Adventures In Freelancing: Looking Back At 2015

monkey-typing2015 was the fifth full year that I worked as a freelance writer. It’s wild to think about. I got unceremoniously and somewhat surprisingly laid off from Wizard in September of 2009. With no idea what I would do with the rest of my career (a fun thought to have at 26) my friends jumped at the chance to set me up with freelance work. I wasn’t sure if it would stick, but dove in and am still rolling today.

That year I wrote for Marvel.com, Maxim.com, Topless Robot, Wizard, ToyFare, UGO, MTV Geek, Click and even a bit for CBR and realized I could actually do alright for myself with just my brain, a computer and a solid internet connection. Since then, a few of those outlets have gone defunct (I miss seeing my work on the magazine stand) and some completely changed directions since then. These days I find myself mainly working for three sites: Marvel.com, CBR and Geek.com and I’m digging it. Looking back at the past year, it seemed like an okay time to reflect a bit on the ups and downs of the year. Continue reading Adventures In Freelancing: Looking Back At 2015

The Trade Post: A Big Ol’ Pile Of Library Books

comic pileLongtime readers might remember a time when I was reading so many books a week that I would simply take pictures of them in a stack and do a quick hit kind of report on them. Well, I’m not knocking down nearly as many books these days, but I did read through a good number from the library and figured I’d return to that form for this post. Let’s hit it! Continue reading The Trade Post: A Big Ol’ Pile Of Library Books

Casting Internets

shootfirstIf you don’t buy my friend Justin Aclin‘s upcoming Dark Horse comic S.H.O.O.T. First, you suck.

I recently discovered a site called Humans Of New York that I can’t get enough of. A photographer walks around NYC, snapping pictures of people and asking them questions then presenting them on the site. Sounds simple, but that’s why it’s so interesting.

Oh my goodness, you guys, this Screen Junkies Honest Trailer for Batman & Robin is super-great-fantastic. Thanks to The Mary Sue for bringing it to my attention!

As a kid, I read The Giver more than any other book. The adaptation is shaping up to be quite a film. Jeff Bridges is in it and according to Deadline, Meryl Streep’s on board too. I will certainly see this flick.

Not quite sure what to think about the CBGB movie. If it’s got even a fraction of Please Kill Me in it, it should be alright. The Ramones look like gods in the first trailer over on THR, so that’s a step in the right direction.

Variety‘s telling me that there’s going to be a Disney Imagineering documentary. I went on the Behind the Magic tour at Disney World which was fascinating, so this should be even better.ace mccloud centurions custom

Not too long ago, I talked about how much I enjoyed the concept of Centurions and wondered why it never made a comeback. Now there’s a killer custom of Ace McCloud by Hemblecreations as posted on ToyNewsI that looks all kinds of rad. That’s internet synergy, yawl.

Comedy Central’s Inside Amy Schumer is hilarious, you should check it out. I will definitely check out her Judd Apatow-produced film, Deadline reports.

Transworld Business, an action sports website I recently discovered, tells me that Oakley’s doing a 6-part web series featuring skateboarder Bob Burnquist showing off his own personal skatepark. The part where he skates around a helicopter made me super nervous.

Right after the X-Games, Nyjah Huston wrote this fantastic column for THR about the greatness of his sport and its potential for inclusion in the Olympics. I’ll throw my vote in for that idea right now.

Danny Way told ESPN might return to the X-Games, bringing a whole new gigantic ramp thing to the proceedings. Yes, make this happen.

I’ve always been interested in how Alice Cooper balances his normal life with his stage one, something he talked to Esquire about recently.walmart-library-5

Web Urbanist posted these amazing pictures of a Texas Walmart that was converted into the largest single floor library in the country.

I picked up The Tom Tom Clubs’ latest record Downtown Rockers this year and have really grown to dig it, so I’m glad to hear they told Rolling Stone they’re likely to get back together and record later this year.

Brilliant physicist Neil deGrasse Tyson talked about science and how it needs to be more prevalent during SDCC. (via Spinoff).

If you’re like me and wondered why the producers on Real World and The Challenge don’t seem to be interfering as much when things get violent, Variety did an interesting write-up on why.sam bosma-lisbon

Finally, go check out the larger version of Sam Bosma‘s Lisbon drawing. It’s wallpaper-worthy, no doubt.

