Thursday, December 29

The Fifth Day of Christmas


On the fifth day of Christmas,
my true love gave to me
Five gold rings!*

* Now, of course, to be followed by the classic “Padum-bum-bum!” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EDBMzGq1vhs )

Cheers!

Wednesday, December 28

Perry Rhodan #16, Secret Barrier X (Aug 1972)

By W. W. Shols

Cut off from the rest of the universe by the force field that gives us the title of this book, Perry Rhodan battles enemy forces and the environment of the primeval world that is (or was speculated to be in the early 1960s when this was written) Earth's sister planet.  Frankly, not a whole lot happens other than pieces being moved around on the game board in this middle part of a short trilogy of novels within the broader Perry Rhodan saga.  This volume of the series is notable more because here each book expands to include backup short stories, making it more truly a "magabook" or "bookazine" (the editor's terminology varied).  If you're interested in reading more about it, head on over to my other blog.

Cheers!

The Fourth Day of Christmas


On the fourth day of Christmas, 
my true love gave to me
Four colly birds,*

* This is usually misunderstood these days as “Four calling birds.” A “colly bird” is a common blackbird.

Cheers!

Tuesday, December 27

Monday, December 26

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (2011)


Directed by Steven Spielberg

My wife and I went to see the evening showing on Christmas Day. We both really enjoyed it. It's a great adventure story most reminiscent of Raiders of the Lost Ark. I have been aware of Tintin for a very long time as a classic European comic book, but until very recently had not read any of it, and even now have read only one of the couple dozen books available in English, specifically The Cigars of the Pharaoh. Even though I have such limited exposure to the original, I feel compelled to risk offending the cognoscenti by endorsing reviewer Stephen Schleicher's assessment at Major Spoilers that here we have a rare example of an adaptation that surpasses the source material. It's that good – not to say the original comic stories are not excellent and deservedly considered classics.

But this post is about the movie. Besides a solid, non-stop story, the motion-capture animation is excellent. (Note: We saw it in 2D.) In places, were it not for exaggerated facial features it would be easy to forget this is not live-action. It's much better in that respect than Beowulf from a few years ago, even though if I recall correctly most of the facial features were more normalistic there than here. I particularly remember the eyes in Beowulf not looking quite right, as well as some of the movement, especially walking. Neither of those are issues in this movie. And even though the figures are overall quite realistic, enough distinctive features are maintained to duplicate Hergé's artistic style quite well. Overall, it's a perfect blend of the cartoonish and realistic. The contrast is put front and center early in the story when a market artist sketches a picture of Tintin that looks just like one of Hergé's drawings. I can't find a specific image of that online, but the image at right illustrates the effect.

I really hope this movie succeeds in the American box-office and inspires other such adaptations of non-American products for American audiences. Lord knows there's plenty out there, such as Perry Rhodan (a subject we discussed at length a few weeks ago when I guested on TheBook Cave podcast).

Cheers! … and thanks for reading!

The Second Day of Christmas (today)


On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me
Two turtledoves, and

Cheers!

The First Day of Christmas (yesterday)

In the spirit of the point I made as an afterthought at the bottom of my just previous post, here begins The Twelve Days of Christmas:

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me

A partridge in a pear tree!



Cheers!

Sunday, December 25

The Date of Christmas

This post was directly inspired by something I read on Frank Weathers' great blog, Why I am Catholic, "Because Tradition Says December 25 is When Christ Was Born."  When I read that, I immediately thought about what I've pretty much accepted all my adult life, that we don't really know at what time of the year Jesus was born, that the 25 December date is just tradition that owes more to the ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia as well as the feast of the sun-god Mithras than anything specifically Christian.  In that entry for 23 December, Weathers doesn't really give much in the way of argument, but does give some good links, one in particular dealing with just that question of pagan antecedents:  In "The Dating of Christmas," his entry for 18 December, the blogger for Roma Locuta Est reports on some of Pope Benedict XVI's attempts to reinstill some of the cosmic significance to our understanding of the events of Our Lord's life and death and effectively refutes the idea.  But it's the first Anonymous comment to that blog entry that I found particularly intriguing, that there is indeed Biblical evidence to support tradition and the customary date.

