enough example of this kind of game that will be worth your while if you’re a fan of such things.

Supergroup Showcase: John Legend & The Roots

THE PLAYERS: John Legend (vocals) and The Roots (everything else)
THE STORY: Inspired by his experience campaigning for Barack Obama in 2008, John Legend decided he wanted to make a record with The Roots that reflected how he felt at the time. They got together, recorded a series of covers and one original track and the results was the 2010 album Wake Up! (via Wiki).

Like a lot of posts, I’m going to kick this one off with a story from my past. It’s not too long, so don’t worry, I’ll get to the music shortly. Like a lot of colleges, my school Ohio Wesleyan University held a yearly concert on campus for the students called SpringFest. I never actually went to one because I either didn’t care or had something better to do (seeing Everclear with my buddy Jeff instead of watching The Counting Crows). But there was one year that I really wanted to attend and that was when The Roots were playing. I’d never actually listened to the funk/hip-hop group’s records at that point, but I knew of Questlove from that hilarious Chappelle Show skit with him and John Mayer and the band from my buddy Toth who’s always been a lot more tapped in than me. I was all set to buy my ticket after Easter, but on the way back to school after heading home for the weekend, I got a crazy speeding ticket. Money was tight in college and the speeding ticket completely wiped me out, so I couldn’t go to the show. Wah wah.

Fast forward to modern times. Jimmy Fallon scores Conan O’Brien’s old spot on Late Night and he makes the ingenious decision to hire The Roots as his house band. Not only did he instantly score the best band in late night, but also gave me and millions of other night owls the opportunity to become familiar with the group. After being so impressed by their chops I went out and bought one of their albums Phrenology, but it’s more of a slick hip-hop record and that’s not what I was looking for. I wanted something a little more soulful and funky. I didn’t have to wait too long because, soon enough, Jimmy was talking about a new record featuring an epic team-up of soul singer John Legend and the band called Wake Up!

I didn’t run out immediately and buy the album. In fact, it wasn’t until I saw the digital version on sale on Amazon for $5 that I bit. Man, what a fantastic use of a Lincoln. Like The Roots, I’ve long admired and appreciated John Legend from a distance either through live performances on TV shows or guest spots on other records, but I never jumped in and got one of his records. Wake Up! seems like the perfect entryway to both bands but also offers up all the soul/funk/rock/hip-hop stew that I could want from this collaboration. As far as supergroups go, these are two great tastes that taste great together, almost like they’d been playing together for years.

I even dig the fact that they went after lesser known songs to cover for the most part. I’m no soul/funk aficionado, but even I have heard “Wholy Holy.” The rest though are mysteries that feel both historical and fresh at the same time, making me want to check out the originals. It should come as no surprise that every track on the record had me bobbing my head along to the groove. Heck, it even calmed me down as I wrote this post in a coffee shop right next to a pair of teenagers who couldn’t keep their paws off of each other and kept playing with the girl’s hair RIGHT NEAR MY COFFEE. Okay, well, it didn’t calm me down too much I guess.

If you’ve never gotten into but always been curious about soul music of the 60s and 70s, The Roots or John Legend, Wake Up! is essentially the perfect mix of all three. The record can act as a gateway, but also stands as a fantastic, sometimes funky sometimes mellow but always sonically pleasing  listening experience for pretty much any kind of mood. Feeling down? This record will cheer you up. Feeling good? You’ll feel even better. Seriously, the original track “Shine” is really helping to calm me down about those teenagers. They left by the way. Good thing too, or I was going to blare Husker Du in their ears. In conclusion, Wake Up! is a rad record, but it will not help you chase away teenagers who won’t stop playing with their hair. It will probably just make them want to make out, which is far worse. This ends the review as well as the cranky old man portion of the proceedings today.

Trade Post: Hellblazer India

HELLBLAZER: INDIA (Vertigo/DC)
Written by Peter Milligan, drawn by Giuseppe Camuncoli & Simon Bisley
Collects Hellblazer #261-266
Reading Hellblazer books is always a little tricky, especially if you’re like me and only read them in bursts and bits thanks to trades either gotten from Sequential Swap, $5 trade boxes or friends. Putting all the pieces together can be difficult, especially with a character like John Constantine who has been built to have a million skeletons in his closet and old friends to call on him. Unless you’ve got an encyclopedic knowledge of the character, it’s hard to know if whoever’s asking John for help is an established character or someone new being introduced to move the story along. I guess it doesn’t really matter–it’s not easy for a comic geek to let go of his hold on/knowledge of/desire to understand continuity, but I’m working on it–so I’m trying to just jump in and figure it out. For whatever it’s worth, if you’re curious, I’ve also reviewed The Fear Machine, Empathy Is The Enemy and The Roots Of Coincidence. I’m sure I have or will repeat myself in this post compared to those, so maybe you shouldn’t read them…

Anyway, like those other volumes, I quite liked this one, though, also like those others, I’m still not sure if I have any more of a grasp on Constantine as a character aside from him being a badass with ties to the dark arts, but sometimes that’s enough. This book is split between two stories, a 4-parter called “India” and a 2-parter called “No Future.”

“India” is pretty rad, with Constantine traveling to the titular country and facing off against a demon who used to be part of the British effort to take over India. Nowadays, he has virgins sacrificed to him by a Bollywood movie producer, but the system gets a wrench thrown in it when the producer falls for the latest potential sacrifice. Oh and Constantine of course. The story was a lot of fun and pretty tight, but I absolutely love Giuseppe Camuncoli’s artwork. Dude just has such a sick style that fits this book so perfectly. I probably said this before, but he would be awesome on a Hellboy book or maybe one of DC’s upcoming darker books (he might have actually been announced on one, I haven’t been keeping up with the announcements).

I had an even better time with “No Future” because it goes back to Constantine’s punk rock roots (I’ve actually read one of the books that explained this). His buddy and fellow former punk rocker has built this cult that worships a dummy that supposedly has the spirit of Sid Vicious (I refuse to link to his Wiki page, you should either know he he is, look it up yourself or just watch Sid & Nancy). Constantine’s friend is having his people taken away by the new Conservative party which is made up of zombie demons. Another quick and dirty story, I had a great time with “No Future” especially seeing John done up as a green-haired aging punk. I also really appreciated Simon Bisley’s artwork. He’s a dude I’ve always heard of and appreciated from covers, but not actually read any interiors of, so this was a treat, especially given the subject matter.

With the exception of his relationship to a blue-haired girl who is still alive and a woman who he clearly loved and must have passed away in an earlier volume, I think India is as good of a jumping-on point for new readers. Like I said, Constantine’s a strange character because he seems to know half the planet (the more salacious and devious half, of course) so it doesn’t matter who you know and who you don’t. The holes are filled in for the most part as far as understanding goes. I have a feeling if you picked up the very first Hellblazer trade, he’d be running into old friends and enemies and killing demons or whatever, so why not just jump in here?