Audiobook Review: Port Mortuary By Patricia Cornwell, Read By Kate Burton

port mortuary audiobook One of the reasons I like UnitedMonkee.com is that it gives me a good reference point for the things I’ve read, watched and to a lesser extent listened to over the past few years. It’s far from complete — sometimes I like to keep things to myself while other times too much time has lapsed between experiencing the thing and writing about it for it to be authentic — but for the most part it’s a pretty good pop culture external hard drive for my brain.

It’s also fun to look and see how long I’ve been absorbing certain entertainment. Take audiobooks for example, I first wrote about them back in January of 2011 after we got back from a road trip and had listened to Robert B. Parker’s The Widow’s Walk. On that same trip we listened to our first Kay Scarpetta book The Scarpetta Factor and have continued to use this unique format to make our long car trips more entertaining, making our way through a chunk of the Scarpetta books in the process. For what it’s worth — and for completionists sake — we’ve listened to All That Remains, Cruel And Unusual, Predator, The Book Of The Dead, Scarpetta, Scarpetta Factor, Port Mortuary and the first third or so of Red Mist.

We get our audiobooks from three main sources: my wife’s parents who introduced us to the idea, sales at places like Amazon and Barnes & Noble and the library. Last time we took a trip, we grabbed Red Mist, but didn’t finish it. Before heading to Michigan last week, we tried using our library’s digital borrowing system which worked great, but Red Mist wasn’t available so we went with the only one that was that we hadn’t already heard, Port Mortuary, which happens to preceed Mist. This wound up being something of a blunder because I remembered enough details of Mist to know where Mortuary was ultimately going.

So, there was a certain amount of tension and mystery removed for me while listening to this book, but I’m a strong believer that you can know where something is going to end and still enjoy the journey getting there. I still enjoyed the journey this time around as some huge story elements were still unknown to me, but there was something off about this book. My wife was super bored by the whole thing and she didn’t remember nearly as much about Mist as I did.

The plot finds medical examiner extraordinaire Kay Scarpetta leaving a the titular Port Mortuary — a military medical examining station for troops, basically — and returning to the organization she’s supposed to be running only to find a mysterious dead man in her cooler and the place a mess thanks to leaving it in charge of one-time protege Jack Fielding. The whole thing unravels in the span of something like two days and finds Kay mostly playing catch-up as her FBI agent husband Benton, tech wiz niece Lucy and  detective Marino are out in the real world figuring things out and she’s in the lab, basically under house arrest thanks to a strong FBI presence.

If you look at the reviews on Amazon for this book, they’re pretty unfavorable. Most of the complaints revolve around this book being fairly slow, boring and jam-packed with information that doesn’t seem all that necessary  Many of those reviews are written by longtime Scarpetta fans, so I can’t really comment on the validity of the idea that the books have gone downhill as we’ve only listened to a pair of very abridged books from the early days. But, I think I can address the other complaints.

The book feels slow and boring because it’s first person and Kay is basically in one place, discovering pieces of information that are new to her and us, but not to anyone else. It’s not much fun watching someone basically play catch-up, even if you’re not in the know yet either. One of the keys to reading a mystery is feeling in on the action, but not smarter than the main character. It made me think less of her because, while some elements would be impossible for her to know, others are definitely her fault, specifically hiring Fielding and all the problems that come from that. Kay also brings a lot of her own paranoia and history into the story, making us believe things are going a certain way when, really, they’re not. When you’re steered in a dead end direction like this, it can be frustrating. There’s an entire part of Kay’s early days in the field that seems super important to the story, but really isn’t, it’s just something that a more recent event reminded her of and yet, it’s kept a secret like it’s a key element. These elements were kind of annoying when listening to the book, but would have probably made actually sitting down and reading this thing a slog for me personally.

I get all that and can see where those complaints are coming from, but I think Cornwell was trying to do something a little different with this story. You’re completely in Kay’s POV throughout this whole story. It’s told in the first person, so you’re never not in the room with her. We’re basically supposed to feel as confused, paranoid and angry as she is. It’s an interesting idea, but I’m not sure if this was the best way to go. The way this book is set up the isolation understandably breeds negative feelings, but the other downside is that we don’t get to spend as much time with the supporting characters we’ve come to know and love. I’ve got no problem with Ann, but I’d rather hang out with Lucy.