I've done a little more Internet research and come across the following article, which I'll briefly outline:  "Christmas Day:  Was Jesus Really Born on December 25th," by John J. Parsons.

Consider the event of the Archangel Gabriel appearing to the priest Zechariah, foretelling the birth of John the Baptist:

"In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah....  Now while [Zechariah] was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, it fell to him by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense.  ... And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord...."  (Luke 1:5, 8-9, 11 Revised Standard Version-Catholic Edition).

"The division of Abijah" was one of 24 groups of priests entrusted with fulfilling temple duties according to a rotating schedule through the year, on a weekly basis from Sabbath to Sabbath.  Each would serve twice a year according to a set schedule.  (Three major festivals would round out the year.)  The division of Abijah served during the eighth course, which because of the major festivals of Passover and Shavuot occurred during the tenth week of the Jewish year beginning round about the Spring Equinox.  It would then come around again 24 weeks later.  Remember that the Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar depending on the nearest Sabbath to the Spring Equinox, so the specific dates vary in our modern calendar.  In any case, Gabriel appeared to Zechariah sometime around June or December according to our modern calendar.

After receiving the message of the Archangel (and being rebuked for his hesitance in believing, but that's not important here),

"[W]hen [Zechariah's] time of service was ended, he went to his home.  After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived...."  (Luke 1:23-24 RSV-CE).

Then,

"In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin ... and the virgin's name was Mary" (Luke 1:26-27 RSV-CE),

and announced the birth of Jesus.  

Of course, we don't know how long "after these days" Elizabeth conceived, but the sense is that it wasn't very long.  I imagine that, long childless plus having already been rebuked by the angel, Zechariah would set about getting things in motion pretty quickly....  So, more than likely, Zechariah's encounter with the angel was about six months before Mary's.  We know that by the time Mary has gone "with haste" (verse 39) to the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth, she already carries Our Lord in her womb (verses 42-43).

John the Baptist was then born three months later, Jesus six months after that.

We therefore have two possible time-lines:

(A)

June:  Gabriel appears to Zechariah
December:  Gabriel appears to Mary
March:  Birth of John the Baptist
September:  Birth of Jesus Christ

or:

(B)

December:  Gabriel appears to Zechariah
June:  Gabriel appears to Mary
September:  Birth of John the Baptist
March:  Birth of Jesus Christ 

Huh-- Wha--? (B) is not what Parson presents as his second possibility, rather jumping directly to ancient tradition that John the Baptist was conceived just after Zechariah's temple service at Yom Kippur -- for which he gives excellent references, which ultimately results in the timeline given as (C) below.  But Yom Kippur is on the tenth day of the Jewish month Tishri -- usually September! -- not during the 34th week from the Spring Equinox, which would place it as I do above more like December.  (This seems to be a common error -- see these articles/blogs:  "Christmas, Pagan Romans, and Frodo Baggins" by Fr. Dwight Longenecker and "Was Jesus Really Born on December 25th," by Dr. Taylor Marshall, and "Swade's" comment to the latter.)  How are we to reconcile this inconsistency?  Would Zechariah possibly have been serving during Yom Kippur?

Well, as best I can figure based on what I find in another article ("The Biblical Case for a Late December Christmas," by one "Dr. Billy"), Parsons conflates the initial counting of the priestly courses, established during the age of the First Temple, with the reality of what was the practice during the age of the Second Temple, assuming that there had been uninterrupted courses from the beginning.  There had, however, been the major interruption of the Babylonian Captivity.

During the summer of 586 BC, on the 9th day of Av (late July), the First Temple was destroyed and the priestly courses ended.  When they were reestablished about seventy years later in the rebuilt Second Temple, the courses seem to have been restarted from that date -- 9 Av -- to commemorate that catastrophe.  So the cycle assumed above would be offset by about three months.