At the end of the day, I understand why this book disappointed so many readers. I also think I might understand what Cornwell was trying to do and even got sucked into it at times — I was particularly nervous during the period where she was accidentally drugged — and enjoyed it overall. For me, knowing what going to happen in the parts of Red Mist that we listened to was worse than the presentation of this book, but that’s what happens when you listen to these things in a haphazard way. Now we’ve got to get Mist back from the library or download it and finally figure out what the heck is going on there!

Y: The Last Man Deluxe Volume 4 & 5 Trade Post

Y The Last Man Deluxe Volume 4 Y: The Last Man Deluxe Volume 4 (Vertigo/DC)
Written by Brian K. Vaughan, drawn by Goran Sudzuka with Pia Guerra
Collects Y: The Last Man #37-48

Y: The Last Man Deluxe Volume 5 (Vertigo/DC)
Written by Brian K. Vaughan, drawn by Pia Guerra & Goran Sudzuka
Collects Y: The Last Man #49-60

I felt particularly motivated over the weekend and decided to bang out the last two volumes of the Y: The Last Man Deluxe editions and am finally ready to talk about it. I read the first, second and third volumes relatively quickly, but these two went by the quickest for sure. As I said in those other posts, the further I got into the story, the less I remembered which was nice because there were still some surprises even though I’ve read this complete story all the way through already.

The fourth book really breaks the world open in more ways than one. In addition to going international, word also gets out through a less-than-reliable source that there is actually a living male still on the planet. The proof? A naked photo on the front page. Meanwhile, the gang gets a new member thanks to Rose who we know is spying on the group, but also hope she can flip and maybe find redemption. This volume also sees a lot of older characters returning to the forefront including Alter who winds up killing another main character and Hero who finds Beth Number 2 (the woman Yorick had sex with) who just so happens to be pregnant! This leads to some drama with the Catholic Church and the reveal that her baby is a girl which of course changes a lot and continues the big mystery of whether a male can actually be born into this world in a natural way. Heck, there’s even a pair of origin issues, one that focuses on Agent 355 and another on Ampersand, even Alter and Dr. Mann get in on the action. The big push at the end of the story, though, was Toyota returning and making off with Dr. Mann’s mom which will take them to Japan in the fifth volume.

Y The Last Man Deluxe Volume 5And, of course, the fifth volume wraps up the entire epic story. This is SPOILER TERRITORY if you haven’t read the book so stay away for the next three paragraphs. Even though it seemed like the silliest plot point in the book, Yorick finally reunites with the one, true Beth only to discover the most obvious thing in the world: Beth was about to break up with him over the phone when every man on the planet but him died. This does not end well for them.

But that’s not the only story to come to a head. Elder finally catches up to Yorick for real and we discover that she, much like Yorick, really wanted to die. She was a warrior who wanted to be killed in battle by someone worthy and since Yorick was the only man around he was the most worthy in her warped mind. I liked how this ended with Yorick not shooting her but turning her over to her people. This all comes after the SUPER DUPER SPOILER quick bang murder of Agent 355 after she and Yorick realize they love each other. I know this death might have bummed a lot of people out or seemed cheap, but isn’t this really the only way a character like her can go down? She’s like Batman, she has to be taken completely by surprise otherwise, she’ll figure out a way to take you down.

And then you have the final issue. Man, I’ve got to say, Y: The Last Man #60 might be one of the most elegant final issues of a comic book series I’ve ever read. Instead of doing your basic info dump explaining how everyone ended up, we jump 60 years into the future and are more casually told the information as Beth Jr., now President of France or something, explains some of the details to one of Yorick’s many clones. When that part’s done, new Yorick gets to meet young Yorick and we learn even more by way of flashbacks. What I love most about this ending is that it’s not what you’d expect. Yorick didn’t stick around with Beth 1, instead he went over to Beth 2 and Beth Jr. and became an actual dad while his DNA went on to help respawn the human race. There’s also a really nice balance to the issue where you hear something that bums you out and then something that raises your spirits a little. I had to hold back tears when I finally got my hands on this issue while working at Wizard because of that one scene with Ampersand. Man, that was sad.