This accords with evidence presented by the Jewish historian Josephus that when the Second Temple was itself destroyed by the Romans in AD 70 -- on 9 Av again! -- this second destruction occurred during the service of the first course of priests.  Therefore, it is likely that during the first century BC/AD, Zechariah's division of Abijah would indeed have seen service in September -- coinciding with Yom Kippur --  and again in March.

Which gives us two more possible timelines:

(C)
September:  Gabriel appears to Zechariah
March:  Gabriel appears to Mary
June:  Birth of John the Baptist
December:  Birth of Jesus Christ 

or: 

(D)

March:  Gabriel appears to Zechariah
September:  Gabriel appears to Mary
December:  Birth of John the Baptist
June:  Birth of Jesus Christ 


I know of no sure way to prefer any one of these possibilities over another, outside of tradition which clearly favors (C).  But I think that traditional timeline linked to Yom Kippur is also supported by what Zechariah was doing during his temple service:

"[I]t fell to him by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. ... And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense" (Luke 1:9, 11 RSV-CE). 

It's my understanding that the Jewish priests would enter the Holy of Holies, the inner sanctum of the Temple considered the dwelling place of the Most High, only on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.  If that is what is being described here, that would indeed be the time, generally in late September, when Zechariah would have been fulfilling his temple service.  And what time would be more appropriate for the proximate events leading up (over thirty-odd years) to the greatest Atonement of all to be set into motion?

Now, I'm not a specialist in any of these matters and I'm making assumptions that what I'm finding on the Internet is valid (a dubious scholarly method, but this is a blog, not a formal publication).  For me at least, however, this little exercise has brought a new understanding of how the Church's most ancient traditions that are 
in recent years  often dismissed as being no more than that have truly deep foundations and indeed support in scripture. 

Cheers -- Merry Christmas! -- and remember that this is just the first of twelve days of Christmas ... not the end!

(And this post, which began when it was indeed still 25 December, has grown overlong as it has turned into the early hours of 26 December.  I'm tired, and I'm going to bed.)

Monday, December 19

The Trial of Doc Savage (The Bronze Saga #8, 2008)


By Mark Eidemiller (available for free download here)

In a way, this could have served as a perfect ending for this series. Luckily, it's not – there are at least two more tales, one of which has been published, another said to be in the works. But in this story, the major unresolved issue hanging over Doc Savage from his reawakening in Bronze Refined as Silver finds resolution.

Shortly after Doc mysteriously disappeared in 1949, the activities of his “Crime College” were exposed – and were framed as gross violations of the civil rights of the criminals whom Doc had surgically rehabilitated … against their wills. Press exposés and congressional hearings destroyed his team and sullied his legacy, branding him a criminal comparable to the likes of Josef Mengele. Now, most of a decade after beginning his new life as “Clark Dent,” the birth of his children – triplets – inspires Doc to do a great deal of soul-searching, and on their first birthday he announces his intention to come clean, face the public, and the law. Not at all coincidentally, this happens just as the very criminal who had trapped Doc in suspended animation – and survived to the present by the same means – determines to finish the job of destroying Doc's reputation with the aim of driving him to utter despair and suicide. He doesn't count on either Doc's new circle of agents and friends, and the fact that Doc has found new peace and strength through Jesus Christ.

It's nice reading Eidemiller's Doc Savage again – as much as I liked #7 Bronze-Tempered Steel on its own merits, it just wasn't the same. I think it may be that Barry Ottey tried just a bit too hard to duplicate Eidemiller's style, and it came off feeling somewhat forced. There's just a natural flow in this and Eidemiller's own stories that is missing from Steel. In any case, that just-previous tale is definitively incorporated as part of the saga when we find Kal and Lois still in Doc's world, having remained long enough to help establish the journalism department at Clark Savage Institute and witness the birth of Doc's and Bonnie's children before returning to their own universe. Of course, their existence as more than fictional characters, unknown to the wider world, gives Monk the perfect opportunity to get in a slyly ironic put-down on the overly aggressive DA questioning him regarding Doc's activities in the Crime College. I guffawed right along with him at her discomfiture!