Or at least it was the first time around. I was surprised to discover that I had very little emotional connections to the deaths this time around. I remembered most of them, but when I hit them in the reading, I didn’t feel sad at all. I’m not sure if I was just less emotionally invested on this reading, if those moments were simply less surprising or if they felt more necessary as far as the story goes. When I was in college I read Thomas Mann’s Death In Venice and while we were talking about the story in class, the professor — Dr. Biehl one of the best around — talked about the inevitability of the main character’s death and not just because it was in the title. I think there was something of that going on in this book. It’s not just that Vaughan wanted to give some characters sad endings while others got happy ones, but also that some of the deaths had to happen in a literary sense. Sometimes, if you’re a character and you’ve done everything you’re supposed to do, it’s time to go. For what it’s worth, I don’t believe in that idea in the real world, but it makes sense in fiction.

After finishing the book, I still think it’s a great piece of comic literature. Yorick has a real arc that turns him into the kind of character you wouldn’t mind hanging out with as do the other characters. They’re all very satisfying. I still think the characters got a little too fact-spouty in the second and third volumes and — this is going to make me sound like an old man — but I think there could have been less profanity, especially the near constant use of “bitch” and it’s various synonyms through the story. I don’t have a problem with profanity, but it kind of became white noise thanks to the over-use.

So, no, it’s not a perfect book, but what is? It’s still one of the better books around and benefits from being a well told, complete and satisfying story that you can give to someone all at once for whatever speed the consume their entertainment at. The fact that I read all five of these books — all 60 issues — in just about a month. And that’s with taking breaks to clear my palet with some less intense superhero stuff.

Just Finished Sherlock Series Two

I remember really liking the first series of BBC’s Sherlock. I think I wanted to write about here on UM, but time got away from me, I forgot a lot of it and that post fell by the wayside. At this point, I remember very little of that first season, but while watching the second, a few things came back to me. As far as I’m concerned, this series soars because of two things: performance and style. Benedict Cumberbatch is fantastic as the aloof genius Sherlock Holmes and I’ve been a big fan of Watson actor Martin Freeman since watching the original Office and even Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (I saw it before reading any of the stories, so gimme a break). At the same time you’ve got some brilliant editing combined with this great onscreen thing they do when Sherlock looks people over and words pop up during these crazy close ups that show the things he’s noticing and what they tell him about the subject. The stories are also pretty good, but I don’t know how much of that credit should go to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and what to the show’s writers. Unfortunately, all of those things weren’t enough to get me to really dig this second series. Since there’s only three episodes, I’ll just run them down real quick. SPOILERS FOLLOW.

First up we have “A Scandal In Belgravia” which It hought was the season’s high point. We pick right up from the end of the previous season, but then get into an adventure with a woman named Irene Adler who seems to be his equal. She has a cell phone with a bunch of secrets rigged to explode unless she gets what she wants. Of course, Sherlock figures out the password and saves the day. I really, really liked this episode. I thought Lara Pulvrer, who played Adler, was fantastic. It’s very difficult to pull off the kind of detached super genius that Cumberbatch does without being annoying, but I think she nailed it in this role. This episode was also just a lot of fun with lots of twists and turns that kept me on the edge of my seat.

I can not say the same thing about “The House of Baskerville,” though. This one has Holmes and Watson visiting the small town of Baskerville where reports of giant wild dogs are running rampant. One guy swears he saw a demon dog and Sherlock gets drawn in as well, but my problem with this episode is that it just felt too long. I kind of got where they were going fairly early on — not exactly, but a general idea that was correct — so seeing a genius like Sherlock struggle so hard was not a great viewing experience. I will say that seeing Sherlock struggle with what he saw and what his mind tells him can and can’t be real was pretty fantastic, but all of this could have been done in 60 minutes and would have been a lot more tight. Also, not for nothing, but there were some seriously 90s horror tropes that no one wanted to see or hear again being dragged out kicking and screaming. That thing where the camera gets shaky and then cutting to another scene while playing a woman’s scream? I hate that thing. It’s used A LOT in this. That didn’t garner much favor with me.

Lastly we had “The Reichenbach Fall” which is based on “The Final Problem,” a story I haven’t read, but have read about thanks to League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and some other stories. That meant I knew how this one was going to end too, which wasn’t a huge problem because I generally like how these guys tell stories. And, the story itself was a good one, but I had a gigantic problem: Andrew Scott as Moriarity. This guy made a lot of choices that just drove me nuts. Above I said I liked how Irene Adler was handled because she walked the fine line, Scott just went into annoying, batty territory for me. And, even though I thought his plan was brilliant and brilliantly executed, I could not take this guy seriously. In fact, he was so annoying, I just wanted someone to ice him and be done with it because I was not having as much fun with the back and forth between Holmes and Moriarity that I should have, like I did in Sherlock Holmes Game of Shadows.

And yet, I still want to watch a third series. I might not have been 100% in love with these three episodes, but still, watching somewhat disappointing episodes of Sherlock is still more enjoyable than watching average episodes of other shows. Plus, I’ve got to find out how that guy did that thing that was revealed at the end of the episode. You know what I’m talking about.

Trade Post: Finals

VERTIGO RESURRECTED FINALS 100-PAGE SPECTACULAR (Vertigo)
Written by Will Pfeifer, drawn by Jill Thompson
Collects Finals #1-4
I first read Finals while at Wizard. Will Pfeifer had recently made a name for himself on high quality but under the radar books like HERO and Aquaman. Some of the guys there were pretty high on this four issue miniseries from 1999 that he wrote and suggested I check it out. I dug it then and liked it even more upon this second reading. I’m really glad that Vertigo collected the four issue mini so simply. I’d love to see more of these mini-trades/square bound reprints in the future, especially at $8 a pop.

Finals is about a group of college students at Knox University, a school that encourages every student to complete a very aggressive senior project in order to graduate. Gary allowed himself to devolve over the semester. Dave’s a criminal justice major who’s been committing robberies all over town. Nancy started a cult. Tim invented a time machine that actually works. And Wally, well, Wally needs to come up with something that fits into his “Extreme Cinema Verite” idea that he completely bullshitted his way through. All of this takes place in a hyper version of reality where lives are next to meaningless and knowledge equals strength, which makes Wally’s slacker bumbling and struggle for a project all the more interesting.

I’m very impressed with how Pfeifer put this story together. It doesn’t just zero in on Wally and his relationship with Nancy. They’re definitely the focus, but Wally’s roomies Gary, Dave and Tim all get not only their fair share of scenes, but more importantly solid arcs that pick them up at the beginning of the semester or school year and sees where they wind up by the end. It’s a lot to pack into a four issue comic and he handles it with ease. Pfeifer also captured the intensity and ridiculousness of college that rings true even with murder and time travel in the mix.

From an art standpoint, Jill Thompson does a fun job of it, but the interiors don’t really remind me of her usual style. It actually reminds me of a looser version of Sean Phillips on Sleeper. Her visual storytelling chops are spot on and her art keeps the sometimes serious or over the top moments from getting TOO serious (there’s a lot of death in the book). All in all it’s a great package.

Reading Finals again actually bummed me out a little bit because I miss Pfeifer as a writer and the Vertigo of years past. Like I said, I really like HERO and Aquaman and his Catwoman run had it’s moments but never really grabbed me. It is interesting that Wally here was a film buff and Pfeifer pitted Catwoman against Film Freak. Anyway, it seems like something happened around the time of Amazon’s Attack and either the writer felt burned out or lost favor. It’s too bad because I think he had a lot of talent and would like to see what else he has in him. Meanwhile, Vertigo seems to have lost a lot of it’s variety over the years. They’ve got magic-based books and violent books and what else? I’m honestly not sure anymore. I’d like to see them get back to a place where they give new writers like Pfeifer a chance to shine with concise stories. Seems like a lot of this kind of talent is heading over to Image or the smaller companies, but also that they’re looking for more long term books than things like Finals anymore. Maybe if this 100-Page Spectacular sells well enough it could lead to not only a return of Pfeifer but also a little more variety from Vertigo.