Eidemiller continues to widen the world of The Bronze Saga to encompass other figures from popular culture as well as our reality – including a very familiar head of the New York City Crime Lab, the ancestor of one of Dr. McCoy's 23rd-century associates in the Sickbay of the Enterprise, and the First Family of the United States. The elder Bush in fact knows Doc from way back. I could well have missed some such crossovers – but I don't consider the familiar name of the New York City Police Commissioner to be quite the same thing even though New York is sometimes called “Gotham” ….

All in all, this was another enjoyable read. I'm already a bit disappointed that at this point I have only one more installment in “The Christian Adventures of Doc Savage” left to read. I hope the tenth, listed as “Bronze Shaped as Clay” on the story download page linked at the top of this post, isn't too long in coming. And in the meantime, once I've read #9 Bronze Golem, there is Eidemiller's first professionally published book, As Iron Sharpens Iron, which has been sitting in my Kindle library for months now.

Cheers, and thanks for reading!

More Legion Goodness


I think I'm going to be doing more and more of these “catch-all” comics entries....

Star Trek/Legion of Super-Heroes #1 and #2 of 6 (IDW, Oct-Nov 2011)

Two of my favorite all-time franchises together for the first time! How could I not buy into this? Unfortunately, as good as Chris Roberson is in nailing the characters from both worlds, as of the end of issue #2 he hasn't yet brought them together! I mean, that's what we all want to see, right?

Here's Legion Abstract's review for #1. I'm a bit disappointed that I received Gabriel Rodriguez's alternate cover from my mail order source rather than Phil Jimenez's main cover. So I'm departing from my usual practice and posting what I wish I'd gotten rather than what I did get.

Here's his review for #2. At least this second issue does bring the two sets of characters into close proximity to one another.

Really, there's not a whole lot I can add to what's in those review/commentaries. I think it's going to end up being an enjoyable story that has little relevance for the main Legion continuity (whatever that is!).

Legion: Secret Origin #1 and #2 of 6 (Dec 2011-Jan 2012)

Well, it's another retelling of the origin of the Legion. We all know the story, right? How three 31st-century youths travelling to Earth on a starliner thwart a plot to assassinate wealthy industrialist R. J. Brande, who sees the potential that exists in their unique (sort of) abilities to create a force for good in the universe. They take as their inspiration/model that of Superboy a thousand years in the past, during the earlier "Age of Heroes."  Of course, we're going to find out that there is more to it than that. Behind the scenes political machinations by a mysterious triumvirate who have a mysterious relationship to Brande ….

Legion Abstract has this to say about #1, “From the Wreckage,” and this to say about #2, “Target.”

It's Levitz. It's Legion. It's good. 'Nuff said. Well, not quite. I do have some nit-picks. I wish they'd left the original Legionnaires' costumes as they originally were – particularly Lightning Lad's. It was just so goofy. What was that poofy belt, anyway?  Sure, this one's sleeker, but.... And Saturn Girl's – bring back the skirt! I hope that by the end of this series we'll have a definite answer as to how (if?) Superboy/man and Supergirl fit into the newest Legion continuity. That is probably the single biggest question that can, in my opinion, make or break a version of the Legion. Supposedly there is some kind of connection, per comments by Grant Morrison (and allegedly to be seen early in the new Action Comics). What's going to be Levitz's spin on it?

Mystery Men #5 of 5 (Marvel, Nov 2011)


Marvel's foray into neopulp comes to an end, at least for now. It's been very good. In this final issue we see some of the hell that The Operative went through as the son of The General, and their final confrontation once The Operative has gathered the group back together for one last chance to save the kidnapped children from being sacrificed. Sadly, among those they save they do not find the Lindbergh baby. Also sadly, taking down Nox takes all the energy that Achilles had collected, holding nothing back for himself. There is strong hint that the four surviving Mystery Men – The Operative, The Revenant, The Aviatrix, and The Surgeon (who clutches Achilles' power-giving amulet behind his back) – are to continue their fight. Unbeknownst to them, Nox in human form does return his child to Charles Lindbergh – but that must remain secret. It is enough to buy his support for her allies … in Germany … in the person of Baron Zemo …. “The End?” I hope not.


Here's another review.

Warlord of Mars: Fall of Barsoom #3 of 5 (Dynamite 2011)


“Book Three: The Escape of the Dead”

I continue to enjoy this telling of the story of a hundred thousand years in the past of John Carter's Mars. Pieces continue to fall into place to create the world that we know from Burroughs' books. Like most middle issues of a series, it's more setup than anything else, but good. See a review here.   

Legion of Super-Heroes #2, Nightwing #2, and Justice League Dark #2 (Dec 2011)


“Hostile World”

I have got to start streamlining these blog entries. And the fact is that I'm so far behind that there are usually multiple excellent synopses/reviews already out there – sometimes for a couple months before I ever get around to it. So I'm going to just start linking to those and adding a couple of comments of my own.

An excellent site for commentary and analysis of everything Legion is LegionAbstract by one Matthew E[lmsley, I believe]. His write-up of this issue can be found here.

I really don't have much to add. Another excellent issue in the series that seems to be least affected by the Relaunch. Good story, excellent art. I do like how, rather than a pin-up style cover, we actually get a different angle on a scene directly from the issue – and by the interior artist, Francis Portela, to boot.
From Flashpoint #5 and this issue
Story-wise, we continue to get direct reference to the Flashpoint Event in these pages, and coming in close conjunction with the “new” character of Glorith, I don't think it's any coincidence that she looks very similar to the DC New 52 Mystery Woman that appeared in Flashpoint #5 and all of the New 52 #1's. (Thatspeculation is not original to me, by the way.) Shady seems truly heartbroken over Earth Man's demise, which is touched on again here. Must be some continuing plot point to be drawn out from this. It's what Levitz does best – multiple threads weaving in and out of a magnificent tapestry. Earth Man's holo-tombstone sums him up: “A Life of Contradiction. A Hero's Death.”

“Haly's Wish”

A good review is here: SimplySuperman-Batman. Dick finds out he's inheriting Haly's Circus from the dying owner – and in short order has a fling with one of his new employees, a red-head (reminds him of who?) that he grew up with in the circus. Like mentor, like … mentee? More gratuitous sex in Gotham. We also find out that the dying Mr. Haly had long ago recognized little Dick Grayson in the Boy Wonder's moves … but by issue's end he has spilled the beans on Dick's identity to the villain (under torture, to be sure), and used his last breath to tell Dick that it's all about some secret “in the heart” of the circus. Higgins cowrote Gates of Gotham with Scott Snyder, and also continues to base his stories on the history of these characters and their world(s). I like it. “Next Issue: On the Road Again.”

“In the Dark, part two: Dark Matter”

See here for a good review: ComicBook and Movie Reviews. This continues to be a beautiful book. I am amazed by the art – and the fact that I've never heard of Mikel Janin before now. His style fits so well. The story's good too, continuing to mix the growing threat of the Enchantress with deep character moments – such as really getting at how creepy Deadman's power plus his natural desire to consummate his new-found love with Dawn really is! And the end was a twist that I didn't see coming – the threat of the Enchantress seems to really be instigated by none other than Madame Xanadu! “Next: Things Get Worse.” I bet they do.

Cheers, and thanks for reading!

Catwoman #2, Birds of Prey #2, and Wonder Woman #2 (Dec 2011)

Well, it's Christmas break. The semester ended last week. Unfortunately, this “break” is always busy in and of itself, so I'm not sure how much blogging I'll get done. I'm so far behind where I'm actually reading I don't know if I'll ever catch up. All I can do is start slogging....

“I could say that I'll sleep better, but that's a lie”

Selina goes from her … liaison … with Batman directly to steal a Russian painting, solely to maneuver the mobster whom she beat and performed an “oculectomy” on last issue – she didn't kill him – into a situation where rival gangs would finish the job of killing him for her. Unfortunately, in so doing, she has drawn attention to herself on the part of one Louis Ferryman, “some call me Bone” – who now finds the “irritating woman who dresses like a cat and steals from [him]” and has her beat pretty thoroughly – right after she finds her fence Lola tied to a chair with a bullet through her head. “Next: Caught!”

I've got to say, the image of barely-clad Selina draped across an all-but-shirtless but still-cowled Batman – whose trousers clearly are pushed down around his hips – that's an image I could do without in a mainstream DC Bat-title. I mean, come on. Yes, it's clearly rated “T+” on the cover, but it's a Batman title. Call me an old prude, but I think it's a bit inappropriate. Also call me a bit of a hypocrite, because I'm continuing to buy this title – I'm well of age and an obsessive-compulsive completist when it comes to Batman, but there is a definite streak of sex and violence pervading much of the New 52 to the point of being over the top, with this title being a prime example.

“Trouble in Mind”

We meet the New 52 Katana. I don't know enough about the previous incarnation to be able to tell how much of a change we have here. “Psycho Sword Chick” is how Starling terms her. We get some clues about how the guy's head blew up at the end of #2 – in a prototype stroke medication that works to reconnect neural pathways “in tandem with certain words and phrases” which undoubtedly were delivered to him via the cell-phone he answered right before the big bang. Canary, Starling, and Katana investigate a lab that may be targeted for theft of a supply of the drug – and run into the high-tech armored thugs they previously confronted. 
 Starling captures one, then Poison Ivy shows up, dressed quite fetchingly in what looks to be her fall colors.  Starling seems to have a hostile history with this “freaking monster,” and is surprised for the second time this issue at the new teammates Canary has called into the new Birds. “Next: Primed for Death!”

I have to say – for a brand new character, Starling has sprung into being so fully developed that it's like she's an old character. I like! I think I commented last time that she carries over a good bit of the sass factor that used to be filled by the sadly missing Lady Blackhawk. I really really really want to know more about her history.

“Home”

After a couple pages' glimpse at the new Mount Olympus, as a very queenly and very put-out Hera along with a very punky-looking Strife observe Diana, the new girl, and a gravely injured Hermes in a skrying bowl, we go to the latter arriving at Paradise Island and meeting a blonde Queen Hippolyta. This is a deep call-back to the Silver Age – the queen has been raven-haired like her daughter ever since the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths reboot by George Perez. As Hippolyta warns her daughter of the dire consequences that might attend her “sid[ing] with Zeus rather than his wife scorned” (which Diana doesn't see in those terms anyway), Hermes tells the new girl the legend of Diana's creation – the traditional fashioning from clay. “Wonder Woman is the perfect Amazon – no male seed created her.” Well, by issue's end we find that may not be true. Pretty soon thereafter, as Diana and one Aleka (who seems to be the New 52 version of Artemis) spar, a giant-sized Strife attacks Paradise Island. Chaos ensues as she inspires the Amazons to fight among themselves. But she declares, “I COME IN PEACE. … ALL I WISH FOR IS TO EMBRACE MY LITTLE SISTER.” “You assume the mortal carries a girl child?” Diana retorts. “HA... I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT FATHER HAS LEFT CRAWLING IN HER WOMB. … NO, WONDER WOMAN... I SPEAK OF YOU.” And Hera doesn't look at all pleased. Looks like Diana's big enemy in this new series won't be Ares – or maybe it still will be. Fraternal and filial peace and brotherhood weren't really all that much a theme of the Greek myths anyway. “Next: Ancient and Untrue.”

Why do the gods keep referring to her as “Wonder Woman”? Seems to me they would refer to her by her given name – Roman though it might be when they are all called by Greek names. The revelation of what may be her true parentage caused quite a stir on the Internet when this issue was released. Assuming it's the case, I can't say it's an unwelcome change to me. I think it carries all kinds of story possibilities – not that they would be original, but intrinsically more interesting than her origin as a lump of clay. Just my opinion.

Cheers!